Saturday, March 21, 2015

First Day of Spring

Just for kicks and giggles, I went around the yard yesterday and took a few photos which I thought I'd share.  Nothing particularly exciting, but just a few quick peaks at how the garden was looking on the first official day of spring....

Most interestingly, the bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is blooming gorgeously this year.  It's really taken off in the last year or two, after a rather slow start. Bloodroot, a native that is one of the first wildflowers to bloom in the spring, gets its name from the blood red sap in its rhizomes.  Native Americans used this latexy sap as a face paint and to dye or color various different articles.  Bloodroot was also used medicinally.

Next to the bloodroot, I have a small group of heirloom purple crocuses being protected by an old egg basket.  This has become my favorite rabbit protection method for small plants.  Plus it lets me recycle and reuse old egg baskets (and thus justify my love of antiquing).

Not too far away was another group of purple crocuses showing WHY I use the egg basket over the heirloom crocuses.....

The cottontail(s) in my yard really love purple crocuses.  They'll eat other colors, but purple seems to be their favorite.  The "nibbling" almost destroyed those heirloom purple crocuses that I now protect so picturesquely.

Further down this same flower bed is a nice clump of daffodils in full bloom...facing AWAY from the house and the front of the bed.  It seems like this happens almost every year with this clump, but I'm darned if I know why.  I can't think of any reason why daffodil blooms would face one way or another on a regular basis.  It's not like the bloom faces the same direction the bulb points or something.....

Anyway, this year I decided to sneak around behind the bed to get a shot from the back.  They look much nicer from that angle.

In the "stump bed" (I've GOT to get a better name for that bed!) the Cloth of Gold heirloom crocuses were finished and the pasque flowers not blooming yet, but I got a good photo of the one of the "prairie pinecones", a local name for the seed pods of the Stemless Evening Primrose (Oenothera triloba).  They are really cool little features that add a fun textural touch to the winter garden.

Up front, the burn still looked pretty stark, although a few small sprigs of green are beginning to poke through.

From the front steps, however, the burn looks less overwhelming.  It forms an interesting contrast with the (uncut) front garden and the buffalo grass lawn, currently looking totally tan.

Looking at the front garden more specifically, by yesterday morning I had only cut back the very front little area in the bottom left of the photo below, where the bright yellow, Tete A Tete daffodils poke up in this photo.  I started seriously working on the garden cut back today, focusing on freeing other clumps of daffodils first, so we could enjoy their bloom if I got distracted from finishing my task. When I get done with the cut back, I'll post another photo for comparison.

I'll leave you with this pair of daffodil clumps....  First this small group of daffodils buried in last year's aster stems.  (I actually liberated this little clump this afternoon.)

And, finally, this nice group of Tete A Tete daffodils - one of my longtime favorite daffodil varieties.  They are so cute and tiny and early.  Perfect bellweathers signalling that spring has actually sprung!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Another Bird Deformity

It has amazed me how many bird deformities I've seen in our yard over the last 8 years.  Some I've shared on this blog.  Mainly beak deformities, but also color changes like the piebald cardinal I've seen this winter and the "yellow breasted" red-winged blackbird I saw several years ago.

At the end of February, another beak deformity showed up.  This time it was a starling that I noticed drinking during a snowstorm.

I am presuming that this is a case of a beak malocclusion - which results in the upper mandible (in this case) not being automatically trimmed as it closes against the lower mandible.

As with so many genetic abnormalities, this one is not a good change from normal.  Note how wet the feathers down the front of this individual are?

That's because it has to drink by almost immersing itself in water and skewing its body sideways, as in this picture.  I presume it has to eat this way, too.

Compared to the "normal way" a starling would eat and drink, shown by the bird on the left, this deformed starling has to work much harder for both calories and water.  As the top mandible grows longer, it will get harder and harder for this individual to get what it needs.  It also can't be good for this bird to get this wet during cold weather.  Presumably, eventually, it will weaken and die, perhaps becoming food for a predator of some sort.

