Surround crop protectant

mix it up

Surround WP is my favorite pesticide. Surround and the occasional small dose of Bt is all I need in a good year, and in a bad year I add in some Serenade for the cherry trees that are particularly prone to brown rot.

Surround is 95% kaolin clay, sold in powder form to be mixed with water and sprayed, as explained in the Fedco Organic Grower’s Supply catalog:

Surround™ WP Crop Protectant Forms a particle film which coats the surface of leaves and fruits, creating a barrier which acts as a broad-spectrum crop protectant, reducing damage from various insects, mites and disease-carrying pests. Recommended for controlling European apple sawfly, plum curculio, Japanese beetles, leafhoppers, CPB, thrips and other maleficial insects on fruit crops and field crops, effective against cucumber beetles on cucurbits. 95% kaolin clay, Surround’s layer of white particles creates an unfamiliar environment for the attacking insects, prevents them from recognizing their target, and, if they land, the particles rub off on them causing irritation and excessive grooming. The white surface also reflects sunlight, preventing sunburn and heat damage. Michael Phillips at Lost Nation Orchard estimates that one 25# bag is sufficient to treat 10 trees for one season. Begin application before petal-fall. Apply 2–3 times the first week to build up a good coating and then every 10–14 days or as the film weathers or new growth appears, more frequently in rainy weather. Maintain a good coat until plum curculio season ends, around June 30 in central Maine.

seckle pear with Surround WP

Agricultural Solutions also has an informative entry:

Surround W. P. is made from 95% kaolin clay, a naturally occurring mineral. When applied to fruit trees, crops, and other plants, it forms a white film. Surround suppresses a wide range of pests, especially those which damage fruit crops including pears, apples, grapes, berries, and some vegetables. The manufacturers use a super-magnetic centrifuge in Georgia to refine the impurities out of raw kaolin and then filter the clay particles to a critical 1.4 microns in size.

I really like the part about the centrifuge.

The best technique I’ve found for my 2 gallon hand pump sprayer is to mix the 2 gallon dose of powder into a quart mason jar of water and shake well for at least 30 seconds, then dump the mixture into the full (minus 1 qt) sprayer. Agitate the sprayer during use. Several sources comment that hand sprayers are a good way to apply this agent because you can really pay attention to coverage. The best thing about Surround is that I don’t have to closely monitor what it falls on under the trees: it is rated for vegetables, it won’t harm the grasses and wildflowers, and it washes off the occasional Adirondack chair (although that takes a few days – move furniture and cover paving stones if you don’t want them temporarily decorated with faint white patches).

I also find that a good coating of Surround reduces deer predation. Perhaps it limits the aroma of an attractive plant? Here I’ve sprayed some mallow growing outside the electric fence – normally a tempting target and they’ve left it alone all season.

mallow with Surround coating

The weekend is forecast to be sunny and not too breezy – time to apply another coat!


How to mail a birthday cake.

The Boy turns 21 next week and we won’t be there to help celebrate – what to do? One of us (I can’t remember who to blame) said, “We should mail him his birthday cake!”. This isn’t just any old cake – in our family you get a checkerboard cake with your choice of any three colors or dealer’s (mother’s) choice if you can’t make up your mind. We did really UPS the cake to Providence this afternoon, so I dug out a 15 year-old photo from birthday #6 to show the finished effect.

Colorful, no?

This year’s version is YELLOW/red/blue and yes, I did mean to put that in all caps. Wow, the yellow.  I’ve adapted the recipe from the back of the Chicago Metallic Cake Pan Set because really, Einstein himself couldn’t divide this batter into thirds precisely enough to make the original work out to three even layers. The original proportions are in parenthesis if you feel up to the challenge.

Checkerboard Cake

Preheat oven to 340 (325) degrees and grease and flour the three 9″ pans. The instructions imply that the pans are nonstick but um, no. I use cooking spray, and I also spray the divider.

Mix 5 (4) C flour, 4 (3) tsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt in a bowl and set aside.

In a small pan or the microwave melt 1 1/4 C butter which is 2.5 sticks  (1 C or 2 sticks) and cool.

In a VERY large bowl, cream the butter with 2 1/2 (2) C sugar. Add 5 (4) eggs, one at at time, beating after each addition. Add 1 Tbs vanilla.

Add 2 C milk (1 1/2) at room temperature alternately with the flour mixture, beat until batter is smooth. (I use the lazy baker’s method: add half the flour and beat in, add ALL the milk and beat until smooth, add the remaining flour and beat 30 seconds. There! All done while still obeying the ancient law passed down by mothers everywhere to “Start with dry and end with dry”.)

Divide the batter in thirds and add food coloring. If you want to make one ring chocolate you might add 3 oz of melted semi-sweet chocolate to one bowl.  Work fast, because the batter sets up fairly quickly and doesn’t “flow” as nicely after a while in a warm kitchen.

wow, yellow

Put the divider in the pan and press down to snap in place. Fill each ring about half-way up with each color, alternating the color choices in each pan. There are very good directions on the box for this step although they say to wash and dry the divider between pans and yikes, that’s a lot of work. I lift it carefully and vertically out of the batter and go on to the next pan  because I’m a bad person but really, the cake will be fine.

Insanity cake

The box emphatically tells you DO NOT PUT DIVIDER IN THE OVEN, so don’t do that.

