Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What's Wrong With My Melons?

Though we had an early start to the planting and growing season this year, it seems like I was still rushed a bit to get things planted in the garden.  Life had me rushing to and fro and fitting everything in when and where I could, so the garden got planted some days while on autopilot.  What that meant was that some things never got labeled and I couldn't quite recall what they were.  Time would tell...

A few weeks ago, I was working in the garden and noticed the melon plants had germinated and put up their cotyledons, and some of their true leaves.  I knew I'd planted two hills of watermelon and two hills of muskmelon, but couldn't remember which was which.  It didn't really matter, anyway.  I knew the muskmelons would grow on the muskmelon plants and the watermelons on the watermelon plants and that's all that counted.

But what was this?  Yellow spots on the leaves of two of the hills of melons.  Oh dear.  We'd had plenty of rain this spring, more than usual.  Is that what was causing the yellow spotting?  Or was it some sort of disease?

And then it dawned on me.  These were the watermelon plants.  I'd been given seeds for 'Moon & Stars' watermelon at the plant swap at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show in March, and the leaves were supposed to look like this! 'Moon & Stars' is an heirloom variety that has dark green skin with tiny yellow speckles (stars) surrounding a larger one (moon) and the foliage is speckled, too.

I look forward to eating this melon that was first introduced to the public as 'Sun, Moon, and Stars' in 1926 by Peter Henderson and Company and was thought to be extinct until 1981, when Merle van Doren of Missouri offered some of his seeds to Kent Whealey of Seed Savers Exchange.

Photo from

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Imperial Moth(s) at Our Little Acre

When I go out to the gardens, 99% of the time I take my camera with me because you just never know when something amazing will present itself.  The other 1% of the time, I wish I'd grabbed it as I went out the door. You'd think I'd learn.

Thursday was one of those 1% times, and I really thought I'd been through the garden without seeing anything that I hadn't seen or photographed before.  As I left Max's Garden and headed toward the house, I glanced over at the grape arbor and something caught my eye.  I had to do a double-take, because it took a second for my brain to register that there was something different about the scene.

When I looked the second time, my eye was drawn to the bottom of one of the 4x4 posts, where I spotted a HUGE moth.  I didn't recognize it, other than I knew it wasn't a Luna Moth, because this one was bright yellow and Luna Moths are green. Lunas also have long tails and this one didn't.  I sprinted for the house to get my camera before it flew away.

Upon my return, I turned my camera on and used the 20x optical zoom to zero in on it and snapped a couple of photos.  I inched my way closer until I was a mere inches from it, but it didn't move a speck.  What a beautiful moth it was!

I took a couple more photos, then went back into the house.  Romie was due home from work in a couple of hours, and though I had the pictures, I knew he'd want to see it for real, so I went back out and gently picked it up to bring inside.

We've raised Monarch caterpillars in the house all the way through their metamorphosis, then released them after they emerged as adult butterflies.  For this, we always use a rather tall punch bowl with panty hose stretched across the top.  I put the moth into the bowl, and covered it.

In the hours until Romie came home, I looked it up online and identified the moth as one of the Wild Silk Moths, subfamily Royal Moths.  It was an Imperial Moth (Eacles imperialis) and is native to our area, though this was the first time I'd ever seen one. I found it interesting though, that there have been no reported sightings of it in the Ohio counties surrounding ours, with the closest being three counties away.

The life cycle of the Imperial Moth is such that they burrow into the ground as caterpillars in late summer to pupate during the winter, then emerge before sunrise June through August.  The female positions herself in one spot and emits pheromones, the scent of which the male picks up in the wind, leading him to her from as far away as a mile.Sometime after midnight following that same day, they will mate.

Around dusk, she will lay her eggs on any number of host plants, such as pines, sweet gums, maples, oaks, sassafrass and box elders, although the list of what they will eat in the absence of these is quite long.  She will lay eggs singly or in groups of 2-5 eggs on the underneath sides of the leaves, and in 10-15 days, the caterpillars will emerge and feed on the leaves.The adult moth does not feed and dies shortly after laying eggs.

