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.

Winter 2017 News

winter-2017-newsletter-1Download the Winter 2017 newsletter by clicking on the cover on the left.

There are two big walks–one to count birds for the international effort and a winter walk under a sky full of stars. Hope to see you in the Seitz Family Pavilion before each program.

Return of the Finch’s

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Brenda Fawcett mixes papercrete

Despite the heat, only one paint mixer drill bit and mosquitos aside, three programs happened onsite this past week. Monday, Putnam County Master Gardener Brenda Fawcett led a make-and-take wherein participants created planters out of papercrete (a sort of papier mache combination of Portland cement and paper strips.) Tuesday saw the return of the Hardin County Herb Society.

On Saturday, “the hottest day of the year” according to local weather forecasters, Charlene Finch and the 2016 Continental Jr. Gardeners made the group’s annual trek from the northwest corner of Putnam County. If you scroll back through this blog, you’ll see that Finch’s crew have been here just about this time every summer for several years. After partaking in a scavenger hunt for pollinators, the young green thumbs posed on the front porch of Red Fox Cabin for their annual portrait (thanks to Miranda for sharing this snap.) They also visited with the farm animal sanctuary residents, helping to cheer up S’more as he’s been pretty withdrawn due to the loss of his brother this week.

That pollinator search led to quite a list of creatures. The team of Nathan and his mom Lindsay won the scavenger hunt with a list of 21, as follows:

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Nathan, Pollinator ID Champion

1. baby green grasshopper
2. people
3. wasps
4. cabbage moth
5. dragonfly
6. wood bee
7.big brown beetle
8. fly
9. bumblebee
10. flying ant
11. mosquito
12.ash bugs
13. sweat bee
14. black cricket
15. honey bee
16.black wasp
17. Japanese beetle
18. black beetle
19. big brown camo moth
20. gnat
21. red lightning bug with reddish brown black spots

Teams didn’t have to be specific with names as long as they could describe their finds. As a group, we corrected some names and identified others as described. For instance, #19 was a skipper butterfly.

You’ll also note that not all on the list are technically pollinators: hummingbirds, bats, bees, beetles, butterflies, and flies that carry pollen from one plant to another as they collect nectar. However, all of Saturday’s finds carry pollen, not to mention seeds and other insects, in their journey from place to place. That includes humans, whether we intend to or not.

You may also see that the notorious, voracious invader Japanese beetle made the list. They may spread pollen around as it clings to their scarab-like bodies, but they more than make up for this by decimating green goods. But there’s hope from the skies, control provided by a European transplant that’s been here so long that the New World is as much theirs as it is ours.

Eat up, European starlings. There’s ketchup in the shelterhouse.

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Butterflies beyond the heat islands

20150806_181856-120150805_151615-1There is no better cure for a bad case of the Mondays than a brisk walk in the open air. If your feet take you beyond the water cooler and out of doors to a concrete sidewalk, perhaps this virtual walk in The Quarry Farm butterfly gardens will transport you beyond your August Ohio heat island.

Late summer in Northwest Ohio means sweat that never dries, elephant-eye-high corn, even this year after months of heavy June and July rain, and the golden greens of mature plant leaves, the rich amethysts of ironweed and Joe Pye and the hot reds, oranges and burgundies of lilies, cosmos, Susans, zinnia and echinacea. The Gardener would likely list many more flora, but since she’s otherwise occupied in the gardens themselves, you are stuck with those plants that I can identify around the Seitz Family Pavilion.

Skipper

Silver-spotted skipper butterfly

Monarch under cover

Monarch under cover

Lucky for all of us, she always carries her phone. And because she does, she took photographs of the better-late-than-never butterflies that are moving from flower to flower.

Better still, she took video. So, find a park bench or an open window and take a virtual butterfly walk in the warm August sunshine. There is breeze today to keep the virtual mosquitoes at bay.

 

Our first number is, “The Dance of the Tiger Swallowtails.”

