Archive for the ‘Critters and wildlife’ Category

Painted Ladies


Another before-and-after post for you this week. This, of course, is a caterpillar, the larva of a painted lady butterfly.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar is one of Lila’s favourite books, so my mom thought she’d enjoy seeing the transformation process up close. Like in a box on the mantle.


A few days after my mom brought over the caterpillars (two, each in their own individual plastic cup), they fixed themselves to the lids of their cups, and transformed into chrysalises. Then we took the lids off and taped them to the lid of a more spacious abode (a plastic salad box).

painted lady butterfly

Another few days passed, and the butterflies emerged! Unfortunately, both chose to leave their chrysalises at night, so we didn’t actually see it happen.


Hello, you! Welcome back – you’re looking better than ever.

painted lady butterfly

That red stuff? Butterfly pee. (Who knew?) We fed them thyme flowers for a day, then let them loose in the wilds of East Van. Far thee well, ladies.


Bring on the birds
Andrea Bellamy |

Song Sparrow in the Snow

I love this time of year in the garden, when I don’t do much more than look out at it from the shelter of our cozy home. Birds definitely are the primary users of our garden during the winter; every morning there are at least a dozen hopping around the patio, examining the husks of sunflower seeds for any remaining nibbles, and jostling for a turn at the feeder.

I look forward to hanging my feeder in late autumn, because I know that the songbirds will soon appear. I don’t see them during the rest of the year. In summer–and spring, and fall–the only birds around here are urban scavengers: crows, pigeons, seagulls, starlings. But in winter, the chickadees and finches and little brown birds of unknown name arrive to feast.


This year, in addition to a little wooden feeder, I’ve been hanging dried sunflower heads, harvested in mid-autumn from my plot at the community garden. I hung them to dry inside for a month or so before hanging them in the hornbeam on our back patio. The birds seem to dig them.

Top photo by Noel Zia Lee via Flickr.


Vancouver City Council votes on chickens
Andrea Bellamy |

Sophia and ZsuZsu walking the property

Quick! If you live in Vancouver (hey, neighbour!) drop a note to City Council and let them know you support the amendment of the animal control bylaw to allow Vancouverites to keep chickens. There are so many great reasons to allow chickens in urban settings.

Council is debating this issue tomorrow night (March 3) has postponed the debate until March 5 so it’s important to let them know there’s popular support for the idea.

Via the UBC Farm Blog.

Photo: Sophie and ZsuZsu walking the property by Thomas Pix on Flickr.


European chafer beetle control
Andrea Bellamy |

Metro Vancouver has a European Chafer beetle problem. Actually, the beetles themselves aren’t too troublesome, but their grubs, which feed on the roots of turf grass, are wreaking havoc.

As an introduced pest, the beetle has few natural competitors to control it. That’s where the urban wildlife steps in. Raccoons, skunks and crows enjoy tearing apart lawns in search of larval appies.

Crows in particular can do some serious damage, especially if you live near their flight path.

Personally, I have a hard time caring about lawns, but I suppose it could be pretty disturbing if you spend a lot of time and energy on your lawn only to have it pecked to bits by some damn birds.

But not as disturbing as, say, stringing up one of those birds.

Yes, that’s a dead crow, hanging from someone’s front porch. Classy. As their front “lawn” has been covered with chicken wire, I’m jumping to the conclusion that crows were pecking at it. And the dead crow is what, a warning to other crows? Seriously, WTF? That is so not cool.

Here are some much more effective, neighbour (and wildlife) friendly options for dealing with the Chafer beetle fallout. Not surprisingly, preventing lawn damage from the European Chafer beetle goes back to sustainable lawn care practices like aerating the soil and raising the height of the blade on your mower. Or, like some creative gardeners, you can replace your lawn with clover or wildflowers.


This proves it. Chickens are hot.

It’s a classic design school project: redesign an everyday object (the stapler and the chair are popular picks.) Maxime Evrard, a student at the Ecole de Design Nantes, chose to redesign the chicken coop. You thought the Eglu was cool? Maxime’s Cocorico looks like a spaceship. With a tent attached. Would this be a good home for chickens? I have no idea. Willi? Robin? Amy? Other chicken parents? Wanna weigh in?

We all know that sustainability is beyond hip, especially if you can use it to sell your product. But the fact that a chicken coop has become the new objet du jour? Is homesteading on the cutting edge of cool?


Mealybugs making a meal of my mint

Mint, self-seeded between concrete pavers.

Mint is supposed to be one of those indestructible plants. Google “growing mint” and you’re met with cheers (or jeers, as the case may be) such as “a cinch to grow!”, “perfect for beginners” and “so strong it can be invasive.”

So why does mine look like it’s on its deathbed? Its bottom leaves are yellowing and falling off. The remainder look curled and brittle. Yet just a few doors down from me, my neighbour has mint sprouting up between their pavers. Hrm. Maybe I should give up gardening and start a mommy blog.

The dastardly mealybug at work.

Except, looking closer, I notice little bugs that look like miniscule albino hedgehogs. They’re tiny, fuzzy white critters, obviously the cause of my mint’s struggle. Turning to the interweb, I find out that I am the not-so-proud owner of mealybugs, so named, I learn, “because the white wax on their bodies makes it look like they were rolled in flour.” Nice. A type of scale insect, mealybugs feed on plant sap, weakening or even killing the host plant. Which is why it’s a good thing they’re attacking my mint, because it’s up for the fight. A non-beginner plant might have given up the ghost.

Sadly, I’ll probably toss out my mint, because mealybugs are supposedly difficult to get rid of, organically or otherwise. Maybe my neighbours will spot me a replacement.

