Saturday, August 22, 2009

Who grows there?

Sand Vine, Cynanchum laeve

I could blame it on the weather.
Heaven knows it’s rained more this summer than ever before, or so it would seem. Weekly storms have left the ground saturated. And cool temperatures have taken little of the moisture away. The tomato plants, lush and leggy, have barely held their fruit for the time it takes to ripen, many times dropping heavy, orange orbs onto the damp dirt to rot, hidden from view in the coiling, bushy branches wrapping within each metal cage.
I could blame it on the woodchucks--all ten, who fed handsomely on dinners seasoned with freshly snipped dill and cilantro, after ducking beneath the electric fence to gorge on green beans and decapitate the tender tops of sweet potato plants each time the roots sent fresh growth out from each hopeful hill.
Or, I could blame it on my life, that teases me into thinking I have time to devote to a garden, remembering the tending and doting one demands--then picks up and runs off laughing, never looking backward over its shoulder to see that I haven’t kept up.
Truth is, all three have come together this year to leave us with mountains of zucchini and cucumbers, a nice plot of basil and little else.

So, determined to rescue the remnants of what had been 2 rows of green beans, now lying mauled and muddied beneath a heavy blanket of vines creeping in from the edge, I set off toward the plot, clippers in hand. Julie had heard that a heavy pruning of the plants could produce a second crop and was giving it a try.
For me, any crop, this year, would be welcome.

Snipping along, nipping and tucking my way down each row, bean stems here, vine stems there, I amassed quite a pile—tangled and thrown onto the grass, the few old, woody beans sadly hanging. And marveled at my new creation—a barren, brown strip. The 2 rows of plants, nothing more than short stems.

Sand Vine, Cynanchum laeve
Do you see what I see?
(click to enlarge)

The vines, always eyeing an open space to conquer, had also found the corner stake, and had wound around and around each other up its metal bar, extending a ropey arm to the sky. From my spot in the grass, where I sat, pleased, now, in my new hope for the ravaged garden, I could see hundreds of tiny golden aphids along its length, each elbowing its neighbor, nodding and dipping as they sipped from the tender stem.
And a teeny, tiny stripy one, that wasn’t an aphid at all.

I knew, even as I rose to look more closely at what was barely there, what moved slowly along the stem.
His fine black and yellow-striped body.
The delicate whiplashes on either end.
Yes, the monarch caterpillars I had hoped to find in the milkweed patch beside the pond, were feeding here, instead, on the Sand Vine--and I had just plowed through their nursery.

Monarch caterpillars feeding on Sand Vine, Cynanchum laeve

Carefully, I unraveled the tangled vines from the pile tossed beside the garden, my eyes scanning for evidence of chewed leaves and tiny striped bodies and found two more, untouched by the trimming, wandering aimlessly amidst the wilting stems.
Gently, I inserted a new leaf beneath the silken attachments of their tiny feet, and in minutes, each inched forward onto their new climbing host plant.
In total, now seven.

No cilantro, no dill, no sweet potatoes, no beans—
but the garden’s just fine, if I might say so.
Some, in fact, say it's divine.

Monarch butterfly depositing egg on Sand Vine, Cynanchum laeve

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bobbie said...

I am happy for the monarchs! We need as many as we can get. There are many less than in past years.

Julie Zickefoose said...

Ah yes, it's in the Asclepiadaceae; I know it as Swallow-wort, but I'd never known monarchs to feed on it. Thank you for the lesson! BTW my beans look exactly as they did when I lopped them off...sorry. Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and there's always September. You never know what plants have in mind.

Tom said...

Thats one of the better postings I've seen in a while... I really enjoyed reading this.

If you get time nip over and meet Ammon Wrigley then read his poem The Homestead

jemkagily said...

You can always buy vegetables at the store or farmstand, but money can't buy monarchs.

Wendi (whose milkweed plants were decimated by beetles this year, grrr.)

Texas Travelers said...

Nice post and great photos.

Watch those Oleander Aphids.
Feed the caterpillar.

Two new posts at 'I C U Nature'

Eryngos and Argiopes.
Green Tree Frogs.

Come visit and tell us what you think,
Troy & Martha