Sunday, June 29, 2008

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail - Papilio glaucus

Michelle pointed this guy out, and I was awed at how beautiful it was as it flew around us in a seemingly mindless series of loops and figure eights. It finally landed next to the lettuce sprouts that I had just watered, and this gave me a chance to take a picture. It looks like he's taking a drink. This is a butterfly whose caterpillar offspring I'd sacrifice a plant or two too.

Salt Marsh Caterpillar - Estigmene acrea

I found this guy because I saw some huge holes in one of my mustard leaves. This lends some credence to my earlier identification of the yellow eggs as Salt Marsh Caterpillar eggs.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Rabbit-Free Week

There were no infiltrations this week by an furry bunnies, and it felt great to watch everything start to recover. Overall the garden is really kicking into full gear, and everything is putting on some amazing growth. I did see some bunnies eating weeds in the yard, but I'll allow them that so long as they don't get anywhere near the garden.

Last Week

This Week

Michelle thinks it is cute when I work in the garden, because squash myself down into a squat when I want to work on something low to the ground. Here I'm weaving twine around some of the tomatoes. Since they're growing pretty rapidly at this point I'm always working on the weave throughout the week.

I'm 6'5" so I stood in amongst the plants to help give everything some scale. Some of the tomatoes are approaching three and a half feet now.

When I first planted the tomatoes I didn't quite believe that they'd fill in the space between them, but they have and they've done it much faster that I would have ever imagined.

I've been fertilizing the tomatoes with all sorts of different organics, and here I'm mixing some into a watering can to then feed the tomatoes. You may notice a pile of gunk on the trowel, this is stuff that wouldn't dissolve so I scooped it off the surface to apply around the plants manually.

There are tomatoes coming in all over the place, and looking at them just makes me drool. I can't wait for the first bite of the year!

Cabbage White - Pieris brassicae

I took a picture of this guy sitting on one of my mustard leaves while it took a break. I'm not growing any cabbage this year, but I think they've already hatched a couple batches on my mustard. I'm wondering if the batch of caterpillars I found earlier was from a Cabbage White brood.

Oriental Beetle - Anomala orientalis

Michelle pointed this guy out to me. He was sitting on one of the tomato stakes. He looked like a non-native so I grabbed him, and sure enough he's not. Since Oriental Beetles are an invasive non-beneficial species this guy was given a quick squish.

Jen was over on the 4th and took some really great macro photos. This was my favorite up close and personal shot of an Oriental Beetle camping out on a mustard seed stalk.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Chicken of the Woods?

Looking out of the window at dusk yesterday, I saw something at the base of our nearest oak tree that looked like some sort of crumpled paper. It turned out to be mushrooms – big ones! Each cluster by itself is wider than my two hands side-by-side. They’re a lovely shade of cream and pale orange, looking not unlike piles of rumpled pancakes.

I think this variety of mushroom is Chicken of the Woods. But I am no mycologist. If you have found this post because you are trying to identify your own mushroom, please do not rely on my guesswork. Eating mushrooms from the wild is dangerous business. Just for the record, I won’t be eating these – I’ll just admire. It was nice of it to grow right at the edge of the trees for me!

So. . . Chicken of the Woods. It sounds like there are several varieties of closely-related mushroom all known as Chicken of the Woods. These mushrooms are some of the most easy-to-identify in this area, as well as tasty. The “true” Chicken of the Woods is Laetiporus sulphureus. It is a parasitic and saprobic mushroom, meaning it’ll grow on decaying stuff or it will grow on living trees. It sounds like it is most often found well above the ground on decaying stumps. The related species Laetiporus cincinnatus prefers the roots of oak trees. That sounds, and looks, more like what I’ve got here, but it also sounds like Laetiporus cincinnatus just doesn’t occur this far to the east.

Either way, this might be bad news for the oak tree that these are growing around. If the mushroom is using the tree as a host, the chickens are the fruiting body of a well-established mycelium, so picking the mushrooms would do nothing to help the tree. But the tree looks healthy, so maybe, hopefully, it is just the decaying stuff around the tree that the mycelium is growing in.

Metallic Green Bee - Genus Agapostemon

The mustard flowers have attracted all sorts of flying insects. The most recognizable ones were the Metallic Green Bees. I had seen pictures when I read up on Orchard Mason bees that originally made me think that these were Orchard Mason bees, but thanks to a kind anonymous post that has been corrected.

