Archive for July, 2010

Herb Walk in Hot Springs, NC

July 20, 2010

In January, when I first heard about this hike, I signed up immediately.  I’ve been interested in herbs for a long time, had an herbalist do a walk around my farm which was so enlightenly, and then heard Patricia Howell speak at the Georgia Organics Conference this year in Athens.

Once I heard Patricia, I was even more excited about this herb walk because she was going to be the teacher.  I talked with a couple of friends and asked them if they wanted to join me for this weekend.

Four of us traveled to the mountains on July 9, north of Asheville, NC to Hot Springs, NC.  Beautiful scenery, great company, and the fun anticipation of some wonderful teaching, foraging in the woods, and the making of salves and tinctures.

Friday afternoon we arrived at the Sunnybank Inn – an old Victorian home converted to a hostel for those traveling the Appalachian Trail.  ( )  Fabulous architecture and incredible vegetarian fare.  The food really was amazing!

After a delicious breakfast Saturday morning, we all piled into the cars/vans and drove to Max Patch up in the Blue Ridge. ( )

Always looking for insects, this butterfly caught my eye as soon as I got out of the van.

When Patricia got out of her car, she had this fungus in hand and was extremely excited about her “treasure.”

This is called “Chicken of the Woods” and it’s edible.  The chef at the inn sauteed and served this with Sunday breakfast and…

it was very good!

We all collected our gear and headed out on the trail, following our fearless leader.

Patricia introduced us to Jewel Weed and told us about the medicinal value of this particular plant.

This is wild Bee Balm/Bergamot/Monarda.  I have lots of bee balm on the farm but none this color.  It’s part of the mint family and quite prolific.

Any guesses?  Usnea- a species of Lichen.  This is very sensitive to air pollution and at times used to determine air quality.  Our purpose for harvesting the Usnea is to make it into a tincture for respiratory problems.

After a couple of hours on the trail, we stopped in an open area for lunch.  Hummus sandwiches with sprouts and cashews, date rolls, and fresh fruit.

So many of the women in our group had been foraging before and we saw so many plants that I’m sure I would have passed by unknowingly.

This is one of them – Indian Pipe.

Such a cool plant – no chlorophyl.

We harvested Jewel Weed to use Sunday morning.

Rattlesnake Plantain – so beautiful!

I was being hailed by Patricia to come and pick St. John’s Wort from the field.  A storm was coming and I needed one bag full!

Why did I keep looking to the crest of this hill waiting for Julie Andrews to come sweeping over the summit singing “The hills are alive….”!!

The views were breath taking…

We were asked to harvest Elder flowers.  Quite the undertaking since these bushes grew in and amongst blackberry brambles!

These gals were certainly the heroes of the day, braving the thorns and who knows what else that might have been crawling underfoot 🙂

I’m telling you, the walk through the woods, the incredible plants, the amazing views –

so invigorating!

And this wretched plant – Dodder.  However, it may redeem itself if Lydia can truly dye wool from this plant.

I’ll let you know…

A good day’s shopping.  We harvested Jewel Weed, St. John’s Wort, Usnea, Yarrow, and Elder flowers.  This is my kind of shopping…and really, isn’t shopping in stores a type of foraging anyway??

We all had such a great day!  There were about 14 of us in the group and Patricia is a fabulous teacher – so knowledgeable.  (Check out her website for all kinds of information: )

And what did we do with all these plants?  You’ll find out in another blog 🙂


Victoria’s Senior Trip!

July 13, 2010

One aspect I love about homeschooling is the opportunity for creativity in teaching.  Several years ago, Dave and I decided that each child needed to have a Senior trip after they graduated from high school, but it had to be part of their homeschool curriculum.  We decided this would be the “project” that would help them transition into real life.

Victoria is our third child to graduate from high school and tomorrow she and I are leaving for her Senior trip.

This is her Senior project – she must plan the entire trip, front to back, all the details.

Dave and I give our kids a budget to work with and they plan their trip.

Victoria chose where she would like to go and we’re headed to San Francisco, California.

My brothers live in Elk Grove and we’ll be staying with them and their families for part of the time.

Tori had to get the airline tickets, call on the rental car, and check schedules with my brothers.

She planned our itinerary while we’re in the Sacramento area, searching the internet for available options.

We used to live in the Santa Cruz area and Tori wanted to go to the ocean.  So she booked a hotel in Half Moon Bay where we’ll stay for 2 nights.

She has her notebook ready with the itinerary for the trip, copies of reservations and tickets to different events, maps for driving, and necessary phone numbers, along with the budget for each day.  She even knows how much money we can spend at the Jelly Belly Factory!

