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Hummingbirds in Puget Sound

May 30, 2010

Most years we set out a Fuchsia in a shady spot near the house.  Our long time favorite has been “Dark Eyes”, which has a preference for shade to part shade.  Besides color all summer, fuchsia is a favorite of hummingbirds, which for us makes cleaning and constant care of these plants less chore for the pleasure of watching hummers, which are ‘hardwired’, or attracted, to the color red.

This year we picked “Swingtime”, a hanging basket fuchsia with red and white petals because it is noted for sun tolerance. Not sure of its tolerance at this point since we’ve had constant grey and rain since it was set out over two weeks ago. It is parked out in the open on the deck.

So far, the hummers seem to prefer its location in the open, rather than under the roof eave near the patio/deck door; and, it seems, an almost constant stream of birds are feeding at it now–at least three–‘Anna’s’. For hummingbirds, two is a crowd so any more than one at the fuchsia means they are fighting, chasing, swirling, and dive bombing in a rush of buzzing wings, and clicking, chipping argument.

There are two species of hummingbird common to the Puget Sound Trough region, according to the Seattle Audubon Society. The most common, Anna’s Hummingbird, is actually resident throughout the year, some individuals having bred “out” the instinct to migrate south to Mexico. A growing population are being supplemented food at feeders during the winter. I’ve seen these hardy souls dashing about in December. They follow the spring blooms, from cherries in early February through the summer riots of ornamental flowers in our gardens.

Anna’s are the one we have seen so far at Swingtime Fuchsia. Two individuals are likely males, I don’t see bronze red heads on them, however; nor white-tipped tails.  Both male and female are predominantly iridescent green over back and tail. The third has a rich patch of red on her chin and streak of white just short of black tipped tail feathers that flashes white stripes as she hovers and fans her tail.

The Rufous Hummingbird is our second summer resident. I am waiting to identify Rufous. Rufous is more bronze red, well, rufous, than Anna’s. Male and female carry green backs and wings but the male is red all-round the head. The female has a red spot at her throat. It can be easy to confuse the females of Rufous with that of Anna’s.  The flashing white tail tip is the distinguishing feature of an Anna’s female.

Rufous are common from April into July, then start migrating south. By the end of September, females and juveniles have departed from Washington for winter homes in Mexico and Texas, some having migrated from Alaska and British Columbia.


Clean Energy: What you can do

January 30, 2010

This post is about as close to political agenda as the purpose of this blog will go, a rare–very rare–exception.  Typically I will only remark about areas needing more attention to basic environmental needs, but the blog will not have a “politics” category. My son was out of high school, before he learned of my political party leanings.  Even then, those leanings were less party orientation, but rather Issues and Policy oriented.  For those who will remember, do I still need to emphasize lower case “i”?

I hate politics.

But, sometimes we can’t avoid it.  Politicians count on us to stay out of politics.  Those with agendas send us the emotional garp, and we vote–if we vote–based on the nonsense hammered into our minds by the agenda spinners commercials.  The following link does its part for spin, a necessity in the US now, but the agenda IS very important to our lives and our future.

On a LinkedIn group I posted a question.  It referenced a childhood experience which helped mold my interests in conservation. The following is from my comment for the discussion:

I’ve been aware of conservation needs since I was 8-years-old, 50 years ago. It was a map of air pollution in Colorado, at the local National Weather Service station. Since then, the Denver, Colo. Springs, Pueblo strip has pretty much grown into a strip city. 50 years ago the Springs population was 55,000.

One thing I noticed when flying into the Springs years later were countless small coal power electric generating plants spewing garbage into the atmosphere.

The comment demonstrates what traditional “as usual” business philosophies do.  The countless coal-powered electric generating plants was the industry’s way to circumvent clean air laws.  It’s another battle–and, hopefully corrected through the proposed law–but this garbage must stop.

Thanks to Lynn Hasselberger at:  (

The Birds of Killingworth

January 3, 2010

The Birds of Killingworth

Thus came the jocund Spring in Killingworth,
In fabulous day; some hundred years ago;
And thrifty farmers, as they tilled the earth,
Heard with alarm the cawing of the crow,
That mingled with the universal mirth,
Cassandra-like, prognosticating woe;
They shook their heads, and doomed with dreadful words
To swift destruction the whole race of birds.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Birds of Killingworth; Tales of a Wayside Inn I, The Poet’s Tale (1863)


When I was a youngster, one of my mother’s favorite euphemisms for us children was “Cassandra-like prognosticating woe”.  I readily adopted the quotation for my own expressions of frustration with my peers.  I vaguely remembered the originator of the phrase, and researched Cassandra, the Trojan prophetess cursed to never be believed.  Years later, recently, I finally read the source of Mother’s quote.  

The subject of Longfellow’s poem struck a nerve.  A poet, a literary icon, was embracing simple respect for natural processes for the healthy management of our world.  One-hundred-fifty years ago a literary figure was prognosticating integrated pest management (IPM) to his contemporaries to use good tilth.  We think of IPM as a new ecological program for safer management of our resources.  It is a common sense philosophy recycled from earlier times.  We have gained some additional technological and scientific knowledge in the interim, yet the message is the same. 

More epiphanous, we still see the same message today in appeal to a world of misguided thrift determined to: “…slay them all! and wherefore! for the gain // Of a scant handful more or less of wheat,” …  I’d call this Cassandra-like prognosticating woe. 

January 3, 2010

European Crane Fly Control through IPM

December 7, 2009

December 5, 2009

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is being adopted and actively sought by growing numbers of property managers. Professional pest managers must be competitive in commercial property work; and, the cost benefit of IPM, without chemicals, is being proven in commercial landscape management. It is in home pest management that unnecessary chemical control can readily occur. The following is directed principally to the homeowner and yard maintenance manager.

It has been many years since I used a chemical pesticide–diazinon/Dursban, both now banned for residential use- to “control” European Crane Fly (Tipula paludosa) on my own property. Professionally, I have seen a clear need for immediate use of a pesticide only twice in 25 years. Both situations were in new landscape where turf, seeded and sodded, was not established. Chemical control is rarely needed in established lawns, according to my research and own experience.

I live in South King County on Alderwood [Series] Soil (Alderwood rock potatoes), which is not conducive to lush lawns. My personal IPM strategy is to “watch and monitor” the soil for larvae. Ignore the adults, huge “mosquitoes having legs ” spanning 2-inches  in late summer. Adult flies are at their worst when fluttering around inside the house.

Watch, Monitor, and Wait

To monitor, I simply cut into turf in fall and spring to count larval populations. I cut at an angle in several locations, using a common spading shovel and peel back the flap of sod and soil. The sod flap falls back into place seamlessly. I  can find two to four larvae in a test cut, which is nowhere close to levels that may encourage calling in the chemical army. The Washington State University Research Station in Puyallup considers up to 4 larvae in a 3-inch diameter bulb planter safe. However, due to my mostly rocky soil, I can’t use a bulb planter in my lawn. Using a shovel, I would need to see ten or more larvae to become concerned. If I did, I would wait until the next spring to take another sampling: so far, I only count larvae.

Help Nature Manage Lawn Health
Over the years that I have been monitoring T. paludosa on my property, I observed two conditions that seem advantageous to their growth. The first is deep, loamy soil; good lawn soil is also good for crane flies. The control of crane fly was an accident: I was actually adjusting my watering regimen for optimum water conservation. I had modified their cultural conditions by watering only at the point of grass dehydration,  then applying 0.75 inch of water in a single cycle. The larval population in the previously wet test digs had declined to those in hard soil when I sampled during the following spring.  

The second condition appears to be related to natural enemies of the European Crane Fly. The only scientific evidence I have for this is that larval populations in the tests were highest the year following application of diazinon, which was over ten years ago. The population declined to current levels in the third year.

