Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Year of the Mantis.

'The mantis comes to us when we need peace, quiet and calm in our lives. Usually the mantis makes an appearance when we've flooded our lives with so much business, activity, or chaos that we can no longer hear the still small voice within us because of the external din we've created.' from http://www.whats-your-sign.com/animal-symbolism-mantis.html

It is not that unusual for us to find a praying mantis.   Almost every spring we find an egg case, and occasionally are lucky enough to witness them hatching. One year we had a pair courting on the trellis on the front of the house.  This year however, the mantises have been everywhere. Almost every time my daughter goes outside she find one, or two or three.

This guy seems to have claimed this garden as his territory. i've found him a few times around the same area.

i believe this is the same one as above.  He was sitting quietly on top of a Rebor kale that the rain had knocked over.

i believe this is a female. She is bright green, with a pinkish thicker rounder abdomen.  The males tend to be smaller, thinner and have longer wings that extend to the end of their body.  Another way to tell is that the females have 6-7 body segments, while the males have 8.  

This one was found in a different area of the yard, and was much smaller than the others we've been finding.

We found this one on the backside of the goat field. It was hanging out on the chicken wire that is around the pear tree.

On our way out the door yesterday, we this one about to ambush the grasshopper.

We took the kids bike riding yesterday in Blacksburg and halfway into our ride my daughter found this huge female!  She has a serious knack for finding them!

Praying mantis are very beneficial for the garden, and although they look like tiny little aliens we love to find them. Although i've read that the bite, my daughter catches them and carries them around and has never been bitten. i am hoping that with all the praying mantis we've seen this year we'll find a egg case or two and get to watch them hatch in the spring.

Whatever the reason for all the mantises this year, i feel like the message they bring is much needed right now. Be still, go within and reach a place of calm.

Life is beauty in motion, but we can only appreciate it one tiny piece at a time, and only if we’re willing to find stillness within.- Lori Deshene 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Garden Update- Sept 21. End of summer garden

i thought i did a garden update last week, but when i went back into the blog there isn't one. So these photos are from the last 3 weeks.  This is all end of summer garden. My fall garden has been planted and is doing well, and a lot of the late summer plants are done now.

The peppers are finally starting to ripen and change color. i planted green, yellow and red bell peppers.  i've been harvesting them daily and freezing as much as i can. Freezing peppers is easy, just wash slice or dice and stick them in a freezer bag. No need for blanching.
Cucumbers are almost done, although i'm still finding. The cooler temps have caused the last of the cucumbers to be small and a bit misshapen.  i picked the last of the eggplant and the last of the Crystal apple cucumbers.

 i'm still getting a few of the  purple pole beans, and i just started to get green beans.   i also have a third planting of the yellow wax and purple beans that are just starting to produce. Depending on when our frost hits, i should be able to pick quite a few more beans. i've been able to freeze tons of beans this summer, so we should be enjoying beans all winter long. :)

i also planted a bunch of different melons this year. The loved the rain of the early summer and grew really well, but the wet humid conditions were perfect for disease and they ended up with Downy mildew. Most of the melons died back before i could harvest them, but we did get some of the Rich Sweetness. They are little mini melons with vibrant color. They taste similar to cantaloupe.

i did not get very many tomatoes this year due to the late blight. Somehow i still had a couple plants survive long enough to produce tomatoes.  i was able to get a few from the Cherokee purple, Yellow Brandywine and Mr. Stripy. i even gathered enough to freeze a few quarts.  

This is my sad attempt at my annual tomato rainbow. :) Every year i plant a large variety of heirloom tomatoes i love the unusual and different shapes and colors.  For the last couple of years i have arranged my tomato harvest by color so that it makes a rainbow. It always makes such a striking picture. We harvested very few tomatoes this year, but some how i still managed enough variety for a little tomato rainbow. :)

i spent all summer wondering why my lemon cucumbers never turned yellow. i planted a variety of cucumbers this year, but didn't remember where i planted what.  i thought all my cucumbers were your typical long green cucumbers except the lemon cucs which are small, round and  yellow.  So when these cucumbers started to come in i automatically assumed they were the lemon cucs. i found it odd that they stayed pale green/white and never turned yellow.   It wasn't until i was going through my seed packs that i decided to look up the Crystal Apple cucumbers.  These were gifted to me, but the package they came in was a generic cucumber pack. So the cucumber on the picture was a typical long green cucumber, with a sticker label specifying the variety.  After looking them up  was surprised to see that they are small, round white cucumbers!   What i thought were lemon cucumbers all summer, were actually Crystal Apple.  i did eventually end up with a few lemon cucumbers planted in a different location and they were indeed in yellow. :)  

i have a couple tomato plants that are still hanging on. This one shows no sign of blight, despite growing right smack in the middle of a patch that all had to be pulled. i am waiting patiently for the tomatoes to ripen, although i think i may have to pull them all green if there is any possible threat of frost. i wish i knew the variety, as it seems to be somewhat resistant to late blight.

