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: http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/films/seed-the-untold-story/

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

Monday, March 27, 2017

Flowering Viburnum and Feathered Courtship

 
With the world spinning very quickly these days, it is more important than ever to seek some harmonic softeners in daily life. The escalation of technology has become mind-boggling especially 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 heat. Now more than ever the peaceful expanse of the garden is not only desirable, but a necessary means to keep one literally grounded. Whether you are six or sixty, there is no pastime more joyful than playing in the dirt… 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 for 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, which is pictured, 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 song birds have increased their activities with the arrival of mating season and since the trees are not yet totally leafed, we are allowed to watch feathered courtship rituals. Their songs have a new sweetness and they are darting about seriously flirting and ‘dating‘. The Titmouse, Chickadees, and Goldfinches are earnest, the lady Cardinals all look like teenagers, and the Woodpecker has begun rat-a-tat drilling to provide a home for babies. There is a flurry of nest construction and the choice of materials is indeed surprising... small twigs, pieces of moss, a piece of stuffing from a torn lawn cushion, a ribbon of twine are universal choices. Intricately woven, often lined with downy feathers, a nest provides a perfect habitat to hatch tiny eggs and shelter fledglings before they mature and venture out into the world on their own. Right now our feathered friends are providing delightful garden entertainment and each has a unique personality!

Monday, March 20, 2017

St Patrick, the Shamrock and Oxalis


 





Pink Oxalis



Spring was ushered in on Monday, March 19th with the Vernal Equinox...that brief moment in time when there are equal parts of both day and night. However it has been unusually hot as we also welcomed with the celebration 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, magically 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 Oxalis with her halo of pale pink flowers that drift above the striking foliage… surely a stunning focal point for any garden.

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

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Plant Based Medicinal Knowledge of Our Elders


What have we lost?

I began rereading the Foxfire books again a few weeks ago. They were first published as magazine articles in 1966 but became so successful that the articles were published in a series of books. They are fascinating reading for in them one finds a multitude of little known and almost archaic information. Everything from forecasting the weather by observing the animals, insects, plants, or the patterns of fire to planting by moon signs, dressing a deer, building a log cabin, or making home remedies is covered, all of which seem timely as the recession deepens.

The articles were initiated by Eliot Wigginton, a Cornell graduate with a master’s degree, who began teaching at a small school in Rabun Gap-Nacochee, Georgia. Deep in the Appalachians, the 240 pupil school was located in a rural community where the traditional culture was dying. After centuries of self-sufficiency, interest in maintaining the life style of the mountain people had ebbed and the next generation was opting for an easier life. As the elders died, the information they carried with them was gradually being lost forever. In the final days of that culture, Mr. Wigginton asked the students to collect stories and information from their grandparents for preservation. It is fascinating reading available at most Libraries and quite inexpensively online.


In keeping with that thought, we should recognize that much information known to our grandparents has been lost to us in our community as well. In the mid 1970’s we visited Marion Wise at his home east of town on many occasions. He was truly a remarkable man. Not only was he totally self-sufficient, but he had knowledge of the medicinal qualities of plants growing in his back yard and the fields beyond. He added a little of this and that to petroleum jelly and had a salve that truly cured skin cancer. Chew this for a cough, boil that for a headache; the information was priceless. I kept meaning to talk to him about his knowledge, to learn from him the old ways, but days turned to months and months to years between visits and suddenly he was gone. His home was sold and bulldozed, his garden became a cotton field, and it all of his secrets were lost to us forever.

Mankind depended upon remedies and concoctions from the garden for thousands of years for health and vitality. This knowledge was passed down from one generation to the next and everyone understood the connection between nature and mankind. Perhaps this winter, since flu shots are in scarce supply, we should think of adding Cranberries to our daily diets. They are a natural antiviral and boost the immune system. With a little vitamin C containing rose hips, a cup of red clover tea, and maybe a blackberry cordial if we’re feeling under the weather, we should survive the winter very nicely.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Think Green and Preserve Our Precious Planet


6198837063_61b4482a80.jpg

With the rise of environmental awareness at long last, businesses have come around and are beginning to market ‘green’. Since we are a rural community, many people have been raised with an environmental conscience so it is but a small step for us to again embrace the premise. If in doubt, the comparisons in the American standard of living today and fifty years ago make a compelling statement.

