Monday, November 6, 2017

Pumpkins Saved the Pilgrims

Map by John Smith circa 1605... note pumpkins

Pumpkins are believed to have originated in North America where they have thrived for thousands of years. They are reputed to be one of the earliest known food crops in the Americas with ancient containers of stored seeds discovered in Mexico dating back as far as 5,300 to 7,000 BC.

Early Native Americans roasted pumpkin strips over campfires and used them as a food source long before the arrival of European explorers. Pumpkins helped The Native Americans make it through long cold winters as they stored well and were not prone to insect infestations. They used the sweet flesh in numerous ways: roasted, baked, parched, boiled and dried.

They ate pumpkin seeds and also used them as a medicine as it was believed they guarded one against cold. Some Mexican tribes believe pumpkin seeds give exceptional endurance to the people… plus they are an easy to transport energy snack to take along on travels. The hollowed dried pumpkin shells were often used as bowls and to store food when the top was put in place.  

Archeologists have determined that variations of squash and pumpkins were cultivated along river and creek banks along with sunflowers and beans. This took place long before the emergence of maize (corn). After maize was introduced, ancient farmers learned to grow squash with maize and beans using the "Three Sisters" tradition. The three are all that is required to keep one healthy.   

Columbus took seeds back to Spain where they were grown as food for hogs and considered unfit for human consumption. The word pumpkin originated from the Greek word Pep├Án which means large melon. The word gradually was morphed by the French, the English and then the Americans into the word "pumpkin."

As the Pilgrims were enduring their first freezing winters in New England, they were welcomed by kind Native Americans who saved their lives through bountiful gifts of local food. They provided roasted pumpkin for them and the Pilgrims soon discovered they were easy to grow.  

For the Puritans, pumpkin not only provided breakfast and lunch, but beer as well. For the beer they fermented a combination of persimmons, hops, maple sugar and pumpkin… beer is high in nutrients and for this reason it is still served to recovering patients at hospitals in Germany.

As one Pilgrim wrote in 1633:

For pottage and puddings and custards and pies
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies,
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it were not for pumpkins we should be undoon."

Monday, October 30, 2017

Social Wasps on the Move

Under the eve of the chicken house in a terrifying mass!

This time of year it seems the social wasp has taken an extreme dislike to humankind and they are poised to attack at a moments notice. A very nervous insect on a good day, lately they are like gun slingers at the OK Corral! It is because they are in a last minute fervor of mating to ensure survival of their species. Wasp society is typically matriarchal, the female is the one with the sting, it is best to stay clear since she wants no interruptions for this final party. 

The days of the colony are numbered and soon many wasps will die leaving behind the mated queens who will find a place to hibernate for the winter. In the early spring the females emerge to find a suitable place to build a nest. Their bodies already contain fertilized eggs from last fall so they need only to select a place secure from the elements to begin the cycle of reproduction. Once the site is selected, surviving females gather to build a paper nest.

Some studies indicate that several species of social wasps select a the queen through a contest within the group who gather in early spring. All of the females within this species are capable of laying eggs however the one with the ability to eat the eggs of her rivals wins. Following selection of the winner all other females stop laying eggs and the losers become workers, foraging for their queen and raising her young.     

In other species, the female lays the eggs and raises the first young wasps herself…  the first of the eggs to hatch are always sterile female who become workers who take over for their mother. They expand the nest and maintain their siblings in a series of intricate brooding cells. It is easy to determine the number of wasps in a colony by the size of the nest. Large colonies, which can number into the thousands, have extremely large and intricate nests.

 As with Ants, male wasps are relatively unimportant and rather like dead beat dads. There is little necessity for them with exception of fertilization of the eggs as they contribute nothing to the hive. Wasp males born late in the season have the express purpose of embracing the females and following this task they die.

The wasp is a fierce natural predator, eliminating many garden pests, so oftentimes useful to ignore them. However stay clear of the excited buzzing-about that is occurring now; they are willing to attack enmass in a terrifying swirl.  

Monday, October 16, 2017

For the Love of Leaves


Sunday was glorious weather requiring a light jacket as the cool breezes gently blew throughout the day. It was a stark contrast to the smothering humid heat and screaming wind before the violent storm on Saturday evening. The rolling thunder, flashes of lighting and horizontal rain was remarkable in its terrifying velocity. Sunday reminded us there is calm following a storm… and Autumn arrived.   

At last the trees are beginning their foliage show and it is promising to be a lovely one that we may enjoy until our first deep freeze. 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 (sugar), 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. Following this last exercise, the trees will toss their leaves so they may begin their final challenge.

Since 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 baby saplings as they grow to become forest giants like their parents. New research has proven that trees will provide a network of mutual care through intertwining roots and the adults will actually send nutrients to ill or immature trees to assure they live and thrive.  The miracle of nature is always at work regardless of the season.


Monday, October 9, 2017

Miraculous Migrations


According to season twice a year an amazing number of species on the planet tend to migrate. As defined by the dictionary ‘migration is the seasonal movement of a complete population of insects, fish, and birds from one area to another as a response to changes in temperature or daylight’.  Our birds and butterflies are in the process of migrating South at this time and the sight of them is awe inspiring as great numbers gather.

