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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

Spring garden pictures

The garden has been off to a difficult start this spring. There was about a month when it did not rain so I thought it would be a bad idea to set out seedlings. This happened during a previous year where I had a few trays of seedlings finally big enough to set out but it was too hot and dry and I didn’t want to kill them so quick.  Lately, it has been raining more than usual.  Plants in the vegetable garden look lush and happy.  Roses don’t bloom as pretty when it’s raining, but I will take the rain!

Speaking of roses, one got a disease (rose rosette) and I had to dig it up and put it in the garbage can after watching it grow and bloom for 4 years.  That was sad, and I am still nervous that the others could have caught the same thing.

Then there were the rodents that nearly killed my best blueberry and and my remaining fig tree. They totally killed a small fig tree last spring so this time I was at least aware what might be the trouble when a couple branches died off. (Plants don’t like to have their roots gnawed off but the gardener can’t always tell what is happening til it’s too late.)

I did manage to take some pictures of things that have been looking well.


Blush noisette rose waiting to grow big enough to set out. This will be a nice replacement for the one that died, but I won’t put it in the same place because I’m superstitious about the disease.


This Rosa alba semi plena is a few years old. The pink bloom in front is called rose campion. (It’s not a real rose.)


This China rose is called Ducher.  It is doing better than all the other ones, I think since China roses like the warm climate here.


This is my oak leaf hydrangea. It’s been growing so slowly, but maybe that’s because its competing with the real oaks growing nearby.

These Kniphofia, or red hot poker, or torch lily are an interesting flower that I am really starting to like.  The one pictured with Twin B was pushed on me at a plant swap a couple years ago, and represented as liking full shade, so that’s where I planted it.  The other ones I purchased later to recreate a photo I liked in a gardening book.  They were shown growing with salvia.  I am still working for this effect… The salvia I purchased seem to bloom in mid to late summer, while the Kniphofia bloom in late spring.  This could be a reason to buy more salvia?  (The author of the book is from Pennsylvania and I wonder if late summer and early summer occur at the same time when you are that far north.)


Twin B is removing the arugula so we can plant okra.  Out with the spring, in with the summer! If anyone is going to help me with the garden, it will be this guy because he likes bugs and he likes digging, and he really likes tomatoes.

Finally, some additions to my garden that are not plants:  My parents were able to get this beautiful garden furniture from a neighbor that had retired it.  Oso helped me to restore it.

The bench and one of the chairs was restored by my spouse.  I helped out a lot with the other chair and the little table.  (What I mean by helping out was sanding and painting, while pestering him to help me with cutting more boards and hurry up and secure everything back together).

Maintaining Perspective

For those of you who are insulated by distance from mundane details of my family life, here’s some information that may cause dismay. One of my sons was not potty-trained until after age 5.5.  He occasionally made it to the bathroom, but not often.  I will protect his anonymity by not revealing which twin, although I don’t know why I am doing this for him, he was not at all self-conscious about his habit.

Now that this is a memory in the past and not a daily source of insecurity and annoyance (for me, my son was neither insecure or annoyed about this), I can be be more philosophical about this issue.  Back then, I couldn’t tell if I was failing as a parent or he was failing as an individual.  I obsessed a bit

  • Doesn’t he care that I dislike changing poopy diapers/briefs? (No)
  • Is he just too busy to be bothered with going to the bathroom? (Yes)
  • Doesn’t a poopy diaper feel uncomfortable? (Not right away, apparently)
  • I wonder how much money we could be saving on diapers? (A lot)
  • Doesn’t he feel embarrassed to do this when we are out and about? (No)
  • Is there something wrong with his anatomy? (Seems like there wasn’t)
  • Is he going to grow up to be a psychopath or a slob? (I still hope not)
  • What would cause someone in a poopy diaper to sit on a bicycle? (Still don’t know…)

Last weekend there was an incident that revealed a lot about the situation…

We were at the library for a free concert of the Triangle Youth Philharmonic Woodwind Trio.  I was enjoying the music while my son, the recently potty trained, was relaxing on my lap.  My other son, the one I love, who potty trained at age 2, was wandering around looking at the books.  He suddenly came over and announced that he had to poop.  We all hurried to the restroom, where he announced that it was too late.

