Sunday, August 23, 2009

Squash Bugs

The squash bugs are so pervasive in my garden that they're laying eggs on the vines as well as the leaves. In my last survey I counted between two to three egg clusters per leaf and multiple additional egg clusters per vine. Even with destroying the clusters I find there are some that get by.

This is a group of squash bug nymphs that hatched from a cluster of eggs on a vine that I missed. They don't get any more appealing as they grow up. At this stage they are difficult to dispatch manually as they move fairly quickly.

Here are the adult squash bugs working on making more eggs. Next year I plan to be more aggressive with taking out the adults as I find them. This year I found some and didn't kill them because I didn't know what they were. I thought they might be assassin beetles, but ya they weren't.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Raised Vegetable Bed - An Update, Part Trois

So here's the latest update with my modest raised vegetable bed. As you can see there has been some significant growth, mostly with the zucchini's and the red brandywine tomatoes. The porch tomatoes are growing well; however, one has grown so much that I needed three corkscrew supports to hold its weight and train it to not overtake the asparagus growing behind it and the zucchini/cucumbers growing in the front of the raised bed.

The red brandywine has been growing more out then up and I had to tie twine to the branches to sustain the weight of the tomatoes. It almost looks as if I have a tall ship in my back yard.

The tomatoes so far haven't been affected by late blight, though I have sprayed them as a preventative. A few are starting to blush, but it's taking a really long time for anything to ripen. So far only one tomato from the porch tomato plant is even close to ripening.

The zucchini and cucumbers have been a big disappointment. Everyone told me about the incredible yield I would get by planting 6 zucchini and 6 cucumber in my raised bed. Out of the ones I planted, 3 zucchini have grown to a good size and 1 cucumber plant has made decent progress while the rest died, but so far, only 1 actual zucchini fruit has grown to a size worth picking and eating (it was excellent). The rest have grown flowers that just fall off before the fruit can get a chance to start growing.

I have run into some Powdery Mildew on the zucchinis. I've been combating it with a solution that's 9 parts water, 1 part milk (1%). So far it seems to be working, but I need to apply it often, in the mornings/evenings and regularly through the weekend. We'll see what happens.

It has not been a good season for our basil. This is the best it's looked all season and is a pretty sad example. I can see the new growth, but it was just too rainy and cold at the beginning of the season to have a good start.

In addition to the raised bed, I have a fig tree. The fig tree by itself is a family heirloom. When my grandfather came over from Portugal in the 30's, he wanted to bring a little bit of his home with him, so he took clippings of the fig trees on their land and sewed them into the hem of his pants. A fig tree took root in Danbury, CT, where the weather wasn't generally hospitable for aMediterranean plant, but every fall, he'd cut the tap root to lay the tree on the ground and cover it with leaves until eventually the tree got used to the weather and he simply took the leaf rakings and pilled it on the tree (which looked more like a bush). When my grandparents died, my aunt took a clipping of the fig tree and cultivated it in her apartment, where it took root and has been living indoors for a good 10 years. Recently, she gave me the tree to put outside in my yare, where it's now flourishing in the sun and (lots of) rain. It's started to grow green figs, which are small but very sweet.

Lastly is our red pepper plant. We decided to try the hanging method and put it on the porch, and the peppers are beginning to blush. It was quite an ordeal getting this plant into the upside-down, self-watering contraption that deserves a post all its own, so that's for later.

But that's the update thus far. We hope the next post will feature some edible progress.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Plants of Frye Island

There are many beech trees on Frye Island. Beneath them the forest floor is made up of leaf litter, small green plants, mushrooms, and many kinds of moss. Right now there are highbrush blueberry bushes in fruit everywhere along the roads and wet ditches, and in the sunnier locations, buttonbush is in bloom. I also saw wintergreen in bloom, if I am not mistaken; but I didn't get photos of any of those, sadly.

There was a lot of Indian pipe, Monotropa uniflora, in bloom on the island.

The abundent Indian pipe and beech trees got me to wondering if there were beech drops, Epifagus virginiana, on the island. Moments later, I found this. I'm not entirely sure it is beech drops, but if it isn't, then it must be another odd non-photosynthesizing plant. Beech drops are paracitic on beech trees. I have only seen them once before, at the Garden in the Woods.

I don't know what this tiny plant is, but I am smitten by those wee round leaves!

[update] This is most likely partridge berry, Mitchella repens, native to both Maine and Massachusetts.

I don't know what these are, either. They looked like some sort of tree seedling, but they were growing everywhere under the tree canopy, and they always topped out at about two feet. Each one has exactly three branches, each branch bearing five leaves.

[update] This is wild sarsaparilla, Aralia nudicaulis, also native to both Maine and here. This is what real rootbeer is made from.

One more unidentified plant. This grows along the roadsides in sunny areas.

[update] This is steeplebush, Spirea tomentosa, yet another native! I'm just giddy that these are all potentially plants that I could grow in my own yard.

Someday I will grow this in my own yard. It is sweetfern, Comptonia peregrina, a common native plant in Massachusetts.

I think I have identified this correctly as Indian cucumber root, Medeola virginiana, but if it is, then the second tier of leaves must fall off in this stage of its reproduction. Indian cucumber root has an edible root that tastes like cucumber, but it would take dozens to make even a small snack. I have been led to believe that this is a rare plant in most of the country, but it grows all over Frye Island.

I carefully dug a few from my great aunt's lawn to take home with me. I didn't taste one, however. I would be uncomfortable eating a rare plant that was collected from the wild. Also, strange plants are off the menu while I'm nursing.

[update] Boy was I wrong! This is Trientalis borealis, starflower. Yet another native that I've never seen in my area.

I had been told there were orchids growing on the island, but I wasn't expecting to come across one in the ditch right at the side of the road! I walked right by it and almost didn't see it, right there in front of my aunt's property.

I'm concerned for this plant growing so close to the road, and there is some construction due to happen along the road soon. My aunt knows some people who do plant rescues, so I suggested that she give them a call.

What a treat to see a native orchid in bloom! At least, I think it is native. I haven't been able to identify it so far.

[edit] It looks like this one isn't native after all.

It sounds like the Frye Island community is generally more aware and proctective of their native plants than a typical community. This next one really blew me away:

This is noddong pogonia, Triphora trianthrophora. Had I known how rare it was while taking my photos, I would have tread more softly. Only two colonies are known to exist in all of Canada, and a few dozen colonies can be found in New York. It was thought to be extinct in Connecticut until a colony was recently discovered. I don't know what it's status is in Massachusetts or elsewhere.

Identifying this plant is difficult, because it flowers so briefly. The buds above will likely open for just one day. I suspect that since itspends so much time underground, and grows in deep shade, that it has some sort of paracitic or symbiotic relationship either with beech trees or with a fungus. In fact, the Indian pipe and the beech trees pictured above was growing in the same yard. There was a lot of leaf duff there in the deep shade of the beech grove, and very little undergrowth.

This colony sprawls across the yard of a family friend, who invited me over to see when she heard that I was a plant nut. She is bemused by all of the botanists and photographers who came to visit when word spread that this plant grew on her property. By her own account, she isn't interested in "raking, or anything like that", which makes her potentially the perfect caretaker of these flowers. There are other homeowners on the island who have gardened heavily, or who have scraped off all leaf littler and brush, effectively making a moonscape of their property. (Fortunately, these compulsive yard-cleaners seem to be a minority on Frye island.)

While I didn't get to see the nodding pogonia in bloom, I am absolutely thrilled for the chance to have to have seen it growing. This is the grown-up plant-geek equivalent of having seen a unicorn.

Family on Frye Island

Vacation time! Chris, Gabe, and I went up to Maine with my parents to visit my great aunt and her husband. They live on Frye Island, which is in a lake. Getting to the island requires a trip on a very small ferry. The area is chock full of the sort of lakeside summer camps that until now I thought only existed on television. The seasonal island community closes its shutters and moves out every winter. This - wowzer! - is their house.

Here is a view from the house of Aunt Nancy by one of their boats.

Fry Island is named after some fellow who supposedly jumped from this rock and swam to the island to escape from some angry Indians. Although it is illegal to jump from the rock, people obviously still do. (We watched the girl in the photo leap from the lower level. You would have to pay me quite a lot to do that.)

Here are four - four! - generations of my family picking blueberries and cleaning up beer cans. The cloths that folks are holding are for swatting mosquitoes. From the left: Uncle Phil, Dad and baby Gabe, Mom, Aunt Nancy, and myself. Since Chris was behind the camera, here he is in another photo:

We will be doing a few more posts shortly about Frye Island's fascinating plants. Stay tuned!