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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Castile Bar Soap

Olive oil castile bar soap
Olive oil castile bar soap
Castile Bar Soap

While waiting such a long time for the liquid castile soap recipe to become translucent, I made my first set of castile bar soaps using the cold process method.  I have to say, I may prefer the cold process over the liquid process, because it seems to go so fast.  I found the recipe online, and tailored it to the amount of olive oil I had left over using the Brambleberry Soap Calculator.

There are two attractive aspects of this recipe.  First, because of the liquidity of olive oil, there isn't any rush and no seizing of the soap mix.  Second, it cures in at least four months rather than the traditional 12  plus months for most castile bar soap recipes. This is due to the significant reduction of water that directly reduces the evaporation and hardening time.

Olive oil for castile bar soap
Olive oil for castile bar soap


  • 567 grams (20 ounces, 80%) olive oil
  • 72 grams (2.546 ounces, 10%) Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH lye)
  • 72 grams (2.546 ounces, 10%) of water

Self labeled vinegar spray tottle
Self labeled vinegar
 spray tottle


  • Stick blender
  • Stainless steel pot
  • Stainless steel spoon
  • Pyrex measuring cups
  • Kitchen calculator
  • Vinegar in a spray bottle

The Process

Put on your long shirt and pants, grab the goggles and rubber gloves.  Walk the lye and water outside, or take everything outside (which is what I did).  
Equal parts water and lye
Equal parts water and lye
  1. I weighed the olive oil, and put it in the stainless steel pot.
  2. I weighed the water in a large pyrex measuring cup.
  3. I weighed the lye in a pyrex cruet.
  4. The lye was added to the water in the larger pyrex cup, and stirred up with a stainless steel spoon (it takes a bit longer for the lye mix to become clear due to the 50/50 ratio).
  5. The pyrex cruet was sprayed down with the handy vinegar sprayer while the lye was dissolving.
  6. The lye was slowly poured into the olive oil while the hand mixer was on low.
  7. After the oil became as thick as it could, the mixture was poured into one of my old soy milk cartons
    100% olive oil castile soap in milk carton mould
    100% olive oil castile soap in
    milk carton mould
    for curing (maybe someday if I'm serious about this I'll put together an actual soap mould).  I like the idea of square bars.  Then again, round soap from pvc pipe is super cute!  I didn't bother covering it for the gel process, as it has been indicated that the gel process isn't really a necessary part of the saponification process.
  8. Tools were sprayed down with vinegar, then filled with water to prepare for cleaning.
  9. I couldn't resist giving it a bit of a squeeze after 24 hours.  It felt pretty firm at the top and bottom ends, a bit of give in the center.  Not ready.
  10. In total, I waited 48 hours for the soap to harden enough for cutting.  The carton was peeled away from the soap, and the soap loaf laid on a long side to prepare for cutting.  The loaf is a bit odd shaped, and I wanted the
    Olive oil castile bar soap loaf
    Olive oil castile bar soap loaf
    bars to be about an inch thick.  I marked the loaf where the bars should be cut and used a large knife to complete the separations.  I wasn't happy with the way the soap cut.  It seemed a bit brittle, and the cuts weren't smooth.  This is typical when cutting with a knife.  
The center of the soap ended up with a dark ring.  This goes back to the gel phase, and insulating or not insulating to control or prevent the gel phase.  It's explained more in a reddit post.

Olive castile bar soap, after cutting
Olive castile bar soap, after cutting
Eventually, the darker spots won't look so different from the rest of the bar.  I think I'll be making more of these in the near future, but will look at other options for cutting the loaf.  These bars need to be set aside for four months at minimum to complete the curing process.

After curing, you can use the bar soaps to make some super creamy liquid castile soap, as described by frugalberry. This will result in opaque liquid soap.  For clear liquid castile soap, follow my earlier recipe, First Stab At DIY Liquid Castile Paste.

