Cycles of all sorts…

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed (host plant)

Milkweed plant “going to seed”

I plant tobacco. I love it. It reminds me of growing up and taking family trips down I-95, seeing fields and fields and fields of this majestic plant with gigantic leaves. I’ve rarely seen insects on or around our  tobacco plants; the leaves are sticky. And although I find the scent appealing, I imagine in the bug world there might be something off-putting about it. So,  I usually don’t bother to check the plants for pests.

Tobacco Budworm

That all changed a few days ago, when I noticed these worms on the tobacco. I assumed they were corn earworms—after all, they looked like them and were less than a foot from the overhanging corn leaves. Maybe they just dropped onto the tobacco from the corn leaves?

Wrong. I was amazed to find I have tobacco budworms.

A very close relative of the corn earworm, the tobacco budworm attacks field crops—tobacco, soybeans, cotton (which, by the way, is planted at the end of the tobacco row). A common predator is the wasp. Host plants include beardstem, lupine, and sunflower to name a few—all of which are present at our place (including the wasps!).

Just goes to show:  there are so many “mini-lifecycles” going on every day all around us…if we just take a moment to notice—like those pictured here.


There we were, at our annual family reunion in South Carolina, and Aunt Renie said something like, “and remember those pokeweed salads?” That has stuck with me for a few years—especially since pokeweed grows like, well, a weed around here. I finally decided to do some research on this beautifully-berried plant since there is no better time than the present given all the bunches hanging out back.

First and foremost: pokeweed is a toxic plant. Let me repeat this. It is poisonous for humans, pets, and livestock!

Yet, in days of yore, poke “sallits” were a staple of southern cuisine in the U.S.

Young pokeweed leaves (collected before acquiring a red color) are boiled three times to reduce the toxin, discarding the water after each boiling. The result:  poke salit or poke salad. Be warned. It should never be eaten uncooked.

Many authorities advise against eating pokeweed even after boiling three times since traces of the toxin could still remain. Even today, doctors in the south launch frequent awareness campaigns to warn that pokeweed may remain toxic even after being boiled.

That said, let’s move on.

Apparently, pokeweed is a jack of all trades as far as plants go. It has been the star of folk song lyrics, used topically or internally as remedies and poultices by Native Americans, and enjoyed as an ornamental plant. The berries have functioned as writing ink, a paint to color aboriginal horses, and natural fabric dye.

It doesn’t look like pokeweed’s dance card is filled, though, by any means. A member of the Phytolacca family of plants, scientists have been able to isolate a protein from pokeweed that is being used to try to inhibit the replication of the HIV virus in human cells.

Oh, the possibilities…

Blog Post About Our Wildflowers Webisodes


The third summer we were here I noticed cars slowing and occasionally stopping on the road nearer the pasture. I thought, for the longest time, they were looking at our animals.


One day, while I was out back noticing the tremendous number of butterflies, it dawned on me. The cars were slowing to take in the activity on the wildflowers—all the pollinators that had found their way to the native species we had let “come back.”

I hope this webisode, in particular, serves as a simple lesson in conservation: that something so easy as letting native species propagate a waterway buffer can naturally accomplish so many vital “tasks” that are necessary for a healthy ecosystem. That, and you get to enjoy one heck of a butterfly show!

Meet Purslane

I didn’t always know Purslane, mind you. We met after I married.

David was away on a flight assignment with the National Guard (mid-July, as I recall) and I was left tending our veggie garden for a few days. This was my first summer doing this– I was on maternity leave from flying and halfway through my pregnancy.

I thought it’d be great to show David, upon his return, how I tidied up the garden…and proceeded to weed every row. The work was tedious (as weeding usually is) and my protruding belly and the hot summer weather made for an uncomfortable experience. I pushed through, though, and ended up with mounds and mounds of this succulent “weed” which, to my great surprise was very easy to pull, thanks to a recent rain. It was really productive work—it almost looked as though I’d taken a vacuum cleaner between the rows and cleaned the paths!

David was amazed at my handiwork and surprised me with an early birthday dinner at a restaurant in Madison, Wisconsin known for serving only local and seasonal fare (a rarity 11 years ago). Imagine my surprise when the salad course came and there, alone on the little china plate, was a heaping helping of….purslane. I remember looking up at him, quizzically, and saying “Are they kidding??” Nope. Not kidding.

Our Pennsylvania neighbors always ask for a bowl of purslane from the garden. They’ve been eating it for years. I’m always happy to oblige; the supply is endless. Me? I’m happy to stick with the mesclun mix we plant. But I recall that trip to the Wisconsin restaurant every year about this time—when it’s time to “tidy up” the rows.