The Dobsonfly

dobsonfly21 The Dobsonfly

Like so many other summer night barbecues, the one I attended the other night was crashed by an unexpected nocturnal pest. This particular night though, the guest was over four inches long, and had a six inch wing span!

Falling into a category of giant bugs large enough to be one of the horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Dobsonfly is one creepy bug guaranteed to clear your deck of guests in shear seconds!

Much to the alarm of the men grilling our dinner, this huge bug dropped out of the sky, and landed near them on the back of one of the deck chairs.  Never having seen anything like it, they quickly caged it under a lacrosse stick, and offered peeks of it to the rest of the guest as we arrived, to see if anyone could identify it.  Generally, the tomboy in me loves a bug identification challenge, and I gave a quick search on the usual online bug guides for ideas as to what the insect could be. When my initial guesses as to it’s species were wrong, my sister and a friend worked with me to herd the bug into a large piece of Tupperware, so I could have a pest expert I knew identify it for me.  It is with absolutely no regret that I tell you that the bug in Tupperware went directly into the freezer, to preserve it intact, until I could bring it to work with me for an ID!

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Expanding Your Arbor Choices: Trellis Blackberries

summer 08 riderwood pix 014 225x300 Expanding Your Arbor Choices: Trellis BlackberriesThis year, I wanted a change!  Instead of planting traditional arbor plants around the trellis’ in my front yard, I wanted something a little more substantial, that would feed both myself, and the songbirds I’m desperately trying to attract to my city home!  As part of my “green journey,”  one of my goals is to use multi-purpose plants to provide food, beauty, and function in my garden, while fitting into the tight space I have allotted to me.  I also want to use native plants as much as possible, to support the local eco-system, and to save myself time and money, by planting plants that are known to be hardy in my location.

When I first moved into my current house, my family brought me a tiny Blackberry plant that was a descendant from the crops of my great-grandparents farm in Maine.  Knowing how hardy the American native Blackberries are in my little section of the East Coast, I was excited that the first addition to my new fruits and veggies patch be a low maintenance plant. Happily burdened with the historical significance of the plant, I made sure it lived through the droughts of last year, and that it provided me with enough berries to top a celebratory Ice cream float!

This year, with all the rain we have been receiving, the plant was growing so fast I could hear it’s progress through open windows, so I decided to do something a little unusual with it.  I placed it in a raised planter with a square framed trellis around it, and taught it to climb up the sides, weaving it through the arched top as well, to provide me with maximum berries, with minimal thorn pricks.  Generally, Blackberries grow on sturdy stems that are covered in thorns from all sides, so harvesting berries from the interior sections of the plant can be tricky.  The stems, left on their own in the wild, will grow in three foot arches, which only means that it is a solid, woodier, and easily shaped trellis plant, than many non-native plants available in garden superstores.  Blackberries need no tying up, or excessive fiddling, to keep it attached to the trellis.

With Trellis Blackberries, I can do three key things:

  1. Provide Food: I can maintain a smaller part of the shrub for my own food harvesting, in a bed raised above the reach of mammals, and protected by netting from  birds,  while leaving the upper portions of the plant on the trellis available for birds.  This attracts the wildlife I want to my yard, providing them with natural food sources that don’t cost me a cent!
  2. Add Beauty: Spring and summer, the plant sends out clusters of small white flowers, that once pollinated, will provide fruit through the late summer. This translates into visual interest around the arbor from spring through summer.  The shrub, also is a hardy one, that provides a solid, and easily maintained green color from early spring, through late fall.  It also will attract pollinators, and songbirds to your yard, which makes gardening all the more enjoyable, and “green,” providing for the local eco-system.  This is a great way to keep your berry bushes neat and tidy too, if you are working with a small yard, or even a balcony garden.
  3. Fulfill A Function: The native Blackberry works well in fulfilling it’s roll as a an arbor plant, providing seasonal greenery, without the care that comes from “training” up other flowering-but-floppy arbor vines.  A trellis provides greater, and easier access to the fruit as well, since the plant is growing on a structure, and not just in a tangle of thorny branches.

