|Ralph's not the only gardener in the family (although he's by far the main one). Several months ago I planted young blanket flowers (gaillardia), which are now all grown up and blooming next to our house.|
Thanks to the successful stent implantation in February, Ralph is now bursting with more energy than he's had in years. He chose to spend much of that energy this month in the garden, which reminds me of how he used to be 40-some years ago when he planted and lovingly tended expansive fields of vegetables on Cape Cod.
|Ralph, circa 1970s. He uses the same pitchfork now when gardening except these days he wears a lot less clothing!|
|Me during the 1970s spreading seaweed mulch on one of our gardens except now I often wear a lot more clothes as protection from fire ants and other pesky insects.|
These days, in addition to planting, weeding, thinning out and picking vegetables in his existing container garden by the house, Ralph also spent time setting up a new container garden up the hill beneath a broad oak canopy. His hope is that by using a shaded location it will be cool enough in the summer to enable cold-weather crops like broccoli and peas to continue producing despite heat elsewhere. We'll know better in a few months how the concept works in action.
|Ralph used bamboo poles (of course!) to train the pea vines to climb up the fence in his new shaded container garden|
Next to the new shaded container garden, Ralph also set up two in-ground beds for oyster and king stropharia mushroom cultivation. He also inoculated a couple dozen oak logs with 1000 shiitake mushroom plugs and he's attempting to grow more oyster mushrooms inside using kits purchased through Fungi Perfecti. So far the indoor mushroom garden hasn't worked very well but he's still hopeful for the outdoor beds and plugs.
|A couple of the tools Ralph used to inoculate oak logs with shiitake plugs. The crockpot was used to melt wax to seal the plugged holes after they were drilled.|
|In the middle of a line of oak logs inoculated with mushroom plugs is one older log sprouting a shiitake mushroom|
|Once they start to develop, shiitakes grow quickly. Ralph harvested this mushroom less than a week after it appeared|
|So many new shoots...And how quickly they grow!|
My main obsession in April, however, was watching, photographing and documenting the progress of a family of sandhill cranes nesting on the lake. I discovered the sandhill cranes' nest back in March and marked the gestation days (30 - 32) on the calendar. On April 12, the first egg hatched and for the next 8 days, I photographed the baby bird on a daily basis. Unfortunately, only one of the two eggs hatched. The cranes abandoned the second egg a couple days after the first baby arrived.
|The tiny yellow ball of fluff on the left is the day-old crane already exploring it island home while mama sits on the remaining egg. A few days later, the parents abandoned the second egg.|
All went well during that first week but on Day-9, the entire family of cranes disappeared. To say I was upset would be an understatement. The same day they vanished, I saw my first alligator of the season so of course, I imagined all sorts of horrid possibilities. Luckily, none of them happened.
|Springtime (mating season) is when we usually spot alligators in the lake|
For whatever reason, the cranes left our property by foot (baby cranes can't fly until they are 70 days old) and wandered onto an expansive stretch of uninhabited acreage and canals that abuts our land. Although disappointed the cranes no longer lived where I could see them everyday, I was relieved to know the entire family was okay. In case you hadn't noticed, I get kind of attached to "my" wildlife.
Thanks to the cranes, I started rowing again so I could see them up close and take pictures. In April, I don't think I missed more than one or two days of being out on the water stroking my way from one end of the lake to the other. In addition to seeing the sandhill cranes, I saw all sorts of other wildlife from my seat in my 49-year-old aluminum rowboat (a birthday gift from my parents when I was 13).
Below are a few pictures from my rows:
|Pretty dragonfly on a reed|
|Great egret scratching an itch|
|Osprey in pine|
|Great-crested flycatcher on bamboo|
|I'm not sure if this wading bird is a sandpiper or a plover|
|Red-bellied woodpecker on dead pine tree|
|Screech owl in its cozy snag home|
|Ibis fishing in still water|
When Ralph and I weren't busy with our gardening or wildlife-watching projects, we were often out picking berries. Blueberries ripened this month and, although we don't have any plants growing here on our property, there's a great U-pick farm only 5 miles away.
|Enjoying U-pick with Trillian at Lake Catherine Blueberries in Groveland|
Other April activities included taking care of our rental properties. I found new tenants for one of our rented units and we entertained offers from buyers interested in purchasing the condo that Toby has lived in during his undergraduate time at UCF.
Toby graduates this year and will soon be moving to Gainesville to attend graduate school at UF. The math department made him a very nice offer that includes TA responsibilities in addition to his studies for his masters and PhD work.
Considering Toby's applications to grad schools, I found the first book I read this month, Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz, to be quite timely. I enjoyed Admission so much I encouraged Ralph to read it too. He did and then we both saw the movie, which was the first time in years we've gone to the movies! I didn't even mind (well, not too much) that the screenwriter took generous liberties with the storyline.
Two of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Berg and Susan Wittig Albert, had new releases this month, which I hungrily devoured.
Elizabeth Berg's novel is Tapestry of Fortune and Widow's Tears is the latest in Susan Wittig Albert's China Bayle series. Both were both wonderful reads that i highly recommend.
The fourth book I read in April was a debut novel by Jennifer Close called The Sweet One. I'm always so grateful when I have good books to read and I felt like I hit the jackpot this month.
One other accomplishment in April was setting up a Facebook page to document my many wildlife encounters. The page has the same name as my second book, Simply Wild - Untamed Wonders Large and Small. I hope you'll come check it out and join me on Facebook by clicking on the page's "Like" button.