March 17, 2006

Tonight’s topic is….stuff that annoys me.
Our farmer friend (let’s just call him Drew, as that is his name) loaned me the UC Davis Weed Bible. For two nights now I’ve been ogling the glossy color photos, alternately glad that I now know the name of this-or-that, or wondering how many of these things actually plague me, because it seems like rather a lot of them are yanked, flamed, smothered, sprayed, hoed or otherwise killed on an ongoing basis. Then I thought, “why wonder?”. So here’s the list, ready? Dovefoot geranium, common vetch, perennial ryegrass, black nightshade, common catsear, roughseed buttercup, spiny sowthistle, vinegarweed, buckhorn plantain, mustard, three kinds of filaree, common mullein (which I’ve been encouraging as a “pretty flower”, just great), cattail, wild radish, field bindweed, yellownutsedge, bermudagrass, johnsongrass, California burclover, prostrate pigweed, turykey mullein, dock, common chickweed, witchgrass, feather fingergrass, hare barley, littleseed canary grass, large crabgrass, yellow starthistle, prostrate spurge, common purslane, common lambsquarters, russian thistle, malow, panicle willowweed, henbit, horseweed, pineappleweed, desert rockpurslane, prostrate knotweed, shepherd’s purse, fiddleneck, sowthistle, groundsel, and prickly lettuce. I left out several grasses that I couldn’t be sure of, and a few others like California poppy and yarrow that I grow deliberately and don’t care what others think of them. I stopped counting after forty, but I can now at least quantify why I often seem to be losing the weed battle around here. In spite of my resources, I’m outnumbered. However, I can now curse each one by its proper name. That makes me happy!

Next peeve: Solenopsis xyloni, or, the Southern California fire ant. Lately, I’ve found far too many fire ant nests. Usually they embody one of the plagues of summertime and warm weather. The ritual goes thus: I stand in one place, busy with whatever I’m doing. I wear sandals in warmer weather. Suddenly I feel a burning sensation on my feet, ankles and leg. I ignore the first one because I’m distractd by my work, but then the sensation registers, and I look down. I have about 20-30 ants on me, and they’re all biting and injecting their venom in concert. Jumping hard on the ground and moving a few feet away shakes many of them off, and I frantically slap off the rest. Then I have to stop, go in the house, and look for some topical antihistamine. If I can do that within 5 minutes, I’ll squeak by. If not, in 8 or so hours the welts will start to itch intensely, and it all goes downhill from there since I’ll scratch until my feet are a bloody mess. Can’t help it, IT ITCHES. Last weekend while working in the asparagus, they were far from my mind and this time they got me all over my hands. I use a borate bait I make up at home on them, but the amount of ants I’ve seen so far isn’t a good sign. This time of year they are sluggish from the cold, but are working to reproduce and build the numbers up in their colonies. I’ve looked online at various baits, and am in my usual paralysis about trying anything that looks remotely toxic to vertebrates. Borates work…with time and if you can bait every nest. I’m worried I will miss many nests, since the happy discovery usually occurs during tilling and other soil preparation work just prior to planting. Once a big colony is in a garden area, it’s tough. I had a 10 foot patch of tomatoes last year that I had to stay out of for a week, because you just couldn’t get near them without the ants swarming.

And speaking of ants, let’s move on to carpenter ants. They get into every tree and shrub. I have seen masses of 30 or more of them sitting on a rosebud, gnawing it into shreds. They infest the ripe peaches, apricots, figs, nectarines, etc. Tanglefoot stops them for a time but is almost as problematic as the ants. If it’s harvesttime for the almonds, they fall by the droves out of the trees (and onto your head) when the branches are struck. And if they have a mind to, they’ll happily sink their relatively large jaws into your skin. Hours of internet searching and I’ve been unable to find any meaningful help at controlling them. Maybe I should check for pet anteaters in the yellow pages.

Weeds and ants, nature’s way of helping make sure you don’t bother buying a hammock…

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