Friday, August 14, 2015

Garden Variety Bat Man

Greetings Wild Indigo readers! Its Friday and another weekend is upon us and another work week behind us.  But for avid gardeners like ourselves our work in the garden is never done! If you're like me you'd might as well have the Cannon Power Shot glued to your hoe since the best shots of nature are unexpectedly spontaneous.  Now I've been putting off for weeks my basil series namely due to the fact that there have been so many other pop up events and critters occupying blog space. This week's photos are no exception as we explore a "black and yellow" themed blog so on we go.

Enter exhibit A: spidy and baby.  Commonly known as Yellow Garden Spider, Argiope Aurantia are a distinctive "garden variety" arachnid as noted by their golden and black abdominal markings. The name means "gilded silver face" from which nature has provided not one, not two but eight eyes to meet their visual needs. This gal has her web cast between the fennel stems. There's a section in the middle of the web with a thick zig zag stitch (I doubt any sewing machine could stich one like it) called stabilimentum where she tends to hang out. Notice her young-in by her side. She encased a brown wasp with mercury man speed as baby takes the apprenticeship role, observing momma in action. (baby's notepad and pencil not photographed)

Ain't no itsy bitsy Argiope Aurantia. That's MRS to you young lady!

Admittedly this next photo is blurry but functional. I've been trying all summer long to get a shot of both the male and female Eastern Golden Finchs together but since he stood out against the flowers this photo was the easier of the two.  There seem to be two pairs of male-female golden finches enjoying the zinnia flowers both in the front and in the rear gardens.  They are territorial as one male chases after the other as well as his female mate from the flower beds.  They'll be heading to Mexico on their migratory vacation soon but we'll have those zinnias ready for next years buffet!

It's amazing how insects can take a licking and keep on ticking.  This poor yellow tailed swallow (minus the yellow tail) has sustained substantial damage yet it just fluttered amongst the zinnias like it owned the joint.

Enter exhibit B: Moon and Stars Heirloom Watermelon.  Now this is my first attempt at growing watermelon and oh what a beauty this one turned out to be! Before cutting it from the Mothervine I noticed another growing nearly adjacent to the large one and snapped a quick shot.  I particularly enjoy the yellow speckles distributed on both the leaves and fruit. 

After weighing this puppy on the digital scale I was pleasantly surprised to find it weighed a modest 17 smackers.  Not bad for my first watermelon. Oh but wait until you see the inside!

Lovely flesh you have there, daaarling!

What impressed me most about this luscious morsel wasn't just its delicious sweet flavor or the one-of-a-kind yellow interior, not even the refreshing juice dripping from my chin but .....

Before storming the castle

.... the seeds! See ... hardly any to speak of and if you look closely the seeds have a black tip so yes folks even the seeds were pure novelty specimens.

After storming the castle

I've never even seen a yellow watermelon let alone grown one so for me - and you're talking to a girl who can't for the LIFE of her grow a freakin tomato  - this was the summer's Celtic Garden First Prize blue ribbon trophy, hands down.

That's it for this weeks installment.  Catch me at the City Market this weekend for some soaps and sundries.

And as always may happiness be like a ray of sunshine in your mind, body and soul. : )

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Nectar of the Gods

Greetings Wild Indigo readers! Last week was pretty crazy so in lieu of the missing post last week my focus this week will be heavy on info with pictures as the highlight. August has arrived and with it comes some lovely flowers which have just bloomed in the Celtic Gardens.  Now hard core gardeners are always keeping their eyes peeled for curious and unusual botanical additions.  Most of the time road trips to Big Bloomers in Sanford are in order for such pleasantries. But for this gardener all I have to do is periodically check in down at the City Market on Saturdays to see what exotic offerings LITFM has for sale. This week's post will focus on the recently purchased Red Asclepias Tuberosa. That's right folks, I said RED!

Asclepias is the genus name for all milkweeds and is derived from the ancient Greek physician Aesculapius and refers to the medicinal properties of the roots. Asclepias extract is an ingredient in medicines used to treat asthma, dyspepsia, and coughs. American Indians used cooked milkweed for food and medicine. Unopened flowers, immature seed pods, and young shoots may be boiled in several changes of salted water. When served with butter, they resemble asparagus.

