Airborne Marvels

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Unfortunately with all our rain, this photo doesn’t do justice to what’s really happening here.

Every year, for about a month or so, the timing of which seems to coordinate with the maturing of the periodic dog day cicadas, of course, eastern cicada killer wasps (sphecius speciosus)make tunnels (hence the large opening and the disturbed soil in the photo).

The cicada killer wasp is the largest wasp in my part of the world and it’s a fearsome looking creature. It looks pretty much like a giant hornet or yellow jacket–and when I say “giant” I am not kidding. They can be up to 2″ long (which doesn’t sound long until you are walking along and all of these wasps are burrowing and flying around at you!)

Despite their size, in general, they are gentle and non-stinging (although as with all stinging insects, if something happens to annoy them, they will defend themselves. The Spoiler once managed to get stung by a bumble bee! I wasn’t sure that was really possible. I now know it is.)

What these wasps are doing is making a tunnel nest for an egg. They then grab a cicada, take it down into the nest for the egg to eat when it hatches, and fly away. Nothing very scary. The whole process takes about a month.

Our cicada killers at this site have returned every year for decades and to the best of my knowledge, despite the building’s public use, no one has ever been stung.

There are lots more fun and interesting facts about our largest wasp (in North America, at least) at this site about Cicadas.

If you encounter them–or their tunnels–don’t be afraid. Just watch and enjoy.

Crop Circle?

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This first appeared in my lawn about a month ago. It was followed by something that looked like this.

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I was really mystified.

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And then I saw this. The rabbit is a little far away to see–she’s underneath the crab apple and quite alert to my presence. That’s why I didn’t want to get too close (although she does hop into my rose garden if I even dare to drive up the driveway)

So yes, by now you’ve guessed it–this isn’t an alien invasion after all–it’s a rabbit’s nest. And what I feared was destruction by a predator in the second photo (and may in fact have been) didn’t mean that the baby bunnies weren’t still alive–you can see the tunnel in the lawn. I presume they were in there. That’s why the “Mama” was so attentive and so reluctant to leave them in my last photo.

This nest has been used twice so far this summer. We’ll see how many more times it gets used before it us ultimately abandoned–or before nature takes its course and predators do get it.

Don’t Be Too Quick To Clean Up In Spring

It’s mid-March. Next week is astronomical spring, otherwise known as the vernal equinox. If you’re lucky, you have some signs of spring coming up in your yard or somewhere nearby.

I must encourage you, though, please don’t be too quick to tidy up in the yard. We gardeners are a manic bunch, aren’t we, hating to see even a leaf out of place? What is it we think might happen?

Please leave some of the leaf litter in place until some real warmth takes place and holds awhile.

This would be the same for some plant stems–if you left any in the garden in the fall.

Why am I asking you to leave your garden messy? Simple. There are “things” living in the leaves and the plant stems that need time to emerge and find new homes. If you clean up leaf litter too early,  you might be destroying overwintering butterfly larva, or worse yet, the lovely mourning cloak butterflies that are sunning themselves there.

If you cut down and discard hollow plant stems, you might be discarding all sorts of beneficial bugs, including valuable native bees.

When we talk about all the “good bugs” in the garden, these are the ones that you want. If you’re not seeing them, ask yourself if your clean-up practices might be accidentally contributing to their demise. You surely wouldn’t want that.

On a warm spring day, go outside and take a walk instead. That will help you get over the urge to tidy too soon–and you won’t feel too lazy!

 

Home Grown Spaghnum Moss?

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If I told you that this was a piece of spaghnum moss harvested from my backyard,  would you think I was crazy?

We have a mat outside our back door–on the north side of the house. It grows  moss like most gardens grow weeds.

One day a week or two ago,  I went out and noticed that the moss had been all disrupted–torn away and was lying in sheets and pieces around the mat. So I picked some up and that’s when I noticed how much like spaghnum this moss was.

It’s so much like spaghnum in fact  that I brought some of the more disrupted pieces in and put them in my orchids. No point in wasting them.

I suspect that squirrels or more likely chipmunks had been digging around in the moss to get to seeds or acorns or both that had fallen on the moss and the mat. I don’t think squirrels or chipmunks care about moss.

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I adore it–but on the other hand, I tried to tamp the larger sheets of it back into place. (Notice all the mast around the moss on this mat, by the way). If I actually thought I was growing my own spaghnum,  I would have entirely different ideas about using it!