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Spring Roses, Pests and Beneficials

A post I started writing in the spring.  It was a busy summer, dear readers.  I don’t know where the time went!  But finally finishing it.

Oh no!  Not aphids again.  Seeing those sorry sap suckers clumping all over the stem of that lovely rose bud makes me sick!  I have my work cut out for me squashing all these, good thing it’s a beautiful spring day!



There are so many… Dozens of aphids on every bloom.  Is this a lost cause?  Maybe I should give up.



Well that’s better, an ally in my aphid battle.  Ladybugs love aphids, with a what’s-for- dinner kind of love.  but what can one do against so many?

A task to big for one little lady bug maybe.  But not for a family.  Do you see them there in the middle?  Looks like the odds are about to change.


Lady bugs do enjoy a delectable aphid feast.  Check out this video a ladybug noshing on aphid appetizers and entrees.  The aphids truly are ewwy gooie, as I know from my attempts at extermination by squishing.  And oddly, they have no sense of self preservation and do not even attempt to escape.

The adult ladybugs eat quite a few aphids while the larvae, those little bugs in your garden that look like miniature alligators, may eat even more.

This was my favorite video I found while looking up ladybug facts.

National Geographic  and University of Kentucky state that one ladybug can eat up to 5,000 insects in its lifetime.

My garden is your garden, Lady Bugs!



The boys recently had a lesson at church where they learned compassion is feeling real concern for other people and helping them. See figure 1.

Figure 1.

It’s the illustration that makes me laugh. See figure 2.

Figure 2.

Grey Poupon

My sons are very different.  One of the boys, Twin A, has a healthy sense of germ avoidance, and a desire for a high level of courtesy toward both others and himself.  He remembers, on his own, to wash his hands.  I’m not saying he doesn’t play outside sometimes, he just generally strives for good hygiene and civility.

Little Boy B likes to dig holes, play in water with dirt, wear his outdoor coat to the dinner table and wipe his mouth on his sleeves.  He isn’t in the least bothered by croc foot* and would even go to bed like that.  He only takes a shower when we insist.  He is tough and outdoorsy.  He is also prone to impassioned outbursts when he is faced with trials and disappointments….  I’m thinking of yesterday evening at dinner when we told him he had put too much salt on his meal already and couldn’t have anymore.

Much later that night I had an interaction with Twin A that went something like “Excuse me, I hate to bother you, but I have a serious injury and I require a band-aid.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be in bed?”

“But I’m in too much pain to go to sleep.  Can I please have a band-aid?”

“OK, go get your band-aid…”  and so on.

After my son headed back to his own room, I remarked to my spouse that it was nice he was so polite even though he was getting out of bed after his bedtime.

My husband said “Yes, he’s like you.  He likes to be proper and use good manners.”  This is true about me.  Good boundaries make me feel good and polite communication is something I like.  I was glowing with my compliment.  Then my husband said [insert stuffy and British accent] “Pardon me, but could you please pass the Grey Poupon?”

I was surprised by his perspective on this subject and perplexed that my son’s and my good manners were not duly appreciated.  Then, I recalled our shared suffering at dinner during the Great Salt Conflict.  I said [insert best imitation of a shrieking 7-year-old] “I need more Grey Poupon!  I won’t eat my dinner without it!  Give it to me right now!”

We both had a needed laugh.  And manners are good.

*Croc foot:  unappealing condition characterized by a gummy build-up on one’s toes from wearing foam resin footwear summer and winter, through sand, dirt, and water.


My Inventor

My son is an aspiring inventor.  It’s been weeks now where half the things he says follow the phrase “I’m going to invent…” Many of his ideas are inspired by a need or event around the house.  When we had company visiting…

“I’m going to event a flying bed with stabilizers and a removable propellor.”  And also

“A cushion bed that unfolds with the push of a button.”

Some things he thinks of are already in existence.*

And some of his ideas may make his mommy obsolete.**

I started recording some of his ideas:

  • An inside garden*
  • Solar powered knitting machine**
  • Solar powered blender
  • New kinds of submarines
  • Butter warmer
  • Speed shoes with rotors on the backs
  • A turkey roaster that removes the ice and stuffs it**
  • Invisibility spray that makes you invisible, even your clothes
  • Baby translator, to interpret baby’s crying.  The baby has to strap on a baby-sized helmet.  A receiver pops out of a suitcase-disguise.
  • Explodable air that comes in a paper box.  If you cut open the box it bursts.  You have three choices:  Confetti, slime, or popcorn will burst into the air.

