Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Integrated pest management in the edible garden

Squash borers: Take action before they do damage.

I ended up with some volunteer butternut squash vines from kitchen scraps buried in the garden. Normally, I would not be growing them during mid-summer, but we'll see how they do in our hot summer weather.

One action item is to bury the base of the stems and then again along the vine in several places. Then even if the borer moth finds a place to lay her eggs and her larval offspring hollow out the stem, the whole plant will not have to depend upon that one section of stem for water and nutrients. It will have alternative roots. You really really don't want to use any poisons around squashes because each female flower needs to be visited by 7 or more pollinators to ensure fruit production.

Bury the base of the squash stems with compost and mulch with pine needles to keep squash borer moths away. Then bury the vine at several additional places along its length.

There were some big holes in my okra leaves.

A brown stinkbug. 

Okra pest

My husband and I love our fresh okra. Normally, there are a few holes, but the okra plants are so vigorous that we have not had to take any action. This year is different, because something was eating some good-sized holes in the leaves. The okra seems unfazed by the damage, but I decided to look for the culprit.

I turned over a well-chewed leaf and found a brown stinkbug. They fly, but they are not very fast, so they were easy to pick it off, throw to the sidewalk, and then step on them. Pee-yew... they really do stink. I found a few more (just one to a leaf) on this day and then again on the next, and the next. Now, I'm not finding any, but I'll keep looking.

We've had so much rain recently (8" in June) that it's not been necessary to do much extra irrigation, so my work to build swales between the okra was probably not necessaryat least not so far. You can read my article Okra Swales for more information on how and why I use this method. 

Some clearing out of the jungle

It's been several years since the wild area out in the front meadow has seen any attention. Normally that's fine with us, but for the last few days, my husband and I have been doing some moderate clearing. We work only in the early morning from about 6:30am to 9am. It's the catbriar (Smilax spp.) that gives us fits. To reduce future maintenance, it's important to dig up the tubers rather that just cut off the vines because those tubers provide the energy for more and bigger shoots. One of these days I'm going to clean up their tubers and make a batch of sarsaparilla. These tubers do have a slight peppery taste. There are 2 recipes in Peggy Lance's new book: Florida's Edible Wild Plants. We've been eating the soft young tips in salads for years, but the drink would be a new experience.

Our Backyard Habitat sign was dislodged from its tree as we pulled the vines from the trunk, so I scrubbed it off and rehung it. It's been nearly ten years since we've been certified. Read my post done at that time: Creating Backyard Habitat.

I was cleaning out some catbriar vines
and made sure to dig up the tubers.
I cleaned off my backyard habitat sign and rehung it
at the front corner of the lot so my neighbors can see it. 

Good night moonflower!

A sunrise on the banks 
of the St. Johns River

Good Night Moonflower

Good night moonflower.
As the sun is rising, 
And others wait to start their day,
You fold up your brilliant white petals,
That glow in the dark,
to attract your night-flying pollinators.
Daytime's here. Your work is done!

The saltmarsh mallows (Kosteletzkya pentacarpos) glow in the sunrise.
I hope you are having good summertime adventures in your yard and gardens.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Summertime, summertime...

Is it spring or fall?

Several years ago, I purchased this native fall-blooming aster, but each year it has bloomed in both the late spring and early fall.  Its breaking of bud dormancy may be caused by the same length of day as its correct blooming time. Whatever its problem, we do enjoy its surprise show each June. 
Anthill built into a yucca plant. 

Imported red fire ants!

A question from a reader: "We are trying to keep our yard as pesticide free as possible, however, we are having a lot of trouble with fire ants. We have a two year old who keeps getting worse and worse reactions to their bites. Can you give me any suggestions for dealing with the problem in a healthy way?"
My answer: Oh, I hate those imported red fire ants and I too suffer from nasty reactions to their stings.
- Boiling water works quickly: pour directly on the top of the hill in a slow steady stream so that it erodes a deep hole into the center of the nest. Warning: this will also kill any plant roots in the area.
- Disruption and cold water will take at least 2 sessions. You dig or rake away the whole top of the hill and then pour a whole watering can (2 or 3 gallons) of water over the area.
- Grits or rice poured on the top of the hill do not work.
- If you must use pesticide, use a bait type which will be taken into the next by workers.
- Never use a landscape-wide pesticide.

