Indigo Bunting, Skunk, and Garden Update

Indigo Bunting, Skunk, and Garden Update

We enjoy the garden this time of year, but also like to venture out in the many natural areas near where we live.

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Dan got a picture of a male indigo bunting singing in a tree at Lake Katherine last Saturday morning.

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The dragonflies are active this time of year.  This might be a blue darner.  I am seeing fireflies at night in the garden now, too.

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This monarch was at Lake Katherine on the thistle plants last week.  I may have seen one Monarch in our yard this year, but that is about all.  My zinnias are just about to start blooming, so that will attract them.

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I am going to sneak in this very blurry picture of an eastern bluebird that we saw in the Palos forest preserve yesterday.  The mosquitoes were after us when I was trying to take this picture, so that is my excuse for the poor picture!

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On our walk yesterday we passed this stump with interesting fungi.  I don’t know if you can see the hole in the log just below the top fungi, which looks like a nice home for some critter.

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Back in our yard, the monarda, bee balm, that I planted two or three years ago finally bloomed for the first time.  We have it growing in our tall grass area.

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One day this week I was working at my desk and looked out of the window to see something black and white that caught my eye.  We had left the back gate open and the skunk must have come in, snooped around for a minute, but then went back out the gate, which we then closed.

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Here is a closer look at one of the marigolds that was behind the skunk in the picture.

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A peek into my garden where things are getting going.  The cucumber is just starting to take off on the right.  Behind that I just planted two little tomato plants that my Arab neighbor lady gave me.  I don’t really need more tomatoes, but I am curious to see how they will do and I seem to have room right now for them.

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I took this picture of the zucchini plant about a week ago.  Since then it rained a little and there were a few flowers and the first small zucchini is coming along. Get ready for zucchini!

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We have been picking and eating a lot of raspberries in the garden this week.  Dan and I have each had a couple of good handfuls a day.  I throw in some mulberries and service berries into my morning oatmeal, too.

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There were quite a few blueberries on the Duke blueberry bush, but it seems to take forever for them to turn blue.  I think this bush is dying.  Our soil is not acidic and this bush does not really get enough sun.  But it has made a great effort to produce this year.

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Pink hydrangea.

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This morning we went to the McGinnis slough in the forest preserve in Palos Park.  As we were looking at the great blue herons and egrets we noticed a deer walking in the slough.  It seemed to be eating lily pads.

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Its ears were perked up and it looked our way a long time as we looked at it.

Rain:  As I was writing this post we just had a nice rain shower.  It was just over a tenth of an inch, so not a lot, but even that should help everything in the garden, as it has been a bit dry recently.  It cooled the temperature down, too.

Cucumbers, Butterflies and Mosquitoes

Cucumbers, Butterflies and Mosquitoes

It is harvest time in the garden.  I have made spaghetti sauce twice with all the tomatoes.  We had a zucchini dish last night.  I can see a lot of peppers that I need to do something with.  I have picked buckets of beans.  The refrigerator has been stuffed with cucumbers!

img_5293Here are 30 cucumbers that were being stored in the fridge.  Some did not last and I threw them out but we have eaten most of them.

img_5421Every evening after work I have gone out to the garden to harvest for the day.  Recently it has mostly been buckets of pole beans.

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We set up a structure in the spring and the bean vines have completely covered it now.  I have to harvest when it is sunny or the mosquitoes eat me alive.  I have learned to wear long sleeves.

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The peppers are ripening.

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Clearwing moth.  In my last post I showed a picture of a tomato hornworm.  Clearwing moths develop out of hornworms.  When they are flying they look a bit like a hummingbirds as they sip nectar.

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A pair of goldfinches were harvesting seeds from the cone flowers in our yard.

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Here is a shot from the tomato patch and the zinnias back toward the house.

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Today three monarch butterflies spent the afternoon in the zinnias.  I caught two of them in this picture.  I have seen two monarchs on the zinnias every day all week.

