Bidding Adieu to Mr. Toad and Ms. Wren

We hadn’t seen either for a while but one September morning there they were. Mr. Toad and Ms. Wren.

Mr. Toad

toad trilling

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.”

Ms. Wren


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. 


Have You Enjoyed a Garden’s Delicious Ignored Foods?

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.

 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.


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   Once you’re certain it’s edible, eat a small helping the first time to make sure you like it and it likes you.

What We Love About Summer!

Winding Pathways asked for reader submissions on what they love about summer and here is what folks shared. 

Dan P was the first. with this short, pithy remark: “Summer = it’s not cold ;)”  

And here is the back story on that. As a kid and teen until his Junior year in high school, Dan delivered first the Penny Saver and then the Cedar Rapids Gazette.  Every day all year round.  Only a few times, when we did our annual Black Hills vacation, did he get a substitute.  So, he was up before dawn, bagged and banded papers and walked his route.  Then, he’d come back and go to bed, or head off to early bird classes at Washington H.S. On really bitter winter days Rich went with him to get the route done safely and more quickly. He has always been a hard and reliable worker with the mantra:  “Show up. Work hard. Be honest. Be nice.”

Here is a picture in winter 1994. And a recent photo. So now you know what Dan loves about summer.

Daddy Sunflower

Giant Sunflower

Jan Watkins added this amazing picture of the “Daddy Sunflower” in her yard and how it came to be.  “I have never raised sunflowers, so last year when a sunflower appeared in this location, I was delighted. It seemed so special there on the ledge. Not really looking into the sun, but rather it seemed, it was looking in at me. It was fun to see the goldfinches feasting on the seeds. This year, I’ve watched the sunflower grow and bloom in the same place as last (year), again facing into my house. It makes me think of Roy. He lived in Kansas for years, the Sunflower State. Its leaves have ruffled edges, a big flower on a short, strong stalk, different from the others.  Definitely special. I have to smile.  I love it.”



From Joye Winey: “The best part of summer is Saturday Morning Market. From early summer with jackets and jeans to midsummer with short and flip flops. From greens, rhubarb, peas, to melons, zucchini, tomatoes, corn eggplants and sunflowers— A great way to start the day. :)”

From Rebecca Groff:                                   “A Peaceful Iowa Morning”

“The lack of any human noise outside my bedroom window greeted me on an early August morning, and the Universe’s message was clear: preserve this special moment. So I grabbed my camera to capture the sights and sounds on our acreage, which happens to be my favorite kind of church.

“Outside, sparrows and mourning doves took breakfast at the bird feeder in among a stand of white pines as I strolled around the yard videoing this peaceful Iowa morning. A capiz shell wind chime jingled softly in the background.

“It was too early for butterfly activity, but just right for the small rabbit that darted out from the butterfly garden, having finished off most of the young delphinium I’d planted in my butterfly garden this past spring. Ah, well. There is a bit left and maybe it will come back. I know bunnies need to eat, too. (Sigh . . . . ) At one time I’d considered seeding that spot over to make it easier to mow, but then the idea came to plant it solely for the butterflies and other pollinators, and I’m glad I went with that decision. Pink and purple phlox, native purple coneflowers, various lilies, Japanese iris, gaillardia, coreopsis and bee balm in red and pink have been well received so far this summer.

“Were someone to offer me a tranquilizing pill, or a chance to be outside working in my yard, hands and nails filthy with soil, the dirt work would win every time. “Dirt therapy,” my sister and I call it. We both agree it can soothe the roughest emotion days.

“In front of our house I established a circular butterfly garden. This year I filled it with pink and white cosmos, coreopsis, nasturtiums, and zinnias to keep company with the two tomato plants I set out — one red and one yellow. Just enough for us and for sharing with our neighbors.

“The acidic smell of tomato plant green is one I never tire of and I couldn’t resist rubbing the tender leaves between my fingers. There was a B-L-T sandwich coming my way in the near future!

“The sun was edging higher in the sky, and the sound of traffic on the main road a mile away was starting to pick up. Soon there would be lawn mowers whirring, and kids bursting outdoors to play and the weekend busyness of humanity all about the neighborhood.

“But for a few minutes, I had the best spot in the Universe all to myself, surrounded only by trees, flowers, birdsong and fresh dew on the tips of my toes.”

Susan F in Arizona wrote: “Weather is easing back from triple digit temperatures to upper nineties.  And we have had a bit of humidity the past week or so.  Of course our humidity is nothing like what happens out east.  Humidity was in the 50’s this week.  The monsoon rains have been causing quite a bit of flooding but it has been spotty.  All depends on the terrain what kind you get, flash floods in the hill country or just high water on flat land.  Canals and runoff ditches help in the larger cities, but there is no decent drainage system to keep streets (from) flooding.


