Thursday, October 4, 2018

Tiny insects, tiny campers and lots of plants...that's our fall folks

It's that time of year here in Ohio when days of opposing temperatures are coupled together in a 48 hour cycle: yesterday was 80 F, tonight will be 45 F and tomorrow will be 65 F. The wind is howling outside my window as I write and the yellow Black Walnut leaves are raining down, renewing the forest floor. We always hate to say goodbye to summer and my Dad - the winter man - always wonders how I am his child, but the brilliance of October is enchanting and so we enjoy the wonders of the season and want to share a few with you.

Caterpillars are everywhere and you know how excited that makes us. Here's a few we've seen recently:

Smartweed Caterpillars feeding and friending on Smartweed growing near our garden.

A Red-humped Oakworm walked across the trail at Mohican State Park (MSP) and I just dropped to the ground immediately to look at the incredible stripes. If my ID is correct, this caterpillar feeds on plants in the Fagaceae family (beech, oak, chestnut).

Drexel's Datana at MSP near a large patch of Witch Hazel, a frequent host plant. Datanas usually feed together and evidently disperse together because they were everywhere in this one location.

This is one of the Sphinx caterpillars, also at Mohican, but I am not sure which one. Can anyone help me out with an ID?

Fawn Sphinx found wandering our backyard thanks to the members of the Oleaceae plant family we have growing here (ash, lilac).

Hickory-horned Devil found while hiking once again at, Mohican State Park (can you tell this is a gem of a forest?). This is only the second time we've found this caterpillar in our entire 40 & 50 years of life so we were pretty dang excited.

A chysalis-site-searching Tiger Swallowtail caterpillar in Rockbridge State Nature Preserve with lots of Tulip Poplars, a preferred food plant:

It's easy to see why this place has its name. If you are local, you must go!

These Bumblebees are on one of our native asters. The female is the larger with two guys clinging on dearly. They were coupled for more than 4 hours.

What a cool shelter...who might be there?

Oooooo, it looks to us like a Marbled Orb Weaver or the enchanting pumpkin spider.

Monarchs are moving through in big numbers. The New England aster is definitely a super important source of energy for these beautiful butterflies. Our old field is loaded with these asters and therefore, with's seriously a sight to see.

Here's a quick video highlighting one of our favorite annual Monarch attractors: Mexican Sunflower aka Torch:

Fall is a great time for planting so you know we are doing lots of it, including adding some Yates Persimmons (we have the straight species here as well) and Dunstan Chestnuts - food for us that we might actually get in our lifetime!

The vegetable garden is in the in final stages with oodles more hot peppers to pick, which means another batch of delicious, homemade sriracha.

The high tunnel is growing us some mighty tasty kale, radish, collards, parsley, beets, etc. Steve rigged up a great drip system using our rain water harvesting. The soil seems very happy to not have well water constantly infiltrating.

I've been planting lots more natives to enhance some of our new orchard areas, which we don't mow.

Flowering Raspberry (Rubus odoratus) is one we really, really adore and that should be very happy in this sunny, moist spot.

All the stakes mark every second plant. We are probably putting in another hundred plants this fall! We might be crazy, but we are so addicted to seeing the life return to this land. How can we not plant?

A method we continue to experiment with is tucking into the tall European grasses. We've had such success with this method and the grass eventually fades away completely or enough the natives thrive. (Native Skipper and Common Wood Nymph butterflies use a lot of these European grasses for host plants, if you let them grow, so they aren't all bad.)

Old Field Aster survivors are highlighted below. The seed bank here continues to amaze us! Here's a short video on this super cool, must have plant.

We still have some great native plants for your garden and will continue selling until October 20th. There is still plenty of time to plant; if you do plant at this time, just check throughout the winter that the plants don't heave out of the ground with freeze/thaw. We love planting this time of year because it's so much less work than spring and drying soils. Since we continue to plant late, we just tour around in the winter and any that are heaving out of the soil, we push back in with our feet. Easy peasy.

 And finally, we found it - our little traveling home! We've looked for quite some time now and weighed many different options, but this little popup truck top camper stole the show. It didn't require a super trendy van build (though we did explore that option), we can both stand up in it, the weight isn't too much for our truck and it has a little kitchen, kitchen table and place to sleep. We are thrilled! This won't replace our backpacking adventures, but will, hopefully, help us satiate this neverending supply of wanderlust we both harbor.

