Monday, September 29, 2014

Butternut Harvesting

Butternut tree in late September.  The nuts
have been falling for about 2 weeks
We are fortunate to have a mature Butternut, Juglans cinerea, growing close to our house.  It casts a pleasant amount of shade, not too dense.  Like its close relative the black walnut, Juglans nigra, it does produce juglone, a substance that inhibits the growth of many plants.  Growing alone in a lawn, this has not been a problem with ours.  Our tree does have a moderate case of Butternut Canker or Butternut Decline.  We had the affected branches removed this past spring and this year it looks a lot better.  Long term I expect the disease to continue.

Despite this ailment, out tree does produce quite a few nuts.  This is supported by the large number of seedlings within a hundred feet of the parent.  Normally there are just a few nuts on the ground, but this year there are hundreds of them.  I had been told that the squirrels would swoop in and carry them away, but so far I haven't seen many of them.  Rather than just tripping over these nuts on the lawn I decided to give harvesting them a shot.

Butternuts fresh off the tree are covered with a bright green, sticky husk.  As they age the husk shrinks and becomes darker. The best nuts for harvesting those that have fallen recently.  One site recommended only using nuts freshly shaken off the tree.  My tree is pretty firm and its limbed up quite high, so I just opted for the greenest ones off the ground.

Butternuts are oblong, kind of like a football or rugby ball.  Walnuts are nearly round.

This butternut has been on the ground for a few days.
The husk is stuck more tightly to the shell.

I didn't harvest any of these dark nuts.  There is a greater probability that they may be starting to rot and they are definitely harder to peel. You can check nut quality ahead of time by putting them in a bucket of water.  Those that sink are good, but floaters have voids in them and should be discarded.

Here a relatively fresh, green nut ready for peeling/dehusking.
I found that the serrated edge on my favorite soil knife was very effective at dehusking the butternuts.  Before getting started I put on older clothes and a sturdy pair of gloves.  The husks contain substances that leave dark brown to black stains.  After being exposed to air they get darker.  I didn't want to get any of the juice on me or any of my pavement.

Here's the first cut through the husk.
The green husk is about 3/16" thick and juicy.
The first thing I did was make four cuts lengthwise through the husk with the serrated blade of the knife.

The freshly exposed shell is light brown,
but it darkens quickly when exposed.
Next, I put the blade in one of the slices and twisted the blade causing a chunk of the husk to pop off.  With this opening, I could press the edge of the blade against the cut edge of the husk and the rest of that section of husk peeled off.
Here's a freshly peeled nut with all the pieces of the green husk.

I repeated that for the remaining four segments.  After the first dozen, I could dehusk a nut in less than a minute.  Still, this is not how I would like to spend an afternoon.  A corn sheller can make the job easier.

After 3 minutes the moist interior of the husks had turned black.
This stain can be difficult to remove from surfaces and clothing.

Once peeled the husked nuts get washed with a jet of water then air dried.  Currently I am air curing the nuts in their shells for for about two weeks.  It is recommended to store them in the dark at about 60 F and 70% humidity.  This curing step is supposed to develop a better flavor.

The next step will to take the nuts out of their shells.  One site says to soak them in warm water for a day before cracking the shells.  I did a quick deshelling test with my 3# steel mallet.  A few taps broke the shell nicely.  The nut meat had a greenish cast and tasted a little raw, but there was a richness to it that I hope will dominate when the curing process is complete.

Once shelled the nutmeats can be stored in the refrigerator for a few few months, or longer in the freezer.  I'm not sure how best to use the nuts: raw, boiled or roasted, all three?  I should have a verdict on this process in a couple of weeks.  Being a newbee at this I would really appreciate any comments from more experienced gatherers out there.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Visit to Coastal Maine Botanic Garden

My first visit in to the Coastal Maine Botanic Gardens was in 2008, one year after opening.  There was lots of construction going on then.  Even so the gardens were very enjoyable to see.  Now that major construction is done and the plants are more established, I would say that the gardens are spectacular!  

This view over the Learner Garden of the Five Senses captures the care
that is taken in both the design and maintenance practices at the CMBG.

