Wednesday, April 28, 2010

snails and slugs, part 2

This essay really should've been snails and slugs, part 1, but I got so excited over the Weetabix idea that I over-reacted and went totally out of sequence.

I consider myself to be a very logical thinker and a pretty good troubleshooter, but the land mollusks seem to present an extraordinary challenge. Imagine feeling so threatened by these tiny creatures that I lose the power of critical thinking. Somehow the urge to protect my seedlings overwhelms all other considerations. Another factor, of course, must have been my love of language. I'm a pushover for a catchy title, and Why snails love city gardens best was irresistible, especially in a British publication.

Let me try to reconstruct the history of this season's snail and slug offensive.

Just a few days before initiating the Weetabix strategy, we'd been experimenting with copper as a snail and slug deterrent. Steve had discovered this approach on line and was eager to try it. He has a pretty good stock of copper wire, and each of us purchased some old-fashioned copper mesh pot scratchers. I fashioned rings (roughly 3" in diameter) out of the copper mesh (incurring a nasty cut in the process) and placed them around many of my seedlings.

Experiments with live snails were discouraging. In separate and possibly equal trials (separate because neither of us would believe the other), Steve and I both discovered that snails could quickly and repeatedly cross a copper mesh barrier. We were able to rationalize this outrageous mollusk behavior in imaginative ways (it's tired after a night of debauchery, so not able to feel the electric shock or the abrasion). The bottom line, though, was that these laboratory animals were severely punished. In fact, they swiftly received the death penalty.

Meanwhile, the shiny little circlets of copper look really festive in my 'three sisters' garden. When I go out in the morning to smash the snails and slugs on the Weetabix  trays, the copper rings have made it easy to identify the places where seedlings WERE standing the day before.

Musing over the loss of all the leaves on a promising scarlet runner bean seedling, I noticed that all the corn seedlings were still standing (OK not standing TALL, but standing), while the beans and squash had sustained various levels of damage. This led me to recall the British article about snails, where I had learned that snails, like urban gardeners, are drawn to broad-leaf plants. Light dawned at last! Corn is not a broad-leaf plant. Like grass, it is a monocot, with growth occurring at the top of slender stalks. The beans are dicots, producing new growth at the tips of lateral stalks. If you were sick the week they covered basic botany in junior high science, see Monocots versus Dicots.

Now picture a snail or slug hanging perilously on a slender leaf of grass (or a corn seedling that LOOKS like grass): eating, getting heavier, and finally falling to the ground. Now picture that same snail or slug supporting itself on a lateral branch to reach a cluster of tender new bean leaves, and then climbing to safety down the stronger main stem.

I rest my case. If you are in doubt, ask yourself whether you've ever heard about snails destroying grass lawns.

But I've gotten out of sequence again. The flash of insight about monocots and dicots didn't occur until after phase 3 of the snail and slug offensive had started. This will have to be revealed in snails and slugs, part 3,

Monday, April 19, 2010

snails and slugs, part 1

It's strange that I've written so many words about weeds but not mentioned any of the mollusk invaders other than in passing under the head of (or maybe in the mouth of) legless lizards, who are working so hard to protect our  plants.

This morning, Google led me to a wonderful British article, Why snails love city gardens best. and I just had to try their solution -- Weetabix as bait. I rushed to our local Indian grocery store, which carries a large number of British products, and invested in a box of 24 biscuits. A bit crumblier than the Ruskets I remember from childhood but similarly flavored. Cardboard with overtones of sawdust. BTW Ruskets Flakes are still being manufactured and sold by Loma Linda, but the original biscuit is history.

I'll paraphrase the article but hope you'll read it in its tabloid-on-line source,
The Independent. There one is  
instructed to go out at dusk and crumble a Weetabix onto one's garden path about six inches from the herbaceous border so dearly beloved by snails, slugs, and city gardeners. Next, one should visit the crumb sites around midnight with a torch (or 'flashlight' as we Yanks call it), a brush, a dustpan, and a container with a lid. You're supposed to sweep up the snails, store them under cover (presumably with some of the swept-up Weetabix crumbs to tide them over) amd "when convenient release on wasteland at least 40 metres* from your garden." I don't think this would endear you to gardeners who live less than 40 metres from the wasteland.** Forty metres is the range of a mature snail, so I guess the idea is that they won't come back.

