Skunks, are they edible?

Skunk issues in the garden this winter have led to murderous thoughts. Those thoughts, in turn, caused an intemperate Google search which turned up the following gem from the March 1959 issue of Boy’s Life:

Incidentally, skunks are edible. The Indians ate skunk and so has many a trapper. I tried it, rolling pieces of cleanly-skinned carcass in flour and browning and steaming them in a skillet. The meat is light in color and well flavored. It is better than raccoon or opossum, but a skunk is bony and not as well padded with meat as a rabbit.

Not that I’m considering this yet. Somehow the thought of a locally sourced Los Angeles skunk is particularly unappetizing. And a reader mentioned that they kept a skunk as a pet. But I am curious to hear if any of you have tried skunk, raccoon or possum. Will we see any of these locally harvested meats on the menus of hip local gastropubs?

Butterfly Barrier Failure

So my idea about using 1/2 inch bird netting as a cabbage leaf worm butterfly barrier? Failure. Above is the photographic evidence–a butterfly caught within the netting.

So two alternatives:

  • Floating row cover (inconvenient and too warm for our climate)
  • More biodiversity in the garden

I’m liking the biodiversity option the best. Planting a bunch of brassicas is like opening an all you can eat buffet for cabbage leaf worms. Our backyard has more biodiversity and fewer problems with pests. I used better (homemade) compost  in the raised beds in the backyard, thus the soil in these beds also has greater microbial biodiversity

Bird Netting as a Cabbage Leaf Caterpillar Barrier

UPDATE: This idea is a complete failure–see the ugly details here.

Last month I sang the praises of floating row cover as an insect barrier. The only problem is that floating row cover retains heat, and so when our fall and winter days turn hot, as they so often do, it gets way too hot and humid inside the “tent.” So as Marshall McLuhan was fond of saying, “If you don’t like that idea, I’ve got others.” Specifically, bird netting.

I’ve got an untested theory that bird netting is enough to keep out the white butterflies that give birth to the dreaded cabbage leaf caterpillar, the only serious pest for us at this time of year. So far the bird netting seems to be working. I’ll note that it would be important to keep the leaves of plants well away from the netting so that butterflies can’t lay eggs through it. The best way to do this is by planting arches of wire or tubing over your garden bed, and stretching the cover material over those arches– like a covered wagon.

Netting has advantages over row cover: you can see and water through it and it’s more readily available.

I’m curious what you, our dear readers, think of the idea?

  • Mrs. Homegrown chimes in:  I’ll add that in the past readers have said they use tulle material as an insect barrier– you know, the stuff used to make tutus.

A Question About Gophers

Pocket gopher, courtesy of Wikipedia

We’re putting together a short vegetable gardening pamphlet and could use some advice, specifically about gophers. Thankfully, we don’t have any experience dealing with them. Something about our neighborhood, either the lead in the soil or the police helicopters, seems to have made gophers extinct here.

Standard advice when planting a tree or installing a raised bed in gopher infested areas is to use galvanized hardware cloth or gopher wire as an underground barrier. We even mentioned this in our first book. The main problem I have with this advice is that the galvanized metal used for hardware cloth and gopher wire leaches significant amounts of zinc as it breaks down. Zinc, in high quantities, is toxic to plants. And, when using cages for trees, I’d worry that the cages would not break down soon enough, causing the roots to circle.

Plastic, I’m fairly certain, would not work as the gophers would chew through it. And stainless steel is really expensive. Yes, you can trap gophers, and I’ll include info on that. But does anyone know of an alternative material for use as an underground gopher barrier? Extra points for pointing to a peer reviewed study.

Note: We just learned a new fact: “gopher” is a generic term that encompasses a few different critters. In other words, your gopher may not be my gopher. There are pocket gophers and a variety of ground squirrels who get called gophers. All are pesky. But the pocket gopher is sometimes called the “true gopher.”

The CDFA’s Pesticide Theater

In the fall of 2009 a citrus pest called the Asian Citrus Psylid showed up in our neighborhood. It’s a major concern to commercial citrus growers since the pest spreads an incurable and fatal plant disease called huanglongbing (HLB).

The California Department of Food and Agriculture commenced a futile effort to suppress the psylid by hiring a contractor, TruGreen, to spray residential backyards in Southern California with a combination of imidacloprid (deadly to pollinating insects) and pyrethroid.

As I expected, it didn’t work. The state’s strategy has now shifted to releasing a parasitic wasp (Tamarixia radiata) imported from Pakistan. Citrus farmers will continue heavy applications of pesticides to keep the psylid at bay. UC Cooperative Extension biological control specialist Mark Hoddle explained to KQED (italics mine),

Hoddle says Tamarixia radiata won’t eradicate Asian citrus psyllid. Commercial citrus producers in California will still continue to apply insecticides to prevent the spread of Huanglongbing. But, he says, state regulators have already determined backyard pesticide applications are too expensive ($10-11 million so far) and too ineffective to bother with.

