Like a B-grade horror film, they’re back. Writhing en masse, draping cobwebs, and raining tiny “peppercorn” poop onto us, tent caterpillars have returned. Known variously as tent worms, army worms, and a host of other names not suitable to print, there are actually two species of tent caterpillars. » Continue Reading.
The Memorial Day long weekend is often a time to put in the garden, spruce up the yard, and of course, mow the lawn. After the snow from our prolonged winter melted away, many homeowners were disappointed at the condition of their lawn. Areas of dead grass are sometimes, but by no means always, due to heavy feeding by last fall’s grub crop. Grubs, of course, are beetle babies. Not like Ringo Junior, but the larval stage of European and rose chafers, and Japanese, Asiatic-garden, and Oriental beetles.
Unfortunately, you will have to wait until late summer to exact revenge, because short of becoming a skunk-herder and letting your flock dig up all the grubs, absolutely nothing you do to right now will kill the grubs responsible for vandalizing your lawn. Or kill any grubs for that matter. They are done feeding and are in the pupal stage, essentially impervious to poisons. » Continue Reading.
Friends and family understand that some of my dinners can be pretty wild. For example, right now they may include mashed sunchoke or “Jerusalem artichoke” tubers that escaped the voles and mice over the winter, as well as a steaming plate of tender, sweet nettles. (When cooked, the latter lose their sting, becoming tame as kittens. Better even, because they don’t shed.)
But the tastiest wild food around in very early spring is our native wild leek, Allium tricoccum, a.k.a. wild garlic, spring onion, or ramp (from “ramson,” a name for a similar European species). It pushes its light green leaves up through the leaf litter in hardwood forests along eastern North America, from Québec and Ontario south to South Carolina, in very early spring. They grow in clumps, occasionally forming large colonies which in some places carpet the forest floor. They last for only a few weeks, fading away by late June. » Continue Reading.
Muskrat Day. Velcro Appreciation Month. Hair Follicle Hygiene Week. Arbor Day. You know it’s an obscure event when the greeting-card trade hasn’t bothered to capitalize on it. I like to think the industry knows Arbor Day is worthy of a Hallmark line, but that they’ve decided to honor its spirit by conserving paper. (C’mon, it’s possible.) While not the best-known observance, Arbor Day has a respectable history, as well as a local connection.
Rooted in Jefferson County in New York’s northern tier, Arbor Day, which is observed on the last Friday in April, has become recognized around the world. Mr. J. Sterling Morton of Adams, NY germinated the concept of Arbor Day in 1872 to highlight the need to conserve topsoil and increase timber availability in his adopted state of Nebraska. Mr. Morton went on to a sterling career in business, founding the Morton Salt Company, still in existence today. Arbor Day went on to become a somewhat obscure, if virtuous, tradition. » Continue Reading.
Some invasive insects appear to be trying to win us over through sly public-relations moves. Emerald ash borer (EAB), the Asian beetle killing our ash trees, arrived looking like it just came from a Mary Kay convention, all bright, glitzy and glitter-coated. And it could have been simply called the green ash borer, but instead managed to get itself branded “emerald,” something everyone likes.
A new forest pest on the horizon seems to have taken a page from EAB. Trichoferus campestris, better known as the velvet longhorned beetle, has cleverly brought the cuddliness of the Velveteen Rabbit and the romantic image of Texas Longhorns together in its name. Don’t be fooled by this brilliant strategy, though. Let’s pull back the curtain and expose the velvet longhorned beetle (VLB) for what it really is. » Continue Reading.
April 1st marked the 90th anniversary of the development of the modern sweet pepper, also known as the bell pepper. In Central America, Mexico, and northern South America there is evidence that numerous types of peppers (Capsicum annuum) have been cultivated by native peoples for at least 6,500 years.
Hot peppers were the first New World crop grown in Europe, with seeds arriving in Spain in 1493. Since that time, plant breeders around the world have selected peppers for various traits, giving rise to such names for this Native American vegetable as “Hungarian” and “Thai” hot peppers. » Continue Reading.
Nearly all historians agree Marie Antoinette probably never coined the phrase “Let them eat cake,” a saying already in popular culture before her time. The phrase was ascribed to her by opponents to bolster her reputation as callous and arrogant.
