Summer Lepidopterans


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Long-tailed skipper, Urbanus proteus

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Long-tailed skipper larvae—aka: the bean leaf roller!

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Between the lull of monarch seasons—I’m awaiting their return but we did see one at the zoo the other day—there is plenty of other activity in the lepidopteran world. Here’s just a sample–I’m seeing plenty of others I just don’t have my camera on me lately. And these are all phone photos–I’m sad to admit I’m blogging with phone photos!!! Time to pick up the big camera or even the point and shoot a bit more than my phone.

I noticed a beautiful butterfly bouncing along the agastache on the side yard garden last week. I took a few crappy phone photos in the shadowed filled area over there but knew I wouldn’t do anything with them beyond maybe identifying the butterfly later. But then I moved towards the main area of the garden and it (or another one) fluttered over into the sunlight on the banana leaves and offered up a much better photo opportunity.

I still have not bought a good butterfly book for our region so I ended up pulling out my Butterflies through Binoculars: Florida book and flipped to the skippers. A long-tailed skipper! Sweet!

Then, in the garden over the weekend I saw some bean leaves rolled up. I peered in and remembered seeing them last year and I even looked them up last year but I hadn’t put two and two together—my bean leaf roller was the larval stage of the long-tailed skipper! They are also utilizing the same bean plants they used last year, the ‘Dragon Tongue’ beans—the other beans I have aren’t being used. Very interesting!

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Possibly Brazilian skipper, Calpodes ethlius

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For several weeks now Chris has been telling me something is rolling up in the alligator flag, Thalia geniculata, down by the pond. I hadn’t ventured down there until one evening while Forest was painting at the picnic table. I took a few photos but didn’t open up a leaf nest enough to really get a good photo. My quick search online suggests this is the work of the Brazilian skipper. I’ll have to do some more stalking down by the pond with a better camera soon.

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Nessus sphinx moth, Amphion floridensis
*This is a video, if you are reading via email or a reader, it may not load. Click through to watch.*

On my way back from the pond I noticed a moth fluttering around the yard. It was distinctive enough to find in my moth book and I knew it was a hummingbird/hawk moth of some kind so that narrowed it down to the Nessus sphinx. Very cool! Looks like the host plants for these are grape vine, pepper vine, Virginia creeper, and pepper plants. Another interesting find!

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Saddleback, Acharia stimulea

This beauty I did not see in person, much to my sad dismay. Chris texted it to me while I was desk bound at work while he was in the field. Sometime he sends me photos from the field and I’m always jealous of the things he’s finding. *I need to get out of the office more*.

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And these sweet things are decidedly not lepidopterans, however they have been very adorable to watch around the yard the last few weeks as they chow down on plants. I took this as I pulled into the driveway after work one day. There are five, one is on the other side of the fence.

The gulf fritillaries returned in mid to late June and have been laying eggs on the passiflora vines. I’m starting to get caterpillars, too, and have decided to try to raise a few. I have three late instar sized caterpillars and one second instar caterpillar. If these do well I may scout out for more until the monarchs arrive.

The June Garden | 2018


*Photo Heavy*

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There’s been a definite jungleization of the garden since the beginning of June photos I took. The cucumber photos I show here are now a massive tangle of vines, threatening to over take each other with a few vines wanting to just have a run of the bed. Which is fine, I suppose I’ll be eating a lot of cucumber salads over the next few months. It’s just too bad the tomatoes aren’t on the same page—or rather our climate isn’t on the same page.

Actually being able to enjoy the garden this year has been wonderful. Ooo, as I’m writing this from our dinner table I’m watching a momma deer scope out of the leaves on the ground under the mulberry. There are at least five fawns in the vicinity of the yard and plenty more around the neighborhood. Future garden chompers that are just really too adorable for their own good! I’ve been tossing the tomatoes over the fence that the leaf-footed bugs or the birds get to before I got to them in hopes the deer will enjoy a tasty treat.

