You just might be a wildlife nut if…

  • You plant things or allow them to grow based upon their usefulness to wildlife whether or not they are pretty (see Poke Weed).
  • You actually go out and buy things, (see Fennel and Dill) knowing that they are going to be eaten by caterpillars, and should you find yourself running out of the said food source you actually go out and buy more and happily tell the sales clerk “it is for the caterpillars”.
  • You don’t mind the odd aphid knowing that it is food for the Lady Bugs and their offspring.
  • You get really agitated when you see a dead squirrel, possum, raccoon, deer on the side of the road cursing under your breath “I would have BRAKED for that”.
  • You stop your car and move turtles and tortoises out of the road no matter how ticked off they (and other drivers)  are about it.
  • You believe “first do no harm” is the best way to deal with critters and weeds in your yard.
  • You find joy in the smallest of insects and marvel at why Mother Nature decided to create them.

Finally, you wake up every morning wondering what marvels you will find in your yard that day, what joyous new discovery, what baby this or baby that, what new seedling, what new bird, what new bloom, what new bug.  When you are a Wildlife Nut, a yard is a Safari, and every day is a new day.

Curry and chips

There are many things that I miss about Britain, not least of which is the food.  I am delighted that I can now buy many things here at various specialty stores that other wise would cost me an inordinate amount of money to import.  Other things, like for instance, Bisto Chip Shop Curry instant granuls my mother brings to me on her yearly visits, and she brings them in such quantities that it sustains me through the year.  Every now and then, like this evening I make myself a plate full of chips (french fries) and pour over a jug full of Bisto Chip Shop Curry sauce and indulge, immediately I am transported back to another moment in time.

It is 11pm, I have just left “The Bop” (the club aboard any and all military establishments that I served at) and slightly woozy from the booze that I have imbibed I wander, as do all of its patrons to “The Oggie Wagon” a mobile food truck that has been enterprising enough to get a permit to set up outside the club to serve food to its patrons at closing time. It is freezing, the coat I wore to the club is no help to warm against the frigid nighttime temperatures.    The menu on the wagon is scrawled on a white board attached to the side of the truck, cheeseburgers, bacon burgers, bacon sandwiches, and always my favorite curry and chips.

Hands stuffed in coat pockets we shuffled up the queue, shivering and waiting until we could order our food.   Breath was visible as we stood in the queue, as we chatted about what had gone on in the club.   “Did you see that X was dancing with Y Oh my god”.

“Curry and chips please”  you ordered as you thankfully got to the front of the queue.  You handed over the money and in return was handed a steaming and hot to the touch styrofoam container weighed down with freshly cut chips slathered in “chip shop curry” sauce.  A sauce unto its own, “chip shop curry” sauce is unlike any other, it has a mild, curry like flavor, and it may, on a very rare occasion, contain the occasional rasin which gives it a modicum of authenticity, for the most part though it is a curry flavored gravy, which turns chips into soggy, curry flavoured morsels that are a delight.

I remember walking back to Wrens Quarters with my styrofoam container, shoveling fork fulls of curry smothered chips into my mouth and thinking that it was the best thing I have ever eaten.  Ever.  Because when you are slightly drunk, and starving at 11 oclock at night, whatever you are eating is the best thing you have ever eaten ever.  I am sure that this is true for whatever people eat when they are thrown out of the club at whatever time of night it is, whatever they can find to eat at that time of night is the best thing they have ever eaten ever.    But chip shop curry sauce over chips is still the best thing in the world.

 

 

 

Host Plants

While many people think of planting flowers that will provide food for butterflies and other pollinators they tend to forget about the most important plants, those that provide food for the caterpillars of the species.

I love my Wisteria, not only because it is beautiful and fragrant in the Spring when it blooms but also because it is the host plant of the Silver Spotted Skipper butterfly.  Yes, it means that it gets tatty and chewed this time of year but if it means the next generation of Silver Spotted Skippers is guaranteed then I am happy to have the chewed look.  Today I wandered out there and noticed the tell-tale signs of the small tents that the caterpillars create to shelter in during the time that they are not feeding.

The Caterpillars weave two leaves together and then use it to hide from predators while they are not actively feeding.   While I was taking this shot, I noticed a female laying eggs on the leaves of the trumpet vine and Japanese privet right next to the Wisteria.  Apparently Mom like her kids to find their food and does not actually lay her eggs on the Wisteria but lays them close by.

The other common host plant is any member of the parsley family.  These include parsley, cilantro, dill, fennel, carrots,  and the common weed Queen Anne’s Lace.  The Black Swallowtail butterfly uses these plants to raise her young.  For me these have been the most reliable of host plants, and ones that have provided the most opportunities to follow the cycle from the egg to the chrysalis to the birth of the butterfly.  Right now I have caterpillars on my fennel and after having chomped down most of the plants in the pot I was able to move another pot of Bronze Fennel from the garden area to the patio to make sure that my boys do not run out of food.

For an example of that please go here

http://smg.photobucket.com/albums/v641/MsNick40/Butterfly%20Birth/?start=40

For some reason photobucket would not allow me to post the pictures in the right order so you have to start from the end and go backwards.  It is worth it.

I have several Tulip Poplars on my property and they are known for being the host plant of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.  I have only ever seen one caterpillar on my trees, but that is mainly due to the fact that the canopy of these trees tend to be up to twenty feet above ground, and as such I have no hope of taking any shots of the caterpillars.  When my husband was clearing out the brush at the back of our property he gave me a can of spray paint and told me to mark all of the seedlings that I wanted kept.  I can guarantee you I sprayed all of the Tulip Poplar seedlings.