Seeing individuals like this always makes me sad...but, at the same time, I have to admire them for their bravery and persistence in the face of difficulty.  As beautiful as life is overall, sometimes it seems starkly hard and cruel.  I just try to remember how often things go right, rather than how awful it is when they go wrong....

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A Beautiful Day for a Burn!

We interrupt the "Tolerating the Uglies" series to bring you this news flash:  Today was an absolutely perfect day for a prairie burn!

It is VERY dry here, so I was a little hesitant, but the conditions were so perfect that we held our breaths and went ahead with our plans.  The winds stayed under 10 mph and were fairly steady from the SW (as predicted), Greg had recruited a couple techs from his clinic, and (most crucial of all) it was a weekend day.  During Kansas springtimes, it's a rare occurrence to have good winds and weather, the free time to burn, AND help with burning all come together!

Greg had mowed the firebreak last weekend, so the only necessary prep this morning was to gather the rakes, shovels, water buckets, burlap sacks, and water packs, then to stretch out the hoses.  We called in the burn permit...and we were off!

We started the burn very slowly and relied on backfiring the entire time to keep things under control.  This kept the flames about 3' high and moving slowly, instead of the lightning fast and 10-15' tall they probably would have been if they had been moving with the wind.

Greg and Pat went along the north and west sides; Justin and I took the east and south sides.  Our job was to patrol the edge of the fire at the firebreak, making sure that the flames didn't move out into the mowed area very far, which would have risked the fire jumping over the firebreak and getting out of control.  The fire basically burned from northeast to southwest, directly into the wind.

When we were done, our privacy from the road was totally gone, but the black ashes will absorb the springtime rays of the sun and heat up the soil.  The nutrients in the ashes will fertilize the soil, too.  With some rain (hopefully coming on Wednesday), we should be seeing green sprouts and then lush growth before long!

Many, many thanks to Chris, Justin, and Pat for their help!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Tolerating the Uglies, Take 2

Probably the hardest lesson I've learned in gardening here is to tolerate the uglies caused by blister beetles.

Our vegetable garden was one of the first gardens we began after moving in during the spring of 2007.  Having just spent 6 years in southern Alabama, where tomatoes didn't grow very well, we were aching for some sweet-tart, juicy, home-grown tomatoes - and therefore tomato seedlings were some of the first plants that went in.

The tomatoes did beautifully...except that they got pretty ragged looking in late summer, in large part because of all the blister beetles - both black and gray - that were munching on their leaves.  Mind you, the plants were still producing huge numbers of tomatoes.  There were more tomatoes than we could possibly eat or even give away.  But, doggone it, the plants looked positively decrepit, with ratty leaves, covered in blister beetle, frass.  How could I call myself a gardener with my tomato plants looking this bad?

So in I rushed, intrepid organic gardener to the rescue!  Every morning I would fill an old peanut butter jar half full of water with dish soap in it and sally forth to fight the blister beetles.  Carefully I inspected the leaves of the tomato plants and gently picked off the blister beetles, dropping them to their soapy deaths in my peanut butter jar.  At first I wore gloves, worried about the defensive chemical, cantharidin, that blister beetles are known to secrete.  It's cantharidin which will cause the blisters that earn this group of beetles their family name.  Eventually, though, I shed the gloves and still had no problems.  It wasn't uncommon for me to pick 50 or 100 blister beetles off my tomatoes each day.   Best of all, I could simply flush the dead beetles down the toilet or even put them in the compost when I was done, since my "killing agent" was simply dish soap and water.

Faithfully I protected my tomato plants for several summers this way, culminating in 2011, when we came home from a trip in early June to find several huge masses of Three-Striped Blister Beetles engaged in orgies on our front lawn. 

I'd not seen ONE of this blister beetle species in our yard before, let alone thousands of them.  What should we do?!  What if ALL of these guys started eating the plants around the yard?

