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Category: Pets & Gardens

  • Identify the Pest & then Spray!

    April 09, 2012
    Damaged Tomato Seedlings - Note the fur & clean cuts

    Damaged Tomato Seedlings - Note the fur & clean cuts

    One of the worst pests on our property has struck again. No, it’s not the cabbage worms or the root weevils or leaf miners. They’ll show up later. For now, it’s all happening indoors & my spray bottle is at the ready.

    Okay, so I know you’re freaking out because I’m saying “spray”.

    How unlike me, right? I’m never an advocate for spraying much of anything other than some compost tea or fish fertilizer now & again. So, why am I pulling out a spray bottle now?

    Well, when the damn house cat starts downing my seedlings, that’s when the water sprayer comes out!

    Twinky-the-cat is at it again.

    We’ve been starting any number of warm season crops indoors. Tomatoes, Hibiscus tea, peppers, Okra and more. In the beginning, when the seeds are first inserted into the sterile soil mix, they’re placed on a rack, under lights with a clear, plastic protective cover over the top. The plastic top helps hold heat and moisture in, and it helps intensify the light that shines down on the emerging seeds.

    But, once those young seedlings emerge from the soil,  if the lids aren’t lifted to allow for airflow — aka ventilate the trays — then damping off can begin. That’s essentially a fungal issue that will kill an entire tray of new seedlings within a day or so.

    So, once the young plants pop through the soil, I begin opening the lids. I leave them over the young plants with a few inches of airflow space between lid and tray. (Find a timeline of seeding events illustrated here.)  I keep the lids on in hopes of keeping the cat from chewing on the young plants. It also deters him from climbing on top to take a nap under the sunny lights.

    Damaged Seedlings

    What a waste! Cat pulls out, mangles & spits out tomato seedlings

    Unfortunately, I left the rack just a bit too close to the window sill where Twink naps. So, one afternoon, he leaned his adorable fuzzy head over into my tomatoes and Hibiscus and began chewing. Apparently, the Hibiscus tasted good because he left nothing of this behind. But he’s never found tomatoes tasty. So, he took a bit of a few and spit them out — soil and all — onto the floor below.

    Yeah, very cat-like right? He knows how to really piss me off.

    How do I know it was Twink? Take a look at the photos. Notice the clean bite mark. Notice the long, white cat hair strewn among the defoliated stems he left behind.

    So, how to manage this pest? Well, spray of course!

    No, don’t spray the crops (unless you’re watering them that way.)

    Instead, keep a water-filled spray bottle nearby. And, if you can catch puss in action, and spray him with a jet of water to scare him off.

    Also — note to self — move the racks another few inches away from his nap window, so he isn’t tempted to snack while he sleeps.

    And, of course, plant more seeds if you’ve got’m. Fortunately, I’ve got more tomato seedlings to pot up than I’ll ever have room to grow on. And, I’ve got two more rounds of Renee’s Garden Seed Hibiscus Tea seeds germinating!

    And, let’s be clear, spraying anything other than water at a bad cat is never my first line of defense against any kind of pest. Spray bottles are a rarity around here. If you’re ever going to pull one out, be sure you’ve tried everything else first, you know what you’re using, why you’re using it, how to safely use it, and that it is actually something appropriate to use on the pest you’ve fully identified.

  • How to be Sure Your Plants are Non-Toxic Before Your Pet Takes a Bite

    February 29, 2012
    Chomped African Violet

    Kitty-Chomped & Pup-Abandoned African Violet

    My home used to be a jungle of houseplants, but with pets like mine they don’t stand a chance anymore. I scaled back what I grow indoors after my cat nearly chomped my bonsai to death years ago. I also stopped bringing in bouquets because he demolishes — and later barfs — those as well. So, we’re down to a few succulents, that bonsai placed well out of reach, a couple of begonias, and a couple of African violets.

    Well, we had a couple of African Violets. Now, we barely have one.

