Friday, July 31, 2009

Gabe's Birthday Present

I already have a hard time remembering that six months ago, Gabe's Garden was just a patch of neglected lawn. Happy birthday little dood! Soon you will be old enough to *really* play here.

To celebrate, I hung up the Japanese Children's Day banner that used to be mine. Children's Day, formerly Boy's Day, is actually in May, but since few people here in the US know that, I can get away with flying the carp whenever I like.

Gabe absolutely loves the banner. He waves his arms and shouts "da!" whenever he sees it. By "da", he means "gimmie".

I was a little worried that the banner might scare off the catbird who is nesting in one of the nearby shrubs, but I watched her hop right up underneath it.

That same catbird chased off a hummingbird that showed up to drink from these bee balms. The hummingbird was back a day later - hooray! That makes three hummingbird sightings in the yard, total.

But back to the bee balm. . . dang I love these flowers! So crazy, so red, so easy to grow. It's native to the Midwest, which is native enough to suit me. And it's in the mint family, which means it is safe if Gabe ends up eating some.

This is the last of the mustard which I had sown everywhere in this garden in a sort of permaculture experiment. I had planted them to stabilize and shade the soil while the slower-growing natives got established. I had thought that I would harvest it fast enough to keep it small, but I had my hands too full with Gabe to harvest it often. The explosively-growing mustard was crowding out my blueberry bushes, and otherwise looking like an unruly mess, so I weeded it out. This token plant remains so that we can harvest seed for next year; or, perhaps, for pickles. The plant has slumped over beneath the weight of its own seeds. A baby bunny has been spotted using the fallen plant as cover.

This is another plant that has stolen my heart: common cinquefoil, potentilla simplex. It came along for the ride with the creeping thyme that my neighbor gave me. I love its unruly runners hanging over the edge stones, and the lovely texture of its five-fingered leaves.

A few years ago a friend thought she had identified the hangout of local pot-smokers when she spied some hand-shaped leaves growing beside a lake. Now I know that it was some type of cinquefoil that we were looking at, rather than some stray hot-house plant sprouted from a seed dropped from a baggie. The taller varieties of cinquefoil look even more like marijuana leaves than this variety.

Common cinquefoil is in the rose family, and judging by its leaves and runners and flowers, it must be closely related to strawberries. (Here are some strawberries for comparison.)

The black-eyed susans, Rudbeckia hirta, are still blooming, and in front of that, I have added spiderwart, Tradescantia virginiana. Surprise! Despite the arachnid-and-blemished-skin name, spiderwart is rumored to be edible.

This side of the garden is still looking a bit bare. The lavender has bloomed, and the rosemary is thriving. However the native grass called prairie dropseed, Sporobolus heterolepis, has been looking a bit cooked, and the bunnies keep munching on the native violets

The bunnies also seem to like the nasturtiums, Tropaeolum majus. Nasturtiums are non-natives that make a cheerful, colorful filler while building a native plant bed, because (around here, at any rate) they seem to be reliably killed off by the cold winters. But seeds can be collected and stored indoors for the following year if the bunnies don't eat them.

Nasturtiums are edible, and have a delicious radishy flavor that would go nicely with milder salad greens.

That's more of the prairie dropseed there by the nasturtium. It's a short clumping grass with very narrow leaves, making a wonderful texture to contrast with wide leaves and big flowers.

Here is a gratuitous shot of the bowling ball, along with cinquefoil, creeping thyme, bee balm, and a clump of native grass. (Alas, I don't remember what type of grass it is!)

Two clumps of that native grass flank Gabe's future fort. Some day, those serviceberry twigs will be a cage of thick trunks, enclosing the perfect shady spot for a little boy to plan his next big adventure.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Way to Support Small Farmers Worldwide: Kiva

Small businesses worldwide can benefit greatly from small loans. That's great! . . .except that for ordinary folk, there is no way to make a small loan to someone who needs it. Until now!

This California-based company, Kiva, allows ordinary folks to make loans as small as $25 to small-business owners around the world. The loans are interest-free, and in the (likely) event that you get your money back, you can choose to re-invest it. This sounds like a great alternative to making donations.
The even offer gift cirtificates!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Viva La Resistance!

I've finished the deed of removing 22 of my blighted tomato plants. I say 22 and not 24 because I had planted two Cosmonaut Volkov Red tomato plants this year and much to my surprise they showed very little damage from the late blight. I noticed while removing the plants that the CVR plants had dead branches from their neighbors draping their healthy branches. There were some branches I had to remove near the base, but there were no stem cankers and overall the plants look good. Their neighbors were showing cankers all the way at the top of their seven foot long vines.

I say resistance and not immune because the plants clearly were showing some signs of minor damage. It looked more light minor early blight rather than late blight. I will keep a close watch on them, but for the moment I have two tomato plants still! Pictures to follow tomorrow as it was too late to take any pictures when I discovered this.

The penalty for finishing my task in the twilight hours is about two dozen mosquito bites on my back. They are straining even my ability to ignore itching;)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Pestilence and Plague

I don't have Chris' eye for spotting plant illness, but even I can see the swaths of yellow-and-brown death galloping up the tomato plants.

I have never had any particular interest in my Irish roots, but here in our yard is the reason for my ancestry. I can't look at this patch of plants without thinking of entire crops wiped out. I'm trying not to imagine what it would be like to starve to death.

There are farmers out there, right now, who are in dire straights because of this. Please visit your local farmers' market and support your local farmers!

This may be the last pretty shot of this year's plants.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tomatoes Devestated Early by Late Blight - Phytophthora infestans

Tomorrow morning I will have to perform the most difficult act I've ever been required to do: I will have to go out and pull up all twenty four of my tomato plants, place them in plastic bags, and set them on the curb for pickup. Yesterday I showed my friend Jen Gordy the tomatoes, which were looking very good - there was maybe an odd spot on a leaf here or there. Today, they are dead up to three feet from the base of the plant on the most vulnerable plants, and clearly infected on even the most resistant varieties. I don't think I can undersell just how quickly this hit. I reported the event here. I hope it helps them track the problem.

I had read about the problem back on the 4th of July, so I wasn't caught completely off guard. I won't deny that I felt a certain sense of imperiousness since I didn't understand that the spores can travel for miles on the wind. I always thought of it as a "might blow a few doors down the way", not across town.

These leaves literally looked healthy yesterday. To see the change in just twenty-four hours unnerves me. There is a part of my monkey brain that wants to let my plants stay up out of some slim hope that some of the fruits might mature. But I know that this is a lost cause; the plants will be dead within a week, and leaving them up will only give the late blight contagion a stronger chance of taking up permanent residence in my garden.

I just can't believe how sick the plants are.

These tell-tale cankers are present on most of the plant stems.

I'll take further stock tomorrow and may try and save some of the bunches of tomatoes that are close to blushing, but I'm not even sure I want to try at this point. I can only hope some local farmer has avoided this so I can buy some tomatoes at a farmers market.

One of the varieties of potato that I'm growing doesn't seem to be suffering from the late blight yet, but all the others are. I will be pulling them tomorrow as well.

I don't know when I'll get a chance to grow potatoes or tomatoes again. It may take several seasons for the garden to become clear of this blight. The amount of work I've put into these over the past months is great, and to lose them all is a horrible blow.

I'm thankful that my family doesn't depend on the fruits of the garden to survive. I now have a small inkling of the despair the tenant farms of Ireland must have felt as they watched their crops wither overnight.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

More Indian Pipe Photos

Lyme-Free for Now

Just a quick note that my Lyme test came back negative, which is good news indeed. It let me start tackling the issues that were causing the stress which is the real source of my current health woes. The year of the slug continues in the garden, though I'm beginning to think it may be the year of the oriental beetle instead. More on that to come.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Slug Fest '09

While looking for a good place in the backyard to build an ark in anticipation of the eventual flood from the 40 days of rain we've been experiencing, I took a walk around the garden and noticed the plants each had 5-8 slugs on them. What really set me over the edge was the slug that wrapped itself around a new bud on my fig tree and then ate the entire thing. Normally I say live and let live, but now this was personal. Just as my father declared war on the neighborhood squirrels after they broke into his birdfeeder, so now I, too, declared war against the slugs.

