Dozens of Vampires in Broad Daylight

If  a mosquito has a soul, it is mostly evil. So I don’t have too many qualms about  putting a mosquito out of its misery. I’m a little more respectful of  ants.
Douglas  Hofstadter

The day that followed Post-typhoon warnings began with sunny skies as is often the case. My plants were tucked away in the outside closet, sheltered from potentially damaging winds. With clear air and sky I was ready to brings my potted plants back into the nourishing photosynthesis of the sun.  Then I heard that awful familiar sound. A low but uncomfortable hum resonated as I opened the closet door.

“Beezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.”

Dozens of little feather like dots hovered and then began to move in my direction.

Mosquitoes!

A few days ago we were on storm watch here in Okinawa. There appeared to be potential for quite a doozy so we were urged to take the necessary precautions. The tropical storm never hit the island, it was several hundred miles away, but that didn’t mean we wouldn’t get severe winds and rain. When anticipating this kind of weather, all outside items must be put away or secured.

What I didn’t anticipate was the way mosquitos might decide to lay eggs in the water of my plant reservoirs. I’m sure they’ve done this many times before, but I hadn’t noticed. Maybe they flew away when they hatched. I even have mosquito repelling plants on my porch; but mosquitos are difficult to deter. From the sight I encountered when opening the outside closet door, I’d say some mosquitos hatched.

Not wanting to be eaten alive, I promptly shut the door. It would have been foolish to simply go into that closet and pull each plant out one by one without having a plan of action. Not knowing what to do, I turned to the internet. My logic told me that I needed a way to control them within the closet before I started retrieving items.

I was totally immersed in a Google Search when I heard it again.

“Beezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.”

Smash! A splotch of blood was smeared on my hand and leg.

“Beezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.”

That sound again. I had to find a solution fast!

My research led me to a recipe for a trap–One that attracts mosquitos using carbon dioxide. No wonder there were so many mosquitos thriving in that closet for two days–the trapped plants were letting off tons of it I’m sure.

Here’s how I made it:

Step One: Cut a plastic jug or soda bottle about a third of the way down from the top.

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Step two: Turn the top portion upside down and place inside the bottom portion.

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Step Three: Secure the two pieces with tape. The whole jug had to be covered in dark color so that it would be more attractive to the mosquitos.

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Step four: Pour hot water into a heat proof bowl.

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Step five: Add Brown sugar and stir to dissolve. Allow to cool a little.

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Step six: Place the sugar water mixture into the recycled jug and add active dry yeast to the top (no stirring necessary) which creates the carbon dioxide.

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*Bonus Step* Use extra boiling water to make oneself a cup of tea.

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Since I was already making a bug trap of one sort, I thought I would make a trap of another sort. We also have gnats entering the house so I used a water bottle to make a smaller trap for the kitchen. This concoction consists of apple cider vinegar and soap.

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I needed to refill my multipurpose cleaner/bug repellant so that I would be prepared for the imminent attack. A few drops of lavender oil and water are all it takes.

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With fresh mist of lavender all around me I took the mosquito trap outside, cracked the closet door open, quickly set it inside, and immediately shut the door. It looked like I was going to have to wait another day to let my plants get fresh air. Mosquitos can actually live in an enclosed space for a long time unfortunately (up to a month if they have food).

My research also yielded the fact that not all mosquitos bite (Hard to believe isn’t it?). Male mosquitos eat pollen and nectar while it is the females who need to feed their young that suck our blood. Perhaps Hell hath no fury than a female mosquito hungry.

Twenty-four hours later and longing to let my plants out for some oxygen, I cracked the closet door open to take a peek. I spotted five mosquitos. There definitely seemed to be a lot less mosquitos flying around than there had been the previous day. Less mosquitos, my pants and rain jacket tucked for added protection, and a good dose of insect repellant prepared me to face them. At long last, the plants were in the open air.

I had to find out if the contraption really worked. After pouring the solution out onto a paper plate, look what came floating up.

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It took a special circumstance to be persuaded to ATTRACT mosquitos, but it was with their elimination as the goal. Normally, if you’re having troubles with mosquitos you want to repel them. If you use this remedy, you’ll want to have it in a place away from where you congregate so as to draw them away from you. Alternatively it can be used in a space such as indoors if they’ve come in and need to be dealt with. It’s good to know this solution works.

If you already live in a humid place that is mosquito prone, it might be a good idea to have a plan in place for water. Either leave no standing water anywhere or find a solution for the standing water. Soon I’m going to place mosquito nets over the holes of the reservoirs to prevent this from happening again.

