Burdock, concrete, and brown butter icing (not all in the same bowl)

Thursday, it rained. Friday, it rained. Saturday, it didn’t rain.

At 10 a.m. on July 11, the clouds were scarce enough that some blue shown through, a good thing for many reasons not the least of which was that 10 people were involved in the annual leaf-making workshop in the Seitz Family Pavilion.

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Tim, Alex, Bob and Marilyn create their own leaves.

Brenda stirs concrete for her leaf.

Brenda stirs concrete for her leaf.

Because they are large with strong vein definition, burdock leaves are nurtured prior to each summer leaf casting. Two buckets held the giant cut leaves. After play sand was mounded to the shape desired by each leaf maker, the sand mold was covered with plastic cling wrap. The selected leaf topped that and concrete was layered on. Some added river stone or beach glass.

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Brenda and Elaine arrange burdock leaves for casting.

Although everyone walks away from these events with a lasting leaf with which to feed and/or water birds and other wildlife, to use as a garden stepper or to display on a coffee table, we on The Quarry Farm love watching the creative process. And on Saturday, we were the grateful recipients of apples and huge bags of peanuts for the farm animal sanctuary residents, as well as a generous check from the Putnam County Master Gardeners.

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The Putnam County Master Gardeners present a check to Board President Laura.

We won’t see the final leaves for a week or so, since the rain picked up again on Sunday and Monday to slow the drying process. But we experience the results of generous support everyday. In fact, I think everyone who shared in Saturday’s experience did as butterflies flitted in and out of the open-air classroom, damselflies and dragonflies nabbed mosquitoes and a little bullfrog sounded off in the full raingarden pond.

Oh, and here’s the recipe for those cookie bars that were on the snack table.

Frosted Butter Pecan Bars
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 pkg. (3.4 oz. each) instant butterscotch pudding mix
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup water
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans

FROSTING
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup better, softened
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. salt
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
[Optional:  Use a frosting that doesn’t have to be refrigerated.  I use browned butter frosting.  See below.]

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, whisk flour, pudding mix, sugar, baking powder and salt.  In another bowl, whisk egg, melted butter, oil, water and vanilla until blended; stir into flour mixture.  Stir in pecans.  (Dough will be stiff.)
2.  Press dough into a greased 13 x 9-in. baking pan.  Bake 20-25 minutes or until edges begin to brown.  Cool completely in pan on a wire rack.
3.  In a bowl, beat cream cheese, butter vanilla and salt until blended.  Gradually beat in confectioners’ sugar.  Spread over top.  Sprinkle with more chopped pecans, if desired.
Cut into bars before serving.  Store in refrigerator.

BROWNED BUTTER FROSTING
1/4 cup butter
2 and 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3 tablespoons milk

1.  In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until butter turns a caramel-brown color.  Be careful not to burn.  Allow to cool.
2.  Combine all ingredients and beat until creamy.  Add a little milk, if necessary, to reach spreading consistency.

Superheroes swoop in on Saturday (no capes!)

GardenEveryone has stuff to do. Some of us are list makers, like Quarry Farm Board President Laura. Others have swirls of snippets of chatter spinning through their brain, like yours truly. Or little notes jotted on the backs of envelopes stuffed in the glove compartment, drawers and/or stacked on the kitchen table (again, fingers pointing right back.) Betty and BuddyHere on The Quarry Farm, there is always so much to do. Water tubs and buckets to clean and refill, food to prep and food bowls to juggle, hungry potbellies to restrain, hinnying donkeys to brush, and buildings to clean, rinse and repeat. This year, we have buildings to paint. And that’s just in the farm animal sanctuary. In the gardens of Red Fox Cabin, the long wait for nature to prevail over invasives is one which has yet to be won. But Nature is making headway, with a little help from her friends. After years of solarizing beds and hand-picking beetles rather than spraying and dusting, has allowed natural insect predators to get a foothold. The gigantic rainbarrel that collects droplets from the roof of Red Fox Cabin is almost always full for the watering. BillBut those of us who currently ‘mind the store’ rarely have the opportunity to check everything off our wish list. Last Saturday — that golden day — we got to pen a whole host of checkmarks. About a month ago, I received an email from William Schumacher. I first met Bill when an Ohio Department of Natural Resources co-worker suggested that the man, an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency employee, might be willing to lend his expertise as a soil science presenter at a teacher workshop I was planning. It turns out that actually wasn’t the first time that I met Bill. He and his brothers Joe and Dan grew up along the opposite bank of Riley Creek. We rode the same school bus and developed the same love for nature while walking the creeks, pastures and woods. CarolGetting back to that email. Although Bill and his brothers no longer live nearby, they remember. They remember the fish that swam in Riley Creek and the pasture that their dad tended for years. And they’ve seen what happened to the creek when that floodplain pasture was plowed and subsequently eroded. They like the clear waters of Cranberry Run that flow through The Quarry Farm on their way to the Riley, so much so that Bill offered up his helping hand as well of those his wife Carol and their teenaged daughters and sons. Since his brother Joe was flying in from South Dakota and his brother Dan would also be up from the Dayton area, why, they could bring up their tools and pitch in to help us out, too. GardenBoy, did they ever. When Sophie the potbelly pig arrived here last month, she was so overweight that she couldn’t walk, much less be spayed. In less than eight hours, we had a new wooden fence in the quarantine area where Sophie is now dieting. DanThe butterfly gardens were weeded of quack grass, with straw down between the rows. Bill had dug and walled a kidney-shaped raingarden off the north gable of the cabin. Dan had led a crew along the south end of the Cranberry, clearing windfall from the path and cutting a big dent in bush honeysuckle along the way. Yatchi and HWords cannot sufficiently express our gratitude to the Schumachers. Instead, I’ll let the impressions of some of our youngest visitors say it for me. These drawings just arrived in the mail, sent to us by the third grade class from Pandora-Gilboa Elementary School following a day spent here on May 8. Those kids are one of the greatest reasons why we do what we do, so that these creeks, pastures and woods, as well as the nonhumans that share it, will mean as much to them as they did to much younger Bill, Joe, Dan and me. Still do.