I did not use boiling water on the anthill pictured here because it would have killed the yucca. I quickly raked the hill down to soil level with a leaf rake and then poured a whole watering can on the spot. I also poured water on it the next day and then they were gone and I did not receive any ant stings in the process. Yay! 
I was in central Florida and pulled over to snap some photos of these native 12' tall hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus).

At Riverbend Park in Jupiter, I stopped to take a photo of this native seven sisters lily (Crinum americanum).

What were they thinking?
Back in 2007, the people in this Clay County house that we pass on a regular basis planted 12 queen palms along their fence and directly under the wires. Only 2 of the 12 have survived the winters here in north Florida.

Why do people plant (and more importantly, continue to sell) these queen palms (Syagrus romanzoffiana) in North Florida? Here are the four big reasons why you should find another palm for your landscape:
1) Queen palms are tropical plants and are NOT cold tolerant. If the temperatures dip below 25ยบ F, most of its fronds will die. After a cold winter, if the palm's growing stem survives, it'll look terrible for six months or longer.
2) Unlike most palms, queens are not wind resistant. In a tabulation of trees lost in the hurricanes in 2004 and 2006, queens blew over twice as much as any other palm.
3) Queen palms are not drought tolerant and will require irrigation to survive our seven-moth dry season, especially during a prolonged drought period.
4) Queen palms produce a huge amount of seed, which quickly becomes a smelly mess. Plus in central and south Florida, queens palms have invaded our natural habitats and are listed on the II Florida invasives list put together by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council (FLEPPC).

And speaking of tropical weather...

Our 5-month wet season began on June 1.

You know it's summer when thunderheads are a daily occurrence. We thought we were going to get a nice cooling shower on a 95-degree day, but no. As ominous as this looked, it dissipated quickly and we didn't receive any rain this day.

Cooking to the harvest

A tabbouleh harvest includes a sprig of mint, curly parsley, garlic chives, and meadow garlic bulbs (not shown) . The parsley has begun to bolt, so it's time to harvest it all. A good chunk of it went into a 3-day tabbouleh--so called because my husband makes enough to provide the main course dinner for the two of us for three days.

For our tabbouleh recipe, read my post From compost to dinners. And if you look in the harvest photo above, you can see some marigolds growing among the Greek oregano. I've planted most of my marigold cover crop for the summer. The marigolds deter root-knot nematodes when planted as a cover crop and dug into the soil a few weeks before planting the fall crops. See my post Results: the nematode experiment for the details of the how and why.

I have been filling up my dance card for this fall. Be sure to check out the Appearances Page to find public events near you.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

New book, book tour, and more

The Art of Maintaining a Florida Native Landscape

Yay! My new book is now available for preorder from Amazon. I've covered a wide array of topics, which I think have not been covered sufficiently in other books and online resources.

List of Chapters

1. Introduction to Natives and Their Ecosystems
2. Planning Native Plant Projects
3. Invasive Exotics
4. Site Preparation and Landscape Editing
5. Selecting, Planting, and Caring for Natives
6. Propagation Techniques
7. Minding Your Edges
8. Managing Freedom Lawns, Lawn Replacements, and Meadows
9. Creating and Maintaining Groves, Hedgerows, and Fencerows
10. Landscaping in Moist Habitats
11. Beyond Your Yard
Appendix I. Suggested Native Plant List
Appendix II. Types of Mulch

Illustrations are by Marjorie Shropshire

Marjorie has done a wonderful job with her illustrations, which make complex topics easy to understand.

This one answers the question, "What to do with a messy lawn tree?"

Book Tour

I'll be a speaker at the Florida Native Plant Society's conference at the end of May, but since the book won't be out until August, my official book tour will be from August 31st until November 15th.  See the Appearances tab for an up-to-date list.  Email me at

As tempting as it is to have fresh tomatoes from your garden, summer is NOT the time to plant them even though distributors for big box stores are trying to sell them to us. Wait until late August and you may end up with a moderate harvest before winter sets in. We included a detailed planting calendar by region in Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida 
Have you planted your summer cover crops yet?

