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Cécile Stelzer Johnson

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since Mar 09, 2015
I no longer have to work, so I'm developing a lot of different interests, beekeeping being the most expensive. Bees/ pollinators are in trouble and I decided to help. Getting chemicals out of our lives seems like a good idea. I'd like to be self sufficient so that I can have fun doing gardening, raising chickens and selling honey. Red oaks are all dying of the wilt and I may have a CAFO just west of me in a very near future. They will start by cutting all the trees, so I'll be the first one to smell their cows. (A confined Animal Feeding Operation is not my dream neighbor). All our red oaks are dying of the wilt and I'm trying to find suitable trees to replace them. Burying all that brush may be the best option to enrich the soil, which is *very* sandy and *very* poor.
zone 4b, sandy, Continental D
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Recent posts by Cécile Stelzer Johnson

Dennis Bangham wrote:We do not plant until mid April which historically was after last frost. But everything keeps blooming too early now.  I am wondering if the vines getting warm is causing the early bloom.  I have several inches of wood chips down and I expect the ground to be very cool.  I do not have a way to measure ground temps.
I do have Hardy Kiwi which seems to do okay over the light frosts but the Fuzzy gets knocked hard.  In fact there was no frost for the last couple of nights and slightly above freezing but the leaves that had sprouted on my A. Chinensis are dried and crinkly.  
I have not seen many pollinators yet.  A few flies and only now some bumble bees.  I need to attract more solitary bees.  
My kiwi are still young and only a few have reached the pergola wires.  I have ordered another female that hopefully will handle the cold better.  It is a new release called Gold Coast from Auburn University.  I will try various different fuzzy males to pollinate.  

They sell a thermometer you plunge in the ground to check the temperature. Your local garden center ought to have that and I don't think they are expensive. I know nothing about the fuzzy kiwi which just cannot make it here.
Yep. That is what I was talking about. In spite of a grueling and harsh winter here *this* year, the trend is clearly toward temperatures rising overall and the blooming arriving earlier, before your bumble bees are ready. I think that plant can adapt faster to rising temperatures, but bugs will take longer. That is just my opinion, unverified. I'm not sure how fast the ice would melt but it is worth a try to place 2 or 3 sacs of block ice and a lot of wood chips or better, sawdust to delay pollination.
Another problem, which has been documented is that when the CO2 rises above 400 parts p. million, [and it has not gone down below this since 2013] the nutritive balance of the pollen is altered [The sugars rise but the protein goes down]. Since insect pollinators count on the pollen to have enough protein to raise their brood, plus we have a lot of mono-culture [potatoes or corn or soy], these insects cannot find enough protein in the little pollen they do harvest. The mismatch in flowering time just make it worse.
The last 2 years, I found a couple of hive beetles at harvest time. That had never happened before. They had survived the winter in the hive. One of my beekeeping friends who raises cranberries confided that this year, she had fed her bees the entire year. [Cranberries make absolutely no nectar and very little pollen, so it is always a battle to keep her bees alive anyway. But having to feed them? First time I hear that.]
4 days ago

Dennis Bangham wrote:To continue this discussion a little longer. What if you put down a large pile of mulch after a hard freeze, water the mulch before the next freeze and then get some white shade cloth to cover over the chips?  
I really need to find a way to stop my kiwi (A. Chinensis) from blooming so early.
Maybe even add a heavy shade cloth over the top of the pergola to keep the vines from getting warm.

In Alabama, would you need to prevent early blooming? When is your A. Chinensis flowering and can you still expect frosts at that time? [hard blossom killing frosts?] Here in Wisconsin, we can expect hard frosts until Memorial Day and the garden does not get its first tomato plant planted before then. And even then, we have to be ready to cover.
The treatment you describe definitely would delay blooming. The best way to retard it might be if you could place blocks of ice by the roots and then add wet mulch: They sell blocks of ice in plastic sacs in convenience stores. That would work slick if you were to place 2-3 bags of it by each plant.
In Europe, at the time of Louis XIV, and even more recently in Wisconsin and Canada, folks had an interesting way of producing ice cream in summer or preserving ice, long before the time of refrigerators: They would go on the local frozen ponds/ lakes in the winter and cut and lift chunks of ice the thickness of the ice. It was backbreaking work, done with mules or horses. Then they would cover them with a thick layer of wood chips or wet straw. with a good layer of insulation, the ice would not melt until June-July and the King could have his ice cream. It was also a way to preserve cleaned fresh fish and bring it to market a little distance inland before the advent of refrigerated trucks. So, yes, insulating snow should work (ice will work even better: snow is too fractured, so your idea to wet the mulch is superior)
I know I'm dating myself, but I can still remember my mom having an ice-box and cussing at the ice man who had delivered chunky ice instead of blocks: [fractured ice melts a lot faster].
The next thing you may have to worry about is the pollination process: Pollinating insects work in sync with the seasons and the sun. Artificially delaying blooming may have bad consequences if the pollinators season does not match the growing season, especially if the A. Chinensis has a short blooming period before fecundation.
That is one of the things we will have to think about with global warming: The pollinators being ready before the blooms are or vice-versa. When there is a mismatch, they both suffer.
Shading the pergola will also help but may be overkill IMHO. [How much pergola cover would you have to buy relative to the amount of fruit you could get from the vines?]
I hope you are successful in your tinkering with delaying blooming. Let us know how that works. To make it more 'scientific', you would have to treat some this way and allow others  to go without treatment
4 days ago

