Migrating Monarch Butterflies

Monarch butterflies roosting in tree

It’s fall, and the monarch migration has been ongoing for several weeks.  The butterflies that cruise through my area of Oklahoma are headed to Mexico.  These butterflies are probably the fourth generation removed from butterflies that went north last spring, yet they know exactly where to go and how to get there.

Monarch butterflies are the only insect known to migrate in this way.  They head south to overwinter, then in spring head north again.  They lay eggs, die, and the next generation goes a bit further north and repeats the cycle.  Come fall, the fourth generation is the one that gets to head back south–some travel over 2,500 miles!

The butterflies have been using our yard as a rest stop every year in the fall, and beyond going outside and taking a few pictures of them filling the trees, I didn’t really pay much attention.  This year I found out about the website Journey North, which tracks monarch butterflies and maps them.  You can add your observations to the website and boom! you have just become a citizen scientist.  How cool is that?  Registration is easy and free.  Journey North tracks several migrations, including hummingbirds and gray whales.  

Here’s a screenshot of a Journey North map from 9/19/18.  
And here’s one from today, 10/4/18.  

I take lots of pictures of the butterflies roosting in my yard, very few turn out well.  It’s hard to get close enough for a good picture without startling them, and they are always moving a little bit.  And there’s the wind… but here are some pictures anyway.

Turn off the sound, it’s windy!

The video above gets you a better idea of just how many butterflies are clinging to the tree branches and how amazing it is to see them flying around you.  (If you do happen to listen to the sound, my older son is referring to a trip to the Butterfly House in Key West, where he and his brother were terrorized by the ginormous Blue Morpho butterflies many years ago.  Good times.)

Unless you have been living under a rock (not that there’s anything wrong with that), you have probably heard about the alarming loss of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.   There are many reasons for this, including mowing, spraying, and even raking and bagging leaves.  

There are some easy ways to help support pollinators:  Don’t spray your yard with pesticides.  They kill ALL the bugs, good and bad.  Let some flowering weeds grow in a part of your yard.  Our whole yard is basically (short) flowering weeds… If you are in an addition where you are required to have a pristine lawn, at least put some native plants in your landscape.  Don’t rake and bag your leaves.  They are chock full of caterpillars and other future pollinators.  They will break down and help renew your soil.  Again, if you are required to have a clean yard, maybe there’s a patch in a back corner you can leave alone.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation, in collaboration with several other states, has started timing their mowing to help improve monarch butterfly survival rates.  Roadsides are potentially a huge source of milkweed that the butterfly larvae eat.  They used to mow next to highways four times a year but have reduced it to “safety mows” in late June or July in several places.  They also planted a Monarch Waystation in Oklahoma City near I-35 recently.

Some people participate in butterfly tagging and some raise monarch butterflies in their yards to release.  One might wonder, do captive raised butterflies migrate like wild butterflies?  The answer is YES, yes they do!  Go to https://www.internationalbutterflybreeders.org/expertanswers/ for details about that!  The downside to captive raising monarchs is the possibility of releasing diseased butterflies into the general population.  

You can find out what type of milkweed (or butterfly weed) is native to your area by looking here.  Butterflies also need nectar plants, so consider adding a few of those as well.  Native plants have other benefits too; they provide shelter and forage for wildlife, and they are better adapted to the local climate.  Here’s a link to National Wildlife Federation’s native plant finder.

Here are just a few of the many monarch related websites:

Monarch Joint Venture

MonarchWatch.org

USDA Forest Service

Monarch Butterfly USA

Journey North

Several of these websites will send you free or very inexpensive milkweed seeds, and fall is a good time to direct sow milkweed.  You can also plant in spring from seed, start indoors in late winter, or buy plants from a reputable source.  

I hope you have been able to enjoy some butterflies in your own area this fall and plan to help them out next year.  

Migrating Monarch Butterflies from HouseofIngrams.com

Butterfly and Moth Identification

Black Witch moth from HouseofIngrams.com

One morning I was cruising through our strange little “breakfast nook” area and saw something out of the corner of my eye…I thought there was a good-sized bat hanging outside our window!  On closer inspection, it proved to be a really big moth.  Really big, like seven inches across, and it was sideways so it really did look like a bat at first glance.  Well of course first thing I do is start snapping pictures of it, thinking I could identify it.

