And This is Why I Garden Indoors

Broken tomato plant

Last year, I didn’t grow any tomatoes–or any vegetables–outdoors. I had gotten my nifty new indoor hydroponic system and I grew everything in that.

This year I thought I would try a plant or two outside to see what might happen. Well, you can see by the broken stem on this plant what’s happening. Just after I took this photo, I picked these yellow tomatoes–they’re not ripe; I will have to ripen them on my windowsill, but better to ripen them there than to lose them altogether. These are actually supposed to be red cherry tomatoes.

When I first saw these plants bent down, I thought it might be wind–or the brief, heavy downpour–that we had–doing the damage. But after I looked more closely, I realized that neither meteorological condition would also cause the existing tomatoes to disappear!

That was when I decided that I had better start harvesting tomatoes showing any hint of color at all. Sigh.

And honestly, I don’t blame whatever critter is doing this–probably the chipmunks. There’s been so little rain. Even a green tomato must taste pretty darn good as a source of moisture.

But honestly, growing plants outside it really is always something. If it isn’t a critter of some sort, it is weather damage. That’s just to be expected. You can’t raise plants in a bubble–unless you are growing them hydroponically.

So I will continue to raise my veggies inside and just enjoy the outside garden for flowers and herbs. That way, everyone wins.

And I Didn’t Even Lose the Frog!

King of the pond

This past weekend, I wound up cleaning the pond. This is definitely one of those “do not try this at home” kind of things, even in the relatively mild temperatures (mild being a relative term literally–it was 85 degrees, but I know many of you would be overjoyed with that!) we were having.

But of course, there is no reasoning with the Spoiler when he gets something–or someone–in his mind. He found someone to help me and despite the fact that I said that it was not a good idea to do this–for the health of the pond and the fish–until cooler weather set in–he said that someone was coming to help me on Sunday so I had better be ready. Before you ask if he is any of the particular ethnicities that tend to be ridiculously stubborn, the answer is, we don’t know. He’s adopted.

So, I worked all day Sunday to “be ready” (which meant) lowering the water level, scraping the pond sides, and trying to catch those pesky fish. You can see 3 of them here. What you really see are four. There’s a black one as well. I had the pond drained down to just about mud before I could actually see him well enough to get him out.

What this photo also shows is the icky dried on algae on the sides. It also shows the nicely brown dissolved algae in the water. I am astounded that the fish were able to survive in there. My frog was loving it, however!

Then there was all this mess to clean up. This is actually an earlier photo, before I started dropping the water level. I cut back some of the bearberry (that lovely green creeper on the spillway) and I swept all the pine needles off the spillway. No sense in cleaning the pond just to have the next rain was all that crud right back into it (if there ever is a next rain, that is).

Newly cleaned pond

And of course, as this and the photo at the top shows, it’s now sparkling and pristine. But the water is about 25 degrees cooler than it started because it came straight from the hose and is still chilled. Luckily, because the fish sat out of the pond in the shade for about 8 hours, they had some time to cool down as well so it wasn’t as if I were dumping fish used to 80 degree water back into 55 degree water.

And the frog came back, clean water and all.I guess it forgives me for displacing it.

Next year, perhaps I will managed to avoid surgery so that I can get this done when it should be done–in early to mid June!

Could You–or Your Community–Go “No Mow” for a Month?

It’s no secret that we have been organic for decades–since 1996 when I first researched why there were so few butterflies on my property and discovered that they were sensitive to pesticides.

Oh simple, I thought. We’ll just use no pesticides. And it’s worked out pretty well, with a few notable exceptions that shall be best left for other stories.

I have posted several times before about something I have called the “Freedom Lawn,” (not my term by the way) which isn’t a political stance, but a lawn that doesn’t use pesticides, herbicide or fungicide (the latter has always struck me as a particularly useless product–but again I digress). For the most part, that’s what we try to maintain, and we do it without any supplemental irrigation as well.

I was amazed, therefore, to read about communities that are going “no-mow.” Basically these communities are deciding that the health of bees is more important than perfect lawns and that for a month–usually May–people who sign up won’t mow their lawns. There are nine Wisconsin communities who participate according to this article from 2021 so there may be more this year.

There are also resources for people who want to participate but may be worried that their lawns may not contain anything of value to the bees, or that they might need to convince skeptical neighbors, towns, or homeowners’ associations of the value of what they are doing.

