Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Aphid Mummies - Wasp Parasitized Aphids

Last year I didn't know what these large round and white aphids were. I thought that they might be aphids that were transforming into the flying variety and naively I removed them. They are aphids that have been parasitized by wasps. The wasps lay eggs in them and the wasp larva eventually come out to parasitize more aphids. Now that the wasps are out and active I've found I haven't had to work to control the aphids anymore as the large flying aphids are getting picked off before they can multiply. The short message is don't squish these!

Three Lined Potato Beetle - Lema daturaphila

If you live in New England and are a gardener, then there is a good chance you've been visited by one of these fellows. The three lined potato beetle first made an appearance in our garden on the ground cherries that volunteered by the side of our shed. These infested the plants and because of that I've been waging war against the ground cherries this year. That hasn't stopped them from making the jump over to other plants in the garden, and since I'm growing potatoes this year they have been their favorite target.

I spent the morning looking under the leaves of all of my potato plants for these little orange eggs. I removed close to a hundred of them in about a dozen eggs clusters. They scrape off the leaves easy enough and will pop if enough pressure is applied. Your hands will be orange until you wash them though, so it is not an approach for the squeamish.

I would have never noticed this guy except that it moved while I was examining the underside of the leaf it was on. I didn't know what it was at the time so it didn't get squished, but after identifying it as a three lined potato beetle larva they won't get a free pass in the future. I was really shocked to find out it wasn't something more exotic, it looks like it belongs in a coral reef not my garden.

I took this shot at the Macro's minimum focal length to try and get more detail. That pile of stuff on top of him is actually his own poop. They use it to discourage predators and to make gardeners think twice about picking them up and disposing of them. They've done a fair deal of damage, but nothing fatal, I'm going to keep controlling them through manual removal for now.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Glorious Sun Please Stay!

June 14th 2009


The garden is doing well overall with the last two days having partial sun and warmer weather. The tomatoes are responding very well to the warmth and have been growing several inches a day. The Oregon Sugar Pod Peas at the front of the bed are massively productive and are definitely on my list for next year. The Alaska peas in the middle produced a large bowl of peas once shelled and may have another in them before they're done. The Mammoth Peas at the end of the row are amazingly tall, unproductive, and diseased. The green bean patch is an insane jungle, and the inter planted beans elsewhere in the garden are also doing very well. Watching the potatoes grow I can hardly wait to dig them up!

They shot up to the top of the tower and tumbled off it to the side. I think the combination of wet and aphids set them up for a bacterial or viral disease. I'm not sure if that reduced their ability to flower, but this variety has produced maybe one twentieth the peas the Oregon Peas have.

I haven't identified the exact problem, but I did end up pulling the tower this afternoon. I cut them off at the ground to make sure these were left behind...

I didn't innoculate my peas, but they all had the nitrogen fixing rhizobia nodules on them. Hopefully through rotation I'll avoid the problem bacteria/virus in the future. The other varieties have so far been unaffected.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Berry Time

The raspberries are starting to ripen. Even though they are more tart than I like, Gabe loves them. I guess he takes after his Dad when it comes to tart berries.

The strawberries, sadly, are being devoured by some critter. I suspect chipmunks.

One of our neighbors has mulberry trees, which have been covered in ripe fruit. If you aren't familliar with mulberries, they look like blackberries, but don't have the tang. Many folks find the flavor insipid. I prefer them to all but the most perfectly sun-ripened strawberry.

Gabe could eat mulberries until he pops, I think.

Speaking of mulberries, the bunnies (or some other critter) have helped themselves to the mulberry seedlings in Gabe's Garden, as well as my nasturtiums and violets. I may transplant the larger volunteer mulberry tree to where one of the chewed seedlings is, and then put a cage around it.

