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The Bover Kingdom

November 17th, 2008

One of the oddities around Fox Haven in November is the Ladybug Bonanza that takes place every year.  Sure we see ladybugs, or ladybird beetles around throughout the year, but from late October until mid-November there are zillions of them.   So many in fact that they end up both outside and inside the house.  And actually, most of these are not the typical ladybugs that many of us grew up with, but rather the Asian Ladybug.  Apparently these little guys were released around the country from the 1960’s on, and first showed up “in the wild” in the U.S. around 1988.  Since then they have exploded across the country.  They do eat aphids and other pesky bugs, but they’ve also become quite pesky themselves.  There’s just too many and they get everywhere.

Last week there was a great cloud of them behind the house, flying about on a warm day.  And yes, they are cute little critters, except for one small detail.  At this time of year- they bite!  Maybe it’s just because they don’t have other bugs to prey on, but when they land on your arm and crawl around, you’ve just got time to think “How cute…” before going “Owww!” and brushing it away.  It’s not that bad, but who expects to get bitten by a ladybug!?

And at night where do they go?  They return to the Bover Kingdom of course.  What is the Bover Kingdom?  Well, please allow me to digress for a moment.

The young boy loves ladybugs.  He’s still young enough, and innocent enough, to find joy in so many things, including little bugs.  He has always loved ladybugs for some reason.  He delights in their being, their color, their cute little shape. He was a ladybug for Halloween a few years back.  He even has a little “ladybug house” that he uses to gather them up and watch them crawl around.  Oh, and yes- the name.  It’s “Bover”, with a long “o” sound.   At our house they are known as “Bovers” from the name he gave to them years ago as a toddler.  How he came up with that I have no idea, but one day they officially became known as bovers, and we’ve never looked back.

Except for the day he found a dead one on the porch when he was three years old and didn’t really understand the concept of deadness or the opposite of being alive.  I remember it like it was yesterday…  a loud “Daddy! Come here!”  and I dutifully wander over asking “Whatcha got there?”  He points with a chubby little finger and solemnly replies, “Look, a non-moving bover.”

We’re finding a lot of moving and non-moving bovers lately.  But we’ve also finally discovered where they go at this time of year!  They hide.  Anywhere they can.  Which brings us back to our story.  While gathering wood to stack closer to the house yesterday we discovered the Magical Bover Kingdom!  As we picked up one of the last pieces of wood on the bottom of the pile, we revealed the secret chamber of hidden bovers, that place of ALL PLACES for little bovers.  Maybe it was even Bover Heaven.

Ladybugs in November in Missouri

They looked like jewels among the leaves and wood.  Why are they gathered in such a way? For warmth, or laying eggs before succumbing to the freeze of winter?  Maybe they hibernate… I don’t know.  It was pretty to see, and pretty weird.

But at 4:00 am yesterday I also found that they hide on the bottom of firewood.  It wasn’t my fault, honest.  It was dark, I didn’t turn on any lights and I was sleepy…  I was building up the fire in the wood stove and went outside to get a log. A log on the bottom of the wood pile. I brought it in and placed it right into the stove, closed the door as flames engulfed it and sat back to enjoy the warmth… only to see some kind of sparkly, shimmering mass dancing in the fire.   “Hmmm, that’s kind of neat…” I thought.  And it was, up until the moment my eyes opened wide as I realized it was dozens… (okay, hundreds) of little bovers scrambling madly about.  “Aaahhhh! What have I done!?”

They were all over the bottom of that log and quickly became roasted little (sparkly) embers.  Kind of pretty actually but I felt really bad for burning up a bunch of ladybugs.  Oh if my son could see!  In his eyes I would never be the same.

Well later that morning we brought some more logs in… I turned around, remembering them on the hearth, “Noooo!” I screamed, running toward the fire… (not really).  But I did casually mention that there were probably a few critters hiding on that thing.  Remembering our discovery of the day before he immediately ran over and said “Bovers!”  At which time he began to pick them off one by one, finally carrying a handful gently to the door to let them go outside (the fact that it’s going to be 21 degrees F tonight doesn’t matter).

So I grabbed that “bover cleaned” log and put it in the woodstove, meeting his approval.  And we’re a lot more careful about shaking the bovers off the firewood we’re bringing in now.  But the little dudes are really hard to see.  Last night after putting another log in the fire, he yells  “Daddy wait!” as I jump, startled.

