Thursday, March 29, 2012

Monarchs Need Milkweed

Monarch butterflies population is down again this year as decline continues, says Texas A&M expert. Plant more milkweeds…good for Monarchs, good for Bees.

Craig Wilson, a senior research associate in the Center for Mathematics and Science Education and a long-time butterfly enthusiast, says reports by the World Wildlife Fund, private donors and Mexico's Michoacan state show that Monarch numbers will be down almost 30 percent in 2012 as they make their annual trek from their breeding grounds in Mexico and move across Texas.

"Last year's severe drought and fires in the region no doubt played a part, resulting in less nectar for the Monarchs as they migrated south. But estimates show that each year, millions of acres of land are being lost that would support Monarchs, either by farmers converting dormant land for crop use – mainly to herbicide tolerant corn and soybeans – or the overuse of herbicides and mowing. Milkweed is the key plant because it's the only plant where the female will lay her eggs."  "Chip Taylor, who is the director of Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas, estimates that 100 million acres of land have already been lost that previously supported Monarchs," Wilson notes. This year, according to the Texas Monarch Watch, Monarchs covered about 7.14 acres of forest in their Mexican breeding grounds compared to 9.9 acres last year, and it shows a continued long-term downward trend in Monarch population since official surveys began in 1994.

Wilson says there has to be a national effort to save Monarchs or their declining numbers will reach the critical stage.
I'm sure alot of people are unconcerned about Monarch butterflies but not only are they beautiful, they are pollinators although not as good as bees, so they are important to our natural systems. Lots of 'someones' have to care to make sure these wonderful and useful creatures don't disappear. The least one person can do is plant a milkweed. I love mine which are Red Prairie Milkweed pictured above.  I think they are just beautiful, and they definitely attract Monarchs. To find a milkweed for your area and seeds along with other valuable information, check out:

Monarchs hanging on our trees at night
 Do you remember my post last fall where we had Monarchs hanging on our trees? They were here for a rest stopover on their migration to Mexico. After experiencing the magic of hundreds of Monarchs hanging on our trees and grazing on our milkweeds, planted and wild, I am motivated to plant more this year.

That's what we can all do, one garden or garden pot, at a time!


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Nature Is Teasing Us With An Early Spring

Oh my, it is glorious in Nebraska right now and we are fully one month ahead of a normal spring. The temperature has been in the 70s and everything is springing out of the ground. Here are some of the harbingers of spring around our ranch...
The birds are beginning to pair up and identify their houses for nesting. Last year we had wrens in this house so there are new tenants this year...

The tarragon is coming up...

Peony peeking through the mulch...

Apricot blossoms...hopefully we'll get apricots this year. If it freezes anytime now, we'll lose our apricot crop this year - again...

Raspberries are thriving and I'm thrilled they made it through the winter...

Alliums and daffodils nearly ready to bloom. Purple and yellow will be gracing the front of the house...

One of six roses that grace our yard and they are all greening up...

Blooming Hellebore - loves shade so I'll definitely put in more this fall...
The girls are enjoying spring freedom and all the green grass and bugs awakening in the yard...

I'm so excited that the garlic is looking healthy and the bed is full so I should have enough - finally - no more long distance garlic from China!

One asparagus stalk brings such promise of yummy-ness ...

Tart luscious rhubarb will be filling jams and pies...
The transplanted daylilies have taken to their new home beautifully. They are now in one of the ground beds surrounding the garden tanks. They will be a lovely addition to the structure of the vegetable garden...

Autumn Joy sedum from my friend Connie is thriving around the deck. She gifted me with another huge batch of sedums this spring so now they are also on the south of the house and framing one bed in the garden. They are so very lovely in the fall here with their tall deep pink blossoms that turn copper as it gets cooler...

The lilacs are forming blossoms (one of my favorites) which will be lovely in a vase with their sweet scent and soft lilac colored flowers...

I love to bring the blossoms inside to enjoy up close. Tulips should be opening any day now.

