August is ripening grain in the fields blowing hot and sunny, the scent of tree-ripened peaches, of hot buttered sweet corn on the cob. Vivid dahlias fling huge tousled blossoms through gardens and joe-pye-weed dusts the meadow purple.

-Jean Hersey

tiger swallowtail on phlox at Sues

Eastern tiger swallowtail on tall garden phlox

August arrived this year with the same intensity of heat and drought that so far has ruled the summer. Added to that, the damage inflicted to trees and other plants by the storm Isaias was another blow to gardeners, nature enthusiasts and homeowners alike. But despite these natural assaults, there has still been a cheerful reminder that nature does still carry on, bringing enjoyable encounters wherever we may go.

butternuts

Butternut trees in Wickham Park in Manchester- East Hartford

red headed bush cricket

The tiny red-headed bush cricket with its ‘boxing glove’ palps

Butterflies of all species have been few and far between, but in the past couple of weeks, more are now out and about. Eastern tiger swallowtails were more abundant than other swallowtails, while hairstreaks and brushfoots have been scarce so far. Red-spotted purples and monarchs are putting in appearances, as well as the diminutive pearl crescents. Tall garden phlox, spotted joe-pye weed, obedient plant, mountain mint coneflowers and butterfly bush are just a few favorites of many butterflies and bees.

pearl cresent and digger wasp on mint

Pearl crescent butterfly and great golden digger wasp shon mountain mint

ironweed and tiger swallowtail - Copy

Eastern tiger swallowtail on New York ironweed

bee on hyssop skullcap August 2020

Bumblebee visiting hyssop skullcap flower

bee on wild senna

Bumblebee and wild senna flowers

Great egrets sometimes stray from the shore and are one of our more elegant shorebirds. This bird is almost the size of a great blue heron and has a distinctive pair of black legs and a yellow bill. They can be seen in shallow water hunting for fish, frogs and small aquatic animals.

great egret on river bank

Great egret hunting on the banks of the Connecticut River near the Glastonbury ferry-August 2020

After summer rains, box turtles may often be seen during the day in open areas as they travel across  roads and driveways or places near woods with low vegetation. Patterns on their shells can be ornate and are usually a dark yellow.

box turtle crossed road day after rain 5-30-16 Pamm Cooper photo

Large box turtle just after crossing road

box turtle

another box turtle after crossing a driveway bordered by woods

Broadleaf tobacco is being harvested now in Glastonbury, where soils along the Connecticut River provide ideal growing conditions for this crop. Unlike shade tobacco, broadleaf leaves are thicker, sweeter and earthy. Because it is grown in the sun, broadleaf tobacco has more oils that produce more flavor than tobacco grown in the shade.

tobacco field and barn Glastonbury

Broadleaf tobacco growing in Glastonbury

In August there are several wildflowers that are lending some color to the landscape in moist areas and along pond and stream edges. An unusual one is the Allegheny monkey flower, mimulus ringens, whose genus  names comes from the Latin word meaning a mimic as the flower is said to resemble a monkey’s face. Sabatia sp. flowers are a stunning pink on long stems that stand out against a backdrop of green cattails. They can be seen on the edge of a pond at the Norcross wildlife Sanctuary in Wales, Massachusetts.

Sabatia large marsh pink possibly s amethystinum

Sabatia in flower along a pond bank at Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary in Wales, Massachusetts

flower fly on monkey flower

Tiny syrphid fly visits a monkey flower

Summer will go on for a while yet, with fruits and vegetables to harvest and enjoy, and with timely rains, I hope. There are still a few flowers that have yet to bloom and clouds and skies that should provide compelling views. Nature will  never cease to provide things of interest for the most casual of viewers and to those who search carefully for its wonders. I do take time to smell the roses as I run by…

spicebush cat August 2019

Spicebush swallowtail butterfly caterpillars are found by those who know to look inside a spicebush or sassafras leaf folded lengthwise

Pamm Cooper

Lots of squash and pumpkins, P.Cooper photo

Lots of squash and pumpkins, P.Cooper photo

The farm stands and farmer’s markets have been abundantly overflowing with multiple varieties of winter squashes and pumpkins this year. Was it the beautiful and colorful fall that lingered unceasingly this year that made me want to get out and visit many produce places, or was it the autumn recipes and foods which included pumpkin everything that sent me seeking different types? I don’t care, just glad I took some time to ‘go squashing’ with a friend. I like this new verb phrase. We went in search of a cornucopia of different varieties, hoping to find a new favorite and quite possibly a new addition for next year’s vegetable garden.