I’m happy with what I’ve harvested so far this year, and I’m encouraged to be able to add home grown blackberries to my summer food supply.  Being an outdoorsie person too, I hope that the nutritional benefits of the berries will not only meet my dietary needs, but also fulfill a roll in my overall health, and skin care regimine.

Your Thoughts: Have you tried any new ways to incorporate fruits and veggies into your garden design?

Container Garden Ideas: Scents from the Spa (#002)

Recently I was asked to put together a few container gardens for an educational program focusing on the five senses, and jumped at the chance to experiment! I hadn’t done much mixing of flowers and herbs in the same pot before, so I wasn’t really sure what combination I would try. While I was pretty sure I would use Mint, Lavender and Lambs Ears, for their smell, taste, and touch-ability, the other selections were all up in the air. My goal was to create a “touchable” pot that would knock the socks off anyone who would open a window nearby and catch a whiff!

img 0179 225x300 Container Garden Ideas: Scents from the Spa (#002)

I headed through the nursery isles that featured perennials, and herbs, and bought Pincushion FlowerFoxgloveGoldilocksBee Balm,LavenderLambs EarsMint and a tiny sprig of Rosemary (which I kept shuffling around in the open flatbed cart until I felt like I had a potential arrangement in mind). I bought 4 inch pots of everything but the herbs, which I purchased as small starter sprigs so that I could fit a lot in one pot. I purchased one Pincushion Flower, Lavender plant and Rosemary sprig, and two of everything else. The Goldilocks really had no scent that I could discover, but their texture and color were great, and as draping plants they soften the edges of the pot with their foliage.

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Bringing Up Baby; Mallard Style

picture 031 300x200 Bringing Up Baby; Mallard Style

One of the areas I manage is a complex that features a large enclosed courtyard, with lush vegetation, and a small pond with a waterfall.  Last summer, a pregnant Mallard came to scope out the courtyard with her mate only a few weeks after the construction was finished.  She and her mate would sit on tree mounds, and in garden beds on one side of the courtyard or the other, to watch the people pass by, and search the bushes for likely nesting places.  Regardless of the constant human traffic through this area, she latched on to this spot as the perfect location for her family. After several weeks of her frequent visitations, she disappeared for a time, only to reappear with babies in tow. The entire summer, she and her ducklings camped out “poolside,” by the tiny water feature, awaiting the free Saltines and cracked corn that come with Condo living for puddle ducks.  All fall and winter, the apartment dwellers where she had taken up residence were placing wagers on the likelihood that she would return, and hoping to see her again.

picture 078 300x200 Bringing Up Baby; Mallard Style

This year, “Lil’ Momma”, as we call her, hatched 12 babies, so she has been incredibly busy watching overall of them, as they investigate their world in twelve different directions at once. It seems like they have designated “exploration time” with Lil’ Momma, as well as a special time for sunbathing, and swimming lessons.  Momma keeps them in line, and on target with each new activity, and with only one or two quiet peeps from her, everyone moving as one unit toward the next activity with no questions asked.

Initially the tiny pond they were paddling around was amply large to teach ducklings how to swim, and properly dabble at the water’s edge.  I had to wonder how the family would continue to fit in the pond, as the duckling grew in size.  Last year’s ducklings stayed through late July, and never attempted flight. I ended up personally assisting several of them on their way to a larger pond on the premises, where I hoped that they would learn to fly, and socialize with the other water birds.  The photo at right was taken about two months ago of Lil’ Momma, and her kids.  Right now, the Mother duck is still very protective of them, even though they have grown to a size approximate to hers! As you can see in the picture below, they are currently packed in the pond like sardines for their “All Swim” sessions!

img 0241 300x225 Bringing Up Baby; Mallard Style

I’m not sure how much longer I’ll let them be where they are, since the young ducks don’t have room in the enclosed courtyard to learn to fly, and with the constant supply of food handed over to them, are not learning to fend for themselves.  Thursday of last week, I went into the courtyard to replenish the bowl of corn for them, and discovered that one of Lil’ Momma’s daughters from last year had just hatched her own brood in the courtyard, and had her own duckling paddling around the pond.

Watching the full-sized ducklings bum crackers off the passers by, and the day old “newbies” circle their protective, young mother in the pond, I’m reminded of a Shel Silverstein poem entitled “Crowded Tub!”