Getting creative, I put my soapy water solution in a small shop vac and we vacuumed most of the striped blister beetles up.  Whew.  Disaster averted.

But, wait.  No.  Disaster NOT averted.  It just wasn't the disaster I thought I was getting.  Up until this point, we hadn't had any real issue with grasshopper populations, despite living in the country and being surrounded by tall grass and crop fields.  Beginning in 2011 and continuing into the present, we've learned the benefit of blister beetles.

You see, blister beetle young (larvae) burrow through the soil and eat grasshopper eggs.  For every adult blister beetle you see, 21-27 grasshopper eggs have NOT grown up into grasshoppers.  And those 21-27 grasshoppers that haven't grown up also haven't produced any eggs or young of their own.  While blister beetles eat leaves for a few weeks and make them look pretty ugly while they are munching, they don't generally eat a wide variety of plants and they don't even defoliate the ones they do lunch on.  Grasshoppers, on the other hand, will eat almost anything, including bark, and they will eat it all down to nubs.  The photo below shows what they did to our (shrub) althea one summer.....

Weather certainly played a role in our grasshopper outbreak, but I'm quite certain that our grasshoppers wouldn't have been as numerous if I hadn't been so zealous about controlling the blister beetle populations in our yard.

Blister beetles have now become almost a sacred animal around here.  I welcome them to the yard when I see them, and I mentally encourage them to munch for a while.  Happily, I've been seeing a few more blister beetles each year.  I still don't see three-striped ones, though.

Meanwhile, last summer had wet spells.  It turns out that, during rainy spells, grasshoppers get a fungus which causes them to climb to the top of plants, grasp the stem firmly,... and die.  Our yard was full of these weird grasshopper mummies gruesomely hanging on to the tips of plants. 

Between healthier blister beetle populations and grasshopper reproduction being down due to the zombie fungus last year, I'm hoping there will be fewer grasshoppers overall this summer than there have been in recent years.

I'm hoping, too, that the blister beetle populations will once again be healthy and that our tomato plants will look quite ragged by summer's end.  From now on, the blister beetle "uglies"  will be welcomed with open arms in our landscape!

Tolerating the Uglies

I think one of the most important concepts in healthy gardening is also one of the simplest.  Do YOU always look camera-ready??!  I highly suspect not.  I certainly don't.  And neither should our gardens.  As with any living organism or community, sometimes life is messy but that doesn't mean anything is wrong at all.

When I give garden talks, I talk about this and one of the phrases I use - and it almost always gets a sympathetic laugh - is that we should learn to "Tolerate the Uglies" in our gardens.  What do I mean by that?

Well, any number of things can occasionally be ugly in a garden, but I first came up with the concept in relationship to leaves that have been eaten by caterpillars.  What do YOU do when you see leaves disappearing, slowly or (even worse) rapidly?  Most of us, I suspect, run for the pesticide.  After all, isn't a good gardener supposed to protect her plants?!

Actually, no, that sort of protection is not necessary.  Mother Nature has designed an entire type of animal, predators and parasites, that will take care of leafeaters for you...if you give them a chance.

My first conscious lesson about this idea of learning to tolerate ugliness came about 7 years ago when I was beginning the front garden at this house.  I had planted a couple young Echinacea plants, two of the "Sky" series, earlier in the spring.  They were establishing well, I thought, until one day in mid-June I looked out the window and saw what appeared to be black mildew all over the leaves of one of them.  Damn!

I went outside to look more closely and realized that the leaf damage I was seeing wasn't mildew at all.  The leaves had actually been skeletonized by a large number of little, hairy, black caterpillars.  The poor leaves were also covered in frass, a.k.a. caterpillar poop.   If I'd had any in the house, I probably would have grabbed the Sevin right then and there, but luckily I didn't.

So I went back inside the house, got on the computer and looked in books, and did some research.  Without too much trouble, I learned that the caterpillars I was seeing were the half-grown young of pearl crescents, one of those pretty little orange butterflies you commonly see on flowers in the summer time.  Their young feed "gregariously" (in a group) for the first several stages of their lives, then scatter to finish feeding before they pupate and change into adults.

