Bizarre Manifestation in Becky’s Creative Landscape Nursery

Funny how things appear when we talk about them. I found an Arum palaestinum mysteriously lurking in my nursery stock yesterday and I brought it home to show my daughter, Lillian. She and I had a discussion last fall about acquiring some black voodoo lilys and other exotic lilys. We never did get around to buying them but here is one that just appeared ‘spontaneously’ in my nursery stock. It was in with the white calla lilys.

The Arum palaestinum is very exotic looking and has a velvety purely black spathe with a black hood. It has arrowhead shaped leaves typical of Arums. The outer portion of the hood was green speckled before it opened to reveal the black spathe. It originated in the Middle East; Israel, Jerusalem, Palestine; the Holy Land. It grows wild in the cooler mountainous areas. Its common names are: Black Calla Lily, Solomon’s Lily, Priest’s Hood, and Palestine Arum. It has a strong odor of fermenting grapes or other rotting fruit; vinegary, pungeant and not very pleasant. It is quite a striking eye catcher and nose catcher. Its also an interesting conversation piece. In researching the plant I found some indication of experimental medicinal use to prevent cancer. How they’d administer it would be the trick because its poisonous. I think it’s a perfect outdoor plant for Lompoc, Ca. I planted this one in my backyard.

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Where Have All the Horny Toads Gone?

Where Have All the Horny Toads Gone?

When I was a child my family lived in Orcutt, Ca. on South Bradley Road from 1972 through 1978. There was dry, sandy soil in our backyard, perfect for growing strawberries with a little water and compost. My dad and I hoed up the largest part of the backyard and mounded up long dirt hills then put pvc in the ground for drip irrigation between the rows. The berry plants were planted on top of the rows and it was my job to weed, water and eat the first and best berries that ripened; a job I relished and did without being asked. I often found little “horny toads” while out in the berry patch which I would pick up and stroke until their eyelids closed then I let them go back to patrolling my berry patch for insects.

My little “horny toads” have long since become nearly extinct. I found out that these toads are actually a type of lizard that lives on a diet of mainly ants; specifically native ants.  What happened to this lizard happened first to the ants. Pesticides became a regular part of human existence with suburbanization, people having an abhorrence to insects and unawareness of pesticides’ effects in our ecosystem. The ants were first killed with pesticides and ant baits then the lizards began to disappear without their normal food source available. These lizards still exist mainly in undeveloped areas.

I miss my little “horny toads.”  I remember them with great fondness along with the many hours I spent in the sunshine, eating my strawberries with dirty hands while I pulled weeds and watered the rows. ”While habitat loss is often considered the leading reason for the decline of threatened species, the mechanisms responsible for their decline are often unknown,” says Andrew V. Suarez, who conducted the research on both studies while a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego. These two studies are relatively unique in that we were able to identify a causal agent contributing to the decline of horned lizards—an invasive ant species. Essentially, the impacts of Argentine ants in California starts with the displacement of native ants and then cascades throughout the ecosystem.”

Excerpt from: http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/archive/newsrel/science/mclizard.htm

I Know an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly

The following article was written for the LVBHS newsletter Jan/Feb 2015 issue.

Spiders, flies, ants and bees; “Yuck! And Eww gross!” is what we usually say when we see them. With spiders it’s sometimes a scream or a stomp of the foot that we meet them with. Unpopular as spiders, ants, flies and bees may be they are an integral part of our world’s ecosystem.

Spiders are the best defense against flies. If you are afraid of spider webs then this strategy won’t work for you. At my house we have a dog so you know the result; poop. With poop there are flies and with flies, an unsanitary condition results when they land on our picnic. Spiders will catch the majority of flies if we let them weave their webs. Fall is here and that is when spiders try to come into dwellings. I don’t like any insects in my home so I have found some natural remedies; peppermint oil in water sprayed around the doors will deter spiders, will smell nice and not be a danger to pets or toddlers.

Ants of course are a food source for lizards and beneficial insects. They will always find a way inside a house. I have an aunt whom tolerates ants. She just wipes them away with a paper towel. They come right back of course but she just tolerates them and keeps all food in air tight containers. Try this repellant: cinnamon essential oil, cassia essential oil, clove essential oil, distilled water, Castile liquid soap (to emulsify the essential oils and water).

Flies are part of the ecosystem. Beneficials need them as a food source. Most flies will collect at the windows. I just close the window and trap them and they eventually die. Then I clean them out. Lavender, citronella and eucalyptus essential oils are naturally repellant to flies. Keeping pet feces picked up and tied up tight in a plastic bag will decrease attractants for flies and keep down the population.

Honey bees and native bees; we need them and they are very sensitive to airborne sprays. Leave them alone and they won’t bother you. I often move through my garden brushing against roses and plants which contain hundreds of bees busy collecting nectar and pollen. I have never been stung. Mostly, when people get stung it’s not actually a bee but a yellow jacket which mimics a bee’s colors. Yellow jackets will live in the ground and when a mower is used they come out and sting. Yellowjackets are also attracted to picnic food and trash cans with spilled soda and sweet foods and hotdogs or hamburgers. Yellowjackets and paper wasps have a more painful sting than bees.

Wasps also live underneath house eaves in little mud colonies and will sting if you walk too nearby and upset them. Native bees are not aggressive and neither are most honey bees if one stays away from their hives. However, if a person panics and slaps the bee that lands on them they may get stung. Bees can smell minerals that are in sweat. Minerals are essential to their survival and it’s a common thing for a bee to land on a human to lick their sweat. If one is stung by a honeybee its best to leave the area to avoid more stings. The honeybees’ sting has a pheromone which encourages more bees to sting.

So allow the bees to lick your sweat without swatting, the spider webs to control the flies and tolerate the ants. My Aunt Vivian does.

Becky Barritt joins Lompoc Apiary Association

“I took a class called “Intro to Beekeeping” taught by Archie Mitchell in March and I was so impressed with Mr. Mitchell that I joined the group that he leads” said Becky Barritt.

Becky has recently become interested in actively protecting pollinators. She wants to help inform people about the important role that bees and other pollinating insects and birds have in our world.

“The decline in pollinators’ numbers is becoming very alarming.” she said. “I have noticed that the monarch butterflys, bees and dragonflies are not as abundant as they once were.”

It is a tough situation with many factors influencing the decline. The disappearance and destruction of habitat, use of pesticides and also the way we use our honeybees to pollinate crops may cause too much stress for them.

Becky is interested in changing the local city’s ordinance which she believes isn’t bee friendly. The ordinance states that bees cannot be kept within 600 feet of a residence which effectively eliminates small hobby-type beekeepers’ efforts to raise bees within the city limits. Bees are actually safer from aerial spraying within the city’s limits and have access to many types of flowers. A bee’s flying range averages 2 to 3 miles from it’s nest. Many large municipalities are changing their ordinances to allow beekeeping within city limits. Los Angeles and New York have both recently made changes. Nearby sister city Santa Maria allows up to four bee boxes in a residential property.

Becky found out at the May Beautification & Appearance Commission meeting that the city’s policy is to “kill with a pesticide” any bee nests that are found to be a nuisance instead of having them re-located. The city apparently does not want to pay to have a bee’s nest removed. The Lompoc Apiary Assoc. has priced a removal at $75.00.

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Becky Barritt helps out Lompoc Valley Botanical & Horticultural Society

Becky Barritt helps out Lompoc Valley Botanical & Horticultural Society

Becky donated plants to the Lompoc Valley Botanical & Horticultural Society for their annual fundraiser in April. The society received approximately $500.00 worth of plants from Becky’s Creative Landscape & Design Nursery. Becky also volunteered to use her truck and trailer to haul plants from the greenhouse to the sale site. Becky gave free plant information and advice to many shoppers. She also helped to coordinate the Lompoc Police Explorers to conduct security for the sale. The results were an increase in overall sales revenue from the previous year even though there were less plants this year. Becky said, “I was happy to help out the club and to help increase value for the people whom supported the sale by purchasing plants.”

The Lompoc Valley Botanical & Horticultural Society supports several teaching type gardens around the Lompoc Valley, publishes several books and holds meetings with dynamic guest speakers every other month. Membership is $7 per year and what a bargain it is! A newsletter is distributed to members with articles written by members of the club. Meetings include plant and book exchanges, honey tasting, guest speakers and much more.

The Future is NOW: Drought Tolerant Landscapes (Xeriscapes)

We haven’t seen much rain at all in the last few years and the drought may continue. Therefore water rationing and price increases are most likely inevitable. Even though Lompoc, California has its own water source our city is experiencing water rate increases incrementally over the next several years.

It is time to remove lawns and install drought resistant shrubs, trees, succulents and natives. Natives are the best bet because they are accustomed to our dry, Mediterranean climate and actually prefer less water once established. Making a drought tolerant garden look nice is something that Becky Barritt is experienced at. Once Becky is done creating a xeriscape garden, once doesn’t miss the lawn. “There are ways to design xeriscapes that make them more interesting, colorful and fun than a lawn. Yes, fun; in that one will have more time to do other things because one will not be mowing the lawn every week.” said Becky.

Lawns are much more expensive than xeriscapes. The sprinkler system to support a lawn is more expensive to install and maintain than a xeriscape sprinkler system. A xeriscape will require a tiny percentage of water compared to lawns. Lawns must be fertilized several times a year, re-seeded and sometimes pesticides and herbicides are needed to kill grubs and weeds. Pesticides and herbicides end up back in our oceans and cause problems for wildlife. Xeriscapes rarely or never need pesticides or herbicides and there is little or no water waste with a xeriscape.

A xeriscape sprinkler system is a drip system attached to a smart timer.It is an inexpensive upgrade and will pay for itself over time. A drip system is a series of pipe laid above ground that delivers water through drippers to each plant. This system is easily installed, the components are not expensive and it will also reduce new weeds from germinating. A pressure reducer is needed before the drip pipe is connected to prevent the system from blowing apart. A smart timer is a timer which has the ability to reduce or increase watering times by itself. Of course it needs data and that is provided partially through a rain sensor. The timer must be programmed properly by the user/installer preferably by someone whom is knowledgeable of plants’ water needs.

It’s Spring but winter still lingers.

Cold today and having wishful thinking that it was in the 80s like it was a day or two ago. Our spring typically starts in March and continues through June. It will be very windy and foggy cold. Do we really even have a summer around here? Maybe 15 miles east of here there is warmth. Oh to be warm and lounge in my lounger in my backyard. What have I got to complain about anyway? Nothing really. It’s just beautiful, overcast, cool and foggy Lompoc weather. Where else can I work outside almost everyday of the year? The only thing there is to fear is rain and wind and we don’t have many rainy days. Whom is Old Man Winter anyway? I don’t know him personally.