Moth silhouette from HouseofIngrams.com
Seriously, out of the corner of your eye, this thing looks like a bat. Both my boys thought the same thing.

There are 6,935 species of moths and butterflies documented in North America.  Uh huh.  There are 5726 verified species of moths in the United States.  Hmmm.   Well…

As it happens, moth and butterfly identification can be quite difficult sometimes, so after a fruitless search of several websites, I happened across Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA).  Lucky me, they have a huge database.  Best part, you can submit your sighting and if you send them a picture they have a regional expert who will identify your mystery Lepidoptera and email you back!  So I registered for free, sent in my picture with the location and time, and within 30 minutes I had an ID for our moth.  It is an Ascalapha odorata… the common name is Black Witch!  Of course, if you read about it on the species page they make sure to tell you that it is “easily identified by its large size and pointed forewing”…ok so in future I will be able to identify one!

BAMONA screenshot from HouseofIngrams.com

The screenshot above is the bottom of the species page, and my photo is on the far left.

BAMONA sighting map
All the reported sightings of this species, mapped!

I am truly a major nerd, but this just tickles me to death.  Anyone with a decent picture of a moth, butterfly, caterpillar, egg, or pupa can submit it and get it identified, plus it helps BAMONA track species all over the continent.

BAMONA get involved

Citizen science is a method of data collection using crowdsourcing- regular people make observations and report to scientists who compile and analyze it.  This method is a great way to get a lot more data than trained scientists could ever get working alone.

This would be a great nature lesson for any student and is an excellent resource for insect study; well, moths and butterflies at least.

Other citizen science projects that are very easy and fun to participate in are the Great Backyard Bird Count, Project Feederwatch, and WeatherUnderground (you can connect your personal weather station to their network to monitor the weather).  There are a bunch of ongoing projects listed on this Wikipedia page.

I hope this is helpful and encourages you to send in your butterfly and moth pictures to BAMONA!

Identifying Butterflies and Moths using BAMONA website from HouseofIngrams.com

 

Riverfront Murals of Cape Girardeau

Mural in Cape Girardeau from HouseofIngrams.com
The art studio and the artists are listed in this mural.

Cape Girardeau is a town on the Mississipi River in southeast Missouri.  It has a colorful history and has preserved it in a unique way, by painting huge detailed murals depicting scenes from the area’s past on the floodwall built to keep the town from being regularly inundated by high river water.  If you have to have a giant concrete wall between you and the river, this is the best way to do it!

The murals are located in the old downtown district, which is full of nifty old buildings.  There are restaurants, antique shops, and bars to visit and when we were there, lots of free parking.  There is a pathway along the murals on the town side of the wall with descriptive signs in front of each panel.  There is also a pathway on the river side you can walk along.

Cape Mural from HouseofIngrams.com
This is my younger son in front of a riverside mural.

I am in awe of the artistic skill needed for this, and the sheer scale of this project.  The 24 panel Mississippi River Tales murals and the Missouri Wall of Fame are the ones we saw on this visit.  There are other murals in the area by other artists as well.  My photos don’t really do it justice, but I will put them here anyway.

Missouri Mural from HouseofIngrams.com
Famous people from Missouri.
Missouri Mural from HouseofIngrams.com
More famous Missouri people.

Missouri Mural from HouseofIngrams.com

Each mural in the Mississippi River Tales has a little sign in front explaining the story depicted.  I only took a picture of one, because it was such a crazy story…

Railroad Mural plaque from HouseofIngrams.comRailroad Mural from HouseofIngrams.com

Missouri ingenuity.  And the railroad track runs right in front of the mural today.

Trail of Tears mural from HouseofIngrams.com
This depicts the Trail of Tears.

Nine of thirteen groups of Cherokees crossed the Mississippi River at Cape during the harsh winter of 1838-39.  Thousands died during this forced relocation and dozens are buried in the area.  There is a state park at the crossing location now.

