Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pet Sitting

A good friend of mine had to leave town for a while and I agreed to care for his critters while he was gone. The thing is, there are dozens of them. Really. I'm now hosting three species of very hungry caterpillars! One is a single tiger swallowtail, Papilio glaucus. It is a beautiful green and if you look closely you can see a tiny red bindi between its crossed false eyes on its sixth chakra.

The other two species are are giant silkworm moths, a group of large moths with beautifully patterned wings often with large eye spots. Some are polyphemus moths, Antherae polyphemus. These are housed in a converted aquarium so I wasn't able to get a decent picture and I didn't want to disturb one by dragging it out. Maybe when they're larger. And they do get large. By the time they're ready to spin cocoons they'll be at least as big as my thumb.

The other species is the promethea moth, Callosamia promethea. These are sort of blue-green right now but will be much greener with red knobs when they're big.

Last summer I hosted some promethea cocoons for the same friend and got to see several of them emerge over a period of a few days. I hung them on a little potted tree while they finished drying and expanding their wings. This species displays sexual dimorphism, meaning the males and females look different. The males are the dark ones.

Raising butterfly or moth caterpillars is really pretty simple. You need some sort of container or cage that allows air exchange but doesn't let the caterpillars escape. Put a layer of paper towels or newspaper in the bottom to make it easier to clean out the droppings. Provide them with whatever leaves they like to eat. To keep the leaves fresh you can use those little water vials florists use for corsages if you've got just one or two small caterpillars. For larger numbers, cut Xs in the lid of a deli container and use it like a vase for stems of the food plant. The key is to make it so the caterpillars can't crawl into the water and drown. Replace the food in fresh water when it's skeletonized or when it gets stale. Toward the end of their larval stage you're going to be doing this pretty much daily. They will eat a lot of leaves so have a reliable source. Once they've spun their cocoons or formed a crysalis you just wait until the adults emerge either this season or next year after overwintering them outdoors in a rodent-proof container.

I'll try to keep posting pix of the kids as they grow up. The transformation in size and coloration is a remarkable thing to watch.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Pork Satay

OK, dinner. How'd we do, locally speaking? Before dinner our happy hour was accompanied by a quick bruschetta with bread from Clasen's Bakery, tomatoes from Flyte Family Farm, goat cheese from Dreamfarm and basil from our own garden. The pork was from Pecatonica Valley Farm, the bulk of the peanut sauce was from Yumbutter, the spices on the pork were from Penzey's, the cucumber and tomato in the dubious raita were from Flyte Family Farm, the Hopalicious was from Ale Asylum, local producers or businesses all. The rice, yogurt and limes were, unfortunately "not from around here" (imagine that in the best redneck lawman voice you can muster.)

They're Here!

They're here. But, honestly, they haven't been too bad yet. Normally spring, the brief season of comfortable temperatures and bug-free outdoorsing is suddenly immolated in the sticky, sweltering mess that is summer. Not so this year, at least in my yard. Instead I've been swatting at some weird little flies I haven't seen before. Maybe they've been eating the mosquitoes. One can only hope.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Strangest Kale Recipe Yet!

So, for some forgotten reason I'm growing kale this year, Dwarf Blue Curled Scotch Kale, to be exact. It's growing fantastically, hasn't shown any signs of insect activity and they're really attractive plants.

The problem, though, is that we don't eat a lot of kale. It's always just been that stuff they use to dress up the seafood case at the store. Or, on a few rare occasions--one, maybe--I've put it in soup. So having broken the gardening rule that we're only going to grow what we'll eat I went in search of recipes to use that stuff up. Naturally, there is a plethora of soup recipes online. Many pair it with beans and for reasons I'll go into at another time, we don't need another beans-n-greens opportunity. Then I stumbled on what I think is a rather unique recipe: Baked Kale Chips. I know, it sounds completely crazy but they really are good. They won't last until tomorrow and I'm starting to worry I didn't plant enough kale. I made them using the method in the recipe and sprinkled them with Barbecue 3000 blend from Penzey's and some salt. The results aren't pretty, but they're delicious! Maybe it's just that if you put enough olive oil and salt on anything it becomes edible, but I like the slightly cabbagey flavor they have. Next time I make them, I'll hold off on some of the oil and salt. They shrink when they cook so underseasoning them at the beginning is probably a good idea.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Garden Update

I'm glad I didn't commit to any sort of schedule for posting about the garden. It really is true that the more there is to report, the less time there is to write. Over the last week or so I've gathered a few images of the more interesting--to me, at least--developments in the garden.

The collards are getting huge so I think I'll cook some this week. I'm planning on cooking some of the Jacob's Cattle Gasless (!) beans I grew last year to go with them. I don't feel like having black-eyed peas this time.

And speaking of beans there are about a half dozen bush varieties coming along nicely. Some will be consumed as green beans (even the purple ones), some will be shelled and some will be dried.

I took that picture only a week or so ago and they are probably twice as big now. A few have been nibbled by beetles but they look great and most are starting to flower. The White Dixie butter beans I planted later when the Red Calypso failed are really taking it in the shorts, though.

Again, in relation to beans in general, I tried escarole for the first time this year. I make the bean connection because the only recipe I've tried with it so far paired it with canellini. This is the second of two plants. It's gotten huge since I took this picture last week so I hope it's still good when I cook it this Thursday.

On the other sided of the garden the garlic has got me really excited. Last year since it was the first time we had the plot we spring planted the garlic. Consequently it didn't have as long to grow. The resulting bulbs were tasty but probably on the small side. Gambling on getting the same plot this year, we planted this crop of garlic last fall. The plants are huge and robust. I hope that's reflected in the harvest!

Another exciting new plant in the garden is the fava bean. I had them for the first time at the co-conspirator's cousin's house in Portland last year and decided I'd try growing them. I planted them first thing this spring since they're supposed to be a cold weather crop. They came up and then stalled for about a month. Then they bloomed, the flowers turned a disturbing wilted black color and I worried. It turns out that's just what they do. Now pods are forming and some are already quite big. Unfortunately I did what I usually do. I planted all the seeds at once and then stood back and thought "It might have been a good idea to plant those at intervals." I'll soon be researching what to do with excess favas.

Like most everything else, the tomatoes hit their stride this week and doubled in size. This year I'm going to try pruning and staking them. I've got some varieties I'm really excited to try--'San Marzano,' 'Tasty Evergreen,' 'Hillbilly Potato Leaf,' 'Silvery Fir Tree,' and 'Cherokee Purple' among them.

The garden's looking great right now. We've got the weeds under control, everything that can be mulched is mulched, and some things are being harvested even as others are just coming up. We're off to a good start and the Solstice is upon us. I'm really looking forward to seeing how the rest of the season shapes up, especially a couple of "spicy" experiments I'm trying!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

WTF Bird Encounter

I've decided I have a weird inner clock. Or maybe it's just that it's tuned to the year and not the day. In any case, this time of year I find myself springing (yes, I don't exaggerate) from bed as early as five A.M. looking for something to do. As I've discovered this is an excellent time to make ambient sound recordings since traffic is light and few others are about I've been visiting favorite haunts in order to capture the aural essence of summer to tide me over in the less sunny months to come.

This morning I headed out in the green thunderstorm light to Frautschi Point in the Lakeshore Nature Preserve only to find this on the street.

I presume it was a hawk of some sort and just assumed it's a Red-Tailed. Popping on the hazard lights and grabbing the camera I managed to take a few decidedly poor pictures of the scene. Sorry, but conditions were not ideal. Anyway, just adjacent to that stretch of road were two of these guys.

As I was sitting there watching, the crane decided to visit the raptor!

Curious? Warning? Dumb? I can only guess. In any case, the encounter apparently agitated both participants enough that one of them left.

On viewing this photo later, I had second thoughts about my Red-tailed Hawk identification/assumption. Hence, the WTF title of this post, meaning "Who's That Flying?" That's what it's always meant, right?