March 19, 2014


It is time for our annual home inspection for termites by our pest control company. Money well spent because I am NOT entering our home's crawl space. I saw a black snake slither into an air vent years ago and that was enough to dissuade me from becoming an exterminator wannabe.

Most homeowners suffer from some degree of termite phobia. If they hear that a neighbor has termites, they likely freak out. The sight of one tunnel is enough to cause heart palpitations. So I did a lot of online research today after receiving the annual reminder for our home inspection. As a "valued and loyal customer" for ten years, they are offering me an "exciting offer" of a free termite bait system. Won't this simply attract the termites who are already happily munching on fallen trees in my backyard?

The goal of the bait system is to first install inground termite stations to detect if we have termites tunneling near our home. And then to bait the stations with some yummy termite food that they will ingest before it slowly inhibits their molting process while they are back in their colony, passing on this substance to their fellow immature termites. Supposedly the queen and adult workers are not affected by this growth inhibitor and this process can take a long time.

In the meanwhile, the pest control company must inspect the stations regularly for termite activity. Aha! So instead of an annual inspection, I'll now need quarterly visits? Hmmmmm. Sounds like an extra expense for me. And any termites who don't find those stations can still dine on my home's wood. That doesn't sound like "long term protection" for my home to me. But it does sound like a cash cow for pest control companies.

And can't these stations simply detect termites that were not interested in my home anyway? Renegades from my neighbors' yards? Perhaps the same rationale for NOT using Japanese beetle traps should apply with termites. Will they simply attract nearby termites?

Sure wish that a good alternative to Chlordane had been developed! 

March 11, 2014

Voles are a curse

How can one to two ounce rodents cause so much angst? Voles eat the roots of plants and even small trees. Their burrows in lawns can turn an ankle too. A recent headline proclaimed that the polar vortex would curtail certain invasive insects such as ash borers. So I had hoped that our freezing temps over the last few months might have curtailed them. 

But it seems the dreaded voles just burrow down for the winter and hang out under the frost line in the soil which isn't very low in these parts.

As their breeding season approaches, we might see even more vole damage. They are now waking up and these critters are very prolific. Up to ten litters each year! And they can survive for 15-19 months. 

We have tried traps and baits to control their numbers. But raccoons and possums have learned how to spring the traps and enjoy the peanut butter. We applied castor oil based mole repellent to our yard a few weeks ago to send them retreating to a neighbor's yard, but they don't seem to get the idea. It seems like a futile battle.

One somewhat successful approach is to spread diatomaceous products in the hole as you plant new plantings. Moles' sensitive snouts find the diatoms annoying. But most gardeners find moles even more annoying.

Coal ash spill followup

The early February coal ash spill in North Carolina from a Duke Energy coal ash storage area is finally getting the attention of Virginia official and nearby residents. That 70 mile polluted section of the Dan River is a drinking water source for a lot of people. Coal ash contains mercury, lead and arsenic. So worries are not unwarranted. 

Just last week, a federal judge ordered Duke Energy to eliminate sources of groundwater contamination at its coal ash dumps. Duh. Should not this have been a requirement PRIOR to the power plant's beginning? It sure looks like a too cozy relationship may exist between Duke and the regulatory agencies to a lot of folks.

March 1, 2014

Golf greens not so green?

Feast or famine? The headlines about the ongoing drought in Southern California are now gone, replaced by dire warnings about the heavy rains and possible mudslides Californians are experiencing.

But the rain is good news for the 124 golf course superintendents in the Coachella Valley of California. Their courses consume about 17 percent of the available water in their region. And one quarter of that is pumped out of their aquifer. I wondered about the source of the healthy looking greens as we played golf in the Palm Springs area last January. I did not see any signs stating that they were "watered by reclaimed water" as I have seen on Florida courses.

Statewide, about 1 percent of California's water keeps their fairways green. But desert courses consume about 1 million gallons DAILY. That is three or four times what the average U.S. course uses.

Dominion lines to go over the James River

Over the River and through the woods,
With power lines we go!

I just read that Virginia's SCC ( State Corporation Commission) approved Dominion Power's plan to install the 500kV power line across the James River. That's the historic James that John Smith and friends sailed up in 1607. True, portions of the James do not appear as pristine as during Smith's time. But that particular section is still quite beautiful, especially the area along the Colonial Williamsburg Parkway. The "ghost fleet" of mothballed Navy ships is down to a shadow of its former self.

But the opposition of Colonial Williamsburg, James City County government, the James River Association and sundry other groups did not prevail. Even the valid concerns of the BASF chemical company did not concern the wise men on the SCC. So what that the line bisects their property and makes selling any portion of it less likely. So what that BASF has been doing remediation in that area to purge chemicals from the ground and that the digging will potentially release some leftover chemicals into the James. The buried kepones on the river bottom can welcome a few more chemical buddies as they get churned up during the construction.

One small concession to those who opposed the power line for aesthetic reasons: it will not be built on huge lattice towers but on tall monopoles. 

Ah, the price of progress.