red barn in Glastonbury

Spiffy barn on Ferry Lane in Glastonbury

I like a man who likes to see a fine barn as well as a good tragedy.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

In the Connecticut landscape, there are so many barns that are reminders of the agricultural age that once, and still is a prominent component of the landscape. Sometimes all that remains of many farm properties is the original farmhouse and a barn or two. The barns that remain, whether still in use or not, are interesting to me mostly because of the quality of both the materials and the workmanship that went into building them. Also, in a nostalgic way, I grew up in dairy country in New York State and I used to play in and around barns where the smells of the grain and the animals were a major feature of daily life.

brown barn south windsor

Connected brown barns in South Windsor

A good site for investigating any barns is https://connecticutbarns.org/. You can click on the map to find barns in a particular town, and there is a picture and pertinent information as to past and present uses and historical interest, if any. This site is a valuable resource in identifying and learning about barns you may have an interest in.

One of the more familiar barns in Connecticut is the one at the Nathan Hale Homestead in Coventry. A post and beam framed structure built in the 1760s, it is located on South Street. This barn is on the National Register of Historic Places in Connecticut. It is built in the English/ New England hybrid style which normally had a gable roof and vertical sheathing.

Nathan Hale Homestead post and beam barn c 1750s

Nathan Hale Homestead Barn

The Morse Farm barn in Scotland is listed on the National Register, the State Historic Resource Inventory and the State Register. This carriage house style barn has one and one half stories and features a gambrel roof design. A gambrel roof has two distinctive slopes on both sides, with the upper slope pitched at a shallow angle and the lower slope at a steeper angle. This allowed for more head room when working on the upper floor.  This barn had a combined use as a stable and   carriage storage.

Morse Farm barn scotland, Ct with gambrel roof and sliding doors

Morse Farm carriage house barn with gambrel roof

Jarmoc  Farms in Enfield, a tobacco farm, has a typical carriage house style barn, with one large front entrance with double sliding doors. As its names suggests, this style of barn was used to house carriages and tack, and horses were stabled nearby. These typically were open fronted, single story buildings, having the roof supported by regularly spaced pillars. The exterior or carriage house barns often echoed the style of the farmhouse.

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Barn with open door- Jarmoc Farms Enfield

On Newberry Road in South Windsor, there is a good example of a barn of the English bank structure. New England barns are usually a type of bank barn, built into the side of a hill giving ground level access to one side, but a ramp or rarely a bridge were used to access the doors. Roof and eave overhangs were typically one foot to protect walls from rain water. Ventilators and cupolas were added to some barns in the 19th century to reduce moisture build-up. Some barns had stairs, but most featured ladder access to the second floor.

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New England bank style barns in South Windsor

 

 A picturesque red barn with white trim and a cupola located on Main Street, South Windsor, is an example of an English/New England hybrid style barn. The English barn is a simple building with a rectangular plan, a pitched roof, and a door or doors located on one or both of the long sides of the building. The New England style barn, built after 1830, could stand alone or be connected to other farm buildings and had an often off-centered end wall door for wagons to enter.

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English/New England hybrid style barn with cupola in South Windsor

On Valley Falls Road in Vernon, the historic red barn, built between 1875 and 1920 features a gambrel bank style, a cupola and a timber frame structure. A milking stable was in the basement, featuring the typical cement floor and manure gutters and whitewashed walls.  Listed on the Local Historic District and the State Register, this historic barn features an annual Artist’s Day at the Farm event, with artists painting the barn and then auctioning the paintings later that same day.

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Historic red barn on Valley Falls Road, Vernon

Across the street from the red barn is the Valley Falls Farm, featuring an historic English style barn that is also on the State Register. It features vertical sheathing and is painted white with green trim and has a huge bell on its precincts. Christian Sharps, inventor of the Sharps rifle, bought this farm in 1871. A Hungarian aristocrat, Hans Munchow built the horse stables and outbuildings after purchasing the property in 1910.

Valley Falls Farm barn

Valley Falls Farm barn and outbuildings

The Farwell Barn (Jacobson barn) located on Horsebarn Hill Road in Storrs, is a 19th century post and beam framed clapboard barn acquired by the Connecticut Agricultural College, which later became the  University of Connecticut . This New England bank style barn is listed on the National Register, number 00001649.

