Garden 2012 – Week Twenty-Six
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It’s been six and a half months since Bro and I started Garden 2012, and as we move into Fall, things are beginning to slow down, growth-wise.  In the next few weeks Bro and I need to reevaluate what we’ve been growing, where it’s been located on the patio, etc. and decide which plants just don’t work in our space, and which ones can be cut back and saved for their next growing season.   Being in Southern California, we are pretty lucky, in that we are able to grow almost year-round, due to the fact that temperatures don’t often drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  Still, the plants which flourish during the sweltering summer don’t always do so great once it starts getting cooler.

In the meantime, since there isn’t much news on the greenery front this week, I thought I’d do a little recap of the various critters that have called our tiny garden home during the past half a year.  It hasn’t all been your standard house and fruit flies, bees and wasps.  We’ve actually discovered some truly interesting little creatures!

You may recall that I wrote about the Cabbage white butterfly and its destructive offspring in Week Twenty-Two, but I failed to mention the brown moths that I have had to chase away repeatedly.  Unfortunately, I was more concerned about shooing them than getting good pictures of them, so I have none to offer you.  Booooo!  Bad blogger!  Instead, here’s a look at that pretty cabbage white butterfly again.

In addition, we already covered the plant-munching Katydid.

And for many weeks, we followed the exploits of Bernie, our resident praying mantis.

 

You may recall that Bernie eventually left us for happier climes.  Either that or he was eaten by something bigger and badder than himself.  Personally, I prefer to believe he’s on a beach somewhere, sipping a Mai Tai and flipping lazily through an issue of Cosmo, but that’s me.

One of the things that might have prevented his retirement in the Caymans, is this:

That, my friends, is a male Red-backed jumping spider.  Is it me, or does it kind of look like a Muppet?

If you’re still not seeing the resemblance, take a look at this fella I recently spotted.

That’s a Daring black jumping spider, although he didn’t seem so daring when I found him.  He skedaddled so quickly both times I came upon him, I couldn’t get a good look, let alone a good picture, so I had to pull the one you see from t’Internets.  I swear, though, it looked like a nickel-sized ball of lint scurrying along the wall!  After extensive Google searches, I’m convinced that the pic above is one of Lint Boy’s cousins.

I’m actually kind of intrigued by both of our resident jumping spiders.  They don’t spin webs; instead they stalk their prey and then pounce on it!  Yikes!  They help control the pest population, though (they have even been known to eat other spiders!), and aren’t poisonous to humans, so they’re alright by me.

The same can’t really be said for these fellas.  Or should I say “ladies”?  I’m not sure they really qualify for that moniker, either.

(Another pic I didn’t take myself.  They don’t exactly like to pose!)

We’ve been remarkably light on black widows this year, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been around.  Just look under our fence, and you can see sometimes see the small, shiny round abdomen of a widow.  If the light is just right and she’s facing the correct way, you can even spot the telltale red hourglass painted there.  Trust me, we stay well out of the way of these nasties!  When it comes time to rearrange the garden, we’re going to have to make doubly sure to wear protective gear to avoid getting bitten.

The good news about black widow bites, which I read recently, is that their bite is rarely fatal to a healthy, full-grown human.  Small animals, children, people with weak immune systems are sometimes another story, unfortunately, but for all the fear of black widows planted in our hearts as kids, it’s nice to know that even if I’m unlucky enough to be bitten by one, I probably won’t die.  I might wish I had until the poison passes through, but =shudder=  that doesn’t bear thinking about too much.

As creep-inducing as black widows are, there is one spider that scares me waaaaaaaay more, and I believe I recently had a run in with one.  You see, I was tidying up, pruning back some of the more unruly basil, and when I dropped a clipped branch to the ground, a small crawly thing skittered from it across the pavement.  Intrigued and thinking ahead to this blog post, I decided to try to get a picture of it, only it had hidden itself back amongst the fallen basil.

I thought I was trying to get a picture of a delicate green garden spider, but when I went back through my photos a couple of weeks later, I discovered that I’d been dancing with what was most likely a brown recluse.  Gah!  The brown recluse bite is infamous!  It can decay the area around the bite, otherwise known as necrosis (literally dead skin), leaving bloated, gaping wounds.  It’s not pretty.  In fact, I was SO creeped out upon discovering that I’d toyed with a recluse that I couldn’t continue this blog entry for quite some time.  =shudder=

Here’s the only picture I got of its markings, blown up.  It’s incredibly blurry, but there’s no mistaking the color or the design on its abdomen.  If you doubt me, Google it for yourself.  I’m too skeeved to do so again.  =double shudder=  From now on, gloves are mandatory, and perhaps also long sleeved clothing, whenever working in the garden!

 

Right, let’s get back to creatures that can’t melt human flesh with their saliva, shall we?  The picture below is of a feather legged spider.

Isn’t it interesting, with its legs pushed forward and that little, almost juniper berry-looking abdomen tacked onto the back there?  The whole thing makes it seem like some futuristic snail of death!  In reality, though, feather legged  spiders are venomless, and pose absolutely no threat to anything larger than a housefly (unless, of course, they are capable of eating insects larger than a house fly.  There’s not a lot of easily found information on the web about what they eat.)  It’s a good job they’re not poisonous, as I’ve got a garden full of them.  Aside from your common daddy long legs, feather legged spiders seem to be the most common spider on our patio.

I mentioned that we get bees, right?  It only makes sense, especially in the heat.  Whenever I water, I have to do so quickly (early morning is best), so that I can get back in the apartment before the bees swing by to perch at the top of the pots and drink the water seeping into the soil.

I hate bees.  I am terrified of bees.  Okay, I actually find them fascinating, providing I’m behind glass or a sturdy screen door.  They do an amazing job, and are vital to our planet’s survival due to amazing role they play in pollinating fruits and vegetables.  Most people know by now that their numbers have dwindled dramatically in the last several years, which poses a very real threat to the future of farming around the globe.  They are important beasties, and not to be taken (or killed) lightly.  They still scare me, though.  Imagine my relief, then, when I realized that not all of the bees in our garden were what they seemed.

 

That there looks like a bee…mostly.  Check out those eyes, though.  And those wings!  Definitely not a bee (thank the gods!).  What we have here is what’s called a hover fly or a flower fly.  They flit from flower to flower (or leaf to leaf) to feed on aphids and other plant munching pests, which makes them brilliant to have around.  Just think of it: it’s beautiful like a bee, only it doesn’t sting, and its natural food sources is one I want my garden rid of.  It’s like a match made in buggy heaven.  And to top it all off, because it hovers over flowers, just like bees do, it’s thought to be quite the little pollinator itself.  Heck, teach hover flies to make honey, and the bees might need to start looking for other employment!  ;)

Back in the world of pests, I was out watering one day when I noticed that one of our fresno peppers had inexplicably become jewel-encrusted.  Doing a double take, it was clear that it was swarming with tiny, black beetles.  I kid you not, it was reminiscent of nothing so much as those creepy scarab scenes from The Mummy.  Yeuch!  They were moving so quickly that by the time I took two steps indoors, grabbed my camera, and went back outside, most of them had vacated the pepper to move up the stem and leaves of the plant.

Not know if they be friend or foe, and seeing how swiftly they move, I rushed to put on gloves, grab some tons and scissors, and snip the besieged pepper off, waaaay up the stem, taking leaves and beetles and all with it.  I flung the entire thing into the dumpster out back, and only then did I go inside and start looking into them.

It turns out they are what’s called a flea beetle, specifically a “pepper flea beetle”, apparently.  They like pepper plants; they will eat the ever loving crap out of them.  Just the leaves, though.  They don’t touch the fruit or the stem, which would explain why they were so quick to leave the pepper.  I read that if a pepper plant is well-established, as in has more than five leaves (our Fresno clearly does), the beetles shouldn’t be able to do to much damage.  Certainly not enough to kill the plant.  Still, I’m glad I happened to look down when I did, or we might have had an infestation.  I can’t imagine I would have seen them once they took to hiding underneath the leaves.

Right, I think I’ve had my fill of bugs for a while.  They’re a natural, even necessary element in any garden, and while I find them fascinating, there’s only so much I can take.

Byeeeee!


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