A piece of bird poo? Look again…

One of my favourite discoveries in the garden, this year has been a Bird Dropping Spider (Celaenia excavata) that has made her home on our White Sapote.

Looks like bird poo to me!
Looks like bird poo to me!

I discovered her by accident when I was cleaning a few leaves from bird poo while getting ready for the Mannum Gardening Club to visit. I’m assuming she’s a her because of the size of the body. I could be wrong but in the spider world, the ladies are usually bigger than the fellas.

I’d brushed a few leaves clean of debris, then one of the lumps of bird poo stuck to my hand. I shook it off and it hung by a thread from my fingers. Curious I thought, then she unfurled her legs, got up and moved like a crab, walking away, apparently in reverse along my arm. I had to look closely to see which was the front end. I knew exactly what it was and was pretty excited! This is the first one I’ve found in our garden.

Sitting patiently like a lump of poo.
Sitting patiently like a lump of poo.

Surprisingly, for something that looks like a piece of bird poo, this spider likes to lurk beneath the leaves of the White Sapote. It must be prey-central bcause she hasn’t left that tree.

When she unfurls those legs, she looks like a crab.

I’ll keep watching her antics as time goes by. I’m hoping to see some of the relatively large egg sacs that she will string on some fine web in between the leaves.

The best part is that the White Sapote tree is in a pot right next to where we open the car door. I check for her whenever I’m leaveing or arriving in the garden.

In the pic below you can she that she has caught a decent sized moth. She must have some appetite!

That’s a big lunch!

Bird Dropping Spiders are a variety of Orb Weaver that have given up stringing huge webs and taken in a more active, predatory lifestyle. She doesn’t move during the day, preferring to hunt at night. I’ve learned that when hunting, a Bird Dropping Spider hangs from a single silk thread and releases a pheromone that mimics the sex smells released by female moths. When a male moth approaches too closely, our spider captures it with its powerful front legs. Ouch!

Bird Dropping Spiders are harmless to humans but deadly to male moths!

Plant spotlight #1: The story of our Cape Gooseberry (Physalis peruviana)

Our's lives mostly under the Almond tree.
Our’s lives mostly under the Almond tree.

Cape Gooseberry (Physalis peruviana) is a well loved plant that enjoys the conditions here in SA and providing us with a whole lot of fruit.

The famous Gooseberry fruit case.
The famous Gooseberry fruit case.

As with so many things at Ligya Garden, we do things a little differently. Our Sun loving Cape Gooseberry plants grow in a lot of shade for most of the year however, from mid spring to late Autumn, they get enough Sun to flower and fruit well. That gives us tangy fruit at the end of the cold and the beginning of the next lot.

We grow ours as a perennial climber.
We grow ours as a perennial climber.

Cape Gooseberry plants are vine-like and can spread easily. We kind of train ours upward o the trellis on the front of the verandah and another sprawls lazily under the Almond tree. It grows upwards by itself but sometimes, the stems can get broken by the mass of the plant and the weight of the fruit.

In its ‘down time’ during the rest of summer, the Cape Gooseberry has another job. It is an indicator plant for Red Spider (2-Spotted) Mites and their Stethorus predators.

The webbing of Spider Mites sends chills down most gardener's spines...
The sight of the webbing of Spider Mites sends chills down most gardener’s spines…

The Mites can first be seen on the Blackberry Nightshades that we let self seed for both food and use as trap plants. Then they move onto the Cape Gooseberry.

When I see them, I get scared, just like everyone else but I keep my cool and watch out for shiny little black dots to start moving over the leaves. That’s the Stethorus Ladybird Beetle that I’ve written about before. That means that the Mites will be under control soon and I have no need to worry about out Tomatoes.

On the rare occasion when the Mites do show up on the Tomatoes, I grab a few leaves from the Cape Gooseberry and hang them on the affected plants. This year, that trick worked well on our bioponics Eggplants too.

The classic yellow flowers.
The classic yellow flowers.

Cape Gooseberry is one of the Solanum family that contains Tamarillo, Potato, Tomato and Blackberry Nightshade. The group of plants that it is closely related to including Ground Cherry and Tomatillo have their fruit encased in little green structures that remind me of Chinese Lanterns. The case dries over time revealing th intricate lacework of its structure. Unfortunately, none of the dried cases are around now or I’d show you a picture of one.

Cape Gooseberry fruit are like supercharged tomatoes. They’re delicious. They start green but ripen to a bright yellow/orange. As with other Solanums, like Blackberry Nightshade, only eat the fruit when it’s ripe otherwise stomach-aches can ensue.

Because we are on such a small block, it is important to have plants that provide multiple benefitsand Cape Gooseberry is a prime example of that for sure – delicious fruit, pretty flowers and pest control all rolled into one plant.

Spicy chook warmer for Winter + a place to bathe in the dust

Winter’s around the corner, though you’d never believe it today. The Sun’s out and there is a lovely warm breeze warming the house.

I thought I’d share with you another of my tricks for helping our girls make it through the cold – a spicy drink. Well, it’s not really a drink, it’s more an additive to their diet that goes in their drink and another for their food. It’s also a great way to use up old spices – that pack of Cayenne has been in the cupboard since 2013!

I make a tea of Turmeric, Cayenne and Ginger that gets added to the water container that leads to their water outlet. Our water container is one of those 11 litre spring water containers, inverted and with the base removed. It feeds into a cup waterer. The recipe is then for 10 litres of water. It should scale well.

Our chook waterer.
Our chook waterer.

It’s a simple brew that is as follows –

  • 1/4 tsp Cayenne powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground Ginger
  • 1/4 tsp Turmeric powder
  • a small pinch of Murray River Salt or Himalayan Sea Salt

Other optional spices are black pepper and mustard. I suppose that even curry powder could be used – anything warming.

Mix this in boiling water and allow to stand until cool, then filter the sludge out and add the brew to the water container. The sludge left can go into soup for you!

There's a lot of sludge, so filter well. A coffee filter is great for this purpose.
There’s a lot of sludge, so filter well. A coffee filter is great for this purpose.

When you have added it to the water container, you should just be able to taste a bit of a bite in a sample. I’ve found that much more and they don’t like to drink it. I’ve also tried adding Garlic powder but they didn’t like that (though they will eat Garlic granules mixed in with their feed).

You can also add Cayenne or Chili flakes or powder to their grain. I’ve found 2 teaspoonfuls to 10kg of feed is fine. You can add Garlic granules there too and they’ll happily munch on that.

Below is a pic of another addition to the chook run. I’ve made up a covered dust bath for them. The run is mostly open at the top and because we don’t let the chooks out to ravage the garden at the moment because we’ve just planted, they need a little somewhere dry and fun. It also gives them the chance to perch atop it for a bit of variety.

The girls aren't sure at the moment...
The girls aren’t sure at the moment…

It’s made of an old builder’s tray that I had that had a small hole in it, some offcuts of from polycarbonate roof sheets (I knew I’d find a use for them and here it is 5 years later since the original sheets were used). It’s braced by some offcuts of 19mm polypipe that were hanging around too. A real DIY job!

The girls won’t go into it at the moment – it’s too new for them. I’ll throw some food in, on and around it for a couple of days and they’ll be fine. Like me and Athena, our stomachs always win! Then I’ll add the sand.

Making gentle Oxymels

I make a lot of tinctures for folks and ourselves but they’re time consuming to make and sometimes people just don’t drink alcohol.

Oxymels are the perfect substitute. They’re quick and easy to make and non-alcoholic too. They’re a method of extracting a lot of goodies from plant materials using a mixture of honey and vinegar.

The taste of an oxymel is gentler than alcoholic extracts, making them suitable for children over 4). There are lots of prohibitions in natural medicine about giving very young children honey, especially raw honey, so be aware of that.

Oxymels excel firrespiratory conditions and are simy wonderful for soothing sore throats. Thyme is one of the best herbs to take via an oxymel.

When youve got some experience in oxymel making, under your belt, you can adjust the final taste of the oxymel by adjusting the ratio of honey to vinegar. You’ll find your favourite ratio through experience.

Honey, vinegar, herbs and a covered jar are all-out need to make an oxymel.
Honey, vinegar, herbs and a covered jar are all-out need to make an oxymel.

To make a basic oxymel

  • Prepare your herb
  • Mix vinegar and honey at a 1:1 ratio
  • Stir well or shake vigorously
  • Add the herbs at around 75% of the honey /vinegar mix (by volume).
  • Seal the jar and shake well.
  • Shake well daily (or almost daily) for 4 to 6 weeks and keep somewhere warm.
  • If the mix gets too cold, you might see the honey settling out. That’s no problem, just stir it back in.
  • Strain, press, filter bottle and label.
  • This should store for up to 6 months.
Mix the honey and vinegar thoroughly.
Mix the honey and vinegar thoroughly.

If you’re using fresh honey and home made Apple Cider Vinegar, you are using a living brew. It could produce carbon dioxide through a limited fermentation process, so leave your kid a little loose for the first week to allow the gas to escape. It should settle down after that time.

If you’re using store bought or commercially prepared vinegar, you won’t have to do this. Here’s a link to our page on making your own Apple Cider Vinegar at home.

Shake, shake, shake.
Shake, shake, shake.
Let it sit but shake daily.
Let it sit but shake daily.
The best thing about oxymels is that you get to lick the spoon!
The best thing about oxymels is that you get to lick the spoon!

Extraction by boiling vinegar

Some harder, woody herbs can benefit from being boiled in vinegar for a while to soften them up and extract some of their goodness. This technique can be used for most tougher herbs but is perfect for bark, pods, seeds and roots, especially when they’ve been dried.

To perform this technique –

  • Cover the plant material in a pot at the ratio of 2 vinegar : 1 plant material
  • Optionally, you can leave this to soak for a few hours or overnight
  • Bring the mix to a boil
  • Reduce the heat and simmer gently to evaporate the vinegar until you have approximately 1/2 the original volume
  • Allow to cool
  • Strain, press and filter the cooled mix
  • Add honey at a ratio to your taste (I use 2/3 vinegar to 1/3 honey).
  • Bottle, label and store. It should store for 6 months in a cool, dark place.

* Boliing ACV vapour can be very strong and intense, so avoid getting your face over the pot.

If you’ve already extracted in vinegar and honey separately

You can combine existing extracts if you’ve already made them with vinegar or honey by mixing the two at a 1 : 1 ratio. Then bottle, label and store.

You can find lots of other ways to prepare your herbs on our ‘preparing and using your herbs‘ page.

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