Sunday, August 31, 2008

A True Native Sage

Salvia azurea 'Nekan' has arrived from Plant Delights Nursery. Found wild just north of Lincoln, Nebraska (hey, that's where I live, isn't it?), this pitcher sage sports sky blue flowers and hairy stems with greyish leaves, growing 3-4' tall and 2-'3 wide. I figure it should do quite well here, don't you? No nasty alien invasives from Iowa or South Dakota for my garden--from now on, it's all Nebraska all the time.

I'd give you an image, but the few I've found are poor and / or copyrighted, so go here instead.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Success!! We Have Black Swallowtails!

Well, if the monarchs won't turn out (as if I were baking cookies!), the swallowtails will. The wife and I came home last night after dinner to see a black swallowtail paw-ing at the roof of his enclosure. The other swallowtail chrysalis outside was already vacated--it hadn't been in the morning. What timing. Reminds me of a few weeks ago when two monarch cats were within a foot of each other, venturing out on to the lawn.

So after some sub par pics--see below--we released the swallowtail (a female I think) into the great unkown. And what did the little ingrate do? Just took off to the empty lot next door and beyond. It bypassed all my lovely butterfly bushes and coneflowers and asters and....

After the butterfly pics, why not engorge yourself with my asiatic lilies, blooming late because I planted the bulbs around July 4th.

And I just picked up some new books: Planting Noah's Garden: Further Adventures in Backyard Ecology by Sara Stein, and Planting the Natural Garden by Piet Oudulf, so potentially more cerebral posts (which I know I've been lacking) may be coming in a few weeks--or I might just keep posting "fluff" posts about fragile flying insects while I bang out my dissertation and grade poems / essays. Oh, what to do.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Monarch Carnage (Rated NC-17)

You think that if they can just make it past the egg, it'll be ok. Or once they get to the "J" position. Or once they get into that fortress of a chrysalis. Nope.

The first group of images is of a "J" cat I found on a morning glory leaf. Is this a parasite egg hatching going on from some fly or wasp? It's ugly.

This second group of photos is from the first-to-form chrysalis of about 2.5 weeks ago, also on a morning glory leaf, not far from the previous incident. Yesterday, the wings were becoming visible and it appeared this fellow would come out today. Well, here it is, but in pieces, and with that suspicious green goo which makes me think things happened too early, or there was something seriously wrong inside. Or, did a predator get to it before it could emerge and fly away? Pieces everywhere as if someone tossed a room looking for cash or jewelry.

Today I also found one cat, 3rd instar I think, still alive, with its green guts pulled out of its body behind the head like a noodle--did a bird get to work on it? I put it out of its misery, if they feel misery. I sure do. There are two new chrysalides on the deck and stairs, and a cat in the "J" on some Eupatorium. We'll see what happens. About 12 cats left on the red milkweed, and then I suppose the season is over. Not good luck for the dozens of cats I've had the last month. Also saw a cat jump the chain link fence--it was black and white. Feline cat, that is.

Can't end on such a bad note. At least other things seem to be doing well in the garden; the below frog couldn't believe what happened to the monarchs.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

USA's Third World Power Grid

No leaders anywhere = demise of our nation. Indeedly doodly.

Portions taken from:

The dirty secret of clean energy is that while generating it is getting easier, moving it to market is not.

The grid today, according to experts, is a system conceived 100 years ago to let utilities prop each other up, reducing blackouts and sharing power in small regions. It resembles a network of streets, avenues and country roads.

The basic problem is that many transmission lines, and the connections between them, are simply too small for the amount of power companies would like to squeeze through them. The difficulty is most acute for long-distance transmission, but shows up at times even over distances of a few hundred miles.

Transmission lines carrying power away from the Maple Ridge farm, near Lowville, N.Y., have sometimes become so congested that the company’s only choice is to shut down — or pay fees for the privilege of continuing to pump power into the lines.

Politicians in Washington have long known about the grid’s limitations but have made scant headway in solving them. They are reluctant to trample the prerogatives of state governments, which have traditionally exercised authority over the grid and have little incentive to push improvements that would benefit neighboring states.

Enthusiasm for wind energy is running at fever pitch these days, with bold plans on the drawing boards, like Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s notion of dotting New York City with turbines. Companies are even reviving ideas of storing wind-generated energy using compressed air or spinning flywheels.

Yet experts say that without a solution to the grid problem, effective use of wind power on a wide scale is likely to remain a dream.

