Butterfly Garden

Figured out a perk of being lazy and not keeping up with (even planting) a vegetable garden. Letting nature take over has produced a perfect rectangle of butterfly paradise in our yard. Thistle and queen anne’s lace have grown up about five feet tall where once grew tomatoes and peppers. This is the perfect height to immerse one’s self into a world of dancing butterflies. I swear it’s better than the butterfly encounters you see at the zoo or museums. And it didn’t cost me a dime.

I spotted over six species of butterflies including Black Swallowtail, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Silver Spotted Skipper and Meadow Fritillary.

This place is pretty magical in the summer with all of the plants, insects and animals. Most people would have to go to a park or nature realm to experience what we can on any given day if we just take the time and open our eyes. Very blessed.

 

Advertisements

Sprouts

A week or two since I started planting seeds in our little mobile greenhouse, we’ve got sprouts! The sunflowers are the overachievers. They are already several inches tall.

All of the tomato seeds appear to have sprouted. And most of the corn is standing proud. The flowers sprouts are more hit and miss. The milkweed, which we planted more recently has yet to sprout.

Today we moved the greenhouse from the shaded, diluted light of my studio, to the sun soaked front window area in the dining room. I’m hoping the added heat of the sun will amp up the greenhouse environment. Mold is starting to sprout on some of the seed starting cells. I’m not sure I like the “cardboard” style cells which are always moist once you water them. To me, they seem like they get moldy fast. Regardless, I’m not too worried. The cells that didn’t sprout worry me more, if only because that’s space that could have been used to plant something else.

Our little greenhouse is maxed out space wise, but we still want to grow a flat or two more of kale seeds, and maybe something else…not sure what else. Will have to see. Maybe put a couple of flats on the drafting board in my studio and hope nosey cats mind their own business.

Here are today’s pics:

Greenhouse

A couple of weeks back I burned an evening dreaming about a greenhouse; tapping through the internet, gazing at photos.

I like the idea of being completely independent. Free to do whatever I darn well please, not necessarily dependent on the whims of utilities, grocery stores…pretty much everyone, save whoever makes toilet paper. The allure of a greenhouse to me is, theoretically, I can grow all kinds of things year round. I wouldn’t have to buy veggies or fruits, except for whatever I didn’t grow myself. Now the reality is I would never do that. I’m too lazy and lack fundamentals necessities such as knowledge, money and time. But reality never stops day dreams.

Last year I said we are never growing plants from seeds again.  The seed trays on the window sills just attracted bad cats, who’s inquisitiveness meant damage plants, dirt and water everywhere. The whole thing was a mess; more trouble than it was worth.

So this year of course I couldn’t resist the urge to pick up an indoor little greenhouse. My former “no more plants from seeds” edict conveniently missing from memory (as reminded by my wife). As I mentioned in previous posts, it impossible for me to visit Lowe’s in late winter, early spring and not walk out with an arm full of stuff that I may or may not need. This week I walked out with a $35 indoor “greenhouse”, which is basically a backers rack with a vinyl cover.

We (my kid and I) set it up in about 15 minutes, in my studio. I didn’t feel like putting soil into pots out in the garage (too cold) so I brought all of my planting supplies into the studio and set to starting seeds. We (now consisting of myself and two kids) filled several trays with soil and little seeds. Trays were then placed on the racks, and the cover zipped shut. All that’s left to do is water and wait. Once the seeds sprout, we’ll thin them out and start toughening them up: moving the greenhouse to a sunny spot. Right now, in my studio, they only get indirect sunlight.

By the way, the seeds I picked up are organic ones from a nifty display I saw at Lowe’s. It’s important to get organic seeds so that they don’t contain neonicotinoids which are a type of insecticide that kills honey bees and other pollinators.

It was fun to set up the little greenhouse and plant seeds.

Nice to touch soil again.

In addition to pining for a “real” greenhouse, there’s a part of me that really wants animals too. I really want my very own micro farm really. Not sure who would watch this farm when we’re out traveling with our trailer for weeks at a time, but we can figure that out. But, who lets reality get in the way of day dreams, right?

Well we already have bees, and we’ve survived raising those, so there is a precedent for some semblance of competence. I think we can handle guinea fowl next. We can at least try 2-4 of them and see how it goes. The sole reason we’d get those is to see if they control the tick population, which is rampant on our little piece of paradise.

But beyond a few birds I’m thinking even bigger. I think it’d be neat to have a couple of goats and sheep. I’d love to have a little animal house, with an adjacent greenhouse and coop. Little animals roaming around, grazing…doing their thing. Cheese, wool, milk….

Who knows. Anything is possible.

Here are today’s photos. Enjoy!

Wren House

Spring is knocking on the door most definitely.  We’ve had a string of temperate days. Most of the snow has melted, even the giant pile that fell off the garage roof a month or two ago. Even the cool 40 degree days feel warm when the sun is out.

I’ve been locked up in the house now for a couple of weeks on end, working 10-12 hour days. Today was I nice respite from the enslavement that is having to work as much as humanly possible. With no projects on the docket I ran errands this morning. One of my stops was, of course, to Lowe’s. I needed a couple of blank signs for a community event this Saturday. Well not surprisingly, with one day left in winter, the store is shaping up to look like spring: grills and mowers out front, seasonal tables, pillows and decor inside. Scattered about were berry bushes and the obligatory seed starting paraphernalia.

I tried as hard as I could. I was good the last couple visits. Not buying anything except that which was on my list. But a long cold winter, and a life now spent chasing nothing but the almighty dollar has taken its toll on my mental well-being. Dark nights longing for a greenhouse; rationalizing it with every electronic page turn on a tablet. Thoughts of sprouting leaves, dancing in my head.

So I threw caution to the wind. My will broken.

It was the organic seed display that was my downfall.

Bee friendly, organic seed display at Lowe's.

Bee friendly, organic seed display at Lowe’s.

As we all (should) know by now, most likely the plants, and seeds, we all purchase at big box stores or local chain nurseries probably contain neonicotinoids. These insecticides are engineered into the plants to make them resistant to insects. As such they are also toxic to honey bees. Even the plants you get from seeds are engineered to basically kill honey bees.

The plan originally was, we were not going to grow anything from seeds this year. But like I said, seasonal depression took its toll, so I walked out of there with a several packets of organic seeds. Here’s what I got:

Wheat grass, sunflowers, and some other flowers - we will grow from seeds and see how it goes. Our bees will be happy. We can actually eat the wheat grass.

Wheatgrass, sunflowers, and some other flowers – we will grow from seeds and see how it goes. Our bees will be happy. We can actually eat the wheatgrass.

Of course if you get seed, you’re gonna need seed starting soil mix and pods to grow them in. So I grabbed some biodegradable Jiffy pots and organic potting mix.

We were in business!

Actually I was in business. The wife didn’t know what I was up to.

As I walked to the register, I glanced at the various seasonal displays. You’d think I’d know better: don’t be sucked into getting anything else you poor, tired, man. Well they had some bird houses and birdseed there.

Hmmm…

I have a thing for bird houses. Actually animal houses of any kind really. I have some deep seeded desire to turn our 6 acre plot into some sort of wildlife kingdom. With little animals running around everywhere, shaking our hands, and helping us harvest vegetables.

Also I was thinking, the birds are all getting their nesting sites ready. For example, we had a mummified baby bird on our porch. It must have been in one of the porch nests last year. The parent birds – bluebirds? sparrows? deposited the unfortunate baby bird when cleaning out a nesting spot.  I love the idea of all these birds growing up in the safety of our yard and home.

