Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sadness :(

This morning I woke up to find my caterpillar/butterfly habitat torn up by what I believe was mice.  They chewed multiple large holes in the screen and ate all the chrysalis that were in it.  I had about 30 just waiting to become butterflies and now they are all gone.  Of course to make matters worse, once the mice opened the habitat, the wasps took full advantage and killed all the caterpillars I was feeding.  Sob!!  Now that the mice know how to get to the chrysalis I can't continue saving the caterpillars until I figure out another way to keep the mice from ruining the habitat.  The screening I used was good for keeping out wasps and lizards but is no match for mice.  Back to the drawing board I guess.   :(

Monday, August 4, 2014

A nice cool front to get the fall garden going

The last couple days we've had some major thunderstorms which have brought a bit of a cool front in (if you can call 80 degrees cool).  Its helping me get in the mood to start my fall garden.  I had planned to start a little earlier but the heat was too unbearable to spend any time outside other than sitting in the pool.
Yesterday I found a huge wasp nest under the eaves of the house where some screening had been torn.  I went after it with 3 cans of wasp spray.  I was trying to use the Spectracide wasp spray which said on the can that it would go up to 27 feet.  I stood not more than 6 feet from the nest.  The first can didn't have much in it and ran out but got a lot of the nest although it definitely could not spray very far, the second can spray nozzle leaked all over my hands while I was trying to use it and the third can barely sprayed out at most 3 feet when the wind caught it and blew the spray back into my face.  Arrrrgh!  There is no way this stuff could go 27 feet!  Oh well....decided to pass the task on to my husband and informed him that he should consider buying some other brand so that it hopefully will spray further.  He went after it this past weekend and there's been a noticeable difference in the amount of wasps attacking the caterpillars now.  I guess we got the offending nest. Yay!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Beaver on the Bayou

One thing I never expected to see is a beaver on the bayou that backs up to our property.  For those familiar with Houston we back up to Buffalo Bayou. This guy is just the cutest thing.  We haven't seen his dam but believe its a little ways up the bayou in a stream next to our neighbors house. I'm not sure if its got a mate.  Seems to be an unlikely place to be looking for one.  I just can't figure out how it ended up here but I'm glad it did.  
Beaver cleaning his food

Beaver swimming with cut branch

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Busy, busy butterflies!

This year has been a booming year for the monarchs in my yard.  I've been releasing them by the dozens.  Here's a pic of one of the day's hatching:

I've added a couple more milkweed beds and the monarchs have been laying eggs like crazy.  This little white dot is a monarch egg.

I've tried taking the leaves with eggs and putting them in my habitat but they don't seem to hatch once the leaf is taken off the plant.  So I go out and look for the just hatched caterpillars and put them in the habitat. These are ones I found just this morning:

If I don't get to them early enough the wasps destroy them.  This is a caterpillar that was attacked by a wasp.

There are other bugs that love the milkweed too.  Aphids are a real problem as the sugar ants actually deposit them on the plant, care for them, and eat the sugary residue from the aphids.  Aphids are also called 'ant cows' and you can see why.  These ants are 'milking' the aphids they deposited onto the milkweed.

But along with the aphids are other predators of the aphids to even things out.  I leave the aphids on the plants because it brings ladybugs to my flower beds.  If there's enough food for them and the aphids are plentiful, they will lay eggs on the plants and the ladybugs and their larvae will eat them all up.  They are my organic pesticide! This shows a ladybug under the leaf and the larvae on top of the leaf eating the aphids.  The orange and black larvae look like bad guys but they have ferocious appetites and are always welcome in my garden!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Honey + Figs = Fig Preserves! Yumm....

We moved into our house about 12 years ago and one of the nice surprises was that we have a very old fig tree growing by the side of our house.  This tree must be at least 40 years old or more since they grow very slowly.

Over the years I've figured out when to harvest the figs from this tree so that I can beat the birds and squirrels to them.  This year we had a great harvest and the figs were amazing.  Since I just finished bottling my honey and there was no way we could eat so many figs before they spoiled, I decided to use the fresh honey to make fig preserves this year.  It's the first time I've made preserves so wasn't sure how they would turn out.  Well to make a long story short, they turned out awesome!

I only had enough figs to make three jars but its amazing!  I will definitely be doing this again next year.  Fig preserves on a cracker with goat cheese and some red wine......Fabulous!!

Yay! Honey!!!

Hello again, it's been awhile since I wrote in my blog.  I was lucky enough to get to spend some time in Berlin and Prague and also some time with my family in Florida but that another blog altogether.  I've just finished harvesting the honey from my bees.  My girls did such a good job this year.  They provided 7 frames of citrus blossom honey for me to harvest.  Here's a sample of the jars that I've filled so far.  Yummm!

