Downsizing and economising

Several years ago, in the depths of winter, our heat pump/air conditioning unit went out of commission.  I weighed the options, I could spend yet another $1,500 to get it repaired to continue to heat and cool our three bedroom two story house and live with the $400.00 a month bills or I could spend a great deal less money in buying space heaters to heat the rooms we were actually living in.  I chose the latter and I have never looked back since.  Once I had tried the space heater route, and the window air conditioner route in the summer, I kicked myself at the amount of money I spent over the years to heat and cool the house.

Today it was 105 degrees here in Eastern North Carolina and my window a/c units in the living room and the bedroom kept the WHOLE HOUSE cool.  I also have a window unit in the kitchen that I did not even need to turn on at all.  My electric bill continues to run at about $100 a month (as opposed to the previous $400 a month during the hottest of the summer).  The whole house is comfortable, not only during the heat of the summer but during the cold of the winter thanks to my space heaters.  The heaters and window a/c units have paid for themselves several times over thanks to the savings in the electric bills and I feel good knowing that I am doing a little bit to help the environment not using electricity to heat and cool the ducts in my walls and the rooms that I only use one month a year.

I have heard more and more adverts on the local radio station about Fujistu mini-split a/c and heating systems that only heat or cool the room you are in.  It is becoming more and more obvious that heating and cooling a huge empty house is simply madness and only heating and cooling the room you are using is the way to go.  It is funny, because it takes me back to my childhood, when we used to do that exact thing.  We would heat the room that we were in with a coal or a gas fire and not worry about the rest of the house, because when we went to bed we would be under the covers and not need to worry about it.  I am more confident that people will make this switch, as they see how insane it is to heat and cool a big old empty box.  We can do this.

Unruly Teenagers

I have a clutch of baby Cardinals in my yard that have obviously just recently fledged.  They are of course loud, obnoxious and uniformly demanding of their tired parents.  When one of the parents comes down to the feeders to get a well deserved meal the youngsters will follow and demand to be fed also.

It is quite comical, they will sit on the feeders, with food not inches from their beaks, and flap their wings and screech at their parents, demanding to be fed.  The poor overworked parents will do their best to ignore them but there they are, loud and obnoxious.   Despite the fact that they are siblings (or perhaps because they are siblings) they will think nothing of chasing each other off from a prime spot closest to the parent.  Occasionally one of the parents will tire of the screeching and pop a shelled sunflower seed into the youngsters mouth, which of course does not stop the screeching, it merely increases the volume, which makes them exactly like human teenagers when you think about it.

I have seen this all before of course, and eventually the fledglings will realize that flapping of wings and screeching will do no good and will begin cracking open their own sunflower seeds.   Still it is nice to see the babies.  I cannot wait until the boys start to get their adult plumage in as it will make for some nice “ugliest cardinal in the world” photos until they complete their moult.   Should the 100+ temperatures allow it this weekend I will attempt to get some photographs.

The boys are back in town

To my delight, as it is always this time of year, I have black swallowtail caterpillars on my fennel (which of course is planted for this purpose).

I have also got lots of eggs, which just tickles me pink.

I bought two fennel plants at the Farmers Market this weekend and I am hoping that I can root them so that my boys have enough food to get them through their life cycle.  This is very important to me.  I feel that it is part of my life’s worth to raise Black Swallowtail caterpillars into full fledged butterflies.  It is a tiny thing I can do, but if I can do it, I will.

The evolution of a Zinnia

I love Zinnia.  While they are an annual (a plant that I generally do not spend a great deal of time worrying about, when I plant something I like it to stay planted and not die come winter), they undergo the most delightful evolution that one can follow day after day.  The blooms begin with their main petals, usually bright pinks and yellows and oranges, whether or not they are singles or the more showy pom-poms they begin this way.

As can be seen beginning on this shot, shortly thereafter multitudes of tiny secondary flowers burst from the center filling in the middle until it appears that Ms. Zinnia is wearing a hat of secondary blooms.

This process goes on over time and it is fascinating to watch it go on.  As the older outer petals fade the inner yellow blooms seem to shine.   While the older petals are busily forming seeds, the yellow blooms continue to attract pollinators and continue to provide food.  Finally the yellow tiny blooms begin to form seeds and fade.

If you crumble a dead zinnia head you discover that there are two distinct types of seeds, those that have developed from the first outer petals and those that have developed from those tiny yellow blooms.  It really is quite incredible to think that nature developed a process whereby a plant could reproduce itself and then includes a built in back up should there be a shortage of pollinators in a particular stage of its life.  I love Zinnia.



 

Homebody

Whatever it was that happened to Ellie Wyatt, and I profess to not knowing as no one would ever know, it has scared the treacle out of him.  Since he came home from his surgery he has not moved more than a few feet in either direction of the dining room.   In fact this evening I found him asleep in his cat carrier, no doubt he feels safest in there than anywhere.  When the need takes him he will visit the litter box, or if he is feeling a little adventurous he will poke himself through the cat door and pee and poo right outside the kitchen door and then scoot right back through the cat door and take up his place either on my computer chair or the dining room table.

My husband was afraid that he would become the villain in the entire affair, it was he, after all, that took him to the vets.  Quite the contrary, it would appear that while prior to the vet visit Ellie Wyatt treated him with a sort of quiet disdain, now he adores him.  It occurs to me that Ellie now sees him as the nice man who took away the pain.  He never fails to lift his head for a scritch whenever my husband goes through to the kitchen for a soda, and he actively seeks him out for lap time.

I cannot say that I am upset that Ellie has become a homebody, there are so many dangers in Eastern North Carolina for cats.   Nevertheless, he is free to do what he feels is best, and right now he feels that his entire world consists of the dining room.  I am cool with that.

Figures

The yard looked sorry this morning.  Everything was drooping thanks to lack of rain.  Of course, the containers were the worst off, and I was fearful of losing all of the plants in them.  The forecast was only a 30% chance of rain and around here that usually means no rain at all.   After we had gone out to get my husband’s car inspected I came home and set out the sprinkler to give my flower beds a good soaking.   After a couple of hours of working on my containers (removing the dead violas and pansies) and moving the sprinkler around the garden my husband came out and asked me how I was doing.  He then noticed the sprinkler.  “You know what this means” he said “what?”  I asked.  “It’s going to rain today”.  I laughed at him “its only a 30% chance which usually means nothing around here”.  “No” he said “it will rain just because you are watering”.

Sure enough about an hour ago the thunder began to rumble and the rain began tapping on the skylights.   It has been pouring fairly steadily for about an hour and my only consolation is that using the sprinklers has dampened the soil so that this good soaking rain will actually penetrate the scorched earth and it will soak into the soil and not run off which it probably would have done had I not turned on the sprinklers.   At least that is what I will tell myself when the water bill comes in.

 

New Daylilies

A couple of years ago I mail ordered some daylilies and planted them in the bed that runs along my pathway to the front door.  I am deluged with daylilies, but for some strange reason I decided that more would be good.  It took them a little while to establish but now they are blooming and they give a really good contrast to my fulva doubles which are rampant throughout my yard.

These new ones are just now flowering and, in addition to a wonderful lemon yellow there is a deep burgundy that is flowering right now, it is truly stunning.

As we all know daylily flowers are short lived, but while they bloom they are brilliant in the landscape, and the best part about them they are almost impossible to kill.   You could literally dig them up, throw them on the compost pile, and they would bloom the following year.  So long as they have even a tiny grasp of something they can draw food from they will thrive.  There is really not a more reliable plant for the landscape.  I cannot recommend them more.

Angel wings

Caladium are one of my favorite short lived bulbs for shady areas.  They are truly unique in their ability to shine color and light into an area that is beset by shade.  I have several spots in my garden that are in full shade and which I have no hope of planting anything that will bring color to the area.  Caladium solves that problem and for the small amount of money I spend on them (because I always wait for the 75% off sale) they are well worth the money.  Of course if you are smart and quick (of which I am neither) you can dig them up in the fall and over winter them in the garage.  Alas, by the time I have got around to thinking of digging them up the leaves have died back and I have no earthly clue where I should begin digging to get them out of the ground.

I keep telling myself that I should do a better job of over wintering these babies but invariably I will fail.  Nonetheless, if you have some seriously shady areas that need a pop of light and color, then you will not fail with Caladium.  They are simply beautiful.

I brake for wildlife.

I am one of those annoying (to some) drivers who brake for things crossing the road.  It might be a human, but more than likely it is going to be a critter.  Whether it be domestic (cats and dogs) more than likely it is going to be wildlife, deer, squirrels, turtle, snakes, frogs, you name it.  I also brake to enable vultures to retreat when they are in the middle of the road feasting on roadkill that obviously someone has NOT braked for.

I really cannot wrap my head around a personality that would NOT brake for an animal in the road.  There was an experiment done a while back where a wildlife group placed a fake animal in the road to monitor the results.  While most drivers swerved to avoid the critter they recorded several drivers who deliberately swerved to HIT it.  I cannot comprehend someone who would do that.   That is truly evil.

I have to admit though I am overly cautious due to the damage it would do to my psyche were I to hit and kill something.  I brake for all critters as mentioned above, but I also brake for rocks that look like turtles and sticks that look like snakes.  It is not my fault that rocks are pretending to be turtles and sticks are pretending to be snakes.   I suppose I should be grateful that I have only once been rear-ended and that had nothing to do with braking for wildlife but had everything to do with braking for traffic ahead.

Nevertheless, I would really appreciate it if all of those drivers out there took a little more care when it comes to wildlife.  I certainly do not expect anyone to put their lives in danger in order to save a squirrel but for the most part that is not the case.    While it might cause a food shortage for the vultures it would surely make my morning drive to work much less distressing.

I don’t remember planting that.

I can guarantee you at least once (if not more) during the gardening season I will wander by one of my flower beds and see something in flower and say the above.  Of course years ago I would have said it to myself, in my head, but these days I am quite happy to say it to myself, and the world, aloud.  More than likely I will then begin a conversation with the plant, also aloud.  “Well hello there!  Who are you?  I certainly do not remember planting you, but you are awfully pretty and it is so nice to see you.”  Such was this Oriental lily that bloomed today.  I certainly do not remember buying it, and I certainly do not remember planting it, perhaps the explanation is that it was in a “mixed” bag of bulbs that has only just now flowered but it certainly is beautiful.

Sometimes I am justified when I do not remember planting something because I actually didn’t plant it, but it was a gift to me from the birds, or the wind, and it will be a delightful native plant that I have wisely put on “weed probation” to enable it to flower and thrive.  Such was my Beauty Berry which landed in one of my beds and I thought the leaves looked interesting and definitely not “weedish”.  I have several plants on “weed probation” right now as they look interesting.

One of these “weed probation” plants is this,

It has come up under the bird feeders so I am assuming that it is a result of that seed.  It is very much non-weed like and I have decided to let it do its thing and see what happens.  It is approximately four feet tall right now so who knows what it is going to turn into and so long as it is not something illegal (like marijuana for instance which was a famous case in the UK many moons ago) I am quite happy to let it be and see what it turns into.

There are times that you have to go with the flow when it comes to gardening, and just let mother nature do her thing, because she really does know what she is doing most of the time.