Tuesday, April 30, 2013

burns and blisters and nausea, oh my!

We have some beautiful irises coming up in a side bed...

...but I was surprised to find a huge bare-root tangle of them by the side of the road.  Who would throw away irises?!?  They were so heavy that I couldn't lift them alone, and both Todd and I had to struggle to get them into the back of my car.

I also grabbed some ferns and 'mystery tubers' that were mixed in with the irises.  Now, I didn't know if they would grow, but I chopped the heavy mass into four parts and planted them around the bird feeder in our back yard.  They looked pretty terrible and droopy, and some are starting to yellow already, but success!  Three of the four bunches have already put up flower stalks.

I'll leave them up until all the foliage yellows, and then chop them back.  I have a feeling that they'll look amazing next year!

Meanwhile, it's been leaves...


...and more leaves.

The beds have been positively choked with them, and next year I will rake them out BEFORE things start to grow.  Todd and I have been raking diligently, though...

...and thankfully, they're slowly getting cleaned out.

Since I've been spending so much time outside, it wasn't long before I noticed this...

...and this:

...and this:

Yes, like most everyone else in South Carolina, we have red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta).  They look like the normal small black ants I saw in Indiana, and their nests are just a little bit bigger than the Indiana ant nests.  But people here have some real horror stories about these southern pests:

"They're super aggressive.  They swarm.  They bite you with their jaws and then sting you.  They're vicious and their stings and bites swell up and fill with pus. They itch like crazy and get infected easily."

"They destroy plants and local insects and kill small animals that step in their nests."  

"They are next to impossible to kill."

Red imported fire ants are native to South America but have been in the U.S. since the 1930s.  They aren't bothered a bit by droughts or floods.  They actually use their legs to bond together into a cohesive floating mass and can travel easily over water that way, as seen in this video.  Fire ants are found in every southern state and up the east and west coasts.  Besides destroying local plant, animal, and insect life, they apparently chew on insulated wires and cause damage there.  An average nest has over 250,000 fire ants, and people actually die from their venom!  From gardentech.com:  "A fire ant's sting burns, blisters, and causes nausea, vomiting, disorientation, dizziness, asthma, and shock. In sensitive victims, the sting can cause anaphylactic shock or even death."   As much as I hate to use chemicals, Todd and I are going to put out some kill powder this week to try to eradicate these colonies.  Until they're gone, I'm going to be limiting my outside work (burns and  blisters and nausea, oh my!).

Most of our camillias and azaleas have stopped flowering.  The bulbs are gone, and the helleborus are getting there.  The irises only last a few days in water, so I've been suffering a bit from lack of flowers in the house.  I have been pretty spoiled by the winter and spring full of flowers here, and the summer flowers (magnolia, butterfly bush, gardenia, most of the clematis vines, etc.) haven't started flowering yet.  Today I noticed these tulip tree 'flowers' all over the lawn:

They barely have a stem, but I have narrow-necked vases to support their little stubs.

Ahhhh...that feels better!

I've been doing some work in the house while I wait out these fire ants.  I bought this old bench at a yard sale YEARS ago for $20:

My original plan was to strip it down to the original wood and either remove the pain from the wicker or cover it with fabric.  Needless to say, 15 years later, it still looks the same as when I bought it.  This week, at least, I was able to cover the bottom seat with a nice heavy fabric.

Next I'll work on the top part, which doesn't detach as easily as the bottom.  Baby steps!

I also finally put together the mini greenhouse I bought at IKEA 2 years ago for $14.  I set it up on a $3 wine rack I'd bought, planning to rip out the wine cradles and make it into a plant stand.  Well, apparently Scotty was right when he said, "You canno' change the laws of physics", because apparently those cradles are integral to the structural integrity of the stand (per my husband).  Oh, well.  The top is a perfect fit for the greenhouse, and I'll figure out how to get rid of the cradles eventually.

I love it.

I divided up different sedum plants that I already owned and put them in various containers.

I love the different shapes and textures of sedums.  I am totally delighted with this setup.

I've also been knitting.  Using Mary Mucklestone's "200 Fair Isle Motifs" book, I drew up a schematic:

Using scrap yarn, I knitted up the patterns:

It's a hot water bottle cover for my brother-in-law (his wife said that he needed one) and I'm really pleased with how it turned out!

I love any chance I get to do stranded knitting.

I will try to get that extra post up this week...it's just been so busy.  Hope you're having a great spring!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

a narrow fellow in the grass

I've enjoyed seeing the winter and spring birds as the season progresses...the sassy titmouse, the gentle cardinal, the darting bluebird, and of course, the ever-present geese.

But, of course, I have been eagerly waiting for the little creepy-crawlies that only come out with warm weather.  I was weeding the other day when I came across this beauty:

This is Sigmoria aberrans, more commonly known as a type of millipede.  What's the difference between millipedes and centipedes?  Well, centipedes have longer legs, eat other insects, and can give you a nasty bite if bothered.  Millipedes have more legs and eat decaying plants. At least one variety of millipede secretes cyanide as a defense mechanism!  Not this guy, though.  He's known as the "almond millipede" and secretes a chemical that smells exactly like almonds. 

The humble pillbug is more interesting than you'd think, too.  I'm sure you know that they can roll their body into a complete circle to thwart predators.  But did you know that they're crustaceans, and breathe through gills?

Also, pillbugs don't urinate.  They pass the ammonia in gaseous form directly through their exoskeleton.  Pretty interesting! 

I saw this moth on our brick walkway this week.

I know that it's a snout-nosed moth...

...but there are so many different types of moths, it's almost impossible to identify them until you have a detailed guide.  I'll have to keep looking!