 

 

 

 

 

Tiger swalltowtail

Tiger swalltowtail

And what better image to leave you with, for today, than a giant swallowtail doing its level Lepidopteran best to pollinate every plant in the north bed?

Now go back to work, full in the knowledge that there are still butterflies in the world.

Carlton goes to college and other colorful stories

P1080221 We’re six days and counting with no rain. The morass is drying and the butterflies and other pollinators have landed, flitted, and flown in greater numbers than we have seen in these parts yet this year. Before summer’s end, I may need all 10 fingers to count monarch butterflies. The milkweed keeps sending out its rich fragrance. We can hope.

In between butterfly counts, we loaded a crated Carlton into the car and took him down to the Veterinary Medical Center at Ohio State University. What started out as a solid mass that wrapped under his right foreleg had settled into three abscesses. Fearing a pernicious parasite, we made the trip that IMG_4674we’ve made twice now with Marsh the Nigerian dwarf goat.

I love that place — if not the reason for going, but for the experience. The veterinary students and faculty and are curious, kind and thorough. On Thursday, with a dozen or so students gathered around, Erin “won” the opportunity to lance the most problematic abscess. It was truly spectacular, so productive as to elicit a burst of, “Ah-ohhhhs!” and applause. Dr. MacKay announced, “I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t appreciate a good abscess.” That right there is a bumper sticker in the making.

Continental 3On Friday, more color, of a very different kind, arrived here on The Quarry Farm. The Continental Junior Gardeners visited for the fourth year. There were many new faces this year, although some came into focus as we realized they were the siblings of children who visited in the past. They gathered leaves and arranged them on white t-shirts, then sprayed diluted acrylic paints on the shirts to create one-of-a-kind designs. Leader Charlene Finch said they will wear them in the Continental Fall Festival parade in September. Continental 2

After lemonade and cookies, they walked through the butterfly gardens and visited the farm animal sanctuary. The turkeys claimed the group as their own and gentle giant goat Mr. Bill smiled for several cameras. Before they left us for another year, all but one camera-shy dad posed on the red Fox Cabin front porch for their annual portrait.

ContinentalThe sun continues to shine today. Damselflies and dragonflies are on the move, lessening the hum of mosquitoes bred in the recent floods. With paint left in the spray bottles, I think a few more t-shirts will be made this afternoon. Pick up a t-shirt of your own and come on by around 3 p.m.

Can’t promise there will be any cookies left, but there are butterflies and a much happier pig next door.

 

Days of flowers and fungi, part 1

GroupTwo weeks ago we wore coats down and up the trails to the northeast homestead to find out if the bloodroot was in bloom. The answer was a frosty “no.”

If the bloodroot blooms did weather the April freezes, they were gone by May 2, when naturalist Tammy Spillis led a walk along greening Quarry Farm trails. Armed with field guides and mnemonic devices like “sedges have edges,” staff and registered attendees started down Red Fox hill in a search for wildflowers and fungi.Violets

Our first find beyond a carpet of wood violets was tall meadow rue. “Anything in the buttercup family is poisonous, but they’re good pollinators,” said Tammy.

A sap test on the next find was done on something in the lettuce family, a plant called lion’s foot. A painted turtle raised his head from Cranberry Run, perhaps at the mention of wild lettuce, then swam upstream and away.

One of the preserve’s many corded grapevines, thick as a bodybuilder’s bicep, hung over the creek. “I never cut grapevines down,” said Tammy. “The larger the root going into the ground, the greater the volume of water. What actually brings down a tree is not because the grapevine is a parasite, but because water is heavy.”

She explained that an upper offshoot of a grapevine such as this one, when tapped with a plastic bag secured over the cut, can yield up to a quart of sweet water in a half-hour’s time. “Always keep a grapevine in your woods, just in case your well goes bad,” our guide advised.

