by Winding Pathways | Sep 22, 2022 | (Sub)Urban Homesteading, Amphibians/Reptiles, Birds, Garden/Yard, Nature
We hadn’t seen either for a while but one September morning there they were. Mr. Toad and Ms. Wren.
Toads sing loudly day and night.
All summer Mr. Toad contentedly lived beneath a tomato plant snacking on an occasional juicy bug. Ms. Wren meanwhile forayed about the yard snatching bugs and feeding her brood. In September Mr. Toad’s favorite tomato plant died back, probably tired after producing plenty of tasty fruits and no longer able to give Mr. Toad a worthy hiding place. And, after the babies fledged, Ms. Wren worked the prairie grasses and woods.
On that September morning, Rich noticed sweet potato leaves trembling a bit. He brushed aside the foliage and there was Mr. Toad out seeking breakfast.
The fall equinox is almost here. With it comes the short days and cool temperatures that make garden plants shrink. Mr. Toad is cold-blooded. Summer’s moist heat is to his liking, but before the cold comes, he must retire for the winter. So, down he goes, digging into the soil to find a place to snooze through the winter, no doubt dreaming about next summer’s juicy bugs under a new tomato plant.
We bid Mr. Toad adieu for the winter and said, “Thanks for helping with our gardening. See you next spring.”
Checking the nest box.
Mr. Toad isn’t our only garden worker. Last winter we set up a wren house and by May Ms. Wren and her partner moved in. The couple raised two broods of ravenous babies in our garden. They enjoy the same fare as Mr. Toad but hunt more in our crop’s leaves instead of under them. The industrious parents spend nearly every daylight hour combing the garden and beyond for insects to feed their chicks.
Our last brood of garden wrens fledged in mid-August but stuck around a while. The family hunts insects in the woods behind the house but by the fall equinox they’ll get the urge to hop on a north wind some night and head south. When we’re shoveling snow, they’ll be snacking on bugs in a warm place.
Parting is Sweet Sorrow When Mr. Toad and Ms. Wren Bid Us Adieu
It’s hard to tell exactly when our wrens leave. Sometimes they linger into October but eventually one of us will say, “I haven’t seen or heard a wren for a while.” Yup, they’ve left for the season. We also bid them adieu and say, “Come back. See you next spring.” We miss Mr. Toad and Ms. Wren for the good work they do and for knowing we provide safe homes for them. We will put up wren boxes come March of next year and search for Mr. Toad sometime when the ground thaws.
About the Equinox
The Fall (autumnal) equinox is on or near September 21st. It’s one of two days when the sun crosses the celestial equator and every place on earth receives approximately 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. The other is around March 21, the Vernal equinox. After the fall equinox the dark hours push daylight away until December 21 when days again begin to lengthen in the Northern Hemisphere. Plants and animals are super sensitive to day length and more aware of slight changes than most people.
by Winding Pathways | Sep 15, 2022 | (Sub)Urban Homesteading, Birds, Garden/Yard, Mammals, Nature, Pests
Guest Blog by Jackie Hull,
in the foothills of Virginia
Bears Barely Tolerable Behavior
Bear Raiding Feeders
Well, the bear did it again. It tore up some of the spindles on the porch railing, tipped over a couple of the vegetable pots, and yanked a six-foot portion of our picket fence off the posts. All this to remind me that I should not feed the birds this time of year. It’s May.
So what to do but put away all the feeders? Maybe I can try again in the fall when bears retreat to the dens for their winter snooze.
This pretty much gave me great moments of sadness especially since I’ve had to shed other favorite activities.
Bird Antics Bring Joy
But today was a day of great surprises. My beautiful main stays, the birds, were everywhere. As I sat in the kitchen peering out the window, I spotted the adult turkeys poking their heads above the uncut hay. I could feel their parental thoughts “The coast is clear so keep scrambling forward.” The chicks were not seen but definitely there. A goldfinch zipped over them. Then I saw two wood thrashers near the holly tree scavenging for insects. Oh, my look how that crow struts!
