Sonoran Desert Leafcutter Ants

I noticed reddish ants in my yard that weren’t fire ants; I noticed them because recently I came home from work and saw that in my garden the green tops of my scallions had been chopped off. Nearby I saw a trail of ants carrying bits of plant matter.

I don’t have any proof that the ants ate my onions; from what I’ve read, it seems more likely that they’d be interested in my creosote and palo verde blossoms. Nothing else in my garden has been eaten; so, I’ve left the ants alone. These ants build fungus gardens underground. I’d like for them to be able to build away, just not using my vegetables.

Taking a photo of any ant isn’t very easy; here’s my best shot this morning:

I know. I can hardly see it myself.

A much better photo of this species of ant, by a more talented photographer, can be found here. The link is the courtesy of my brother Frank, who is doing research on tropical leafcutter ants and their fungus gardens for his PhD.

Oil Spill Redux Per Rachel Maddow

I’m guilty of watching the occasional bit of shrill TV news. I listen, more like it; I really couldn’t sit still and actually consume a whole hour of TV news unless I were bedridden. But if I listen while in the kitchen I don’t feel that bad.

I occassionally listen to Rachel Maddow; she is half Newfoundlander, after all. That’s really her charm, though this point is lost on most Americans.

This is a nice bit of analysis, in which she compares the current BP oil disaster to….an almost identical situation 30 years ago in the Gulf of Mexico. All that seems to have changed are the haircuts. And even those seem to be coming back into fashion.

Landscaping With Me Mum

Just a few days ago my driveway was clear of all the gravel and rock I’d ordered earlier this spring:

So to remedy the situation, I ordered 6 tons of really pretty 1/2 inch desert gold decomposed granite; and my mom generously offered to help shovel and spread the stuff in my yard, despite osteoporosis: here she is early yesterday morning:

The gold color looks really nice in contrast to the brown stuff I used to make the pathways:

Here’s the yard (with just the pathway) before we spread the decomposed granite:

And here it is when we were done. Bearbear, as you can see, is poised for action, just in case he happens to see a cat out in the street.

After spreading the fine gravel at a 3 inch depth, I hosed it down and then tamped it by using a cookie sheet that I stood on: this packed down the clay particles in the decomposed granite and creates a very nice firm surface, which, in theory, should repel weeds.

So, this project took us 4 hours. I made a nice lunch (including chocolate chip muffins with cream cheese filling, yum), made sure my mom had a lovely nap outside under the citrus trees, and then home 50 miles south-east she went…but not without a quick self-portrait of us as she went out the front door.  Per bone density tests she has multiple cracked/wedged vertebrae; but, you wouldn’t know it by her shovel-ready-acumen. I should be so lucky when I’m that age! Way to go, mom!

Finally, below, the next project: my hot date with 100 feet of Mr. Drip Soakerhose. This is a clever and easy way to irrigate, by cutting sections of soaker hose and solid tubing and connecting them with the yellow plastic connectors you see below, thus controlling where to soak the garden….and where not to. Once the soaker hose is set in place, I’ll mulch with straw; luckily, it’s been a really mild spring so far, and tonight it’s going down to…..50 degrees! Bizarre for so close to summer; so that I’m a bit late in setting up my irrigation probably isn’t going to hurt much, it’s not scorching hot….yet.

Screen Printing With Water-Soluble Crayons: Hand Made Greeting Cards

I am so late in getting my thank-you cards sent to my peeps in Boston; they so kindly put me up, hosted great meals and drove me around Boston. I don’t like procrastinating: I’ve never liked the feeling of having something I have to get done looming over my head when I can avoid that feeling altogether by just….getting the job done.

But….procrastination happens. Even to me.

Of course, these days, no one really writes thank-you notes anymore; unless maybe for a wedding gift, so for me to have this as a looming task on my list of things-to-do says a lot about what a throwback I am. So, perhaps no one would really notice if they never got a note.

The thing is, I had such a nice visit back there; and I have such lovely relatives. So, I do want to acknowledge that. To make up for the delay, I made cards the other day, instead of just buying thank you cards. I used a technique from the fabulous Jane Dunnewold book Improvisational Screen Printing; see her website for info on ordering.  I believe the book is out of print; but, a DVD of the book is available. In part, I made cards because it’s been SO LONG since I’ve done any art projects due to the ginormous landscaping project with which I’ve been consumed.

The technique I used from Jane’s book involves drawing a design with watercolor (aka water-soluble or aquarelle crayons) on a silkscreen, and then using acrylic gel medium (readily available at big-box craft stores) to transfer the design onto paper;  transfering to fabric is also possible, but the acrylic gel medium is slightly stiff and will alter the hand of the fabric. The crayon drawing breaks down in the process; only a few transfers are possible.

