Mature Days of August

Three Poblano peppers (one already cooked with garlic and chicken breasts to make sandwich meat) are my harvest this year. That’s not so bad, because I never usually grow vegetables, thanks to the deer. I gained a handful of Pinto beans, to use for seed next spring—but that was from trying the experiment of sprouting those things I could scavenge from my cabinets. And, as to the experiment, it’s a kind of fun apocalyptic exercise, where you challenge yourself to make a food garden out of whatever you have in your house right now. I learned that peanuts from bird seed sprout easily, but aren’t easy to keep going outdoors, where everything wants to eat them. Later, I bought one tomato plant, but it’s not getting enough sun in its safe location, and hasn’t made a flower…probably too late for fruit to mature at this date. Also, I have a single bell pepper that hasn’t disappeared yet; but it hasn’t got bigger than a pea yet, either.

 

This is an earlier picture of a curious wild grass, with seed heads like wheat. Prairie grasses do a great job conditioning the soil, their habit being to grow from a clump one year, then die at the center and spread out in a circle. The dead roots decompose back into the earth, acting both as fertilizer and having a spongelike effect of absorbing water. This is why the prairie soil of pioneer times was described as rich and black, before overuse degraded it. If you start a bed with prairie grasses, you can easily mow and layer on cardboard or paper, covered with bought topsoil or compost, which you can plant in directly (the roots will make a way)…or just hold it down with leaves, if you want to wait a season and rake off the dead stuff under the cardboard.

 

Another earlier picture of a pretty little red-capped mushroom.

 

Here’s what closeup photography can teach. I think these are some kind of very tiny insect on this monarda bloom. They can’t be seen with the eye.

 

A hibiscus I grew from seed this year. I never noticed, somehow, from growing them in the past, that the flowers last only a day.

 

And here’s the full Georgia O’Keeffe, showing how the little round female parts (I believe) have a ring of hairs that seems to reflect a glow.

 

 

Wildlife in the Garden

 

Photo of deer mother and babies

These are the guilty parties who have been nipping the heads off my daylilies. We had a bad convergence the other day, rain into the night, that prevented spraying the vulnerable flowers; then dry weather when it was too late to go out. That made a window of opportunity for Mama Deer and her babies.

 

Photo of deer trail through flowerbed

Photo of deer trail through flowerbed

Above are two deer trails I have created/enhanced in my under-tree bed. They look delicate, but deer have a tendency to blunder through the garden, knocking over edging, stepping on and breaking, or grinding, some of the flowers you were hoping to keep. I have four bits of advice for coexisting with deer:

1) Allow natural areas in your lawn; don’t take away all their usual food by having too-perfect grass. 2) Plant mostly deer-resistant flowers. 3) Spray the endangered things, including veg, that you want to protect from them. 4) Plant lots of anything you hope to see flower or fruit. A few will eke through under cover of other plants.

 

Photo close-up of squirrel nest

The squirrel population has been burgeoning this year. They’ve built themselves a squirrel McMansion up in the oak. But today, in a surprising and excellent development, I looked out my window and saw a Golden Eagle perched on the lawn. The squirrels were frozen in various semi-hiding places, giving off warning signals. It seems the rabbit population has gone down, so predators that depend on them may have to hunt other prey.

 

Photo of poison ivy leaves

Leaves of three. When poison ivy plants are just getting started, they don’t always have the characteristic lobes or teeth. One that looks like this, though it might disguise itself as a wildflower or shrub, is just as bad as the others.

 

Photo of garden pathway

This is the garden pathway, showing the deer trail pictured above, branching off. I load on as many fallen leaves as I can in autumn and winter, and you can see how completely they’ve decomposed by summer. Meanwhile, all the branches that come down make nice defining edges.

 

Photo close-up of nicotiana flower

Close-up of a nicotiana blossom, a nice purple, which seems to be one of the rarer colors.