This bed of late-flowering Sneezeweed looked just like in the catalogs.

While the gardens do not consist entirely of native or indigenous species, these species do make up a major component of the plantings.  One of the goals of this garden is to show the people of this area what they can grow successfully in this northern climate.  

Considering this latest visit was in the second week of September, I was pleased to see so many of the plants were in full bloom, proving that Maine does not shut down after Labor Day.  Also while walking around the gardens I saw several staff members hard at work caring for the plants.  The results were clearly seen in how clean the beds were and how healthy the plantings looked.
These red and yellow flowers of  Blood Flower, a South American species of milkweed, really pop.
The North American butterflyweed (A. tuberosa) has similar form but is all orange.
One of the first plants I saw at the garden was Asclepias curassavica, Blood Flower, a South American native perennial, but grown as an annual in the US.  There is a Monarch Butterfly Waystation at the garden, so there are a preponderance of milkweeds, as well as other pollinator friendly plants.  An area for collecting and protecting Monarch chrysalis' is located in the Children's Garden.
Monarch caterpillar on a milkweed at CMBG.
Tussock Moth caterpillar on a Swamp Milkweed, A. incarnata, in Maryland.
I'll admit I was jealous.  Back home in Maryland we've seen only one Monarch Butterfly so far this year.  And the only caterpillars on my milkweeds have been for the native Tussock Moth.  

The Children's garden contains many fun plants, bright colors and activities for kids.  Adults can also appreciate the playful nature of the planting themes in this area.

I've been looking at some classic labyrinths, but this pattern looks a lot more fun!
Not everything in the Children's Garden is a plant.
This is a play on a bedding planting.
One of the intensely designed gardens there is the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses, which was completed in 2009.  It has areas with plants that appeal to each of the five senses:  Taste (mostly culinary species), Scent, Touch (textured plants and hardscape), Sight and Sound (water features, croaking frogs and air movement through the plants). The design allows for maximum accessibility for disabled.  A detailed description of this garden has been posted on-line by Gregory Harris

These planted walls in the 'Taste' section make the plants more accessible for visitors to reach.
Cardinal Flower and Joe Pye Weed were two of the dominant species in the garden.

The Kitchen Garden was one of the first designed areas completed.  It demonstrates creative ways to grow edible plants.  Particularly using natural materials for trellising and mixing flowers for pollinators with food plants to get both an improved visual experience and better results with beneficial insects.

Zinnias and Purpletop Vervain are two of the flowering components of this edible garden.
The Greek Columnar Basil in the middle of this bed adds a strong structural feature.

While I have not explored many of the natural trails at CMBG, I did make it down to the water to get some beautiful views of Back River that abuts the property.

There are many beautiful, less intensely managed areas.  This view of Back River is from the Vayo Meditation Garden.   
If you are visiting Downeast Maine/Booth Bay, I recommend you spend a few hours at these gardens and you will see just how much and how well plants can be grown in northern New England.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

It's late August and I'm seeing Red.....and some other colors, too

In direct sun the red of this Lobelia stands in
perfect contrast to the green background.
This is the first year for my Cardinal Flowers, Lobelia cardinalis, to bloom and I must say it really pops on a grass green back ground.  I planted these as seedlings last year and they never got very big.  Part of that was due to deer browsing.  This year the deer ate a little early in the season, but did not come back after the buds began to form.  I don't know if that has to do with a change in the taste of the maturing plant, or if it was due to spraying the plants with a new deer repellent, Bobbex.  Besides delighting the eye, the cardinal flowers are a big hit with the butterflies.

This Scarlet Sage is growing in a partly sunny garden.

Before I had a place with moist soil I relied on this Blood or Scarlet Sage, Salvia coccinea, to get an intense shade of red in late summer.  It grows well in moist to dry soils and will tolerate some shade.  Scarlet sage is usually grown as an annual.  In the past it has reseeded itself in my warm zone 6 garden in Boston.  We'll see how it does in my less protected Maryland garden next year.  I have seen hummingbirds feeding on this sage, as well as many bees. 

