How Do You Know When a Pawpaw Is Ripe?

The pawpaws have been dangling, to the ground in some cases, since the end of September. Back at the end of May, I saw small clouds of the flies that pollinate pawpaws for the first time. They apparently did a grand job, because both trees have had plenty of fruit this fall. The pawpaws on the eastern tree are even larger than usual this fall. I ate the first one September 30—they are weighing in close to a pound and a half.

Big pawpaws on the eastern tree. Photographed on October 11, 2019.

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Why Leave Seedheads On?

We are now having nights in the mid-30s, so leaves are turning and the seedheads are ripening on the Echinacea and Rudbeckia. Although these plants are swaying right up to the edge of the sidewalk, the goldfinches have been very interested and hungry—and very hard to photograph with a phone. They are nervous little creatures.

This young goldfinch has been stuffing itself on Rudbeckia triloba seeds. Photographed on October 18, 2019.

Young goldfinches need fuel. According to Audubon, goldfinches do overwinter in Michigan, so they will need food in the coming months. They are also vulnerable to our increasingly warm climate. Michigan will be too far south for them in the summer by the time the average annual temperature increases by 3°C, which at current rates could occur by 2080.

The goldfinch photograph is roughly 25% of the area of a larger photograph which was taken fully zoomed, so the focus is not its best—a telephoto lens on a real camera would allow for much better results—but it captures the reason to leave the seedheads on for a while.

Bugs in the Garden

I am using the term ‘bugs’ loosely.

I was trying get pictures of the little flower buds on the arrow-leaved asters, when this little character brought me to a full stop. Sometimes you just end up laughing out loud, even in the garden.

An unidentified small bug tries to scare me off with his colorful legs and ferocious dance. Photographed on August 19, 2019.

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Pear Becomes Bumblebee Banquet

My neighbor’s pear tree drops fruit at the end of August and into September right outside my back door every year. I pick up the fruit every morning, very carefully, so that I don’t inadvertently step on a yellow jacket—the largest number of visitors to these pears has always been yellow jackets, and the only thing crankier than a yellow jacket is a yellow jacket in August, but I have seen only one or two in the last couple of weeks. However, when I stepped out after lunch to toss my compostables into the bin, I noticed a pear covered in insects. Before my eyes  even focussed, I was thinking, “Oh no! Bald-face hornets!”—the only hymenopteran I have run into that is meaner than a yellow jacket. Thankfully, I was wrong.

Six bumblebees share a pear for lunch. That big orange saddlebag on the uppermost bee is pollen. Photographed on August 26, 2019.

My best guess is that these are eastern bumblebees. They susurrate their way through the grape hyacinths in the spring, which is very joyful to listen to and to watch. They buzz and bustle at each flower, and move around very busily, a completely different behavior than their calm approach to the pear in the photograph above, or to Echinacea. The bustling activity turns to be buzz pollination, a critical thing if you like tomatoes, blueberries, or cranberries, to name a few crops.

I will be putting some of the fruit where it cannot get stepped on for the bumblebees. They are clearly hungry, and probably thirsty. We have very little rain this month. Fortunately, rain is in the forecast for the next couple of days.

Chipmunks as Farmers

Chipmunks are certainly cute, and they are entertaining—to the right crowd—but they can also be real nuisances digging, chewing holes in garage doors, and swiping low-lying fruit.

Three cats are lined up shoulder-to shoulder, sitting on a doormat, staring very alertly out of a storm door that has a full glass panel.
One of the chipmunk runs is right across the steps outside this door. The cats are transfixed by a chipmunk on the steps, out of our view. Photographed June 24, 2018.

Then there’s the ambivalent in-between state: the cute nuisance. Did you know that chipmunks farm? They regularly cache safflower seeds, which come up like odd little green bouquets in spots along their various runs—in flowerpots, along the north side of the house, and around my garden bench. Continue reading “Chipmunks as Farmers”

The Monarch and the Echinacea

Unfortunately, it is just one monarch and not monarchs. I have not seen many this summer. I was about to run errands when I spotted this one. It was a very flitty butterfly that did not want me moving around—if I moved, it flew off, circled around, and came back—so I stood as still as I could and took photographs that really should have been sharper.

Several Echinacea blooms in various stages from just unfurling to getting a little worn out, with a monarch showing off the underside of its wing.
A monarch butterfly who was very determined to sip nectar from the rain garden Echinacea. Photographed July 15, 2018.

At this point in July we have had no rain in two weeks, so butterfly potables are probably in short supply, adding to the monarch’s woes.

In addition to the Echinacea in the front, I have milkweed running through a patch of daylilies behind the smoke bushes in the back, where they won’t upset people who get nervous about any wild element in the yard. It’s not an ideal patch, but it is a lot better than nothing. My neighbor has swamp milkweed in his rain garden as well; we are the oases in the food desert for the monarchs on our block.

Prairie Rose Is Hymenopteran Heaven

No one would call me adventurous, but I decided to take a risk and put our native prairie rose, Rosa setigera, in a relatively high spot in the rain garden. It started budding up in slow motion—handy when budworm eggs were being laid—the buds were not even there yet when my earliest rose buds elsewhere in the yard were being infiltrated. Some of the size difference is due to the number of petals in the flower, but much of the difference is due to timing of development.

Side-by-side photographs, taken about 3 weeks apart. The Morden's Blush bud was significantly larger in mid-May than the prairie rose buds photographed 3 weeks later.
Roses in bud: Prairie rose, left, photographed on June 6, 2018; Rose ‘Morden’s Blush,’ right, photographed on May 17, 2018.

The sprays of prairie roses start out as hot pink single flowers with a beautiful yellow crown of stamens and a very obvious pale green pistal, then fade to a pale pink or white flower with pink spots and a small heap of dried-up stamens curled up and into the pistal.

A spray of Rosa setigera, from a hot pink bud and newly opened flowers to fading flowers that will shortly lose their petals, with 2 metallic green bees collecting pollen, one in side view and the other in top view.
Rosa setigera in bloom. Photographed on June 30, 2018.

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Mass Migration on a Tiny Scale

I was wandering around with my coffee this morning, when I noticed what looked like a big smear on the driveway. It looked like a lot of spilled coffee grounds, so it warranted a closer look. 

Black ants en masse, crossing concrete. The overall effect is of coarsely ground coffee dropped in a thick line about 2 inches wide that follows a seam to a crack in the concrete. A lighter smear further on is also comprised of ants, more widely spaced.
Ants migrating across the driveway. Photographed on June 24, 2018.

It turned out to be the teeny, tiniest black ants that live in this yard moving across the driveway. We have other, somewhat larger red and black ants that move around regularly, but I haven’t seen these little ants migrate before. Maybe their former home got too wet—we’ve had a good amount of rain in the last couple of days. Which direction were they going in? I’m not really sure—when I looked closely, they seem to be milling around. I could not stay long enough to figure out which way they were going.

By the time I got back, they were gone, so I am sure they are safely underground setting up housekeeping in their new spot.

More Wildlife in the Yard

One morning recently, I opened the back door to go sit outside with my coffee, and found chipmunks racing back and forth, a young bunny who pelted for a hedge, a baby robin who had become far more respectable looking in the past week—his feathers have all come in—and a red squirrel jumping up and down on the neighbor’s fence because of a black squirrel who was fussing at a fox squirrel about something else—probably the neighbor’s cat, who was sitting in his kitchen window watching the proceedings with great interest. Continue reading “More Wildlife in the Yard”