Monday, August 31, 2009

Early Signs Of Fall

The cuttings Ed took of my scented geraniums and the lemon verbena have been moved into their pots in preparation for moving indoors. It's a great thing to have new healthy plants to bring in instead of digging up the large, woody plants. Some years we don't manage that, but this year we did. Right now they sit on the patio waiting in the garden until Fall arrives.

The golden rod has been blooming for some time, but now it's yellow is joined by the beautiful purple of New England asters. It's the first fall color here before the trees even think of changing their leaves.

It was a gorgeous day for working in the garden. There was nothing hot and muggy about today. Tonight is clear and cool. Windows opened to cool off the house were closed early. The weather forecast for tonight says a low of 42 degrees. The f_ _ _ _ word crossed my mind, but it's still August. It wouldn't,well it shouldn't, but still the early signs remind us that summertime is running out.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Tough Year For Lilies

It's been a tough year for lilies here at the stone wall garden. Early spring heat, late hard frost, critters, little sun, and excess water all add up to plant stress. As described in the catalog, Lilium speciosum rubrum is a prized circa 1830 heirloom that has crimson-rose flowers with white margins, magenta spots and a pinkish white eye. It is fragrant and reaches four feet tall. Bloom time is August. The picture in the catalog doesn't look like this. Dead leaves and a single sad blossom would hardly send sales through the roof. Still you have to admire this plant for blooming despite the weather. I have to wonder if this 1830 lily will manage to come back in 2010.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Red Hot Garden Color

It's late August and the garden is aglow with brilliant red cardinal flower. The hummingbirds are delighted zipping happily from one flower to another. Even with so much to do in the garden, it's impossible not to take time out to watch them enjoy sipping nectar from these deep-throated red flowers.

The color in the photos is close to the actual color of the flowers. The pictures were taken in the light of morning. There is something about morning light that intensifies the color red. The cardinal flower looks its best in the morning light.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

We're Watching

We're keeping a very close eye on our Monarch. The amount of time it takes to complete the change depends on the weather, and so we watch.

There are other things to watch in the garden. The hummingbirds are enjoying the cardinal flowers and the trumpet vine. The goldfinches are beginning to feed on the sunflowers so I know the seed is becoming mature.

Ed has been spending so much time keeping the grass mowed that he actually seems to be tired of doing it. Really I think it's just that he has other things he wants to accomplish instead.He still had time to do some weeding . Some more catnip got cut and stripped to dry. A few of the lower leave on some plants had powdery mildew. I think that is a first for catnip.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Monarch Metamorphosis

One day it's a caterpillar munching on Asclepias, then it hangs itself up on a mallow plant. A day later it is a green and gold chrysalis. The day after that, pictured here, there is just the slightest hint of what is going on inside the clear shell. Soon the color will change to orange and black. How I would love to watch the butterfly's escape and first flight. I will keep an eye on it. I might get lucky.

There is no post for August 25th. We had to be out of town overnight. Ed really wanted to see the caterpillar split its skin. A check before we left found the caterpillar skin in tact. When we returned the next day the caterpillar was gone replaced by a chrysalis. We will try to keep the end of September free of appointments. A spectacular event is coming and we do not want to miss it.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Monarch For Mexico

An early morning trip to the garden for breakfast strawberries revealed this treasure. A Monarch butterfly caterpillar has taken the next step toward a major change. With luck a butterfly will emerge here in thirty days in time for the migration South. Its placement in a planting bed will allow us to daily monitor the process. If the chosen plant is growing up through the cage protecting the beets, the cage will be cut away to leave the chrysalis undisturbed.

We help the preferred food plant, milkweed, grow here. There are areas where the weeds are mowed to encourage milkweed growth. Cutting the emerging milkweed forces the plants to regrow. Cutting the dominant goldenrod causes it to quit. We have tender young leaves available for late caterpillars now. This year has provided few butterflies. Late frosts and constant rains seem to have reduced the number of many insects. A least two Monarchs found each other and created the next generation. This caterpillar may well have fed on the Asclepias growing in our garden.

