Little Things on a Walk

I set out on a walk to check milkweeds for monarch butterflies.  Sadly, I found no evidence of monarchs on that walk, but there were many small and interesting things to see.  Milkweed is home to more than just monarchs.

The back side of the dam for our farm pond is filled with milkweed.  There is not much evidence of the leaves being eaten, so there are not too many caterpillars munching milkweed.  I did see a Milkweed Tiger Moth caterpillar. I have spotted several monarch butterflies here at the farm this year.  A much better tally than just a few years ago when  I saw none.  Yesterday I watched a monarch flitting around the milkweed so will hunt today for any eggs that may have been laid.

Our farm is overrun by little orange snails.  These first showed up here about ten years ago.  They were brought into the pond by wild ducks and other waterfowl, I assume.  Since then they have spread and become a veritable pestilence.  There were many snails eating milkweed.

I interrupted a wasp couple in the middle of insect lovemaking.  So I guess this photo is x rated?  The wasps demonstrate sexual dimorphism, a difference in size based on gender.  The miniature male is carried around by the female as he does his fertilizing job.

A tiny tree frog, half the length of my thumb, hid in the leaves of a milkweed.  These tree frogs are abundant this year.  Perhaps that is due to the large amount of rain we have received.  Several times I’ve seen baby tree frogs clinging to the outside of our house windows in the evening.  They stare in at us as we stare at them.

There was a most unusual black and white ladybug-type beetle on the milkweed.  I have tried to identify this beetle.  There are so many varieties of ladybugs that I haven’t found this particular one.  I think it is rather striking.

Also found several Reticulated Netwinged beetles.  They look almost like butterflies, but their antennas give away their identity.  These beetles are unusual in that their larvae will band together in huge masses.  The adults are able to excrete defensive chemicals that discourage predators.

Wild honeybee on thistle bloom

Milkweed, golden rod and thistle grow well together, maybe because they are about the same height.  The golden rod were in full bloom and attracting an army of insects.  I saw wild honeybees, bumble bees, wasps and tiny beetles feeding on the golden nectar.  In some places the wild bee population is threatened by whatever is killing the domestic honeybees.  It appears there are no problems with the wild bees here at the farm.  Perhaps having an organic operation is the secret to healthy bees (and other insects!)

Restaurant Ware

Restaurant ware is a broad range of dishware that is produced specifically for use in…you guessed it…restaurants.  It is appropriate for many industrial or institutional purposes such as cafeteria or hospital use.  Much of this ware was made for railroad dining cars.  Patterns were created and reserved specifically for certain establishments.  Military officer’s tables are graced with dishware bearing specific service logos.  Many restaurants have their own logo ware.  Organizations and clubs also invest in tableware bearing their emblems.  Collectors build sets of restaurant ware and some pieces, especially older or rare ones, command high prices.

My own restaurant ware interest is in Syracuse China Dogwood pattern.  Some of my pieces are pictured above.  This design, with the scalloped edge is on the Winthrop body shape.  There is also a plain, straight rim with the same decoration that I’m not opposed to collecting.  I love the dogwood blooms.  It is one of my favorite flowers.  Reminds me of the beautiful little spring-flowering dogwoods brightening the dark woods of my North Carolina childhood.  This pattern was used by the Norfolk and Western railway in their Roanoke Hotel restaurant.  The 10-KK date code corresponds to Oct. 1956.

Buffalo China Windsor cup and plate

Buffalo China Estoril plate, cup and saucer

There are and were many American manufacturers of restaurant ware.  Some big names include Syracuse, Buffalo, Shenango, Homer Laughlin, Mayer, Jackson, Wallace and Tepco.  Their products were thick, heavy weight vitrified china.  This material could withstand the hard commercial use without chipping, cracking or crazing.

Comcor by Corning, ceramic glass, rope design, pattern name unknown to me

Corning produced lines of restaurant ware using their ceramic glass formulas and these products were also much thicker and heavier than household dishes.  Restaurant ware is produced in many other countries and there are avid collectors of non-US varieties of dishware.

Sometimes the pieces from particular establishments are prized or certain shapes such as platters.  I have a fondness for bouillon cups.  They are so cute! Vintage ware from closed potteries is popular.

