Building a 5 Star Bug House

The only bugs I have a problem with are the ones that try to suck my blood or destroy my home or spread disease or actively seek me out to inflict pain upon me. Believe it or not, the vast majority of the bug world does not fall into any of those categories. With the rest, I maintain live and let live philosophy. I don’t mess with you, you don’t mess with me. Everybody’s happy.

In fact, most bugs are beneficial to the world. Many of them pollinate our crops. Or they aerate and/or fertilize the soil. Or they provide food for other animals. Some are even known for taking care of waste products or keeping less desirable bugs and plants in check. And a lot of them are beautiful, in my opinion.

Having said that, I have long wanted to build a bug house to attract beneficial creatures to my backyard garden. I’ve had this tiny one that I bought years ago, and it always gratifies me to see that it’s occupied.

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And recently someone gave dear husband an interesting little bird cage, and we decided to fill it with pine cones and make a bug house out of it as well.

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But I’ve always wanted to build one of my own, and with my husband’s help I was finally able to do so. It was quite a fun process.

Since it was going in the back yard, we decided to pay homage to the beautiful barn that we used to be able to see from there until it was recently torn down. (Check out my blog post that includes a time lapse demolition here.)

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In fact, a lot of the wood and corrugated metal roofing we used on the bug house was salvaged from that barn. We made it into the barn’s unique shape, including the window that used to be there, and the loft as well.

We decided to make 7 different cubby holes for various types of bugs:

  • The loft area is only accessible by a slit, and it’s for ladybugs.

  • Then, on the far right, we’ve got a cozy little cubby full of moss, wood shavings and pine needles, covered by hardware cloth.

  • Then there’s one that has a through and through window that spiders might like. (The rest of the back wall is solid, but we drilled right on through for the window.)

  • Surrounding that are bamboo sticks.

  • Next is an area full of pine cones, also covered with hardware cloth.

  • Then, some wood rounds, and I drilled ¼ inch holes in them, anywhere from 2 ½ inches to 4 inches deep, at least ¾ inches apart, for solitary bees. There’s also some bark shoved in between the rounds.

  • The end is kind of an open patio area that we plan to half fill with tiny little straw hay bales.

I’m really proud of how it came out. I think it’s a work of art. If I were a bug, I’d want to live there.

If you’re considering making yourself a bug house, this is the web page that I found most useful. Check it out. And share pictures if you do it!

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What to Cook When You Hate to Cook. Recipe 6: Barb and Cris’ Super Salad

Yes, I still hate to cook, as a general rule. It’s not one of my first choices for a pastime. But it’s necessary for survival. And I must admit that I’m finding it a lot more fun now that I have someone in my life to cook with. We’ve formed a sort of we’re-in-this-together mentality about food prep that turns it into less of a chore and more of an opportunity to spend time together.

One of the things we prepare on a regular basis is the most amazing salad. It has such a variety of flavors and textures that it’s always an eating adventure. And while I usually avoid preparing meals with more than five ingredients, once these salads become a habit, they can be thrown together rather quickly.

This salad is even more satisfying when the produce comes from your garden or from a local farmer’s market. Fresh. Delicious. Worth the effort.

As per usual with my recipes, the amount of each ingredient is entirely up to you.

Barb and Cris’ Super Salad

  • Greens (Anything but iceberg. Walk on the wild side!)

  • Baby Carrots

  • Broccoli

  • Cauliflower

  • Sunflower Seeds

  • Craisins

  • Scallions

  • Heirloom Tomatoes (anything less, and you’re cheating yourself.)

  • Garlic Snapes (Much more subtle than garlic, but only available if you grow them yourself.)

  • Radishes (I skip those.)

  • Dill pickles

  • Celery

  • Mushrooms

  • Chunks of Cheese

  • Nutritional Yeast (Cris skips this.)

  • Dressing (I prefer Ranch, myself.)

  • Croutons

  • Parmesan Cheese (because you can never have too much cheese.)

  • If you’re making this a major meal, you can add chicken, turkey, salmon, tuna, etc.

Add or delete ingredients according to your taste. Mix all together,and enjoy, preferably outside. Nature adds flavor!

Salad

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I Made This!

After so many years in Florida, I have an aversion to yardwork. To me, gardening means sweating, getting a sunburn, and encountering fire ants, snakes, scorpions, and spiders the size of your hand that can rear up and hiss. Yardwork, to me, is the stuff of nightmares.

But now I live in the Pacific Northwest, where the creepy crawlies seem a lot less creepy to me. And while we’ve experienced a few heatwaves, they are blessed relief compared to the 110 degrees and 100 percent humidity that is Florida. I actually like being outside here. Rather than avoiding it, I take advantage of it. Here it’s a gift, rather than something to be suffered through.

So I’ve decided to start off small. I have been growing tomatoes. Last year I planted them on the ground and discovered that there’s quite a bit of natural competition for these juicy red balls of perfection. I refuse to use pesticides and I can’t fault other mammals for taking advantage of a good thing when they see it, so this year I’m using one of those upside-down hangers, and having a lot more luck.

It’s silly how excited I get, watching my little garden grow. When I finally get to harvest the literal fruits of my labor, there is nothing on earth that tastes more satisfying to me. “I made this,” I think, as I put it on my plate. And that makes me proud.

I think every parent should introduce their young children to a vegetable garden on whatever scale they can. Whether it’s rows of zucchini in the back yard, or just a tomato plant on the balcony, it’s a vital experience. Too many of us are too far removed from the reality of the food chain. We forget that the things that we put into our bodies don’t spontaneously appear on our supermarket shelves. It’s important to know that.