Third time’s a charm

IMG_0826The Junior Gardeners of Continental were one of the first groups to visit The Quarry Farm after we officially opened to the public three years ago. I distinctly remember the initial telephone conversation with organizer Charlene. She had picked up our newsletter and wanted to bring her charges out for a program. She didn’t sound too sure about the whole idea, but her group arrived and we had a fantastic time. Guess they did, too, because they spent two hours with us on Saturday, this time searching for butterfly host and nectar plants on a scavenger hunt.

IMG_1107Beatrice met up again with her good friend Brandon, the first person she would approach of her own accord after her arrival in 2012 as a very young pot-bellied piglet. Although Brandon had some slick new wheels this year and Beatrice was sleepy in the July humidity, she knew him well. So did Buddy.008

Megan Ramey, Program and Partnerships Manager for the Girl Scouts of Western Ohio, arrived just before the Junior Gardeners to talk with us about the possibility of scouts earning various badges here. Thanks to the joyous enthusiasm of Charlene and her crew, a star of a Virginia opossum and Laura’s coffee and sugar cookie bars, we’re in.

Here’s to more face time with the kids from Continental. Special thanks to Junior Gardener Jazlyn Bishop for sharing your photos and video with us. Keep them coming.

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Small Triumph

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Why would a gardener be happy, overjoyed even, to discover an army of fat, black, spikey-looking caterpillars with red polka dots pillaging a prized ornamental vine?  Answer:  When the marauders are Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly larva and the vine is Dutchman’s Pipe (aristolochia macrophylla), one of their host plants.

For the ten summers and more since husband Gerald planted two pipe vines in the garden at Red Fox Cabin, we have kept watch on them.* We’ve admired the cute little Dutchman’s pipes they bear and checked the foliage for ragged holes that would give away the presence of larva. We’ve peered at black with blue swallowtails, hoping to spot the distinctive coloration of the Pipevine, inky black forewing and iridescent blue hindwing.  However, sightings have been extremely rare and none have chosen to lay eggs on the beautiful Dutchman’s Pipe. Until this July.

Sandhill Cranes, 2014 Garden, Pipevine Swallowtail Larva 016Last Saturday evening as I was walking my Jack Russel, Lefty, or rather as he was leading me where he wanted to go, he tugged me toward the rear of the log cabin, where one of the pipe vines grows luxuriantly on a porch pillar.  Lefty was intent on the rabbit or cat or whatever that he scented underneath the porch, but I was halted in my tracks by the sight of that vine, no longer luxuriant, but ragged, nearly defoliated, and crawling with the aforementioned fat black caterpillars–at least twenty.  Thrilled by the sight and the realization that our vine had finally been discovered by a passing Pipevine Swallowtail, I rushed home with a disappointed Lefty to grab my camera and my Peterson’s field guide to caterpillars, for confirmation.

Sandhill Cranes, 2014 Garden, Pipevine Swallowtail Larva 012According to the guide, predators avoid Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars because the vine that feeds them is toxic and makes them unpalatable.  Also, when they are ready to pupate they tend to crawl away from their host plant and find other places to attach a greenish chrysalis with a silken thread.  So, the total disappearance of the caterpillars two days later was not as alarming as it might have been.  Photos and a ravaged vine prove they were there.  Quite likely, somewhere on the Quarry Farm later this summer, a Pipevine Swallowtail, or maybe twenty, will emerge from its chrysalis and sail into the butterfly garden to dine, and with luck someone will be there with a camera.  A photo of the shimmering beauty will be a fitting tribute to Gerald, who inspired us with his love of butterflies and planted the Dutchman’s Pipe so many years ago.

*[Pipe vines are native  in some parts of the Northeast but not in Putnam Co., Ohio; ornamental pipe vines were common in Victorian gardens but are less so today. Pipevine Swallowtails can complete their life cycle only if they happen to find a host pipe vine or a Virginia Snakeroot growing wild or deliberately planted.  Adults might stop to nectar in a flower garden but will move on if a host plant is not available.]