Homer Laughlin cups with an airbrushed mauve-gray rim band

Shenango salad plate, I have not been able to identify the pattern name

Jackson China bouillon cup, black scrolled pattern, name unknown to me

In my online shops on eBay and Etsy I currently have a small selection of restaurant ware.  Most of the pieces for sale are by Buffalo China or Syracuse.  There are a smattering of offerings from other manufacturers as well.  Restaurant ware is a strong, perennial seller.  Collectors look for examples that are in the best condition possible.  Since the dishes have likely seen service, most will carry use marks, usually utensil scratches and rubbed areas from stacking.  Pieces with light to minimal signs of use are often listed at premium prices.  Rare shapes or patterns can cause bidding wars.

Whenever I come across a restaurant dish in good condition, I snap it up it knowing it will sell.

Emerging Rocks

Periodically, rocks buried in the soil at our farm will come to the surface.  This is usually a very slow process aided by weather conditions.  It can take years, decades, or in the case of huge boulders, centuries for the rocks to be pushed out of the dirt.  After many years of mowing the fields and orchards, I have memorized the locations of all the rocks that jut from the surface enough to catch the mower blades.  Or, at least I thought I had.

In recent years new rocks have lifted their heads within just a few winters.  The piece of granite above is an example.  It measures about 3.5 ft x 2 ft and for most of my lifetime at the farm has been nearly submerged.  The stone is a piece from the cellar of a barn that stood on our property back in the 1800s.  Until recently I have been able to mow right over this chunk of granite.  Starting around four years ago, things changed.  I hit the thing with my mower blade.

Trying to mow a rock with a rotary mowing machine is not recommended.  I cringe whenever I hear that telltale ringing crunch of metal on stone.  Luckily, it is a rare occurrence since removing the mower blades for sharpening is a tedious, time-consuming task.  Yet, in the past few years I have caught several previously unknown rocks that have suddenly surfaced.  What is so quickly moving these buried chunks of mountaintop or ledge?  Most likely the power of ice.

Our weather here in central Maine has changed since I was young.  Even in the last ten years there have been noticeable shifts in patterns, something I’ve discussed in prior posts.  The current pattern involves much more rain in winter.  Storms that once would have been pounding Nor-easter blizzards now deluge us in rain.  The ground does not freeze as deeply as it once did so the water soaks in.  Since it is still Maine in winter, a heavy rainstorm in December is often followed by several days of below-zero F temperatures.  All that moisture runs down around and under the rocks in the ground and then freezes.

Freezing water expands with an irresistible power.  The ice crystals push the rocks higher and higher until they break the surface.  I believe the new warmth and excess rain are why rocks are appearing with such annoying regularity when I’m mowing.  And also why older rocks are rapidly working their way more completely from the earth.  As they pop to the surface, most of these stones can be loosened with the tractor bucket and moved out of the way.  The great chunk of granite above will require some effort with chains, pry bars and the tractor to get it out of the middle of a hayfield.  I’ll put that job on my To Do list.

Allegheny Monkey Flower

This pretty purple flower is a recently established plant on the banks of the farm pond.  The seeds were probably carried there by wild birds.  Following my new policy of identifying any unknown plants in case they are invasive pests, I looked this little beauty up.  It is the Allegheny Monkey Flower, (Mimulus ringens) also written monkeyflower or monkey-flower.  Presumably someone sees a monkey face when they look at the bloom.  I actually don’t.  But, I do see a very pretty and bright flower in an otherwise green landscape.

The monkey flower has a square stem.  It grows in wetland habitats, just above the water line where it is moist, but not inundated.  I found three plants.  Next year there will doubtless be more if they fruit successfully.  The plant is native to New England.  Where wetland has been disturbed and invasive purple loosestrife have taken hold, the monkey flower is out competed by loosestrife because pollinators tend to favor the invasive flowers.  Happily for the monkey flower, there is no purple loosestrife allowed at our pond.

Monkey flower blooms June-September.  It forms seed pods that split open when ripe.  The plant is a perennial of the Lopseed family.  It acts as a host to larvae of the Baltimore Checkerspot and Common Buckeye butterflies.  Overall, this wildflower seems innocuous, even beneficial.  It surely adds beauty as the flowers are my favorite color.  It may stay on our farm.

