Thursday, June 29, 2017

Happy Bees and Butterflies; Come See What's Blooming

I've been waiting and waiting for the perfect time to show you our bee and butterfly garden. Turns out, there is no perfect time. If I waited until the plants filled in, or all bloomed, or the rain stopped, or the weeds magically disappeared, you would never see it. So, as they say, there is no time like the present...

Here's what it looks like on the 29th day of June, 2017. Enjoy.

Bumblebee seeking nectar from Purple Coneflower

Monarchs on Boneset

Common Milkweed

Rattlesnake Masters
Thimbleweed. Reminds me of Grandmommy's many thimbles.

View down the drive; Slender Mountain Mint in front of Purple Coneflowers;
St. John's Wort just beginning to bloom (yellow) next to bluebird box
Closeup of Devil's Walking Stick. I know how it got its name!
Trumpet vine against Wild Quinine.
On Maggie's wedding day, she wove the Wild Quinine into her hair. 
Bumblebee on Bee Balm. Yes, it is the bees' balm!

The garden is just steps from our front door.

Here's how the garden came to be: Daughter Maggie, who is Farm Dover's head beekeeper, Ed and I had talked about wanting a bee garden for as long as we have had beehives. We wanted to plant a wide variety of native flowers and grasses from which the bees could find a ready source of pollen. Our intent was to design a flower-rich habitat that would have a concentration of blossoms from early spring to late fall, ensuring that our bees would have a constant source of food. As it turns out, what is good for the bees is good for the butterflies – as they also flock to the garden.

We got serious about our garden planning in spring of 2016 and engaged Margaret Shea of Dropseed Native Plant Nursery to help us plan and plant the garden. Ed and I prepared the ground, adding newspaper and mulch to an area that adjoined our front field of native grasses and wildflowers. Our idea was to have it flow seamlessly into the field.

Note to my readers: No matter what size yard you have, it is big enough for a native garden. Even a few plants in a ceramic pot can attract a surprisingly large number of pollinators.

Margaret Shea helped us design the garden.
She provided all the plants from her native nursery in Goshen, KY.
Dropseed Nursery's Elizabeth planted each flower/grass according to the plan.

The tiny native plants needed some time to take hold. And they looked so pathetic, I didn't want you to see it yet.

We watered and weeded the garden last summer and slowly it began to grow, and grow. This summer, there is barely any room to move between the plants. In fact they are so big, I'm already planning to move some of them to other smaller bee gardens that we have started in and around the yard.

Sure enough, the bees and other pollinators love hanging out in the garden. From honey bees to bumblebees to sweat bees, they happily buzz around from flower to flower. I try not to bother them; and they don't seem all that interested in me.

The garden changes almost daily. The Foxglove Beardtongue and Eastern Bluestar have come and gone; the Boneset and Bee Balm are bursting with blossoms. The Ironweed and Joe-Pye Weed are reaching skyward, but not yet blooming.

I love to spend time in the garden – especially early in the morning, or just before the sun slips down – inspecting each blossom, prying out a weed or two, watching the bees and butterflies come and go. I'm working hard on identifying the plants in the garden and learning their scientific names.

Here's what we planted:

St. John's-wort, Hypericum prolificum
Devil's Walking Stick, Aralia spinosa
Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium 
Prairie Dropseed, Sporobolus heterolepis
Big Bluestem, Andropogon gerardii
Switchgrass, Panicum virgatum
Cut-leaf Prairie Dock, Silphium pinnatifidum
Ironweed, Veronia gigantea
Joe-Pye Weed, Eupatorium fistulosum 
Stiff Goldenrod, Solidago rigida
New England Aster, Aster novae-angliae
Eastern Bluestar, Amsonia tabernaemontana
Foxglove Beardtongue, Penstemon digitalis
Maryland Goldenaster, Chrysopsis mariana
Slender Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum tenuifolium 
Gray Goldenrod, Solidago nemoralis 
Thimbleweed, Anemone virginica
Rough Goldenrod, Solidago rugosa 
Culver's Root, Veronicastrum virginicum 
Wild Quinine, Parthenium integrifolium 
Smooth Blue Aster, Aster laevis 
False Blue Indigo, Baptisia australis
Rattlesnake Master, Eryngium yuccifolium
Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea
Orange Coneflower, Rudbeckia fulgida
Bee Balm, Monarda fistulosa
Boneset, Eupatorium perfoliatum
Lanceleaf coreopsis, Coreopsis lanceolata
Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca
Swamp Milkweed, Aclepias Incarnata
Trumpet Vine, Campsis radicans

Would love to show it to you in person. You know where to find me...

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Traveling with Adult Children

Over the past couple of months, Ed and I have had the joy of traveling with each of our grown children. And what a delight it has been. Maggie, Jack and Mary are all highly independent, savvy travelers, who are exceedingly kind to – and patient with – their sometimes befuddled parents.

