Archive for 'Animals'
Royal Weddings and Marriages of Convenience

Royal Weddings and Marriages of Convenience

Posted 01 May 2011 | By | Categories: Animals, Culture, Flowers, Food, Gardening, Growing Food, Health, Pest control | Comments Off on Royal Weddings and Marriages of Convenience

Bees in the Nepeta with Dew (NYC Skygarden)

While the world has been distracted all weekend by the spectacle of England’s royal wedding, I can’t stop thinking about the other royal wedding I learned about this week in the fabulous must-see movie Queen of the Sun: What are the Bees Telling Us.

For sheer entertainment values of sex, violence and drama, the royal wedding of the honeybee far outshines that of the Windsors. First, the emergent virgin queen kills all her rivals, stinging them through their cells. Then she embarks on her glorious marriage flight, mating with 12-15 drones mid-air, and storing their sperm in her spermatheca. A spermatheca! What a brilliant family planning device. Last seen (by me) in the snail.

Once the drone has performed his task of a lifetime, his lifetime ends quickly, as the in-flight mating rips out his penis and abdominal tissues. The queen goes on to lay around 2,000 eggs per day — more than her own bodyweight. Meanwhile, worker bees attend to her every need, feeding her and cleaning up after her. The queen can choose to fertilize the eggs using sperm from her spermatheca as the egg passes through her oviduct. Fertilized eggs become female workers (or queens) and unfertilized eggs become male drones.

Like coverage of the other royal wedding, Queen of the Sun is filled with eccentric characters and beautiful scenery. And though there is a lot of discussion about the troubles facing both monarchal systems, no one questions the relevance of the honeybees. They are in trouble, and we would do well to revere, honor and serve them as we will not last long without them.

Takeaway advice for gardeners who want to support the bees that support them:

  1. Plant bee-friendly flowers and flowering herbs in your garden and yard.
  2. Cherish your weeds (or at least don’t get all obsessive about removing them), as they can be havens for honeybees.
  3. Don’t use chemicals and pesticides to treat your lawn or garden. No. Not even Roundup! Especially not Roundup (or any other brand of glyphosate). I was horrified to attend an organic kitchen gardening course here a couple of years ago where Roundup was used “just around the edges” to keep things tidy. The neonicotinoid class of insectisides has been implicated in colony collapse disorder. Here are the members and their brand names so you can be sure to avoid:
    • Clothianidin: Poncho, Titan, Clutch, Belay, Arena.
    • Imidacloprid: Admire, Advantage, Confidor, Gaucho, Marathon, Merit, Premeir, Provado, Bayer Advanced, Rose Defense, Kohinor, Hachikusan, Premise, Prothor, and Winner.
    • Thiamethoxam: Actara, Crusier, Platinum, Helix, Centric
    • Acetamiprid: Assail, Intruder, Adjust
    • Thiacloprid: Calypso
    • Nitenpyram: Capstar
  4. Buy local, raw honey. This is a joy in New Zealand! I am currently loving both J. Friend & Co’s range and Earthbound Honey’s raw organic manuka honey.
  5. Bees are thirsty. Put a small basin of fresh water outside your home.
  6. Buy local, organic food from a farmer that you know. Choose organic food whenever possible.
  7. Learn how to be a beekeeper using sustainable practices. (National Beekeepers’ Association of New Zealand, Wellington Beekeepers Association)
  8. Understand that honeybees aren’t out to get you – they’re interested in pollen.
  9. Share solutions with others in your community.
  10. Let your government — and business— know what you think by both speaking out and supporting bee-friendly bee-friendly people and products.

Marriages of Convenience

Did you know that besides being the date of the Royal Wedding, Friday, April 29, 2011 was also World Immunology Day? Just as the garden is an ecosystem, so is the body. We humans are extremely chimeric — over 10% other species by weight. I celebrated by attending a fascinating presentation at the Malaghan Institute called “A Marriage of Convenience: partnering with microbes for better health.” Joanna Kirman spoke about mycobacteria and cancer. Graham Le Gros explored mycobacteria and asthma and Anne La Flamme gave a tour of our old friends, parasitic worms — currently being used in treatment of multiple sclerosis (and inflammatory bowel disease, among other chronic inflammatory disorders). If this stuff turns you on too, you can listen along and read my notes at right.

