Outdoor operations

The weather has really warmed up and stabilized this week; sun, heat and no thunderstorms; just what I needed to make my aching muscles and joints behave themselves. This week has been a good one and I took to the backyard for most of the afternoons. There’s a lot that can be accomplished outside. Let me take you on a little tour of my days.

That's right!
MacKenzie: when she says that she took operations outside what she really means is that I was forced to share the swinging garden chair with her. Does she not understand, June is for cats?!!

The shade of my locust tree covers the lawn swing and a couple of the gardens. What could be better for a person with a latte and an incredibly good book?

The City of MIrrors
The aforementioned book…

I’ve been consumed with the Justin Cronin novel, The City of Mirrors. Oh, my goodness. What a well-written, tightly-crafted book to spend the summer afternoons with. I read the first two books in this series and I wasn’t completely sure that I wanted to dive into a book of over 700 pages to learn the fate of mankind in their battle against the Zombie apocalypse, but the reviews made me take the leap and I pushed the “buy” button on my NOOK. Good decision. I keep highlighting passages that are just so wonderful I want to savor them later. I usually race through good books but this is one that I am stretching out so the experience will continue. The perfect June book.

After an hour of reading the knitting begins. Check out my progress on the Solaris shawl (by Melanie Berg).

 

Shawl
I’ve gotten through the first two color inserts in the shawl. To get a different color in the short row section I pulled off some yarn until I was at a new section. Fast, easy, simple.
Colors in ball of yarn
and I still have some great (crazy) colors in the ball to use. Project details are here.

I’ve also taken some weeding breaks. The little roses in my tea rose garden are now blooming, and I have gotten the weeds pulled out of another couple of patches. There are a lot of weeds, but everything is getting ready to bloom so I’m pretty motivated to keep at it.

Rose
The bloom on this tea rose is just great; really big for such a small plant.  This was one of those little roses that are sold at the grocery store. I put them out in the garden when they look a little worn out and they winter just fine here in the Denver area.
Mess
Here was today’s project. Do you see the rose plant in there?
Rose
Oh, there it is!!

Towards the late afternoon as things really warm up I water the flowers and gardens and head inside for food, the news and more knitting (bet that was a shock, huh!) Even the cats are ready to come in by that point. OK, they get kitty treats for coming in, but they would probably come in anyway… especially since I just watered all of their favorite plant nests. 🙂

Outdoor operations have ended for the day.

Tomorrow I am going to attack another garden!

Have a great weekend everyone!!

 

MacKenzie Speaks: The First Week of June

 

Cat
Hi. I’m MacKenzie. The Mother of Cats has spent the day reading a book, so I’ve taken over here to share the week with you.
Living Room
She has been cleaning this week. Crazy. She kept muttering about cat hair, vacuuming, the importance of guarding against wool moths… Impossible to understand! Yellow Boy is very upset because the furniture got moved around…
MacKenzie Waiting for Blanket
and she even washed my cat blanket. Sigh. It took forever for it to dry. I know. I counted.
Flowers
She hung out new flowers on the deck…
Quilt and socks
and sewed a quilt top with roses on it. It’s OK, I guess; the green highlights my eyes. Instead of quilting it, though, she stopped and made matching bed socks.  I don’t know why she stopped quilting. I only messed with the machine a FEW times…
Cat stink eye
She said I was exhausting her. Hey. She washed my blanket. I need to lay on something!!
Cat at door
All the neighborhood children are out of school now and playing out front. She, however, won’t let me go out to play with them.
Cat asking nicely to go out.
I even asked nicely!!
MacKenzie in Cat Mint
Thank heavens I get to play in the backyard. The catmint is coming right along…
Cat in catmint
Sigh. I told Yellow Boy to stop doing that!!
Cat in grass
Well, that’s the week. Its nice and hot outside now, and the Mother of Cats is in the lawn chair reading her book and eating leftover Chinese take out. I’m in camouflage waiting for a moth. Or maybe a garter snake. If that darn squirrel comes down I’ll give him a chase that he won’t quickly forget…

June is for cats!

Notes from the Mother of Cats:

  • The socks are Om Shanti bedsocks by Alice yu.
  • The yarn is Crazy Zauberball in the colorway 2170_Blasser Schimmer
  • The quilt is a kit I found years ago at the Great Amrican Quilt Factory called “Leading Ladies”. Fast, simple, fun. Even with cats who help a little too much.
  • The book is The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin. All knitting activities are basically on hold while I finish this book.

Biology Brain

When I taught high school biology I had a sign over the door of my classroom that said “Biology is Life”. (I also had a poster with a picture of Charles Darwin and a caption that said “AP Biology: Adapt, Migrate or Die”, but that is another story…) Anyway, I thought my sign over the door was cute. And true.

