Monday, October 3, 2011

Moss Lawn Foiled By Fungus

It's been raining here non-stop for days. When I finally got outside to start planting moss, I noticed a large patch of white mushrooms growing on the maple tree.

Since I love wild mushrooms more than a normal person should, I got all excited. I was imagining a seasonal supply of succulent mushrooms to be had for free....simply by walking out the front door.

My favorite farmer, whom mom and I lovingly nicknamed Mother Nature, not only raises one hell of a duck, she's been hunting mushrooms for decades. Wild white and grey oysters, chanterelles (my favorite), fall chantrells (my favorite), boletes, coral mushrooms (husband's favorite), lobster mushrooms (my favorite), rooted xerula, bear claw mushrooms (my favorite), black trumpets (my favorite), hedgehogs (my favorite -- the mushroom not the actor), hen & chicken & old man of the woods, are just a few of the mushrooms she's provided for our dinner plate. Ok, so I have a lot of favorite mushrooms. I love so many, it's hard to pick just one.


If this lady can find all those mushrooms on her back 40, why can't I find one good one on my front 1/10? Knowing that all mushrooms are not created equal, I decided to ask Mother Nature if these babies are edible before serving them up with a side of prime rib.

Northern Toothed Shelf Mushroom

Turns out I got a double whammy of bad news. She tells me that this fungus is not only inedible, it's a tree killer.

Oh man, what a drag!

The mycelia lives in the heartwood of the tree. The fungus can't be killed or successfully removed. While the tree may live for several years, it eventually will fall over dead; rotted from the inside out.

I should have known. Earlier this summer I had a large, dead limb removed. After closer inspection, the toothed shelf fungus is all over that tree, not just on the trunk. Another large upper branch is also dead.

Power lines run through this tree and it's only a few feet from the house. The way I figure it, it's better if the whole thing goes now, instead of waiting for a storm to blow it on to the tile roof.

No tree, no shade. No shade, no moss.

I spent the entire summer pulling grass out of the lawn. Now I have to go buy grass seed. And pay the tree guy....for the third time this year.

What a bummer. I really liked that tree.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Lawn Improvements Part 3 -- Getting There

Lawn Improvements Part 1 -- A Strange Idea Sprouts
Lawn Improvements Part 2 -- Cue the Violins
Lawn Improvements Part 4 -- Moss Lawn Foiled By Fungus

The moss lawn looks like shit. There are patches of dead grass, bare dirt and areas that were once fully weeded are sprouting new weeds. This summer has been so hot and dry, what little moss is there is an ugly shade of used baby diaper.

As they say, to clean out a closet you get a huge mess before it's done. Hopefully this rule applies to lawn projects. At least the neighbors haven't complained. They've been more supportive than I ever expected. Now and again they will stop over, praise my tenacity and remind me that "Rome wasn't built in a day."

The Roundup experiment, courtesy of the pesky shoulder devil, had mixed results. In order to protect the moss, I let the grass get quite long before spraying. Sadly, the strategy didn't work as well as anticipated. The top of the moss plants have turned an un-natural shade of yellow. The underside, however, is still green. I'm hoping it will recover by spring. If not, I will take it up and plant new. On the bight side, pulling the dead grass was a whole lot easier than pulling live grass. There is also far less re-growth with the Roundup treated area. I waited for the smell to disappear before going near it. That took about three weeks.

There is a patch by the driveway that still needs weeding. I expect to be done with that and ready to plant moss in about two weeks.

The sulfur has been working as anticipated. The pH dropped nearly a full point. Yippee!

As with all large projects, unexpected issues come up. With the guest room, it was the floor. With this, it's the spot by the sidewalk that's too sunny for moss to grow. Since leaving the grass was out of the question, I dug it all up by hand and installed another garden. Mom and a neighbor donated quite a few perennials to the cause and I put in some vegetable plants.

