Couldn’t resist this photo of a lovely Venus Fly Trap, even though they are no where near as practical and fast as the fly trap baits we are going to compare today. Especially since they only eat one fly/prey every other week and after 3-5 captures the trap stays shut until it falls off. Neat, but not enough for real fly problems.
November of 2020 my new greenhouse was attacked on a biblical scale by house/barn flies, so I desperately created several bottle traps (visit that post here), and in the process accidentally created a side-by-side experiment. Now, 3 months later I can tell you hands down, the winner was the sugar and yeast mix. That is great news because the sugar and yeast mix is the cheapest mix for me because I buy yeast by the glass jar instead of by the envelope. If you really want to save, a pound costs about the same as a 4 oz jar. The sugar/yeast lure is also the easiest to mix up because I can put the dry ingredients together in my tool bag and mix it with stored water when I get to the greenhouse…I don’t have to worry about spilling vinegar along the way to the greenhouse. It is convenient because it keeps my yeast fresher (sometimes I get too busy to bake) even though the yeast is stored in the fridge using it up faster means fresher yeast for the next loaf of bread.
Lastly, the nasty dead flies and the yeast/sugar bait can go straight into the center of the compost bin. The sugar and yeast give a big boost to the compost pile and kick-start activity. In contrast, when I put the used vinegar bait into the compost bin, we add them to the edge of the compost. Even though we want the flies to be thouroughly composted (to destroy any bad bacteria they carried), we also want to keep the vinegar away from the center of the pile to avoid affecting the wild earth worm population that is busy there. By not using any bait with vinegar I can avoid the vinegar/worm conflict and instead have a compost booster.
As a recap, the three lures were:
Left: 1 cup of Apple Cider Vinegar, 1 cup of Sugar and 1/2 cup of water
Middle: 1 cup of Sugar, 1 teaspoon of Baker’s Yeast, 1 cup of Water
Right: 1 cup of Apple Cider Vinegar and 1 teaspoon of Dish Soap
It may appear that the left lure was a tie for the win, but that lure was mixed up 4 days before the Sugar and Yeast Bait. It had been somewhat effective on it’s own, but as soon as the Sugar/Yeast lure was set out, Sugar/Yeast quickly overtook the head start the Vinegar/Sugar bait had and stayed ahead. The mixture on the Right is the common lure used for household fruit flies that I’ve used about a dozen times to great success. I can only say that it didn’t appeal to my barn flies/black flies and I might even mix up this Sugar/Yeast Bait next time my kitchen bananas are attacked by nates to test it out.
To further test the lures, the Vinegar and dish soap lure (Old Left Lure) was dumped out, the trap rinsed well, and a second Sugar/Yeast Lure added (New Left Lure) to see if the passage of time made the bait more or less effective. It was a little hassle to un-tape the trap and re-tape it, so I am eyeing a nice hanging trap like this one. The greenhouse temps are reaching 70 degrees on sunny days in early March, so we should have some results soon.
It sounds like a fairy-tale: Weave a living retaining wall that just gets stronger and stronger as the years pass and continue a tradition that is thousands of years old! Willow Spiling is a natural, sustainable, long-term solution to erosion. A perfect example of rediscovering an old practice for modern times.
This land bridge (huge culvert at the bottom of the ravine) was twice this width when we bought the property in 2014. We have debated and gotten multiple repair estimates and had pretty much resigned ourselves to losing this access point because all estimates were cost-prohibitive. I did find some useful ideas like this planter that I could DIY, but this erosion is past the point of even that helping. Willow Spiling is our last option, honestly our only hope at this point. In simplest terms, Willow Spiling is like weaving a basket along any area with erosion…..but every twig used in the basket is still alive with a root firmly anchored in the soil that continues to grow and get stronger over time instead of rotting and getting weaker.
Willow Spiling is simple and low cost, so for me, a great way to protect from erosion. The traditional technique weaves willow branches into a fence or wall and is currently one of the most popular methods for controlling erosion on slopes in China. We are going to take some time here and explore the history of using willow to control erosion, what specific types are best suited to various conditions, and how you can build them yourself.
The ancient Egyptians used willow as a natural remedy to stop bleeding, treat inflammation of the stomach and for urinary tract infections. But Willow also served the Egyptians by becoming the natural barriers they needed to fight erosion. In England you are likely to come across Wattle fences at historical sites which use dead wood as posts and dead branches as the weaving material into a huge “basket” that protects gardens, play areas or even as the structure for raised garden beds.
It has been used for centuries to provide shelter, create fish habitats and stabilize the soil on riverbanks. The history of willow spiling in the United Kingdom goes back to the late 1600s, when it was used as a river-bank erosion control method. There are currently a few British companies that can come to your property and install this “soft engineering” but that isn’t an option for us, so you can watch over my shoulder as I plan out this project.
The above hybrid of the wattle fence and the willow spiling is sometimes practiced. Here, two parallel rows of trees are closely planted and pruned in the copicing style so that strong trunks form as fence posts. After branch triming each year the branches are stacked between the trunks as a wall of brush. I like the concept, but the thick layer of brush might create unwanted wildlife habitat in your garden or back yard. Perhaps if the rows were placed closer together it might end up tidier.
Willow (Salix) is an Old English word for a plant that has long, slender stems and branches. It was common to see willow trees by riversides because the wood of the tree easily bends under wind or water force. Willow is a tough, versatile tree with over 300 variaties, so I’m only going to touch on a very few.
The Weeping Willow may be the very first image that pops into your mind when ‘Willow’ is mentioned. The weeping variety grows up to 30 feet tall and has long drooping branches that create an arching canopy when in full bloom. The branches have an appearance of hair and grow best in moist soil with plenty of water. This tree is so distinct and iconic that it is good to imagine this version when you consider the process of weaving living branches into a basket/fence/net to catch soil that is eroding away. It’s easy to imagine those long thin branches being used in that that way. If you’ve ever taken care of a weeping willow then you know what it does to the lawn below it too. Not only the grass-killing shade, dodging the branches while trying to mow but also the constant limb/leaf litter. These drawbacks for lawn usage though are assets when trying to grab and rebuild soil that was lost to erosion.
The Pussy Willow is perhaps the second willow that would come to mind with it’s delicate white fluffy pods. The Pussy Willow is hardy for zones 4-8 and propagets as seeds but even more easily as cuttings. A versatile plant that can grow into a 20 foot tall tree or be trimmed into a small shrub that prefers very wet soil. This was my first impulse to purchase for my project, but it prefers full sun and can only tolerate some shade. In mid-summer my land bridge becomes deeply shaded, so I kept looking.
For my erosion problem, I purchased Salix Purpurea L. also known as Purpleosier Willow from Cold Stream Farm out of Minnesota. According to the US Department of Agriculture, this particular strain is best suited for protecting river banks and there is even a male clone ‘Streamco’ available that does not produce suckers to prevent invasive spread. We’ll see. Willows are known to hybridize on their own and add even more confusion to the already crowded 300 species World Wide. In a year I’ll publish an update on the seedling’s health and how well they are doing for this use.
How To Plant and Build
On their own, Willow trees naturally grow along river banks where their roots hold the soil in place during storms and high water flows. Just through nature, this provides stability for your river bank or ravine edge. It grows rapidly and is resistant to strong winds, heavy rain, and even droughts. All this while offering a wide range of benefits, including increased habitat and flood control. They can grow up to 6 feet in their first year, so periodic maintenance is very important (and encouraging) often in the first year. The plantings can be installed on slopes with any degree of incline and have even prevented landslides in some cases. The best time to plant is in late winter or early spring.
We take the natural benefits of the volunteer Willow a step further by ‘weaving’ the saplings into a living retaining wall while they are young and flexible. The best way to install willow spiling for long-term use is by burying it in the ground at least 2 inches below the surface. There are several techniques, one involves planting larger cuttings/seedlings of willow trees straight up from the ground and then weaving between these posts thin long saplings that have been planted at a tight angle (45 degree angle or even tighter).
Another technique is to use seedlings all of the same size and to plant one row at a 45 degree angle to the left followed by another row at a 45 degree angle pointed right. Weave both seedlings going both directions to each hold equal weight…no reliance on a ‘pole’ in the center. The basket above is offered as an example of how that would be constructed.
