Category Archives: Nature

Mantis

There are over 2,400 species of matises.  This one is very pale, and is living around the mint beds that we have on the north side of our house.

mantis

Photo credit: © L. Butler

Mantises have no venom, and are completely vulnerable to larger critters that like to eat them. They are, however, excellent predators.

–posted by Steven

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Argiope aurantia Revisted

Our little spider has been busy.  WIth the morning fog, you can really see her web, and it looks like she is working on a honey bee.  As with all our beneficial predators, you can’t be too picky about what they eat, and sometimes they feast on the good guys.  

garden spider 2

Photo credit: © L. Butler

–posted by Steven

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Argiope aurantia?

The coloring seems a bit different, but we think this is the typical black and yellow garden spider we get every summer.  If you think we have misidentified her, please leave a comment.

gardenSpider

Photo credit: © L. Butler

This picture is of her undersides, which may explain the lack of the usual distinct yellow and black markings.  Linda estimates from tip to tip of her legs, she’s about 3 inches.

Garden spiders may look scary, but they are not at all aggressive to humans, and you would probably only get bitten if you pressed them against your skin.  Even then, the bite would most likely not bother you too much.

We so look forward to these beautiful arachnids, and had been wondering where they were hiding.  Usually we see them at least a month earlier in the season.  You can find them in most backyard gardens throughout the US.  We usually see them in the tomato beds, but this one is making a home among the flowering leeks.

–posted by Steven

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Sudden Shower

A short little cloud burst surprised us this evening. We hadn’t seen it coming. Even though it really won’t help much with our rather severe water shortage, and it probably will cause some problems with the cherry tomatoes, it was still an amazing few minutes of natural refreshment.  Sorry to see it end.

The smell, ah, the smell of new rain, that’s still with us.

–posted by Steven

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Papilio zelicaon (Anise Swallowtail) Caterpillar

We have quite a few of these on the farm now.  True to their name, these little guys really do feed on the anise plant:

photo credit – L. Butler

We don’t really mind what they eat, because they turn into this:

photo from butterfly-blades.blogspot.com/2011/05/anise-swallowtail.html

I am always delighted by the simple grace of these insects.

–posted by Steven

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Baby It’s Cold Outside

Okay, call us wimps.  It’s gets a couple of degrees below freezing and we think we are in the high arctic.  But, this is the Central Coast of California – it’s not supposed to freeze, or at least, not very often.  In any case, we grow year-round, and some of those crops really don’t like the cold.

Thus, the hoop house, aka high tunnels.  They do a great job at capturing and holding heat during the day, but aren’t very effective at keeping out the cold at night.  If our min-max thermometers are to be believed, it’s actually been a couple of degrees colder in the hoop house than outside, although I can’t explain why.  In any case, this is all fine when the night-time lows are above about 30° F, but they have for the last couple of nights gotten down to about 26° F.

Our long-term strategy is to build a rocket heater in each house.  We have more than enough naturally-fallen wood to keep them going through the coldest of winters.  But, since we haven’t built them yet, we had to resort to this:

That’s a little infrared heater sitting atop a 20# propane bottle.  The first night we tried these, they helped a bit, but not really very well.  The second night, we placed a fan behind them, and the results were great.  The inside temperature was between 4 and 7 degrees F higher than outside.

Of course, given the price of propane, not to mention the non-sustainability, this isn’t going to deter us from doing the rocket heaters:

In the morning, the outside crops were pretty well frozen, but were just fine when the morning warmed up:

 

Many plants produce a natural antifreeze that allows them to tolerate below freezing temperatures.  It also seems to make them sweeter – “kissed by frost.”

 

 

 

–posted by Steven

 

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Study: Parasitic fly could explain bee die-off

Study: Parasitic fly could explain bee die-off.

We raise honeybees at the farm, and this fall lost one of our hives (we only have two).  At the meeting of the Santa Cruz Beekeepers Guild last week,  several people reported a similar die-off.  At this point, we aren’t sure of the cause, but this article is a possibility.  Caution – this is a rather distressing photo about a rather distressing topic.  Honeybees are already facing many threats: pesticides, mites, colony collapse disorder, and now this:

In this photo provided by San Francisco State University, the larvae of an Apocephalus borealis fly emerges from the dead body of a host honey bee. The A. borealis fly is suspected of contributing to the decrease in the honey bee population. Researchers say the fly deposits its eggs in the abdomen of honey bees and as the larvae grow within the body of the bee, the bee begins to lose control of its ability to think and walk, flying blindly toward light. It eventually dies and the fly larvae emerge. Credit: John Hafernik

Northern California scientists say they have found a possible explanation for a honey bee die-off that has decimated hives around the world: A parasitic fly that hijacks the bees’ bodies and causes them to abandon hives.

Scientists say the fly deposits its eggs into the bee’s abdomen, causing the infected bee to exhibit zombie-like behavior by walking around in circles with no apparent sense of direction. The bee leaves the hive at night and dies shortly thereafter.

The symptoms mirror colony collapse disorder, in which all the adult honey bees in a colony suddenly disappear.

The disease is of great concern, because bees pollinate about a third of the United States’ food supply. Its presence is especially alarming in California, the nation’s top producer of fruits and vegetables, where bees play an essential role in the $2 billion almond industry and other crops.

Keep reading….

–posted by Steven

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