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Posts Tagged ‘Dogs’

Keeping Pets Safe in the Garden

We are proud to introduce the stars of today’s post: Kea, Sage and Joker who live in Colorado with Mary Beth. Emmie’s in California with Barbara.

Kea loves to pose for the camera.

Sage does not!

Joker couldn't care less. His specialties are hunting and looking pissed off.

Emmie doesn't like the camera or crows.

We figure that every gardener who has pets has also had a brush with disaster when their pooch or kitty has gotten into something in the garden that has made them sick. We are no exception to the rule. All of our pets have gotten mild upsets from eating the wrong thing, but it was when Mary Beth almost lost Kea last year that we realized how serious a problem it could be.

About this time last year Kea was so sick that everyone, vet included, was afraid she wasn’t going to make it. To make a long (and expensive) story short, Kea was medically supported through a couple of touch-and-go weeks and made a full recovery. We never did find out definitively what was wrong with her, but the short list of possibilities is a scary one for anyone who gardens and has pets.

The toxicology reports all came back negative, but there were three things that seemed likely to have caused Kea’s almost-fatal illness:

  • Plant poisoning: Kea loves to carry and chew sticks. Mary Beth had recently pruned a large hydrangea and Kea might have picked up a stick to play with. Symptoms of this poisoning are very similar to what Kea had: vomiting, fever, diarrhea, depression, increased heart rate, and weight loss.
  • Compost: This can be very attractive to your pets. You throw all kinds of goodies in there that you’d never put in your dog’s food dish, but that horse manure, moldy food, grains, etc. can smell mighty tasty to your dog. According to the Pet Poisoning Helpline, “Mycotoxins, the toxic component contaminating certain moldy foods or compost, can result in serious poisoning. Even very small quantities may cause illness. Mycotoxins can be found in moldy dairy foods, moldy walnuts or peanuts,  grains such as corn or wheat, hay, clover, cotton seed, moldy bread, moldy blue cheese, moldy spaghetti, compost, and other food substances. If your pet gets into this, you’ll typically see clinical signs within 2-3 hours of ingestion. Clinical signs include vomiting, tremoring, full grand-mal seizuring, an increased body temperature, increased salivation or drooling, a depressed respiratory rate, and an increased heart rate.”
  • Leptospirosis: Thirsty, or just plain curious dogs will drink from standing water and birdbaths. In fact, they seem to like a funky, finely-aged puddle of water, but this can cause serious illness. Symptoms are: poor appetite or not eating at all, fever, loss of energy/doesn’t want to play, more frequent urination, vomiting, muscle stiffness, and red eyes. The disease can cause kidney or liver failure. If your dog has these symptoms, call your vet right away. The sooner treatment is started the better the outcome.

We’ll never know what made Kea so sick, but that list of three is not all you should be careful about. Other things to be aware of are:

  • Cocoa mulch has sickened more than a few dogs who are attracted to the delicious chocolate smell. Interestingly, the frequent reports of dogs being killed by ingesting the stuff seem to have been exaggerated. Still it can make sicken or kill. Click on this link to read Snopes’ more balanced view on the issue.
  • Sewer or bio sludge fertilizers contain poisonous heavy metals and this can cause all kinds of problems if your dog likes to eat soil that has been treated with it. Don’t get us started on this stuff — we think it’s really bad to use anywhere in the garden. And NEVER use it on edibles.
  • Other fertilizers and nutrients. Emmie was sick for the better part of one day a couple of weeks ago and Barbara thinks she may have lapped up some of the alfalfa tea that she carelessly left within reach. Just because it’s organic, doesn’t mean it’s not poisonous. If you wouldn’t eat it, keep it out of reach.

Poisonous Plants

Let’s get back to poisonous plants as they are an obvious, if tricky, concern. Tricky because there are hundreds of lists out there that contain pretty much anything you might want to plant and if you went by most of them you’d end up with barren patch of dirt. So we’ve been researching the burning question: which plants are really, seriously poisonous?

Since a nibble or two is all most dogs will eat, most plants are pretty safe, but that nibble on the wrong plant will land your pet in a world of hurt. Here’s a link to a some very helpful lists published by the scientists at University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. The lists, using both common and scientific names, give a toxicity rating for plants ranging from 1, causing serious illness or death to 4, causing skin rash or irritation. Here is a link to a list of symptoms and which plants cause them. It also contains some more or less common household chemicals that can poison pets and what to do about it.

Where to Get Help

What should you do if you think your pet has been poisoned? Call your vet, animal hospital, or a poison hotline. Last year when Emmie ate some granular fertilizer (on a Sunday of course), Barbara called the Poison Control Center — 800-222-1222. They told her that it would probably not do more than give her a tummy ache. We don’t know if they always give advice for dogs so here are some pet specific resources:

BTW — we’re not endorsing either, just providing info.

How to Prevent Trouble

As gardeners, what should we be doing to keep our pets safe in the garden? We came up with this list of tips. If anyone has had a similar experience or some more tips to keep pets safe, please share in the comments.

  • Make sure you do a thorough cleanup especially when pruning plants like hydrangeas, azaleas, etc.
  • Put a fence around your compost bin
  • Use mulches that are nontoxic
  • When fertilizing, leave your pets indoors until you’ve dug or watered it in
  • Never spray pesticides, fertilizer, etc. when your pets (and kids) are nearby
  • Put all your fertilizers, nutrients, pesticides, and the like in child-proof containers or a locked shed
  • Don’t let dogs drink out of birdbaths or puddles
  • Don’t use sewer sludge! We said it before and we’ll say it again. Some gardeners use it as a deer deterrent thinking it’s safe because it’s organic. There’s more than recycled human waste in there. How do you feel about putting “disease-causing organisms (bacteria, viruses, etc.), heavy metals and inorganic ions, and toxic chemicals from industrial wastes, household chemicals and pesticides.” in your garden or on your lawn? And under the right circumstances some for the crap in it can be inhaled, absorbed through your skin or your dogs paws.(*Source: Natural Life Magazine)

While we focused on pets in this post, needless (?!) to say, this all applies to your kids too. Be thoughtful. Be careful!

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Mary Beth: The first day on the road is always a little hectic trying to get everything right. I always think I have it all set to go smoothly, but that’s usually not the case. This time I found myself rummaging through the car looking for the cat food, the leashes, and the phone charger. Once got into the hotel room I realized I had only packed 2 pairs of pj bottoms and 1 shirt for the entire time we’re going to be on the road. What was I thinking!? I guess I was imagining the blessed relief of the hotel rooms after a long day’s drive and how I would finally be getting some sleep.

Other than my organization skills being a little out of whack things have gone well. The first night we stopped at a hotel in Carlisle, PA and a funny thing happened while I was walking the 2 dogs. Some guys came around the corner and one of them shouted, “Step back! A bear!” They thought my Malamute mix, Kea, was a bear. They almost had a heart attack! Once they recovered, we all had a good laugh.

Do I look like a bear?

Ray talked to them and found out that they, and a bunch of other guys all hauling boats of many sizes and shapes, were heading down to help out with the oil spill in the Gulf. That explains why the hotel parking was crowded with so many boats. Best of luck to them!

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Mary Beth: Oh how wonderful it is to be standing in the garden looking at those beautiful tomatoes, feeling proud of my babies and thinking of all the delicious meals I’m going to make. Mmm.

Almost ready to harvest

Almost ready to harvest

Wait! Something catches my eye. WTF?! Something is chewing big chunks of my plants! My tomatoes!

A shiver runs down my spine as I spot the culprit. A big, fat green monster — the dreaded Tomato Hornworm! And once again the game is on as I become obsessed with finding the beasts.

So good at hiding in plain sight

Hiding in plain sight. Those little nubby feet are strong!

They are the masters of camouflage so it takes a bit of practice to spot them. The best way to find them is to look for their poop; little black droppings on the leaves below where they munch. I track up the plant from the poop. Looking for the damage, squinting, concentrating…yes! Gotcha!!

Warning, the first time you see one of these guys it’s a bit freaky, they’re huge and kind of scary looking. Touching one will be the last thing you’ll want to do, but be fearless and get rid of it. And know that where there is one, there are others. So check each and every one of your plants carefully. Tomato Hornworms are eating machines that will devastate your plants in a day or two.

Look at all those little "eyes"! Eww!

Look at all those little "eyes"! Eww!

I pull the pest off the plant (they have quite a grip) and throw it over the fence, or if I’m feeling ruthless I let the dogs have a go with it (hilarious, but not pretty). They’re way to big to squish, so I mostly take the coward’s way out and toss them as far as I can hoping that the birds will find them. Weird as it sounds it’s very satisfying to find those buggers.

