Thursday, April 28, 2011

Garden Bouquets to Make the House Smell Like Spring!

Tulips are in bloom too!

The Lilacs smell wonderful!

Do you like the little man spitting up the seed beads? (bottom right)

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Tragic Disappearance of the Dung Beetle… May he RIP

What a talent!

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 assigment 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 of themselves for not doing their homework!

Please do not use this product in any form!

Plant a Riot of Annuals~

Electric Blue Salvia

Good Friday felt more like full blown summer than spring, and the parched countryside seemed depressingly stressed without rain. It had begun to feel like the savannas of Africa and last week the wheat began turning yellow at the ground while the shafts dipped their heads in mourning. And so the sound of distant thunder in the wee hours of Easter morning seemed truly an unexpected blessing ordained by God. Thankfully this year Easter was a complete wash-out and the misty rain which finally made a gentle entrance was appreciated by everyone… except small children who missed the egg hunts. We may also be thankful that our communities missed the storms with tornados and baseball-sized hail that devastated many of our neighboring states to the north and east.

For those new to gardening, there is nothing better than planning a flower garden of annuals which will provide riotous color all summer. And for visual interest it is important to remember to layer by height from the front to the back of the bed. Plan for low growing flowers to be at the front and gradually increase the height to give the visual feel of ‘movement‘. In an area which receives full sun, tiny low growing Rose Moss or Portulaca are both perfect in front, love it hot, require little care and will provide an ever-blooming cheerful spot of color all season. Behind them, perhaps plant the short variety of Marigolds; they do well in the heat and will also help with insect control as they are a natural pesticide. Next could come some intermediate Zinnias, and the new varieties have an amazing spectrum of colors. Medium height Cannas could provide a perfect backdrop and even though they bloom later in the season, in many varieties, the foliage is an interesting combination of greens and yellows which surpasses the flowers in interest and beauty.

Or perhaps plan a ‘theme garden’ this year using annuals. One year on a whim, we had a South American themed garden and filled the kidney shaped bed on the upper level solely with flowers that had a Mexican flair and would attract butterflies. It seems flowers originating in South America have the brightest and deepest colors, the easy habit of drought survival and they all seem to shout Fiesta! We planted Mexican heather, red and yellow Nastursums, deep purple Petunias, scarlet red Chile Pepper Scabiosa, electric blue Salvia, scarlet and deep yellow swirl Zinnias, and anything else we could find that seemed fun. Everything was planted too closely and all with contrasting colors adjacent to each other. The result was intermingling of colors spilling out and over the bed in a riot of color by mid summer. Everyone who saw it had a giggle… it was so over the top. Since annuals are not true garden guests, merely tourists passing through who last but one season, there are few rules in planting them. Allow the imagination to run rampant!

*Since we finally had a rain… perhaps the morels have decided to make an appearance!

Friday, April 22, 2011

How to Proceed... Grow A vegetable Garden

Our gardens when the children were growing up...

As the news on the down turn of our economy is reported with increasingly depressing predictions, it would be wise to revisit the past for instructions on how to proceed. With the onset of both World War I and II, the nation was required to tighten their collective belt and a program of rationing was initiated. When my father was stationed at the Pentagon his letters to his parents speak of his offer to send them his coffee and sugar vouchers so shortages were a daily reality.

In 1917 and then again in 1941, the Agriculture Department informed the American public if they wanted fresh fruits and vegetables, they would have to grow their own. With that edict, the concept of the Victory Garden was born and many people who did not know a trowel from a hoe began to garden. To aid in the effort, the War Garden Commission compiled instruction booklets which were distributed by the Department of Agriculture, International Harvester, and Beech-Nut.

From the efforts of individuals America was transformed. Over forty percent of all vegetables consumed nationally were produced from small scale gardens. Back yards, apartment building roof tops, and vacant lots became gardens and individuals felt they were contributing in a patriotic sense. From the World War II data, it was estimated these ‘Sunday farmers’ had created over 20 million victory gardens and added eight to ten million tons of food for consumption here at home.

