The garden explodes.

Well, summer is officially here, and with it, all kinds of fun new discoveries–well, some fun, some not so fun.  So much has happened since last time!  Where to start?

For starters, my semi-xeriscaped plot bloomed last month.  Since it’s a brand new garden and I let a rogue squash overrun a huge part of it, it was a small affair, but I got some prettypretty flowers from it nonetheless.  Here are a few examples:


The veggie plot, on the other hand, has had a rough time of it.  I harvested all my spring veggies and put in my started summer seeds, but they’ve really been struggling.  First of all, I’ve been gone a lot, housesitting for various clients, so I’ve missed a day of watering here and there.  The little babies don’t handle that too well, so I’ve lost a lot to just drying out.

But more devastating than that, the caterpillars have been out in full force.  They left my one remaining adult chard alone, and haven’t really bothered the baby tomatoes or cucumbers, but have devastated all the kale, both young and old, the fennel, the carrots, and the brussels sprouts.  I get that the baby plants are more susceptible, so that’s to be expected somewhat, but they really seem to have it out for my kale.  I found this gorgeous guy on my adult kale a couple of weeks ago:

He was so purdy that I didn’t want to kill him, so I just relocated him and everything was fine for a while.  The kale looked hale and hearty, as it does in the photo above.  But then, in the span of one day, it was completely reduced to its skeleton by these little fuckers:


My pinky finger next to two of the culprits, for size comparison.

I pulled 100+ off just the one kale plant – or what was left of it – and then ended up just pulling the whole kale because they had destroyed it.  I was hoping to not have to put any insecticides on my veggies – natural or otherwise – but it’s becoming obvious that I’m going to have to do something.

Don’t get me wrong: I love me some butterflies, and I’ve been so excited to see them flitting around my garden.  Some monarchs were hanging around my butterfly weed and passion vine, as well as a host of other species.  But since I’m no entomologist, I have no idea what the other species are/were.  I found this little one dead in my plumeria pot:

I wonder where she laid her eggs?  Is she responsible for the death of my kale?  Or was she populating my passion vine?  Because not long after I found her, I found these, and many others:


Orange and black spiky caterpillar!

These little orange and black guys have eaten the shit out of my passion vine, but that’s what they’re supposed to do, so I’m ok with that.  If only you could explain to caterpillars that everything in the garden is at their disposal except for the vegetables.  *sigh*  Then I wouldn’t have to smoosh any of them.

But you know what’s even better than butterflies?  Praying mantids.  That’s what.  When I was in 4H in high school, I took an entomology class, and the teacher asked each of us what our favorite insect was.  The boys were all, “Beatles! Roaches! Wasps! Spiders!”  The girls were all, “Ladybugs! Butterflies!”  I said, “Praying mantids.”  The teacher’s face lit up, and he said, “You should be an entomologist!  Every entomologist loves mantids.”  THAT’S BECAUSE THEY’RE AWESOME, 4H ENTOMOLOGY TEACHER.  Duh.  I found one of my babies a few days ago, except he’s no baby anymore.  Look at him!

So big!

So cute!

One of my hundreds of little boys is all growed up!

The pond has undergone some pretty dramatic changes as well.  Perhaps the most noteworthy was also the most ephemeral.  A few weeks ago, we had a major rain storm, with flash floods happening all across central Texas.  My own little pond flash flooded and filled up to its tippy-top.

Mega rain!

Water all the way up to the fence!

It was thrilling to see the pond do its job and catch all the run-off water.  The extra dose of oxygen in the pond water was also particularly welcome.  But the next morning, something peculiar happened to the pond:

When I walked out the next morning, it looked like there was a green film on the pond’s surface.  I wondered: are they suds? Did soap somehow get into the water?  Upon closer inspection, however, I realized that the “film” was millions of microscopic critters!  And they hopped!  Some friends of mine came over that afternoon, and I showed them the mysterious new pond residents who moved in overnight.  One of them belongs to an entomological forum, so he took some of the critters, photographed them under a microscope, and posted them to the forum to have them identified.  It turns out that my visitors are called “springtails”, and they look like this:

Aren’t they adorable?  Of course, not a single one lived to see the next day.  All my fishies and tadpoles thought they were manna from heaven, and had a field day.  By sunset, they had all been eaten.

