Monthly Archives: July 2010

Okay, now I KNOW it’s hot…

By | Day-to-Day, Insects | No Comments

Generally in this kind of heat, the only thing out is the bugs. The lizards are all lurking on the undersides of the logs, the birds have vanished into the undergrowth (although some still occasionally visit the birdbaths–although they prefer the shady puddles in the driveway) the frogs are soaking beneath the opaque green water of their tiny pond…but the bugs keep going. The cicadas do their rising chattery drone, the dragonflies do their garden patrols, the butterflies cling, flapping, to flowerheads, and all the teeny little nameless insects that probably do most of the heavy ecological lifting buzz and hop and flit and generally keeping calm and carrying on.

But today I watched a dragonfly exhibiting an odd little behavior–it was splashing in my tiny sunken-pot frogpond. It would bounce in the air, up and down, dragging its tailtip through the water, splashing droplets around. It looked like a self-propelled yo-yo.

Some quick googling would indicate that dragonflies “dip” when they’re hot and trying to regulate their body temperature.  So…yes. It’s hot enough that even the bugs are hitting the pool to cool off.

Too. Dam. Hot.

Hooded Warbler

By | Birds | No Comments

Be damned. I think I just got a lifer glancing out the window–caught a flash of yellow, thought it didn’t look right for a goldfinch, and managed to catch a good long look at it in the undergrowth along the road–female hooded warbler, doing the little tail fan thing.

I hope her presence means there’s a breeding male in the area, since that’s a MUCH showier bird (the females are quite drab and generic, and if she hadn’t done the tail dance, it would have taken a lot longer to narrow it down.)  but while this is actually pretty prime habitat for them–shady undergrowth in a well-grown deciduous forest–it’s the first time I’m seen one, and I suspect she’s probably just passing through.

Too bloody hot…

By | Day-to-Day | 4 Comments

There is stuff that needs to be done! My garden needs me! (Well, I delude myself that it does. Honestly, it doesn’t need that much from me to maintain itself, but I keep wanting to make it better.) There are beds to be laid out and edging to install and the rest of the foundation planting and…

It’s also in the mid-nineties with killing humidity and the weather forecasters are issuing pronouncements that involve words like “heat exhaustion” and “death” and “checking on your elderly relatives.”

So I get a smidge done in the morning before eleven. Earlier in the season, I could get a solid hour of puttering around in the garden done every morning. Now, what with the death and all, I can maybe do twenty minutes.  Which sucks, both because I love my garden and because that was my major exercise–the artist’s life is a sedentary one–and my doctor has been yelling at me about that lately.

I could be ready for fall soon. And by soon I mean “Hey, is it fall yet?”

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo in the Garden!

By | Birds, My Garden | One Comment

Photo by Factumquintus from Wikimedia Commons

Kevin and I were sitting on the front deck, enjoying a cup of coffee and watching the hummingbird cavort in the garden (a single female that seems to have staked out our yard as her turf) when I spotted something odd in the pin oak on the side of the yard.

It was a terrible way to try to view a bird, and all I caught were flashes of white belly and a black barred tail. Then it transferred to another tree, and while it paused for a half second on the branch before launching, I got a glimpse of a yellow bill and a brown back with thick reddish stripes where the wings would fall. (Then it was gone, and it had been such a hard spot that I wasn’t able to point it out to poor Kevin.)

“I think it’s a cuckoo,” I told Kevin, grabbing my field guide. And I was correct–as you can probably guess from the title of the post, it was a yellow-billed cuckoo.

The odd bit about this is that I’ve never seen any kind of cuckoo before, nor have I spent any time studying the fieldmarks of cuckoo-kind. It’s not like a finch or flycatcher, where there are tons and if you know one, you can at least guess whether something belongs in that family. Nor is this the first time I’ve had that experience of IDing a bird correctly on a guess. Apparently I have been birding long enough, have thumbed my Sibley into such dog-eared familiarity trying to narrow down IDs, that I picked up the general fieldmarks on a couple of the birds by osmosis. (Usually it’s the birds that look similar to something else I’ve spotted–look up enough thrushes and thrashers, you get familiar with the cuckoo.) Which is awesome…I just wish it worked more reliably! (Or with the call-notes. I have no memory for auditory things at all. I’ve tried studying calls, and I can’t retain a damn one for more than thirty seconds.)

