A garden is the best alternative therapy.

Posts tagged ‘garden’

Building a Retreat Web

At just a few millimeters wide, this little striped jumping spider (Salticidae) would have been missed except he was busy scurrying back and forth constructing his retreat web on the very top of the sunflower plant just as the morning rays poked through the leaves of a nearby tree.   It was incredibly difficult getting a picture of him because the wind was blowing so hard and would take him back and forth out of the frame of my camera.  I literally had to wait, holding my breath for a lull between wind gusts so I could snap a shot.   At one point, a carpenter ant that was at least twice its size meandered onto the leaf with the spider’s retreat web.  The spider jumped out so quickly I thought it might be gone for good, but it had tethered itself to the leaf and was resting on the underside.  When the ant left, it scurried back onto the leaf and started checking out its construction.  With a bit of rearranging, it settled down into its newly created funnel.  You really have to look at these full-size to see them (click on the photos).


Feathered Friends

I spotted a small mockingbird and a male cardinal in the garden today.  The cardinal was rooting around in the lantana, dill and parsley.  Was he hunting my caterpillars?  The small mockingbird watched me carefully for some time before flying off to another nearby fence to holler for mom and dad.

A Good Buzz

Continuing the “Thinking Small” theme this week, here are a few shots taken yesterday evening and this morning in the garden.  Although it may be a little boring for my readers seeing the same thing over and over, I really can’t get enough of taking bee photos.  I keep up my attempts at the closest/sharpest photo I can get.  This is a real challenge.  As windy as it has been lately, and as quickly as the bees move from flower to flower, I really have to be patient and seek out the best shot.  Because it’s so windy, using a tripod is absolutely useless.  I have to take all of these hand-held.   Another challenge is the depth of field when working with subjects this small.  Any slight movement throws the bee out of focus – or partially out of focus.

the bee's tongue is sticking out

Thinking Small

If I spend any amount of time in the garden, I soon discover some sort of creeping, crawling creature.  Since I was a little boy, I’ve been fascinated with bugs and insects.  I would often turn over the large, landscaping rocks in my mother’s flower beds to discovery what lurked underneath.  When my brother and I would trek through the woods, I spent a good amount of time looking for new bugs, turning over limbs and even breaking apart rotting logs to find them.  Most of these bugs aren’t harmful to my garden plants at all, but serve a purpose in the complex web of life.  Take the green stink bug, for example.

(click photos to view larger images)

This little nymph was discovered hanging onto the Whirling Butterfly gaura.  It wasn’t causing any damage, seemingly content just to “hang out”.  I picked it up and handled it for some time, and luckily it didn’t spray me with its characteristically bad-smelling chemical.  Perhaps it hasn’t matured enough yet.  At this size, I’m sure this bug provides a good snack for the green anoles or perhaps a member of the spider family.

Lurking nearby, I found this little striped wolf spider.  This species can grow quite large and love to terrorize my wife and daughter by their mere presence.  Whenever they show up in unexpected places, they are met by a scream and usually an, “Oh my God!  JOE!”  That’s code for, “There’s a large, ugly bug that you need to get rid of!”  Most of the time, I enter the room to find a small, frightened little spider, which I quickly scoop up in my hands and transfer outside.  Although wolf spiders are known to bite humans, I’ve never had one that I’ve handled do so.  I’m always careful to hold them loosely, though.

Spiders are fascinating!  We used to have a good number of garden spiders when I was growing up.  I would literally spend an afternoon hunting grasshoppers, crickets and moths to throw into their large webs.  I loved to watch this particular spider move with lightning speed to the struggling insect and begin wrapping it in a thick strand of silk that streamed from the spider’s abdomen.  The insect would struggle for awhile, but once it was completely wrapped, the spider would move in for its paralyzing bite, then all movement would stop.  I think the spider appreciated my help, but it made no qualms about telling me when I got too close.  It would run to the center of the web and begin bouncing the entire web back and forth violently to warn me to stay away!

