Butterflies and Stars all in a morning!

One of the many benefits to getting up sooo early… early being, before Sunrise is that you get to watch the butterflies warming up in the morning light.  Do you like to do photography? Go out early and you will have a better chance of photographing some of the more elusive native butterflies by watching for them resting and doing their warm ups – flexing those wings for flight, on cool Fall mornings.

Here is a Gulf Fritillary in my yard soaking up early morning rays.  When I found myself initially standing outside at 7am gazing around at the night sky one of the first constellations I noticed overhead was Orion the Hunter   Just look for the three belt stars in a row that tell you it’s Orion!   Near the belt stars is the bright planet Jupiter, also overhead and down lower, nearer to Orion is the dog star Sirius in the constellation of Canis Major

Gulf Fritillary ButterflyGulf Fritillary Butterfly

Picked too soon.. in aBackyard Universe.

The little garden has been plodding right along, regardless of the intermittent just-under-a-freeze-warning type temperatures we have had here in South West Florida (today it’s warm out!)  I got home last night from my Avon Rep Meeting  and hubby had decided on his own to go pick one of the tomatoes that was barely starting to turn red!    It’s sitting here on the counter  more than likely destined for (gluten free) Fried Green Tomato to go along with dinner tonight.  I wish he hadn’t picked it.  His excuse;  “I thought I’d pick it so the animals wouldn’t get it”   WELL….  The only animals likely to get it around here are an errant wood pecker, blue jay OR human.  The Nasturtiums I planted from seed last month are still coming along.  The lettuce and collards are still producing as well.

a tomato alone..

Picked Too Soon!

The rest of the tomato bunches are doing OK…  so long as no one decides to pick any or take a bite…. The above and below are Bonnie Select Hybrid Tomato, Determinate.  They get 8 to 10 oz and are a good handful.  Maturity is around 75 days.  Water Tomatoes daily!   Check periodically for worms and bugs to pick off.  Interestingly enough, my Bonnie Tomato “Mortgage Lifter” and Black Krim are undersized plants with small fruits – they do receive the same treatments with water and fertilizer.

Tomato Bunch

Bonnie Select hybrid Tomatoes

The Cauliflower is just starting to head up.  I was taught that when it starts to head up like this you take some of the leaves and you cover the head up so it stay a nice white color.  Do you do this with your Cauliflower?  (I also like to put some of the leaves in salads for a little different flavor.)  Store bought Cauliflower does not compare to home grown!  It’s easy to grow, try it out in your Zone!


I had no idea that while I was planting and taking care of the garden, the birds were also planting a Sunflower Garden.  OK, they were in cahoots with the squirrels hiding seeds..  The Black Oil sunflowers are almost as tall as me (5′ 4″) and are wonderful to see every day as they track the sun across the sky.  I’ve included another photo.  The two below are the tallest.

The Birds Flower Garden

photo 2 copy

The most cool bird I have seen in the Backyard Universe  has been an American Goldfinch I sighted in the Labyrinth tree last month.  He was part of a small flock that passed through one evening.  You just never know what you might see from your backyard!  Spring is coming so get your small (or large) garden in, feed the birds and watch the magic happen around you!   Get the family involved!   If you need suggestions, drop me a note.

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a Little Bird Said: Go Star-Gazing!

I woke to the calls of a brilliant red sentinel Cardinal sitting up in the tops of the Mulberry Tree..  Today I’m planting out Nasturtium seedlings into pots and then  working on tonights Observing session for CREW Land and Water Trust.  Jim is busy adding a new Telrad to the LaVigne  10″ Dobsonian telescope for tonights use.

If you miss this evenings (Feb 9) Public Observing Session (Registration for tonight is closed)  at CREW we will offer another observing opportunity March 9th so if you happen to be in South West Florida visiting, or you live here, consider signing up via this link to attend our Family Star Gazing session.    

What will we see?  Jupiter, the Orion Nebula, various Star Clusters.. Galaxies M31 and M32 as well as pointing out numerous constellations and bright stars as well as telling some star-tails from CREWs beautiful Dark-Sky observing site I simply call Star Gazers Field.  If you go to the above Star Gazing link it will give you all the information about what you need to bring (don’t forget the blankets!) as well as where CREW Gate 5 is located.  Pre-Registration is required so check your calendar for March and include the Night Sky – Star Gazing, in your next family adventure into the Wilds of South West Florida! 

Sentinel Cardinal

Sentinel Cardinal

a Backyard Universe of Vegetables!

I enjoy veggie gardening as much as I enjoy going out on the trails or star-gazing…  not only is gardening, planting things, good for the mind and body, but also for the soul..   Gardening gets you out into the fresh air working with the soil and plants getting  your hands dirty.  You become aware that the space around your house, your yard, the little patch on earth we call “ours” is home to many other forms of life besides ourselves.  Problems become small..  issues go away quickly as you work and become one with the soil, with the earth and nature.   


My garden this year (below) is handkerchief sized  at 6′ x 6′  square..  don’t ask me how I got it square, I wasn’t trying LOL.  I spaded the area out, removed the grass, and then added some amendments to it consisting of a couple of shovel fulls of Miracle Grow Gardening Soil and  Osmocoat.   In the background of the image you can see the Labyrinth.  The big bushy plant is Lemon Grass used in my Thai cooking and tea on a hot day. 


While the garden area  is small it’s already produced several rounds of  Simpson Elite lettuce  and Georgia Collards.  The tomatoes are still coming along with blooms.  I have two heirloom varieties planted:  Mortgage lifter, and Black krim   I also planted a couple of  Bonnie Select Hybrid Tomatoes which are not seen in the image as they are outside of the garden square proper (for another blog.)   I also tried a new green this year, Burpee Senposai Hybrid.   This is an awesome green that goes good in salads with the Simpson (or bib) Elite lettuce.  The leaves are more sturdy and have a good flavor to them.  You can also stir fry it!  

Try adding fresh young Collard leaves to your salad.  They add a spicy not quite bitter taste that is wonderful!   I’ve planted another row Lettuce and Senposai since this photo for later on.  I stagger my crops and rotate them.     I have a few other things I’ve started from seed I won’t mention yet as they haven’t poked their heads up yet – I just got them started yesterday.  Other things I have growing on the lanai are mint and sweet basil..  also good added to a salad.

SO..  If you are tired of  “the same old  thing” veggie wise, or tired of  bagged veggies, consider growing your own.  It’s healthier  and you will know its Pedigree from your online seed research and choice to planting and nurturing  to your plate, and YOU and your family will have grown it yourselves.   It’s not difficult to do and it’s actually fun for everyone.  If you want the kids to eat their veggies, get them involved in growing them!  I know that works because growing up we kids worked and planted and did “pest patrol” on our own half acre garden.  We ate all the things we grew and a few of them raw right there in the field.   Overages I learned to Can and freeze or dry and sometimes we’d have so much overage we’d drive it around our  Suncoast neighborhood in North Fort Myers and sell it from the back of the truck. 

We loved being outside in the fresh air, exploring new things we’d see out among the corn tassels or twisty vines…  What’s that caterpillar?  that flying insect does it bite or sting? how does it move?   We’d look them up in the books and increase our knowledge and it was FUN.  So much fun and enjoyment that I continue to garden and grow things, and hunt critters out among the leaves –  and I’m 50!   Teach your kids to garden and explore the world and to ask questions and most importantly, have FUN!    We can do this at any age… now go get some plants or seeds and start your Backyard Universe Adventure!  Turn off the TV…

I recommend the following books on gardening:

Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting

Florida Home Grown The Edible Landscape

Herbs and Spices for Florida Gardens

Online Seed Catalogs I love

Totally Tomatoes Vegetable Garden Seed

R.H. Shumway’s has a Beautiful paper catalog!  and is online as well

The Cooks Garden 

Make time to see the Stars..

A Star Gazing moment.
South West Florida, All times are in EST.

a Color Star Chart for January to Print out.


With the mayhem of the Fiscal Cliff and the rush of the Holidays OVER  (at least for now)  it’s time to make time and do some things to de-compress…  Things like.. take a walk in the woods at a favorite nature preserve, visit a museum, or perhaps just take time out to go outside and look up at the night sky.  Yes, just walk over, turn off that blithering TV, and go outside and look up and relax in a lawn chair or on the ground.  

If you don’t have a good view of the night sky where you are, consider visiting a Planetarium, a State Park, or a local Observatory to Star Gaze from.  Go outside around 8pm and look East you’ll see three bright stars that make up Orion’s Belt all arranged neatly, (from our perspective anyway) in a row.  They are from bottom to top, Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka. The bright visibly reddish looking star in the shoulder of Orion is Betelgeuse.  Betelgeuse is one of the largest stars known, with a diameter over 650 times that of the Sun! (It’s overhead by 11pm.)

By 7:30pm as the evening has progressed and these constellations rise higher in the sky go outside again and look for another bright star Sirius, in the Constellation of Canis Major – this is Orion’s dog. Sirius is also called the Dog Star. An easy way to find Sirius is to take the belt stars of Orion and draw a line down toward the horizon. Bright Sirius is overhead by midnight. At 9:49pm the brightest “Star” overhead from Orion is not a star at all but the planet Jupiter nestled up in the V shape of the horns of Taurus the bull.

Below Star Chart image credit is SkySafari for the Mac.

Orion Taurus Jupiter


Weekly Photo Challenge: Near and Far

     a fledgling Owl sits in a pine bough, under a Waxing moon.

The Perseid Meteor Shower or, The Tears of St. Lawrence.

The Perseid meteors appear to stream away from the shower’s “radiant” point near the border of Perseus and Cassiopeia. Under dark-sky conditions, you may see an average of one a minute around the time of the shower’s peak. Sky & Telescope illustration.

The Perseid Meteor Shower or, The Tears of St. Lawrence
Overnight August 11-12,  2012

 The Perseus Meteor Shower, or the “Tears of St. Lawrence,” occur every year between late July and August and are known to produce views of 100 meteors in an hour.  Of course to see near this number you will need two things in your favor.  One, a dark sky location with little light pollution, and two, you will need to have a fairly moonless night going into the morning hours.  We have the moonless night, with the 24 day old moon rising at 2:21am.  so the best remedy for any lighting issues near you, is to drive out to locate a remote spot to watch the shower from. 

The material that makes up this shower is debris from Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle which was  discovered in 1862.  Between the years 1864 and 1866, noted Astronomer Schiaparelli performed computations examining the orbit of Swift-Tuttle and found a strong resemblance to the meteor shower.  This was the first time a meteor shower had been positively identified as being the debris produced by a comet.  

 But what does St. Lawrence have to do with a meteor shower?    St. Lawrence was a deacon of the Roman Church, he was also one of the many victims of persecution by the Roman Emperor Valerian.  In 258AD, Valerian issued an edict that all bishops, priests, and deacons should be immediately put to death.  On August 10th, St. Lawrence, the last of the seven deacons, was also put to death.  St. Lawrence is the patron Saint of librarians, archivists, cooks – due to the way of his death, and deacons. 

According to Folklore, one is to make a wish, or perhaps say a prayer when they see a falling star and it was better yet to make a wish and invoke St. Lawrence to pray along with you upon seeing the falling star.  The falling stars of the Perseids, occurring around the same time as St. Lawrence Martyrdom, were looked upon as his tears and Psalms 8. Domine, Dominus noster seemed appropriate to think of when watching the Tears of St. Lawrence.

Psalms 8. Domine, Dominus noster.

O LORD our Governor, how excellent is thy Name in all the world; * thou that hast set thy glory above the heavens!
2 Out of the mouth of very babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength, because of thine enemies, * that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I consider thy heavens, even the work of thy fingers; * the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained;
4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? * and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
5 Thou madest him lower than the angels, * to crown him with glory and worship.
6 Thou makest him to have dominion of the works of thy hands; * and thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet:
7 All sheep and oxen; * yea, and the beasts of the field;
8 The fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea; * and whatsoever walketh through the paths of the seas.
9 O LORD our Governor, * how excellent is thy Name in all the world! 

Dog Days of Summer.


Above:   Orion and Sirius, The Dog Star.

Our South West Florida Summers are renowned for their heat and humidity.  Growing up, during Summer our gardening efforts ceased except for a few tomatoes and heat loving okra (I love okra pickles.)  Today I liken going outside on a hot summer day to “opening the oven door.”   But I also know that even before Summer truly arrives, the sky tells me what is on the way by showing me the constellations and their bright stars overhead and there is a point in the dead of Summer that I can go outside, early before sunrise, and greet the assurance of the coming Winter constellations and attendant bright stars such as Sirius.


Just the other day I was out with my mom and we got to talking about the heat, and what was growing vis not growing and she mentioned “It’s the Dog Days you know” and sure enough, it is.  You may wonder, what a strange term, “Dog Days…”  and what does it have to do with the night sky, with Summer, and growing things…  Older readers may be more familiar with the term. 


Dog Days are more than an ancient expression it is actually a section of time as we move through the year on this great, blue ball of water…  Dog Days occur during the month’s of July and August our hottest months.  The Greeks used the expression as well as the Romans and Egyptians to denote a time of the year when the sultry heat was most intense and  according to Brady’s Clavis Calendarium c1813  “the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies.”


Astronomically / Astrologically, The Dog Days were marked by the yearly Heliacal rising of Sirius above the Eastern horizon, just before sunrise, after a period of time when Sirius had been behind the sun (from our viewpoint) and invisible.   Ancient cultures used the Heliacal rising of bright stars to help set holidays and events.  For Ancient Egyptians, Sirius appeared on the horizon just before the time of the yearly Nile inundation.  To the Egyptians, the star was  Sothis.  Sothis was used as a “watchdog” for that very event. Since its rising also coincided with a time of extreme heat, the connection with hot weather was ingrained into our ancient lore:   “Dog Days bright and clear / indicate a happy year. / But when accompanied by rain, / for better times our hopes are vain.”      


Sirius is the brightest star in the constellation of Canis Major and the brightest star in the sky.  Canis, here in SW Florida is a Winter Constellation, easily located by taking the line of belt stars of Orion, and tracing the line out to Sirius, ringed in red on the map.  (see above image)    The very name Sirius comes from the Greek word for “searing” or “scorching”  although it’s also known as “The Sparkling One”  “Nile Star” or today; “The Dog Star”  There is a universality in lore regarding Sirius.  The Pawnee tribe of North America, and others, referred to Sirius as the ‘Wolf Star’ which indicates this Mythology of Sirius may have extremely ancient roots.  Many cultures used the risings of bright stars such as Sirius as markers of time, to tell them when to harvest but today we remember the associated “Dog Days” simply as the hottest, and occasionally most uncomfortable part of the year.  

Where Butterflies go at dusk..

Day and night may find me out on our half acre, among the flowers, vines and trees looking for and exploring “the secrets of nature.” 

I had never wondered prior, where the butterflies go at dusk.  I just never thought about it.  It hadn’t registered as a question with me.  Until one day I was out in the yard watching the big yellow Sulphur butterflies flit around the bushes and the trees and I saw one, resting up in a tree.  

If you go out at dusk and are careful, looking around your trees and bushes, you too might find a butterfly resting for the evening as this one is  (Notice the little green fly in the second image)   Click on the images to make them larger.

Orange-barred Sulphur – Phoebis philea.
Look for the yellow among the green of the tree.


 If you want to keep butterflies around your yard, plant bushes they can feed on.  These include native firebush, blue butterfly bushes and native milkweed.  

Mornings are awesome!


Above images are of my Labyrinth.

I never use to be a morning person, actually, I hated mornings.. dreaded getting up and out to start a hectic day so I effectively missed all of the beauty that the morning sunrise offers.. The insects busying about collecting pollen, I never noticed the butterflies in the dewy grass, the flowers freshly opened..

It’s taken me two years to decompress and relax, go slow, to experience slow time, to learn to read books again and even color.. It’s amazing what the Corporate world can do to us which only makes it more important to stop, get out and look around at Nature.

This morning on the Labyrinth has been a beautiful experience, the tiny yellow flowers raining down on the cement pads, the buzzing of the bees and the brightly colored flowers surrounding the Labyrinth.. it’s very peaceful, very centering.

If you need to decompress and relax or find your center again, the Labyrinth is a wonderful tool. To come walk, contact me through this site.