“What? What is it?!” I ask, and he says there’s a little bover crawling on the log I just put into the fire.  Or was.  “Where did it go?” he asks.   And trying hard not to smile I say, “Uh… well, it went up the chimney.”  He actually laughed at that one.

Bucking a Tree in Autumn

October 14th, 2008

The last few weeks have been so busy, both at home and on the national economic front that it’s hard to keep focused at times.  Perhaps it’s the drumbeat of the seasons changing, and with winter coming we feel a pressing need to prepare.  It’s strange… sometimes it feels like there’s nothing more I can possibly write about or take pictures of.  Then I’ll see too many things and not have enough time to share them.  But lots of work accomplished this weekend outside.  Long days with the chainsaw that finally cleared a fallen tree.  This is Part I of the story, and Part II explores using a chainsaw safely.

This tree had been near the pond’s edge since April, blown over one night in 50 mph winds.  Here’s a picture the morning after I awoke to see it laying on it’s side.   Looks deceivingly small, but it was at least 50-60 feet tall.

Fallen oak tree in Spring 2008

And a different perspective of the same tree this weekend before it was cut up for firewood.

Fallen oak tree before cutting up

The tree was still living through summer, but in late August all the leaves turned brown.   No sense of urgency to cut it up in the hot summer, so I awaited for the right autumn day.  It took most of two days to “buck” the tree, cutting the wood in 16-18 inch sections and beginning to clean up the branches afterwards.  Most of the work was on the uphill side, and it’s slow going to make sure there are no surprises as the tree shifts and moves when cut up.

It’s always interesting figuring out how to drop the larger sections safely.  And then there was the slope to the pond with the large trunk of the tree almost over the water’s edge.   Should I hook it to a chain on the tractor?  I was afraid it might pull the tractor in the pond or damage it in some way if the tree rolled too quickly.  The base of the tree was tucked next to the small cedar at right, and the left end was wedged against another tree. I cut through the left side first and then cut the right side free from the base with the chainsaw… Whump! Splash!  Ah, success. Okay, glad I didn’t try to hold it with the tractor.

Oak tree log in pond

The twenty foot log floated out towards the middle of the pond.  I counted on the wind to eventually blow it back towards the side of the pond with a gentle slope, where I might pull it out with the tractor.  I love to watch how these logs float, and the young boy wanted to swim out and climb on it.

Oak log floating in pond

Gives new meaning to the word “waterlogged”…  I didn’t want to lose the wood, and thought it might become too saturated (and heavier) in a matter of days.  It wouldn’t sink for some time, but might be too difficult to handle if I didn’t get it out more quickly.  There’s probably several weeks of winter warmth in terms of firewood in that log and I plan to use it!   Meanwhile a large turtle found a new temporary home…

Pond turtle on oak tree log

We went to bed that night hoping the wind kept it near the dam.  Sure enough, the next morning the log was snuggled near the spillway, within reach.  Interesting to see the greenish cast of algae blooming in the water. With a hoe I prodded and pushed the huge log along the shoreline, reaching a flat rocky area that would serve as a good foundation to pull it out.

Oak log in pond

A pair of tall rubber boots (with leaky toes!) helped me wrap a heavy chain under the log while in the water.  Then it was time for the tractor and wrapping the chain around the loader bucket.  I don’t know how heavy the log was, but I estimated it was close to 2,000 pounds.  The loader capacity on the small tractor is only 1,100 pounds, but with the tractor backed slightly uphill I knew it would not be lifting the full weight of the log.  I just needed to swing it out of the water. I’ve tried towing or pulling smaller logs out before, and that works.  But it damages the pond’s edge and makes a big muddy rut.  Plus this log had a heavy y-branch sticking down into the water making dragging it very difficult.

As I gently lifted the loader, the log swung up and towards the tractor, almost surfing through the water up and onto the bank, traveling about 6 feet.  I imagine the working weight of the log was quite a bit less while partially bouyant in the water.  But as it swung closer, I could feel the tractor slowly tipping forward and sideways.  And I quickly dropped the loader down.  A few more times however and the log was beached… hooray!

Oak log pulled out of pond with John Deere 2320 tractor

It really didn’t look that big until I pulled it out of the water.  The gloves at the end of the log by the bucket provide some perspective, and it was bigger than I thought.  I couldn’t even roll it over by hand.

