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Behold, the Bachelor’s Button…(aka Cornflower)

Posted by mrssmythe on July 31, 2019 in Garden, Insects, Pollinators |

One of my favorite garden plants this season has been the Bachelor’s Buttons – aka Cornflowers.

I used to read novels (usually romance novels) in which characters were described as having “cornflower blue eyes”. I never knew what that meant until I started gardening and put two and two together. Now, looking at the gorgeous blue of these flowers (the bluest flowers in the plant kingdom, I’ve read), I have to say that I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Have you ever met anyone with eyes this blue? Maybe Elizabeth Taylor…. Of course, I never met her, but you know what I’m saying?

Anyway, “cornflower blue eyes” discussion aside, these are really very pretty flowers. And, they are incredibly easy to grow. All of the Cornflower plants in my garden this year are self-sown…remnants of plants that grew from seeds I planted two springs ago. They just popped up in unplanned abundance, and I’m so glad.

And, not just me – the wildlife is glad, too.

First, the butterflies.

I believe this is a Silver Spotted Skipper. (We have so many skippers here in Massachusetts, it can get confusing.)

Bees also like these flowers…

…as do Syrphid Flies (aka Flower Flies).

I’m hoping the Syrphid Flies will stop off at the Milkweed nearby and do away with some of the aphids camped out there. Wouldn’t that be nice of them?

Occasional, I’ll spot an ant or two, as well.

My favorite visitors to the Bachelor’s Buttons, though, are the Goldfinches. They’re huge fans of the flower’s seeds, so I’ve resisted deadheading even though the plants are looking worse for the wear at this point in the growing season.

It’s worth having a few shabby-looking plants, though, to see pairs of Goldfinches perched in the flower beds, breakfasting on Cornflower seeds.

From the dining room table, pleased that we finally received rain this afternoon – the garden was getting a bit parched,

Mrs. Smythe

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Life Amidst the Milkweed

Posted by mrssmythe on July 29, 2019 in Critters, Garden |

So, let me tell you about my Swamp Milkweed.

First of all – my Swamp Milkweed is not in a swamp.

The Swamp Milkweed is the tall, pink flowers toward the back of the photo.

My Swamp Milkweed is along a busy road, in a sunny part of my front yard, in soil that is not the clay-rich, wet soil that Swamp Milkweed is supposed to like.

And, yet, my Swamp Milkweed is thriving.

I’m so pleased, because I’m interested in insects and their relationships to the plants in my garden, and the milkweed is a great place to watch fascinating plant/insect interaction.

This year, I’m making an effort not only to look at the milkweed flowers, where Bumblebees and Monarch Butterflies feed, but also to check the leaves and stems regularly – to just stand in front of the plant and watch what is going on.

A lot goes on!

For one thing, the Monarchs lay their eggs on the milkweed leaves. And then those eggs become caterpillars that dine exclusively on more milkweed leaves.

Meanwhile, other caterpillars like milkweed, too.

These are Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillars, and, yes, there are a lot of them on that leaf (and there are just as many of them on the underside of that leaf!)

And, look what they have done to these other milkweed leaves:

The carnage! Is this what I want for my Swamp Milkweed?

Well,…yes. My goal is to encourage insects and pollinators in my garden, and that means I’m going to see leaf damage. (Would I offer my dinner guests roast chicken and not expect to see chicken bones?)

Other visitors I noted this evening…aphids.

Honestly, I’m not so thrilled to see the aphids. They appear on my Swamp Milkweed each year. They are a wild bunch. They make a terrible mess. Some years, I’ve tried to get rid of them with a dish soap spray, but this year, I think I’ll wait and see what happens. I read an intriguing article this evening that basically said, leave the milkweed alone. Leave the aphids alone. Let predator insects come in and do their job. So, I think I’m going to follow its advice. (If you’re interested, you can find that article HERE.)