This photo taken early in the morning contrasts the yellow of evening primrose,
Oenothera biennis, with the violet of NY ironweed, Veronia noreboracensis.
These two tall plants complement each other toward the back of this planting.
Another major presence in the garden is New York Ironweed, Veronia noveboracensis.  This year they are growing to 8 feet.  I cut one back by 1/3 at the beginning of July and it quickly grew back fuller than before.  This plant is very attractive to butterflies, it has about as many as a nearby exotic butterfly bush.

Wingstem is named for the rough appendages growing along its stems.

The predominant open meadow flower of late summer here is WingstemVerbesina alternifolia.   In the full sun they grow straight up to 3 to over 8 feet.   I have allowed a few to grow in the partly sunny gardens near the house.  Under these conditions they still grow tall, but they lean forward to get more sun, eventually flopping over.  Blooming period is about a month long, mid August to late September.

Under the shade of pines I am trying out several species of Goldenrods. The first to bloom is Elm-leaved Goldenrod, Solidago ulmnifolia.  As with the cardinal flower, these were browsed heavily by the deer in their first year, but this year they are reaching bloom (maybe with the help of Bobbex).  Other goldenrods I am trying in the shade are Zigzag, Bluestemmed and Showy Goldenrods.

The little whitish flowers of Jumpseed wiggle their way out of the undergrowth.
The foliage of this plant is tattered since it is often eaten by some as yet unidentified insects.
Another shade-tolerant native that is blooming now is Virginia Jumpseed, Persicaria virginiana.  Not particularly showy by itself, en mass it adds some interesting texture to a shady scene.  There are some forms of this plant with more colorful leaves and red flowers, but those are not in bloom just yet. 

Aromatic Aster is just beginning its long season of bloom.
One of the newer additions to the garden is Aromatic Aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolius 'October Skies'.  Despite its name it has started blooming in late August (this cultivar is actually named for the flower color, not the bloom time).  This cultivar is compact and densly blooming.  Growing to about 2 feet tall it is a great choice for near the front of a border.  In addition to the good-sized blooms the foliage of this little bush has a pleasing scent.

I just wanted to share this last image of a patriotic color combination of Hibiscus moscheutos, Lobelia cardinalis, and L. siphilitica. It's not a great photographic composition, but it is an example of red, white and blue native flowers blooming at the same time (mid-August).  

This photo could have been improved had I bothered to remove the
chicken wire protection from around the Hardy Hibiscus.  

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Garden Bugs

As I have been walking around the property I have seen a wide variety of insects. both good and bad.  Of course bad is based on the human perspective of what's eating the plants that I am interested in either for food or aesthetics.   The insect herbivores provide a link between the solar energy stored up in plant materials and animals higher up in the food chain.  The really bad insects are those that don't fit in with the food chain.  Those are the ones lacking a predator.  

Here are a few of the interesting bugs that I encountered in July. 

This moth is about 1.5 inches long.
Clymene Moth is said to be a common woodland species, though I have seen it only this once.  It is a daytime flier so it should not be difficult to spot.  The black cross on the tan wings certainly stood out. 
The larvae feed on a variety of plants, particularly Willows, Oaks and Eupatorium species.  

My wife spotted this Luna Moth while pulling out stiltgrass.  I think it had recently emerged from a cocoon because the wings appeared to be very flexible.  The large adult moths do not feed.  Their typical adult lifetime is about a week.   The larvae feed on several species of trees, including hickories, persimmon and sumacs.   

This moth was in a mass of stiltgrass
We found this lethargic moth in early afternoon,
these moths usually fly at night.

Three of the 6 yellowish spots can be seen
on the wing casings of this tiger beetle.
The 6-spotted Tiger Beetle is one of the fastest running insects.  I've seen them running on our pool deck at 2-3 mph.  Their top speed is 5.6 mph or the equivalent of 480 mph, if it were the same size as a human!   This insect predator is able to easily chase down its prey.  It can fly as well.

The larval form is also predatory.  It stays in a burrow and lunges out to capture passing small insects, like ants and spiders.

