Saturday, June 27, 2009

Will try to post more soon!

I really miss writing in the blog. :( I've been so busy that I haven't had time, but I hope to post a bigger post soon! Nature changes so quickly, so there are a lot of changes outside that have happened around here recently, and I really want to share them with you! Anyway, I hope anyone who reads this is doing well. :D

Friday, June 19, 2009

First Veggie Harvested from our Garden -- A Radish

Early this spring my children each chose one or more types of seeds to plant in our garden. My littlest one chose radishes as the veggie that he wanted to plant. Today he got to pick his first one! It also has the distinct honor of being our first veggie harvested. I cut it up, and we shared it amongst seven people (the kids, my husband and I, and Grandma). He and his brother even tried it (and they don't like radishes). He's so proud of his radish!

(picture taken by windchime)
(picture taken by me)
(picture taken by me)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Yesterday my older daughter (Windchime) told me that she thought that she had found another type of clover. She described to me a little yellow-flowered plant with clover-like leaves (she recognized them as such), and we looked it up, and she was right! I hadn't given much thought to that plant before then, but both my older children had noticed it, and it's encouraging to see them observing nature so closely and remembering and drawing conclusions from past things we have learned.

So far we have found four types of clover, none of them native to the Pacific Northwest (or North America), but the bees sure love them, and they are good for the soil. They are pretty little flowers, and when looked up close you can see amazing detail. Each flower head is made up of many tiny individual flowers, some with beautiful patterns. They are trifoliate plants, meaning their leaves are divided into three leaflets.

Small Hop Clover (Trifolium dubium)

The little yellow one we believe is called "small hop clover." Another name it goes by is "Lesser Hop Trefoil." It has small flowers, and I'll try later to post a picture taken from farther away so you can get more of an idea of it's size.

"Leaves held on short petioles along stems, divided into 3 egg-shaped leaflets. Flower head more or less spike-like. Flowers bright yellow, becoming brown and reflexing downward."
~ Pacific Northwest Flowers
(picture taken by my older son)

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

Wikipedia's page on Red Clover says that red clover is "native to Europe, western Asia and northwest Africa, but planted and naturalised in many other regions."

"At first glance, the bloom of the red clover may look like a single flower; but it is really a cluster of many tiny flowers, each projecting out from the center about 3/8 of an inch."
(picture taken by Windchime)

See how the leaves are right beneath the flower head?
(picture taken by my older son)

The leaves of the red clover almost always have a V-shaped white mark on it's leaflets, although sometimes the mark isn't distinct.
(picture taken by my older son)

See it's hairy stem? My son took this picture of very close to show the detail of the stem.
(picture taken by my older son)

"Red clover plant is an herb which when fully mature is about 16 inches tall, with straight, hairy stems, and leaves with three leaflets that are marked with a crescent shape."
~ Red Clover Herb - History and Information
(picture taken by me)

Alsike Clover (Trifolium hybridum)

Alsike Clover is a native of Europe. It was cultivated in Sweden as early as 1750 and was introduced into North America in about 1834. It gets its name from the Alsike parish of Sweden (Alsike Clover).

The flowers are pale pink or whitish. It's stems and leaves are smooth. The book Plants Of The Pacific Northwest Coast: Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska explains: "Alsike clover is the most similar to white clover, but it has more upright stems and pinker flowers; it is a hybrid between red and white clover" (page 196). While white clovers sometimes have a V-marking on the top surface of their leaflets, the leaves of the alsike clover are unmarked. It grows 1-2 feet tall (while white clover is only 2-4 inches tall). (See Wikipedia's page on alsike clover and Pacific Northwest Flower's page about white clover which mentions alsike clover.)

(picture taken by Windchime at Fort Steilacoom Park)

(picture taken by Windchime at Fort Steilacoom Park)

White Clover (Trifolium repens)

Even though it's called white clover, sometimes it is pinkish.
White Clover (Trifolium repens) is a species of clover native to Europe, North Africa, and West Asia. It has been widely introduced elsewhere in the world as a pasture crop, and is also common in many grassy areas in North America.

