Thursday, September 27, 2018

Two Late Monarchs

Here we have two  late Monarch chrysalises.  This one is hanging from a leaf on Ed's Lime Frost Daylily.  This week the weather has been cool and we have had lots of rain.  As you can see this chrysalis is wet.  We are still seeing Monarch butterflies in the garden, but time is getting short because the flowers are almost gone.

 When I was out in the garden weeding on the last sunny day we had, I found a Monarch caterpillar curled up on the soil looking like it might be dead.  I carefully picked it up and laid it on a stone in the garden path to see if the warmth of the sun would make a difference. It did!  We decided to take it inside.  I found some nice green milkweed.  Most of the milkweed has gone to yellow.  Many plants have dropped their leaves.  Ed put in the two sticks.  The next day it was raining hard all day.  The caterpillar did not seem interested in eating.  He wanted to climb up and find a place to hang.  We did not see it attach, or shed its skin, but we did get to watch it wiggle and change losing its ridges and smoothing out from bottom to top.  AMAZING!  It will be interesting to see if we have too late Monarchs or two late Monarchs.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Undervalued Asters

In our area, asters fill the roadside ditches with beautiful flowers at this time of year.  So placed they are subjected to mowing by road crews.  This assault is taken in stride and those plants are presently in flower just on shorter stems.  The purple flowered plants are named New England Asters.  Purple is an admired color here so we have a wild ditch weed planted in the garden in front of the house.  Wild plants frequently have only a single stem but when placed in rich garden soil large clusters of stems follow.  These have held this ground for years and division would again be in order.  The question of where to plant the resulting divisions is one of the obstacles preventing responsible care of these plants.

One of the issues here is the height of the untended plants.  The long lower stems are now filled with dead leaves.  Without something shorter growing in front, the dead leaves are unsightly.  We did manage to prune the plant in the foreground.  Following the trim the plant looked ridiculous but it looks great now.  It would be sound planning to try and trim all of these plants early next summer.

This is a natural color mutation of a New England Aster.  For years I lusted after plants like this in the ditches next to the road to Norwich.  I was tempted to stop and dig one but that would have been a violation of the law.   Finally a single stemmed plant with this color flowers appeared on our land.  This cluster has been divided and we now have four plants just like this one.  Additional divisions need to be made but first new ground must be prepared for the resulting plants.  We are going to need a lot of new ground.

This plant grows alongside of the lane leading to the back acres.  Moving it has been considered but it remains where nature placed it.  If this plant's location was marked now, we could move it when new growth first appeared next spring.  It would be interesting to watch this wild plant respond to cultivation.  Perhaps next year will find this aster growing in an easier neighborhood.

This aster is growing among the pasture grass near the back woods.  The problem of separating the aster from the grasses has kept this plant growing in the wild.  There is no way that I will risk introducing more pernicious grasses into the gardens.  At the very least this plant would be required to spend a year or two in clear ground to make sure that all of the grass roots have been removed..

Our East Gate of the stone square has been temporarily closed by a Summer Sweet and a modified aster.  October Sky is the name of this aster variety.  Its natural tendency to grow tall has been replaced by an eagerness to grow wide.  A tiny mail order plant has given us three huge plants.  This one clearly needs to be divided again.

It seems that plants that are difficult to grow are prized while these easy to grow ones are largely passed by.  An aster garden is seen by many as one small step above cultivated dandelions.  Other's opinions have never shaped my actions and a larger aster garden is in the works.  These common weeds also serve a vital function now.  As the Monarch Butterflies are getting ready to fly south, few flowers remain to provide them with food at this critical time in their life cycle.  It pleases us to see butterflies feeding on our asters.

As September drew to a close, the wind shifted to coming from the north and the temperature dropped.  It appeared that the butterflies had begun their migration taking advantage of the air moving in the direction that they need to take.  Several factors impacted the Monarch population here this summer.  Sightings were common and that has not always been the case.  The number of butterflies on or near this aster is high.  They had to share the food with both yellow butterflies and bees.  Collisions were common resulting in short flights.  All quickly returned to the aster flowers to feed.   Our season has clearly changed and the number of Monarchs feeding on our plants made this day truly memorable.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Lemon Grass Ready To Move Indoors

Lemon Grass is a native plant in India.  Growing there in climate zone 9 or 10, it will reach four feet in height.  We have kept this plant alive in rather cold conditions for a number of years.  Winters are passed indoors where we heat heat the house to 68 degrees.  Two plants are placed on the landing midway up the stairs from the basement.  A mostly glass entry door provides the plants near it to enjoy generous amounts of sunshine.  The extra distance to the ceiling creates strong air currents which seem to benefit the plants.  The other two plants are placed on a work table directly in front of the three bedroom windows.  These plants have a rather tidy growing habit so they create little liter.  Each pot is placed in a plastic dishpan so that generous amounts of water can be given to the plants.

