Thursday, March 5, 2020

Ten Percent Rule*

No matter how much insecticidal soap I sprayed, the aphids came back stronger than ever. Finally, so frustrated, I stuck the head of our giant three year old jalapeno out the window, shaking the plant vigorously to dislodge the aphids and shed the leaves on which they congregated. Although only outside for a minute, it was about 10° F, and not thirty minutes later, the remaining leaves had turned black -like frost-damaged basil. I was ready to toss the whole deal, but I hesitated. The following day, I pushed the head of the pepper out the window yet again and pruned the branches hard -all the way to the woody, tan stems.

This sweet pepper had been pruned hard in December, yet the aphids continue to show up. You can see their shed skins and the stunted condition of its remaining leaves.

About a week ago, the jalapeno's woody stems sprouted vigorously. I had hoped it would do so slowly -those new leaves such easy sucking and still three months before any pepper can be reliably placed outside.

This week, leaves twice as big but still tender, the aphids have returned. I put my ugly, fat thumb in the picture to show how tiny the aphids are. I rely on my camera and macro lens to spot new aphids since my eyes can no longer focus so closely.

Closeup of the three aphids.

It has been warmer than average recently. Although we are far from a Minnesota spring, which typically arrives in May, the warmth brings out a few Asian lady beetles that worked their way into the walls last October. Attracted to the light, they usually make their way to windows, and die. Outside, they wouldn't make it at all, given that nights drop to the single digits at times.

Aware that predation is the best way to control aphids outdoors and in greenhouses, I haven't been willing to release ladybugs in the house. So when the warmth brought this one to a window near the peppers, I coaxed it onto my hand and then the sweet pepper. The lady beetle is a reluctant helper, it seems to only want to hide, but the following day I didn't observe any aphids and the lady beetle was still on the pepper, alive.

*The 10% Rule is an ecosystem function where energy passed on from one trophic level (position of an organism in the food chain) to the next, only ten percent of the energy is available to the consumer. An example: the pepper plant passes on only ten percent of the energy to the aphid and the aphid only ten percent to the lady beetle who consumes it. To receive the full energy consumed by the aphid, the lady beetle needs to eat a lot of aphids -something for which gardeners should be thankful.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Ideal Cosmos

At my latitude, nine rotations in mid December exclude daylight for fifteen hours and fourteen minutes. This slow motion reversal at the planetary elliptical vertex is experienced as stasis. Nine days of nearly equal day light. Then, day by day, our planet rushes toward another season at 67,000 miles per hour, delivers us a minute, then two, and finally three minutes additional daylight per rotation. This is time, flying.

That it is completely dark at seven thirty five in the morning, nearly 26,000 minutes after that reversal, is still surprising. The moon, approaching its 297° northwest by west horizon, nearly full, cast its reflected light through our window, waking me as would the morning sun, set to meet the horizon only fourteen minutes later.

The rising sun's countenance a dim facade.

Winter, with it's frozen palette,

 pushes me to reconsider a lifelong disinterest in Florida.

 All places can challenge our preconceptions.

Although Florida's humanity has created endless reaches of entertainment and consumerism, gated communities and social poverties, it is a place of subtle beauty, and warm, ever so warm. I've still not grown accustomed to winter travel, its luxury and privilege. Yet, it does aid the spirit and what does one have if one is low in spirit?

I've become taken with this greenhouse situated within Florida's Mead Botanical Garden. It's not my first greenhouse, and won't be my last.

At home we invite the aura of a Floridian winter when we bring outdoor plants indoors to overwinter.  With them we bring various creatures, including this year's populations of aphids and fungus gnats.

In this choice we face the decision, should we be so thoughtful, of life or death for these insects. The suffering of plants, should they experience suffering at all, is weighted against the immediate squish or the slow, sudsy demise of soft-bodied beings. We recoil at the sticky residue and skins shed onto the windowsill, but not the lack of empathy for life. Expanded, these thoughts engage all the world, all the choices within our power to make.