JD 2320 tractor pulling oak tree log out of water

 Now it’s time to cut the log into rounds, split them and stack the firewood for late winter.  See Part II of the story for more about using a chainsaw safely. They say “wood warms you twice… once when you cut it, and a second time at the hearth.”  Well, okay.  But by that logic I’ve been warmed 23 times so far!  It takes at least a couple of sharp chains on a good chainsaw to get an oak tree cut up.  A good 18 inch bar helps as well.  I can’t imagine how they did it by hand in the old days.  Then again they didn’t spend time taking pictures and writing on blogs either…

As for splitting the rounds I finally wimped out and got a small hydraulic splitter this year.  I went through 4+ trees a couple of years ago, splitting it all by hand with axe and maul.  My forearms were practically destroyed that year and took 6 months to rehabilitate.  Not getting younger by any means I guess.  I still love chopping wood with a sharp axe for the fire, but I don’t mind letting the hydraulic splitter go through the bigger rounds.  That’s the project for this week.

The wood smells really nice by the way.  This tree was a Red Oak and as much as I was sad to see it fall in the wind, I know the wood will provide almost a couple of month’s warmth in winter for us.   We took the time to count the rings… the boy counted along with me and the tree was about 125 years old!   I was amazed, because it looked smaller than that.  But we talked about the annual rings spaced closer together in times of stress and drought, and the wider rings where the tree grew faster in times of more rainfall or favorable conditions.

Red Oak tree round looking at yearly rings

Some of the larger oak trees around the area must be closer to 200 years old.  I always have a  difficult time reconciling the age of trees to the passage of history.  If trees could talk… well they can, sort of.  Ever hear of dendrochronologyFascinating research.  I introduced it to a sixth grade class once with cut specimens of cedar and pine to let them count tree rings.  But it’s amazing to see how the wood from Viking ships helped researchers determine when and where the ships were built.

By the way, our small hickory tree was loaded with nuts for the very first time this year. We think it’s close to twenty years old which is about right before they produce nuts the first time.  We found quite a few on the ground, and also hugged the tree to shake it a little as more nuts came falling to the ground.  The boy likes the outer husks for boats in the bathtub. I wasn’t sure what type of hickory it was until we saw the nuts, and it appears to be a Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata). 

Shagbark Hickory tree nut

We have two other Shagbark hickory trees across the pond so it’s not surprising that it grew here, planted by some industrious squirrel.  I had not shelled and eaten hickory nuts before.  They’re small but we tasted one and it seemed mild and faintly sweet.  They probably need time to dry out and maybe we could roast them? But they’re going to require a little patience.  We’ll save them for winter along with those walnuts.

And here’s an interesting fungi specimen to add to our collection.  Anyone know what this is? There were two of them, with dozens of brown, round mushroom heads packed closely together.  The entire fungi was about the size of a dinner plate.  It sprouted and lived for only a couple days, fading quickly after that.  Reminds me of a pile of pennies…

Unknown clump of fungi

Early Autumn Oddities

September 25th, 2008

Is it really Autumn already?  I’m not sure where the time went, but there are many changes now with the days growing shorter.  The weather this year has been so strange, but the bees really appreciate all the moisture.  They’re all over the goldenrod and small wild asters now, hopefully building up their stores of honey and pollen for winter.

But look at this blooming crabapple tree!  It flowered in the Spring and has many little crabapples now, but then began blooming again this week.   I think the leaves were defoliated from insect damage and that prompted it to flower once more.

Crabapple tree flowering in September

Other strange sights include this gigantic mushroom.  I saw a white patch behind the barn and thought I lost a plastic grocery bag.  As I got closer I couldn’t believe how big it was!  So that’s a regular white straw cowboy hat near the monster fungus.  Anybody know what it is?  I’ve noted many other smaller mushrooms around now too.

Giant mushroom next to cowboy hat

And if you’re an arachnophobe, then you might want to skip to the next picture!  I think this is a Missouri Wolf Spider (Geolycosa missouriensis), but I’m not really sure.  Any spider experts out there?  All I know is it was almost two inches long and was strolling along the gravel driveway when I walked up to it.  Those rocks are chunks of one inch clean gravel recently spread on top of the driveway.  I let the spider continue its journey toward some bushes and I think it growled at me as it wandered off!

Missouri Wolf Spider

 

And here’s a colorized picture of a beautiful rose taken at dawn yesterday.  The sun had just risen in the background, and the rose was in the shade.  A little creative license helped to brighten the picture.  Have a great day!

