In an attempt to avoid the heat, I’ve been getting out to work in the garden early in the morning every day this week.
A couple days ago, I heard a bird making a noisy racket up in a tree near one end of the garden. I walked over to see what all the fuss was about. Just as I neared the tree a blackbird flew out and landed in the other end of the garden, right near the spot I was working in. It was where my blueberry bushes are located. Apparently, the bird was scolding me for being so near his breakfast. Looking closer, I discovered it was the day the first blueberries ripened.
Unbeknownst to him, the bird reminded me that it was time to cover the blueberries. All kinds of birds love blueberries. Once they discover where your blueberries are, they can wipe out your whole crop in a day.
I learned that lesson many years ago. At that time, I had about a half an acre planted. The fellow helping me neglected to protect the crop. I got a frantic phone call from him one day. He said that someone sneaked in overnight and stole all of the berries he was going to pick that day. He didn’t realize that a huge flock of birds found our blueberries and ate all of them. His thought was it would be nice to share a few berries with the wildlife since we had so many.
I have only a few bushes in my garden now so, it is easy to cover them. I threw some row-cover material over the bushes and secured it with some clothes pins. Row-cover material is light-weight and doesn’t press down the branches. Netting works fine too if you can devise a way to keep it away from the bushes. Otherwise the birds can pick the berries right through the net.
This year, one bird’s greed helped me save my blueberry crop.
I own a lot of different kind of gardening tools. The most unusual one has to be my hand-held rotary hoe.
Farmers have been using large rotary hoes for decades. These are non-powered tools, not to be confused with rotary tillers. They were especially popular in the days before chemical herbicides came into wide-spread use.
The design is basically a series of specially shaped discs mounted side by side on an axle 10 or 12 feet wide. There are different configurations; some discs are star-shaped, others have small spoon-shaped ends attached around the circumference of the disc.
To use a rotary hoe, the farmer pulls the hoe behand a tractor at a fairly fast speed. The star points enter into the soil at about 90 degrees — straight down. As it moves forward and rotates, the point leaves the soil at an angle lifting some soil at the same time. This lifting action pulls up germinating weeds.
It is the weeds you don’t see — those still underground — that get destroyed. By the time you see the first leaves poking up out of the soil, it is almost too late to rotary hoe.
A rotary hoe in action runs right over everything in its path — the crop plants as well as the weeds. The crop plant, usually corn, is well-rooted and can’t be yanked out by the hoe. The leaves get torn up in the process but the corn plant recovers quickly.
Chemical herbicides, increasing labor costs, and high fuel prices caused most farmers to abandon their rotary hoe years ago. Many organic farmers still use them however.
My little hoe is a just a scaled-down version of those large, farm implements. It actually works quite well whenever I remember to use it early enough.
A couple of days ago an unexpexted guest showed up in front of our garage door. It was a big, two-eyed, scary-looking beetle that was just sitting there, motionless — looking like it was dead.
It was easy to scoop up into a jar so I could have someone take a look at it for identification. Adrienne O’Brian at U of M’s Mathhaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor, identified it as an Eyed Elater — a member of the click beetle family.
As it turns out, playing dead is one of the survival behaviors of the Eyed Elater. And those “eyes”; they’re just markings, not real eyes.
This Eyed Elater looks scary but it doesn’t bite.
You don’t get to see these very often because they spend most of their lifetime as larvae — sometimes up to six years. During that stage, they live in decaying wood looking for wood-boring beetles to eat. So, they really are beneficial insects. The adult beetles don’t eat much — they’ll sip on a little plant juice once in a while.
Over the years, during my time spent out in the woods harvesting firewood, I’ve seen the larvae but never stopped to make the connection between them and the adult beetle.
When any member of the click beetle family is placed on its back, it will try to get on its feet by quickly arching its back and snapping back into position. This causes it to flip into the air with a “click!” sound. The smaller click beetles are fun to watch, but this Elater is really something to see.
Since my Eyed Elater is one of the good guys, I’ll take him back out to the woodpile so he can live out the rest of his life without anyone bothering him anymore.