Archive for the ‘Critters’ Category

At first light Sunday morning as I sat reading the paper, I was startled by Emmie’s fearsome barking. All I could see were some crows pecking at the neighbor’s roof, and while she hates the resident murder of crows (yes, that’s really what a group of crows is called), Emmie usually doesn’t get that worked up about them.

Still her hysterical barking persisted. I was tempted to open the door and let her have at it, but something stopped me. Good thing as the cause finally revealed itself.

Awww! Kind of cute, right? Not really.

I don’t know if it was a she or a he — let’s call it Mama Possum for the heck of it. Mama P was completely unfazed by Emmie’s threats from behind the glass. She sat on the fence for a while watching us and gently rocking from side to side. Then she slowly turned around to make her way back to wherever she came from. That’s when I saw her fangs, and said a silent thank you for the second thought that stopped me from opening the door. I don’t think it would have gone well if Emmie and Mama Possum had gotten into a tussle.

All I really need to worry about now is where the touch-up paint is for the door. It didn’t fare so well in Emmie’s attempts to dig through it to reach Mama P.

Protecting my house is exhausting!


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The gardening season is winding down for many of us and even if you live in warmer climes like I do (Southern California), you’re probably looking around your garden and thinking about what worked well this past season and what didn’t work. And that’s exactly what Mary Beth and I talked about this morning. So of course we’re going to share — even if it means a couple of slightly embarrassing confessions.

Mary Beth:

My waterfall pond was one of my big successes this summer. I’d been wanting to expand my little pond for long time and I finally got around to it. This little oasis has been a constant source of wonder and entertainment for me. The pond is visited by all sorts of wildlife and I never get tired of watching them. Even the raccoons’ habit of rearranging plants and rocks every once in a while is funny — as long as they don’t get out of control. That’s when I start fantasizing about traps and dart guns.

Another project that worked for me was planting peppers and tomatoes in pots. This actually worked better than I thought it would. I planted 2 Black Krim tomatoes and 2 Hatch Chili peppers in containers to keep wildlife, especially the raccoons, from stealing my precious veggies. The plan was to cage the pots, or if that failed I was going to bring the pots into the house at night. Turns out neither was necessary. I was especially pleased with the Krims. They were big and juicy — best BLT’s ever!

As for failures, for some reason anything that I planted in the squash family didn’t do well. I got practically no harvest from these plants. Even the zucchini were a bust (embarrassing as it is to admit it). I haven’t quite figured it out. Maybe they weren’t in a sunny enough spot, or it could have been any one of a hundred other things. Gardening can be unpredictable like that. Hopefully next year will be better.


I’m going to start out with things that didn’t work for me: I’ve complained about them before and I’m still doing it. My California Natives are still not doing well. There are a host of possible reasons to explain why they aren’t thriving. The simplest is that I’m not patient enough, but I really think it has more to do with where they are planted. All of them are under eucalyptus trees where they are probably not getting quite enough sun and where they have heavy competition from the tree roots for nutrients and water. On the other hand, it might be because they are getting too much water.

The natives are planted in beds that surround what is left of my lawn, which is also suffering under the eucalyptus. I’m still watering it though and that might be too much water for the natives. Time will tell if this is the problem because my next big project is to rip out the lawn and install pathways and native grasses, or maybe a little meadow. Either will use much less water. I’ve been threatening to do this for a long time, but with the lawn in such bad shape and the fabulous new John Greenlee book, The American Meadow Garden (thank you, MB!) on my reading table I’m on my way.

Planting tomatoes in pots worked out just so-so for me. Our summer was cloudy, overcast and very cool making for a lousy tomato harvest for everyone this year. I’ll give it a try again next year.

And now I’m going to completely embarrass myself by telling you the secret of my biggest success. As you know I am a fairly haphazard gardener and I’ve never been good about tending to my plants. Becoming a Master Gardener this year changed my bad habits and put me on the path to garden success!

What was it that so improved my plants’ health and bloom production? Regular watering and feeding with fish emulsion. There’s my confession and it’s pathetic! But my teachers made a convert out of me after I learned in-depth about plant growth and development. I could practically hear the poor things begging me for food and water. So this year I was very diligent. And surprise, surprise, it really paid off and the results were a pleasure to behold all season long.

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Garden Journal

Mary Beth: I finally finished the addition to my little waterfall pond. It was pretty easy and I’m pleased with the results. It sounds great — like a little babbling creek running through the garden. I took notes and pictures so I could show you how it was done.

Small Garden Pond with Waterfall

You’ll need:

  • Felt liner
  • Rubber liner
  • Water pump
  • River rocks
  • Pea gravel
  • Small pond kit

Home Depot sells the liners and pumps. They’ll cut the felt and the rubber to the size you need. They also sell pond kits.

  • Choose a site that will allow you to have one pond higher than the other.
  • Dig the holes for the upper and lower ponds to whatever shape and depth you like. If you’re adding water plants make sure you know the planting depth of each plant and dig the hole to the appropriate depth. And if you’re going to have fish, be sure you find out how deep they need the water to be to survive the winter.

  • Measure the dimensions of the holes so you’ll know how much felt and rubber liner you’ll need. Don’t forget to include the length and width of the waterfall. When I measured I added a little for wiggle room, about 3 feet extra of the rubber liner on all sides, just in case I measured wrong. (A common occurrence with me!) And it’s a good thing I did, because I had very little left over.
  • Next lay the felt liner in holes you’ve dug. Then put the rubber liner on top of that.

