Thursday, June 26, 2014


It's always a joy to see fireflies -- here in the Carolinas, it's June when we see most of them. 

I don't know that much about fireflies -- just that the males flash to attract mates; the periodicity is meaningful; and different species flash at ground level, mid-level, and up in the canopy.

We had a colleague years ago who studied them in the Smokies. He'd head off in June to lie on the forest floor at night and do counts and monitoring. (He had been a city dweller before we knew him, so he seemed an unlikely person to be doing this kind of research!)

Fireflies are definitely seasonal, and hmm, a quick google search brought up this; clearly fireflies are impacted by human disturbance as so many other organisms have been.

But they're still relatively common in the Eastern U.S. and elsewhere in humid areas of the world, apparently.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Poison ivy, Virginia creeper, and other condundrums

I've been allergic to poison ivy since childhood, so I'm very familiar with how to identify it and avoid contamination.  (I'm crazed about making sure our dogs - over the years - haven't picked up the urushiol from the leaves on hikes, etc. -- and if they have, it's always been bath time!)

So, it's with some humility, and annoyance, that I'm suffering through the worst case of poison ivy that I've had in years.  Most unwelcome, although happily it's not all over my face (that's the worst!)

The saga started about a week ago, with weeding Virginia creeper seedlings in our front woodland border.  There were LOTS of them this year, so I was glad to have the opportunity to pull most of them up, before they covered the woodland wildflowers that we're nurturing!

But, Virginia creeper seedlings can often have 3 leaflets as the first set of true leaves -- this photo from another blog illustrates this nicely, and we've seen seedlings like this in our garden, too.

They're "ringers" for poison ivy.

So, as I was blithely weeding Virginia creeper, I must have also pulled up a poison ivy seedling, or two, as well, thinking it was Virginia creeper.  And, unfortunately, even though I washed my hands after coming back in, I didn't do my usual thorough washing up (immediately) that would follow a potential poison ivy exposure.  We've been so thorough about trying to eradicate poison ivy from our landscapes, I wasn't even thinking about the potential for seedlings.  Hmm, since in a former life I did research in germination ecology, I should have thought about this!

Lots of (native plant and other) seedlings have become established this year, after a very good fruit production year last season.

Here's a comparison of Virginia creeper and poison ivy, from another blog called Identify that Plant.

Virginia creeper on the left, poison ivy on the right
So, I have bad patches on my arms, with secondary patches elsewhere.  Nothing too dreadful, but much worse rashes from the direct contact than I normally would have (from secondary contact).

A cautionary tale, for sure.  With itchy arms to show for it.

For those of you that are interested in the dermatology behind the reaction to the oils, this is an excellent explanation about contact dermatitis.

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Monday, June 23, 2014

Swapping peas for beans

I never imagined that I'd be pulling out sugar snap peas, beet greens, and purple-podded peas just after the first day of summer. But I did that over the weekend, and we enjoyed the harvest.

It took a bit of scrambling to round up the appropriate bean seeds for their trellis replacement, too.  I had some of them at the ready, and thought that I had all of my seeds here, too, but apparently some of the warm season varieties are in a separate container elsewhere.  A quick visit to two local commercial sites took care of that!

I like to grow pole beans: Italian romano, lazy wife greasy beans (an Appalachian heirloom from SowTrue seed), and yard-long beans (which thrive in hot summers). I also sowed a fresh round of cilantro and chard, and planted another Japanese eggplant.  I planted some squash seeds, too, just for fun, and would have planted more, but the woodchuck is definitely too active in the lower beds to make it practical without barriers in place.

Here's my (very) first test audio snippet (too short to be called a podcast) recorded on Garageband and uploaded through Soundcloud.  I've done quite a bit of audio/radio over the years (even video), but with expert support as part of my work. 

This was unedited and not redone, so hardly a smooth piece, but... it's a thrill to see this work.  Magic!

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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Purples in the garden

fading Aquilegia petals
I've been amazed at the brilliant colors that the fading Aquilegia petals have become.  They're almost neon magenta.  A quite un-natural color, but it's still a true color!
Aquilegia, a fern, and rocks
 The corner plantings look lovely, because of them, and the robust foliage of ferns and celandine poppy.
developing Indigo Rose tomatoes
 The developing Indigo Rose tomatoes clusters look great  -- and hopefully, foretell some delicious anthocyanin-rich tomatoes...
purple-podded "soup" peas
And the purple-podded soup peas ("Blauwschokkers"--I think -- an old German/Dutch variety) has been beautiful, too.)  The fresh peas have been tasty enough, but I'm thinking that they're not worth the space in a small garden!

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Deer herbivory pressure

Hmm, disappearing leek tops and parsley had me suspicious about woodchucks a couple of weeks ago in the Piedmont-- really, parsley eaten from the large container on the top of the front steps?

But, seeing two sets of does with fawns today -- one outside my study window, and the other near the Madren Conference Center where my SCBG colleagues and I do rotating gardening call-in shows on YourDay (we were on today), had me re-thinking this.

The Madren Center is adjacent to the golf course, and I saw the mom and two fawns right next to the main entrance road, leaving the radio studio.  It surprised me, but maybe it shouldn't?

I'm thinking perhaps deer ate the leeks, potato tops, etc, after all. I am truly sympathetic as a wildlife-friendly gardener, but these young deer families are RIGHT in the middle of town and campus!

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

More nature journaling and watercolor

I suppose I'm already a nature journaler, but adding sketching and watercolor is something new again, and returning to my "roots" as a nature observer, many years ago.

My scientist and observer skills serve me well, I've found, in trying to translate what I see in the natural world to paper, in the language of an artist, as my teacher, Robert Johnson, in a recent 4-day workshop described.

His work is wonderfully evocative of the natural world, extracting the essence of what he sees.  It was a great workshop and helped me build a bit more confidence in describing my observations through an artistic medium, beyond photography.

Here were a couple of the watercolor drawings that I did!

 Serviceberry fruits and leaves
native Geranium

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Sunday, June 1, 2014

A red-bellied woodpecker

There's a male red-bellied woodpecker that's been a regular at our feeder this spring, making occasional, but not infrequent, forays to snag LOTS of seeds, presumably to cache at least some of them.

This post from a couple of years ago has better pictures, with more explanation!

Today's photo (the only one I managed to get) was quite blurry -- but it was fun to see him visiting, in any case.

a male red-bellied woodpecker at the feeder

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