Monday, March 31, 2014

Down-Time in the Garden



With the world spinning very quickly these days, it is more important than ever to seek some harmonic softeners in some aspect of daily life. The escalation of current technology has become mind-boggling when one considers that only 100 years ago the main duty of School Boards in rural Oklahoma was to provide hay for the children’s horses and fire wood for the stoves. Now more than ever the peaceful expanse of the garden is not only desirable, but a necessary means to keep one grounded. Whether you are six or sixty, there is no pastime more joyful than playing in the dirt so this spring plan on some serious down-time in the garden.




Nature endowed the earliest spring bloomers with the sweetest scents and the Viburnum is no exception. Of course we have the Asians to thank for the sweet spicy scent; our native Viburnum do not possess the spellbinding aroma. A member of the Honeysuckle family, Viburnum are seen all across North America, in Europe and all of Asia, making them a naturalized global sensation. And their early arrival makes them one of the first seasonal feasts to lure the bees.



The Viburnum is a small tree with easy growing habits that has been a garden necessity since the early 1900’s. The Korean Spice has lovely white or pink flower clusters which appear before all of the dark and heavily ribbed leaves have matured. Their scent is sweetly enchanting, almost delicious, as it wafts through the garden carried by the breezes. And their show does not end after flowering; the flowers become berries prized by birds and the foliage turns a lovely dusty red in the fall.



Summer Snowflake is another fantastic Viburnum. Although not as fragrant as the Korean Spice, it blooms several weeks later and has the most lovely drifting layers… as though it is wearing white lace petticoats peeking from under a deep green dress. Both species are spectacular additions to the garden and promise years of carefree beauty.



The early grasses have arrived as well and the tender lush carpet is calling for bare feet to ‘feel’ the first sign of spring. If you do not have a baby of your own, borrow one and be the first to remove booties and let tiny feet feel green grass for the first time. Crinkling baby toes, gingerly curling, opening and closing, surprised and curious… the gift of a first garden experience is joyful to behold! 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Time to Trim and Transplant Roses


Now is the time to check the location of your roses to assure they are getting enough sun. Often a lack-luster rose will flourish when moved to a new place in the garden. If you need to move one, it is wise to revisit the rules for transplanting, which by definition means ‘lift, remove, relocate and reset in another place’. The seasonal timing now is perfect for the roses are still relatively dormant and the move will be less of a shock to them. Also since early spring is the time to prune roses, you will have the advantage of being able to prune excess growth before the bush actually begins to take off for the growing season.

 

Prior to any transplanting anything, mark the north side of the plant with a string or piece of cloth. After it is dug, place it in the same direction and it will adjust to new surroundings far more rapidly and with greater success than if it is planted in an opposing direction. Additionally, it is unwise to apply fertilizer to newly transplanted specimens. They need time to adjust to new surroundings and must rest a bit before doing much growing. To give fertilizer to a recent transplant is akin to giving a man in ICU a three course dinner… it is not a good idea.

 

After choosing a new location dig the hole and I have found it must be larger than you think it needs to be… three times the size of the root ball. Make a small mound in the center of the new hole to prevent air pockets from forming as you plant. To enable you to move the transplant easily perhaps give it a good soaking several days before the dig and try to choose an overcast day when rain is predicted.

Dig around the transplant, cutting in a circle. As you dig, lift and probe occasionally to see if the plant is indeed moving and note where roots may still be anchored. Take as much soil as can be lifted so the root system is least disturbed.

 

For roses, place it slightly higher in the hole as it will settle several inches after planted. The bud system should therefore be an inch above ground level. Point the exposed roots and rootlets outward and add ½ cup of bone meal around the root system. Fill with soil, water well and wriggle to eliminate air pockets, which will bubble up. Lastly prune the spindly growth leaving good strong canes and prepare to enjoy the show later in the season!

Monday, March 17, 2014

St. Patrick, The Shamrock, and Oxalis




Pink Oxalis

Spring is ushered in on March 20th with the Vernal Equinox...that brief moment in time when there are equal parts of both day and night. However it was also welcomed with the celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day on March 17th . Those of Irish heritage celebrate his saint’s day by wearing a shamrock, planting their potatoes, and possibly imbibing large quantities of alcohol.