I don't like pesticides of any kind, so preferred to stick with more natural preventatives. Looking through the fridge, I chose what was on hand - Sam Adams Light. It was a shame pouring a bottle of Sam into a shallow purple bowl and to set out in the garden for the slugs, but sacrifices are necessary in time of war.

The next morning I did a preliminary investigation of the bowl and was rewarded with 8 slugs that had drowned in the sudsy foam of doom. I felt a slight twinge of guilt but knew I had to reduce the slimy menace from my beloved little garden.

After work I checked again. It was Happy Hour at the new bar in the middle of my garden. A crowd of slugs surrounded the bowl and more were making a distinct beeline for it.

The next day, I found more slugs and realized I needed to refill the bowl with beer, but I didn't want to fill it with the good stuff again. I went across the street to the local package store to view the selection. Ultimately I chose O'Doul's so see if the slugs would go for a non-alcoholic malt beverage. Based on what I saw over the next couple days, it doesn't matter if its alcoholic or non-alcoholic beer. Slugs love them both and it'll save you some decent cash in the long run to go for non-alcoholic.

Although the beer worked its magic, there were still a decent amount of slugs remaining on the plants. In doing some research, I discovered that while slugs love malt, they hate caffeine. Since I rarely drink coffee, I have to rely on my wife to supply me with grounds from her morning coffee. Every morning, I sprinkle the coffee grounds around the edge of the garden. Since coffee grounds are great as fertilizer, it's also good for the overall garden health.

The result has been a dramatic drop in slug activity in my garden. Now the beer trough only catches an occasional slug here and there, the ones that happen to get by the caffeine border surrounding my garden. For the moment, I'm winning the war against the slugs and so will keep up my vigilance and step up my efforts when I notice an increase in slug activity. I still hold out hope that we'll get warmer, drier days to come, because I really don't want to move forward with building an ark.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Quick Update

The garden is doing very well with the warm sunny weather we've been having. The tomatoes are already within striking distance of the top of the supports and at their current rate of growth will hit the top in another two weeks or so. When I look at pictures from last year this time it seems like we're right about on par or even ahead in some cases. I have a good bit of work to do in the garden this weekend, and hopefully I'll have more time to post a complete update.

Macro Fun

This evening Chris stayed at work to play games, and Gabe was sleeping soundly in his carseat by the time I got home, so I took the macro lense out for some fun. This is tickseed, coreopsis. It's a native flower that I picked up at the Garden in the Woods.

I didn't plant any milkweed this year, but there are several volunteers in the yard. These blossoms look to me like fireworks made with origami. So beautiful!

And look what was eating my pretty flower! This, it turns out, is one of only a few insects that can eat milkweed: the red milkweed beetle, or Tetraopes tetraophthalmus. I caught the little devil red-handed, mandibles sunk in a well-chewed flower bud. But he was on the alert, and dived deeper into the flower when he saw me coming at him with the camera.

In one of the bushes near the house I reached in to pull a weed, and almost put my hand through this spider brood. I have had a particular fondness for baby spiders ever since "Charlotte" in our milk box made babies for us. In retrospect, since that took place in Japan, we should have given the spider a Japanese name, but we were kids and Charlotte's Web was fresh on our minds.

Here is one of the babies from that previous image.

I wouldn't have been able to see this with my naked eye: an empty spider skin, one of many in the tangle of webs and legs.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"Certified" Wildlife Habitat

I had felt sheepish about putting this sign up until this week - but with the rain, and Gabe's Garden starting to fill in, there has been a sudden burst of animal activity right in the front yard.

The wet weather brought many frogs up front. Every time I mow I spot one now. They like to take shelter under the creeping thyme.

