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Monday, August 27, 2018


Coccinellidae pupating (lady bug, lady beetle, lady bird)


We all love the little ladybugs in our gardens.  They have voracious appetites for aphids and scale.  A lady bird or two decided our garden was a great place to lay some eggs.  I spotted my first lady bug larvae some time last week and then started seeing all the pupating lady bugs everywhere on the sweet potatoes.

This is our fifth year of gardening, and without any pesticide.  Our first year of planting sweet potatoes and along came the lady bugs.  Not sure what the draw was, specifically, but we will plant more sweet potatoes every year from here on out.

How Lady Bugs Start Out
Ladybug larvae

An adult ladybug will find a place where there is a good food source, and lay a cluster of eggs.  When the eggs hatch, the larvae climb out of their respective eggs and don't look much like the super cute lady bugs we all know and love.  They are born hungry, eating up to 50 soft bodies daily.

At any stage, ladybugs love to eat any soft bodied insect, including aphids, scale, white flies, etc.  Mr. Man witnessed ladybugs in our garden eat a path through a group of aphids as it was walking on a leaf.  A ladybug can eat up to 5,000 soft bodied insects in its lifetime.  It may seem like a lot, but aphids multiply at an astonishing rate.

Ladybug chrysalis stages

The Chrysalis Phase

After several weeks of constant noshing, the lady bug larvae find a spot to attach and pupate.  In the sweet potatoes, there are so many on the leaf undersides it has been quite surprising.  We really had no idea how many ladybugs we had in the garden until seeing chrysalis all over the leaves.

The chrysalis phase can last around 15 days and then the adult lady bug emerges, to finish its remaining one to two year life span.

The Beetle Phase
Recently emerged from pupa

Once the pupation has completed, the ladybugs exit from the shell and start walking around.  The coloring may be light and the spots may not be fully visible until after they mature some.  If there is a good food source, these guys and gals will stick around, picking off approximately 20 soft bodies daily.

This particular lady bug we ended up with is called a Convergent Lady Bug.  The identification is easy by the two slash marks of white on top center of and white edging around the shoulder plate.  The spot patterns aren't consistent on each individual ladybug for this type of lady bug.

Winter Habits Of LadyBugs
Wintering ladybug clusters

Strange but true, lady bugs winter in clusters.  My son and I first witnessed this spectacle when hiking in the Chiracahua mountains many years ago.  It was intriguing and pretty amazing.  I wonder if we will see such a thing around our house here this winter.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Bee Nip Plant

Bee on Underside of Luffa aegyptiaca flower

Bee Nip Plant

At least that is what I'll be calling luffa plants from here on out.  It doesn't seem to matter if luffas have buds or flowers, bees are zooming in and out of the leaf canopies all the time.

It seems the bees find the luffa stomata irresistible, and we have a lovely picture of a bee drinking water from luffa sepal stoma.  These seem to be exceptionally large - which may be the attractant...  I wouldn't know for sure.

Because we are curious beings, it seemed interesting to find out why bees would do this.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Most people know that bees like nectar. But these insects also like to sip the water that plants push out of their leaves. If that water is full of pesticides, though, bees can ingest a dose of poison. Derek Woo, 17, wanted to see if he could clean out some of that bug-killing chemical. All he needed to add was a little charcoal.

 I had noticed the stomata under the luffa leaves before, and inquired about what causes these 'lumps' that I don't normally see on plant leaves. I was told that the plant was probably getting too much water and to not water so much.  Now I wonder if that is a real problem or not.  Being that we are pesticide free, maybe a little too much water isn't all that bad, letting the bees drink their preferred source of  'sugared water'.

The Rule Of 10:
Excellent Compost Material

The 'Rule Of 10' definitely applies to the luffa plants, but personal, anecdotal experimentation indicates this rule can be applied to all fruiting vines.

People have made subtle references to it before, but it never really seemed to sink in until faced with aggressive, non-productive vegetative vines.