The largest of the leafhoppers at over 1/2 inch long is the Broad-headedSharpshooter, Oncometopia arbona.  This insect feeds on plant juices and shoots the liquid waste in an intense stream, hence the name 'sharp-shooter'.   It has the overall shape of other leafhoppers, but it is much bigger.   Leafhoppers are vectors for a number of plant diseases.  This one can carry a bacteria that causes Pierce's disease in grapes.  
The jewel-like coloring of this insect caught my eye.  It was tough to photograph
because it kept scurrying to the opposite side of the cucumber from the camera.

I only found this Mantis because it was moving,
otherwise it would have blended into the grasses.
At 4 inches, this is probably a Chinese Mantid.
The largest insect predator that I've spotted so far is the Praying Mantis.  The really big ones are actually imported Chinese Mantids.  The native Carolina Mantid is brownish-grey and about 2 inches long.  They feed on a wide variety of insects, whatever they can grab with their powerful front legs. Mantis are noted for their ability to rotate their heads 180 degrees.

We saw one on the outside of our kitchen window that had spotted a Japanese beetle on the inside.  It moved carefully into position and tried to grab the beetle through the glass.  After a couple of attempts I squished the beetle and took it out of sight.  The mantis then just walked away into a nearby hanging basket.  

This Cucumber Beetle is a bad actor in the garden.
I saw this green spotted beetle in the vegetable  garden the other day and while I did not know what is was, but I was pretty sure it was not something I wanted.  My method of choice this season for dealing with garden pests is squishing.  So that's what I did.  It took quite a bit of force to kill this beetle.  (Cabbage moth caterpillars are much easier to dispatch.)  I got a photo so that I could do an ID after the fact.  Turns out I made the right call.  This was a Spotted Cucumber Beetle.  These beetles feed on the leaves of cucumber and melon plants and can spread bacterial wilt that will kill the entire vine.                  

These moths hover near flowers and gather nectar through their long proboscis.
Hummingbird Moth at a Wild Bergamot, Monarda fistulosa.
The Hummingbird moth is fairly common around here.  It flies during the day and makes a humming sound when it flies, similar to a hummingbird.  It also looks and feeds similar to a hummingbird.  This mimicry offer some protection from predators.  There are two common species in the US.  The one I saw recently is the Snowberry Clearwing, Hemaris diffinis.  It dominant in the western US, but its range is from coast to coast.   The other species is the Hummingbird Clearwing, H. thysbe.  It has a red body and is found primarily in the eastern half of the US. 

The larvae feed on honeysuckles, hawthorns and Prunus species.  The pupae are found on the soil surface, or over-wintering in the leaf litter.

My favorite garden predator is the Wheel Bug, Arilus cristatus. It is rather frightening in appearance in all its growth stages.  Like the mantis the wheel bug feeds on a wide variety of insects, but I am especially happy when it gets a Japanese beetle or a stink bug.  They move slowly to get close to their prey then grab hold and pierce them with their long pointed beak.  They inject enzymes to dissolve the insides of their captive.  While beneficial in the garden, they can inflict a painful 'bite' to humans if they are threatened with no clear escape.
Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennis, is a favorite of Japanese Beetles.
It is also a good place to find Wheel Bugs.  You can see
the dark beak sticking into the beetle.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Woodland Find - American Germander

This is the pinkish flower spike that I first noticed.
The other day I was walking along a wooded edge in the backyard bemoaning how much stiltgrass (Mircostegium vimineum) there was to remove and I spotted some pale pink spiky flowers that I had not seen before. Since these flowers looked so tight and upright,  I thought these might have escaped from an old garden rather than being a native plant.

The stems are square with oppositely arranged leaves and the flowers were kind of tubular with a long tongue.  So I figured they were kind of mint (Lamiacea family).  After going through the identification keys in Gleason and Conquist several times and then looking at a lot of pictures on-line, I finally ID'd this plant as American Germander, Teucrium canadense, an actual native species!  In retrospect, a feature that really stands out in germanders is that the 4 stamens stick out above the flower petal(s).  This same arrangement is found on creeping germander, T. chamaedrys, a common garden plant.

