Sunday, August 25, 2013

Baker Park: Boat Ramp and Hobo Camp: a review

Baker Park is a boat landing on the Rogue River just above Riverside Park, the first and most central park in the city of Grants Pass.  It has an old fire station up front by East Parkside and Parkway, followed by a bench next to a sidewalk facing away from the river and toward East Parkside and the fire station.  This is the only bench in the park.  It is backed by a mass of live and dead blackberries and other weeds, which continue down the east side of the sidewalk to the parking area and bathroom.

It has a bathroom at the top end of the parking area, with a trash can outside it.  There are two more trash cans by the boat landing.  These get emptied frequently, if not daily, but the City apparently doesn’t hire people to pick up the litter that is strewn from top to bottom of the “improved” area and gets worse in the unimproved area, the vast majority of the city’s land upriver.  

It is landscaped only on the west side to its border and in the middle; the east side is allowed to be “wild”—full of blackberries and other noxious and nuisance weeds that block the view of whatever is behind them and amount to a fire hazard, particularly between the upper area and the Parkway Bridge.  The planted shrubbery is also full of blackberries, tall grass, other weeds, and litter.
Blackberries, East of the path down to the parking lot.

There is a sign on the east edge of the parking lot, telling us that the Middle Rogue Steelheaders have “adopted” this stretch of river—with trash around it and weeds behind it.  It is said that they clean only the river side itself, and only once a year, at the end of summer.  The sign is out of that territory, but the litter gets worse closer to the river.  

Groups generally adopt a piece of public property to show their civic-mindedness.  As adoption signs go, this one is very bad advertising, but it shows the true nature of recreational fishermen.  They aren’t there to work.  They’d be better thought of if they’d pick up the area in which they are fishing, before and after they fish.

Last year, Grants Pass built a wide, paved biking and walking trail to Baker Park from East Parkside, behind our relatively new “Public Safety” (police and fire) station, under the Parkway Bridge, and into the park.  The weeds close in around the path, as it reaches the parking area.
 Blackberries close in on path, east of the parking lot.

But the side toward the river becomes willows, blackberries, weeds, and litter, and there is a hobo camp a few hundred feet upstream of the boat landing.  Until this winter, they had an open willow grove with many beaten paths, shielded by blackberries.  Beyond that, a corral was constructed from willow logs in thicket growth to shield the campers.  This year, winter high water knocked down the willows with several large logs, and it has become a maze of blackberries and willow sprouts in an obstacle course of logs and limbs, with many pockets in the detritus for sleeping shelters and a few open areas.  The area is, of course, full of litter and discarded clothes and blankets. 

There is, this year, a nice shallow wading area, suitable for young children, next to the boat landing, as sand has filled in below the gravel bars on this side of the river.  But the weeds, litter, and the camp upriver make it feel unsafe even in daylight, in a city whose major goal it is to “look safe and be safe.”  “Public Safety” could start by adopting its park down the hill.
8/24/13   Published in Yahoo Contributor Network.
Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener        541-955-9040

Monday, August 19, 2013

How to Control Insect Pests Naturally

The EPA just approved another systemic pesticide, saying that it is needed because the pests have become immune to previous poisons.  This is a losing game, as plant-eating pests can easily outbreed the poisons, while their predators and bees cannot.  Systemic pesticides, which are distributed into every part of the plant through its roots and stems, are particularly dangerous to bees, hummingbirds, and predatory insects, which rely on nectar for fuel.

The smallest pests are inherently the hardest to control in a conventional yard or farm, yet they can be easily managed in a naturally managed landscape that makes their predators comfortable and lets them breed. 
Such pests are not pestilential all the time; it is only when they infest and become a plague that they become a real problem.  If most plants that sprout in natural conditions were able to grow to maturity, they would be too small and crowded for the good of the rest of us.  Herbivorous “pests” thin most of the plants as they grow, the smallest and weakest ones first.