The nasturtiums are largely a lost cause, but the violets will recover.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Relieved, and Sad

The Conservation Agent got back to me about my wetland faux pas:

Michelle -

I talked to the Commission last Thursday (6-18) and they all thought that the best thing to do is just to let path and turtle/frog pond return to their natural state. Just let it be and do not try and keep it accessable. There will be no fine as long as you just stop trying to keep it up. If this is OK with you then we are all set - if not then we will have to discuss permitting options - but I do not think you will be able to get a permit to do what you did. It just is not a good idea to do things like that in wetlands.

Let me know if there is anything else I can do for you in the future. Your lot has a large area of wetlands behind it and if you want to do anything that envolves moving dirt or cutting of wetland veg. you will need a permit.

Take care,
(our friendly Conservation Agent)

I am deeply relieved not to be socked with thousands of dollars in fines, and I am deeply sad at having to let the path revert back to its original state. But I support the laws that protect our wetlands.

If possible, I do want to maintain a path up to the edge of the wetlands so that I can still get close enough to look at what lives there. I have continued the permitting discussion with the agent to find out what is permissable. The thought of living on the edge of such beauty - that I own - and not being able to see it has still got me in quite a funk.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Restoring a Flood Plain in Louisiana

I love good news!

"In the 1960s, a group of businessmen bought 16,000 acres of swampy bottomland along the Ouachita River in northern Louisiana and built miles of levee around it. They bulldozed its oak and cypress trees and, when the land dried out, turned it into a soybean farm.

"Now two brothers who grew up nearby are undoing all that work. In what experts are calling the biggest levee-busting operation ever in North America, the brothers plan to return the muddy river to its ancient floodplain, coaxing back plants and animals that flourished there when President Thomas Jefferson first had the land surveyed in 1804."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Walk at Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary

I went for a walk today at Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary.

I had assumed this was a native plant until I looked it up at the website of the Connecticut Botanical Society, which has flowers listed by color. Their site is a fantastic tool for identifying flowers of New England, and this particular flower is a dissapointment. It's celandine, chilidonium majus, a plant of European origin. Too bad, because I had recently spotted some in my yard.

This is Swamp Azalea, rhododendron viscosum, a glorious native. I suspect some of the shrubs in my back yard are this plant, but if they are, they aren't giving themselves away with any flowers just yet.

An interesting feature of this plant is that the outsides of this plant are covered with tiny sticky balls that trap insects. Why do they do this? I don't know. They aren't carnivorous.

Finally I have seen this plant in flower! I was unable to identify it until I saw the bloom. It is pickerelweed, pontderia cordata. Native!

This is one native I was already familiar with: common milkweed, asclepias syriaca. I don't know why roses and mums get such attention when there is beauty such as this in the world.

It delights me that something so exotic-looking is native: fragrant water-lily, nyphaea odorata. There were dozens of turtles lazing on logs among these flowers today, surprisingly unphazed by various noisy children.

Ah, so this is forget-me-not, myosotis scorpioides. It is on the Massachusetts Prohibited Plant List. It is also in my back yard. So sad, I must kill it.

Wow! This stuff that looks like orange silly-string was the highlight of my trip: common dodder, cuscuta gronovii. I had only seen it in photos until today. This is the vampire of New England native plants. Shortly afer springing from its seed, it latches onto a host plant, from which it sucks nutrients. Once established on the host, it says goodbye to the ground.

Gabe is going to love this place when he gets older.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The largest monument humanity has built isn't a pile of rocks, but is instead a vast swath of ocean choked with plastic.

"Way out in the Pacific Ocean, in an area once known as the doldrums, an enormous, accidental monument to modern society has formed. Invisible to satellites, poorly understood by scientists and perhaps twice the size of France, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not a solid mass, as is sometimes imagined, but a kind of marine soup whose main ingredient is floating plastic debris. . .

"Floating beneath the surface of the water, to a depth of 10 metres, was a multitude of small plastic flecks and particles, in many colours, swirling like snowflakes or fish food. An awful thought occurred to Moore and he started measuring the weight of plastic in the water compared to that of plankton. Plastic won, and it wasn't even close. 'We found six times more plastic than plankton. . .

