Thursday in the Naturehood

First sign of Fall

First sign of Fall

Spiders are particularly crucial in organic gardening, because we rely on “biological” pest control.   I was reading were 25 million tons of spiders consume over 800 million tons of insects every year!  I wonder what algorithm was used to determine that fun fact!  Nevertheless, if it weren’t for spiders (and birds, of course ) all of our crops would be consumed by pests. 

Each fall, we are particularly aware of the presence of orb spiders as they weave their magnificent webs in conspicuous spots ( like the front entrance of the church!)  Unfortunately, I have a tendency of walking straight into them and getting a face full of sticky silk strands! Nevertheless, I am happy to know they're around.  One spotted orb weaver like the one pictured above means 2,000 less insects eating our plants each year.  They more than earn their pay!! 

September 19

Tuesday Treasure

Newly hatched Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

Newly hatched Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

One of the early signs of fall is the appearance of Black Swallowtail caterpillars on our carrot tops.  Just as the Monarch favors milkweed, the Black Swallowtail prefers to lay her eggs on carrot tops, sometimes dill, celery. or Queen Anne's Lace.  There are years when our carrot tops are heavy- laden with Black Swallowtail caterpillars.  So, we've been concerned that none have been spotted so far.  Well, the wait is over.   While inspecting the carrot crop today,  a little speck was observed.  Upon closer examination, it was indeed our first Black Swallowtail larva!!   This tiny guy will grow and grow into a right jolly ( and more colorful )old elf before spinning a chrysalis and settling in for a long winter's nap.  By springtime,  he (or she) will be flitting the light fantastic.

Thursday in the Naturehood

American Goldfinch

Goldfinch snacking on Echinacea

Goldfinch snacking on Echinacea

This handsome dude will soon molt his fancy “mating” garb and grow a much denser set of olive-colored feathers that will get him through the winter.  Even his legs, feet and bill will change colors.  We attract a number of finches to the pollinator garden because they feed exclusively on seeds – particularly thistles which we have in abundance. Although, this year they flit back and forth in order to binge on our sunflower in the Teaching Garden.  (They are one of the few species that can eat upside down!!)  Goldfinches roost in nearby coniferous trees.  Although once the snow flies, these adept little birds will stay warm by burrowing under the snow to form snug igloos. 

September 12

Tuesday Treasures

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“We have pumpkin at morning and pumpkin at noon.  If it were not for pumpkin, we should be undoon.”            Pilgrim verse, circa 1633

Indigenous Americans introduced pumpkins to the early settlers.  These fruits quickly became a vital food source, because they store well through the winter months.  Pumpkin strips were often roasted over open fires.  Its sweet flesh was also baked, parched, boiled and dried.  Seeds were used as a medicine.  Dried pumpkin was often stored and ground into flour.  Shells were dried and used as bowls and storage containers.   As a special treat, the tops of pumpkins were often cut off.  When all the seeds and guts were removed, the inside was filled with cream, honey eggs and spices …then carefully buried in the hot ashes of a cooking fire.  The result was delicious custard.  Someone would eventually get the bright idea of baking the concoction in a pastry shell with perfectly fluted crusts and, then, top it with whipped cream!!

Oh … pumpkin shells were also used as a template for haircuts to ensure a uniform finished cut.  That’s why we New Englanders are known as, “pumpkinheads.”

Thursday in the Naturehood

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One of the "downsides" of gardening with nature, is that occasionally we're called upon to referee a playground tussle.  Usually a white breasted sparrow and downy woodpecker will co-exist quite amicably.  These non-migratory birds don't compete for the same food sources.  Problems only occur when fledglings haven't been properly introduced and want to sit on the same branch.

September 5

Tuesday Treasures

Eastern Amberwing Dragonfly

Eastern Amberwing Dragonfly

"I am the dragonfly rising on the wings of unlocked dreams on the verge of magical things."  Aimee Stewart

The presence of dragonflies in our Teaching Garden is an indication of a healthy ecosystem.  Their presence reflects environmental quality because they need the clean water of nearby streams and ponds, as well as indigenous foliage in order to thrive.   The absence of dragonflies would indicate that pesticides and chemical fertilizers are contaminating the local environment. 

We need dragonflies for our own well-being!!   They feed on mosquitoes and their larvae.  And no, be assured that even though that protruding abdomen may look like a "stinger" -  dragonflies won't harm you in the least. 

 

Thursday in the Naturehood

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The joys of gardening “with” nature are the unexpected serendipities - like this cardinal fledgling venturing beyond the safety of the hedgerow.  Because cardinals are territorial, we can assume that it’s "Dad” - who has been regularly visiting the Teaching Garden for berries and other assorted delicacies to take home to the family and we can consider the brave youngster as one of our own. Cardinal fledglings all look the same.  By winter, they will develop the more distinguishing gender plumage.  The breeding season ends by September, so this visit marks the last of summer's broods.

August 29

Tuesday Treasures

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"Sun Medicine"

There are over 125 species of goldenrod throughout the world, with fifty varieties calling New England home.  Its familiar tall wands and plumes will soon dominate nearby fields and roadsides.  And, as competition from late summer flowers begins to fade, goldenrod will have no difficulty flagging down hungry bees.  In fact, goldenrod is considered one of the more important “bee” plants...which is why we introduced it to the Teaching Garden this year.

Indigenous populations referred to the plant as “Sun Medicine,” because of its medicinal properties. Through the years, goldenrod has been used to calm stomachs, curtail nausea, cure wounds and treat bronchitis and even tuberculosis.  When swallowed, its nectar relieves sore throats.  If you have a tooth ache ... try chewing a poultice of its roots.

It is said that golden rod would be enjoying the status of America’s “national flower,” if it were not for the fact that we blame it for our annoying bouts of annual hay-fever.  But that’s actually a bum rap, because the true culprit is the ragweed growing nearby.

August 28

Monday Garden Walk

Thursday in the Naturehood

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We are on full chrysalis alert in the pollinator garden.  Four monarch butterfly caterpillars were hatched on our milkweed ... but no chrysalis has been found.  All eyes are on the movement of this last hungry caterpillar (who devoured the leaf pictured within an hour.)  Caterpillars often journey as much as 30 feet to form a chrysalis.  Entomologists speculate that they leave their host plants to protect themselves from predators - so there is a good possibility that this one will soon disappear, as well.  In the meantime, we're canvassing the naturehood to find the three pupae varying forms of transformation.  Stay tuned.

 

Tuesday Treasures

August 22

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Who Is Black-Eyed Susan?

Have you ever wondered how the most beloved wildflower got its name?  Who was this infamous black-eyed Susan?  Well, of course, it’s a legend – dating back to the 17th century, immortalized by the poet John Gay.   “All in the downs, the fleet was moored, banners waving in the wind… when black-eyed Susan came aboard, and eyed the burly men…  ‘Tell me ye sailors, tell me true… does my sweet William sail with you?’ ”   Apparently, sailor Bill bid the distraught lass a fond farewell, with his promise to remain “safe and true” while on the high seas.  But alas, the lass still waits, her eye(s) blackened with tears.

Because Susan is a North American native,  English colonists, no doubt, gave this golden beauty its name when they arrived in the New World.  If you seed Black-eyed Susan (Rudbekia hirta) with Sweet William ( Dianthus barbaus) they will bloom beautifully for you at exactly the same time!!

 

 

August 21

Monday Garden Walk

Thursday in the Naturehood

Which is the good bug and the bad bug?

Which is the good bug and the bad bug?

As a naturalist, it is difficult for me to make distinctions between good bugs and bad bugs.  Each living thing plays an integral part in the ecosystem.  I know that without Tomato hornworms, we would not have Mottled Brown Moths that help pollinate our plants.  And yet, hornworms are voracious eaters that wreak havoc in our tomato beds.  Interesting that nature has a way of keeping things in balance.  Wasp larvae feed on hornworms and keep the population under control.  So, best to keep the wasps around and let nature run her course!!  Well, you may wantto remove the infected hornworms, anyway.  They continue to devour tomatoes for several days before they are subdued.

August 15

Tuesday Treasures

August Kaleidoscope includes yellow squash, cucumbers, tomatoes. bush and pole beans, cherry tomatoes, pears and a sunflower.  Just a few of the fruits and vegetables that were donated to Neighbor to Neighbor food bank this week.

August Kaleidoscope includes yellow squash, cucumbers, tomatoes. bush and pole beans, cherry tomatoes, pears and a sunflower.  Just a few of the fruits and vegetables that were donated to Neighbor to Neighbor food bank this week.

August 14

Monday Garden Walk

Thursday in the Naturehood

Gastropod

Gastropod

Slimed!!

Like mosquitoes and cockroaches, it’s often difficult to determine why slugs are a part of the created order – except to wreak unrelenting carnage in our vegetable gardens.  Actually these slimy little creatures perform the vital, yet thankless, role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.  

They are an important part of the food chain, providing food for snakes, salamanders, toads, frogs, moles, shrews, porcupines, foxes, raccoons, beetles and various birds, such as owls, robins, blackbirds, thrushes, jays and crows. 

As we already know, they are voracious eaters!!  Their environmental assignment is to break down organic matter, which is essential for recycling nutrients, such as nitrogen, which enrich the soil.  Not only do slugs clear an area of decaying matter, they also help spread seeds that are present in the vegetation.  Unfortunately, they do not have a proper brain.  Their knots of nerve cells can identify vegetation, but they are not able to discern whether they’re in a forest or a vegetable garden. 

August 8

Sunflower

Sunflower

Tuesday Treasure

The golden-rayed Sunflower is an iconic symbol of later summer.    It is believed to be native to western North America.  Many Aztec artifacts depict sunflowers and it is the national flower of Peru.  Sunflower seeds have a high food value, containing vitamins A and B, calcium, phosphorus and other minerals.  Not only are seeds used in our own food preparation, they have been used to feed livestock.  Early settlers quickly saw the plant’s value and sent it back to Europe, where it became widely popular.  John Gerard, an herbalist in the 17th century who experimented extensively with botanical treasures from the New World wrote, “We have found by triall  that the buds before they be flowered, boiled and eaten with butter, vinegar and pepper after the manner of artichokes, an exceedingly pleasant meet, surpassing the artichoke far in procuring bodily lust.”  Linguists are still endeavoring to decipher the meaning of those comments.

August 7

Monday Morning Garden Walk

Thursday in the Naturehood

Painted Lady Butterfly

Painted Lady Butterfly

All butterflies are cold blooded.  In order to fly, their body temperature must reach 86 degrees (F).  The heat-retaining rocks in our pollinator garden give them a place to bask and warm up for the day.  This Painted Lady seems attracted to the smell of our chocolate mint as she taxis for take off to the nectar plants nearby.