Mural from HouseofIngrams.com

Louisiana Purchase mural from HouseofIngrams.com
This depicts Napoleon in his bath…informing his lackeys that he had sold Louisiana to that upstart United States.

Mural from HouseofIngrams.com

Mural from HouseofIngrams.com

Mural from HouseofIngrams.com

Mural from HouseofIngrams.com

Keep in mind, this is a smooth concrete wall…all the “stonework” is painted on.  The one above fascinates me.  It’s a painting of a painter painting the painting…

These are just beautiful in person, so if you get a chance to visit, do so!  There is an online guide with lots more information here.  

Here’s some of the downtown area…

Port Cape Girardeau building from HouseofIngrams.comBuildings Cape Girardeau from HouseofIngrams.comDowntown Cape

River view from HouseofIngrams.com
And there is the river!
The bridge crossing the Mississippi viewed from Cape Girardeau.

I hope you enjoyed the photo tour!

Oklahoma Native Plant Corridor

Native PLant Diagram
Native Plant Corridor plant list

Another garden I visited at Oklahoma State University was next to the Engineering Building.  It is composed entirely of native plants.  There is a nifty garden directory sign so you can identify every plant if you feel like it.  It was getting pretty hot, so I did a quick walk through and got back into the shade of the Student Union.

Native plants from HouseofIngrams.com
A couple of different coneflowers next to Joe Pye Weed and a sumac
Tiger Eyes Staghorn Sumac from HouseofIngrams.com
Tiger Eyes Staghorn Sumac
Tiger Eye Sumac from HouseofIngrams.com
A closer look at the Tiger Eye Sumac
Joe Pye Weed Prairie Jewel
Joe Pye Weed Prairie Jewel
Joe Pye Weed from HouseofIngrams.com
A closer look at the Joe Pye Weed
Native Plant Corridor
Native Plant Corridor
Coneflower and Mexican Hat from HouseofIngrams.com
Tiki Torch Coneflower and yellow Mexican Hat
Yarrow and Coreopsis from HouseofIngrams.com
Terra Cotta Common Yarrow and Coreospsis ‘Big Bang Redshift’ Tickseed
Redshift Coreopsis from HouseofIngrams.com
Up close view of Big Bang Redshift Coreopsis

I love the Redshift Tickseed (Coreopsis); I could make an entire bed of various coreopsis cultivars.  Our side yard is filled with Plains Coreopsis and we let it bloom for about a month every summer.

Plains Coreopsis from HouseofIngrams.com
Plains Coreopsis in our yard

Plains Coreopsis from HouseofIngrams.com

Field of Plains Coreopsis from HouseofIngrams.com
Field of Plains Coreopsis

Once it goes to seed and looks really raggedy we mow.

Since these are Oklahoma natives, they are well suited to our, shall we say, extreme weather conditions.  Once established they are fairly drought tolerant and attract our native pollinators.

It was nice to see an entire garden of Oklahoma plants to get an idea of just how many there really are.  I’m especially intrigued by the Tiger Eye Sumac and am thinking about adding one to our landscape someday.  It reminds me of a Japanese maple, but one that might actually survive in my yard.

Do you have a favorite native plant?

 

 

The Price Family Garden in Stillwater, Oklahoma

Magnolia tree at OSU campus from HouseofIngrams.com
Magnolia tree in front of the Price Family Garden

Last week my younger son attended a one-day engineering camp at OSU in Stillwater, Oklahoma. I hung out on campus all day and took lots of pictures of the gardens and flower beds. After a day of breathing the “O State ozone”, I’m ready to pack up and move to Stillwater.  (Just kidding.) Our family has a running joke about being on the OSU campus.  Something in the air makes us really happy to be there so we think they must be pumping ozone.  Or is it the Eskimo Joe’s cheese fries?  (According to my older son, the ozone effect does wear off after you have been there for a while.)

Anyway, I had a full day to hang around and wander through the plantings on campus, read, and people watch.

