Alright! Enough of the sunshine and cloudless skies. This isn’t California; it’s New England where the saying goes, “If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes.” Well it’s been several weeks now and we still need some rain. Established perennial plants and shrubs are beginning to wilt and not recover fully overnight. Tomatoes are starting to show signs of blossom end rot if not regularly watered. Containers need to be watered everyday (why do I have 30 of them?). And, like all living creatures, birds are looking for fresh, clean water.

Supplying water for birds to drink, bathe in and cool themselves is not a hard thing to do. It takes me about 5 minutes to empty and clean our two birdbaths. One I do in the morning and the other at night. They are divided up like the containers – one side of the yard am; the other pm.

During periods of drought as well as in winter, birds are looking for water. If you supply it, the water will attract a wealth of avian visitors. Many birds that feed on insects and fruit and that you would not find at your bird feeders are drawn to birdbaths, fountains and other water holes. Providing a water source makes your yard a more desirable destination for many avian visitors.

Birdbaths are not only essential for attracting birds but can be quite ornamental as well, providing that finishing touch, flair, or sense of connectivity to nature. There are many styles of birdbaths available ranging from homegrown to fancy, solar powered. One source lists bird baths for sale starting in 1840’s – same year our house was built!  Select which one best fits into your lifestyle and design tastes.

Square bird bath on pedestal

Square bird bath on pedestal

There are two issues that I have with many birdbaths. The first is cleanliness. If you are going to set up a birdbath, you have to commit to maintaining it. Leaving water for days in a birdbath during the summer season in New England makes it a repository for bird diseases as well as mosquito larvae, some of which may harbor the debilitating West Nile virus that is not good for either birds or humans. In this weather, get out every day and empty the birdbaths, scrub them with a brush if algae growths are evident and refill with fresh water.

The second problem lies with where the birdbath is situated. It is essential that be placed where wet birds can escape from predators, mainly feral or domestic cats. It is incredulous that most people do not realize that cats are an invasive species. Our native wildlife did not evolve with cats as a predator. Because they were so recently thrown into the mix, cats are responsible for at least a billion wild bird deaths in the U.S. every year. Think about it. Your outdoor cat may be responsible for the extinction of an avian (or other) species or two or more. Sustainable cat owners should keep their cats inside. I have always had indoor cats. The cats lived to a long age not being preyed on by coyotes, foxes or fishers, getting contagious and sometimes deadly feline diseases, getting run over by cars, getting into injurious (and expensive) cat fights and other outdoor venues not really in their best interest. Our cats lead full lives and did not suffer by being kept indoors and neither will yours. Make their lives interesting.

Other items to think about are depth, roughness of the construction material and can you view it from the house. Birdbaths should only be a couple of inches deep. Ideally, they would slope towards the middle being shallow at the edges and also the material the birdbath is made from should feel rough to the touch. Slick, smooth birdbaths make birds feel insecure about their footing and less likely to use. Stick a flat rock or two into these birdbaths and see if it increases visitation.

If at all possible, select hanging bird baths or those with a pedestal. These can be placed in an ideal spot under a tree with lower branches. If tree branches are within 2 to 3 feet of the bird bath then wet birds can often flutter to safe spots if pursued by cats or other predators. Make sure that the bird bath is at least 5 to 10 feet away from shrubbery or other venues in which a cat can hide. Your goal is to provide an escape route and also to give birds a wide view of their surroundings. Many people do not realize that improper location of birdbaths (as well as feeders) is just luring our native songbirds to their death.

Birdbath in perennial garden

Birdbath in perennial garden

One also might want to think about how close the bird bath is to the house both for refilling and for viewing. I love the bird waterer on our back porch railing. We get an incredible variety of bird species and it makes for easy cleaning and refilling in summer and in winter.

Chickadee on deck waterer

Chickadee on deck waterer

Place bird baths at least 10 feet away from large glass doors or windows so if birds are spooked and take off towards them, they can veer away.

So keep your bird bath clean and filled and enjoy the antics of avian visitors while providing them with life-giving water.

Dawn P.

Two of the photos in this week’s blog are from my vegetable garden. I give lectures on the fundamentals of integrated pest management (IPM) and one of the first practices on the list is to scout or monitor your garden or field frequently to catch problems early, when you have a much better chance of keeping damage to a minimum.