The Butterflies: The butterflies have been arriving in my garden for several weeks as they continue their journey south to Texas or Mexico. It took three days for hundreds of Monarchs to travel overhead with many flying from far Northern states. Often in a group of six to ten, sometimes alone, they stopped for a sip from my flowers and rested a bit before continuing their journey. I finally got a chaise lounge to look upward rather than have my neck hurt from looking to the sky for hours.

An oddity this year is the spectacular gathering of literally hundreds of bright yellow butterflies dancing about the garden. There is great symbolism associated with yellow butterflies with some Native American tribes believing they bring guidance, hope, joy and creativity with their sunny presence reminding one to have fun. A yellow butterfly flying about you is said to bring happiness and prosperity, while one hitting your face in the fall means the leaves will turn yellow and a frost will come within 10 days… one gently hit my face on Sunday so we shall see.
Of course the Irish had a myth concerning the yellow butterflies believing they are indicators of departed souls who are resting at peace in the after-life. This belief was adopted by the Scots as well and the sight of them near gravesites promised the souls of children and mothers who died during childbirth were safely in Heaven.

In some costal cultures it was believed if a yellow butterfly landed on you in the fall, grave danger of illness was looming so extra precautions should be taken to protect oneself. *Naturally the formula for protection has been lost over time. It was believed if one landed on a departing sailor he would not survive the voyage.  

The Birds: This week will mark the end of the Hawks and Vultures migration, so look in open fields and possibly catch them as they ‘kettle’. They will gather as though they had been telepathically summoned, their numbers reaching hundreds as they gather and wait for some internal signal. The signal is a warm thermal updraft which will aid them in their travels and with its arrival they will begin to kettle.

Kettling is the manner by which the birds take flight and begin graceful acrobatic wheeling and swirling in a circular motion. They will twirl higher and higher as more birds join the wondrous dance, continuing ever-upward until the first birds appear only as small dark specks in the blue sky. And then they will disappear and be gone, returning in the early spring.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Bird Watching... Fun For All Ages

The baby-green whisper thin wheat and winter grasses are emerging right on schedule. Autumn has arrived and is a season unto itself wondrous to behold and enjoy before winter. With pleasant temperatures and bright sunshine, it is perfect for taking a walk, swishing through the falling leaves.
As the leaves have begun to thin, it is easy to see birds who are no longer hidden among masses of greenery. As the flit among bare branches, they become a visual delight to watch as they too enjoy this fine weather.
The National Audubon Society has provided a provocative article on the joy of birding, which is the practice of bird watching. There are people who are avid birders, keeping notes on species they have seen, where they were found or where they nest, how many babies hatched, and how many eggs did not. The serious birders often gather in groups to seek a rare species and photograph it with very expensive cameras to impress other birders. Then there are simple bird-watchers…most of us fall into this category.
The Society encourages parents to teach all of their children, from toddlers to teenagers, the joys of bird watching. Children have an enormous capacity for taking in knowledge and storing it… their minds must like sponges for them to learn all that they do in a few short years. From speaking to walking, observing to participating, what they learn as youngsters will stay with them for life, expanding as they grow.
Libraries have numerous books on birds and where they travel (migrate) so presenting one to a child will immediately pique their interest. Perhaps add a miniature pair of binoculars for fun and the months will simply fly by.
Today’s children who learn to love birding are the future of our planet for they may become environmentalists and scientists…  they may discover a new species or save one that is fading.
This week try to see and enjoy the migrations of the Hawks and Vultures, who will all be kettling… which means hundreds will gather in a field until an invisible signal is sent which causes them to suddenly begin flying upward in a swirling motion… higher and higher with others joining each moment. Up and up until out of sight… they are going south for the winter and will not return until spring.  

John James Audubon 1826  

*The Audubon Society, founded in 1905, is the oldest non-profit environmental organization dedicated to conservation. It is named in honor John James Audubon who observed, painted, cataloged, and described the birds of North America in 1827-38.  

Monday, September 18, 2017

Fall Bloomers

 For several weeks it has been delightful to see the Crepe Myrtle giving her full show of fuchsia, crimson or white flowers. Originating in China, the Crepe Myrtle was first introduced to the Southern United States in 1747 where it thrived in their moderate winters. Then in 1950, the cold hardy Japanese Crepe Myrtle arrived, placing the tree on the national agenda. With lovely peeling bark coloration, resistance to powdery mildew, and even a dwarf variety available, it is a suitable guest in every garden. If spent blossoms are clipped, the Crape Myrtle will continue blooming until frost.... and this necessity is a marvelous excuse to create an arrangement.  
This is also the seasonal time when the spectacular Morning Glories have reached their zenith, climbing almost any vertical surface at a surprising growth rate of up to inches a day. The flower of the Morning Glory is called to open with the dawn and lasts but one day, finishing the flower cycle by evening. However since it is a prolific bloomer, there is not a day that does not include dozens of new blooms from summer until frost.

 Wild morning glories have been traced back to ancient China where they were used for medicinal and ceremonial purposes. The Japanese first cultivated the flower for ornamental use in the 9th century and it is celebrated in both culture and art.

 Artifacts indicate that over three thousand years ago, many South American civilizations had discovered when morning glory seeds were added to the substances from the rubber tree, a bouncing rubber ball was produced. The sulfur in the seeds was the key and the ancients used the exact same process supposedly ‘discovered’ by Charles Goodyear in 1844.

The flower lasting but one day led to romantic folklore and in Victorian times the fleeting flowers represented the fickle nature of love while the profusion of new blooms symbolized the renewable nature of affection. At that time images of morning glories were used on tombstones where they were a symbol of the shortness of life.

Besides the traditional blue there are many new varieties in an astounding array of colors making this charming vine a welcome addition to any garden. With drought and poor soil tolerance, rapid growth habit, and amazing twining ability, the morning glory has long been used to shade porches, easily climbing a trellis to provide cooling relief on hot summer days.

It is an annual, meaning it must be planted each year and will die at first frost. Collection and storage of the seeds as the season progresses is economical however it should be mentioned the seeds contain an hallucinogen. For this reason they are considered dangerous and must be stored away from children and pets.

Pollen and Super Pollen

Since the summer consisted of driving winds and lovely rains, the pollen has reached epic proportions and seems to have permeated everything, everywhere. When the dust from preparing the fields to plant wheat is added to the equation, the allergens are beyond escape so measures should be taken concerning outdoor activities.

 I recently read several scientific articles on the effects of Global Warming. Since the jury is 'in' and the experts agree it is an indisputable fact, the information of interest to gardeners addressed the topic of pollen. According to the professors who study such matters, the pollen will increase to the status of 'super' in the coming years.

The increased emissions of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by fuel propelled autos, airplanes, and large machinery are apparently the primary cause according to the experts. Since plants and grasses utilize carbon dioxide in the production of their food, the theory is that plants and grasses are now receiving the equivalent of daily doses of fertilizer. Gardeners who supply fertilizer in regular intervals know their plant life is rejuvenated by such applications so the theory is not off base.

Research on Ragweed, the major culprit of allergens in the Fall, indicate it produces more pollen and larger pollen as the growing season lengthens and the carbon dioxide levels rise. According to the US Agriculture Research Service, Ragweed already produces 131% more pollen now as opposed to a hundred years ago. Their projection is that by 2050 the percentage number will rise to an alarming 320%. Research also indicates trees and grasses, the prime sources of allergy misery in the spring and summer, also are in the process of becoming super pollinators.

As the allergy suffers know, this research provides no new information with exception of the possible cause of increased misery. Apparently the more beautiful the time of year, the more torment one may expect. However, there are a few rules set forth by the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology to relieve some symptoms and they suggest:

*A thorough spring cleaning of the house, top to bottom to remove dust.

*Postponing morning coffee in the garden until after ten when overnight pollen has settled.

*Stay inside on hot, dry, windy days if at all possible… wind storms are actually the equivalent of rain storms.

*Do not hang laundry, especially sheets, on the line as allergens collect on them. Allergens will also be on the over shirt idly tossed on the patio chair yesterday, so don’t put it back on.

*After working outside, shower and wash your hair before bed. Change your pillow case daily.

*Be aware of high mold spore counts after a heavy rain or in the evening. Dizziness and/or blurry vision are clues the spore count is high.

Note: I wrote this article several years ago, however it bears repetition as a reminder since the number of allergens this season seem to be unprecedented… with the rains, the rag weed is over seven feet tall this year!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Hurricane of 1780... and total devastation.

All week, I have been reading Nature on the Rampage by Ann and Myron Sutton to better understand the forces of nature. Written in 1962, their research utilizes all scientific data available at the time…and predictions still remain obscure to this day.
·       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.

 A Mariner is quoted with his description of this 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.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Tulips... and the Movie About Them

In the Garden

By Catherine Dougherty

Time to Order Tulips

 There is a new film out entitled ‘Tulip Fever’, which is about the obsession with tulips which occurred with her discovery in the 16th century. It is exceedingly exciting that the film institute would find such a story worthy since most gardening history remains in relative obscurity. Also it would quite odd for me to assume the writer found inspiration from my column and blog about ‘Tulipomania’ written in 2012, however it does remain a possibility.  

 It was such an interesting time in gardening history that I shall resubmit my original column to enlighten those who are unaware… and I feel watching the film will provide thrilling excitement to all of those who are in love with a spring garden.

The Original Column: The Tulip~

individuals invested in tulip bulbs as they now invest in stocks of oil or other ventures. Many fortunes and vast land holdings were lost over Tulip bulbs; one shipping magnate gave a fleet of ten ships for 10 bulbs! By the mid 1700's the bulbs were still expensive, but available to an elite public willing to pay the price for them. The Ambassador from Holland proudly presented 7 bulbs to Martha Washington following her request and they were planted in a place of honor in her original gardens at Mt.

Descendants of the Dutch bulbs will not mature properly or flower a second year without a cold winter so expect to plant each year in warmer zones. However since time and science have provided an affordable array of spectacular colors and form, Tulips are still a magnificent addition to the garden. Choose Common or frilly, parrot or scented; all are worth the effort to pl
The tulip is perfect as a cutting flower for spring arThe joyful tulip will arrive at the garden party with the first blush of Spring, promising the garden season has indeed arrived. Tulip bulbs are readily available and easily affordable nowadays, but history proves that was not always the case.

