Butterflies

I always liked the (apparently apocryphal) story of an English king with a stutter accidentally calling what was previously known as a “flutter by” a “butterfly”, and everyone else following suit so as not to embarrass the monarch. Based on some googling, it appears they’ve actually been called butterflies for some mysterious reason that reaches far back into the murky parts of language history. But I’ll stick with my stuttering king. Whatever you call them, I never get tired of the magic of metamorphosis, and as such I’m on the mailing list of Insect Lore, whose live insect kits are my absolute favorites. We’ve raised many caterpillars (both purchased and found) into butterflies in our butterfly garden, not to mention the generations of spotted lovelies who’ve come through our ladybug land. So when I got an email that it was caterpillar weather and painted ladies were on 2 for 1 special, I got on it. Two cups of teeny caterpillars arrived promptly 

 We put them in a warm spot by the gecko’s tank and they grew prodigiously 

 Within a few short weeks they were hanging in J’s from the lid of their cups 

 And soon after they had developed their beautiful golden chrysalises 

 My daughter carefully pinned the paper holding the pupae into the butterfly garden and we settled in to wait a bit more 

 One morning when the kids were at school, I noticed something exciting! 

 Almost all hatched on the same day. We enjoyed their fluttering for a few days, then released them into our garden

   

 Now what I’ve looked at their website for the links above, I see they have a praying mantis kit… Now I know what’s next!

 

Natural Dye on the Fly

Sometimes I do lots of research and gather all the appropriate materials before starting a project. Sometimes I just wing it. This is the latter in action. While the little fellows were dyeing eggs with Paas, I boiled up a pot of red cabbage, and another of dried hibiscus flowers. The cabbage was pretty much a bust for dye, though fun for doing acid/alkaline color-changing magic(more on that in a moment). But the hibiscus was totally unexpected!

 It was a gorgeous bright pink in the pot.  
 

An egg soaked briefly(on the right) turned grey-green, and the one soaked over night turned marbled black!! 
   I decided to try it on a piece of silk pre-mordanted with vinegar. I accordion folded the scarf lengthwise, then width wise, then bound the corners with rubber bands and submerged it in a jar of hibiscus overnight.
 
  
The result was much more what I expected with the eggs! A lovely muted pinky-purple. It is dry, but I’m not sure if it will be color-fast, or oxidize over time, but that’s part of the fun!

 

And in case you want to try magical cabbage concoction: for dye, I think my concentration of cabbage to water was off, plus I think actually boiling the eggs with the cabbage makes for the best color. But we had fun with the cabbage water! Did you know that red cabbage changes color depending on whether it is exposed to acid or alkaline solutions? So cabbage water+vinegar+baking soda= fun. 

Blue/purple cabbage water 

Add a spoonful of vinegar 

Pink cabbage water! Add a spoonful of baking soda for some fizz and another color change back to purple. 

I love science.
  

For The Birds

With spring comes a renewed interest in the creatures that populate our garden. I finally got my act together to set up two bird-friendly projects I’ve been wanting to do for years. First, making nectar and hanging the beautiful hummingbird feeder my mother-in-law bought us years ago. 

 I followed the directions here. It is very important to be a responsible feeder, as any sort of contamination in the feeder can be fatal for the birds, and the nectar must be changed frequently. My animal-loving middle daughter has taken on the task of reminding me to check it daily. Hope someone finds it soon…

 

Next, a window-mounted nest box! I would love to join the children watching a pair of birds safely build their nest, lay eggs, and care for their hatchlings. The kids helped set it up 

 And we chose a quiet, warm window to mount it on upstairs 

Hopefully a house-hunting bird couple will find it a good fit and we’ll have bird family updates for you!

 

Frog Fantasies, Amphibian Dreams

I grew up in New York City, so all of my childhood dreams involved being in nature and discovering/catching small wild animals for pets. I remember once a naturalist on a field trip told us that salamanders and newts can be found under fallen logs. I turned over *every* log I saw after that. Flash forward 30 years to parenthood, living in Berkeley, turning over a stump in our yard and finding a SALAMANDER! Suffice it to say I was way more excited than my children.

When we moved in to our house there was a lily pond with gold fish in our garden. With three children to care for and no gardening experience, I had no idea what to do with it. The goldfish passed on(I never saw a corpse so I’m blaming raccoons), and I started dreaming of having a frog pond instead. Because frogs and salamanders in the yard? My parenting work would be done.

So last year when a friend told us about a neglected reflecting pool in a nearby park that had become a home to frogs and tadpoles, the kids and I went to take a look. We captured a bunch of tiny frogs, polliwogs and tadpoles, acclimated them to the water in our pond and set them free. We saw them for a week or two, then nothing! But I had faith they would return in the spring. And just a few days ago we heard it- nocturnal amphibian music coming from the yard- a frog came back! So of course we had to visit the reflecting pool and bring him some friends.  

    
    
 What’s amazing this year is that we went early enough to bring home the beginning of the life cycle in our little plastic carrier- eggs, tiny tadpoles, slightly larger ones and one mature frog.  

      
 We’ll keep the little guys in our habitat to watch them grow into polliwogs, then let them go in the pond in the hope that some of them will hang around, or come back to us next spring.