On the way home I tried to reassure him that he could just hop in the shower soon, accidents can happen, etc.

Then came another voice from the backseat, explaining why we were wrong to be so concerned about this

“Poopin isn’t as bad as gettin dead.”

Why didn’t I think of that?

Kitchen Pets and Projects

It’s time for a blog about the kitchen projects.   I am trying to focus on healthy things we can make to ward off the next viral or bacterial event and to make us healthier in general.  Prebiotics, probiotics, etc. Here are some ferments, tonics and remedies I already have around the kitchen.

A few years ago I started to make Kombucha, the gateway ferment.  If you don’t know what kombucha is, look it up!  That’s what I had to do when this ugly looking Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast, aka SCOBY, arrived in my kitchen.  There are many enthusiasts out there ready to tell you about it and give or even sell you one.  (If I know you in real life I will gladly give you a SCOBY for kombucha next time we see each other).

A friend of Oso’s gave us a culture to care for and it chose me.  I made a jar of the sweet tea and put the SCOBY in it to ferment the tea.  Kombucha is supposed to be good for you but I did not like it at first.  (I still add a little water and fruit juice, and fruit pieces if it’s summer, when I drink kombucha.)  However, being that it’s a living organism (sometimes called The Mother), I was unable to discard her so I just kept feeding her and she kept growing.  I feel like I have better digestive health and maybe better skin health when I take a drink of kombucha every day or so.  It’s been a healthy and fun project.


Kombucha on the left, kefir on the right.

Pictured beside the Kombucha the kefir.  Compare to powerful yogurt.  The little “seeds” or curds are another type of Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast.  You put them in a glass of milk, walk away for a day, or longer if you leave it in the fridge, and come back to a glass of this yogurty substance.  I have a love-dislike relationship with this food drink.  I love the health benefits, but it could taste greater.  The best description is that it’s almost as good as plain yogurt.  It’s my least favorite of the kitchen pets, but I guess I keep feeding all the living organisms in my house…  It is the highest maintenance, requiring the most care.  Whereas with kombucha, you just pour the drink off the top til you need to make more tea, with kefir you strain the cultures out with a seive and then add them to a fresh glass of milk every time. (You drink the milk they just finished fermenting–I guess you could say they drink the milk, then you drink the milk).  It’s not as gross as it sounds, but it almost is.  You can make something very similar to sour cream or cream cheese from the fermented milk by suspending it in a cloth and letting the whey run out.  The whey can be used to feed the dog her probiotic, or to jump start vegetable ferment like the kimchi…

My next foray into fermenting was the best looking of ferments.  Kimchi.  I don’t make it blazing hot, aiming more for the flavor of a spicy, sour pickle so in theory the kids would eat it.  They don’t appreciate it yet but someday they will.  I make it with purple cabbage and it looks beautiful in a jar or on a plate.  There are a lot of other vegetables fermented with the cabbage, you just can’t see them because they all turned PURPLE.  And so will food served with it.  Oso and I enjoy it as a condiment, not a main dish.


Kimchi in front, pepper mash in back.

When I had a lot of hot peppers in the garden and my library had a featured book with spicy ferments I tried my hand at making pepper mash.  This is not our favorite thing, mostly because I don’t know how to make optimal use of it. It’s way too hot to eat plain. I tried making hot pepper fruit syrup, which you can barely see at the right of the photo.  I mean to try eating this on vanilla ice cream, for the health benefits, of course. But I can’t yet report on this combination. It is sweet and spicy.


Fire cider ingredients.

Here’s another thing I recently tried to make, it’s called Fire Cider.  It’s vinegar, not alcohol based, so don’t get too excited!  It’s an herbal remedy I read about and hope will help with the contagions.  Here’s a picture of it as I put it together.  The vinegar is supposed to extract all the healthy substances from the roots and fruits, then I will remove the foods with a seive. I will drink the vinegar in small doses and throw away the foods.  That is, unless they taste like a delicious herbal pickle, which could happen.  It should be ready to start keeping me well this weekend.

