Archive for June, 2010

Swallowtail Caterpillars

June 30, 2010

I love going out to garden and finding my dill, parsley, and rue plants full of the Swallowtail caterpillars.  Yep, they pretty much demolish some of my plants but I don’t mind at all.  When they go floating by me while I’m working, or when my children carry them to me on their hands, I am determined to feed these caterpillars even more.

Today I had the kids in my homestead tour group come over to look at the dill plant.  I asked them, “What do you see?”

It took them a little bit but eventually they noticed the caterpillars… and we talked about camouflage  and how it helped the caterpillars.  And then I had them poke the caterpillar and sniff the air…

I love taking pictures of these guys, they don’t move very fast and that’s extremely helpful to a person like me with a camera 🙂

They’re beautiful….

Here’s what the experts say about them.

Swallowtail butterflies are large, colorful butterflies that form the family Papilionidae. There are at least 550 species, and though the majority are tropical, members of the family are found on all continents except Antarctica. The family includes the largest butterflies in the world, the birdwing butterflies of Australia (genus Ornithoptera).[1]

Swallowtails differ from all other butterflies in a number of anatomical traits.

Many swallowtail butterfly caterpillars have attractive colors and patterns, and most of them have a bad-smelling, orange-colored, y-shaped “osmetrium” just behind the head which is turned inside out when the caterpillar feels threatened.

We’ve also collected the chrysalises and put them in a jar and waited for the butterflies to emerge.  It’s a fascinating project and the kids love it.

Butterflies are great pollinators so it’s worth the sacrifice of a few plants!


Making Pickles

June 29, 2010

Several years ago when we lived in Seattle, I tried to make dill pickles.  They were awful!  The spice packet I bought had cloves in it and…yuck.  It wasn’t what I had imagined my dill pickles would taste like so I ended up throwing out the whole batch.

I’ve been a little reluctant to try again but with the bumper crop I’m getting this year, it’s a necessity.  I found this recipe on-line and I’ve added it at the bottom of the post.  I bought the book “Wild Fermentation” and was very pleased with the sauerkraut recipe from the book so I thought I’d give their Sour Pickle recipe a try.

This is the dill we harvested so I could use the seed for the pickles.

The seeds are pretty and in a bunch at the end of the individual stems.

It’s just a matter of rubbing the seeds together to get them off of the plant.

Here are all the ingredients the recipe calls for to make pickles.

Squish went out and picked the grape leaves for me.  The recipe also has other recommendations for leaves to use.  It’s the tannin in the leaves that’s necessary for this recipe.

Added the dill seed that we harvested…

pepper corn and whole garlic cloves…

cucumbers… some of these were picked a few days earlier so I “freshened” them in a bowl of cold water first.

sea salt in the water to make the brine…   (do you like the stain on my finger tips??  It’s from harvesting basil)

add the brine to the crock…

Make sure that the cucumbers are completely submerged in the brine by adding a plate to the top and weight to hold it down.

I have a wooden top for this crock but I’ll probably cover it with cheese cloth too.

So time will tell how good these will be …. I’ll let you know!

Timeframe: 1-4 weeks

Special Equipment:

  • Ceramic crock or food-grade plastic bucket
  • Plate that fits inside crock or bucket
  • 1-gallon/4-liter jug filled with water, or other weight
  • Cloth cover

Ingredients (for 1 gallon/4 liters):

  • 3 to 4 pounds/1.5 to 2 kilograms unwaxed
  • cucumbers (small to medium size)
  • 3⁄8 cup (6 tablespoons)/90 milliliters sea salt
  • 3 to 4 heads fresh flowering dill, or 3 to 4
  • tablespoons/45 to 60 milliliters of any form of
  • dill (fresh or dried leaf or seeds)
  • 2 to 3 heads garlic, peeled
  • 1 handful fresh grape, cherry, oak, and/or
  • horseradish leaves (if available)
  • 1 pinch black peppercorns


  1. Rinse cucumbers, taking care to not bruise them, and making sure their blossoms are removed. Scrape off any remains at the blossom end. If you’re using cucumbers that aren’t fresh off the vine that day, soak them for a couple of hours in very cold water to freshen them.
  2. Dissolve sea salt in ½gallon (2 liters) of water to create brine solution. Stir until salt is thoroughly dissolved.
  3. 3. Clean the crock, then place at the bottom of it dill, garlic, fresh grape leaves, and a pinch of black peppercorns.
  4. Place cucumbers in the crock.
  5. Pour brine over the cucumbers,place the (clean) plate over them, then weigh it down with a jug filled with water or a boiled rock. If the brine doesn’t cover the weighed-down plate, add more brine mixed at the same ratio of just under 1 tablespoon of salt to each cup of water.
  6. Cover the crock with a cloth to keep out dust and flies and store it in a cool place.
  7. Check the crock every day. Skim any mold from the surface, but don’t worry if you can’t get it all. If there’s mold, be sure to rinse the plate and weight. Taste the pickles after a few days.
  8. Enjoy the pickles as they continue to ferment. Continue to check the crock every day.
  9. Eventually, after one to four weeks (depending on the temperature), the pickles will be fully sour. Continue to enjoy them, moving them to the fridge to slow down fermentation.

My First Wool Skein

June 23, 2010

Our first animal on the farm was a sheep.  I had never had a sheep and when we went to pick up Sage, our Shetland sheep, the lady there was a spinner and a knitter.  She showed us her wheels and knitted projects.  I remember thinking how cool it would be to make your own yarn and to knit something with the yarn.  I knew none of those skills so it was just a dream…7.5 years ago.

Yesterday, I finished my first skein of wool yarn.

Last year I bought my first spinning wheel so I could start to learn how to spin.

I had 6 years worth of wool in bags in the basement.  The pressure to do something with all this wool was mounting.

I washed one fleece…two years ago 🙂

Then this year I decided that if I was really going to get going with processing all this wool, I needed some accountability.  What better way to be accountable than with friends!

Especially friends who know way more than I do.

My new friend and I learned how to card wool…

These are called rovings when you roll the wool off the carders.

And of course, there’s always some vegetation that needs to be picked out.

Then it’s time to start spinning…

It’s fun seeing all the different wheels that my friends bring to the house.

Michelle and I have a simple basic wheel but it works!  Someday I’d like to get a fancy wheel – they’re beautiful and spin so nicely.

Once the wool is spun, then it’s put on Yarn Ball Winder.

The wool is then plied which means the two ends are twisted together in the opposite direction of the original spinning.

This is what it looks like when the plying is finished.

The skein is set in hot water with a few drop of Dawn Dishwashing soap to clean and set the yarn.

Carefully, the water is squeezed out and rolled in a towel for that last bit of water.

Lastly, it’s hung up to dry.

I’ve not started knitting with my yarn yet but I’m excited to give it a try.

We have some great knitters in our group and they’re all different ages.

I love listening to them talk about patterns, stitches, techniques….

And then seeing what they’re making!

These are little leg-warmers for her niece who’ll be born in a month.  Aren’t they cute!!?

It’s so wonderful to be with a group of friends who are like minded and  know more than me…

I love to learn…even if it does take me 7.5 years!

Spined Soldier Bug

June 16, 2010

The name alone should give you a clue about this bug.  He has joined forces with the rest of my army in the vegetable garden.  However, he’s very shy and would rather work undercover assignments than be out in the limelight.

Being the persistent, obnoxious camera person I am, I was finally able to get some pictures of our Spined Soldier Bug.

The Spined Soldier Bug likes to live in crop fields, gardens, and open woods on wild and cultivated plants, herbaceous or woody.

In other words, he’s not very picky!

I found this one on my sunflower plant.

Food:  Caterpillars, sawfly larvae, grubs of leaf beetles, and other insects, including nymphs of its own species.

Okay, we’ll forgive him this one fault of eating his own kind.

And maybe he’ll forgive me for pestering him to get these shots!

Meat Chicks Arrived

June 15, 2010

Lauren came to me the other day and announced that we were running low on chickens in the freezer.  While I may be able to butcher a chicken faster than I can get in the van and run to the grocery store for one, I cannot fill my freezer as fast as the grocery store can.

