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What's for Dinner in the Vegetable Garden? Everything!

Monday, August 14, 2017

In the vegetable garden, the first two rows of beans are sighing their last. The second two rows are just kicking in. Oh huzzah! My goal was to have beans all summer long. That's my goal every summer, but it's always too dry to pull it off. Not this year! I'm so excited to pick them tonight. Nothing like a tender snap bean from the garden, steamed, with butter and salt. I'm drooling as I write. 

I plant a mix of Royal Burgundy, Brittle Wax and Blue Lake so it makes a beautiful sight in the garden trug. I got so carried away I soaked and planted two more rows on August 1. Maybe we'll have an extended warm fall like last year, when I was photographing morning glories in November. I can dream. And what's the worst that can happen? They freeze before they bear. I can take a risk like that, give 100 dry beans to the cause of having fresh snap beans to eat in October. 

I learned a valuable lesson last year when I planted four rows of beans at once. Picking became a chore, and we barely were able to eat them all before they got so big they had to be stewed with bacon. And then when they were all done I missed them, but I didn't miss picking them! Good problem to have, but I'm much happier with two rows of about 70 plants total, followed about three weeks later by another two rows coming in. I'm not a canner any more. I believe in gorging when they're in, and giving away what you can't eat yourself. So far, we're keeping up!

Just behind the beans...

I planted too many Sungold tomatoes and not enough slicers this year. I was all fired up about Kumatos, a tasty little brown tomato, so I saved some seed from some I bought in the grocery store. They're a disappointment, splitting with all the rain and not getting much bigger than a squash ball. The Sungolds aren't all that happy with the cool rainy year, but they're putting out gobs of little sugar bombs. Can't complain! Stewed, fresh, in stir-fries, quiches, soups, I love 'em beyond saying. 

That was my big smile. This is my thoughtful, author jacket look. Where is my meershaum pipe?

I broke down and bought a bunch of glads this spring after losing mine to disease and I don't know what all. They've been such a joy! I can't wait to see how big the bulbs grew when I dig them this fall. Some people don't like digging bulbs. I love it. It's like finding buried treasure. And it kind of beats winter back to pull these freely multiplying jewels out of the soil in November and dream about next June, wondering what colors you'll get. "Blue Moon" mix has been spectacular. 

I'm done hearing about how much people hate glads because they remind them of funerals. Bla bla bla. Tell me something new, something I haven't heard a hundred times.  I'll admit this is a hot button for me because I had a landlady once who scoffed at my taste in flowers and told me why she hated glads oh, about twenty times. As I listened silently to her monologue, I resolved to plant two more rows of them the next spring. 

 Remember, they're called glads!

I've never had a violet like this one. 

Still hatin' on 'em?

And the fresh lavender (Paradise Purple, as garden writer Thalassa Cruso called it, because she contended that all the plants in Paradise started out this color) is such a great compliment to the lime-green bean leaves. Growing glads amongst the vegetables is one of my favorite things to do. They take so little room and they make going out to pick such a pleasure.

Mm, mm. Good.  Happy. Anything but funereal. Besides, they're from South Africa, like about 75% of all the coolest plants on the planet.

Love this sunflower covering her face. 

This same blossom is now hanging down like a showerhead, heavy with seed, and the goldfinches and cardinals have started in on it. 

I haven't grown ornamental sunflowers for years. Oh what fun they are!! Here's Velvet Queen.

Now that's a plant that takes as much room as you'll give it, so I'm glad I planted only a few. The rabbits got all the ones I tried to plant in the heirloom garden where I could see them from the studio. The only ones that survived are inside the 9' tall Jurassic Garden enclosure. 

This is Lemon Queen. Well named! Sunflowers take a lot of room, but they make me and the cardinals, house finches and goldfinches so happy. 

August Rocks: Garden Tour 1

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The August cooldown is here. A Canadian air mass is holding sway and the air smells of hay and sweet wine. 

I took a garden tour last night after spending much of the day mowing, raking, weeding, and preening my flower beds. I don't do a lot of preening. There's too much of the other stuff to be done. 

I'm celebrating right now because I am no longer in pain. I returned home from New England to find two weeks' worth of grass growing wild on a saturated lawn. It had rained for most of the time I was away. I mowed it into soggy windrows, the mower gagging on the clumps, and Liam and I raked the whole damn yard the next day, after the sodden green wad of clippings had had a chance to not dry overnight. It was like raking wet cow manure. My lower back went into spasm from overuse and stayed that way for almost three weeks. Oddly enough, getting in and out of my car was the most painful thing I had to do. I'd sit and think about how I was going to complete the maneuver for about 30 seconds, then begin the process. I felt 100 years old. Having a complaining back affects almost everything you want to do. I send this message of hope out to back pain sufferers everywhere. It does heal. I mean, an overuse injury does. I also give you this link to Lawrence Gold's simple floor exercises which Liam and I did together. Not surprisingly, he healed a lot faster than I did. These exercises sped the process for both of us, for sure.

