Category Archives: My Garden

Fall Garden Report

By | My Garden | No Comments

Well, we finally got three days of rain, which is good because the ground was bone dry, even if the air continued to be a sauna.

Most Valuable Non-Native Player is usually Walker’s Low catmint, an unspeakably durable non-reseeding perennial, but this year it’s getting a run for its money from a tropical annual cuphea, which is still flowering even now, and the Japanese salvia, Koyame, which is a late flowering part-shade salvia. Both very attractive to bumblebees, although the cuphea is also bringing in small pollinator wasps.

Not doing as well are the lion’s ear and the black-and-blue salvia. The lion’s ear is an annual here, and reasonably attractive to hummingbirds, but so are a lot of other things that aren’t as floppy and picky. The black-and-blue is very vigorous (wildly vigorous) on a dry slope but I think would do better if I cut it back about once a month. Hummingbirds like it, too, but nothing else seems to care that much.

The fig has lost its mind and I’m gonna have to take after it with a saw once I’ve harvested all the figs. It went from a stub to a roaring green giant that’s approaching the second story.

Can’t say that the swamp milkweed is thrilling me. I grow milkweed because I hope for monarchs, but I’ve never had a caterpillar and the plants…ah…do not hold up well to the weather. Limp, brown, dead and aphid riddled, with moldy seed pods. I’ll keep growing it, of course, because someday a monarch will wander in, but I may move it to a low traffic zone, because at the moment it looks like something you’d find in the bottom of the veggie crisper four months after the CSA ended.

This leads us to the problem of soup beans, yet again. “Leave the beans to dry on the vine,” suggest the various books, written mostly by people who do not live in the South. This is how you’re supposed to harvest the seeds for next year, too.

Har har. One year in three, maybe, I get that option.

The rest of the time, in late summer/early fall, the bean pod turns into a thin, moldy tissue over the beans, and the ones I don’t get to fast enough actually sprout inside the pod from the moisture, so you get little white snouts poking out of the bean pods. They are not going to dry on the vine. They are not going to dry anywhere, except inside the house. Autumn is the season of mold here.

(This, incidentally, is the reason that the much-maligned Ojo de Cabra has failed me, I come to find out. It finally threw dozens of heavy pods, a month after all the other beans had mostly finished. The problem is that a month late gets us firmly into slime-and-mold season. The plant is extraordinarily vigorous, so the leaves are brilliant green and the older pods are hanging sorrowful and slimy underneath it.)

So now my ideal bean is short season, heat and humidity tolerant, vigorous and mildew-resistant. The astonishing thing is that I’ve got at least three that fit that bill. Beans are a remarkably gracious plant. I’ve harvested enough beans to make soup and chili a couple times this fall, and next year the hard part will be finding room for all the new varieties I’m experimenting with.

Frogs and Reapers

By | Journal, My Garden | No Comments

gardenjournal9-19-15

Kevin eating the Reaper was…painfully epic. He said it was the hottest thing he’s ever eaten, substantially hotter than the Reaper we bought from Fiddlehead Farm last year. He said this between spoonfuls of yogurt, gasping, and then dumping sugar directly on his tongue in a desperate attempt to break up the oils. He had eaten a very small slice off the end, with no seeds.

Then he got some of the juice on his face and was scrubbing it with Tecnu, the poison-ivy remover, trying to get it off. It’s…um. Quite a thing.

I feel this weird mix of satisfaction and horror. On the one hand, I didn’t get into gardening to make things that destroy the taste buds. On the other, I have succeeded in what we’ll call a mid-level gardening challenge–peppers aren’t hard at all, but the super-hots can be dicey, and part of the challenge is making them come out super-hot, since we get so much water here in NC. (In another year, I might not have succeeded as well–the drought helped. I hand-watered them all, no irrigation, so I could balance the watering against the weather.)