Of course, with the warm weather came the appearance of giant fish in our pond.  Todd estimates that some of them are three feet long...and he doesn't exaggerate like I do!  :)

I was raking leaves this weekend when I encountered this little guy.

I'm not generally afraid of snakes, but I like to know where they are, and if they fall into one of the main four venomous snake categories (cottonmouth, coral snake, rattlesnake, and copperhead).  Venomous snakes have triangle-shaped heads and tend to be patterned.  This snake is completely safe.  He's a brown snake (Storeria dekayi), easily identified by the twin brown lines running down his spine.

 See?  He just wants to be on his way.

Here we have evidence of another little creature:

That's right, the resident beaver is slowly cutting down our trees.

We're going to put chicken wire around the bases so that he can no longer get a tooth-hold.

The warm weather has been great for my plants.  The few herbs that I planted grew quickly.

I separated them out into roomier quarters and they're growing like crazy.

I've also found mint, oregano, and rosemary - lots of rosemary - in the garden.  I love stumbling across them!

Most of the azalea flowers have wilted...

...but my clematis are blooming like crazy.  This variety appears to be Nelly Moser.

Irises are popping up in the side yard and making cheerful bouquets.

Different types of sedum are filling in the bare spots in the rock walls and walkways...

Love!  The ferns in the side garden are absolutely magnificent.

We have another type of fern that sends up a dark stalk that almost reminds me of a clenched starfish:

They aren't cinnamon ferns, but I'm not sure what kind they are.

The dogwoods are blooming...

...and the magnolias are just getting ready to pop.

I can't wait to see them in action!

I still hope to have time to post a 'recipe edition' in the next week or so.  Meanwhile, I hope you're enjoying your own spring days.  Have a great week! 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

the path of (most) resistance

On April 1st, we had very little green on any of the trees in the surrounding forest.

Two weeks later, we're in the jungle!

Most of the trees have completely leafed out.

Honestly, when I pull into our driveway, I sometimes feel like I'm pulling into a garden paradise.  I just can't get over the color everywhere!  Scores of dogwood trees, with their sprawling, white-blossomed branches...camillias...azaleas, still in full bloom, in six different colors...

...in every direction, and in everyone's yard.

Not just in our neighborhood, but all over.  Climbing wisteria, blooming trees, bright shrubs...I've never seen anything like it.  Our early-bloom azaleas are starting to falter, but the previous owner added plenty of late-blooming varieties, which are just starting to bud out.

It's absolutely lovely.  Someone told Todd and I recently:  "The South is an absolute paradise in the spring," and he's right.  The butterflies are out...

...and I just saw my first anole of the year by an outside electrical box.

A neighbor told us that the pond was stocked - full to bursting - with trout, bass, bluegill, and other types of fish.  On a warm afternoon this week, I saw several shadowy forms near the surface of the water.  They were so big that I was sure they weren't fish...but a check with the binoculars told me that they were.  Some were almost two feet long!

Our heron is always nearby, watching.

Inside, I changed our fireplace mantle from winter to summer.

The living room is so tan, so I wanted to add a little pop of color.  I especially love my little wicker basket that always holds a bouquet of fresh flowers.

But there are dust balls forming in the corners of rooms and along the hallway edges...piles of laundry yet to be put away...and dishes that have been in the dishwasher for more days than I want to admit.  I can't stand to be in the house when it's so green and fresh outside, so more often than not, once I finish my work I'm outside working.  There's much to be done on a nearly 2-acre property that's covered in trees.  Leaves have to be raked...weeds have to be pulled...shrubs need to be mulched...bushes need to be pruned...vines need to be staked...and the list goes on and on. 

I earmarked two projects last week, and I'm pleased to have them completed!  The first:  we have a low stone wall that borders our driveway in the back.  It was completely overgrown with ivy.

I like ivy, so I just pulled back enough to expose the stone.

Under the ivy, I saw sedum and some ferns starting to peek out.  I pruned just in time!

My other project was on a much bigger scale.  We have a large wooded area between our front driveway and our front lawn.  I've been looking at it for weeks and considering.  Finally I decided:  I had to have a shade garden path there.


I raked back the leaves to discover...huge ropey tendrils of ground vine.

I spent a day pulling up vines and raking a clear path.  I learned that fire ants are so named because it feels like you've actually been burned with a lit match when you're bit.  Ouch!

Next, I raked out the sides and placed my plants in the general area I wanted them to be.

I made some experimental holes and found that our irrigation system covers this area.  Drat!  It's good for future watering but meant that we'd have to dig very carefully.

Todd plowed up the selected areas with our Mantis tiller.

Not only is the soil heavy clay, but it's full of huge ROCKS that ding the tiller blades.  I went behind him and raked them to the side.

Once it was all plowed...

...we added coarse sand to improve drainage...

...and mulched leaves to provide nutrients.

Then I turned it all over, dug down a bit deeper with my shovel, and created as hospitable an environment as I could for the new plants.

Now, it doesn't look like much, yet.  Have you ever heard the maxim regarding gardens, "The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap!"?  One of the teeny plants I put on the left side is a limelight hydrangea, which can grow up to 8 feet tall, with considerable spread.  Those blue hydrangea you see grow to be about 4 ft tall.  I'm interspersing them with bulbs, ferns, Helleborus, and other interesting shade plants, and I'm spreading the garden out so that the area under the trees - eventually - will be a huge shade garden.   Peonies, lily of the valley, solomon's seal, creeping phlox, hostas, columbines...I just can't wait to see what it will look like in a few years!

I may make another post later this week if I have time with some cooking fun.

Have a great week!