I'll be adding compost to the garden and flower beds to be topped with a soybean mulch which should give all the plants the start they need and the environment to hold onto moisture for better health. These two compost bins have worked so successfully, that we will be adding two more to the backside. A great use for pallets!
I hope that we don't have a freeze and that all these lovelies will thrive.

Wishing you a lovely spring full of natures treasures,

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Spring Migration 2012

Sandhills Crane
As we move into spring, the season of the migration; approximately 185 species of birds will migrate through this area and an additional 115 species will stay here to nest in the Platte River Valley according to local authorities. This year many are here about two weeks early. There are thousands in fields, on the river and lakes and in the air. It's noisy, beautiful, and spectacular all at the same time. Below is a live web cam link which should be quite amazing in the morning before the birds leave to forage and again in late afternoon and early evening when they are beginning to roost for the night.

Migrating birds have been flying over the ranch for days now and sometimes for up to 10 minutes for one formation to pass over! You can see why it is so spectacular --- thats alot of birds. This morning when Mark first went outside he heard migrating birds nearby that sounded like they were still on the ground, so we grabbed the camera and went to find them. Not far from home, we found the snow geese and the Canadian geese in a field and this is what we saw...
From a distance, they looked like a grey and
white line...

As we got closer, they began lifting off the ground...

They are in the air moving north...

Pictures don't do justice to the experience. This migration of tens of thousands of birds in our area of Nebraska brings people here from all over the world.

The Common Crane of Europe
visiting NE this year
This year people have spotted an usual bird for Nebraska... the uncommon Common Crane.  It is typically located in Europe, and the species summer nesting grounds are in the Russian Arctic. For some reason, this bird got mixed up with a group of Sandhill Cranes, and has people from all over the country flocking here to see the rare sight.

I've seen the migration for several years now and I never get over the awe that these creatures fly such great distances every year...and in such huge numbers.

Nebraska Game and Parks says..."Witnessing the gathering of half a million cranes under a blazon Nebraska sunset stirs our senses and sparks our imagination like few experiences can. What better way to rejuvenate your spirit than with the sights and sounds of such a spectacle with a cold March wind slapping your cheeks?"

"Cranes are among the oldest living birds on the planet. Fossil records place Sandhill Cranes in Nebraska more than nine million years ago, long before there was a Platte River, which, by comparison, is only a youthful 10,000 years of age. The landscape then was savanna-like and its inhabitants were more like that of modern East Africa; varieties of rhinos, camels, and elephants long since extinct. Yet cranes survived and watched as American bison, pronghorn, and wapiti evolved on the prairies. Humans now dominate the landscape having replaced the bison with cattle and the prairie with corn and concrete. This startling transition occurred in less than 150 years, a mere blink of an eye in geologic time!" For more, read at

Watch this video called Crane Song to hear the cranes.

Those of you who know me know that I am a bird lover and am extremely concerned about the health of our environment not only for us now but also for the birds as well as our children's future. I'm not against progress but I do want us to be careful and respectful of our environment. It is becoming a passion for me. This is paradise for a bird lover and I want to see it continue for years and years to come.

Our goal is to live fully in each season and here in south central Nebraska, this is the season of the magnificant bird migration.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Potatoes --- a nutritious delicious food

I admit it. I LOVE LOVE LOVE potatoes. I've learned as I've been on my recent weight loss/healthy eating journey that potatoes are very nutritious and it's the additions that create the fattening calories, not the potato itself. I have discovered a new recipe for crispy microwave potato chips and they are delicious and easy. For years I've made Queen Ann Baked Potatoes which are simple to make yet 'fancy' in looks.