The Tulip originated in Asia Minor where the Ottomans developed cultivars which concentrated on long, thin, wispy flowers of different colors. This lovely flower was first brought to the Vienna Court in the 1500's and was presented to the King as a prized gift from exploration.

As the majestic Tulip began her travels around Europe, she was greeted with wild excitement in every nation. Originally as a matter of social status, only members of the royal family were allowed access to certain bulbs; lower classes were forbidden to possess them. Naturally, the result was a deep desire akin to lust to own a Tulip bulb. Fierce competition, intrigue, and smuggling of the bulbs emerged, resulting in a rage referred to as "Tulipomania".  By 1634-1637, the situation had become so intense that the governments of both England and Holland were forced to pass legislation to regulate trade in the tulip market.

At the height of the mania, interest was so widespread that individuals invested in tulip bulbs as they now invest in the stock market or other monetary ventures. Many fortunes and vast land holdings were lost over Tulip bulbs; one shipping magnate gave a fleet of ten ships for 10 bulbs! By the mid 1700's the bulbs were still expensive, but available to an elite public willing to pay the price for them. The Ambassador from Holland proudly presented 7 bulbs to Martha Washington following her request and they were planted in a place of honor in her original gardens at Mt. Vernon.

Descendants of the Dutch bulbs will not mature properly or flower a second year without a cold winter so expect to plant each year in warmer zones. However since time and science have provided an affordable array of spectacular colors and form, Tulips are still a magnificent addition to the garden. Choose Common or frilly, parrot or scented; all are worth the effort to plant… if only for one season.
Photo: The tulip is perfect as a cutting flower for spring arrangements.
The Tulips are blooming! The joyful tulip will arrive at the garden party with the first blush of Spring, promising the garden season has indeed arrived. Tulip bulbs are readily available and easily affordable nowadays, but history proves that was not always the case.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Darling, Daring Dragonflies

Not since 2010 has the garden been graced with so many dragonflies and this is indeed their year. Twenty years ago they appeared in great numbers in late afternoon, gracefully hovering in a suspended dance above the meadow. This year they appear in mass by mid-morning and in a stunning array of brilliant colors. Dragonflies are located worldwide and have more than 5,000 described species, 450 of which reside in North America, with Texas alone home to 225 species. Considerably downsized now, a fossilized dragonfly from 250 million years ago had a wingspan of 28 inches!

Adult Dragonflies are lovely and graceful, with a sweet head that turns to look at you quizzically with magical eyes. Often brightly colored they have two pair of long, slender, transparent, and highly veined wings. The wings do not fold but are held permanently outstretched even when at rest. Adult dragonflies are usually found near water with a territory which may range several miles. Many males are intensely protective, defending their domain from other males, which may explain sudden aeronautical chases exhibiting extraordinary maneuverability.

A truly beneficial insect from infancy to maturity, dragonflies eat mosquitoes. The immature dragonfly is called a nymphs (or naiads). Nymphs are entirely aquatic and are found on submerged vegetation and the bottom of ponds and marshes where they capture and eat mosquito larvae. The adults seen above the meadows are capturing adult mosquitoes while in flight.

As with all interesting insects, there are many folk tales surrounding the dragonfly. Perhaps due to their unusual and multifaceted eyes, in Norway and Sweden they were said to be sinister works of the Devil. Conversely the Pueblo tribes have endowed them with significant importance. They are said to represent swiftness and activity and to the Navajo pure water. Dragonflies are a common motif in Zuni pottery, Hopi rock art and they appear on many Pueblo necklaces. In Japan they are a symbol of late summer and early autumn and also represent courage, strength, and happiness. They often appear in art, literature, and on Japanese pottery.

For the third year I have a gorgeous Dragonfly who has taken up residence in my privet, near the step down to the lower level. A vivid blue with dark black wings which fold as he rests, he seems to like me… he posed for the picture before gently flittering to another branch.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Wonderous Watermelon


Watermelon is thought to have originated in the Kalahari Desert of Africa and its popularity is partially due to the flavor and the amount of water it contains... it is 92-94% water, thus the name. Much of the epic history of the watermelon has been researched by Harry Paris, a horticulturalist at the Agricultural Research Organization in Israel, who has spent years assembling clues including ancient Hebrew texts, artifacts in Egyptian tombs, and medieval illustrations…. archaeologists discovered watermelon seeds, along with the remnants of other fruits, at a 5,000-year-old settlement in Libya. From Africa watermelons spread throughout countries along the Mediterranean Sea by way of merchant ships where they were stored to be used as a portable canteen for fresh water on journeys.

The first recorded watermelon harvest occurred nearly 5,000 years ago in Egypt and is depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphics on walls of their ancient buildings. Watermelons were often placed in the burial tombs of kings to nourish them in the afterlife... one was discovered in King Tut’s tomb. Pliny the elder, our favorite Greek historian, mentioned them as a refrigerant maxime, an extremely cooling food, in his first century encyclopedia, Historia Naturalis.

By the 10th century, watermelon found its way to China, which is now the world's number one producer of watermelons. By the 13th century, they were known throughout Europe. Southern food historian, John Egerton, believes watermelon made its way to the United States with African slaves as he states in his book, "Southern Food."

About 200-300 varieties are grown in the U.S. and Mexico, although there are about 50 varieties that are very popular. In selecting a watermelon, choose one that is heavy for its size and free of bruises with a yellow underside indicating it was vine ripened.

