We’ve often found Gold Moth caterpillars in late summer/early fall on Crownbeard plants in front of the house.
The Cross-Striped Cabbage Worm is a pest of brassicas, especially cabbage, broccoli, and brussels sprouts. We do see season-to-season and year-to-year variations in the total population size, as well as the population ratio between these and other cabbage worms (such as the Imported Cabbageworm). More often than not, the Cross-Striped Cabbage Worms are the most prolific here.
These caterpillars can quickly defoliate brassica plants, such as the Brussels Sprout plant shown below.
We use several strategies to try to keep damage within acceptable levels. We’ve had some success using shade cloth on hoops over fall cabbage beds to exclude adult moths and prevent them from laying eggs on the plants. Trap crops of collard plants, which are a favored food, can sometimes help, if we keep on top of controlling the populations on the collards plants. When preventative methods fail, we’ll resort to “digital control”, that is, using our fingers (digits) to squish the caterpillars. Repeated periodically with attention to life cycle timing, this can be a relatively effective method (though one that is unpopular among workers).
Though it is allowed for organic production, we have never resorted to spraying Bt (a bacterium that kills cabbage worms). We are even less likely to do so since discovering in 2013 that we also have a parasitoid wasp of the genus Cotesia that eats out the innards of some of the cabbage worm species. As usual, any pesticide, no matter how benign and targeted, has unintended ecosystem consequences, and we prefer methods that keep the beneficials (such as parasitoid wasps) working for us.
The adult American Dog Tick is one of the larger tick species at Chert Hollow Farm. Most of the time, we feel these crawling across the skin and pluck them off before they attach, because their size gives away their location. Even so, an occasional embedded tick happens. This is cause for concern, as ticks can carry a variety of disease-causing pathogens.
Populations vary greatly from year to year. Tick populations (in general) were very high in spring of 2013, when this photo was taken.
Black Widow females have a very distinctive look: a black, shiny body with bold red spots. The web appears tangled & unstructured.
The female Black Widow in the photo was hanging out on the inside of an infrequently used rusty bucket that had been turned upside down to prevent it from collecting water that would provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Instead, we apparently provided good habitat for a venomous spider.
The upperside has some red spotting:
Ventral view with the classic red hourglass:
The males look very different than the females (and are also smaller):
2013 seems to have been a banner year for Black Widows here. Previously, we saw one maybe every year or two, but in 2013 we observed numerous specimens. We pretty quickly learned that chaotic-looking webs were a warning sign that one might be around. The chaotic web (see left part of the photo below) was what drew my attention to this egg sack on a ladder rung. There was a female behind the egg sack (out of view in this photo). The ladder had recently been brought into our bedroom, but it didn’t stay there long! Photo was taken outdoors.
Common Snapping Turtles are present here, but we encounter them infrequently. The specimen shown here was wandering near the chicken area after a heavy rain, and we decided that we’d be best off moving it somewhere else, due to the presence of young chicks in the vicinity (none were harmed). Another encounter happened when we decided to cool off in a small but deep pool of the stream on a hot day. I recall mentioning to Eric that he could expect a yell if snake or a snapping turtle appeared. Not long thereafter, we both scrambled out of the pool to avoid a snapper. Fortunately, they are reportedly less aggressive in the water than on land, and our observations support this.
We have eaten snapping turtle, though it was not farm sourced. A friend snared one while fishing in a pond, butchered it, and shared some meat with us. Prepared as turtle soup, it was delicious.
If a tree falls in the woods, crushes an opossum, and a farmer is around to hear it, it does make a noise. The tree and the opossum both. Regrettably, I never did take a photo of this occurrence before a flood washed the evidence away. (The tree was in the stream corridor.)
The less troubled individual below was photographed during a winter woods walk. We don’t encounter opossums very regularly, in part because of their typically nocturnal habits (the tree climber and the photographed subject excepted). However, tracks suggest that they are moderately common.
Opossums are omnivores, but they have not yet caused meaningful trouble with our chickens or produce crops. Thus, we have not felt the urge to investigate the reports that opossums make good meat.
The Monarch is a showy, migratory butterfly that is dependent on milkweed as a larval food source. Unfortunately, populations are in serious decline. We saw fewer adult Monarchs in 2013 than any previous year.
Monarch reproduction relies on milkweed, which, as its name implies, is a bit of a weed. However, we tolerate a moderate amount of it growing in our vegetable field because it has showy flowers, attracts adult butterflies, and is a host to Monarch caterpillars (below). Its deep roots plus our no-till methods together mean that milkweed comes back year after year in our fields.
After their larval life stage, Monarchs form a chrysalis, though not necessarily on the milkweed plant itself. One larvae traveled to a nearby Amish Salad tomato plant to pupate. (Clearly, Monarch reproduction is compatible with responsible agriculture.) An observant worker noticed this, and we brought it indoors to observe. No adult emerged from this particular chrysalis, and we suspect that the chrysalis was parasitized.
Two view of a Unicorn Caterpillar, which I found munching on a blueberry leaf one fall.
Not a species that we frequently observe, but we found this specimen in June 2009:
Observed mating on a dogbane plant, their usual habitat: