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?

 

 

 

Hello July: Culebra Shawlette and Bee Books

It’s July! The garden is blooming, it’s a wonderful time to hit the great outdoors, and the warm afternoons are prime knitting and reading windows of opportunity. I have been spending the this week working on a fun shawlette from Bijou Basin called Culebra.

Tibetan Dream Yarn.
I loved this yarn when I first found it at the Interweave Yarn Fest. It’s 85% Yak and 15% Nylon. 
Shawl
As soon as I wound the yarn my enthusiasm waned a little. It didn’t look very nice anymore. Once I started knitting it I was in love with the yarn again. I had to cast on three times to get the correct number of stitches (long tail cast-on issue; somehow I never learn…) and the yarn really bloomed and softened as I worked with it.
Lace Close-up
Here’s a close-up of the lace design on the shawl. Fun, huh. The yarn is Tibetan Dream yarn by Bijou Basin. Here’s my project notes on Ravelry.

I finally finished the lace portion of the shawl this afternoon and now the rest will be garter stitch short rows from the middle of the shawl out which will create a shallow crescent shape. The shawl is knitted from the lace edge up towards the top. Lots of stitches to cast on, but then the knitting was easy. Now that I am out of the lace I am definitely in the knitting home stretch on this one.

My garden is blooming and looking much better than it did a couple of weeks ago, but it is absolutely lacking in humming. I haven’t seen very many bees hanging around even though I have lots of flowers that they like. Look at what is happening in my strawberry patch:

Strawberry plants
See all those luscious baby strawberries? Right. Neither do I. These plants have bloomed like crazy, but no berries. Dang it!

I miss the bees this year. I used to show a NOVA video to my biology classes about bees that they really liked a lot called Tales from the Hive. Bees are just amazing; a few years ago I entered a drawing for a bee hive for my classroom and was just crushed when I didn’t win. (Sounds strange, but this is a thing. The hive would have been set up in my room’s greenhouse and the bees would have traveled outside through a Plexiglas tube.) Years ago I had a bumblebee nest in the garden and they were the cutest things… Ok, there was one little incident with the cat, but other then that it was all peaceful. 🙂

Bee Books! I am behind in my reading resolution for the year. It’s the first of July, and I am now on book #44. I should be done with book #50, so I need to pick up the pace a little. As it turns out I have a stash of books (almost as big as the yarn stash) that includes a number of titles that involve bees. Hey. That’s the ticket. I’ll read bee books. Here’s the list.

A Sting in the Tale
This is the book that I’m reading right now. It’s about bumblebees. the kind of bee that used to live in an underground nest in my garden.  I hadn’t really thought about them as being different from honey bees, but they are.

The other books in my little stack are:

This is actually an eclectic mix of genres in this little collection of bee books. Some are informative non-fiction books, one is a mystery, a couple look to be great little novels. Perfect reading for the high days of summer.

 

FO Friday: June Socks, Joker Shawl and Roses!

I’ve been working out in the garden all week except for when the afternoon thunderstorms roll in. Then it is knitting time! I worked on the June 2015 socks all week and got them done yesterday with a few days to spare.

Socks
Ta-daa!!. These are the Petal Socks by Rachel Coopey. Here are the project notes on Ravelry. 
Sock Feet
The colorway of this yarn is called “Thunder”. That turned out to be really appropriate as I knitted the socks to the sounds of thunder, rain, and even the tornado sirens one afternoon. 

I am really happy with these socks. The pattern come with complete charts for three different sizes. I made the medium size (66 stitches on size 1.5 needles) and they fit really well (which is something that I always worry a little about in a lace sock). I used double pointed needles in the leg portion of the sock, but switched to two 16″ cable needles as soon as the sock divided to make the heel and that made the lace panel on the top of the foot much easier to manage. The yarn (Becoming Art Cielo) was kind of elastic which I think helped.

I’ve also been making some progress on my second Joker and the Thief shawl. I was not happy with the colors at one point, but I am liking it a little more now that the color pattern is easier to see.

Shawl
It is about at the halfway point now. That bright blue doesn’t stand out that much in the actual shawl. 🙂

Look what happened in the garden with all of the rain this week!  My Princess Alexandra of Kent rose is blooming! I just love this one.

Rose
This rose sometimes struggles in the dry air of Colorado, but not this year!

That it for the week. The clouds are really rolling in again for our afternoon soaking, so I think it’s time for me to fire up the knitting needles for the afternoon. Orange is the New Black, here I come!

Return to the Garden: Hello Slugs, I’m Back!!

Summer heat has arrived, I’m feeling better, and it is definitely past time to attend to the needs of the garden. Yesterday I weeded out front in the shade of the morning and then mowed that lawn in the evening (well, I actually mowed only half of the lawn. A neighbor then arrived and took the mower away from me to finish things up. I love my neighbors!!) Look at what has been happening out front while I was engaged in an indoor scleroderma-induced slug-fest.

Rose Bush.
My new roses (Hot Cocoa) that I planted a couple of months ago burst into bloom!
Roses
This is what the blooms look like as they open. I bought these roses as they are recommended for my location (Colorado, USA) even though I wasn’t completely sure about the color. I’m really pleased with the dusty orange color now.. Look how healthy those leaves look! Let’s hope the grasshoppers don’t notice…
Ice Plant in Bloom.
The ice plant that I planted along the front walk has also gone into overdrive.  The color made me so happy I didn’t even mind pulling the weeds!

This morning I moved into the back yard with the cats to see what I could accomplish in a couple hours of coolness and shade before the afternoon heats up. Oh dear, it is somewhat of a jungle, and the cats have been running wild.

Cat in Grass.
Guess I need to mow this lawn too. See how intently MacKenzie is looking upward? He’s watching the squirrel the cats had treed earlier this morning after chasing it all over the yard.
Cat nesting in plants.
Yellow Boy has been busy building nests in several locations in the yard and the garden.
Cat in Yarrow.
The yarrow he’s nesting in is all over the garden and I need to rip most of it out. He was so cute I just let him have it today. Wait a minute… I think yarrow can be used to dye wool. Maybe I shouldn’t rip this out yet…
Pincushion flower
My pincushion plants have spread like crazy and the blooms are looking good! Please ignore the grass in the photo. That’s what I did and I feel much better for it. 🙂
Napping Cat
MacKenzie has also staked out a nice shady location to nap in near the cat mint. He is my good boy: he’s sleeping on dirt and not in the middle of a plant.  🙂

Things are looking much better than I thought they would. I weeded like crazy, filled up two garbage sacks, and then planted some new flower seeds in one garden where a rose died over the winter. By then the day was heating up and I was starting to feel a little dizzy again. Time to head back into the house to rest up for afternoon knitting and lawn mowing later.

The best part of the morning? I didn’t see a single slug!!