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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Stories from the Farm - Little Visitors

It's a cool morning three days past mid-August. There is no need to run fans, night or day, and the windows remain wide open even though an intermittently cloudy sky has been spitting rain. Through the windows floats a cool breeze and the almost constant crescendo and diminuendo of the cicadas' chorus, drowning out other songs of summer. The school buses have started running their routes again. In stores and nurseries all over town, the traditional stock of summer plants has disappeared almost overnight, replaced by Mums and pumpkins. Even though the bean and gold-tipped corn fields are still green and yards are awash in blooms, there's a feeling of fall in the air, signaled perhaps by the scent of summer growth maturing and seeding out, the aging light of a sun sitting lower in the sky, and by a slight change of pace as the traffic-flow starts to increase. The days are getting noticeably shorter.

Hello, World. Perchance send a gnat or a mosquito my way?
Welcome to  my world!
Signs of encroaching fall aside, however, it is still mid-August. The tomatoes are red-ripe on the vine and the vegetables are fresh from the garden. There is still plenty of summer left to enjoy!  

One morning last week, a slight movement on a leaf of one of my cleomes drew my eye to this little baby tree frog outside my kitchen window. By the time I got outside with my camera and found him again, he was clinging to the cleome's seed pods - he's only about an inch long with his little spindly legs and suction-cup toes tucked around him - so tiny! Made me think of all the little tadpoles that occupied our flooded ditch this wet, wet summer and wonder if he had been one of them.
Tussock Moth Caterpillar

And WOO HOO! I finally have Monarch caterpillars on my Milkweed plants! The Milkweed plants I came by a few years ago at the Master Gardeners' Garden Expo. I always look forward to this annual spring event at the fairgrounds because the Master Gardeners dig and sell plants from their own yards and gardens. It's a great way to get inexpensive starts of plants that are resilient in this area of the country. Various vendors also participate and the Master Gardeners offer educational lectures as well. This particular year, I stopped at the booth of a lady who was advocating to save the Monarch butterfly.  I made a donation and she sold me a Milkweed plant. Milkweed plants have been happily thriving in my garden ever since. I had never really noticed any Monarch larvae on them, however. (Probably because I didn't know what Monarch larvae looked like, lol.) Then this summer I spotted five or six of the creatures shown above right crawling around on my Milkweed Plants. I was so excited! I assumed they were Monarch larvae. False alarm. They are actually Tussock moth larvae.

Monarch Caterpillar chewing away on a Milkweed leaf
So I was somewhat disappointed - and humbled because I had uploaded a photo on Facebook and told all my friends it was of a Monarch caterpillar. But a few days later, along comes the real deal (as show to the left)! I have spotted three of these on my Milkweed plants so far.

So, enjoy the rest of your summer, and keep your fingers crossed along with me or send up a prayer that my little visitors survive to have long, happy, and productive lives!


Mysterious pupa on my Milkweed

Another Monarch caterpillar grazes behind a pupa

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