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operation destroy bamboo

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The war on bamboo continues. We spend time on it every single day. Just walking around the bamboo patch snapping off new shoots. I've heard that May is peak growth season, and I hope it's true, because I don't think we could handle more.

For most of April, what came up were big shoots. Easy to find, easy to snap off, and didn't grow back where we cut them. Starting a couple of weeks ago, clusters of tiny skinny shoots are appearing everywhere. They pop up from exposed roots, from shoots we broke off before, everywhere. All over the place. The little ones sprout leaves immediately, which is bad because the goal is to prevent the bamboo from getting any sunlight. They're also, bizarrely, harder to break off than the big stalks. I have a sore spot covered with tiny cuts on my thumb and forefinger from those damned bamboo shoots. I guess I should use pruners. But I tend to step into the bamboo patch whenever I have a few minutes, like coming home from work or an errand or whatever, and I don't want to stop and go get the pruners.

You can sort of see what we're dealing with in this photo:
bamboo Little green shoots sprouting up among the ponji sticks. On the left edge of the photo is a whole cluster of shoots growing out of a couple we snapped off before.

Then again, no one said getting rid of bamboo would be easy. I've settled into a routine: a few minutes on the bamboo every day, and a long session -- an hour or so -- twice a week. Georg also works on the daily bamboo check, and he's been great about filling the truck with cut bamboo 2-3 times a week so I can go to the dump whenever I have time. We're slowly but surely getting rid of the mountain of bamboo, which feels great. In the past week he's also started digging up bamboo roots, which is crazy hard work in the concrete-like soil back there. (Really, it's a mixture of sand, clay and gravel.) Between the two of us we're staying on top of it. For now!

crepuscule roseHere's a more pleasant photo: my favorite rose! It's Crepuscule, which I think means "sunset" in French? Anyway, I planted it right by the house because I love the orangey color. I'm thrilled to see how big it's getting. When I first planted the climbing roses I heard a saying: "First year, they sleep. Second year, they creep. Third year, they leap!" It seems to be true. I need to build a support for it so it isn't just dangling over the fence there. I want to train it to grow along the wall of the house and over the window.

In other garden news, well the front looks like hell, because bamboo has taken up all the time I would normally have spend weeding, and then some. The vegetable garden is getting a good start. We have sugar snaps, radishes, eggplant, poblanos, and tomatoes doing well. And spinach which was started too late, but who knows, we might get something from it. The squashes and pumpkins I planted in containers in the bamboo patch are taking off, with the melons not far behind. The giant alliums (or would that be giant allii?) I planted last fall bloomed and look gorgeous. I want to plant them on either side of the path up to the shed, half of which is currently under the mountain of bamboo. Well, this fall will be the time to move them and by then we'll have the bamboo cleared.

A couple of weeks ago I was saying that I was expecting an explosion of new growth in the bamboo patch, and I couldn't understand why it hadn't happened. Well, it's here! All it took was a week of hot sunny weather, and bamboo growth season has begun.

Georg and I walked around the bamboo patch this evening and found dozens of sprouts. When they're really small, it's easy to snap them off with your hand or foot. Though I wonder how small is too small. If I break off a sprout that's only an inch tall, will it continue to grow and just be stubby on the end? Guess we'll find out in the next few days.

The weather is turning and today was less insanely hot -- it was in the low 80s by the time I got home around 5:45. And we had a busy evening: besides the bamboo sprouts, Georg loaded the last of that old stack of lumber into the truck, finished mowing the lawn, and dug out bamboo roots to clear 4 spots in the bamboo patch. So I could set up 4 big containers in which I planted melons and squashes! Woo hoo! Moon and Stars watermelon, honeydew melon, mini pumpkins, and Sweet Dumpling squash. It's a winter squash somewhat similar to Kabocha that I got from Fedco. I've wanted to grow melons and winter squash for years, and could never find a place for them. I think this will work great. They'll have plenty of room to spread out, and maybe they'll even help to keep the bamboo down by shading the ground.

In other news, we bought a new TV. It arrived yesterday & we set it up last night. It's not a monster huge set -- vertically the screen is about the same size as the old CRT -- and it uses 1/3 the power. Less than an incandescent light bulb. Woo hoo!

summer already?

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It was in the 80s today! I had some work to do, and a meeting in the middle of the day, but I managed to get some yardwork in too:

  • planted asparagus crowns,
  • weeded in a couple of spots,
  • used a fork to turn over the soil in a new flower bed,
  • put the seedlings outside for a couple of hours,
  • replanted the tomato seedlings,
  • dug out two stumps.

seedlingsThis was the first day I put the seedlings out. I should have started hardening them off days ago, but at least I finally started! I'll give them another hour or two each day, until they can stay out all day. And then plant them!

