Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Tickbot attracts and kills disease carrying ticks.

"A tick-exterminator (tick gathering/killing robot) designed by three engineering undergrads at the Virginia Military Institute scours yards for ticks and nabs them with its pesticide-laced denim skirt." writes Prachi Patel-Predd in Wired News.

The student let loose 75 ticks and the tick robot emitting carbon dioxide to attract the ticks picked up an astounding 72! The promethren impregnated skirt then kills the ticks.

Apparently "Ticks cling to denim naturally,...it's the best material for the job and is used routinely in research." Well there you have it, don't wear denim in tick infested areas if you don't want to get Lymes disease.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Aieee! attack of the flour moths

I have been mashing flour moths with finger, fly swatter and trying to clap the flying ones for months now but they keep coming. I've bagged the flours, cornmeal, breadcrumbs, sugars, dried fruit, nuts, cereal, crackers etc. in freezer zip bags- un-opened cellophane wrapping is too thin and flimsy to keep them out- but somehow I keep missing everything they've infested. They really spoil the food leaving the flour clumpy with their webs and waste. And they leave an unslightly mess when you mash them on the ceiling where it's difficult to wipe off with a sponge.

We first noticed them in the summer but didn't think anything of it because there are a lot of flying things the seem to come in through open doors. They must have sneaked in in a bag of contaminated flour. We were having dinner at some friends of ours and I happened to mention our problem with flour moths because I saw one flying in their dining room. They told me that they have been plauged by the moths for quite some time too. So I wonder if this is some kind of epidemic at least in central NJ?

We seem to have two different types of moths. One slightly larger about 1/2" in length and the other maybe 3/8". The longer one is skinnier and seems to have a sharp snout. The shorter one is not as good a flyer and seems to flutter about but still hard to kill by slapping your hands. I've noticed some very hard to see web casing where the ceiling meets the wall and have observed that the web encapsulates one larvae. How do I know? I've seen one emerge from these pretty well disguised nests. However, I don't think those are flour moths but just another yucky thing to deal with.

Here are a couple of informative sites about flour moths.
From Washington State University
And the Kendall Bioresearch Company site.

For some reason blogger doesn't seem to recognize the urls so here they are. Just cut and paste them in your browser url window.


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Hellebores as cut flower

I read an article on hellebores in the Financial Times newspaper. The writer had an interesting way to preserve the cut flowers for a flower arrangement. Apparently hellebores don't hold up well and would droop by the end of a day in a vase. Here's the method. You place the stems in boiling water for a half minute-I guess immersing the stem to just below the flower head. Then make a long slit all along the stem from flower head to the cut end. Stick it in a vase with water up to the flower head and it apparently lasts up to 10 days. Here's the url of the article online. You can read it if you sign up for a 15 day free trial.

Unfortunately our lenten rose did not bloom this year. We had about 3 blooms last year the first year I planted it so I expected more this year but no blooms. Quite a disappointment. Maybe I'm not doing something right. The writer of the FT article mentions that he/she heavily feeds the plant in the autumn and cuts back the foliage in early winter. Perhaps I should do that too. The photo is of last year's lenten rose.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Stardust search

aerogel tracks from the stardustathome website

Here's an interesting project. NASA needs volunteers to help identify stardust tracks hopefully collected by their space probe when it passed through the coma of a comet.

Here are some excerpts from their website:

In January 2004, the Stardust spacecraft flew through the coma of comet Wild2 and captured thousands of cometary dust grains in special aerogel collectors. Two years later, in January 2006 , Stardust will return these dust grains --- the first sample return from a solid solar-system body beyond the Moon --- to Earth (the collector has returned to earth and they are preparing the samples). But Stardust carries an equally important payload on the opposite side of the cometary collector: the first samples of contemporary interstellar dust ever collected. As well as being the first mission to return samples from a comet, Stardust is the first sample return mission from the Galaxy. But finding the incredibly tiny interstellar dust impacts in the Stardust Interstellar Dust Collector (SIDC) will be extremely difficult.