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Friday, April 10, 2015

Kohlrabi: a versatile cole crop

The weird stem enlargement is about the size of an apple...
Kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea var. gongylodes) is one of the many cole crops (cabbage, kale, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and more), which have all been bred from just one plant species. Kohl is the German word for cabbage—hence they are the "cole crops" and why cabbage salad is called cole slaw. The word kohlrabi means cabbage apple in German, which makes a lot of sense because of the size of its stem enlargement and its sweet taste and crispy texture.

Because kohlrabi is easy-to-grow and has few pests in an organic garden, helps to explain its recently gained popularity with farmers markets and local food groups. It has been grown as a crop in Europe for centuries. Grown for its weird Sputnik-shaped enlarged stem-bulb with leaves sticking out at odd angles. You can consume both the enlarged stem and its leaves.

Be sure to leave enough room when you plant the kohlrabi
so they can expand to their full size. 

Planting kohlrabi

Plant seeds directly in the garden or start in flats in the fall and periodically throughout the winter until mid-February in Florida. Plant seeds or plants at 6 to 8 inches apart so they have enough room to develop. If too many seeds come up together, transplant them early so they get a good start. Amend soil well with compost and composted manure for the best growth.

Planting locations should be in full sun or slight shade with more shade for the later plantings. Mulch around stems with pine needles to keep weeds at bay and to hold in moisture. Irrigate regularly, but deeply. 

Cut the stem-bulb when it's two to three inches in diameter. Larger bulbs become tough and woody and definitely harvest before hot weather arrives. There may be some regrowth after harvesting, but usually only the leaves.
Sliced about 1/8 to 1/4-inch thin, pan-fried in olive oil, and
garnished with grated Parmesan cheese.


There are many ways to prepare kohlrabi:
1) cook it like a turnip and all its ways (roasted, mashed, or in a soup), especially if it's 5 inches in diameter or larger.
2) grate the enlarged stem and use them in salads or instead of zucchini in breads. 

3) cut the stem into sticks and use them as dipping vegetables.
4) use the leaves as you'd use any of the leafy cole crops including veggie chips, added raw to salads or cole slaw, chopped in soups, or mixed in with a mess of cooked greens.

All the cole crops are the same species: Brassica oleracea.

Aren't cole crops amazing?
Consider planting this interesting cole vegetable in your cool-weather edible garden next year.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Remarkable resurrection ferns

Resurrection ferns dried and hydrated.

Resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides)

While I'd seen spare populations of resurrection ferns when I lived in Maryland, I really became aware of them when I read "Light a Distant Fire," an historic novel about Osceola and the Seminoles by Lucia St. Clair Robson. She wrote about how the scouts could disappear into the ferns on the live oak branches. After we moved to Florida, I came to see how this could be accomplished.

This is a true fern that reproduces via spores, but it is also an epiphyte or air plant. It does not need to be in contact with soil to live. It derives its needs from the air, especially the humidity and dust that it carries.

The common name of resurrection fern is due to its ability to lose 95% of its moisture, stop its photosynthesis, and go into a type of suspended state when it appears to be dead. When it rains or when the humidity becomes high enough, the fronds unfurl and turn green in a matter of hours. Hence the name resurrection fern, because it arises from the dead.

Most other plants will die if they lose 10 to 15% of their water. Scientists have discovered that this fern has a high concentration of a special protein (dehydrin) in or near its cell walls when it is brown. When the fern is green this protein is not present indicating a chemical reaction as the water exits the cells.  In other words as the plant is drying, dehydrin allows the cell walls in the leaf to fold so that the unfolding when water is present can be reversed without damage. For the science of dehydrin see this paper in The American Journal of Botany.

Steve Christman over on states that you can propagate these ferns by laying pieces of the rhizome into the furrows of the bark of the tree where you want to grow it. I may try this one day, because I'd love to have more of them around on our property. On the other hand, I can wait for Mother Nature to plant them in appropriate places without doing any work.

