Saturday 31 July 2010

Learning About Butterflies

The summer holidays are now here and in order to give some focus to our activities I decided to theme each week. I gave our Little Garden Helpers the choice of a variety of things from Outer Space to Zoo Animals and Festivals to Vehicles but Garden Girl shouted out 'Butterflies, Butterflies'. This was followed by a rather cross, 'No, not Butterflies. Ladybirds,' from Garden Boy, so I suggested we looked at a different garden creature each week. We are away camping for one week so we have five weeks of bug activities and the chosen five are

Butterflies, Ladybirds, Worms, Snails and Ants.

This week we have been looking at butterflies.

Things to Tell Your Toddler
  • Butterflies lay teeny tiny eggs on leaves
  • Caterpillars emerge from the eggs
  • Caterpillars only live for 3-4 weeks
  • Caterpillars do not have noses
  • Instead, they breathe through holes along their bodies, called spiracles
  • Caterpillars spend all their time munching leaves 
  • The more they munch, the more they grow
  • As they grow caterpillars shed their skins
  • Underneath a caterpillars final layer of skin is a hard skin called the pupa, or chrysalis
  • Whilst in the chrysalis the caterpillar transforms into a butterfly
  • There are thousands of different butterflies in the world
  • Butterflies are attracted to colourful flowers because they feed on the nectar
  • Butterflies taste with their feet
Activities We Have Done 
  • Garden Girl and Garden Boy have been painting lots this week. First they made a giant caterpillar, then they made a giant butterly. We now have the four stages of a butterflies life cycle cellotaped to our patio doors.

  • We visited a local museum and made colourful flowers to attract butterflies, with scrunched up tissue paper, jewels and paper plates.
  • We hunted for caterpillars in the garden and tried to find a chrysalis but failed (only to be told by Garden Dad he had thrown an empty one away but a few days earlier).
  • We joined the M&S butterfly count. Garden Boy sat still for five of the fifteen minutes then announced it was boring and he was going to weed. You heard no complaints from me. Garden Girl kept a keen watch for the full fifteen minutes then got upset when I told her the time was up so she stayed for longer, watching until I shouted 'Ice Lollies' from the kitchen! 

  • We looked online at photos of the various life cycle stages of a butterfly, and searched through our own photos for pictures of caterpillars and butterflies.
  • We drew a caterpillar on the computer but found a butterfly too difficult.

  • We read 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar' and danced to the Boogie Beebies Butterfly Song.
  • We wiggled, munched, shrugged, curled up and fluttered to the verses of 'There's a Little Caterpillar on a Leaf, Wiggle Wiggle', over and over again and to the great amuseument of Garden Lass who bounced excitedly in her bouncy chair while she watched her brother and sister flutter around the room.
  • Garden Girl insisted that Garden Lass must alternately wear nappies with a caterpillar image and nappies with a butterfly image. This was fine till we ran out and Garden Girl became upset. In the end we settled on pretending the grasshoppers were caterpillars and the dragon flies were butterflies. In anticipation of what will happen in future weeks I have now started stockpiling nappies with ladybirds and snails. They don't come with worms and ants. I will cross that bridge when I come to it.  
  • And finally we made butterfly cakes. Any excuse!

Having learned this week that there are people who look after butterflies for a living, Garden Girl has decided that this is something she would like to do when she grows up; as long as she can be a ballerina as well. Garden Boy prefers the caterpillar stage of the life cycle and is particularly proud of the giant painted caterpillar on our window. I fear we may never be able to take it down. Garden Lass has a new found appreciation of living room dance shows. Her big grin while she watched us wiggle and flutter around the room being my own personal highlight of the week.

Friday 30 July 2010

Little Orange Bugs

When I was inspecting our failing broad bean crop I came across these little bugs.

I apologise for the quality of the photo. We left our camera at Garden Cousin's house a couple of weekends ago so I have been borrowing Garden Girl's camera, with which I am less familiar. These little bugs are actually quite a bright orange, with a row of close black spots down the middle of their back. They are all over our broad beans but, as you can see from the photo, they have also moved on to our peas. I hope that they are there to eat the blackfly but I am worried they may be there to eat our vegetables.

Does anyone know what they are?

Thursday 29 July 2010

Godyris Duillia

Today I would like to introduce you to a beautiful glass-winged butterfly of the species Godyris Duillia. A rare species, the Godyris Duillia is native to Columbia, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador and can reach well over 1000m high in flight. The transparent wings look so fragile and delicate that, despite the brown colouring, the butterfly takes on an ethereal beauty.

Having never travelled to South America I do not have an image of my own to show you but do take a look at this beautiful butterfly by following this link to Bing images.

Posted in memory of Duillia Woods, an equally beautiful and rare woman, with a spirit that also soared high.

Tuesday 27 July 2010

Something Has Happened To Our Broad Beans...