What to do?  I wanted butterflies.  I like butterflies.  But I also like my plants and I'd spent $4 or $5 each on those 2 Echinaceas.  I didn't want to lose them.  I decided that I'd go out the next morning and move the caterpillars to other plants throughout the garden where their eating habits wouldn't be as easily noticed.

When I went out the next morning to carry out my plan, the caterpillars were gone.  They could have all been eaten by some predator, but I suspect they'd reached the age/stage where they naturally scattered to find more food on their own.

And the Echinacea they'd thoroughly skeletonized?  Three weeks later, it bloomed on schedule - see the photo above - and within a couple months, you had to look hard to see the remains of the damaged leaves.  By the next summer, it was a beautifully healthy plant with no sign that anything had ever munched hard on it.

I, the brave gardener, did nothing but accidentally Tolerate the Uglies.  The plant survived and thrived.  The butterflies survived and thrived.  And I survived and thrived.  A big win for doing nothing at all (except observing and learning).

I'll share another couple stories about tolerating occasional garden uglies in the next post or two....

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Potter Wasps

Have you ever run across a little mud pot, perfectly formed, about the size of a small marble, stuck to a twig or a rock or something else rather stationary?

If so, you've come across the nursery for a type of solitary wasp known as a potter wasp.  (A very appropriate name, if you ask me!)

These are great little insects to have living in your garden.  They are gentle wasps and will not sting unless you actually pick one up.  That pot?  Well, let me tell you about the life cycle of the potter wasp....

Adult potter wasps feed on flower nectar to provide themselves with the energy they need to perform their adult tasks. For a male potter wasp, this is pretty simple.  He needs to find female potters wasps and mate with them.

As a side note, in these photos the potter wasp (Eumenes fraternus) is nectaring at Snow-on-the-Mountain (Euphorbia marginata), an annual wildflower that can be surprisingly attractive, although it tends to get a little leggy.

Life is a bit more complicated and definitely harder for female potter wasps, which are usually larger than the males.  A female not only has to find a male and mate, then she has to locate a suitable site to build her pots and ensure that the next generation has enough food and is safely protected enough to make it to adulthood.

To do this, the female potter wasp gathers mud in her mouth (some sources say she actually carries water to dry soil and mixes up the mud herself, mouthful by mouthful!) then flies to her selected site to put the mud in place.  It can take hundreds of flights to build each pot, so the pots are usually located fairly close to a source of appropriate building material.

Once the pot is built, the female begins looking for small caterpillars.  When she locates an appropriate caterpillar, she stings it with just enough venom to paralyze the caterpillar but not kill it, then drags it to the waiting pot, where she deposits it through the open mouth of the pot.  Depending on the size of the caterpillar(s), the female potter wasp may provision each pot with from one to 12 caterpillars!  Then the mother potter wasp lays a single egg and closes up the pot with more mud.

When the egg hatches, the larval wasp eats its way through all the nutritious food (a.k.a. paralyzed caterpillars) that Mom packed in.  When the larva is finished eating and growing, it changes into a pupa and undergoes more changes, finally emerging as an adult potter wasp.  The new adult potter wasp chews its way through the side wall of the pot, which is thinner than the neck, and flies away.

You can tell, then, whether the pot is being worked on (the neck of the pot will still be open), has a baby wasp inside it in either the egg, larval or pupal form (the pot will be sealed up tightly), or has successfully hatched out an adult wasp (there will be a hole chewed through the side of the pot.  One of the pots above, then, is fully provisioned and has an egg and paralyzed caterpillars in it, while the other pot has been constructed and the female has begun hunting for caterpillars with which to fill it.

Not surprisingly, the female will not start constructing a new pot until the one she's working on has been fully provisioned, the egg laid in it, and the neck opening has been sealed.