Black mustard grew, hot and spicy, near the vine. Kidney leaf buttercup was a few steps beyond. Way back when, certain plants were thought to be a tonic for the body parts they resembled. “As science advanced and they made explanations into the different folklore, they found many of the plants held true to that,” said Spillis. “But many did not. This is toxic. Don’t eat it.”Spring Beauties

She pointed out a native loosestrife, common name moneywort, good for pollinators, flanked by spring beauties. Spring beauties are related to purslane. So let it grow — purslane is high in Omega 3 oils. That means it’s good for you.

Eric, the brewer in our party, was interested in the wild ginger growing on the old quarry’s edge. We first noticed one or two Gingersplants and their burgundy pipe-like flower in that spot a couple of years ago. The warm green leaves have increased in number since then, and new beds are springing up elsewhere in the flood plain. Tammy told us that ants are making this happen.

“The wild ginger seeds have this oily sugar coating. The ants come back for the seeds and move them to their ant colony. They don’t eat the seeds themselves; all they want is the sugar coating. Wherever the colony is, you’ll get another colony of wild ginger. Isn’t that nice?”

It sure is. More good things to come, further up the hillside.

The Buzz

I’ve been struggling to find some clever way to start this post, to write the hook I need to pull you in and I’m failing miserably. Miserably. So, because my brain is fogged with the ridiculous heat we’re dealing with, I’ll just say that it’s about bees. Yeah. Bees. The kind that make honey, that bumble flower to flower, that kamikaze in defense of their homes, that, in conjunction with birds, create a happy little euphemism for sex. And sex is sexy, so maybe that’s all the hook I really need.

Clever me.

So, the bees. We set up a hive in mid April. Anne’s cousin, Brian, made all the arrangements for the bees and we took care of the materials: the hive body, the supers, the frames, the feeding troughs. We provided them a steady diet of syrup (sugar and water) and we’d pull off the hive cover and the inner cover on a nearly daily basis and ogle them from a distance. Yesterday, we got up close and personal. Brian came up from Columbus and he and Anne cracked the hive, pulled out the frames and checked out the action. The news could have been better.

Brian Erchenbrecher examining a frame from The Quarry Farm hive.

While the bees had developed new comb on the frames, there wasn’t nearly enough. And, again, while there were eggs and signs of developing brood, there wasn’t much and indications are that the developing brood are mostly drones. What are drones, you ask? They’re ne’er-do-well playboys, eating the nectar and giving back nearly nothing. They have no stinger, so they can’t protect the hive. They have no pollen sacs, so they can’t gather food. Their idea of work is chasing virgin queens.

Think Bruce Wayne, but no Batman. There you have it. Drones.

So what’s the big deal? So what if the hive’s Bohemian, populated with lotus eaters? If there are  only drones and no workers, there’s no comb. Without comb, there’s no honey. Without honey, the bees starve come winter. In fact, come late autumn the worker bees force the drones from the hive. They have to. Driving them out could well mean the difference between starving to death and surviving until spring.

It’s been suggested by scientists who study bees that a bee hive operates very much like a human brain. I mean, there’s no higher cognitive function, but otherwise, scientists have posited that their operations are very similar. If that’s the case, then our hive brain is more like Forrest Gump’s than Stephen Hawking’s. Which is not to say that it can’t improve. There is still hope, albeit one akin to the Flowers for Algernon variety. Realistically? Odds are, based on what we saw yesterday, that the hive will fail, the brain will die and we’ll have to start fresh next spring. That’s not what we wanted to hear, but there’s still good news.

And here it is.

The catalpa hive

Down the road from us, near the intersection of Roads 7-L and O, there’s a line of catalpa trees. In one of those trees is a hive of feral bees. This is a very cool thing, particularly when you understand that the hive has survived and thrived for roughly four years. With the population of bees dwindling as a consequence of a host of issues, to find a succesful wild hive is seriously cool. Why? Bees are our primary pollinators. Without them, plants that reproduce through pollination, and that’s the vast majority of our fruits and vegetables, simply don’t reproduce. No reproduction = No food.

So cheer on the bees, both wild and domestic. We’ll keep you posted on their progress.