Jacobson barn Horsebarn Hill Road

Jacobson barn on Horsebarn Hill, Storrs

 

Gilbert Road in Stafford features an English Bank style of barn. Not too far away, on 425 Old Springfield Road in Stafford there is the Greystone Farm English style barn that features exterior siding of gray fieldstone, flushboard and vertical siding on other sections. The roof is a gable type.

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English bank style barn with matching birdhouse on Gilbert Road, Stafford

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Greystone Farm barn with fieldstone

The Sheridan Farmstead (c. 1760) on Hebron Road in Bolton is listed on the State Register of Historic Places and features a gentleman’s barn built in 1900. A gentleman’s barn had a dual purpose as a weekend retreat and a working farm. The white extended English bank barn features a stairway to the upper level, hay chutes, a brick chimney, rolling doors, an earthen ramp and horse stalls on the ground level.

Sheridan Homestead barn Bolton ct. gentlemans barn style built 1900

Sheridan Homestead gentleman’s barn Bolton, Ct.

Unlike most in our region, the tobacco barns were created with a single crop-single purpose in mind- gently drying and curing tobacco leaves. built in the rich Connecticut River valley, the barns pictured below are still used today.

Tobacco barn on the floodplain in Glastonbury

Tobacco barn in Glastonbury

tobacco barn South windsor

Tobacco barn in South Windsor

If a little interest has been sparked in our agricultural history and the barns that shaped its success, I hope you come discover some interesting barns in your travels.  It is hard to think that, in some way, there is any town in our little state that is not part of our rich farming history. Happy hunting!

Pamm Cooper                                                      all photos copyrighted 2017 by Pamm Cooper 

barn with a red door 2017 Main st South Windsor

Barn with a red door in South Windsor

 

Last week’s Ladybug Blog extolled the historical, cultural, and culinary delights of pumpkin. It seems as though you can’t step foot into a grocery store, candle shop, or cafe without being inundated with products that revolve around pumpkin spice. As ubiquitous as the combination of cinnamon, clove, and allspice have been the past few years I remember a time when the flavor of early fall was apple; from cider and cider doughnuts to pies and apple butter.

Many a school field trip or family outing revolved around a trip to an orchard to pick one of the many varieties of apples available in New England and return home laden with bags of this versatile fruit. The pleasure of these adventures was increased if the destination also had a working cider press. That sweet/sour smell of the overripe apples being pressed says fall much in the same way that a freshly-cut fir tree hints that Christmas is on its way.

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Enjoying a visit to Easy Pickins Orchard in Enfield, CT

Apple orchards have been a part of Connecticut and New England since cultivated apples (Malus pumila also known as M. domestica) were brought here by the European settlers in the 17th century. The first recorded apple orchard was planted in 1625 by the Reverend William Blaxton in what is now Cumberland, Rhode Island. Reverend Buxton cultivated the Yellow Sweeting apple which later became known as the Rhode Island Greening, a cooking apple that has a greenish-yellow flesh. Before that only the small, sour, wild apples which we know as crabapples grew in North America. Crabapples are used as ornamental trees in landscapes and as they are heavy bloomers are great sources of pollen for cross-pollination in apple orchards, are a good source of pectin, and as a rootstock that provides cold-hardiness to domestic apples.

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The crabapple tree at our first home bloomed beautifully every Mother’s Day (1991)

The use of crabapple or other apple varieties as a rootstock in grafting is very important in modern orchard farming. Apple trees grown from seed do not grow true to their parent plant and can be anywhere from 12 to 36’ tall, features that are not conducive to consistent apple production and ease of harvest. Therefore, grafting, the technique that combines the beneficial traits of 2 or 3 apple varieties is greatly beneficial. In the simplest of terms, grafting is the procedure by which a scion (a piece of last year’s growth that has 2-3 buds) is cut from an existing tree of the desired apple variety.

The scion is inserted into the cambium (vascular) layer of the understock (rootstock) of another apple variety that may bring traits such as disease resistance, crotch strength, adaptability to heavier soil, a slow growth rate, adaptability to espalier training, or the above-mentioned cold-hardiness. The new graft is generally bound with tape and a grafting compound. Detailed information on grafting can be found in books or online.

