Friday, September 12, 2014

Plant your garden with Lewis and Clark's Discoveries

 When I visited St. Louis this past summer, I, as I usually do on my travels, looked for gardens.  My sister, Susan, has a neighbor with Missouri native plant garden on a mound of soil between Susan’s driveway and her yard.  In the Missouri Botanical Garden, as well as the St. Louis zoo, and in other yards, I saw gardens with an emphasis on native plants.

The Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower, in Hartford, Illinois, where the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers meet, honors the men’s contribution to the opening of the West to settlement and gives the tourist a view of the joining of the rivers a mile or so distant over flood plains.  Surrounding the stark concrete structure are gardens containing plants Lewis and Clark saw on their journey.  One of the men’s tasks was to catalog and to send back to Jefferson specimens of plants and animals they found on the trip, many of which were unknown to science at the time.  Of course, these plants were known to Native Americans, but they were novelties to the European settlers.
At the Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower

In the trees is the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.  In foreground is the Mississippi River.

Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower

Native plants are those that are found in the wild within a particular climate.  Many plants in our gardens originate in China or England, and are happiest in those climates.  Gardens of primroses, tulips, delphiniums, and lilacs won’t grow in South Carolina; they need cool summers.

View of the native plant gardens from the tower

Some plants like our heat, cool winters, and humidity.  I saw many of those same plants in the Missouri native plant gardens, although the plants were larger there than here.  Maybe it’s because of the beautiful Midwestern topsoil in which they grow, or maybe it’s because of the extra hours of daylight the plants receive further west.  I wonder if the plants know winter will come to freeze them soon, and so they put forth extra effort to grow large in their allotted time. 

Liatris growing much taller than it does in my garden.
The healthiest plants in my garden are plants native to the Southern US, and many of these plants are native to Missouri.  Insects such as bees and butterflies prefer these species.  Fall is the perfect time to plant perennials; the plants will have the cool fall, winter, and spring to become established before they must suffer through another hot summer.
Achillea, or yarrow, that's gone to seed, in the foreground
If you’d like to include native plants in your garden, consider planting spring and early summer blooming plants like Achillea or yarrow, Baptista, phlox, and bee balm, and plants that bloom later in the summer and into the fall like Rudbekia or coneflower, butterfly weed (a host plant for monarch butterflies), coreopsis, Joe Pye weed, and liatris.  Among these plants, numerous colors are available.

To maintain a garden of perennials, cut them to the ground after the first frost.  I prefer to do this with a weed-eater, and I leave the clippings where they fall as mulch.  Then over the clippings, I sprinkle a layer of mulch to provide coverage a few inches deep, avoiding the crowns of the plants.  My garden-keeping chores are over for another year, besides pulling the stray weed that meanders through the mulch, or clipping spent blooms to encourage the plants to repeat their blossoms.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Molting Chickens, Caterpillars Becoming Butterflies, and Picking Peas

 In the garden, I've been busy with late summer chores and some late summer discoveries.

The first chicken has begun her molt before winter, and she's unhappy and embarrassed about it.  She's cranky and antisocial, and refused to go with the flock when I moved them from their "vacation home," where I keep them when I'm out of town, to their chicken tractor surrounded by fencing so they can enjoy grass and bugs.  I tried to employ my usual strategy of chicken-catching: grabbing her by the tail, but her tail feathers came out in my hand.  I think she giggled at me snidely as she ran away.  At least she'll never know I put these embarrassing pictures online, unlike a child who might one day find pictures illustrating a bad day objectionable.  


In the garden, I sowed cover crops in areas in which I removed spent crops.

To the left is millet, which I'm leaving for the chickens, and in the bare soil of the garden I planted Austrian winter peas, mustard greens, buckwheat, and crimson clover. It will smother weeds, feed the chickens, and enrich the soil.

While I was removing plants, I found these Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars on the fennel.  It's our second crop on this fennel this summer.  The first bunch made two chrysalises that we know of, and we observed one adult butterfly just as she emerged from the chrysalis.  

We are all fascinated by the caterpillars, and my daughters will visit them every day to observe their growth and progress.  We'll keep the chickens out of the garden.  
For a Kindergarten math lesson this morning, we counted 51 caterpillars, which is more difficult than it sounds, even for people who can confidently count to 51!

This is the butterfly that emerged a week ago from the first "batch" of caterpillars.  I let the chickens into the garden just before I found the caterpillars, and I put up the netting and wire to keep them away.  Many of the caterpillars disappeared, but I found no evidence of chicken-intrusion into the netting barricade.  

And, I've been engaged in the ongoing task of picking, shelling, and freezing crowder peas and Lima beans.  

Store bought beans and peas just aren't the same as fresh ones, and there's nothing easier for a vegetable side dish than pouring out a bag of peas or beans into a pot, adding salt, and boiling them until they are tender, usually 20-30 minutes.  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

I've been hunting eggs out of season...

...and I finally found the latest egg hiding place!  I've been allowing the chickens to roam in the vegetable garden adjacent to their chicken pen since most crops are mature enough to withstand their pecks, and there are many tasty critters there for them to eat, and they have eschewed their lovely nesting boxes for other creative spaces.  For awhile, they had a hollowed out place beside a hay bale and underneath the arching branches of a weed, and then eggs stopped appearing in that nest.  My faithful Americanas, who lay the blue eggs, continued to place their eggs politely in the nesting boxes for awhile, but their eggs also disappeared over the past week.

I've searched the garden and the pen, stepping through weeds and over plants, but hadn't found them until today, when I leaned over to pick Crowder peas.  I suppose I would rather lay eggs, if I were a chicken, under a canopy of pea vines instead of inside a chicken tractor, too.  I don't mind playing egg-hunt out of season, and at least the game keeps the snakes guessing about the location of the eggs, too.  Today's haul was 18 eggs, and they were all fresh.