The blame is our own - we failed to get the soapy spray out in time. We allowed the Black Fly to make our beans their home and they have clearly made themselves very happy there. But I will not dwell on what I can no longer fix. The bright side is that, if nothing else, the broad beans have distracted the black fly from all our other crops. Only recently have they moved onto our squash but I am wiser now and have armed myself with soapy water.

Monday 26 July 2010

More Weeds, More Puddles

Garden Dad has spent the weekend clearing more weeds while I have spent the weekend clearing up puddles.

Garden Boy seems to have made weeding the entire country his life's ambition. On our last visit to the zoo Garden Boy, along with Garden Girl and their friend were happily occupied pulling weeds from between the paving stones. Then, this last week, while we enjoyed a walk, Garden Boy stopped to pull up the weeds on the roadside. So it seemed a good idea to spend the weekend pulling up weeds in our garden. It would surely be the ideal task to keep Garden Boy outdoors during the first few days of potty training. But no. He was happy to be outdoors weeding with Garden Dad but somehow he always managed to find himself indoors when the moment came to create puddles.

But progress has been made on both fronts. All the massive weeds have now been removed from our garden. Garden Dad had a lot of fun digging out some particularly big roots and all our plants can now grow, free from competition. Garden Boy, although still not making it to the potty on time has started to tell us when he is ready to go which has reduced the size of the puddles, in that, at least the second half lands in the potty. On both fronts then, not a bad weekend.

Friday 23 July 2010

Rain Isn't Always All That Bad

We returned home on Wednesday from a short trip up north where in true holiday fashion it rained pretty much every day. In fact the weather was so bad some local roads flooded. On a particularly windy day we even had to wear bob hats. Thankfully Grandad North broke with his usual holiday tradition of eating fish and chips on a wet bench in the wind and rain, however Garden Girl and Garden Boy did take the opportunity to jump in muddy puddles. In fact Garden Boy has been wearing his welly boots every day since in the hope of finding more muddy puddles, running to the hallway for his boots everytime he spots some rain drops shouting 'Its raining, its pouring, old man is snoring, me jump in muddy puddles'.

The highlight of the holiday for Garden Boy, aside from the puddles, was feeding the animals at the farm we visited, in particular the calves. Garden Girl enjoyed the play barn where, for the first time she had the confidence to run around without me following behind and she even crossed the rope bridge which would have terrified her a few months ago. She also loved visiting the caravan and camping shop where we went to buy a sleeping bag for Garden Boy. We looked around the caravans while we were there and Garden Girl pretended to make tea and sat at the fold out tables for her dinner with Garden Boy. She now keeps asking if she can holiday in a caravan. I wonder if our tent will be good enough now she has seen the luxuries of a carvavan!

But I digress. All in all everyone had a brilliant time despite the wet weather and the rain did mean that Daddacool was let off lightly and was only required to water the greenhouse plants and hopefully it will have helped to revive some of our more unhealthy looking plants. Rain isn't always all that bad.

Saturday 17 July 2010

Helping Plants (and babies) to Grow

All the time we have spent in the garden over the last couple of weeks has obviously had a big impact on Garden Boy. Whenever I take him out and about he will grab a handful of soil from anywhere he can. Then he will carry it very carefully and slowly until he finds a suitable plant pot in which he can deposit the soil, where it will, he says, 'help the plant grow'. There is a particular plant in the corner of Garden Girl's playgroup playground than must surely have reached the clouds by now, so often does he 'feed' it.

He has also tried to help Garden Lass grow with one of his larger handful's of soil. Amazingly she didn't seem to mind being covered from head to toe, so she is obviously already well adjusted to life as a Little Garden Helper!

Thursday 15 July 2010

A Trip to Oz

Garden Girl was delighted today when she was able to view a live extract from the Wizard of Oz in her own back garden. The winds howled, the trees moaned and the Wendy House was lifted high into the sky, flying across the garden and luckily landing on our own side of the fence. After the initial panic that we might have lost the Wendy House for good, Garden Girl calmed down and remarked that 'it was just like Dorothy Girl'. I speculated whether the Wendy House might have landed on top of a bad witch but Garden Girl said 'no, just some tomato plants, but if I had been in the house I would have met the good witch'. I love the way she can so easily remove the bad bits of the story and just enjoy the beautiful bits.

The wind also tried to take our greenhouse but had to settle with one window pane which Garden Dad is stoically refitting in the darkness as I type. I wonder if he will find a pair of sparkly red shoes lying around?

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Getting Back On Track

Since we started the mammoth task of restoring order to our garden we have managed to make quite a lot of progress. The front garden has been weeded. We were lucky that the weeds had grown tall enough for us to hide behind in shame whenever a neighbour walked by, but we can now hold our heads high and smile between the newly planted sunflowers, interspersed with the rosemary plants. I am quite proud of the small rosemary plants as they are a product of the cuttings we took last year and I am looking forward to watching them grow in their new position. Not least because they will hopefully stifle the many many weeds that have made our front garden their home. 

About thirty tomato plants can now stretch out their roots into the extra space provided by their new, larger pots and the goosberry, whitecurrant and redcurrant bushes have been disentangled from the weeds which were trying to strangle them. We have found the rhubarb! It is holding on literally within an inch of its life but we have our fingers crossed it will grow back. We have also finally put some netting over the brassicas so the woodpigeons can no longer peck them to shreds.

And best of all we harvested our first crop of vegetables and have since been tucking in to some tasty meals made with homegrown courgettes, broad beans and peas.

Tuesday 6 July 2010

Musings on Weeds

Gardening with children means that you have to accept delay. You will not always get into the garden when you want to and when you do, you will not always achieve eveything you had planned to. Last week was an example of this. After a good start at the weekend our attempts to restore the vegetable patch to some levels of productivity were interrupted by a very busy week. On top of all our Little Garden Helpers usual activities we had school and playgroup meetings for new starts in September, a follow up x-ray for me at the hospital and a glut of visitors coming to meet Garden Lass for the first time, their visits having been delayed due to my pneumonia. All this meant that, despite the sunshine, we spent very little time working in the garden. So when I eventually came to thin out the carrots and leeks on Monday morning, only a week after I weeded the entire raised bed, I was of course greeted by a large number of very healthy looking replacement weeds. And so, tonight you find me musing on the biggest garden pest, the weed. 
  • Weeds are never invited, but never leave.
  • For every weed you pull out of the ground there are at least two more waiting just below the surface of the soil to pop out and laugh at you.
  • No matter how carefully you look there are always some weeds that manage not to be seen. I am convinced they have chamelean qualities and can blend into the soil when they see a garden hoe.
  • Weeds can be starved of everything they need to grow and yet will still grow. This suggests they have befriended Garden Goblins who take great delight in giving weeds the water, sunshine and nutrients we are trying to deny them.
  • Weeds run around the garden at night scattering their seeds everywhere so they will grow over the whole garden (although Garden Boy may have a hand in this).
  • Weeds that have been pulled out of the soil can jump out of buckets and reroot (possibly Garden Boy again).
  • Weeds can repel children so they will not pull them up, but will whisper to children that the well tended plant you are so proud of is ready for picking (and yes, Garden Boy seems particularly susceptible to the whispering weeds).
  • Weeds know when you are busiest and grow even more vigorously when they know you don't have time to remove them.
  • Weeds invite their friends over for huge parties when you go away on holiday but never send their guests home.
  • Weeds are, in short, a menace.

Sunday 4 July 2010

The Salvage Begins

At the end of last week we started the task of salvaging something from our neglected garden. Deciding where to start was a mammoth task in itself but at the time there was still some shade at the bottom of the garden so the carrots and leeks won the silent argument in my head. Garden Lass made herself comfortable in her bouncy chair in a shady corner and watched us work, encouraging us every now and then to sing nursery rhymes as we pulled away at the many, many weeds. Meanwhile, Garden Girl and Garden Boy did a fantastic job of pulling up weeds. It wasn't hard for them to distinguish the weeds from the carrots and leeks. Anything big could be uprooted, anything small and spindly could stay! They filled Garden Boy's wheelbarrow up over and over again then wheeled the weeds to the bucket placed at the other end of the garden just so they could wheel the full wheelbarrow. Transferring weeds from the barrow to the bucket occasionally also involved throwing the weeds over each others heads but always with giggles and I was heartened at the end of the day to have at least one weed free raised bed and three happy Garden Helpers. I was less heartened by what remained in the soil when the weeds were removed.
I am hoping that if I thin out the carrots and replant the thinnings in the gaps where nothing grew they will suddenly have a growth spurt with all the extra room. A week later this still remains a job to do as the soil has been so compacted and dry I haven't wanted to risk damaging the roots. Although we have been watering them well in the evenings this has been quite late due to Garden Lass requiring most attention between 7 and 11 at night so we haven't been able to thin out after a watering session. A really good overnight downpour would be perfect around about now.

Last weekend then, after Garden Boy's delayed birthday trip to the zoo on Saturday, we left the carrots and leeks for a while and moved onto the many squash plants still sitting in three inch pots. Garden Dad spent Sunday morning pulling up weeds, bolted salad leaves and bolted spinach. Then he planted some of the squash amongst the sweetcorn and Frensh beans to finally make the two sisters, three. After lunch he took over baby duty and I headed out into the sunshine to plant the rest of the squash in the space freed up by the bolted spinach and then I moved onto the tomatoes, 26 of which now fill the centre raised bed. As we tucked in to our strawberries and raspberries on Sunday evening we felt satisfied with our efforts and hopeful that something will be salvaged from April's hard work.