Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Beetle Mania

Under the watchful eyes of the cats, things are happening in the garden.

The zinnias are beginning to open up. Yellow, pink, white, red, maroon, and orange...zinnias come in an amazing array of colors and are drought-resistant. Perfect for a hot, dry spot in your garden. Bees and hummingbirds love them!

A sprawling, segmented weed that sometimes grows under my lilac bushes, the asiatic dayflower (Commelina communis), produces this pretty blue flower. It's an invasive weed here, but in Japan the blue petals are used to make dye, and in China it's prized for its antibacterial qualities. It's frequently used to treat sore throats, as a diuretic, and as an anti-fungal treatment.

A type of wild onion joins the dayflower there in the shade.

My bee balm is just starting to bloom. Bee balm is not only for bees and hummingbirds, though. It provides shelter for other insects, like this lightning bug.

My herbs are ready for harvest. Sage, parsley, thyme, and dill...yum! I just picked a big bunch of parsley and dill, diced it, and added it to a mustard sauce. I then coated roasted potatoes with it for extra zip. Delicious!

Frequent rains have caused the growth of various types of small mushrooms in the yard. These are a type of Psathyrella canolleana. What causes mushrooms to grow in yards? Mushroom spores are typically spread by wind. The fungus 'roots' and eats decomposing roots and other bits. The mushroom you see is the 'fruit' of the mushroom fungus. It contains the spores that are waiting to be spread to continue its cycle of life.

My tiny snapdragons are finally growing...

...and my Russian Sage is getting tiny, furry purple blossoms at last.

This robin is hunting for a tasty worm. He lunges forward...

...grasps the worm...

...and has a nutritious meal in no time!

A few of these shy green cricket-like insects are out and about now. Their abdomens remind me of light-colored cucumbers.

Don't be fooled by this fly. He looks very similar to a bee, which sometimes fools birds that would otherwise be tempted to eat him.

From the back, especially, it is easy to see that this is a very successful trick!

The Japanese beetles are back! This year, thankfully, I've only seen two so far. They are beautiful but incredibly destructive!

I was surprised to see that this ladybug-lookalike is in fact an Asian beetle and not a ladybug at all. These are the types of 'ladybug lookalikes' that infest houses and buildings in the fall of the year. Like ladybugs, though, they do eat aphids and other garden pests.

This Asian beetle is poised for flight. Asian beetles (and ladybugs, too!) have a hard outer covering called an elytra.

When it's ready to fly, it opens up its elytra to reveal the second set of wings, the alae.

The alae can move up to a hundred times per second, in all directions. It can propel the Asian beetle forward very quickly.

During our recent rainy days when I couldn't work in the garden, I focused on a house project. Our third bedroom was deemed a 'bonus room' when we briefly listed our house for sale last year, because it lacked a closet. Todd recently built a closet, and I decorated it to show people that although it's a bit small, it would make a nice nursery or child's room. I bought some lovely paint that reminded me of pale sea glass. Regrettably, I didn't test the paint against the color card before painting, and the resulting room looked like it had been painted with my minty Crest toothpaste instead of my sea glass-colored paint. I decided against repainting it. I would have to find ways to make the color work. I remembered my mint-colored sock yarn and had an idea. I knit up five or six teeny tiny socks.

People sometimes knit these up for Christmas ornaments. They're quick and easy to make.

Completed, they fit easily into the palm of your hand. They're quite charming!

For .99 at Goodwill, I found a type of accordion-style wall shelf. I tied the little socks to the hangers. The mint of the socks is not exactly the same color as the walls, but close enough.

I think it was a successful experiment!

Even though it's summer, and strawberries are ripe, and blackberries, and blueberries...I had a craving for a different type of dessert. A fall dessert. One of my favorites.

I posted another apple crisp recipe last year, but this is its perfected form, pulled from bits and pieces of other recipes and refined.

My Favorite Apple Crisp

6 apples, peeled and diced (any kind!)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon vanilla
a dash of cardamom, if you've got it (optional)

1/3 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup oatmeal
3/4 stick butter, cold, sliced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 inch pie pan (or an 8 x 8 baking dish) Mix filling ingredients together and place in pie pan.

Mix all topping ingredients but the butter together, and then cut in butter until mixture is crumbly and butter bits are smaller than pea-sized. Sprinkle on apples and bake for 25 - 35 minutes.

This is SO GOOD! You could make it healthier, of course, by decreasing the brown sugar to 1/2 cup and decreasing the butter to 1/2 stick. I don't think you'd lose too much flavor. But if you can...go whole hog.


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