Summer Update 3: Passionflowers and Butterflies

It’s been an exceptionally good season.  We had a warm, mild spring, followed by an unusually wet summer – so everything is green and lush!

I’ve been a fan of passionflowers for a long time. I have begun seriously collecting the hardy varieties, focusing on flowers and fruit.  Many of the new hybrids are cold-hardy for our Zone 8a garden, and the plants that I put in the ground last year and year before last, are really kicking in.


The biggest vine in the yard is Passiflora “Incense” – it is the first one I planted, and it has really thrived.  Sadly, it doesn’t make fruit – but it sets usually 30 to 50 of these flowers every day.  They’re usually between 3″ and 4″ across.



You can see how vigorous the vine is – it’s this solid across about fifteen feet of fence.



P. “Constance Elliott” is a color sport of P. caerulea; it is exceptionally hardy, and also has a sweet fragrance, especially in the evenings.  I love the water on the petals – it’s something that this species just does.  Except for the driest, hottest days, these flowers look like they’ve been freshly dew-kissed.  The buds actually drop water if you bump them.  Tennyson wrote in Maud, “There has fallen a splendid tear / From the passion-flower by the gate.” I like the idea of splendid tears.



This is P. caerulea, the species.  The plant is doing OK, but not as well as the Constance Elliott – I think that the location doesn’t allow it quite as much enriched soil to dig in to.  I’ve put alpaca manure on it, which has helped a lot.  Sadly, the fruit is fairly insipid – it tastes almost more like a vegetable than a fruit.



P. incarnata, the native species, is my favorite for fruit.  You can read here about foraging them on the freeway verge, and making jelly.



We had some surprise seedlings – I didn’t realize that Chris had re-used some peat pots I had (unsuccessfully) tried planting passionflower seeds in.  When he planted tomato seeds and put them on the heat mat, the heat caused the passionflower to germinate. These flowers are from the sprouts from this spring!  He made these bamboo and string trellises for them.  So far, haven’t gotten any fruit, but they’re working on it.



Along the lines of fruits and flowers – I’m also growing some new hybrids.  This is P. “Temptation X Temptation.”  It’s a tetraploid – which means that it has been manipulated to have double the number of genes.  This tends to yield very vigorous plants.  I’m hoping that they prove cold-hardy here; we’re on the edge of their zone tolerance.



This delicate and beautiful white flower is from P. “Bill’s Delight” – which I got by mail-order, and was doing really well until it just turned brown in the stem and died from the base upward.  I don’t know what got to it.  I’ll probably get another one this fall, and try it again; the flower is really lovely. There are other white P. incarnata sports that are supposed to have more fruit (this one has more flowers, fewer fruits) and I’ll probably try one of those as well.

Currently, in the yard I have: Passiflora incarnata, Passiflora “Incense,” Passiflora caerulea, Passiflora “Constance Elliott,” Passiflora belotii (=alatocaerulea), Passiflora lutea, Passiflora “Amethyst,” Passiflora “Bucky,” Passiflora “Temptation x Temptation,” Passiflora “Clear Sky,” and one hybrid that I’m not sure of the name, and I’m waiting for flowers to get help with an ID.



With passionflowers, we always get plenty of these – this is the chrysalis of a Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae.  Unfortunately, I have to use some organic insect spray against them to keep them from totally stripping the vines.  They can have any on the back of the fence, and I have the ones on the front of the fence.



Gulf Fritillary on the lantana.  This shot is from last fall, but we’ve had lots this summer as well.



This Giant Swallowtail, Papilio cresphontes, really loves the lantana.  It doesn’t sit still very well, though!  Every picture of it was blurred somewhere.



With all the rain, the basil is doing great, we’ve got lots of squash and tomatoes… but also lots of bermuda grass and weeds.  It’s just too hot to spend much time weeding.


