A buzz

Along with all the work we are doing in the vegetable garden there has been some major weeding happening in our front yard. It has been hard to see the garden plants out here from the weeds that sprang up while we were overseas for two months. Thankfully our chickens find the weeds pretty palatable so disposal is easy.

garden-mess
Bulbine Lilies, the yellow flowers in the foreground , struggle to be seen against sappy weeds and unwanted grasses

At least after the weeding we can now see our ‘grassland’ again. It has also been fantastic to see just how many butterflies, bees, hover flies and other pollinators are feeding on the flowers in this part of the garden.

front-summer
The white paper daisies are attracting masses of pollinators at this time of the year

Having ripped out the weeds it was clear that there was plenty of space for some new plants. I couldn’t resist trying some Mulla Mulla (Ptilotus exaltatus ‘Joey’) that I found at the local nursery. I’m not completely convinced about just how frost hardy they will prove to be in our garden (they are rated to withstand light frosts). I can only hope that they  will get sufficient protection from our nearby gum tree.

replanted
The newly planted Mulla Mulla, with the pink flowers

I was in the process of cutting back the flower spikes, to help the plants get over the transplant shock, when I had to stop. I could hardly believe my eyes. The Blue Banded bees, an Australian species, had appeared out of nowhere to feed on the flowers.

bbbee
A Blue Banded bee getting into the flowers of the Mulla Mulla

I left them to it.

 

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Build it and they will come

Last Sunday I spent the morning in the garden. The weather was reasonable and all those little jobs were waiting to be done.

First on the list was doing some hand-pollinating on the apricot tree. I know, not a lot of fun and just a wee bit anal, but the low temperatures mean that bee pollination is not guaranteed.

By brush, pollinating the apricot tree
By brush, pollinating the apricot tree

Luckily for me I was about a third of the way around the open flowers when I realised I had some help.

An expert shows the way!
An expert shows the way!

Good enough! No need to get in the way of the experts.

Earlier in the week we had found some vegetable seeds in one of the Asian supermarkets near the university, so job number two was planting these out.

Chinese celery and white radish
Chinese celery and white radish

I had chosen seeds that would be able to bear the cold temperatures, Chinese celery, also called mitsuba and a short white radish, that grows to about 20cms.

I also planted out my old garden boots. Yes, they had done their job and while the uppers look quite OK the soles were completely broken and holey. These now are planted with chives, that came free from a magazine cover.

Old boots, new purpose
Old boots, new purpose

And while all this busyness was happening I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. At last, our nesting spotted pardalotes have arrived. Once more our large compost heap has been pressed into service for these tiny nesting birds.

One of the pardalotes sitting outside their nesting hole.
One of the pardalotes sitting outside their nesting hole

This is one gardening service we are happy to provide.

All good

While we sat drinking our cup of tea, looking over the garden we became aware of all sorts of life flitting through the plants. The European House Sparrow was making repeat visits to our kale plants carrying off mouthfuls of Cabbage White Butterfly larvae (more strength to her wings). The more and longer we looked the more we saw. First a bee and then a wasp. A green caterpillar was waving its body around, which soon ended in its being fed to one of our chickens.

As we discussed pulling out our really way past it zucchini plant we realised it was crawling with yellow and black ladybirds.

Several Fungus eating ladybirds, Illeis galbula, on our zucchini plant
Several Fungus eating ladybirds, Illeis galbula, on our zucchini plant

As you can see the plant has a bad case of powdery mildew. We though we should get rid of the plant and hope that a small seedling we still had might come good in the remaining warm weather. But we didn’t know whether these were ‘good’ or ‘bad’ ladybirds (garden friends or problem pests).

It turns out that these are native Australia lady birds, Illeis galbula, AKA the fungus eating laydybird! Just the ticket. A closer look revealed not only adults but lots of larvae, which I admit do look somewhat like marauding caterpillars, albeit very small ones, as they are about 1 centimetre long.

Larvae of the fungus eating ladybird, Illeis galbula
Larvae of the fungus eating ladybird, Illeis galbula

Furthermore we had the pupae as well! If you compare these two photos you can see that the pupae are rather shorter and fatter than the larval stage. Looking all together much more beetle-like.

Pupae of the fungus eating ladybird, Illeis galbula, the ones on the left of the picture are a bit more mature
Pupae of the fungus eating ladybird, Illeis galbula, the ones on the left of the picture are a bit more mature

It turns out that all stages of this tiny animal love eating fungus. So hang on to your mouldy cucurbits, if you have the space and let the ladybirds have a good munch. Or if you must pull the plants out leave it where the ladybirds and their offspring can readily get to them.

 

Local pollinators

At this time of the year our front grassy woodland-type garden is alive with butterflies, bees, hoverflies and pollinators of all descriptions. I was trying to get a shot of my favourite Australian bee, the Blue-banded Bee (Amegilla), but although I saw them I had no luck getting a photo. I did however get to see plenty of other insects and take lots of out of focus shots of insects feeding on our paper daisies and also our native pelargoniums.

The most commonly seen butterfly in our garden at this time of year is Vanessa kershawii, the Australian Painted Lady and if you look behind it, in the photo below, you can also spot another smaller butterfly, called a Grass Dart, probably Ocybadistes walkeri (or possibly O. flavovittata).

The large butterfly is Vanessa kershawii and the smaller one behind it is  a Grass Dart, probably Ocybadistes walkeri
The large butterfly is an Australian Painted Lady, Vanessa kershawii and the smaller one behind it is a Grass Dart, probably Ocybadistes walkeri

I have to thank  Len Watkin of the Australian Moths Online for pointing out to me that this small creature wasn’t a moth, rather it was a butterfly.  Martin Purvis who looks after the Australian Butterflies website confirmed my identification (from what he could see in the photos).

The Grass Dart taking a rest on a nearby Pelargonium leaf, 28 November 2014.
The Grass Dart taking a rest on a nearby Pelargonium leaf, 28 November 2014.

But it’s not just butterflies and moths that pollinate flowers in the garden. While I didn’t have any luck with capturing a photo of the Blue-banded Bee I did spot at least two others. One very small one looked like a Stingless bee, but I’m unclear whether they are found in the ACT. The other I think is a species of Leafcutter bee.

My clearest shot of what I think may be a Leafcutter Bee, 28 November 2014.
My clearest shot of what I think may be a Leafcutter Bee, 28 November 2014.

Talk about carrying a load of pollen.

A species of Leafcutter Bee?
A species of Leafcutter Bee? Look at the pollen on its legs.

I will keep trying to photograph a Blue-banded bee in my garden and who knows what else I will spot! If you are interested in identifying Australian Bees I suggest you check out the Aussie Bee website.