The Size of a Mouse’s Ear

I honestly don’t remember where I read it, but somewhere in my studies I’ve come across the statement that the right time to start taking eggs out to hatch is when the mulberry leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear.

Without getting into a Monty Python skit about whether it’s an African or European mouse… this is what I’m looking for:

These tiny unfurling leaves will be followed quickly by catkins and then bursts of leaf after leaf.  Mulberry trees are famous for being late in the spring (Morus, the mulberry, is believed to derive its name from Latin mora, meaning “delay”, because of the tardiness of its buds) but because of their cautious slowness I have never seen them blasted by a late hard freeze.  Once the Bois d’arc tree leafs out, then I’ll be sure of things and feel comfortable planting my tomatoes and peppers.

When the leaves are mouse-ear sized (for a given value of mouse), I take the eggs out of cold storage in the refrigerator, and put them in a small container to warm up.

More seedlings

It’s that time.  Everything is starting to bust out, here.  The one garden bed that has been turned and seeded is coming to life with hundreds of tiny leaves.

The lesson from these baby Shanghai Bok Choi plants, is that I need to learn to plant things on a grid. I’m a random sprinkler by nature, but I really want the more orderly layout and space-economy of a gridded planting.

YUM, spinach.  We eat a LOT of spinach; it’s one of my favorite green vegetables.  I buy it at the Asian Grocery in a bag the size of a standard bed pillow.

The moonflower seedlings amaze me with their huge cotyledons.  I mean, when you see a seed the size of the end of your finger, you know the resulting seedling is going to be massive – but these just keep unfolding.  I really look forward to their flowers in the summer.

I have to say that my current favorite, though, are the beets – we planted “gourmet mix” beets, and they’re coming up in colors ranging from yellow-green to hot magenta.

I’ve got worms. Actual worms.

I get occasional back-talk from people who think that “silk caterpillars” would be more accurate… typically they’re about twelve years old and learning about phylogeny, but sometimes they’re know-it-all forty-somethings.  Now, I have *real* worms; they live in a bin in the bathroom attached to my studio/office, and they eat our vegetable garbage.

I got the starter worm bin from Vicki at Grand Prairie Worm Farm.  She was great, answered my myriad of tedious questions, and even delivered the bin.  There are lots of different DIY versions, as well as commercial versions, but this was local, and came with great support, and wasn’t very expensive.  It came to $44 with local delivery, and that’s not much more than what a pound of worms in the mail costs from most places.  These aren’t the worms you can dig up in the back yard – they’re a special composting worm, which doesn’t need deep earth tunnels to be happy like a nightcrawler does.

These are red wigglers or manure compost worms – Eisenia foetida.  Because they do well in a moist but not wet environment and can eat a variety of organic matter, they do great in a bin.  We feed them every couple of days – the cut-off ends of peppers and squashes, the peels of apples, jicama, avocado… you get the picture.  They don’t care much for onions or citrus, so those go to the outside compost.  The main charm of the worms, is that they produce a superior fertilizer from all this waste.  Called worm castings, a lot of gardeners swear they’re even better than manure for nourishing plants. They also chew through waste paper – they’re bedded down in a mix of shredded copier waste and junk mail.

A few days ago, I started noticing TINY worms.   Some of them are as small as a quarter of an inch long, and narrower than a piece of sewing thread.

And tonight, I found cocoons – the presence of the baby worms means there have been cocoons for a while, I just hadn’t looked hard enough.

Many sources have said that other organisms will show up in the bin – and as long as they don’t stink, bite, or crawl out, they’re a good thing, as they help break down organic matter.  I’m not sure what these tiny things on this beet slice are (insect?  other arthropod?) but they’re cool.  They look like quarter-size aphids, but they’re a pale off-white.

Strawberry begonias

My cousin Kathy brought us some of my Grandma’s old-fashioned strawberry begonias as a housewarming present.  They started blooming a few days ago.  They’re not showy at arm’s length, but close-to, they’re really lovely delicate little flowers.

See the dog hair adorning the top of the flower?  Welcome to my life.

The plants are creepers, and are named after strawberries because they throw out new baby plants on long runners.

No runners in this photo – the plant has been making them and throwing them over the edge, but I’ve been tucking them back into the pot.  I’m thinking this will go into a shady space in the side yard.

Letter of No Permit Required

I have been the proud holder of fifty-three USDA  Animal Plant Health and Inspection Service (APHIS) PPQ526 permits (Permit for interstate movement of pests or noxious weeds) for the past three years.  Permits to send and receive Bombyx mori, to receive Saturniids… even one to import B. mori, but only from WorldWide Butterfly.  It was time to reapply back in January, and the responses have started to come back.

Now, instead of permits, I’m getting this “Letter of No Permit Required.”  Huh?  I read the first one, and was delighted to see:

Here’s a link to the full PDF.

Now, I still have to maintain PPQ permits for transport of the wild type silkmoths, or for importation… but the vast majority of what I have been sending and receiving is Bombyx mori.  With it no longer being regulated for interstate movement… it just takes a lot of paperwork hassle off my shoulders. Yaaay!  This makes my mission of sharing the joy of silkworm raising a LOT easier.

Susie says

My parents got us this very cool weather monitor for Christmas.  It has an outside unit and two inside units, and it tells the temperature, humidity, etc.  And its “Weather Girl” feature helps show you how to dress.

When it gets really cold (well, cold for Dallas), she has a calf-length coat and a scarf.  Colder still, and she puts on earmuffs.  I don’t think she owns a hat.  And when it hits about fifty, she starts serving us bare midriff, and the thrust of her hips is really obvious.  When we first saw that, we realized… our Weather Girl is a tramp.  So she got her name… Slutty Susie, the Weather Floozy.  It’s great – I’ll just call down the hall to Chris, ask him “What does Susie say?” and he’ll tell me if I need a sweater for the ride to work.  And no, I don’t go with my belly button hanging out, even when it’s warm.  I have a feeling when it hits 100’F, we’ll be seeing a bikini.  Do they make a “Hot Weather Stud” version??

When Susie says it’s fifty degrees or more, the tomatoes get to visit the yard.  They LOVE the real sun – much better than the lamps. It’s amazing, looking back, how much they’ve grown in just five days.

This past Sunday, I spent the afternoon heaving bags of soil-enrichment and double-digging.  I got all three beds layered up in various amendments (peat, compost, other compost, and soil-moist crystals), and one bed double-dug and seeded.  The other two will have to wait for the next quiet sunny afternoon that I’m free.  I even got a little sun on my face!

I finished pouring and leveling after the sun set… and overnight, we had a lovely gentle rain.  The Soil-Moist crystals soaked up all the water, and one of the beds where I hadn’t stirred them in, looks like we’re raising ice cubes.  The great thing about these, is that they absorb and release water, keeping the soil at a fairly constant moisture level – and they’re a life-saver in our hot summers.

While I was digging, Chris was cleaning up the creek bank.  It’s a natural creek, but with a reinforced bank, and there was a lot of trash and scrub and vines.  Some of the vine is English ivy and honeysuckle, which is fine… but the cat briar had to go.  Wicked thorns on that stuff!

You can even see the creek, a little.  So far, we haven’t seen a time, even in summer, when it stops running.  The gentle sound of water playing is very pleasant.

The fifty-degree weather also means that we have lots of bees buzzing in the yard.  I like to watch them going from flower to flower, and practice petting them.

Because coming soon, there will be a beehive on those cinder blocks!  It’s in the attic now; I’ll get the bees early next month.  The rocks were Chris’s idea – neither of us is very keen on the idea of mowing right under the hive.