Saving the Bees

The ponds at Finch Frolic Garden are cleaned by fish and plants, with no chemicals, algaecide, artificial aeration or filtration.  Well-balanced water allows wildlife to thrive.

The ponds at Finch Frolic Garden are cleaned by fish and plants, with no chemicals, algaecide, artificial aeration or filtration. Well-balanced water allows wildlife to thrive.

I should have more accurately called this post, Saving All the Insects, or even Saving the Wildlife, because the answer to saving one is the answer to saving them all. We’ve been inundated for years – my whole lifetime, in fact, – with pleas to save our environment, stop whale slaughter, stop polluting, etc.  I remember winning a poster contest in fifth grade on the subject of curtailing littering.  Since Rachel Carson’s books woke people up to the hazards of DDT and how chemicals have many deadly side effects there has been a grassroots effort to stop the pollution.  Since Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth came out the push for environmentally friendly lights, cars, LEED-certified buildings and many more positive anti-climate-change actions have grown furiously.  Too bad no one listened to him decades before.  A drop in the economy and the radical change in weather patterns have people exploring organics, making their own clothes and foods, changing their shopping habits and thinking about what they are bringing into their homes.  However, this week the World Wildlife Fund released the staggering results of a study that states that between the years 1970 and 2010, 52% of the world’s animal populations are  gone.  Over half.  Gone.  On our watch.  In my lifetime. I am stunned with shame.  So what about the next 40 years?  Over 97% of California wetlands are already gone.  There are only 3% left in Los Angeles.  The Colorado River hasn’t met the ocean for decades, except briefly last year due to major earthworks.  We are pumping all that  water overland, open to the sun for evaporation,  to treatment plants that fill it with chlorine and other chemicals, then sell it to us to spray over lawns and flush down the toilet or let run down the drain while the water heats up.  It is madness.  All  the wildlife that depended upon the Colorado River along that stretch are gone.  All the insects, the frogs, lizards, birds, mammals, etc. that need a clean drink of water no longer have  access  to it.  The only water they can drink is usually chlorinated domestic water in ponds and bird baths.  Too often this water is treated with algaecide, which claims it doesn’t hurt frogs but it does kill what the frogs feed upon.  We are killing our animals with poisoned domestic water.dry_colorado_new[1]

One of the largest reasons we have extinctions in North America is mismanagement of rainwater in drylands (other than polluting the waters. Poaching, over-fishing, destruction of habitat and climate change are the main reasons).  We have cleared and flattened the ground, and channel rainwater off into the ocean.  Look around at your streets and houses.  Are they harvesting water or channeling it?  Any property that is slanted is channeling water away.  Any property that is level – like the bottom of swales – is harvesting water.  So many properties are inundated with annual rains because there is no water harvesting above them.  When you harvest water, it runs into rain catchment basins and swales instead of roaring down the hillside taking all the topsoil with it.  Water becomes passive and percolates down deeply into the soil.  That deep saturation draws tree roots down into the ground.  The roots break up hardpan, make oxygen and nutrient channels into the dirt and produce exudates  (sugars, carbohydrates and starches) through their roots to attract and feed the billions of microbes that turn your dirt into rain-holding soil.  That underground plume of rainwater then slowly passes through your soil, re-enervating subterranean waterways, refilling your wells and bringing long-dry streambeds back to life.  We must harvest rainwater to save our animals and plants, and consequently ourselves.  We must reestablish sources of clean, unpolluted chemical-free water for animals to eat and from which to drink.

Healthy pond water is off-color due to tannins, and is filled with tiny creatures.  Some such as daphnia are visible, but just like soil microbes, many aquatic creatures are microscopic.  Fish and frogs feast from this level of the food chain, and these creatures make the water balanced.  They eat mosquito eggs.  They clean up algae.  They are as vitally important as soil microbes.  Oh, and 83% of the frogs are gone.

I spoke with Quentin Alexander from  HiveSavers today; he performs humane bee rescue around the San Diego area and has been trying to re-queen Africanized hives with calmer European queens which will breed nicer behavior back into the bees rather  than having to kill the entire hive.  He has had no luck in the past two  years with European queens, even those bred in California.  With very little wetlands left, and those often sprayed with DEET by Vector Control, or polluted with chemical fertilizers and oils washed out of front yards, streets and driveways, these insects must resort to drinking from swimming pools and bird baths.  Again, these contain highly chlorinated water.  Animals are being forced to drink poison, or not drink at all.

We MUST stop using chemicals on our properties, and we MUST harvest rainwater.  We MUST stop spraying well water into the air but irrigate with it in dripper form under mulch so that it is cycled back into the ground rather than evaporated.  One inch of rain on one acre in one hour is 27,154 gallons of water!  It is so easy to harvest rainwater – dig level-bottomed swales!  Dig small ones with a trowel.  Fire up the tractor and turn road ways into swales, or cross-cut vertical paths with swales that have dedicated overflows.  Dig rain catchment basins to catch a flow of water.  Catch water as high up on your property as you can.  If you have level soil, fantastic!  You have it so easy!  Make gentle swales, rain gardens, rain catchment areas and sunken gardens to catch and percolate the water.  Bury old wood perpendicular to water flow – its called hugelkultur

Please watch this six-minute video by Geoff Lawton of the Permaculture Design Institute of Australia.  You need to type in your name and email, but they don’t sell your information nor do they bug you with lots of emails.  Here  is the link.  The title is Finding An Oasis in the American Desert, and it is about the Roosevelt swales dug during the dust bowl in the desert.  If nothing that I say, nor anyone else says can convince you, then please watch this and see the effectiveness of rain harvesting.  We MUST do this, and now before the rains come is the time.  Catch all the water that falls on your property in the soil, and try to catch the water that runs into it.  If there are flood waters channeled through your property, see if you can talk to the people who own land above you about harvesting water up there.  It will reduce the flooding, save topsoil and benefit everyone’s property.  Work towards keeping rainwater in your soil, reducing your domestic water, and making what streambeds are left come back to life.  Keep our old trees from dying by watering deeply through rain catchment.  If you have a pond or swimming pool and treat it with harsh chemicals and algaecides, seek out a natural pond professional.  In the San Diego – Los Angeles region there is Bob Lloyd of PuraVida Aquatics, or Jacob Hatch of Hatch Aquatics.  Jacob builds natural ponds and maintains large natural waterways.  Bob maintains chemical-free backyard and display ponds that are full of wildlife.  He can convert your pool into a clean swimming pond where the water is filtered by plants and thus is lovely year-round, provides abundant habitat and doesn’t need chemical treatments.  No chlorine to burn your skin and eyes.  How great is that? He can also create a constructed wetland that cleans your greywater with plants.

There are so many simple and inexpensive ways to harvest rainwater rather than allow it to flow into the salty ocean without penetrating the soil.  Please, please, please do them, and if you already have THANK YOU and gently encourage your neighbors to do the same.  We must stop the habitat destruction and start to rebuild what is gone.

Special Tours for Aug. and Sept., 2014

Come take a tour of a food forest!

Come take a tour of a food forest!

Normally tours of Finch Frolic Garden are held by appointment for groups of 5 – 15 people, Thursdays – Mondays.  Cost is $10 per person and the tour lasts about two hours.  By popular demand, for those who don’t have a group of five or more, we will be hosting Open Tour days for the first 15 people to sign up in August and September.   They will be Sunday, August 10 and 24, Sept. 7 and 21, and Thursdays August 7 and 28, and Sept. 11 and 25.  Tours begin promptly at 10 am.  The tours last about two hours and are classes on basic permaculture while we tour the food forest.  I ask $10 per person. Please reserve and receive directions through  Children under 10 are free; please, no pets.  Photos but no video are allowed. Thank you for coming to visit!  Diane and Miranda

Permaculture Lectures At Finch Frolic Garden, June 2014

Tour Finch Frolic Garden!

Tour Finch Frolic Garden!

Permaculture Lectures in the Garden!

Learn how to work with nature and save money too

Finch Frolic Garden and Hatch Aquatics will present four fantastic, information-filled lectures in June.  Join us at beautiful Finch Frolic Garden in Fallbrook, 4 pm to 6 pm, for refreshments and talks on…

Saturday, June 7: Introduction to Permaculture and Finch Frolic Tour: We’ll take you through the main precepts of permaculture and how it can be applied not only to your garden, but to yourself and your community.  Then we’ll tour Finch Frolic Garden and show rain catchments, swales, plant guilds, polyculture, living buildings and so much more.

Saturday, June 14: Your Workers in the Soil and Earthworks: Learn the best methods for storing water in the soil and how to replace all your chemicals with actively aerated compost tea and compost.

Saturday, June 21: Aquaculture: You can have a natural pond – even in a tub!  How natural ponds work, which plants clean water and which are good to eat.  Even if you don’t want a pond, you’ll learn exciting information about bioremediation and riparian habitat.

Saturday, June 28: Wildlife in your Garden: What are all those bugs and critters and what they are doing in your yard?  We’ll discuss how to live with wildlife and the best ways to attract beneficial species.

Your hosts and lecturers will be

Jacob Hatch  Owner of Hatch Aquatics. With years of installing and maintaining natural ponds and waterways, and a Permaculture Design Course graduate, Jacob has installed earthworks with some of the biggest names in permaculture.

Miranda Kennedy  OSU graduate of Wildlife Conservation and wildlife consultant, Miranda photographs and identifies flora and fauna and maps their roles in backyard ecosystems.

Diane Kennedy  Owner of Finch Frolic Garden, lecturer, consultant, Permaculture Design Course graduate, former SDC Senior Park Ranger, Diane educates homeowners on how to save money and the environment while building their dream gardens.

Each class limit is 50 attendees, so please make pre-paid reservations soon before they fill up.  Fee for set of four lectures and tour is $45 per person.  Single session fee is $20 per person. Contact Diane Kennedy at for reservations and directions.


      You will not want to miss this fascinating and useful information!

Fruit Flies – How To Be Rid of them Naturally


A jar, plastic and ACV.  Works like a charm.

A jar, plastic and ACV. Works like a charm.

It is fruit season and citrus and stonefruit are becoming ripe in the garden.  When the fruit comes to the kitchen, and particularly when the peels and pits go into my open compost bucket, fruit flies appear as if by magic.  It is amazing how quickly they show up and how quickly they reproduce.  Fruit flies are busy laying eggs in any spot on any fruit or juice vegetable such as tomato.  Gross.  Here is a quick and inexpensive method of trapping and -unfortunately- killing the little things.  I don’t like to kill anything, but I don’t know of a way to get around this, even when I drape towels over the fruit.

Take a small canning jar or baby food jar – something like that.  Use the rim of the lid of a canning jar, or just a strong rubberband.  You’ll also need a small piece of plastic to cover top of the jar; you can reuse some cellophane or part of an old plastic bag.

Fill the jar only about halfway with apple cider vinegar – not white distilled vinegar.  Place the plastic over the top and secure with the lid rim or a rubber band.

A fruit fly finding a way in.

A fruit fly finding a way in.

Take a toothpick and prick tiny holes in the plastic.  Set the jar near where the fruit flies accumulate and forget about it.  Be sure to remove other lures such as old kitchen scraps or fruit, or cover it with dishtowels.  That’s that.  The flies swarm to the jar and eventually disappear into it and can’t get out.

A kind of blurry photo of lots and lots of fruit flies queuing up to get inside.

A kind of blurry photo of lots and lots of fruit flies queuing up to get inside.

Finch Frolic Facebook!

Thanks to my daughter Miranda, our permaculture food forest habitat Finch Frolic Garden has a Facebook page.  Miranda steadily feeds information onto the site, mostly about the creatures she’s discovering that have recently been attracted to our property.  Lizards, chickens, web spinners and much more.  If you are a Facebook aficionado, consider giving us a visit and ‘liking’ our page.  Thanks!

