August 2018


monarch waystation

A little-known fact about the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab is that we are a certified Monarch Waystations. Monarch Butterflies migrate from Canada and the United States to Mexico and California every fall. Scattered throughout the country there are thousands of waystations providing milkweeds for the monarch butterflies, acting as both a fuel source and shelter. Milkweeds are currently in a state of decline due to the use of herbicides in the agricultural landscapes where they are usually found.

Unfortunately, the monarchs are much faster than I am, and I have yet to be able to capture a picture of one before they flutter off. However, the waystation is home to more than just the monarchs. When I first started to poke around in the garden, I found these little, hairy caterpillars and immediately thought they were monarch larva. Upon some further research (google), I determined that these are actually a different milkweed-dependent organism, the milkweed tussock or milkweed tiger moth caterpillar, Euchaetes egle.

 

The adult tiger moth isn’t nearly as beautiful as their monarch cousins, with gray/white wings and a hairy yellow abdomen. Luckily, I have seen a few other butterflies hanging around the waystation. I identified our next visitor as a red-spotted purple, also known as white admiral, Limenitits arthemis.

red spotted purple

Red Spotted Purple

Another guest was this Fritillary. This butterfly is also commonly confused with its cousin, the monarch. They get their names from their checkered wings; fritillus translated from Latin is chessboard. Their caterpillars tend to eat violets instead of milkweed.

 

While I was out photographing caterpillars and butterflies, I almost stepped on this guy/gal. I had initially identified this as a common garter snake. Garter snakes and their multiple species, subspecies, and races are the most common snake in North America. After doing some more research (google again), I actually think this is a ribbon snake. The stripes that run the length of a ribbon snake’s body are uniform and complete; while a garter snake appears more patchy and checkered. Either way, hopefully whatever species it is, they will help to keep away some of the chipmunks that have been burrowing though the garden.

Garter snake

Ribbon Snake

All the identifications I made are solely based on appearances, so I’m sure there could have been a misidentification. To get more involved in Monarch Waystations visit: https://www.monarchwatch.org/waystations/. Hopefully I’ll be able to capture some monarchs in the weeks to come!

 

-Joe Croze, UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab. All photos copyright of Joe Croze, UConn

As far as us gardeners are concerned, few pleasures in life compare to biting into that first sun-ripened tomato. After getting off to a rather dry start and needing supplemental watering, many of us found our gardens more on the too wet side and wishing some of that rain would go to California where it is really needed. I even found some slugs crawling up the tomato stakes instead of hiding beneath the mulch! Apparently, even they were looking for higher ground!

standing wtr around raised beds

Standing water around raised tomato beds. Photo by dmp.

Vegetable gardeners in New England know that tomatoes face several diseases including blights, leaf spots, anthracnose and so on. We deal with this problem in different ways. I try to grow some disease resistant cultivars, like ‘Peron’ and ‘Defiant’. Both are reported to be resistant to several diseases with ‘Defiant’ touted as having late blight resistance. Having resistance does not mean the plants will not get a disease; just that it often won’t kill them (or at least won’t kill them as quickly!). ‘Defiant’ gets some early blight, leaf spots but typically if I continue removing the infected foliage on a weekly basis; it grows out of them and produces well into the fall. The rainy weather has curtailed some of my weekly clean ups so all my tomato plants look a little worse for the wear.

tomato row w hardly any leaves

Tomatoes with few healthy leaves due to disease/wet weather. Photo by dmp.

There are lots of mid-sized and tasty tomatoes on ‘Defiant’ right now but almost all of them have a condition known as yellow shoulder. This is a physiological disorder and while the affected portions of the tomato are showing up yellow on my tomatoes, they may be green, white, or grey on other varieties. These areas are also tougher and not as palatable. The specific cause for this disorder is not known but it is believed to be related to high temperatures, which we certainly were experiencing, lack of potassium, high soil pH and/or perhaps too much magnesium relative to calcium in the soil

tomato yellow shoulders

Defiant tomatoes with yellow shoulder. Photo by dmp.

It’s always fun to try a new tomato variety or two and this year I planted ‘Tasmanian Chocolate’, a unique dwarf with full-sized, 8 to 10 ounce, mahogany red tomatoes on plants about 40 inches tall. The tomatoes are slightly lobed and delicious, but right now all the fruits are terribly cat-faced. This is another physiological condition where the exact cause hasn’t yet been pinpointed. Supposedly, it starts in the early stages of flower bud development. This disorder has been attributed to low temperatures (below 60 F, which I have not experienced), high amounts of nitrogen in the soil and excessive pruning. If anything, any nitrogen in the organic fertilizer I applied around Memorial Day has been washed out with all the rain and mostly I have just been pruning out diseased leaves Herbicide damage was also given as a potential cause but I have woods on two sides of the property and my next-door neighbor has not applied any. I will try this tomato variety again as it is very tasty and does not seem as prone to leaf diseases as some other tomato varieties.

Tomato catface 2

Catfaced Tasmanian Chocolate tomatoes. Photo by dmp.

Then there is ‘Ildi’, a yellow cherry tomato. I like to grow one yellow, one orange and one red cherry tomato mostly because they look so lovely in salads. ‘Sun Gold’ is my go to orange cherry with its exquisite flavor and prolific production. For a red, this year I grew ‘Matt’s Wild Cherry’, which has oodles of half-inch, tasty red tomatoes.

yel jel bean, sungold sw mill, Fair Blue

Cherry tomatoes – Sungold, Sweet Million, Yellow Jelly Bean and Fair Blue. Photo by dmp.