My prognosis for this decline may be influenced by a dread of using chemical control for pests, but I feel that diazinon only exacerbated infestation in a relatively stable environment.  Currently listed chemicals for control of crane fly are extremely toxic to many other animals.  With pets (dogs) causing more visible damage to my lawn than a pest, I am not inclined to expose pets and our indigenous and native friends to physical harm.

Keep the Lawn Healthy
My only active management strategy for crane fly is turf maintenance.  Crane fly monitoring is only incidental to the casual efforts I have with lawn management.  We joke about the cobbler’s children’s shoes, but I prefer to think he is thrifty; and so too is my lawn management. I’m an experimental gardener and don’t care to have the neighborhood show piece yard.  Watering is done only when the turf is showing signs of stress. Most people want to water more than needed when lawns start looking yellow.  The grass actually needs fertilizer.  Ideally, I try to fertilize at least four times during the growing season, usually more often with lighter applications, taking a break during our summer drought season, from near 4th of July  through late August.

I use ammonium sulfate at an N-P-K ratio of 20-0-0.  A 20-pound bag has 4 pounds of elemental nitrogen. Phosphorus and potassium (P-K) are not needed for lawns in the Puget Sound region. This fertilizer is the least costly, but is fast acting, so best for homeowners who can distribute it in small amounts with a handheld broadcast spreader, after every second mowing, not wasting excess to leaching.  4 to 6 pounds of nitrogen per 1000 square feet is plenty for one year. About every second year, I will spot treat weeds.

Healthy turf is the first line of defense in crane fly management. I think my thrifty strategy exemplifies a not-too-rigorous, but successful, management plan.

Learn More – Resources
There are several good online sources providing more information on European Crane Fly and management. The two cited below are very good:

  • Seattle Public Utilities’ Integrated Pest Management ProIPM Fact Sheets has a good PDF file, “Crane Fly-European,” written in 2006 and available as of December 2009. It details identification, life cycle, and management strategies, including current chemical controls. As noted, chemical treatment is rarely needed.
  • The second online source published by Washington State Extension is “EB0856, European Crane Fly: A Lawn and Pasture Pest”. The 1998 publication focuses on nonchemical management and is a good source of information for monitoring methods.

Resource Conservation – The nitty-gritty of the back yard fence

November 24, 2009

A fence is rebuilt by deconstruction--salvaging pickets and rails--with new construction sometimes overtaking the old. Each salvaged board was power-washed, trimmed at both ends, and individually painted on all surfaces. Photographed from neighbor's yard.

Building for 5 years, or the next real estate move, needs only cardboard.  Building for a lifetime requires design, sound construction principles, and is a craft from which everyone will benefit. 

I have been building and watching wood fences deteriorate for 50 years.  My observations and resulting conclusions regarding this basic feature of society has helped mold much of my philosophy in resource conservation. 

I rebuilt my home’s “back yard” fence this past summer.  The project was done to analyze my career-long fence specifications, and to test my philosophy of optimizing resources conservation.  A third test developed as I launched the project: physical and mental resolve to complete the project based upon the above objectives.  An in-depth, detailed, guide for construction is in draft now, to be posted in the future.

A cedar fence will never last as long as it takes to grow and replace the wood used in its construction, but it will be close.

A wood fence from cedar grown, cut and finished within one-hundred miles of my fence to reduce the energy costs associated with distribution has a limited useful life.  How one designs, builds, maintains, and reuses the material will determine how long the construction survives, and how well resources are conserved.

A heartwood cedar post with an ideal (expected) in-ground life of 20 years has to be cut from a tree of a minimum 50 years age, and usually a tree over 100 years old in order to overcome growth flaws that reduce the life expectancy. 

