Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Life of a Sunflower

We planted some "domesticated" sunflowers earlier this year and I posted a picture of one of them in an earlier post.  They have matured, lost all their petals and are in the process of making seed.  They are really pretty ugly at this point in their lives.  Today, Tom cut the seed heads off of them to save for the birds to eat this winter.  Pretty soon, he will plant garlic where they have been.

But there are still a bunch of wild sunflowers around here and they really are very pretty.  I've been bringing bouquets of them in the house to cheer up my kitchen and have had a chance to observe the "life of a sunflower".  They go through stages as illustrated below:

On the right, you see a fresh sunflower.  Notice how its center is dark brown.  After a couple of days, the there are tiny little yellow flowers that "bloom" in the center.  You can see these tiny flowers if you click on the picture to make it bigger.  These little flowers produce copious amounts of pollen!   See just a small portion of the pollen produced by a bouquet below.  No wonder the bees love them!

The flower on the left in the first picture is on its last legs.  The petals have shriveled and the flower is drying up. 

It is wonderful to witness the life stages of animals and plants around the farm.  This summer I've watched many black swallow-tail butterfly caterpillars chomping on my parsley.  It is amazing how fast they grow.  Other things take much longer to go through their life cycle.  Since the weather is cooler, I've noticed just the slightest hint of red in some of the trees and bushes along the road.  Soon they will drop their leaves and go to sleep for the winter.  Then it will all start over next spring.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Four O'clocks

I love Four O'clocks.  You know what they are, right?  They are those perennial flowers that bloom late in the afternoon (thus the name Four o'clocks).  They attract night flying insects, especially those big moths that look like hummingbirds.  And, they have the most heavenly smell.  I've noticed that they don't begin to put off this scent until almost dark. 

I had a nice patch of them at our house in town, but didn't manage to dig any up to bring with me when we moved to the farm.  So, I was kind of bummed out about this last year and missed my Four O'clocks.  Then, a friend that I know through the Stillwater Community Singers came by the farmer's market this spring and told me she was cleaning out her flower beds and I could have some of the plants she was culling.  Well, I am somewhat of a scavenger anyway, so I jumped at the chance for some free flowers. 

As it turned out some of the loot I got were Four O'clock tubers!!  Hooray!  I planted them right beside our patio and have been making a point to go out and sit on the patio every evening for a while to enjoy the wonderful aroma of my Four O'clocks. 

Here's a picture of them.

This was taken during the day, so there were not many blossoms on the plants.  At night, there are a lot more.  Also, you cannot really see how big this plant is.  It is about 2 feet tall and grows from a large tear-shaped tuber.  Four O'clocks are notorious for coming up volunteer.  So, you may want to watch where you plant them.  This one is not planted in a flower bed.  I just stuck it in the ground right beside the patio.  So, if volunteer seedlings come up, that will be fine.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Wild Grapes?

We have what looks like a grape vine growing on the fence that runs along the road.  The other day I noticed it had small light purple fruit on it.  Here's a picture of the fruit.

(Click on the picture to make it bigger)

As you can see, these don't look anywhere near like the grapes you get in the supermarket.  But, I got to wondering if you could eat them.

One web site I found that talked about wild grapes was by Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia  http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/wild_grape.htm

All this says about eating them is that wild grapes are "not often eaten by people".  But, apparently, a lot of animals eat them and use them for shelter.  In fact, it says that "there are few plants which feed so many different animals".  I can see how these vines might become a problem in some situations.  But, it sounds to me like the benefits to wildlife far outweigh their liabilities.  So, I'm all for keeping them and letting them grow on our fence!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Deer Damage

Earlier this spring I posted a picture of a deer taken by our wildlife camera.   We put the camera away early in the summer and will probably put it back up this fall.  Anyway, we've not seen any deer this summer, but we have seen evidence of them.

Tom was showing me a pepper plant that looked like it had the top stems cut off with clippers.   Here is what I am talking about.

I would not have believed that this was done by deer until he showed me incriminating evidence, a deer track!