So if you’ve been wondering what’s been eating your tomato plants, here is the likeliest suspect.

P.S. Technically these are Tobacco Hornworms, but most people identify them as Tomato Hornworms. They are the larvae of the Hummingbird Moth. The caterpillars can grow to 4 inches in length and are easiest to spot in the early morning or at dusk when the temperature is cooler. They’ll also eat potato plants, eggplants, and peppers. Here are a couple of links to more info — Colorado State Master Gardener and University of Minnesota.

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Barbara: Once upon a time my parents dreamed of a place where they could live by the sea with their five children during lazy summers. So in the winter of 1964 my mom pored over the rental ads in the Sunday New York Times. She found a tiny ad for a summer cottage on Block Island, a place she’d heard of only in weather reports that at the time contained the phrase, “from Block Island to Cape Henlopen.” She called the number, spoke to Fran Quillan and rented a cottage by the sea for two weeks the following summer.

In August my parents loaded up the old Pontiac station wagon — a feat that would be repeated for many years to come. In piled three feisty girls, one sweet boy, a bright-eyed baby girl and a rambunctious, stinky dachshund, all of us squeezing in between boxes filled with cereal, peanut butter and tuna fish. My Dad lashed our overstuffed suitcases to the roof with knots that proved impossible to untie. Mom passed out Dramamine. The car creaked and groaned as the undercarriage scraped the concrete on the way out of our driveway. Much cursing ensued – a continuation of a days’ long stream of invective from our overworked Dad. But who cared, we were on our way to the greatest adventure of our young lives.

Four of us in front of the pond by the Quillan's cottage in August 1964. The ocean was a short walk over the bluff.

In front of the pond by the Quillan's cottage in August 1964 - the ocean was a short walk away

All five of us with our Mom on Mansion Beach in 1965

All five of us with our Mom on Mansion Beach in 1965

Thus began our family’s love affair with Block Island, the most magical of places. This first summer stretched to two and then three until my parents could finally scrape together enough money to put a down payment on their own piece of the island — a magnificent Victorian-era boarding house known as Cottage Farm House.

Cottage Farm House in the 1920's as it appears on a vintage postcard.

A vintage postcard shows Cottage Farm House in the 1920's

My father took one look at the broad lawns and saw beautiful flower-and vegetable-filled gardens. The original garden, a weedy bed hugging a stone wall by the road, was a just smattering of daisies and irises. From there my Dad went to work. Bit by bit over the summers when he could get away from the office, and later after he retired and lived on the island full time, he created his gardens working himself to the bone to bring his vision to life.

Dad in his vegetable garden with just-harvested lettuce - as always in paint-spattered work clothes and a bandaged finger

Dad in his vegetable garden with just-harvested lettuce - as always in paint-spattered work clothes

The gardens grew in size and beauty until they became a stopping point for photographers, painters, and the island tours heading down Corn Neck Road. But in his final years, they started to get overgrown and untidy. Dad still dreamed the dream, but his ticker was bad and he had trouble keeping up with the demands of the flowers and vegetables and the endless repairs on the “old gal”, as he called our house. We all helped when we could, but we had spouses, babies and careers that limited our time there.

Enter Mary Beth. A master gardener, Mary Beth loved the place and couldn’t bear to see my Dad struggling, nor could she stand to see all his good work go to seed. So she sweet-talked her husband into moving to the island for a while so they could help Dad keep his dream alive.

Dad watering some late season cuttings

Dad watering some late season cuttings

My Dad was delighted to see the work Mary Beth did. (Nothing ever pleased him so much as to see his children doing his bidding in and around the house.) And he loved working with her in his gardens. Together they studied catalogs in the winter, raised seedlings in the spring, planted in the summer, and harvested in the fall. They battled Japanese beetles and deer. Dad lost tools and Mary Beth found them. He said it wasn’t possible to grow roses in that briny climate; she proved him wrong. Mary Beth breathed new life into his garden and his dreams.

Mary Beth transformed Dad's garden

Mary Beth transformed Dad's garden

My Dad passed away a few years ago, but his gardens, which are now Mary Beth’s gardens, are magnificent. And I want to share them with you. I have many, many pictures taken over the last few years and for the next couple of weeks I’ll be posting some of them a few at a time. Come with me for a tour of the Cottage Farm House gardens.