  • Cut pieces of felt and rubber to fit on the “waterfall” part and lay them down too. I should have added a few more inches up the sides of the waterfall because sometimes the rocks shift and water runs outside the liner which tends to drain the pond. You can use some of the rocks to hold things in place as you go.

  • Trim the extra rubber pond liner that extends beyond the rocks that surround the edges of the ponds.
  • Arrange the river rocks around the pond edges and up the sides of the waterfall.
  • Place the pump in the deepest part of the lower pond and snake the pump hose up to the top pond. Secure it in place it so it can fill up the top pond and not spray any water outside of it.
  • The water will up the small pond and flow over the edge and down to the waterfall into the lower pond, and then be pumped back up to the top pond again. The little top pond (it’s a plastic pond sold from a kit) is tipped slightly down towards the waterfall.

  • Place the stones for the waterfall in a kind of stair-step pattern. Getting the water flowing down the stones the way I wanted it to was the hardest part. You’ll have to play with it until it looks right. Of course it didn’t help that the raccoons would climb over the rocks during the night shifting them every which way!
  • Fill the ponds with water and check for leaks.
  • When I was sure that there were no leaks and I was happy the way the water was falling, I laid the rest of the river rocks around the edges and put the pea gravel in the pond and gaps of the waterfall. Important note! Make sure you rinse all of the rocks and pea gravel before you use them. I didn’t rinse them and all the dust from the stones covered everything in the pond. I had to drain the pond and clean it out.

Pond Maintenance:

Don’t forget to add water to your ponds periodically. You’ll lose some to evaporation and you’ll need to replace it so the pump won’t burn out from the water level falling too low.

You’ll also need to be sure that your pond doesn’t become a breeding place for mosquitos. I use Mosquito Dunks to eliminate mosquito larvae. I put them in the pond and then had a panic attack the next day because I hadn’t read the warnings to make sure they wouldn’t poison anything. Thankfully I found out they do not hurt bees or other insects drinking out of the pond. They are safe for fish and animals too.

Sometimes the water in your ponds can get cloudy. To prevent this I use  Barley Clear which I bought on Amazon.com. It’s a bit pricey, but you don’t need much so it should last for a while. For good measure I added a little EM-1.

The book I used for reference was Better Homes and Gardens New Complete Guide to Landscaping.

We love our little pond and so do the fox, raccoons, birds, bees, insects and other critters that visit during the night. Though the raccoons have been a pain in the ass — recently pulling the new water plants out — the novelty has worn off a bit for them and have been respectful of the pond lately.

Just a warning: animals will be drawn to the water, and therefore the rest of your garden, so you’ll have to take this into account. I’m diligent about spraying deer spray on all the garden plants and they have not so much as nibbled a plant. My biggest concern at this point is my tomatoes. When they start to ripen are the raccoons going to eat them?

Stayed tuned for the ongoing saga on those pesky masked demons!


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East Coast

Mourning Cloak Butterfly

Garter Snake

West Coast


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Mary Beth: As promised, here are more pictures of the lovely creatures that will take up residence in your garden when you stop using pesticides. I’ve really enjoyed the variety of bugs that have shared my garden this summer.

What a magnificent creature. The mantis is the stuff of nightmares — fierce and merciless.

What a magnificent creature! The mantis is the stuff of nightmares — fierce and merciless.

And then there's this funny-looking guy. The potato beetle is a pollinator, but it can cause a lot of damage in your garden.

And then there's this funny-looking guy. The spotted cucumber beetle is a pollinator, but it carries bacterial wilt in its gut and can cause a lot of damage in your garden.



Another one _ the color amazes me.

Another one – the color amazes me.

A sweat bee, I think.

A sweat bee, I think.

A syrphid fly.

A syrphid fly.

I really hit the jackpot a few days ago, though. I found a monarch butterfly chrysalis and I was lucky enough to have my camera on hand when the butterfly emerged! I’ll post the photos this weekend.


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Mary Beth & Barbara: Here’s another post where we’re going to let the pictures tell the story. All we really want to say is that the rewards for not using chemical pesticides are many. Some are obvious, like just knowing that you’re not adding to the chemical load in the environment. Others are more subtle and you’ll have to slow down and pay attention to recognize them. (That’s a good thing all by itself.)

Since becoming organic gardeners, we have noticed a marked increase of wildlife in our gardens, mostly for the better. Sure you might get a few more pesky bugs, but for the most part you’ll be getting a lot more of the good guys who will help you keep those pests under control. We’ve seen lizards and insect-eating birds in Barbara’s garden and  frogs, dragonflies, butterflies, and all kinds of bees in Mary Beth’s garden.

If you take a seat in your garden and stay still for a while, you’ll begin to notice a world of activity and see some of the benefits of organic gardening for yourself.

This honeybee looks like she's high on pollen — definitely not PG!

This honeybee looks like she's high on pollen. Do we need to give this an R rating?

Hold on little peeper!

Hang on little peeper!

Now you're ok.

Now you're ok.

Bumble bee butt! Makes me laugh every time I look at it.

Bumble bee butt! Makes me laugh every time I look at it.

What a beautiful shot! This little crab spider found the perfect setting to show off her chartreuse self.

This little crab spider found the perfect setting to show off her beautiful chartreuse hue.

Be sure and check back early next week when we’ll have more photos of our garden creatures to share with you.


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