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Espaliered apple trees

Cider apples are usually a combination of cultivars that are grown specifically for use in cider production to have higher sugar and tannin levels and are often more astringent than the eating and baking varieties. These qualities contribute to a final product that has a deeper flavor. Among cider apple varieties are some that are higher in sugar which causes their cider product to ferment resulting in hard cider. In fact, hard cider was an important beverage at a time when refrigeration was unavailable. Most apple cider produced today is pasteurized, a process that heats the unfiltered apple juice to prevent bacterial contamination. It also destroys any yeast that would cause the juice to ferment creating a more stable non-alcoholic product. In fact, ‘Johnny Appleseed’, the folklore hero born as John Chapman in 1774, planted seeds that produced apples that were only good for hard cider (or applejack), not for eating.

In 1993 The Enfield Historical Society brought a manual cider press to the Old Town Hall Museum. Since we were members of the Society my husband Russ and some friends were enlisted to turn the press.

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Layers of burlap-wrapped apples are squeezed in the manual cider press.

It was a beautiful, sunny fall day, perfect for an outdoor exhibition. Our children and friends were among the crowd that gathered to watch the action. The resultant cider was not distributed as it had not been pasteurized but there were jugs of pre-pressed cider for the enjoyment of all.

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Crates of apples await their turn in the press.

Humans are not the only members of the animal kingdom that appreciate ripening apples. At this time of year, it is almost impossible to get near an apple tree without being in the presence of yellowjacket wasps as they forage for the sugars that are important to their developing queen in late summer. As overly ripe apples fall to the ground the yellowjackets will swarm the fallen fruit.

 

A beautiful Mutsu apple showed the scars of an encounter with yet another species that wanted to feed on the delicious ripening fruit. Although this apple was about 5 feet above the ground an animal, possibly a raccoon, had attempted unsuccessfully to get it.

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Mutsu apple with animal damage.

We, however, picked many Mutsu (also known as Crispin) apples, a very crunchy and sweet variety that is a cross between the Golden Delicious and the Indo cultivars that is great for eating and several pounds of Cortland destined for pies, crisps, and apple butter. Connecticut’s orchards are still going strong so visit the Connecticut Apples site to find one near you and enjoy some of the many delicious varieties that are grown in our state.

Susan Pelton

This time of year, pumpkins provide a cheerful splash of color where they are gathered for sale or on the front steps of a house. Did you ever wonder where pumpkins originated, how to cook pumpkin, or what it takes to grow your own?  Pumpkins have a long and interesting history in the cultures of people around the world.  They are members of the cucurbit family along with cucumbers, squash and melons.  The latin names include Cucurbita pepo, C. moschata, and C. maxima.   The name ‘pumpkin’ is derived from the Greek ‘pepon’ meaning large melon.  The French converted this to ‘pompon’, the English to ‘pumpion’ and the American colonists to ‘pumpkin’.

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Photo credit: Wikipedia.com

 

Pumpkins are thought to have originated in Central America. The oldest pumpkin-type seeds, found in Mexico, date back to 7000 – 5500 BC.  Native Americans used pumpkins for food and they dried strips of pumpkin which were woven into mats.   Strips of pumpkin flesh were roasted on the fire and eaten. Pumpkin pie got its start when the colonists cleaned the seeds and pulp out of the pumpkin, filled it with milk, spices and honey, and baked it in hot ashes.

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Photo credit: J. Allen, UConn

 

The history of the Jack O’Lantern comes from an Irish story about a man named Stingy Jack. Jack tricked the devil a couple of times and extracted a promise from him that he would not claim Jack’s soul when he died.  When Jack did die, the story goes that God would not accept such a soul into heaven but the devil honored his promise and would not accept him into hell.  The devil gave Jack a burning coal for light and Jack carried it inside a carved out turnip.  His roaming ghost was known to the Irish as ‘Jack of the Lantern’ which became ‘Jack O’Lantern’.  People began carving their own turnips or potatoes with scary faces to protect their homes from evil spirits. The English used large beets.  When immigrants from these countries traveled to the New World, they brought along this tradition and found that the native North American pumpkin made a great Jack O’Lantern.

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Photo credit: Wikimedia.com

 

When looking for a pumpkin (or a bunch!) to bring home, avoid those with damage or soft, rotten areas.   Pumpkins with the stem still attached will store longer than those without.  Most people use pumpkins for decoration or for Jack O’Lanterns.  For cooking, select a sweet or pie type pumpkin which are generally smaller and sweeter.