So, how will my milkweed look in a few weeks, after it’s been savaged by so many hungry insects? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

From the dining room table, hoping some aphid-hungry ladybugs drop by soon to join the feast,

Mrs. Smythe

 

 

 

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A Jumping Guinea Hen, A Visit to a Cave, and Lots of Insects

Posted by mrssmythe on July 21, 2019 in Books, Chickens, Crafting, Critters, Garden, Seasons, Travel, Week in Review with Comments closed |

Greetings to you! I hope you’re staying cool in all of this heat – that is if, like us, your area of the world is currently sweltering! For once, it’s too hot even to go to the pond, so we’re all hunkered down inside, cuddling up to the fans and window A/C units.

The chickens are faring well, despite the weather. We put out electrolyte-enhanced water for them (“chicken gatorade”, CPT A calls it), and the yard provides plenty of shade. Occasionally, we give them watermelon.

The chickens love watermelon.

They also continue to adore meal worms. Here you see our normally skittish guinea hen performing tricks for the worms Ginger offers her.

We escaped the heat one day this past week by driving to New York state for a tour through Howe Caverns. Have you been there? We took the basic tour which drops you 156 feet below the earth’s surface and lasts 90 minutes.

There was even a boat ride!

The cave’s temperature is about 55 degrees, so it was a welcome break from the swelter.

CPT A says he would like to live in the caves. He says we could bring him sandwiches.

Back on the earth’s surface, I’ve been enjoying all of the recent visitors to my garden.

Silver-spotted Skipper

With so much in bloom, there’s a lot to see, and I can easily spend an hour wandering from plant to plant looking for insects.

I have a guide called Backyard Bugs that I used to identify what I see.

Another book that I’m really enjoying is this one:

CPT A’s aunt gave it to me. It’s a wonderful resource for gardeners interested in using native plants to sustain wildlife. I highly recommend it.

Something else I’m enjoying – taking photos with the little macro lens that fits onto my cell phone camera. The lens wasn’t very expensive, and I use it like I would a microscope. It allows me to see so much more detail than I would be able to observe with my eyes alone.

Here you see day lily stamens…

a nice, detailed shot of a bumble bee…

and the center of a black-eyed susan.

Wonderful textures, don’t you think?

I’m really learning a lot by using it.

And, here’s one last photo – a recent crochet project of Ginger’s…a mermaid cat!

If you’re interested, you can find the pattern HERE.

Meanwhile, I’m still working on a crocheted afghan, but the going has been very slow. An afghan probably isn’t the best sort of project to be working on in the summer heat. I’ll finish it, though…eventually.

From the dining room table, wondering if it’s cool enough yet to go sit out on the porch,

Mrs. Smythe

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A Shift in the Color Scheme and a Shaved Cat

Posted by mrssmythe on July 9, 2019 in Crafting, Critters, Garden, Week in Review |

Quick! Does anyone know what sort of tree this is? I was walking in Holyoke last week and came to a full stop when I caught a whiff of its flowers. They smelled divine and the bees loved them!

Meanwhile, in my own yard, the color palette is shifting from the purples and pinks of spring to the oranges..

yellows…

and whites of mid-summer.

(Yes, that’s a daddy long legs on that flower. I don’t mind spiders a bit, but I apologize if you’re squeamish.)

The “Ms. Mars” sunflowers a neighbor gave me are blooming. 

 

Aren’t those unusual? I really like them, but wish I’d planted them in a more visible spot. Right now, they’re competing with a tangle of black-eyed susans. Next time, I’ll put them closer to the front of the bed.

And, I was able to harvest my first pea pod this past week. It went to Ginger, who loves them. She pronounced it very good, and hopes that more will be forthcoming.

Near the peas, we found these lovely things…

which aren’t really lovely at all. They’re squash bug eggs. I got rid of them in short order once I realized what they were, but all the while felt a bit sad because they were so shiny and pretty. The garden is a strange and wonderful place.

How was your Fourth of July?

Ours was pretty low-key. We skipped the parades and went to see the new Spiderman film instead. Then, we came home and had a campfire in the backyard complete with S’mores.

It was warm and muggy, so we didn’t stay out too long, but the firefly viewing was excellent.

In other news, CPT A and Pepper have been making the rounds on the college-visit circuit.

Last week was MIT – a school that impressed them both enormously.

CPT A said he wants to sign up for classes.

Meanwhile, Ginger and I continue to craft despite the heat. I haven’t done much on my vest lately as I’m to a tricky bit and need a nice afternoon’s worth of uninterrupted time to get some finishing work done on it. In the meantime, I’ve dug out an afghan project to crochet on and have also started a doily with some scrap yarn. Both projects are nice breaks from the more rigorous vest. Don’t worry, I’ll get back to it soon.

Ginger continues to crank out her assortment of entertaining creatures. Here’s one of her latest…a cat to serve as mascot for the writing group she attends:

Isn’t it cute? If you’re interested, you can find the pattern HERE.

And, one last cat photo – this time of a live cat.

Here is Mr. Wa getting his hair cut. He’d gotten terribly matted and clumpy in the heat, so CPT A broke out the clippers, and, surprisingly, Mr. Wa cooperated.

We stopped short of his belly and left his head and tale as is, but the rest of him is clipped to the skin. He seems much more comfortable now, and feels as soft as a peach when you pet him. I think this may become an annual thing for him.

From the dining room table, hoping you’re staying cool in the summer heat just like Mr. Wa (though hopefully without having to shave yourself so drastically),

Mrs. Smythe

 

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Not For the Faint of Heart

Posted by mrssmythe on June 24, 2019 in Chickens, Critters, Garden, Week in Review |

Today’s blog is not for the faint of heart.

Shall I give you the worst first? Or shall I save it for last?

I think I’ll just go ahead and get the creepy photos out of the way. Here goes –

Creepy photo #1 – The Snake

This guy literally fell into the basement this past week. CPT A opened the door that leads to the patio, and the snake – who was resting in the stairwell – rolled in, righted itself, and slid behind the washing machine…all while I was upstairs doing the dinner dishes. CPT A grabbed a broom, eased the snake out, and carried him upstairs and out the front door. He got huge hero points from me for that rescue. HUGE points. Ugh.

Next up – the Wasp Nest.

CPT A found this little gem while trimming some shrubs in the side yard. This nest – which we thought was defunct – was in the Pachysandra next to the shrubs. CPT A brought it to me because I like to see this sort of thing – assuming there are no wasps in residence.

Unfortunately…

When we sliced it open, we noticed a family of wasps prepping for its debut. What did we do with the residents? We fed them to the chickens, of course. Double Ugh.

The chickens are huge fans of all things wormy. In fact, since we’ve started giving them meal worm treats, they’ve gotten almost too friendly. They hang out on the back step, making a mess, and pecking at the door in hopes one of the girls will come out and feed them a treat. If you come outside and don’t feed them worms, they act disgusted and walk away, twitching their feathers and casting reproachful glances at you.

Meanwhile, the turkey is getting bolder. This week, we caught her roosting on the car.

Granted, the roof rack is ideally suited to turkey talons, but really! We had to draw the line.

And, anyway, we had to move the car because CPT A was taking down a dead tree in the side yard, and the car was in the exact spot he was hoping to drop it.

Hooray for CPT A – he was nearly spot on with his placement. Thankfully, the irises, which took the brunt of the fall, survived with little more than a broken frond or two.

We hated taking the tree down, as we know dead trees are a boon to wildlife, but they are not a boon to cars or garage roofs, and with the winds we get here, we knew it was only a matter of time before something got damaged.

The local pond is now open for swimming.

Here you see Ginger taking the first dip of the season. Until recently, our days have been on the cooler side, so there weren’t many people at the beach, but Ginger will swim in just about any weather and didn’t mind the cold.

And, finally, firefly season has officially begun. We have a huge population this year – more than I can remember seeing in years past. I tried to get a photo and had miserable luck – only one faint glimmer which in no way conveys the lights show we get each evening. It’s really spectacular.

Trust me, it’s much better than this photo suggests.

From the dining room table, with warmer weather having finally arrived, and weeds multiplying in the garden…,

Mrs. Smythe

 

 

 

 

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