Category Archives: Joe the Bug Hunter

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.”

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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.

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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!?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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“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.”

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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.

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“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?”

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“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.

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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!”

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.”

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“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.

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Joe the Bug Hunter: The Bug Whacker

It all started with the unfortunate wasp incident.

Joe had been hunting mosquitos when Jake stepped on a wasp.

The wasp, mistaking the villain for Joe, promptly stung him on the arm causing extreme pain, followed by tears and bandaids.

Joe, surprisingly, had never been stung before. Sure, he’d had other injuries, but never one this painful and traumatizing.

After his mom cleaned, treated and bandaged the wound, Joe sat at the table, refusing to hunt bugs for the rest of the day.

The next morning, he woke up feeling a little better and decided to take Jake on a hunt for blackbirds.

Although not a member of the insect family, blackbirds were known to hunt and eat wasps on occasion.

After hunting for half the morning with no luck, Joe decided to look for frogs instead.

It was unlucky that, while looking in the strawberry bed, they encountered a damselfly which, if looked at sideways or by a person who had recently been stung, bears a striking resemblance to a wasp.

Joe was terrified.

Jake tried to reassure him.

“Look Joe,” he said pointing to a picture of a bug in the bug guide Joe had given him to study. “It’s not a wasp, it’s a damselfly.”

“No, it’s a wasp! It’s going to sting me!” Joe screeched.

Jake read a little be more about the damselfly.

“No, it only looks like a wasp. It says here that they eat mosquitos and gnats. They are good to have around.”

Joe didn’t believe him. He looked closer, convinced it was a wasp. He backed away and bumped into a plastic bat from a t-ball set they had gotten for Easter.

With a wild and terrified glint in his eyes, Joe picked up the bat and whacked the poor damselfly over and over again until Jake wrestled the bat from his grip and assured him that the bug was dead.

“Joe,” he began quietly. “Look at the picture, it really is a damselfly.”

Breathing heavily, Joe took the bug guide from his little trainee’s hands.

He felt like a fool. It had been a damselfly and they were great to have around. Not only did they eat mosquitos, they ate gnats and aphids as well.

Joe sat down on the steps, feeling embarrassed.

Jake felt bad for his brother. He had learned so much over the past month and he was afraid this experience would turn Joe away from bug hunting.

“You can’t let this ruin bug hunting for you. You’ll move past it once you’ve had some time.”

Joe looked at his apprentice who was now almost just as good a bug hunter as he himself was. Or, as he had been.

“Joe, you are still a good hunter. This was just a fluke.”

“No. No, it was a sign that I should retire,” he said, hanging his head in shame.

Jake sat quietly and put his arm around Joe. There was nothing left to say.

Gripping the bat, Joe suddenly had an idea. He had taught Jake all he knew. He looked down at the discarded bug gun, picked it up and handed it to his trainee.

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“Jake, today you are graduating to full-time bug hunter.”

“What? No, no I’m not ready. I’m not as good as you are yet.”

Yes, you are. You are just as good, if not better a bug hunter than I am.”

Even though Jake felt bad for his brother, what he had said made his chest swell with pride. Maybe he didn’t have as much experience as Joe had, but it made him feel wonderful that Joe thought he was just as good.

“But what will you do? Will you still hunt?”

Joe twirled the bat and thought about Jake’s question for a few minutes.

“No. At least, not until I get over this fear and put the wasp incident behind me.”

Jake looked at Joe sadly and wondered what he would do should he have a similar experience with a wasp.

As if reading his mind, Joe smiled.

“Don’t worry buddy, I’ll still go with you on your hunts and help you identify bugs.” He stood, holding the bat high. “If you’re the Bug Hunter, then I’ll be the Bug Wacker. I’ll protect you from any harm.”

And with that, Jake graduated from apprentice, to master.

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Joe the Bug Hunter: Jake Finds a Bug

“Joe!”

“Joe!”

“JOE!!!”

Joe had been about to catch the much prized Running Crab Spider when Jake’s yell scared the creature away.

He looked over to Jake to see what he was so excited about.

Jake was standing under a tree pointing at a branch and jumping up and down.

Something was in the branches.

Joe slowly walked to where Jake bounced.

“Shhhhh!” he said once he got closer. “We don’t want to scare it.”

Jake immediately stopped bouncing as his older, wiser brother approached. Quietly, he pointed to the lowest branch.

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“What is it?” Jake whispered.

Joe stared wide-eyed at the unusual-and large-insect.

“I’m not sure. Some kind of gigantic moth.”

Carefully and ever so slowly, Joe lifted his bug house under the winged creature.

“Jake, hand me a twig.”

Once Jake handed him the twig, Joe gently pushed the bug into it’s new, temporary home and snapped the lid on.