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Monarch on orange zinnia.  On the left a little skipper was sipping on the white zinnia.

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The sedum is starting to turn pink now and here a little skipper is enjoying the delicate flowers.

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Over the Labor Day weekend I visited Minnesota.  Here my 91-year-old Uncle Bob is feeding corn to his hens.  He also has bee hives, several cows and calves, and a vegetable and flower garden.

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The Chippewa River near Eau Claire.  I took a little break here on my drive back to Chicago.  On my trip I also stopped by the Rum River, Mississippi River, Wisconsin River and had a short stop at Mirror Lake State Park.

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A few weeks ago I was walking around Lake Katherine and I met an older man carrying one of these flowers.  I said to him, “You have some purple loosestrife.”  He thought he had some lavender that he was getting to bring to the lady next door who has trouble sleeping.  He had heard that if you put some under your pillow you sleep better.  I explained that loosestrife is an invasive plant so it is fine to pick it, since we don’t want it around the lake.  He was disappointed that he could not find lavender at Lake Katherine.  In general it is too humid in Chicago for lavender. We had a short discussion about invasive plants.

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Before I met this man I had just taken a picture of the berries that were ripening on the buckthorn bushes that have completely invaded the understory around the lake.  When I mentioned buckthorn, he said he had heard of them.  He pulled a very small plastic bag out of his pocket and said it was buckthorn bark.  He had ordered it online, because it is supposed to give you help in legal issues and his neighbor had some legal issues.  Someone is making some money off this invasive plant!  This man had no idea that there was buckthorn bark all around him.  Maybe if Lake Katherine finishes up some of its other restoration projects they will be able to tackle getting rid of some of the buckthorn and replacing it with native shrubs.

I Spy In July

I Spy In July

It is full summer now.  After hot dry days we had plenty of rain this past week and all is growing well.

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Male downy woodpecker on yucca plant.  Each year I wait to see it the woodpeckers will come to attack the yucca plant seed pods outside my front window.  Moth larvae grow up inside the seed pods.  It did not look like the woodpecker was very successful on this attempt, but wait a few days and they should soften up…

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A few weeks ago I just got a glimpse of this cedar waxwing.  It was the end of the mulberries ripening, so I think that was what brought it to our yard.

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Black-eyed Susans with miscanthus ‘morning light’ and Russian sage.

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This was taken in early morning light and shows what these flowers looks like from the patio where I eat my oatmeal.

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Orange butterfly weed

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Swamp milkweed, grown from a seed packet labeled ‘red milkweed.’  I am still waiting for monarchs, though there are plenty of red admiral butterflies around.

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North flower bed with joe pye weed, liatris and echinacea – purple coneflowers.  The messy meadow is on the left and kale in the foreground.

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Laundry usually dries quickly these days.

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Zucchini still in its somewhat tidy state.  The marigolds have been cheerful this year.

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We have been able to keep up with the zucchini by picking it small.

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Cucumber vines grow out in all directions.  We have a lot of cucumbers, though, and my refrigerator is starting to get full!

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Invasive viburnum leaf beetles mating.  We removed the raspberry tart viburnum  and the blue muffin viburnum bushes, that were both so beautiful.  It looks like next year we will be getting rid of the Chicago lustre viburnum bushes as well.  We don’t have the energy to fight these beetles year after year, so we will start over with other plants.

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Sunday soup.  Sometimes we put a little too much in the pot!

Vegetable Flowers

Vegetable Flowers

The raspberries are finished now, though all kinds of birds are wild about the remaining mulberries in the big tree in the easement.  Now is the time for summer vegetables.  Last weekend I took these vegetable flower pictures.

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Cucumber flower.  The first cucumber is a little small yet.  It has been dry, so I will probably put the drip hose on tomorrow for a few hours.

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Zucchini flower.

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Eggplant flower.

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This is the first year I have grown white eggplants.

