Tag Archives: garden

Wine bottle drip irrigator

I don’t have a water source at my community garden plot so this summer I’ve been experimenting with drip-irrigation devices. My favorite so far is one that uses a wine bottle, and I’m sharing instructions here in case you’re bored out of your mind during the Covid-19 lockdown. You probably have wine bottles, but if you don’t I also give tips on how to use soda bottles and buckets.

Wine bottle drip irrigator

Instructions

  1. Cut the bottom off the bottle. The above shows a 750-mL bottle but a 1.5-L works, too. I own a Creator’s bottle cutter kit (it’s fantastic) but there are videos showing other techniques.
  2. Drill a hole through the cork to accommodate 1/4″ tubing.
  3. Cut a length of 1/4″ drip irrigation tubing so that it is 1/2″ longer than the cork. Put a small piece of tape over the opening of one end.
  4. Put a few drops of outdoor glue into the hole. Gorilla Glue is nice because it tends to expand, filling gaps in the cork.
  5. Insert the taped-up end of tubing into hole, pushing until untaped part is flush. Take off tape (that was there to make sure it didn’t get filled with glue).
  6. Once glue is dry, insert cork into bottle so that the 1/2″ overhang is sticking out.
  7. Attach an adjustable valve to the tubing.
  8. Attach a 12″ (or so) length of 1/4″ tubing to the valve.
  9. Attach bottle to a 36″ stake (1×1″ wood, 1/2″ bamboo, or plastic-coated metal) using wire. Make it extremely snug so that when filled with water it won’t drift down.
  10. Crumple up some tulle (or flexible screening) to form a filter plug near cork. Tamp down using a long rod. This prevents hole and valve from clogging.
  11. Attach tulle (or flexible screening) to top with two rubbers bands. One rubber band is fine but the second is backup in case sunlight degrades one. The screening keeps out debris, but also prevents mosquitoes from ovipositing when valve is closed (and bottle is filled).

Here are some closeups:

Once done, situate the irrigator in your garden so that you can easily see the drip and adjust the valve without fighting foliage or stooping. This is why the instructions above call for a short length of tubing rather than something that fully extends into the soil near the plant (where you couldn’t see it). Evaporation from a falling drop of water is probably non-zero but I think the ability to see the drip rate is worth it.

When you water drop by drop, slowly, the soil has time to fully absorb the moisture. Drip irrigated plants thus need far less water, sometimes dramatically less. Another benefit is that water isn’t constantly splashed onto leaves, something that can distribute as well as activate pathogens. Some plants simply don’t like wet leaves (don’t judge). And many plants (such as tomatoes) also benefit from being constantly hydrated, something that is hard to accomplish with normal irrigation. Finally, plants tend to take up fertilizer better when it is slowly delivered.

Plastic bottle drip irrigator

If cutting bottles is not in your skill set, soda bottles work fine. The only major construction difference here is that you need to insert a drip-emitter coupler into a pre-drilled hole in the cap. But that’s easy — the coupler just snaps in and seals even if you skip the glue step. I’d also recommend using a 2-L soda bottle, however, instead of the 750-mL one shown below. Plus make the stake 36″, not 24″ (too short, I’ve found), and use something sturdier than what I’ve shown. Bottle can be attached to the stake with wire or (as I’ve done here) with zip ties.

The screen on the top is absolutely critical. If the emitter clogs while you’re away on vacation and the bottle fills with water, mosquitoes will move in. Mosquitoes can complete development in as little as five days.

I also recommend cramming in some flexible screening into the neck of the bottle as shown above for the wine-bottle version. Round dish scrubbers will work, too.

Bucket drip irrigator

If you want to deliver gallons of water to a plant, buckets are the way to go. Below is one I made from a florist bucket I scored from Trader Joe’s. I used a coupler, inserted as per instructions for the soda-bottle irrigator. A bucket with a lid would be much better because it could keep mosquitoes out and would reduce evaporation. Even better would be a bucket with a clear lid so that you can quickly gauge water level. Or a clear bucket (they make them!). Elevate the bucket with bricks or mound of dirt so that the lowest part of the bucket is still above the emitter so that gravity can do its thing. You can also use much larger buckets (e.g., 40-gallon ones) and then attach multiple drip emitters via splitters or crosses.

In addition to the top screen (again, an absolute must for excluding mosquitoes), I recommend some sort of internal filter to prevent emitter clogging. I opted for a piece of weed-block cloth attached to some Gorilla tape.

The big disadvantage with ground-based buckets is that you can’t easily see the dripping in action. This means that you have to stoop down to inspect each irrigator to make sure the emitter hasn’t clogged, something that happens regularly if you haven’t screened and filtered properly. I prefer the elevated, bottle-based devices because you can walk through a garden and visually see that everything is dripping at a nice rate.

Alternative setups

Just a sampling of other people’s gravity drip systems.

Drip irrigation suppliers

Some hardware stores carry these supplies, but there are plenty of online distributors, too.

Identifying mantid egg cases in Pennsylvania

There is one native and three introduced mantid species where I live in Pennsylvania (Delaware County), and I’m trying to get the word out that the invasive ones should be killed when found. This post has photographs of the oothecae along with some brief comments about what makes each species distinctive. At the end of the post I have suggestions on how to put the invasive oothecae to good use.

