Sunday, September 21, 2008

More bugs - not a post for people who don't like creepy-crawlies

My first job, in the shade on a warm Monday afternoon, was to pick the Cabbage White eggs and caterpillars off the cauliflower seedlings. Having once seen my beautiful nasturtiums (Did you know nasturtiums were brassicas? Neither did I!) devastated by these gourmands, I had no qualms.

All I had to do was deposit them in this plastic container, and shake it from time to time, because otherwise the little blighters would climb up and out!

I don't know what mine host did with them afterwards, probably made a nourishing broth.....

OK. Ants. Definitely common or garden, but look at the size of what they're carrying! They didn't mind me if I didn't mind - or sit on - them. I'm always impressed by the efficiency and determination of ants.
This is not a very good photo, but it's the best I can do: the husk, or skeleton, of a cricket, which I found on my second morning (That would be under the peppers.). I didn't know that crickets have to moult as they grow - I assumed that they emerged fully grown like butterflies. Nope. More info here.

Gorgeous photo of an orthopteran nymph (if you're into this kind of thing) here (Click on the photo to see the rest of this particular gallery.) at the absolutely amazing nature photograghy site of Bob Moul.

But here's a live one. This fella landed on my trainer on Thursday afternoon. There's nothing like a ground assault with hoe to eventually alert insects to the limits of the "If I don't move, I'm safe." approach. Even something as big as this is invisible until you catch movement out of the corner of your eye, and then watch for more movement rather than trying to distinguish the mover - just look at the coloration, or lack of it, against that late summer soil. Of course, when it actually stops for a breather on your toe.......

This is a wasps' nest (near the fruit trees).

You might be able to make out the wasp on the rim, at about 11 o'clock, but I wasn't getting close enough for a clear shot. I've always thought of wasps as just one of those bad-tempered beasties sent to try us, but

"If ground-nesting bees and wasps can be ignored and their tunnels tolerated, do
so since they are valuable in agricultural production and helpful by controlling
pests in nature. If nests are in locations undesirable and stinging is a great
possibility, control is justified."

So says a rather elegant Ohio State University Fact Sheet, and even the pest control companies seem to agree!

Here's the BBC again, with colour pics, but here's a real fan, with an essay in the garden of Paghat the Ratgirl. If you are stuck indoors when you really want to be out; looking at brick and stone when you really want to be looking at tree and blossom; listening to your own interior monologue on what you have to get done before the weekend/end of the month/next audit when you'd really really like to sidestep into a parallel world of aconites, Cedar of Lebanon and lines from Emily Dickinson, you could do worse than spend five minutes in Paghat's Garden.

You may even find an essay on the secret charms of the aphid,

but right now, I'm with the wasp.

And while I'm in insect PR mode, I think we're all familiar with the - commitment issues - of the praying mantis, so I was glad to be a) female, b) 47,000 times bigger, and c) holding a hoe, when this deadly beauty crossed my path on Friday (under the asparagus). It may even have been our own Apteromantis aptera, a mantis endemic to the Iberian Peninsula, but looking at this phenomenal photo on Flickr, I think this was a bit more common or garden.

They're officially a Good Thing because they prey on garden pests, but here's the full Wiki :

"Many gardeners consider mantises to be desirable insects, as they prey upon
many harmful insect species. Organic gardeners who avoid pesticides may
encourage mantises as a form of biological pestcontrol. Tens of thousands of mantis egg cases are sold each year in some garden stores for this purpose.
However, mantises prey on neutral and beneficial insects as well, basically eating anything they can successfully capture and devour. Although their diet primarily consists of small invertebrates, large mantises have been observed eating small vertebrates such as lizards, mice, snakes, and small birds such as hummingbirds."

Ulp. I don't suppose a novice WWOOFer would give them much trouble, either.

These snails weren't on the smallholding, but soaking up the fumes on the verge of the M-305 coming into Aranjuez. Wasting away, evidently.

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