Wednesday, February 14, 2018

In the Bleak Midwinter

Strange, prehistoric plants? No, aptly-named dinosaur kale. It is four feet tall. I wonder if the leaves are too tough to eat.

Camellia is a reliable early flower.

Indian plum is supposed to be the early bloomer around here but red-flowering currant beats it every year.

The birds haven't stripped the cotoneaster yet.

I fully admit that the Pacific Northwest has a comparatively mild winter. But the gray season lasts a long time and it requires mental tricks to survive.

Yes, it is the middle of winter even though some people are chirping merrily about spring. I adhere strictly to the calendar seasons because it help me to last through that seven months stretch until summer arrives.

Winter can be beautiful but spring in the Pacific Northwest lasts entirely too long. It starts in February and stretches until July 4th. Nevertheless, one must go out and stay active even on cold, gray days.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A long wet spring

Rain, rain and more rain and cold temperatures. Everything is 3 weeks behind. There are fewer bumblebees than normal. The pieris japonica had few pollinators when it was blooming. 

Herb Robert is everywhere, not a native but pollinators do like it.

Bluebells are also not natives and are quite invasive but we let them be.

This year's baby spider nursery was on the compost bin. This created a dilemma: don't put out the bin for collection until the spiderlings move on or try to move them. I opted to move them. They scattered away from their new place, so I won't do that again.

Identifying bugs is hard. The pictures in books  and the internet are sometimes close but rarely an exact match. This might be a kind of wasp.

I feel fairly confident in declaring this a dandelion.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Happy Spring!

The first currant I planted

Year 2 currant

Most people will tell you they love spring here in the Pacific Northwest. Not me. It starts somewhere in February with flowering plum and daffodils and doesn't end until July 4th. This year it's late which should please me but for some reason doesn't. Because winter was long and wet, I am ready for warm and dry right now. I do not want to go out and garden in the rain.

But Nature isn't stopping for me. Plants like ribes sanguine, red-flowering currant, are blooming. I planted these natives in different areas of the yard over three years. And they've become an interesting study in how minor differences in environment can have big effects. 

The two in the backyard are 10 feet apart. They receive the same amount of sun. One is in front of a large Douglas fir. The other is in front of the oceanspray. The one by the Douglas fir was from my first batch and the only one of that year to survive, so it bloomed first and was much bigger than the others. 

Last summer this big currant felt the long dry season. Its leaves curled and browned by August. The leaves dropped before the end of September. The other? Leaves stayed green until winter and held on until January. 

This year the younger plant continues to outperform. Its flowers are open while the other is still in bud. Perhaps the fir tree's bit more closeness robs the currant of water. I may have to break down and water it this summer.

It's March and that means it is the start of bracken season. I have seen any yet but they're out there. Oh, yes, they're out there.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Mason Bees Try Again

Bee #2 buzzed up and down the sunny window but stayed put when I put it outside. Note the tiny yellow grains that are probably mites.

Bee #3 

Several years ago I was surprised by bees in my office window. It's screened and I could not figure out where they were coming from. The window is a vinyl slider. There is a space at the bottom corner corners where the sliding channel ends. The bees emerged from that space. 

But how did they get in there? Looking on the outside I saw two holes at each end of the window. Mud plugged one hole. Evidently, the mason bee had layed her eggs in the hole the previous summer and plastered it up.

Rather than exiting that way, the newly-hatched bees followed the light into the room where they actively buzzed up and down the window. Because they only stayed at the window, I thought they weren't quite ready to fly and fed them honey water. 

A little internet research revealed that they were mason bees and take off as soon as they emerge. They were just trying to fly up to the sky. I grabbed my cameratook them outside and set up to take pictures. They flew off as soon as I opened the jar lid.

Bees hatched the next year but not the following year. Or so I thought. They were one room over in the bedroom window. I released them as soon as they emerged. The year after that the new little bees were sluggish and covered in orange dust. 

Mason bee nest holes are prone to mites, which is why, if you are providing nest sites you either discard or disinfect after the bees hatch. (As you might guess, this is why I don't provide nest sites.) Last year's brood also had mites.