It is a herbaceous perennial plant. It is low growing, with heads of whitish flowers, often with a tinge of pink or cream. The heads are generally 1.5-2 cm wide, and are at the end of 7 cm peduncles or flower stalks [1]. The leaves are trifoliolate, smooth, elliptic to egg-shaped and long-petioled. The stems function as stolons, so white clover often forms mats with the stems creeping as much as 18 cm a year, and rooting at the nodes [1].
It was introduced into the United States from Europe a long time ago as a source of forage and hay. Habitats include pastures, fields, grassy meadows, lawns, parks, mowed areas along roadsides, paths through woodlands, and waste areas. This plant prefers disturbed areas that are grassy and subject to occasional mowing or grazing. In more natural areas, it is not tall enough to be very competitive with the native vegetation.
(picture taken by Windchime at Fort Steilacoom Park)

(picture taken by Windchime at Fort Steilacoom Park)

See the pretty detailed patterns on the individual flowers of the flowerhead and how they look so beautiful together?
(picture taken by Windchime at Fort Steilacoom Park)

(picture taken by my older son in our yard)

The leaflets of the white clover sometimes have a V-shaped whitish mark on the top of each one.
(picture taken by my older son in our yard)

There are a couple other pictures of white clover here:

Friday, June 12, 2009

Crane Flies

A Crane fly Resting on an English Plantain Leaf"Isn't it pretty cool?"
~ said by my four year old son

There was a really big bug resting on a leaf near my children's climbing toy a couple days ago. I was working in the yard, and my younger daughter excitedly ran over to me and got my attention, wanting me to come with her so she could show me a bug. When I saw it I was surprised at how big it was and didn't remember ever seeing a bug like that before, and I quickly snapped a picture.

My older son reminded me of a bug he had told me he saw the other day and said that this was the same type of bug. He thought it was a mosquito eater. I (embarassingly) dismissed that idea. After googling, though, guess what I think it is? . . . a crane fly, aka (according to Wikipedia) mosquito hawk, mosquito eater (or skeeter eater), gallinipper, gollywhopper, and jimmy spinner (and in the United Kingdom, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland they are commonly referred to as daddy long-legs -- though here in the US part of the Pacific Northwest we call a type of spider by that name). By the way, even though they are sometimes called "mosquito eaters," they don't eat mosquitoes.

There are many types of crane flies, many or most looking very much like giant mosquitoes, and the poor creatures are often misunderstood and many people worry they will bite them or mistakenly think that they are mosquitoes. They don't bite humans, though, or animals. The EPA website says adult craneflies are "harmless."
In appearance crane flies seem long and gangly, with very long legs, and a long slender abdomen. The wings are often held out when at rest, making the large halteres easily visible. Unlike most flies, crane flies are weak and poor fliers with a tendency to "wobble" in unpredictable patterns during flight, and they can be caught without much effort. Also, it is very easy to accidentally break off their delicate legs when catching them, even without direct contact.

Crane flies vary in size, with temperate species ranging from 2 mm up to 60 mm, while tropical species have been recorded at over 100 mm. The Giant Crane Fly (Holorusia rubiginosa) of the western United States can reach 38 mm (1.5 inches). Some Tipula species are 64 mm (2.5 inches). Many smaller species (known as bobbing gnats) are mosquito-sized, but they can be distinguished from mosquitoes by the V-shaped suture on the thorax, non-piercing mouthparts, and a lack of scales on the wing veins.

On the website CraneFlyPests of the Pacific Northwest , Sharon Collman of the EPA wrote the following description of crane flies:

Crane flies are generally beneficial two-winged flies that look a bit like large mosquitoes. Despite their somewhat scary appearance, they don't bite, suck blood, or carry diseases. In fact the adults are harmless and rather comical as they bounce around the landscape and off interior walls. They are also an important food source for birds and other critters. The aquatic larvae of many crane flies are indicators of good stream health, and become fish food. Other crane flies are decomposers and help break down decaying organic matter.

I'm not sure what type we have, but I think it's a type that is native to the Pacific Northwest because there is a spot on it's wings (the identification guide below for the European crane flies says of the European crane flies that "there are no pigmented areas on the veins or cross-veins and no other spots or 'pictures' in the wings").

The CraneFlyPests of the Pacific Northwest has a lot of information about craneflies, including these identification guides -- A Graphic Guide for Identification of Adult European Craneflies; Tipula paludosa and T. oleracea and Pacific NW Native Crane Flies -- and this FAQ.

