In the Garden and More
By Catherine Dougherty of Royal Oaks Farms
Monday, August 23, 2021
Comfrey.... Miraculous Medicine
Monday, March 29, 2021
Tuesday, March 2, 2021
Monday, October 19, 2020
Fall Foliage... the Parting Gift.
The weather changed from Autumn to winter with the wind chill that roared in Saturday afternoon from the South West, occasionally twirling around to the North to utterly confuse us. Overnight Mother Nature has begun her seasonal foliage change which always provides a slow-moving breath-taking picturesque display.
Within a few weeks the Caddo Maples will
begin to change, reminding the gardener the first freeze will occur within a
week. They are unusual in that all of their leaves do not freeze-fall; much of
their glorious foliage, although crisp, remains tree-bound until Spring. Just
as their color change predicts a coming freeze, these last leaves foretell the
arrival of Spring as they are literally tossed from the tree when it is
expected to arrive. As the Maples had predicted last year, our first deep
freeze roared in early one morning and suddenly Winter was upon us… in a most
Trees lose their leaves to give additional
sunlight for warmth during the cold winter months and Nature has provided us
with a stunning visual as a parting gift. Although the following explanation
will be a vast over simplification, it may provide insight into the foliage
change. During the spring and summer, the trees use their leaves to collect air
and water to turn it into food. The process, called photosynthesis means
‘putting together with light’ so as the days shorten and daylight diminishes,
the gathering process ends. The leaf is no longer necessary to the tree and
begins its transformation providing breathtaking color for a brief moment in
The chemicals chlorophyll and carotenoids are
present in the leaf cells throughout the growing season with chlorophyll making
leaves the bright green color. As daylight decreases in autumn, chlorophyll
production stops and the chlorophyll disappears. With the loss of chlorophyll
the carotids, which have been there all along, become visible and display
lovely yellow leaf color. Lastly the anthocyanins arrive and take center stage,
ushering in the vibrant reds we associate with Autumn.
Anthocyanins, which are glucose, are singularly responsible for the brilliant hues of purple, crimson, and scarlet. They are a fickle lot, insisting on warm sunny days and crisp evenings to slow the closing of the leaf veins and trap excess sugar produced at this time… if the weather does not comply to their demand, lackluster reds are produced.
Shade and the foliage show are not all the leaves have to offer… their parting gift is perhaps the most important. As the leaves drift from the trees and collect below they continue to work by slowly decomposing. Over time this process adds nutrients to create a dark rich soil which nourishes the fledgling the saplings as they grow to become forest giants like their parents. Nature is always at work, regardless of the season.
Monday, October 5, 2020
Two Moons in October
Twenty twenty has been quite a surprising year to date. Of course, it would not be complete without something of Cosmic significance so we have a most unusual happening … the month of October has two Moons. We shall have 13 Moons this year, which is in keeping with the Native calendar.
Native Americans used the moon to tell time by counting from one new moon to the next, known as a lunar cycle. Native Americans assigned names to the moon for each month to keep track of the seasons. Each name is a symbol of what the moon meant to Native Americans by virtue of its use, guidance and influence in their daily lives.
Based on these moon cycles, the Native American year is divided in to 13 moons with each moon being 28 days long. The cycles of the Moon are presented as a message on the back of a turtle as seen below. All Native years begin with spring, the time of rebirth and travel with the cycle of seasonal weather.
Monday, September 14, 2020
More On Millipedes
Update: Last year I wrote about the ‘Marvelous Millipede’ and due to an unfortunate experience, I must update my article. The fact is they are quite poisonous. As I was scouting the woods with my grandson, we spotted one and I wanted to show him how they curl up when touched. This one did not curl so I picked him up to show Pierce his many legs. My hand immediately burned and I smelled and unusual odor so I dropped him. I had an orange liquid secretion on my hand and as I tried to rub it off with a fallen oak leaf, it continued to smear, now to the other hand as well. I rushed to wash it off with soap and water and it did not budge… simply burned more intensely. It stained my hands and lasted four days with nothing removing it. Alcohol, Witch Hazel, Aloe, even Comet were used to no avail.
Naturally I began
research and found alarming facts about them… and the key is ‘pede’, as in
centipede and millipede. Both have many legs and their defense is quite painful….
