Large hairy spiders might not be what you want to see in your garden, but tarantulas are actually gentle, beneficial creatures.
Tarantulas are the largest spiders on Earth and they have been around for 150 million years. There are approximately 1,000 species of tarantula around the world.
Before you run away in a panic, you might be surprised to learn some of the more unique characteristics of tarantulas. For example, did you know that tarantulas use special hairs on their legs and feet that are used to taste things? Or that their sense of smell is in their feet? Read on!
We have all seen images of these large, hairy spiders, but there is far more to tarantulas than their appearance. Like other Arachnids, tarantulas have eight eyes and eight legs. Each of these legs has 7 segments and 2 or 3 retractable claws used for climbing and hunting. Tarantulas have 2 large eyes and 3 smaller eyes on either side. Tarantulas have hollow fangs used to inject their prey with venom. These fangs are unique in that they are articulated, which means they can be pointed forwards to attack or folded backwards for storage. [Imagine doing that with your teeth!]
Depending on the species, tarantulas range in body size from 1” to 4” long with leg spans of 3” to 12” wide. The Goliath birdeater, from Brazil and Venezuela, is the largest tarantula. While most North American tarantulas are brown, other species can be black with white stripes, iridescent purple, cobalt blue, yellow-legged, and one species, the Venezuelan greenbottle blue, has an orange back and metallic blue legs!
Speaking of legs, a tarantula can regrow a lost leg. A tarantula may pull off an injured leg and eat it, making room (and providing nutrients) to grow a new one.
Did you know that all tarantulas can produce silk? Or that some Old World species can hiss? I didn’t either.
Female tarantulas take 3 to 5 years to mature, depending on the species, and they can live for 15 to 30 years. Male tarantulas are smaller than females and they only live for 3 to 6 years. Like most other spiders, most female tarantulas often eat the males after mating. [Sorry, guys.] This provides her with the nutrients she needs to raise her young. Even if they are not eaten, male tarantulas normally die soon after mating.
Eggs are laid once a year in clusters of 50 to 2,000, depending on the species. Females are rather protective of their egg sacs, turning them frequently, the same way a broody hen will roll her eggs around in the nest. In both cases, this action prevents the offspring from becoming deformed.
Tarantulas are nocturnal predators. They used touch to find and ambush their prey. They mostly eat large insects, centipedes, millipedes, and other spiders. The larger species also capture and eat small bats, birds, lizards, mice, snakes, and tree frogs.
Tarantulas that hunt on the ground tend to live in silk-lined burrows in the ground. Tarantulas that hunt in trees tend to build silken nests for themselves, up in a favored tree.
As a tarantula grows, it must shed its protective exoskeleton. These molts are dangerous times for a tarantula because they cannot move while they are molting. Baby tarantulas, or spiderlings, molt every couple of weeks. Mature tarantulas molt once a year.
Tarantulas as prey
Tarantulas may look fierce and intimidating, but they look like lunch to a variety of other predators, including scorpions, giant centipedes, opossum, honey badgers, mongooses, kinkajou, and coati, depending on your continent. Even other tarantulas will feed on tarantulas. One of the biggest threats to tarantulas is a type of wasp, called a tarantula hawk. Tarantula hawks must sting the underside of a tarantula to subdue and paralyze it. The wasp then drags the tarantula to its den where it lays an egg on the tarantula’s belly before sealing it inside the tunnel. When the egg hatches, it will consume the tarantula.
Tarantulas as pets
Many people keep tarantulas as pets, swearing that they are affectionate, gentle beings. That may be so, but you do need to know that New World species of tarantula have special stinging, barbed hairs, called urticating hairs, that can become embedded in your skin, eyes and lungs. These hairs are very similar to the stinging hairs found in nettles and are used to mark territory and protect nesting areas.
Sadly, as a result of pet trade, some tarantula species are threatened with extinction. This is especially true for the Mexican red-knee tarantula. If you must have a tarantula as a pet, make sure you get it from a reputable dealer. Better yet, if you happen to see a tarantula in your garden, simply leave it alone and let it take care of some of those pesky millipedes!
Are tarantulas dangerous?
Tarantulas would much rather run away and hide than attack a person. Contrary to popular belief, North American tarantula bites are not particularly dangerous, though they are said to feel like bee stings. Tarantula bites can be very dangerous to people who are allergic. Tarantula species found in other parts of the world, particularly the Indian ornamental tarantula, can be particularly deadly to humans.
Did you know that some people also eat tarantulas? Apparently, in Cambodia and Venezuela, tarantulas are roasted over an open fire to burn off the hairs before being eaten. They can also be deep fried. And the fangs are used as toothpicks.
Now we know.
When installing new bare root trees or doing some dormant season pruning, be on the lookout for orange bulges on stems or branches. It might be burr knot.
Once considered a disease, burr knots start out as smooth orange bulges on stems or branches that develop into adventitious roots. These tumor-like bulges are actually masses of tiny roots that somehow ended up growing in the aboveground portion of a tree. This condition can be mistaken for crown gall.
Remember, most fruit and nut trees purchased these days are actually two trees that have been grafted together. The upper portion is selected for fruit or nut production and pest and disease resistance, while the rootstock is chosen for its ability to establish itself quickly and make the best use of soil resources.
Trees susceptible to burr knots
This condition is most common on apple trees. It occurs on scion cultivars, particularly Gala and Empire, and on dwarf and semi-dwarf tree rootstocks. Specifically, semi-dwarf trees grown from M.7, M.26, MM106, or MM.111 and dwarf trees with M.9 rootstock are likely to develop burr knots. Scion cultivars develop burr knots on the underside of limbs, while grafted trees tend to develop burr knots at nodes. Nodes are where leaves and stems normally emerge. Instead of developing normally, primordial roots cells begin to develop, creating a tumor-like bulge.
Conditions that encourage burr knots
In addition to being a grafted apple tree, other conditions, such as shade, increase the likelihood of burr knots occurring. High humidity and temperatures ranging from 68°F to 95°F during a tree’s first year encourage the development of tiny growths, called root initials, during its second year. These root initials can break through the bark of a tree, making room for more roots to form, increasing the bulge.
Problems associated with burr knots
As roots push their way through the bark, they create entry points for pests, such as plum borers, apple clearwing moths, and wooly apple aphids, and diseases. These diseases include fireblight and wood-rotting fungi. Limbs can become structurally weak and more likely to break. Several burr knots on the same tree can also interfere with nutrient movement through the phloem, causing stunting. These weakened areas are more prone to frost damage in winter.
Preventing burr knots
First, be sure to select tree varieties that are suitable for your microclimate. Next, be sure to install your tree at the proper depth. Improper planting leads to several problems and can ultimately kill your tree. Keep weeds away from your young tree and make sure that tree supports are used properly and only for as long as they are needed. If burr knots are seen, they can be cut out with a knife or filed out with a rasp.
When gooseberry and currant growers find hollowed out, discolored berries that fall off early, it is time to look closely for other signs of invasive gooseberry fruitworms.
Gooseberry fruitworms are the larval stage of the gooseberry moth (Zophodia convolutella). This insignificant looking moth can cause significant damage.
Gooseberry moth description
Adult gooseberry moths are grey with a 1” wingspan. You may be able to see a white fringe on the back of the rear wings, and white horizontal stripes on the forewings, as well as a brown spot. More often, all you will see is a small, narrow-bodied greyish-brown moth.
Larvae are 3/4” long. At first, they are a pale green. As they mature, the head turns brown and dark stripes can be seed down the sides of the body. Sadly, I was unable to track down a photo. Please share one in the Comments if your berries have been so afflicted.
Gooseberry moth lifecycle
Adult moths lay eggs on currants and gooseberries. When the eggs hatch, larvae burrow into the fruit and begin feeding on the pulp. This discolors the fruit and causes it to drop prematurely. A single larva will feed on several berries. Berries may be held together by a silken thread. There is usually only one generation each year but, being invasive insects, the lack of natural predators may cause that to change.