An infestation of any pest is a feast for any predator that eats it.  Given a chance to do their job, predators multiply as they feast, and the population of the pest crashes back to pre-infestation levels.  In a natural landscape, any infestation is a temporary affair.  When ladybugs and soldier beetles home in on aphids on roses, they don’t last long.

Ladybug adult, credit Little Miss Parasite,

 Nearly mature ladybug larvae on my mature corn, with grey aphids, one week after ladybugs mated there.

A few days after the previous photo, the corn is cleaned of all but aphid trash.

Three things make insect predators comfortable: shelter; food; and water.  The shelter for many predators is leaf mulch; coarse bark works as well.  Adults and/or larvae crawl around under the mulch, eating whatever they can kill.  At night, many crawl out of hiding and stalk their prey on the plants.  Ground predators include soldier beetle larvae, ground beetles, ants, spiders, centipedes, and even earwigs, which eat fungus-infected leaves, not healthy plant tissue.

 Soldier beetle, credit  Ground beetle, credit

Since insects have little sugar or fat, their predators need an energy source like nectar, and many of them, like parasitic wasps and soldier beetles, prefer small flowers, the smaller the better.  Carrot flowers qualify, as do chickweed and purslane, chickweed in spring, purslane in summer.  Both of these low, spreading annuals are useful and edible, and don’t bother other plants much.  Deadhead your carrot flowers; they are likely to make half-wild seed that makes white, skinny roots.

Water is needed as well.  If you buy ladybugs or spider mite predators, it is important to water the tops of the plants so they can take a first drink.  Bees, wasps and birds mob sources of water in hot, dry weather.  Spider mites love dryness and shun humidity.  Sprinkler irrigation and misters are best for providing the water that your predators need, along with baths and fountains for birds.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Tools every homeowner needs

6th Speech to Networking Toastmasters, 6/24/2013

Good morning, Toastmasters and Honored Guests:

I come dressed for work, with a batch of tools to show you, tools that every homeowner would find very handy to have around, regardless of whether or not you do your own gardening, or hire help.  If you hire help that has tools, it is very handy for the help to have extra tools available on occasion. 

More important, if you know what you need to have done, and have the tools to do it, you can hire workers without truck or tools for as little as $10 per hour, rather than $15 for those who have tools, and teach them how to garden right from the start.  As a garden coach I can help you figure out exactly what you need to have done, and you can tell your helpers exactly how to do it, or have me explain it for you.

I’ll start with a little gem that everyone should own, a battery powered surface sweeper.  It’s light, easy, and so quiet you don’t even need earplugs.  (demonstrate) Even if you have a gardener with this tool, having two means having twice the sweeping time; they only work about 15-20 minutes to a charge.  With it, and maybe some extra batteries, you can easily keep your pavements and paths clean between your gardener’s visits.  There are several kinds, some with smaller and more powerful batteries.  They run about $50-$98.

Another handy tool to have around between visits by your gardener is a web duster.  I have this one on a 16’ extendable pole to get webs up to the second story.  Cobweb spiders are the homeless tramps of the spider world; they don’t clean or repair their dwellings; they camp.  When a web gets dirty, visible, and therefore useless, they move on and build another one, leaving you to clean up.  It pays to hit every nook and cranny, even if you don’t see webs; the spider is in the web you don’t see yet.

These can even be operated without gloves, which is why I bring up gloves second.  You should have some to handle plants from your garden, or soil, or tools, all of which can be hard on hands.  These nitrile gloves are great because you can actually feel the textural differences of different kinds of plants; no seams; very comfortable, though a bit sweaty.  In winter, you can wear two sizes, for instance a small in a medium, and they keep your hands surprisingly warm, even when wet.

To carry gloves, tools, trash and small weeds, a small tool belt is just the thing.  This is about the smallest one Diamond sells, and I love all four pockets, the biggest one for trash.

One tool my belt cannot be without is Kengyu pruning scissors.  Once it was pruners, but these bonsai scissors can cut anything pruners can in smaller spaces. They can also be used for weeding, by cutting annuals like crab grass under the crown when they are blooming; at that stage, they have no food in their roots and will die. 