Anyway. Pain is boring. I wanted to take you on a little garden tour because the rain that brought the pain has also brought such beautiful flowers to my gardens.  We'll start at the front door.  I'm happy with this hanging basket. Supertunia "Honey" is finally showing some good color after being a bit bleached out for most of the summer. 

I don't think I bought a single lobelia plant this year. They're all seed volunteers from various planters and pots in the greenhouse, carefully picked out and nurtured in separate pots when they volunteer. That's how I roll--scrounging and saving, getting as much as I can for nothing.  I did buy some seeds of multicolored lobelias and was happy to get this one. I was going for the dark amethyst but the rabbits ate most of them to the ground. There's a theme here. If I want to grow rabbit candy, I have to elevate it.

The Achimenes are FINALLY blooming. They got a very late start thanks to freaking chipmunks (I'm looking at YOU, Tilda Sixbuttons!!) 

who climb my bonsai shelves and dig up the rhizomes to eat. Then they chew up the plants just to make sure everything is completely dead. 

I had this beautiful scheme this year to grow Pink Nighty plants for sale at the Marietta Farmer's Market. I had long planters all planted with my best rhizomes, saved back from being sold at my talks (I sold a passel of 'em this spring!). And chipmunks ate all but about 13 rhizomes. I know now I'll have to start them inside next year. I'm thinking about using the glassed in tower room as a sort of auxiliary greenhouse for such tender n' tasty things, when it's gotten too hot and sunny to have them in the greenhouse proper. 

This is "Pink Nighty," and man, oh man is it pink. Shocking Pink Nighty. The iPhone exaggerates, and takes away some of the nicer coral tones, but it is that bright!

I just love this little gesneriad. Adore it. And am so happy to finally have some abloom on the benches. I don't dare put them on the front porch. Tilda will definitely devour them, if Notch the bunny doesn't get there first. 

A chipmunk-planted black-oil sunflower came up amongst the evening primroses in the front bed. It's too tall for the front but it's so charming I let it stay. 

A first for me: Fuchsia magellanica, native to temperate parts of southern South America, and hardy in Ohio, started blooming in July! It usually waits until September. Don't know why, just grateful. And Hosta "June" is incredibly late to bloom, so I have this probably unrepeatable combo going in the front shade bed. Hummer heaven!

I absolutely love having a hardy fuchsia around. So durable, too. And it roots from cuttings in plain  water. What's not to love?

Moving on out from the front door, Chet pauses to make sure he is in the photo. You can see those big beautiful hibiscus thoroughly enjoying their summer at camp. They just love sleeping under the stars.

Creole Lady says YEAH!!

An awful photo of that gorgeous little dwarf pomegranate bonsai which is exceeding all expectations for flowers and fruit!!
It's got at least four garnet-red pommies about the size of cherry tomatoes and a continuing cascade of neon-orange ballerina tutu flowers in leathery calyxes. What an awesome plant!!

Let's head out along the garage sidewalk toward the vegetable garden. Rudbeckia "Goldsturm" is battling with a hardy hibiscus  for supremacy. I've about had it with the hibiscus. So big and leggy and woody and thuggish, and it makes babies everywhere. But the thought of digging it out makes my back twinge. Maybe I can poison it. :D

I'd really rather grow roses, zinnias, cosmos and Rudbeckia. The foliage to flower ratio is much better on those.

Yes. Dig out those hibiscus. I will help you. Well, I will supervise.

Look how his little paw is just striking the sidewalk. 

Butterfly Crazy!

Monday, August 7, 2017

I knew it was going to be a good butterfly day when I couldn't get a dang thing done at the drawing/writing table. 

I kept seeing swallowtails. 

Eastern tiger swallowtail on crocosmia

This was interesting to me because I couldn't remember having seen swallowtails fighting over the crocosmia my friend Bonnie gave me years ago. I was astounded when she told me I wouldn't have to pull the bulbs over the winter, that it was hardy right in the ground. I had to believe her because she's from Erie PA and it's a LOT colder up there than it is here in southeast Ohio. 

I planted them and they sat and thought about it for a year and then decided they liked Ohio and took off running all over my hummingbird bed.

I've seen crocosmia just like this growing naturalized on roadside banks in Costa Rica. I wrote that sentence before I Googled "Crocosmia native to" and found out it's native to grasslands in southern and eastern Africa! Zowie! 

