This past weekend began with a traditional New England autumn activity – apple picking. And what a glorious day for it with bright sunshine, blue skies, sugar maples turning fiery red, luminescent yellow and glowing orange, a slight breeze and moderate temperatures. Our property came with a large, old Yellow Delicious apple tree badly in need of renovation and a few, almost valiant, attempts were made to restore it to a moderate height and productivity. Now called, ‘the one that got away’, we pretty much leave it to its own devices all the while harvesting the really sweet, delicious fruit and using the wormless ones for pies, cakes and other baked goods.

Bright, sun ripened apples

Bright, sun ripened apples

 Although the Home & Garden Education Center got a fair amount of calls this past summer about backyard tree fruit growing, the orchard we visited was packed with many folks munching on the fruits of their labors. Truth be told, even if you were to plant an apple tree this year it would take a few years to begin bearing. Sweet crunchy MacIntosh, Cortlands and Empires are standard fare for many orchards but if your taste ranges to other delectable varieties like Mutsu, Wolf River, Pink Lady or Jonagolds, check out the orchards listed on the following website to see what they are growing:   

http://www.americantowns.com/ct/hartford/news/apple-picking-orchards-and-apple-farms-guide-for-connecticut-ct-3799.

 The Center received several inquiries last week from callers wondering where all the birds at their feeders had gone. I also noticed this reduction in activity because the window feeder in the kitchen was not picked clean like it usually is every third day or so. And, the usually boisterous morning chorus of bird song that greets me each morning had been muffled. (I’m not counting my cockatoo in this!) What was going on? One of the Center’s horticulturists had made some phone calls and found out this is a perfectly natural occurrence. It seems that native seeds, nuts, berries and other items provide a much desired alternative to our boring feeder fillers. Our native birds are having a veritable feast on locally grown produce! We should all be so lucky as to experience such abundant harvests in our gardens! Apparently their lack of birdsong is due to resting up for their big event – migration! Energy spent is energy wasted and they need every last drop to make their long journeys – especially in the wake of climate change, habitat destruction and other assaults on their migration routes and living quarters.   

Unfortunately the lack of butterflies in some of our yards and gardens this year is possibly more foreboding. Several of us at the Center had commented that our butterfly bushes, asters and sedums were practically devoid of butterflies. In previous years, dozens of hungry butterflies would vie for landing spots on these plants setting the garden in motion. This year I don’t even need a single hand to count them. While our last blogger had the good luck of spotting some Monarch butterfly larvae on her trip to Block Island, I didn’t find any on my milkweed plants this year. 

 

Butterfly on boneset

Butterfly on boneset

Most likely the weather played a major role in the low numbers of butterflies. The prolonged cool, wet spell that we experienced in June and July destroyed butterfly eggs, larvae and chrysalides, in part because of the unfavorable environmental conditions and in part because this type of weather promotes a fungus that attacks caterpillars. Those that did manage to hatch and develop into butterflies ran into further problems because the weather also delayed the blooming of native wildflowers that some butterflies depend on for nectar. Add to that habitat reduction, loss of nectar sources and larval host plants due to overgrazing by deer, exposure to garden and agricultural pesticides, and consumption by native and introduced predators and it’s actually amazing we haven’t noticed a precipitous decline before now.

 While we can’t control the weather, we can lend butterflies our support by leaving sections of our yard filled with plants butterflies need for nectar or as places to lay eggs and rear their young. Some of these plants such as goldenrod, milkweed, clovers, nettles and violets are thought of as weeds. If we want butterflies it is imperative to grow the plants that support them. Those interested in attracting butterflies to their yards may want to consider signing up for a ‘Gardening for the Butterfly Lifecycle’ class at the Litchfield, CT Extension Center on November 14th from 10 am to 12 noon. Check out the listing at http://www.ladybug.uconn.edu/documents/AMGCatalogFall09_01rev2.pdf. Although this class is listed as an Advanced Master Gardener class, it is open to the public for a fee.

 Dawn