Bug-pocalypse?

“The Windshield Phenomenon”  Have you heard of it? It was described in a New York Times article in November, 2018. Entomologists penned the name from the fact that people were noticing fewer bugs… around night lights, hitting faces while riding bikes, working in the garden, and on auto windshields.  Yes, I have noticed fewer insects and fewer birds and wonder if there’s a link between the two.

Bumblebee 2018

A German entomological study in 2017 found that insects in nature reserves had decreased by 75 percent over the 27 years that they have been collecting information. The New York Times article stated, “Scientists are still cautious about what the findings might imply about other regions of the world. But the study brought forth exactly the kind of longitudinal data they had been seeking, and it wasn’t specific to just one type of insect. The numbers were stark, indicating a vast impoverishment of an entire insect universe, even in protected areas where insects ought to be under less stress. The speed and scale of the drop were shocking even to entomologists who were already anxious about bees or fireflies or the cleanliness of car windshields.

Most people don’t pay much attention to insects except for the pretty ones like butterflies or the ones that bite like mosquitoes or ticks. Some insects can be pests, but most insects are not. Not only do they pollinate 35% of the world’s crops, they help decompose organic matter and are the main food source for many birds, reptiles, amphibians, bats, fish, and small mammals. They’re a critical member of the food chain.

Swallowtail caterpillar

I was encouraged at a recent neighborhood association meeting where the board decided not to apply lawn herbicides due to wetland restrictions. However, because of the increased tick population and as a preventative for ants and termites, they will spray pesticides along the edge of the woods and around the building foundations… probably every home foundation but mine.

I will protect the small habitat here and make it hospitable for insects, insects like the katydids that still populate this garden. I heard their raspy calls in the summer. They are nocturnal insects, but occasionally they appear during the day.
The male Fork-tailed bush katydid (Scudderia furcata):

male katydid 2018

And below, the female Fork-tailed bush katydid (Scudderia furcata) with the telltale anatomy of the female. She uses her serrated ovipositor to delicately insert her eggs between the layers of a leaf’s edge.

female katydid 2018

2018 Fork-tailed bush katydid (Scudderia furcata)

One more interesting note… there is a tiny slit visible on each of her front legs. Those are her “ears” that she uses to listen for the call of the male katydid.

These healthy insects and many others are important links in the backyard food chain. Even though adult birds may eat seeds, it’s insects like these that are fed to their young…. not seeds.  So until we know and understand more about a possible “insect apocalypse,” I guard this tiny habitat and no herbicides or pesticides will be used here.

 

At last….

Snow has finally made an appearance in New England. The locals are excited. The ski resorts are excited. Cross country skiers are excited. Sledders are excited. Kids who play outdoors, build snowmen or have snowball fights are excited. The snow plow drivers are excited.

I don’t do any of those things but I am excited, too. Something about snow is peaceful and calming. The landscape is blanketed in white, sounds are muted, automobile traffic slows and some folks, especially me, simply want to open a book and read while relaxing in a favorite chair, looking up every page or so to watch the snow flakes fall…. and occasionally opening the door to toss seeds, fruit and nuts to the waiting birds and squirrels.

I did finish a book and read half of a new book today but when the shadows grew long, I decided to pull on boots and make the first tracks in our landscape. From where the snow depth reached near the top of my boots, I’d guess we were served up about 10-inches of the white stuff…. give or take an inch or so. Winds caused peaks and valleys so it’s hard to be exact.

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Rabbit serving snow a la mode

rabbit ears 2019

Rabbit hibernating

I was thankful to have a thick blanket of snow over most of my smaller plants like my boxwood below. The insulation will help them tonight, tomorrow night, and later this week when temperatures plunge close to zero degrees.

Birdbath 2019

Insulated boxwood

When the weather turns this cold and snowy, our birds seem to lose a little of their apprehension of approaching humans…. meaning me.  It’s all about survival now. They come often to feed and the heated birdbath proves to be a popular meeting place for all birds and squirrels.

bluejay 2019

With melting snow turning my socks cold and wet inside my boots, I quickly decided all was well in our little world.  I made my way back to my reading chair with a hot mug of tea, a nice warm blanket, and dry socks.  I will finish another book today.

path 2019

 

Volcano mulching

Just visiting the local grocery store makes me grimace. It’s all about the trees there. Last year, landscape and lawn care companies tidied up borders, trimmed and pruned shrubs at the grocery and then they piled at least a foot thick layer of mulch against the trunk of all the trees around the parking lot, a process that has been dubbed ‘volcanoes,’ or ‘turtle mounds.’

mulch volcanoes 1/13/2019

volcanoes January 2019

I’m always amazed to see a sight like this. For decades, arborists and extension experts have railed against such practices because it will sentence a tree to a slow death. Why we still see everywhere it is a mystery to me.

