July 15th, 2014 §
You’d be forgiven for thinking the name of this blog should be Bugs, Birds and Buck Mountain. Posting has been heavy on the natural history lately, I suppose because I want to keep a record of the creatures that share this land with me. That, and baby birds are just cool.
But fear not—there is still some farming happening at Bonafide Farm, and as it’s been months since the last vegetable garden update that’s what we’ll do today.
I will be the first to admit that I am not in love with this garden this year, for several reasons. First, when I planted it in April I was pretty sure I would be moving away from the farm at the end of summer and didn’t think too seriously about where I put things. Second, the overwintered greens took up a vast amount of valuable real estate, and though I enjoyed them as we emerged from winter we had a long, cool spring and I didn’t get to pull them out to use their space for something else until just now, when it’s really too hot and dry to get much going. Finally, my veg garden is just too small, and plants are packed too tightly for all of them to get the sunlight they need to thrive. I hate working around them when they are so thick, always worrying about brushing against a wheel bug or hidden wasp nest.
I haven’t yet expanded the garden because that requires another goat rope of getting huge posts, pounding them in, digging in chicken wire around the perimeter, etc., not to mention beginning to improve the soil by shoveling tractor buckets of compost, all of which is doable but after having spent four painful months and thousands of dollars on a rotator cuff injury this winter I am leery of straining my still-fragile shoulder.
So, the garden is what it is. It’s not the most organized or pretty but it’s putting out vegetables and flowers and that’s all I suppose it really has to do. There have been some surprises this season. The most notable is that my squash, which usually falls victim to squash bugs around the time it’s ready to harvest, is chugging along just fine. It’s in the photo above, to the right of the massive cucumber installation. I don’t know if the polar vortex is behind this lower squash bug population this year, or if it has to do with moving the squash to a new location in the garden. I do know that for the first time ever I am using an “organic” pyrethrin dust, which I applied when the plants were young and every so often now. I don’t think that’s entirely the reason, though, as it’s a contact insecticide, not really a repellant, and I just haven’t seen much evidence of squash bugs or their eggs. Of course I may be totally jinxing myself by even writing this. The irony is I planted the squash in amongst other things, anticipating that it would be dead by now and the other plants could take over. But that’s not how it’s turning out, and I suppose I shouldn’t be complaining about something living instead of dying!
Again I am overrun with cucumbers. I think it’s because when you buy little two-leafed cuke seedlings they come about eight to a pot so it’s easy to overplant. Nobody needs this many cucumbers. But again, like with the squash, I expected these plants to have fallen to the cucumber beetles by now and they haven’t. The chickens are getting a lot of cucumbers.
The tomatoes are all now mostly taller than I, and I am trying a new technique with them in that I did not pinch off any suckers. All my life I was of the “pinch the suckers” school of tomato growing, but this year I thought I’d let them go and see what happened. What happened was massive plants that I tried to tie up last night, which required full-body hugging the plants as I collected each vine near the post. I guess tomatoes need love too. Even planted on generous 36″ centers, the plants are growing together making harvest hard. But I did pick my first big tomatoes last night, with “Early Girl” for the win, and others are right behind. That’s “Brandywine” above, nice and big. The plants are gorgeous and healthy, with just the tiniest bit of manageable fungus-related yellowing near the base.
I have a few rows of cutting flowers—zinnias and cosmos, and some volunteer gladiolus that I tried to dig out this spring but obviously I didn’t manage to get all the bulbs. There are lots of surprises that germinated from years’ past and I just let go, such as random green beans, unidentified greens, the sunflowers above, and a very mysterious white squash rambling through the cosmos. Like I said, kind of a mess.
But here we are, mid-July, and this is what I have to work with. The summer is going so fast that I know it will be only a few more weeks before everything goes round the bend and starts its late-summer decline.
And the nice thing about gardening is that each year you get a do-over. Maybe this fall I will get the garden expanded and then have fresh land to cultivate next year. I really want to put in a ton of perennial fruits and vegetables that need space to mature, such as berry bushes, asparagus, rhubarb, and strawberries, so that’s a good incentive to get out the dreaded t-post driver.
July 14th, 2014 §
Male widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) found in the new meadow garden.
July 13th, 2014 §
July 12th, 2014 §
July 9th, 2014 §
Double rainbow over Buck Mountain last night. I’m pretty sure I’ve never captured both ends of a rainbow in one photo—and I didn’t even have to leave my yard to get this shot!
The funny thing is I started shooting just the right side of the rainbow, pretty excited about it, focused on one end thinking that was all I would get. But then I walked a few steps out from under the trees and saw the whole rainbow stretched out before me. Wow—and it was there all along! It was a good reminder that sometimes all it takes is a change in perspective to get the bigger picture.
July 8th, 2014 §
The Japanese beetles have been the pest of the summer thus far, way worse this year than the previous three. They’re munching my rhubarb, my hops, and most distressingly to me, my zinnias—one of the few plants I grow that’s usually trouble-free.
Twice a day I make the rounds, knocking the shiny beetles into a jar of soapy water. I’ve got quite a collection now, a real dead bug sun tea that I am considering dumping all over the zinnias as a repellant. But I suppose I don’t want my cut flowers smelling like the black magic in that jar.