Honey Nut Butternut Squash, A new find! P.Cooper photo

Honey Nut Butternut Squash, A new find! P.Cooper photo

We did find a new squash we love! Honeynut Butternut, (Cucurbita moschata), is a mini squash,  developed by the Plant Breeding and Genetics department at Cornell University.  Honeynut squash is a combination of butternut and buttercup squash types. It is only about one to one and half pounds, dark tan and adorable. The inside is darker orange than standard butternut and a bit denser and sweeter like a buttercup squash. Being smaller in size, it bakes more quickly than a larger three-pound butternut. It is still a butternut, which the squash vine borer pest avoids, which is good news for me. I will be growing this variety next year. Seed is available through Harris, Rene’s Garden and High Mowing seed catalogs and online. Probably other companies will be selling this wonderful squash also.

Peanut Pumpkin aka Galeux d’Eysines. P.Cooper photo

Peanut Pumpkin aka Galeux d’Eysines. P.Cooper photo

Another unusual find was the Peanut Pumpkin. (Cucurbita maxima “Galeux d’Eysine”).  It was developed in France in the Eysine region during the 19th century. The peanut looking growths on the outside skin are formed from hardened sugars that weep out of the skin. It is very decorative and is very edible with a rich pumpkin flavor. The more warts on the outside, the sweet the flesh will be on the inside.

Blue Hubbard and Waltham Butternut. P.Cooper photo

Blue Hubbard and Waltham Butternut. P.Cooper photo

Blue Hubbard Squash,(C. maxima)  is an odd, large shape and uncharacteristic grey color. They are best baked in the oven, as they tend to be watery when peeled and boiled. They are hard to cut open, even dangerous to attempt. We heard the best way to open them is to drop out of the car onto a driveway and they split right into pieces. The person passing on this tidbit of advice didn’t plan it that way, but it works. Blue Hubbard plants are highly attractive to the pest cucumber beetle. The plants have been used as a perimeter trap crop surrounding the field or cash crop of other species of squash. When the cucumber beetles fly into a field of  squash, they will stop at the blue hubbard first for a glorious feast. The farmer or grower can then spray only the blue hubbard to kill the cucumber beetle since almost all will be feeding there, and keep the other squash inside the perimeter beetle free. The blue hubbard squash was not intended to be harvested, only used as a sacrifice crop. Blue Hubbard plants are fast growing and strong, quickly replacing any leaves damaged by the cucumber beetle’s feeding. I am glad some farmers grow blue hubbard as the intended crop and do harvest their fruits. Perhaps these farmers do not have many cucumber beetles in their fields. Lucky them!

Acorn and Butternut Squash, P.Cooper photo

Acorn and Butternut Squash, P.Cooper photo

Traditional and commonly found Butternut(Cucurbita moschata) and Acorn (Cucurbita pepo var. turbinata), squashes are ripe and plentiful. A great starchy vegetable filled with vitamin A. Acorn squashes are perfect vessels for filling with sausage stuffing or grain mixtures.

Spaghetti and Buttercup Squash. P.Cooper photo

Spaghetti and Buttercup Squash. P.Cooper photo

Spaghetti squash is a thin-skinned winter squash with flesh the pulls apart into strands resembling spaghetti once it is cooked. Microwave or bake, then top with favorite sauce or seasoning. The taste is rather bland, reminiscent of zucchini to me, but a good base to carry other flavors. It is not a great storage squash, but easy to grow.

squash 2014

Baked Winter Squash. Photo P.Cooper

Have a squash tasting party to share your finds and new recipes tried. Perfect way to celebrate the fall.

-Carol Quish