Thursday, June 25, 2015

Epilogue to Balzac's Succubus... Advice for Turbulent Times

Epilogue to Balzac’s Succubus
Good Advice for Anytime... Lest you lose your head.

"I quitted the service of the church, and espoused your.

mother, from whom I received infinite blessings, and with

whom I shared my life, my goods, my soul, and all. And she

agreed with me in following precepts —

Firstly, that to live happily, it is necessary to keep far away from church people,

to honour them much without giving them leave to enter

your house, any more than to those who by right, just or

unjust, are supposed to be superior to us.

Secondly, to take a modest condition, and to keep oneself in it without wishing

to appear in any way rich. To have a care to excite no envy,

nor strike any onesoever in any manner, because it is needful

to be as strong as an oak, which kills the plants at its feet, to

crush envious heads, and even then would one succumb,

since human oaks are especially rare and that none of our family

should flatter himself that he is one, granting

that he be one of us.

Thirdly, never to spend more than one quarter of one's income, conceal one's wealth, hide

one's goods and chattels, to undertake no office, to go to

church like other people, and always keep one's thoughts to

oneself, seeing that they belong to you and not to others,

who twist them about, turn them after their own fashion,

and make calumnies therefrom.

Fourthly, always to remain in the condition of our family business, who are now and

forever drapers. To marry your daughters to good drapers,

send your sons to be drapers in other towns of France furnished

with these wise precepts, and to bring them up to the

honour of drapery, and without leaving any dream of ambition

in their minds. A draper like a Tournebouche should be

their glory, their arms, their name, their motto, their life.

Thus by being always drapers, they will be always

Tournebouches, and rub on like the good little insects, who

once lodged in the beam, made their dens, and go on with

security to the end of their ball of thread.

Fifthly never to speak any other language than that of drapery, and never to

dispute concerning religion or government. And even though

the government of the state, the province, religion, and God

turn about, or have a fancy to go to the right or to the left,

always in your quality of Tournebouche, stick to your cloth.

Thus unnoticed by the others of the town, the Tournebouches

will live in peace with their little Tournebouches—paying

the tithes and taxes, and all that they are required by force to

give, be it to God, or to the king, to the town of to the

parish, with all of whom it is unwise to struggle. Also it is

necessary to keep the patrimonial treasure, to have peace and

to buy peace, never to owe anything, to have corn in the

house, and enjoy yourselves with the doors and windows


"By this means none will take from the Tournebouches,

neither the state, nor the Church, nor the Lords, to whom

should the case be that force is employed, you will lend a few

crowns without cherishing the idea of ever seeing him again—

I mean the crowns.

"Thus, in all seasons people will love the Tournebouches,

will mock the Tournebouches as poor people—as the slow

Tournebouches, as Tournebouches of no understanding. Let

the know-nothings say on. The Tournebouches will neither

be burned nor hanged, to the advantage of King or Church,

or other people; and the wise Tournebouches will have secretly

money in their pockets, and joy in their houses, hidden

from all.

"Now, my dear son, follow this the counsel of a modest

and middle-class life. Maintain this in thy family as a county

charter; and when you die, let your successor maintain it as

the sacred gospel of the Tournebouches, until God wills it

that there be no longer Tournebouches in this world."

*This letter has been found at the time of the inventory

made in the house of Francois Tournebouche, lord of Veretz,

chancellor to Monseigneur the Dauphin, and condemned at

the time of the rebellion of the said lord against the King to

lose his head, and have all his goods confiscated by order of

the Parliament of Paris. The said letter has been handed to

the Governor of Touraine as an historical curiosity, and joined

to the pieces of the process in the archbishopric of Tours.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Solstice and Sedums

Summer Solstice arrived last Sunday ushering in Summer amid global celebrations. The longest day of the year, Solstice occurs when both sunrise and sunset occur respectively at the earliest and the latest time during the year. At noon the Sun was in perfect balance directly overhead and your shadow was not be visible at all. Those who are in tune with nature felt the Solstice and in spite of the heat, childhood memories of cloud watching, gentle breezes, and a walk while listening to the drone of Cicadas were recalled.

 As Summer continues with our traditional heat Sedums become a much cherished addition to the garden. They appear in almost every imaginable shape and form from Aloe to Cacti with their plump water filled leaves the only similarity. There are over 400 species of Sedums and those unique fleshy leaves are their secret to survival as they store water to use during extremely dry spells. These no-fuss gems are sturdy and dependable, needing only well drained soil and full sunlight. The Sedum is not susceptible to pests who are repelled by their stout leaves, preferring more tender foliage, however butterflies and bees are abundant about the blooms.

Easy to propagate, simply break a leaf or stem from the Mother plant, shove it into a hole the size of an index finger, tamp the soil, lightly water for a week, and it will start a new plant. Part of this amazing club is the all time favorite Moss-rose, Purslane, or Portulaca, which are one in the same. They may have either thin spiky leaves or small rounded leaves and flowers open each day from about ten to four. This low growing little plant will faithfully spread and flower from spring to frost.

Purslane was first introduced by to the Northern Hemisphere by Dr. John Gillies in the 1820s and immediately became wildly popular. Gillies had discovered plants near the Argentine Pampas and wrote “they grew in great profusion, giving to the ground over which they were spread a rich purple hue, here and there marked with spots of an orange color“. Further scientific development gave us additional colors and today and this precious little flower is available in the entire spectrum of colors, with sweet traditional or darling double flowers. Since they like it hot, it is the perfect time to add a few to the garden.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Fabulous Fireflies

The Strawberry Moon visible in the night sky has absolutely sensational, lighting the landscape making objects appear lovely and luminous. Our days may have become exceptionally hot but we are allowed compensation by our nights, which are something marvelous to behold. Besides allowing us to move about without the overhead heat, the night emerges with a singular life unto itself. If we venture out after twilight, one may enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds which belong only to the summer night. The melodic song of the Cicada, which sings when the temperature is about ninety, dies down as the evening cooling begins with dusk. Suddenly the fireflies appear, magically twinkling and lighting the darkness.

The firefly is a type of flying beetle that glows in the dark with tiny sparks of white fire. This wonderful insect appears in summer and only warm climates. Their abdomens contain five chemicals adenosine, triphosphate, luciferin, oxygen, magnesium, and luciferase which are bound by a chemical controller. As nerve stimulations release another chemical, inorganic pyrophosphate, the bond breaks and the reaction creates the light. Seconds later the light diminishes as another chemical destroys the combination. Since fireflies are one of the few insects that use vision to find a mate… male fireflies are drawn to true love by following the ladies flashing light.