Bee City USA has one such resource here and another can be found here.

One thing that we have always tried to maintain is a large clover field for our bees. It’s unobtrusive to anyone walking by and it’s very valuable to the bees. It seems to be used by many different types of bees–and as a secondary bonus, it’s enriching our soil too. It’s not like a wild field of dandelions that someone would perceive as a menace (although in the backyard we do let some of those grow too).

We also have lots of violets which never seem to get too badly out of control–it may be the density of our clay soil. Those are great both for the bees and for the butterflies as well.

Right now all you might see in my yard is dead grass, so that’s why I have no photos with this post. But everything will be awakening soon in my part of the country–and that means that the bees and the butterflies will be right behind it.

How will you take care of your lawn–and its “weeds” this year?

What Insect Apocalypse?

Katydid on fuchsia

I had an interesting experience while I was out walking the dog one quiet Sunday morning not too long ago. Sunrise is getting later so we were out just after sunrise and it was still and quiet–until we approached our property.

As we got in front of the little patch of woods that we have, I heard all sorts of noise. I stopped because I couldn’t identify it at first. I hadn’t heard it anywhere else on the street. Then I realized it was insects. There were cicadas in the trees, and something else chirping, maybe katydids, and I think I am hearing trees frogs.

It’s been so long since I have heard tree frogs that I am not even sure. I used to hear them all the time 20 years ago. Then a new subdivision went in and a lot of trees were taken down and I haven’t heard them since. So how tree frogs might have found their way to our little patch of woods mystifies me, except that it is now one of the few “little patches” of woods left standing.

But whatever I was hearing was so loud that it literally stopped me in my tracks and it was only in front of my property. Everyone else’s property was quiet.

There are all sorts of articles dating back a couple of years ago talking about stories of insect die-offs as dramatic as 75%. This became known as the “insect apocalypse,” and dire warnings and predictions followed.

Fortunately, some of those studies and methodologies proved to be wrong. But for those of us of a certain age, we can notice that, for example, there are fewer of certain types of insects.

I vividly remember the 2 hour car trips to the beach and back as a child. When we arrived around 9 pm in the evening, our windshield and headlights would be bug-spattered.

Car trips of similar duration now don’t leave our cars bug-spattered. And while I am grateful for small favors, I don’t think the insects have become better navigators. I just think there are far fewer of them.

Is this a problem? I will leave that to the scientists to determine. But in the meantime, I will be grateful that I have a cleaner car and a property that welcomes wildlife of all kind, even invertebrates.

Vine-Ripened Tomatoes

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For any gardener that likes them, there’s nothing like a vine-ripened tomato. Many times, if you’re growing these smaller varieties, they don’t even make it it into the house–they go straight from the plant into your mouth.

In past years, I have done that too. But recently, and especially in this drought year, I have smaller critters so anxious for any moisture at all that they’re stripping–and eating–green tomatoes, something that I have not seen before.

So I have had to resort to some desperate measures myself. Now, when I see even the smallest hint of color on these tomatoes, I snatch them off the plant and bring them inside the kitchen to ripen.

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After all, as cute as this little guy is, I am still not sharing my tomatoes with him or her!

A Plague of Locusts?

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It’s been a very dry summer–I believe I mentioned Friday that we are in moderate drought. July brought less than an inch of rain and was the second hottest July on record, (last year was the first).

So with the lack of rain, I have been trying to water very carefully–only containers and newly planted plants are getting water from me at this point. But I have rarely seen the gardens look so sad.

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Take this garden for example. This is self-sown goldenrod and asters, with a few other plants added by me in a garden where a magnolia used to grow. The fact that the natives are wilting so severely in a garden that’s actually in a very wet part of my yard (usually) tells you how dry it’s been.

And I suppose I am lucky that I haven’t planted too much due to the pandemic–it would only need watering.

The things that I have planted–or that were already planted years ago–are being ravaged by “critters,” and who blames them? Between the drought and the fact that plants aren’t producing normally because of drought, things are definitely looking for food–and moisture–where they can find it.

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I am lucky to scavenge tomatoes off my own two plants before something–chipmunks, probably–beat me to it. Because the tomatoes are container-planted, I can control the pest damage, somewhat.

