Perfect Blue

The sky was a perfect blue.

And a perfectly blue visitor came to feed.  This beautiful bird is an Indigo Bunting and surprisingly, it is really black. The diffraction of light through its feathers make it look blue.

Through the years, other Indigo Buntings have come through the garden around the same time, probably from their winter home in Mexico.  Some may nest near this area.  An interesting fact about the bird is that their numbers have actually increased due to lumbering and energy line tree cutting.  The Buntings enjoy wooded areas next to open fields.


Monarch Caterpillars, Milkweed and WWII

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There has been much concern about the dwindling  numbers of Monarch Butterflies.  An organization called Monarch Watch has been encouraging everyone to plant Milkweed, also know as Butterfly Weed.

I have been planting Butterfly Weed all over the yard.  Unfortunately, a beetle has shown up the last few years and has eaten almost all the plants I grew.  This year I am trying to collect the bugs daily for disposal, as any kind of spraying will also kill the Monarchs.

I was pleased to find many very fat and healthy Monarch Caterpillars on the Butterfly Weed.  This one is eyeing his competition.

 

My main purpose for planting Butterfly Weed is to feed caterpillars.  The plants tend to look pretty bad after awhile.  Interestingly, the plants contain a chemical called cardiac glycoside that cause birds to vomit.  By eating the leaves, the caterpillars are protected from birds.

I find that rabbits and deer also avoid the plant. The most common Butterfly Weed grown here is Asclepias tuberosa, which is tropical/Mexican Butterfly Weed.

The plants produce seed pods filled with seeds attached to fluffy floss that allows them to drift in the wind to a new location.

I recently found out that Milkweed floss had an important role in World War II.  School children from all over the country were sent out to collect the seed pods to make life vests for Navy sailors. Milkweed in the northern U.S. is much larger than the ones that grow in the South and were found growing in fields and along the roads.  The seeds were removed and the floss was used to stuff the vests.

I find it hard to imagine that these vest would stay afloat for long, but I guess that is what they had back then.  While researching, I also found an article with instructions for making a down-like coat using the Milkweed floss for the insulation.  As it turns out, this “weed” is not only necessary for Monarchs, but humans have also found uses for it.


A Lost Turtle

I was quite surprised to spot this little one as I was walking down the driveway.  A car just used it and luckily the little turtle was close to the grass.

It is a Red Eared Slider and probably made his way from the nearby lake. Mother turtles lay eggs and they are left on their own to hatch and feed themselves.  Turtles can carry salmonella, so I put on some gloves to handle it.

The turtle has very interesting markings and patterns. Red Eared Sliders can live as long as 30 years.  After observing and photographing him for awhile, I walked him to a wet area near the lake where I hope he will live a good long life.


Automatic Renewal

The last time I was away from home, I came back to a killing freeze.  Most of the plants had to be cut back.  In this climate, many plants usually stay green for the winter. The Automatic Garden looked hopeless. I spent many hours cleaning up, reevaluating and moving plants around.  I walked the garden several times a day checking on the plants’ progress and watching them grow inch by inch.

Recently, I had another trip and this time I came back to a much happier reunion.  While I was away, it rained and the days heated up.  The Automatic Garden did its job and not only filled in, but put out blooms.

The faithful perennials of Black and Blue Salvia and Shrimp Plant came back bigger and better.

Butterfly Weed wasted no time and quickly bloomed, allowing a passing Monarch to leave her eggs for the next generation.

I had seeded a few annuals, along side the reliable garden staples, for some early color. Spring is an anticipated a time of renewal and the Automatic Garden did not disappoint.


Dirt Bath

The planter on my patio table has been constantly  dug up.

Dirt from the planter is flung all over the table and floor.  What animal was doing this?  Naturally, squirrels were the first suspect.  I even put red pepper on the dirt.

One day the culprit was finally revealed.  It was none other than my Carolina Wrens, Frick and Frack that have been taking a dirt bath in the planter.  The first time I witnessed the bath, one of the Wrens enjoyed the dirt for quite awhile and ended with a grand finale of throwing dirt high in the air.

I caught them again and was able to snap a quick photo through the kitchen window with my cell phone.  Frack enjoyed the bath while Frick watched from a chair.  I didn’t get Frick  in the photo.

 


Homegrown Salad with Gluten Free Dressing

It is picking time!  I harvest first thing in the morning, as the weather is heating up and the lettuce gets wilted in the afternoon.

The first picking produced enough salad greens to make dinner.  I carefully cut the oldest leaves and let the others mature for the next meal. Below is a great recipe that is naturally gluten free and tasty for everyone.

Homemade Gazpacho Dressing

3 Tablespoons tomato juice I buy a six pack of small cans of tomato juice and will have it on hand for future salads.

2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 Tablespoon extravirgin olive oil

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 garlic clove minced
Combine ingredients and stir well.

Salad

6 cups of salad green – Homegrown is best!  And store bought is good too. Also, the salad ingredients can be halved for a smaller salad.

2 diced tomatoes

1 diced cucumber

1/3 cup of feta cheese

1/2  orange bell pepper diced  (or what ever color you like)

1 small bunch of green onions chopped

1 (16 ounce) can of cannellini  beans rinsed or any white bean

Toss ingredients into a salad.

I like to serve the dressing on the side, as I usually don’t finish the salad at one meal.  The dressing is strong and only a small amount is needed per serving. It is great for any salad.

*Check out my blog category “Gluten Free” for more easy GF recipes with everyday ingredients.

Adapted from Cooking Light

 


A Texas Tradition

It is that time of year when every Texan heads out to hunt for Bluebonnets.  It becomes pandemonium along the highways as everyone stops their cars and jumps into the fields to make a picture.

We found a beautiful field full of blue on a road away from the busy highway.  You can see how big the field is by the people off in the distance. Kids, dogs and adults were being photographed to preserve a perfect day with our beloved state flowers.