Zucchini, Tomatoes, Collards and Praying Mantis

Zucchini, Tomatoes, Collards and Praying Mantis

With an inch of rain recently we have had a break in the drought.  It is a beautiful October day and here is what I saw when I looked around the garden today.

IMG_0549

Male zucchini flower

IMG_0548

Female zucchini flower.  We have had quite a few zucchini flowers over the past months, but without rain few of them developed into zucchini that I bothered to pick.  Now we might get a few if the weather stays warm.  I enjoy these magnificent but short-lived flowers.

IMG_0542

I have been eating these yellow pear heirloom cherry tomatoes for a few months now.  The leaves of the plant are diseased, but I just keep getting enough cherry tomatoes to have a bunch in my salad each day.

IMG_0560

These are tomato plants that my Arab lady friend left on the patio in my watering can, so I don’t know what kind they are, but they are finally producing the first red tomatoes.  On Thursday I made some delicious ratatouille…

IMG_0567

We try to throw in 2 to 10 leaves of collards into recipes when we get a chance.  This plant near the lilac bush is looking healthy.

IMG_0543

In the vegetable garden the inner portion of the collard plants have been eaten by cabbage moths.  We have more collards than we can eat, so I don’t worry too much about it.

IMG_0534

Here come the brussel sprouts.  They have been pretty small, but I think the rain will help them get a bit bigger.

IMG_0554

Backing up, here is what the brussel sprout plant looks like.

IMG_0553

The pole beans are drying on the vines and will be shelled when I pull down the bean structure.

IMG_0538

I looked for bugs on the bean leaves and found a grasshopper.

IMG_0562

Parsley is one of the plants that look beautiful all the way into December.  I have not cooked much with it this year, but it makes a great ornamental plant.  It is an essential ingredient in my fabulous spaghetti sauce recipe.

IMG_0518

I finally saw my first black swallowtail caterpillar for the year on one of the parsley plants.  For me, parsley is a much better host plant than dill for these caterpillars.

IMG_0563.JPG

All the native and ornamental grasses have seed heads now.  This is miscanthus ‘morning light.’  I have been searching them the past months to see if I could see the first praying mantis.

IMG_0527

This morning I found a female praying mantis in a clump of miscanthus.  Her abdomen is very  large and I wondered if she was getting ready to deposit her egg sack or if she just ate a very large grass hopper that she is digesting.  I was trying to get a better shot and she moved further into the grass, so I am no longer able to find her.  I find paying mantis egg sacks in the grasses every spring when I am doing clean up and try to put the egg sacs in a place where the ants will not get at them.

IMG_0581

These little zinnias are finally blooming now.  They are called ‘summer solstice’ but seem to be best in the fall.  I plant them from seeds each year, and they are cute in the garden and attractive to pollinators.

IMG_0585

Just to the right in the alyssum I found a little skipper resting.  I almost pulled up all the alyssum during the drought because it just looked like seed heads, but the flowers have returned after the rain and it is buzzing with small pollinators.

IMG_0576.JPG

The coral mums are starting to bloom…

IMG_0507

Some migrating warblers have been passing through.  I think this is a palm warbler, as they seem to visit every year, but not sure I can tell from this picture.

IMG_0494

Then there is the usual bird bath ruckus to see how many starlings or sparrows can get in the bird bath at once!

Have a beautiful autumn day!

Bird Bath Visitors

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.

IMG_9910

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

IMG_9648

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.

IMG_9643

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

IMG_9900

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

IMG_9927

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.

IMG_9958

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

IMG_9968

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.

IMG_9982

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

IMG_0026

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

IMG_9988

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

IMG_0007

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

IMG_0021

It finally jumped in and had a nice splash!

IMG_0037

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

IMG_0042.JPG

Finally it made the plunge!

IMG_0047

Too cool!

IMG_9930

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

IMG_9935

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

IMG_9946

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

IMG_9954

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

IMG_8517

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

IMG_0050

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

IMG_0054

Monarch on zinnia.

IMG_0068

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!

Swallowtails, Hummingbirds And Other Flying Creatures

Swallowtails, Hummingbirds And Other Flying Creatures

This time of year it is fun to see the variety of pollinators that visit the garden.  The eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly posed nicely for me, but it is always a challenge to get good hummingbird pictures.

IMG_9849Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly on zinnia

IMG_9817This eastern tiger swallowtail hung out with wings open quite a bit making it easier to photograph and to identify it as a male butterfly by its markings.   Dill flowers were blooming behind the zinnias.

