Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Show and Tell

It is busy out in the garden beds this time of year.

If I want to uncover ant activity, all I have to do is move a stepping stone to one side. Generally some enterprising colony has taken advantage of the protective cover and they'll have a nest going underneath. It is apparently very exciting to have this revealed judging by the frenetic activity that results.I moved the stepping stones out of necessity, not just to screw with the ants, but I was pleased in a kind of shuddery, "ugh" sort of way to note several different species of what I hope are native ants apparent. When fire ants become prevalent in our area they often out compete native varieties.

This is roughly akin to what happens at rush hour on MoPac. Great numbers of folks who have moved to Austin are all trying to get to work or back home at the same time along the same route. This results in gridlock. Only in ant terms, they don't sit in traffic and wait to get home, they apparently duke it out and the natives tend to lose out, territory wise.

So I am happy to have found other types of non-fire ants making themselves at home on our property. [Cue Disney singers to hum "Circle of Life']

Then there are the leaf foots and stink bugs. They are congregating morning and afternoons both, mostly on the shasta daisies although I found a few on a butterfly plant yesterday. I promptly doused them in soapy water. I was glad I didn't get so distracted that I missed the butterfly plant's seed pod that had opened to reveal these beauties.I'll scatter some and let the wind do the rest.

The butterflies are kicking into high gear lately. I completely suck at properly identifying these, but I always try at least to figure out what it is I've been admiring. I did see one white sulphur I couldn't get a shot of - camera shy I guess. These others were sunning, perhaps newly emerged?

It is always fun for me to try and catch them when they open and close their wings repeatedly. A sort of butterfly hide and seek game. I think these are Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae) but I'll bow to anyone with more experience and confidence in identification.This shot isn't the wonder I'd envisioned, but I wanted to share how pretty it is down inside the throat of the trumpet vine flowers. Most of their blooms occur way way up in the tree tops here so it was fun to have some low enough I could get a good look inside. Sort of a hummingbird's-eye-view. We have had storms in the area lately, but nothing in the way of real rain here. Thank goodness for sprinkler systems. The skies have darkened, the lightning has flashed, thunder has been heard but all sound and fury signifying no useful rainfall.While all this sky hooraw is happening I've noted the grackles tend to light somewhere and call incessantly when there is rain close by. Their version of a rain song perhaps? I wish it worked more reliably. We really need some sky wet.

Last but not least, a bit of waiting finally paying off. These cone flowers are finally heading into their own. This plant takes two seasons to bloom and I am a lot of things but patient isn't even on my backup list of qualities. I'd all but written these off, had to sort of "forget" I was hoping they'd take hold so I didn't fret myself silly and so this year, when the bloom heads are showing up here there and yonder,it is hard not to get all grinny and smug to realize the waiting has paid off. So will I learn anything from the experience? Like how being more patient can really pay off? ???............ Naaaaah.

That's it from here for today. Hope the slightly cooler at least dampish weather is the boon for your garden that it has been for mine.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Daisy, Daisy

It took me some time to track down just where I'd just seen them, but I knew I'd seen these bad boys somewhere (besides in my back yard), and I realized I was seeing them in enough numbers I ought to DO something.

It was on Renee's Roots - and these are leaf footed bugs and they are bad players in the garden.According to the comments, from folks no less reliable than Skip Richter, Travis County Extension Horticulturist and Master Gardener; Dick Pierce, lead teacher of Austin Permaculture Guild and also a Master Gardener; and Jeff Ferris, assistant Permaculture teacher and a gardening instructor at Austin Community College, there are various approaches to ridding yourself of these pests but the verdict was a solid GUILTY. The bottom line was to get rid of them, to do so without using toxic sprays, and to use varying approaches to best suit your situation.

They all recommended their own favorite tried and true methods and products, but none less invasive than the good old "get em off the plants and out of your garden for good" maneuver that uses very simple tools already on hand. A container, hot water, and soap. 

I take my garden shears out with me and locate the spent flower heads loaded with bad bugs.  Whenever I can, I simply dip the head under the surface until the bugs sink to the bottom. If there are too many (which creeps me out) I sometimes simply clip the flower head off into the soapy water with similar results. 

I like this better than spraying because I can get out and drown bugs any time of day without fear of leaving water droplets on leaves when they might get sun burned as a result.  So today I went out Bad Bug Hunting. 

I'll admit - I had that song stuck in my head the whole time, slightly revised,
Bad Bugs
(bad bugs)
Whatcha gonna do?
Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?
Bad Bugs
(bad bugs)!

Dowsing in hot soapy water does magically immobilize these pesky critters, even adult stink bugs if I can get them before they fly off, and I am happy to report none of them were actually on (or even that close to) my eensy weensy tomato plants.I am also noticing that it is the spent heads of the Shasta Daisy plants that seem to be drawing them in, so in future I want to make sure I have those routinely planted around the perimeter of my veggie growing areas to see if I can keep using them as bait.
Ooops - missed one.
The Garden Sages above mentioned all sorts of other plants known to pull bad bugs away from your veggies, and perhaps they are all natives and beneficial in ways the Shasta Daisies are not, but I have these plants growing already and they do seem to be leaf foot and stink bug magnets for real.