Saint Patrick was born a pagan in Wales in 387 and died a Christian in 461. His rock-star status continues to this day with celebrations which have surpassed the Catholic faith and become secular. Saint Patrick converted the pagan Celts to Christianity and was adept at using their sacred beliefs and symbols to describe Christian concepts... thus he used the magical shamrock to clarify the trinity. Using the tri-leaf of the clover he explained that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were each separate entities but, as the stem suggests, all part of the whole. Early converts adopted the custom of wearing a shamrock as a sign of their faith.

When the English began confiscating Irish lands, outlawing Catholism and the Celtic language in the 17th century, the shamrock became a symbol of rebellion and soon wearing a shamrock became a crime punishable by hanging. However the Irish immigrants to America suffered no such persecution and in 1737 the residents of Boston celebrated the first Saint Patrick’s day with public celebrations, parades, and pub parties.

Times do change so by the early 1900’s Queen Victoria had instructed all Irish soldiers to wear a shamrock on St. Patrick’s Day in memory of the soldiers who died in the Boer War… a custom which continues today. Additionally the Shamrock is the registered trademark of the Republic of Ireland and appears in the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and on a seemingly endless array of logos which include race horses and sporting teams.

In March the lovely oxalis, the largest genus of the wood-sorrel family, appears in the garden… calling to Irish descendants to remember their heritage. My twenty year old friend, a lovely pink, still blooms faithfully from spring throughout the summer and will rebloom in fall if cut back in August. For something new perhaps add a purple leaf with her halo of pale pink flowers that drift above the striking foliage… surely a stunning focal point for any garden.

They adore the shade, tolerate the heat, and even refuse to wilt if not watered regularly. Oxalis will reward the gardener with their easy-going nature and long life expectancy... happily, they will be permanent residents of the garden for many, many years.

Oxalis is in the center of the bed... a pale pink profusion of miniature flowers.



Thursday, March 13, 2014

Teach the Children to Garden

My Julia wearing her Cicada friend as a broach! 
Sunday the geese could be heard in the distant sky, honking in tandem as they began their migratory flight to the North. If one looked carefully, they could be seen as small dots flying in their familiar V pattern. They are a sign that Spring is planning a magnificent  entrance very soon.

Although growing vegetables is standard for old timers, it is never too late to begin to teach the next generation the value of fresh home-grown produce. Since most vegetables have a high content of water, are low in calories, and contain valuable vitamins and minerals children would greatly benefit from eating fresh from the garden. Planting a seed, watching it sprout and form something edible, is exciting for young children. And when you add sunshine, fresh air, and exercise the gardening provides every benefit necessary for healthy growth. Plus children are fascinated to observe, identify, and learn about 'good and bad' bugs and spiders. (Rolly Pollies are irresistible.)

 Children love to graze as they wander through the garden so plant some early English peas which are 81% water and contain ½ the recommended dosage of Vitamin A. It is also fun to open the six pack of baby peas. The Radish is also favorite to plant and tolerates the cold well. Called ‘quick grows’ by my children, they mature so rapidly that childish interest never wanes from day to day. High in Vitamin C and iron, low in calories, they are often over looked as part of today’s garden. Later in the season a few scattered cherry tomatoes are an easy snack and provide 57% of the recommended dosage of Vitamin C, ¼ of Vitamin A, ½ of Iron. They contain lycopenes, believed to be a powerful antitoxin and cancer preventative. 

Whatever you choose plant remember the basic rules for planting by the Moon. Plant below ground crops such as carrots, radishes, turnips, and onions when the Moon has waned since they mature in the darkness. Plant above ground crops like lettuce, cabbage, peas, beans, and spinach when the Moon is full since they enjoy basking in the heavenly light from above. Happy Spring!

Children connect with Nature in an amazing way... and often garden finds will give everyone a giggle.


Monday, March 3, 2014

Nature's Antibiotics

(Yes, even dandelions are medicinal)

As we continue to break all weather records, let us recall the wonder of winter today. Our forefather braved elements such as these without central heat, electricity or grocery stores. It has not seemed so cold since the terrible lingering winter storms of 1986 with weeks of ice and snow through January into February. I remember it because my sister was visiting with my two small nieces…being house bound with eight children under the age of nine is unforgettable!

With temperature fluctuations of 50 degrees or more within a two week span, about now it would be wise to look to nature to boost the immune system. Until the advent of antibiotics, Nature provided all the ingredients to insure survival and health for the inhabitants of the planet. Here in North America our own Native Americans survived severely harsh conditions with an intricate knowledge of healthful foods. The Plains Indians ate as they nomadically traveled and the Apache alone had over 200 items in the yearly diet. Much of what they “found” along their path was both nutritional and medicinal.

