How To Eat a Whale

Melinda Mae took eighty-nine years to eat a whale, according to Shel Silverstein. How’d she do it? “…she started in right at the tail.” and “She took little bites and she chewed very slow, / Just like a good girl should…”

This morning I found this adult female white-tailed spider on my office deck. I don’t know what killed her—she’d dragged herself about 20 cm across the deck oozing hemolymph before succumbing to whatever it was—but by the time I saw her, the ants had found her.

At first, they swarmed over her body, biting at her legs, tugging at hairs. I looked closely with a hand lens—they’d made not a mark on her exoskeleton. Melinda Mae was lucky whales’ skeletons are on the inside.

Eventually, the ants stopped swarming, and I assumed they’d given up eating their ‘whale’.

But a few hours later, I checked again and noticed an ant slip underneath the spider’s body. Another photograph revealed the spider was shrivelling.

Some of the shrivelling would be from dehydration, for sure. But as I watched, I saw a steady stream of ants slipping in under the spider, then slipping out again. Something had punctured her, killing her. The ants had found the hole and were using it to access the soft bits inside.

I expect these ants will accomplish their task much more quickly than Melinda Mae did, but then, they’re working as a team.

So how do you eat a whale?

Well, if it’s got an exoskeleton, the answer is, from the inside out. And if you want to finish before you grow old, get some friends to help.

Hawksbeard: a Cheerful Weed

We’ve had recent, much-appreciated rain, and the grass is unusually green for January. But even with the grass growth, summer is weed season in the lawn.

More specifically, summer is weed flowering season.

Some of the weed flowers are uninspiring, and merely annoying—the dull greenish flowers of plantain, for example.

Others bring a splash of colour to what is normally a bleak time in the lawn.

Hawksbeard (Crepis capillaris) is one of the more prolific colourful weeds in the lawn in summer. An annual or biennial member of the dandelion family, this plant bears small, cheery yellow blooms on tall, branched stems.

The NZ Plant Conservation Network shows hawksbeard as being naturalised in 1867 from Europe. Like its cousin dandelion, it was most likely brought to New Zealand on purpose as a food plant—it’s young leaves are edible. Like the dandelion, it is no longer valued as a food, but is considered a weed.

I will admit, the tall flower heads of hawskbeard can be annoying in the lawn. They seem to spring up overnight between mowings, and they slap against your legs as you walk through the yard. But I do appreciate their yellow blooms at a time of year when most other plants give up from the heat and drought. I have been known to use hawksbeard in flower arrangements, and their green rosettes are sometimes the only green to be found around the yard.

Rolling out the Welcome Mat

When we first moved to our house, most of the landscaping, at our place and at the neighbour’s, was non-native. Gorse, photinia, oaks, birch, macrocarpa…plants of little interest to native wildlife. We’ve slowly been replacing much of the non-native vegetation with natives. When the property next door changed hands, the new owner replaced the gorse hedges with natives. Our plantings are all maturing, and I’ve got my fingers crossed we’ll soon attract some native residents.

Over the years, piwakawaka (fantails) have shown up occasionally, usually in autumn, and only for a week or so before moving on. But this year, one has arrived in summer. He’s been flitting around for over a week now, chattering and declaring ownership of the place. I’m crossing my fingers, hoping he’ll stay.

Piwakawaka don’t stay still for photos, but he was talking to me through the kitchen window yesterday and, with the window as a bird blind, I was able to snap a couple of photos that weren’t just a blur of feathers. He’s a cute wee guy. I hope our welcome mat is acceptable to him.

A Zucchini Problem

Hi. My name is Robinne and I have a zucchini problem.

They say the first step is to acknowledge you have a problem. I did that years ago with my zucchini addiction, but it doesn’t seem to have helped. Every year, I say I’m going to plant fewer zucchini. But in early July, with icy rain lashing the windows, the pictures in the seed catalogue are so alluring…

When it comes to planting time in October, I find I have four or five varieties of zucchini seed—how did that happen? Well, since I have the seed…

I plant only six of each variety—I use those little six-pack seedling trays, so it’s really the minimum reasonable number of any one variety.

Let’s see…six times four or five…hmmm…

At plant-out, I swear I’ll cull some. I’ll only plant the best-looking individuals of each variety. Two of each kind, just in case one plant dies (which, by the way, has never happened to me, but it’s always a risk).

But I’ve earmarked an entire bed for zucchini on my garden plan. I couldn’t leave part of a bed empty. That would be a waste of space. And there are plenty of plants to fill the bed…

As I say, I have a zucchini problem.

Garden Shift

From one day to the next it happened.

The garden went from newly planted to bursting and full.

It will get much more crowded before summer is over—I usually lose most of my paths by mid-February—but it has lost the widely-spaced springtime look.

It is always such a surprise and a pleasure when it takes on the summer look. It’s like the moment when you look at your teenager and you can see the adult s/he is becoming. It’s a phase shift, and though it comes on gradually, there is a magical moment when you suddenly see it.

I walked through the garden today for no reason, just for the pleasure of walking among those wonderful, full rows of plants.

Double Cherry Pie

I picked eight cups of cherries from our tiny sour cherry tree the other day. I was thrilled I’d gotten enough for two pies from a tree not much taller than me! I decided to make them all up into pie filling—I’d make one pie right away, and freeze half for later.

But when it came to filling the pie dough, I poured all eight cups in! Yikes! There was no way to take it back out, and I knew it was going to boil over and be a disaster in the oven.

I shrugged—nothing to do but see what happened—and slipped the pie into the oven (with a tray beneath it to catch drips.

An hour later, I pulled the most glorious pie out of the oven…

It had dripped a little, but no more than every other cherry pie I’d ever made.

And it looked plump and delicious. Each slice was thick and wonderfully overloaded with fruit. Truely decadent!

I’m not sure I’d recommend making a pie with eight cups of cherries—it really could end up a disaster in the oven—but it certainly was a delicious mistake.

Advent List

It’s the silly season, with end-of-the-school-year stuff piling up with Christmas, summer vacation, and garden stuff.

Once again, lists take centre stage for me. The general to-do list gave way to a ‘before Christmas’ to-do list. That list has now been refined into a day-by-day list, a sort of sadistic Advent calendar counting the days to Christmas.

I’m afraid ‘write blog’ didn’t make it onto today’s list. It was bumped off when I failed to complete ‘pick and process peas’ on yesterday’s list, due to the unexpectedly large harvest.

So, I’m off to blanch and freeze peas. Hope you’ve all had a lovely day and completed everything on you to-do list. Just two more weeks, and we’ll get a day off!