Garden End of July

This spring was a rough start for my garden.  Right after I planted we had over a week of rain.  Many of the seeds must have just rotted in the ground.  I replanted the beans when only three sprouted and the second time got better results.  Slugs ate every one of my lettuce sprouts during the rain and something will not leave my basil alone.  Not sure if I will get any basil!

The mystery peas are doing the best of all the garden veggies.  The indian corn is also fairly happy with the frequent rain and hot days.  Lia is about 46″ tall.  The corn is well over her head and not tasseling yet.  Lia has discovered the joy of eating raw peas right off the vine.  She is very proud of the peas she helped plant.

Even the flowers I sowed in the garden did poorly this year.  I have a few zinnias and bachelor buttons, but not as good as previous years.  The rain was really hard on the seeds.  Beets and carrots suffered similarly.  The tomatoes are producing a few yummy fruits and the pumpkins that managed to sprout are coming along well.  The volunteers are all the sunflowers we have this year.  Not a single seed came up and I planted nearly 20.  Depressing.  Yet, the weeds always do so well.  Here are my first Early Girl tomatoes.

On a bright note, I saw a monarch butterfly on the 27th in the apple orchard when I was mowing.  Perhaps people’s efforts to plant milkweed are paying off.  This seems to be a good butterfly year, there are many varieties present in the gardens and on wild flowers.

Mystery of the Peas Solved

A few weeks ago I blogged about planting peas from a 5 lb bag of organic whole dried green peas that I purchased at the health food store last winter.  I bought them to sprout for salad but didn’t really like the flavor of the sprouts.  I’ve been rehydrating them and eating them like raw peas, which isn’t too bad.  I also made mushy peas with them and that was good.  So I decided to put some in the garden and see how the unknown, mystery peas developed.

Well, I’m amazed!  These are the strangest peas ever!  They started out as normal sprouts, but then began sending out extraordinary amounts of tendrils.  They didn’t make any leaves at all until they were almost a foot tall!  Just huge amounts of tendrils.  The poor things looked so desperate for something to grab on to that I ran strings on poles.  They grappled on and kept reaching for the sun.  In late June, these crazy peas started to bloom.  They had lovely creamy-white flowers in profusion.  Soon baby pea pods formed.  Still the plants climbed and produced profusions of tendrils.  I opened a couple half-ripe pods yesterday and the peas are delicious.  The plants are covered with pods and still making flowers.

I did a little research and discovered these are a new type of pea called hypertendril (good name!)  They are a natural hybrid developed from a mutation called parsley peas.  The benefits of the hypertendril mutation are, among others, the peas don’t require trellis support, they hold each other up, and the lack of leaves increases airflow to prevent mildew and other diseases.  They are also heavy producers and easy to harvest.  What a surprise for me!  I had never heard of hypertendril peas.

This variety is pretty amazing.  The minor support from the stakes and strings has made a wall of peas with pods hanging on both sides that are very easy to see and pick.  But as a sprout pea, hypertenrils are certainly not the right choice since they have hardly any leaves.  I serendipitously stumbled onto this type of pea and am glad of it.  There is a variety of hypertendril called magnolia blossom that has gorgeous pink and purple flowers.  Next year I’m going to try them in the garden.

Baby Eggs

Here are some of the first eggs laid by my silver splash Ameraucana pullets from the Jan hatch.  The baby eggs are always the best color.  Some of the eggs look big, but this is just a trick of the camera.  They are all small to medium grade sized eggs.

I knew the young hens were ready to lay and have been trying to keep them in the pen during the morning to encourage laying in the nest boxes.  So far they have deposited 4 or 5 on the floor.  For the past few days I’ve been placing hens in nest boxes to show them where to lay.  One hen in particular has found a way to escape the pen.  She is always hanging around waiting to be let back in when I go out to do morning chores.  Today I started to get suspicious about her early morning activities.

Sure enough, after a long search through the hedges and bushes, I found her stolen nest.  There were about two dozen baby eggs deposited there.  I suspect she and her sisters have been using the nest.  So today I will put a new net over the chicken pen to stop the birds from flying out and hiding their eggs.  The pullet in the front of the photo below is the main culprit.  Such naughty little birds!