Monday, July 12, 2010

Caging the Fruit Trees Update

I noticed last week that grasshoppers were forcing themselves between the tops and sides of the screen cages to get at the fruit trees. I immediately ordered some Tangle Foot to coat the cages at the vulnerable points and used duct tape as a temporary measure. We had quite a bit of rain during the week, and the tape came off most of the cages. In the two cages on which the tape held, the little trees are beginning to sprout leaves.

The Tangle Foot arrived in today's mail, so I can paint it on the cages this coming weekend.

One plant the hoppers don't like much is the bull nettle, though I've seen them eating the flowers (in fact, I posted a photo of one doing that, not too long ago, in this blog). Most of the native plants that manage to survive here are early spring annuals; and trees, shrubs and perennials the hoppers don't much like: juniper, camphor weed, prickly ash ... bull nettles. I think the large grasshopper population may be due, in part, to the way the land has been used. It was a cotton farm for many years, then left fallow for several years. I need to learn more about grasshoppers, to see if I can figure out a way to limit their numbers.

When I lived at Altamira, up the hill from where I am now, I didn't have grasshoppers, but there were plenty of leaf cutting ants -- they created huge ant cities that covered up to a tenth of an acre and went down 6 feet or more --  the ants could defoliate a fruit tree overnight. I began studying the ants, because I wanted to learn how to kill them. But I ended up getting interested in them and becoming ... well, ... fond of them in a way. My father told me about Tangle Foot, which has apparently been around since the 1800's. I painted the tree trunks with it to keep the ants off. This won't work for grasshoppers, of course, since they can fly right up into the tree canopies.

I visited Altamira over the weekend and stopped by the largest ant city, to see how everyone was doing. Their population seems to have been diminished by last year's severe drought, along with the population of blackjack oak and post oak and even a few junipers. There are many, many dead trees, but I was pleased to see young ones sprouting up to take the places of the deceased. When I lived at Altamira, I used a wood fire to heat my house. There were always plenty of dead oak branches lying around. I never had to cut a living tree for fire wood.

I went searching for bull nettle seeds Sunday and found some ripe ones in an area where the air was fragrant with their flowers. The seed pods shatter explosively when the seeds are completely ripe, flinging the seeds many feet from the parent plant. So to harvest the seeds, one must take them when they're almost ripe, but not quite ripe. The photo shows an almost-ripe seed pod and a seed -- they come 4 seeds to a pod. The seeds have crunchy coats and soft, very tasty insides, sort of like M&M candies without the chocolate.

Ripe seed pods are ivory-white. Almost-ripe seeds still have some of the hairy outer covering, as in the photo. A pair of leather gloves is a must for picking bull nettle seeds. I leave them in a container (covered by a cloth to keep the seeds in) until they shatter. I can see I should have included a coin or some other object of known size in the photo to show the size of the seed. That's a demitasse saucer the seed and pod are sitting on. The pod is a little less than an inch long.

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