Although they exist all over the world, many fireflies do not have wings. In Europe the female is called the glowworm because she simply sits in iridescent splendor. In Cuba, the beetle is rather large and has been used for centuries as a decoration. Women attach the beetle to their gowns or place one on a special golden chain as an ornament… and who wouldn‘t want such an interesting brooch.

An entire cave is dripping with glowing light in New Zealand and in dense tropical forests it is customary to attach the glowing beetles to the tops of boots to light the path for nighttime walks. In other places, the beetles are placed en mass in jars and give a continuous, though wavering light.

Summer is the time to remember childhood joys and share them with the new generation. From searching for cicada shells to store in a box under the bed or catching fireflies to hold in a glowing jar, childhood has a magical and memorable allure which may only be enjoyed on summer evenings. *Remember to release the fireflies after enjoying their light a bit.*

Photo credit: Catherine Dougherty

Video of Firefly love:

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Blue Wood Louse

With the rains, an unprecedented infestation of wood louse, aka: roly-polies, aka: pill bugs has appeared. In all sizes from infants to adults, they seem to be everywhere.... under every rock, in every potted plant, along every piece of damp wood within the garden.

They eat wood and fiber of plant stems, and a multitude of other chewable substances. They will literally destroy a garden, not to mention they can also cause the ruination of rail road ties and home foundations. They are a major problem, especially for organic gardeners.  However there is hope~

I have always depended upon observation to alert me to changes in the garden. Over the course of years it becomes apparent that some changes are subtle, while others are seasonal and appear quite suddenly. Thus it was with the blue wood louse and the morphing bagworms.

The Wood Louse (Armadillidium)
Children have always been fascinated by the wood louse (roly-poly) and observing and collecting them is a timeworn garden hobby. They have battleship gray segmented ’armor’ with multiple sets of transparent legs and boast the interesting habit of endlessly rolling into a tight marble-like ball. However they are not at all passive for they dine on wood in any hidden and damp spot in the garden, eventually causing massive destruction.

Last summer I observed a portion of them were a lovely sapphire blue. At first I thought perhaps it was the blue/green pellets in miracle grow they had eaten, however research indicates they are infected with a fatal Iridovirus named for the Greek goddess of the Rainbow, Isis. In March of 1954 Mr. Claude Rivers discovered crane fly larvae glowing with patches of blue and is credited with discovery of the phenomenon.

Apparently Mr. Rivers was unacquainted with the work of Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1862) who had noted it in his poem entitled:
The Blue Wood-Louse

‘Bite, frost, bite!
You roll up away from the light
The blue wood-louse, and the plump dormouse,
And the bees are still'd, and the flies are kill'd,
And you bite far into the heart of the house,
But not into mine.’

With luck, perhaps they will all become infected and die... at the very least perhaps they will feel sick.

My granddaughter Julia is totally fascinated by them~~~ in this video she is on a quest~

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The End of May

It seemed that April flew by this year but May has lasted an unusually long time, possibly due to the lack of sunshine. The record breaking rains have brought our drought to an end while producing unprecedented misery for thousands of people across the Midwest. It will take many years to recover. For the garden, the rains were welcomed with great joy as the early May flowers and shrubs began to bloom. As the dreary days continued and the lawns and plants became waterlogged, by mid-May the charm began to fade. Now at the end of May, many gardens are in a state of flux and it remains to be seen if they will be able to recover.

For plants that have become a gooey mess it will be wise to cut them back and wait for new growth in June. Many of the Amaryllis have twisted and fallen with the wind and rain so this year will possibly be a ’wash out’ for them. Stake all of the lilies for their blooms will become too heavy when drenched… if wind is expected simply pick them to enjoy inside.

Looking on the bright side, many of the gophers that were plaguing the countryside have lost their homes which have flooded and imploded and possibly many have drowned. The trees which were borderline have rebounded and the shade which will be provided this year will be incredible. The water lilies are in splendid shape and the resurgence of frogs will aid in eliminating the inevitable mosquito population.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Mosquitoes in May

The drenching rains have kept most of the bugs at bay, and only in the past week have they begun to emerge in earnest. With the rains, the most detestable of all insects has arrived… the Mosquito. This year we have had the perfect conditions for them to mature and complete their life cycle since mosquito eggs are laid in water and they must have it for the larvae and pupa to reach adulthood. The larvae are those squiggly thread-like black things jerking about in still water where they will become a pupa, which will then mature, float to the surface, and emerge a fully developed mosquito. Their lifespan is anywhere from several weeks to several months… they don’t live forever, it just seems so.

All mosquitoes are bloodsucking and as such, their bite will carry with it whatever the prior host had coursing through their blood. Their mouth parts (proboscis) are perhaps the most complex in nature and contain an electro process to find a vein and chemical to allow for straw-like blood flow… this chemical is the cause of the swollen, itchy, and often painful bite. If bitten, cut an onion in half and rub it on the bite for immediate relief.

Gardeners are basically pacifists so it is necessary to occasionally accept advice from 'The Art of War'… victory may be achieved only when one knows the enemy. There are ways to combat a hoard of mosquitoes prior to wantonly killing every beneficial insect with widespread and random spraying so please consider a natural deterrent. Dump all standing rain water… mosquitoes can survive in polluted water, brackish water and in puddles upon leaves; a creative mosquito will lay eggs in water left in a saucer under a plant.

They are attracted to humans from 150 feet away and prefer perfumed victims wearing dark clothing… possibly because they are not clearly visible on it. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, burning sage or rosemary over coals will repel them as will rubbing your skin with baby oil, imitation vanilla extract, or cider vinegar. (1 part Vinegar, 3 parts water in a spray bottle works well… spray as if it were a fine perfume.)

Looking at the bright side (no pun intended) of the deluges in May… our frog population, which had been in decline, seems to be in resurgence. The frogs, dragonflies, and Purple Martins are natural predators of the mosquito and will aid in eliminating them. Using natural deterrents to assault mosquitoes will assure our beneficial insects are not accidentally eliminated. 

Below: One of my favorite t-shirts. Read the caption....  it certainly rings true lately.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Solomon Seal Finally Blooming

With the rains, it is finally happy!

Grandmother's Garden Delights

The rains have created the most magical spring season in many moons… it is positively breathtaking this year. Each and every species is growing and flowering at an unprecedented rate to the delight of gardeners everywhere.

This year my ancient Deutzia scabra, which is planted next to the lily pond in dense shade, has performed beyond my wildest dreams. I discovered this lovely shrub next to the slightly dripping faucet in my Grandmother’s back yard nestled securely against the house between the solarium and the library. In such a location it received no overhead light or west sun and scarcely received sunshine from the east yet it thrived. My Grandmother’s gardens were well established by 1934, so it is indeed an old specimen and one of few who are completely happy living in the shade. We dug a small off-shoot then planted it in our garden where it settled in nicely, doubling in size every few years. To shape it and keep it manageable, it was pruned occasionally and always following blooming… pruning in the spring will result in no flowering.