On the gripping hand, they’re dangerous and also useless. You can’t cook with them. If I dried one and ground it into powder, other than the screaming as grains got in my eye, I could put maybe two grains in a gallon of chili. The guy who makes Cackalacky sauce wants a couple for a special Halloween blend, so a few will go to good homes, but there’s honestly no point in growing them again in the garden. You can’t use them for anything. I might save seeds from a couple Reapers just to have them, but I don’t know that I’ll bother, since their germination rates are really poor.

Next year, I’ve got a single Thai pepper from the owner of Thai Lanna restaurant, who brought her seeds over from Thailand, and twenty seeds of a Bolivian pepper, the name of which means something like “Lunatic Caterpillar.” I’m growing just those two, widely separated, so that I can get enough seed to save. In practice, it seems like we use Habeneros, Jalapenos, and Thai peppers, and I bet we’d use Shishito, too, so I may give them a try in 2017.

Macro photos!

By | Insects, My Garden | No Comments

So I have taken approximately eleventy million macro photos and have been mostly posting them on Livejournal, so here is a quick roundup so that you can see them too!

hairstreak

Gray Hairstreak on False Ox-Eye Daisy (and man, those things have been really popular with the bugs!)

puregreen1

Pure Green Sweat Bee

littleglassywing

Little Glassywing Skipper (probably a male, I am told)

redspotpurple

This spectacular Red Spotted Purple actually landed on my pants! (You should have seen me trying to photograph it. I was graceful. Like moose.)

sweatbee

A Halictus sweat bee!

zabulonskipper

This handsome devil is a Zabulon Skipper! (Zabulon is a town not that far away, actually.)

I am enjoying the macro lens enormously and have added half a dozen new species to the yard list just from submitting stuff to bugguide.net It is the best.

Garden Journal

By | Journal, My Garden | No Comments

(I started doing digital journal pages like this prior to my trip to Africa, and while it’s way too much work for a daily journal, to commemorate the occasional interesting experience, it’s a lot of fun!)

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gardenjournal5-13-15B

Thoughts on Beans

By | My Garden, Stuff In My Yard | No Comments

I suspect the number of people who actually care about my bean growing experiences are few, but what the hell. I have grown six bean varieties this year, and you get to hear my reviews!

It hasn’t been a great year for beans for me–the weather was too weird, the peas ran late, and then everything got whacked hard with powdery mildew. (High humidity + lack of rain = oh, the mildew you’ll grow!) But honestly, that sort of thing happens–we’re in a desperately humid climate and mildew is a way of life–so it’s a good test of bean sturdiness.

I grow only for dry beans–we’re too busy and too deranged to get to green beans on time, so it’s just easier to dry, shell, and store. They get watered regularly via soaker hose and grow in soil treated with some form of compost early in the season.

Arikara Yellow — This is a bush bean, which I didn’t know when I planted it, so it grew more or less in the wrong spot and got abused by surrounding plants. Despite that, it produced a fair number of pods per plant, and according to reviews, will tolerate more shade than many beans, so I’m tentatively impressed and may grow again, despite a bias against bush beans. No significant powdery mildew problems, and holding up to our humidity well despite being from Dakota territory, which I gotta assume is a bit drier.

Good Mother Stallard — Still the champion! Getting significant powdery mildew but still growing vigorously despite it, producing a solid crop of gorgeous purple-and-white marbled beans. It’s being hit pretty hard and I’m traveling too much to baby it, so I don’t know if I’ll get a second flush of pods, but the initial round is at least a couple meals worth of rice-and-beans. Always growing this one.

Ojo De Cabra — “Eye of the Goat.” It’s a very pretty bean from northern Mexico, and it’s holding up to our humidity very well so far–very vigorous, fairly mildew resistant–but it’s not nearly so productive as Stallard. Will probably grow at least once more, to give it a fair shake, since it may flush out better later in the season.

Mayflower — Bah, humbug. This one was billed as being a staple of the Carolinas, but it’s wimpy, not very vigorous, the peas out-competed it (peas! For god’s sake, beans! Does this not bring shame to your ancestors?) the mildew nuked it, and while it was productive for being a tiny, spindly, sad little bean, that basically means I got a handful of beans to throw into mixed bean chili. Not impressed, will not grow again.

