insects and arachnids thinking big

Black Widow

Less than 1% fatality.

🕷️🌯: That’s the science on being bit by a black widow. Not instant death on saying the words, or looking at a photograph. You don’t keel over from walking past one, or letting your eyeballs rest on her. This beauty, undisturbed, is living her best spider life. Hanging out, deciding what to have for lunch. Today, I opted for a veggie burrito, while she settled on a well wrapped bug. To each their own.

I don’t want to be blasé about her venom though. I have not experienced a black widow bite, and I hope to keep it that way. I’ve read the pain can be very real, and the risk is greater for the very young and the elderly than it is for me.

🕷️📵: But humans have a gnarly tendency to fear all the wrong things. We are quick to spin tall tales around small dangers, but slow to act on the real but boring or difficult ones. Otherwise rational people learn a black widow — generally shy and timid spiders — was once seen in a field, and run straight back to their car to drive home doing 140kph. While texting.

🌬️🕷️: To be clear — I am also afraid of black widows. Not the spider herself. She is exquisite. But why she is here… Now that does worry me. Like ticks, climate change is shifting their range further north. Lines on a political map don’t define where critters live, habitat does. Wherever they can survive, that’s where they’ll be. And Canada’s welcome is not so cold anymore. This tiny spider’s presence is a sign my habitat is changing. She is a glossy black canary in this coal mine.

🛤️⤵️: The world around us is screaming to pay attention, but we are driving too fast to notice. I hope that as individuals and communities and municipalities and provinces and nations that we learn to pump the brakes in time, and chose a different direction.


Additional black widow reading:

CBC article on black widows and climate change

CBC article on ticks and climate change

About the Northern Black Widow (Michigan State University)

About the Northern Black Widow (Nature Conservancy of Canada)

gardening homestead

Car Tent Greenhouse, update!

🌿🚧: The car tent greenhouse experiment is growing along great! Sure, as a prototype, it’s a little janky to look at. (When the setting sun hits the sheathing tape just so… Okay, it doesn’t exactly take your breath away.) But when I change what I focus on, I usually change what I see. Right now, I’m focusing on food growing where there was none. And that’s a beautiful sight.

The car tent is home to tomatoes, hot peppers, sweet peppers, eggplants, lemongrass, cilantro, basil. All growing up a lush green leafy storm. I’ve already grown my biggest eggplant to date. Granted, that eggplant is currently about two inches long. But as I’ve never grown eggplant before, it wins by default. Success!

🐌🍻: Busts and booms often arrive together, and I won’t prettify the story. While the car tent greenhouse has been zooming along, the raised beds have been riding the strugglebus. Many of my transplants, lovingly grown from saved seeds, got munched by slugs. So I grew some larger, planted those as replacements, and the slugs were like “sure, I could eat”, and obligingly had seconds. So I got even larger plants from a neighbour’s farm. And the slugs were like “you shouldn’t have!!” and mangled (slug-gled?) those too. Plants A, B, and C, chomped.

🦙🌱: Last year I made beer traps, which worked well, until a raccoon came by who was thrilled we had beer-marinated slugs on the menu. This year, I’ve tried and failed at using wood ash. At the moment, I’m using wool fibre — which seems to be working?? It’s definitely working at making me look like an eccentric old lady. But I take that as high praise, since it’s my life’s goal to become an old lady who doesn’t give a damn as young as possible. (Eccentric old ladies really know how to live.)

We expect to fail a lot our first many years growing food here. And to lean heavily on the local farmers who ensure we still have food when we do (thank you farmers!!). The important bit is to learn, and try again. Because y’know what they say — Sometimes slugs, sometimes eggplants.

It’s going to catch on any day now.

Have a great weekend folks! 🎪


D-I-Why Not fauna

Downstairs Neighbours

Woodburned this little scamp on the weekend. I wasn’t sure what to draw, then I looked out the window and fifteen thousand chipmunks went running by…

There are so many chipmunks here that I suspect our home sits on a bedrock of swiss cheese.