Monday, July 28, 2014

First Stab At DIY Liquid Castile Paste

Coconut and olive oil soap paste and liquid
Coconut and olive oil soap paste and liquid
Liquid Castile Soap Paste

I started investigating and accumulating products and information about making a clear liquid castile soap about a year ago.  Finally... finally started my first batch, which was a conglomeration of instruction and methods, but basically the same tools.


  • Stick blender
  • Stainless steel pot
  • Stainless steel spoon(s)
  • Pyrex measuring cups
  • Kitchen scale
  • Spray bottle of vinegar


The first reference is Catherine Failors book, Making Natural Liquid Soaps: Herbal Shower Gels, Conditioning Shampoos, Moisturizing Hand Soaps, Luxurious Bubble Baths, and more, where the basic recipe was found.  I ran it through a Lye Calculator at the Brambleberry site which reduced the lye (KOH) from the original 12 ounces to 11.21 based on 0% superfat.  Failor's book is for creating transparent soaps, so appearing to be a bit excessive in lye was purposeful.  This is explained fully in an soapmaking post.  My modified recipe is:
  • 652 grams (25%, 23 ounces) 76 degree coconut oil
  • 708 grams (27%, 25 ounces) extra virgin olive oil
  • 318 grams (12%, 11.21 ounces) KOH (potassium chloride)
  • 947 grams (36%, 33.4 ounces) of water
Self-labeled vinegar tottle
Self-labeled vinegar tottle
A note about lye (KOH).  People aren't kidding when they talk about being careful with it.  I measured it out in the kitchen, but regretted it.  Even the fumes from pouring it from the original container to the pyrex cup on the scale caused some skin irritation.  I highly recommend all lye activities be performed outside, upwind of the lye and keeping a handy-dandy spray bottle loaded with vinegar in the ready.

I found another recipe at a favorite site of mine,  The author recently posted her very cheerfully written article about how to make liquid soap the super easy way.  It was very motivational, but I was looking for something more castile-like and more likely to be transparent (being a novice, I stuck with a Failor recipe for transparency).  

And then there was the lazy me, that went for the crockpot method.  The Wiki site recipe didn't specify the type of lye being used, which is a big issue for me.  The type of lye is the difference between liquid soap and bar soap.  I also wasn't interested much in the recipe itself, just the process.

coconut and olive oil liquid paste, batched
coconut and olive oil
liquid paste, batched
And the process went a bit like this:
  1. Oils were measured and added to a crock pot on the 'high' setting.  Always measure ingredients by weight rather than volume (if you see a site measuring ingredients by volume, do not use the recipe unless you can convert it to weights and percents).  
  2. Water and KOH (lye) was measured and transported outside.  The water was in a stainless steel pot and the lye was slowly added in while stirring with a stainless steel spoon.
  3. The emptied lye container was sprayed down with vinegar while stirring the water/lye solution.
  4. After the lye completely dissolved, the lye was slowly added to the crock pot oils and mixed with a stick blender.
  5. The paste mixture suddenly became pudding-like after about 10 minutes.  I switched to the stainless steel spoon, and not too soon.  
  6. The paste mixture became difficult to stir by hand, so the crock pot lid was put on and the gloves, stainless steel pot, and pyrex measuring cup were collected, sprayed down with vinegar, then brought back inside. Then I got tired, so I turned off the crock and went to bed so I could resume the next morning.
  7. The next morning, the crock was turned back on, and the previous evenings tools were cleaned. And I waited, checked every 30 minutes, stirred and then tried a recipe for 100% olive oil castile bar soap with cold process (next post) to use the remainder of my olive oil and because for some reason I just like the idea of castile soap (moisturizing and many other uses).  
  8. About 10 hours later, the paste finally became similar to Vaseline, with translucence.  At this point, I
    coconut and olive oil liquid paste
    coconut and olive oil liquid paste
    was thinking maybe I would prefer the short and sweet method.  
  9. I didn't think I would do it, but I did.  The zap test.  I touched a bit of the soap to my tongue, and no battery zap.  Good to go!
  10. I separated the batches in three 1lb parts and a 12 ounce part.  I set aside three portions and started the second cooking process with the fourth part.  I'm looking forward to this soap because I do like that natural green color of the extra virgin olive oil.  
  11. The paste was stored in clear plastic jars with plastic lids.  
  12. The crock pot was started up again, and 32 ounces of water was added for the start of the soap solution.  And we waited for the paste to dissolve in the water.  A check 30 minutes in confirmed the water portion was completely clear (no cloudiness at all!), and the rest was just waiting for the melt to complete.
  13. Once the melt was completed, I added 21 grams (3/4 ounce) of Borax to 42 grams (1 1/4 ounce) of boiling water and then stirred the dissolved mix in with the liquid soap to thicken and neutralize.  Phew...  all done.
In the future, I will try again with only olive oil, and add sugar and/or salt to the lye solution for sudzing action in the final product.  I did find it odd that I ended up with an amber soap from the green paste.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Ones That Got Away... From Me...

Cucumis melo var. flexuosus, football size
Cucumis melo var. flexuosus, football size


Monsters come out of nowhere when you don't keep a close watch on the production end.  This is evidenced by the huge Armenian cucumber.

The jars are the 16 ounce size, to give a little perspective.  I think I see more pickles in my near future.  Once these vines get started with production, it can be difficult to keep up!

The Long And Winding Bean
Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis
Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis

Over the weekend, I was checking things out.  I was scared by this huge caterpillar!  Then the recognition set in.  It was this huge yardlong bean that was missed during harvest time.  The diameter is about the same as my finger in most places, and thumb in some.

It produced some great seeds.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Sun-less Dried Tomatoes

Solanum lycopersicum 'Principe Borghese' and Lycopersicon esculentum, oven dried
Solanum lycopersicum 'Principe Borghese' and
Lycopersicon esculentum, oven dried
Drying Tomatoes Without The Sun

Our little Principe Borghese tomatoes are so prolific, we are having a hard time keeping up!  We don't really like them for salads; the flavor is more like paste tomatoes than sweet snackers or beefsteak types.  We did a bit of research and found a super-easy recipe for "Sun" dried tomatoes... except there was no sun involved.

We used the Principe Borghese and some of the yellow Sunburst snacking tomatoes (probably the Sun Gold
Solanum lycopersicum 'Principe Borghese' and Lycopersicon esculentum halved and seeded
Solanum lycopersicum 'Principe Borghese'
and Lycopersicon esculentum,
halved and seeded
) for the initial taste test.  Both are bite size round shaped tomatoes.  They were halved and the seeds and inner flesh were scooped out with a 1/4 inch Stainless Steel Measuring Spoon, then laid out on a baking sheet.  The tomatoes were sprinkled with a bit of sea salt and popped in a 200F oven to become "leathery"...  However long that takes.  For this particular batch, it took about 6.5 hours.

The seeds of both these tomatoes were saved separately and prepared for seed processing and storage later on.  The scent of the baking tomatoes wafted through the house while we waited patiently.  It smelled pretty good!

The yellow tomatoes started out deliciously sweet and really great for snacking.  We were hoping the red tomatoes would become sweeter in the drying process.  As it turns out, these are the best sun dried tomatoes!  Absolutely delicious, great texture and we will be making these with our Principe Borghese in the future!

Armenian One-Day Pickles

Cucumis melo var. flexuosus pickles
Cucumis melo var. flexuosus pickles

Modified Refrigerator Pickles

The original recipe is from the Monterey Bay Spice Company Website, One-Day Herb And Garlic Pickles. When our Armenian cucumbers ran rampant last year we found this recipe.  We loved it, gave it to everyone we visited with and did not know even one person that didn't like how they turned out.

The recipe is quick and easy, ready to eat in 24 hours (or less)!

Ingredients for each 1 quart jar:

  • 1 large Armenian cucumber, quartered, seeded and sliced, or enough cucumber to fill 1 pint jar
  • 1 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1¼  teaspoon dried dill weed
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seed
  • ½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • ¼ teaspoon celery seeds
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 cup distilled water
    Cucumis melo var. flexuosus pickles
    Cucumis melo var. flexuosus pickles

    For a spicy version, we added some black mustard seeds for a wasabi like taste and some red chili flakes.  We also started mixing mustard seeds about half yellow and half brown.
  1. Combine the water, vinegar and salt in a saucepan and bring to the boil; remove from heat. 
  2. While waiting for the water to boil, put the dry ingredients in the bottom of two 1-quart mason jars.  
  3. Pack the cucumber slices into the jar. 
  4. After the water has boiled, pour the hot brine over the cucumber slices, screw down the lids and give them a good shake.
  5. Let the jar cool to room temperature, or about 2 hours. 
  6. Turn the jars upside down for a few hours to soak the cucumber slices at the top of the jars.
  7. Refrigerate for 24 hours before serving. 
  8. Use within 3 to 4 weeks if you prefer crisp pickles.  Longer than that, the pickles may become soft textured.
Nutritional Values
Because of this recipe, and having our very prolific cucumber vines, we don't purchase pickles any more.  We just make some when the cukes are available. Good snacking!

Not only are these great snacks, but they are low calorie snacks.  You can much an entire 1 quart jar with no guilt, if you wanted.  Reducing salt will help with 

Skippers, Pots And More In The Yarden

All In The Yarden

Hesperiidae on Rosmarinus officinalis
Hesperiidae on Rosmarinus officinalis

Little Skippers

The little skipper butterflies are flitting around in the yarden.  We happened to catch this one on the rosemary, getting some needed rest. 

Eumenes bollii building her nest
Eumenes bollii building her nest

Pots And Their Creators

The Potter Wasp is back, and as suspected the creator is the Eumenes bollii species which we captured a shot of last year.  This time she was caught in the act of construction.  The wetness of the neck of the pot-nest is visible here.  She worked diligently firming up the edges, then took off and came back with more mud.

Eumenes bollii building her nest
Eumenes bollii building her nest
I couldn't see exactly where she went to pick up her mud.  I was only able to capture a few semi-decent photos from about 10 taken while she was so incredibly focused on the task at hand.

The complete process about how and why the wasp constructs her
Eumenes bollii building her nest
Eumenes bollii building her nest
little mud pots is more thoroughly documented in a previous post, Yarden Mud Pots In July.

This particular pot is being built on our patio slab.  I'm not sure why this particular spot was selected or if it is a good place that will not get stepped on or kicked somehow.  After it's completed, I may move it for safety.

Leafhoppers (Cicadellidae)
Leafhoppers (Cicadellidae)

Olive Tree Leaf Hoppers

These common leaf hoppers look similar to the shrill clicking male cicadas out this time of year, just smaller and not such wide eyes on a narrower head. 

Leafhoppers and cicadas are in the same family Cicadoidea which could explain the similarities in form. 

I haven't been able to identify this particular species of leafhopper yet.  They're all over the olive tree and I am patiently waiting for the leafhopper assassin bugs to appear.

Tomato or Tobacco Hornworms

I generally don't mind insects, or getting up close and taking photos.  But... there is something about caterpillars I just can't stand. They're sticky and squishy and I will sacrifice a small branch or entire leaf to avoid touching them (as demonstrated here).  

These two fatties were on our yellow pear tomatoes.  We didn't discover them until they were so big it was hard to miss them and they had demolished about 1/4 the top of the plant.  We picked them off (along with a stem), stranded them in our bare dirt patch and the birds took care of the rest.  Good riddance.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Fortunate Relief and Signs Of Life

Phoenix, Arizona monsoons ruffling through the treetops
Phoenix, Arizona monsoons ruffling through the treetops

Monsoons Are Here!

It is a relief after the heat and dryness of June to get some July weather bursts to increase the humidity and cool things off a little...  and just in time.  It couldn't have been better timing if I ordered this day's micro-storm.  Since the change of weather earlier in July, the garden revived, bringing forth a new bout of blossoms and fruit.  Now we're adding to that some new mail ordered arrivals today that needed a bit of a cooler break-in to our climate.

