Not a Vine at All

My first thought was, “Hmm, the hyacinth bean vine has started growing onto the ailanthus bush.  But something didn’t seem quite right…

And, not a great surprise in this yard… it’s a beautiful little snake.

Such a sweet little face!  I think it’s a Rough Green Tree Snake, Opheodrys aestivus.

He crawled onto the fence for just a little bit, trying to escape my annoying camera; he was probably 16 to 18 inches long, and no bigger around than my little finger.

Once I backed off, though, he literally sprang back into the small tree, which was clearly where he felt more at home.

Charlotte has been missing for a couple of weeks.  She was back, looking slim (having divested herself of a sac full of eggs, I assume!) and missing a leg.  On top of it all, her handwriting (ass-writing?) has gone way downhill…

Lady Margaret

Today was the first day I saw any blooms on the Lady Margaret passionflower. They’re lovely!

They’re not as large as some of the varieties, but the color makes up for the size.

The different types ramble along one another… it can be difficult with some of them to tell where one vine ends and another begins.   The grape purple one is Passiflora x “incense” – and that one vine that I planted this spring can have 20 flowers on a good day.

Chris’s Birthday

For Chris’s birthday, I took him down to central Texas for a skydiving class.

Chris, looking dashing in his jump suit. We tried really hard to get him into the neon-green-and-pink one, but he swore it wouldn’t fit.

Me, looking portly in my jumpsuit, and explaining something with lots of gestures. For some reason, Chris found the gestures hilarious.

… because he kept taking picture after picture. I don’t even remember what I was describing.

Heading to the plane. From left, it’s Matt who was just jumping for the fun of it, James the jumpmaster who was going to help make sure I didn’t die, me, and the pilot. The pilot was SMOKING hot, but I couldn’t find a casual shot of him without looking like a creepy old perv, and you don’t want to creep out the guy who’s going to be flying your plane.

Everything went to plan; I did the scheduled drills in free fall, pulled my pilot chute, the main chute opened, and I flew it down to the right field.

Where I landed, on my butt, quite firmly. I understand that the impact was audible across the field. I was uninjured.

Chris flew his with a little better control than I did; he landed upright, but rolled.

I was so focused on landing without breaking anything, that all my pictures came out with my stern, concentrated look… Chris had a little more fun with his ride.

Overall, it was quite a thrill, and I’d definitely do it again. The only real drawback was that there was a LOT of hurry-up-and-wait… we sat around for hours waiting to go up in the plane. The free-fall portion of the ride seemed amazingly brief, and it was hard to really get a sense of what was happening aside from all the air rushing at me. What I really enjoyed most was the slow descent under canopy, floating along peacefully where I could see all the countryside and feel the chute responding to the toggles as I pulled them.

The Queen is Dead. Long Live the Queen!

I felt really bad.  For the first time since the bees arrived in April, I walked toward the hive with treason in my heart.  I was going to find, and kill, and replace the Queen. The decision had actually been made in June – the queen’s brood pattern was spotty, and the hive wasn’t happy with her.

Last time I opened the hive, there were scattered laying-worker eggs, no open brood, no capped brood… but I did find the queen.  It seemed that the queen was experiencing a total failure.  I firmed my resolve to re-queen, and ordered a queen from the folks at Bee Weaver.  Laura was very helpful, and had lots of good suggestions. She recommended a push-in cage, which became a drama of its own later on.

Packages of bees arrive in a box the size of a shoe box…. queens arrive with half a dozen helpers in a big envelope.  Much less threatening to the nice postman!

I had expected the new queen to be marked and clipped – but she was unmarked and entire.  I just hope she’s properly mated!

Of course, once I got the hive open, there was brood EVERYWHERE.  I think that the Queen had heard my plans for her demise, and was trying to rally the troops.  However, there were also two new supersedure cups – the worker bees were still not happy with the queen’s performance.  I took those out.

What followed, I didn’t get pictures of.  I was working alone, and a lot of it was fiddly, so I couldn’t handle the camera while I was doing it.  I sifted through the hive frame by frame, finally finding the dotted queen on the second pass.  I removed her and placed her in a jar – just in case something went horribly wrong.

Then, I found a frame which contained some open brood, some capped brood, a few empty cells, and some honey.  I brushed it clean of bees, and took it over to the garage to work away from the hive.  I had the garage open, so that there was good light – but it was far enough away from thei hive that I didn’t have the attention of the guard bees.  I had built the push-in cage from the window-screening that covered the package of bees when I got them this spring.  I laid the frame on the trunk of my car, and figured the best location for the push-in queen cage.  Now, I had to open the queen’s transfer cage, get the queen out and onto the frame, push the cage over her and down into the comb, and then put her into the hive and close up. I took my gloves and hood off, because it was delicate close work and I needed gentle fingers.

What happened instead, was that I opened the little container carefully… and all of the bees, including the queen, took off flying.  See above about the un-clipped wings.  After a moment of intense cussing, I calmed down and realized that there was a cloud of bees still hovering around – maybe the queen was still there?  I got my little butterfly net.  One after the other, I caught bees and put them in a glass jar.  Finally, I caught the queen!  They’re not all THAT different when they’re flying around, but you can tell once they are sitting down, how the body is longer.  So I got the queen onto the frame, got the cage over her, and after much amusing catch-and-accidentally-release, I got one of her court bees in the cage with her.  These bees know and follow her scent, and they’ll feed her if the other bees in the new hive don’t like her right away.  I was going to try for three, but it just wasn’t going to happen.  I went and reassembled the hive with the new queen in her cage, closed up, and mercifully dispatched the old queen.