Growing forward,

Marissa

First a Birder, Now a Bugger

I wanted to know the name of every stone and flower and insect and bird and beast. I wanted to know where it got its color, where it got its life – but there was no one to tell me.
George Washington Carver

I can second Mr. Carver’s sentiments. Like Carver, I have a love for growing various plants–especially those of the edible variety. I can also attest to the complimentary pastime of observing wildlife as it goes hand in hand with gardening.

When in Georgia, I had the joy of backyard birding in my small balcony garden. We were visited by Cardinals, Woodpeckers, Chickadees, Sparrows, Finches, Jays, Wrens, and Eastern Bluebirds. I learned about a few bugs too. I learned the difference between a pest and a beneficial insect. I saw more pests than beneficials, but I knew the difference.

Now in Okinawa, I hardly see a bird. I miss backyard birding, but I am hardly ever at a loss for sightings of a different kind. I now find myself BUGGING. Like Carver, sometimes there isn’t a book or a person who can tell me for certain what I’ve seen. It is also difficult at times to determine what exactly is causing damage to some of my plants. I’ll show you what I mean.

DSC03195 I discovered this curious webbing on my okra recently.

DSC03194 Normally, a regular wide web would just simply mean it’s a spider. Spiders aren’t pleasant to us, but they don’t harm plants. They are considered the “good guys” of the garden because they eat other bugs and leave your plants alone. This web however, is one that is causing damage and that means it’s not really from a spider. I previously learned that thin webbing close to leaves and stems can come from microscopic mites called “spider mites.” The spotting on the leaves could be another indicator of mites but I found another problem. Spider mites usually do their damage UNDER leaves but this damage is on top of the leaves. Spider mites also don’t chew holes; they suck juices from the plant causing discoloration. After much inspection, it appears the damage came from tiny caterpillars. The possible solution may be to remove heavily infected parts of the plant and spritz around the leaves with slightly soapy water. I watered thoroughly as well because stressed plants are more susceptible to problems.

DSC03215 Then I found this little guy. If you look closely at this picture, you should see a lace like spot on the leaf under the bug. At first, it looked like a Ladybug which is an extremely beneficial garden helper. Here’s the problem, there are imposters who look like Ladybugs. Notice the next picture:

DSC03216 Notice the similarities? Now look below at a picture of an actual Ladybug:

DSC03217 If the red beetles have long protruding heads with white spots on the side, please leave them alone. Due to increases of insecticides, Ladybugs are becoming harder to find (except for in Northern States where they try to overwinter in people’s houses and are seen as pests–send some to the rest of us!). A single Ladybug can eat 500 Aphids or 1,000 Spider mites in a single day.

The Mexican Bean Beetle took a soap bath after this photo shoot in case you’re wondering.

20130712-174449.jpg Then I found this guy on my door. I don’t know what he is. He looks cool.

Of course, the most exciting site yet is definitely this next fella:

DSC03191 For the first time ever, I have spotted a Praying Mantis. The thing about these bugs is, they aren’t very picky eaters. They eat beneficial insects as well as insect pests. Like a Great Blue Heron, they find a place to stand very still and they wait for prey to come near them so that at the opportune moment they can snap!

DSC03192 DSC03189 There’s that “Praying” stance; or maybe it’s a “Preying” stance.

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Then today I saw this flying crawler:

DSC03221 DSC03220 It’s hard to judge from the picture but believe me, it’s a very large bug. I sort of doubt that it has any interest in my plants since it’s big enough to devour other bugs. It’s also a very loud flyer; but look at the detail in those wings. You might think this bug looks gross, but you have to admit its wings are pretty spectacular.

I still miss the garden birds, but sometimes you just have to embrace what you have. A garden free of bugs is unnatural. Unnatural is inorganic. Inorganic is less healthy. In America, mass farms consist of one to maybe two crops which become overrun with those crops’ most common pests–which leads them to the need for insecticides. In India, mass farms consist of a wide variety of crops inter-planted amongst themselves. This same garden practice is utilized throughout Asia as well. I once heard a Doctor of Agriculture there say, “In India our crops are not pest-free or disease-free; but we utilize such variety that no pest or disease is able to have a threshold. That is how we are able to garden organically.” I now feel that dealing with a few bugs isn’t always so bad after all.