Sapwood of cedar, the first 12 or more annual rings under the bark, has little more durability than its Fir cousins with a 5-year in-ground life expectancy. Most of a cedar picket–the fence board–consists of sapwood. If suitably protected from end-grain exposure and painted, a picket can be expected to be useable for 40 to 50 years.

Once mold and fungus enters cedar, deterioration is rapid. In another project I salvaged a 2×4 cedar deck. At the time, I estimated that over three-quarters of the wood could be reused. The wood was stored incorrectly. It was stacked flat so it remained constantly damp or wet. When I needed more rail and cap material for the fence, I found most of the old decking wood to be rotten, and could only use about a third of the boards—after two years being stacked.

I can extend a fence’s useful life by protecting the wood from decay–and, reusing wood when it needs to be rebuilt.

We can delay deterioration by protecting wood with paints or artificial preservatives; using wood with natural preservatives (cedar); cleaning it of algae, mold and repainting (maintenance); and by design–using construction techniques that avoid an environment conducive to introduction and growth of biological agents that break down its structure. 

I reused most of the original cedar (90 %) when rebuilding my fence. The original fence stood for 24 years.  Salvaging the cedar pickets was difficult, time-consuming, and required several extra steps beyond new construction to have useable boards. Salvage was a big test of my resolve to extend the useful life of the boards to 45 or 50 years.

This was close to meeting the harvest cycle, however, and was the most rewarding aspect of doing the construction myself—and suffering through all the physical effort.  I don’t count on the next person rebuilding the fence to go to the trouble of reusing the pickets, but believe most could be serviceable if salvaged.

A word of caution: Do not expect a contractor to reprocess old fence boards.  The cost in labor alone is probably four times what a new cut board costs.  I had plenty of time to calculate the costs while pulling nails, power washing, trimming the boards to final length, and painting them. Dismantling, and nailing the pickets required a little more concentration for those specific tasks.  A contractor can only be expected to trash the old and build with new material.

All of the pressure treated rails were cleaned and reused. The rails will live through this reincarnation, and probably another.  Only a few cedar rails were structurally sound for reuse.  They would have fared better if painted. I hope they will survive until the next rebuild.

The fence pickets float over a concrete curb with a 2-inch air space to prevent decay of wood in ground contact. Also, the top end-grain of the pickets is covered by a 2×4 cap rail. All the recycled pickets were trimmed of rotten end sections; 3 – 4″ at the exposed top and 3 – 8″ at the bottom that were buried in or touching ground.

A fence is only as good as the post supporting it.

The whole rebuild was initiated due to rotten fence posts.  Posts are processed from fir species harvested at 45 to 75 years growth. The posts (new and old) were 4×4 pressure treaded fir, and advertised for 30 years life—I found a readable end-tag encased in the concrete footing of one bad post, in the only footing I removed.  A cedar post costs four times more than pressure treated, is cut from an older log, and may (very iffy may) last 20 years.

All the destructive rot occurred within 2 inches of the ground surface, although decay extended several inches. The soil at the footing provided a constantly moist environment for decay to thrive. The first post failed at 21 years, and wobbled three more. To accentuate the concern for decay, all the old posts were removed at the concrete footing surface by cold chiseling the wood to one-half-inch in the flats, and up to one-inch depth at corners. When pushing on the posts they all sheared off at the scored line, with little effort. The wood was damaged by decay interior to the treatment zone near the ground line.

Due to environmental concerns with the original preservative components, the chemicals in pressure treated wood were changed about 2001. No one knows the durability of pressure treated wood produced currently. I slopped copper based preservative onto 30 – 36 inches of the base of 23 pressure treated posts, and have my fingers crossed in hopes they will support the fence another 25 years.

Hardware and what was new

All the old hardware and what I could recover of nails was put in recycle, or repaired and reused. I reused the gate springs and a few rail clips.  All but one of the old footings were left in place, as artifacts. For years my fence and the side neighbor’s lived six inches apart. He agreed and I recycled his for the additional 30 feet I extended mine. His posts and most of the cedar rails are in my hazard waste pile.