Walking to and from the garage to get garden tools started wearing the moss off. Moss can take some light foot traffic, but not the amount I was giving it. The original idea was to install a stone pathway. Considering everything else that had to be done this summer, I put that on the maybe next year list of things to do. I put in a mulch path instead.

Three years ago the first garden went in. I wanted to grow vegetables but the only spot on my property sunny enough was right by the front door. I didn't want a classic row-style vegetable garden. They're kind of ugly. So I got creative and made it an odd shape to match the roof line of the house, put in mulch pathways and planted flowers in with the vegetables.

It has never grown as well as it should. I finally broke down and ran several soil tests. The pH is screaming high and there is no nitrogen, potassium or phosphorus to speak of. The soil is so bad, it's amazing that anything grows at all. Good thing moss likes crummy soil. All it cares about is pH, shade and moisture.

Experts tell me that to fix the soil I need massive amounts of organic matter. So I've started doing what my Russian grandmother always did.....bury the kitchen garbage. Garbage as in vegetable scraps, eggs shells, coffee grounds, tea bags and that sort of thing. When this growing season is over, I will add sulfur to lower the pH and find some compost that hasn't come from a factory farm lagoon. I'm hoping that by the time the ground freezes, I will have enough organic matter in there to make a significant difference come spring. Mulching it with leaves for the winter should also help.

Now that I think about it, the front steps and patio could use some moss too.

Lawn Improvements Part 1 -- A Strange Idea Sprouts
Lawn Improvements Part 2 -- Cue the Violins

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Lawn Improvements pt 2 -- Cue the Violins

Lawn Improvements Part 1 -- A Strange Idea Sprouts
Lawn Improvements Part 3 -- Getting There
Lawn Improvements Part 4 -- Moss Lawn Foiled By Fungus

There is a 300 square foot patch of front lawn that the utility company messed with when they installed a new gas meter. This spring, they put in new top soil and liberally sprayed a foam concoction of contractor grass. After laying bare for what seemed like forever, the grass finally sprouted. Since moss is what I want in there, I dug it all up.

Determined to get it right, I did some research on cultivating moss. The internet tells me that moss likes a soil pH of 5.5 with a level no higher than 6.0. If the level is above that, they say success is minimal. I borrowed Mom's soil kit. Choosing samples from different parts of the patch, I ran several tests. Every single sample came in at a screaming high 7.8. Yikes!

So much for the direct and easy route.

Getting on-line I found two effective ways to lower soil pH. There's the fast, toxic way and the slow organic way.

Option #1. Aluminum sulphate will instantly lower the pH of the soil. Problem is, the results are very temporary. It has to be re-applied often. Seeing that aluminum sulphate has been banned in many places for food production, I don't think it's a good idea to be spraying that stuff with frequency over that large an area. Spraying a hydrangea is one thing. Spraying a lawn is another.

Option #2. Sulfur is a naturally occurring element that will reduce the soil pH. It works with the bacteria in the soil and can take anywhere from 2 months to a full year to work. Quantity is somewhat of a mystery. It depends on the soil. Sandy soil takes a whole lot less than clay. What's in the lawn? Errr, I'm not so sure.

Using Best Guess methodology, I sprayed 5 pounds of sulfur on the surface, then lightly worked it into the soil to a depth of less than one inch. I'm hoping it's enough. The pH change doesn't have to go real deep as moss has no real root system. Moss puts out little anchors to lightly secure itself to the ground. These anchors serve no other purpose. Moss gets it's water and nutrients from the air.

They say to keep the area moist so the sulfur will work more quickly. So, I water the dirt. Meanwhile, like grey hair, grass keeps re-sprouting. For every one plant I pull, two new ones grow in its place. Ugh! That idiotic utility company grass just won't die.

Frustration sets in. What to do?

Shoulder Devil chimes in. "Get out the glycol-whatever-it-is week killer. That will do it," he says.

Shoulder Angel rebuts. "That stuff is banned in many cities because of run-off. It gets into the water supply and doesn't get filtered out."

