Recently in pests Category

Emergency Bug Hunt



bughunta11-14-10.jpgA thousand times ewwww...

bughuntb11-14-10.jpgWhen you discover swarms of bugs in your garden and you need helpers to go after them, what better way to inspire a bunch of boys to go on the hunt than to offer video games of choice to the winner. Good thing we had a sleepover last night!

bughuntd11-14-10.jpgCups of soapy water in hand, the five of us lined up for a fall pest-bug version of an Easter Egg hunt.

bughunte11-14-10.jpgThe bugs were everywhere, and apparently many of my plants have been suffering, including Turk's Cap, Passionflower, Salvias, and more.

bughuntf11-14-10.jpg bughuntj11-14-10.jpg bughuntk11-14-10.jpgEntomologist Mike Quinn helped me out with the ID on the black bugs and the long bug with the orange outline. They are Largus bugs (Largus succinctus) in the Bordered Plant Bug family, in the same suborder as the Box Elder -- the black bugs are the instars. And there's a Brown Stink Bug in the mix. Good to finally know what these bugs are. Thank you very much, Mike! Reading more about them, they are not considered major pests, but the numbers in my garden are out of control, and the plants are clearly affected -- so no guilt about the bug hunt here.

Look, a bug snow globe!

bughuntc11-14-10.jpgSometimes we were tricked by dark berries that looked like the pest bugs, like these berries on the Firebush and the berries on the Texas Lantana.

bughunth11-14-10.jpgWhen we all got too cold, we came inside to count our Easter eggs, I mean bugs. First we poured them into a paper-towel lined collander. Yum!

bughunti11-14-10.jpgAnd then counted them up.

bughuntg11-14-10.jpgAll in all, I think we caught some 200 bugs. We'll do a round again later when it warms up. We were all winners and everyone got to play video games (well, except me, who got to do a blog post instead -- yay!).

FYI, that chrysalis I intended to move after my last post is still in its precarious spot on the backdoor frame. I'm guarding it from the dogs, but I need some peace and quiet around here in order to perform such a delicate transplant!

BogeyMan Freak Out


There's very little in nature that disturbs me. I can watch with fascination the way predators stalk their prey, study the little bones left behind in owl pellets, and look at snotty-faced hogs like they're as cute as bunnies.

I adore spiders, all of them.

greenlynx09-17-09.jpgIt would never occur to me to kill one, unless my family was in danger from a venomous one. Some of them make such beautiful webs -- incredible works of art and science and skill all rolled into one, though to the spider it's a just a normal way of life. I've walked into more webs and had more spiders in my big mass of hair than I care to admit, but I still love them.

web06-05-10.jpgI could cuddle with the biggest of snakes.

snake06-05-10.jpgI'd probably prefer not to have to outrun a taipan or to fall flat on my face in front of a rattler, but that's life or death -- and that's different. I guess I'm not a fan of ticks, either, but then who would be? They carry terrible diseases and suck your BLOOD. But they don't invoke fear in me. Not that feeling of panic that makes you shriek and want to flee far away. Well, there was that time in a deer grove near Uvalde that I looked down to see hundreds of ticks crawling onto my shoes -- I'll say that I did stare for a moment with fascination before doing the big "Get These Terrible Ticks Off Me" dance. None managed to reach my skin, thank goodness. 

I study flies and bees and slugs with equal amazement. Animal carcasses you find on a trail? Gross, yes, but the stink would drive me away before the sight would.

People say bats, and I run outside with a camera. I love the feel of slimy earthworms in my hand. I've been stung by a scorpion and lived to tell the tale. I've dealt with wasp hives and hornets and learned to appreciate the creepy-crawling of the zillion-legged centipede. I'd curl up with a lion if it wouldn't eat me.


But there is a creature that gets to me. Perhaps that's a poor way to word it.

The freak-out creature for me used to be a roach. I still remember the horror from my childhood of waking up in my room in the middle of the night, freaky shadows cast on the walls by oleanders outside the louver windows, their leaves and branches swaying eerily in the strong wind. In a moonlit spot on the wall, I saw a dark spot, and as my eyes adjusted I realized it was a the biggest roach I'd ever seen (and living in Corpus Christi at the time, I was no stranger to roaches). But this one was clearly the Big Bad Brown Roach from Dark Forces of Evil, and it was watching me. I could feel its little eyes staring at me from across the room.

moonb03-29-10.jpgI stayed as still as I could, trying to muster the nerve to call out for my mom, or better yet flee. But it held me trapped by its dark gaze, long antennas wiggling all around, and I'd never felt such an intense moment in all the five years of my life. And instinctively I knew something was about to happen, and I grabbed the edge of my blanket in my hands just as that giant roach flew across the room directly at me. FLEW! I had never seen one fly, but this sucker did, and my screams of terror from under my blanket must have woken up the whole neighborhood and probably utterly panicked my poor mother who had to find out what was torturing and trying to kill her youngest daughter.