I bought new pressure treated posts; new fence hardware—nails, clips, and gate hinges—and bagged (pre-mix) concrete. Concrete has a finished strength of 2500 to 3000 psi.  Soil only has about 1500, so the concrete was cut with one-third to fifty percent soil and dirty gravel.  28 pier blocks from the old deck, and about 75 linear feet of new 4x8x16 HCMU (hollow core masonry units) caps comprise the curb.

Four new pressure treated 2×4’s finished the project’s required rails. I went through about 10 gallons of gas pressure washing all the recycled wood–bless the neighborhood’s tolerance. 9 gallons of latex paint to protect all the wood surfaces was the single costliest material, at $23 per gallon.  A half-gallon of copper based preservative I had on hand from old projects was used.  I wore out one new pair of leather gloves; and replaced a box of mixed size Band-Aids for cuts and scrapes.  I simply swore over hammering fingers and other body parts and snacked on aspirin; and lost my belly hangover–15 pounds.  In lousy health, I still have more stamina than my son who is half my age.


I won’t get into the environmental politics here of chemically preserving wood, other than this one statement: Using only naturally durable wood (cedar) for ground contact in the Pacific Northwest is an environmental travesty that only exposes the ignorance of those who insist on its use.  A cedar fence identifying a mapped wetland will only survive, at most, a third as long as the resource destroyed to build it.  Who is being environmentally unconscionable?

One thing our environmental constituents must address and have not is disposal of painted and preservative treated wood.  I have a 2009 edition of the Washington State Hazardous Waste Directory—its 64 pages of rules and contacts.  One paragraph identifies pressure treated wood as a hazardous waste. Disposal is excluded from all standard recycling at this date. 25% and more of the Home Depot’s dimensional lumber racks is pressure treated wood.  Three recyclers are listed.  Only one takes pressure treated wood, even though the company excludes it in its print.


My fence project is complete, except for disposal of two yards of old pressure treated wood and painted cedar. I can probably use most of the posts in another project, but the scraps at about a half yard won’t remain in a pile looking for legal disposal in whatever-future-year.  And, I consider myself more environmentally conscious than the average citizen.

This is the last fence I will build.  Of course, I said the same thing twenty-eight years ago. I seriously doubt I will be alive in 25 years, but the next owner of my home will inherit a well made fence.  This is not just pride.  Building for the future is a basic tenet of conservation.

Cherry Tomatoes

November 16, 2009


In container gardening the only difference between having a green thumb and brown one is one’s vigilance in watering and fertilizing. 

It is mid-November and I just plucked a tomato from one of our vines.  The plant is dead–since late October–but a few green fruit persist and slowly turn color, even after nearly 8″ of rain and temperatures in the 40’s, with one frosty morning. The ornamental pears are finally turning color, and I had a tartly sweet and cold cherry tomato for a snack.

 Almost every summer we enjoy cherry tomatoes grown on our deck in containers.  As long as there are six to eight hours of full sun, water, and fertilizer, they will thrive and yield the sweetest fruit from July through October.  The cherry types are early, heavy producers on compact plants; and most importantly, reward us daily with snacks and salad toppers–with minimal maintenance.  They are one of the easiest plants to grow. 

The first year we had tomatoes in pots sitting on the deck.  The first few were so delicious and sweet.  Then they never seemed to ripen.  We discovered the dog was munching them down as fast as they turned salmon-orange.  They are now grown in plastic hanging pots, well above her reach. 

We typically hunt for the variety ‘Sweet Million’, and find it in 3” or 6” pots at the Puyallup Farmer’s Market (Courthouse Square, downtown), where numerous varieties of tomatoes are available from a long time grower-vendor. 

‘Sweet Million’ is perfect for hanging containers.  They have densely compact leaf internodes on sturdy branches that cascade well.  Fruiting clusters are numerous with 8 to 20 tomatoes in each cluster.  Their one failing is fragile fruit stems, so a couple green tomatoes may drop from a cluster of twelve or more having one or two ripe tomatoes that we are picking. 

