Monday, August 23, 2010

Lawn care

This has been around for a while, and it's always made me laugh. It arrived in my inbox again today, so I'm posting it here in case you've never seen it:

GOD: Frank, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet? What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But, all I see are these green rectangles.

St. FRANCIS: It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers 'weeds' and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

GOD: Grass? But, it's so boring. It's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees; only grubs and sod worms. It's sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

GOD: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it, sometimes twice a week.

GOD: They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

ST. FRANCIS: Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

GOD: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

ST. FRANCIS: No Sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

GOD: Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And, when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

ST. FRANCIS: Yes, Sir.

GOD: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

ST. FRANCIS: You aren't going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

GOD: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn, they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. It's a natural cycle of life.

ST. FRANCIS: You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

GOD: No!? What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist and loose?

ST. FRANCIS: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

GOD: And where do they get this mulch?

ST. FRANCIS: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

GOD: Enough! I don't want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you're in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

ST. CATHERINE:  'Dumb and Dumber', Lord. It's a story about....

GOD: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Spider gets Good Housekeeping award!

While I was taking pix of this golden orb-weaver spider (Nephila clavipes) at Fairchild Garden yesterday, a man gently threw a few tiny bits of trash (leaves, twigs) into her web, where they stuck. Immediately, she examined the nearest one and dropped it from the web, doing the same with the other pieces. She was not having any trash clutter up her nice, tidy web.

Years ago, I heard that the silk of this Nephila had been used as cross hairs for WW2 rifles, so for one of my son's dreaded middle school science projects, I helped him (hey, isn't that what all parents do?) design a plan to test the relative strength of spider webs. We  carefully gathered the dragline silk -- the silk that forms the web's structure -- of different species, including the golden orb-weaver. The silks were taped to a bar and lead fishing weights were attached until the silk snapped. I don't remember all the details, but the Nephila was vastly stronger than anything else, and I have a vague memory that we were able to attach 26 weights before it finally snapped.

It was a cool project. Feel free to use it!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ae ae bananas

TOG with one of his clumps of ae ae bananas
A few weeks ago, fellow blogger, TOG of Coral Gables, generously gave me a pup from one of his ae ae bananas. These huge, beautiful plants produce not only variegated leaves, but also fat, variegated fruit, which, TOG assures me, tastes wonderful, and can be treated as bananas or plantains, depending on their ripeness.

The ae ae comes from Hawaii and is difficult to grow anywhere on the mainland, although TOG has grown them successfully for 40 years. In fact, just after he gave me mine, folks from the Montgomery Botanical Center (closely related to Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens) were coming to get replacements for theirs that had died.

I was expecting a small pup, but I was given one that was about seven feet tall. TOG cut back the leaves to lessen the stress on the plant, and I planted it close to a coconut palm, where it seems to be quite happy. Fingers crossed it will survive and thrive!

My newly planted ae ae

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Passionvine virus warning; Pest Alert website

Collier County's Extension Office has just put out a warning about passionfruit crinkle potyvirus. The concern is that if it gets established, it will ultimately affect butterflies, such as the gulf fritillary and the zebra longwing, for which it's a host plant.

I learned about this today from Thomas Fasulo, who runs the very useful Featured Creature page on the University of Florida's IFAS website. He also maintains the Pest Alert listserv, which also provides invaluable info for Florida gardeners.