Rattlesnake Pole — Productive classic. This one’s great in chili and has been largely immune to the powdery mildew going around. It takes humidity like a champ and keeps going FOREVER. This is another one I’ll always grow.

Scarlet Runner Bean — There’s a specific way to prep these* and some day we’ll get around to it. They hail from Oaxaca. I had to stop growing them up my deck because they kept eating the railing, so I’ve replaced them with Rattlesnake Poles there. They are currently in a slightly more shady raised bed and are very leafy but not bearing heavily. In full sun, they’re amazingly productive and bring in hummingbirds like you wouldn’t believe, so they’re another always-grow, though I may need to find a new place for them to live.

I’m also growing Cowpeas, “Holstein” but they haven’t done anything much yet and are only now starting to get going. I’ve got four plants going, one of which is stunted, one of which is nearly dead, and two of which are gigantic and lush. We’ll see how it goes.

I like growing beans on arches, and may have to get another pair of arches for the garden, which will be a questionable design element but will allow for even more beans. And tomatoes! Tomatoes do great on arches! (Just harvested the first Roma and the first German Johnson. They are delicious.)

*No, they are not poisonous.

The Middle-Aged Woman & The Sea (Plus Bonus Turtle!)

By | Animals, My Garden | One Comment

I return from the vacation of vacationness!

It was pretty good. We walked on the beach and wore hats and went to small tacky beach shops and bought small tacky objects that seemed like a good idea and which will puzzle us in years to come. (Though I am quite pleased with my flamingo-shaped birdhouse.) We went out to Shackleford and saw the wild horses, which are not the Marguerite Henry ponies (I was wrong) but probably the descendants of Spanish horses, and are believed to be the oldest population of horses in North America. So that was pretty cool.

I went in the ocean. Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, I am highly skeptical of the Atlantic, because it is warm and not full of rocks. I suspect it is plotting something. It rewarded this suspicion by slapping me repeatedly with waves. I retired from the field of battle, because it is not possible to win against geography.

Got back home and went into the garden to do some much needed clean-up—the heat over the last week has slain the last of the peas, and the beans are starting to produce big pods that are yellowing up. Built a drying rack out of narrow RV window screens, which fits nicely in the studio window table and should be destroyed by the cats any moment now.

And then, as I was chopping back the native creeping St. John’s Wort, I saw this little guy digging into the mud alongside the path…

turtlelet

As you can see, he’s got something swollen on the side of his head. It turns out that ear infections are common in wild box turtles and cause abscesses. (Who knew?) It’s a pretty easy fix—you drain it and give them antibiotics—but well beyond my skills, so I started calling wildlife rehabbers in my neck of the woods. Fortunately, I got a gentleman on the second try who was still taking small stuff (I think, based on his cautious answers, he was afraid I was gonna dump a fawn on him or something) and said “Oh, that we can handle!” So I put Turtle-Bob here in a box and ran him out to the rehabber. (Big house, huge garden, peacocks and beagles roaming the grounds. I took him up to the front door, and the porch was covered in peacock feathers. My kinda people.)

The rehabber said that Turtle-Bob was quite young and that they tend to be pretty hardy with this procedure, so he’ll give me a call if he pulls through and we can bring him back to the garden. Box turtles have very small, very set territories, and while this one may not have settled yet, if he has, we don’t want to stress him out by trying to introduce him somewhere else and possibly having him get hit by a car. (We lost one to a UPS truck that way awhile back, and lots and lots of box turtles die on roads every year.)

Honestly, I occasionally think I’m running box turtle hospice here–I found another one a few years ago, and he hung out in the garden for a week or so, eating my tomatoes, then expired quietly. There wasn’t a mark on him, so for all I know, he died of old age or something. (I can at least be sure he didn’t get into any pesticide laden veggies here, but reptiles are hard and they get weird diseases that don’t make sense to us mammals. Anyway, I at least know he had plentiful food and peaceful final weeks.)