For a moment of inspiration is must be noted that watermelons are being reintroduced to sub-Sahara Africa as a source of water for those in drought stricken areas. It is indeed a miracle plant!

Photo: Giuseppe Recco's Still Life With Fruit (1634-1695).

Sunday, June 11, 2017

May the Dung Beetle RIP

Anyone who is observant in the garden has met the darling dung beetle. He’s the fascinating little dark gray guy who plays in a mound of dung… any sort will do. He works it as though it is an important assignment pushing this way and that. And when he has it ‘just so’ in a small ball, he stands on his head and begins to roll his creation using his hind legs to balance the whole thing as it rolls. Sometimes they work as a crew, with many little beetles hard at work.

Unfortunately, this incredibly useful little beetle has met his demise through the use of Ivomec, a highly successful internal and external parasite control for cattle. “Discovered and developed by scientists from Merck Research Laboratories, IVOMEC Pour-On contains ivermectin, a unique chemical entity“ (Their qoute) Yes indeed… and the poisoned parasites are excreted and the poor dung beetle, just doing his job, is poisoned as well.

As we say farewell to yet another important life form living on our Planet, the dung beetle needs the recognition he deserves so perhaps reviewing his job is in order. These little beetles reside in pastures and clean the waste droppings by rolling them and burying them in tunnels six inches deep. The tunnels create greater water retention in the fields and improve root and soil aeration. Besides being fertilized, the pasture is clean which reduces the gastrointestinal parasite larvae which may be ingested by the cattle, excreted by the cattle then ingested again in an ongoing life cycle. By rapidly cleaning the pasture, dung beetles reduce the numbers of flies, whom we all know adore manure as a nesting site for their nasty youngsters, the maggots.

I had noted the past few years, the pastures had begun look like cattle ghettos… as though the sanitation crews had abandoned them. Unfortunately the sanitation crews have been killed.

The dung beetle is a true loss… to a degree of which only time can tell. I was very fond of them and spent a good part of my childhood and adulthood stopping to watch them work, enamored and fascinated by their duty and obligation. May our little beetles RIP… and may Merck be ashamed for not doing their homework!

Please do not use this product in any form. Please let me know of sightings of the beetle

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Dazzling Dahlias

As with all flowers there is a rich and colorful history surrounding the Dahlia, which originated in Mexico where it was cultivated by Aztec empire. Amid little fanfare, the first Dahlias were introduced to Europe by the first conquistadores, who mistook the tubers for potatoes. However in 1769 tubers were sent to the Royal Botanic Garden in Madrid by the director of Mexico’s Botanical Garden and from this original stock three distinct species were developed which are still part of Dahlias today.

In 1872 J.T. Van der Berg of the Netherlands was sent a parcel of plants from a friend in Mexico. Though most of the plants were badly rotten he was able to salvage a piece of root that he tended until it grew into a healthy plant. He made cuttings from the plant during the winter of 1872-1873 and we have him to thank for the deep red Dahlias. Van der Berg named his darling Dahlia juarezii to honor the deceased Mexican President Benito Juarez.

The petals of his glorious Dahlia rolled backwards, rather than forward, and this form is believed to be the original, existing in Mexico before disappearing for hundreds of years. Nurserymen in Europe crossbred this plant with others and the results are our Dahlias of today.

Nurserymen, who seemed a hot-headed several centuries ago, verbally fought over who discovered, hybridized, and distributed the first Dahlias… the list is endless. In 1846, so popular were Dahlias, that the Caledonia Horticultural Society of  Edinburgh offered a 2,000 pound prize to the person who was able to cultivate a ‘blue‘…  a fete which has never been accomplished.

Dahlias fleshy root, prized for intense mocha flavor, is still roasted and used to flavor beverages in Central America. In Europe, prior to the discovery of insulin in 1923, patients were often given a substance derived from a form of fruit sugar extracted from the Dahlia to control diabetes.

The Dahlia likes sunshine will faithfully bloom for most of the season reaching their zenith in August. To assure constant blooms they must be dead headed, which is the process of removing spent blossoms. Today’s Dahlias run the entire spectrum of color, bloom size, and shape. From the darling miniature Humpty Dumpty to the dazzling giants with their sultry tangle of fantastic foliage and giant six inch blooms, there is a Dahlia to fit your garden needs… and now is the time to plant one.
* My Dahlia that wintered over here is over 7 feet tall!

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Antique Chambers Stove and the Stranger

The stove looked like mine...

Easter week about 20 years ago, I decided to advertise a Chambers stove I had purchased at auction for $3. No one had placed a bid because no one wanted to move it and Michael wasn’t pleased I bought it. It was residing in the hay barn across the creek and so it was time it had a home. I figured $125 would be a dandy return on my investment so I advertised it in the Daily Oklahoma.

I got a call on Saturday and a lady wanted to come see it on Easter Sunday if it was not too inconvenient. Dinner here was scheduled for one thirty so I told her anytime before noon would be fine.

Virginia arrived and she was a sweet lady in her early fifties, a grand motherly type and as we walked to the hay barn I heard her rather sad story. Her husband of 20 odd years had left her for a younger woman and she was attempting to put her life back together. They were childless, her mother had passed and she was alone but she had bought a small house near OCU where she could see the bustle of students everyday. She wanted the stove since she had grown up with one exactly like it in happier times and she said she would arrange to pick it up later in the week. 

