Wednesday, August 11, 2010

More Monarchs

Back in 2006 I wrote about our first adventures with monarchs on the fledgling praire plants in our yard. Those plants have come a long way, and this year our monarch population caught up. I haven't noticed too many caterpillars the past couple of years, but this year has been absolutely insane. We started looking for eggs shortly after learning in early July that many monarch eggs get eaten by ants or earwigs. I always thought it was better to leave nature well enough alone, but I decided to go ahead and 'save' some butterflies and that the ants and earwigs could find plenty of other munchables in the prairie. Our first night out Bird spotted a gigantic caterpillar and we found a couple of eggs. Over the course of the next month we found more and more eggs and started a monarch nursery! It's minimal work but you do need to keep the enclosure clean and make sure that the leaves are fresh. We did have a couple of very tiny caterpillars "disappear" but overall we had really good success with those we brought in. In recent weeks it's gotten to the point that we would have them randomly appearing in the cage, having hitchiked in on some of the fresh milkweed we brought in. I got tired of the constant cleaning and getting fresh leaves so I've been trying to avoid bringing more in, but I can't really avoid it. Today I was getting ready to take out a vase of flowers I picked from the gardens last week, and I spotted some frass and a caterpillar skin--they molt theirs when they go into their chrysalis stage. I poked around and sure enough, there was a chrysalis hanging from a wilting coneflower blossom. We'd had red milkweed in the bouquet and he must have been living there the whole time. Interestingly enough we found the earlier eggs and caterpillars on the regular milkweed that you see in ditches, etc. that we have around the yard. But lately it's been the native red milkweed we planted that's literally crawling with them.

One of the best things about having so many is that we've had a better chance of seeing the "as it happens" moments. We saw a caterpillar just as he molted into his chrysalis a couple of weeks ago. This morning that same little guy emerged from his chrysalis right before our eyes. His chrysalis had turned clear so Bird was keeping a close eye and called us all over just in time to see him burst out. Simply amazing. We've learned a lot and enjoyed feeling like we're playing for the monarch team. I think it's an experience every child should get to enjoy.

You can look for eggs on the underside (sometimes the top) of milkweed leaves. They are a tiny white raised bump. Just before they hatch they will turn dark as the little one emerges. Keep the original leaf fresh by wrapping some wet paper towel around the stem and covering it with foil. You may need to moisten the towel again but don't let it go too wet--you want to avoid mold. After that just make sure that you leave fresh leaves in. They get positively voracious when they're about ready to go into their chrysalis (about the size of the caterpillar in the third picture, but we've noticed they do it at all different sizes--just look at the difference in the sizes of the chrysali on the lid), so be prepared. Our latest caterpillars have preferred red milkweed right on the stem. Don't let the frass build up in the cage. Remember that when they want to build their chrysalis, they go UP, so be sure to have a secure top on the cage that the caterpillars can't crawl out of. We use a terarrium type plastic cage with fine ventilation. Keep an eye on the chrysalis and you'll see it turn clear before the butterfly emerges. Ours have emerged between 8:30-10:30. Let the wings dry for a couple of house before releasing them. Don't release them in the rain or the dark. Release near a food source is ideal. Enjoy the magic of seeing this spectacle of nature up close and personal!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Elemental Garden Dinner

All the fancy recipes come later. For our first big harvest, we stuck with the basics. Tonight's dinner is brought to you by what Rob brought home from the farm today: broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots; and my evening's garden harvest: chard, and beets. Throw in some onions from last year's garden, a bit of olive oil here, lemon juice there, a sprinkle of apple cider vinegar... Ahhhh, summer!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Fraternizing with the Enemy

Spring has come on so quickly here in Wisconsin. I've watched Rob busily working on starting seeds and getting cold tolerant crops in the ground for the farm and nearly forgot about our home gardens. Last week I got a small area cleared and turned and got a few rows of beets started. My goal on this beautiful day was to finish clearing and turning that bed and get it planted with carrots and spinach. I was clearing the last little corner of the bed with a small rake when I noticed some fur in the straw I was pulling back. I carefully cleared away a bit more, expecting an abandoned mouse nest, but saw it was actually rabbit fur, and soon spotted a few pairs of teeny ears to match. I know I will be cursing our cottontailed friends in a few short months or even weeks, but lets face it, I'm a sucker. I've always been a sucker in particular for baby bunnies. So I called Wildlife in Need and they assured me that mom won't care that I disturbed the nest, and that if the dogs hadn't bothered them thus far then they might not bother them at all. Baby bunnies have big mammalian tummies, so Mom is careful to only visit at dawn and dusk so as not to attract predators. Wildlife in Need assured me that I could even fence off 3 sides of the nest to keep the dogs out, and that as long as mom could get to them, she would. I let the kids get a closer look before I covered them back up. They are quickly outgrowing their little depression in the garden but we think we counted 5 sets of ears in the little jumble of legs and backs. I planted the other half of the bed that I'd already turned, but left this half for momma and her babies. Hopefully when they grow up they'll decide that a two-dog yard isn't the best home, and move along. Happy planting!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

WGBH Family Nature Program

WGBH-Boston is developing a new TV program to help parents connect their kids with nature and get families outdoors! They have asked that I share this survey with you to help them design the program. It is short and to the point, so please take a minute to provide your input on this valuable project! I'm excited to see what develops!

Monday, February 08, 2010

Packing Veggie Kid Lunches

Packing healthy, fresh lunches for Sprout and Bird has become much easier now that I have a few years of practice under my belt. The more I read about the standard school lunch, the happier I am that we send the kids lunches with them every day. Inspired by Vegan Lunchbox, we got Sprout a Laptop Lunchbox and started planning all kinds of fun meals. The boxes work great--the kids love them, and the carriers provide some insulation. Some lunches have gone over better than others with the kids, but what I've ultimately learned as that I need to take my own advice and keep things simple. What I mostly do now is things that the kids can "put together" themselves. Don't overthink it. Use fresh, whole foods. I try to choose nutrient dense foods and always have something fresh. I'll put a big glob of peanut butter or hummus in one of the smaller containers, and then do 2 things they can dip in in the big containers--usually a veggie and something whole grain. The other small container gets some dried fruit or applesauce. Or I'll do whole grain crackers in one, slices of cheese in another, a veggie and a fruit. The kids each have favorites, and as with most things, letting them have a say, or even help with preparation and/or packing, helps a lot. I was surprised to find out that kohlrabi sticks were one of Sprout's favorite veggies, and that they thought that cream cheese cranberry sandwiches sounded good. Here are a few of our favorites to mix and match:
  • Whole grain pita wedges
  • Whole grain crackers
  • Kohlrabi sticks
  • Carrot sticks
  • Cucumber Slices
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Edmame
  • Celery
  • Dried Cranberries
  • Raisins
  • Peanut butter
  • Hummus
  • Cream Lunches
  • Almonds
  • Cheese

I'll include a knife for spreading or encourage them to make their own sandwiches with the "ingredients" that I pack. They love making their own "ants on a log" (especially with cream cheese and cranberries). I will also occasionally pack a hot lunch for them in a thermos--a baked potato with black beans on top, soup, etc. along with a whole piece of fruit. I will include a square of dark chocolate as a treat every now and then. I've also learned that they actually eat more if I keep portion sizes small. They don't have much time to eat and Bird especially would get overwhelmed by how much food I used to pack, and hardly eat a thing. You'll figure out what works for your kiddo. I used to send an organic juice pouch with them but frugality and packaging concerns have led us to include a bottle of water instead. (Sigg's tiniest bottles will squeeze into the Laptop Lunch carrier with the lunchbox if you really try, trust me!) I hope this helps you with some simple ideas to help make your child's lunch healthier and easier for the whole family.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Childhood Obesity vs. Eating Disorders

I was pleased to learn that Michelle Obama has chosen combatting childhood obesity as her focus for 2010. Let's face it, this is a growing problem in our society, one focused around our twisted American food culture. Her focus will be on promoting health, expanding the education efforts on the importance of health eating in families with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables. I probably shouldn't have been surprised, but was, to learn that there was outrage spreading about the fact that Obama had mentioned her own daughters' weight issues in a recent comment about the importance of fighting child obesity. People who have experience with eating disorders feel that by drawing attention to her own daughters bodies. I will never make light of eating disorders, but I am shocked that people are drawing this conclusion from Obama's statement. In her comment, Obama specifically said that their pediatrician had told her that her daughters were overweight and needed to lose weight. The eating disorder folks are lamenting Obama putting her daughters on a "diet" at such a young age. Surely they must see that a healthy diet goes hand in hand with preventing eating disorders? Without a doubt, our society gives our youth an unhealthy image to live up to. I would love to see less rail-thin models, especially when it comes to youth-targeted advertising. However, the other side of our advertising to children is encouraging them to indulge in fat-laden, vegetable-deprived, HFCS-filled junk. How can we try to condemn Obama for wanting to help her daughters find a healthy weight by eating healthy foods, and making it a family effort? I think Obama should be applauded for not only her efforts, but for showing that the first family deals with many of the same issues that we all deal with. I hope that she will be able to educate more families on the importance of healthy eating, and hopefully expand programs to take these educational efforts into schools as well. Our kids should be the best motivation for us to eat healthy, whole foods again.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

New Year's Revolutions--Goodbye Procrastination

Rob and I have been talking about the concept of New Year's Revolutions rather than Resolutions. I love thinking of ringing in the new year by making the decision to revolutionize something rather than just "resolving" that something needs to be done. In the past couple of days I have realized that for me, one of the biggest revolutions I can make is changing the way I think about things. My number one obstacle to getting "organized" in the past has been plain and simple procrastination. I have so many things on my plate that I try to balance. Between the gardens, my jobs, being a Mom, being a Wife, volunteering, and keeping the house in order, it seems I am always putting something off. I purchased a book on organizing last year and it emphasized that when we procrastinate, we never do ourselves any favors. We put an extra burden on our shoulders and have that stress eating away at us until we finally complete the task. This is so true!

So my first Revolution of the year, is giving myself the gift of doing, rather than procrastinating. Now an important part of this for me is that I tend to put things off because I "don't have time" to do things. I look at the kitchen counter after cooking a meal, and think "I don't have 30 minutes to clean this before I get the kids in bed, I'll do it in the morning." Or "I don't have time to take pictures of the kids artwork right now, I'll just add it to the pile." The truth is that if I break down a task into increments that I DO have time for--i.e. rinsing all the dishes and getting the counter wiped down, or taking just one picture instead of trying to do 20 later on, I can fit in a lot more accomplishments. By doing so, I take a lot off my plate, little by little. This will reduce my stress along with helping me actually achieve more of my goals!

I also tend to put things off because I need to take time to just relax and take care of myself--which is true! But by taking breaks and putting reasonable limits on them, I can take time for me without feeling like I wasted time. Instead of getting sucked into the computer for an hour, I can sit down and give myself 10 minutes before tackling something else. I personally have found this Revolution in thought to be very liberating. I hope that whatever Revolutions you need to make your life more fulfilling come to you, and that 2010 is a fabulous year for you and yours.