Signs of Spring

It has been far too long since I have posted in this blog, but I’m back. I’d like to restart this blog with my favorite sign of spring so far this year.

2015 black swallowtail

2015blkswallowtail2 I found a butterfly chrysalis on a dried up branch of dill I was about to toss in the compost pile last fall. The chrysalis fell off of the dill, and, not knowing if it would be able to survive on the ground, I took it inside and placed it on my orchid plant. Over the winter I mostly forgot it was there, but kept thinking I should make some sort of enclosure for it in case it actually survived and emerged. I was a bit surprised to see this big beautiful butterfly sitting on my lime tree yesterday morning. It is too cold outside to release it, so I fed it honey water and left it on my plants. After a few feedings of honey water or diluted apple juice, it discovered the lemon blossoms and hyacinth blossoms in my office and seems to be eating normally without my help. I’ve decided not to put it in any kind of enclosure so it has room to move around. It seems to want to stay on my plant shelf and bask in the plant lights, and it looks very pretty there.

I’d like to release her when it warms up, but she doesn’t fly very well. It may be because the chrysalis was not attached properly to a branch but was rather lying on its side on a leaf. I’ve been doing some reading about keeping butterflies and it seems as though the position of the chrysalis during development may be important to proper wing development.

When I realized that the dill that grows in my garden is actually a host plant for these lovely butterflies, I started leaving patches of dill standing for the entire season so that a few generations of swallowtails can be raised on them. What I’ve realized is that more of the spring caterpillars seem to survive to adulthood, and those eggs laid later in the season suffer greater losses. The caterpillars disappear rapidly and I don’t see nearly as many larger ones in late summer and fall. I have a theory that towards the end of the season, yellow jackets are eating them. I’ve seen yellow jackets hunt and eat insects in my garden, especially my honey bees. Big fat caterpillars would be easy pickings for hunters like yellow jackets, and yellow jackets grow more plentiful in late summer and fall. This year I may collect some of the butterfly eggs and protect them from predators. I can overwinter the last generation outdoors in their chrysalis so they have a natural life cycle and don’t emerge too early in the spring.  I’d love to see more of these beauties in my garden.




Here are some blueberries from my brother’s farm! He just dropped off a box of 8 cartons at my house for me, and another box for our uncles down the road. While not certified organic, he has never sprayed his blueberry bushes.
What to do with that many berries? I washed and froze most of them in ziplock bags. For most fruits I slice and freeze them on cookie sheets prior to storing in ziplock bags in order to keep them from turning into one big block of fruity ice. However, with the blueberries I’ve found that as long as you drain the water thoroughly and stack the bags flat, the berries don’t stick to each other too much. This saves some time.

There were a couple cartons that were getting soft, so I made blueberry compote. One carton was past its prime so I am using it in homemade enzyme cleaner (aka fruit vinegar). So that leaves me with four cartons frozen, two jars of delicious compote, and one carton will be combined with various citrus fruits to make cleaner and one to eat fresh! I also will probably use a very small number of them to experiment with making my own inks to draw with. I’ve been experimenting with some different berries lately and I would like to post a video of my drawing experiments some time in the near future.

All I had to do is get stung helping to Install his beehives in the rain this spring….actually, Andy would have given them to me anyway, and I don’t need blueberries to help with the bees : )

Thanks, Andy!

Impossible Garden August 2013

I thought I’d take you along with me on my morning stroll through the garden. The video ends with a puff of smoke from the smoker I am about to use to inspect my beehive. Instead of trying to explain everything to you though I thought I’d let the garden speak for itself…

Return of the Honeybees!

Last summer, my garden was absolutely buzzing with honeybees. So much so that my husband and I got really interested in beekeeping and tried to figure out a good spot in our yard to house a beehive and collect our own honey. Our yard is not that big and the only spots that seemed ideal were either right where our son plays, or a bit too close to where the neighbor’s kids play. The wild bees were plenty, though; they must have been living in our other neighbor’s garage. I worked in my garden amidst the bees all summer while my son ate raspberries off of the bushes where they were buzzing.  We watched them (and the bumblebees, mason bees, and other pollinators) up close and personal, and no one ever got stung or even threatened. But still, the idea of putting a hive on purpose right in a high traffic area didn’t seem like such a great idea. At least we had our wild honeybees.Well, this spring they disappeared. From April through mid June, I think I saw six honeybees. Last year on a fine May day you’d see six on one plant! I figured that either the neighbors had the hive exterminated, or that the bees woke up during the unseasonably warm days in March, only to succumb to late frosts.

This past week, though, I’ve finally seen some honeybees! Here’s one of the many I saw, working some flowers in the garden:

honeybee in my garden june 2012

This little guy was working a Salvia plant in my garden.

For Comparison, here’s a bumblebee:

And what I believe is an orchard mason bee  (leave a comment below if I’m wrong and you know what this is):

Orchard Mason Bee?

Now, the return of the bees in my garden has me thinking about urban beekeeping all over again. Especially since my younger brother Andy seems to be doing just fine with his new honeybee hive in on a Chicago city lot not that different in size than ours. I’ll be posting some pictures 0f his bees in the not-too-distant future!

But if you can’t wait to find out more about honeybees, especially if you live in the Chicago area, check out the Chicago Honey Co-Op. 

Canon EOS Rebel T3i!

This gallery contains 10 photos.

So I finally, after years of deliberation, I broke down and got a digital SLR camera. I’m in love! It has been SO long since I’ve immersed myself in photography and it feels like I just came home. The camera just fits right in my hands. I have to relearn everything, but I still love […]