Frankly, I’m inclined to conclude that the original eradication program was a make-work program for CDFA officials and TruGreen all made possible by a big infusion of cash from our tax dollars and the citrus industry.

During their backyard spraying campaign in our neighborhood in the fall of 2010, the CDFA and TruGreen showed up at a neighbor’s house who, at the time, had over 50 citrus trees in pots (she was operating a mini-nursery and selling the trees).  CDFA and TruGreen were overwhelmed by the amount of trees and ran out of imidacloprid. They promised to return but never did, leading me to believe that they weren’t really interested in eradicating a pest but were, instead, engaged in a kind of “pesticide theater”. It’s a bit like the security theater that goes on everyday at our nation’s airports courtesy of the TSA.

Even with the parasitic wasps I’m not planning on planting any citrus or recommending that citrus be planted in Southern California backyards.  Everywhere in the world the psylid has shown up, HLB has followed within a decade. I strongly suspect that growing citrus in SoCal will be like trying to grow table or wine grapes here. With grapes, Pierce’s disease, spread by a very similar insect called the glassy winged sharpshooter, makes it impossible to grow anything but resistant varieties unless you use a lot of pesticides. Until a HLB resistant citrus tree shows up (probably by means of genetic modification, never a great option IMHO) I’d stick to pomegranates and figs.

Meet the Good Guys: Beneficial Insect Poster

 The good folks at the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program (IPM) have created a handy little poster featuring some of our best insect friends–the natural enemies of garden pests.

They want it spread far and wide, so they’re promoting this link to a downloadable PDF fit for printing. This is a great resource for home gardeners, but also for teachers, schools and community gardens. Laminate it and pass it around! And please feel free to share the PDF link with your circles:

(The UC Statewide IPM website is a great resource, even if you don’t live in California. Go there and you’ll find fact sheets on residential pests and advice on how to deal with them.)

Meet the Gophinator

The Gophinator

Thankfully, we don’t have gophers, but dealing with them is one of the first questions we get when teaching vegetable gardening classes.  You can use raised beds lined with hardware cloth. But, other than target practice (a no-no in urban areas), most people I know with gopher problems end up using traps or zealous cats.

Several sources have told me about the Cadillac of gopher traps, the aptly named “Gophinator”. Scott Kleinrock of the Huntington Ranch is one of those Gophinator fans, who stressed avoiding the cheap traps available at big box stores. The Gophinator is sturdy, easy to set and made out of stainless steel that lasts much longer than cheaper traps.

To use it you need to dig around and find the main subway line the gophers ride. Scott hooks up a wire and a stake to the traps to remember where they are placed.

The Gophinator is manufactured by Trapline products and you can order one and view some instructional videos here.

How do you deal with gophers? Leave some comments!

Eat Your Pests

Grubs anyone?

Responding to our anti-squirrel post a few days ago Root Simple reader Chile pointed to a post on the her blog “Pests . . . and how to eat them“. She makes the excellent point that most of our dreaded garden pests, including insects are edible.

Now if I could only overcome my squeamishness about eating insects. I had to deal with lots of wax moth larvae this week and remembered that in parts of Asia they are stir fried. Here in L.A., you can get deep fried grasshoppers at a few Mexican restaurants (San Francisco’s Health Department just banned this practice, for some reason). Perhaps you have to grow up eating insects to be fully comfortable with the bug eatin’.

If you look at the entry on rabbits in the original edition of Rodale’s Organic Gardening Encyclopedia, J.I. Rodale suggests eating them. This advice has been, unfortunately, edited out of the revised version. The way the economy is going this summer we may have to revise that encyclopedia again . . .

Sunflowers and Squirrels

It’s a losing battle, the one we gardeners face against the squirrel menace. As the mammoth sunflowers we planted this summer approached the harvest stage, I tied some paper bags over the flower heads to prevent squirrels and birds from eating all the seeds. Mostly, it has worked. But, as you can see from the animation above, one pesky squirrel managed to figure out how to open one of the bags. Perhaps he used the adjacent tomato cage for extra leverage.

Maybe this bag worked because the Whole Foods logo scared the squirrels away with the thought of high prices and angry Pruis drivers.

I thought I had solved the problem by putting one of those ubiquitous and annoying cloth eco bags over the sunflower. Not even the City of LA logo on that eco bag scared them off.

So what to do about the squirrels? Tight bird netting on fruit trees works but is a pain in the ass to attach and remove. Commercial orchardists trap and kill. Hmmm. Along those lines it looks like we have yet another excuse to link to that squirrel melt video . . .