Colorized rose in morning sunlight

Flowers, Berries and Bees

September 12th, 2008

The autumn season is just around the corner, and the fall honeyflow for the bees is in full swing.  Many seasonal flowers are blooming and very abundant due to all the rainfall.  I have left the bees alone for the past few weeks, and hopefully they are producing lots of honey for their winter stores. 

Sedum flowers are tiny, but the bees are covering these plants throughout the daylight hours.  Bees are fascinating insectsDid you know it takes over 2 million trips to flowers to make just 1 pound of honey?  Each worker bee lives about 6 weeks, and during that time each worker will make about 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey.  Makes me appreciate honey all the more!

Bees love Sedum flowers!

I left a large patch of these “weeds” near the pond dam, and the bees seem to love them.  I don’t know what they are called, but there’s probably a quarter acre of them about 4-5 feet tall with white flower heads.   

 Autumn flowers that bees love

Earlier this summer I didn’t see the bees around our property much, and we didn’t have many flowers blooming that were suitable for bees.  They would zoom off from the hive somewhere, and I thought they were really fast.  But honeybees can only fly about 15 mph and can be challenged on windy days to make it to the hive.  The NOVA article above says a worker bee will visit between 50-100 flowers on each trip outside the hive.  That’s a lot of work!

It’s also time to harvest some more berries.  These are “autumn berries” from the Autumn Olive or Autumnberry tree (Elaeagnus umbellata). 

Autumnberries in late summer

Autumnberry is really a very large shrub, originally from Asia.  Decades ago they were planted around the eastern U.S. to help with soil stability and erosion prevention.  Turns out they are quite invasive however and have taken over many areas. The plant is thick and branchy, with many thorns in the upper branches.  Not easy to remove.  I’ve watched a large thicket grow up in just a few years above the pond.  But the berries are edible, and we’re going to experiment with them to make jam or jelly. 

If all goes well, we may also have a little honey to go with our biscuits before the bees settle in for winter.  We’ll check on them next week!

Bee hive and Labrador Retriever in foreground

Flutterby in July

July 27th, 2008

We’re on the way to mid-summer and after all the rain it’s so nice and green!  And hot! And humid!  Ah, but with all the growing things we have lots of butterflies around.  Sometimes I don’t see them and wonder where they are, and then I’ll start noticing them everywhere.   That intentional thought thing perhaps. 

Have you ever been interested in a particular kind of car, and then for the next 3-4 days you see them everywhere?! 

And I saw a fox yesterday for the first time this year.  They’re always around, but we don’t see them often.  I didn’t have the camera, but the fox was running along the dam toward the woods.  I thought, “What’s Kuma doing down at the dam?  Wait… that’s not Kuma, that’s a fox!”  It quickly disappeared into the woods.   If you like dogs, you can read about our indefatigable Kuma here.  He really does look like a fox!

Speaking of foxes, our cat Princess has always been wary, but even more so it seems since Sparky left us last month.   We’re not sure, but he may have encountered a fox or coyote one night.  He still made it home amazingly enough, but something bit into his hind quarters.  He spent almost a week with a veterinarian, but in the end he couldn’t be helped.   There are lots of predators about, which indicates a healthy biodiversity in the area.  But sometimes it’s a little too close to home.  And yes, we let cats run around outside most of the time.  It’s a rural lifestyle, and the cats love to be outside. They also help keep mice and moles away. 

Of course the only predators I see chasing butteflies is the yellow lab.  Sometimes he’ll see one on the ground, stalk it slowly and then lunge at it.  He doesn’t catch them, but has a goofy look on his face that seems to imply it’s just for fun. 

One of our more common butterflies is the Giant Swallowtail.  These guys are fast but don’t seem to mind letting you get a good look at them.  

Giant Swallowtail butterfly

Now I’m not trying to make this “the insect blog” or anything, it’s just that there are so many around right now!  It’s not too difficult to get a picture of a butterfly on the ground, but to catch one in flight was another story. 

This guy was more like a “flutterby” as he danced around quickly in circles.  I probably took 30 pictures to get this one in focus.  I wonder if there are any aerodynamic lessons to learn from butterflies? 