If he starts providing too many details we ask him to draw it out.  Most drawings include robot hands and a lot of little gears and wheels.

I wonder if I will need to help him file for some patents.


Burying my money in the yard…

I started typing this post in the spring of 2017 and just pulled it out of the drafts folder.  I’ve added a bit and decided to publish.

In the winter of 2017 I planted three* apple trees at the request of my family.  Apple trees weren’t part of my original plan because of the required upkeep for insects or disease in a southern climate.  Spraying chemicals was low on my list.  However, Twin A, my picky son, favors apples and had started saving seeds in hopes of planting a tree.  I wanted to nurture my young Johnny Appleseed but I didn’t want to devote a lot of my precious yard to seedling test plots so I found a nursery “specializing in old southern and disease-resistant apple and pear trees.”**  It’s not too far from my home.  In fact, it’s  along the route we use to travel north for the holidays, so around Thanksgiving of 2016 we stopped in at an apple festival at Century Farm Orchards.

The weather was clear and growing colder the longer we were there.  The old farm was pretty, with views of the surrounding hill country, and you could see the dark clouds of a weather front approaching.

This was a good stop for our family because I like plants and the boys are foodies.  The boys drank many samples of apple cider (the soft stuff) and ate some apple pie.  Then they took a walk with Oso while I viewed an exhaustive planting demonstration by a professor from NCSU.

I was able to ask David C. Vernon, of Century Farms, about his recommendations for apples that can succeed with less chemical intervention.  He recommended Red Free and St. Clair, newer apple varieties that ripen early in the year.  Mr. Vernon explained that the less time the the fruit spends on the tree the less it is exposed to insect and disease pressure.  I also selected Grimes Golden, a variety originating in WV, like me.  He said this would be a good variety as well, even though it doesn’t ripen as early as the others.***

I received the bare root trees by mail at the beginning of January.  I didn’t have a good cold-but-not-freezing spot for them to wait out the impending ice storm so I decided to plant them the next day.  I came home from work a couple hours ahead of the freezing rain and went right out with my shovel.

There is something magical about planting a bare root tree.  It is dormant and looks like a dead stick when you receive it.  There will be instructions about preventing the root end from drying out too much, maybe soaking for a couple hours in a bucket of water prior to planting, etc.  The bare root plant it looks more like lawn debris than the majestic fruit tree it could become and this does not inspire confidence at first.

In fact, planting a tree requires faith, hope, and love.  Specifically, it requires you to have faith that it is alive, that it is labeled correctly, and that it will be able to survive in the environment you can provide.  It requires you to be hopeful for a harvest, or flowers, or shade, or whatever you, well, hope for.  Finally, it requires you to love it and take care of it: plant it straight, water it during its first summer, prune it to your vision for it, and eventually, if everything goes right, thin the fruit.

I take my trees out into the freezing rainy mist that is falling from the sky and dig three holes in the yard at the appointed places, and set to work planting them.  You must not bury the graft unless you want the tree to make extra roots that will not have a dwarfing effect.  So that’s the vertical dimension of leveling.  Then there are the other dimensions to consider.  I take extreme care to make sure the trunk is straight–especially the lower few inches, since I will be trimming it to knee height after planting to make sure the branches start low and keep the tree as small and manageable as possible.

Once straight I back fill with soil from the yard, grass side down because I don’t want grass coming right up around them.  I will mulch with wood chips and cardboard later to suppress weeds.  I keep checking to make sure they are straight, often crouching or lying down to line up trunks with existing structures in each direction, like the corner of our house or the neighbor’s garage.  It took me over an hour to plant these three saplings.  It was cold and freezing rain started to fall.  My fingers felt icy, and my clothes looked grubby.  What a great afternoon!

Throughout the winter, I will keep looking at the trees.  From the window, and up close.  Wondering if they are still alive.  They still look like dead sticks.  But part of the magic is that one day in the spring I will see the leaf buds starting to enlarge a little.  Slowly but surely, the tree is waking up, and if no rodents gnaw off the rootball, and by the grace of God, in a few years, apples!

