Friday, August 29, 2008

Trail Camera Check

We went out to the woods tonight again to check and move the trail cameras. In an effort to boost deer activity near the cameras, Mr. Johnson also sprayed some of the magic "C'Mere Deer" elixir on the ground and nearby vegetation. That stuff is irresistible to deer so we had quite a few more pictures of deer than last week (like this doe and her 2 fawns).

And this is the first buck we've gotten a picture of for 2008. His antlers are still covered in velvet.

We hiked down into the woods to check the StealthCam. After the warm weather and a little rain we had earlier in the week, the vegetation is still very thick and the woods are still looking very summer-like.

Due to a battery malfunction, there weren't any pictures from the StealthCam. We moved both of the cameras to new locations and set up a "mock scrape" with the doe pee scent dripper in front of one of the cameras. We'll go back on Monday for another check and maybe I'll have some new pictures to share with you then.

We saw plenty of other interesting things on our hike in and out of the woods. Do you know what bird this feather is from?

Here's an example of the damage hungry raccoons can do to a farmer's corn crop. This is just a small area but last year this farmer lost almost the first 8 perimeter rows of corn along the edge of the woods due to raccoons and deer. At $8/bushel, you can see why most farmers around here are usually pretty willing to let people deer hunt on their property.

I was happy about the good deer pictures we got on our camera, but while we were setting up the camera in a new location, I was even more excited about a pair of barred owls "hootin' it up" in the woods nearby. Turn up the volume for this short video clip.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Mr. Opportunity

As I was walking past the dining room window, I had to look twice at something in the birdfeeder hanging outside because that sure didn't look like a sparrow or house finch..........

Forget that little cartoon dude on's the real Mr. Opportunity!

How do they manage to stuff that much seed into their cheeks without hurting themselves?

No wonder this feeder got emptied out so fast! How do you think he got up there? Climbed from the pole holding the feeder? Dropped down from a tree branch? This is the same little chipmunk I usually see on the deck, so he must have cleaned out that feeder tray and discovered this tube feeder with a convenient seed catch tray for the optimal dining opportunity.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What I've been up to......

I've got so many things going on right now and, as usual, time on the computer is coming in at last place, but just so you know I'm not neglecting my blog completely, here's a look at some of my recently completed knitting projects for August.

In the photo below are some of the items I'll be donating for the flood victims in Iowa. I have some other scarves and hats and an afghan downstairs, plus one more mitten to complete a pair, but these are the items I made earlier this month (and used up 8 balls of yarn!)

My SIL in California had a birthday yesterday. These are the socks I knitted for her. Even though it's a lot warmer in California in the wintertime than here in Minnesota, their family sometimes heads to the mountains for winter activities and these socks should keep her feet warm inside her boots.

My great-nephew has his first birthday celebration this weekend. Since his mom is a Minnesota Vikings fan, I thought it would be fun to knit him a little Vikings colored sweater. I even managed to find the cutest little football buttons (click to enlarge)

I made this sweater using the "Sweater Wheel" pattern that was given to me by a woman at work who bought a couple of these, but then decided she was never going to take the time to knit any sweaters from them.
It's a pretty neat concept.....on one side are all the kids sizes and the other side is adult sizes. You simply place the arrow from the "Start Here" section on the size of sweater you want to make. Magically, all aspects (stitches to cast on for whatever weight of yarn you're using, inches of ribbing and body length, shaping and bind offs, etc.) of your pattern appear in the cutout under the arrow. You start with the back, the proceed to the front, and lastly you're directed to the sleeves. Thankfully I'm an experienced knitter, I don't think I'd want to try this as a knitting novice--at least not without someone nearby who could answer all my questions about what to do next.

The southward migration of summer birds has also started here in Minnesota. We have quite a few (at least for me) hummingbirds hanging around here right now--I've seen as many as 6 at a time. After I finish supper and the dishes in the evening, I head out to the deck with my little hand-held hummingbird feeder and spend at least an hour with the hummingbirds coming to eat from my hand. It's such an amazing experience for me to have them sitting so close I practically have to watch them through my bifocals. They are just the coolest little birds and I'm going to take advantage of their thirst for nectar and natural fearlessness for as many evenings as I can before they depart for Mexico in a couple weeks.

P.S. It sounds like a lot of people are going to be taking time off work on Friday, so my plan is to get as caught up as I can tomorrow so I have a chance for more "creative use" of my computer time on Friday, if you know what I mean.......

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Backyard Butterfly

I know not all of you are experiencing ideal weather right now, but here in Minnesota, we're having the most beautiful weekend of the summer. It's the memories of days like this that sustain us through January and February but unfortunately there are too few of them each year. It's tough to cram everything you want to do outside into your waking hours and I truly resent the fact that I'll have to go back to work tomorrow because I don't have anymore paid time off left and can't afford to just play hooky. (sigh) OK, well this pity party's over and I'll get on with my story.

I took Sophie out for walk in the backyard this morning to see if there was anything blogworthy going on and I spotted this pretty tiger swallowtail flitting around in the wildflower garden. I decided to wade into the sea of purple coneflowers in an attempt to get some photos. First I tried it on "zoom." Close, but not good enough yet.......

Maybe I can sneak up on it.......and then again, maybe not!

Ah, that's better!

Isn't he handsome?

And my patience finally paid off when he landed on a coneflower not 3 feet away from me and actually sat there long enough for me to film this little video. I was so delighted to see that you could actually watch the butterfly probing for nectar with his long proboscis.

This isn't a swallowtail, but because Sophie isn't scared by the camera when she's outside, I was able to take her picture while she got a drink at this "multipurpose" birdbath.

P.S. And on the excellent advice from Larry at the Brownstone Birding Blog, I now know how to post my photos in Blogger so if you click on the picture, you can see a REALLY BIG version of it in a new window. Thanks Larry!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Whooping Crane Festival

Has anybody made plans for the 3rd weekend in September yet? Here's an me and my sissy at the Whooping Crane Festival in Necedah, Wisconsin! Click on this link for more information. We'll meetcha there!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Trail Camera Pics

For the first time ever, all the treestands are in place and we're ready for the bowhunting opener a month in advance! A couple Saturdays ago, we took both of the trail cameras out to the woods and set them up in what we hope are strategic locations near the deer stands. Mr. Johnson's plan is to move them every week or so in an effort to see what kind of deer movement there is in each area and that will give us an idea of which stands are going to be most productive in the early season.

After supper tonight, we went down to check on the cameras and swap out the picture disks. We have viewers for both of the trail cameras, but that little 2-inch screen doesn't show much, so we have to wait till we get home and look at them on the computer screen (assisted by some Photoshop enhancements). Here are some pictures we got in the last week:

These first two are from the Leaf River camera. We've got it on a tree next to the deer trail that comes into the woods from the cornfield.

See how gray this one's fur has gotten already?

These next pictures are from the StealthCam. This camera is much farther down in the woods and placed on a tree near a confluence of several deer trails.

Even though I've got the flash set to "auto" for whatever reason it sometimes goes off in the daylight too (that's what happened when this deer walked right in front of the camera).
This picture was really dark and when I first looked at it, I couldn't see anything at all until I compared it to another nighttime picture on the disk. I finally saw what triggered the camera but only after enlarging the photo to about 125%. Can you see them? (look right in the center of the picture....)
Remember when I was first testing this camera in the backyard and I was worried that it didn't seem to be sensing bunnies--even though it had an infrared sensor in addition to motion detection? I thought maybe the bunnies were too small. But here's the proof that this camera even senses the small critters (this is what was in the photo above that activated the camera):When I was looking at the photo, it was the striped tails that caught my eye!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Purple Coneflowers & More

I've noticed that some other bloggers have been talking about their purple coneflowers, so I thought I would throw in my 2 cents worth also with some pictures from my wildflower patch.

I love these purple coneflowers and so do the butterflies. I started this wildflower garden probably 13 years ago with a few packets of wildflower seeds. The problem with some of those packets is that some of the flowers are only annuals and obviously not suited to surviving Minnesota winters, so after a few years only the hardiest of these wildflowers are still brightening up my backyard. For the first few years, I added some more packets of different flowers and even some plants from pots as I expanded this wildflower garden.

In previous comments, some people asked whether I weed this garden. When I first started it, I weeded it a little bit, but as you can see from the photo above, there's no need for weeding anymore! And the flowers are so tall and those flower centers are so prickly that it would actually be hazardous to try and bend down into them anymore. Sometimes in the spring I will burn off portions, but I always worry about little critters that might be living in the duff below the flowers, so I don't even do that regularly.

Now it's dominated by purple coneflowers, prairie coneflowers, and brown-eyed Susans. Also doing well is Joe-Pye weed, Queen Anne's Lace and Canada Goldenrod. I have a couple of Evening Primroses blooming this year and a couple years ago I had one plant of Rough Blazing Star that the Monarch butterflies absolutely adored.
That plant never came back but it's on my wish list for plants I still want to add to this garden.

Once fall gets closer and the coneflowers have finished blooming for the summer, the asters will take over and those really attract the butterflies! I have pink, purple and white and I'll try to remember and do a post (with pictures) once they start blooming in September.

I took some pictures the other day just to show you the variety of sizes, colors, and shapes of the purple coneflowers in my backyard.

There are tiny ones
And HUGE ones
Some have a classic "daisy" appearance
While others have droopier petals
Here are some with flat centers and cone-shaped centers
I even have one sort of pathetic white coneflower! I think the poor thing is overwhelmed by all the purple coneflowers, but it always produces a few blooms every year.
While I was out photographing coneflowers, I happened to notice this Eastern Forktail (male). What a cool little damselfly! See the green stripes on his sides and shoulders? And you can't really tell from this photo, but that blue spot on the end of his tail was glowing like a bright blue LED in the sunlight.
My dragonfly field guide tells me these are most commonly found at "small, well-vegetated ponds," so I was delighted to see find this little guy visiting my wildflowers.

P.S. Three more monarchs hatched in the "ranch" today! I'm so glad I have all these wildflowers as a perfect spot to release these monarchs for starting their new life.

P.P.S. If any of you are interested in seeds from some of my flowers, please send me an e-mail (address on my profile page) and let me know your mailing address. I will also have lots of common milkweed seeds again this year and would be more than happy to send you seeds from any of the plants mentioned in this post.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

51 Years!

Happy Anniversary Mom & Dad!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Miracle in My Kitchen

When we got home from work Friday afternoon, I found the miracle of a newly-hatched monarch butterfly in my monarch ranch.
After locating my tags and tracking worksheet, I stuck a tag on this male's left hindwing and placed him outside on some brown-eyed Susans. He spent some time there getting used to the "real world" and when I checked back in about 10 minutes, he was gone.
There are still 8 more monarchs in the ranch to hatch. All of these were raised from eggs except #1 which was a full grown caterpillar I found out in the wildflower garden.

I'm always hesitant about choosing full-grown caterpillars from outside because of the possibility of parasitic flies or wasps that may have laid an egg in the caterpillar (remember that previous disappointment I posted on the swallowtail cocoon?) But this time, I think all is well with this monarch cocoon.

Here's a close-up of cocoon #1: Isn't it cool how you can see the veins of the butterfly's wings?
The empty cocoon to the right of this one is from the butterfly that just hatched.

I think it's just so miraculous that a caterpillar can change into a butterfly in only 2 weeks and that it all happens inside this tiny cocoon.

I love this time of year--there are butterflies everywhere right now! While I was mowing lawn this afternoon, I saw quite a few monarchs, cabbage whites, tiger swallowtails and even a few giant swallowtails. That was pretty cool!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Knitting Update

I haven't posted anything knitting related lately, so here is your recommended daily allowance of "Fiber!"

I finished up my tenth hat for Kristy's Hat Quest and got them mailed off to her a couple weels ago. (you will count 15 hats here--5 are 'bonus' hats that I had completed prior to this project and stashed away in the yarn cupboard)
Kristy's received over 300 hand-knitted hats that she will be distributing to orphans in the Ukraine on her trip there in October. What a neat project. Thanks Kristy for taking on this challenge.

I'm still working on some knitting projects for the flood victims in Iowa. These don't have to be done until November 1st and I'm thinking about actually delivering them in person to Carol Anderson (a knitting pattern author and coordinator of this project) as she lives about an hour away in St. Ansgar, Iowa. I will post pictures of these projects once they're finished.

Last week I got a call from my friend Don who's enjoying a "staycation" this week and working on some major room rearrangements at his house. Because he was trying to free up more space for other projects he wants to work on, he decided it was time to get rid of some yarn. Now Don is one of the most fantastic knitters I have the privilege to know and he's always buying more yarn (like me, he would have to live to be at least 200 years old to complete all the projects he's got patterns and yarn for). Fortunately for me, when Don decides to "get rid" of some of his yarn stash, he calls me and I got the phone call at work today saying he had some yarn sorted out for me and I'd probably want to bring the truck by to pick it up!

I'm always inspired after visiting Don and seeing what projects he's working on and today was no exception. Two hours later, here's what Don sent me home with--a few boxes (every one of these boxes is stuffed with yarn!)
Here's a sampling from one box
Here's another afghan project Don started a few years ago and never finished. I will enjoy the challenge of getting these squares done and learning some new knitting stitches. Plus this will make a fabulous afghan to donate somewhere for a silent or live auction fundraiser.

But wait......there's more! When Don ran out of boxes, he started filling bags with yarn! I tell you--he wasn't kidding about bringing the truck! The trunk, back seat, and front seat were all full by the time I was ready to go home.

Here's a sampling of some of the pretty yarn in the bags:
The autumn colored item in the right side of this bag is a partially completed prayer shawl. That will be a great item to complete and give to someone special.
Here are just a couple of balls of some really nice yarn in one of the bags too--it's a blend of merino wool, silk and cashmere. I wish you could feel it--it's so soft. I think it will knit up into really wonderful hats or scarves.

There's no way I can ever re-pay Don for this yarn (worth hundreds of dollars!), but he is so generous and he knows that I will give this yarn a good home and be using the majority of it for projects that will be donated--either to folks in need or as fundraisers for non-profit groups. In exchange for all this yarn, I gave him some fresh veggies from the garden, plus the orange bag (labeled "4") in the picture above contains a vest Don started knitting for himself that I will finish knitting for him (hopefully by winter).

So if you don't see any posts from me for a while, you'll know that I'm busily knitting away (so I don't have to figure out where I'm going to store all this yarn in my house!)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Garbage Can Potatoes

I know it's probably too late anymore this year to think about the garbage can potato project, but here's all information from posts I did this year if you want to add this fun project to your gardening plans for next year.

Some history: I first learned about garbage can potatoes last summer on Robin's Bumblebee Blog (click on this link). Naturally I was intrigued because I love potatoes (no wonder I wasn't able to stick to the Atkins diet!) but I've never had the room to grow them in my small raised bed garden. I corresponded with Robin and she assured me it was easy and fun (she's much more of a gardening expert than I am, so I took her at her word).

As spring got closer, I decided it was time to get ready for this garbage can potato project. I googled "garbage can potatoes" and found a couple of sites that also explained this process (unfortunately, I didn't bookmark them and can't find the links again now), but you basically just get a garbage can (new preferably--or clean up an old one you're not using), drill some holes in the bottom (for drainage), fill it with compost and plant your potatoes.

I bought the collapsible "cans" that are made of a tarp-like fabric--that way I didn't have to drill any holes for drainage plus they were on sale (I didn't want to make a huge investment if this project was going to be a dud for me). My seed potatoes were Yukon Gold and I planted them on April 16th (here's the link). BTW, 5 lbs was the smallest bag of seed potatoes I could find, so I shared the garbage can potatoes story with my office mate and gave her the rest of the seed potatoes. She's had good success with this project too.

You fill the cans with compost about 1/3 of the way and then stick your seed potatoes down in the compost. Once the potatoes sprout, you just continue to cover the sprouts with compost (some of the instructions said to use straw, but I didn't have any and compost is a lot easier for me to obtain). Mine took a long time to sprout--check the picture from this May 10 post showing them just starting to come out of the compost

You will want to place your garbage can potatoes in a location where they will receive sun for much of the day. Then continue to fill the container till it's 1/2 to 2/3 full. The potatoes will continue to grow and grow--right out of the top of the garbage can. (Here are pictures of the potatoes from June 18 and July 12.) The potatoes are still looking pretty good here, but then the weather got warm and dry........once it gets warm, you will need to water them every day in order to keep the compost moist. I wasn't very faithful about this and several of the plants died. I think there are still some potatoes under the compost--even though the plants appear dead on top.