Keep Calm, Garden On,

Marissa

The Very Hungry Caterpillars

“In nature a repulsive caterpillar turns into a lovely butterfly.   But with humans it is the other way around:  a lovely butterfly turns into a repulsive caterpillar.”
-Chekhov

It all started with thin webbing appearing my okra, the irrational bolting of my basil, and then thin webbing on my basil. At first glance, it was obvious that the webbing was not a standard spider’s handiwork. I feared the similarity it had to spider mite damage but the webbing was on top of the leaves instead of underneath; plus there were holes in the leaves under many of the webs. If it wasn’t spider mites, what could it be?

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Then I found them. An infestation including dozens of tiny hungry caterpillars on a single small basil plant. I was mortified. What kind of negligent gardener had I been to not notice these critters earlier when I had spotted webbing on okra? I really thought that the basil was just bolting from heat and didn’t realize it had the added stress of being chewed on.

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I think I was also simply unconcerned about the Basil being susceptible to pests. Basil is often used in companion planting to deter pests from other plants. Many strongly fragranced herbs are not insect targets due to their pungent aroma. Had I thought to carefully inspect this plant from time to time like I do with my other plants, I might have avoided losing as many tasty leaves as I did.

So it was time for organic pest control. I don’t know what type of caterpillar they were but I knew they were causing significant damage. I picked each one I found off of the plant with my shovel and flung them off my balcony. Forgive me if that sounds inhumane, but they were devouring one of my precious culinary delights. Usually, the advice I read for controlling caterpillars, slugs, snails, stink bugs, and the like involves a dish of soapy water they drown in. I rationalized that butterflies are friends but their larvae can do significant damage to a food crop so I pitched them downstairs where they could eat grass and become butterflies. It seemed like a good compromise to me.

Additional measures of natural pest control were in the form of cleaning my balcony. Many pests hide in plant debris and start to congregate in areas that have been stagnant, so I swept and got my bucket of very hot soapy water and washed down the patio. It’s also nice having the area clean.

I would really enjoy creating a blog post about making basil ice cubes for later use and saving basil seeds; but unfortunately the very hungry caterpillars put a damper on that plan. After eradicating the pests and cleaning up, the plant may still put off some goods after all but more on that later. If you want my advice, stay ahead of the bugs with periodic leaf checks.

Still undeterred by pests,

Marissa

Odorous, in a Good Way

Give me odorous at sunrise a garden of beautiful flowers where I can walk undisturbed.

-Walt Whitman

I have been having a problem with mosquitoes congregating near my front door and was looking for ways to deter them. Plus, I wanted a plant in my entry way to make it more welcoming. Finally, the solution came to me.

First, I had an unidentified herb that appears to be another type of Chamomile with its feathery leaves and sweet aroma. I attempted to plant it with a pink polka dot plant, needed a place to put my chives, and was struggling to figure out a way to arrange my citronella plant with other shade tolerant plants for my front door.

Here are the plants before:

DSC03073 Pungent Chives, sweet Chamomile (maybe) with pink polka dots, odorously citrusy citronella, and another herb that I don’t recognize but it smelled minty and flowery at the same time.

Here is the after:

DSC03074 I read in a book that Chamomile can be paired happily with chives, so I did just that. This no doubt will be a nice compliment in my cooking.

DSC03075 The Citronella is paired now with pink polka dot for color and a fragrant creeping herb to trail over the sides. Relaxing underneath the arrangement is my favorite gnome, Felix. I named him after my grandpa who inspired me to garden and truly taught me the meaning of self-sufficiency and innovation. This jolly gnome always manages to bring a smile to my face with his laid back mannerism.

Hopefully as the new plant arrangement settles, it will grow together nicely. I also hope it grows more fragrant and the mosquitoes hate it. We’ll see. In the meantime, I have also clipped some stems off of this existing citronella in hopes that I will be able to propagate them into more citronella. It takes about four weeks for roots to form so we’ll know by then if the propagation works.

I think when Walt described his desire to be undisturbed as he walked through the garden, he must have been referring to mosquitoes. I’ll take that garden too, please.

-Marissa

Friend or Foe? Stay off the Poblano!

Heat  not a furnace for your foe so hot that it do singe yourself.
-William Shakespeare

Yesterday, in the Garden I finally decided to transplant my Poblano Seedlings into the grow box. I waited a long time to plant them due to my looming fears that the tiny tender seedlings would be devoured in one night by a slug, snail, or caterpillar. Of course, being root bond in an eggshell for a month and half is not productive so I took the plunge and planted the Poblano Peppers in good faith that they will be unharmed.