In 1950, the average household consisted of almost four people. Most homes were less than 1, 200 square feet and had one or two bedrooms and one bathroom according to the National Association of Home Builders. With a modest home and ownership of a family car, most people thought they had achieved the American Dream.

By 2003, the average household size had shrunk to 2.6 people and yet the size of new homes had doubled. Half of them have at least four bedrooms, all have two or more bathrooms. Americans own twice as many cars per person, multiple TVs, computers, and cell phones. None of this is, in itself  is bad but just how much is enough?

Betsy Taylor, president of the Center for a New American Dream, thoughtfully discusses the changes in American aspirations. For our parents and grandparents, the American Dream meant hope, an unshakeable belief that happiness and security were truly possible. That dream still exists but the original focus on security and personal well-being slowly gave way to an obsession with ‘more’. More work, more material goods, larger cars and homes did not grant contentment or bestow free time.

The disconnect with nature and the waste generated by packaging the goods is almost overwhelming and has polluted every Ocean on the planet. Changing the way one consumes to improve quality of life and protect the environment is not difficult. Going green does not mean deprivation; it means changing habits.

 Simple tips can be implemented as a lifestyle. For example borrow books, CDs, DVDs, and video games from the library and share magazine subscriptions with friends. Use fewer household cleaners; try soap and water, baking soda, or vinegar instead. Share a lawnmower and tools with your neighbors and learn to do your own repairs rather than throw things away. Turn out the lights when you leave a room and use ceiling fans to boost your cooling/heating system effectiveness. Skip prepared and frozen food by making dinners from scratch and utilize leftovers for lunches. Plant a garden and swap produce with neighbors.

With one small baby step at a time, we can preserve the resources of our precious planet.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Revisiting Poisonous Plants



Castor Bean Plant in Bloom


As spring arrives and outside activities abound it is wise to revisit plant properties know of potential dangers lurking in the garden. Plants have been source of fascination since the beginning of time. They have provided a plethora of benefits to mankind and use of them has evolved over many years. However as all gardeners know, there is a dark side to the plant kingdom and many common plants are extremely toxic causing complaints which range from indigestion, to hallucinogenic visions, and possibly even death.

Many plants contain dangerous compounds which are removed by preparation in a specific manner allowing them to thus be consumed. Our own Poke Weed is toxic unless the leaves are prepared and cooked in a specific manner. The roots, leaves, and flowers of Taro, a wild Elephant Ear, are staple foods in some tropical countries, but they too must all be cooked before eating. Some plants have parts of them which are edible while other parts are toxic. The Rhubarb, used in flavorful jellies and pies, has poisonous leaves but the stalks are not. Almost all flowering bulbs are toxic in some manner so do not allow pets to ingest any of them.

The following plants are listed as fatal, making them of particular import. The lovely Larkspur is so toxic that it was used during the Revolutionary War as a pesticide; soldiers stuffed their boots with it to repel mites and ticks. Oddly, the green berries of the lovely and prolific Lantana are fatal in small doses as are those of the Wisteria, Jasmine and Mistletoe. All parts of the Azalea and Rhododendron plants are deadly as well. The popular house plant Dieffenbachia is called dumb cane for its affect on the mouth and throat if ingested. The instant swelling not only renders the individual dumb, but may cause air-blocking swelling. Castor beans are the origin of the deadly ricin and the succulent, Mother of Thousands, is deadly as well.  

