More Fall Color

It has been a cool month and we have been enjoying the fall colors this past week or so.

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I think this is the prettiest the chinquapin oak has been in the fall.  Usually the leaves are an orange brown color that is not too special, but this year the color was a little more pink/orange.  Of course, it is hard to capture in a photo.

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Carpinus caroliniana – American hornbeam.  The leaves are pinkest where they get the most sunlight.  There are lilacs on either side.  I like the lilacs, but I am tempted to get rid of the one on the right as this tree grows, to give it plenty of room.

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Zooming in from the upstairs window I was able to capture the orange/pink color a little better.

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We planted two hornbeams at the same time.  They are on either side of the lilac.  They came from Possibility Place, where we have gotten the majority of our native trees and shrubs.  I am beginning to wonder if the tree to the right of the green lilac is not really carpinus, but is ostrya, because the leaves never turn pink and always stay very yellow.  But I am not sure yet, and will need to keep researching.  The catkins and fruit do not appear to be the same on these two trees.

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Zooming in on the right side of the picture above, there is the yellow “hornbeam” on the left, the fothergilla turning bright colors in the front, and the very yellow spicebush on the right.

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The asters were some of the last flowers to bloom in the garden.

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I was surprised to see this moth still flying around in early November.  The coral mums are great places for the last pollinators.

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Saturday we took a walk on country lane in the Palos forest preserve.  The sun came out to brighten the orange leaves!

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Today we took another walk in the forest preserves.  The green leaves of the invasive bush honeysuckle really stand out, when most other leaves have fallen.  After all our years of hiking here we were amazed to walk for over an hour on a trail that was completely new to us in this area.  The thing is, some of these trails are too buggy in the heat of the summer, so this was a great day to hike here.  Part of the trail was very rugged, so it was good that it was not too muddy or too icy to go up and down the hills and through stream beds.

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A toad crossed the path in front of us.  The path was between a pond and the forest.  Where would the toad go this time of year?  It was facing away from the pond and moving slowly in the cold weather…

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Not sure of the name of this lake in the forest preserve, but I think it is the first time we have walked past it!  We did not see many waterfowl on this gray day.

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Back at home after our walk it was time to mulch up the fallen oak leaves and build up the compost pile, which you can see in the back right hand corner of the picture.  Last week we went and got some great dark colored composted manure from the nearby horse stables.  In the picture it looks like dark soil in the garden beds.  We are still eating the kale, collards and brussel sprouts from our garden.

Sandhill Cranes:  While working on the compost pile I could hear the sandhill cranes calling and looked up to see four v-shaped groups overhead flying toward those corn fields in Indiana.  Maybe there were 40 – 50.  Love it!

September Snapshots

It has been a really busy month for me.  This is the first time I am posting something for about 5 weeks, so I had a lot of pictures I took to choose from.  Here are a few pictures of what is happening now in the garden and has happened this past month.

IMG_3511Asters and goldenrod – Solidago rugosa ‘fireworks.’  I am not sure of the type of aster I have.  They are both great for late pollinators.

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This bumblebee was barely moving on the sedum on a cool morning.

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The painted lady butterfly was hanging around the giant zinnias yesterday and not too bothered by me.

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I enjoy looking at the zinnias from my office window during the day and watching the butterflies come to visit.

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This cucumber got away from me because if was hiding underneath the zinnias.  I picked a nice green, juicy cucumber last week, but not sure if I will get any more this year.  It will be hot tomorrow, so maybe!

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Here is a shot of part of the vegetable garden.  The cherry tomato quantities have been massive.  I have been getting about one zucchini per week recently.  But the peppers are really taking off now.  There are a lot of them hanging on the pepper plants.  Dan is working on the kale plants for his smoothies.  The collards are all chewed up by the cabbage worms, but still work well in soups.  I threw some swiss chard in the soup today along with oregano and parsley.

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Yesterday’s pick of cherry tomatoes.  These have been really sweet and tasty!  Great for my daily salads.

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‘Big Bertha Bell’ is the variety of pepper.  I guess it could turn red if it stays on the plant that long.


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The old raspberry canes have been cut down and the new ones tied to the fence to get ready for winter and next summer’s fruit.

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Earlier in the month it was acorn time on the chinquapin oak tree.  The squirrels, chipmunks and blue jays were so active.   Within a week or so there was not an acorn to be found on the tree or the ground.  I’m glad our yard feeds the wild creatures.

