Biomes, ecosystems and animal habitats

Hello people.

Life is moving along.

Peter is recovering from his cornea transplant.

He’s been such a good and patient kid.


He still needs drops four times a day, but now only needs to wear this guard at night.

We’re wrapping up nature quest.


(Patrick playing in the creek at Cromwell Valley Park)

One more trail to go and we’ll be in the running for prizes at “Nature Quest Fest 2015” which is this coming weekend.

Learning goes on as it does.

During the month of October the littles and Pete are studying  biomes, first terrestrial and then we’ll take a dive into the aquatic for a week or two.

This week its a little bit of both with study of wetlands.

We’re talking about:

  • Climate: how it affects the specific ecosystem, the types of plants and animals that can live there
  • Biodiversity: examples of how everything relies on everything else
  • Adaptations:  how  animals and plant adaptations are suited to their habitat
  • Biomes: different types of ecosystems within each biome designation (rainforest vs. deciduous, salt marsh vs. swamp, etc.)

We’re reading about them.


We’re watching videos about them:


“The Magic School Bus Gets Swamped”



“Bill Nye the Science Guy: Wetlands”

For a social studies tie-in we’re learning about famous deserts, wetlands, grassland, forest and rain forests in North America.

This week we’re watching these videos:

Nature Wonders : Everglades USA

Realm of the Alligator (Okefenokee swamp)

Bee is researching and marking the famous places on our map of the United States.


Friday, the plan is to wrap up the wetland study with a visit to Jug Bay Wetland Sanctuary which Lily marked out on our Maryland highway map.




Huffing Felines and Project Updates


I hope everyone is enjoying their Friday.

Today is a kid free day, and also a day to get some work done, including caulking around the tub.

I know, I know, its a charmed life.

I can feel your jealousy from here.

It’s not always this glamorous.

This is mouse.


(picture of me, holding my cat, she wants nothing of it)

Mouse is a bit weird.

That’s ok, she fits in.

One of the things that makes her weird, is her enjoyment of inhalants and other substances not usually enjoyed by housecats.

She goes crazy over/tries to eat:

  • smelly junk mail, especially if  its sealed with rubber cement
  • magazines, especially if they have perfume inserts
  • glue
  • my herbal tea
  • new paint
  • coffee

As of today I can add bathroom caulk to the list.

I began to caulk and she ran into the bathroom with a wild look of ecstasy.

“I can has caulk??”


I shut her out of the bathroom.

Shutting the door made me feel rather light headed, but better that then having to explain her substance abuse issues to the vet.

She’s sulking now.

I should update you guys on some of our ongoing projects.

First off,

The closed terrarium


It.  has been sealed over  a month and as predicted is happy and has grown. There have been at least two generations of little gnats living in there as well.

Speaking of insects, next we have:

The pollinator garden

We’re getting quite a few insect visitors.

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The Bee Houses

Leaf cutter bees moved in next door to our  mason bees. DSCN0011

The mason bee make a smooth mud covering, while leaf cutter are lumpy.


sweet potatoes


We have several plants, all from one potato:



nature quest

We recently completed both trails at Oregon Ridge, and the trail at Marshy Point.  Here we are at Marshy Point looking at an Eastern box turtle spotted by Tessa.


Kevin, a new, and rapidly becoming a very important person in my life, took the above photo. I don’t blog about love. Maybe I should.

Anyhow, here’s the box turtle:


Marshy point has a neat nature center, that includes a free roaming duck.

That’s it for project updates.

Time to get back to the chores.

Enjoy your weekend. 🙂





Closed Terrarium Project

Our first closed terrarium (made out of a gallon juice container) stayed sealed for two years before the plant died.

This year we’re trying a glass container with a better seal.

Educational value can be found in a mini demonstration of the water cycle, discussion of plant respiration, ongoing observation, discussion and problem solving. Children of all ages can help out with this great and simple family project.


  • small rocks for drainage (3.99 USD)
  • sphagnum moss (2.99 USD for a very large bag)
  • activated charcoal (from pet store, I’ve had it so long, I can’t recall the price)
  • potting soil (varies, I used left over from our planters)
  • small tropical house plant with low to medium water needs, generously pre-watered (important, no other watering happens- 5.99 USD)
  • Glass Jar (got this one at michaels, 9.99 USD)

We started by  putting drainage rocks in the bottom of our jar.


then a layer of sphagnum moss to separate the layers.


then came a layer of activated charcoal. (keeps mold away)


and finally the soil and plant.


We closed it up and wrote the date it was sealed on a piece of tape on the lid.

If all goes well, it should last awhile, filling the jar and dying back a few times. Our previous one was kept in the kitchen, but this time we’re placing it in the living room.

There is already a good bit of condensation on the glass, before long it will trickle down to the soil.


I plan to do a one, three, six, and annual update if it goes as expected. If it doesn’t we can hypothesize about what went wrong and adjust for next time.


Have you ever kept a closed terrarium? How did it go?


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Oregon Ridge Nature Quest (Wednesday Picture Diary)


I think I’ll begin using Wednesdays to share pictures/what we’ve been up to.

Yesterday we traveled a half hour north to “Oregon Ridge Park” for a picnic, nature center visit, and Nature Quest Hike.




I love the tallness of the trees here. The general mood of the forest is a good one and the weather was perfect. On the edges, Mountain Laurel was in full bloom.


Our finds: Robin Egg shell, flowering bud, a snail shell. Spotted: chipmunk, frog, minnows

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Our hike (moderate/hard rating) involved several stream crossings and steep hills. The kids really earned this one.


Release the Frogs!

Happy Monday, and Memorial day/bank holiday  for everyone celebrating.

We’re on our final week of break before we start the new school year.


Time to get back to it.

We’re switching to year round now, but only 4 days a week.  My eldest and I managed that schedule for years so I know its workable.  It will, I hope, give me more open Fridays for writing.

As most of my weekends are kid free,I like to spend the lion’s share of them alone at home doing things I don’t usually have time for, and enjoying much needed solitary time.

Saturday my to-do list had :

  • write
  • groceries
  • release the frogs

Have you ever had that on a to-do list?

The  tadpoles from a week and a half ago developed into frogs quickly so I decided to not wait for the kids to come back to release them.  I grabbed the portable pet cage and drove them back.  Water is heavy so it was slow waddle from the parking lot to the pond.

A man out for a walk  came by, looking confused/interested. “Hello!!!!!:” I called super cheery (like “Flo” from progressive commercials level cheery) “Well hello!”

He passed without  another word.

I wonder what he was thinking.

Finding a good shallow spot I dumped them out and watched them. They were doing generally exploratory happy froggy things.

I began to think, will someone think I’m dumping a pet??

My plan, if so, was to defend myself saying “they’re indigenous,

indigenous (repeating for emphasis) !!! They belong here! And anyway -it was educational!”

No one asked.

I once raised non indigenous frogs from tadpole to frog.

Mr. Jackson and Mr. Jeremy lived rather long lives.

We don’t like to talk about what they did to Kermit.

I’d like to say its was science-y educational reasons but no, it was on my bucket list. I have a mental list of things I’ve wanted to do in my life. Raising frogs, butterflies, and chickens are on it. I’ve managed all three. I raised chickens back when I lived in West Virginia, from peeping mail order chicks in a baby pool to grown laying hens in a portable pen. It was generally rewarding save for the killer dogs and foxes.  One time we even had surprise llamas. Butterflies are much easier.

It occurs to me that my bucket list may be a bit unique.

As far as our spring project list goes….

  • The pollinator garden planned for this year is growing ever so slowly.  The seeds we got from Green Fest  have not germinated, save one unidentified sprout.  One type of flower is blooming. Itty bitty ants like it.


Another is getting ready to:


  • We’ve had more orchard bees lay eggs in the houses. I’m hoping we also get some leaf cutter bees over the summer.

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  • Our sweet potato are taking extra long to develop. I need to get them out in the planters and growing by June if there is to be anything to harvest by October.
  • I have the supplies for the new closed terrarium. That will be a step by step post when that is completed (some time within the week).

With Spring out of way, Summer plans are coming into view, which include

  • growing things in petri dishes
  • swimming at the waterfall/Patapsco
  • more nature Quest Hikes
  • keeping on with the Butterfly survey

Growing things in petri dishes is another bucket list thing, but at least I have the excuse of a teen studying microbiology.

Do you have a bucket list? (written or merely in your mind) What is one  you’d like to do but haven’t gotten to yet?  (comment below)


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Video! HCC Green Fest with Tess

Tessa and I are having a weekend of just the two of us while the other kids are visiting their Dad.

This morning we went to Howard County Community College for “Green Fest.”

It was crowded, and I am exhausted.

(Miss Tess isn’t in the least, she’s running circles round me this evening)

Bees and Butterfly, Green Fest and Fresh Air

Morning 🙂

“The blossoms were finally at peak this week – time to wake the bees!

Only two of the cocoons I ordered hatched. Even with following directions to the letter,

the rest were dead. 😦


Isn’t she the fuzzy-wuzzy-est?


ONE nest space has been filled.

It’s early yet though, we may have more activity from the mason bees this spring, as well as leaf cutter bees in the late spring and summer.

This Saturday we’ll get some seeds/native plants at Howard County Community college “Green Fest.” to work on our native pollinator garden.

As my readers know we spend time in several parks, primarily in Baltimore County and Howard County.  This year we’re participating in Howard County parks’ butterfly survey.

Our designated park is Font Hill.


Yesterday we had our first family butterfly walk of the year. It was a nice walk, even if disappointing butterfly wise. Do to weather, construction, contractors, waiting for phone calls, and unexpected trips to deal with unplanned headaches of paperwork, we hadn’t been out.