Well, I am well aware of this recommendation, but failed to do it in my own backyard. So what happened? My zucchini has succumbed to hordes of squash bugs and both that and the cucumbers have been hit hard by powdery mildew.

Let’s start with how to check for these two major cucurbit problems, even though it’s too late this year in many gardens. In the case of squash bugs, look for the reddish groups of eggs on the undersides of the leaves. If found, squash them. You’d think this would be easy, although a bit disgusting, but they’re pretty tough. Squeeze hard. This can be done with nymphs and adults (shown in photo) too, or they can be drowned in soapy water. In the photo, there’s an adult in the upper left area of the group with a nymph on its back. Adults will have mature wings.

Squash bug nymphs and an adult or two.  J. Allen photo.

Squash bug nymphs and an adult or two. J. Allen photo.

Squash bug eggs on leaf underside. KS Dept. of Agric. Archive, Bugwood.org
Squash bug eggs on leaf underside. KS Dept. of Agric. Archive, Bugwood.org

There are also some insecticidal products that are labeled for squash bug but they vary in effectiveness. Get the nymphs with insecticidal soaps. Avoid using any insecticidal products when bees/pollinators are active. The little yellow flecks on the leaves in the photo are caused by squash bug feeding. They pierce the plant cells and suck out the contents through straw-like mouth parts. You can see how all of these steps would be easier if you took the time to check early on, before the problem became all too obvious. Favored host plants are squash and pumpkins but other cucurbits may also be attacked. There is one generation per year and the adults overwinter in sheltered places.

Powdery mildew. J. Allen photo.

Powdery mildew. J. Allen photo.

Powdery mildew is a very common and damaging disease of cucurbit crops. As powdery mildew progresses, covering both upper and lower leaf surfaces with a white powdery growth, photosynthesis is reduced, impairing growth and reducing yield. Plants typically become infected around the time fruit begins to form and mostly on the older leaves.  The powdery mildew that affects cucurbits is not the same fungus that causes powdery mildew on other, unrelated, plants. Disease is favored by warm temperatures and high humidity. Promote good airflow around plants to reduce humidity using ample plant spacing or vertical supports for vines. Spores are wind-borne and can travel long distances so crop rotation is not effective in this case.

Good scouting for those first small white spots will alert you that it’s time to apply preventive fungicides. There are a variety of active ingredient options here including organic options such as biological fungicides (Bacillus subtilus QST 713), potassium bicarbonate, copper, or wettable sulfur. Conventional fungicides include chlorothalonil and others. These are preventive and must be used to protect plants, not as a curative solution. An alternative and effective solution is to look for powdery mildew resistant varieties for your garden.

Joan Allen

August is supposed to be the month of non-stop tomatoes. Occasionally things go awry to interrupt those carefully laid spring visions of bountiful harvests, sauce making, and endless tomato sandwiches. Blossom end rot can appear to put an end to the crop production by damaging the ripening and developing fruits. We are seeing and receiving calls in a  higher number than more recent years from backyard gardeners complaining about black rotten spots on the bottom of their tomatoes. The spots start as a thickened, leathery spot which sinks in, always on the bottom of the fruit.

Blossom end rot on tomato, ohioline.osu.edu

Blossom end rot on tomato, ohioline.osu.edu

Blossom end rot can also occur on peppers.

Blossom end rot on peppers, photo taken by client

Blossom end rot on peppers, photo taken by client

Blossom end rot is a physiological condition due to lack of calcium. Calcium is needed by plants for  proper growth in all functions of cell making, but is most important for cell walls. Without enough calcium either in the soil, or if delivery of uptake of dissolved calcium in soil water is interrupted, cell division stops in the fruit. Tomatoes are especially sensitive to a lack of calcium.

Interruptions in uptake of calcium can happen by repeated cycles of soil drying out, receiving water, then drying out again. Times of drought and hot, humid weather make the problem worse. Plants lose water through their leaves through a process called transpiration, similar to the way we sweat. They then pull up water through their roots. If there is not enough soil moisture, plants wilt. This break is water delivery also limits calcium delivery. Tomato, and to a lesser degree pepper fruits, respond by developing rot on the bottom, the end where the blossom was before the fruit started growing.

High humidity and multiple cloudy days reduces transpiration, thereby reducing water uptake. This leaves plants not able to bring up new calcium rich water to the site making new cells of the fruit. Another interruption of delivery of calcium resulting in blossom end rot. This means that even if you have enough calcium in the soil and you water the soil regularly, the plants still may not be able to move enough calcium to where it is needed to produce a fruit.

Have a soil test done to make sure soil has enough calcium and that pH levels are around 6.5 so nutrients are most readily available. Water regularly so plants receive 1 to 2 inches of water per week for optimum growth. Feel the soil around the root zone to make sure water is soaking in and reaching the roots. Humidity and cloud cover are not obstacles we can help the plant with, so monitor the fruit for rot spots and remove. There are calcium foliar sprays which claim to deliver calcium to be absorbed by the leaves for use by the plant. This won’t help after the rot has already developed, but may help deter future spots on still developing tomatoes.

-Carol Quish

 

 

 

Great Spangled Fritillaries on Boneset

Great Spangled Fritillaries on Boneset

‘ Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.’

Henry David Thoreau

Late summer is an exciting time to be out and about in the world of nature, at least for me. I look forward to the plethora of insects other creatures that are the late- season bloomers here in Connecticut. It can be almost a personal restorative to find flora and fauna in their natural habitats going about in their daily groove. It is a relaxing escape, at least for me, and is often full of surprises.

The shoreline can provide an excellent opportunity to see wading birds like plovers and egrets well after breeding season is over. Also, late summer is the time to find migrating butterflies making their final push north at the close of their breeding season. A recent trip to the Guilford Salt Meadows Sanctuary proved timely as there were many monarch butterflies floating about and one was laying eggs on milkweed plants. A friend reports he was in Waterford last weekend at Harkness Memorial State Park and he also saw numerous Monarch butterflies there.

Snowy egrets are fun to watch as they wade in shallow coastal waters searching for fish and other aquatic animals. They are identified by their elegant white form, black legs and bill and funky yellow feet. While they often stand frozen on logs or the water’s edge waiting for prey to come near, they also will run through the water, wings outstretched, as they chase fish or other vertebrates. Breeding plumage of wispy plumes adorn the head and back of snowy egrets, and were used by the fashion industry for hats and other items, nearly causing this bird to become extinct.

Snowy Egret on the water's edge at the mouth of the Connecticut River in Old Lyme- August 2015

Snowy Egret on the water’s edge at the mouth of the Connecticut River in Old Lyme- August 2015

Dragonflies are abundant now, and green and blue darners are especially conspicuous on account of their size. Dragonflies can be found in the early morning hours resting on dewy grass and other plants waiting for the sun to rise to provide the warmth needed to fly. Predatory as nymphs and adults, dragonflies are made for the fast flight and aerial maneuvers necessary to catch insects on the fly.

Female Calico Pennant dragonfly on blueberry

Female Calico Pennant dragonfly on blueberry

Lots of butterflies are around right now, especially where goldenrods, Joe-pye weed, boneset, ironweed and other late- blooming plants are found. Fritillaries and Tiger Swallowtails seem to be more abundant this year than are Spicebush Swallowtails and the Black Swallowtails. Perhaps this is due to the winter, as spring reports of the latter swallowtails indicated few, if any were seen.

Wineberries, Rubus phoenicolasius,  an introduced raspberry species whose Latin name means “ raspberry with purple hairs”, are ripe now. An eastern Asian native introduced to eastern North America in the 1800’s, it is considered an invasive weed in many states. The fruit develops within a hairy calyx which folds back as the drupelets becomes mature. Wineberries are very tasty and juicy and the seeds are not as hard as those in other raspberries.

Wineberries at the edge of a thicket

Wineberries at the edge of a thicket

Winged Monkey Flower, Mimulus alatus, is a native plant commonly found blooming in wet areas in early August. It has a very distinctive tubular blue to violet flower and square stems. If you hang around these plants long enough, you may see tiny bees or flower flies work their way into the flowers until they disappear deep inside the tube, crawling out shortly after obtaining nectar. The common name apparently arises from the flower’s resemblance to a monkey face.

Tiny Syrphid Fly on Winged Monkey Flower

Tiny Syrphid Fly on Winged Monkey Flower

I saw a spined Micrathena spider for the first time, near the wineberries mentioned above. This peculiar- looking member of the orb weavers can be mistaken for a leaf- footed or similar bug just by its manner of moving. This spider builds her web between shrubs or small trees and it is  often this web that you may encounter when walking through the woods.

