Kicking Budworms Off My Deck

pinwheel on deck

After too many years of fighting budworms that destroyed my terrace flowers every summer, I finally said: “No more! Enough.”  I was through with spending money to feed legions of voracious caterpillars whose only aim in life was to transform my beautiful flowers into skeletal sticks sticking out of my flower pots.

For the first summer ever I decided not to plant any flowers on my deck. When the budworms came – as I knew they would – they would have zilch to eat.

No longer would I have to go through the rigamarole of washing old flowers pots of last years soil, of buying fresh soil to pot new flowers, of constantly checking to see if any recent successful attacks on this national scourge had been waged and saddest of all, watching my plants whither and die.

I would be able to enjoy the whole long, peaceful summer without daily plant inspections searching for the little devils and picking the slimy things off my plants and dispatching them to  another world without mercy or regret.

But how bare my deck would look without flowers. How cheerless. Maybe I could do what a few of my neighbors in surrounding gardens and decks have done and exchange the real thing for artificial plants. A quick internet search dispelled that idea fast. The fake flowers looked as phony and cheesy as I remembered.

Another idea. How about an arrangement of colorful pinwheels? For years I have used pinwheels stuck in flower pots to scare off birds who treated my terrace like a 24 hour hangout leaving behind unwanted deposits of poop. The pin wheels didn’t scare them all off of course. These are after all tough feisty New York birds but it kept the bird situation under manageable control. I already had a colorful old pinwheel (above) I had bought a few years back  with this purpose in mind. Purchased in Chinatown, it was put together rather flimsily, designed to be more of a party favor than a hardy specimen capable of fighting heavy wind and storms. But I decided to give it a try. And it looked good outside, bright and colorful, twinkling in the sun as all its’ little pinwheels spun around in the breeze,

Probably it won’t last long. But that’s okay. The things are cheap and I’ll just buy another. And I won’t have to look at an ugly, greedy little budworm all summer. Unless of course plastic pinwheels are their idea of a yummy snack…


Past Budworm Battles:

Are Your Kids Eating Foods Loaded with Dyes?

dyed cheerios mix

Up until recently consumers didn’t know precisely the amount of artificial dyes used in specific foods. No More. Thanks to a study conducted by Purdue University, published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics, everyone can now see the exact dye amounts in packaged foods consumed by children including breakfast cereals, candies, baked goods and beverages.

The high numbers are disturbing. Behavioral tests have already shown that kids daily consuming as little as 30 mg of artificial dye in their food can suffer adverse reactions. That’s way below the amounts that were actually measured in many kid-centric foods. As an example, a child eating 2 cups of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, a small bag of Skittles, and 8 ounces of Crush Orange consumes a whopping 102 milligrams of artificial dye.

Topping the single serving cereal list, Cap’n Crunch’s Oops! All Berries, contains 41 mg of dye.

Taking the prize for the highest level of artificial dyes per serving in ANY food, Target Mini Green Cupcakes contain 55.3 mg of dyes Yellow 5, Blue 1, Yellow 6, and Red 40.

In the candy department Skittles and M&M’s topped the list with the highest levels of dyes including Blue 1, Blue 2, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Red 40.

According to Purdue’s research, one of the largest sources of artificial dyes is beverages geared toward children. Starting at the top, Kool-Aid Burst Cherry contains 52.3 mg per 8-ounce serving, Sunny D Orange Strawberry contains 41.5 mg, Crush Orange has 33.6 mg and Powerade Orange Sports Drink has 22.1 mg.

With the amount of artificial food dye certified for use by the FDA having increased five-fold between 1950 and 2012, the researchers estimate that some children could easily be consuming 100 mg of dyes and some even more than 200 mg per day.

Earlier studies in the 1970s and 1980s showed that few children consuming  20 mg of food dyes reacted to the dyes, so doctors concluded a dye-free diet was pointless. Later studies, however, using larger dye doses, showed that a much larger percentage of children did in fact react adversely.

In 2011 the FDA officially announced that food dyes (along with other ingredients) cause behavioral problems in some children. And what have they done about it since? Nothing. Europe on the other hand, ahead of us as usual in the healthy food department, already requires warning labels on most dyed foods, which has almost completely eliminated the use of food dyes there.

A note to American food companies: if Europe can do it, why can’t we?


More on Questionable Foods:

You’re Considering Buying Food from China?

Chinese farm with skull and bones

If you’re thinking of saving some bucks and picking up some canned food grown in China, consider this startling piece of news. In a report, earlier labeled a “state secret”, the Chinese government recently announced that 20% of the country’s farmland is heavily polluted. As in loaded with cadmium, nickel and arsenic.

Additionally, thanks to years of super-fast industrialization and agricultural practices utilizing poisonous pesticides with zero concern for the consequences or environment, at least 10% of woodland in China and 10.4% of its’ grassland soil are also polluted. After eight years of taking soil samples from 630 square kilometers, the report declared, “The overall condition of the Chinese soil allows no optimism.”

