Monday, December 28, 2009


There are so many gorgeous moss-trimmed trees here in really makes me appreciate living in a wetter climate. But I DON'T like it when moss grows on our patio and house! Yes, just like the trees, the north side of our property grows moss. It could be lichen, but we'd have to ask my dad, the amateur lichen-lover, to verify.

I thought the moss was quaint at first, a sign that we'd really left the hot, arid Southern California climate. But the more it grows, the slipperier (more slippery?) it gets and the more it stinks, making our patio look like the Creepshow episode where that guy touched a meteor, then everything else he touched grew green fur until his entire house and body were covered in it....eesh!

So, the handyman said he could pressure-wash it for a fee. But we're done working with him because he's paranoid and constantly lectures us on how to fix our house (while he's fixing our house), and how to avoid being attacked by the enemy during battle. We thought about buying or renting our own pressure washer, but it's a little pricey. We've reserved our Christmas Lowe's gift cards for painting the living room.

Some people suggested bleach or vinegar - possibly inhumane and inefficient choices, respectively. In the end, we decided to buy a tub of OxyClean, mix it in a bucket of water, slosh the mixture all over the patio and house siding, and "power" spray it all with our own hose. The Portly Groundskeeper actually did all the hard labor while I napped.

The whole process took about an hour, and it actually worked pretty well! All the green moss is gone, bringing the patio back to it's normal non-life sustaining appearance. Some little bits of brown dirt-looking areas are still ground into the cement, so we're going to try the whole process again next week to see if we can improve the results. I've tentatively nominated myself for the job to be considerate.

As far as we can tell, there is no way to prevent this phenomenon from occurring, but we are looking into options such as anti-mold/mildew paint. We'll see.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Advice from the Handyman

"If you hit a deer with your car, or see someone hit a deer, you should take the deer. Don't call the cops. The cops will just wait until you leave, then strangle or kick the deer and take it home. You take it first. You'll have a better Thanksgiving."

"By the way, you know what a deer looks like, right? A donkey is not a deer."

Sunday, November 1, 2009


When we moved in, we noticed that our front flower bed had these very pretty orange flowers in it, and an undead crepe myrtle (more about this later).

Well, the flowers died, so we replaced them with some contrasting evergreens. "Vintage Gold" Chinese False Cypress in back and "Blue Star" Juniper in front.

Our deadliest catch

We dug a new flower bed this weekend. Why? Because gardening is cheap entertainment. While digging up turf and cultivating the soil, we dug up a deadly little visitor. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you a millipede of the genus apheloria...

This thing is about the size of my index finger.

I was curious what all the day-glow orange was about. Isn't that nature's way of indicating friendliness? No wait, it indicates danger.

After a quick google, it appears that the aphorelia millipede, when threatened, emits a cyanide compound from its flanks. ITS FLANKS. Was this millipdede designed by the KGB? Sarah Moyer notes that

Apheloria corrugate is a chemistry marvel. It produces hydrogen cyanide (HCN). HCN, also known as cyanide, is a well-known poison that once inhaled will compromise the respiratory processes on a molecular level and in high enough doses result in death.

Storage of the HCN is a slightly complicated task. Since HCN is a gas at room temperature and could harm Apheloria corrugate if they stored it as HCN, their bodies are designed to store it in a special way. On both sides segments 5,7,9,10,12,13, and 15 to 19 of its body, they have two different chambers that each contain a different chemical that produce HCN when they are mixed.

When they want to defend themselves, they release the first chemical (mandelonitrile) from its storage chamber into the reaction chamber that contains an enzyme (benzoyl cyanide). Once these mix, they produce benzoic acid and HCN. It secretes from glandular pores located on each side of 11 segments of its body. They produce droplets that stay attached to the gland opening. Shortly after they secret HCN, the smell of bitter almonds will surface which will kill most of their enemies.

An adult Apheloria corrugate can produce as much as 0.6 milligrams of HCN. This is enough to kill ants and deter many of their other enemies. It's 6 times the lethal dose of a 25-gram mouse and 0.01 times the lethal dose of a human.

OK OK, so maybe .01x the lethal dose isn't technically deadly (unless you put 100 of the millipedes in your mouth, which is a remote possibility in this house), nevertheless, apparently the HCN is enough to make a person fairly ill. So yeah, we threw it over the fence into the backyard. Oops.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My nectarshake brings all the insects to the yard

A few weeks ago, we got fed up with the bland and generic shrubberies in the front yard. Well, we like the shrubberies just fine. They are healthy and relatively symmetrical, so we have no objection there. But the Ms. wants flowers and color. Quoth the Ms.: "Color is what makes me go 'woo'."

So, we we found some of these awesome purple coneflowers, a.k.a echinacea purpurea, and put them in between the shrubs. Coneflowers are like the redneck cousins of daisies. They're wildflowers, and not as popular in gardens because of their big orange seedheads.

We quickly noticed, within 30 minutes of planting them, that local bees (I assume they are local and not out of towners) were big fans. Well, it IS autumn, and there's not a lot of pollen to be had. I wonder if the bees would love us so much if it was Spring. Here's a bee making overtures to our new plant.

 Well, yesterday we were swarmed with butterflies as well.

I think there are 4 butterflies and 2 bees on this one slutty plant.

Traditionally, Echinacea was used to help heal insect bites, diphtheria, typhoid, blood poisoning, and other diseases such as tuberculosis that affect the body's immune system. The American Botanical Council states that "Echinacea may be of value for any infection, chronic or acute, but especially where there is not long-term immune deficiency or dysfunction." (Herbalgram #30 supplement, 1994).

