Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Stick Bug Unsuccessful Hatching

In the couple of years I've been keeping stick bugs, I have had a lot of babies hatch, but have not been able to witness any hatchings - until a couple of days ago.  Or sort of.  I saw a stick in the bottom of the cage, which looks like it had a failed attempt at hatching (I've had a couple of those).  But as I reached to remove it from the cage, it moved slightly.

I gently picked it up, and took it into the kitchen, to watch it more closely, as it attempted to free itself from the egg capsule.

At first it looked like it was pushing with its front legs, to free its tail from the egg.  Then as time went on, I realized that the front legs were also helplessly attached to the egg, and only the middle two legs were functioning normally.  One of the back legs were broken off (perhaps by my picking it up the first time).

It struggled valiantly for a number of hours.  Finally I tried to help pull off the egg capsule, which came off but left behind an unidentified clearish white material, in which the 4 legs were firmly and hopelessly attached.  Unfortunately I managed to also break off on of the good legs, in the process.  So the situation was pretty bleak.  Without legs, this little guy would have no means of survival.  I tried to console him that evening with a moistened blackberry leaf, but while his mouth parts moved a bit in response to the leaf, he didn't make any noticeable attempt to chew it.  In the morning, he was dead.

Poor little thing.  It was sad to see him in that predicament, and not be able to help.  But at the same time it was neat to get a little glimpse into the hatching process, even if an unsuccessful one.  I still hope one day to witness a successful hatching.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Preparing for a Harsh Winter

On Friday night, it started snowing, and by midnight, everything was blanketed in white.  This is VERY early for the Vancouver BC area.  My daughter snapped this photo Saturday morning of our wooden bench on the back deck (which I've since pulled closer to the house, to avoid further snow and rain):
Wooden bench in snow
It had been a long week, so I didn't get up early enough on Saturday to get a nice photo, only this one after the snow was already starting to melt, and fall off the branches:
Snowy garden scene
Note the small banana tree on the bottom left.  My landscaper gave this to me (an offshoot of his tree) only a couple of weeks ago.  So hopefully it will settle in and survive this winter, which is predicted to be a particularly harsh one.  Here is it before the cold hit it:
Banana tree
Yesterday I was able to take advantage of the clear weather to provide it with some winter protection.  I have wrapped it in straw, held in place by a roll of chicken wire, which is held in place by a few small posts, and wrapped in twine.  Then I covered it with a clear plastic bag, also tied with twine.  Fortunately, both the chicken wire and plastic bag were just tall enough.  Hopefully it will give the banana a head start in Spring, so it doesn't die right back to the ground.

I was worried that it might look like an eyesore, but I think it actually looks pretty good.  Maybe with a bit of decorating, this little column of plastic-wrapped straw will look like a small snowman:
Banana tree wrapped in straw for the winter
Today I also removed the hoses from the 3 outdoor hose bibs, and put away the hose reels and sprinklers.  I unplugged and covered the transformer for my low voltage lights, and wrapped the glass fixtures in bubble wrap.  I also removed the solar light fixtures from the front yard, leaving only the stake and aluminum tubes in place so it will be really easy to replace the fixtures in Spring (I'm not sure if I should leave them there, or also remove them - any advice?).

Yesterday I noticed a small dead bird, partly covered in snow, in the bottom of our outside stairwell.  Today when I went to remove it, I found it already gone.  A crow or other scavenger must have found it and done the job for me.  So today I am thankful for scavengers, who tidy up for us.

I have cut the gunnera leaves, and piled them over the crown, to protect it for winter.  This method has worked for me in previous years, and this year I had a lot of leaves and very large ones, so hopefully that will be enough.  I cut some of the flowered ends of my beautiful big floppy butterfly bush next to the front driveway, since the wet snow was weighing it down too much, and I was afraid that more wet snow would break too many branches.  I also trimmed back some hydrangea branches which we already breaking under the weight of the snow.  Normally I would wait until Spring, but again, it is better to cut back than to wait until they break.  I could do some more trimming and clean up, but I think there is nothing really critical remaining to be done.

I think I've now ready for winter.  At least in the garden.  Driving may be a different story.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Congratulations Ola! One Million Giraffes!

Do you remember the One Million Giraffes project I heard about just over a year ago, and submitted a photo of my giraffe sculpture, then some drawings of giraffes which the kids and I made?

