By Penny Pawl, UC Master Gardener of Napa County
Every morning before I get myself together, I take a stroll through my garden. I want to see how all my plants fared through the night. Did any creatures knock over a pot? Do my tomatoes need a good shake to pollinate the flowers so the plants will make fruit? Even though I thought I watered well, does anybody need more water?
I check the squash to see if any new female flowers are ready to meet the male flowers. Although the squash bees are usually on the job, I often take this opportunity to fertilize the flowers by hand. One morning I opened a flower and found two squash bees that had slept overnight in the flower. This walk-through helps focus my day and guide me in the work I need to do.
I love these summer morning strolls. I can't do my walking tour in the winter without bundling up like an Eskimo. Besides, the garden is resting in winter. If it is not raining, I do my stroll later in the day and include plants overwintering in the hothouse.
I stop along the stroll to check out my huge fennel plant. I pick a few pieces of fennel to feed the Anise Swallowtail caterpillars in my kitchen. The newborn caterpillars look like bird droppings which is one way that Nature protects them from predators.
I look for Anise Swallowtail butterflies gliding around my garden. I stop and inspect the milkweed leaves hoping I will find a Monarch egg ; I also check out the aphids living on the milkweed. If little black spots appear among the clusters of yellow, then I know predators have been munching on the aphids.
The yellow aphids are oleander aphids and don't seem to feed on anything other than every species of milkweed I have. These aphids are Mediterranean natives, and it is thought that they entered the U.S. on imported oleander. Interestingly, oleander aphids are all female and give birth to clones of themselves.
Sadly, no Monarchs have visited my garden yet. I have read that they will be scarce this year.
On this morning the milkweed is blooming high over my head. I stop and check out the pollinator garden. The bumblebees are busy at work on the salvia. They have a favorite and I find them there early in the morning and just before the sun goes down. They are hard workers and are feeding the baby bees in their nests.
One morning, as I was snooping around the Nicotiana, I surprised a mama quail hiding in the middle. She blended in so well that I did not notice her until she moved. Almost every morning I find evidence that quail have visited my garden and taken a bath in the soil in my raised beds. They seem to prefer being as close to the plants as possible. Maybe the soil is warmer there. While the plants are still small, I cover them with bent hardware cloth to protect them.
On another morning I ran into a fresh pile of bird feathers. Apparently one of the night creatures trapped and feasted on a member of my quail colony. While I know this is nature's way, it always makes me sad. I live in the country, so I know there are coyotes, skunks, bobcats, possums, raccoons and small foxes that live alongside me.
About 20 years ago my neighbors spotted a cougar near the river. I also heard it was seen walking on Big Ranch Road during the day. I have seen some of these creatures, but mostly they are night prowlers that avoid contact with humans.
Before I am done with my morning stroll, I stop at the compost bins to see if the worms have dragged the newest materials down. I also visit with the small toads that love to live in my bins, feasting on the fruit flies. Occasionally I find a lizard or garter snake spending a few hours in the worm beds. I don't make them leave as it is all part of the nature I love.
Next workshop: “Home Vineyard: Part 2” on Saturday, September 14, from 9:30 to 2:00 p.m., in Calistoga. Learn techniques to maintain your new or existing home vineyard. Workshop location will be provided after registration. For more details & online Registration go to http://napamg.ucanr.eduor call 707-253-4221.
The UC Master Gardeners are volunteers who provide UC research-based information on home gardening and answer your questions. To find out more about upcoming programs or to ask a garden question, visit the Master Gardener website (http://napamg.ucanr.edu) or call (707) 253-4221 between 9 a.m. and noon on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays.