Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wordless Wednesday- Garden rainbows

Have you eaten a rainbow today?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Monarch hunting.

A few days ago i spotted a monarch butterfly fluttering around the yard. She spent the whole day gliding from flower to flower and dancing and spinning in the garden. This is only the second monarch we've seen this year, so i suspected she was probably out laying her eggs. We went for a walk down the road to check all the milkweed plants for signs of eggs and caterpillars.

Both of the kids have become expert monarch hunters. Observing each leaf carefully for signs of munching, frass or tiny little eggs.

We found some Milkweed Tussock moth caterpillars! These guys are commonly found on milkweed along with milkweed bugs.

Sage was the first to spot an egg! They are super tiny!

Monarch eggs have a conical shape, with vertical ridges. They are usually pale yellow or creamy white.

When the eggs begin to darken, it means the caterpillar is about the hatch!!

The newly hatched caterpillar is only a little more than a millimeter in length. After they hatch from the egg, they eat the egg and then they begin eating the milkweed.

We returned home with 4 monarch eggs, one has hatched and the other three have darkened and will be hatching any time. Our little caterpillar will munch on milkweed for about 9-14 days, and then it will form it's chrysalis. As always, we will be sure to document it all!!

Current Reading list

My current reading list includes

The Ball Blue Book guide to preserving. This is a great book to get you started in canning and preserving. Lots of great information and recipes.

Big Little Felt Universe by Jeanette Lim. If you've ever had an interest in making your own felt toys, you need to check out this book!! The patterns and directions are clear and easy to follow, with set by set pictures for most of the projects. There are lots of patterns for playfoods, both basic and advanced. There are also patterns for a camping set, a doctor medical bag, a computer, a purse full of all the essentials and more! My daughter has already made a wishlist for Yule that i'm just starting to get to working on. This book of so many creative and inspiring ideas! If you've been wanting to make felt toys for your child, this book is a great place to start!

Keeping Chickens, Home Dairy and Keeping Bees by Ashley English. i recently was lucky enough to win this hardcover set of homesteading books from Ellen over at Confessions of an overworked mom. Ashley English lives in NC, and is the author of the "Homemade Living" book series from Lark Books. Her books showcases topics related to small-scale homesteading and some of the diverse ways people are reconnecting with their food and food communities and taking up sustainable food practices. Ashley has a great blog called Small Measures that you can check out. The books are well written, with lots of fun pictures and great information. Although i've been raising chickens for over 5 year, i still found a lot of new and useful information in her Keeping Chickens book. Her books also contain recipes, and helpful tips. Really a great series to get you started on any of these homesteading topics.

Ice Pop Joy by Anni Daulter i recieved this book a few weeks ago, and am putting together a review that i'll be posting soon. We've been trying out many of the different recipes, and so far have loved them all. i've been dying to try the Heavenly bar, which is a mix of white chocolate, coconut milk and nuts....Wow. This book has gorgeous colorful pictures, and fabulous recipes to get your kids to eat healthy. i'll be posting a full review soon.

Kids Garden (Barefoot books) by Whitney Cohen and Roberta Arenson This one isn't actually book, but a set of instructional cards that contains forty activities and games. It also comes with an eight-page booklet that contains information on gardening tools, year-round plant care and garden safety. The double-sided cards contain step-by-step instructions and colorful collage artwork. They create a fun and easy way for budding green-thumbs to plant, investigate, learn and experiment. Both of my kids love these! They have gone through the cards numerous times and have both made lists of all the projects they want to do. Many of them will have to wait until next spring, as it is too late to plant, but we have still been able to complete a few projects and crafts. This is really a cool way to get your child outside and interested in gardening.

Goat Song: A seasonal Life, A short History and the Art of Making Cheese. by Brad Kessler
i have just started this one, so i can't say much about it except that i am very much enjoying it. It's the story of a writer and his artist wife that moves to Vermont, decide to keep goats, and learn how to make cheese. The book isn't meant as a guide to raising goats, but is the personal journey of the author. His writing is moving and poetic, with a hint of spirituality. The book has been described as a love story between human and animal, past and present, earth and food. The reviews on this one have been incredible. i'm very excited to finally sit down and read it.

The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas This is what i'm reading to the kids right now. It is about a pick-pocket street boy, that ends up as a Wizard's apprentice. Like most recent boy wizard books we have have read, there is a definite hint of Harry Potter in the story. Honestly, the story started a bit slow for me, but is starting to pick up. My boy is enjoying it, and i'm interested to see where the story goes. We read lots of books over the summer, and most were just okay. The book Walls within Walls was absolutely fantastic though, and i highly recommend that one. It was incredibly well written and interesting. It combined facts with fiction, and intrigued us enough that we did our own online research of architect Rafael Guastavino after finishing the book.

That's it for my current reading list. With the kids in school now, i am finally able to pick up all these books and magazines i've been wanting to read. Would love to hear your recommendations as well.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wordless Wednesday- Around the Homestead

or not so wordless....