This will be my third trip with the kids.  In 2006, Catherine and I went to Calgary, Canada and enjoyed the Stampede, white water rafting, horseback riding in the mountains, and hiking around Lake Louise.

Two years ago, I went to Bar Harbor, Maine with Lauren where we drove and hiked the coast through Arcadia, Camden, and Portsmouth while she took pictures of light houses.  We also went ocean kayaking in Camden.

And this year, Tori and I are off to California!  I absolutely treasure these trips, being completely available to my child.  I smile at how different each trip has been, indicative of their individual personalities and interests.

My favorite part about this week long trip…

the transition from teacher to friend and all the one on one time I will have with my most favorite Victoria in the whole wide world 🙂

Cicada Killers!

July 8, 2010

Last year was my first encounter with these very large flying insects!  They’re a bit menacing and loud – like a B-52 bomber.  They were digging tunnels in my garden squares and I saw them flying with very large prey.

They’re called Cicada Killers and this year I have a bunch of them in the garden- flying and buzzing and dive bombing.  Only they’re not after me.  These male Cicada Killers are extremely territorial and they chase off anything that comes into their area, especially another Cicada Killer unless, of course, it’s a female ready to mate!  They remind me of humming birds the way they chase off one another 🙂

They seem to like my squares that have the squash in them.  So I have a question – will these males keep away the Squash Vine Borer also??!  I’m hoping so…

They’re rather fascinating and I don’t mind  having them in the garden, although for those who don’t like flying insects, they’re a bit unnerving.

Here’s the general information:

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Eastern Cicada Killer
Adult male (left) and female
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Subphylum: Hexapoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Suborder: Apocrita
Superfamily: Apoidea
Family: Crabronidae
Subfamily: Bembicinae
Tribe: Gorytini
Genus: Sphecius
Species: S. speciosus
Binomial name
Sphecius speciosus
(Drury, 1773)

Cicada killer wasps are large, solitary wasps in the family Crabronidae. The name may be applied to any species of Crabronid which uses cicadas as prey, though in North America it is typically applied to a single speciesSphecius speciosus, often simply referred to as “The cicada killer”. However, since there are multiple species of related wasps, it is more appropriate to call it the Eastern cicada killer. This species occurs in the eastern and midwest U.S. and southwards into Mexico and Central America. They are so named because they hunt cicadas and provision their nests with them. In North America they are sometimes called sand hornets, although they are not hornets, which belong to the family Vespidae.


Five female Eastern Cicada Killers,Sphecius speciosus (Orangedale, Florida, USA).

Adult Eastern cicada killer wasps are large, 1.5 to 5 cm (2/3 to 2 inches) long, robust wasps with hairy, reddish and black areas on the thorax (middle part), and are black to reddish brown marked with light yellow stripes on the abdominal (rear) segments. The wings are brownish. Coloration may superficially resemble that of yellowjackets orhornets. The females are somewhat larger than the males, and both are among the largest wasps seen in the Eastern United States, their unusual size giving them a uniquely fearsome appearance. European hornets (Vespa crabro) are often mistaken for Eastern cicada killers.

Life cycle and habits

A female Sphecius speciosus digging a burrow next to a driveway (Pennsylvania, USA).

This female cicada killer tired while carrying her cicada in flight and landed short of her burrow. She accepted a “lift”, walked up the observer’s arm carrying her cicada and flew off again. (Pennsylvania, USA).

Solitary wasps (such as the Eastern cicada killer) are very different in their behavior from the social wasps such as hornets,yellowjackets, and paper wasps. Cicada killer females use their sting to paralyze their prey (cicadas) rather than to defend their nests. Adults feed on flower nectar and other plant sap exudates. Adults emerge in summer, typically beginning around late June or early July and continuing throughout the summer months. They are present in a given area for 60 to 75 days, until mid-September. The large females are commonly seen in mid-to-late summer skimming around lawns seeking good sites to dig burrows and searching shrubs and trees for cicadas.

The males are more often seen in groups, vigorously challenging one another for position on the breeding aggregation from which they emerged, and generally pursuing anything that moves or flies within close proximity. It is not unusual to see two or three male wasps locked together in midair combat, the aggregate adopting an erratic and uncontrolled flight path until one of the wasps breaks away. The male wasp’s aggressive behavior is extremely similar to that of another robust insect of the area, the male carpenter bee. In both cases, while the males’ vigorous territorial defense can be extremely frightening and intimidating to human passersby, the males pose no danger whatsoever. They will only grapple with other insects, and cannot sting.

