Study of a Pollinator in the Wild

I was outside working in the yard when i noticed a bee on a thistle. It was so consumed with its task it didnt seem to notice me, and so i decided to stop and watch its behavior for a while. I mean, how often do we get a glimpse into the daily activities of pollinating insects?

A Battle of Wills with Poison Ivy

Last year i noted that the thing growing in small clusters on the ground and in a thorough manner up one of the four oldest trees on the property was poison ivy. It was about half way up the trunk of the tree and looking very healthy. After much research i mixed up a 3 ingredient super solution that actually had a chemical reaction and heated the spray bottle. Certain i would do irreparable damage to myself if i got the solution on my skin or in my eyes, i very carefully sprayed every little patch of poison ivy on the ground. As for the ivy climbing up the tree…i didn’t see myself learning to levitate or renting a 100 ft ladder so i just cut the vine in half, severing it from its root system. Then i sprayed the bottom half…the part i could reach. The ivy turned brown and died and i thought i had addressed the problem. This was good because i had unknowingly planted a muscat grape vine right in the middle of the poison ivy months before. If i was ever to harvest grapes i had to rid the area of that which could not be touched. Well, it is may. I just went out there and noticed that not only did the poison ivy grow back in full force…it has traveled further up the tree than last year! The poor stunted grape vine wasn’t watered at all as i thought it was dead after icepocalypse but it did come back:..even if barely. I cut the poison ivy in half again at the base of the tree and sprayed the part connected to the root system underground with wasp poison. The leaves have wilted a bit but they did not die. In fact, they remain green and continue to spread. It must be getting water from the tree its roots are attached to. Its been a full week since i cut it in half and the thing is still alive and well. I cannot seem to kill the poison ivy. Eventually what i did was came home with another grape vine and planted it far away from the poison ivy covered tree. Sometimes you gotta know when to walk away.

Why There is No “Success” in Farming, Ranching, or Homesteading

If you are thinking of moving to the country, reading a bunch of books, and doing everything right you are going to be mighty frustrated. The measure of a good farmer, rancher, or homesteader is not in whether his/her ventures pan out, but whether he or she is willing and able to get back up on the horse after being thrown, and not hold it against the horse. You have to be resilient in the country and it helps if you expect the opposite of success at least some of the time. That way the surprise is a good kind of surprise, and not the other way around. You also have to know how to laugh.

If you were to get all my homesteading and farming friends in a room together and ask them about the failures of this past year i would start by telling you the story of how my chicken went broody and tried to hatch unfertilized eggs. She was so enthusiastic i felt sorry for her and tried to get her a newborn chick which i placed beneath her with the eggs, hoping she’d assume an egg had hatched. This is not what happened. When the flock located the source of the tiny peeping they went into murder mode with the broody hen taking the lead in the festivities and tried desperately to kill the chick dead in a terrified “intruder! Intruder!” type of frenzy. I ended up raising the chick in the house. Well then i felt sorry for the chick all alone with nobody to keep it company while i was at work. In the interest of not raising a psychopath chicken i bought another chick to keep it company and then i had both chicks in the house pooping on all of my shirts and keeping me up at all hours of the night. My chicken coop only supported 6 chickens and with the addition of the second chick i would have 7, so i found them a new home with a lady who had a larger coop and about 25 chickens. She took them off my hands and then one of my chickens promptly died of a mosquito born illness. She offered them back and so i took her up on it only to find her flock had pecked a massive hole in one of the two juvenile chickens’ heads. They had beat her up pretty bad and mentally she was never the same. I doctored her head and it healed but she never again grew feathers on that half of her skull, and she was psycho, which is what i had tried to prevent in getting Oakley to be her companion. Well, Oakley spent a lot of time with psycho Ellis so when i introduced them to my flock Oakley had a choice to make…whether to bond with Daisy (head chicken), who had taken a liking to her or stick with psycho Ellis who she knew as her sister. Oakley never made a decision and eventually Daisy made it for her by rejecting her because she was seen fraternizing with crazy Ellis. Now both young chickens are psycho, unapproachable, and distrustful of everything. Their temperaments on a scale of 1 to 10 are 0, but they lay good eggs.

My friend Cindy would tell you she did not get a single peach, persimmon, plum, or pear because the varmints stole every last one. It looks like the netting system was not sufficient at all. She had nothing to can or make pies with.

My other friend lost his entire population of honey bees over the winter due to cold temperatures and condensation created by a liquid feed in mason jars. The whole colony was sticky and deceased at the bottom of his boxes when he uncovered them for the spring.

Yet another friend woke up one morning to find a horny bull had charged through a couple fences in order to get to the cows, releasing a ram, a heard of sheep, several chickens, and a dog. The cows got bred. The sheep got bred. It was not the time of year he was meaning to breed his animals and now they are going to be trying to keep newborn calves and lambs alive heading into the dead of winter. What else is there to do but buy extra hay and prepare for the possibility of bringing animals into the house. I mean, bulls and rams dont have ideal breeding months outlined on their calendars…they just go for it.

Even my friends who travel the world on a sailboat had a rough time this past year when their scheduled shipment of food didn’t arrive to an island they were anchored near and they had to rely on spear fishing to feed the family. They actually ended up giving away their catch in return for using another boat owner’s laundry machine, keeping only the head and painstakingly picking every last morsel of edible flesh from the bones to make something sustaining: fish head soup.

So, if you are in any way living off the land or the sea, you should expect regular failures and anticipate that success is going to be measured as the act of riding, not winning the race.

The Conclusion

It was recently explained to me that when two people get married the woman should obey the man and the man should always do what is best for the woman and that the woman should not have any trouble or doubts about obeying the man because the man would not do anything that wasn’t in the woman’s best interest. I should stop here and out myself. I was an atheist for 24 years before i became a devoted Christian. Men have been feeding me the word “obey” for a long time but never in the name of God and my response was never willing. I think that the people i’ve been talking to recently are very far from where my actual beliefs lie, so it does not surprise me that i find their views a bit extreme or that we dont agree on some matters. However, someone very close to me, someone i consider family, recently said to me, “But you understand though that when two people do get married God does intend for the woman to obey the man.” I thought about that for a second. It was in all the religious rhetoric…it was in marriage vows…i knew that this notion existed. It just left a very bitter taste in my mouth and i couldn’t yet put my finger on why. The man who had wished me to “obey” recently had a number of ideas about how i was to live my life and what i should look like. The notion was that i should do everything he asked because God himself was telling the man that this was what was best for me through the pages of the bible. As i sat and tried to bridge the gap between something i saw as radical and not for me and my friend/family member’s statement, i realized that the reason i could not swallow the word “obey” was simple. The whole system was designed to be absolute with the addition of that word “obey”. It cemented everything into place and in doing so constructed a rather effective prison around the woman. The only man i know of that is infallible is Jesus. The only entity that knows all there is to know and is never wrong is God himself. So with that said, humans are interpreting the bible. They dont inherently understand everything it has to offer. People spend their lifetimes studying the bible and on their dying day they are still learning. So, i have a problem with the word “obey” because there is no system in which the wife is allowed to challenge the husband’s interpretation of God’s messages. Someone recently told me i can’t wear makeup or cut my hair and i’m supposed to believe that was a direct message to him from God about God’s will for my life. Plenty of men have either accidentally or knowingly misinterpreted the words printed in the bible. In consenting to marriage and taking vows i would also be changing my own relationship with God. I too pray. Men are not the only ones seeking communication with and guidance from God. God may say to me that i have more important things to do in life than worry about makeup one way or another and that makeup is not even almost on the docket of things Jesus is worried about governing in my life. Jesus may say to me as an answer to my prayer for guidance that he is more interested in my actions and how i am living his word by extending grace to others. However, if i am married, then my husband’s interpretation of his spiritual message from God trumps mine, as he is the head and i am the hair. The hierarchy goes: God, husband, wife. So, if i would like to speak with God, i can do so through my husband and he will tell me what God says for the both of us. A younger me would be tempted to reject this system entirely for i see no way in which it benefits me. I can cut down my own trees, fix my own plumbing, tar my own roof. I don’t need a man to do the chores around my property or change my car tire so perhaps i look at the addition of a middle man between me and my savior without rose colored glasses. I don’t see the reason i should welcome an absence of a direct line of communication between myself and that which i pray to. I am also quite infertile, so the notion that i need a husband for procreation purposes is lost on me as well. There is one and only one reason that i would seek companionship, and that is to have someone else to share the joys and sorrows of life with. To have someone next to me that i could point to a tree frog, a sunset, or a deer and say “look at that”. To have someone else who i could also watch enjoy the agarita berries or the mulberries in spring. This small plus, however, is not worth losing my direct line of communication with God, and so now for the first time understanding that’s what a christian marriage entails… i am willing to submit to God. I am not willing to submit to man. I am not meant to be a help mate and marriage is not for me. I enjoy my minister’s sermons. I enjoy my devotionals. I enjoy my bible study podcasts and supplemental religious books and youtube sermons. I consume content whenever the opportunity arises and there is nothing in my life that i value more than the act of sifting through that content and writing in my journal the bits and pieces of clarity that are born from that. I pray to God daily and i see God in everything around me. I have not rejected God. I simply don’t want to give up my current method of communication with God, my current method of deciphering what he intends me to spend my time on, and swap that for a system in which i am merely a passenger. Right now i am at the steering wheel and God is my gps system. I wish not to change this arrangement. Historically, i have always left the door open for the idea that i might meet someone kind who also believed in God’s grace and helped others when it didnt hurt him to do so, who had an appreciation for the wilderness and would like to live in the country. Someone with a sense of humor but the ability to be serious when the situation called for it. Someone gentle. I dont think i ever had an accurate understanding of what marriage entailed. Now that i’ve dissected the words contained in traditional marriage vows and i understand what is being pledged, it does not matter if such a man comes along; now or in my nineties. I want to speak directly with God. I will not accept a middle man for that line of communication. I will leave marriage for others. As for me, i will serve God happily as a spinster for the rest of my days and my wish for others is only that they find what path feels right for them and follow it with joy and conviction.

