Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Assassin Bugs; fascinating insects!

February has almost arrived….thank goodness it is a short month for it is most boring for the gardener. The weekend was extraordinary with mild temperatures in spite of the wicked wind. With our relatively mild winter, the bugs have enjoyed relaxing with no fear of dying and so over the weekend hoards of immature Assassin Bugs could be seen moving about.

First described by the Danish biologist Johann Christian Fabricus in 1803, the species is found not only in the United States, but also in Mexico, Central America, and as far away as central Argentina. With their uncanny ability to ambush and devour garden pests they are quite popular and in the Southern hemisphere some Assassin Bugs are kept as pets while others are carefully raised to be released into gardens and fields to control aphids and caterpillars.

The youngsters are seen now because adults who have wintered in the shelter of dead leaves, and vines, emerged several weeks ago to lay masses of eggs on the undersides of leaves. These eggs hatched within ten days and now the young will begin passing through evolving changes to become mature adults by summer.

A favorite Assassin Bug of North America is the Wheel Bug, who is a shy, reclusive fellow, preferring to stay out of sight. The name comes from the knobbed ‘cogwheel’ crest that rises across the back of the bug, which is believed to serve as a visible warning to possible predators. The camoflaged gray to brownish gray adults are among the largest of the garden insects, measuring up to an inch long. The young nymphs, which do not yet have the wheel-shaped structure, have bright red or orange abdomens… these are the bugs now seen on the move.

A true killer, the Wheel Bug is capable dispatching pests as large as the dreadful "horntail" caterpillar who destroys tomato plants. Of course, any insect that can cannibalize another, has the ability bite anything… including humans. However since they do not normally bite unless in self-defense and since they possesses two scent sacs that may be fired as a warning, take olfactory heed and do not disturb them. Their bite is painful and if one accidentally crushes a Wheel Bug while in the garden, skin contact with the goo will burn for days. They are extremely interesting as well as a benefit to the garden… simply allow them room to work and treat them with respect!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Black Currants

Black Currant Blooms~

With the world spinning so quickly these days, it is more important than ever to seek some harmonic softeners in daily life. The escalation of current technology has become mind-boggling when one considers that only 100 years ago the main duty of School Boards in rural Oklahoma was to provide hay for the children’s horses and fire wood for the stoves. Now more than ever the peaceful expanse of the garden is not only desirable, but necessary to keep one grounded. Whether you are six or sixty, there is no pastime more joyful than playing in the dirt so a good New Year Resolution could promise some serious down-time in the garden.

The latest trend in horticultural circles is to grow edible and healthy foods and the currant is experiencing a resurgence in popularity. In 1918 a blight called pine blister rust was introduced to the landscape and it required both a pine and a currant to complete its life cycle. It totally decimated many pine forests, which were the major source of lumber for building, causing the currant to be banned in many Eastern states. Fortunately new species are resistant to the rust making the currant a must-have addition to the garden. The Black Currant is still to be found here in abundance as they were important to early settlers for their hardiness and nutritional value.

The currant blooms in early spring with bright yellow, scarlet centered little flowers that dance along the branches before becoming fruit. The Black Currant is unfussy about soil conditions, likes early sun, and is grateful for dappled shade in the afternoon The small black fruit is an absolute plethora of health benefits and worthy cultivation for the Vitamin C content alone, which is four times the recommended daily dosage.

Anyone acquainted with black currants knows better than to eat while picking; the fruit is dreadfully tart. It is never eaten raw, but rather must made into jams, jellies, or sauces where it is sweetened to a distinctive delicious flavor. Black currant juice is often made into liqueurs and cordials to be used medicinally during winter months for the wonderful health benefits.
*All varieties of currants are rich in bioflavonoids that are thought to boost the antioxidant effect of vitamin C. They also help inhibit the growth of cancer and may possibly prevent other diseases.
*Black currant has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, they have the similar effect as of ibuprofen or aspirin.
*A powder made from dried black currant skin is used to treat dysentary, especially that caused by E-coli, a common cause of bacterial stomach ailments.
*Black currant juice, tea and syrup is use to ease the inflammation of a sore throat.
*Black currants help stimulate the digestive processes.
*Black currant seeds are rich in both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. It is therefore beneficial in maintaining cardiovascular health and helps improve your skin and hair texture.
The blessings provided by Nature spring forth naturally and in this case, in a lovely package that arrives sweetly in the earliest days of Spring with the promise of health. Try to add some currants to your diet this year!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Gophers and Moles

A Man Can Try For Years To Bag A Gopher~

With the moisture of late the moles and gophers, who had been daunted by the drought, have made their return with a vengeance. Since they are a problem of fairly vast proportion, a brief description of their physical appearance and habits might be helpful. They are rodents and require strong measures to eliminate and exterminate them.

A gopher’s home is recognized by the large mound of earth above it. Their nest is usually about a foot below ground and lined with leaves. The smaller mounds surrounding the nest are indicative of places they are searching for food. Their food choices include the gardener’s favorites…vegetables, buds, grass, nuts, roots and bulbs and they can totally decimate a lovely lawn or garden in very few days. On one occasion, I watched in fascination as a tall asparagus began disappearing below the ground, pulled with slow, deliberate, jerky motions until it disappeared completely!

The mole, who lives in long, complex tunnels below the ground, is a fast, tireless digger whose body is shaped for burrowing. They have poor eyesight, move slowly and although they have no external ears, their hearing is excellent. Their tails are hairless and tactile; it is an organ of touch which can “feel” as the mole backs up in his hole. The forepaws, specially designed to scoop earth, are hinged sideways on the mole’s body and equipped with large broad nails to act as a shovel. Their diet consists mainly of insects and worms, however their tunnels will destroy a garden by adding pockets of air around plants and deeply burying bulbs.

With an understanding of the habits of the two, methods for extermination must be examined. For the garden, dropping bits of poison to kill the earth worms into mounds to eliminate a food source seems self-defeating… the worms are a beneficial element. Flooding with a hose makes an unsightly mess and often the water will implode the underground burrows leaving deep crevices in its wake. Trapping is time consuming and a full time job if the problem is severe. Short of purchasing a gopher catching cat, the most efficient way to eliminate these pests is to purchase an invention which attaches to the exhaust pipe of your car and then to a garden hose. With the engine running you can fill the burrows, tunnels, or holes with highly toxic, extremely fatal carbon monoxide exhaust! Available at Ace and True Value Hardware, this inexpensive and handy device is guaranteed to provide hours of winter fun for any gardener.