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Archive for the 'Wildlife, Insects and Pets' Category

September Joys… and Flowers!

September 18th, 2010

I have to ask.  Does September seem like a really busy month to everybody?  For some reason I seem to be running around in circles trying to catch up with myself.   Classes and elbows trying to get things done, if you know what I mean :)  I can hardly contain myself with all the things I’d like to do.   Ah, like writing a little more.  This has been a slow year for the written word, perhaps a year of change.  I’ll get there, and my friends I hope you’ll go with me…  this is the start of such a beautiful season!   

I see change all around, and feel the pace of insects and birds hurrying a bit more, gathering all they can before the fall begins.   Another season of color…

A few days ago I was enjoying watching a few of these Yellow-collared Scape Moths (Cisseps fulvicollis) flying around the goldenrod and this white flower in the Aster family.    The moths were very slow flying, almost like helicopters, and the wings opened up wide just before take-off.

I finally remembered the plant is called White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) and is tremendously abundant at this time of year, along with the goldenrod, which is great for the bees and other pollinators.  So far I’m excited about the season in terms of pollen and nectar for the bees.   We’ve had a few rains, but mostly warm sunny days for the bees to forage, which means a nice fall nectarflow so they can really work to strengthen their hives.  

Last year we had so much rain in autumn that I couldn’t feed the bees enough to carry them through winter.   But now, things are looking up! 

In the picture below a bee is carrying a white colored pollen into the hive (and another one along the bottom-left corner of the picture).  I thought it might have been from the snakeroot flower, but I didn’t see a single bee gathering pollen from that plant- it may only have been something from which they gathered nectar.

Later I realized with a Doh! that the bees were getting the white-colored pollen from our very white Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis terniflora), which is growing all over the shed next to the chicken coop.  

Sweet autumn clematis is very easy to grow and has an amazing fragrance with a profusion of white flowers.  I watched the bees fill their tiny pollen baskets with white pollen and fly right back to the hive a hundred yards away.     Each year when the clematis is finished flowering, I cut it back within just a few feet from the ground.  All that growth is just one season!   And I even cut it back a little in July to try and train it around the top of the shed… alas it has a vigorous, wild nature!   It’s covering one window and half the door…

This year I plan to cut it back a little earlier so that I can paint the older shed to match the chicken coop, and fix the rickety old door.   I need to repair and paint our brown garden fence as well.  Some of the cross bars have rotted where they join the posts.  Maybe I can salvage it for a few years more with a little stain/paint and not too much expense?

Sometimes it seems as if everything needs fixed!   Well a lot of them do… and it’s time to get that weedeater out again and really take some of the brush and weeds down, clean up the garden, work on the engines, clean up the barn and garage, organize the desk and downstairs, decorate a little, etc.  

And you know what?   I feel really lucky… really blessed, to be here…  to be able to be in good health, to have so many things to do that need done.   Simply to wake up and watch the sun rise.   Here’s wishing you a great week ahead!

“The breezes taste
Of apple peel.
The air is full
Of smells to feel-
Ripe fruit, old footballs,
Burning brush,
New books, erasers,
Chalk, and such.
The bee, his hive,
Well-honeyed hum,
And Mother cuts
Chrysanthemums.
Like plates washed clean
With suds, the days
Are polished with
A morning haze.”

John Updike, September

 




Welcome September!

September 1st, 2010

Rain!  A nice day or two drizzle to give us some much needed moisture.  Hopefully it won’t really storm… and I hope too that all you folks on the Eastern seaboard are well prepared before Earl makes an appearance.   That’s going to be a lot of rain… I can’t remember the last time a hurricane came up the east coast?  Hopefully it stays far enough offshore to lessen the winds.

Hard to believe it’s already September, but I’ve been watering the garden to keep everything from totally wilting…  it’s a pretty sad affair.  This was about a week ago, and it just became drier.

