Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Ants Go Marching . . .

I've decided to go with Grover*.

Grover's* the rep for the third pest control company I called yesterday. He came late in the forenoon today, as appointed. For the third time, I conducted the tour: Little ants in the kitchen, big ants in the woodpile, big dumb solitary bees or wasps in the vegetable garden pavement.

Grover* saw the kitchen ants and said, "Those are pavement ants." Oh. Not Pharaoh ants, or sugar ants, or little black ants. Pavement ants.

He saw the carpenter ants on the woodpile. Yep, they're there, got to be taken care of.

Then on some hunch or other, he headed for the far northeast corner of my backyard, to the Norway maple. He went round the back of it, and found the old wound that faces the fence, which I never pay attention to. "You've got carpenter ants in this tree, too."

I certainly did, a whole squadron of the half-inch-long critters, busily scurrying up and down the bark to some unseen nest above. There were so many, my dog stared at them, standing at point.

Then I asked about the whatever-they-ares hovering over their holes in the garden paving.

"They're definitely not hornets or yellowjackets," said Grover*. "See, they're solitary. They're not aggressive at all." And I guess they weren't, considering we were standing practically right on top of their nests, with them flying around our ankles.

So I'm going to leave the solitary bees/wasps in the garden alone.

But the ants are another story. A war story, in this case. The best weapon of choice seems to be a slow-working residual chemical that the ants will track right down into the nests, where it'll stunt and stop the growth of the young and finally kill the adults.

It's cruel and heartless I am, sure, but it's not that I love the little ants less, but that I love my house more.

Grover's* price for an initial treatment plus three more applied quarterly came in right in between the bids I got from Bert* and Ernie* yesterday. He asked me if the way high bid was Bert's*.

"Yes, it was," said I.

"They're always high. And it's amazing how many people believe it has to be that expensive, because they don't get a second or third bid."

And Ernie's*? I think his was way too low. No way those insects could be taken care of in one or two visits.

Besides, Ernie* said I had Pharaoh ants in the kitchen, and I looked it up and they're not Pharaoh ants at all. Pharaoh ants are yellowish or reddish tan, and practically transparent. Mine are opaque and shiny black. And Pharaoh ants are, as I read it, panic-in-the-streets difficult to get rid of. And known disease carriers. So I have to wonder about Ernie's* cheerful attitude yesterday when he told me that's what I had marching through my pantry.

Anyway, Grover's* coming late morning on Monday to engage in Stage 1 of Operation Stash the Frass. I see it as an act of altruism: Not only will killing off the carpenter ants benefit me, it'll also do a good turn to my neighbors: Their house is all of wood.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bugged and Buzzed

True confession: For the past few weeks I've been waging war against little black ants in my kitchen.

I've put down diatomaceous earth on their trails and around the house. I've scattered the Amdro ant block baits here and there.

And there's a lot fewer than there were, but by ones and twos, I still have them.

And then, out in my vegetable garden, I have some sort of hornet or wasp or bee infesting my cobblestone paving. They're there every year, from June to September, at least. I see more and more holes in the sand between the stones, and even so holes in the garden soil itself. These insects seem to be rather aimless and daft, buzzing in circles a few inches to a foot above the pavement, especially when it's sunny and bright. They don't like rain, or even shade, and go in when it's cloudy or wet.

Me, I go in when they're out. I don't want to risk weeding or cultivating or harvesting while they're up and active.

So between the ants and the hormuts, I called in an exterminator today to see what I needed to do.

Guy comes this noon. Call him Bert*. Checked out the ant problem in the kitchen (didn't see any at the time, but I let him know what I see). Out in the backyard, Bert* makes a beeline (lol!) for my woodpile, next to the wood board fence. Oh, fun, here's a problem I didn't anticipate: I have carpenter ants in the woodpile. Yeah, I saw one. Yeah, they're bad news for wood, and saying I have a brick house doesn't make me immune. Or the neighbors, either.

Carpenter ants have to be dealt with, regardless. And the pile has powderpost beetles, too.

Bert* the exterminator guy looks at my hornet problem in the vegetable garden. Says, "That's ground bees."

Says, "It'll be $225 to get rid of the carpenter ants, and another $50 for the kitchen ants and the ground bees. Then we'll come back every thirty days until winter, then pick up again next spring, for six more applications at $78 each."

Bert's* a nice guy. Buys a couple of my green Brandywine tomatoes off me. But we're definitely into "get a couple more estimates" territory. I tell him I'll let him know: I have to finish killing the spurge in the garden paving and unloading the woodpile onto my friend Steve* (who has a thing for burning wood outside) before anything can be done, anyway.

I call exterminator guy No. 2. Ernie* arrives about an hour after Bert* leaves. Ernie* does get a keek at the ants in the kitchen: "Those are Pharaoh ants. They're unusual around here." But he tells me how he can be a modern chemical Moses, driving the forces of Egypt into the Red Sea, or at least out of my house.

Out we go to the backyard. Ernie* sees evidence of the powderpost beetles in the woodpile. Doesn't see the carpenter ants. I tell him I definitely have seen them, so he has to take my word for it.

We look at the vegetable garden. Ernie* takes a look at the hovering creatures and says, "You have solitary wasps. Look at all the holes. They're really difficult to get rid of."

Ernie's* also a nice guy. I put him in touch with a man I know who keeps bees, since he often has to call on local beekeepers to come remove honeybee colonies, since by law he's not allowed to exterminate them. Ernie says he'll take care of it all for $100, plus $25 if a follow-up visit is needed. "But it shouldn't be."

Now I'm confused. Bert* seems very confident, and wants to charge me a total of $743 over the next nine or ten months, and Ernie* says it'll be difficult but tells me $125 over two applications will take care of it.

And ground bees or solitary wasps or ground-nesting hornets, what do I have?

So I take up the Yellow Pages and call yet another exterminator. I put in my name, and a couple hours later, I get a call from Grover*. He's coming late tomorrow morning. But over the phone, he figures it won't run more than $200 to deal with it all.

However. The kitchen ants, Pharaoh, suger, or little black, we wants dem gone. Ditto their carpenter cousins. But the winged critters in the vegetable garden-- I need to find out exactly what they are.

Because when I look up "ground bees" and "solitary wasps" on the Internet, I've told a) they're harmless to people; neither of them sting unless you step on them or bottle them in your hand; b) they're essential for pollination and to keep down harmful insects; and c) one should let them alone and coexist with them.

Okay . . . but what if I do have some kind of nasty, vicious hornet out there?

Maybe I should get my friend who keeps bees to come take a look, before I do anything at all.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Kitchen Faucet Chronicle, Part 2

My friend Steve* came over this morning, children Stevie* and Letitia* in tow, to finish installing my kitchen faucet.

The supply lines he got at Lowe's yesterday fit fine. Unfortunately, the ferrules that came with them were too long.

The three of them departed to see a cartoon movie at the mall, and I went out and pulled weeds in my garden to console myself-- sob!-- for having to bear another two hours of no water supply in the kitchen.

Back they came sometime after noon, the kids bearing crumbly snacks and news about the movie (The Pebble and the Penguin) and Steve with the right-length ferrules.

And hurray! My new faucet is installed and working!

Steve* told me, "There's a little water down here. I didn't have it tightened enough at first, and it sprayed a little."

Right, right, whatever. I'm sure it's good now.

So, after we raided my garden for lettuce and celery for them to take home, I saw the family off and went to enjoy my new faucet. Ran the water and experimented with the spray feature and oh, boy, it actually works!

But it was still grotty in the cabinet underneath. Took an old towel to wipe it out.

Oh my gosh, this is sopping! Do I have a leak? And there's drips running down the lines, too! Should I phone Steve* and ask him to come back?

Steady on, Kate. Easiest solutions first. He did say it'd sprayed some, right?

Right. Wiped up the water on the cabinet bottom, wiped off all the hoses and lines. Turned on the water. No drips, no leaks. Huzzah!

But no way I could just put my soap and cleaners and sponges and all back in. The cabinet bottom would have to be painted first.

Dilemma: Down the basement, I had white latex paint, but couldn't find the latex primer. I had oil-based primer, but no oil-based paint. Something would have to be purchased, regardless. Decided with the ever-present chance of moisture, I'd go for oil-based.

And I'd do it tonight. Off on an emergency run to Lowe's! Where I bought the very last quart can of semi-gloss oil-based paint! (Apparently the Pennsylvania EPA's banning the sale of it after the end of this year.) And a quart can of latex primer, just-in-case!

Home again, I open the can of oil-based primer. It was left by my Previous Owners. Or maybe by their Previous Owners.

Can this primer be saved?

I think not.

Oh, well. I've decided the paint needs tinted to match the cabinet fronts anyway. I'll take off a door and bring it in to Lowe's with the paint tomorrow.

