Category Archives: Insects

Orchid on a String

More aftermath from the Great Grapefruit Massacre of 2010

When the grapefruit tree was full and lush, out of season the spiders would move in and create a hammock of webs along the bottom branches.  Spiders eat wasps, and they never interfered with the grapefruit harvest, so I learned to duck when mowing under the tree and left them alone.  But this year I feared strangulation by spider strings as the webs began to envelop my orchid.  The orchid didn’t bat a bloom.  It started budding in the beginning of the month and is now in full bloom with its blossoms strung up marionette-style.

The orchid’s brilliant blooms in the midst of an overbearing web reminds me again of a quote my sister recently texted me:

The peacock eats poison and that’s what makes the color of its tail so brilliant…the poison becomes the source of much beauty and joy. -Pema Chodron

The orchid without the spider last year was about to plummet out of its lopsided pot, but this year the orchid was lifted up by the creepy, sticky, usually unwanted strings of the spider’s web.Imagine me as a porcupine voodoo doll, trade the quills for poison pins.  But inspired by the beauty of the peacock and the orchid, I’ll keep on blooming with tolerance and joy.  Wonder Woman was my hero in childhood; Pema Chodron is my hero in adulthood.

Visiting Woody

I give up.  I try to live my life as close to chemically-free as possible, but bugs are my limit.  I’ll live with a baby lizard, but ants, you win.  I’d rather drop the bomb than watch another ant walk across my egg yolk.  I tell you that disgusting truth because I’m confident in my cleanliness.  My counters are clean, but still I couldn’t crack an egg on the edge.  That was it; we sprayed inside and out, threw three bombs in the attic and got the hell outta here.  We headed up to my sister’s for the night to pretend we were on vacation while they’re on their real vacation.  We were greeted with a message from Ella…

Ella, don’t worry; we came prepared with a fresh bone…

…and had a great time swimming, grilling, walking, and lounging…thanks!

There was some birdwatching too.  But just as I was thinking what a nice post the birds would make, I realized what they were – vultures!  Eeeeew, they’re so creepy, and they were there eating dead fish out of the pond.  Probably the result of too much fertilizer, sometimes you just can’t escape the chemicals.

Visit the Honey Bees at Phillippi Estate Park

Yesterday’s discovery was fleas; today it was bees.  I woke up this Wednesday morning with a craving for a hot, homemade donut…too bad it’s May.  The Phillippi Farmhouse Market only runs November through April, but I forgot that, so a trip to the market turned into a nature walk.  Running into this sign made up for the donut disappointment.

Another bonus was a healthier breakfast - an egg bought from King Family Farm and Market.  Colorful eggs are the best kind; this one had a blue shell and an orange yolk.       

To visit the bees, walk the Hammock Trail at Phillippi Estate Park in Sarasota, Florida.  Find the flagged tree and look up.

I have fleas!

Karma truly is a bitch.  Back when I was a carefree twenty-something, I spent a summer road tripping with my dog, Bobo.  He was a great traveling partner.  We spent a couple weeks in Myrtle Beach and the rest of the summer in New York with my mother.  This is the same mother once described on this very blog as “the most unlikely and absolute animal-hater I know,” and Bobo was no exception. 

But again, I was young, about 22 at the time; it really didn’t occur to me that my mother might be bothered by the presence of a slobbering 100-plus pound black Labrador in her house.  A couple times I stayed out too late, and she had to walk him.  Then the bright green from his bag of dog food somehow bled onto her wall in the kitchen.  But neither of these offenses were as bad as our parting gift of fleas. 

I headed back to Florida with my young, fun, oblivious self and left my mother itching, scratching and wanting to kill me and my big dog too.  This is where Bobo’s traveling companionship really shined - since he was the ultimate host, the fleas never bothered me.  I had no idea he had fleas until my mother told me.  I never saw a flea in either my car or apartment and certainly never had one on my body…until this morning. 