Here's my girls at work:

I have to say that I really enjoy beekeeping.  Its really very low maintenance and I love watching the bees.  They are such fascinating little creatures.  I'll just sit on the side and watch them do their little dances.  

I checked the hive yesterday again and found that the super I harvested is already full of honey again and its only been a little over a month since I harvested the last set of frames.   I put another super on to give them more room to store honey and will do another harvest in about a month.

You might be wondering what some of these terms are like 'super' and 'frames'.  Here's a picture of my hive:
The two bottom boxes that are painted white and yellow are the brood boxes.  That's where the queen and workers raise more bees.  The smaller blue box and spotted box on top are the supers.  That's where they store the honey and where I harvest it.  I put frames in the boxes for them to use as a foundation.  Fresh frames look like this.:
With this frame the bees have to work to build out the comb.  Whenever possible I try to furnish my girls with frames of comb that they have already built so that they can use their time in filling the comb with honey instead of spending time building out the comb from a fresh frame.  I take the frames that I have harvested honey from and put them back in the hive.  I have found that I can only put their own comb into a hive as they do not like comb from other hives. 

Here's a picture of a frame that has built out comb from a previous hive I had
Here's a close up of the comb.  You can see how much work goes into building the comb before the bees can even start filling it with honey.  This is why I try to give them their old comb back once I have harvested the honey from it.  It saves them time and it gives me more honey!!

Friday, May 16, 2014

A woodpecker nest!

So its been awhile since I've written on my blog.  All kinds of strange things have occurred so I may have to split this into a few separate issues.

Let's see....after that storm that I wrote about earlier, I had a crew come out to cut down the remaining branch in the oak tree.  Since they were here I figured I'd have them cut a couple more dead trees down too.  Later in the day after my husband got home, we walked out to where the trees were cut and to my surprise found a woodpecker nest had been in one of the trees and the men cut around it and set the nest on the stump that was left.
I was so mad that they didn't notify me that there was a nest in the tree!!!! They obviously saw the nest!!  Instead of calling me and letting me make the decision of whether to cut it down or not, they just cut it anyway!  It still makes me angry to think about it.  I would have had them stop cutting and let the momma woodpecker hatch and care for the babies first before cutting down the tree.  What fun that would have been to know that they were up there!  The tree was not endangering anything and could have stayed there for as long as needed.  Obviously I will not be using that company again!  Anyway I enlisted my husband to try to get the nest back up into a nearby tree hoping that mamma woodpecker would come back.  Here's what it looks like now.
I'm hoping she'll come back but I doubt she will.  I feel better though for doing all I could after unknowingly having idiots ruin her nest.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Can't beat this almost feels like California!

Wow, I love days like today.  Sunny, warm with a cool breeze and no humidity.  Its a rare day in Houston when we have days of low humidity.

Today our first monarch butterfly hatched in my monarch cage.  Here's a picture of the chrysalis about 30 mins before she hatched and after she hatched. What a pretty girl!

What the chrysalis looked like when we found it
Before  hatching
I usually catch the caterpillars and put them in the cage to hatch but this chrysalis is one that my husband found while trimming the palm trees in the back yard.  We had thrown all the fronds on the ground and as he was picking them up to throw away, he found this little girl.  I have no idea how he managed to see it with all the vegetation we were throwing away but I'm glad he did!  I still have two more in the cage that should be hatching in the next few days.

I spoke to the Droll Yankee customer service and found out that a raccoon hanging from the bird feeder  (see my raccoon blog) could actually burn out the motor and battery. Hmmmm, who knew!  I suspect the raccoons in my yard are a bit chubbier than usual too considering all the bird food we go through.  We are going to do a little test...They are sending me a new battery and I'm going to take the bird feeder down every night to see if the charge lasts longer than a day.  If the charge doesn't last then the batteries are defective, if it does then the raccoons are defective...

I'm betting on the coons.

So I decided to give Lucy another chance.  I read on the web that her leg paralysis could be from a vitamin deficiency so I'm giving her liquid baby vitamins every day.  I hope she gets better soon!  Considering her disability she still gets around pretty well and is still as bossy as ever.
Miss Lucy hanging in the house
Two expert beggars, Lucy and Angel 

I went out yesterday to check on the veggie garden. Well actually I go out everyday, multiple times a day, to check on the veggie garden but that shows how obsessed I am with it. Signs of mental instability me thinks. ;)  
Anyway, it's really doing well (although I don't know how couldn't be doing well considering my obsession.)

So well in fact that one of the tomato plants has gotten too heavy for the regular tomato cage and it wouldn't hold it up anymore.  So I brought over one of my heavy duty ones to put around it.  Of course I had to do this by myself since I am not one to wait for when someone might be around to help me. :/  To do this I had to try to hold up the plant with one hand, and wrap the cage around it with the other while keeping the other plants out with my foot.  A figured this was a practical use for my yoga however I ended up losing my balance and landing on my kale plant or should I say what used to be my kale plant.  It got harvested a bit sooner than necessary.

Life sure is interesting!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Its never boring around here....goodbye Baby rabbit! raccoons? MORE peahens?

Life is definitely not boring around here!

An update on the baby rabbit we found...we let it go that evening and it disappeared into the bushes.  I would have loved to keep it but keeping a wild animal just didn't seem like the right thing to do and it seemed to be OK.  It moved around after we put it in our tank so was just frightened by all the noise and commotion when we found it.  Once the yard men, peacocks, chickens and dog was put away we let it go.  Hopefully it is doing ok now.

Lately we've been having a bit of a problem with keeping bird food in the bird feeder.  We have a Droll Yankee flipper that usually does a good job of keeping the squirrels off our feeder.  Its battery powered and the perch spins when a squirrel tries to get to it (which is quite entertaining to watch too!). It usually lasts quite awhile before we have to recharge the battery.  Lately though its been dead after one day.  I've been complaining to the company that they have been sending me defective batteries. In fact, I got fed up with it and bought a different type but now I think I know what has happened.

Yep, we saw a couple raccoons hanging on the feeder when was dark a couple days ago but yesterday this guy decided he was too hungry to wait for dark and came out in broad daylight!!  I don't think the spinning bird feeder expected to have to handle the weight of a couple of raccoons!  I'm ok with them eating the bird food but will have to get rid of them if they happen to find the fish pond I have by the front door or they cause problems with my chickens and peafowl.

Speaking of peafowl, when I walked out back today I found 4 peahen instead of two on my back porch.  I had to look twice because they look so much like my girls.  One had a white chest like Curly but had a bit more tan underneath and the other was a chubby version of Larry.  Both had been around people because they were not afraid of me at all and they were definitely BFF's since they stayed pretty close to each other all the time.

Unfortunately though, these two kept following my Curly peahen around which seemed to annoy Curly to no end.  That's Curly in front of the other two following her and Mr Blue showing off in back.

With Curly being in a such a foul mood (or should I say "fowl" mood ;-) ) she decided to take her frustrations out on the chickens by pecking them every chance she got.  Larry peahen, on the other hand, likes to hang with the chickens (that's her in the back keeping an eye on Pinkie and Goldie)

She actually started beating up the outsider peagirls ...Way to go, Larry!!
The chickens are totally confused with these two being here and Mr. Blue peacock just can't show off enough.  Now and then one of the girls will let Mr Blue have his way with her.  Yes, I have peacock porn going on in my backyard :p

More to come tomorrow!!!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A baby rabbit!!!! What a cutie!

So as my husband was sitting on the back porch having is morning ice tea and reading the paper, he notice some movement to the left and thought a mouse was running down our breezeway.  When he got up to investigate what it was it ended up being a baby rabbit that ran behind our wicker couch and caught the attention of our peahens.  Apparently the yard man frightened it out of its garden hiding spot.  

We figured it would run away if we got close but surprisingly it let me just walk up and pick it up.  I read that they often are frozen from fear so I am guessing that's what happened.   We have a fish tank in the house that used to hold a snake but is now empty (except for all the pine shavings left over from the snake) so we put him there for now until the yard men leave and we can let him go.  It's in a lot of danger from the host of predators we have around here including our chickens and peacocks who would have loved to play with it, but not in a good way.  

The good news and bad news in urban farming

The bad news.... the bee hive that was exposed from the storm has left the branch.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to find someone to cut down the branch soon enough to harvest the hive.  :(    They hung around for about 3 days then disappeared.  I'm hopeful that they found another tree to live in and didn't just die.   Also when I looked under the sheet where I had covered the limb on the ground it was full of wax moth larvae.   Yuck!!!  If you haven't see wax moth larvae just think of what maggots look like and triple the size.  Wax moths can destroy a hive in record time and they are disgusting.

The good news....The chickens had a feast feeding on the wax moth larvae.

The bad news....Lucy chicken is not getting any better.  She now barely walks at all and I think I'm going to have to be brave and put her down.  Extreme sadness for me....she is such a sweet chicken.  This has to be the part of owning animals that sometimes makes me think that it's just not worth it.  The pain when they die, no matter how, always hurts so bad.  You'd think with as many chickens as I've had that this wouldn't affect me much but it always does.

The good news....well all thats good about this is that Lucy will not longer be in pain anymore.

