Thursday, July 31, 2014

Bug Week, European Hornet

I swear that I did a blog post on my encounter with the most fearsome looking hornets I've ever encountered, but apparently I didn't.  Which is strange because I freaked out about this bug for about three days:
Yes, that freaking thing is an inch long, curled up!!
Around the end of May, I  noticed two or three of these buggers buzzing by me while working in the yard.  Then I noticed at least two of them checking out the front porch.  At first, I though that maybe it was a Cicada Killer (you'll learn about that one tomorrow), but it wasn't colored the same.

Of course, I made a bee-line (ha!) away from wherever this behemoth bug was, but it kept hanging out on the front porch.  So I pulled on my big girl panties and grabbed a flyswatter and waited for it's return.  Which it did, right in my face.  Not like an aggressive kind'a fly-by, but more like a "Oh, it's just you" kind of investigations.  But I didn't care.  This thing was going to die.

After several minutes of fly-bys and me flailing my swatter around like a crazed woman, swearing the entire time, I managed to hit it.  And it felt like I hit a golf ball.  Whoo-hoo!  Score one for the human.

Except now I didn't know where it was.  I know it went someplace near the front steps, but I couldn't find it.  Normally I would chalk it up to "It will die eventually" like I do with the smaller insects, but there was no way I was going to leave a possibly-only-half-dead gargantuan hornet walking around where both my child and I walk around (usually in bare feet) for it fully recover and seek it's revenge.

After a solid five minutes of frantically searching I found it.  Only half dead.  So I scooped it up into a canning jar and we studied it.  And found out that it was a European Hornet, on of the largest hornets in the United States.  They claim (whoever it is "they" are) that European Hornets will generally avoid conflict and are not as aggressive as other hornets (like the eff'n Bald Faced Hornets we have here), but that doesn't make me feel that much better.  Especially knowing that somewhere out in the woods, probably in close proximity to the house, is a nest the size of a basketball with anywhere from 500 - 700 of them inside.

When I found out that they are also known to destroy honeybee nests, that was the final tidbit of information I needed to personally decide that they would not be one of the welcome insects on our land.  Now I just have to find the nest.  If I do, I suspect my eradication efforts will look something very similar to this:

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Bug Week, Plum Curculio

It seems as if I'm constantly racing against plant, insect or animal in order to get some of the bounty from the garden into our maws, plates or jars.  This year is no exception.

Unlike our pear and nectarine trees which had their fruits wiped out by blight, the peaches did pretty well.  But even though they survived the blight, we still had to deal with another enemy.  Enter the Plum Curculio.

She's a very unassuming little weevil that lays eggs in the flesh of the peach and then it's little baby grub makes itself at home in the flesh and chows down.  I just now learned the name of the bugger and found out it also accounts for the premature falling of the fruit.  Which is exactly what has been happening.  The peaches aren't quite ripe so we have to wait a few days to eat or process them, and also have to cut away at the mess the grub makes inside.  If it's not a particularly hungry little bastard, there's still a lot of unspoiled peach left once you remove him and his trail of fruit destruction so it's not a totally wasted peach, although it's best it you cut it up first instead of just taking a bite as you may end up with a mouth full of grub.  But heck, extra protein, right?

I think we're going to have to seriously consider spraying the peaches with something next year.  The waste that this little pest does probably constitutes at least half of our peach harvest.  And seeing as peaches are the only tree fruits we got this year, it's a significant loss.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bug Week, Wheel Bug

Do you have an assassin in your garden?  I do.

No, Paul isn't sitting out in my patch of overgrown tomatoes.  This little snout-sniper is of the insect variety and if you've got him in your yard, you should be grateful:

Isn't that one of the freakiest bugs you've ever seen?

(BTW, on an entirely different note, there's a cow somewhere in the local listening area that is very, very unhappy and has been vocalizing it's discontent since 5:20 this morning.  Just thought I'd let ya all know.)

The Wheel Bug is one of several types of "Assassin Bugs", so-called for their knack of ambushing and killing of other bugs with it's long, pointy, scary-looking, stab-you-through-the-exoskeleton mouthpart.  They spear their prey by thrusting out their rostrum (the sharp, pointy, scary-looking thing) and pierce the bodies of their lunch, usually caterpillars, beetle larva/adults, and other soft bodied insects that you'd rather not have munching on your garden plants.  After injecting a concoction of tissue melting spit into it's victim, the wheel bug sucks it all back up through the rostrum, tips the waitress, and moves on to find another meal.
Close-up of the Wheel Bug rostrum.
Watch where you're pointing that thing, buddy!!
The ferociousness of this bug doesn't stop with it's prey either.  The nymphs are know to be cannibalistic (Oh, howdy there brother!  Just hatched and I'm starving.  Don't mind if I eat you, do ya?) and the females aren't beyond stabbing you through the exoskeleton and sucking out your insides after you take her out on a date.  Scientists haven't been able to determine if the females who eat their mates are just generally ill-tempered or the guy took her out to a cheap Chinese (beetle) restaurant and didn't even bother to pick up the check.

Think that's as gross as it gets?  If only.

When a wheel bug is threatened, and it doesn't manage to jab you with it's mouth-bayonet, then it will push out two bright orange, stinky scent sacks from it's anus.  I've seen this before.  I almost gagged.  Not from the stench (as I didn't really smell anything), but just the surprise of something so freakish looking doing yet another freakish thing with it's bunghole.

After all this being said, I do have to say that under normal circumstances, the Wheel Bug is pretty non-confrontational.  They can fly, although not very well (as if all that wasn't bad enough, now you have to worry about it flying at you) and I have yet to be attacked / buzzed at / speared by or otherwise molested by one of these bugs, so they are welcome here.

Can you find a place in your heart to let this Garden Assassin live in your back yard?  I hope so :)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Bug Week, Blister Beetle

This is a fairly new invader to our garden:

I do recall seeing them in a patch of wild amaranth (pigweed) about five or six years ago and remember them having a strange habit of dropping off the plant as soon as you even tapped it, trying to make their escape.  I also recall seeing so many of them that I started to collect them for the chickens.  Which they turned their noses up at.  And I yelled them for being ungrateful bastards at not accepting my offering of a free bug smorgasbord.  Only now did I realize that they did so for a reason.

There are many varieties of blister beetles and apparently we have the black variety.  I didn't think much of them since they didn't seem to be eating anything but the wild amaranth.  Then a few days ago while trying to find the hornworms that were eating all the leaves off my tomatoes, I found a bunch of the blister beetles congregating on the tomato plants.  And non-hornworm black poop underneath them.  They were the ones defoliating my tomato plants!  Bastards!

So I donned my rubber gloves and started removing them from the area.  Normally I'd just start crushing them between my fingers like I've been doing with the squash bugs, but luckily for me, I hadn't done that yet.  Because as it's name implies, I would have a mess of blisters on my hands.  Blister beetles have a nasty little goo in their body called cantharadin and when it gets on your skin you get a blister.  Even when they are dead and pulverized they still pack a nasty punch, especially to livestock.  If you're a horsey person, you've probably heard of the potentially deadly effects of having your beloved Mr. Ed eat blister beetle infested alfalfa.

And I'm sure most people have heard of the aphrodisiac "Spanish Fly".  Guess what's in it?  Dead, dried and crunched up blister beetle.  A little bit and you're drooling over the guy/girl next to you and a little bit too much and it's your mouth that's on fire instead of your groin and you're dead in a few hours.

So needless to say, I have a new found respect for the little tomato plant munching bug.  Still don't like him.  Still going to kill every single stinking one I find.  But I will be much more careful next time I run into an unknown bug before I start squishing them with my bare hands.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Heat must be frying my brain

It seems as if there is a direct correlation between 100-degree temperatures outside and the desire for me to make soup.  I mean, I have cravings for soups in the winter when it's more "normal" to be wanting hot bowl of soup, but what neurological short-circuit causes me to want to make the kitchen even hotter than it is already?  So yesterday afternoon, when it was 101, I made split pea soup.

But what's even more peculiar is that when I went to search for the recipe on my blog (yes, one day I will write it down and put it in my recipe box), I noticed that the date was almost two years ago (two years and two days to be exact) that I had the same exact urge, on a 102-degree day.

Had I not been such a sloth, I would have collected firewood and started a fire in the grill and cooked the soup over that, but instead I just put the pot o' split pea soup fixings on the stove in the kitchen.  I can't wait until we get the outside kitchen finished and I can use the wood cookstove when these wacky urges come up.