Many traditional plants have become illegal due to their naturally occurring hallucinogenic properties. The exotic Moon Flower is banned in many states and the lovely poppy was confiscated from an elderly lady’s garden in Washington since it is the origin of opium. Salvia Divinorum, an hallucinogen when smoked, was originally used in traditional spiritual practices by the Mazatec people of Mexico and now it too is banned from sale due to non-native use.

There is a simple common sense rule to follow in dealing with the Plant Kingdom: Do not graze in the woods or garden, eating or smoking what abounds unless it is something that you know and recognize as healthful… it could make you ill or even prove fatal.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Valentine Gifts for Gardeners


Bulb Planter that attaches to a cordless drill!
 
In conversation with a fellow writer last week she astounded me by mentioning she never includes the weather in her gardening columns. She is a city girl so I am assuming the weather does not have drastic significance to her. In our community the forecast is all important and a necessity to note. From high winds and burn bans to dry conditions in the garden, predictions are very much a part of rural everyday lives. Without them how would we know if we need a sweater, an overcoat or an umbrella? A nice temperature or wind gauge would be a much appreciated Valentine’s gift… checking it would stave off the boredom of February.   

February gives the gardener time to evaluate the condition of your tools. If you send your lawn mower, hedge clippers, and rototiller to the shop now, before the spring rush, they will be repaired, revamped, and ready for use without delay.

 There are several handy items one might consider as a welcome gift for your gardening Valentine. At long last technology has met practicality and created new ergonomically correct hand tools for the gardener. Ergonomically correct tools reduce stress on the joints making them a marvelous gift for any hard working gardener.

 The fabulous Felco #2 Pruners are standard issue among commercial growers and make general pruning a breeze. Felco’s #7 models with a swivel handle that allows the gripping action to have a more natural motion is an ideal gift for the gardener with a bit of arthritis. Although they are a bit pricey, they are well worth the expense for their sheer functionality. From the company Bahco, who were the inventers of the pipe wrench, comes the P2S Pruner with the promise of professional grade pruning.

And last fall we purchased a bulb planter that fits on a drill. It is indeed a miracle for under $25, digging a bulb sized hole in seconds… it proved to be fine investment as we planted 75 bulbs in thirty minutes.  

This year plan to forgo the typical transient Valentine’s Day gifts such as cut flowers and candy and give your gardener a practical gift that will express your undying love and devotion… a good tool will do exactly that!  

Monday, January 30, 2017

Tomatoes in the News... Finally

Tomatoes in the News… Finally
 
At last the flavor of tomatoes has reached the forefront of national news… on Monday a story appeared on television which addressed the flavor of current tomatoes. As all of who love them may attest tomato flavor has become more and more lackluster as years progress until they taste... well, blah. The news suggested that two flavorful tomatoes may be genetically combined to create one with true flavor.
Originating in South America, tomatoes were prized by the Aztecs as early as 700 AD. They were brought to Europe from the Americas by Conquistadors in the early 1600’s but were considered poison by the wealthy. Unfortunately, the flatware and plates of that time were made of lead based pewter and the acidic tomato caused the lead to leach from their dinnerware to the fruit. When it was eaten, the victims died of lead poisoning… a very unpleasant way to go. Peasants had no such finery in their kitchens and ate from wooden plates with wooden spoons. Thus the tomato was relegated as a food of the lower classes where it was widely accepted as a staple. Not until the 1800’s did the upper classes begin to embrace the tomato. By the time of the Civil War, the tomato was at last accepted throughout the south as a garden and dietary staple.
As I noted in 2013, ‘for almost a decade now tomato harvests have been lackluster to say the least. I can remember when a tomato plant tossed anywhere in the garden would flourish, producing an over abundance of fruit all summer. There were no requirements or procedures to ‘baby’ fussy plants… they were tough and hardy. Planted in several three week successions, one could expect tomatoes from June until October and first frost.’
Originally it was reported that tomato plants like daytime temperatures between 70 and 85 degrees. In hybridizing the tomato for growers in cooler climates, they have genetically altered the original requirements of the plant... previously tomatoes liked it hot and dry. In altering their genetic makeup, the flavor has not only changed it has been eliminated. It is obvious tomatoes simply were not suited to be grown in New England!
Americans eat over 12 million tons of tomatoes each year, making it one of the most popular items on our menu. Throughout the United States, tomato harvests have been declining and perhaps this too is because of the hybrids. The hybrid tomatoes came with a list of illnesses the tomato plant may have and they seem a bit ridiculous. Included are leaf roll, blossom end rot, sunscald cracks, and cat face and others. Various sites call for a laundry list of exhaustive remedies… all for a plant that was at one time so hardy it originated in Mexico!
In years past if the plants were not producing gardeners went outside and ‘spanked’ the plants with a broom and one of our best yields came the year the cows got into the garden and stomped the plants. Being basically masochistic, they straightened right up and produced a record crop!  here is nothing more tasteful to the palate than a fresh tomato… I look forward to them again.
*The blueberries and Strawberries were mentioned as well
*Photo: A typical daily harvest from 20 plants in 1998.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Mother of Thousands... Her Baby Succulents



