Wednesday, September 5, 2012

My Heros (in the Garden)

Storm clouds -  Looking east past the loft 

I will not be as whiney as I was last year as this summer has been totally tolerable.  Hard to say when there have been 32 days over 100 degrees (last year by now was about 70 days over 100 degrees) but we have had periods of rain and a week of 80's.  I thought I was in Wisconsin (I wish). Anyways.

This past year in the loft garden has been quite the learning experience.  Learning where the water sits when it does flood, learning there is no place around this property for a lowly plant to escape the sun, learning to view things in a whole new light. Things I may have squinted my eyes and twisted my nose about are being viewed with a new perspective and some I think are down right heroic. 
This year the loft garden has seen the return of the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae).  Due to the smoke from fires that scorched almost 4 million acres of Texas in 2011, there was not a butterfly to be seen in all of Texas.

Not pretty but there are many happy larva here.  There are a couple of these gnarly specimens around the loft garden.  I look at all the larva and not the carnage. My landlord is happy to see all the activity.

November 2011 - no butterflies, no carnage

Passionflower can be a bit invasive.  I try to pull up the new shoots as quickly as possible as they can cover a rose bush in a few days.  Some sprouts are not as easy to reach but if I wait long enough somebody will find them.

I have always loved butterflies and the bloom of the passionflower but could never imagine letting all those caterpillars loose in the garden.  The tenacity of the passionflower and the ravenous appetite of the butterfly larva do not make a pretty picture, however, you have to admire their strength to persevere in a Texas summer garden.
This spring/summer brought grasshoppers (lots of grasshopper: read story here).  They really did a number on the loft garden mostly in the container plants awaiting planting.  Their favorites seemed to be the edibles  (strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes, banana plant, peppers, etc.) as all were totally stripped of their leaves.

 Orthoptera Melanoplus differentialis

Then came the grackles.  I can only describe these as a crow to folks not from here. I understand crows are truly annoying but I bet our grackles are worse.

Video source 
This happens most evenings in areas all over Texas.  
I have a smaller species here (Quiscalus quiscula) in Fort Worth 
than the ones I was used to in New Braunfels 
(Quiscalus major or Quiscatus mexicanus). source 

There are not many birds in the loft garden yet and I was really not liking this turn of the garden environment.  Until, one day I noticed a grackle jumping down into the loft garden greenery (using the word loosely), grasshoppers flying and grackles dining. OMG, I love them.  Trust me, this is a big thing. The grackles have moved on (thankfully), leaves have returned, and I only have a few lonely grasshoppers that stay really low to the ground.

Generally the praying mantis gives me the willies.  I have grown fond of this girl at work.  Green grasshopper on the left and female mantis on the right. Heroic species but still gives me the willies...

Last but not least is my favorite, the dragon fly.  Pardon my poor photo presentation as I was watering with one hand and snapping this photo with the other.  Sigh.  West Nile Virus.  If only there were hundreds more of these little heroes to fill our skies and relieve us of all those pesky mosquitoes.  I grow weary of applying layer upon layer of mosquito repellent upon sweaty, dirty skin and crossing my fingers that the mosquito that found the spot I missed is not the one.  The media mantra says to avoid being outside in the early morning and late evening.  What is a gardener in Texas to do?  Empty those little puddles of water, keep fresh water in the birdbath, apply more repellant.  Give a little cheer when you see a dragonfly.


HolleyGarden said...

I like how you look at things with a new perspective. I also had no idea that grackles ate grasshoppers! I will stop complaining about them now. But, I could go on and on about the mosquito repellent. I try so hard to be organic and chemical-free, then I have to spray that poison all over me to go outside! :(

Donna said...

We have lots of grackles and so many grasshoppers that it is like artillery fire when you go into the garden They are hopping all over the place. That never happened in the city before. I am glad to hear that the butterflies returned. We have had so many this year and new varieties that never same this far north to my knowledge. Nice you had more moderate weather too. I think we got some of your heat too. What a hot and dry summer it was.

Karen said...

Oh, you betcha your grackles are worse than any crow! Wowza, that's a lot of birds. And the noise they make, unreal.

You have so many neat pictures of bugs and flowers, hard to pick a favorite, but I think I'll go with the butterfly. Very pretty!

Mosquito repellent is no fun, but what to do? Hope you have a great weekend!

Elle said...

Wow! Interesting indeed. I really appreciate your post. Thanks!
Elle @

Marguerite said...

Fantastic video of the grackles, we have them here but not on that scale. Wow, what a sight. It really was a big year for grasshoppers wasn't it? The chirping of crickets and grasshoppers was nonstop this summer.

The Sage Butterfly said...

That fritillary is gorgeous! And my passionflower has not bloomed...yet. It took it a while to get going this year because of the dry weather. I hope I see some blooms before the season is over. Your passionflower is so beautiful with that violet coloring.