Tag Archives: wildflowers

Transforming work into play

Holmes Co. OH, Millersburg OH

The prairie on the hill.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Several years ago, our lifetime friends Dave and Kate built their dream house on a hill overlooking Millersburg, Ohio. They picked the perfect spot.

From that lofty vantage point overlooking a lovely valley, Dave and Kate can see the county courthouse clock tower, the school where they both taught, and the hospital where their children were born.

The setting is marvelous, the view fantastic. Still, through hard work and creativity, the couple has managed to improve their surroundings, not only for themselves but for the wild things, too.

About five years ago, Dave decided to turn work into play so to speak. He kicked the cows out of the five-acre, pastured hillside that surrounded the house. His goal was simply to let nature take her course.

Before the European invasion 300 years ago, a dense, mature forest covered most of what is now Ohio. Dave wanted to test an old theory that the land would replenish itself if allowed to go fallow.

So instead of cows grazing, grasses, plants, and seedlings began to sprout freely. Today, the results are impressive, producing rewards that even the amiable couple could never have imagined.

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On an all-too-brief return to our Ohio haunts, Dave led me on a walking tour of his mostly-spontaneous prairie. We traversed a looping pattern of mown paths that crisscrossed the rolling hillside topography.

Up and down and around we walked. All the while Dave pointed out some of the changes that had already naturally occurred. In some spots, he had helped things along with saplings and young trees he had planted. He checked on them like a mother hen guarding her chicks.

Of course, he encaged the plantings with wire mesh to stymie the ubiquitous and free-ranging deer that nibble the tender and tasty leaves and stalks. Sometimes it worked.

Wildflowers and plants now flourished in the prairie plots where heifers used to munch. The floral growth attracted appreciative pollinators that flitted and buzzed about while we ambled along. Bees and butterflies, flies, dragonflies, and damselflies all made appearances.

Holmes Co. OH, Millersburg OH

Eastern Bluebirds.

Several pairs of eastern bluebirds tended to their nests in boxes Dave had erected. Some had eggs, some second brood hatchlings. Others were empty. When we cleaned out an old nest from one birdhouse, a bluebird pair began building anew a short time later. Dave’s face glowed.

At the bird feeders, Ohio’s smallest to largest woodpeckers and several species in between vied for the suet offerings. Both pileated and red-bellied even brought their young to learn to forage for the protein.

On the parameters of the property, red-tailed hawks dove from shaded oak perches, unsuccessful in snagging a mammal breakfast. An indigo bunting began its song but stopped short, a typical behavior this late in the summer.

Cedar waxwings preened in the morning sunshine on dead ash snags. American goldfinches harvested thistledown for their late-season nests.

The gnarled, amber trunks of giant Osage orange trees served as living statuaries in the young reclaimed landscape. Their coarse-skin fruit hung lime-green and eerie, like so many Martian brains.

Once dormancy dominates the prairie, Dave will mow down this marvelous and necessary wildlife habitat to eliminate the human-made nuisance multi-flowered rose bushes. Of course, he’ll save the trees, both those he planted and the multitude of volunteers that are thriving.

That adage is coming true. Left to grow on its own, this come-what-may former pasture is an ever-changing habitat for all things bright and beautiful. The environmentally friendly owners couldn’t be more grateful.

Holmes Co. OH, Millersburg OH

Sunrise valley view.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under birding, birds, column, friends, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, rural life, travel, writing

Mountain Laurel with a view

mountain laurel, Grayson Highlands SP VA, Whitetop VA, SW VA

Mountain Laurel with a view.

Traveling with friends, we wanted to reach the overlook at Grayson Highlands State Park near Whitetop, VA, before a front moved through bringing heavy rains. We just made it.

We were pleasantly surprised to see not only a marvelous view but that the Mountain Laurel bushes were blooming. No other clumps of them were in blossom as we drove up the mountain. These beauties just made the view all the more impressive.

The mountain range far in the distance is the Blue Ridge.

“Mountain Laurel with a view” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Brown on Yellow and Green

Confused Cloudywing, Golden Ragwort

Brown on Yellow and Green.

Butterflies and flowers are made for one another. On a recent hike in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, many wildflowers were in full bloom, and from their joyous, creative aerial dances the butterflies couldn’t have been happier.