That feeling of being able to produce something that ultimately sustains a healthier you is like nothing else you can experience. Think of it as an opportunity to be even more connected to the web of life. I admit it. I’m hooked.

World Naked Gardening Day? And I Missed It?

Jeez! Why do I always seem to find out about the cool stuff after the fact? I’m marking my calendar for the first Saturday of May next year, because that’s when World Naked Gardening Day rolls around again.

I love to skinny-dip. There is nothing more liberating than swimming in the nude. But opportunities to do so are few and far between, and I suspect that this will be even more the case now that I reside amongst the frigid waters of the Pacific Northwest.

But gardening in the nude sounds quite appealing as well. Adam and Eve did it, after all. And it’s a great chance to expose parts of you to the sun that are normally cloistered under layers of prudish clothes. I’m also all for any event that promotes a positive body image. And you don’t have to do this in public. You can do it in the privacy of your own garden if you prefer.

An opportunity to commune with nature, get some much needed Vitamin D and have some lighthearted fun, feel free, and flaunt the norms of society all at once? Oh yeah. Count me in.

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[Image credit: patheos.com]

Food Forests

God, how I love living in Seattle! These people know how to think outside the box. They’ll do crazy things that, once done, make absolute perfect sense, and you’ll say to yourself, “Why isn’t anyone else doing this?”

Case in point: the Beacon Food Forest. On a 7 acre patch of Urban Seattle, they are in the process of developing a forest of fruit, nuts, and berries and will encourage the public to freely forage therefrom. Now, how cool is that?

This place will provide education about healthy eating, and provide the resources to do so for those who desperately need or want them. It will also provide community garden space for families at a cost of only 10 dollars a year in a city where land is at a premium. There is absolutely no downside to this idea.

I have often seen homeless people in public parks and thought that if the trees in those parks only bore fruit, it would help their situation considerably. And that’s something that wouldn’t be particularly hard to do. And now Seattle has gone and done it. Amazing.

Once this space is completely developed, according to NPR’s The Salt, this will be the largest urban food forest on public land in the United States. I couldn’t be more proud of this community.

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How the Food Forest will look when complete.

[Image credit: beaconfoodforest.org]

My Own Personal Garden Song

After pulling up stakes and moving 3000 miles across country to a place where I know no one, essentially starting over at age 50, I spent a lot of time beating myself up because upon arrival I didn’t instantly have it all figured out.

I don’t know what I was thinking. Was everything supposed to fall into place, as if I could just pick up where I left off in Florida, like the new job and the new place to live and the 3000 mile drive were  mere hiccups in my day-to-day routine? Reinventing yourself isn’t for sissies, let me tell you.

Fast forward 6 months, and yes, I love where I’m living. I’ve even more than halfway unpacked. I love 95 percent of my job, and I actually go long periods of time not dwelling on the other 5 percent. I’ve even started to establish a stable, albeit quirky, routine. And I can now go several places, like the library and the grocery store and to work, without relying on my GPS, which is nice.

But yeah, I admit it. I haven’t made a single friend outside of work yet, and that sucks. I’m lonely. And before you even go there, I’ve been given a million suggestions about how to rectify that. If I pursued them all I’d probably be so popular that I’d have to change my phone number just to get some peace. So I feel kind of guilty. I should be on top of things. I have all the tools. And yet, here I am, alone.

But today I started humming the Arlo Guthrie version of the Garden Song, which has also been famously sung by John Denver; Pete Seeger; and Peter, Paul, and Mary to name a few. I’ll attach the video so you can check out Arlo’s hilarious take on it, but meanwhile you know the song. It starts, “Inch by inch, row by row, I’m gonna make this garden grow. All it takes is a rake and a hoe and a piece of fertile ground…”

And I suddenly realized that what I’m doing is transplanting my life. I uprooted myself from Florida and I’m putting down roots here. That’s going to take some time and patience, some love and care. I just need to go inch by inch. I don’t have to beat myself up when, at the end of the day, the whole darned garden isn’t planted and in full bloom.

I need to give myself a break, do things correctly and with positive intention, and it will all work out in the end. Yes, I have the rake and the hoe. I’ll get there.

Next stop for me is signing up for a pottery class at the nearby community college. That starts in April. I’m looking forward to it. And I’m sure I’ll meet some amazing people.

Forward motion is what counts. Even if it’s only an inch at a time.

Old MacLandlord had a Farm

I woke up the other day to strange sounds emanating from the back yard. I looked out the window and there was my landlady’s son, tearing up what little grass our dogs hadn’t already torn up for him. Turns out that we’re going to have a garden. A really large garden. I was told I could have a small section for myself. I told him I’d think about it, but my gut instinct was to say no thanks. I have enough going on. I don’t see myself as a gardener.

But the universe seems to have other plans for me. I started musing that it might be nice to create something. Plant it, watch it grow, eat something that I had brought into being. It would be nice to produce something positive out of the pure disaster that seems to be my life these days. (I mean, other than this blog, of course.) But what would I plant? It would have to be something unique and cool. No tomatoes or pole beans for this girl. No. I love to be different. In school I was the weird girl, and I think I often confuse my fellow bridgetenders. I don’t like to be predictable.

No sooner had I started forming these thoughts when a friend of mine posted on Facebook that she just went to the seed fair in Kansas, and she had picked up some seeds that she was willing to share. When I saw pictures of the plants she had seeds for, I basically shouted, “Ooooh! Ooooh! Me! Me!” So, without further ado, here are the veggies that I hope to grow in the back yard.

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Purple Cauliflower

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Romanesco Broccoli (this one appeals to the fractal artist in me.)

Wish me luck! And if you have any good recipes for these unique guys, let me know.