When I was a kid, maybe 10 or 11, my grandfather paid my brother and me to go around the yard knocking Japanese beetles into metal coffee cans full of diesel fuel. The going rate was a penny a beetle, and yes, settlement was delivered only after we dumped the cans out onto the gravel driveway and picked through the dead bugs, counting. I can still feel the sensation of sorting those prickly-footed beetles, slick with stinky fuel that clung to my fingers. A penny a piece doesn’t sound like much, but the beetles were thick that year and I made about $20, which at that time was the most money I’d ever earned.
Who would have thought that twenty-five years later I’d be walking around my own garden, knocking beetles to their deaths? Though I guess now we’re a bit more enlightened about pest control and chemical exposure and know that diesel fuel belongs in the tractor, not in my beetle jar. Still, the method is the same.
July 7th, 2014 §
It was a perfect holiday weekend at the farm—unseasonably cool and dry, crystal-clear with a great brisk breeze thanks to Hurricane Arthur. I had the windows open all weekend, the A.C. off, and did a double-take Saturday night when the temperature outside was 52 degrees right before bed. It had been a fun night—from about nine to ten I enjoyed the sounds of the Crozet fireworks show. Despite being fifteen miles away, it sounded like it was in my backyard. Sound has a funny way of bouncing up and down this valley, and it was cool to stand in the yard and hear the blasts echo off each mountain top.
I took advantage of the weather to dry some clean sheets outside on my new clothesline, which I love as it’s relaxing to watch whatever’s hung on it billow in the breeze. Then I parked myself on the back porch for two days straight to soak up the amazing weather before the more seasonal heat and humidity returns again today. I ate all my meals outside, caught up on my magazines, began re-reading some Faulkner, and started in on this little cross-stitch of green seedlings.
The designer is Japanese artist Kazuko Aoki, and the pattern book (Wildflower Garden) I have is a Chinese translation. So it’s been a bit of a crap-shoot to figure out but I think I got it. I had about given up on sewing when I failed to finish a project begun in high school, but I like these simple, spare and natural designs so much that they tempted me back in. I am pleased that I found this sewing easy and relaxing, so much so that I completed the whole project in two days!
Spending hours on end sitting on the porch really provided me with a secret window into the workings of all the neighborhood bird life. It’s amazing what you can see if you just. don’t. move. I caught the baby mockingbird’s discovery of the bird bath, and watched as it figured out how to toss water over its wings. I am convinced that the birdbath, which I added last year, is behind the notable uptick in the number of breeding birds in the yard. I was going to shim it up to make it more level, but watching this fledgling explore the water made me realize that the birds probably appreciate the beach-like effect of a slightly off-level bird bath. It’s a zero-depth entry kiddie pool!
Then yesterday in early afternoon I heard dramatic, insistent bird cries from somewhere near my head. I poked around following the sound and discovered a sparrow fledgling in the big lilac, begging for food. I got this shot of its parent stuffing a fat green worm beak-deep into its loud child’s mouth.
The temperature had begun to creep up yesterday evening, and by 5:00 p.m. the sun was too much on the porch. So Tuck and I hit the road for our usual three-mile loop to a nearby river, where we could cool our paws in the slow-moving water.
And then home, walking in the sun along a hot and dusty gravel road between verges full of warm and fragrant yarrow. It smelled dry and sweet, like the desert, or, I imagine, the Mediterranean. It was the perfect end to this gift of a summer weekend.
July 6th, 2014 §
July 5th, 2014 §
I hosted a little July 4 cookout yesterday, and as we were all sitting around the back porch I kept noticing unusual bird action under the azaleas next to the well house. By the end of the evening I had pretty well figured out there were baby birds involved—baby mockingbirds.
If there is any bird I associate with the farm, it’s a mockingbird. When I first moved in, I was dive-bombed and attacked by a mockingbird that had taken advantage of the abandoned property and nested in the quince by my mailbox. We had a discussion, and agreed to keep the peace. However, our detente didn’t stop any number of mockingbirds from calling all day long around the farm. They even call at night in the spring, waking me at three a.m. through open windows. Instead of being annoyed, I chose to accept and enjoy the soundtrack to life in the wilderness.
I grew to appreciate these birds more when I learned a bit about them. They were Thomas Jefferson’s favorite birds, and prized for their wide and varied song repertoire, which they add to throughout their lives. They can live to be older than a decade, and a male mockingbird can learn up to 200 songs in his lifetime. Because of their songs, mockingbirds were once prized as pets, and in the nineteenth century nearly became extinct on the East coast because of people catching them for cage birds. Even though their numbers are no longer considered threatened, they are declining.
Which is why I was thrilled to look out the kitchen window this morning and see a mockingbird swoop down as two other birds ran out from under the shadows of the azaleas. I grabbed my camera and ran out on the porch to catch this:
Two fledglings charged at their parent, beaks open and begging. I found it hilarious that even as chicks these birds exhibited the fearless, assertive character and stance that I’ve come to admire in adult mockingbirds.
The parent fed the more self-assured chick first…
And then turned to its sibling.
The parent then took off, just as its offspring caught wind of me and got wary, diving back under the bushes.
It was just a half-second encounter, but one of the neatest I’ve had around here. This brings the total number of bird species that I have seen reproduce in my yard this spring to five: bluebirds, cardinals, sparrows, wrens, and now mockingbirds. Sometimes it feels like I am living in a Disney movie, and I love it.
July 4th, 2014 §
From your friends in Free Union—where this English shepherd and some suspiciously British-looking bunting hopefully don’t give us away! We’re patriots, despite appearances to the contrary! We swear!
(Even if we do love England.)