Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I recently read that most of the biodiversity of a given area is in its invertebrates, and yet we always do conservation for plants or cute animals. That's it. I'm converted. Or "Invert"-ed. Now to try to identify these things.

My native plant garden was planted primarily to make me learn to identify rare (or not so rare) native prairie and savanna plants. Then I decided I liked how it looks. Now it is all buggy. The main attractor is the gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis), so named for the color of the stem, in case you are wondering. Cup-plant and tall coneflower also bring them in. Here is a small sampling of the (mostly) native bees and flies and such.

If you, dear reader, know of any resources for identifying native bees - or better yet can identify any of these from the photo (!), please let me know. The full set of pictures is over at Flickr.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Peak Bloom in the Wildflower Garden

Now is the beginning of peak bloom time in the garden. A few of the early flowers are still ingering on, such as the lance-leaf coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata). A few of the late bloomers, such as the gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis), are just starting. While I did a pretty good job this year moving tall plants to the back of beds and promoting some short plants forward, I was not ruthless pulling out sprouts of good plants in wrong places. So I have some tall 1st years screening out plants further back. Tall coreopsis and brown-eyed susan (Rudbckia triloba) are the most problematic. The tall coreopsis will be transplanted, the brown-eyed susans have thus far been biennial. Was it the drought conditions of the past few years? No sense in moving them if they may not comeback next year.That'd just give me an empty bed where they were moved from and an empty bed where they were moved to.

The front bed project continues. I am tired of my burn experiment and will now shift gears to either regular raking or (if I can find cheap mulch) smothering. I have burned the bed every 3-4 days for the last three weeks. I have exhausted by propane tank, and my back, but not the reserved of the grass seedlings. The roots are insulated from the fire by the soil, so really I am doing the same thing as very frequent, very low mowing - which may be bad for the grass in the long run, but not deadly over the span of my attention.

In the photo of the new bed, you can see hostas in full bloom. Yesterday while sitting on the front porch, a female ruby-throated hummingbird visited the tubular hosta blooms. While I have never been particularly enarmoured of hosta flowers, my opinion of them has changed from "shade filler plant" to "sometime hummingbird food."

Below is a taste of a few of the flowers, mostly native, now blooming. In order, top to bottom:

Borage (Borago officinalis, not native, but pretty and a good companion plant to veggies)

Thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana), with purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) behind

Red milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), with bergemot (Monarda didyma) and spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana)

Gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis), with gray-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) and ox-eye sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides)

Cup-plant (Silphium perfoliatum, yellow), Culver's root (Veronicastrum virginicum, white), with gray-headed coneflower and purple coneflower in background

Purple coneflower and prairie blazing star (Liatris pycnostachya), with fleabane (Erigeron sp.)

Spotted mint (Monarda punctata)

Rattlesnake master (white), with purple coneflower and black eyed susans in background

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Insects go native

I burned the lawn again three days ago, and then again this evening. That grass just keeps growing back! Soon tho it will be exhausted. Soon.


A monarch butterfly has been frequenting our garden as of late. So far this year we have been visited by the abundant Cabbage White, a sulfur, a European skipper, a Common checkered skipper, and an Eastern tailed blue. Tally: six species of butterflies. The less desirable Japanese beetles are back as well, and really seem to be attracted to the rouge evening primrose that popped up in the garden.

I also caught this dragonfly watching me from a cup plant leaf. Cup plant is just starting to flower today.

The cup plant is a draw for many insects. The base of the leaves surround the stem and form a "cup" which holds water for several days after each rain. This water draws in many colorful little flies, wasps, and native bees - which then attract larger predator insects like damselflies and dragonflies.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bed of Fire

Whoa. Three month break and then two posts in two days. I do not do any hobby but by fits and starts. After a 6 year hiatus I am contemplating setting up the hammer dulcimer too.

This evening I smell. Of smoke. Yes, I set fire to my yard. Well, not really. I have a propane torch, purchased by my in-laws, from amazon.com, as a Christmas present. And it is just to tool I need to kill sod and create a new flower bed. Why, you may ask, not use a shovel? The answer is in our leaning catalpa, a massive hollow, sweet-heart of a tree. (A heart of honey, wax, and bee cement called "propolis.") This aged tree is leaning over our house and I am loath to sever any (more) roots. Cutting sod under the tree is just not an option. I do not want to use herbicides because I have two thumbsuckers at home. And to be honest, I simply like using fire as a tool.

I only killed the leaves. Grass is tough. It'll resprout, and I'll burn it again. And it'll resprout, and I'll burn it again. This sounds really fun.

And for my mother and any other folks who might worry for my safety, I have been trained in this. I called in my fire permit and did this legally and with full permission of the fire department. I sprayed the part of the lawn I was not going to burn with water and left the hose running while I burned this very green, not-at-all flammable grass.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


After a few years of drier than average weather, the tide has turned. And when it rains, it pours. Here in Barry County, Michigan we have had two storms with over 4 inches of rain per storm. That is more than we get on average in a month. And the prairie plants are responding in a big way.

Weeds were far less a problem this year than in years past. These plants are now established and shading out the annual weeds. I keep on top of the grasses, a few maples, and the ever present catalpa seedlings.

Shown here are the black eyed susans, purple coneflowers, and few orange butterflyweed. The white is white prairie clover and a bit of daisy fleabane. I generally pull out most of the fleabane, which is weedy, but the bees and butterflies do like it.

A few weeks ago we saw flats of annuals on sale, and my lovely wife suggested we dig sod to make a new bed. I did not need to be asked twice. Over two evenings we cut about 300 square feet of sod and planted 5 flats of annuals. That may be just enough room for plants we desperately need to divide. We are well on our way to a grassless front lawn. And we were rewarded by a visit by goldfinches feeding on the coreopsis seedheads. I never thought of the goldfinch as an expert in camouflage, but they are tough to spot in a see of yellow flowers.