September renewal

September renewal.

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Since most of my life up to now has been spent observing a school calendar, September still seems like a time to start again, to make new resolutions, to get excited about stuff. So, while I still have the habit of thinking of September as a time of new beginnings, I’m also often struck these days by moments of pure joy when I remember that I don’t have to do that anymore. I don’t have to face a new academic schedule. I don’t have to get organized for new responsibilities and challenges. That was all great, but isn’t it also great that I don’t do that now. Retirement is an exceptional time, and I must always remember to just purely take time to enjoy it.

Labor day weekend is over. What a relief. I’m not opposed to 3-day weekends–we should have more of them–but Labor day weekend makes no sense on many levels. It’s the end of summer, except it isn’t. The first day of fall, the autumn equinox, when days and nights are evenly divided at 12 hours each, comes on September 23rd this year. It’s the beginning of a new school year, except it isn’t. Many schools start before Labor day weekend. Many higher education calendars contain contortions like making some Tuesday a Monday to balance out their classes. Pretty much everybody gets confused and frustrated by the whole thing. Why not just start the school calendar on a Monday when it should start. Well, because of Labor day weekend.

Then there’s the question of what are we celebrating anyhow. Why would anyone want to celebrate the end of something, like summer. And how do we celebrate this ending. By doing what we’ve been doing all summer, hopefully. Barbecuing. Going down the shore. How is that a celebration. Bah. Humbug.

Historically, Labor Day celebrated the labor movement. But labor unions are struggling to retain their significance these days. News programs pretty much ignore labor on Labor Day, except maybe PBS. Who even considers labor. Or workers. No one is a worker anymore. Have you noticed. Maybe an employee. But that’s more of a white-collar thing. These days, people who work aren’t workers. They are consumers. Work more so you can consume more. Yikes.

Well, I’m happy I got that rant out of the way. I’m happy I’m not a worker for anyone but myself. I must consume less and therefore be even happier. Mostly, I’m happy Labor day weekend is over.

We are in the midst of a drought, but today, September 10, it is raining. Last night, we had .40 of rain. I haven’t been out to check the rain gauge this afternoon, but I’m guessing an inch more at least. I’m sitting by an open window, looking out at the gardens, and relishing the sight and sound and smell of the rain. Life is good.

September 11. Such a sad day. I don’t feel like watching all the TV stuff. Better to have a quiet day in the gardens. 1″ of rain yesterday. That makes 1.40″ for the month so far. There may be more this weekend. I wouldn’t mind.

MetLife blimp checking out the gardens in September. Just kidding.

The MetLife blimp flew over my garden just now. And I got a photo of it. How cool is that. I’m sure they must be out looking for the best gardens in the area. Don’t you think.

This post is becoming cumulative. Still lots of days left in the month. Busy with harvesting the summer crops and planting a fall garden, but I hope to have time to do some big projects. Well, big for me. Some new trees. Strategic use of the wood chips we salvaged from the old maple tree. Planting acorns. That’s big. More later.

September 13. Another .40″ of rain last night, so that makes 1.80″ for the month so far. All of the rain here came gently over an extended period of time, so even though the ground is dry and compacted, the rain is soaking in well. All the plants in the gardens look thankful for rain. I’m thankful too.

Jump ahead to September 28. Today. No rain since September 13. Channel 2 news reports that we have a 7″ rain deficit for the year. Also that this September is the warmest September in recorded weather history for this region.

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The plants are suffering, even with watering. Peppers have been the stars of this dry summer. I’ve never had such a pepper crop. Peppers are even turning red-ripe or yellow-ripe, which has never happened before in my vegetable garden. Above is a photo of peppers that just happen to be on the kitchen counter today. Awesome. The big red pepper at center, as well as the green one above it, are frying peppers. 2 red jalapeños are at top. They are surrounding an orange Havasu pepper. The pale yellow peppers are also Havasus, with one at the bottom left starting to turn orange. That leaves 4 little golden habaneros. 3 at bottom and 1 at far left. The habaneros have turned from green to gold. Supposedly they go to red after gold, but I have yet to see a red habanero. I’m very proud of my pepper crop, as you can tell. I’ve dehydrated some peppers. Some have been fried with onions and frozen. Many have been eaten straight from the garden. Next winter it will be determined whether dehydrating or freezing works best.

