Archive for September, 2011


I don’t have a compost bin. Since I have horses, and a never-ending supply of quality manure, I just add my kitchen scraps to the manure pile and let it go at that. The up side of this is that you never know what you may find growing come summer. Some of the discarded seeds from kitchen preparations are sure to sprout, and squash are especially enthusiastic about this sowing method. There was a fine tangle of squash vines rambling over the aging manure this summer. The cool nights we’ve been experiencing have caused the vine leaves to die back, revealing the hidden treasures. This year, there are three big pumpkins. This is very odd because I have no idea how they got there. I gave the pumpkins I grew last year away.


I say pumpkin, but they could be some sort of giant squash. Even so, it’s a puzzle as to how they came to be growing here. We harvested the three mammoths this weekend and RailGuy kindly carted them up to the house. The largest weighed in at 41 pounds. I had Buddy pose with the pumpkins. He made it clear that pumpkins were of absolutely no interest to him, but kindly stuck around long enough for me to get this shot of him and the giant cucurbitas.


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The drooping heads of the sunflowers in my own garden remind me of another garden painted long ago by Canadian Group of Seven artist J.E.H. MacDonald. The Tangled Garden was first exhibited in the 44th exhibition of the Ontario Society of Artists, which opened at the Public Reference Library in Toronto on March 11, 1916. Painted in the manner of the post-impressionists, The Tangled Garden and other paintings in the exhibition created quite a stir in staid Toronto, where viewers were scandalized by the brilliant colours and loose brushwork. One critic reported the painting was “an incoherent mass of color”. Nearly a century later, The Tangled Garden, which MacDonald based on his own backyard garden, is regarded as one of his greatest paintings.


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It’s not unusual to see a Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) drifting high overhead, its broad, 1.8 metre wide wings set in the distinctive ‘V’ that makes the bird so easy to identify. V is for Vulture. It’s less common to see them on the ground, but I recently spotted this individual resting on a fence post.

Turkey Vultures are a widespread species, with three subspecies ranging from Northern Ontario to Argentina. They haven’t been found in Ontario in large numbers until the last few decades. You are still most likely to view a Turkey Vulture in the south-west of the province, where the climate is a bit warmer. However, since the 1980s, the eastern Ontario population has more than doubled.

Turkey Vultures are almost exclusively scavengers and rarely kill live prey. It’s thought that one factor in their range expansion has been the relentless construction of new roads, which along with high volumes of speeding traffic, bring plentiful numbers of roadkill.

In rocky terrain, Turkey Vultures nest on cliff ledges or in crevices or caves. In more agricultural regions, they may use a hollow tree or an abandoned building. They prefer to nest in darkness, well hidden from predators and humans. The dark loft of an old, abandoned barn may thus provide good nesting habitat.

A migratory species, Turkey Vultures begin to move south in mid September, with the peak migration period running from the beginning to middle of October. Perhaps my fence sitter is resting up while contemplating the journey south.

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With autumn, the lush greens of summer give way to a new palette of golds and oranges and yellows, and here and there, a touch of scarlet. The brilliant reds are reserved for just a few trees and vines, burning accents that glow brightly against the hedgerows and forests. Some of the crimson highlights are provided by maple trees.


Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is another notable red. Some vines turn a deep wine or burgundy, but others achieve a blazing fire engine red.


This prolific native vine can be seen clambering up telephone poles and trees and gambolling along fence lines. Its blue-black berries are an important winter food source for birds.


Among the most conspicuous splashes of red are provided by stands of Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina), a small native tree or shrub that spreads aggressively by rhizomes to form large clonal colonies.


The clusters of fuzzy bright red berries persist well into the winter, when they are likewise an important food source for wildlife.


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We’ve been enjoying a string of beautiful fall days. I’m not a huge fan of fall, mostly because autumn means winter is around the corner. However, there is no denying that some of the most gorgeous days of the year come along in this shoulder season. On Sunday, it was too nice to stay inside. After getting some chores looked after, we headed up to Nepean, at the edge of Ottawa.


