Posts Tagged ‘wildlife’

Do you remember that we have a row of espaliered fruit trees?  There’s a pretty good picture of the row in this post taken in spring three years ago while the apples were in full bloom.

We started out with two pears and six varieties of apples.   Very shortly after we planted them, one of the pears succumbed to fire blight.   Unfortunately, I did not know what was wrong with it before the fungus had been transferred to the apple just to its north on the row.   After several years of severe pruning and a lot of praying over that apple, it also died.

Last year, the apple I planted because it was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite, the Spitzbergen, also died.  Frankly, I didn’t mourn its passing much because for the life of me I could not figure out what was so great about that apple.  It was mealy, and not very flavorful.   However, perhaps it made wonderful applejack, as that appears to be the reason most of the Colonials were growing apples in the first place.

Last year was also the year I discovered that the rubber tree rings we had placed around the young apples in hopes that they would keep the weed eating job around the trunks to a minimum had turned into tree girdling apparatus.   The lesson here is, those rings do not work.   They don’t slow the weeds down much, so you wind up doing the weed eating anyway.   Once the weeds have gotten thick it is very easy to forget that those mats are there, and as the years pass the trees grow larger and larger.   Eventually they run into the mats and begin to girdle themselves.

Last year, all my apples were looking SO unhappy, and I attributed it to the drought and heat until one day I happened to be clipping the weeds around the trunks while I was watering them deeply and realized what was really going on.   I spent a couple of hours creatively and productively releasing negative emotions as I ripped the mats away from around the trees.   Fortunately, I noticed this problem before the girdling was complete, and once the restriction was removed the little trees recovered well.

I am so grateful, because this year they bloomed beautifully in spite of the cool spring, and were pollinated well despite the rain that fell on the blossoms.   I managed to get the fruit thinned in a timely fashion in between my peripatetic spring wanderings.    Then we installed a squirrel/bird barrier when the fruit started looking really good.


This is one of the children of Jim’s fertile brain and is designed to be easily moved and installed.   Each panel has chicken wire as the fence, and they are independent of each other.   The whole thing can be connected panel to panel using wire ties.   Over the top we put a flexible black plastic bird net and clip it to the chicken wire with clothespins.   Apparently it is far enough off the ground that the squirrels have not discovered they can chew through it.   I think they get stymied by the chicken wire at ground level and don’t even bother to climb up to the top.

Whatever the reasons, the barrier serves its function well and keeps the squirrels and the birds out quite nicely.   If only it would do the same for bugs and fungus.   Despite that, I picked the crop this morning.    The results were I got 46.8 lbs. of apples that are essentially perfect:  no fungus, rot, or insect damage.  Some of them I will put in the refrigerator for future reference to eat out of hand.   The rest of them will be peeled, treated with citrus acid, and frozen for pies and crisps.

There are also 38.4 pounds of apples that have active rot going on.   Those I will cut up and start cooking for apple sauce as soon as I am done with this post and the client who is due to arrive within moments.

At the prices we have to pay for organic apples, this amounts to about $150 worth of apples.   The squirrel barrier cost us the same amount, so we break even this year.   The barrier is re-usable, a one time cost that as far as I am concerned, more than paid for itself considering that a couple of years ago I had a nice apple crop and the squirrels got ALL of it.

For the record, the Moonglow pear tree, which is supposed to need another pear tree to cross pollinate itself, produced two dozen beautiful and tasty pears despite the fact that the Bartlett pear that was designated as its pollination partner is long dead.   I think the ornamental Bradford pears planted in the savanna may be standing in for the Bartlett.

The apple crop consists of Granny Smith, Fuji, Gala and Golden Delicious:


I sat down and ate one of the apples as I was picking this morning.  It was wonderful.

I took a little time to express my gratitude to the trees, the weather, my husband for the ideal squirrel barrier, and to the Universal Deity for the conditions which provided us with this very nice crop of apples.   Next year there will be more!

And this, dear readers, is why we go to all the trouble to grow our own food.

