Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Late Summer Garden, Pepper Mulching, Tomato Hornworms = Fun!

 It's peak summer and it's beautiful.

Steve is master of so many trades and as he works his true devotees follow with excitement...

This summer he is tackling a project we've talked about for years....a lean-to greenhouse. He is building this with all salvaged materials so our current pricetag for this project = $0.

This is on the south side of our green barn, which he salvaged from the burn pile when we moved here. It's a happy place now.

Gourds and winter squash that self-sowed are faring much better than winter squash we intentionally planted so that means there is something I need to figure out.

This year, with the cool temperatures, our winter squash grew very little and with that slow growth, they couldn't hold their own against the squash vine borers. Next year I need to figure out a way to co-exist because we love Squash Vine Borer Moths and winter squash!

The vegetable garden is managing itself in many ways now and is such a beautiful place to spend time.

We posted at the beginning of the summer about cover cropping tomatoes and peppers and we think it's working great. The peppers look fabulous and we are preserving them and utilizing them in numerous ways including tomato glut sauce, salsa, green chile fermentation and drying. It's amazing how quickly this mulch breaks down when you have lots of little decomposers in the soil working their magic.

Peacework Sweet Peppers:

Poblano Peppers and Aster, Fern and Ebony:

The middle bed is newly sown to Crimson Clover for planting in next year and to protect the soil over the winter :

Our tomatos look exceptionally terrible this year due to the cool, wet conditions, but we are still harvesting oodles and oodles and have plenty to share with the always fantastic Tomato or actually more common Tobacco Hornworm. Long ago at the first garden I worked at I was taught to kill these beautiful caterpillars that turn into the also beautiful Carolina Sphinx Moth. (Check out one of the plants they pollinate. WOW!) This practice felt so very wrong and made me feel AWFUL. Then I realized I can just share so we plant an extra plant or two and all is good for them and us.

Our onions are all harvested and we are using the tops to mulch our beets so the soil is covered. The beets looked terrible prior to this and now they look so healthy and happy. Protecting the soil is obviously key.

Our King of the Early beans kept getting munched and munched by rabbits early in the season, but they are setting their dry beans, which we will enjoy all winter long. We would love to grow many more types of heirloom, dry beans; the beans are often fabulously colored and have such rich taste.

Another project the phenomenal Steve is tackling is our first, small high tunnel. This is the base and I just planted the open two beds to all our winter crops: carrots, beets, kale, spinach, chard, cilantro and parsley. The full bed is our superstar sweet potato that sprouted and gave us slips, then offered its still super sweet flesh to us to eat. We so hope we get more.

I have to end with Mexican Sunflower or Torch - one of our most favorite annuals - for its beauty and the nectar so loved by Monarchs and the seeds so loved by birds.

Happy, happy.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Summer Happenings: Monarchs, Promethea Moths, Art, Family & Friends

It's summer and we love it! Overall, it's been a very cool summer so our winter squash and tomatoes are just sort of sitting in the garden waiting for heat. We will see how much food we get from them this year. We are making a high tunnel and lean-to greenhouse this fall to help with season extension in different ways so next year, we hope, will be easier. We will post here as we progress on these projects.

We are seeing lots of cool nature stuff though, including monarchs - finally! There are lots of little eggs on our milkweed, which is just so dang exciting. Remember the Monarch Tent from last year?

We aren't doing that this year to try and keep disease low, but continue to work to improve their habitat here and work with township officials to safeguard roadside milkweed. Sometimes a little pink flagging and a friendly ask can work magic.

Steve found a fabulous find on our Tulip Poplar - the super beautiful Promethea Moth caterpillar:

We've found 4 on the tree so far and are enjoying watching the leaves disappear knowing they are raising one of the magnificient silkmoths that continues to struggle. (Here's an older article on this topic.)

Want to see a 1.5 minute video on this sweet little tree of ours featuring these caterpillars? Click here.


In other nature news, I met on several occasions one of the huge, fabulous Fishing Spiders (Dolomedes tenebrosusin our basement. This one lives primarily in wooded areas and ventures indoors fairly frequently. They eat most anything they can find and subdue.

A Clymene moth (Haploa clymene) was spotted on one of our Red Cedars we recently planted for a wind break. We saw dozens of these many years ago at Swamp Angel Nature Preserve in IN so it was fun to find one again. The caterpillars feed on Eupatorium species, oak, peach and willow and the land grows all those here.

Summer is also a great time for visiting with friends and we are so grateful to everyone who documents since we always manage to forget. We met up with our favorite Art Grange folks to spend the day exploring art (clay/fiber, willow) and nature at an open house in Roseville Ohio. If you are local, make sure you attend in the future...it's a beautiful and inspiring place.

Michelle and I were so charmed we started flying around like butterflies and birds!

The willow sculptures, fences, gates, baskets, etc. are so so cool. Steve is pondering this, of course.

We traveled to see family and friends; family and friends came to see us in Ohio. Life is good. Here's Jennifer's family:

Nope, we aren't twins...two years apart. Love this girl!

We continue to work our native plant nursery (thanks to everyone who has already helped spread these plants out into the world to work their magic!) and soak up all the goodness of life. The insect chorus happening now is one of our most favorite annual events. More soon. Take care everyone.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Native Plant Nursery Open Days 2017

It's time! We have lots of native perennial plants for sale so you can add them to your home landscape to enjoy their beauty, feed the birds and all the pollinators - including the bees and monarchs - and contribute to a growing effort to counter habitat loss and make our part of the world more beautiful. You can find details here and by reading on.