My grandmother's house had lots of roaches. Little ones and big ones. Driven by that roach's attack on my childhood innocence, I went after them with a vengeance whenever I was visiting and saw them. By the way, I can slap a mosquito with the best of them. Grandmother had an infestation of crickets, too, but I could tolerate them somewhat. That reminds me of the year of the grasshoppers, when swarms of giant grasshoppers covered northern Texas, and they'd fly at us across the water when we tried to go sailing, a big white target for long-legged flying green grasshoppers. Shudder. I remember my stepmother shrieking over and over again while holding up a big towel to keep them from landing on her. A few years later, it was the year of the crickets, and stores had to sweep them out by the thousands onto the sidewalks and streets. They'd make a wall look black as they crawled up the sides.


In a biology lab in college, I once had to dissect a live roach. Not those flat little scurrying things we all find to be pests from time to time. No, this was one of those big fat roaches from the southern U.S., Georgia as I recall. We had to basically dismantle it body part by body part, including the fat globs of marshmallow creme, until it was nothing but head and gut tract -- and it was still alive! Its little jaws just gnawed away. THIS is why roaches will outlive humans by millions of years.

In case you are wondering, I was a Zoology major in college. We weren't given a choice about dissecting things, and I won't list them all here. But the scientist side of me took care of business, and really, the internal organs were just as fascinating as the animals themselves. Bodies in general are works of wonder. Beyond that, I tried not to think too much about what I was doing. 

I do recall the Giant Rat in high school. One night I was closing the curtains on our louver windows (I will NEVER willingly have louver windows in my adulthood, given the horrors they bring) when I saw a fat scaly tail hanging from the curtain where the drawstrings were. MOM! A giant rat! Neither of us wanted to try to get it out of there, and it wasn't budging on its own, and all we could see was that terrible tail dangling. So we decided to leave the door to the garage open to give it a chance to leave on its own (it probably came in through there). And we went to bed. Next thing I knew, my mom was nudging me awake, whispering that the giant rat was in her room. Why on earth she left her bedroom door partly ajar with such a monstrosity loose in the house, I'll never know. This time we went in with brooms in hand, ready to defend against and drive out the small intruder with giant freaky tail. It turns out that it wasn't a rat, neither giant nor little, but the cutest little baby possum (sharp teeth and all), and it was just as scared as we were. We gently helped it outside.

But while I might squeal at the sudden scurries of little mice or the unexpected appearance of a snake around a corner, none of it disturbs me, and my reaction turns fast to interest. But the creature of all creatures to utterly unnerve me is this. The Harvestman. The Bogeyman, if you ask me.

harvestmana06-05-10.jpgSome people call them daddy longlegs, or granddaddy longlegs. But whatever you call them, don't call them spiders. Because that's what they are NOT.

The harvestman is an arachnid, yes, but not a spider. Its body segments are closely joined to seem fused into a single oval.

harvestmanb06-05-10.jpgAnd they've got those freakily long legs. If they just stayed still, I could MAYBE get used to them. But... 

harvestmand06-05-10.jpgThe way they bob up and down and quiver as they walk, they way they gather in black throbbing blobs on walls, the way they move their long legs around when threatened-- EEEEEK. I never really cared for them before, but visiting the narrow cave at Enchanted Rock in college and crawling in dark spaces only to look above and realize the ceiling is quivering, and then to realize with horror that you have thousands of pulsing harvestmen inches from ALL YOUR HAIR, and yeah, that's what did it for me. The word for the masses is "aggregation," a term you never want associated with creatures that freak you out.

harvestmanc06-05-10.jpgIt's the quivering. It's the way they move. I really should capture a video, but I'm feeling pretty weirded out just by how close I had to get to take the pictures. Why? Because when I got close they started to move! They freaked out and started moving and pulsing up and down and then waved their long second legs around like antenna at me, and then I freaked out and I'm just lucky I didn't fall off the ladder I was standing on. Did you know that the legs can keep twitching after they are detached, due to little pacemakers in the first segment? I read that -- I did not try it out. Apparently detaching their twitching leg is actually a defense mechanism to help them escape from predators.

harvestmane06-05-10.jpgBut in researching them, I reluctantly have to admit that they should probably maybe sort of go on the list of a garden's beneficial creatures. They are predators and scavengers both, and if they'd just stay out of sight, they'd be kind of sort of tolerated in my garden. They can't hurt me or my family, other than to give me a heart attack! But no, they are currently on my house, and if their numbers start to increase and my heart starts getting that fight or flight feeling too many times, they're going to have to go. I will not have big quivering wiggling black masses making me relive my cave experience over and over again! THIS IS WHAT NIGHTMARES ARE MADE OF, PEOPLE.

harvestmanf06-05-10.jpgLet's jump right in with a new poem shall we?