Those stumps are the bane of my existence. I've been digging out stumps for ages, and thought I was finally done. But then I looked closely at two "dead" ones, which I thought I could get away with leaving in the ground. And saw new live growth on both of them! Time to bring out the digging bar again. A digging bar is a 5 1/2 foot long iron pole with a chisel blade on the end. To dig out the stump you drive the digging bar into the ground in a circle around the stump, using it to chop through roots and pry the stump out of the ground. It's really heavy, and I'm really out of shape, so I have to take lots of breaks. Georg got home while I was still working on the bigger stump and helped finish it off. That bastard had a huge tap root. It was almost as big as the aboveground trunk!

The best part is, while working on the stumps I found poison ivy in the bed! The leaves are just starting to open. I'll have to pull it early in the morning when it's cool enough to wear long sleeves.

Then I have a couple of bags of soil conditioner to work into the soil, and then I'll finally be ready to plant up that bed. Finally! I'm going to plant candytuft in the very front, then rudbeckia, then sundrops, then a whole bunch of zinnias going up the slope.

go for the fat back

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Another trip to the dump this morning. This time it only cost $1.06! I guess because of all those cut up trees. They're heavy, but we didn't cut off all the side branches, so they took up a lot of room. And so the overall load was lighter.

After lunch Georg had the world music show, and I worked some more on weeding and digging up shrubs. The path up to the shed in the back yard had been planted with a row of forsythia. Which probably looked nice once upon a time. Not so much now. The forsythia are messy and overgrown, block the path in summer, and have volunteer shrubs (like evil privet) growing among them.

I got to try out my new gardening accessories: I treated myself to a sun hat and a pair of knee pads. Which are fantastic! It's kind of amazing to kneel on the wet ground and not get all soggy, not have to worry about scraping my knee on roots or stones or whatever. I wish I'd had them while we were working on the bamboo. Really I wish I'd gotten them years ago. They weren't expensive; I don't know why I didn't think of it before. The hat was good too. Stays on my head comfortably, and has a nice big brim to keep the sun off my face & neck. I got it from Amazon & chose one in a light green. I wish it had air vents, but the light color will keep it from heating up too much in the summer sun.

This afternoon I made really good progress; there's only one forsythia left. Unfortunately it's a big one, with a tree stump right in the middle of it. I think it's going to take the digging bar to get that one out. Which, after a couple of hours of digging them out with the shovel, I was absolutely not up for. So I called it a day and made dinner.

I made one of my favorite cold weather recipes, in honor of a couple of cool days we've been having. It's a pork and white bean stew that's close enough to cassoulet that I feel mostly okay about calling it that, with the huge advantage that it only takes 3 1/2 hours. (Real cassoulet takes a couple of days, which is why I've never made it.) It's made with country style pork ribs, slow roasted and then added to a stew of wine and broth, with vegetables, bacon and bread crumbs. This time I replaced half the bacon with kielbasa, and added a little twist: Harris Teeter's meat department was selling little packs of trimmed lamb bones for only $1 a pound, so I got some for the cassoulet. Roasted them with the pork to bring out the flavor, then threw them in the stew. I think it added a nice little something.

Maybe trying to jump straight from my quick, simplified cassoulet to the full-on Mastering the Art of French Cooking version is the wrong approach. Maybe I should gradually add more elements, make it a little more complex each time. This time it was lamb bones, maybe next time I'll spring for some duck confit. Or make it the day after running the smoker so I can add smoked sausages. The possibilities!

The title of today's post comes from Eartha Kitt: "If you haven't any money, honey, go for the fat back." She went on to explain that when she first lived in Paris she had no money, so she ate lots of greens with fat back, which is high calorie and makes you feel full.

news flash: work is hard

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Busy day today: took another load of wood to the dump, weeded, sawed small trees (previously felled) into lengths that fit in the truck, put them in the truck, planted seeds, weeded some more, cleaned the kitchen, and even did paying work. Whew!

she always does thisThis was Jane's third trip to the dump, and this time she jumped right into the truck, no coaxing necessary. And then climbed right over to my seat! I wonder why she keeps doing that. This time when I shooed her out of my seat, she crawled into the back of the cab and sat back there for the whole drive. Good thing it's a king cab with room for her to sit. It's probably comforting for her, to feel like she's hidden when we get to the dump with all the banging and heavy equipment. I'll have to clean up back there and put down a blanket for her.

By far the hardest job today was cutting up the trees. Sawing with a hand saw, good lord that's hard work. My arms are sore now, I bet they'll be aching in the morning. There was one really big choke cherry that Georg had cut down last fall & was still lying where it fell. Getting it cut up and in the truck freed up a big space for planting. I have Benary's Giant zinnia seeds, maybe that's what I'll plant there.