The last house I lived in is now a rental.  I was over there this morning to take care of the yard.  The grass has transitioned from its winter to summer growing schedule, but my mowing schedule hasn’t caught up yet.  The lawn was starting to overtake the garden bed that lines the front walkway.  As I pulled back some of the grass, my legs were suddenly covered with black bugs.  I quickly brushed them off, completely disgusted by the swarm action but still unaware of what they were.  

After the lawn was mowed, I realized whatever they were had feasted on my legs.  There were so many red splotches that they looked more like a rash than bug bites.  But it wasn’t until I got Luke from the backyard that I knew they were fleas.  Bobo was all black; Luke has enough white fur to spot fleas from a distance.  Still, there’s always a hint of denial in situations such as these, so I gave his back a good back and forth rub with both hands to see if the black specks were just dirt.  He does love rolling around in stuff. 

But dirt doesn’t bite, and I could feel the fleas on my hands and wrists.  He couldn’t get in the car; he was completely covered.  So thinking I was flea-free, I left Luke in the backyard and drove to the house to get his shampoo.  This is the text I sent John while stopped at the very first light just around the corner, “I’m freaking out…I have fleas. They’re on me!”  There was one on my sock and another on my shoulder laddering up to my hair.    

I stripped at the door and immediately showered.  I gathered Luke’s bath supplies and sprinkled Borax in my car to dry out any potential eggs.  I thought I was safe.  Once again, I’m stopped at a light and there it is - one lone flea lurking above the visor and my head.  But Luke had it far worse than a few lingering fleas.  It took three vigorous scrub downs at the rental house to get them all off and when we got home I saw two more.  It was straight to the tub for Lukey.

Luke was traumatized by the bathing; I’m traumatized by the phantom itching.  It doesn’t matter that we’re showered and flea-free; my skin is still crawling.  So this is for my mother: I’m sorry.  Although it was said 10+ years ago, I’ve never meant it more than today.

Soap Making with Bees

My obsession with soap continues.  Everything around me is a possible scent or dye.  My most recent inspiration came from a few wilting sunflowers.

The initial allure was the bright yellow color, but my next thought was that maybe it’ll be good for my skin.  If you don’t have allergies, pollen is seemingly good for you.  It’s marketed that way at least, but that’s why I’m not completely convinced.  So while I won’t spend a bunch of money to buy pollen in pill form, it does make perfect sense to add it to some soap.  Why not? 

The picture above is proof that bees visited the sunflowers that provided the pollen, but it still isn’t considered bee pollen.  Bee pollen is taken straight from the bees.  It’s the pollen that sticks to their bodies as they fly from flower to flower.  Although it does seem rather unlikely that a few particals from the bees aren’t mixed in. 

Flower pollen is also bottled and sold, albeit to a lesser degree.  The only information I could find on either one that didn’t appear to be an advertisement was on WebMD.  While the article states, “Bee pollen contains vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, lipids, and protein,” it also says, after listing a series of product claims, “At this point, medical research has not shown that bee pollen is effective for any of these health concerns.” 

Good thing the fluorescent lemon color is enough for me.  It’s absolutely brilliant.  And the only other additive in the soap is something the bees were sure to have had a hand in – honey, and to be more specific, Sarasota raw and unfiltered honey from My Sweetest Honey off of Fruitville Road.  I bought my bottle at the Phillippi Farmhouse Market; it reads, “No heat, filtering or processing is ever used.  This is done in order to preserve its natural antioxidants, pollens, enzymes and flavor.”  Once again, I’m pleased with my ingredients and results.  Now let’s hope that lasts.  Remember my pretty, purple Amaryllis soap?

It faded to brown.

I have no idea what happened.  It was purple one day, brown the next.  Weird, but that’s how experiments go.  Now it’s on to the next bar; luckily, I just came across a recipe for rose water…


I want to keep bees!  A free class on honeybee keeping offered through the Sarasota County Extension has me inspired, although it may have to wait until after next winter.  Apparently bees sell out, and it’s near the end of bee season.  But if you can find bees now, with only one box you could have three gallons of honey or more by Christmas. 

