A stroll about the Red Fox

Today is promising to be a hot one, with temperatures in the 90s and a heat index climbing higher. A hawk just flew over with a blackbird in hot pursuit of the raptor’s red tail. Even the birds are feeling it.

Dewy Borage

The plants, however, are loving the warmth and light after the heavy rain of last week. They’re positively dripping with joy. Humid fog sits over the soybeans to the west of The Quarry Farm, but the nature preserve is rich, deep, rainforest green, with dabs of brilliance. Seems the best kind of morning to inspect those colors more closely.

The gardens at Red Fox Cabin are blooming. The whites, pale yellows, pinks, and violets of spring are gone, replaced by a full spectrum in every shape and size. Bumblebees navigate the lavender and bee balm, hovering just long enough that I think I can get a picture. When I bring up the photo, I see they’ve led me on.

Bee Balm

The pollinators are back this year. Populations are smaller, but they are here. The big fuzzy bumblers share space with other wild bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, and moths.

And the dragonflies are glorious.

It’s a little too early in the day for them to be up and about, but Steve is seeing species that he’s not familiar with. The books and apps are out and he is getting to know new odonata in 2017. Storms are in the forecast for later this week. He will be on the front porch watching the dragonflies surge before the storm, hunting for insects ahead of the rain.

The two pipevine trellises are heavy with green. Two days ago, The Quarry Farm Gardener noticed tiny black crawlies on the southwest tower. They grew, expanding with the humidity and tasty leaves, as pipevine swallowtail caterpillars do. We missed them during the past two years. The cropduster that flies low of late is a concern. The news is that gypsy moth treatments are underway.

Pipevine Swallowtail Caterpillars

The raingarden is doing a fine job drawing water away from the cabin and housing leopard frogs.A wheelbarrow supports its own garden, spilling a fragrant shower that doesn’t quite make landfall.

Common Mullein

Mullein reaches for the sky here and there. The flannel leaves of common mullein were used as lamp wicks–since the time of the Romans for torches–as well as toilet paper. The leaves were once placed inside of shoes to provided both warmth and softness. Mullein isn’t native to North America, but local insects are attracted by the flower’s honey-like scent.

I’ve looped back to my car; my ride to pay the piper. If you balance a coffee in one hand, it’s possible to snap a photo. This last mid-week catch: coneflowers above the nature preserve, leaning toward the place I want to be.

Fall 2014 newsletter

Fall 2014 TQF Newsletter-1

 

 

The temperature may be dropping, but the beat goes on here on The Quarry Farm. Click on the newsletter cover over to the left and keep up with what’s happening in the pavilion, the sanctuary, the Red Fox and on the trails.

And speaking of trails, hope to see you on them this autumn.

Small Triumph

Sandhill Cranes, 2014 Garden, Pipevine Swallowtail Larva 023

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.]