Faster than I can blink, they can book an airline ticket, make a near-impossible reservation for six at a Brooklyn restaurant, tap for an Uber, or communicate with the locals in any number of languages. Ed and I are flattered that they are willing to let us tag along.

Our latest adventure involved driving to Brooklyn, with a stop in Valley Forge, to meet up with Mary and then head up the Hudson River for the weekend.

Our children lead busy lives. The fact that they are willing to travel with us allows us to spend large blocks of time with them, catching up on their lives and watching them navigate the world. We are impressed. As an added bonus, we met Jack's friends in Berlin and Mary's friends in Brooklyn, giving us a chance to get to know those that are important to them in their faraway-from-us lives.


Highlights from our Hudson Valley Trip

Valley Forge National Historic Park
We spent our first night on the road in Valley Forge and were far more comfortable than George Washington and his Continental Army were in the winter of 1777-78. We woke early and walked along the Park's trails as the sun came up, stopping to see the reconstructed huts of Muhlenberg's Brigade and Washington's headquarters.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden
While Mary was still at work on Thursday, Ed and I spent the afternoon at this century-old urban garden, wandering through its rose garden, native flora garden, herb garden, bonsai museum and cherry esplanade.

Mary made a reservation at this hip neo-bistro Brooklyn restaurant, invited friends: Alena, Matt and Brian, and ordered for the entire table. It's so nice to have someone so competent take charge! All we had to do was pay for it...

Brooklyn Walking Tour 
While Mary worked on Friday morning, we walked. We joined a two-hour tour of historic Brooklyn Heights and trendy DUMBO. Great way to see parts of the city that we didn't know.

Stone Barns Center I've long been interested in seeing this non-profit farm and since it was on our way up the Hudson, we stopped to check it out. The Farm Store alone was worth the stop!

Dia Beacon Our next stop was the museum for Dia Art Foundation's collection of art from the 1960s to the present. The museum, housed in an old packaging factory on the banks of the Hudson River in Beacon, is about an hour outside of NYC.

Hudson, NY We planned this trip at the last minute and were unable to find a hotel in Hudson, but managed to spend most of the day on Saturday wandering around the town – beginning with the morning farmer's market, then lunching at Little Deb's Oasis, taking in the Flag Day parade, and as the sun set, sitting on the back porch of Ca'Mea Ristorante enjoying an alfresco Italian dinner.

Saugerties Lighthouse We had an hour or two to kill before dinner on Saturday and so we took a drive, stopping for a short hike to the Saugerties Lighthouse, an 1869 landmark beacon on the Hudson River. It is also a bed and breakfast.

Hyde Park, NY On Sunday, we headed to Hyde Park to visit the home of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and Presidential Library/Museum. FDR planted more than 400,000 trees on his estate, so it held special interest for us. I also appreciated the FDR quote that greets visitors on the museum's entrance wall: "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those that have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."

On Sunday afternoon, we dropped Mary off at the train station in Poughkeepsie – she headed back to the city; we headed back to the farm.

Thanks Mary for spending the weekend with us. We loved every minute of it!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Way Down Yonder in the Pawpaw Patch

Four years ago I tasted my first (and only) common pawpaw and found it uncommonly good.  I was smitten with its custardy taste -- something silky smooth between a banana and a kiwi.

In September of 2013 we stopped at an orchard in Owen County, KY for some apples and I noticed on a blackboard at the checkout counter that they had pawpaws. We had recently planted two pawpaw trees and I was anxious to try a pawpaw fruit. The orchard owner disappeared into the back of the shed and came back and placed one brown, mushy, unappetizing fruit on the checkout table. Because I made such a big deal about purchasing pawpaws, it didn't seem right that I should reject his only fruit for sale. So Ed bought it for me. I put it in the refrigerator overnight, thinking it would surely rot on the counter. The next morning, I was ready to toss it in the compost but decided at the last minute to cut it open and taste the pulp.

I was immediately hooked on pawpaws. Without exaggeration, I can tell you it was one of the most delicious thing I had ever eaten. Over the years we have planted a dozen more small sapling pawpaws. Some in the shade, some in the sun. None ever bore fruit.

Until this year...

We had read that pawpaws require cross pollination from another unrelated pawpaw tree. Bees show no interest in pollinating the beautiful brown pawpaw flowers, but flies, on the other hand, are perfect for the task – and we were desperate for pawpaws. One source suggested placing roadkill under the trees to lure some flies to our pawpaw trees. Because we didn't have any roadkill handy, we hung rotting pork chop bones in the branches of each tree that had flowered. Sure enough, it worked!

On our rounds the other day, Ed spotted not one, but three, small pawpaw fruits on one of our trees. We celebrated our good fortune, but immediately began to worry that our raccoon population might beat us to the ripening fruit. Our plan is to put a net around the one tree with fruit and hope that the fruits hang on until September when they will be ripe enough to fall from the tree and harvest, or, as the song says, to "pick up pawpaws and put 'em in our pocket, way down yonder on the paw-paw patch."

Then we plan to have a pawpaw party!