Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Tomato Disaster

The photo of the tomato hornworm with brillian green foliage was taken August 23. Today's photo was taken August 30th. I think I have a terminal case of late blight. If anyone suspects differently, I'm open to comments!

I"d noticed some spots on the bottom leaves of my tomato plants but the plants were SO green and SO flowering and SO fruit laden that I didn't worry about it too much.

Then all of a sudden I have huge dead slimy places and horrid white moldy stuff. I'm SO upset. :(

I cut off some of the diseased portions of the plants today but it's slow going and from what I read there is probably no hope once the blight develops. We've had lots of rain this summer - I watered the garden exactly once, in one bed only, when I had some seedlings in that bed. The rest of the summer it's been very wet.

So, in addition to learning about squash bugs, mexican bean beetles, and japanese beetles, I've learned something else about gardening here. Next year I will space my tomatoes farther apart. I will trim the branches from the bottom foot or so of the plant, and I will sucker them to keep lots of air circulation going on.

I am SO bummed out. So it goes.


Monday, August 28, 2006

Tomato Hornworm

I found a tomato hornworm in my garden the other day. I'd never have noticed him if not for the braconid wasp larva on him. The white really stood out against all the green of the tomatoes. I have looked for others but not found any. I know they're probably there, but so far they're doing a good job of blending in with their background. I need to check the ground for waste pellets.

My hornworm isn't feeling too well. I got the following information from the University of Massachussets' website.

A parasitic Braconid wasp is an important and fairly common natural enemy of the hornworms. The wasps lay their eggs inside the body of the caterpillars. After feeding within the caterpillar body, the larvae of the wasps eat out through the skin and spin the cocoons on the caterpillar surface. The adult wasps later cut out circular lids and escape from the cocoons to attack other hornworms. If one is hand-picking hornworms, those with cocoons of parasitic wasps on their back should not be killed.

Same photo, just cropped and not reduced. I need to try to find this hornworm again, to see if the wasps have cut their way out of their coccoons. So interesting!


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Japanese Beetles

This year was my first year gardening in West Virginia. I had plans to let nature take its course and learn from observing the pests coming in, and the beneficials, so I could make good solid plans for next year. I was absolutey inundated with Japanese Beetles on my pole beans. They are beautiful, but sooo destructive. I hand picked daily, sometimes twice a day, and I couldn't keep up. I used an old ice-cream gallon bucket with a couple of inches of water in it and a few drops of dish detergent. The soap breaks the surface tension of the water so they can't get out. I learned through experience that if you don't put soap in the water, those little critters can climb onto the surface of the water and take off flying. Amazing!

My bucket of good clean fun.

I finally broke down and sprayed with Neem. The poor beans were getting so decimated that the leaves were discoloring and they were getting lots of other pests - most notably, Mexican Bean Beetles. I figured if I hoped to learn anything more aboout beans, I had to keep them alive. Not sure if it helped or not. The beetles are fewer now but maybe the end of their munching season is growing near, who knows?

Despite the pests I have gotten a good harvest from my pole beans. A 3' x 30' bed (planted in a double-row) has yielded a couple of meals, 13 quarts, and half a dozen pints of green beans, and they're still producing.

Next year I plan to plant lots of larkspur and four o'clocks. Both of these plants are attractive - and fatal - to Japanese Beetles. We are also considering milky spore disease and beneficial nematodes.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006


When I was a kid I somehow "learned" which plant milkweed was, but it was the wrong plant! Thankfully, my husband was quite familiar with milkweed (just like I was, except he was right) and he taught me what it looks like. The above photo is milkweed. It grows about one to five feet high. This plant was growing in one of our fields and we saw it on our Explore.

The milky white sap is where milkweed gets its name. Clever, no?

Monarch butterfiles looove milkweed. We had a few in the field but they were skittish and flew away when I approached. This one was focused on the task at hand and let me get a decent photo before fluttering off.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006


It's been so busy I haven't posted (though I did put up 4 half-pints of ketchup, nine quarts of potatoes, and 7 quarts and 4 pints of green beans), so I thought I'd skip the milkweed we found on our Explore and jump straight to the super duper surprise. Milkweed can wait until later. I'm so excited about this post I can't possibly put it off any longer.

When we bought this place we were told there was supposed to be an old cemetery on the property. We both thought it was mentioned in one of the property descriptions but I just read through them all and didn't find it; perhaps it's in a description in one of the old deed books.

ANYWAY... the prior owner said they'd never found the cemetery. Well I don't know if they were looking for modern style tombstones or what, but we found the cemetery. It is on a hillside, gently sloping. The area is nicely shaded and has been overgrown with woods, though the trees there are almost certainly younger than the graves.

The graves are body-sized piles of fairly large rock. They're not perfectly arranged and some of the rock has been scattered or knocked aside over the years. It doesn't show up too well in the photos (clicking to view large may help) but when you're standing on the hillside it's blatantly obvious that you're in an old graveyard. We found one child's grave and four adults' graves.

We have no idea when the cemetery was established or who is buried here. That would be a great research activity for a rainy weekday... when we're not working and the court house is open. Guess it will wait until after retirement.


Friday, August 11, 2006

Of Things Tree

On our explore, we saw lots of trees. This is not surprising, considering the fact that most of the land we live on is wooded.