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After nearly killing ourselves last week getting the weeds out of the pond, I sort of let the next phase of the job stay on hold for a while.   Let me refresh your memory:


As you can see, I have the pavement area partially clear of grass and weeds.   When I originally laid it, all I did was put in a bed of sand.   Needless to say, this was an open invitation to the ants, bermuda grass, dock, clover, etc. etc. etc. to move in and take over, which they did most thoroughly.

It was a slow process scraping the vegetative cover off of the pavers.  This was not made any easier by the fact that that the ants living there did their little earthmoving activities undisturbed for 17 years, which led to the paving blocks heaving and shifting in a most amazing manner.   I decided that filling the wheelbarrow with grass mats once a day was plenty of work of that sort.    There were plenty of other things to occupy me too, like pruning the espalier, the rugosa rose in front of the barn and I don’t know what all.    Needless to say, I also had to walk Ruby.

Anyway, when the grass was finally cleaned away, a job I finished yesterday morning, the paving looked like this:


There were plenty of grass roots left sticking up, and after a few seconds I decided I really needed to move the paving and do some restoration to the pad.   So I did.


I was so careful when I moved the blocks, having the insane idea that I would be able to replace them the same way they came out.   What I neglected to take into consideration was the fact that the far edge had had some blocks break, and so the tiles were not fitted together properly over there.  Also, some of my tiles had broken while the shifting sands were under them.

While I was working, the first house wren returned, flying in from the south in a flurry of announcements.  “This is my house.”   “This is my garden.” “This area is mine, mine, mine, what are you doing here?”   “Where are the girls anyway, slowpokes, don’t they know there are plenty of bugs to eat we need to get busy and start a family post haste.”   I was glad to see him back, nosy bossy busybody that he is.

After I had the pavers moved, I grubbed out the grass roots and rhizomes that had invaded.   Then I “leveled” the mud and spread sand over it to make a nice base for the pavers.   No one can say that I do not learn from my mistakes, so it was off to the Big Box store to  purchase a pond liner to go under the tiles.   That item was not cheap, but I was armored with Jim’s statement “It is a one time expense” so I plopped down several twenty dollar bills, managed to avoid the temptation of half price perennial plants, and came on home.

There I spread the new liner, tucking it neatly under the pond’s pond liner at the edge, and trimming it to fit my tile area.   Then it was jig saw puzzle time as I fit the tile blocks back into their space.   This required a lot of running back and forth to the pile of tile behind the barn in the search for blocks that were “just right” for holes that needed filling.   By the end I was reduced to taking a piece of rock and smacking it with my hammer in the hopes that one of the resulting pieces would be right for the hole that needed filling.   This actually worked quite well several times, much to my amazement.

Jim mixed me up a small batch of mortar, and I got into the waterfall area and mended the cracks so that when we finally get the new pond pump the water will fall rather than dribble.   That was just a short little episode in the long slog of work I was involved in.

Finally, I hauled a couple of three gallon buckets of sand over to fill in the cracks, and swept it clear.   I was finishing that up when I was called to dinner.   I left the area changed:

DSCF7258 DSCF7282

After dinner, I took Ruby for her walk, and for some reason it was a very slow pace around the mile and half path I generally take her on.   Frequently I make it 3.5 miles, but it simply wasn’t in the cards last night.   I came home and took a nice long, badly needed epsom salt soak.

Elsewhere in the yard, spring is progressing nicely.   Here are a couple of images of the species tulips and one of my very fancy daffodils as they bloomed beautifully and largely un-noticed on the other side of the yard from where my attention was focused.



In front, I did manage a clean up during the week, which revealed the peony sprouting very optimistically.   There are plenty of daffodils and tulips keeping it company.   One of the irises already has a flower stalk coming up.


Now that the pond is finished, I can rest easy in the knowledge that it will never be that hard to maintain again.   Hopefully, anyway.   And that is a good thing, as I am not getting any younger.   In another ten years I’m not sure I would have been able to do the herculean job that I accomplished this past week and a half.  And I do not wish to minimize Jim’s help during it, although most of the work was done by me while he was busy mowing and mowing and cooking and working at the Commissary.