Tove

I came home late from a good friend’s house and ended up doing the evening chores around midnight by moonlight. I fell asleep working on my family tree. At dawn i was startled awake by sunlight coming through the window and two dogs sitting in front of the bed asking if i forgot to do some things (put them to bed and turn off the lights). The grass had grown and so i knew it was time to mow at least half the property again. i let the dogs and chickens out in their respective pens and got them all water to drink. Then i put on some boots and long pants and went yo mow the property. I listened to christian rock on my phone with headphones and cut the grass in a spiral motion, working my way in to the center as i outlined each area with the mower. At some point i looked up and saw a HUGE web extending between two different trees on opposite sides of the dog run with an anchor thread tethering it to the ground. As i took my headphones off and looked up the first orb weaver of 2022 came into view. She was a spotted orb weaver like my old favorite, Wilma the weather spider. It was literally my all time favorite kind of orb weaver and she was HUGE and absolutely beautiful! Her legs were bright red and speckled with brown. What an impressive specimen for the first orb weaver of the year! I was in awe of her construction. Despite my efforts to stop her Cashew did run through the spider’s anchor thread, untethering the impressive web from the ground. I decided to give the spider a good name. It was a female. The female orb weavers are the big impressive ones. The males actually look quite different and have less bulbous abdomens. I decided to call her Tove. Below i have uploaded a video of beautiful Tove hard at work fixing The damage Cashew did to her web. I hope she will remain in the dog run so i can have a grand view of her throughout the summer. I will be on high alert for praying mantises now that i know she is there.