The host plant was a gift from Ingaborg. She emigrated to this country from Germany between the two world wars. This source of the plant makes it special to us. The pictured leaf damage shows that it is special to the Japanese Beetles as well. A new stop has been added to our garden walks. Several times a day we will check on progress here. Now we have another concern about September frost.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Wild Egret Chase

Ed went to get gas for the tractor. When he returned he told me to put on my shoes, and bring the camera. When I asked why, he told me he had seen the egrets again . Perhaps if we were lucky they would still be there. While we drove on River Road, I set the camera so I could try for a picture with a minimum of noise. We took the dirt road that crosses the stream, and goes through corn fields and wetlands. This time we at least got a picture of the elusive white bird. This is a a typical wetland for around here. The streams wander back and forth across the valley. This former stream bed now ends at roads edge. You can see jewelweed and boneset in the lower right corner of the picture. While we were there we saw a green heron fly from right next to the road into the distance. Several great blue herons did a fly-by in the distance. Rings appeared on the surface of the water where fish broke the surface of the water. We watched this bird for some time and then drove on to look for others. We did see another egret, but it was too far away to even try for a picture. We came back home happy. Our wild egret chase was a complete success!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Up Tight Flowers

The closed gentian is blooming. This is the second year for this fascinating specimen here. As luck would have it when I purchased this plant , it turned out to be two , one blue, one white from the same pot. Sometime I suppose I will have to try to separate them, but for now I just enjoy their unique flowers. The white plant is ever so slightly ahead of the blue. Bumblebees have forced their way into many of the white blossoms,but most of the blue flowers are still closed up tight. It might be the end of August, but there is still cool stuff going on in the garden.

Ed dug more potatoes today. The copra onions have been brought in for braiding. The peppers are beginning to produce. That includes six plants that we bought marked new ace that definitely look hot not sweet. Tomorrow I need to suit up and cut the okra pods that are ready. We are looking forward to trying those.

The high humidity and frequent rain has take it's toll. The zucchini and summer squash plants are gone. The powdery mildew won this time. Sometimes it's best to face facts and dispose of infected plants for the good of the others. The tomato plants may be next.

For many plants it's all about going to seed now. Weeding done now is profitable, paying big dividends for next year. The goldfinches are visiting the sunflowers. In the fields the goldenrod has begun to bloom. A couple of varieties are blooming now, more will join them and continue until the frost. The New England asters are just beginning to show their purple. The purple and gold is a sure sign that September is upon us. I have to be honest, I love this time of year!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

This Weed Is A Jewel!

Whether the orange biflora or the yellow pallida, jewelweed is a wonderful plant. It's juicy stems are useful against almost any skin irritation. The juice calms a fresh bee sting, takes away the horrible burning of stinging nettles, and neutralizes poison ivy. Since I grow nettles to attract butterflies, having jewelweed around is a big plus. As far as I can tell, it lures Japanese beetles away from your other plants better than the traps they sell.

The oblong seed pods bring out the kid in me. If one is patient and waits until they are just big enough, a single touch will explode the pod sending the seeds in all directions. I think tomorrow might be a good day to touch these. Wild Man Steve Brill says the seeds are edible. I have in fact tried them, but to me they are not tasty enough to be worth catching. I would much rather have next year's plants.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Tough Year For Squash

Squash used to be easy. Most years I would have all the zucchini and yellow summer squash I could ever want and more. Last year it was the borer wars. This year with the cool cloudy weather early in the summer, the plants just sat there and produced no fruit. Now that the weather is hot and humid powdery mildew is having a field day. When it is a little cooler at night we have fog. I guess it's a little like athlete's foot for plants. If they never get to really dry off, they are doomed.

I'm getting a few squash now, but the plants are obviously struggling. The newest leaves are still green, but the older the leaves are, the whiter they become. This year the squash are planted far from the rest of the garden. I ponder what to do. Today I picked the squash and did nothing. I guess I could try trimming the diseased leaves off of one plant and see what happens. The butternut vine has only a mild case so far. It might be smart to pull up the vines and call squash season over. I can't decide. For today procrastination works for me.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bee Gone

It was a beautiful morning to be in the garden. Ed and I both went out while the river valley fog hung in the air. We like to be in the garden when it's a little cooler before the sun really heats things up. Ed started cleaning up after the garlic and I worked on an iris bed on far side of the garden. "Whoa, something really big came down the hill , around the garbage can, and onto the grass. I wonder what it was?" Ed called from the compost pile. I went to check it out. The tall weeds were really crushed down were something had moved from the blueberry hill onto the lawn.