Corey Schmidt wrote:

Tyler Ludens wrote:

Corey Schmidt wrote: The animals in the forest and waters don't have the benefit of compound interest (ok maybe you can count soil building as a kind of compounding!) and are forced by the necessities of survival to work like hell every day of their lives.  I watch the squirrels around me and they inspire me because no matter how bad it gets for them, they just keep working like hell.

I'm inspired by the vultures who just cruise around for hours without using any effort until they find a nice roadkill.  Long period of relaxed observation followed by decisive action.

Good point.   lots of animals seem to live like this and its a great lesson for me about how to act... sometimes we actually get more done by doing less....  I'm not aware of any other species that 'retire', however.

True that. In the animal kingdom, there is no compassion for the weak and helpless, except, perhaps for the females of the species, who may die defending their offsprings. All animals become meals for those who are swift enough to catch them. Sometimes, we tend to romanticize animals who live 'free' and 'on their own terms'. However, life is harsh, and short for them.
There is something to be said for living in a *human* society, one that does not lack compassion. Some will say that by helping our brothers and sisters, our parents, we break Darwin's rules of the 'survival of the fittest' perhaps at the expense of the strength and fitness of the human race as a whole: We do live longer and longer, but often in worse health. So, maybe.
I will leave this debate to the more philosophical than I. I'm not particularly social in that I enjoy my own company, and visitors who just barge in unannounced are not particularly welcome... but in a pinch, I'd help a stranger. I'm just enough of an 'animal' to not seek help, even sometimes when I could use it. That might just be a flaw of my character: I enjoy more helping than being helped.
1 week ago
There are 2 sides to this equation: The income and the outgo. I am blessed to have always had very modest wants and I find it easy to not buy what I don't need, so I don't clip coupons: They are a buyer's trap anyway: the majority of what you can buy is processed food, and if you have that coupon, you are hellbent on using it. You know you are. If you have to buy food, you are better off visiting the green section of your favorite grocery store. You do not control the income because that is dependent on someone giving you a job . You can only control the outgo ... up to a point.
I was lucky to not experience the hardship of war or the Great Depression. That is just dumb luck. But I listened to those who did: My mom, who weighed only 45 kgs [That is just under 100 Lbs, if you don't know] when she gave birth to my older sister in 1945 in occupied France. I still keep the last of her "butter coupons" as a reminder that things can get a whole lot worse than they are. Everything was rationed as the Germans had appropriated every chicken, sheep, cow... Everything. She was allowed one pat of butter per week. That is not much when you are pregnant. She would peel potatoes a little thicker so she could bury the peelings in the basement. She could not plant them outside where Germans might have found them. This way, they had a second meal of potatoes, each about the size of a marble.
The only vegetable they could gather in relative abundance were Jerusalem artichokes. My father learned to detest sunchokes and joined the Resistance to fight not only Germans, but those they called "the collabos". Those were easy to spot because they were never hungry. Parsnips and rutabagas are other vegetables you could eat ,if you could hide them.
The collabos were often folks just like them but changed by the war, they would point those who were part of the Résistance to the Germans. In revenge, folks ratted on those who sold meat to the Germans. My dad told me of the regret of his life is to have participated in the murder of a butcher in a quarry. They had already made up their mind that they were going to kill him. They wanted to shame him, but he held his own, and told them: "In my shoes, you would have done the same thing: You can't hide a butcher shop. I had not other way". They killed him and left him there.
Hearing those things from very young also taught me the ugliness of war, and compassion for those in need, and gratitude.
There is indeed a state of abject poverty beneath which you are absolutely helpless, and have no other resource than what you can beg.  If we are "middleclass" or even "lower middleclass" we are light years ahead of folks who are reduced to begging. We want to believe that we could weather economic storms, that because we have the gumption, we are hard workers, we would fare well. We are deluding ourselves.
1 week ago

Steve Thorn wrote:I've had really good success with Egyptian walking onions. It grows so well, it was almost hard to kill!
I'm really excited to plant some sunchokes too this year, and I'm also going to plant some sweet potatoes and horderadish.
I'm getting hungry thinking about a good sweet potato with cinnamon sugar and butter, and horderadish cocktail sauce with some shrimp this summer!

I have to get myself some walking onions: Onions here are getting more expensive.
You might want to go easy on the sunchokes. In one season, they can travel about 5 ft in every direction! They can grow deep in my sandbox, like almost 2 ft so unless your planter is lined with 12 mil plastic, you may be invaded. I've had a tiny root, like less than an inch sprout more the following year. They are delicious! The white ones especially are larger and not as twisted, so easier to clean. The pink ones are smaller and give me gas something awful. but I eat them like radishes. Maybe cooked? Boiled with a side of avocado mayo. Yum! They will make a decent hedge too, and the flowers are relished by my bees. {It is in the sunflower family, after all}.
There are a couple of different sweet potatoes. The orange thingy we have at Thanksgiving is ... OK. Not my fave. What I really love is the Asian Sweet potato. It almost qualifies as a perennial, because, like garlic, it has a long storage time, almost a year once it is cured and stored properly. Here it is too cold to overwinter in the ground. The flowers are beautiful if you plant them in a barrel. The Asian sweet potato has red skin and a white interior. It boils quickly and has no fibers. The taste is out of this world good! it tastes like chestnuts, the good chestnuts from trees that used to grow in this country. I serve it like regular sweet potatoes but I don't need the sugar. I also use it in the stuffing for the turkey or the goose at Thanksgiving.
1 week ago
Garlic is the first one that sprang to my mind: Harvest and sort in October, replant in late October or November and you can keep it going year after year.
1 week ago

Jay Angler wrote:Cécile Stelzer Johnson wrote:

If, in a one inch rainfall I could gather 623 gallons of water, yes, I would need quite a few rain barrels [Each is only about 50 gallons] I like that idea of joining rain barrels at the top so they each get filled in turn. Since we get 35 "of rain, that makes... drum roll: Over 21,000 gallons

Yes, I've looked at all the snow and rain we've had this winter and truly wished there was some way to hold onto more of it for next summer's drought!
Rain barrels are really only much use if you have intermittent rain, rather than extended dry periods. I've got multiple barrels and stronger people than I, can actually move them onto the tractor forks, but unless we were to build a proper system that held the barrels at least 18 inches off the ground, it's *very* difficult to keep a siphon going and use the water effectively. The best I have managed is to try to redirect some of our water to areas where it will soak in as deeply as possible.
As Mark Kissinger said, "think ahead"! The snow isn't soo.... miserable if it means the spring grass will last longer into the summer.

Yeah, it is out of the question to move them when full. I installed a spigot very near the bottom of each and every one of them, with a regular garden hose attached. This way, I can water trees that are 100 ft or more away. I just need  the right hose length and I keep adding lengths if I have to. All I use is gravity: 3 of those 8"cinder blocks, arranged in a triangle will hold the barrel steady if well centered. The only requirement is that what you water must be lower than the spigot. I cannot usually drain the last 3"of the barrel. I could if I installed the spigot underneath the barrel, but that is not very workable. The water is just left in there until it rains again.
I like rain barrels also because the water will be held there and the cold groundwater will have a chance to warm up, so you don't chill your young transplants. If I want water that is richer in nutrients, I use a paint strainer. It is essentially a big mesh bag. I stuff it full of comfrey and wait a couple of weeks. Hold your nose because this stuff is powerful!
Because the barrels I use are very sturdy,[Thanks, makers of Coca-Cola syrup and other strong barrel makers] they can be left out full over the winter and will not burst. I made the mistake to use one that was not so sturdy and it ballooned outward at the bottom. It is not leaking but is perched perilously like a tower of Pisa on 3 cinder blocks. I have 2 sturdy ones out right now. For winter, you just must make very sure that the spigot is shut TIGHT and hose removed and drained, of course. The barrel will be OK since the sides are vertical, but any water in the spigot will freeze and burst the spigot. Otherwise, drain it in the fall and store it upside down, spigot wide open and be ready to place it under the downspout to harvest the first of the snowmelt.
If you are in a critical zone for drought, you can bury a cistern, but that is big engineering and big bucks, plus you would need a pump to retrieve the water.
1 week ago

Mark Kissinger wrote:

Cécile Stelzer Johnson wrote:[
You know, Mark, that is an excellent idea.

I hadn't considered the predicament you are in. Good luck. Your rain barrel is probably going to fill up rapidly,considering the amount of flow you are getting from your rood surfaces. You might be able to store more water by connecting multiple barrels together, either at the bottom (to allow all of them to fill as one big tank), or by putting a pipe between each barrel at the top of the barrels to dill them up sequentially. Either way, you should try to calculate the volume of water that any one reainstorm is likely to produce, and size your outflow accordingly. considering the force of the water exiting your gutter-spouts, you have a lot of potential for rain water harvesting. Have you seen Brad Lancaster's books on the subject. I believe this site has a link to them somewhere.
Again, best of luck in fixing your problems.