This year my Deutzia is literally covered with small white flowers that dance along the branches amongst the tender green foliage. The bees are drawn to it and a very young and inexperienced lady Cardinal has chosen it for her nesting site, placing carefully chosen discarded plastic as the pièce de résistance of her décor. Waiting and watching her progress shall become a daily obsession!

Another heirloom gem is the Gallica Rose, which also came from my Grandmother‘s home She had a rambling white picket fence and these sweet roses danced along it, creating a living curtain of sight and scent all spring. The Gallica Roses are among the oldest cultivated species, dating back as far as the 12th century. They were a favorite of Empress Josephine and thus their name was sometimes changed to ‘French Roses’ in honor of her interest in them.

My rose is rather a deep burgundy with loose petals and a darling little yellow center. This year it became enthralled with the Redbud above it and began twining, slowly climbing to sweetly embrace the treetop branches. The surprise of this affection has been the source of much joyful anticipation each day… how far can my Gallica climb?

*Take a walk between the rains and discover the wonders this year has wrought… they are unusual, inspiring, and magical.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


The blessed rains have assured our surviving trees will recover from the drought… the countryside is now wearing a canopy of lush greed for the first time since 2010. With the flourishing foliage comes the promise of shade, which is a must by the time July arrives.

As the Sun begins to shine again after what seem like weeks of cloud cover it may be noted it is somewhat brighter than it was twenty years ago. This fact has left gardeners with the challenge of providing a future environment that is comfortable and shade is the keyword. When wandering through a shaded park or woods, it may be noted it is cooler than the surrounding countryside... the canopy of the trees absorb heat, never allowing it to reach the ground. In light of this, our shade trees have attained a treasured place in our gardens and this seems to be the year of the Cottonwood. Although many elderly Cottonwoods succumbed to the drought, those who remained have produced seeds in the most proficient manner… it appears to be snowing in the garden.

The Cottonwood is of the Poplar family and is a close relative of the famous Quaking Aspens. With a long life expectancy, many of the existing Plains Cottonwoods possibly saw nomadic Native Americans camping beneath them; they were considered sacred for their gift of shade and wood. Dugout canoes were made from the wood and forage for horses was found in the bark, which was also boiled for a medicinal tea.

As the American settlers traveled west across the treeless Plains, Cottonwoods were a source of joy for their shade comfort. Since many Cottonwoods grow up to one hundred feet tall, a cluster of them created an oasis in the treeless travel across the plains. Today, Cottonwood is most commonly used in making plywood, matches, crates, boxes, and paper pulp. Use as fuel is given unfavorable reports due to its lack of heat, however it is a perfect firewood to take the chill off a room. Although the Cottonwood is a hardwood, it has the rapid growth of a softwood, attaining height and breadth for harvest in under thirty years.

As with everything in the plant kingdom, there are pros and cons and the Cottonwood seeds are truly untidy. However when one hears the wind dancing in the leaves, gently whispering through them, this magnificent tree becomes magical indeed.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Shade Loving Caladiums

The rains have brought about so much growth in the garden this year. Trees which had been rather lackluster have grown literally inches over the course of a few weeks, providing shade in places which were formerly sunny. For newly shaded spots in the garden there is a plant choice who positively adores mottled to deep shade. The family of leafy Caladiums are the rock stars of shade… they are an easy to grow tuber who will provide vibrant color until frost.

Originally from the Amazon Basin in the rain forests of South America, they were first introduced to horticulture through specimens collected in 1773 in Western Brazil. The original plants were plain green leaves with random spots of red and white. Interest in this leaf was intense and exploration by two Frenchmen in 1858 resulted in four additional species. The Parisian horticulture circle began earnestly hybridizing the species and by the early 1860’s there were additional specimens available. Triomphe de l’Exposition’ and ‘Candidum’, developed by Louis Van Houtte and Alfred Blue, have maintained popularity since that time and are still available today. Caladiums were introduced to the United States by Adolph Leitze, a German living in Brazil, who exhibited his collection at the World Fair in Chicago, IL in 1893.

Once in the United States, Caladium production settled in Florida, and virtually all caladiums available today begin life there. Henry Nehrling began breeding and he is credited with creating many familiar varieties which are still popular today. F.M. Joyner, a postman from Tampa, was the next to hybridize and in 1937 he introduced an all time favorite, the ‘White Queen’. (Pictured above)

Of course science continues to race along and the humble leaf discovered in the Rain Forest has become a global sensation with over 2,000 varieties available today.

According to Dr. Dr. Robert Hartman, President of Classic Caladiums, ‘The color ranges from the purest white to the deepest red, and from the most delicate transparent bluish and pinkish-white to the deepest translucent claret, scarlet and purple. Some of the colors sparkle like precious stones; there is nothing in the whole floral kingdom that can compare with this brilliancy and beauty‘. His assessment of Caladiums is correct.

*Hybridization is the genetic alteration of plants to create a new species. This alteration is performed by dedicated individuals who spend countless hours in research… they are to be commended for giving us new species to enjoy each season. Now is the time to plant Caladiums for the soil must be 70 degrees or higher for them to begin growing.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Lovely Black Locust

The rains have turned the countryside a lush verdant green, allowing us once again to experience Spring in her best finery. For several years now, many guests in the garden have appeared lack luster if they chose to bloom at all. With no winter rains the leaves which fell in the fall remained brittle and sat intact upon the garden floor, unable crumble becoming broken pieces to nourish the soil. With the winter and spring rains they appear to have broken into tiny moist bits that have melded with the soil beneath them to produce the sweet scent of nourishment. The actions of Nature are indeed a blessing.

Among the hardiest of trees is the Black locust which is native to the southern Appalachians as well as the Ozarks, where grows well on slopes and forest edges. It tolerates dry inhospitable soils quite well and has long been a staple in forests.

It is scientifically named Robinia pseudoacacia for Jean Robin, herbalist to Henri IV of France, who introduced it in Paris in 1601. He had received seeds from religious sects in the Americas who believed they were the Biblically referenced ‘Locust and wild honey’ eaten by John the Baptist in the wilderness (Matthew 3/16). The tree planted by Robin in 1601 is still standing… the oldest living tree in Paris.

