Thursday, June 30, 2016

Morning Stroll

I have developed a habit of strolling around my driveway most mornings as a break from my work. It's a short walk, but I generally go out armed with my camera and my binoculars, just to breathe the fresh air and see what I can find.  It rained really hard this morning, but then the sun came out and the sky turned blue, and I couldn't resist a little walk outside.  My driveway is roughly circular, and has a little area in the middle that I've taken to calling "the grove" or "the glade," depending on the day.  I often see birds in the trees there, and it feels like a private little oasis of calm.  I really love being out there!

This morning I found a new flower blooming.  It's kind of exciting to see what is opening in this new garden each day.  This is some kind of lily and I believe it's Lilium canadense, which has the common name of Canada lily or wild yellow lily.  I'm not sure though, so let me know if you think it's something else.  It's growing in the shade area of the grove.

There was also a beautiful little devil's paintbrush, or orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum), which is a wildflower, but so cheerful and vibrant.

I noticed that the second peony bush has now come into bloom and it's a gorgeous pale pink.  I adore peonies - such an old-fashioned flower but always so beautiful, and their scent is heavenly.

I wandered around the house and into the backyard to see if I had any little feathered friends there, and I saw a flash of red beneath my feet as I was walking across the grass.  Upon further investigation, I discovered that sections of my lawn are not in fact lawn, but rather they are carpets of supreme strawberry goodness, providing tiny, fragile wild strawberries by the handful.  I stopped and sampled for quite a while!  Each tiny berry is such an explosion of flavour.  Enchanting!

I ended up back in the front yard and spotted a bird because of its rather alarmed call.  I think it's a hermit thrush, but I'm not 100% sure.  The hermit thrush is quite similar to the veery, and a number of other thrushes, but in listening to the calls on the website for the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, I do believe it's the hermit thrush.  You can see it almost in the centre of the picture below. Unfortunately I couldn't get it to turn around and show its speckled breast, but hopefully I'll get a better shot another day.  I wish I had a camera with better zoom capability.

Yesterday I bought myself a treat.  My bird identification book was quite old (published in 1999) given that bird breeding and migration patterns are changing these days, and furthermore, my book was for all of North America, meaning that it had a lot of birds that weren't ever likely to be seen in this area.  I bought myself "Birds of Eastern Canada," which is a regional guide that is much more suitable for my area, and it is a really well presented guidebook.  Hopefully it will help me keep on identifying the residents of my yard!  This one is from 2013, so it should be relevant for a long time to come.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Fledglings (plus update!)

When we moved to our new home and had the usual inspection conducted, the inspector noted that a vine on the end of the house was inappropriately close to the electrical connection coming into the house, and he recommended cutting it back or removing it.  At that point, the vine was only just beginning to leaf out, so I didn't know what it was.  After we moved in, I determined that the vine is actually a climbing hydrangea, which is really quite lovely, and not extremely aggressive like some other vines.  We decided that the best thing to do would be to remove the top portion of the vine which was actually around the electrical entrance, and leave the bottom portion, pruning it regularly to avoid future problems.

I went up the ladder to prune the top part and cut the main stem shortly after we moved in.  That's when I discovered the robin's nest.  Unfortunately, the robin had built her nest in the part of the plant that needed to be removed.  I hoped that it was empty, but when I felt inside the nest, I discovered that there were already eggs present.  I decided that I would just cut the main stem and leave the nest in place until any babies had been successfully raised, and afterwards I'll remove the pruned parts.  I began to say a morning greeting to Mrs. Robin on her nest, and she would eye me warily each day.

Of course, I've been actively watching the pair of robins bring food to their little ones and call with alarm when they are disturbed by local cats.

I could also see little beaks poking up out of the nest, but I wasn't sure how many babies were there. I thought it was two.  Here you can see two little beaks in the middle of the picture - little orange flashes.

