Tangled Branches: Cultivated
happenings in and around my zone 6b gardens in northern Virginia and in central Virginia
Thursday, August 31, 2006
Can this really be the last day of August? Summer gets shorter every year.
This is going to be an end-of-the-month catchall post. Today was the day the home renovations were supposed to be completed. They're not. Hope he gets the last of the windows put in before the big rainstorm.
The big rainstorm. Here we go again? Drought-deluge-drought-deluge. The National Weather Service is issuing dire predictions, but the guys at capitalweather.com are more circumspect. Well, we need the rain....
Some plants just amaze me. The beds in front of the house were really neglected by me this year. I sporadically tended to the woody (expen$ive) plants in back of the house, but basically just let the front go. Too much trouble to maneuver around tools and materials, and the weather was hot, and I just didn't feel like it. So imagine my surprise when I noticed a bright red volunteer Salvia coccinea beginning to bloom in what is possibly the very worst bit of the property. I mean, the very worst. This is just to one side of the driveway, in the hellstrip between the sidewalk and the street. The soil is heavy clay. In the summer it might as well be brick. Any mulch that was applied in the spring has long since been scattered by wild critters or dog walkers or construction/delivery vehicles driving over it, etc. On the few occasions when I dragged the sprinkler out into the front lawn, this area was ignored. And behind the volunteer salvia is a Dianthus gratianopolitanus 'Firewitch' that was newly planted this spring and growing contentedly. Amazing.
If you've been reading here for the last six weeks or so, you know of the tomato troubles. Washington Post to the rescue again with the consoling news that it isn't just me. There's been plenty of tomato disappointment to go around this year. My latest particular hassle is with tomato fruitworms, which are apparently just corn earworms in search of novelty. I tossed several more tomatoes onto the compost pile after seeing the little creatures poke their heads out as if they were in apples in a cartoon. You may have the idea that we haven't eaten a single tomato from the garden, so let me correct that impression. We haven't had many, but the few we harvested were delicious. My current favorite is Black Russian. Mine are more of a dark-red color than black or purple. The flavor is excellent. A perfect balance of sweet-tart against an overall flavor that defines "tomato". Even DH noticed this. I made fast salsa the other day (using a food processor instead of a knife), and he said "this tastes like tomato". (OK, actually he meant that he wanted more chiles in there, but still.) Later today I'm probably going to pick all the ones that are just now ripening so they don't crack when the big rainstorm hits. That's been another problem - slow ripening. I think I'm delusional about how much sun they get - it's probably not enough. I'm still waiting for Kellogg's Breakfast and Striped Roman. Striped Roman was my last year's favorite.
The butterfly show continues. There's about fifty million skippers, and I still don't know most of their names. Maybe next year. I photographed a Great Spangled Fritillary lunching on a Buddleia, but I only got one shot before it flew away. Around noon today, I found a Snowberry Clearwing Moth motionless on an Autumn Joy Sedum. I got several pictures of this one - I've never seen one so still before. I nudged it after I took its picture, just to see if it was still alive. It flew away, so the answer was yes.
The birds know that autumn is coming. Around 7:30 this morning, the trees in back of the house were alive with migrant birds. I didn't have the field guide handy, but I know there were warblers and flycatchers. I thought I saw a yellow-bellied sapsucker, but couldn't be sure. The tourists mingled with some locals (cardinals, wrens, etc) and then moved on.
Speaking of moving on, this turned out way longer than I planned, so I think I'll go make a cup of tea and check the weather radar.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
A new addition to the butterfly list for the backyard: White M Hairstreak. It's not hard to see where the name comes from, when you get the right perspective. We were out of town over the weekend and I just happened to see this butterfly when we returned Sunday afternoon. After looking it up in Butterflies through Binoculars, I was under the impression that it was somewhat rare in northern Virginia, but butterfliesandmoths.org reports it in several counties, including Fairfax. I noticed the blue upperside of the wings as it fluttered around, but all I could photograph was some of the iridescent blue on its body.
It's feeding on a Calamintha nepetoides which appears to be magnet for all kinds of nectar-sipping insects. There is, as usual, taxonomic confusion on the Calamintha. It was sold to me as Calamintha nepetoides, so that's what I'm calling it. The is the second year I've had this plant and I love the airy, feathery, filler effect of the teeny tiny flowers. And closeup, they're really very pretty. It's said to be something of a weedy self-seeder, but so far I've had no trouble with it. It's also said to have fragrant leaves, but mine haven't gotten the word on this yet.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Poor Poor Pitiful Me
I woke up this morning feeling monumentally cranky about our renovation project. Why, oh why, is this taking so long? So I made a cup of tea and brought in the newspapers in and sat down to read. Saved the Washington Post Home section for last, but I should have started there. I felt much better about our experience after reading about this one. That poor woman! We could have it so much worse.
PS. Saw a squirrel steal another tomato yesterday evening. They're very bold about it. Oh, and I picked off another hornworm too.
On the other hand, we've been having some very nice weather for late summer, even if a bit too dry. Good weather for carpenters, less good for plants. And there's a chance of thunderstorms this afternoon, although I'm doubtful as there is hardly a cloud in the sky at present.
I've had some nice butterflies flit through the yard in the last few weeks, including a Red Admiral and a Monarch. The Red Admiral was a first, or at least the first since I've been paying attention. Monarchs only visit here occasionally, despite my having planted Asclepias tuberosa many years ago. I suspect the caterpillars don't really feed on A. tuberosa, even though I've read they do (see this page for a couple of links). We have some Asclepias syriaca in open areas nearby, but maybe not close enough. There was a Black Swallowtail on the Verbena bonariensis a week or so ago, but my photographs turned out verrrrry out-of-focus. So bad that I won't even post them (here are some much better ones). This Red-spotted Purple is a bit unfocused, which is too bad because it was a nice fresh one.