Ding-Dong, the Hedge is Dead…

By | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Armed with a bow saw and enthusiasm, I finally took out the last of the out-of-control boxwood foundation planting today.

You can actually see the house again! It is not a wall of shove-you-off-the-walkway pointy death! And the porch is open, and you can see the whole yard from it, and there are breezes! Breezes! The porch is full shade already, so the boxwoods just made it dark and still.

We’re not going to leave the foundation naked–I am not offended by the sight of bare brick, but hey, that’s a space! I could stick a plant there!–but we are going with the rather less aggressive native inkberry holly.  The newcomers look very spindly in their little pots compared to the ten-year-old boxwoods I just murdered, but given time, I have faith they will make a nice little planting. I’m also flanking the stairs with Carolina allspice, which is a fast growing native deciduous shrub. This would not be ideal for something to flank the stairs except that by all accounts, it smells heavenly in the evening. I’m willing to do some trimming on a hardy aromatic.  Next spring, I will line the sunny edge of the walkway with something sturdy, attractive and pollinator happy–Walker’s Low catmint, maybe, or a native of similar habit.

I would post  photos of the newly revealed porch (and the pile of boxwood…I could hugelkultur the WORLD…) but the ground is kind’ve a mess. Ten years of hedge means ten years of things being set on the railing, and then falling off the railing behind the boxwoods where nobody can get at them.  So there’s a fair amount of soda cans, and a whole bunch of half-empty bug spray bottles…and the prior gardener, true to form, seemed to think that the proper disposal method for hanging plants on the porch that had passed the blooming season was to unhook the plastic pot and drop it down behind the hedge. There are six such pots there. As there is only one hook upon which to hang such things, this would seem to indicate a disposal method spanning several years.

Mind you, this is the same woman who cleaned her purses by removing her wallet and throwing the still-full purse into a closet, so I shouldn’t expect much. There comes a point where it’s no longer “being a slob” and becomes some kind of pathology, and you stop doing anything but sighing and getting a garbage bag.

Meanwhile, have some black-eyed susans!

Photography does not do justice to the intense gold these things glow in full sun. I think this is the cultivar "Goldsturm" but not sure.

So That’s Why They’re Endangered…

By | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

It appears that Tennessee coneflowers are irresistible to bunnies.  The cute little fluffball in the front yard has munched two of the four down to stems. I’ll make Kevin mark the other two tonight, but having no good spot in the backyard to transfer them to–they like poor soil, and my hugelkultur is VERY rich at the moment–I’m not sure what to do with ’em…

So That’s What Millet Looks Like

By | My Garden, plants | One Comment

Millet photo by Dalgial, Wikimedia Commons

Doing some long overdue weeding under the birdfeeder today to clear out the Bermuda grass and the other oddities–I left the volunteer sunflower, but the tall, columnal plant with the big seedhead was starting to scare me a little. I yanked it out, noting the shape of the seedheads, and went on-line, where I discovered that it is, in fact, the adult form of millet.

Which makes sense, because it’s under the birdfeeder where the volunteers grow.

A great plant, millet, a useful grain, and clearly easy to grow, as all the labor was provided by mourning doves. Not, however, appropriate for that section of my garden. I have plans to expand vegetable production, but growing grains is a level of complexity I’m content to leave to the agricultural-industrial complex, and the occasional hopeful sampling of bread at the farmer’s market. (So far it has all had the texture and consistency of paving brick, but I hold out hope!)