Wrens are Chatterers
Listen, that’s the wren by the back door. She keeps chattering to remind me she built her condo in the hanging planter. Then a flash of bright red caught my eye as I walked onto the porch. It’s a cardinal. Then the female house finch flicked from her nest over the front door light. She doesn’t like me stepping onto the porch. She is quite timid.
Even though the feeders have been down for nearly two months, the birds have kept their vigil at my country home much to my delight. They are in the trees, along the lane, and in the hayfield. What a great day!
by Winding Pathways | Aug 11, 2022 | (Sub)Urban Homesteading, Bugs, Garden/Yard, Garden/Yard, Nature
Imagine how embarrassing it would be to be caught stark naked in public. Maybe that’s how the Walking Stick, a huge insect, felt that we spotted clinging to a shelf outside our house.
About 3000 species of Walking Sticks live worldwide. All love hiding. Their camouflage is almost perfect. No doubt the one we discovered would have been far more comfortable clinging nearly invisible on tree bark.
Although common and huge some species can be upwards of 20 inches long! They’re nearly impossible to spot as they lurk on twigs and bark. We likely walk right by many. They simply hide in plain sight. The name of their order is Phasmatodea, meaning apparition. It perfectly describes them.
The one we spotted must have been lost. Rather than comfortably blending into the woods our gangly stick-looking insect contrasted against our shelf as naked as a jaybird. We couldn’t miss spotting it.
Herbivorous Walking Sticks spend nights munching on leaves and rest during daylight. Females are usually bigger than males and usually just drop their eggs to the ground. Growth is slow, and the babies can take three to 12 months to mature. That’s glacial growth for an insect, but they can live for two years if not devoured by birds, small mammals, or predatory insects. Insecticides devastate them.
Walking Sticks don’t bite or sting and are one of the thousands of nature’s wonders to discover in an ecologically healthy yard. They’re downright fascinating and fun to share with children.
Easy to see
A large herbivore.
Walking Sticks are easy to spot on plain backgrounds.
by Winding Pathways | Jul 14, 2022 | Garden/Yard, Garden/Yard
Gardeners across the world proudly bring freshly picked vegetables and fruits into the kitchen. They’re lucky to have an amazing array of delicious plants to grow and enjoy. It wasn’t always that way.
Consider Native Americans. Prior to Columbus, many lived in cities and big towns surrounded by gardens and farm fields. They grew corn, beans, and a diversity of squash and pumpkins, but they knew nothing of many of today’s common vegetables. Residents of Asia, Africa, Europe, and Australia back then also farmed and gardened, but their crop choices were limited.
Many foods were cultivated by indigenous people.
New World & Old World
Indigenous contacts ranged far and wide.
It changed quickly following what’s called the Great Columbian Exchange. Shortly after Columbus set foot on Hispaniola people began deliberately and purposefully moving plants and animals around the world. Many were valuable and diversified the food chain on all continents. Others quickly became pests………most weeds infesting American gardens originated in the Old World.
Imagine Southern Italian cuisine without tomatoes! This delicious vegetable originated in South America and was unknown in Italy before the Columbian Exchange. Same with potatoes. The Irish potato originated in South America.
It went both ways. Today’s gardeners enjoy vegetables originating all over the globe. Here’s a brief list of where common foods came from:
NATIVE OF THE NEW WORLD
Pumpkins and squash, Beans except for fava, Corn, Potato, Sweet Potato, Tomato, Pepper, Jicama
A machete is useful in cutting squash.
The sweetness of summer’s bounty.
Sweet potatoes are a healthy vegetable.
NATIVE OF EUROPE, ASIA, and AFRICA
Watermelons and cantaloupes, Onions, leeks, and garlic, Turnips, Carrots and parsnips, Yams, Radish, Celery, Asparagus, Beets, and Chard, are the same species, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Brussel Sprouts, Broccoli – all related, Endive, Lettuce, Rhubarb, Spinach, Okra, Cucumber, Peas.