The bark of the Black Locust is strong and resistant to decay… woodpeckers will choose Locust above most other trees for a nesting site. With its fast and easy growth habit, its strength and durability, the wood has had immense popularity as a staple among wood workers for hundreds of years. It was used for tool handles, dowels and pins to fasten the planks of wooden ships, hubs for wagon wheels, and gates… accounts speak of fence posts over 100 years old which are still standing. The aesthetic appearance of the fine wood led to its use in furniture, notably tabletops cabinetry.

As a legume its seeds have the ability of fix nitrogen in the soil, and the leaf litter breaks down to produce elevated levels of phosphorous and calcium in the soil at its feet. Although the limbs do have dreadful thorns and the seeds are a bit messy the Black Locust makes up for it all with a gorgeous show of sweet flowers each spring. They resemble a lovely white wisteria and their scent is equally charming. Following the bloom, the shade will appear in earnest as kind shelter throughout the hot days of summer.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Morel Season

The rains have more than green-up the countryside; they have extended Morel Season! Celebrated among rural folks from Oklahoma to Minnesota, the magical, mystical, and utterly delicious morel is more than simply a mushroom; it has a cult following. Why? Perhaps because the season is so short lasting only a few weeks with the first onset of spring; perhaps because conditions of temperature and moisture must be met; perhaps because the palate remembers this delicacy long after the season is over; or perhaps because they have never been successfully produced on a commercial level. Regardless of the reason, the arrival of this edible gem is the cause of many culinary celebrations all across the country. Only the subtle French truffle is more eagerly sought than the morels growing in our own back woods.

The elusive morel is usually found in specific locations, many of which are jealously guarded by experienced hunters and often these locations are passed down from one generation to the next. Morels, originating from spores, are found in clusters among fallen leaves under dying Elms, in abandoned apple orchards, under Sycamore or Ash and near decaying stumps. The morel requires a host, preferably a dead or dying tree, in order to produce.

Morels are a genus of the edible cup fungi and the highly porous ascocarps are the prize. It is said that collecting morels in a porous bag helps spread the spores, but this has never been scientifically proven. Morels are a delicacy that commands a hefty price of $20 a pound if found for sale, which is rare as most morel aficionados prefer to eat their finds rather than sell them. Dried morels are available, however much of the flavor and texture is lost in the process.

After a successful hunt, the mushrooms should be soaked in salted water overnight, if one can wait that long. The soaking kills the tiny micro bugs and critters that live on the mushroom. The traditional method of cooking includes patting them dry then rolling them in a mixture of (optional) beaten egg, flour or cornmeal or a combination of both and frying them in butter. Since margarine is one molecule away from plastic, it does not allow for as robust flavor a ‘real’ butter.

There is no better way to enjoy the arrival of spring than a walk through the woods on a fine day. Add the pleasure of searching for morels, an adult version of an Easter egg hunt, and you have a perfect day followed by a perfect meal. Happy Hunting

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Magnificent, Magical, and Versatile Verbena

Sunday was a perfect Day... spring arrived! For anyone who has access to a baby born last spring or summer the joy of introducing a little one to the great out doors is immeasurable. Sockless tiny toes placed on the first soft green grass... crinkling, curling, footie-feeling fun.

As we begin deciding what we will add to the garden this year, consider an old fashioned Verbena. Blooming in sweet flowering clusters of pink, blue, lavender, Verbena has all of the charm of its cousin Lantana, but none of the poisonous properties. Growing fuss-free in dry sunny spots, it requires only a weekly watering and will send tendrils over the edge of a planter or spread nicely while tucked in a crevice of the rock garden. Although not highly scented, Verbena attracts a host of bees and butterflies as it blooms from Summer through Fall.

Verbena has stood the test of time and is mentioned in ancient texts which speak of her medicinal, mytological, and symbolic properties. Verbena is mentioned in Eyptian text which write the flower sprang from a tear of Isis, the goddess of Fertility ,and with that connection it was been used since that time to treat women's issues. The Greek Hippocrates wrote a decoction of Verbena acts as an antiseptic and cures gum disease. *A decoction is made when a plant or herb are boiled in water to release its chemical properties. A decoction may also be prepared by placing the herb in oil, allowing it to steep (set) for several days... Verbena becomes vervain when decocted in oil. Vervain is used today in perfume, hand creams, lip balm and flavors the famous green liqueur from the region of Le Puy-en-Velay, France. Scientists are currently researching it as an ingredient in new medicinal compounds as well.

Perhaps because of its hallucinogenic properties, Verbena has long been associated with magic. Native American tribes have used it to induce visions to 'the other side'... which I do not recommend. It has been popular for centuries as a charm against evil and was used an offering on Roman altars. It is one of the herbs engraved on Italian folk charms which were traditionally hung above a baby's cradle. According to writer John Aubrey in 1721, 'Vervain and Dill / Hinder witches from their will' and by 1870 Jean-Baptiste Pitois was using it to make a charm against evil spells.

Most recently, it has emerged in popular culture through the series of novels 'The Vampire Diaries' where vervain is used to protect humans from vampires. In Volume II, The Struggle', Stefan tells Elena to rub the oil from the seeds on her skin, bathe in them, and sleep with a sprig of Verbena under her pillow to keep her mind clear from vampire induced visions or enchantment.

Symbolically Verbena given as a gift is an expression of love and often they were planted asking for prayer. It is a magical, marvelous plant; perhaps one needs to plant it by the garden gate... just in case

Monday, February 23, 2015

Pistachios... the Perfect Nut

As we noted last week, winter was not yet through with us... it was simply teasing us with warm weather last week. The storms that have arrived with a venomous velocity certainly took their toll on travel. From Dallas to Atlanta as far North as Providence Rhode Island, travel by road, train or plane was at a standstill. It is to be expected this time of year, and hopefully after the next bit rolls through on Friday, we will have a calm entrance to the lovely month of March.

As mentioned in the Bible, there is a time for every purpose under Heaven, and thus it is with nuts. Nuts arrive right on schedule as the last Fall harvest ends and the landscape falls barren until the arrival of the earliest winter proof edibles. To sustain mankind over the rather dismal months of winter, Nature was kind enough to present us with a hardy and highly nutritious meal encased in a protective shell. From Pecans to Walnuts, Cashews to Almonds, Peanuts to Cashews, there is a flavorful nut for every taste.

Nuts are actually considered a fruit encased in a hard shell. The frost proof shell is imperative to keep the fruit safe from harm as most nuts mature in late fall. The nutritional value is limitless and the culinary fun of choosing and then opening a tasty gem is marvelous.... they will add unique flavor to almost any meal or desert.  Thursday is National Pistachio Day so we should all enjoy some in grateful recognition of this ancient fruit.

