Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Caterpillars hard at work

I love butterflies and it is my goal to attract many varieties of butterflies and ensure that they will take up residence in my yard instead of just passing through. With that in mind this year I planted parsley and Queen Anne's Lace (host plants) for the Black Swallowtail butterfly. Yesterday I notice that a number of leaves on my Italian parsley had been eaten. Upon closer inspection I saw a caterpillar and then another and another....7 in total! I was so excited I started jumping for joy. Of course my husband wondered what was going on so he came over to share in my excitement. What we saw were caterpillars in different developmental stages.

Early instar caterpillar

Late instar caterpillar (without spikes)

Many of the caterpillars were in the late instar stage and getting ready to go off and find a place to build their chrysalis. So very exciting!!!

I also found another type of caterpillar in the garden. This one is the tomato hornworm caterpillar eating away at my tomato and pepper plants. Definitely, not a good thing. These caterpillars come from moths who deposit eggs on host plants, such as tomatoes. They feed into the early fall and then pupate. The pupae remain in the soil through the winter. And, this can result in a continuous cycle of pests in my vegetable garden.

Tomato Hornworm Caterpillar

Usually when I find these I remove them and kill them by placing them in soapy water; however, I have a natural insect pest control doing the work for me. These caterpillars are covered with cocoons of a parasitic wasp. Larvae that hatch from the wasp eggs feed on the inside of the hornworms until the wasp is ready to pupate. These wasps kill the hornworms when they emerge from the cocoons and will seek other hornworms to parasitize. Mother Nature at work is a very good thing!

Braconid Parasitic Wasp cocoons

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The trial and error of composting...with a surprise!

Last year we decided to get down and dirty and try our hand at composting. My husband built a large compost bin (5' x 8') and during the course of the past months we have been throwing in all sorts of greens (nitrogen) and browns (carbon) such as raw kitchen scraps (fruit, vegetables and egg shells), fresh green garden waste, dry leaves and grass. We've layered the browns and greens with organic dirt and manure mixture. I try to turn the whole thing once a week but to be honest I haven't been faithful about it. I have relied solely on the rain for moisture which in this dry summer hasn't been enough. When I turn the compost I see lots of worms and the occasional skink ...good signs that the process is working; albeit ever so slowly.

About a month ago, we notice some growth along the perimeter of the compost bin. Since we are all for experimenting in the garden it has remained untouched so we could see what exactly was growing. It seems that some residual cantaloupe seeds found the soil to be very fertile (after all it is the best organic dirt in the garden) and are now growing rather profusely.

So the other day when I was throwing scraps in the bin I saw some fruit growing on the vine! In fact there are two melons. I can't wait to try them! I have never grown melon before and I am very excited about this!

The rabbits are at it again....

Yesterday was a workout in the garden. Alas, it was time to tend to parts of the garden that have been neglected for much of the summer due to the oppressive heat. It has just been too hot to get out there and do any real hard labor. Well, during weed pulling and trimming of the shrubbery I discovered a good size rabbit hole under one of my knock-out roses.

Now, I have a love/hate relationship with these creatures. They are really very cuddly and adorable looking. I love Beatrix Potter stories and had a pet rabbit as a child. However, they do so much damage to my garden often times I feel like Mr. McGregor running after Peter Rabbit with my shovel. Not that I would be fast enough to catch one and even if I was I would never kill it with a shovel. So, I have done some research on ways to get rid of the rabbits. Here are some options which I read about:

1. Mix 1/4 cup human urine, 1/4 cup Castor oil, 1/4 cup ammonia in a gallon of water and spray over the area you want to protect. Well, I think I'll pass on that one for obvious reasons.

2. Get a dog or cat. We are not a cat family and we just lost our dog of almost 16 years this summer. So that is not on the table right now.

3. Sprinkle powdered red pepper around the garden. Apparently rabbits are great sniffers so this may deter them. This sounds promising but they will just run to the neighbors and eat their plants. Well, that wouldn't be very neighborly of me would it.

4. Sprinkle blood meal around the plants after each rainfall (don't use this method if you have dogs because they'll be attracted to the scent and start digging...probably not the result you want...making the already large rabbit hole even larger)

Well, seeing that we currently don't have a dog I think I will go with option #4 and see how this works in reducing the rabbit population; at least in my garden.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Orange, yellow and more orange....

Orange is one of my favorite colors. I know a lot of people stay away from this color but it just pulls me in. I seem to constantly surrounded myself with orange in some form or fashion. Maybe some of it is my mother's influence who is also passionate about the color orange. I won't even begin to tell you about how many orange throw pillows we had in our house growing up. And, then there is my husband who is also very orange...a Clemson grad and a very devote if not fanatical fan. I have numerous Canna plants in the garden of the orange persuasion and the blooms are just gorgeous right now. See for yourself ...

These are incredible plants. In the heat of the summer when so many plants are just in survival mode these amazing specimens are full of life. They are the perfect blend of orange and yellow. I could just put a blanket on the ground and lay myself down and stare up at the blooms against the clear, blue sky. It is the perfect contrast of brilliant colors. The things dreams are made of...

Monday, August 2, 2010

Scenes of a Southern Summer at the Farm

We spent last week at my in-laws farm in Mississippi. It is a wonderful place to relax, fish, observe wildlife and spend time with the family. One of my favorite things to do is take pictures of all the beautiful flora and fauna. This summer there was an abundance of zinnias which attracted a profusion of butterflies.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Cabbage butterfly

The Canna were gorgeous! These are the mother plants of the Canna I have growing in my yard.

The Little Gem Magnolia was blooming profusely. The green shiny leaves and the paper white blooms are absolutely stunning!

There is always interesting fauna around the farm. Here are some of the creatures we saw on this visit...

a rather large garden spider which has beautiful coloring

The cutest little tree frog was hiding under the grill on the back deck.

There are two resident geese at the farm. They are the best 'watch dogs'...quacking at anyone who dares enter and chasing after them. They are also great producers of fertilizer for all the fauna. It is no wonder that the grass and plants look so lush!

Some random pictures around the pond that exude a feeling of serenity every time I look at them.