ants farming aphids, Allegheny Mount Ants

Ants Farming Aphids

Ants Farming Aphids

We’ve all heard of ant farms. Two panes of glass held together on a base, a narrow gap filled with soil, and ants. Lots of ants busily tunneled along as we watched. Ants farming aphids – that’s a thing of its own.

ants farming aphids, Allegheny Mound Ants (Formica exsectoides) Ants are farmers. This poplar sapling is growing inside the high tunnel. I cut it back to ground level a couple of times last year but it had enough energy stored in the roots to regenerate (called coppice)  this spring. Armed with clippers, I headed for the little sapling but stopped in my tracks. What’s that? It looked like black goo from a distance. A little closer, I noticed scurrying. Ants. And the goo? Aphids. ants farming aphids

I almost killed the ant hill last year. If I could have found an organic solution to the hill, I’d have used it. They having a sharp bite you don’t ever forget. I’m glad now that I let them alone.

Allegheny Mound Ants (Formica exsectoides)

You may subscribe to my newsletter in less than 60 seconds.

* indicates required

View previous campaigns.

These are coppice (Formica exsectoides) ants, and they’re taking care of a problem I didn’t have until a few years ago – aphids. I don’t know if aphids weren’t here or if they were so well controlled by the ants I didn’t see them. I noticed a few two years ago, and again last year, and now, the most I’ve seen in the 17 years we’ve been here. As long as neither get out of control I’ll leave them to do their thing while I watch carefully. Allegheny Mound Ants (Formica exsectoides) , ants farming aphidsAnts are in control in this situation. They move aphids to parts of the plant that have easiest access to sap. Research shows that if the aphids try to fly away, the ants clip their wings to keep them in place. There are chemicals in the ants’ feet that inhibit wing development. Isn’t nature fascinating! ants farming aphids

Aphids are kept by ants as a food source, for the sweet substance know as honeydew they secrete after eating plants. Seems a little barbaric but hey, they’re ants and aphids.

Food for thought: ants farming aphids. Before you kill your pests, do a little research. They might just be farming other pests.

The Camp Parade on the Fourth of July

Camp Parade

I don’t remember when it started. It was years ago. Someone decided we were missing out on a parade on the Fourth of July, and that was the beginning of the camp parade. Steve and I usually miss it because we stay home to catch up on things at the house. The lawn, garden, repairs – the things you don’t get done while you’re at work. When we go upta camp on the Fourth it’s later in the day, in time for supper and fireworks. Not this year. The lawn didn’t get mowed, the weeds are alive and well, but we’ve been to the parade!

I was able to get in a couple of very short (just a mile) paddles in the kayak, and watched a bear in the second cove. A loon popped up 15-20 feet from the kayak. Normally they are startled and immediately dive, but this one watched me watching him and calmly swam away. Maybe he’s the same loon I hung out with on the same point last year.

So! Who loves a parade? ME! This is the highly praised, vastly rewarded, most fun parade you have probably never seen. You don’t know what you’re missing. Welcome to the Fourth of July Parade on Upper Sysladobsis lake in rural Maine.

The after party – music, food, drinks, swimming, and good people. Thanks to Mimi and Joe for doing this year after year!

parade, upta camp, Upper Sysladobsis, Upta camp

The parade’s after party is the place to be!

The first week in July is almost over. Have you subscribed to my newsletter yet? It will be out soon! You can see the June edition here.
* indicates required

View previous campaigns.

Understanding The USDA Hardiness Zones

Understanding The USDA Hardiness Zones

I’m running this again because I’m starting to see blogs with information about mid-summer crops to plant based on USDA Hardiness Zones. Since zones have nothing to do with summer planting and frost dates I thought it time to give this one another trip through the blogosphere.

newsletter subscriptionFirst – the USDA hardiness zones are not “grow zones.” Erase that thought from your mind.

Ok, ready to move past grow zones?

The USDA hardiness zones are too often misunderstood. As a result of the misunderstanding, they’re often misused. Let’s clear up the confusion.

The USDA hardiness zones break the United States into 11 individual zones. There is a 10° difference in zones. Each zone tells us the annual average coldest temperature in that area. Since the coldest temperature happens in the winter, zones have nothing to do with the crops you grow only in spring, summer or fall.

hardiness zones

USDA Hardiness Zone Map

Hardiness zones don’t tell us when to expect our last spring frost or first fall frost. Those dates vary by several weeks throughout the zones. A colder zone than the one you’re in might have an earlier last frost date, allowing you to plant tender annuals earlier. The other zone has a lower average temperature in the winter but it warms up sooner in the spring.