Finches fun to watch.

“I still enjoy my birds.  I continue to get sparrows, finches, hummingbirds and Quail families.  I have watched the baby quail grow from tiny babies (no bigger than a silver dollar) to toddlers, preteens, to teenagers.  Right now the oldest of this year’s babies have color patterns which have helped ID them by sex.  I know I have three male teenagers.  The next batch coming along is almost to that stage and the littler ones are developing the topknots on their heads.  Sometimes I have all three age groups, other times only the oldest three come alone with no parents to escort.  The younger ones come with their parents still.  Fun to watch.  I also have a curve-billed thrasher that spends more and more time each day by the food block.  It especially likes mornings and late afternoon.”


Jackie and Peter Hull in Virginia take in the back roads with these observations: “On a pristine day with not a cloud in the skies we often begin a journey northwest to the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is here that we can see for miles to the north, south, east and west. Looking westward over the Great Valley we can view the Allegheny Mountains stretching clear to West Virginia. We marvel that the pioneers were able to cross the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains on foot, horseback and rafts down the multiple rivers and streams to settle the country centuries ago. Enjoy our country and love it!”

Virginia Mountains

Clouds over mountains

And another observation from Virginia: “Tuesday we had some intense storms here in Bedford,
Virginia. As I looked out the French door windows, I could see some nasty clouds slowly slipping over the mountains. For a while nothing happened. I turned away to fold some clothes. As I moved back into the living room, I was startled to see a grey white cloud had completely enshrouded the
western mountains. At first I was perplexed. Then I whispered, “Oh, my gosh.” I could hear the rain pounding as this cloud  steadily moved closer to us.

“The trees disappeared as did the silo and then the house next door became a blur. All at once the rain was pounding on the roof and I could hardly see my vegetable garden. Passing slowly over my house the rain continued eastward obstructing the eastern view of Turkey Mountain. After all was said and done, we had two inches of rain in a short time frame.”

High Summer Labyrinth Walks

What fun hosting  Bankers Trust staff and clients and welcoming an out of town visitor to the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth.  Tuesday, July 11 was steamy and threatening storms.  But, the hardy crew engaged in lively discussions and asked probing questions about the more simple lifestyle we embrace at Winding Pathways.  Now, simple does not mean easy.  Tending a large yard and five circuit labyrinth are work.  Rewarding work. And, people are curious about chickens, managing small gardens, maximizing space, retaining water on our property, heating with wood, and creating diversity that welcomes wildlife. Topics like ways to save energy which saves money to be invested or used caught their attention. And questions on managing pests like ground hogs and deer. We touched on a lot and had a great time.

Go to 1080 Labyrinth for a photo album of the afternoon and evening.

Then, with storms obviously to the south showing off cumulus and anvil clouds but no threat, all walked the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth.  Mike T’s comment summed it all up.  As he and Terri entered the center a cool breeze touched their faces.  Mike paused and said, “I never want to leave.”

Thanks Terri Doyle for organizing and promoting!

Black Snake!

Our blog on snakes in the yard struck a note! People loved it and some shared their “rattler” experiences. But, for most of us, snakes are helpful in the yard and we can help them, too, as these readers did. From Jackie and Peter Hull in Bedford, Virginia, a story about how they rescued a black snake.

“Several years back to protect my strawberries from birds we tucked some netting around the raised bed of strawberries which seemed like a good idea at the time. It allowed the bees and butterflies to pollinate the blossoms, but kept out critters or so we thought. One morning I was out strolling through the raised beds noting what was coming along. Much to my dismay I spotted a huge shiny black snake had become entangled in the netting. It was trying to retreat or move forward but every move just made his situation worse.

“A black snake is a godsend to gardeners and their gardens, so to have this garden friend tangled and suffering was not so good. I scurried to the house letting my husband and tough ex-Marine, Peter, know that I needed his help in the garden immediately because a black snake was in distress. I grabbed some scissors while Peter put on a long sleeved shirt, pants and leather gloves. We met by the strawberries. Peter was not in the least bit interested in untangling this creature, but I was. So I began snipping the plastic strands from around the snake’s body. Snip by snip I finally released the snake who had spent a very long time struggling to become free. He didn’t make an aggressive move so we picked him up and put him across the lane near the shrubs.

“This scenario repeated itself the following year until an idea formulated in my head. I thought: “Let’s build a screen like a window screen and place it on top of the raised bed.” We measured and ruminated about the size since we needed it to be tall enough for the plants to grow their berries. This was a complete success as the following spring we attached this contraption to the top. The bees and butterflies were able to do their work, but the birds, mice and black snake never could get in.

“The black snake is still around but not in the strawberries. Peter said he saw him a few weeks back slithering up the gravel driveway. I’m just glad he doesn’t get tangled in netting anymore.”