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Last night, September 27, was the night of the super blood moon. The moon was closest to Earth in its orbit, with a lunar eclipse to boot. There was cloud cover here, so we thought we wouldn’t see it. However, at 8:07 p.m., I took the photo above when the cloud cover lifted a bit. Then it closed in again. I fell asleep shortly after that, so I don’t know if our neighbors got more glimpses of the eclipse or not. The moon was big for sure. According to the New York Times, it was 14% larger and 30% brighter than usual. Wow. I thought perhaps the eclipse was starting on the left, but that may just be a cloud. Anyway, pretty exciting stuff.

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Back to the gardens. I’m pleased to announce that a new native species has been introduced to the gardens. A little eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), seen in photo above, was planted yesterday. September 27. Eastern red cedars are native to New Jersey as well as most of the country east of the Rockies. Some farmers and ranchers consider it to be invasive, but I don’t think that’s a problem in New Jersey. In South Jersey, monarch butterflies roost on eastern red cedars. I didn’t know that butterflies “roosted,” but they do. According to a post titled “Red Cedar vs Leyland Cypress,” by Pat Sutton, which helped us to decide on an eastern red cedar, 32 different bird species use eastern red cedars for fruit and shelter. 37 native butterflies and moths use eastern red cedars as larval food plants. This little tree is a female, as can be seen by its blue berries. Now, I’m on the lookout for a nice male eastern red cedar to keep it company.

An area of interest that is ready for September renewal is weed eradication using organic methods. I didn’t write a weed post in August because I was sick and tired of weeds. Crabgrass, broadleaf plantains, and prostrate knotweed all thrived in the area we mow and call a lawn. I kept on pulling them, but I didn’t want to think about them.

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A few days ago, I noticed some new cute little plants in the area I call my serendipity corner. Columbine and blue irises bloom there in the spring, along with various sedges. I put in some bulbs, some sweet woodruff, a fern. Then, last spring, I realized what a special corner it had become, almost without my thinking about or planning it. Serendipitously. Were the new little plants another serendipitous arrival. Little 4-leaf or 5-leaf clovers. I expected the best. Above is a close-up photo of the new arrivals. Aren’t they cute.

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Then I realized. It was chickweed. The weed books describe chickweed as a winter annual. The term winter annual took on a whole new meaning for me. A call to action. But I also remembered that some wineries and orchards in Europe use chickweed as ground cover. Also that birds, like robins, depend on chickweed seed in early spring when other food is scarce. So, I could leave the chickweed this fall for next spring’s robins. That’s noble.

But then I remembered the hours I spent scraping chickweed to the ground with a collinear hoe last spring. That was not much fun. So, it’s time to renew my resolve for weed-free gardens, starting with chickweed. I’m sure there will still be chickweed seed enough for the robins next spring. The photo above is of the serendipity corner with its newly sprouted, fast-growing chickweed cover.

Another area for September renewal. I have not kept up with the birds this summer. Much to my sorrow. I hope to do better this fall. I stopped filling the feeders in mid-summer when seeds, fruits, and insects were so plentiful it seemed less than wise to keep the feeders going. A few days ago, I moved the feeders to a new location, cleaned them thoroughly, and filled them up for the start of a new feeder season.

On September 23, I got several bird photos that I prize.

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Above is a black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus). Although chickadees are almost always present in the gardens, they are hard to photograph. I call them members of the bird jet-set. They don’t lounge around the feeders like, for instance, the house finches do. They grab a sunflower seed and they are off. This is because they need to pound the seed against a tree limb to open it, unlike birds like house finches whose strong beaks can break the seed open right at the feeder. Of course, a few more photos of this chickadee would be nice, but this one pleases me. Good view of the black cap.

A male downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) is enjoying some suet in the photos above. This bird identifies as a downy woodpecker because of the black stripes or spots along his tail, which a hairy woodpecker does not have. The downy is smaller than the hairy woodpecker, and has a shorter, thinner bill. Otherwise, they are much the same. This downy woodpecker identifies as a male because of the red mark on the nape of his neck, which the female downy does not have.