San Diego Permaculture Convergence, Nov. 9 – 10, 2013

There is a fantastic, information-packed permaculture convergence coming up at the beautiful Sky Mountain Institute in Escondido. Converge_Flyer_1_It will be two days packed with great information for a very reasonable price; in fact, scholarships are available.  Check out the website at On that Sunday I’ll be teaching a workshop about why its so important to plant native plants, how to plant them in guilds using fishscale swales and mini-hugelkulturs.  Come to the convergence and be inspired!

DE for Birds, and More About Chickens

A little mustard with your quail?  Cleopatra being treated.

A little mustard with your quail? Cleopatra being treated.

I’ve written about using Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth around plants to keep down ants and other sectioned insects.  It is also used around the feet of my bee hives; as long as it isn’t where bees and other beneficials go it won’t hurt them because it has to be on the bug to work.  I’ve also used FGDE around my cat’s bedding to kill hatching flea eggs, and have rubbed it into their fur. It is scentless, edible (will help kill interior parasites when eaten), tasteless, and the food grade is so fine that it won’t hurt your lungs if you breathe it in, although if you have lung conditions you should wear a mask.  More about FGDE in a minute.

Some of our laying hens have difficulty laying eggs recently.  Chickpea we found panting on the ground in a wet spot, with ants on her.  She had a soft-shelled egg break inside of her.

Madge in the house cage, recooperating.

Madge in the house cage, recooperating.

Madge, our partially blind RIR passed a soft shelled egg, then was ill for a day when she passed a broken shell.  Warm Epsom salts baths and time spent in the house cage with a heating pad helped both of them. Because of the threat of infection I used some of the Cephalexin left over from our dog (divided into small doses) on both of them and they recovered.  My daughter finally deduced that in the mornings when the pullets and hens were released the big girls ran over to eat the chick mash.  It probably tastes better than the lay pellets, and more importantly in their little brains it kept the pullets from eating it.  Even with the supplemental oyster shell the big girls were probably not getting the calcium and other nutrition their bodies needed to make good eggs.  It was time to switch the small girls to lay mash anyway, so I did and yesterday we had all four of our laying hens lay eggs… first time in a long time!

While we were bathing Madge in the sink for her illness, my daughter noticed mites on her.  Now a few mites are usual on everyone and everything.  When you can see several on the skin when you blow on the feathers, then you have a problem.  She wasn’t having a problem, but at that time we still didn’t know what was wrong with her.  After she was better we instituted FGDE Day in the Fowl Fortress.

Miss Lemon, one of three coturnix hens, is treated with FGDE.

Miss Lemon, one of three coturnix hens, is treated with FGDE.

You can buy pricey powder dispensers, which usually clog.  I bought a set of mustard and ketchup dispensers for less than two dollars and they work just fine.  We caught all the hens and our three quail and puffed FGDE into their feathers and, of course, all over ourselves.

We treat ourselves, too.

We treat ourselves, too.

I puffed it into the nesting boxes, and into the ‘attic’ of the pullet house where they roost, and into the straw in the coops.  Since we don’t have a problem we don’t need to treat often, just every few months or so.  Any that they eat helps with any internal parasites as well.  We also had some wood ash left over from making pizzas in Harry Mud the cob oven and sprinkled them where the birds take dust baths.  That fine ash helps to keep their feathers clean and keep away mites too.

Wood ashes are good for dust baths.

Wood ashes are good for dust baths.


Very little went a long way, so even after treating all the hens and the Fowl Fortress, the cat bedding repeatedly, several cats, the feet of the bee hives, a variety of plants, and the feet of the food tables I’d set up for a garden party to protect from ants, along my window sills and around the privy where ants were getting in, I’m still working on the first bag that I bought on

Amelia objecting to her dusting.

Amelia objecting to her dusting.

When you compare with buying expensive different poisons for all of these problems, the health hazards and impact on non-target species including ourselves, and the negative impact on the Earth, one bag of FGDE  is such a deal that you really can’t not try it.

Yes There Is A Bleach Alternative That Works!

Bleach does wonders for whites, kills germs and purifies water.  It is also a toxic chemical, it kills the microbes in your septic tank, it corrodes what it touches and can do your lungs, skin and eyes major harm, especially when combined with other chemicals.  Many over-the-counter natural cleansers seem weak and probably don’t do a good job disinfecting, besides being very costly.  Here is a recipe for success: a safer bleach alternative that really works.  Vinegar is of course a fantastic cleaner, but if the pervasive smell of Easter eggs is too much for you, then how about the smell of citrus?  I have plenty of lime trees so I have an ongoing supply of lime juice, but an inexpensive bottle of lemon juice works as well.  I’m going to direct you to a blog link on Grit magazine’s ezine, because I certainly can’t do better than Lucy Razor’s very through and well-researched article.  So here is the recipe for natural bleach alternative.  Now go make up a batch!

I Went to a Garden Potty (adventures with a composting toilet)

A very pretty outhouse!

I asked Roger Boddaert to have his men build a simple composting toilet out of the scraps of wood left over from my sheds.  This is what he came up with!  It is a gorgeous little building painted to match the sheds.  Wood features stand out decoratively, and two cloud-shaped windows covered with trellis adorn the sides.  Good for ventilation and for watching birds on the pond!

Inside there is a $5 toilet seat on a bench that conceals a bucket.

Inside is a raised seat that conceals a bucket underneath.  The least expensive toilet seat I could find is attached to smoothed wood.  Above the seat Roger attached a shelf with flower pots.  I stashed the organic cleaner bottle and extra toilet paper behind some cut status flowers.

In the back you can see the bucket placed high enough to prevent accidents.

Underneath is a Home Depot bucket, with the lid close at hand.  I had to make it stand taller by shoving boards underneath so that there weren’t any room for mistakes.

The way a composting toilet works, is that you do your business, including the toilet paper, and then add a scoop of organic material to the bucket equal to what you had put in there.  That’s it.  The organic material can be sawdust, wood shavings for pet bedding, compost, etc.  As long as it is easily scoopable.

When the bucket is full, you put the lid on and store it for a year.  Or you can dig a deep hole, dump the bucket in, cover it up and mark it, and in a year plant on it or use it otherwise.  I don’t have the exact science for this, but within a year all those microbes will consume the humanure and neutralize all the stuff that is in there that could be harmful, such as medicines.  Very simple, very clean, very useful.

Composting toilets – the ones that look like real toilets – are tremendously expensive and not that efficient.  What a waste of money!  The bucket system is amazingly efficient.  I have visited several, one a private one and the others at Audubon preserves.  There are no flies, no smells.  My outhouse was used a lot during the Garden Tour last Saturday, and I peeked in there today to check.  Smells great!  No flies.

The outhouses at the Audubon centers have the same system, but on a larger scale for more visitors.  Instead of a bucket there is a wheeled compost bin underneath.  One in rainy Oregon was a solar composting toilet, where part of the bin was under the toilet seat, and the rest under clear corrugated plastic roofing that amplified the ambient light and helped ‘cook’ the compost.  The waste in the bin was stirred around frequently with the compost so that it could cook better.  Still no smell, no mess.

Simple solutions are there for everything, and through studying permaculture and seeing what works for other people is very enlightening.  The answer rarely has to be expensive.  And, as is my new outhouse, it can be fun, too.


Natural Cleaning Products: Vinegar

Vinegar Cleans Glass Beautifully

I’m on a personal crusade to remove all non-environmentally friendly cleaning products from my home…. life… universe… well, I’ll start at home  anyway.  Not only does my house utilize a septic tank and I’m not supposed to have scrubbing bubbles living a dark life beneath my yard, but harsh chemicals are bad to breathe, bad to have eat through the skin on my fingers, and bad for the environment and water.   So how on earth did humans clean prior to the chemical revolution?  With what they had around them, of course.  They usually had wine, or some sort of fermenting juice around, and after the fermentation was gone they had vinegar.  Anything that smelled that strongly had to clean well, and it actually did and does.  Undistilled vinegar, or acetic acid,  has antiseptic and antibacterial properties that were written about by Hippocrates, the father of medicine.

