Sunday, July 12, 2020

A visit to Nova Scotia

The province of New Brunswick, where I live, shut its borders in early May in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  That meant that only essential workers and law enforcement could cross the provincial borders to either Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, or Prince Edward Island.  Of course, the border to the US was also closed.  Last weekend, after several months of the closure, the four Atlantic provinces decided to form an Atlantic "bubble" because all the provinces have very low numbers of active cases (I think it's 6 or 7 cases between all four provinces now).  I was really pleased because I was finally able to visit my parents in Nova Scotia.  I hadn't seen them since Christmas, even though they only live a couple of hours drive from me.  The borders to the rest of the Canadian provinces and to the US are closed, although land owners can come in but they have to self-isolate for 2 weeks before they can go anywhere public.

Anyway, as you can probably imagine, there was a bit of a frenzy of travel on the first day that the 'bubble' opened, and that was the day I left for Nova Scotia.  I left at 8:45 am, and normally, it would take me about 7 or 8 minutes to get to the border.  Instead, due to the line-ups, it took me 1.5 hours to get to the border!  This was because there was a LOT of traffic, but also because every vehicle was stopped to question the occupants about their destination and determine the place of residence of the vehicle occupants. This is for contact tracing purposes.  I was stopped in traffic, so it was OK to take a picture.  

Traffic later in the day was backed up for 5+ hours, and they had to install porta-potties as a result of the line ups.  When I was in line, there were people walking their dogs and just getting out of their cars to wander around for a while as they waited.  It was kind of crazy.  I didn't see anyone relieving themselves in the ditches but apparently that happened later in the day.  Ugh.  

Anyway, it was absolutely wonderful to get to see my parents and spend a few days in their company again.  It's amazing how we take these things for granted until suddenly the opportunity is gone.  My parents lived through the second world war in England, so they had years of experience with food rationing and restricted movement.  People of my generation have never had to deal with this kind of situation.  Fortunately, for me at least, it wasn't a significant hardship, especially since I already work from home.  The biggest things I missed were visiting my parents and getting together with spinning or knitting friends.

My parents' garden was absolutely lovely to visit at this time of year, with loads of roses in bloom and many other flowers.  In addition, of course, I was busy photographing insects.  Here are some of the pictures I took on my visit.  Here are some of their roses - just glorious.  The one in front is named a campfire rose, and the blooms change colour with age, from yellow to pink (or pink to yellow, I'm not sure!)

This is a scarlet malachite beetle (Malachius aeneus) on a foxglove flower. It was the first time I had seen one of these.

A close-up of a campfire rose bloom.

This is one of the David Austin rose line, but I'm not positive which one.  Lovely blooms and ever so fragrant.

This is a European wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum) taking a rest in a foxglove flower. They are called wool carder bees because they scrape and gather hairy fibres from leaves and flowers to use as nest material and carry it with their legs in little bundles, so it sort of looks like "wool."

A beautiful double columbine flower.  Such a rich colour...looks like grape jelly!

I don't often take panorama shots, but here is one I took of their backyard flower beds. 

A stunning Japanese maple, flanked by foxgloves (shared from my garden!)

Yet another beautiful rose coming into bloom.

It's absolutely delightful to sit and take in the glorious colours in their backyard, and as long as the neighborhood kids aren't making an infernal racket, it's really peaceful and inviting.

This is my first observation of a bee from the subgenus Hylaeus, or masked bees.  I haven't been able to make a species ID on it.  They are very small bees. 

This was also a first time observation for me.  It is a hawthorn mining bee, Andrena crataegi, confirmed by bee expert John Ascher on iNaturalist. 

Finally, here's an ever-so-ordinary honey bee, Apis mellifera, but still a lovely insect to observe.

All the bees were going crazy on the masterwort (Astrantia) blossoms, so I'm hoping to get some for my garden as well.

I'm so glad I took the time to visit and enjoy the hugs and love that only parents can give!  

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Spring carries on!

Spring is continuing here in my little corner of the world.  In fact, we've had a few days now that feel distinctly summer-ish.   I thought I'd write a little bit about the latest activity around here.

