Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What is Success in the Garden?

I was mowing the lawn the other day and nearly ran over a frog.  I immediately thought to myself, 'Success!'

Don't worry, my feeling of success was not related to almost decapitating a frog. (He thankfully hopped to safety.)  Rather, it was because I was so happy that my garden and yard had managed to attract such a variety of local wildlife.

American Goldfinch eating Salvia seeds
A few years ago, after we moved into our house in North Carolina, we hired a pest control service to spray around the perimeter of the house for bugs.  That's just what one did in the South, spray for poisonous spiders and ticks and such.

The next day I found several dead frogs next to the house.

Bee and Penstemon
In horror, we canceled the pest control service, but it was two years before I saw frogs in the yard again.

Norman, our local groundhog
That was when it hit home for me that I must be much more judicious with chemicals around me.  The environment was more connected than I realized, and in trying to get rid of things I didn't want, I could end up affecting so much more.

American Lady butterfly on Allium
While I know there will still be critters that I think of as pests and animals that I wish would move out of my garden...

hint, hint
...in general, I now try to garden more conscientiously, with the lives of those around me in mind.

Snowy Urola Moth
Success in the garden has stopped meaning the perfectly manicured lawn or perfect looking, un-chewed plants and flowers anymore.  Those things are beautiful, but not at the cost of a different type of beauty.

I do get a huge thrill of accomplishment when I see my garden with lots of flowers in bloom and no weeds in sight (okay, I'll settle for few weeds in sight),

Sulphur butterfly on Purple Coneflower
and I love it when my vegetable garden is productive and we get a nice haul of fruit and veggies,

Grey Catbird overlooking the veggie garden
but to me, possibly an even higher level of garden success is seeing frogs hopping out of the way of the lawn mower.

Happy gardening for wildlife!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

It's the Three-lined, Two-horned, Flying Orange Potato Eater

Some people might remember the old song about the One-eyed, One-horned, Flying Purple People Eater.  Well, this is the Three-lined, Two-horned, Flying Orange Potato Eater, aka the Three-lined Potato Beetle:

Given the name, one might assume that these little flying beetles mainly eat lots of potatoes, or at least potato leaves. While they do eat potatoes and anything in the nightshade family, including tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, their favorite food is actually tomatillos.

I can vouch for this.

Both the adult beetles and the larvae devour the plant leaves.  The larvae hatch from orange eggs that are laid in clusters, usually on the underside of the leaves along a vein.

The larvae of the Three-lined Potato Beetle quite possibly qualify for the prize of one of the most disgusting animals out there.  When I first saw one, I wasn't sure if it was a slug or a little pile of poop.

winner of the 'Ugliest Baby' award?
I was not that far off the mark - the larvae cover themselves with their own excrement, which is actually toxic from the larvae dining on plants in the nightshade family.  Possible predators take one whiff of the toxic poop and realize they aren't so hungry after all.  Scientist call this protective poop a 'fecal shield'.

I call it 'ewwww.'

Sorry, but your offspring are just plain disgusting.
In order to control the advances of the Three-lined Potato Beetle in small gardens, you can just handpick them.  I crush them when I see them, but since they have a natural instinct to fall to the ground when you touch them, another easy method is to hold a jar of soapy water under them and let them fall into that and drown.  Check carefully under plant leaves, as they are often holding little rendezvous under there.

No!!!  No making more babies on my tomatillo plants!
I also check under the leaves for eggs and larvae and just destroy the ones I see.  Removing nearby weeds in the nightshade family can help control the beetle population, as well as placing row covers early in the season, as long as you rotate crops.  (If you are growing tomatillos or potatoes in soil that has previously held something from the nightshade family, row covers won't help, since the Three-lined Potato Beetle overwinters in the soil.)

For large gardens, if handpicking is too difficult, one can spray thoroughly with insecticidal soap or neem oil, which kills the eggs and larvae.  Some growers will also use chemical means, such as permethrin, bifenthrin, or pyrethrin.

So far the handpicking has been working quite well, and my tomatillo plants are surviving and thriving despite the onslaught.  My guard is up against these three-lined, two-horned, flying orange potato eaters, or in my case, tomatillo-eaters.

(Not to mention the poopy larvae, who sure look strange to me.)

Linking with Nature Notes - a blog party celebrating nature!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Time Flies When You're Digging in the Dirt

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt. 
~Margaret Atwood

perennial geranium
I haven't spent much time blogging lately, but for a good reason - there's been a lot of gardening to do!

the front walkway
With such a late spring after our record-breaking winter, it seemed like there was so much to do at once here at the Red House.  I'm not even sure where May went, but I know I was outside for most of it.  It was so great to be outdoors, with the garden coming back to life and the yard full of brilliant shades of green.

We've been busy the last few weeks.  Raised beds were built for the veggie garden, seedlings raised and planted, and old plants moved around.  We added more garden beds to the front, and decorative fences were installed on either side of the driveway for me to grow my favorite vines on.

garden fence to the right of the driveway
I was a little unsure how the fences would turn out, but I think once all the plants around them grow up and fill in, they will look really nice.

More garden and less grass is always a good thing, right?  (Here's hoping I feel the same way when I am weeding all these beds!)

fence and garden added behind the mailbox garden to the left of the driveway
The perennials in the existing garden beds are looking nice and full, though they are now in that brief lull where spring blooms have faded but most of my summer flowers have yet to start blooming.  My flower beds are full of buds and promises.

Salvia 'New Dimension Rose', one of my few early summer blooming plants
Many edibles were also planted this year.  I've always wanted a 'pie garden', and so planted blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, ground cherries, and rhubarb.  It might be some years before I ever get enough fruit to actually make a pie - I have to somehow grow more fruit than my kids can eat!   We've also been hard at work in the veggie garden (aka 'salsa garden') this spring.  Mr. Red House built me raised beds so I could plant in better soil this year.  Don't they look nice?

new beds in the veggie garden
How time flies when one is puttering about the garden!  I can't believe it is now June and summer is nearly upon us.

blue false indigo
I hope you all are having fun in your gardens as well!
Happy gardening!

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