The nursery plants need to be hardened, exposed to weather for a week or two before being sold.  Hardened plants typically have a dense canopy, and deep green tough feeling foliage.  We get ours in June when a 3” size pot will have 3 branches up to 12” in length and flowers, or buds.  The first picking will be middle to late July. 

A quick primer on planting tomatoes:  The plant described above likes at least 3” of its exposed 12” height buried. These are a vining plant and most vines grow better when deeply buried.  Because these will be in hanging pots and expected to cascade, the plants are put into the pot at an angle, stems even resting on the pot rim.  Fill the pot to the rim with soil.  Then using finger tips stab the soil around the nursery ball and stem.  Flood the pot with water to the container rim and let it drain.  There should be about 1-inch clearance between soil and rim.  That’s it. Over the course of three years when I was a student, I potted and watered over a quarter million greenhouse plants this way.  It works. 

Water, water, and more water-

Potted plants in Seattle thrive or die in direct proportion to container type and size versus canopy size versus watering regimen in late July through late August.  Tomatoes are tolerant of some wilt but fruits split when wet-wilt cycles are extreme.  Leaves will burn, often turn yellow and die when too much wilting occurs. 

Plastic is optimum for hanging containers.  It’s light weight and thin-wall construction is easy on supports.  Plastic also prevents water evaporation when the greatest retention is needed. 

Here are my growing conditions, with some fruit splitting, caused mostly by unseasonable summer rain.  Two 10” diameter by 6” deep plastic pots grouped together, hung from a post with full August sun exposure.  Each pot had two nursery plants with 4 to 5 main branches for the pot, and a final canopy about 24” diameter by 30” vertical.  The pots were hand watered by flooding every morning with an additional flooding in the afternoon when temperatures exceeded 90-degrees–they wilted by afternoon.  Twice daily watering occurred during the peak production weeks.  These two pots produced enough fruit for two people. 

A thin solution of liquid fertilizer is used twice a week.  I just mix up Miracle Grow concentrate in a quart milk jug and splash some into the watering can I fill at the kitchen sink. 

The plants were controlled in size by pinching tip growth at the desired mature length, about 24” to 28” branch length.  The branches were pinched just past a flower cluster.  Most suckers, or new branching—there’s one between every leaf node—were pinched off, except ones near the soil to replace older stems that would lose leaves and exhaust fruits later.  The suckers that grew were then pinched after a flower bud, also.


Purchased potting soil mixes tend to be too high in peat, or other under-composted organic content.  The soil drains well but needs more mineral fines to retain more water.  Also, when green (under composted) organics, especially peat, dry out rewetting them is a pain.  If this happens (you will know), a few drops of dish soap in the watering can as a wetting agent can help.  Typically, flooding the pots two or three times is necessary to re-wet soil.  I will blend garden soil into bagged soil at about 1/3 volume of on-site soil. This increases the water retention without being too heavy, or causing water-logged conditions.

I usually salvage potting soil and mix the previous summer’s container soil into my own compost pile that has fifty-percent mineral soil and aged compost.  I’m a cheap gardener. ‘Dirt’ is free—excluding mortgage—and home composting is using excess vegetation from expensive water on lawn and trees.  I compost; and avoid mixed bags that usually have a hole that dribbles dirt down my neck while humping the bag around the yard. 

Having delicious cherry tomatoes for lunch or dinner is as easy as brushing teeth every morning.  Water, and then admire the deck garden with that first cup of java.


The Gang at “Old Town”, Tacoma, WA

November 15, 2009
AHBL Landscape team 5 of 6

2008/2009 was a snowy winter at AHBL. Left to right: Yours truly, Dan Wojtala, Kristin Glandon, Richard Hartlage, and Sarah (Singleton). MIA is Emily Stachurski.