Ants on peonies

We’re seeing ants again on peony buds again this year. It happens every spring. They show up as soon as the buds get some size to them. They’ll stick around all the way through flowering.

Ants and peonies just seem to go together.  Many long time gardeners believe you must encourage the ants because you can’t have good peony flowers without them.  We now know that is an old wives tale.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are gardeners who fret and worry about the ants so much that they try to destroy every ant on their peonies. They think the ants are hurting the peonies and inhibiting flowering. That belief is just as much an old wives tale.


You'll find ants on peonies all day, every day this time of year.
You’ll find ants on peonies all day, every day this time of year.

In fact, ants on peonies are pretty much neutral — neither good nor bad. They are there only to feed on the sugary surface coating that is secreted by the buds. And that causes no damage.

Peony ants are so well behaved they won’t even try to get into your house so there is no need to worry about that either.

Sometimes an ant or two will ride into the house on cut flower stems. To avoid that, cut the flowers just before they open and knock off any ants you find.

Gardening has enough challenges without having to worry about ants on peonies. So cross that one off your list.



Wild asparagus

This is the time of year when we see cars parked along the roadside and people nearby with their heads down looking for something. What is it they’re looking for? They’re hunting for wild asparagus.

Wild asparagus is the same as the cultivated kind. When growing out on its own without anyone tending it, it’s called “wild”.

The best place to find wild asparagus is near abandoned homes or sites where a house used to stand. That’s because years ago, everyone had a small asparagus patch in their yard. Asparagus plants are perennials and often outlive their original owners.

A wild asparagus patch can also start from seed. Sometimes you can find a secondary patch growing under nearby trees where birds perch and spread asparagus seeds in their droppings.

It’s pretty hard to find asparagus just by searching for the newly formed spears without knowing where to begin looking. Seasoned asparagus hunters look for the distinctive fern-like, fully-grown fronds —  the mature plants that develop from the spears. They make a mental note of the location and come back the following spring to harvest the spears.

This is what the asparagus hunters are looking for.
This is what the asparagus hunters are looking for.

If you don’t know what an asparagus frond looks like, find someone who is growing asparagus and take a look at the plant. Once you’ve learned to recognize asparagus fronds, you’ll easily be able to spot them from your car while driving down the road.

Like morel mushroom hunters or smelt dippers, many asparagus hunters won’t share their secret spot with anyone except their closest friends. I’ve even had the weird experience of an asparagus picker get upset with me because I was picking asparagus from “his patch” even though it was on my property.

Keep in mind, when you do find a wild asparagus patch, ask permission from the land owner before you harvest the crop.

Happy hunting!


Circle of life in the chicken flock

The big news around here this week is the arrival of our new day-old chicks. I have fifty baby chicks to keep warm and look after, much like a mother hen except I use a heat lamp instead of cuddling up with them.

They were shipped from the hatchery by the United States Postal Service to our local Post Office. The Post Master called me to let me know they were ready for me to pick up. This is a unique service that the Post Office provides. UPS, FedEx and other shipping companies don’t ship chicks. It’s one more reason, in my opinion, to support our Postal Service and not let it be disassembled by outside competitors.

New arrivals.
New arrivals.

This latest group of new arrivals will be replacing our flock of old hens. The old gals are not laying enough eggs to pay for the feed they eat, even when they are able to forage out in the yard. So, it’s time for them to move on to the next stage of chicken farming — meat.

Old hens don’t make very good fried or roasted chicken, they are just too tough and scrawny. They do however,  make the most delicious chicken broth you have ever tasted.

My old joke is: “I have discovered a fast and easier way to make homemade chicken soup. Instead of butchering one chicken at a time when you start your soup, butcher several at a time and put them in the freezer. Then, take one out of the freezer the next time you make soup.”

I tell that joke every time I pull a hen out of the freezer and it always gets the same response from whoever hears it — silence followed by a quizzical look.

I’ll keep the  old hens around until the newcomers begin laying, about 18 weeks from now.