I left the room while Romie was still looking at the moth and went about my business, not giving the moth another thought except to think to myself that I wanted to keep her. I know I might be criticized for doing this, and perhaps rightfully so, but it's not endangered and I rationalized that she was going to die soon anyway.

The next morning, I went into the room to check on her and I found the punch bowl without its covering and I'd assumed that Romie had let it go after looking at it.  Okay, no big deal really.  When he got home from work Friday night, I asked him if he'd let the moth go.  "No," he told me.  I didn't believe him at first, although he did admit taking the cover off the bowl.

We went into the dining room to look for it and found it resting on the side of our china cabinet.  Just below that, there was a cardboard box with an open lid and she'd laid a cluster of eggs there.  Not 2-5 eggs, but more like 20.  Upon further inspection, she'd also laid a similar cluster on the side of a Longaberger basket nearby.  I kept looking and found another large cluster on the side of one of the dining room chair legs and even some on the carpeted floor.

I had actually stepped on the ones on the carpet with my bare feet and felt them.  I picked those off the carpet and was surprised to feel how hard they were.  They were tiny and yellow, about the size of a seed bead (less than 2mm in diameter).  I decided to gather the eggs and put them in a small dish.  I'd read that this was the thing to do, then cover - with air holes - and place them in a warm, slightly humid environment.

It wasn't practical to take the eggs outside at this point, because I couldn't attach them to host leaves, so I took them to our upstairs bathroom, where they'll be warm and the humidity is higher.  Now the watch is on, with the first possibility of emerging on July 5th and the last being on July 10th.  Hopefully, I'll get to see at least some of them emerge before leaving for Buffa10.

Once the caterpillars emerge, we'll take them to the leaves of any number of host plants that we have here at Our Little Acre. (Sweet gum, oak, pine, maple.)  I estimate she laid about 75 eggs. That would be a lot of little caterpillars!

The day after she laid the eggs, she went missing.  We searched and searched every surface of every single thing in the dining room, but we couldn't find her.  We knew she had to be in there, but she was nowhere to be found.  This morning, she came out of hiding and was seen under one of the plant stands, not moving right away when I touched her.  I honestly thought she was dead already, but she fluttered a wing a little bit. I don't think it will be long though before she dies.  She's fulfilled her life's purpose.

Upon further reading, the possibility exists that this female didn't mate and the eggs are infertile.  Only time will tell.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Join the Pollinator Party!

This week is the 4th annual National Pollinator Week, designated as such by the United States Department of Agriculture to call attention to the declining populations of natural pollinators.  The decline is largely due to urbanization and use of chemicals.  Gardeners can help the plight of the pollinators by planting host plants and pledging to garden organically whenever possible.

In celebration of calling attention to the pollinators - bees, butterflies, beetles, birds, and bats - I'm showcasing some of them at work here at Our Little Acre:

Bumblebee heading for Perennial Foxglove

Great Spangled Fritillary on Echinacea

Question Mark resting on a stepping stone

Cabbage White on Calendula

Summer Azure on Knautia macedonica

Honeybee on Echinacea

Viceroy resting on the split-rail fence

There are other butterflies flying about here - Red Admiral, Monarch, Silver Skipper, Mourning Cloak, Sulphur, Red-Spotted Purple, Yellow Swallowtail - as well as insects and birds galore. I love how gardening makes you so much more aware of these things.

This post was inspired by Barbara at Mr. McGregor's Daughter. Please visit her latest post, which shows more of the fabulous photography she shares with us on a regular basis.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Poppy Angst

Oh, those poppies.  They just confuse me.  First, I can't grow them.  Secondly, I can't grow them.  And thirdly, I can grow them.  Sort of.  You're confused now, too, right?  Well, if you follow this blog closely, you know that I have a love/hate relationship with poppies.  I love them - they hate me.

I've lost count of the number of times that I've tried to grow poppies from seed or by plant.  Their papery frilliness has kept me coming back for more disappointment each time I fail at getting them to grow here.  Even the annual poppies, which will germinate for me, fail to grow much larger than 6-12" in height and the blooms are a mere 1-2" in diameter.