An example of one of their naturally occurring health boosters are the Rose Hips found on wild bushes from Texas to North Dakota. Rose hips have long been a valuable source of Vitamin C, which easily boosts the immune system. The hips are the berries formed on the rose following flowering and contain as much ascorbic acid as an orange. In fact the portion of the orange containing the most health benefits is the bitter white inside the rind that most people discard. During WWII the federal government recommended that citizens add rose hips to their stews as a vegetable and recommended brewing it as a tea for the health benefits.

 Another valuable immune boosting plant is the Echinacea. Results of archaeological digs indicate that Native Americans have used this marvelous plant for over 400 years. It was used to treat everything including infections, wounds, scarlet fever, blood poisoning, and diphtheria. Considered a valuable cure-all for hundreds of years, its popularity declined with the advent of antibiotics. Today Echinacea is used to reduce the symptoms and duration of the common cold or flu, and the symptoms which accompany them such as sore throat, cough and fever.

Starting in 2004, the medical community began reporting that antibiotics no longer work; our systems are saturated with them. They arrive in our bodies from consuming milk and meat from cattle that are overly medicated, eggs from chickens that receive a daily dose, and so forth. I consider this medical warning a strong indication that we best seek natural cures that have been around for eons. Nature contains an arsenal of plants and herbs that were put here for us to use… easily obtainable plants that kept our ancestors alive and well.


Peonies and Poppies Need the Cold



As we continue to endure harsh winter conditions, remember that most of the garden will not only survive but two of our favorites will actually flourish because of the freezes. The Queen of Flowers, the majestic Peony, needs the cold as does the precious Poppy.

The Peony will not bloom well unless the temperature of the winter months gets low enough for her to go into full dormancy. For this reason, Peonies can not be grown in the Deep South and yet flourish in New England with amazing success and few problems.

 The Peony has blooms that are breathtaking for the shere size and breadth of the deeply lobed flowers which appear in a glorious range of colors. A favorite is the Chinese Peony who comes to the garden in hues of pink, pale yellow and purest white, often edged with a hint of rouge on the inner petals. Each flower is supported by lovely deep green foliage. Peonies make charming long lasting arrangements which fill the air with their sweet lemony scent.

Poppy seeds also need the cold for they have a hard shell which must be seasoned by freezing temperatures to allow it to fracture before growing. The colorful paper-thin blooms on the poppy only last for one day, however the round pale green seed pods which form from each spent flower, are most interesting by themselves. The darling pods have tiny holes in a zig-zag circular pattern at the top and once they have dried and turned brown, they may be shaken to release the seeds.

If you had poppies last year, many of them have self sown and will appear early in the growing season. However if you collected seeds, the snow is an excellent medium in which to toss them. Place the seeds in a salt shaker and then shake them into the snow filled garden. The white of the snow will allow you to see (and make mental note) where the seeds have fallen. As the snow melts, the seeds will follow the thaw and nestle snugly into the soil where they will await warmer days. The poppy is a tall plant so the back of the bed is a desirable place to seed them. If paired with Larkspur the contrasting colors and form always make for a dazzling display. This year the Peonies and Poppies will be in rare form and are well worth the wait.

*Remember that each day we are 2 minutes closer to spring!

Pic: Pink Poppy By Catherine Dougherty
 
 

Monday, February 3, 2014

St John's Wort


The weather has certainly taken center stage this winter. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac the “Days of Shivery” are upon us and 2/3 of the nation will experience below average temperatures for an extended duration. The publication, founded in 1792, boasts an accuracy rate of 80 percent and so far their forecast seems to be correct. With the cold, hopefully the bugs have frozen to death regardless of their chosen lair.
This February plan to include St. John’s Wort as a dietary supplement. The ancient Chinese have long considered it among their most important herbs however it fell out of favor in the west in the 1800’s. For centuries, St John’s Wort had been used to treat disorders from digestive problems to coughs, and it was lauded for its action as a sedative. During the 1970’s research confirmed it had a significant affect on nervous conditions and depression. In clinical studies it was proven that sixty seven percent of depressed patients drastically improved when taking this simple herb.

St. John’s Wort has an easy nature, growing in dry, gravely soils, fields, and bar ditches with no attention what so ever. The sunny yellow flowers appear on a woody base and bloom from late spring through frost. Numerous flower clusters appear at the end of the branches, each sporting five bright petals with small black dots along the margins and a single pistil in the center. The leaves have spots on them which appear to be holes. However they are translucent ’pockets’ of resin that are released when pressed and the flowers exude a crimson liquid when cut.