After closing up, I caught a few more photos in the yard…

A really lovely lynx spider.

Gosh, she’s big.

A baby watermelon, hiding out in a tomato cage.

A tiny peek-a-boo lizard.  He was on the other side of the fence, so I had to peep through leaves to see him.  The camera didn’t like the focus.

Jeanette, who was advertised as a French Maran, but lays nearly white eggs.

Weezy, who is one of the two Ameraucanas from our original batch of peeps – she isn’t laying yet, but I look forward to eggs soon.  They should be green or blue.

And Penny, who really IS a French Maran, has taken to crowing. It’s never a full crow, but it’s very different from her “henny” noises.

More Passionfruit

One of the reasons that I get really annoyed when people refer to outdoor sericulture as “wildcrafting,” is that I know from wildcrafting… we usually called it “picking blackberries” or “picking wild grapes” in my family, but we have a long history on both sides of going into the wild and coming back with jams and cobblers.

I posted last October about my favorite Passionfruit patch.  It’s on a freeway verge, so it’s not really “wilderness,” but with the plants growing there naturally, this is definitely wildcrafting.  This past weekend, I saw highway mowers scalping along some of the Dallas highways, and so I decided I needed to make another visit before it gets chopped off to the ground.

Unless you noticed the areas of darker green vines, or saw them when they were in flower, you’d never know they were there.  The purple flowers in the foreground are some kind of nightshade relative.

Different view of the same strip.  There are vines on both sides of the freeway, but the ones on the far side of the bridge had fewer fruit.

The vines that were in fairly low grass seemed to bear the best and most fruit.

The leaves and tendrils are distinctive.

These fruits are almost ready.  If the fruit drops when the vine is lifted up, it’s ready.  If it clings to the vine, it’s too green.

The two fruits on the lower right are ripe; the one holding on to the vine is for next week’s harvest.

There are a lot of green, lush vines that get partial shade from the freeway bridge.  Unfortunately, they had almost no fruit.

The flower on the wild type vines is lovely, but not terribly showy.  I notice them while driving down the freeway, but they’re certainly not eye-catching from a distance.

They’re quite pretty close-to!

Occasionally, lifting up a vine will yield a whole line of fruit ready to go.  I love when this happens.  It’s like an Easter egg hunt set to “easy.”

Almost two hours of picking yielded fifteen pounds of fruit, enough to fill three plastic grocery sacks.

I looked high and low to find a recipe for jelly, but everything I could find was for tropical passionfruit, Passiflora edulis, and I’m dealing with the American passionfruit, or maypop, Passiflora incarnata. It was really evident when I would find instructions like “slice passionfruit thinly”… anyone who thinks they can slice these things has better knife skills than I do. I finally realized that I needed to search on the colloquial names… “maypop jelly” found a likely-looking recipe pretty quickly.

The best method I found for separating the peels from the pulp and seeds, was to pop the top open…

and squeeze out the guts.

It leaves very little waste.

A kettle full of the pulp and seeds, before cooking.

After a little simmering, they start to lose their shape, and the juice starts to flow.  Unfortunately, it’s still a SERIOUS pain in the butt to get the pulp clear from the seeds – it clogs the sieve, and there’s a lot of fussy work with the spoon.  The food mill was not helpful, as it tends to crack the seeds and give the whole thing a much different flavor.

I’m withholding my opinion for the moment on the jelly recipe – I made two batches, and they cooked up beautifully, but neither has set.  I have read that high-acid jellies and marmalades can take weeks to set, so I’m giving it a little time before I try re-cooking.  I can tell you for sure, though, that the flavor is amazing.

Great with Child

This time of year, it’s not just the moths that are getting busy in the garden.

This lovely mantis is starting to show her egg belly – she’ll be laying hundreds of eggs in a tough, resiny casing soon.  I have very much enjoyed all the mantises this year!

Charlottte is yolking up, too.  She will hopefully lay at least one big case full of eggs; we had one on the back porch at the old house that made three full cases!  I’ve been tossing her milkweed bugs, to ensure she has plenty to feed her growing eggs.


The day before yesterday, a lovely female polyphemus moth hatched out, from this June’s rearing.  They had been taking so long that I was beginning to worry they would not hatch until spring, but I think they were just waiting for cooler temperatures.  I put her in the little suet feeder cage and put her on top of a very tall pole, but she didn’t receive any gentleman callers.  Because it was so hot, I put her back inside near a window, and tried again last night.

This is what I saw when I looked out of the garage this morning – success!

The male is hanging on to the outside of the cage, mating with her through the bars.

He’s a big, handsome thing – love the pink-to-purple shading on his wings.  They should make pretty babies.  When I took the cage down, he flew off to find a place to hide for the day and heal his broken heart before seeking a new romance this evening.  I put her into a paper bag, where she will lay her eggs.

And, as I was looking at them, I saw a fluttering in the side yard – my brain said “Swallowtail butterfly,” but it was a late-flying Luna moth!  He’s lost some scales, but no wing bits.  I tried tossing him up in the air so that he could fly into the woods and avoid being a cat toy – he wasn’t very bright about it, but eventually got over the fence after several tries.