Frog pond

09152018 pond
September 15, 2018. Carpet pond. It was surrounded by boundless elderberries, and the shade they provided allowed frogs to breed all summer. We had tadpoles up through October!
10152018 frog
October 1, 2018. American bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus. I counted, at any given time, an average of 8 frogs sunning on the stones.

Butterflies in August

…and one in October. Note all butterflies were spotted alighting on anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), which I shall hereafter refer to as the super-nectary.

08102018 black swallowtail
August 10, 2018. This is a garden standby. Sorry for the focus – difficult to see the blue spot on the bottom part of the wing. Black swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes.
08122018 painted lady
August 12, 2018. American painted lady, Vanessa virginiensis.
08252018 black swallowtail unknown
August 25, 2018. Giant swallowtail, P. cresphontes. This was the first time I had seen this type in the garden. I thought it was a cross between the black and tiger swallowtails. I’m still not sure, because it appears to lack a horizontal stripe across the forewings. Its larva is known to feed on Japanese honeysuckle, which is rampant on the farm.
10072018 monarch
September 7, 2018. Monarch, Danaus plexippus. I saw two or three of these at any given time in the garden throughout the summer. Note the light blue chicory flower in the midground. This was also a valuable nectary and edible for humans.



The nine plants of Sambucus canadensis exceeded my wildest expectations. After two years, they outgrew their space in the garden this summer. My sense is that they can be as vigorous and prolific as bamboo, but more gentle and forgiving. They, along with the passion vine, turned the garden into a jungle.

These were harvested on July 28, 2018. I lacked the organization to make a syrup for winter enjoyment.

The jungle, before culling begins.

08242018 elder JUNGLE 1
This and the following three photos taken on August 24, 2018. The majority of berries have been harvested at this point, though a few branches were still flowering.

08242018 elder jungle 00

08242018 elder JUNGLE 3

08242018 elder JUNGLE 4

Once the shrubs have been sufficiently topped, they must be dug up and transplanted to a more amenable situation.

09232018 elders WHEELBARROW
Resting in the shade awaiting their new home.
09122018 elder in pit
Being situated in their new location.
09172018 elders TRANSPLANTED
Hopefully they’ll be just as happy at the forest’s edge. The birds certainly will be.

Three sisters

This was the second time we’ve experimented with a traditional three sisters companion plant garden. It was more substantial (60′ x 100′) than the first, and suffered less predation from deer and raccoons and skunks. Its productivity has kept me fed up to the present and beyond. The varieties planted: Ohio blue clarage dent corn, Seminole pumpkin, and Cherokee cornfield pole snap bean. I didn’t realize the blue clarage corn was blue and white instead of pure blue. I may switch to a bluer version, but I was highly impressed with the productivity of this variety.

07242018 3 sisters APPROACH
July 24, 2018. Approaching the cornfield.
07242018 3 sisters CORN BEANS
The beans growing up the corn.
07242018 3 sisters CORN SQUASH
The squash creeping beyond the corn patch.
07242018 3 sisters INITIAL HARVEST
One of the first harvests – July 24, 2018. There are other squash besides the Seminole. The Seminole was by far the most prolific.


07242018 3 sisters chickens husks
The chickens don’t necessarily eat the corn husks, but it gives novelty to their routine.
09302018 3 sisters FINAL HARVEST
This was THE final harvest. September 30. All green squashes (with the exception of the flat bluish one in the center) are Seminole pumpkins. I could have easily harvested three times the amount of beans in that container.
10072018 3 sisters final
October 7, 2018. Cornfield no more.

Passiflora incarnata

The passion flower quickly turned the garden into a steamy tropical jungle. The leaves, when tender, and the flowers can be tinctured and can have medicinal properties.

08242018 passion FLOWER
October 24, 2018
08242018 passion FRUITS jungle
October 24, 2018 – Note the gojis growing below. The passion flower was indiscriminate in its choice of aerial support. I tried putting the pulp and seeds in my morning smoothie, but the seeds gave an unpleasant texture to the drink.

As fall advanced and the nights became chillier, the leaves lost their youthful blush but remained vigorous and productive. Below – the first and third photos show indigo bush (Amorpha fruticosa) being overtaken by the vine. The middle photo is the sturdier redbud (Cercis canadensis), nonetheless appearing a bit smothered.

10142018 passion chill 2
October 14, 2018
10142018 passion chill 3
October 14, 2018
10142018 passion chill
October 14, 2018 – these indigo bushes cannot stand up to these weighty ramblers.

The vines were still surviving by late October. I finally pulled them all and fed them to the chickens in November.

10282018 passion
October 24, 2018. It was a rich, sunny day when this photo was taken.



10282018 goji
October 28, 2018

As in summer of 2017, this was a good year for gojis. I’ve noticed that the plants can be trained into a hedge. They spread by roots just below the surface – baby plants seem to emerge a few feet from the mother plant. The plants had red berries until the December snow.

These fresh berries do not have the same taste as the ones at the store (not as sweet). I air dried them to extend their useful life, and they had a drier (as opposed to chewy, raisin-like) texture. I’ll need to do research and/or continue experimenting next year.

08192018 insect goji 2
August 19, 2018
08192018 insect goji 3
August 19, 2018
08192018 insect goji
August 19, 2018



Rooster Dance

Jack the yard rooster (Gallus gallus domesticus) and his successor who remains without name.

Jack, formerly the alpha, lost his eye in a fight with the black rooster, and so was demoted to beta male, and banished to the garden. Once, he got in a physical confrontation with the now-dominant black rooster, but, with only one eye and no longer at the peak of fitness, he literally ran away screaming like a scared child. It was humorous and bitter-sweet.