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Chipmunks are so fun to watch.

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American goldfinch on purple coneflower a few weeks ago, getting some lunch.  Just this week I was looking out the office window and saw a bright yellow goldfinch on a coneflower.  Such a cheery sight!

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The pineapple sage finally started blooming this week.  Will any hummingbirds find this late-blooming tubular flower?

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Pink turtlehead flower.  The bumblebees love to fly in and out of each individual flower.  Can you see the grasshopper on the right side of the picture? I am still looking for a praying mantis, but have not seen one this year.

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It has not been a good year for alyssum in my garden this year.  I was pleased to see a few little clumps get going.

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Dan and I took a wonderful short trip to Wisconsin and Northern Illinois before Labor Day.  This picture, taken at Illinois Beach State Park, reminds me of all the wonderful natural places we visited on sunny, warm days.  Cooler days are coming and they will have their own pleasures to offer.

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Recently, on a walk in the forest preserve, Dan took this picture of an eastern bluebird.  There are not so many around, so really fun to see.  It is migration time, so I am keeping my eyes open for different birds in the backyard and woods.

Woodpeckers and White-Breasted Nuthatches

The Downy woodpeckers have become frequent visitors, and I am coming to recognize their little calls from the chinquapin oak tree as I sit in my office.

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The suet tempted in this male downy woodpecker, who is being observed by the female downy and a white-breasted nuthatch.

IMG_1518The red-bellied woodpecker is higher in the bird feeder dominance hierarchy and the downy waits its turn.

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The red-bellied woodpecker is fluffed up in the cold weather with a little suet on her beak.  I think this is a female.

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The male red-bellied woodpecker has an eye on the downy woodpecker, who is waiting him out further up the tree.

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The downy woodpeckers were pecking on the ice and getting a drink in the frozen birdbath.

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Male and female downy woodpeckers.

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A close up of the male downy woodpecker.

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White-breasted nuthatches are cute and fun to watch as they scamper down the tree.

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Another shot of the nuthatch, who is lower than the downy in the bird feeder dominance hierarchy, so watches and waits for its turn.  I love the beautiful color combinations of black, gray and white on these birds with their long, pointy beaks.

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When the snow melted the squirrels found nuts in the ground to munch on, but soon discovered the suet.

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The squirrel managed to get the suet feeder open and run away with a chunk of suet a few times, so right now we have the feeder empty.

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Dan decided to throw a few snowballs at the squirrel!

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White snow covers the branches and contrasts with the red cyclamen.  Today there is no snow on the ground, but the weather predicts snow for tomorrow morning.

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If you are longing for spring, here is a blurry shot of the snow crocuses from two weeks ago, around January 21st.

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I just finished reading and really enjoyed 438 Days: An extraordinary true story of survival at sea, by Jonathan Franklin.  Winter evenings are nice for cozy reading!

Other fascinating current reading:  The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt.

 

Autumn Wanderings

When I get a chance I get out in the forest preserves to enjoy the autumn days.  Even with the snow on Friday the oak leaves are still hanging on.  Here are a few shots from the past two weeks.

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Reflections in the pond at the Little Red Schoolhouse.

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Turning to face the other way I could see an oak savanna with a stately, magnificent oak.  I love it when I see that young oak trees have been planted to replace many of the ancient oaks around us.

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I stopped to read an old sign by the trail about hibernation.

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My walk eventually lead me by the original little red schoolhouse.  It has now been replaced by a beautiful new building that better meets the needs of nature field trips.  In the background you can see several doomed roofs of cages that house birds.  Maybe these are birds that have been rehabilitated or cannot survive in the wild for some reason.

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There were a lot of little kids out enjoying the day.  This little girl climbed the fence to get a glimpse of the hawk in the cage.

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Red-tailed hawk, the most common hawk in our area.

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The orange serviceberry leaves were so pretty!

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The big surprise was the working phone booth.  The sign inside says that the phone actually works and to dial 911 if needed.

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I flushed out a lot of little birds when I walked down this prairie trail.

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Everywhere the oaks were turning orange, yellow and red.

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A late dragonfly was enjoying a warm rock.  I slowly brought my finder under the dragonfly’s head.  It sat on my finger for a while, but flew away before I got a picture.

