Category Archives: Joe the Bug Hunter

Trampoline Lessons

Joe found a beetle today while we were woodchipping the garden.

It was huge.

It was shiny.

It was making a weird noise…a cross between a hiss and a squeak.

Joe and Jake both thought it was cool.

I thought it was creepy and wanted to feed it to the chicks.

“I wonder what it eats,” said Joe as he put it in his bug house.

“We found it in the wood pile so let’s put some wood in,” said Jake.

I watched them work together, putting wood chips, grass and dirt in.

“What kind of beetle do you think it is?” I asked them.

They didn’t have any guesses, so Joe and I went inside to get a few bug books. The boys both wanted to “do research” on the trampoline so we climbed on with the books and the bug house and started looking for a match.

The beetle was hard to see, so of course Joe needed to take it out.

I tried nonchalantly scoot away when it crawled its way toward me making its weird hiss/squeak.

We looked through all of the insect books and came to the conclusion that Joe had found a female stag beetle.

“Are you sure it’s a stag beetle?” I asked Joe.

“Yep. See, it has the same spikeys on its legs.”

He turned it upside down and touched its back leg causing another hiss/squeak fit.

I tried to get the crazy sound on video, but it would not cooperate so I found a YouTube video of a stag beetle making the same sound.

The boys played with it for a little while longer while I watched on.

When they got bored with it, they put it back in the bug house and put the bug house on the picnic table.

I gathered up the books and told them I was going to go inside and fix dinner.

“Ok, could you take the bughouse in with you? I want to keep an eye on the beetle.”

Gulp.

Bugs in the garden
Learning on the trampoline
Beetles in the house

Joe the Bug Hunter: Mysterious Tracks

Joe set down his magnifying glass and rubbed his eyes, sure he wasn’t seeing clearly.

After a few minutes, he picked it up again and looked at the small, worn piece of bark.

They were still there. Tiny, squiggly paths swirling all over the underside of the bark.

What did it mean? What could have made these swirls and whorls?

wp-1488395652520.jpg

Sighing and scratching his chin, Joe carefully put the bark samples in his Bug Collecting Bag, snapped a few pictures of the log he had found them on and headed to his lab to do some research.

After searching his favorite bug blogs and typing a few key phrases in Google, he was still stumped.

He’d found nothing to explain the odd paths he’d discovered.

“What are you up to sweetheart?” his mom asked, poking her head around the door.

“Oh, just trying to figure out what these odd markings are.”

Joe showed her the piece of bark. She ran her fingers over the tiny rivulets, feeling the grooves.

“Hmm. I’ve never seen anything like this before. At least, not on a tree…” she said, her voice trailing off.

Joe shook his head and let out a frustrated sigh.

“Any luck with your research?” she asked in a strained voice.

“Nope. Not yet.”

“Well, you’ll figure it out. You always do.”

His mom quickly left the room, mumbling something about fixing dinner. It was only after he’d put the bark back in his bag and shut his laptop that he realized something was off about his mom’s response.

She seemed almost nervous, or…something. What was it she said after she examined the bark?

I’ve never seen anything like this before…at least, not on a tree…

“What an odd thing to say,” he mused.

Yes, he would figure it out…he always did.

To Be Continued…

Joe the Bug Hunter: The Roly Poly

Joe sat in the driveway peering into an old and broken ceramic frog.

“What are you doing buddy?” asked his mom, throwing a bag in the garbage can.

Joe looked up at his mom, a sparkle in his eye and a smile on his face.

“I found a new bug.”

20160412_140037-1.jpg

His mom wandered over and crouched down next to him.

“Ah,” she said. “Roly polys.”

“Roly polys?” Joe asked, raising his eyebrows. “What are roly polys? Why are they rolling into a ball? What do they do?”

His mom smiled. “You should do some research and find out.”

Joe didn’t need any more encouragement. He hopped up and got his bug house from the garage. After popping a few roly polys into the container, he raced inside to research his new find.

***

“They live under rocks and like dark, moist places,” said Joe. “No wonder I found a bunch in the frog.”

“How many did you find?” his mom asked.

“Oh, ten. Maybe 12. But I only brought 6 inside with me.”

His mom glanced up from scrambling eggs.

“They are in your bug house, right?”

“Of course!” he laughed.

wpid-20150713_171205.jpg

“What else have you learned about them?”

“Let’s see…they live a long time, up to 5 years!”

“Wow, that is a long time for a bug.”

“Not when you think about how long a black garden ant lives,” said Joe as he clicked on a new link. “They can live for 15 years.”

