Saturday, January 30, 2010

Correction and a Video

Yesterday's post may have been worded a little funny. I implied that TyTy nursery ONLY had videos on their site. They do have all the basic info of course such as what zone the plant can be grown in and watering, light, and so on. I was writing in a way to try and try and capture a pleasant moment or realization. I've since edited the post to clear this up, and I am sorry. And now onto the topic at hand.

OH HA! Found It! In the recent show of Ant Chat, titled Plant Chat, I kept finding some type of caterpillar in all my cone, and sunflowers. Well I've discovered a nice little video, actually more like a series of videos, that names them! In this video the host refers to them as The Sunflower Moth. And while I don't deny the existance of a moth with a common name of Sunflower Moth I have to say there are a couple thousand species in the US and EVERY ONE OF THEM has a common name. This is the sort of thing that strains even the Google Search Engine. The best I could do for now is find a family name Geometridae from And that's good enough for me... for now.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Online Plant Nurseries Need Videos

When one goes to The Nursery at TyTy's website I find most of their plants have videos along with the usual plant info. That's it, just videos. No real information is spread, there's hardly any talking for some of them, they're just hosted on youtube and embed onto their website. They usually come off as strange, and they probably answer the question, "what if Jethro from the Beverly Hillbillies opened a nursery." They're just so odd and quirky though that I can't look away.

I've never bought from TyTy. I'm not getting paid to promote them in any way. I may buy from them someday but what's great about these is they give you a feel for the plant. Sure they could be improved but for now as far as I can tell they're some of the best and most abundantly found videos on youtube for certain plants!

Imagen opening a nursery and finding a way for people to hand out your business card for you. All it takes is making a series of videos that are the staple of information and quality about each plant sold. You get people watching these videos, subscribing to them, and sending them to friends. Assuming your website is prominently placed in each episode you'll get more people to your site. Don't mention the price in the video just say, "available at such and such."

That's why videos are so important. They add a whole other dimension to the experience of buying plants online. I'm not trying to insult the people at TyTy but having never bought from them, the fact that I'm finding their videos, using them as a reference and reposting them... you can see what a great model videos on your site can have. It's just this extra level of interaction that I love. Sure they sold us jack all about the plant but I saw the flowers, the fruit, how tall it gets, for some reason a man holding a metal star next to it, and I wouldn't have given their website another thought had this video not been there!

Prairie Moon Nursery has started doing the same thing. One plant I didn't get to show flowering in my most recent episode of Ant Chat, titled Plant Chat, was Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis. The info on their site about this plant is great but having a video is so much better. You get a sense of scale and they even show a potential companion plant.

So many times I'll go shopping for plants online and never get any feel for the plant. Usually it's just a single picture of the flower, god only knows what the rest of the plant looks like. I do a lot of research on plants before I buy a plant but I do that by leaving the site!

I need to know the species name, if it's native, and then the basic info on growing the plant.

Species Name: If the nursery doesn't feature the species name then clearly I'm not their target audience, best of luck in the future, I'm not shopping here, goodbye. Common names are almost completely useless! They're fun to say and use but offer nothing in the way of scientific information. For most plants common names are fine to use but almost every other group, insects especially common names becomes completely useless. The common name "Carpenter Ant" can apply to all members of the genus Camponotus which contains 300+ described species. We don't see this to much in plants but it still happens.

Is it Native: The next step is to Google said species name and include the letters "USDA" in that order. Example If we do that with Sanguinaria canadensis usually we find in the first couple of results is the USDA webpage on that plant, see here. We can see the map of the US and Canada and can easily tell where this plant is found. Right under that big map you can click "View Native Status" and everywhere in blue we can say would be an ideal for this plant to buy.

Basic Info: Almost every nursery is at least good about giving us this. But it's worthless on a customer like me because I try my best to only plant native plants, and food crops. Going back to the plant info, we can see the plant like partial sun to full shade (Savanna, Woodland) and likes it not to wet and not to dry.