These plants grow to a size that makes placing them in three gallon pots difficult.  Our habit is to divide the monsters so that we always have reasonably sized plants to lug around.  We were late in getting to breaking apart the overwintered plants and their condition was poor.  Seven plants were set out in a garden bed in late June and we expected several of them to simply die.  All seven grew into impressively healthy specimens.  We only have room to bring four indoors so we must make an effort to harvest the remaining plants.  Fresh leaves are used to make tea but we do not dry any.  We have fresh leaves all winter long so why bother drying leaves?

Here the chosen four will make the transition to life in a pot.  The shade garden protects the new transplants from full sun.  Now we need to stay aware of coming weather so that these plants can be moved indoors ahead of the first frost.  We really do garden to some degree all year.  We need to be more aware of this wonderful experience and enjoy it to the fullest.

This plant came through last winter in excellent condition.  When the risk of frost had passed, this plant was removed from its pot and planted in the shade garden.  It has given us fresh leaves for tea all summer but its end is near.  Anyone with greenhouse space is welcome to provide this plant with a winter home. You will need a five gallon bucket and a strong back.  We do not deliver!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Potato Planting Time

Anyone that follows commonly accepted practices might think that I am a bit daft for planting potatoes now.  Everyone knows that potatoes are spring planted while there remains a chance of additional frosts.  Anyone that has grown potatoes knows that some of last year's crop was inadvertently left in the ground and freely grows in the middle of the current crop.  Those missed potatoes show that it is possible for potatoes left in the ground over winter to grow the following spring.  Not only do they grow but the timing of their emergence is perfect while those that I spring planted frequently face frost.

Others have tried to fall plant but their efforts failed to produce plants.  I reasoned that potatoes left in the ground will grow while harvested ones dropped into the collecting bucket frequently do not.  My habit is to have an old dishpan on hand while digging potatoes.  When a perfectly sized potato is encountered it is immediately placed in the dishpan and covered with soil.  Its time exposed to light and air is kept very short as it is quickly planted.

Not every potato planted this way grows.  The thirty-six that will be planted now are planned to be the only ones given ground here.  If they fail to grow, it will be too late to buy additional seed.  Supplies will have been exhausted by the time that we see the failed plantings.  That risk will be taken and we shall see just how much harvest follows next year.

Here are two of this year's crop.  The three russets are a new variety named Canela.  These display a uniformly sized harvest that is well suited to the fast food chain that offers baked potatoes for sale.  The skin is durable but our newly harvested ones split their skins while in the oven.  Wrapped in foil, there was no mess and their appearance on the plate was super.  We have never seen this before and expect that as the skin cures it will become stronger and remain intact.

Colorado Rose is the name of the four red skinned ones.  Since they were harvested just yesterday, we have yet to eat them this year.  That situation will soon change.

The vines on the La Ratte fingerlings remain green.  This presents a problem since our garlic will be planted in just one month where these potatoes are still growing.  We will give them some additional time but there must be enough days to complete soil preparation.  We plant our potatoes in new ground that spent the last several decades growing pasture grass.  Fertilizer increases the appearance of scab so we take the soil as it is.  Garlic relishes rich soil so we need enough time to work in the manure and compost.  Somehow planting at this time of year just feels right.  At the very least this ground has been cleared of weeds.  We try to clean up all of our garden ground before winter closes the gardens.

Captured By Beauty; Photos by Amy

There is nothing quite like a walk in the garden when the fog is just beginning to lift and the dew is on the spiderwebs.  It is especially nice if you have an eye for the beauty of nature like Amy does.   This is not a view of the Stonewall Garden that has been seen until now.  WOW!

