Monday, August 23, 2010

nature observations in the garden, plus more

Earlier this summer I stopped filling the birdfeeders for a while. The birds don't really need it in the summer time, and I was mostly only getting piggy starlings and grackles that would fling the seed at the feeders hither and yon, and pigeons on the ground to clean up after the grackles. When I did refill the feeders, I first used pure millet, then switched to "dove mix," millet, milo, wheat berries, oat groats and buckwheat; the sparrows and finches like it, but grackles and starlings do not. And I noticed that after I started filling the feeders again, I suddenly had a lot fewer cabbage white larvae in the garden. The birds like to hang out in the garden while they wait their turn at the feeder, and I guess they're picking up some protein snacks while they wait.

However, I also noticed that when I filled the feeder that it would empty out overnight and that the next morning there would be more deer damage in the garden. They browsed my beet greens down to nubs, nibbled on my green beans and ate a lot of my chard, too. (Although it is worth noting that they only ate the row of chard that was planted between kale and peas, and did not touch the one by the tomatoes, so maybe there is something about the scent of tomato plants that turns them off.) I have a chicken wire fence to keep the bunnies out, but I really don't want to put up an ugly eight foot deer fence. So what I did was next time I filled the feeders, I spiked the seed heavily with chili powder. The next morning there were five fresh piles of deer poop around the yard, but the feeder was full and my plants were untouched. It is also worth noting that the beets and chard that they demolished were directly in the path of the birdfeeders, so perhaps they were mostly attracted to the seed and were just browsing some greenery while they were here.

So now harmony is restored to the garden, or at least human-centric harmony. The deer are more than welcome to eat my hostas--in fact, they are encouraged to eat my hostas. Does anybody want some hostas? They came with the house, and I want to plant something more exciting there.

Garden is producing relatively well. My Three Sisters Garden was poorly planned and over crowded, so the beans aren't doing as well as I'd hoped (getting browsed by deer didn't help either) and the broccoli also isn't producing much, but all my greens are lush and abundant (the chard grew back quite well) and there are plenty of beets and carrots. If I don't pay pay attention, the zucchini grow to assault-weapon size (see picture, with cat for scale) and I've got about 20 cups of shredded zucchini in the freezer for future bread and cake. I've also got about 10 cups frozen snap peas. My grape tomatoes are starting to come in, and I've got some volunteer tomatoes that are rather Sungold-esque, although actual Sungolds are a hybrid, so it seems unlikely that any seeds tucked away in my compost would have sprouted. All my larger tomatoes are still mostly green, except for a few Romas that are starting to turn. I've made two big batches of pesto so far, and there's plenty more basil left out there for more. Recently I dug my first new potatoes, tiny little fingerlings with papery skin, and for most of that week at least one meal a day included boiled fingerling potatoes with butter and salt.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

caterpillar explosion

Last week I was remarking to some friends how odd it seemed that I only got two swallowtail caterpillars this year, when I have so much dill and parsley and carrots in my garden. Then Sunday night around 9 p.m. I went outside to pick some dill for my dinner, and when I came inside I realized I had brought in one caterpillar and one egg. I went back outside to pick some longer-stemmed dill for the caterpillar to eat, and with that dill brought in another caterpillar. Monday morning I went out in the daylight and made a formal search and found one more caterpillar and one more egg. Tuesday I went out twice and came back with a total of ten more caterpillars. Today I only did a quick, cursory check, but I'm kind of afraid to look too closely because 15 caterpillars (well, 14 since one of the eggs hasn't hatched yet) is already kind of overwhelming.

All the caterpillars were first or second instar, although several have molted since I've brought them in, and with fifteen of them I can't really be expected to keep track of who's doing what.

All the new batch of babies were found on dill, although I don't think that's necessarily because dill is a preferred larval food plant but rather because they are just easier to see on dill, and I wasn't turning over every leaflet of parsley or carrot greens. I also noticed that my neighbor's dill, which has been judiciously pinched back, seems to contain no caterpillars, while mine, which I mostly neglected and which has mostly gone to flower, is full of them. My neighbors could be picking off caterpillars (some gardeners know swallowtail larvae only as "parsley worms") or he could be raising his own caterpillars or the adult butterflies could prefer flowering dill for some reason. The caterpillars will eat the flowers, although they seem to prefer the leaves, but I wonder if the flowers are more nutritious and the mother butterflies are looking out for their children's welfare. Or the adult butterflies could have been attracted to the flowers for nectar, and just happened to lay their eggs there.

Meanwhile my remaining chrysalis from before remains a chrysalis, although he really should be hatching any day now. More news as events warrant.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

it's a boy!

On Tuesday night the swallowtail chrysalid on the carrot was looking darker, although not yet transparent, but by the time I got up at 7 a.m. Wednesday morning the blessed event had already occurred and the butterfly was emerged, flexing his wings, and crawling up the stick and over the cheescloth covering on the jar, so I assumed that he had been out for some time already and was ready to fly. I put off feeding the cats breakfast (which I think is a sin and possibly illegal) to take the butterfly outside, but once he was outside he wasn't ready anymore. So I went back in to feed the cats, and kept poking my head out the backdoor to check on butterfly, and eventually sat down outside myself with some tea to wait for the butterfly to fly. I first coaxed him onto my finger, then onto some liatris, but it was windy and the liatris was blowing around too much and he tumbled off, so then I moved him to a pot of zinnias on the back steps, and he sat there. And sat there and sat there and sat there. Now and then he'd flex his wings again or wash his face, but mostly he sat there. In the morning, that side of my house is in the shade, and I tried moving the pot of zinnias out into the sun, but then then he was less protected from the wind. I was just about to see if the wind was less severe on another side of my house, and just then he flew, up into the lilacs, then across my yard and my neighbor's yard, into the sun. This was at 8:45 a.m. I missed getting video of the first flight by mere seconds, but I got loads of pictures of him sitting around and getting ready.
And it is indeed a boy. Girls have more blue and less yellow. This is the first male of all the swallowtails I've raised. It is also the first that I've found on carrot greens. I wonder if that is coincidence or if the butterflies can somehow choose to lay male or female eggs and if they base that choice on larval food plant. It'll be interesting to see what the dilly caterpillar this year turns out to be.