Almost all the indoor seedlings are up. The only things that didn't do well were the columbine (only 3 of 8 sprouted) and the datura (only 1 of 4) I'm more disappointed by the columbine because we don't really have room for more than one datura. It's a big plant and extremely toxic so it has to go outside the fence, away from Jane. She doesn't habitually chew on plants the way Lina used to, but we still like to be careful. The outdoor seedlings are doing well too. The sugar snaps, which were planted about a week ago, are starting to come up. The radishes look great, and the chard, spinach and cilantro are emerging too. Only the beets didn't do well. I planted 2 rows a couple of weeks ago, and only 3 seedlings came up. I replanted those rows and added a couple more rows. Hopefully we'll get some. I love beets.

happy first day of spring

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It's the first day of spring! We celebrated by spending the day outside. In the morning we worked on Operation Destroy Bamboo, Phase 1B: we finished loading the truck with that rotten wood pile, which I had started on Thursday; took it to the dump; came back and filled the truck again.

While we were working, Georg figured out where the wood came from: previous owners had had an aboveground pool in the area which became the bamboo patch. We know this because we found pool cleaning tools in the shed, and there's a large metal ring in the ground which must have been the foundation of the pool. The wood must have been used for either a frame or deck around the pool. When they moved out and removed the pool, they stacked up the wood and left it in the back of the yard. And we didn't care about the yard when we moved in, so we let it lay until now.

I must say, moving a pile of wood that's been allowed to rot for over a decade is ... gross. It's really gross. Crumbling, turning to sawdust, full of creepy crawlies. The rusty nails in every board just add that je ne sais quois. We've been using the wheelbarrow to carry the wood to the truck, so we wouldn't have to touch the wood more than necessary. Good thing too, because in the bottom of the wheelbarrow we found a spider that we think was a brown recluse. (We looked at a photo online to identify it.) I had heard that brown recluses like rotten wood. Because I'm a sucker for living creatures, even horrible poisonous spiders, we didn't kill it. I went over to a corner of the yard and tipped the spider out. Maybe it will find a fallen tree in the empty lot to make a new home in.

By the time we got the truck loaded again it was too late to go back to the dump, so we went out to lunch and then did more yard work in the afternoon. Georg cut down volunteer saplings in the bamboo patch, while I weeded out front and then dug up a forsythia by the shed. I want to plant hollyhocks in front of the shed so all the vines and scrubby shrubs have to go.

It was positively hot out in the sun, so we took frequent breaks. During which I obsessively read Twitter updates on health care reform. I wish I could watch the vote on CSPAN tomorrow. Alas, I'll be on the air until 4, and then there's a mandatory DJ meeting. I'll just have to play lots of long songs so I have time to check Twitter constantly.

On breaks I also checked the locations of various perennials, to see what's starting to come up. The brunnera Jack Frost is looking good. It's a beautiful foliage plant for shade, which needs moist soil, so I planted it right next to a rain barrel. All the hostas I planted last fall are starting to sprout! We got all big ones, mostly blue: Blue Angel, Krossa Regal, Sieboldiana Elegans, and Hollywood Lights. I never planted hostas before so I'm excited. Also very excited to see sprouts from the calanthe. It was a splurge last fall from Plants Delight, and when we checked out the guy said "Whoa, Orchids 202!" That made me a little nervous -- I do all right but I've lost more than my share of plants, and this one was expensive -- and it was such a wet winter, that I'm incredibly relieved to see the calanthe survived. We passed Orchids 202!

Now we are both very tired. I'm so glad we had nice leftovers and didn't have to worry about cooking.

not about bamboo

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Here's a photo of something besides bamboo! Last fall I planted these tiny "Pixie" irises by the back door. I had no idea what they were going to look like. They're cute! It's going to look great in a few years when they multiply.
new irises

Okay, I did a little bit of Operation Destroy Bamboo today. I took the truckload of cut bamboo to the city dump. I took Jane with me, which was probably a mistake. She's a nervous dog, and the truck is a lot louder than my car, and then there was all kinds of heavy equipment at the dump. So she spent most of the trip clinging to me and/or shivering. Poor thing! I wonder if taking her with me again would help her get used to it, or would just scare her even more.

Phase 1 of Operation Destroy Bamboo is complete! !! !!!
Well, almost. All the bamboo is cut down, except for there's a stack of old lumber on the left by the fence, which we think was there when we moved into the house (we can't find any photos old enough to confirm this), and a pile of yard waste on top of it which was ahem gifted to us anonymously. There are about a dozen stalks of bamboo growing out from under that.
operation destroy bamboo
You can see in the above photo, on the right, that Georg started raking up the leaves & debris from the ground. We thought this would make Phase 2 (find and knock down shoots as soon as they emerge) easier. He said he saw lots of roots, no shoots. I'm sure an explosion of bamboo growth will start soon enough.