The cost would be high, $60 billion or more, but in theory could be spread across many years and tens of millions of electrical customers. However, in most states, rules used by public service commissions to evaluate transmission investments discourage multistate projects of this sort. In some states with low electric rates, elected officials fear that new lines will simply export their cheap power and drive rates up.

Without a clear way of recovering the costs and earning a profit, and with little leadership on the issue from the federal government, no company or organization has offered to fight the political battles necessary to get such a transmission backbone built.

Wind advocates say that just two of the windiest states, North Dakota and South Dakota, could in principle generate half the nation’s electricity from turbines. But the way the national grid is configured, half the country would have to move to the Dakotas in order to use the power.

“We still have a third-world grid,” Bill Richardson said, governor of New Mexico, repeating a comment he has made several times. “With the federal government not investing, not setting good regulatory mechanisms, and basically taking a back seat on everything except drilling and fossil fuels, the grid has not been modernized, especially for wind energy.”

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

RIP Monarch Larva--8/?/08-8/26/08

Last night my wife found a monarch caterpillar in the "J" position, already with green showing beneath its skin, hanging from the vinyl siding near our back door. She cheated--I was hoping she'd found one in some dense vegetation when she called from the other side of the garden, not one clearly visable against taupe siding.

This morning I checked on our friend--not an exaggeration--and it was leaking green droplets and appeared to be bleeding and bruised near the top, perhaps punctured by something. Perhaps it just wasn't a healthy larva. It was still responsive at 8am, plump and curling up to my touch, but as of 11:30 is emaciated and no longer alive.

I suppose it is good to become attached to a caterpillar; if we didn't feel for the natural world at any level we'd have no hope to feel for--or to heal--each other, or the greater (and even smaller) lives and places we experience. Still, it surprises me that I am sad, that I'm going on and on about this. Monarchs lay hundreds of eggs and only a small percentage hatch. Only a percentage make it to full size larva. Only a percentage become butterflies. Only a percentage make it to Mexico.

But speaking in mathematical terms is simply an attempt to rationalize and numb my emotions, and this is, in a way, cheating myself. A monarch larva has died, for whatever reason, and I feel a deep loss.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

From Larva to Chrysalis in 20 Seconds

Below are images of a monarch larva changing, in 20 seconds or so, to a chrysalis. It was fast and I was not ready with the camera. Luckily, I was in the kitchen near the terrarium, but I had turkey guts all over my hands so missed most of the skin sliding up and off the larva.

The first image shows late last night, where you can clearly see green beneath the larva's skin (yesterday afternoon it spent time spitting out a silk anchor on the stick, then turned around to wiggle its butt on the silk for attachment--it's like french kissing, but the wrong end). Then there are some images of the change this afternoon (notice the dried-up antennae dangling off the skin toward the top). I apologize for the poor quality, again, turkey guts. It was amazing to see the larva writhe and twist both during and after its change. As my wife says, they don't teach you this in school.

The final image is of another chrsyalis we have inside that occured a few days ago--apparently, they need to drip dry, and I thought the green droplets of liquid were very cool. Probably colored by chlorophyll, wouldn't you think?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Monarchs Aplenty--19 and Counting

One red milkweed, asclepias incarnata, has 15-18 larva on it. Some are plump and ready to leave, some are so small you can hardly see them. I even found an egg yesterday the size of this: . A period. The egg has since hatched. Other milkweed have one or two larva (much smaller plants), and we've got two monarchs pupating now--one outside, one inside.

That's not one, that's TWO.

The two above were fighting over one leaf (like there aren't more). The top larva would nibble at the base of the leaf, and the larva hanging down would curl up and sort of nip at the other.

Click on the above image to expand. How many do you see? I count six. Please don't count the aphids--I lost track at 2,163.

Why does school have to start Monday?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I Must Be Popular--I'm Cited in a Bad Article

A craptastic article on some news site called AlterNet, which "amplifies other independent media sources." Or practices lazy journalism without pondering the full weight and implications of a topic based on the research's real subject (research that I bet is supposed to develop and bolster the article's topic). As in this first paragraph from the article "Why T. Boone Pickens' 'Clean Energy' Plan Is a Ponzi Scheme":

"Those are the shells being moved around in this particular game. But shuffling responsibilities and resources will do nothing to forestall our dystopian environmental future, unless those resources burn clean. And what the Pickens Plan does not mention is that the oil tycoon has been deeply invested in natural gas for decades. If the entire American fleet were to switch over to natural gas, the air would possibly (but not probably) be around 30 percent cleaner in a decade, but Pickens would be richer in much higher percentages. And while the air would only stay cleaner for a short while, Pickens would stay loaded beyond the grave."