Of course, house sparrows (Passer domesticus) are a nuisance. Get used to it. The house sparrows in the photos above seem to be young birds. They travel in a small flock and visit the feeders regularly. The house sparrow at top left above has the brown back and white wing bar of a male house sparrow but lacks the large black spot on the chin of a breeding male. The other 2 also seem to be immature or nonbreeding males. Look at the mottled black spots on the chest. Cornell Lab of Ornithology website identifies house sparrows with less black on throat and breast as adult male nonbreeding.

Look at the strong beaks. No problem cracking seeds for them. House sparrows aren’t sparrows at all but finches. They are members of the Weaver finch family, according to Birds of New Jersey. Their beaks are certainly similar to the strong beaks of the house finches. According to Audubon.org, they are also identified as Old World Sparrows.

The house sparrows in the first photo above are females, I think, because of the buff-colored eyebrow running from the eye back. The photo at right above pleases me because it’s the best photo I’ve taken thus far of a bird almost in flight. This house sparrow is just landing, it appears. I’m so proud of my house sparrow photos. Who cares that house sparrows are a nuisance.

Finally, for the birds, above are photos of a white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) partaking of some suet. White-breasted nuthatches often travel in flocks with black-capped chickadees and tufted titmice. All are jet-setters with long, thin bills and the habit of cracking seeds against tree limbs to open them. According to Birds of New Jersey, white-breasted nuthatches have an extra long hind toe claw, which gives them incredible climbing agility. The long hind toe claw can be seen in the photo at left above.

September has been a red-letter month for butterflies in the gardens. Not the quantities a gardener might wish for, but several individual butterflies presented themselves for identification.

My summer was complete on September 18 when 2 monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) stopped by my garden on their journey southward.  They came for the verbena.

NABA-North Jersey Butterfly Club website points out that viceroy butterflies, which are residents of New Jersey, are often mistaken for monarchs. The viceroy has a narrow dark line across the hindwing, which the butterfly in the photo at bottom right does not have. So, I take these butterflies to be monarchs, Monarchs are nonresidents of New Jersey, but common and widespread immigrants. I’m planning on more milkweed in my garden next year. And more verbena too. Anything for the monarchs.

Also on September 18, a giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes), as seen in the photos above, came for the zinnias, particularly the red zinnias. Giant swallowtails are residents of New Jersey, locally common in Sussex and Warren counties, but they have been seen in other NJ counties as well. Purple coneflowers and milkweed will attract the giant swallowtail. Unfortunately, most of the purple coneflowers and milkweed in my garden are way past their prime blooming season in September. Zinnias were a substitute for this one, I guess. Next year, I must try to keep some purple coneflowers and milkweed blooming later in the season.

This giant swallowtail seemed ragged and worn.

On September 14, a black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) came to my garden for the verbena. Verbena seems to be a good butterfly nectaring plant. As with the eastern tiger swallowtails, female black swallowtails have bright blue on their hindwings near their tails. So this butterfly is a female. Black swallowtails are residents of New Jersey and are common. I wish more of them were common in my garden.

My last butterfly photos are from September 18, also of a female black swallowtail. I suppose these are not good photos, yet they seem to capture the plight of this particular black swallowtail. She is on the ground in a bed of dill that has pretty much dried up and gone to seed. Dill is a larval food plant of the black swallowtails. This particular butterfly seemed so frantic–can butterflies be frantic–that I couldn’t help but think something was amiss. Again, I wonder if I can keep such plants as dill, fennel, parsley, and Queen Anne’s lace later into the season. But parsley and fennel plants were right next to the dill. This butterfly was intent on dill. She soon left in a hurry, so I’ll never know.

Well, thinking of butterflies and September renewal, I can only hope to provide more good habitat for them next year. That’s my job as a gardener. I have the fall and winter months to strategize about how best to provide good habitat.

September 30. Best renewal of all. 1.5″ of rain last night. Beautiful rain without wind, lightning, or thunder. Just rain. Soaked right in. That makes a 3.30″ total for the month, but we still have a rain deficit for the year.

This weekend, there is a possibility that Hurricane Joaquin will come up the coast.

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