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We went to check on the ladybugs by the creek.
They’ve spent the winter clinging to these bushes… sometimes they fall to the ground and stay in a thick mat all packed deeply.
They are like red jewels moving slowly and dripping from the leaves to the moist cool earth.
They have to move to regulate their temperatures, they move in and out of the sun which just this week started peeking into the canyon. They are starting to awaken from their dormancy.
I suppose they don’t want to leave too early though… they have a secluded safe spot here in which to rest through the winter…. once they become active they will need to eat.  In the great scheme of life, they probably time their dispersion with the hatching of aphids. This will give them some food while they start their own egg-laying. The youngsters will hatch amid a plethora of food.  Thousands of ladybugs will spread for ‘who-knows-how-far’ from this one tiny little spot in the  middle of nowhere.



Here’s a little video I took showing the ladybugs.
And below we have some photos.
See the next post before this to find some info and links on ladybugs.



Paper Wasp



This is the inside of a paper-wasp nest
These wasps are very aggravating…. and scary-looking
they fly with long legs hanging down….we refer to them as ‘knuckle-draggers’ 
they remind me of some kind of war-helicopter
they eat meat. And any bit of meat left out will quickly be covered
they scrape wood fibers from trees and buildings,
and consolidate it with their spit into these beautifully geometric patterns.There’s a reason that the honeycomb pattern is built into aircraft
structures. It is very solid and durable yet lightweight.
It is the maximum qualities of both needs intersecting on a grid.




This particular wasp nest has been abandoned for a few years high in a tree.
It got knocked down during the storm last week.
This is the first I got a good look into it.
And I was a bit surprised to see little crawling creatures inside of it.
Some kind of larvae that must be living on detritus left from the wasps,
or perhaps some material that is growing on the paper.


Hungry Pests in Paradise

   One of the big things you learn in agriculture is to keep your fields and farms free and clear of invasive pests.  It’s something of the old ‘war against nature’ that man has had since existential awareness.  Just keeping the native pests at bay is bad enough, but you have natural predators to help out.  The natural ecosystem can deal with the myriad pests that are native… they slip into the system like they belong there.. which they do.   A super-real danger to both agriculture and the local ecosystems is the introduction of non-native pests.  Non-natives can sometimes have a way of spreading widely into their new areas. They have coping strategies that are unfamiliar to the native predators, and can often blanket an area within a short time.  These new introductions to the local environment can displace native species, crowding them out and causing large disruptions to the local species.

    It is in a ‘paradise’ system like Florida, California and Hawaii that these introductions can most readily spread and cause damage far beyond what you might imagine.  For this reason many states have ‘declaration’ rules, so they can try to avoid the huge damage that introduced species can have.  Every time I hear of a new insect somewhere that is causing problems, I think of my own responsibility in reducing insect spread. With us, much of it is just an awareness of our part in reducing spread of anything beyond our boundaries. Part of it is our own responsibility to not bring anything into California that is non-native. And part of it is our responsibility as citizens to help everyone understand the true implications of introduced pests.  To that end, we are registered as a nursery and have to undergo inspections of our crops and plant material for serious pests, we don’t import anything onto our place from out-of-state without purchasing from an approved nursery.   And we try to speak out on this subject, in a plain and straight-forward way. So that others can see and understand the true implications of being the guy who brought ‘such-and-such’ critter into Paradise.

   To that end, we wish to introduce all to the ‘Invasive Pest Tracker’. It is a website designed by the California government to inform the public of both the dangers of invasive pests, but also to make the public aware of the ‘hotspots’ in the state. These are places that have a small localized infestation of some pest, and a quarantine has been put into effect in that area to stop the spread beyond that area. That area will also have an eradication plan in effect, to try to kill the pest off before it can establish a viable population for breeding.  These ‘hotspots’ are shown on a map, so you can see where the current quarantines are in effect.

