Friday, July 24, 2009

Spa Water, Rabbit Poop & Jumping Beans: Ask the Snarky Farmer!

 Fridays, we dive into that digital cauldron of hot topics known as... Ask the Snarky Farmer!

     Bill asks: "Can I used the water I am draining from my hot tub to water plants? Of course it has chlorine or bromine in it, or perhaps some other pool treatment chemicals. Will these wreak havoc on plants? It seems a shame to just drain this water into the storm drain."

     Good question! I drain my hot tub onto my lawn and rose bushes; I've been doing that for over 10 years. No problem!* HOWEVER....I   do let the water cool before emptying the spa; and, I make sure there are no detectable traces of chlorine/bromine on the test strips. Here is some advice from the Association of Spa and Pool Professionals:

"Re-use. When you do drain your spa, let it sit open for 48 to 72 hours with no new chemicals added, and then use the water on garden plants, or ask your retailer about products that neutralize   chemicals. To prevent unsupervised use, remember to make sure that proper safety barriers are in place any time that the spa safety cover is removed.
Recycle. Use captured rainwater to replace water lost to evaporation  in spas and pools or to refill a spa.
Upgrade. Spas manufactured in the last five years have new technology cleaning systems that keep the water clean much longer – up to six  months without refilling. This new technology is also available for  some older models. Your spa dealer can advise you whether you can add  this technology to your spa."

*(Mrs. Snarky Farmer adds this rejoinder: "No problem? What's that brown lawn area next to the hot tub? Why did two of the five Iceberg roses die, 15 feet away? And why are the star magnolia leaves July?!?")


     Wallace writes: "Mr. Fred, this might be a crazy question, but I am trying to get an answer. Sometimes, I get two or more fruits from the same tree and some of the fruit are not as sweet as the others from the same tree. What/why?"

     Who/Where? Without knowing the kind of fruit tree that is in question, or the location, I would suspect that the "not sweet" fruits are "not yet ripe".  It is not uncommon for fruit trees to stagger the ripening of the fruit, despite the fact that they look ripe. In the case of stone fruits, the softer fruits are usually riper, and probably sweeter, than the harder fruits. And in the case of all fruit trees, I certainly hope you are getting two or more pieces of fruit more often than "sometimes". Unless you have a kiwi, like me. Bad kiwi. (hmmm, maybe its the spa water???)


     Claudine inquires: "I  have a small front lawn where the rabbits seem to like to leave their droppings.  My lawn is turning brown where I notice the droppings,  whereas the other areas are very green.  Could this be due to their droppings or perhaps the urine or both?"

      Yes, both would be sources of "hot" nitrogen, which could burn your lawn in those spots,while greening up the surrounding area. Putting a little extra water on those hot spots might help...if you can get there in time! To give you an idea of how "hot" rabbit poop is, note its Nitrogen content compared to other animals in this chart:


Material        N%  P%   K%         Comments
Rabbit Manure (fresh)       2.4       1.4        0.6        Compost, or delay planting at least 3 wks.

Chicken Manure (fresh)    1.6       1.5        0.9        Compost, or delay planting at least 3 wks. 

Cow Manure (fresh)          0.3       0.2        0.1        Compost, or delay planting at least 3 wks. 
Horse Manure (fresh)       0.7       0.3         0.6       Compost, or delay planting at least 3 wks.              

Pig Manure (fresh)          0.5        0.3          0.5      Compost, or delay planting at least 3 wks.

Sheep Manure (fresh)      0.7        0.3         0.9      Compost, or delay planting at least 3 wks.          

Worm Castings                0.5        0.5          0.3     High in organic matter. Already Composted

Here is a link to more info about controlling 
wascally wabbits.


     Lynn in Chico writes: "Yesterday I noticed my sidewalk was dancing, sort of.  Looking closer I saw what looked like bird seed scattered, but the seeds were jumping!  I collected a few of the tiny eggs (?) and they are still jumping this morning. They can get about a half inch of air when they jump.  I assume they are some sort of bug getting ready to hatch. Most of them are on the ground under the oaks on my property.  Please let me know if they are good bugs or bad bugs."

     Those would be oak galls, not a probem. Here is more info:
Jumping Oak Galls Are Interesting and Harmless to Oak Trees

by Ed Perry,  U.C.  Farm Advisor

"If you have a Valley oak tree growing in your landscape, or if you visit one of our local parks where Valley oak trees are growing, you may notice a strange phenomenon occurring this year. The ground beneath many Valley oaks this year is covered with pinhead-sized yellow or brown seedlike objects, most of which are hopping around. The tiny things are called ìjumping oak gallsî, and are formed by a tiny, dark wasp. The wasp belongs to an interesting family of wasps called the cynipids.

"The galls are actually malformations of plant growth. The tiny gall-forming wasp lays an egg in an oak leaf at a precise moment in the treeís growth cycle, causing normal plant cells to multiply at an unusually high rate. As a result, the tiny egg becomes encased in the gall composed of oak leaf tissue.

"When the egg hatches, the gall provides both food and a living chamber for the larvae. In summer, the oak gall drops to the ground with the tiny wasp larvae inside. The insect moves in jerks, causing the entire gall to jump around on the ground. Itís believed that the larvae hop around in an attempt to find a crack in the soil to hide up in. At maturity it transforms into a pupae, and later into an adult which chews its way out of the gall. The wasps themselves are dark colored, so tiny that youíll probably never see them, and harmless to people.

"A few insect-formed plant galls are found on willow, poplar, rose and other plants, but more than 100 different kinds are found on oaks. The entire oak tree is fair game for the cynipid wasps, which form wasps on leaves, buds, twigs, branches, roots and even the acorns. Each cynipid wasp species forms a gall of particular size, shape and color; no other species forms one quite like it. Also, each one lays its eggs in a specific plant part.

"Besides the jumping oak gall, you be familiar with the common oak apple, a large gall up to three inches in diameter. These large galls are common on the deciduous Valley oaks, and contain one or more tiny cynipid wasp larva inside. You may also find a pink, star shaped gall on the undersides of Valley and blue oaks. Other galls are cone shaped, or round and fuzzy, or shped like tiny loaves of bread.

"In California, most insect caused galls are not harmful to the plant. In some cases the galls may damage leaves or even cause twigs to die. However, the insect galls cause no serious permanent injury. Because of their complex life cycle, it is very difficult to prevent cynipid wasps from forming galls; in most cases, it is unnecessary to do so."


     Keith wrote: "I am looking for a good source to identify bugs I find on my property. I would prefer pictures. Can you help?"

One of my favorite bug mugshot books is "Rodale's Color Handbook of Garden Insects." On line, try or

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