Pistachio trees are said to have originated in Syria and traveled through the Middle East and Central Asia to all parts of the world where temperate climates exist. Part of the Cashew family, the Pistachio is considered a delicacy and is part of the weekly diet of those living in Iran, Syria, Turkey, Greece, Egypt, India, and Italy. California produces world famous Pistachios and is second to Iran in production. In 2013, the City Council of Avenal, California, proclaimed the city to be the Pistachio Capital of the World.

Seed opening tools and remains of Pistachio seeds have been discovered dating back 78,000 years in Israel and they were among the plants in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in in 700 BC.  The Pistachio is one of three seeds mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 43:11), with the almond and walnut mentioned as well. Pliny the Elder, a favorite for his observations, mentioned in his writings they were brought to Greece by a Roman Proconsul to Syria in 35 AD and by the 6th century, Monastic manuscripts indicate they were well known in Europe as well.  

The internal kernels are often eaten whole, either fresh or roasted. Delicious Pistachios are used in ice cream and the Italian desert, spumoni, and the Russian baklava use them as a base... the list of uses for this delicious, delightful little nut is endless. In July 2003, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first health claim specific to seeds lowering the risk of heart disease... the pistachio became famous overnight. Happy National Pistachio Day!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Kitchen Renovation Project

It's completed with exception of minor touching up. It is updated and functional for another thirty years! It was quite stressful having everything in disarray, but it is worth it.

Before and During:
Old Formica

Dishwasher installation

Cabinets being painted

Monday, February 16, 2015

Feed the Birds... and Wait for Spring!

The predicted blizzard has come and gone without giant velocity; hopefully everyone took heed and were prepared to stay inside for a few days. The North East half of the nation is experiencing terrible weather conditions with record breaking snow fall accompanied by hurricane force winds. To be classified as a blizzard, there must be snowfall, regardless of how much, accompanied by winds of at least 35 MPH for at least three hours. They had winds up to seventy miles per hour in some places and the accumulated snow will take many months to thaw. I lived in Connecticut for one of the record breaking winters, and by the time of the April thaw, the snow had become a soggy black mass from auto pollution and muck. Our petite amount of snow was perfect for tossing out poppies to assure their growth.

Everyone watched the gray sky and the approaching cold front since our sweater weather was slated to plunge. And by late afternoon the winds picked up their pace and people were rushing to be inside. The early cold raindrops suddenly changed sleet pellets, which clung in frozen digits on the side mirrors of passing cars. Indeed for a few scant moments, it was oddly interesting to see rain drops and sleet falling simultaneously. The winds began and could be heard howling, their voices predicting the inevitable power loss from which we were spared this time. An interesting fact is that OG & E reports it takes only 1/16th of an inch of ice on lines to cause a power outage... and loss of electricity, quickly dashes any sense of Valentine romance. 

 All day on Saturday and Sunday the birds instinctually knew of the impending storm… they were at the feeder the entire day, stocking up as it were. Many of the birds had begun building nests during the balmy spell last week so they quite possibly are in shock. This is the time it is important to feed them for the duration of this bad weather so they remain healthy. A mixture which contains cracked corn is excellent since eating corn produces a higher body heat than other feed and will keep our feathered friends warm.

Rajah seemed tired of the wind~

The outdoor Geraniums that are currently being housed until spring were in shock when they first arrived inside so many lost leaves and produced lackluster growth with the change of their environment. For months spindly stems and pitiful blooms have made them appear half their former selves as they impatiently wait to go outside again. However if one looks closely, the tiny new leaves that are being called forth appear robust in form and color. It is time to prune them so the energy lost in futilely attempting to keep the old growth alive may be transferred to the new. Drastically pinch back your plant, removing small yellowing leaves, old unhealthy growth, and bare stems. The Geraniums will appear unsightly but by the time to take them to the garden, they will have totally recovered from being a boring houseplant and will be ready to bloom their hearts out for you.
Stay warm... each day we are closer to Spring!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Stories from my Childhood for Lize and Julia

Julia and her brother Evans         

 When I was keeping Julia yesterday, after our walk, our excursion to the creek, and our quest to gather walnut shells, we became rather tired. I took her to my rocking chair, pulled her into my lap, covered her with a quilt, and asked if she wanted to hear a story of when I was a little girl. She did indeed and listened raptly, wanting to hear more and more of them... I told her stories for over an hour as we rocked and rested.

Here is one of them:
I used to visit my neighbor whose property was behind my parents on an acre... it belonged Marynette Thompson and her husband Phil, who was an attorney. There was a small gate leading from my backyard to her orchard so as little girl, I was allowed to wander through it to visit. She was always pleased to see me and would offer me either breakfast or lunch according to the time of day.

Her elderly parents lived in adjacent rooms upstairs with a bathroom between them... they never ventured out. Both were in their mid to late 90's and I found them fascinating. I called them Pappy and Mammy Ross, and although they were rather hard of hearing, we managed to converse quite well.

Pappy Ross used one of those old fashioned bull-horn type things he would put in his ear if he was particularly interested in something I was telling him. He had been a country doctor and he would tell me stories about making house calls, often in the dark of night, in his horse and buggy... the adventures he had riding about in the wild Indian territory at the turn of the century were wonderful. He also told me his famous quote: 'Catherine, medicine is for giving, not for taking', which I took to heart at age seven so I rarely take medicine even now.

Mammy Ross was tiny and frail but her busy hands were never still. She was always doing some sort of sewing or painting. She had an ancient scraggly green parrot that actually said 'Polly wants a cracker'... but he was incredibly scary and rather cross on a good day. She made me a china doll with a beautiful face she had painted for my eighth birthday. She had a full wardrobe of dresses, bonnets, and pantaloons... I still have her.

Miss Marynette had a two tiered lily pond with a waterfall and huge goldfish in the bottom pool... it was the first one I ever saw and I'd spend hours watching them. Sometimes she would let me feed them a few stale bread crumbs and they would eagerly gobble them up.

When I was a little girl I wandered the neighborhood a lot, visiting the retired folks who always seemed glad to see me. It was a safe and blessed childhood and I was extremely fortunate to have had it.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Language of Flowers and Valentine's Day

"The Pink Rose symbolizes lesser affection than the Red Rose"      
The spring and summer weather over the weekend and into the week has allowed the gardener time to do some much-needed watering. It is always amazing that the slightest moisture immediately brings green to life and the misty rain last week woke the wheat. The tiny tips of the optimistic early bulbs are emerging in a such brave and stalwart manner as though spring is here to stay, which we all know is untrue. However since they have anti-freeze within their internal makeup, even though a winter cold snap will nip them, they will be the first to bloom.