Oddly since the turn of the century, many large cities have begun to reinstate the premise. In San Francisco the “Victory Garden Project 2008” was created and built on the aforementioned premise with the term ‘victory’ redefined to mean urban sustainability. Growing food at home for health benefits, security, and reduction of the food miles associated with the transport of produce makes logical sense.

With our country at war, rising gas prices, the loss of many retirement funds, and the word ‘recession’ being tossed about, perhaps now is the time for us to remember who we are! Even though we are a rural community and famous for our self sufficiency, many of the younger generation need to be encouraged. By growing food one may save money by not having to buy at inflated prices and be assured of quality. The message that will be sent is that in a time of recession we will find a better use of our time and efforts than shopping! Resourceful hard work and voluntary simplicity are our honored traditions and must not be lost.

Squash, Blue Lake Green Beans... and a wall of Morning Glories

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Story Behind the Gathering... Funny Stuff

Minnie Goodbear... Head Lady Dancer

Introduction: I am a semi-klutz. Michael is always 'repairing' something about my person as we go out in public. Smudged mascara, mustard on my chin, the cowlick in the back of my hair parted. I just never quite get it completely together so it has been his personal mission to make me presentable for the last thirty odd years.

As we entered the camp ground at the Gathering of Nations, I noticed that in addition to the familiar Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal members there were representatives of many Native American tribes I did not know. The regalia is quite different from tribe to tribe so various tribes may be identified by their clothing and bead work, shawls and embroidery, porcupine quills and feathers. The intimidating and traditional Sioux from North Dakota, the Grovan of South Dakota, the Winnipeg from Canada, the austere Pawnee of eastern Oklahoma as well as many other tribes were all gathered there. Since this was not an event for tourists, I was rather intimidated and hoped to blend in as inconspicuously as possible, which is no easy feat since I am so blond. Not particularly dressed for festivities, I moved to a group I knew well and sat down to enjoy the dances. The little girls in their waving shawls imitating butterflies, the men portraying the stampede of the buffalo and the flight of eagle, the women whose feet caressed Mother Earth… all beautiful and exciting.

When it came time for the intermission, I was totally unprepared for my name to be called over the loud speaker requesting for me to come to the front. The grandstand was located at the far most point of the dance grounds and is where the Master of Ceremonies, dignitaries, judges, special elders and chiefs from all the tribes gather to watch and judge the contests. When my name was called, I had to walk the center of an entire length of a football field with 5,000 curious eyes upon me individually! My throat tightened, my knees went weak, my mouth became dry and suddenly I was afraid I would pass out before I reached the front. Walking carefully with each step, head up, wondering if I appeared dignified, wondering if I should smile or look somber, hoping I would not embarrass myself or my friend who was honoring me. Step by step with all eyes on me. For the first time in my life, I was a true minority.

As I had stood to go, I had accidentally stepped on one of my trademark high top Converse shoe strings untying it; unbeknownst to me it was left to dangle and dance with each step I took. With abject horror Michael noticed immediately and watched as the shoe string whipped back and forth, back and forth with each successive step. Later he confessed that he prayed "Please God, don't let her fall, please don't let her fall" as a mantra hundreds of prayer with each of my foot steps.

After what seemed to be a lifetime, I arrived at the grandstand and was greeted by my spiritual sister, Minnie Goodbear, who gave a small speech about me and introduced me to the gathering. Many very important Natives were being honored as well, so I was introduced to each of them. She placed a gorgeous sterling and turquoise necklace around my neck, hugged me, then all the dignitaries shook my hand and welcomed me. When the ceremony was over I was immediately surrounded by people congratulating me and admiring the necklace.

Michael appeared miraculously and calm.. he smiled and nodded to everyone, gently took my arm, pulled me aside and whispered in my ear….. "For the love of God, tie your damn shoe string!"

Monday, April 18, 2011

Grow some herbs this year.

My Apple Mint~

Rosemary, Spearmint and Oregano~

This year consider the legendary uses of herbs and perhaps select a few to include in the scope of your garden. Selection should include herbs for making tea. Tea is second only to water as the most consumed beverage in the world. Herbal teas made from dried fruit, flowers or herbs that have been collected from the garden are lighter and more flavorful than traditional tea.