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Tomato flower.  Green tomatoes are ripening, but I have eaten a couple of sweet cherry tomatoes.

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Wax bean flower.  I have been picking yellow wax beans every day and cooking them up.

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The French pole beans are climbing the poles and string lattice, and they have been flowering, but I have not seen the thin green beans yet.  Soon!

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Kale planted last year is flowering now.  I just keep breaking off these flower stems to keep the plant producing leaves.  On the right is wild kale that it tender and easy to use.  In the back left is curly kale.

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There are a lot of pepper flowers now.

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Dill in bloom.

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Cone flowers.  The birds, bees, and butterflies need food, too.

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Joe Pye Weed

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Liatris spicata blazing star

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Great blue heron at Lake Katherine, where we often walk on Saturdays.  There are a lot of fish in this lake, so happy hunting.

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Another shot of the heron and lily pads.

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The little house wren thinks he is king of the yard.  He has been busy bringing home lunch.  I saw glimpses of a cedar waxwing and an oriole in the yard this week.

Rabbit Story:  A while ago we were excited that we chsed a baby rabbit out of the yard.  A larger rabbit somehow got in for a visit sometimes, but politely went out the gate when we opened it.  Then about a week ago Dan discovered five baby rabbits in our meadow!  Our neighbor helped us chase them out of our yard.  He was hoping they would come and live under his deck.  Every now and then we find a little bunny in the yard, so it is non-stop, but so far the damage has been manageable…  We just have such a cozy habitat for insects, birds, and even mammals.  The brave chipmunk ran by me few times as I read outside this afternoon.

Sedum, Skippers and Plums

The cool days and rain this past week have greened up the grass again.  Many plants are dying out in the garden, but some plants are at their peak or will be getting going soon.

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Silver-spotted skipper on sedum.  I noticed that last September I had a picture of a silver-spotted skipper on sedum as well.  One of the host plants for this butterfly is false indigo, which I have planted close by.

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There have been quite a few of these very small skippers around the yard this week.  The proboscis is the long sucking mouthpart that drinks the nectar.

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Sedum in dappled light.  I don’t know if you can see all the flies, bees, wasps, etc. that are hanging out on this plant.  In the background on the left are the two American plum trees and in the center are the yew bushes.

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I remembered to check on the American plums and found a number of ripe ones and many on the ground.  I tasted one that was between red and purple and was no longer hard.  The skin was too tart to eat, but the flesh inside was sweet!  I picked a dozen and brought them in to see if I could keep them from just falling on the ground.  I picked a few up off the ground, too, that seemed fine.  It would be a lot of trouble to make anything from them, but eating a few a day is fun!

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Red berries for the birds on the Hicksii yew bushes.  They won’t last long.  The viburnum bushes are heavy with purple fruit and I am waiting for the day the birds start feasting.

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Pink zinnia.  The annual Monarch Festival is at Lake Katherine today, and at the end of the day I think the monarchs are released.  I am hoping a few will wander to my neighborhood and take an interest in the zinnias.

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One lone chamomile flower.

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Moss roses re-blooming this year in an old planter, with no help from me.

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Still thankful for cucumbers.  This type is “Marketmore,” and is very dependable and tasty for my salads.

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One of three large collard patches.  6 – 10 leaves head into our weekly pot of soup.  We have a lot of cabbage moths in the yard!

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How many house sparrows can hang out at the bird bath at the same time?  The bird bath has been generally quiet these days, but once in a while there is a party.

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Grasshopper on pineapple sage.  It looks like the leaf below has been chewed on by something.  The pineapple sage will start blooming with bright red tubular flowers, maybe in a few weeks, and will be visited by the hummingbirds.  It was cool at noon today and I just heard one cricket trying to make a few noises.  Now at 4 pm it has warmed up and the full summer chorus of grasshoppers, crickets, cicadas, and other noise makers are going at it.  We expect hot summer weather this week!