O Harvestman, My Bogeyman
© 2009, Great Stems

I think that I should never see
A Harvestman coming straight at me
Even worse is what I fear
That thousands of them gather here.
Lurking, bobbing, on the wall
Legs that make them ten-feet tall

FYI, I'm not actually scared of the harvestman. I won't really run screaming in terror when I see it. But it does creep me out a lot, a LOT, and you won't catch me hanging out around it for long. They might creep me out, but I don't really wish them ill will. I just wish them a new location.

So I've told a long tale, and in it confessed my nature weaknesses. What in nature freaks you out?


EDIT, same day: A funny thing happened after I wrote this post. I finished saving it and got in the car to head to a swim meet. I was still all creeped out after writing the post and doing all those pictures, so I was still thinking about the effects the harvestmen have on me and I started thinking up new lines for the poem. Well, I was driving on a rather long empty road and a cop pulled me over. It was a beautiful blue snazzy "police chase" kind of car, too -- one of those new ones that make your jaw drop. Part of me thought it was kind of cool to be pulled over by the most awesome police car ever. Of course, I was in a mini-van -- not so cool. Well, the dialogue went something like this:

Ma'am, do you know why I pulled you over?

          Ummmm... (serious pause here) maybe I was driving too fast?

Yes, ma'am -- that stretch of road is marked as 45, and you were going 60.

         Oh. (pause) Well, I was thinking about something that had me freaked out. It was
         those harvestmen, those daddylonglegs. And they were all on my house. And they were
         quivering and bobbing, and I'm still creeped out by them. And I guess I didn't know
         I was driving fast. I'm not a speeder by nature.

Please sign here, ma'am.

        Here? Okay.

Thank you, ma'am. Well, this is just a warning about your speed. It would have been a ticket, but in all my years, I've heard lots of stories, and I've never heard one like that before. 

By the way, Austinites, don't speed on McNeil, that part near the railroad as it heads toward Wells Branch. Mr. Cool Cop Car might be there waiting for you, but if he is, he's really nice. 



I just couldn't come with a title for this one. But I had fun taking photos!

The Cinnamon Sunflower is about 3 feet tall now, but still no blooms. Looking pretty snazzy even without the blooms, I must say.

cinsunflower05-27-10.jpg I never realized how fun milkweed seeds are, fresh from a pod. Hopefully some of these will germinate -- I need more milkweed!

milkweedseeds05-27-10.jpg Still damp from a gentle rain, the Passionvine is happily entwining along its trellis. With luck it will hide our A/C unit soon, at least until the caterpillars start munching!

passifloraa05-27-10.jpg Passiflora flowers just might be the most bizarre flowers out there. I mean seriously -- how on earth did nature come up with that crazy design?

passiflorab05-27-10.jpg The tripod of a stigma at the top looks like some alien straight from a sci-fi movie.

passiflorac05-27-10.jpg The coneflowers are huge and teasing me with blooms to come.

purpleconeflower05-27-10.jpg I'm not sure whether it was the rain or the change in temperature, but I finally got a Checkered White butterfly to hold still for a photo.


And a Dainty Sulphur -- both of these butterflies usually tend to dart around like mad if I get too close. Gotcha, little flutterbies!


I've been noticing more wasps visiting the dill lately, and the caterpillar deaths have increased, so I decided it was time to create a butterfly tent. Within a day we had our first swallowtail chrysalis. The tent is a collapsible $9 laundry hamper -- much cheaper and much larger than the "butterfly kits" you can buy online and in various stores.

swcat05-27-10.jpg swchrysalis05-27-10.jpg    

Okay, what's this bug? Good guy? Bad guy? Found him on my native White Honeysuckle bush. I guess I could go look him up.


In other news, I found little slimy larval stuff eating one of my tomato leaves. I took a picture, but they're gross and I decided that they messed with my pretty zen pictures, so I'm not posting it today. The slimy things are in the compost bin now. I don't know whether they're good guys or bad guys, but they were working as a team and my gut told me I didn't want more of them around. And there was a leaf-footed bug on another tomato leaf. Little booger got away. Gah. But at least I'm onto him.

The Wildlife Lover's Moral Dilemma


In this amazing world, to me every creature is fascinating and beautiful in its own way. Nature has a way of showing off the remarkable, and it's like an addictive thrill for me to find and watch nature in action -- the way a tiny jumping spider stalks the much larger ant, the way a bird tilts its head to watch for predators while it eats, the different pitches of the mating sounds of the male toads croaking by the pond. I've been studying nature my whole life, and it never ceases to amaze me.

