Saturday, July 28, 2012

More War on Foul Insects: Mosquito Repellants

In my quest to find new ways to wage battle with the biting insects, I have been researching the new clip-on products, including the new Off! Clip-on.  I know I am not the only one who hates mosquitoes, because the mosquito repellant pages on my blog are among the most popular!

I found this research out of the University of Florida, on the Entomological Society of America website.  It looked at four clip-on devices, evaluating the repellent effect against the disease carrying mosquito Aedes albopictus.  The clip-on devices included the Off! Clip-On (contains pyrethroid agent metofluthrin), ThermaCell Mosquito Repellent (contains pyrethroid agent allethrin), and the natural products Lentek Bite Shield (contains geraniol) and BugButton Mosquito Eliminator (geraniol, lemon oil, citronella oil).  Interestingly, the pyrethroid containing products reduced trap capture by 41.7% to 77% while the natural repellents and placebo worked about equally.  Clearly the natural oils are not of much benefit against this mosquito (though they probably smell nice), and this is consistent with previous research on other mosquito species.
Orb-weaving spider spotted on the dock at Jim's Camp at Nistowiak Falls.  This is one of the largest spiders I have seen in northern Saskatchewan.  I put my finger in the picture to show size and I think it was making irritated gestures towards me with its front legs.
Pyrethroids are synthetic compounds similar to the natural pyrethrin, which is produced by Chrysanthemums.  The most familar one is permethrin, the agent applied to bed nets in malaria endemic areas.  They are toxic to bees and aquatic organisms, so should be used with caution and not released into bodies of water.  They are not applied to human skin, like DEET, and should not be directly inhaled.  However, pyrethroids are not toxic in low levels to humans and other vertebrates, excepting cats, because of an enzyme they lack.  Unfortunately though, even bed bugs have figured out how to be impervious to this insecticide. 

The clip on products are battery operated and run a little fan that distributes the insecticide around you like a cloud.  You would need to keep yourself stocked with batteries and refills of the insecticide to keep it going.  I've read anecdotes that it is not effective in extremely heavy mosquito areas, such as next to bogs and ponds.  Also, if you are moving around, you may leave your protective cloud behind you and may need to stay put for a few minutes to regain your "protective cloud".  Perhaps standing in one place and weeding may be useful, but putting it on the kids as they run through the forest may be futile.   

Also, the other issue is the effectiveness of these pyrethroid emanators against no-see-ums and blackflies.  Thein lies the itch.  I did try the device in the yard this past week.  We do have a high-mosquito level in our area and I did still get two bites.  I think it did manage to repel some mosquitoes though.  It does make a quiet sound, like someone running the vacuum cleaner three doors down the street, but is not bothersome.  I think I would like to use this device while sitting outside reading a book or eating, where the protective cloud could build up and have better repellant activity.  Anyone else using this?  

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Cherries in the North

I harvested the tart cherries this week and have a litre of pitted ones in the freezer already.  I used the Norpro cherry stoner, which worked fairly well.  I may have left in a pit or two, but considering the tart cherries are a bit smaller than the sweet ones and may not fit the same in the tool, I think I've done well.
Carmine Jewel tart cherries
These are the Carmine Jewel cherries, a variety well-suited to growth in the north.  These trees are about six years old and had a fair bit of fruit for their dwarf size.  There were no pests bothering the leaves or the fruit this year.  In previous years, pear slugs (not actually a slug, but the larvae of a fly), did some damage to the leaves.

Carmine Jewel tart cherries
We decided to pick them this week after seeing the robins rustling around in the trees, thinking they'd found a generous supply of food close to home.  The robins can have the domestic Saskatoon berries.  I don't like those anyhow.

Cherry tree before the cherries ripened
If you've never had tart cherries, don't let the name put you off.  If you let them ripen to a deep red, they are sweet.   I think that their main advantage over the sweet cherries is that they are superior to sweet cherries in baking and many other cooked items.  I personally love them made up as a sauce on grilled pork.  Absolutely amazing.

