Archive for July, 2012

Update: Using Row Covers for Insect Control

Near perfection! This is a Japanese variety called Orient Charm.

Near perfection! This is a Japanese variety called Orient Charm.

On June 3rd I wrote about my experiment with row covers to control insects, particularly flea beetles on my eggplants and squash vine borers on the zucchini.   I can now report on how successful this project was.  First the good news:  The eggplants are completely free of the ravages of flea beetles.  I took off the row cover when they began to flower and I now have lovely, glistening, lavender fruit in abundance and healthy leaves.  It seems I can defeat the beetles, which have an early life cycle, by using row covers.

The frass deposit at the tip of the orange paper clip shows where the hole is. There may be more than one. Probe with a wire to destroy the larvae.

The frass deposit at the tip of the orange paper clip shows where the hole is. There may be more than one. Probe with a wire to destroy the larvae.

The news on the zucchini is not so good.  Yesterday I noticed the zucchini was partially wilted when we came home from a week in Maine.  In addition to the row covers (which I removed when the plants began to blossom) I had been massaging the stems every morning in hopes of removing egg deposits and had tried putting tin foil under the stems as suggested in a response to the original post.  An examination of the stems showed vine borer frass (larva excrement).  I am trying my fall back intensive care treatment in hopes of saving the plants.  First I unfurled a paper clip and probed the hole to try and kill the larvae inside the stem.  I worked it back and forth wherever I felt a passageway.  I then hilled up the stem with fresh earth as these plants will root along the stem.  Clearly the squash vine borers are active after the plants begin flowering so it seems row covers are ineffective for them.  Stay tuned…

UPDATE:  August 22nd –  The hilling up has worked.  I caught the damage in time.  The plants have rooted along the stems and have begun to bear again.  I see no indications of new damage at the base of the new growth.

I then hilled up the stems with fresh soil so the plants could send down new roots.

I then hilled up the stems with fresh soil so the plants could send down new roots.

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Stuff Larger Zucchini for a Low Cal Meal

At just over 7", these are perfect for stuffing. This is a variety called Mid- East Cousa, a little paler and plumper than the usual ones.

At just over 7″, these are perfect for stuffing. This is a variety called Mid- East Cousa, a little paler and plumper than the usual ones.

It happens to everyone, some zucchini escape notice and grow larger than we want.   Some are beyond redemption and can only be relegated to the compost pile but many can be salvaged for a delicious, low calorie meal by stuffing them.  I found two that had gotten away but were still small enough for individual serving size.  First remove the stem and blossom ends and slice off the tops, lengthwise.  Scoop out the insides, leaving a shell with a wall about 1/2″ thick.  Chop the scooped out portion if the seeds are not too hard and use it in your filling.  The choices for fillings are almost limitless and you can make them very low cal by not using meat.   Basics would be the chopped zucchini insides, onion garlic, tomatoes and herbs of choice but you can add meat (ham, sausage, ground beef…) and other veggies like peppers and carrots.  Season well as they can be bland.  Cook the filling first, load it into the zucchini “boats” and bake at 400º until the side of the zucchini can be pierced with a fork.  Top with cheese if desired and run under the broiler to melt.

I used a ground beef based stuffing and topped it with mozzarella.

I used a ground beef based stuffing and topped it with mozzarella.

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Trip to Eastern Egg Rock

A little raft of Puffins, one of many we saw.

A little raft of Atlantic Puffins, one of many we saw.

A friend was visiting from Texas, her first time in Maine, and we decided to go out to Eastern Egg Rock in Muscongus Bay where Dr. Steve Kress’ Project Puffin is located.  We left from New Harbor for the 6 mile trip on four foot swells, as a storm was threatening.  The weather held off long enough for us to see the Puffins (Fratercula arctica) , having many great looks at rafts of these little “Sea Clowns.”  The island is home to colonies of Common, Roseate and Arctic Terns, Black Guillimots and Laughing Gulls as well as the ever increasing colony of Puffins.  We saw a Minke Whale, a Manx Shearwater, Northern Gannets and Wilson’s Storm Petrels and were accompanied by Harbor Porpoises on the ride out to the island.  The Puffins used to inhabit Maine before humans extirpated them by taking their eggs and hunting them for meat and feathers.  Thanks to Project Puffin, they once again grace Maine waters.   Steve Kress lured them back, first by hand rearing chicks (called Pufflings) taken from thriving colonies in Canada and then luring the chicks, grown into breeding adults after four years at sea, back to the Island through the use of decoys.  What an exciting day that must have been for him, seeing the first birds return after four years of hope.  Dr. Kress will be the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the Connecticut Ornithological Association on March 23, 2013.

Eastern Egg Rock. The structures are blinds used by the researchers to study the birds.

Eastern Egg Rock. The structures are blinds used by the researchers to study the birds.

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Mount Washington Moose Encounter

Moose alongside a pull-off on the Mount Washington Auto Road

Moose alongside a pull-off on the Mount Washington Auto Road

Another interesting sighting during my Mt. Washington trip was a moose.  I was walking back to where our van was parked, listening to the call notes of the elusive Bicknell’s Thrush along with the songs of Winter Wrens, Blackpoll Warblers, Boreal Chickadees and Swainson’s Thrushes and I noticed a man standing stock still beside the van.  Something had mesmerized him.  I approached him quietly and saw he was watching a moose, maybe 30 feet away.  This moose was completely oblivious, stripping the foliage from trees as it shambled along.  It was at a spot on the Mt. Washington Auto Road where a 1939 Pierce Arrow car lay wrecked, now nearly obscured by vegetation.