That "deeply invested" link goes to my blog post on natural gas (AND wind power) as a viable alternative to BEGIN lessening our dependence on foreign oil and SWITCHING to BETTER forms of energy: oh, like wind, solar, geothermal, you know, stuff mentioned in the original article. I like how the article I posted on my site on natural gas, and my opinion of it, have been completely misconstrued and / or not even used for this "journalist's" purposes--which is to completely discredit Pickens. Yes, he is a for-profit guy, but he's a for-profit guy who has actually proposed change that the government is too stuck up their asses to even remotely consider, let alone having some backbone and putting their neck out on the line for a new age that could very well be akin to the goodly discovery and use of fire by cave people. Big change in this country has largely come from the private sector, and here we have it. And the dude's willing to spend a crapload of money on it that we can't get elsewhere. Huzzah.

Let's face it, at this point capitalism might be our best option, and if an independently wealthy Texan--who made billions off of oil and the like--decides to do something that is, in the grand scheme of things, good and right and responsible, and dare I say slightly philanthropic and leads to the betterment of the planet, why should we be naysayers. Nay, I say to the naysayers. NAY NAY NAY.

And Nay to this website and author for irresponsibly using my blog, when, at the very least, they should have used a link to the original article, and not to me, who is a veritable hornet nest at the moment and who--with my ivory-towerish-like graduate education of eight years and seven years of teaching composition and literature--can dismantle any piece of writing in my sleep with the voracity of a starved monarch larva being fed milkweed leaves for the first time all day (I am so sorry Mr. / Ms. Monarch larva that I forgot to aquire said leaves for you this morning).

Oh I won't even link to this crap. You can google it for yourself if you want. I have to get back to work--which itself does a pretty good job of humbling me ala my ability as a writer, teacher, and person worth consuming precious food and oxygen.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Various Chrysalises of Black Swallowtail

I've got two swallowtail chrysalises now: one is green, and outside on a gold leaf tansy (notice its skin piled on a nearby leaf); and the other is brown, inside on a stick in an old aquarium (where a monarch larva waits its turn). But I've also got a pic of the outside monarch chrysalis that's hanging from the underside of a morning glory leaf. Many more monarchs are coming down the pipeline on various milkweeds. Isn't it all beautiful? And, time lapse videos aside, how DO they do it? And why can't I? As always, click on the pics to get larger ones. The last image is a view in my garden that to me screamed "fall." I screamed back with a barbaric yawp "like hell!"

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Milkweed Poem

Yes, to brag, I've planned my garden well. As you walk around the deck--my Japanese tea house of sorts--butterfly bushes, joe pye weed, ironweed, milkweed, aster, agastache, and other plants seemingly rise into the air like sparks from a campfire. A person's walk disturbs the many bees, moths, and butterflies (and grasshoppers), and truth be told, it is one of the most wonderful sensations to have as these creatures arc up and around your walk. Monarchs themselves whiz by my head within a tongue lashing's space, either unaware or unafraid or both, and I am simply, purely, elated in this place.


While I stood here, in the open, lost in myself,
I must have looked a long time
Down the corn rows, beyond grass,
The small house,
White walls, animals lumbering toward the barn.
I look down now. It is all changed.
Whatever it was I lost, whatever I wept for
Was a wild, gentle thing, the small dark eyes
Loving me in secret.
It is here. At a touch of my hand,
The air fills with delicate creatures
From the other world.

--James Wright

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Monarch Poem and Larva Pre Chrysalis Pic

(Poem below.) Two days ago I had five large caterpillars on the milkweed; now I have none. Yesterday morning I caught two getting ready to leave the garden proper and hit the lawn, but thinking that was nothing short of a suicide run, I placed one on a butterfly bush and the other on a sumac. Mr. Sumac Caterpillar is gone (perfect place for it, too!), but Mr. B-Fly Bush Caterpillar found his way on to the deck railing and over to the morning glories hanging there. He is in "J" position on a large leaf, as you can see, and I'm relieved I'll get to watch at least one monarch change over the course of the next 10-14 days, and I'm relieved it's outside--I'd comtemplated placing one in an old aquarium, but something felt wrong with that. FYI--monarch caterpillars are fast, even on mulch. (UPDATE FOR MYSELF: 2 of 3 black swallowtail larva are gone--why, oh why did you leave me? Was it something I fenneled?)

I do still have many larva on three milkweeds, so maybe I'll get more chances, plus lots of female monarchs flittering about. More pics to come as the weeks evolve. But in the meantime, here is a very sexy monarch poem by Sharon Olds:


All morning, as I sit thinking of you,
the Monarchs are passing. Seven stories up,
to the left of the river, they are making their way
south, their wings the dark red of
your hands like butchers' hands, the raised
veins of their wings like your scars.
I could scarcely feel your massive rough
palms on me, your touch was so light,
the delicate chapped scrape of an insect's leg
across my breast. No one had ever
touched me before. I didn't know enough to
open my legs, but felt your thighs,
feathered with red-gold hairs,
between my legs like a pair of wings.
The hinged part of my blood on your thigh--
a winged creature pinned there--
and then you left, as you were to leave
over and over, the butterflies moving
in masses past my window, floating
south to their transformation, crossing over
borders in the night, the diffuse blood-red
cloud of them, my body under yours,
the beauty and silence of the great migrations.

Friday, August 15, 2008

And Then There Were None

My little, little sister is on the road to college in Wisconsin, today. So strange. I left home when she was only 5 to go to college myself, and in many ways she is--in my mind--exactly the same little girl today. It's sort of how we remember high school or college friends, or anything in life, I suppose--one image, sound, or sensation frozen instantaneously in our minds, stuck on rewind forever.

When she was learning to talk I taught her to say "I cry, I sad, gimme money" in hopes of putting her to work on local city street corners. This was, literally, one of the first things she ever learned to say, and I was dutiful in teaching her. It was the cutest thing you ever did see.

She learned to climb the stairs very quick, always searching out her older brother and sister. She mastered every device to open cabinets and doors, including electricity (ha?). When I was in college she sent me a photo of the basement toilet at home, my favorite one, in a ziplock baggie, which I hung on my dorm wall. She has always been a smarty pants (not in the good sense, but I will allow this as being charming, for now), and has always, always known the right answer AND what you'll say even before you say it. Amazing, uncanny ability. Several years back my dad took off her bedroom door--my old room--because she refused to leave it open; I think it was off for many weeks.

She's a very decent soccer goalie and softball catcher, a talented photographer, and a true people person very much unlike the rest of the family, I think. I miss my college days with a pang akin to intense hunger, but I am accustomed to dining on ashes (I am a brooding poet). I know she will embrace and enjoy college from day one and won't let up, making the good mistakes we all need to make, and should make, to lead complete and deep lives. I know she will be an amazing person on the flip side. I know mom and dad won't know what to do with themselves in an empty house after, as my dad reminded me, 32 years and exactly one month of kids at home.

Somehow, in all of this change the last year--marriage, moving, grandmother's car accident and developing alzheimers, sister going to college, other sister moving to San Francisco--the monarch and swallowtail larva in the garden are the most appropriate, wonderful gift; they remind me of the elegant beauty and purpose of change, of becoming, of beginnings and ends, perfect designs curled under leaves ready and waiting to be fully born again, again, again.

Erich Fromm: “The whole life of the individual is nothing but the process of giving birth to himself; indeed, we should be fully born when we die.”

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Monarch Poop, Free Swallowtail Larva, and Other Garden Insect Photos

As five large monarch larvae get close to pupating, they've produced copious amounts of feces.

And, how does one get free black swallowtail larvae (below)? Why, one meanders through a local nursery and finds one last bronze fennel, on sale, with a single caterpillar on it. He (or she, or it) then picks off other larvae from nearby parsley and puts them on the fennel until he (or she, or it) has four caterpillars. This, in conjunction with a $6 Queen of the Prairie and Boltonia--plus two shirts for under $10 at Kohls--makes it a good day, indeed, while the wife is away in Vegas dancing with strippers and taking out a fifth mortgage to play keno.