But I did have some measure of success this year, when two different ones that I planted last year survived the winter and went on to bloom this spring!

 Papaver orientale 'Carnaeum'

Papaver orientale 'Carnaeum'

 Papaver orientale 'Queen Alexandra'

Oriental poppy 'Carnaeum' bloomed in May, as did 'Queen Alexandra.'  They were exactly the same color and the only way I could tell them apart was by their centers.  Both poppies now have seed pods that are close to spewing their tiny granules, which I'll welcome, so that eventually I'll have more poppies.

I also grew 'Lauren's Grape' last year, which is an annual poppy (Papaver somniferum), from seed and all I got were a few puny plants with equally puny blooms about an inch across. I pretty much ignored them since they were so insignificant and let them go to seed.  Imagine my surprise when I got one beautifully large plant this spring with the most gorgeous grape blooms on it!

Papaver somniferum 'Lauren's Grape'

Papaver somniferum 'Lauren's Grape'

So what did I do differently? For the perennial oriental poppy, I provided better drainage than I had before.  I mixed orchid mix into the soil when I planted them and I set them higher than the surrounding ground.  I will say this method didn't work for 'Harlem.' I lost that one.

With the annual poppies, I'm guessing I haven't been getting the seeds sown early enough.  This year's 'Lauren's Grape' came up from last year's seeds that fell from the ripe pods in July. They were there in the ground, just waiting to germinate when nature's conditions were right the next spring.  Very early spring. 

I planted several other annual poppies this spring, but I'm only getting those puny things from those.  I'll let them go to seed and perhaps I'll get beautiful poppies next year from those, too!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Throw a Garden Party!

This blog post is part of a one-time blog exchange with, written by Hazel Jennings. You can read the post I wrote for - "Easy Perennials for Beginning Gardeners" - here.

The other day I was sitting at my outdoor dining set with a cup of coffee. Looking across the garden to how lovely my lilies were blooming, I wanted to stay there forever. But, my cell phone started ringing… another friend enticing me out of my garden. Do you ever get that feeling when you’d rather dig in the dirt than put on your heels? I get it a lot lately.

But, I’ve solved our problem! You can have a garden party. Bring your friends to you, I say. Plus, it will give you an opportunity to share the fruits of all your hard labor with those you love. There’s something so rewarding about hearing a friend tell you how beautiful it all looks, right? Let’s plan a garden party.

Afternoon Tea or Evening Soirée?

One of the hardest decisions will be the first one to make. What are you going for? A delightful afternoon tea with cucumber sandwiches, iced tea and lemonade, and big straw hats? Or an evening soiree with chic champagne, perhaps a few cakes, and cocktail dresses?

I have to tell you, an afternoon tea is probably the easier-and cheaper- option. Evening rendezvous are grand with a view, and if your garden isn’t a rooftop terrace, you’ll need killer outdoor lighting to make everything shine the way it really should. Plus, unless you have concrete or expertly-laid bricks and pavers, you risk losing a friend to a broken stiletto. Besides, wine is expensive! Don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely not knocking a moonlit engagement. I wish I could be so posh! But, for this post, I’m going to plan an afternoon tea.

The Seating

While you can stand in your garden for hours as you survey your favorite plants, your guests may not be so resilient. Though everyone will want to take a stroll through your garden, one of the most important parts of a garden party is making sure everyone has a place to sit. Whether this be a picnic table, patio chairs, or even chaise lounges, a good rule of thumb is to make sure there are enough spots for everyone you invited. The likelihood that everyone is sitting down all at the same time might be unlikely, but you certainly don’t want your garden party to turn into a game of musical chairs.

The Décor

Whether you’re setting a picnic table with places for everyone to sit and eat a meal, or arranging finger foods across an outdoor buffet, you can really have fun with the table dressings. I suggest using a brightly colored table cloth to set the tone immediately. You can get flowered and fun outdoor dishes at several local retailers, and they shouldn’t cost you a fortune.

You can also have a lot of fun with the glasses! Many times you can pick up mason jars, if not out of your own cabinet, at a second hand store. Those are charmingly country, but you can also use any old glasses you have in the house and decorate them with ribbons or beads.

