Saturday, December 12, 2015

Ecologically Rich Border Lands

Often times you hear about hedgerows providing ecological diversity when they are used to separate fields and pastures. Out here in the semiarid parts of Utah hedgerows are unheard of. Yes, we have ornamental hedges that are sheared to oblivion and managed nearly as harshly as turf grass. So what do dry-landers do to bring diversity to our farms and homesteads?

I introduce you to the ditch bank! When Utah was first settled the only way to get a crop that the settlers from the East could recognize was to irrigate with water coming down from the mountains. Over the years an impressive number of canals and ditches were built. For decades this supplied many of the crops that Utahans relied on for food and to feed their livestock.

It wasn't long before some irrigation-less dry farming took hold, but for all practical purposes the ditches were about everywhere and a wide diversity of plants grew in them and around them. This was Utah's version of a hedgerow and hedgerow diversity.

Over the years the ditches have lost influence due to urbanization and the rise of pressurized irrigation systems. This has made it vital that we provide alternate spaces planted to create habitat for the critters that bring balance to our systems.

So when you hear about hedge rows and all their glory, remember that each area has an eco system hero of its own. If you don't take the time to look for that hero, you will not be doing your landscape any favors.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Loving Your Bees to Death

At a recent bee club meeting the idea was presented that it was ok to treat you bees with a miticide even when a varroa mite test showed only low levels of mites. The general response to this was if your bees are alive in after winter there is no problem with that. When I tried to explain why I disagreed, I was quickly shushed.

While I firmly believe that there are many good ways to keep bees, there are very good reasons to not treat unless you have to. And these are not just opinions or personal methods, they are based on science and a wide variety of experience in different fields. Let's take a look at why this may harm your bees:

  • The most common miticides are toxic to your bees. Yes, it might seem ok if your bees survive to spring, but pesticides do damage even when they are not killing outright. This is especially true of the queen. 
  • Many miticides have a cumulative effect. This means that the poison you used last year might still be hanging around in the bees and in the hive, bringing the dose you added this year up to honeybee toxic levels.
  • Miticides do not kill all the mites. Those it does not kill usually have some resistance. They will then breed together to make even more resistant mites. With time, the miticide will become useless. While it is easy to say that technology will provide new chemicals, they may not and they will likely take long enough to produce that you will loose a lot of bees before they are available.

Now, even though I am not a fan of a lot of poisons in my bees or my garden, I am not telling you to stop treating altogether. What I am asking you to do is to test before you treat and only treat if your levels are high enough that the bees cannot handle it themselves.

This is the basic idea behind Integrated Pesticide Management (IPM) that has emerged in a number of fields to keep our pesticides from causing more problems than they solve. If you want to know more about IPM please follow this link: or check with your local agriculture university or state extension.

The IPM approach will give your honeybee colonies a better chance of life and keep a lot of problems from happening around them.


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Permaculture Plants: Rubber Rabbitbrush, Ericameria nauseosa

Rubber Rabbitbrush (Chamisa)
Ericameria nauseosa (Chrysothamnus nauseosus)
Asteraceae (Compositae)

This is the primary source of golden-yellow in much of the west during the late summer and early fall. When it is not blooming many people mistake it for sagebrush, but once you take a good look at the flowers it is hard to make that mistake again.

Growing Conditions

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-7, maybe higher. Similar width

Drought Tolerance: Very good

Soil: Best on well drained alkali soils, but flexible with other soils

Light: Full sun

Native Range: From North Dakota south to Texas and all points west. 

Potentially Invasive

Permaculture and Homesteading Uses

Yellow Die: A very warm yellow gold yarn can be made using Rabbitbrush.

Pioneer Plant: Rabbitbrush is an aggressive pioneer plant at home in rough and tumble roadside areas as well as any other disturbed area. If this does not grow in you area it is because your conditions are to nice for it or because it has never been tried. Use this plant in areas regions where it is already established because it will push out other pioneer plants in places it is not native to.

Soil Builder: When the leaves fall they build up in piles under the plant and enrich the soil. When the soil becomes sufficiently enriched Rabbitbrush will often dieback and give its position to more delicate and slower growing plants. 