DSCN0026  fonthill7 fonthill8

We saw squirrels, Canada geese, a tiger beetle, minnows, tadpole and a garter snake.

We only counted two azure butterflies and they didn’t stop for a photo op.

Ah well.

It felt good to move.

Tomorrow Tess and I will be vlogging our trip to Greenfest. 🙂


A Week of Nature In the City

Happy Vernal Equinox!

Did you manage to “see” the eclipse? We’re in the wrong place for it.

Today is a good day  for a “week of” post. We made headway on our spring to do list.

Monday we hung up the bee houses, and Aidan put together the planter.


Pete is wondering where the bees are.  DSCN0011

Bee  built a hanging tiered water-er where the water flows from the top cup (in which a bean seed is sitting in water absorbent polymer) into the second cup (mustard seeds) and then into a third cup for collection.


She had quite a bit of polymer left over from the project so we started out beans seeds on the window with it as well.


Tuesday Pete and I bought dirt for the planter box and we started “Nature Quest” 2015. Three of us have colds, so we hit the easiest of trails- Catonsville’s  “Trolley Trail 9.” Tessa found a millipede and a red backed salamander.

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The frogs are singing:


Wednesday we put the soil in  the planter  and I realized I was one bag short.  I started working on the April Calendar (yes, am ignoring the fact we’ve got a bit of March to get through).


Next I need to check  to see what is happening in the homeschool group and plan for that. I also have a massive amount of documentation to write and a speech/paper to finish.

Bee’s radishes were looking radical!  errr. radicle. (not sorry).


Thursday the beans were also growing.


Nothing much “Nature-y” happened Thursday. We all have colds so I cancelled a visit to the park and we did other stuff, like playing “No Stress Chess.”


Today it will be snowing and or raining all day.

This means, likely more board games and Netflix documentaries.

I also need to clean the bathrooms.

I think a picture montage of that might just be a little too wild for this blog.





Little houses and Refrigerated Cocoons

Morning. 🙂

Our orchard bee housing is ready. As soon as the trees blossom we’ll hang them up in the back yard. We have three different types for the bees to choose from.

This one I bought.


Aidan made this one at a workshop.


The girls made this one out of a can.


I also received our starter bees. Even shipped with a cold pack two males  emerged in transit. One died, the other is hanging out in a butterfly flight cage. I feel badly for him. There is nothing  blooming for him so he can’t eat. Male orchard bees don’t live long after leaving cocoon, and like male honey bees, their main purpose is mating.


Poor dude. No food except sugar water and no female bees hatched yet.

These are the cocoons.


They are about the size of peas.

They are all in here until the trees bloom.


Till then they’ll be hanging out in the crisper drawer.

Can Spring Be Far Behind? Making plans.

Morning peeps.

Is everybody in the Northern Hemisphere nice and tired of winter yet?

For a blog that is somewhat (in an eclectic round about, sort of way) about studying nature in an urban environment , we sure haven’t been out much.

I could blame climate change and shifting weather patterns for making the temperatures unbearable, but instead I’ll do what many Americans do and say its god’s doing. Or at least A god’s doing.

It may come as a shock, but it’s not gay marriage and Obama causing the bad weather wrath.

It’s my fault.

I shouldn’t have called Thor a cheeseball that one time. Now he’s getting back at me.


I apologize to the earth for incurring wrath.  (but Thor is a cheeseball)

The temperature has risen a bit but winter weather, now mostly ice, keeps on. They are forecasting three to five inches of snow between this evening and tomorrow afternoon.

I’m looking forward to spring.

Spring  is an ideal time for botany and zoology projects as well as teaching general ecology and the interconnectedness of eco-systems.


  • Growing sweet potatoes

We’ll be growing plants  from slips starting in mid April and transplanting to containers outside in late May. It’s our second year.

  •  Beginning  this years “Nature Quest” hiking challenge

Assuming they are holding the quest again this year, we plan on starting the challenges earlier than previously.

  • Germinating seeds

This will be primarily for observation.  It’s the sandwich bag on the window method.

  • Creating a pollinator garden for the backyard

This may be  tricky, most indigenous plants are considered reportable weeds by the rat-obsessed leader of our homeowners assoc. I’m hoping that putting them in a raised bed with a sign that says “pollinator garden” will help me avoid fines.

  • Making new closed terrariums

Our first has died after remaining sealed two years ( not bad). T his time we’ll make two experimenting with layers organic material, worms maybe. We observe several natural cycles with this project .

  • Raising butterflies

It’s a fun/easy project for life cycle and adaptation.

  • Raising orchard bees

This is new. Orchard bees are docile, more hardy and affective pollinatorsthan honey bees. No they don’t make honey, but caring for them just may be the solution to world wide pollinator decline.  Right now we’re working on a few different types of housing to test out.

On the wishlist: I want a rain barrel.  We’ll see.  I hope to get to the year’s remaining entomological society meetings and learn about backyard insect surveys as well.