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PostPosted: Tue Mar 24, 2009 10:26 pm 
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I had a pair of mallards waddling around the garden and driveway this morning, before they strolled across the street to the neighbor's yard. A pair nested in my next-door neighbor's garden a couple of years ago, in a corner with ornamental grasses. I suppose these two could be checking out the digs, so to speak. :lol: (They were in a new bed with the new tomato plants and cages when I saw them first--eat the snails and slugs, please!)

I dug up a small earth snake (http://www.dirtdoctor.com/view_question.php?id=1901) last weekend. I'm sure this is the first of many. They're beautiful and harmless, and always escape quickly back under the soil. I have plenty of earthworms to share with them. I've been careful moving the leaf litter under some shrubs, I don't want to upset our toads and tarantulas. I haven't seen any baby bunnies yet, but I think there might be a nest out front. I've seen a lone bunny on the lawn surveying the surroundings at night once this year already.

The only odd (funny-odd, not troubling-odd) news to report is that there is a mockingbird that "beeps" just like my alarm clock! A little slower paced, but the same exact tone as my battery operated atomic clock. Now I wonder if this guy has been perched on my window sill a few mornings and heard it repeatedly after I hit the snooze button?

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 26, 2009 10:14 pm 
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Mama mallard has been back, so I suspect a nest is going in somewhere in one of the yards. We have lots for them to eat right now--my son discovered a whole bunch of snails in the yard this evening. This photo has the soaker hose in it for scale.

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I probably killed three dozen of the things, tossing them onto the concrete to stomp once I was out of the garden. They are really hard on leafy plants like chard, and I have a lot out there now.

They aren't completely bad, they serve a role, as part of the garden cleanup crew. I found one eating a companion smashed on the step from the night before.

My answer to snails and slugs in the garden is a shallow bowl of beer. The snails are attracted to it and drown in the bowl.

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Here we have a trap near the onions and oregano.

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"I'm ready for my close up."

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 27, 2009 8:51 am 
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The Morning After

It's just as well I killed so many last night when I could see them, because these snails came from inches around to share the brew. A couple of different types of snails. If they'd all headed for the bowl it would have been too full and they'd have escaped over the top of each other. Both bowls had a lot of snails in them.

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If Mama Duck were nearby and accustomed to being fed by humans, I would toss these snails her way. But she's a wild bird so these will go in the compost.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 27, 2009 11:29 pm 
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My boss's wife asked him to ask me what I'm putting in my garden this year. She wants to plan her menus for the summer. :)

Last year I kind of overloaded them with eggplants--I was taking them to the office by the bucket--good thing there are several fabulous cooks working there; in earlier years I've sent home lots of green bell and sweet banana peppers, squash, and herbs.

This year so far I've taken in chard.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 09, 2009 8:44 am 
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First, an oddball situation: my front yard faucet has attracted some sort of ants, not sure if they're fire ants. I regularly find them lined up, dress right dress, along the edge of my watering timer. They're residing in the wall behind the faucet, and I haven't managed to evict them yet:

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My main reason for posting this morning is to share my fire ant eradication research.

I have a pair of happy, healthy, and very curious dogs who live in my back yard. They graze the yard, eating bugs, grass, and if there is tasty compost, they will dine al fresco. (I don't put table scraps in the compost any more).

Because of their curiosity I learned a long time ago to be very conservative in treating any pests in their area. The fire ants have tended to go un-treated because I didn't want the pooches coming along behind me and sniffing up even the most benign organic treatment. Spinosad is a tiny fraction of the ingredients in the brand I have used, but I don't want them fooling with even that.

Last week I treated three ant beds with instant grits. One of the beds has been in the same general area, under a big lantana bush, for several years. I dug out that lantana, planning to relocate the bed, so decided it was time to treat the mound. The other two popped up this spring after some heavy rain. They've all been reshaped when the mower ran over the top of them, but they were for all intents and purposes active, viable ant mounds.

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I sprinkled one packet per nest, carefully distributing the grits around the nest, very few actually on the nest, and after a couple of days went back to look. Two ant mounds had decreased activity, one had about the same. I again treated with grits in the same fashion.

Yesterday I thoroughly prodded two of the mounds and find they are dead. I rechecked this morning and in one I found a couple of stragglers, but again, the mounds seem dead.

The third mound, the big established one, still has ant activity. We have rain showers this morning so I'll wait until it has dried and I'll again sprinkle the instant grits around the mound.