Of course, it is great that they just survive at all up here.  The pretty little round trees are also quite attractive.  Several more varieties of tart cherries have been introduced since these ones were created, and I'd even try growing these in warmer climates when we should move away from the north.  Hopefully we'd still find them pest-free.  I've heard that the sweet cherries in the Okanagan, British Columbia, often end up pest-ridden (usually full of worms) if not sprayed.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Lollipop Lilies and Edible Flowers

"Lollipop" Asiatic lilies blooming now

"Double Delight Cream" Nasturtiums
 The pots full of annuals are really looking full and nice by this time of year.  The petunias, zinnias, nasturtiums, and marigolds are looking vigourous, and probably helped by the weekly liquid fertilizer.  The nasturtium flowers are edible, if you like the spicy peppery flavour.  The "Lollipop" lilies look good enough to eat, but are not too desirable for eating.

While Nasturtiums can be direct seeded in the ground, they reach bedding plant size much faster if started earlier indoors.  My direct-seeded ones are still inconspicuously tiny.  On the other hand, my volunteer Eschscholzia have already flowered and set seed.  The direct seeded cosmos have not flowered yet, though.
Papaver rhoeas annual poppies started blooming last week
I have a few Papaver somniferum annual poppies, though most of them were crowded out by the other plants this year and failed to grow to full size.  They bloom for a short period and then have large seed heads.  You can collect the seeds for baking, or leave them to make more blooms for next year.  Personally, I think a large patch of Papaver rhoeas is quite attractive.

It is just starting to rain this evening, which should help to reduce the forest fire smoke that has filled our skies and noses for the past week.  

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Summer Morning with the Birds

Raven: The ubiquitous northern bird.
The weather is sunny, the skies are smoky, and the sun is having a storm this weekend.  This should mean that I could get northern light pictures if I went out at 2 am with a bunch of camera gear.  We'll see if that happens or not.

However, I am glad that it is getting a few degrees cooler.  I guess the seven months of winter doesn't prepare me well for the two really hot weeks we get in the summer.  No, I shouldn't complain.

Looking north to Lac La Ronge and Nut Point Provincial Park.
 We are told that smoke from fires in northern Alberta are making our skies hazy.  Yesterday at the airport, the two water bombers took off together right before my plane.  As of yesterday, the fire report stated that there were 30 wildfires in the La Ronge fire control area, which is a large chunk of land including La Ronge and north to Wollaston Lake.  

Heron visiting the docks this morning.
In the yard, the current major bloomers are the delphiniums, roses, and Sweet Williams.  I have one solitary blooming lupine and wish I had more.  I went out in spring and pushed lupine seeds into the beds and I do see some small plants scattered around, but they won't bloom until next year.  The hybrid lilies and annual poppies are just starting.  The sad part of this is that the bulk of the flowers are going to be soon done for the year!  I did start some ornamental flowering kale and sunflowers indoors in May and planted them out this past week in hopes of having more fall excitement in the flower bed.  I've never planted kale before, but have enjoyed seeing them in other people's yards, so I hope they turn out well here in my yard.
First spotted morning glory flower this year.
The annual poppies have seeded themselves in the same spot for a few years now.  It is not hard to keep them coming back, however, you do need to thin them.  I ripped up poppies all spring to save them from coming up thick as a lawn.  If you don't do this, they will end up all spindly and never produce any significant flowers.  They are easy, but it does take that bit of effort to make them look their best.  I interplanted with direct-seeded Cosmos, which should bloom a while later.
The annual poppies are starting to bloom in the raised bed.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Hot Weather, Loud Colors

The weather is warm, the humidity is 40%, and the colours in the garden are getting more garish in their summer abdunance.  The hot pink rose and several varieties of dianthus color the flower beds as the spires of delphiniums rise with their aspirations of impending bloom.
Large raised bed with pink Sweet Williams in foreground.
White Campanula persicifolia against
blue Delphiniums
It is swimming weather in La Ronge, where we don't have any public swimming pools, but do have the lake.  If you don't mind the sand in your toes, some weeds in the water, and possibly the occasional leech, it does feel pretty good.  Oh yes, and the swimmer's itch parasite lives in a few bays, though that is a pretty common irritant in bodies of water around North America.  It also can be prevented by towelling off and changing clothes immediately after getting out of the water.

