My intention with this blog is to write once a week about biological and other happenings at our little homestead on Crag Mountain. This will serve as a reminder for Charley and me to slow down and take stock of what is sprouting or blooming, what creatures (bugs especially, of course!) we’ve noticed, and what we’re eating out of the garden and woods. Assuming I am properly diligent, we can know what to expect in future years, and document any phenological changes from year to year. It’s also an excuse to spend some time taking photos of beautiful things. In addition to close-ups of creatures mentioned, I intend to post pictures of certain parts of our yard repeatedly, so we have a log of changes over the seasons.
Solar panel flower garden in April, June, and August.
Back, or down-hill garden on July 7 and today (August 15).
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As anyone living in the New England knows, we’ve had a significant drought over the last two months. This week we finally got some rain, but the garden still looks tired (like I feel in the heavy humidity). Nonetheless, the yard is thick with Queen Anne’s lace flowers, the Canada goldenrod is just starting to bloom, and milkweed pods are swelling.
In the woods, monkeyflower (Mimulus ringens) is blooming. We found a stem mining fly in the monkeyflower in our woods just two days before it emerged—the fly, or at least its life history, is unknown to science, so Charley will send it off to a taxonomist now that we have reared the adult. You can read more about our (especially Charley’s) bug adventures at his blog, bugtracks.
One of my least-favorite plants, tearthumb, or Polygonum sagittatum, is also blooming in the woods. It sprawls across the ground, tearing not just thumbs, but also legs and any other tender bit of skin that it touches. Our woods was logged 4-5 years ago, and tearthumb is an early colonizer of seepy places with some sun.
On the garden fence, groundnut (Aprios americana) is blooming spectacularly. Groundnut is a native legume with delicious edible tubers, so we’ve encouraged it to spread.
In the garden, we’re picking sweet corn (sweet ambrosia), the first of the tomatoes, bush and pole beans, zucchini and yellow crookneck summer squash, eggplant, peppers, chard, broccoli, and kale. We’re still harvesting the ever-bearing strawberries, and ate the penultimate mulberry yesterday (it’s only a two year old tree, so we’re thrilled to have gotten about 15 berries). Also yesterday, we ate the first two ground cherries of the year. Around the county, blueberries have been ripening for almost a month, but up here on the mountain, we’re just picking the first both wild and cultivated blueberries this week. Our cultivated beach plums are starting to turn.
I almost forgot to mention the wild blackberries, though they are the highlight of the week! The patch is in full swing. I picked 3 quarts easily in about an hour, and made blackberry jam (strained this year, so we wouldn’t have to crunch through so many seeds). Last year a bear crashed some helpful paths through the prickly patch… no such luck yet this year, but I’m setting the motion camera out in the berry patch today just in case. At the least, we might get a photo of the grouse family that we keep flushing.
We’re still picking an abundance of Japanese beetles off of the cherry trees, grapes, evening primrose, and raspberries, even though it seemed like they had slowed down last week. We pluck them into a container of soapy water and dump it in the chicken yard; the hens gobble them up in seconds flat. There have also been some red-humped caterpillars (Schizura concinna), a species of notodontid (moth) whose caterpillars devour leaves of apples, cherries, and in our case, plums. They go to the chickens too, but sometimes Charley is nice and moves them to a wild cherry at the edge of the woods. This week we’ve noticed lots of grasshoppers and the first evening feeding swarms of Aeshna (Darner) dragonflies. Spicebush swallowtail caterpillars have been folding the leaves of the spicebush we planted by the front of the house.
In the flowerbeds, purple coneflower and black-eyed Susans are blooming, and covered in pearl/ northern crescents (Phycoides sp).
In the mega-fauna category (comparatively, anyway), we’ve been hearing a family of Barred Owls, the young making a very peculiar sound as their parents school them on proper hooting. Yesterday we saw an American Robin take the first real bath that we’ve witnessed in our birdbath. Its three puffy fledglings looked on from the grass as it splashed in the water and shook its feathers dry. I haven’t managed a photo yet, but I’ve been seeing a young porcupine ambling along in the woods, and tonight, there was one sitting in the middle of the road. Two days ago, coming home in the dark, we had to physically remove two American Toads from the driveway before driving up it to avoid squashing them. Since the rain a few days ago, I’ve noticed at least a dozen young pickerel frogs jumping out from underfoot as I walked through the dewy morning grass. Below, you can see one hiding under the rhubarb shot through a hole in the leaf.
I can’t wait to see what new things this week has to offer!