Had a feeling it wasn't native to Costa Rica. Kind of amazing that something from East Africa overwinters in Erie PA, huh? Amazing and a wee bit scary.

The hummingbirds love it, as do the spicebush (left) and tiger swallowtails. And so do I. I love anything that multiplies enough so I can give some to friends, but not so much that I have to pull the plug and go all zero-tolerance on it. Like lavatera and loosestrife. Got some crocosmia earmarked for Shila's newly revived and humming front garden. Paying it forward--for me that's what gardening's all about. I've got enough cardinal flower seedlings that I can give some to Shila, too!

Pipevine swallowtail says YEAH! 

I went to the kitchen to fix a little something to eat right after taking these shots through my studio window and stared slack-jawed as a very large brilliant lemon-yellow butterfly fluttered at Pelargonium "Happy Thought Red."  Duh? Whazzat??

It took about 20 seconds to sink in on me that I was looking at a giant cloudless sulfur! 

From there, it went to the Million Bells petunia (GCSU's love pink!)

and then zooped right over to the Naked Ladies which you may remember I dug up down on Dean's Fork and brought home in a paper cup because I wanted to know what kind of bulb made those funny straplike leaves in early spring. You can see that they, too, like living here. Who wouldn't? Heapin' helpin's of cow manure!

For a hoot, see "Digging the Mystery Daffodil," from March 2015. It tells the story of finding the mystery leaves, digging the bulbs, and figuring out what they were. 

The sulfur muscled its way into this flower and I was astonished to see it shoulder another giant cloudless sulfur out of the same blossom! I should stop here to say that giant cloudless sulfurs are a bit of an event in Whipple, Ohio. They are a southern species that makes a reverse migration in the late summer, flying far north of their breeding range for reasons unknown. Fun? Profit? 

For a dizzy and probably unrepeatable moment, I had two GCSU's in the same frame, on the Naked Ladies I'd dug, not knowing what they even were, years ago, who were now doing their spectacular thing in my heirloom bed. Hm. That sounds a little odd, but I'm too lazy to rewrite it. I kind of like the way it came out anyway. Heh. It's a terrible sentence, but this is a blog, not a book. 

LOOKIT THAT!!!!! The green leaves behind? Dean's Fork peony!!

I love this shot of a GCSU rising straight up, its abdomen above its hard-beating wings. It must need to get that little bod out of the way of the rotating wings when it's helicoptering straight up.

On the next stalk, that same tattered pipevine swallowtail I shot on the cardinal flower was having its way with the ladies. 

And peeking down beneath, I found a Peck's skipper sipping nectar from between the petals. Too small to go into the flower for nectar like the big boys, it still makes its way and finds sweetness.

I came back in the house and Jemima paid me a visit through the studio window.  She likes to check up on me.

I can't even tell you how I love this bird, love that she still visits her ma and takes handouts of pecans and chicken breast, rice and sweet corn, sunflower hearts and peanuts from her window feeder.

As of July 31, she was easy to tell from the other four jays in the yard by her molty wings; she'd lost her big white-tipped tertials and was still growing replacements. The two deck feathers of her tail were about 3/4 grown in, too.  She changes every day, and she looks so different now (August 6)! I worry that I won't be able to pick her out from the other jays very soon, when her first alternate plumage is finally in.

I had a feeling, based on what I was seeing in the yard, that the Monarch Meadow would be hoppin', so I betook myself out there to meet Shila, who drove out after work to shoot butterflies with me. 

We were not disappointed. Another late summer/autumn reverse migrant from the Deep South is the giant swallowtail, sometimes called the Orange Dog for its depredations on orange trees. The broodplant for GISW is citrus! Since my Ruby Red grapefruit "tree" croaked, not much of that is growing in Appalachian Ohio. So these big boys have to come from afar.

Giants are just beeeyoootiful. I love the underwing!!

Can you believe this is the same bug?? Yep. Upperwing, with that fabulous stripe of gold across the middle.

Really it's hard to believe it's the same butterfly. Like giant cloudless sulfurs, giant swallowtails like pink.

This summer has been so very beautiful. Cool and rainy, lush and green. There's not a blade of grass wanting for water anywhere. I haven't had to water since June. Divine!! And all these butterflies, coming out just when I need them most, in the most perfect milkweed monarch meadow on the planet.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Bug Crazy

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

I've always loved bugs. Everyone claims they were a lonely, nerdy child who spent hours alone. But not many people can claim they spent hours as a child nudging an assortment of small insects down the sloping sides of ant lion pits to see what would happen; digging them up to find the crazy little ice-tong faced critter that could only crawl backward in circles; playing with tiger beetle larvae deep in their burrows, figuring out how to get them to clamp onto a grass stem so she could pull them out to have a look. Nope, most people don't say that in their memoirs. 

