Spider Might Civility?

spider-mite-webMy juniper bushes got spider mites, suddenly and extensively. They came seemingly out of nowhere and made a significant stand, claiming wide real estate over a number of the ornamentals lining the fence between us and the neighbors.

Spider mites are not true insects but a type of arachnid, relatives of spiders, ticks and scorpions, that can seriously suck the life force out of a plant. I knew I needed to act fast.  Having long been oriented to organic gardening, I was clear I didn’t want to spray a heavy miticide chemical, but I also knew that I had to intervene as each day seemed to bring a widening incursion.

After reading more on the issue, it was thought-provoking to note that spider mites often become a problem (or worsen) after broad-spectrum insecticides are sprayed since those applications kill off beneficial insects like wasps and other mites (like the western predatory mite) that naturally feed on spider mites. Over all, it’s best just to knock down the population of the spider mites and allow their population to be balanced by the common insect predators that limit pests—the “beneficials.”  It’s not an uncommon technique to introduce more or different beneficial insects to expand their population in the garden.

Integrated pest management, or IPM, is a process used to solve pest problems while minimizing risks to people and the environment. I’ve found such an approach very effective over the years. You can read about the approach from the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Do what is needed to help resolve the problem, but strive to avoid making it worse—the gardener’s version of “do no harm.” And by all means, don’t kill off the beneficials, because without them the infestation only gets worse or rebounds quickly.

This got me thinking about incivility and the seeming explosive infestation of it we seem to be experiencing now in society. (Or is it better to say the wider culture?)  It seems to me that more and more, people are agitating for a broad-spectrum approach, which seems to be an attempt to respond to incivility with more of the same—a strange manipulation of “fight fire with fire.”

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This, of course, being linked literally to firefighting techniques of using backfires to remove potential fuel from the path of a larger fire.  Ironically, it’s more about removing combustible material from a terrain to lessen the intensity of the main fire, slowing or stopping it’s advance, hoping for it to “burn itself out.”  Its common use seems to have morphed into the idea that we return fire with more fire, which seems to defeat the original, more measured meaning.

If the infestation in my analogy is incivility, I’d like to think of the “beneficial” as being civility, which is a way of behaving though it’s often seen as weakness and possibility a form a capitulation.

I’m not implying that the initial infestation should be left unabated. Some intervention is required; however, again, the intent is to use an approach that minimizes risks.

In my case with the spider mites, it was a mild organic oil spray and a couple of regular rinses with water to wash away the tiny invaders to stop them from sucking the life out of the shrubs.  It took a bit more effort than spraying an intense chemical, but I think things are balancing out.

Homeostasis, from the Greek words for “same” and “steady,” refers to any process that living things use to actively maintain fairly stable conditions necessary for survival.

“So let us begin anew—remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is subject to proof.”

~JFK, at his inaugural address




Succulents and Natives–the joys of fall gardening

One of the joys of late summer (Autumn starts again with the equinox on September 22) is planning for a fall garden. I’ll be inspired to plant a fall vegetable garden soon, but I’m waiting until I’ve built a new planting box. Since I’ve been reworking the yards around my house, I’ve been particularly excited by the serendipity of timing for planting California natives (or “native adjacent”—plants that will do well in our local climate) and succulents with a hardiness for our mild winters.


An example of the amazing selection of succulents at Harmony Farm Supply nursery.

The weather has been particularly moderate in recent weeks (yes, I missed seeing the eclipse because of the fog), and yet this area is well-known for very warm, often hot, early fall days, balanced by longer and, on average, cooler nights.  In short, ideal conditions for planting some of these very interesting plants.

Both of these broad categories offer interesting variety, allowing for a fine selection of plants that will do quite well in our local gardens.

Our Sonoma County Master Gardeners offers a nice, succinct summary article, Top Succulents for Sonoma County.

I’m particularly drawn to the look that can be achieve using Sempervivum and Dudleya as a foundation planting for color and structure.  I’m sure to include Graptopetalum as I have a pot of them making quite a vigorous display on the deck. (I often start with deck pots or single plantings to see how they’ll generally do.) Coincidentally, one of our fantastic local nurseries, Harmony Farm Supply, just announced a major offering of some spectacular succulents.

I’ve long planted natives and plants particularly suited to our Mediterranean climate, resulting in many a lovely, meandering stroll around the grounds of California Flora Nursery, a local small-business treasure dedicated to “natives and habitat gardening with an exceptional diversity of offerings.”the flowers

In addition to my typical favorites (the many varieties of both Ceanothus, our “California lilac,” and yarrows always being high on that list), I’m looking forward to a combo planting, along a semi-shady fence line, of Rhododendron occidentale (the western azalea) and Calycanthus occidentalis (western spice bush). We’re taking care to plant them in just the right area with just the right irrigation to bridge into the fall rains (assuming a year of precipitation more like last year). Their flowers should be very complimentary with overlapping bloom times.


