Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Man vs. Oleander

Every year about this time we do battle. The Oleanders and me.

We've done it going on seven years. I snip, saw, stomp and kick. The Oleanders twist and tangle, poke and cut. Every year, I knock 'em down. Every year they come back, bigger and stronger than ever. They're relentless.

I've learned a few things over the years. Early on all I had were a pair of just snips and a small tree saw. Now I bring loppers and a chainsaw. Still it is a battle.

But, this year was different. I came with a shovel and ax. This year I came to take the Oleanders out -- all the way out.


There are a lot of Oleanders around. Though not native to southern California, Oleanders have been described as iconic to southern California landscape. They grow quite dense and make great screens. In California, Oleanders grow in an estimated 20% of home gardens. And the folks at Caltrans love 'em. They maintain Oleanders in more than 2,100 miles of freeway medians.

So, with such great references, what's not to like?

For openers, the entire Oleander plant is poisonous, from the sap, to the bark, right down to the leaves. The Wikipedia entry says, "Oleander is one of the most poisonous plants in the world and contains numerous toxic compounds, many of which can be deadly to people, especially young children."

Then there is Oleander leaf scorch, an incurable disease that has been claiming Oleanders for years. The disease is so widespread and unstoppable that some estimate it will kill 90% of Oleanders in the next few years.

Yellow and brown edges on Oleander leaves are a sign of leaf scorch. Oleanders with leaf scorch will not improve. They will wither over the next few years then die.

If you've got Oleanders with leaf scorch, the uniform advice is to take them out.


So, four Saturdays ago, there I was standing in front of the Oleanders. Ax, loppers, chainsaw all ready to go. I really didn't know what it would take to get these things out. But I was ready.

Each Oleander was a fight. After cutting away the branches and doing some digging, I was surprised at how big the stumps were. Then I had to dig around and under each stump to cut out the roots. One a weekend was my limit.

Last Saturday I finished. Four weekends. Four Oleanders gone. Victory.

You know, it's a very satisfying feeling -- to look out and see mounds of dirt and stumps where diseased and poisonous Oleanders used to be.

I won't miss the Oleanders. Not even a little.

Oleander Stumps

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Garden/Wine Making Updates

March and April is probably my favorite time of year. The rains have mostly come and gone, the sun is out, the bees are busy, and it seems the whole plant world is exploding.

And then there is the wonderful smell of orange and lemon blossoms. Sometimes the smell is overwhelming. And sometimes, it just sneaks up on you. Can't get enough of that.

We've been busy the past few weekends, getting work in between the rains. I've been working at taking out four oleanders in the front of our house. Hopefully that job will be done today. Some random garden notes:

We've cleared most our garden beds. Onions are started. Beets, peas, lettuce, beans and carrots are planted.

Marcia is starting the tomatoes from seed this year and we have a table top in the house now devoted to tiny little tomato plants.

After the super bowl, we picked the rest of our avocados. Was a great year for our tree and we have new flowers now. Hopefully the production will be the same this year.

We had broccoli from the garden the first weeks of this month and more is growing. However, some animal (I don't think it is a gopher) is nibbling at the base of the plants and we've lost several.

We had two tomato plants that made it through the winter, but are looking a bit worn out at this point.

Unfortunately, my cuttings from the Earthside wild grape don't seem to be taking.

Wine Making

Which reminds me that David has asked about our wild grape wine experiment. It was fun to pick and crush the grapes and, as I reported last year, the juice tastes similar to a concord grape. But, here's what happened to our wine effort. We successfully made wine out of the wild grape juice. But, turned out that the recipe we followed added too much water to the juice and the result was a kind of watered-down concord grape wine. I tried to compensate by adding some Welchs concord concentrate. The final product is drinkable, but not something I would recommend to others. I hope to do better this year.

Our less than stellar wild grape wine experiment matched our other experiments in fermentation. Our blackberry wine experiment (using blackberries gathered from our summer Oregon and NoCal trip) resulted in a very good blackberry vinegar, but no wine. Two seasons of trying to make hard cider have resulted in more very tasty vinegar.
Out of desperation, we finally tried a commercial wine making kit with all the ingredients and step by step by step instructions. The result has been a first rate red wine.
I'm looking forward to another try this year.