Category Archives: Stuff In My Yard

Crowned Slug Moth

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I am still cataloging all the species I find in the garden. Today I got the Crowned Slug Moth, and that made me happy in ways I can’t even begin to explain.


This is the 240th moth species in the garden, and the 466th species (not including weeds) that I’ve identified in the yard.

…look, I’m an artist for my job. I have to have an even weirder hobby.

Thoughts on Beans

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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.


By | Insects, Stuff In My Yard | No Comments



Found this guy (and a bunch more like him) making leaf nests in the Amorpha fruticosa, aka Tall Indigo-Bush. He is either a Silver-Spotted Skipper, or a Hoary-Edge Skipper–they’re nearly identical and while Silver-spotted are common, there have been a crapload of Hoaries around the garden this spring, which is somewhat unusual. So I am leaning toward the Hoary-Edge Skipper, though in other years, I would’ve leaned t’other way.

Once I’d photographed him, I returned him to his bush, tucked in where the birds and wasps hopefully won’t get him. It was rude to clip his little nest open, but rude for science.

I am staring out the window now, willing it to rain. It is doing little noncommittal droplets and damnit, we need a good hard rain-barrel filling frog-strangler of a rain. If they find me with my brain popped and my tongue hanging out, that’s what I was trying to do at the time.

Fifty Species Goal: #24-49

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Holy mackerel, we are blowin’ this thing out of the water! While I was off in Texas, two old sightings finally got an ID (and damnit, I’m counting them!) plus a whole bunch of new ones showed up.

In fact–a mere three months and some change after starting–we’ve nearly hit the 50 species goal! One species away!

Dude! Dude! I know I’m the one who’s really excited by this–I mean, it’s my garden and everybody else probably thinks I’m nuts–but how amazing is that!? We’re almost there already! Some of those months were mid-winter and nothing much was showing up!

I sorta feel like this proves–at least to me–that if you just LOOK, there’s an insane amount of biodiversity just lurking everywhere. Yes, my garden is particularly buggy, owing to my crazed planting and lack of pesticides, but it’s not anything that anybody else couldn’t do, given a patch of dirt and a cel phone camera and a really weird hobby.

So, without further ado, the new bugs!

As usual, this is mostly Lepidoptera, thanks to the nice people at BAMONA, but we did add a couple new insects of other varieties! (Some of you on Twitter saw some of these names already, incidentally.)

#24 — Hydrochara sp. Water Scavenger Beetle

This is a big glossy black beetle that looks like every other big glossy black beetle. I’m tentatively thinking H. lotor, but frankly, there’s no way to make a really good idea. I am comfortable with the genus level on this one.

#25 — Euparius marmoreus  Marbled Fungus Weevil


I have a snout!

How freaky cute is this thing? It reminds me of the keyboardist from the Star Wars cantina scene.

#26 — Harmonia axyridis  Harlequin Ladybird

An invasive ladybug. These are the little bastards who try to get into your house in droves in winter. I am not fond of them, despite my general positive disposition toward ladybugs.

And now, the moths, with their awesomely weird names!

#27 — Galgula partita  The Wedgling

This sounds like some kind of fairy, probably not terribly well-inclined towards humanity.

#28 — Hydriomena transfigurata   The Transfigured Hydriomena

Have I mentioned that I love it when “The” is part of the name of these moths? (I have no idea what makes this one “transfigured.” It’s a pretty bland moth.)

#29 — Hypena baltimoralis    Baltimore Bomolocha Moth

This has got to be a dance.

#30 — Lithophane innominata   Nameless Pinion

The entomologist was feeling lazy that day.

#31 — Lithophane petulca    Wanton Pinion


I…wait, what?

I am forced to assume that the entomologist had been in the field much too long for this one, if he has taken to slut-shaming Lepidoptera.

#32 — Arogalea cristifasciella   Stripe-backed Moth

The entomologist, having recovered from his weird bout of projection, went back to purely descriptive names.

#33 — Eupsilia vinulenta   Straight-toothed Sallow

Much like the Curved-Toothed Geometer, I find myself really not wanting to look at this moth’s mouth, for fear of never sleeping again.

#34 — Chaetaglaea sericea   Silky Sallow

This moth uses a very good shampoo.

#35 — Himella intractata    Intractable Quaker

EEEEEE! OH MY GOD, I GOT AN INTRACTABLE QUAKER MOTH! I saw the name and I wanted to see one, but I figured they probably lived somewhere else!

Mind you, I am not sure what’s so intractable about them…


Sure, he looks innocent, but he refuses to ask for directions or change plans once he’s made them.

#36 — Condica vecors   Dusky Groundling

This sounds like a fantasy race of goblins or something.

#37 — Elaphria grata   Grateful Midget



*backs away from entomologist*

#38 — Ectropis crepuscularia   The Small Engrailed

This sounds vaguely Arthurian.

#39 — Argyrotaenia velutinana   Red Banded Leafroller Moth

This is an extremely uninteresting (and very small) moth with no apparent red bands. Fortunately I have a 7x zoom lens for my iPhone…

#40 — Nedra ramosula   Gray Half-Spot

This is actually a pretty handsome fellow. He looks like he’s got a fur collar and iridescent cloak.


Take me to the Ren Faire!

#41 — Nemapogon auropulvella   European Grain Moth

This is one teeny tiny little moth, and what little information I can find says that it’s native to the US, despite the name. I don’t even know.

#42 — Phalaenophana pyramusalis   Dark-banded Owlet Moth

The Owlet Moth Tribe returns!

#43 — Pero ancetaria  Hübner’s Pero

Holy crap, there’s an umlaut in my garden!

#44 — Paectes abrostoloides   Large Paectes

Also known as the “Sweetgum Defoliator,” which is like the most obscure serial killer ever.

#45 — Ilexia intractata   Black-dotted Ruddy Moth

Another small brown not-all-that-exciting moth.

#46 — Lascoria ambigualis  Ambiguous Moth

Having exhausted his powers with the Grateful Midget, our entomologist slumps back into despair.

#47 — Poanes zabulon  Zabulon Skipper

A butterfly this time!

#48 — Ancyloxypha numitor  Least Skipper

Another butterfly. A very small brownish one.

#49 — Knulliana cincta  Longhorn Hickory Borer

This is a beetle. And by “This is a beetle” I mean “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD IF GIANT BUGS FREAK YOU OUT, DO NOT GOOGLE THIS THING.” It’s…large. And bitey. And apparently attracted to porch lights.

So that’s 49. We’re one ID away from hitting the fifty species goal! How cool is that?!



Fifty Species Goal: #10 – 14

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A very exciting few days here! (Well, for me. I don’t know about the rest of you. Those of you who aren’t excited about bugs, probably not.)

More moths!

#10 — Melanolophia signataria  Signate Melanolophia

#11 — Zale lunata   Lunate Zale


This is a rather large, very handsome moth, a member (if the internet is correct) of the Owlet Moth Tribe. I love that there is an Owlet Moth Tribe and wish to write stories about them.

#12 — Protoboarmia porcelaria  Porcelain Gray

#13 — Acleris maculidorsana  Stained-back Leafroller

And #14 isn’t a moth at all, but the awesome little native plant Chimaphila maculata, or “Spotted Wintergreen.” My photos don’t look like much, but it’s a dark, waxy green leaf with a thick white midrib and red stems. I found it on a dry embankment by the driveway, where it passes through pine trees. Unfortunately for my ambitions, it transplants very poorly–it’s a symbiote with soil fungus, and if the fungus isn’t present or is disrupted too badly, it won’t take. It’s as common as it gets in the Piedmont in the Carolinas, but rare and occasionally endangered everywhere else. I am enormously honored to have some in the yard.

Meanwhile, in the garden things are coming up, usually several feet from where I thought they were planted, and the goldfinches have turned that mangy yellow color that they get before they manage to molt all the way to gold.

Species #2 Eastern Comma & #3 Saw Greenbriar

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Yay! Two new species for my Fifty Species Goal!

Things have been a bit slow since it’s been freezing here, but fortunately I added two species this week, so I’m feeling a little more on track. (More imporantly, moths are beginning to congregate around the porch light, and that’s usually a bonanza!)

Species #2: Eastern Comma


This butterfly showed up very early this year, before any of the others. I was afraid we’d lose them to the ice storms, but fortunately, they seem to have stuck around. The Eastern Comma is nearly identical to the Question Mark and I can tell the difference only by relative size (Commas are smaller) and our local Question Marks tend to have much darker hindwings. Question Marks are common visitors to the garden, being fond of damp earth/gravel/mulch and (sigh) dog poop. The Comma, however, is new.

Species #2: Saw Greenbriar


This pointy, stabby climbing vine is one of the vast Smilax clan–Smilax bona-nox, to be precise. It is currently infiltrating my tea camellia. I don’t know how I feel about that. (Apparently they are super-duper edible with the new shoots and the tubers and all, but foraging is a little outside of my comfort zone.)

Smilax glauca was a known quantity in my garden, but S. bona-nox only showed up last fall, and I only got around to digging in and figuring out what it was today. So that’s kinda neat!


See also: Species #1: Blue-Headed Vireo

Species #1: Blue-headed Vireo

By | Birds, Stuff In My Yard | No Comments

So I actually did wind up making a New Year’s Resolution, which you can read about here.

Fifty Species Goal

My current yardlist of resident/visiting species is well over 300, which sounds really impressive but is less so than you might think. The impressive bit is that I actually got down on my hands and knees and looked for the darn things, and that’s more a tribute to the weirdness of my hobbies. There is an extraordinary amount of life out there if you know where to look…and aren’t actively trying to nuke it from orbit, of course.

In my perfect world (such as it is) we would all consider the number of species in our yards to be a source of inordinate pride. They’d give us property tax breaks for biodiversity. The perfect sterile lawn would be treated with mild contempt and HOAs would leave you faux-concerned notes stating that your grass was too short and appeared to be a monoculture. When you sold the house, your real estate listing would mention that there were spotted salamanders and ovenbirds breeding on the lot.

Oh well. Fantasy aside, the point is, I’ve knocked off a fair bit of the low-hanging fruit, and if I want to increase the count, I have to A) be lucky and B) actually get in there and look closely and track down IDs, not just throw my hands in the air and go “I dunno, it’s a bee.”

Fortunately for me, I got a surprise guest the other day, a lovely little blue-headed vireo attracted to the open water in the birdbath. This is an insect-eating species, although they’ll nosh on fruit in the winter (I think the suet may have interested him a bit, and perhaps the rose hips.) This particular vireo’s population is actually increasing, making them a rare good news story in the bird world. (Go, Team Vireo!)

So that’s one down and forty-nine to go…

The Last Oddity of 2013

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I couldn’t leave you all without one last weird thing from the garden!

Behold, the wood blewit, Clitocybe nuda!


This freaky lavender mushroom grows extra mouths.


It was growing in hardwood mulch in my garden. It’s a fall mushroom and quite late in the season, but I suppose that doesn’t surprise anyone anymore.


Can you tell I got a macro lens for my new phone? I bet you can tell. A big thanks to C.S. on Twitter for IDing this freaky little fellow for me!

Anyway, farewell to 2013, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and a fabulous 2014 to you all! May there be many mutant mushrooms in your future!

(I mean, if you’re into that…)