Early Christians named it to honor St. John the Baptist and so besides medicinal uses, St John’s Wort has mystical connections. It was said to offer protection against the devil if woven into a wreath placed upon the door and it was carried by travelers to assure their safety. During witch trials, it was stuffed into the mouth of the accused to force a confession. (Considering it was a sedative, one can only imagine what they confessed.) A sprig placed under the pillow upon retiring was said to keep one safe while sleeping and perhaps St. John himself might appear in a dream.

In capsule form, it may be readily found in the herbal section of the pharmacy… and about now gardeners can certainly appreciate the benefits of a natural ‘chill pill’ as we endure February! 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Winter Watering and Compost


In spite of the moisture from snow and ice from a month ago, the garden is absolutely bone dry. Sunday we set sprinklers and almost instantly the winter grasses resumed their verdant green and perked up while the grateful garden sent forth small shoots of the Jonquil and crocus.

Now is a perfect time to apply compost to the garden. Compost was first described as useful for the garden in 1587 so its properties have a time tested tradition. Compost is simply decomposed organic matter which improves the soil and gives it a lighter consistency. Since Oklahoma soil is difficult, the addition of compost will greatly improve the quality.


The merits of compost may be noted on the forest floor which is covered by undisturbed leaves. These leaves break down over time creating the rich soil that nourishes the fledging saplings as they grow to become forest giants in an ever-repeating cycle. If one takes inspiration from this natural cycle, the value of this process may be utilized in the garden. Since the average gardener does not have the quiet decades of the forest to break industrious individuals may make a compost bin and create their own rich matter.

In the 1930’s to ’40’s when America was encouraged grow vegetables for the war effort, most urban homes had a compost bin. My father had one and was fairly constant with his enthusiastic interest in it. It was located in the farthest corner of the yard and consisted of three wooden sides approximately four feet high and it was deep enough to move about in. Leaves were the basis of his compost with grass clippings, old newspapers, coffee grounds, and other organic matter added, all of which were in 12-18 inch layers. Bone meal and ammonium nitrate were sprinkled between the layers to aid in decomposition and give it a boost. The mixture was tossed about while sprinkling with water occasionally to dampen it and encourage it to ‘cook’. By Spring the process was complete, producing dark matter that had a deep and rich aroma. For those who do not have their own compost readily available, it is reasonably priced at most nurseries and may be purchased by the truck load. Apply some this year and work it into the soil…the garden will thank you.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Cedar Time Again... Know the Enemy





Over the weekend, the weather warmed however as in all of life there was a downside… the wind. The velocity was so fierce as to blow about small children and the elderly as they fought their way to vehicles after Church. The dust blew in billows as the cattle braced against it and walked slowly through pastures and the tumble weeds were truly tumbling.

The Cedars are pollinating once again and if one merely brushes by one a fine yellow mist will fill the air. The Cedar is the product of sophisticated and evolved survival tactics. During the drought they produced pollen which was a thick and prolific, and the like of which had never been seen before… it was an alarming testament to their determination to survive.

The female trees are covered with small blue berries; each one is an infant Cedar tree. The birds find the berries delicious and baby Cedars are spread through their bodies. The birds gorge themselves, fly to rest in treetops, and invariably drop a Cedar ‘package’ of unprocessed berries to grow at the base of the tree. The aggressive adolescent Cedars surround and literally choke or starve any other species of tree, taking all water and nutrients from the soil for themselves, leaving less aggressive trees to perish.

Cedars are also infamous for the effects they have upon the human race, causing much misery as their pollen drifts through the air this time of year. Their pollen is microscopic and can travel hundreds of miles on the wind, and of late we have had wind aplenty!

It is wise to make efforts to partially protect yourself from pollen based illnesses. Obviously the more time spent outdoors the more problems with allergies so do not invite pollen inside by opening doors and windows for fresh air on pretty days… there is no fresh air during Cedar season. Wash your hands after playing in the yard, wash your hair before bed, and change your pillowcase daily. If necessary take an antihistamine to relieve allergy symptoms and remember Cedar season does not last forever, it just seems so.


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.




For those who are wondering when Spring will arrive just ask the onions whose internal clock has said ‘Why wait, it‘s coming… let's grow‘!


Monday, January 6, 2014

Cabin Fever!