In this photo, you can see a plain 12 x 18 silkscreen in the back; up front, I’ve used masking tape on the same sized silkscreen to mask-out the screen, leaving only greeting-card-sized mesh exposed. I got the pack of blank greeting cards at a big-box craft store, using a half-off coupon:

While watching the Joy Behar Show, I doodled with my water-color crayon collection on my silkscreen; I am a bit of  Joy Behar addict, you’d never catch me alive watching the View, but I do think she’s very funny and her night-time show is gossipy fun while I do household or crafty projects.

Now, mind you, these are just simple greeting cards. Nothing complex. Here are the final crayon drawings; and, on the mesh, the crayons seem faint: the design will transfer quite strongly, though. I’ve done this once before, and a hint to anyone who’s going to try this technique: do NOT layer the crayon, thinking perhaps a thicker layer of crayon will delay the inevitable design breakdown, and give you a few more transfers. It won’t work. The thicker layer will just act as a resist, and will print as a blank space. Don’t do it!

Since I was doodling on my dining room table, I was using poster-board to protect my precious formica. Hey. I eat off that surface. With a plate between me and the formica. But, you get the point.

I taped down “guides” on the poster board so I could line up my finished silkscreen on top of the blank greeting cards; this way, everything will line up nicely once I started screen-printing with the gel medium:

Here, I put down the silkscreen on top of the greeting cards; you can see the plastic jar of gel medium (I use Liquitex, with a gloss finish, which looks nice on paper).  I poured Liquitex on the masking tape on the top of the silkscreen and used my squeegee to pull the medium down and up once, then removed the prints, put down new blank cards, and did the same thing again until the design was exhausted (5 runs altogether, which made for 10 cards; and of the 10, I’ll use 6).

It takes some practice to figure out your style and figure out how many “runs” you can get of your image. Here is a shot of the strongest and weakest prints; I got a couple images right in the middle of the range shown below, but those prints aren’t in the photo:

I hope all my cousins in Boston will be happy with their cards. It will make up for what I know Emily Post would consider a very tardy response on my part.

I would LOVE to attend Jane Dunnewold’s  Art Cloth Mastery Program. Please check out her website. Her work is inspiring, to say the least. I bought her very first book, Complex Cloth, when it came out in the early 90s and I’ve been a fan ever since.

My Bees Are Here

The last few weeks have been very busy for me, what with my belly dance recital (see following post) and too many migraines (the terrible wind events we’ve been having around here haven’t helped) and even food poisoning (because I violated my dietary Prime Directive: Thou Shall Not Eat at Potlucks).

But even though I haven’t posted, there’s been lot’s going on.

Last week, I purchased a top bar beehive from the fellow who taught the Top Bar Beekeeping Workshop I attended last month. I’d looked at various plans and instructions for building a TBH (top bar hive). I don’t do well following plans and schematics, though;  the simple-appearing measurements and instructions just fail to compute, and I get very frustrated. And then I get really irritated, because what seems so logical on paper is something I’m unable to bring to any tangible form with the use of lumber and power tools.  So rather than put myself in a position where I’d likely need a psychiatric evaluation (because that’s how crazy I’d get)  I just ordered a locally-made hive, at a very reasonable price.

Before the bees came, I tidied up the corner of the yard where the hive was going to go; and I painted 2 old workbenches I had, 1 for my new hive:

Here’s what my top bar hive looked like the day of delivery:

I made a simple cover for the hive and painted it white, because the sun hits this corner of the yard for half of the day:

And, here is my 3-pound box of bees; they arrived last Wednesday by UPS overnight delivery. I picked them up at the UPS office early in the morning and left them in my kitchen while I was at work. Last Wednesday was the first hot day of the year (97 degrees) and I’m sure the bees were happier indoors where it was cool.

It didn’t occur to me, beginner that I am, that there would be bee-poop and that it would there would be a pile of it on my stove-top once I took the box outside after work. Yes, there were thousands of bees in that box, and they were quite noisy.

I installed the bees later that day. I followed the instructions, and nothing went they way I thought it was supposed to; it was a complete Murphy’s Law experience complicated by a migraine and food poisoning, neither of which I got from the bees.  Despite some minor snafus in getting the bees in the hive, a full 36 hours later they no longer needed to be fed sugar water and had completed making 2 bars of comb. And today, they’re still in the hive; they haven’t left for better digs elsewhere. When I’m able to actually inspect the hive and take a photo at the same time, I’ll post more photos here. Right now I’m still getting the hang of opening up the hive slowly and moving slowly when around the bees.