Filling the void between the holidays and spring, Valentine's Day is a delightful interlude for on this one day the enchantment with flowers reigns supreme. February fourteenth was originally a celebration by the Church honoring several early saints named Valentinus, however in the Middle Ages the date became associated with Love.

As new flora was discovered in far away places flowers took on special meanings so a trend of the day included writing of the 'Language of Flowers'... flowers spoke to the public in an ever-popular symbolism. Flower symbolism had been used by the Japanese, Chinese, Arabs, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, the Bronte sisters, and many, many more, however Joseph Hammer-Pugstall's 'Dictionnaire du language des fleurs' , written in 1809, took the trend to a new level and appears to be the first published list assigning flowers with symbolic definitions. The first dictionary of floriography appeared in 1819 when Louise Cortambert wrote 'La langage des Fleurs'

In her dictionary flowers were assigned symbolic and emotional characteristics, such as the one assigned the Rose. *The deep red rose and its thorns symbolize the intensity of romantic love or the trials of Christ, pink roses imply lesser affection, white roses suggest virtue and yellow roses deep friendship. The black rose is associated with death or dark magic. It also characterized he folding foliage of the Mimosa as a symbol of chastity, the Lily of the Valley was representative of a chaste nature, and so forth. With a meaning for every flower, often one suiting its nature, it is quite a fascinating study.

Armed with floral dictionaries, the Victorians exchanged small bouquets or floral arrangements which sent a coded message to the recipients. This allowed them to express feelings which were discouraged in a society that feigned public displays of affection. These arrangements secretly spoke volumes and those familiar with the code readily, and joyfully, read the messages. By the mid-eighteen  hundreds, there was no better day to declare love than Valentine's Day, which became the occasion when family, friends, and lovers express affection through flowers, confections, and cards.

Happy Valentines Day... remember to tell someone you love them.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Beguiled By Begonias

Winter arrived Monday morning with unexpected temperatures in the teens accompanied by a frosty wind.  Naturally Punxsutawney Phil, the Pennsylvania Groundhog, predicted six more weeks of Winter. The fact a groundhog is the principal seer, the most-wise consultant, is a bit silly, however the well respected Farmer's Almanac had also predicted a harsh winter.

Perhaps 2015 will be the year of the Begonia, a large family of most interesting plants. The Begonia was commonly thought originate Brazil,  however history has shown  the Chinese used them medicinally as early as the 14th century. Uses varied from disinfecting wounds to reducing swelling, and easing the symptoms of a cold. Often the sap was used to stop a tooth or stomach ache or cure a kidney ailment, . The first documentation of their discovery was by a Franciscan monk, Charles Plumier, who found fibrous begonias in Brazil in 1690 and shipped them back to Europe.

Since Begonias originate in tropical regions they require warm temperatures to flourish... their favorite habitat is the forest where they thrive at the feet of the old growth trees. Therefore, the gardener must attempt to duplicate those conditions for them to do well... deep shade, nice mulch, slightly moist soil are perfect for them.   

The most popular Begonias belong to the tuberous family who thrive nicely in a container. Since shade is a requirement, while container-bound they may be easily moved as garden shade changes during the course of the season with the journey of the Sun.

Wax Begonias are among favorites for summer garden plantings as well. A member of this group is the fantastic 'Dragonwing' Begonia, who has larger leaves and flowers than her normal counterparts.
In considering Begonias remember to include the most interesting of all.... the amazing 'Escargot', with intriguing multi-green leaves which swirl about into a small circle at the leaf center. She may grow to be an extremely large tropical plant and is indeed a show-stopping focal point in any garden setting.

Most begonias are easily propagated by from stem cuttings. After cutting sections plant them in a potting medium and if tenderly checked, soon small wispy root tendrils may be seen... baby Begonias are being born! By performing the simple process of propagation, you may easily increase your number of Begonias without the cost of purchasing additional plants. 

Photo: Escargot Begonia via Douglas E. Welch

Monday, January 26, 2015

All You Wanted to Know About Crows

Not a pretty bird, nonetheless he is impressive.

The snow storm of last week dumped over ten inches on Dill City and but a smattering in Piedmont... for once the weathermen were correct. The winds have been rather horrific, with Sunday producing fifty-three mile per hour gusts... it was a hang-onto-your-hat kind of day. This week promises mild temperatures, however it is simply teasing us; expect winter to last at least another month.

The gathering of crows is impressive this year as they may be seen quietly perching in trees by the hundreds before suddenly mass-flying in a graceful circular dance. These communal social gatherings are called a roost and some may contain thousands during the non-breeding winter months. During the breeding season, Crows tend to congregate exclusively among their extended family, which may include many generations.

Crows mate for life and they have a very long life span... the oldest on record lived to almost thirty years. The female incubates the eggs, however her mate will bring her food and guard the nest when she leaves for short excursions. It has been noted that frequently a younger cousin may slip in and sit on the eggs or nestlings, which is a sign of their close family ties. 

Crows are considered to be among the world's most intelligent animals with an IQ approaching that of  apes. They are capable of tool use and construction, often picking up twig to dig grain from a bale. Crows have been noted to engage in feats such as air sports and they have the ability to hide and store food across seasons, placing grain in carefully selected crevices. They have a memory which recognizes individual faces and habits of humans and use experience to predict the behavior of those they encounter. If one has been kind to a Crow, he will remember you just as he will remember if you have not. If one splits the tongue of a young crow, he may speak perfectly, answering questions correctly, and he may even count to five.

Naturally there are mythological stories of the Crow and they rank among the most prolific, with tales from all parts of the world transforming them into magical supernatural beings ranging from a hero to trickster. It has been said the Crow or Raven was the principal envoy of the Maker of Life, Odin and Apollo; one served or defied the Wind, the Lords of Death, and Satan. They were said to have brought the sun, stars water, tides and humans into this world. The Crow was believed to guard the fortunes of England and thus they were kept in the Tower of London. He is included in two of Aesop's Fables... the stories of the Crow's interaction with humans are endless and span every past or current religion or belief.

Farmers may lament the crow for his habit of stealing grain, however we must remember to thank them for taking over an unpleasant task since our carcass-cleaning Vultures have migrated. During this leafless time, the gathering of Crows are easily visible so enjoy their majestic flights this winter... they are truly an amazement.    


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Our Sunrise

Our morning sunrise was spectacular... it is exactly the reason I live in the middle of nowhere. No sounds but the birds and the wind, no cars or trucks moving along the roadway, no bustle at all this morning. Have a great day!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Allergy Medications 101

Cedars are pollinating, and everyone seems to be feeling the effects. If symptoms become too much to bear, allergy medications are in order. Here is a simple explanation of them...

