Saturday, August 27, 2016

Monarch Rearing in a Backpacking Tent

We have dozens and more likely hundreds of monarch caterpillars on our 3.5 acres. Our wildflower nature preserve is working...woo hoo!

Steve noticed about 50 or so monarch caterpillars munching away on our Common Milkweed for sale in our plant nursery (that explains the disappearing plants!) and we decided to rear this batch to help protect against predators and disease. We don't have a great place for this, but decided an old backpacking tent would work perfectly.

We nestled the tent on the North side of our Black Walnut to protect the caterpillars from roasting in this little mini-oven and moved the trays of plants inside.

There are so many caterpillars in so many different instars. It's fabulous!

We replenish plants and leaves everyday to keep up with these hungry cats. We have potted milkweed, freshly cut milkweed leaves and milkweed stems with leaves in ball jars that we lidded and cut a hole to insert the stem through so the caterpillars don't fall in the water. The potted milkweed and these "vases" of milkweed are by far their preferred food.

This is such a fun cool project, I made a VIDEO to show you how we are doing this and what it looks like inside. 

Note: Monarch caterpillars eat milkweed (Asclepias), which is filled with cardiac glycosides...not a tasty substance and one that can make people and animals quite sick if eaten. They do this to protect themselves from birds and other predators who love to eat caterpillars. Not all predators know this (or are affected by it), even with their warning coloration, until they eat one and so they look quite tasty until they do. When I say tasty in the video...that's what I mean!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Vegetable Garden Mania 2016

August is crazy full of homegrown vegetables! Thanks to the drought this year, our tomatoes are more abundant than we've ever experienced. I find it funny to say those two realities in the same sentence, but our tomato plants are giving us more food than we can keep up with. We've canned, frozen, dehydrated, eaten fresh and keep on, keepin' on. It's so cool to grow so much healthy food, without chemicals in this patch of soil out our door. How lucky we are! Other than growing the plants from seeds and putting them in the ground with a cage around them, we did nothing to encourage this harvest. Sometimes the stars align and everything just hums with the rightness of it all.

Just like this, though really this podcast highlights a most magical (truly, truly magical) piece of our forest recently discovered.

We are also bringing in our storage onions...

and garlic...

and dried beans. How we love dried beans!

Steve shelled most of these beans in the sweltering sun because we wanted these babies to dry out. This past week we got about 2 inches of much needed rain and the humidity stayed high. We were thrilled for our plants, but realized our beans thought it was time to sprout in their pods so we harvested immediately. The pods stayed so damp, even after a few days on the drying racks and more beans sprouted so Steve handled it. Just like that. He is a boy of action for which I am forever grateful.

Heirloom dry beans are so beautiful I think they could be worn as jewelry or act as money in a bartering and nutrition all wrapped up into one sweet little bean. We want to grow many more beans next year. Always more! Pictured are King of the Early and Calypso or Yin Yang, you can guess which is which.

This time of year is often overwhelming for us in many ways because incredible vegetable abundance often leads to a feeling of not enough time in the day - so in addition to working our little bums off, we savor each spectacular blooming flower, singing insect (we love you Coneheads!), Monarch fluttering by, flock of singing and feasting American Goldfinches and drink deeply from the well of summer goodness. What else is there to do?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Helping the Bees: Native Blackberry & Shining Sumac

Now that we are here more and working more closely with our plants and this beautiful land, we are very much noticing the plants pollinators are really attracted to. This spring we noticed hundreds if not thousands of bees of numerous species nectaring on Blackberry (Rubus sp.) flowers in our old field.

The blooms are super showy and made for quite a sight to see. We are in the midst of harvesting oodles of berries from these plants even when our cultivated raspberries shriveled on the cane due to drought.

Blackberries are an early pioneer species on land that has been cleared so it's a benefit to us and wildlife so you know I had to make a video about it.

Shining or Winged Sumac or Rhus copallinum (copallina) is another species we noticed this summer because the blooms are swarmed by bees. Holy cow! (Where did that phrase come from anyways?) We are super amazed and delighted that these plants we've planted and work so hard to keep alive are benefiting so many.

Shining Sumac flowers are part of a larger conical structure so it's quite showy. The leaves turn a spectacular scarlet in fall too making it well worth planting.

Our observations also make us consider that a huge part of our bee (pollinator) problem might just be lack of food. Yes, there are absolutely many chemicals causing them harm, but that is exacerbated by no food so - let's get to planting! What we do individually really does make a difference and we have proof right in these plants. Ahhh....that's a sigh of relief. We can help and that's balm for the spirit.