Friday, October 30, 2009

The Walking Stick Life Cycle Turns Again

I am thankful to my sister who tracked down a pair of stick bugs (walking sticks) a year ago October for my birthday gift. This is a photo re-cap, with some never-before-published photos, celebrating their life cycle. If you want to read my previous posts about the stick bugs, click the "stick bugs" Topic on the left side of my blog.

The original female laid a total of 25 eggs before she died. Here is the cage with a number of eggs on the bottom. They need to be kept moist until they hatch, so I used layers of paper towel which I regularly watered.
Stick bug eggs
Of those 25 eggs, I believe 18 hatched. In this photo a newly hatched baby stick is next to an egg, with an out-of-focus sibling behind. It amazed me how the baby stick could fit into the egg, if it hatched out that big! Unfortunately, despite my constant watching, I never did see a hatching itself, I only woke up to the new hatchlings.
Baby walking stick with egg
The stick bugs are an interesting pet. During the day, anyhow, they rarely move, and when I had only 2, there was little sign of them eating the blackberry leaves which I kept fresh for them. But on rare occasions, I actually saw them chowing down on the leaves:
Walking stick chewing a blackberry leaf
Occasionally they would molt, and leave some spooking looking skin hanging from the top of the cage or a branch:
Walking stick bug with molted skin
After some while, I had a full cage of stick bugs:
Cage full of walking stick bugs
Lots of stick bugs
I would be fine with that, but if each of the females had 18 babies, that would have been a bit too much. So I have adopted out 8 of them, and am down to a more reasonable number now, I think 5 females and 6 males (I counted them last time I cleaned the cage, but have forgotten now). My original male is still alive more than a year later, although I can't tell anymore which one is him, since there are a number that are the same size now.

Happily, the cycle continues, as I found my first egg last week, and am now keeping the bottom of the cage moist and waiting for more. I found two eggs attached to the top of the cage, but I don't know if they would make it. For interest, I've left them attached, but am not hopeful, since they would certainly not be moist there.

Garden Project : Day 2

I was pleased on Wed to see my landscaping crew of 2 arrive at 10am, and resume my garden project. They were scheduled to come Thursday, but the weather was clear during the day on Wednesday, and it was expected to rain after that - which it did.

When I returned from work on Wed, I saw that they had fixed the drainage issue, levelled the soil, and laid out a hose in what they were imagining the walkway location to be:

Garden path planning
Garden path planning
So I attached a second hose, and expanded it to what I am imagining:
Garden path planning
Garden path planning
Actually, I may want to scale that back a little on the lower side, near the Sweet Gum and Maple trees, to allow room for them to grow out, and not block the path. But I figure that while we're at it, we may as well do it right, and provide a nice island garden (with bench) in the center of the path.

The plan will be to set some stones in the lawn to connect between the stone stairway, and the garden path. Then at the entrance to the garden pathway, I am imagining an arbour. And high plantings on either side, to give it the "secret garden" feel. What do you think?

Good thing they came Wednesday, since I've been very sick since then, and yesterday hardly left the sofa. Some sort of flu, but not the dreaded H1N1, I don't think. Nasty cough, fever, aching all over. Today I'm feeling much better, I think mainly because I'm taking Advil to keep the fever under control.

But last night my son reported a sore throat, and was coughing hard during the night and also had a fever in the morning, so he's my little companion in sickness at home today. I hope we're through the worst of it, and the other two don't join us. Between the weather (scattered showers and 80% P.O.P. predicted for Saturday) and sickness, I don't think this will be a very fun Hallowe'en.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Garden Project : Day 1

I have been dreaming and scheming about a garden reno project in my upper yard for over a year now. Today the shovel finally hit the soil, and the dream is starting to become a reality.

I have a "problem" area in my upper yard which has been causing me some grief for what seems to be years now. From the outside, it looks like a pretty nice and orderly garden. Here it is in June, with beautiful pink and white peony blooms, and a tidy row of hostas providing edging (click any photo for a slightly larger view):
Upper garden in Summer
Here it is in August, still looking pretty nice from the outside:
Upper garden in August
Upper garden in August
But one step inside the garden area, and the story changes... Here, the landscape is wildly overgrown with monster grasses (mainly my dreaded Carex Pendula, which found itself too perfect a spot in this moist area, and proceeded to reseed itself by the millions!!):
Upper garden in monster grasses
In this area, a drainage issue means that at times the whole area is muddy, pulling the garden clogs off anyone who dares to step there. There is a drainage pipe running along the base of the retaining wall, and then in this area, takes a sharp angle to pipe the water across the yard and then down to connect into the foundation drainage. The problem is that the pipe is barely below the surface, so if I dig anywhere in that area, the water prefers to run into that new low spot, rather than take the turn to run along the pipe. After that, it finds its way down the slope, making the whole hillside very wet.

