In the Realm of Druids and Faeries

steps1This is the cool, wet time of year when moss is at its best. Its emerald plumpness proclaims, “Look at me. My hyper green greenness demands that you see me.”

Against the grayest of gray days and the most muted tones of fallen logs and decaying leaves, moss paints the landscape with exuberant signs of life.

All green was vanished save of pine and yew, That still displayed their melancholy hue; Save the green holly with its berries red, And the green moss that o’er the gravel spread.

―George Crabbe

I like moss. Moss in my yard, moss on trees, moss on concrete, moss on brick. It drapes the concrete under my fencing. I invite it to spread across my yard, replacing the useless grass at every inch. I’ve gotten rid of most of my front lawn, instead having vegetable plots, a pollinator garden and drought-tolerant shrubs and natives. My yard is a wildlife sanctuary.

There is some moss on the ground, but I’d like more. It would save me from mowing or using mulch around my plantings.

steps2
Did ancient Romans climb these steps? (Camp Long)

Often overlooked or undervalued by the casual observer, mosses do serve important functions in nature. Classified as bryophytes, mosses help stabilize the soil, reduce evaporation of water and even provide food for some herbivores.

They take nutrients from the atmosphere and therefore can be indicators of air pollution.

One gram of moss from the forest floor, a piece about the size of a muffin, would harbour 150,000 protozoa, 132,000 tardigrades, 3,000 springtails, 800 rotifers, 500 nematodes, 400 mites, and 200 fly larvae. These numbers tell us something about the astounding quantity of life in a handful of moss.

― Robin Wall Kimmerer, author, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses

Bridge support, Camp Long
Bridge support, Camp Long

But most of all, moss is nature’s way of reminding us that nature wins in the end. It conquers manmade surfaces. I like the way it decorates steps and benches and bridge supports. It makes them look like remnants of ancient civilizations and transforms my walks into brief visits to the past.

Bench in Camp Long
Bench, Camp Long

It is said that faeries sleep on beds of moss. I’ve never seen one, but I keep looking.

Hardware store shelves bulge with “Moss be Gone” and “Moss Out.” I say, keep your money and let the moss run wild!

This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks, Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight, Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic, Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.

―Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Spotless Ladybug and Other Garden Insects

ladybug2I’d been wearing my ladybug earrings recently, in honor of spring, and it seems it was a prescient act. Recently I saw a bazillion ladybugs in my yard! OK, not a bazillion, but I saw one, then another, and another, and finally realized there were a lot on my rose bushes! Not that there were any aphids or other pests that I could see, but I was glad to have the little red ladies.

From what I could see, these ladybugs were all small, spotless girls.

ladybug3I grew up with the image of a deep red ladybug, usually sporting two black spots. But my visitors were much smaller and had no spots.

Some people call them ladybirds.

Ladybug, ladybug fly away home. Your house is on fire and your children will burn.

ladybug4Despite their gentle name and lovable reputation among children and gardeners, ladybugs are feisty little beetles. Their scientific family of Coccinellidae includes ladies of various shades of red, orange or even yellow, and many variations of spots.

ladybug5

They are found worldwide. From my research on the web, I’m thinking my species is Harmonia axyridis, which varies greatly from red and orange to black, with no spots, a few spots, or lots of spots! This is the one that came from Asia and is now widely established in North America, South America, Europe and South Africa.

Lady beetles are ladybug7valued as predators of garden pests, including aphids and scale, but scientists have learned that they also eat such plant materials as fungi, pollen, and nectar. They’ve even been known to become cannibalistic, eating eggs and larvae of other ladybugs when food is scarce.

Ladybugs to the rescue

ladybug roseLast year an invasion of aphids attacked my honeysuckle, leaving it looking pretty sad, with its deformed, unopened flowers. Once I realized the shrub was not dying for water and that there were aphids all over, I went to work.

I discovered that aphids cause the flowers to look like “witches brooms,” aptly named as the flower buds look like curved broom heads.

DSC_0117

 

They just stay that way and never fully open, so my honeysuckle looked like all the flowers had died.

 

DSC_0123I have learned that this is an issue with certain honeysuckle species, so I’ll have to live with it. Advice on the web is to cut off much of the plant during winter, before the larvae can hatch. Also, spraying with a solution of dish soap and water can get rid of some.