"Plastic does not biodegrade; no microbe has yet evolved that can feed on it. But it does photodegrade. Prolonged exposure to sunlight causes polymer chains to break down into smaller and smaller pieces, a process accelerated by physical friction, such as being blown across a beach or rolled by waves. This accounts for most of the flecks and fragments in the enormous plastic soup at the becalmed heart of the Pacific. . .

"'There's no such thing as a pristine sandy beach any more,' Charles Moore says. 'The ones that look pristine are usually groomed, and if you look closely you can always find plastic particles. On Kamilo Beach in Hawaii there are now more plastic particles than sand particles until you dig a foot down. . .

"Plastic particles are not thought to be toxic themselves but they attract and accumulate chemical poisons already in the water such as DDT and PCBs – nurdles have a special knack for this. Plastic has been found inside zooplankton and filter-feeders such as mussels and barnacles; the worry is that these plastic pellets and associated toxins are travelling through the marine food chains into the fish on our plates. . ."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Should I Wash My Recyclables?

The Green Lantern says aside from removing big chunks that would rot and make life unpleasant for the sanitation workers, no.

"Recycling facilities are well equipped to handle dirty cans and bottles, so some caked-on tomato sauce and the occasional stray chickpea won't significantly hinder the process."

And more importantly:

"Rather than worrying yourself into a tizzy over how to clean out your Coke bottles, here's an even better idea: Why not try cutting down on packaging in general? Recycling is only the third R in the waste-management hierarchy, after all—reducing and reusing are even better. According to the EPA, Americans generated 254 million tons (PDF) of municipal solid waste in 2007. (That's everyday, nonindustrial trash.) Containers and packaging made up the biggest fraction of that waste—30.9 percent, or 78.4 million tons. Nearly half of that amount ended up being recycled, but it would be better if we had less packaging to begin with. After all, disposal is only part of the equation—there are also significant environmental costs that come with manufacturing those boxes, cans, and bottles. In fact, a widely cited 1992 study by the Boston-based Tellus Institute found that 99 percent of the environmental harm caused by packaging came from its production, not its disposal. Even when you factor in 17 years of greener design and fabrication, it's clear that reducing our dependency on individually wrapped single servings is a laudable goal. And—major bonus—if you don't buy it in the first place, you don't have to worry about cleaning it when you're done."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


This fern is a staple of our backyard. It grows in dense drifts on the elevated, dry areas. It even thrives under the eaves of our house, in the dusty soil where I rudely transplanted some of the runners that I needed to remove from a path.

This is the same type of fern again. Since I don't know what it is called, I'll dub it "fern type A".

This was a delightful surprise! This fern, "fern type B" looks so much like fern type A that I hadn't noticed it until recently. It has a longer stem, before branching into several fronds. I have seen clusters of it elsewhere that appear to hover a foot above the ground.

Here is another shot of type B, showing the bare portion of stem that makes it possible to tell from type A.

Fern type C. I love this type's chunky leaves! These also live in the dry areas, including the eaves of my house.

This fern, type D, is the tallest in the yard, measuring up to three feet tall.

Fern type D grows in the marshy areas among the skunk cabbage, giving the wetland a delightfully prehistoric look. I tried transplanting some near a water downspout. Initially it grew like gangbusters, but then the lack of water caught up with it, and some of the fronds died.

Fern type E. This beauty occurs sparsely both in the wetland and up in the dry area. I am enchanted by those airy fronds.

I would like to identify these all, eventually.

An Environmental Outlaw Turns Herself In

This is why I have been feeling so down about the garden lately.

