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Learning about Vines With Nature Study

Vine Sulphur Pea
Vine Study with the Outdoor Hour Challenge

Our world is full of vines…I never noticed how many vines there are in our neighborhood until we focused on vines for the past few weeks during our outdoor time. The vine above is a Common sulphur pea that grows wild in our area and is a native plant. I always just call them sweet peas. These are growing on our hiking trail and they don’t bloom very long since they are on the sunny dry side of the trail. They are a delight while they last.

Vine Blackberry
Blackberry vines – This tangle is right alongside our walking trail. They don’t get a lot of water here on the dry side of the hill so they aren’t very sweet and plump. The wild critters benefit from these patches of blackberries.

I think these are Himalayan blackberries and are an invasive species in our part of the world. I have them in my yard…creeping in wherever I don’t whack them back or chomp them down. I keep a very small manageable patch in my front yard for the birds and for my own early morning picking pleasure in the summer. Nothing like a freshly picked, sun-warmed blackberry for your breakfast.

Vine Sweet Pea
Sweet peas – These are the purple-pink sweet peas that grow wild alongside the walking trail. They come back year after year. I am cultivating a nice patch of them in my backyard, hoping they will fill in a spot with their brightly colored flowers. We read in the Handbook of Nature Study that studying the sweet pea should be a garden lesson so we will save it for the summer. (We did a previous sweet pea study and you can read it here along with my little video.)

Vine Ivy
English ivy – This is a vine that grows over and through our fence from our neighbor’s yard. We spend quite a bit of time cutting it back since we really don’t want ivy taking over our yard. It is pretty and green but that is about all I can say nice about it.

Vine Hedge Bind Weed

Hedge bind weed – We have this growing under our birdfeeder. We are watching it grow and then in a few weeks after it has bloomed we will pull it all out. (I am keeping just a few of the hedge bindweed plants on the advice of a fellow gardener who told me it could quickly take over.) We did a previous study of this plant here: Hedge Bindweed if you want to take a look.
Vetch – This was the plant that led to a complete afternoon of study. We actually have two varieties of vetch along our hiking trail. The one above is Hairy vetch and then we also have Spring vetch.

Vetch 1
The spring vetch almost looks like a small sweet pea (same family, different genus). It took some time to find information on these two vetches because neither plant was in our wildflowers field guide. I presume this is because they are non-native plants. We found this interesting because these two plants are seen everywhere in our area. I have started keeping track in my nature journal of native vs. non-native plants…interesting exercise.

We decided we needed to keep this as an on-going nature study and we will be watching as the hedge bindweed and sweet peas in our garden as they mature over the next few weeks. We have had fun noticing if plants twine in clockwise or counter clockwise directions. It becomes sort of an obsession. Keeping a focus always adds an enjoyable layer to our outdoor time and nature study.

More Nature Study Book 3 Button

Don’t forget to share your Outdoor Hour Challenge blog entries with the Outdoor Hour Challenge Blog Carnival. All entries done in May are eligible for the next edition. The deadline for entries is 5/30/12 and you can send them directly to me:

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Edible Garden

4 30 11 Lilac

I think I forgot the sounds that come in open windows in the mornings and evenings. Winter requires the house to be shut up too much but with open windows I woke this morning to a an owl hooting in the neighbor’s tree.

“I’m awake! You Too!” he was calling.

What a great sound and it makes me wonder what all I have been missing closed up in the house for the winter.

This evening I am hearing crickets for the first time and the call of the tree frogs from across the street. It makes me happy to think we have reached the point where we can have open windows and doors to bring a little of nature back into our house. The mosquitoes are buzzing tonight too….found one in my bedroom and had to give him a swat. Now that I could do without.

We are busy working on weeding the garden walkways and preparing beds for seeds. This is a joyful, hopeful time. Outdoor Hour Challenge #12 includes choosing and planting flower seeds and I thought our family might include that as part of our first challenge for the month of May. (If you purchased the Garden Flowers Ebook you will have that challenge and corresponding notebook pages to go along with it.) I will share our seeds in separate entry later this week.

In the meantime, I thought I could share a little of the edibles in our garden landscaping. We try to mix edible plants with our flowers so we can harvest a little homegrown yummy-ness when the time comes.  It also is such a treat to have a little handful of something each afternoon when we are outside…a couple of blueberries, a strawberry, or a grape popped in the mouth make even the fussiest of kids happier when they are helping to work in the garden.(You can read more of my tips for nature study and gardening with very young children HERE.

