Much of Iowa holds “the best of both worlds.” If you live in a rural area, you might not be very far from a bustling town. If you live in town, you probably have farm fields within a dozen miles of your home. Just north of us is a small farm actually within its city limits. On the farm grows corn, but it’s best known for the large pumpkin patch, open for weeks in the fall for happy families to visit. The pumpkins that families purchase make grinning, gap-toothed Halloween decorations and harvest decor that lasts for months.
Besides the pumpkins, the farm owners have developed another field growing sunflowers. Recently on a sunny morning, we stopped by to enjoy the brilliant orangey-yellow petals, held aloft on sturdy stems.
This one reminded Melanie of a person tapping her face with her fingers.
I transplanted three common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) plants from a path we walk to our garden last year. They were about a foot tall at that time. They have done well this year and are over four feet tall and now in bloom. This busy bee was so intent it let me get very close for this photo. No sign of Monarch butterflies yet.
Milkweed plants are disappearing according to Monarch Watch and other sources. The Monarch butterflies rely upon them for survival. I decided to gather a few seed pods so I can plant some in my backyard and along a trail near my house. I cruised around some places on my bike looking for patches of milkweed that had extra pods I could harvest and bring home. I only took seven and left the rest for nature. I placed them on the deck for a month to dry out. That worked well. They split open and revealed their many seeds with attached coma.
Click to embiggen
Each pod had dozens of healthy brown seeds. The challenge was to remove them without getting coma fuzzies all over the place. The garage seemed the best place to do that job.
Click to embiggen
I grasped each pod firmly by the end opposite the seeds. That is where the coma tails were bundled. Then, I ran a small stick along the seeds to make them fall onto this plate. Almost all of them came loose so I could set aside the pod and detached coma fuzzies without any trouble. One source I read said to put the contents of the pod into a paper bag and shake it vigorously. Cut a small hole in the corner and dump out the seeds. The fuzzies remain in the bag. I never tried that. Here is my crop of seeds for the spring.
click to embiggen
They are now stored in a paper bag in the refrigerator until April. At that time, I will vernalize them. They get exposed to very cold temperatures for several weeks before planting them in May when ground temperatures are above 70˚. Vernalization increases the germination rate. I will layer them between moist paper towels and put them into a freezer for several weeks.
I have a small garden plot next to the house where I raise tomatoes, pole beans, rhubarb, zinnias, peppers, and most important, basil. I let the basil get a little out of control and noticed it was flowering a lot. One sunny day, some winged visitors were there enjoying the basil flowers and the warm sun. I took a few pictures. I couldn’t identify them and later forgot about them. In browsing through those pictures, I came across this one from that day.
At the time, my uneducated guess was that it was a Monarch or Viceroy. They can be confusing since they look a lot alike. I found two good pictures of the Monarch and Viceroy species. Can you see the difference in their markings. Notice the line across the rear part of the wings on the Viceroy. The creature in my photograph above is clearly not either. What is it? If you know, please comment below.
Now for the tasty stuff. The reason we raise basil is, of course, to make pesto. What wonderful stuff. We tried several different versions of the recipe. Some ingredients were different in each. Finally, we settled on our own version that is simple and uses walnuts. If you want to try it yourself, try our recipe.
I think you will be glad you did. We reach into the freezer any time and pull out frozen basil cups for all kinds of uses. One of our favorites is pesto pizza. What a treat!