The New Additions

Buddleia x weyeriana 'Bicolor'
Buddleia x weyeriana 'Bicolor'
The things I wouldn't do for the nectar feeders...  Since being adopted by the beehive and the antics of the territorial hummingbirds, I've become caught up in providing for our little nectar lovers.  We increased the hummer feeders from one to two.  The hummer feeders are not enough. For healthful, year round nectar supplies, we ordered a bi-color butterfly bush, botanically named Buddleia x weyeriana 'Bicolor'.  I couldn't resist the change of color from butterscotch yellow to a nice rich lavender and hope to see them this fall. If we see the blooms in fall, we're sure to help see our pollinators through the cooler weather.

Buddleia x weyeriana 'Bicolor' mail order plant
Buddleia x weyeriana 'Bicolor'
mail order plant
Of course, our new little plant doesn't look as grand as the pannicle image yet.  Don't you just love this color?  The seller has 10 more available...  (I am not affiliated with this seller, I just like to give props when due; good price, good shipping and the plant arrived in good condition.)  If anything goes wrong at this point, it's on me.

But, I didn't stop there.  I also purchased two Wisteria Vines.  These
Wisteria Sinensis, bare root
Wisteria Sinensis, bare root
are good for the little nectar feeders, but really a selfish purchase for me.  I've always wanted Wisteria, and two excuses piled up to make it plausible.  Now that I'm delving into the bonsai foray, I can get these as long as the growth is managed with a dedicated pruning program.  These poor little sticks of vines look more like shriveled little magic wands than the reputed tree smothering, prolific, house damaging vine.  Even though they look withered, they're in good condition, as shown below.

Wisteria Sinensis, leaf bud
Wisteria Sinensis, leaf bud

Signs Of Life, Signs Of Promise

The wisteria vines were shipped bare root in the dormant stage.  Not sure how the seller pulled it off, but they did. (If you want wisteria, buy them on ebay) As far as bonsai goes, these are great starts.  Little tiny straight stems grafted on a thick root stock.

Again, these arrived in good condition, and are coming out of dormancy, so any issues that crop up will likely be related to something I do or do not do...  including if they become beautiful imperial size bonsai!

The burst of weather this evening, cooled everything off enough for me to plant the new arrivals in some planters, drop in some white dutch clover seed for living mulches, and water them down for an evening of low light acclamation to our hot, hot climate.

Hoping for the best!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Saturday DIY Produce

Cucumis melo var. flexuosus,  Vigna unguiculata sesquipedalis, Lycopersicon esculentum 'Yellow Pear', Lycoperiscon esculentum 'Principe Borghese', Physalis ixocarpa 'Purple'
Cucumis melo var. flexuosus,  Vigna unguiculata sesquipedalis,
Lycopersicon esculentum 'Yellow Pear',
Lycoperiscon esculentum 'Principe Borghese',
Physalis ixocarpa 'Purple'

Saturday DIY Produce

We retrieved a nice bit of home grown produce this morning.  Surprisingly the purple tomatillos are finally producing.  We pick them when the husks are dry and papery, which means they are pretty much green or yellow-ish when picked.  The purple tomatillo in the picture was picked off the vine and allowed to turn color over the last week.

The yellow pear and Principe Borghese are massive producers of some really tasty tomatoes.  Yellow being more sweet, Principe Borghese being more paste-like.  We're going to try sun-drying them to see if that helps sweeten them up.

The yardlong beans are more productive this year over last year, we have many beans ready for picking and approaching the size we like for picking.  Last year we had about two beans, this year it looks like we will have many more to come!

Of course, we have our armenian cucumber to top it off.  The production has been a bit scattered this year, but hopefully now that the plants have recovered from the fertilizer burn accident and the weather is more humid we should be making trips to the grocery store less often.


Origanum vulgare - oregano flowers
Origanum vulgare - oregano flowers

The oregano is doing really well!  So well, it's started to flower and the flowers look really nice.  The oregano flowers are similar to the lemon thyme, but not as white.  It gives a nice look to the garden, and will help with self-seeding and keeping the herbs going all year long.