The next week after all that work to establish the trunks straight, I noticed that one of the trees was sideways a little.  I interrogated my husband in case he had tripped on the little sappling or knew what happened.  Twin B, who was 5 at that time, let me know that he had loosened up the roots in the soil to help it grow better.  Sigh…  I went out and tried to realign it.

*I planted three trees because apples require a pollenizer and if something happens to one of them there will still be pollen for the other two.

**I will still have to do a bit of spraying for insects or disease, but by selecting less vulnerable trees I expect to do a care routine with less or fewer pesticides…

***The Grimes Golden has been growing for two summers and has had much more trouble with Cedar Apple Rust than the other two trees.  It has also been trying to grow larger and was the only one to bloom in 2018.  In 2019 I will treat it with something for the rust and hope to get apples if one of the other trees will flower.

The St. Clair has had the most struggles.  During its first summer a deer snacked off some of the main limbs it had developed.  It recovered but never replaced the limbs and now has only two.

A big misunderstanding

This is my son, teaching the dog to read some sight words.  He used his own sight word flash cards.  He was sure that if he could teach Harley to read and write she would be able to earn $100.

Harley was an attentive but unsuccessful student.  When he transitioned to math flash cards and began to shout “Harley!  What is 5 minus 4!”  She seemed to feel she was being scolded and slinked out of the room.  I get the same response sometimes when I do a lesson with the boys so maybe I should ask myself where he learned his teaching strategies and methods.

This is a signature that appeared beside the door of our house last week.  Yes, this is the siding of our house.  Yes, this was written with a sharpie.  Of course I asked my son if he had written his name on the side of the house.


No, he did not blame his star student.  “This is just a big misunderstanding,”  He said.  Then he blamed his brother, who’s name is not Aaron.

Just FYI, the Magic Eraser sorta cleans sharpie off of siding, but it doesn’t do a great job.

Summer Highlights


This summer we have done more traveling than usual, which for us is two road trips. Both times we traveled to West Virginia, and we made a little vacation out of it.

We did some exploring of the terrain I enjoyed when I was growing up. We walked out to the overlook I used to to visit on horseback many Sundays with my grandad after he came home from church and took a nap.




We walked down the mountain from there and the boys climbed around on some boulders in a rock climbing area. This is a highlight for them, we have been there once before and they ask to go back.


Later they swam in my parents’ pool and took in a film with their beloved cousin.


We took a little walk with my sister down to the creek where she lets her dog swim. Our pet, a boxer who doesn’t like water much learned a little from her golden retriever cousin, the one with the flowing auburn locks, and got right in for a swim.


To me, this is West Virginia.  Of course the boys enjoyed mountaineering a little.


One reason we have spent so much time in WV this summer is that Oso’s mother has been ill and he has visited her in Pennsylvania, where she has been hospitalized, a couple times. We hope for her continued recovery and that she will be finished with medical interventions soon! The boys visited her in the hospital once. Here they are gowned up for a visit with Grandma.


Knitting: Summer shirt

I knit this shirt starting in the spring of this year. I consider it one of my more successful projects. Meaning it is comfortable to wear and it doesn’t make me look fat. I’m not calling it a tee shirt because, as Oso pointed out, it doesn’t seem smart to spend a lot on yarn plus a number of hours to craft a garment you can get for free.IMG_20180805_130236704_HDR

Yarn:  Speaking of cost, I didn’t spend as much as I could have.  I happened upon this lovely looking Lang Lyon yarn on clearance at a small yarn store I visited with my sis when we were on vacation at the beach last year.  I didn’t find what I went looking for, but I found this so it took me a while to decide what to knit with it.  Instead of costing me $21.00 per ball, it was 10 balls for $40.  I used 5 balls for this shirt, so that makes it a $105 shirt, for only $20.  What a bargain!