The below garden shots I took while, for a whole hour last night, looking for a chrysallis or ten in my 2500 square feet of gardens and found none. One photo is the molted skin of a locust / grasshopper. Freaky cool, like the zit on my back I can't reach. (You may wonder if I share such facts as the above while teaching--I respond by asking if you know of any better way to keep students awake in the middle of a writing / lit lecture.)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Monarchs Eating Their Skin

Asclepias tuberosa, sullivantii, and incarnata (red and 'Ice Ballet') all have caterpillars. Even the mystery weed I yanked out of a viburnum rootball this spring and stuck in a 15 gallon pot with leftover dirt has turned out to be a milkweed, with 3 babies (and plenty of aphids). A total of 12 caterpillars so far, from the barely seen to 2" in length. One of the images above shows, I assume, the last molting--gobbled up soon after by the little guy / girl. It's my first year doing this, and it's quite a treat. Hope to have more pics soon of later stages. They grow FAST! My milkweeds are from Prairie Nursery, check them out.
Have some facts:
--Females lay 100-300 eggs in their short lifetime (just weeks), and the eggs hatch in 4 days.
--There are 5 stages for the caterpillar, or instars, that last 10-14 days. Each stage the skin gets shed.
--Then the pupal or chrysallis stage lasts 10-14 days.
--This last, late summer batch will be the ones that go to Mexico to overwinter. Hopefully.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Ambergate Gardens, Mom's Landscape, and Snake Dog

My wife and I spent a long four day weekend with my parents in Minnesota, well, six days if you count driving.

On Thursday mom and I went to our favorite nursery, Ambergate Gardens. On Friday, I was treated to Tonkadale Greenhouse, too, where they had the MOTHER OF ALL PLANT SALES: buy one, get one for one cent. Yes. One tiny little penny. Annuals (which they have tons of), perennials, even shrubs. Mom and I both got a dwarf cutleaf white birch 'Trost's Dwarf' and a stunningly yellow 'Golden Spirit' smoke bush. My plants totaled seven cents with tax. Mom's were a bit more.

Saturday saw a slew of family volleyball games in the pool (I picked the wrong team to be on), and on Sunday we hit two art festivals in downtown Minneapolis: Loring Park (gorgeous area by the Walker and its famed scultpure garden) and Powder Horn Park. Too bad I don't have pics. Next year, we're going to the massive Uptown Art Fair and hope for better finds... oh, I found stuff I liked, but I don't have 500-1,000 bucks to toss around.

Let's turn our attention, then, to Ambergate so we can have some pics, then some images of mom's young (but a few years older than mine) garden / landscape. Ready? Ok. Go get some popcorn and urinate. You installed that hybiscus urinal I posted about many moons ago, right? Use that one.

Ambergate is run by Mike and Jean Heger, a lovely couple, always fun to talk to--but no pics, I didn't feel like asking them, what, seeing as they were covered in sweat and grime, you know. I am a considerate fellow. The nursery is strange: located inbetween housing developments of large homes in a well to do suburb, yet the dirt driveway snakes through a field of weeds and a thick tree / brush line--it's out of place and nondescript.

Once you survive the one foot deep ruts, you make it to a clearing, a roundabout of plants with piles of mulch and bags of soil ammendments.

Ambergate has found a nifty way to store boxes while not polluting the enviornment with CO2 emissions (below):

Don't come here with a bad back, set of weak knees, or a schedule: not one plant is on a table, and I suppose there is order to the chaos, because when you ask for a lovely native perennial (their speciality), they know right where to go.

Where's the checkout? See that yellow and white striped tent? There's a fan and radio over there, too, along with a gentle, old, big dog.

Mom and I have been here three times now, at least. Once, I remember seeing some solitary woman walking around with a few plants. I think they cater more to landscapers and such, which, I suppose, is my smug way of saying this place is awesome: it's quiet, it's odd, it's hot and messy, it's earthy and real, owners are terrific... it's perfect.

I picked up a rudbeckia maxima, inspired by the wet clay gardens of View From Federal Twist. A variegated filipendula (Filipendula ulmaria 'Variegata', a white bloomer). And some other things I forget but are lovely. Too hot to go outside and look. You can order from Ambergate via mail and their lovely catalog.

Now, pics of mom's landscape, ending with snake dog (his tongue goes in and out constantly; lizard dog might work too, I suppose).

They've recently eeded a prairie on a few acres, and here, the rudbeckia are doing well, while everything else sleeps (though I did see a few echinacea here and there).

I didn't know gold leaf tansy got this big, like 3' by 3' at least. Or that it bloomed. I'm in trouble (below):


Somebody needs to trim their dappled willow.


Snake dog