Beau September 3rd, 2009
The mornings have been so cool and the days full of sunshine. Everything is still green, but you can see signs of autumn coming. By late afternoon it’s nice and warm around 80 degrees F- and all the critters are about. Today I thought I would share a mix of sights over the past week. One thing I’ve noticed is that all the bees and wasps are nearly desparate for nectar. They are covering every available flower as they rush towards winter preparations. Here the bees are taking nectar from a pink sedum.
The honeybee is one of the few species of its kind that winter over as a community. I believe most our other wasps, bumblebees, yellowjackets, etc. die with the coming frost except for leaving one or more queens to survive through winter. Those queens find somewhere to hide and lay dormant, emerging in the spring to begin an entire new colony.
This is an early morning picture just after sunrise- the bees are waiting for the sun’s curtain of light to drape across their hives with warming temperatures and cue them to start foraging.
The honeybees must survive as a colony through the winter, depending upon stored reserves of honey to carry them through. They form a tight cluster or ball inside the hive to keep warm through shared body heat and metabolism. I’ll be making winter preparations for the bees next month- for now they are keeping very busy.
The young boy picked his little muskmelon (cantaloupe) the other day. This one ripened small, but we watched for telltale signs of light browning and beginning to split from so much moisture inside. The plant spread out to a huge vine, but only produced 3-4 smaller melons.
But sure enough it was wonderfully ripe. We kept it in the refrigerator and he loved having it as a snack after school. Yum!
It’s also been time to pick elderberries again. Last year I combined elderberries and grapes to make some really tasty jam and sauce… it’s fitting that we are on our last jars this month. Even if we’re not quite ready to make more, I pick the elderberries and put them in a plastic bag in the freezer. Not only does it keep them from spoiling, but it freezes the little bugs on the berry clusters and makes it much easier to pick and wash them.
I went to reach for a cluster here, and found this nice Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) in the way. The spider didn’t mind as I reached over his web to the drooping corymb of berries. The larger berries at right are of course from wild Poke- not edible for us unfortunately, but the birds really love them!
I came across a neat fungi in the yard and got down on my knees for a close up picture. I didn’t realize I had captured the basset hound in the background. He’s the “old man” of the place, in his eleventh year now.
And a friendly Monarch butterfly landed among the day lily leaves. It seems the butterfly had a broken wing, perhaps from an encounter with a bird. It still managed to flap away through the air. The monarch migration has begun, peaking in our region as they travel south about the second and third week of this month. Here’s a couple links where you can check the fall map for monarch migration routes, and the peak migration dates for your latitude. We don’t normally see that many- their route is too far east or west I think. But one year I saw dozens around that timeframe.
In the past I’ve only see one species of milkweed plant for the monarch larvae to feed upon. But last week I came across some milkweed vine (Asclepias family). The monarch larva also feed upon this species so I was excited by the find. However I do have mixed feelings about vines growing around the landscape- they seem to take over! These large green pods contain thousands of big, white fluffy seeds that fly everywhere. I recently dug up several thorny thistle plants with purple flowers- they too have fluffy seed heads that float on the wind.
Near the bee hives the oak and hickory rounds are gathering in a big pile for splitting. These are from a few trees that have died and been cut down over the past year. The wood is still excellent for using in our woodburning stoves for winter heat. They also make great seats for fishing!
In another garden/food experiment, I made some fermented pickles last week. These were very interesting- not vingegar cured like most modern pickle recipes, but instead they undergo natural lacto-fermentation and become true sour dill pickles like in the old days. I’m sure a few of you make or enjoy real saurkraut, and the pickle fermentation is similar. Here we are adding some more cucumbers to the brine.
They were really good and after 7-10 days of fermentation I placed them in quart-sized mason jars with the brine and then into the refrigerator which essentially stops the fermentation. Lots of recipes call for boiling the brine, and then processing the pickles in a canner. You can do that for long-term storage, however doing so kills all the beneficial bacteria and the probiotic qualities of fresh fermented pickles. Next year I would like to grow better cucumbers (and cabbage) for pickling- these are more for fresh eating, but they did okay for pickles. You can google quite a few different recipes, and try it yourself!