Sunday, August 30, 2015

Raising Royalty

Monarch butterflies are reported to be in decline and I agree that there seem to be fewer and fewer each fall. I'm not that old but when I was a kid the autumn afternoons seemed thick with them fluttering around.  Now when I see one it's cause for comment.  I'm sure there are several reasons for the decline including loss of habitat, the use of chemicals in the environment and changing climate.  Another culprit I'm guessing is the population surge the last few years (at least here in the northeast US) of stink bugs aka shield bugs.  While they are described as being an agricultural pest and cause lots of damage by piercing fruit and sucking the juice out, leaving an icky spot prone to rot, I've seen them doing the same thing to caterpillars - apparently they aren't all vegetarians.  :-(

Monarchs have very specific needs and the main thing they need are milkweed plants for the caterpillars to eat.  Every year I check the milkweed that grows in the ditches and hedgerows and headlands for them.  In the last few years I haven't seen any youngsters despite searching.  This year, they're here in force!

From a farmer's perspective this is a hay field infested with milkweed which needs to be eradicated before it takes over the field.  From a Monarch's point of view it's a super nursery.  All those standy-up plants out there are young milkweed.


I had found four caterpillars on milkweed plants in the overgrown weed patch out front which used to be a strawberry bed.  That was cause for celebration!  Then Andy and I wandered back and forth along one edge of the field right next to the ram pasture and counted about 60 caterpillars in ten minutes and those were just the ones we could see easily without crawling around looking under leaves.  I'm happy to say they were everywhere!

Big fat ones the size of my pinkie.



Teeny wee little ones.


One milkweed had two chewing on the top two tender young leaves.


They all looked hale and hearty with the exception of one which had come to grief at the business end of one of the aforementioned stink bugs.  I know it's "nature's way" but let's just say the stink bug will never see another sunrise.

Knowing the caterpillars are out there we will definatly wait until as late as possible into the fall to deal with the milkweeds.  We want to give the Monarchs every chance to grow up and get gone. 

"Thanks!  It's tough trying to grow into a butterfly!"

Glad to help, little fella.  Try to come back next year and bring your friends!





Friday, August 28, 2015

Takes a Licking and Keeps on Ticking


"Hi, Alexandria here.  I've heard that lots of nice people are inquiring about me, and how I've been getting on after falling in that hole.  I'm pretty good considering my age."



"I'm back out with the flock and getting around fine.  Nothing wrong with me.  Well, except being older than dirt.  That was a weird thing, though, being stuck in a hole all night.  Took me a while to get steady on my feet again.  Sure glad my people found me. Could have been a lot worse, I guess."



"But that was in the past and I don't worry too much about that.  See, we just got moved back into the south pasture and the grass is really good over here."



"Hey, are you paying attention out there?  OK.  So today's a real nice day - sunny with some wind - and the birds and crickets are chirping and we're making the most of it.  Us sheep don't worry too much about what's in the past. We pretty much concentrate on the present and with all this good grass it's hard to think about much besides eating.  My little pal, Stewart, is a good eater.  He's taken to following me around and we get on pretty good together."  




"Say hi to the nice people, Stewart.  Stewart!  Well, he's kinda busy right now."


"So thanks for asking about me.  You have a nice day now.  I'm just gonna stand here and think deep thoughts and chew my cud a little."



Next time, an update from the people!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Sunday Stills - Going Buggy

It's time to get down and dirty with the insect world. If spiders and bees are not your forte try butterflies and lady bugs. :-)

Actually I do  like spiders and bees but I took these pictures a couple of years ago and am happy to finally have a good time to share.

A lovely big luna moth resting on the trunk of a black walnut tree about three feet off the ground.  What a treat!!


So. fuzzy.  Must resist urge to pet!


For more Sunday Stills.....


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Miles of Yarn

Not hand spun, although I do have miles of that in my stash, but really nice mill spun (Stonehedge Mill) Cotswold yarn from our flock, all skeined, washed and hung to dry.  I have a lot more on cones to work with but it's a start.  I have to check the wraps per inch as I think this is a little lighter than sportweight but I'm very pleased with it, both for luster and softness.  (Softness being relative, this IS Cotswold after all.....)