Vacation:  We took a long weekend trip to central Indiana over labor day and had a great time at Shades State Park in Indiana.  I have been too busy to post anything from that trip, but here are a few bird pictures that we saw in other places on our trip.

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We visited Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area, where tens of thousands of migrating sandhill cranes stop during migration in spring and fall.  Through our zoom lens from the observation deck we saw two sandhill cranes in the shade and later another flew out of the trees.  We probably won’t get back here to see the spectacle in the fall, but we could imagine these muddy fields filling with birds.

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Is this a killdeer?  It was in the same muddy field.  That is the best we could do with our zoom.  We need to get another camera as ours is having some troubles.

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Belted Kingfisher.  I think it was along Walnut Creek.

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Butterfly on thistle.

Summer Ecosystem

I am not sure what to name this post.  Everything is happening in the garden:  flowers, vegetables, birds, insects, and mammals, etc.  Here are a few pictures of what is happening.

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Cone flowers and Joe Pye Weed

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Close up of liatris, opened and closed flowers.  Favorites of bees.

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Zucchini blossom.  Getting ready for lots of zucchini.

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We have been eating a lot of bok choy recently.

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Maybe we will cook up this red cabbage next week…  This is the first cabbage I have successfully grown.

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This huge collard plant is ready to eat, but it will wait while we finish eating all the broccoli that is about to flower.  We have had so much broccoli this year.  There is a pepper on the left of the picture.  The peppers are ripening and I have started eating them.

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I planted cucumbers for pickles, but I am not exactly sure when to pick them.  I don’t seem to have time to pickle anything, but I am just happy to have cucumbers to eat.  I don’t have enough tomato cages so the cucumber vines are crawling all over everything!

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I always enjoy watching the black swallowtail caterpillars chewing the parsley.  This one reached the end of his branch.  Unfortunately the next day I could not find the two caterpillars here.  I can hope the big one made a chrysalis, but I think birds got them.  The chrysalis from a previous blog is still green and under the rhubarb.  I wonder if a butterfly will emerge.

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I counted 7 starlings in the bird bath and 3 on the ground waiting for their turn.  With that kind of riot I need to change the bird bath water twice a day!  Even the robin in charge of the yard does not seem to want to stand up to the starlings.  The parsley plant above is just to the left of the bird bath and the starlings were poking through it today.

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I think this is a starling that is molting into its adult feathers.  If I am wrong let me know.

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I think this is a Baltimore Oriole.  I was sitting at my desk and noticed it through my screen window in the viburnum bush.  Then it went to the hostas and pulled down the hosta flowers to find bugs.  There were two birds that looked the same color, so it could have been two females or two juvenile orioles.  These two birds were under my window for about ten minutes while the robin stood by and watched.

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Hickory tree.  Two winters ago we had snow on the ground for many months so the squirrel never had a chance to find all the hickory nuts it had buried.  Last summer we had hickories coming up all over the yard.  This one came up in a location good for a tree, so we have been watching it grow.  This is the second year.  We mowed down the tall meadow grass that was around it.  We are hoping that it is a shagbark hickory.  We found a shagbark hickory down the street, but there are other kinds of hickories around also, so we will see.

Sightings:  This week there was a baby bunny running around the yard and hiding under the rhubarb.  I did not see it today… Then today we took a walk be the water reclamation lake and there was a coyote.  It was about 5:30 pm.  The coyote was trying to cross the bridge toward us.  Most of us got off the bridge, but one older couple stayed on the bridge looking at the ducks.  The coyote finally managed to run past the couple and into the woods.  It was skinny.  It did not look like it had eaten a duck recently.

Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Zucchini, and more

All of a sudden I am seeing red show up in the garden and the tomatoes are coming.  It is time for the summer vegetables and they are coming quickly.

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Marketmore cucumbers.  The vine went through the fence and we have cucumbers hanging in the easement.  Phil and I are each eating about one a day.  We peel the skin and remove the seeds and it is a refreshing summer food, whether in a salad or just as a snack.