In the meantime, I'm going to eat my way though the split pea soup and hope that I can contain my desire for making a creamy wild rice soup.  Or at least wait until the weather is in the lower 90's.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Now is the Summer of Our Discontent

If my neighbors didn't personally know us, I'm sure they would have called the humane society on me by now....it sounds like I'm torturing animals down here.  The goats are being very, very vocal lately.  I mean, Pickles still takes the cake, but it seems as if the three doelings (all of whom are still nursing, so there's no excuse) feel as if they should be screaming as frequently as their older and audibly annoying herdmate.  Nobody is hurt.  Nobody is lacking in food, water, minerals, company, etc., and nobody is in heat.

The fact that there seems to be absolutely no reason for it other than to tick me off is what is so completely infuriating.  They yell first thing in the morning when they see me, even though only two of them (the two I'm milking) are actually getting fed.  I assume the kids are vocalizing their malcontent in not being fed both morning, mid-morning, pre-lunch, lunch, dinner, supper and a snack.  Or, again, it's just to pisss me off.

Lira, Penny's doeling, is especially annoying.  Annette's kids, Pyewacket and Elemanzer will start yelling when someone else does so they are more tolerable, but Lira just does it whenever a gnat flies by and it's one of those really, really annoying yells, like a spoiled-brat kind of noise.  

I just started weaning Studly DoRight three days ago, and if anybody had a legitimate reason to yell, it would be him.  Ironically, he is the only one out of the four kids that can seem to keep his howling screaming zipped.  He'll still come running up to the fence, waggly-tailed and anticipating a bottle, but he keeps his mouth shut.  I can only hope that he passes these quiet jeans on to his progeny.

Once we get our Boer herd a little bigger, Pickles is out of here as is any other goat that has a tendency to scream.  It's bad enough that I have seven roosters running around, crowing their little bird-brains out all day starting at 3 in the morning, but the noise of screaming-brat goats I cannot stand.  I had actually thought (and still may) about putting Charlie's shock collar on Pickles and zapping her each time she yelled.  I doubt it would work, but heck, it might give me a little bit of satisfaction seeing her crap her pants (figuratively speaking of course....I don't put my goats in underpants.  Only the chickens.) mid-yell and wonder what the hell attacked her.

It would so be worth a visit from PETA.  Maybe they would even "rescue" her from me.

If only.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Fun Day of Firsts

We were invited to go river fishing this weekend and it was a perfect day for it; temps in the lower 80's with a sporadic cover of clouds and the occasional breeze.

Morning barn chores were done in a rush, an impromptu lunch was thrown into the cooler, and we were off!

This was Rhiannon's first time on a river boat, or as a matter of fact, in any type of boat.....in the water.  Rhiannon gets lots of  boating "practice" as we do have a small fishing boat, but alas, it sits in the side yard instead of the water.  She is also very proficient at casting out a line as she practices with her fishing pole in the front yard by throwing out a plastic weight and catches "cat" fish (i.e. Outside Kitty chases it around the yard).   Rhiannon wasn't apprehensive at all about going on the water, which was a relief because unlike her, up until just recently, I was anxious about getting into one.

We spent over four hours on the river.



We fished.  We ate chips.  We marveled at the clear, cool water and how you could see the fish just a foot down.  We ran the boat up and down the river.  We caught some fish (and played with them in the live well).  We took a break and pulled up to shore and walked around.  We fished some more.  And when Rhiannon (and I) were getting too hot (and maybe even a little bit cranky), our fishing guide took us back to the boat launch and we brought our catch home.

Rhiannon was out like a light five minutes into the car ride home.  And then was somehow magically refreshed and renewed and ready to take on the world after a five minute powernap.  I, however, was exhausted beyond belief and collapsed into a coma like it was nobody's business for a full two hours.  How does one get so tired from sitting on one's behind the entire time?  I don't know, but I'm telling you, it took all of my remaining strength (and a little help from Paul yanking me) to get out of bed for evening barn chores.

We live a stone's throw away from the river (and the lake as a matter of fact), but as many of you can attest to, it seems the closer you are to something fantastic like this, the less likely you are to take advantage of it.  Why is that?  Is it because it's taken for granted?  Because we say "Oh, we can get out there any time" or "There's stuff that needs to be done today, we'll go tomorrow"?  Not that I'm advocating throwing all reason and responsibilities to the wind and just screwing off every day.  But maybe there would be more time for it if we made an effort to make more time for it.

I hope that we'll make more time for river and lake fun from now on.

Is there anything that you need to make more time for?