Some of the time, what I have done in the garden just works for reasons all its own, despite my "efforts" to maintain a certain balance. This is one of those times and folks, I am just going to tip my hat to the garden gurus and know that in my back yard? Shasta Daises = an easy way to locate and eradicate the bad bugs. At least this season.  Thank you daisies! 

Friday, May 15, 2009

Picture This

This is my entry for "Picture This", a photo contest from Gardening Gone Wild for May.  The subject is container plants and Steve Silk, reportedly a master at creating spectacular container gardens himself, is the judge.  Wish me luck! 

Friday, May 8, 2009

ALL POINTS BULLETIN for Sphingidae Larvae

NOT what you are looking for but....
Sphinx moth larvae munching on Euphorbia dentatum.  Showing off with my ID?  You BET!
Yesterday I had some fun actually successfully (for once!) identifying not only some caterpillars munching in the back garden bed areas here, but also the plant they seemed to prefer.

I usually stink at identification, so I am especially appreciative for the many folks who host sites that help people like me figure out who - and what - they have discovered in their gardens.

So when I heard back from Canadian researcher Bill Oehlke, who hosts the site that helped me identify the sphinx moth larvae yesterday with this special request, I was more than happy to agree to try and help.

From Bill's page: Sphingidae: Lintneria genus
In his book The Hawk Moths of North America, James P. Tuttle, designated the genus Lintneria as appropriate for several US species, previously listed as members of the Sphinx genus:

Lintneria: eremitus, eremitoides, separatus, istar and smithi.

Based on some consistent characters of adult moths, he predicted that almost all of the previously classified Sphinx species in Mexico and from Mexico south throughout Central and South America would be more appropriately assigned to the genus Lintneria. Only Sphinx adumbrata from Mexico remains as Sphinx adumbrata.

I am requesting assistance in exploring Tuttle's prediction. I seek larval images from Central and South America that are of the same general pattern exhibited by these Lintneria species.

The link to the page is here and here are a few of the images of what he is looking for evidence of:
Lintneria separatus, fourth instar molting, Cochise County, Arizona, September 29, 2007, courtesy of Robert A. Behrstock, id by James A. Tuttle.

Lintneria (Sphinx) istar or separatus, Ft. Davis, Texas, October 1, 2005, courtesy of Mary Brown via Katherine McMahon.

There are more fascinating images on the page which I sincerely hope you will check for yourself.

Again from Bill's page:"It is anticipated that the Lintneria larvae will most often be encountered on Lamiaceae: Salvia (Sage), Mentha (Mints), Monarda (Beebalm) and Hyptis (Bushmints); Verbenaceae: Verbena and Lantana camara (shrub verbenas or lantanas).
DING DING DING! - if that isn't a list of commonly used garden plants here in Central Texas I'm a sphinx moth's uncle.  

Bill again "Although they may be encountered feeding during daylight hours, one is even more likely to discover them feeding in the evening or after dark.

Two of the greatest clues for discovering larvae are stripped foliage and droppings beneath the plant. You might be quite surprised at what will turn up in the evening or after dark in a flashlight assisted search.

It is believed that all Lintneria larvae will exhibit "a fleshy thoracic dorsal "horn" in the first 4 instars (unique in the Sphingidae of the world to my knowledge) which is replaced by a thoracic dorsal "hump" with a large black patch in the 5th instar." J.A. Tuttle.

Lamiaceae: Salvia and Hyptis sidifolia (= H. umbrosia) are the anticipated hosts in South America.

As most of these larvae are undescribed as yet, it wil be very helpful if you can rear the larva through to adulthood and also send an image of the adult moth.

If/when you are able to send images of the larvae, I will help with notes on care of larvae to get pupation and subsequent adults. You will be credited for any discoveries that get published based on your submissions.

If you are able to find any larvae matching the pattern/characters illustrated above, please send images (lateral and dorsal) with data (date, time, specific location, host plant, elevation, etc.) to Bill Oehlke. Your assistance in this matter will be greatly appreciated."

So OK we are not in Mexico or Central America either one but seeing as moths don't strictly regard political boundaries when traveling and due to differing weather patterns are showing up in all sorts of unexpected places, it makes sense for those of us here in "Northern Mexico" to be on the lookout.  

These larvae are not armed or dangerous (though those horn thingies are impressively keeping me from wanting to cuddle).  Just keep an eye out in your area, help spread the word, and let's see if we can help Bill out in return for him helping so many others out with his helpful site.

Thank you.  We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Everything Eats

I am prone to expletives when startled. I am also prone to dropping things.

This afternoon as I headed out with hammer and nails in hand to try and rig up some way to keep a tripod trellis from continuing to tip over at the slightest breeze, I was stepping carefully as always when I noted this behemoth, triggering
my engagement in both startle tendencies at once. After I gathered my wits (and the nails) I more carefully placed the hammer to give you a sense of the scale of this monster.I then wasted spent twenty or so minutes getting various angled shots of the beast before getting on with my tipsy tripod triage.

When I pointed out said beast to the Hub he opined it was a bad player in the garden, based upon size and the speed with which it was munching before our very eyes. He stated it would probably attack the tomatoes next.
Fist to skies, "noooooooo!" 
Because I am so contrary I immediately leapt to the creatures' defense, even though looking at it was creeping me out, and pressed him for specifics. Did he really know this to be a bad guy in the garden? No he admitted. But he advised capturing the two (I'd spotted another close by the first) at the very least if I wasn't going to kill it outright so I could try to determine what it was rather than unleashing it our unsuspecting plants.

He may have had a point. When I was showing ChefSon around the pepper plants last night we both noted the Hungarian Wax Pepperlooked to have been attacked by a deer, only it is in the back yard where deer can't freelance landscape the plant tops.

As I took a closer look around today, I spotted this so far slightly smaller third version of Gargantua, happily munching away on another pepper plant. Was this the Hungarian Pepper Plant murderer as well? Judging by the hasty retreat he beat when my shadow loomed overhead I say yes. Guilty is as guilty does.Trying to be karmically groovy (no easy task for a dedicated carnivore) I "relocated" the smaller of the three 'pillar pests to another area where it will have more choices that are not baby pepper plants, or hopefully tomatoes, either one.As if I can corral these busily munching bugs anyway.

I will try to identify these guys with the idea that the next time I spot any I'll at least know what response is warranted. But. I suck at bug identification so I'll throw out a big SOS here and now.

How about it? Do you know what these monsters are? Feel free to educate me in the comments section. I don't want to rob the world of a gorgeous butterfly to be but I also don't want to be feeding them expensive pepper plants, either.  Or our tomatoes.  

Update: Damn it!  I discovered these guys are Larvae for the White Lined Spinx moths, (Hyles lineata lineata ).  They are highly varied and feed on a great diversity of plants including willow weed (Epilobium), four o'clock (Mirabilis), apple (Malus), evening primrose (Oenothera), elm (Ulmus), grape (Vitis), tomato (Lycopersicon), purslane (Portulaca), and Fuschia.  Tomato!  Crap!  I will relocate these guys (if I can find them again) out front where there is a patch of four o'clocks and call it a day.  Sigh...  I only found one - the mid size model, leaving the giganto stretch and smaller sporty sedan sized eating machines out way too close to my tomato plants for comfort.  But I know who they are now and will not hesitate to capture and relocate them if they show up again.  I just hope they only feed during daylight hours.  Yikes.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Done! (for this year)

I have been working sporadically to get areas in front that used to be exclusively St. Augustine lawn transformed into garden beds. I have a vision in my head of a very casual semi-rock garden look. There are spots where I think my vision is clear.Other areas will need more work and more time for grasses and other naturalizing plants (like this pigeonberry) to fill in. Not having a super hot droughty summer will help, but that may be too much to hope for.Here is what we originally had:And this is that same area now, uphill from the driveway, which is where I started the project.Click on the photos to get a closer view, as the teensy shots here don't quite do it justice. I think these beds are most entertaining for pedestrians, with different lines of sight opening up as you proceed along the curb. We have a lot of folks walking in my neighborhood so I consider this my gift to them.

I've been working from the curb up the hillside. The plan being to get a swath planted along the lowest parts to help keep erosion to a minimum while things were getting established. It seems to be working so far.I have big plans for eventually covering the entire hillside in all different sorts of plants with gravel and rocks interspersed. Seeing as this was the last day we have high temperatures forecast below the 90s, I am declaring the areas "done for this year". This year meaning the hot season. Once the temperatures begin to dip back into the 80s I'll get back to work.For now I want to rest on my laurels which hopefully I reduced a bit with the exercise today. As opposed to the first summer after we killed all the grass, I think you can tell there is something potentially beautiful other than regulation grass at least planned for here. Now begins my rain dance! Feel free to join in.

One last note. It was the urging of my daughter who got all this started. She kept encouraging me to stick with these very long term projects of moving from a monoculture to permaculture status. Actually, all the work in these beds represents a labor of love. My entire family has been very patient and supportive and any beauty that has been created here is but a small reflection of my love for them. Addendum: I have been sweetly reminded that the lovely ladies I walk with for exercise have also been extremely patient - listening to me gritch and moan about the work to be done, my aches and pains after a work day, and excusing me from joining them on certain cool mornings (like today). Thanks, ladies!

About Me

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Rollingwood, Central Texas
Family historian by default. Oldest surviving matriarch on my branch of the Family Tree. Story teller, photo taker, gardener, cook, blabbermouth.