Giant Swallowtail butterfly in July

I know that throughout the world butterfly “souvenirs” can be found in many cities.  Which is not necessarily a good thing, especially if some of the species are threatened due to habitat loss or overcollection.  But some of the collections for sale are amazing in the diversity of species and colors.  Collecting insects is generally a fine hobby and quite educational.  I remember taking an entomology class years ago and amassed quite the collection of creepy crawlies.  Not sure what happened to it, but that’s probably a good thing!

And if you’ve read this far, it’s well past time to say thank you for visiting.  I appreciate if you have time for a comment, but if you’re just passing by, that’s okay too.   Sometimes blogging can be discouraging when it seems like one is “writing into the wind” so to speak.  But as Ron has found, there are many wonderful “lurkers” out there… good people that stop by for reasons we may never know or understand.  I’m glad Ron’s back at it…   I don’t know how long I’ll continue to write or share pictures, but hopefully we’ll continue the journey for a good while.

We’re off on a traveling adventure this week and I may or may not get a chance to post.  There are so many other wonderful blogs out there and I’m really amazed and humbled with the stories and relationships that blogging fosters.   And yes!  Next week we’ll be posting the Festival of the Trees.  See you soon.

Ghostly Shapes in the Pond

July 10th, 2008

For the last few weeks I’ve noticed ripples in the pond on quiet days, usually near the shoreline.  I look for fish quite often, and if it’s a bass or bluegill you can hear the “pop” or “smack” as they find an insect to dine on.   The bullfrogs are calling now also with their slow “baarooom, baaroom” voices.  And when two bullfrogs get together in a mating ritual, it’s like two splashy, flopping critters near the weeds. 

Ripples along the pond shoreline

But the ripples I’ve been seeing were not the same.  The previous two years I stocked a few grass carp as well as koi to help control vegetation and algae in the pond.  And years ago, a previous owner stocked a few of them as well.  Whether it’s luck or the right combination of fish I don’t know, but thus far we have had no blooms of algae or emergent vegetation problems, and the pond has remained much more open and clear. 

My suspicion is that the ripples I’m seeing along the water’s edge are the grass carp feeding.  I’ve let the grass from the shoreline grow long enough to fall over into the water to some degree, and the critters around the pond seem to appreciate it.  Every now and then I see ghostly shapes near the edge of the grass, but was not quite sure what it was.  And I didn’t know for sure if the grass carp I stocked actually survived over the last two years.

But the other day I found out they not only survived, but are apparently thriving.  Here’s picture of one of the ghostly shapes.  See the darker fish in the shadow of the tree?  It’s hard to tell size, but from the distance I took this picture, the fish is close to three feet long.  

Solitary grass carp in pond

And then for the first time ever, I saw a small “school” of three grass carp near the surface and just happened to have the camera nearby.  These are very large fish, easily 2-3 feet.  They didn’t stay for long, and I haven’t seen them since.  When I think I do see them and walk slowly near the pond’s edge to look, they vanish quickly.

School of three grass carp in pond

It’s fascinating to think these have grown so large and overwintered on little to no vegetation, and with the surface of the pond frozen for weeks at a time.  And it’s somewhat unnerving as well.  These are the same species of nuisance fish that have escaped into many midwest rivers over the years.  But these particular grass carp are triploid as well as being land-locked in the pond.  Triploid meaning that they have three sets of chromosomes instead of the normal two, and cannot reproduce. (I always wonder about that, with the quote in mind from Jurassic Park that “nature finds a way”).  However they do require rivers to breed successfully, so these fish won’t increase their population here.  I was also careful not to put too many in our small body of water, because as you can tell they get very large, and are long-lived.  

For now we seem to have a fortunate balance of fish with less vegetation, yet enough to maintain the fertility and biodiversity of the pond.  There’s still healthy bluegill, bass, frog and turtle populations as well, so for now we’ll just see how things work out.  We do fish occasionally, but I doubt we’ll hook one of these monsters.  Then again, I wouldn’t know what to do with it anyway.

Summer Bumbles and Bees

July 8th, 2008

The month of July in Missouri is a lot of things.  Good things like tomatoes, barbeques, cooler mornings and maybe a few rainstorms if we’re lucky.  And then there’s the other things… the heat and humidity, weeds and trimming, and tons of insect critters that find their way into everything, usually leaving us itchy reminders to deal with.

I guess the bees fit that insect category, but they’re pretty neat to have around.   Unlike a few other critters such as ticks and chiggers.  Now I’m sure the peskier bugs serve some functional purpose for the web of life in our evironment.  But there’s times I wish they would serve that purpose somewhere else!  If you’re going to live in the country however, you have to take the good with the bad, and I’m learning that the good far outweighs the bad over the course of time.  

