Owl Be There

POND FROLICS

That nocturnal birds eat at night is a pretty straightforward piece of knowledge — awake at night, ergo eating at night.

It’s also pretty clear to anyone who finds a large dropping on their car in the morning that wasn’t there the evening before that other functions of life have to happen in the hours in which we sleep or stumble into things as well.

It’s funny how surprising it was to me to be confronted with the fact that owls — as of course they must do — also bathe at night.

Need to install an owl-dryer out there!

Native Insects and IPM

A tiny wasp.

Honeybees are not native to North America; however, we have an amazing number of underappreciated, ignored or sprayed native insects. Here in Southern California where the lack of rainfall has created a landscape called the Elfin Forest, the canopy is short, the animals are small and many of the insects are very tiny. If you take a careful look at clusters of small blossoms you will see tremendous air traffic. Besides the honeybees, there are butterflies, moths, and bees, wasps and flies that range in size from the large black carpenter bees and shiny green June bugs, to predatory wasps no larger than a speck of dirt on the back of your hand. These are your companions. They are the unsung workers responsible for a large percentage of pollination and invasive insect control. They in turn are food for the other policing creatures of your garden, the small birds, lizards, frogs and toads. And newts, salamanders, dragonflies and damselflies… I don’t want to leave any of these marvelous workers out.

A native predatory wasp laying eggs in oleander aphids on milkweed.

These tiny insects need small clusters of flowers to feed upon, and planting to cater to the native insect population wherever you live is vitally important. It is just as important as building good microbial communities in the soil.

A plume moth.

Here is a video – a shaky one taken with my phone as my camera is in for repair – of the tremendous activity around our blooming apple mint. The mint is next to our vegetable garden, and pollination is never a problem. Throughout our property we have blooming plants, mostly natives especially of course in our permaculture Zone 5, and they are feeding thousands of native insects – and honeybees – as well.

Please be patient with the video (it picks up my pulse!) and enjoy our August garden.

VID 20190808 093845359

Tiny native insects on apple mint, and their importance to your IPM.

The Púkas of Caerbannog

POND FROLICS

Finch Frolic is home to many Desert Cottontails.

Dah-DUM. Dah-DUM. Dah-DUM, dah-DUM, DAH-DUM –!

More all the time, in fact.

“Whoa! Do you see what I see?” “Yeah, yeah — when did that rabbit get there?”

Or at least very solid population replacement.
We see them all the time because they are pretty comfy here and used to us, just scooting around nibbling grasses and fighting the ducks (I gotta see if I have photos of that to share — hilarious bunny sass…).
The funny thing is how infrequently they appear on the wildlife cameras, and when they do, they’re invariably being rather sneaky.

“Oops, still in shot, sorry.”

Sometimes, it can start to feel a little spooky….

(Nasty, big, pointy teeth.)

— Run awaaaay!

Coon Tales: The Beginning

POND FROLICS

When we first put out our wildlife camera over the big pond’s north bog, we quickly found that aside from the oppressive scourge of the querulous ducks, raccoons are our most frequent visitors.

“Ooo — I wonder if that little red light is edible?”
“I can just sneak right up on it….”
“Hmm — nothing inside this shell to eat. A pointless object.”

The story they present is also generally a much more compelling one than the ducks’ — they both have intrigue, romance, action and comedy, but when you’ve watched ducks go back and forth and back and forth and back and forth in petty squabbles for the zillionth time, you come to respect the way the coons economize their time.

INTRIGUE
COMEDY
ROMANCE
ACTION

The ducks take the whole day to execute their drama, but the raccoons squeeze it all into night visits lasting only a few minutes, perhaps a quarter of an hour.
Or perhaps only the time it takes to capture a single, perfect picture.

Getting Your Feet Wet

POND FROLICS

“Oooo that is definitely squlechier than I expected–!”

Either this juvie Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) thinks she just caught something or she’s just realizing bathwater with duckweed might not be the best choice….

Subduing an unfortunate young bullfrog? Carefully scraping off tiny, free-floating aquatic plants? Blocking out a new rhythmic gymnastics routine? We’ll never know.

From Heron Out

POND FROLICS

Lessee, what can I tell you about the Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)….

“WHOA, what was that back there? Gotta check that out….”

There’re small herons. They have blackish feathers on top of their heads. I guess you could call it a cap. A blackish cap.

“They were fast – as – light – niii-ing–!”

They’re the most widespread species of heron in the world, apparently. Noisy, social, not too fussy.

“Hey! What’re you lookin’ at, lady?”

Oh, and this is surprising: they do most of their hunting and such at night or in the dusk: evening and early morning. Herons of dimness. Darkling herons. Gloaming. Blackish-capped. Herons.
…Yep.

Puppy Time

POND FROLICS

Four silly yappi-yotes!