I would load all available space with flowers, greens, dried herbs, etc. Anything fresh, living, and colorful that you can get on that table… do it. You can also clean some of your more “rustic” looking garden tools and use them as table cloth weights in case of wind. Other than that, you’ve been working all spring on the décor—your garden! Encourage guests to take strolls and explore.

The Drinks

While traditional English tea is hot and herbal, embrace your patriotism. It’s already warm enough outside. Offer iced tea (sweetened and unsweetened, you never know who’s got a sweet tooth and whose diabetic!), lemonade, ice cold water, and maybe even a few soda options. If you’d like to offer alcohol, go ahead and do so. But, going “dry” at an afternoon get-together is completely acceptable and I tend to prefer it that way.

You can dress up your beverages by serving them in glass pitchers. I would suggest using brightly colored, thin-tipped sharpies to write “sweetened” and “unsweetened” in cute lettering on a plain old label and slapping it right on your iced tea options. That way no one will get confused.

The Food

The most traditional fare would include tiny tea sandwiches and sweet desserts. Thanks to the internet, recipes abound! Olive pinwheels, pimento and walnut spread, cheese and almond, and, of course, cucumber sandwiches are some of the biggest staples. But, don’t make anything you don’t like! Pick two or three varieties, depending on the number of guests, and spread them out on a platter or cutting board.

If you’re having more than a few friends over, I think it’s helpful to take some heavier paper, cut a section and fold it in half so it can stand up and be seen, then write the name of the dish and some of its major ingredients. That way, people aren’t shying away from food because they’re not sure if they’ll like it or not, and you don’t have to keep answering “What’s in this?”

Do the same with your desserts. I happen to believe that any dessert in a miniature is immediately better. Use some of your favorite cake or pie recipes and put them into cup cakes, mini bundt cakes, and those cute little hand pies. Rather be in your garden than your kitchen? Call up your local bakery.

The most important rule of all though is to just be you! It doesn’t matter if the slugs have eaten holes in your morning glories, if the bricks in your garden path are starting to come loose, or if you set out open bags of pretzels and barbecue chips and call it garden fare. It’s all perfection! Don’t spend all of your time trying to set up a scene fit for a magazine, spend all of your time having fun, entertaining those near and dear to your heart, and sharing your home and garden. That, not expert décor, is the heart of a garden party.

Have fun!


About specializes in outdoor furniture and gazebos. As experts in the field, their blog,, helps outdoor enthusiasts, landscapers, and gardeners design their gardens, yards, and porches into fabulous outdoor rooms. Their biggest passion is always making sure everyone can get the most out of their outdoor living spaces as possible!

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Toad Lily? NOW?

One of my favorite plants is the Tricyrtis species, otherwise known as toad lilies. They bloom late in the season, they've got interesting foliage and blooms, and they provide something a little out of the ordinary in the shade garden.

My collection includes:

  • 'Tojen'
  • 'Miyazaki'
  • 'Lightning Strike'
  • 'Sinonome'
  • 'Golden Leopard'
  • 'Samurai'

I love them for different reasons - some have striped foliage ('Lightning Strike'), some have a golden edge on the foliage ('Samurai'), some have amazing soft colors ('Tojen') - but  all have the one characteristic that first drew me in.  Their blooms resemble small orchids.

Normally, I have to wait until late summer and early fall to enjoy their flowers, but this hasn't been a normal year by any stretch of the imagination.  "April flowers bring May showers" was spring's theme.  And the normal lovely perfect temperature that makes spring so enjoyable was replaced by summer-like degrees in the 80s and even 90s.

Perhaps that's why this week, my Tricyrtis latifolia 'Golden Leopard' is in bloom.  It's normally a little earlier than the rest, but never has it bloomed in the middle of June.  Not even close.

