Aprilish Snow Precedes Cold Snap

A couple of people I chatted with on Friday used the “s” word when mentioning this weekend’s weather. My response was “Bite your tongue!” After all, our April snowstorm isn’t due for another week or two.

I was wrong. It snowed yesterday, looking very much like an April snow. It stopped before 10 a.m. It was the sort of snow shower that causes weather people to say “It will stick to the lawns, but not to the sidewalks.” (They do still warn you to be careful driving across bridges and overpasses.)

Snow-capped witch hazel flowers. Photographed on March 26, 2022.

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Signs of Spring and Hungry Rabbits

Looking over the photos on my phone, I begin to understand why I haven’t written much this winter. I have a lot of photographs of my icy sidewalk as I struggled to keep up with it. Several years ago the city required us to replace our sidewalk, and the inspector who came out insisted we lower it. We did. There has been runoff onto our sidewalk after heavy rain ever since, but it was not a problem until last month’s weird storm. The sidewalk was still extremely warm when it hit; I took the last set of icy-sidewalk photographs on February 21, and by the following day it was melted. Finally. All that fretting scraping and chipping gave me a chance to keep an eye on the witch hazel. Continue reading “Signs of Spring and Hungry Rabbits”

The Latest Chipmunk Farming Efforts

I know chipmunks can make some people really, really upset, but if you don’t have a tasty garage door, they are more hilarious than anything else.

I have written about the chipmunks’ farming efforts before, but I thought you might enjoy their latest efforts, which have focused on the edge of an aging compost pile. Their lines may not be straight, but you have to admire their regular spacing.

Three chipmunk-planted safflower bouquets. The arugula on the right is a volunteer. Photographed on May 17, 2021.

The rest of the seediness in this picture is caused by a banner year for the silver maple and the elms. The chipmunks eat as many maple seeds as they can manage, but the tree has probably put out enough seeds to fill my city compost container halfway—more than even they can eat. I have filled the container twice, so I am guesstimating the quantity of raked-up leaves and broken branches that filled the rest. This year, I have to rake so that I can mow.

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.