Loppers come next in the line of cutters, and this model of lopper, Fiskar’s 18” gear-action lopper, can cut through nearly anything they can get around, thanks the extra leverage from this gear action.  The gear makes it possible to get the same leverage as a much longer handle, but with the short handles, you can work in tighter spaces.   They have become surprisingly hard to find; I order them these days from

Of course you should have a good, solid wheel barrow, a round shovel; a square shovel; and a garden rake, the solid, heavy kind of rake.  But rather than a leaf rake, you should have a folding rake like this.  It expands out for leaf cleanup, but narrows down to get in tight spaces and is more rigid when narrowed, so you can move gravel and dirt with it, often taking the place of a hard rake.   Thanks to this, I rarely use the heavy garden rake.

This rake works well with a hula hoe to maintain light gravel paths.  All path mulches eventually become seed beds, including gravel.  But 4 x 8 sand, actually a light, rounded gravel, can be worked with a hula hoe, cutting off and pulling small weeds, which can be gathered with a rake and discarded. 

The last tool is one you might find surprising: wide polyester cloth.  I buy it at Wal-Mart in the remnant rack for $1 or $2 a yard.  The width is important to cover a truck bed.  It can be used to line a truck for carrying loads of material; it keeps stuff from leaking out of the truck, and makes it easy to pull out the last of the load.  The same allows easy dumping of clippings from a truck.  A smaller cloth can be used to cover a load for hauling, and then cover the ground behind the truck to catch the slop during unloading.  A smaller cloth still can line a wheelbarrow so you can easily pick up clippings and dump them in a truck, or to catch dirt during digging operations, so it can all go back in the hole.

If you own a home with a yard, you should have the tools to work in that yard, regardless of whether you have someone else do the yard work.  At the very least, you should be able to blow away the debris and sweep away the cobwebs.

I yield the floor to the Toastmaster.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Stop Charging Us for Watering

Honorable Mayor, Council, and Manager:
We don’t have to breathe smoke until winter.  I’m breathing in my yard a lot easier than downtown, because I use misters and sprinklers to keep the smoke down.  And I’m not even watering more than necessary to keep my yard alive and healthy.  I pay about $80 extra a month to do it.  We shouldn’t have to pay through the nose to maintain our yards.
Watering one’s property with sprinklers and misters benefits oneself and neighbors by cleaning and humidifying the air.  If enough people do it, we can even make rain.  An article in Science News tells us that farmers irrigating in California cause more rain in the Four Corners area and put more water in the Colorado River to water farms in the desert.
          This should not be surprising.  It’s just an illustration on a large scale of the water cycle we were taught as children.  It works on the local scale as well.  In our bowl of a valley, when we have a high pressure inversion, water can evaporate and cause thunderstorms in our valley, if we throw enough water in the air.  When we are not in inversion, it can blow upstream and fill the Rogue and Klamath Rivers with rain.
          We used to make rain, in the ‘80s, by watering our yards and farms.  We had thunderstorms nearly every week in ’85 and ’86 when I lived here.  A lot of creeks were running year-round then that are seasonal now.  What changed?  The way we charge for water.
          The provision of water is a properly a service, like sewer, not the sale of a commodity, like electricity.  The water we get from the river is essentially free; the service is cleaning and delivering it, and like sewer, is mostly overhead in plant and employees.
          Pricing it as a commodity has put us into a spiral of rising rates and dropping usage.  The city admitted this a few years back when asking for a rate increase.  The last time you raised rates, you raised the basic rate, which at least did not make matters worse.
          A few years ago, the city started charging for sewer based on winter water use rather than a flat rate per household.  The same could be done for water, rather than charging us extra for watering our yards.
          Please make this an emergency ordinance.  Let us put enough water in the air now to make rain that will fill our seasonal creeks again and put these fires out.

 Speech to the Grants Pass City Council, 8/7/2013