Monday, December 31, 2012

Feed the Birds

Rajah on Christmas Day at my feeder.... Brrrr!

Old Man Winter arrived just in time for Christmas this year and we had a very unusual white one! As the weather continues on the downward spiral and the cold deepens, feeding the birds becomes serious business for without our help, many may not survive the temperature plunge. True bird aficionados feed year round, but I feel it is best to insist they forage until the weather no longer permits or food is no longer easily obtainable, however from now until spring when bugs hatch and the foliage returns they will need our help.

A standard mix of wild bird feed is easily affordable and will draw many birds to your feeder. If you add thistle to the mix the Chickadees will be grateful; add more sunflower seeds and the Cardinals will adore you. An added plus to providing a bird feeder are entertaining antics that are now visible since the trees are bare; through observation you will discover every bird has personality traits common to its species. The Blue Jays are excitable, boisterous, rather the bullies who always travel in a gang. They are like the boys who spend too much time at the gym working out! The Cardinals are polite, laid back, and lacking in aggression, much like the Catholic Cardinals whom I am convinced borrowed their color. All species of the Woodpecker family demand and receive respect; their beaks are daunting and their presence will clear the feeder immediately. The darling finches squabble and tumble about while the Black Capped Chickadee and timid Titmouse dart in-and-out for sunflower seeds. The wonderfully enthusiastic Sparrows are mentioned numerous times in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible as among God's favorites.

Birds eat in regular intervals during the day much as we eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. For this reason the feeder is sometimes chaotically busy with all species feeding together in a feathered fluff of noisy competition while other times the filled feeder stands as though forgotten for hours on end.

Feeding the birds is mentioned in numerous sources from the Bible to Nursery Rhymes with even a song from the film 'Mary Poppins' dedicated to the task so it must indeed be important. Word spreads quickly among the bird community and those who provide food will find themselves at the height of popularity this time of year... and as the cold deepens, one may enjoy the hobby of bird watching from the warmth and comfort of an armchair while knowing you are being of service to one of God's favorite creations.  Happy New Year!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Horticultural Knives for Christmas

Photo of a Pruner from Tina~

One of the most important things for success in the garden are tools and yet so many gardeners use tired, rusty, and antiquated tools which make any job more difficult. With Christmas rapidly approaching, an ideal gift for the gardener would be an oft overlooked time-saving device… the gardening knife. Available in styles for differing chores, knives include grafting and pruning with even a left handed Horticultural Knife by Tina which is a ‘must’ for lefties.

The blade is of utmost importance and variations in design represent the practical and accumulated experience of hundreds of generations who have gone before us. The ancient Romans had a pruning knife, falculae arboraire, which was remarkably similar to grape pruning knives of the early 1930’s. The use of the same design for 2,000 years is surely not an accident making it a well tested product. A single blade has strength unto itself and will out perform any multi bladed knife tenfold. The more blades on a knife, the weaker it becomes making the popular Swiss Army knife unacceptable in the garden.

An important factor is a blade which sharpens, stays sharp, and has a keen cut through many uses. No matter how attractive the knife, it is only as good as the hardness of the steel from which it was made. Carbon steel, while strong and used for hundreds of years, will rust if not oiled and put away after use. Prior to the 1950’s, and the process of ‘chill-quenching’, the tempering of stainless steel was hit or miss making it impractical for gardening use. It now has an edge comparable to carbon steel and is virtually rust-proof.

It is important when considering the purchase of a gardening knife that one ignores any product originating in China. As any one who has purchased a hammer from China knows, the steel is not hardened correctly and it will not stand the test of time. One of the premier manufacturers of gardening knives is a German company, Tina, who maintains the tradition of knife making and still uses the carbon steel and completes the process by placing the blade in a walnut stock. There is a lovely Florist’s knife from Schrade, American company, and a wonderful Budding and Grafting knife by Swiss makers Victorinox. Short of giving a ton of exquisitely composted cattle manure, a knife is the next-best gift for the gardener you love.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Magical Mistletoe


For many years Mistletoe was the assumed floral emblem for our state, replaced by the ‘official’ Oklahoma Rose in 2004. Mistletoe is traditionally used at Christmas and has a long and colorful history including myth and medicinal remedies. It may be seen in various leafless trees... bright and thriving throughout the winter months.

All Mistletoe plants are parasitic, meaning 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 one extraordinary species. It is a large family with over nine hundred species located in Europe, North America and Australia. Without becoming too scientific, it is safe to say that most Mistletoe is completely self-sufficient and adaptive to changes in climate.

The enigma of Mistletoe easily lends itself to lore. It hangs air born between heaven and earth, has no roots yet bears fruit, and remains green and vibrant during the winter months. It was said to have been revered by the Druids as most holy, especially if it appeared on an Oak which was their most sacred tree. The golden berries of the plant were considered a key linking the heavens and underworld. Cut with a golden sickle on December 23rd (the day of the marriage of the solar and lunar forces), it was not allowed to touch the ground but was caught with a white cloth thus ensuring fertility, protection from evil, abundance, and harmony. The ritual of kissing under the Mistletoe has it’s origin in these pagan beliefs.

Norse mythology has Baldur, the solar hero child of Frigg and Odin, killed by a twig of Mistletoe. As Baldur descended to the Underworld, it was said that he would not return until after doomsday. Then, as the solar god, the light of the heavens, he will usher in an era of peace and light to mankind. His story is long, full of conspiracy and jealousy as the gods and goddesses of old were prone to petty emotions, however the historical power of the plant has remained.

Never to be outdone, the Greeks too have a story with Mistletoe as the centerpiece. Aeneas, a young hero, used the power of a golden bough of Mistletoe as the key which allowed for the safe entrance and return of a mortal to the Underworld. He went below and sought his father for advice and counsel and returned unharmed yet transformed and spiritually reborn.

Among Christians, it is said that Mistletoe was once a vibrant tree which was used as the wood for the cross of the crucifixion of Christ. Afterwards the disgraced tree shriveled and was reduced to a parasitic vine as punishment.

Medicinally, although the berries are poisonous, it has been used as a remedy for epilepsy with wood amulets said to ward off attacks. It has been used to reduce stress related heart palpations, relieve headaches and dizziness caused by high blood pressure, and since ancient times to treat tumors. Recent medical research has promising results with Mistletoe as a cure for cancer.

Whatever the reason to include this marvelous plant… a kiss below it, a wish for good luck, or simply a spot of bright green color… it is truly a magical addition to any Christmas decor.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

My Christmas Thoughts~

I composed this little card over a decade ago... it still mirrors my sentiments! I let the children color it!