It costs about $300 to start beekeeping, but there are no recurring costs.  If I decide to do this, I’m splurging on the $50 jacket that has the big netted hood attached…bees crawl.  They also roam up to three miles.  Beware of buying organically labeled honey because it’s hard to guarantee that the bees haven’t fed on a plant that’s been sprayed. 

Florida is a honey haven because the bees have so many options – maples, citrus trees, black mangroves, wildflowers, even Brazilian peppers-a non-native invasive species universally disliked by Floridians-all provide honey flows.  A honey flow is bee keeper talk for the combination of nice weather and abundant nectar from one source. 

One of the instructors, Betsy Roberts, is a gardener in addition to being a master beekeeper.  She handed out a list of native plants that provide pollen to the bees.  Among the list were quite a few that I have or have had in my garden – aster, tickweed, salvia, coneflower, morning glory, blueberry, and sunflower.  Two plants that were on the list and came up in class as good pollen sources were spiderwort and partridge pea.      

Roberts was also covered in bees!  Here’s a close-up of her pants:

For more information on bee keeping in Florida, visit the Suncoast Beekeepers Association.

Organic Ant Control

Ants, ants, ants! I just can’t get rid of them. Even when we paid for regular pest control, we still had ants. We discontinued pest control when Lukey came on the scene because a few bugs are better than a sick dog. He only weighs 16-pounds; it wouldn’t take much to poison him. So out of love for my loved one, I took on the bugs myself - organically.  And the only real buggers have been the ants.  I tried to nicely sprinkle instant grits around the piles; and when that didn’t work, I savagely sloshed them with boiling water.  I waged massive attacks with the combustible duo of baking soda and every last bottle of vinegar in the fridge – apple cider, white, balsamic, rice, red wine.  Balsamic and red wine were the result of madness; don’t try this at home.  It took months for the vinegar spots to wash off our brick pavers!  

Accidents aside, I’m ready to break out the big boy of vinegar – apple cider this time.  Apparently, ants don’t like it.  But they do like honey, and the combination of the two can make cohabitation more bearable.  The vinegar deters them and the honey baits them, so you can train the ants to go where you want.  I’ve given up on trying to get rid of them, and there’s really no need in the long-term other than that they bug me. 

In the short-term, they’ve made us put off planting the fall garden.  Ants don’t eat leaves or flowers, but they can disturb the roots of fresh seedlings with their piles and activity.  Using the watering can, I’ve been sprinkling the four squares we’ll be planting and composting in this season.  I also placed honey baits where I can live with them – under the Surinam cherry and in a few grassy spots.


This honey bait is the sawed-off bottom of a can of pear nectar dug into the ground and filled with honey.  John would not be happy if he saw the way I treat our kitchen knives.  But it all balances out – I cut anything that needs to be cut, including cans, and he autopilots to the sharpener every time he uses one. 


And what exactly was I doing with pear nectar anyway?  It’s a key ingredient in my favorite homemade dressing ever…it must be the fresh basil.

Raspberry Vinaigrette

Shake all ingredients in a screw-top jar.

  • 3/4 cup pear nectar
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup raspberry vinegar
  • 3 tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

It works as a marinade too.  I have chicken marinating now, which will be grilled and then served over a salad of spinach, strawberries, apples, and whatever nuts are in the cabinet…perfect for a late dinner. Bon appetit and good night!

Garden Blotter

Vandals struck the corner of my garden last night.  Don Juan, a sumptuous red rose and the centerpiece of the corner, suffered the most damage.  After a half-assed investigation, the possible suspects have been narrowed down to a green june beetle, a slug, or a rogue garden gnome that got his hands on a hole punch.   


I can’t get enough of this video.  It’s so amazing that I had to share – too bad those Colorado residents don’t feel the same way.  I’d be telling everyone, and John would probably be charging an entrance fee!