When nature is left to its own devices, a balance of predator and prey is the expected result, and the natural dynamics of an ecosystem in their own right are fascinating. Even now I feel the shock of climbing a ladder years ago to peer at new baby birds in a nest, only to discover a snake actively swallowing the last baby bird there. But it was nature in action, and while my heart was broken, I used it as an opportunity to teach my young children that the snake has a right to live as much as the little birds, and while we might not like what happened, it's nature. And then we talked about the hinged jaws of a snake, and all was good.

spiderfirefly05-22-10.jpgSo what makes a wildlife lover become executioner, a god deciding who shall live and who shall die? How can one be absolutely dedicated to gardening for wildlife and seeking out the fascination that nature inspires, then cross the line to what feels like heartless murder?

I've already crossed the line to actively killing fire ants in my yard. Anyone who has ever been bitten and stung, especially repeatedly, knows why these invasive insects are such a serious danger and problem. For immediate control, we use the boiling water method, but I also use beneficial nematodes and organic bait to help control these aggressive and painfully fierce armies of ants. Not only am I doing this to discourage a rampant problem from growing worse, but I'm a mother protecting her family from danger. So, easy justification.

I also have crossed the line to removal by hand of spotted cucumber beetles, aphids, stink bugs, grasshoppers, and a few others. But now I face a new foe, and a new dilemma. My tomatoes are in danger... from a most beautiful pest.

This is my first year growing tomatoes -- Romas, Brandywines, and Tomatillos-- and so far so good. The bushes are outgrowing their cages and already need new support.

  tomato05-22-10.jpgThe young Roma tomatoes are plentiful, and the flowers on the Brandywines let me know they aren't far behind. The tomatillos are younger but well on their way.

tomatob05-22-10.jpgBut the other night, a friend came over to share a birthday key lime pie I'd made my husband, and we ventured outside in the dark with flashlight in hand to view my enormous tomato bushes. My friend had been talking about a little green worm he'd found munching on his tomatoes at home, and wouldn't you know when he reached out to my tomatoes in the dark, he found a "squishy" creature on my tomatoes, too!


It was a hornworm -- specifically a tobacco hornworm, designated by the red horn on its end. We brought it back into the house and watched it munch away on the leaf we'd brought back with it (there were actually two -- see the small one there as well?). It became the table centerpiece and primary topic of conversation as we munched on key lime pie and it on its tomato leaf. We watched it munch and poop and munch some more -- yes, now you know how far I'll go to study nature. And we truly admired its beauty --a tobacco hornworm and its counterpart the tomato hornworm are gorgeous as far as caterpillars go, and the large sphinx moths they become are beautiful, too.


 But we also discussed the dilemma I was in. If I let it live and go back to feasting on my tomato plants, its voracious appetite would defoliate my plants in a flash and leave holes in my young tomatoes. But after an evening of studying the little guy, could I just brutally murder this lovely green caterpillar just innocently munching on the leaves its mama left it on? Was this the Last Supper?

      hornworm05-22-10.jpgUltimately I decided not to dwell on the pending demise of this pretty caterpillar. I knew the outcome the moment we'd found it. The fact is, I have an investment in the vegetable garden, and while many plants elsewhere in my yard are chosen for the wildlife that depend on them, my tomatoes are there for my family. Hornworms have a history of being pretty terrible pests, and if I let this one live, more will come to my tomatoes.

I did give it a home for the night and a bit of breakfast (the Last Breakfast, as it were) while I looked for its siblings on my tomato plants. I couldn't find anymore, but I suspect they are just quite adept at blending in. And in the morning daylight, the true beauty of the caterpillar was apparent. Look at how the lines on its body eventually converge to form the horn.

hornwormb05-22-10.jpgWith sadness, this morning the caterpillar will go to the bird feeder tray. I can't bring myself to do the deed, but perhaps a bird will do the job for me.

hornwormf05-22-10.jpgAnd there is the wildlife lover's dilemma. I'm having to send that which I admire to its doom, but maybe I can feel good that a bird will be happy. For what it's worth, little caterpillar, I'm sorry.


Umm, yeah. I just went outside to the tomatoes again and found this monster. They get rather fat and a little more intimidating when they're gigantic and practically bursting with your tomato plants inside them... And talk about the elephant of all caterpillar poop. I'm letting you imagine it rather than sharing a picture, but trust me, HUGE.


I saw this squirrel at the feeder when I put the caterpillars out. Think she'll eat them?


My husband's comment: Maybe the caterpillars will eat the squirrel.

Healthy Soil Makes a Healthy Garden


Spring is already around the corner, can you believe it? Sure, it's still January, but many of us are already planning our spring gardens, preparing beds, and ordering more seeds. But while you're busy planning what gorgeous flowers and greenery will decorate your garden this year, think about what lies beneath -- the soil -- for that is what makes your garden grow... literally.

soilmulchb01-17-10.jpgYour best bet for healthy plants starts with a healthy soil. But what exactly is healthy soil? Good soil is teeming with life. Many people have heard of food webs that show the relationship between plant-eaters and the animals that eat them, on up the food chain to humans. But did you know there is a whole food web just for what occurs in soil? Healthy soil contains organic matter to feed the little tiny creatures within the soil, and those creatures in turn break down nutrients into materials your flowers, trees, and shrubs can use.

