Saturday, August 24, 2013

Frog Update and More

In case you did not see my Facebook post, we have determined that our resident frog, whom we have affectionately named, "Gladys," is actually an American bullfrog, Rana catesbeiana. She's a female, for sure, because her throat is marked with brownish gray markings over her white skin, whereas male bullfrogs have yellow throats. Bullfrogs are generalized ambush predators, and are unique among our native frogs in having the ability to catch underwater prey. Demonstrating this several times each evening, Gladys feeds voraciously on the little fish attracted to the surface of our pond when we add food pellets for the goldfish. She can leap a foot or more to pounce on the distracted guppies. She supplements the fish with insects. I was trying to photograph a mating pair of dragonflies when Gladys appeared out of nowhere and snapped up them both before I could snap the shutter.

Male Tiger Swallowtail
One of our favorite late summer insects is the tiger swallowtail butterfly, Papilio glaucus. This is the largest butterfly in our area, and is unmistakable as it flits from flower to flower, preferring to be out and about when the weather is hottest in mid-afternoon. Nevertheless, it remains active until almost dark. In our garden, it feeds on Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium maculatum), Texas sage (Salvia coccinea), scarlet sage (S. vanhouttenii), marigolds (Tagetes hybrids), and the tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica. The butterfly lays its eggs on tulip poplar trees, and the enormous caterpillar is rarely seen outside the tree tops. In our area, we mostly have the black form of female tiger swallowtails, and only the males are yellow. That is because we also have the pipevine swallowtail, which the female tiger swallowtail mimics. Birds that try a pipevine swallowtail will quickly learn that it is not good to eat, and they react to the imposter tiger swallowtails by avoiding them. Some other butterflies also practice this form of deception, known as "Batesian mimicry."

Beans, okra and peppers dominate our garden harvest this week. We are picking okra every day and beans about every three days. The current bean crop is 'Provider,' and, boy howdy, is it properly named. We have made three pickings already and a fourth will soon be ready. The beans get amazingly long, up to eight inches, before the seeds swell much, and they remain completely stringless even if a bit over-mature. They are easy to pick and the flowers are a decorative pink color, too. We will grow this one again next year. It is great for any recipe calling for green beans.

We have not been impressed with the productivity of the dwarf okra cultivar, 'Baby Bubba.' We pulled this one off the Burpee rack just to try. While it definitely bears okra while remaining under three feet tall, we should have twice as many plants as we do in order to provide a reasonable harvest. By "reasonable harvest," I mean three or four servings of okra every three days. Picked pods keep only about three days from harvest, so unless you have lots of recipes calling for a little bit of okra, I suggest sticking with a small planting of old standby 'Clemson Spineless.' After we received 3/4 inch of rain last Thursday, the pods have really begun to set, forcing us to pick daily. This variety is also tops for flavor, according to many people.

From now until the week after Labor Day is the preferred time to plant garlic. Choose the largest bulbs from last year's crop and plant the largest cloves from these bulbs, to insure the biggest and best crop next season. Garlic needs fertile, weed-free soil, but thrives here with little extra attention. Purchase seed garlic from your favorite independent garden center, or just plant organic garlic from the grocery store.

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