Legend says the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung was boiling drinking water one day in 2737 B.C. when some leaves from a tea plant fell into the water. The emperor drank the mixture and declared it gave one "vigor of body, contentment of mind, and determination of purpose." In 400 B.C. the Greeks included herbal teas in their regime of wellness. By 50 B.C. the Romans were collecting and cultivating herbs and by 200 A.D., Galen wrote the first classification system that paired common illnesses with their herbal remedy. By 800 Monks had taken over the care of the sick and had herbal gardens at most monasteries. By 1500 herbalists were promoted and supported by Henry VII and the Parliament while apothecaries (drug stores of the time) were accused of giving substandard care. Charles Wesley gave his endorsement in 1700 when he advocated sensible eating, good hygiene and herbal treatments for healthy living.

In 1800 pharmaceuticals become popular and herbal treatments were designated for the poor. However as the side effects of drugs began to be documented, herbal remedies came into favor again. The National Association of Medical Herbalists was formed, and later renamed the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH.) By 1900 and the first World War pharmaceutical drugs were unavailable so herbal medicines were once again used. After the war pharmaceutical production increased and penicillin was discovered. Herbal practitioners had their rights to dispense their medications taken away and then reinstated. The British Herbal Medicine Association was founded and produced the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia. People began to express the concern over the large number of side effects and environmental impact of the drugs of the 1950s so herbs once again gained importance. Herbs are an outdoor pharmacy provided to us by the Almighty. Simple grow and easy to make, an herbal tea from the garden is a natural health drink.

Spearmint would be a lovely addition to the herb bed. Used in ancient Rome, the ensuing drink made from dried leaves was said the ‘stir up the mind’. Since it is caffeine-free, an afternoon cup could be savored as valuable ‘pick me up’ that has no side effects.

Chamomile is another lovely plant. Originally from the Nile region of Egypt, it was believed to cure almost any ailment. It has remained a favorite as its true properties relieve anxiety and promote calm. It was the tea Mrs. Rabbit made for Peter as she gently tucked him into bed following his harrowing escape from Mr. McGreggor. In these stressful times a sweetly scented evening cup would be a wonderful way to end the day. The list of herbs and their medicinal qualities is endless... and as close as your garden.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Earth Day, Arbor Day, and Rachael Carson

“Trees are the earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heavens.” Rabindranath Tagore

All of us who garden are acutely aware of our environment. As we dig in the soil, we connect with the magical realm of Mother Earth and the results of our work are the rewards bestowed upon us for our efforts. This April, we celebrate monumental efforts made by others to conserve our precious planet. And in light of the horrific catastrophe in Japan, perhaps we should revisit the past to find instructions for the future.

First to be considered is our oldest conservation effort, National Arbor Day, which is celebrated each year on April 22nd, the birthday of its founder Sterling J. Morris. Mr. Morris, the publisher of a Nebraska newspaper, began a campaign to encourage his community in the planting of trees almost 140 years ago. The plains of Nebraska were bare and almost treeless when he began his efforts and by 1885 Arbor Day was declared a state holiday. Since then, due to Mr. Morris and his vision, Arbor Day is embraced by all of the states.

Arbor means tree in Latin. The Arbor Foundation annually gives away thousands of trees to individuals and communities. There is a wonderful pleasure in watching a tiny sprout grow into a young sapling and then continue on until it becomes a magnificent tree. Many Indian tribes planted a tree with the birth of a child and watched as both the tree and child matured. We adopted that custom when our children were little and it is truly wonderful to see the height and breadth of the trees we planted on the first birthdays of our now grown sons and daughter.