There has been a foodie revolution with artisanal vinegars, and now people who rarely cook anything but a TV dinner know what Balsamic or wine vinegar is.  If you’ve ever been to England you’ll know about shaking malt vinegar onto chips (French fries), which is absolutely delicious, by the way.  But the vinegars found in grandma’s pantry were cider vinegar and white vinegar.

White and Cider Vinegar

Cider vinegar has an old-fashioned flavor and is used in cooking, especially Eastern European foods.  There was a huge health fad when I was little about the benefits of drinking apple cider vinegar, and people still swear by it.  My mom gave us a glass of warm water with cider vinegar and honey in it to drink with our dinner.  I got to really like the taste.   Undistilled cider vinegar has a floating mass in the bottle; that is called the ‘mother’, and it is part of the fermentation process, and can be removed and used to help ferment other vinegars.  People don’t like that mass, so they invented white vinegar which has little of the nutrition that cider vinegar has.

White vinegar is made from fermented grains, mostly corn, and this is the product that is now used in cleaning because it won’t leave a brown mark and is less expensive than other vinegars.  There are hundreds of uses for vinegar, besides setting color when dying eggs.  What vinegar is really valuable for here in Southern California with its mineral-heavy water, is to clean out those mineral deposits from machines and glassware.  Glass vases that had acquired rings inside from holding tap water, which didn’t come out with a brush and soap, became clear and beautiful when I filled them with vinegar and water and let them soak for an hour.  The same for a crystal decoration that is filled with water and hung to catch the light, filling the room with prisms.

Crystal Clear

It had mineral buildup and was ugly (now I use distilled water in it!), and after a vinegar and water soaking, and a little nudging with a long, skinny brush, it is beautiful again.

Cleaning Bacteria from Hummingbird Feeders

Hummingbird feeders must be cleaned regularly because the black mold that grows on the feeder holes will infect the hummingbirds and eventually kill them.  I’ve always used a bleach solution to soak them.  No more!  I use hot water and vinegar to soak, then use straight vinegar and a brush to kill any germs around the bases.  I’ve noticed that besides not being gassed with the chlorine bleach fumes, that the feeders stay clean just as long as they had when I used bleach to kill the germs.

I was talking with a friend about dishwashers and how glasses weren’t getting clean and the dishwasher just wasn’t performing well anymore.  She passed on the tip from another friend to dump a whole gallon of white vinegar into the machine and let it run.  The vinegar loosens up all that mineral yuck that clogs up the works.  It works in drains, too.

Vinegar cuts through grease and grime, like that scary fuzzy layer on the top of your refrigerator, or that grease build-up over the kitchen range.  I switched to cleaning windows with vinegar water and newspaper, and have had great success.

Combined with the alkaline baking soda (bicarbonate of soda),  vinegar fizzes and was what made your fifth-grade Science Fair volcano erupt, or the toy submarine skim through the pool (I loved mine!).  Mixed with some dish soap, these three ingredients work well to remove stains, such as those in the shower or on counters. Use the paste on an old toothbrush to clean up grout.

Other uses for vinegar include as a hair rinse, to make hair supple and shiny; in water when boiling eggs so they won’t crack and they’ll peel more easily (give them a cold water bath right after cooking, and try not to use very fresh eggs, which are very hard to peel after boiling).   Run it through the coffee maker, or in the bottom of a kettle to dislodge the chunks of minerals that stick to the insides.  Go on the Internet and search for lots of ideas on how to use vinegar in your routine.  Vinegar is safe, efficient, natural, and its smell isn’t any worse than that of chemicl cleaners, and a lot easier on your lungs.

It dissolves hard water stains