What I'm calling Phase 1B will be the removal of the pile of yard waste and lumber, cutting down the last bit of bamboo, and removing the mountain of cut bamboo which currently takes up almost as much space as it did when it was still standing.
operation destroy bamboo operation destroy bamboo

Phase 1B begins tomorrow, when I take a truckload of bamboo to the dump. Alas, the photos above show the mountain of cut bamboo after Georg filled the truck.
operation destroy bamboo
It may be worthwhile to rent a big wood chipper and see how much of it we can grind up in a weekend. We have a small electric chipper which works well on sticks, but as I recall it can't handle bamboo leaves. If we had to trim every stalk and feed them into the chipper one by one, that would take forever.

The neighbors put up a privacy fence yesterday, or at least most of one. I'm not sure if they plan to finish the fence or if they're going to leave that gap.
new privacy fence, in part
That reed mat isn't ideal; I was thinking about planting climbing roses along that fence but I fear it would be too heavy and pull the reed mat down. Then again since it was no cost or effort to me I guess I can't complain.

The upper level, up behind the parking area, is a revelation. It's been hidden by the bamboo for years.
operation destroy bamboo

Shame about this tree. It has a nice shape but the bottom 2/3 of the branches are dead, and that kind of evergreen never grows back. I think it was a cypress.
operation destroy bamboo
Georg has been cutting down the volunteer trees, which were mostly if not entirely dead already. I think we're going to leave the one in the foreground of the above photo, and put a birdhouse on it. It's the least we can do for the birds who lost all that greenery they used to hang out in. On the other hand, the hawks love this new clearing we've created. We've seen more hawks in the past two weeks -- sometimes so close you can almost count their feathers -- than in the previous two years. Happy hunting!

operation destroy bamboo

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A couple of photos of our latest progress on Operation Destroy Bamboo. We're working on the upper area now, above the wall. It's going faster because the bamboo mostly isn't as thick up there. First the before:
anyone need bamboo? anyone?

Now the after:
operation destroy bamboo

All those volunteer saplings will be cut down. They're mostly dead already, smothered by the bamboo. That wooden fence in the back is going to be in full sun. Maybe that's where we'll plant the Russelliana rambling rose. The soil up there is surprisingly good. I guess because leaves have been falling from the trees and just rotting where they lay for years. And the bamboo never got too thick because it was shaded by the thicker bamboo in front of it, in the parking area? Not sure. In any case, my hope is that we'll be able to plant up there, if not this year then maybe next year.

We also spent some time cutting vines off the chain link fence (on the left in this photo) because our neighbors are going to put up a privacy fence. Just reed mat but it will get the job done. It turns out that while the bamboo was going crazy in our yard, they started cutting it back, last year I think. And they only have one spot near our yard that still has bamboo, which they worked on cutting down today. It was kind of weird for us all to be out there working at the same time.

operation destroy bamboo photos

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No progress today but here are a couple of photos I took this morning. First, the lower area is clear!
operation destroy bamboo

The fence is still pretty messy from dried up vines and stuff growing in it. We're going to finish cutting the bamboo first and then go back to tidying jobs like that.

The pile of cut bamboo is on a slope, so I think it's an optical illusion that makes it look taller than the truck.
anyone need bamboo? anyone?

I think it's an optical illusion. Anyone need cut bamboo? Anyone?

prepare for the onslaught

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I think I mentioned over the weekend that I expected an explosion of bamboo growth after we started cutting back, and was surprised not to see it. Well, I can stop being surprised. I was working on the bamboo today, and a few times I brushed the dried leaves away to look at the ground. And several times (not everywhere, but several times) I saw little bamboo shoots, lots of them, just starting to poke out of the ground. I don't know if it's because of the cutting, or because it's just the time of year for it to come out of dormancy. Whichever, here it comes!

We had decided a few days ago that we'd wait until the parking area was clear, and then rake up all the leaves so we can watch for new shoots. Which is good timing, because I just about finished the parking area today! I found this foam block used for yoga, and used it to kneel/sit on while working on the bamboo. What a godsend. The bamboo was so thick where I was working today that I wouldn't have been able to kneel on the ground like I had done over the weekend.

Besides growing really thick, the other annoying thing about the bamboo by the fence is that it got all tangled up in vines and tree branches. So when I cut a stalk, instead of falling over the cut end would bounce up into the air & it would just hang there. So I had to stop every few minutes and yank everything I'd cut out of the tangle.

While I was working, I had this horrible vision of falling and impaling myself a dozen times on the punji sticks. Yes, I'm a worrier! It's a good thing I don't have kids because I'd make them live in a plastic bubble. I didn't stop working, but I did get my phone and kept it in my pocket. I figured if I stabbed myself on the bamboo, at least I'd be able to call 911.