A little cleaning and removal of old mauve carpeting and curtains was really all we had to do. All the systems work, hallelujah!

Steve tweaked out a bucket system for us for bathroom duties. They fit perfectly into those little half bucket circles. If' you've never peed in a 5 gallon bucket and you need a toilet somewhere one isn't, they work brilliantly. I've been using one for years out at our nursery.

Steve also found a USA company with steel tie-downs for our camper so we don't have to use sketchy straps.

Our inaugural trip is in a couple of weeks and we are beyond excited to see how this little unit fits our needs. We personalized a bit with things we already had...the accumulation of stuff in our house is astounding! How does that happen?

More in November friends!


  1. HOW exciting! Love your camper choice! Can't wait to see where you take off to. Could your caterpillar be the small-eyed sphinx? My field guide says it prefers wild cherry.

    1. Hi, hi!! We are so excited for this little camper. Yippee! The small-eyed sphinx sure looks like the caterpillar pictured. I pulled out Wagner's book and he says no lateral line on the head and it sure looks like we have one. This is tough! I Googled the species and some photos look a lot like ours. What do you think? Does your field guide show a line on the head? Maybe I will post this to as well.

  2. Jennifer, watched your video on the Awl Aster and you referenced what sounded like a particular book on Asters but I couldn't quite catch the name/author. Can you please share that info again?

    Thanks so much, and I love your utube channel! Watch your videos over and over. Would love to see one on how you plant natives amongst all the grasses etc.

    1. Hi michiganfriend! Thanks for writing. Your video request on planting natives amongst grasses is awesome. I will definitely make one. Thanks for the idea. I did mention an Aster field guide ...I apologize for not speaking clearer (I am really good at talking fast :) Here's the link to find it:

  3. P.S. How much do you abide by the "local genotype" philosophy? I'm from Michigan, but seriously thinking of visiting next season and making some purchases...

    1. Another great question!! We are looser in our interpretation of local genotype than some feeling plants within our ecoregion are appropriate. Here's a general map showing these regions: We plant here with plants from anywhere within our ecoregion. I am not sure which part of MI you live, but much of MI is in the same ecoregion as us. We are originally from IN, which shares the same as well. We would LOVE for you to visit and to meet with someone as excited about this planet as us! :)

    2. Jennifer, it was great to hear from you concerning my questions. Your ecoregion information comes as a major "breath of fresh air" for me! Thanks so much! Didn't know such a thing even existed. All I know is the local genotype philosophy has always troubled me. It has always felt far too restrictive. One native grower even commented that she wasn't sure if pollinators would even respond to the plants the same way if they weren't from Michigan!! Honestly, do they think our native pollinators slam on the brakes at the state border?? Silly I say. And I also believe there is something big to be said for buying from people you have a special connection with. And I want to tell you your heartfelt videos have made me feel just that way. Keep up the good work. I really look forward to your videos and have watched them repeatedly. I am in lower Southeastern Michigan. It does appear you and I are in the same ecoregion. That comes as great news to me.

    3. Your thinking sounds spot on with ours. :) I think some folks get a little too excited about super local genotype and lose sight of the big picture and how much work we have to do to get native plants in the ground. You are right....state lines are arbitrary lines created by humans! I hope to make that video you requested this week. Thanks so much for the encouragement and for taking time to write. We greatly look forward to meeting you!

  4. What a wonderful fall you are having! I'm patiently waiting for the monarchs while plenty of people are seeing them around the area. I've seen them in other areas of the state, just not my house yet. We bought a net so we could tag them for Monarch Watch this year.

    As for the hickory horn devil--I first saw them via Instagram this year--I didn't know about them. You might peruse this account, it is up your alley!

    Happy fall!

    1. I bet lots of Monarchs find you soon. The numbers are going down fast here, but we still have a green chrysalis. Hopefully, that one will eclose soon while the warm temps hold out. Buckeye Botanist...woo hoo! Thanks so much. Happy fall to you too!

  5. I've never seen anything like the Hickory-horned Devil. What an amazing find! Congrats on your new camper. Looks cozy! I hope you have many enjoyable adventures in it!

    1. They are sooooo cool! You two will find one, I am certain. We miss you two and hope life is good. Maybe a camping meetup is in our future again?!


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