Zones don’t tell us the length of daylight, the average high temperature, the number of days above a certain temperature, or what can be planted at any given time. We’ve given the USDA hardiness zones credit for information they don’t supply. hardiness zones

So when do we need to use hardiness zones? If you farm in warmer climates you need to know how much cold a plant must have. You won’t find citrus trees growing here in Maine because it’s too cold in winter. Even if they could survive our cold winters, frost would kill the blossoms in spring. Some fruit trees need a period of dormancy over the winter before they’ll blossom and produce again. If you’re in a zone that doesn’t get cold enough to provide this rest period you’ll have a harder time growing those fruits. The tree will most likely survive but not produce. We’re having this problem with apples in parts of New England this year. Our winter was so mild that many of the trees didn’t blossom this spring. It felt good to have 50° days in January and February but we’re paying the price for it now. Apple production on my farm this year will be disappointing. About half of my trees didn’t blossom at all. My cherry trees didn’t blossom well so there are few cherries on the trees.

If you’re growing perennials in a cold climate you need to know what zone those plants are hardy in, and in which zone you’re located. Perennial vegetables such as asparagus, artichokes and rhubarb are hardy enough to survive winter in some zones but not in others. I grow artichokes as an annual because they won’t survive at -25°F. We need to know what zones perennial herbs are hardy in. Perennial herbs in warmer climates are annuals in the colder climates. When you’re farming in the of warm and cold you can mulch some herbs heavily in the fall and get them through winter. Flower bulbs will survive very cold winters and break dormancy as soon as the soil starts to warm, sometimes before all of the snow is gone. If the same bulbs are planted in a warm zone the plant is likely to have a lot of foliage but poor flowering ability. Flower farmers pay close attention to zones for this reason.

USDA Hardiness Zones

There are 11 numbered hardiness zones that break down into lettered zones. They start at zone 1 and go to zone 11. Zones 2 through 10 are divided into a and b zones with 5° differences.  hardiness zones
1 is Below -50° F
2a is -50° to -45° F
2b is -45° to -40° F
3a is -40° to -35° F
3b is -35° to -30° F
4a is -30° to -25° F
4b is -25° to -20° F
5a is -20° to -15° F
5b is -15° to -10° F
6a is -10° to -5° F
6b is -5° to 0° F
7a is 0° to 5° F
7b is 5° to 10° F
8a is 10° to 15° F
8b is 15° to 20° F
9a is 20° to 25° F
9b is 25° to 30° F
10a is 30° to 35° F
10b is 35° to 40° F
11 is Above 40°F


The USDA zone map doesn’t guarantee a definite average minimum temperature. Microclimates are small areas inside a zone that are a little warmer or cooler than the surrounding area. There are factors to take into consideration. Hills, valleys and windbreaks change the flow of air. A change in air flow can cause warmer or cooler air to be trapped in an area, or move out around that area. Buildings will absorb heat during the day and release it into the evening and night (radiant heat), keeping that small area a little warmer. If you’re unfamiliar with the microclimates in your area you should ask other local growers to share their information. hardiness zones

Buck in Velvet

Buck in Velvet

I seldom get to see a buck in velvet. They’re off on their own this time of year because they’re guarding their soft, tender antlers. I wrote about antlers for the August issue of Maine Woodlands, SWOAM‘s newsletter.

Steve has the day off to get some work done at home. He’s repairing the bush hog right now. If you hear very loud swearing, it probably came from here. Notice that I’m still in the house? I’d offer to help but there’s little space to put the goodgit on the whatchamacallit with a big wrench he had to buy for this task, and I can be most helpful (I hope) by staying out of his way. He’s going to mow the food plot and the old garden that’s been taken over by weeds about to go to seed. He won’t be able to get all of the garden spot done because it’s too wet. There was standing water yesterday.

I’m working on a couple of things in the blog and hoping to find myself in the boat with a fishing pole later this afternoon.

So anyway – buck in velvet.

buck in velvet

Buck in velvet. Maine Wildlife Park, Gray, Maine.

Would you like to subscribe to my monthly newsletter? You can see an example by following the “View previous newsletter” link below before you make up your mind.

* indicates require

View previous newsletter.

Note to Self: Duck Eggs

Note to self: Give duck eggs to another Silkie hen today.

khaki campbell ducklings, duck

A Buff Silkie hatched two Khaki Campbell ducklings yesterday. They are either two egg layers, two meat birds, or one of each, and I think they’re one of each. I think the older Khaki Campbell ducklings are also one of each sex. I’ll keep our current drake and one other, and all of the hens. duck

Today, I’ll move the hen and ducklings to a pen in the high tunnel. They’ll stay in the pen for a couple of weeks. It’s big enough for them and they’ll need protection from Sweetie, the hen already in there with her ducklings. She’s in mean mamma mode and would attack this new little family. duck

I’m going to build a new tractor for the duck that’s eggs will hatch next week. And hey, imagine that, I have a duck hatching duck eggs. This family will live in the tractor, surrounded by electronet to ward off predators (mostly raccoons). I need to get a net with smaller mesh to keep the tiny ducklings in. The grasshoppers are starting to show up in force now so a week from now, when the ducklings are chasing anything that moves, they’ll have a pretty good supply of natural food. They’ll also learn to find weed seeds, tunnel into the soil with their bill in search of grubs, eat grass, and make a mess in and of their water. They’ll all sleep in a closed kennel inside the tractor at night for added protection.