"Think of the time savings. Go ahead. A little won't hurt anything. The neighbors use it."

"That's stupid. If everyone else is jumping off a cliff, are you going to jump too? Don't turn the lawn into a superfund site. You didn't use aluminum sulfate, don't use that stuff. "

"Look around, you've got grass growing back everywhere. Oh good grief, if it bothers you that much, put the jug in a paper bag so the neighbors don't see it."

"A paper bag? Don't be ridiculous. Boycott is the only way to show a corporate entity displeasure. Don't support that company."

"What are you going to do, pull grass every other day for the rest of your life? How do you expect moss to grow with that contractor grass choking it out. Unlike the aluminum sulphate, you only have to do it once. One time and it's done. Once...only once..."

The devil made me do it.

I also sprayed other small spots of the lawn that looked like they would be problem areas. Most of it was sprayed too lightly and the grass isn't all dead. That's just as well. I'm going to have to get on my hands and knees and dig out all that dead vegetation. It can't get composted either. It will have to go out in the trash.

It figures. The Devil didn't mention that part.

Lawn Improvements Part 1 -- A Strange Idea Sprouts
Lawn Improvements Part 3 -- Getting There

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Lawn Improvements -- A Strange Idea Sprouts.

We live in a storybook house. Really. When we first moved in, neither of us had any idea what the house we bought was trying to be. Some said it was Arts & Crafts, others said Carpenter Gothic while someone else said it was Tudor. They were all wrong. Storybook is an architectural style popular in the 20's and forgotten by the 40's. It is a fairy tale style that was inspired by the budding industry called Hollywood. Hollywood; the kings of make believe.

Now that we know what this house is trying to be (a recent development) lawn inspiration has dawned.

Previously uninspired and lawn lazy, we've let it go for more than a decade. The lawn has more weeds than grass, nothing grows well under the massive maple trees and it's surrounded by out-of-control shrubbery that's at least a half-century old. The lawn needs help. It would be nice to hire some fancy firm that caters to the rich and famous. Ah, they would swoop in, work their magic and leave a perfect lawn behind in a few days. Alas, that's not to be. This "one corner at a time" make-over has to be done on a budget.

On the bright side, I did put in a whimsical garden three years ago that's a cross between Potager and Cottage styles. There are vegetables, herbs and flowers. (A post on that later) Now that this season's plants are all in, it's time to work on something that's been long neglected.

The front under the maple tree, opposite the garden.
Pretty bad.

Since this photo was taken early last fall, the utility company moved the gas meter twice and tore up the lawn both times. They supposedly fixed half the lawn early last fall. They came back this spring to fix what they didn't, and re-fix what didn't grow. It looks worse than the photo shows. The grass isn't growing well in that much shade and the weeds are thriving. I could call the utility company and bitch again, but new grass a third time isn't going to solve the problem.

I can't grow grass. We both hate mowing it. It never gets fed or weeded. I can't stand watering it.

Why fight Mother Nature?

Moss grows in the shade and requires little to no maintenance once established. It never needs mowing, fertilizing or watering. Or so Moss Acres says. Best of all, it looks like something straight out of a storybook. It will be perfect with this house. The one thing that grows in profusion in that spot is moss.

Aha! Brilliance strikes.

I went on-line and researched moss cultivation and killing grass. Most products and instructions kill moss and save grass. What little information I found was contradictory. Some say to use Roundup. That's bad. It will kill some mosses and spare others yet there is no information on which mosses die and which ones live. Besides, I don't want to turn my yard into a Superfund site. I won't even go into my moral issues with that company. That's a rant without end. Soooo....Roundup is out. Another way, is to lower the soil PH with sulfur. Sadly, that can take 6 months to kill the grass. No surprise, others say a low PH isn't a sure fire way to kill grass.

So much for a fast and easy way out.

Armed with a bucket, a whisk broom and an old steak knife, I attacked the lawn with enthusiasm. A bucket to dump the weeds, a steak knife to cut out tap roots and a whisk broom to sweep the moss clean of debris. No rake. Rakes pull up the moss. I find that sweeping the area before weeding is easier. I can see where the weed enters the moss without all that yard junk obfuscating the issue.

It takes me about one hour to weed two square feet of moss. The tedious way out is even more tedious than I initially thought. I'm not feeling all that brilliant any more. Heh.

Husband and I do, however, really like the way it looks. Guess there are two ways to look at this daunting task.
  1. A pain in the ass chore that requires massive amounts of patience and fortitude.
  2. The lawn will be there by the end of the summer anyway. It may as well look the way I want.
  3. It's relaxing and a good way to get some meditation in. It's far less stressful than watching the news all day.
So #2 & #3 it is. Besides, pulling grass and weeds out of moss is a whole lot more enjoyable than peeling wallpaper off the walls.

To soften the squareness of the bushes, I clipped out many of the under branches and transplanted ferns underneath. Unfortunately, the ferns look sad right now. Digging them out from under the bush was not an easy task. Sadly, they got mangled in the process. Time and lots of water should fix the problem.

A spot where the moss has been freed from the weeds (top of photo). It's surprising how much moss is there. Now that it's unencumbered, it should grow nicely. I hope.

Work in progress under the maple tree.

A grand experiment. We will see how it goes......

Lawn Improvements Part 2 -- Cue the Violins
Lawn Improvements Part 3 -- Getting There
Lawn Improvements Part 4 -- Moss Lawn Foiled By Fungus

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Alvin, Simon & Theodore...& John & Bob & Sue & Joan...

Gardening. Some years I'm a devotee and other years I could care less. This is year three on a devotee streak to organic growing. Now that I'm spending hours in the yard, I've been noticing things previously ignored. Things like how crappy the side of the garage still appears, and oh look, the cute little chipmunks are still living by the iris bed.

When I work out there they're unconcerned by my presence. They scamper about chasing one another in what seems like a game of tag. Sometimes they race across the porch and get dive bombed by the resident robin. Chipmunks. Cute little furry things that are endlessly amusing to watch.

Last year they dug up some onions, carted off a few hyacinth bulbs and munched freely on the tomatoes. All in all, the damage wasn't that bad. Besides, they're really cute.

Live and let live.

The other day, husband and I were out inspecting a small sink hole in the back yard when we saw them -- a brand new set of four, small, flat burrows. It appears that, in rodent social circles, we are considered chipmunk friendly landlords. Now there are two families of these adorable little critters foraging in the garden and digging tunnels around the house.


How big is a chipmunk burrow anyway? According to this website, a burrow is an elaborate maze of tunnels ranging from 18-36 inches deep by 12-30 feet long. That much space for something that weighs three ounces? Wow. And we thought we were space hogs. Heh.

How many chipmunks could we end up with? I've only seen them two at a time and have no idea how many there are in total. After all, they all look alike. So I read a little more. Chipmunks breed twice a year (April & Aug) with a litter size of 2-9 (average 4-6).

Times two.


My garden isn't that big and that sink hole really needs to get filled in. Burrows can also facilitate water damage to house foundations. Oh my.

Be nice to the tenants and look what happens. They get out of hand. Soooo...

I went up to the local garden center and told them we have chipmunks. "I need an eviction notice, " I said.

He recommended a Havaheart trap and told me to drive them at least 5 miles away before letting them out. Otherwise, they would eventually find their way back.


A 5 mile one way drive locked in the back of a car? Sounds more like a sheriff's eviction rather than a simple notice.

I really don't want to kill them (they're cute) and poison can have nasty consequences for the neighborhood's free roaming pets. I agreed to the trap and brought it home. It's baited with chunky almond butter and sits out by burrow #1.

Now, we wait...........