This is an unadulterated look at the right side of my "drawing board." I put that in quotes because I'm spending all my time there writing lately. That's OK. I write in big spurts and chunks, and then I draw the same way. It feels sooo good to be writing again, unblocked. Getting up in the morning looking forward to writing. It's a thing.

The Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America by David Beadle and my pal! Seabrooke Leckie is what you'll find me reading a lot lately. What a treat it is to page through and find the moths I've photographed without knowing what they were. 

The Beautiful Wood Nymph is technically a bird dropping mimic, but it's oh so much more when you have a close look. Yep, it's supposed to look like feces to fool predatory birds (who'd wanna eat that?), but gaaah what a beautiful dropping. That bronzy edge to the chestnut border; the olive spots of corruption, and the furry forelegs which are designed to look like squiggly softserve drips...ahhhhh.

When something like this blunders through the dog door and into the kitchen, I get all ate up.

All right. Out the door you go.

So on August 1 when I saw a spectacularly colorful beetle clinging by one good leg to the bird-proof netting on the outside of my studio window, it was the most natural thing in the world to haul a kitchen chair out to the hummingbird garden so I could climb up and get it down. 
 I knew it was a metallic wood borer, but didn't know which one. It was a beautiful one.  Holy smokes  what a living jewel.

The Kaufman field guides are the ones I grab first. Small, compact, illustrated with immaculate photos (many retouched for accuracy), these guides are the bomb. My sentimental favorite is the Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America. I love it because it's given me so many thrills. Ounce for ounce, the insect guide is the one that thrills the most. That's just because there is so darn much to know about bugs, and no naturalist can know everything. I started to write "amateur naturalist" then stopped. Ehh. I think I safely qualify as a pro at this point. 

 I turned the unfortunate beetle over in my hand, noting that it had somehow lost all but one of its feet. Perhaps through aging? An accident? It was hanging in there. I was so grateful to see it, to hold it in my hand.

I looked it up, posted photos on Instagram and Facebook, and was quickly and cheerfully corrected by a career entomologist named Ted MacRae. It wasn't Cypriacis fasciata, but Buprestes rufipes. Thus we discovered that there'd been a caption switch in the Kaufman guide. These things happen. They've happened to me. Imagine putting together a book like this with hundreds upon hundreds of photos to match to their names. This small error does not diminish my love for Eric Eaton's book in the slightest. It is incredible and I'm grateful to have it. You should have it too. 

The underside was particularly ridiculous. 

Buprestes rufipes is a wood borer, with a grublike larva that chews through already dead maple, oak and elm trees. Do not hate it. It doesn't kill your favorite trees. Just hope that you get to see one some- day, too. It is a spectacular insect.

Another thrilling ID from the Eaton/Kaufman guide: the Mydas fly! I knew I'd never seen anything like this gigantic fly. At first I thought it was a tarantula hawk, and that's what the Mydas fly wants you to think it is. But the head and antennae were all fly. The abdomen had a blunt end, no stinger. Good ruse!

The closer I got the more fly-like it became. The sweet thing was placidly sponging up nectar from the milkweed blossoms with a tongue that was standard-issue housefly--tipped with a spiny sponge. 

Will ya look at the honeybees on this milkweed?? This photo begins to capture the riot of activity in my favorite Monarch Meadow. 

It also begins to capture my joy at its conservation. This is the single best stand of common milkweed I've ever seen. Acres of it. And it was getting mown twice a summer, once just before bloom peak, and once again just before the cut plants struggled back with another attempt at blossoms. I will never forget the day I came back from the bus stop to find it being mowed. Late instar monarch caterpillars were being thrown through the air. We got out of the car and flagged my neighbor down.

All I did, back when the kids were still riding a big yellow school bus and Liam was about half as tall as Phoebe, was to speak with my neighbor, show him the displaced caterpillars, and suggest that he not do that second mow. That we leave the milkweed for the butterflies and bees. 

We took all the caterpillars, some 70 of them, home to our meadow to grow up. Sweet SuperLiam just happened to be wearing his cape when he was pressed into service to pick monarchs and transfer them to uncut plants in our yard.
please forgive your mother Liam, for posting this photo. You were and are the sweetest boy.

The meadow has never been mowed in late summer again.

This is the result.

The magic here is that the milkweed, having been mown in June, is bursting into bloom at precisely the time that bees, butterflies, and monarchs especially need it most. Ovipositing female monarchs are presumably ecstatic to find young, tender shoots to lay their eggs on, and a big drink of sticky nectar to boot. 

This, by the little black scent glands on his hindwings, is a male, but you get the picture.

There will be more posts from Monarch Meadow. I cannot stay away. Perfection is a real draw for me.

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