I like the yarn.  It has a bit of a shine from the silk, and it is cool enough for summer wear.  I have enough to make the shirt again, but it would be the same color.  I’m trying to decide if I like it that much.  (Polwygle, would you like to knit a shirt this color? lol)

Pattern:  The pattern for the ridged tee is obviously cute.  It was a little bit difficult to source, but I found someone on Amazon selling the archived Knit Simple Magazine in which it was published.  I selected it because I thought it would be fun to knit something with a simple texture (compared to the scarf I had just finished) that ran horizontal instead of vertical (like most knitted textures tend to do).

One problem with the pattern, that was noted by another knitter on ravelry, is that the neck hole is the same size no matter what size shirt you knit.  It starts with the same number of stitches and just expands at a quicker rate for a larger shirt.  The neck hole on my shirt is a little wider than I would like, after blocking, so if I knit it again I would at least try a tighter cast on, if not experiment with casting on fewer stitches…  This could be a real disappointment for a knitter with slim shoulders.


See how the loose the neck is?

This stitch pattern also relaxed after knitting, and perhaps the fibers expanded slightly too.  The shirt ended up being larger than I intended.  It’s not too baggy to wear yet, though with repeated washing it might grow more.

It was only after I finished the neck and arm shaping and began to knit the torso I saw that the instructions said to knit a basic tube.  I decided to add slight bust and waist shaping because I am given enough shapeless tee-shirts at work to know that they do not flatter me and I will only wear them to pull weeds.  I read Knit to Flatter, by Amy Herzog, and figured out how to add some darts.  I think it worked nicely.

IMG_20180805_130324629_HDR  IMG_20180805_130313703_HDR

Bee Hosting

My first vegetable garden where we now live had pollinator problems. Sometimes I have thought about keeping a bee hive to promote pollination.  Alas, I have a sting reaction more reactive than most, and I also live in a neighborhood where people might question the value of my new hobby.  So I determined, instead of beekeeping, I would do bee hosting.  I would provide plants that other people’s bees enjoy, to facilitate them visiting my vegetable garden.  A happy effect of this has been that I have learned to also like the plants bees like.  That was my utilitarian introduction to flower gardening.

Now I enjoy planning my “landscape feature” more than I enjoy planning my veggie garden every spring.  Primary agenda:  Keeping the pollinators happy.  Secondary agenda:  Producing some herbs for cooking and some cut flowers to take inside.  Tertiary agenda:  Having something in the front yard to look at when I get home from work and I’m talking with my mom on the phone. Quaternary agenda:  Impressing the neighbors.  One way or another, I’m sure they are impressed.


Thread waisted wasp (I think it is Eremnophila aureonotata),

The oregano I planted a couple years ago for my own culinary use has expanded to a large patch in the front yard and it is the pollinator party house.  This thread-waisted wasp has been difficult to photograph because they rarely sit still.  Maybe they are looking for their prey, caterpillars.  They also seem to chase around in an amorous or territorial way…  I can’t really discern what is going on.  I read up and found they are the ally of gardeners and plants in our fight against caterpillars.  They sting caterpillars to paralysis and carry them back to their underground lairs.  Disgustingly, the young of the thread waisted wasp hatch and feed upon the paralyzed caterpillars that the mother wasp has stocked for them.  This fragile-looking insect can fly while carrying a relatively large caterpillar.  Though I have not witnessed this, there are plenty of photographs on the internet to prove it.  No wonder she needs the nectar!

Now that the oregano is in flower, I see honey bees too.  Some are golden striped and some have more brownish stripes.  Based on the varied appearances I think there could be more than one hive represented, although I don’t know which neighbors are keeping them.  I don’t have any great photos of these, and it turns out, they are a little more boring than the solitary* bee visitors I get.


Scolid wasp, I think Scolia nobilitata.  

These wasps are also at the oregano party.  The internet says they are parasites of the beetle grubs.  That is, the female bee lays an egg on a beetle grub and the larval bee will consume the larval grub, or something to that effect.  Grubs and beetles are both garden pests so it is nice to see some of these wasps around.


I believe this is a leaf cutter bee visiting the lavender.

A leaf cutter bee prefers to nest solitarily in a cavity, like an existing crack in bricks or easily-excavated rotten wood and she prepares this home to house her young.  As building material she uses circular pieces neatly cut (chewed) from a leaf.  Each of her young will have a separate room and meals (not grubs in this case, but pollen and nectar balls called bee bread) that she prepares in advance for them.  Either she has been subtle about cutting these circles or she’s not seriously building yet.  Or maybe she’s not really a leafcutter…  I have not found the tell-tale signs, leaves transformed into crescents by the circles cut out on the side.

Finally, here are the darlings of pollinator photography, the bumble bee. Firstly, they are cute, being as fuzzy as a tiny teddy bear. Secondly, they are big enough to spot at a distance and to easily see what they are doing. Thirdly, they fly slowly and I can sorta follow them with the camera. In my garden, i see bumble bees of different types. I like them all and haven’t yet attempted to identify who is who.  I also have carpenter bees.  They are photogenic as well and I haven’t found them drilling into the walls of my house so I am happy to host them as well.


These photographs, taken just before dusk, show bees sleeping, or maybe just resting, in the cosmos.  Aren’t they cute?



These I somehow managed to capture in flight.  The left picture shows a bee amongst the vitex.  The other shows a bee heading for delicious bee balm (bergamot).

IMG_20180623_143013337Speaking of vitex, these large bees love it.  They climb up each flowered branch and appear to pause and drink from each blossom.  It’s fun to watch them at their working lunch.


I wish I had planted these flowers close together, because the blossoms would contrast nicely.  Alas, the dahlia on the left was grown from seed and flower colors range from orange to this reddish-purple.  So I didn’t know in advance.  The bee on the pincushion flower, top right, is standing up to take flight, and the bee on the turk’s turban is just rolling around in the delicious thistle-y pollen that she has found.

*Solitary bees don’t have a hive to defend.  They generally keep busy with the other things they do and don’t worry about maintaining a militia.  Most are civil, mild mannered, peace-loving, and I have not been stung or even threatened in my flower garden where we coexist, even though I am being nosy and bothering them with my camera.

Elegant Defense

I wanted something to knit, and I wanted an extra layer to wear this summer when I go out somewhere nice that is seriously air conditioned.


These needs came together to form a lovely project, my new Alpine Knit scarf.

I had already knit a lovely scarf several years back that I was using for this purpose but careless storage and the resultant moth predation gave me opportunity to knit another.  The holes were getting bigger and bigger.  I carefully considered the matter and determined that I am smart enough to knit lace, and smart enough to darn knitting, but not smart enough to darn lace.

While I do enjoy knitting lace, I like looking at it more, so I spent a delightful few hours leafing through books and Ravelry to select a pattern.

Finally, I settled on a pattern from a book I have owned for many years.  Victorian Lace Today, by Jane Sowerby.  My creative vision for this project excluded really fine yarn, and yarn with a halo.  My sis offered to give me some skeins of Madelinetosh sock yarn, in the color Shire, that she had purchased and changed her mind about.  I said “Free yarn?  You’re sure you don’t want it anymore? Of course!”  Sock yarn is thicker than lace yarn, and I used needles smaller than the recommended size to make a more dense (hopefully less snaggy) garment.

First, the yarn.  I did enjoy knitting with the Madelinetosh.  It is very soft and stretchy and forgiving to work with.  Coming off a cotton lace curtain project this was a joy.  Shire has a beautiful color, if you like saturated tones, and they do have their place.  It is very green.

The knitting went well.  There is one error in one of the pattern repeats that is obvious to me but few would notice it unless I pointed it out to them.  (I sometimes feel compelled to do this for some reason…) When I first saw the missing rows I told myself that I was knitting for fun, and it would not be fun to rip all the way back to that.


The best photos of the border came from the blocking, so sorry about the towels in the background.IMG_20180215_220931915

Most of the patterns in Sowerby’s book have a knitted on border.  These are fun to execute but I can never get the corners to look right.  This one has a border that is knit at the same time as the center panel.  There will be no crimped corners, but there will be two patterns to follow at the same time.  The border is true lace, I read, in that it is patterned going both ways.  This is the difficulty: when you are purling across the back row, it is hard to see the pattern unfold because you are looking at the back, so you can’t just wing it by looking at what you did before.  It’s why I never quite memorized the pattern and I had to carry the chart around with me wherever I went knit.


I am pleased with both process and product on this one.  Even better, I have some left over yarn that will hopefully become mittens for Twin A.IMG_20180527_144446779_HDR

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