A Beautiful Weekend

I was able to spend nearly all of Saturday in the garden, and managed to accomplish a whole bunch of goals. The first was adding a second layer of netting to the fence surrounding the garden. Now that there are two layers I don't think the rabbits will find it so easy to jump through. I also weeded and mulched the asparagus bed. A side benefit is with mulch piled up against the fence it'll be a lot easier to see if any rabbits dig underneath it during the week.

I also 'potted' up two of my larger free-range tomato plants into kitty litter buckets that a co-worker gave to me. The plants are destined for another co-worker and I'm very curious to see how they work. With the garden more secure I decided to replant the green beans again too, in addition to more pumpkins and cucumber plants. It may be too late in the year at this point, but I figured I'd give it a go.

With the multiple bunny invasions last week. All hope of actually getting any peas at all was lost. I pulled up the towers, and plunked in some more wood supports for a batch of eight more tomato plants. If I actually get tomatoes from all my plants I have way more than I could ever imagine I'd need to eat, but I like watching them grow none the less. I also figure with the recent scare I can give them away easily enough as mine are home grown and 'safe' since I know exactly what has gone into them and the soil.

The main row of tomatoes is becoming a dense jungle of tomato vines, and I'm finding I have to weave up new lines nearly every day to keep up with the growth. I find it very relaxing to do, and it helps me to mark the progress they're making. In hindsight I think I should have added a bamboo stake next to each of the plants for additional support, but I'll leave that experiment to next year.

More and more of the tomato plants are starting to fruit, and it is such and exciting sight. Every time I find a new one coming in it makes me smile and then it makes my mouth water as I imagine it ripe and juicy with just a little salt from the shaker on it. I'm guessing it'll be another two weeks or so before the first cherries start to ripen, and then another week or two after that when the first of the bigger tomatoes will come in but only time will tell.

The tomatoes that were supposed to be paired up with summer squash are doing well, even if the summer squash is nibbled to the ground. I feel sorry for the squash as it keeps sending out new shoots and they keep getting eaten.

The mustard seed pods are starting to really plump up. The plants are leaning over they're so full of pods now. I couldn't quite picture how I'd get enough seeds to actually make some mustard, but now that I've seen the plants in action I'm not worried.

I finished up this afternoon by weeding the remains of the carrot bed and the lettuce bed. I'm really close to just plowing them under and planting a cover crop, but I want to give them one last chance to recover. I really hope I don't catch a rabbit in the garden when I come home from work this week!

Flea Beetle

This is a profile shot of a very tiny flea beetle. I've probably crushed a hundred or so of these guys on my tomato leaves so far this year. They haven't gotten out of hand, and with most of the tomatoes getting quite large the damage is minimal at this point. Still I keep eliminating the ones I can as I don't want an infestation next year. They are quite hard to catch as they jump very fast. I typically get my finger and thumb on either side and then snap down. If you move in slowly they typically don't jump away in time.

American Robin - Turdus migratorius

Throughout the spring and summer there have been robins keeping me company in the garden. They love eating the various bugs and worms therein, and I like them eating the various worms and bugs. Even though I like worms, the worms will make more. Recently the mom and dad have been yelling at me whenever I get close to the maple in the middle of our front yard. As I walked by today I saw a string hanging down and followed it up to a nest just above my head, at about 6'7".

With the mom out foraging I took the opportunity to thread the camera up through the branches for a couple blind pictures. The three chicks are adorable!

Mom eventually let me know from the nearby fence that I was not welcome. I could almost hear her cursing at the damn paparazzi to leave her children alone!

Our friend Jen came over and took this picture of one of the chicks sticking its head over the edge of the nest. As Jen said in the car on the way to work the baby must have been thinking "5 more minutes mom!"

Caught in the Act

On Wednesday of this week we returned home to find a rabbit sitting right in the middle of my carrot patch, or I should say the remains of my carrot patch eating its fill. I grabbed a rock and jumped over the garden fence after it I chased it around the garden for a little and then it started to do something that blew my mind. It started doing flips into the net fencing. Now I had no intention of actually throwing my rock at it so I stood their dumbfounded at the rabbits behavior. Right up to the point where it was through the fence and off into the woods.