This ground-burrowing wasp may be found in well-drained, sandy soils to loose clay in bare or grass-covered banks, berms and hills as well as next to raised sidewalks, driveways and patio slabs. Females may share a burrow, digging their own nest cells off the main tunnel. A burrow is 15 to 25 cm (6 – 10 in.) deep and about 3 cm (1.5 in.) wide. The female dislodges the soil with her jaws and pushes loose soil behind her as she backs out of the burrow using her hind legs, which are equipped with special spines that help her push the dirt behind her. The excess soil pushed out of the burrow forms a mound with a trench through it at the burrow entrance. Cicada killers may nest in planters, window boxes, flower beds or under shrubs, ground cover, etc. Nests often are made in the full sun where vegetation is sparse.

After digging a nest chamber in the burrow, female cicada killers capture cicadas, paralyzing them with a sting; the cicadas then serve as food to rear their young. After paralyzing a cicada, the female wasp straddles it and takes off toward her burrow; this return flight to the burrow is difficult for the wasp because the cicada is often more than twice her weight. After putting the cicada in the nest cell, the female deposits an egg on the cicada and closes the cell with dirt. Male eggs are laid on a single cicada but female eggs are given two or sometimes three cicadas; this is because the female wasp is twice as large as the male and must have more food. New nest cells are dug as necessary off the main burrow tunnel and a single burrow may eventually have 10 to 20 cells. The egg hatches in one or two days, and the cicadas serve as food for the grub. The larvae complete their development in about 2 weeks. Overwintering occurs as a mature larva within an earth-coated cocoon. Pupation occurs in the nest cell in the spring and lasts 25 to 30 days. There is only one generation per year and no adults overwinter.

This wasp is frequently attacked by the parasiticvelvet ant” wasp, Dasymutilla occidentalis, also known as the “cow-killer” wasp. It lays an egg in the nest cell of the cicada killer, and when the cicada killer larva pupates, the parasitoid larva consumes the pupa.

Interaction with humans

A male Eastern Cicada Killer guarding its territory and looking for females with which to mate.

Although cicada killers are large, female cicada killer wasps are not aggressive and rarely sting unless they are grasped roughly, stepped upon with bare feet, or caught in clothing, etc. One author who has been stung indicates that, for him, the stings are not much more than a “pinprick”[2]. Males aggressively defend their perching areas on nesting sites against rival males but they have no sting. Although they appear to attack anything which moves near their territories, male cicada killers are actually investigating anything which might be a female cicada killer ready to mate. Such close inspection appears to many people to be an attack, but male and female cicada killers don’t land on people and attempt to sting. If handled roughly females will sting, and males will jab with a sharp spine on the tip of their abdomen. Both sexes are well equipped to bite, as they have large jaws; however, they don’t appear to grasp human skin and bite. They are non-aggressive towards humans and usually fly away when swatted at, instead of attacking. Cicada killers exert a natural control on cicada populations and thus may directly benefit the deciduous trees upon which their cicada prey feed.

Being bumped by a male feels like a pinprick, being stung by a female feels like a hot nail being driven into your flesh for hours, leaves bruising and burning for days.

Mystery Bug- Bean Plataspid, Megacopta cribraria

July 7, 2010

**Since posting this blog, I’ve learned that the smaller beetle is the Plataspid Beetle, native to China and discovered here in the US last October.  The larger bug is the Florida Predatory Stink Bug.**

I headed to the garden today with my camera because I have a beetle on my bean plants that I’ve not seen before.  I wanted to take pictures to post to see if you all could help me out in the identification of this bug.  I can’t tell if it’s doing any damage to my plants and there are bunches of them.

This is the first I’ve seen a single one by itself.  They’re in clusters on the bean vines.

And then I saw the most wonderful sight!

I wasn’t sure if what I was seeing was accurate.  It looked as if this bigger bug was piercing the little beetle and sucking out the insides.

So I got closer with the camera.  The orange and black bug didn’t move much but kept trying to back out of the sunlight.  Guess it prefers to eat in solitude 🙂

I found 2 dead little beetles on the trellis.  The longer the big bug sucked, the closer his “straw” drew back toward himself.

I can’t tell if there’s a second “rod” inserted in the little beetle.  I was fascinated with this whole process.  And the big bug was pretty fat towards the end of this little beetle.

I’ve seen this orange and black bug around the garden.  In fact, I squashed one thinking it was a Squash Vine Borer moth.  But I don’t know what it is!  My friend and I looked in books and the internet trying to identify it.  The closest we came to was a Milkweed Beetle but they’re not predacious according to the book.

But if this orange and black bug eats these little beetles, it can certainly stay.  Only, if it’s full after just 3 beetles….

I wish he’d call his friends and relatives in for a party!!!!