I have been picking them up after they retreat to their defense curl for years!
As I wrote last year, they are slow and steady, with their many legs moving in a tandem of perfect synchronization, they are truly an unsung hero of the garden. Their job is to take damp decaying leaves and mulch them into tiny pieces, making their work an ecological boon for the garden. They arrive in the house after a temperature plunge or fall rains.
They have been
mulching away since prehistoric times. Mr. Mike Newman, a bus driver and
amateur paleontologist from Aberdeen, Scotland found a fossil of a small
millipede in a piece of sandstone. He said, “I had found millipedes there
before, but this one had evidence of the holes that showed it actually
breathed“. Experts from the National Museum of Scotland and Yale University
studied it for months and concluded it lived 428 million years ago, making it
the oldest land creature in existence. The millipede was the first to crawl
from the sea and breathe air.
The millipede is a member of the arthropod family which account for over eighty percent of all known living species. Last year I wrote: Besides having wonderful translucent legs, millipedes possess the ability to curl in a fascinating cylindrical circle if disturbed. This habit developed possibly because they do not possess an ability to bite or sting so they are using their hard outer shell to protect their feet! I cannot resist gently poking one and watching it instantly coil and children are always amazed by the trick… we did not realize it is their ‘defense mode’ and we should beware.
*In closing, DO NOT PLAY with them…. carry them outside in a wash rag to a damp leafy spot and release them.
Monday, September 7, 2020
The Lynx Spider Sequence
I followed my Lynx in the garden for almost a month... from her professional manner of obtaining dinners, to her efforts to build her egg sac, to the birth of her babies and her frantic efforts to build a silken web 'playpen' to corral them. As the little ones grew, she began to lose weight and color. I found her lying on the grass a mere shadow of her former self as the little spidlets began to scamper away in groups of ten to twenty. I'll miss the excitement of checking her daily antics... she was fascinating!
Monday, August 31, 2020
The Dog Days of Summer
goodness the ‘dog days of summer’ are almost over. However, if you find
yourself feeling a bit 'off' it is nice to know the reason. Notoriously sultry
and unbearable, the name of these days occurring in the Northern hemisphere
originates from the star Canis Major or Sirus, the big dog. During late July
through August, Sirus is in conjunction with the sun, meaning they both rise at
the same time in the sky. This led to the ancient belief that the miserable
heat this time of year was caused by the star’s effect upon the sun, making it
hotter thus the 20 days before and after the conjunction are called ‘dog days’.
Regardless of the fact that the heat arrives now from the tilt of the earth
rather than the presence of Sirus, some 50 million miles from earth, the long-held
belief that the lovely star is responsible is still maintained.
It is easily imagined that the stars were a major influence on mankind before the night sky was obscured by artificial lighting and smog. Images from the pattern of the stars were drawn by ‘connecting the dots’ and each culture saw a different pattern emerge from such connections. From the Asians, Native Americans, Europeans, Persians, and so forth, each society created mystical explanations for the changing patterns in the heavens and the ensuing weather conditions. The star-pictures mapped in the night sky by our European ancestors are now known as Constellations.
Ancient people believed dog days to be an evil time so accordingly, a brown dog was sacrificed to appease the rage of Sirus. According to the famous Greek Phiny (AD 23-79) there was risk of attack by rabid dogs at this time so he suggested feeding them large quantities of chicken droppings as a preventative measure. By 1729 in the British publication The Husbandman’s Practice, survival was intent upon mans ability to ‘abstain this time from a woman’ and further to ‘take heed of feeding violently’. This handy guide warns, ‘The heat of the Sun is so violent that men’s bodies sweat at midnight as at midday’ and any illness may be worsened ‘yea, very near death’. By 1813 in Brady’sCalvis Calendaruim, it was said to be a time ‘when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers or hysterics. My grandmother warned that a cut will not properly heal in these days and to beware of a ‘summer complaint’ of stomach aliments as well.
Today Sirus appears several weeks later than in ancient times as the stars and constellations have shifted in relation to the Sun. Regardless of the cause of the heat, most certainly one must admit a feeling akin to ‘hysteria’ while still dragging hoses a nd waiting for Autumn showers.