Homesteading means thinking ahead….constantly.

How many tomatoes plants do I grow for eating, canning for the winter months, and for the consumption by bugs?

If I want a constant supply of beef in my freezer and it takes 18 months to grow out a steer, when do I call the local dairy to buy a bull calf, assuming they may have one available?

So, when Lolo came to say we were running low on chicken, I needed at least 3 months before I could restock my freezer.

I had to order my chicks and wait for them to arrive.

About 4 weeks in the brood box eating chick feed…

Then the rest of the time in the chicken tractor in the pastures.  Fed and watered daily, protected from predators.  Taking care that they don’t grow too fast because their legs break easily and I need them to grow to full weight.

Then we need to butcher, shrink wrap and place in the freezer – finally.

So let’s do the figuring….

2 chickens per meal for this family.

Chicken once a week for meals.

26 chicks in a mail order.

Minus 2 for normal mortality rate.

24÷2 = 12 meals

12 meals at one per week = 3 months worth of meals

12 -14 weeks for growing out chicks.

Order new batch of meat chicks every 12 weeks!

If we want to eat all natural poultry, this is the commitment level I need for my family…and that’s all part of homesteading!

Found out too late- the awful Squash Vine Borer!

June 10, 2010

My children have become very proficient at spotting bugs in the garden and calling for me to “come and look!!”

Mae Mae found this one the other day.  It was just emerging…

I was awed by the brilliance of its color and the fuzzy legs.

It really is a very cool bug!!

It looks like a Hummingbird moth to me but I’m not for sure since it doesn’t look like the one in the book 🙂

So, I’m hoping one of you will be able to identify this beautiful creature.

And if you know what this is, is it a beneficial in the garden?

Striped legs, brilliant yellow face, bright orange body, maybe an inch long.

I sure hope it’s a good bug!

New Chicken Tractor

June 9, 2010

I visited a farm several months ago and really liked their tractors.  Not John Deeres, Kabota, or Farmalls.  These were cages that held turkeys and were portable.  The designs were great!

So I took lots of pictures, brought them home and figured out what I would need to make something similar.  Here’s what I came up with….

The kids and I and our intern started work about 8 am and had the majority of this made by noon.

We made the frame out of 2 x 6 boards – 7′ feet long x 6’8″ wide.  The cattle panels that make the dome are about 4′ tall and I wanted them to overlap by a foot.

It took 3 of us to get the fencing inside the frame – one on either end and another in the middle to push it up.  The fencing is 16′ long and a little tough to maneuver over your head.

Once the fence was in place, we u-nailed it to the wood frame.

Next. we cut the backs and fronts.

The holes on the cattle panel are too big for chickens so we attached chicken wire to the inside.

Zip ties are a wonderful invention.  We used these and baling wire to attach the chicken wire.  We also used the baling wire to attach all the panels together – corners and overhead.

Michael stapled the bottom of the wire to the wooden frame.

Putting baling wire on all the connecting points between the back panel and the side piece.

Because of the tension from the cattle panel, I thought it would be important to reinforce the corners.

I wanted a door I could walk through so I had Squish paint the top piece for the door frame.  This piece would run across the entire front of the cage to add stability.

The back and front pieces stuck out too far for me, so I had the corners cut off without interfering with the integrity of the panel’s strength.

We had an 8’x6′ tarp and realized it was too small but we left it on and added the larger tarp.

This tarp is 8′ x 10′ and fit perfectly – right to the top of the chicken wire on the inside.

We zip tied the tarp to the frame.

Michael is about 5′ 10″ and his head is still below the roof.

I wanted a door for this contraption…

after a bit of thinking and collaborating, we decided where to cut the opening.  That purple board was wired to the top of this piece of panel and to the sides .

We cut a piece of panel and covered it with chicken wire.

Thanks goodness for Michael and his strength.  Folding back the wire on itself to make a hinge was the hardest part.

The completed door!  I reinforced the bottom of the door with another piece of wood to add strength and to fill a small gap.

I hung the feeder and waterer with chain.  The watering system isn’t completed yet – that will be another blog 🙂

This wood was untreated – it’s what I had in the barn, so I painted it to help preserve the wood.