Unfortunately, there aren’t enough predators around who seem interested in eating any of my tadpoles and fish!  It’s not that I have some burning desire for my pond babies to die, but there is such a thing as too many of them!  Another mosquitofish laid more eggs, so now I have a second batch of babies, and the first batch still aren’t full grown yet.  And the tadpoles…well, you saw the pictures.  There are hundreds of them.

So, I took a couple of batches down to Barton Springs to go find their way in the real world.  Some will get eaten; some will grow up; all will at least get a chance at living in the “real world”.  I took pictures of the first batch I harvested.  It was funny how most of the mosquitofish hung out near the surface and most of the tadpoles hung out at the bottom!

Believe it or not, these guys are only a small fraction of the ones who ended up staying in my pond.  The majority of them still live here.

Here’s the thing: I think they all survived because they were eating my koi food.  As soon as I’d put it in the water, the little babies would converge on a piece, drag it underwater, and then eat little pieces as it disintegrated in the water.

I think they imagine themselves fearsome alligator-like predators, dragging their prey underwater.

Whatever the case, a couple of weeks ago I noticed that they started to grow legs and come up out of the water.

“A whole new world! A dazzling place I never knew! But when I’m way up here, it’s crystal clear, that now I’m in a whole new world with you…my hundreds of siblings.”

They even started doing exactly what you’d expect frogs and toads to do: hang out on lily pads:

Just hangin’ out at mah pad.

And now, I have no more tadpoles.  Chicken and Fish are all grown up, too, although still very shy, so I rarely see them.  Now, instead, I have hundreds upon hundreds of little tiny baby toads hopping around my garden.  Unlike Chicken and Fish, they’re easy to catch, albeit mostly not thrilled that you caught them.  But this little guy didn’t seem to mind.  He even high-fived my thumb:

As if to say, “High five, bro-ette. Good catch.”

So now, the koi have a lot more room in their pond, now that they no longer have hundreds of roommates.  They seem pretty stoked about this new development.  Sushi isn’t nearly as much of a recluse as he used to be, although I don’t know if that’s because the tadpoles are gone or if he’s just getting more comfortable in his environment.  Maybe it’s a little of both, but even before all the tadpoles had fully left, he and Yin seemed to have developed a bond similar to Yang and Ceviche’s.  I caught them hanging out the other day, and Sushi had his fin over Yin’s back.

Is that like a fish hug?

And even more recently, I was able to get a super closeup picture of three of them–the closest I’ve been able to get yet.  They’re getting bolder, less afraid of the surface of the water, less afraid of me, less afraid of everything.  I had just put some lettuce from the garden into the pond to see if they’d eat it, and these three came right up to investigate:

Yang, Yin, and Sushi, chowing down. I don’t know where Ceviche was.

Aren’t my babies beautiful?  Sadly, I don’t think they should be my babies for much longer.  I’ve been reading more about them, and they need a deeper, colder, cleaner pond than I can provide.  I was going to build an even bigger pond in the backyard for when they got older, but it would need to be four feet deep and eight feet long, and I can’t do that.  And this pond is getting greener as summer progresses, which is not healthy for koi.  Apparently they can get ulcers and parasites if they live in the environment I’ve built for them.  I tried to put a pump and filter in the pond (you can see the hose in a few of the pictures above), but the outlet in my front yard doesn’t work, so I have no electricity to power them.  😦  So, I’m trying to find a good home for my koi.  I can’t tell you how sad it makes me.  I’m so attached to the little buggers!  But I’d rather see them be happy and healthy somewhere else than stay with me, only to get sick and die.  *sigh*  I should have gotten goldfish.  On the other hand, I don’t regret getting these guys, because I’ve had so much fun getting to know them and have learned so much about these fascinating creatures!  And I’m sure goldfish will be fun, too!