Now all I have to do is help Jim replace all the carpet in the house with flooring, paint all the walls that have cracks from the beam replacement job, remove the cannas from the areas that I don’t want them, get the henbit out of the day lilies, finish planting the vegetable garden, and …..

Did I mention I am going on a cruise vacation to Alaska in about a month?

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A while ago I was walking a client out to her car and as I returned to the house I noticed a big fat caterpillar hanging about on my rue plant.

“I must get a picture of that caterpillar, it is so interesting,” I said to myself.  “I wonder what kind it is?”   So I went to Google to figure it out, and found out it was the caterpillar of the Giant Swallowtail butterfly.

Then my client came for her massage, so no image was acquired, and when she left I went to get a picture and the caterpillar was GONE.   Disappeared.   I accused the grackles in the area of eating it.

This is what it looked like.   I found this image using Google and borrowed it from Bugfolks.

A while later, one of my observant clients pointed to something hanging right by the front door and wondered what it was.

“Oh!”  I replied, quite pleased.    “That is the chrysalis of a giant swallowtail butterfly.”   Mentally I apologized to the grackles for the murder accusation I had leveled their way previously.   I also congratulated my client on spotting the thing, as it really was quite well camouflaged.

I had no trouble identifying it, since it looked exactly like the caterpillar only it was all folded up.   It even shared the “bird dropping” coloration the caterpillar was notable for.   I was very impressed by how much the caterpillar shrank itself in order to form the chrysalis.

Really, I have a lot to thank my clients for, because this morning when my client arrived her first words were,  “There’s a butterfly out here.   I think it might be hurt.”

I looked out the door, and there on the wall right under the chrysalis was a giant swallowtail butterfly in the process of pumping fluid into its wings, having just freshly emerged from the now empty chrysalis.   I quickly let my client know exactly what she was seeing, called my mother from the living room (she had stopped by to visit me) to come admire, and left her explaining to my client about how butterflies have to move fluid into their new wings, which is why she was pumping them back and forth in the manner which made my client think perhaps she was wounded while I went and grabbed my camera.

One minute later:   Notice how the left tail has already gotten bigger in this image, and how much the lower wings have expanded.

“Would you care to step up onto my finger?”    “Yes, I believe I would.”

Meanwhile, I had sent my client into the room to prepare for the massage and my mother had bid me adieu and gone off to finish her errands in town.

The butterfly liked being on my hand.   It walked all over it, flexing its brand new wings all the while, and proceeded to promenade up my arm almost to my shoulder.    I had to do a massage, my client (bless her heart) was patiently waiting in the massage room while I disported myself in the garden with the butterfly.  It didn’t want to leave my hand, but I finally convinced it to dismount onto my aster plant.

Here is another little magic.   This is her ventral side.   How such a black butterfly can have such a pale “other” side is just magical to me.

After the massage was over, I went out to see how she was doing.   She was still resting on the aster, and I thought maybe I’d get another shot.   But as soon as she saw me moving down the steps, she flew away.   Our transitory connection was over, but I shall treasure the feeling of her feet clinging to my fingers as she walked all over my hand.

Hope there is something magical going on in your life today, too.

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I was supposed to be canning pickles (both dill and my sweet gherkins), plus I had apple sauce that was hot and waiting for the canner to heat up.  But before I got started packing the pint jars, I thought I would run out to the garden once more to look through the cucumber vines and see if I missed any.   I had.  So I picked them, and noticed that there were some tomatoes that also needed to be picked.   I needed a basket for that, so I started back to the house to get it.

As I scurried past the pond, I noticed that the apple mint was in full bloom.   It is taking full advantage of the lapse in memory I had a few weeks ago when I started the water running into the pond to fill it up, went inside and promptly forgot all about it.  In the morning as I was waiting for my teapot to fill so I could make coffee, I thought idly to myself,  “Gosh, the water pressure sure doesn’t seem to be as high as usual … OH SHOOT (expurgated for the blog)!!!  Whereupon I crashed out of the house, scaring the dog away from her breakfast, ran out to the garden to turn the spigot off and observed that the pond was approximately 5 inches over flood stage.  Further investigation showed that the water had flowed all the way down to the Petite Prairie, watering the day lily bed quite throughly.  The drain pipe at the other side of the vineyard was also trying to deal with the overflow.   I still have a green circle down there, where everything else is sere and brown.

But I digress.   The apple mint was blooming furiously, having been so well watered previously.   I just deviated from my course a bit to see if perhaps my honey bees were availing themselves of the pollen source.  They were.

The honeybees had lots of company out there.    I forgot all about pickles and apple sauce and went to get my camera.  I spent quite a while out there, standing quietly just inside the border of the mint patch.  When I first arrived with my camera, everyone got very excited and nervous about the big thing that had just disturbed the feeding frenzy.   But as I stood quietly, things settled down.   Here is a group of four different sorts of wasps, all intent on their food source.


The variety of pollinators present was impressive.

There were yellow jackets, of course.



Several different types of wasps were in attendance.


That big black wasp was at the large end of the size spectrum.   But there were teensy wasps too.


Some of the wasps were overcome with optimism for the future by the large quantity of food available.   The sudden onset of a good energy source put them in the mood, I guess.

The female went about the business of flying and eating as if the male wasn’t even present.

There were also several female bumblebees at the buffet.


A tachnid fly — one of several different varieties flitting about.


Butterflies –a buckeye and a little blue.   The little blue has a mud dauber wasp sharing the frame with her.


I saw a beautiful bright green sweat bee, but it didn’t stick around long enough to get photographed.   You can see what it looked like here.

There was an interesting beetle.

I’m not positive, but that may be an assassin bug, which means it isn’t strictly a pollinator, but more a pollinator eater.   They wait in flowers for the pollinators to come along, grab them and then suck the juices out of them.

Here’s another predator.   Probably not big enough to be a danger to anyone other than that tiny wasp above, or possibly a gnat or aphid.

That’s my finger holding the flower apart because the little crab spider wasn’t anxious to be photographed and kept hiding from me.   No escape from the paparazzi, I’m afraid.

There were a couple of dragonflies around too.   This is a rather small red one.

Just a few feet away is the pond, and this big blue dragonfly was hovering around there.

It was heartening to see all that life burgeoning in the yard, since it has been scorchingly hot for three weeks.    I mean really hot, too.   The temperatures have been over 100°F every day for three weeks, only cooling off into the low 80s at night.   (That would be 38° C for all the rest of the world.)   This heat has been accompanied by a complete absence of rain of any measurable amount.   We had a respite today, a line of storms came across the plains.   We got about 1mm of moisture out of that, enough to settle the dust (barely) and raise the humidity to about 90%.   Ergh.

This is what the garden along the back of the house looks like.   All those burned hostas are not dead, they are just conserving their energy and protecting their roots.   Still, it is a little depressing.   The Hosta Dell exhibits similar damage.

Please notice the lawn to the right of the path.   Our whole place looks just like that except around the landscape shrubs and trees, which we have been pampering with regular water.   This also encourages the grass, which gives the rabbits something other to eat than the fruit tree bark.   The rabbits out browsing gives the owls something to eat.

There is a note of hope in the middle of all that devastation.    The naked ladies have made their appearance.   I just love them, their combination of hardiness and delicacy is inspirational.

The pickles have been put through the canner and are cooling on the counter.   They are accompanied by 6 pints of apple sauce.

Now I believe I’ll get that basket and go out and investigate the tomato situation.








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Daisy fleabane —   Erigeron annuus:

This wild flower got its name because back in the old days, people would pick the flowers, dry them, and then strew them around the house to chase the fleas out of the straw that kept the stone and dirt floors from being cold in the winter.  This met with varying degrees of success.  Culpepper says, “The juice makes an excellent pectoral tonic, although unpleasant to take.  The decoction, or infusion, may be sweetened and used with success in consumptive cases.”  He also mentions that fleabane  is useful as a diuretic as well as a treatment for diarrhoea, kidney stones, and as a treatment for bleeding in the lungs or colon.