    Turns out kitty has developed a palate for these crunchy, fuzzy plants. I realized this when found one of them chewed to a mere nub the other day. He had also yanked a number of stems off the nearby Christmas cactus.

    And to top it all off, he’s taught the puppy that plants are fun to play with. So, soon after he’d mangled the poor violet into submission, dropping it onto the floor after his snack, the pup picked up his leavings and played solo catch with the nearly destroyed little plant nubbin.

    Chewed Plastic Pot

    Pup-Mangled Plastic Violet Pot

    Then, after abandoning the tortured violet on a nearby rug where its soil embedded into the just-cleaned carpet, she picked up the plastic chew toy in which it had been encased. And, she chomped and tore that sucker into submission.

    Yum. Yum. Glad that pot was a cheap one.

    After I composted the poor plant to put it out of its misery and recycled the remains of the plastic pot, I figured this was a good reminder to check the ASPCA’s toxic and non-toxic plant list. This searchable list can help you avoid planting something  (indoors or outdoors) that might make puss, pup or even pony get sick.

    Since my cat isn’t dead yet, I assumed that the African Violet is non-toxic. And, the ASPCA’s site helped me verify that. (You never know when some long-term lingering liver issue might crop up weeks or months later.)

    So, yes, now I’m down to a couple of succulents, a jade, a couple of begonias, an out-of-reach bonsai, one semi-mangled Christmas cactus and a lonely African Violet that’s likely the next plant on bad kitty’s menu.

    If he keeps this up, he may end up getting introduced to the compost pile right along with the plants he kills.

  • Cat Stuck in a Tree? Call an Arborist for Help!

    September 30, 2011

    Today’s post & photo courtesy of contributing writer & arborist Katy Bigelow:

    arborist & cat in tree

    Photo of Arborist Rescuing Cat Courtesy of Katy Bigelow

    Thanks to arborist Dan Kraus, more than 800 cats have been rescued from trees in the Seattle area. As a result of completing my first cat rescue last month, Dan generously added me to his directory of arborists who rescue cats internationally! I’m very proud to start offering this service to Bainbridge Island and parts of Kitsap county.

    My next door neighbor, a long time island fireman, was also excited about this news. He mentioned that sometimes the fire department here often doesn’t have the time or resources to get to stuck cats. Also, many homes sit on larger lots with trees over 100 feet tall growing in the back forty and that’s where the cat had escaped to. In this case, as good as they are, fire fighters simply can’t rescue because of access and their own safety.

    Today I rescued a small, young kitty that was about 40 feet up in a fir. The family had been away (having a baby!) and when they got home, they had no idea how long their cat had been in the tree.

    My best advice from Dan has been, “Don’t let the cats take you to places not safe to climb.” He’s right – as much as your cat wants to be rescued, there’s the chance it’s in a tree not safe to get in. Today’s tree was very close to some power lines and a very busy road, but fortunately the situation was safe to be able to climb with caution.

    Best part of the story? When I started climbing up to get Pogo, he started to climb down – we met half way, and he jumped onto my chest with a big hug!

    Don’t worry kitties, I’m on my way!

  • Gardening with Puppies – Late May P’update

    May 27, 2011
    Kula In the Off Limits Area Considering a Snack from the Honeybees

    Kula In the Off Limits Area Considering a Snack from the Honeybees

    Well, Kula has discovered some fun, bad-dog pastimes in her garden: eating honeycomb & larvae, smashing shrubs while making out,  breaking & entering, and digging new trenches.

    Yep, for such a good girl, she’s got a bad streak in her. Well, maybe it isn’t really being bad. She’s really just doing what dogs do….

    As for eating the bee wax…well, Corky cleaned out the bee hives and left the scraped wax on the ground for the bees to forage and recycle. The puppy smelled it, passed into that previously off-limits area and ate a belly full of wax and larvae. And, she paid for it later when it came back out both ends. (Lucky me! I was traveling, so my hubby got to clean that mess up.)

    A Smashed Margarite Keeps on Bloomin!

    A Smashed Margarite Keeps on Bloomin!