New at My House

I realize it has been a while since I have posted anything so I thought I would give you a few pictures of things that are new around my house.

First, meet Harley.  IMG_0111IMG_0092

She is a mostly-boxer who was rehomed to us about almost two weeks ago and so far has been fitting in fabulously around the house (just don’t ask the chickens).   Today is one of the few days where she will be home alone for an extended period.  Hope she doesn’t eat the house!




Now that you have seen how big Twin B is getting, here’s a photo of Twin A.  They are getting so tall, up past my elbows now!





Next, meet Bianchi.  This bike was rehomed to me by my brother last month.  Notice the heavenly rays enlightening the photo.  That’s how always looks.  Even inside the house.  I am optimistic that we will be spending a lot of time together on the road!








Here is a lace scarf I am currently knitting.  Alpine Knit Scarf with Double Rose Leaf Center Pattern and Diamond Border by Jane Sowerby, published in Victorian Lace Today.   I love this pattern.  Good thing because I have to repeat that little leaf motif about 30 more times before it will be finished.  My sis gave me the yarn.  It’s the Shire colorway, Madelintosh sock yarn.  I am a convert!  It’s such good yarn.


Finally, the obligatory garden photos.  Just when everything starts getting tired and worn out, the mums start to bloom and the roses come back around.  October is nice around here.

Poetry and the Five Year Old

My son, who is developing his charm and his poetic voice, looked into my eyes and uttered

“When I was born

I fell in love.”


I kept listening  for the second verse because I wasn’t sure whether he was declaring his love for his mother or whether there would be a reasonable explanation to follow.

“Because you let me take naps whenever I wanted.”


His father loves me for the same reason.

Karate Pics


One of my friends remarked to me that age 5 was a big developmental year for kids; she is right.  This year we have recovered our ability to go places and do things.*  So while I still can’t take them to the knitting meetup, we have filled our schedule with other stuff.

The boys are currently taking kids karate, a seriously kinetic hour twice weekly where the boys run, jump, work on their balance, kick and punch (targets that look like pillows).  The boys love their karate class for all the above reasons; I have determined to drop it or take some time off.  Happily the 6 week karate trial offer will end in a couple weeks.  These 2-3 hours per week that we spend in class and transit have overbooked this introvert.

Anyway, they got a uniform with their karate introductory trial offer.  So that’s the photo outside their class.

Here are some additional photos taken by my lovely neighbor who watches over the boys for us sometimes.  She asked them to show her some martial arts moves 🙂




*BONUS PARENTING MATERIAL: I’m now going to share an important parenting technique that my spouse has developed to help with the most troublesome part of going anywhere with kids (Getting back in the car to go home).  This technique is called “The last one to the car is a rotten egg.”  Use of this technique has transformed the part of the outting that used to mean transporting two whining, crying children away from the playground all the way back to the car.  It was exhausting and demoralizing and kept us home a lot of Saturdays while I waited for the boys to act more mature.  Due to Oso’s new technique, all I have to do is quietly speak those magic words.  Then the hardest part is hurry to keep up with the children who have willingly abandoned any enrapturing activity to race to the car.  The competitive nature has been harnessed.  It works so well I sometimes feel guilty.

Last Gansey Update, Snakes and Ladders

GanseyKAL - White Background

IMG00142-20170305-1254This is my son, Twin A and this is the Snakes and Ladders gansey sweater.  I finished his sweater a few months ago.  He wore it several times around the holidays when we were up north for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  He has worn it only a few other times.  We have had a disappointingly warm winter, for the knitter, that is.  This picture shows what is probably the last time he will be able to wear this garment since spring is here and his arms keep getting longer.  To put this in perspective, he has grown almost 6 inches taller in the past year.  I don’t remember growing this fast when I was young and I wonder when the boys are going to slow down.

To review, this is one of my most successful knits ever.  I wish I had entered this thing in the state fair before it started looking “lived in.”  This pattern, by Beth Brown-Reinsel was a pleasure to knit, and with copious swatching, the process went off without a hitch.  I am especially glad I swatched the cast on, along with the bottom band and first few knit rows a couple times. I found that I had to change up the needle sizes for each texture.  Without swatching, I would have wasted a LOT of time on that tedious cast-on (which looks great, by the way).