At the beginning of March, I cleaned out the cobwebs and started checking the window. March 16th brought Bee #1, unfortunately covered in spider web. The little spider legs  poked out of the opening where the bees come out. Maybe the bee was bitten or just couldn't get all the web off. It died. 

The Bee #2 actually flew around the sunny widow. It was not as excited when I took it outside. Shocked by the cold, perhaps. I left it there because the temperature is not going to rise any time soon. It was gone when I came back. I hope it makes it.

Bee #3-Today's bee was walking around this morning, but now looks to have died. 
Other creatures live in the channel, like the spider who is either biting or just entrapping the little bees. The window obviously has mites that are not killed by cold weather. Something I don't want to think too closely about as it is right over my bed.

This is the thing about Nature. Bad things happen. Many die, but some fly off into the light. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

Bugs in My Backyard-Leptoglossus

A bug dropped at my feet today. At first I thought a fuchsia blossom, frilly and red, fell off my shoulder. When I bent for a closer look, I saw a bug with pretty markings.

A frantic run for the camera and another run for a live battery meant the bug had time to tuck in its underwings and resolve to a muted coloration.

According to Insects of the Pacific Northwest by Peter and Judy Haggard, this is a Leptoglossus occidentalis or Western conifer seed bug.  While you rarely see them, they are not rare but are hanging out high above your head, feasting on fir nuts. 

This is probably a good thing because they emit a stinky odor when disturbed. Luckily, this one didn't mind having his picture taken.

The Douglas firs don't overhang the deck, so where did he come from? Did he wiggle out of a crow's mouth to plop on my deck? Maybe he wanted to grab some of our basil leaves for a little al fresco pesto.

Isn't it fun to think of the millions of little lives going on all around that you are completely unaware of?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Letting Nature Alone

Perhaps you are one of those people who think raccoons are cute, masked entertainers who wash their food in streams. Little furry bundles who need our help. You are deceived. 

Raccoons are predators. They eat animals. Any small animals they can get their agile paws on. They will fight dogs and cats. They will pull all the plants out of your pond and eat the fish.

This raccoon is in our yard. It is eating a small animal, a rather dried-out animal.

They also shed a parasite in their scat, a nasty parasite that requires heat to kill. Lots of heat, like boiling water or a propane torch. Raccoons like to set up latrines. Latrines that must then be cleaned up and the area sterilized by humans who object to nasty parasites in the soil. 

We know. We have been there. Although, one of the clean-up crew greatly enjoyed the torch and would have liked more things to set on fire sterilize.

Having had a snack, the raccoon is climbing up, up, up a Douglas fir for a lovely little nap.

If you have raccoons in your area, let them forage as the wild animals they are. Do not leave food or water out. Do not leave your doors open. They will come in. We know. We have been there.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Beware the Ladybug, the Jaws that Bite

There was really only one ladybug, but Photoshop does some fun things.

The nursery rhyme should go like this:

Ladybird, ladybird,
ow ow ow,
What the heck are you biting me for?
Fly away anywhere

Yes, ladybugs bite and it hurts. I was amazed and disheartened the first time this happened to me. How could these lovely little bugs inflict such pain? And to what purpose? Do I look like an aphid?

When this one landed on me, I was prepared and she did bite. She is most likely a Cycloneda sanguinea. Just like her babies, she is a voracious aphid eater. You can watch these efficient predators slurping up the aphids on YouTube.

We have a never-ending clean-out the basement project. One day while bringing things up to disinfect in the sun my leg began to sting. I thought is was from the seed heads of the tall grass.

Back in the basement my leg really hurt. As I brushed it off I saw it wasn't grass, but a daddy long-legs. I didn't know they could bite people. As a child I let them run from hand to hand. This was before I developed a screaming fear of spiders. Daddy long legs, not spiders, although they look darn close.

Just how many legs are there?. 

Lessons learned:

New experiences happen all the time.
It's a jungle out there.