Click, click went the mouse.

“They have a bunch of names,” Joe said. “Pill bug, sow bug, potato bug and doodle bug…wait a minute, it says here that they aren’t bugs at all.”

Joe was getting excited. He eagerly read on.

“Not bugs?” said his mom, puzzled. “Then what are they?”

“Crustaceans!”

“Crustaceans? Like shrimp? On land?”

“Yep! It says here ‘Roly poly bugs might not look like lobsters or crabs, but they are actually land-based crustaceans.'”

Joe’s eyes were wide and gleaming. But…as he read on, the sparkle faded and his smile turned into a scowl.

“What’s wrong?” asked his mom, noticing his expression.

Joe sighed and turned to face his mom.

“They eat dead and decaying plants.”

“Ok, but why so glum? That helps the garden,” she said.

“They also eat live plants–young plants and seedlings. In the garden.”

“Ah.”

“Yes,” Joe said darkly. “But we don’t want to get rid of them completely. They help the worms turn the decaying stuff into soil. They speed up the process.”

“So, what do we do about them?”

Click, click.

“We could use diatomaceous earth, but that will kill all the bugs, even the good ones.”

Click, click.

“Or, we could pull mulch away from the seedlings to keep the moisture away.”

Click, click.

“Or, we could just continue to start all of our seeds inside and transplant them when they’ve grown beyond the seedling stage.”

wpid-20150705_165203.jpg

“Why don’t we do both?” asked his mom.

“Both?”

“Yes, we could start some indoors and direct sow some. Then, you could compare results,” she added.

“An experiment?” Joe asked.

“Yep. I wanted to do that anyway. The volunteer tomatoes we had last year were stronger than the ones we transpla–“.

“An experiment!” Joe jumped up and grabbed a notebook, a pen and his bug house.

“Thanks Mom!”

With that, he ran downstairs to start his seedlings leaving his mom smiling and shaking her head.

The Bug House

Every day Joe finds a caterpillar or worm to add to the bug house.

The tiny space is almost at full capacity and soon, we will have to build on an addition to make more room.

“I have to put them in here because they won’t survive the winter.”

wp-1476657566036.jpg

But, don’t they? Don’t they find some way to survive the Winter, at least as eggs or larvae, to be born again in the Spring?

Of course they do! But…how?

We were both curious, so we googled it and looked it up in our bug books.

wp-1476660072477.jpg

And guess what? Bugs don’t just survive the winter as eggs or larvae.

Some, like the Monarch butterfly, migrate to avoid the cold.

Others, like the ladybug, hibernate. They stack themselves up on logs and under rocks, sharing heat and creating a buffer against the wind. How cool is that!?

wp-1476660786737.jpg

Grasshoppers bury their eggs under the soil to protect them from the cold.

Still others, like Japanese beetles and water insects, survive winter as grubs or larvae, under the surface of the ground or underwater.

So this winter, the bug hunters will be active. We will look for ladybug towers and search for beehives. And in the Spring we’ll be digging up those Japanese beetle grubs and feeding them to the chickens.

wp-1476661045383.jpg

 

 

 

 

Homestead Goals 2016

We always, always, always set more goals than we possibly have the time and the energy to get to.

And, we always, always always feel that we are failing when we don’t get to all of them. We feel that we let the season slip by without really getting anything done.

Until…the season ends and we look back at all we have done on the homestead, when we see the forest instead of just the trees, we always, always, always feel pride in all that we accomplished.

I’m sure that this year, even though I will try not to, I will feel discouraged when I don’t get everything on my list done or even started. But I’m confident that when we look back in the Fall…I will once again feel proud of our progress.

This years goals:

  • Get the carrots in the ground earlier so that we actually have more than a few to harvest.
  • Make sure to plan for pests like slugs, cabbage worms, Japanese Beetles and squash bugs so that they don’t get away from me and take over.
  • Really take the time to fertilize with natural and organic materials. I’ve already started by scattering calcium-rich powdered egg shells.
  • Pull and/or transplant volunteer tomatoes, borage, dill and squash so that the kitchen garden doesn’t turn into a jungle of tomatoes, dill, borage and squash…even though the boys loved it.
  • Rework the vineyard so that, when we get kiwi, we will have a strong enough system to support the weight. I’m thinking cattle panels or something similar. The kiwi at full production will be too heavy for the gauge of wire we are currently using.
  • Get brussel sprouts grow. I’m not sure why I’m having such a problem getting them to even sprout.
  • Keep those dreaded deer away from my fedge, my vineyard and my trees in the swale. By any means possible.
  • Learn more about pruning trees.
  • Grow a medicinal herb garden.

