Monday, July 16, 2012

Texas Lorikeet

Truly, you have not lived until you've had a lorikeet stick its tongue in your ear.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Rambling about Brambles

It looked like it would be another good year for blackberries. My wild canes were full of blooms this spring.

Fruit set looked pretty good, and then some questionable visitors showed up.


These are rednecked cane borers, Agrilus ruficollis, on the wineberries. The females lay eggs in the canes and the larvae produce gall-like swellings that predispose the canes to breakage. However, they're the least of my worries when it comes to harvesting blackberries.

This is the brown marmorated stinkbug, Halyomorpha halys. It's feeding on the developing drupes of the blackberry fruit. Keep this picture in'll be more relevant in a few minutes.

Some of the plants are looking pretty good. These are mostly canes growing in part shade.

Some plants growing in sunnier areas are marginally okay. The fruit is ripening but the berries are small or only have a few drupes.

And this is what many of my blackberries look like right now. The excessive heat and lack of rainfall is killing the canes, often right before the fruit ripen fully.

And remember the stinkbug? This is what stinkbug damage on blackberries looks like. Many of the drupes are brown and look somewhat mummified. I've heard that stinkbug feeding with make the fruit distasteful, but honestly....bad blackberries are hard, seedy, and sour so I don't think the fruit could taste any worse.

Combine heavy stinkbug feeding with excessive heat and you get this: brown berries with no juice! Ugh!

We have black raspberries, blackberries, and wineberries on our property. There are only a handful of black raspberry plants and they did fairly well, escaping much of the damage I've shown here, but I probably only get a cup or two of fruit from them. The wineberries are just starting to ripen now, and they also seem to have escaped much of the damage as well even though they grow side by side with the blackberries. I think this has to do with how the plant blooms and sets fruit.

For a couple of years I've wondered why I never saw the wineberries in bloom. They have fruit, but I never saw any flowers. As it turns out, their flowers are small and immediately forgetful.

Wineberry flowers are no where near as showy as blackberry blooms. And after flowering, the calyx encloses the developing fruit, which might protected it from marauding stinkbugs.

As the fruit nears ripening, the calyx splits apart. By this time the blackberries are also ripening and maybe the stinkbugs find those berries far more attractive in size, number, and availability than the wineberries.

Wineberries will slowly turn from a bright orange color to a deep wine color. They seem to be sweet as soon as they begin to color up, although the flavor continues to develop until they are wine colored.

Wineberries are a type of raspberry from Asia. The fruit is composed of drupes around a pity core that remains on the cane after the fruit has been picked. Wineberries are considered a naturalized plant at best and can be downright invasive in certain areas. I don't mind having them on my property and I'm wishing I had more of them given the blackberry crop this year.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Derechos, Zucchini, Family Dynamics, and Other Natural Disasters

It's the height of summer now and this has just been one long week that started with a little thunderstorm cell in Iowa last Friday. The thunderstorm developed into a derecho that galloped east and ultimately flattened a wide swath of the Midwest and the Mid-Atlantic states. I was at my parents' house in Poquoson when the storm hit around midnight. I've never seen wind quite like that before and I'm still amazed that my daughter with the storm phobia slept through it all. Thankfully we didn't have any damage at either my parents' house or our house in Christiansburg. My in-laws in Roanoke lost power and still don't have any at their house. The current estimate is that power will return to all of Roanoke by sometime late Sunday night. That's a long time to go without power, especially when the daytime temperatures have been hovering in the mid to upper 90s. We're all out of sorts thanks to the heat, the lack of rain, and our upended schedules.

My garden is also out of sorts. We've been watering regularly for the past week and things look okay but just not quite right. The corn is lush and green, but it's only about waist high and getting ready to tassel. The tomatoes look good, but I didn't get them staked early enough and I really had to wrestle with them to tie them up. I tasted my first half runner last night and it seemed a little stringier than I expected for this early in the season. I don't think I'll have much in the way of zucchini this year, thanks to the squash bugs. They've also taken out some of the cucumbers and some of my pumpkins. I'll have to spray the rest of the vines this weekend if I want any pumpkins at all this fall. My peppers are still pretty small and I think the voles have eaten all the beets.

So it's not quite the garden I had planned, nor is this quite the summer I had envisioned. I was hoping for a little more fun and fewer worries. Such is life: you make your plans and work to bring them to life, but then the universe smacks you on the head and now you have to change your plans. Or in my case, a rock hits your windshield and you suddenly have a meandering 18 inch crack right in front of the driver's side that will require a replacement. Actually I'm not sure what's the better metaphor for my life right now: a bug-ridden garden or a cracked windshield. Neither are truly disasters and certainly they are fixable to a certain extent, but they're still beginning to sap my energy and enthusiasm.