•March 2, 2014 • Leave a Comment
Last summer I built a couple of cold frames that would hopefully allow us to get a jump on starting seedlings. We were able to grow cat grass (wheat berries) in them through almost all of December. A month earlier everything in the yard had died but the micro climate in the cold frames was sufficient to keep the grass, in small pots, growing.
Sadly, we still have way too much snow and sub zero temperatures still going on so starting seeds this year will have to wait.
I walked by them last week to check on the snow melt around them and was greeted by an amazing display on the glass.
The frost patterns had a very organic vine like shape to them, even to the point of appearing to almost have frost leaves growing on the frost vines. Be sure to click on the image to see a larger version of it.
•February 23, 2014 • 1 Comment
At the bottom of our feeder it looked like someone had taken a feather pillow and busted it open before shaking it around. Feathers were all over the place.
Upon closer inspection, some of the feathers had blood on them. Never a good sign.
Soon “innards” were discovered along with the feathers. Obviously something had met its demise here. Now, seeing the aftermath, we were curious as to the what it might have been.
Early guesses would eventually prove to be true when we found a few feathers with a distinctive curl at the tip. These feathers are commonly found on a particular species of water fowl along with green iridescent feathers at the head. A bit of additional searching produced the feathers, that when held to the sunlight a certain way flashed green.
And the former owner of these feathers was a male mallard duck. Near as we can figure it landed at the base of the feeder where some cracked corn had been sprinkled. Either a hawk or coyote was able to catch it by surprise. Hawk is our first choice as we suspect a coyote would have carried it off while a hawk would be more likely to pluck all the feathers and eat what it could right then and there. Since no carcass was found, perhaps the hawk flew off with the remains or perhaps a coyote arrived and absconded with the remains.
Rest in peace ducky.
•October 1, 2013 • Leave a Comment
The Japanese Beetle (Popillia japonica) is not a problem in Japan where natural predators control it but here in the US we’re not so lucky.
Single beetles do a bit of damage to leaves and flowers.
Large numbers, however, can eat so much of a plant that they become threatening to the existence of the plant. We’ve seen entire mature trees nearly completly defoliated by them.
While many methods are available to help control them, incuding poisons, pheremone traps and even hand removal (dumping them into a bowl of soapy water to eliminate them), the ones you miss will happily make more.
Over the years we’ve witnessed some preadtors start to go after them and floating row covers can protect plants or garden crops until they are large enough to withstand some beetle damage. Some sources say they are especially attracted to soy plants and one year a nearby farmer planted hundreds of acres of soy. The following year we were especially inundated with them. Coincidence?
•September 21, 2013 • Leave a Comment
The month of August has been interesting in terms of butterflies and September is looking promising too.
Our first tale involved an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus). We noticed it on our butterfly bush and that it was moving strangly. It turns out that something else was actually moving it. The butterfly had already passed on and was well over half consumed by a Praying Mantis.
Within moments of the above photo, the wing dropped off of the body as the last bits disappeared into the mouth of the hungry predator.
Tale number two has a happier ending for the butterfly. A neighbor had found a small number of Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillars and had them in a cage. They soon attached themselves to branches and made their chrysalides. She gave us a branch with two on there. We cared for them which pretty much involved making sure they were out of reach of our cats until they first one emerged.
The one above is clearly a male as shown by the large amount of yellow and small amount of blue coloration.
Within minutes of taking it outside to release it, upon which it almost immediately flew off, our neighbor came by with another swallowtail (tale #3) that had just emerged for them.
In the shot above you can clearly see it is a female as designated by the large amount of blue and minimal yellow.
This one actually hung around for a few hours before flying off affording many opportunies for addtional photos.
As of these photos we still had one swallowtail yet to emerge. In the photo below you can see the empty chrysalis above and the lower one still holding the transforming butterfly.
Finally here is a close up on the chrysalis. The background is unaltered although I did heavily photoshop the color levels on the branch and chrysalis in order to bring out the colors better (the strange yellow border surrounding them is an unfortunate result). You can see the little piece of silk sling they use to suspend the chrysalis closer to the branch.
The other one did finally emerge and flew away. Just recently a monarch caterpillar was located and put in the cage. Within 2 days it had already formed a chrysalis and sometime in September it is expected to emerge.
•September 15, 2013 • Leave a Comment
We’re growing seven different varieties of beans in our garden this year. Two have already produced quite a number of beans and some were allowed to stay on the vine to eventually ripen and dry out. Harvesting the dried beans is done in order to save them for a hearty bean soup (among other dishes) over the winter.
The first bean, a yellow bean, produced interesting seeds with minor variations in the brown patch.
What was more interesting was the color varations on the other bean known as Dragon’s Tongue, an heirlook variety. One source is Baker Creek Heirlook Seeds. The seeds are normally a light tan/purplish color with darker purple spots and streaks. Nearly all the seed pods produced these beans (as shown on the right) however a few had opposite beans. They were colored purple with tan spots (bottom center). A couple of pods had light tan with brown spots (top center) and a single pod produced a single seed, one half colored light with dark spots and one half color dark with light spots (left side).
In doing a bit of research, specifically on this bean, I’ve seen similar reports from others and apparently this is just a normal, although rare, variation that sometimes occurs. Other than the color the beans are identical.
•September 8, 2013 • Leave a Comment
Common Green Darner dragonflies, Anax junius, are fairly easy to recognize when perched. The difficulty is finding one perched as they are almost always seen when flying.
We got lucky and found one perched, early one morning, on a cluster of Morning Glory vines.
It is a common dragonfly found through out North America and south as far as Panama. The adults migrate from the northern states all the way to Texas and Mexico, one of the longer distance migrating insects.
It is one of the larger dragonflies and eats a variety of insects, all which are caught in flight. The nymphs feed on insects, tadpoles and even small fish.
The easiest way to know it’s a Common Green Darner is to look for the bullseye marking located in front of the eyes on the top of the face. No other dragonfly has that marking.
•August 31, 2013 • Leave a Comment
I was working in the garage the other day making a cold frame and fixing some benches when I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye. Figuring it was another chipmunk trying to slip in the garage I turned to stomp towards it as this always gets them to scamper away. Instead the movement was a healthy sized beetle larvae caught in a web and the resident spider trying to subdue it.
The larvae was approximately an inch and a half long and was doing mostly barrel rolls in an attempt to get free.
Every few moments the spider would rush in looking to either wrap more web around it or perhaps bite it. The action was too continuous to determine one way or the other. The large pinchers at the front of the larvae appeared to be a hinderances to the spider. I have no idea how long the battle was going on before I first noticed it, but the action was nearly non stop.
After the photos I went back to work and checked on it every so often. Still battling. Finally, about 45 minutes after first noticing the larvae was no longer moving and the spider was hoisting it up and positioning it in the web.
One small detail, the head and pinchers appears to have finally been completely encased in webbing. I did not notice this earlier so I can’t say if the spider did this before the larvae passed on or after.
Witnessing a life and death battle like this, even with small insects, still makes me think. On one side I want to help set the larvae free but on the other side I don’t want the spider to starve. Which side do I support or help? Or do I take the wiser course of action (I believe) and simply let nature do what nature has always done? Unless the animal is trapped or suffering due to something man made I believe it is better to let nature work it out.