Tag Archives: insects

Tomato, Wasp, Raspberry, Deer Eating Corn season

18 Aug

If you are a pale gray or white small moth, though, you better watch out.  The birds are eating you.  I find their wings in the mornings on walks.  The deer rip off the young corn cobs and take one bite before leaving them lay on the ground.  Or they break off the top of a smaller stalk and chew on the inflorescence and young leaves.  Either way, the edges of the corn fields near the woods are mangled and battered.

It is tomato sandwiches morning and noon for me these days.  Don’t knock an open-faced sandwich of toast, mayo, and fat red slice with salt for breakfast until you have had it!

Three different wasps this week have made my acquaintance.  One was already dead.  The other two species died .  The ichneumonid  wasp and the dead wasp I have yet to key out which is metallic blue with lovely tight “c”-curved antennae are being readied for use in cards.  The yellow-jackets were showing way too much interest in my window washing for comfort and were poisoned.

Yesterday we harvested the first watermelon.  The first we have ever successfully grown.

It weighed 5 pounds, 9 ounces. 

And it was very good warm.


Various Vicarious

13 Aug

Pounce has been accompanying Hawthorne and me on the walk in the 50 degree mornings. He makes it to the last rise of the lane way and then heads into the corn.  If he does not make it that far, he waits in the hedgerow.  On the last leg, when he either sees or hears me (if he is in the corn) he emits plaintive cries.  Today it was a questioning mew followed by the short rising brrt a kitten uses to request something of its mother.  Yesterday, though, he sent out loud grunting, yowling roars.  The cat equivalent of what you see lions doing in nature films. It was astonishing.  He could not see or hear me and thought we had abandoned him.  Once in sight he reverted to the kittenish calls.

After reading a 1910 Dupont pamphlet on Farming with Dynamite, I made plans.  I woke up hoping there was a way we could get our hand on enough to try turning over the soil in our vegetable garden.  Two rows of four holes each 3-4 foot deep dug with a hand auger would be enough.  But Jay thinks we would have to call specialists in. And get someone’s permission.  And then we would end up on some sort of list.  What freedom we have lost in the last 100 years!

My husband would know about the rules and regs.  He is a licensed, card-carrying agrochemical applicator.  He can buy and use herbicides and pesticides you and I can only dream about if one does not have a license.  Back in 1910 it was different.

He also knows about and participates in IPM.  IPM stands for Integrated Pest Management.  On the radio, oddly, I have been hearing daily ads for IPM. I keep wondering why. Perhaps because it is still available to the ordinary individual without a license.  IPM is an ecological equivalent for those who are too old for lead soldiers on counterpanes or GI Joes in sandboxes.  It is warfare by proxy.  Oh, IPM is really useful, don’t doubt it.  But surely there is some elemental frisson of excitement releasing your army of cannibalistic parasitic wasps on the unsuspecting hoards of aphids consuming the irreplaceable research plants.

Me?  I prefer to do some of the dirty work myself, up close and personal.  For Japanese  beetles,  a fingernail through the joint between the head and thorax, or a quick snap that completely removes the head partially makes up for those ruined rose petals and holey leaves on all the hollyhocks.  Potato and squash beetle larvae squish satisfyingly.

Alien Ideas

12 Aug

There have been many movies featuring aliens; Cowboys and Aliens is the latest in a long and sometimes entertaining line of stories which feature visitors from another place  and/or time who either do not mean us well (Alien, Independence Day  ) or are stranded (ET, District 9).  Other whole other branches of alien movies include those where aliens come to help us (The Fifth Element), where we are the ones who show up in an alien home world (Avatar), or (pushing the idea beyond strict aliens) where we ourselves act towards one another as we imagine aliens will do to us (or as we do to aliens) (Gattaca, The Island, Children of Men).    But there are so many real life alien ideas that one need not resort to movies.

Discussions heard, or read, or in which I have taken part about genetically modified organisms, primarily food products, seem to contain many of the characteristics of the alien story. Especially the part about not meaning us well.  The core concerns seem to be food safety bundled with fear for plant and animal communities which may or may not be changed by some GM plants. Not to mention the whole anti-big corporation gig.  Which is a different subject.

The charge often is that a species will be harmed, or wiped out. An example?  Monarch butterflies and GM corn.  Yet many millions more Monarch butterflies have been destroyed by physical human destruction of Mexican winter habitat than by GM corn. Even here in the Northeast, the quantity of Monarchs I find dead by the side of the road whacked by cars, if multiplied by the miles of road in our county alone would probably account for more numbers than what research has shown may be the impact from genetically altered corn .

And that is a sticking point right there: may be.  Not is.  Not for sure.  Not certainly.  By the way, “the USDA spent a great deal of energy and investment on follow-up research, which in the end showed that Monarch larvae were likely to be affected under very restricted conditions: for example, if the pollination of a crop occurs at the same time and place as the larval growth of the butterfly—a very, very rare occasion. “ Scientific American (April 2011), 304, 80-83   Hmm.   Negative impact in this case is less than car hits.  This article is really very good.  Read it if you are able.

There are good reasons for GM crops. Take Golden rice, a GM rice whose grain contains increased levels of Vitamin A, the lack of which contributes to blindness in children in Asian countries where regular rice is a primary foodstuff. Or the drastically reduced use of pesticides, which only helps Monarch populations. And people.  Cf.above  

Most of us, if we want to contemplate something alien, only need to step outside and spend some quiet time observing.  The behavior and life cycles of insects are weirdly wonderful, gruesome, and icky to us mammals.  Want to do the adventuring from afar?  Pick up<a href=”Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)""“> Pilgrim at Tinker Creek or anything by Jean-Henri Fabre. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Henri_Fabre, http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/f#a735)

Currently and historically, terrestrial alien species have been moving into new territories and wreaking all sorts of ecological havoc for a long, long time.  The new book 1493  by Charles C Mann  and his previous book 1491,   discuss  indicate how alien life forms (in continental and segregated population senses) changed the world and what we know about it and the people in it.  It is one I am very much looking to read.  Where is the outcry over the invasion of the earthworms?  Those poor salamanders and substory forest plants fight for their lives against aliens and not a Facebook button to press to join with others in outrage!

Which brings us to an alien story I adore, which will not be on the big screen, and which I have just finished for the second time: “Eifelheim” by Michael Flynn.  If you like Science fiction, history, philosophy, and detective stories you will like this book.  What if aliens were stranded in 1348 in the Black Forest area of Germany, just before the Black Death swept through?

Rural Wildlife

18 Jul

Jay is driving the tractor back from the other farm after spending the day cutting dying black cherry trees, dragging them out to a field and then cutting them into splittable chunks. Dad spent his day on the same farm mowing the lane way and a long steep fallow field.  The back acreage of that farm is comprised of woods, a planted walnut grove, an alfalfa field, and the fallow field.

On our way up to retrieve the tractor we watched a young fox meander ahead of us up the lane.  It was not aware of us until near the end and its antics were delightful.  Three woodchucks ran into the hedgerow where an indigo bunting was hunting.  Dad saw five deer in the alfalfa even in the 90+ degree heat. The grass underneath the walnuts is a veritable playground area for them.

Many Monarch butterflies are flitting about and though many milkweed plants were mowed down today, the one I looked at this evening was feeding and housing a narrow-waist wasp, a Japanese beetle, a fly, and mating pairs of two different beetles one variety of which I had never before seen.

Even though the pond Dad put in was not done until November last year it is exploding with life.  Isabelle and Jay have seen at least one large and seven small painted turtles there.  Isabelle caught and brought one home and plans to keep it as a pet. She let the centimeter long immature bright green Grey tree frog go in Mom’s garden.   There are raccoon tracks around the edge and visible in the shallow end.  And deer tracks.  A large school of minnows has appeared from who knows where.  The bass Jay put in earlier this year was sighted.   I came across an underwater insect shaped like and the size of my thumbnail which sported an unusual back; its 2-3mm long eggs glued vertically covered it like a shield.  There are dragonflies and water skeeters and beetles and frogs of all sorts.  The water is warm and bath-like.

Do not be shocked to learn my father has trapped or shot over 30 woodchucks so far this year.  The new crop is moving in: he and Jay set three traps in re-dug holes this morning and I told him about another Hawthorne and I came across on our walk.  Another has re-dug a hole under the machine shop yet again.

The bees are doing well in their new home.  There is raccoon scat all around.  Even though Hawthorne didn’t see it, there is at least one rabbit up the lane.  He found something dead on the runway this morning and ate it without showing me. Mom’s gray cat has been terrorized by something–she thinks a feral cat–and will not leave the safety of the red shed where vehicles are kept.  Isabelle fed it one of the seven frogs she and Jay caught from the pond. Three escaped from the bucket, one got away from a young cousin into the garden. The cat also got a sparrow she brought home that was found flapping the the lane.

25 Days with Clarisse

11 Jul

Clarisse had been going downhill more rapidly the past few days.  She had liked one of us to carry her up into the clover field where she could eat while I sat and watched the clear sky, the grass, the insects.

Breathing and eating are both necessary.  And both were very difficult and antagonistic for Clarisse. If she ate, she could not breathe well.  If she did not eat enough she lost weight.  She never ate enough so she gradually lost weight.  It was clear that even holding her chest between her front legs while carrying her had become uncomfortable and made her breathing even more difficult.