Wow… I had not expected such a story and it pulled at my heart strings. I couldn’t fix her life, but I could fix her Easter so of course I invited her to stay for dinner. Virginia hesitated for a minute so I suggested I could certainly use the help. (The children were busy swinging from tree tops after way too much sugar and so they needed to stay outside!)

She accepted and got into the swing of things immediately as she followed me into the kitchen. We got out the Haviland and she set the table; we whipped mashed potatoes, buttered rolls, and filled Grandmother’s crystal water glasses. We sliced the roast, tossed the salad and by the time dinner rolled around, we were fast friends. I settled her next to me at the table and we had a lovely meal. Virginia joined the conversations and laughed at the delightful antics of the children…  she enjoyed herself immensely.
As Michael, the children and I walked her to the gate and waved goodbye, the kids looked at me quizzically and asked, “Mom, who was that lady?” 

BTW: I gave her the stove...

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Where did I leave my pruners?

My day in the Garden
This is how my gardening days usually go lately; I can’t find anything in the yard anymore. I spend all my time looking for lost tools. I’ll prune something, stack it then drop the pruners to carry off debris, planning to return momentarily. I see something else on the way back to the pruners and become distracted from the pruning job.

A large clump of grasses or weeds lurking amongst the flowers catch my eye. I weed a bit then I begin to look for the rake to rake the weeds and grass I’ve just pulled before they can rebound and reroot. On my way to find the rake I see a lily with a heavy head that needs to be staked. I remember a stake is on the spent Iris so I go looking for it. I finally locate it then stake the plant.

Then I remember, as I see the wilting weeds, I am looking for the rake. I finally find it in some obscure place then rake the weeds into a pile. I need my gloves to pick up the pile so I go to the garden table to get them. Not there. I remember I took them to the house so they would not get rain soaked, so I go to get them on the ledge of the porch. Bingo. Gloves on I pick now up the weeds.

As I am carrying them off I see a six pack of wilting Petunias that desperately need to be put in the ground. I need my trowel. Hmmm? I look for one of my three trowels and finally find one in the herbs where I was digging grass days ago. I plant the Petunias then notice something that needs to be pruned.

I can't remember where I left the pruners, it’s getting hot, I’m beginning to sweat and need a drink of water. I’ve gone full circle. No wonder I'm tired at night.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Flooding at the Doomsday Vault... an Unexpected Oddity.


For those of us who garden, Nature is fascinating, always shifting, and emerging in different directions. From shere powers of our own observations we notice changes however subtle. It seems that in spite of some current observations which dispute Global Warming, it does indeed exist. I can recall the first time I observed pollution from automobiles. It was a crisp winter day in 1986 and I was taking my usual walk to the top of the hill on the little red dirt road. Since we are only three miles from it, I could always see I-40 and this day for the first time I noted a hazy brown line above the trucks and cars driving the hi-way. Back then traffic was infrequent and I believe most goods were still shipped by rail rather than trucks however since then the traffic is choking and a monstrous cloud of hazy pollution may be seen for miles. With our actions, mankind has indeed altered the climate of our planet, leaving potential disaster in our wake.

With the knowledge of radical climate change, the ‘Doomsday Vault’ to house seeds from all over the planet was built in 2008 in the most perfect setting possible… the remote island of Svalbard Norway at the Arctic Circle near the North Pole. As I wrote in April, the vault is humanity’s assurance of food perpetuation in case of a catastrophic event, such as nuclear war or an asteroid strike. Regardless of politics, each nation has contributed and the repository contains over 865,000 varieties of seeds from around the globe, with an intended capacity of 2.25 billion seeds.’

Built 8 stories down into the frozen tundra, the Norwegian government felt the seeds were secure, nestled under permafrost which is, as its name implies, permanent ice. Last week an alarming report of great import was seen as a mere squiggle on the news… five days ago it was reported the entrance to the vault had been breached by floodwater. The area sees only snow however due to climate change and unusual warming there have been a series of unexpected rains which melted the permafrost. Thankfully the flooding did not make it to the seed depository.

Scientists have waterproofed and removed electronics from the tunnel leading to the vault, and dug trenches to channel water. They have hustled to install pumps in the seed room to save them should it be breached. The Seeds are the life-blood of the planet and mankind; they are perpetual and must be saved at all cost.

Perhaps we should consider our own ‘global footprint’ which is the measure of human impact upon the Earth's ecosystems. It estimates how rapidly we are depleting Earth’s natural gifts with our unconscious actions. Perhaps we should seek to slow down a bit and simply enjoy the glorious moments we have been given.

Monday, May 1, 2017

May and the Arrival of Bugs

In the Garden

By Catherine Dougherty



If April showers bring May flowers we will be delighted, particularly after the storms wrought such havoc. The weekend storms were unlike any in recent memory with torrents of rain for days, sustained winds that ripped and tore foliage, uprooted trees, produced mini-tornados, and did substantial damage. These storms have an intensity that is frightening and seem to increase in velocity as they travel across the country.

It is fortunate it is so early in the season because Nature will repair the damage to the trees and shrubs. However there is no such luck for the Peonies that were in full and glorious bloom… the wind and rain shortened their show and it will not return until next spring. The up side is the late blooming Iris are putting on new buds and Oklahoma has finally emerged from our drought status.  

In checking the garden, I noted the deluge did not deter the hoards of bugs invading the garden. The most invasive so far seems to be the blister bug seen scurrying among almost all the garden vegetation. Blister bugs belong to a group of insects who have met on a collision course with mankind for many years and are considered ‘very bad bugs‘. They travel in packs and migrate to whatever seems delicious at the moment, and unlike some insects that have a favorite flavor the blister bug eats everything indiscriminately. Thus just as the produce and flowers reach their peak, they arrive enmass and strip the plants of all protective foliage practically overnight. 

A clever insect, they have been known to drop to the ground and ‘play dead’ when disturbed. When that tactic fails, they release their infamous caustic toxin Cantharidin, and it is from this they get their reputation as ‘blister bugs‘. If crushed, the beetle literally bleeds this chemical from its joints and any skin contact with this goo results in painful blisters.

Blister bugs love alfalfa flowers and have often been accidentally ground up during harvest resulting in Cantharidin infected hay. When consumed by livestock the resulting blisters may cause illness so this beetle is quite dangerous. To rid the garden of them I recommend shaking the branch and stepping on them with hard sole shoes and since they will have squished, do not touch the soles and leave your shoes outside… high and away from children or pets.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Exotic Dancer, the Body Guard, and the Baby Bed

Julia learned about gravity by tossing toys over the edge of the baby bed... It was an important investment!

 Of course we all know my life never, never runs smoothly and each and every day presents some sort of adventure or bizarre challenge. With Julia’s arrival I decided that I needed to break down the furnishings in the ’kite room’ and get a full sized baby bed for her. The kite room is called thusly from the 1987 wallpaper of colorful dancing kites with flowing tails in primary colors. It was a favorite and the kids said they traced the maze-like pattern of the tails while supposedly napping. They refused to allow me to repaper or paint over them and with Julia here a reevaluation of the room made it seem a marvelously child-friendly space. Only it was needing a bed.
Enter the brilliant idea of searching Craig’s List… everyone does. Scrolling down I rejected the beds used by grandmother’s who had ‘only used it ten times or so’ as unfeasible. For some reason I just didn’t believe them. I kept scrolling, amazed at the number of baby items listed, until BINGO, there it was. The bed was a high dollar Simmons for only $65 and the picture was pretty awesome. So I called…
A lady answered in garbled sentences and I assumed it was the damn cell phone again. I got directions for a storage facility somewhere deep in South Oklahoma City. I was to meet her there and said I‘d call when we got close to the city. I had two more garbled calls from her with one lengthy conversation about her being at the tag office trying to get a new tag for her car… in spite of all the bizarre directions we did manage to find the storage unit.
It had tall metal fencing and was a locked and gated maze of tiny storage units down secluded alleys. We waited outside until a beautiful young woman drove up in a very old Mercedes with a dent in the back. She had a man as a passenger and waved gaily as she slipped her card through the access slot and the gate swung open. Both of our cars moved in… the gate slammed closed behind us. She drove through turn after turn of the storage units as we went deeper and deeper through alleys into unknown territory of total isolation. I didn’t know such places existed!  She stopped and got out of the car, rushing to greet me. Clearly she was on heavy drugs… thus the garbles. Ah well…

She was about 28, perfect tan, perfect hair, perfect body, perfect sparkly makeup, deep plunging scanty top and short ass-showing shorts; she was clearly a stripper. Then the other passenger got out and I stifled a gasp. He must have been 6’ 8” or 9”, and a good 400 pounds. She said, ’Meet Moth’ as he extended his ham-sized hand. Michael and I glanced at each other in the isolation of the empty alley as I twisted my engagement ring to my palm. Michael glanced at the Avalanche longingly before looking at me with the ‘It’s a fine fix you’ve gotten us into Lucy’ glance I‘ve seen many times before!

She opened the door to what appeared to be a deep and narrow closet and began to drag the bed out of storage unit. I loved it I said…I’ll take it! Did I want the mattress…. No. I said I had one which I didn’t. I had a sinking feeling we needed to leave this place immediately... after all Michael had cash in his billfold.

Michael began loading the bed, tossing it in the truck with wild abandon. When I asked if we should tie it down he answered, ‘Not so much’… get in the truck’. 'Wait, Wait,' she called... did I want to buy jewelry she selling? What? Moth was smiling with that ‘I’m not all here’ smile and at the mention of jewelry he looked at my turquoise ring and asked what it was.

I pressed the cash into her hand but she suddenly began to really, really like me! She said “Wait", and ran to her car bringing out a tray of jewelry she was selling. She said she was a jewelry designer and wanted to give me an opportunity to have one of her unique designs. Michael sighed restlessly as I politely looked at her designs and she suddenly offered to give me a stone. Really? I took a long look and chose a lovely garnet then we visited about making jewelry. I liked her too and she sincerely hugged me goodbye as I thanked her profusely. We got in the pickup, Michael locked the doors, and I enthusiastically waved goodbye as we left... I was immensely pleased.

There was total silence for twenty miles or so before Michael asked quietly, “Do we want to talk about what just transpired“?