Canna border from HouseofIngrams.com
Cannas (Cannova Bronze Orange) and Hardy Hibiscus ‘White Jewel’ are part of the border in the Price Family Garden.
Herbaceous border at OSU from HouseofIngrams.com
Elephant Ear ‘Pink China’, Inkberry ‘Shamrock’, and Hydrangea Let’s Dance Starlight ‘Lynn’ in the front border.

The Price Family Garden is outside the Rancher’s Club, a steakhouse on the OSU campus.  It combines edibles and ornamentals and is just gorgeous.  They list descriptions of the plants along with planting diagrams on the internet.  Here’s a link to the summer 2018 plan.  They have a sign with a QR code you can scan and download this PDF with the plant descriptions.

Orange flowers from HouseofIngrams.com
Firecracker Plant (Crossandra ‘Orange Marmalade’) and Sweet Alyssum ‘Clear Crystal White’
Red Rubin basil and eggplant from HouseofIngrams.com
‘Red Rubin’ Basil and eggplant

I can’t tell which variety of eggplant this is.  There are two listed on their PDF.  One is ‘Barbarella’ and the other is ‘Galine’.  If I had to pick, I’d say this was Barbarella based on the leaf shape.

Daylily from HouseofIngrams.com
Daylily Hemerocallis ‘Bright Sunset’
Decorative garden from HouseofIngrams.com
Okra ‘Bull Dog’ in the foreground, followed by Yaupon Holly ‘Micron’, Firecracker Plant ‘Orange Marmalade’ and Sweet Alyssum
Tomatoes in garden from HouseofIngrams.com
‘Better Bush’ tomatoes
Okra from HouseofIngrams.com
Okra ‘Bull Dog’
Caryopteris from HouseofIngrams.com
Caryopteris ‘White Surprise’ in front of Hardy Hibiscus ‘Crown Jewel’ with Purple Heart Setcreasea pallida ‘Purple Heart’
Go from HouseofIngrams.com
Columnar basil in back, Pesto Perpetuo, the GO is Ananthera ‘Snowball’ and foreground is White Cat Whiskers surrounded by trailing vinca Mediterranean White
pokes from HouseofIngrams.com
POKES is Alternanthera ‘Snowball’, Basil ‘Red Rubin’ behind and the low plant is sweet potato ‘Beauregard’.

 

If you are in Stillwater, take some time to visit the Price Family Garden and get some ideas.  My plant list is super long already!

 

 

Simple Homemade Bread

homemade white bread loafI just made another loaf of this bread today and thought perhaps the recipe might be worth sharing.  I haven’t made bread like this in ages since my husband and I have been mostly low carb for years.

Homemade white bread from HouseofIngrams.com

However, my older son is home from college for the summer and was blessed to be hired as an intern at an HVAC company in the city.  He is working full time (yay!).  In order to save as much of his salary as possible, he is taking his lunch every day (thanks Dave Ramsey!).  Initially, he was taking turkey and cheese tortilla wraps but had a hankering for a peanut butter and jelly–tortillas just won’t cut it for that, so I whipped up a loaf of homemade bread with my “go-to” recipe.  It’s based on an old bread machine recipe and I adapted it for the KitchenAid mixer. Super easy, this is neither keto, low carb, nor gluten-free.  It IS pretty tasty and arguably healthier than most of the bread from the grocery store.  You can make excellent sandwiches, garlic bread, or the absolute favorite around here, cinnamon toast with it.  My younger son is reaping the benefits of older brother needing good sandwich bread and he is definitely not complaining.

Slice of homemade bread from HouseofIngrams.com
See all those holes? They are perfect for holding onto butter! YUM.

Ages ago when my husband and I had only been married a couple of years we splurged on a bread machine.  And made tons of bread.  And ate tons of bread.  During this time I started developing the recipe for my cinnamon rolls (that’s another post)… Luckily we didn’t actually WEIGH tons (not quite) after several years of this, but finally the bread machine was put away and eventually donated.   Meanwhile, I had acquired a KitchenAid mixer and found that it worked great for mixing and kneading homemade bread without needing to proof yeast or anything fiddly like that.  This method is very forgiving as it allows you some wiggle room with the temperature of your liquid.  You can still kill the yeast if it’s way too hot but it is less likely. Another benefit of the mixer over a bread machine is being able to double the recipe and make 2 loaves of bread or 2 dozen cinnamon rolls with one batch of dough.  I think this would also work with a good food processor but I haven’t tried it.