While wasps can strike fear in human hearts, the solitary wasps such as potter wasps and mud daubers are almost never aggressive.  After all, if a female solitary wasp gets killed, she has lost all ability to procreate.  Since a stinger is a modified egg-layer, a male wasp can never sting, no matter how scared or angry he gets.  It is only the social wasps, like paper wasps and yellow jackets and hornets, that have enough "extra" individuals that they can afford to aggressively defend their nests and risk losing their lives.

Since the baby potter wasps are completely "created" by eating paralyzed caterpillars, potter wasps are an important biological control of caterpillars in any natural community...and in your garden.  So next time you find a little round clay or mud pot or two or three, pause a minute to say thank you to the female potter wasp that built it and that helped make your garden healthier as she stocked the larder for her developing offspring.

Friday, January 30, 2015

So How Did a 1990 Prediction for 2010 Actually Work Out?

I've been cleaning out old files recently and I ran across an article from February 1, 1990, that I had pulled out of Family Circle magazine.  The article, by Sharon Begley, was about things we could do to "make a difference" and "save the Earth."   Along with 101 specific suggestions for individuals to take, there was a prediction of what life would be like in 2010.  I thought it was rather interesting to see how reality in 2015 compares with the prediction for 2010, actually made in 1990...

"7:30 A.M.:  After serving an organic breakfast to her 8-year-old son, Mark, Jessica scrapes the leftovers into the compost chute next to the sink and drops the empty glass juice-bottle into one of the five recycling bins stored in her kitchen closet.  She reminds Mark to throw his cloth napkin into the laundry hamper, then adds an apple to his school lunch box.  (Jessica doesn't mind the fruit's brown spot because it shows the apple hasn't been treated with pesticides.)  Time for school.  She applies No. 30 sunblock to herself and Mark.  (Because so many ultraviolet rays are reaching the earth through the thinning ozone layer, no one ventures outside without being well-protected.)  On her way out the door Jessica grabs the empty floor-cleaner jug and nail-polish bottle to return for refills. Then she unplugs the electric car, which has been recharging overnight, adjusts Mark's seat belt, and away they go."

Jessica - check.  Our daughter's name.
Organic breakfast - check.  She tries to eat organically whenever possible (and so do we).  So eating organically is possible...but hardly something a preponderance of people try to do.
Compost chute in the house?!  Fantasy.  Both we and Jess do compost, but we scrape stuff into a compost crock that we carry out to the compost pile when it gets full.  No automatic composters in the basement.

Glass juice bottle?  Fantasy.  It's all plastic packaging these days.
5 recycling bins?  Thankfully we've moved beyond that and have single stream recycling now!  (Although we do have to pay extra for it.)

Cloth napkin?  Check.  I've been doing that for decades now...and Jess does as well.
No grandkids yet, though, so I don't know about school lunches.  I suspect Jess wouldn't be fixing any;  she'd be paying for school lunches.

Mandatory No. 30 sunblock?  Mixed.  Sun screen is available in SPF 30 and even higher.  (Was it available in SPF 30 in 1990?  I don't remember.)
HAVING to use No. 30 sunblock every time we go outside because of a thinning ozone layer?  Not even.  YEAH!  Something we acted upon and partially solved!  Because the nations got together and banned CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), the ozone layer is doing better than predicted, especially compared to predictions back several decades ago.  Yes, it is recommended that we wear sun screen, but we don't have to be paranoid about wearing it every minute we are outside.

Empty floor-cleaner and nail-polish bottles that get refilled?  Ah, no.

An electric car?  Yup.  Jess and Kyle actually have one! And we have 2 Prii.  At least, culturally, we have higher mileage vehicle options available, although not that many people, percentage wise, are using them.

Going further.....

"As Mom always said, "Waste not, want not."  Those words of wisdom will again be the rule for our famlies to follow 20 years from now when we'll have made significant changes in every aspect of our lives - from how we eat and keep warm to how we shop and drive - to insure that our world becomes, and remains, environmentally sound."