This week I finally took on the task of weeding out my flower beds and getting them ready for the new year. Really, a simple and somewhat rewarding task, but for me an afternoon of rich classroom memories and an endless rush of biological trivia. It was so much fun, in fact, I thought I’d take all of you on a short trip through my garden. Ready? Here we go!

Unweeded Garden
What a disaster! This garden has several little tea roses, a beautiful English rose, and some nice perennials. Ugh. Mostly I see dandelions
Flower and Bee
Clever camera: it focused on the grass instead of the flower. (and my biology brain reminds me that the grass is a monocot and the dandelion is a dicot. Thanks bio buddy…) Oh, well. You can still make out the bee in the flower, can’t you? We think of dandelions as pests in our gardens (well, I do!), but they are actually early blooming plants and an important source of food for bees and 
Ladybug
my personal favorite (after bumblebees) the ladybug. Later on the youngsters from this beetle will help keep my aphid population on the roses under control, so that makes dandelions a good thing,
Dandelion Puff
I know that they are good for the wildlife, but I still have to get rid of these darn plants so my roses can shine. Look at this puffball of seeds (dandelions use wind as a dispersal strategy chants my brain… The seeds can survive up to 5 years and help the plant population survive fires…)
Dandelion root
and the root! I’ve been told that the root as also an adaptation to help the plant survive prairie fires. Don’t know about that one, but we all know we need to get the root out or the plant will come back. (That root is a tap root . Thanks biology brain…)
Pill Bug
Oh, wow. A pill bug! I love these guys. I would teach my AP Biology class how to make potato traps and assigned them the homework of catching 10 bugs over a weekend so they could design experiments using them in little choice chambers. The students learned how to design controlled experiments, drew conclusions about animal behavior, and the bugs had a fun outing and all the potato they could eat. It was fun, really. (Arthropods, crustaceans really, says the ever intrusive biology brain.) Over the years so many bugs were released in the flower beds at the front of the high school a robust population could be counted on to bail out any student team that forgot to do their homework.
Earthworms
Exactly the same type of thing happened at my house where yearly infusions of classroom earthworms established many happy garden occupants. (Annelids, says the brain. If you accidentally cut them with the shovel they will probably make it, but not as two new worms. ) My students loved to name and race their worms. If you put them in your hand you can feel the little bristles on their tummies (Setae! Thanks, brain.) The bristles anchor the worm as it pushes forward in the soil. Kind of like wax on cross country skies…
Rose Seeds
The English rose has a mature rose-hip with seeds in it. Look at these guys. I wonder if I can get them to sprout and grow. (…the seed is really a baby plant and the food it needs to grow. The food part of the seed is double fertilized so it has more copies of the roses’s chromosomes than the rose plant does. Roses, unlike humans, can have different chromosome numbers… shut up biology brain. Enough!!)
Finished Rose Garden
The weeding is done. You can actually see the rose plants OK now. They all came through the winter in good shape and are putting out new growth.  The largest rose is my Princess Alexandra of Kent rose, and it has started growing the first buds. All is looking good. Time to mulch, feed (plants need the elements in fertilizer to make more proteins and to copy the DNA in their cells so they can divide… yep, the brain is still going…) and get to work on the other jungles gardens.

Rich with life, details and memories, my gardens are once again growing.

Biology is life!!

Cold weather ready: socks and indoor plants

The October 2015 Socks are done!

October Socks
These are the Om Shanti Bed Socks by Alice Yu. That cool yarn is Serenity 20 by Zen Yarn Garden. They are extremely comfy and the snug little ankles keep them on my feet overnight. Perfect for the sleeper with cold feet. (Yep, that’s me. Thanks Raynaud’s!) Here are the project notes on Ravelry.

If you are interested in the history of these socks, here are the related posts:

I am almost caught up with the resolution socks; last night I shopped the stash to pick the yarn for the November Socks and am torn between two different patterns. Next week I’ll make the decision, wind the yarn and cast on. Here’s the problem: I found a wonderful blue yarn, but there is also this gold/purple/brown yarn that looks like the perfect color for November… The blue yarn works for the pattern I planned to knit, but the autumn colored yarn is so perfect that perhaps I should give it and a cute lace patterned sock a try… Maybe I should make two pairs of socks this month. 🙂

I worked like a maniac this week on the bed socks because it has suddenly become cold outside. We had a nice snowfall Thursday, and the last two nights have gone well below freezing. That was it; I had to bring some of the outdoor plants into the house for the winter. I went to the local Home Depot store and bought some plant grow lights for them, and with some care and rotation under the lights I hope to keep them going until next spring. Here’s the winners in the survive the winter plant lottery:

Pink daisy
The pink daisy-like plant moved into the bedroom by a window. Looks happy, doesn’t it.
Geranium
The geranium is also getting parked in front of the bedroom window where it will hopefully get enough light. I plan to let both plants visit the plant lights in my craft room a few days a week for a light boost.
Orchids and blooming plant
I pruned this plant back to about half its height and put it in front of the window in the craft room. The orchids have been doing pretty well in this location: both orchid plants bloomed for me last year. The (very cheap) wood shelf unit actually has three shelves; I bought clip-on grow lights that I can move around to give the plants light from different directions this winter to supplement the natural light.

