May is a busy month of planting, good birding, and the onset of active nasty biting things that cause most people at this latitude to stay indoors for the next three to four months.
Weather recap: May weather was generally quite pleasant: temperate with moderate moisture. Total rainfall was about 3.3 inches, spread out relatively evenly through the month, with a maximum daily total of 0.6″. The ground stayed moist but not soggy, generating great conditions for germinating both crop and weed seeds. Temperatures were moderate, with no excessive heat, though we did have a light frost on the morning of May 15. Fortunately, the forecasts warned us of a cold spell well in advance, so we held back on transplanting frost-sensitive crops until after that date.
May flowers! Some of these are native, some introduced, some wild, some cultivated, some edible, some not. We like all of these.
Asparagus Beetles: Eggs, larvae, and adults, all on asparagus plants. We first saw these about three years ago, and they’ve been relentless since then. The asparagus patch is near the house for convenience, but the soil is worse than we realized at planting time, especially in terms of drainage (as in indicator, a crayfish currently has a burrow in the middle of the patch). Perhaps it is not surprising that somewhat stressed plants are pest prone. We still managed to eat a nice quantity of asparagus this spring. Another beetle in the same family (Family Chrysomelidae), the Colorado Potato Beetle, also made an appearance in May. We actually haven’t seen one in a few years, and we’ve never experienced a bad outbreak here (yet!). So far, we’ve only found them on some volunteers from last year’s potato patch as well as some solanaceous weeds (none on our main potato planting). We’re squishing what we find and remaining vigilant.
Trees leaf out in earnest in May, and a variety of organisms take advantage of the bounty. The upper left photo shows our Hosui Asian Pear tree with some unpleasant spots on many of the leaves. Asian pears have a reputation for being particularly resilient to virtually everything, and this is the first time we’ve noticed a problem of this magnitude. Online searches yielded a lot of different possibilities regarding what could be causing these spots, but the hypothesis we think matches best is some form of cedar rust disease (see page 6 of the Missouri Forest Health Update, a somewhat depressing publication that is worth a read). The other photos show forest trees, including hackberry, elm, oak, and hickory, with a variety of insects or insect signs, including galls (middle row), as well as caterpillars and leaves rolled by caterpillars (lower row). The middle photo in the upper row is a hackberry gall.
The highlight of May is watching the migratory birds, especially warblers, that eat the caterpillars. We had good diversity this year, though at times the numbers seemed low. Here’s our warbler list for the month: Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Golden-winged Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Northurn Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler,Palm Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, and Blackburnian Warbler. We also enjoyed a visit by the (not-quite-a-warbler) Yellow-breasted Chat.
The wild Black Raspberries flowered like crazy again this year, but as we’ve seen in past years, fruit set was far below the potential suggested by the blossoms. The photo on the left shows successful fruit formation; the blossoms on the right are failures. The vast majority of all those beautiful blooms ended in failure. The big question is: Why? We saw lots of insects visiting the flowers, so pollination doesn’t seem to be the limiting factor. Some sources suggest fungal or viral diseases, but the leaves look healthy. Does that mid-May frost deserve the blame? Could be, but the pattern of successful fruiting doesn’t seem to entirely make sense with that.
Deer continue to remind us of their presence in the landscape. Left: Browse on sumac. Right: Deer bed in the woods. A trail camera in the woods documented near daily activity by the voracious herbivores.
We don’t have the photographic equipment to get good pictures of a woodpecker nest high in a dead tree, so here are some lousy photos instead. While taking a walk in the woods one evening, we paused and heard a chattering that we assumed to be baby birds. We walked around until we figured out which tree the sound was coming from, then watched and waited for a few minutes. This strategy revealed that the nest belonged to Downy Woodpeckers. The photos show the nest hole (left), an adult at the hole (middle), and the adult going down into the hole with just the tail sticking out (right).
May involves lots of hoeing and preparation of beds for planting. We planted lots of rye/vetch last fall as a cover crop, and we take that down manually by scythe and hoe. This quality time in the beds provides ample opportunity to observe the soil surface, and on occasion, we find evidence of the past human history of our valley in the form of a nice worked point, or more often, a broken one; this month yielded two (upper photo). For every clearly worked piece we find, we encounter many, many pieces of chert (lower right photo) that may have been part of the tool-making process (flakes, blanks, failed tools) or may just be random pieces of chert. As we worked our way along last year’s sweet potato beds, we also happened to notice a lot of angular pieces of “non-native” rocks: dark red and black, some igneous, some other stuff, but definitely not locally derived from bedrock (lower left photo). We are north of the glacial margin, so we have an assortment of interesting ice-delivered rocks, but most that we find are nicely rounded. Makes us wonder whether these are also remnants of pieces worked by human hands in some way?
The Japanese Honeysuckle continues to go bonkers. But why whine about it when you can make wine out of it? Joanna has childhood memories of picking blossoms and sucking a sweet drop of nectar out of each one. Seems like potential wine-making material, and an online search yielded various recipes. So, we’re giving it a try. This isn’t going to control the vine, but it is at least a consolation prize for having it around and having to deal with it.
Here is another member of the honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae), this one a native perennial herbaceous plant. It is definitely in the genus Triosteum, probably Red-fruited Horse Gentian (Triosteum aurantiacum). We’ve never noticed this one before, but a couple of specimens were blooming near the gate.
May and June are good months to enjoy the diversity of sedges (Carex spp.).