The directions say to bake for 25 minutes but with the slightly thicker layers I check at 30 minutes. If you can, rotate the pans halfway through to keep the layers even. Remove when cake springs back to the touch or a tester comes out clean. The colors will probably darken on the surface but they will still be hallucination-bright when you cut a slice. Cool on racks for about 10 minutes, remove from pans. Happy crazy clean-up!

Too pretty to clean

I use a chocolate ganache frosting spread very thinly between the layers to allow the checkerboard to really show off, and then much spread it much thicker on the  top and sides to hide the colors until the cake is cut. We’ll have to wait for The Boy to send pics to see that.

I put the unfrosted layers on cardboard cake discs, sealed each one in a gallon Ziplock bag and stacked them in a 12″ x 12″ x 8″ box with a box of birthday candles and assorted decorations, 2 sealed and bagged plastic containers of frosting, a card, and a lot of air-pillow-packing. The nice ladies at the UPS Store slapped fragile stickers all over it (thanks Victoria!) and sent it off with loving care. Happy Birthday, Boy!

Encaustic painting, Act 1, Scene 2

Last Monday I coated 4 Homasote and gesso panels with a thin coat of wax medium. On Thursday I had a chance to mix some colors and experiment with actual paint.

Thug life bird

My experience so far:

  • The base coat of wax medium should be thinner and less textured. It really is startling how quickly the wax hardens on the brush. I need to use shorter strokes and not try to “rebrush” into the hardened surface.
  • Fusing the wax medium to the board with a heat gun is efficient and makes a slick, hard painting surface. The process does not do as much as I thought it would to smooth out the bumps, however. You’d think the wax would melt flat to the surface, but no. Perhaps I’m not heating it long enough – time for another experiment.
  • Wow, the wax hardens quickly. I am learning to hold the brush in the small pot of pigment and wax (heated to molten on the griddle) until I am mentally ready to place that mark on the board. It’s a wonderful disciplinary exercise.
  • The painting is always dry – that is, the surface of the drawing is always ready for a new mark to be added. It was also very easy to scrape the wax away. This is a wet media with all the advantages of a dry media – cool.
  • Fusing the paint layers to each other is an additional, separate skill set. Too little and the layers stay dry and adjacent to each other. Too much and the pigmented wax blurs as it all slags together. Somewhere in the middle is a chance to overlap translucent layers with distinct edges to really show off the medium.
  • Blue jays are noisy thugs, but very entertaining to draw.


Encaustic Painting, Act 1 Scene 1

The supplies are corralled on the new, plastic-draped, work surface and I had to take some photos because nothing you see here will ever be this shiny ever again.


The first step is to make the plain wax medium: beeswax and damar resin in a ratio of 8 : 1. Or 10 : 1 or absolutely no more than 9 : 1, or possibly just until the mixture “looks right”. Every source I found had his or her own convictions. Beeswax is the medium that will carry the pigment to the surface and the damar raises the melting point of the wax enough to fix the result. Too little and the painting will react to moisture in the air with a white “bloom” and never fully dry, too much and the surface will crack and peel.


I’m using beeswax from our hives because we have pounds and pounds of the stuff. It’s like a natural resource around here. This first batch is a mix of yellow and white – the lighter wax was bleached by longer exposure to sunlight. It took me the entire summer to figure out that I could get lovely white beeswax simply by forgetting a batch in the solar melter for a few days but by that time it was September and the days were too short to re-engineer the yellow batches. Encaustic painting uses such thin layers that I don’t think the tint will make much difference, but we’ll see. I admit that I like the gold color produced by all those tiny bee feet tracking  pollen and propolis around the hive interior like children on Grandma’s kitchen linoleum.

I never noticed that our kitchen drop scale (pictured by the double boiler above) is calibrated in Newtons. Fortunately I was working from a ratio so all I cared about were the markings but seriously, Newtons?

The first batch is done and poured off into small stainless steel “monkey cups” to cool. It did indeed take longer than I thought it would for the damar to melt into the wax. The online boards repeatedly warn not to short-cut this step; “It takes as long as it takes!” The gentleman who insisted that the wax has a different “feel” once the resin is incorporated also had a point. The transition was not unlike testing custard or jelly on a spoon – difficult to describe but easy to see in practice. As with my first forays into beekeeping lore I feel more confident in the source material now that I’ve seen it in action.

Tomorrow I can pop out the solid wax and clean any sediment off the bottom in preparation for melting it again and brushing a thin coat on the painting surface. Act 1, Scene 2 coming up!



The (Wo)Man on the Clapham Omnibus

is a British judicial conceit of a hypothetical person, generally educated and reasonably intelligent, to be used as a standard of behaviour against which a defendant can be measured – say in a suit about negligence.  I enjoy having layman’s status in any number of fields, which is why I was delighted to be a guest of Chairman Ben Tippett and his Titanium Physicists, Jocelyn and Dave for a podcast on the Solar Neutrino Problem.

This episode is a great example of the TP motto, “the boundary between the incomprehensible and the well explained”. And although my guest role is pretty much confined to saying, “What?” and “Vous parles trop vit!”, at regular intervals, the physicists are outstanding.

Go, listen! Alez physique!

BTW, the bunny’s name is Barn, after the system of measurement. Cute, no?