Canning season is officially here!

i have two broody hens, so hoping for new peeps in about two weeks. So far we've had zero luck hatching peeps this summer, my rooster may be getting a bit to old to get the job done.

Our new hens have started to lay so we are finally seeing a bit of variety in our eggs.

My girl loves to help shell October beans,

Still picking and freezing lots of beans. Hoping to can some, but am still a bit afraid of my pressure canner.:)

Casper and Delilah just doing what they do. :)

Still have lots of sunflowers blooming.

Peach season starts now...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Caterpillar Transformation and a Surprise!

At the end of July my boy found a tiny little caterpillar, that we quickly identified as a Black Swallowtail. We left it to munch in our carrots and when it was full grown we brought it inside so that we could watch it transform.

We put him in an aquarium, and gave him some carrot greens. Black swallowtails also eat fennel, parsley, dill and queen anne's lace.

i placed a few sticks inside our aquarium, so that he could find a perfect place to form his chrysalis. When he found a good spot, he got very still and stayed like that for a quite a while. Then we watched him turn around on the stick, and spin a bit of silk.

He stuck his back feet in the silk, and spun a thin silk sling to support his body. Then he got into position. He stayed like this for maybe 24 hours or so. We started to notice he seemed to be puffing up a bit, and his skin began to look very stretched.

The more he puffed the thinner his skin became and it changed to a dull color. He let go of the stick, and his skin began to split. He slowly wiggled the skin down his body.

Underneath, you can start to make out the familiar chrysalis shape. His skin is about half way down now, and he is still working on pushing the skin off.

One the skin is completely off, he rests. His new chrysalis is green and soft.

After a few hours, his new skin has darkened and hardened into it's chrysalis. It's camouflaged to resemble a dead leaf on the twig, or a part of the branch. After pupating for around 2-3 weeks the Black swallowtail butterfly should emerge from its chrysalis. Caterpillars that are found in the fall, will often overwinter in their chrysalis emerging instead in the spring. Our Caterpillar formed it's chrysalis on August 1st, so we have been patiently waiting for him to make his apprentice.

Instead we got quite the surprise!

Instead of a butterfly, this Ichneuman parasitic wasp emerged from the chrysalis!

When our little caterpillar was outside munching carrots, a female wasp had found it and laid her egg inside the caterpillar. As the caterpillar continued to feed and grow the wasp egg hatched and a tiny wasp maggot began to feed on caterpillar. While our caterpillar was pupating, the wasp larva was feasting.

When the wasp is fully grown, it exits the chrysalis through a large hole in the side. Although it just part of nature, it was rather disappointing being that it was our only Black Swallowtail cat this year. My daughter was completely fascinated by the whole thing, but my boy was a little more bummed. We've witnessed other parasite infections with the monarch caterpillars we've raised.

No matter how many times we raise caterpillars, it is always a learning experience. The process is always amazing, no matter what happens to hatch out.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Tropical Traditions Winner Announced!

The new winner of the Tropical Traditions Organic Virgin Coconut oil is....

Off-Grid Homestead said... 95

Liked them on Facebook!

Congratulations! i will send you an email later today. You will have 48 hours to respond to my email or a new winner will be chosen! Thank you all who entered!!

Friday, August 19, 2011

A peek at our nature table.

During the summer months, we often put away our nature table decorations and our nature table becomes more of a living table. Earlier this year, we had an aquarium set up and watched tadpoles and salamander larvae hatch from eggs and develop into frogs and salamanders. We released them back into the creek this spring.
Then a few weeks ago we set up the aquarium again, but this time as a caterpillar nursery.

While gardening i found a tomato hornworm munching away in my tomatoes. i was just about to feed it the chickens, when my daughter became upset and asked if we could raise it inside. i've never raised a hornworm, but after a bit research decided we could. Hornworms pupate underground. So we put a couple inches of soil in a container, and in the morning our hornworm had buried himself around July 26th.

Early this morning, i noticed movement in the aquarium. Our hornworm had emerged into a 5 spotted hawkmoth.

i took this first picture before the sun came up, so it's a bit dark. We are going to release him this evening at dusk...far away from garden. lol.

We also found a black swallow tail caterpillar not long after, and brought it inside too. We watched it transform into it's chrysalis (that will be it's own post once it emerges).

Around this time of year we hike up and down our road looking for monarch eggs and caterpillars on the milkweed that grows everywhere. We've gone a few times since the beginning of August, but haven't found any yet. Last week when we went looking we found a mystery egg on the backside of a milkweed leaf.

If you click the picture, you can see the tiny orange/pink egg a little more than half way down. This is not a monarch egg. Monarch eggs are yellow and conical in shape. There are only a few insects known to eat milkweed so i have no idea what this egg might be.

i am fairly certain that it's a butterfly egg.

This is how it looked on 8-12.