I have more plants shoved onto the two shelves below this one but they are just too messy to show off right now. I need at least one more plant grow light to make things work, and the lower shelf plants still need to be pruned back. I’m pretty sure that the plants will drop a lot of leaves as they adjust to the lower light levels, but they should all make it and hopefully will manage to produce some winter blooms. One of the plants on the lower shelf is a rose bush that has survived indoors for three years in a row. I know he’ll make it! The pink flowering plants are also producing a lot of scent which makes me just happy. It’s like having a little piece of summer all year long.

All right winter, bring it on. I am ready!!

Gardening for Cats and Bees

I just finished reading my first “Bee” book, A Sting in the Tale by Dave Goulson. This book was a quick friendly read about bumblebee biology, ecology, and the efforts to build habitat in the United Kingdom that will support and grow wild bumblebee populations. One of the techniques that the researchers in the book utilized to detect bumblebees was to have observers sit in their garden (or some other location) for 20 minutes to tally the number of bees they saw.

I’ve been a little sad over the absence of a strawberry crop this year, and I thought that it was due to a lack of bees. As I read the book, however, I realized that many of the bees that I have seen in the past were actually bumblebees. I plant a lot of  flowers that should be attracting bees, too. Late yesterday afternoon I headed out to the garden for 20 minutes with my camera to see what was actually going on out there.

Bee
Well look at that! There is steady bee traffic to some of the plants in the garden. All those hairs on the abdomen of the bee is the tip off that this is a bumblebee. Aren’t those red bands on the bee cute?

A little search of the internet led me to believe that this is a Bobmus huntii bee. The bees were really targeting purple flowers yesterday afternoon. I saw them on the lavender, this catmint plant, and on the pincushion flowers. I don’t know why my strawberry plants were a flop this year, but maybe is was due to a very wet and cold spring that made it hard for bees to get to them. I learned that bumblebees struggle in those conditions as they need to maintain enough heat to work their flight muscles. Who knew?!

As I was sitting out with the bees and the flowers I realized that while I have a lot of plantings that attract wildlife, I have actually made my yard and garden into a habitat for cats. Check out what I’ve done for them.

Cat in catmint plant.
As you can imagine, the catmint is a big favorite with the cats. The plant is really hardy, doesn’t need a lot of water and tolerates cats building nests inside of them. Yellow Boy sleeps inside this nest with the bumblebees buzzing over his head.
Uncut grass under the tree.
I leave a little circle of grass and plants around the base of one of my trees as the cats like to sleep in the tall grass. Easy solution to cats needing shade in the summer sun. One year a visiting cousin cut all the grass thinking that she was doing me a big favor. Sigh…
Cat in grass.
The grass nest is a big hit with MacKenzie.
Cat water dish.
I bought a nice saucer for large pots at the nursery and now it is a source of water for summer kitties. I hose it out and put in fresh water each morning. 
Lavender and invisible fence wire.
This lavender draws a lot of bees. Behind the plant attached to the fence you can see a wire. The wire is part of the invisible fence system that I put up to train the cats to not jump out of the yard. They trained really quickly and I haven’t activated the fence for the last 3 years. The bricks at the bottom of the fence are plugging small gaps.

Squirrels use the yard constantly and provide the cats with some quality exercise as they chase them, but I no longer put out food for squirrels. They have been raiding a neighbor’s trash and burying stuff in my planters, so they get little else from me. I used to have a bird feeder and nesting boxes in the yard, and I really liked the birdsong and the activity was hours of entertainment for the cats (who really never managed to catch anything, but they loved to try!). I discovered that the birds also attracted other cats (AKA enemy cats!!) so I had to stop putting out food. Even an invisible fence will not keep a cat in the yard who chasing out an invader!

Now my cats think they are dogs. They make me get up in the morning to let them out, mill around the door carrying on as soon as I come home, and are happy to go in and out all day through a cat door.  They come running in from the yard when I shake the kitty treat bag, and stay in all night (asleep!) like good boys.  I can do cat-free crafting activities during the day (like warping my loom) while they happily doze outside dreaming of bugs and garter snakes. By making the yard an appealing habitat for my kitties they stay put and are safe outside.

Crazy cat-gardening lady, huh! Some of my friends think it is strange to let my animals tunnel thought plantings, but they are just a part of my overall scheme. After reading Dave Goulson’s book I also realized that this isn’t just a backyard; it is also important habitat for wildlife in the city. I will be putting in more plants with an eye to supporting bumblebees (who evidently are critical to the pollination of strawberries and tomato plants!). Later this summer my butterfly plants should get going and there will be hummingbirds and butterflies for kitty entertainment. Everyone wins!

I wonder what other people are planting for cats?