I don't mind sharing a few pepper leaves with the deer. They really don't hurt the plants much.  In fact, it seems that it might spur the plants to produce more growth.

The odd thing is that deer apparently like some types of pepper plants and not others.  The pepper plant above is an Anaheim pepper.  And, they have eaten the tops off of several of these.   However, there is a row of Jalepeno peppers right beside these that have not been touched!  I find that rather amusing.  I have this picture in my mind of these deer strolling through the field as if they are sampling items on a salad bar.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Chaste Tree

I have a dear friend who has a beautiful flower garden.  I have always admired her skill of being able to put plants in the right places so that they complement each other.  And, she has a talent for knowing when various flowers are going to bloom so that there is always something in bloom in her garden from early spring until late fall.

Last year she gave me several Chaste Trees that she started from seed off a large one that she has beside her house.  They are very special to me, so I have taken a lot of time to decide where to plant them.  This spring I set 3 of them out near my herb garden, one at the end of each bed.  They are still small, but they still bloomed this year.  Here's a picture of one of them.

I love the beautiful shade of blue of their flowers and wanted to know more about them and how they got their name.  I found that they are Native to southern Europe and central Asia and that they quickly grow into a multi-trunked tree about 10 to 20 feet tall.  They have a broad, spreading habit and get their name from the erroneous medieval belief that a potion made from them could curb the libido.  I also found that the Chaste tree is one of the very few winter-hardy trees out there that sports true blue flowers.  The tree is also said to have some medicinal value in treating PMS and menopausal symptoms. 

Friday, September 3, 2010

Can you see me now?

Tom cut some sunflowers this afternoon for us to sell at the farmers market tomorrow.  While I was trimming them up and putting them in water, a small beautiful little yellow spider fell off one of them onto the kitchen counter.  Here's a picture of it.

It is exactly the same color at the sunflower petals.  Can you see it in the picture below?

It is in about the 4:00 position on the sunflower.  I've been trying to figure out what kind of spider it is and have determined it is some sort of crab spider.

They are called crab spiders because they look a lot like crabs, having two powerful front pairs of legs angled outward and bodies that are flattened and often angular. Also, like crabs, they can move either sideways or backwards with ease

Crab spiders do not build webs to catch prey, but are hunters and ambushers and use camouflage-hunting techniques to trap their prey.  Obviously, this little guy is making good use of the camouflage technique.

Individuals of some species of crab spider can change color to match the flower on which they are sitting. It is, however, a very slow process that can take days.   I assume this spider may be one of these since his color matches the sunflower so closely.

There are over 3000 species of crab spiders! 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Heading into Fall

On January 24th, I posted a picture of spinach growing in our cold frames to illustrate how you can continue to garden through the winter.  After we pulled the spinach out of the cold frames this spring, we planted tomatoes in them.   This worked out well because we could close the lids when the plants were small to protect them against late frosts.

The tomato plants did quite well, but quit producing when the hot weather hit and have suffered for the last few weeks.  Usually tomatoes perk up when cooler weather comes and may put on a new crop of green tomatoes.  But these rarely have time to get ripe before it frosts.  So, this past weekend Tom and I pulled them up and planted lettuce seed. 

Even though it is still hot and seems like summer will never end, the days are getting shorter, the shadows are getting longer and it is time to plant a fall garden.  With lettuce, you have to protect it from the heat and water it every day until it gets established.  We have "shade" cloth that we put over the beds.  We leave the lids up and clip the shade cloth to the frame with large plastic spring clips like this:

I've been very diligent to go out and water the beds every evening and today I was rewarded by seeing tiny lettuce plants.

You can click on the picture to enlarge it and see the little plants better.

These plants will grow very rapidly when the weather cools off and we should have some nice lettuce to sell at the Farmers Market later this fall. 

After you garden for a few years, you get in tune with how the seasons ebb and flow.  And you learn to anticipate the new vegetables and fruits that come with the arrival of each one.  Just as I anticipated and craved fresh blackberries in June, I now look forward to fresh lettuce in a few weeks.