And I do this for every spot in my yard. I'm an addict when it comes to buying plants. Owning a credit card doesn't help. Only planting native plants limits me to picking online sources of native plants. More than 95% of the plants sold at Prairie Moon Nursery and Prairie Nursery are native to North America. If either of these vendors doesn't have something that I'm after it's up to the hundreds of other online nurseries to get my attention. Having videos of the plants just might put them over the edge for me.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Book: Ant Ecology

"Ant Ecology," edited by Lori Lach, Catherine L. Parr, and Kirsti L. Abbott, and forward by Edward O. Wilson.

I list the editors because that's what the book does and with fair reason. Every chapter has been written by expert Myrmecologiests currently studying that particular field. More than 60 people authored this book citing studies almost after every sentance. If nothing else it's a wonderful reference book for studies to read.

There are a reasonable amount of images, graphs, and charts. I wouldn't say they're few and far between but there aren't many of them either. There's just enough to get you to read on I think. I mention the images and charts because they help to break up and understand the heavy scientific language the book is written in.

Alex Wild's work is featured throughout as are several other photographers. I've always thought his work in particular was very under used but it's not the real reason to buy this book. One could easily buy this for the Kindle, Amazon's electronic hand held library, and be reasonably happy without all the pictures and graphs I suppose. (It's also cheaper for Canadian residents who need to pay $200 for the book).

I am not an expert and couldn't even begin to review this properly. But considering almost everyone in the field wrote it or contributed in some way I don't know who's left to review it in an unbiased way. That said, this book is not for a novas. It's a professional book written by the experts themselves to tell their colleges how the science as a whole stands. A biology student looking to get into the field, or eccentric insect enthusiast like myself is probably the ideal audience.

Chapters that caught my eye:
Chapter 4 Ant Conservation
Chapter 7 Food and Shelter
Chapter 8 Ant Diversity
Chapter 12 Foraging and Defence Strategies
Chapter 14 Invasion Processes and Causes of Success
Chapter 15 Consequences of Ant Invasions
Chapter 16 Invasive Ant Management

I'll try and read through it all and report back if I've anything interesting to add. I select chapters to read as I find them interesting rather than reading them in order. Currently I'm on Ant Conservation and I'm loving it. I was shocked to learn that like Lepidoptera a few ant species are devoted to host plants. Ant example given is Camponotus mississippiensis is only known to nest in the branches of white ash trees, Fraxinus americanus. It's wonderful jewels of information like this that make this book worth my time. Unfortunately this is among the few North American examples given and more research would be need to design an "Ant Garden"

Friday, January 22, 2010


Urban "Green" Spaces May Contribute to Global Warming

Urban "Green" Spaces May Contribute to Global Warming
Dispelling the notion that urban "green" spaces help counteract greenhouse gas emissions, new research has found -- in Southern California at least -- that total emissions would be lower if lawns did not exist.
The words common sense comes to mind.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Plant Chat

As if the ratings for Ant Chat didn't fall off a cliff enough when winter hit, here I go and do a show that has nothing to do with ants. Rest assured, this is a once a year thing. More Ant Chats are on the way that will be about ants. It's just I work so hard on my garden and am a true fan of the belief that the environment determines what lives there. Since the average suburban home in America is 90% lawn it explains why only species that do well in that environment are present.

I start this show out by naming 3 issues: The first is how we're completely devoted to the Honey Bee, Apis mellifera, to pollinate all our crops. Honey bees are probably ideal for pollinating some crops but not all of them and it doesn't make sense to only have one pollinator especially in North America where we have 4,500 -5,000 pollinators. The reason why we don't use this abundance of pollinators probably has something to do with our second problem.

Farms are a monoculture. They only bloom at one time of year and are usually tilled. So there's only food available for a few weeks of the year and the practice of tilling usually destroys any ground nesting bee that was once living there. The concept of a food forest is much more productive in most cases. This is where you take the tallest trees, the under story trees, the large shrubs, the perennials, the vines, and all the annuals; and you replace them with food crops! I don't really go into this in the video though.

The last problem is that native plants are not often sold or used. But we should be using them. Native plants tend to bloom and grow along side their ideal pollinating counterparts. Admittedly I was a little inconsistent in this video. I start talking about native plants and why they're not mass marketed as the nonnatives are. And it becomes a slide show of wonderful plants I've had marked success with.

