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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Nov 17

Rainy Days and Outsmarting Ants

Posted on November 17, 2017 at 8:42 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

raindropsRain, glorious rain. The air seems to smell sweeter, the leaves of plants take on a shine as the moisture rinses off their summer-dusty leaves, and parched soils quickly absorb the welcomed falling rain. Better yet, water savings are to be had as irrigation controllers can now be turned off for the season. The plants are in their dormant stage and typically can survive winter with just the amount of water nature delivers.

With the rains, you may also notice a surge in unwelcome six-legged visitors. Ants are invaders and what better place to invade than our warm, dry, accommodating homes. They are seeking the same things we are for basic survival: water, food and shelter. (It makes me wonder if these insects know of Maslow's hierarchy of needs!) And there is nothing like a good bit of precipitation to draw them in.

If this is a challenge you face, take heart. It does not take spray bottles of insecticide to deter them from your abode, but perhaps some modifications and adjustments will be in order.

First, determine the location of their entrance path coming into the home. Caulk those openings. See if you also can find the entrance trail on the outside of the house and plug up those cracks as well. Many landscapers can attest to ants setting up residence in an irrigation control box and short-circuiting it as their bodies form a conduit between the ground wire and hot lead. Again, caulk those openings before you need to replace the motherboard of your irrigation system.

I have read about and experimented with the way in which ants leave a scented trail along their path. By rubbing your finger across that path, the ants become disoriented and those following behind lose their direction. If you spot exploring scouts, a good dousing of warm soapy water along their path will help prevent more ants from following after. 

Food sources are the next challenge to address. Ants will invade pet bowls and any number of food sources if available to them. Again, the best method of eliminating ants is to be fastidious by using soapy water to wash away any leaks, spills or crumbs. Oddly the ants I dealt with earlier this year were most interested in the mouthwash in the reservoir of the water pik! 

Pet dishes are a prime attractant to these tiny pests. In my reading I came across the suggestion to create a moat of water with the pet dishes placed within. Ah, but there was a caveat that accompanied that idea: You see, ants can float. These aquatic skills leave the pet food dishes still exposed for invasion. Again, dish soap added to the moat dissuades the ants from taking the plunge. 

Meanwhile, let it rain! It is time for hot herbal teas, good books and homemade soups simmering on the stove. 

Heartfelt wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Nov 16

Honey Sweet Garden

Posted on November 16, 2017 at 2:01 PM by Ann Vallee

poppy for blogMarin-Friendly Garden in San Anselmo

honey sweet garden 250As enthusiastic permaculturists and organic farmers, Jane and her family love to experiment with Marin-friendly practices in their fruitful, bee-happy garden. Dubbed “Honey Sweet Garden” for obvious reasons (honeybees!), lots of hard work and care have gone into reusing and recycling here as much as possible. The garden has veggies and flowers galore, chickens, and an award-winning composting system, for starters. 

Beginning with smaller annual projects like building a greenhouse out of recycled materials, and moving on to more advanced work, Jane shares all of her best accomplishments with us. In the video below, she takes us through the details of her laundry-to-landscape (L2L) graywater system, how it works, and touches on the basic yet crucial calculations necessary as a precursor to any successful L2L set-up. We also get a peek at the garden’s 300-gallon rainwater catchment system. As Jane explains, utilizing a small shed’s rooftop during rainstorms can yield a surprising amount of water!

Explore more Marin-Friendly gardens at:

Honey Sweet Garden 1

Honey Sweet Garden 2

Honey Sweet Garden 4

Honey Sweet Garden 3

Honey Sweet Garden 5

HOney Sweet Garden 4b

Nov 09


Posted on November 9, 2017 at 1:01 PM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

A friend dropped by the house the other day and, glancing at the books in my library, remarked that I must really be into landscaping. Giving a glimpse in the same direction, I noted the overwhelming subject glaring back. Many of the books are cherished rare plant diagnostic books that belonged to my husband's father. Many others came from our old nursery days, and yet others are new and detail subjects such as winter gardening, plant propagation, and native plants of northeastern California.

After my friend left, I gravitated to the book on plant propagation. I recalled that my grandfather frequently grafted various types of fruit trees. He was from Italy and, ironically, lived just a stone’s throw away from where my father-in-law grew up in Switzerland. It made me wonder if grafting trees was a common practice in Europe, or if both of these men just happened to possess the love and passion for plants that I do.

grafting trees
In this experiment, scions from the old plum (top) will be grafted onto the unruly root stock (bottom). Stay tuned for the results.
Grafting is a subject that is relatively new to me, and that book is prompting me to slice deeper into this world. I know the time is ripe to begin the process of creating new plants. The old plum down by the old barn on this property is the best ever—or so I’ve been told. I wouldn't know as either the squirrels are stealing the produce or those passing by are savoring the fruit before I can get to it. Either way, by all appearances the tree where these tasty tidbits grow must be close to a hundred years old, if it was planted the same time the old barn was built. 

Coincidentally, when I moved to Lassen, I purchased a plucot tree and planted it by the greenhouse, even though I knew I was pushing the envelope in terms of this type of tree surviving the cold. The outcome of that experiment was finding a dead tree in spring, but a healthy root stock that has since suckered and turned into a wonderful shade tree for the dogs to sleep underneath on a hot day. It seems I had the perfect host plant to begin a new experiment.

Grafting requires joining two types of closely related trees. In other words, a plum to a plucot will work. A nectarine to a peach would also work. Even an Amur maple to a Trident maple—wow, would that be stunning in the fall! But I digress. Apples to apples, pears to pears, and so forth, would make perfect matches as well. Come to think of it, an Asian pear to a common pear would be a dream. My mind continues to conjure up the possibilities.

The trick for a successful marriage between two trees is to maintain contact between the cambium (the green layer located under the bark) of the host plant and of the stem you are introducing. Start by finding the root stock or host tree, then choose the source tree that you wish to duplicate. From the source tree, carefully remove healthy tips of branches (known as a scion) in clean, sharp diagonal slices using a very sharp knife or X-Acto blade. Then cut a matching but opposite diagonal slice in a similar size branch on the host plant. I can almost envision placing the two stems side by side when making the cut to assure uniformity. Bind the scion tightly to the host plant using tape, grafting rubber or Parafilm. If done correctly, the cells in the cut region of the two plants will divide and the vascular tissues will grow together, forming a healthy branch on the host tree. 

There are a few other means of grafting to try as well, but this gardener is willing to take on one at a time. Will you give it a go with me? Or better yet, grafting experts are welcome to share their skilled experience with those of us novices!