Wednesday, August 26, 2009

m. bikerbarus

There is always one neighborhood, one street, one local dive that parents warn their children to stay away from. These places attract the rough, the dangerous.

Apparently gardens also have such a place, such a plant. And that plant is Monarda punctata. Or, as I like to call it, m. bikerbarus.

As I previously posted, I visit every plant at least once a day during Japanese beetle season, hence ALL the time. ;-D And there is one patch out there that I always give a wide berth and that is the punctata. (No prob - even the JB's don't go there!) From the get-go this plant has attracted all the bad boys, the wild seed. And these guys are not just intimidating in size and attitude, but they are all packing heat - brandishing stingers everywhere.

In the previous post you saw the huge carpenter bees that frequent that nectar bar. Those guys don't scare me because I know they are really very docile. Still... when you get a nice guy in with the wrong crowd, things can go south if a rumble fires up.

Here's the Great Black Wasp that showed up early in the season. Obviously the Darth Vader of the wasp world.

From WikiAnswers:
A Great Black Wasp, sphex pennsylvanica, also known as Katydid Killer, is a large solitary non-aggressive black wasp of up to 1 1/2 inches in length. One of the solitary digger wasps, it feeds on nectar, sap, and other insects.

It digs a burrow, one egg per chamber, into each of which it places a large insect such as a cicada or katydid which provides food for the hatched young.

With a little more swash and buckle here is the Great Golden Digger Wasp wearing it's gang colors.

From Melody in KY:
Common throughout north America, digger wasps lay their eggs in burrows that they construct.

They look fierce, but rarely sting, and are quite curious about people and pets.

The adults eat nectar from various flowers and the larvae feed upon insects captured by the parent and stored in the burrow for their nourishment.
Often seen flying low across the lawns searching for suitable insects for the burrow. They spend the daylight hours searching and taking nectar, flying to roost in the evenings. Considered a beneficial insect because of the type of insects it preys on.

These 2 are the most impressive as to size. But, as with any gang, there are the hangers-on, those that have to strut their stuff, too. I've seen at least 7 other varieties of wasps (from bright little blue ones to the ubiquitous paper wasp) along with white faced hornets and yellow jackets.

And their foragings is best described as -
FRENZY. They dart, flit, dive, swoop, and crawl all over the blossoms and each other. It's just downright scary.

Yet these guys don't visit ANY other plants. I've never seen them anywhere else in the gardens. How truly bizarre.

Another note: Earlier in the month I posted about all the eggs the monarchs were laying on the milkweed plants. Those eggs have disappeared, yet no caterpillars can be found. Nothing is chewing on the milkweed leaves. I'm afraid the hornets and yellow jackets and wasps may have eaten them all. *sigh*

Bottom line, while I enjoy attracting insects to my garden, I may have to think long and hard this winter if I will grow more bikerbarus (uh, punctata) next year... We'll see.

Friday, August 21, 2009


I do a sweep for Japanese beetles once or twice a day. I have lots of beetles. And I don't suffer sitting down very well, so when I need a break from whatever I'm doing, I usually just grab my container with its couple of inches of water skimmed with vegetable oil and collect beetles. Not only is it an organic way to keep down the JB population, but I end up checking out every flowering plant and new shrub at least once a day. I see what's blooming, about to bloom or if they need pruning, deadheading, etc.

Another aspect is that I am keeping track of what kinds of insects are attracted to what kinds of plants.

A couple of days ago I saw 3 new bees on the Ring zins. At long last - bumble bees! I was sooo excited. It was just about 1 minute before 1:00 in the afternoon. I knew that because while I was still excited by my find, a local church began it's 1:00 carolon with Beethoven's 9th symphony: JOY. Now THAT is one heck of a way to herald the arrival of bumble bees. LOL

The top pic shows a bumble with a very buff banded bottom (initial ID: bombus borealis), the type that I assumed were my first bumbles. But while trying to identify them, I found out that another, slightly smaller bee that has been around for a while is also a bumble. And that one has a charcoal banded bottom (initial ID: bombus impatiens). Doh! Being new to this bee business, I'm not very certain between larger native/solitary bees and smaller members/types of bumble bees. And I find it darn HARD to easily find online identification for bees. It's very frustrating sometimes.

VERY easy to identify are Carpenter Bees. These guys are as big as my THUMB and have fuzzless shiny black bottoms. (Of course all the holes in my shed are another easy way to identify them!) Here is one on my monarda punctata. The carpies LOVE this plant so much so that they do not visit ANY others. Really. Even the Jap beetles will tell you that.... just before they go for a nice cooling swim.

Also note that I've updated the Vegetable, Project and Flower pages as I resolve to try to keep things a little more current on the blog. Click on the page links on the top of the sidebar to visit those pages.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Heart of the Storm

It was warm this afternoon with temps in the high 70s. The sun was shining and puffy clouds drifted by. Then more clouds. Less puffy. More ominous. Thunder rumbled and the wind picked up. Darkness slashed with lightning. Wind. More Wind. Howling winds! Gusts up to 60mph. Temps plummeted 10 degrees in 2 minutes.

And it rained. No, not rain. Not raindrops falling. It was a torrent. A waterfall. A whirlpool falling from the sky. Gulleys gushed and gutters overflowed with white foam. In 15 minutes 1.5 inches of water.

As quickly as it came, it left. Blue sky. Puffy white clouds. Though still the air was chill, everything was washed clean. And there, reaching from the top of the sweet gum tree down to the castor bean plants, was a rainbow. Right in my backyard!

Then the mini-rainbow dissolved to be replaced by one larger and much more majestic.

Wow. What a ride.

Monday, August 10, 2009

"Tall" tales

As some of you may know, this year's tomato plants have become quite big. Biggest I've ever grown - not only tall but wide and lush and I have posted about them (probably ad nauseum) on the vegetable page.

But something else has been going on while I've been focusing on the tomatoes.

I posted earlier about the 8' hollyhocks that sort of just sprang up out of the arbor bed.

Well now here's a couple more things that have taken on the urge to UP. Check out these Castor Beans. Several of these are short and in bloom, but at least 5 of them are still climbing with no sign of buds yet. The trunks are at least 2" in diameter already. It's going to take a chainsaw to cut them down when frost hits these guys. LOL

And then, back in the ring garden, are my sunflowers. I planted out 8 groups of 3 seedlings all around the bed. 4 groups were labeled as 'pink' sunflowers and have grown 6-6.5 feet tall with lots and lots of mahogany-ringed blooms.

The other 4 groups were labeled 'mammoth'. 3 of the groups topped out around 7 feet.

And then there is this guy. It measures just over 10' and still growing if you count the new buds coming on top.

So my question is: What's UP this year? I sure don't know. It must be the weather. We've had almost perfect temps this summer - never getting much past 85, cooling down to low 50s at night. And while areas all around us have had trouble with too much rain, we have gotten very little here in Stark county. I wish we'd have gotten some of it. I'm getting too old to haul heavy water cans and equally heavy hoses out to the way back and beyond.

Anywho, it's been one heck of a growing season so far.

But I can't let my guard down yet. Nosiree.

The hardy hibiscus are due to bloom in a couple weeks and they're getting UP-itty too!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Monarch magic

For a long time (4-5 weeks) there was a single Monarch that every day circled about the Ring bed. It flitted from one patch of zinnias to another. Sometimes it would foray into the Arbor garden and visit the coneflowers, but for the most part it hung around (literally) back in the Ring. It had no friend and led a lonely, circular existence.

This past Saturday some friends and I returned from a trip to a local flea market. Neither of them had been here in a while and requested the 'grand tour'. (Twist my arm because you know I'm soooo shy about showing the flowers...LOL). Anyhoo Dave had brought his camera (way better than mine) and began snapping pics. Suddenly I realized that there was a SECOND monarch in the ring! Woohoo.

Dave snapped a pic as it flitted NOT around the zins, but on a patch of milkweed. We watched and were excited when we realized it was a SHE and she was laying eggs! Click on the pic and see the tiny egg to the left of her feet. We watched her for a while. Over the next couple of days more Monarchs came, mated, and visited my 3 varieties of milkweed. There are little eggs everywhere!

Then, they all seem to have vanished. Even 'solitary guy' hasn't been circling. How odd. Is this normal? (Update! He's back, circling again, and just as solitary.)

(Addendum 8/10: I've gone to Wikipedia and there is a very good overview of the Monarchs and their reproduction cycles.)

I've spotted quite a few types of butterflies this year. I think I saw most of them last year like the lovely Tiger Swallowtail. Sometimes I see 2 or 3 a day. They really like the coneflowers and will sip for 5-10 minutes on a single flower. They are also about the only ones to frequent my zonal geraniums.

This is the first year I've seen a Great Spangled Fritillary. At first glance I thought it was another Monarch, but quickly saw the difference in coloration. I've only seen this one, but it has been here for several weeks now. It's mostly on the zins. Today I just noticed that a patch of violets under one of my rhodys has been eaten to shreds. Yay! (Violets are host plants for them.)

And here is another new siting this year: a very tiny, unidentified skipper. It's only just bigger than a honeybee. I've seen several of them over the past week so perhaps I have a host plant somewhere in the gardens. I've seen it on the zins a lot. (Note: 8/30 This was identified as a Yellowpatch Skipper and since the initial siting there are now many dozens of these little guys.)

There are a few Clouded Sulfurs too. There are many of their hosts plants here: milkweed, coneflowers, butterfly bush, dandelion (oh yeah!).

I've also enjoyed seeing a couple of little blue Summer Azures and some Silver-spotted Skippers (pic to the right). And, before the phlox was cut back to force some rebloom, they attracted the attention of a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth.

Let's not forget the Eastern Black Swallowtails - they seem to come and go, here for a day or two then maybe back the next week. As if they don't want to wear out their welcome.

And it goes without saying, lots of the ubiquitous Cabbage Butterflies. You can always count on them! Actually I've really enjoyed them these past few years since I've given up growing host vegetables like cabbage and broccoli. LOL

And here's another mystery guest. A smoky colored butterfly a little larger than the Summer Azure. It appeared later in August. (Note: 8/30 - This butterfly was identified as a Common Sootywing. It returned mid-September.)

And here's another beauty: an American Painted Lady. It doesn't visit often, but when it does it stays all day and visits lots of zins.

I once saw a Question Mark resting on some fresh mulch this year, and last year I spied a Red Spotted Purple in the rhodys.

I have always had butterflies in my gardens, but since I've been installing many more bee forage plants in the beds, I'm seeing a lot more. And there has been a marked increase in moths, dragonflies and birds. Even interesting wasps this year (another post, I promise).

It's wonderful at the end of a gardening day to find a little time to sip a tall iced tea and just sit and watch the action and listen to the gardens hum.