 The weather certainly took center stage this year, making for an icy holiday. The ice gathered and lasted much longer than expected and last Sunday reminded one of Antarctica… at least an Antarctic of my imagination. Never has the North wind been so bitter or so biting! This weather with overcast days of icy rain and snow, or sunshine with howling winds and bone-chilling temperatures is rather depressing for those who love to be out doors. It is down right dangerous in many parts of the nation!

With too much ice on rural roads for days, many were trapped and could not leave home. They may possibly be experiencing a weather related syndrome called ‘Cabin Fever’. First recorded in 1918, cabin fever is a term for a claustrophobic reaction that takes place when a person or group of persons are isolated and unable to leave a confined space for an extended period of time. Symptoms of cabin fever include restlessness, irritability, laughter, forgetfulness, excessive sleeping, and finally distrust of anyone they are trapped with. Often there is an urge to race outside even in snow or darkness as the individual assumes 'the unknown' is possibly better than entrapment with their companions. The most famous case of extreme cabin fever is horrifying as depicted by Jack Nicolson’s character in the horror flick, ‘The Shining’. Who could ever forget the typed message, ‘All work and no play make Jack a dull boy‘… over and over again as Jack famously ‘lost it‘. Humorously cabin fever has been referred to as a reaction of extreme boredom caused by an infusion dull company, with visiting relatives often to blame.

It can safely be assumed that the recent power outages may have contributed to a rash of cabin fever for how many hours can one find entertainment sitting in the dark listening to clocks tick? We may expect more dastardly winter weather, but it will not last forever. All of this house-bound misery will end with the arrival of spring and each dawn brings her closer to us. Last week, as though fulfilling a promise, the brave and precious freesias peeked through the frozen garden soil. Happy New Year... stay warm!
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Monday, December 23, 2013

The Ice Storm




As we continue to break all weather records, let us recall winters of the past and remind ourselves this too shall end with the arrival of spring. Saturday was the Winter Solstice, which is the shortest and darkest day of the year. All of our days commencing now will be a little longer until the Summer Solstice arrives and once again our days gradually shorten. There is comfort in the order of our natural world.

The current ice storm is reminiscent of the one in 2000 when many towns were without power for weeks on end. Admittedly it has not seemed quite so cold since the terrible lingering winter storms of 1986 with weeks of ice and snow all of January and into February. This pattern indicates we may expect an ice storm every 13 or 14 years… another sign of predictable order.

Saturday morning the electricity went off and remained off. Housebound by icy roads, we listened to the clocks tick while watching the antics of the Blue Jays, who squabbled with a hungry squirrel at the birdfeeder. As the darkness deepened, we lit candles and reminded ourselves our forefathers braved elements such as these without central heat or electricity… ever.



*Poor Rajah... his crown had ice all over it and was covering his eyes. I opened the window and used a hair dryer on him before the power went off.

The wind arrived on Sunday, ice-brittle branches were whipped and they began to break. The jarring sudden crack and ensuing slow drop of large tree limbs throughout the forest was depressing to hear. Mature trees may have minor flaws at their branch bases and with the ice, this flaw has proven fatal.

I have hugged my ancient Black Walnut on many occasions and it has been substantially damaged. The heirloom English Ivy ‘tree‘, which had been carefully trained to frame the front door, is now a collapsed mass of broken branches and crushed leaves. We have said goodbye to the Apricot who gave us 20 years of her delicious fruit. Things will be quite different in many gardens this coming year.





However since gardeners are the eternal optimists, we must wipe our tears, embrace the present, clean up the spoils of war left by Old Man Winter, and look to the positive. Perhaps the trees had grown to shade flower beds and the elements have ’trimmed’ them. The trees that were ill perhaps needed to be removed as a safety precaution. And many lawns will have sunlight they have perhaps been lacking for decades. There is always a positive to every disaster… and we have the promise of spring.

Merry Christmas, have faith, and stay warm!

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Christmas Tree

The lovely evergreens have begun their seasonal show and it is always impressive that they chose winter, as the world is encased in frosty slumber, to appear their finest. Bearing fruit or berries despite the cold of winter, they have always been considered quite remarkable and were an important aspect of ancient pagan rituals.

The Romans considered evergreens symbols of fertility and used them to trim their homes for the new year while northern Europeans hung them over doors to ward off evil spirits that were believed to stalk the winter landscape. German and Scandinavian people had long made evergreen wreaths to celebrate the Winter Solstice and over time were included in their celebrations of the birth of Jesus.