In awe and gratitude. Thank you, Mary Beth.

Roses in early July

Rest in peace, John Hobe

Rest in peace, John Hobe

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Mary Beth: How is it when you think your life couldn’t get anymore hectic, it does? It’s been raining like crazy in these parts and that’s messed up my schedule in a big way. I’ve been trying to squeeze my clients in on the days it doesn’t rain, but there’s way too much work to do and not enough time which is just driving me to distraction. So, on this rare and very busy sunny day guess what my hive decided to do.

I went home for a lunch break and walked down to the hive to say hello to my bees. Hmm, something wasn’t right. Little clumps of bees were scattered on the ground near the hive, which I’ve never seen before. I touched the clumped up bees and they didn’t fly, they just kind of scootched out of the way still holding on to each other. And, strangely, in spite of the nice weather, there weren’t many bees flying in and out of the hive.

I wondered, “Are they sick? Did someone spray chemicals nearby?” I started to go back to work, but something was really nagging me. I looked at the clover near the hive and there were no bees working the flowers. Walked down to the swamp to look at the blackberry blooms, again no bees. Really odd!

As I was making my way back to the hive I heard buzzing, a lot of buzzing, and, really, because I have been so exhausted lately I thought, “Wow I’m losing it. Now I’m hearing bees buzzing in my head!” I stopped and looked towards the swamp. Holy S**!

My bees?!

My bees?!

There was a swarm clustered on a branch hanging over the water and it was bigger than I could’ve imagined. Lots of bees — too many. Were they from my hive? Denial briefly took hold, “It can’t be. Bees usually don’t swarm the first year.”  Then panic seized me, the adrenaline started pumping, and my only thought was, “I’ve got to get my bees back!”

Even though I’ve read a lot about catching swarms, let me assure you the theoretical situation is WAY different from being confronted with a boiling mass of bees. Every bit of information I’d stored away was lost in my panic. That panic ramped up as my Internet connection crawled and then I was too worked up to read through any information.

I tore into the shop, running in circles and smashing into stuff. I took a few breaths to compose myself. (What I really needed was someone to slap me like you see in the movies.) I grabbed a super and attached some strips of wood saying a little prayer that Ray wasn’t planning on using that wood for a project. (Of course, he was. Sorry, Honey.) I added a piece of plywood for a bottom, then made a top with screen-covered holes.

My "in a hurry" hive.

My "in a hurry" hive.

I grabbed my suit, muck boots, gloves, loppers and ran down to the swamp. Stared at the swarm. Damn! I needed something to put the supers on. Back to the shop. Ran around in circles a few more times. This time my dogs joined in. “Look, Mom’s playing a new game, let’s chase her!” Grabbed a garbage can and a pruning saw. Ran back down to the swamp, dogs chasing me. Ugh, poison ivy was everywhere and the bees were attached to some of it. Sh**, sh**, sh**!

I pulled on my suit and my muck boots and splashed into the swamp. Splashed back out of the swamp and dragged the dogs into the cottage. (The last thing I needed was for them to get stung.) Barreled back down to the swamp. Turned the garbage can over, dropped the super on top and tried to shake the bees into the box. Didn’t work so well and things got a bit wild with the bees flying and crawling all over me. (Breathe! Remember to breathe!)

I sawed through the poison ivy and bayberry branches and carried everything onto dry ground. Wrangled the bees into the box and put a super with frames of foundation on top of that. Next I drilled a hole in the bottom and attached a feeder on top. A little overboard I know, but I wasn’t thinking clearly. So far so good, but then I remembered the poison ivy. I stripped down and took a shower. I hate poison ivy!

I called Ray, “Um, Sweetie, what time do you think you’ll be home tonight?”  Ray asked, “Why?” “We need to build a hive.” Silence. “What?!” I told him the story and it was painfully obvious that he wasn’t happy about coming home after work to do more work.

Coming in for lunch, Ray took one look at me and said, “What’s up with your eyes?”  “Oh no,” I thought, “poison ivy rash already?!” “They’re the craziest green I’ve ever seen!”  “Adrenaline, I think.” And we started to laugh about our crazy day.