Allergy Medications 101
Medications for Allergies~  For basic relief, take an antihistamine. There are many kinds of antihistamines, most of which do not require a prescription. The antihistamines that have been around for a long time are called first-generation antihistamines. These have been used for many years and are considered very safe and effective. Some of the best-known ones are Benadryl, Demeaned, Chlor-Trimeton and Zirtec-D. The main negative to these antihistamines is that they cause most people to become sleepy, however the effect may be modified if one takes a low dose headache remedy containing caffeine, which combats the drowsiness with no ill effects. A decongestant such as Sudafed opens up the nose, makes breathing easier, and reduces the amount of drainage from the nose.

The decongestants tend to be a stimulant for many people, and when they take a combination of antihistamine and decongestant, the decongestant helps to counter the sedating characteristic of the antihistamine. If you can successfully use the first-generation antihistamines, they are much, much cheaper than the new second-generation antihistamines.
The second-generation antihistamines such as Allegra and Claritin do not cause drowsiness, but are much more expensive with Allegra requiring a prescription.  Loratdine does not require a prescription, is easily available, and the site suggests it as one of the first things to try when having allergy problems.

The Winter Sun

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Year in Retrospect

As gardeners, each season is met with hopeful enthusiasm, enjoyed in its fleeting passage as we await another garden phase. In winter the above-ground garden rests, however below ground it is busily preparing for the life-spring which will arrive as the days lengthen and the soil awakens. For this reason the winter season requires watering on occasional warm days for despite the sprinkling of snow last Saturday the garden is quite dry; snow simply does not supply the required moisture. Remember to turn off the water before the evening temperature drops; we once forgot and found a horrifying frozen waterfall covering the entire garden the next morning.

In retrospect the past year was most interesting, highlighted by the welcome break in our drought. The blessed rains which arrived in surprising intervals during the course of the entire year helped restore our countryside… native grasses which are usually spent in the dry heat of July, remained a vibrant green until frost. This year wildflowers were able to complete their life cycle, spilling rain-soaked seeds of future flowers on moist ground rather than dust… thus giving the promise of a lovely spring. The trees were washed clean, the streams were filled, and minnows once again appeared in the creeks. It was a restoration… the kind of year we will joyfully recall when more difficult years arrive.

The temperature fluctuations were unusual as well. It was hot/cold, hot/cold… as though Mother Nature was perhaps a bit menopausal. The spring-like conditions occurring weekly until mid-December, fooled many tree who began to prematurely bud only to be jolted into reality by the sudden freeze. With the deep-freeze which arrived last Monday, they will truly become dormant while waiting for spring. And the freeze is exactly what we needed to thoroughly kill many pests who were warmly relaxing in the debris left behind in the garden.

Dreary days may continue for several months, however the gardener may look forward to gardening catalogues which will begin arriving January first. They are porn for gardeners… tattered and dog eared, they are read over and over with longing and lust. As a surprise to yourself, plan on ordering something totally outrageous in the coming year then just enjoy the experience of watching it grow! Happy New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Amazing Amaryllis

The afternoon of the past dreary Sunday was punctuated by the Winter Solstice… that moment in time when the promise of Spring emerges as each day becomes longer. Our question for December may well be “Sun, Sun, where art thou?”

The Queen of all bulbs, the exquisite Amaryllis, is now making an appearance everywhere. She is traditionally a guest at Christmas celebrations, and with good reason for historically speaking she has quite a colorful reputation.

As serious exploration began in the 16th and 17th centuries, botanical specimens were among the most coveted acquisitions brought home to Europe. Consequently even today there remains controversy over exactly who discovered the Amaryllis and from which continent it originated. Botanical debate claimed it was from Africa while other botanists insisted it came from South America. Regardless of origin, this exquisite flower had an immediate cult following and legend arose to explain her deep scarlet color.

As with so many of our flowers, Amaryllis has both Greek and Roman lore attached to her and the poets Theocritus (3rd century BC) and Virgil (70 BC) both wrote she was a shy nymph of great resolve. Amaryllis fell in love with a popular shepherd reputed to be as handsome as Apollo and as strong as Hercules; he was a rock star of the day and unimpressed by her attentions. Hoping to quell her embarrassing adoration, he gave her the impossible task of finding him a flower that never before existed. Amaryllis consulted the Oracle at Delphi and was instructed to walk to his home and pierce her heart with a golden arrow, allowing her blood to flow. For thirty nights she did so and from her spilled blood the flower with crimson petals appeared.

And once again Napoleon’s Josephine made a flower famous by commissioning a painting of one and the English Poet Laureate, Lord Alfred Tennyson, included her in a poem. Our own Thomas Jefferson mentioned an Amaryllis in his diary in 1811... All of which are quite illustrious mentions for a flower!

These precious bulbs, once available to only wealthy elitist, through time and progress are now affordable. Available in a wide array of colors which include not only the traditional scarlet, but white, deep pink, orange, shades of salmon, pink, and rose, Amaryllis makes a welcome guest at every celebration. Rather than forcing your own, perhaps purchase one that has already sprouted and needs a loving home. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Oklahoma Winters

All of those who garden watch the weather with keen interest and Sunday we experienced the temperature change which makes our state infamous. In the morning the sun shone and the temperature climbed to a semi-balmy sixty plus degrees so we hurried outside to plant the remaining tulip bulbs before bad weather arrived. Early afternoon rushing dark clouds appeared to the north; within them the swirling wind howled furiously. The entire sky became black and the temperature fell thirty degrees in just over an hour. In the garden, we watched in awe before scuttling to the house for hot coffee… the remaining tulips will have to wait.

As the days become shorter the season for interior decorations begins in earnest so plan to wander outside and shop for Nature’s ornaments. Shears in hand, look at the amazing plethora just outside the back door and begin collecting everything from brightly colored leaves to the wide assortment of interesting seeds and grasses.

For a wreath consider Euronymous whose seed is a shell-shaped mini four leaf clover which encases a plump red berry. Bittersweet has tendrils with darling berries prancing along the stems, many varieties of dried grasses have a wispy texture, and lengths of twisted bark will add interest. Using a simple grape vine wreath and florist wire, layer what you have collected and watch as magic ensues. To finish, spray with inexpensive hair spray to ‘set’ the wispies and prevent allergens from flying about.

For the holiday table or breakfront exotic Pyracantha is beyond compare with ripened berries sending hundreds of tiny baby ‘pumpkins‘ dancing along their branches. Allow their branches to creep along and include amber and scarlet leaves, oak casings, candle-lit hollowed mini pumpkins and a sprinkling of battery operated twinkle lights peeking from beneath it all, sparkling here and there.