Today’s rain should help a little, but the weeds have taken over and there’s very little growing at this point.   What should I be planting now?  Peas? Beans?    I may skip the fall season for planting and go right into spring planning :)

What I do know is that bell peppers grow really well in big containers!   And quite a few other plants I’m sure.  This is a grouping of three pepper plants I picked up for .99 cents each back in late June.

They have grown so well and given back about a dozen green peppers with more coming!  It doesn’t get any easier- and the peppers in the garden didn’t do nearly as well.   Containers do so much better, but I really love the garden rows.  Maybe I should make some really long “row containers” with landscape block or something?

Last week we ran down the road a good bit for some trout fishing.  Just a nice cool morning and a good mess of pan-sized rainbow trout.   This one is actually a pound and a half!   Fun times and so delicious…

We also have critter news!   Meet the new addition… a Calico mouser that looks like she stuck her nose in a coal bin.   Isn’t she a cutie?

She’s 7 weeks old with a great disposition.  Let’s hope it stays that way… and she becomes an expert rodent hunter.  With the chickens around this year I suspect we’ll have a few more mice.    Watch out little rodents, this kitty will grow up quickly.

And the other big news… the chickens gave us 8 eggs today!  One from each of the 8 hens which is very cool.  Usually it has been around 4-5 a day but now they’re all laying.   Now just when I’m getting excited they’ll probably slow down as fall continues.   I don’t think I’ll keep lights on in the coop for winter however, so we’ll just see how the chickens do on their own.

Otherwise you can really see the fall season approaching.  The barn swallows have disappeared I think… perhaps starting their migration south.  I did see a larger flock of nighthawks meandering around the sky and they will continue heading south.  The cicadas are growing quieter, and the fall flowers are in bloom.  I’m glad the rain will promote a little more flowering for the bees as well.    Have a good day!



Home and Checking on the Critters

August 22nd, 2010

Oh my… home again! It was a nice journey around the upper midwest, and after the Iowa State Fair we made our way to Missouri, stopping over one night near Mark Twain Lake to clean things up a bit. It wasn’t all fun on the way home… I picked something up at the fair and spent a few nights with a fever and cough.

I’m getting there but it really knocked me out for a few days. Salmonella anyone? Who knows… I had several eggs at the fair, and a couple of egg breakfasts in Wisconsin and Iowa. It wasn’t a fun way to finish the trip, but hey that’s the price you pay for having fun, huh?  Home again and school starts this week for the boy.

That last night at the fair was really nice, and we rode the Skyride up the hill to the campground.  

On the way home the boy learned how to play dominoes.  He found an old dominoe set at an antique shop at the fair for a reasonable price… nice little wooden pieces.   After playing a game or two he would build things that didn’t stay up very well while driving along.

The chickens must have known we would be home… they gave us five presents for the first time with that many eggs. I was really hungry this morning and had four poached eggs on toast! Of course they were half-size eggs anyway :)

We have one or two chickens that don’t know where to lay their eggs… well, maybe they do, but one likes to put an egg in the corner of the coop. I found four eggs in the nest boxes this morning however, so maybe they’ll adapt.    They’re a cute bunch, and race out to see you whenver you come near the coop and run.  Of course they’re motivated by food… they go crazy for scratch mixings of corn and other seeds.

Hello Chickens!  We’re Home!!!

It was very dry while we were gone and all the grass was going to seed and nearly two feet tall. Weeds everywhere… I can’t believe how much things grow up in such a short time. We missed our Concord grape harvest! They were just ripening when we left and I thought our timing would work out… but the dry weather wilted the vines and all the grapes dropped off.

While cutting the grass I nearly ran over a little turtle scooting through the field. He was heading toward the pond a good hundred yards away. I believe it’s a Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta belli).

Colorful little fellow, and he kept paddling in the air as we looked at him. I took him for a free ride to the pond, and let him go… he swam quickly for the depths.