In the video I talk about how honey bees seem to steal food from the native bees. And sure enough the honey bee in photographed more than any other bee in this video. But I didn't start seeing the native bees until I'd established the native plants! So some success should be marked here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Sure it's close to 35F outside but even in this harsh cold things are still growing. Plants such as Heathers are actually blooming in this cool weather. I don't have have any planted and am unsure if any are even native to my area. They're more of a west coast genus anyhow. I go out to the garden and see nothing but the skeletal remains of the garden that was. At the end of next month I'll clean it all out in preparation for the early plants that grow below.

On the warm days I'm able to see my honey bees flying about, but unfortunately they fly only from 2 of my 4 hives. The other 2 have died from starvation. I'll do my best to keep the other two alive but this is sort of a blessing. I don't know what I would have done with 4 new swarms of bees next year to be honest. Hopefully the other two will survive to swarm and I'll be back up to 4 hives again.

Even with so much death around the year is still coming along as it should. I see my fruit trees full of buds for springs flowers. And right now I can even see the starts of Hyacinths and Daffodils emerging above the soil. The yard will bloom once again.

In the mean time I've been hard at work editing an episode of my podcast. Normally the topic is on ants but I figured it's winter so I'll take the time to get a show devoted entirely to plants and bees out of the way. If only to remind everyone what color looked like. It should be out tomorrow if all goes to plant.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Donateing to Haiti

Some bloggers are putting links to various organizations to donate to the Haiti relief fund. I thought I'd do the same. The link to Doctors Without Borders can be found to the right and I'll leave it there for a month or so.

High Tech Ground Hogs

Alright, fess up! Who tried feeding the groundhog a cell phone?

Punxsutawney Phil to Text his Weather Prediction

You can also friend him on facebook now too.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Philadelphia Flower Show Coming Soon

This year's theme is "Passports to the World"

The flower show is something I always look forward. They happen in February or March right when it's coldest. And it's something to do. They always use flowers, usually varieties that have been bred to be pretty. The emphases is on bulbs as usual, probably because they're easiest to sell along side. The thing I don't like though is how few native plants are present. Last year I was delighted to find a few on the show floor.

This year the theme is "Passports to the World." While I can't wait to see the displays, I know I'll be groaning at all the nonnative plants. Here's hoping someone remembers what North America looked like. The other issue with the theme is they're allowing vendors from around the world to setup shop. Meaning even more nonnative plants roaming around, all be it ones unlikely to be invasive.

It goes without saying that I'll be attending the show this year. I'll be armed with my camera and just as I did last year I'll post all about it.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Paratrechina and Nylanderia

About a week ago a new scientific study came out on ants dealing with the reclassification of a widely dispersed genus. The Study, by John LaPolla, Seán Brady, and Steve Shattuck, examined a genus group and found reason to change what genus some species were placed.

The "genus group" itself is modeled after ants with traits in common with our native Prenolepis imparis, the Winter Ant. They're also called the false honey ant because their commonly seen replete caste (the fat ants above that are not queens) resemble regular Honey Pot Ants, Myrmecocystus sp. But those are restricted to the south west US. P. imparis is far more commonly encountered. This genus is more diverse elsewhere in the world but our understanding of them today is that only one species occurs in the US. This isn't "uncommon," but it's suggestive that the varieties of this ant that we know of could one day be moved to species level.

The study probably effected the genus Paratrechina the most, at least for us in the US. The main species that described this genus was Paratrechina longicornis. As pointed out in the study though it had several traits unique to itself from other Paratrechina. Thus the other species it was paired with didn't really fit in the genus. For North America I'll point out it was also the most wide spread of the other species. This is why Paratrechina longicornis is now the only species remaining in the genus. All the other species were moved to another genus called Nylanderia.

Paratrechina/Nylanderia are small inconspicuous ants. Pictured above we see the ants are about the size of a raspberry seed. This might be Nylanderia faisonensis but honestly this ant is so tiny it boarders on my ability to identify.