If you would like to cook the pumpkin, it can be boiled/steamed, baked or microwaved. To boil/steam: Cut the pumpkin into large chunks and rinse. Place in a large pot with a cup of water and cover, cooking for 10-12 minutes or until fork tender.  To bake: Cut in half, clean and rinse. Place cut side down on a cookie sheet and bake at 350°F for one hour or until fork tender. To microwave: Cut in half, microwave 15 minutes then 1-2 minutes at a time until fork tender.  After cooking, the peel is removed and the pumpkin can be pureed or mashed.  It freezes well and can be used in recipes that call for solid pack canned pumpkin.

pumpkin-seeds

Photo credit: J. Allen, UConn

 

Here is a recipe for roasted pumpkin seeds from http://allrecipes.com:

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups raw whole pumpkin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons butter, melted
  • 1 pinch salt

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C).
  2. Toss seeds in a bowl with the melted butter and salt. Spread the seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for about 45 minutes or until golden brown; stir occasionally.

Nutritional Information 

Servings Per Recipe: 6    Calories: 83

Amount Per Serving

  • Total Fat: 5g
  • Cholesterol: 4mg
  • Sodium: 77mg
  • Total Carbs: 6g
  • Dietary Fiber: 6g
  • Protein: 3g

 

Some of my most cherished plants came to me as gifts of seeds from friends. A rosy throated, creamy white foxglove originated in a friend’s garden in Brookfield, a floriferous tall, pink balsam is from another’s in Southbridge and a deliciously scented lilac tinged datura came from Leicester. I enjoy all these plants not only for their beauty but also for their memory of times spent in good company.

Balsam from Rocky

Old-fashioned pink balsam. Photo by D. Pettinelli

About this time I start collecting seed for next year’s gardens. Saving seed doesn’t require that much effort for most plants and I personally like the feeling of truly self-perpetuating garden.

Not all seeds can be successfully saved. Hybrids, for instance are a carefully controlled cross between two different parents. If you collect the seeds and sow them, they may resemble one of the parent plants or if another cross was made, say by a bee during pollination, they may be something completely different. This is why you find odd looking squashes coming out of the compost pile. While you can plant your saved hybrid seed, you just won’t know what you’re getting.

Non-hybrid or open-pollinated plants will come true from seed. These are generally older varieties of flowers and vegetables that were often grown in our grandparents’ gardens and usually are referred to in this day of modern hybrids as heirlooms. Some excellent sources for heirloom flower seeds are Seed Savers Exchange (www.seedsavers.org), Seeds of Change (www.seedsofchange.com), Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (www.rareseed.com) and Select Seeds (www.selectseeds.com).

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Browallia from Select Seeds. Photo by D. Pettinelli

Numerous garden flowers offer seed saving opportunities. Vigorous self-seeders like nicotiana, calendula, cynoglossum, bachelor buttons, ammi, sunflowers, celsosia, nigella, snapdragons, tall verbena and cosmos, I just let do their thing in the garden and transplant wayward seedlings each spring. These are hardly annuals whose seeds can survive the winter. The ones to collect are the half hardy and tender annuals that would never make through on their own.

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White and lavender nicotiana. Photo by D. Pettinelli

Some to consider are marigolds, zinnias, four o’clocks, morning glories, salvias, petunias, nasturtiums, sweet William, thunbergia, celosia and balsam. Finding the seeds may be the hardest part of the task for novices. If you started them from seed you may remember what it looked like – tiny black beads, large and rounded, long and flat, or thin and papery. Take apart a few dead flowers and look for the same type of seed you planted.

marigold seeds

Marigold seeds. Photo by D. Pettineli

Ideally, seeds should mature on the plant. If frost threatens, cover the plants or pull the whole plant up and hang it in the basement until seed heads have dried. Collect your seeds and let them air dry for a few days before storing in coin envelops or even better, airtight containers like small zippered-lock bags or clean pill bottles. Remove as much of the chaff surrounding the seeds as possible as it may hold moisture and cause your seeds to mold. Be sure to label them and keep in a cool, dry place until ready to sow next year.

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Seeds can be stored in labelled coin envelops. Photo by D. Pettinelli

Seeds from tomatoes need a wet processing. Let the tomato thoroughly ripen, then cut it open and scoop the seeds into a bowl. Add a little water and stir. Let set a few days but add more water if necessary to cover seeds. Viable seed will sink to the bottom. Pour off the debris on top and check to see that the gel that surrounds each seed is dissipated. If not, repeat the process. When ready I just stick the seeds on waxed paper to dry and store in labeled airtight containers. Serious seed savers might want to check out books like Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth. There may be newer books out there but I have found her advice to be helpful and accurate.