The rule is applied like this:
Where To Cut Vines

  1. The main first vine can be allowed to grow to 10' long.  Once it reaches this length, it needs to be cut at the growing end, just on the far side of the last leaf node (see image).  This vine may have mostly male or all male flowers.
  2. Cutting the main vine at 10' causes the vine to put out lateral shoots with female flowers.  Let these also grow out to about 10' long.  Clip the secondary vines at the growing ends as the main vine was cut.
  3. The second set of shoots will also start growing side shoots.  The third generation shoots may have mostly female flowers as well, but at this point I wasn't able to decipher which was which because I wasn't organized with spacing (more on that below).
  4. When you have enough production, just start nipping the vines at the growing tips at the last fruit (as shown in image.  If you see a non-producing vine, then just clip that off where it intersects with the parent vine.  Just how many of XX do we really NEED, anyway? 

Don't Let This Happen To You:
Luffa, Yam and Sweet Potato Vines

The image to the right is a perfect example of a lack of organization, poor planning, fear of not getting much (thus hoarding).

I can assure you, luffas are amazingly productive. Mr. Man and I initially thought it was amusing how many luffa seeds survived the heat of composting and started sprouting from the layers of compost.  Now, for me, they seem a bit terrifying.  So many luffa vines, growing all over everything else, eclipsing access to the rest of the garden bed and completely taking over.

We cut back vine tips on the daily now.  We will at least be able to eat all the luffas we can find (they are similar to zucchini, I think.)  We will be smothered in sweet potatoes, which is okay - we don't mind sharing...  I really want some yams (Think Ube Ice Cream y'all) and hope the yams don't get completely crowded out by all else.  Yams will need to stay or be replanted next season, these are two year growers.

Vine Infested With White Flies

The Dark Side Of Vine Hoarding:

When the vines are so compacted together and growing all over each other and not much light gets in, the plant transpiration creates an ideal humid environment for white flies (bane of the garden during monsoons) and can cause total crop loss.

Hoarding is bad for the vines and thus bad for you.  When they show up, visibly, we have just started lopping off infested plant parts and throwing them in the trash (no good for the compost pile now).  This has given some light and ventilation for the plants, decreased transpiration related humidity and doesn't use pesticides.  It would be best to take preventative measures, but some times things just get away from us.

Catching Up

Barrel Cactus Fruit
There has been quite some time between the last post and today.  We have been busy; we now have two growing zones to deal with and are looking for ideal plants for high desert and low desert.  This results in a kind of schizophrenic appearance of the blogging and future reorganization, change of priorities.


Entry level, easy to get plants that can grow in zone 6b and 9b.  We'll be keeping them and growing them out in the low desert as the high desert location gets developed and ready to receive.  


Wax Moth Clean Up
We lost almost every single tropical plant over the last winter when suffering from the flu.  Really, they are too high maintenance and will not be revisited/repurchased/replanted.  The pages will be deleted as changes in layout are made.

Our bee hive declined and left after getting wax moths.  We can't really say it was bad timing, as we are currently trying to develop the yarden hardscape and planting areas that were occupied by a fairly hot tempered hive.  Since the hive has been lived in before, and we have no pesticides in our yarden (5 years later and best results yet!!!) we feel pretty certain we will eventually attract some new bees to the hive some time.  When we really, REALLY want bees again, and still have none, we will do free bee removal.  Local bees are best, and the hives get naturally re-queened each season.  Contrary to many popular beliefs, we prefer to let nature take its course in the hives.

Fig and Citrus Planted Pre-Espalier and Sweet Potato Vines


Many of the bonsai plants are going to be espaliered in the low desert and then cuttings used for bonsai and moving to the high desert when time and infrastructure permits. There has been a lot learned from mistakes in gardening here, some subtle references made glaringly important for managing specific types of plants.  I guess that is how learning curves work.


Social Media is an unbelievable time suck.  I had ditched it for quite some time, then family got me to sign back up and I got stuck.  It is like the La Brea Tar Pits of the internet.  Many groups found for homesteading, permaculture, and gardening. Great for learning anecdotal information from people who are pioneering what we are embarking on, but we have to get back in focus and spend less time in Social Media.