Sunday, September 30, 2012

Into Their Sleeping bags.

About a week ago we found some Caterpillars in our dill plant. We awoke on Friday to find that our new friends were getting ready to take a long nap (or hibernation as Pooka told me). One had already gotten himself starting to be comfortable, the other was just starting. Sadly the first pictures we took didn't turn out as well due to the shape of the jar.
Getting ready for bed
By Saturday evening, both were quite comfortable and the one cocoon was already hardened to protect our little friend. (We also cleaned out the jar once they were pretty settled so it wouldn't be nasty all winter). You can see in the picture below the little threads that they used to tie themselves into bed so they don't fall.
Goodnight, have a good winter's nap. 
Pooka is very happy and very sad at the same time. She is excited to see them when they come out, but is sad that she didn't get to watch them longer. Now to wait till spring for them to emerge and hopefully we can watch that too. Until then, into the garage with them so they stay cold but not frozen until then.

Pooka asked to make her writing debut today. I admit to helping her with the spelling, but she typed it and decided what to say.

Pooka says:     
The harder outside shell        protects      caterpillars because                     it keeps                                       them  safe and    helps them   turn into                                 butterflies.  I love  my caterpillars.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Audrey is PINK??

What we normally see. 
Some days, I swear that plant is out to drive me insane. There are days I swear it is mocking me. But today, I swear this plant took it to another level.

Today I noticed that Audrey the morning glory had pink flowers. We originally bought a blue flowered plant. Now granted, we have seen light blue flowers with purple stripes before, but this was a first.

Did it HAVE TO BE PINK? Pooka's picture. 

What is even more interesting is there seem to be quite a few of these pink flowers. But whatever, more then likely this is a result of the genetics and it mixing something. What, I don't know, but something. Oh well, but of all the colors did it really have to be pink. Can you tell I don't like pink?

Pooka hasn't noticed YET, but I have a feeling a discussing about genetics is in my future.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Pooka Plan and Thoughts of Begging

Today I caught Pooka drawing on a white board we put on the fridge. Now originally we had this grand idea about using it for something useful, grocery lists, ect. However, it all depended on who was going to the store and if they remembered to check it. The white board was given to Pooka for another creative outlet not too long after.
The Pooka Plan
Back to today and Pooka had drawn another masterpiece on it. I admired her work as I walked by. She said "Mom, I didn't make a picture, I am planning the garden for next year."

This makes me stop in my tracks because part of me, the I hate gardening part of me/I am tired from this summer wanted to beg her to let me have a short break before we plan more. I turned and said "Well aren't you thinking ahead."

Pooka: "Yep, And this is the outside of the bed, and this is where the oregano will go, and here's where we are going to plant tomatoes, and the basil will go over here next to the rosemary and  the cucumbers...." She continued for quite a while all the while I was interested, but a small part of me wanted to shudder and say "I need to kill this garden off first dear."

Per the Pooka plan, we are going to enlarge the garden quite a bit into a semi-circle. and it will be the size of the yard. It is okay because the dog will be confined to the small section of the yard not in a semi-circle and her and Brother will play in the front yard. Apparently we are even moving their swing set out front.

HELP ME, I created a monster... A cute, but very smart, very energetic and very thorough Monster.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Goodbyes to friends

Today has been a busy day for Pooka. Not only did she have school today, but we also took 5 of the caterpillars we found in her garden to her classroom. She decided she wanted to share them with her friends. I discussed this with her teacher ahead of time, so we packed up 5 of them, and Brother said his goodbyes before he left for school. They had a very nice packed lunch of carrot greens as well. We are hoping this will help teach Pooka's whole class about caterpillars and maybe even the life cycle. Pooka has already noticed this morning that the caterpillars have already molted once (they are more green and less orange now). 

Can you find them all? 
We did keep 2 of the caterpillars here for Pooka and Brother to experiment on watch and learn from. They have been named Green Thumb (Pooka's choice) and Mjollnir (Thor's Hammer name, from Brother). I don't know why they chose these names, they just did while I was making lunches for school.

Green Thumb and Mjollnir
Although as I write this, I now know to watch Pooka so she doesn't try to pick the caterpillar's jar up with the jar lifter from the canning set. Last thing I need is broken glass and caterpillar waste in the kitchen. Guess I forgot to mention that part of the leave the caterpillars alone directions. Leave it to my kids to find loopholes in everything.

Safety is always our number 1, er 200 concern (okay top 10) here in the Experiment Garden. While preparing to transport Pooka's little friends (I placed them in the front seat so no one would play with them and get caterpillar waste all over my car). Pooka pipes up from the back seat and says "Mommy, you have to buckle them in or the inertia and momentum will make them fly forward." Yes, she really said that, no I didn't make her, however I buckled them up and then ran inside to take a picture of our precautions. In science it is always best to document how you deal with your test subjects.
Safety eventually. 
And then the caterpillar's went to school, where Pooka was instantly the hit of the class. They have found a glass aquarium to put them in, and the whole class went on a stick hunt today. So these 5 brave caterpillars will be well cared for. Turns out they are named already, but I didn't get a chance to find out what they were.  And Pooka went on to explain all about them to her friends while I talked with the teacher about them.

Our little friends here at home are still needing some sticks. Our hope is the rain will hold off enough this afternoon to go on a walk to pick some up.   Until then, they are eating like little hungry caterpillars and its a good thing I needed to thin some of Pooka's garden for greens.

Friday, September 21, 2012

New Friends

Thursday evening Pooka made some new friends. I was out getting the grill started while Pooka looked at her (kinda neglected) garden. I looked over and couldn't figure out what was on the dill. I got closer and sure enough, we had visitors. 
Can you see me? 
Caterpillars. Lots of them. Now, Pooka and I have both read the book about the caterpillar that eats everything, and after realizing it was more then just one or two, we decided to remove said friends. However, Pooka didn't want me to kill them since we need them in their life cycle.  So instead, I went out, armed with a tupperware and a caterpillar removal tool (also known as a skewer) and I pushed them all off their little perches or sadly took the perch with them. 

1 little, 2 little, 7 little caterpillars
Here they are, all 7 of them (I think 1 might of gotten away). Yeah, that is more then I wanted eating our dill plant. 1 okay, I can live with, but 7. Yikes.  We kept them in that tupperware (with the lid cracked) overnight. By morning we had to decide what to do with them.

Hanging out in our new/temporary home

Pooka, Daddy and I talked about it. We had discussed doing butterflies with Pooka before, so we decided it was time. So with a bit of research (looking up images of caterpillars on google, I know so scientific) we think they are Black Swallowtail caterpillars that turn into a really kinda cool black butterfly. Turns out that butterfly likes sunflowers, and lay their eggs on carrots, dill and parsley. So we had a whole buffet going.

I still wasn't sure that I wanted to have 7 caterpillars to raise into 7 butterflies to eat the garden, or worse yet,  leave 7 butterflies worth of babies in the garden. I am willing to keep a couple, but not all. We took a quart jar with some carrot greens we had thinned out, and put them in it with holes poked in a lid (it was a used lid, so it would never seal again anyway). So a quick email to Pooka's preschool teacher. Her teacher loves the idea of taking the rest as a class project, so we are going to try and both learn how to do caterpillars. And once they are all ready to fly away, we are going to release them into the prairie behind Pooka's school. 

I am wondering a bit if the caterpillars are going to do the overwinter thing (they don't migrate, they just make a sleeping bag for the winter), in which case, I guess I will have a few winter house guests. 

This is what we think they are.   However the only way to know for sure is to let them eat their fill and take a nap, (as well the keep it alive part). I am sure their will be updates to this. Anyone done this before?? Got any tips for me? 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Hi Garden

It occurred to me this morning that I may want pictures of what the garden currently looks like. I have been trying to get pictures of it regularly, but it will be fun to see later how big things have gotten. Especially since there are mornings I am afraid the growing season will be cut short. I took a quick peak at the forecast, and while it seems to be okay for awhile (the lowest its getting being 38 before jumping 20 degrees), part of me is waiting for it to frost suddenly.

So without further ado... lets see how things are doing.

 The poblanos and broccolli are doing well. The broccolli we just harvested for stir fry last night. We are not getting "Big" heads but we are getting some, and we have some decent sized ones. For a complete "Gee, wonder if this will work" apparently it does. The poblanos are still rather small, but the plants are covered in them. So we will have more poppers again soon.
 The rest of the pepper plants are doing quite well. While the green pepper plants are smaller, they are producing rather nicely. They had stopped briefly, but another spray of that Pepper booster, and they went nuts again. Going to HAVE TO remember that for next year. As for the sweet peppers, they seem to stay green, but a lighter green and have a nice kick at the end. The yellow pepper plant we bought finally has it's first fruit on it. I am sticking to seeds next year. Oh, and that 2nd pepper plant from the railing is as tall as I am.  You can also see the cucumber plants winding their way around the deck and starting to head back.

The Cucumbers and the tomatoes. Yep, the tomatoes are over 8 feet, and the cucumbers have climbed 6ft poles, then gone over string to the deck as well as using the railings quite a bit. We can pull about 8 cucumbers every few days. I am rather shocked how all this is growing. We did try using the pepper booster on the tomatoes, adn it seems to have helped them fruit. We have a ton of green regular tomatoes. Now to hope to see them get red so I can do something with them.

The container garden is going quite well. We have one lavender plant that never seemed to flower, but the other made up for it. The radishes and carrots are doing quite well (I am planning on thinning them later this week and using the greens for salad).  The lettuce kinda bolted and I need to pull it, but right now its flowering and Pooka seems to enjoy it. Her morning glory is looking kinda crazy again, I need to deal with it. We are getting plenty of herbs that we are drying at least once a week.

This is Brother's strawberry plant. I am not entirely sure what happened to it. I noticed this morning it looked kinda sad, but looked really nice the other morning. I did notice it was rather dry, so I did water it (which was weird since we had enough fog and dew this morning everything is soaked). I hope it just needs watered, or is it warning me that the weather is shifting. Who knows. We will have to wait and see.  Time to start being grateful for what growing season we have left.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Mystery

Yesterday, Pooka, Grandma M, and I were outside (Kiddo was having Kiddo time inside) and while Grandma and Pooka were playing, I was looking at the very neglected garden. I went to grab a cucumber when Pooka yelled "Mommy, why are there sunflowers on my swing set?"

 I figured she found a seed or too that a bird had grabbed. I went over and found that there was a seed on the stairs, not a big deal. Until I climbed the stairs... and saw the rest.

Now I am really confused about what would be taking whole sunflowers a good 30+ feet and eating them on the swing set. I mean, first it has to pick the flower, get it off the ground, go OVER a fence, fly/carry it another 30+ feet, then take it up another 6ft to get to the top of the slide, but we also found remains another 30+" above that on a railing on the swing set. Based on the pieces, its taking whole flowers.
So what could be doing this. I don't really know. I did confirm today we do have another burrow of bunnies nearby (I found one in the cucumbers while doing the morning harvest, he was still a young one since he hid under leaves), but bunnies would't be getting sunflowers when cucumbers and tomatoes are closer to the ground. I know we have had a raccoon in the area before, but again, that seems alot of work for something that could stay on the safer side of the fence. I did wonder briefly if one of the few hawks we have nearby (we have a wooded area 2 blocks from our house) decided to lay a trap for goldfinches, but that may be a bit of a stretch. 

I don't know what it could be. I did remove the ladder yesterday (it's an old swingset and the ladder was about to give). I may never know what did it, but I am very curious. Pooka just got mad something was eating HER sunflowers and that it left a mess in HER swingset. I am going to have to keep a better eye on that swingset and see if I can find out what has been so hungry.  What do you think it could be?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

To cut or not to cut....

After the success of the first strawberry experiment, you will remember we went on to experiment on if we should cut the tendrils or not.  Now the second experiment, was mostly because we had too many tendrils (which I recently learned I can prune) and both containers were getting a bit crowded.

Well the results were in a bit ago. I just forgot to get them on here. First off, the cut tendril. Here is what it looks like now. 

Not a failure, but rather a Good to know moment

It's dead. I know you don't think you can see it, but the plant is there. If you look in the bottom right corner you can see the dried leaves. Obviously, this didn't work too well. But now I know for future, and as I explained to Pooka, a failure in science is just as valuable as a success.

The traditional transplant, also known as do not cut the tendril until the plant is well rooted, did much better. So much better in fact that I  gave it to the neighbor that it was suppose to go to. Now I know I forgot to take a picture of it, but I promised that it was looking really good and that it was ready to spread out beyond that small pot. I know the neighbor had plans to replant it into something larger.

So instead I will show you a picture of Brother's strawberries from the original experiment. I still haven't seen much in the way of blooms on it, but I have a feeling next spring/summer we may have quite a few berries coming in from all the plants.

Look how big it has gotten. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Pretty picture and pretty big.

Today I went outside without a clear picture of what needed done (besides all of it) and what I wanted to talk about. And since I didn't feel like tempting fate again, I decided to let Pooka really choose what to talk about. She saw her dill plant in flower and told me to take a picture of it.

Dill in flower

All summer we had been pulling off the dill flowers. Pooka asked if they were so pretty why we had to pull them off. I told her it would keep the plant healthy longer. We talked a bit more about it and it led to a discussion of the life cycle.  Pooka's explanation is this: "They drop their seeds, have a little sprout that grows, and it makes more seeds and it does it over and over again. It's called a life cycle."  While she is close, we are going to have to work on a few concepts but not bad for being 4. 

Here is a picture Pooka asked I post. She was trying to take a picture of her strawberry plant from inside.  It may be a bit off but it matches the rest of us around here.  In her defense, I think she saw something shiny after she hit the button. 
And a Pooka sees something shiny. 

Friday, September 7, 2012


I am coming for you.... 
You all recognize Audrey the morning glory right. I haven't really been keeping her little arms under control the last 2 days, and this is how much she has grown. I swear she is waiting for Pooka to stop moving so she can grab her. I also love how Pooka chose Audrey for blue flowers, but most of the flowers are purple striped (which is better then pink ones according to Pooka).   I would go into more today, but the world is a strange strange place and my brain is not here. Maybe Audrey ate it. I don't know, but I know that today it is more lost than usual.