Here you can see the unique form of the flower.  The arrow indicates the upright stamens.
10 days later, the flower spike has elongated and blooming is
continuing up the spike.  Maybe another 10 days of bloom.
Here the shape of the toothed leaves is more easily seen

While it is a member of the mint family the leaves are not fragrant and the leaves have a bitter taste (reportedly).  They are not bothered by grazing animals, i.e., deer.  The flowers are frequented by long-tongued bees and hummingbirds.

American Germander grows in moist soils in full to partial sunlight.  Habitats include moist meadows, thickets and along water courses.  The plants I found are on consistently moist soil with about 4 hours of morning sun, in the middle of summer.

Plants spread by rhizomes and will reseed effectively, creating large colonies under favorable conditions.  In a formal garden they would be considered weedy, but in a natural edge with lots of competition they are under control (so far).  I would love for these to push out the stilt grass, but I think they will need my help.  

This clump of American Germander has probably been here for awhile.
I'll make a more concerted effort to clear out the stiltgrass from around here
to give this plant more opportunity to spread.
Just a reminder, Stiltgass will be blooming soon in Maryland so you need to take action soon to keep them from setting seed.  I will continue pulling for now, but come the end of August I will weed whack down as much as I as can reach.  This should  take out the flowers before they can set seed and be late enough in the year to keep flowers from regenerating.  Check out the Mircostegium link above for more information.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Pollinator Border

When I planned my new vegetable garden last year I included a double fence design to help keep out the deer.  At the outer fence I planned for a border of pollinator-friendly native plants.  This border would help attract pollinators to the garden and also provide shelter for predatory insects to hang out.  By providing cover for the predators, damage due to insect pests is significantly reduced without the use of pesticides.

The border around the garden has a variety of native plants.  A bluebird is currently nesting in the box,
I try to avoid walking by, but it happens

The plants for this border need to provide pollen or nectar for the pollinators, be low maintenance, bloom sometime during the growing season and be somewhat to very resistant to deer browsing.  I also looked for plants that might deter smaller mammals that could burrow into the garden.  The garden location is in full sun and can get dry. 

Plants that are native to the area are the best choice for a pollinator garden.  These plants are natural food sources for the native insects that will be doing most of the work.  It is nearly impossible to find a single plant that will bloom the entire garden season, so a mixture of plants with staggered blooming times will provide some food for insects throughout the season.  The Xerces Society has guidelines for creating a pollinator friendly garden.  

When I put in the garden last year, most of the pollinator plants I put in were liners or seedlings.  Being young and of small size, they did not mature enough to bloom.  With a year in the ground they are really looking good now.  Here's a listing of plants I used in by pollinator border.

The earliest blooming plant in the border was Wild Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis.  The nodding red and yellow flowers are attractive to hummingbirds.  Blooming period is typically April through May.  The seeds are held loosely in the upright pods.  

I did not get a photo of my Columbine this season, but here you can see
the seed pods mixed in with some Black-eyed Susans.  I need to shake out
the seed pods to get more plants for next year.

Last year I planted both black-eye and Brown-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta and R. triloba).  The deer were constantly eating the flowers and leaves of both species.  This year only the Black-eyed Susans returned.  I have been more diligent about spraying them with hot pepper solution, which seems to work.  While not as upright as Yellow Cone Flower (R. fulgida) I like the extended blooming season of R. hirta, lasting from June through September.

Here's Spotted Beebalm in a mixed border of Black-eyed Susans and False Pennyroyal.
The flowers are actually small yellow tubes hidden by the large pinkish bracts.
Spotted Beebalm, Monarda punctata, was grown from seed and actually matured enough to bloom the first year.  This year it really went to town.  Peak blooming season is June and July.  This plant is very resistant to deer browsing and attracts mostly bees and wasps.

This is a short-lived perennial so it needs to set seed to maintain a presence in the garden.

The flowers of Wild Bergamot are more exposed than Spotted Beebalm's
 making it easier for large butterflies to access them.
Another member of the Monarda genus in the garden is Wild Bergamot, M. fistulosa.  This is a much taller species, easily over 4 feet in this garden.  The flowers attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.  The bloom time is from early July through August.

