Life Science in a Jar: Caterpillars

Whilst J was busy rearing mealworms, Little E asked me if she could also keep a pet. It just so happened that one of my old schoolmates is a primary school science teacher (henceforth referred to in this post as Mrs Great), and she had access to some caterpillars. She offered to give Little E a few of them and I was so excited to have another opportunity to study some more little creatures up close!

The very next day, Mrs Great rocked up with a clear tupperware that had four spiky black caterpillars, each about a centimetre long, happily nibbling away on spray of lime leaves. I don’t have a lime plant at home, so I was a little bit worried about having enough leaves for all the caterpillars – but Mrs Great assured me that there were probably enough leaves to last the caterpillars about two weeks.

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Some Very Hungry Caterpillars in different stages of maturity

The next day, about half the leaves were gone, and the little black caterpillars had doubled in size, developing streaks of bright green. There were also little dry balls of caterpillar poo rolling about the bottom of the tupperware, which I emptied out into a flower pot on my balcony. This wasn’t a particularly nasty job as everything smelled pleasantly of lime juice.

On the third day, one of the caterpillars had turned a bright green and was the size of my little finger. It was eating up the lime leaves at an alarming rate. I sent a text message to my friend Mrs Great, who was kind enough to drop by with a bunch of lime leaves, but I knew that at the rate the caterpillars were going, I would definitely need to find more lime leaves before the end of the week.

Sure enough, by the start of the fifth day, it was clear that I would need to find more lime leaves for the caterpillars or they would certainly starve.

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Running out of leaves!

Unfortunately, I went to three different supermarkets and three different wet markets and nobody had any lime leaves for sale! By this time, Little E was nearly in tears, upset that her caterpillars might starve to death.

However, as I was driving home, I passed by my local community garden. I stopped by, hoping against hope that I would find the leaves that I needed.

I didn’t think I’d be able to identify a lime plant without it’s signature green fruit, so I ran around taking pictures of various little plants and sending them to Mrs Great for identification. Fortunately, one of the pot plants had a tiny little green lime hanging on the one of the stems! Hooray! Community gardens save the day!

I plucked off a spray of leaves and triumphantly brought it to Little E who was waiting in the car for me.

The Aged P also went to talk to the security guard of her flat who keeps a variety of plants in his little guard outpost – and he so happened to have a lime kaffir plant that he was carefully cultivating. She managed to convince him to part with a few leaves which I kept in a cup of water to keep them fresh.

I was almost down to the last spray of lime kaffir leaves when we noticed that the caterpillars had stopped eating and were curling up on themselves, wiggling very slowly. One by one, they each moulted one last time, forming chrysalids that were securely fastened to the sides of the tupperware by silken threads.

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The Chrysalid and the Lime Butterfly

About a week later, the first butterfly emerged from it’s chrysalis! Little E was so excited, watching it pump it’s wings to fully inflate them and dry them out. We released it on our balcony and it rested there for a few hours before fluttering off.

As for the other three chrysalids, we noticed that all three had turned translucent one morning – we could see the black and white butterfly wings folded up beneath the surface of each chrysalis – so I told Little E to bring the tupperware to her kindergarten and share the magic of the butterfly with her classmates.

Sure enough the butterflies emerged from their chrysalids midway through her class time, much to the delight of everyone present. The teachers gently picked them up and released them into the school’s eco-garden, with Little E and all her classmates waving and yelling “Goodbye! Goodbye!”

The Good Life: Field of Dreams

Summer’s finally over!  It’s time for the Autumn harvest!

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Behold!  My glorious field of two radishes!

As you can clearly see, the harvest has not exactly been bountiful this Autumn. The field you’re looking at was planted with onions, carrots, beetroots, leeks, daikons, radishes and an entire row of parsnips.

Unfortunately, the harvest failed.

There were several reasons for the failure, of course. Early in the season, the Boobook thought to help me out with the weeding and managed to weed out the baby leeks before I managed to stop him. We’ve also been having issues with the neighbour’s cat digging up some of the seeds when it comes to hang out in our garden.

But the biggest reason for major crop failure was the weather.

It has been hot in Australia, and I mean severely, extremely hot. The hottest it’s been since 1896, even. It was so hot that the remainder of seeds and sprouts basically fried in the earth before they got big enough to thrive. The only plants remaining are the two radishes you see in the picture.

The reason for the survival of the radishes is simple. They were the only plants in the garden be in the shade for the majority of the day.