The obligitory bunny, damp from all the rain. I suspect the bunnies in a number of nibbled flowers, but overall, they are good neighbors. Gabe's Garden offers them more sheltered areas to graze.

I had stacked my leftover rocks beneath the shrubs in the hopes that some snakes would move in. And it worked! I think this is the same garter snake that we saw basking on top of the yew. No, I know that's a garden hose, thank you. Look behind the hose. At, you know, the think that looks like a smaller hose.

Chris' cousin's adorable daughter chasing a goldfinch. See it, there on Chris' home-made trellis? Not the yellow things on the left - those are mustard flowers. The bird is the yellow dot on the right.

The goldfinch and his lady friend have been regulars in the yard lately, perching on Chris' pea towers, and rummaging among my sloppy un-deadheaded flowers for seeds.

This is where I posted the sign, right in front of Gabe's Garden. Check out those black-eyed Susans under the tree! I had gathered those seeds from an easement two years ago, and then combed them into the earth roughly around the base of the Norway maple. At the time, I didn't know there was landscape cloth beneath the soil there. I decided to leave the stupid cloth in when I planted the irises, because I was tired, and I was grumpy for being blessed with more irises than places to put them. I'm glad I did. The Susans are covered in flowers now.

Don't they go nicely with the toy truck?

Here is the view from the front walk. If you look closely you can see some wildlife out there on the circle, riding in a wagon. . .

Monday, July 13, 2009

Photos from the End of June

The end of June was when the front bed started to look like a firework display.

My lupines never came back this year, even though they flourished here last summer. I think something about the winter killed them - perhaps the cold, or the road salt. Chris suspects they were crushed by the weight of several feet of snow, but the soil is still quite soft here.

How garish. This is one of several flower refugees that ended up by the mailbox. It is called "sweet William", if I am not mistaken. It isn't native, and I don't know anything else about it yet.

This little native, whorled loostrife, Lysimachia quadrifolia, volunteered under the sourwood tree. I wish I had got a photo of it before rain knocked off most of the flowers.

You know how frozen peas taste so much better than canned peas? It turns out that fresh peas taste that much better than frozen peas. Simmered peas with a little butter, salt, and pepper, over rice, with a little sausage or chicken - heaven! Chris can have all the sour raspberries he wants, but those peas are mine!

Indian Pipe

Not the best photo. I ran out and snapped this while Gabe was in his highchair. Someday maybe I'll have time to slow down and use the tripod.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Time for a Blood Test

It has been a month now since I was bit by a female deer tick. I have not had the tell tale bull-eye rash since I was bit, but I have been feeling progressively worse. I had thought that most of it was stress related, but a week away from work didn't rejuvenate me. I wouldn't normally have done anything, but my friend Harry Teasley is currently in the hospital being treated for Lyme's. He's in bad shape as he had a heart block caused by Lyme's. Harry never saw the tick that gave him Lyme's and never showed the rash. I know that I was bit, and while the way I'm feeling could just be stress, I figure it is better safe than sorry, so I went in today to get tested for Lyme's.

Having had an alergic reaction to an antibiotic in the past I avoid taking them unless I'm sure I need them, so I want to wait for the test results before taking antibiotics. I won't know anything for a week.

Compared to Harry I'm fairing well I suppose. Still every morning for the last two weeks my first thought after waking up has been to go take some excedrin for my aching body and head. My legs have felt like they do after I go on a 50k bike ride. Not exceptionally painful, but they complain about moving and are sluggish. My right hip has been hurting when I'm walking or sitting and I've have numbness in my fingers and hands that comes and goes. I won't even start with the trouble my back and shoulders have been giving me and of course my head has been aching with today being particularly bad including numbness in my cheeks.

At the end of the day I can explain any of these symptoms for reasons other than Lyme's. My back and legs I could attribute to gardening, except I haven't done much of that in the last week. I can explain my shoulders and back as stress since that's where I carry mine and work has been stressful lately. My head I can attribute to the wild weather we've been having since changes in the barometric pressure can trigger migraines for me. The trouble with my hands and wrists I can blame on my profession since I'm always on the computer at work and home. I could also blame the tiredness in my back, arms, and legs on carrying around a big baby.