Tricyrtis latifolia 'Golden Leopard'

It will be interesting to see what it does the rest of the summer, which officially began this morning. It will also be interesting to see if the other toad lilies bloom earlier than usual, too. I'm guessing they will, just as 'Golden Leopard' has and many other plants in the garden have since our early and warm spring began.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Picture This Photo Contest - June 2010

I first entered Gardening Gone Wild's "Picture This" photo contest back in February.  It's always fun to see the wonderful photos that all the bloggers enter.  (And fun to win, I'll admit!) There's some seriously great talent out there and this is a way for the rest of us to get to see more of it, as well as stretch our amateur photography muscles.

This month's theme is "The Best Frame You Have Ever Created."  I've got a few photos that I can never get enough of looking at, so I decided to enter the contest again.

One day last summer, I was walking through my gardens with camera in hand (as usual) and as I looked over at the 'White Swan' Echinaceas, I saw a Red-Spotted Purple (Leminitis arthemis astyanax) perched on top of one.  Quietly, I turned my camera on and zoomed in on it.



It allowed me just two photos, then it was gone.  Had I hesitated even for a couple of seconds, the moment would have been lost.

I'm pretty certain this one was newly emerged, judging from the crisp freshness of his wings.  Perhaps he was born in the garden here at Our Little Acre?

According to Butterflies and Moths of North America, the Red-Spotted Purple's range is the eastern half of North America, plus Mexico, New Mexico and Arizona.  There's a distinction between those that occur in the northern and southern parts of their eastern range:

"The White Admiral form usually occurs north of a line through north central New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Minnesota. The Red-spotted Purple form is usually found south of this line. Much hybridization occurs where these forms meet."

Distribution map 

A range map showing the distribution of Limenitis arthemis. The red shows the range of L. a. arthemis; the orange shows the range of L. a. astyanax; the green shows the range of L. a. arizonensis; and the yellow shows where the ranges of L a. arthemis and L. a. astyanax overlap (Photo and caption from Wikimedia Commons)

In some Limenitis, the reddish coloring occurs only on the underneath side of the top wings, which is the case with the one in my photos.

In any event, I was thrilled to have been in the right place at the right time and for this month's Picture This contest, I've chosen this image for my entry:

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Buckeye Lady Beetle Blitz

During our final Master Gardener class at the end of April, Dr. Mary Gardiner, from the Entomology Department of The Ohio State University in Wooster, OH, paid us a visit and talked about one of my favorite insects - the lady beetle or ladybug.

Mary educated us about the Buckeye Lady Beetle Blitz program, which is studying the effect that non-native lady beetle species are having on the native species, which has been in decline.  Ladybugs play an important role in natural pest control in agriculture.

Volunteers in the program will place yellow sticky traps in their gardens for one week in June and one week in August, then identify any lady beetles that may have gotten caught in the traps. The sticky traps are then sent back to Wooster for evaluation and inclusion in all the data collected for the study.

I'm participating in the study and this is the first week for the trap in my garden.  It's placed in the middle of Max's Garden, where the plants are the most plentiful on our property.  I checked it earlier today and while there were many insects caught on the trap, I didn't recognize any lady beetles.

That doesn't mean there aren't any lady beetles on the trap though. Dr. Gardiner had brought specimens of lady beetles and I was surprised to see that we have some here that are no larger than a pinhead!

In 1975, the Ohio legislature named the ladybug Ohio's state insect.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Troy-Bilt CSV 206 Chipper Shredder Vacuum - A Review

One of my favorite companies to work with is Troy-Bilt. Not because I get to try out new garden "toys" (although I do love that!), but because they truly want to know what I think of their products. They urge me to be very honest in my assessment of whatever I'm reviewing, so that they can make improvements on them, based on a real gardener's point of view and experience.

This spring, they allowed me my choice of an item to test and I chose the CSV 206 Chipper Shredder Vacuum.  We live on a property that has many old oak trees, several of which are an estimated 150-200 years old, and they are constantly losing twigs and small branches.  Just bits and pieces of dead ones will fall from the sky, and following a storm, there's an abundance of them. We often thought it would be nice if we could shred them to use for mulch around our trees and shrubs.

We also have several young trees that need pruning from time to time and we thought it would be nice if we could somehow use the cuttings in a productive way, rather than having to burn them all the time.

Troy-Bilt to the rescue!