 *Please note: All parts of this lovely plant are poisonous and may prove fatal to children or pets... keep away from them.
Once again the weather took center focus with frozen rain and ice accumulations, temperatures below freezing and fog. Additionally, the rain on Sunday was an added surprise and the since temperatures did not reach above freezing ice continued to form on the trees and shrubs.  Fortunately we had no wind for it was cause of the devastation of the ice-laden trees several years ago…as the wind howled one could hear hideous sounds of giant trees snapping and falling with a deadly thud. It took literally months to clean the mountains of debris that covered all of western Oklahoma from El Reno to the border.

The Succulents are enjoyed by all gardeners for their easy going nature and their ability to survive during stressful summer days, enduring where other plants may perish. The secret to their survival is their plump fleshy leaves which store water for the plant to use during extremely dry spells. However this water content is the reason they may not reside outdoors during the winter for the leaf becomes an ice tray… frozen leaves will immediately end her life. However if taken indoors in early Autumn, watered slightly once a week when the sandy top soil is dry, she will thrive until time to take her outside in the Spring.   

One of the most adorable is Mother of Thousands whose easy propagation is the reason for her name. Originating in Madagascar, this succulent has lost the ability to produce seeds and only reproduces from plantlets,  which are small baby plants growing along the leaves of the fading adult plant. As the Mother plant begins to end her life cycle, these adorable babies appear in winter along the sides of her leaves. As the babies mature, tiny sprigs of root begin to appear, growing until it is time for the youngster to literally slide down the parent leaf into the soil below to begin life alone.  

She detests soggy conditions, as do all sedums, so plant the youngsters using a terra cotta pot with drainage holes and a sandy medium, such as cactus potting mix, for fast drainage.  Shove the plantlet into a hole the size of an index finger, tamp the soil, lightly water, and a new plant will emerge and thrive.

*For those of us who feel guilt for allowing any seeding to perish without notice, Mother of Thousands will provide a challenge… for how does one find suitable homes for thousands of children?

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Winter Stew


 
 
My Stew Recipe:

Buy 2 ½ or 3 pounds of either stew meat or chuck… whatever is cheaper.  Cut into small bite sized pieces.. . this is important because large pieces do not get tender. Put in a skillet and cook over medium heat, adding salt and pepper and 2 cups of coffee to it as it becomes brown. Set aside when it is done.

In your stock pot add:

1 small cabbage, cut

Six or seven medium carrots peeled and cut in ¼ inch diameters

 1 medium onion diced

Five potatoes (unpeeled) diced.

Cover with water and begin to slowly boil. When the cabbage is limp and the carrots and potatoes are boiling, but still firm, add the meat.

On the meat add:

1 medium jar of Picante sauce… I use mild

1 can of corn

 1 can of peeled, diced tomatoes you have squeezed and broken into pieces.

Parsley, other spices you like and anything left in the frig you want to add.

