Monday, June 29, 2015

Blooms & Edible Columbus

Nevermind the incessant rain, we are beginning to bloom here in Morrow County, Ohio!

The insects are enjoying the blooms as much as us! Here's a Banded Hairstreak and Clover Stem Borer nectaring on Common Daisy (Bellis perennis):

Virginia Ctenucha on Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea):

Queen-of-the-Prairie (Filipendula rubra):

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta):

Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium):

The Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is incredible this year. It's everywhere on our property creating these pockets of incredible fragrance. We can't get enough, seriously!

Milkweeds are an important nectar plant for many, many species. Here's a few we've noted this week on Common Milkweed & Butterflyweed:

European Honeybee on Common Milkweed:

Native Leaf-cutter Bee:

Great-spangled Fritillary:

Crossline Skipper:

Eastern Bumble Bee on Butterflyweed:

Hover Fly:

And finally, we are thrilled to be included in the most recent edition of Edible Columbus! You can read the article online here. This is always one of our favorite magazines to read since it highlights things close to our hearts: growing, nature, food and the people that live their lives interested and involved in these things.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Virginia Creeper Sphinx Moth, A Cool Morning Visitor

Getting Steve on the road in the morning is always challenging because we discover some new bloom or invertebrate or bird or berries to pick (you get the idea) on the way to the car. A morning not too long ago, we finally made it to the car and then look who we found:

An incredibly beautiful Virginia Creeper Sphinx Moth (Darapsa myron).

I gently manuevered the moth onto my fingers so I could put it on a tree away from the car and while walking to a suitable place we came across a spiny caterpillar (not yet identified) right in the path. You can see why it's hard for us to get things done around here....there is too much to see!

When we first found this moth I thought it was the Pandorus Sphinx Moth (Eumorpha pandorus) because the adults have a similar shape and the same sort of greenish coloration. Checking our Peterson Field Guide to Moths I realized the coloration wasn't correct and was excited because even though the Virigina Creeper Sphinx Moth is common, this was our first sighting! The initial thought of the Pandorus Sphinx though made me want to share our August 2005 sighting at Loon Lake Nature Preserve in Indiana of the wandering caterpillar of this species:

Both of these sphinx caterpillars eat Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) and Grape (Vitis sp.) in our area. The caterpillar in the photo is wandering on a large grape vine. We have lots of both plants growing naturally and are so glad to so easily provide food for these beautiful and fascinating invertebrates. Both vines also feed birds and Virginia Creeper sports some of the best fall coloration so it's truly a win win!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Nine Lives of Murray

(this post by Steve)

O.K., it's not a Murray brand mower but it looks like a Murray brand mower and that works well with the title of this post!

My dad gave us one of his spare riding lawn mowers about five years ago (thanks Lanny!) and, since then, "Murray" has been on track to, like a feline, have nine lives:

Life #1: it died the first time when both the drive belt and the mower belt shredded in quick succession. That was an easy fix, though, leading to:

Life #2: the starter died so I took it to a repair shop and they replaced that with a new one that lasted ONE WHOLE SEASON...what a value! The guy gave me a price "break" on the next replacement starter, which is going on year-2 (fingers crossed).

Life #3: a couple of winters ago was a VERY cold one indeed, which drove the mice to reside in various crevices of "Murray" where they also chewed through the sparkplug wires. Annoying, but another easy fix.

Life #4: Murry gets conscripted into warranty-voiding duties such as rotational brush-mowing of our old-field habitat. Two years ago this mowing ended up ripping the mower deck from the bracket that connects it to the mower itself. Excellent excuse to buy a welder, which I did. Harder fix, but it's holding.

Life #5: the next thing that the warranty-voiding duty did to Murray was stripped the steering gear so I had to order those parts and tear the entire mid-section of the machine apart to get them!

Life #6: more warranty-voiding duty (mowing woody fencerows) resulted in the hood hinges tearing free from the hood itself. After a year of holding the hood down with my left as I steered with my right hand I decided to repair this issue and literally used bailing wire! I hope that the engineer who designed a heavy steel hinge to attach to a heavy steel hood via plastic bracket did not go on to suspension bridge design.

Life # 7: see below:

Meet "Murray:

Poor Murray gets worked pretty hard. That, plus the inevitable ravages of time and rust equals: more mower brackets breaking free from the deck. I first tried to weld the bracket back on but the metal on the deck was too thin so...

...I had to fabricate some reinforcements from some strap steel I had laying around. The top of the bracket was still pretty solidly-attached to the deck so I favored the bottom of the bracket for reinforcement:

This may well hold for a couple of additional lives, we hope!

Thanks to Lanny for gifting Murray to us and thanks to Murray for withstanding 7+ lives of brutal warranty-voiding duty.

The lesson: with regular repair and maintenance a "cheapie" mower can be (ab)used and last for many years!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Homemade Plant Benches

All our little baby plants need to get off the ground so the roots can air prune (and not root themselves in the soil below the pots) and so people can look at them without crawling around on all fours. Steve, a solution oriented man, took charge and started building. We purchased 2x4s for the tops because we finally ran out of our stash and not many people are offering up free 2x4s (if you have some let us know please!), but we used pallet lumber for the legs and used cattle panels for the tops so these benches are about 60% recycled.

And just like that, it suddenly looks like something is happening here...two benches down and only about eight more to go. Thank goodness we are excited about what we are doing!

Just this week I started separating plants and up-potting those that need it. Here's some milkweed (common, Sullivan'ts and butterfly) that are now planted singly. Exciting!

This is a big job and one I hope to have complete over the next couple of weeks. My office is pretty great! Some tunes, a fresh breeze and birds calling makes the time fly.

We continue to work to build our business with the lightest footprint on our planet that we can so for our plants we bought plastic pots made from recycled water bottles and some made from rice hulls and plan to also take pots back and reuse them.

Sweet, perennial lupine...what a cute plant!

I am working on the website now and some fabulous friends of ours created a brand new look for The Common Milkweed that we will share soon. It's BEAUTIFUL! We aren't quite sure where and when we will sell this summer, but we will post about it as soon as we do. It's a lot of learning and building we are doing this first year and there are many unknowns, but that keeps life interesting for us.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

And the season begins...

It always feels like the growing season is official once we are eating greens, asparagus, rhubarb and strawberries. What joy these bowls of food bring us!

The perennial wildflowers we put in last summer needed some weed help so we repapered them with this awesome stuff. We are such fans! Soon these will flower and we will post pictures....we are so excited to see these plants fill out these beds and provide oodles of flowers to cut and collect seed from. Woo hoo!

Can I say how much I love summer (or almost summer)?!

Chamomile is in full flower and I've loaded up the drying racks for inclusion in soap.  Life is good!