We viewed the latest batch of wildlife camera photos the other day and were treated to a stop-motion movie of young coyote antics in the back of the little pond. Every year, we’ve only had the evidence of crepuscular play, so it’s nice to finally get an idea of what shenanigans resulted in the traces left for us (I refer you to the episode of the Great Snake Vanishment). Critically, we gleaned important clues in the mystery of how the hose that tops up the ponds from the well got kinked; 12 hours we put the station on, and the pond level got lower!
Puppies, y’know?

* Yeah. We do good work. *

Our Native Insects

Squash bee

Honeybees are European. There are no native honeybees in North America. What we have instead are thousands of bees, wasps and flies that may not make honey, but are responsible for pollination.

Native wasp laying an egg in an aphid.

Here in dryland Southern California there are over 300 species of native bees just to San Diego. Here we live in an elfin forest of chaparral and other similar plant communities. Due to the lack of rainfall, alkalinity of the soil and water, and therefore smaller plants and flowers, many of our native insects are small as well. Some are the size of a fleck of dirt on your hand. Many of these little wonders predate on the pest bugs in your garden.

Tiny wasp.

Most of these insects are solitary rather than colonial like the honeybees. They live in the ground, in hollow twigs or holes in dead wood. Leaving habitat around for them, or creating a native bee house, or buying one such as SoloBee’s, will encourage them to stay and feed in your yard. Another way would be to plant plenty of native plants around your property, especially those with clusters of small flowers such as buckwheat (Eriogonum sp.) and ceanothus. These tiny insects need a tiny landing pad, a little sip of nectar they won’t drown in, and plenty of food sources close together. Allowing some of your mint, carrots, dill and basil to go to flower also gives them a food source. On a warm day look carefully over a patch of small blooms and you’ll be amazed at the activity flying around the flowers.

A species of Metallic Green Bee

If the non-native honeybee’s existence is being threatened, think about what effect pesticides – particularly systemics – as well as other chemicals, environmental factors and native plant clearance effects our indigenous little fellows and gals.

Stop using harsh chemicals outdoors, plant and maintain native plants, and take a very close look at tiny flowers. Helping the little ones helps all of us.

See more great insect photos under ‘photos’ on our Finch Frolic Garden Facebook Page.

Growing Cornmeal

Sweet corn is a wonderful summer treat; although you can freeze it, is never as good as picked, steamed and eaten within hours. However hard corn can be dried, ground and stored for use throughout the year. Some varieties that aren’t super sweet can be eaten fresh or left to go hard for grinding. Miranda and I have fallen in love with growing and grinding colored corn. They are not just for Thanksgiving decorations anymore!

We’ve grown Indian corn and small cute popcorn. We’ve also grown the lovely Glass Gem Corn, with its opalescent pastel colors that was all the rage for the last few years. It made a lovely lightly colored cornmeal.

Last year we planted Oaxacan Green dent and black corn. Wow. The black corn was the most successful, growing about 12 feet tall.

The black variety was Maiz Morado or Kulli Corn, from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. It had many aerial roots, which were black- actually a very deep purple- growing from several nodes.

The black corn began to peek out from the husks and it was magnificent.

We harvested the ears and let them lie on our warm porch out of the sun to finish drying. The stalks we tied up for Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations, and then they went into filling a raised bed.

When it came time to shuck the ears, we marveled at the color of the kernels. They were spectacular; so were the green dent.

Even better, the inside of the husks were colored, too. We dried them and saved them for tamales.

For New Year’s Eve, we stripped the dried kernels from the cobs; not a difficult process and one we could do in the evening after dinner while watching old Time Team reruns on YouTube.

When ground, the black corn meal was a light purple. We use our VitaMix’s special grain grinding container, but a normal one would work as well.

For tamales I guessed at a recipe, mixing half corn meal with half flour, a little baking powder and some vegan butter, and vegetable broth to wet. The mixture was very elastic and can certainly use work, but it was tasty and worked well to hold the filling together. The cornmeal turned a medium purple color when wet.

Soaking the husks to soften them was a treat, as their red color leached into the water making it look like wine.

For fillings I couldn’t help but go with the whole purple theme, so I steamed one of our Molokai purple sweet potatoes which are an amazing purple as well.

I also cooked up some of our frozen beet greens with onion, and used those two together with vegan cheese. A second filling was black beans mixed with cumin, oregano and our pickled carrots and jalapenos, and sweet corn with vegan cheese.

Miranda and I got such a kick out of all the colors, especially the purples. We couldn’t wait until they were steamed, which took about an hour and twenty minutes.

When the tamales were opened we were in awe. The black cornmeal had turned a very deep purple, and it was only half and half with flour! It was awesome. We enjoyed them with guacamole and, of course, our last Paul Robeson tomato because you just can’t have too many purple foods on your plate. The photo of the open tamale doesn’t do it justice.

We store the cornmeal in glass jars in the freezer. It makes excellent cornbread and cornmeal biscotti, as well as polenta and fried cornmeal mush. How fun and reassuring it is to use our own unsprayed, non-GMO cornmeal.

Coming up we’ll be planting black corn again, and a large patch of green dent as well; I want to see what pure green cornmeal looks like when cooked… maybe for Halloween dinner?