4 18 11 Blueberries

The blueberry bushes really are not all that happy looking. They are all covered in fresh green leaves but I am needing to read up on what a blueberry needs to really get established. I seem to remember something about how they like a pine needle mulch.

4 18 11 Strawberry blossoms

Mr. A’s strawberries are looking incredible and there are dozens of blossoms and little baby strawberries filling the box. These are an easy crop to get started and we purchased ever-bearing and June bearing plants so we will have a longer harvest. (There is a challenge for strawberries if you are interested.)

4 18 11 Pear Blossoms

We were very surprised to see so many blossoms on the pear tree this year. We had pruned it way back to keep it out of the neighbor’s yard and this seems to have been agreeable to the tree. We might get a dozen pears this year….well, we can hope for that.

4 28 11 Garden birdfeeder figs
Figs….does anyone really like figs? This tree was here when we moved in 25 years ago and we have tried to cut it down several times, just to have it grow back more lush than ever. We have finally come to grips with it and we share the fruits with those in our lives who enjoy them. The birds like them too so I guess it is worth the mess.

4 28 11 Garden birdfeeder  with tomato and grapes

Tomato in a pot to cover the ugly stump….sounds like a good idea and if it doesn’t do well we can always move it. We also have seedless grapes planted there on the fence to shield the ugly propane tank from view when we are sitting on the back deck. They vines get so green and climb all over, producing little sweet bites to nibble when I am out in the back watering in the hot summer sun. (There is a challenge for tomatoes if you are interested.) Do you have a place for a tomato in a pot?

Bat in house 5 11 (1)

Another reminder to us: Keep the back door closed in the evenings. This bat made its way INTO the house last week. The cat may have brought it inside but we aren’t entirely sure. We had a comedy act going on trying to get it to fly back outside. My boys ran and got the butterfly net and we were able to get him in the corner and inside the net. He really calmed down and just hung in the net long enough for us to get a good look at him. We released him outside and he fly away so gracefully. (There is a challenge for bats if you are interested.)

We are ready to start doing some nature study and the boys have been discussing what subjects we will study for the month as part of the new format of the Outdoor Hour Challenge. Don’t forget you can pick from any of the topics: wildflowers, garden flowers, birds, and/or mammals. You can chose one from each category or stick with one topic and study four of them in a row. Please feel free to make the challenges work and build on interest you find with your children. Don’t forget to submit your blog entries that you complete to the OHC Blog Carnival.

Enjoy your week!

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Yesterday’s Hike: Our Familiar Trail

I love having a “familiar trail”. The subtle changes that take place from week to week sometimes escape my notice until I look at them through the lens of my camera. The light is different this time of year and the colors so very different. This trail that is bursting with wildflowers in the spring and early summer is now just a palette of browns and greens, with an occasional splash of color if you really look for it along the edges.

Although this may sound like a complaint, it really isn’t. I love having the contrasts between seasons, anticipating the next progression of growing. It is something at the core of me that knows this is the natural way to keep time. Thinking about it…perhaps this is why I don’t wear a watch or carry my phone with me at all times. I just like to feel the natural rhythm of the day and the seasons without fussing too much with the minute by minute ticking of time. It’s cloudy, rainy, cold, the oaks have lost their leaves, the buckeyes are sprouting on the ground, the ferns are unfurling… must be close to the first day of winter.

Guess I’m feeling sort of reflective on this cold, gray afternoon. 🙂

What to see a few images from our walk? Enjoy!

Red Shack 12 16 10 Wet Trail
It was still wet from the melted frost we had overnight and the mood was very somber.

Red Shack 12 16 10 Hiking Uphill
It is a steep hike back up the canyon after we hike down. Great exercise for humans and canines. (If you want to see what this place on the trail looks like in the spring, you can click HERE.

Red Shack 12 16 10 Blackberries
Dried up blackberries still hanging on the vines next to the trail. This is near the mushy part of the trail and soon we will have a little creek to hop over at this point.

Red Shack 12 16 10 Weeds
Wet wintery weeds are everywhere….I can visualize what the spring will bring but for now the landscape is pretty sad.

Red Shack 12 16 10 Fungus

The most colorful spot we found on our hike was right near the top where the ferns, mosses, and fungus are all bursting out.

So there you have it….a December day on our familiar trail. We are now facing ten forecasted days of rain so we may  not make it back for another week or so down this trail. If the weather clears, we will jump on the chance to get out and hike again on this path so close to home.

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Garden Goodies-Full Disclosure

My husband read my last garden post and was a little disappointed that I did not share some more of the successes we have had from our yard.

So, here are some photos of the things we have enjoyed.

Carrots from the garden
We had a few carrots hidden in the flower garden. I don’t remember planting them but there they were when I went to do my weeding. Bonus!

We have been having fresh bruschetta with tomatoes and basil from the garden. I love it with pita chips.

Tomato Plant
Our tomatoes are slow going this year but there have been a few to enjoy with the promise of more to come.

Cherry Tomatoes
These have been good performers from the deck container garden. I really wish I liked cherry tomatoes more but my husband eats them like candy.

The blackberries are coming regularly now and every time I do the watering I eat a handful. I mixed these in with some peaches and made a blackberry/peach cobbler….talk about yum.

Okay now my husband will be happy. He also says to say that we have had figs by the bagful from our tree, so many we have had to share them with our neighbors. There are a few apples, loads of purple plums, seedless grapes, and a full crop of walnuts to come later in the season.

I also remembered that we already dried oregano and dill from the garden. We also have had quite a few onions and I am ready to pull up another round this week to dry and store in the pantry.

He is going to keep me completely honest…thanks honey.

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Garden Update: Growing By the Minute

Blackberry blossom 2

Our crop of blackberries growing near our “wildside” is amazing this year. The abundance of blossoms and new little berries makes my mouth water just thinking of the summer eating we will enjoy.

The coreopsis is bursting with color and I have vases and vases filled with these cheerful blooms.

Sunflower June 8th 2010
You will need to click over to Flickr to read the notes for this photo. This is my fence-line garden and it happens to have my tallest sunflower so far this season. This is a volunteer flower and the birds must have planted the seed sometime for us all to enjoy.

Just a little snapshot from the garden this week. From now on, the garden’s look will change almost daily.

It’s not too late! You can still plant some things in your garden to enjoy this summer even if you plant something in a pot on your porch.

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Weekend in the Garden

I’m tired after a really busy weekend. Spring weather and the call to be outdoors getting dirt under my fingernails kept us busy, busy, busy.

Here are a few images to share a few glimpses into our weekend.

squirrel in the birdfeeder
Our resident squirrel in the birdfeeder. I love his tail.

Onions and radishes
Harvesting the radishes and the first round of onions.

Blueberries 5 14 10
Blueberries growing so round and plump.

lavender close up
Lavender that is alive with bees.

First weeding of the garden
The first round of weeding around the garden boxes is complete thanks to Mr. A. He and I have been working diligently at getting the weeds under control before the warm weather sets in for good. The boxes are all ready for the seedlings we have been nursing upstairs.

Cricket on a rose petal
We found this guy when we were working in the roses. It was perfect timing since I am working on a cricket challenge for the Summer Series ebook. We were able to do some up close observations before we left him comfortably back on the rose bush.
Edit to add: K left me a comment saying that there is an ovipositor so my he is really a she. Thanks K.

First Strawberries of the Season
No one says that hard work in the garden does not have its rewards. Yummy first strawberries were picked and eaten. The best ever end to a long weekend outdoors, except for maybe the grilled burgers my dear husband made us for dinner which we ate outside on our deck.

Hope you all had some time to get outdoors and enjoy whatever your world offered this weekend. I know that some of you have written to say that you don’t have an apple tree to study but you could just as well study any tree you find in the Handbook of Nature Study as a substitute or you could do a general apple study using some apples you have on hand. If all else fails, spend fifteen minutes outdoors with your children and enjoy whatever comes your way.

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Our Strawberry Study: Outdoor Hour Challenge

“Red, shiny, green leaves and yellow spots. It is oval in shape with a bulge on top. The leaves are short with small black lines. It is cool to the touch and slightly fuzzy. It is extremely sweet.”
Quote from my son’s journal page

Strawberry Study @handbookofnaturestudy
I didn’t need to do much encouraging to get the boys to participate in this nature study challenge. They are always eager to help in the strawberry box. In fact the box belongs to my middle son and he keeps it well tended.