It would be so wonderful to know what goes on here, under my nose, beneath my feet. The rabbit warrens and chipmunk tunnels. Where the voles and moles and mice live. Snake dens, toad hidey holes. I glimpse only little flashes of tails disappearing, a crevice that doubles as a front door, a dug out doorway into a slopeside home. The original earthship builders.

The presence of chipmunks reminds me that I’m perched on an iceberg. The earth below is teeming with life, and I walk obliviously on a hundred rooftops. Tunnels and dens and caches and retreats and sanctuaries. Under my feet, life goes down and down and on and on…

Burned on local cherry wood, an offcut from the work of @mysticwoodcarving (now @rhizaecosm).

Have a great week folks! 🐿️


flora homestead


Neil took this beautiful photo the other day of an eastern tiger swallowtail on our ninebark shrub.

I hate ninebark shrubs. Also, ninebark shrubs are one of my favourite plants.

The ninebark in our yard is the legacy of a previous owner. It is a good size and prominently placed. I would never have planted ninebark here. This nursery variety one is called “summer wine”, branded to evoke warm afternoons and pleasing things. But to me, a child of the 80s, it is the colour of repressively brutalist elementary school buildings and suburbia. It belongs to a landscape of pressure treated stacked railroad ties and salmon-coloured patio stones. To me, it is “morose maroon”.

It is not… to my taste.

But when we moved in here, we left all the plants as-is for awhile. We didn’t know much, but we knew enough to know what we don’t know. So we gave ourselves a few years to learn about what was already here, and kept a light touch with our horticultural changes. We added, but we didn’t take away.

We moved in during summertime. When our first spring came the next year, we discovered the ninebark exploded with baubles of tiny pink and white blooms. Alright. That’s a solid +1. But that’s still many months of morosity.

A couple more years along, and my love of and fascination with insects was beginning to blossom. In the springs that followed, I realized that the ninebark was covered, absolutely covered, in what looked like tiny buzzy bees. Each spring and early summer the shrub literally hums, throbs and pulses with life.

Now, 7 years later, the ninebark is still here, in pride of place. And it is welcome to stay as long as it likes. Because now I know that it is a much needed source of early food and shelter for all sorts of flying things. Yesterday a hummingbird perched on the tip of its branches. The tiger swallowtails flutter through it, birds build nests under its canopy, and the tiny buzzy bees are a sure sign more blooms are on their way.

I recently learned there are two more ninebarks here, struggling to survive in poorly suited sites. I dug them up out of the ground — and moved them to better locations. You can’t have enough ninebark.

Have a great week folks! 🌿🐝


D-I-Why Not gardening

Room to grow

Every year I’m way behind on giving my plants proper supports. It’s always a mad dash of posts and strings and in the end it looks like an overgrown harried spider is trying to grow tomatoes.

Not this year I thought, as my peas blossomed and quickly and optimistically climbed into thin air. This year, this year, I shall build them a proper trellis. After a bit of research into maximum heights, and considering the other posts in the garden, I settled on this experiment. Ripped down 2x4s for the framing, scrap plywood for corner bracing, and chicken wire for climbing. I retrofitted the structure onto the existing raised bed by drilling in dowels to the corner posts.

Got it all built and installed, and then, almost as an afterthought, double checked which variety of peas I planted this year.

Tom Thumb.

Grows to about a foot tall.

On the plus side, I’m super on top of things for next year. 😂

Have a great weekend everyone! 🌿

D-I-Why Not gardening homestead

Vegetable Parking Only

This year marks our first car tent “greenhouse” experiment.

I like to prototype with whatever’s at hand, to see early on if an idea has legs, or if we should change course. No point running far and fast towards a dead end. 🚧

🎪-🚘=🌿: I’d really love to have a greenhouse here, but we don’t have one, and I’m not sure exactly the best spot to build one. We also don’t have a garage. But that means we do have a car tent. So maybe that double negative can equal a positive?? No garage + no greenhouse = greenhouse!

🎪-🚘=🐔: I put up and take down the car tent frame each winter. But sometimes the car tent spends its summer vacation trying out different jobs. Our first summer with chickens, it was our chicken run. I really don’t like the car tent, but I sure like how it helps me prototype my dreams!

🎪☀️: This year, the car tent is seeing how it feels about life as a “greenhouse”. Our driveway might be the sunniest spot on our property, though our gravel driveway isn’t exactly arable land. So I built half the car tent frame on the side of the driveway. Then we wrapped it with leftover clear vapour barrier plastic, with the original car tent doors on the ends. I took all our large pots, plus some generously gifted us from our neighbours, popped them inside, and potted up our more heat and sun-loving seedlings. That’s a pepper’s POV in the photo. It’s noticeably sunny and toasty in there, and the plants seem to be thriving. So far so good! Now I just have to remember it doesn’t rain inside the car tent…

(🍓: That’s a foreshadow shadow on the plastic — chokecherry shrubs I hope to harvest later this year. More experiments coming!)

Always worth a look around to see if something you already have is secretly something you don’t. 💡

Have a great week folks! 🌿


homeMADE tracks & scat


I found a pretty perfect coyote paw print in the mud yesterday, and thought I’d have a go at casting it!

2 parts plaster of paris mixed with one part water. I cut the bottom off a plastic ricotta pot to use as a retaining wall for the plaster goop. Carefully poured in the plaster mix, and left it to solidify for 24 hours. I returned this morning to find well preserved wild canid toe beans! I think I’ll mount it by the front door so I can hi-five a coyote whenever I leave the house…

FOX, DOG or COYOTE — How can you tell?

Here are 3 tips to help tell whether a single print belongs to a wild canid (fox/coyote) or a domestic dog. (NB There are exceptions to every rule, hence my liberal use of the word “tend”… 😉 )

1 — 🌕🥚 Round vs Oval. Domestic dog prints tend to have a round shape overall, with toes more splayed out. Wild canid toes tend to all point forward, and the overall shape is more oval.

2 — 🗡️🥄Claws. Wild canids tend to have sharper, pointier claws than domestic dogs. They spend less time walking on hard surfaces like pavement and floors.

3 — ✖️🐾 The X Factor. In a wild canid track, because of how the various pads relate to each other, there tends to be an ‘X’ shape through the middle of the print. See if you could draw an X through the print, and not touch any pads.

My ID: I believe this track is the front paw of an eastern coyote. The dimensions are bang on for a coyote’s front paw, ~2.75″x2.5″. Fox would be a little smaller, closer to 2″, even allowing for fuzzy mud measurements, and it lacks the callus ridge I’d expect to see at least a hint of in a clear fox print. Let me know if your eyes see otherwise, and you have a different ID!

I’m really chuffed with how well this first attempt at casting went. You betcha I’ll be trying this again!

Have a great weekend folks! Don’t forget to set aside some time to play in the mud.



Meet Isaac “Figgy” Newton

April showers bring the juvenile stage of small semi-aquatic salamanders!

I went out this morning to plant some trees, and encountered this vibrant little gummy worm basking in the rain. It’s a red eft, the teenager form of an Eastern Newt. They wander around on land sporting this splashy spotted look for a couple of years, before slipping into a pond and taking their final olive-green form.

I sat in the rain and watched it for awhile. They move like a mix between tired rock climbers and those wooden ducks you push around with slappy leather feet. And for a delightful split second, I saw its wee little tongue! It appeared to be licking a raindrop off the stem of a leaf. Which, btw, broke my brain. Or at least its cuteness gauge. Some beautiful things happen on bright sunny days, but some of them wait for the rains.

Hope you’re keeping a nice mix of warm and dry and enjoying the delights of a good puddle, getting muddy, and unexpected spring encounters!

