Labor Day in the Garden

September 2, 2013

It was great to have the day off and to be able to get a few things done around the garden.  I actually got quite a bit of cleaning done this morning and some seeds planted.  What I really enjoy this time of year are the insects and wild life that is everywhere, from spiders to butterflies.  I tried to get a picture of a black swallowtail butterfly, but it was fluttering so quickly I could not get it in focus.  Here are a few little creatures I was able to get shots of….
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At sunset a bee was resting for the night in a gaillardia flower.

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Dragonfly, I think a widow skimmer, on penstemon digitalis – husker red seed head.

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Grasshopper on green bean vines.

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Three pollinators on Agastache.  The bee and the soldier beetle on the right are familiar.  A new one was the long orange looking bug on the left.  It turns our to be a Ailanthus webworm moth.  They are not native, but have migrated north for the summer, as they like the tree of heaven, which is an invasive tree that is common now in our neighborhood.

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Now that it is September a few sedum flowers are turning pink and the soldier beetles are migrating over here and seem to be mating on the flower.  Bees and butterflies like these flowers, too.

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Ant on fennel with pink zinnias.

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Berries on viburnum arrowwood Chicago lustre.  This has been a good year for a lot of berries on the Chicago lustre and raspberry tart viburnum.

Today’s experiment:  On September 2nd I planted nasturtium and pea seeds that I harvested myself.  Are the seeds viable and will they germinate and sprout this late?  I also planted more lettuce, tatsoi, and onions, to keep it coming through the fall.


Fabulous Compost

October 21, 2012

I learned that we are supposed to strive to have 5% of our soil be compost.  In order to do that we can spread about a half-inch of compost over 10 inches deep of soil and that comes pretty close.  My compost has been ready to spread for a while, but I was finally motivated to do it now before starting to make new compost with all the fall leaves.  I needed Dan’s help, too!

First Dan removed the recently collected mulched leaves and organic material from the pile and put it on the sidewalk.  Then he dug out about a foot of rich dark compost and spread it around the garden, after we had cleared it of most of this year’s vegetable plants.  Then we sowed winter rye into the soil to see if we could get a cover crop to germinate this late in the season.  This is the first time I am trying a cover crop.

We wanted to expand our vegetable garden a few feet, so I put down wet newspapers and then we spread mulched leaves over the top to make lasagna mulch.  We took the hose and sprayed water on the leaves and on the winter rye seeds.  I also planted some lettuce and spinach seeds a while ago, but only a few of those have sprouted.

The grasshopper was still alive and watching the action from the kale.  We still have a lot of kale in the garden.  We have an artichoke plant that is still alive along with the rhubarb, herbs, onions and shallots.

pink chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemum ‘fantasy’ is the last mum to bloom in my garden.  The wood is weak and last week I saw branches had broken off the plant, so I brought them inside and they opened up in the warmth.  These mums are starting to bloom outside, too.

I put pineapple sage in a planter this year.  The hummingbirds like these flowers, though they bloomed quite late, so I have not seen hummingbirds on them this year.

Asters with russian sage in the background.  The russian sage and the goldenrod are pretty tired colorwise, but they still have structure and height.

On my birthday I harvested these strawberries, tomato and beans.  I have had a few more strawberries since then.  I brought green tomatoes in a few weeks ago and I had given up on them ripening, but today I see that they are turning yellow.

Backyard Backdrop

October 7, 2012

As fall progresses the garden is starting to wind down.  The temperatures got down near freezing the past two nights so I am not sure how many more vegetables we will harvest.

I found a sunny place to sit to read my book back near the vegetable garden.  The alyssum covers the sidewalk.  The oak tree, off the picture to the right, is starting to create some shade on the grass in the afternoon.  I must have been sitting on the running path of the chipmunk, as he kept running under my chair.

Here is the chipmunk.  My camera was too slow to get anything closer, though s/he ran under me quite a few times.

I am enjoying the view of the mums and nasturtiums from the kitchen window each day.  Other colors of mums will be opening soon.

We decided to dig up the three sweet potato plants today.  Under each vine there was one average size sweet potato and a few little roots.  We cooked them all up and they tasted great.

We also dug up the one peanut plant, planted earlier by a squirrel in our yard.  We found a few peanuts on the roots.  Neither sweet potatoes nor peanuts are usually grown in Illinois, so this was just a fun learning experience for me.

I continue to pick pole beans in the garden and came across this camouflaged grasshopper in the leaf litter.

I could not stop myself from playing with the grasshopper a little.

I also enjoyed watching all the birds coming to the bird bath.  There was a woodpecker, bluejay, bosy robins and at one point I saw six birds splashing in the bath at once.

September Sedum

September 18, 2012

The sedum really attract the pollinators.  Bees, flies, butterflies and moths, and other assorted bugs and spiders camp out on the sedum.

Several Mourning Cloak butterflies spent many hours sipping nectar on the sedum on Sunday afternoon.  This is the first time I have identified them.

The skipper butterflies also love the sedum.

The goldenrod soldier beetles move from plant to plant and now mate on the sedum.  They are not so visible on the black-eyed susans, but stand out here, and there are so many of them.  I did see a large praying mantis on the fence on Sunday, so maybe they are mating now, too.