    And heck, now that she’d figured out she could get into the beehive area, I’m sure she thought digging a hole for the bees would be a great idea. They do, afterall, love to sip up water from moist soil. What Kula didn’t bargain for was that the bees would converge on her hole while she was digging it, stinging her furiously excavating paws darn good. She came in limping that day, but one antihistamine and a good nap later, and she was rarin’ to go again.

    Oh, and those training wheel shrubs I planted a few weeks ago? Well, a few are looking like bloomin’ pink pancakes after Kula decided to sit on them as she stuck her tongue through the fence to make out with her golden lab boyfriend next door. And when he came over to play, well, a few more went splat.

    So am I mad? Nah. It’s just what happens in the puppy garden…

  • Trying Training Wheel Shrubs for Pups

    May 03, 2011
    Pretty Pink Margarites -- Will they Last 'til Frost in the Puppy's Garden?

    Pretty Pink Margarites -- Will they Last 'til Frost in the Puppy's Garden?

    So far Kula the puppy has been pretty great about the garden. She hasn’t destroyed the tender perennials coming up from the soil, and her brief period of digging has passed (for now). She seems content to hang out in the very small portion of the garden I’ve designated “the dog zone”. I’ve decided if she destroys this little area that’s about 10′ x 20′, that’s her prerogative — as long as she leaves the rest of the garden for me to cultivate. Still, I can’t resist the urge to pretty it up just a bit with a few training wheel plants.

    Since I know she chews on everything in her garden, I’ve long since removed the more toxic perennials like foxglove and bella donna lilies. Since she does have to walk in this area — often at a crazed puppy run — I removed all the other tender perennials she might trample. After that, all that was left was a tiny potty area that some might call a decrepit lawn, some Euonymus being trained vertically to cover a fence, a Pee Gee Hydrangea standard and some groundcover. Yeah, kinda ugly. So, in come the cheap training plants.

    Margarite daisy is an evergreen, flowering shrub in warmer climates. Here in Seattle, it goes down hard with the first frost. But it’s a tough as nails summer bloomer  — available in white, pink and yellow — that requires very little attention. It’s a bit rubbery, so it moves nicely. And, if any of its more brittle stems get broken (by a playful puppy, for instance), the plant usually bounces back fast. So, I chose it for this puppy garden of experimentation. At about $4 each for a full size 1 gallon plant, I picked up about a dozen of them at my horticulture alma mater‘s plant sale last week, and into the garden they went on Sunday.

    Here it is Tuesday, and so far so good. She hasn’t started digging in the soil I disturbed while planting. (That in itself is pretty amazing.) And, when she began playing fetch in her garden after I’d finished planting, we realized she liked to jump over the shrubs rather than plough right through them like every other dog we’ve ever had has done.

    Margarite Training Wheels - Delicious for Doggies?

    Margarite Training Wheels - Delicious for Doggies?

    Now, let’s be realistic. Kula will have lumbering buddy dogs over to play. And most of her buds are boys, so odds are these pretty pink plants are going to have pee burns on one side. The other side will be broken off during a game of chase. Soon, rather than a nicely lined path, I’ll have one or two random, polka dot looking shrubs in between the path to the garage and the dead lawn she pees on. But, in the end, these plants really are annuals. They won’t live past late October unless Mother Nature surprises us with some new form of fall weather.

    So, I don’t care if the dogs trash these training plants. (Or, I’ll say I don’t care and quietly mourn each one that falls apart at the next canine garden party Kula hosts.)  Even as the plants break and die, I’ll throw the fetching rings and watch Kula romp and enjoy her tiny space in my otherwise lush, lovely (weedy) garden. And, who knows, maybe these training wheels will teach us something. Maybe shrubs won’t be the right choice for her play area; maybe we’ll end up covering all of it with chips next year and be done with it. Or maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to have a dog and a tender garden living happily together beautifully.

    Stay tuned…more hot, panting puppy action coming your way when summer arrives. Pretty sure this girl is going to be funny playing in the sprinklers given her love of all things water!

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