The ingredient list is simple:  All-purpose flour, powdered milk, sugar, kosher salt, butter, water, and yeast.  That’s it.  I buy the yeast in bulk from Sam’s Club; you get a boatload of it and if you wrap it tightly and store in a jar in the fridge or freezer it lasts for years.  If you want a higher rise you could use bread flour but it isn’t really necessary.

Simple Homemade Bread

This is a very basic white bread made with all-purpose flour.  The kneading is done with a stand mixer so it's super easy.  

Cuisine American
Keyword bread
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Resting time 1 hour 15 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Servings 14 slices
Author Patti

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp dry milk
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 7.5 ounces water warm

Instructions

  1. Combine water and butter in pyrex cup and heat for 30 seconds in the microwave.  You want it warm to touch, not hot, around 110 degrees or so.  

    In Kitchenaid mixing bowl add flour, dry milk, sugar, salt, and yeast.  Mix with the dough hook then slowly add warm water and butter.  Knead on low for about 10 minutes.  

    Remove dough hook and cover dough with clean cloth and place in warm area to rise for at least 30 minutes.  It should double in size.

    Prepare a loaf pan by spraying with Pam.  

    Punch down dough, then knead by hand for about 5 minutes.  Shape into a thick rectangle slightly larger than the pan by flattening a little and stretching, then roll the long ends inside and tuck the short ends under.  Place in bread pan seam side down.  Cover with a cloth and leave to rise again about 30 to 45 minutes. 

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  

    Bake bread for 40 to 45 minutes or until it tests 200 degrees with an instant-read thermometer.  Brush with butter after removing from oven.  Allow to cool before slicing.  

Recipe Notes

If your dough is too sticky, add a little flour.  

Slicing is easier with a long serrated bread knife.  

 

My boys like simple food and this definitely fits that description.  This will keep in a large ziploc bag on the counter for a couple of days but for longer storage, you should refrigerate.  This will mold quickly because there are no preservatives, unlike store bread which seems to have the half-life of uranium.  This will also freeze well, if you wrap it carefully in plastic, then foil, then place in a freezer bag with all the air squeezed out.

When the first loaf I made was all gone I was short on time so we picked up a loaf of “butter bread” from the grocery store.  My son ate it for a couple of days then last night told me it really wasn’t very good compared to mine…  So of course I baked up another loaf for him this afternoon!  Flattery will get you everywhere in this kitchen.  😉

I hope you give this easy recipe a try!  It will make your house smell amazing –we actually sold our first house to the very first people who looked at it by setting up the bread machine to have fresh baked bread when they came over.   I read somewhere that fresh baked bread smell was the leading cause of people buying a home, with chocolate chip cookies a close second.  If we ever sell this house I will bake cinnamon rolls and see how that works out.

 

Simple Homemade Bread from HouseofIngrams.com

 

 

 

Dealing With A Dirty Shower

Our house is pretty old. It was built in 1983 and we have been remodeling off and on since we moved in.  Our master shower is on our list of things to update. Someday we will gut the whole bathroom and redo it.  But for now, it’s roomy and functional, if hideous.  The grout is stained and has been cracking.  We have patched it up but it is UGLY.  My husband said the icky stuff might be the only thing holding the shower together…

I have been neglecting it for a while now, with the vague idea of doing some kind of blog post on amazing shower cleaners.  Sure, it’s nasty, but this is for the greater good.   Ahem.

I’m sure all of you have tried various cleaning methods that claim to be the easiest, fastest, bestest, no-scrub, environmentally friendly, chemical free, blah blah blah…  So far, I have found that nothing is totally scrub free and nothing works on every single type of ickiness.  Soap scum is not the same thing as hard water deposit.  Mildew that has stained your grout won’t magically disappear without some chemical intervention.  (By the way, technically EVERYTHING is chemicals, even water, vinegar, and essential oils, so that whole “chemical-free cleaning” concept is kind of silly.)