DSC_0119So far, my plant is looking OK, though there is a lot of evidence of aphids again. I got out my spray bottle again. I then saw a few ladybugs on the plant. “Do your thing, do your thing,” I told them.

DSC_0113 Several states have named the ladybug as the state insect, including Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio, Tennessee and New York. New York went further by specifically designating the native North American species, Coccinella novemnotata, the nine-spotted ladybug. This species has declined as the European seven-spotted ladybeetle and the Asian species I mentioned above have spread.

Ornate Hoppers

While I was scouting out ladybugs on my plants, I noticed a bunch of leaf hoppers. Hoppers are tiny, narrow insects, generally regarded as pests because they suck juices from vegetation. But I always recall macro photos of them in field guides that spotlight their beautiful colors. My leaf hoppers were a blue-green, with dark blue or black stripes on its wings.

leafhoppersIt might be a “sharpshooter” leaf hopper. As with the beetle family, leaf hoppers can come in psychedelic colors. Some have red and turquoise stripes, or bright orange with green and blue; even a most artistic pattern of blue and yellow streaks.

leafhoppers3What is the function of such color in the insect world? It certainly isn’t camouflage.

Blending In

But an insect that blends right in with its environment is the lacewing, another beneficial garden bug. I happened to see a few around my house. Only about an inch long, they have bodies of delicate green, and as the name implies, wings that are translucent and lacy looking. They are common to North America and Europe, and similar to ladybugs in lifestyle. They eat aphids, caterpillars, mites and other insect larvae and eggs. Garden plants that are said to attract lacewings include coreopsis, cosmos, dandelions, sunflowers and dill. In that case, lacewings should be pretty common! I’ve got enough dandelions to support a town of lacewings! And I’ve planted cosmos and sunflowers.

The Color Purple – Veggie Style

cauli2I’ve been toying with this fantasy for a while, off and on. What if I planted a vegetable garden based solely on color? After all, color figures largely in my flower garden.

With apologies to Kermit, it IS easy being green. Celery, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, all green. String beans, peas, kale, chard, zucchini, Brussels sprouts, all green. What do most kids and many adults refuse to eat? Anything green!

Every year, when I plan my edible garden, I try to incorporate something different; something that I haven’t grown before. The old standards do well and I like them, but let’s face it. There’s a lot more to the fruits of this planet than what we eat all the time.

After just a little thought, I realized it wouldn’t be dcarrotsifficult  to create a one-color vegetable garden. I’m talking about the actual fruits of the plant. Fruits as in vegetables. Get it? For the most part, the leaves would still be green.

So I begin with purple. I made a list of every purple or nearly purple vegetable that I knew of. In some instances, a few might be called “red,” or some “red” vegetables are in fact more purple looking, so I have included them in my list. In the process, I discovered a few more, though I might have difficulty finding them in the store.

beetsBut seeds, that’s another story. All sorts of exotic seed sources exist. Seek and ye shall find.

That’s not to say that everything purple will grow in every region. Remember, it’s a fantasy garden.

Here’s a list of purple foods that exist in reality, and are possible to grow, somewhere, in no particular order:

Broccoli
Cauliflower

cauliCarrots
Beets
Onions (red)
String beans
Cabbage (red)

Kale

kale

Kohlrabi
Turnips
Eggplant
Potatoes
Sweet potatospudes

Radishes
Peppers
Corn

 

Asparagus
Garlic

Tomatoes

Radicchio

 

 

That’s a pretty full plate of veggies! And with a few surprises. I never knew there was purple asparagus, and I’ve seen many heirloom tomatoes, but I don’t recall coming across purple ones.

spud2The inside of a cooked purple sweet potato

Where does purple cauliflower get its color? The answer is anthocyanin, which contains flavonoid compounds. Purple cauliflower also contains glucoraphanin, a compound found in cruciferous vegetables. Both substances are said to fight cancer and are significantly lowered in value by cooking the cauliflower. I might have to rethink how I eat this vegetable!

I’ve eaten many foods on the list, including the potatoes, cabbage, kohlrabi, beets, beans, onions, carrots, kale and eggplant. I have to say that they all taste the same as other colors, but imagine the visual impact at a meal!

The next time you are in the grocery store, cruise the vegetable offerings with new eyes. I bet you will be amazed at how many foods you have never noticed. But they’re always there!