   Please, when visiting other states and countries, please do not bring any fruits and vegetables back here. If you do, make sure you declare them to the customs agents. If you purchase plants through the mail, make sure they are a licensed registered nursery, not some guy selling his backyard plants over E-Bay.  Believe me, even if you don’t get caught, if you suspect you are the one who brought something terrible into paradise, you’ll have a pit in your stomach for the rest of your life.


~The Eagles~
‘The Last Resort’

Then the chilly winds blew down
Across the desert
through the canyons of the coast,
to the Malibu
Where the pretty people play,
hungry for power
to light their neon way
and give them things to do

Some rich men came and raped the land,
Nobody caught ‘em
Put up a bunch of ugly boxes,
and Jesus People bought ‘em
They called it paradise
The place to be
They watched the hazy sun,
sinking in the sea 

We can leave it all behind
and sail to Lahaina
just like the missionaries did, so many years ago
They even brought a neon sign that said ”Jesus is coming”
Brought the ‘White Man’s burden’ down
Brought the White Man’s reign

Who will provide the grand design?
What is yours and what is mine?
‘Cause there is no more new frontier
We have got to make it here

We’ve satisfied our endless needs and
justified our bloody deeds,
in the name of destiny
and in the name of God

And you can see them there,
On Sunday morning
They stand up and sing about
what it’s like up there
They call it paradise
I don’t know why
You call someplace paradise,
kissin’ it goodbye


Asian citrus psyllid found in Los Angeles suburb

  Echo Park is a really nice little hilly spot just outside of L.A. I wrote about it in an article two years ago.

   Now it turns out that a noxious insect pest that has the potential to carry a deadly incurable disease to citrus fruits has been found in Echo Park. The Packer, a website dedicated to produce issues has the article on it.

   This brings to the fore the need for all people to be aware of the problems in moving produce on your own.  It is in human transportation that insects and diseases can travel from places in which their numbers are kept in check by natural predators and the environment, to places in which they may have no predators, allowing them to spread unchecked, destroying billions of dollars in crops, and keeping the people from having the good healthy food we need.

   Please, when you travel from one state to another, please declare any produce you may be carrying. And only buy plants from nurseries that are inspected by the government… don’t purchase from ‘backyard-gardeners’ who are likely not inspected, certified, and may indeed be passing noxious pests around the country. Almost every single non-native pest has been thought to originate from introduction by consumers who sent or transported fruits and produce without going through the declaration process.

Yellow Jacket Wasp


  There is a species of yellow jacket wasp that gives our cactus fruits some real problems.  The wasp is a predatory creature that enjoys meat for the protein while raising young.  The insect also needs a lot of sugars for the energy. In the spring, the wasp larvae secrete a waste product high in sugars. This high carbohydrate source is eagerly taken up by the adults who tend the young, feeding them the meat they have prepared for them through mastication.


   In the late summer the wasps have no more young, so they aren’t getting the sugars they need.  This is also the time our cactus fruits start to ripen. The wasps will cut holes through the rind of the fruit, and a dozen wasps will sometimes occupy it to gorge on the sweet juice of the cactus fruit.  Needless to say, this bothers me considerably. So I start a trapping program whenever I see the wasp population swell. I like to reduce their numbers before the fruits ripen.  I use various lures depending on the season. In the spring and summer, they like meat, and they seem to have a special liking for the odors of some of the canned cat and dog foods we feed our animals. Once the cactus fruits start ripening, I’ll take any that become pierced by wasps, and use them for bait.


   Most of the traps come with a pheromone lure.  I’ve found that the pheromone combined with cat food or cactus fruit works best.

   We can catch some large numbers of wasps pretty fast here.

Cactus to England?

We got an e-mail from someone in England who tells us…

     Just wanted to make sure . . . you don’t ship outside North America, is that correct?  If not, would you consider shipping to England for a charge?  I’d be happy to pay whatever postal fee is necessary.
     I ask because I’ve been looking for a new source of cactus for salsa since the only exotic foods company I know of that sold nopalitos here in England discontinued them (because they didn’t advertise it, and I was about the only person in the whole country buying the stuff).  I really need to find a new source of cactus, because it’s extremely good for any digestive problems that crop up, including IBS.  Plus, my cactus salsa is extremely popular with several people over here, and I may need to place regular orders.  Crossing my fingers, I remain
                    Yours sincerely, Nigel”

  My (long-winded) response….

Howdy Nigel, (that’s a cool name, one us US folks only hear on TV program worn by a real Brit!).


   It’s tough shipping cactus around due to the complex laws and such….

  generally there is a ‘phytosanitary’ report that must by done by our Ag officials to ensure your officials there are no bugs on the leaves.

  We’ve been able to get a blanket approval to ship to Canada due to the low risk of our plants… and all the licenses showing we conform to standards.

   It might be we could do something like that with you if we’re lucky…. because the phyto costs me $65 for each report, and it must be done for each shipment.  Also, we have to drive the leaves to the town with the ag dept and show them to the officials, it’s a 20 mile drive just to get there…. so we charge $100 for the report to cover gas and time…..


   Now, the fellow in Canada who bought from us and took it into Canada over the border got with his officials, showed them our licenses at www.rivenrock.com/licenses.html including the protected plant permit etc. They saw that our leaves are pretty smooth and easy to see any infestation, he went through all the hoops, permits and approvals… and now we have a blanket approval to ship to him alone with no phyto required.


   I know what you mean about the salsa, it’s good stuff. I bet you’d like our leaves better than what you got before.


  Where were the other leaves coming from?  I hate to negatively impact my business, but are there any available from a Mediterranean country?… all places I think would be able to grow cactus well.


 What I’d really like is someone in EU who wants to buy our cactus in bulk, and have his own business reselling it in EU like the Canadian fellow does. Perhaps one box every now and then as he builds the business… then two at a time… I’m in no rush… but it would be nice to have market potential in EU.


   In fact, our leaves are so VERY good and easy to clean, and delightfully tasty and crunchy that I think you’ll be blown away. It could be there’d be market potential there if the market gets developed by someone.


  Buying leaves from us in this way… we’d give you some pretty good pricing (of course it’d not overtake the horrendous shipping costs)…..we think if someone is working to develop a virgin market (hard to do), they deserve some consideration with the price.



   So, perhaps the first thing to do is to ask your local Ag officials what they think…. perhaps they can direct you to the ‘Big Boys’ in government who would be inspecting it upon arrival. If they see our website, and our certifications and such, they might like the idea enough to give you some consideration.


   I know it is a hassle…. but moving bugs from country to country is not anything one wants to do, the monetary and environmental impact of creatures moving across continents is horrendous (we deal with this all the time in the US), and our county is about to be quarantined due to a particular foreign moth found forty miles form here. We’re exempt from the quarantine due to absence of the moth when they inspected a few days ago…. but knowing the problems it causes…. I want to make sure we do everything legally and correctly so we aren’t the locus of some new bug that devastates Europe! I mean, us Amis have enough people mad at us without sending noxious insects to you good folks…..


  I’ll put this conversation up on our blog, perhaps someone who has the perfect answer will see it and give us help. Also, I’ll refer our own ag officials to it so they can refer us to the appropriate officials in England.   They are helpful and want to help local growers sell, they just want to make sure the people do it properly and don’t cause any problems. So if you don’t know who to contact there… I will likely have some names and numbers you can call and ask for help…. so that you’ll have a place to start.


   I’m glad you like cactus…. I’d like to supply cactus to the EU… and our organic certifications are good for EU… so it’s considered organic by law.



  Thank you for your inquiry.




   Yeah, shipping to england would be pretty cool.