Speaking of pests, resident-lawnmower-man found our strawberry thief.  He watched the squirrel sneak under the carefully placed mesh to get his strawberries and then sneak out again.  Some weighty rocks will now be placed on the loose edges of the mesh.  What a pest!  If our dog was loose, I think we could get rid of that strawberry thief, but alas, we keep the dog contained in a fence.

Sweet Williams (Dianthus barbatus),  a biennial flower that self-propagates very happily.
Large raised bed getting full with perennials.  The Siberian irises have just finished.
As far as insect garden pests go, there are some worms in the lettuce and the whole yard is festooned with the little pockets of white spittle bug deposits.  If you see wads of "spittle" on your plants, you will find a spittle bug inside.  They don't seem too destructive and can be washed off with a stream of water.  Otherwise, I sprayed insecticidal soap on the spittle mass that accumulated on the new rose's cluster of new buds.  
Sloped little rock garden full of thyme and Dianthus deltoides, both in bloom.  A few yellow perennial foxgloves have popped up here and there.

A solitary perennial Geranium flower amid Dianthus deltoides.

I love the little mounds of blue and white Campanula carpatica.  They get covered in blooms.  The burgundy shrub is a Japanese barberry and the silver spikes are Lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina).
The edibles are growing well, with the pumpkins and other vines finally taking off and looking happy.  I don't see any developing fruit on the pumpkins yet, though.  The herbs are going to good use in the cooking.  Tomorrow will be Mexican food night, so the cilantro will be savoured.  Violas are edible too, so this planting below is entirely edible.  I put a rosemary in the center, and violas are interplanted with parsley and cilantro, sown from seed in this pot.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Wild Calla Lily in the Bog

The northern boreal forest has some pretty plants, including those that grow in the bountiful bogs in northern Saskatchewan.  I suppose the bountiful bogs also account for the plentiful mosquitoes, which may be why I have five new mosquito bites to go along with these photos.  These photos show the Wild Calla Lily, or Bog Arum.   

Wild Calla Lily (Calla palustris)

These plants just happened to be growing in some standing water that surrounds the Nut Point campground's playground.  Yes, a playground in a bog!  DEET is required here.  Following the playground experience, I went to two local stores looking for the new OFF clip-on product (as seen on TV).  It's website says it uses AAA batteries and lasts for 11 hours.  One store had sold out and was waiting impatiently for the supply truck and the other store hadn't heard of them yet.  Apparently, they're quite popular.  I certainly will be buying the first ones I find.  I would like to see this in a bulk northern family pack.  Reviews will follow!

Wild Calla Lily (Calla palustris), part of the Arum family
Interestingly, the wild calla lily is pollinated by snails.  I thought pollination by bats was unique, but this is even cooler!  This plant is considered poisonous because its oxalic acid content.  Oxalic acid is the same agent that would cause grief to our kidneys should we eat rhubarb leaves.  However, the rhizome (root) is edible after some processing.  It apparently has been used traditionally as a medicine.  I've never met anyone up here who knows much about traditional uses of the wild plants aside from rat root, but the plant has a circumpolar distribution, so the northern Europeans may also have some experience with its use.
Wild Calla Lily (Calla palustris), Nut Point Campground
Later in the year, the green spadix at the center of the "flower" will transform into a cluster of red berries (also inedible).  The beautiful flowers we commonly call Calla lilies and find in florists boutqets are not actually Callas at all, and belong to the genus Zantedeschia.  I see the lovely purple and pink varieties of these in the mail order catalogs and have considered getting one, though I fear that I would not be able to keep up with their water requirements.