The echoing silence around here has been due to our absence. We were off in the Great White North last week, visiting family and collecting blueberries from the family farm. Usually when we arrive this time of year the bushes are laden with fruit, so much so that it’s impossible to pick them all. Along with the fruit, the bushes are typically crawling with all manner of wasps and hornets which feast on the berries as they become overripe. Despite our best efforts each year, we’ve never been able to pick the bushes totally clean.
This year the bushes were the barest I’ve ever seen them; oddities of weather meant that the crop was unusually small. The scarcity when we arrived was also due in part to the decision to allow pick-your-own folks to access the field without set hours; the easy to pick berries at eye and hand level were all gone. Berries remained at the interior of the bushes and at heights that required one of us to stand on a stool while the other held the bucket. In addition to these, some bushes were dotted with second round berries, those that were left to ripen after the bush was picked nearly clean earlier in the season. As a result, we spent more time in the field this year for fewer berries. The weather was gorgeous, clear and much cooler than home, even on the hottest days. It was nice to be outside, and I lost track of time each day as I usually mark the hours passing by the number of berries in the buckets.
Now that we’re back home we’re eating berries in our cereal, I’m freezing some for the winter, and I’ve made one pie and some sauce to go over the angel food cake we had for my partner’s birthday. There’s a recipe for pickled blueberries that seems to be something like a sweet relish or chutney that I’m interested in trying, but I may decide that we don’t have enough berries to spare for that. I remind myself that the berries will grow again next year; I’m sure I’ll be convinced, as I am each year, to share some with our friends.
It has finally begun to rain again, which means that the plants are less brown and the rain barrel is filled up again. I was surprised to empty it, and it definitely came in handy during the dry spell. We have yet to set up the second one, although we could have used it. The indoor plants seem to like the untreated water just fine, so that’s a bonus use as well.
Now that the daylilies are done blooming, I took some time to cut out the dead stalks. They now look tidier, but much shorter. I also cut the flowering stems off the lavender, which was time-consuming as I didn’t want to simply shear the plant down. Perhaps in future years; at the moment it looks nice and bushy and more like it belongs in its spot (in contrast to when all the stems were growing nearly horizontally in their attempts to be in the sun at all times).
Besides those two efforts, I have done very little in the yard lately. It’s been brutally hot and humid, but also dry so not much has been growing. The big excitement has been the insects that have discovered the milkweed: we have a whole slew of orange milkweed aphids, and just last week I returned to see a female Monarch flitting around. It appeared as if she were inspecting greenery, but I couldn’t locate any eggs so we’ll have to wait and see if she laid them. On the butterfly front, I’ve had several other small visitors to the garden now that the liatris is blooming, a Horace’s Duskywing and a Silver-Spotted Skipper.
It’s my hope that we’ll get back out in the yard and finish clearing it of weeds in a few weeks, after we go on vacation and the weather cools down. Of course, around here we could be a couple of months waiting for cooler weather. Plenty to do inside as well!
When I talk with neighbors about our yard, they are uniformly positive about the way it looks. Which I can understand: we eradicated the pokeweed orchard in the back corner; we cut the vines back out of the trees; we’ve pruned deadwood and limbed up the border hollies; and we’ve managed to create relatively weed-free areas around the shrubs and various flowering plants. When I look at the yard, though, all I see are the weeds popping up in the beds we’ve somewhat cleared, the vines creeping back over the fence and up the trunks of trees, the mulberries growing (literally) out of the foundation of the garage, and the poison ivy popping up here and there in back corners. It’s enough to make a girl forget all her principles and just wholesale blanket coat the area with poison, deep-seated hatred of Monsanto be damned.
That’s where I was last week, ready to spray Roundup ™ on everything that was growing anywhere I didn’t want it. I thought, ‘Hey, next week will be hot and dry for the first seven day run all summer, perfect!’ So I started reading more about applying it. Which led me to studies that reminded why I hadn’t used it in the first place: negative impacts on amphibians, the possibility of residues lingering in the soils or harming various types of insects, and scary correlations with miscarriages in women exposed to the spray. Golly.
