Monday, April 30, 2012

The Planting of the Peas

Now that the root vegetables in my backyard garden plot are doing nicely, I've decided that it's time to plant something new.  Sugar snap peas sound like a yummy idea, especially since they're some of the few vegetables I can actually get my daughter to willingly eat.  She calls peas "green corn."  I'm not about to dissuade her from this name choice, either.  Not if it gets her excited about them!

I'm not actually sure how well they'll do in an area that's been tainted with black walnut, but the seeds were only $1.50, so it's worth a shot.  That's less than the cost of a Sunday newspaper in some places, after all.

I selected a spot next to the shed wall, and started uprooting unwanted plants.  Dandelions, creeping charlie, catnip, and even a maple sapling were some of the items in my "weed pile".  The pile was quite large.

At last, the area was cleared.  The next step was to loosen the soil.

With this work done, I decided to plant the seeds in a line straight down the center of the area, in order to provide ample room for the roots.  I then watered the area and put the wood chip mulch back into place.  After that, I went a step further and used the mulch to create separate areas so that I knew where each seed was planted.

I stared down at my plot and realized something...

It appears I don't know the meaning of the word 'center'.  The line of seeds should have been planted an inch or so further away from the wall than I placed them.


I guess we'll just have see what happens!

Maple Heaven


Amazing how reading that one simple word can conjure large amounts of yearning and excitement, isn't it?

The Nature Center had a 5k run and pancake brunch, which my daughter insisted on going to.  Naturally, I was only too happy to comply! Proceeds from the Maple Syrup Fun Run and events like it go toward supporting the Nature Center, so it was definitely worth participating in.

Unfortunately, we arrived too late to do anything more that have brunch.  No running for us!  That's ok, though.  We were happy to be there.

And, after all, it had pancakes.

These weren't just any pancakes, however.  The sticky maple syrup that oozed over our plates came directly from trees within the park.  Bonus!

Tapping maple trees is something that I've always been interested in, but I've never actually seen it done.  I had to know more.

The number of taps that a person can have on a single tree is largely dependent on the tree's diameter.  From what I can gather, a tree needs to have a trunk that measures at least 12 inches in diameter to be able to place one tap on it.  To place two taps, the diameter needs to be over 20 inches, and to place three (the maximum that I've seen) it needs to be around 28 inches or more.  Those are some big tree trunks!

Next, you grab your favorite drill and drill a hole into your maple tree that's at a convenient height for you.  The hole needs to be drilled at a wee slant in order to help guide the maple sap properly.  A depth of about 2 inches is what I've seen recommended.

Finally, you connect your tap to the hole, and hang a bucket from it.  Oh, and... use a lid.  Otherwise you'll have a nice amount of bugs gathering about your maple sap!

When you've collected your maple sap, it needs to be boiled so that you can rid it of all of the excess moisture (and, I daresay, help kill off any nasty bugs and bacteria that've made their way inside!).  It's recommended that this is done outside, due to the overwhelming amount of steam that's created.

Once it's boiled down into perfect, syrupy heaven, you need to run it through a fine sieve of some sort, in order to get rid of any grainy bits.  I've seen coffee filters mentioned as being a perfect tool for this.  Another option is to just leave it to settle overnight so that all of the excess material sinks to the bottom, then pour the maple syrup into a new container, leaving the sediment behind.

One source of information that I found myself continually going back to in my hunt for information was Tap My Trees.  If you're interested in making your own maple syrup, I'd suggest going there for additional information.  The site has tons!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Hoverfly Identification

It's time for a new identification!  Today it's another insect.

Helophilus (fasciatus?)

Scientific Name:  Helophilus (fasciatus?)

Common Name:  Hoverfly, damselfly, syrphid fly

Color:  Yellow thorax with vertical black stripes, abdomen has black horizontal stripes

Size:  about 1/2"

Distinguishing Characteristics:  Bee mimic

Looks like a bee, doesn't it?  No?  Maybe a wasp?  Yeah, I thought so, too, at first.  That's because the helophilus genus mimics bees and wasps as a defense against predators.  Who wants to get bit or stung, after all?  It's better to leave this guy alone, and go after something a little less risky.

Helophilus means "sun lover".  Indeed, these flies come out in force when the sun is high in the sky during the spring and summer, and they forage for pollen while basking in its warmth.

I should point out that I'm actually undecided as to which species of Helophilus this particular hoverfly is a member of.  My gut tells me that it's fasciatus, but it could also be hybridus or pendulus.  All three hoverfly species have been found in this state, and all three look very similar.

At times like this I really wish I got my degree in biology, rather than geology!

Perhaps the easiest way to confirm that this is a hoverfly, rather than a bee or a wasp, is that it has two wings, rather than four.  You'll never find a bee or a wasp with only two wings.  The hoverfly is considered a 'true fly' because of this lack of four wings.

While you can't tell the hoverfly's gender from this picture, their genders are generally very easy to determine.  It's all in the eyes.  A male hoverfly has large eyes that just about touch each other.  The female, on the other hand, has a larger space between her eyes.  This spacing of the eyes actually effects flight patterns, with the male having a better ability to judge distances.

I work very hard to try to bring bees to my yard, complete with having a wild area set aside.  Naturally, making a yard bee friendly also means making it friendly to other wildlife.  That being said, my yard is very friendly toward hoverflies!  That's ok, though, because these insects are a very good addition to any garden, as they're great pollinators, and work tirelessly.

Further, hoverflies are very docile creatures.  It's perfectly safe to allow one to land on you without any fear of getting bitten.  Good to know, right?

Even though it's a fly, I'm glad to have this insect in my yard.  Docile, brightly colored, and a happy pollinator...

What's not to like?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Crow Was Eating What?!

As I prepared breakfast this morning, I glanced out the kitchen window and saw a crow.  Not a grackle, mind you, but a crow.  It was in my neighbors yard, and it was eating something.