It doesn't help that the bite site still hasn't healed a month on, but when I think of where Harry's at I feel like a big whiner. I'll know more in a week and until then I'm going to try and focus on fixing the things that I think might be causing my symptoms. Like ending this post and getting off the computer for a while!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Fly Stuck to Leaf

I was flipping over potato leaves to clean of the eggs of the potato beetles when I discovered this fly. Upon closer inspection I saw that he was glued to the leaf by something, though I don't know what. Has anyone ever seen something like this before? Anyone know what would have done this?

UPDATE: It looks like Fly Fungus: Entomophthora muscae could be the culprit. Thanks to Suunto for the information! It makes Michelle go eww eww eww eww eww.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Stony Brook - Gigantic Snapping Turtle

The family took a trip to nearby Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary to have a little holiday outing this afternoon. We took the camera along and one of the sights we saw was a gigantic snapping turtle. His shell really just looked like a regular old pond rock and we didn't notice him at first. I was taking pictures of some dodder nearby when he raised his head and exhaled. This alerted Michelle who alerted me to his presence. I laid down on the boardwalk on my belly and shot these with the macro lens without the tripod.

For this shot I was stretched out over the water with my hips on the edge of the board walk and my arms outstretched fully. I was using auto-focus and as the image preview came up after each shot I quickly adjusted the angle of the camera to try and get his head framed before my core muscles gave out. I really like all the vegetation on him and the illusion that he's grinning. This is definitely an image worth clicking on to see the big version. It is my new desktop at home.

Wet Weather + Big Box Stores = Tomato Late Blight Epidemic

As an avid grower of tomatoes this story made me cringe. Since I grow all of my tomatoes from seed I'm not so worried. I know my neighbor over the fence also buys hers from a local grower so that has me not too worried. Still, there exists the chance that this could hit both of us and that would make me sad.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Garter Snake Sunning

I walked out the front door this afternoon and saw this little garter snake sunning in the bush right next to me. Michelle grabbed the camera and let me reel off some shots. I'm so happy to see on as I haven't seen any other garter snakes yet this year. I really hope they start eating the slugs in the garden because the wet weather has made the slugs monstrous this year.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Breathing a Sigh of Relief

My wetland mistake is officially over. I exchanged a few more e-mails with the Conservation Agent to clarify a few things. While I have to let the part of the path that extends into the wetland revert to its natural state, I am allowed to maintain the part of the path that leads up to the rock at the edge. And for that, I do not need to apply for a permit.

Our Conservation Agent was friendly and helpful, and I look forward to having him as a resource should I ever consider doing anything fancy in the rear of our property again.

Over the weeks that I was discussing this with the C.A., I was also getting a close look at the wetland for the first time during the late Spring period of rapid growth. Beneath the tree canopy there is primarily blueberry, some sort of azalea, skunk cabbage, a couple types of fern, poison ivy, poison sumac, Canada mayflower, blue flag iris, spicebush, and various mosses. One thing has become more and more obvious as I have identified more of the plants: there are few, if any, non-native plants growing in the wetland. With dawning embarassment I have realized that this is why I should not be meddling back there with piles of imported soil. My actions created disturbed area that could lead to the introduction of invasive plants. As important as it is to me to be able to show our beautiful wetland to visitors, it would be tragic and ironic if by doing so, I also destroyed it.

I would like to put the embarassing path incident behind me now and get back to the business of being a plant geek.

The skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus is starting to look tired. The broad leaves are starting to slump and change color.

This is skunk cabbage fruit. I haven't inspected one up close yet.

The leaves of the skunk cabbage are getting heavy with fallen debris, in which seeds are germinating.

Look closely at the upper-right of this image. There it is, the plant that inspired me to build a trail down to the wetland in the first place.

Indian pipe, Monotropa uniflora, the ghost plant! It is even more mysterious and mushroom-like than I had expected. Perhaps this weekend I'll have a chance to get out there with the macro lens for some better pictures.