I have a couple of avenues of research to conduct: A box of 20 packets of instant grits costs about $3 at Albertsons. A 1 pound box of "regular" grits, not packaged, costs about $1. When I read about this remedy I understood that it needed to be Instant Grits to kill ants.

I will look around and find if there is a place to buy instant grits in bulk (instant grits is such an unhealthy approach to eating, they're like instant oatmeal, all of the nutrition has been compromised, so will places like Central Market bother to carry them?) I will also buy a box of regular grits and try them on some ant mounds and see if they work as well.

Below, find my curious duo. A pair of Muenster naturals. Here, they are demonstrating their restraint: not picking up the dog treat until I give them the word. The pit bull takes this job very seriously. :)

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 11, 2009 7:37 pm 
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Your close-up photography is absolutely astounding. Is it the camera ?......or the photgrapher ? What brand of camera/lens captures these images ?


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 11, 2009 9:56 pm 
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Thanks! I've always enjoyed close-up photography, so all of my cameras have had lenses or the digital ability to adjust for close-ups. In this case, it's a wonderful little Nikon Coolpix I bought several years ago. 5.1 megapixels. I also bracket the shot (meaning I take several shots, and I use both the close-up setting and the regular setting, a little further back. In this one, it is the "further back" shot that came in best in focus.)

I am a photographer at work--I don't have all of the bells and whistles like a dedicated photographer, I'm a writer/photographer/web designer/general dogsbody/ where I work, and I use Photoshop pretty proficiently. Once you get a clear shot of the subject, since it is going into a web format (72dpi) you can crop a 300dpi image pretty severely and still end up with a stunning web shot. So it is a combination of noticing the thing to begin with, figuring out how to photograph it, then deciding which image to work with. Isn't it amazing what those ants were doing? I love being able to capture that.

One of my favorite photo sequences from my park ranger days is of a beautiful little Sonoran Desert "belly flower"--one you have to get down on your belly to see (so they say). On a tour I talked to my group about how to photograph it, and after taking my shot to show them how, I backed up from the flower and took another shot. All you see are all of these folks clustered around one little plant, all pointing cameras at it. :)

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 20, 2009 11:01 am 
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I found the instant grits in bulk in a 36 oz box at Kroger, so they are around. My results are still mixed, but I have several new ant piles after the recent rain on which to practice. It seems easier to kill newer ant piles with a couple of treatments. The older, deeper colonies are harder to effect.

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PostPosted: Thu May 21, 2009 8:52 am 
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I followed a tarantula hawk wasp as it dragged a young (adolescent sized?) tarantula clear across the back yard, diagonally, over the weekend. Previously I've rooted for the spiders, hoping they avoid the wasps, but after seeing this insect navigate the yard in order to drag this spider into an existing wasp hole (in a little pile of dirt near my clothesline) I am so impressed in the industry and navigational skill of this wasp. From where I first spotted it, to where they disappeared into the ground, it was about 2 chains (I paced it off using my old Forestry skills) or 130+ feet.

I spotted them because the wasp was regularly flying up to look around. The spider was stunned but twitching. The wasp pulled backwards the entire distance. I have started a regular blog (http://lilybarthes.wordpress.com/2009/05/19/going-out-to-eat/) where I described it, but I'll post a few of the photos here.

The wasp was about 1 1/4 inches long. The spider was larger and much heavier than the wasp.
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Here is a closer view.
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I dropped my truck key on the ground in their path to try for scale, but they were consistently moving so clear photos were difficult.
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Finally, this gives a view of how far they travelled. The dog is standing where I first spotted them, and the left side of the garage is where they ended up, past the pine tree.
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 27, 2009 12:38 pm 
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It has been hot and the garden has been racing along, but I need to post a few photos.

A couple of weeks ago I followed another Tarantula hawk drag another spider to her hole. This time the wasp was much larger and the spider was a bit larger, though so far it still looks like the spiders are in the adolescent size-range. This wasp took a detour over to my driveway, but continually moved so no photos have been completely clear. The route this wasp chose was long, considering where she started and ended (under my next door neighbor's shrubbery). This strange dog leg to travel down the concrete still meant a longer drag across grass. So while they are great navigators, they don't do the math well when it comes to figuring out the amount of dragging the route might entail.