 

Stir and allow to come to a slow boil. Cook stirring whenever you think about it for about 40 minutes…

Serve with a roll and a glass of wine.

The flavors meld over the next few days, so add something like more potatoes each day. Boil them first and add when they are still slightly firm… also add some of the ‘potato water’ to your stew if you want a more liquid consistency. Enjoy!!!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Almost-Disaster Zip Line





The tree across the creek bit it in the ice storm, but you can see the drop!






We took a walk and saw the 60 foot Oak tree, with the 20 foot girth that we had put the zip line around for the kids when they were young. It was over the canyon where the creek runs and at a proper angle to actually zip with sufficent speed for a fun ride. We even had a mattress at the end so smashing was softened. We had chained an old tractor seat to sit correctly over the line and decided Lize, who was six and the lightest person in the family, should go first.

 Bad plan... she was too lightweight and the thing stopped over the creek, that had spikes of willow trees we had cut off for the project. She panicked and let go her hands and looked like she was going to jump the 25 feet to the creek... and the spears of willow.
 

I stood below her, burst into tears and coaxed, 'Baby, please, please hold on, hold on until Daddy can lasso your foot and we can pull you to this side'.

The depth of the canyon... except it has no rocks... it is red stone/dirt.


*This comment may be listed as one of the worst things you hope to never have to say to your child... it seems a bit irresponsible.. just a bit.

Michael frantically got a rope and successfully tossed it to her, where she carefully slipped it around her ankle while holding on with one hand. 

 No wonder I seem shell shocked sometimes!


*BTW, My father was afraid of heights because he always had a desire to jump... perhaps it was a genetic thing?

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Gardeners Will Garden



The urge to dig in the soil and plant a seed is as old as civilized mankind for the thrill of watching a seedling emerge and reach fruition is unsurpassed. Every nation has appropriated sites for carefully tended public grounds, and their continued popularity is a testament to our love affair with gardens. According to space and circumstance gardens may be found on grand estates, in tiny cottage plots, or even in cheerful window boxes spilling with blooms. Each provide a living testament to our desire to nurture and surround ourselves with natural beauty.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon built by King Nebuchadnezzar II around 600 BC were considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World… quite an honor for a garden! Many royal gardens in Europe have been cherished for generations and Prince Charles of Britain has restored many while pressing a national gardening agenda. Our own Thomas Jefferson was more pleased with his gardening innovations at Monticello than all of his diplomatic successes and even his Presidency. He avidly collected seeds, cuttings, and plants from his travels, bringing them home and carefully documenting their successful progress or failure. We have him to thank for introducing many of the species we now consider standard.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the cramped and simple gardens belonging to poor laborers and factory workers in Europe were the birthplace of florist’s flowers as we now know them. A lovely example is the magnificent Carnation which was once a quarter-sized Dianthus. Petals were doubled and redoubled as enthusiastic breeders toiled in their tiny spaces after working long hours at grueling jobs. Their joy is apparent in the creations they have bequeathed us and we are grateful for their efforts.

The Berlin Wall fell in 1990 and former Communist countries were opened to the West for the first time in decades. The horticultural community was stunned at the advanced plant breeding that had occurred in impossible and suppressed conditions behind the Iron Curtain. With no laboratories, no conservatories, and little money, gardeners had persevered in their efforts to advance and improve many species and were honored by a grateful horticultural community.

Much of the hybridization we enjoy today occurred in the back yard Victory Gardens of WWII. At President Roosevelt’s request, everyone in the nation was asked to plant a garden to allow our surplus food to be sent to overseas to our troops. This program was enthusiastically adopted and petunias and marigolds were replaced by vegetables in an astonishing national effort. Most of the fresh produce consumed by the nation was grown in small garden plots and the success of this program remains unsurpassed today.

The realization that gardeners will garden regardless of hardship or circumstance is comforting. We are called to the soil for there is perpetual harmony in gardening and it knows no boundaries.