A quick check of the bees and they’re working away like crazy. There goldenrod is blooming! I watched dozens of bees at one hive bringing bright packs of pollen into the entrance. Three of the four hives appears to be doing well, but I may need to order a new queen for the other.

It’s good to see the bees doing well.  Still not a lot of honey this year, but their populations have increased dramatically.

The garden is surely winding down… the squash bugs got most of the pumpkin and squash vines, and cucumbers too.  But the corn is still growing taller and the carrots are growing bigger.  The tomatoes, not so much… between wilt and hornworms they’ve had a pretty tough summer.  But we probably took more than 30 pounds of tomatoes from the garden this year so we can’t complain. The elderberries have half dropped their fruit as well, so we hope to run around and cut some berry clusters before they’re gone.  Soon it will be time for jelly!

We may have some cooler weather ahead and I need to make the rounds and catch up on all the writings in the blogosphere.    

Sometimes I think of my grandmother on my father’s side.   I last saw her in 1999 when she was in a nursing home and when I asked how she was, she laughed and said “I’m here…” and then, “Time waits for no man…”    She passed away a few months later.   Somehow I’ve been thinking about life in the context of time lately… but (with luck and a little time!) those thoughts will await another day.   Stay well…

Here’s someone who really loves little Brownie the chicken!




Thankful for Goodness Around the Garden

July 29th, 2010

Where has July gone already!?    I’m thankful our garden and other activities are coming along nicely, and I hope our harvest keeps on coming.  Or at least progressing… like my weekly battle with squash bugs and tomato wilt (I’m losing!).  

I will say our tomatoes have produced their largest harvest this summer as compared to others ( The boy loves tomatoes!), but the plants look so ragged and are really struggling. Such is life in an organic garden in the midwest.  So much still to learn… but we’ve had enough tomatoes to make a good bit of salsa and more coming for sauce.

Each year I want to plant more and more… you can never have enough tomatoes! 

And what is the deal with pickles anyway?  Why do we like canning them?   You can buy a huge jar of pickles at the store for a few bucks.  Or you can take time to plant cucumbers, weed the garden, grow and pick them,  buy the jars and ingredients, and then take time to can your own…   Granted their is some raw satisfaction in doing it yourself. And it’s fun to share with kids… somehow pickles have a universal appeal.

These are the home-canned variety with dill mix and garden grown dill and other ingredients inside… like garlic and jalapeno peppers. Then processed for 20-30 minutes in boiling water to keep for long-term storage. 

They are very different from the fermented pickles I made last year… those were pretty tasty and I still have a few in the fridge that are still really good.  But it was hard to achieve consistent, firm pickles when I fermented them naturally.  

And do you have a good cucumber and tomato salad recipe in summer? They go so well together, but there’s so many cucumbers!… so maybe pickles just come from trying to figure out what to do with all the extra ones.  I guess it’s fun trying different recipes too… what’s yours?!

I did come up with a natural concoction to help combat tomato wilt/fungus and for discouraging squash bugs and other critters. Here’s my recipe: In a plastic bottle sprayer, combine 1 cup of milk, 1/4 cup hot/spicy sesame oil, 1 tablespoon tea tree oil soap or shampoo, 1/2 teaspoon dishwashing soap, and the rest with water… shake well and spray away!

It seems to work pretty well, although I found if you put the milk and oil in a blender first with a few drops of dishwasing soap it mixes a lot better. When I spray it the bugs skedaddle away quickly. It may or may not kill them, and is probably just a temporary protectant.  But hey, it doesn’t cost much!  Do you have a special mix or recipe that works?

The carrots are doing pretty well this year, but we came out a few days ago to find a dozen or more caterpillars happily munching away on the leaf tops.   These look like the caterpillar larva of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly. The boy loves them, and we kept a few to grow into butterflies- it worked out well, and we released them back outside after they emerged!