It is said that Martin Luther began the German tradition of decorating trees. In about 1500 as he was walking through a snow covered forest, he was struck by the beauty of dusted evergreens shimmering in the moonlight. So enamored was he by the natural beauty that he placed a tree inside for his children, decorated with lit candles symbolizing the starry sky and honoring Christ's birth. Following this tradition, the church began to include a tree for Christmas and by the mid-1600’s it was decorated with apples to symbolize Adam and Eve's expulsion from Eden.

About this time German Christians began bringing trees into their homes and soon they began to decorate them. Their tradition arrived with Hessian immigrants to the colonies and overcame the austere (and unpopular) Puritan belief that ‘all work and no play’ included banning Christmas celebrations.

In 1832 Charles Follen, a German immigrant and professor at Harvard, decorated the first American Christmas tree to share with his family and friends. And in 1846, a young German Prince Albert presented his new bride Victoria with her first tree and thus the English Victorian Christmas was born. Word of decorated Christmas trees spread rapidly and was embraced by almost all Christian cultures; it remains today a universal symbol of the holiday season.

 
*Snow Covered Photo Credit: Tanya Ivey

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Results of Fracking in Oklahoma

Regardless of arguments either for or against, it needs to be noted this is a nasty business. It is noisy, intrusive upon the land, and difficult for residents who dwell nearby. What is left after the rig has been removed are the 'ponds', which according to the industry contain non-toxic waste. Do you want to eat beef that has been drinking and wading in that muck? I don't.


Taken from my mailbox. A stop sign is 500 yards and yet they thundered by, tires and brakes squealing to a dusty halt. We ate this for over a year.




A rig is a miniature city with no rules of conduct. Tie down what you don't want to be stolen.



 


 


 Impossible to avoid!






Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Offutt Kentucky Egg Nog




I'll put the egg nog in Grandmother Nash's punch bowl! In this picture from Dolan and Tara's Rehearsal Dinner Party it has Sangria in it.

Merry Christmas everyone!

This year, I decided to share my Great-grandmother's Kentucky Egg Nog recipe. It has been a well guarded and cherished secret for over a hundred and twenty five years, however I might as well share it before Martha, Paula, or Rachael Rae steal it... and claim it as their own!

Offutt Kentucky Egg Nog
Serves 20

You will need several large bowls.
1 dozen large eggs, divided.
Beat the yolks until they are thick and lemon colored.
While still beating add 1 1/2 c. sugar and 1 pt. whiskey, 100 proof, green label, not sour mash.
(The alcohol "cooks" the eggs) Set aside.

Beat the whites in a copper bowl. As they begin to foam slowly add 1/2 c. sugar. Beat until they are thick and almost ready to peak. Set aside.

Whip 1 quart heavy whipping cream adding 1/2 c. sugar as the cream thickens.
Stir cream into yolk mixture. Gently fold in the whites.

Get out the antique punch bowl, garnish the tray with a little fresh holly then call some cheerful friends... this stuff is Killer!

*Disclaimer: This Egg Nog will possibly clog arteries, causing holiday heart problems. Use in moderation.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Natural Christmas Decorations... Scout the Garden

    As the holiday approaches, festive decorating reaches a zenith for no other moment encompasses such a variety of celebrations rolled into one package. Included with the birth of Christ, is the Winter Solstice, the New Year, and almost every civilization has some sort of celebration at this time. Besides religious festivities, one adds gift giving, families gathering and the general feeling of kindness toward mankind, making it indeed a miraculous season.

Part of the ancient reason for celebrations was to ward off the boredom of deep winter, and so it is during this time that the miracle of evergreens appear all the more special. Always in the garden, yet often under appreciated during the summer season, many make a name for themselves now.

A simple December pleasure is crafting wreaths and holiday arrangements by scouting greenery from the garden. Using a wire or simple grapevine wreath gather traditional cedar, spruce or pine boughs as a basis, for not only will they provide a stellar aroma, but their sturdiness will anchor all else that is added. Perhaps add the merriment of holly, with the interest of magnolia boughs or patterned arbor vitae. Gather interesting vines and weeds to complete the process. Add pinecones by twisting a small piece of wire around the base of the cone, leaving a bit to tie the to the wreath. One year we sprayed the wispy weeds with gold spray paint… it was the same year we sprayed our ’holiday’ tennis shoes gold as well. And even those with seasonal allergies may appreciate a lovely outdoor decoration!

