Category: environment

Watch the Perseid Meteors Tonight

By , August 14, 2010 2:53 pm

perseid_meteor_2007

By Brocken Inaglory – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2632873

Last night I woke my two oldest children up at 2:30AM.  I led my confused and sleepy babies out onto the golf course behind our house armed with a flashlight and a blanket.  I spread out the blanket on the cool, damp grass of the fairway, we all laid on it facing northeast … and hoped that the sprinklers would not go off! Lol!

The children were astonished by what they saw – shooting stars, lots of them!  We also saw the Milky Way and several satellites marching in line across the night sky.

Our fabulous unplugged (and free!) show was the annual Perseid Meteor Shower.  The peak was the nights of August 12 and 13th, but you might still be able to see a pretty good display through the 22nd (especially if you are lucky enough to live in a low ambient light area like we do).  Just look to the northeast after midnight.

PS.  Most visible in the Northern Hemisphere, sorry!

LINKS:

EarthSky’s Meteor Shower Guide

Excellent Perseid Meteor Shower Expected

How-To: Photographing the Perseid Meteor Shower

Perseid Photo Gallery

For another of our astronomy adventures, you might like to read: The Moon Unplugged? Not For Me!! (Part 1) and Mom Unplugged vs. Evil Sleepy Poser Mom – Lunar Dilemma Part 2.

Don’t Forget The Birds! (Homemade Bird Feeder Ornaments)

By , January 23, 2010 7:37 pm

Today we sit stranded at home after a week of snow days and over four feet of snow!  The hungry birds hop busily about the bird feeders trying to fuel up before a cold night’s sleep.  It seems a good day to write that post about edible ornaments for the wild birds.

As I mentioned not long ago, every Christmas Eve the kids and I sit down and make edible tree decorations to hang on our trees outside as gifts to our wild birds.  We call it our Bird Christmas, but you could have fun making these at any time of year.  The squirrels often make off with many of our treats, but I don’t mind!

(By the way, although wire and dental floss are easy, if I can, I like to use natural cotton yarn or string for hanging since this is recycled by birds in the spring for cozy nests!)

Classic Pinecone Feeders: Send the children out to collect pinecones.  The bigger and more open, the better.  Mix peanut butter and bird seed together in a bowl.  Tie string or yarn around the pinecones to use for hanging (I find that it is a bit less messy to do this step before covering the pinecones in peanut butter).   Roll the pinecones in the mixture using a spoon to push it down between the scales if necessary.

VARIATION:

  • No pinecones where you live?  Then use bagels!  Spread with peanut butter, sprinkle on birdseed, and the hole makes them really easy to hang.

Orange Cup Feeders: An adult should prepare the cups. Cut oranges in half and scoop out the insides to set aside for a healthy snack or a fruit salad (a grapefruit knife makes this job easy).  Use a metal skewer, knitting needle, or large darning needle to poke three approximately equidistant holes around the edge of the orange cup, near the top.  Thread string or yarn through the holes forming a hanger made of three strings.  Now for the kid part: Fill the cups with a peanut butter/birdseed mixture.

VARIATIONS:

  • Fill with softened suet and birdseed, although peanut butter is more kid-friendly.  Suet is a great alternative for kids with peanut allergies though.
  • If you have orioles in your area, fill the cups with grape jelly.  Orioles like jelly and they are attracted to the color orange!
  • Easiest option – Don’t hollow out the oranges and just hang orange halves as is.  Orioles, robins, mockingbirds, tanagers, grosbeaks and cardinals like the fruit.

“Bird Tinsel”: Decorate shrubs and trees with strings of cranberries and popcorn (no salt or butter).  Thread the treats using a large needle and string, heavy duty thread, or dental floss.  Our popcorn didn’t string so well this year for some reason (perhaps our needle was not sharp enough) so we ended up just doing cranberries.  Use frozen or fresh berries.  I prefer frozen.  Frozen are less messy to string and thaw quickly once threaded.

VARIATIONS:

  • Try dried fruits such as cherries, craisins, blueberries, papaya, apples or apricots.  How about peanuts in the shell?
  • String fresh orange slices.
  • Try other fresh berries such as strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, or rasberries.
  • Raisins come in many colors and sizes.  Experiment with different varieties to make pretty patterns.

FUN TIP:  When threading a variety of foods, have your children create repeating patterns.  The garlands will be pretty to look at and your children will exercise their art and reasoning skills!

Bird “Cookie” Ornaments: You can use cookie cutters to make shaped ornaments for your wild birds.  The easiest variety are made with stale bread (although fresh is fine too, but might be harder to cut).  Use a cookie cutter to cut shapes out of the bread.  Poke a hole near the top using a skewer or straw. String yarn, string, dental floss or wire through to make a hanger.  I have even hung these using a wire Christmas ornament hanger poked directly through the bread.  Very easy.

VARIATIONS:

  • If you want to get fancy, you can decorate your “cookies” with peanut butter and sprinkle on birdseed designs.  The seed will stick to the peanut butter and you’ll have instant “fancy” ornaments that the birds will love!
  • For those with peanut allergies, or for a change, brush the bread shapes with egg white.  Sprinkle with bird seeds and bake on a baking sheet at 300 degrees for about 5 minutes (this will cause the seeds to stick to the bread).
  • Melt suet, mix with birdseed and pour into greased, shaped molds (or lined muffin tins).  Put in freezer to harden, or outside if it is very cold.  Use a skewer to poke a hole through when they are getting solid but not yet truly hard.  Remove from molds when frozen and hang outside.  (NOTE:  You can use commercially available rendered suet, get some from the butcher, or make your own suet mix from a recipe in the links below.  Be careful of vegetable based fats, they are not supposed to be as healthy for birds.  Also, ordinary animal fats can spoil and melt easily if the temperature is not cold enough.  Think – greasy mess on your deck and birds with indigestion.  More on all these issues here:  The Great Crisco Debate).
  • Try wiping your bread ornament in bacon grease.  I once read somewhere that Blue Jays and squirrels love this.  Perhaps a good way of recycling sink-clogging bacon grease?  The bread plus bacon grease would probably work a lot better in summer than straight bacon grease which melts very easily.  Also, since bacon grease is salty, it is advisable only in moderation and when a fresh supply of water is available nearby.  I have a heated bird bath that is hugely popular with my birds in winter, since it provides fresh water when all other sources are frozen.

Bird Goody Bags: Save your nylon mesh produce bags (the kind fruit, tomatoes, or onions come in).  Stuff them with suet, seeds and dried fruit.  You could even put in shelled peanuts or other nuts, unsalted is best.  Make sure they can fit through the holes – crush them if necessary.  Hang outside.  You can decorate these with fancy bows if you want them to look festive.

VARIATION:

USEFUL LINKS:

Flip a Rock on September 20th

By , September 8, 2009 1:18 pm

As I am sure you all know, September 20th, 2009 is the 3rd Annual International Rock Flipping Day.

Oh, you didn’t know that?  Well, on September 20th take your kids outside, choose a rock to flip, then:

1)  Record what you find. “Any and all forms of documentation are welcome: still photos, video, sketches, prose, or poetry.”

2)  Replace the rock as you found it; it’s someone’s home. But if there are critters underneath, move them to the side before you replace the rock and let them scurry back.  You don’t want to squash anyone.

3)  Post on your blog, or load your photos to the International Rock Flipping Day Flickr group.

4)  Send a link to Susannah at Wanderin’ Weeta. Her e-mail address is in her profile.

5)  Susannah will collect the links, e-mail participants the list, and post it for any and all to copy to their own blogs.

6)  She also says: “Maybe we can Tweet it, too, this year. Use the hashtag #rockflip.” (NOTE FROM ME:  This information is totally beyond my comprehension, but if you understand Tweeting, then give it a go that way and I will be impressed.)

(All instructions are from Wanderin’ Weeta’s blog – edited slightly by me)

I love this idea because it reminds me of something I did in very early elementary school (Kindergarten? 1st Grade?).  We went out and measured a one foot by one foot square of dirt behind the school, and then we had to look closely and draw what we saw in that square.  Obviously it made an impression since I remember that lesson VERY many years later!

So go ahead, take the badge, the link, and the instructions, and pass it on.

It’ll be fun and interesting, so please join in! We’ll be there! (…and September 20th is even my sister’s birthday…)

NOTE:  More on the history of Rock Flipping Day at Wanderin’ Weeta’s.

Worm Bin Update – NO VACANCY

By , June 24, 2009 10:12 pm

(WARNING:  If you don’t like worms, then skip this post!)


It was a very thrilling day today – our 2 lb. bag of Red Wigglers finally arrived!!

The Fedex driver had probably never had a more excited welcome than he got this afternoon.  As my 8 year-old daughter put it:  “Now we have millions and millions of pets!!!”  Hmmm….not exactly what we need with 9 cats, a dog, 2 birds, 2 fish and a bunch of happily reproducing sea monkeys.