Little skipper butterflies were most abundant. I found this one, which I believe to be a Confused Cloudywing, flitting from bloom to bloom on this patch of Golden Ragwort, a daisy-like flower.

The afternoon sun nicely illuminated this invigorating scene. “Brown on Yellow and Green” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under human interest, nature photography, Photo of the Week, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

Lakeside daisies are in early bloom

Lakeside Daisy Nature Preserve by Bruce Stambaugh

Daisies in full bloom at the Lakeside Daisy Nature Preserve near Marblehead, OH.


By Bruce Stambaugh

Bee and daisy by Bruce StambaughThe Lakeside daisies are in full bloom. That may not sound like earth-shattering news. But apparently due to the unusually warm winter here in Ohio, the daisies, like most other flowers, plants and trees, are blooming early. Plus, if you are a lover of all things nature, and especially wildflowers, you don’t want to miss this yellowy exhibition.

The Lakeside daisies are particularly special. They only bloom in a limited number of locations on or near the Marblehead Peninsula in northwest Ohio. In addition, their buttery blooms only last a week before they begin to fade. If you want to see them in person, you had better make tracks to the Lakeside Daisy Nature Preserve near Marblehead. My wife and I were there Sunday, and the preserve was a splash of yellow against the dull limestone gray ground.

The daisies growing in a small patch inside Lakeside were beautiful, too. They’re located right along the Lake Erie shore at the east end of Lakeside near Perry Park.

Lakeside daisies by Bruce Stambaugh

A bee enjoys one of the daisies in a clump of Lakeside daisies in a small preserve in flower’s namesake, Lakeside, OH.


Unfortunately it looks like the blooms will be gone before Marblehead’s annual Daisy Days scheduled for Mother’s Day weekend. Naturalists will lead walks through the preserve, so you can still learn a lot about the lovely little flower even if they aren’t blooming.

The Lakeside daisy (Hymenoxys herbacea) has been listed as an endangered species by Ohio since 1980. If you can’t make it to see this beautiful flower in person, enjoy the photos I took Sunday. If you look closely, you’ll notice some of the petals on the flowers are already starting to wilt.
Nature Preserve sign by Bruce Stambaugh

Lakeside Nature Preserve blooms by Bruce Stambaugh

Clump at Lakeside by Bruce Stambaugh

Daisies at Lakeside by Bruce Stambaugh

Daisies at Lakeside, OH by Bruce Stambaugh
© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

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The trellises worked: A tomato success story

Brandywine tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh

Red Brandywines ripening in the shade of the tomato trellis.

Tomatoes ripening on the vine by Bruce Stambaugh

Tomatoes ripening on the vine.

How did our tomatoes grow this year? They did quite well, thank you very much, and little thanks to me. My wife did most of the work. I just took the pictures and enjoyed the bounty.

As you may recall, we tried something different this year. Tired of the weighty tomatoes collapsing the stakes and metal cages we “secured” them with, my wife found a plan for tomato trellises. Our son, who has become quite the food guru, lives in a loft in Wooster, Ohio, 16 miles north of us. He and his wife have no outdoor space for growing the vegetables and herbs that he loves to use for his gourmet cooking. (See the May 27, 2010 post entitled “A beautiful morning well spent.”)

Amish farm Ohio by Bruce Stambaugh

The Amish farm on which our home is built.

Our house is built on an Amish farm four miles southwest of Mt. Hope and four miles northwest of Berlin, the unofficial capital of Ohio’s largest Amish population. In other words, we’re out in the country with Amish neighbors and farms all around. Since our son drives right by us every workday, he asked to join us in our limited gardening. After the drought of 1988, we gave up most gardening. My wife turned to flower gardening, which adds a multitude of color to our little acre and a half each growing season.

Wildflower garden by Bruce Stambaugh

The backyard wildflowers are only some of the beautiful flowers my wife cultivates each year.

The tomato trellis plans called for plenty of space, which required me to dig out more yard along the bricked garage wall at the south end of our home where we annually grow the tomatoes. We have discovered that the tomatoes seemed to thrive on the extra heat radiated by the bricks.

