Monday, January 30, 2006


Got tired of the old format-kept messing around with the old one but was not satisfied. The new format allows photos to be displayed w/o being squashed together which is very good but the writing area may be too wide for easy reading. They make newspaper columns narrow for easy reading.

Despite the warm winter the camellia did not produce very good blooms this year. The flowers are trying to bloom now but the early December cold burned many of them.

The plumeria is thriving with many more branches and leaves but no flowers. We miss it's perfume.

We saw robins yesterday for the first time and I saw a sparrow inspecting an old nest. The big silver maples in the neighborhood already have buds and even the buds on our oak are swelling. We planted tons of bulbs last fall and some of them are already coming up. I hope we don't have a prolonged cold spell in Feb. that will kill all the tulip, snowdrop, galantus, etc.

The red and yellow witch hazels are blooming especially one next to the fishpond which is a delight. And the red and orange berries on the sparkleberry deciduous hollies (ilex)are still going strong as well as the nandinas. In fact the nandinas haven't lost any of their leaves. So we're enjoying this warm winter especially when I see the natural gas bill! Today's temperatures are well into the 60's.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Wasp trained to sniff out cancer, explosives, drugs etc.

According to this article in Medical News online, wasps (Microplitis croceipes) apparently are being trained to detect odors given off by cancer and other dangerous illegal substances. They are cheaper to train than dogs and more sensitive to odors than chemical detection methods.

This is especially interesting because my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and is now being treated with chemotherapy. She was always resistant to having mammograms-she has sensitive breasts and having them squashed was extremely painful so the tumor was only found when it was big enough to palpate. If the wasps can really smell cancer, it would be another arrow in the quiver for cancer detection. I wonder if it can find the cancer in very early stages though? I guess the dog's nose is still more sensitive but our dog who can smell days old rabbit and deer tracks didn't act any differently towards my wife, at least we didn't notice a change of behavior i.e. extra interest or sniffing. I guess the cancer was in the making for 6 years or so and we only got the dog about 5 years ago so nothing was really changed for the dog and she was habituated with the smells.

Yikes, this is turning into an entomological blog-first giant magnolia scales, then ladybugs, doodlebugs, japanese beetles, how bees fly and now wasps! Will get back to gardening one of these days.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


The past summer we woke every morning with welts all over our arms and legs that itched like crazy. At first we thought they were flea bites-we have several cats and a dog but they were flea free. All the members of the family were plauged with bites for many weeks and I went through the usual suspects, poison ivy, fleas, mosquitoes, black fly until I read in a magazine that bedbugs were becoming an epidemic in the U.S. Horrors, I thought bedbugs existed in unclean environments-our house is not the cleanest abode but not the dirtiest either but apparently it doesn't matter if you have the cleanest house. They can travel on clothing and even new mattresses cross contaminated when loaded into the same truck that had removed old ones.

I surfed the web and looked up how to eliminate the nasties but all of the remedies seemed too toxic especially when we were to be exposed to the insecticides for the night. We never saw a bedbug which is supposed to be the size of an apple seed and no spotting of blood on the sheets. I lifted the mattress and pad and set sticky traps but never caught nor saw one. The only evidence that we had was that we were bitten at night and scratched all day. I vaccuumed the rooms thoroughly but we were still bitten. Apparently they can hide in all kinds of crevices, behind artwork hung on the wall, in photo frames and in radios etc. I finally bought some diatomaceous earth which looks like a fluffy baking soda and is actually used in baking as a filler and dusted the floor all around the beds, under the matress pad and mattress and the crevice where the carpet meets the wall. After about a couple of weeks, no more bites. But we never saw evidence of any bedbugs.

So if you are plauged by mysterious bites (welts) that you can't stop scratching, you may have BEDBUGS! According to AP the Big Apple has an epidemic on hand.

About diatomaceous earth-you don't need a lot. I made the mistake of buying 10 pounds of the stuff thinking I neeeded to make repeated applications but one application was enough and 10 pounds is a lot-about twice the size of a standard flour bag. Diatomaceous earth is the skeletons of diatoms which are tiny animals that live in the sea. The skeletons have sharp points which pierce the exoskeletons of the bedbugs and other insects and they die by dehydration. I'll use the remaining 9.9 pounds as an insecticide dust to control aphids and I'll try it as a spray on Japanese beetles. At first I was a little leery of using it-would we inhale it and have an asthma attack? I mean if it has sharp points it could pierce the tissue in your nose, bronchial tubes and lungs couldn't it? Not to worry. Apparently the particles are so small that it doesn't affect your lungs,the mucus membranes take care of that,just don't stick your head in the bag. Wear a dust mask when making the application. I even put some under our pillows without any adverse reaction.

Sleep tight.....

Friday, January 20, 2006

Big Brother gets bigger!

First, records on library patrons' Internet use then domestic spying and now billions of records on Internet search engine requests. This is not about gardening but I feel it is important to write about the egregious and highly intrusive probing into our private lives by this administration. The extreme right's argument has always been "if you're not doing anything wrong, you don't have to worry" the oldest most ridiculous statement in the world which has become a proverb for the extreme right. I would counter that with "give and inch and they'll take a foot".