Here is the box of our very well traveled worms.  Did Fedex know what they had in here?

The worms arrived nicely packed in a brown paper bag.

We opened the bag…

… and this is what we saw:

After holding a few worm friends:

And discovering an egg:

We gently tipped them into our “Worm Hotel” and tossed some of the damp newspaper on top of them.

Next came food.  We were certain that they were hungry after their very long trip, the sort of trip that most worms never have to make.

The menu consisted of a medley of carrot peels, followed by leftover bok choi greens and brown rice, with some tea leaves for dessert:

We hope that our new pets will be very happy and produce a great deal of lovely, rich poop castings to transform our nasty clay soil into gorgeous, moist, nutrient-filled humus.

NOTE:   To see how we made our worm bin, please visit our “Slippery” Unplugged Project post.

UPDATE:  Harvesting the worm bin (it took only 8 weeks to make a gallon of lovely compost).

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Slippery – Worm Bin (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , June 17, 2009 10:09 pm

wormbin

We have just added a new weapon to our arsenal against the heavy clay soil of Northern Arizona: our very own worm bin! In case you wonder what I am talking about, worm poop (more politically correctly known as “worm castings”) makes wonderful compost for the garden.

I didn’t pick the theme slippery with the worm bin in mind, but it occurred to me later that since worms are a bit slippery, this project fit the theme!

One option is to buy a commercially constructed worm bin such as this one, but I opted to go homemade (I guess this could have fit last week’s homemade theme too).  Worm bins can be made out of wood or plastic containers.  They can be one simple box or multilevel.   I followed these online instructions for a two story, Cheap and Easy Worm Bin.

You’ll need two 8 to 10 gallon plastic storage boxes with lids (dark plastic, not transparent), a drill with a 1/4″ and a 1/16″ drill bit, some newspaper and a piece of cardboard.

First drill about 20 large (1/4″) holes in the bottoms of both boxes.  Space them approximately evenly to allow for even airflow and easy worm travel.

Next drill small (1/16″) holes all around the top edge of the boxes, about 1 to 1.5″ apart.  I did two rows for maximum ventilation.

Also drill small holes (about 30) in ONE lid.  The other lid will be the base to collect any draining liquid, so don’t put holes in that one.

Fill a bucket or other plastic container with water.  Tear the newspaper into long strips, approximately 1″ wide and toss them into the water to soak.  This will be your worm bedding and you’ll want about 3 to 4″ of it in the bottom of the box.  For us, it took one whole newspaper.



Take the newspaper strips out one handful at a time and squeeze them out well.  They need to be nicely damp, not sopping (don’t forget that worms breathe through their skin so don’t drown them!).

Toss them in one of the boxes and fluff them up.

Once you have your 3 to 4″ of fluffed up bedding, you’ll need to mix in a bit of dirt.  Since we still have a giant sand pile in the back yard, we put in a bit of sand too.  Worms have gizzards and need to eat some of this rough material (dirt/sand) in order to digest their food (by grinding it in their gizzards – no teeth!).

Finally, soak a piece of cardboard just big enough to cover your bedding and place it on top of the bedding.  The worms will be put underneath this cardboard and it will also become a tasty treat for them.

Now it’s time to set up your worm hotel.  Place the solid lid upside down on the ground as a tray to catch any draining liquid from the decomposition process (known as “worm tea,” your garden will love this!).  Place some bricks or blocks on the upside down lid as a base for the boxes (this allows for drainage).  Next goes the empty box on top of the blocks, with the full box nested inside it.  The lid with the air holes goes on top.  Keep in a cool dark place.

When the worms move in, place their food in a corner and bury it under the newspaper to avoid odors and fruit flies.  Bury new food in a different part of the bin each time you feed them.  They will follow it around the bin.

Voilà!  The finished worm bin!  Now all we need are the residents.  I ordered a 2 lb bag of Red Wigglers online and they should be arriving soon.  At least their new home will be ready for them.

NOTE: Worms like:  vegetables, fruit, tea bags, coffee filters and grounds, eggshells, bread, cereal, grains.  Do NOT feed:  meat, dairy, oil, fat, feces.

For more complete feeding information, as well as how to harvest your worm castings, please be sure to read the Cheap and Easy Worm Bin article!

LINKS:

Cheap and Easy Worm Bin

Worm Anatomy

Worm Composting (Vermicomposting) How-To

Vermicomposting

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FOLLOW-UP: Be sure to check out the arrival of the resident worms in this post: Worm Bin Update – NO VACANCY

ALSO: Read about our first harvest (only 8 weeks later)

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