IMG_1045 (1)I found this worm with rice all over it on my tomatoes this morning. It’s a fascinating lesson in nature – a tomato worm with a parasite: wasp eggs.

The white rice structures are the pupating eggs of the Cotesia congregatus wasp, of the Braconidae wasp family. These wasps are deadly to a wide variety of garden pests like hornworms, caterpillars, beetles, squash bugs, and stink bugs. They generally will not sting a human unless handled.

The female wasp lays eggs just under the skin of the tomato worm. As the eggs hatch, they eat the worm alive.

In general you should kill any tomato hornworms you see. But, when they are covered with eggs like this guy, let them live, as they will provide food for very beneficial wasps!

This is what happens when you sit in one place too long in North Carolina – the turkey buzzards come! These large birds clean up anything that has started to rot, and we appreciate them for keeping the landscape clear of dead animals. This trio, a male, female, and chick, were chewing on a raccoon carcass by the pond. Magnificent while soaring the thermal updrafts in flight, they are really pretty clumsy (and a bit ugly) and bad-tempered when on the ground. At least one pair live in our woods. You can hear them crashing through the trees when they decide to next for the night.

World War I Memorial

This year, Veterans of Foreign Wars posts across the U.S. will be selling buddy poppies to support the new World War I memorial in Washington DC. Dedication will be on November 11, 2018 – 100 years after the signing of the Armistice. When you see a VFW member offering poppies, please consider donating to a very worthy cause.

And, if you are eligible for the American Legion or VFW, please consider joining!

Baby figs

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Not being originally from the South, we are unfamiliar with the local delicacy of fresh figs. The bush in this picture was planted three years ago, and has grown to about 8 feet tall. The green bulbs are un-ripe figs. When they turn a reddish color and hang down they are ready to pick. Apparently they have a short window between inedible green and overripe; bruise easily; don’t last long once picked; and are a favorite of the local fauna. That said, we’re hoping to get enough this first picking to make a batch of fig jam!

Filtering honey

IMG_0969.jpgWe harvested about 70 pounds of honey from two hives in the past two weeks. One of the hives is three years old now, while the other is a two-year-old hive. Both seem to be doing well and producing lots of new brood. We won’t take any honey from the new hives this year.

This picture is honey flowing from the spinner (which spins the honey out of the cells) and then through a filter. The top of the filter is covered with a single cheesecloth layer to catch any bits of beeswax that might be in the honey. Then the honey goes through a fine and an ultrafine wire mesh filter. From there it is ready to eat!

This year’s honey is a much better batch than last year. They honey is darker in color and very flavorful. Taste and color all depend on what pollen was available to the bees when they were making honey.

Solar wax melter

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We harvested honey over the weekend. One of the by-products of honey is all the other stuff in the honeycomb – wax, bee parts, pollen and so on.  Beeswax is valuable for a lot of things but is not easy to render. In the past we slowly melted the leftovers on a stove in a pot of water. The wax separated and floated and everything else either dissolved in the water or sank to the bottom. However, that is a long process and must be watched carefully as the melted beeswax is highly volatile and can catch fire (think beeswax candles!)

So this time, we are trying something different – a solar wax melter. We lined a styrofoam cooler with aluminum foil. Then we took a plastic bowl, added about an inch of water, rubber-banded two thicknesses of paper towels over the bowl, and placed a pile of the honeycomb leftovers on top. Put a piece of clear glass over all of it, and placed it in the sun all day.

By suppertime the wax had melted through the paper towels and was in a perfect ring of solid beeswax floating on top of the water. The rest of the leftovers (called ‘slumgum’, and don’t ask where that name came from but that is the right name) remained on top. We’ll keep the slumgum as a firestarter.

Overall, it worked great!

Turtle Stew

Snapping Turtle

We found this snapping turtle by the garden this morning on the way to feed the dogs. He (she?) is about 14” long and was aggressive, snapping his jaws at us. I picked him up by the sides of the shell between his feet and carried him way out into the woods. All the while he was scratching and struggling, and trying to pee on me. He had a lot of pee.

Here is what I found out later with an internet search; carry them by the tail, and stay away from the head! They eat fish and frogs, so we want to keep them away from the pond.

If he comes back to our pond he’s going to become turtle stew. More internet instructions for cooked turtle: whack him on the head, pull his head back with pilers, and cut his throat. Flip him over, cut off the feet, then split down the middle. Soak the meat overnight in salt water, then boil for 90 minutes. Fry quickly with onions.