It seems that the rabbits have figured out they can just jump up against the fencing to tear a hole for themselves. Once I knew this I did an thourough examination of the fencing and found several holes a bunny height where they had either come in or out of the garden. With the fencing being so hard to see I just hadn't noticed them before.

Note: If you're squeamish about eating meat, or hunting I'd suggest not reading further into this post.

On Thursday we returned home to find a rabbit once again in the middle of the carrot patch. It is like they sit their waiting for a new shoot to grow so they can chew it right off. This time I chased the rabbit right underneath the shed. With him cornered I setup a perimeter around the shed that I thought it wouldn't be able to get through, which of course I was wrong about. It dashed through my setup and started doing its flip spin kicks into the netting. This time, however, I knew what was up and I did my own dash after the rabbit. Much to my surprise I was able to pounce on it and catch it with my gloved hands.

At this point in time there were a million conflicting thoughts and emotions running through my mind. I've never held a wild rabbit in my hands, and truth be told Watership Down is my favorite book of all time. I have great empathy for the fact that the rabbit was just going to its favorite new food source, and that it has no concept of right or wrong or stealing. More importantly, I'm normally extremely gentle with all types of life. I even capture wasps and bees in the house and let them outside safely. Though I will admit I swat flies, mosquitoes, and squish ticks on sight.

There were moments as I held it trying to decide what to do that I seriously thought about just letting it go. What changed my mind, however, was simply looking back into the garden and seeing all the bare areas of earth that should have been green a vibrant by this time of year. While I'll leave out the details I will say that the Discovery channel's various survivor series such as Bear Grylls Man vs. Wild made the whole process of processing the rabbit fairly straight forward.

I will admit that after killing the Rabbit I cried. Modern man, even meat eaters, have been so insulated from what it takes to get meat into the cellophane wrapped packages at the Super Market that I just was overwhelmed with having ended a life myself, even if I do it indirectly all the time. It was Michelle encouraging me to actually go through all the necessary steps to clean the Rabbit that calmed me down and let me do what needed to be done. In the end I feel it would have been very disrespectful of the Rabbit to have killed it and not eaten it.

The Rabbit stew on the stove.

Michelle's bowl of stew. She didn't take part in the processing of the Rabbit at all just to ensure that she didn't have any risk of coming down with Tularemia in the case that the Rabbit was a carrier. The meat was fried before hand and then boiled in the stew for a long while to kill anything that might be in the meat.

I actually had a hard time taking the first bite, despite Michelle's encouragement that it was really tasty. When I did take my first bite I was somewhat amazed that she wasn't kidding. It wasn't just tasty, it was really friggin' good. It was almost like eating a chicken heart stew, and wasn't very gamey at all.

The saga is not over, however, when we came home Friday that remaining pumpkin plants in the front bed were denuded and to make matters worse there was another Rabbit sitting in the carrot patch. I chased it around until its flip kicks got it through the netting, as I didn't really have the desire to catch and clean another one so soon. I would note, however, that we stewed up the Rabbit Friday night. If I had known how tasty they were I'm not so sure I wouldn't have pounced on this one too.

Still in honor of the bunny I created a spore creature in memoriam called the Nibbler.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


We came home this evening after and afternoon at a friend's house to find a rabbit sitting right smack dab in the middle of one of my carrot patches just munching away. Now he was after the carrot tops, not the carrots themselves but the damage is just as real. I opened the gate and went dashing after it all the way to the back corner where it slipped through a small tear at the very end of the fence line. I never would have seen the opening if it hadn't been for the rabbit running through it.

The good news is I was able to close up one more way they were slipping in. The bad news is they have all day every day to find a new way in.

The Garden on a hot day in June

I spent a hot day out in the garden continuing to weed and mulch the garden. Then after that it was mowing the lawn, or weed, or whatever you call a lawn that is mostly weeds. I pruned some of the tomatoes to keep the leaves off the ground. We have series of fronts rolling in and I want to make sure there aren't any leaves sticking to the ground and getting soaked and potentially sick.

I'm a little worried about some of the potted tomatoes, I'm not sure if it is the heat or what but some of their leaves don't look quite right. If they get any worse I'll go into full on identification mode.

Common Whitetail or Long-tailed Skimmer - Libellula lydia

The first time I saw this immature male Whitetail, I thought he was just sitting on the fence netting. When he was still there about ten minutes later I went for a closer look and noticed he had wedged herself in one of the netting holes. I quickly dislodged him and grabbed the camera for a quick picture before releasing him.