Dawn P.

As the gardening season is winding down, produce is piling up in the kitchen. Potatoes have been dug, peppers are picked and squash is in a basket. Now is the time to store the rewards of your hard won labors.

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Photo from PSU.edu

When I was a child, my grandmother’s home had a root cellar with a dirt floor and field rock walls. It was the ‘room’ between the wooden stairs up to the outside and the cellar, which was filled with scary, old things that made loud noises,  smelled of kerosene and musty clothing, and housed the occasional snake.  I did not like the cellar, but loved going into the root cellar. It smelled of the earth, like soil and the hay bales we placed to hold wooden boxes off of the floor. The boxes were filled with clean sand for the keeping of carrots, beets and turnips buried in the damp sand. None of vegetables where supposed to touch each other to prevent a rotten spot from occurring or spreading to the adjacent root vegetable.  Cabbages were laid on other hay bales, up off the floor, as were wooden boxes of winter squashes and pumpkins. Onions were braided together hand hung from nails on the beams overhead or put into burlap grain bags repurposed. The root cellar was dark and moist, perfect for holding vegetables. Yes, we had a refrigerator but it wasn’t as large as today’s, nor did it provide enough room for all the garden excess intended to get us through the winter. The root cellar was a form of primitive refrigeration using the cool and constant temperature of below ground to store food. Our modern day homes don’t come equipped with root cellars, but we can still store the bounty of our gardens.

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Photo from University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Winter squash and pumpkins need curing for long storage of several months. Squash will last longer is the stems are left on. After picking, let them lay in the sun off the ground, on a picnic table perhaps, for about a week. Turn them over every couple of days to make sure all sides are exposed to the sun. Curing hardens the skin of the squashes, making them less likely to rot in storage. Once cured, brush off any remaining dirt, then wash the squash with a 10 percent bleach and water solution, or a 50/50 vinegar and water mix. Either mixture will disinfect any fungi or bacteria which harm the squash once stored. Wrap each squash in newspaper and place in a basket or box with slats or openings on the sides to promote ventilation. The newspaper will create an air space between each squash. Store in a cool, dry area of the home that will not go below freezing. 50 degrees F is optimum. I put mine on the bottom step of my basement hatchway.

winter squash storage

hatchway storage

Potatoes must be cured also. After the foliage has died back, dig up the potatoes. They need to cure and be stored in the dark, out of the sun or they will develop green spots on the skin that can have toxic properties. A dark tool shed or garage without windows will work well. After digging, lay tubers on newspaper in the dark space for about two weeks at 50 to 60 degrees F. Potatoes should not touch during the curing process. After the two weeks, wipe off any dirt without washing at all. Remove any tubers with spots or damage to eat first as they will not store well. Place storage potatoes in a bushel basket or cardboard box. Cover with newspaper or burlap to exclude any light. Place in a space that will not freeze and not get above 50 degrees F for longest keeping quality.

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Potatoes, photo by Carol Quish

 

Onions can be dug and laid right on top of the ground for about a week as long as there is no danger of frost or rain. If rain is threatened, move them to a shed, porch or garage with good ventilation.  Necks will dry and brown. They can then be braided together or kept in mesh bags or bushel baskets as good airflow is needed. Keep them out of the light and a cool, 35 to 35 degree F location.

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Photo from University of Georgia Cooperative Extension

The root crops of carrots and beets can be dug, wiped clean and stored in airtight freezer bags in the refrigerator. Leave an inch of the green tops on the vegetables and do not cut off any root material from the base. Cutting into the flesh gives fungi and bacteria a place to enter. An alternative method of storage is in damp sand just like in the root cellar with a temperature of 35 to 40 degrees F. Some people leave them right in the ground, only digging up what they need before the ground freezes. Covering the in-ground crop with a thick layer of hay or straw will delay the ground from freezing until it gets really cold.

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Carrots, photo by Carol Quish

Green tomatoes can be gathered before the first frost. Select only fruit with no bad spots. Get out the newspaper once again, to wrap each tomato for protection and airflow. Alternatively, lay tomatoes in single layers separated with layers of newspapers. Keep out the light and keep in a cool spot below 50 degrees F. Check them all once per week to remove any that develop rot. Hopefully they will ripen by the New Year.