She would have seemed far more benevolent if she had said “Let them eat wood.” » Continue Reading.
When I hear the phrase “trap tree,” an image of Charlie Brown’s kite-eating tree in the Peanuts comic strip comes immediately to mind. But trap trees, or sentinel trees, are meant to nab a much smaller flying object, the emerald ash borer (EAB).
The idea is to make certain ash trees more attractive to EAB, to serve both as a monitoring tool and as a means of slowing the rate of ash death. Early in the growing season, a chosen ash tree is girdled, which stresses it and induces it to create certain phenols and alcohols not present in healthy trees. It is on this chemical signature that the adult emerald ash borers home in. » Continue Reading.
Everyone knows that acing an algebra exam won’t help your grade in anthropology, history or theatre class. The same logic applies to water.
A coliform test can tell if your well is impacted by septic leakage or manure runoff, but it won’t tell you if residues from agricultural chemicals or spilled gas or oil are getting in your water. Those are very different kinds of tests. » Continue Reading.
The sturdy, long-lived and stately American beech, Fagus grandifolia, has been slowly dying out since 1920, when a tiny European insect pest was accidentally released on our shores. Because of this lethal but unhurried tragedy, many forest tracts across the Northeast are being choked out by too many beech trees.
That’s right, beech decline has led to a proliferation of beech so extreme that in some places it is a threat to the health of future forests. With apologies to all the bovine readers out there, this qualifies as an oxymoron, I’m pretty sure. The ultimate cause of this weird situation is the aforementioned pest, but the proximate cause is a bad case of hormones being out of whack. » Continue Reading.
Excessive tinder is a major contributor to forest fires, but a shortage of Tinder can lead to an early death. For social animals like canines, deer, dolphins, elephants, primates such as bonobos and humans, and even bees and ants, contact with others is as essential to well-being as food and water.
A 2015 study done at Brigham Young University which garnered much news coverage in 2017 and early this year found that loneliness may be a greater health risk than smoking and obesity combined. » Continue Reading.
In Grade 3, a brilliant joke made the rounds. We’d hold up a sheet of blank white paper and announce it was a polar bear in a snowstorm. Genius is relative for kids. But the first time I drove into a whiteout made me realize how accurate that “art” project was. Anything can hide behind a veneer of snow.
This leads me to ask why February 26-March 3 was chosen as “National Invasive Species Awareness Week.” By this time of year, our awareness has been blunted by a critical shortage of landscape: down is white, up is gray. Right now we’re aware it’s cold, and that the ground has been white for a long while. Seems like Microsoft or Elon Musk or whoever runs the “Special of the Week” calendar could find a better time for drawing folks’ attention to harmful invaders. » Continue Reading.
The good news is that Imperial Forces are losing the battle for planetary dominance. The bad news is that we still play for their team.
The British Imperial System of measurement, born in 1824 to help streamline a host of odd units inherited from various cultures, was at the time an improvement. In 1965, the UK adopted the decimal-based metric system, despite the fact it was invented by the French. Today, metric is universal in science and medicine, and of the 195 nations on the planet, only 2 have yet to abandon the former British system for general commerce. » Continue Reading.
Winter is not a season when many people think about tents, except maybe to be glad they do not live in one. I do have some friends who love winter camping, and the fact they have never extended an invitation is evidence of how much they value our friendship.
Oddly enough, winter is a crucial time to look for signs of forest-tent caterpillars (FTC). In spite of their name, FTC do not weave a silken tent-like nest like the eastern-tent caterpillar and other species of tent caterpillars. The tent-less lifestyle of forest-tent caterpillars makes it harder to spot outbreaks in spring. » Continue Reading.
Encouraging people to make friends with wild plants can be a challenge. Sometimes there are genuine concerns. Nettles, as an example, make an early-spring cooked green par excellence, even though its fresh leaves and stems have stinging hairs that can cause an uncomfortable, if temporary, rash if care is not taken when harvesting it.
Other times, it is a matter of perception. Critical to the survival of monarch butterflies, milkweed is delicious when prepared correctly. Jewelweed, native to wetlands, contains a sap which counteracts poison ivy, and its orange or yellow orchid-like flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Yet both plants suffer from having names which define them as undesirable. » Continue Reading.