All this I followed to the letter (up to a point, as you'll see), and when I went out during the wee hours with my torch there was a congregation of small slugs munching on the Weetabix. Here I diverged from the recommended procedure and smashed the creatures to smithereens. And since I was up most of the night working on a project, I made two trips, the second time with a fork for easier smashing. On the first trip, I had used a chopstick. Not as efficient or as satisfying as the metal tines.

The trap-and-release method I eschewed was reminiscent of Kay's way to dispose pf snails and slugs. She would gently deposit them in a milk carton along with a lifetime supply of tasty green stuff, and place them in with her household trash.

OK I'm not as nonviolent as Kay was, but I'm not inhumane. Why should a land mollusk live out its last hours in a dark, stuffy milk carton or wandering on barren land? Mine, well fed to the last, die quickly and with dignity in their own homes.

There's more to be said about snails and slugs, but I'll save it for later in this "cruel month," along with more about T.S. Eliot.
- - - - -
*Why six inches and 40 metres in the same article? Where are our standards? Are we supposed to learn the metric system or not?

**I never encountered the concept of wasteland, except in T.S. Eliot's poem of that name, until we started getting tax bills for our Idaho property, which includes a couple of acres of wasteland lying along the bank of the irrigation ditch. Here in the L.A. area, the nearest wasteland is probably the dry, weedy bank of a concrete creek that leads storm-drain water and effluvia into the ocean. Allowing anything (even rainwater) to go into the storm-drain system here is ecologically irresponsible and politically incorrect. I must admit, though, that when I smash snails in the gutter their dried remains are ultimately scattered at sea.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

a better bus ride

In cougar? moi? I described a very unpleasant bus ride, but today I'm happy to report a thoroughly enjoyable one.

When a shabbily dressed man sat down at the other end of the 'seniors and disabled' bench and hung a plastic bag of clothes on the rail above his head, I feared the worst.

I was knitting, so kept my eyes on the needles in an effort to avoid any kind of contact. Nevertheless he started asking me about what kind of fabric I was making. He said he was an artist and was interested in all kinds of crafts. I responded tersely that it was nylon, and he asked whether he could feel it. Uh-oh! The "Never talk to strangers!" alarms were ringing loud and clear.

Imagine my relief when his opening gambit led to a veritable symposium on fiber arts rather than an attempt at unwanted touching and feeling. He had thought it was mohair, you see, but then noticed the sheen. He asked what it was going to be and laughed when I said "probably a shrug," as he thought I was making a joke about a combination between a shawl and a rug. I explained that it was a loose, bolero-length sweater that a person "shrugged" her shoulders into, and our conversation was off and running.

 Lonely, but not a Lothario. After we finished talking about the price, availability, and applications of different kinds of yarn, he told me he lived in Montebello and sold his artwork at a stall on the Venice Boardwalk He's been accepted at the Cordon Bleu in Pasadena and hopes to move to Monterey Park to cut down on travel time. His car broke down in North Carolina and he left it there. Until he makes it big as a chef or an artist, he'll continue to support himself as a security guard, and his plastic bag of clothes was, in fact, his uniform.

Vaya con dios!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

swan the verb, part 2

In swan the verb, part 1, I cited as the source for three senses of swan the verb and promised to talk about the etymology of the second sense -- "[to] move about aimlessly or without any destination, often in search of food or employment" -in a future blog.

With all due respect to AudioEnglish, I believe swan in this sense is a prepositional verb. Swanning off is the usage that has stuck with me from a Monty Python episode, but the only documentation I can find is for swanning about.

In a board meeting within the last six months or so, I found myself talking about swanning off to do something or other. Later I realized I had no clear idea of what I was talking about, except that I was quoting Monty Python. Naturally I turned to Google, where gave the meaning I'd intuited from context: "If you describe someone as swanning around or swanning off, you mean that they go and have fun, rather than working or taking care of their responsibilities." gives an etymology based on the hunting of swans in medieval England. According to the Sea Dog, only royalty were allowed to hunt swans, but commoners were permitted to do so on specially designated days. Imagine a "gone swanning" sign on the door of a shop.This story makes me feel confident about my use of swanning off in meetings or casual conversation, but it leaves me with questions.