I'm glad I have a good lot to work with as I want to dye some but the white is so pretty as it is that I'd feel bad to dye it all.  Which of course is stupid given how much is still on the shelves waiting for me to send it off and how much is walking around.  :-/

I also had some gray Cotswold made to the same weight (again, I have to check wraps per inch to see where it really falls) by a different mill (Gurdy Run) and they also did a fine job.  It turned out a nice gray that's strong enough to stand alone or light enough to overdye if one wanted.


And if they are close enough in weight they could be used together in a two color project.


Makes me want to stop what I'm doing and look at patterns on Ravelry!  ;-)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sunday Stills - Clouds in Black and White

 Lets do something easy this week. Just convert or photograph some nice cloud pics.

I haven't had time taken time to play along with the Sunday Stills Photography Challenge for a long time.  I still need to learn more about my camera so I really should make the effort to use. it. more.  We had a storm go through the area in late afternoon and the clouds at evening chore time were dramatic.

Now that it's black and white I see a face in this one - kinda Jabba the Hutt with a big mustache.


But this one is properly cloud-like and the rays of shadow coming off it from the low sun are pretty neat.


More Sunday Stills.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Sheep Shots

I needed to get some photos of Cotswolds for someone putting together a breed book so I stalked the flock today while they were pasturing and at rest under the trees.  I've been skimpy on sheep pictures lately so this ought to end the drought.  ;-)



 Peanut!





 Bunny! 







 Snubby in front, a colored Cotswold lamb and Daisy behind.











Bye-bye!

Bye, sheepies!  Have a good day!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Avoiding Two Disasters

The locust trees in the yard are all old.  The kind of old that causes bark to flake off and shelf fungus to grow and pileated woodpeckers to drill holes you could stick your arm into.  The kind of old that makes them fragile and subject to literally falling apart with little provocation.


Two weeks ago on a mildly breezy day the whole top of the middle tree snapped out.  Miraculously, it didn't hit the power line or the house.  More terrifying though was the fact that it fell right in the path to the barn which Andy had just walked up literally two minutes prior.  Yeah, a shaky 'oh my gawd' type of moment. Not just luck - clearly a warning.   


The tree closest to the road was truly half dead and shedding small branches if you so much as gave it a stern look. We (OK, mostly Andy) had been fretting about the real possibility of any of them coming down on the house or at least tearing the electric entry cable off the exterior wall.  With this near miss I quickly vaulted onto the bandwagon and decided they needed to come down.  Normally Andy can drop a tree without much difficulty but these three were problems - all fragile, all very tall, all within reach of the house and various power lines.  Seriously, what do you do with this?


So, we contacted a local tree removal company to assess them and take them down.  I was really sad about it, especially the one furthest from the road since it seemed sturdy but I was kind of ignoring the big seam between the main trunks and the fact that it could pretty much destroy Andy's shop, the breezeway and the back half of the house.

Saturday they arrived bright and early and as we walked around them again to formulate a game plan we modified the task - we would only take off the tops of the two trees closest to the house and leave the understory branches that couldn't hurt anything if they broke off.  (Sorry about the following pictures - apparently I had a smudge of lanolin on the phone lens - how could that happen?)


It was actually very interesting to watch and the man was very nice and didn't think I was silly to want to save some of the tree if possible.  Apparently lots of people are attached to their yard trees, even having him leave bare trunks standing so that looking out the windows one feels like the tree is still there.  (I don't think I'd go that far if I couldn't have greenery but I was going to have him cut high enough that the trunks would still function as clothesline poles!)  He maneuvered the bucket carefully to nip off branches in a certain order until the tree was down to the size we wanted.



The tree nearest the road was the most fragile but nothing went awry and not so much as a leaf touched the power line.



Andy can cut down the stubby trunk the rest of the way now that it can't hit anything no matter which way it falls.  The upper two trees still have enough branches to give shade to the picnic tables and give the winter birds somewhere to hang out on their way to and from the bird feeders.  Plus we can still hear the wind rustle the leaves out our bedroom window which is nice.  I must admit that I'll be happy if the trimmed trees are less attractive to the stupid birds that make me rewash the laundry!  Grr.

Turns out we were very sensible to have them taken down.  This is one of the big "healthy" sections of trunk.  The light color wood was live but the darker center area was spongy and not doing much of anything to provide strength or stability.  Yikes!



So now the house and inhabitants are safe.  Better to have a colossal mess to clean up than a colossal reconstruction job!