Twice Stabbed Ladybird - Chilocorus stigma

I found this guy swimming in the water bucket and rescued him. I wasn't sure if it was a ladybird at first or not, but closer examination of the head revealed that it was. Definitely a good garden bug! I saw one of his yellow cousins among the mustard, but lost him before I could grab the camera.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Poison Ivy Home Remedy

One of my co-workers ended up with some poison ivy on his ankles and arms, and it reminded me of my favorite home remedy for the horrible itching of a bad case of poison ivy. Now I should stress that when I read this solution I dismissed it completely, but the desperation of having my forearms completely covered in weeping poison ivy sores and other patches all over the place lead me to try it.

Basically all you need is a hair drier, patience, and a tolerance for some moments of intense pain. Set the hair drier to a warm setting. Start off with the lowest setting and work your way up. Keep the hair drier at least six inches away from the area you want to treat and sweeping the airflow back and forth across the area.

It should begin to itch, but at the same time it'll feel almost like you're scratching. You'll know its working when the itching becomes amazingly intense and you literally have to stop because you'll reach your pain threshold. Be careful not to drop the hair drier.

You should notice that after you remove the flow of hot air that the pain subsides very quickly. For me the relief afterwards from the itching and the pain was heavenly. If it doesn't stop burning, however, then run the area under cold water because you're obviously too macho and have burned yourself. This means either your poison ivy isn't that bad, or you're the result of a secret government program to create genetically enhanced killers.

The area will be red and if you have it everywhere like I did you'll end up looking like you just stepped out of a very hot shower or a hot tub. In other words you'll be pink everywhere you treated yourself. I liked to then apply hydro cortisone to the worst areas as it cooled things down and provided extra itching relief.

From what I remember of how neurons work I would guess this remedy actually works because you're basically exhausting the chemicals that trigger the nerves to signal pain/itching. You're still itchy, your body just can't inform you that you are. Each treatment would usually allow me 3-6 hours of sleep, which when you have a really bad case of poison ivy is huge. Oh, and I'm pretty sure the pain spikes releases some endorphins too...yummy endorphins.

If this works for you too let me know, if it doesn't let me know too!

Salt Marsh Caterpillar Eggs?

The only similar looking eggs I could find seemed to indicate salt marsh caterpillar eggs. I'll try to narrow it down further if I can. I've put the leaf in a glass jar, we'll see if any caterpillars come out of them.

Update: Since I've found a Salt Marsh Caterpillar on one of my mustards I think I may have had this right from the start.

Sole Survivor

The second batch of green beans has been eliminated by whatever pests are munching it all down. They've also gone after the peas as they try to recover and the salad greens. They've left the mustard all alone as well. The sole surviving green bean was protected by a basil plant. They don't seem to like munching on the basil, so it's kept this one safe for now.

This weekend I plan on mixing up some hot pepper spray to cover the various plants that are being munched on. Hopefully some extra hot hot hot greens will sway them from continuing their forays into my garden. The news is not all bad, however, the tomatoes are continuing to put on growth and are starting to bloom. I'm still figuring out how I like to weave my Florida weave, but overall it seems to be working. It scares me that in the early morning, and at night the 'new' growth leaves curl up. I always worry I have a wilt of some kind, but when I get to see them during the day on the weekends they look beautiful.

I've been mulching the garden with Mainely Mulch, which you can see hiding in the corner of the picture behind my first batch of mustard. It is in full bloom now, and continuing to kick out loads of flowers. The flowers that have fallen off are just leaving little nubs, so I'm somewhat worried that they aren't making any seeds. Time will tell though, so I'm trying to be patient. The mulch is doing wonders for keeping the soil moist. I've been able to reduce my watering significantly. Though I do end up with little bits all over me after mulching an area.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Chris, Your Garden is Beautiful!

Chris has been so glum lately because of the various animals that keep eating his garden. But Chris, your garden is beautiful! See?

Look at those beautiful rows of tasty mustard greens!

I know you don’t find onions t be as tasty or exciting as tomatoes, but look at how happy these onions are!

You can totally take credit for the rhubarb, seeing as you’ve been doing all the watering. And ditto for the asparagus, and the strawberries and the raspberries. With my neglect they should be rather pathetic right now.

You’ve even been taking care of my mostly-nuisance ground cherries for me!

I know they dispersed quickly, but the ladybugs are hard at work out there. I’m sure we’ll be seeing their offspring for years to come.

I’m fairly sure your ladybug intervention saved my lupines.

Your garden is a thing to be proud of, Chris!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Tomato Recovery

This picture shows a Brandywine tomato plant on May 23rd and again today. I've done my best to get their relative sizes correct by matching up the scale of the various bits of wood/rock at their base. Before this all that was left of the original plant was a broken off stalk. I've been really impressed with its recovery overall. To add to that I've read in multiple places that 'suckers' don't produce tomatoes. With all of the flowers coming in on this plant, that is essentially just suckers I don't buy that line for a moment.

Update: The Tomato plant continues to do very well, it's getting huge and is covered in flowers and some very early fruits.

Dame’s Rocket, a.k.a. Hesperis Matronalis

Hesperis matronalis

Now is the time to kill it. Lovely, massive bunches of purple or white flowers are sprouting on stalks two to three feet tall. It’s too bad that this plant is on the Massachusetts Prohibited Plant List – it’s a showy and easy-to-grow flower that really stands out in a garden. Unfortunately, that’s why it made the Prohibited list: it is so easy to grow that it is making itself at home in wild areas, such as along the Charles River wetland area that I drive through on the way to work. Sizable purple colonies are now revealing themselves at the shady wood-edges there and elsewhere.

Last year it was just one of many uninteresting, low-growing leafy plants. I left a patch of it growing in my flower bed to see what it did. This season each rosette put up a spike of growth that turned into blossoms. Now that it is easy to identify, it’s a great time to kill it, before another generation goes to seed. Just grab and pull – the roots are shallow and the whole plant will come right up in your hand. This is no Japanese Knotweed, thankfully.

If you are looking for a garden alternative, try phlox. It comes in similar colors and heights, but has five petals instead of four. I’m a big fan of creeping phlox myself, which is not only a perennial and a native, but it flowered in everyone’s’ gardens around here like mad this spring. When in bloom, you can hardly see the plant for the flowers.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Hello Lady Goodbye Sir

A box full of lady bugs showed up on Wednesday evening, and I was pretty amazed to see them all crawling around quite alive. Well, mostly alive. A few timid souls didn't quite survive the trip, but the majority of the bunch were very active and ready to go.

I sprinkled them out on the plants that I've been picking aphids off of, with the majority going onto the untreated Lupine up in the bed by the driveway. This little guy was taking the tomato super highway to greener pastures. I felt a little sorry for him not having any spots. I wonder if the other lady bugs make fun of the little guy. Its almost the exact opposite problem of teens with pimples.

The lady bugs on the Lupine wasted little time in going to work on their veritable smörgåsbord of aphids. My hope is there will be lots of little lady bug eggs all over the lupine after this batch feasts on the little buggers. I'll be monitoring them closely over the next couple weeks to see what kind of dent they make in the aphid population.

I ordered Mustard seeds on a lark, and I'm happy I did because they seem to be the only green that the local animals don't like. The first crop has started to bolt, and I want them to do so. I'm hoping to collect enough seeds to plant even more mustard and eventually collect enough to make some homemade mustard.

The Tomato plants are looking really healthy, and are starting to put on more growth. Not all of them are doing super great, but they're definitely all growing. I'm hoping the lady bugs will keep the aphids on them in check, and keep them reaching for the sky.

Whenever I look at this picture of the chipmunk all I can think of is "The Evil Chipmunk Overlord is displeased with your performance!" Even when he looks evil he looks pretty darn cute. Unfortunately we have a feeling the little overlord took a wrong turn when he leaped out of the bucket yesterday morning. At first we though he just ran off, but then Michelle found a hole in the screen of our bedroom window. It is suspiciously punched outward, and has molding crumbs chewed up on the inside.

The additional find of a little green poop (suspiciously green I might add) in the hallway lent further credence to the theory that he ran into the house through the open door to the garage. After wandering about the place he found the one open window and chewed his way to freedom. Now I might add that it is a one story drop straight down to a blacktop sidewalk with no trees or bushes around to jump to. Since I didn't find a squished chipmunk back there I think he made it out ok. I like to think he ninja wall walked across the side of the house to the nearby sun porch roof. Though I suppose we'll never know for sure.