The garden has progressed wonderfully.  I'm really excited about the progress in the greenhouse.  I have a local helper who is coming out several mornings a week and he is just fabulous.  I keep an ongoing list of tasks that I'd like help with, and he comes when he's able to do so and puts in a few hours of time to help out.  This means that a lot more is getting done here, so I feel good about that, while he's able to supplement his income and enjoy seeing the progress of his work, which I think is rewarding for him.  It's a win-win!  I hope I'll be able to share some of the bounty of the garden with him and his family later in the season.

Here's a view inside the greenhouse.  My helper placed paver pathways inside the greenhouse so that I have space to walk and tend to the plants.  He also placed the cross strings at the bottom and top of the rows.  I planted the tomato transplants and put the upright strings in place.  The plants will grow upwards and I will gently wrap the string around the main stem as it grows, thereby supporting the plants.  This will make pruning much easier, and will facilitate easy picking of the fruit.  The plants are already doing well and looking healthy.  I planted some tomatoes in a raised bed as well, just for comparison.  I already see a significant difference.

The raised beds have been all planted - kale, cauliflower, broccoli, broccolini, carrots, parsnips, shallots, onions, peas, runner beans, kohlrabi, beets, fennel, melons, squash, tomatoes, potatoes, and herbs.  All the beds had some compost supplement as well.  I have ordered the parts for installing a drip irrigation system for the new raised beds.  I'm hoping we can get that installed soon after the parts arrive.  Here are the four new beds and the 2 small new raised beds by the greenhouse.

Marc has also been very helpful this weekend with the planned expansion of the chicken outdoor run.  They will now have more than double the area they used to have for free roaming, while remaining protected from ground and air predators.  Marc spent a lot of time yesterday and today putting in the posts and building the supporting structure.  Next will be chicken wire and hardware cloth (at the bottom).  Eventually the new area will connect to the old, but the idea was to build as much of the new area as possible so that the chickens didn't have to be confined to the coop for a long time now that the weather is warming up.  The new area will have a partially roofed area that will allow for winter dust bathing because it won't fill up with snow.  Happy chickens!

Here's the view from the top so you can see how much bigger the enclosed area will be.

The initial 11 chicks that I hatched are all doing well and are learning to go to the roosts at night instead of hanging out on the floor.  They are such a lovely bunch.  I hope quite a few are hens but it all remains to be seen.  Another 13 chicks are currently being raised in the house, and there are just a few still to hatch.  Of course, a large portion will be roosters and will end up being soup stock, but that's part of raising chickens.  This black and white one is the biggest one.  I suspect he's a roo.

Learning to perch!

I love the unusual plumage on this one.  I hope she's a hen!

Sir Francis' area isn't quite finished yet, so today he got to go out and enjoy a temporary enclosed area with a swimming pool for his personal pleasure.  He's going through a major moult right now, so he's doing a lot of bathing and preening.

Moth season is in full swing and there have been some fabulous visitors so far.  Yesterday I had an absolutely stunning male luna moth (Actias luna) who was really fresh and undamaged.  

Today I had a modest sphinx (Pachysphinx modesta) - such beautiful hindwings.

Not a small moth!

So that's a bit of an update from me - hope things are going well in your part of the world.  

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Moth Season 2020 has Begun!

As anyone who has read my blog for a while will know, I'm a big fan of moths.  Each year, I look forward to finding new and different species of moths, along with enjoying the familiar ones.  It's kind of funny that I like moths, considering that I also use a lot of wool yarn, but there are only a few species of moths that actually lay their eggs on wool and other animal fibres.  I'm not very interested in those ones!

I'm also developing greater interest in bees (especially native bee species), beetles, and other interesting insects I find in the yard.  There is so much biodiversity just in my own yard.  I don't need to travel or even leave my yard to find a wealth of interesting species.  Today, I wanted to share some of the best of my observations of the past week.  I catalogue all of them on iNaturalist, and you'll see that as a running widget on my blog, but here are some of the highlights!

Here's a lovely tri-coloured bumble bee (Bombus ternarius) enjoying a dandelion.  I get a lot of these bees at this time of the year, and many right now are queens.