There's still a massive pile of cut bamboo and debris to be cleaned up, so I didn't take any photos today. It looks like a hot mess & I thought photos would just bum me out. We talked about it and I think we're not going to try to chip all the bamboo. There's just too much of it. We'll start taking it to the dump next weekend.

It's really weird to have the chain link fence between our yard and our neighbors suddenly exposed. I hated that bamboo but it did an excellent job of creating privacy. I'd love to plant rambling roses along the fence. I've been wanting a place to plant Russelliana, a dark purple rambler. Of course it will be a long time before we can plant anything in that ground. In the meantime maybe I'll get containers and plant an annual like morning glories, which will grow fast and give us some privacy, and then go away at the end of the year.

The silver lining to the sudden lack of privacy between us and our neighbors is that Jane finally noticed the dog next door. He's been mooning over her for years, while she's never even known he's alive. Well today she saw him! They had a nice little tail wagging nose nuzzling moment.

When we started, it seemed like half the bamboo was in the parking area and half was up above. Now that the parking area is clear, we can see that the area above is much smaller. Georg said he thinks we're 2/3 to 3/4 done. Woo!

I had a fun show this afternoon! I tried to play lots of jazz and swing, since next week is going to be so pop. Also had a lot of birthday tributes to cover. I got a few requests, including a very frustrating series from one person: they wrote to the request line and requested Frank Sinatra singing "Moon River." Well "Moon River" won an Oscar so I'm already planning to play it next week. Which I said on the air, and invited them to request something else. They wrote in a few minutes later ... and requested "Moon River," sung by Audrey Hepburn! Okay... obviously they were not listening to me the first time, so I just ignored it & didn't bother explaining again.

Didn't get back into Operation Destroy Bamboo today, although Georg did some work this morning. I had planned to work on it after my show, but when I got home it was 45° out and the place where I needed to work was in shade. My rule of thumb is, if it's at least 50°, or a little colder and I'm in the sun, then I can warm myself up enough just by working. Cold than that is just too cold for me.

Maybe it was better that I took a day off, because I was really sore last night & early this morning. I think I need to balance my movements better. Because my right knee & shin are all scratched and scabby, and my left arm is scratched up too, and my left shoulder hurt a lot last night (as in, I woke up in the middle of the night and it was kind of numb down the left arm). I think I must get into a rhythm where I kneel on my right leg (so the right knee gets all scratched up by the punji sticks, thank you Raynor Grace for that term, it's very helpful), lean forward on my left foot, and do all the work with my left hand. It makes sense since I'm left handed.

I did spend a little time outside, since Clovepod alerted me that bamboo can actually be rooted from cuttings. I'm planning to use a bunch of the cut bamboo to trellis up my peas, which means sticking the cut stalks into my vegetable garden. I sure don't want to accidently spread the bamboo to my vegetable garden! I did some research and it sounds like bamboo isn't that easy to propagate from cuttings: you have to keep it warm and moist, get it into rooting medium right away, keep the leaves attached, etc etc. I figure leaving my stakes outside to dry out, and freeze every night, for weeks ought to prevent them from rooting when they finally do go into the ground. Also I went out this evening and cut all the leaves off them, just to be safe.

did I really buy this many seeds?While I was at my show Georg brought the grow lamp in, and tonight I got a bunch of seeds started! I planted up two trays, about half of what I'm planning to start indoors. Plus there are a bunch of seeds that will be sown direct outdoors, after it warms up. It was a little alarming when I laid all the seeds out to sort through them. Did I really order that many?

I have to say, Fedco is my new favorite seed supplier. They have a great selection, and they offer these mini packets which are priced like the big box stores (around $1 a packet). There's only a few seeds in a mini packet, which is perfect for a home gardener like me. If I'm only planning to grow 4 of a plant, then I'd rather pay $1 for 10 seeds than $3 for 30 seeds. The excess is wasted, and it really adds up when you're buying dozens of varieties.

Johnny's Seeds is geared more for small farmers & they're still a better deal for large quantities. So I'll keep ordering from them to get things like cover crops and sunflowers, which I plant a lot of (also Johnny's has an incredible sunflower selection, I never knew there were so many kinds). But next year I think I'll do most of my seed ordering from Fedco.

Also, note to self, next year I have to get myself one of those little squeezy things for measuring out tiny seeds. Every single year I wish I had one.

operation destroy bamboo, week 2

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Due to weather and work, "week 2" is a slight exaggeration. It's been 2 full days and 2 half days of work. (Last Saturday and today were full days; Sunday and Monday were half days.) And I'm really happy with our progress:
operation destroy bamboo, 1 week

The parking area is almost completely cleared! There's just a narrow strip along the fence on the left. Georg and I worked for a couple of hours this morning, then after lunch he had to go to the radio station so I worked alone all afternoon.