Well, THAT didn't happen.  In fact, we waste a lot more now (and a lot more waste is being done consciously), from driving Hummers and big SUVs just to make the point that we can to buying amazing amounts of new clothing to changing our furniture out on a whim so that we can keep our homes looking up to date to buying new electronics every couple years. 

"Reforms are already under way.  As required by environmental legislation expected to pass Congress this year, utilities will cut emissions of sulfur dioxide 40% by the year 2000 in order to reduce acid rain.  Factories may have to capture toxic fumes before they escape up smokestacks.  Newspapers may be required to print on recycled paper to preserve virgin timber.  Few of us will notice." 

Well, I can honestly say that I don't know whether those initiatives went through.  Newspapers are dying, although they have been printed on recycled paper with biodegradable inks for a long time now.  Sulfur dioxide emissions cut by 40%?  I don't know.  Capturing toxic fumes before they go up smokestacks?  I don't know.  Even though I'm pretty environmentally aware, I have to admit to being part of the great masses who haven't noticed about whether these specific things passed.  Certainly many similar regulations did pass...and now many of these regulations are being revoked in the name of "freedom".

"...other new laws will hit close to home.  Gasoline-powered lawn mowers and lighter fluid for outdoor grills may be banned by 2010 because of the air pollution they generate;  instead, we'll plant drought-tolerant ground-covers that don't need mowing and ignite our charcoal with electric starters."

No.  Not even close.  I don't think they've even worked to make gasoline-powered lawn mowers more energy efficient and less polluting than they were in 1990.  Most of us use propane grills now instead of charcoal grills, with or without using lighter fluid.  (Is that an improvement or not?  I honestly don't know.)   And drought-tolerant ground-covers?  Ha!  People are putting more chemicals than ever on their lawns, they've put in irrigation systems to keep them watered, and many folks now hire services to keep their lawns mowed perfectly.  Yeah, we've gone backwards in most of these areas.

"Because almost all of our nation's landfills will be full by the mid-1990's (more than two-thirds have closed since the late 1970's), many throwaway conveniences of today may of necessity be banned by 2010.  Say goodbye to disposable razors, plastic microwave-food trays and plastic utensils and cups.  Overpackaged products like single-serving cereal boxes wrapped in plastic, and laundry products in elaborate plastic bottles, will also become distant memories.  Instead, we will buy one big jug of detergent, then purchase concentrated refills in pouches.  Rather than discarding an empty nail-polish bottle, we will carry it back to the store and get a refill.  Paper products will come in just one color - brown - but they will be dioxin-free."

Okay, almost none of this has occurred.  Dioxin-free paper products?  I think that has occurred, because I haven't heard about dioxin in ages.  Otherwise, almost everything is the same or worse than it was 1990.  More single serving foods.  More plastic trays and utensils.  More disposable everything.

The major divergence between predicted 2010 and real 2015 continues for the next several sections....

"...virtually all household waste will be recyclable, reusable or compostable..."   Ah, ... no.

"The need to make less trash will become the driving force of the 21st-century marketplace."  We're moving into the world of farce with this one.

"Farmers too will do their part, and trade in carcinogenic pesticides for such organic remedies as microorganisms and flowers that exude pest-killing chemicals. ...No longer will pesticides running off farmlands pollute [our rivers and lakes]."  Cue the maniacal laugh of irony.  (At least there IS a growing farmers' market sector developing, much of which is organic.)

But then the divergence starts to get smaller again....

"Chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's) will be outlawed because they are responsible for our thinning ozone layer (a band of gas about 15 miles up that blocks skin-cancer-causing ultraviolet rays from the sun).  This will mean that egg cartons and trays in meat packages will be made of recycled paper and not foam.  We'll also do without typewriter correction fluid and liquid spot remover, which contain ozone-depleting chlorine.  To insulate our homes, we will use cellulose foam from recycled wood fiber rather than blown plastic foam.  Our home air conditioners will operate on a new, costly chemical that will make staying cool on the road an expensive luxury."