Not only commercial sites, but old trees and new trees in neighborhoods within a mile of my home are mulched with volcanoes. The mulch volcanoes have settled over the fall and winter months, but still piled high against the bark.

volcano1/13/19

volcano mulch 1/13/19

Mulch done right is beneficial for a tree. It prevents weed growth, protects bark from a weed wacker, helps retain moisture, and helps to moderate soil temperatures in all seasons. But the volcano mulch piled against the bark of tree, especially young trees, will soften the bark and invite the invasion of rodents, insects, fungus, rot and the suffocation of the trees’ roots.

I’ve been taught to think ‘doughnut’ when mulching a tree and limit the mulch to two, three or four inches deep… max. Once I apply, I pull the mulch away from the trunk for about five or six inches until the root flair is visible.

It’s a puzzle to me why volcanoes are so popular. Is it that the professionals don’t know better or do their clients prefer the volcano look? It frustrates me and as a frustrated Charlie Brown would say, “Aaugh!”

 

It’s been a mild winter…

…..on the Seacoast of New Hampshire. Lots of rain with temperatures that have fluctuated in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s during the day, and the 20’s and 30’s during the overnight for the most part. But this mild pattern is about to change. Last night we had mild overnight temperature of 33°. Tonight’s temperatures will drop into the mid-teens. Nighttime temperatures will stay there or much lower for the rest of the month. Sigh. Winter has arrived.

So this morning, I had a job to do. Out came the burlap to protect two of my woody plants, the mahonias, that I consider borderline plants in my less sheltered garden sites. Officially we are zone 6 in Exeter, but I always plant for hardiness zone 5b as I learned while working at Rolling Green Nursery here in NH.

mahonia NH 2019

It’s a lovely winter blooming plant and they are beginning to develop terminal blooms on several stems. With temperatures dropping to single digits tomorrow night, I needed to protect those new blooms that are oh-so tiny.

mahonia bloom January 2019

Those blooms will open to beautiful, lemon-yellow clusters in late February or March and look like this photo (below) taken in my January gardens in Virginia. As an early blooming plant, these fragrant blooms are well-known for helping to feed those first bees that are searching for nectar in the spring.

honeybee on mahonia

After pollination, the fruits develop the most divine grape-like clusters of powder blue berries. Unfortunately, they don’t stay on the plants long. My catbirds arrive from warmer climes and devour all before any other migrating bird has a chance!

mahonia berries in Virginia

Mahonia is closely related to the barberry, but the leaves are spiny and look more like a holly shrub. These slow-growing plants are planted in a shady mixed-shrub border that I am currently planning a big redesign. Not to worry… my mahonia shrubs stay just where they are as the jewels in the crown of this garden in New Hampshire.

Good Luck food for 2019

Here’s wishing everyone out there peace, happiness and much good luck in the new year…. including mister gardener and me!

We decided to celebrate the end of 2018 in a style that’s quite rare for us. It’s usually a cozy night at home and an early evening, but we upped the ante with dinner at a local upscale eatery, the Epoch, with a six course New Year’s Eve meal. Oh wow!

Epoch Restaurant

We thought it’d be a terrific time to treat ourselves while marking the end of an up and down year and celebrating the beginning of a new year full of good cheer and happy plans.

Epoch

We loved all the courses… new tastes for us like Arpege Egg, a soft-boiled egg with maple syrup, sherry, and a coriander floret, and for mister gardener, a favorite of tender bay scallops, but the highlight for me was Hoppin’ John soup. Not the Hoppin’ John recipe I grew up with, which is whole black-eyed peas served over a bed of rice, but a creamy rich soup topped with sprigs of water cress. Yum!

Epoch Inn 'Hoppin' John Soup"

It was so good that today I tried to make my own version of the Hoppin’ John soup using ingredients I have at home. No watercress. No cream of celery soup. Not sure included in their ‘Trinity’ they printed on the menu but I could guess it was the Trinity of celery, onions and bell peppers found in Cajun cooking. No bell pepper in our refrigerator.

I began by sauteing onion and celery in bacon grease until tender, then added chicken stock. I scraped up all the pan bits, added the peas, a chopped potato and seasonings and simmered until done.  I threw in a handful of spinach leaves and with the immersion blender, I made a pureed soup that passed the taste test. A dollop of sour cream and voila!

 

Hoppin' John Annie

It doesn’t taste exactly like Epoch’s tasty soup but my version is good enough. I may never eat traditional Hoppin’ John black-eyed peas over rice for good luck on New Year’s Day again.