Update 5:30 pm:
Right after finishing the post, I checked the trap and found one very scared chipmunk peering at me from behind bars. He was caged and about to lose his home. I felt sorry for him. Poor thing.
click on image to enlarge
Husband came along for the ride. We drove across the river and up the hill into the woods. At the 5 mile mark, we stopped the car and let him out. He scampered into the field and out of sight.

Tomorrow morning I'll set the trap again. How many 10 mile rides (round trip) remain? We shall see.

Update: 2 days later
Yesterday I caught one very pissed off squirrel. He had a veritable hissy fit, stomping and growling in the cage. Heh.

This morning I caught another chipmunk. This one wasn't afraid or annoyed. It seemed used to me -- like a yard pet. When I let it out in the woods, I had to shake the cage to get him to come out. He scampered about a yard then turned and looked at me. Good bye cute little thing. Have a nice new life.

Update: 6 days later
Three more critters caught over the last few days, making a total of five. This is not the end as I've seen two additional little devils scampering across the iris bed.

The squirrels seem wise to the trap. They sniff it, circle it and stare at it, yet none go in.

Update:13 days later
The total tally so far is nine chipmunks (or shitmunks as Husband now calls them). It's a bit hard to tell, but it seems the tenants in the back yard have not yet been completely evicted. The rodent relocation program (RRP) is getting old.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Firesteed Pinot 2007

  • Area: Oregon
  • Grape: Pinot Noir
  • Alcohol: 12.3%
  • Rating: Black C- Dilettante C-
Description: Bright red cherry and vanilla toast make up the pleasant nose. Unfortunately, sipping is a disappointment. Limp notes of red fruit with a hint of coffee was all we could get out of this. Sadly, this is nothing like the 2006. Perhaps this wine is far too subtle for our palates. Of course this is just our opinion. Others could disagree.

Price: $15

Sorry, no photo at this time.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Venta Mazzaron 2006

  • Area: Spain, Tierra Delvino de Zamora
  • Grape: Tempranillo
  • Alcohol: 14.5%
  • Rating: Black A Dilettante A, The Z A, Qar A, Jason A, Mom A
Description: Everyone I serve this to, loves this wine. It offers up notes of caramel, tobacco, licorice, espresso, spice and loads of succulent black fruit. The Mazzaron is full and lush in the mouth with undertones of vanilla. Great balance and structure, it works equally well with dinner or as a sipper.

Food: Rosemary lamb, grilled ribs marinated in looing sauce, pungent cheeses.

Price: $13 Buy this one again and again....

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Georges DuBoeuf Saint-Amour 2009

  • Area: France, Saint-Amour
  • Grape: Gamay
  • Alcohol: 13%
  • Rating: Black B Dilettante B
Description: Cherry blossoms, violets and herbs make up this lively Beaujolais. Better slightly chilled. No decant.

Price: $10

Monday, May 16, 2011

Allegrini Palazzo Della Torre 2007

  • Area: Italy, Veronese
  • Grape: 70% Corvina, 25% Rondinella, 5% Sangiovese.
  • Alcohol: 13.5%
  • Rating: Black A- Dilettante A-
Description: About 30% of the fruit is air dried, Amarone style, giving this wine an added dimension of elegance and complexity. The nose has lovely aromas of perfume and espresso. A black licorice attack is immediately followed by elements of stewed fruit, coffee, chocolate and leather. It finishes with a rich burst of cassis. Yummy. Decant for at least 30 minutes to tame and soften any rough edges. We will revisit this one in a year or two and see how it developed.

Price: $17

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Crios De Susanna Balbo Malbec 2009

  • Area: Argentina, Mendoza
  • Grape: Malbec
  • Alcohol: 13.9%
  • Rating: Black B- Dilettante B
Description: Dark and brooding flavors of spice, purple fruit and black licorice. The Crios has a touch of heat on the finish that dissipates with air. Best decanted for an hour. Another year in the bottle should tame its youthful zeal.

Glass sensitive. If it isn't pleasing out of one glass, try another. Even if the glasses are the same brand, same style and out of the same box.

Price: $13

Previous vintage: 2007