Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Go West, Young Man!

After much prayer, planning, and deliberation, we've decided that we're ready for a change of address.

We're headed west!

Most of my husband's family lives in Oregon, and we're excited to join them! Our house goes up for sale within a week, and we're both working hard to get it ready. Twenty-seven garbage bags of clothing and forty boxes of "miscellaneous" have gone to Amvets, and we're still rushing to de-clutter and clean the house before prospective buyers stop by.

I've been hard at work to get the yard ready, too, in the midst of these dog days...

...er, cat days of summer. This is the hottest, driest August on record in Indiana, and it shows. Even with daily watering, flowers wilt and parched swatches of dead grass grow exponentially. At least something is doing well...my sunflowers.

I planted around 30 seeds, comprised of seven different varieties of sunflowers, but only five plants came up. Sunflower seedlings are irresistible to squirrels. Still, I've got small sunflowers...

...and big sunflowers.

Unfortunately, squirrels are attracted to full-grown sunflowers, too. Their trunks are thick enough to support a squirrel's weight, and they take full advantage.

What a scamp!

It's a full time job, just keeping them in line!

This late-season Armyworm (Lepidoptera Noctuidae) finds a tasty treat on my tomato vine. Armyworms are so named because they tend to travel in large numbers, like an army platoon.

This unidentified caterpillar warns away predators with his brilliant blue and orange coloring.

This pretty lady (Argiope aurantia) caught my eye this week. I'm afraid of spiders, but I can't help admiring them.

Commonly known as garden spiders here in the Midwest, this female built her web low to the ground in a patch of phlox to maximize her insect-catching potential. Females are much larger than males and are easily identified by their unusual coloring.

I've been watching this lady all week. She spun a smaller web behind the main one, and placed a sort of "trip wire" strand in front. She never seems to leave her post. Even when I accidently cause her web to vibrate when I weed too closely (but not too close!), she simply clings more stubbornly. These spiders are said to have inspired E.B. White to pen "Charlotte's Web." They "write" a series of zigzags on their web each day, a phenomenon known as stabilimentum.

No one knows exactly why stabilimentum is utilized. Some people theorize that the dense white lines warn birds away from Argiope aurantia's hard-to-see webs. Others say that stabilimentum attracts insects. The resourceful Argiope aurantia eat their webs nightly, for the tiny bits of insect matter that may be attached. Every morning she has a new web in the same location as the old one.

Argiope aurantia is a wonderful addition to your garden. They eat mosquitoes, flies, and pesky moths. I'm just glad this lady built her web a good distance from my back door!

Fall is prime time for spiders. This small garden spider (Araneus diadematus) just caught a nice morsel in his web, and has retreated to the safety of a sunflower to consume his prey.

All over the garden, I've been finding these strange, single-strand webs that are usually full of dead ants and other small insects.

I've watched and waited, and finally I've discovered the maker of these clever traps. They're tiny, well-camouflaged spiders that sit quietly in the center of the strand and wait for prey to blunder into the fine webs they've spun. Then, they create a virtual spider buffet by lining up the insects, one by one, into a thick line that bisects their web.

Also attempting a camouflage - somewhat less successfully - is this grasshopper. I haven't seen too many grasshoppers this summer, but they are usually more active in the fall.

Working quickly to store away food for winter is this bee. He's got telltale orange pollen sacs on his hind legs. Bees have a crevasse behind their "knees" and they pack pollen there, tightly, until it fills the crevasse and then forms a bulge of pollen above it. Bees gather pollen for about an hour at a time, then rush it back to the hive to be stored for winter use.

My husband calls me "the butterfly whisperer." I don't know about that, but this black swallowtail was happy to clamber up on my finger and rest there for a while.

I haven't had much time to knit amid our flurry of activity. I'm knitting two pairs of socks. To avoid second sock syndrome, I completed one sock, and then started and completed one thrummed sock. Now I'm back to my first pair of socks, working quickly on the foot. Knitting is a pleasant, soothing break from the day's work.