I dug out the grass by a couple of more feet, spaded the ground and added some horse manure the neighbor supplied when he fertilized the fields adjacent to our home. Our son, my wife and I erected a pair of the trellises on May 15. My wife purchased and planted a dozen heirloom tomato plants. Varieties included Hillbilly, Striped Zebra, Black Krim, Mortgage Lifters, Red Brandywine, Roma’s, and Old German. A friend from church also gave us an unknown variety. And several Yellow Pear tomato plants volunteered from last year’s crop.

Driving tomato stakes by Bruce Stambaugh

Our son drove 7 ft. stakes into the ground to form the support of the trellis.

We purchased seven foot oak stakes at a local nursery. The original plans called for eight-foot stakes, but the sevens were the best we could find without having some special ordered at a much-increased price. The main stakes were pounded into the ground, and the lateral ones were spaced and tied with garden twine.

The plants seemed to grow slowly the first month. But once the summer heat and humidity really kicked in, the tomato plants boomed. My wife repeatedly tied the ever-increasing shoots as best she could. Still, the end result looked like a jungle.

The plants are still producing, but with the peak of the season behind us, the plants production has slowed considerably. We did have to fight a bit of blight throughout the summer, but the plants continued to thrive. And we enjoyed their abundant production.

Green Zebra tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh

Green Zebra tomatoes growing on the vine.

I especially enjoyed the Green Zebras and the Hillbilly. They were sweet and low on acid. Sprinkled with a little sea salt, they made many summer lunches on the back porch tasty and enjoyable.

My wife also made delectable tomato salads with slices and chunks of the different varieties offered on the same plate, sprinkled with fresh mozzarella cheese and virgin olive oil. Cuttings of fresh basil perfectly seasoned the offering.

Mixed tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh

A plate of colorful heirloom tomatoes.

Sliced heirloom tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh

Heirloom tomatoes ready to eat.

Canned tomato products by Bruce Stambaugh

Just some of the beautiful and delicious handy work of my wife.

Of course my industrious wife also canned whole tomatoes as well as chunked tomatoes, made tomato soup, and peach salsa. I did persuade her to reveal her delicious tomato soup recipe, which is as follows:

Tomato Soup

Group 1
14 qts. cut up tomatoes (preferably Roma’s)
14 stems of celery cut up
14 bay leaves
27 whole cloves
1 green pepper diced

Cook the above until all vegetables are soft. I use a roaster. Then put through a strainer. I let the initial liquid drain off before cranking the strainer handle. I can this for juice. Keep hot until ready to add group 2.

Group 2 (Note that any recipe with dairy products like butter and cream should be properly pressure canned.)
12 Tbsp. flour
1 # butter
6 tsp. salt
1 cup cream
16 Tbsp. sugar

Slowly cook group 2 to make a paste.

In a kettle/roaster bring the strained group 1 to a boil and add group 2. Stir often. Bring back to a slow boil. This is not a thick soup.

Put in jars, makes approx. 17 pints. Process in a water bath 30 min.

When ready to use put 1 jar in kettle with ½ jar milk and heat thoroughly.

Neva Stambaugh

Of course I tried to document the progress of the tomato growing and harvesting throughout the summer. Following is a sequence of how our tomatoes grew following the May 15, 2010 installation of the trellises.

Tomatoes mid-June by Bruce Stambaugh

Tomatoes mid-June by Bruce Stambaugh

Tomatoes mid-July by Bruce Stambaugh

Tomatoes mid-July.

Tomatoes mid-August by Bruce Stambaugh

Tomatoes mid-August.

Tomatoes mid-Sept. by Bruce Stambaugh

Tomatoes mid-Sept., beginning to die out.

Tomato blossoms by Bruce Stambaugh

Tomatoes in blossom.

Green tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh

Green tomatoes on the vine.

Ripe tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh

Ready to pick.

By the way, after the first frost, the plan is to disassemble the trellises and store them for the winter. We also plan on extending the growing area yet again to allow more room to maneuver between the garage and the trellises.

We found several advantages to using the trellises. They were much more effective in cutting the loss of tomatoes to dry rot. Varmints, especially the four-legged variety, caused less damage, and the tomatoes were much easier to pick.

If you used trellises or have other options and suggestions, we would like to hear them. Please leave a message with your successes, ideas and lessons learned.

Enjoy your tomatoes while they last.

Bruce Stambaugh
Sept. 29, 2010

Roma tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh

Roma tomatoes awaiting the canner.

Picked tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh

A variety of heirloom tomatoes.

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