Two Weeks in 2017 – Fire, Flood, and Wind

In the last two weeks (Aug. 25 – Sept. 10), 19 U.S. states were affected by either hurricanes or fires. I’m no expert in climate change, but global increasing temperatures would seem a logical cause for two record-breaking hurricanes and wildfires.

Warming seas and sea-level increases are part of the formula for the current hurricanes’ strength, but not all. Bob Ward has written a good summary of climate change and Hurricane Harvey for The Guardian. The consensus is that as temperatures rise, hurricanes will be stronger and possibly more numerous.

In the western area of the U.S. and along the Canada border, massive fires are burning. Increasing and earlier spring temperatures means that snow melt is happening earlier, and summer temperatures are also increasing; normally dry areas just bake in these conditions. However, an increase in the  “wildland-urban interface”, where people want to live near wilderness areas, also increases the property damage during wildfires, as does preventing natural fires from burning to keep fuel down. The Union of Concerned Scientists has a good site on how to mitigate some of the fire damage at Is Global Warming Fueling Increased Wildfire Risks?, but they say regardless, the fires will increase.

Continue reading “Two Weeks in 2017 – Fire, Flood, and Wind”

white crab spider, Mecaphesa sp.

It’s like a Pet Sematary out there!

The milkweed is full of life and death tonight, like the terrifying cemetery in Stephen King’s novel. I was late getting out in the yard, so it was close to dusk and storm clouds were rolling in.

I wandered out to harvest a couple more figs from my baby tree, which is next to the milkweed patch. I always looked for Monarch cats; I haven’t had any this year. As I searched for any missing leaves among the throngs of oleander aphids, I suddenly stop. Could it be…?

Monarch caterpillar, Danaus plexippus
Monarch caterpillar, Danaus plexippus

YES!! Only one, but there it was! (Apparently, when the light is low my iPhone camera doesn’t focus as sharply.)

Continue reading “It’s like a Pet Sematary out there!”

Sleepy Bees in the Milkweed

Walking around the garden tonight (July 30), I admired the swamp milkweed  (Asclepias incarnata) in bloom. Then I noticed a bee on the underside of the flower head; it was an eastern carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica). I’ve got tons of them this year, and fortunately they are leaving my house, deck, and fence alone for the most part. I’m surrounded by woods including a fair amount of dead trees that I leave out for the fauna.

Then I saw another bee, and then three more – all on the milkweed!

3_carpenter_bees_Jul 31.17
Do you see all three?

Only female carpenter bees can sting, but you have to grab them to make them go that far. Males have a pale yellow dot on their face. In spring, bees emerge from their nests and mate; then females may use the old nest or excavate a new one and lay eggs, which hatch in August. These babies will overwinter in the same nests and emerge in spring to  begin the cycle again.

Carpenter bees are great pollinators of eggplant, tomato, passionflower, and blueberries.

male_carpenter_bees_Jul 31.17
Male carpenter bee


For more information…

Penn State has a great page about the carpenter bee life cycle.

Here’s a scholarly article on using carpenter bees instead of honeybees for commercial crop pollination.


Review of “Green Metropolis”

New York, NY at night
Would you like to live here?

Note: I’ve decided to post a few book reviews on sustainability and related subjects. Please feel free to comment!

Green Metropolis: What the City Can Teach the Country about True Sustainability

Author: David Owen, 2009

David Owen makes a compelling case that the most environmentally friendly way for humans to live on this planet is in high-rise, densely packed cities that are definitely NOT car friendly. He offers Manhattan, NY as a great example, noting that with 1.5 million people living in 23 acres, they have to live small.

In such a tight space, owning a car is simply not practical for most people, because of the parking cost and frustration of driving as cars aren’t a priority on the roads; people live in smaller homes because of expensive housing, which then reduces purchasing anything but the necessities. All of which make walking, biking, or taking public transport to all shopping or work places that are also nearby means greenhouse gasses, trash, fuel, and water use are all reduced. New Yorkers’ average greenhouse gas production is 7.1 metric tons a year, versus a national average of 24 metric tons.

The typical actions that most suburban dwellers do to be more sustainable – composting waste, recycling, organic or local food purchases, and installing solar panels and high-efficiency windows – all amount to a tiny effect, often with bad side effects. Owen says do the boring stuff first, such as increasing the insulation in your attic and subfloors, use curtains and keep your thermostat nearer to the outdoor temperatures, cut down the number of car trips or even the number of cars, and reduce the square footage that you have to heat and cool.

Many of these things Owen hasn’t done himself, he admits, because the price of fuel isn’t low enough to make it a priority. Granted, both he and his wife work from home and have one car, so they have made a large change already.

His recommendation to make cars too expensive to own seems to run counter to his later suggestion that electricity costs should be priced on how efficiently it is used, which would mean NY would have very low rates instead of some of the highest – which would encourage more use. He doesn’t consider electric cars or tiny cars a solution because they still encourage people to spread out from work and shopping; the electric cars are a sore spot because you still have to get electricity from somewhere, and that may actually mean more electricity plants burning fossil fuels will have to be built to keep up with demand. In the eight years since he wrote this, however, solar technology has made huge strides and should be able to produce a lot of the power for the electric cars.