I was very worried about my cat, Izzy, because although she tends to spend a lot of time lazing around in the garage, she is still an outdoor cat because of her inability to consistently use the litter-box and her habit of peeing on any carpet or rug or mat on the floors, as well as in our shoes.  I vowed to watch the nest regularly and when I saw the babies getting close to fledging, I would keep Izzy inside for a day or two to allow them a chance to get their wings sorted out.  You can see how the top part of the vine has died back since I cut it and I worried it would make the nest more exposed and vulnerable, but all has gone well.

Today, when I went outside, I noticed one of the babies was sitting on the edge of the nest, so I knew it was likely to be fledging day!

I have the windows open, and sure enough, as I was sitting at my desk working, I heard a big commotion outside with a lot of twittering.  I ran to make sure that the next door neighbour's cat wasn't involved, and found this little darling on the garden steps, with his parents creating quite the ruckus while I snapped a quick picture.

I encouraged the little one into the cover of some nearby woodland plants to keep it more covered.

There are two other babies in the nest who were eagerly peering out at me - so a total of three!  I think they'll come out today as well.  Unfortunately, we have torrential rain at the moment, so I hope the first one is well covered and that the others stay in the nest until it dries up a bit.  At least the rain might keep the neighbour's cat away for the time being.  I'm so pleased and excited to have this little family choosing to live at my home!

I am pleased to report that all 3 babies fledged today and in a happy coincidence, the NB Power guy was here today to look at something for Marc.  He was able to assist with the cutting down of the vine remainder, and I now have the empty nest.  The vine looks nice and tidy and the robins are still flying around gathering for their babies but they were unconcerned about us being near the nest.

I love the nest - it's so carefully built and shaped - what a lovely little nursery for baby robins!

Maybe I will start a collection of bird nests!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

A new furry friend

Earlier this afternoon, my chicken, Athena, had a bit of a squawking fit.  Athena is the only hen left after a predator took out the rest of my flock over a year ago.  I'm not sure what the predator was, but I somewhat suspect raccoons.  In any case, Athena is understandably a little bit dramatic about anything that makes her nervous.  I went out to investigate the cause of her commotion, and I couldn't see anything that looked out of place.  She is in a large dog crate during the daytime, out on the grass, until we build her new coop - so she is safe.  I peeked around the corner of the house and there I saw a furry little bottom disappearing around the corner.  Ah-hah!  So it wasn't just a falling leaf or a large dragonfly giving Athena the jitters!

I rushed inside, grabbed my camera, and stealthily crept out into the backyard to see if I could find the owner of the furry bottom.  Sure enough, I heard a little scrabbling noise under the former homeowner's dog house.  I peered underneath (it's raised up on a platform) and saw that furry bottom going out the other side.  I slowly made my way around so I could see the back of the dog house. There was the furry front end glaring at me - a groundhog!

I took a picture from quite a distance, not expecting to be able to get much closer.  You can just see him right in the middle of the picture.  I thought he'd dash off as I tried to approach for a better shot.

He was surprisingly obliging about being photographed though!  He let me get within about 10 feet of him before toddling off.  I love his brown "sleeves" - what a cute little critter.

I watched for a while and he went back under the dog house, and then poked his head out as if to see if I was still there.  I was, so I talked softly to him and said I was just watching if he didn't mind too much, and that I was quite happy to have him in the yard.  He seemed to listen, just watching me quietly.

After a while he went around to the front of the dog house where there are concrete pavers, and he lay flat out on them.  I think they are cool, and perhaps that helped him feel cooler because it was a warm day.  He flattened out very well, but when he heard my footstep, he came back up on his front paws.  I did manage to get a rather good picture of him though, as he sat there on the pavers.

A bit later, I saw him again and got a picture of him on the edge of the woods.  It appears that he's been in a fight or something because he has a patch of fur on his right rear haunch that is short or maybe missing.

