Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ivy Itch

Happy Poison Ivy
Poison Ivy is a squatter, an invader, an oportunist.

It is rife along the edges of ourwoods. It climbs to the very tops of tall trees. It marches into grassy fields. It sneaks into nooks and crannies. Pops up beneath the elder bushes, or amidst the garden plants beneath the shade of the hedge tree.

Poison Ivy is bold. Audacious. Robust.

Not happy after just one spraying.
And that is before you get to the part where it makes you itch like mad -- if you are sensitive to the chemical it exudes when damaged. Which I am not. I think. I am almost certain. But I am not going to test the theory. My dad was immune for nearly 80 years, then got his first itchy blisters one winter from poison ivy residue on firewood.

Because it is so rampant in places on our property, I have in the past resorted to using synthetic chemical herbicides on it. This "chemical which shall remain nameless" has done only minimal damage to the poison ivy population. Recently, someone pointed to a link with a less toxic solution (thanks Kris B.).

One gallon of plain old white vinegar heated; dissolve into it one cup of ordinary salt. Cool. Pour into sprayer and add 8 drops of liquid detergent. Wet the poison ivy thoroughly on the morning of a day that will be hot and sunny.

A small bit dead after just one spraying.
It works as well as the-chemical-which-shall-remain-nameless. And I don't have to dress in a HAZMAT suit, with goggles and mask and rubber gloves, then shower, and launder my clothes afterward. My hands were bare when I sprayed the vinegar solution. I didn't even change my clothes when I was done.

Results of the spray are not immediately apparent, but by the end of a hot day, the edges of the leaves are crispy brown. It works most efficiently on small poison ivy plants. The larger ones will take several sprayings.

Autumn poison ivy
Because of the salt in the concoction, one must be cautious about applying this in large quantities over a large area. Enough salt will make the soil sterile. But spot spraying small areas should cause no concern, as the rains will dilute the small quantity of salt that gets into the soil.

I have no hope of eradicating poison ivy from our woods and meadows. However, I do want to push it back from the edges, away from where human contact is most likely. If I can do that much, I will consider it success. We also are considering using a large tarp to smother the poison ivy where it grows in large patches in one of the orchard areas. When I find one or two relatively small bits of poison ivy in an otherwise clean area, I take a plastic back, insert my hand, pull the ivy out with the bag-covered hand and turn the bag inside out so that it enclosed the ivy, then put it in the trash.

If only poison ivy would play well with others. Without its toxin, it can be a rather attractive plant. It is especially so in the autumn, when its orange and red leaves set the woods aflame. Everything has its beauty.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Butterfly Magic

Hackberry Butterfly,
The Hackberry Butterflies are now out, almost a month early. These butterflies that gather in crowds usually come out around midsummer.

Not only are they out early this year, but they are out in the largest numbers that I have ever seen.

They cover the gravel road. They cover the driveway. Every pile of dung left by wild animal or tame is covered with little brown butterflies seeking moisture. Crowds of butterflies hang out on the concrete floor of our porch once the sun has warmed it in the morning until the shade has cooled it in early evening.

Whenever I water the plants on the porch they cluster on the soil and around spilled puddles, seeking moisture. They land on my bare arms, and I can feel them probing with their probosci, seeking moisture from my sweat.

When I walk out my back door, a cloud of butterflies rises around me. Yes, there is something magical about that. I want to take flight, as well.

But, then, I must be quick about going back inside, or several fluttering things will stumble through the opening. Sometimes they hitchhike in on me, or whatever I happen to be carrying. This can be slightly annoying.

However, I prefer to focus on the magic of being surrounded by hundereds of fluttering wings. The clouds of butterflies appear suddenly, are here briefly, then are gone.

While the hackberry butterfly is not unattractive, it is rather drably colored. They don't pose prettily on flowers, but on driveways and concrete and piles of dung. They impress by their sheer numbers, not by their colorful beauty.

So, I leave you with a photo of a more brightly colored fritillary posing in a sea of lavender.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Barefoot Again

Pink Yarrow
I am barefoot again!

Today I spent most of the day in the garden with NO shoes. I think my foot feels better for it.
Skin to earth. Feeling every prickly thing, every edge on the gravel. Love it.

For the past week I have been wearing a regular shoe on my right foot, usually the sturdy hiking boots with the rigid sole and lots of support around. When I first put it on, my foot feels snug and safe. By the end of the day the whole foot hurts. My toes complain about being crammed into the shoe. My long unused muscles ache with their work. Only a tiny bit of occasional pain occurs where the break is.

But walking skin to earth, feeling the way the terrain shifts and curves has stretched the muscles gently and taught them (again) how they are suppose to work.

For the past week I have been planting like mad. Seeds, plants that I started from seed, plants I bought and plants acquired during a plant exchange party a couple of weeks ago.

Purple Poppy Mallow (Callirhoe), I took a tiny seedling
 to the plant exchange.
A plant exchange is quite a simple and delightful concept. You take plants that you can spare -- extras you bought or started and have no room for, or divisions of things getting out of hand, even that small shrub you decided to dig out. Whatever you have to share. Bring it and then pick out new plants from what others brought. Oh yes, don't forget to bring a dish for the potluck, and maybe a bottle of wine. After all it is a plant exchange party!