He bases many of his recommendations on how humans naturally react to their environment, but I think education and ease-of-use can also make things like green spaces more used. However, he doesn’t see the suburban dwellers’ change in behaviors to be something that can be built on; clearly education has done this along with making certain things like recycling easy. Continued education might influence more change, such as future home purchases that consider availability of public transport and a smaller home, for example.

One of the most glaring issues not covered are how healthy people are in these cities, since he seems to be concentrating only on the middle class who could afford alternatives including moving away from the city. These high prices have a devastating effect on the poorest residents.

He also doesn’t consider rain and the effects of hundreds of acres of impermeable surfaces on aquifers, downstream waterways, or the water treatment in the city. He thinks open spaces should be small parks (his best example was a completely paved vendor and carnival area), and green roofs don’t have much environmental impact for the amount of infrastructure they need.

He readily admits that his home out in the country is terribly unsustainable, as he constantly hammers on the distant one has to drive to do anything, the larger houses that are so wasteful, the SUVs that guzzle gas. Yet he has lived there for over 20 years, so he seems a bit hypocritical.

I listened to this as an audio book, and I admit that the thought of living, walking, and working with that many people all shoulder to hip doesn’t sound at all appealing to me. However, the version of high-density development in my town are narrow streets filled with average to large homes with alleys between them and a small back yard, all of which face other homes just a few feet away. I’ve always wondered who would want such a home, because it’s like the worst of apartment living with the noise and neighbors combined with the worst of owning a home with its less efficient heating and cooling costs, distance from work, and yard maintenance. Yet that’s what many people can afford to fulfill their dream of home ownership. If apartments were cheaper than owning a home, had good noise insulation, and were close to work and parks, then I agree that we should be building more of these than those sub-developments, but with rental rates higher than mortgage payments I doubt it will happen.

Owen is right as far as he goes that living in pedestrian-friendly cities is better for the environment and cost is the main factor for any fast changes, but I believe education beginning with children can create more lasting change.

Mountain mint

I’ve got a second year of Narrowleaf Slender Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium)  growing, and usually it pulls in every pollinator around. But on June 18, it was quite cool (76 degrees F), and not a single bug could be seen on the mountain mint. Yesterday afternoon, I had my camera out in the hot afternoon (90 degrees) and it was covered. Whew! Here’s some the visitors.

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Echinacea purpurea - purple coneflower, white version

Pollinator week!!

National Pollinator Week is here! In 2007, the U.S. Senate designated a week in June to help our declining pollinator populations. This year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of the Interior designated June 19-25 as National Pollinator Week.

A local event that promises lots of ideas is the Durham Pollinator Garden Tour. This is the inaugural tour, and tickets and maps can be found at The tour is another production of Keep Durham Beautiful, Inc., which has great programs all year long. Tickets can be bought by the car, so gather some of your friends and make a day of it!

swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata
swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata

You can find other events at Pollinator Partnership.

To kick off the week, I found a stand of swamp milkweeds (Asclepias incarnata) in RTP on Sunday, but only one monarch caterpillar was in sight. I wasn’t dressed to go wading in the stand to find more—snake boots are a must!

Monarch caterpillar, Danaus plexippus
Monarch caterpillar, Danaus plexippus

 Nearby was a stand of Indian hemp, which is also a native popular with pollinators, but rather aggressive; I’ve got a stand of it on my property that grows exponentially each year. It’s related to mikweeds and even exudes milky sap that is irritating to human skin.

Indian hemp, Apocynum cannabinum
Indian hemp, Apocynum cannabinum

In Raleigh, Helen Yoest’s nonprofit, Bee Better, is having a raffle of a beautiful  photo encaustic work by Jayne Walther. Look for her post on June 15 on FaceBook. Bee Better’s mission is to “help homeowners build better backyards for birds, bees, & butterflies. Our work focuses on ecoregion 231, Southeastern Mixed Forest Province, including the States of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and parts of Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Maryland.” I’m a member of this group, and we have interesting workshops and meetings about every month.


So get out there, get some ideas, and plant a small garden for the pollinators!

Common Box Turtle, Terrapene Carolina

Box turtles in the meadow

While I was weed-whacking outside the fence, I uncovered a small common box turtle (Terrapene carolina)—thankfully I was aiming high! Then I found another, larger one inside the fence on a path.

Common Box Turtle, Terrapene Carolina in clover
Common Box Turtle, Terrapene Carolina

She (I think) gave me a stink eye.

I’ve seen a few on roads and such lately, so I wondered when they lay eggs, here is what I found out. Interestingly, females can store sperm for up to four years, so they don’t have to meet up every year. Females dig a hole in the leaf litter and lay up to 11 eggs between May and June. Around 70 days later, the babies hatch slowly and spend the next three to four years under the leaf litter and rotten logs, eating pill bugs, spiders, crickets, etc. After they start going “above ground”, they transition to a mostly vegetarian diet.

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Visiting the Chatham Mills Pollinator Paradise Garden

Debbie Roos is the Chatham County Agricultural Extension Agent and is building a showcase garden at Chatham Mills in Pittsboro. Designed to show local gardeners and farmers how to use native plants to increase their pollinator population and diversity, it’s also a lovely place to visit. Then you can grab lunch at the Chatham Marketplace co-op, or have a drink from Starrlight Mead, and sit on the patio surrounded by beauty.

Continue reading “Visiting the Chatham Mills Pollinator Paradise Garden”