Now, all confrontations (rare as they may be) occur with a fence in between.

04012018 rooster dance 1
They mirror each other’s movements, in an age-old dance of dominance that probably dates back to their dinosaur ancestors.
04012018 rooster dance 2
First down, then up. Then the neck feathers flare out.

04012018 rooster dance 3

04012018 rooster dance 4
The black rooster has outgrown Jack. I suspect Jack has some banty genes.
04012018 rooster dance 5
Chickens really are tiny dinosaurs.

Raising awareness with aplomb

Last night, I was invited to speak about our farm at one of the local Garden Clubs. In the South, a Garden Club is a proper noun. And, while they engage in service and support various causes, it is infrequent that they actually get their hands dirty in the art and science of gardening.

So, it was a breath of fresh air to have an audience that was so receptive to what I had to show and say.

While they took care of club business and socialized, they shared with me a piece of vanilla raspberry cake with a thick fondant and a cup of coffee, on matching china with a mauve border. I was afraid I would drop the coffee cup and it would shatter into a thousand pieces.

Then I presented.

After an update on the garden, I launched into my own PSA (public service announcement).

Perhaps you’ve heard of what the New York Times describes as an “insect armageddon.” This may seem like sensationalism, but hear me out. An entomological society in Germany has found that local populations of flying insects have declined by some 75% in the past three decades. Given that North America is more similar than not to German in terms of industrialization and resource use, it would seem that we have probably experienced similar declines. This can be anecdotally corroborated by observations that we make after hours of driving on the highways – these days, it seems there are hardly any bugs plastered on the windshields anymore. And I do seem to remember, as a kid in the backseat of the station wagon, seeing numerous bugs splattering wherever we went, as well as an insect-ridden front grill.

I wanted to come prepared when talking to this group of ladies, so I did a little more digging in the cyber ether, and found that, a couple of years ago, Yale University supported a study showing similar worldwide declines in the Lepidoptera order (butterflies and moths), and even sharper losses in other invertebrates. Crucially, the author makes a link between this somewhat abstract interpretation, and some concrete warnings that we’ve been hearing about for at least a decade or more – the falling populations of honeybees and monarch butterflies.

Fellow blogger, the entomologist Simon Leather, wrote an excellent post about all this when it was breaking news.

Back to the Garden Club – I let them know, in no uncertain terms, that I was not there to say “shame on us all,” just simply to bring this compelling trend to their attention, and to describe what I was doing to mitigate it. I concluded by showing them my work with native legumes (if you’ve gotten this far in this post, you are probably aware of my ongoing fascination with native legumes), and how these legumes support native insects and other fauna.

The meeting ended well. They were grateful, I was grateful, the meeting was adjourned, and we all departed, going our separate ways to our homes and families.

What is to become of the insects?

Life in the Piedmont

This will be my first attempt at commentary. I hope folks will bear with me as I express my developing perspective.

First, some observations of interest: a mostly clear night, the waning moon brilliant above (we will not see another full moon until January 1); the third night I’ve heard the honking of Canadian geese above as I gathered eggs in the darkness. Only these beautiful creatures can sound forlorn and yet joyous at the same time.

Now, on to the topic at hand…

 A fistful of Dollar Trees

From time to time, I talk about life in rural NC, not being defensive by any measure, but also being honest and forthright.

This is going to be one of those posts.

I was recently struck by an article: “How Dollar General Became Rural America’s Store of Choice (WSJ)” This hit close to home – in a very literal sense. There is a Dollar General on the way to the community college where I work, and right across the street from it, a Family Dollar.

The article notes that Dollar General targets the “lower-end market,” for instance, by marking items in 5-cent increments (easier to add for tight budgets). The household income of targeted shoppers is on the lower end of $40,000¹. The article also notes that the stores sell no fresh meat or produce, and that, by selling snacks and sundries in smaller, more economical packages, they appeal to thrifty shoppers more than Wal-Mart.

Having grown up in a cash-strapped household, I understand the need to pinch pennies. But, there are deeper issues here.

Whenever I pass these sentinels of American thrift, I feel that I’m driving through a food desert².

The smaller package-size is also notable. I have a suspicion, ostensibly confirmed elsewhere, that a cheaper price tag does not make it more economical for the unit price. And it’s hard to comparison shop due to the different sizes when compared to grocery stores.

The proliferation of dollar stores may be a symptom of a larger economic malaise that is besetting rural America. It may also provide rural residents with vital affordable resources that they would otherwise have to drive significant distances to obtain.

My take-away is, as with most aspects of 21st-century living (or is it just being human), one of ambivalence. I feel bad shopping at chains. I feel bad buying imported plastic things. I feel bad not supporting a more local economy. I feel bad spending money period. I also feel fortunate to have access to these products. And to be in a position to purchase them as I need them.

In the end, I know that I can count on Dollar General. However, the supermarkets are preferable because they have celery and whole-milk plain yogurt. The ultimate would be to grow my own celery (I’ve tried) and making my own yogurt (one day?).

What do you think? Do you have a dollar store anecdote to share? Has this path already been trod upon by too many feet? (Any comments, questions, or complaints about my diction and writing style will be warmly received as well)

¹Median household income of our county: $38,000 ($8,000) below state average. Portion of persons living in poverty: 18% (three points above state average).

²According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the definition of a food desert is “both a low-income community with limited food access and a rural area 10 miles from the nearest supermarket;” while the area being described is about 10 miles from a supermarket, most people have gardens.