Archive for March, 2013

Tripod Orchard Ladder

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013
Tripod Ladder

Tripod Ladder

I’ve wanted an orchard ladder for a long time and I finally got one.  They are also called fruit picking ladders or tripod ladders, but there are other tripod ladders out there that are not designed specifically as orchard ladders.  The better orchard ladders are lightweight aircraft aluminum and the good manufacturers are just about all on the west coast.  That makes it a problem if you are not located near a major fruit growing industry.  These ladders are not available everywhere, and the shipping costs for a single ladder can be more than the cost of the ladder itself.

The ladder in the picture is made by a company called Tallman Ladders  out of Hood River, Oregon.  My internet searching had already convinced me Tallman was among the best ladders available, and when they responded to my quote request by telling me they had a dealer in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, I was pretty sure it was going to be a Tallman Ladder for me.  I contacted the local dealer, whose family business is a cherry orchard, the ladders are a sideline.  He quoted me a price that was almost $150 less than if I had a single ladder shipped from the west coast.  The next day, I drove to the dealer, 16 miles away, and returned home with my new 10′ tripod ladder.

I got to try the ladder out Saturday afternoon and Sunday.  I trimmed my two dwarf pear trees and started to work on my four dwarf apples.  My only regret is that I did not buy one of these ladders 20 years ago.  The footing with these is rock solid.  There is no wobble at all, and the three point structure with a single pole third leg allows the user to get the ladder much closer to the work than with a standard four-point ladder.   It makes the work of pruning, and I’m sure spraying, other tree maintenance and harvesting, easier, faster, and safer.

This ladder should last me the rest of my gardening career and I’m looking forward to spending much more time working on my fruit trees than I have in the past.

Roasted Red Peppers – Ajvar – with Neufchâtel/Feta Cheese Spread

Saturday, March 16th, 2013
Ajvar with cheese spread

Ajvar with cheese spread

I first tried canned, or shall I say jarred, ajvar many years ago at a potluck.  Since then our friend Michael Ball has developed his own recipe and it is his potluck specialty.

This Turkish dish has many versions and can also include roasted eggplant.  Served with a Neufchâtel/Feta cheese spread on a sourdough baguette it makes a wonderful appetizer or midday snack.

Here is my version:


4 red sweet bell peppers (I have also used ripe red Anaheims for a spicier version)

Broil the peppers in the oven or roast on the grill, turning them frequently.  They should be blackened or blistered all over without burning all the way through the flesh.  This should take about 10-15 minutes.  Remove from heat and cover with foil or slide tray into a brown paper bag to steam for 15 minutes.  Peel off the skins and remove seeds.  Dice the peppers.  (If I have enough ripe peppers from our fall garden I roast, peel, dice and freeze a cup or so in baggies.  Then thaw and make the spread.)

Mix the peppers, about 1 cup or more, with:

3-4 T. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1-2 T. Balsamic Vinegar

2 cloves garlic, minced

Marinate for an hour or two.

Neufchâtel/Feta Cheese Spread

4 oz Neufchâtel

2-4 oz feta

Bring cheeses to room temperature and mash together.

Spread cheese mixture on baguette slices or whole grain crackers (as shown), top with marinated peppers and enjoy!

Note:  All the amounts of the ingredients are subjective.  Please adjust quantities to your taste.

Stopping Leaf Cutting Ants

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Last month I noticed that a two foot section of sugar snap peas had been cut down almost to the ground.  I inspected the damage expecting to see evidence of squirrels or some other mammal, but instead discovered that my arch-nemesis, the leaf cutting ant, had returned.  I saw them methodically carrying away pieces of pea leaves, bigger than their own bodies.

I have a leaf cutting ant nest somewhere on my property, probably underneath my front porch.  I can’t determine the exact location of the nest because their tunnels can extend a hundred feet or more.  I’ve written about the ants before here, and have mostly learned to live with them.  They remain dormant most of the time, but make appearances several times a year.   Each time that they emerge they choose one type of plant to eat, ignoring the other vegetation.  This time it was peas.

Pea stalks chewed off about four inches high.

Peas plants damaged by leaf cutting ants.

Because the ants don’t actually eat the leaves, but instead use them to grow fungus, most insect controls don’t work on them.  For example, both Noel and I have had excellent results spraying neem oil on our plants to control leaf eating insects.  But for the neem to be effective, the insects must ingest it.  This doesn’t happen with the ants.

Luckily this time I noticed the ant outbreak before they had destroyed all of the peas.  I found that they had only tunneled into the pea bed in one location.  I poured orange oil into the hole.  I returned to the bed two days later and did not see any further damage.  I did, however, find about a dozen ants wandering around the bed still carrying now shriveled pieces of leaf.  Apparently I had severed their only connection with the mother colony.

Small hole in soil.

Leaf cutting ant tunnel entrance.

I won one round in my struggle with the ants.  But I know that they will be back.  And from past experience, I also know that they usually get what they want.