Archive for September, 2010

When I was a child I found a green caterpillar with white things attached to it’s back. I don’t know how I found out that they were wasp eggs, but I did. I felt such sorrow for this caterpillar, I wanted to take the eggs off. Save the caterpillar. When Stephen and Aurora show me caterpillars they have found in the yard I sometimes think about the unlucky caterpillar of my childhood. Then, a few weeks ago I learned the real story of this plump green creature. And the real story strikes me as a combination superhero comic and mother nature balancing act. The caterpillar is really a Tomato Hornworm and he is after our tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and potatoes, but mostly our tomatoes. The egg layer is a small braconid wasp. I know she is really just looking for food for her hatchlings but I can’t help thinking she is on my side. I imagine her flying on patrol in my garden, watching over the growing red fruit. Maybe even a small SW (super wasp) on her chest. So tell your kids the story of the fearless little wasp who rids the world of the giant green tomato eater. Explain that she lands on his back and lays eggs that will hatch into larvae and the larvae will eat the hornworm from the inside out. It’s gross enough and unbelievable enough to capture any kids interest. Funny how a little new knowledge can change a story.


images of tomato hornworms



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Warm and Dry

Dry pond bed

Dry pond bed

2010 was the fourth warmest U.S. Summer (June-August) on record, according to a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) report. It was also a very dry summer. I started thinking about the weather and its effects on nature when I took a walk at one of my favorite land preserves. The babbling brook and the pond, THE POND, were dry, gone, unwet. I thought of the frogs. Where do the frogs go when their pond disappears? Where do the neighboring animals drink? Who else was rendered homeless by the disappearance of this body of water? A few days later I took Stephen for a walk at the same preserve. We wondered together about the vanished pond and what might have caused it to dry up. Stephen thought “maybe it had been too sunny.” He was on the right track. We talked about the animals that were effected by this. He thought that “the frogs probably moved to another pond.” I liked that he was attempting to think like a frog. And I liked that he was out in the world thinking about big concepts like weather and seasons.

Butterfly Limenitis arthemis arizonensis

Limenitis arthemis arizonensis by John Johnson

I learned something new while looking into our warm, dry summer. Hot, dry summers are a perfect environment for butterflies and dragonflies. According to Judy Semroc, a naturalist at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the hotter the weather the faster butterflies progress through the caterpillar stage where they are most vulnerable to predators and parasites. There should be an increase in the number of butterflies and dragonflies this year because of the heat and the long growing season. For those interested in actual butterfly and dragonfly counts visit the North American Butterfly Association.

Let’s hear from you, has anyone noticed more butterflies and dragonflies? What is the status of brooks, ponds, and rivers in your area?

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Morning Glories…next year!

Morning glories growing in my vegetable garden.Every spring, since I picked up a copy of Sharon Lovejoy’s Roots Shoots Buckets and Boots, I have had ambitious plans for Morning Glories to reign in my garden. I want them to cover the fences of my vegetable garden and to climb on the lattice and chair on my breezeway. For the kids, I envision them spending their summer days playing in a lush tent or teepee covered in heart shaped leaves and flowers of the most remarkable blue. Summer is waning and I do have morning glories in my garden. They are traveling along a fence and wire in my vegetable garden. These industrious plants, whose site makes me smile every time I visit my garden, give me hope that next year I will have more vines in my garden and a teepee for Stephen and Aurora. Hope springs eternal.

Links for garden plans:



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Take it Outside

Turn off the screens—the television, the computer, the video games. Take time from work, from chores, from the day to day tasks that keep us busy. Adults and children take it outside. Each week I will challenge you to see and hear new things—to hunt the woods for wildflowers, to find shapes in nature, to sit by the waterside and listen for unique sounds. So much to experience out in the world.

This week’s challenge: Sit in a vegetable garden. Imagine how the plants grow up toward the sun. Notice the different plants—the shapes and colors of the fruits and vegetables. Look closely who else visits or lives in the garden. I bet you can find lots of creeping, crawling things. What are they eating? Think about the food the garden produces. How do you feel about the idea of growing your own food? What fruits and vegetable did you grown this year? What plants would you like to grow next year? At this time of year the plants in the gardens are coming to the end of their life cycle. Can you tell? What are the clues?

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