Again I sat and watched him for a while and he eventually turned and trotted off into the woods, waving his little bottle-brush tail behind him.  I hope I'll see this groundhog again - its lovely to have wildlife visiting!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Poppies and Bees

In my new garden, I have lovely oriental poppies (Papaver orientale) in a classic shade of red.  These have impressively large flowers and long fern-like foliage.  I used to have a few different species of poppy in my old gardens in Iowa, but I haven't had these before.  I have been enjoying their showy blossoms for a few days now, and I know the blossoms usually don't last long on poppies, so I am enjoying them while I can.

I went out to take some pictures of them and discovered that they are apparently a favourite of local bees.  I am quite sure that the bee who is busy gathering from this poppy is a honey-bee (Apis mellifera), although I'm not a bee expert, so please correct me if I'm wrong.

This bee is very busy indeed, and alighting on the anthers and rolling around inside the flower gathering pollen.  Sometimes the bee appears to get a bit stuck under all those anthers and it makes furious buzzing noises before emerging in a bit of a huff.  It then flies up a bit, and re-lands on the crown of the flower, which will eventually become a seedpod.

Here you can see the dense dark poppy pollen that has collected on the rear part of the bee's abdomen.

He also has a lot of pollen that he's collected on his legs.  That area of a bee's leg is called the "pollen basket" which I think is a rather endearing term for a insect leg!  It's like he's got a suitcase with him.

A new poppy flower was opening this morning.  You can see how dark the anthers are on this one in comparison to the other blossom - that's because the bee hasn't been collecting here yet.  Soon he will find it and begin his task, no doubt.

I found a different bee species collecting nectar from my batchelor's button (Centaurea montana) flowers.  This is a 'bumble bee' (Bombus species, although I don't know which one).  Such a difference from one flower to another, and one bee to another.

I think this was the best photograph I managed to take today - I caught the bee's wing in flight, which makes an interesting translucent flash on the photograph, and you can see its proboscis, which is ready to take the nectar from the flower.  You can also see an ant watching the bee.  I didn't notice it while I was taking the picture.

I hope I have a few more days to admire the beautiful structure and design of the poppy flowers.  To me, they are a stunning example of Mother Nature's incredible diversity.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The yarn bleach test - an easy check for wool

There are a couple of methods to check whether a certain yarn is primarily protein fibre (wool, alpaca, llama, mohair, silk, etc.) or whether it's a plant fibre, or a synthetic fibre.  One of these is the burn test, in which you carefully hold a small piece of yarn to a flame (candle is easiest in my opinion) and watch the reaction.  Synthetics actually burn and make a plastic-looking melted blob on the end.  Protein fibres smell bad and sort of smoulder, and plant fibres tend to make a light ash.  This method is a very good diagnostic for synthetics, but not as good for blends.  There are small differences between the types of ash for the various fibre types, but they're difficult to read, at least in my opinion.

I personally prefer the bleach test.  It tells me whether or not a fibre is primarily protein, but it can also tell me if I've got a blend.  It's also fairly diagnostic for determining silk apart from other protein fibres.  I also like the fact that I can re-use the bleach.  I don't keep bleach on hand for many purposes, but the bleach I use for yarn tests can be poured back into a glass jar and re-used.  Not everybody knows about the bleach test, so I thought I'd do a post about it.

You need to use real chlorine bleach - not the "colour-safe" stuff.  You don't need much of it though.  I use a small glass dish and cut pieces of the yarns that I'm not sure about.  Usually they're yarns from thrift stores, grab bags, or trades, and the content label is long gone.  Today I tested a group of yarns I thought were mostly acrylics.  I was surprised!

Here are my yarns at the beginning of the test.  I've just poured a wee bit of bleach in the dish - enough to cover the yarn.  I use an old fork to push the yarn into the bleach so it is saturated.  Do take a picture at the beginning of the test because you might forget which yarns were which....and some of them might be about to disappear...

The yarn on the far left - the dark red one - is my 100% wool control sample, so I can compare other yarns to it.