During busy times like these, I turn to my "workhouse foods" to do the work in the kitchen for me. One of my very favorites is a wonderful sweet galette dough from Julia Child. One batch makes two galettes, so I usually fill one with fruit and one with vegetables for a complete meal.

Julia Child's Galette Dough
Adapted from Baking with Julia

3 tablespoons sour cream, yogurt, or buttermilk
1/3 cup ice water
1 cup flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 - 7 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces

Stir the sour cream and ice water together and set aside. Mix remaining ingredients (except for butter) together, then then add butter slices. Use a fork or pastry blender to "cut" the butter and blend with the flour, forming pea-sized (and smaller) bits. When mixed, slowly add the set-aside mixture, a tablespoon at a time. Pat it into a ball and refrigerate for 2 hours.

When you're ready to bake, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Divide your ball in half. Roll out to 1/8 inch thickness. For a fruit galette, I use 1 1/2 - 2 cups of frozen fruit, a dash of sugar, and a little honey. Spread this mixture in the center of your dough, leaving a 2 inch edge. Then fold up the edge and bake for 20 - 30 minutes.

For a vegetable galette, I chop up fresh-from-the-garden basil and tomatoes, throw in some mushrooms and cheese, and bake.

It's so easy and makes a wonderful meal.

Now I've got to hurry back to the garden. The dead plants need to be cut down and the perennials need to be mulched, and everything needs lots of water. I've got a little help, keeping an eye on things...

...but I've got a lot to do, nonetheless!

Have a great week!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Thrum's The Word

It's late August, but the heat and humidity are hanging on. Thankfully, most of the things I've planted thrive in this type of climate...especially the tomatoes. This yellow flower tells me that I've got another wave of sweet, juicy tomatoes coming.

We've got lots of tiny, marble-sized tomatoes. After removing their wee fuzzy tops, my husband pops them into his mouth by the handful.

The zinnias are still holding on, providing nectar to the hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies, and seeds to the goldfinches. This black swallowtail was quite busy! Because of the large crop of caterpillars, this garden will see many more of these beauties next year. The caterpillars have already disappeared after gorging themselves on dill for about a week. They've made the slow migration to pupate.

This common buckeye spreads its wings without fear. Predators mistake these markings for the eyes of a much larger creature and give this fellow a wide berth.

My macro lens allows me to get closer...

...and closer!

An Eastern-Tailed Blue butterfly is caught in the act of laying eggs on this leaf.

As the season slowly starts to change, I see new life in the garden. This little butterfly is a new arrival in my small garden.

This Ailanthus Webworm moth stays low on this bronze fennel stem. They look more like beetles than moths, since they hold their wings close to their bodies when they're stationary.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I went to a beekeeping class. I've been interested in beekeeping for years, but hesitate to start a hive in the city, because of the close proximity of neighbors. I'm just biding my time, though! The class was really informative, and the teacher was kind enough to allow me to take photographs.

First we learned about the common equipment used. This is a smoker. Beekeepers fill them with bits of flaming cotton and twine and stoke the fire by squeezing the miniature bellows attached to the back of the smoker. Bees need to be "smoked" when the beekeeper approaches the hive. Normally, guard bees will sound the alarm to attack when something suspicious comes near. Delivering gentle puffs of smoke confuses the guards, and they don't issue their warning, thus decreasing the likelihood that the beekeeper will be stung. This is a practice that dates back to ancient Egypt.

This wooden hive is one of the most beautiful I've seen. A hive is just a series of boxes, like dresser drawers, stacked on top of each other. Bees, introduced to a small hive, slowly and systematically fill it with brood (at the bottom) and honey (at the top).

A small feeder is attached to the front of this hive. No flowers are available to gather food from in the winter, of course, but bees will have a store of honey in the hive to feed on. However, if this runs low, a beekeeper can attach a feeder filled with sugar syrup to the front of the hive.