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Happy little radishes.  Diagram courtesy of The Boobook

So there you have it. It’s slim pickings this Autumn, I’m afraid, but there’s no reason to fret. The backyard vegetable gardener has to be prepared for disappointment.

After all, perseverance and trial and error is how one gets a good garden.

Check out the rest of The Good Life Challenge series here.

The Good Life: Protecting the Babbits

Rabbits have long since been considered a pest in Australia. I mean, the longest unbroken fence in the world was built in the country to keep the rabbits out of precious farming territory.

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The Greater Bilby, endangered in Queensland.  Photo courtesy of DHP

Besides, there’s well documented evidence that the introduction of rabbits can vastly alter the ecosystem. Heck, the adorable little rabbit is believed to be responsible for the decline of several Australian native species such as the Greater Bilby through habitat destruction.

It is no surprise that the Australian government works to control the feral rabbit population through regular releases of biological agents like the Calicivirus[1] (aka Rabbit Haemorrhagic Diseases). In fact, a planned release of the virus is happening across 1,000 sites across Australia as we speak!

For those of you not in the know, the Calicivirus is a very nasty killer. It basically makes your rabbit bleed out internally, until it finally dies from the stress. BUT! A vaccination for this horrible disease does exist and is available at most local vet clinics! Both Bonnie and Clyde are regularly vaccinated against Calicivirus, so they’re covered in the event of a planned release.

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Bonnie and Clyde after being vaccinated.  They’re very upset about the whole situation, but it’s for their own good!

That being said, it doesn’t hurt to take extra precautions to protect the rabbits from the dangers of horrible diseases. Both Calicivirus and Myxamatosis are spread by flies and mosquitoes, so you should take steps to insect-proof any rabbit play areas.

To protect our precious bunnies, The Boobook and I lined Bonnie and Clyde’s outdoor hutch with UV protected mosquito netting. It’s a little bit expensive, but at least it’ll keep them safe.  Plus, we’ve lined the bottom with thick gauge chicken wire so that they can’t dig their way to freedom and get themselves hurt.

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Mosquito-proofed babbit home!

So, now our babbits are free to dance and play in the sun and are safe from the virus come rain or shine!  If you’d like more information on how to protect your rabbits during this viral release, RSPCA Australia has some very useful information and advice available.


[1]Calicivirus is pronounced Khaleesi-virus, but doesn’t have anything to do with dragons, unless you count the fact that it kills kinda messily.

The Good Life: Conversations about Carrots

So, I had my first carrot harvest at the New Castle, so obviously I had to share the joy!

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That carrot knows it’s got it

ABC:  Debs!  Check out my carrot harvest!

Debs G: It’s like looking at a runway.

ABC:  Is it because of the leggy purple carrot?

Debs G:  Yes, it is stealing the show.

Much later, I ate the leggy purple carrot in a stew.  It was terrible.

Oh well, them’s the breaks.

The Good Life: Mr B

So, for my first post in The Good Life series, I would like to talk about pollinators.

This is Mr B. Mr B is a stingless Solitary Carpenter Bee that lives in a hole in the wall next to our front door.

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As good a picture as I can get of Mr B.  He’s quite a shy fella and I don’t have a very good camera!

Mr B moved in the day after we took down the ornaments that were hanging on the outside wall and removed the nails. When Boobook went to fill in the holes in the wall, there was Mr B. Sitting there. We decided not to evict him because he is a Beneficial Insect.

Pollinators are essential for any garden. Without them, we can’t get any good fruit or veg, as nothing would sprout. Insects are, of course, by far the best pollinators in the business, so we’re not at all shy of having a few buzzing around our home. This is why, despite all the problems I’ve been having with Thrips lately (more on this later), I haven’t done any pesticide spraying at my home.

The boand I have been discussing the possibility of getting a bee hive for the garden sometime in the future, but in the meantime, we’re doing all we can to attract good pollinators. We’ve recently purchased a bird bath, which we’re planning to load with marbles and smooth river rocks so that both birds AND bees can take a drink in this hot Summer weather. Only the oldest bees are sent out of the hive to get pollen, so it’s important to give these little old ladies a rest!