Within about 5 minutes, many of the yarns were telling me that they contained animal fibres.  As you can see in the picture below,  many of them are getting a halo of bubbles around them.  That's a sign that they contain protein fibres that are in the process of dissolving.

I was surprised to see the purplish bulky yarn was among the bubblers.  I had thought it was completely synthetic.  You can see it is definitely releasing bubbles, whereas the blue and green yarns to the left of it are not, nor is the cranberry to the right.  The pink yarn on the left is definitely a wool.

Here's a clear view of my control 100% wool sample, bubbling away.  The green and red yarns below it are doing the same, but the teal is not.

 After about half an hour, here's how things looked.  The wool sample on the far left, and many of the others, are definitely disintegrated and dissolving.  That tells me they're 100% wool (or another protein-based animal fibre).  I find that silk also completely dissolves, but it tends to take almost double the time that wool takes to completely dissolve.

You can also see that the thick purplish yarn has stopped bubbling.  This tells me that it's a blend.  It had a small percentage of protein fibre, likely wool, which dissolved initially.  Now it's just the synthetic fibre that's left over.

And here was the scene after an hour.  The wool (or other protein) fibres are completely dissolved. The five strands you see that never bubbled are completely synthetic, and the thick purple was a blend that bubbled for just a short time.

I didn't include any cotton yarns in this batch, but cotton, flax, and other plant fibres are unaffected by the bleach bath.  I can usually tell the difference between cottons and synthetics by feel, so I don't use the bleach test to differentiate between those fibre types.  If you're not comfortable discerning between plant and synthetic by feel, the burn test will certainly help you figure out which is which!  I also notice (but I'm not going to say that it's a guarantee) that the acrylics and other synthetics tend not to lose their colour in the bleach, even though it's 100% bleach.  You can see those yarns in the picture above are the same colours they started out as!  On the other hand, cotton and flax tend to actually bleach out their colour.

Another result that you'll see with this test is something that bubbles a lot and then leaves a fine thread behind.  This is the case with wool yarns that include nylon.  The nylon stays and the wool dissolves.  If you use your fork or other tool to swirl around any residues, you'll see if they're connected (i.e. synthetic leftovers) or just blobs of disintegrating protein fibre.

Here's an example of that in a test I did previously and photographed.  The dark yarn on the far left is a wool with nylon, and the black boucle in the middle is a likely mohair boucle with a binder thread.  The yellow, second from the left, is silk.  The far right orange one is a cotton.  The others are wool or other animal fibre.

Here you can see the dark wool on the right has partially dissolved, and the boucle has dissolved but left the binder thread, which is now on the right of the picture after I swirled things around a bit.  The cotton is in the middle and it has lost its colour.  The yellowish blob in the top is silk, but all the other wools have dissolved. The yellowish-brown thin piece along the bottom was an added afterthought, not in the first picture, so ignore it.

 At the end of that test, you can see what was left - the nylon on the left from the sock blend (which is folded in half), the centre is the boucle binder, also probably nylon, and the right is the now-bleached cotton.

 So, now you know how to do the bleach test to learn things about yarns when you're not sure about their fibre content.  I hope that helps someone figure out some mystery yarns!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Birds, and lending a helping hand!

There is a cute little bird feeder shaped like a house on the top of a post that was already here in the garden of the house.  It didn't have any seeds in it and looked like it hadn't been used in a while, but I wanted to start attracting birds, so I put some seed in it.  I've also installed a tube feeder with mixed seed and another with nyger seed, and a hummingbird feeder.  So far, I've been really excited with the bird activity over just a few short days since I put the feeders up.

The hummingbirds are visiting regularly throughout the day.  We only have ruby-throated hummingbirds here in eastern Canada, but they are lovely.  This picture was taken through the window screen.  Hopefully someday I'll be able to take pictures outside without them flying away!

I've had the following birds so far at the seed feeders, all of which are common here, but it's still lovely to have them visit (since our previous house only ever had chickadees and the occasional robin).