The wolf spider is much different from the garden spider, however.  Instead of weaving a web, it hunts its prey freely.  This particular spider was found in the foliage of some flowers, no doubt waiting for an insect to come and dine on nectar – quite possibly its last meal.  I’ve seen wolf spiders dragging their meals with them as they go, a difficult task when the prey is equal to or larger in size than the spider itself.

Because spiders prey upon a variety of insect pests, I consider them beneficial insects in my garden AND my home.  I’ll have to add this one to my Beneficial Insect Files.

Keeping My Interest

Some of the biggest, most beautiful blooms in my garden aren’t flowering perennials, but vegetable plants.   The squash and zucchini flowers not only catch my interest, but keep the local bee population busy all day long.  There’s plenty of nectar to go around, and the bees have to wipe their feet before exiting to dislodge caked on clumps of pollen.

honeybee tongue darts out like a sword

New Look, New Features and More Info

I thought it was about time that I updated the site a bit.  First off, I changed the theme to one of WordPress’ newest free themes.  I really think this one “pops” more than the last theme I was using (“Koi”).  I took advantage of the “custom menu” feature of this theme and created a menu with hyperlinks to the additional pages located on this blog.  If you hover over the menu, submenus should appear giving you more options.

I also went through and updated the individual pages themselves.  Some of the information was over a year old.   As I sit here and reflect back, I’ve learned so much about gardening over the past two years.  To think it all started with my wife wanting to buy a hibiscus bush and me wanting to start an herb garden … it’s amazing how the gardening fever has captivated the both of us as we added more and more herbs, flowers and vegetables to our backyard.  We’re excited to be able to expand it again this year, adding more flowers to the butterfly garden and putting in a new vegetable bed.

Because I owe so much of my gained knowledge and respect for gardening to a fantastic group of gardeners, I also thought it was necessary to update my blogroll.  To tell you the truth, I was shocked that I haven’t been more diligent in keeping up with this.  There are several of you who frequent my blog – and I visit yours as well – but I did not have you on my list of gardening blogs!  Shame on me!  My apologies to you all.  In appreciation for what you bring to my gardening life, you now have a permanent place on my page.  🙂 Thank you all so very much! I also make it a habit to regularly click through my blog roll to see what you all are up to, so I’m sure you’ll be seeing many more visits from me to your blogs now that the blogroll is updated!

While updating the other pages of my blog, I decided something needed to be done with the plant profile pages.  I want these pages to be a resource for new gardeners, especially those in my zone, but, to be honest, they weren’t as “user-friendly” as I wanted them to be and scrolling down forever to find particular plants really wasn’t very convenient.  To fix this problem, I added a “table of contents” at the top of each page.  Now each category of plants (Herbs, Flowers and Vegetables) has a list that links directly to the plant you want to read more about as well as a link back to the top of the page.  I’ve also included more photos and changed some of them out (along with gardening, my photography skills have also improved over the past couple of years!).  The coding took me a couple of hours to complete and, although I think all of them are error-free, if you encounter any broken/non-working links and certainly if you notice any misinformation, please let me know.  These pages are utilized quite frequently by a number of visitors on the world wide web, and I strive to be as accurate and informative as possible.

I hope you enjoy the new look and feel of the blog.  Let me know what you think!


Progress in the Garden

Hello gardening world!  It’s been so long since my last garden post, I don’t even know where to begin.   I can’t believe it’s been almost a month.

I’ve made some changes to the garden in the past few weeks.  Most notably, the squash and zucchini both died.  I tried replanting the zucchini, but then something came by and ate all of the seedlings when they were just a couple inches tall, so I have given up on growing those – at least for now.  I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong.  Most of the time, squash and zucchini thrive and produce more veggies than you know what to do with.  The other curcubit I’m trying to grow, cucumber, is doing alright.  It’s just now starting to produce small cucumbers, although two of them that started already shriveled.  Thinking it may need a boost of phosphorous for fruiting, I gave it some bone meal and we’ll see if that helps over the next couple of weeks.