So, it’s back to the digging up, pulling out, and smothering plan. We’ll still spot-spray the poison ivy, and likely apply some kind of glyphosate to the stumps of the saplings we’re trying to kill. It appears that the universe approves of this change (back) of heart, because it’s delivered me a (literal) truckload of old newspapers that will be put to use in the smothering part of the plan. Just as soon as I read up on how to do that.
As a general rule, I don’t like to spread poisons around. Not inside the house, not on the lawn, not to kill bugs, and not on any of the plants I’ve planted. There are, of course, exceptions. For the first couple of years we lived here, we sprayed poison in a perimeter around the foundation of the house to discourage the ants that had decided the interior was better than the exterior during the year in which the house stood empty. The past two springs we’ve sprayed the cherry trees with larvacide to prevent Eastern Tent Caterpillars from recurring to the extent they did the year I drowned 2000+ by hand (from which I still haven’t truly recovered). I spray the poison ivy with the strongest poisons I can find whenever it crops up, for what little good it does me. And, this year I spot-sprayed ‘insecticidal soap suitable for organic gardeners’ on the bee balm and hostas that were becoming totally covered in little midges and white flies and aphids and what have you. Most of the time, though, I rely on nature to balance itself out (although reading that tally does give the impression of quite a lot of poisoning).
When it comes to wasps, I generally try to keep an eye out for their nests and knock them off the porch ceiling with a broom handle before they get too large. This year, however, yellow jackets made a ground nest at the edge of the lawn. I discovered this in the same way that everyone discovers yellow jacket ground nests, by getting stung on the ankle while mowing the grass. Besides pissing me off and making my ankle swell up like a red-hot baseball for a couple of days, this was disturbing because it’s right in the clumps of weeds that I typically yank up by hand whenever I get the chance. After consulting with our town public works manager, I conceded that the best thing to do was mark the spot and have my partner spray a can of Raid ™ into the hole in the middle of the night. It took us some time to locate the opening; for a while I was thinking we would have to weed-whack the area and run, but some careful observation eventually revealed the spot from which they were coming and going.
Last night after dark we did the deed, nobody got stung, and this morning I didn’t see any wasps coming or going. I can’t say that I’m totally pleased to have emptied a can of toxic chemicals into the ground, but I’ll certainly feel better about the whole thing if it actually works.
First of the Gay Butterflies Butterfly Weed assortment to bloom.
One of my goals in selecting plants to add to our garden is to attract more butterflies and predator insects. As with the desire to have more birds, it’s my hope that the mosquitoes can be kept to a minimum by natural predation. So far, we’ve seen some improvement over last year; it’s now possible to walk around in the yard and work in some areas without getting eaten alive. There are still a few problem areas, notably the puddle-ish area at the foot of the basement stairs (where we’re going to install a drain as part of the work on the basement) and the bumpy black plastic downspout extension on that same side of the addition. So, that corner of the yard is not so great. The rest is pretty good on a sunny day though, and even working outside at dusk I was able to make do with just the citronella bucket and not a DEET coating. Between our water management work, the birds, and the insects, we seem to be making progress.
In terms of butterflies, I’ve so far seen only the most common ones. They’ve appeared in greater numbers than I remember, Spring Azures and Cabbage Whites being the most frequent visitors. We had a larger black and blue butterfly hang around for a few days in the spring, however I wasn’t able to identify it. I’ve been using a poster that I picked up in Hilton Head, Butterflies of the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, as a way to narrow down my options and then Peterson’s Eastern Butterflies or an online guide to our county to confirm the identifications. In addition to the two common white butterflies, I’ve noted several Eastern Tailed-blues in the yard, and caught visits by a Clouded Sulphur and what I believe was a Hobomok Skipper.
During trips farther south, I’ve seen a few other species. During our bi-annual farm party we saw a large number of Cloudless Sulphurs grouped along a puddled lane. We also spotted a Tiger Swallowtail and a variety of small and medium orange-and-black butterflies that were just too fast for us to identify. Similarly, we spotted a large orange butterfly that looked like a Great Spangled Fritillary during an outside wedding last weekend, but had neither binoculars nor book at hand. I’ve seen orange butterflies in our yard, but haven’t been quick enough to get a good look at them. I’m hoping that once the flowers start coming into bloom I’ll start to be able to get a good look at them at rest.