See how that wood piece goes across the top?  And it gives me a place to put a hook to hang the pulling rope…

and a canvas for some creative painting!

I still need to add the wheels to the back corners to help with ease of movement.

But until this tractor goes out to pasture, it can be used as a dog kennel….

or a playhouse for children!  This little gal put her baby in the chicken feeder and called it a bucket swing.

Wished she had one for herself 🙂

So there you go!  Copy, modify, whatever.  Isn’t that part of being neighborly?  Sharing ideas and exchanging information?  Have fun!

We’ve since filled our tractor with chickens…

I covered the back with a tarp and attached two on the sides.  The ones on the side can be raised and hooked to allow more air flow and sunshine.  I also had to cover the top opening with chicken wire.  A couple of the hens thought it was great to fly up to the purple board, sit and survey the grounds for luscious bugs, and then hop to the ground to eat them!

Beware, Squash Bugs!!

June 5, 2010

Well, with  the rains, warmer temps, and the many helping hands of my children and our intern, our vegetable garden is almost back on track this year.  I’m beginning to see tiny yellow squash, little bitty tomatoes,  and climbing beans.

Yes, we will have a harvest this summer, it may just be a little bit later than the rest of you who actually got your seeds in on time 🙂

As every gardener knows, when the veggies start to show up on the plants, so do the bad bugs!  My personal nemesis?  That darn Squash bug!  It’s a daily chore now to remove rows of eggs from the squash plants.  And the bigger the plants get, the harder it is to see those eggs.

Without spraying my plants to death with some insecticide, I’m really trying to rely on organic means.  So I squish those Squash bugs with my hands as I comb the plants looking for eggs.

And yesterday while I was looking for new bugs in my garden, I spotted this guy on my squash plant.

At first, it looked like a miniature Deer fly.  Not being sure, I took a bunch of pictures to bring back to my computer.

He was very cooperative and let me get very close – he never left!

I worked the photo in i-photo and cropped the picture to a close up.  Makes it easier to see the smaller details that differentiate one fly from another.

This time, the photo looked exactly like the one in my bug book!!

It’s a Tachina Fly.  He’s my hero when it comes to Squash bugs 🙂

Let me introduce you to one of my new best friends in the garden…

Food: Adult may drink nectar.  (remember those flowers in the garden??)

Larva is internal parasite of true bugs.

Life cycle: Adults mate near flowers.  (umm, reminder about flowers in the garden 🙂 )  Females attach eggs to medium-sized to large true bugs.  Larvae enter host, feeding first on less essential tissues and later killing host.  Those maturing in autumn pupate inside the host, emerging as adults in spring; others pupate in soil, emerging summer of fall.

The tachinid fly is often encouraged for biological control of squash bugs, stink bugs, leaf-footed bugs, cotton stainers, and other plant bugs.

So beware Squash bug!!  My Tachina Flies are looking for you…!

Thick-headed Fly

June 3, 2010

I’ve seen these flying about my flowers before but never really paid any attention to them.  Today, however, they were all over the flowers of my Dill.  And, since my new project is to identify the bugs in my garden, I grabbed my camera and started shooting.

Thank goodness for Google.  I thought I found what it is in my book but the internet gave greater clarification.

This is a Thick-headed Fly.  Kind of an insulting name, don’t ya think??

The adults drink nectar.   Thus the reason they were all over the dill.

67 species are listed for North America.  They’re tiny – less than a 1/4″ long.

The larva is an internal parasite meaning, the egg hatches inside another bug and lives off the guts and stuff till it’s ready to emerge and pupate – become the adult form.

Females use pincers to hold prey while in flight, then lays 1 egg on victim.  Larva attacks internally, finally killing its food source.

Victims of thick-headed flies offer little or no resistance to being caught.  They are held captive during the short flight while the egg is being attached.

Victims: wasps, bumblebees, and grasshoppers.

Now, I’d keep the wasps and the bumblebees but they can certainly have all the grasshoppers they want!!  Those grasshoppers eat my plants.

Check your flowers and you may see these little guys, especially if you have dill!