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Carnivorous forest

Carnivorous forest

Anyone who owned Drosera capensis knows how much seeds they can produce. In autumn, all my plants went into full bloom and managed to produce large amounts of seeds. As winter came, I decided to sow the seeds into an empty ice cream container and check for germination. I expected a lot of small plants, a mixture of regular Drosera capensis and Drosera capensis ‘Alba’.

Germination of fresh seedlings
First drosera seedlings appeared
First drosera seedlings appeared

I’ve kept the ice cream container outside during the rainy autumn, filled with cheap peat moss. I hoped for the peat to get thoroughly washed for the new seedlings to grow. When I bought my first Drosera seeds, I needed to wait around a month, before the first tiny seedlings emerged. I expected the same thing with my seeds. How wrong I was!
I used the seeds that somehow ended up on my desk where I kept the flower stalks I’ve cut off during after the flowering. Most of the flowers were completely ripe and the seeds just loved to ‘jump’ out of the seed pods. That is one of the reasons why D. capensis easily seeds into surrounding pots when you leave flower stalks to ripen.

Sundew volunteers after flowering
Sundew volunteers after flowering

I’ve been growing my Droseras outside during the summer, both regular D. capensis and Alba variety in the same spot. The seeds I used were from both, white and pink flowering carnivore plants.
As I mentioned before, I expected the seeds to germinate really slowly. I was extremely surprised when I saw first tiny green plantlets emerging in less than a week. After a couple of weeks, there was a whole forest of small seedlings, baking under my grow light.

The carnivorous forest
Numerous seedlings ready to hunt
Numerous seedlings ready to hunt

I’ve sown Cape Sundew seeds tightly together in the past already and never managed to separate them. At first they didn’t look too happy and needed to fight for their position in the pot. After a while, weak plants died off and the strong Sundews remained healthy. In the end, the pot got completely covered with healthy sticky leaves and the plants set numerous flower stalks. I actually liked the crowded pot much better than my large but lonely growing plants. There is another thing I loved about that pot – these tightly grown carnivores were hungry! When I placed the pot near to the source of light during the night, or close to the pond during the drought, they caught all kinds of flies, mosquitoes and other flying, bloodsucking vermin. I intend to do the same thing this year, but on a much larger scale.

Taking care of the seedlings

Same as before, I placed some springtails into the container to keep the small seedlings well fed and to remove any possible source of mold infection. Springtails feed on decaying organic matter which can quickly lead to mold growth. When I feed my adult carnivores with beta fish food, I usually use the same food to feed the tiny seedlings as well. Well, at least some of them. I dilute the fish food with distilled water a bit more than the food I make for my large plants. I dip a toothpick into the prepared fish food and tap the tiny carnivore leaves with the toothpick. I make sure there are no large chunks that could harm the plants. I don’t feed them that way very often, because it’s much easier to just watch the springtails get caught.

🙂

Feeding the Sundew forest
Feeding the Sundew forest
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Chinese Praying Mantis

Chinese Praying Mantis

Chinese mantis resting
Chinese mantis resting

Chinese Praying Mantis (Tenodera sinensis) grows up to 11 centimeters and is often used as a pet insect. They are strict carnivores with never ending appetite. They eat flies, mosquitoes, moths, grasshoppers, spiders, caterpillars, stinkbugs and other insects. I have seen them catch a wasp, bee, and bumblebee as well. They start as small insects that can end up as food for many of the early emerging spiders. At the beginning, they are feeding mostly with small insects like aphids and small flies. Chinese mantises are highly cannibalistic and they often attack their own species.

Praying mantis right after hatching
Praying mantis right after hatching
As they grow, they outgrow most of their predators and have no problems feeding on large spiders or even wasps. They eventually become accustomed to people and will even take a quick snack if you bring them one. That way, I was able to feed them various stinkbugs and even potato beetle larvae.

Chinese mantis is not moving much during its early development, in fact, I’ve only seen them travel a couple of meters away from the place where they hatched. I have taken several to more remote places and they remained in the exact same spot until they became adult mantises. When they mature, they grow wings and start flying around, searching for a place to mate and lay their egg sacks.

Green version of Chinese praying mantis
Green version of Chinese praying mantis
Brown version of Chinese praying mantis
Brown version of Chinese praying mantis

It is hard to find similarly effective predator. I have seen them devour almost every insect that lives around here. Praying mantis can see practically everything around. It has a neck and it’s the only insect I know that can turn around using it. I must admit, it looks very intimidating when it turns towards the prey.

Mantis taking a dump - notice the dung behind it :)
Mantis taking a dump – notice the dung behind it 🙂
Praying mantis in fighting position
Praying mantis in fighting position
It looks alien. Especially the neck!
It looks alien. Especially the neck!

I have found myself taking photos of these fine (not so) little creatures on regular basis. They are almost impossible to notice at first, but when you ‘calibrate’ your search algorithm a bit, you see them each time you go visit the garden. The funny thing is, they get used to people as well.

And, for the end, here’s a video of the mantis catching a stinkbug.

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Giant orange habanero chilli cross

Giant orange habanero chilli cross

Much larger orange habanero pod
Much larger orange habanero pod

Last couple of seasons, I’ve been banging my head, trying to figure out the ancestors of chilli I bought on eBay. It was supposed to be Trinidad scorpion, but as well as we all know, there’s no way to receive the right seeds that way. I decided to collect the seeds and try growing them anyway, perhaps I could find out the difference in phenotype of the pods and figure out the related chillies. That did not happen, because the pods remained strange and similar to those last season, but they did start showing another, much larger pod phenotype.

Pepper plant, full of ripe pods
Pepper plant, full of ripe pods

Last season, my peppers had a really hard time ripening, and I was hardly able to collect enough seeds to start a couple of new plants this year. I later decided, I don’t really need many pods from that hybrid and I rather planted a whole bunch of superhots instead. The two plants I did plant, however, had grown into nice little peppers with above average number of pods. Last year, I have noticed that these peppers are heavy producers and this season the same thing repeated. On two relatively small pepper plants (they were more shaded than my other peppers), there was more than 1kg of pods, and there are new pods ripening as we speak.

Thicker pods
Thicker pods
Whole range of pod phenotypes
Whole range of pod phenotypes

The pods remained similar. They are still extremely hot, but not superhot. The pods have thin wall which makes them ideal for drying. They have less placental tissue than last year, but there is some, and there is quite some oil on the inner walls of the pods. The colour is deep orange, but can get a bit paler or darker, because of thin, semi-transparent skin. Skin texture is smooth and glossy. Most of the pods are elongated, but, like I mentioned, this season some of the pods became larger. Length remained nearly the same, but the pods got way fatter.

Ripe pods of orange habanero hybrid
Ripe pods of orange habanero hybrid

In late season, the pods were attacked by some kind of worms
In late season, the pods were attacked by some kind of worms
Tiny, but annoying worm
Tiny, but annoying worm

In late season I have noticed a lot of pods that started to appear dark in the middle. When I checked the pods from inside, I have noticed some kind of worms that started chewing the seeds and created a webbing in which they were hiding after I exposed them. It seems that their thin skin makes them vulnerable. attacked pods started rotting from inside, which made them unusable. I tried to dry some of the healthy looking pods and later realised, that some of them started rotting. Each of those had a little worm inside. There is a way to minimise their damage though, you have to pick ripe pods as soon as you can, cut them open and freeze them. The best option is to use them as soon as they ripen completely.

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