Acorn Pancakes, Critter Control, Italian Cypresses

acorn from a Valley or white oak (Quercus lobata)

acorn pancakes

In response to my search for solutions to critter problems in the garden, I received an email from Gina Danza in La Mirada.  “A good way to keep critters away,” Danza wrote, “is to put chili powder or cayenne pepper on the wall or around the tree that they visit. If cats use a tree trunk for scratching, you can make a spray from vegetable oil and chili powder. The spray can also be applied to bird feeders to keep squirrels from eating the seeds.” And speaking of spicy deterrence, consider mixing up so-called squirrel beaters’ tonic, which consists of 2 tbsp. cayenne pepper, 2 tbsp. Tabasco sauce, 2 tbsp. chili powder, and 1 tbsp. Murphy oil soap dissolved in a quart of water. Pour into a hand sprayer and apply thoroughly to your fruit and nut trees.
Christine Loss, from Porter Ranch, did not take action until squirrels “started using my outside furniture for their nests. Then something had to be done,” she asserted. “I got a Havahart live animal trap and, using peanuts, got very proficient at catching and bringing them to the park at Lassen and Etiwanda in Northridge, all the while saying in a soothing tone, ‘Don’t worry little thing I won’t hurt you.’ After a while I was able to capture and release with the whole roundtrip taking 7 minutes flat. That summer I caught 36. Now, I have no way of knowing whether I kept trapping the same squirrel who had found it’s way back or not. However, mid-way through the summer, after releasing yet another, on my way home I looked to my left and there on the sidewalk was a squirrel running alongside my car toward my house. So……… But, this seemed an effective solution, ultimately, because they finally moved their nests to another house and now just visit me for my figs.”
It seems that the word got out regarding your relocation policy and that it became just as much a nuisance for the squirrels as it was for you, and so they collectively decided to reduce their level of harassment in your case.
Incidentally, if you ever find an injured or abandoned squirrel, bird, or any other wild animal, including marine mammals if you live along the coast, you should contact the California Wildlife Center on Piuma Road (310-458-9453) in Calabasas for treatment. Thanks to Jerry Murphey for bringing the Center, where he works as a volunteer, to my attention.
“We have had Italian cypress trees since moving here 25 years ago and they must have been planted by the original owner in the 60’s. They were doing so well that a couple of years ago we even cut them back and they were fine. About six months ago two of them dried up and died. We have four more healthy ones, and they are all in a line. What can we do to keep them alive? Should we soak them ? I do not know what to do and I do not want to lose my trees.”
Juliet De Souza, Canoga Park

Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)

Italian cypress trees may go into decline at 50 years of age so the fact that two of yours died at fifty plus is not unusual. Mature cypress trees should be able to fend for themselves in terms of finding water but the ongoing drought has probably made them more sensitive to the effects of aging. You should check for spider mites, whose webbing is easy to see, since they sometimes cause death of cypress trees. The pruning you did a couple of years ago could have also contributed to stress since reduction of leaf area means less area for photosynthesis, which means less carbohydrate and energy for the trees.
If two trees next to each other suddenly die together and you see no prior signs of stress in them, something could have happened underground to cause their demise. More often than not, sudden death of any plant is caused by a water mold known as Phytophthora that lives in the soil. You thus need to be very careful about applying water to the remaining trees.
If the ground around your remaining trees is bone dry and you see no evidence of spider mites, die back, or other signs of a plant disorder, you should soak the soil. I don’t know the condition of your soil but if it is so compact or so full of roots that water does not penetrate, you may need to do a deep soaking. With deep soaking, you can utilize a so-called deep root stake ( which leaks water throughout the root zone. Deep root watering is used in combination with techniques for soaking the root zone such as drip tubing or a soaker hose laid around the canopy perimeter line of your trees, or just letting a slow trickle from a regular hose soak the area until saturation is reached. Such a soaking should probably not be done more than once this summer to avoid possible attack of soil borne fungus.
Tip of the Week:
If you have an oak tree in your backyard, consider it a free source of nutty flour for baking purposes. Acorn meal is coming into favor as a comestible product of sustainable gardens and landscapes since oak trees yield abundant crops yet require no inputs of water or fertilizer to do so.
The other evening at Genesta Park, a place where squirrels scamper among the oaks, near the corner of Ventura and Balboa Boulevards in Encino, I met Henry Haddad. While our sons were playing basketball, Haddad told me that he takes advantage of his time in the park to collect fallen acorns from which he makes flour that is suitable for general baking use. There are two major species of oak trees native to the San Fernando Valley, and you find both in Genesta Park. One is valley oak (Quercus lobata), a deciduous species, and the other is coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia), an evergreen. Haddad says valley oak acorns are meatier than those of live oaks After collecting the acorns this time of year, he exposes them to the sun for one month. He then breaks and peels away the acorn jackets and leaches the acorn nut meats that remain. Leaching involves soaking in very hot or very cold water. After each soak, an acorn meat is sampled to see if it is edible. The tannins in acorns impart a bitterness that, after a number of soaks, give way to a slightly sweet and nutty flavor. The nut meats are then pounded into a meal, by means of a mortar and pestle in Haddad’s case. Since acorn meal lacks gluten, he mixes it together with regular flour in order that it will bake more easily. Still, there are plenty of recipes for acorn pancakes, acorn fritters, and the like that call for pure acorn meal.

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