And the hummingbirds are still hanging around, but seem much more interested in the feeder than in the flowers. Not having enough things to fret about, I worry that we're creating junk-food-addicted hummingbirds. This page reassures me.
Monday, August 21, 2006
Is There a Tomato in That Tree?
When last I wrote, I was headed to the farmers' market to buy tomatoes. When I returned from the market, there was a half-eaten tomato on the neighbors' fence. The squirrels must have had their fill, but they came back for it before I could get a photo.
Yesterday morning, there was another half-eaten tomato on the fence. I took a picture of this one. Then I left it there to see what would happen. Late in the afternoon, the squirrels were back and the tomato had disappeared. There were 2 squirrels this time, chasing each other and generally acting squirrely. I wasn't paying that much attention. Then a flash of red caught my eye as it was moving up the trunk of a tree. A squirrel had one of the ripest, nicest tomatoes of the lot and was carrying it to some pleasant picnic spot. Squirrel 'A' just settled down to enjoy its dinner, when Squirrel 'B' thought 'A' should share. The tomato fell from the tree during the discussion and that was that.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Busted! Tomato Thief Caught!
So it was a squirrel. This may not explain all the tomato disappearances, but I know what happened to at least two of them. By chance, I was looking out the kitchen window this morning and noticed a squirrel running along the neighbors' fence. Not unusual. But the entire green tomato it was carrying in its mouth caught my attention. I didn't watch long enough to see where it went. Shortly thereafter, I saw the (same?) critter in the neighbors' backyard with a different, riper tomato. It appeared to be thinking of burying the treasure, but then changed its mind and took it somewhere toward the back of the lot, where I lost sight of it. It was just coming back for another heist when the carpenter showed up, who happens to be working on the tomato side of the house. I'm hoping that will stop the thievery for the rest of today.
Off to the farmers' market again, with tomatoes on my list.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
After the discussion about Bob Flowerdew, I ordered a copy of Bob Flowerdew's Complete Book of Companion Gardening on alibris. Just finished it last week, and I'm wondering what I thought of it. Maybe if I try to explain it to others I can figure it out for myself. Let's examine the thing in detail.
- Physical characteristics. I got the trade paperback version. It's approximately 9" x 10.5"; thick good-quality paper; pictures on nearly every page - many full-page; good amount of white space; 176 pages.
- Organization. Foreward, Introduction, 7 Chapters, USDA Zone map, Useful Addresses, Bibliography, Index.
- Overall impression. Good compromise between coffee table book and reading book. Well-written by a learned author who had some difficulty with the topic.
And here's the thing that had me puzzled. It seemed to me as if this were written to satisfy the publisher's request for a book on "companion gardening". Or maybe Mr. Flowerdew started out with the topic in mind and then found he didn't have enough material for 176 pages. After spending the first 147 pages trying to flesh out the topic, the last chapter begins thusly:
As I have stressed throughout this book, companion planting is a weak effect easily outweighed by factors that have a more immediate impact.
Huh? Then why write a book about it?
But that said, I found Mr. Flowerdew himself to be a knowledgeable, pleasant and helpful companion. I'll try another book - maybe the one suggested by Kati in a comment, No Work Garden: Getting the Most Out of Your Garden for the Least Amount of Work
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Lammas, Lughnasadh, Risshuu
Is the beginning of August the beginning of autumn? It must be - traditional calendars in both northern Europe and northern Asia think so. I've always been fascinated by the cycles of the year as described by calendars, festivals, almanacs, books-of-days, etc., but they all seem so rooted to a vanished way of life. Our current position in the suburban seasonal cycle is Back-to-School-Sale, soon to be followed by He's-on-Vacation-So-It-Will-Have-to-Wait, followed by Labor-Day-Weekend, followed by....well, you get the idea. It reminds me of a Max Headroom episode where they were celebrating the ancient festival known as Sky Clearance, when all the space junk rains down on Earth.
More naturally, it's butterfly and hummingbird season here in the garden. Various swallowtails and a monarch were visiting on Sunday, but I didn't have the camera out. A hummingbird moth came by later; I did have the camera with me, but the battery died just after I snapped a couple of blurry pictures. The real hummingbirds are out there too , but I despair of ever photographing one. They seem to be liking the Salvia guaranitica especially this year. Saturday, I got a few photos of some skippers and a cabbage white <...yawn...>.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
These Tomatoes and Those Tomatoes
Want to see some really nice tomatoes? Click here. Want to see mine? Click here.
This time it's birds AND hornworms.
But I'm so very grateful that I live in a time and place where this is a disappointment, not a disaster, and I CAN go to the farmer's market and buy tomatoes just as good (or better) than what I can grow.
The local farmer's markets are just overflowing with wonderful fruits and vegetables now, including some things I've never seen before. Why didn't I know about donut peaches until yesterday? I was skeptical, but bought them anyway. And you know what? They're great! I haven't liked the white peaches I've tried in the past, but these are very sweet and fragrant. I plan to cut them up and serve them with ice cream and honey, but that's only if I don't eat them all first.
I don't often laugh out loud at the gardening columns in the newspaper, but I did today. Barbara Damrosch's column in the WaPo was all about how to do an emergency clean-up on your garden. Company's coming - what will people think?!? That sort of clean-up. Thank heaven I'm not expecting visitors.