But first, I have to get my schedule going, order materials and start my seeds.

20160111_105107-1.jpg

Ready, set…go!

Let the fun begin
Order the seeds and supplies
Time to get started

Milkweeds

Milkweeds.

Monarch butterflies love them.

Milkweed bugs eat them.

We have an abundance of them.

One would think that we’d have an abundance of monarch butterflies too…but I’ve only seen a few of the beauties this year.

When I found a small colony of black and red beetles all over my milkweeds I thought I’d discovered the reason for the lack of monarchs on the homestead.

wpid-20150912_172119-1.jpg

I was angry.

How dare they?

But…rather than drowning them in dishwater, an act normally saved for Japanese Beetles and squash bugs…I decided to figure out what they were, why they were there and whether they were harmful.

No jumping to conclusions for this permaculture gal.

Observe before destroying interacting.

Little yellow eggs were on the plants. The underside of a leaf, the side of a pod, the stem. Pretty much everywhere they could attach.

wpid-20150912_175454.jpg

The bugs were all over the plants, which meant the boys were in bug heaven.

wpid-20150912_172310-1.jpg

After reading a few bug blogs, I didn’t really find much about these beetles.

They are “true” bugs.

They feed on milkweed.

Adults can fly.

They are relatively safe from predators due to the poisonous sap in the milkweed–their main meal.

This sap is also food for the monarch caterpillar.

If these milkweed bugs are everywhere and are eating all the sap from the milkweeds, the monarchs will go to someone else’s garden.

A garden where milkweed bugs aren’t a problem.

And that is a problem.

They may be pretty
They may be small
But I’ll not have them
I’ll banish them all

Bloggy McBlogs-alot

Blog post number 603.

In just under 3 years, I’ve written 603 posts on gardening, homesteading, cooking, chickens, bug hunters, mice, writing, homeschooling and a pinch of everything in life.

I’m still learning.

Learning how to write a blog post that will appeal to multiple audiences.

Learning how to take the criticism–both constructive (which really helps me get better) and destructive (which really doesn’t help me. At all.).

Learning how to grow as a writer…as a homesteader…as a human.

I’m having fun.

I’m feeling a sense of accomplishment…a sense of pride at my stick-to-it attitude.

I’m writing!

I had traveled so far away from my original dream. The dream I’ve had since I was a kid. The dream to write.

But, my journey through life has given me fodder for the stories I share.

I’ve wandered back to writing.

I’ve walked back to my dream.

I’m telling my story one post at a time.

wpid-20150903_101948.jpg

Joe the Bug Hunter: Beetle Battles

Joe stood staring at the remains of his mom’s 3-year-old apple tree. The leaves, if you could call them that, had been stripped of all but the stems. They were little more than an outline, a brown ghost leaf.

wpid-20150727_201452.jpg

The hardy kiwi had suffered a similar fate, and almost every berry bush in the hedge had been brutally attacked.

wpid-20150726_145215-1.jpg

“They’re back,”  Joe said to his little brother Jake.

“What’s back?”

Joe pulled a small black beetle from one of the damaged leaves. He held it between his thumb and forefinger for an instant and then squished it with a savage smirk.

Japanese beetles. They’re back.”

wpid-20150726_150541.jpg

Last year, Joe had convinced his mom to plant a few borage bushes. He’d read that the beetles fed on the dusky leaves and purple flowers rather than other food producing plants.

It worked.

The beetle damage to all other plants was minimal and the borage seemed to hold its own against the constant assault.

That was last year.

Apparently, this year’s crop found kiwi and apple leaves more to their taste.

“What are we going to do Joe?”

Joe walked into the house with a determined look in his eyes.

First, he filled a small bucket with warm, soapy water.

Then, he pulled out two sets of tweezers and two red plastic tubes.

“Follow my lead,” he said handing a set of tweezers and a plastic tube Jake.

They hit the kitchen garden first.

wpid-20150727_193623.jpg

“First, use the tweezers to knock the beetles off into the plastic tube.”

“Wait, wasn’t this what our M&Ms came in?” Jake asked looking closely at the tube.

“Focus Jake!”

“Sorry. Ok, then what?”

wpid-20150727_195435.jpg

“Once the tube is full, dump the beetles into this bucket of soapy water.”

“Can they swim?”

Joe looked long and hard at his brother before answering.