Meanwhile, in the Seagarden…

I just enjoyed the first sweet juicy tamarillo (Ted’s Red) of the season and first ever from my own trees. What a treat! The juice tasted almost like pomegranate. I wonder if it’s because they’re planted next to each other and have been sharing trade secrets?

Last week’s extreme winds savaged the wind-protective covers of my vegetable patches and blew all the feijoas right off the trees, regardless of their readiness. I removed the last of the spent tomato plants, harvested the rest of the tomatillos (which are also lovely in fresh raw juice) and planted an assortment of exciting new seedlings, including: cos/romaine lettuce, lolla rossa lettuce, miner’s lettuce, wild arugula, rocket aka arugula, pineapple sage, feverfew and lemongrass. And last but not least, Lhamo, a rescue of a rescue kitteh, is surveying the Seagarden this weekend. Will she stay? It’s looking likely.

The First Tamarillos

The First Tamarillos

Posted 23 December 2010 | By | Categories: Animals, Flowers, fungi, Gardening, Growing Food, Pest control, Plants, Seagarden | Comments Off on The First Tamarillos
tamarillo

Delighted to see the first tamarillos emerging like jewels from these fast-growing trees. The leaves have been attracting aphids, but they seem responsive to strong sprays of water shooting them off. I’m not sure the occasional chili pepper garlic spray did much more than the water on its own.

I’ve also harvested my first few potatoes out of the strawberry patch. The strawberries, raspberries and blackberries are all still coming through strong. The blueberries are almost ripe, and the myrtus ugni are starting to form visibly behind the flowers. Feijoas are also fattening up even while still in bloom.

The area by the front door has filled up with fragrant star jasmine, which is apparently a seductive scent for cats as well as humans. At least for the the one below, who’s been hanging out on the front step a lot lately. When I approach to say hi, the cat scats. Directly across in the fernery, the nikau palm’s looking healthy, as are the native punga tree ferns.

There are also some mysterious mushrooms in the lettuce. Does anyone recognize these fungi? I appreciate your help in comments!

Strawberries and Snails

Strawberries and Snails

Posted 19 November 2010 | By | Categories: Animals, Food, Gardening, Plants, Seagarden, Seasons | Comments Off on Strawberries and Snails

one strawberry
Sunday, the universe sent me one strawberry valentine.

fivestrawberries.jpg
By Monday, five glorious fragaria glowed red and ripe.

Now they’re ripening fast and furiously. But I am not the only creature loving this sweet heart of a fruit…

snailstrail.jpg

Enter, the land snail. Enter many snails.
snail in my hand
I picked one up and marvelled at the feeling of its cool wet foot undulating on my hand. It outstretched its tentacles all the way to the end of its eyeballs and then gazed into mine. We sat like that for a while, contemplating each other.

According to Carl Jung, the snail represents ourself in dreams, with the hard shell analagous to the conscious and the insides to the subsconscious. But he also claimed that “No man lives within his own psychic sphere like a snail in its shell, separated from everybody else, but is connected with his fellow-men by his unconscious humanity.” I think he was right about the humans, but clearly he never spent much time watching snails. They’re definitely communing in my garden.

spooning snails in the strawberry bed

What are they doing in there? Well! I’m so glad I asked. A veritable venus in the escargot shell, this well-lubricated gastropod goes through an extensive attraction and courtship dance that can last twenty hours. Most terrestrial snails are hermaphroditic, with an organ system that includes not only a penis and vagina but exciting accessories like love darts and a bursa copulatrix (which I am excited to use in conversation when looking for my “fucking purse”). They can hold onto sperm from multiple partners until it is time to lay eggs, which the snail will place into a hole in the ground when conditions are right.

Helix pomatia reproductive organs illustration by Johannes Meisenheimer

Snail dreams just got a lot more interesting!

Did you come here looking for a way to get rid of them? I’ve come to adore these amorous mollusca and am letting them enjoy what they like of the strawberries this year. There’s plenty for all of us. But if you can’t bear to share, consider harvesting them along with your organic strawberries instead of poisoning them and other animals on down the chain (including yourself). Silver Trails Snails free range snail farm in Hawkes Bay has some intriguing recipes for l’escargot.

