The garden is always full of critters but this year it seems busier than usual. And what a delight it has been to look out and see the garden always in motion.
This spring when the mornings were cool and damp, the dragonflies were everywhere.
We leave the stalks from sunflowers past upright in the garden where they grew and use them the next year as a bean trellis. They are also a favorite spot for dragonflies to land and rest. Of course, they also like the posts strung with twine for the peas, and the rocks the herb spiral is built from. The dragonflies come in so many sizes and colors and never cease to amaze me.
There are always fat bumble bees busy doing their bee thing. It has taken years, but I am finally peaceful working in the garden with bees buzzing sometimes right above my head. I often stop and watch and admire their fat fuzzy diligence and imagine what they might feel like if I could pet them. Would they be soft or prickly? I suspect prickly.
And butterflies. Early in the season it was red admirals and a few swallowtails. Now it’s monarch season. Their orange wings are striking to be sure, but I think I love their black polka dotted bodies the most. In spite of a forest of milkweed in the garden, I didn’t see one monarch caterpillar this year. It doesn’t mean they weren’t there, only that unless they are obvious, I don’t go looking for them.
Japanese beetles are still a menace in the garden but not like they used to be. Since we removed the honeycrisp apple tree and doused the garden with milky spore powder two years ago, the numbers of Japanese beetles are annoying but manageable. They really like pole beans but at least the beetles are easy to remove and feed to the Dashwoods. And after their swarming/mating season, they pretty much disappear and the pole beans can recover in time for a final burst of beans before frost.
This has been the best bird year in the garden ever. A pair of cardinals have a nest nearby and visit regularly. They sit on the deck rail, on the pea trellis stakes, on the fence, in the hazelnut and witch hazel. They sip from the bird bath. And when they were nest building, they chose bits of straw and dead grass and milkweed fluff for their home.
The sparrows also liked the abundance of milkweed fluff. Milkweed fluff is soft and very warm. Did you know you can use it as stuffing in quilts and blankets and jackets to make them warmer? Milkweed floss is also waterproof and buoyant and was used during WWII in U.S. military lifejackets when the supply of kapok from Java was cut off by Japan. Clearly, birds are well aware of its superior properties when it comes to nest building!
We have also had an abundance of northern house wrens. These tiny birds can chatter so loud, I am continuously amazed that such noise can come from something so small. Usually we get one flying through and stopping on the deck rail for a while. But this year we had small flocks flitting around the garden, hanging out in the raspberry patch and the hazelnut, and making a right good ruckus.
Today when I went out to laundry on the line, I looked up and gawped. There were two bald eagles circling high over Lake Nokomis a couple blocks away, and a third circling low over my neighborhood. Seeing a bald eagle from my garden isn’t that uncommon, but seeing three at the same time? Pretty amazing. My next thought was the Dashwoods who would make a tasty meal. But it is a hot and humid day today and when I checked on where the Dashwoods were, they were all wallowed in the shade under the elderberry, invisible to the eyes of the eagle.
Many of you are aware of my frequent battles with squirrels in the garden. Like the year I grew sweet corn and covered all the ears with nylon stockings to keep the squirrels from eating them. Or the fact that I have never once in the dozen years my hazelnut tree has been producing nuts, gotten to have one for myself because the squirrels eat them all. Or that last year they ate every single pie pumpkin. I could go on, it’s a long list.
This year though, I seem to have acquired a guardian squirrel. I have named her Tippy after Squirrel Girl’s squirrel sidekick. Tippy first came to our awareness in the early spring during the pandemic lockdown. The Dashwoods had begun laying every day and we had so many eggs that we would message friends and tell them there was a carton of eggs on our porch and to come by and get it.
When one friend came by there was Tippy, sprawled out on the porch rail. She was not bothering the eggs, she was just hanging out, keeping an eye on things. My friend walked slowly up to the porch, a little concerned the squirrel might attack or something. But Tippy finally relented and scampered off up the maple tree. We all had a good laugh about it.
But then Tippy began also hanging out on the deck too. She would stretch out in the sun, and sometimes the shade, along the rail and take a nap! She would also do her personal grooming. She would run away if we walked out the door to the deck and we did not feed her. But she helped herself to things in the garden, hazelnuts, raspberries, crabapples. I didn’t mind so much since it seemed like with her around there were fewer squirrels in the garden in general.
I had a moment of concern for her mid summer when I looked out the window and saw her hunched over like she was heaving. She turned around and had a wad of row cover fabric stuffed in her mouth. In spring when I had pulled the row cover fabric off the garlic, a strip had ripped and I had hung it on the newel post of the deck steps and it had been hanging there since. Tippy decided she needed it for her squirrel nest!
At first I thought her heaving was because it was stuck in her throat. When I was telling James the story, he had been at work, he asked me if it had been stuck in her throat had I planned on doing some squirrel CPR? Well, yes. As I watched her I was trying to figure out how to approach her so I could grab the end of the fabric and pull it out of her mouth.
But it quickly became clear that she wasn’t choking. She was busy stuffing the entire length of fabric in her mouth! Her cheeks were as big as a chipmunk’s and there was a big puffed wad of it bulging out. But when she got all the ends tucked in and nothing was dragging, she leaped into the witch hazel by the deck, onto the roof, and on her merry way to her nest, which I spied high up in the maple tree in the front yard.
Never a dull moment in the garden!