Milkweed, in particular the orange flowered species, tends to be a native local variety.  Common milkweed was also called wild cotton, Virginia silk, and silkweed. These old names elude to the many utilitarian uses people have discovered for the fluffy contents of the seed pods. The early settlers stuffed mattresses and pillows with it and during World Wars I and II the downy filling went into life preservers and flight jackets. Also known as Butterfly weed and chigger plant, milkweed is a perennial in this locality and is considered to be a wildflower as well. 

If you ever saw photos of the seed pods you can well understand why "weed" is part of its name for its silky hairs could carry the attached seeds for miles on a windy day. The process of pollination to grow these seeds is pretty tricky. According to the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, milkweed flowers are hermaphroditic (they have male and female parts) but they require cross-pollination by insects to form seeds.  Enter the pollinators into the equation. The sweet nectar of the Gods from the flowers attracts bees, wasps and flying insects. They enter the crown of the flower and walk along the petals toward the food source. Their feet slip between the petals into a narrow opening where pollinia are hidden. Pollinium are horseshoe shaped with a tiny pollen sack attached to each end and a u-shaped handle in between. (kinda reminds me of a Michael Kors handbag but whatever!) The insect hooks its leg onto the handle thereby dislodging the pollinium and carries it to another flower. When it lands the insect again slips its feet into the narrow opening, but this time when it pulls its leg free the pollinium comes loose and sticks onto the stigma of the female flower part. Viola! Pollination achieved! One to five flowers from each umbel become fertilized and produce a seed follicle. This fleshy and pale green pod is covered with soft-pointed bumps. The follicles grow to 5 inches long and 1½ inch (4 cm) wide, drying and turning brown when the seeds mature in late summer and fall. Then the pod splits lengthwise, releasing the flat brown seeds. Each seed has a tuft of silky hair (pappus) attached and is easily carried aloft by the wind. And now, thanks to the fine people at Penn State for their information, we come full circle.

Where O Where are the dubious Monarch Butterflies? Seriously, it's been years since I've laid eyes on a single one.  Years ago while visiting Maui, Monarch butterflies were strikingly plentiful, adding to the mystic of the islands. But now, at least here in Fayetteville, to me they are just a fond memory. The dwindling  Monarch Butterfly population may be due in part to modern American farming practices, namely the use of glyphosate herbicides. (BTW: ordinary household Roundup Weed Killer contains this ingredient) This broad based weed killer used especially in corn fields where milkweed is a common accompaniment effectively kills weeds in the field to include the Monarch's preferred habitat, milkweed.  Now as stated earlier, milkweed can make a pest of itself in a farmer's field. But said weed control has drastically cut down the habitat of these beautiful insects.

The King of the Butterfly needs a surge in plants which support their natural habitat to encourage their migration. Informative sites like this one give great tips to help restore monarch habitation and encourage Monarch migration back to its hay day. And be sure that you don't mistake this caterpillar for a pest! : )

Now getting back to the cautionary sides of growing common milkweed plants. When any part of the plant is broken a sticky white sap oozes from the wound. This sap can cause a red itchy rash and if it gets into the eye can cause significant cornea inflammation so its best to wear gloves during handling and pruning while being mindful to keep the gloves away from your face. If some suspected sap gets on your hands then promptly wash them with soapy water. Common milkweed (Asclepias Syriaca) contains cardenolide which is chemical steroid and a cardiac arrester. Concentrations of this chemical vary from one milkweed species to another. But Monarchs use this chemical to their advantage for as they consume milkweed leaves this chemical builds up in their bodies and makes them toxic to predators. So if a bird ate a Monarch butterfly or caterpillar it would throw up. How brilliant!! But considering its usefulness the Celtic Garden is quite pleased to call this plant a staple despite its potential danger but more on that in a minute.

So let's unveil the goods, shall we? I love these star-shaped buds and look at that gorgeous red color!

 They're just starting to open up. What a treat!

The plant started from a single stem and is now branching out at the sides.  This plant has a long tap root so when looking for the perfect spot be absolutely sure, for uprooting and moving it to another spot could kill the plant.

That winds up this weeks post. I hope you enjoyed reading through it and tapping into all of the provided links it as much as I enjoyed researching this post. Stay tuned for more wild and wooly Celtic Garden adventures as we begin winding up for our Fall garden while caring for Summer's harvest.

And as always, may happiness be a ray of sunshine in your mind, body and soul.  ; )