We are seeking volunteers to help us to search for these tiny samples of matter from the galaxy. Volunteers are critical to the success of this project. Please help us find the first samples of contemporary Stardust ever collected.


Finding the incredibly tiny interstellar dust impacts in the Stardust Interstellar Dust Collector (SIDC) will be extremely difficult. Because dust detectors on the Ulysses and Galileo spacecraft have detected interstellar dust streaming into the solar system, we know there should be about 45 interstellar dust impacts in the SIDC. These impacts can only be found using a high-magnification microscope with a field of view smaller than a grain of salt. But the aerogel collector that we have to search enormous by comparison, about a tenth of a square meter (about a square foot) in size. The job is roughly equivalent to searching for 45 ants in an entire football field, one 5cm by 5cm (2 inch by 2 inch) square at a time! More than 1.6 million individual fields of view will have to searched to find the interstellar dust grains. We estimate that it would take more than twenty years of continuous scanning for us to search the entire collector by ourselves.

So volunteer and if you identify the dust impacts, you may be sited in their scientific papers as a co-author!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Japanese maple "Beni kawa"

"Tilling" - modifying plants using non-gmo? methods

Here's an article from Wired magazine on stressing plants by putting seed in various chemicals to produce mutations, then using the mutated genes to produce specifically wanted or beneficial traits. Can this be still considered frankenfood? In nature plants naturally produce many mutations. For an example there are more than 400 different varieties of japanese maples and more are added every year through natural mutation and with help from human growers pollenating flowers of different varieties. Tulips, roses, orchids are other examples. But somehow I'm uneasy when food is purposely manipulated. Of course humans through the ages have chosen the most productive and good tasting plants and animals to consume and breed but these were obtained through natural mutations. Doesn't sound like much of an argument against "tilling" but the unease won't go away.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Japanese maple "Benikawa" in snow

Benikawa means red skin or covering (bark in the case of a tree). This is a 2 year old grafted plant I bought last spring. I was not really happy with another coral bark maple that we've had for 3 years a "Sango kaku" (coral tower) which is becoming fairly common - at least I see it in almost every nursery including the big box stores. The trouble with the Sango kaku was that the leaf tips burned easily and I planted it in too exposed a location. The winter winds would whip around the tree, keeping it stunted. It grew less than a foot in all the time we've had it.

The Benikawa's bark seems to be a brighter red and it is a vigorous grower. It had only two sprigs of no more than 4" when I bought it but in one season it's grown to more than 2 feet tall. I do like the look of the leaves on the Sango kaku though.

This weekend's heavy wet snow was brutal on the evergreens. The arborvitae, some of the small pines, yews and junipers were knocked down. I spent part of a morning knocking snow off the rhodies and whatever else needed to be released from the pressing weight. I'm afraid many will need a heavy trimming and support to become an upright plant again.

Blogger is taking forever so I'll post the photo later.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Dog walk & lead foot starts & air pollution

It's quite amazing how many people put the pedal to the metal on a cold motor. I walk our dog taking a short cut through a townhouse complex to get to a park on the other side and in the process we're exposed to toxic fumes from people rushing to work even at the early hour of 6:30 am. Surprising that they are late at that hour or is it just that we are habituated to drive like we're late all the time? We are sometimes enveloped by the partially and unburnt hydrocarbons and I've had to hold my breath to keep from breathing the gas. The poor dog just suffers through it - at least she's closer to the ground.

Still days are the worse. On a humid day you can at least see the cloud of fumes so it's easier to avoid and windy days are best. The drivers don't know how much raw unburnt gas comes out of the tailpipe before the catalytic converter heats up enough to burn off the pollutants. Of course with the advent of fuel injected engines the car manufacturers and supposedly car experts have told people to drive off easily for the first mile or two without warming up the engine. They warn you against idling the engine saying that deposits will build up on the injectors if you do. With carburetors you had to warm up the engine in cold weather or you could stall out. With the good driveability of fuel injected engines you can accelerate as fast as you want at the get go without stalling. So guess what? My dog and I get a good snoot and lungfuls of foul air. And the environment too.