I was so proud of myself for bringing home fewer plants than I took. I told myself that I could bring something home only if I had a vague idea where I would plant it. So I got a hellebore (not sure what kind) and a solomon's seal for the shade under the hedge tree; some meadow rue and a perennial sunflower for the wildflower patch; a Monarda didyama (don't know what color); a clump of Virginia bluebells that the hostess had dug just for me; and a plume poppy.

All are now planted, except for the plume poppy. You must beware what you take home from a plant exchange. Why do you think there is enough to share? The plume poppy can get to be a giant of a plant and is "invasive under ideal circumstances." So I am carefully considering its new home.

Aphrodite Fritillary, Speyeria aphrodite

Butterflies are fluttering about by the hundreds -- soon to be thousands when the hackberry emporer pulls free of its cocoon. I have seen many lovely orange and black butterflies that I was able to identify as one of the fritillaries that grace our state. Today I caught a photo of one supping on the blossom of pale coneflower (Echincacea pallida). I at first identified it as a Great Spangled Fritillary -- with a bit of disappointment, as I noticed the Aphrodite Fritillary listed immediately after it -- but not pictured -- in my booklet from the Kansas School Naturalist, Emporia State University.

However, my photo and the one in the booklet of the Great Spangled didn't quite match. So I breathlessly did a Web search for Speyeria aphrodite. Imagine my delight when I found that, indeed, my butterfly is the Aphrodite.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Seems that I misidentified one of the butterflies in my May 2 post, Pollinator Frenzy.
The above butterfly is a Buckeye. It doesn't have some of the colors of the Common Buckeye, but it certainly is not a Painted Lady. This is what a Painted Lady looks like. My brain got some crossed wires when I checked my little "Checklist of Kansas Butterflies" booklet. Sorry for the error. I will change the name in that post.

Friday, May 4, 2012


I woke early this morning to the sound of thunder.
A little later, about the time the alarm went off, I heard rain.
Not much rain fell, but it was a pleasant sound to hear.
The cloud photo was taken last night, presumably part of a heavy storm to the north of us that I saw on the radar a bit later. The cloud was much more interesting a few minutes before the shot was taken, but I did not have my camera. As with most things in nature and with young children, the best shots can't wait even a few seconds. Oh well.

Kaine made some suggestions on the identities of the little bee/wasp/fly guys I caught shots of on my black raspberry flowers.

Another view of the digger bee.
I did a search for photos and the first one (above right) definitely looks like one of the Mining Bee (aka Miner Bee, aka Digger Bee) clan.

The other two didn't mesh quite so well. Possibly the one is one of the tachinid fly species, it's hard to tell. But I am going to keep searching. The other one didn't look like any of the hover fly photos I found, so I will keep searching. I once had a link to a local university's entomology department, they should be able to help with the id. Will have to find that link.

In the meantime, here is another pretty cloud shot. This one is to the west, in front of the setting sun.
Now I must go out and plant tomatoes.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Pollinator Frenzy

The requisite honey bee photo.
We got rain, finally. More than an inch Sunday morning and about half an inch late Monday night and Tuesday morning. I will not have to fill the tank and water the fruit trees. Yay!

On Monday I took my tools down the hill to tie the black raspberries to their trellises. The bushes are in voluminous bloom. I hadn't realized that black raspberry blossoms do not have the showy white petals that most other members of the rose family have.

One of the Whites, probably not the Checkered.
But that didn't stop feasting at all. As I worked the shrubs hummed and buzzed with the sound of bumblebees and honey bees hard at work collecting nectar and/or pollen from the relatively inconspicuous flowers.

Various butterflies also feasted at the flowers, probing the nectaries with their long probisci. All of these pollinators will mean many lovely berries in a few weeks. I adore black raspberries and hope to harvest buckets full this year.

All of our flowering plants are covered with multiple pollinators, including clouds of butterflies and what I presume are diurnal moths.

While working the black raspberries (actually, while looking through the camera lens to see how many different butterflies I could shoot) I saw three bee/hornet/fly type pollinators that I cannot identify. So many things take nourishment from flowers.

The diversity of Nature never ceases to amaze me.
The top butterfly is probably a Silver Spotted Skipper, the little one is one of the hairstreaks, but I can't identify which one.
The Zebra Swallowtail is one of my favorites. The native paw paw tree is one of the food hosts for their larvae.

These are the three unidentified bee/hornet/fly type pollinators that I found on my black raspberry flowers. Nature produces such a wide array of insects that serve to pollinate various plants. Some plants feed pretty much all types of pollinators, while others require particularly long probisci or some other feature that allows a limited number of pollinators access to the bounty.

Anyone who can help me identify any of these, please chime in. Thanks.

Fly? Bee? Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.
And to finish up, the required bumblebee backside.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Happy May Day

A little May basket for you on this beautiful day.
News later.
Pretty flowers now.