Town of Franklin Municipal Services Guide: Message from the Conservation Commission

“. . .The Conservation Commission would like to remind all residents that live within 100 feet of a wetland or within 200 feet of a stream or river to talk with a Conservation Agent prior to undertaking any activity that requires disturbing soil; pruning or cutting of trees or brush; or building of any structure within these areas. . . Failure to obtain a permit prior to conducting work within Conservation jurisdiction may result in an Enforcement Order requiring the work to stop and a fine of $300/day under the Town’s Conservation ByLaw. In addition, and Enforcement Order could result in fines from the State of $25,000 per day. . .”

Oh shit.

Dear Conservation Agent,

I am a homeowner in Franklin, and I am an avid organic gardener. I have been working to include more wildlife-friendly features, native plants, and water-conservation methods in my yard. It has also come to my attention that I may have inadvertently violated our wetland laws. I need some help to determine if I have done something that I shouldn’t have, and if so, what I must do to put things right again.

Our property includes protected wetlands along one side. Extending in from the protected area is a wide swath of perpetually muddy forest floor, populated primarily by skunk cabbage. I built a short path into this area using sand excavated from elsewhere in the yard. I also dug a hole in the mud in one spot to make a tiny frog pond, and I trimmed branches from a poison sumac that were overhanging the lawn and posing a hazard to visitors.

My intent with this activity was to be able to show my family and friends the beauty of our wetlands, so I am quite embarrassed to discover that I may have done something harmful. I should have checked with you first to see if I needed a permit. I am now deeply afraid that I will be fined for what I did, because I can’t afford to pay a large fine.

What do I need to do to undo any harm I have done and to be in compliance with the law?

Thank you.
Embarassed Homeowner

Embarrassed Homeowner -

Thank you very much for your responsible attitude and willingness to make this right. I will talk with the Commission and seek their input on what to do next. In the mean time I will provide you with the permitting options as well as a few facts about wetlands.

Wetlands do not have to have water on the surface in order to be considered a wetlands. We use a three prong approach to determining the extent of a wetlands. They are 1) more than 50% wetlands vegetation, 2) soil morphology and 3) ground water depth. By combining all three variables we come up with a line that represents the extent of the wetlands. However, we also have jurisdiction on the property that is located within 100 feet of wetlands and 200 feet from a rivers bank (these are called buffer zone areas). If the area is located within the wetlands or within either buffer zone, you need to obtain a permit from the Conservation Commission prior to starting work.

There are four (4) different types of permits the Conservation Commission can grant. I will discuss them in the order of least difficult to fill out and be permitted to do to the most difficult to fill out and the hardest to obtain.

1) Minor Buffer Zone Activity.

2) Request for Determination.

3) Abbreviated Notice of Resource Area Delineation.

4) Notice of Intent

We can discuss permitting options after I speak with the Commission. You will have to let me know what is you name and address. If you fail to provide us with the requested information the Commission will take a legal steps required to find out who you are. It will be much better if you provide the requested information. As far as fines are concerned I would expect only a small fine of around $75. You can always request that the fine be waived especially since you came to us as opposed to us finding out from someone else. I will be in touch next week.

Take care,

[name withheld to be polite], Agent
Franklin Conservation Commission.

The conservation agent will be paying a visit to our yard soon to take a look. He sounded friendly and sympathetic on the phone. I am greatly relieved at the small size of the fine he mentioned. I am paranoid that he might find something massively in violation in our yard, but I am also relieved to be getting this over with. And there is a small part of me hoping that he will be impressed with our gardening efforts, as well as my willingness to work with him.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Raised Vegetable Bed - A Progress Report

So it's been a little while since I posted, seeing as with my work hours, I don't get home early enough to photograph while there is decent light.

So I've divided up this post into two sub categories: Last months pictures and this months.

The Old:

So here is a progress of the raised vegetable bed a month ago. Since my first post I added two tomato plants on either side of the bed (a Red Brandy wine and a Purple Cherokee), both of which were given o me by Chris and Michele. I also planted three cloves of Garlic, I had noticed they were sprouting in our kitchen counter, so I decided to plants them to see what would come of them.

