The Gazette in Cedar Rapids has had several interesting nature stories connected to creating wondrous yards. Living Section features “Birds do it, Bees do it”, “Add a Little Luck to Your Landscape” and Purslane (by Winding Pathways). We loved reading about the birds and bees’ cooling strategies and welcomed the return of clover to yards as natural nitrogen fixers and deep-rooted water retention plants. And, of course, we love to eat purslane. Let us know ways you fix this healthy vegetable.
Also an article on wasps of late summer. They are beneficial, ‘though deserve keeping distance.
Success on the Bena Farm!
Best of all was the picture of the Monarch Chrysalis from friends, Nancy and Gordon Bena found on their farm. Let’s keep encouraging habitat for insects that form the basis of life for many other creatures.
Even before Lyme disease created a serious tick-borne health hazard no one wanted ticks crawling on them. We sure don’t want them at Winding Pathways and because our yard has tall grass, shrubs, and a woodland we have tick habitat.
Collection of ticks
A few years ago, Rich contracted Lyme Disease caused when a tick injected bacterium into him. Thanks to a wise physician and effective antibiotics he was cured, but it’s possible to get Lyme Disease again and again. We’re more cautious about avoiding ticks now.
Ticks of many species live throughout most of the United States. They’re common in brushy, grassy, and woodsy habitat but they also love living in yards. It’s possible for a tick to enjoy a human meal even if that person never leaves a mowed yard.
Natural Tick Predators
At Winding Pathways, we take joy in fall’s colorful leaves, cool days, and clear air, but we know insects are on the move.
Box Elder Bugs, Asian Beetles, other insects and spiders, and mice all sense that frigid air is on the way and seek shelter from the cold. Houses offer secure nooks and crannies to hide in and central heat to keep them toasty warm. Houses also imitate natural wintering places. Asian beetles, for example, naturally winter in the cracks of rock outcroppings. So, a house makes a perfect substitute.
Filling a Crack
Homeowners have options for reducing winter insect infestations. Many turn to insecticides when they spot beetles or bugs clustering on interior windows and walls. We avoid poison and opt for nontoxic solutions.
At Winding Pathways, we simply make it hard for bugs and mice to enter. We can’t keep all of them out but we greatly reduce their numbers. Here’s what we do before the first frost:
- Load a tube of exterior caulk into our caulking gun and inspect our house’s exterior. We squirt caulk into every crack and hole in the siding. Likely bug entry points are where wires, cables, and pipes enter the house and around door and window frames. Often old caulk has split or fallen out, so we replace it. We also inspect thresholds to make sure there is no space beneath doors for bugs to enter. Sometimes we need to replace weather stripping around doors and windows.
- Keep most firewood outside. We used to bring several days’ worth of firewood inside to make feeding our woodstove convenient but insects, like mosquitoes, hitchhiked on the cordwood and then roamed around the house. We now keep the wood in the cold just outside the door and only bring in a few pieces at a time when we need to feed the fire.
- There’s an added benefit to excluding insects and mice. The holes and cracks they use to squeeze into the house also invite in winter’s cold air. Sealing them up keeps the house warm and lets us use less fuel in our furnace and wood stove.
- Cleanse houseplants. We move some houseplants outside for the summer and bring them back indoors before the first frost, but insects can ride the plants into our home. To prevent this, we carefully clean and repot plants. Master Gardener, Tina Patterson, had an excellent column in The Gazette, Living Section, Sunday, October 1, 2017, that describes in detail ways to safely clean your plants and keep them healthy inside all winter. We have reprinted this with permission of the Gazette, Linn County Master Gardeners Program, and Tina Patterson.
Bumper year for cicadas.
As summer winds down, our warm weather has continued in the upper Midwest and insects are having a heyday. Cicadas still call and Katydids make quite a racket at night. Behind all these summer sounds is the high pitched “cheek-cheek-cheek” of crickets. Mosquitoes persist as do any number of tiny biting insects the gravitate to open skin.
Several interesting and helpful insects, however, capture our attention. Donna, a walker on Rich’s “100th Circuit” walk around Cedar Lake shared pictures of the Digger Wasps in her yard. What fascinating insects!
Grasshoppers and Praying Mantis catch our eye because the first can hop incredible distances and the second has such an unusual shape and seem to appear only this time of year. The ubiquitous Asian Lady Beetles that bite and stink and Box Elder Bugs so aptly described as having “no where to go and all day to get there” are massing to enter our warm homes for the winter.
Grasshoppers are considered among “…the oldest living group of chewing herbivorous insects.”
The Digger Wasp makes and then covers over tunnels.
Digger Wasps are benign insects.
Camouflaged all summer, this nest now stands out against the red foliage.
These “pretender” lady bugs invade homes each fall.
Praying Mantis live in temperate and tropical climates.
Winding Pathways invites readers to take a few minutes to learn about and then go out and observe these fascinating denizens of late summer and early fall. You Tube has great videos of these insects and we’ve cited several sources above. We even learned that people can and do eat some of these crunchier critters.
Every once in a while an enormous wolf spider startles us when we go downstairs and flip on a light. We call him “Wolfie”. Fortunately, most of the time he (Wolfie might be a she) stays out of sight and is helpful because (s)he eats other critters that inhabit homes with humans.
Spiders are just about everywhere. At least 45,700 species have been identified with new ones found every year. Of all orders of living things spiders are seventh in total diversity. They live on all continents except Antarctica and in nearly every habitat except the air and salt water. Too many myths surround spiders and the stories grow around October – Halloween month. Actually, August and September in many parts of the US are prime arachnids months.
Spiders are in everyone’s home and yard. Most are tiny, harmless to humans and stay out of sight. We are most aware of spiders in the yard on mornings after a heavy dew when the lawns are carpeted with ” fairy napkins.” This is the work of funnel spiders that eat pesky insects.
All spiders share common features. Although often called “bugs” or insects spiders are arachnids that have eight legs. Insects have but six. All spiders, with possibly one exception, are carnivorous. They kill prey, which often is insects, with venom.
While we think of all spiders as predators, they themselves are an important prey species for other animals. Spot a warbler or brown creeper working its way along a tree and it’s probably seeking tiny spiders hidden in cracks in the bark or on leaves. For many birds a spider meal is simply delicious.
Spiders live in houses for good reason –
Reminiscing on some Haikus from the past. These seemed a good way to honor spring and welcome summer.
Quivering seed pods
Last year’s fruit, This year’s promise
Red buds produce life.
April ‘to Open’
Birds beckon, flowers unfold
Hope, re-birth, re-new.
Slow green shoots appear and grow.
Spring bursts in splendor.
How goes butterfly
So gaily in morning dew.
Surf booms, with great roar.
Coquinas ride waves to rest
On white, clean beaches.
Spring aerial art.
Wheeling, gliding all in sync
Spring aerial art
Banks, wheel. Dive. Glide in sync
Mountain tall, distant
Shelters small creatures that live
In harmony there.
Laughter tumbles free,
From souls to the earth.
Children, living gifts.
Begin where we are
Plain talk ease nerves.
Rolling a log.
Butterfly on flower