Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Thomasis spectabilis (white crab spider)

This is the same photograph that I showed on the previous post.  I didn't know what kind of spider it was,  so what could I do but put it on Facebook and ask my friends.... (what else would you do?)
 Dion Ashenden has found the answer...

 Thomisus spectabilis (White Crab Spider).
A short, squat spider, from 3-11mm, common in Summer, Australia wide, active in the day time. Some can be very white (if living in white flowers). Some can be quite yellow. They sometimes have yellow-reddish ends to the translucent legs, and black markings at the rear of the trapezoidal abdomen. The first and second pairs of legs are noticeably longer and thicker than the last 2 pairs. Lateral eyes are on projections. Males are smaller. There may well be several species of Thomisus being found, grouped together under the name Thomisus spectabilis. Many juveniles that appear Thomisus-like have brown eye patches. They generally hunt on flowers or other parts of plants matching their colour though they can change colour to match the plant. An insect visiting the flower for pollen or nectar is seized and bitten, then sucked dry. Eggs are laid in a silk dish covered with a lid where they stay for up to two weeks. When the spiderlings hatch, they are left to fend for themselves.

Crab spiders are no active hunters. They make more use of the camouflage techniques than other spiders and catch their prey with their front legs. The color of the spider is adapted to the hunting terrain they use and is mostly extravagant. They remain unmoved until the prey arrives and catches it. With a poisonous bite (not dangerous to humans) they kill their prey and suck it dry. They can be found on flowers or leaves of plants. Often the crab spider remains for days, even weeks at the same spot. The front two legs, that are often larger and stronger than the other six, are held sideways, ready to catch the prey immediately. Because they sit on easily spotted places they are also easy to catch by the predators. When they spot a possible enemy they move quickly at the other site of the flower or leave. Their eyesight is excellent developed as can be seen on the pictures. They have normally two big front eyes.

Crab spiders are easy recognizable if you tease them. They widen their legs and move side ways like a crab. Their size is between 4 - 10 mm.

The females usually stand guard with their egg sacs. The egg sacs are fastened to the vegetation and are usually flat.
The reference is here.

I have also found another individual that looks quite different....

... and then I saw the other (first) one catch a fly!!!
This is really interesting from a number of points of view...  my flowering vegetables and herbs have attracted ladybirds and hoverflies that prey on aphids (much to my delight) but this addition to the food chain is quite amazing.   There are plenty of ladybirds on these parsley flowers, and all sorts of flying creatures... no doubt a great place for a spider to catch such insects.   
While I want most of the species that appear to be his/her prey,  this is the real situation in a healthy ecosystem and what else could I ask for?

Flowers, chickens and a white spider....

It's good to be able to put pictures on the blog again.  I've been waiting to find a dark centred calendula too, and so here is the photograph, taken today.  The flowers are smaller than the other all-yellow ones,  but they are still my favourites.

The lilies are producing more and more flowers and the perfume is quite noticeable now.  These are not the ones with the strongest perfume,  but with all of these flowers,  the yard is smelling like lilies here.... cacts flowers at the other end of the yard.
 The chickens are growing fast.  The pale ones that must be going to be mottled and brown, by the look of them, seem much more advanced than the black ones...  those only seem to have fluffy wings so far...
 ... none of them match the foster mothers,  I think.

I've been looking for the vegetable flowers too...these are carrot flowers... and these are beautifully perfumed....
 .... fennel....
 ... "cornflower blue" endive flowers....

... cucumber flowers....

... beans (borlotti/romano)....


... kale....

... Chinese broccoli (gai lan)

>>> and as I was looking at the parsley flowers, I found this white spider....
 I've never seen one like this before and I can't find one online.  I don't know what kind of spider it is, but it looks beautiful.  (It's still out there.)

And fever few,  the herb....

I am just boiling up the last rooster from the freezer, for rooster soup....  which is kind of like chicken noodle soup, but not quite.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

The pond, so far.

My house guests for the past couple of weeks have done a huge amount of work in my garden.  The first project, which wwe had discussed before they arrived was the pond.  I had a piece of black "dam liner" plastic that was intended for the purpose.  I had bought it as a deal when the local hardware shop had got it especially for a customer that had changed their mind, leaving the dam liner piece at the shop.  I got a good deal,  so I bought it some time ago.  It measures 5.7m by 8m. That didn't mean much to me until we actually tried it in the hole.  This makes a really large pond!
It has had water in it for more than a week, and a small amount of plant material. I bought one white flowering lily a week ago and it haas produced two new leaves already...
 Today Chris and I went out to find some fish for it.  I have been checking for mosquito larvae,  but haven't seen any yet.   We went out to the Light River and caught some tadpoles and some gambusia (feral "mosquito" fish) to put in there...  there's some algae and some daphnia, beetles and a few odd things in there...  hopefully it will begin to be more like a pond than a plastic lined ditch pretty soon. I went out a while aga to try to see the fish (they are only small and I couldn't find them)  but I did see a tadpole that is almost a frog...
The picture is pretty awful,  but the little frog is still in the water and sitting on the bottom... hard to see, but all four legs are there!

Around the yard....
... more lilies and plenty of vegetables.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Chicken worries

I have been out to check on the chickens this morning.  What a shock!  There were only six babies... three black and three pale ones in the nest room...
You can see the nest box which is high up,  and so they have the "run" of this whole patch which is deep in straw.   Finding only these six chicks was a bit of a worry...  I started looking for evidence of rats or something else...nothing.

I heard some more squeaking and followed it to here....
... this part bantam hen had three chickens in another part of the yard altogether!

I had just filled the water container for the little chicks...
... and those little chickens must have climbed over the step and out into the big yard.... past the big water trough (thank goodness none of them fell in!) and into the other chicken room.

It was a relief to find them all in the end... there are still five black ones and four pale, and the foster mothers seem to have three each!

The first lily flower

After the past few hot days, the temperature was down to about 22C overnight and this morning, there are clouds and the humidity is higher.  Grape growers in the Barossa are being warned of 'downy mildew, and so I'll spray my zucchini plants with diluted milk again.  Last night I removed the shade cloth from the gardens (though I've left it in place to be re-installed when neccessary) and this morning, apart from a few "cooked leaves" the vegetables look very healthy.  We are about to begin picking beans (these are romano/borlotti variety.)
I have usually put all of my effort into growing edible plants,  and this year was my first foray into flowers, more herbs and some bulbs, which seem to grow very well here.
Yesterday, the first lily bud looked close to opening and this morning, in the cool humid air... so lovely to walk out without one's feet "cooking" on the bottoms...  the lily had opened during the night...

Previously, I have seen these flowers in flower shops and in spectacular formal flower arrangements, so that it seems such a luxury to have such a flower in the back yard.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

That was a week and a half!

Last week, some family arrived from California.  They arrived on a rainy Adelaide morning, tired but happy...
Fiona had decided to run "up the hill" to give me a hug.... and so she did...

We drove home via the new freeway and the Thiele Highway... about an hour and a half.  On the way home,  I learned that I had not been returned to our local council.  My bicycle will not be bparked in the foyer during meetings from now on....

It has been a busy week, building a pond (more about this later) and waiting for the chickens to hatch.  I can finally add photographs of them, after paying for more storage with google.
Here are a couple of very new chicks and another just getting out of the egg....

By day 3 they are all out and about.  The nest is not at ground level, so I have transferred them to the ground with a bale of pea straw...  there are several foster mothers involved...
 I had some rolled oats that had acquired a population of moths and their larvae.  I have given it to the chickens as it's easy to break up and learn to peck from the ground....

This morning is the second day of a "hot spell" and it should be well over 35C later in the afternoon.  I have been out covering some of the garden with shade cloth again...

I did this last year also, and it still reminds me of a tent....  one of those pieced together ones from National Geographic photographs of Bedouin households.
Underneath, the plants are much safer from the sun...
... the leaves that are still out in the direct sunshine just can't keep up  with the evaporation/transpiration rate.

On a happier note... the lilies are about to flower.  Even as these huge, sculptural buds,  they are amazing to see.

And so here I am,  back with the photographs, after paying $5 to google ($5.06A) which will also cost about $2 to convert to US currency... crazy!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Chicks on day 21.

This has been the biggest hiatus in posting on my blog that I can remember.  I was discouraged by the need to pay for further uploads of photographs.  The other alternative is to move to another blog server...  I have yet to decide.

This week has been spent with visiting family and the disappointment of not being elected to council again.  I am still disappointed, but beginning to see the new opportunities that are available because of the extra time that I will have for myself... the garden... and my hope is that I can get back to painting and art again. (That has taken a back seat during my time on council, the committees and the extra training that I have done.)