 

Photo of cleome flower

Cleome is a funny sort of creature. The plants smell like sour lemon; they make these curious flowers with stamens like bundles of computer cable, and as the flowers fade, each petal/sepal (whatever it is) curls up like this, in a row. And they have thorns. Cleome are also super-easy to propagate from cuttings. Just include a leaf node on a piece of stem, and stick into moist garden soil directly.

 

Photo close-up of ageratum bloom

I always plant ageratum, reliable grown from seed; the periwinkle blue is a great accent to any other color. In this tight shot, you can see what the flower form really is.

 

 

Be a Backyard Naturalist

If you’re having a down week…because you can’t go to work, or can’t go anyplace other than work, and it isn’t officially spring, try getting outdoors in any case. Find out what nature is gifting you with this year. Go online and hunt for the plants you can’t identify. If you’re feeling well, fresh air and exercise will keep you that way (fingers crossed), and keep your spirits up. Take a bag to a city or state park, and pick up trash. Take some photos. And observe the natural world in this interim between seasons.

 

Photo of crowns of two oaks

 

Here are the two crowns of my mighty oaks, which is why I’m still bagging up their humongous leaf fall, and finding ways to re-assimilate so much organic material into the environment.

 

Photo of bird feather

 

This feather is likely from a mourning dove. Notice the beautiful downy stuff at the bottom of the shaft.

 

Photo of piece of wood gnawed by squirrel

 

What’s left of an old landscape timber, having long since lost its weatherproofing. See how these curved spaces are cut out? That’s from squirrels (possibly chipmunks) gnawing to hone their teeth.

 

Photo of hole in tree trunk

 

Here the choicest real estate in the animal world of my yard. Last year red-bellied woodpeckers nested here first, then northern flickers, then through the winter, squirrels. The opening has gotten quite a bit bigger than originally. We’ll see who gets the house this spring.

 

Photo of cypress branches used to prevent washing

 

While doing such chores outside as I can, I clipped back the branches of a cypress shrub. Last time, I talked about the “wash” problem, with so much rain as opposed to wintertime snow. This is one way to improve sloped beds in your garden. Evergreen branch-ends are airy and won’t stop perennials from pushing up, but they’ll slow water running downhill.

 

Photo of daffodils in spring

 

Here’s another chore, when the foliage dies back. You can see I’ve got some good-sized stands of non-blooming daffodils, that need dividing and replanting.

 

Photo of tulips caged to protect from deer

 

I love tulips. When I was growing up, Sunday papers had little magazines, and the magazines always had ads at the back for Dutch tulips, showing fields with rows and rows of color. I don’t know, tulips’ optimum blooming life being short, whether that would be practical and affordable, but it was a little dream of mine to plant so many tulips, one day when I had a yard. Right now, I can hardly keep them safe from the deer (maybe strength in numbers would make a difference), but here’s a way to protect your vulnerable bulbs: cage-style hanging baskets turned upside down.

 

Photo of seeds started under lights

 

And here are this year’s seeds, just now started. Mostly, members of the Compositae family (daisies, black-eyed susans), the flowers deer hate most. I do keep my shelves in a bedroom, where the plants are warm and safe from the cats. It’s not that hard to avoid making a mess. Tip: if you spill dirt, leave it until it’s completely dry before you vacuum.

 

Photo of my grandmother in her rose bed

 

And here’s my grandmother (Vera Barker) in her rose garden, probably from the 1970s. This corner at the back of the bungalow was covered in broken concrete slabs, always a thing I liked playing stepping stones on. I suppose it kept the weeds off…I don’t know if concrete is good for roses. She never grew a lot of flowers, but always had opium poppies, salmon-colored. That might sound strange, but old farmstead gardens were planted with medicinal flowers and herbs, and Grandma kept up the tradition by saving the seeds.

 

 

 

The Gardener Looks Forward

Photo of yellow-bellied sapsucker sapwells on tree

 

This is the effect of a yellow-bellied sapsucker on my callery pear tree. These sap-wells won’t start to flow until the springtime. The male I’ve seen, who owns this tree and comes out to patrol it, may be living a little out of his traditional range (there must be a female around, too). He’s been making rows of holes on this tree for years, but seems to have moved to a new stage. Sapsuckers can actually kill trees—for myself, I’d rather have happy birds. They aren’t likely to attack species of tree that don’t produce volumes of sap, those being mostly maples, birches, and fruit trees.