Secondly, we have Rachael Carson to thank for her efforts to bring to light the hazards of chemical toxicity. A marine biologist by profession, she noted the unprecedented losses of plant and animal life and her research concluded it was the result of chemical poisonings. Following WWII, America embarked on a path of chemical use that was not only unexplored but tenacious at best. DDT, which killed all insects good or bad, was at first considered a miracle. With it the mosquito became a thing of the past as neighborhoods full of children were regularly fogged. As a child I recall riding my bicycle in and out of the dense fog as the truck slowly rolled by! Finally banned in 1972 and considered one of the most hazardous chemical carcinogens ever created, one wonders what people were thinking. Ms. Carson lived only a few years past publication of her monumental work ‘Silent Spring’ but her legacy of thoughtful research alerted a grateful nation. The title alone was an ominous prediction of a world without the buzzing of bees, the song of birds, the croaking of frogs, the splash of fish.

Photo Credit: Life Magazine

Following in her footsteps was Senator Gaylord Nelson, who first initiated the concept of ‘Earth Day’. By the early 1960’s America’s love affair with chemicals had begun to take a terrible toll. The environmental degradation was becoming astonishingly evident so Senator Nelson first presented his concerns to President Kennedy in 1962. The evidence was conclusive yet the environment would not be on the political agenda for almost a decade. Finally on November 30, 1969, the New York Times ran an article which read “Rising concern about the environmental crisis is sweeping the nation’s campuses with an intensity that is on its way to eclipsing student discontent over the war in Vietnam.”, thus setting the stage for the first official celebration of ‘Earth Day’.

The enormity of this grassroots effort held on April 20, 1970 was the impetus for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency later that year. The mission of the EPA is to protect human health and the environment. It is expected that Earth Day will be celebrated by over 500 million people in 175 countries. Short of planting a tree this April, we should at least hug one!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Storms and Tornados

Illustration by N C Wyeth

As we continue to experience the drought, the weather last Friday forecast that a 'small tornado outbreak' could occur should we receive rain. Our son Dolan remarked he could handle a 'small tornado outbreak' if we received a little rain with it. I recalled the storms of April 2009 and my diary observations from that week...

April 29, 2009
I have always loved storms since early childhood and have a memory of being about four standing on a covered porch with my Father. We were watching horizontal rain, seeing bright lightening, and hearing the crashing and the roar of a storm. As an explanation my father told me it was nothing more than the ‘Old Man beating his thunder drum’. It was very exciting and that sense of excitement never left me. I have always experienced a rush almost akin to sexual excitement whenever a storm begins to build.

I have a friend who moved from Oklahoma to Portland to follow her lover. Early in her stay they were taking a walk when it began to mist. Oklahoma training kicked in and she bolted for the nearest store awning, seeking refuge from the inevitable onslaught. He followed and asked why her sudden lurch. She replied, ‘Isn't all hell getting ready to break loose?’ ‘No, its just rain’, he said. She was dumbfounded as she waited for the sudden drenching downpour, the 30 to 40 mile and hour winds, the roar and crash of the storm… it never arrived. The rain was gentle and soothing, a fine mist that could be walked through and enjoyed without terror. She was enthralled, married him, and still lives in Portland.

Not me! I could not survive without the excitement of breathlessly waiting, watching as the dark and darker clouds begin to form then swell and roll, churning in gigantic swirling motions, increasing in velocity with each passing moment. The wind begins and can be heard traveling through the trees minutes before it hits, rustling at first then twisting the branches in violent whirling circles. It builds to a crescendo and arrives with a deafening voice all its own making
communication available only through shouting. Your face is pelted with tiny particles of dust picked up from neighboring fields and the sky becomes black.

Standing in a field as this happens is enthralling, exciting and your heart begins to pound as your hair and clothing are whipped and you are barely able to keep your footing. And then the lightning begins to crack. One, two, three, four… counting while waiting for the thunder to tell you how many miles before the rain arrives. If the first drops are big, then hail will be within the storm; if they are small, it will be wind whipped horizontal sheets.

When we had horses, they would sense what was coming and begin pacing restlessly, neighing with uneasiness hours before the storms arrived. They would rear and paw the air as if it was alive with a force that they could defeat in a battle. We would release them from the paddock and they would run splashing through the creek, galloping to out run the approaching elements.