My plan last summer was to lay down a small triangular flagstone path, to allow access into this area, careful to keep the soil level high to keep the drainage system working as intended. I had even picked out the stone for the path, but the landscaper I spoke with, didn't make time to come, and I eventually got too busy myself as well. So as I waited and continued to plan, I realized that while I was spending time and money on this project, I may as well really expand and make this area more useful.

This year, the plan has become quite clear in my mind. The area will be a sort of "secret garden", with higher plantings around the edges, an oval flagstone path with a garden area and granite bench (and likely a lamp pole too) in the center, and an entrance through an arbour covered (eventually) in clematis or other vines. There will be a less formal stepping stone pathway through the lawn, connecting this new pathway to the stone-faced stairway from the lower yard to the upper yard. A faint drawing (you really need to use your imagination - or click to expand and it is somewhat more readable) is below:
Garden plan
The garden area will be expanded, to allow for a reasonable sized island garden in the center of the path, and to take advantage of the flatter upper part of the area (the lower part is quite sloped). Here is the new garden edge I planned, outlined with a hose a few days ago:
Garden expansion planning
Garden expansion planning
Happily, my landscaper, who delayed me all summer for some reason or another, finally (after many phone calls) showed up today with a helper, and the two of them dug out all the plants in that area, and will continue on Thursday with levelling and preparing the area for the walkway's sand base, as well as tackling the drainage problem (they got a nice stream running today, after digging around that area). Here is the project at the end of this first day, with the lawn removed to the new garden edge, and the plants waiting in pots to the side:
Garden reno day 1
Garden reno day 1

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fall Colours in the Garden

In Burnaby (Vancouver) BC, the degree of fall colours depend on how much cold weather we get before the rains begin and take down the leaves. This year we have been very fortunate to see some brilliant fall colours. Sadly, recent rains have knocked the leaves out of the gorgeous yellow-to-red maples on the lawns of City Hall, and my neighbour's yellow-to-purple Katsura, neither of which I managed to photograph in time.

So the Fall colours I did photograph this year are from my garden, with the exception of this large neighbourhood oak tree which I snapped this morning. Many years the oak trees in the Vancouver area turn from green directly to brown, so it wonderful to see the reds this year.
Large oak in fall colours
I am fortunate to have 4 Euonymus elata (Burning bush) in my garden, and at this time of year they are glorious. This one, sheltered against my upper neighbour's fence and retaining wall, is the last to change colour. To its left is a purplish red Sweet gum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua). To its right, a climbing hydrangea, turning yellow:
Autumn colours - Sweet gum and burning bush
This photo of the other two bushes in the back yard was taken about a week ago. The lower bush is now bare twigs with red berries (sorry no photo):
Euonymus elata in autumn red
I didn't catch a photo of the burning bush at its "peak" in our front yard, but here it is, slightly faded, behind our strikingly red Japanese Split Maple. Behind it, the variegated dogwood shows a nice pink blush.
Autumn colours - Japanese split maple, dogwood, burning bush
A final Burning bush photo, shows the stunning red leaves behind a Fuchsia magellanica "Aurea":
Fuschia and Euonymus elata in Fall colours
The Callicarpa bodinieri (Beauty Bush) is the most stunning in Winter, when the leaves fall, and the twigs appear purple. But this year I am enjoying the Fall colours, too:
Callicarpa bodinieri
Callicarpa bodinieri berries
This red Japanese maple cascades beautifully over our concrete retaining wall in the back yard:
Red Japanese Maple
I have started cutting back the peony stalks for the winter, but the leaves are also showing nice Autumn colours this year:
Peony leaves showing Autumn color
Elsewhere in the garden, yellows are showing before the browns set in, such as this Astrantia major (Masterwort):
Astrantia major in Autumn yellow

For more photos of Autumn colours unfolding around the world, be sure to check out The Fall Color Project 2009 at The Home Garden.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cheam Lake, Agassiz

On the weekend, our family found ourselves taking an easy stroll around Cheam Lake in Agassiz BC. The last time we were there, we were enchanted by the many damselflies. This time they were noticeably absent. So I was excited when my son called to me to come look, and he had spotted this gorgeous red dragonfly on a post:
Red dragonfly
This gave us a chuckle, imagining the birds telling each other their addresses.
Bird box addresses
A neighbouring house (with a wonderful yard) must have a wonderful view of the lake - and the view back toward the house is pretty neat, too.
House near the Lake
Bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) berries are poisonous, but they sure look delicious:
Bittersweet nightshade berries

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

To my fellow Canadians, Happy Thanksgiving! We have much to be thankful for.

To our American neighbours, Happy Columbus Day!

P.S. Is there any special festivities on Columbus Day? Or is it mostly a day off work?

I'm off to have a big turkey and ham dinner at my sister Rose's. As I head off, I am thankful to God for good health, a happy family, prosperity, opportunity, freedom, peace, abundance of food, work, school, a wonderful garden, friends, and a sister who is willing to cook a turkey and host our family get-togethers!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Rice Lake and Magical Mushrooms

We took the kids to Rice Lake last weekend, to enjoy the beautiful sunshine which we may not see too much more of, as we head into the rainy fall season. Rice Lake is on the North Shore of Vancouver, and although a small lake, is stocked with rainbow trout, so is a fairly popular fishing spot for young families.