For indoor decorations, Nandina, Holly, and Ivy are perfect companions and are virtually odorless. Both the Holly and Nandina have Christmasy-red berries that will look lovely in your arrangement. Choose a large vase, add a ‘frog’ to anchor the greenery, then begin adding your selections, turning and building as you go. By the end, if you need visual interest, scout the garden for some Pyracantha or privet berries. If you have calcified spots on the berries, spray or dab a bit of olive oil on them to make them shine.

Remember that every house needs a sprig of mistletoe. For years Mistletoe was the assumed floral emblem for the state of Oklahoma so it has a special place in our hearts. (It was replaced by the ‘official’ Oklahoma Rose in 2004.) Mistletoe has a long and colorful history originating in Northern Europe, the birth place of this extraordinary plant.

All Mistletoe plants are parasitic; they attach to a host and thus take from it nutrients and water necessary to live. Over time this process may weaken or even kill the host, giving Mistletoe a rather bad reputation. In the plant kingdom, parasitism has evolved only nine times and Mistletoe has independently evolved five, making it an extraordinary species. Mistletoe is completely self-sufficient and adaptive to changes in climate and this enigma lends itself to mysticism and lore. It hangs airborne between heaven and earth, has no roots yet bears fruit, and remains green and vibrant during the winter months, all of which defy reason.

Christmas greenery is utterly fantastic!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Feed the Birds~



The weather has proven challenging to say the least… the word treacherous comes to mind. As the winter deepens, feeding the birds becomes serious business for without our help, many may not survive the freezing temperature plunges. True bird aficionados feed year round, but I feel it is best to insist they forage until the weather no longer permits or food is no longer easily obtainable.

We all remember the haunting nursery rhyme:
“The North wind doth blow,
And we shall have snow,
And what will poor Robin do then,
Poor thing?”


The illustration accompanying this little ditty often displays a pitiful Robin lying on its back in deep snow with fixed eyes, twig-like claws, a beak barely opened… clearly dying from either starvation or hypothermia! Notwithstanding the implied cruelty of presenting such images to small children, the visualization of this “Poor Thing” easily instills enough guilt to encourage one to purchase a high quality bag of wild bird feed immediately!

Most birds like the commercial mixtures but if you want to splurge purchase additional sunflower seeds and thistle. Many beautiful songbirds spend the winter indulging in entertaining antics and now that the trees are bare, it is possible to see and hear them far better. Once you begin feeding you will discover every bird has personality traits characteristic to their individual species.

The Blue Jays are excitable, boisterous, rather the bullies and always traveling in a gang. The Cardinals are polite, laid back and lacking in aggression. All species of the Woodpecker family demand and receive respect; their beaks are daunting and their presence can clear the feeder immediately. The darling finches squabble and tumble about while the Black Capped Chickadee and timid Titmouse dart for sunflower seeds. The wonderfully enthusiastic Sparrows are mentioned in the Bible as one of God’s favorites.

Birds eat in regular intervals during the day much as we eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. For this reason the feeder is sometimes chaotically busy with all species feeding together in a feathered fluff of noisy competition while other times the filled feeder stands alone. The word spreads quickly among the bird community and those who provide feed will find themselves at the height of popularity this time of year. With many months of winter, plan to enjoy the bird show from the warmth of your easy chair!


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Goodbye to the Garden~


The trees and plants were in their last glorious days, making the goodbye evermore bittersweet.

I wandered the grounds yesterday, peering skyward at the honks of the last Canadian Geese rushing south before the frost line. The tiny sweet Mums were bright, the last roses smelled lovely. I had waited until afternoon and rushed as the sky turned dark to the North and the wind began to chill.



I dug the Caladium bulbs.... the soil was cold and damp and they are lucky to be drying in the laundry room, preparing for their winter storage.


I gathered the flats of the unplanted pansies to the warmth inside where they are crowding the window sills, waiting for warmer weather to be planted. As the sky continued to darken and inched closer and closer, the wind picked up and I hurried my pace.

The last of the Tropicals and Geraniums were rushed via the little red wagon to the shop to avoid the inevitable frost. I picked the remaining cheerful Geraniums and brought them to the house, apologizing to the doomed parent plants.


Back inside, I made a nice cup of steaming coffee and held it as the warmth of my cup made my hands tingle a bit as they unfroze.

Overnight the wind howled and the temperatures fell to the teens... and it was over. The summer and all the joy that it had brought is now in the pages of memory. Every still-green leaf has fallen this morning as the Sun began to shine ...
Winter is here!