Hopefully Turtle-Bob the Third will pull through and be able to return, and if not, at least he got care.

And the rehabber told me to take a bunch of peacock feathers when I went, so I’ve got a couple in my studio now.

 

ETA: The rehabber just called—Turtle-Bob survived surgery just fine and is doing well! If all goes well, he’ll be ready to come home in a week or so!

Today

By | Day-to-Day, My Garden | No Comments

Today in the garden, an indigo bunting took a bath in the puddle that formed from the run-off of the broken soaker hose, which is supposed to be saving water and kind of isn’t, and I ought to fix it because I’m not sure how much good it is doing, except that it leaves puddles that are immediately swarmed by our neighbor Wade’s honeybees and by puddling butterflies, and in this case, by a male indigo bunting.

Wade swears the bees have lots of water and he constantly puts out pans for them and they just ignore it. He thinks they like our water better. I am okay with this.

When they can’t get broken soaker hose, they have taken to mobbing the bog garden pot, with its rather bedraggled pitcher plants that I thought were dead but are somehow slogging back to life from a root ball slightly smaller than a quarter. I would really like to refill the bog garden because it will dry out soon and the lady’s tresses are not looking happy, but it is wall to wall swarming honeybees and I do not want to drown them or make them angry at the person with the hose.

Today the pasture rose bloomed, perfect little single pink flowers with clusters of golden stamens. It’s beautiful. It’s far too aggressive for the spot it’s in, but it’s a bit late now to do anything, absent a truck and a winch. Someday it will eat the rain barrel.

And the yucca fell over. I didn’t know that yucca flower stems got heavy enough to fall over and take the yucca halfway out of the ground with it, but apparently they do. I don’t have any stakes, so I jammed the cultivator into the ground up to the top of the tines and tied the flower stem to it. It is the third least elegant solution in the garden, the second being the hardy Russian pomegranate that I bungee-corded to an arbor to try and correct the lean, and the worst being the fig tree which put out a really heavy trunk that wanted to fall over, so I used the big metal pole that I was supposed to mount a birdhouse on and an Ace bandage and we got an amazing crop of figs last year and that’s the important thing.

 Also, I bought a poem from a woman selling poems at the Farmer’s Market today.

Fifty Species GOOOOOAL!

By | Insects, My Garden | One Comment

So a few days ago, at the end of April, I actually achieved my goal of finding fifty new species in the garden this year.

You can read all about it here, if you are so inclined.

The problem I find is that it’s hard to stop. I am still out taking photos of moths. I still want to know What Is That Thing There?

So my new goal is to hit 300 species this year. I was at 279 when I made 50 species, so that’s a perfectly doable goal (and should I attain it in a month or two, maybe I’ll aim at a hundred for the year or something…)

Since you probably don’t need every single species, I’ll limit myself to a few highlights…

#50 was Hypsoropha monilis Large Necklace Moth

(It has white spots!)

#52 Probole alienaria Alien Probole

They’re messing with us with these names.

#54 Dyspteris abortivaria   The Bad-wing

Apparently this little green moth got this name because it’s hard to spread the lower set of wings if you’re trying to put the sucker on a pin for ID purposes. I feel there is an element of victim blaming going on here, but it’s a great name.

#55 Zale horrida Horrid Zale

It’s a navy-blue moth with a wavy brown edge. I do not know what is so horrid about it.

#56 Leuconycta diphteroides Green Leuconycta

This one’s actually gorgeous.

greenleuo

Fifty Species Goal: #15-23

By | Insects, My Garden | No Comments

And to think I was worried about getting fifty species in a year! Now I’m starting to think I underestimated the case! I may have a shot at 300 total this year! (I currently am in the mid-200s somewhere–thought I was over 300 already, but going back and tallying the spreadsheet shows I am lower than I thought.)