That said, I have a few things that have proven to be better than others in my house.  The warm vinegar mixed with blue Dawn in a spray bottle and left to soak is pretty good at getting dirt, scum, and even some hard water deposits but you will still probably need to do some scrubbing.  And it smells like vinegar, which my boys all hate.

This post contains affiliate links.  For my full disclosure policy see here.

When it comes to the stained grout and caulk, chlorine bleach is my favorite option (gasp!).  I like Clorox Gel Cleaner.  I don’t use this very often because it smells kind of nasty and is not the best thing to have going into a septic tank, but in small amounts it’s fine.   Hydrogen peroxide is milder and safer as it breaks down quickly into carbon dioxide and water.  And it’s cheap!  Put into a spray bottle and apply as needed to your stained areas.  It needs to sit a while to work so you will need to reapply or soak paper towels in it and leave to dry.

For years I have been tempted by glowing commentaries on the joys of steam cleaners and finally got one about a year ago.  I chose a HomeRight because it had good reviews on Amazon and sounded pretty versatile.  I have cleaned several things with it so far, and here’s my honest unbiased review of it for cleaning a really ugly old dirty shower.

This photo shows everything included with the HomeRight Steam Cleaner:

Graphic photos follow.  You have been warned.

My results:  it works well for getting surface dirt and soap scum off your shower tile and grout.  You still need to do some scrubbing.  It doesn’t do much for hard water deposits on its own; spraying with vinegar before steam scrubbing would work better.  I didn’t use vinegar this time for a couple of reasons, one, I wanted to see how well the steamer worked alone, and two, my husband was home and doesn’t like to smell vinegar.

It is hot steam (290 degrees) so it can sanitize without bleach, so that is a plus.  One thing I was surprised about (though I shouldn’t have been) was how loud it is.  High-pressure steam (55 psi) makes a lot of noise.  My kids (who are essentially grown) run away when I am using the steam cleaner.  My husband works from home so if he’s on a conference call I can’t use the cleaner in the kitchen; it’s way too loud even with his office door closed.  If you get one, maybe consider ear protection if you have sensitive hearing.

You must use distilled water, as tap water will cause mineral build up and shorten the life of your steamer.  It comes with several little cleaning attachments.  You might want to order extras of the little nylon and brass brushes as they wear out plus if you are using a brush in the toilet you might want a different one for other things…I don’t use brushes on the toilet, just the jet nozzle.

For the shower, I started with the larger nylon brush and did some scrubbing on the heaviest grime, then switched to the squeegee and went over the walls, door, and floor.  They include one little microfiber cloth but you need more than that.  I used old towels to wipe up the dirty water.

Here are some before shots:

Up close, the true horror is revealed…
More ickiness!

And the after…still in need of chemical intervention but better.

Some staining but way better!

 

The HomeRight Steamer is pretty versatile and I have used it on floors, stovetop, toilets, sinks, and counters and been happy with the results.  Cleaning the oven–not so much.  My oven was horrible though, so your results might be better, and I probably should have tried the little brass brush instead of nylon.  A friend of mine borrowed it to remove wallpaper in her home and said it worked great.  Wish I had had it back when we first got this house, because taking down the wallpaper here was a huge pain!

You should read the instructions thoroughly before using.  Some things should NOT be cleaned with steam, including your dishwasher, refrigerator, and washing machine; you can damage plastic or rubber seals with the high heat.

I have yet to clean windows with it, but people say it’s fantastic.  I’m hoping for some rain to settle our dust before cleaning the windows.

All told, I would definitely buy it again.   What’s your best shower cleaning method or tip?

 

Four O’Clocks

A flower that doesn’t open until late in the day might seem a little pointless, but the four o’clock (Mirablilis jalapa) is a nice addition to your flowerbeds.  When the flowers open in late afternoon you will notice a lovely fragrance, and the little flowers are worth the wait!  They originate from South America but grow well nearly everywhere.  They are perennial in warmer climates (7 and higher) and also reseed freely.