BTW, the "Old Sea Dog's" name is Steve, and he features Idaho Dawn on his website. So swanning about on the web has led me to the Union Pacific Station in Boise -- a fitting destination but not, anymore, for trains.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

a new world in our front yard

In seed stories, part 3, I wrote about planting "CBS tableaux" in the front yard, and during Easter weekend this plan came to fruition at last.

In this context, 'CBS' refers not to a broadcast network but to the basic new-world native plants: Corn, Beans, and Squash. I learned the term from Gloria years ago in Pennsylvania, and today I brought it up just for the fun of remembering a drive she and I took to a plant nursery out in the country when I was on a quest for rhubarb and our younger sons were together in nursery school.

Today's googling, however, has led to a revelation! The CBS trinity of plants represents three sisters -- goddesses venerated in various forms by numerous Native American cultures: and documented here via a tribe, a seed company, a curriculum guide, and a museum.

Now, of course, I wish I'd asked Gloria more about CBS gardens. She had spent time in New Mexico and probably had first-hand knowledge of the three sisters. But we had other matters on our minds: children, chamber music, departmental politics, the gardens we were planting in 1971.

My CBS garden is centered on four inverted tomato cages. Each one includes seedlings of three types of plants: one sunflower, two or three ornamental corn, and one or two beans (rattlesnake and/or scarlet runner varieties). Zucchini squash seeds are planted in the narrow spaces between the cages, and a 'hill' of pumpkins will occupy a central area between the cages as soon as I prepare the soil properly. So it's actually SCBS, counting the sunflower, which is also a new-world native.

"Archetypes don't lie dormant long," I wrote in my poem Transubstantiation several years ago. I like to think that three (or four) metaphysical, metaphorical sisters will watch over our front yard as its focal point shifts from old-world and third-world ornamentals to new-world edibles.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

cougar? moi?

I've been meaning for some time to blog about my many positive experiences as a rider of public transportation in the greater Los Angeles area. Alas, it took a negative experience to get me to add the bus label to my list of topics.

At age 68, I rarely get unwelcome (or welcome!) attention from strange men, but last Monday evening was an exception. A man sat down next to me on the bus and proceeded to pop open the can of beer he was carrying in a paper bag. Judging by his aroma, this was not his first beer of the evening. I kept my eyes on my Kindle and hoped he wouldn't strike up a conversation.

Of course he turned out to be quite a talker. I think the first topic was food. He was hungry. Wanted a hamburger. I made the mistake of suggesting some places to get one, and this led him to the subject of how hamburgers had gotten so much smaller in recent years. He wanted to know why this shrinkage had happened.  I mumbled something about the economy, but what I wanted to know was why he didn't get off the bus and get a hamburger. After a while he said he thought a Subway sandwich would be better, but he stayed put.

Looking at my Kindle, he asked where the earphones were. I said I didn't like to use earphones. Told him I like to read silently. Some might have taken this as a hint to pipe down, but he went on to tell me how much he liked to listen to books on his mp3 player. Now he wanted to know whether my mother ever read to me when I was a child. I said both my parents read to me when I was a child. He started talking about how great it would be to have his mother get into bed with him, hand him a glass of wine, and start reading a book. I had no comment on this.

In retrospect, I can see how the mention of being read to in bed led him to his next topic. He said he was riding the bus all the way to the beach and was going to camp there in a three-man tent. There would be plenty of room for us and our stuff, and a third person if we wanted one. Nice, huh? Given his state, I didn't take this as a proposition. I thought we were talking about camping. Silly me! My response was that I hadn't been camping since 1971 and didn't intend to go camping ever again.

"You're a cougar!" he exclaimed. Having no idea what he meant, I said something like "maybe" or "could be." At this point he mumbled more about my being a cougar and said he was 40 years old, which seemed like a total non sequitur. At the next stop, he got off the bus through the back door, got right back on again through the front door, and sat down in the seat behind me. A gentle burp was the last thing I heard from him, and my own stop came up soon.

Home at last, I googled cougar and found out he thought I was a sexual predator. It was such a tedious way to learn a new word.

I can't help thinking of my favorite lines from Tennyson's
Ulysses" ... experience is an arch wherethrough / Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades / For ever and for ever when I move."
Creative Commons License
POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License