Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Last Day of May

If all goes well this time tomorrow I'll be killing off aphids using the tomato leaf tea I'm brewing in the milk jug below.

Tomatoes are part of the Nightshade family of plants, and their leaves contain toxic alkaloids that are harmful to soft-shelled buggers like aphids and humans alike. You really don't want to eat tomato leaves! Luckily its much worse for the aphids than it is for us and it is 'organic'. Made from the very leaves I pruned off the tomato plants this afternoon. With the weather warming nicely the tomatoes have started to put on some real growth so I felt it was safe to trim off the branches/leaves that had suffered from some of the nasty cold weather.

In the space between the rows of young mustard seedlings a group of tomatoes has sprung up. It pains me to think of these as weeds, so they weren't culled along with the other weeds during my weeding this afternoon. I'll probably have to bite the bullet soon and rip them out. They're most likely growing from the fallen hybrid tomatoes from last year, and I don't have high hopes for how they'd end up tasting.

Michelle's daises are looking beautiful up in the front bed, and I had to take some time out to admire them as I went about my gardening duties.

The garden as a whole has finally started to really take shape. I planted five additional tomato plants in the middle of the last bed this afternoon. They're in the center and will have summer squash growing at their feet. I also cultivated the spinach bed as what was left was 95% weeds with a few sickly spinach plants. I didn't get time to replant it before the thunderstorms started rolling in, so hopefully I'll be able to do so tomorrow.

The rabbits have done a ton of damage, but the garden is holding on. It has been amazing to watch some of the plants I thought were goners recover, and hopefully we'll see them flourish in the weeks to come. All they have to do is survive masses of aphids, any further rabbit incursions, and acts of mother nature.

Three Line Potato Beetles

These two potato beetles were busy making more potato beetles in the nook of a ground cherry plant. I'm all cozy at the computer, and I now have to walk all the way back outside to squish these nasty little buggers that I've now identified as pests.

Eastern Tent Caterpillar

These guys have been showing up all over the yard, and I've been squishing their little beady heads and throwing them to Rob the Robin. They became enemy #1 when they started going after the raspberry bushes, which aren't really bush like at all yet. Still they are doing amazingly well, and I'm sure they'll be very happy over the coming years.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Pregnancy is Distracting

It finally happened: my urge to nest switched from gardening to acquiring baby goods and setting up the nursery. My last big effort in the garden was planting the strawberries. After that, the heat, and bending over, and the threat of ticks turned it into a chore. So instead I have been lavishing in the joys of yard sales, Craig’s List, and Babies R Us, while watching new leaves and flowers emerge, and teasing Chris about his ugly garden fence and cute bunnies.

Various invasives have finally identified themselves in the yard. The two young maples with deep purple-red leaves are a cultivar of Norway Maple called “Crimson King”. While taking them out may be a hollow gesture with them in so many yards here, their removal will mean space for fruit trees. But anyway, that’s a project for another year. Aside from that, the beautiful purple flowers that the rabbits haven’t eaten are Dame’s Rocket, and will have to go. There are also several bush honeysuckles, including a giant one with pink blossoms. Up in the front of my raspberry row is what turns out to be a glossy buckthorn; now I have an excuse to replace it with some sort of evergreen. And I’m fairly certain that the many little rosebushes that popped up in the woods are multiflora rose. But now that the poison ivy is out, I’ll have to wait until the late fall or next spring to tackle those.

It really is a lovely tree. Too bad.

More interesting natives have turned up. In our pitiful excuse for a lawn there is blue toadflax and barren strawberry. A cottonwood tree in the back showered us with fuzzy seeds. The humble groundcover in the woods revealed itself to be Canada mayflower.

I’m afraid I have been too busy being pregnant to get recent photos of most of these things! Here is the Canada mayflower a few weeks ago, with blooms ready to open.

I also spotted Soloman’s seal in the woods, almost ready to bloom, just in time for it to be eaten.

Also eaten: much of my New England aster (I watched the bunny do it), most of my Swiss chard, the winter squash that we had been growing indoors since February, and few nasturtiums. But I have been lucky: the plants I have invested most of my time in have flourished: the raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb, and asparagus. The lupines that I transplanted have been real troopers, despite the aphids, and I have had much luck potting up jack-in-the-pulpit, lupines, and ground cherry for an upcoming plant-swap. And the bleeding heart that I transplanted from its previous home under the deck has grown to embarrassing proportions, getting in the way of my frog-pond path. It will have to be moved next spring, and perhaps divided into several smaller plants.

It turns out that jack-in-the-pulpit isn’t just present in the yard, it’s ubiquitous, springing up in droves along the path, and even in the flowerbed by the porch. The seeds for these volunteers must have been waiting in the soil for years, because I harvested last fall's crop and dumped them all into one location.

Not a Rabbit

As I walked out into the garden this morning I saw that the trap had been sprung and I saw fur. This made me really excited, right up until the point where I saw the fur go to opposite ends of the cage. As I approached I saw that I had trapped two squirrels in the cage and not the rabbit I was hoping for.