Ok, back to the enjoying the garden bits…so, yes, I’ve been enjoying the garden more the last few weeks instead of constant weeding, though I’m still doing my fair share. Between the mimosa weed and the chamberbitter out in the edible garden, it will always be a battle of constant vigilance. It looked good before vacation but I knew it would all come back because the seeds, in particular from the chamberbitter, are embedded by the millions in the garden thanks to letting it get out of control the summer of 2015. I am working to put down some new mulch on the paths that hopefully I can get wrapped up in the next week or two so I’m hoping that will help. I put down new mulch on those paths in October/November of last year and it has decomposed a lot as well as washed away in the mini-flood back in May.

I did start fall tomatoes before we left for vacation. I’m giving it once last try. Every garden article in Texas talks about fall tomatoes but I don’t know many people who have great success. I suppose it would be the people on the coast who have milder winters than the rest of us. The problem usually means that it stays too hot for too long which means the tomatoes start flowering later and by the time there’s any inkling of a tomato forming we get a cold front or freeze. It wouldn’t be so bad if we weren’t getting a freeze…even if it was dipping into the high 40s but warming to the 60s during the day would be ok. But nope. Not happening. So, I’m trying a northern variety this year, Red Siberian, which supposedly can handle light frosts. We shall see. I need to get them in the ground in the next week or two so they can get established.

The flower garden is doing well. The milkweed I’ve sown is establishing itself despite being chomped by milkweed beetles constantly. I was surprised how quickly some common milkweed grew from seed. As well as what I’ve determined to be green antelopehorn milkweed. I had collected the latter from a random seedpod I found while hiking—the main part of the plant was long gone—so I didn’t know what it was until it grew up. Neither will be big enough to sustain the monarchs when they come back through, though, but next year they will be. I will have to keep an eye out for eggs and caterpillars when the mommas come laying or else they will be chowed to the ground! The whorled, tall green, and short green milkweed have germinated and are all around 3-4″ tall but they aren’t as robust as the other plants. They’ve also been eaten heavily by the milkweed beetles. (Does anyone else have to correct themselves and not write beatles? Hah!)

The gulf fritillaries returned about two weeks ago and now eggs have been laid and I am spotting caterpillars. I am going to attempt to raise those and see how they fare in the tent. Maybe just five to start. I havw one in the cage right now. I did learn quickly that the passiflora vine cutting has to be in a floral tube or else the plant wilts and dries incredibly fast. No caterpillar wants to eat crummy food! We’ll see how it goes.

Now, to get out and do some more gardening in July!

The 88 Store & The Florida Trail


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After we left Astor Park and from visiting the Bartram Tree we continued west down SR 40 through Ocala National Forest. We had thought about going down to Alexander Springs at first but with the rain showers it didn’t seem like an ideal thing to do. Instead, Chris looked at the GPS and opted to head north on SR 19 towards Salt Springs into a part of the of the forest we hadn’t driven through before. Well, we’d been on a bit of it before, when we’d been transported from the end of the Juniper Springs Run at the Juniper Take-Out in 2009 when we’d paddled the Juniper Run. And actually…I’m thinking on this harder, we actually went to Silver Glen Springs after that to swim a bit.

As we drove north I looked for that spring but it wasn’t until now, looking up at those old photos and finding a video labeled Silver Glen Springs did I realize where it was. We came to Salt Springs and opted not to head towards town or the recreation area for the springs and instead turned down CR 314. We were enjoying the drive down the new road when we looked over and saw a weird missile thing in front of a VFW post and by the time we decided to turn around and check it out we had reached FR 88 and I saw a sign for the 88 Store. I mentioned it to Chris and said that we had to go down there because the 88 Store was one of our stops along our Florida Trail hike, where we’d mailed ourselves a package.

But first, we went back to the missile for a few photos! Here’s a bit more information about the missile. It was one of those things that you just had to go and see what the heck it was and we had ample time and nowhere to be, so might as well stop!

I had been glad we had seen the 88 Store sign because while I could have looked it up after all of these years, I hadn’t. And in my head I really had no way of knowing where it was in relation to the trail other than being north of Salt Springs. And we had pitiful cell service in the forest so it wasn’t like I could have looked it up. The sign was fortuitous.

It was about three miles down FR 88 to the store and honestly, I was a little nervous going to this outpost in the middle of the national forest. It’s part convenience store and gas station, and part bar. It’s one thing to roll into the joint with a pack on and a week without a shower and another to show up in a rental car with a 3 year old in tow!