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Also here is a photo of my trichogramma wasp card setup. I spoke on the radio with Howard about the problem of fire ants eating the eggs off of the card before they had time to hatch, so I concocted a water bath for the stake my cards are on. Here's the photo you asked for:

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Finally, my favorite B-52 wasps of the garden, the Cicada wasps (Sphecius speciosus) are bouncing around in their insect passion. I labeled the photo carefully so Photobucket won't kick it off for having sexual context. :) These wasps are like having badminton birdies bouncing around the garden, bopping into everything, including me. This photo is of a joined pair on my air conditioner unit. Interesting that, in addition to the praying mantis, this bug seems to have an expression on its face. And it seems to have a rather dog-like face, doesn't it? ;-)

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 07, 2009 10:08 pm 
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I'm picking a couple of quarts of tomatoes a day now from my many tomato plants (overkill--I had so few fruits last year that I planted twice as many plants and now I'm giving away and freezing and eating and and . . . well, swamped with tomatoes. :)

With the cool weather this week I have been catching up on the yard work. I mowed yesterday, and this evening I got out the line trimmer to do the edging. As I came around one garden that has a soaker hose (for foundation soaking) and some Texas star hibiscus, Louisiana iris, and datura, I spotted a quick movement of the back end of a lizard as she darted from the open into the dense iris stand. She had dug a hole next to and under the steel edging and was laying eggs. I immediately turned off the trimmer and took a look.

For the nano-second I saw this lizard, she looked a lot in shape like a large brown horned lizard. She was round with a pointy stubby tail like the horned lizards, but she was larger than the horned lizards I've seen in here and in Arizona. I know they're not supposed to still be around here, but that's the shape, though it didn't have the spiky edges they usually do. And she was colored a rich woody kind of brown color. I haven't seen her since, but I took the camera out to photograph the nest and kept glancing back to see if she was going to finish the nest or if I had to bury them for her.

She's a good lizard mom, who not only finished the nest, she covered it so completely that she even made the mulch over the top of it look like the mulch in the rest of the area. This is an amazing before and after sequence, even if I wasn't able to catch her during to know for sure what type she is.

Right after I disturbed her:
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An hour or two later, when I got back out with the camera:
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I'll keep an eye on this spot and see what hatches. I love making this kind of discovery, because not only it means I'll have good coverage as far as keeping a lot of bugs under control, it means my healthy gardening techniques allow animals like this to make themselves at home! I won't be trimming in that area for a while, I don't want to knock off whatever hatches. Here's a cropped portion of one photo to get a closer look:

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This is so exciting! I wonder how long it takes? I disturbed some similar eggs in a mound of dirt in the back yard last year, and wasn't sure what to do. I covered them over again, but the ants found them and next time I looked they were exposed and like shriveled leathery raisins. I'll be sure to steer clear of these.

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 16, 2009 10:42 am 
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I've looked back every day, no sign of disturbance at the egg site. I hope the steel edging hasn't gotten so hot as to cook the eggs that are in the ground beneath it. I've had fleeting glances of a lizard in the garden, not the usual long gray stripey ones or our little geckos, but it is so fast I've only just registered a rounder shape, brownish color, stubby tail.

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 19, 2009 7:54 am 
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I've just started perusing this blog in the last couple of weeks, and I gotta hand it to you, Northwesterner, your contribution is outstanding!

I'm learning a lot from you,

Thanks!

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 19, 2009 10:37 am 
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Thank you! There are a lot of gaps in my information, but I love discovering new stuff in the yard and making connections. The most obvious linkage is that if you don't have healthy soil and healthy plants, you won't have a healthy mix of yard critters to enjoy.

I found three new large tarantula holes near a vitex in the back yard this week, but I also spotted a very large tarantula hawk buzzing the area. And for the less-welcome wildlife, the dogs caught a mouse. This is useful, perferrable by far to their catching snakes and lizards and such. I've opened the gate from their stall into the rest of the garage because the catahoula was going over the gate and getting stuck in there. I didn't want her trapped without water so it is open for now; she seems to be the mouser. The corn gluten meal and dry molasses bags in there probably attract them.

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 19, 2009 6:38 pm 
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Oh, I've definitely noticed that at my warehouse, as well as my garage.

We always keep extra bags of rye grass, corn meal, CG Meal, etc and in the summer is one thing, but man, in October! After that first cool front, the mice run inside. I've nearly twisted off my own legs when rats and mice have decided to use them as escape routes!

I find your attention to detail worthy of envy, because it's an exhausting task for me mentally; You show its worthiness.

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