IMG_9882

I think this is a question mark butterfly sunning on the fence.  It looks a little tattered.  I took a picture of another one a few weeks ago.

IMG_9892

I was trying to capture this monarch butterfly on the milkweed, but the camera wanted to focus on the trunk of the crabapple tree.

IMG_9677

Here is another attempt to get a shot of the monarch fluttering above the milkweed.  I love the colorful outdoor flower arrangement of this shot!

IMG_9683

The hummingbird competes with the butterflies for the same flowers.  Here it chased away the monarch butterfly and is enjoying the swamp milkweed.

IMG_9867

The hummingbird enjoys the neighbors’ hibiscus flowers.

IMG_9865

Here the camera caught the fast-moving hummingbird, but it is at the edge of the picture….

IMG_9687Hummingbird on garden fence.  I think I have mostly seen females.

IMG_9798

We don’t have a hummingbird feeder, but the neighbors on both sides do.  We just offer flower nectar….

IMG_9690

Hummingbird on Russian sage.

IMG_9651

I took this picture of the hummingbird visiting the coleus plant from the office window.  Later, while sitting on the patio, I watched a hummingbird check out every single white flower on the coleus plant before moving on.

IMG_9701

Hummingbird on white phlox.  Most of my pictures are kind of blurry like this, as I have to shoot quickly when the hummingbird shows up before it moves on.

IMG_9668

Wasps have taken up residence in the open fence posts around the garden this summer. They are good predators, but I keep out of their way.

IMG_9855

Wasp resting on hickory leaf

IMG_9743

A green dragonfly rests on a turnip leaf.  I am a dragonfly fan!

IMG_9852

Bee on coneflower.  Many kinds of bees are in the garden now.

IMG_9874

I have seen a few grasshoppers and crickets, but I am keeping my eyes open for a praying mantis, which I have not seen this year.

IMG_9747

The invasive viburnum leaf beetles are back.  They lay their eggs in the branches and in the spring the larvae will start chewing on the leaves.

IMG_9765.JPG

Last summer we cut these two Chicago Lustre viburnum bushes to the ground, but did not have the energy to dig out the roots, so they grew back quickly and have looked nice this year, but the beetle issue is not going away, so maybe next year we will find some other plants to replace them, or maybe not….

If you got through all this pictures you must like flying creatures!  I will leave my other bird pictures for another post!

Summer Flowers Bring Pollinators

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.

IMG_9581

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

IMG_9620

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

IMG_9623

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.

IMG_9593

Close up of Black-Eyed Susans

IMG_9622

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.

IMG_9589

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

IMG_9598

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

IMG_9601

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.

IMG_9576

A question mark butterfly sunning on the laundry rack.

IMG_9578

Closed wings on question mark butterfly.

IMG_9594

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….

IMG_9609

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.

Praying Mantis, Spider, and Forest Restoration

Praying Mantis, Spider, and Forest Restoration

I have been looking around the yard for a praying mantis this summer and I finally found my first one.

img_5876

Yesterday I noticed this praying mantis in the tall Miscanthus ornamental grass. Its head was following me as I tried to get a good photo.  I am not sure if this is a Chinese mantis or a praying mantis that is native to Illinois.

img_5933

There are a lot of little grasshoppers like the one in this picture in our little unmowed meadow.  That was why I started looking for a hungry praying mantis.

img_5965

While I was looking around in the meadow I saw this black and yellow garden spider.

img_5957

Here is the view of the spider from the other side.  If you look closely you can see the spider web.

img_5943

Today I went looking for the praying mantis again.  It was not in the miscanthus, but I found if in the mums that are  getting ready to bloom.

img_5945

I will have to keep an eye out for her egg sac when I clean up the garden this fall.  I enjoy having these mostly beneficial insects around.

img_5931

I have not seen any monarch caterpillars on the swamp milkweed, but the aphids are certainly invading.  I guess something will be interested in an aphid lunch…

img_5903

Yesterday was such a rainy day.  It has been dark, cool and rainy all week.  I guess the house sparrow was able to sit out in the rain.

img_5928

The rain seemed to benefit the nasturtium leaves that are gorgeously green.

img_5900

This picture is taken through the screen on the office window.  I can watch the hummingbirds on the pineapple sage, though they are too fast to capture in a picture.  The tall plant in back is brussel sprouts.

img_5972

Here is a little closer look at the brussel sprouts plant.  The zinnias continue to attract the hummingbird and butterflies.

img_5970

Painted lady butterfly on pink zinnia

img_5887

A century old oak tree was but down across the street from us this week, as it was too close to their house.  There will be fewer leaves to rake, but fewer leaves for the compost pile, too.

img_5879

I have not had many chances to get out and look for migrating birds this week.  But I barely captured this hawk flying over the neighborhood.

img_5980

A group of ten of us volunteered today to clear out honeysuckle bushes at the Palos Forest Preserve.

img_5981

Here is a cleared out area surrounded by brush piles on either side.  We were not able to burn the brush piles today, because there was not enough wind to blow the smoke away, so someone will have to have a bonfire another time.

img_5979

This is an area of the forest that was cleared earlier.