Late Honeybee Finisher: Rabbitbrush is one of the latest blooming plants available in its home range. The honey is said to be strong and an acquired taste, but most beekeepers have already harvested by the time it blooms so it usually gets left to the bees. 

Nutrient accumulator: Since there are few roots near the surface there is an excellent chance Rabbitbrush is a top notch nutrient accumulator.


Flowers: Golden-yellow, late August through October

Leaves: Dusty gray or dusty green, narrow and long--resembling a rabbit's ear, deciduous to semi deciduous 

Size: 1-8' tall

Roots: Deep with few feeder roots near the surface

Fruit: Achine

Pests: Nothing serious known


Used as a medicinal tea, yellow die, chewing gum.


This is a tough plant for tough areas and so common it is nearly invisible to many people that pass it every day. This is surprising because as an ornamental it has drop dead color and needs very little maintenance. Rabbitbrush can be made into a high grade rubber, but it is not cost effective at this time.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Permaculture Plants!

With the advent of cheap energy the only two branches of design that retain their regional requirements are agriculture and horticulture. As a subset of these, permaculture suffers from the legitimate need to fill more plant niches than traditional horticulture and agriculture have plants for.

Many writers have given lists that are expected to fill the international hunger for more information, but all of these lists fail by including so many plants that it is impossible to sort out what works in your area, or the list plants that are simple not going to work with your soil and climate.

This is a series of permaculture plant posts for my home and county, but those in Utah and the surrounding states will find many of the plants in the series useful for permaculture and homesteading.

The first in the series will be posted later this week. To get the whole series enter Permaculture Plants into the search box in the upper right. I will try to make each plant in the series searchable by the most used common names and botanical names.

I hope this will become a useful tool for all my gardening and permaculture friends in the region. Good luck and let me know how well these plants work for you!


Friday, September 25, 2015

Powdery Mildew in the Fall

Late summer and early fall bring a lot of changes that are frustrating to a gardener. In particular this year I have seen folks worried about late season powdery mildew on many of their plants. While powdery mildew can be a big problem when it attacks plants early in the year, later in the year it is simply a part of the overall changes in the seasons.

Some organic gardeners recommend spraying with milk or other treatments, I say that late in the year you just need to accept change and let autumn come. Besides, the best use for milk in the fall is turning it into a hot cup of cocoa to sip while you watch the colors change!


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Late Summer Sick Trees

Do you know what is ailing your tree in late summer?

This time of year I always get a few questions about sick trees, often times they were planted within the previous year. Sometimes the conversation goes like this:

Me: When did you notice the problem?
Client: Oh, for a while.
Me: Beginning of September?
Client: Yea, I guess so.
Me: What tells you the tree is sick?
Client: The leaves don't look right.
Me: What color are they?
Client: Kinda yellow and maybe some red. I guess there is some brown around the edges of the leaves.
Me: Are there spots or anything that might look like a fungus or infection?
Client: I mean the leaves are really sick looking, but there are no spots.
Me: I think I know what is causing the problem.
Client: Really? You didn't even look at the tree!
Me: You know I am good at what I do, don't you?
Client: Come on, please just help me. I don't want to lose my tree!
Me: Ok, your tree is having an onset of Early Autumn.
Client: What?
Me: Your tree is going dormant early. Some trees do it quicker than others. Some are a little stressed, but they got everything they needed in the summer, so they are turning color early. They will be fine.
Client: Are you sure they don't need to be sprayed or something?
Me: No they are fine.
Client: Could you come and look at them anyway?
Me: Sure, at my usual rate.
Client: What is that again?
Me: $100 an hour. One hour minimum.
Client: I'll let you know if things get worse.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Fight Orchard Pests with Flower Power!

A parasitoid wasp. Most of these wasps are under a quarter-
of-an-inch and none are able to sting humans.

I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago and he told me that he never sprays his apple trees, but he regularly has 25% of his apples worm free. He didn't know why, but I have a pretty good idea what is preventing his apples from being damaged.

My friend lives on his old family farm in Lehi, Ut and it is full of "weeds" that are left unsprayed and usually un-mowed. These feral plants feed all comers including small parasitoidal wasps. These wasps lay eggs on a number of pests, including apple codling moths. When the eggs hatch they start eating the pests.