Rachel Ruysch Oil Painting: ‘A Carnation, Morning Glory, and Other Flowers.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Meeting Angels Unawares... A Christmas Story


 
It was late December and our children were still little so naturally we were broke. Christmas was coming and although we were not extravagant, we still provided special food and thoughtful gifts for all eight of them. We were entering the on ramp on I-40 to drive home from a grocery excursion and saw an elderly gentleman standing on the side of the hi-way, leaning on a wooden crutch. He was about 75 with a stubble of beard, dressed in ragged clothing, wearing an old gray hat. His belongings were in a small stained bag, and he had an old woolen blanket pulled tightly about him. I felt sudden sadness upon seeing him and asked Michael if we should stop. He said no because we had three of the children with us and he would have to squeeze him in the backseat with them. He said that surely someone would pick the old gent up for me not to worry. And yet both of us felt a nagging sadness at the old man’s plight.

The following morning we realized we had forgotten some necessary items and again made the twenty mile run to the adjacent town. It was overcast, drizzling and a very cold blasting North wind made conditions miserable. As we drove I asked Michael if he thought someone had picked up the old man. He promised me that surely someone had. We bought the last of our necessities and had only forty dollars left as we entered the on ramp.

Sweet Jesus, he was still there! How could he still be there? We stopped just beyond the old man and Michael got out of the car to help him to his seat. He settled in and I turned the heater to warp while he began thanking us. He said he was trying to make it the Indian Pueblos in New Mexico where he knew he could stay for the winter. He was Canadian and had served in WWII for the US but had been denied benefits due to his citizenship status. He had fallen on hard times and just needed a bus ticket to get on his way but could find no help in getting one. He had been standing on the side of the road for many days.

Michael suggested that we take him 15 miles to the Travel Plaza where all of the truckers stopped for gas and that perhaps he could find a ride from someone there. He gratefully accepted the idea and said he was warming up a bit. Michael stopped at the plaza and pressed our last forty dollars into the gentleman’s hand as he helped him into the building.

As we drove away we kept feeling a nagging worry and so after unloading our bundles, we drove the seven miles back to the plaza to check on him to see if he had gotten a ride. Our inquiries were met with puzzled looks for no one knew what we were talking about. No one had seen him... not the people Michael had nodded to as he opened the door, not gas attendants nor any the truckers. Only we had seen him and I have often wondered if he was there as a holy test for us... a test of our humanity, our faith, and one to show our children by example how to generously love.

As times become more difficult, let us remember that often our sense of compassion, our sense of brotherhood and our ability to unconditionally share with those less fortunate than ourselves may be tested.


And ‘Forget not to show love unto strangers for thereby some have entertained angels unawares‘.
Hebrews 13:2


*Icon Credit: Maria Sheets
 

 

 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Festivities Warm the Season... the Yule Log



Winter has appeared in all of its frosty finery, with crisp frozen mists and the crunch of ice as one walks about in the early morning.  To lighten these dark days, festivities were created by our ancestors, and many are seated in magical lore.

In Northern Europe, it was believed the dead visited during the time the land was barren, so ceremonies were created to appease them.  One Solstice festival was called ‘Jule’ , pronounced ‘Yule’ and honored Odin. Odin was the god of intoxicating drink and ecstasy, as well as the god of death and Yule customs varied greatly from region to region. Odin's sacrificial beer became the specially blessed Christmas ale mentioned in medieval lore, and fresh food and drink were left on tables after Christmas feasts to feed the roaming Yuletide ghosts. The bonfires of former ancient times survived in the tradition of the Yule Log, perhaps the most universal of all Christmas symbols.

The origins of the Yule Log can be traced back to the Midwinter festivals in which the Norsemen indulged by feasting, drinking Yule, and watching the fire leap about the log burning in the home hearth. The ceremonies and beliefs associated with the Yule Log's sacred origins are closely linked to representations of health, fruitfulness and productivity. In England, the Yule was cut and dragged home by oxen or horses as people walked alongside and sang merry songs. Often it was decorated with evergreens and sprinkled with grain or cider before it was finally set alight.