Now I do have to wonder as to what scenario lead to two squirrels ending up in the cage. The only one I can come up with is that one was chasing the other and they just ran into it one after another not even realizing where they were going. They were both unharmed and ran away at mach 9 chattering angrily when I opened up the cage to release them. Here's to hoping I don't catch any more squirrels.

In other news like a genius I left the garden gate open this morning, and the Rabbits let themselves in to much on more stuff. I feel like a buffoon. I can only hope that enough of the garden survives for me to harvest something. Though I have to admit the tomatoes are finally starting to perk up some thanks to the warm weather. I think we might actually get to eat one or two of those.

Where's The Lupine?

The Lupine along our driveway has a severe aphid infestation. I took these pictures before spraying these guys with soapy water, which took care of the problem. We have additional Lupine elsewhere with a slightly less complete infestation that I've been spraying with water to knock them off. I haven't hit them with soapy water as I have lady bugs on the way that I plan on dropping off on the 'clean' plants.

Tortoise Beetles - Deloyala clavata

I found several of these guys munching on my tomato plants. As much as I appreciate the natural order. I squished all but one.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Attack of the Ticks

The number of deer ticks in our back yard has really surprised me. Hardly a day goes by where one of us doesn't find a tick clinging to us or a piece of clothing. We've adopted a full body check after every outing in the garden, and up until today that had let us find all the ticks before they had a chance to bite. Unfortunately for me, today broke that streak.

I had the dubious pleasure of removing two female deer ticks. One from my ankle, and another from a more sensitive area. That'll teach me to garden in shorts. I think its jeans tucked into thick socks for me from here on out no matter how hot it gets.

We've been avoiding using a insect repellents because Michelle is 7 months pregnant and shouldn't be around DEET. Until we can use it again, we'll just have to remain vigilant.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Jumping Spider

This little guy was sitting on one of the wood posts I'm using in my Florida weave setup. He danced around and threatened as I tried to get a good picture of him. A cute little bugger.


The first Aphids are finally starting to show up. I've killed about a half-dozen so far, all before they were able to produce any offspring as far as I can tell. Still for everyone I find I'm sure there are a dozen more I've missed. I've been doing a complete search of every one of my tomato plants each morning. They're still rather weak due to some chilly nights, and I don't think they'd handle an aphid infestation well.

At this point in the year the Aphids should all be the first generation hatching out of eggs that have over-wintered. They're so huge because they're full of offspring that they will give birth to live. From the first generation on its all live aphids until the last generation of the year in the fall that again produces eggs. Taking care to kill these first aphids can have a positive impact on stunting future generations. Still I'm sure they'll become a problem despite my best efforts, just as they were last year.

Friday, May 23, 2008


I took time this morning to document the carnage in the garden. The good news is I didn't have any further carnage to document when I arrived home this evening. I'm not sure whether it's because there isn't anything left that they want to eat, or because my fencing is finally working.

The chewed stumpy end of one of my sugar snap peas cradles a drop of morning dew. Perhaps the last tear it will have a chance to shed.

A small field of battle with many casualties and no one left standing. The spinach was completely obliterated.

This Brandywine mostly died during the frost, but unlike the rest of the plants it seemed to rebound well pushing out some healthy looking suckers. I'm going to let it grow to put the myth that suckers don't produce any tomatoes to the test.

The carrots came in a little spotty, but I'm still going to have to do some thinning this weekend. Luckily they seemed to be of no interest to the rabbits yet.

The mustard has come in lush and healthy, with most of the damage to it coming from cutworms and other creepy crawlies during the night. I've managed to pick off several catapillers during the night, and will keep up my vigil to ensure it continues to grow up healthy and strong. It is also time to thin it out again, so we'll have a nice mustard salad this weekend.

A mangled radish sits in the earth ready to be picked despite the damage to its leaves. We were luckily able to harvest most of the radishes even though they were damaged, and they were quite tasty. They came out sharp, but not excessively hot.

Here the a next generation radish pushes its way to the surface. Ready to start its frenetic growth. This is a good shot of the macro bits of the soil we brought in. With the small stuff washed away by rain. I'm looking forward to adding more organic matter into it in the coming years from our compost piles.

Finally, here's the Rabbit's gateway into the garden. You can't see that this is actually fenced in around the hole, but it is. I've left the hole open, and as far as I can tell they are still exploring it each morning, as the dirt continues to be disturbed. This is where the live trap will go when it arrives.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


After returning home to find the bunnies had worked their way through another weak spot in my garden defenses. I moved from hate and rage to acceptance that this first year's garden is a sacrificial lamb to the various pests and denizens of the forest that might wish to partake of its verdant spread. The bunnies finished off the little pea stubs they had left behind, removing all hope that they might recover. They also completely finished off four rows of spinach, and nibbled on various other plants. The tomatoes in the garden remain untouched so far, but they went back up onto the porch and finished off some seedlings I had left out there. I'm not so sad about that as they were weak starts that I was just keeping around as backup/backups.