If you want the little "new potatoes" for boiling you can go out and dig around for those small ones. Or just wait a while and reach down into the dirt for the larger potatoes. The advantage of planting in compost is that it's generally nice and crumbly, so it's easy to grub around in the soil and find your potatoes. The other advantage of planting potatoes in garbage cans is that when it's time to harvest you can just dump the whole garbage can out onto a tarp or board and then pick up your potatoes--no back-breaking digging with a fork and ruining good potatoes by "stabbing" them. The other advantage I read is that sometimes potato plants are quite attractive to certain insects you may not want to have in your regular vegetable garden; garbage can potatoes can be placed just about anywhere you have adequate sunlight (although I will note that I never found any insects on mine--the backyard birds seem to be taking care of most insects in all of the gardens).

And just because I don't like having a post without any pictures, here's the one 'almost decent' photo I managed to capture of a Giant Swallowtail we saw last Saturday morning when we were out to the deer hunting woods putting out trail cameras.
Isn't this a fabulous butterfly? And it was just loving all those cockleburr flowers along the edge of the woods.......

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Garden Update

I took all of these pictures yesterday and had every intention of doing a post last night, but a vet appointment for Penny, phone calls and "The Greatest American Dog" all conspired together against my best Blogger intentions for a timely post, so without further delay, here are some pictures and an update on my gardening efforts.

Even though it's been pretty dry lately and my watering efforts are irregular at best, the garden is thriving. We've eaten a couple cucumbers already this week. Here's another one that's almost reached the ideal size for supper. These are Japanese Climbing Cucumbers. They seem to be doing much better now after a couple good doses of Liquid Fence. Did you know deer LOVE cucumbers? And because they're climbing up a trellis, they're at an ideal height for a deer to nom, nom, nom!

This is Bright Lights Swiss Chard. I picked some the other night and cut it up for Swiss Chard Patties. I also have another recipe I want to try for Braised Swiss Chard. (Both recipes are from

Here's a real surprise--garbage can potatoes! Don't they look fabulous? And they tasted fabulous too! I tend to forget about them in their own little spot in the yard, but decided it was time to dig down into the dirt and see if there was anything resembling potatoes hiding in there. I was so surprised that there were potatoes and they were really nice ones too. I didn't even have to peel them, just scrubbed them clean with water and the vegetable brush, cut them up and boiled them for supper. This has been my most successful garden experiment so far this summer and I'll definitely try it again next year--maybe even add another garbage can to my collection for more potatoes.

Here's the yellow zucchini. I've already picked several of these--made a chocolate zucchini cake and zucchini fritters one night for supper. The really nice thing about these yellow zucchini is that you can SEE them and pick them before they turn into the size of a baseball bat. Those green zucchini sometimes can hide under a leaf and grow really fast if you miss them for a few days.

My squash is growing like crazy now too. This is Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato Squash. Isn't it cute? This is a white acorn-type squash. I've never grown squash like this before and it looks like I'm going to have plenty to share from just 2 plants.

The tomatoes are still slow. I've picked 6 red grape tomatoes so far, and there are a couple more hiding in here and just turning ripe. These are a little bit bigger than grape tomatoes you buy in the store--they're almost 2 inches long, but very tasty right out of the garden.

The regular tomatoes are growing, but still no signs of ripening at all. All of the tomatoes took a bit of a beating from high winds in a thunderstorm early last week. Even though I have them in the heavy-duty cages, a couple of them were almost completely toppled over when I got home from work. I set them to rights and tamped the dirt back down around the roots, but the bottom branches came out of the cages and I had to remove several that were laying on the ground.

We had a little rain shower yesterday evening around suppertime. It was a nice surprise because we haven't had much rain for several weeks.

It rained pretty hard for about 15 minutes. This chipmunk found a good spot to stay out of the rain and continue stuffing his fat little cheeks.

And you know what happens when the sun shines while it's raining........
Can you see the second rainbow?

I'm not sure if I'll get a chance to post again tomorrow, but if I don't, I hope you all have a splendid weekend and get a chance to enjoy nature in your backyard and beyond.