August Buzz

The energy in the garden seems to change by the end of August. While the days are getting noticeably shorter, it also feels like the vegetable garden gets one final burst of energy.

For example? The summer squash plants finally started growing. Honestly, I had been going back and forth with pulling out the plants but decided to leave them. I’m happy I did because I’m a big fan of homegrown zucchini. Not to mention needing zucchini so I can make this relish, which I put on everything from eggs to burgers.

The bigger tomatoes continue to disappoint this year. The cherry tomatoes weren’t exactly superstars, either. I’m chalking it up to the wet summer but, as a self-professed tomato snob, the lack of abundance has been a bummer. I haven’t even made tomato jam yet this year but I’m planning on hitting up a farmer’s market next weekend. Having to buy tomatoes hurts!

Late August vegetable harvest
Late August vegetable harvest

What I’m…

Harvesting: Zucchini—finally! Along with edamame, lima beans, pole beans, tomatillos, tomatoes, beets, peppers (hot and not), and some herbs.

Making: Pickled green tomatoes. Can’t get enough.

Reading: Comic: Why You Should Turn Your Yard Into a Mini-Farm. Infographic that clearly explains why mini-farms are the way to go! I think we’re getting there…slowly.

Wanting: A Mortier Pilon glass fermentation crock. Certainly don’t need it but would look so cool on the kitchen counter!

Looking Forward to: A break. Honestly, I love the vegetables I harvest in the fall but part of me is already looking forward to some time off in the garden. Although I still have a couple months.

Milkweed and Monarchs: Plant It and They Will Come

Let’s take a trip in the wayback machine. Like the way, way, way, way, wayback machine.

I can remember playing with milkweed pods growing through the fence of my elementary school’s playground. While I was unaware of the relationship between milkweed and monarchs, I remember there was milkweed everywhere and vividly remember playing with the pods as they burst in the fall.

Burst Tropical Milkweed Seed Pod
Burst tropical milkweed seed pod

Is that when my fascination with monarchs started? Perhaps.

Monarch Butterfly in the Garden
Monarch butterfly on tropical milkweed

Regardless, all these years later monarchs have a special place in my heart and my garden. As does milkweed. Because, as we all know, milkweed is the only host plant for monarchs.

Planting Butterfly Weed

Five or six years ago, I started planting milkweed in the garden. Like many people, I first planted  butterfly weed (asclepias tuberosa) because it was easy to find at my favorite garden store.

Butterfly weed also spreads on its own, but not too quickly, and comes back reliably year after year.

Planting More Milkweed

Over time, I realized I could attract and help more monarchs if I planted different types of milkweed. Logical, right?

So, I added the following:

I’m fortunate that I have a large yard to play and plant in. Butterfly weed is growing in three different areas, swamp milkweed has taken over the wet area in the back of our yard, common milkweed is growing in a defined area (aka, easy to pull out milkweed that has travelled too far) in the backyard of our rental house, whorled milkweed is just getting started in my Monarch Waystation, and I sowed tropical milkweed seeds closer to the house (hubby and I have enjoyed sitting on the deck watching the butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds).

Spotting Caterpillars Everywhere

Each summer, I impatiently wait for the first sighting of a monarch in the garden. This year, my first sighting was in the form a caterpillar on the common milkweed in mid-June.

Monarch Caterpillar on Common Milkweed
Monarch caterpillar on common milkweed

Good start but then I waited and waited and waited some more.

The monarchs began arriving in the garden around the second week of July.

Finally, in mid-August, I started seeing monarch caterpillars—without having to look too hard—on all the different types of milkweed.

Monarch Caterpillar on Butterfly Weed
Monarch caterpillar on butterfly weed
Monarch Caterpillar on Swamp Milkweed
Monarch caterpillar on swamp milkweed
Monarch Caterpillar on Whorled Milkweed
Monarch caterpillar on whorled milkweed
Monarch Caterpillar on Tropical Milkweed
Monarch caterpillar on tropical milkweed

So, yes, if you plant it they will come. Given the struggle that monarchs and all pollinators have these days, it’s the least I can do to help. 

July Buzz

At the beginning of July, I was wondering if any butterflies other than the red admirals would ever make their way to the garden. 

By mid July, I knew the answer was yes. They took their time but, suddenly, there were swallowtails, monarchs, painted ladies, and a few skippers here and there.

I spotted a new-to-me spicebush swallowtail, which took me awhile to identify. Of course, I submitted the sighting to Butterflies and Moths of North America for verification.

And the eastern tiger swallowtail nectaring deep in the daylily was surprising and just really, really cool to watch.

Beans are still the stars of the vegetable garden with cherry tomatoes and cucumbers catching up.

The bigger tomatoes, including the green zebras and red Siberians, are taking their own sweet time.

Not sure if it was the rain or the cooler June, but cucumber beetles have not been a problem like in previous years. I’m still squishing a few every morning but the cucumber plants are producing like crazy.

You know what isn’t? Summer squash! Can you believe it? I have 5 or 6 various types of zucchini and summer squash plants throughout the garden and only one zucchini plant is giving me much to harvest at this point. I gave all the plants a good soaking of worm compost tea so, finger crossed, they’ll start doing their thing.

What I’m…

Harvesting: Bush and pole green beans, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, radishes (planted in the shade of tomato plants), jalapeños, Chinese 5 color peppers, tomatillos, basil, and lemon balm. Wonder what I’m forgetting?

Making: Burrata and tomatoes with basil – easy summertime side dish. More like assembling than making, which makes it even better after a hot day in the garden.

Reading: Talking Dirt by Annie Spiegelman. It’s a quick read about organic gardening. When I’m not gardening, I’m reading about gardening.

Wanting: An easy way to keep the squirrels and chipmunks from sampling the tomatoes. I’m using a DIY mint & cayenne pepper spray, which seems to help. I’ve also covered a few of the plants with tulle. Realistically, I know the animals will always sample the fruits and veggies. Sigh.

Looking Forward to: Lima beans in August!