A sentiment I’ve heard occasionally–generally cheerfully uttered!–is that the extraordinary diversity in my garden is a result of either extreme good fortune, obsessive targeted gardening, or great location in the unspoiled woods. Or because it’s huge.

Well…not exactly.

There was a study done in England a decade or so ago that looked at biodiversity of insect species in gardens, and what they found is that a bigger garden does have more species than a smaller garden, but not by as much as you’d think. If my garden is twice as big as yours, I will probably not have twice as many species, unless other factors are in play. Even quite a small patch of garden, and a water feature literally the size of a plastic window box, will bring in a vast array of species. (An older garden does have more species, interestingly, probably because trees and shrubs are a huge draw.)

As for location–well, species found on the edges of woodlands are different from those found in cities and suburbs, but not that much more numerous–and not, it should be said, noticeably more rare.  Being totally crazy on the native plant front, and having a lot of trees around helps, but the tree thing happens in a lot of cities too. (Hell, I got more bird species in the city than I ever do here, simply because I was an oasis there–the Central Park Effect writ very small.)

The only species that are probably going to be more numerous for me than someone in a suburb are the various amphibians and reptiles, which are plentiful locally and have a harder times in cities. But that’s a very small percentage of my species list.

The primary reason I’m sitting here cruising towards 300 resident species is because I’m the sort of obsessive individual who looks. That’s all. I am willing to go out at 10 at night and photograph the moths buzzing around the porch light (and then I go back in and turn the porch light off, so that they don’t get too fried.) All I’ve got that’s specialized is a pretty good cell-phone camera and a willingness to join ID sites like BugGuide.net and BAMONA.

(And a willingness to look like an idiot chasing bugs around. That last is pretty important. And yes, I still scream and duck when the moths fly for my face. I’m not actually that fond of bugs, I just think it’s important to know what they are.)

So if you’re wondering if your postage stamp sized yard is enough to make any kind of difference and feeling discouraged–believe me, it can and you will. You may have to be cleverer about it than I am–I have the luxury of space–but that’s honestly not hard. I am enthusiastic, but often not bright.

Okay! Enough pep talk! To the critters!

#15 — Pseudacris crucifer Spring Peeper

A frog! Woo! This is actually a pretty common species, and we’ve probably had them for ages, but this is the first year they’ve been calling separate from the chorus frogs and I’ve felt confident in the call ID, so I’m counting it here.

#16 — Nemoria saturiba  Red-Splotched Emerald

redsplotchedem

Originally thought this was a Red-Bordered Emerald, but the red spots on the body are apparently the tell. This makes him a lot more obscure. (And by obscure I mean “There are two sightings on the BAMONA website, and I’m one of them.) He feeds on sweetgum leaves.

#17 — Acleris nigrolinea Black Lined Leafroller

Another obscure one, and also a pretty uninteresting little insect, I must say.

#18 — Melanolophia canadaria   Canadian melanolophia

These are swarming my porchlight in vast numbers at the moment. They’re a weirdly tall moth–they stand up away from the wall instead of lying flat.

#19 — Iridopsis humaria   Small Purplish Gray

One gets the impression that they ran out of clever names at this point.

#20 — Egira alternans   Alternate Woodling

I was saying on Twitter that this one sounds like a folk-electronica band.

#21 — Copivaleria grotei    Grote’s Sallow

This one looks a lot like a bird dropping. It feeds on ash leaves.

# 22 — Eupithecia matheri

There is no common name for this species and not many sighting reports. The Eupithecia clan all look alike, and trying to tell them apart is tricky. A good many of my sightings get rejected as “Eupithecia, but can’t tell which one from photo.”

#23 — Achatia distincta    Distinct Quaker

distinctquaker

So it turns out that there are a kajillion different Quaker moths. Highlights include “Ruby” “Rustic” “Subdued” “Cynical” and “Intractable.” I love those last couple so very, very much.

Next week I am off to Texas and the 50 species goal will be on hold–but hey, at least this is getting me taking photos, even if I fell off the wagon on the Photo A Week thing!