It’s not hard to appreciate our pollinators though.  Those amazing bees that go buzzing around and help us grow our fruits and vegetables.   Isn’t this a cool looking bumblebee?  This one is working a lavender plant, darting from flower to flower. 

Bumblebee and lavender © Fox Haven Media

And did you know that bumblebees are the primary pollinators of our tomato plants?  I’ve seen them all over our tomatoes, but I didn’t realize until recently that the way bumblebees pollinate tomato plants is through sonification.  The bumblebee pulls the tomato flower down to a vertical position, and vibrates their wing muscles at a certain frequency after which the tomato flower pollen falls out of pores in the anthers.  When the pollen falls down, it sticks to the bumblebees fuzzy body and, oh by the way, the bumble just happens to be rubbing that same fuzzy pollinated body against the tomato flower stigma, and because of his fuzzy little travels, voila! pollination from one flower to another occurs.   I think of bumblebees with appreciation every time I eat a tomato!

Here’s another important pollinator below, but it’s not a bumblebee.  Instead this is a Carpenter bee about to dive headfirst into a hydrangea flower head.  Carpenter bees are not thought of very highly because of the tunneling damage they can do to wooden beams, decking and the wood in houses and barns.  Yes, they actually bore holes and tunnels in wood!  We see them around here, but I’m not sure where they are nesting. Sometimes you see the male buzzing up and down in a certain area, seemingly harassing you if you try to walk by.  That’s just his way of protecting his territory or a nest nearby, but he’s actually harmless and can’t sting.  Not very fun to have a big buzzing critter zoom at you however.

Carpenter bee and hydrangea flower © Fox Haven Media

But our other favorite pollinators are the honeybees of course.  Our two hives appear to be doing just fine, although one is a lot stronger than the other in terms of the number of bees around the hive.   And yesterday there were hundreds of bees clustered outside the hive.  Are they getting ready to swarm?  Fanning to cool the hive?  Just new bees getting outside for some fresh air!?  I don’t really know, but with lots of space in two relatively new hive body supers, I think they’re just staying cool.  They have quite a bit of shade under some oak trees, but it has been very hot and humid lately.

Honeybees clustered outside the hive on a hot day

The other hive which is weaker didn’t have many bees hanging around outside however.  In both hives, the bees were coming and going just the same, and working flowers around the property.  It’s interesting to see the differences though, and I’ll be opening the hives up sometime the next week to see what else I can find out.

Beetle Mania

July 2nd, 2008

I’ve got beetle mania this week.  After seeing hundreds and hundreds of japanese beetles decimating our grapes and other plants, we decided it was time to get a trap.  They’re simple, not too expensive, and work like a charm.  Within minutes of hanging up the trap yesterday, beetles were flying toward it and dropping into the bag.

This thing works very well. There’s at least four flying beetles and a dozen more over the yellow vanes above the bag, and more on the way!

Japanese Beetle trap in action

After a few hours the bag was full of hundreds of beetles. Yuck!   We put up another trap and left them up all day.  This morning I threw out what seemed like two pounds of bugs, and hung up a couple of more bags. 

I considered cutting open the bag and throwing the beetles in the pond after reading about someone who fed them to his catfish, but I didn’t want to chance releasing a ton of beetles that we already caught.  This morning the grapes already look better, and there are many fewer japanese beetles on the other plants.

I’m under no illusion that this will solve our nuisance problem with the beetles.  But it may just help the grapes continue to mature, and lessen the number of beetles we have next year.  Chalk one up to technology, but I hope some enterprising bird can figure out how to eat these little suckers!

On the subject of yucky bugs, does anyone know what this big brown catepillar is?   It’s sitting upside down next to a 4×4 post!  I’ll try to find out… maybe we’ll call it a “Big Brown Four Inch Catepillar” for now.  Not very creative, I know.  Any better ideas?

Big four inch catepillar

Sour Grapes

June 29th, 2008

The change of seasons is welcome, and with the beginning of summer we find ourselves looking at the garden and landscape a little differently.  The plants are maturing and bring new flowers while the weeds try to march through everything.  The grapes are growing nicely on the arbor, and I think of using them for jellies or even wine someday. 

