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Archive for the 'Wildlife, Insects and Pets' Category

Late Winter Warm Up

February 27th, 2010

The thaw has begun. At least here in Missouri… and although the nights have been in the 20’s, the daytime temperatures are warming up nicely. I’m so thankful for the handful of sunny days we’re having. Especially reading of the snow and storms some of you are seeing in the northeast. Hang in there! Spring is on the way!

The pond is thawing from a lengthy winter freeze.  The last time the water was fully open was late December or early January.

february-thaw

I wandered outside in the middle of the night a couple days ago (I prowl around at night…), and the moon was shining half full in the sky, contrasting with tons of stars.  It was cold, but so refreshing and beautiful, and I’m almost positive that I heard a few frogs calling!   Which is quite remarkable considering it was way below freezing.  But since the daytime temps had warmed up it may have brought a few out already.

The first really nice day we get will bring out tons of little Spring Peepers… and I always enjoy hearing them.  It just speaks of spring to me. Their calls reach their peak around the middle of March in our area.   I posted a short video here with spring peeper’s calling almost two years ago…

I’m ready, and it’s nearly time for onions, potatoes, peas and more.   Time to get the inside chores and projects finished up!



Farewell to a Good Dog

December 11th, 2009

We lost a friend yesterday.  A part of the family for many years.  Twelve to be exact.  He was born on December 10th, 1997.  And yesterday we sadly had to help him across that final threshold of life, on the very day of his birth.

His name was Justin, and he was a good dog.  A bit smelly and drooly, but a fine old friend.  He lived at Fox Haven for many of his twelve years, even while we were far overseas.  If ever a dog had a happy, carefree life, it was he.

For a Basset Hound, he was remarkably healthy and strong.  He would roam the property and follow us just about everywhere.   He loved to be close, and would settle down wherever I was working and fall asleep.  This year he slept a lot more.  I would tiptoe around the outside of the house so I didn’t wake him, but as soon as I got started working somewhere I would hear “Oowwoo…arf! arf! Oowoooo!” as he came looking for me.   I would see him with his magical nose, sniffing the ground and tracing my steps until he saw me.  He would trot up wagging his tail and settle down somewhere nearby to sleep. Often he would wake up an hour or two later wondering where everybody went.

Last weekend when we cut the cedar tree down for Grandma, the basset hound wanted to come along as usual.  Wandering around with us was about his favorite thing to do, and especially riding in the little golf cart.  That night I was putting the cart in the barn, and as I sat down Justin came running up to jump inside for his ride…  this year he  couldn’t jump in as well and would put his head and front paws up and I would help him in.  We rode for about twenty feet and parked… it didn’t matter how far, he was just happy to have the ride.

basset-behind-the-stove

A few days ago the boy and I were in the barn with the woodstove going, and a couple dogs and a cat to keep us company.  Justin settled down behind the warm stove and took a nap for a few hours.

His fur was very warm, almost too hot to the touch.  He enjoyed that very much. I didn’t have my camera, but took this picture with my cell phone for some reason.

When it was time to go I nudged him until he looked up and I coaxed him outside again.  He was getting a little more confused this year…  In a way, he was such good company that I didn’t even notice him most of the time. But I usually always waited for him, and let him in and out of the barn, up in the golf cart, or wherever else he followed.

While building the shed these past couple of months he was always there. The past couple of weeks he would climb up in the shed and lay down to sleep. Then when I was back outside he would bark and whine to be helped down because he couldn’t figure out how to get down.

He still liked to play though, and he loved Kuma the Shiba Inu.  They slept in the kennel together and Justin followed Kuma everywhere.   If we put Justin in the kennel for the night and Kuma wasn’t there, he would yowl and cry until he came too.   Kuma was a little grouchy at times as the alpha dog, sometimes nipping Justin’s ears.  He didn’t care, he still wanted to be with him.   They kept watch together, welcomed us home together and wandered the fields together.   In the mornings they would even play together in the driveway.

 basset-and-shiba

Of course anywhere the boy and I went, or the other animals, Justin had to follow. We often gave him apple cores and he loved them. When the boy ate an apple, Justin would follow him around and the boy would yell, “Apple dog! Apple dog!” and run away. Justin would go “Woof!” and chase him.

following-the-boy

Especially if it was around the pond.

boy-and-dogs-2

On school days I would bring the yellow lab and Justin with me to meet the boy at the bus.  He loved that and would wag his tail when the boy came running off the bus. We would explore the pond or check out the fruit trees along the way.  Sometimes I would try to sneak off without him and let him sleep.  And I was worried he might wander off somewhere and get lost.  I found him about a half mile away last year, at the bottom of a valley.   No matter how I tried to sneak away though- he would still wake up and somehow know where I was.   Five minutes later here came the basset hound trotting up the driveway or through the fields.   His nose led the way…

basset-and-yellow-lab

Often we would see him exploring with Princess the cat.  He was so gentle that the cats seemed to accept him.  Princess liked to come by and rub his muzzle as if to say hello.

basset-and-cat

If any of the dogs got in the pickup truck, Justin yowled to go too.  He just loved car rides.  Yesterday, while he was sick and I was getting the car ready, he even tried to jump up on the bumper, ready to go as always.

boy-and-dogs

He loved to roam the garden, but we tried to keep him out so he didn’t stomp all over everything.  In September I even watched him walk up and pull a big juicy tomato off the plant for a snack!

boy-and-dog-in-garden

When he did have something of his own or a favorite spot to lie down, he would go “Woo! Woooo!” to the yellow lab.  The labrador is a master of sneaking food from the other dogs, and Justin would bark and chase him away.

woowoo-basset

If you sat down on the ground or anywhere else he could reach you, he might give you a big slobbery kiss when you least expected it!

basset-kiss

 

But mostly he would find a comfy place in the sun and just snuggle up for a nap.

basset-hound-napping

He was just friendly and lovable, and wanted to be part of everything.  Especially if you had food to share.  And he was part of the family.

hungry-basset-hound

Farewell ‘ole friend.  We’ll miss you, and we are better for having shared our life with you.  You were a good dog.
Say hi to Sparky…

justin-the-basset-hound

 

Sunny Halloween

October 31st, 2009

The sun is shining again!  Hooray for sunny days!  Okay, I’m a little excited after weeks of rain, and it looks like next week will bring us more warmth and sunshine.   At dawn the sun rises just enough to paint the top of the trees.  It’s an amazing time of the day, and the birds and squirrels are flitting all about looking for breakfast.

trees-at-dawn

Today is a day for young and old alike, with special treats and spooky nights!   We cheated a little while camping last weekend… many folks decorated their campsites in full Halloween dress and the kids went all around for an early trick or treat.   I was amazed at some of the displays people set up for a day or two!

halloween-camping-display

They had all kinds of festivities that day and we were even tricked (!) into adopting a beautiful young creature that needed a home… she’s only 7 months old and decided to dress up for Halloween too.  Say hello to Tootsie!

tootsie-the-cat

Back home the old basset hound was not very impressed with our new friend.  Of course at nearly 12 years who can fault him for a nap or two?

basset-hound-napping

The last of the autumn colors are coursing through the treetops.   We are moving from the reds, oranges and yellows to the deeper burgundy and browns. 

missouri-oak-trees

 The trees are losing much of their leaves now, and the woods look  more open.   I just appreciate this time of year with all the colors, the falling leaves, the wind…    Once we dry out a little it will be time for a few leaf piles!

october-in-missouri

Hopefully the warming sun will let the bees fly about now and find the last remnants of pollen or nectar from the flowering plants.  With all the rain I saw some new goldenrod and asters appearing in some of the fields.   

Happy Halloween!

halloween-pumpkins




October Critters and Colors

October 20th, 2009

What a joy this week is with warmer days and sunshine.   As the sun came up this morning, the light on the yellowing oaks was neat to see. You can barely see the bee hives beneath the trees behind the barn.  I’ve covered them with dark insulation in preparation for the colder months. 

autumn-oak-trees-morning

Because of the warm weather yesterday, we’ve had an enormous number of insects come out… maybe that last hurrah! of reproduction before winter sets in?   I’m not sure, but it was fun to see the different species.  Except for the dang ladybugs!  We have a huge population of them… and if you didn’t know already, they come from the Bover Kingdom.

asian-ladybugs

I did come across a walking stick insect of some kind.  I’m not sure how many different species we have in Missouri, but this one had great legs!   It seemed intent on its journey, walking steadfast to some hiding spot perhaps.

walking-stick-insect

Lots more color changes happening, so bear with me if they seem like the same pictures!  I never tire of seeing the changes each day, especially when the sun is bright and warm.  The yellowish leaves are from white oak trees, and the darker green and red are from a red oak tree.  Each year they’re a little different.

colorful-autumn-oak-trees

My little bonsai maple tree has been growing for nearly six years now.  Not really bonsai perhaps, because this one’s too large to really meet that criteria and I have it in a regular pot.  It’s a little over a foot tall, but still doing fine- and I just love to see how its leaves change color at this time of year.   I need to transplant it, cut the roots and branches a bit, etc.   In a few weeks I’ll bring it into the garage to overwinter so the roots don’t freeze.   It’s sitting at the base of a 20+ year old Redbud tree in this picture.

bonsai-maple-tree

Have you found your woolly worm yet?   The fall season isn’t complete unless we find a few of these critters around.  This one was kind of neat- I’ve never seen one with so much brown and so little black.   Now which is it that predicts a cold, snowy winter?  Lots of black or lots of brown?!

brown-woolly-worm

A small persimmon tree is growing near the fence line, and has just a few persimmons on it this year.  The boy enjoys biting into the soft, juicy ripe ones… but he learned fast in previous years that you don’t bite into an unripe persimmon!  If there’s enough I’d like to make a persimmon pie or cobbler or something out of them…  any ideas?

persimmon

It’s that time of year again, and the kids enjoyed painting pumpkins at a cub scout outing over the weekend. It took a few phone calls, but one of the local farms let us hand-pick these for a good price, and the boys had a great time with them.  Next year I’m going to try and grow them!

october-pumpkins

 
The garden is mostly finished for the year.  The beans are still growing, but there’s just not enough warm weather, flowers and pollination at this point.  We still have a few carrots in the ground, and I haven’t pulled up our beets yet.   I’m not sure if we should slice and freeze the beets, cook and can them, or just try to keep them whole in a cool, dry place in the basement?   We don’t have a root cellar, and I’d like to keep them whole for boiling and slicing later.   How do you keep your beets for longer storage?

Along the fence row I found some berry clusters from a Greenbriar vine (Smilax rotundifolia) hanging from the branches of an ash tree.  These almost looked good enough to eat, but after a little research they’re probably not edible.  Not toxic it seems, but not palatable either.  They are great for wildlilfe however.  Supposedly the roots of the greenbriar vine can be used to replace gelatin or make some type of thickener if you want to dig for an hour or two.  But the vine itself is very thorny, and I suspect I’ll try to remove it from the fence (and tree) before it becomes too large and difficult to manage.

greenbriar-vine-and-berries

In more productive news the wood pile is growing bigger!   Wouldn’t it be great if this warm weather could stick around for a while?   The colder weather is coming… 

wood-pile

One of our favorite things to do at this time of year is to catch leaves as they fall from the trees.   It’s especially fun with a little breeze, running around chasing the leaves around the yard.   This is a picture of a 100% genuine-never-touched-the-ground-leaf-caught-by-a-boy!   That was fun to watch…

catch-a-falling-leaf




Changes in Autumn

October 14th, 2009

I hope it’s warm and/or sunny somewhere else, because it sure hasn’t been here the past couple of days! To be fair we had a beautiful Sunday last weekend and those are the pictures I’ll share today.

The leaves are changing now everywhere.  It seems so gradual at first, and then before you know it the colors are everywhere. The walnut and ash trees have dropped most of their leaves, but the oaks and maples are hanging on for a colorful bouquet.  We’re saying farewell to the green and I’ll share the colors as I can the next few weeks.

autumn-trees-and-pond

The oaks transition to a beautiful red leaf color- sometimes it’s very dark, but when the afternoon sun highlights the landscape the leaves almost glow and shimmer.

autumn-oak-leaves-1

I love seeing the oak trees surrounding the pond, especially bathed in sunlight on a quiet afternoon.  They look majestic and timeless, with the reflections giving such depth to the landscape.  I sat near the edge of the pond and breathed deeply as the light faded, thinking about things.  Mostly nothings… 

oaks-on-a-still-pond

* * *

Over the summer a Gray Treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis or versicolor) took up residence in a birdhouse on my Mom’s porch.  She said it hung out everyday, peeping out the little entrance hole. 

gray-treefrog-in-birdhouse

Sometimes it could be found near or under a chair cushion. At one point there were a bunch of smaller bright green treefrogs, so it looks like a family of treefrogs grew and enjoyed this little homemade habitat. I finally came by with my camera and the frog gladly stayed in its pose for a picture. I wonder where they will go for the winter…