Giraffe sculpture - one of a million giraffesThe project was started by Ola Helland, as a bet with his friend Jorgen, that he would be able to collect one million images of hand made or hand drawn giraffes.  That was a lofty challenge, and one which I was happy to lend my assistance, as did many people in 102 countries.  I am happy to hear the Ola has recently reached his goal of one million giraffes, after 440 days of collecting giraffes.  The web site One Million Giraffes continues to collect more giraffes - so if you missed being part of the first million, there is still a chance to submit your photos, perhaps toward the next million giraffes!  A nice coffee table book (a sort of Where's Waldo? of giraffe images) containing most of the one million giraffes has emerged as a result of the project.

The book is available from Amazon.ca here or Amazon.com here, or possibly at your local bookstore.  More photos and information about the book can be found here.  So if you participated in the project, you can purchase the book and look for your giraffe.  Or if someone is looking for something to buy me for Christmas, this is one possible idea.  :-)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Squirrel Attack Makes a Snack of Jack

This post is not for the faint of heart.  Remember that fearless and menacing Jack O'Lantern we set out on Hallowe'en? 

He has met his match.  He has been reduced to a cowering, whimpering, suffering Jack, his eyes and teeth and chunks of his head viciously chewed by the real dark menace - the neighbourhood squirrels.
It's a funny thing about squirrels.  They wave about that big bushy tail, and we all think they are the sweetest thing.  Even I have been known to fall for their sweet mischievous looks.  And judging by how the squirrels shamelessly mobbed us the last time our family took a stroll through the park, many others have succombed to their charms as well.

I have to admit, even when rushing straight towards you, isn't this one cute little creature?
Or look at this little charmer.  Who wouldn't agree that she's adorable?  Even if she's only after your nuts.  Or in my case, my apples, pears, cherries, plums....
On the flip side of the rodent family, there are the rats.  Since we have added 3 rats to our household, we have found them to be friendly, gentle, inquisitive, intelligent, and very affectionate - snuggling and licking and enjoying being handled.  Quiet, clean, and full of fun.  Look at this little face, isn't he a cutie?
Or this little girl?  Wouldn't she just melt your heart?
But when God was handing out tails, and the squirrel picked his big bushy tail, the poor rat picked the wrong one.  The one which makes us gasp, to stop and stare, or to just turn and run in fear.

Poor dear rats.  If only they had picked the bushy tails, I'm sure they would been the hit of the small pet market.  But instead, sadly, most of those born in captivity are destined to be snake food. 

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Castor Bean Plant

Until recently, I had only seen photos in gardening books and seed catalogs, but the castor bean plant (Ricinus communis) is a stunningly beautiful plant.  See photos here.

Soon (next summer) I hope to have photos of my own, since my mom gave me two young plants which I have happily planted into my garden, one at the front of the house, and one waaay up at the back, near the shed.  Some gardening friends of hers had bought some of these beautiful plants (the beautiful reddish "Sanguineus" variety), but then got scared by the description that they will grow to 15'.  I am not sure in one Vancouver BC weather what to expect for growth, and winter survival, for that matter.  I have only very recently spotted this plant (I don't believe I've ever seen it in "real life" before), growing beside a nearby police station.  Funny thing, I thought, with this plant's reputation for use in chemical warfare and terrorism.

The toxicity of the bean (due to the protein ricin) has discouraged me in the past, but realistically, my kids are old enough now, and I can't imagine anyone picking and eating the beans (kids nowadays have plenty of food, and aren't looking for such culinary adventures).  Except hopefully the squirrels, which are cute little buggers but are becoming a bit too much - this year they picked all my apples (except the few unripe ones I picked first), asian pears, pears, and many of my plums.  In past years, they have eaten all my daffodils and many other bulbs (I don't even think I'm going to try planting bulbs this year).

As for winter hardiness, I am beginning to worry...  I read that it is perennial in zones 8 - 11, but elsewhere I read that it likely will not survive the winter in zones 8 & 9, but will propagate by reseeding.  Mine don't have seeds developed yet, and the winter is already setting in - there was snow on the local mountains yesterday morning.  So I am not sure if I should hedge my bet by digging one of them up, and trying to overwinter it in the basement.Vancouver is usually pretty mild, but the predictions are for a severe winter this year (to make up for last year, when snow had to be trucked in to the local Cypress Mountain for some of the Olympic events).  Does anyone have any advice? 
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