But I think they're too attractive to eat, and the insects have apparently called dibs.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Recipe: Almond Chicken

The Ms. asked me to try making one of the recipes from her yoga magazine. Normally, I prefer recipes that involve smoke, fire, and rubs. Nevertheless, I decided to try the this almond chicken, and it turned out fantastic!

1 to 2 lbs boneless breast of chicken.
1/2 c almonds, sliced or slivered
1 clove garlic
1/2 t kosher salt
3 T olive oil
1 bunch baby spinach
1 lemon

1. Preheat Oven to 425 F

2. Toast the almonds over high heat. Combine in food processor with garlic, salt, and oil. Grind into a chunky paste.

3. Season chicken breasts with salt and black pepper. Coat breasts with almond paste and place on greased baking sheet.

OPTIONAL: If you have extra almond paste, try slicing diagonal cuts in the top of thicker breasts, and pushing paste down into the pockets.

4. Bake chicken for 15-18 minutes at 425 F.

5. Remove from oven and plate immediately onto a bed of raw baby spinach, garnished with a lemon wedge.

This was simple to make and did not take long. The hot chicken wilts the spinach and the juices and bits of almond make a savory dressing for the greens.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dawkins made me mulch

Problem: The area of our backyard under the roofline has been eroded by rainwater pouring off the roof. The result is a ditch about 8 inches lower than the turf level, filled with sand and rocks.  It reminds me of a neat story...

Richard Dawkins uses the example of how the force of pounding surf, given enough time, will eventually sort all the rocks on a beach, tossing the lighter rocks farther up the shore, and leaving the heavier rocks closer to the water. To the passing observer, it would seem that this order and organization in nature must be the result of intelligence. But no, it's just physics.

So, that's what I was thinking of when I saw this ditch full of sand and pebbles. Then I realized the ditch was ugly, possibly dangerous to the foundation, and Dawkins is a shrill and bitter man.

So, what to do? Probably the smartest thing to do would be to install gutters. I've got them in front, why not in back? But that seems complicated (it probably isn't), plus I don't own a ladder. Well, why not dig a flower bed next to the house and fill it with an assortment of shrubberies? Yay! New project!

First, chop up the earth, mix the tough clay with topsoil and compost, and level everything out. No toads were harmed during this project. Several, however, were relocated aerially over the fence.

Look at all the red Carolina clay. Fun fact: the clay turns red because of a complete lack of aerobic bacteria. It suffocates life! Normal soil particles are irregular shaped, and allow moisture and air to flow between them. Clay is made of flat plates that lock together forming a nearly impermeable barrier. Jerks. Hopefully, by amending the soil with compost, we will break up the consistency a bit.

Next, we plant! For this bed, we decided on a mixture of Japanese Box Hollies and Purple Diamond Fringebush. Both will only get to be 4'-6' and do not require full sun.

The Ms. and her sharp instruments of agri-wonder:

With shrubs planted, it's time to mulch. I've never lived in a place with red mulch. Always brown. Well, I'm an adult now, and I'm getting red mulch.

Maybe the red doesn't set off the purple fringebush as well as a tan mulch would. Oh well, too late now. I had already bought nearly 30 cubic feet of the stuff. (nb: When guesstimating how much mulch you will need, go ahead and multiply your first guess by like 11, and save yourself a couple of trips to Lowe's).

The finished product:

It didn't occur to us until after the whole job was done that the new flower bed, on the North side of the house, gets absolutely no direct sun. Check back in a year to see if these plants make it!

My hypothesis is that the combination of mulch, shrubs, and flower bed borders will thwart the erosion of both my topsoil and the credibility of robust divine action.

Trees: Round 1

Our first priority were trees. We have quite a bit of space to work with in the side and front yards. We decided to go with two to begin with.

For the front, I wanted lots of color, and maybe something flowering. I probably should have done more research, but I got impulsive, and just picked up a couple of trees from the local Lowes.

First, a Yoshino Cherry. Now, I'd never planted a tree before, so here it goes...

Our soil is a mixture of sand and clay. Mostly clay.

The Cherry tree will eventually look like this (in Spring):

Also planted an Autumn Blaze Maple,

which will eventually look like this (in Fall):

For now, however, the trees are babies, and it kind of looks like we've planted sticks in our yard.

Fauna Alert

Shortly after moving in, we noticed that every night, we were stricken with adorable plagues.

First we noticed the grasshoppers, locusts, and cicadas. I really like the noise. It reminds me of my childhood in Texas. The Ms., on the other hand, is baffled, and is now convinced that Mother Nature lacks any reason or compassion.

Also, at dusk, our porch and sidewalks were covered with dozens of toads, ranging from dark red to gray and brown.

We also get the occasional bat flitting around, killing the mosquitos. Go bats!

Then there was this:


Scared the Ms. and the wee one into the house. I snapped a few photos before shooing it into the woods behind our fence. Later researched confirmed it was a nerodia, commonly known as the orange-bellied water snake. Non-venomous but aggressive. The experts tell me this one was probably gravid. Look it up.

Backtrack: Let the Yardscaping Begin

We moved into the new house in July of 2009. As you can see, the landscaping is serviceable and pleasant, if nondescript.

the flag belongs to the previous owner

Neither Ms. Groundskeeper nor I have any background in gardening, planting, or anything else. Initially, our plan was to mow the lawn, maybe grow a flower or two, but not get involved.

This blog will be a running account of how unable I am to leave well enough alone.