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Two weeks ago Dan and I walked in the Willow Springs forest preserve for the first time.  We keep finding trails that are new for us.

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This looks like a den that would provide shelter for some animal….

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On November 1st I parked by Arrowhead Lake in the forest perverse south of us. It was a gray day, but the walk turned out to be beautiful anyway.

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I crossed Harlem Avenue to explore a new path I had not tried before.

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The woods were very quite except for the woodpeckers.

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Downy woodpecker

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The colors caught my attention as I walked out.  Maybe you had to be there….

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Back in our yard the aphids, or something, completely covered the kale plants.  I did see a few lady bugs around.  Sometimes the kale makes it through the winter and sometimes it doesn’t.  In any case I look forward to a swarm of lady bugs and other predators in the spring.

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On a more cheery note, the pineapple sage was blooming on November 1st.  I never saw any hummingbirds on it this year, as it did not start blooming until October.  We had a hard frost this week, though, and it’s days are over…

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It snowed some on Friday, for the first time this year, and stuck for a few hours. The chinquapin oak is just changing color this week and still has its leaves.  The crab apple lost most of its leaves back in June with some disease, so I need to try to get rid of those diseased leaves from under the tree.

Compost leaf pile:  We dug out some of the compost from the bottom of the pile, and started a new leaf pile yesterday.  We used the mower to mulch the leaves on the lawn and captured them in the mower bag that we carried to the leaf pile.  Dan even went out in the easement and mowed up those leaves, too, to make the leaf pile about three and a half feet high.  When the leaves are mixed with grass clippings they get hot pretty quickly.  We will do this the next few weekends and try to get the pile as large as possible before winter.  Then I can put my kitchen scraps in the pile until it is too frozen to get them in!

Acorns, Spiders and More

The acorns on our chinquapin oak tree are ripe and it is entertaining to watch the wildlife go for this food source.  And one foggy morning this week we noticed spiders everywhere, so I started looking around to capture a few pictures of them.

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Chinquapin oak acorn.  There are a few caps on the ground but the acorns are already mostly eaten from this tree.

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The extremely speedy chipmunk can reach to the edge of the branches for the hard to get acorns.

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Chipmunk stuffing his cheeks with acorns.

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The squirrels are climbing the oak for acorns, too.

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A lot of the time both the squirrels and the chipmunks are running around looking for any acorns that might have fallen to the ground and stopping for a snack.

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The blue jays arrive every morning and make a lot of noise.  Once I think there were six blue jays searching for acorns in the tree.

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The chipmunk dashes about and then freezes when he or she sees me.  Here it is hiding in a messy patch of zucchini.

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The chipmunk is trying to get from the zucchini on the right to a hole it dug in the middle of the lawn.

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Here is the chipmunk hole in the lawn…

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One weekend morning we saw the neighbor cat sit by this hole for a very long time.  I am not sure, but I think it finally gave up.

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Pulling back you can see what the garden looks like from the kitchen window on September 15th.  The grass is so dry.  No need to mow it.  We have not had much rain this summer and hardly any for weeks.  The blooming flowers are still buzzing with pollinators this time of year, though.

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Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod

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The wasps seem to be particularly attracted to the goldenrod.

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Bees are all over the sedum.

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The sedum gets a lot less sun as the oak tree grows, leaving a less exciting sedum display.  The drought may be having an effect, too, so I have not noticed as many butterflies visiting.  We have also had unseasonably cool weather this past month, though the heat is back this week.

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All those sedum leaves are a perfect place for hiding spiders, waiting to catch a fly lunch.  This week we noticed spiders everywhere in the garden.

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Just outside our front door a spider had tied up a nice meal package.

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An orb spider has been spinning her web below the clothes line every night just outside my office window.  In the morning the web is highlighted by the fog.

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And I have to remember to always give the kale leaves a good shake to get rid of lurking spiders before bringing the kale in for soup.  Otherwise the spiders are running around the kitchen sink….

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The bean pole structure has a colony of daddy longlegs spiders.  When I pick beans they move out of the way, so they are not too scary.  I have stopped picking beans for the year, though, and will just harvest the dried beans late in the autumn.