Besides, I have to return the can of latex primer. I found mine. Almost full. Under my nose. Right on my workbench.

Does Lowe's have some sort of cabinet thingy where I can safely store my brain?

Crape Myrtle Watch, 080709

I decided not to do another crape myrtle update until something started to Happen.

Today, I notice, something has.

See if you can spot it. Here's "New Orleans" No. 1 . . .

And "New Orleans" No. 2 . . .

And the "Pixie White" . . .

And the "Bayou Marie" (which is supposed to be the biggest, so how come it's the wimpiest of the lot?) . . .

Did ya spot it? Look back at "New Orleans" No. 2 . . .

It's got buds!!

So does the No. 1, for that matter. But not so many.

In a few days I'll be able to see if the grower labelled them right. I really hope both those N.O.s come out purple. It'd be so tedious to have to complain . . .

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Kitchen Faucet Chronicle, Part 1

About sixteen and a half months ago, I hied me to my area Home Depot and purchased a new American Standard single-handled faucet for my kitchen sink.

This was to replace the old Price Pfister single-handled faucet that was on the sink when I bought the house five years ago, and which, alas! leaked so badly that the borough water board suggested it might explain why my bill was up in the winter, a time whose voice doth not call forth the watering of lawns.

A year or two before that, the plumber who came to replace my water heater gave me a price to put it in, if I bought the faucet myself.

So as of March 2007 I'd found the faucet, but it languished in the dark depths of my basement workshop for many months, first because I was contemplating replacing the kitchen sink at the same time, and then because there was not money lying around to pay plumbers for work that was not an emergency.

A few weeks ago, Steve*, the husband of my friend Hannah*, offered to install my new faucet for me. Steve's* adventures working on two separate houses would make great house bloggery, if he had the time.

He does not have the time, and for a long while, he didn't have the time to come install my faucet, either.

But at last, the great event was set for 9:00 this morning. Huzzah!

Which turned into 10:30, because Steve* was delayed at the scrap metal dealers, driving a bargain for various pieces of copper and so on removed from his own house. Heralded by ferociously hospitable barking by my dog, he arrived and set to work.

The old faucet, long past its time. It leaked around its base, as you can see, and the water spread between the sink and the backsplash, and thence around each side of the sink onto the countertop, and also . . .

. . . down under the sink. Behold, the vile wet mess below-- discreetly covered over by USA Today, but still displaying where a cellulose sponge stuck to the cabinet floor surface.

The old faucet refused to let itself be unscrewed in the normal fashion. Fittings were too corroded.

While Steve* went over the installation instructions for the new American-Standard faucet, I worked diligently to get the old lime build-up off the back rim of my stainless steel sink. It was worth it, even if the new escutcheon would have covered a lot of it.

The new faucet is seated in place. I played plumber's assistant while Steve* tightened it down. More than once, I might add, because the first time I realized it was swinging all the way over the counter. When it comes to stray water, this would not have been an improvement.

But alas! The work could not be completed today. The existing water lines were not compatible with those of the new faucet. Steve* pledged to pick up the right ones at the local Lowe's, and return to finish the job tomorrow.

By then, the cabinet under the sink will still be vile, but not so wet.

To be continued . . .

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Call of Nature

As a Great Blogger has said in another place, tending the garden, while rendering satisfaction to the gardener, does not make for entertaining blog posts.

And tending the garden is what I have been involved in, lo, these many days.

So I thought I'd post a few photies to show where it stands (and grows) as of today:
The vegetable garden is planted and growing. Unfortunately, so is the spurge and purslane in the cobblestone path.

The broccoli is beginning to form heads. This one is about an inch and a half across.

The sedum and whatever that purple stuff is I got from my friend Steve's* mom has established itself happily, and the hostas are trying to take over the world. (They may look like flower stalks, but they're actually secret devices for communicating with the Mother Plant.)

The impatiens and vincas are planted all around the maple tree, and the grass I seeded in about a month ago is actually growing. It'll look even more impressive (to me, at least!) when it gets thick enough to cover the straw mulch. No, I do not have dead yellow patches anymore!

And this evening I removed yet another three or so loads of landscape rock from the east border. There's still rock-- and landscape fabric-- under that mass of ajuga. Need to decide where to move it to. Too tired to think about it tonight.

On Tuesday, there just may be something happening here worth houseblogging about. Stay tuned.