Monday, August 13, 2007


This jewel-like creature is an insect described as a "shield-shaped true bug, superfamily Penatomoidea" by Wikipedia. It gets its more common name due to its tendency to release a foul-smelling liquid when disturbed. I am happy to report learning that at least one species of this bug likes to eat Mexican bean beetles!


I believe these are the flowers of the remarkably beautiful and delicate tree, Franklinia altamaha. The tree was first "discovered" by European Americans in the wild when the Bartrams found it near the Altamaha River in Georgia. It is a mysteriously singular plant, not similar to any other genus of trees. After the Bartrams (John and William, father and son) collected seed from the tree, described it, grew it in their garden, and named it for their friend Ben, it was NEVER SEEN AGAIN in the wild! Scientists believe it became extinct due to a fungal disease which arrived in Georgia with the cotton plant. This gorgeous tree has been propagated by commercial nurseries and is now easily available for ornamental planting. This morning while coming into town I saw a lone bloom on a highly stressed tree unwisely planted as a street tree. My picture is of some much happier blossoms on a tree I saw in a botanical garden several years ago.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Checking out the beans I find the beginnings of a serious Mexican bean beetle infestation. These beetles, Epilachna varivestis, do serious damage to bean crops by devouring the leaves of the bean plant leaving nothing but a lacy skeleton.


I put fencing up around the bed of tomatoes and peppers and the plants are recovering quickly from the deer onslaught which began a couple of weeks ago. New tomatoes!


The beans, fortunately, are behind some screen fencing, and are doing fine. I planted them late for a midsummer crop. Here come the beautiful baby string beans in both green and purple. Delicious!

08.09.07 DEER DAMAGE

The deer are descending upon the garden nightly and eating up everything that might be green and tasty. These photos are of a bed of sunflowers and some of my squash plants. All of my squash plants throughout the garden have now been eaten back. Oh, it is hard to watch. Notice that the plants behind the screen fencing in the background are doing just fine. Unfortunately I only have enough fencing to surround 4 of my 20 beds. I now have a new project for this winter.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007


I love to grow plants I have never tried before. This year I am growing a number of plants which are valuable to subsistence farmers around the world. This is buckwheat, a fast growing crop which does well in low-fertility soil. It is not related to "wheat" at all, but gets its name from the fact that its seeds are ground into a flour.

08.07.07 CORN COLOR

The corn stalks stand tall in the dry days of August. The leaves turn beautiful colors as the plants dry in the hot breeze. My neighbor has let his cows into the corn field where the foraging is good.

Monday, August 6, 2007

08.06.07 TOMATO TIME

It’s that fabulous time of year when big juicy tomatoes are available at every supper table. Unfortunately these are NOT from our garden. In spite of planting out over fifty tomato plants, we haven't a single red fruit. The deer come every night to our smorgasbord and browse the plants back hard. These beautiful specimens are a gift of our neighbor, Sondra, whose dog Molly does a good job of keeping the deer away in the evening.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

08.05.07 RUN DRY

The August drought is grabbing hold. The mountain streams, like the Lynch River just down the road from me have disappeared. The moisture coming down from the mountains is now underground, running just below the surface of the stream bed. If you were to dig under these dry rocks you would find it. The shallower-rooted plants of the pastures and the forest understory dry up. Some die, some just become dormant waiting for fall's rains. We water the select plants in our garden hoping to keep these plants from more temperate climates going through the great dry.

Saturday, August 4, 2007


This is one of my favorite roadside weeds. I love Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium genus) most of all because it grows so tall, often six or more feet! It is topped with beautiful mauve flowers which attract many butterflies. Its name is a bit of a mystery, but it is thought to be an anglicized version of an Indian name.


This gruesome looking fellow is a tobacco horn worm (Manduca sexta)(or possibly a tomato horn worm, since they look very much alike). It loves to gobble up the leaves of my tomatoes. But this caterpillar has met his match. He has been parasitized by the wasp Cotesia congregatus. This wasp laid its eggs on the young caterpillar which the growing larva used as food. When the wasp larva pupate they form these little silk coccoons all over the host. This caterpillar is just about dead having suffered a huge onslaught of the tiny guys. We will leave him so that the little wasps remain in the garden for future pest control work.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

08.02.07 DISCOVERY

It is very exciting to find a plant which is completely new to me. Eventhough I am still learning alot about the local flora, I can usually recall having seen most of the blossoms, leaves, and "fruit" I see hanging from the trees of our neighborhood. On a walk this week I found this branch hanging down from the bank of the road. I brought it home and checked it out. These unusual looking "fruits" are hazelnuts! The american hazelnut, Corylus americana, is a large shrub. A related species of hazelnut flavors my favorite gelato, gianduja.


I had a false hope that we might go a year without the appearance of these fellows. Caterpillars of the catalpa sphinx moth, Ceratomia catalpae, hatch on the leaves of the catalpa tree I have planted in the front yard. In a week or so the dozens of caterpillars will have completely defoliated the tree. I look around the woods and pastures and see that almost all of the resident catalpas have been infested. Now the tree will use stored energy to put out an entirely new set of leaves. And we will have many large brown (three-inch wingspan) moths fluttering around our porch light. Local fisherfolk love this time of year, apparently "catawba worms" make great bait.


Officially referred to as five-lined skinks, Eumeces fasciatus, these little lizards live in the stone foundations of our house. I love to see them come onto the porch to sun where their bright blue tails always catches my eye. Apparently most will lose this beautiful blue as they reach adulthood. I had no luck in getting a photo of one of ours so I have "borrowed" this photo from the Fairfax County Public Schools Ecology Website. It was unattributed and I apologize to the photographer.