Monday, June 29, 2009

The Magical Cicada~

In the Garden
By Catherine Dougherty
Last week we experienced the usual late July weather in a rush of heat. We have been spoiled by the unusually cool spring so the heat came as a sudden surprise. On about the third day, the humidity had burned off making the oven-like temperatures a slow bake rather than a sauna~ better by far. The slugs were miserable and the baby grasshoppers, who like it hot and dry, emerged in droves.
The magical Cicadas began their melodic songs, foretelling of temperatures over ninety degrees for the day. There are 2,500 species of Cicadas and they exist on every Continent except Antarctica. Their name is a direct derivation of the Latin cicada, meaning "buzzer" and their remarkable song is actually produced by the males calling to the ladies. On Friday evening listening to the songs was a delightful concert and one could hear the differences in the singers. Several sang decidedly distinct with longer and more masculine compositions than the others; one may assume they were the ‘rock stars’ of the evening, drawing throngs of female fans. For their song, the Cicada is a favorite by universal standards.
There is amazing folklore surrounding this marvelous insect. Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695) wrote a series of famous fables for the pleasure of the court and one was about the Cicada. Much like Aesop’s ‘Grasshopper and the Ant’, the Cicada is gadding about as the ants work, which is much to his dismay as winter arrives and he does not survive. The Cicada is portrayed in Japanese literature, and Japanese Haiku poetry. More significantly, the Chinese considered the Cicada of import even using the phrase ‘shed off the golden cicada skin’ as an example of a strategic tactic to avoid enemies. Mentioned as one of the Thirty-Six Stratagems used by generals, the Cicada leaves the shell behind to deceive enemies as the body itself escapes danger. The Chinese novel Journey to the West (published 1590) is one of China’s four great classical novels. It has remained popular for centuries possibly due to it’s interesting story line of adventure, transformation, and symbolism. In it one of the journeying characters, the Priest of Tang, is named the Golden Cicada with the shedding of the skins symbolic of stages of transformation as he evolves to enlightenment.
As one sits to listens to the concerts, picking out the rock stars; as one recalls finding the shells as a child, storing the collection in a box under the bed; as one marvels at an insect that can foretell the temperature… it is indeed awe-inspiring and we are able to sit back and rejoice in what the Master Plan has provided as entertainment in our own back yards.

Monday, June 15, 2009


By Catherine Dougherty
As Summer appraoches, we no doubt will be warned about tainted produce again. Recall last year the tomatoes were apparently poisonous, causing severe illness. As gardeners know, vegetables picked or pulled from the ground have been subject to the elements and the soil. What your plants utilize from the soil goes directly into what they produce. For this reason, producers of the past were careful of what they applied to their crops. With the spinach recall of 2006, the culprit was finally assigned as hogs and rightly so... religious texts are full of references to the uncleanliness of hogs. Hog manure is notoriously full of parasites that are easily transmissible to humans and the fact that religious sources warned of this two thousand years ago is amazing. Further, additional cautions include bacterial cross contamination of dairy and animal products and many texts include specific guidelines for healthy cooking which are still timely today.
Years ago a friend whose father had been a diplomat to Pakistan told me of the produce warning issued them by the State Department. They were told not to eat the fruit as it contained soil contaminates which traveled up the tree and were stored within the fruit itself. Today with international trade open and much of our produce arriving from nations with few restrictions and open sewers, a refresher course in basic cleanliness is due.
Today, as in biblical times, we are warned not to use the same cutting board for meat and vegetables. Cooking kills much of the bacteria naturally occurring on meat but may be transferred to raw produce. We are encouraged to wash our hands between preparation of raw meat and vegetables as well. Wash the counter often and women are encouraged not to place their purses on the counter as purses are notoriously filthy on the bottom.
Dr. Spock removed ‘Commonsense’ from the title of his famous 1946 baby book in 1985, claiming that commonsense had died. Individuals who use fresh produce must use commonsense and assume it is dirty upon arrival in their home. Many imagine that produce collected from the supermarket has miraculously been washed and sanitized before shipment. This thought is a fallacy. While watching a television special on fresh produce I noted workers were packaging strawberries in the plastic containers that arrive in the market while collecting in the field. Meaning that the strawberries arrive at the supermarket with whatever the worker had on his hands at the moment, and hopefully he did not have an illness. Additionally as I watched a televsion cooking show, I noted the lady making the luscious cake did not wash either the strawberries or the blueberries she put between luscious layers of whipped cream.
Short of planting your own garden, I recommend buying locally. Additionally remember that all produce such as lettuce, tomatoes, squash and the like must be carefully washed. Onions must be peeled, celery and potatoes scrubbed with a vegetable brush, and so forth. With a little effort fresh garden produce may be confidently eaten and enjoyed for its wonderful health benefits.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Gardening as Exercise