But whatever the science, these small ferns add to the charm of Florida's live oaks. 

In their normal habitat: horizontal branches of a live oak (Quercus verginiana).

This is in South Florida in the wet season, but the ferns are turning brown around the edges.

The fern looks dead, but it's not...
After reading this post, go drink some water, because humans will die when we lose only 15% of our water. Also, full disclosure: Lucia and I are good friends and were neighbors in Maryland where she still lives and where she has written a bunch of fun-to-read and well-researched historicals. She was a librarian and knows how to make her readers feel like full participants in the story.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Winter: a good time to remove invasive plants

Wedelia or creeping oxeye daisy (Sphagneticola trilobata): a beautiful invader. 

Less lawn...

When we moved into our house here in North Florida, we let several areas of lawn grow out. I've written about this several times. See From lawn to woods: a retrospective, for what has happened out front.

Here's the other half of the story. Our 1.5 acre lot is long and pie-shaped. Out back is a narrowing strip to the lake. We decided early on that we'd not continue to mow this whole area and just leave a pathway that could be mowed with one trip down and one trip back on the riding mower. The area opens up by the lake, so there is more  mowing to do down there.

So this is what happened...
2007. Vast section of lawn that we let grow out became engulfed by wedelia. Looking back toward the house from the pathway to the lake.

The gardener strikes back...

By 2007, the wedelia, which had been controlled in the lawn by mowing, grew like crazy. So it was time to strike back. I did not want to kill everything in the area, so pulling was the best option. And with some follow-up this has worked pretty well.

Pulling the wedelia by rolling it up like a rug. Yes, leather gloves were necessary here.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the path...

2007. A work in progress: pulling the wedelia from the slope next to the shallow ravine between our property and our neighbor's. This photo was taken from approximately the same place as the above photo, but looking toward the lake.
I started the removal project on the other side of the path where the wedelia was covering ferns, small beautyberry bushes and other desirable vegetation. You can see some of the ferns, mostly netted chain ferns (Woodwardia areolata), in the above photo. One good reason for tackling this project in the winter is that the ferns die back in the winter.

It didn't take long for the ferns to totally fill in this ravine and slope, which is what I'd hoped for.

2009. These ferns are lovely for most of the year.
They die back  only for a couple of months here.
The fertile fronds bear a chain of sori that hold the spores. 
Because it's invasive and because there are parts of the plants that did not get pulled, it's necessary to check for new sprouts on a regular basis. The first year after removal, I checked every other month. For a couple of years I checked twice a year. Now I check every other year, because I sure don't want to start all over again. So a few weeks ago, I found a few sprouts at the bottom of the ravine where it's dampest and more near the lake shore.

A sprout found on my latest foray.

While I'm out hunting for wedelia sprouts, I also removed
the other big invasive on our property coral ardisia.
On the upland side of the path, the plant community has changed from a meadow-like area to a wooded ecosystem and is filled with small trees. It has become too shady for the wedelia to take off, but I still found a few sprouts. I also found a fair number of coral ardisia (Ardisia crenata) plants and some wild taro (Colocasia esculenta). So while I was removing invasives, I worked on all of them.

I'll cover the transformation of this area in a post later in the year.

For more information on what is invasive in Florida, see the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council Invasive website, which has not only the list of the 76 most invasive plants in Category I and the potentially invasive list in Category II, there are links for most of these invasive plants for more information.

I know that my maintenance removal project will continue because so many of my neighbors continue to grow these plants, but at least our property will become less of a problem going forward.

Indian blanketflowr (Gaillardia pulchella) and a Cicada killer (Sphecius speciosus

Making room for native plants is so important for the heath of our environment.
I'm working on doing my part. Are you?

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Monday, December 29, 2014

A wish for a greener 2015

I wish you and yours a wonderful and bountiful New Year!!

A frosty reddish leaf lettuce.

Winter vegetables

Here in Florida, even here in North Florida where we receive several killing frosts each winter, we can grow most cool weather crops right through the winter. In most of the country, gardeners spend winter wishing they could garden, while we enjoying our "Salad Days."