But the other day, I came home to find a green tomato on the walk. When I turned it over, dozens of ants scurried away. Ants on a green tomato? Now you know they’re desperate for moisture!

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My sage in the garden has been eaten into lacy bits. I don’t mind–I have more in a container by the door. But what on earth is so desperate that it needs to eat sage leaves? The jagged holes mean it could be anything–beetles, slugs, caterpillars (although I didn’t see any currently)–whatever.

I find that during times of drought things like katydids and earwigs, which normally just eat garden detritus, (the earwigs, I mean) resort to eating “good” parts of plants as well.

And when I was watering the other night, a grasshopper jumped out at me from between 2 containers. Just what I need: a plague of locusts in a pandemic!

At First Light

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I love going out with the dog first thing in the morning. Everything is still and quiet, if we’re lucky, we see no one else and no other cars either.

On this particular morning, there had been a light rain the night before and it had caught all the spiders’ webs in the grass. This isn’t something I usually see in my neighbors’ lawns as we walk because most of them use pesticides, as I have remarked before.

Nature is going to do a lot of the work for you if you let it. There’s a nice combination of funnel web weaving and sheet weaving spiders that have made webs here on my lawn, just waiting for whatever might happen by.

When we think of spiders’ webs, we most often think of–and notice–the large orbs that look like the Halloween decorations. But spiders build all sorts of webs.

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This is a sheet web between these two plants. It looks just like a messy bunch of silk, but it’s quite effective at catching–and holding–insects.

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And this is a web built by a grass spider, who is a funnel web weaver. It gets its name from the “funnel” you see at the top of the web. The spider hides at the bottom the funnel and when something gets caught in the web, it comes out and pounces.

Grass spiders in my part of the country can actually get quite large. Of all the spiders in my yard, they–and the orb-weaving cross spiders–are about the largest. By the end of the season, their bodies can be larger than a quarter–or so it seems to slightly arachnophobic me!

So I am actually quite brave taking photos of all these webs. I shudder at the thought that the spiders are anywhere near–although I love that they are the “good guys” in my garden and yard! I do treasure them for that!

Hydrangeas as Food for Pollinators

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You probably remember this photo from Wednesday. It’s not one of the ones that has the real mist and fog behind it.

If I want to work around these plants, I try to do so either very early in the morning or later in the evening. As soon as the sun hits them, the bees find them–and they are covered in bees.

You may remember my remark from Monday about not being able to get good photos of bees. I see lots of good photos of bees on social media and I marvel.

I think with me it stems from 2 things: the first is my own limitations. I am not nearly patient enough to wait for the right shot, to set it up, etc.

I also don’t use the right equipment. A tripod would help steady the camera and a macro lens would get me closer to the bees without getting on top of them.

But all of that comes from me believing that a bee has to do its thing without any more interference from us humans. Isn’t its job already hard enough? Do you really need to see a picture of a bumblebee? We all know what a cute fuzzy bumblebee is.

But I digress. And yes, bumblebees are one of the bees on my hydrangeas. As are honeybees. And smaller bees that I haven’t identified.

And even a couple of steel blue cricket hunter wasps.

So you can see that these hydrangeas are magnets for pollinators. Or you can at least hear about it.

Bamboo Stakes as Pollinator Hotels

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It’s been a disappointing couple of days with my tomato plants, although this photo doesn’t really indicate that.

The tomatoes were coming along nicely when something–probably a squirrel– completely stripped one plant of all the green tomatoes, doing a fair amount of damage to the stems in the process.

It tried to do the same thing to this plant but the stems weren’t quite as sturdy. So after breaking 2 off, it gave up and went away.

I think that’s a partial win for me. Hard to say.

So in the process of pruning back all the damage and broken stems, all of a sudden I noticed a smallish black and yellow bee hovering.

I stepped back a moment and it landed on the top of the bamboo stake and entered.

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Unlike most other people, I cannot get good photos of bees. All I have here is “bee butt.”

A little sleuthing determined that it’s a type of sweat bee–not the cool metallic green one, but a black one with yellow stripes.

And it’s a tomato pollinator. So, if I can keep the squirrels away, I should have a nice crop with this plant.

Where’s my pesky barking dog when I need her? I thought that no squirrel moved on this property without her knowledge. Apparently I am mistaken.