Haint Blue

blue

In the wake of our recent discussion of scrub jays and paper wasps, Donna, one of our regular readers, tipped me off to the Southern tradition of painting porch ceilings haint blue to discourage nesting insects — and restless spirits (“haint” derives from “haunt”) — from making themselves at home in our living spaces.

Haint blue is not a single shade of blue, but refers rather to a blue used for this purpose. The actual color could run from soft powder blue to true sky blue to bright teal.

While the cool, airy white porch with a blue ceiling speaks to elegant Victoriana, I’ll note that the practice probably does originate in the traditions of the Gullah or Geechee people, brought to this country as slaves. They’d mix up lime paint in various shades of blue and paint not only their ceilings, but around doors and windows–around every opening into their home, to protect themselves from evil spirits.

I spent a little time ( a very little time, admittedly!) looking for some solid historical writing on this haint blue business, but found nothing but hearsay. The same basic info seems to be distributed all over the Internets,  which means the resource pool is pretty small, or pretty shallow. Nonetheless, I think the idea of a blue porch ceiling very appealing, if for no other reason than it extends the open sky into our living spaces.

All this business is novel to me, a Westerner born and bred, but perhaps some of our readers from the South will have comments or experience with haint blue?

In the meanwhile, our front porch is overdue for painting, and I think I’ll try a blue ceiling this time. I’ll let you know what the wasps (and spirits) make of it.

For more information, the good folks over at Apartment Therapy have a post which covers the basics of what the Internet knows about haint blue:

Pretty and Practical: The History of “Haint Blue” Porch Ceilings

And Donna’s original comment pointed to this show, called You Bet Your Garden.

Thanks, Donna!

Of paper wasps and scrub jays

paper wasps

Another wasp colony, this one on our shed, probably related to the destroyed colony.  It’s a little blurry because I had no desire to get up in their business to take a better photo.

Stinging insects tend to send people into panic, especially if they’re yellow and black striped. After years of keeping bees, we’ve come to learn that many people can’t distinguish a honey bee from a yellow jacket from a wasp–and we won’t even start on the native bees. Yet it pays to be able to do so, because each is quite different, and we can interact peaceably with all of them if we know their ways.

Paper wasps, also called umbrella wasps, are those guys who build smallish, open celled nests in protected places, often the eaves of your house. Wasp stings are quite painful, but few people know that these wasps rarely  attack unless provoked. More, they are very beneficial in the garden, because they prey on insects which damage plants. So when they build nests under our eaves, we leave them alone, and never have any problems.

But keep in mind that they do have excellent facial recognition abilities, so if you ever hassle them (say with a hose set to the jet setting) they may not forget you so quickly.

With wasps, it pays to be diplomatic.

Unless you are a scrub jay.

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Western scrub jay, courtesy Wikimedia

I saw this amazing drama earlier this week. I wish I could have captured it on film. We had a small wasp nest in the corner of our patio roof. From my place on the living room sofa, I could see this corner through the front door. One fine morning a bold western scrub jay came to rest on our porch railing, then swooped upward and plucked a wasp off the nest and gobbled it up.

I was very impressed. I had no idea they ate wasps.

She ate a second wasp, delicately picking it apart on the railing, looking very self-satisfied. I thought the show was over, but it turns out she was just enjoying appetizers, because next she launched up and took the entire nest in her beak–random wasps still attached– and flapped off with it into the clear blue sky. Perhaps to enjoy the creamy center in privacy–or perhaps to feed her babies?

One wasp returned to sit forlornly in the place where the nest used to be.

I don’t often use the term bad ass, but that was bad ass.

And the moral? If you don’t want paper wasps in your eaves, do your best to attract birds to your yard. Especially brassy thieves like jays.

Here is a little bit more on paper wasps from the ever-useful Xerces society.

047 Done is Better Than Perfect

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Our guest this week is my East Coast doppelganger, Eric Rochow of Gardenfork.tv (who also interviewed me on GardenFork Radio episode 377). Eric covers all kinds of DIY topics: everything from gardening, to beekeeping to slow cooking to, well, just about anything you can think of. He also produces an excellent podcast. During our interview we discuss:

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to rootsimple@gmail.com. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

046 Caring for Older Cats

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In this special Catcast, we talk to Dr. Tracy McFarland, who was our guest on Episode 36, about caring for older cats. During the podcast we discuss:

  • Signs you need to take the cat to the vet
  • Dental disease
  • Oxifresh oral hygene
  • The dietary needs of older cats
  • Dry or wet food?
  • Obesity
  • Arthritis
  • Kidney disease
  • Water
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • avmi.net
  • Grooming
  • Step stools
  • Checking your cat’s teeth and gums
  • Feeding times
  • Urinating outside the litter box
  • Integrating older and younger cats
  • Heating pads for older cats

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to rootsimple@gmail.com. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.