Have a great weekend all.

Thursday, September 6, 2012


I have had a few people ask me why I am still starting seeds. I told them that from all I have read (interwebz which lie and books) that carrots, radishes and cilantro like cold weather. Well, I realized today that I haven't updated you on any of the happenings there since that very long day and the baby carrots.

Well tonight, Daddy was making Fajitas (with peppers from the garden) and spanish rice (with tomatoes, poblanos and oregano) when he asked how the cilantro was doing if we had any he could use. Not knowing the state of the cilantro, I looked and sure enough, we have baby cilantro.
Store bought Seeds vs home grown
In the preliminary results of our test, it seems the store bought seeds are doing much much better then our home grown seeds. I am curious if it will stay this way, but for now, I am letting them grow and we pulled some of the baby cilantro leaves for the rice.

Radishes                                         Carrots
This however got me realizing that I never updated you all on how our seeds were doing. As you can see from here, the radishes (on the left) are doing quite well while the carrots are already getting good sized (right). I am not really ready to pick anything, but I am already warning Kiddo that he will be taking funny colored carrots to school.

Pooka asks daily when she can start harvesting them. I told her soon enough, she is going to be tired of carrots.

And we cannot forget the young clearance dill . This was a complete swag due to the cheap price of it It has already started to sprout and seems quite happy. Here it to it getting big enough to handle the winter or being small enough to come in the house. I am not sure which to look for, but Pooka was quite happy to see it having grown and being above the dirt.
Baby Dill. 

Now all that is left is to see when can harvest it all.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Drying herbs part 2

So I know this post comes a tad later then I would like (Thank our previous internet provider for that, as well as school starting). If you remember, Pooka, Daddy and I followed the great teachings of Alton Brown on "How to dry your herbs at home."

After you remove the herbs from your drying rig, you should take off the top filter and see nicely dried herbs.  In our case, the purple basil turned a dark purple again, since some of the leaves we had used turned green before drying. They do tend to stick to the top filter as well, so be ready for them to be on either side.

Next, we sorted them out and then took a blank piece of paper laid it on the table. We then took the herb between our hands and rub them back and forth. This breaks the herbs off the steam (to be discarded) and makes them fit quite well in other applications. This was Pooka's favorite part becuase the whole house again smelled like her herbs.

This is what we were left with once we finished the basil. Notice how it is in smaller pieces and should work quite well for cooking now.  They may need crunched up a bit before use.  Just don't try to rush it, since you may be picking small pieces of stem out then (especially thyme).

Here is what we ended up with. On our second batch, I was in a rush and poured thyme in with the oregano, thus we now have Italian Seasoning. We also used parsley the second time. We initially had everything in 1/2 pint jars (since they were laying around) but I was talking to Daddy and trying to find a better way, so we found these 2 jars which are $1 (black lid)-$2 (Silver lid) a piece. Yikes.... And we didn't want a set since most come prelabeled with things we may not use much.

 While we were cleaning out the spice cabinet, we condensed some herbs that were in other containers and ended up with 2 of these jars which look suspiciously like the ones we bought only they were free. I think we accidently threw away the shaker lid, but that's okay since I just wait for more to be scavenged.  Like the ones we bought, and with a quick use of my labeler, they will have nice labels like the ones you see above, at least until I decide to make something on the computer, but that may take a bit.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Escape from the tomato plants

This year I have been so focused on containing Audrey, I didn't notice the tomato plants were starting to escape. To the point where one set of stairs onto our deck is almost unpassable. Little did I notice the dog refuses to walk that way, and really, now having seen it, I refuse to as well. I kinda wonder if it would try to eat a Pooka if she stopped long enough.
Not to mention they were starting to strangle out the herbs and the container garden. I spent a good chunk of last weekend re-arranging the deck so that the herbs and things would still get some sunlight.
Friday night before we had some big rains coming in from the remnants of Issac, the family ran to the store and bought 8 ft poles to contain the tomato plants. We have a ton of green tomatoes. They were not producing real well, but I sprayed them with my pepper epsom salt spray and now I have green tomatoes everywhere. Here are pictures taken this morning, after almost 6" of rain in 2 days. Notice how the stairs are covered with tomato plants. They are better contained, but we decided if they reach the top of the 8ft poles, we are going to just let them do their own thing.
Looking from the side, you can see why I had to buy a couple of flashlights. There is not much light inside the plants, so the flashlights are to help us spot red tomatoes. Daddy and I have started to wonder about what will that area look like after the frost and we remove the tomatoes considering how many different sizes and containment cages we have built. I will make sure to post pictures once that happens.