Take a look at this diagram from the USDA website on soil.


It shows that not only is it important to have a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes, it all starts with organic matter in the soil. You simply have to have organic material in order to feed all the little guys that will do their part to take care of your plants naturally. Bacteria and fungi help retain nutrients in the soil, and protozoa consume the bacteria, releasing the nutrients into a form that plants can use. From there, beneficial nematodes consume bacteria, fungi, and protozoa, releasing even more nutrients for the plants. And while all these happy little beneficial creatures are eating their goodies, making their poop, and doing their part, they are denying nutrients to icky, disease-causing bad-guy creatures. Your soil is more protected with the presence of all those good guys, and your plants are happily reaping the benefits.

On up the food chain, arthropods, nematodes, and earthworms get consumed by larger predators, such as birds. And you can probably take the food web from there.

How do you know whether your soil is healthy? Well, one, you can have your soil tested, particularly if you are concerned about the mineral content of your soil (nutrient level) and whether you have any more serious concerns. But also consider whether you see many earthworms.


Earthworms are one of the best indicators of a healthy soil system. They consume bacteria and protozoa in the soil as organic material passes through their system, and their feces are rich with other microorganisms to help convert nutrients into a state plants use. They shred organic matter (making it more accessible to the microorganisms), loosen soil, create passages for oxygen and water to get into the soil, and their poop, or castings, are incredibly beneficial to the soil and your plants.

If you've been using chemicals on your yard for years, chances are that your plants are chemical dependent, or you might be starting to find that no matter how many times you spray, you just can't fix those brown spots in your lawn or resolve problems with fungus, etc. The chemical usage has disrupted the ecosystem, and getting your soil healthy again is the key to solving all those problems. You can help your plants transition off the chemicals simply by adding compost to your soil and taking advantage of multiple organic products out there that will boost your soil with microorganisms and/or natural nutrients, such as compost tea, seaweed, fish emulsion, and any number of organic mixtures and powders that provide microorganisms with food as a base. Leave your grass clippings and fallen leaves where they lay to decompose, resupplying the soil with the organic matter it needs.

wormc01-17-10.jpgAnd when you start to see earthworms, rejoice. Do a little worm dance, because you have happy, healthy soil. We are starting to have so many earthworms here that it's hard to dig a hole for a new plant without worrying we might hurt a worm. We protect them, we love them, and yes, we do our little worm dances. 

War, Peace, and Bananas


It seems strange to post pictures of a bright sunny day while I listen to the lovely sounds of raindrops falling outside. But at least I'm dry.

Over the past couple of days, the garden was a green version of Grand Central Station. Butterflies, wasps, moths, flies, and other creatures all came to feast, rest, and feast some more. It was high noon when I took these, unfortunately, but beggars can't be choosers when there are masses of creatures about all at the same time! You just get the shots when you can.

varietybutterflies11-18-09.jpgAt last, Painted Lady butterflies have come to visit.

paintedlady11-18-0.jpg paintedladyc11-18-0.jpgpaintedladyb11-18-0.jpg paintedladyd11-18-0.jpg I love the hidden peacock feathers you see in their hindwings.

paintedladye11-18-0.jpg   Variegated Fritillaries have arrived, too.


variegatedfritillary11-18-09.jpg variegatedfritillaryb11-18-09.jpg     A Snout Butterfly rested on Big Muhly.


And Queens went back and forth between the Gregg's Mistflower...

queens11-18-09.jpg queensb11-18-09.jpg and the Milkweed.

queenmale11-18-09.jpg I have so many kinds of skippers I can't name them all.

skipper11-18-09.jpg skipperandfrit11-18-09.jpg I think this is a Fiery Skipper...

skipperb11-18-09.jpg and this a White-Checkered Skipper.