As the children grew, they studied cloud formations and raced to the North field to watch as tornados formed overhead. We saw the May third 1999 tornado form and watched as it moved to I-40 to follow the high way path to destruction in Oklahoma City; it was huge from the very beginning. We even had to out run one once. We saw black clouds to the North and had loaded into the station wagon to go to the top of the hill to check out the storm; it was sunny overhead. As we drove the storm suddenly blew out from the edge and a funnel snaked from the cloud, smashing to the ground on the hill in front of us, picking up dust and roaring. Michael hit reverse and squealed backwards at 40 MPH as it came rushing at us like a cosmic fullback. Then it lifted as quickly as it fell.

The elements are alive… that I know as fact. They are entities that must be placated and honored. When a storm approaches we give a shot of good whiskey to the Four Winds, asking them to show mercy on our person, our animals, and our small patch of ground. Asking them to accept our offering with kind favor… and often, they accept our submission to their force and glory and spare us their fury.

No, I could never live in Portland where the rain falls like a fine mist.

Footnote: The May 3, 1999 tornado we saw spawned an outbreak which produced at least 66 tornadoes in Oklahoma, making it by far the most prolific tornado outbreak in state history and included the only F-5 tornado ever recorded.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Wind Storms and Violets~

The arrival of Spring this year has been remarkable for never have so many early flowers, trees, and shrubs bloomed at the same time. Apparently the high temperatures have forced the usually staggered-paced blooming to appear in tandem. Consequently the sights and scents are truly spectacular and one must marvel at the beauty of the surrounding countryside. The Redbuds are providing a stunning display.

The drought is another matter entirely and has reached epic proportions, breaking all state records. As our neighbors on either coast and in between are experiencing flooding and even snowfall, we seem stuck in an unrelenting weather pattern that has the rains falling just to our east. The wind is a force unto itself with continuous forty to sixty MPH gusts for over two weeks now. With no significant rain since October and the wind storms drying the garden to the bone, it is important to begin watering. The urge to live is paramount in early spring, but everything needs a bit of moisture to survive the weekly onslaught of the wind. Since I have a rather vivid imagination, I often imagine dry flowers as horseless cowboys lost and wandering in a desert. Picture endless sand under a blazing hot sky, distant mirages swimming... trapped and gasping for a drink of water. Think Hildago... only with roots instead of boots, poor things. And a flower bravely trying to live in a crack of concrete on a busy city sidewalk can break my heart.

On any walk through the woodlands, one sees sweet violets peeking out among the dry leaves. Often called Johnny-Jump-Ups for this habit, they are among the first to arrive at the garden party and that precious little face is always welcomed. Appearing in a myriad of colors, the violet is native to our hemisphere and appears all over the world with over 500 species. The pansy, viola, and violet are all close cousins and among the most popular bedding plants.

As with most plants, there is a colorful mythological history surrounding the violet. According to Greek legend, Zeus who was King of the gods, had taken a fancy to a nymph named Io. Infidelity is certainly nothing new and Zeus was behaving badly in this instance. He attempted to hide his mistress from his wife Hera by changing her into a white cow. Needless to say Io was unimpressed with this change and complained bitterly over the taste and texture of the coarse grass. As she wept sad cow tears, Zeus changed them into dainty, sweet-smelling violets that only she was permitted to eat.

The Roman myth involves Venus, the goddess of love, who was always cross with mortal women. Apparently she fell into a jealous rage when foolish Cupid judged some mortal ladies more beautiful than she. In revenge, Venus swooped down and beat the poor maidens until they became blue before turning them into violets, thus eliminating the competition.

Napoleon was a devout fan of the violet and when he married Josephine she wore them in her hair. On every wedding anniversary he sent her a bouquet and before leaving for exile he visited her tomb where he picked woodland violets. Following his death, these violets were found in a locket he wore around his neck.

Symbolically, dreaming of violets is a promise of advancement in life and it is claimed a garland worn about the head prevents dizziness. They are considered a good luck gift to a woman but if violets bloom in autumn, it is said epidemics will follow within the year.

To pick the flowers, follow the short stem to the bottom and pinch between thumb and forefinger, find a short sweet vase, and enjoy…they last a week and smell delightful!