Despite myself, I still moved to extinguish the aphids, to eliminate the gnats. A garden is celebrated, but a gardener kills. We do not move against the gardener, decry their deeds and demote their effort -apart from the more fashionable descriminations. We do not yet belong to an ideal cosmos, of which only mathematics and our imaginations approach.

Monday, November 11, 2019


November 11 -a bright, sunny, and cold day. One month ago, on October 11, we had our first snowfall. Yesterday's snowfall ushered in the coldest air of the autumn. We bottom out tonight in the low single digits, but we are at 12° F this morning. There is a brisk wind, so we feel chillier than the temperature might indicate. On November 11, 1940, Minneapolis received 16 inches of snow in a surprise storm -forecasting wasn't as precise back then. In 2005, the temperature soared to 64° F on this day while 1986 had Minneapolis bottoming out at -1° F.

The many lakes of our area are open water -not yet a skin of ice on them, despite two weeks now of well-below freezing temperatures. The other day a man near Cambridge, Minnesota, not quite an hour north of downtown Minneapolis, thought it cold enough to try his feet on ice that had formed on Skogman Lake. Based on my observations, here, the ice couldn't have been more than an inch or so thick. If you've been to the lake in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, you'll notice the ice ladders stationed around it in winter. I recall watching a father and child shuffle out on the ice one day. Tragedy was averted thanks to someone more vocal than myself, whose hesitancy requires some introspection on some other day. Minnesota doesn't know what ice ladders are and I will never know confidence on ice.

As October rolls out into November, I need to have a flexibility never required by my ocean-tempered, Atlantic coast activity. We don't always have what we need, do we? Curiously, the post I just linked to, above, finished with this sentiment:

"I've grown accustomed to winter, finding solace in the recess of growth and decay. As much as I think of a new season's garden, of tomatoes and greens, peppers and garlic, it's always too much. I aim to accept what can be done and what can be done, well."

Now that winter has come to occupy an additional three months of the year, my experience of its slippery possession is that of prey who's frantic contortions allow a brief but futile escape from the quickening claws of no longer. A winter, fast, I accept like death, but with a consciousness of afterlife that offers a view to the world I no longer inhabit, a world perceivable through the bright scrim of slow-moving molecules. 


Box store bulbs, fifty percent off, needed unfrozen earth to plant in. With this trouble, those bulbs should have been 75% off, no? Despite two weeks of frozen temperatures, I laid rumpled plastic, held down by bricks, over a patches of bare soil. When I planted on Saturday evening (yes, this dark at 5:00 pm), the soil was pliable under my coverings. Tulips and miniature iris -good luck!

Outdoor plants brought in for winter. Potted, pruned, and placed. Now, only fungus gnats, aphids, and watering to think about.


A hanging plant frozen in its basket

The vegetable beds, tangled, leafy, and snowed upon.

Remaining siding from this summer's window and siding replacement projects. I will do some of this indoors and wait for that forty degree day to come.

The rocks. In this location, under the replaced siding and adjacent to window wells, the builder had placed Hydrangea arborescens, you know -the spreading kind with giant flopping heads. Three Minnesota hardy azaleas were placed around the bay-type window to the left. Around the base of these, one and one-half inch St. Cloud granite (gray/pink/black coloration). In order to fix the siding and the kick-plate below it, the roots, the rocks, the clay, and eventually the plastic that laid deep beneath it all was removed. The hydrangea were removed a few years ago to make the driveway border. 

Many rainy days embedded the granite rocks into the black clay earth. After grading the soil to a proper slope, replacing the edging, laying new barrier fabric and sheet plastic to shed water, the granite is only partially replaced. It is frozen to the soil, now, but it also requires pressure washing to remove the clay, which will not happen until spring.

Despite the snow and the freezing, I am still working on a few outdoor things, like gravel around the apron of the studio and cobble edging to contain it, possibly some tree felling, and rebuilding the lattice that sits beneath the front porch. Given the early depth of cold, twenty to thirty degrees below average, isn't it yet possible that we will see ten to twenty degrees above average?