When we pulled up we noticed a small restaurant had been added out front and I was a bit jealous about that—it would have been useful to have back then! I’m pretty sure we heated up frozen burgers or something like that while we resupplied and showered at the time. This time we popped into the convenience store and talked to a few people who worked there, telling them how we were driving around and wanted to revisit a place from our hike.

Forest found a snack inside and went back out with Chris to ride the automated car out front—that was a new addition if I recall. Inside, I flipped through the log book to find our entry as well as our friend Speaker’s entry and then looked for a few other names I recognized.

You read read about our hike through this section here.

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Queen’s delight, Stillingia sylvatica

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Longleaf pine

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Turkey oak

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Gopher apple, Licania michauxii

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Red-cockaded woodpecker

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paw-paw—not sure which one

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After we drove back down to CR 314 I knew that the Florida Trail crossing wouldn’t be too far. I thought it might have been further down but it didn’t take long for us to arrive. Chris pulled off the side of the road and out we went, ambling north along the trail. It had started drizzling a little bit again and we weren’t prepared for any kind of long hike, so a short exploration was about all we could manage. Forest did want to continue hiking down the trail but we had to convince him we couldn’t go hiking down there. I remembered this section fairly well, it was sunny and rather warm when we’d walked through here on our thru-hike. We’d had lunch in a sandy scrub area somewhere a few miles ahead of here, where later we would have arrived to the 88 Store in the early to mid-afternoon.

I was surprised at how many of the plants I could identify but still need to look a few of them up. I think we all would have enjoyed a hike and overnight on the Florida Trail. Next time!

Life Lately | June 2018


Thinking:

Elections have consequences.

I’ve mostly stopped writing political things here because there’s only so much I can handle. Of course it seems pitiful to say that when others are going through some right shit while seeking asylum in this country. “Misti, you can handle the political BS because you are in a perfect position to do so. Suck it up, read all about it. You sit comfortably in a house you bought, with a child who goes to his room every night, and you aren’t fleeing political discourse and violence in your country (yet!). No child has been ripped from your arms and flown to who knows where with a government keeping poor records.”—says my smart monkey mind in the background. But, seriously, this government, it turns my stomach. I mean, really, Hillary was “the same.” Right? Right?? How’s that third party vote going for you now?

And now Justice Kennedy is retiring? Nevermind that President Obama was robbed of his nomination, Merrick Garland. If we had had him in place at least this would be a fair trade-off. But nope. Let’s just have an entire country run by the far-right with zero checks and balances. Sounds really damn great. Bleeping hypocritical Republican congress.

How long before Roe v. Wade is over turned? Gay marriage? *Insert other important social reforms here*

Dems: be sure you are registered to vote. Get your ass to the voting booths in November. This is no time to get all fancy with your conscience and wonder if someone isn’t liberal enough for your taste. You got to do that in 2016 (and 2000) and we all got screwed because of it.

I’m angry. I’m sad. I’m heartbroken for our country.

Gardening:
*pats self on back* Good job, self, for busting your butt in the flower garden before you left for vacation. It held up pretty well while we were gone so all I’m doing now is maintenance weed picking and other things throughout the week. My goal now is to get the edible garden back into a good state. It was looking good there for awhile but the flood in May washed a lot of the mulch around so I need to put new mulch on the paths.

Here’s my random list of things to do out there:

  • Trim back blackberries
  • Take out tomatoes in about two to three weeks and put fall tomatoes in
  • Finish weeding (for this round)
  • Mulch paths
  • Move remaining compost from left bin to the edible garden, put good mulch down in some perimeter beds
  • Spray fish emulsion
  • Put down more fertilizer because what I put down a few days/week prior to the flood probably washed away
  • Turn compost bin and start left bin with new stuff
  • Stake sunchokes better

I also need to continue working on the beds around Chris’ man-cave. If I still have good mulch left over I will continue using that. If not, will wait until the fall for more mulch.

Loving:

+This political ad for MJ Hegar:

She’s running in a district in Austin—I wish I could vote for her! And the Stones adjacent music in the background is awesome!

+Immigrants Welcomed via Lee Reich’s garden blog. It’s a post about gardening but also about well, current events, of course.