You can order bees by the pound (a typical order is 3 pounds, which is around 12,000 bees) from a multitude of suppliers. Bees come, yes, to your post office, packaged in a small screened in box like the one below. The queen bee is kept separate, in a small box with a candy cork. By the time the bees eat through the cork to get the the queen, they are used to her, and she becomes one of them, instead of being viewed as a strange and potentially dangerous invader.

The live demonstration begins! First, the beekeeper (regrettably, behind a fence) builds a clean fire in his smoker and squeezes the bellows to provide oxygen and keep it going.

Next, he suits up. It's a rare beekeeper indeed that wears the full-body suit. Most people wear the hat and gloves, and take care to tuck their pants into their socks.

Here, he quickly smokes the entrance to the hive to confuse the guard bees...

...then, gently pries off the lid of the hive.

More bees fly out of the top. A few puffs of smoke cause them to disperse.

He pulls out a honey-filled and bee-covered frame to demonstrate. A few light taps and a bit of smoke, and the bees flee.

The frames, swollen with honey, are brought into the classroom. Individual frames usually have to be pried free with the tool shown below, as they are sticky with beeswax and honey residue. A few bees, still stubbornly clinging to the frames, release and buzz harmlessly overhead.

This silver barrel is the extractor. It has 4 slots in which the honey frames are placed after they're gently scraped to open up their wax caps. There's a hand crank on the side and a spigot at the bottom. Once the 4 frames are in place, the handle is cranked vigorously in one direction for about a minute. Then the frames are removed and turned so that honey can be extracted from the other side as well. More cranking...

...and the honey flows out of the spigot at the bottom, through this filter (which catches bits of beeswax and unlucky bees), and into a clean 5-gallon bucket.

One hive can produce over 150 pounds of honey in a single season! I can't wait to start this hobby.

Speaking of hobbies, I indulged one of mine this weekend by making the trek to Stitches Midwest in Chicago. With a friend, I combed through stall after stall and came away with just enough yarn (can you ever have too much?).

This MacKintosh sock yarn in Jade is just like springtime.

I can never get enough wheat-colored yarn (also MacKintosh sock).

This Malabrigo yarn is heavenly to touch. Reasonably priced and unbelievably soft, it's no wonder this is one of the most coveted yarns for knitters. This is just begging to be made into a warm hat and soft gloves.

I usually prefer earth tones, but this vibrant red candy cane-style yarn from Cherry Tree Hill caught my eye. I think it will make a very cheerful pair of socks.

This alpaca-cotton blend from Rowan is so beautiful and soft. I'm going to make a striped hat and gloves for myself with it, I think. The colors go together so well.

This almost rust-colored yarn with a purple tint was interesting. Another offering from Cherry Tree Hill, it's got a great springy, stretchy quality.

Finally, another skein from the MacKintosh line, with the delightfully evocative name of "well water." I love blue yarns and this might be the nicest I've ever found.

Inspired by my trip, I decided to experiment with roving. Roving is wool taken from the sheep, washed, and gently combed. Torn into small pieces, it can be knit into mittens or socks with a method called "thrumming."

I was pleasantly surprised by how easy thrumming is. I took 1 1/2 inch pieces of roving and rolled them slightly to make them more compact. Then I knit the cuff of my sock and a few rows of stockinette. When I was ready to insert a thrum, I simply laid the sock yarn over the needle as if I were knitting it, and then folded the thrum on top. Then I knit both at the same time. Easy!
The thrums made attractive "v"s in the sock fabric.

The roving is so soft. Can you imagine how warm and soft it would be to put your foot into a sock lined with roving?

I love it!

Unfortunately, no time for cooking this week. In my quest to simplify my life and pare down my belongings, I've gotten rid of 25 garbage bags of clothes and 15 Rubbermaid tubs full of "stuff." It's hot, sweaty work and I haven't cooked anything in a week...unless you count boiling water for pasta! Even as I type, I'm conscious of the work that's waiting for me when I finish. I'm looking forward to the cool autumn days when the house is clean and organized and I can, guilt free, curl up with a good book after a hot bath. Just another month!

Enjoy your week!