I remember when Oprah lost all her weight and she was an advocate of NO White Food. That is really silly. I think she really meant bread and processed food but the message was all white food. We need carbs and white is a color and we need it in our diet too.
For instance, the white potato is extremely high in potassium and folate and has substantial Vitamin C and Vitamin K plus other vitamins and minerals. White food --- cauliflower, turnips, radishes, onions, garlic, white cabbage, jicama, parsnips, mushrooms, leeks, kohlrabi as well as potatoes --- are all nutritious. They all have high fiber content and contain nutrients that provide powerful immune boosting activity. These nutrients also activate natural killer B and T cells, reduce the risk of colon, breast, and prostate cancers, and balance hormone levels, reducing the risk of hormone-related cancers according to nutritionists and food scientists. So that said, create more variety in your diet by including some white veggies too.

Here are the potato recipes that I think you'll enjoy. I found the crispy microwave potato chips on the blog--- the kitchn ---which you can find at: where there are great ideas every day.

Crispy Microwave Potato Chips

  • 1 or more potatoes or other root vegetable, scrubbed clean
  • Salt and other seasonings, optional
  • Olive oil, optional
  • Mandolins (if you have one it will make this easier but a sharp knife will work or a food processor with the right attachments)
  • Bowl of cold water
  • Microwave-safe plate
  • Paper towels
1. Thinly slice the Potato -  cut the potato in half. Slice one half on a mandolin, aiming for slices 1/4 to 1/8 inch thick. Or use a sharp knife and slice carefully as evenly as possible. Immediately put the slices in cold water. Repeat with the other half of the potato and any other potatoes or root veggies you are preparing.

                     One of my favorite kitchen tools, the mandolin.
                     The plastic on top is a finger protector so you
                     won't slice your fingers! It takes seconds to get
                      a very thin slice.

2. Soak and Rinse the Slices - Rinse the slices in cold water until the water stays clear. If you have time, let them soak for a few extra minutes before rinsing. This step is important to remove the excess starch. I always do this when making country fries and this step will prevent them from sticking to the pan.

3. Dry the Slices - Dry the slices between two clean dish cloths or spin them in a salad spinner.

4. Season the Slices -  Arrange as many slices as will fit in a single layer on a dinner plate lined with a couple paper towels. Make sure the slices do not touch or else they stick together. If desired, sprinkle with salt or other spices. For  richer-tasting chips, brush the slices with olive oil first before adding seasoning.
5. Microwave the Slices - Microwave the slices at 100% power for 3 minutes. Flip them over and microwave at 50% power for another 3 minutes at 1 minute intervals until crispy and golden. After the first 3 minutes, remove any chips that are starting to crisp and brown.

They look just like store potato chips but
don't have the oil. They are crispy and flavorful.
These are right out of the microwave; some with
salt, some with dill weed & some with red pepper
for heat. I found the dill and pepper could get
bitter, so I liked the tiny bit of salt best.
6. Repeat with Remaining Batches - Transfer cooked chips to a bowl and repeat microwaving with the remaining slices of potato. They are easy but not quick, it will take you awhile if you do more than a couple potatoes.
Storing - Chips will stay crispy for a few days if kept in an airtight container or zip-lock bag...if they last that long! You can also prepare the raw slices ahead of time, store them in cold water in the refrigerator, and bake them off as you want them.
This is a healthy way to enjoy potato chips without all the oil. Sometimes nothing satisfies like a starchy, crispy, salty snack. Hope you try them and enjoy them.

Queen Ann Baked Potatoes

  • Select one potato per person. An elongated potato rather than a round one will work best but either are OK.
  • After peeling the potato, take a very sharp knife and slice thin slices across the potato being careful to NOT cut through the bottom.
  • After slicing, put the whole potato in cold water for a few minutes.
  • Dry the potatoes and then brush with a small amount of olive oil. Allow to drip into the cracks of the cuts if you can.
  • Top the potatoes with Spanish or smoked paprika and a little salt.
  • Put on a pan in a 425 degree oven for 40 minutes until golden brown and the potatoes have formed petals or separated between the slices.
  • Serve hot!

NOTE: If you are interested in copies of these recipes, you can click on Print Friendly at the bottom of this post and you should be able to print only this post.
And, finally, I have to include a handsome picture of Buddy for all his fans who want to see how he is growing.
Buddy at ten months