“We’ve got some research to do Jake.”

***

“I found it!” Jake exclaimed.

Joe stopped typing and looked over Jake’s shoulder.

The moth he had found looked nothing like the picture. Joe smiled at Jake’s eagerness to be the first to find it.

“Let’s keep looking…just to make sure.”

After 20 minutes of fruitless searching, Jake shouted, “This time I really found it!”

“Let’s see,” he said to Jake. “Large, brown, purplish eyespots…yep, this is our moth. Good job buddy!”

Jake smiled with delight. He had found it and identified it. He was a real bug hunter now.

“Anthero polly-ifemus,” Jake sounded out the difficult latin name.

Joe wasn’t sure how to say Antheraea polyphemus either so he spent a few minutes looking up a recording.

“Antheria pol-i-fimus.”

“What does it do?”

“Let’s see…it says here that the caterpillar can eat 86,000 times its weight.”

“Whoa,” Jake said wide-eyed. “I wonder how much could eat.”

“Once they are moths,” Joe continued. “They don’t eat anything.”

“Nothing?” Jake was wondering how he would survive without pancakes and sausage and eggs and bacon.

“Nothing. But they only live for a week so I’m sure they don’t get too hungry.”

Jake doubted it.

“Uh oh.”

“What? What is it?”

“Well, some wasps and flies lay eggs in the little caterpillars and when they hatch, the wasp babies use all of the energy the caterpillar. Kind of like the tobacco horn worm. I wonder what these eat?”

Jake waited for Joe to find the answer. Could they eat people? Little boys were small. What if they eat little boys!?

“Uh oh,” Joe said again.

This was it. They ate little boys. They were done for. Jake cringed, waiting for the moth to attack.

“They eat leaves. Not only tree leaves, but grape leaves too.”

Jake sighed in relief.

“Thank goodness!” he exclaimed. “I thought they ate–uh oh.” He suddenly remembered the grapevines in the vineyard. His mom’s prized grapes that were supposed to finally produce fruit this year.

“Exactly,” Joe said.

“What do we do?”

“Well, we can’t attract squirrels because they would eat our strawberries. Our only option is to plant more trees.”

“Trees?”

“Oak, willow, birch. We’ll have to plant more out in the swales too. We need to keep them away from our cherry trees.”

“They eat cherries?!”

Joe, with a very serious look on his face, turned to Jake. Cherries were a great favorite of the brothers. Anything that threatened a cherry tree had to be stopped. Immediately.

“Yes they do, little brother, yes they do.”

The boys raced inside the house to tell their mom that they needed more trees.

Pronto.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joe the Bug Hunter: Training Day

It was the first day of training and Joe and Jake were outside on the back deck. Joe was explaining some of the finer points of hunting for bugs.

“Before we get started on our first mission, I’m going to take you on a bug scavenger hunt so you can learn to identify the usual suspects.”

“Ok.”

“I’ve made this chart with a picture, the name and a column to tally how many we find.”

“O–wait, cats aren’t bugs.”

Joe smirked. He was just making sure his new apprentice was paying attention.

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“Good catch little buddy. Now let me show you the tools of the trade.”

First, he showed Jake his bug gun.

“This is my upgrade, you’ll be using my original model until you graduate to an official Bug Hunter.”

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“And this is my new bug house.”

Jake looked in wonder at the tiny playground. There was a slide, a pool, a tunnel, stairs and a little lookout. It was the coolest tiny playground he’d ever seen.

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“You can use my old one. Don’t worry, it’s still in great shape.”

“Ok.”

“Now, let’s get hunting!”

They started in the kitchen garden, pulling up rocks to look for worms, ants and stinkbugs.

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“I found a worm!” Jake squealed.

“Good job!” Joe said quietly. “Remember, we have to be quiet and stealthy when hunting or we’ll scare the bugs away. No swift movements and no shouting.”

“Ok,” whispered Jake.

After a thorough search of the kitchen garden, the brothers had found 2 stink bugs, 2 worms and a dead cricket.

They checked them off and headed around front to continue their hunt. Here Jake found another stink bug and a bee—which they did not attempt to capture.

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They continued to hunt for awhile, both getting hot and dusty as the sun rose higher in the sky.

As he checked ants off on the list, Joe decided to call it a day.

“We’ll continue training tomorrow morning.”

Jake would have continued, but his stomach was growling. He was ready for a snack and a tall glass of water.

“I can’t wait for tomorrow!” he said.

Joe smiled down at his little apprentice.

“Me neither. Maybe I’ll let you try out my bug gun tomorrow.”

Jake’s eyes grew wide as he looked up at Joe.

“Really?” he whispered, afraid he’d imagined it.

“Really.”