One of the main reasons we wrote "Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida" was to alleviate frustration of gardeners new to Florida trying to use their old, general garden books written for Anywhere, U.S.A. They just don't work here.

Growing some of your vegetables is good for you and your family, plus it helps to make Mother Earth a little greener.

Salad days! From the knife clockwise: dill, chard, 3 types of leaf lettuces, garlic chives, meadow garlic, & sugar snap peas. Not shown are Greek oregano and rosemary. The sugar snap pea, a hybrid  of a snow pea and a shell pea, was introduced in the 1970s. They've become quite popular because they’re easy to grow, have a sweet taste, and are versatile in the kitchen.
Whether you call them beggarticks, Spanish needles, or Bidens alba,
this pioneer species really knows ho to take over any disturbed soil
in your landscape. The bonus is that these seedlings are edible.

Use more sustainable gardening methods to save time and money in 2015

There are many ways to be more efficient in your gardening and maintenance and still have a beautiful landscape. You'll still have issues to deal with like a beggartick attack as shown in this photo, but how you deal with them makes all the difference. 

I boiled all these methods down into just 6 steps for my post over on the Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens blog: 6 easy ways to save time & money in your landscape.

My treatment for the beggartick seedlings is to gently uproot the seedlings by rubbing the surface of the soil with my gloved hand and then cover with mulch, usually leaves or chipped wood. This minimizes the soil disturbance, which would bring out a bunch of other seedlings and discourages others from taking root there. It also uses natural mulches that are free.
Lawn asters 

One of the 6 topics is to urge people to switch over to freedom lawns and only for lawn that they'll actually use. Our lawn has been free of pesticides,fertilizer, and overwatering for 10 years. Most of the time it is just as green as our neighbors' expensive and high maintenance lawns. In some place the St. Augustine grass is doing very well with our regimen, but in other places a variety of different plants has grown in as you can see here in these lawn aster photos.

I just turned in the final edits for my 3rd book "The Art of Maintaining a Florida Native Landscape," which will be published in August. Yay! It continues the theme of sustainable gardening, but this time I cover the reality of living with native or mostly native landscapes. It has been fun and educational to write and I hope you'll like it.
A freedom lawn supports many different species.
Christmas Eve sunrise included a gift of a full arching rainbow.

May you have a wonderful 2015.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Speaking out

Senator Rob Bradley and me.

The 2014 Clay County Delegation hearing

Each year the 3 elected officials to the Florida legislature representing Clay County—a senator and 2 representatives—hold a hearing before the legislative session begins. This year the committee work begins in January and the general session begins on March 4th. (The only date during the year that calls for action. Get it? March 4th.)

After introductions of the delegation members and their staff people, the normal agenda was interrupted for a heart-rending testimony of a mother holding her child with brain cancer pleading for more freedom in choosing medicines including restricted substances.

Then came the parade of the local elected officials from the county, the 3 incorporated towns, the school board, the clerk of court, and the supervisor of elections. They all made cases for more money for their various projects. The one surprise was the clerk of court's problem of the lower crime rate meaning less money in fines that are normally used to run the court.

Charitable groups like the Council on Aging, a group that works to employ people with disabilities, an orphanage, 2 groups that work with at risk children, a group that rehabs houses for veterans, and more also described their needs. A couple of people with cancer made their cases for medical use or restricted substances and that the exceptions shouldn't be just for children. A breast cancer survivor made the case for medical coverage of compression garments that are needed for people whose lymph glands have been removed during their cancer treatments. People from Keystone Heights (where the lakes are drying up) plead for more help to direct surplus water to their lakes. Someone wanted to ban all billboards from Florida.

For the past few years I've made a point of attending this hearing to be the one person speaking on behalf of Florida's native ecosystems. See my handout and summary of my remarks below.

It was a very long night. The hearing was supposed to be from 4pm to 6pm, but it lasted until 7:30pm.

I hope that you are speaking up for Mother Nature, too. She doesn't have paid lobbyists and needs all the advocates she can get.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Politicians and others working the room before the meeting starts.  More seats filled up when the session actually started.

Handout & summary of my presentation

Dec. 16, 2014
To: The Clay County Delegation
From: Ginny Stibolt  904 XXX_XXX

Issue #1: Florida is the "Sunshine State."

As the nation's 3rd largest consumer of energy, Florida needs to develop smarter energy policies, which may not necessarily more profitable to the monopolies that run our power grid. In at least one district, when power consumption decreased the rates were jacked up to keep the stockholders happy. Power should be supplied as a public service in our society and the customers should not be used as a profit center. Florida is also 3rd in the nation for solar potential, but 18th for installed solar systems and by 2016 solar will reach grid parity.

As a step in the right direction, you passed the Florida Energy Act in 2006, which offered rebates to individuals and businesses to install solar systems. The funding has been gutted as approved by the appointed Public Service Commission, which has caved to the power companies' pressure. Scott appointed these people and the fact that 2 power companies have contributed more than $2,500,000 to Scott's campaign means that this commission works for the monopolies and not for the Public. Maybe it should be renamed the Power Company Service Board.

More than one power company has applied for fracking in Florida to find oil and gas for its power sources. Fracking is expensive, uses huge amounts of water mixed chemicals that will pollute our already stressed aquifers, and has caused sinkholes. Fracking should never be allowed in Florida, but you passed bills HB71 & HB 157 that allowed frackers to keep those polluting chemicals that they are mixing with the water a secret. The customers pay the bill for this exploration and environmental ruin. The irony here is that all this irreparable damage to Florida's fragile ecosystems to extract gas and oil would be totally unnecessary if the companies just switched to solar.

There has to be a way to organize the solar effort so that it works for the power companies, so that they never have to build another power plant. Instead they can manage a grid of solar panels: 1) that they install and own, such as in parking lots, 2) that they install on roofs and lease out to businesses or individuals, and 3) by putting privately owned panels on the grid with 2-way meters. If these utility companies don't get to charge their customers for new power plants, they may not make as much money for their shareholders. Shouldn't the public be served with fair policies for their power?

Issue #2: Amendment #1, funding of the Land Acquisition Trust Fund

75% of the voters passed this amendment, which as close to a mandate as we get around here. Do not gut the will of the people to preserve more of the Real Florida. Everyone knows that tourism is our largest job creator, but tourists are not going come to our state to visit a dried up spring, a polluted river cover with green slime, or to see yet another abandoned shopping center. So use the money as mandated and not for sewer systems that would allow even more development. Please don't undo other environmental funding because this money is again available. This is for new projects.

I'm appalled that more than 70 people showed up in Bradenton last week for a hearing of the 10 members of the Acquisition and Restoration Council that recommends land purchases for the Florida Forever conservation program, but the council members did not show. Even the council’s chairwoman, a high-ranking official with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, skipped the public hearing. How rude. The people of Florida deserve better from our state officials.

Issue #3: Redistricting

Why am I worried about your handling of Amendment #1? Because in 2010 63% of the voters passed the Fair Districts Amendment and you have spent more than $6,000,000 for legal fees, billed us for special sessions, used secret email accounts to bypass the constitution. And we still have District 5 that is the very definition of gerrymandering. Is this the best you can do?

Rob Bradley's response to redistricting:
The way the Fair Districts Amendment was written guarantees allowances for districts like District 5. I've known Rob for 10 years and worked with him when he was the lawyer for our special tax district that manages the lakes in our neighborhood. He was on the redistricting committee which had little choice in how that district was drawn. He said that the writers of the amendment either did not know the ramifications of the language or they lied about it—maybe both. Now it will be very difficult to change this situation since it's in our constitution.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Yard critters

A green treefrog (Hyla cinerea) jumped out of the beggar ticks (Bidens alba) that I had pulled from the front garden.
A bagworm (Oiketicus abbotii) is overwintering on a beautyberry bush.

Managing exuberance carefully

I allow some beggar ticks (Bidens alba) and snow squarestem (Melanthera nivea) to grow in restricted areas to attract all those pollinators. But in the fall, I harvest those that have escaped to other places in the landscape to reduce the population and weeding the next year, at least to some degree. So last week I started pulling and a cute green treefrog that was using these stems for shelter jumped out of the cart. And the frog is just the wildlife that is evident. There could be hundreds of bugs snuggled inside these stems for the winter. Instead of leaving these stalks out with the yard waste, I add them to various brush piles, so those insects will have a chance to make it through the winter. The songbirds also use the brush piles for shelter, so they may appreciate the seeds, and maybe even some of those hidden bugs. 

Nearby, I spotted this bagworm (probably Oiketicus abbotii) hanging from a beautyberry branch. This moth is different than most, in that it gathers plant parts to stick to itself as a caterpillar to build protection. When its ready to pupate, it glues its portable shelter to a secure location and seals itself inside. When the female reaches the adult phase, she will be flightless and will emit pheromones to attract males. When a male arrives, they mate inside her sack where she lays her eggs and dies. The new larvae feed on her remains and other food that she's stored there. When ready, the new larvae head out on their own, often on a long strings of silk that balloon in the wind so the larvae swing away from each other. Isn't Mother Nature amazing?

Fall goldenrods! 

I planted seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens)  this spring thinking it would be similar to the sweet goldenrod  (S. ordora), which volunteers in my yard, but no. It bloomed later in the season and it attracted a different set of bees. Normally I see carpenter bees with their shiny abdomens, but these are real bumble bees (probably Bombus impatiens).
An insect wove an overwintering shelter within the flattop goldenrod (Euthamia caroliniana) inflorescence, so I'll leave this stalk standing, and if I'm lucky, I'll find out what's inside this cocoon.

The spiny orbweaver!

Spiny orbweaver (Gasteracatha cancriformis): I found this beautiful spider doing her work in a gap on the far side of our driveway. 
We loved seeing this beautiful little spider and the hand lens came in handy to see her up close. It's been a couple of weeks since I took these photos, but she occupies this same gap in the trees in our mostly wild area on the far side of the driveway. We've had some high wind events and a frost, but she's still out there. She has had to reweave her orb at least 4 or 5 times since we've been aware of her, but she may have been there for months before that.

The markings on her back look sorta like a smiley face and those 6 red spines look fierce. Isn't this a cool find? Of course, the reason we have all of the critters is that we have used no landscape-wide pesticides since 2004. If you'd like to improve habitat for birds in your yard, you must invite the bugs. It's time to break that poison cycle. Read my post: A poison is a poison is a poison for details on the whys and hows.

I called my husband out to see her. She's small, so this hand lens is useful. Suspended above my garden glove, you can see how small she is.

The sun makes the seeds of this bluestem grass (Andropogon sp.)
shimmer. How beautiful.

The Disney Wildlife Preserve

Last Saturday I headed down to Kissimmee to the Nature Conservancy's Disney Wildlife Preserve for a Florida Native Plant Society board meeting. It was great to see old friends and meet new ones. The morning presentation was really interesting, the pot luck lunch was an eclectic collection of yummy stuff, and then in the afternoon I met with Marjorie Shropshire to talk through the plans for the next book. Marjorie illustrated both "Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida" and "The Art of Maintaining a Florida Native Landscape," which will be released in August 2015. Now we are working on the proposal for book #4. Stay tuned for more details.

Our discussion was delayed while we took photos of this wonderful Florida praying mantid. It was near my shoulder, so I felt like Jiminy Cricket was there to give me advice. "Don't poison your landscape," she whispered in my ear.
A Florida praying mantid (Stagmomantis floridensis) behind my shoulder at the Disney Wildlife Preserve.
Marjorie took this photo because I did not want to disturb this magnificent insect.

Seasonal colors

Here in north Florida, we don't get the rich fall colors that you see farther north, but the Virginia creeper (Pathenocissus quinquefolia) lights up the landscape. And its blue berries feed the winter birds.
Even in Florida, there is some color as we move into winter. Virginia creeper provides reliable color and the way it is festooned across the vegetation, it make everything look festive. And speaking of that, I wish you and yours a bountiful Thanksgiving. I hope you'll be able to provide at least some of your family's meal from your edible garden.

Green gardening matters,
Ginny Stibolt