After we had been working for awhile longer I heard, " Becky, they're gone!" I didn't get it right away. "The hornets, the nest, it's all gone". I went to look, approaching with some trepidation. I'm not fond of bee stings of any sort. Sure enough, there were no hornets flying in or out. I could see no sign of the gray basketball sized nest. Scraps of gray hornet paper littered the ground.

I got the camera, quietly approached the hole in the bushes, and gingerly zoomed in. Only a little of the paper nest stuck to the rugosa rose remained. We have no way of knowing if the night visitor that trampled the weeds also ate the hornet nest. Skunks do share the garden with us and they are known to eat bee's nests. The wide path could have been caused by a bear or a drunken neighbor. The neighbor would have fallen over the garbage pail so it must have been a bear. We have never seen a bear here. If it was a bear, his timing was perfect and his manners impeccable. The missing nest and the wide path are the only traces of the visit.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Let's Try Okra

This is something new for me. I've eaten okra before but I've never tried to grow it. Ed planted the seed this spring when he planted the basil. Up until now the plants have been sitting out there doing very little. Now we have flowers. Yesterday was the first one.Today that flower is gone and we have more. According to The Victory Garden Cookbook the okra pods will have to be picked every other day and gloves should be worn to avoid getting a rash.

I find the new pointy buds intriguing. The flower is quite pretty, creamy white with a burgundy center. Kept picked the plants could reach four feet. Pods should be picked at 2 to 21/2 inches. Some people love okra ,some dislike the gooey texture. I guess it puts the gum in gumbo. I'm keeping an open mind and looking forward to picking it fresh. In the meantime the flowers are lovely!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Uncage My Lilies!

Since the lilies have opened and there has been no sign of the marauding flock of bud-shredding Baltimore Orioles, we decided to take off the bird netting. Ed took the opportunity to weed this bed and enjoy the fabulous fragrance of these flowers at the same time. What a pleasant way to spend some time in the garden.

Uncaged and weeded, the lilies are ready for their photo op. You will have to imagine their fragrance. Exceptional lily displays have been sparse here this year, a consequence of late frosts. These lilies were protected under heavy 30 gallon plastic garbage cans on the chilly May and June nights. Sited on the North side of a stone wall, early growth was limited and these lilies fit under the cans. Other taller lilies had their flower buds destroyed by contact with the top of the cold cans. Their foliage was protected so the bulbs were nourished this year. Perhaps next year will favor more lily flowers.

Summer seems to be here now with heat and humidity and oodles of rain. In between the thunderstorms we harvest green beans, onions , broccoli , beets and squash. We have had four tomatoes. Three of them were cherry tomatoes, but they were delicious. The first okra flower appeared yesterday. We had strawberries at lunch. An August garden give you an abundance of everything except time.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Unwelcome Garden Tenants

Hidden in the small hole in the center of this picture just to the left of the gloriosa daisies is a hornet's nest as big as a basketball. I just happened to notice the parade of bees flying in and out, when Ed and I were touring the garden. After working near to this spot just the other day, I am feeling very lucky indeed. I'm not fond of bee stings. Just writing about this kind of gives me the shivers.

The garden path that passes by this spot is now off limits until we can find a way to evict these ill tempered tenants. Since we won't use the nasty chemical hornet spray ,we need to look for alternative, clever , outside-the-box solutions. Paramount in importance is that no one gets stung. While we ponder this problem the nest will be given a wide berth.

Ed tried placing some hot coals under the nest with little success. I keep thinking about how wonderful it would be if a skunk were to discover the nest.I've had help from them eliminating a yellow jacket nest in the past. Who would think I would be wishing for skunks to visit the garden? Sometimes what seems like a bad thing is really a very a good thing.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Can't See The Delphinium For The Dill

I'm great at pulling weeds like grass, ragweed, purslane, lambs quarters... But when it comes to pulling out those plants I like, I run into trouble. The problem is multiplied when the plant is a host plant for black swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. Somewhere in the back, right next to the fence is my blue delphinium. Time for a plant rescue. A five gallon bucket just wouldn't cut it this time. I went for the wheelbarrow and then got busy. When the wheelbarrow was filled , the same spot looked like this.