On 8-16 the egg is now translucent and you can clearly see something inside there.

What can it be??

Took this one today, 8-19. You can click the picture to see it better. There is definitely something in there! We are super excited to see what hatches out, and hope that we can identify it quickly so we can provide the proper food for it. i've been placing a variety of different common host foods in the aquarium with it, in case i miss it's hatching. The kids have been fascinated by the pictures, and trying to guess what it may be. Any ideas??

We are still waiting for the monarchs to arrive, as with everything this year they seem to be running a bit behind. We've only spotted one monarch butterfly so far this year. Last year we began finding the caterpillar at the end of July/beginging of August.

Our swallowtail butterfly should be emerging any day now. We've been checking our dill,fennel and carrots daily for new caterpillars, but haven't found any yet. The kids ask daily to look for monach eggs, so hopefully we will find some and our nature table will become a temporary home to some munchin' crunchin' caterpillars. :)

Ending tonight!!!

Reminder my giveaway for a 32oz jar of Organic Virgin Coconut oil ends tonight at midnight!! Get your entries in before you miss out!

This stuff is wonderful! i've been using it regularly in cooking, as a skin moisturizer and massage oil. Not only is your skin left feeling soft and smooth, you smell like coconuts. :)

If your interested in the benefits of adding coconut oil to your diet, you can read more about them here and there's also a good article by Dr. Mercola here.

If you don't win the giveaway for Coconut oil, you still have time to get in on these fabulous sales!!

Special Price! - 2 pints - Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil 16 oz. - Buy 1 get 1 FREE! Click the link, and scan down the page to see the sales.

You can get 2 pints (16 fl. oz. ea.) - glass jars on sale for $19.95!!
The 32oz jar is on sale for $29.50 or 2 for $55.50!

Hurry!! Sale ends Sunday August 21st and giveaway ends tonight!! Go enter! :)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

End of summer.

This is a bit of a catch up post. We've had a very busy end of summer, and i've been a bit overwhelmed with harvest and preservation of our garden produce. We've also been trying to get in as much summer fun as possible, which means we have been spending our days outside.

A couple weeks ago, Kenan had an opportunity for free barn wood. So he spend the weekend, tearing down the old barn and collecting all the usable wood. The wood will come in very handy for various building projects, and it has a wonderful rustic look. The house where the barn was located is right on the Little River and so one afternoon i came out with the kids so they could play in the river while Kenan worked on the barn. It was a beautiful spot, and the river is shallow and clear all the way across.

Both kids had a blast swimming and collecting rocks and water snails. The woman who owned the property was extremely nice, and has invited us back several times to picnic and play.

Almost every summer we spend a day at Fairy Stone State Park. It's usually one of the last things we do before back to school. This year, i started looking around for some thing different to do. We love state parks, museums or just something fun and new. i came across info for Lake Ridge Resort. This used to be called RJ Ranch. It is surprisingly close by, only about 15 miles from our house.

Lake Ridge Resort, is a campground/RV park with cabin rentals and sites for tent or RV camping. They also offer day passes for those who wish to come and play, but not stay all night. They have two huge pools. The kid's pool is 3' at it's deepest, and the other pool is 5' at it's deepest. The park also has two 400' water slides, miniature golf, paddle boat rides, arcade, playground and catch and release fishing. The day pass rates are $12 per person for an All Day Pass which allows you to participate in all the activities they offer. They also have a swimming pass for $5 per person, which gives you access to the pools for an entire day.

My boy was thrilled with the miniature golf because he's never played before, but my girl got bored after the second hole. She helped me through the rest of the game by picking up my ball and putting it in the hole for me. ha ha. It was a very simple, and old putt putt course. Nothing too spectacular, but the kids still had fun.

We also went out on the paddle boats. The pond is small, and it was really hot so we didn't spend a lot of time on them. It was still kind of fun. There were tons of dragonflies and we watched them skim across the water.

The highlight of Lake Ridge resort is definitely the water slides. When we were there only one slide was working, but we went down it probably 50 times. It was so much fun. The park was not busy at all. For a while we were the only ones on the slide, so we could go down it over and over as much as we wanted. Even when there were a few other people on it, the lined moved extremely quickly, and we never waited more than a minute or two to ride.

My girl was afraid of the water slide at first, and i rode down it with her several times before she was brave enough to try it on her own. i actually enjoyed the water slide much more than i expected too. It was really fun!!! The walk back up was quite a workout on the legs too. :)
The pools and the water slide definitely made our visit worth while. The other attractions were okay, but nothing special. The arcade would have been nice for older kids, but most of the games were too old my two. They also had pool tables, ping pong, and one skee ball machine. There was a nice little restaurant/snack bar and gift shop, and the staff was all very friendly and helpful. It was really a neat little place.
The cost of the 'all access' pass was a little high for us to visit often, but it made for a very nice special day out before school. We'll definitely come back next summer.