There were several grasshoppers on the curly kale.  They watched me while I took pictures.

The white boltonia is is full bloom.

Asters with german thyme and silver thyme.  This aster is “Wonder of Staffa.”

Red berries on hicksii yew.  If these stay on all winter they will be very pretty.

Leaves of Grass

September 9, 2012

The native and ornamental grasses in my yard are blooming and provide a nice resting place for wildlife.

The Korean Feather Reed Grass has pink seed heads that look nice with the pink flowers around it; the Echinacea and Joe Pye Weed.

This is Joe Pye Weed – Little Joe, with more Korean Feather Reed Grass – Calamagrostis Brachytricia.

One evening, after a sunny day, I saw this little snake resting itself between the blades of grass in the meadow, where we don’t cut the grass.  When I tried to get a little closer I disturbed the grass and it slide away.  I have always been scared of snakes, but also fascinated.  Having them in the garden means I have plenty of biodiversity, letting the snake be part of the food chain.  I think we are mutually scared of each other.

The ornamental grass, Giant Sacaton, where I spotted the snake, was also where I saw this grasshopper.  There are grasshoppers all over the yard and I love to see them.  When I was young I enjoyed catching them.

Also in the same grass was this butterfly, which I think is a skipper.  Usually the skippers are flying wildly around pollinating everything, so I am wondering about this one that sat still while I took a picture.

I may have mentioned before that something has been eating our corn cobs.  I found three laying on the ground, somewhat chewed.  Maybe it is our local squirrels getting a vegetable snack.  I hope they enjoyed it.  They were very small cobs and not very yellow.

We also have chipmunks in the yard now.  I replanted my hens and checks yesterday and this morning I noticed that something had dug a hole right into the bottom of this planter!

Brilliant Bugs

July 28, 2012

Since the rain we are finally encountering a few more mosquitoes, gnats and other biting, flying critters, which I have not taken pictures of!  Here is some of the wildlife I enjoy watching and photographing in my yard.

Grasshopper hides in bean pole tent.  I love the detail on his/her body.

Dragonfly – Widow Skimmer.  You can see through his wings.  I love the shiny head and thorax.

Green Dragonfly.  Dragonflyies will let you get quite close if you come very slowly.  This guy has his wings down cautiously and is ready to fly.  Here the wings have no dark markings.  They love to sit on dead sticks.

Bee on Gaillardia.  We have a lot of Gaillardia in the yard and there are always bees on them.

Spider spins web at dusk.  This was really fun to watch.  The spider would come to the center, go around in a circle and head off in a new direction before coming back to the center again.

Emerald Green Arbotvitae.  The one in the back looks fine, but the one in the front suffered from the drought.  Not a pretty picture, but it can happen in drought when you aren’t paying attention.

Recently viewed wildlife

September 26, 2011

I don’t know that much about bugs and insects but many of them fascinate me.

Black swallowtail caterpillar on fennel branch.  I saw another one in a carrot patch at the children’s farm on Sunday.

Large brown grasshopper rests in fading, drying zinnia flower.

A rare sighting of Stephanie in the garden this week.

A crested duck I saw at the Children’s farm.  I liked his personality.

I took a short walk on a nature trail near the Children’s farm.

The garden is still very full.  Today it is 80 degrees and we had rain this week, so not only is there plenty of green vegetation, but a lot of critters are enjoying sipping and snacking in the garden, racing to do what they need to do before winter comes.

Dragonflies are my favorite.  Here the dragonfly rests in the zucchini shade.

Tomato hormworm.  This was a hormworm I saw two weeks ago.  On the right side the caterpillar is chewing and holding the vine with little hands or feet.

Monarch caterpillar in butterfly weed.  I saw two one day and then they were gone the next day.  I hope they made it to the cocoon stage.

Bumble bee in zinnia.

This bird house is too small for any birds.  This time of year all three of my bird houses are occupied by wasps.

Grasshopper in zinnias.  There are a lot of different kinds of grasshoppers, crickets, cicadas, and katydids in the yard now.

I have seen quite a few toads.  This is one of the bigger ones.  Great camouflage.

Cabbage moth, I think, in catmint.  I see a lot of cabbage moths in the garden.  Hopefully the grubs will not be a problem, but will be good food for the birds.

I enjoy feeding on the garden, too.

Recent tasty cooking: zucchini, cherry tomatoes and sweet red peppers sauteed in olive oil with salt and pepper.

Wild Life

August 8, 2010

Biodiversity means lots of bugs, birds, butterflies, etc.  Here are some of the small things I have seen this year.

So many bees in the garden.  Bees and wasps of every kind.

Wasps are living in both bird houses and here in the fence pole.

We wondered if this was a hummingbird on the Joe Pye Weed, but it turns out to be a clear-winged moth.

The dragonfly enjoyed sitting on this sunning stick.  More dragonflies this year.

This “grasshopper” sat on the sunny creeping charlie for about 10 minutes before I came over to shoot this close up.

This mammal has been seen roaming the garden in the evening and on weekends.