The Nature of Nature

October 9th, 2009

I never realized that grasshoppers exhibit adaptive coloration, at least right here where we see them all the time.  In August and September they are so prolific in the grass that they fly up everywhere bonking into me as I ride along on the tractor.  Birds and other critters prey on the grasshoppers, and even the young boy loves to catch them.  Most of our resident grasshoppers are colored with varying shades of brown and green.  But this particular ‘hopper was sitting on a log I was cutting up, near a wood pile, and didn’t seem to mind the noise or ruckus.

cryptic-grasshopper

I was surprised at how brown it was, and had not noticed one like this before. There even appear to be differing shades of brown to its color. Is this true crypsis in terms of the grasshopper blending into the woody background? Or is this just a genetic coloration variation of the many resident grasshoppers we have? Or is the answer simply, “Yes.”  I need to appreciate the young one’s inquisititiveness more at certain times… I think that’s genetic too.

Among the many beautiful native and non-native landscape plants we have are a series of grasses.   Ornamental grasses have become very popular in recent years due to their wispy appearance and minimal need for care.  Many of them are fairly drought tolerant as well.  But there is a problem.  Like many other introduced plants and animals over the decades, some may respond differently than expected within the environment and become invasive.  This grass forms beautiful seed heads in the fall, and looks really nice in the landscape.  Unless you didn’t put it there.  

invasive-ornamental-grass

This particular grass popped up along the shoreline of the pond all by itself, with a few others in various places, coming from seed heads of larger ornamentals further away.   I don’t like that… and can’t imagine how these huge grasses could change the landscape.   Can you imagine trying to fish or walk the shoreline of a pond surrounded by six foot high grasses everywhere?  So off with their heads!  I cut them back, and used a small amount of herbicide to try and kill the plants.  Be careful what you plant out there.   To borrow an oft-quoted line from Jurassic Park,  “Nature finds a way.” 

This is the only sun we’ve had for the past two days- a brief red dawn.  We’ve had 36 hours of non-stop rain!  Hope that’s not a sign of winter to come…

red-dawn




Lots of Acorns and Big Ugly Goobers

October 2nd, 2009

It’s a heavy year for the “mast” crop of acorns all across Missouri, and probably adjoining states. That’s good news for wildlife populations, especially in the Ozarks.  Deer, squirrels, rodents and the many predators such as foxes, coyotes, hawks and owls will benefit from the robust forage available this year. Looking forward, the next two years should produce increasing populations of these animals, depending upon the severity of winter weather.

fall-2009-acorn-crop

During the previous two years the combination of drought and early spring freezing weather negatively impacted the acorn production from the oaks.  I combed area forests last year and the hickory trees had produced an abundance of nuts everywhere I went, yet there were very few acorns from the oak trees.  And now while our red and white oak trees have produced a huge amount of acorns this year, our hickory trees did not produce many nuts at all.  Isn’t that interesting?

*******

I wish I had a picture, but I actually saw a Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) flying around the pond yesterday.   It’s not that unusual to see a kingfisher around water, but it is unusual to see one here in our upland forest area. I’ve heard their rattling call a few times in as many years, but always wondered if I was just hearing things… so it was fun to see a bird I usually only see while hiking or hunting in bottomland forests or canoeing on Missouri’s various rivers.  While I don’t really appreciate the visiting heron’s voracious appetite in eating our pond’s bigger fish, the kingfisher can have all it wants!

*******

We’ve also had a few interesting insect critters in recent weeks.  I call ’em Big Ugly Goobers, my acronym for BUGS.  A pair of Wheel Bugs (Arilus cristatus) were either in the pre or post phase of mating near the barn door last week.  They are strange looking things, and true bugs as only one of the 32 some-odd Orders in the insect world.  A little research indicated that no one really knows what the spiky-wheely-thingy (forgive my entomological void) on their back is for.  They’re in the assassin bug family, preying on other insects, and stick a huge straw-like proboscis into whatever they can catch to feed upon, after liquifying the insides.  Sort of a bug milkshake perhaps?  “Ewww…!”  Sorry…  Apparently their bite is really painful, so I’m glad I just looked at them and took a picture.  Maybe that spiky wheel is all for show… it’s a bad looking bug!  And yes the male is the smaller of the two…

wheel-bugs

 