For the most part colonies go unseen. The most common encounter the average person has with this ant is likely through potted plants. A whole colony can easily move into a house plant or rummage through a greenhouse easily. They simply feed off of normal nectar sources from the flowers, or take advantage of the local aphid problem. Damaged fruit is another spot one might see this ant.

Nuptial flights, if you can call them that, occur in the spring time, April or May usually. Mating is commonly witnessed happening right on the ground. Here you can make out 2 or 3 males attempting to tackle a queen.

Colonies were easy to raise but are easy to get bored with. I never really gave this ant much attention but after reading this study I think I'll give them another shot.

For better images of these ant check out Alex Wild's gallery. Nylanderia, Paratrechina longicornis, Prenolepis imparis.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Hi Fishy Fishy Fishy

So I went to a local, non franchised pet store and had a 100 times better experience. The sales person there was well experienced and not only answered my questions but elaborated on ideas! I showed him the pan flit that came with the Aquaponic System and he knew all about it.

The pan flit for the system does recommend fish but most of them are wild like Perch, and "netted" Minnows. You won't find those in most pet stores, but you will find assorted Gold Fish. I didn't go with them though. I wanted something easier to reproduce, so I bought some Fancy Guppies. We'll see how they do and maybe I'll move over to something else later on. Actually I'd like to add another kind of fish that won't nibble the tails to the Guppies.

So here's the system as I've set it up. It's on a four teared shelf with grow lights hanging above about. Ideally I should be able to move the lights to be 1 inch away form the plants, otherwise they tend to grow long which isn't great. I'll see what I can do about that. I know it doesn't look nice but that's partly the poor lighting. The fish tank and flower bed are closer together too to get rid of the constant sound of water.

Every hour for 15 minutes water is pumped to the upper flower bed. It quickly drains down to the lower level but the idea is the fish waste fertilizes the plants. That is to say it will.

While shopping for fish I learned all fish tanks when starting up go through "The Cycle." This is the first 2 weeks or so when all the bacteria grows like crazy and eventually finds a balance. Having your water tested after this cycle is complete is recommended and I fully intend to do just that! I'll report back in two weeks or so. Until then thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Ahhh Seed Catalogs!!!!

I've been getting plant and seed catalogs on a daily basis now. Probably enough to have killed a few trees at this point. Yeah know you spend a few hundred dollars on plants every year and suddenly you're popular. So far the only winner besides my usual Prairie Nursery and Prairie Moon Nursery (links to the side) is Jung Gardening because they sell Paw Paw. This is a native fruit that tastes just like a banana but has a creamy texture. It's also the only host plant for the Zebra Swallowtail, Eurytides marcellus.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Worst Sales Person Ever

I've met the worst fish sales person ever. I went to Pet Smart yesterday to buy fish for the Aquaponic system. The store near me has the biggest selection of produces and services around. I'm always buying things for my ant setups there (though they're marketed for lizards and reptiles).

The person manning the fish area was the dullest sales person in the world. I showed him what size tank I have, a 10 gallon, and he tells me "Oh no you're not going to be able to put anything in that really."

So we're standing in front of their huge wall of fish where they have tanks much smaller than a 10 gallon tank that have loads of fish in them. So I asked him how he's getting away with all these fish in such little space. He said it's because they have an X amount of thousand gallon system. So I said, "Okay, but you are selling gold fish bowels that are smaller than 10 gallons,"

He said, "Oh no they're bad for fish."

I stopped caring what he had to say at this point, but told him what I'm looking for: A fish that makes a lot of waste, possibly reproduces, is fresh water, and looks nice. Of the entire wall of colorful fish that were wonders to behold and after I just told him I need fish that will fertilize the plants, he pointed at some black mollies and said 3 was all I could get in the tank.

I asked him if he worked in this department long. And he assured me he was a fish expert (at the age 18 or 20) who had worked there many years. He said this in his low, depressing, voice that trailed off at the end and did less than fill me with confidence.

I asked were there other options. Not bothering to move or point at what he was talking about he said Guppies might work. So I walked over to where he was looking and after a second found the tank with the guppies in them. I liked their color but this kid wasn't helping at all. He wasn't even going to entertain other possibility. I walked over to the assorted gold fish but he said in his low uninspired voice, "Oh no those are awful. They're dirty fish and they won't reproduce in your tank," but went on to add, "They should live a good seven years though."

