Thanksgiving thoughts

Apparently I left New York just in time before another cold wave moved in. My friends in the north country tell me it was in the teens with wind chill down to 10 degrees last week. It was 90 degrees in Florida last Sunday when I arrived, which was quite a shock to my system. The past few days have been in the 70s daytime and 50s at night, which is perfect. It will take me a while to settle in, but I am happy to be back with my kids and grandkids. The Gulf of Mexico is as beautiful as I recall it being and the fishing is good! The local news is pretty much the same as Albany. Daily, or I should say, evening, random shootings most nights in Tampa and St. Petersburg. Frustrated mayors and community groups calling for an end to the gun violence on TV, COVID cases increasing at an alarming rate every day and black Friday sales that started weeks before Thanksgiving.

It will take some time to become accustomed to city life and I will miss my beautiful mountain views, but the trade-off for the Gulf is acceptable. The feral cat I take care of down here for the past five years, whom I have named Cleopatra, seems happy to see me, although she has never let me get closer than six feet. She has been practicing social distancing long before it become the norm. I am awakened every morning by a chorus of roosters crowing, as it seems every other house on my block, in this mostly Hispanic neighborhood, keeps roosters. I had hoped one my neighbors would have eggs for sale, since I am accustomed to local, fresh eggs back home. When I inquired about buying eggs a perturbed neighbor told me “These are not those kind of roosters Man!” I don’t think these are show birds being raised by 4H kids either. I would rather not speculate about what, exactly, the roosters are being raised for. It is odd seeing tomato and other vegetable transplants for sale in Walmart. Although gardening is a big part of my life in New York, I don’t really have any desire to do it here.

I have been getting some email questions from you that I am happy to reply to and some I will discuss here.

My friend Rob is trying to kill the lichens that are growing on the bark of some spruce trees in his yard. He thinks they are harming the tree, but they are harmless. Spruce trees, especially blue spruce, often die slowly once they reach 20 or 30 feet tall. As the needles drop and the branches are more visible, the lichens become more conspicuous and get blamed for the die back. Lichens actually indicate low air pollution, as they are intolerant of sulphur dioxide and other emissions, which is why some inner city residents never see them, until they come up state. Moss, algae and lichens growing on shingled roofs or shady walkways are not desirable, especially on walkways since they can be very slippery when wet. They also hold moisture, which is not good for underlying wood under shingles. Wet wood attracts carpenter ants and rots quickly. There are several “over the counter” products that will kill moss and lichens since lichens are made of both these disparate species. Most of the sprays contain iron or copper sulphate, which is highly toxic to plants. You could kill your tree trying to kill the lichens that are growing on the bark, by spraying it with copper sulphate.

You can prune your shrub rosebushes back to six inches now, leaving only 3 or 4 of the main canes. Cover them with a pail of soil to insulate them for the winter. Piling leaves over them is not so effective and neither are the Styrofoam covers they sell for this purpose. Climbing roses can be cut back to six foot canes, tied up with twine and laid down, cover them with soil as well. Put up wooden frames around your rhododendrons to deter deer and cold winter breezes or cover them with burlap. Spraying broad leaved evergreens with an anti-desiccant right now will also help prevent cold damage. Make sure you cover the undersides of the leaves, since these products work by clogging the tiny pores on the underside of the leaves (stomates). When the sun comes out, even on frigid days, it triggers the plant to try to photosynthesize, by opening these pores and allowing moisture to exit. Since the ground is rapidly freezing now, water uptake is difficult and the leaves get scorched.

I think 2020 is year that most of us wish did not happen, but I am still thankful for all the good fortune I have had, even in these tough times. One day you’re loving your bubble, doing work outs, baking banana bread and going for long walks and the next you’re crying, drinking gin for breakfast and missing people you don’t even like.

Reach Bob Beyfuss, now in sunny Florida, at rlb14@cornell.edu.

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