In Yugoslavia, the Yule Log was cut just before dawn on Christmas Eve and carried into the house at twilight. The wood itself was decorated with flowers, colored fabric, and doused with wine and an offering of grain. In an area of France families would go together to cut the Yule Log, singing as they asked for blessings to be bestowed upon their crops and their flocks. Their ceremony included carrying the log around the house three times and christening it with wine before lighting it.

To all of Europe the Yule Log was believed to bring beneficial magic and was kept burning for twelve hours to twelve days, warming both the house and those who resided within. When the fire of the Yule Log was finally quenched, a small fragment of the wood was saved to light the next year's log. The ashes that remained from were scattered over fields to bring fertility or cast into wells to purify and sweeten the water. Sometimes they were used in the creation of various charms...to free cattle from vermin or to ward off hailstorms.

Few homes today contain a hearth so a modest way to include this ceremony is a fire pit… the burning wood may bring the pleasure of smoke and exotic aromas wafting through the night air… and perhaps it may bestow blessings upon your home.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Natural Decorations



As Winter deepens, 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… and spray them gold. Then pick an old pair of flats, and spray them gold too!

Privet: Spray with some snow?

 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 21, 2016

Forcing Bulbs for the Holidays

Now is the time to give the shot of gin!
 



The days seem to be passing rather quickly and with the arrival of Thanksgiving, the winter festivities have begun so now is the time to ‘force’ some bulbs. For those unfamiliar with the process, ‘forcing’ is the method by which a bulb is planted and compelled to grow and bloom out of season by exposure to the warm temperature indoors. This process brings the bulbs into bloom long before they would bloom outdoors thus allowing us the pleasure of their company during the winter months.

Since their ancestors came from warm areas of the Mediterranean the darling Paperwhite Narcissus requires no cold to bloom and may easily forced. Taking only three to four weeks to flower, they will bloom faithfully providing both fragrance and cheer for the holidays. So easy is the growth of these bulbs that anchoring material may include gravel, pebbles, colored glass stones, or moss as acceptable mediums. Any sort of shallow growth container whether pottery, glass, or clay will work as well.

First select large, top-grade, flawless bulbs which are free of sooty mold then choose a favorite container that will be lovely as a centerpiece or focal point. Perhaps select a glass bowl for the added pleasure of watching the roots as they begin to grow and slowly twine about the stones. Grandmother’s shallow crystal bowl filled with red, white, and green glass stones is lovely at Christmas but more a more rustic selection might include a pottery bowl with polished rocks or pea gravel. If a large container is chosen, more bulbs will be needed and the display will entirely riotous… often more is better!

Fill the bottom of the container with whatever you have chosen to anchor your bulbs making a bed about two to three inches deep. Gently press the bulbs halfway down the bulb mass, wriggling and carefully nestling them until they stand firmly on their own. Try to space the bulbs about two inches apart, remembering to place several in the center as well. After arranging your bulbs, fill the container with enough water to cover your anchoring material, moistening the bulbs approximately half way up. Keep this water level, adding a little each day if necessary and your bulbs will begin to flower in three to four weeks. Remember to give the bowl a shot of gin as the first flower buds appear. The gin will slightly stunt the foliage and force it to stand ‘at attention’ thus preventing the wilt so prevalent with forced Narcissus.

As the roots grow, they provide visual interest before the reed-like foliage appears… and quite suddenly many tiny blooms arrive, slowly swelling, then opening over the course of several days. The marvelous sweet smelling flowers will last several weeks but sadly, the temperature-trickery used to force early bloom has confused and destroyed the bulb’s internal clock... they have given their ’all’ this season. After the display is over leave them in a cool place and plant them outside in the early spring. Often they will recover and bloom on schedule within in a year or so.

The link is how to cook a perfect turkey
http://www.gardening4us.com/2012/11/how-to-cook-perfect-turkey.html