By Catherine Dougherty
As a hobby, gardening ranks among the most popular activities with an astonishing 94% of Americans claiming it. The fact it burns calories and works muscles makes it a perfect low impact workout. As more and more Americans rush to the gym seeking health through exercise, the gardener simply needs to step outside the back door. Weeding or cultivating can burn 200 calories an hour, while hauling rocks can burn as many as 600. Turning compost is essentially the equivalent of lifting weights. Pushing the mower is the outdoor treadmill and raking is the gardener’s rowing machine. Our exercise machines are trowels, rakes, shovels, clippers, and wheelbarrows; our running track is the garden. And when compared to the sweaty filth accumulating in a modern gym, dirt seems miraculously clean.
Not only will gardening build strength, but it uses literally all of the major muscle groups. It brings cardiovascular benefits and several studies have suggested that gardening could reduce insulin resistance, a condition that may lead to metabolic syndrome or diabetes, both of which increase the risk of heart disease. Only 30 minutes a day in the garden will lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and will prevent or slow osteoporosis.
As with all exercise, it is important to begin slowly and it does seem, rather appropriately, chores in the garden seem to increase in intensity as the season progresses. In a study of heart attack risk assessment using 21,000 male Harvard alumni, it was reported that sedentary individuals had a 100 times greater chance of suffering a heart attack during strenuous activity than individuals who exercise moderately several times a week. The active men, whose chance of a heart attack increased only 2.4 times during strenuous activity, listed gardening as their major form of exercise.
Everyone from small children to senior citizens may enjoy activities in the garden so it is a perfect family activity. It is claimed that the sensory pleasure of scented and colorful flowers reduces stress. The psychological benefits are valuable as well. Not only does one have the joy of producing fresh and healthful produce for the table, but the sense of accomplishment is quite fulfilling in itself. At the end of the day sit quietly and listen to the relaxing sound of a trickle of water in a pond, the magic of wind chimes in an evening breeze, and relax with the serene feeling of a deed well accomplished. The garden is the best kept health secret on the planet.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

In the Garden... Lilies

The rains have made the garden fantastic with exception of rampant wood louse (rolly-pollies) and slugs. It is said that a coaster of beer will call to the slugs and promptly kill them. It must be noted as well that many of the wood louse have evolved from battleship gray to a lovely hue of sapphire blue… eating Miracle Grow perhaps? The garden is full of anomalies if one makes note of them.
The Queen of early summer, the lovely Lily, has begun her entrance at the garden party. Some are blooming as others have buds that are swelling; they will be in full and glorious bloom in several weeks. The varieties available now are truly spectacular and come in ranges of color and form that far exceed the traditional white Easter lily of your Grandmother’s garden. Hybridization has given us a memorable gift with the improvements. The lily is of the largest and most important plant families, dating back as far as botanical recordings. Of the 2,000 species, there are 12 which are native to North America. The Meadow Lily, the Southern Red Lily, the Leopard Lily, the Wood Lily, and Sierra Lily all grow within the bounds of our nation in shaded woodland settings. The trumpet-shaped blooms made up of six parts, are held upright on sturdy stems. The roots of the lily spread from the central bulb and form new bulbs, making them a perfect naturalized species if allowed enough room to travel.
The Chinese and Japanese lilies have spectacular form and scent and bring elegance to the early summer garden. The flowers come in a full spectrum of color and shape, some with nodding heads, some upright, and others with the lovely turkscap form of recurving leaves. Among these jewels are the Stargazer, Amber Gold, Black Magic and the lovely L. martagon with its back-curved pinkish blooms. Lilies make lovely cut flowers in an arrangement and will fill the room with their spicy aroma.
The plants which we call water Lilies are not of the lily family at all, but are of a genus unto themselves. They too are in full bloom in water gardens everywhere. They project a serene classic beauty with their deep green and glossy plate-like foliage and ethereal blossoms floating on the water. Their leaves provide shelter for fish and help reduce the spread of algae in the pond. Watching and waiting for the bloom of water lilies to open is always exciting and thrilling for the gardener who has cultivated these lovely plants.
Summer appears to have arrived, ushered in this week following the most lovely spring in ages.