The Funk

it began with a combination of two things…a very dirty dog stinking up the bed and me going to sleep with a deep conditioning treatment in my hair and subsequently wetting a pillow. These two things culminated to create a smell so rank that drastic intervention was required. I suspect it was a mix of moldy pillow stuffing and that dead animal smell that dogs waft when they roll in something exciting. So naturally i threw everything in the washing machine with a large cup of detergent and figured it was solved. Boy was i wrong. Not only did the laundry not get defunkified, the pillows and bedding funkified the washing machine, the dryer, and all of my other laundry. It was like everything that this smell touched automatically joined it. I could see i was losing a battle here. I needed reinforcements, supplies, and a different strategy. I consulted coworkers with children…what is the strongest product we sell to remedy this problem? I was told that i needed to take my machine apart, empty the old water, clean the lint trap, put the machine back together, pour a packet of washing machine cleaner into the drum and set the machine to “normal” and “hot”. Then after this was finished, run a load of the funkified laundry with a huge cup of oxiclean odor busters detergent. So i did this. It was quite the process. I had to use a screw driver to pry open the door to the lint trap and the cap that held the water in the bottom of the machine, as the button to push in to open the little door was non-existent (maybe broken off at some point when i moved). Once the door was open it said to place a bowl under the tube before you uncapped it as nasty smelly water was going to come out. I was watching youtube videos and interrogating my mother trying to figure out how much water was going to come out and at what rate of speed. Smelly gunky water shooting out of a tube at a high rate of flow would be much worse than a smelly goopy trickle. I couldn’t gage what size bowl i needed but i didn’t have a bowl big enough to hold the amount of water i guessed was coming and shallow enough to fit under the very short tube that had to be pointed down in order to drain properly. I ended up reinforcing a ziploc freezer bag by sticking it inside another one and holding that under the tube. I popped the cap off the tube and it immediately began draining the rankest rotten egg/dead animal/wet dog/musty sweet mold smelling cloudy liquid into these ziploc bags. I knew i had to stay there and hold the tube in the bag or the water would go all over the floor and the whole house would be funkified by this demon liquid. So i stayed where i was and tried to hold on, but the smell was so intense and so close to my face, i literally instinctually started dry heaving. I was busy trying to keep myself from upchucking dinner when the smell hit the dogs. They ran to the front door and plastered themselves there as if to say, “open, open open open, i’m out!” My eyes were watering. It was bad. I could hear myself saying “oh Jesus, oh Jesus!” When i got the full thing drained i let the dogs out into the dog run and then dumped that frothy slimy liquid in the yard. It seemed to sit on top of the ground. It didnt function as normal water. I stood and looked at it warily. I then returned to the house and removed the lint trap. I confirmed that i was not indeed crazy a year ago when i drove myself mad swearing that i had 8 hair clips and could only find 7. I took the house apart and then was screaming like a mad woman, “it’s 384 square feet! How do i lose things in a 384 square foot space!” The eighth hair clip was torn in half and lodged in the middle of the washing machine lint trap covered in mold, dog hair, rust, and slime. I followed the directions and took an old toothbrush that the dentist had put in my goody bag at one of my visits and brushed feverishly under the spigot next to the well house. I got the slimy gunk off but the whole thing was still covered in black mold. My mother suggested dipping it in bleach. I submerged the lint trap in a cup of straight bleach. The mold came off. How amazing bleach is. Then i rinsed it under the spigot once more, threw away the toothbrush, and diluted and disposed of the bleach water in the dirt of the driveway. I should mention that all this was happening at around 2 am. I was delirious with sleep deprivation, somewhat on autopilot, and just blindly following instructions on packages and youtube how-to videos. When stumped i consulted my mother who then face-timed me so i could compare the structure of her machine to mine. Once i got the lint trap cleaned and void of stray hair clips i inserted it into the machine and twisted the lid back on. I capped the tube and clipped it upright. I put the door back in place and then washed the washer machine. After that i ran a plain rinse cycle with no clothes in there to get any excess cleaning formula that promised to bleach fabric out of there. I then washed the laundry with the odor eaters oxiclean detergent. I dried the load. I pulled it out and smelled it…RANK! The laundry machine was defunkified but the laundry itself was still BAD! I read the back of the oxiclean detergent bottle. It said for extreme cases, soak the laundry in the detergent for 6 hours before washing. So i put the laundry into my metal bathtub in the middle of the living room floor and filled the tub to the top with water and 5 whole heaping capfuls of this oxiclean odor eaters detergent. I went to work. After my shift i returned to the house to find the laundry sitting in water that was a dark soupy oily gray with bubbles in it. It smelled worse than ever! When i removed and rung out the laundry what was left behind seriously looked like something that might drain out of the bottom of a car at jiffy lube. It smelled SO BAD! My skin smelled like it. I had to wash my hands and arms with dawn dish soap to get the funk off. Then i had to clean the bathtub which also now smelled irreparably like the funk. I was drowning in this problem. I washed the laundry again with the oxiclean detergent and it was worse than ever once dried! I threw it all back into the washing machine and emptied a whole gallon of vinegar into the drum. I then added the oxiclean detergent and set it. Nothing! Not even a dent! I was beside myself! All my laundry was custom hemmed for short people…i couldn’t just burn it and start over (but it was looking like that was my only option at this point). Finally my mother said to put baking soda on the clothes. I emptied the entire box of baking soda from the back of my pantry into the laundry machine drum and turned it on. No smell. My God. I went to the lowes market one town over and made my way to the checkout carrying every box of baking soda the store had in stock (8) and a box of raisins (gotta have snacks). The cashier looked at me funny and said, “will that be all for you today?” I said, “yes.” He said, “receipt?” I said, “sure.” Everyone in the store was staring. I was aware this was a weird thing to do in a small town but it was too long a story to explain. I had work to do. So i gathered up all my baking soda and returned to the house. I threw out the pillows and a wool garment that couldn’t be saved. I decided the clothes and the bedding were salvageable. Baking soda. Glorious baking soda. From now on a box of it would go in the laundry until i was sure the problem was done with. My God the smell still haunts my nightmares. The funk; if a dead rotting animal married 8 week old eggs that had been in a bag on the dashboard in the sun and had a baby that was clad in eternally wet dog hair. That is the best description i can give you of what its like to sniff the funk.

