Sunday, August 28, 2016

Benefits of Thunderstorms

Rolling in over the prairie...

One of the benefits of living in the Midwest and having a rural commute is I get to experience a lot of big sky. Huge sweeping panoramas of clouds, sunrises, sunsets, and thunderstorms. It's been a terrific summer for the big boomers. I haven't had to water anything but the plants in containers. There is something magnetic about the majestic scope of a supercell rolling over your head.


We love a good thunderstorm and are known to turn off all the house lights just to watch a lightning show. Not only does a storm bring needed rain, that lightning plays an important part in the garden. It ionizes nitrogen which then falls to earth and is readily absorbed by plants. You might notice that your lawn will green up after a thunderstorm and put on some extra growth. That little extra shot of nitrogen did the trick.

Another benefit of thunderstorms are rainbows. This was a particularly bright one and I didn't notice until I pulled it up that it has a faint double. Now this is the parking lot of the grocery store, and I was surprised that I was the only one pausing a moment to savor this stunner of a rainbow. If Mother Nature is going to put on a show, I like to take a minute and appreciate it. It's garish and loud and an exuberant reminder of the clash of water and electricity. The final fireworks of a summer show.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Now Is the Season For Insects

Tiger swallowtail on Liatris spicata

This year August has brought back the big butterflies. I've got monarch eggs on the milkweed finally and I've tallied more than 35 so far this year. 35 is a high number it seems, but I've been out photographing sites for work, which means spending a lot of time in prairies, woods, and wetlands. Need a butterfly fix? Head to the prairie or bring a piece to your own backyard.

I've planted the raingarden primarily in native prairie plants because their deep roots hold the soil in place and absorb more water. This year, many of them have reached the three year mark so I have a bevy of purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), gayfeather (Liatris spicata), bee balm (Monarda sp.), blue vervain (Verbena hastata) and black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia sp.) attracting a wealth of insects. Not to mention a lot of milkweed.

Zabulon skipper on Rudbeckia

The swallowtails have been casing out the place, although I haven't found a caterpillar - yet. We have a smattering of skippers, tons of bees, wasps, flies, bugs, and spiders. It's been remarkable how determined the bees are to get to the nectar of the bee balm. There are only a few florets left here and there, and still, they are magnets. Some bee species cut into the base of the flower for a quick sip instead of trying to negotiate the long tubular florets. Adding a few native plants really does make a difference!

Skipper on Echinacea

Crab spider defending its territory.