The two "boys" tried their hand at fishing. The two of us "girls" just talked, and my daughter read a book for a while. We were torn between hoping they'd catch a trout, and hoping they wouldn't, so we could just go out for dinner on the way home, rather than go home to prepare the trout. As our luck would have it, we stopped for pizza at Fresh Slice on the way home. Fresh Slice is of my favourites, and their 8 slices for $9.99 picked from the counter (so each person can pick what they like) is so fast and convenient. But I digress.

Here are a few photos of Rice Lake to enjoy.

Rice Lake, North Vancouver BC
Rice Lake, North Vancouver BC

It is that magical time of year that the Amanita muscaria mushroom is appearing in various places, including along the paths at Rice Lake. It is the classical fairy tale mushroom - red with white spots:
Amanita Muscaria mushroom - red with white spots
I have never before seen the yellow version, the Amanita muscaria var. guessowii:
Amanita Muscaria mushroom - yellow with white spots
One of the moms was collecting an attractive mushroom which was dark brown on top, somewhat soft/velvety, and bright yellow underneath (in the gills). Apparently it was edible. Anyone know what this might be? My brief attempts to identify it have not been successful. I wish I had taken a photo of it at the time.

There were other mushrooms also, which I did get a photo of:
Mushrooms in BC
Mushrooms in BC
Mushrooms in BC
Mushrooms in BC
On the way home, I amused myself with the "fireworks" setting of my daughter's Kodak Easyshare camera, by jiggling the camera around, and catching some abstract traffic images:

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Stick Bugs for Adoption

It was one year ago that my sister gave me the lovely gift of a male and female stick bug. No I am not being sarcastic, I had really wanted some ever since I saw the ones she had some years before. But no pet stores carried them, and my occasional Craigslist inquiries for them had gone unanswered.

Here is my original pair from last October (the male is darker, at the top) - click any photo for a slightly larger image:

Pair of stick bugs
The male is still alive, one year later.

The female started dropping eggs (to the bottom of the cage) 5 months after I got her, an egg or so every couple of days. She dropped 25 eggs total, and then died (of exhaustion?). I kept the eggs moist (by lining the bottom of the cage with paper towels, which I poured water on). The eggs started hatching about 2 months after they were dropped. Some 18 or 19 of those eggs hatched. Here is a newly hatched stick:
Newborn stick bug
Some of the babies are now the size of the stick bugs I received last October. In fact, I have a hard time now telling which male is the father, and which ones are the babies.

I will keep a few stick bugs to continue the cycle, but I intend to adopt out the remaining ones. My sister happily took 2 females and 1 male. As of my count today, while cleaning the cage, I have 12 females and 5 males, which is too many to keep, once the females start laying eggs.

As I understand it, the females can reproduce without any males. In this case, all offspring will be daughters, and identical to their moms. But with a male, the offspring will be mixed males and females (as in my case), and with some genetic variation. For example, some of my females have a bit of green colouration on their legs, and others are brown throughout.

They are very easy to care for, their diet (and they don't eat very much) consisting of either oak leaves or blackberry leaves. Their maintenance consists of bringing in fresh blackberry leaves. I keep mine in small jars of water, so they only need to be changed every week or two, and I have no shortage of blackberry vines invading my yard from two sides. I always manage to poke myself as I try to change over the blackberries and move the stick bugs over from the old branch to new. But not seriously, yet.

I keep my sticks in a reptile cage, which has a mesh top, and doors which swing open and close with a small latch. It is a 18" cube. A smaller cage would do, since the sticks really don't move much, and don't eat much either. But this one provides great viewing of them.
Stick bug cage
When there are no eggs, the cage just needs to be cleaned occasionally, since the sticks drop little dry poops all over. I line it with paper towels, so I can remove them easily, and replace them. When there are eggs, they need to be kept moist. I use a few layers of paper towels, and pour a bit of water on them every day or two.

Apparently if one doesn't want the eggs to hatch, they should be frozen first (to sterilize them), before being discarded. I didn't need to do that, at least on this first cycle.

The stick bugs don't bite. They are gentle. They tickle. I think they make a great "pet" for children. Except that kids eventually get bored of them. Mine did. Now they're just my pets again.

If anyone from the Vancouver, BC area is interested in adopting some stick bugs, let me know.

30Oct09 Update : Happily, I have found some good homes for my sticks, and am down to a more reasonable number now:

1 male and 2 females to my sister
1 female to Susanna, mother of two boys in our school
1 male and 1 female to Beth, mother of a girl (good friend of my daughter) and boy in our school
1 male and 1 female to a school teacher in my sister's school, who is apparently "into" lots of different types of creatures, which she keeps in the classroom - cool!
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