PJ’s Backyard Adventures: Children’s Book Review


At the end of last year I was contacted to review this children’s book.  Anything introducing nature to kids excites me, so I easily agreed.  My little gardeners and I enjoyed looking at this interactive paperback.

PJ’s Backyard Adventures: Who is PJ?

November 12, 2014 by Rebecca P. Cohen (Author), Marni Penning Coleman (Illustrator)

Rebecca P. Cohen, the author of “15 Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect with Your Kids,” says she has created a fun, adventure book for children ages 2-8 years of age.  My little gardeners are now 5 and 8. It was too young for my 8 year old, but my 5 year old loved it. I think it would be perfect for preschool age children.


Cohen introduces her new character PJ in what we would call a children’s workbook. It offers coloring and writing pages, hidden sight words, and you can cut out your own PJ from the back cover!

My little gardeners loved bringing PJ out to our garden.  You can follow PJ online and see where other people are taking him as well!

The girls enjoyed reading and coloring the pages.  The words were the right level for comfortable Kindergarten reading.  There is a very nice pdf preview of the book available on Amazon.


While I thought the cost of the book a little high, I understand the cost of printing and then of course Amazon has to get their cut.  I like that this book helps children put down a screen and pick up some crayons, and I love that this book gets them to take a paper boy off into the world to explore nature!

Happy Growing!


Surprise Swallowtails

Last year we started milkweed from seeds hoping they would be ready for the monarchs this summer. We were thrilled when the six plants attracted tons of beautiful monarchs throughout the summer months.  However, we were pleasantly surprised to have swallowtail butterflies join in the fun!

I had harvested more fennel then I could make my family eat, so I decided to let some bolt and seed.  Little did I know the fennel would attract a handful of unique butterflies.

Florida is home to several species of swallowtail. I was never able to get a clear photo of the adults, since it was the larvae that surprised us.  I would have to guess that they were the Palamedes Swallowtail from studying them while they were drinking the zinnia.

Just like the monarchs we found the tiniest swallowtail caterpillars eating the blooms.

Then they would eat and grow, eat and grow.

Then unlike the monarchs, the swallowtail would build their chrysalis on the host plant, or just a few feet away.  This made it easy for the little gardeners to find them and witness their metamorphosis. 

Here’s two hanging in their “J” formation.

They were quick to metaphorize, and we often found the empty chryralises.  One wasp ate a swallowtail that was emerging.

 The little gardeners were amazed with TWO different types of butterflies in our backyard showing us their life cycles.  What a great summer with nature!

It doesn’t take much to excite a Florida gardener about Fall gardening!  Temperature cools off to the lower 90s, a few tiny green acorns on the oaks start to appear, and the raintree blooms yellow in the backyard… AND I have the fall gardening seeds purchased and the fall garden planned. 🙂   This week we’re sowing seeds and working hard, so our next post I will have photos of all our gardening fun.

May the wings of the butterfly kiss the sun
And find your shoulder to light on,
To bring you luck, happiness and riches
Today, tomorrow and beyond.
~Irish Blessing

Have a great weekend!


Monarch Mania

We were blessed this summer to witness the Monarch Butterfly life cycle. Our East Central Florida backyard filled with milkweed lured in dozens of Monarchs. They drank nectar and laid eggs. The eggs hatched and caterpillars devoured the milkweed…several times!

Monarch Egg, under side of leaf

First they are very small and like to eat the milkweed blooms.

Then they start eating…

and eating…until all the milkweed leaves were gone.

After getting about two inches in length they crawl away and build a chrysalis. 

Monarchs never build them on their host plants, and the chrysalis changes colors as the butterfly matures inside.

We watched wasp eat a lot of our monarch caterpillars.

We moved many caterpillars away from the vegetable garden to the other side of the house. For whatever reason the wasps never bothered the caterpillars eating milkweed on the northside of our home. On the south of the house, near the established garden, the wasp ruled.  

We watched monarchs die from starvation as well. My six milkweed plants couldn’t sustain the demand. 

When they do make it…it is such a beautiful sight to see a butterfly emerge in the early morning hours with wet wings! They would hang around and drink some nectar before flying away.

Our summer butterfly experiences taught us that the Monarchs butterflies are in trouble. They don’t have enough food!  Milkweed is the ONLY food the larvae will eat.  Humans have destroyed the milkweeds populations for their mass production agriculture, roadways, etc. For years milkweed has been sprayed as if it was a weed. 



If you live in the Monarchs migration path, you should plant some milkweed!

Please check out MonarchWatch.Org!

Happy (Wildlife) Gardening!


Ladybugs on Easter Sunday

For my daughter’s sixth birthday we had a little party, and one of the presents was Pink Spotted Ladybug larvae (coleomegilla maculata)!  Our oldest LOVES raising and releasing insects!  After a week or two of observing their life cycle, we released our ladybugs on Easter Sunday.

Ten little ladybugs arrived in their larva state. They turned yellow in their pupa stage, and then went still as they became adults.  One didn’t make it and one was released a few days after the others.  My oldest enjoyed giving them water and soaked raisins as they molted and became adults.

Things we learned during this experience: 

They really aren’t ladybugs, they are called ladybird beetles.

They will eat aphids, mites, and small caterpillars.

They can be found on the map from South Canada to South America.

They can be white, yellow, pink, orange, red and black.

And some species can have no spots!

It was better to release our ladybugs in the morning time, so after observing and feeding them for a week, we released them in the garden.   My oldest decided to share the experience with her two year old sister, and together they released the ladybugs in my two year’s old garden box. 

The girls ran back and forth to the garden all day and would find one or two ladybugs still crawling all around.   Our Ladybug Land is all washed and cleaned and ready to raise some more.

Happy Gardening!


Coloring on the River

While spending the day on the river, I brought along these very cool eco friendly crayons I purchased on Etsy.

Earth Grown Crayons are hand-made from soy wax. Crayons are 100% biodegradable and eco friendly and safe for young artists. Soy is pesticide and herbicide free, and contains no genetically modified material. Tinted with nontoxic pigments, each set is shaped in a design that celebrates one of earth’s treasures.  I selected the fish set for my little girls.

While on our day long boating adventure, we decided to picnic on one of the Intracoastal islands.  After lunch, I brought out the crayons to surprise the girls.  When they asked for paper I told them we were going to draw on nature today. We ventured off into the woods to find some nice pieces of palm bark and wood branches to color. 

While my husband fished and I read a field guide on identifying mushrooms, the girls colored on nature for hours!!!


When it was time to go home, we left the colored wood collection for the fairies. The little ones believe they would come dance around them at dark. 🙂

It was nice to know the cute crayons were both safe for the girls and the environment.