Homestead Report 26: July 16, 2017

Somehow I took over 700 photos in the last month and didn’t post any of them… leaving me a bit overwhelmed as I sort through them now. It’s the glorious growing season and we’ve been BUSY as bees (or beetles, bugs, flies, moths, or any of the other creatures visiting the flowers these days).

At the beginning of the month, we were swamped in strawberries. This season we picked over 40 quarts of strawberries. I sold about 25 quarts at the farmers market. I also froze 2 gallons, made 3 batches of jam, gave away several quarts, and made a raw pie for the 4th of July.  They were tremendously abundant, and then abruptly done around July 8th.

Next up are black raspberries, blueberries, red currants, and chokeberries. All of our black raspberries are “wild,” but we’ve been encouraging them by beating back the blackberries in the edgy parts of our yard and woods. We’ve been picking them since the strawberries quit. We have about 10 highbush blueberry plants of different varieties. A few of them are producing berries, though they’re all just a few feet tall. I think we’ve eaten about 10 berries so far. The white cultivar of the red currant under our solar panel is loaded, and so far the birds haven’t found them–same with a feral red currant we stumbled upon in the woods. We also found a patch of purple chokeberries up on the Crag with abundant berries.  Quite delicious after a climb up there.

The partridgeberry is blooming. You can see the paired blossoms, which make a single fruit with two “nozzles” evident in last year’s berry in the upper right. The cranberries seem happy in our yard too, even though it isn’t a bog.

Speaking of bogs… I’ve had the opportunity to accompany Charley to work a few times recently, and lucky for me, that means admiring the carnivorous plants and insects (and non carnivorous things too) that live in bogs and shrub swamps.

Insects are everywhere! And it is awesome! Here’s a selection. The captions will tell you what things are.

Milkweed is a favorite not just of monarch butterflies; but also of ants, bees, flies, and moths that are nectaring on the blossoms right now. Also present are the characteristically orange and black milkweed feeders (bugs that eat milkweed leaves have various strategies to survive the toxic latex; they often become distasteful, making the warning coloration effective).

One of my favorite plants is meadowsweet (Spiraea alba). The bugs are loving it right now too.

On our most recent walk I noticed this adorable jumping spider.

Also, a spider filled this acorn cap with silk. Perhaps it is an egg sack?

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We’ve been seeing a young porcupine around (as well as a bigger one, sometimes).

And there are other rodents of unusual size around, too! The old beaver pond on our neighbor’s property has new activity! A dam!
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Our motion camera caught this young fox and its parent (I think) as well as a fawn.

The chamomile is going crazy. Lots of flower picking/ drying for tea.

Carrots! 3.7 pounds of them, harvested yesterday.

carrots (Napoli and Yaya)

And so on.

Weekly Homestead Report 2: Aug 22, 2016

First, a note to my email subscribers: the formatting will be much better, and the photographs larger, if you click on the link and read the blog online rather than in your email program. I think I’ve set it up so your email will be a summary with a button that will link you to the blog, but since I’m new at this, I’m not sure. Now, on to the week’s news!

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This is a week of beautiful caterpillars.

Over the last three years, we have converted a sterile lawn into habitat-rich orchard, vegetable garden, and meadow. The meadow has grown simply by not mowing regularly, and selectively mowing around desirable plants to promote them and suppress the prolific non-native invaders. The meadow and flower beds now include several large stands of common milkweed, lots of goldenrod and asters, a sea of Queen Anne’s lace, and some native shrubs—like spicebush.

Last week I posted a picture of a spicebush swallowtail caterpillar. This week, you can enjoy a younger instar. It has cleverly disguised itself as a bird dropping with eyes. All instars have pretty convincing false eyespots. The caterpillar’s actual head is tiny and tucked down, making it difficult to see its true eyes, and I suppose the guise works to persuade potential predators that it is actually a snake or something much fiercer than a caterpillar.

Queen Anne’s lace is in the parsley/carrot family, so native insects associated with this family are happy to eat this non-native plant. Just yesterday, we spotted a black swallowtail caterpillar. Last year, we found a few eating our cultivated carrots, and transferred them over to the Queen Anne’s lace. This one had found the Queen Anne’s lace on its own.

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Sometimes, very bland moths are very beautiful as caterpillars. Brown hooded owlet moth caterpillars certainly fall into this category. The caterpillars eat goldenrod and asters, so they’re happy in our yard!

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In the past, we have noticed milkweed beetles and milkweed bugs, but this week, for the first time ever, we spotted a monarch caterpillar! As is broadly known, monarchs are in decline for a number of reasons, including increased pesticide use and decreased habitat (farmers eliminating “weedy” hedgerows to maximize crop area). We have only one record of an adult monarch in our yard, on September 29, 2015. Obviously there must have been one in our yard a couple weeks ago, too, in order to lay the egg! We also spotted a milkweed tussock moth caterpillar and fall webworm eating milkweed.

Aside from caterpillars, we’ve been enjoying some great wildflowers. By the chicken house, the native sunflowers that we yanked up from the gravelly shoulder of the road near Charley’s parents’ house are blooming.  It was a patch he’d been admiring for most of his life, and when we noticed that they’d spread into the path of the highway department’s mower, we decided to transplant a few of the most at-risk. In the two years since then, they’ve spread wonderfully. Yesterday I photographed bumblebees, hover flies, a crab spider, and even a dance fly hanging out on them. Hover flies are bee mimics, reminding me of sweat bees, and while they do sometimes hang around sweaty people, even lapping moisture off of us with their sponge-like tongue, they are truly flies. They are in the family Syrphidae; many syrphid larvae eat aphids, and therefore are important biocontrols for farmers and gardeners.

In the woods, hog-peanut, common boneset, and white wood aster have started blooming. White wood aster is one of the most abundant woodland plants in New England, and its sweet white flowers brighten up the woods in late summer. At least on our land, they are the first of the asters to bloom (although we spotted the first calico aster bloom today, just a few days after the white wood aster).

In the garden, we’re picking an abundance of corn, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, summer squash, and eggplant. I’ve been canning. In the photos below, the really tall plant behind Charley is broom corn.

We’re finishing the last of the black currants and gooseberries, and are still enjoying ever-bearing strawberries. The ground cherries (or husk cherries) are just starting to ripen, and they are delicious! Ground cherries are native nightshades (the family that contains tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplant). The fruits, like those of tomatillos, are “wrapped” in a papery husk (a modified calyx). The fruit falls off the plant and finishes ripening on the ground; the husk turns brownish and crinkly when the fruit is ripe. Unwrapped, the fruits look like golden tomatoes, but taste sweeter and less acidic (Charley says, “like creamsicles”). Last year we dried some, creating unusually delicious raisins. So far this year, none have made it beyond the garden fence.

In other news, we acquired two additional hens on Wednesday. These girls showed signs of scaly leg mite, and even though their previous owner said they’d been treated, we decided to give them another leg-drenching and a 24-hour quarantine before introducing them to the rest of the flock. They’re still a bit shy with us and the other chickens, but I’m confident that they’ll fit in soon.