Life-and-death battle in the garage

One afternoon on a hot sunny day — yes, we have had some of those this summer — I was sitting in my garage avoiding the hot sun. This spring we had purchased some metal art work that needed painted and I was attempting to take a rusty piece of metal and turn it into something that would be noticed, when I had a chance to witness a David and Goliath struggle happening at my feet. The struggle lasted only a few seconds, with the victor attempting to take away her prize.

David, who actually should be called Danielle, was a spider wasp. She had paralyzed a spider much larger than herself and now was trying to take the spider to a nest. Once she had her victim safely stored away, she would lay an egg on the body. The egg would hatch and consume the live spider.

Even predators are not safe.


I am not going to warn you to be careful when working in your yard, strolling through grassy fields or taking a hike in the woods, about the dangers of ticks and that using a repellant is very important. I’m not going to suggest that you do a body tick check on yourself.

But I am going to warn you about a new tick that has entered the country. This new invader is called the longhorned tick. Penn State professors who are doing research on the longhorned tick have had no reports to date of the tick being identified in Pennsylvania, but feel that the tick is here in our state.

Any tick that you discover, especially if it has already attached itself to you, should be identified.

This East Asian native can harbor diseases that can be dangerous both to humans and animals, plus it is also larger than deer ticks.

Here is something that you can do to help control the tick population. You can purchase permethrin tick tubes. These tubes are filled with cotton treated with permethrin. Field mice, a tick magnet, find the cotton desirable for nest building. With the tubes spaced around your property, ticks that come in contact with a nest that is filled with the tainted cotton are killed. The permethrin does not harm the mice.

You can make your own tubes using paper towel tubes. Check out this site:


One of the requirements to qualify to have your property certified for Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation, or Pollinator Friendly by Penn State Extension, is a water feature. Of course, that water feature should have water available 24/7. Knowing that bird baths can easily dry out, a small garden pond can be an answer.

One of the joys of having a small garden pond is knowing that you will attract any number of wildlife.

To enhance the joy, the addition of fish rounds out the experience. You can add goldfish, koi or other fish species.

Did you know that you can actually hand feed your fish?

Newly purchased fish that you add to a pond will need to be trained. Since they do not know you, they will scatter and hide when you approach or your shadow is cast over the water. To them, you may be a predator looking for sushi.

At first, feed the fish around the same time from the same location. Toss a few pellets of food onto the water and wait for fish to feed. Be patient! Once the fish start feeding, add more food. Do this regularly so the fish will associate you with food. The next step is for you to get on your knees at water’s edge. Do make sure there are no wise asses behind you. Take a few food pellets and place your hand just above the water, allowing the fish to see the food.

Remember, be patient. Eventually they will feed from your hand. Think of the thrill that would give to your grandchildren or other young relatives.


When I am asked a gardening question, I think it is important to pass that question on to the readers, along with my answer:

When can peonies be cut back to the ground?

Before I answer, I recommend that you deadhead the spent flower head or seed heads, unless you want seeds. The plant will no longer spend energy on the developing seeds, but now will use that energy for the roots.

Now the answer: I do not cut off my plants until late fall. One exception is if the plant is diseased and the stems have died, then I would make an exception. But just because the plant may look ratty isn’t a reason to cut it back. Many old timers have told me to cut the peonies off in August. Why? You got me!

Have you ever started at point “A” with the intention of going over to point “B” to do something but along the way changed course as you spied something out of place, then started back on course but again were distracted? This continues until finally you reach your intended destination.

If you were to take a piece of paper and draw a line of everywhere you were, it would look like you had been nipping at the wine.

But why do butterflies flutter all over the place, instead of going in a straight line to the next flower?

One thing we do know is that the butterfly was not sipping your wine. The reason for such erratic movement is for self-preservation. For predators, a butterfly looks like a tasty morsel but hard to catch. Also this is a way the butterfly advertise, through its bright colors, that it may not be to your liking, so stay away.

Soon you will see unsightly webs in some trees. Fall web worms can be seen in black walnut, cherry, birch and crabapple. The best thing for you to do is to look the other way. Fall web worm or caterpillars rarely do any serious harm to the tree. Unlike the dreaded gypsy moth that can completely defoliate a tree early in the growing season, the fall webbers are only around in the fall. Plus the tree this time of the year has replenished its reserve in the roots for next year so the loss of some leaves is not serious. These native caterpillars are part of the food chain, which is good for birds and other predators to build up their reserve for the long winter.

Please feel free to ask me questions. Your questions give me material about which to write. Email me at or if you see me out and about, stop and talk to me.

Remember, it is easy to be green. Happy gardening!


Quentin Stocum, “just your common ordinary gardener,” can be reached at