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Tomatoes not ripe yet, Photo by Carol Quish

One crop I gather to remind me of years gone by and out of style is Quince. My local orchard has a quince tree as most farm houses had outside its kitchen. Quince fruit has a very high pectin content which was commonly boiled along with any fruit to make a jelly or jam before powdered or liquid pectin was commercially available.

Surejell and Certo has made the backyard quince tree fall out of favor. I admit I don’t use the quince fruit to make my jellies and jams anymore, but at least I am still preserving the harvest in an updated manner.

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-Carol Quish,  photos copyright, Carol Quish

Viceroy butterfly on 'Miss Molly' butterfly bush September 2017

Viceroy butterfly on ‘Miss Molly’ butterfly bush

“By all these lovely tokens
September days are here,
With summer’s best of weather
And autumn’s best of cheer.”
–   Helen Hunt Jackson, September, 1830-1885

September brings a wealth of inspiration to the senses. Leaves of Virginia creeper are red already, there is the intoxicating scent of wild grapes in the pre-dawn foggy mornings, asters and goldenrods bring colorful splashes to the landscape and sunsets may fill the cooling sky with brilliant deep reds and oranges. Tree Hydrangeas, Hydrangea paniculata, had a great year, and many still have panicles of colorful flower heads. While many plants and insects are winding down to an early retirement, there is still a lot going on in the great outdoors.

Hydrangea paniculata dwarfing a visitor to Wickham Park, Manchester Pamm Cooper photo 2017

Hydrangea paniculata dwarfing a visitor to Wickham Park

It may be the time of year for oddities, now and then. For instance, there is a horse chestnut outside our office on the Storrs campus that has several flowers in full bloom this week. While many shrubs and fruit trees, like cherries and azaleas, may have a secondary bloom in the fall after rains, cool weather with a late autumn warm spell following, a chestnut blooming at this time of year is a more remarkable event. A bumblebee spent time visiting the flowers, so a second round of pollen and nectar is a bonus in that quarter.

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Horse chestnut with visiting bumblebee – an unusual bloom for September

Red-headed crickets are a first for my gardens this September. These small crickets have a distinctive red head and thorax, iridescent black wings, and yellow legs.  At first glance, they really do not appear to be crickets because of how they move around vegetation. They also have large palps with a paddle-like end that they wave around almost constantly, giving the appearance of mini George Foremans sparring in the air before a fight. Found mostly only three feet above the ground, they have a loud trill and are usually more common south and west of Connecticut.

red headed bush cricket backyard garden 2017

Red-headed bush cricket

While visiting Kent Falls recently, I came upon a few small clumps of American spikenard. Aralia racemose, loaded with berries. Highly medicinal, this native plant is found in moist woodland areas such as along the waterfall trail at Kent Falls. Roots are sometimes used as a substitute for sarsaparilla, another Connecticut wildflower.

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American spikenard berries ripen in September

Many migrating butterflies like monarchs and American Ladies are on the move now and may be found on late season flowers like butterfly bush, zinnias, Tithonia, Lantana, cohosh, goldenrod, asters and many other flowers. In annual plantings where I work, honey bees are especially abundant on Salvia guaranitica  ‘ Black and Blue ’  right now.  And while many butterflies and bees can be found on various butterfly bush cultivars, the hands on favorite seems to be the cultivar ” Miss Molly” which has deep red/pink, richly scented flowers that attract hummingbirds, flower beetles, fly pollinators, people and bees galore. This is a great addition to a pollinator or butterfly garden. Other late season bloomers for our native insects and butterflies are black cohosh and Eupatorium  rugosum, (chocolate Joe-Pye weed), as well as asters and goldenrods.

American lady on Tithonia sunflower

American Lady on Tithonia sunflower

Black and blue salvia

‘Black and Blue’ salvia is great for attracting hummingbirds and honey bees

Snapping turtles are hatching now.  The other day while mowing fairways, I spotted long dew tracks and there at the end were two little snapper hatchlings. Very soft upon hatching, they are often heron chow, and these little turtles will travel long distances to find a good habitat.

newly hatched snapping turtle 9-25-2017 Pamm Cooper photo

Newly hatched snapping turtle

Every day at my house, we engage in a “Where is Waldo?” type hunt in the backyard gardens. What we are looking for are the tiny gray tree frogs that are hanging out on certain plants during the day. Snapping up any insects that get too close, these guys are a lot of fun to watch and look for. Most of ones we are finding are green, and are slightly larger than a thumbnail right now.  It gives us all some free entertainment before the leaves fall and we move on to- raking leaves…

two thumbnail size gray tree frogs Pamm Cooper photo

Two tiny gray tree frogs in my garden

Katydids, crickets and sometimes tree frogs are making a racket at night. Although really not unpleasant, to me, they are loud. But more enjoyable to listen to than the neighbor’s barking dog…I found a katydid eating a hyssop flower recently, but who cares about that this late in the year?

katydid eating hyssop flowers in September

katydid eating hyssop flwer

Bees are having their last hurrah now as the blooming season winds down. While native goldenrods and asters are important food sources of food for late season bees and wasps, there are many garden plants that are important nectar and pollen sources as well. In my own garden, I have two hyssops- anise and blue giant hyssop. There were bumblebees and honeybees that went on both, but there were small bees that preferred only the anise hyssop. These bees were very noisy, and hovered near flowers before landing, behaving like hover flies. Most likely these bees were in the Megachilid genera- the leaf-cutting bees. Abdominal hairs collect the pollen in these species and may take on the brilliant colors of pollen from the flowers they visit.

Megachilid leaf cutting bee on aster Belding September 2017

Megachile family leaf-cutting bee on aster

As the season winds down, there are still some caterpillars to be found, like the beloved wooly bears and other tiger moth cats like the yellow bear. A spotted Apotelodes was a good find. A robust, densely hairy caterpillar, this large fellow is notable for three sets of long hairs called “pencils” along the dorsum, and for its equally conspicuous red feet, making it look like it is wearing five pairs of little red shoes.

spotted apatelodes on honeysuckle Cohen Woodland field 9-12-2017 Pamm Cooper photo

Spotted Apatelodes caterpillar showing its little red feet

And just for fun, next year consider planting a candy corn vine, Manettia inflate, on a small trellis.  An annual vine, flowers last well into the fall before the first killing frost. This South American native has tubular flowers that resemble candy corn, and they are a favorite of the hummingbirds (and myself!) in my backyard.

candy corn vine an annual fun plant Pamm Cooper photo

Candy corn vine

 

Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

There is a deciduous plant that grows as a small tree or shrub, is native not only to the Northeast but to most of the temperate Northern Hemisphere, is a popular ornamental species appreciated for its flowers and its fall color, and it produces a deep purple fruit that is both edible and delicious. George Washington had specimens of this plant on his Mount Vernon estate but even before that the Native Americans mixed the fruit with dried meats and fat to create pemmican, a food that is high in both energy and nutrition. This plant goes by many names, some of the more unusual ones are sarvis, saskatoon, and chuckley pear. Have you guessed what it is yet? Here are some of the more common monikers: wild plum, sugar plum, service tree, and shadblow. Have it yet? Let’s keep going. How about shadbush, serviceberry, or Juneberry? Now you know it, it’s Amelanchier.

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Serviceberries

In fact, there are so many bits of lore surrounding the etymology of all of the various names attributed to this plant. Is it called sarvis or serviceberry because the fruit is similar to the European Sorbus or because its bloom in the spring coincided with the time that Appalachian mountain roads became passable enough for traveling clergy to hold services? Or is it shadbush or shadblow because the flowers appear when the shad are running? Or Juneberry because, you guessed it, the fruit appeared in June? I think that my favorite name is saskatoon which is derived from the Cree name for Amelanchier, misâskwatômina, which also lends its name to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan where the plant is native.

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The delicate blooms of Amelanchier captured by Pamm Cooper

 

One of the most common species of this plant that is found in New England is the Amelanchier canadensis, known as the Eastern shadbush. It comes as no surprise that this plant has so many names as there are between 6 and 33 species (depending on the source) due to the wide variety of hybrids and the fact that it is also found in Asia (A. sinica or Chinese serviceberry) and Europe (where the species A. ovalis is known as Snowy mesiplus).

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Amelanchier canandensis, aka Shadblow in its tree form, courtesy of Pamm Cooper

Adding to the confusion is that fact that this plant can be a small tree or a multi-stemmed clumping shrub. This happens when the new growth is heavily browsed by deer and rabbits and the plant takes on a tree-like shape instead of a shrub similar to many of the its fellow members of the Rose family. In full sun or part shade it can reach 20’ tall and has an airy, open look to it that is compounded by the fact that the white flowers emerge before the leaves in the spring. If it is left to its own devices then the suckers that are produced from the base of the plant can grow into a thicket.

The fruit that succeeds the flowers starts as a yellow, single-stone, berry-like ½” pome that hang in terminal clusters of 1 to 4 fruit. As the season progresses and the fruits ripen their color shifts to red, purple, and finally the deep almost black purple that signifies maturity. We have received several calls from the Connecticut Poison Control Center requesting identification of the Serviceberry fruit as it appears to be as attractive to children as it does to birds and wildlife. It is always nice to be able to report that it is in fact edible and harmless. When fully ripe the taste is sweet and a bit tart at the same time. I had a bowl of them in the fridge and my husband ate one, expecting that it was a grape, and was a bit surprised.

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The plum-like interior of the fruit

Amelanchier is not only grown for its fruit but as a popular ornamental shrub/tree. Although they are not drought tolerant and require good drainage and air circulation they do provide interest throughout the year. The delicate 2” white or pink blossoms appear in the spring around the time that the shad are running in the Connecticut River according to folk lore, generally in early April. The leaves follow the blooms and then the berries which are ripening now. Soon the leaves will turn from green to yellow to a beautiful orange or red and when they fall the tree will still provide interest in the form of its unusual grey bark which shows fissures as it ages.

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The interesting bark of Amelanchier

In addition to the aforementioned deer and rabbits Lepidoptera caterpillars and other insects also feed on Amelanchier. Among these are spider mites, sawflies, flatheaded borers, bark beetles and aphids. I did not see any aphids when I took these images but I did see a specimen that was heavily populated with Asian lady beetles, a heavy predator of aphids, in three different stages of development.

Amelanchier are susceptible to several diseases including Fire blight, Leaf spot, and Gymnosporangium rust, which affects the leaves, twigs, and fruit with distinctive orange lesions and spores. The alternate hosts of Gymnosporangium are juniper and cedar.

Another common affliction of stone fruit that also infects Amelanchier berries is Brown rot. Brown rot, or Monilinia amelanchieris, fungi persist in blighted blossoms, twig cankers, or on mummified fruit. In the cold winters of Connecticut it only survives by overwintering on fallen infected fruits. Apothecia are produced on berries that overwintered on the ground. These small mushroom-like structures release ascospores which can infect blossoms and cankers but not the fruit. In more temperate areas when early spring temperatures combine with moisture the conidia, the asexual reproductive spores, will be produced on cankers or mummified fruit that remained on the tree. The conidia of Monilinia form linked chains on the blighted tissue of blossoms or twigs from which the mature spores will detach to be spread by air, splashing water, or insects.

When vectored by feeding insects these spores will entire fruit through the open wounds. In the moist, moderately temperatured climate of the developing fruit the conidia will germinate in 2-4 hours although it may remain latent in green fruit. Mycelium, the vegetative part of the fungus that absorbs nutrients, and conidia, the spores, will sprout from the infected fruit causing the fruit to decay and turn brown.

When vectored by feeding insects these spores will enter fruit through the open wounds. In the moist, moderately temperatured climate inside the developing fruit the conidia will germinate in 2-4 hours although it may remain latent in green fruit. Mycelium, the vegetative part of the fungus that absorbs nutrients, and conidia, the spores, will sprout from the infected fruit as small, circular brown spots that cause the fruit to decay and turn brown. Within these areas tufts of greyish spores appear as the fruit mummifies. The fruit may remain on the tree or drop to the ground until the spring when the cycle starts again. Cleaning up dropped fruit and debris will help to cut down on reinfection and it is suggested that Amelanchier be planted in areas where the messy dropped ripe fruit is not an issue.

Better uses for the ripened fruit include jams, pies, wines, ciders, or dried like cranberries for use in cereals, trail mix, and snack foods. Or you could whip up big batch of that Native American favorite, pemmican, if you happened to have a load of thin slices of bison meat that have been dried in the sun and pounded into a powder, mixed with melted fat and the dried serviceberries and formed into patties. Just in time to store it away to delight your family at Thanksgiving!

Susan Pelton