Grapes

But the insects are also now out in full force.  We’ve been chasing fireflies and avoiding mosquitoes, and we just deal with bugs as a matter of course. But some of them are strange and pesky critters such as the Japanese Beetle.  I’m told these little beetles were not around this area until just a few years ago.  They apparently were introduced to the U.S. around 1916 on the east coast, and have spread a few miles every year.  Last year was the first we had seen of so many around our area, and they decimated the grape leaves.  The fruit just shriveled up as they sucked the juice from the leaves (see the little brown spots?) and the whole plant just withered.

Japanese Beetles

I’ve noticed them over many different plants this week, but they don’t have any natural predators apparently.  Does anybody know any good control techniques?  I’ve heard you can get a trap, but some people think that just attracts more of them.  I’ve also heard someone’s rooster liked to eat them, and someone else collects them by hand.  Ours are in so many places, and high and low, that I couldn’t begin to collect them all.  I did try spraying some tea tree oil soap on them… didn’t seem to bother them in the least.   I’m not inclined to use harsh insecticides around the house, so I’ll keep trying different things.

I suppose like many things we’re just going to have to get used to them.  Or maybe we’ll get those chickens next year after all!

Gardens, Critters and Clouds

May 22nd, 2008

Isn’t it strange how fast everything grows?!  A little rain and warm weather and we find ourselves in a jungle.   Lots of activity these days, especially working hard to get the garden finished up.  This is the first year we’ve had plants in the ground by late April and early May.  The tomatoes were a little nipped by a late frost, but are coming back.  And this year we put up a green fence and posts for peas and beans to climb. Hopefully.  And corn!  I’ve always wanted corn but avoided growing it since it’s so big and kind of messy.  This year with grocery prices we figured what the heck, and planted a bunch all over.  

Garden in May

It doesn’t look like much, but this is about half of the garden.  It’s small as country gardens go, and the rows are only about 20-25 feet long.  But the rows are perpendicular to the sloping hillside that leads to the pond.  This way the water doesn’t race across and wash everything out.  I’ve planted a few surprises around the corners this year, so we’ll see what happens. Now I’m wondering, if we’re trying to keep the bunnies out, why do we have that cute little bunny sign?!

I think the raccoons are going to be regular visitors.  Otherwise let’s see… we’re trying to grow cucumbers, a dozen tomato plants, eggplant, zuchini, watermelon, peppers and beets.  I’ve wanted beets the past two years and they simply would not grow… or the tops were chewed off by something.  They’re supposed to be the easiest things to grow!  Oh, and we even cut a bunch of potatoes in half and stuck ’em in the ground.  They’re already up and growing like weeds.  Now if we can keep it watered and relatively weed free, and the little bunny critters away, then maybe we’ll have a chance at a veggie harvest!

By the way, ever see one of these critters before in the picture below?  That little hanging down thingy on the cedar tree is a Bagworm moth cocoon.  The female bagworms crawls up a tree, preferably an evergreen of some kind, and picks apart the needles to make a nice little house.  Then they crawl to a nice cozy place to spend the winter and when spring comes they hang out waiting for the male bagworm moth, who actually flys around.  They two of them do their thing together and then all kinds of little bagworms crawl out over the whole dang tree.  Since the needles are green when the little bagworms make their cocoons they are hard to see at first. 

Bagworm cocoon

It would be kind of neat except they practically denude the whole thing!  They can really damage and even kill a tree or shrub, so they have to be controlled.  We didn’t pay close enough attention last year and had small spruce trees and juniper bushes that were covered in them.  We literally pulled several hundred bagworms off the plants filling up two milk jugs and then disposed of them. I don’t like spraying chemicals, but I had to treat the pine trees to make sure they survived.

If you notice the worms before they make the little bag cocoons you can just spray them directly.  This year I haven’t seen many yet, but when I do I tug the cocoon off the branch.  Oh, and if you just throw it on the ground, the little worm will poke its head out and crawl back up a tree!  Nature is pretty amazing sometimes, but I’m not very fond of these guys.  Once they’re in that tough little cocoon they’re like indestructable superbugs. 

This morning on the way to the bus the young one said “Daddy look! The clouds look like the ocean!”  That was a pretty good observation.   They looked like storm clouds at sea, ominous and rolling quickly through the sky as a front passes.  It rained briefly this morning, but not as much as you would think from the picture.  That was okay by me. But then it poured and poured. 

Storm clouds rolling by

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