I stared for quite some time, trying to puzzle out what exactly it was eating.  The crow was quite set on consuming as much of this feast as possible, and nothing else was capable of catching its attention.  Very unusual, in my opinion.  Crows have a tendency to notice everything around them at all times, which is one of their most interesting qualities, in my opinion.

Whatever it was eating was red at the top, with white hanging down from it.  At first, I thought it was an apple. After a while, however, I realized that the white area wasn't rigid, so that couldn't be right.

In an effort to tear away at its food, it kicked up some grass.  Gray grass.

But grass isn't...



It was eating a small animal.  I'm still not sure what the animal was, considering that when I went to inspect the area a while later there was nothing left but scattered fur patches.

It could be squirrel, but the hair looked softer than I would imagine squirrel fur to be, and it was all uniform in length.

Here's a close-up of two patches of fur, side by side.  It could be squirrel, because the colors are right...

But I haven't seen the two rabbits that have been frequenting the yard across the street since then, and even though I've only seen them from a distance the color is the same as theirs is...  Was???

I honestly don't know the answer.  I'll definitely be keeping an eye out to see if the rabbits that visit the neighbor's yard return, though!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Healthy Milk Jug Covered Root Vegetables

The root vegetables that I had planted in the raised garden in the backyard have done quite well, for the most part.  I had a bit of an upset when I looked under their plastic milk jug environment and discovered that one full section of carrots didn't sprout at all, but I shrugged it off and planted some radishes in that area.  Those radishes have taken off like crazy!

I removed the halved milk jugs a few days ago, and they're all still doing well.

The very top of this picture is unnecessary in this post.  It's merely a large amount of catnip resting beside a halved milk jug covering some dill that I transplanted in a frenzy.  I'm hoping the transfer into the ground will keep the weak sprouts from dying off.

So pretend those don't exist - I'll get back to them later.

What you're seeing in the top row (from left to right) is a section of carrots, one of radishes, and then another of carrots.  Below that I have two sections of onions, which basically look like grass because the shoots are so thin.  The long strip of wood sits between them as a separator.

The stuff that looks like grass below those sections is, well, grass.  I'm not sure why it's there, exactly, but it was definitely planted in the raised garden for some strange reason.  Aesthetics, maybe?

So far, it appears that using halved milk jugs to plant prior to the last frost is a workable idea.  The plants are healthy, and they seem pretty strong.  They've even managed to survive a frost after the milk jug halves had been removed!  I've had better luck with this method than I have with starting seeds inside the house, on a window sill.

Removing the milk jug halves at the proper time, however, seems to be a key ingredient for success.  My onions had started looking a bit sickly, but upon removal of the milk jug environment, they bounced back to health.  Had I removed the milk jugs from their position a week earlier, I believe they would be much larger by now.

It's a learning process!  This is one way to reuse milk jugs that I'll definitely do again.


I have chives! Huge ones!  Big, tall, green ones with flowers near to appearing!


You're probably thinking it's a little too early for me to be seeing chives. If these were the ones I had just planted in my cinder blocks or in my spaghetti garden, I'd agree with you.

But they're not.

I found them growing along the edge of the pathway up the hill, in the wild section of the yard.  These chives are in perfect health, yet I never saw them growing.  Peering closely at the photo, you can see why.  Much of that section is filled with long grasses, so the chives just sort of blended in.

Naturally, I did a taste test, and the flavor was great.  This rental home is just filled with fun surprises!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

I Will Have Mint, Darn It!!!

After transplanting my canterbury bells, I was energized.    I had one more built in planter on my porch, and I refused to sit around just staring at it.

Ok, I had actually started on that planter a while ago, planting peppermint and anise seeds.  That was only semi-successful, though, due to the digging of an overzealous squirrel in search of his missing walnut.  None of the peppermint I planted ever sprouted.

The halved milk jug that I used to cover the anise seeds was also lost, but I was fortunate there.  Those seeds did sprout up rather nicely.

That just wasn't enough for me, though.

A few days ago I attempted to place some peppermint seedlings that I had been growing into the space where the original peppermint had been planted.  They're still there, but the squirrel has already upset the area a few times, and I'm not holding out much hope for them.

I needed more, and I wanted mint.  Peppermint, spearmint, sweet mint... it didn't truly matter to me, as long as it was mint.  If I had my way, I'd place mint in the fruit and vegetable juices I make each and every morning.  Sadly, fresh mint is expensive, so I don't buy it often.

Then I went to the store and found sweet mint plants.  The live plants cost roughly the same amount as the mint cuttings I occasionally purchase.  If I bought one of those, I could easily make up the cost!!!

I grabbed them up with excitement.  I would have my beautiful green mint plants, and nothing could stop me!

::cue maniacal laughter::

I planted them at the edge of the planter that held the anise.

Aren't they gorgeous?!  I really hope they do well.  There's a large amount of catnip in the backyard that I've actually been pulling, due to its ability to try to take over the area, and catnip is a part of the mint family, so there's hope!

Crammed Canterbury Bell Seedlings!

At long last, I've decided to return to my winter sown canterbury bells.  They've been sitting securely in their little milk jug containers for about two months now, and it's getting warmer.

I opened my container, fighting with the gorilla tape I secured it with, as well as the additional clear tape I used to re-secure the pieces after the wind sent the top portion flying.  The seedlings were crammed together, with very little space between them at all.  I had actually thinned them out previously, but due to re-sprouting, the huge supply of seedlings was overwhelming.

Originally they had been placed in well thought out spots within the milk jug, but after the three days of rain that flooded the container, I imagine the seeds distributed themselves throughout the entire jug, thereby allowing more of them to take root than normally would. I did, after all, have a hard time managing the amount of seeds that were placed in each area, owing to the fact that the seeds are so tiny!

Sadly, the seedlings within the container were growing at such a slow rate that I was afraid of destroying them if I began thinning the area out.  With this in mind, I decided to go about a slower process of management.  I prepared one of the planters in the front yard, and broke the soil holding the seedlings into two different sections.  I wanted as many of them to survive as possible, so the seedlings were transplanted into two different areas of the planter.