Australia also has a number of interesting stingless native bees. We’ve had a few of the really tiny ones buzzing around our garden – they live in a small nest inside one of the gum trees. It’s really important that we don’t disturb the nest, which is REALLY TINY (smaller than the size of my palm even!). Native bees are quite rare and they don’t have stings.  They do not make a lot of honey, but their nests have quite a complicated spiral pattern that interlocks honey with larvae, so we risk killing the baby bees by harvesting the honey or even touching the nest!

I’ve saw a Blue Banded Bee in the flower patch the other day! They’re massive critters, golden and fuzzy, with a blue and white butt. They have a really loud buzz too, owing to the fact that they’re buzz pollinators – their method of gathering pollen is to flap at the flower really hard until the pollen flies out and sticks to them. Inefficient, yes, but it does a lot less damage to plants, so you end up with healthier, larger fruit.

EDIT: It has come to our attention that Mr B may well be a Mrs B, as she has recently been attracting suitors to the little hole she lives in. Also, an astute friend of mine pointed out that she’s not as golden in colour as a Mr B should be. Mea Culpa!

Are you ready for The Good Life? (A Challenge!)

Hey Meimei,

Congratulations on completing the 2016 Knitting Challenge! *confetti*

Now, I was thinking…now that you have kinda gotten your garden figured out and it is not full of boulders and tree stumps, I think you are ready for a new challenge!

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Poor Becky clearing all the boulders and weeds (Image credit: Romulation.net)

There used to be a very popular BBC TV series in the mid-1970s called ‘The Good Life’ (which, by the way, you should totally watch).

During the series, Tom Goode, a successful but harassed draftsman, decides to eschew his corporate life in favour of becoming self-sufficient. He was supported in this harebrained mid-life crisis by his wife, Barbara Goode, the most gung-ho lady you might ever hope to meet. Together, they began growing food in the garden to the chagrin of his neighbourhood, making their own clothes and even generating electricity!

This series grew to be so popular that the Queen requested a Royal Command Performance which turned out to be a private viewing of the filming of the final episode, performed live in one take.

No, I am not suggesting that you quit your job in order to go and build your own nuclear reactor or meet the Queen! Put down that letter of resignation now!

I am going to give you a ‘The Good Life’ challenge!

Here are the three elements of the challenge:

  1. You have to give us a ‘The Good Life’ post on Owls Well once a fortnight. With pictures. This update can be a general update on how your garden is doing, or a something that you have learned or observed whilst in your garden. (And yes, your rabbits are in your garden so that is counted. Even though you have no plans to eat your rabbits.)
  2. You have to sell some of the produce from your garden for real cash money. Barter trade is also acceptable.
  3. You have to cook a meal for the Aged Ps that includes produce from your garden. (Bonus points if it’s a multi course meal!)

P.S. If you build this generator, you can consider your challenge completed!

Harvest Time at the New Castle Grounds

Hey Debs, check it out!  It’s harvest time at the New Castle grounds!

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Check it out!  Not all of them sprouted or grew to size, but… still, not a bad harvest, all things considering.

Two months ago, I planted some daikon radishes.  Yesterday, they were ready for harvest!  How did I know this?  Well, the tops of the daikon root poke out of the soil when they’re ready to harvest, just like in Harvest Moon!

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Radishes ready for harvest!  Photo from Harvest Moon Memories, by Snoring Seal of Milk Can Anime.

Daikon have fragile leaves, so you can’t pull them out by pulling the leaves.  You’ll have to dig into the ground to liberate the root a little before pulling them out.  I needed a lot of strength to get mine out the ground – some of them were really big!

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Tops ready to pop!

Once they’re out of the ground, you’ll need to get the leaves off as quickly as possible, otherwise the root will shrivel as the leaves use up the stored nutrients.

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Nature’s bounty!

Then, it’s a quick wash and they’re ready to peel and eat!  Check out how white they are when they’re washed~!  I kept the dirt from the washing, since it can be returned to the garden.

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Ready for the pot!

Daikon are a surprisingly low maintenance plant.  I don’t think I needed to water them all that much, but it’s been pretty rainy out here in Australia so that might have helped a little.

I used some of them in daikon and pork-rib soup.  I made it with American style ribs by accident, so it’s a little less rich than I’d hoped.  I’m planning to pickle the rest Japanese and Vietnamese style.  I’ll let you know how that goes if it goes well at all.

As for the daikon tops, they were generously donated to the Bonnie and Clyde Fund for Starving Rabbits.  The donations lasted them all of 1 minute.

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The Bonnie and Clyde Fund for Starving Rabbits