Coming from a government known for suppressing sensitive information that could even hint at being a threat to the country’s “stability”, this admission is surprising and unprecedented.

Not surprisingly, Readers posting comments on this story voiced suspicions that the traditionally closed-mouth Chinese communist party probably wasn’t telling the complete story. If China was admitting that 20% of the farmland soil was polluted, chances are the true number was far higher.

What can’t be questioned though, is the sad truth that soil pollution is more serious and difficult to turn around than air or water pollution. Remedies take far more resources  and a longer time to be effective.

Beyond impacting crops, soil pollution is extremely hazardous for people living in those areas, having to breath in and experience skin contact with  pollutants.

Still further, soil pollutants are likely to flow into underground layers and contaminate drinking water.

From the sound of things, food imported from China won’t exactly be enjoying a healthy market for who knows how long.


More on China’s Food Woes:

The Best Place to Work When You Die – Google

funeral flowers

Researching another topic, I was surprised to come across the super generous benefits Google pays to an employee’s family when that worker dies. Every year for the next 10 years the employee’s spouse or partner will receive half of that worker’s salary. The average yearly income at Google is $141,000. This means the deceased employee’s spouse/partner will be given an average of $700,000.

In addition, each child of that employee will be paid $1000 a month until their nineteenth birthday – or their twenty third birthday if they’re still in school. So any child going to college could receive roughly $275,000. The spouse of an average Google employee with two young children could easily be given a million dollars from the company.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised at Google’s generosity. This is after all a company that leaves others in the dust when it comes to employee maternity and paternity leave. New mothers can take 18 weeks of paid leave after giving birth.  And fathers can enjoy their new baby with six weeks of paid leave.

So it appears that Google has their employees covered at both the momentous times of birth and death. Small wonder so many job seekers dream of walking Google’s Mountain View campus.


More on the Work Life:

Five Sensible Reasons for Eating Bugs

Stripe Caterpillar

Photo Credit: Madmaven

Put aside the ick factor and consider this: for many people around the world, eating insects is neither strange, disgusting nor exotic. Bugs are their food, their meals, what they and their ancestors have been eating for ages. Why?

Number one – the buggers are packed with powerful nutrition. Comparing iron content, beef has  6 mg per 100 grams of dry weight and Mopane caterpillars have an astounding 31 mg of iron per100 grams. Traditionally eaten in southern Africa, these plump caterpillars are also an excellent source of  potassium, sodium, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, zinc, manganese and copper, according to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Number two: at least five million children a year die because their meager diets contain so little protein and calories. According to Frank Franklin, director of pediatric nutrition at the University of Alabama, a protein processed substance from edible insects could offer a less expensive solution to Plumpy/Nut, a peanut based food given around the world to children suffering from malnutrition.

Number three: What’s more friendly to our environment: Bugs or the vertebrates Westerners prefer?  Which take up less space? Which emit far less pollutant gases? No contest. Bugs win hands down.

Number four: As world population expands, land and resources needed to sustain cattle and pig production will only shrink. How will all those new hungry mouths be fed? It seems plausible that new sources of protein for a steadily increasing population will have to be found.

Number five is the health factor. Cattle and pigs measure high in saturated fat content. Bugs do not. Which means if people eat more bugs than livestock, they will suffer less heart disease and fewer premature deaths.

Giving up their hamburger and steaks won’t be easy for Westerners. But some are already entering this new bug eating terrain. In Montreal students from McGill University are in the process of creating a protein-rich flour made from insects. They’re starting with grasshoppers. Hm…Grasshopper bread anyone?

More Food Morsels:

Dutch Tulip Mania Began with a Virus

Semper Augustus Tulip

Semper Augustus Tulip

Contrary to popular thought, tulips didn’t originate in the Netherlands. They arrived as gifts from the Sultan of Turkey just as the Netherlands, enriched by its hugely profitable East Indies trade, was embarking on its Golden Age. Eager to show off their wealth, merchants built estates with luxurious  gardens that showcased this dazzling new flower – the tulip. And not just any old plain Jane yellow or white tulips. No. THE tulips to grandly display were the exotic, flamboyant, two colored variety. White with dazzling flames of richest reds, pinks and purples, they were prized for both their beauty and rarity.

Expensive to begin with, they were given exalted names such as “Admiral of Admirals” and “Alexander the Great” and quickly began to sky rocket in price. At the height of Tulip Mania in the Spring of 1637, some coveted single tulip buds were selling for more than 10 times the annual income of skilled tradesmen.

As it turns out the unique, striated beauty of these tulips was caused by a virus. Known as Mosaic Virus, this non-lethal virus broke tulip colors into two or more hues.

The peak of the tulip mania bubble came during the winter of 1636-37. In what had become a wild tulip futures market, some bulbs were changing hands over ten times a day. But no deliveries were ever made to fulfill those contracts. In February, stunned speculators across the Netherlands watched the tulip market collapse. Buyers had shriveled up and disappeared, taking with them dead pipe dreams of getting rich on sick flowers.


 More on Investing and Business: 

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