This has not been the best year for plants. The beginning of the growing season was cool and wet. Then nearly 3 weeks with no rain and very high temps. Then wet, wet weather again. We have battled powdery mildew on our Rudbeckia - cutting out the worst stems, spraying with neem oil every week. It spread to our tomatoes, although now I'm wondering if they don't also have a wilt. Then we noticed that something was defoliating and eating the fruit on some of our pepper plants. Now, we have always had excellent luck with peppers, even getting a second flowering and fruiting by potting up the plants and bringing them inside just before the first frost, so this was especially demoralizing. The culprit? Tobacco hornworm.
This one was 4 inches long. I didn't measure his juicy girth. I looked at those pepper plants so many times over the past week, it's hard to believe I missed something this big and disgusting. Actually, as I described it over dinner, beyond disgusting. Anna's friend Natasha, who is visiting from Portland, OR, said there must be a word for "beyond disgusting" and came up with revolting. That about sums it up. Thanks Natasha!
Michael and I then inspected out tomato plants and removed about a dozen hornworms - as if the poor tomatoes haven't been stressed enough this year. None were as big as the one eating our peppers, but it was just as satisfying to hear the plop as they dropped into our bucket of soapy water to meet their demise. We found one hornworm with parasitic wasp eggs on it's back. We left it to hatch out the wasps, which will ultimately kill the hornworm and hopefully lay more eggs on any other hornworms around.
Revolting, right? The girls were correspondingly unwilling to help in the hornworm search, although they are plant lovers as I am. After a broken ankle follow-up a few days ago, we walked through Durfee Conservatory at UMass (it was on the way to the car, really), lingered at the koi pond, and spent the rest of the sunny afternoon in Durfee Gardens.
The girls ate some under-ripe apples from the espaliered apple trees (no upset tummies later - I think that's an old wives tale) and found some lemon sorrel to nibble, but the biggest draw was this huge beech tree and it's nut-laden branches. It's a little early for beechnuts, but we spent a good hour looking for partially opened nuts on the tree. We were able to open the husks with some difficulty and then get the two tiny nutmeats out of their skins. They tasted green, not quite ripe, but in the aftertaste you could start to sense the sweet beechnut flavor developing. Of course, they were made all the sweeter by the work it took to get at them.
Last year we lost all of our pumpkins to the sheep. This year it was squash vine borers. It was my own fault because I saw evidence of the borers last year and still chose to plant the pumpkins in the same place - I just love the way the vines look when they drape over the sides of the boulders and spread into the surrounding grass. And we even moved the sheep fence further away from the pumpkins so the sheep wouldn't be tempted.
We're trying to save this last pumpkin, although it is looking pretty stressed right now. The last borer in the vine was about a foot away from the pumpkin so we cut out all the damaged vines, and hopefully the roots along the remaining vine are enough to keep it going. This was quite a loss for Anna, but we saved all the small, under-ripe pumpkins and at least the chickens will appreciate them in the coming weeks. They went wild over the first pumpkin Anna gave them because it actually had some wiggling borers in it. Yum, protein!
The banana peppers, on the other hand, are doing very well.
And this morning, we found some light blue flowers amongst the Grandpa Ott's morning glories.We save our Grandpa Ott's seeds from year to year since they are not hybrids, so these were quite a surprise. Don't they look just like the Grandpa Ott's - same size, same markings? We're going to tag the light blue flowers so we can collect their seeds separately from the other morning glories, and we'll see what we get next summer!