Thursday, September 4, 2014

Virgin's Bower

September is a lovely month in New England. As I wandered about the backyard late this afternoon, among the goldenrod and raspberries and Joe pye weed, a little spring peeper was resting. I love seeing these small frogs in my yard. So much so that this wee one got promoted to the Spicebush Log headliner.

Between taking Kodi and Henna for a couple walks and monitoring a conservation easement for a nearby town, I was outside a lot today. Yes, I am fortunate. As we set out on our walk this morning, just at sunrise, a barred owl called in the distance. We've heard them calling during the night of late. We had a good rain two days back, enough to urge red efts to be on the move, so I had to help one across the road this morning.

A few hours later on a second walk with Kodi and Henna (yes, they are fortunate too), morning dew clung to spider webs woven during the night. Such beautiful designs, it made me wonder why, as a species, we humans are often afraid of spiders.
In an attempt to enjoy even more of this wonderful September day, I took my laptop outside to write up the easement monitoring report. While sitting on my Leopold bench, laptop opened, I was joined by a meadowhawk. With such inspiration, I was able to wrap-up my report in no time.
But what I really wanted to write about in this post was Virgin's bower. Also called devil's darning needles, woodbine, old man's beard. It is a native vine, Clematis virginiana. It's leaves are toothed and right about now the flowers morph into showy, feathery seedheads, which is what caught my attention this morning on the walk with Kodi and Henna before I took note of the spiderwebs.
This vine is fairly common around wet meadows and other moist places. What is interesting to me is that I don't remember seeing this plant while I was growing up in western Massachusetts. But now it is there too, common and growing along field and stream edges, at my childhood home where my parents still live. I'm curious if others see this plant more often now than say 30 years ago. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Good Garden Season

Early September. The first few days of the month are starting out hot and steamy, after a relatively cooler August. This seems like a good time to take stock of the 2014 summer garden season.

Our root crops did well. The potato harvest was good. I planted 5 pounds of red Norlands from Fedco in Maine. Early on I hand-culled a healthy population of adult and larval cucumber beetles. But potato beetles never arrived. By early August the plants had faded so I dug up the hills on August 2nd, unearthing 36 pounds of spuds.
I planted yellow and red onions from seedlings. Although I did not keep track of quantities planted or harvested, here are the results.
My first attempt at growing shallots was okay. I started with one pound of shallot sets from Fedco and ended up with maybe double that quantity. Some grew large, some stayed small. They seem easy to grow, although the Fedco catalog says "tend to them with diligence." Not sure what that means.
Our garlic harvest, which we grow at my parent's place, was stellar once again: 500 bulbs harvested on July 28th.
Every year my tomato plants succumb to early blight. The lower leaves start to yellow early. I trim off some, but eventually too many turn yellow that I would end up with a naked plant if I clipped them all off. And I am still searching for the best paste tomato to grow. I tried San marzanos and monica this year; the latter were dry and short-lived. The best of the bunch were the super sweet 100 cherry tomatoes. They were sweet and productive and still going strong, along with good, but not as productive, sun golds.
Bell peppers are doing well, except for the slugs that chew holes in some, and the red ones are not turning red. Eggplants are slow, but maybe too shaded. No other problems to speak of, except the usual crop of Japanese beetles throughout the summer and deer early on.

Surprisingly, despite the cool, wet spring, the young peach was super productive. We forced ourselves to thin the fruits heavily in mid-summer so that each peach was not touching its neighbor. This allows the remaining peaches to grow bigger and to limit the spread of the brown rot fungus. We must have thinned more than 500 peaches and still we harvested hundreds. We made a delicious (I think) peach-blueberry crisp and just this weekend, with the last of the peaches, a peach galette (from a Melissa Clark/NYT recipe). It was yummy. Recipes available on request.
The garden is still humming along, although beans are over, sadly. Too many zucchini still and cukes have faded. This fall I must not forget to plant spinach that will overwinter and be ready for spring harvest. Meanwhile, the old peach is starting to ripen, so more peach galette on the menu.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Millipedes and Efts

Spending a few days in the Champlain Valley with family, which always includes a hike up Mt. Philo in Charlotte, VT. Although not quite 1000' in elevation, the mountain offers great views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains beyond. Although yesterday morning when we hiked it was misting and socked in. This kept our attention on small things, up close. Two favorite sightings: red efts and millipedes, both favor damp days to move about and forage.

This common North American millipede is 3-4 inches long with a lovely pattern of reddish bands on its body and many legs.

We helped several red efts across the road that the serves as a hiking trail. One eft in particular caught our attention. Its belly was bulging and part of a caterpillar was sticking out of its mouth. This one caught a good meal. I rarely catch them eating their prey.
Always a lovely day on Mt. Philo, rain or shine.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Luscious Peaches

My grandmother (Gram) liked the word luscious. I think she used it when eating a lamb chop that she bought once a month when she got her social security check. Or maybe it related to a hot cup of tea. Two of her favorite foods.

I'm reminded of her this week as we are enjoying luscious peaches from our Red Haven tree.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Big Black Horse Fly

Last week seems serene now in retrospect. Afternoon and nighttime rains brought out many adorable, tiny spring peepers. I saw four in one day sitting quietly on leaves in our yard.
Equally delightful small red efts dotted moist woodland trails.
This week it was more about the insects. We often have insects flying or crawling about the inside of our house--bugs, flies, spiders, moths, and other smallish things that sneak in an open door or on the dogs or in a basket of harvested vegetables. They don't bother me. This week we found a lovely moth, with markings similar to a religious cloak -- I identified it as a clymene moth (Haploa clymene), a type of tiger moth. Cool, right?

Today was a little darker. After I finished some field work around midday, got into my car and rolled down the windows, I heard a low buzz. It sounded at first like a bee but then I saw this really HUGE fly (more than one inch long) on the hatch window. Well, I wasn't about to drive off with that buzzing about. I got out and took a few snaps through the window. This fly was all black and reminded me immediately of Darth Vader. Except, when I looked it up on the Internet after getting home (and after I allowed it to escape my car) I learned that it was a female black horse fly (Tabanus atratus). The males feed on nectar, while the females require mammalian blood. She was looking for a meal, but I escaped. Although, when she finally flew out of the car she zoomed around the car and me a few times; she could smell the CO2 in my breath. So, I jumped back in the car and zoomed off the other way.

Here she is....I was a little intimidated! 
I read online that they don't bite humans often, but when they do it is a memorable experience. I prefer the cute little peepers and efts.