Funny thing is that many times he comes up into the house empty handed….wonder where those berries go between the garden and the kitchen?

Pick, wash, eat….you can’t get any fresher than that!

We used the lesson ideas in the Handbook of Nature Study to focus a little on the strawberry and to see what we could learn. Then we went out to our garden to investigate our plants. We have two varieties of strawberries: June berries and Everbearing. We have a big crop of berries that we harvest early in the summer and then we have plants that keep on producing a few berries all summer long.

We observed the blossom and leaves.

We saw this little berry where the petals of the flower had just dropped off and the berry is just starting to poke out and be seen.

We found a little bit bigger green berry to compare to the others.

Here are some berries growing large and pink. Look at all those seeds on the outside of the strawberry.

Like I said, not many berries end up in the kitchen but we did manage to bring up some to complete a nature journal page before they were gobbled up as well.

Here in California strawberries are a popular crop and you don’t have to go far to find a roadside stand selling fresh berries of all kinds. My husband has been working down in the Monterey area and they have strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries growing commercially there. He is loving the fresh fruits and promises to bring some home when he is able. He has been working on the Lockheed Fire since last week and we are missing him terribly. He is our hero though and I know that he doesn’t mind doing his job when the need arises.

Hope you enjoy your strawberry study soon and don’t forget to share your blog entries.
Crop Plants Notebook Pages – Companion to the Crop Plants Challenges

Crop Plants Notebook Page Cover Button
Custom made notebook pages for each crop plant challenge. I have designed simple to use pages that will complement each challenge and will be an easy way to start a nature journal. Each of the eight notebook pages is in full color, but they are just as great in black and white. These notebook pages can be purchased for $2.50.

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Sweet Blackberry Days of Summer

The time is here! Blackberries are ripe and we picked a bucket full for jelly making. My dad has an area down by his creek that is full of blackberries. He even trimmed up the bushes to make the picking easier.

I had a helper who wasn’t afraid to get stuck with the thorns and that made it go really fast. My arms are scratched up from leaning over into the patch but that is where all the really juicy ones are, of course.

We brought our berries home and made six pints of jelly and now they are sitting on my shelf just waiting for some homemade biscuits. I love opening a jar in the middle of winter and remembering the sweet blackberry days of summer.

Next up in the canning department…plum jam! It will be here pretty soon.

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Blackberry Time of Year

We are now into the blackberry season in our corner of the world.

You will frequently find me with blue fingers and big smile.

I couldn’t find the blackberry in the Handbook of Nature Study, but I did read about the wild strawberry last week. I love this quote and I think it applies equally to the blackberry as it does to the strawberry.

“Of all the blossoms that cloth our open fields, one of the prettiest is that of the wild strawberry. And yet so influenced is man by his stomach that he seldom heeds this flower except as a promise of a crop of strawberries. It is comforting to know that the flowers of the field ‘do not care a rap’ whether man notices them or not; insect attentions are what they need, and they are surely as indifferent to our indifference as we are to theirs.”
Handbook of Nature Study, page 608

We are partaking of both blackberries and strawberries right now as well as figs. The figs are huge this year and very juicy.

In the evening, after dinner last night, we were sitting outside and enjoying the cool air and I notice a Scrub jay sitting and having his meal of figs. There are so many figs this year that I don’t mind that they take the ones from the top of the tree that I can’t reach to pick. Sharing the fruits of the garden is all a part of the fun of it.

I hope everyone is enjoying the season and finding joy in the fruits of their gardens.

Gardens ebook Outdoor Hour challenge


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Garden Nature Study – Crop Plants Notebook Pages

Crop Plants Notebook Pages – Companion to the Crop Plants Challenges

Crop Plants Notebook Page Cover Button
Custom made notebook pages for each crop plant challenge. I have designed simple to use pages that will complement each challenge and will be an easy way to start a nature journal. Each of the eight notebook pages is in full color, but they are just as great in black and white. View a  SAMPLE

List of Crop Plant Challenge in the Ebook:
Crop Plants – Clover
Crop Plants – Beans
Crop Plants – Corn
Crop Plants – Cotton
Crop Plants – Strawberries
Crop Plants – Pumpkins
Crop Plants – Tomatoes