The Gulf Fritillary was a challenge to photograph -- it cared not for sitting still.

gulffritillarya11-18-09.jpg gulffritillaryb11-18-09.jpg And Sulphurs -- some big, some small. Is this a Southern Dogface Sulphur or a Cloudless Sulphur?

sulphur11-18-09.jpg sulphurb11-18-09.jpg Tiny yellow butterflies fluttered about -- they didn't sit still for long. Hmmm... Little Yellow or Mimosa?

yellowbutterfly11-18-09.jpg yellowbutterflyb11-18-09.jpg

The big butterfly attractors have been the milkweed, zinnias, and Gregg's Mistflower, but a few days ago I set out a banana for the butterflies. They do love a rotting banana, but the last time I did that, the banana just rotted all by its little lonesome. This time, I walked out to discover a Goatweed Leaf Butterfly enjoying a snack with a Snout Butterfly (and a fly).

goatweedleafandsnout11-18-09.jpgSo I decided to set out a fresher banana, as well, and -- whoa -- incoming. Suddenly my new banana became an experiment and a wildlife study. The first visitors were wasps and flies. I'm not even going to attempt to identify any of these, but there's quite the variety!


waspsc11-18-09.jpg The wasps didn't always get along. The big red hornet-like one was the bully you'd expect him to be -- not that the other wasps were friendly and gentle-like, mind you...

wasps11-18-09.jpg While the wasps were distracted with their quarreling, the flies zoomed in for some banana. I like how they naturally spread themselves out.

banana11-19-09.jpgDo you see the beautiful metallic turquoise insect in the lower left corner? That's a Cuckoo Wasp -- the only one I can identify other than "fly" or "wasp."

fliesandcuckoo11-18-09.jpg   Here's another pic.


I didn't mind all the visiting wasps. It kept them distracted from my Queen caterpillars on the milkweed.


queencatb11-18-09.jpgAnd the flies and wasps weren't the only visitors to the bananas. Snouts began to venture over to the fresher banana, and today I found my first Red Admiral. What a beauty!

red admiral.jpg See this "pretty" yellow, green, and black bug? Bad bug. Spotted cucumber beetle. You can mourn it if you like -- it and four of its friends. At least I found them on the banana and not in my veggie garden. That water in the pic is from today's rain.

spottedcucumberbeetle11-18-09.jpgThe only butterfly picture I didn't capture that first picture day was the lone Monarch I saw flying around. Have they started to move on? I'm keeping my eye out for caterpillars -- I did see a female Monarch laying eggs on the milkweed several days ago.

Elsewhere in the garden today, I discovered what I think is an assassin bug nymph. My last one was red, though, so I don't know.

assassin11-20-09.jpgAnd off in the former pumpkin patch, where a few pumpkins and vines await me doing something about them, I found an icky green guy having a feast.

greenworm11-20-09.jpgEnjoy it while you can, buddy.  

Oh Deer


Well, we'd been warned. Deer will rub antlers on young trees.

deerdamage10-09-09.jpgBut they seemed to leave our Lacey Oak alone all year -- well, as it turns out that's because it isn't until fall that they do the antler rub thing! We noticed the damage while planting our new Anachacho Orchid nearby. Cry. I haven't had a deer incident this major since they ate my beloved Spotted Squill, a.k.a Alien Tentacle Plant! Well, there's also the pineapple sage, but I can't be 100% sure on that one, as it was closer to the house.

I think the tree will be ok. The damage isn't all the way around, and it's on only one of the three main trunks. But I'm also very glad we noticed it today and not tomorrow, because tonight more damage might have occurred.

deerfence10-09-09.jpgAnd luckily when we planted the Lacey Oak, I also bought the materials to protect it with. Perhaps actually using said materials might have been the wiser path... But we at least had them in the garage and didn't have to go shopping.

So now we have one of those yards with the goofy fences around the trees. We decided to put the Anacacho behind bars with the Lacey Oak to protect it, too. It's the first understory tree to go under the story of the Lacey Oak. This would be more impressive were the trees, say, bigger. But they will grow!

deerfenceb10-09-09.jpgNow for some good news -- the disappearing fountain is back and functioning again! We never did solve the mystery of the shifted rock, which led to the unexpected emptying of our new disappearing fountain and potential pump damage. But happily the pump still functions, and our fountain still remains the $40 disappearing fountain! We changed up the rock structure, so hopefully it will be harder for some creature to displace the tube. That little rock is only there for interest, not for directing the water flow.

40fountain10-09-09.jpgWhether it was cat or deer or rain or human or Sasquatch that caused the tube to shift, we'll never know. But I still think a deer is likely responsible for the removal of the nearby pineapple sage. And the nursery didn't have any the last time I was there. I was sad. Oh deer.


The One Good Thing About Fire Ants


Pouring boiling water on them is oh so therapeutic. Ahhhhh, satisfying. (Edit: I don't kill normal ant species, but fire ants are a dangerous invasive non-native species that swarm and sting en masse, so they are not welcome in my garden. Ever.)

I tried to get in a quick mow of the weed yard before tonight's thunderstorms and found fire ant mound after fire ant mound. Turning over rocks and bricks led to all sorts of surprise ants scurrying about in angry fashion. I think I boiled about 5 large pots of water, and that wasn't enough.

Under some bricks, though, we found good guys. Like this young centipede. Yes, it's a good guy. Eats grubs and bad pests in the soil. My friend. My friend with venom claws and poison glands. (EDIT: Apparently it's a millipede, based on the numbers of legs per segment. Good to know! Thanks, Amanda. Eats organic matter and also a good guy.) 