With those thoughts in my head I marched back to the bird supply area of the store. I was going to get a bluebird nesting box. But then I’d have to find a post and long story short turn my trip to the store into an afternoon project. Looking around I spotted a diamond-shaped box with a wire hanger.

Ooo…I hanging bird house.

A wren house in fact.

I hung the house from my finger, and with all my other treasures tucked under my arm, I checked out and headed home.

Our new wren house. Was about $18 at Lowe's.

Our new wren house. Was about $18 at Lowe’s.

At home I googled where to hang my wren house (in an open yard or along a brush row basically). As a family we then went outside to hang our house in the front meadow. Somewhere where we can see it, yet away from the hustle and bustle of yard activity. I used a metal shepherds hook, pounded into the ground, to hang the house from (you can hang yours from a tree if you’d like). Now we’ll wait and see if anyone moves in.

A fine place for a wren family to grow up, in our south meadow.

A fine place for a wren family to grow up, in our south meadow.

I can’t wait for spring to get here. We took a walk on some of the nature trails. We could see little buds starting on many of the bushes and trees, including my apple trees. My fingers are crossed that we get blossoms this year, but I’m not holding out too much hope.

As with the bird house, we shall see. Until then, we’ve got little plants to start.

house-in-late-winter

Our little "creek".

Our little “creek”.

Dogwood Sawfly Larvae

The wife came into the house and informed me that some sort of white caterpillar was eating our red twig dogwoods by the driveway. What is with all these insects and caterpillars out here? I’m turning into an entomologist against my will.

So I went outside and this is what I saw:

It looked like only one branch of one red twig dogwood was affected so I snipped off the branch and dropped it in a pile of old dead leaves on the other side of the driveway. I went back inside and researched “white caterpillars of Ohio” and came up with ‘Dogwood Sawfly Larvae’ which makes sense since they are on my dogwood bushes. I’ll spare you all the details but they’re essentially harmless – the plant won’t die from them. They do damage but not enough to kill the plant, especially our large bushes. If I wanted to I could spray them with insecticidal soap or pick them off.

As I said, I chose just to cut off the offending branch they were living on.

One interesting note, their mid-life larval phase is when they are white – the whiteness makes them look like bird dropping, which camouflages them from predators.

Nature is cool.

P.S. Congrats to me, this is my 400th post! Somewhat befitting it’s a post talking about mother nature hating me.

Schizura Concinna

Came home to find one of our three witch hazel plants was decimated by caterpillars. So went out and sprayed them heavily with Captain Jacks and some insect soap, both of which claim to be okay for organic growing. I then flicked all of the gross meaty caterpillars off of the two plants that had them on there. I didn’t get a good pic, my new phone let me down, but as best I can tell they were Redhumped Caterpillars (Schizura concinna).  

I just went outside and they’re all gone so hopefully a bird came and ate them all.

 

I’m done with the house and the whole nature thing. Ready to buy an RV and just travel the continent.

Schizura concinna

Schizura concinna

Image from Bugguide.net

More info here: UC Davis.edu

 

 

Drying More Herbs

Today was pretty busy, as all week has been for the most part. But I have been knocking things off my “to do” list. I carved out an hour and a half to process the herbs that had been drying in my studio.

We have a lot of mint. Three 8 oz. bottles.

The other herbs are piling up too, though not enough to trade or barter with yet. One of these days I need to make labels.

Unrelated to herbs, I love my new phone. We, the wife and I, got new phones a couple weeks ago. The old ones were worn out, and the new plan is cheaper with better reception in our enchanted little hollow.

The new phone’s got a decent camera which is nice because I use my phone often for taking photos to put on the blog. It even has a flash. And I’m not a big phone case person but I got an awesome matte black case that make my glossy white phone look snazzy.

I had to share, ’cause it makes me happy.

I borrowed jars that were supposed to be for honey to put my dried herbs in. I need to make labels.

I borrowed jars that were supposed to be for honey to put my dried herbs in. I need to make labels.