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

Make A Solitary Bee House (That Also Attracts GOOD Wasps!)

BeeHouse-300x231

BeeHouseSo you’ve planted an orchard.

Or a food forest.


Or a garden.
You may have added irrigation, planned in some nice cover crops or perhaps picked up a metric donkeyload of mulch along the way.
Things are getting ready to grow. But are you ready for the next steps? Fertilization, water, pruning, weeding are hard to “outsource,” but two other areas of gardening are easier to manage than you might think.
Which two areas? Pollination and pest control.
Let’s take a look… and then I’ll share how to make a solitary bee house that will staff your garden with lots of free laborers.

Pollination

Pollination is BIG business. Did you realize that many millions of dollars are spent moving honeybee hives around the country from field to field every year? Sometimes, the bees are imported from Australia, sent to the fields in boxes, then left to die off after their pollination work is through. That kind of extravagance (and sheer cruel wastefulness) requires big bucks.
Unfortunately, the honey bee populations across the US are in decline, hence the importing from Australia. Whether it be a build-up in toxins, the genetic modification of plants to include substances harmful to bees, the shrouding of the ancient ley lines by cellular towers or perhaps the “beeginning” of the Apocalypse, honeybees are in trouble. For years they’ve been a primary pollinator of many of our favorite crops. Without bees we wouldn’t have almonds. Or zucchini. Though I could handle losing the latter.
Thanks to the drop-off in honeybee populations, farmers and gardeners have started looking to alternate sources for pollinators.
Sometimes we tend to think of bees as basically falling into two categories: honeybees and bumblebees (people with wooden houses may also chime in “carpenter bees” at this point); however, there are many thousands of varieties of bee, many of which are excellent pollinators.
Unfortunately, we often inadvertently exclude these hard workers from our yards. Old lumber, dead trees, even stick piles and stands of weed canes left from the previous year… these are where they raise their young. Mason bees are one of the best pollinators you can attract with a bee house. (Don’t worry – I’m getting to the part where I tell you how to make a solitary bee house. Patience!)

Pest Control

Did you realize that many wasps and some bees are avid hunters of pests?
Just yesterday my wife pointed out a wasp crawling into the side of one of my hot tub ponds in the backyard. There’s a space there that used to contain piping. Now it contains a wasp nest. The reason my wife pointed out our stinging friend? It was carrying a gooey green chunk of caterpillar into its nest. All day long, wasps hunt their prey, killing untold thousands of pests. How do we thank them?
Yeah, I know. It’s not fun to be stung. And there are times where it’s prudent to remove a wasp nest. However, nesting wasps with large colonies aren’t the only caterpillar hunters in your yard. There are also solitary wasps which rarely if ever sting people. Some, like mud daubers and potter wasps, build muddy little nests under eaves and in barns, chicken coops and other outbuildings. Others will nest in holes, much like mason bees. The thing is: they stuff those holes with the insects they kill, then lay their eggs on the insect corpses. Their larva feast, then grow up, then go kill insects and lay eggs of their own. Oh yeah.

How To Make a Solitary Bee House

This isn’t rocket science, fortunately, or I wouldn’t be able to do it.
My grandfather was an amazing carpenter and boatbuilder. I am not, yet I can make a house that will attract solitary bees and wasps.
Here’s what you need to make a solitary bee house (which also attracts some solitary wasps):

1. Pieces of dry wood that are at least 6-8″ deep. Chunks of trunk, old, non-pressure treated lumber, even pieces of thick branches can be used. Pieces of bamboo are also good.
2. A selection of long drill bits and a drill. I used bits ranging from 1/4″ to 5/8″.
3. A somewhat dry/sunny place to hang it up.

(CLICK HERE to read the rest over at The Prepper Project. And don’t forget to check out my new survival gardening audio course!)

David-the-good-books-revised

Creating a simple bee house

MasonBeeHabitat2

This year I created a wild solitary bee habitat, which I mentioned I was planning to do in my birdhouse post a few months ago.

Here’s my DIY bee house:

A simple bee house – no vacancies!

Those are chunks of wood and bamboo stuffed into an old wine box. The roof is an aluminum cooking pan that had seen better days. Plus Alzheimer’s is scary.

Mason bees and other solitary bees and wasps like to build nests for their babies in wood holes.

Creating a solitary bee house is easy. I just drilled a bunch of holes in varying sizes to give them some ready-made housing. Call it an insect condo… a bee house… an insect hotel or whatever you like. It’s working!

Thus far I’ve seen a brilliant green bee on the house, multiple small solitary black and white wasps, and some mason bees.

Why do I want them around? Pollination and pest control! They’re hunting caterpillars and other insects as baby food and they’re visiting my fruits and vegetables and scattering pollen about. We can’t always count on honeybees anymore, so it’s time to recruit their cousins.

Here’s a close-up showing one of the holes they’ve filled in:

Since I took these photos a few days ago, there’s been a lot more activity… the vacancies are filling up and there’s always activity around the bee house.

I’m impressed – and I’ll be building plenty more to scatter around the yard next year.

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