This morning the chickens have begin to hatch.  The eggs were collected on Saturday, October 30th, and I put them under the broody hens on that very day, hoping that we would have chicks hatching during the family visit...  and so we have.   So far there are three black ones, one white one and seven more warm eggs on day 21.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Summer is coming

I have just been interviewed by the police.  There has been some awful murders in our town and the police are door knocking.  The whole town is stressed.   I don't feel much like blogging.

Today is warm and good for the garden... it's about 30C and the humidity is a bit higher than usual, meaning less evaporation, better use of the water that I've added this morning and the beginning of summer vegetables....  zucchinis and beans... and the garlic is drying off and the "greens" are still producing.  Three of the chickens are sitting on eggs and the others are still laying edible eggs.  

I will have family visiting next week and there will be plenty of garden produce for all.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Zucchini flowers and roosters

This morning the sunshine was beautiful outside.
Of course I went out to "check out" the vegetable patch with my coffee and I found the first zucchini flowers of the season.  There are two flowers that are out and both are female, so I won't be getting any zucchinis just yet.... that did remind me of my lack of roosters and my recent need to procure fertile eggs from the friend of a friend.  I'll be seriously thinking about keeping one rooster from the current clutch of eggs... especially if one turns out to be a black australorp, and I know that that is a definite possibility with these eggs.  (Australorps are dominant among the "birth parents" of these eggs.)

The hover flies are plentiful and there are plenty of ladybirds as well.

The other flowers that I've seen today are on the bean plants.  These are a romano variety and I'm waiting for those to produce now as well.
(Borlotti beans, also known as roman beans or romano beans (not to be confused with Italian flat beans, a green bean also called "romano bean"), are a variety of cranberry bean bred in Italy to have a thicker skin. It is very popular in Italian, Portuguese and Turkish cuisine.)

There are plenty of carrots and onions and "greens" right now and the garlic is beginning to wilt... when the leaves dry out,  I'll be digging that as well and I'm hopeful that I'll have enough to last through the winter of 2011.  The tomatoes are flowering and I will be planting the eggplants and capsicum into the garden this week.  We continue to eat well.
I have picked broad beans for dinner again tonight.  There are still a few out there, growing larger by the day,  but the huge daily picking is finished.  I looked back to see when we began to eat them and it was September 22nd when I first picked the small ones that we ate pods and all.  That is almost 7 weeks ago.  The reason that I checked is that it feels like a short season this year.  The daily temperatures are too high now to set any of these beans, but the next bean crop (the romanos mentioned above) should begin soon.  Those are planted in two lots (earlier and late) but I'll need to plant some other varieties now that they are flowering.
As I have remarked before,  it's necessary to plant something every week if one wants to eat every week.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Ashram retreat at Rocklyn.

I have been "off the air" for most of this week because I spent it at an ashram...  in the central highlands in Victoria.  It has been a wonderful place to spend a few days and I have learned quite a lot.  I am not merely motivated to get things done,  but feeling better organised as well.
One of the delights at the ashram was the organic vegetable garden that supplies a significant proportion of the food for the residents there... much the same as my garden does here.  Bits and pieces of that garden did look like my own, though the significant difference in climate was obvious.  There were lots of carrots and onions and leeks and a variety of  brassicas.  One notable difference was the stage of production.  The broad beans there were flowering,  but hadn't begun to produce yet.  The tomato plants were similar, but grown in a glasshouse.  Mine are outside and flowering profusely now.  I didn't see any zucchini plants, though when I arrived home mine are nearly ready to flower.  The difference in temperature is quite significant.  It is about 30C here today and was never above 10C all of last week at Rocklyn.  The constant rain makes quite a difference too.  The lush green grass along all of the roadways and the soft plants and ferns showed how much it rains.  The soil must be much less alkaline than here too...  blueberries are flourishing there...  quite a differnt environment.

This morning was also a "mega garage sale" day in Kapunda.  That meant that the "men's shed" people were out selling "sausage sizzles" as a fund raiser.  I cut up all of the onions.

Home again,  I have washed the dogs and their bedding and I've been out to check all of the garden areas.  Most noticeable today is the sheer population of hover flies that are around the coriander flowers and the rue.  As I walk past the coriander on the way to the clothes line,  the coriander patch sounds like a bee hive!

I still haven't worked out how to add any more pictures to my blog without considerable expense.  There must be a way,  or I may need to pay something to continue with my blog in the manner to which I have become accustomed.