Yup.  We nailed this one, although thankfully the "new, costly chemical" for automobile air conditioners wasn't as prohibitively expensive as feared.

"We'll be sacrificing other frills as well to slow the greenhouse effect (the gradual warming of the planet caused by carbon dioxide released when oil, natural gas, wood and coal are burned).  To conserve energy and reduce carbon-dioxide emissions, we will install super-efficient three-pane windows with special coatings and fillings of krypton and argon gas that collect more heat during the day than leaks out at night.  We will screw in compact-fluorescent lightbulbs that give off the same amount of light as 60-watt incandescents but use only 18 watts of power."

Well, we have much more efficient windows than we did in 1990 and we utilize compact-fluorescent lightbulbs, too.  So, good forward motion in these areas.

"Thirty percent of the electricity we'll use to run our energy-efficient appliances in 2010 will be drawn from solar and wind power.  To collect sunshine, 1% of our nation's land -a total area about half the size of Arizona - will be covered by solar panels."

Well, we have much more energy efficient appliances than we did in 1990, but we don't get 30% of our electricity from solar and wind yet.  On the plus side, 5 years past the predicted day, we're finally moving in the right direction with both these renewable, carbon free, energy sources.

"Even our cars will plug into the sun.  (Methanol and natural gas may serve as transitional fuels in the 1990's, but since both contribute to the greenhouse effect, they will not suffice for long.)  "We don't have electric cars today because we haven't developed a battery powerful enough to let a car go more than 50 miles or so on a charge," says Dick Klimisch, Ph.D., executive director of environmental activities at General Motors.  "By 2010 we might." "

Only now, in 2015, is battery technology starting to move forward.  It took an auto industry outsider, Tesla, to move us forward in that regard.  Unless the currently cheap gas prices derail the research and new technology, our fleet mileage should be increasing significantly in the next decade or so.

The article concludes with a paragraph that still rings true, if you adjust the decades a bit.  (We keep hoping we'll avoid the pain...but, as most of us know deep inside, usually you have to just go through the painful times to come out okay on the other side.)

"Yet for all we do, we can't reverse some of the abuse we've waged on this earth.  There is no way to stop chemicals already emitted from eating away at the ozone layer.  Greenhouse gases already aloft will warm the world, so storms like last year's Hurricane Hugo will be more intense, as will torrid summers like the sweltering one of 1988.  "No matter what we do," say EDF's Oppenheimer, "we're in for about a decade of acid rain, serious air pollution, additional warming and ozone depletion."  But if we can survive the 1990's, the 21st century might be livable. We can shape the future, IF we start today."

Oh, we're shaping the future, all right.  For the most part, we're too scared of moving through the necessary pain to shape the future in a way we'll be happy about in the next 20 years.  What will 2035 bring?

Friday, January 02, 2015

Another Wasp Player in the Garden

I'm starting the process of going through the photos from 2014, the ones that I didn't have time to edit or identify during gardening season.  There are SOOO many to go through!  And most of them are of insects.

Anyway, luckily I don't have many insect photos from January, February, or March. So I'm already on April.

I have to laugh.  You'll probably recognize the first insect I needed to identify, since it commonly comes to porch lights in spring time.  I took this photo on April 21st.  The greenery is Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana).

I recognized it as an ichneumon wasp, but I didn't know much more than that.  I've seen many, many of these over the years.  None have ever acted aggressively; I don't know if they are capable of stinging or not, but since they are wasps, I don't push the matter.  Anyway, I still don't know a lot more about them, but the little I learned tonight made me laugh - is EVERY insect I learn about a predator?!

Anyway, this beastie is a short-tailed ichneumon wasp, Ophion sp.  Their larvae are caterpillar parasites - one larva per caterpillar.  The caterpillar does not survive the encounter.

So, in the future, if you see one or more at your porch lights, you should rejoice.  This is natural pest control at its finest!