Straight Eigtht cucumber vines

The lettuce/parsley bed was empty, so I worked the soil over really well, added a bunch of compost, a little bat guano and a little bone meal and let the soil sit for a couple of weeks.  Then I planted three rows of beans and they are all doing really well.

Tendergreen Bush Beans

Three of the tomato plants are getting quite large and although they are flowering, have yet to set any fruit.  I sure hope this isn’t a repeat of last year.  I got only a dozen or so tomatoes last year!   I have a total of seven plants going, but four of those got started really late and may take awhile to start producing as well.

Three tomato plants

I’ve got quite a few pepper plants right now.  I thought I was losing several of the ones I started from seed a few weeks ago, so I got more transplants nd started more from seed for fall.  Well, the initial plants rebounded, are flowering and there are even a few pepper nubs forming, so I may end up with a pretty decent pepper crop.  I have probably ten cayenne, ten bell pepper, and four jalapenos going.

The sunflowers are tall and are flowering.  Unfortunately, I planted them along the fence line running north to south, and I’ve come to realize that once they start blooming, sunflowers permanently face east towards the rising sun.  As such, they are not facing the house, but the neighbor’s!  I hope he enjoys them!

Mammoth sunflower

The butterfly garden is coming along, too.  The verbena has spread out to create two good-sized mounds.  The black-eyed susans are finally looking like they’re going to flower soon.  The fennel is reaching high in the back, despite a continual defoliation from the dozens of black swallowtail caterpillars that have grown up here.  The other day, my wife and I counted fifteen new eggs on one plant alone.  We even found three large cats on our dill plant, and we had to remove them before they killed it.  The fennel appears ready to flower in the next couple of weeks.

Purple Moss verbena in the front ...

Black-Eyed Susans with Dusy Miller, Fall Aster and Texas Lantana

Fennel (a.k.a. Black Swallowtail nursery)

Four Nerve Daisies, Creeping Lantana, Milkweed and Butterfly weed ... followed by rosemary, Copper Canyon Daisies and Indigo Spires salvia

The Texas Lantana is growing a little slower than I expected, but the creeping lantana has really spread out.   I continue to love the Four Nerve Daisies that seem to bloom profusely in waves every several days.  The milkweed cuttings are established and will hopefully begin to fill out some more.  I have another fifty milkweeds going indoors, and I plan to transplant them in a few weeks.  I need to prepare a space along the northern fence line for them first.  My hope is have them well-established by mid-August when Monarch populations are highest.  Perhaps I can entice a few to stick around.  Milkweed is hardy in my zone, so it should make it through the winter to come back again in the Spring.

The Copper Canyon Daisies have created one big bush and I can’t wait for their show this fall.  As big as they are, I’m sure that they will be covered with yellow blooms!  The Indigo Spires has grown so much faster than I expected.  I ended up cutting off an entire section already because it was getting in the way of the other salvias!  Not wanting it to go to waste, I’ve started a dozen cuttings inside, so hopefully I’ll have more in the future.  I was thinking that a bed in the front yard would look good, and these would make a wonderful addition there.

The mint bed is standing three feet tall – taller than I thought it would, but makes a nice smelling mound of green in the corner of the yard.  So far, there’s been no sign of spreading, but I am watching for runners constantly.

Mint bed with rosemary, Copper Canyon Daisies in foreground

The Mexican Mint Marigold has all but died (pictured next to the rosemary above).  If it doesn’t come back, I’ve got to find something else to put there.  I’m thinking something red … Any suggestions?

And, the wildflowers are all done.  After a heavy downpour and fifty-mile per hour winds, they were all tore up, laying over and generally very, very sad.  I hacked them down with a machete and plan on sowing more seeds this fall.