ATTACK WASP!

WaspKillingWolfSpider

I was sitting beside our little front yard pond with my ridiculously creative friend The Aardvark and his son, talking about our respective businesses, dealing with manipulators, plants, the strange heresies of modern Christianity, the merits of cigars from various nations, infant baptism vs. Believer’s baptism, the dangers of radioactivity in sushi, etc.

Suddenly I spotted something weird in the pond.

It was a wolf spider dragging a mud dauber wasp across the surface… or wait… no… the wasp! The wasp was dragging the wolf spider!

I think the little gal had stung more than she could carry because she kept climbing to the top of a stand of water chestnuts, then falling down again.

Can you see her in the reeds?

Let’s get closer:

And even closer:

That’s a brave little wasp to have hunted down a spider three times her size. Kind of reminds me of Rachel.

Though I like having plenty of spiders on my homestead, I don’t begrudge the occasional loss to one of our plentiful wasps.

After all, wasps are my friends!

It’s nice to simply sit outside and observe the many natural interactions in my food forest.

From frogs to birds, millipedes to earthworms, armadillos to owls, butterflies to gopher tortoises… we have a very happening homestead. Build it and they will come!

David-the-good-books-revised

Meet Campsomeris quadrimaculata, the Grub-destroying Scoliid Wasp

BigWasp2

Rachel The Good has been taking pictures for the blog with our new (used) Canon camera. She has a keen eye and she’s better behind a lens than I am.

The other day she wandered around our front-yard food forest taking shots of whatever caught her eye.

In the case of this giant wasp, she swallowed her fear of giant scary stinging things and got some great shots – check them out:

scoliid wasp florida

 

scoliid wasp

 

 

florida scoliid wasp

 

scoliid wasp in florida

That’s Campsomeris quadrimaculataa type of Scoliid wasp.

Other than pollinating my kumquat tree, this wasp parasitizes beetle grubs.

If you’ve ever dug in the garden and overturned handfuls of creepy little see-through grubs up to an inch or more long… you’ve met a common Floridian pest known as “white grubs.” Scoliid wasps search these things out, flying above the ground until they find one (somehow), then they paralyze them with their stingers and lay an egg in the zombified grub.

Later, after consuming the grub from the inside out, the baby wasp pupates in the soil and emerges as a big, scary adult wasp. Which then poses for photos.

When I added mulch to my food forest last fall, I created a haven for white grubs. They’re pretty common in the soil now… and the wasps have heard about the buffet and are regularly wandering my yard looking for babyfood.

Good hunting, my Scoliid wasp friends. Good hunting.

David-the-good-books-revised

The Milkweed Bug

AssassinBug

Behold – the milkweed bug! If you see and orange and black bug in Florida… it may be this puppy:

photo of a milkweed bug
Photo by Rachel Goodman. I know, she’s better at it than I am. Dang it.

I’ve been growing “butterfly weed” (also known as “tropical milkweed,” or, most properly, as Asclepias curassavica) in my yard for a few years after finding one by the side of the road and transplanting it. I’m always amazed by how many insects flock to this toxic plant.

The thing I find most interesting is the common color scheme in the various predators and prey that pay this perennial a visit. Orange and black appears over and over again. The aphids that congregate on butterfly weed are invariably bright orange. The monarchs that feat on this plant are orange and black. The milkweed leaf beetle: orange and black. The milkweed assassin bug: yep, orange and black.

This plant is decorated for Halloween all year long.

As for the insect in the photo, that’s the “milkweed bug,” also known as Oncopeltus fasciatus. It’s not a directly useful garden insect, since it mostly just eats milkweed, but it does play the role of population control by keeping milkweed plants from taking over the world.

Since my primary focus is on growing food, I don’t spend much time growing ornamental plants; however, growing a mix of non-edibles with your edible plants creates a much wider ecosystem. What’s that mean? It means free pest control, butterflies, pollinators and lots of moments where you get to say “Hey… look at that cool bug!”

That’s got value right there. I mean, you can’t spend all your time eating, right? Might as well take pictures of a milkweed bug!

David-the-good-books-revised

Lessons From a Carnivorous Snail

Euglandina-rosea

A couple of days ago I was wandering through my yard and wishing for
spring. As I did, I saw a small snail of a type I had only seen once
before.

Euglandina rosea a carnivorous snailHe looks kind of cute, doesn’t he? (I’m using the universal “he” here
in an anthropomorphic sense, obviously, since snails are
hermaphroditic.)