Bees, Fungi, Grasshoppers and Hummingbirds

Bees, Fungi, Grasshoppers and Hummingbirds

This is always a fun time to be taking pictures in the garden.  There are too many mosquitoes to want to do much weeding, but the garden it packed with pollinators on all the September flowers.

img_5547

Bee on Caryopteris.

img_5596

I have two caryopteris bushes that are covered with bees these days.  My best guess is carpenter bees.  I can count 6 bees in this picture.  They love the sedum, too.  The ornamental grass in the background is miscanthus ‘morning light.’

img_5607

The sedum has turned pink.  On the back left is the other caryopteris bush and on the right is the blue hill salvia that is blooming again after a hair cut earlier in the summer.  The sedum is most active when the sun is shining, attracting a lot of flies, skippers and bees.

img_5627

I zoomed in to take a closer look at the bold-faced hornet.  My research says this critter is in the yellowjacket wasp family that live in those big hanging nests in trees.  I wonder where the nest is.  If you are not in danger from bothering the nest these are considered beneficial insects due to their predation of flies, caterpillars and spiders.  Wikipedia says that adults also drink nectar which they feed to their larvae.  The designs on the body are really fascinating.

img_5631

I moved over to the blue hill salvia to photograph the busy bees there.

img_5549

But my camera wanted to focus on this mystery mushroom instead.

img_5551

Funky fungus

img_5555

Recently I noticed a large area of fungi.  I am not sure if they are the result of the deterioration of our old silver maple tree or if it is just from wood chips breaking up or what.  I am not really an expert on fungi, but the fungi area is five or six times larger than this picture.  It looks a little bit like wasp nests….

img_5572

Unknown critter on my plastic chair this morning.  Is it a wasp or a moth or something else?  There are so many unknown small creatures in the yard now.

img_5497

When I went to pick pole beans I found these two grasshoppers next to each other.

img_5558

In the little messy meadow there are a lot of little grasshoppers and damselflies these days.

img_5556

Next to the meadow the turtlehead flowers are in bloom and behind them the coral mums are getting ready to bloom in October.

img_5524

Russian sage and solidago rugosa goldenrod ‘fireworks.’

img_5520

Monarch on Russian sage.  I have not seen monarch caterpillars on my milkweed yet, but realize that some of the monarchs that have been visiting recently have been male.  I noticed that when I looked back at some of the pictures I posted in previous blogs that show the pattern when the wings are open.

img_5636

There have continued to be two monarch on the zinnias each afternoon this past week.  The goldfinches have continued to pick the petals off to get at the zinnia seeds.  There is a butterfly festival at Lake Katherine tomorrow, 9/18/16.

img_5521

Hummingbird at neighbor’s feeder.  There have been at least two hummingbirds very active in the yard the past weeks, as they live in the mulberry tree behind our backyard.  At least five times I have seen a hummingbird chase after a monarch to scare it away.  I suppose they share the same nectar in the flowers.  I did not believe it at first, but after multiple times I saw that the hummingbirds thought they were the boss and were trying to enforce it, not very successfully.  I think the ones I am seeing are female or immature as they have not had ruby throats.  We do not have a hummingbird feeder, like the neighbors on both sides of us, but the hummingbirds are busy in our yard every day.

img_5532

The flowers on the east fence are prettiest this time of year.  In bloom in orange, yellow and white are nasturtiums, alyssum, zinnias, marigolds and mums.

img_5492

I thought all of these mums I planted two years ago, I think, had died, but some have come back and started blooming now.

img_5514

Butterfly bush flower and nasturtiums.

If you have lasted through all these pictures, thank you!  I don’t blog as often now, so I seem to accumulate a lot of photos between each post.

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.

img_5456

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.

img_5449

The peppers are ripening.

img_5298

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.

img_5305

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

img_5457

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

img_5436

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.

img_5445

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

img_5407

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

img_5327

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.

img_5373

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.

img_5259

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.

img_5240

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.