Edited to add a new picture of a crane fly resting on our front door. This picture was taken on 17 June 09:

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Some Pretty Photos from the Past Two Days

A Ladybug on a Forget-me-not
(taken by my older son in our yard)

A Damselfly on a Blackberry Leaf at Fort Steilacoom Park
(taken by me, but the kids spotted it)

White Clover at Fort Steilacoom Park
(taken by my older daughter, aka Windchime)

White Clover at Fort Steilacoom Park
(taken by my older daughter, aka Windchime)

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

~ Emily Dickinson

A Bumblebee on a Red Clover at Fort Steilacoom Park
(taken by me)

A Snail on a Leaf on a Snowberry Bush
(taken by me in our yard)

Black Cottonwood Tree (Populus Trichocarpa) or "Where is all that Fluffy Stuff is Coming from?"

Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of this group of trees [in the poplus genus] is their cottony fruits that fill the air and water around them in early spring.
~ Common Trees of the Pacific Northwest
Back on May 29th as we were walking at the Tacoma Nature Center on a pathway around Snake Lake, we saw many white fluffy things floating down from the sky in a way that was reminiscent of snow. We figured they were seeds of some kind, but weren't sure where exactly they were coming from.

These pictures were taken by Windchime on 29 May 09 at the Tacoma Nature Center:

Then a couple days ago at Fort Steilacoom Park in Lakewood, we saw the white, fluffy "snow" again. We became really curious to know where it was coming from, so I looked on the 'net and determined that it must be falling from a type of tree called a black cottonwood (populus trichocarpa) -- also known as western balsam poplar or California poplar -- a tree that is native to our area. The fluff is the way the trees spread their seeds, kind of like dandelions!

Wikipedia says:

The seed ripens and is disseminated by late May to late June in Oregon and Washington, but frequently not until mid-July in Idaho and Montana. Abundant seed crops are usually produced every year. Attached to its cotton, the seed is light and buoyant and can be transported long distances by wind and water.

We went back to Fort Steilacoom Park yesterday on a mission to see if we could find out for sure if the fluff was coming from black cottonwood trees. After searching around, it really seems that there are black cottonwood trees at that park and that the fluff is indeed coming from that type of tree!

These were taken by me on 10 June 09 at Fort Steilacoom Park.

The reason they are called "cottonwood" trees -- Windchime collected a bunch of the soft fluff and made this ball. It looks a lot like cotton, doesn't it?

"Snow" (fluff from the black cottonwood tree) on the ground!

Black Cottonwood Bark

"The bark is grey and covered with lenticels, becoming thick and deeply fissured on old trees."
~ Wikipedia

"Furrowed and ridged on mature trees."
~ Common Trees of the Pacific Northwest

Black Cottonwood Leaves

"The leaves are 7-20 cm long with a glossy dark green upper side and glaucous light grey-green underside. . ."
~ Wikipedia

"The leaves of Populus [the genus of which the black cottonwood tree is a member] tend to have silvery or white backsides, and very long leaf stems, which makes it apparent when the wind is blowing through them."
~ Common Trees of the Pacific Northwest

"Simple, alternate, deciduous. Triangular; 3"-6" long (but sometimes much larger); green above and white below, often with rusty markings. Margins are smooth or with rounded teeth."
~ Common Trees of the Pacific Northwest

Male and Female Trees

We were surprised to find out there are male and female trees. The female trees have the white fluff on their trees, but the males don't. My older son noticed that the tree on the left must be a male tree and the tree on the right must be a female tree. See the female catkins with their white fluff in the tree on the right? And notice that the tree on the left doesn't have any at all. (These trees are near Waughop Lake.)

The female tree:

A closer look:

Catkins from the female tree on the ground:

Monday, June 8, 2009

Blackberry Bushes

The blackberry bushes in our area are flowering. I remember picking wild blackberries with my parents as a child (yum!!). Blackberry bushes are common in the Pacific Northwest, however, years ago as the area became more developed, they removed the blackberry bushes from where we used to pick them.