About an inch long, pretty shell, kind of friendly looking.

At first glance, I got “the fear,” though.

Why?

Because I was afraid I may have stumbled across a juvenile version of this monster:

Those are giant African land snails.

If you click the image, you can read a nice, creepy article from National Geographic on how they’ve invaded Dade County, Florida… and how they like to eat the stucco off of houses, not to mention devour almost every plant species of agricultural significance.

Fortunately, after a little research, I nailed down my snail as being a native type – the “Rosy wolfsnail.”

Not only that, according to UF, it’s a predatory snail that will feed on giant African snails, among other types:

Distribution: In the United States: Alabama, Florida,
Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and southeastern
Texas. It is widespread in Florida, including the Keys. It is
widespread, but usually found singly in hardwood forests, roadsides and
urban gardens (Hubricht 1985).

Comments: This snail was chosen as a possible biological
control agent of the giant African snail. Live specimens were sent to
Hawaii in 1955 (Mead 1961). Although feeding in Achatina was observed, as well as on the Asian tramp snail, Bradybaena similaris (Férussac, 1821) and native tree snails (Hart 1978), no real control was achieved. The snail reproduced rapidly in Hawaii and, by 1958, 12,000 snails were harvested for release in other Hawaiian Islands, New Guinea, Okinawa, Palau Islands, Philippines and the Bonin Islands. Chiu and Chou (1962) gave details of the biology of Euglandina in Taiwan. Individuals live up to 24 months and adults lay 25 to 35 eggs in a shallow pocket in the soil. These hatch after 30 to 40 days. In Taiwan, Euglandina consumed as many as 350 Achatina during its lifetime. Euglandina rosea is now considered invasive in Hawaii as it has caused the extinction of eight native snail species.”

Nice. It’s so bad to the bone that it makes other snails GO EXTINCT!

And it gets better…

(Click here to read the rest over at The Prepper Project because you totally have to see the weird videos I posted there!)

David-the-good-books-revised

6 Creatures That Should Be In Your Food Forest

WeMissYouWeb

“We Miss You”

I built upon my birdhouse post from the other day and really thought more on what animals should play key roles in a healthy food forest system. Once I made a good list, I wrote it into a new article for The Prepper Project.

Click over there and read it – you’ll like the part about lizards.I guarantee it.

“Over the holidays I had an epiphany. As I was considering my
front-yard food forest and the new plants I should add in the spring, I
realized that I should plan in some new habitat for animals as well.

If you’ve read this site for very long, you know we’re a fan of
putting chickens to work in our planned edible ecosystems. Though that’s a good start, chickens are also high maintenance and almost always require supplementary feed unless you make careful (and extensive) plans to feed them completely off your land. Beyond chickens, other domesticated animals that can be (carefully) added include ducks, guinea fowl and even pigs.

Yet in nature there are a lot of other creatures that do plenty of
work behind the scenes. Many of them aren’t usually recognized as our
partners in food growing. Some are considered little more than nuisances to be fought with.

If you’ve dealt with moles, deer, squirrels or crows, you know what a
pain some animals can be. Even these have their place, of course, but
today I’m going to focus on six “good guys” and how you can add them to your plans, starting with one insect that always get a bad wrap. Let’s
jump in!

(Click here to keep reading)

I like writing for the guys at The Prepper Project. They’re good folks, plus the deadlines and wide range of topics force me to keep thinking about what I’m doing and how I can share it with a broader audience. That said, don’t forget to sign up for the free upcoming Survival Summit so you can hear (and see) my Extreme Composting presentation. It’s going to be fun.

David-the-good-books-revised

I want my own UF bat house!!!

Behold… the UF Bat House!

UF Bat house

Filled with bats. Zillions of bats.

Can you imagine how much free fertilizer a bat house this size would give you? And how many mosquitoes would no longer live in your neighborhood?

I can’t ever simply do things the easy way. Whereas a normal person would just buy and erect a little bat house, I would like to raise an entire shed into the air on poles.

If I ever end up wealthy, I’ll definitely do it. I’ll go buy the UF bat house and move it to my food forest.

As a side note: why do flying bats mesh so well with techno music? There’s got to be a thesis paper in there somewhere…

More on the UF bat house here.

David-the-good-books-revised

Conquer your fear

SnakeHandler

Conquer your fear if you are afraid.

Example: My six year old handles snakes like a pro.

conquer your fear

Granted, he was the third kid to hold this particular snake… but, even knowing it could bite him, he was more than willing to pick up a strange reptile.

There’s something good and decent about playing outside, getting dirty, catching lizards and walking around barefoot.

Fear is a killer. I’ve met people terrified of wasps… burglars… disease… mushrooms… poisonous plants… snakes… and the banking system. (Actually, you SHOULD be scared of the banking system.)

But the other things? Live reasonably, stay out of the city if you can, get used to nature, plant a big garden and don’t let fear be your master.

I’ve watched a drone fly across the sky and felt a twinge of fear. I’ve heard a child scream and almost had my heart stop. I’ve put my foot down next to a rattlesnake and had my breath catch in my throat. But fear doesn’t control me. There are things worth fearing… and things not worth fearing.

Are you afraid of sinking financially? Ditch your debt, work harder, save, kill your cable, quit eating out, get rid of your house… and find freedom.

Are you afraid of “not getting the girl?” There are more girls in the world. Keep approaching likely prospects (and, by all means, don’t let her see any fear in your face); eventually, you’ll have success.

Are you afraid of spiders? HA HA HA! You’re AFRAID OF SPIDERS??? LAME!

Are you afraid of societal collapse? Good. It’s probably coming. Plan ahead as best as you can and entrust the rest to God.

And, by all means, pick up a snake every once in a while. If a six year old can do it… so can you.

Conquer your fear.

David-the-good-books-revised

Wait! What’s in the bag? A surprise?

WhatsInTheBagFrame1

 

That’s a yellow rat snake slithering out of the pillowcase in the third frame. It’s blurry because Rachel started backing up really quickly as she took that shot.
This poor guy was about to be shot when I rescued it from a relative’s yard. He’d been hanging around the chicken coop and was no longer wanted. Since I’m a bit of a softie, and because I like lots of predators in my yard, I intervened and brought him home to my place. This particular guy was about 6′ long.
And yeah, I’ve found snakes in my own hen house before. I don’t really care if they eat an egg here and there, since I know they’re also going after squirrels, mice, rats and other varmints. Snakes our our friends.
Well, at least most of them are…
David-the-good-books-revised

@Mother Earth News: Five Tips on Gardening With a Living Safety Net

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I’ve got another post up on the Mother Earth News blog. Are you dealing with pest issues? This one’s for you.

“Many people have seen my gardens and said “Whoa, you don’t have any pests, do you?” I hate to disabuse them of that pleasant notion, but I do indeed have pests. I just don’t have nearly as many as a lot of other local gardeners. I have a few explanations for that…”

David-the-good-books-revised

Habitat for Wildlife

"we are working on getting it back up"

Create habitat for wildlife and you will have a better life

We often think in a linear manner.

As in: HOLY COW IMA GONNA GETS ME SOME FOOD NOW!!11!1!!!

But long-term planning and thinking should go deeper than putting RoundUp on a patch of grass, whipping out the tiller and planting a big crop of grain corn, though that may be what you have to do in a total collapse. (Please don’t freak out… I am an organic farmer… but I did say TOTAL COLLAPSE. In a TOTAL COLLAPSE, you do what you need to do!)

A well-managed plot of land that has the complete ecosystem in mind can support lots more than just your immediate needs. It also recycles water and nutrients, improves the soil rather than depletes it, and provides habitat for other creatures.

When I first moved onto my piece of Florida sand, I noticed a couple of good-sized gopher tortoise burrows. My food forest planning was adjusted accordingly. The burrows are all from the same gopher tortoise, who is now living better than ever. I’ve planted lettuces, wildflowers and left plenty of weeds for him to gnaw on. And unlike the former residents of this house, I’m not spraying pesticide or flinging chemical fertilizers across the lawn. I also don’t own a dog, which allows other worthwhile animals to come in and keeps my yard from being a crap minefield.

I’ve planted lots and lots of trees… let grass get long… allowed vines to creep over fallen branches… all the things that a good forest would do.

And the animal life has exploded.

Butterflies, frogs and snakes wander unmolested through my yard as birds and squirrels chatter in the branches above. At night, owls and armadillos patrol for unwary prey.

And, you know, if things get really bad, you’re going to appreciate having a few squirrels, armadillos and other mammals around. Habitat for wildlife can be utilitarian as well as ornamental!

Though you could eat a tortoise too, they’re really better as mobile lawn decorations and reminders that beneath the economic madness and wars of men, Creation continues poking along.

Note: If you try eating my tortoise, I’m going to be really mad. I like the old guy.

David-the-good-books-revised
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