 

Photo of frog statue in snowy garden

 

The frog is always getting knocked off his perch. I have visiting deer who come every night looking for corn around the feeder. A couple of males have racks, and I’m guessing they bump the frog trying to maneuver their heads into the space around the tubs and pots.

 

Photo of Tufted Titmice on snowy branches

 

These guys were easy to capture in the lilac. Tufted titmice are some of the tamest birds, and don’t mind letting a person with camera get close. They, the chickadees, the downy woodpeckers, and the Carolina wrens, all prefer to go on eating, whether I’m there or not, than fly off to hide in the brush pile.

 

Photo of seed packets

 

Here are all the seeds I’ll be starting around the last week of March, and in early April. It takes a few weeks for sprouting to begin with, and nothing other than hardened-off perennials can go out until the end of May, when frost is really finished. Growing your own gives you some gardening fun until the outdoors is ready, and also saves a lot of money these days, when a single perennial can cost fifteen to twenty dollars. 

 

 

Squirrelliness Again

Squirrel and Mourning Doves Zoom

I saw my trees had what looked like several large birds roosting in the branches…but when I used my camera, they turned out to be just an unexciting bunch of squirrels and mourning doves. Earlier this week a neighborhood cat who comes to eat leftovers at my back door—and who’d just eaten both leftovers from my indoor cats’ food, and a handful of treats, started gathering himself while perched on my patio storage box. I thought he couldn’t do it, but the squirrel he was eyeing got behind a large flower pot. The cat made one huge leap, and landed in position to outmaneuver his prey. I saw him walking off with the squirrel in his mouth, and read the signs by the marks of his feet where he’d landed in the mud. So, some unhappiness in the squirrel community this week.

 

Squirrel Zoom

Harness Cat and Owl Pellets

Ed in His Harness

Ed cat gets his daily walk, which amounts mostly to him sitting on the back stoop and sniffing the air, listening to the birds and squirrels. The daily routine is to take him out and afterwards fill the feeder, so when Ed appears, a lot of activity starts up among the birds, giving him a good show. 

 

Owl Pellets

This is the ground feeder. Birds, chipmunks and squirrels too, like feeders that are placed to give them shelter, and many, cardinals and sparrows among them, have a strong preference for feeding on the ground. What the owls catch at night, I don’t know. Only some mice and flying squirrels are nocturnal among small rodent prey that I know of, but some days I find numbers of owl pellets like these. 

 

Shannon Ave 1968 Athens Oh flood

In 1968 the Hocking River flooded in the city of Athens, Ohio. This is my mother paddling at the back of the canoe, me, my brother Tim, and my sister Tracy with the other paddle. We are not far outside our front door, a bit of one of two blue spruce trees that marked our house can be seen at the left.

 

The House I Grew Up In on Shannon Ave Athens Oh

This is the house I grew up in on South Shannon Avenue. In later years, when decks got to be fashionable, my Dad put one on the back, so there was a little more character. The house was pretty much just a box all round. By the way, this is an ordinary photo taken in the 70s, that as you can see has faded this badly. So, remember, if you have a box of old pictures, you should digitalize them as soon as possible.

 

 

 

Homes for Creatures

Photo of woodpecker hole in dead ash tree

This is a dead ash tree, that gets a lot of woodpecker traffic. My yard has nesting sites used by Hairy, Downy, and Red-bellied woodpeckers; also Northern Flickers. Just this past summer, I’ve been seeing Pileateds visit the tree, so with luck they’ll be the ones excavating this out next spring.

 

Photo of animal burrow

This is a burrow in the ground under my Callery pear tree. I’ve never seen what lives there, but I see a long passage of sunken ground coming off this hole, so the complex must be spacious. It may be only rabbits, but it would be nice to have a badger or a weasel.