There’s no free lunch in this garden, so out the rest went!    Well okay, there are lots of free lunches…  I’m just trying to get the crowd to leave!   But I threw the extra caterpillars up into the grass and weeds at the fenceline, so maybe they’ll still become butterflies too.  

I did find a really neat plant this month.   Kind of funny too because I was the one who planted it.   A fellow beekeeper gave me a small mint plant a couple of years go, supposedly as an aid to natural beekeeping.   I’m all for that, even though I didn’t know what it was, and planted it at the base of an oak tree near my hives…  this year it finally flowered.   This is a Pycnanthemum species of some kind… try saying that five times really fast!  I love the white bracts that look like leaves at the top of the plant, with a little crown of flowers.

How did I find out what it was?   Well, I was enjoying the beautiful sights at Edifice Rex a couple of weeks ago, and Annie shared some photos including a plant called Mountain Mint…   I had never heard of it and thought it was neat.   Lo and behold when this one bloomed I realized it was the same plant!  Pretty neat way to find out something new- thanks Annie!   I’m not sure which species of Pycnanthemum it is, but it looks like albescens

I’ve also found that a particluar species of wasp really loves these little flowers.   The Double-Banded Scoliid wasp (Scolia bicincta) has covered this plant over the past week, with as many as 18 wasps on the tiny flower heads.   I’ve also seen some tiny flies and other insects, but no other bees, moths or butterflies.   It’s fascinating to see how the wasps really love the nectar from these tiny flowers.   These are commonly known as digger wasps.  They burrow into the ground and parasitize grubs and other insects.  I’ve never seen this species except on this plant.

*******

The bees are doing well and still building up their hive populations. About a month ago I took five frames from a really strong hive, and placed them in a small “nuc” hive.  Here’s a picture of that little nuc hive sitting on top of an empty full-size hive at right in this picture.

The little old boat with flowers is our “Burt Dow Boat”… do you remember the story? I wrote about it here a few years ago.   I love to fill it with petunias each year, and planted a wispy river birch behind it…

Anyway, I checked on that small nuc hive yesterday and it was doing so well that I put those bees right into that full-size hive that it was sitting on!  I was excited because the nuc was a “walk-away split” and the bees raised their own queen.   When I opened it up they had two full frames of brood and newly capped larvae… cool beans!    It looks like they’re in the shade, but the hive gets full sun from the middle of the day until sunset.

I wondered a little about moving their entrance lower from that little nuc to the bigger hive… if you move a bee hive any appreciable distance, the bees don’t know where to find it.   Supposedly if you need to, you either move them 6 inches a day, or two miles away!   Moving a good distance away is  fine, as long as you wait until all the bees get home in the evening, and then close them up.   But I only moved my bees down a couple of feet, and they quickly figured out how to get into their new home.

Now that I placed them into a new hive, they have five empty frames to draw out with wax, so I mixed up 10 pounds of cane sugar as a syrup, and put that in a hive-top feeder for them.  They won’t draw wax unless their is a good bloom and nectar-flow going on, or if you feed them to stimulate production of wax and additional bees.

With luck that hive population will increase over the next few months and be strong enough to carry right through winter.  I’m thankful they’re doing well and keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll have four hives next spring.

Our other visitors lately include a couple of Great Blue Herons who visit the pond a few times each week.   I don’t begrudge them a meal or two, but they never tire of an easy catch at the expense of our little fish.    When I see them I usually clap my hands or try to sneak up on them…   then they “Croawwwk!” loudly and fly away.

 

July is coming to an end.  It has been a really warm and humid month, but we also enjoyed a good bit of rain.    Hard to believe how fast summer is going by, but we’re not quite to midsummer’s eve yet!  

The evenings are so beautiful however, and the other night was a pretty one…  the boy just marvels at sunsets and the light on the clouds.

 

I hope your summer is going well too. What are you thankful for today?  See you next time!   :)




Life and Death on a Black-Eyed Susan

July 24th, 2010


The Praying Mantis finds its prey…




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