I'm ready to punch this kid. I wanted to get a manager and complain about him and it strains me to no end why I didn't.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Aquaponic System partial Review

My brother isn't the only person to get a fish tank. Remember this thing? I actually bought it though I have to say it's very over priced. I suppose you could argue not by a whole lot though. The large flower bed above is probably the most expensive item. Along with being lined with waterproof material, there's PVC pipe running through it. It's a simple design and snaps together easy. The trouble is all this could have been done much easier and far cheaper by myself.

First off the 10 Gallon Aquarium is not included which I'm fine with. Stones I'm also fine with buying by myself. These things help avoid insane shipping costs and remove the possibility of it all showing up broken.

This sits on a sheet of wood with wheels on it... and is fairly useless besides. All aquariums are not exact in measurements, they're off by a few millimeters; just as the wooden part your 10 gallon tank is suppose to fit flush around is. This can be fixed with some simple sanding but nowhere in the instructions does it say this. The other issue is the wheels. They're so tiny and have to support so much weight I struggle to think when wheels on this flimsy thing would come in handy at all. Weather it's the deck, the rug, or over your hardwood floors, you're not moving this thing without some disaster. It's a useless piece of wood as far as I'm concerned, and you'll be far better putting the fish tank on a proper stand.

Moving our way up we find the wooden frame or stand that sits on top the aquarium. This too doesn't fit flush with the lid and can be fixed with some sanding. It fits just enough though to not be flimsy so that's good I guess. And it does support the full weight of the flower bed above it.

Next we come to the flower bed itself which is probably the only reason to buy this thing. It's just, I wish they sold this by itself as it's the only useful thing in the box that required some skill to build. And comes pre-assembled of thank god. Finally I found some value to this product! Two PVC pipes come along with this, one with groves sawed in it to drain water out the top, and another that gets inserted down below ... which isn't really needed but it helps I guess.

At last we come to the pump itself. Take a moment to view it on amazon and enlarge the picture just a sec. See that huge aqua green sleek looking pump that actually looks nice. Well that's not what they send you, no no, they send you a much smaller, but does the job though the hose doesn't fit pump that you could have bought at any pet store. I suppose I'm happy that it is smaller, and it does do it's job when the hose is laid down on it. It's just another thing on my "Why Did I Pay This Much?" list.

So I set it up just as you see in the picture. As per the instructions you need to get the water level right and play around with the timer some. The timer is another cheap thing but at least they included one. I personally upgraded that adds a few outlets. In toying around with this thing I discovered a few things.

1) When running expect to hear the constant sound of running water. It annoyed me to no end! For 15 minutes of every hour of the day you have to keep this thing running on the timer. So much for having it in the bedroom or anyplace that requires thinking.

2) There is no reason for there to be that much space between the aquarium and the flower bed above. Had this been lowered down it would have fixed problem number 1. I guess it's needed to get the plants at eye level, but you'll be bending over to look at and feed the fish, which are far more interesting anyhow. You'll be better off taking a VERY strong shelf next to some windows or grow lights and drilling a hole for the drainage pipe to connect with the fish tank below.

Let's do some math before continuing. At one point the instructions say add water to test the system out, but they don't say how much water is needed. So I filled the lower fish tank full of water and started filling the flower bed. The lowest drain always leaks some which is good and bad. This brings us to the next thing I learned.

3) Should the pump ever fail, all of the water in the upper flower bed can easily flood the fish tank below. Even when you only have the fish tank below filled with water, it's important to keep track of how much water is in your system. The pump only sends water to the flower bed for 15 minutes of every hour. The rest of the time it's either draining back down or doing nothing. So the only time you can really judge if the fish tank needs water when it's doing nothing at all.

That's where I'm at thus far. Please note I'm not following any directions with growing plants in such a system. I don't think any came with this thing but how hard can it be? So don't blame this product should I come back and moan about how awful my plants are doing. I've actually changed some things with this product to make it better. Like I said I cut a hole in a real shelf to get the fish tank and flower bed closer and I'm happy to say this got rid of the running water sound completely.