With an inviting array of 100 km of trails, the National Capital Greenbelt offers hikers many choices. Since it was mid-afternoon when we arrived, we explored a couple of the shorter loops. The Sarsaparilla Trail is an easy hike on a level, gravelled pathway. It is just .8 km long, but it proved to be very rewarding.


The trail circles through attractive, open woodland with many beautiful big trees. The Y in this tree was clearly a favorite posing spot for hikers. A large branch was propped up behind the tree so that photo subjects could climb up to the opening.


Near the trailhead, we looked up, way up, and saw two dark shapes in a treetop: two porcupines dreaming in the afternoon sun high above hikers.


Dogs aren’t allowed on the trail and this probably explains the dozens of chipmunks that dart boldly across the trail.


There were also squirrels, both little red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) and their larger cousins, gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis). Black squirrels are just a different colour morph of gray squirrels, not a separate species.



About half way around the loop, the trail opens onto a deck overlooking a large wetland.


As we stepped out onto the lookout deck, ducks and geese hurriedly retreated to a safer distance.


We gazed out over the water, admiring the sun sparkling on the surface. At the far side of the swamp, there was a tall white bird, a Great Egret (Ardea alba), not a common species in this region. Cool!


Near the parking lot, was an inviting picnic pavilion. We were struck by how perfect the Sarsaparilla Trail is for introducing young children to nature and hiking. It offers a short, easily traversed trail, plenty of little critters, an interesting lookout over water, and a great place for a picnic.


We had time for another trail, and travelled a short distance to the nearby Beaver Trail loop on Moodie Road. The Wild Bird Care Centre is near the trail parking lot. It is open to the public between noon and 3:00 PM, and an interesting place to visit. For more information, visit their website at Wild Bird Care Centre.org.


Like the Sarsaparilla Trail, the Beaver Trail loops through open woodland and leads to another wetland lookout.


Here and there along the trail were little caches of mixed seed and sunflower seed left behind by visitors. Near the lookout, a family with two youngsters were feeding chickadees. The young girl kindly stood patiently until I was able to get a photograph of one of the chickadees helping himself to a seed from her outstretched hand.


Chickadees and nuthatches were flitting about near the trail, obviously accustomed to handouts. Another time, we’ll take some sunflower seed or peanuts with us. Both these trails had a number of families visiting, which was nice to see.


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Fall Corn

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My favorite meditation on the changing of the seasons was written by a fellow blogger, Carolyn H, who maintains her blog Roundtop Ruminations from her cabin in the forests of Pennsylvania. She notes that at this time of year, you have a foot in two seasons. As you look around, you will still see plenty of signs of summer but fall is here.

Fall is here, but traces of summer remain. The two sit side by side sometimes, like good friends or at least like familiar adversaries of long standing.

Today, it reminds me, a little, of different generations, of how the new generation gradually takes over from the older one. And then one day, only the newer remains and life is different than it was before.

This beautiful image has lodged in my memory and I think of it whenever the seasons change. Thank you, Carolyn, for sharing this. You can read Carolyn’s full post here.


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When I was working in the barn, I noticed this fellow creeping determinedly across the floor, evidently in a hurry to get to wherever he was heading. I waylaid him in his journey long enough to take this photograph.

It’s a Hickory Tussock Moth (Lophocampa caryae) caterpillar. About an inch and a half long, he looks soft and fuzzy, but these caterpillars are actually bristly. Sensitive persons may have a mild allergic reaction resulting in a rash after handling such caterpillars. As the name suggests, hickory is a favorite foodplant for this species, but they will feed on almost any woody plant as well.

(NOTE: Several readers have left comments about the nasty reactions experienced by children handling these caterpillars. Please see their warnings in the comment section.)

