Saturday, June 29, 2013

Surrounded by Nature

Ah, summer! Our weather has been nearly perfect for gardens this month, with periods of rain and sunshine. We did lose a tree limb to high winds earlier in the week, and the power was out during the night, but we survived, and the tree will, too. The long evenings provide a great opportunity to sit in the shade near the pond, surrounded by Nature.

We added more dragonfly observations to the pond list this week. A female green darner (Anax junius) visited long enough to lay eggs among the roots of the water hyacinths. Another species, also laying eggs, kept moving so quickly that I could not at first identify her. When she finally alighted, I could see her brown body with distinct marking of the abdominal segments, and wings with big black dots on them. She was the female common whitetail (Plathemis lydia). The green darner perched on the leaves of the water hyacinths and probed with her ovipositor below, depositing eggs among the plant's violet-black roots. The whole process took perhaps 15 seconds and she was on her way. The common whitetail skimmed the surface, dipping her ovipositor into the water at widely spaced intervals. She made three passes across the pond, dipping four or five times on each pass. Later the same day, we observed a blue dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) laying eggs among the water hyacinths, in a manner similar to the behavior of the green darner.

While out running errands recently, I could not help but notice the display of blue chicory and white Queen Anne's lace that decorates the interstate exit near the house. Both these "wildflowers" are escapees from our vegetable gardens, being, respectively, endive and carrots.

I also want to mention one of our most maligned trees, the mimosa, Albizia julibrissin. Wild ones blooming along the interstate are beautiful, and the range of colors is remarkable. Some are creamy white, while others are bright fuschia. Not enough has been done to tame this Asian tree, which was introduced to America in 1785. They are short lived, and seedlings can be weedy, but a well-grown specimen is a joy to behold and to smell. Tincture of mimosa flowers has been used for centuries as an anti-depressant. Mimosa tolerates poor soils, drought and bitter winters, and blooms for about a month. Breeders should work on a cultivar that does not make viable seeds.

Victory in the Vegetable Garden
We harvested our first artichokes this week, and they are delicious. Artichoke is not an easy vegetable to produce in the Tennessee Valley. I have been trying for several years, and this is my first success. I attribute the difference this year to two factors. One, we grew the plants in "raised bed mix" from Hines Fine Soils. This combination of topsoil and mushroom compost seems perfect for our veggies, as they are all performing better than last season. Secondly, we have had abundant rainfall, something that artichokes love. I purchased a plant of the cultivar 'Imperial Star' from Ellenburg Nursery in April, and transplanted it immediately. I added cottonseed meal to the soil before planting, and irrigated a few times during dry spells. Besides the main bud, we harvested a large secondary bud and we have a couple more large secondary buds, and several smaller ones, yet to pick. If you like artichokes, growing your own can be a fun project, but they do take a lot of space, about one square yard per plant. Imperial Star was developed for areas where other artichokes might not overwinter, and produces a crop in the first season from seed. Other varieties take at least two years to bear, and in Tennessee may winter kill their first year. Milder winters may increase our chances for success in bringing this tasty thistle through the winter.

We picked our first cucumbers this week, and the vines are blooming profusely. It will soon be time to start a batch of sweet pickles. Beans are coming along, and the first tomatoes are large enough to start showing a little color soon. A few of the corn plants are tasseling up.

Summer is definitely surrounding us with abundance.

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