The ducks that hatched yesterday should start laying eggs in early December to early February. The days are short so I’m guessing it will be closer to early February than December. I’m hoping for December because it would be nice to have a big supply of duck eggs for Christmas baking.

I expect about a dozen ducklings total this year. I’ll be happy if half are hens. That will bring my lock up to eight dependable layers. The Runner hens are older and will stop laying by September, if they last that long.

I’d like to place a trio of Silkies locally. One rooster and two hens is a good start on a flock of tiny laying machines. All three are just over a year old.

What babies do you have this year?

Stick Your Neck Out

Stick Your Neck Out

When a turtle sticks its neck out it’s taking a risk to its safety. It leaves its most vulnerable part unprotected.

Humans do this, too, though the seldom risk losing their head. Sometimes we risk our reputation, our feelings, our jobs, our hearts, or our comfort. Sometimes you have to stick your neck out to get things done. If you make people uncomfortable by doing the right thing let it be their problem, not yours.

stick your neck outI’m going to be sticking my neck out right here. I’m nervous. Honestly, I have an issue with not being enough. Not good enough, not proper enough, not worthy enough – not enough. I’m not going to let that stop me.  In a few days, probably Monday, I’ll be writing about advertising, sponsored posts, giveaways, and reviews. I’ll be writing about the costs associated with these services. It’s time I started making a living along with the life I’m making and sharing here, and not just paying the costs associated with running the blog.

The big one I’ll be writing about, again, is this:

Writers should not be expected to work for free.

Artists in general should not be expected to work for free.

What’s your shell? Ready to stick your neck out?

Radish Rainbow

Radish Rainbow

At Portland Farmers’ Market, Portland, Maine. Saturday mornings. A radish rainbow! I’m not good at Wordless Wednesday. I’m a writer. I need words. This is the best I could do. ;)

Portland Farmers' Market

A rainbow of radishes at Portland Farmers’ Market

Lion’s Mane Mushrooms in Butter and Sage

Lion’s Mane Mushrooms

Honest Kitchen: Honest, whole food cooked from scratch. Simple, delicious and sometimes from the wild side. Robin, Erin and Michelle often prepare wild game, mushrooms, berries and other foods they harvest, grow or buy locally. Come cook with all of us. Copy this paragraph (please leave the links) into your blog and leave your link in comments each Wednesday so everyone can visit.

A few weeks ago Erin posted a photo from farmers market in Portland. I meant to go last year but Portland is a little over four hours away. I commented on her photos to say I was going to leave early and go with her. That turned into me sacking out on her couch last Friday night. We were at market early Saturday morning with mushrooms in mind.

I hadn’t tried Lion’s Mane mushrooms, and they were one of the choices at market. They were $15 a pound, a real deal in my opinion. Chanterelles are $20-$60 per pound depending on where you live. I took two large mushrooms and was excited to find out they weighed just a third-pound. One pound of Lion’s Main fills a paper lunch bag. That’s a lot of mushroom.

I didn’t want to mask the flavor by so I sliced the our first ones into steaks as suggested by the farmer, and pan fried them in Houlton Dairy butter. They brown up nicely! I was surprised. They’re water heavy so I expected them to wilt more than fry.

Lion's Mane mushroom

Lion’s Mane mushroom

Lion's Mane Mushrooms in Butter and Sage - Honest Kitchen
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Lion's Mane mushrooms are versatile, becoming common at farmers markets and larger groceries, and taste great.
Serves: 2[cap:1][url:1][img:1][/url][/cap]
  • ¼ lb Lion's Mane mushrooms
  • ⅛ cup quality butter
  • 1 tbl chopped fresh sage
  1. Warm a fry pan enough to melt the butter, and turn off the heat.
  2. Chop the sage and add it to the butter. Stir them together and allow to sit for 10 minutes while you prepare the mushrooms.
  3. Lion's Head mushrooms don't have a typical stem. Remove the small spot on the bottom where the mushroom attached to its host. It's probably smaller than a dime but easy to find.
  4. Using a very sharp knife, slice the mushrooms into ¼" steaks.
  5. Warm the fry pan until the butter starts to bubble a little but before it begins to brown. Watch the mushrooms closely, they brown within minutes. Turn over once, drain on a paper towel or paper lunch bag, and serve immediately. They crisp up nicely but they do become soggy fairly fast. Have everything else in your meal plate ready when you start the mushrooms.

I added Lion’s Mane to pizza and loved it, and pan fried it in Maple Bourbon bacon fat with moose steaks, and was equally pleased. Definitely mushrooms I’ll be looking for at market and in the woods.

Lion's Mane mushrooms