Ray asked me how much it would cost to just buy a hive. “Too much.” I sighed. I told him it would be easier for me if he’d build a brood box so I could just slip the bees onto the new hive. But no, he told me he only had time to build me a Top Bar Hive. Ohh. Hmm. Okay…

Ray building the Top Bar Hive.

Ray building the Top Bar Hive.

Two nights later, it’s pretty much done. I need to make more bars, but this will do very nicely for now. It’s beautiful and Ray wondered why we didn’t we do it this way the first time. Compared to the Langstroth Beehive, the Top Bar Hive was fast, easy, and no expense because he made it from scrap wood. Let me say this, if you’re thinking about getting a new hive, make a Top Bar. It even has a little window to so you can look inside and watch your bees. Aside from it being one more thing to distract me from work, it’s brilliant!

The new Top Bar Hive that Ray built is a beauty.

The new Top Bar Hive that Ray built is a beauty.

Peeking into my contraption of a holding box, I saw that the bees had built some comb and that feisty little queen had started laying eggs less than 48 hours after swarming. Amazing! I shook each frame in to the new TBH and filled the cool little feeder we made, copying a clever design we’d found on the Internet.

Cleverly designed feeder for Top Bar Hive.

Cleverly designed feeder for Top Bar Hive.

Now I have two hives just as I’d hoped when I started out. A word of warning here, be careful what you wish for because it may come at an inconvenient time! I was planning all along to have a Langstroth Hive and, eventually, a Top Bar Hive. Just not this way.

My bees seem happy with their new home.

My bees seem happy with their new home.

Looking through the window the next day it seemed like the swarm was planning to stay. I saw lots of flecks of wax on the floor of the hive and the bees have spread out over the bars. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping they stay put.

Oh, and the old hive? Stay tuned.

Two Hives!

Two Hives!

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B: In even the smallest gardens, amazing things happen all the time. Last week we had one of those perfect gardening days here in Southern California — blue skies, warm, wispy breezes. Gardening on days like this brings about a kind of meditative state, a peculiar slowing down of time that creates focused alertness. In these moments I am suddenly aware of small things that I might not have otherwise noticed. As I was cleaning a bed near the brick wall that separates my house from the street, I looked up to see this amazing sight. Anybody want to guess what was going on here?

Lizard love!

Lizard love!

Our lovely Towhees made their appearance. A pair returns to my garden every year to nest. My bird book says that these birds are shy. Not this pair! They were intensely curious as they followed me, running along the top of the wooden fence. I heard their little feet clickety-clicking as they ran. Later in the evening one of them perched on my patio chair and watched our Jack Russell Terrier, Emmie, as she watched them. Bold little things!

And what are you having for lunch?

And what are you having for lunch?

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B: Remember yesterday when Mary Beth said that barring unforeseen circumstances we would have bees today? Well, we have unforeseen circumstances — sort of. Actually it was an assumption that got us, as they often do. We assumed that they’d be coming by mail, but the bees are being picked up tomorrow by an Island beekeeper from a trusted source.

So, with just a bit of luck and good weather Mary Beth will have the bees late tomorrow and be placing them in the hive on Sunday. And good thing too. The waiting is getting to all of us. The excitement of the arrival of the honey bees is even having an effect on Ray who sings Lucinda Williams’ “Honey Bee” whenever he sees Mary Beth or calls her on the phone. (Is there anything as sweet as a singing husband?)

Just a side note for those of you not living on an island. To “pick them up tomorrow” means you have to get up early in the morning, drive your car to the dock, load it onto the ferry boat and ride for an hour across 12 miles of hopefully calm ocean to Point Judith. Then you drive to the pick up, while throwing in a few errands for good measure. Later in the afternoon you arrive back at the dock to drive the car onto the ferry for the return trip — straining as you look over your shoulder, and the groceries piled high behind you, while backing the car into a VERY small space on the lower deck. It’s kind of a lovely ritual really. You get to meet with your neighbors and catch up on Island news. No one’s in a hurry, rushing off to do this and that — just riding the boat together across the sea to the other side.

Turns out the delay is for the best anyway. We had other things demanding our attention this morning. Today we sadly said goodbye to sweet Magee, our late father’s Lab. The years got the better of her and we had to let her go this morning. We will miss her.

Sweet Magee at the beach - her favorite place to chase sticks.

Sweet Magee at the beach - her favorite place to chase sticks.

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