Category Archives: dogs

Tales from The Mountain Gardener

In celebration of my 600th column for The Press Banner here are some amusing highlights from the past 12 years including some featuring my sidekick Sherman. My springer spaniel has been part of many of my adventures or should I say misadventures and I suspect his collaboration will continue.

The author in her own garden

Time flies when you’re having a good time and that’s exactly how I feel writing my 600th column for the Press Banner. It all started back in Oct. 2005 when I wrote my first column about the benefits of fall planting and this unique area we call home. Since then I’ve covered everything from attracting birds to zucchini pollination and barely touched on all the gardening tips and advice that you might find useful.

Gardeners love to swap stories and I’m no exception. I remember helping someone with a planting plan.They were quite pleased with their new garden but the next time I saw them they told me the husband had pulled out a whole section of plants that turned red and then died. They wanted help to uncover the possible cause. I laughed when he showed me the plant tag from one the victims. They were Japanese barberries that turn red before losing their leaves in the fall. Guess that’s a lesson for us all. A gardener needs patience and a sense of humor.

Years ago I took a trip to Guatemala, Honduras and Utila, an island off the coast of Honduras. It was on Utila that I saw plants growing in washing machine baskets. I thought it was a clever way to re-use old appliances but wondered why there were so many old washing machines on a tiny island. A local laughed and told me the baskets protect their plants from the big blue crabs that come out at night. Seems the crabs will sever the stem right at ground level and drag the whole plant into their hole. Also the baskets protect the plants from the iguanas who will eat anything within two feet of the ground. And you thought deer, gophers and rabbits were a problem?

Sherman, moss eater.

I moved up to Bonny Doon a couple years ago. The existing garden has some beautiful old rock walls created from many varieties of fieldstone and covered with moss. Another section has a new concrete block retaining wall lacking any character. So when fall weather arrived I scraped off some moss from the old wall and mixed it with buttermilk hoping to spruce up the plain wall when the moss took hold.

With bucket and 4 inch paintbrush in hand I tackled the new wall slapping on the moss slurry with abandon just before the winter rains started. I had almost completed my project and looked back to admire my work imagining how beautiful the wall would look covered with dark green moss.

What I didnít count on was Sherman, my Welsh springer spaniel. He had been following me licking off most of the buttermilk. I added hot sauce to the remainder of the slurry but that barely slowed him down. The rain washed off most of the mixture so there is only a smattering of moss here and there on the new wall but itís a start. Hope springs eternal for a gardener.

I always make the most of any excursion. You donít have to go to an island off Honduras to find interesting solutions to gardening challenges.

Perennial garden in Poland

The gardens in eastern Poland were spectacular. The soil here, deposited by glaciers, is rich with sediment and nutrients. Sunflowers border neat plots of cabbage, beets, potatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and leeks. Black-eyed Susan cover the hillsides with swaths of gold blooms. Berries such as currants, blueberry, blackberry and raspberry are grown in large plots and fenced with wire. Every 10 feet or so plastic bags are attached and wave in the breeze. I was told this keeps the wild boar, roe and red deer at bay.

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Manís Best Friend Detects Deadly Citrus Disease

The author and Sherman, a Welsh Springer Spaniel, at the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve. Photo by Tom Trower
The author and Sherman, a Welsh Springer Spaniel, at the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve. Photo by Tom Trower

If you have a pet dog it’s no secret that they are always happy to see you. Dogs provide us with companionship. They love us unconditionally and never seem to have a bad day. Their ability to read human gestures is remarkable. Even our closest relatives- chimpanzees and bonobos- can’t read our gestures as readily as dogs can. They pay attention to us as human infants do. This accounts for the extraordinary communication we have with our dogs. Some dogs are so attune to their owners that they can read a gesture as subtle as a change in eye direction.

Another picture of Sherman Ďcuz heís just so cute. Dressed up for the Fourth of July.


Studies have shown that dogs were the first animal that humans started keeping as pets. No one can pinpoint the exact date, but estimates range from roughly 13,000 to 30,000 years ago. Archaeologists can tell domesticated canines apart from wolves through skeletal differences. The earliest dog bones, discovered in Belgium in 2008 are from 31,700 years ago. Ancient dog skeletons have also been unearthed near Ukraine and elsewhere across Europe, Asia and Australia, suggesting that canine domestication was a widespread phenomenon.

How did dogs become domesticated in the first place? The first ones were basically just tame wolves. Instead of the survival of the leanest and meanest wolf it came down to survival of the friendliest around the garbage pile at the edge of human settlements. Aggressive wolves would have been killed by the humans. Friendliness caused strange things to happen in the wolves. They started to look different. They no longer needed strong jaws and sharp teeth. Their noses got smaller, their ears floppy and they evolved the ability to read human gestures.

Fast forward to 2016 when the California Dept of Food and Agriculture reported in their ‘Food and Farming News’ that dogs are being enlisted to help protect citrus trees. Mary Palm, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) national coordinator for the citrus pest program, said dogs have been successfully trained to detect canker disease and now Huanglongbing or greening disease in citrus.

Espalier lemon
Espalier lemon

Huanglongbing or greening disease (HLB) is a deadly bacterial disease that has decimated the citrus industry across the world. The USDA has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars looking for a cure. In California, nearly one-third of the state’s entire land mass or 21 counties are in quarantine for the bug- the Asian citrus psyllid- that can spread the disease HLB in citrus groves. The quarantine requires that fruit moved from those areas be free of leaves and stems and movement is restricted of any nursery stock that isn’t grown in a USDA-approved facility. In addition to many Southern and Central California counties, San Fransisco, Alameda, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties are also under quarantine.

Dogs have long been known to be able to use their senses to detect things that humans require extensive technology to detect. ďOver the past four to five years,”Ě Palm said, ďa researcher in Florida first determined dogs could actually detect citrus canker. They were very good at it.”Ě Through research funded by USDA, there are now five dogs trained and tested daily to detect huanglongbing disease. Palm said in the next year or two certification criteria will be in place for other companies to train dogs and certify them as detectors. The dogs in this program have a 99 percent success rate at detecting HLB disease in blind studies.

So when you’re petting man’s best friend tonight appreciate all the great things he does for you and for our planet. What would the world be like without lemons and oranges?