Preying Mantis Sightings

Fall is coming and the bite of the summer heat has worn off. It’s a bit of a spring 2.0 around here with a fresh batch of life becoming visible. We’ve noticed a new crop of grasshoppers, a sprinkle of fresh ladybugs, and newly vigorous fire ants prepping for winter.

More unusual to my eyes but fun to see are the Preying Mantis. These ambush predators sit around and wait for tasty morsels to come their way, and then quick as lighting lash out to grab the meal.

She’s on top of a fence post.
:Mr. Miyagi has entered the chat:

At least that’s what I’ve read about how they eat. I haven’t been able to get them to do anything while I’ve watched. On the patience scoreboard: Mantis 2 Human 0

Feasting under the front porch light.

I’ve written in the past that healthy ecosystems have predators. These Preying Mantis interlopers are a mark of increasing biodiversity at the mid-micro level. Predators are always the last to arrive and the first to leave.

This is a positive indication of increasing health of the micro level biome ecosystem, exactly what were looking to cultivate.

The Moment and the Unseen

Situational awareness is a key factor in life. I remember reading a Hardy Boys novel in my young days. The adolescent boys have a good natured hefty friend, Chet, who is in many of their adventures. Amid one of these sleuthing adventures, Frank Hardy tests Chet’s situational awareness.

Paraphrase of a twenty year old memory:

“Chet, let’s test that memory of yours to see if you are ready to be a detective. Our pop used to ask us questions like this when we told him we would be detectives like him.”

“Sure, Frank”

“What was the color of the sweater the man who served us lunch at the cafe was wearing?”

“Well… I don’t know Frank. Does it matter?”

In the story, the color of the sweater didn’t matter and it wouldn’t have made a difference in Chet’s life if he started remembering the color of other mens sweaters. As such, I didn’t incorporate that skill into my life. You can wear whatever color sweater you like around me on back to back days.

There is a camouflage of time that I do find interesting. Nature keeps you from remembering what you see. Everyone has been on the mountaintop, but do you remember the specific view, or the raw awesome beauty transcending the daily concerns?

My memories, when they do tie to specifics, are tied to pictures and discussed later. These are weak and second hand but still worthy of review, and with someone else who was with you they kindle warmth in the soul.

God paints daily at dusk and dawn. The gift is for that moment. You cannot effectively preserve it with photography, pastels or prose. Many treasures of His creation are like this. His critters who live in the moment create for those living in the moment with the situational awareness. It is good practice pace yourself to see beyond the busy and the camouflage of time.

What I see coming from the back door

Children engaging with nature are masters of this. They get even better with practice. They pull parents back into that moment. These barefeet feel the grass better then the shodden souls of the adult.

What they see

For us, it’s part of the zest in the homestead homeschool. It can only be cultivated and never bought. For anyone, part of God’s gift is that the moment is always happening, and the next one is just ahead.

Snug as a toad in a fence post corner doesn’t have the same ring to it.

As a wiser man once said, and I am still learning the fullness of it:

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Matthew 6:34

Melons Out of Place

This summer has been dynamite for our melons. Hot and sunny interspersed with cloudy and rainy is perfect for these giants of the garden.

Hanging out

Sometimes they escape, sometimes they find crevices to hide out in.

The official fence sitter

What happens when giants of the garden fall under the baleful gaze of the goat?

The goats win and enjoy the spoils

Because the goat is a browser, not a grazer, they don’t take all the food in one pass. They must return later to finish their task.

Nature cleans her dishes

Dirt Scoop Boogie

Many many shovelfuls of mulch

I have been excited about this. It’s a dirt scoop and it moves on the three point hitch. It scoops and dumps dirt. It’s what the ancients used before front scoops replaced them with vast improvements in utility.

What does it do? It’s a scoop you lower down behind you to scrap up material. Then you go where you want to go and pull the rope and dump out the material. In this case, it is mighty fertile mulch for some bare spots and for the fall garden.

Hens Gone Feral

Feral chicken home vs Chicken RV

The chicken RV concept had a lot going for it. Chickens get grass and bugs, they can roam off for the day and come back at night, they can lay their eggs in the RV for easy human collection. These girls ain’t having it and started roosting in the wood pile. They went feral on us while we had sick days in the house.

The wood pile is nice and safe because when a human goes to snag the hen from one side she just flutters to the other side. Then she clucks at you while you do your best three stooges impersonation through breaking branches. Trust me, that’s how it goes.

Hens farther afield.

Then the roosters and the hens realized they ain’t the same after all and the hens have run away from the roosters. They perch up on them there fences and cluck at the boys prancing about the yard. About sundown they make a run for it across the barnyard to get to the woodpile. The roosters try to nab a girl for the night. Most of them make it, some do not. Barbarians, these fowl.

How the roosters see themselves

Last night I managed to catch all the girls and stick them back in the Chicken RV. The boys just orbit around them now. Which may turn out to be useful, we can haul the hens around in their coop and the boys can free range grasshopper hunt around them without ever fertilizing them. We’ll see if it works.