We don't worry about managing which of these is flowering because we only grow one type of oregano.  If we had more varieties planted, we would clip any flowers from all but one in order to prevent cross pollination and grow only one type of marjoram.

Overall, this was a successful yarden haul for today!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Teeter Totter Transplants, Sissoo Cuttings And Avocado Beers

Dalbergia sissoo cuttings in teeter totter planter
Dalbergia sissoo cuttings in teeter totter planter
Teeter Totter Transplants

I must confess, I'm a compulsive collector of seeds, plant cuttings and any item with a potential to grow and doesn't cost anything. It's a really interesting compulsion in many ways, but it also is cause for some creative solutions to issues that crop up due to the volume of cuttings, seeds and sprouts, wanting to be organized, and generally keeping things looking nice.  I jumped on the bandwagon of converting ex-beverage bottles to self-watering planters and this is mostly what this post is about.

Sissoo Cuttings
Dalbergia sissoo cuttings and seeds
Dalbergia sissoo cuttings and seeds

The sissoo cuttings ended up in the teeter totter planter.  I went on an expedition earlier in the morning to collect some sissoo suckers and red yucca seeds.  This was a good time for the sissoo because cuttings are best taken in the mornings and sissoo cuttings perform well during the monsoon season.  The cuttings were trimmed up and a few seeds were collected to boot! (For more details on softwood cuttings, check out finegardening.  Seeds were collected in case of cutting failure.)

Kirkland spiced rum bottle before cutting
Kirkland spiced rum bottle
before cutting

The Bottle

The planter started out as a Kirkland's rum bottle.  I really like the shape of the bottle and didn't have any more wine bottles to convert.  I discovered there is a reason why the wine bottles are so popular...  They are round, no corners that prevent the bottle from being stable in the cradle of the bottom half when put together.  Square and oddly shaped bottles may not be as stable when the top is inverted into the bottom.  For secure seating, more
Kirkland spiced rum bottle after cutting
Kirkland spiced rum bottle
after cutting
creative finishing methods are required.

I'm okay with the teeter totter.  I like quirky things, and the bottle won't be moved around a great deal after set up.  Making the nice, clean cut was easy using the wet saw and Superlok Glass + Premium Diamond Blades Size: 10" x 0.085".  This kind of cut just is not possible using the standard at home glass cutter, which we previously used with very little success on a couple of wine bottles (only one successfully cut).

Dalbergia sissoo cuttings and planter
Dalbergia sissoo cuttings
 and planter
So, on with the cuttings.  We set up the bottle with the potting filter, to prevent the dirt from leaking down into the water below.  The soil was prepared using some garden soil, some fine/course sand and some potting soil for a little bit of nutrients.  It was an even mix of each.
Inverted bottle top prepared for cuttings
Inverted bottle top prepared
for cuttings

The soil was then added in the bottle top, drenched with water, and some holes were poked in to accept the new

The cuttings were dipped in rooting hormone and planted into the soil.  Cotton balls were jammed into the bottle pour spout to wick water into the soil as needed.  This is the same as bottom watering, and makes water changes super easy.

A plastic ziplock bag was set on top of the teeter totter planter to retain moisture during the rooting process, and set up in a kitchen window, along with some of our other little planting projects.

NOTE:  We spotted the tree in a home depot parking lot and spent a lot of time researching what tree it was that we really loved for the shade, shape, bark, color and general appearance.  In our research, we found that this tree receives a lot of negative feedback and are aware of the risks associated.  We really like the tree and are willing to take on the responsibility of cleaning up the leaves, seeds, suckers and prolific root expansion.

Avocado Beers
Avocado pits in beer bottles
Avocado pits in beer bottles

Along with cutting the irregular shaped bottle, we got into some of the beer bottles to hold our avocado pits that are sprouting.  The beer bottles were a complete failure with the standard at home glass cutter.  They were a bit tricky on the wetsaw too.  Just running the bottles straight through resulted in failures, massive cracks and chips.  To get past this, the bottles were cut into about 1/8 the way, then rolled into the wetsaw blade for further cutting.  Success, every time!