Have a great week folks!


insects and arachnids wild inklings

Wolf Spider Spring

“Wolfie the Spider” here is painted with homemade inks from the woods and the kitchen: wild grapevine charcoal, saffron bits, oak galls, soot, buckthorn bark, beet skins. Fine lines are detailed with a quill pen made from a wild turkey feather. Find more wild ink art here.

The first signs of spring here flash by like ghosts. A chipmunk dashing from the deck to the feeder. A couple of crows snacking on sumac. An eastern comma butterfly perched on a post to warm its wings.

And then the drips of spring come quicker and closer together. The first turkey vulture, the first sap in the bucket. Buds on the poplars. The first crocus. And then one day the sap is yellow and full of bugs and the driveway is more mud than ice and the sun is stronger and the green has returned.

And in that mix is one of my favourite sounds of early spring: the purring of the wolf spiders.

Sitting on a rock, I hear the dry leaves pulsing around me. Purr purr, purr purr. It’s a love song played by vibration. To woo potential mates, male wolf spiders drum on the dry leaves with their pedipalps. Singing with their feet, hoping a lady wolf spider digs their vibe and decides to make little wolf spider pups with them.

🏃‍♀️💨🕷️: I recognize spiders are not everyone’s cup of tea. They weren’t always mine. When I was little, I was terrified of them. I remember when it began. My parents were sweeping out the garage, and I was holding the dustpan. I can see it — the large spider running for its life ahead of the broom. Ahead of the broom, over the edge of the dustpan, up the handle, up my arm, into my shirt.

I shook for an hour after it was gone.

🕷️❤️🏃‍♀️: But that was then and this is now. If I was about to be swept up, I’d run for my life and into the nearest sleevehole too. We fear what we don’t know, and I have gotten to know spiders. We are now good friends, and a spring afternoon spent with wolf spiders is spent in excellent company.

Happy Spring!



For more on purring wolf spiders, I recommend Listen to the Dulcet Purr of the Wolf Spider (Smithsonian Magazine)

A short video from our woods:

D-I-Why Not flora gardening homestead

TPS Report: True Potato Seed

🥔Tuber-u-lar experiment! My favourite flower might be the potato. Before we grew some of our own potatoes here, I’d never seen a potato flower. And maybe it’s because I find them so enchanting that I leave them be, and enjoy them as long as I can. And maybe it’s because I leave them as long as I can, that last year, one potato plant formed an extra surprise: a potato berry!!

The little green “berry” is the fruit of the potato plant. And since it’s not really how we grow potatoes anymore (by planting the tubers, we grow clones of plants instead), and is at least a little toxic to eat, it doesn’t get much fanfare or cultivation.

🐝: But if the weather is just right, and the variety isn’t sterile, and if you have some bumblerbees around, your pretty pretty potato blossoms might get pollinated, and you might end up with a potato fruit!

And if you’re the curious type (🙋), you might just wait patiently until that little green fruit is ripe, and lurk around your potato plant checking until the day it drops to the soil. And then maybe you lovingly scoop it up, and pop it in a little container to dry out and you put a wee “potato!” label on it. And all winter you walk past it on a shelf. And then when you start your seeds in early spring, maybe you crack that now dried up potato berry open. And though you don’t know what you’re doing, and you can’t really tell, maybe, maybe, you see seeds in there?? And you pop the potato berry pieces into soil and cross your fingers and then on THE BEST EARLY SPRING DAY EVER you see li’l baby potato plants!!

It is an awfully long way from sprouts to spuds. So I don’t know if these little potato bebes are going to survive all the way to the garden. But holy potato berries am I excited to try!

❄️🌱: Happy up and down and round and round start to spring folks!
For more info: Since we refer to the tubers we plant as “seed potatoes”, it’s dang hard to google this subject. (Search engines lump “potato seed” and “seed potatoes” as one). If you want to learn more, try potato apples, potato tomatoes or TPS (True Potato Seed). But not “TPS Report”, because you’ll need the right cover sheet for that.