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

 

A weathered tobacco barn in the snow

A weathered tobacco barn in Enfield, CT

In northern Connecticut along the Connecticut River a quintessential image of winter is a tobacco barn in the snow. It may be bright red or a lovely weathered wood but either way it is an image of New England that many may think represents a time gone by. Although tobacco has been condemned as a health hazard the growing of tobacco is still a viable agribusiness in many towns in Connecticut, Enfield among them.

Tobacco was already being grown by the native populations when the European settlers arrived in the early 1600s. Within seven years of the town of Windsor’s founding in 1633 tobacco was being produced for both personal use and profit although the majority grown was a variety that originated in the Virginias. The rich sandy soil by the river and the short, hot summers yielded an excellent crop. By 1820 Connecticut Valley tobacco leaves were being used for cigars as the two outside layers, the binder and the wrapper.

The late 19th century saw a variety from Sumatra that began to replace the wrapper from this area. Local farmers created the ‘shade’ conditions that mimicked the sunlight and humidity of Sumatra. 1920 saw a cultivation height of 20,000 acres in the Connecticut River Valley although it is currently just over 2,000 acres. My husband’s great-uncle, Frank Burton, farmed tobacco in South Windsor during the 1930s and 40s. The following images are from a 1938 booklet that he used called ‘Hubbard’s Handybook for Growers’ from the Rogers & Hubbard Co. of Portland, Connecticut:

SCAN0409

 

Tobacco is part of the genus Nicotania from the Solanaceae (nightshade) family, a family that includes tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers. Tobacco mosaic virus is a disease that affects tomatoes and peppers in addition to tobacco. It can be transmitted through the debris of infected plants in the soil or through contamination of smoking materials on workers hands. It has been known to survive up to 50 years in dried plant parts. Avoid using tobacco products while handling or transplanting plants in the solanaceous family. Tomatoes will have foliage that has mottled yellow and green areas, reduced fruit set, dwarfing, and distortion. There is currently no control for TMV.

Another disease that can attack tobacco is blue mold, Peronospora tabacina, a downy mildew disease caused by a fungus-like organism that is highly destructive to seed beds, transplants, and fields.  Initially it can be confused with cold injury, malnutrition, or damping off. According to an Enfield tobacco farmer they did not have an issue with blue mold in 2015.

Insect pests of tobacco include aphids, cutworms, flea beetles, snails, slugs, wireworms, budworms, hornworms, and thrips. Many of these insects are common pests of tobacco’s relatives in the solonaceous family. Tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV) is vectored by tobacco thrips. Tobacco and tomato hornworms are large caterpillars of the Manduca species that can strip a plant of foliage in a short period of time. As with tomato hornworm, tobacco hornworm can also be parasitized by wasps.

The end of the tobacco growing season is not the end of farmer’s work. Little has changed over the centuries in the way that tobacco is harvested. The entire plant is cut off the stalk at ground level and brought to curing barn by way of slow-moving tractors.

Freshly cut tobacco leaves

In our neighborhood following a wagonload of newly cut tobacco is a common occurrence.

Tractor with a loaded cart of tobacco leaves

When the harvested plants reach the barns they are speared through the base in groups of four to six and hung to cure. The curing process allows for the slow oxidation and degradation of the carotenoids in the tobacco leaf that give it the aromas such as sweet hay, tea, rose oil, or fruits when smoked. Starch is converted to sugar which oxidizes into advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs), the inhalation of which during smoking contributes to atherosclerosis and cancer.

Tobacco in the barn

Air-cured tobacco is allowed to dry in well-ventilated barns over a period of four to eight weeks. Fire-curing takes three days to ten weeks. The tobacco barns used for these methods have openings along the long sides that can be adjusted to control the heat and humidity in the barn during the curing process.

Ventilation slats open

Cured leaves are then sorted for use as filler or wrapper based on their appearance and overall quality and sent on to cigar manufactures.

Cured tobacco

For over 350 years tobacco has been omnipresent in this area. Many a Connecticut teenager worked on a local tobacco farm and although I never had that experience personally I understand that it was not pleasant work. Currently most tobacco work is done by seasonal employees although their numbers may also dwindle in the future as the land is turned over to more economically viable pursuits such as real estate development. The tobacco barns that dot our landscapes may be no more than curiosities to future generations.

A beautiful red barn in the snow

A beautiful red barn in winter.

 

Susan Pelton

(all images by Susan Pelton)