This may be a male as it seems to have antler patches but I'm not sure. There was another moose in the brush which may have been a calf, so it may be a female.

This may be a male as it seems to have antler patches but I’m not sure. There was another moose in the brush which may have been a calf, so it may be a female.

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Using Zucchini in Chicken Piccata

Slabs of Zucchini Stretch Chicken in Chicken Piccata

Slabs of Zucchini Stretch Chicken in Chicken Piccata

Zucchini is a good meat stretcher and is particularly suitable with chicken piccata, that light, lemony Italian classic.  I cut it in slabs, dredge it in flour and saute it in olive oil until it is tender.  I then layer it with the chicken adding the piccata sauce over all and mixing gently.  I am writing a cookbook which combines gardening tips and in which I share my everyday experiences with the natural world.  A book agent has advised me not to put too many recipes on my blog that I include in the book so I won’t give you my recipe, but if you Google Chicken Piccata, no doubt there are dozens of recipes on the web.  Just slice the zucchini as thinly as you slice the boneless chicken breasts and you can use half the chicken.  I used just one boneless chicken breast (which is half the breast) in the photo above.

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Harvesting Garlic

The variety called Music is my mainstay

The variety called Music is my mainstay

I harvested some of my garlic this morning.  My benchmark on timing for harvest is when the bottom five leaves have turned brown.  I used a four tined garden fork, gently eased it under the plant and then levered the fork up to loosen the roots.  I then pulled out the heads and put them in a bucket, one for each variety.

Shake off as much of the soil as you can, then wash them

Shake off as much of the soil as you can, then wash them

I planted four different types this year.  Music is my mainstay with its rich flavor and large creamy cloves and then there’s Russian Rocambole for its medium-hot taste and long keeping qualities.  I’m trying two new ones, Nirvana Weird which is reputed to be spicy with a sweet aftertaste and Unadilla Double Coil, great for roasting.  These had long scape coils this spring, a source I used for the Garlic Scape Pesto mentioned earlier.  These last two are rare, local varieties that I bought from Gibson Hill Garlic.  The owners inherited the farm and found these two varieties, grown nowhere else.  They had only a few hundred heads but have cultivated it enough that it is now available in limited supply.   I grow only the stiff-necked varieties as I have found the soft-necked don’t do too well in this New England climate.

Divided by variety.  Note the condition of the leaves.  If you let them go much further than this, the skins split and they don't store well.

Divided by variety. Note the condition of the leaves. If you let them go much further than this, the skins split and they don’t store well.

After washing the heads, I spread them out to cure for about two weeks on the screened porch.  When they are cured, I will cut off the stalks and store them in a cool, dark place.

They'll be ready to use in a couple of weeks

They’ll be ready to use in a couple of weeks

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White Mountain Arctic Butterfly

The Alpine Tundra Environment Required by the White Mountain Arctic Butterfly

The Alpine Tundra Environment Required by the White Mountain Arctic Butterfly

I was a member of a small group invited to Mt. Washington, NH this past weekend by Chris Rimmer, Director of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, where he wanted to share the exciting research being done there.  I had hoped to get a really good look at the Bicknell’s Thrush, a species I had not seen in the wild well enough to count on my life list, although I have seen them in the hand while banding.  I struck out again on the Bicknell’s but my disappointment was more than erased by the fascinating work being done on the White Mountain Arctic Butterfly (Oeneis melissa semidea).

This student intern is searching for the Butterflies

This student intern is searching for the Butterflies

This butterfly is a holdover from the period of the last glaciers and has been trapped on the summits of the Presidential range since the tree line advanced thousands of years ago, invading the rocky, treeless Alpine habitat it needs to survive.  The climate is so harsh on the top of Mt. Washington that it takes two years for the White Mountain Arctic to complete a life cycle.  The adult butterfly lives for about eight days, during which time it mates and lays its eggs.  The larvae winter over under rocks, freezing solid for the winter and awaken the following spring to pupate and emerge as adults in early summer.  The larvae feed on Bigelow Sedge at night to avoid predation by birds, resting under rocks during the day.

This woman is marking the butterfly with non-toxic ink. She is doing research for her Ph.D on the White Mountain Arctic.

This woman is marking the butterfly with non-toxic ink. She is doing research for her Ph.D on the White Mountain Arctic.

We watched as researchers netted the butterflies and marked them with nontoxic ink, carefully logging the details of each one before it was released, unharmed.

The butterfly rests after being marked and studied. The pink ink spots indicate the location where it was captured. Its coloration allows it to blend with the lichen to avoid predators.

The butterfly rests after being marked and studied. The pink ink spots indicate the location where it was captured. Its coloration allows it to blend with the lichen to avoid predators.

The future of this butterfly is threatened by climate change as the warming environment allows the treeline to advance ever closer to the tundra at the top of the mountain.

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