We're now nearing the end of September, i've been harvesting an occasional tomato, peppers, okra, eggplant, cucumbers, beans, carrots, swiss chard, kale, onions, garlic, zucchini, pattypans, butternut squash and lettuce.  We are starting to get a few red raspberries again, and i am hoping to get a few apples from the wild apple trees down the road.

My fall garden is already coming up and doing well. i'm going to work on constructing a small hoop house this afternoon and plant lettuce and spinach under it. There is nothing i love more than picking fresh greens when there is a blanket of snow on the ground.

i'm behind on blog posts again, but have a few started on things like collecting seeds and planting a fall gardens. For those of you that still read along, thank you.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Raising Black Swallowtail Caterpillars.

One of our favorite activities each summer is to raise monarch caterpillars into butterflies. Near the end of July we begin taking weekly walks down the road checking the milkweed plants for monarch eggs and caterpillars.  This year we were surprised by the lack of monarchs. We have seen very few monarch butterflies in our flowerbeds. Walking down the road we realized there was very little milkweed this year, and no caterpillars. We checked several times and the last time we walked we found that the county mowers had come through and cut down all the milkweed. So we figured we would not be raising any caterpillars this year, the first time in probably 7 or 8 years.

Then one day last week, i was delighted to find a Black swallowtail caterpillar munching on my carrots. i plant dill and fennel every year because it is supposed to be a Black swallowtail favorite, but i haven't attracted any Black Swallowtails to it yet.  i was not expecting to find one in my carrots, and after looking around i found 5 others.  So i began to photograph them in the different stages. Black swallowtails go through several stages or instars, where they shed their skin and change their look a little.   This first one is about 1/2 " long. It is in the first Instar. 

After shedding it's skin the first time it enters the second instar. 

This one is about 1" long. He's a bit more colorful than the one before. 

During the Third Instar the caterpillarstarts getting quite a bit larger. He looks almost like a full sized BS caterpillar, except he is rather pale.The full grown caterpillars are green with the same markings.

This guy is full grown. He is resting, and will soon wander off to find a suitable place to form his chrysalis. i had originally left these guys on the carrot plants and have been checking them regularly. We really don't have a good place to keep them inside. Yesterday i noticed that a mole had started to nibble some of the carrots and the plants were wilting with the caterpillars still on them. So i knew i needed to move them.  i used to raise the monarchs in a 10 gallon aquarium. i also had a butterfly garden from Insect lore that i used for the emerging butterflies.  Since i nolonger have any of those items, i had to find something i had on hand.

This is a $1 popup clothing hamper that i picked up at the dollar tree a while ago. i have my washer set up in the shed, and i found that these cheap hampers work well for sorting clothing in there. They also work perfect for raising caterpillars! In the bottom, i placed a pot with soil and i have a glass jar with water that has fresh carrot, dill and queen anne's lace leaves/stalks in it. Once the caterpillars get large enough to start wandering, i'll add some sticks and leaves and things so it can find a good place to create a chrysalis.  i also used a mesh laundry bag (also from dollar tree) to go over the top to keep predators out, and caterpillars in. So far they seem quite happy, and are munching away on the fresh green plants. 

i may try to transplant some smaller carrots into the pot, but i'm not sure how well they' do. Next year, i'll be planting carrots, dill, parsley and fennel in this pot specifically for raising  BS caterpillars. :) These are some of their favorite food sources, and they don't eat enough to hurt the plants.

Although i'm really bummed that we are not raising monarch this year, i'm excited that we get to raise the black swallowtail.  

Monarch populations have been declining the last few years due to the lack of milkweed which is their only food source. Many people think of milkweed as an invasive weed, so they spray it or cut it down. If you want to help the monarchs you can plant milkweed in your yard and other flowers that attract butterflies such as tall phlox, gaillardia, butterfly weed, purple cone flower, tickseed etc. Native wildflowers are always best. You can also request free milkweed seeds from Livemonarch.com 

i'll post updates on our caterpillars until they form they're chrysalis.  Because the temperatures are getting cooler, there is a good chance they will stay in their chrysalis all winter and will emerge in the spring. i'll be keeping them outside in the shed, so they experience the change in temperatures and do not get confused. We raised a swallowtail a few years back that stayed in his chrysalis all winter, and then emerged too early because of the warmth of the house. 

i'm going to take a walk later today and look for milkweed seed pods. Next year i'll make sure to plant a nice patch of milkweed that will not be in danger of getting mowed down. i may give some away some seeds on here as well if i find some! :) 

House Construction- Week 4-5

A few updates on our construction.  i've been feeling especially scatterbrained these days, and i am not sure sure what week we are actually on. Fourth, fifth...maybe 6th?

