Monday, August 28, 2017

The End of Summer Garden

The end of summer and beginning of fall always seems like a busy time for me garden-wise. Usually I'm combining watering every day with some amount of harvesting stuff almost every day in prep for fall. Some plants die off about this time, allowing me to tear out half-dead things and put in new cooler-weather plants.

Getting ready for fall
 This year Barbara was kind enough to take some of my not-half-dead flowers so I could put lettuces in. Actually, I think more accurately I texted her and stated "I'm foisting some flowers off on you" and she said "Well ok." I just hate throwing out flowers that are still at peak bloom. But the lettuce must go in! So she got a forced donation of some lightly-used plants. lol.

Gotta have dat lettuce
The rose plant has really blossomed (hehe) in the past few weeks, and now has three flowers on it! This is the most it's had since I crispified it back at the beginning of summer, so I'm glad it's made a full recovery and will be ready to go next spring. I haven't researched yet whether I should cut it back in fall or in spring, so I'll need to find that out in the next month or two.

Pretty red mini roses
The venus fly trap is either slowing down for winter dormancy or dying. I can't figure out which. It could probably use some more sunlight during the day, but since I'm not allowed to put things out on the front of my porch I can't really do anything about it. I thought about putting it under grow lights in the evening to supplement the light, but I'm afraid that'll mess with the dormancy cycle. We'll see I suppose.

Not fantastic venus fly trap
Ticky got a new batch of oat grass. He's enjoying it. He eats the seedlings before they can grow so I caved and bought him grown stuff from the pet store. It looks like troll hair right now. Pretty soon he'll have buzzed it to the ground though. This guy is a voracious grass eater- I think he's part bunny.

Rosemary didn't grow as much as I expected it to this year, which was a little disappointing. It didn't NOT grow, it has just been really slow. I'm hoping it makes it through the winter so I can re-pot it in maybe a plastic container again. They like dry soil, but maybe the clay pot is too dry or too small for its roots.

The zinnias, however, have been taking over the front of the porch. I love the colors in this wild zinnia variety, I just wish I'd known they're long-stemmed and wispy instead of bushy like the cultivated kind. I kept thinking they weren't getting enough sun, but they were in constant sunlight out on the front of my porch for awhile and still turned into these 2 ft long stems. Well, now I know. They need to be grouped together and staked.
Crazy long zinnia stems

Pretty sunburst-like zinnia flowers
New lettuces have taken over the front sunny area of the porch. I wanted them to be somewhat decorative, so I mixed them with some trailing white mini petunias and bought both red and green baby lettuces. Lots of buttercrunch in the buckets! I also mixed in something called Raspberry Dressing Rumex. It turns out it's sorrel. I didn't know I'd like sorrel, but as the name implies these legit taste like Raspberry Vinaigrette. I am not lying. The leaves are gorgeous too, so they fit well in my decorative lettuce containers.

Some of the bucket containers with a variety of buttercrunch, sorrel, and petunias for contrast
That's it for now! Hoping to harvest my first salad in a few weeks. :)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Waiting for the Sun to Go Out

When I planned a year ago to go to Kentucky to see the total solar eclipse I made sure to plan other activities around it, thinking that it would be a long way to travel for just a two minute event. What if it rained? What if it wasn't that impressive? So we took a week and stopped along the way at J.D.'s parents' house and to visit some friends in Charleston, WV and Murray, KY. On the way back we spent the night at Natural Bridge, VA and the safari park there. I loved the vacation aspect of it, but I was wrong about the total eclipse not being worth the 13 hour trip. It was worth it.

Me standing on the side of the lake, waiting for the sun to go out.
I know a lot of people saw the partial eclipse, and I'm so glad that everyone was so excited about it and went out and saw it! But folks, it ain't a totality. Totality is something that can't actually be captured properly on film. Cameras just can't depict all of the wavelenths correctly, and they can't get the detail of the sun's corona without blocking out the other things like how weirdly lit the world is, and how many shades of color the sky has during the eclipse.

A view of the partial eclipse through one of the solar scopes.

We watched from the shore of Kentucky Lake as the light grew dimmer and dimmer as we got closer to totality. It was like having sunglasses on without actually having sunglasses on, or like stadium lights at a night game. We saw the dappled sunlight from the tree leaves turn into a carpet of crescents. The leaves act like pinhole cameras so they show what's happening above.

Sun crescent shapes in the leaf shadows.
However, it didn't dim noticeably until about five seconds before the sun disappeared behind the moon. Then it was like some cosmic dimmer switch was turned. Suddenly the air temperature dropped ten degrees and everything got dark. Not dark like sunset though. Dark like, well, like something had blocked out the daytime.

Because the sun was almost directly overhead and not shining through a lot of atmosphere like it does at sunrise and sunset, there was no red-ish quality to the light. It was still very much noon sunlight, just blotted out to a sort of alien twilight. It felt weird and off somehow.

Everyone watching the last sliver of sun disappear.
This was about 1 minute before totality.
You can see it's still almost noon sunlight. It dimmed quickly.

Right overhead, waiting for us to take off our eclipse glasses with the last disappearing sliver of actual sun, was a glowing black hole in the sky. No one could really stop themselves from gasping and exclaiming something like "Wow" or "Oh my God" in awe when they took off their eclipse glasses. It was that bizarre.

This is the most accurate to the corona shape that I saw. I counted four corona "limbs"
but the photos all show a more even brightness all around.
Sergio was at our campground so he photographed what we were seeing.
Credit: Sergio Signorini

We could see some of the brighter stars and planets. Jupiter was up, as was Venus. Mars and Mercury were hanging out somewhere in the sun's corona. Two minutes seemed to pass by in ten seconds as we tried to take it all in. Then a flash of bright light on one side of the moon forced us back to viewing it through the protective dark tint of the eclipse glasses. I wished I could put everything on rewind and watch it again, but I will perhaps see this only once in my lifetime. (Though now I've been turned into an avid eclipse chaser so I'll definitely be attempting to catch the one in 2024.)

Credit: Sergio Signorini

Afterwards we crowded around the professional photographer's camera to see what they got. We weren't disappointed. The corona looked more detailed than what we could see with the naked eye, and she'd caught some images of the "diamond ring" which is the effect when the sun is just barely covered by the moon and shines out brightly on one side of it. Even today I've gotten more emailed pictures that various people took of the eclipse, but again- none of them are exactly what our eyes saw. I'll have to rely on my memory for that.

The "Diamond Ring" effect
Credit: Sergio Signorini
I am very glad I got to see this thing, and encourage people to try to see the total solar eclipse in 2024 which will run from Maine to Texas. Partial eclipses are nothing like totality. You have to be there to see it!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Puzzle Toys for Ticky!

Ticky has been getting bored during the day, as evidenced by him throwing himself in front of the door in a dramatic fashion when I'm about to leave for work. To keep him busy while I'm gone I've  purchased and created puzzles for him to solve during the day. If you also have a cat that's bored during your work day or just driving you crazy with bad behavior while you're home, maybe these will spark some ideas for cat puzzles of your own!

Ticky and his new puzzle.
He says "put more treats in it hooman."

The purchased puzzle:
I bought a cat puzzle I found online called the "Brain Mover" by Trixie Pet Products. It was only $20 for something that can be reconfigured in different combinations of treat-finding and is also hard plastic so it can (supposedly) be washed in the dishwasher. They make a whole line of pet puzzles for dogs and cats, and have videos of pets actually using them so you can see how they are solved. I took a video of Ticky using his!

Ticky and I are both happy with this toy, but what if you don't want to spend $20 on a cat puzzle? I've also found a few creative ways to make similar toys out of recyclables. The only downside to those is that after awhile they wear out because the cat squishes and tears the pieces apart or the cat food gets the cardboard all oily. However, if you can find plastic recyclables these last much longer! I've seen cat puzzles made from Tupperware that can be machine washable.

The Busy Box: 

Hot glue some sections of toilet paper tubes and plastic bottles with large holes cut in the sides to a cardboard box lid. To cut the holes use an Exacto knife or box cutter to start the hole, then finish it up with scissors if the plastic is really thick. If it's thinner plastic it might be easiest just to cut it entirely with the knife/box cutter. If you have some jagged, uneven edges then either cut them smooth or sand the edge so your kitty's paws don't get poked. Toss a treat or two in each puzzle section before leaving for the day!

I made this from toilet paper tubes and a Gatorade bottle.

The Rolling Treat Dispenser:

This is simple to make from any plastic bottle. Rinse it thoroughly first and then cut holes about the diameter of your finger in the sides.

Make at least three holes, spaced along the length of the tube so if treats get stuck at one end they can still drop out. (Or I guess if your cat is the tenacious type it might keep batting it around until treats fall out even if you just cut one hole.) Make sure the treats you put in it are small enough to drop easily through the holes.

Ticky in action
Ticky loves this kind of toy and bats it around and then looks for any treats on the floor, bats it around again, etc. until it stops making the rattly noise. Hehe.

"Are they all gone?"

I hope these ideas inspire some puzzle-making for your pet! I've seen them used with dogs and even horses. Just stuff it with treats and they'll keep trying to figure a way to get to that tasty goodness.