Thursday, December 6, 2012

Foggy Morning Sunrise Rant

From the edge of our backyard, looking down the hill along the golf course.

   I'm not too keen on 60 degree days in December, which seems to be the norm for the second year in a row, although they do give us these pretty scenes in our backyard in the mornings. People look at me like I have two heads or something when I answer "No, it's not beginning to feel a lot like Christmas because it's too damn warm!". This is just wrong. When I was a kid, which wasn't really that long ago, it used to snow in December quite regularly. I can't even remember exactly the last time it did snow in December. Honestly, I don't even like snow all that much. The first day it's fun but after that it's just dirty, grey, and inconvenient. But we need snow, it's supposed to snow here at least occasionally.  But don't worry, climate change isn't real.   ;-)                         

Further around the corner, towards the tee box and green.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Garden as Muse: Part 1

   The inevitable feelings of dreariness, aka winter, began to sink in sometime last week. Not that it's been particularly cold, which it hasn't, but I really miss color, creation, the constant evolving. Everything outside is various shades of brown, tan, and grey, with just a teeny bit of green poking around. I miss the blues, the purples, the scents of flowers and warm earth, and the sounds of bees buzzing about. I know there's beauty out there to be found, it just requires a little more effort and a warm coat. Trying to find it would also prove a great opportunity to experiment with my new camera toy, as you'll see.

This day's focus was on seedheads. Reminders of what was, containing little promises of what will be.


Wild Bergamot

Short-toothed Mountain Mint

Woodland Goldenrod

Oakleaf Hydrangea

Wild Bergamot

Purple Coneflower

Showy Goldenrod

My front walkway, with Anise Hyssop in the foreground

Thursday, November 22, 2012

No, Thank YOU!

Yeah, I'm still here.

I hope you haven't abandoned me in despair. I realize it's been a long time since I last posted anything, but since the garden has been put to bed for winter, I've been otherwise occupied and lacking any inspiration. Anyhoo, there's just not that much going on out there right now. During the gardening season, I happily spend every day toiling away outside, all the while neglecting projects inside. OK, maybe not neglecting, maybe just postponing until colder weather arrives. Right now we're painting some rooms in the house, re-arranging some furniture, and doing some minor repairs and general redecorating. Not really blog material there. Sometimes we all have some catching up to do, don't we? I plan on working on some photography projects in the near future, some garden related, so you can expect to see a little of that here soon (for better or worse).

Meanwhile, I'd like to THANK EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU DEAR READERS who grant me a few seconds or minutes of your busy day. I'm sincerely grateful that anyone out there finds what I have to share interesting in the least.

Here's a little seasonal inspiration from this week...

Frosted Blueberries 

Catmint and Birch leaves

When the sun rises on a clear morning, for a brief moment the faux prairie looks as if it's on fire. There's a gap in the tall White Pines that allows the light to hit only upon the "prairie" before coming around the corner onto the lawn. The frost on the lawn in the shade increases the contrast in color nicely, I think.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I've Got Good News and Bad News

I'll start with the good news...

Just when we could all use a feel good story, I heard about this on NPR while making breakfast Monday morning (yay! something other than election coverage!). A woman in upstate New York found a Monarch that pupated way too late, so Southwest Airlines is flying them to San Antonio so she can release the butterfly at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens where it will have flowers to feed on and it can catch up to the migration train. Pretty cool, huh?

You can read about it here.

Now with the bad news...

This only applies to me, so I'm just publicly whining here. My plans to grow veg (and other things) into the winter months have come to a screeching halt. I assumed all I had to do was cover the frames of my raised beds with greenhouse plastic or "special" frost blankets and my salad greens and herbs would be protected from frost and freeze, at least down into the 20's. Well they're not, neither material worked. I really thought I had done a good job, sealing everything tight, but even though it only got down to 31 last night, everything is frozen solid inside, including the Basil seedlings I just planted out (grrrr!), dead after the first night! I'm so sad, I had such grand plans of leafy green salads well into December, but alas...Apparently even folks with proper greenhouses have to provide some kind of heat source to get through a cold night. So now the grandiose plan of having a real greenhouse built means I have to have space heaters too? What's the point then? I thought the greenhouse itself was insulation enough. Call me foolish...

Did. not. work.  :-(

If the lettuces come back to life, it'll be a miracle, and you better believe I'll be picking what's left and bringing it inside. You can't tell, but they are frozen solid.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Two Things Worth Mentioning


   There might be a new plate available for pollinator conservationists here in Virginia if the DMV receives 450 applications to complete the approval process. The developer, Samantha Gallagher has set up an information page with links to the application here, please consider showing your support and promoting pollinator conservation in our state. The deadline is December, and they're barely halfway there, so don't dilly dally and please tell your friends!

Item #2: It's almost time for Project Feederwatch!

   The 26th season of Project Feederwatch begins on Saturday, November 10. Participating is a great way of slowing down to observe and appreciate the birds outside your window, or think of it as a game by trying to increase the species and individuals you see over the course of the winter by adding extra food and water sources to your viewing area. Participation is flexible, you can count every weekend or maybe just once a month, all data is valuable. Check out their website to see if you might be interested!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Black Swallowtail Update

   Well, it looks like we're in it for the long haul, these chrysalises will be spending a long winter with us. I thought they would have emerged by now, and since they haven't, that means they were planning on hibernating from the start since they have to make a type of antifreeze to keep them from perishing out in the frozen winter months. Also, supposedly they make brown chrysalises in the winter and green chrysalises in the summer to blend better with their surroundings, although I can't confirm it since I've never seen one in the summer. I've moved them and their terrarium from the sunroom where it's likely too warm, to out in the garage where they'll be quite cold but protected.
   If any of you readers out there have overwintered Black Swallowtails before, please share your experience, good or bad.

I have two sets of pairs-where one chrysalis is attached to another. Ironically the last caterpillar to form a chrysalis attached itself to the first caterpillar to form one.

A few attached themselves to the terrarium itself. Note the silken stirrup it made to hang from.

Can you believe there's a butterfly in there? And I won't get to see if it emerges happily until maybe six months from now!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Some Recent Visitors

   I feel bad for not posting as often as I like, but it's been slim pickins lately. I've been trying to keep my mind open, looking for inspiration everywhere I go, but even when I found it, taking pictures has been frustrating due to it being really windy around here this week. Wind + photography = crap photography.
   Just when I thought nothing was going on, we had a series of warm days and moderately calmer winds that seemed to liven everyone up a bit...

A Painted Lady enjoying some Buddleia nectar. I'm trying out a new type of Butterfly Bush that's supposed to be non-invasive. I really would like to be able to have some Butterfly bushes in the yard without the guilt because there's no denying how attractive they are to so many insects. It's the only plant I see migrating Monarchs stop for around here.

It seems like the bees sleep on the plant at night or when temps drop, then wake up to feed, then go back to sleep. They never seem to leave this plant! I don't blame them, not much else is blooming now except for some scrubby asters.
This butterfly would warm itself up on the driveway, then fly over to the Buddleia (which was still in the shade) and have have a few sips of nectar, then repeat. I've really been seeing a lot of Painted Ladys lately, especially on the Buddleia.

Some sort of Crane fly, I remember seeing gobs of them back in the summer at night feeding on the Joe-Pye.

Another Bumblebee, sucking up that nectar.

An unusual visitor for us, an Osprey hung out for a while along the river Sunday morning, probably migrating.

I can tell it's a juvenile because it has orange eyes. Look at that beak and those talons! No doubt this fella can rip up some flesh.

They may be common as dirt for some folks, but for me seeing this bird was a super awesome treat. So big, so powerful, so bad-ass.

Jeff had few special sightings too, one being this Walking Stick or Stick Bug.

We don't see many since their camouflage is so good, this one was still hanging around the next day and I was able to see it in person.

This one was a first for both of us. We didn't know what it was, it looked like a cross between a mantis and a lacewing.

Little did we know, there actually is an insect called a Mantis Lacewing!

Monday, October 15, 2012


(Image courtesy of Harper Collins)
   Today is the 60th anniversary of the publishing of Charlotte's Web, an iconic book of American literature inspired by a real spider in E. B. White's barn.

   I wasn't what you would call a book nerd as a kid, but I had a few active reading spurts growing up. One of the earliest and most influential books I can remember from my childhood has to be Charlotte's Web by E. B. White. I often imagined that was me on the cover, it does sorta look like me, and I wished my name was Fern. I have no doubt this book helped shape the person I was to become, fostering a connection to the natural world that still burns inside of me today. In case you've never read it, I won't spoil it and tell you what it's about (animals, nature, life, friendship...), just ignore the fact it's considered a children's book and give it a read. Even if you read it as a child, how about a re-read, just for old times sake. I bet you'll be surprised how much you enjoy it. I get choked up just reading the Wiki description of the plot, and plan on re-reading the book myself, followed by a book called The Story of Charlotte's Web: E. B. White's Eccentric Life in Nature by Michael Sims. Perhaps Charlotte is the reason I still have an affection and respect for spiders, especially writing spiders (Argiopes).

   For all of you Charlotte's Web fans (and future fans), click here for a wonderful interview with the author Michael Sims about his book The Story of Charlotte's Web on NPR that aired last year, and click here for an audio review of his book, also from NPR.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Salad, anyone?