The female moth lays her eggs in large batches, so the tiny caterpillars can initially be found in clusters of a hundred or more. By the time they reach full size, they have left their hatching spot and I only saw this one individual. It will spend the approaching winter as a pupa, wrapped in a loose cocoon spun in leaf litter. When it emerges as a moth next year, it will look like the Hickory Tussock Moth pictured below, photo courtesy of Seabrooke. You can learn more about her new Peterson Field Guide to Moths here. Thanks again, Seab!


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The garden is singing its last hurrah before the hard frosts of autumn close down most of the plants for another year. Garden centres and grocery stores have spectacular offerings of potted chrysanthemums for sale but I don’t have any mums in my garden. I haven’t cared for chrysanthemums since a stint working in a ‘mum factory’, a commercial greenhouse operation. Very off-putting, it was. I’m fond of asters though. The fields are dotted with wild asters at this time of year and the garden varieties capture some of that wild heart in a neatly mounding form.


Last year, I added Aster dumosus ‘Professor Kippenberg’ to the border and it has done very well. In the opening photo, the Professor is backed by the corkscrew hazel, a patch of anaphalis margaritacea (Pearly Everlasting) and the grass Sporobolus heterolepsis (Prairie Dropseed).

This year, I added the pink Aster dumosus ‘Pink Bouquet’. The two asters look pretty together, although Pink Bouquet came into bloom a little earlier and has already peaked, whereas Prof is just at its best.


I added a few new sedums this year too. Pictured above is Sedum ‘Frosty Morn’, a Japanese selection with varigated white and green leaves. I wasn’t that impressed with it when I saw it in its pot, but Frosty Morn really has a great garden presence and positively shines in the sun. To its right is Sedum ‘Matrona’. It is a German introduction and related to the popular ‘Autumn Joy’.


I like Matrona’s burgandy stems and matching burgandy-veined leaves, very handsome. Mr. Goodbud, pictured below, is similar to Matrona, a little lighter in colour. Alright, I admit it. I chose Mr. Goodbud for his name! Mr. Goodbud was developed by Terra Nova Nurseries in Canby, Oregon. The winner of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit in 2006, Mr. Goodbud has much to recommend him besides his name.


Finally, here is Sedum ‘Postman’s Pride’. There’s another name you have to wnoder about. It seems the plant was discovered by Belgian postal carrier Jose de Buck in his garden. It was introduced through Plant Haven┬«, a firm that helps plant breeders bring new varieties to market. Of course, it was those gorgeous, rich, dark leaves that caught my eye. The plant had already finished blooming for the year when I bought it, so I will have to wait till next year to see it in flower. It will take another year for the other sedums to settle in too, and reveal more about their growing habits.


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No hard frost, a killer frost that coats everything in icy crystals, has arrived yet, but we’ve had a couple of cool nights. Cold enough to leave the tender tomato vines wilted, a few late tomatoes clinging to their sad stems. The tomato season is winding to an end. We’ve certainly enjoyed it. Since the first tomatoes ripened in August, we’ve had tomatoes with dinner pretty much every single night. There are so many great ways to prepare them.

One recipe that is perfect for the harvest season is Tomato Pie. Delicious! I used up some of our last tomatoes on this pie a couple of evenings ago. Are you a tomato lover? You won’t be disappointed by Tomato Pie.

Tomato Pie

1 unbaked pie crust
1/2 cup quick-cooking rice
Several large tomatoes or a bunch of little ones
1/2 onion, chopped
Tomato seasonings
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 350┬░

Prepare the pie crust.

Sprinkle the rice evenly inside the pie crust.
The rice will soak up the tomato juice as the pie bakes
and keep the crust from becoming soggy.

Layer in thickly sliced tomatoes and sprinkle with chopped onions.
Add seasonings. You can use chopped basil or parsley or italian seasonings,
whatever suits your taste.
Mix the mayo and shredded cheese together and dollop the mixture
over the top of the pie.

Bake for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes.

Serve and enjoy. We had the pie with fresh corn on the cob that I picked up at a farm stand (actually the back of a pickup truck!), some of the last of the season. Mmmm Mmmm Good.

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