The most favored Pyracantha is the lovely Firethorn who continues to present a show when most of the garden guests have retired. Tiny white bouquets of flowers appear in early summer and are beloved by the bees. The flowers fade and form the berries which stay green until the evenings begin to cool and their color change begins. Their final gift is the precious bright orange pumpkin-like seeds. The Firethorn holds true to her name, with a bush-like spread and fierce thorns which provide an ideal place for bunnies to scurry and hide for safety. If memory serves me, I believe it was the Pyracantha that thus saved Brer Rabbit from the fox. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Fall Foliage... the parting gift

The Caddo Maples are the last to begin foliage change their process usually foretells 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 week, our first deep freeze roared in early Wednesday morning and suddenly Winter is upon us… in a most vengeful manner.

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 time.

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, November 3, 2014

Gophers... Again

This subject has been broached before, however it bears repeating since almost overnight the gophers have become incredibly active. Since they are a problem of fairly vast proportion, a brief description of their physical appearance and habits might be helpful. They are rodents and require strong measures to eliminate and exterminate them.

Gophers live in long, complex tunnels below the ground, digging with their powerful front feet and their sharp teeth. Most of their lives are spent digging and patrolling their tunnels to protect their territory from other gophers. Their tails are hairless and tactile; it is an organ of touch which can “feel” as the gopher backs up in his hole; his home is recognized by the large mound of earth above it. It is said their nest is usually about a foot below ground and lined with leaves, although digging like a mad woman has never revealed anything of the like. Their food choices include favorites such as vegetables, buds, grass, nuts, roots and bulbs; they can totally decimate a lovely garden in very few days. In fact once I watched once as a stalk of Asparagus was slowly pulled cartoon-like below ground, one jerk at a time until it disappeared.

With an understanding of the gopher, methods for extermination must be examined. For the gardener, dropping bits of poison into gopher mounds is ineffective as it seems to be the equivalent of giving them a vitamin tonic… often they will push it to out of their home like an old couch left curb side. The old wives tale about dropping Juicy Fruit gum into a mound to destroy their digestive system is totally false. The ‘bomb’ one may purchase to send carbon monoxide from a lawn mower into holes (in spite of being extremely fun to use) is ineffective as well. Flooding gopher mounds with a hose makes an unsightly mess and often the water will completely destroy a flower bed by imploding the underground burrows, leaving deep crevices in its wake. Waiting for the emerging gopher with a rifle in hand is ultimately a waste of time for it seems they ‘sense’ danger and never appear.

Trapping easiest way to eliminate these pests, however there is a level of training required to properly set it. For the fainthearted, leaving a small battery operated radio near their home works. They find the noise objectionable and will often vacate the premises… set the station to Rap.

*Adding insult to injury… this mound is heart shaped like a macabre Valentine sent to me.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Why We Chose Farm Life

I am glad I was part of the 'Back to Earth' movement even if we didn't know it was a movement. The cities had become so angry by 1975. Watergate, the assassinations of men of peace, the winding down of equal rights, the drugs which made their appearance were dangers that could not be escaped so we simply fled them. Many of us returned to our roots; to the places where our grandparents raised a family amid the simple pleasures of our own youth.

The gift of a small town where the doors are never locked at night, where the car keys need not be removed, where you can call the pharmacist at home to meet you if the children became ill during the night... all this was too important for my family to miss and I'm glad we didn't.
I am so pleased I was able to experience farm life before the disasters of the 1980's and closure of the family farm as a treasured institution. Family farming was over by the time John Cougar Mellencamp wrote the poignant song "The Auctioneer" and Willie Nelson began his battle to save them. Family farms were still on every section of land in 1975 so we became part of a close knit community of neighbors.

I was able to go to quilting bees with little old ladies who had quilted together since they were girls. My stitches are in their quilts and even though the ladies are all gone now, the quilts have been lovingly passed on and I have several to serve my memory. These ladies took me under their wing and I learned short cuts to canning, how to milk a cow, plant a garden and the joy of fresh eggs.

You could drive along a dirt road in June and country ladies would have spontaneously met to pick sand plums at a most favored 'secret' place. We would later attend family our community berry picking party followed by homemade pies, guitar music, tall tales and ageless laughter. I was able to push back time a little and give my children an antique life style that has all but disappeared... I am happy we didn't miss it especially since it has disappeared now.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Amazing Bodark

Each year Autumn presents Osage oranges that have fully ripened to their signature color and thus their common name. It is a member of the Mulberry family and depending upon locale it may be referred to as hedge apple, horse apple, monkey ball, bodark or bois d'arc. In spite of its terrible reputation as invasive it was extremely important in the rise of Native American culture in the United States.

It was first mentioned to an English speaking audience in a letter from Scottish explorer William Dunbar in 1804. Following his description Meriwether Lewis sent cuttings to President Jefferson and the largest existing tree resides on a farm adjacent to Jefferson‘s estate in Virginia. Lewis' letter indicates the trees were donated by a French gentleman Pierre Choteau, who resided in the Osage Nation where the Mississippi and Ouachita Rivers met. The name bois d'arc, or "bow-wood", was given by French settlers who noted the wood was utilized for Native war clubs and bow-making. This wood was prized among Native Americans for bows as it was unusually strong, flexible and durable… tribal members would travel hundreds of miles to find or purchase it from other tribes. In by 1890 a horse and a blanket were the standard price of a bow made of Bodark.

Many historians believe the rise of the advanced Spiroan Mississippi culture was due to the high value this wood had to Native Americans. The now extinct Spiroan tribe controlled the land in which these trees grew and archaeologist have discovered remarkable mounds that revealed the advancement of their society. Between 800 and 1400 the Spiro people created a powerful religious and political center that thrived along the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Spiro (Oklahoma) is considered the western-most outpost of Mississippian culture and the objects discovered there among the most sophisticated pre-Columbian artifacts in all of North America.

Bodark makes remarkable fence posts for its lack of enemies… termites find it distasteful and it is not prone to fungus. Before the invention of barbed wire in the 1880's thousands of miles of ‘fence’ was constructed by planting young Osage Orange trees closely together in a line. Saplings were pruned to promote bushy growth to create a ‘horse high, bull strong and hog tight’ fence row made from Osage Orange and for this purpose it was ideal.

In 1934 Franklin Delano Roosevelt initiated his Great Plains Shelter Belt Program to prevent soil erosion. By 1942 over 30,000 shelterbelts containing 220 million trees that stretched for 18,600 miles had been planted. Bodark must be carefully pruned as each shoot will grow up to six feet a season and for this reason it has become invasive.