   I would be remiss without giving a big "thank you" to my dad and my husband. This year I've begun expanding my repertoire from native plant/wildlife gardening to also include veggie and fruit gardening. Dad recently built me four (virtually) furniture grade cedar raised bed frames for me to grow veggies in. Seriously, these things are hardcore! He really should start a side business. Our soil is horrible, rocky, and shallow -and we have bermuda grass, so lined raised beds are really the best option. Jeff filled them with soil and compost, truly a herculean effort. I would still be out there shoveling, or in traction. Little old me just planted seeds and built the protection frames (for deer netting or greenhouse plastic). We have only installed two so far, but we should put the others in soon, maybe this week? I'd like to plant a cover crop crop in the second two, I've never done that before either but it sounds cool. They'll go in behind the first two, making it a square. I've planted lettuces, radishes, and sugar snap peas (I know it's late) so far, since they're easy fall crops. I'm also going to start some new herbs, then cover the frames with greenhouse plastic to see if I can keep them growing after it gets really cold. This is all quite new to me, so I'm really just experimenting now. Any way I can keep growing stuff and "gardening" in to the cooler months is a bonus!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Saturday morning at Roanoke's Historic Farmer's Market

Lookin' down the alley towards Market Street, prolly the last warm day for a while...
   Like many gardeners, I have an affection for vegetables and vegetable gardening and well as flower gardening. I also like to eat good food, support other folks who grow things for a living, and indulge in local culture, so I'm a frequent visitor of the various local farmer's markets in our region. Roanoke, the city I live in, has a particularly nice one located downtown in the same place since the mid 1800's. It has a festival like atmosphere every Saturday, in fact there is usually some sort of actual festival being celebrated almost every weekend. It's great to see such a diverse mix of old-timers and new young farmers, and customers interested in supporting, buying, and eating their goods. I have a dream (a foggy dream) of maybe someday having a stall of my own, perhaps selling native plants, butterfly host plants, or something of the like. Maybe someday...

   Meanwhile, think about visiting your local farmers market, give your dollars to the man or woman who actually planted the seeds and picked those apples with their own hands. Local food is fresher, therefore it tastes better, and gives more money to the hard working people in your community that actually produce it.

Local handmade soaps and skin care products, fresh cut flowers, home-made baked goods, fresh local grass-fed beef...

One of the Guthrie sisters tending to the apples (which are delicious, by the way!). There is a HUGE difference between fresh local apples and those things you get at supermarkets.

More of the Guthrie's selection, they kept us supplied with a steady stream of fresh okra all summer long.

My mom really enjoyed the cantaloupes from Martin Farms in Botetourt County.

Here's Charlie, keepin' it real. His apples are damn good too. Charlie is awesome!

I can't remember his name right now, but this guy from Catawba Valley Bee Farm has the BEST honey. Real nice fellow, too. Always answers all my annoying questions about bee-keeping.

The folks from Riverstone in Floyd always have one of the busiest stalls. They do an amazing job.

Every Saturday there's always some kind of live music being played. This time it was After Jack from nearby Ferrum. They were great, Charlie thought so too. They even played one of my favorites, Cornbread and Butterbeans.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Signs of Fall

Woodland Goldenrod (Solidago caesia) at it's peak
Autumn is officially here, unusually early in this part of the country. In most years summer refuses to let go, often persisting with mid 80's to 90 degree temps well into September, but despite the horrendous heat of June and July, September has been quite cool and comfortable. Autumn usually leaves me feeling melancholy, I can feel summer leaving, ending, the garden is quieter, colors are muted and drab. There's not much to look forward to in winter, unless you love snow (not me) and over-commercialized holidays that have lost their true meanings (also not me). Oh, if I only had a greenhouse...then I could tend to plants year round and retreat to my warm, humid hideaway when the weather is at it's worst. I do plan on growing some veg under hoops/coldframe until it gets too cold, and I can start seeds for next year inside in February, so that will shorten winter somewhat. Oh well, for the time being, there's still a little bit of activity and color out there, here are the highlights.

The honeybees and bumblebees were loading up!

I even saw a few Hairstreaks.

Any plant that attracts that much pollinator action is also going to attract predators.

And not just spiders either, over in the Solidago "Fireworks" this mantis was chomping on an unfortunate bumblebee. 

Autumn also bring the fall migrants through, every morning for the past week our backyard has been full of Palm Warblers looking for breakfast to help fuel their long journey south.

Although you may think they look kinda drab, they're actually quite beautiful. Their telltale ID mark is their yellow spot under their rump and how they pump their tail continuously, moreso than even a Phoebe.

The honeybees had their faces buried in the sedums, this hot pink is an unusual color for a fall blooming plant.

Much more typical, a white aster, Aster pilosus I think.

It can look kinda weedy, but it's native here, super tough, and very much appreciated by the insects.

Many plants have already gone to seed like this White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) signalling the end is near.

Don't be silly, the end of summer not the end of the world!