“What transpired?” I asked, “We just got a bed for Julia through Craig’s List and I got a garnet!”

Monday, April 24, 2017

Wild About Wildflowers

Oklahoma's Wildflowers
With the recent rains the wildflowers have continued their spectacular show and any drive will offer the sight of our beautiful naturalized countryside. Fossil records indicate that flowers appeared quite suddenly about 90 million years ago and today they are the most abundant and diverse plants on the earth. Originally plants were generated from spore not seed so they were able to reproduce without the aid of pollination. However with the emergence of seeds plants needed wind, birds, or bees to propagate. From this necessity arose the showy flower forms we see today as they sought to lure pollinators with their color, scent, and beauty.

As gardens evolved, flowers were genetically modified and became altogether different from their wild ancestors who grew freely, unattended and yet thrived. However after several centuries of excitement over the ability to alter flowers, gardeners became concerned the original native plants might be completely lost. In the early 1900’s garden designer Gertrude Jeckyll (1843-1932) began a campaign to preserve the beautiful ‘flowering incidents’ occurring in woodland settings.

 In the 1970’s Lady Bird Johnson (1912-2007) recognized that urban expansion could possibly cause extinction of many wildflowers and placed their preservation on the national agenda. In 1982 Mrs. Johnson and actress Helen Hayes created the National Wildflower Research Center in Austin Texas to collect, identify, and preserve native plants of America. In her honor the center was renamed the Lady Bird Johnson Texas Wildflower Center in 2012 as it celebrated the 100th anniversary of her birth. Following the former first lady’s lead, Wildflower Societies sprang up in every state and the status of wildflowers was finally changed from noxious weed to treasured gem. Stretches of hi-way are now adopted by dedicated volunteers and across the nation their beautification efforts are evident.

Oklahoma’s Native Plant Society, formed in 1986, states their purpose is ‘to encourage the study, protection, propagation, appreciation and use of Oklahoma's native plants‘. With the society’s encouragement the Indian Blanket Flower was chosen as our state wildflower that year. A darling red flower with bright yellow on the tips of the petals, it has an evolving center that changes from green to deep red as it matures. It may be seen on every hillside, in every bar ditch, beside every Oklahoma road... beautifully blooming to brighten our day.

*Of Note:
The hideous Musk Thistle has arrived in our pastures over the past ten years. Oddly, this thistle has adorned the national emblem of Scotland since the reign of Alexander III (1249-1286) and was used on silver coins issued by James III in 1470. Legend has stated that Norse invaders stepped on them and the thorns pierced their leather foot wear. The invaders cried out in pain, thus alerting the sleeping Scotsmen and assuring them a battle win. As can be seen in the photograph, the base of this dreadful plant is sturdy and incredibly thorny, topped by a pretty pink blossom that is lethal in her production of seeds. A single flower head may produce 1,200 seeds and a single plant up to 120,000 seeds, which are wind dispersed. The seeds may remain viable in the soil for over ten years, making it a difficult plant to control. Cattle who ingest it often die....

Monday, April 10, 2017

Sacred Seeds

*Given to patron of Farmers Co-Ops in 1935.
The perpetuation of God’s greatest gift to mankind, plants which sustain all of life, is assured through the production of their seeds. Seeds assure there will be another crop and thus food for all who eat fruits and grasses. Gardeners are accurately aware of the importance of seeds and many save them from year to year to plant or exchange with other gardeners.  

This spring Public Broadcasting will air a very important series, raising the alarm on the imperative of saving our seeds from corporate manipulation. Corporate farms are in the process of genetically engineering their seeds to render them infertile, making it a necessity to purchase them each year. This seems a diabolical plan and an unwarranted intervention in the epoch of life created by the Master.

For over 12,000 years mankind has carefully collected and stored seeds, knowing the future depended upon them.  When the great pyramids were opened, archaeologists discovered caches of seeds among other artifacts. Upon planting, many of these seeds stored for thousands of years, germinated into well formed plants.

Another example is that of a stash of seeds buried within a Native American seed pot discovered on the Menemonee Reservation in Wisconsin. The pot and seeds were carbon dated from around 1290, making the seeds an incredible 800 plus years old. Excitement was palatable as the seeds were planted and the wait began. To the utter joy of the student archaeologist, the strange seeds grew into a rare species of squash that had been extinct for hundreds of years.

There is also an amazing report of lupine (Lupinus articicus) seeds discovered in the Yukon of Alaska.  Found deep within the burrows of ancient lemmings, buried in permafrost silt dating to the Pleistocene epoch, these 10,000 year old seeds sprouted as well.

Noting the importance of seeds, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, or the Doomsday Seed Vault, was created in 2008. Located on the remote island of Svalbard in Norway and dug into the frozen Arctic ice, is humanity’s assurance of food perpetuation in case of a catastrophic event, such as nuclear war or an asteroid strike. Regardless of politics, each nation has contributed and the repository contains over 865,000 varieties of seeds from around the globe, with an intended capacity of 2.25 billion seeds. Seeds are the recognized life-blood of the planet and the tiny miracle of life each contains is one of Mother Nature’s grandest plans… seeds are perpetual and must remain so.

Information on the PBS series:

*There are many online sites to still purchase unmodified heirloom seeds.