This is a three-banded lady beetle that I found in my greenhouse building.

This is a species of nomad bee.  They are solitary bees that lay their eggs in other bees' nests.  Bad behaviour!

Another kind of lady beetle, but this one is the fourteen-spotted lady beetle.  As you can see, it's white and black, rather than red and black.

One of my favourite moths is the ruby tiger moth (Phragmatobia fuliginosa).  It's such a rich red-brown colour and has such a fluffy "mane" around its head.

This is a metallic flea beetle.  The colour is just amazing!  They are difficult to identify down to a species level.

This funny looking cutie is the American lappet moth (Phyllodesma americana).  I think it looks like it's wearing a dress.  This is an easily recognizable moth that is quite widespread.

This is the olive and black carpet moth (Acasis viridata).  No, they don't eat carpet!  I love the colours on this one also.

This colourful critter is the red cross shield bug (Elasmostethus cruciatus).  They feed on alder, and I have a lot of alder around here!

There are a group of flies called bee flies, which look like bumble bees in some ways, but they are smaller, and not at all related to bees.  This one is the pygmy bee fly (Bombylius pygmaeus).  It has a long proboscis (mouth part) like a straw for drinking nectar.  

This is a colourful zale moth (Zale minerea).  I know it's just browns and creams, so not exactly colourful, but the patterns are amazingly beautiful in my opinion.

This one is actually colourful!  It's a Comstock's sallow (Feralia comstocki).

I had never seen one of these beetles before today.  It's the ribbed pine borer beetle.

This is the otter spiramater moth (Spiramater lutra).  Again, it's a beautiful moth even though it's mostly just brown and black.  

Not everybody likes insects, but I think they're missing out on a lot of beauty if they don't stop to take a closer look sometimes!  

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Garden Shed

Because my builder and his helper have been off their regular construction work due to Covid-19, I've been able to benefit from their down time because they've been available to get my own projects done.  In addition, they're getting paid because I'm providing some work.  It's a win-win!  Thus, on Thursday, following up on the greenhouse earlier this week, they began to build my garden tool shed. 

The tool shed will store all my smaller garden tools and needs, but it also has a potting bench inside. The bench was originally in the building Marc uses for his bike projects.  It is made from treated lumber, so I just hung onto it, knowing it would be useful, and now it is.

I asked my builder to create a hole in the end of the top bench.  This way, when I do some potting up, I can sweep all the potting soil off the bench through the hole.  I'll position a tote or trug under the hole, and collect all the sweepings, which will then go to the compost pile, or be otherwise re-used.  It's an easy way to clean up.  You can also just see that at the back of the bench, there is a space that will allow me to store my handled tools - the handles will go down into the space and the tools will all be visible.

The door handle is a piece of maple from the limbs that fell from my maple in last year's Hurricane Dorian.  I think it looks quite interesting, and it is very functional.  The door is an antique door that my builder found for me.

The octagonal window is also being re-used.  I'm not sure how old it is, but it's at least vintage.  I love the shape and I think it lends a personal touch to the shed.

The roof is recycled steel from an old barn.  On Friday, the front of the shed was covered with cedar shingles that had been left here by the previous homeowner.  Another use of existing materials that works very well for this project.

In addition, they re-installed my laundry line after its demise last fall in the hurricane. 

AND, they put up a much sturdier, new goat gate.  Miss Lucky Nickel was becoming quite adept at figuring out new ways to thwart the old wire gate, and it was warped beyond recognition and repeatedly fixed with baling twine.

Now, she has something new to bash her head on!  She's not impressed.  I can tell.

I am really glad to have all this new activity to improve the yard and its usability.  Having this new shed right next to the greenhouse is ideal.  I can easily pop into the shed to grab a tool that I need in the greenhouse.  Perfect!  I can also easily do transplanting and store any fertilizer or other plant products in the shed, ready for use in the greenhouse.  More raised beds will also be coming to the area in front of the buildings.

Marc also helped today by installing three new outdoor lights. They were on special at Costco so it was a good time to upgrade, and these are much nicer than the old ones.   

The future looks bright!