Spined Micrathena Spider

Spined Micrathena Spider

Assassin bugs and other predatory insects are common almost anywhere at this time of year. Check out goldenrod flowers for ambush bugs waiting for butterflies, bees or other insects to visit flowers. It has been a banner year for predatory stink bugs and praying mantids. Mantids can often surprise you as you deadhead flowers or cut down old lily leaves in the garden.

Newly molted ambush bug on goldenrod

Newly molted ambush bug on goldenrod

August is a good time to search for the caterpillars of sphinx moths. Grape is a host of a variety of sphinx caterpillar species. The giant silkworm caterpillars of the Io moth, Luna and Polyphemus, among others, are also found at this time of year. I raised several Io moth cats from the first instar and now have four pupating and two on the verge. Careful handling of these caterpillars is required as the many barbs are attached to glands that release a toxin when touched. The experience is very painful, so the good word is “ look, but do not touch”. Daggers and prominents are other interesting caterpillars found late in the summer through early fall.

Io moth caterpillars two instars

Io moth caterpillars two instars

Look closely at the surrounding landscape. Join me as a member of Leaf- turners Anonymous. And don’t forget to check out the ground- oil beetles and caterpillars looking to pupate travel there. Observe the sky as well for clouds and birds that can be dynamic when seen against the bluer, clearer skies of late summer and fall. Especially notice the little things. What may seem unimportant and uninteresting may prove to be worthwhile and fascinating to the careful observer. Case in point- whlie enjoying a look at a tiny gray tree frog and taking its picture, a tiny monarch caterpillar passed by in the background.

gray tree frog and monarch caterpillar

Pamm Cooper                                                          All photos copyright – Pamm Cooper

It’s that time of year. The weather has been hot and the garden is producing vegetables faster than we can consume them. The squash, zucchini and cucumbers are coming in fast and furious. A batch of ratatouille has already been processed and this past weekend it was time to put up some pickles.

Ratatouille

There are several varieties of cucumbers in our garden including the smaller pickling cukes, the long English cucumbers (it doesn’t seem proper to call them ‘cukes’), and a fun variety known as the lemon cucumber. All of the cucumbers are grown on trellises which enables us to grown vining plants in a smaller space. By going up instead of out, air circulation around the plants is increased, the fruit can grow straighter, and it is easier to harvest.

Pickling cucumbers

English cucumbers

Lemon Cucumbers

The lemon cucumber variety has been around since 1894 and a package of the seeds were offered in the 1901 James Vick & Sons catalog for 10¢. The description was as follows: “The flesh is exceedingly tender and crisp, with a sweet flavor surpassing all other cucumbers. They have none of the bitter or acid taste so generally found in cucumbers”. I confess that when I was first attracted to it a few years ago I planted it as more of a novelty than anything else. I was surprised to find that it is a vigorous plant that sends out yards of growth. It is andromonoecious, with male and female elements in the same blossom, results in more natural self-pollination than that of monoecious cucumbers which have the sexes in separate flowers on the same plant or gynoecious which has only female flowers. Seed companies will generally include 10% of a monoecious variety to ensure pollination for gynoecious varieties. Why choose a gynoecious or andromonoecious variety? They will generally out-produce monoecious varieties since all of their flowers are capable of becoming fruit. How can you tell a male flower from a female flower? The female flower (the image on the left) will have an immature fruit at the base of the blossom while a male flower (the image on the right) will only have a petiole connecting it to the stem.

       Female flower 2 Male flower

The fruit of the lemon cucumber is as its name suggests,  the size, shape, and color of a large lemon and when cut is has the appearance of a lemon wedge.

Lemon cucumber

I enjoy pickling them as much for their taste as for the beautiful and unique way that they look in a jar. The following text and images are a quick overview of the boiling water canning bath process but full details can be found at the USDA Complete Guide to Home  Canning. After the cucumbers have been washed and the ends trimmed I then cut them into wedges. They are placed in a large bowl, sprinkled with coarse salt and covered with crushed ice. After 2-4 hours of refrigeration they are ready to be drained and rinsed. While the cukes are in their ice bath I prepare the pickling syrup of sugar, vinegar and pickling spices. I also add powdered turmeric to add flavor and a tint of yellow to the finished product.

Cucumber wedges

Ice bath

Cucumbers in pickling syrup

The hot cucumber wedges and the pickling syrup are ladled into sterilized glass canning jars, sealed and put into a hot water bath. Due to the high acidic content of most pickled food they do not need to be pressure canned and can be processed by being submerged in boiling water for the USDA recommended amount of time.

