111 Cardoons, Medlars and Hipster Toilets

On the podcast this week, Kelly and I read and respond to listener questions and comments about cardoons, medlars and Toto’s Eco Promenade toilet! Here’s some links to the topics we rap about:

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Figs Happen

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You can stand around complaining that the squirrels got every single peach, that the rats got every grape, that there’s not enough time to weed, that the garden looks like crap. Then bam, figs happen. Lots of figs. So many figs that you start having to think about fig jams, fig compotes and figs with cheese and honey. But you’re also lazy so most of the figs get eaten somewhere between the tree and the front door. You promise figs to friends and neighbors but somehow that never happens.

If you’re the score keeping type let it be known that we’re talking about a Mission fig tree we planted around 2009 in our front yard.

How’s your garden doing this summer? Where do you live and what are you growing?

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Defeating Squirrels With Tech

After watching a squirrel chew up every single peach on our little tree, despite deploying yards of bird netting, I found myself pondering extreme and deadly measures. Then I found myself fantasizing about what I would do if I were Elon Musk. First, I’d give up on the mars idea. Mars is, after all, a lifeless, barren speck of dust lacking life’s essentials such as breathable air, plants, cats and Parmesan cheese. Why bother? How about, instead, turning that technical know-how towards the most important issue of our time: squirrel deterrence.

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As it turns out I’m not alone. At a Python programming conference, back in 2012, software engineer Kurt Grandis presented a research project he entitled, “Militarizing Your Backyard with Python: Computer Vision and the Squirrel Hordes.” Grandis’ motivation was a squirrel attack on his peach tree and, worse, his kid’s pumpkin patch. The full lecture details Grandis’ attempt to create a program that would differentiate between squirrels and birds and then deliver a carefully aimed blast of water at just the squirrels. It’s worth viewing in its entirety just to hear how Grandis resolves the image recognition question, “What is squirrelness?” If you’re impatient you can fast forward to the 16 minute mark for the video. Spoiler alert: it works, at first, and then the squirrels quickly learn to ignore the blasts of water.

It leaves me wondering if a scary clown strategy might work better such as it did with this bear:

Kidding aside, two Southern California biologists are using high powered lasers to dissuade ravens from attacking endangered desert tortoises. The biologists are also speculating about the possibility of “gamifying” this task by opening it up to anyone who wants to take a potshot via the internet. Which leads to my question of the day. Would you readers be interested in a gamified laser squirrel shoot in the Root Simple backyard? Time to learn Python!

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Atomic Gardening

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The always entertaining podcast 99% Invisible has a new episode, “Atom in the Garden” about the forgotten 1950s fad of gardening with radiation. Essentially, it was a crude form of genetic engineering. Plants were zapped with radiation in the hopes of creating useful mutations.

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While it didn’t work well, it did produce several varieties grown to this day including Rio Star Grapefruit. There was also a strong amateur interest in irradiated seeds supported by the Atomic Gardening Society.

The 1950s “gamma gardening” craze feels credulous today but it’s not like there’s no uncritical scientism in 2017 (Elon Musk solving LA traffic with tunnels, perhaps?).

Polyphagous Shot Hole Borer and Avocados

Multiple entry holes on avocado trunk. Photo credit: Eskalen Lab, UC Riverside.

Multiple entry holes on avocado trunk. Photo credit: Eskalen Lab, UC Riverside.

Of all the plants in our yard the one I care most about is our avocado tree. I’d be despondent if anything happened to it. Which is why I panicked when I first heard about the Polyphagous Shot Hole Borer (PSHB), a beetle that spreads a fungus Fusarium euwallacea. First noticed in 2003 here in Southern California, the PSHB seems to damage some trees more than others.

Concerned about losing my avocado tree I wrote Akif Eskalen, a plant pathologist at the University of California, Riverside. Dr/ Eskalen’s lab has done a lot of work on the PSHB and what to do about it. I asked him specifically about avocados and here’s what he had to say in an email,

My lab has been conducting a continuous survey on PSHB on infested and non-infested avocados in California since 2012. Based on the preliminary results from our survey the beetle PSHB seems to be attacking and causing damages on primary and secondary branches of avocado only. We have also seen attacks on the trunk of the trees but somehow the beetle is not successful establishing galleries there which could cause of quick death of the tree. I believe with a proper orchard sanitation you can reduce the damage of the beetle and also keep the beetle population down in the orchard . . . we are still continuing experiments with different insecticide and fungicides on avocado against this beetle and their fungi. An insecticide (Hero) has already registered under Section 18 that could be used by growers in CA.

He provided a link to a short publication his lab put out on orchard sanitation best practices as well as a link to information for avocado growers on the use of Hero. Hero is a pyrethroid-based pesticide.

For my own backyard tree I’m going to:

  • Make sure pruning tools are disinfected before use. This is one of the main reasons we use a qualified arborist.
  • Avoid moving firewood around. I’m going to have to think carefully about the wood I import for my pizza oven.
  • Use mulch that has been chipped to less than 1 inch.

I’d sure hate to lose a tree that provides six months worth of free and delicious Fuerte avocados.