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! 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Make that 25...

A caterpillar bouquet, parsley, dill, and fennel flowers
   Sunday morning I was out in the front yard watering when I just happened to relax my focus long enough to spot a Black Swallowtail caterpillar on the fennel. My eyes quickly started jumping around for more and I eventually counted eight. Later that day I went back out and counted nine, then ten the next morning. That makes a total of 25! How could I have missed them? Ever since I got the caterpillars on my parsley I've been checking the fennel too, but somehow I missed. It just goes to show you that there's so much going on out there in the garden under your nose that you don't even realize! When I found them I had absolutely no room in the terrarium, the first batch of caterpillars were so large and eating so much so quickly, I could barely keep them fed and the terrarium clean. (BTW, these caterpillars poop a lot, especially the bigger they get, and vomit occasionally, who knew? It's important to keep their environment clean.) As the originals have begun pupating, there's now room to add the ones from the fennel. I've also had to supplement their feeding with store-bought herbs, luckily I can buy big bunches of organic parsley and dill from The Fresh Market. I hate dill, but they love it. You know the old saying, don't count your butterflies before they hatch...

Mmmm dill, chomp chomp chomp...

Here's one in the pre-pupating stage, you can see the thread of silk it's attached itself to the stick with.

They really seem to like this stick, there's five on it, all lined up in a row. Maybe they're communal pupaters?

Their chrysalis resembles a stumpy twig, pretty good camouflage, don't you think?

Speaking of caterpillars, this week I also found this fella outside on the salvia guaranitica. He's NOT coming inside. This Saddleback caterpillar is known for having the most potent sting of all the stinging caterpillars. I should know, I got stung!

If you see one, don't touch it! I'd say it's similar to a Yellow Jacket sting.

The cold front that passed through the east coast earlier this week brought the Monarchs with it on their way to Mexico, they are EVERYWHERE! The sky is absolutely full of them-so cool!

Monday, September 17, 2012

A visit to the Monticello Heritage Harvest Festival

Ol' T.J.'s house proper

   Yesterday, Jeff and I headed up the road to Charlottesville, Va for a rare chance to rub elbows with like minded people at the 6th annual Monticello Heritage Harvest Festival. Thomas Jefferson's legacy in food, wine, and gardening provided the backdrop for this celebration, hosted by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. There were lectures, workshops, tours, vendors, and exhibitions of everything from heirloom vegetables, cheese making, bee keeping, native plant gardening, composting, seed saving, farm animals, medicinal herbs, and on and on. Frankly, it was way to much to see and do in one day, especially with many of the lectures we were interested in overlapping each other, but we did manage to have a great time and by the time we got home, our heads were spinning with information overload. It was an extravaganza for anyone who considers themselves a gardener, locavore, wanna-be farmer, or just environmentally conscious. It was hard to remember to take pictures, but here's a few to get you interested at least in checking it out for yourself in person next year, we'll be there!

One of the tasting tents, heirloom vegetables, fruits, wine, and cheese. Yes, they were pouring wine at 10:00 am! Gotta love Charlottesville!

Here were the Master Gardeners, Central Va Tree Stewards, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, (all awesome folks!) and some others which I forget...

Look at the girth on that tree, a willow oak I think. If you're a lover a trees, Monticello is worth a visit for them alone.

It was a great opportunity to taste some veggies before deciding what to plant next year and discover new favorites.

No festival around here would be complete without old timey music.

As I'm sure you all know, chickens are all the rage now, and there was all kinds of information for everyone from beginner to advanced. I have to admit, they are awfully tempting, maybe someday...

I wanted to pet her, but this girl was either shy or stubborn, or both. Milk cows have such sweet eyes.

One of my main goals was learning a little about bee-keeping, since I think I might like to have a hive or two someday. Unfortunately the one lecture on bee-keeping that we attended, given by the head bee-keeper at Monticello, was more geared towards the typical bee-keeper who treats the bees like a commodity. I'm more interested in biodynamic/holistic bee-keeping, and was pleased to find these fine folks also at the festival from Ted's Last Stand Farm in Louisa County. I wish they had given the lecture instead, since their philosophies are more in line with ours.

Although it's the end of summer and things tended to look a bit crispy around the edges, the vegetable gardens were spectacular.  Thomas Jefferson is widely known as America's first "foodie".

More of the vegetable terraces, which sit above the orchards on a south facing slope.

Looking down towards the orchards and berry garden.

Although the veggie tasting tent was nice, by far the best thing I ate was a donut (actually two) from Carpe Donut. life changing donut, fried fresh, rolled in cinnamon sugar. Truly a life altering experience.

Pure heaven, seriously worth a trip to Charlottesville just for this, and I'm not kidding. Drive up, load up on donuts, then head over to Monticello for a walkabout tour, they're open year 'round.

On our way to one of the lectures, we passed the cemetary that contained Thomas Jefferson's grave and others, presumably important people. We had no idea Jeff (my husband) already had a plot waiting for him!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

They grow up so fast...

This one has exposed his orange osmeterium on top of his head as a warning since I was invading his personal space.

The bigger they get, the more they eat, of course, so I'm replenishing their parsley a couple of times per day.

From the biggest ones, from the first batch... the smallest one from the second batch, I currently have 16 caterpillars inside.

My set-up, a small reptile terrarium on a glass shelf in the sunroom. The black sprinkles on the bottom of the terrarium are poop! I'm gonna need to get another terrarium, since I'll need to add some sticks for them to wander about on as they look for a place to build their chrysalis and pupate.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Behold The Power of Parsley!

Notice how she's curling her butt up to affix an egg to the parsley leaf.
Black Swallowtail butterfly #2 stopped by a few nights ago and laid another half-dozen or so eggs on the parsley. Yippee! She was gorgeous! I already have seven caterpillars in my sunroom, pretty soon I may need another terrarium. I'm definitely gonna need more parsley...

She alternated between having a snack...

...then laying another egg...

...then snack, lay egg, snack, lay egg...

By the way, here's one of the caterpillars, this one's the biggest at around 1 cm long.