The flowers are in bloom here making us and the insects very happy.

Steve made a short video of a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth nectaring on their favorite Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). Wow!

Check out our list of available plants and some fun facts about them:

2017 Native Plant List and Prices.

Take a Native Plant Nursery Tour.

Did you notice the plant labels? They are printed by us and attached to repurposed old, plastic plant pots that Steve cut up. So far, they are holding up great in the sun and rain and should make shopping for potentially unfamiliar plants much easier.

At our Open Days this year, we will have our native plants for sale, plus some cool handcraft. Theresa Gonzalez pictured on the left below, Steve's sister, is a fantastic seamstress and knitter so we will have some of her wares available.

These seed aprons are perfect for gardening! I love mine and you can bet I will have mine on when you visit.

Theresa also makes colorful and useful bowl cozies for holding those items that are just too hot or too cold. We love ours so much I put nature artifacts in there sometimes, too.

Knit bag or hand warmers? She's got one or two of you covered on these items...

We will also have some wood totes (SOLD OUT), tree cookie stools and a few cutting boards made by us for sale.

Remember to bring your cameras and/or binoculars if you want to walk the trails and observe all the cool nature happenings. We look forward to seeing you!

Click here to find our address and a map. 

CASH or CHECK ONLY!!! We apologize for any inconvenience, but our cell reception here is not good enough to accept credit cards. Thank you for understanding.

22 (Sat.): 10-4 p.m.
25 & 27 (Tues. and Thurs.): 1-7 p.m.
29 (Sat.): 10-4 p.m.

3 (Thurs.): 1-7 p.m.
6 (Sun.) 10-4 p.m.
8, 10 (Tues. and Thurs.): 1-7 p.m.
12 (Sat.): 10-4 p.m.
15, 17 (Tues. and Thurs.): 1-7 p.m.
20 (Sun.): 10-4 p.m.
22, 24 (Tues. and Thurs.): 1-7 p.m.
26 (Sat.): 10-4 p.m.
29, 31 (Tues., Thurs.): 1-5 p.m

2, 3, 4 (Labor Day Weekend): 1-5 p.m.
12, 14 (Tues., Thurs.): 1-5 p.m.
19, 21 (Tues., Thurs.): 1-5 p.m. 
24 (Sun.): 1-5 p.m.
26, 29 (Tues., Thurs.): 1-5 p.m.
30 (Sat.): 1-5 p.m.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Gnarly Squash Patch or Sophisticated Eco-Garden, Time Will Tell

By Steve:

When we installed our vegetable garden, we did it in a hurry and converted it from an existing lawn area. Had we had time to observe the surface flow of rainwater after significant precipitation events we would have excluded some of that area because it turned out to collect too much water. So now we are letting the lowest part of our vegetable garden recover to native vegetation. That leaves a couple of areas that we want to retain for growing vegetables in the middle of the wet-dry spectrum - a bit wetter than we'd like. We've struggled with trying to control the main "weed" (yellow nut sedge) and failed no matter what. Rather than be defeated we decided to work with nature and simply plant INTO the mix of native perennials, some non-native but beneficial perennials and some annuals. Our first experiment with this technique is for our winter squash beds because we plant those in mounds and this would be more compatible with a matrix of other plants than rows. 

Here you can see the squash mounds amidst the "weeds" that we are attempting to actually benefit from (blooms for pollinators, habitat for predators to perhaps help with squash bugs and borers, initial shade for squash seedlings, mulch from clippings).

On July 1 this is what it looks like and it's actually quite pleasant with at least a dozen species of non-vegetable plants that are, seemingly, benefitting the vegetable crops and providing the gardeners with beauty and wonder.

Close-up to show the squash plants thriving as much or more than they have in the past, when we spent way too much time pulling "weeds." 

We will provide an update later in the growing season and, we hope, have a photo of a large pile of winter squash harvested and ready for the root cellar! 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Putting An Ecosystem Back Together = Diverse Life = Endless Inspiration

Friends, it's so wild and crazy here in many ways (plant nursery, vegetable garden, homesteading projects, soil consulting, etc.) and is why I've not taken time to sit down and write, but what's important to share is the multitudinous life now calling this 3.5 acres home.

We logically comprehend what happens when an ecosystem that grew together for millenia is put back together, but to witness it happen - so quickly - is way beyond what we expected and even dreamed. Here's a quick glimpse at some very recent sightings, all on this little patch of ground we call home with a backlog of videos tucked in here and there.

Happy Summer!

Golden-backed Snipe Flies on woodland/grassland trail:

Bristly Cutworm Moth found under some pots I used:

Gray Treefrog on Cup Plant:

Carolina Buckthorn in bloom:

Monarch Caterpillar on Common Milkweed:

American Bullfrog:

American Toads:

Painted Turtle:

Crazy-colored Green Frog:

Twelve-spotted Skimmer:

Staghorn Sumac in full bloom (a pollinator favorite, for sure):

Foxglove Beardtongue in full bloom (another pollinator favorite):

Dogwood in bloom (ID confirmation as soon as it sets fruit) with Spring Azure nectaring:


American Woodcock juvenile (we flushed Mama on our nature trail and found this little fluff ball):

Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar (2nd/3rd instar) on Tulip Poplar:

Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar (5th instar) on Tulip Poplar:

American Carrion Beetle and Garden Carrion Beetle on dead Garter Snake (from our basement...poor bugger):

We seek wilderness like fish to water because it's our heart and we love to venture out into this big, beautiful world, but find creating wilderness on our homeland makes access a little easier and a lot more frequent. 😃