There is my blue delphinium. It is a new plant and deserves it's chance to be seen. I still have lots of dill and fennel and parsley. I'm sure there is enough to keep me and the caterpillars happy.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Weeding Has Its Rewards!

It was a beautiful warm and sunny yesterday afternoon. I took the opportunity to head out to the garden to have some fun pulling weeds. I chose the bed that is shaded in the afternoon by the smokebush. Weeding in a shady spot on a sunny day is my idea of heaven. I settled in, sitting on my little garden cart. It gives a whole new meaning to being in the garden. If you were looking for me, I would be hard to find. It's August so there are lots of weeds to pull. I was there for some time, taking the occasional break to watch the hummingbirds on the other side of the stone square. They were working the scarlet runner beans and the cardinal flowers.It was thrilling to watch them chase each other at breathtaking speed. They make funny little noises, and sometimes shoot straight up in the air till they are out of sight.

Sometime later as I worked, I noticed the familiar buzzing in my ears that meant the hummingbird was really close to me. I realized that I had the camera in my pocket. I love my camera. It takes pictures with a small enough number of pixels that I can blog with dial up, but taking hummingbird pictures is with it is like shooting an elephant with a pea shooter. You have to get so close, and the noise of the camera usually sends the hummer shooting out of sight like a bullet. Still, I slipped the camera from my pocket and gave it a try. Most of my pictures were of the "Where"s Waldo" variety like the one above. The humming bird is there, but where?

But I did get one. It's not a fantastic picture of a hummingbird, but for me it was a coup.There she is for everyone to see. What a fantastic afternoon! The flower bed got weeded. I got to watch an amazing flying circus and I have pictures to remember precious time spent in the garden. Yes indeed, weeding has its rewards!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Sunflower Sport

Sunflowers are one of the plants that volunteer here. Originally started from some Budgie seed I planted in our old garden, they moved with us and still come up wherever they choose. For more than a decade they have been self seeding in the garden. Recently their numbers have declined. Right now sunflowers are a protected plant here.We try very hard to let them grow, or move them to a better spot when they are small. There are consequences for weeding out a sunflower!

These are not single stem sunflowers. They are more of a sunflower bush. Sometimes the centers are brown, sometimes yellow. In all the time I have been growing these plants, I have never seen one like this one! Special effort will have to be made to save some seed from this plant. Goldfinches and black cap chickadees usually take care of planting the sunflowers, dropping as many seeds as they eat.I trust them to show me when the seed is ready to plant. I'll watch and collect some seed myself and see that it gets special care. I'm curious to see what seed from this sport will produce.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Haricot Verts

Once the valley fog burned off on Monday, we got a sunny day. We jumped at the chance to harvest the green beans. They were a perfect size and beautifully straight, so Ed ran them through our crank machine to make them "French cut" and I processed them for the freezer. You might think we would have had beans for dinner, but we did not. I had other plans.

I used garlic, basil, zucchini, summer squash and parsley from the garden to make pesto, sauteed squash and garlic bread for dinner. The garden makes for incredible meals here.

The sunshine continues today. Everything in the garden seems to welcome the light and warmth. Even the watermelon vines have blossoms!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Buried Treasure

I am a wickedly curious person sometimes. This morning I did some weeding in the bed where the peas have recently been pulled. Among the weeds and poppies, I found a potato vine. Obviously it came up from a potato we overlooked last year. I left it there, but the darn thing nagged at me all day. Ed took pity on me and finally dug it up. One fairly big and two tiny potatoes were the result. I'm not sure what kind they are. Perhaps we will find out at supper. If the flesh is yellow, they must be Bintje.

We decided we could use another potato to go with the one we had, so Ed dug his first hill of Caribes. These beautiful purple skinned potatoes with pure snowy-white flesh are a favorite of ours. They are almost too pretty to eat, but we will eat them, skins and all. Freshly dug potatoes, cooked in their skins, are a fantastic treat!

If the scab free skins on these potatoes are any indication of things to come, molasses water is now a permanent part of our potato planting routine. The results really are amazing!