‘Yellow Pear’ had been an old yellow cherry tomato standby and even though it did not crack that easily and outgrew most disease problems, the flavor was rather bland. So, I tried ‘Ildi’ last year and was happy with the flavor and decided to grow this variety again this season. Huge clusters of flowers had formed and I was all ready to enjoy hordes of yellow, sweet tomatoes when I noticed almost all the flowers aborted and only 4 or 5 tomatoes managed to mature per cluster. I believe this is due to the heat we’ve had over the last few weeks and perhaps also lack of pollination due to cloudy, wet weather. Tomatoes are self-fertile but wind and bees do help.

Tomato Ildi aborted blossoms

Only 3 tomatoes in this cluster of ‘Ildi’. Photo by dmp.

Despite the weather and some creature that has been stealing a tomato or two, there are still plenty of tomatoes to be had for fresh eating and for sharing. They say the average American eats about 20 pounds of fresh tomatoes each year. I’m trying to do my part using huge, thick slices of ‘Amish Gold’ for my BLTs.

Tomato Amish Gold BLT

BLT with tomato ‘Amish Gold’. Yumm! Photo by dmp.

Good gardening to all,

Dawn

tiger swallowtail and obedient plant

Tiger swallowtail on obedient plant flower

“What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance.” – Jane Austen

What a strange summer we have had so far in New England! I almost thought of going to Florida to escape the heat and humidity. It has been hot and humid, no doubt, but it is August after all, and things are coming along nicely in the out- of-doors. This time of year there is enough good stuff going on in the landscape to overcome any weather difficulties we may be experiencing, so let’s plod on out and see what’s happening.

Horsebarn Hill on a foggy July morning

foggy morning on Horsebarn Hill UConn

 

 

As we head on into the mid= summer, most garden buffs are by now reveling in the abundance of hydrangeas that are now in bloom. The dwarf ‘Little Lime’ is one of several panicle Hydrangeas that have nice full-bodied lime green flowers that pack a visual punch in the landscape. ‘Little Lamb’ is another of the smaller panicle hydrangeas, this one also having a compact form with pure white, ethereal blooms that give it its name.

little lambs hydrangea

‘Little lamb’ panicle hydrangea

Hibiscus are also blooming now, with their outstanding large, colorful flowers that really provide some visual excitement in the garden. I came across a nice hedgerow type planting that made a nice privacy screen along a sidewalk. I am not really a hibiscus fan, but a pink- flowered one popped up in my garden, and looks so great there that I guess it can stay. I wonder if someone snuck it in there to get me to have kinder thoughts toward these plants…

hibiscus border

Hibiscus

On the wild side, the sweet- smelling Clethra alnifolia is in full bloom and is attracting all types of bees, beetles and butterflies. Look for this small clump-forming shrub in any areas where soils are moist. The white flower spikes are very fragrant, so you can tell where Clethra are long before you actually see them. Groundnut vine is also blooming now, with its pea-like pink flower clusters dangling from its twining stems. Often found twining itself around goldenrods and blue vervain, it is always fun to come across this plant.

red spotted purple on clethra alnifolia

Red spotted purple butterfly on Clethra

The barn swallows that are partial to building their nests on the eaves of our equipment building have had their second brood of the year, as have bluebirds. Hopefully that will exit the nest soon and mom and dad can have a much needed rest in the near future. There was a female wood duck taking her brood on a tour in a large beaver pond the other day.

barn swallows ready to leave nest

barn swallows ready to fledge

female and male juvenile wood ducks Early August Airline Trail marsh Pamm Cooper photo

Juvenile wood ducks

I came across a wild grape that had one leaf covered with interesting cone- like galls formed by the grape tube gallmaker midge (Schizomyia viticola). This is a harmless gall, and only affected one leaf on the entire grape plant. Looks like a bunch of tall red, skinny gnome caps were set on the leaf.

grape tube gallmaker on grape leaf

grape tube galls

Combing through garden centers for great plants is always enjoyable when you find something like the Blackberry or leopard Lily Belamcanda chinensis. Star shaped flowers only 2 inches wide are heavily spotted with red, while foliage is sword- shaped. The flowers appear in late summer and bloom until frost, so this is a good plant to spiff up areas where other perennials are fading into the sunset.

leopard li;ly Belamcando chinensis

leopard lily Belamcando chinensis

Interesting plants suitable for containers are agave and other succulents. I saw a good size Agave colorata recently which was very striking in appearance. Its leaves are thick and powdery blue- gray with unusual cross- banding designs on them, plus leaf edges have brown teeth tipped with spines. A spectacular plant!

Agaave colorata

Agave colorata

pattern on agave leaves

patterns on Agave colorata leaves

Caterpillars this time of year are larger and, in my opinion, more interesting than the early season caterpillars. One favorite is the brown- hooded owlet, which is a sports a rich array orange, blue, yellow and red. Look for this caterpillar on goldenrods, where it feeds on flowers and flower buds.

brown-hooded-owlet-caterpillar

brown-hooded owlet

If you want a nice surprise, with a little careful handling you can check inside folded stinging nettle leaf shelters and may find either caterpillars of the comma or red admiral butterflies, or the chrysalis of the red admiral.

red admiral chrysalis inside nettle leaf shelter

red admiral butterfly chrysalis inside a leaf shelter on stinging nettle

 

The skies can provide some viewing that is better than any television show. Thunderhead clouds can provide some drama as they develop on hot and humid afternoons, and may provide further excitement in the form of thunder and lightning, and rainbows may follow. We can have remarkable sunsets any time of year, so don’t forget to have a look at the sky around sunset. August is also a great time for early morning fogs as well, especially when we have had a humid night. Getting up early does have its good points…

P1060375

Thunderhead developing on a hot and humid afternoon

 

Pamm Cooper