I ordered a live catch trap today, which will probably arrive sometime next week. Until then I'm going to try to button up the fence as tight as I can in hopes of preserving what I have left. On Saturday I'll replant the spinach, and I'm not sure if there is such a thing as pea starts but I think I'll go looking at the local nursery's. I'll also replant the beans and move on from there.

I've been somewhat torn on the idea of trapping the rabbits, but I'd think myself a hypocrite if I trapped the rabbit and couldn't bring myself to kill and eat it. I eat beef, chicken, pork, and fish all the time. Yet throughout my life I've almost never had to take part in killing the meat I've eaten. I've eaten rabbit before, and I know it can make a great stew. Perhaps its time to earn my hunter gatherer stripes again.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Hate and Rage

I had thought that I had a cutworm problem as a whole bunch of plants had been snipped off. Well yesterday it was mostly just the radishes that were snipped off. I went out last night at around 11pm and killed several cutworms that I found with a flashlight, and I figured I'd do the same tonight.

That was until I returned home from work to find every last one of my pea plants, all thirty or so topped. All thirty or so of my green bean plants defoliated, and all the rest of the radishes defoliated. There could be only one explanation and it had to be bunnies. I searched along the back fence, the only non-mesh part of my new enclosure and found their tracks where they had been wiggling underneath and into my garden. I was absolutely livid.

In retaliation I've meshed off the rest of the bottom of the wooden fence to prevent any further incursions from that route, all except the hole they've been coming in. There I've set a strangle snare, and then enclosed that corner with a fence of its own. I know there are at least two bunnies as I saw them in the back yard munching on some clover in the grass. I give myself a one in a thousand chance of actually catching one, but if I do I vow to make a nice tasty bunny stew out of it.

There is a part of me that would prefer to just deter the bunnies from coming into the garden, but by completely destroying all of my peas and beans they've escalated this from an annoyance when they ate the radish tops, to all out war. They've had a taste of the good life and I know they're keep trying to get back in. I wish the fox that has taken up residence in our back woods would finish them off, but if he won't then I'll certainly try myself.

EDIT: Before actually catching anything I looked up laws for capturing pest animals in Massachusetts and you're allowed to go about it in all ways except snaring and poisoning. Thus the snare will go unused, and I'll have to go look into live traps.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Thanks Jen!

A friend of mine added a caption to my snake picture. . .

Beautiful Spring

It is absolutely lush out there right now. The trees are all finally unfolding their leaves. Everything is growing, from the vegetable beds to the poison sumac. My transplants and seedlings are all happy. And the frog-pond is so naturalized that you can barely see it any more among the armies of skunk cabbage.

The ticks are also out in force, sadly, and the poison-ivy is popping up its first dangerously-hard-to-spot leaves. But I was able to report to a friend that he won’t have to plant those blueberries he wants, because his property is already covered in them. One of my four blueberry bushes is in bloom. The strawberries didn’t waste any time putting out leaves, the raspberries are starting to show signs of life, and my neighbor has no objections to getting raspberry canes on his side of the fence – hooray!

Cat-birds have been out in force, and I can’t tell if I never noticed them before, or if they have just arrived. Yesterday Chris and I had the good fortune to see a fox come trotting brazenly across the front lawn at nine in the morning with something furry in its mouth – I’m guessing bunny. Mister fox, you are welcome in our garden whenever you want!

Eastern Brown Snake

I was out digging jack-in-the-pulpits when I heard something move through the dry leaves. An eastern brown snake! And the little dear was just sitting there, watching me. After a few minutes of restraint, I couldn’t take it any more, so with many apologies to the snake, I put him into my bucket so that he wouldn’t run off when I got up to get my camera.

I felt like a big meanie scaring him so much, but it was only for a moment. This is snake body language for “I’m in a bucket and it scares my pants off.”

I did use my gardening gloves when handling the little guy, just to be absolutely certain that he wasn’t an immature timber rattlesnake. But a bit of research afterwards showed me that rattlers are endangered (and protected) in Massachusetts, while brown snakes are quite common.

Eastern brown snakes are a wonderful way to introduce snakes to those who are fearful of them. They are tiny, and gentle. At their largest, they may reach a foot in length, and slugs are a preferred food. I learned this as a kid when we caught one in the yard and took it to a nature center to have it identified. The six-inch long “Speedy Gonzales” became our pet for the summer. Every night we collected slugs for him, and he liked coiling around our warm fingers. (How can you tell that a snake likes something? He doesn’t attempt to squirm away, for starters. Lots of tasting-the-air with that forked tongue is another clue, as is allowing his body to be vulnerably extended.) At the end of the summer we released him back into the yard.

I didn’t come up with any silly names for the one I found today – I just tipped him back out of the bucket and thanked him for the photo opportunity. And he surprised me by turning around and calmly watching me again.

This little fella wasn’t the least bit camera-shy!