We're still using the same method: cut the stalk close to the ground and immediately press a sponge soaked with Roundup against the cut end. It's slow going as opposed to, say, spraying the entire area with Roundup, waiting a few days and then chopping it down with a machete. That would be the easy way. I'm happy with this approach because so much less Roundup is used. Using a sponge there's almost no excess Roundup going into the ground.

I had expected an explosion of new bamboo shoots during the past week: bamboo is infamous for fast growth, cutting a plant back always encourages new growth, that whole area is getting way more sun than before, and we had heavy rain early in the week. I thought we'd spend a long time this morning cutting new shoots, before we could get back to clearing the older growth. To my surprise we didn't get that at all. There were a few new shoots, I found maybe about a dozen and a half. And all of them were in the area we were newly clearing today, none where it had already been cleared. Maybe the Roundup really is slowing it down?

The massive pile of cut bamboo has grown even more massive. We're planning to shred it, though I'm not sure if we need to let it dry out first. Our shredder is fussy about bamboo: it can cut stalks but jams up on leaves. I guess we'll just have to try a fresh stalk and see how the shredder does. We can put the leaves in the compost pile.

uh ohA couple of unpleasant discoveries today: first, the retaining wall which had been hidden behind the bamboo for years is in serious disrepair. I wonder how difficult it will be to fix.

bamboo photos

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Looks like it's going to rain today. Dang! I was hoping it would hold off until tonight. Since I can't work outside today, I took a few photos of our progress.

Here's the "before" photo. The bamboo patch fills the parking area and has spilled out into the gravel driveway.
operation destroy bamboo: the beginning

Here's where we are now. We cut the whole thing back a couple of feet, back to the front of the parking area, then we focused on the right half and got about 3/4 of the way back.
operation destroy bamboo: day 2

We did it that way because our neighbors (the source of the bamboo) were out in their yard having a barbecue on Saturday, and we thought it best to stay back from the fence while they were right there. It would have been really weird for us to suddenly emerge from the bamboo in the middle of their barbecue. We're going to have to figure out something for that fence when the bamboo is gone.

Here's what the ground looks like as we work. Whatever you do, don't fall!
whatever you do, don't fall

Does anyone need bamboo? After I take all I need for trellising the sugar snaps, we still have hundreds of canes. It's about 1/2" thick and 10-12' long.
anybody need bamboo?

operation destroy bamboo, day 2

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Unfortunately today was my show, so we were only able to work for about an hour on the bamboo. Very frustrating considering what a nice day it was! While I was at the station Georg moved the pile of bamboo. It was getting difficult to walk in and out of the bamboo patch because the pile of bamboo covered the entire front of the area, and the stalks would slip under your feet. So he moved it out of the way, and set aside a few dozen nice straight lengths for me. I'm going to use them as stakes, to trellis the sugar snap peas.

We've been using bamboo stakes I bought at big orange a few years ago, and over the years they've gotten nasty and mildewed. I was thinking I would have to bleach them before putting them up this year. Instead I can throw the nasty old stakes in the compost and make new ones from the bamboo forest. I don't know why I never thought of this before. What was I thinking, buying bamboo stakes when our yard is being taken over by a field of bamboo.

I also did a couple of non-bamboo yard tasks: cut down the butterfly bush, which we do every year about this time, and started removing straw from the tender plants. They don't need to be protected from the cold anymore; now they'll do better if the ground is warmed by the sun. Best discovery: the alliums are starting to come up! Last fall I planted 25 Globemaster alliums in the backyard -- those are the ones that grow 3 feet tall with a giant purple pompom-like ball of flowers -- and 25 tiny little blue ones (called allium caeruleum) by the back door. As of today, 14 of the Globemasters and over a dozen of the tiny ones are up. So exciting! I can hardly wait until they bloom. I know it will be months from now. I'm so ready for spring.

operation destroy bamboo, day 1


The first day of Operation Destroy Bamboo went pretty well. We spent about 8 hours working on stage 1, cutting down the bamboo. It's a two person job: one person cuts the stalk a few inches from the ground, then the other paints Roundup on the cut end with a sponge. The Roundup has to be applied immediately, like within 15 seconds, because the sap draws down as soon as it's cut. If you wait too long then the Roundup just sits on top and doesn't get down into the rhizome. At least, that's the theory. We'll find out if it works or not.

It was slow going, and harder work than we expected. It's all the crouching and stooping. The person with the loppers can stand and crouch over, but the person with the Roundup sponge has to be down at the ground. And once we got into the middle of the bamboo patch, the ground was covered with pointy bits of bamboo sticking up. It was hard to find a place to put our feet, and forget about kneeling comfortably. I was terrified one of us would fall and be impaled on dozens of bamboo spikes. Really, the ground is starting to look like a set from The Most Dangerous Game. Luckily, as we got further back into the bamboo patch it thinned out somewhat and became a little easier to kneel on the ground. Georg speculated maybe because there's less light back there, it can't grow as close together. Or maybe because the soil is poorer & sandier back there.