I still have a place to go, though, when the time comes, to pick more berries than I could ever want, for we have a lot of wild blackberry bushes in our yard (we sometimes call them "pokey bushes" or "sticker bushes" because of their thorns). Most of our bushes are himalayan blackberry bushes, but we also have some evergreen blackberry. And crawling over our yard we also have trailing blackberry, the only blackberry native to our area. We've not tasted any berries from trailing blackberry vines yet, but I hope we will this year (though the other blackberries are just flowering, the trailing blackberries have begun growing fruit!).

We have a love/hate type of relationship with our blackberry bushes. We love, love eating blackberries. One of our favorite things is blackberry pie. There will be a lot of berries ripe toward the end of August, and my mouth waters thinking about it.

Another benefit is that they have many nutrients and antioxidants. Even their seeds are really nutritious. Wiki's page on blackberries says,

Blackberries are exceptional among other Rubus berries for their numerous, large seeds not always preferred by consumers. They contain rich amounts of omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid) and -6 fats (linoleic acid), protein, dietary fiber, carotenoids, ellagitannins and ellagic acid.

The bad thing, though, is that blackberry bushes (especially the himalayan blackberry) would take over the whole yard if allowed to do so. They provide food and shelter to many animals, which is wonderful and one reason why it's better if removal of bushes isn't drastically fast, but sadly their aggressiveness crowds out native plants. We are trying to control the bushes in our yard, but it's a daunting task. Chemicals are so dangerous to the environment and to wildlife that we want to avoid them and are trying slower means of control. The Noxious Weeds section of King County's website says that,

Blackberry can be controlled by digging, mowing, herbicide, plowing, and/or livestock grazing (especially goats). Removal of top growth by mowing, cutting or grazing with goats will eventually kill blackberry if done regularly and over several years. Cutting followed by digging up root crowns is much more effective than cutting alone.

We've toyed with the idea of getting a goat, but I'm guessing that's probably not going to happen. Right now our plan involves a whole lot of cutting and quite a bit of digging. I've worked on pulling down the old stalks that had climbed up in the trees, and we cleared an area of blackberry bushes and planted our garden there.

What the area where we planted our garden looked like before we finished clearing it out:


Blackberry bushes are very hardy plants. We had a colder and more snowy winter this year than usual here in the pacific northwest. The blackberry bushes got totally flattened out. I knew they'd start growing again, but I thought perhaps we might not have so many berries this year. However, looking at all the blossoms, I think we'll have a pretty good crop.

Himalayan Blackberry Bushes Back on March 16th:


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Natural Aphid Control (or Cheering those Ladybugs on!!)

Warning: There are pictures below that may be creepy to some people (there are some of aphids being eaten).

Woohoo! You go ladybugs!!

It's been very difficult for me seeing the aphids on our rose bush and leaving them there. But we had read that ladybug eggs are often laid near aphid colonies, and we knew the ladybugs would soon need them for food after they hatched and ate the eggs they hatched from (plus, we want to encourage an ecological balance in our yard), so we left the aphids on the bush.

The time I have been waiting for, though, has arrived! The ladybugs are HUNGRY! And the aphid population near them is declining. Having eaten the eggs they hatched from, the ladybugs ventured out, walking around the rosebush leaves nearby where they hatched searching for and eating (mostly) baby aphids (it looks like some of the ladybugs are already going after larger aphids, too).

It's a time of mixed feelings in our family. My younger daughter feels sad that they eat the aphids. My older son feels both glad and sad -- sad for the aphids but glad to watch this example of the design in nature where each animal plays an important role. You can probably guess my feelings. I'm trying to balance wanting to support my daughter and her tender heart and expressing the gratefulness I feel for the ladybugs and their appetite.

Here are some pictures that were taken on 6 June 09.

My son took this first picture. It's a little blurry (our camera auto-focuses, and it can be frustratingly hard to get it to focus right sometimes), but he captured such an amazing scene that I wanted to post it.

(I took the following photos.)

I'm including this one so you can get an idea of their size by comparing them visually with the size of the rose leaf.

This is a closer up view of the previous picture:

There are two ladybugs in this picture. Can you spot them?

And this looks like another insect (I'm wondering if it's a parasitic wasp?) getting in on aphid control:

Tomorrow I'll try and post something a little less creepy crawly. . . maybe something about flowers and trees. :)