Tiny droplets of dew on the bud and backside of this fragrant gladiola , Acidanthera bicolor,  with Ed's stonewall in the background, make a stunningly gorgeous picture.  The only thing missing is the heavenly fragrance that floats on the slightest breeze.

The Snapdragons may have gone to seed,  the Butterfly Bush's blooms may be winding down and the Edward's Fritillary butterfly may be slightly tattered, but beauty remains!

Small white cupped spider webs and bright red asparagus berries make a beautifully festive picture.  When the dew dries the webs will still be there, but invisible.  Their beauty will be hidden to those who walk along the garden path.

Back in the wild part of the garden, the little spider webs are too numerous to count. I wonder what kind of spider weaves these beautiful little nests.

One tiny green and lavender bud remains on this sharp prickly thistle.  I can't decide which is more beautiful,  the tiny little bit of color or the piercing texture of the rest of the plant.  It doesn't matter because Amy's photo captures both!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Butterflies Are Free

For years we have cultivated plants that attract butterflies.  This year we have been rewarded with Monarch sightings on a daily basis.  Now though, when the milkweed has gone to seed, it is the late nectar-producing flowers that lure butterflies into the garden.

Clara Curtis Chrysanthemums, Pink New England Asters and Brown-eyed Susans all provide food for butterflies.  I wanted to snap a picture a Milbert's Tortise Shell on the mums, but it was too fast for me. Yes there is orange in the upper left of this picture and it is some kind of butterfly, but it is not the shot I was hoping to get!!

Persistence pays!  I chased this butterfly from flower to flower and finally got a half-winged picture of that speedy Milbert's Tortoise Shell.  With the dry weather we have had, the leaves on the sunflowers make kind of an ugly background.  They are left there so that the soon-to-leave goldfinches and the newly arrived Black-capped Chickadees have sunflower seeds to eat.

With just a little cropping, I got my picture.  This butterfly is a real jewel!  It is the patch of stinging nettles relished by the caterpillars of this beauty that attract it to the garden.  Like us, this butterfly stays put when cold weather comes and may be seen in the garden on warm days long after the Monarchs have gone!  Butterflies in our garden are free  to come and go as they please.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Looking To Next Year

This is perhaps the busiest time of year in the gardens.  We race to pull the grassy weeds before they drop their seed load.  Vegetable beds must be cleared of weeds and dead plants in preparation for fall enrichment of the soil.  While we try to find a time of the day relatively free of stifling heat and humidity for our efforts, the plants are also at work preparing for next year.

Cardinal Flower reproduces by both seeds and daughter plants.  Up to six new plants appear at this time of year around the base of the soon to be dead stem.  These plants remain green all winter with or without snow cover.  The thin flowering stem is something that we have never seen before.  Plants similar to this one can be seen in several places throughout the garden.  They may be new plants from seed.  If so, they do not usually flower in their first year.  They more commonly grow only a rosette of low leaves in preparation for the coming winter.  This miniature plant is also displaying the sexual activity that precedes the formation of seeds.

One of the remaining mysteries about Cardinal Flower is how the large number of daughter plants that form under a cluster of enduring flowering plants survive.  Each browning stem in this photo identifies a single mature plant.  Each mature stem will try to produce up to six daughter plants for next year.  Overcrowding seems highly likely and we will leave this plant in place to see how it grows next year.  A plastic bucket will be used to protect these young plants from frost so that we can watch and perhaps learn more about this native treasure.

Pinxter is another native plant that seems to hide its business from our prying eyes.  This cluster of maturing seed pods will be closely watched every day now.  The brown object among the seed pods has already split open releasing its seeds.  We have read that each seed has fluff similar to milkweed at both ends of the seed.  We would like to see that and a controlled planting of these seeds should prove interesting.  It is likely that we have weeded out Pinxter seedlings every year simply because we did not know what they looked like.  I wonder just how many years are required for a Pinxter plant from seed to form flowers?

Pinxter is a plant that forms its flower buds ahead of the coming winter.  Several early flowering plants share this trait.  These buds are at great risk of becoming wildlife food during the harsh days of winter.  We will surround our plants with wire cages to deny the deer access to our plants.  It seems that many native plants cannot survive without human intervention now.

We have appeared to be gone from the face of the earth lately.  Our internet connection disappeared and the phone company had great difficulty both finding and repairing the problem.  We hope that their recent efforts prove durable.