It’s a delight to see the occasional spice bush tucked away around this part of the county—their flowers are small but amazing with a lovely deep fragrance. A nonprofit fundraiser a few years ago for the AIDS Memorial Grove auctioned off paintings of native plants, and I was (and still am) very drawn to a captivating one of a spice bush bloom.

The western azalea should do reasonably well in the area I’m choosing and bring a nice balance to the garden. It’s always very enchanting to see a plant, especially a native, that is rather demure in general, make bursts of small but showy flowers. We’d do well to take this as a life lesson.

Overall, it’s been really very nice to be thinking more about the garden. Recent months have been spent on the myriad of details related to relocating and concluding a business venture…and a host of desk and paperwork.  As I look to reinvigorate my naturalist work, I’ve appreciated the opportunity to reorient my thinking.

Now, off to place some succulents around some boulders in the garden.

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Succulents readied for planting…

Harvest the Best of the Worst?


Cultivate the tree which you have found to bear fruit in your soil.

~Henry David Thoreau

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.

~Robert Louis Stevenson

harvest-moon-sidney-australia-e1474044536249Look for the full Harvest Moon on September 16 (including a subtle penumbral eclipse on the night of September 16-17, visible from visible from half of Earth, but unfortunately not North America).


A bad tree does not yield good apples. (English proverb)

This has been a great year for apples. The trees at RMH have been generous with their fruit, and the flavors have been delicious, consistently great. I didn’t find myself having to choose the “best of the worst,” unlike with politics these days. Imagine how sad you would be if, during harvest, you picked two apples, checked them over, and handed them to a friend, saying, “they’re both mealy, not the best examples of apples, but this one is the least bad of the two.”

Mmm. Tasty. Of course, an apple doesn’t have to be perfect to be part of a great applesauce or apple butter

“The sweeter the apple, the blacker the core. Scratch a lover and find a foe!”    ~Dorothy Parker

Would you apologize for the garden? The growing conditions this year? Your ability to pick fruit? Luckily, even bad fruit can be used to make good compost, especially if mixed with a bit of manure.

Let’s just say, one does reap what one sows, and, especially, what one cultivates. I believe this metaphor applies to socio/political gardening.

Reap & Sowbee-rose

Thankfully, gardening is much harder work than reading the news online or my inane social media feed, and, thus, is remarkably more rewarding. More so, given my current state of being, as I’ve become one of those Tylenol or Advil commercials of a person of a certain age who “over did it today” and needs a bit of “gentle safe relief” from my exertion.

As I’ve said many times, I love every season, and especially the transition between two. Summer into Autumn is a delight because while still harvesting the summer garden, one is planting cooler-weather crops. In fact, around here we typically have a nearly constant harvest of fruits & especially vegetables throughout the year. (Providing, of course, one appreciates the lovely flavors and healthfulness of leafy greens, a staple of the cool weather garden.)

Crushing fall

It’s always funny how the angle of the light in the sky and the crispness of the air give a classic statement of Autumn. Of course, it doesn’t officially begin until September 22 (at 7:21am, PDT, to be precise), and yet the human urge to rush seasonality is almost inescapable.


From right outside my office at RMH–a percussive addition to the sounds of fall

It doesn’t help that around here wineries in the area have been deep into the grape crush for weeks—something I refer to as the “hum of crush.” As I’ve blogged before, one notices different traffic patterns and energy as people rush to vineyards for picking—a specific urgency as workers hurry from one location to another, as their workplace is in a different location every day. Also, just to make sure we know it’s harvest, the nighttime horizon of a given vineyard is often dominated by the remarkably bright and oddly intimating glow of harvest lights.  (It’s easy to imagine some alien landing or government conspiracy event that might take place in a field; in fact, I often think of the dessert landing scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind when I first discover them.)

Crush is an odd reality unto its own.  A dimensional time shift in which the leisurely pace of grape growing during the idyllic “dog days” of summer is suddenly sped up to an urgency of harvesting, crushing and pressing to extract the elixir of the Vitis vinifera to speed it on its way fermenting.

Growers and winemakers suddenly become driven to urgency seemingly out of context for something as simple as wine. But, then again, it is wine, fine wine around here.

Squash, that gourdcindarella-smaller

I think the pumpkins have a lot to do with it also.  We’ve got a lot growing here at RMH, and their flame-colored delineation becomes more and more pronounced as their developing width and increasing mass catch the growing golden tinge of the sunlight as their now-spent fan-like leaves begin to fade.  In the case of the classic Cinderella pumpkin, an heirloom from France (a cultivar of Cucurbita maxima, also known as the Rouge Vif d’Etampes), their crimson carriages do indeed take on a magical feel.

And yet, ours will be used for the delicious but less enchanted categories of decoration & food. Especially since these “winter squashes” are edible for such a prolonged period after their harvest. Which points to their value as an “old world” food so essential to human habitation on this continent.

Reflected Light in the Night

As I stated up top, this weekend is the full Harvest Moon. Curious how much lunar lore dominates human culture, especially given that “moon light” is all reflected light.

A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.

Oscar Wilde

snow-moon-risingI’m moved by the moonlight, as was evidenced by my distraction last night as I noticed the glow of the rising moon, incongruous, as the moon was not yet visible in my part of the night sky.  When I think about it, I become mesmerized by the effect of the beautiful luminosity of our star (the sun), not visible, as it shines its burning light over 90 million miles, past the earth (while illuminating the Eastern Hemisphere), to the moon. Then, the reflected light of a practically full moon bounces back nearly a quarter-million miles to the night sky.

It was a nice moment, capping a day during which I was able to both garden and take some pictures of the later summer flowers around here.

I’ve been distracted from spending as much time working on projects connected to nature, which is not my nature.  Office work of running a business has been “eclipsing” time I might spend on these projects, while at the same time, in some cases, issues at various organizations have deflected my engagement.

So, the metaphor, of course, is that sometimes reflected light is more illuminating than we realize.  The phenomena of nature are all around us, holding us, shaping us, the stuff of us. So, though one might be in an absence of direct enlightenment, inspiration is still available.


Seasonal déjà vu

Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.
~ Henry David Thoreau

The Autumn counterfeited Spring
With such a flush of flowers,
His fiery-tinctured garlands more
Than mocked the April bowers,
And airs as sweet as airs of June
Brought on the twilight hours.
~Dinah Mulock Craik

When Summer gathers up her robes of glory, And, Like a dream of beauty, glides away. ~ Sarah Helen Whitman

I really enjoy the transition of one season to another, a bridge between the phases of nature’s inevitable advance. One of the ways I experience it most profoundly is when I am out working in the garden and become seized by a profound awareness of recognition–seasonal déjà vu.near fall evening

After months of growing comfort, working to be in tune with the unique personality of the current season, it’s invigorating to get a whiff of the approaching season—like a good, old friend when you think you caught a glimpse of them across the street, or a remarkably familiar smell that suddenly forces a sharp, visceral recall into your consciousness. (With my grandmother, it’s certain smells of hearty “old school” cooking or, improbably, Lysol, reminding me of the process of cleaning the garbage room of the apartment building she managed with my grandfather.)

Of course, September 23 is the equinox, so we are not yet in autumn; however, we just had a desperately needed day of rain, so today had that incredible smell of wet dry grass mixed with just slightly moistened parched dirt. The plants & trees at River Myst Haven have been smacked in to a vividness by their first rain in many months that evokes an autumnal “spring awakening.” Correspondingly, the “call of fall” is evoked by various temperature extremes typical for this time of year—nighttime temps will dip to 48° but hit 90 during the day on Saturday. We know the drill: sweatshirt in the morning, t-shirt in the afternoon (and, of course, sun screen)—only more so this year!

The unusual weather in California isn’t news any more—our drought has reached exceptional scope and speculation about El Niño is all the rage. It is important to note that this phenomenon of the ocean currents is regular, unpredictable, and erratic in the out comes it produces. This first push of rain hit southern California with up to 2 inches of rain in some areas and heavy flooding in other western states, but left my simple rain gauge at about a half-inch.


Relief agencies.

[You’ve probably heard about the multiple wildfires in the state. Lake County has been hit particularly hard, so I want to post an update on relief needs.]

So, these last several years have been odd but may be the “new normal.” The affect on how things grow is quite noticeable. We experience the change in weather, data points to a change in climate, multiple studies call out the effect of human activity…what I can say for certain is that if these changes remain constant, what we eat when will be affected, as will the cost of food.

The Nature of Hotness

One of the joys of gardening in Sonoma County is growing chiles (or chili. Or chilli.) of many different varieties. The hotness of chiles is rated on the Scoville Scale and is dependent on how much capsaicin is in the fruit. Recently I learned a lesson in the intensity of the Scoville Scale and a bit of humility regarding what I will shove in my mouth without thinking it through.chili

I decided it wise to take a bet with someone to trade and try hot chiles that we each grew. Seems he eats very hot chiles every day for lunch; however, I on the other hand will typically only use them for cooking.

He ate the one I grew like it was candy, so it was my turn. Being small, I ate it in one bite. At first it has a fresh taste and a mild warming sensation. Turns out the chile is referred to as El Diablo, and it lives up to it’s reputation. First I felt a slow, steady burn develop as it I had taken a mouth full of a hot beverage that was uncomfortable but not burning. Ahh, if only it had stopped there. Very quickly, it began to feel like I had taken a mouth full of some chemical that wasn’t supposed to be consumed, and, even more quickly, I began to worry that I would soon be experiencing blistering. Cut to me dashing to the refrigerator… ahhhhh, the calming effect of the fat in several glasses of milk…lesson learned.