“No. They can’t swim.”

Jake gulped.

wpid-20150727_200122.jpg

wpid-20150727_200103.jpg

The boys spent the better part of the afternoon quietly drowning beetles. As the sun set, Joe decided it was time to stop for the day.

Hot and thirsty, Jake started toward the house.

“Hold on. We aren’t quite done yet.”

Jake walked back to where his brother stood holding the bucket of drowned beetles.

“Now what?”

Joe smiled and headed for the chicken coop.

“The girls are getting a treat tonight!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joe’s New Pet

“Mom, look at this caterpillar!”

I ambled over to the dill forest where Joe was crouched holding a bunch of freshly harvested broccoli. He was staring at a black, white and yellow striped caterpillar that was munching on some dill.

Since we had such a surplus of the fragrant herb, I didn’t immediately want to feed the visitor to the chickens. It might be beneficial to some other garden plant.

Joe decided that we should to capture it.

“Mommy, let’s find out what it is!”

wpid-20150713_165004.jpg

Joe pulled off the dill branch the critter was resting on and placed it in his jungle gym bug house. He also grabbed a few extra pieces of dill and grass, “in case it gets hungry later”.

Once we were inside, we studied it more closely.

wpid-20150713_165226.jpg

“Look! It’s her baby!” Joe was holding a tiny black caterpillar with a small white stripe.

“Where did you find it?”

“On her back!”

I didn’t really think that was where he found it until looked it up…sure enough, we’d captured a mamma swallowtail and her baby.

wpid-20150713_171539.jpg

We spent a few minutes researching what else they ate while Joe munched on the broccoli. I asked him what he thought we should feed it and he started to peel off some broccoli leaves.

“Let’s try this.”

So we put broccoli leaves and some grass. We went back out to the garden to pull more dill, some parsley and some lovage.

“Look! She’s eating it!” Joe squealed in delight.

wpid-20150713_171205.jpg

He may be terrified of bee mosquitos and leary of may flies and bees, but he’s still my little bug hunter.

Little bug hunter
I love your joy and surprise
At finding new bugs

Jake the Bug Hunter: The Bee Mosquito

Joe ran into the house, whiffle bat in hand. He took his new role as the bug whacker very seriously

“Bee mosquitos! They’re in the kitchen garden!”

“Slow down Joe,” his mom said patiently. “What is a bee mosquito?”

Jake trudged in after Joe, a worried expression on his face.

“I trapped it in the bug gun.”

He held up the observation attachment on the bug gun. Joe, reminding himself that the scary insect couldn’t get out and took a closer look at the new bug that had him fleeing the garden in, not unreasonable, fear.

Jake quickly transferred it to the observation container (the bug house) and dropped in a few parsley leaves, as that is where they had spotted it.

Joe’s mom took a closer look and smiled.

“It’s only a fly, boys.”

Not convinced, Joe and Jake took a step toward the trapped bug. They both sighed in exasperation. It definitely wasn’t a fly they had seen out in the garden, at least not a common housefly.

“No. That’s not the bug I saw.”

“Me neither,” said Jake.

“I’ll show you.”

Joe sat down at the computer and typed in the characteristics of the bug he had seen flying around perched atop the parsley. Soon, he and Jake were marveling at the number of results that came up.

They looked at all of the pictures, commenting on the bugs they’d seen out in the wild and exclaiming over the ones they had yet to encounter.

After what seemed like hours of research, Joe finally found the bug he was looking for.

“There! That’s what we saw.”

Their mom peered closely at the picture. It’s true, she’d never seen a bug quite like this before and it did look rather scary.

 

A few more clicks and they found a website dedicated to beneficial bugs, like the tachnid fly.

“They are beneficials!” Jake exclaimed.

Joe read on.

“They eat cutworms and cabbage loopers.”

“And gypsy moth larvae,” added Jake, seeing a picture.

“We definitely could use their help in the back garden,” their mom said.

“Let’s see,” said Joe. “It says here they are attracted by flowers and herbs. Dill is listed at the top.”

Jake looked out at the kitchen garden, smiling in delight.

“We have plenty of dill to attract them, that’s for sure.”

wpid-20150529_173234-1.jpg

“And the parsley is popping up too,” Joe added.

Joe felt a little silly at his reaction to the harmless fly.

Sensing his embarrassment, Jake patted him on the back.

“I was scared too, Joe.”

With renewed determination, the boys went outside and started their search for more beneficial bugs.

wpid-20150501_125431-1.jpg