Poor Annie is terrified of the sea of leaves... she is tip-toeing through them!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Hurricanes and Typhoons... Events Beyond Our Control


*Our hearts go out to those affected by the 'Monster Storm' that hit the islands.*
This is from an earlier blog and has been edited.

As we watch the world wide weather events unfold, we were reminded that mankind has maintained a continuous struggle against assaults by nature. Catastrophic events have occurred since the beginning of time and have been the subject of vigorous religious and scientific study and discussion.

For thousands of years, countless theories have come to light only to be rebuked by new information. The belief that mankind is responsible for natural disasters is not a new premise. Our responsibility was the reason for sacrifices to volcanoes, oceans, farmland, and forests with offerings made to appease angry gods. The argument is compelling and it would be convenient to blame us. With acceptance of blame, perhaps we have an option for change and some measure of control.

However when we study the deserts, which were once lush forests, it is obvious that many natural disasters are exactly that… natural. Although science has made vast advances in the prediction of weather related events, where a catastrophe will occur is still the whim of nature.

All week, I have been reading 'Nature on the Rampage' by Ann and Myron Sutton to better understand the forces of nature. Hurricanes were named after Huracan, an evil storm god of the Caribbean. One of the most devastating hurricanes on record occurred in 1780. It began off Barbados and came ashore where it flattened trees and dwellings killing countless numbers of people. It destroyed an English fleet anchored off St. Lucia, then ravaged the island completely leaving 6,000 dead in its wake. It swirled on to Martinique, enveloped a French convoy and sank more than 40 ships carrying 4,000 soldiers before leveling towns and villages killing another 9,000 people. It finally wound down after destroying Puerto Rico and an untold number of ships and fishing vessels caught unaware in open sea.

Weston Martyr is quoted in the book with his description of a hurricane. He said, "You cannot breathe with a hurricane blowing full in your face. You cannot see either; the impact on your eyeball of spray and rain traveling over a hundred miles an hour makes seeing quite impossible. The blowing sand cuts your flesh and you hear nothing but the scream and booming of the wind, which drowns even the thunder and the breaking seas. You cannot move except by extreme exertion. To stand is to be blown away like a dead leaf. You cannot even crawl; you have to climb about twisting your arms and legs around anything solid within reach".

To see the full article... http://www.gardening4us.com/2010/09/our-storm-and-hurricanes.html
 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Tip for Saving Seeds



Don't toss those little silica packets found in every new pair of shoes or garment. They are a helpful addition to your packets of saved seeds. Since they absorb moisture, your seeds will be certain of a dry condition!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Fall Foliage... the Lovely Change

Grandpa's Pond~ Rural Oklahoma.

Perhaps it is said each year, however this year promises the most lovely Autumn in ages. The crisp and divine temperatures of late have Oklahomans happily donning sweaters and getting outside! As the clocks were turned back on Sunday, suddenly the foliage changed and shades of gold and scarlet were seen shimmering in the breezes.

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 utilizing a process called photosynthesis to turn it into food. 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 fall transformation and the hillsides become a dramatic autumn palette that provides 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 associated with the photosynthesis process. As darkness increases in the autumn, chlorophyll production eventually stops and inevitably all the chlorophyll disappears. With the loss of chlorophyll, the carotids become visible and provide the leaves with lovely yellow colors. Lastly the anthocyanins may arrive and take center stage, ushering in the vibrant reds we associate with Autumn.

Because carotenoids are always present in leaves the amber, yellow and gold colors remain fairly constant from year to year, even during drought. However conditions must be ideal for the fickle anthocyanins who are glucose (sugar) and singularly responsible for the brilliant hues of purple, crimson, and scarlet. To be spectacular the tree requires warm sunny days and cool crisp evenings to slow the closing of the leaf veins and trap an excess of sugar produced at this time. Due to the perfect weather of late, the reds this year are gorgeous.

However the shade and a foliage show are not all the leaves have to offer… their parting gift is perhaps the most important. The leaves drift from the trees and collect below, continuing their work by slowly decomposing. Over time they will add nutrients which create a dark rich soil that nourishes saplings as they grow to become forest giants like their parents. It is indeed a miraculous cycle.

*Note: Many Caddo Maples have changed in an unusual manner this year. The crown of the tree has changed to a brilliant scarlet, the center has changed to an orange, while the lower leaves have remained green. This is very much an oddity.
 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

For a faster loading blog...

People have commented that my blog loads quickly... and it does.
It is because I don't have ads. Loading ads is time consuming and it is not worth wasting the valuable time of my readers to place them here. Happy Autumn~