Ladled into jars

Once cooled, the jars can be stored in a clean, cool, dark, dry place ready to be enjoyed all winter long.

Finished product

Susan Pelton

Rose hips are the fruit and seed structure of the rose plant.  They are a bit like little orange or red apples or crabapples, and this is not surprising considering that roses are in the same plant family as apples, the Rosaceae.  They aren’t seen that much in rose gardens because the flowers are often pruned off once they fade to stimulate more flowering and make the bush more attractive.  If allowed to form, the hips, sometimes called rose haws or rose heps, can provide interest and color in the late summer garden too.

Rose hips.  J. Allen photo.

Rose hips. J. Allen photo.

Rose hips are edible and are high in vitamin C.  They are used for a variety of culinary purposes including jams, jelly, syrup, tea, wine, pie and more.   According to the WebMD website, the vitamin C in rose hips breaks down when they are dried or processed, so consuming them fresh is the best way to maximize vitamin C intake.  This website has a lot of great info on traditional and contemporary uses for rose hips as long as cautions that are worth checking out if you’re considering rose hips for either cooking or as a supplement.  You can find out what health benefits have been well documented and which are still not proven.

For best flavor, it’s recommended to harvest rose hips after the first frost, but they can be harvested earlier too.  They have a tart flavor and birds may eat them before you get a chance if you wait to long.  The seeds can be used to propagate new rose plants but most require a chilling period (stratification) before they will germinate.

J. Allen

Between work and the heat of the day, often the most pleasant and practical time to be out in the garden is in the evening. Since this is a prime gardening time for me, one area of the yard was transformed into a white garden to provide some shimmering but soothing interest at the end of a long day.

Something about this space just called for a white, rectangular garden. There was a blue spruce, white beauty bush, white lilac and white spirea already in this area and a clump of 5 young grey birches with white bark. While loosening the soil in that area as well as in other spots throughout the yard, we managed to accumulate a fair amount of nice sized stones that were used to edge the bed. Then a pathway was created that ended at a small stone patio.

White garden in winter 2008

White garden in winter 2008

Plants have come and gone through the years. The 5 grey birches were toppled one by one in severe ice storms and now a Carolina silverbell stands in their place. A beautiful star magnolia was lost in that October snowstorm and other plants have been extracted for trying to take over the world.

A colonial style garden arbor was placed next to the patio supporting a white climbing rose and autumn clematis. I found the most perfect plant holding statue to go underneath it!

Found the perfect complement to the wrought iron arbor. dmp UConn

Found the perfect complement to the wrought iron arbor. dmp UConn

Not that I have a lot of chances to just sit and enjoy but when I do, I find this is the garden I gravitate to.

Seating on patio in white garden

Seating on patio in white garden

If the thought of a white garden appeals to you, there are several things you might want to consider when planning it. Plants with white flowers or variegated leaves really show up more in shady areas than in sunny ones when viewed during the day. They also stand out more with a green or other dark-colored backdrop. When planning a white garden, judicious use of a building, fence, evergreens or other shrubs can supply the darker contrast needed to make the garden come alive.

White garden entrance. dmp UConn

White garden entrance. dmp UConn

Also, not all white flowers are pure white; they can range from white to cream and even be tinged with green or pink. Along with white flowers, one can include silver-leaved foliage plants like dusty miller, ‘Silver Mound’ artemesia, Japanese ferns and salvias. Think about integrating variegated leaved shrubs or perennials, trees with white flowers or even plants with new growth that comes in white like the ‘Gentsch White’ hemlock.

Gentsch White hemlock. dmp UConn

Gentsch White hemlock. dmp UConn

White flowers, more so than other colors, can really take on an unattractive brown appearance when they go by. More deadheading than usual might be called for unless plant selection is carefully made.

Look for plants with white flowers from early spring (think bulbs) throughout the summer and into fall. There are thousands of species and cultivars to choose from. Consider the judicious use of garden ornaments to continue the white theme whether it be a bench, urn, birdhouse, statue or fountain.

White corner post. dmp UConn

White corner post. dmp UConn

While I integrated white flowering plants into an almost predetermined space because of the shrubs and trees already present, I have seen some white garden beds cut out in the shape of a crescent. A down to earth moon garden if there ever was one!

Happy Gardening!

Dawn P.

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