Although I suspect the birds would like the millet, if I let it go somewhere else…

The Plants Continue…

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

Thanks to everybody who wrote in on the Mystery of the Murderous Garlic–very helpful! (And if you have this problem yourself, the LJ thread has a wealth of information!) Clearly I have been spoiled by native plant gardening, and need to adjust my expectations to the fact that vegetables are divas and require watering more then every three weeks.  (When I expand the bed this fall in preparation for next year’s all-out veggie assault, I will include a soaker hose.)

It’s too damn hot to do anything worthwhile in the yard other than fill the birdbaths and dump a little water on the newest plants.  Having done that this morning, I am hoping that I will actually summon the rainstorm that is threatening to blow through.

Meanwhile, have some random photos.

The rose mallow, a type of hibiscus, has flowered extravagantly. I cannot get over the fact that you can plant hibiscus in the GROUND here.

My volunteer sunflower has flowered. Next year, I will find a way to grow those mammoth sunflowers...

Stuff to Remember…

By | My Garden | One Comment

Note to myself for future gardening:

  • The giant Joe-Pye weed needs staking of some sort next year. It doesn’t fall over, but it does the phototropic lean, and a nine-foot tall plant can lean a really long way.  Also stake the Culver’s root early, and keep an eye on the rose mallow.
  • Need to put one of those grow-cage-grid thingies on the sneezeweed and the blue vervain to keep them contained so they don’t do the floppy outward circle thing next year. Possibly need to do this on the sundrops, too.
  • Rip out stupid Shasta Daisies this fall, put in something, possibly a tall bunch grass, to fill that slot.
  • A small bunch grass wouldn’t be bad for the spot currently full of basil, for that matter. Failing that, Texas sage.
  • Skip the stevia next year, plant more dill.
  • Treat phlox from Lowes as an annual. Plunk in pot and put out for bees, don’t bother sticking in the ground.
  • Serious pruning of pineapple sage seems to keep it manageable.
  • You have enough hyssop. You do not need more, no matter how shiny it is.
  • Put in another mountain mint by the first one.
  • When enlarging the veggie bed, put in a soaker hose.

And since that was probably not interesting to anybody else, have a picture of Rattlesnake Master flowers:

Rattlesnake Master, a yucca-like native. Neat flowers. Neat name. Plant does not actually cure rattlesnake bites, though.

Stupid Vegetable Question

By | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Okay, all you readers (particularly in LJ land!) perhaps you can answer a question for somebody who grows a lot of stuff for bugs and birds to eat, and very little (so far) for humans…

My vegetable experience is limited. Last year I did herbs, tomatoes and a couple kinds of peppers, and they all grew like lunatics, and there was way more than we could eat. (I also did cantaloupe, which grew like a lunatic, produced a bunch of melons, and we never did get one during the fifteen second window between unripe and rotting on the ground from over-ripeness…) This year, the same suspects–the cantaloupes volunteered–a couple more herbs, an Egyptian walking onion, and on a whim, I stuffed a couple of cloves of garlic in the ground a few months back.

Today, needing garlic, I pulled up a head of it. I was not expecting anything much, because the internet had informed me that garlic needs cold before it gets tasty. I was expecting a bland flavor akin to elephant garlic.

My garlic was approximately the size of a large peach pit, and when I peeled off a miniature clove and took a cautious nibble I went “BWHUUUUUHHHH!” and exhaled a wave of garlic intensity that caused cows to die a mile away.

Small it may be, but bland it is NOT. (It’s actually quite tasty, once you get past the bit with the death.)

Same thing with the jalapenos earlier this year, actually–Kevin roasted two on the grill, ate one, said the flavor was wonderful for the first tenth of a second and then the burning eclipsed it all. “They’re…delicious…” he wept, reaching for the second one, sweat pouring off his bald head like a man running around a field full of inexplicably dead cows.

Is this because it was a really dry spring and I didn’t water them enough? (I mean, they didn’t DIE…) Is the intensity of flavor caused by dryness hence smallness hence concentration? (Are vegetables at the supermarket just incredibly insipid?)

I mean, they’re delicious, just…damn, those are intense! Should I not be leaving the vegetables to fend for themselves quite so much?