One of Those Days


Didn't sleep well last night, had to drop a kid off at school at 7am, car broke in the bus lane at school (fortunately I got moving before the buses arrived), $700 repair fee at the dealer, forgot to get my husband to move the heavy birdbath so I could grout it, my dogs are wreaking havoc on my garden, and aphids are wreaking havoc on my plants. BUT.. other than that it's a fine day.

Look what I discovered this morning! Know what these are? I just learned what they are at a lecture by a local entomologist last night, and lo and behold I found some in my garden the very next day. Life works in funny ways, doesn't it?

greenlacewingeggs09-25-09.jpgThese are the eggs of green lacewings. As larvae, they are voracious aphid eaters. Yay, another ally in the garden! I need them because the aphids are worse than ever. I seem to have least three species now --- I'll call them green, yellow, and beige. The green I'm sure are corn leaf aphids. I have got to get out and tackle them TODAY. My veggies, my milkweed, and now my firebush plant are all having an aphid problem. The little pests took advantage of my time away from the garden during the rainy week and bred like rabbits. I'm starting to think that it's the other way around, and rabbits breed like aphids. Today I'm seeing wings on some. Gah, more colonization!


yellowaphids09-25-09.jpgSo I've got new lacewings arriving soon, and of course I've got ladybugs. More spiders are arriving, as are earthworms. The bees are getting plentiful, and I don't even have to do the veggie porn thing to pollinate my plants anymore. I truly love the way nature just naturally (ha) balances its ecosystems. Got organic wastes? Happy earthworms move in. Got flowers? Let's pollinate. Overpopulation of something? Here come the predators. And here come the predators to eat the other predators. Oh look, birdie treats. And then snakes. And hawks. Whee, life is grand.

I call these my bees because I'm so fond of them, but of course they are wild. They get a little drunk-like in their flying when they are heavily loaded with pollen -- it's fun to watch. The pumpkin flowers were all abuzz this morning with bees about, and as I took pictures, I realized that there was some hostility going on. It seems at least one other colony has found our garden, and apparently different bee colonies don't play nicely with others.


Know what else I learned from the entomologist? Feral honeybees in Texas and other states of the Southwest have all been Africanized in some way. Only beekeepers are able to keep sound European colonies because of their control of the queens.


FYI, in case I've scared anyone, bees in your garden are not a threat -- don't rush out and kill them, please! They are not in stinging mode when they are out pollinating -- that's quite counter-productive to their hive's needs. Africanized honeybees, or any bees really, are a danger only when you threaten their hive (allergies aside), and apparently they'll give a warning by buzzing around your head or actually bonking you on the head, believe it or not. If you find yourself near a wild hive, RUN -- don't walk away. Like fire ants, the Africanized honeybees give word to others in their colony by pheromones, and you need to put immediate distance (at least 200 yards) between you and the hive. Other than their defensiveness in protecting their hive, Africanized bees are not really any different from other bees. And actually there have been positive changes in their aggressiveness, too, depending on factors of colony age and breeding with European bees. It's all good. No worries. As with anything, just be aware, not necessarily beware. Ooh, I like that.


By the way, have you hugged a beekeeper today? Not only do they raise pollinators and help with honey production, they are helping tremendously by keeping domestic European bee colonies intact, as well as helping breed gentler stocks of Africanized bees by culling out aggressive queens. Hug!

Thanks to my bees, I have several pumpkins growing. One is approaching the size of a soccer ball now (it's been a week since I discovered female buds in bloom). Another is growing in the dead tree. And more are scattered here and there -- finding them is like going on an Easter Egg hunt. There's one! There's another one! Again, how I love nature.


pumpkinb09-25-09.jpgWith the rain this week, the yard is a big mudfest for the dogs, and they took advantage of it -- digging where they shouldn't, trampling through the butterfly garden, and taking turns leaping over the pumpkin vines. I'm out there yelling, "This is not your playground!" And then I realized my neighbor must think I'm nuts, because of course it IS their playground. If I can manage it, I'll try to get a picture of the husky leaping in full gallop over the massive pumpkin plants (in between my yelling at him, of course). It really is a sight to behold. 

Goodbye Cantaloupe Thing


Due to some exciting goings on, my next few posts will be bird-related, so I thought I best put out a veggie garden update. But first I want to share some thrilling butterfly news -- the Monarchs, Queens, Swallowtails, and Gulf Fritillaries, among others, have finally returned to the garden! You can believe I'll be out there with my camera. I did manage to capture a picture of my first Gray Hairstreak butterfly. I was happy to see her on the Blackfoot Daisies -- those flowers are often ignored by the bigger butterflies, who go straight for the Lantana or Mistflower. I read that Gray Hairstreak caterpillars will eat bean plants. Oh well, guess I'll share.

grayhairstreak09-18-09.jpgBut back to the "farm."