+The Big Reveal from the Obsessive Neurotic Gardener

+My Garmin Forerunner! Now, if I could figure out how to wear the Fitbit, too. Yes, I have another wrist to put it on, I just don’t like things on my right wrist. I tried it. It felt weird. And doubling up on my left hand left them clashing and buttons hitting each other. I liked the community on Fitbit and there’s just not the same community on Garmin—I’ve found two people I know—so I’d like to figure out how to wear them both. Just might not be possible.

Reading:
I went through a slump in late May and early June. I took things to read on vacation and then couldn’t bring myself to read in the car because I would miss the sights. But I’m back at it, slowly slogging through some books. Hope to get a book report up in July at some point.

I thought I had more to say tonight but really I was just needing to vent about SCOTUS and all the other crap that’s been happening. But at least Oklahoma voted to approved legalizing medical marijuana. That’s pretty huge for that state!

I’ll leave with this: Democrats must turn out en masse in November. Must. Vote early or vote on election day, but show up. Even if you are in the bluest state in the bluest county or the red-est state in the red-est county, show up.

William Bartram Tree in Volusia County


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After our visit to Deleon Springs, we headed west down SR40 towards Ocala National Forest. As we approached the town of Astor and the St. Johns River, I noticed a large live oak on the side of the road with a historical marker. Because we had nowhere specific to be, Chris pulled over and the three of us got out to see what made this tree interesting.

The rain had mostly stopped at that point, maybe to drizzle, so a photo op was merited. William Bartram and his father John, were noted botanists and naturalists in the 1700s. They explored a large part of the eastern US during those early colonial years documenting the flora and fauna of the country/colonies. William Bartram came to Florida in the 1770s to explore and seeing this historic location was rather exciting. It was easy to step back in time for a few moments to think about the rustic situation that would have been occurring in the wilds of Florida at that time.

If you find yourself driving down SR40 in the town of Astor, pull over and give the tree a hug! It’s seen a lot over the centuries!

More Information:
Bartram’s Travels in Florida via the Bartram Trail Conference
Spaulding’s Upper Store via UNF
William Bartram Information via the Florida Museum
History of Astor, Florida

DeLeon Springs State Park & Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant


*Note: if you view this via email or a feed reader, I don’t think the last post loaded correctly, the Forest Friday post. There’s a video in it and it wasn’t automatically syncing to play unless you went to the website to read. I do recommend going back and clicking through to watch the video because Forest is super cute as he explains his drawing.*

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Before our trip to Florida I saw Florida Hikes post about the Old Spanish Sugar Mill restaurant in DeLeon Springs State Park. Since Chris had wanted to visit some of the springs in the state during our time before Disney, I thought this sounded like a great place to go. I figured since we were going during the middle of the week that the wait wouldn’t be too bad and if it was we could take the boat tour on the lake while we were waiting.

As luck would have it, clouds began gathering as we made our way inland. By the time we arrived to the state park it had started raining and Forest had fallen asleep. Not wanting to wake him unnecessarily, I went in to see about the wait and get our name on the list if there was a wait. Inside, I found the place fairly busy for a Wednesday, and despite the rain there were people still swimming in the spring pool out front. We had to wait about 20 or 30 minutes which left plenty of time for Forest to rest a bit before we went in for lunch.

I loved the restaurant, it was really a fun experience! Aside from items like burgers and fries, you pretty much cook everything yourself at the table. I know, you could cook this at home, but its about ambiance and experience, right? I chose breakfast for lunch and Chris got a burger while Forest opted for his usual jelly sandwich. Yep, no peanut butter. The rain continued falling outside and even after our lunch experience we had to figure out what we were going to do. Our plans had been to do some hiking and maybe even swimming at the state park, possibly take the boat tour.

But the rain thwarted those plans. So, we made our way over to the covered picnic tables to wait the rain out a bit and to scope out their small museum. The rain wasn’t letting up so we ended up leaving the state park earlier than intended, opting to head west to Ocala National Forest for an afternoon drive.

Maybe some day we will return to the state park, however I’m glad we got to dip in for a minute to see a bit of historical Florida!

More information:
DeLeon Springs State Park: Florida State Parks website
DeLeon Springs State Park: Florida Hikes
DeLeon Springs State Park: Florida Rambler

Beachin’: New Smyrna and Canaveral National Seashore


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We had an early flight out of IAH into MCO on June 5th, so we were all rather bleary eyed when we landed in Florida. No one slept on the plane despite my thinking Forest might conk out mid-flight. No such luck. I think the flying was too exciting! I was excited, too! It had been four years since I had flown and there was a good stretch of time when I flew several times a year. I love to fly and to travel and not getting to do so now is definitely a bummer but maybe in a few years that will change again? That said, we were surprised not to have to take anything out of our bags or take our shoes off going through security in Houston. That was not the case when came back through Orlando, but it was pleasant not to have to deal with the hassle in Houston. The lines definitely moved quicker without all of that—my guess is Houston had more sophisticated equipment to scan everything.

When we landed in Orlando we had to get our rental car (more on that in a later post) and get on the road to New Smyrna Beach. It had been a long time since we’d been at the Orlando airport so I couldn’t remember where it was in relation to the rest of the city but quickly we realized it was not near the main part of town and we were on SR 528 heading east to the Atlantic with no place to stop for lunch. That didn’t matter, we were busy looking at the habitat on the side of the toll road and before we knew it Forest was asleep in his car seat. Oh well, onward to New Smyrna Beach.

I managed to fall asleep sometime after we got onto I-95 after lots of mental cussing of the Brazilian pepper on the side of the road. I thought Chris was nuts a few times when he said he saw Chinese tallow (Houston/SE Texas/Louisiana’s equivalent of BP) tucked into the side of the road but later on I saw one. Damn it. Snoozing peacefully, I woke up as we exited the highway and took backroads through Edgewater. And then we crossed the causeway over the Indian River Lagoon and we were in New Smyrna Beach. Quickly we found a place to eat, Norwoods Eatery and Treehouse Bar. I’ll be honest, the treehouse got us! We turned around after we saw it and went in and had a great meal! I definitely recommend it if you are in NSB!

After lunch we got to the hotel on the beach and changed into our swimsuits to chill on the beach for awhile. I do wish I’d looked into it a bit more because I didn’t realize this section of beach allowed car driving. I thought it was only the area around Daytona but apparently this area did too. Non-car driving beaches are one of the high points about Florida’s beaches and something I have a love/hate relationship with here in Texas. We made it work, though and enjoyed the time on the beach.

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One thing I noticed was that while the water was relatively clear, it was more of an olive-green color instead of the blueish color down in the Melbourne area. We later even noticed a difference just 10 miles south when we drove to Canaveral National Seashore. Chris and I took turns going out into the ocean while the other stayed with Forest up on the beach or splash zone. I managed to find a tiny seashore on a piece of sargassum. I saw it floating and didn’t really expect anything to be on it and was pleasantly surprised when I saw it. I took the whole thing up to the shore for Forest to see and then released it after. Chris thought it was a pygmy seahorse but as I have no photos I can’t properly identify it. I was thrilled to see something like that, though! There were plenty of fish riding the waves, too.

After dinner we drove down to Canaveral National Seashore to scope the beach out down there, hoping for a wilder scene. The goal was to turtle watch as it was prime nesting season but to our dismay the gates closed at 8pm. We only had about an hour and a half to see what we could and unless a mama sea turtle was out nesting early, our chances of seeing a turtle were nil. On our way in we did see a gopher tortoise, our only one for the trip. I was hoping for more gopher tortoise encounters but we didn’t get enough time in the right habitat for that. And our encounter with this gopher tortoise was short because immediately mosquitoes came out to feast and we ran for the car. Luckily the beach was mosquito free due to the sea breeze!

On the shore there was evidence up and down the beach of sea turtle nesting–posts marking the nests. This was exciting! Memories from our time in Melbourne watching sea turtles nest and my one summer of volunteering for the Sea Turtle Preservation Society came back. I loved doing all of that! We were probably a few weeks early for any hatchlings to be emerging and most nests we saw were within the last few days or week. Definitely too early for those.

We probably walked two miles down and back, maybe a little more. Wandering up and down the beach, scoping out the debris line, checking out nests for dates, and picking up millions of shells for Forest. It was a great evening to be out on the beach! And there were fewer to no people the further we walked—how I like my beach!