This is not a perfect system, but it is a sensible way to have better fruit with no added chemicals. And you don't need to live on a farm to make it work! All you need is to plant more flowers.  Not all flowers are created the same and some flowers will do more to attract predators.

Below is a list of some of the more useful plants for attracting parasitiod wasps. They are all readily available in seed or plant form at your local nursery or on line.

Scientific Name Common Name Growth Type
Achillea spp. Yarrow Perennial
Agastache foeniculum Anise hyssop Perennial
Artemisia spp. Wormwood, sagebrush Perennial
Aster spp. Aster Perennial
Astragalus spp. Vetch Perennial
Baptisia spp. False indigo Perennial
Bellis perennis English daisy Perennial
Borago officinalis Borage Annual, reseeding
Caragana spp. Peashrub  Shrub
Chamaemelum nobile Roman, English chamomile Perennial
Chrysogonum virginianum Green and gold Perennial
Coreopsis spp. Tickseed Perennial
Echinacea purpurea Purple cone flower Perennial
Foeniculum vulgare Fennel Perennial
Helianthus spp. Sunflower, Sunchoke Annual, perennial
Lupinus spp. Lupine Annual, perennial
Medicago satvia Alfalfa Perennial
Robinia hispida Rosa acacia Shrub
Robinia pseudoacacia Black locust Tree
Solidago spp. Goldenrod Perennial
Trifolium spp. Sweet clover Biennial

The best places to plant these plants is as need your orchard area as possible. In the case of the annuals and perennials, planting them under and around the fruit trees is best. If that is not possible, a flower bed near the trees would be the next best thing.

It will take a few years to start attracting wasps, so be patient and take the time to work with nature. Any other flowers, especially perennials, are likely to help, so feel free to add more flowers and flowerbeds to your property. All the good critters will love you for it.


Monday, February 9, 2015

Utah Beekeepers Under Threat!

A fuzzy photo of a bee for an even fuzzier proposed law!

A new bill in Utah threatens the health of bees and the future of Utah's entire beekeeping industry. Here are the key points:
  • Removes the requirement of a moveable frame for inspection.
  • Prohibits the county inspector from inspecting unless a specific complaint is given.
  • Eliminates mandatory yearly inspections.
  • Encourages limitations on migratory beekeepers.
  • Prohibits cities from making their own beekeeping codes.
From facebooking with one of the authors, it seems that this is intended to be an anti government move that is supposed to liberate the beekeepers from the tyranny of government. As I asked questions, I found that there seems no reason for this change other than deregulation for the sake of deregulation.

I haven't myself felt oppressed by the beekeeping regulations and those I have talked to in the state may have gripes, but they can't really point to what damage is being done to them by our beekeeping code.

On the flip side there is a real fear with experienced beekeepers that our ability to combat bee health issues will be limited by the proposed deregulation. Certainly, we will have fewer tools for the next big fight with American Foul Brood, or any other pest that comes along. I personally think beekeepers will loose personal property rights as we will have a bigger risk to the bees that we have worked so hard to keep fit and healthy.

For a link to the new changes click here. This will also allow give you a link to Representative Marc Roberts, the sponsor of the bill.

For all of you Utah residents that want to let your representative and senator know what you think click here to find them.

I encourage you to be engaged whether you agree with my opinion or are opposed to it. The greatest threat to liberty has always been complacency.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sugar from Grass?

Syrup is not easily made from bluegrass, but it can be made
sorghum grass.

This interview has some great information on sorghum grass in Utah. It is in the first segment, let me know what you think.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Killing the Field

A puddle in the middle of the lawn?
I looked at landscapes at Utah public schools last year, and I am frustrated by what I saw. Many schools were clearly over watered, but this school took the cake. It had water sitting in puddles of fetid water in front of the school.

While it seems that poor management like this is in bad character, especially during a drought year, it is even worse when you know that this level of over watering can require mowing up to three times a week. All this time and money from the mowing could easily be shifted elsewhere.

While it seem easy to blame the custodian, the problem is systemic through the school systems and American society in general. I encourage you to become educated about good gardening and plant care and to respectfully and appropriately approach responsible leaders in the community when you see such horrible miss use of public resources.