Ant Tips from the pro

   There’s plenty of critters out there that cause problems… one of our biggest is ants. They like to scrape the waxy skin off the cactus to get the sweet sap the leaves have locked behind all those calcium-walled cells.

   I use Boric acid in the house. It is pretty benign… I worked with toxic chemicals for a living for many years… I really don’t like toxins…. so I go for the most benign I can find. And boric acid is my fave for ant control…. my recipe is…

3 cups water, bring to a boil

1 cup sugar, dissolve in the boiling water

4 teaspoons boric acid powder, dissolve in the sugar water

Allow it to cool, then pour it onto cotton balls in little cups, leave it out. The ants wil come to it and eat the sugar and carry it back to the nest to feed the Queen and babies. It takes a couple of days for it to kill them at that concentration. You want them to take it back and kill the whole nest. So don’t make it stronger to get a faster kill.   One lady I know couldn’t stand the thought that she was ‘feeding’ ants.. she told me her dishes were covered black with ants going for the sugar/boric acid mix. She worried she was helping them, so she threw out the formula, and went and bought some spray. But with the sprays you have toxins all through your home, and it only kills the workers out to roam… it doesn’t get the Queen. Our boric acid formula will likely help you kill that Queen and stop all ant-issues right then and there…. until another wandering fertile Queen wanders in with some followers.

   Some ants don’t want sugar, they might want proteins, so then try to mix the powder with the food they want (cat or dog food or pie). It’s harder to get the correct ratio then, but try, it’s worth the fight.



  Go to http://safeandgreenliving.blogspot.com/2009/05/natural-ant-deterrent-tips.html for some more tips on ant control.

   Or to ‘About.com’ for their article ‘Get Rid of Ants Cheaply and Naturally’

Light Brown Apple Moth Factsheet

   Recent discovery of three Light Brown Apple Moths in Los Osos California has resulted in the probability of the entire region being quarantined.

   Our crop plants seem to be ‘non-host’… so this will likely not affect our operation too much if at all.

   An infestation such as that in Los Osos is usually brought about by people bringing in produce or other infested materials.  It really is important to reduce or stop spread of infestations and infections by not moving infested materials around.  Buy only from approved and professional nurseries.   Nursery stock and produce transport laws are designed to give the highest protection for the lowest societal cost. 

   Here’s the official CDFA website with info on the Light Brown Apple Moth.


And the current Plant Quarantines in California.

A Garden Spider Web


A Garden Spider Web




    There’s plenty of folks who have an instinctive dread of spiders. But we all know that the spider’s main interest is catching and eating insects… insects that we might not want around.  So we encourage spiders on our place…. we’ve got lots of them.


    It is so amazing to see the work that spiders do….. very industrious creatures they are.


   A friend who is a drug and alcohol counselor sent me this video below


Effects of Drugs and Alcohol on Spider Webs


A crazy-quilt stitched together with a straightjacket

   One of the delights  and also inconveniences of the US is the hodge-podge of laws and customs. Often these vary as much between states as they do between countries in Europe.

   On occasion we as a people get together and hand over ‘blanket-authority’ to the federal government to consolidate laws regarding one issue or another into a set of standards determined by the Federal government.  Of course, when we do this, the federal government also enforces, and regulates these laws.   And the federal government being what it is, we can expect that it will not do a good job dealing with the small issues… or rather, they also focus on ‘small issues’ with blanket provisions that over-rule any objections based on individual circumstances.

   Now in addition to the feds poking around.. farmers are having to deal with investigators  hired by the large grocery distributors. They are  on a  quest to make the food supply safe by removing vegetated borderlands from farms, borderlands that might harbor wildlife and insects that might cause a ‘preception’ of problems. This of course comes down hardest on organic farmers who usually try to have some buffer lands with flowering brush and grasses that would harbor a beneficial insect population.

   Yeah, it gets worser and worser. Read about it at the San Francisco Chronicle


   Best bet is to know the grower you get your food from