Time for a Change

Fence is working

A great advantage in running a pasture raised beef operation is keeping close tabs on the quality of the pasture. Every evening we move the cows from one paddock to the next. Each paddock is (roughly) one days worth of forage for the current herd.

This benefits everyone. Farm folk like me don’t have to hump hay and hollow grains to the cows and we get to understand the farmland intimately.

Cattle get fresh grass every day. They also must eat their third and fourth grazing choices. Momma was right, you do need to finish your whole plate, vegetables too.

The pasture benefits because the grazing is tightly focused. This makes evenly and closely cropped grass with fewer footsteps. Then captured fertilizer (manure and urine) has a more equitable distribution, resulting in improved pasture with every pass through the paddock. (No wastewater run off from chemical sprayer solutions)

The Happy Steer

Take a look at that top picture. The tall grass on the left is the new paddock, the clipped grass on the right is the day before. It’s effectively grazed but not overly shorn, it will rebound for another pass in 23 days. The new pasture is a delight for the herd, as shown in this happy steer just above. Tomorrow we repeat.

Please do not take any of this grass management guidance as recommendations for managing a beard or mustache.

Tractor Repair

(1941 Ford 9N tractor needs a name)

I’m not mechanical. I can change my oil and I’ve done alternators and batteries and the like, but parts swapping is not real mechanical problem solving. Part of the allure of the antique tractor is the reputation for being an easy and simple system to keep in good repair.

That is probably true, and I’m learning how to do that. The problems kicked off when I unloaded a rotary shredder after dark and came inside for the night. The next morning the tractor no worky.

Broken coil spring in the black box called the coil…that connects to the distributor cap (background). It sends electricity to the spark plugs.

When I get time to troubleshoot, I find the problem is somewhere in the electrical & ignition sequence. The troubleshooting guides gets me to this black box called a coil. (After replacing the battery and spark plugs first, that is) Take that off, find this spring inside is broken. Maybe I broke it taking it off. Tractor Supply has one on the shelf. Go and pick it up. Get it home. Find it also has a broken spring. This is what we in the country call a wasted trip.

There’s the little broken guy.

After nothing changed, I lean heavily on my ranch hand friend and west Texas mechanical friend while we sipped beverages on independence day. The brain trust concludes the distributor cap has a poorly seated gasket, points in need of trimming and maybe a ground out rotor cap. Next Saturday I attack all of those issues…and the tractor still no worky.

I’ve run through all the troubleshooting guides I’m familiar with and found no solution. So I get to searching for part numbers in the ignition sequence I haven’t tested, get to Amazon review with a great description of why you would need to replace this part called the resistor.

Resistor is useful

Order that part in, put it on…boom. Tractor kicks over and back in business. Shred several acres of weeds and get it back in the barn.

Next day…won’t start again. Good thing I ordered a spare resistor, I guess. Now I need to figure out what’s causing that to burn out before I put the new one in.

Chickens on Patrol

“Cluck Cluck”

I decided the chickens were big enough to range freely in the pasture. Not knowing much about chickens, I waited for the cats to stop prowling around them for a few days. If the cats are scared off, they’re probably good to go.

The cattle are unsure, the goats don’t care, and the shepherd dogs have fortunately stopped chasing them around.

EDIT: that didn’t go as planned. They returned to the front yard to roost instead of the chicken RV. Re-boot is underway.

Healthy Ecosystems have Predators

Healthy ecosystems have predators. Predators force balance into a system and help drive stronger, more resilient prey genes. They also help with pest control.

Out here, there are Wolf spiders all over the place. They are the apex arachnid, the persistent ground pounders crushing grasshopper and tick and chigger uprisings and every year.

Like their spiritual cousins the coyote, these scrappy wolf spiders cover nearly the entire north American continent. Take a walk in the woods or a pasture at night and shine a flashlight around you. Hundreds of beady little eyes will reflect back at you, crouched down between some furry legs and fangs. They’re everywhere.

Last year we introduced some barn cats into the workshop. We unbalanced the ecosystem. Turns out they had fleas and these fleas had no predators. We’re talking rabid angry hopping mad vampire fleas that come after the humans with vim and vigor. It was horrible. We banned the kids from walking near the shop because of the aggressive fleas.

Within two weeks the problem disappeared. No more fleas…but some amazingly large and quick wolf spiders. The predators came in and brought balance back to the system. The fleas haven’t been a problem since. Wolf spiders are ground predators, not web spinners, so our interests in the shop space are neatly symbiotic. Now they can occasionally be seen in the shop, but no more fleas and no other insect problems.

If we had come in blasting pesticides, it would have solved the flea problem for sure. Until their eggs hatched and the cycle starts again or the cats brought another batch of fleas in. Leaving the predators to handle the situation was a sustainable and low maintenance problem solve.

Next time, I’ll have a video of wasps and spiders fighting for domain of the shop.