Nandi

I had a potted tomato plant on the porch in a little metal cage to keep the deer and rabbits off of it. I tend to buy 1 red cherry tomato plant per year and insert it into this cage i’ve constructed with a lid held on by keyring clips. There was a toad that appeared to come with the plant from the feed store i bought it at because it was inside the metal cage buried in the dirt in the pot. Every night it would hop out and eat insects that were attracted to the porch light and then return to bury itself in the wet dirt of the pot by sunrise. However, because it was in this metal cage, it never could hop very far from the pot. I decided to call him Oscar. I think i was pulling from sesame street a little bit…oscar the grouch had his trashcan and his lid and this toad was always half buried and peeking out of the pot. So Oscar lived on the porch and that seemed pretty normal to me. Toads were common at this time of year. I often found them sitting in the chicken water dispenser as if it was a hot tub and they frequently dug into potted plants to get out of the scorching sun during the day. At night they were everywhere in the yard, hopping about. They made unusually large turds for such a small animal. Down by the river you could hear them all making noise in chorus at sundown. Oscar was welcome to stay. However, one night i walked outside and saw a green leaf with eyes moving on my tomato plant. It wasn’t a leaf. It was Nandi. I had seen toads. I had never seen a tree frog as long as i’d lived in texas. Nandi appeared to be a cope’s gray tree frog. My tomatoes were getting eaten and Nandi was hanging out right on top of them. I wondered if Nandi was eating them and relocated Nandi to the grass. However, the frog came right back to where it had been and resumed its prior activity of hunting bugs. There were little green grasshoppers all over the plant and i was having mixed luck at killing them all. After a while i decided that Nandi was probably eating the grasshoppers and the grasshoppers had been eating the tomatoes. At sunrise Nandi was on the wall near the door frame of the house. The sun was rising and the yard was getting hot. Though we had been at odds during the night, i suspected we had a mutual purpose when it came to grasshoppers, and i knew Nandi would not survive if the sun hit the porch and the frog hadn’t moved. I grabbed Nandi, the cold slimy orange and cream legs and under belly squishing slightly in my hand, and let her jump from my hand, through the cage rungs, into the wet dirt of the tomato pot. Nandi was the first tree frog i’d ever met. Whether or not Nandi had anything to do with the chewed tomatoes, i wanted the frog to survive. So Oscar and Nandi went to bed for the day, burying themselves in the dirt. A toad and a tree frog sleeping in a tomato plant.

Yard Snacks

i came home from work one day to find there were a couple ripe cherry tomatoes ready to eat. I picked them and ate them. They were sweet and juicy. Then i picked the last little palmful of mulberries and finished up by harvesting 20 or so agarita berries one by one. By the end of my evening chores i had a belly full of yard snacks.

Tasting Agarita Berries

I watched the red buds open into bright orange flowers. I watched those flowers give way to round green berries. I paid close attention to those green berries, waiting for them to turn red. However, as i waited many of them shriveled and went straight to black. I was confused as to what was happening. I thought maybe the pink ones had ripened and then rotted. So i tasted a barely pink berry. It didnt have much of a taste. I figured this was not the state one was supposed to eat them in. A week later i revisited the bush and the pink berries had turned red. There were black and orange beetles of all sizes (hundreds of them) clinging to the branches. They were eating the berries. That was why they had turned black. The beetles had chewed holes in them but left them on the plant. Compromised, they shriveled and rotted. So, i had come late to the scene. The beetles got most of the harvest this year. I had to move the beetles off the remaining berries to steal their leftovers.

I realized quickly why people had told me agaritas could not be picked without getting stuck by the thorns. The berries were shielded by spiky leaves, positioned strategically underneath them. You could not pick a berry without moving a spiny leaf. I realized quickly that the way to eat agaritas was one at a time. The flavor was wonderful and the burst of tart sweetness in one’s mouth would motivate a person to endure more of the torture, picking through the stabbing leaves. However, if one collected in bulk the delayed gratification would convince a person they were done picking berries before all of them had been removed from the bush.

The best berries came from the bush in the dog run. There were less beetles camped out on this one and so the berries were allowed to get a bit riper. I was sure that a deep red would have been even tastier but if the beetles and the birds had no qualms about eating them early waiting for deep red would render me with no berries. They were very yummy. I ate them one at a time to convince my brain all the poking and stabbing of my fingers on the spiny needle-like leaves was worth it. It was.

New Tenants in the Bird Condo

I was delighted to look underneath the cardboard pieces in the stacked toybox planters and see two little eggs sitting in the nest. The birds make such frequent use of this excellently concealed and protected nesting spot that i get the nature channel all spring even though i have no tv service.

She laid an additional egg every so often until there were 6 sitting in the nest. Some birds sit on unfertilized eggs until it becomes apparent that they will not hatch. Then they break the eggs or roll them from the nest and vacate. So the question is, “Are these eggs fertilized?” One can hope. 🙂

Update: The eggs have begun hatching!

Update: When all the hatching was said and done there were four baby birds. One of the eggs didn’t hatch. I would later open it and find it was never fertilized.

I asked my friend Ren to name them. She settled on Guido, Giovanni, Rex, and Regina.

They were so tiny and pink. Each had a mohawk of black fuzz atop its head. Their eyes were not developed yet and so they lay blind and helpless in the nest and whenever they heard my voice or the mother’s tweet they would thrust their little yellow beaks open and prepare to receive falling food. some days i did not check on them so they would not become used to my presence. I didn’t want to interfere too much with the mother’s job of feeding and raising them. I did not want them to hear my voice, not get fed, and decide that noise did not mean “open” anymore. I tried to let them alone and check in on them for less than a minute every few days. When the mom did catch me peeking at her babies i tried to disappear quickly in the hopes that she wouldn’t be deterred from caring for them. She would enter the nest with the worm as planned 95 percent of the time.

Here you can see the prerequisite of feathers developing.

One day i looked in on the nest and they weren’t pink squirming gumbies anymore. They were real birds with feathers and eyes.

At knew at this point that it would not be long before they were leaving the nest. They only had a little bit of growing up left to do.

It had been extra difficult for the mother to keep this batch alive as it was a very dry year and temperatures had already climbed to soaring heights in late april and early may. During the day the baby birds were alarmingly still as they lay in the nest and panted. They looked exhausted and sticky. I was grateful that the cardboard blocked out the sun but it wasnt enough. The birds looked miserable. I understood that there probably wouldn’t be a third brood of babies in the nest this year.

This was when they began venturing away from the nest to explore the toybox the nest was in. Flight was not far off.

This was the last time i saw the birds. I heard the mama bird tweeting to them all day for two days and i knew she was coaxing them out of the nest. She had likely stopped feeding them and was now calling them to get up and learn to fly. If they wanted more grub they would get up and take the leap. I purposely didnt check the nest when all this racket was going on because i didnt want to interrupt this process and right of passage. When the noise had ceased i lifted the cardboard to find only 2 birds in the nest. The next time i lifted the cardboard the nest was empty.