I love the smells of spring

I love this time of year when everything is in bloom.  Walking out my back door I'm hit with the sweet smell of star jasmine that covers 40 feet of trellis around my back deck.  I love that smell.  Further on is a magnolia tree blooming.  I love to cut a flower off that tree and bring that southern smell into the house.  As I continue through my yard I get the smell of ligustrum which brings back memories of growing up in Florida.  Its funny how smells bring back specific memories.  In the house I grew up there was a ligustrum bush growing under the window of my bedroom.  In the spring when the weather was beautiful we would leave the windows open and I would smell it all night.  That smell is so ingrained in those memories.  Earlier in the year as our citrus trees were blooming the smell reminded me of when I would drive from college at the Univ of South Fla in Tampa to my parents home in Orange Park, FL and I would drive through miles and miles of orange groves.  I would usually drive at night and, since I had no A/C in my car, I would have all the windows down and would breathe in that wonderful orange blossom smell.  Unfortunately many of those groves are no longer there but the smell always brings back those memories.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Wow! What a storm!

We had a huge storm here a couple days ago that blew down a 1 foot in diameter branch from one of our huge oak trees.  I walked out to look at it in the morning and could see why it fell.  The inside of the branch is rotted out and has been occupied by a large bee hive!  I felt so bad for them since half the hive is now on the ground and half is still on whats left of the branch on the tree about 50 ft up.  They are so confused.  I covered the hive on the ground with a sheet to try to keep predators out until my bee expert can get out here to take a look to see if they can be saved.  I'd love to keep them and put them into one of my hives but the branch is hard to get into.  I'm afraid we might end up having to use a chain saw to get it out and that might hurt the hive worse.  What a mess!  Oh and the branch took out half of my 50 yr old fig tree.  Bad news all around!

Pinkie started laying a couple days ago.  She is one confused chicken.   She's decided that her favorite spot to nest is in one of our open shed full of chicken wire, bee equipment, wheelbarrows, etc.  Not a great place for her to go.  When I shoo her out she just puts up such a fuss.  She's persistent though.  She goes back as soon as I leave.  Crazy chicken.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Planting, planting, planting!

Wow, the weather is beautiful today.  After a few days of overcast misty, rainy weather, it's nice to see the sun out again.  Don't get me wrong, I love the rainy days too and so do my plants.  I finished the veggie garden planting,  now just waiting for the results.  Meanwhile I'm busy planting lots of milkweed plants in my garden.  The bees and butterflies are already visiting and I haven't even gotten some of them in the ground yet.  My girls have really been enjoying the days also.  Lucy's leg is still lame unfortunately.  I'm not sure if she'll ever be better.  I have to say that she has figured out how to move pretty fast even with that leg.  In the evening when the other girls have gone into the coop to roost she will stay out with me knowing that I'll be picking her up and bringing her into the house to sleep in the chicken infirmary.  But she still doesn't like to be caught so I end up chasing her all around until I can finally catch her to bring her in.    Peeper is still expecting to come into the house daily to lay her egg.  She always makes her happy sounds when she goes up to her space.  Here's a video with the funny noises she makes when getting settled.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Come on weather....make up your mind!

I've been absent from my blog for a few days....too much to do, too little time!  On Friday, Lucy came out of the coop limping severely.  My poor baby girl.   Her and Roo do not get along and I suspect that he beat her up.  She's staying in my chicken infirmary (actually a cage in my kitchen) for now and I've had to learn how to give her antibiotics.  Shoving a syringe down a chickens throat is not an easy task.  A lot of patience is needed and I'm always scared that it will end up in her windpipe since they are both in the same area.   If I don't do it though, she will for sure not make it.   Since Lucy is out of the coop, Goldie started hanging with Roo.  She's pushed off Pinkie to be Roo's BFF.   Such a follower she is.    I took Lucy out to peck around in the grass when the other chickens were out and Roo again attacked her.   This is not a friendly, "hey, I'm a guy, your a girl, let's get together" type of approach.  He scares the living daylights out of her.   Anyway,  while she is on the mend we have taken Roo to the feed store to be sold.  He's a nice friendly rooster but I cant have him hurting my hens.  It's amazing how the hens have calmed down now that he's gone.

It's been pretty rainy these days.  Cool one day, warm the next.  Typical for Houston in the spring. And spring is definitely here.    All the citrus trees are in bloom and the backyard smells amazing!  My bees are going crazy with all the orange, grapefruit, peach and apple blossoms.  We started planting the vegetable gardens too.   Tomatoes, pepper, yellow squash, zucchini, basil, sage, parsley, fennel, mint, and bush beans so far.  Now let's see how many make it through our summer! These are great days to do that since it's nice and cool.  I bought a flat of milkweed plants for the monarchs who come through every year.  I've created a Monarch butterfly cage to protect the caterpillars until they can become butterflies.

  Every morning I check the milkweed plants for baby caterpillars.  If I find one I put it in the cage so they are not bothered by the multiple predators
that we have around here.  The wasps and lizards are the worst but if I can get out there early enough I can save the baby caterpillars before they get to them.  Last year I was able to release 15 butterflies.  I figure that's 15 more than we would have had otherwise.