I read a news article by a master mechanic recommending warming up the car by idling it for about 2-5 minutes before driving off saying that it would not harm the engine nor increase the deposits on the injectors. Having to walk through the death cloud everyday I would agree with him providing that's enough time to get the catalytic converter working.

If you could somehow direct the fumes back to the driver I bet this drag strip boogie wouldn't happen in the morning.

An interesting aside, in metro areas apparently drivers are subjected to more pollutants than pedestrians!

Scientific American: Pedestrians Inhale Less Pollution than Passengers

Also, think you're safe from pollution in your car? Read this article on new car smell from comsumeraffairs.com about PDBEs.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Hungersite: make a free donation with a click of your mouse

I had completely forgotten about the Hungersite after switching jobs, changing computers and not having my old bookmarks.

By clicking on the donate tab once a day you can give a cup of staple food to the starving people of the world without sending money. You can buy some of their t-shirts etc. and increase your giving but a click a day is an easy and painless way to give only requiring a minute of your time. A good use of a minute I think.

The website is sometimes very slow so you've got to be patient. They probably don't have many servers handling the traffic. Mornings are worse, no doubt people logging in from work so try other times of the day.

There are other affiliated sites equally worthy of your clicks like the Breast Cancer site, The Child Health site, The Literacy site, The Rainforest site and The Animal Rescue site. You can visit and donate to these sites with the same click of your mouse once a day. There are index tabs on the top of the Hungersite page which will take you to these sites.

Six clicks to make this planet a better place to live. Easy.
Tell your friends.

A quote from the Hungersite:

It is estimated that one billion people in the world suffer from hunger and malnutrition. That's roughly 100 times as many as those who actually die from these causes each year.

About 24,000 people die every day from hunger or hunger-related causes. This is down from 35,000 ten years ago, and 41,000 twenty years ago. Three-fourths of the deaths are children under the age of five.

Famine and wars cause about 10% of hunger deaths, although these tend to be the ones you hear about most often. The majority of hunger deaths are caused by chronic malnutrition. Families facing extreme poverty are simply unable to get enough food to eat.

In 1999, a year marked by good economic news, 31 million Americans were food insecure, meaning they were either hungry or unsure of where their next meal would come from. Of these Americans, 12 million were children. The Hunger Site began on June 1, 1999.

Please remember to click every day to give help and hope to those with nowhere to turn. Every click counts in the life of a hungry person."

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Witch hazel showing off

Monday, February 06, 2006

Yellow witch hazel in all its glory

The yellow witch hazel probably Hamamelis Japonica (by the growth habit) now in its second year of growth near the fish pond did very well this year with blossoms covering the shrub. The red flowered ones did not do very well with shriveled blossoms. Both of these plants did not have very much of a fragrance as compared to last year.

We also bought the common witch hazel last year, Hamamelis vernalis which produced an abundance of very fragrant blossoms. But the blossoms were obscured by the dried brown leaves which didn't drop and remain firmly attached to the shrub even if you try to pull it off. The fragrance was so strong as I passed 15' away from the shrub that I thought the neighbor was running their clothes dryer with clothes full of fabric softner perfume. I couldn't believe it was the witch hazel.

Can't seem to upload pictures to blogger. Will post them later.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Follow up on native bees

Here's a great website: discoverlife.org if you want to identify the native bees that are pollinating your flowers.

And here's how to build nesting tubes/boxes from the University of Georgia website in order to attract native bees to your garden.

Unlike honeybees, who work only in good weather, native bees are out all the time so are the unsung heroes of pollination.
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Location: Zone 6, New Jersey, United States

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