If that didn’t dissuade your romantic contemplation of our pastoral lifestyle here at Fox Haven,  here’s something that might.   A new population of European Hornets (Vespa crabro) decided to show up this year.  I had never seen them before, but in July I started seeing a huge reddish-waspy-thing (another fine technical description!) in various places zooming by while I was outside working.  After some research I pretty much knew what it was but hoped they weren’t really here.  Sure enough though, one morning I came outside the house in late August with a cup of coffee, and heard a droning hum around one of our ash trees.  The sun wasn’t even up and I looked into the tree branches above to see more than a dozen huge hornets flying around.  My coffee grew cold as I stared at the size of these things.   They were landing on the branches, stripping bark or something.   To confirm the identification, I got out some trusty wasp spray that would shoot fairly high in the tree and dropped one to the ground (I left it there for a good twenty minutes to make sure I wasn’t going to be stung).

Yep… they were European Hornets. I thought their populations were much further south, but obviously not.  I then began seeing these guys everywhere for a few weeks… probably in the same manner as when you’re looking for a new car or similar product?  Once your interest is focused in a certain direction, you begin seeing that kind of car everywhere.  Anyway, for more exciting encounters, one night at nearly 10:00 pm I walked out near a floodlight turned on above the garage and two of these hornets were smashing into the light and flying all around.  I then read of them banging into people’s windows at night, attracted to the lights, and scaring the bejeesus out of them.  These guys can even hunt at night!

european-hornet

Last week I saw the big hornet in the photo above at the base of an oak tree near my bee hives.  It may have been a queen investigating its next meal or a warm place to overwinter this year… in any event it became another specimen for my collection, and didn’t get the chance to bring others nearby.  (That big yellow round mass is actually spray foam insulation that I sprayed into the base of that tree.  The tree is slowly dying (right behind the barn) and I was trying to seal up some small cavities around the base.  It’s a lost cause as the tree continued to lose half its leaves this year.  Next year I’ll probably cut it down). 

The hornets are considered non-aggressive unless threatened.   I had no intention to find that out first hand or to test how painful the sting was, but upon closer examination I found that the stinger is about 1/4 inch long!   Here’s a AA battery and one of the recently deceased hornets for a size comparison.  I think it actually shrunk a bit- they are huge when flying.

european-hornet-aa-battery

Obviously these creatures fulfill a positive role as predators in eating other insects, and we should appreciate that.   Yet these were an introduced species first being reported in the U.S. around the 1840’s presumably arriving on ships from across the Atlantic.  They have since marched slowly west…  I wonder if their presence in the food chain has displaced other insect predators such as paper wasps, yellow jackets, praying mantis, etc?   Or what form of adaptation has occurred within the environment in response to their presence and behaviors?    

Of course if we go down that road we can bring up our favored Honey Bee as an introduced species a couple hundred years earlier.   But now that the hornets are actually resident in our area, I’m not going to put out a welcome sign.  If they do build a nest somewhere around our house they are going to want to defend that nest, and I’ll want to defend the house.  So I’ve told a few of them to go tell their friends and relatives to build their nests somewhere else thank-you-very-much.   I’ve got enough stinging and biting critters around at this point.

But hey the cooler weather has really arrived and the insect populations are dwindling fast for the year.  The chigger, tick and skeeter populations are fading, and it makes working outside in autumn a little more enjoyable.  Okay, a lot more enjoyable!  Compared to so many other regions of the world though, we really don’t have too many pesky insects.  If you love the outdoors it’s all part of the experience and the beauty of our living natural world.  Thankfully my least favorite insect was not very abundant this year with all our cool summer weather!



Sights and Colors in Early September

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.

honeybees-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.

beehive-sunrise

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.

little-muskmelon

But sure enough it was wonderfully ripe. We kept it in the refrigerator and he loved having it as a snack after school.  Yum!

yummy-muskmelon

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.

spider-elderberry-poke

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.

fungi-dog1

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.

monarch-butterfly

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.

milkweed-vine-pods1

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!

oak-hickory-rounds

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.

fermented-pickles

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!



