Herb Spirals

The garden spiral is like a snail shell, with stone spiraling upward to create multiple micro-climates and a cornucopia of flavors on a small footprint. Spirals can come in any size to fit any space, from an urban courtyard to an entire yard. You don’t even need a patch of ground, as they can be built on top of patios, pavement, and rooftops. You can spiral over an old stump or on top of poor soil. By building up vertically, you create more growing space, make watering easy, and lessen the need to bend over while harvesting. To boot, spirals add instant architecture and year-round beauty to your landscape: the perfect garden focal point.

One of the beauties of an herb spiral is that you are creating multiple microclimates in a small space. The combination of stones, shape, and vertical structure offers a variety of planting niches for a diversity of plants. The stones also serve as a thermal mass, minimizing temperature swings and extending the growing seasons. Whatever you grow in your spiral, it will pump out a great harvest for the small space it occupies. I’ve grown monstrous cucumbers in my large garden spiral, with one plant producing over 30 prize-size fruits. The spiral is a food-producing superstar!

Stacked stones create perennial habitat for beneficial critters, such as lizards and spiders that help balance pest populations in the garden. The stone network is a year-round safe haven for beneficial insects and other crawlies that work constantly to keep your garden in balance—and you in the hammock. A little design for them up-front pays big, tasty dividends later.

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#permaculture #herb spiral #microclimate

Attracting Beneficial Insects

I’ve written about the many benefits of insect hotels before, in terms of attracting pollinating and predatory insects to your space of cultivation.

As habitats of native bees, beetles, and butterflies are sometimes scarce, or in the way of cultivation, it is important to preserve refuges where these creatures can hide, and continue to symbiotically interact with your local ecosystem.

A number of solitary bees, and beetles like ladybugs–which pollinate fruit crops, and control aphids, respectively–live, have their young, and/or hibernate in hollow biological structures.

A solitary bee species, filling bamboo canes with mud to protect its larvae.

Dried “tubes” can be found all over the place in the spring, and are unfortunately often cleared from cultivated spaces: grasses, rushes, sedges, ferns, and flower stalks often leave behind a reasonably sturdy, dried hollow structure; I’ve also used cardboard tubing. 

These materials can be packed into a frame of sorts (I used a length of PVC pipe), along with things like bark, clay tiles, and conifer cones for spiders, in order to provide an array of habitats.

The insects and arachinids will move in and do the rest.

Beside the home-made “bee hotel” above, I’ve also hung up an old butterfly house. These kinds of structures provide shelter for migrating and local butterflies, and mimic the crevices in trees and rocks in which these insects would normally find shelter.

DIY Butterfly House

Between the bees, beetles, birds, moths, and butterflies, and the worms in my compost system, there is a house or habitat for almost every local beneficial creature: except for bats. As soon as one of my trees reaches a sufficient height, I will be putting in a bat house as well.

The benefits of having a biodiverse forest garden system are manifold: these organisms pollinate, decompose, control pest populations, and deposit both seeds and fertiliser. It is in my best interest to have them around, filling out their ecological niches.

Related: Insect Hotels

Spiders can hear you walking and talking from across the room
Even though they lack ears, it seems that spiders can “hear” everyday sounds up to several metres away with their leg hairs
By Andy Coghlan

Here’s a comforting thought. When you arrive home and open the front door or enter your bedroom, the spiders can hear you.

It has long been known that spiders can hear sounds via leg hairs that bend in response to vibrations arriving through the air or through solid objects such as floors or walls. But until now, we thought they could only hear airborne vibrations a few centimetres or “spider lengths” away at most.

It now seems that this same approach actually lets them hear sounds up to 5 metres away.

Gil Menda at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and his colleagues were studying a type of jumping spider,Phidippus audax, that they assumed relied almost completely on sight and vibrations they can feel through other objects, such as leaves or floorboards.

But microelectrodes implanted in the spiders’ brains showed that neurons responded to sounds such as chairs scraping and people clapping even when the noises were made 3 to 5 metres away.

“We were very surprised,” says Menda. “Our studies extended the range of auditory sensitivity to more than 3 metres – over 350 body lengths – for our spiders.”

The team established that the spiders freeze when exposed to low-frequency sounds of about 80 to 400 hertz that resemble a low hum, or buzz. They discovered that this overlaps with the wingbeat frequency of predatory insects such as parasitoid wasps and flies, concluding that the hearing abilities they found in jumping spiders have evolved to help them avoid predators.

Continue Reading.

Opossums help protect us from Lyme disease. While a number of woodland creatures are running around infested with ticks, opossums obsessively eat, scratch, lick, and chew at the ticks that live in their fur. A single opossum can eliminate an estimated 4,000 ticks  a week, which helps prevent the spread of tick-borne diseases. Source


Translucent spider with visible motion inside its head.

So, we don’t kill spiders in this household, we either leave them alone or escort them out to the front field where they can be free and happy. A few have made webs in set places (like George in the bathroom, who guards our toilet paper, and Bethany, descendant of Beth, who has a tiny web above my bed). I like my spiders.

Tonight, I’m lying here trying to write a damn story, and there’s this FLY buzzing around my room in the dark, blundering into everything and generally being an obnoxious little shit, every once in a while finding my screen just to be extra intrusive. Then suddenly it stops, and I just hear buzzing in one place. over and over.

I turned my light on and sure as shit, Bethany had it in her web and was working her hardest to silence my foe.

Good job Bethany. Thank you.


“What do you think of this peacock spider mating display? I’m going for seductive, yet elegant.”

“Nailed it.”

Hi guys!
I was inspired to make this post by all of the messages I’ve gotten from people asking me to either tag or stop posting images of spiders all together. And as someone who used to be absolutely mortified by any 8-legged creature, I can see where you are all coming from! 
I used to have a bedroom in the attic, a musky basement, an exotic plant and flower garden, and lots of wood piles. So it’s no wonder that I was confronted with spiders of all shapes and sizes. Ranging from the wolf spider, the brown recluse, cellar spiders, and all kinds of orbweavers.
Spiders are incredibly important to our ecosystem, and without them we would suffer. They are incredibly complex and fascinating little creatures that, whether we like it or not, are going to cross our path. What helped me come over my fear the most was simply taking the time to learn about them.

1.) You swallow spiders in your sleep: FALSE. Might as well start with the one we’ve all heard! There would have to be so many unlikely circumstances for this to happen that it’s pretty implausible. Most spider species prefer to stay in their webs, while others hunt no where near humans. Beds don’t offer prey so they likely won’t crawl into them intentionally, unless you have other bugs in your bed for whatever reason. Spiders already could care less about us, they definitely won’t be crawling into a moist, slumbering and snoring human mouth. 
2.) Two puncture marks means a spider bite: FALSE. Spiders do have two venom-injecting fangs that they usually use at the same time when biting. However, any spider smaller than a tarantula will leave bites so small that there will be no identifiable separation, if a mark is even left at all. When you have two bites right next to each other, it’s probably from a different bloodsucking insect that has bitten you twice. 
3.) Daddy Long Legs have the most powerful venom, but its fangs are too small to bite you: FALSE. This is another wildly accepted urban legend with no fact behind it whatsoever. Depending on where you’re from, you may have a different idea of what a Daddy Long Leg is. To some it is a Harvestman while to others it is a Crane Fly; both have no venom! To others it is a Pholcid House Spider, which does have venom, however it is extremely weak. 
4.) You’re always within 3 feet of a spider: FALSE. There’s actually some history behind this one! According to an article from the Burke Museum, it started in 1995 when a famous arachnologist stated, “Wherever you sit as you read these lines, a spider is probably no more than a few yards away.“ Throughout the years this line as been repeated with the distance becoming shorter and shorter. In reality, nobody can really say how far you are from a spider at any time. Just remember that spiders don’t really care about you are are likely to ignore you and go about their business. 
5.) Spiders can lay their eggs under human skin through their bites: FALSE. First of all, spiders do not find the human body suitable for egg laying. However there are tons of stories claiming that someone’s “friend” had it occur to them (usually by a brown recluse, which prefer to stay far away from humans as their name suggests). Spiders simply don’t have the ability to somehow transfer their eggs into their venom.
6.) Any spider species can be found anywhere: FALSE. Just like animals and insects, spiders prefer certain climates to thrive. Therefore this myth is completely false. Besides house spiders, many species have very limited ranges. For more information on spiders in your area, a quick Google search will do you much better.
7.) Spiders found in your home are dangerous: FALSE. Spiders are not bloodsuckers. They have no reason to bite humans or your beloved Fluffy. Rod Crawford, the Curator of Arachnids at The Burke Museum, has been handling thousand of spiders for 44 years. He claims to have been bitten a total of 3 times. The spiders that are typically found in homes do not obtain venom powerful enough to do you any harm. 
8.) Spiders come indoors in the fall: FALSE. Arachnophobes may not like this, but, the spiders in your house have likely been there the entire time. Outdoor spider species are not adapted to the indoors, and vice versa with house spider species. Very few spiders you see in your home have ever been outdoors. 
9.) Tarantulas are dangerous or deadly to humans: FALSE. Hollywood tends to paint tarantulas as evil beasts who actively seek out humans to bite. In reality, tarantulas are common furry pets who are easily handled. Their venom has very low toxicity to humans. Most people who have been bitten don’t report anything besides a quick “ouch”. The most “dangerous” thing about tarantulas is the hair on their abdomens, which they can flick off and spread into the air. Although, this only causes mild skin rashes and irritation to the eyes and nasal passages. 

1.) There are approximately 38,000 known species of spiders (as of February, 2015). Scientists believe there are still many more to be discovered.
2.)  Spiders are vital to the ecosystem. Most of us know that they eat harmful insects, but they also pollinate plants and recycle dead animals and plants back into the Earth. They are also an essential food source to other small mammals, birds, and fish. 
3.) Not all spiders spin webs. However, they all have the ability to produce silk. 
4.) Web-weaving spiders have claws at the end of each leg. This enables them to move around their webs without getting stuck!
5.) Spiders have blue blood.
6.) Giant trapdoor spiders are considered living fossils.
This is because they are very similar to the spiders that lived 300 million years ago!
7. The world’s biggest spider is the Goliath Spider. It can grow up to 11 inches wide with up to 1 inch long fangs! But don’t worry; it only eats frogs, mice, and other small creatures.
8.) Spiders have an exoskeleton. While us humans have bones that are surrounded by our muscles, spiders have their bones on the outside to protect their muscles on the inside. Which kinda make more sense to me. Grasshoppers, lobsters, and cockroaches are just a few that also have exoskeletons. 
9.) Spider legs use hydraulic pressure to move. Their muscles are able to pull their legs inward, but not out again. This requires pumping a watery liquid into the legs to move them back out. This is why dead spiders’ legs are curled in. 
10.) Spiders sometimes use a line of silk to “fly” through the air. This is called “ballooning”. You probably remember all but three of Charlotte’s babies did this.
11.) Baby spiders are called spiderlings. Pretty adorable. 
12.) Males risk being eaten by the females. Similar to insects, female spiders are usually larger. They tend to eat any small creature that comes along, including the males who just wanna get some. The males attempt to avoid this by plucking strands of the female’s webs or doing a little dance (jumping spiders, who knew they could get more adorable).

Now, I know overcoming fears does not come easily to everyone. It took me quite a while! So I’ve put together some ideas that helped me. Just remember that this may not help everyone. If your fear is complicating every day life it may be best to seek help from a professional.
1.) Watch YouTube videos of spider handlers. This, this step right here, was the most important for me. It all started with this video. This owner cared so much about his spider who was having difficulties molting. He took the time to attempt to help her get it off, and showed a huge amount of grief and compassion as it went on. As someone who used to be scared of spiders, this video showed me a different side. This person loved this spider just like I love my cat. I began watching and subscribing to more and more channels, and found that it helped me a lot. Some channels worth looking at are tarantulaguy1796, TarantulaAddict, Jon3800, and Frankus Lee
2.) Observe live spiders. If you see a spider in your house or outside, take a deep breath and just watch it for a little bit (at a distance, if you’d prefer). Watch its legs and how it moves, its different body parts and what it seems to be doing. Just watch them. They’re not going to jump on you and start gnawing on your arm like a human corn-on-the-cob, I promise. 
3.) Visit spider exhibits. Whether it be at an aquarium, zoo, or museum, take the time to take a walk through the insect and arachnid exhibits. There will often be someone there who knows a lot about them who you can talk to. As mentioned before, the more you learn about them, the less scary they become!
4.) Watch someone handle a spider, or handle one on your own! Okay maybe the second one is a big step to take right now. But a lot of spider handlers may let you touch their legs (which are a lot furrier than you’d think!). However, if you’re too afraid, it’s best to watch from a distance for a while or pay close attention to how the handler holds the spider. The first time I held a spider I was pretty scared, but I was more concerned with dropping it or hurting it. I was amazed at how not-creepy it was and I walked away with an awesome experience. Just remember to keep them away from your face and to wash your hands before and after to keep those pesky hairs from irritating you. 
5.) Overall, take it slow. If you need to start with pictures, start with pictures. Then gifs. Then videos. Then live spiders. It’s all up to you. In reality, spiders do not want to bother you. They are not these crazy blood-thirsty creatures that Hollywood and myths make them out to be. Educate yourself and remind yourself how amazing and important these little 8-legged guys are!

EDIT: Silly me I totally forgot to include my sources!
Fascinating Facts About Spiders
Amazing Facts About Spiders
Explorit Science Center
Rod Crawford
Burke Museum
Scientific American


Pseudoscorpions…like scorpions, only not!

When you discover pseudoscorpions I expect you to be charmed; if not, then I surely won’t forgive you.

Pseudoscorpions, as their name suggests, are very distantly related to scorpions - at least they are in the same class (Arachnida), along with spiders, harvestmen, mites and a few other slightly unusual odds and ends. In contrast to scorpions they obviously lack a tail and sting and are quite tiny, mostly millimetres long and cryptic (you need to be looking closely).

Here in Australia (where these pictures were all taken) there are around 150 described species in about 21 different families. Experts estimate there might be 700 species, meaning most remain undescribed. They are commonly found in leaf litter or under bark, but can also be found in ants nests and caves.

Remarkably, these creatures have been around since the middle Devonian (380 million years ago) and are considered one of the first organisms to leave the oceans for dry land.

Good on ya pseudoscorpions!