Canna, as well as being tough, tolerant of abuse, and completely impossible to kill, are also the host plant for the Brazilian Skipper.  During my 20 years here in NC I have only once been able to photograph a newly hatched Brazilian Skipper and it was quite simply a joy.   Unfortunately it was a long time ago and before the time that I could save the shot on line.

Another plant that is easy to grow and utterly beautiful is Passion Flower.  Not only is the flower absolutely gorgeous, but it’s fruits can be used for jams and jellies, its most important use though is that it is the host plant for the Varigated Fritilliary butterfly.

Milkweed is well known for being the host plant of the Monarch Butterfly, and anyone who can get a hold of the plants should put some in their landscape. I attempted to raise some from saved seed this winter but unfortunately, for whatever reason, my collected seeds did not germinate.    Recent losses of migrating flocks of Monarchs in Mexico makes it all the more critical that we raise the next generation here in the US.  Unfortunately Milkweed (or Butterfly Weed) plants are not readily available in garden centers or the big box stores.  However, like everything, if we bug them often enough, garden centers and big box stores WILL stock something that people want to buy.  So go out and lobby your local garden centers, tell them you WANT Butterfly Weed plants for your garden.  Together we can do our bit to repopulate the Monarchs.

Golden Orb Web Spider

I remember coming across one of these many moons ago when I was on a hike down at Lake Waccamaw State Park and I was fascinated by the size and scope of the web.  Much to my delight today I discovered that I have on living in my vegetable garden area.

In what looks to be a prime spot for the species, under the tree line and on the edge of the garden close to the bushes, the web is not yet as spectacular as it probably will be in the future.  Right now it is almost impossible to photograph as, being in deep shade, no matter how much I fiddled with the focus I could not get the web without getting the background dominating.   Still I got the first of what I hope will be many shots.

I looked very closely but did not see a male sharing her nest, nor could I see one close by.   However, that does not mean to say that he is not around somewhere and my old eyes simply cannot see him as he is much smaller than the female, nor does it mean that he wasn’t around before and they have already mated and he has died (or been eaten).   In any event I hope she gets to lay a clutch of eggs as I would love more of these in my garden in the future.  While I would not relish a face full of web,  providing I know where they are I would be happy to share my yard with them.

You just might be a gardener if…

  • You were the height of style when “dirty looking” jeans came into fashion because virtually every pair you own has brown splotches in the area of the knees.
  • You spot a particularly beautiful plant in the reduced section of the garden center and mentally calculate how much food you have in the freezer that you can use that week in order to shave the grocery budget down so you can buy it.
  • You buy said plant and immediately get it in the ground when you get it home, hide the evidence (pots and tags), and then when your significant other comments on it say “oh that!  I didn’t realize it had come back this year, I planted that years ago”.
  • You leave the tags of long dead perennials in the ground where they were planted “just in case” they miraculously do a “Lazarus” and rise from the dead several years after their demise in the hopes that you can recognize the plant when it returns.
  • Similarly, you leave the tags of long dead annuals in the ground where they were planted “just in case” they self seed and you will need some reference so you don’t mistake the seedlings for weeds, this madness continues for years until eventually the tags crumble into dust and you have to piece them together to figure out what they were.
  • You have a stockpile of pots and containers ranging from six-pack cells all the way up to gallon containers that you promise you will recycle one day but you keep around because “you never know when I might need that” to the extent that if you got it into your head tomorrow to open up a nursery you wouldn’t need anything in the way of supplies.
  • You have long since gone from talking to your plants “in your head” and now unashamedly chat with them while working around them, “well hello there you pretty thing, how are we doing today?”, and you don’t care what the neighbor’s think.
  • You say at least once during the growing season “I don’t remember planting that” out loud.
  • The only way you can get the dirt out of your finger nails is to wash your hair or do a load of dishes.
  • You never fully get the dirt out of your toenails no matter how much you scrub them.
  • Your toenails look like parrot’s beaks thanks to being shoved into flip-flops and stuffed under your thighs while you kneel and tend to your plants.
  • If you are given a gift that is not gardening related your mind immediately calculates how many plants you could have bought with the money.
  • You eye a rack full of discount seeds the way a Meth Addict looks at the Sudaphed counter at a pharmacy whereupon you spend $25.00 on 10 of $1.00 seed packets  and your “seed stash” could probably repopulate the earth with all manner of flora should Armageddon ever actually occur.
  • You observe plants growing out of their plastic bag at the garden center, what you SEE however is several litters of starving kittens and puppies who would thrive if you could just take them home and stuff them full of kitten and puppy chow.
  • You find things growing in your garden and put them on “weed probation” just  in case it is an actual plant that you might like.  By the time it has become obvious that it really is a weed you have become so attached to it or discovered that it has some characteristics that are actually useful you don’t want to pull it, whereupon you promptly rename it “a volunteer” and brag about using “natives” in your garden.
  • You hate to kill anything, so instead of mowing down seedlings of useful plants you dig them up, put them in pots, and give them away free to neighbors.

Finally, if you have ever returned from a trip to a garden center, display garden, stately home, or national park with a purse full of seed heads that you have absolutely no hope of a) sorting out b) remembering what they are or c) have any clue how to grow,  then you just might be a gardener.