Yep. Amazing how much water we could harvest from a roof if we put our mind to it. Because I was curious about my roof, I had looked that up:
If, in a one inch rainfall I could gather 623 gallons of water, yes, I would need quite a few rain barrels [Each is only about 50 gallons] I like that idea of joining rain barrels at the top so they each get filled in turn. Since we get 35 "of rain, that makes... drum roll: Over 21,000 gallons
Talk about Spring! Oops, this is the winter thread. My bad.
2 weeks ago

Mark Kissinger wrote:

Cécile Stelzer Johnson wrote:

Mike Jay wrote:I knew some people who upgraded their cabin roof from asphalt to metal.  The only problem was when the roovalanche happened (love that word), it dumped all that snow in front of their front door.  So when they'd come up to the cabin in the winter to visit, sometimes they'd have a 5' pile of snow to bust through to get into the cabin.  The back door had the same problem
They do make clips you can attach to metal roofing to hold the roovalanche in place if needed.

Yep. We have the clips in a couple of spots: One is above the front door, the other one is above the window in my office: There is a window well underneath where the basement is! That would plug it up easy.
The metal roof doesn't plug my driveway because the roof pitches left and right above it, but yeah. It can be a concern if you don't want the avalanche to fall there!

Might I suggest adding a vestibule roof above your doors to redirect the roofalanche to either side of your doorways? You may have to give it some extra heavy duty supports to handle the force of large amounts of snow.

You know, Mark, that is an excellent idea. I would normally do it, and on my hubby's workshop, I just might do that to provide some cover on the side door, which is rotting away anyway. I'll have to replace that door this year.
With the roof on the house, it is more complicated because the design was very poor: We have 2 valleys joining right above the door [so 3 slopes gathering there]. There may not be enough height above the door, even with the 2 steps to accommodate the continuation of the roof [it would have to slope still] without creating a sizable bathtub right above the entryway. The gutter there originally had a 3" spout! [they didn't want to mar the view, I guess, with a big downspout!]. So that was my first change. The big downspout went in and it helped... a little. That, along with making sure the gutter is clean at all times. They tried to spread the horror with a 5 ft gutter, an elbow plus a 2 ft gutter, and the only downspout  is at the end of the 2 ft. gutter. The roof is sloping, I would guess, at 30 degrees. Not the steepest, but when we have a good downpour [like we are due to get tomorrow] there is just no way to avoid the water from gushing almost 2 ft away and destroy my foundation plantings!
I was thinking of using a second downspout at the other end of the gutter, and change the gutter to the widest thing they sell. I like your vestibule idea because as is, we don't really have a mudroom and we get in directly on a nice hardwood floor. It will be complicated carpentry, but could be done. The downspout would still need to be very large, and since we have a concrete apron, that would have to be busted and a solid pipe would have to run under the concrete to a water garden. That is what I did with the original conduit leading the water away from the foundation: They had placed a perforated pipe! in sand! Of course, it got clogged pretty fast: The sand had no difficulty entering it. Additionally, it ran only 10 ft. [I know because I discovered the relic and had to lift it out of the trench, wet sand and all!] I made it 20 ft. and not perforated, so I could use the low spot for the water garden. I'm not a mason, so I'd have to farm the work out. For a mason, that is not a big job to bust an 8" wide path about 4 ft, then patch over, but I risk to be standing in line for a while!
As I was pulling the perforated pipe full of wet sand out of the trench, I reflected that they probably did that to the other 3. And indeed...  I fixed 2. There is one more on the south side.
Another improvement I'm planning is fastening some black or electrical snow melting tape so that water runs, probably all the way up and down the gutter to the water garden. That is a lot of backbreaking work, so I keep exploring options. I bought a garden barrel last year to see if I could capture *some* of that water for foundation plantings. Looking at what still goes over the gutter, I would fill in seconds in a good downpour. We are talking  forearm sized flow!
Well, at least, we may be out of the roovalanche season: Temps are expected in the 40s this week and I'm hoping we won't have too much snow falling until flowers come up.
2 weeks ago

Mike Jay wrote:I knew some people who upgraded their cabin roof from asphalt to metal.  The only problem was when the roovalanche happened (love that word), it dumped all that snow in front of their front door.  So when they'd come up to the cabin in the winter to visit, sometimes they'd have a 5' pile of snow to bust through to get into the cabin.  The back door had the same problem
They do make clips you can attach to metal roofing to hold the roovalanche in place if needed.

Yep. We have the clips in a couple of spots: One is above the front door, the other one is above the window in my office: There is a window well underneath where the basement is! That would plug it up easy.
The metal roof doesn't plug my driveway because the roof pitches left and right above it, but yeah. It can be a concern if you don't want the roovalanche to fall there!
2 weeks ago