Gooseberry moth controls
Handpick and destroy any larvae you see, or feed them to your chickens. Bacillus thuringiensis and spinosad can also be used against these pests. Treatments should be applied when fruit is first developing and again 10 days later.
Gymnosperms are plants that produce naked seeds. We say they are naked because the seeds are not surrounded by an ovary. When seeds are enclosed by an ovary, which we generally refer to as fruit, the plant is classified as an angiosperm.
Angio- or gymno-?
There are several differences between angiosperm and gymnosperm:
Another difference between angiosperm and gymnosperm is the idea of softwood versus hardwood. Those terms don’t exclusively refer to the density of the wood. It actually points out that they are two entirely different types of plants. Hardwoods are angiosperms, while softwoods are gymnosperms.
Types of gymnosperm
Gymnosperm seeds, unlike angiosperm, develop on top of leaves or scales. Those scales often turn into cones. There are four existing types of gymnosperm:
You may have heard of pine nuts and gingko nuts, but neither one is actually a nut. True nuts are hard-shelled, inedible pods that hold both the fruit and the seed of a plant. The pod, or shell, of a nut is made from the ovary wall, which hardens over time. Hazelnuts, chestnuts, and acorns are true nuts. So are kola nuts.
A nut is not a nut when it is a fruit seed. Pine nuts and ginkgo nuts are not true nuts.
While most of the plants in your garden are probably angiosperms, you just might have a gymnosperm or two in the mix!
Caraway seeds taste similar to anise or licorice and caraway plants are easy to grow. Did you know that the entire caraway plant is edible? Read on!
Frequently used in rye bread, goulash, havarti cheese, and Irish soda bread, this cousin to carrots and dill has lovely umbrella-shaped flowers that attract many beneficial insects, such as hoverflies and parasitic wasps.
The caraway seed is actually a type of dried fruit, called an achene. Feathery leaves, strong stems, and small pink or white flowers make caraway (Carum carvi) both attractive and useful. Plants can reach 24-30” in height, though they only reach 8” or so their first year.
As a member of the carrot family, caraway plants can look similar to poison hemlock, so make sure you know how to tell them apart.
How caraway grows
Caraway, like parsley and many other umbellifers, is a biennial plant. This means it uses its first year to develop a root system and become established. In its second year, flower production takes place and seeds are produced. Some varieties are grown as annuals, and one type of caraway is a perennial plant.
Caraway plants prefer warm, sunny locations, good drainage, and nutrient-rich soil. Commonly grown in Europe and Western Asia, caraway plants prefer cool temperate zones and a soil pH of 6.5 to 7.0, and can be grown in Hardiness Zones 3-11. While they prefer full sun, caraway plants can handle partial shade.
How to grow caraway
Caraway seeds should be planted 1/4” to 1/2” deep in spring or fall, directly in the soil. As is common with plants that feature a taproot, caraway does not transplant well. Plants should be thinned so they are 8-12” apart. Caraway is a slow grower, so you may want to intercrop with something faster to reduce weeds and to act as a nurse crop for your caraway. Water plants well during their first year, but avoid getting the leaves wet. Soaker hoses are an excellent tool for irrigating caraway.
While caraway has very few pest or disease problems, it is a good idea to leave some distance between them and other members of the carrot family.
If grown as a biennial, cut plants back in the fall. They will regrow, bigger than ever, in spring. If grown as an annual, be sure to start a new crop in succession, for a continuous harvest.
Since all parts of the caraway plant are edible, you can use young leaves and stems in salads, soups, and stews. When seeds have turned brown, remove the flower head and hang it upside-down in a pillowcase until dry. Then you can simply rub the head between your hands to dislodge the caraway achenes. After seeds are produced and harvested, you can dig up the root and treat it the same way you would any other root vegetable.
Try adding some caraway to your foodscape this fall!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!