My ditch is so steep and the erosion is so aggressive, that I plan to experiment with a technique I haven’t heard anywhere. I plan to follow the first technique with an additional step to anchor the retaining wall. After planting the upright row in a straight line and another row at 45 degrees, I’ll then plant smaller willows horizontally straight into the steep ditch walls at staggered intervals. I will then tie these ‘horizontal willows’ to the upright willows with jute twine and begin their process of weaving into the basket fence. I hope over time these anchors will prevent the entire wall tipping over and into the creek.
I made lots of mistakes in planning the basement for my Greenhouse, and one of the first that I recognized was that I didn’t contract for the retaining wall. My concrete guy was so nice and accommodating and had already happily changed my door locations the night before the walls went up. I couldn’t bear to ask his help for this too.
I’d put a concrete pad in with a contractor friend and knew that this far North you have to dig at least 36″ deep to get below the frost line. The footings will actually heave out of the ground as the ground freezes and thaws if you don’t. However, I watched the entire process of basement construction, and they didn’t put footings in that deep during construction. Perhaps because the footings are nearly 8′ under the ground in almost all areas the few exposed areas are protected? I went with that theory and dug a modest hole for the footing to the west of the small concrete patio/pad.
I framed it out with some scrape 2×3, couple of screws and left-over wood stakes. The fall rains kept causing me problems and I had to use other left-over lumber to create a sort of ‘tiering’ on the slope to hold back the clay. Those same rains made it impossible for me to drive my mini-van back to this area (no truck at this point). When I researched my van’s hauling weight limit 400 pounds was the lucky number, so I never hauled more than 8 bags of Quick-Crete at a time over the rear axel. It was a brand-new van and on rainy days I would park at the highway and carry each bag to the construction site.
A make-shift water-catchment experiment saved me from having to haul in very much water to mix in with the Quick Crete.
Everything was mixed in a wheel barrow with a hoe and shoveled right into the hole. I finished the surface with a trowel I had gotten at a garage sale and broken broom head.
The idea was to install the this footing and extended ‘patio’ at about 1/4″ to 1/2″ lower than the original. This would allow water to drain from the professional patio so it would be less likely to get trapped and freeze or seep under the basement door. It also created a little lip that served to hold the cement blocks for the retaining wall in place.
There might be a day when a staircase is built on this North side of the Greenhouse. Maybe someday a goat shed will be added as a lean-to. I don’t know for sure, so dry-stacked cement blocks were chosen for this experiment.
Cement blocks now come in two shapes plus the ‘cap’ blocks that sit on top to finish it off. The regular block has concave ends on both sides. There is now a ‘end block’ that has a smooth end on one side and the other end is smooth with one channel. I haven’t messed with cement blocks in decades, so I don’t know when this became a thing, but it is a very nice cosmetic element when you are using them the way I am.
I had originally planned to use my retaining wall as a sort of staircase and it worked well in that way before I had built the stair case inside. However, after breaking my leg the summer of 2020 that idea is dead to me. Now the plan is build up the wall high enough that I can barely see over it. As the rain washes clay down onto the patio I can scrape it off with a flat-edge spade and toss it back up into the corner of the basement and cinder blocks. Continuing to back-fill so the earth can protect the basement from the winter cold.
My only block-wall experience was with the kid’s Legos, so all I knew was to the wall was to crisscross the cement blocks. My youngest recognized the pattern and said that’s what he does in Minecraft! This plan uses twice the cinder blocks you would normally need, but that made perfect sense when the wall would be used as a ‘staircase’. Now that I’ve decided that’s too dangerous, I appreciate that such a thick wall is not going to be pushed over easily. The blocks are less than $2 each, so it’s worth the ‘extra money’ to not have the wall tip over, and you buy yourself options when you have extra building supplies on hand.
As you can see here, the roof drip-line is 14 feet above the basement. The rain falls with such force that is has cut a straight channel in the heavy clay and the amount of water has built up and pushes the cement blocks in just this one year. All new blocks are added 1/4” in from the block below, but it won’t be long before I’ll have to remove the whole wall, dig some of the clay out and restack it again.
Overall, this setup works for the Greenhouse because it is flexible. We can restack the configuration if we decide to put a staircase or ‘deck’ of some sort on this side. We also could enclose this side and remove all this dirt and re-use the blocks. There are a ton of options!