20130606-151901.jpg [As a side note, they were planted at ground level. Don’t try burying their stems the way I did with tomatoes. Tomato stems grow roots when buried, pepper stems rot when buried.]

Today, I set out to trim up my wild and crazy Lemon Balm Bush. Similar to it’s minty cousins, the Lemon Balm grows as prolifically as a weed and I’m sure the roots have already filled the container and dry very quickly. Even after long bouts of rain and living in a container with a self-watering reservoir, it only takes about 2-3 days without water for the Lemon Balm to look parched while the rest of the plants on my balcony look content. As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, my Lemon Balm endured stress this week and needed refreshment. I thoroughly watered and gave it a couple of days to recover, then this morning I grabbed the garden shears and went to work trimming it liberally. I filled a bowl with fresh Lemon Balm leaves to sift through, took them to the kitchen, started creating lemony ice cubes as I did in a previous post, then started placing all the nice looking leaves in the dehydrator so that I could have tea with them later on. As I was separating the leaves, my eyes suddenly were met with two black eyes on a bright red head staring back at me. I jumped and let out a small squeak in surprise at instantly encountering a very fuzzy, squirming thing with long antennae on my Lemon Balm.

DSC03041At first I thought the yellow dots where eggs from a predatory bug (some lay their eggs on a host pest) but upon closer inspection I realized that these where patches of thick hair. The fuzz around the sides was hair and even the antennae were full of hair. I considered whether this was larvae that would become a gorgeous butterfly or if it was a moth. I wondered if it only left minor nibbles on plants or if it could do significant damage and needed to be eradicated. I was uncertain so I placed it with it’s host leaves into a mason jar with a bit of water until I could research it.  Image [Notice the bite mark in the background? I watched it munch that spot in less than a minute.]

20130606-151648.jpg20130606-151702.jpgI couldn’t help but consider as it munched on leaves that, it has to eat too. I didn’t want to kill it, but I also knew that if this was the sort of crawler that could devour my poblanos or stunt my tomatoes, it needed to go.

After doing some research I concluded that this is a White Marked Tussock Moth. (Click on the link to find out more). It will turn into a standard looking grey moth, but as a caterpillar it’s quite unique. I see no benefit for my garden coming from this critter, but I also don’t see significant enough harm to eradicate it. It will be released a good distance from my balcony just to be on the safe side.

Soon I was back in the kitchen making my Lemon Balm Tea Spice and contemplating relocation plans for the caterpillar when I realized I needed something in the living room. As I made my way back to the kitchen, I noticed something black with eight legs and a white stripe crawling on my wall. It was a spider; one that I could not identify. I could embellish the story by describing it’s great size but the truth is it was not much bigger than my pinky finger nail. Yet, there was something dreadful about the sight of this creepy crawler. In reference to garden pests, spiders are generally considered one of the good guys because they eat bad bugs. Here was my problem. It was in my house and I couldn’t identify what type of spider it was; plus, venom doesn’t make anybody a good guy. Quick decision. There was a magazine and a jar on the shelf near by. To smash or to catch? That was the question. At that moment, I didn’t want to clean him off my wall so I caught him with the jar and slid the magazine over the covering. It instantly started jumping all around the jar and I felt shivers around my shoulders.

I went out my back door and lunged the jar forward sending the spider flying off my balcony! I breathed a cliché sigh of relief.

With great irony, it was only minutes later that I stepped out my front door to retrieve citronella clippings that I’m going to propagate more plants from in an effort to control mosquito pests when suddenly there was a mosquito on my arm. I moved quickly and the mosquito landed on the wall by my door. I did a push kick right at the wall and squashed him causing blood to drip down the wall. Yuck. I’ll say it again. Yuck! I grabbed a napkin to wipe the blood off the wall and not knowing whose blood it was, I immediately ran into the kitchen to wash my hands.

As I was washing my hands, a mosquito flew right in front of me and without a moment’s hesitation I slapped my wet hands together squashing another mosquito. (Deep Sigh). I washed my hands again.

Here is the lesson for today. In the garden, bugs are inevitable. In a humid, subtropical location, bugs are inevitable. To have problems and solutions in your garden, bugs are inevitable. To some extent, you should embrace them. To another extent, you should be fearless when conquering them. Some bugs foes who will harm your plants, others are friends who will save them from the devourers. It’s all about balance. A variety of plants will attract beneficial insects and birds who then eat the pests. If you can get a new plant established and healthy, it will be less susceptible to pests and diseases and you won’t have to worry about a bug getting a munch now and again. My only concern for now? Keeping the bugs off the Poblanos!