Late Summer Ramblings

August 25th, 2009

The mornings have been crisp and cool, and autumn is right around the corner.  Just the right temperature for getting work accomplished outdoors… which I keep adding to my list.  “I should really be working on that…”  I muse as I wander around admiring the landscape.  The days are still warm yet and this day lily is the last for the year… a solitary figure among the hundreds having already bloomed in July.

day-lily

The young boy found this little guy along the driveway.  This is the last milkweed plant we’ve seen around the house, and this lucky monarch larva found it all to itself, perhaps being one of the last around here as well.  Could its luck continue to become a beautiful butterfly that migrates south for winter?

monarch-caterpillar

The rich green colors of summer are still with us, and everything feels so much closer and well, cozy perhaps compared to the open landscapes of winter.  Rain came through one afternoon last week, dappling the pond with raindrops, and breaking up the reflections of the trees on the surface of the pond.   The old Burt Dow Boat is still hanging on…  and I like filling it with petunias every year.  Behind it I planted a river birch which will overshadow it one day.    And to the left a small austrian pine grows- hopefully to provide a screen and some protection for the bees behind the picture up the hill.  

summer-at-fox-haven-pond

Several of the oak trees have died, and the big trunk/log laying in front of the rowboat has been cut up.  The boy and I moved it up the hill behind the barn this past weekend,  round-by-round in a bucket of the tractor.   We missed one… probably more than 100 pounds, and it rolled down the hill making a big Splash! in the pond.  The boy loved that, jumping and clapping, and I still haven’t figured out how I’ll get it out without getting wet.  I may have to give it a name as it floats around the pond…  now where did it go?



Summer Hot and Pesky Critters

June 24th, 2009

Can you say heat wave?! It’s been incredibly hot the past few days, and the plants are really feeling it.  Not to mention the people… there’s work to do outside, and inside of a few minutes your shirt is just soaking wet.   Have to remind myself to drink lots of water.   The garden needs the water too, but the peas have finally succumbed to the heat as the flowers just wilt too quickly.  Yet the warm season plants such as tomatoes and eggplant are really starting to grow- for everything there is a season, right?   We even had our first summer squash the other day.

I’m curious to try the yellow banana peppers- the plants are really producing many right now and they seem to love the heat too.  They’re supposed to be sweet and yellow at maturity- but they’re all staying greenish so far.  This one is five inches long now.  It’s supposed to turn a brighter yellow on the plant but I think I’m going to pick it!

banana-pepper

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The other evening after a hot day the storm clouds were building to the west.  This one looked like a beautiful windswept face.

thunder-face-cloud

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In other garden news (unfortunately) it’s japanese beetle season!  Which is a little much these days.  Those of you further to the west probably don’t have them around yet.  They only arrived in our area a few years ago, but they’re marching steadily west it seems- how far they go is the question. It seems like they’re all ending up here!

They are not a native species, and were introduced accidentally in the early 1900’s in New Jersey on nursery plants.  But as they invade new local environments they have no natural predators and just go crazy.  They are particularly fond of roses- which are covered with them in the summer.  But they’ve also stripped our little cherry trees of leaves already.  They emerge in June and July in our area, laying eggs in summer, which hatch and become larvae that burrow deeper  into the soil and overwinter until the following year.

They’re also really annoying… nickel sized bugs flying and buzzing everywhere like alien space invaders.  “Buzzzzz!  Whoa! What was that!? ” is your first reaction… then, “Oh…”  Here’s a few of the lovely critters munching on a rose bush:

japanese-beetles

I’m hoping some enterprising bird learns to enjoy eating the little buggers at some point, or that the population explosion diminishes over time.  Probably futile wishes, at least in terms of a few years.   In order to control them around our landscape, we’re using beetle traps.  These consist of a flower scent and a sex pheromone that seems to drive the beetles crazy.  Here’s a picture of a hundreds of these beetles that have fallen into the plastic bag trap.  I put this trap up the day before this picture and it’s already getting full.   Kind of gross, but it makes the point.

japanese-beetle-trap

We have three of these bags set fifty yards from the garden, and it draws the beetles away from more valuable landscape plants.  Thank heavens they don’t eat anything in the garden that I can tell so far!   Who knows- maybe I should put the bags a few acres away- for all I know I’m attracting them here.   Another choice would be to spread insecticide throughout the landscape to kill the larval grubs in the ground where they live.  But I’m too stubborn and don’t want to spread chemicals around… everything washes down hill toward the pond, and I have no idea of the toxicity of those chemicals over time.   There’s another control agent we could try- a powdered form of Bacillus popilliae, which is a bacterium that causes milky spore disease and provides natural control against grubs.

We’ll see how it goes with the traps for now.  Lovely oddities of nature, but it drives home the importance of not introducing non-native plant and animal species where they don’t belong throughout the world.

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