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.

With a tiny, tiny scythe….

The tomatoes that Chris planted in the little peat starters are looking great!

Their first true leaves are starting to appear – and they’re getting a little crowded.  Soon, they would be to the point where they would compete for light and root space, and they would end up leggy and weak.

So, sad though it is, it’s time to thin the seedlings.   I didn’t actually use a tiny scythe – I used tweezers.

So many tiny lives, wasted…. but, that’s the way it’s  done.  Strongest, healthiest seedling lives, extras have to be culled.  Unfortunately, tomato leaves aren’t edible, or we’d have the world’s cutest little salad.

This one looks odd; is it two plants in there, or three?

No, that one plant really does have THREE cotyledons.  There are two kinds of vascular plants that I know of… monocotyledons have one, dicotyledons have two.  This one has three.  I made sure that it survived, to see what happens with the rest of its development.  I’m assuming that it’s the same kind of divisional error that yields four-leafed clovers (and I’ve found clover leaves with up to seven…) – but I’ve never seen what happens if it begins this early in the plant’s development.  I’m wondering if the true leaves will come in sets of three?

So now we have thirty-six little tomato plants.  Probably still a lot more than we’ll be able to find garden soil for…. but I’m the kind of freak who thinks that home-grown tomato seedlings would make nice gifts.

The Better Boy plants that my Dad started around the first of December, and which we’ve been babying since New Year’s, are doing well.  A little leggy, perhaps, but we’ll just plant them deep and they’ll get extra root growth that way.

These are the peppers – we actually saved seed from a Holland Bell pepper that we enjoyed from the Asian grocery.  If the plants take after their parent, they’ll be huge, sweet, and orange.

Where I stand on the Science-versus-Jesus culture wars

I don’t often get into political or cultural issues in my blog – it’s yarn, and bugs, and the yard, and snippets of my life… pretty easy stuff.  This post is a little angrier than most, because it hits a nerve with me.  I’ve lived in Texas since I was five, and sometimes it’s an embarrassment to be associated with the “average Texans” and their backward, gullible thinking.

I firmly believe in modern science.  I don’t believe in the Bible.  I’m not a Christian.  It’s rarely an issue, but the other day while I was doing a school program, a teacher kind of pulled me to one side after I was done and waiting for the next group, and told me what marvelous creations silkworms are, and how she and I know, but we’re not allowed to teach the kids about God making them any more, they have to teach all this evolution nonsense in science… it just about turned my stomach.

And now, there’s thisSERIOUSLY, Texas?  According to a poll by the University of Texas, thirty percent of Texans believe that humans and dinosaurs walked the earth at the same time.  Because, you know, the Earth is only six thousand some years old.  Fifty-one percent of Texans surveyed disagree that humans evolved from earlier species.  Young-earth creationists make my skin crawl.  I think that teaching this BS to your kids is child abuse.


One of the things that Chris and I both really like about the new house, is that it has a good space for a big vegetable garden.  We’re at the stage where we’re trying to balance pre-season enthusiasm with the realization of how much labor it can be as things get big.

Tomato and pepper seedlings are taking a sun bath today; it’s sixty degrees and only a light breeze – perfect weather for tiny baby plants.

The big tomato plants are Better Boy that my Dad planted from seed; we have been babying them since Christmas. They sit on the kitchen counter under a high-output full-spectrum light when it’s too cold outside, and they go outside on any sunny day.  They’re almost five inches tall now.

The little seedlings are half peppers, half tomatoes.  The tomatoes are a “heritage cherry tomato mix.”  The peppers are from a beautiful big orange Holland Bell pepper that we both liked from the grocery store.  We will probably get a grape tomato or two – Chris and I both love those.  We’re planning on some spaghetti and zucchini squash, rainbow chard, bush and pole beans, beets, onions… and something I’m sure I’m forgetting.  And lots of herbs in the holes of the cinder blocks.

Tomato seedlings.

The garden will be in these raised beds.  They’re roughly three by nine, and we’re going to lay them out square-foot gardening style.  You can’t really tell from this photo, but they’re already about two-thirds full with a good sandy loam; we’ll top up with peat, vermiculite, and compost.  Back in the corner there, is where my BEES are gonna go!

Knotwork necklace – finished!

The knotwork necklace, finished.  I’m hoping to get some shots in natural daylight, to see if they will make the weird coloring of these beads show up better.

Ironically, the best way to see the color of the beads, is to force it out of focus.

Specs: The weaving is approximately twenty-four inches long, but with the folding to make the center front, and the closure in the back (which is a magnetic clasp, sewn on to the ribbon) it’s more like a 22-inch neck size.  The weaving is 1.25″ across, worked on 61 four-hole tablets for a total of 244 warp ends, and an effective epi of 195.  The thread is a 40d3x3 organzine, about the weight of a Size C sewing thread.  I made every single inch of silk, including the thread used for the beads and the construction.  It has nine of the large square iridescent Czech beads, nine dagger beads, and more of the Size 8 seed beads than I really want to count, but it’s somewhere between 300 and 400.  The seed and dagger beads are carried on the structural weft; the large square beads were sewn on after weaving.

Weaving, and still snowy!

I finished the ribbon last night.  This is an in-progress picture; I’ll get more once I have it all hemmed up and beaded and finished this evening.

The sunlight through the window was good for the color of the beads, but a little harsh for shadows.  The surface beads over the knotwork on either side of the front don’t normally cast stark shadows like that.

There’s still snow on the ground at our house.  Here’s the view of the creek:

And here’s the back of the house.  See the big pile of snow by the garage door?  Those dark stains flowing down the driveway from it, are puddles of slick ice.  It was nearly fifty yesterday, but 29 again overnight.

and the view down the street.  Notice the piles of broken limbs in front of many of the houses!

I’ve never had snow stay on the ground like this.  I know that for many of my northerly friends, this is just a drop in the bucket – but snow worth shoveling is something that I have never experienced in my life, and snow that stays on the ground more than overnight is something that happens to other people.

More about our snow

We ended up with a total of 12.5 inches by official report; here, we had an accumulation of about 11.5.

Lots of people lost tree branches. Some lost whole trees.

This poor tree tried to lean both ways, and split down the middle: