Friday, 27 June 2014

The very hungry caterpillars

Recently I was sent a Butterfly Rearing Kit to review. It was a great little kit containing all the equipment and information needed to observe the miraculous metamorphosis of caterpillar into butterfly. There was an option to send off for captive bred caterpillars or alternatively you could find your own specimens. We decided on the caterpillar hunt but were either not very good at it or there really was not a single caterpillar anywhere in the entire garden. I wrote my review by the deadline despite the lack of caterpillar success.

As soon as the review was posted, would you believe the garden was suddenly alive with the wriggly leaf munching little creatures. I suppose you could attribute that fact to Sod's Law, or maybe the caterpillar collective conscious was just having a little prank at my expense.

We chose an army of tiny green and black caterpillars that had made a home on a nasturtium leaf in my hanging basket and set up our kit.

We positioned the kit in our porch (already proving a great talking point for visitors) and began our observation.

One thing that is impossible not to notice is these little beasts can eat! They eat. They poo. And they grow. I couldn't believe how quickly they grow. As they grow, they molt - crawling out of their skin to leave a shrivelled little caterpillar husk behind them.

The kids love watching them. Little Addy looks at them with such affection saying "They're so cute". I try to watch with a scientific detachment but I do find myself feeling utterly repulsed. I even had a dream last night that there were caterpillars and worms in my living room.

At first, I collected fresh nasturtium leaves twice a day to feed them. As the caterpillars grew, so it seemed, did their appetites.  My hanging basket was looking decidedly bare. I had a few other nasturtiums planted around the garden but they hadn't grown terribly well. Rather than trying to pick individual leaves, I repotted a whole plant into a small pot and placed it inside the kit. Within moments, those voracious beasts had found the fresh vegetation and were devouring it.

When there was nothing left of it, I repeated with another. My potential for summer long colour in the garden was reducing with each meal! Last night, as I  carefully placed a tender young nasturtium inside the kit, I was reminded of the scene from Jurassic Park where the tethered goat is placed in the T Rex enclosure. By this morning, the nasturtium was little more than a stump of a stem and a memory.

The demand for food was rapidly outstripping the supply potential from my garden. I needed a plan B.

A friend of mine who is a keen amateur naturalist identified my caterpillars as the Cabbage White variety. That was my Plan B - off to Asda to buy a cabbage. My fingers are firmly crossed that this will work.

Of course I could have (should have) chosen these caterpillars that were feeding on the leaves of a tree with an almost limitless supply of food.

We live and learn!

Tuesday, 24 June 2014


I have yet to write about my monthly resolution for June. There is a good reason for this which demonstrates how effective said resolution has been. My small change for June has been to Just Get on and Do It. I have been getting on and doing it... at the expense of my blogging time.

My biggest Get On and Do It challenge has been to redecorate my hallway.

It is taking forever because I only get short bursts of time between school drop offs and pick ups and making tea and sorting out fights between the kids etc.. but slowly, the amount done is surpassing the amount left to do. The scales are tipping in favour of completion and it is looking really good.

I can't help wondering if my menopausal mentality has caused me to reject the blood red statement decor in favour of a subtle, understated neutral but it has given the house a complete facelift.

Goodbye blood red...

... hello neutral.

It may not have been the most efficient of makeovers but I am thoroughly enjoying it. I find painting with emulsion fantastically relaxing (de-stress by roller) and the focus and concentration required to apply the gloss evenly and cleanly takes me to an almost meditative state -  Zen and the Art of Decorating! I love the paint smell too - it calms me in the same way that the bleach smell from a good clean does.

I bought some picture frames today. Finally, after living here for more than seven years, I am going to get some favourite photos hung up. I could tie myself up in knots trying to choose what goes where but in the spirit of my June resolution, I'm going to Just Get On and Do It.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Butterfly World

Caterpillars - loathsome and destructive - not what I want to find in my garden.

Yet somehow, these vile creatures transform into the breathtakingly beautiful fluttering butterflies synonymous with balmy summer days.

Truly one of nature's great miracles.

Nick Baker's Butterfly World from Interplay is a butterfly rearing kit that gives us the opportunity to witness this miracle.

I remember collecting caterpillars in jam jars as a child. Often, this did not end well for the caterpillars. The butterfly rearing kit contains all the equipment needed along with an information booklet to ensure that the life cycle of a butterfly can be studied safely and respectfully.

There are two ways of sourcing the specimens for the study. One is to send off for captive reared caterpillars of the Painted Lady butterfly. Alternatively, go out and find your own.

Armed with the paintbrush and collection jar provided, we scoured the garden on a collecting mission, feeling like proper naturalists. Would you believe it? We couldn't find a single one. Good news for my plants, bad news for our project.

Whilst I was out for a run recently, I saw a HUGE hairy caterpillar on the road. It would not have fitted in the collection jar even if I had happened to have it on me but it did make me think that extending our search from the garden into the hedgerows of the country lanes nearby might be the next step (a little adventure for the weekend)

Once we have our specimens, the booklet gives very clear instructions on how to care for the caterpillars through to the chrysalis stage and then how to transfer them into the net cage provided for the final transformation into adult butterfly. This is not for the faint hearted or fickle. It is very hands on and would certainly require plenty of adult supervision to see it through to the conclusion.

I am in equal measures nervous and excited - fascinated and repulsed. I have no doubt that the whole family, not just the kids, will get a lot out of it. Now we just need to find those caterpillars!!

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Haberdashery Heaven from Ravensburger

I have a very special bag tucked away on a shelf in my house. It belonged to my mother in law. It is a bag full of haberdashery treasures.

I knit a little and have been known to sew occasionally but I am far from expert. I have to be honest and say that there are items in that bag that have left me clueless to the purpose of. Some people may consider it a load of junk but it absolutely fills me with wonder - I marvel at the loveliness of it all. Individually, one cotton reel is not very inspiring... but a whole collection of different sized cotton reels in rainbow hues with a range of manufacturer's branding is something else entirely. It becomes a thing of beauty. I just love it. And buttons. I remember playing with my mum's button box when I was a little girl. They were like exotic jewels to me. 

Anyway, before I get too carried away, I was recently offered a 1000 piece Ravensburger jigsaw puzzle to review. My daughter who is currently doing her second year exams at University is a big fan of jigsaws. I have very fond memories of time spent with her over the years piecing together all sorts of different pictures: the pleasure of finding a particular piece that had been eluding us, the satisfaction of inserting the final piece, the bitter sweet moment when we break it up and return it to its box. We haven't done one for ages so I was very keen to accept the review and my daughter was equally keen to  resurrect the hobby. Imagine my joy when I found out that the puzzle was called 'Haberdashery Heaven'. 

The picture is a glorious jumble of haberdashery items (apparently meticulously arranged and captured by photographer Greg Shepherd).

The pieces are small and at the risk of stating the obvious, there are a lot of them - certainly a challenge. It is marketed as a 'premium puzzle' with 'softclick technology'. Softclick technology sounds very high tech for something as traditional as a jigsaw puzzle but I suppose it is more in keeping with our modern world than 'quality pieces that fit together really nicely'.

For the purpose of this review, I did make a small start on the puzzle if for no other reason than to test that 'softclick technology'. However, I don't think my daughter would ever forgive me if I were to find myself getting carried away and completing it without her (which is something I could very easily do). The pieces are now safely back in the box until the last of her exams is finished and she comes home for the summer. I can't wait!
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