Fantastic beasts

As we’ve mentioned previously, we want rich, abundant, diverse life here at Quiet Farm. We can best accomplish this by planting a wide variety of different plants (rather than a monoculture), by avoiding chemicals, sprays and poisons and by learning to live with socially-unacceptable “weeds.” Here are a few beautiful creatures that have been spotted on our farm recently!

Butterfly 01 sml

Two-tailed swallowtail butterfly (Papilio multicaudata).

Butterflies (and moths, to a lesser extent) are hugely important pollinators and are indicative of healthy ecosystems, so we’re always happy to see them flitting about the farm. The presence of butterflies typically indicates a healthy environment for other unseen invertebrates, too. This two-tailed swallowtail, which expired in our garlic bed, is particularly gorgeous.

Black Chinned Hummingbird 01 sml

Male black-chinned hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri).

Our resident hummingbird population has returned strong, though they’re often scared off the feeders by the larger Bullock’s orioles (Icterus bullockii). We regularly hear the hummingbirds diving and swooping in pursuit of mates; they sound like tiny fighter jets.

Ladybird 02 sml

The common ladybird beetle (Coccinellidae) provides essential defense for any small organic farm.

We’ve grown a remarkably successful fava bean crop this year; although we will eat the beans, we grew them mainly to fix nitrogen in new raised beds. A couple of fava plants are absolutely overrun by aphids, and we’re thrilled to see ladybirds to the rescue! These beneficial beetles can eat fifty or more aphids in a day, and are commonly sold by garden centers as natural pest control. Although we’re not excited about the aphids, we’re very pleased that our ecosystem is attempting to deal with the problem on its own – so often nature has a workable solution, if humans would just get out of the way.

Toad 01 sml

Woodhouse’s toad (Anaxyrus woodhousii).

This little toad lives in a burrow in our damp, cool lettuce bed, and we believe it might have successfully overwintered there. A single toad can consume over a hundred insects each night, so we’re more than happy to utilize its natural predatory skills.

White Lined Sphinx Moth Caterpillar 01 sml copy

White-lined sphinx moth caterpillar (Hyles lineata).

Interestingly, this caterpillar’s markings change according to where in the country it’s found; this is a Midwestern green morph. The adult moth is often erroneously referred to as the hummingbird moth, because it’s large enough to be mistaken for a hummingbird. Native American tribes in the desert Southwest commonly used these caterpillars as a high-protein food source. These insects can be hugely damaging in large groups, but we’re struggling more with grasshoppers than caterpillars so far this year.

Robin Nest 01 sml

“Three little birds, pitch by my doorstep…”

Earlier this spring, robins foolishly constructed a nest atop the extension ladder perched in our tractor shed. Unsurprisingly, that nest toppled to the ground where we found these little chicks. We had no confidence in their survival – there are so many predators here that might love an easy chick meal! – but the chicks did in fact survive to fledge. We’ve since relocated the ladder to discourage nest-building there in the future.

Wishing you a calm and peaceful week, and hoping you see something unexpected and beautiful in your natural world.


4 thoughts on “Fantastic beasts

  1. Thanks for posting pictures of these cute little creatures. I will see what I can find in my little yard while I’m gardening this morning 😊


  2. Wonderful photos! By any chance, would you happen to know what type of creature would get through chicken wire and pluck a young sprout without leaving a sign (not even a thank you)! One day the sprout is there and one day it’s gone. There are no tracks and no upheaval of the dirt that was surrounding the little sprout.


    • Hi Kathy! I’ll be honest – there are just so many options. My best guess would be grasshoppers; we’ve had a ton of damage from those creatures this year. Grasshoppers usually don’t eat the whole sprout, though; they just chew the leaves. If they can tunnel from underneath, it might well be voles; we’ve seen voles in our pasture this season. Growing food here is such a challenge. Good luck!


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