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I picked up a prairie dropseed ornamental grass at the farmers’ market and planted it where some of the strawberries have been dying off.  I hope it will get established before winter.  The nasturtiums look tired out by the drought.  Maybe I will water the vegetable garden tomorrow morning…

Bird Bath Visitors

Our bird bath is often shady now, as our chinquapin oak keeps getting bigger.  So it is sometimes harder to get the camera to focus on the birds instead of the sunny view in the background.  But these are a few of the birds we have seen in the past weeks.

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An American robin enjoys a peaceful, solitary moment to rest at the bird bath on a sunny day.

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It is not always so peaceful as there are a lot of robins and house sparrows in the neighborhood who are looking for the same thing.

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Here there are four or five robins in the bird bath and four waiting on the ground.

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It is the time of year for more blue jay visitors, as they inspect our acorns to see if they have become tasty food.

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Female northern cardinal in chinquapin oak tree.  The cardinals are not pushy, and I think they like it a little quieter when  they come to the bird bath.

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I have seen grackles in the yard a few times recently.  This one was very wary and furtive before taking a sip of water.

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A European starling joined the grackle.  The grackle is bigger, but starlings are bold birds.  The starling drank some water and jumped in to splash in the bath as the grackle watched.

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The robin deferred to the grackle, even though the robin is usually king of the castle.

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The goldfinches are often heard and seen in the yard this time of year.  They are seed eaters and especially like the cone flowers.

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This looks like a female American goldfinch.  This little bird spent a long time hopping around the edge of the bird bath cautiously.

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At one point the goldfinch removed a white feather that had been floating in the water.

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It finally jumped in and had a nice splash!

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I have been so happy to see beautiful cedar waxwings in the yard.  This one was cautious about the bird bath, also.

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Finally it made the plunge!

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Too cool!

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The hummingbird was visiting the lilies by the bird bath.  I wondered if it would stop for some water….

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But it rested on a lily flower.  A sparrow stopped at the bird bath and the hummingbird took off….

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A female northern flicker, in the woodpecker family, searches for ants or beetles near the bird bath.  She keeps looking around between foraging moments.

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The black-capped chickadee likes to preen itself on top of the laundry pole.

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A downy woodpecker came for a visit back in mid-June.

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This looked like a giant wasp or bee in the dill today.  I love providing habitat for native bees.

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Monarch on zinnia.

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Meanwhile I am picking yellow wax beans and green pole beans every day and trying to cook them to keep up.  I know this is a losing battle and might try to freeze some beans soon!

Summer Flowers Bring Pollinators

The information below was originally posted last weekend.

A lot of flowers are blooming in the garden now and they are looking pretty good because we have not had many thunderstorms to knock them over nor have we had drought. This is the time of year that you can hear the cicadas and crickets, and start seeing more butterflies and bees on the flowers.

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Monarch butterfly depositing eggs on swamp milkweed.

IMG_9611Swamp milkweed in bloom. I am watching for the Monarch caterpillar, but am not too hopeful as we have a lot of predators around, such as wasps, that hopefully keep a check on the cabbage moth worms

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Agastache ‘blue fortune’ giant hyssop’ in the front, with a visiting bee. The yellow flowers are Heliopsis helianthoides false sunflower ‘summer sun.’

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Black-eyed Susans are cheery in front of the ornamental grass Miscanthus ‘Morning Light.’ The Russian sage on the right is flowering a lavender color and the pink hydrangeas are having their best year.

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Close up of Black-Eyed Susans

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A view of the yard mid-summer. The chinquapin oak tree has tiny acorns on it and it keeps growing each year. The pole beans are climbing the bean structure and starting to produce. Vegetables and flowers are doing their thing around the yard.

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The coneflowers seem to have multiplied around the yard and I love it. Liatris spicata blazing star flowers are blooming in the background.

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Joe Pye weed and coneflowers in a pink part of the garden.

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I have not had time to investigate what insect is sitting on this coneflower. I can see its little claws and it has wings as well.

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A question mark butterfly sunning on the laundry rack.

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Closed wings on question mark butterfly.

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The first and only nasturtium flower in the garden so far this year. I planted two packets full of seeds, but some of the other plants are very small, probably due to lack of rain. I am too lazy to water this time of year….

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Pink flowers of the yellow wax bean plants.

IMG_9608Zinnias and dill. Both are great butterfly plants. The dill is a host plant for black swallowtail caterpillars and the zinnias attract butterflies, bees and goldfinches.