Anyhow, since getting the main structure set up the construction crew has been here on and off the last couple weeks to finish up and work on different this.   The estimated move in time is still early November.

The first week after setting it up, they finished the dormer. It originally just had plastic over the top, so they built the roof on it and did other roof work.  The basement was partially filled in and they worked on building the floor for the loft area upstairs which came completely unfinished.

The driveway was graded down so that we'll be able to drive right up to the basement.  We will probably have to put a retaining wall on the bank to the right. 

The concrete company came back and they poured the floor for the basement. We have talked about copper staining the concrete, like we had in our old house, but i am not sure if we will again.  It looked neat,but it was really a lot of work. We'd like to finish the basement, so it will probably end up with carpet in at least part of it. 

This week the guys are here working on building the chimney.  i'm not sure what comes next, but i believe they will be working on the siding, roof and deck before they finish the inside. It has been really neat to be here to watch the progress, although it is also very distracting. i kind of feel like my life is on hold until we are in the house. The temperature has really begun to cool off, so my urge to hibernate is strong these days. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Summer Travels- Greensboro Sciquarium

This weekend we headed back to Greensboro Science center to check out their brand new SciQuarium.  We purchased a family membership to the Greensboro science center earlier this year, which has allowed us to visit other science centers and zoos for free or half off admission. We've made good use of our pass and have enjoyed planning weekend trips around the different science museums, zoos and aquariums. We purchased our membership before the Sciquarium was open, so we were looking forward to come back and check it out.

The lights in the SciAuarium were very dim, so i didn't get very many pictures.  They have an exhibit of penguins, river otters, and a fishing cat.  

In the very center is a hands on ray exhibit where the children can reach into the water and gently touch the rays and guitar fish. This was my daughter's favorite part. 

My boy was not as excited to get his hands wet. 

The shark tank was really neat. There are a bunch of sea life in the tank, not just sharks.  We just happened to be there during the fish feeding time, and so the tank was really active. It was extremely hard to get pictures because of the lighting, so all of my fish photos turned out super blurry.  There are a lot of really neat fish in the tank including some large southern rays, huge eels, sharks of course and a lot of really beautiful fish. 

This was part of the otter exhibit. The otters would climb all over the dome where the kids were. We were hoping to see the otters play in the water, but they were napping while we were there.

This guy is inside the actual science museum, not part of the sciquarium. The kids call him Frank. The last time we were here he was trying to eat Sage through the glass.  i believe he is a Caiman. 

After wandering around the science museum, we went outside to see the animals.  

We watched the giant tortoises get a bath, and the maned wolves were up and active for the first time. In the past when we have visited they are napping in the long grass. We'll see the top of their ears, and sometimes their backs are too us. So it was neat to see them up and walking around. They were very beautiful unusual looking animals, with long slender legs. 

After leaving the Science center we went out to dinner and then headed home. We did not get very far down the road before Kenan noticed the car was smoking. He immediately took the first exit to get us off the interstate. At this point we knew something as seriously wrong. Smoke was pouring out from under the hood, and the back windshield was getting sprayed with something (we thought it was oil).  We came to the stoplight, and when we tried to go the car wouldn't do anything. Kenan turned it off, back on and we were able to start moving just enough to get through the stoplight and coast into the first driveway which happened to be a Sheetz gas station.

Now we've been having problems with our car for the last 9 months. We replaced our engine which had 240k miles on it, with a used engine that only had 90k miles.  It drove fantastic for a while, and then began overheating. Kenan replaced the thermostat, but it continued to overheat. We took it into the shop where they blew out the coolant hoses. Sometimes air gets trapped in them and it creates a vacuum, so it registers that your coolant is full even though it is low.  That seemed to help for a while, then it began overheating again. We had it back to the shop to have the head gaskets replaced.  We got it back, and 3 days later the radiator blew up.  Sent it back to the shop and had only had it back about 3 days when this happened.  So we were beyond frustrated.

We were stranded over 2 hours from home with no one to call. The local numbers that we should have had were programmed into the cell phone which i only used temporarily and no longer have. Kenan's cell is about 10-15 years old and doesn't have any local contacts in it, and it doesn't have internet access or anything like that.  So we really had no idea what to do. A local man stopped and asked if we needed help. He told us he lived right down the road, and to give a call if we needed any help at all.  We borrowed a phone book from the Sheetz station and began calling local garages and tow services. It was about 7pm on a Saturday, and we could not get a hold of anyone. So we called the good Samaritan that had stopped to help us and asked him if he could look up the number of the garage back home where we'd had our work done. We tried calling their emergency towing number and ended up calling the mechanic at home. 

Kenan explained what had happened, and from his description the mechanic was able to diagnose the problem, it was just a cracked transmission line. So the local man came back and packed us all in his truck and took us to the local auto-parts store so Kenan could get what he needed to fix the line.  The man brought his tool box, extra rags...and hung out until we had the car fixed. He was incredible helpful. So we eventually got it fixed and made our way back to Virginia. The car drove fine all the way home. 

Two days after our NC adventure Kenan took the car to Radford to pick up propane tanks, and again the car died. This time it was the battery and alternator. He was stuck there for several hours, trying to get the parts he needed to fix it.   At this point just about everything in the engine has been replaced, so hopefully that means nothing else will break down. lol.  We will be staying close to home for a while and once we get through this house stuff we really need to think about getting a new car. 

So this is probably my last Summer travels post for the year.Our focus is really just getting into our house and trying to regain a sense of normal. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

House Construction- Sept 10

BIG things happening here!  The House modules were supposed to arrive at 10 am  yesterday morning.

The construction crew was out early, getting it all set up. Then the waiting began.

The crane arrived around 9am.  Then lots of other trucks and machinery began to arrive. We pulled the kids out of school so they could watch.  10 am came and went, contractor was on the phone, but still no house.  Apparently, there was a mix up with scheduling at the Nationwide office, and the house was not scheduled to be delivered until next week. Ack! Eventually they got things straightened out and found a driver and the new delivery time was moved to 4-5pm. So the kids went back to school. and the entire construction crew sat around and waited, and waited, and waited.

Kids returned home from school, and not long after we heard the crane start up. So we looked outside and saw a huge truck in the road that was carrying half of our house! 

They hooked it to the crane and lifted it way up in the air over the electric lines.  It was so crazy!

 Then lined it up with the foundation and set it down. What a crazy thing to see.

Kenan even took time off of work to watch. 

Once the first half was in place, another big truck arrived with the second half.

They lined them up.  See those triangles hanging down on the walls? They are sections of the roof. They are hinged to the main structure and literally fold up. i had no idea. 

Once the main sections were lined up and set, they began unfolding the roof. The entire thing was sitting on top of the modules. It is all hinged and just unfolds. It was so neat to watch.

There are ropes attached to these pieces and they just pull them up and then nail them into place. 

Then they brought in the window sections.

Once the window sections were secured in the both ends of the house, they pulled up the rest of the roof

The front view. i didn't take a lot of pictures of the front, because i was standing on the other end with the kids. There were a bunch of people and bunch of equipment in the yard, so we were staying far out of the way.  There will be a wrap around deck that will be built around the house.

Unfolding the rest of the roof! 

This as far as they got yesterday. The entire process, once the house actually arrived took around 3 hours!  Incredible!   Before they left they put plastic over the window and dormer holes.

There is a still a lot that has to be done before we move in. It will still be many weeks before it's completed, but watching this come together so quickly was just amazing.  

As we watch the rebuilding process we can not help but become filled again with intense gratitude to all those that have helped us along the way, and helped us to get to this point. Friends, family, neighbors, customers and even many folks we have never even met. The amount of love and support we have felt through out this has been so overwhelming and life changing. i love being able to share this rebuilding (and healing) process with all of you. Thank you again for your continued support.  

Monday, September 9, 2013

Mock Apple Crisp- Zucchini recipe

This is a such a simple recipe and a great way to use up extra zucchini. This recipe takes 3-4 medium size zucchini.  

Mock Apple Crisp recipe
5 cups zucchini
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
dash nutmeg

1 stick softened butter
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup sugar ( i like using 1/ cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup white sugar, but either or is fine.)
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats

Bake 375 35-40 minutes

Preheat oven to 375.  Cut the zucchini into quarters the long way, then peel and scoop out the seeds. Now slice each spear to look like apple slices.

Place 5 cups of sliced zucchini into a sauce pan, and add 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup lemon juice, a teaspoon of cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg.

Stir it all together so all the zucchini is coated, and cook  15-20 minutes until zucchini is tender, stirring occasionally. 

Remove from heat, and pour the zucchini mixture into a glass pie pan or 8 x 8 casserole dish.  Set aside while you prepare the topping.  

In a separate bowl, mix together the butter, flour, sugar and rolled oats.
Gently mix the ingredients and sprinkle on top of the zucchini mixture.

Bake for 35-45 minutes. Until the top is golden brown.  It's great served hot with a scoop of ice cream on the side.  It tastes almost exactly like an apple crisp. Enjoy!