So we worked for about 8 hours. Part of that time I was on my own -- Georg had to go to the radio station -- but most of the time we worked together. And we got close to half of the parking area done. Less than I had hoped, but when I look at the area we cleared, and the size of the pile of bamboo on the ground, I'm not disappointed.

The bamboo is skinny, the stalks range from 1/4-1" in diameter, and 12-13 feet tall. They have leaves only at the very tops. The stalks are green, and have a sort of husk attached to the ridges, so they look striped: half green, half tan. I should take a picture. Now that I think about it, I should post on Craig's List and see if anyone wants it. I know someone who wants bamboo but he needs it much thicker, more like 2" diameter. He wants to make candle holders out of it.

We found some interesting things in the bamboo patch. A bird's nest on the ground. We don't know if it fell out of the bamboo, or if the birds nested on the ground. Which would have been really stupid seeing as there's a dog running around in there every day. A rodent's nest inside a plastic bucket. See, the Durham County landfill used to sell mulch and soil. The price was fantastic and we used to buy a lot of it. The only drawback was, since it was made from other people's yard waste, it was always full of bits of trash, mostly plastic bags. We used to keep a bucket nearby while we were unloading the mulch or soil, and every time we found a bit of trash we'd throw it in the bucket. Well, one of those times we apparently forgot to empty out the bucket. We must have left it at the front of the bamboo patch, and then the bamboo grew around it and we forgot it was there. And eventually it tipped over, and rodents found this little hidey-hole full of scraps of plastic, and decided it would make a great nest. It had little soft things like fabric scraps and clumps of dryer lint in it. Alas for the rodents, we threw it out. It didn't look like anyone was still using it. We also found a rubber snake, the kind used to scare away birds and rodents. Which was obviously not very effective since we found it a couple of feet from the bird's nest and the bucket nest.

By the end of the day we were exhausted. We got cleaned up and had a lovely dinner at Spice & Curry. A paneer dosa, aloo palak and chicken pasanda, which is my favorite thing they make. Great food and we have lots of leftovers. Now we're sitting in front of the fire and watching the Olympics.

The only really annoying thing about the first day of Operation Destroy Bamboo is the well-meaning people on certain social networking sites who feel compelled to tell me ad infinitum how much I'm doing everything wrong, and how I should be doing it their way instead. I'm happy for advice and suggestions, in fact I've gotten some great suggestions. What I'm not so thrilled about is being scolded by someone who isn't offering to help, just to tell me how wrong I am. Actually I'm just cranky because I spent all day chopping down bamboo and now I'm tired and sore. (Note: I'm not talking about anyone who reads this blog.)

tiny zucchini throw pillows

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This evening we had our first zucchini from the garden! Four small ones turned out to be just the right amount, when Georg sauteed them with onions and mushrooms and peppers. They say that when you grow zucchini, you should always try to pick them small. Otherwise you end up inundated with humongous zucchini, foisting them off on people and so forth.

The zucchini plants have some pests. Not the evil squash beetles yet; it's cucumber beetles, which are smaller and apparently not as destructive. I mixed up some Neem oil and sprayed them. After we picked the ones we ate, of course! I saw the beetles hiding in the mulch so I sprayed the mulch good too. I hope it helps.

We've been hearing the owls a lot lately, and tonight was no exception. It always makes me happy to hear the owls. They've been moving around a lot from the sound of it. I suppose they're hunting & that's why we hear them from all over.

Tonight after dinner we did see something unusual: a deer! We heard Jane barking again, and our first thought was, oh crap, the snake again. We went outside and saw that she was standing at the fence looking out, which suggested it probably wasn't the snake. It's pretty dark out here at night, but there is one street light, and we could just make out the deer, standing in the middle of the yard a couple of houses over. At first I thought, "hey, did they put in a deer statue without our noticing?" They already have a fake mini wishing well so a deer statue wouldn't be a surprise. But then the deer moved its head and we knew it was a real deer.

There wasn't much more to the interaction. We stood there watching the deer, the deer stod there watching us. Eventually we went inside and the deer took off. At least now we know what's been eating the tops off our sedum down by the road.

All in all I think this has been the best day ever for Jane. First a snake, then a ride in the car, then the snake again, and then a deer! What a day! Then again, as the Onion reminds us, best days aren't that hard to come by for a dog.

howdy neighbor

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This morning we met our newest neighbor: a 5 foot long black rat snake. I know what you're thinking, people always overestimate the length of snakes. Well, this guy helpfully stretched out next to a concrete block wall, allowing us to measure him with fair accuracy.