We're testing this to see if the dark color of the bottles will help with rooting the avocado seeds better.  Once the seedlings and the avocados are on the way, we'll be updating or Bonsai Diaries with updates.

Avocado seedling in self-watering wine bottle planter
Avocado seedling in
self-watering wine
bottle planter

Post Script:  Other Bottle Cuts

We successfully cut just one wine bottle using the standard at home glass cutter, which is currently being used for an avocado seedling with alyssum.  We used some dryer lint for wicking and it seems to be losing power.  We replaced the lint with cotton balls and the plant is quite perky today.

I really like the Kirkland square bottles for olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  We
Square Kirkland bottles as self-watering planters
Square Kirkland bottles as
self-watering planters
cut a couple of those up for self-watering planters as well, which look pretty good, but they aren't as stable as the round shaped bottles.

After cutting the bottles with a wetsaw and the  Superlok Glass + Premium Diamond Blades Size: 10" x 0.085" blade, we only need to lightly sand the edges for a smooth finish. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Yarden Mud Pots In July

Eumeninae nest on Solanum melongena leaf
Eumeninae nest on Solanum melongena leaf

Little Mud Pots

Here it is July again, and the potter wasps are back.  This is evidenced by the little mud urn-shaped pots left on the plants.  So far, I found one little mud pot fastened very securely on the top of a black beauty eggplant leaf.

Based on the style, position and singularity of the little mud pot, there are a few clues about the maker. First, since the mud pot is solo, it is probably created by a larger species of the potter wasp.  Second, since the top of the pot is still open, and the form is basically constructed, it's safe to assume the wasp is hunting down morsels to stuff into the pot.

How Are They Constructed?
Potter wasp (by Natasha Mhatre on Flickr)
Potter wasp (by Natasha Mhatre on Flickr)

Potter wasps typically construct their nests from mud and regurgitated water.  Others may use only plant material.  The nest we found appears to be of mud construction.  It takes some time for the wasps to gather up the mud balls little by little and complete the form of the nest.

Eumenes fraternus nest provisioned
Eumenes fraternus nest provisioned

What Are They Used For?

The potter wasps build these nests to provision insects for a single egg per pot.  Once the nest is constructed, the wasps gather insects and stuff them inside.

This is the part of the lifecycle that makes the Potter Wasps beneficial for the garden.  They'll take all the juicy caterpillars, immobilize them and put them away.  Because
Potter wasp with capped nest by Mary Holland
Potter wasp with capped nest
by Mary Holland
of this, Potter Wasps are welcome in my yarden.

Once the nest is provisioned and an egg is laid, the nests are usually capped.  This leaves the paralyzed caterpillar trapped with the wasp larvae for leisurely dining spanning approximately 2 or 3 weeks up to a year. The larvae eats, grows and then pupates into an adult Potter Wasp.  Upon final pupation, the adult wasp emerges and feeds on our yarden nectar.  This is a double benefit for the yarden, because we have another insect pollinator helping us out.

Potter wasp - Eumenes bollii
Potter wasp - Eumenes bollii

Identifying Adults

Last year, we were able to snap a picture of an adult Potter Wasp.  It was quite striking looking.  According to Wikipedia, here are the visual ques:

They are particularly recognized by the following combination of characteristics: 1) a posterolateral projection known as a parategula on both sides of the mesoscutum; 2) tarsal claws cleft; 3) hind coxae with a longitudinal dorsal carina or folding, often developed into a lobe or tooth; and 4) fore wings with three submarginal cells. ~ Wikipedia
In plain speak, they have bumps on the inner side of two wing joints at either side of the large body segment after head; An appearance of what looks like spurs on their toes; A folded looking dent or crease in the first segments of the hind legs; And three cells aligned to the rear of the main wing cell.

We aren't sure which type of wasp set up the mud pot, but hopefully if we keep our eye on it we'll know eventually.