The Columbian exchange also included grains and fruit. Corn is American but wheat, barley, rye, and oats are from the Old World. Apples, peaches, pears, and cherries (except for the bitter American black cherry) are also Old World. Brambles and strawberries apparently lived in both the Old and New Worlds prior to Columbus. Grapes eaten fresh and used for juice and wine came from the Old World but several species also are native to the Americas.
A favorite fall harvest is apples.
Tart cherries come ripe in June.
Thanks to the movement of useful plants gardeners worldwide enjoy a diversity of plants to grow and eat.
by Winding Pathways | Jul 7, 2022 | (Sub)Urban Homesteading, Chickens, Garden/Yard, Nature, Weeds
Chickens in run
A chicken run is one tough place for plants to live, and our run at Winding Pathways is even tougher than most.
Every day we let our chickens roam around the run. A bright baking sun broils the sandy soil all day long, so it’s hard to imagine that any plant can thrive there. And, chicken run plants face another challenge. The birds love greenery and usually devour every plant they find. As a result, most chicken runs are just bare dirt that’s either dusty or muddy.
Flower and leaf
Big Bracht Verbena (Verbena bracteata), sometimes called Prostrate Vervain, is up to the challenge. It carpets our chicken run. We didn’t plant it. Verbena moved in on its own. Hopefully, our chickens enjoy viewing the plants’ tiny soft blue flowers.
Big Bracht Verbena is common across much of North America, but it’s easy to overlook. Rarely causing problems, it lives in the most difficult environments. The plant thrives in hot dry gravel soil along roads, in vacant lots, and in sidewalk cracks.
We like having this humble plant in our chicken run. It covers the soil, eliminating mud that follows rain. Chickens absolutely won’t eat it, but they love snatching the insects lured to the plant. It needs no human care, but we sometimes mow it if it gets a big shaggy by late summer.
Foraging among verbena
One of nature’s mysteries is how plants have adapted to thrive in all sorts of environments, even harsh ones. Hats off to Big Bracht Verbena.
by Winding Pathways | Jun 30, 2022 | (Sub)Urban Homesteading, Garden/Yard, Garden/Yard
Varied Garden Produce
Midsummer. It’s the heart of gardening season as millions of Americans proudly bring tomatoes, beans, squash, and a host of other crops into the kitchen from the backyard garden.
Many don’t realize they ignore eating a typical garden’s hidden delightful food.
Most gardeners spend hours pulling and hoeing incredibly common and prolific garden weeds, only to toss them out. They make delicious food.
Here are our favorite “weeds” to eat
Lambsquarters. The young leaves of this persistent and fast-growing plant are delicious in salads. Or they can be boiled and used like spinach.
Amaranth or Pigweed. Sometimes called wild beet. Almost as common as lambs quarters, the young leaves can also be used similarly to spinach.
Purslane. This ground-hugging hot weather weed is a commercial crop in India. Young leaves and stems are delicious raw. They can also be boiled or even pickled. Grit tends to cling to purslane so rinse it thoroughly.
A full pot of raw Lamb’s Quarters cooks down to a few fork fulls of this nutritious potherb.
The Latin name is Portulaca oleracea
Crops with Rarely Harvested Edible Parts
Our favorites are
Beet greens. Beets are the same species as Swiss chard but the leaves tend to toughen as the plant grows. We use young beet leaves as we would chard.
Sweet Potato leaves. We haven’t tried these yet but will this summer. From what we’ve read they are delicious steamed and can be eaten raw.
Squash and pumpkin blooms. These plants usually produce more blooms than they need. We sparingly pick and steam them for a colorful yellow vegetable.
Carrot tops. Our master gardener friend thins carrots and uses the tops in pesto. We tried this in a pesto that a friend shared. Delicious!
Radish tops. Mix a few young leaves into salads. They’re spicy and add zest to other greens.
Beets are a cousin to Swiss Chard
Sautee or mix in a salad
Add to pesto!
Whenever eating a new plant for the first time, make sure the identification is correct. It’s smart to identify a wild plant from at least three sources. These might include an Internet search, a wild foods book, or identification by a trusted wild food or garden expert. One online source is www.wildedible.com. Once you’re certain it’s edible, eat a small helping the first time to make sure you like it and it likes you.