I thought about titling this post “Give it an inch and it will take over,” which would be  so descriptive of what fleabane does.  But many of the common flowers around here do exactly the same thing, so I didn’t think it would be fair to single fleabane out.  Joining fleabane in plant thuggery taking over gardens are goldenrod, mint, vinca, dock, violets, the common buttercup, sweet autumn clematis, and others too numerous to mention.  I will just say here that all of the above are found duking it out mingling  in my day lily  bed, much to the dismay of the Hemerocallis.

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, weeding the fleabane out of the day lily bed was on my list of things that had to get done.   I finally got around to starting the project after I finished clearing the vinca and goldenrod out of the small bed by the back door.    By the way, I did finish that job, and it looks very nice now.   And just in case the need arises, Jim will be able to find the sewer clean out caps, which are under the flat rock you can see in the gravel path.

So, that business concluded, I arrayed myself in long pants, long sleeved white shirt, hat, gloves, doused myself with pennyroyal (in an attempt to dissuade the mosquitoes from feasting on me), and took my cobra head weeder, a spade, the wheel barrow and a lot of grit and determination out to the day lilies.

The bed looked like this.

There are day lilies in there somewhere, blooming beautfiully.

What happened!!??? you might ask.   The short answer is, “Life happened.”  The long answer is a lot of people died, a relationship blew up, I got depressed, my energy levels dropped, the events of the last year intervened…  and the fleabane, dock, goldenrod, violets and other thug plants wild flowers of the region took full advantage of my distraction.

I worked out there for about three hours the first day I assailed the mess.   The following day I spent another two hours on the job, and  I’m still not finished.   I thought about working on it yesterday, but after two days with the vinca and the two sessions in the day lilies, my hands were actually very sore.   Since I really need them in order to do my job, I thought I’d give them the day off from weeding.

Besides.   It looks much better now.

Fleabane was just one of the problems out there.    There was yellow dock as well.   It gets as tall as I am and has the most amazing root system, which is why I really needed the shovel for the job.

I tolerate it out behind the pond and in the labyrinth because it makes an impressive amount of seeds.  The seed eating birds love them, but believe me, the dock has plenty to spare and freely reseeds itself.   It is quite the colonizer, and since it is a perennial, once it gets established it just keeps coming back unless you dig the roots out.

Another little friend that loves to colonize is goldenrod, genus Solidago.  There are approximately 125 species of goldenrod, and I have no idea which kind is infesting enjoying my yard.  It could be Showy Goldenrod, or Rough-stemmed Goldenrod, or Stiff Goldenrod.  (I’m pretty sure it is NOT Seaside Goldenrod since we are nowhere near a brackish marsh, nor is this a sandy site)  At any rate, it also gets as tall or taller than I am.

Please note the root system.  This plant is one year old, and is all cocked and primed to take over everything in the general vicinity.   The white parts of the root system are rhizomes, which can and do travel many feet out from the mother plant, entwining around the roots of other plants along the way and strangling them from below while the plant effectively blocks out the light the victimized plants need to prosper from above.

Again, this is a plant that I actively encourage in the wild parts of the yard because it provides habitat for butterflies, an important fall pollen source for the honeybees, and a source of winter food for the birds.   However, it is definitely something that I don’t really like in the more domesticated parts of the garden because of its invasive habit.  A gardener would do well to learn to identify this one and pull it out when it is very small.

This is where things like goldenrod and fleabane and dock belong:  in the Petite Prairie.

It’s really not very good garden design that the Petite Prairie is right across the path from the Daylily Garden.   It makes it all too easy for the weeds wild flowers mentioned above to colonize the tamer garden.

But gosh, I don’t have enough to do around here.   I really need an ongoing project to occupy my time.


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