Right from the start, both Romie and I were impressed with the way the shredder ground up the wood. Wait.  Let's back that up a little - back to that starting business.  When Romie first started it the day it arrived, the first thing he said to me was, "You're never going to be able to start this. It's a pull start and it pulls too hard for you."

Hmph. Let me be the judge of that.  All the digging in the garden and hauling of mulch counts for something, doesn't it?  And I've been a dental hygienist for 33 years now.  Did he think removing tartar from teeth all that time didn't help keep my arms in pretty darn good shape?

Let it be known that I was able to start the CSV on my first pull.  No, it wasn't a cold start, and I'll admit, it was a very hard pull, but I was able to do it. So there.  My pride intact, we went on to see how it would handle stuffing tree branches down its throat.

It did just fine, thankyouverymuch, as you will see in this video we made:

The CSV 206 chopped the branches and leaves into a fine grade suitable for mulching:

The second task we put upon the CSV was the vacuum end of things.  No problem there, either.  While we don't have the volume of leaves right now that we'll have this fall, it sucked them right up.  I'm not sure why Romie ran it so slowly in this video, because he did it much faster when I wasn't filming him and it picked the leaves up just as well.

This is really going to come in handy for keeping our compost bin full and not only that, by chopping things up as finely as it does, this will help things decompose more quickly, giving us compost more quickly, too.

The verdict?  Win-Win, with one demerit for the pull start being a little hard to pull.

Thank you, Troy-Bilt, for giving us the opportunity to put the CSV 206 through its paces, where it came through with flying colors, and for making our lives a little easier here at Our Little Acre.

For a really great review of Troy-Bilt 's Chipper/Shredder without the vacuum, head over to read Snarky Vegan's review.

The product or merchandise being reviewed in this blog post was the sole compensation for testing and reviewing the product. All opinions expressed here are mine, with no suggestions whatsoever by the manufacturer or distributor. If I like it, I'll say so. If I don't, I'll say that, too.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - June 2010

Of course, we knew there would be oodles of blooms for June's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. It's probably the best month of the year for showing off what's flowering in the garden.  But the crazy spring weather we've had has produced some crazy blooming as well! Brown-eyed Susans blooming at the beginning of June?

We've had more rain and higher temperatures than normal for an extended period of time and that has produced jungle-like conditions in the gardens.  Mosquitoes included.  No matter what time of the day you go out there, you're sure to be bitten and if you happen to be pruning shrubs in the shade, you're taking your life in your hands as the mosquitoes swarm you like angry bees.

Does that sound like I'm complaining?  Okay, just a little bit, because I can't think of a single good reason that God put mosquitoes on the face of the earth, but who can complain about these:

Gaillardia 'Tizzy'

Campanula 'Cherry Bells'

Alstroemeria 'Princess Zavina'

Rosa 'Morning Magic'

Gray Lavender Cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus)

Rosa 'Kordes Perfecta'

Asiatic Lily 'Tiny Ghost'

Lavender (Lavandula sp.)

Tropical Hibiscus

Heuchera 'Palace Purple' with Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa 'Hello Yellow')

Geranium (No ID)

Echinacea 'Hot Papaya'

Mixed Delphiniums

Daisies (Leucanthemum) and 'Ladyfingers' Daylily (Hemerocallis)

Coreopsis 'Sienna Sunset'

Clematis 'Huldine'

Ostrich Ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) with Houttuynia (Houttuynia cordata)

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snow Queen')

Veronica spicata 'Royal Candles'

Monarda 'Petite Wonder'

Maltese Cross (Lychnis chalcedonica)

Heliopsis 'Loraine Sunshine'

Leptodermis oblonga

Endless Summer® Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla 'Bailmer')

Black Hollyhock (Alcea rosea)

Dianthus 'First Love'

Japanese Climbing Hydrangea (Schizophragma hydrangeoides 'Moonlight')

California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica 'Carmine King')

Masterwort (Astrantia major 'Ruby Wedding')

That's just part of what's blooming here. I LOVE this month!

Thanks, Carol, for once again hosting Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, likely the most popular meme on the 'net! And thanks too, for expecting me to always be late in posting. I wouldn't want to let you down! :-)

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