These two Monarda species do well in dry to medium soils.  If the soil were moister Oswego Tea, M. didyma, would be a good choice, as well.

I had a difficult time with deer munching on the young Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa, plants last year.  This year they are doing much better and are coming into full bloom now (early July).
I have not seen any Monarch butterflies around these milkweeds,
mostly small greenish bees (Sweat bees?)

I have established a dense hedge of American Pennyroyal
 along one edge of the garden.
We'll see if it keeps out the moles, etc.
One of the first native annuals I put around the garden was American or False Pennyroyal, Hedeoma pulegioides.  This diminutive member of the mint family has a strong minty scent when touched.  It can act as a repellent for some insects, possibly mosquitoes.  I am interested to see if it will also discourage deer and small mammals from entering the garden.  Direct seeding in the garden last spring gave few plants, but these seeds came up in full force this year.  Despite what it says on the seed packet, fall sowing of some moist stratification (30 days, moist at 35-40 F) helps break seed dormancy.
I'm pretty sure this is one of the Nodding Onions.
I'll know better once it reaches full bloom -
will the flower continue to droop or turn upright.

Another plant to help form a barrier to invasion by burrowing mammals is Alliums.  I planted a long row of Nodding Onions, Allium cernuum, in the border. The idea is that they will be repelled by the presence of the onion bulb underground.  I've seen a few come up in the mix of plants, but sometimes they are hard to tell from the stray grasses also in the garden.  As we get later into blooming season (June-August) they should be easier to pick out.  

In the garden there is some white Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, that just blew in.  I also added a more colorful cultivar call 'Strawberry Seduction' to jazz things up a little.  I had problems last year with deer browsing, but not so this year.  Is this due to a more mature plant, or is it random choice by the deer?

I don't usually go for the flashy cultivars, but
I wanted to add some more red to the garden
The middle of the garden provides a refuge
for the more deer-sensitive species.

In the center of the garden I put a ring of tall flowers that was meant to draw the pollinator further into the garden.  Since these are more protected from deer, they don't have to be so deer resistant.  This year I have some Purple Cone Flower (Echinacea purpurea), False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides 'Summer Sun', Beach Sunflower (Helianthus debilis 'Pan') and 'Autumn Beauty' Sunflower (Helianthus annuus).  The first two species bloom for the first half of summer and the sunflowers carry the load into the fall.

I selected the 'Autumn Beauty' cultivar of sunflower because it only grows to 6 feet, keeping it in scale with the rest of the plants and reducing the risk of tipping over.

My deer really like to eat various species of Helianthus, so I could not grow these in unprotected areas.  I'm not sure how they would treat the False Sunflower, but I'm sure they would give it a taste.  

Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron annuus) and Heal-all (Prunella vulgaris) are a couple of indigenous plants that have found a welcome place in this border.  Heal-all is edible (haven't tried it) and has many herbal/medicinal applications.  It can be used as a native ground cover, growing between 2 and 12 inches tall.

Heal-all is widely disbursed through the Northern Hemisphere.
It is a larval host for the Clouded Sulphur butterfly.

In the new part of the border I'm trying some new native annuals.  I have grown Sulphur Cosmos, Cosmos sulphureus, by direct sowing in Boston before.  It did germinate well in the border here, but has since disappeared.  I also sowed some Plains Coreopsis, Coreopsis tinctoria, in the same area.  Germination wasn't as good, but the plants are persisting.  In another area the deer sampled the Coreopsis, but did not actually eat it.  Another native Coreopsis species that could be used in the border is Threadleaf Coreopsis (C. verticillata).  It is easy to care for and fairly resistant to deer.

Plains Coreopsis starts out kind of wiry, but straightens up as it matures.

 One additional note about the border.  My outer fence is a 5-wire electric fence, but it is not energized.  If it were, it would immediately ground out because of all the plants growing on the wires.  If you have an energized fence it must be free of plants.  A flowering border should be sited well inside or outside the electrified wires.