When we first saw the snake, his whole body was crinkled up in this weird pattern. That actually made him easy to identify. He lay perfectly still while we stood there trying to figure out what to do. Then Georg went inside to research the snake, and I walked around to the other side of the garden. At which point the snake disappeared. Kind of freaked me out, until I saw his tail disappear into a watering can. It must have looked like the perfect hiding place for a snake.

Black rat snakes aren't venomous and only bite when they think they're being attacked. Still, we put heavy jeans and shoes on just in case. We got a large clean trash can with a lid, scooped the watering can inside, and slapped on the lid. Then carried it over to the empty lot behind the house and dumped it over the side. Poor snake! He fell partway out of the can but he didn't move. I brought Jane over to the fence near the snake, to try and scare him into heading the other way when he was finally ready to travel.

I had a few errands to run and it wasn't that hot, so I took the dogs with me. We had only been home for a little while when we heard Jane barking again. Sure enough, that danged snake was back!

This time we had a plan to put him in the trash can, drive to the Eno park (about a mile up the road) and release him. There must be plenty of wildlife in the park for him to eat. We spent a little time trying to coax him into the other watering can, when he suddenly decided he was tired of us and slithered off into a hole in the retaining wall between our yard and the next.

I guess that must be his home. He went straight to it, so he must have known the spot. Once I got over my horror at the sheer size of the beastie, I had to admit that the black rat snake is actually not a bad snake to have around: a non-aggressive, non-venomous snake who eats rodents. And we've got a lot of those.

My only concern is that Jane may try to play with him and get bitten. We discovered the snake in the first place because Jane was barking at it in her "Hey! Pay attention to me!" voice. However, we're willing to live and let live if he'll stay out of Jane's way. Which I hope he'll want to do after today. Poor snake. I feel kind of bad for him. He must have been scared.

It was kind of neat to watch him watching us: while he was hiding in the can, every once in a while his head would peep out, spot us, and sink back in. Then later, when he was lying by the wall, I watched him scope the scene: he'd hear us and get all crinkled up, then when we were still he'd wait a few minutes, stick his tongue out a few times, then gradually relax his body and start moving. Then someone would make noise (usually Jane) and he'd freeze and crinkle up again. I read online that the crinkling is a response to stress.

I forgot to mention that Jane really impressed me today. When we saw her barking at the snake, we only had to call her once and she immediately came to us. How many dogs would abandon a live animal right in front of them, on the first command? Well okay, a super well trained dog definitely would. But Jane never even finished beginner obedience classes. And she still minded us without any complaint or hesitation today. We spent several hours dealing with that snake, and never had a single problem with Jane. She is the best dog! (I suppose Thirteen is even better, since she spent the entire incident sleeping inside and never even saw the snake.)

bluestone sale


Famed mail order nursery Bluestone Perennials is having an end-of-the-season 50% sale on everything until June 1! The prices are outstanding: packs of 3 perennials for $6 - $7. I didn't go crazy, but I did order a few things. Mostly blue and white flowers, which we're trying to get more of in the garden.

It's kind of getting late in the season for planting perennials, especially little mail order perennials. I think we might just  stick them into a bare spot in the vegetable garden where they'll get regular irrigation. Maybe even leave them in their pots and sink the whole pots into the veg beds. Then in the fall we can find permanent homes for them in the flower garden.

durham garden center

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I have to plug the Durham Garden Center on Hillsborough Road. Georg heard a radio ad for them, and we went out today. It was great! A really nice selection with excellent prices. It's not as big as the plant section of a big box store, but way more of their stock is the kind of plants I like. They had some things I had never seen before, like pink verbena-on-a-stick.

They also sell pots -- not that many but again, mostly in styles that I like. They even have rough dishes and troughs made of a course concrete mix, like hypertufa (although I don't think it actually was hypertufa). Really pretty! I'm going to look around the yard and see if we have a good place for one of those. And they have a small indoor shop with organic fertilizers and pesticides.

I'm so happy to find a good nursery with good prices that's 5 minutes away instead of 45 minutes. Since they're so close, we didn't have to load up like we would at the farmers market. We got a few things: two packs of gazanias (which I think are among the cutest annuals out there, and I don't understand why they aren't as popular as petunias or marigolds), a pack of white-and-green shade annuals for the new bed, an african daisy with really interesting spoon-shaped petals, an ice plant with yellow flowers, a "ham and eggs" lantana, a peach verbena and a hardy geranium.

In the fine tradition of directions that make no sense to anyone but me: take Hillsborough as if you were coming to my house, but instead of turning onto Cole Mill, keep going. Go past the part where Hillsborough runs parallel to I-85, past the transmission shop that was so nice to me a few years ago, and it's on the right, just past the office of the persnickety plumber who redid our bathroom. If you get to Sparger you've gone too far.

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