Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Playing Possum

We have a lot to do in preparation for our move. One project I'd been putting off was clearing out all the plastic gardening flats and empty pots and pails that I stored by the back door. A happy catch-all for general debris, it had become a bit unsightly and ragged, and might be off-putting to a potential buyer. Using oversize kitchen tongs (the perfect tool for avoiding hand-to-claw contact with rogue mantises), I lifted flat after flat into a large bag for future recycling. Upon lifting the final flat, I discovered this little guy. Proving that one man's trash is another's treasure, he'd made a comfortable nest amid my castoffs.

He didn't seem surprised by my intrusion. He gave me a woeful look that reminded me of the sorrowful droop of a hound. Oh, you found me. Sigh...

He waddled into a piece of plastic pipe and waited patiently for me to leave.

Wild animals nesting within 2 feet of a back door are not desirable for home buyers. I gently shook the plastic pipe to see if I could rouse him, but he just pushed further into the corner and quivered pathetically.

I did some quick research. Opossums (Didelphimorphia) are solitary creatures who scavenge for insects, fruit, and carrion. They are gentle, quiet creatures who either "play possum" (feign death) to avoid danger, or hiss. They don't attack people, and they really do a good service as the resident marsupial garbage men. Possums don't carry rabies...their internal body temperature is too low to support the virus. I decided not to call Animal Control.

I left home alone for a few hours, and he waddled away.

This morning, I found a bit of scat by a large brush pile out back, where I thought he'd relocate to from the back steps. Round scat is typical of herbivores, so it did not belong to my possum friend...

According to the Internet, it was from a rabbit...or an elk (!).

Also trying to avoid detection around the house: more chrysalides! This one belongs to the common buckeye:

As seen here:

I found many more. This chrysalis is attached to the concrete foundation of our house.

Another buckeye chrysalis on the back fence:

And, another mystery chrysalis on the concrete foundation in the back of the house:

Once the butterfly is free of the chrysalis, it will rest nearby and "harden" its wings in preparation for flight.

Hoping for adequate camouflage is this Chinese Mantis. She's a female who's been very active in the yard this season.

I've found several ootheca, or egg cases, attached to walls and fences. Each case contains around 200 mantids, which will hatch out in the spring after several weeks of warm weather.

Here's one from last year, hatched open.

A male mantis (much smaller than the female) has taken refuge in one of my zinnia patches. He hung quietly from a blossom until an unlucky bee landed too close. He was snatched up in a second.

Mantises will eat any insect, even bees!

Are you still there?

I noticed a scattering of strange debris on a sunflower leaf.

Closer inspection showed it to be an incredible gathering of leaf hoppers!

They come in an amazing variety of shapes and colors. These are strangely rhino-like.

As I watched, I realized that they were being herded and groomed by a group of ants! Further research proved this to be the case. Leafhoppers and ants enjoy a symbiotic relationship. The leafhoppers secrete a sugary substance called honeydew, which is very sweet. Meat ants adore this, and therefore guard and groom the leafhoppers in exchange for it. Here an ant begins the grooming process:

...while another ant checks for secretions.

I've been knitting feverishly this weekend to combat the stress that comes with our current uncertain situation. The socks that began here:

...were quickly completed by last night. The pattern is "I Heart Toe Up Socks" by Wendy Johnson...my first pair of toe up socks!

I don't like the fiddly nature of the toe, but I enjoy the rest of the sock, and its curious construction means skipping other steps inherent in cuff down socks, like picking up and knitting stitches around to create the gusset. With toe up socks, it's done with a series of increases. I was pleased with the result, but quickly discovered that I'd knit the cuffs too tight. They wouldn't even fit over my heel. Unfortunately, the cast off must be frogged and re-knit, using a different method. I've chosen Jeny's Suprisingly Stretchy Bind-Off, which creates a hinge at the sock ribbing. I will put it off for a bit, though. I'm a project knitter, which means that while I greatly enjoy the process of knitting an item, I feel "done" once it's completed and am already mentally on my next project. Having to go back to a finished project for tweaking is unpleasant for me.

Recently I discovered a new delight: Greek yogurt. I love the thick texture and the wonderfully tangy tart flavor. It's perfect paired with honey. However, I was less thrilled with the price: almost $2.50 for a single-serving carton! I decided to find a way to make it myself.

Happily, making Greek yogurt is incredibly easy. You just need regular yogurt, cheesecloth, and a strainer. I bought a large container of Stoneyfield Farms organic French Vanilla yogurt. After carefully placing 4 layers of cheesecloth in my strainer, I emptied the yogurt inside and slid a plastic dish beneath to catch the whey.

The whey began to drip down almost immediately. I covered it with a piece of cellophane and let it sit in the refrigerator from 8 - 12 hours...

...discarded the whey, and spooned the thick, delicious yogurt into a new container for storage. I spoon it out a bit at a time, with a generous portion of honey on top...it's my new favorite dessert!

I get 4 - 5 servings out of this $4 container of yogurt, which translates to around .80 per serving, instead of $2.50. Success!

Try it...I know you'll like it.

Have a great week!

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