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The next morning we got up early for one last time at the beach. We were headed for the interior of the state later that day and everyone still needed more time at the beach. I don’t think any of us got our fill. Chris managed to see a sea turtle that morning (I think it was that morning, may have been the previous day) in the surf. Later, Forest and I watched from the balcony as a pod of bottlenose dolphins rode the waves. Forest really enjoyed seeing that! The hotel was really nice, almost like a small condominium. A bathroom near the door, then a long hallway with a bedroom to the side and then a living/kitchenette area near the balcony. We could have set up shop there for the week—maybe transport it to a car-free beach.

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I’m glad we went to a different area of the state we hadn’t spent time in before but I do wish we’d had the time to go down to Melbourne or even explore Canaveral NS even more. There’s so much to that area that we just didn’t get to see. Maybe someday in the future!

After the beach we headed inland to Deleon Springs State Park—and that will be my next post!

10 Days in Florida


Annnnndd…we’re back!

The three of us jetted off to Florida the early morning of June 5th, flying into Orlando, and returned on the 15th. Last year Chris’ mom announced she was planning a big family trip to Disney World and so I had a year to mentally prepare. For starters it would mean traveling with a 3.5 year old on a plane and what was that going to be like?, and the second…Disney World. I know some people go gangbusters for that place but it wasn’t high up on my ranking of places I was looking forward to revisit. Chris and I spent maybe 2 days there with his mom and step-dad when we lived in Florida and I remembered the Magic Kingdom being ‘meh’ but enjoying the sliver of Epcot I saw and I had good memories about Animal Kingdom, so there was that. And we decided that if we were going to Florida we would try to do a little more and go a few day earlier and spent some time doing some “Real Florida” stuff.

Despite wanting to go down to Melbourne and the Vero Beach area because those beaches are gorgeous and are familiar haunts from our time living in that area, we opted to stay north of Cape Canaveral because our other plans were to go to Ocala National Forest. We had three days before we had to be at Disney and jammed them full. So, we found a hotel in New Smyrna Beach for a night and then another hotel in Ocala for two nights so we could play in Ocala NF the other days.

Here are few quick photos of the trip but I’ll be back with more write-ups about everything we did, including Disney! I’ll just say, I still generally wonder why people flock there but I was really impressed with the resorts and most of the dining options as well as their rather exceptional transportation system (buses, boats, monorail). In all, we had fun, Forest had fun, and flying on the plane with a 3.5 year old was fairly smooth. Oh, I almost forgot the mini-adventure we had that I’ll share more about later—breaking down on the Florida Turnpike just after a toll plaza and hanging out on the side of the road for two hours waiting to get towed. Forest and I rode in the back of an FHP car for that one! Beaches, paddling, state parks, hiking, forest road explorations, Disney…it was a jam packed 10 days in Florida! More soon!

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A Taste of Summer


We’ve reached the time of year where any time you step outside for less than 5 minutes sweat will bead and roll down your body. For me, it’s simultaneously too much and glorious. I’ve always been a heat loving person but there are definitely times when the heat gets me down and a headache comes on from the oppression of it all. But if I spend most of the day out there I will typically acclimate and be set for the day and plan to just stink to high heaven by the end of it all.

I walked around the garden a few days ago and took a bunch of photos. I meant to write about what May’s garden looked like and while I still have some photos that I took I just haven’t managed to share them. Maybe there will be a look back at the spring garden sometime this summer. For now, here’s a taste of the early summer garden. I took far more photos than these but you will have to wait a few weeks as our vacation looms and other things take precedence at the moment.

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Gorgeous evening light in the side garden with the golden lotus bananas and agastache.

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‘May Night’ salvia finally blooming after a rough couple of years. I thought this plant was on its way out but it is now thriving again.

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Tropical milkweed. It’s been a rough spring on the milkweed as the milkweed beetles having been gorging themselves. Hopefully it recovers for the monarchs to return.

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Zinnias–finally! The only reason why: because they are behind the fence! Don’t you bet the deer have been sticking their noses through to nip the ones they can reach.

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Sunchoke flowers! (or sunflowers…because that’s what they are!)

1
Tomatoes! Finally enjoying a few of them!

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