BTW, Hanna has a great post on mint and the origins of its Latin name: mentha.


Ladybugs love aphids: using beneficial bugs to wipe out the bad

keep chilled.jpg

Ladybugs: keep refrigerated.

I have these euphorbias (E. amygdaloides) in my front garden bed that get crippled by aphids every spring. Despite their aphid problem, they’re quite lovely, which is why I’ve kept them this long.  (I’m not sure what variety of euphorbia they are; they are the developer’s last remaining contribution of my garden.) For the last two springs, I’ve used a homemade pest spray to deal with them. This year, I don’t have time to be vigilant with the spray bottle, so I decided to buy some ladybugs.

I’ve always wanted to try using ladybugs to control aphids. I’d heard mixed reports on their effectiveness (the main complaint being that they just flew away once released). Of course, I had to try it myself.

ladybugs on the loose.jpg

Considering that a single ladybug can eat 5,000 aphids in her lifetime, the bag of 250 I purchased from my local nursery was probably overkill for my small garden.

was curious: would they all just fly away, making a break for it as
soon as I opened the bag?
Keeping them refrigerated until use (it keeps them semi-dormant), I
released them after sundown (you can also do it before sunrise; they
navigate using the sun.) Following the instructions on the bag, I covered the euphorbia bed with an old sheet (it helps keep the ladybugs around long enough to figure out that there’s food to be had) and set the open bag in the garden underneath. Seconds later, they were on the move. Let me tell you: ladybugs are cute, but when they’re everywhere, it’s just creepy.

So, did it work? Well, the next morning, I couldn’t find a single aphid. I also couldn’t find most of the ladybugs: apparently they’d done the job and moved on, which was okay by me. Not all of them took off, however.

ladybug sex.jpg

Apparently some of them found my garden to be quite – er, inspirational.

Would I do it again? Probably not. At $15 a bag, they’re effective, but relatively expensive. And I think I’m going to rip out those euphorbias after all. As Eric of Gardening in Converse commented on a recent post, “aphids won’t be a problem in healthy plants.
They may be present, but will only kill a plant that was asking for it…They have a definite place in this world as a weeder of bad
genes.” My euphorbias? Asking for it!


Welcome Lila

Lila_Announce.jpgShe kept us waiting, but when she decided to arrive, she really committed.

When we first found out we were having a kid, she was the size of a lentil. From that point on, despite tracking her developmental size as it related to various fruits and vegetables such as eggplants, jicama, cantaloupes, pineapples etc., she remained, “The Lentil”, her sex a surprise until Sunday, April 27, 2008 at 11:27pm. Weighing in at 8lbs 6oz, in the polka-dotted swaddling blanket, we introduce:

Lila Rose Bellamy Garfinkel

Asleep for the entire car ride home, she’s not really sure where she lives; just that there are two loving people caring for her every need and whim, and a cat feigning indifference but secretly plotting how to reclaim laps and prime-time attention. Everyone is doing fine, and getting a sense of what other new parents meant when they talk of lack of sleep and a more intimate association with vomit and poop. And of course, that unimaginable and overwhelming love and affection for this thing we just made.


Nesting help from Garden Boutique
Andrea Bellamy |

bird spiral.jpgCame across a sweet little online shop called the Garden Boutique. This UK-based store is carefully curated by garden designer Alice Bowe, and has the intimate feel of a neighbourhood boutique, with lots of delicious treasures to be found. It’s also nice to find garden stuff that’s not everywhere, you know? Like these British Wool Metal Spirals. Never seen these before. They hold natural wool to make it easy for birds to find nesting material. Necessary? I doubt it, but they do look pretty clustered together, as Alice recommends, “so that they catch your eye almost like white winter blooms as you pass through the garden.”

bird ball.jpgBut personally, I’ve got my eye on these white ceramic Birdball birdhouses, whose simple, almost sculptural form reminds me of much more expensive versions.

tealight holder.jpgOnce your backyard birds are happily ensconced, work on your own nest. A couple of my favourite picks from the Garden Boutique are these hanging cut-glass tealight holders (above) and the oh-so jolly old rustic garden crown (below).

garden crown.jpgAll photos from the Garden Boutique.


DYI minimalist birdhouse
Andrea Bellamy |

gourd_birdhouse.jpgCheck out this gourd birdhouse by Courtney of the craft blog Two Straight Lines. Inspired by the Polynest featured on Design*Sponge, but not loving the birdhouse’s use of not-so-natural polystyrene, Courtney decided to make her own.

She says, “We often see gourd birdhouses, but they are usually left unpainted, or are
painted decoratively. How about just a simple coat of non-toxic
paint? Add in a little twig perch.”

Here’s how you can make your own:

*  Buy a pre-dried, cleaned and drilled gourd. (Martin gourds seem to work best. You can buy them here.) Or grow your own and preserve it yourself. 
*  Paint the gourd. Courtney ended up using leftover latex interior paint. You could also try non-toxic or low-VOC paints.
*  Drill a hole for the twig perch. Courtney says, “the size of the hole for the perch is dependent on the size of the twig you’re using. It needs to be a bit smaller than the twig so that it is “press fit”– meaning tight. I also brush on wood glue.”
*  Attach the cable (or whatever you’d like to hang it with). You can buy steel cable by the foot at any hardware store. Courtney says, “you will also need little aluminum crimping fasteners that can be hammered closed (one to make the top loop, and one to make the bottom loop.) They are found with the cable.”

Hang outdoors or in (I’m thinking this would be lovely in the woodland nursery!).

Thanks Courtney!


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