Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Storm

N.C Wyeth's 'Giant'.... Our Storm Personified

The storm was magnificent lasting from about eight thirty well into the morning today; a good fourteen hours so far. Our last rain was the first of August and we have had triple digit temperatures and a hot, dry thirty mile an hour wind for weeks now; it takes your breath away to walk outside. I have watched with concern as the native grasses of the surrounding countryside became more brittle each day until suddenly I realized it was tinder.

The dry weather leaves had fallen from the trees and were accumulating in crisp piles with the earth beneath them blow-sand and dust. The Black Walnut had begun to cast off her babies prematurely to save her strength, my Pyricantha slowly died and I was worried about my Viburnum when no amount of watering made her perk up. The garden wilted no matter the water applications so the situation had become dire.

Our wildfire season is here and all the rains had gone to the North or the East so hope was fading. Last evening I decided to take action as the radar showed the possibility of rain coming to us was diminishing. I called all my children and told them to give shots of Whiskey to the Four Winds, honoring their power and asking them to send rain. This time I purposefully did not remind them to ask the Winds for mercy… I wanted a storm. I told Michael to get busy doing whatever he felt was necessary to get us some rain! Out came the Maker’s Mark, a favorite by any standards and much more appeasing than Jack Daniels. (We all know the effects of Jack and who wants the Winds to act accordingly?) A shot to the West, the South, the East and the North Winds.

Within minutes the radar showed a shift in the storms and my heart began racing...they were coming! Peter called to say the radar in his tractor had suddenly shown a huge storm; he was rushing out of the fields to home. We took the car to the shop, then I gathered all lawn furniture cushions that I usually race about trying to keep dry and arranged them in a circular pattern… I sacrificed them, not caring if they were ruined. More Maker’s Mark and the Winds began whispering to the trees a storm was coming... they began dancing a tandem waltz. Their waltz became a madcap of twirling as in a whipping frenzy the Winds made their grande entrance!

The storm arrived with lightning flashes that lit the sky, claps of thunder like explosions, hail and driving horizontal downpours. The winds quickly escalated to over 100 miles per hour and the power died. Through the darkness and the blazing lightning, various lawn items could be seen flying past the window and we were ecstatic! A bit more Maker’s Mark maybe… for us.

The blackness of the night, the silence of the house without electricity, the phones dead making communication impossible, the velocity of the storm visible only through the flashes of lightning… it was amazing! Over four inches of rain… my forest floor is finally saturated, my world is saved. In retrospect Michael thought perhaps he should have given shots to just Two Winds rather than all Four of them. Perhaps gathering them all was a mistake...  ah well.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Outdoor Thermometers... Antique and New

In the Garden...Outdoor Thermometers
*The one to the right was my Grandmother's from the 1930's.

All gardeners use the tools of our trade. Trowels, spades, hoes, rakes, wheelbarrows aside, many gardeners become somewhat obsessed with measurement. Soil conditions, moisture levels, and above all the outdoor temperature become paramount. The rain gauge and thermometer are necessary for all garden d├ęcors for the simple pleasures they provide.

Tools for measurement of temperature, first called thermoscopes, have existed since the mid-1500’s with Santorio the first inventor to place a numerical scale on the object. In 1714 we have Gabriel Fahrenheit to thank for his invention of the first mercury thermometer and our current temperature scale which bears his name.

Fascination with temperature has always existed however with the advent of promoted product advertising, their mass production reached a fever pitch. By the early twentieth century thermometers embossed with a business logo were given as gifts to patrons of insurance companies, lumber yards, mills, dry goods stores, gas companies, coffee brands, sodas and practically any business imagined. The variety and quality of these items range from expensive wood with beveled glass, to brightly painted pressed tin, and even to inexpensive plastic.

The shere breadth of this range indicates that prior to television, individuals took it upon themselves to check the weather and did so with a passion. So popular was this mass produced advertising tool that entire price books for the surviving artifacts have been published placing the value from a few to literally hundreds of dollars. Surprisingly, there is a National Vintage Thermometer Club! Practically every yard, barn, farm house, or garage still has one of these vintage items placed strategically in a corner so perhaps seek it out and find its true value. Possibly it deserves more respect than it is getting.

Today modern technology has ushered in every sort of temperature measuring device ranging in price from economical to expensive. Decorative, utilitarian, fun or frivolous, electric or digital and even indoor-outdoor combinations are available, making the game of checking the temperature easier than possibly imagined. With simple outdoor weather gauges placed in strategic places about the yard, hours of enjoyment are available if one is willing to dash from sun to shade, road to path, garden to lawn making a mental note of the temperature differences in those areas. Have fun!

In the Chicken House... a little rough in there!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Collecting Seeds

The heat everywhere has been insufferable for over a week now. The conditions in the garden are less than perfect with much of the July rains allowing for abnormal growth followed by the typical August heat. The combination of the two has created leggy yet dry and wilting flowers. The more growth in the garden, the more it requires watering and the quicker it dries out.

Many of the flowers in the garden are seeding now so it is an ideal time to collect seeds for saving and sharing with other gardeners. The importance of collecting ands saving seeds must not be underestimated for many species of plants have been lost over time. Also the seeds of flowers that have acclimated in your garden this year will fare better next for they created a DNA memory of the conditions where they resided. Collect seeds when the sun has dried all the morning dew, which is mid-morning of late, and store them in a zip lock bag. Remember to keep the seeds at a constant temperature above freezing for optimum results.

When the great pyramids were opened, archaeologists discovered caches of seeds among other artifacts. Upon planting some of these seeds, stored for thousands of years, germinated primarily because of the dry and warm temperature conditions within the pyramids where they were stored. There is also an amazing report of lupine (Lupinus articicus) seeds over 10,000 years old sprouting as well. Discovered in the Yukon of Alaska they were found deep within the burrows of ancient lemmings buried in permafrost silt dating to the Pleistocene epoch. The tenacity of Nature’s plan is always inspiring.

However many of our heirloom varieties of seeds have been lost over time, and sometimes purposefully. From ancient times through the Greco/Roman days there existed many plant species that effectively acted as natural birth control. Although always a subject of religious discussion, birth control had been left in the hands of women and their midwives until medieval times when authority over it was suddenly was transferred to the church and male doctors of the day. Within decades of the 1869 Edict of Pope Pius IX outlawing birth control for Catholics, most of the species of these plants had become extinct. In effect, one set of seeds had been replaced by another.

Although it is terribly hot and humid, collecting and storing seeds is a way to preserve this year’s garden…so that it may be carried forth to the next.

Monday, August 3, 2009

House Wrens

In the Garden.... House Wrens
By Catherine Dougherty
Sometimes it is delightful to see August arrive for now is the time to venture out and look for the darling House Wren who has possibly made her nest in some odd place nearby. They come here in the spring with the male signaling his arrival with an almost incessant stream of burbles, warbles, buzzes and rattling churrs. Native Americans called this bird o-du-na-mis-sug-ud-da-we-shi, meaning ‘making a big noise for its size’. They are considered a songbird even though their wonderful song is heard only during the nesting season and rarely afterwards. Since the diet of the House Wren consists almost entirely of insects, spiders, snails, flies, ticks, plant lice, gypsy moth larvae, ants, bees, beetles, and grasshoppers they are a valuable asset to the gardener for natural control of pests.

As indicated by their common name, they are intensely interested in humans and often nest where they receive attention. They will make a cup sized nest of various materials including string and pieces of plastic and sit on three to seven creamy white eggs. They famously choose unusual sites for their nests, including door wreaths, lamp posts, garage shelving, and even old shoes. Both parents will raise their young and the family will leave here for winter quarters in Mexico by early October.

Small and overly confident, the brown House Wren is extremely territorial and will make efforts to destroy the nest of competitive birds. It is said they will occasionally destroy the eggs of other birds by breaking the egg shell. They have also been known to vandalize the cavity of other bird nests by placing sharp sticks in them therefore rendering them unusable. To encourage this valuable little bird to nest in your garden, boxes with a hole small enough to prevent competitive cavity nesters is an option.

When their sociable behavior is added to their abilities to control pests, it is no wonder this dear little bird is among the all time American favorites. The photo, taken by John Dougherty Monday evening, shows the little Wren nesting in his porch plant! Adorable!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Fresh Vegetables~

August has arrived with traditional heat, making it the most enjoyable month for cookouts and lake side activities. The vegetable gardens are at their zenith so now is the time to eat all the fresh produce available... your body will be grateful for the cleansing. Since most vegetables are 70% to 90% water, they are also a perfect way to loose unwanted pounds. If you do not have your own garden, there are many Farmers Markets where you can purchase home-grown produce. Supporting local vegetable growers should be a civic duty lest they stop planting and harvesting for us.

This is the time of year that the back yard grill is the best place to cook dinner. Squash, corn, and tomatoes are making their appearance in the garden. Since squash is such an over achiever, it is always a challenge to find new ways to prepare it so this year we’ve grilled it after dipping it in butter. Once it becomes slightly crisp, remove it from the fire and sprinkle it with Parmesan cheese. In fact corn is also easily grilled if wrapped in foil first.

Remember the shish-kebobs that were popular in the 1970’s? They still sell the little wooden skewers at the grocery store quite inexpensively. A collection from the garden can be arranged and grilled with the addition of your choice of meat. Onions, peppers, little new potatoes, cherry tomatoes, and squash, with a little pineapple added for additional flavor, make a wonderful dinner and will not heat up the kitchen.

My parent’s favorite marinade makes any meat choice tasty. They mixed ½ cup red wine, 1 tsp. Worcestershire Sauce, 1 clove garlic (pressed), ½ cup salad oil, ½ tsp. salt, 2 tbs. Ketchup, 1 tbs. sugar, 1 tbs. Vinegar, and ½ tsp cut Rosemary. Then they added any meat cut into squares and let it marinate for several hours. Even inexpensive cuts of beef become tender and delicious when allowed to soak up this combination of flavors.

Alternate the meat with the vegetables on the skewer, broil while turning frequently and basting with the leftover marinade. Not only is this a delicious and complete outdoor meal, but it is also fun if you allow individuals to assemble their own skewer in the combinations of their choice. Plus cleanup is easy; toss the skewers!

Saturday, August 1, 2009


In the Garden
By Catherine Dougherty
The blessed relief from the heat dome and the ensuing showers have given the garden a reprieve this year. It is not often that the arrival of August is met with cloud cover and it is much appreciated by anyone who is playing outdoors, with the exception of sports enthusiasts. Following the insufferable heat it is advisable to reconsider the value of shade and in doing so, the value of shade loving perennials. The choice is limitless and the joys of gardening in the shade obvious.

First of course are the lovely and extremely popular Hostas, which are possibly the most important perennial in the garden. Originally from the Orient, they arrived in Europe in the 1700’s to abide in royal gardens, coming to the United States in the mid 1800’s. With over 2,500 cultivars on the market today, they may be found in any size or variation one desires and their spectacular foliage is beyond compare. The Hosta has gained in popularity until the more common varieties are now readily available in garden centers. However the rare or newly introduced Hosta must still be ordered at a specialty nurseries. (Note: Cultivars are "cultivated varieties" that have been developed for some desirable or improved feature such as plant form, size, bloom, leaf color, variegation, pest resistance, etc.)

The rule for planting is that those with green or yellow on their leaves may tolerate more sun than those with bluish foliage. However if the leaves begin to have burn on them, they must be moved to deeper shade. For bluish foliage, the Blue Mammoth is a fantastic addition. The Blue Mammoth is unique in that the deeper the shade, the bluer the giant corrugated leaves become. It grows to a breadth of over six feet with a height of a full 36 inches so it must be given plenty of room. The large white bell-shaped flowers appear on strong spikes in summer making this one extravagant and show stopping addition to the garden. In spite of the initial expense of ordering a rare Hosta it should be noted since they divide easily, the gardener is allowed to have many for the initial price of a single plant.

The Hosta is very low maintenance and will provide lovely lasting color for many years. They may be planted with bright annuals such as impatients, begonias, and coleus to create an inviting and attractive shady bed.

Photo is of a shady mixture of Hostas, Caladiums, a Lily, Begonias, and to the far right is Comfrey.