The cantaloupe experiment has finally come to an end, and it's report time. It's kind of sad, really. My beautiful cantaloupe plants finally succumbed to the aphids, which had become so abundant (despite the ladybugs) that their sticky "honeydew" residue, combined with the rains from last week, had led to a nasty sooty mold problem.


After several days of wondering whether to let my cantaloupes keep trying to ripen, I decided to go ahead and pull the plug. My big one just kept growing but never sweetening, and the shapes of the other two medium-ones led me to believe that I was, in fact, growing a hybrid. I suspected as much, but I decided to enjoy the process anyway.

  cantaloupehybrids09-18-09.jpgThe big cantaloupe, cut open, actually did look like a cantaloupe. I opted not to take a bite, but I did lick a piece. Yuck... as I suspected. Though I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed, I do consider the experiment a success. Growing the cantaloupes got me excited about my first veggie garden, led to my first raised beds with trellises, and really helped me get a headstart on the veggie learning curve. I did learn a lot, and I got hooked on growing edibles. Plus, one can't beat the excitement of finding out that your plant is actually growing fruit (even if it's weird hybrid fruit). I don't consider the cantaloupes my first official harvest, mind you. They were an experiment, especially after I found out that seeds from store-bought cantaloupes should not be used, no matter how much fun it might be.

cantaloupehybrid09-18-09.jpgSo I began the process of cutting up the fruit for the compost bin. By the way, ever wonder what the inside of a young cantaloupe looks like? Pretty cool.

youngcantaloupe09-18-09.jpgRemoving the icky plants from the trellis was NO fun. During the process I realized why many garden bloggers opt only to show their beautiful harvests instead of what might be a failure -- it's depressing. I was out there quite grateful that my camera was nowhere near the sooty mold, and while I felt partially obligated to show the whole miserable trellis, I just wanted to get that cantaloupe and all the thousands of aphids into the trash and as far away from my sugar pumpkin plants ASAP. I didn't even want the plants to go into the compost, they were so gross.

A closer inspection of the sugar pumpkin plants showed that the aphids are starting to move over, and I plan to attack them better. I was happy to find several ladybug nymphs -- hurray for my aphid-fighting allies!

ladybugnymph09-18-09.jpgBut all is well, and I'm looking forward. The sugar pumpkins are the biggest things I've ever seen. They are growing up and over and out from the raised garden bed.


I FINALLY had a blooming female bud on a sugar pumpkin, and hopefully I helped it pollinate in time. Cross your fingers! There will be more, and I must be on the lookout. There were two blooming females on the jack-o-lantern pumpkins, but I doubt they'll be big enough for carving by Halloween. At least they opened, and I did the pumpkin porn thing to help things along -- I didn't have time to watch to see whether the bees were doing their job!

pumpkinovary09-18-09.jpgThe jack-o-lantern pumpkins have begun their spread into the perennial garden, so I have to monitor them. One is even taking advantage of the dead Mexican redbud. It's nice to see green on the redbud again, poor thing.  ;)    It's scheduled for fall replacement.

pumpkinvineintree09-18-09.jpgThe corn is growing, though I've found a couple of worms hiding out in the leaf niches. I'm trying to watch for more, but they seem to sneak in when the gardener's not looking. I've also got young beans, zucchini, and snap peas growing, as well as tiny kohlrabi, carrots, lettuce and spinach seedlings.

This morning I found some strawberry plants at Natural Gardener. These are "Seascape" strawberries, and when more varieties arrive, I'll try to get some for comparison. I'm eager for strawberry success!

strawberryplant09-18-09.jpgAnd another exciting find at Natural Gardener -- I finally got a gargoyle. They arrived this morning, and the staff seemed as excited as I was. Apparently they don't usually have gargoyles. He's a little guy, but his protective watch over our garden is sure to drive away all pests. Right?

gargoyle09-18-09.jpgMaybe he can tell me what to do about this Green June Beetle. I found it on one of my pumpkin plants. I see beetle grubs in the soil all the time. I believe they qualify as a minor pest, but I'm not sure. The beetle is pretty, as far as beetles go. Underneath is a pretty, shiny coppery surface. It's still alive, but in a jar, until I decide whether it should stay or go. I don't care about damage to turf, as I have none worth saving, but I don't want damage to other plants and fruit.


I did learn an interesting way to identify the Green June Beetle white grubs from other white grubs -- the ones of the Green June Beetle will "crawl" on their back via undulating movements. Somehow I think Shrek would appreciate that.

Meredith O'Reilly happily
gardens for wildlife in
Austin, TX. She enjoys
educating people of all ages
about native flora, fauna,
and healthy environments.

Nature Blog Network


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