Summer Update 2: Silk

Summer is usually a slow time for silk work.  I’ve got a couple of wild native species caterpillars going, but no China silkworms, and not a lot of projects in the chute.  But in March, I took my silk show on a live news show, to drum up interest in the Dallas Handweavers and Spinners Guild‘s booth at ArtsPark (link to the video).  The show went very well, and I’m pleased with the visitors we saw at ArtsPark.


Summer Update 1: Chickens

I have been a bad blogger.

I got busy, and caught up in other things, and I realized that I haven’t posted here since February, and it’s now mid-July. I realized that part of it, is that I’ve been posting quick photos to Facebook, rather than writing things out; my new phone makes it easy to make those quick updates, but more difficult to make blog posts.

So, it’s time for a little catching up! I’m going to put up a couple of condensed posts.

Update on the chickens –

Sue was a very good momma. She mothered the little babies around the yard, making sure they were eating and thriving. However, we learned that the yard is not the right place for chicks. One got trampled by the other hens. Three got eaten by hawks. So, we learned that lesson, and the next batch of chicks was raised in the brooder box, upstairs in my bathroom. I wish we could have grafted them on to Sue, but they were days too old when we got them, and it just wouldn’t work.


We got these chicks at about a week old, on April 29. There are six, with three different kinds: two each of Salmon Faverolles, Anconas, and Andalusians. Between these three varieties, they should have a good production of eggs around the calendar. We knew that it was too many to keep; we sold off two of the chicks and one of the laying hens to make enough space in the coop. We’re still having some issues with the flocks not integrating – the young flock roosts separately at night on top of the compost bin, and I have to go tuck them into bed.

May 28, at about four or five weeks, they’re fully fledged, just about ready to go outside.



We sold one of the Anconas, one of the Andalusians, and Weezie.  We kept both the Faverolles, one Ancona, and one Andalusian.  The Faverolles are cuddly chickens – they’re easy to pick up and hold, and they don’t run from us.  It worries me a little bit, that they might not be smart enough to hide from a hawk or a bobcat – but so far, they’re OK.

I need to get some more new photos; they’ve grown so much since these were taken at the end of May!


Things You Learn from your Mom

One of the greatest delights in the whole process of having chickens has been watching the mother hen interact with the chicks. This relationship has a sweetness that gets me every time.


Sue is a really good momma.  She watches out for the chicks every step of the way, teaching them to forage, how to scratch, dustbathe, and all the skills it takes to be a good chicken.

When the chicks get tired, she cuddles up with them.  If it’s sunny and warm, they’ll lie next to her in the sun; if it’s windy or chill, she spreads her wings and hunkers down to the ground, and they wriggle beneath her to get warm.

She never lets the chicks out of her sight; that’s her shoulder on the left.

And, some videos of Sue and the chicks:


Here she is, teaching them to peck for food.

I love how the one little yellow chick keeps using Mom like a piece of playground equipment.

In this one, watch at about 0:46 – something makes a weird noise, and Sue is instantly on the lookout.


Sue, our broody Momma Hen, has done it again!  Four bouncing, healthy baby peeps.


Two of them are Lemon Cuckoo Orpingtons, and two of them are Silver Laced Wyandottes.  We don’t know yet (and won’t, for a few months) what we have in terms of boys and girls.



Why, yes… yes I did! Weaving QR code.

I’ve seen various versions of Quick Response (QR) Code made by fiber-arts methods – the most common are knitted (both hand-knit and machine-knit) and cross-stitched.  To get the reader to pick up the code properly, the grid needs to be fairly square, and the contrast has to be very high.  I looked at this, and thought it would be a perfect application for double-faced tablet weaving. I was pretty sure it would work, so I set up a short warp in black and white perle cotton as a proof of concept.



After working a couple of very instructive samples, I decided to put together a band with three coded sections into a small pouch.  Those are gift cards for scale.  At the simplest version of the QR code, which is 21 grids square, the pattern will hold about 16 to 20 characters; enough for a short phrase, a brief URL, a phone or ID number.  This little bag has a woven strap to carry it around my neck, with enough space to hold my ID, a couple of credit cards, and some cash. The pattern is carried on sixty-three tablets, with a border of 3 on either side.  The checkered strap is woven with 9 tablets.