Carolina mantid (Stagmomantis carolina)

Carolina mantids (the only native species in my area) form relatively smooth, teardrop-shaped oothecae with a central portion that is lightly colored. Often found on tree trunks, rocks, and buildings.

Egg case of Carolina mantid (Stagmomantis carolina)

Chinese mantid (Tenodera sinensis)

Chinese mantid oothecae are typically round (or roundish) roughly textured, and uniform in color. Introduced from Asia, as you probably guessed.

Egg case of Chinese mantid (Tenodera sinensis)

Narrow-winged mantid (Tenodera angustipennis)

Narrow-winged mantid oothecae are usually rather elongate. They are also seem to have red streaks, though the color seems to be most noticeable after they age a few months. Introduced from Asia, too.

Egg case of narrow-winged mantid (Tenodera angustipennis)

European mantis (Mantis religiosa)

I’ve never encountered a European mantis ootheca, so here’s a photograph by Hans Hillewaert (via Wikipedia):

By © Hans Hillewaert, CC BY-SA 4.0

Another common name for the European mantis is praying mantis (not preying mantis).

More ID help

If you need help identifying an ootheca, I highly recommend posting a photograph on iNaturalist. If you post there, feel free to include my iNaturalist username (@colinpurrington) in your caption so that I can have a look. Not only will you get an answer from the iNaturalist community within a day or two, your submission helps scientists track the spread of invasive species.

For an excellent overview of all of these species, please see the Cape May Wildlife Guide’s page on mantids.

What should you do with the non-native oothecae?

Invasive mantids eat butterflies, native bees, honey bees, small birds, and also the native mantid, so when you find egg cases, dispose of them. Here are some suggestions on how to do that:

  • Give them to local bird rehabilitation centers — if local bird rehabilitation center doesn’t know what you’re talking about, inform them that insectivorous birds absolutely adore frozen mantid hatchlings.
  • Give them to a neighbor who has chickens.
  • Give them to a neighbor who has a pet tarantula, snake, lizard, or fish.
  • Put them in a freezer for a week.
  • Step on them.

But whatever you do, do not just relocate oothecae to some nearby field — that just transfers the problem to someplace where you can’t see the problem. I.e., even though you might pride yourself as being a gentle soul that wouldn’t kill a fly, releasing invasive predators will result in monarch butterflies being eaten alive. Don’t be that person. If you simply cannot bring yourself to kill the eggs, ask somebody to help you do the right thing.

But aren’t mantids great for pest control?

Many people (I include myself) grew up being told by highly-educated, seemingly trustworthy adults that mantids are ideal for providing chemical-free pest control in the garden. That view, it turns out, is a myth. Although it’s true that young mantids consume small, pestiferous insects, when mantids are fully grown they tend to camp out on flowers and wait for large butterflies (and even birds). I.e., when a mantid is fully grown it will not even look at an aphid. Mantids are, of course, excellent for controlling butterflies and hummingbirds, just in case you happen to hate those animals.

Some people even believe that mantids can control ticks. They don’t. They are equally ineffective at controlling mosquitoes.

Chinese mantids eat monarch butterflies

This post is a PSA for anyone keen on helping monarchs: if you find Chinese mantids (Tenodera sinensis) in your yard, kill them. As proof, below is a photograph of one that had just snagged a monarch visiting my swamp milkweed. The monarch is fine, by the way. After I intervened she flew off, then came back within seconds and resumed ovipositing.

Monarch butterfly captured by a Chinese mantid (Tenodera sinensi

But unless you’re observing your milkweed patch obsessively, you’ll probably never catch a Chinese mantid in the act. But you can infer their presence by piles of monarch wings (i.e., no body attached). No other animal does this to monarchs.

Monarch butterfly wings left by Chinese mantid predation

And caterpillars are just as susceptible. Here’s a Chinese mantid I interrupted just as it was about to strike:

At base of milkweeds was a pile of monarch butterfly wins. Swarthmore, PA.

Chinese mantis can be easily distinguished from any of the native mantids by the presence of a yellow dot in between the forelegs.

Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis)

If you find an ootheca (egg case) of this species, crush it. The oothecae have an irregular, messy surface that looks like a blob of brown, poorly-applied insulating foam. Oothecae of the native Carolina mantis are much smoother and streamlined (see, “Identifying mantid egg cases in Pennsylvania“).

First-instar nymph of Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis) on ootheca

If you’re like most people (including myself), you grew up believing that mantids are a pesticide-free way of reducing garden pests. How could thousands of web sites be wrong?? The truth is, however, that Chinese mantids are so large that they tend to only eat large insects, and that usually means mainly butterflies, not aphids or other species that are tiny. So if you hate butterflies, by all means encourage Chinese mantids in your yard. But if you like butterflies in your garden, kill the Chinese mantids. And don’t just relocate them, even though that seems like the friendly, eco, green, peace-loving thing to do. Moving introduced, invasive species to another location simply facilitates further spread. It’s like transporting your rabid, aggressive pit bull to a different part of the city (“I didn’t want to euthanize it. Maybe it will thrive in a different neighborhood!”).

FYI, Chinese mantids also eat hummingbirds, plus other birds that are even bigger. The authors of that linked paper conclude,

“Our compilation suggests that praying mantises frequently prey on hummingbirds in gardens in North America; therefore, we suggest caution in use of large-sized mantids, particularly non-native mantids, in gardens for insect pest control.”

Italics mine.