Kudos to Google for fighting the order to give the Justice Dept. billions of search request records and millions of web addresses.

And Shame on YAHOO, MSN and AOL for easily caving in and complying with the order.

Our constitutional rights are being slaughtered and we remain mute in our defense. A sad situation. You should be outraged!

The link is to a NYTimes article that details the extent of the intrusion.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

More Amaryllis

Finally the last two of the amaryllis to bloom. The lower one is "Lemon/Lime" and the other the white with a bit of red in the throat is an unknown. We didn't order it and it's not illustrated in the catalog we purchased the bulbs from so it must be a stray bulb that got in the wrong bin. I wasn't happy with all the purchases. The "Picotee" which should have been pure white with a thin red lining on the petal edges turned out white with a lot of speckled pink edges which covered about 1/2 of the petals looking more like the photo of "Bellisimo".

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Saved a cowbird and a bird story

With gale force winds still blowing the 3 inches of snow we got last night (the local tv weather persons really missed this forecast!) I reluctantly trudged out to fill the bird feeders. As I was filling the feeders I noticed a cowbird caught in our vegetable garden deer fence. The material for the fence is a 1 inch square opening plastic netting and the bird got caught in a double fold of the material. I thought the bird was dead but when I approached, it's head moved so I had to rescue it even though I don't like cowbirds very much for their habit of removing other birds' eggs and leaving their own to be hatched and raised by the unwitting owner of the nest. Unfortunately the owners of the nest tend to be songbirds like warblers so I was even more hesitant about setting this bird free. But because of an incident many years ago as a young boy, I had to free the bird. I pulled out my trusty trim trio pocket knife/file/screwdriver which is the most small and handy tool I've ever owned and set to work cutting the netting. Unfortunately I also cut my now frozen and numb thumb which didn't endear me to the bird but it seemed grateful enough when released and promptly flew off surprisingly not the worst for wear. So I did my good deed for today bloody thumb and all.

When I was about 10 years of age, practically every kid I knew had a bb gun or two. My parents thought it was too dangerous for me to have one and being rather poor it was a frivolous purchase. I mean a Daisy bb gun cost about $7.99 plus another 50 cents or so for the bbs. So of course I couldn't pass up the chance when a friend was willing to sell me an old gun-which someone had hacked the front sight off-for 50 cents including a few bbs that were already in the gun. I managed to scrape up the 50 cents and I had the gun. We immediately went hunting for birds since I wanted to test the gun even w/o the front sight. We were in some low woods when I spotted a bird that looked like a white eyed vireo, sighted it the best I could without the front sight and pulled the trigger. Much to my delight and amazement I hit the bird and saw it fall from the brach on which it was perched. I rushed over and dug around the brush, finally spotted it and picked it up feeling flush and elated. As I more closely examined it I found where the bullet entered but when I looked at the closed eye I was suddenly hit with a sense of shame and remorse. Here was something so alive flitting from branch to branch and suddenly so dead. Such a perfect little beautiful thing and I killed it. What a waste. I don't know why I I was so overcome by the event. I never used the gun again and just let it rust hidden in the garage storeroom. So it seems I have to try to save any bird even a stinko cowbird in trouble to attone for my stupidity so long ago.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Cool website & scientists finally learn how bees fly

For all the science lovers here's an interesting website with lots of thought provoking information.

I thought the problem was how bumblebees fly? The bumblebee must be 10 times the weight of a honeybee with fairly tiny wings and very hardworking too being active from first light to late dusk when there's very little light; they must be more efficient than we think or consume a huge amount of nectar. I rarely see honeybees anymore since they were attacked by the tracheal mite, Acarapis woodi and external parasite, Varroa jacobsoni. I read somewhere that most of the pollenating was done by bees other than the honeybee. Armed with this information I made it a point to be more observant about what kinds of bees were gathering nectar from the flowers and indeed there are many varieties of small bees and the more easily seen bumblebees who gather nectar and pollenate the flowers.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


We bought some new varieties of amaryllis (had to look it up to spell it) to chase away the annual winter blues. There are many double petalled varieties now that are more to my liking than the very large single petalled variety. I am especially partial to the small double white "Jewel" which has a very faint scent. I didn't notice any smell from amaryllis previously so this was a nice surprise.

I'm trying to add 3 photos to this post so let's see if I'm successful. Tried it twice before and only one picture came up. Pictures are of "Jewel", "Rozetta" the pink fluffy one, and "Exotic Star" looks like a varient of "Papilio" sort of greenish with maroon veins.

P.S. Well, 3 pictures came up but the "Exotic Star" is mostly hidden behind "Rozetta"

P.P.S. You can click on the partial photo of "Exotic Star" and it will come up in a full screen.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Nature's revenge

Be careful trying to rid yourselves of little critters! News from the AP.

Reminds me of the story I heard on Public Radio about the two cops who tried to remove a squirrel from a home's attic. It's tail caught on fire and in running under the couch practically burned the house down. Hilarious - but not for the owners.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Yet another Microsoft hole

Here's a good article from Wired online about this problem. It's getting to be a dangerous world in the www land-almost makes me want to use linux but to have to find and load all the drivers for the peripherals is not something I relish doing.
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