First Day of Spring in the Seagarden

First Day of Spring in the Seagarden

Posted 01 September 2010 | By | Categories: Animals, Container Gardening, Flowers, Gardening, Plants, Seagarden, Seasons | Comments Off on First Day of Spring in the Seagarden

September 1 is the first day of Spring in New Zealand. That’s still hard to wrap my Northern hemisphere-raised head around, but the garden’s been sending signs for a couple of weeks that it’s so. The nights are still cold, but each morning brightens a little earlier, accompanied by the sound of tui birds. Here are some more clues:

3 aeonium
Aeonium Schwarzkopf has provided a trio of synchronized swimming coneheads in daisy bathing caps for us to admire. Let us celebrate the combination of plum and chartreuse, wherever we may find it in nature. Where else can you find it in nature? If you can think of anywhere, let me know in comments.

blueberry blossoms
Blueberry bushes blossoming. Some have pink buds, some have white buds. Even the plants that looked too meagre to flourish are budding.

Clivia Miniata about to bloom
A Clivia Miniata blossom is springing up from the fernery floor. While normally a hardy plant, these were transplanted last year to make way for the tree ferns, and didn’t show much growth afterwards. Happy to see they’re going to make it after all.

Orchid Training
A splendid gift orchid is training dormant ones to revive. All 5 of the dormant phalaenopsis orchids have green leafy bases, but two have dead-looking stems, while three have green stems with buds.

Almond Blossoms
Almond is the first orchard tree to bloom, but I see buds developing on the apricot, nectarine, cherry, orange and apple trees too.

Sarracenia Blossom Sarracenia purpurea, also known as the purple pitcher plant or the side-saddle flower, shot up a foot-high stem in a week, and proceeded to open its lovely blossom yesterday. Pitcher plants derive their nutrition from insects that find their way into the pitchers, filled with liquid digestive enzymes. Does the fluid smell sweet to the insects? I can’t detect an odor, but spiders seem to know what’s going on. A few enterprising arachnids have spun webs across several pitchers, aspiring to intercept the catch. It’s a micro-jungle in here.

Speaking of fauna, I am pleased to note the presence of many earthworms in the composter and a whole universe of creatures in the vegetable patches. Excited to come across this introduction to New Zealand’s giant springtails (Collembola) and look forward to seeing them in the garden. Also, I’m finding this Guide to New Zealand Soil Invertebrates by Massey helpful for identifying the creatures I run across, as well as those that run across me.

What are your favorite signs of Spring?

Very Hungry Caterpillars

Very Hungry Caterpillars

Posted 24 March 2010 | By | Categories: Animals, Books, Gardening, Growing Food, Vegetables | Comments

very hungry caterpillars

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric CarleThis week marks the anniversary of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, one of my favorite books as a child. But one glance at the protagonist’s varied diet (food diary lovingly compiled by the Shrinking Sisters) reveals that it is not Pieris rapae rapae (aka cabbage white butterfly, small white butterfly or just white butterfly), Seagarden’s frequent diner.

These soft green consumers grow up and become white butterflies, who then lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves. The caterpillars hatch and begin to feast on a menu of organic tatsoi, kale, bok choy, broccoli and brussels sprouts, i.e. the brassicaceae — in the case of the tatsoi (below), until it’s entirely devoured.

In the organic garden, the main options for stopping this cycle are physical (removing the caterpillars and eggs), chemical (garlic spray as a preventative), and biological (Bacillus thuringiensis aka BT, dipel and thuricide which is a bacterial stomach poison for all caterpillars).

I regularly apply garlic spray, which I suspect the caterpillars enjoy as a tasty marinade, and my strategic companion plantings of hyssop, nasturtium, calendula and cosmos have been interpreted as gifts of affectionate bouquets. A box of BT (in the form of Organic NO Caterpillars) sits on the shelf, but after buying it I found I really don’t have a strong desire to poison the little beings. I guess I value biodiversity more than a perfect crop. (See Dan Barber’s inspiring TED talk featuring systems-thinking measurements of success, such as the the health of the predators and water purified through the farming process.)

I handpick them in the mornings. And sometimes in the evenings. They rotate their fuzzy faces towards mine and channel Mary Oliver, mouthing “Don’t bother me.
I’ve just been born.”
Once I’ve gathered a handful or so, I fling them gently over the fence, into the puka (or beyond). I won’t be replanting tatsoi. How do you deal with very hungry caterpillars?