Knotted cast on

My son does not mind wearing the sweater, which says to me he is a stylish young man.  He has once or twice voiced the obligatory complaint that it is itchy.  I really doubt it!  But he wears it with a tee shirt underneath anyway.  The dk weight wool is Cascade Yarns Anchor Bay in Scarlet.  I wanted to try knitting with a washable wool cotton blend and this one was on sale.  This yarn was really nice to work with.  The color is rich.  It seems very soft to me.  I like the way the wool and cotton strands seem to have absorbed dye a bit differently.  There is a slight tweedy look to it that I dig, but this tweedy look does not seem to reduce stitch definition. It has held up to about 6 hand washings with very minimal fuzzing or pilling.  I will seek out this yarn again for a dk weight project!

Back to the pattern, the uncrossed cables making up the snakes were fun and easy to execute. While the gansey tradition is replete with ladders, I don’t remember seeing this particular motif while reading up on historic ganseys; the snakes may not be authentic.  However my son and I like this texture a lot–he is a fan of snakes and he can totally see them in this pattern.  Below is a shot of an underarm gusset–they were an interesting design detail, and the side seams that worked out great.


We give it 5 stars!


For Science

My five-year-olds and I have recently enjoyed Superhero, by Marc Tauss  in which a young man travels back in time to collect plant samples and formulate a chemical that saves the day.

My kids re-imagined that story, this time starring themselves, and the following transpired last Sunday.

They built a space ship in the front yard using their dad’s windmill (dont’ ask) and some curved corrugated metal pieces (old window wells) the handy husband has stashed in the back yard.


I went out to the front yard to see what they were doing with the metal and to make some plant cuttings from the garden.  I found them in the herb area of the mostly-dormant winter garden.  They were pulling leaves off plants and smelling them, a gardening activity I support for its learning value even though it’s hard on my lavender.

The boys informed me that they were exploring another planet and discovering things for their collection.  Twin A asked me to trim a piece off a berry bush growing in my garden.  I judiciously cut off a little dead brown twig that needed to be removed anyway.  “No, I want one of those red stems, a long one.”  He said, pointing to a nice long stem I wanted to keep.

“Are you sure it has to be that one?”

“Yes, it’s for science.” His brother came over and opened his fist to show me some wilty crushed specimens they had already collected.

“Alright,” I said, clipping off the nice branch.  “Only for science.”

He carefully transported it to the shuttle.

They then began to ask about some sticks they had found in the yard.  I explained that I had trimmed down some newly planted apple trees to knee-height.  I told them the idea was to keep the trunk short and the branches low so that we would pick the apples easily, a method endorsed by Ann Ralph, in Grow a Little Fruit Tree.

I showed them a small tree we had planted last year and how it had once been a shoulder-height stick but I had trimmed a few feet off of it.  We could see how the buds had branched out last summer and made 4 nice primary limbs a little below knee-height.  Twin B noticed the little scar left by the pruning.  It had almost entirely healed over in the last year.  I told them we would trim more off it this summer to keep it small and to cause each of the pimary limbs to branch out.

Later, in the back yard while I was pushing Twin A on the swing, my little scientist pointed 25 feet up into the giant oak tree and suggested that someone must have trimmed it right there (the spot where the lowest branches leave the trunk).  Probably not– but it’s a good observation, considering our earlier discussion.

Twin B came over while I was setting my plant cuttings in potting soil and asked me if he could prune off the flower from our Camellia japonica. I said “I don’t think so.  I like looking at it and I want to leave it on the plant.”


Camellia japonica, Governor Mouton.

“Please mom?  It’s for science.”

“Well, only if we can put it in a vase in the kitchen after we cut it for science.”

“OK, and I want to use those.” The pruning shears.

“Not even for science.”




For grandma, a gratuitous gardening and grandchild photo.

And here is a pic of Twin B with one of the daffodils we planted last summer.  They have started sprouting, just like we had hoped!



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