The New:

Ok, so over this weekend I finally had time to snap some updates to the garden. Things have certainly starting growing...and some not so much...

Quite a bit has taken off; the Patio tomato plant on the right has grown enormous in comparison to the other Patio tomato plant to the left, which is now dwarfed by the Red Brandy Wine. However, I'm running into a problem where the larger Patio tomato plant is starting to choke the sun out from the Purple Cherokee, as you can see in the image below.

I'm going to have to cut or tie back the Patio tomato plant to give the Purple Cherokee a fighting chance for sun, which is a stark difference to the left side of the bed where the Red Brandy Wine towers over the other Patio Tomato. However, I think the reason for that is that I didn't pick a tomato that it's been putting all of its resources in trying to ripen. The green tomato that I picked off of it was the hardest green tomato I've ever held.

So in other parts of the veggie bed, the Asparagus are going happily, though some smaller then others. Out of the six roots I plants, only four emerged, with two being the biggest (closest to the camera), The smallest, just barely poking out of the soil a hefty 2 inches.

And lastly, the Zucchini and Cucumber. They have remained their same size for the last month, though the Zucchini have begun sprouting flowers.

Hopefully we'll finally get some warmer weather... Next article will focus on Dehydrating herbs, stay tuned...

A Question of Faith

There is a part of me that always doubts that I will get anything out of the garden that's edible. Between the weather, bugs, and plant diseases I always feel like something is going to doom the garden and cause it to waste away. Last year it was a plague of persistent bunnies that wiped out everything except the mustard and tomatoes. This year cutworms took out a number of my greens and aphids have been weakening everything but the garden is holding up pretty well. I did a lot of weeding yesterday, and still have plenty more to do. The weather has been rainy and the splash back has the leaves of everything covered in dirt, which I know is bad. Still overall it keeps growing and for every setback another plant seems to leap forward. I just need to have faith that the plants will do what they need to do.

I'm not sure I could call this a pea tower anymore. It is more a pea tangle attached to a tower. The back peas are in the tower and then the rest of the peas are holding on to each other in a chain as they reach towards the sun. There are plenty of blooms and it looks like there will be a decent harvest of peas soon.

The potatoes have been going gang-busters, but unfortunately there are invaders attacking them. The three-lined potato beetles have been breeding on wild ground cherries for generations in the back of the garden by the shed. Each day I come out and squish the ones I can, but they are really quick beetles. I'm looking forward to digging these up in the fall:)

I spent hours this weekend carefully weeding the sides of the tomato bed. I had to be very careful as they are full of carrot seedlings mixed with grass and other weeds. With the seedlings been so fragile it was a delicate process of pulling some and snipping others off at the roots. I still need to weed the middle of the row, but that can be done with a stirrup hoe and should be fairly quick.

The rainy weather was causing the plants to start to topple over, so the weave has started. I'm so much faster at it after a year of learning and can weave a whole row in the time it used to take me to do a section or two. One key I learned last year is to use sisal twine and not hemp. The hemp will stretch and sag while the sisal will remain taught. I tried using the hemp because it feels softer, but found it also burned the plants more when they rubbed against it than the sisal did even though it feels rougher.

I try to take photos of the garden every week so I can look back and really see how far things have come. It helps me to see the growth over time and renews my faith that all the effort is worth it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


This permaculture experiment is going well. I suspect the raspberry bushes would be taller if they were watered more frequently, and I suspect the strawberries would be bearing more if they weren't shaded out by the respberries. But there has been almost no weeding to do, and the plants have needed only occasional watering (which Chris has been kind enough to do for me.)

The row is more sloppy-looking than I would like, but at least it is vigorous and green. I can hardly remember what it looked like as an empty strip of parched soil.

I've been feeling very down about gardening lately. I should be more excited about these strawberries than I am.

Oh well - the neighborhood children are excited, at least.