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This tomato is called “Amish Paste.”  I expected a smaller plum tomato like I see in the supermarket, but all the tomatoes are huge in my garden, it seems.  I also planted “gold medal” tomatoes that each weigh a lot and are yellow.  It looks like I will be making spaghetti sauce next weekend.

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“Black beauty” zucchini flower.  There are three bugs taking refuge here, a bee, possibly a cucumber beetle, and a really small bug of some sort.  I had two zucchini that got really huge before I saw them and I just threw those in the compost pile.  Otherwise we are trying to catch up on eating the zucchini.  Now that we have finished eating all the cauliflower we can probably get to these.  There are also a lot of green and wax beans in the fridge.  I have given some away and put bunches of them in cauliflower soup.

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Speaking of cauliflower, I was finally cutting back the old cauliflower leaves and putting them in the compost.  I noticed that beside most of these plants there are new cauliflower plants coming up from the roots next to the mother plant.  I am not sure if I will get cauliflowers out of these, but may get some nice greens to use.

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The brussel sprouts are coming along well.  The little sprouts are forming along the stalk.  We will see if the little tomato cage will be able to hold the weight.

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Jimmy Nardello sweet peppers.  I love these!  These long peppers turn bright red and are a great snack.  I ate several last week.  I ordered my peppers and tomatoes as transplants from Seed Savers.  I like the variety they have a little more than what I get locally, though I sometime end up with local transplants, too.

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It looks like I have a few “Ichiban” eggplants to throw into some recipe.  I have another eggplant, an American variety, that seems to be producing its first fruit now.

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This interesting picture is not from a visiting cat or dog.  They are mushrooms on the sight of our former silver maple tree.  Mushrooms are fungi and this is the above ground representation, maybe like a flower or fruit.  I am happy to have mushrooms in the yard and I think it is a good sign of life in the soil.

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Viburnum dentatum ‘Christom’ blue muffin berries are ripening for the birds.  Keeping the birds fed is part of the plan in having an ecosystem full of biodiversity, that works without pesticides or herbicides.

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While cleaning up this weekend I came across this caterpillar which I think might be a silver spotted skipper caterpillar.  When I first saw it I thought it was a cabbage moth caterpillar.  But when I looked at the picture of the butterfly it looked like a butterfly I had taken a picture of earlier this past week that I could not identify.

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Silver spotted skipper butterfly on agastache ‘blue fortune’ giant hyssop.

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The zinnias have been attracting a lot of wildlife this week.  This very bedraggled swallowtail butterfly has been visiting all week.  I know it is the same one because it is missing a good part of its right wing.  I read this week that butterflies only live 8 – 10 days.  Then another website said that swallowtails live about a month in the summer. In about five minutes yesterday afternoon I saw four different kinds of butterflies in the yard.  I can’t get pictures of all of them and they are all so different.

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The bees also love the zinnias.

Empty birdbath:  The birdbath has been completely empty this week.  No robins, sparrow, finches, starlings, or any other birds visited it, as far a I noticed.  I changed the water several times.  I seem to remember something like this happening last August.  Where have all these birds gone?  I saw a few sparrow gather on the fence yesterday, but then they flew off.  Is there something else exciting happening?  Is it pesticides?  However I do have two kinds of birds visiting in the yard.  The cardinal couple have been around all week making clicking noises in the bushes on the northwest side of the yard.  The goldfinches are also busy working on the zinnias and other flowers they can pick apart for seeds.  The mulberry tree continues to attract birds, but they are far up in the branches.

Fall vegetable planting:  I got out today and planted several patches of lettuce and kale.  It is a little late, but hopefully we will get this plants going so we can have a nice late harvest before the snow falls. I would plant more, but the garden it full!

Snake:  Dan said he saw a little brown snake in the yard by the unmowed grass yesterday.  Glad to know they are still around!  If you made it this far in the blog – Thanks!