Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Peaches, Tomatoes, Caterpillars & Video Entertainment

Fall is settling in it seems so summer produce is slowing down, but the past few weeks put us to work processing food, running our plant nursery and soil consulting business and observing all the magic of nature calling this land home.

A friend shared oodles of peaches with us that we turned into jam. Imagine this mid-winter!

Our windowsills and any open surface are routinely covered in produce waiting for processing - which sometimes makes cooking a challenge in a small kitchen - but we are beyond thrilled with all this pure chemicals, no pesticides, no GMOs....just sunshine, water, plants and their pollinators.

All the milkweed we grew for 2017 sold this past week to several different monarch raisers, which made us so happy for the caterpillars and for the plants which really didn't want to be in pots anymore. We are seeing our fair share of monarchs here now and lots of caterpillars, which is encouraging.

Viceroy caterpillars munched through some of our young cottonwoods, which responded with more leaves. It's such a cool butterfly and plant so I made a video.

Steve found our first Giant Swallowtail caterpillar this year on our Hop Tree, which is in the Citrus Family (Rutaceae). I checked our Prickly Ash (also Rutaceae) and found another. We are beyond thrilled! This specific butterfly is what we hoped to attract when planting their caterpillar food plants. Success is so deeply satisfying. What you do in your yard and with your land makes a HUGE IMPACT on local wildlife. Videos are becoming a thing, I think. 

We also made a video highlighting the seed crazy American Goldfinches and the fabulous American Plum. There is so much coolness here we can hardly stand it!

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'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.