Monday, August 8, 2016

A Special Day in Several Ways

Today, August 8, is a trifecta of events worth noting. From a personal perspective, my younger sister turning 70 is the most significant item on the calendar: Happy Birthday, Sis! She stays spry by riding her senior citizen tricycle around the tiny rural town where she lives and picking blackberries with neighbors. I try to keep the kinks out by puttering around in the backyard.

Today is also International Cat Day which seems a fitting tribute to my sister, who does appear to have nine lives and always lands on her feet, even in the bygone days, fortunately brief, when she used to jump out of airplanes for the fun of it. She has cats who acquired her some years ago; we have no permanent cats at present as our perimeters are patrolled by a fifteen year old canine, wobbly but determined, who still takes his job seriously. There are a few persistent visitors, however, who know where the safe spots in the yard are, and are clearly applying for a position should one become available.

Less auspiciously, August 8 also happens to be Earth Overshoot Day, the point at which we humans begin overdrawing our account of Earth resources. We are using more resources than Mother Earth can replenish in a year's time and today is when the bank account is empty and we have to break into our grandchildren's trust fund, using up what should be carefully set aside for generations coming after us. The experts who measure these things say that at current rates of consumption we are using the equivalent of 1.6 Earths to keep the party going.

So it feels especially good today to gather a boxful of garden bounty grown in the richly composted soil of our backyard. All the jewel-toned summer produce will indeed be used up to the last bite. But all the scraps will go into the compost bin, pass through the digestive tracts of many eager worms, combine with whatever organic debris is layered in, and then replenish the very ground from which it sprang. Daily deposits for Mother Earth's account.

Happy Birthday! Happy Cat Day! Guardedly happy Overshoot Day . . . . .

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Garden Visitors

Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver, the other gold. Old friends, I'm assuming, are golden, new ones silvery.

We've had both kinds in the yard in recent months: recurring visitors I expect to see each year and would worry about if they did not show up, as well as unexpected sightings of life forms I may have heard about -- or not -- but haven't personally encountered in our garden.

One old friend, seen last April, was truly golden:

The golden tortoise beetle makes infrequent appearances; only once or twice before have I come upon one. Evidently they like to chew on members of the morning glory family, such as the ubiquitous and ineradicable bindweed, so be assured that this year's little fellow is finding plenty to eat. It's said they will change color when disturbed, shifting from shiny metallic gold to a flat orange with spots to fool predators who know how tasty they are but will avoid unpalatable but similarly shaped lady bugs. I guess this bug trusted me, as he stayed shiny on my palm.

I don't think I would worry if the golden tortoise beetle did not appear one year; but I would greatly miss his cousin, the lady bug, scourge of aphids and other bothersome guests. Fortunately, lady bugs seem to like our garden and are regular patrons. I've heard that they are attracted by brassicas and it's true that in the spring of 2015, when we had an especially abundant crop of broccoli, two beds worth, plus another bed of kale nearby, we also saw an explosion of the lady bug population. They were everywhere; I had to brush myself off before coming into the house. This year is back to normal with fewer brassicas and only occasional bug sightings, such as, in early July, a lone lady resting on some lady-like Queen Anne's Lace.

Another strikingly patterned orange and black visitor, the notorious harlequin beetle, has been appearing in the last couple of years in early spring. It also seems drawn by brassicas, especially the cover crop mustards I started planting in the same time period. Although it has a bad reputation for sipping juices out of a wide range of garden plants, dining on stems and leaves as well as fruit, weakening and discoloring plant tissues as it goes, I haven't noticed a lot of damage beyond a few holes in the mustard leaves.

What to say about a new bug found this year in the dried up, two-year-old fava bean pods, saved for cover cropping? In late March, when I dug into the bag of old pods and started shelling out the beans, I noticed some little beetles scurrying for cover. I also noticed lots of little holes dug into the fat tawny seeds.

One of the pods yielded up a pale, translucent, tiny worm, no doubt the larval form of this new insect.

It did not take much searching online to identify these bugs as broad bean weevils, a type of beetle and member of a family of weevily critters who feed on dried legumes and grains. The adults lay their eggs on the surface of pods or seeds, then the larva burrows down into the seed and consumes what it needs before pupating in place. The hatched adult crawls out of the little seed tunnel hollowed out by the larva and the beat goes on.

The bugs were indeed feasting on my fava bean seeds, but as everything I planted sprouted and grew without problems, I nonetheless count them as new and interesting friends.

Old or new, silver or gold, it's always a treat to encounter the many varieties of life forms that abound in our backyard abundance.