When I was a kid my mother grew four o’clocks in her east facing flowerbeds.  (Actually, she still does.)  They were all one color, kind of a fuschia purple, and the blooms closed during the day.  The bushes got huge over the course of the summer and would crowd out other plants in the process.  So I wasn’t really a fan of this particular plant.

Four o'clocks
The original color of our four o’clocks

Imagine my joy when after moving to this house I discovered the very same four o’clocks, same boring color and everything, all over the flowerbeds!  Squee.

Landscaping was not a priority for the first several years after we moved here, with small kids, homeschooling, and interior remodeling.  So I let the boring flowers go crazy.  They were flowers at least, and they were pretty tough (benign neglect, right?).

Finally, we got roses for the main bed, and I started taking a little more care with our landscape.  At this point, I was pulling hundreds of little four o’clock seedlings as they sprouted because this is a very floriferous plant, and each flower makes a black seed that looks like a tiny grenade.

Four o'clock seeds
Four o’clock seeds

I left some in the north end because it’s pretty shady and I hadn’t planned anything for that area yet.  These flowers do attract sphinx moths, hummingbirds, and butterflies, so that’s kind of cool, and I planned to keep a few plants even though I wasn’t a huge fan of the boring flowers.  But about four years ago something interesting happened…

Four o'clock yellow bloom
Four o’clock with yellow bloom!

One of the plants had some yellow flowers on the same plant with the fuschia flowers.  That was really neat!  The next year, more of the flowers were yellow or streaked.  This kept increasing, until last summer I had several different colors of four o’clocks.  I saved some seeds to give to friends; who knows what they will produce?

After some research, I found that this is not at all unusual with Mirabilis; the thing I don’t understand is why the different colors took so long to show.  Perhaps one of those nice moths brought pollen from different colored flowers and got us some genetic variation going.  Regardless, I no longer dislike the four o’clock flowers.  I will still judiciously pull hundreds of seedlings as they show up where I don’t want them, but I will be sure to leave several plants.  I can’t wait to see what they look like this summer!

If you decide to plant some four o’clocks, now is the time.  After danger of frost, plant the seeds in the garden and water regularly.  They prefer full sun (6 hours minimum).  I don’t fertilize, but some garden sites do recommend a little fertilizer.  They can get up to four feet high and wide–mine usually top out around three feet, but I don’t water as much as they would probably like and we have a lot of wind.   You can trim back if they get too enthusiastic.  They start blooming mid-summer and will go until frost.  The seeds are considered poisonous.  Most pests don’t seem to bother them, but in seriously bad summers, we have had grasshoppers eat some of the flowers and leaves.   Give them a try!

Cleaning Utterly Filthy Window Tracks

When you live on the edge of the windswept Great Plains surrounded by wheat fields and home construction, dirty windows are a given.

Along with our dirty windows, we get heavy dirt building up in the window tracks, especially on the west side of our house.  At times it’s so thick I think we could plant lettuce in there…obviously, I don’t clean often enough.   This is real life and it’s dirty.

The best way I have found to clean these tracks is very simple and you probably have everything you need on hand.

This process works with DRY dirt, don’t try it when it’s wet and sticky.

You will need:

One old toothbrush

Vacuum with small nozzle

Window cleaning solution

Rag

Qtips

Open your window to allow access to the track.  Scrub the dirt with the toothbrush to loosen it, then suck it up with the vacuum nozzle.  Scrub as much as you can and keep vacuuming until you can’t get any more dirt up.

As you can see, the track is full of dirt, don’t judge me.
Start scrubbing with a toothbrush to loosen the dirt.
Vacuum window tracks
Use your vacuum nozzle to suck up that loose dirt.

 

Now it just needs a wipe with a rag and some window cleaner, and some Q tip for the corners.

 

Our windows have little square holes at the bottom to allow water to drain out.  This is a good time to make sure those aren’t clogged up.

Now use a little window cleaner and rag to get the last bits of dirt.  You may need a Q tip to get into small crevices, depending on how picky you are.

There you go!  Shiny clean window tracks to go with your shiny clean windows (assuming you cleaned those too)!