The flap lifts up, and the cards go inside – the front of the pouch body has a different code on it.  One thing I learned – I should have situated the code further down the bag, where it would not be impacted by the bump of the hem.  Any curvature which changes the shape of the coded part can make it challenging for the little machine to read.


This one’s a little bit more square-on, and the reader gets it more easily.


This one in particular amuses me.




If you don’t have a QR reader on your phone, the three pieces say:

The front flap: ˙ʇı ǝʌoʍ ı ‘sǝʎ

The front of the pouch: ɯoɔ˙ʇıdsɯɹoʍ˙ʍʍʍ

The back of the pouch: ˙ʞɔɐq ǝɥʇ sı sıɥʇ






I’m subtitled!

My friend Julie Hwang saw the AMNH Silk Road exhibit in Taipei, and sent me this photo of my video!  I knew that the exhibit was going to be traveling the world, but somehow I didn’t immediately process the fact that it was going to be subtitled in all these languages.  I can recognize the word “silk,” but that’s about as far as my understanding goes.

Lao Silk Article in SpinKnit

I’m fascinated with some of the new avenues that publishing is taking.  I wrote an article for the Winter 2011 edition of Interweave’s new electronic fiber-arts magazine, SpinKnit.  It has cool little galleries for pictures, it has video (not my article, unfortunately – I had trouble trying to record video properly – but some of them do) and it has animated illustrations showing how some of the tricky parts go.  Y’all check it out!

The Spice Girls

I got a new cell phone (an HTC Inspire 4G), and decided to take a few shots to see what kind of quality it gets in photos.  It has an 8MP camera and an LED flash, but only a tiny lens, so depth of field and focus aren’t amazing – but it’s not bad.

A fritillary butterfly nectaring on a lantana.  We get dozens of these every day – they not only enjoy the nectar, but they also lay eggs on the passionflower vines.  The vines don’t get stripped too badly, though – our local wasps keep them in check.

Poor Jeanette is looking really rough.  She’s in the process of molting her feathers; the new black ones are starting to come in, but she’s looking shabby while they do. In a chicken, this is referred to as “unthrifty.”

The Spice Girls (the Marans chicks that Sue hatched out just after Easter) are looking great. They still have all their wing feathers, and they can get out of the fenced side yard to wander through the garden.  I haven’t yet been able to convince them that nutgrass is delicious – but they’ve been good about eating bugs and digging in the dirt, without doing much damage to plants I love.

Clove is looking particularly stunning.  With the way she’s posing for this picture, she looks almost like a young rooster.  I love the iridescent sheen of green and purple on her shoulders and back.  She doesn’t have any copper at all; Cardamom has a little, and Cinnamon has the most.

Prometheas – third and fourth instars

This is what they looked like a week ago, on 8/31:

This is the third instar; the thoracic tubercules are spiky, but not actually very sharp, and they’re bright yellow.


Most of the time, this happens on a twig, and it’s very difficult to see – I’m lucky that this time, a couple of the caterpillars spun their silk pads on the side of the plastic container, and I could see what was happening!


If you look just in front of the caterpillar’s head, you can see the swirls of silk that it lays on the surface.  It will then hook its feet into this silk, to help it peel out of its skin.


This is the same thing, viewed through the clear plastic. The silk pad covers the whole area that the caterpillar is standing on.


I didn’t see any in the process of changing, but this is what you get afterward – the shed skin is attached to the silk, and the caterpillar has walked out in its fancy new suit.


This is the fourth instar, with bright orange tubercules.  I *love* the smiley face!


The knob at the back is still yellow.


Some of the larvae appear to be skipping the fourth instar, and going directly to the red-knobbed fifth instar skin. There are just enough that I can’t be absolutely certain these aren’t just a little ahead of the others – but they’re not all that much larger.  We’ll see if they change again!