Not sure if it will show up well (clicking to view large might help). This was interesting because the hollow interior of the trunk was riddled with insect tunnels.

Clicking to view large might help here as well. I like the way the ferns were growing on the soil pulled up by the fallen tree's roots. Circle of life in action.

I've got more pictures from our explore, which I'll post next week. Some milkweed and a super duper surprise. I'm talking SUPER DUPER.


Thursday, August 10, 2006

I'm Lichen This

Okay, no great font of information 'cause I ain't no botanist. But I do have some purty pitchers. The lichen above was actually more richly colored but I had to use the flash to get an image (it was in deep deep shade) and the flash washed it out a bit.

We thought this little mushroom was interesting because it was growing in an unusually rocky area. Our property is quite rocky but this little guy looks like he's trying to set up housekeeping in a gravel pit.

The leopard mushroom :)

Super bright yellow mushrooms.


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Let's Go On an Explore

This weekend, we had a lot of things to do: build a feeding hutch for the rabbits, pull weeds in the garden, do laundry, mow the grass... so of course we opted to blow it all off and go exploring. We rode ATVs because both of us have knees that give us trouble after a little time on uneven terrain. The ATVs are amazing - they can go in unbelievable places. They make great little work horses around the place, too. For example, we pulled part of the old chicken run down with a tow strap and one of the ATVs. My husband rode the yellow Rubicon and I rode the green Bayou.

One of the first things we discovered was a small blackberry patch. We were ecstatic. We've been looking for blackberries since we moved here and haven't found any. We munched a while and then, newly fortified and optimistic, we continued our journey.

This is a view from near the highest point on the property. It's so beautiful and peaceful. The terrain is too hilly for tilling and for the most part it's not grazed. Thus, there are trees everywhere. Houses just disappear and it feels like you're in the middle of a wilderness. If you close your eyes you'll hear lots of birdsong, cicadas, and wind in the trees. You'll feel the breeze tickling the hairs on your arms and you'll feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. There are hardly ever any engine or human sounds. Sometimes a tractor, or chainsaw off in the distance, or maybe the south neighbor chasing a lost steer back into his pasture. Those are the exception. Most of the times when we go up to the "Thinking Spot" it's just us and nature.

I'll blog more about our outing over the next few days.


Friday, August 04, 2006


The early cool weather crops (lettuce, peas, broccoli) have been harvested and cleared out of the garden. Now we're into the hot weather crops. Above are, clockwise from top center: Amish Paste tomato, cayenne peppers, yellow crookneck squash, orange habanero pepper, and some jalapeno peppers.

On the towel beside the bowl is an Anaheim pepper. I picked it before it reached maturity because a rain storm blew the pepper plant over and I thought the plant had a better chance of recovering if it didn't have to put energy into growing fruit. The jury is still out on that poor plant.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with all these different peppers - I also am growing bell, italian, and serrano - but I wanted to try some different kinds this year and see what we like.


Thursday, August 03, 2006

Virgin Tiger Moth

In the morning we open up the doors and let in the cool air before everything gets stifling. This morning, this beautiful Virgin Tiger Moth was on our door waiting to greet us. He was folded up so the orange part of his wings didn't show. I poked him to get him to fly away (outside the house rather than in through the doorway once I'd opened it - no screen doors here) and instead of flying off he spread his wings and showed off his glorious self. He may be a she, I don't know.

My husband put him on a sheet of printer paper and took his portrait. We thought he was close to death because he didn't mind being scooted onto the paper but after his photo session he flew away. Perhaps he was just sleepy in the daylight.


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Chicken Run

Our chickens have a nice outdoor run attached to their house now. The previous owners had built a run there with a handy little chicken-sized door for access from the chicken house but the fencing was rusted and broken, and the wooden posts supporting it had rotted. So we tore that down and built a new run. This one is made of 2"x4" welded wire and T-posts, and has a "roof" in addition to walls. We built one side 4' high and the other side about 20" high. The thinking is that the slanted "roof" will shed leaves (and raccoons?) better than a flat roof. We have lots of predators here and although the chickens are locked up in the coop at night when most predators are out, we wanted a secure place where we could put them if we're going to be away for the day.

The chicken shed attached to the run is a homely thing, made mostly of slab wood and cardboard (to block the wind in the winter). It also has a nice assortment of corrugated metal and blue tarp tacked attractively here and there. We inherited it when we bought Palazzo Rospo. It has a pretty decent layout and tons of character. I like it.

The chickens are 13 weeks old now and won't be given freedom to roam Palazzo Rospo for another month or so. I was advised that if they had big chickens to teach them how to hide from hawks or stray dogs that they could be let out when they were pretty young. But because we got these as day old chicks, they will have to figure everything out on their own. Thus, I was told, it is smarter to wait until they're about 4 months old. That's when they'll be fully feathered and able to fly a little in an emergency.

It's surprisingly difficult to get a decent photo of busy chickens. They're an attractive bunch, I think. The roos are beginning to get shiny green tail feathers. The hens have really pretty pheasant-like feathers. They're really friendly and curious, and come up to talk to me when I feed them. They'll let me pet their breasts but if I try to pet their backs they scuttle away. I think it bothers them when they can't keep an eye on what I'm doing. The roosters are starting to make weird cracked goose-honk sounds. Crowing practice with an adolescent voice :)


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