She did like to eat.  If left to her own devices in the evening she would run or toddle down to the chicken coop and climb in their pen if the door was open so she could eat their feed.  She thought it tasted better than her own. She liked rose buds.  Narrow, smooth-leaved goldenrod.  Wide-leaved plantain.  Purple hosta flowers and stems. Daisies.  Purslane a bit.  Clover the best.  And grain.

Last night I took her up to the clover and she ate as fast as she was able; leaves of clover, timothy, orchard grass.  She ate as fast as she could, it seemed, before the breathing difficulties set in. But never enough.  She had lost so much muscle tone she could not get up if she fell.  We had to be watching or have  an ear out for her ‘meehing’. She loved company. Hawthorne would run around in the tall grass and come to check on us occasionally while I sat with her and watched two spiders spin their webs for the evening catch.  They each spun a line from the top of one tall grass to another.  I missed how, exactly.  Then they would drop down on a line, attach it lower, climb up, repeat, repeat,  making a plane with four edges made of silk which was then filled with spoke lines of silk running from an edge to a center point that got thick and opaque white with all the connections.  Lastly, the spider went around and around–in a clockwise direction for the one I saw–and put in the circular lines attaching the spokes.

The spiders’ choice of area to build webs was prime, it seemed.  Several times moths or insects flew through the two grass pillars marking the outer limits.  There was not enough web at that stage to catch them.

This morning Clarisse went up again to the field.  She was so hungry and so starved for air.  What a conundrum.  I left her there eating and fighting to breathe while Hawthorne and I took our walk.  Lots more dragonflies!  Many more wings on the ground also.  My suspicion is that the Indigo Bunting is the dragonfly hunter.  When we arrived back at Clarisse she was down and bleating. I carried her down.

Isabelle discovered newly hatched fly larvae on her feet.  She washed her and put a bit of spray on her lower legs.  Clarisse spent the day out of her blue pen as she was almost too weak to go anywhere.

Almost.  I found her down flat by the garage once.  The chicken feed had called to her.

How do you sleep if you can not lay down? She kept falling.  She leaned on me.  Her breathing became more labored.  We finally folded her legs so she lay upright and made a bolster of hay for her head. We checked her often.

She seemed to sleep.  Her breathing got shallower.  And then in between times, it stopped.

We will bury her under the Mountain Ash tonight.

Berries and Blight

9 Jul

Yesterday Jay took four of us and Hawthorne to “The Old Man’s Pool”.  A favorite swimming area on the creek when he was a boy, it was named by our daughter when she was little.  It has a couple deep (4 feet) pools and several small, powerful waterfalls. There is even a plastic covered metal line for a dog around a tree on one bank.  It is one of the few places where you can sit in the cool flowing water and eat ripe mulberries directly from low hanging branches.  Jay and I moved rocks to (re) start building a dam to raise the water level in one pool even further.  It was very fun.

The blueberries are blue on the earliest variety and now are getting sweet.  After supper we went and grazed.  For breakfast I made cornmeal waffles and the girls filled the depressions with their freshly-picked berries. And butter, maple syrup, and brown sugar enhanced yogurt.

The wild black raspberries are in full swing now, too.  But they are so good hardly any get into the house.

The pear tree Jay planted a couple years ago was so beautiful: it had a crop of about a dozen pears hanging and growing that could have been on the cover of any magazine for beauty and perfection.  Until this week.  A few days ago I noticed that the pears were no longer perfect-looking.  They were covered with wide brown blots.  And many leaves were.  Even the morning glory planted next to the tree was affected.  Jay investigated those ominous signs last night.  It was fire blight.  Boo.  Hiss.  Sob.   Pears are particularly vulnerable to Erwinia.

He cut the tree down and consigned it to the flames within the hour.  The Goldrush apple growing next to the pear is showing signs of fire blight also.  But it has some resistance, and Jay will spray it with copper.  We are hoping the quince and crab apples will be spared. The rainy weather here has helped spread the infection.

More dragonfly wings each morning.  But there are more dragonflies, too.  Now they seem to like the tall grass field.


6 Jul

Yesterday a deer jumped up from its bed in the chest-high corn and ran, leaping, away from us across the field and eventually into the woods.  When it stopped just its head would show if it held it up to look around.  It had antler buds.

This morning I walked around starting on the north edge and came to an area where usually my glad acquaintances the dragonflies would be sunning themselves on the fist-sized flat rocks on the edge of the corn field. But instead of them were only their black-veined cellophane-like wings. 7 wings: almost two dragonflies’ worth of wings.  A little further on, four more wings.  Then more, further on. I picked up  lot of wings.  Perhaps some bird figured out where they liked to sun themselves early in the morning when they were not yet up to speed?

From the garden today: four and a half pounds of sugar snap peas, a half pound of yellow summer squash, a pound and a half of broccoli, lots of lettuce that I did not weigh.

Monday we took Clarisse to visit the little nieces and nephews who were in town.   And others.


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