  • black-chapped chickadees
  • white-breasted nuthatches
  • purple finch (male)
  • common grackles
  • dark eyed juncos
  • robins
  • a warbler (I think) that I haven't identified yet that is mostly brown and white but has yellow patches on the side of its face (the bird ID book hasn't been unpacked yet)
Here's a poor picture of the purple finch taken with my phone - but I was so excited to see it! Sometimes it's difficult to differentiate between the male purple finch and male house finch, but I'm pretty sure this is the purple finch.

So today, I looked out at the little house feeder to see if I had any visitors, and a grackle was taking seed (as usual), but there seemed to be some additional fluttering going on.  I wasn't sure if it was another bird on the other side of the feeder.  Then I realized, it was another bird INSIDE the feeder!  A poor little white-breasted nuthatch somehow got itself inside the house!

Not wanting to stress the bird out any more than necessary, I quickly lifted the lid so he could escape. Here's a little video of my "good deed of the day"!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

I dug in the dirt today

Last week, Marc and I finally moved to our new home.  It was a long and stressful year, waiting for his house to sell, but once it did, things moved pretty quickly, and now we are just starting to settle in to our new home.  I still have the place in Nova Scotia to sell, but that's going to take a while, and I just need to be patient about it.

It has rained almost every day for the past week, so I didn't have many opportunities to get outside and do some garden work.  The new home has some established perennials already that I am slowly getting to know.

I'm really looking forward to the blooms on these poppies coming out - I do love poppy plants and they come in such vibrant colours.

There are a number of roses that I look forward to seeing in the bloom phase, so I'll know what colour they are.  My mom brought some English primroses to share that are originally from my grandfather's garden, so that is very special for me, and they are growing well already.  You can just see one of them in the centre front of the picture below - it has yellow flowers.  One of the trellises at the back has a clematis on it.

I wanted to get a few tomato plants into the ground - if you followed me back in Iowa, you might remember that I used to grow 30 or more varieties of tomato each year, up to 72 varieties one year.  I don't have that much space now, but I have put in a few.  I bought transplants this year because I don't have my plant light trolley set up yet so I didn't start my own, and it would be too late to do so at this point because we have such a short growing season.  I usually plant heirloom varieties, but this year it's just the hybrids.

I bought Burpee transplants - some indeterminate and some determinate varieties.  I planted a couple of different container varieties today - each of which produces extra lycopene, carotenoids and/or vitamin C.  I planted some "Cherry Punch" hybrid and some "Power Pops" hybrid in the containers.  They look a bit droopy here but I just finished showering them with the hose.

In the ground, I planted a "Super Sauce" hybrid as well as a couple of "Lemon Boy" tomato plants and a "Brandy Boy" F1 hybrid.  Next year I hope for better tomato supports too, but for now, I'll make do with what I have!

I also popped in a few creeping thyme plants because I do love them as a ground cover.  I received a peppermint plant from a local friend and planted it with a restraining "collar" made from an old planter to keep it from spreading too much.  I'm hoping to get some raised beds in for next year, but I have much to do before then, so a few tomato plants seemed like a good start.  I've also popped in a bunch of VERY old zucchini seed (2006 through 2010) with the hopes that a few might germinate.  I have my doubts but we'll see!

The perennial beds are really lovely and I'm excited to see what colours begin to emerge as things flower.  There are sedums and irises and astilbe, a wealth of hostas, and some plants I really don't know!  There's also a beautiful arbour but I think it has Virginia Creeper on it, which is not so lovely, because it's rampant and invasive and difficult to control.  If it is what I think it is, it might have to come out and something else will be planted on the arbour.

If you are wondering, yes, the sheep and goats will be here...but I do need to put in fencing and get a small barn in place first, so they're not here yet.  I have far less land than I would have liked - only 1.75 acres, because there weren't many places with land available to us in our target area, or the ones that had land weren't zoned correctly for sheep or goats.  Anyway, they'll have to have supplemental hay year round, but it will be so lovely to have them back with me.