As you can see, the soil didn't break into sections that were even remotely even, but I didn't want to press my luck by breaking the larger piece in half.  I left them as is.

This is merely step one of the thinning process.  I expect a few of the seedlings to die off on their own in the next few days, just because of the stress they went through during transplant, so after the seedlings have time to get used to their new environment I'll thin the seeds out a bit more.

Then, I'll need to wait for the seedlings to get a bit larger, and thin them yet again.  I'd rather go about this process all at once, but I worry about the strength of the seedlings...

Mainly because they shouldn't be seedlings right now.  They should be a bit taller than they are, with a few more leaves attached.  I imagine this is because of how crammed together the little guys were when I opened the container, as well as the fact that this was an extremely mild winter.  That had to have had an effect on them.

So now I wait.

I did decide to leave half of the milk jug covering one of the transplant sections, just in case of frost - there's still a danger of it happening, after all.

Yeah, I realize that it doesn't have manicured, perfect beauty to it, but then again, I don't want perfection.  I want discovery.  I left the who-knows-what-it-is plant in between the transplants for just that reason.  This could be a good idea, bringing contrast to the garden, or it could be a bad idea, having a root structure that crowds out the canterbury bells.

Only time will tell, and I'll be happy to see the results!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Buried Treasures?!

I left something out when I talked about my retaining wall garden.  Specifically, I didn't mention the excitement that occurs when you dig through and loosen soil, only to discover that there's more than just dirt inside.

No, I'm not talking about rocks.  Sure, there were plenty, but that's pretty much business as usual when you dig into a garden plot.

I'm not talking about the variety of bugs and worms, either.  Again, this can hold my attention for an unusually long amount of time, but that's business as usual, as well.

Rather, I'm talking about the extra little treasures that were buried, the ones that were never supposed to be there in the first place.  I found all sorts of items that I puzzled over, wondering why they were there.  I found a smashed up vent cover, a washer (for nuts and bolts - not the kind you put clothing into! Although, the magic tricks in doing that would be pretty cool.), a marble, a plastic bag from Macy's, two nickels, and several more mundane items.

There was one item, however, that overshadowed the rest.

What you're looking at is a 1.5" elbow.  The kind you use to connect large pipes in your house.  This thing was huge.  Examining the two edges that were furthest from each other, I'd say that it measured about three inches across at the longest point.  When you consider that the open spaces of a cinder block are 4x4, that's pretty big!

Why in the world, I wondered, would somebody shove that into a dirt filled cinder block?

I know what you're going to say... You're going to tell me that this was just something that was left over from when the house was built, and that it was simply left behind as an oversight.  That may be correct.  The reasoning is logical, after all.

But the house was built in the 1890s.  That's a long time for something like this to be left behind without discovery, especially considering that I found a planting marker inside.

Yep.  I wasn't the first to have the cinder block gardening idea at this house.  Talk about a buzz-kill, right? The planting marker I found showed that begonias had been placed there some time in the recent past.

So why, I ask, was the elbow not moved from its place in the cinder block?  That seems like something a person would do when transplanting a flower into an area.

I suppose I'll never know.  This is one of those buried treasures whose secret will remain hidden.  I'll have to make up my own story.

The mischievous little imp in me is considering re-burying it somewhere else for the next people that rent this house.... perhaps the base of one of the walnut trees.  Movie pirates like burying treasures in locations like that, right?

Cinder Blocks As Garden Planters

I had been dragging my feet for a while, in terms of finding new and interesting spots to place additions to my garden.  Learning about guerrilla gardening, however, fixed that problem instantly.

No, I didn't run out to plant poppies inside potholes... although, that would have been pretty fun.

Rather, I scanned my yard for a new area that I could plant within.  Something different.  Something unique.    My gaze landed on the driveway's retaining wall.

Pretty ugly, right?  Yeah, I wholeheartedly agree.  I smiled, though, because I knew I had found the perfect spot for a few more herbs.  There was great potential here.  Those cinder blocks seemed to yearn for my attention.  

This was going to be a huge job, so I decided to go about it piece by piece.  I started with the section at the forefront of the photo.  

While clearing the weeds, though, I discovered a huge infestation of pill bugs within every section of the cinder blocks.

Look at those nasty things scurrying along the inside walls!  Eew!!!  I had to pretty much empty the entire thing out bit by bit to remove them.  It wasn't pleasant.  

At last that job was done, and I was able to go about filling the holes in the cinder blocks with soil.  I also cleaned up the area beside the cinder blocks so that the tall grasses weren't stealing precious sunshine away from my seeds.

The seeds I planted were basil, chives, and dill (dill has two sections to itself).  These are the herbs that I go through most often. It's true that I already have a small amount of basil and chives planted in my spaghetti garden, but I can always use more.

As an afterthought, I placed some poppy seeds inside the thin section that separated the basil and dill.  If they decide to grow they'll produce a beautiful contrast, but if they don't I won't be overly upset about it.

Those cinder blocks look so much nicer now, don't they?  Waiting for the herbs to grow is going to be tough!  It's a good thing I have a lot to do in the meantime!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Walking The Hill... Again

Even though I've tried to reduce my ecological footprint, I've had to use my car for the past few shopping trips due to weather conditions.  I'd like to say that I have superhuman endurance, and can carry groceries through wind, hail, rain, or snow, but realistically...

I can be a big wimp.

It seemed that every time I had to go to the grocery store it was rainy.  This isn't enough to keep me from walking, though, because I actually enjoy the rain.

Unfortunately, I'm not very big on the cold, though, and each time it rained, it was freezing!  Well, ok.  Those people that are used to living in the upper Midwest probably don't consider forty degrees to be freezing cold, but I'm a desert rat!  To me, forty degrees is the equivalent of the ice age.

So I waited.

Finally, it was warm enough to walk to the grocery store again, and I raced for the stroller.  My daughter was just as happy to go to the store as I was.  So happy, in fact, that she insisted on pushing the stroller the whole way, rather than sitting in it!

We collected our groceries for the week, and I made her actually sit in the stroller on the way home.  The woman standing in line behind me at the cash register walked over to me while I was connecting the seat straps, and told me about how she was surprised I was actually able to fit everything inside the stroller's small cargo bin.  I laughed and told her it could carry a lot more than it looked like it could.

Inwardly, though, I agreed.  This was a lot of stuff.  Heavy stuff.  Things like a gallon of milk, a bag of oranges, a chicken...

A lot of stuff to push back home.  I was worried.  It had been a while since my last walking trip.  And then, of course, there was

"The Hill".

Ugh.  I was not looking forward to that.

Pushing the stroller, I reflected on how hard The Hill had always been to travel when pushing the stroller.  This was especially nerve-wracking when I thought about how long it's been since I last did it, and that I was pushing more weight than I had in the past.  I deeply sighed, and continued.

At last, I made it to The Hill.  I looked up at it with trepidation.

That's when I noticed how beautiful it had become with the arrival of spring.  The grass was green, the trees were filling with leaves, and there were wildflowers in various places along the way.  It was a gorgeous sight!

It was so gorgeous in fact, that my daughter and I became completely absorbed in staring at our surroundings.  Before I knew it, we had made it up The Hill...

And I was less tired from that climb than I had ever been before!

Perhaps much of the difficulty that appears in our lives has more to do with the way we see the things we encounter, rather than the obstacles themselves.  Indeed, the second photo of The Hill even looks flatter than the first.  Granted, much of this had to do with the exact spot I was at when I took the picture.  I can't help but wonder, though, if that location choice was made because I saw things a bit differently this time.

Allergies and Itching?! Say it isn't so!

For the past month and a half I've been plagued with itching.  It started with my head, and it continued all the way to my feet.  It was unstoppable. 

At first, I thought it was dandruff.  I haven't had a case of dandruff since before high school, but it seemed like a reasonable assumption.  The itching did start at my head, of course.

Sadly, no dandruff shampoo helped.  The annoyance continued.

I then decided that my skin was simply drying out due to the fact that the moisture in the air was being sucked out by my heater.  I realized after a while, however, that lotions and oils were of very little help, my skin was perfectly smooth, and I was still itching!!!  Maybe I just needed a little more lotion, I thought...

Once the itching started taking over places like my hands, thinghs, and feet, however, I knew it had to be something other than dry skin.  I was beginning to look like a dog that was covered in fleas, scratching so many spots on my body that I was beginning to turn horribly red all over.

And I had bumps!!!  The areas that were most prone to itching would get bumps as soon as I'd begun to scratch. 

And it was getting worse every day.  I was itching so much that I was beginning to break skin.

Gross, right?

Finally, I swallowed my pride and reached for the allergy medication.  I'm not one to reach for medications, prefering natural remedies, but I needed to try it.  I had to know if allergies were the cause of my scratching insanity.

Two days and seven pills later, my scratching is under control.  Don't get me wrong, I'm still itchy, but the sensation has lessened to a great degree.

So now I know the problem.  I'm allergic to something in my new environment.  The itching began before I started gardening, so I don't have to cloister myself inside the house, thank goodness, but I need to find out what the main cause.

I've never had more than a minor allergy to cats, and that occurred only when I'd, say, get their hair in my eyes.  Environmental allergens?  Not something that happens to me.  Not only that, but this is severe.  This isn't typical hay fever.

So far, my best guess is that it's related to the black walnut trees in the yard.  Even before I began this spring's gardening, I was taking the outer skin off of black walnuts, then crushing the shells with a hammer to look inside. 

It's actually a lot of fun - you should try it!

I may not be correct, but so far I'm thinking this is a black walnut allergy.  I like that idea far more than I like the idea of being allergic to the air of my new town!

Now the question is: What do I do about it?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Guerrilla Gardening? Sounds Exciting!

A few days ago I looked at my How-To of the Day gadget and saw a term that caught my interest:  Guerrilla Gardening.  Sounds exciting, doesn't it? 

But what in the heck is guerrilla gardening?!

Well, it turns out that guerrilla gardening is simply gardening on public or private land that has gone into disrepair.  Basically, you're making use of space that's been ignored by the people who are supposed to care for it.  Kinda like when people that are homeless temporarily move into an abandoned building.  You garden with the knowledge that your space could be dug up or destroyed at any time.

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I found the above image through flickr, so I can't take any credit for this great example of guerrilla gardening.  Rather, this image was taken from Jean-Luc Henry in Canada.  I've also seen examples of people gardening within sewer grates, inside potholes in city streets, and so much more! 

This is a great concept for anyone that wants to build a garden, but doesn't have space of their own to do it.  Keep in mind though, that doing this is illegal, since the land is owned by someone else.  This may be part of the reason that many guerrilla gardeners do their plant care and sowing at night.

There are even things called 'seed bombs' that have been designed to enable gardeners to plant in hard to work areas, or in areas that they may fear being at for a particularly long time.  Wow!  Seed bombs are just what they sound like:  small balls that carry seeds and growth materials that 'explode' at a time that will enable the seeds to take root.  No, there's no fire or scary limb-threatening explosion, so you don't need to worry about that.  Don't let your imagination take you too far!  Seed bombs can be made at home, or even bought online.  Brilliant, if you ask me!

Now, guerrilla gardening can get you into a lot of trouble.  It can be seen by public officials as vandalism, for one thing.  Just like taggers running in and spray painting a wall, guerrilla gardeners make their own unsanctioned mark on an area with their planting.  There is risk involved.

This isn't always the case, however.  You can always get permission from a land owner to do this.  There are even some guerrilla gardeners that have gotten permission from public officials to plant on public property that's not being used.  I have to ask, though, whether it's truly guerrilla gardening if you have permission... that seems to be a bit of an oxymoron.

Guerrilla gardening seems like a beautiful idea, to me.  Planting useful flowers or fruits in an area that's otherwise neglected seems like it would not only provide pedestrians with something a little more pleasant to view, but also raise property values, thereby encouraging urban growth in the area.  Most people don't like dealing with the weeds that accumulate in and around an abandoned or neglected area, but do like to see something designed with love and care.

So far, I haven't seen anything in the area I'm currently living in that would be conducive to guerrilla gardening (probably because I don't know enough about the area to recognize areas that are overgrown with weeds), but I'll be heading back to my home in the desert southwest in the near future to do some work on my old house, and I have the perfect area in mind!  We'll see if I have the chance to do this while I'm there!

Of course, in hindsight, this method probably would have been a great way to fix the hole in my driveway.  It wouldn't be considered guerrilla gardening, since it's on the property I'm renting, but I'm sure I could always find a pothole or two in the area... especially since road repair isn't a high priority in my town due to budget concerns.

My Daughter's Strawberry Garden

Since my daughter has so much fun helping me with my garden, I decided that it was time to let her create one of her own.  A garden, after all, is a great way to teach children not only science, but also responsibility, independence and confidence.  There's a reason that many homeschooled children work in family owned gardens, after all! 

I told my daughter about this decision and was rewarded with an excited smile.  I asked her what she wanted to plant in it, and she thought about it for a while.  Finally, she looked up at me and responded.

"Ice cream seeds."

It took a bit of time to convince her that this wasn't an option.  I finally assured her that we could make ice cream and place what we had planted inside it. 

Naturally, she decided on strawberries, since strawberry ice cream is her favorite.  For a few days after this, my daughter continually talked to me about how she needed to get some strawberries.  She was very much looking forward to her garden.

Not knowing how much soil I needed to place inside the Earthbox I had chosen for her garden location, I had her get the box ready for her strawberry plants.  While she was focused on strawberry seeds specifically, I knew this was only because seeds are all she's seen me use this year, but that she'd be more inclined to watch over her garden if she had actual plants with leaves to look at from day one.

Since it was her garden, she needed to be involved from step one, so I opened a bag of soil and gave her a small shovel so that she could fill her Earthbox.  She worked quite diligently!

Of course, we're talking about a three year old here, so this process took forever.  I elected to help out by dumping half of the bag inside the box, which reduced the time involved significantly!  Once she had finished filling the box with dirt, I had her even out the soil, which, of course, was very exciting for her.  Her hands were covered in black dirt by the time she was done.

Finally, it was time to go to the Garden Center and purchase some strawberry plants... as well as the oregano seeds that I needed to complete my spaghetti garden!  There were plants everywhere, but she was single-minded.  She pranced through the rows of plants with one objective in mind:  Strawberries!!!  She ignored many flowers that would normally get her attention as she searched.  When she finally found the strawberry plants, she squealed with happiness, and I selected three for her. 

She rushed me out of the nursery as soon as they were paid for, and I got to listen to her talk about the plants the entire way home.  This gave me the opportunity to explain how the berries grow, and I was able to get her to understand the importance of not picking the flowers... something she loves to do.

Transplanting went pretty well.  She placed the first plant into the Earthbox, and I took care of the other two.  We then added more dirt into the box until the roots were entirely covered.  Of course, I use the word 'we', but in reality, after doing this for a while she got a bit bored and ran off to chase butterflies.  That's ok, though... she got the basics down!

Last, I grabbed some grass out of the attachment to my reel mower, and placed a small amount around the base of each plant to use as mulch. 

Why so little, you ask?  Well, in truth, I should have used a lot more, but it was difficult sifting through everything to locate grass that hadn't been mixed with walnut leaves.  The black walnut leaves would definitely kill the strawberry plants, since its phytotoxin is found within every portion of the tree. Not only that, but I also had to be careful not to get any pieces of creeping charlie in the mulch.  The plant can grow from the smallest of cuttings, after all!

My daughter is very excited about her garden!  I'm hoping for great success.  One of the reasons I began this blog, after all, was to teach her the value of being environmentally responsible, and this gives her an up close and personal view of the importance of nature!

I thought that having a three year old create her own garden would be a difficult task, but it was surprisingly easy, as well as fun.  All it takes is a large flower box or pot, so it can really be done by anyone, anywhere.  Even someone that lives in an apartment can do this with their child. 

I call this a total win!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day, the EPA, and My Family

The first Earth Day occurred in 1970.  That was also the same year that the EPA was created.  Now, the EPA is a little more special to me than it is for the average person.  Yes, it produces environmental legislation, and yes, it works to ensure that we don't go overboard throwing large amounts of chemical waste throughout our country, but it does so much more than that.

I've noticed, however, that most people see the EPA as a joke.  These tend to be people who haven't been personally touched by its actions, and that makes their lack of respect for the EPA totally understandable. 

It also means, however, that those of us who do have stories have the responsibility to tell people about them.  How can you have respect for a government organization when all you've seen is talk and paperwork?  How can you understand something's importance when you haven't heard about a positive change that it's made in someone's life?  It's possible to have this respect, but it's not very probable.

So I want to tell my family's story.

My great-grandfather came to this country in the 1920s.  He was a fisherman, so his chosen home became the shore of Lake Superior, not far from the Split Rock Lighthouse.  He spent his life on the north shore, and was a great fisherman.

Being a great fisherman, he was able to notice when things began to change throughout the waters of the lake in the 1950s.  What he noticed was that the water was becoming unnaturally dirty.  Unnaturally dirty water means that some fish - especially the herring that people in that area are so fond of - were no longer swimming in areas they used to frequent.  He and my great uncle had to go seven miles out from shore just to be able to catch anything!

The reason?  Reserve Mining in the community of Silver Bay was dumping its waste rock into the lake.  The resultant breakdown of that rock into fine particles was killing the fish, because they couldn't lay their eggs in the new, gooey sediment. 

Fighting a mining company, as you can imagine, isn't easy.  Huge amounts of people became involved.  While my great-grandfather and great uncle spoke at meetings and raised awareness of this plight that was destroying their livelihood, people throughout the area were having bake sales at schools, and anywhere else they could, gathering donations so that they could fight what was happening to the lake.

Had the EPA not been created in 1970, who knows what would have happened?  My family, as well as others, had complained to the government for years about what was happening, and they had gotten nowhere.

It wasn't until the newly formed EPA stepped in and filed a lawsuit against Reserve Mining Co. for violating the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, that things finally started to get moving.  Scientists were sent in, and one EPA chemist made a frightening discovery: there were fibers carried in the water from the dumpsite that were similar in structure to asbestos - a cancer causing agent. 

Even with this information, the fight wasn't over.  It continued for quite some time, and there were many heroes both within the EPA and the general community that eventually helped win this environmental victory.  Eventually, Reserve Mining was given an April 15, 1980 deadline to move all of its waste inland, rather than the outpouring into the lake that it had done since its construction. 

I'll always be grateful for the creation of the EPA.  It enabled my family members to continue their way of life, and removed a major source of danger from the shores of Lake Superior.  Its job is more difficult now than it was back then, since it's not always as easy to discover violations in this generation, but it shouldn't be seen as a joke.

This Earth Day, I'm celebrating the great achievements the EPA has helped to accomplish, and reminding myself that we all need to actively help the environment, rather than just "plant a tree" or wear some silly shirt that declares support for Earth Day.  Actions, after all, speak louder than words, and I want to ensure that my actions are environmentally responsible.

Transplant of the Lonely Soybeans

Because my goal is to have an edible landscape that allows me to harvest my own food without having to worry about where it came from, or how it was grown, I need to have a nice variety.  One thing I hadn't planted was any sort of bean crop, and soybeans are a particular favorite of mine.

Soybeans are one type of crop that sets me very much on edge, however.  As many of you know, a large portion of the soy in our grocery stores have been genetically modified.  Now, today is not the day that I'm going to argue about the evils of genetic modification - I'll do that later, but today I'm just going to point out that this is not something I'd consider an advantage. 

One reason for this is the high amount of pesticides that are used on these crops.  I don't use pesticides.  I don't believe in using them, at all.  Growing my own soybeans gives me the knowledge that none have been used, and this makes me a very happy person.

Now, soybeans grow fast.  Of course, we all know this.  There's a reason, after all, that beans are the preferred seed for classroom projects.

What I didn't know, however, was that after a mere week and a half I'd have one growing six inches tall inside my little take-home fast food beverage cup that I used as a temporary container.  A second seed had also sprouted there, and was only three inches tall.  This, however, was far too much for such a small container.  The soybeans had to be transplanted outside, and fast!

I filled my Earthbox with soil, and transplanted my soybeans into it.  Now, they'd have plenty of room to grow. 

I then placed some seeds straight into the container so that I could have a wealth of soybeans in the future.  Soybeans only need to be planted about three inches apart, after all. 

There was just one problem.  I placed my transplants at the far left side of the container, so that I could easily judge whether the transplants or the beans that I directly seeded grow at a better rate.  Granted, this doesn't seem like a problem on the surface, but... looks so lonely in there!!!  My poor, poor soybean transplant.  Hopefully it'll have a few new buddies growing in there beside it soon.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Thriving Green Lettuce and Spinach

My lettuce survived!!!  It made it through the past few cold nights, through the frost, and through the wind.  It not only survived, but it's thriving!

It's only been a few days since the wind made them look pathetic and wilted, and yet they're growing with extreme gusto!  I'm completely dumbfounded by this sudden burst of health.  The leaves are shooting straight up, they've got some curl to them, and their green color is gorgeous!  I guess there's some truth to the old addage of "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

I decided to go ahead and remove the cover from my spinach after seeing how well the lettuce was doing.  Both lettuce and spinach can handle cooler weather, and the exposure to breezes would be good for the stems of my spinach. 

Besides... I knew they needed to be free of their container.  Peeking through the hole at the top let me know that my spinach was beginning to grow quite large. I didn't, however, realize just how large they were growing.

To give you some idea, the four largest leaves in this picture are already salad sized.  Right now it looks pretty wimpy, I know, but that's because it hasn't had the full benefit of being exposed to the elements.  Within a few days I expect the spinach to dwarf the lettuce.

It already covers a larger amount of space!

I expect to give you another update soon, showing gigantic, thriving plants.  They look small now, but soon they'll be gorgeous!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Spaghetti Garden

As upset as I was about having sad, purple tomato seedlings staring up at me from their spot in the window sill, I had other things that needed to be done for the day - like figuring out what to make for dinner.  Therefore, before transplanting my tomatoes I needed to decide on that.  Opening up the cabinets, I saw something that gave me an idea not only about what to make for dinner, but also what to do with my transplant location.

A jar of spaghetti sauce!!!

No, really.  Think about it.

Spaghetti for dinner.  That's the easy part.  Anybody can figure out that's what I was thinking of.  It's a quick dinner, too, so I didn't have to worry about my time being limited.

But what does this have to do with my transplants? 

Well, spaghetti sauce isn't just tomato, after all.  It's also mixed with things like basil, garlic, oregano, chives... the list goes on.

"I'll plant a Spaghetti Garden!"  I squealed.  My daughter looked at me in confusion for a few seconds, trying to figure out why I was yelling at the cabinet, then burst out with a song that had something to do with noodle flowers and meatball trees.

Clearly, she takes after me...

My ultimate goal has been to create an edible landscape.  Naturally, a section whose purpose is to provide necessary components for a single meal, or at least the majority of one, would be perfect for that.

So I grabbed a large flowerpot that had been sitting in front of the garage since I moved here.  One side of it has a large, gaping hole on the top which was either created by me smacking my car into it (very possible), or was already there when we moved here (also possible).  Regardless, since the hole is at the very top, the flower pot is perfectly usable.  I placed one of my tomato seedlings at the center.

I then planted two rows of chive seeds on the left, and two rows of basil seeds on the right.  At the top I plan to plant oregano seeds, as well, but I haven't bought any oregano seeds yet, so that'll have to wait until I go to the garden center again.  Both herb sections have very short rows, of course, but herbs grow so quickly when pruned that I'm not worried about having enough to go around.

Here's a look at how I planned out the sections:

One may question how I plan to make spaghetti sauce using this garden if I don't have any garlic.  Well, chives are actually a pretty decent substitute as long as you use the proper amount.  Of course, there's always the possibility of planting garlic in anouther location.  As a root vegetable it may be less sensitive to black wanut toxicity, so could actually be planted in the ground.  Tomatoes, on the other hand, are not tolerant of black walnut, so must be in a container in my yard.

I'm looking forward to homegrown spaghetti sauce!

My Sad, Purple Tomato Seedlings

For the past two weeks I've been staring at my tomato seedlings with absolute dread.  They haven't been growing.  Sure, they had gotten their first true leaves, and the stems were reasonably strong due to the fact that I'd blow on them every day (breeze simulation), but they were still only about two inches tall.

Not only that, but the leaves were turning purple.  From what I've been able to discover, this is probably due to a deficiency in Phosphorus or Magnesium.  Of course, there could also be too much calcium in the soil.  As if that's not enough to cause me a headache, ammonium poisoning is another possibility when dealing with purple tomato leaves.

It's enough to make your head explode!

Fortunately, I was able to eliminate ammonium poisoning.  This is mainly caused in soils that are under 55 degrees that have been well fertilized.  Cold soils are far less Phosphorous rich, so the ammonium caused by Nitrogen fertilization can spike out of control due to the lack of balance.  My seedlings were in an environment that was definitely above 55 degrees, and I haven't used fertilizer, so I can chuck this cause out the window.

I was down to either

a) Phosphorous or Magnesium deficiency, or

b) Calcium overload.

Basically, what's happening is that I'm getting a huge buildup of anthocyanin.  Anthocyanin is basically the red pigmentation that you find in plants, and purple is derived from red.  This should be a good thing.  Anthocyanin, after all, is linked to protection against several different types of cancers in humans.  Our bodies like this stuff!  Unfortunately, too much of good thing is, well, bad.  Too much anthocyanin in tomato plants is an indicator of an imbalance of the soil, and imbalances mean trouble.

Further research showed me that I didn't have a problem with Phosphorous or Magnesium deficiencies.  If this sort of deficiency is present in a tomato plant, only the edges of the leaves would be purple.  Since what I was seeing was an entirely purple leaf, I was able to rule out that possibility.

That leaves me with a Calcium overload in the soil.  Too much Calcium can actually block the plant from taking in any Magnesium or Phosphorus.  Because these nutrients are totally blocked, the entire leaf  turns purple, since no Magnesium or Phosphorous is getting through, therefore even worse than a deficiency.

In my case, Calcium buildup is very likely.  I water using the tap.  We've all seen just how much calcium buildup can occur through this - just look at all those CLR and Oxyclean commercials!

That makes it an easy fix, though.  Time for an outside transplant!  Sure, it's still too cold for outside tomato planting, but that's what I have my halved milk jugs for, after all.  They'll help keep the soil heated.  The addition of soil will theoretically reduce the Calcium buildup problem, and rainwater will help with that, as well.  Of course, this is all theory, though, and as my husband likes to say,

"I'd like to live in Theory... everything works there."

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

DIY Potato Grow Bag

The potato grow bag project that I talked about in my last post is complete!  It's really an easy thing to accomplish, and I'm excited to see how everything turns out.  This post will be a bit more picture heavy than usual, so please be patient if loading times end up taking longer.  I really want to be sure nothing is left out!

I began by cutting my seed potato into three sections.  You don't actually need to do this.  A whole potato will grow just as well, but if you cut a seed potato into sections, each section will grow into its own plant.  When cutting a seed potato, be sure that each piece has at least one eye, and preferably two or three.

I ran into some difficulty deciding what to do next.  Some people tell you to leave the pieces out to dry for 24 hours before planting, while others go straight to planting them.  I elected to wait the 24 hours, just to see what would happen.

The following day I gathered my supplies.

We're looking at a big bag of topsoil, chosen because it's pretty much the same thing as garden soil, just cheaper.  I like that cost benefit.  My potatoes are above it, followed by scissors, in a counter clockwise direction.  Below that you can see my reusable bag, which is finally coming to some good use again.  Last, we have a watering can.  Potatoes need to stay moist.

Unless we include the knife that I used to cut the potatoes, these are all the supplies you need to create a grow bag of your own.  Simple!

I started the second part of this DIY project by cutting the handles off of my bag, simply to keep them from getting in my way.  They have no real purpose in this project, anyway. 

I also cut cut lines about 1/2" to 1" long along the bottom, as well as the lower sections of each side, in order to ensure proper drainage.  Potatoes need to be kept in moist soil, but they don't want to be in a bog, after all!  Last, I folded down the sides of the bag by about four inches.  This was done both to keep the bag in a stable position, as well as to ensure enough sunlight gets to the soil.

Finally, I filled the bag with about 3 1/2 inches of soil and dropped the potato pieces inside, ensuring an ample amount of space between each section.  Technically, you should fill the bottom with 3-4" of compost or decomposing leaves, but I was out of luck there, since my compost is inundated with black walnut tree detritus, which would kill off my potatoes in a heartbeat, due to the trees phytotoxin.  So I just used soil.  I'll need to buy an organic fertilizer to provide proper nutrition to the plants.

At this point I added some water to the soil to ensure it was properly moistened.  The soil I had chosen was already pretty moist (something I'm not used to, being from the desert southwest) so I didn't have to add much.  Use your best judgement when you get to this point.

Last, I added more dirt.  I added about 3" of it, in order to completely cover my potato sections, as well as have another 1-1/2" above them.  Again, this is another "use your best judgement" step.  The amounts of soil covering the potatoes in the various sites I visited ranged from 'just enough to cover the tops' to '3-4".'  I elected to stick to the middle ground.

I then watered my grow bag one last time, to ensure the top didn't dry out.

And we're done!  Now all we do is wait until little tubers start sticking out of the soil.  When that happens, I'll need to go through the process of adding enough soil to cover them again.  This step gets repeated until the sides of the bag are totally unrolled, and no more soil can be added.  I think the reason for this is to strenthen the stems of the plants, but in all honesty, I don't know for sure.

Potatoes are harvested when the leaves start to wilt and the plant generally looks pretty nasty.  You then simply dump out the soil and collect all of the potatoes that have been growing inside, and as a bonus, you can replant one or two of them to produce a new potato crop!

Potato Grow Bag Time!

For quite some time now I've been pouring through DIY potato grow bag information.  I know I could simply buy a grow bag, but they cost more than I'm willing to spend right now.  Creating your own, however, doesn't seem difficult at all.  They've been made using potting soil bags, trash bags, reusable shopping bags, and so much more. 

I saw no reason to go out and buy one, when I can simply reuse something I already have!

You may question why I feel the need to have a grow bag when the yard of the home I'm renting is large enough to accomodate potatoes quite easily.  The answer, as usual, is because of those black walnut trees we have all over the place.  Not only are potatoes intolerant of black walnut's phytotoxin, but it's nearly at the top of the highly sensitive list.  Basically, any potatoes I'd attempt to grow in the soil would never even have a chance at survival.

And I really love potatoes.

A grow bag, then, is really the only likely option for me. 

Naturally, I chose an old reusable grocery shopping bag.  I had a particularly large one in the back of my car that I was no longer using.  There wasn't really anything wrong with it, and it still worked perfectly well, but having been in the back of my car for too long when I lived in the desert southwest, it got horribly sunbleached. 

That wouldn't have been a cause for concern, but the bag was green.  When green things get sunbleached, they either turn a lighter shade of green, which is perfectly acceptable, or they turn a nasty urine-stained yellow.

Naturally, mine turned the latter color.  Figures, right?

This made it perfect for being turned into a grow bag, however.  Nobody is really going to take much notice of the "off" coloration when it's sitting at ground level, after all. 

I've already begun work on the grow bag, so I'll have a full account of my work posted soon!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Wind and the Lettuce

When talking about my newly sprouted radishes, I mentioned the rain and wind that had occurred due to the rather terrifying storm system that developed in our country's midsection.  Fortunately, due to a very nice amount of advanced warning by the National Weather Service, casualties from those tornadoes were surprisingly low.

Also, thankfully, none of the tornadoes that developed were this far north.  We just got wind - a lot of it - coupled with a nice thunderstorm that both lit up and drenched my gardens.  It's been dry here, so the rain was very welcome.

Unfortunately, my lettuce was not amused by the storm system.  Not at all.

The halved milk jug that I used to cover my lettuce had gotten blown off.  This wouldn't have been a problem at all, since it was about time to remove it anyway, but because it was removed by the wind the stems didn't have a proper chance to get used to their newfound freedom.  The stems of my lettuce were still very weak.

If you look closely, you'll notice that the plants were rather roughly tossed about their bed.  They're still alive, but only time will tell if they'll remain in good health.  They went through quite a bit of upheaval.

They survived the nasty wind, so now they just have to survive the coming frost.  If my lettuce can do that, all will be well.

Yay For Radish Sprouts!

The radish seeds I planted in the second tier of my sloped garden have already begun sprouting!

Two of the sprouts are very obvious, but the others are so small that they're very difficult to see.  In a direct line with those two sprouts there are an additional four.  If you put your eyes right up to your monitor you may be able to see them, but I really wouldn't recommend it!

The second row of seeds, which is to the left of this one, has also begun to sprout, but I elected not to take a picture of that row, since the sprouts were smaller.  There's a limit, after all, to how much eye strain I'll make you go through!

I planted these icicle radish seeds about seven days ago, which means they've sprouted on the early side of the listed germination time.  Still within normal limits, though, so I'm in the clear!  No worries that I planted them too close to the surface, or anything.

I do have one concern, however.  We had massive rain yesterday, since we were on the upper area of the storm front that caused all of those tornadoes, and our temperatures dropped significantly.  While yesterday was all the way up to 73 degrees, today I woke up to a chilly 36 degree morning, and there's a chance of snow.  For a gardener, snow is a pretty scary concept, unless of course, you're doing some winter sowing.

Fortunately, radishes do much better in the event of chilling weather than most plants, so I'm hoping my icicle radishes will continue this heatlthy growth rather than become, well... icicles.

Yeah, I know...  bad pun.  Can you honestly see me resisting that temptation, though?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Sand Wasp? Really?

Earlier, I mentioned that I had witnessed what looked like two bees fighting.  Originally, I thought the attacker was a beewolf.  Beewolves are sphecid wasps that prey on bees (of course) in order to lay their eggs within the victim's body.  Well, it turns out that beewolves are way bigger than the bug that attacked my bee.  It took a while, but I think I've finally managed to identify it.

Bembix americana

Scientific Name: Bembix americana

Common Name:  Sand wasp

Color:  Black and white or yellow thorax,

Size: Roughly 1.5 centimeters in length

Social Type:  Solitary insect

It appears to be a sand wasp.  The female, as the name implies, digs short single chamber tunnels which are used to deposit their eggs.  They place insects that they've collected inside the tunnel to feed their young.

Sand wasp 'nest'

And they dig really, really fast.  A single wasp can dig a chamber in just a few seconds.  I found a great example of this on YouTube, which was created by LampoFilm

See?  I told you they're fast!

While classified as predators because they harvest insects to feed their larvae, the adults feed on nectar.  That's a pretty big lifestyle change, if I've ever heard of one!

And not only do they feed on nectar, but they're not aggressive. Unless you happen to be small with six legs, that is...

You've seen my photo, and you've watched LampoFilm's video.  You're probably wondering why I say that I think I've identified the insect in question, rather than that I'm sure.

Well, these wasps tend to prey on flies.  Now, forgive me for saying so, but I don't consider flies to be particularly tough creatures.  Their defenses are... well... do they even have any defenses?  I realize that a beetle was what was dragged into the tunnel in the video, rather than a fly, but I'm still having trouble wrapping my mind around the idea.  How could that tiny wasp take on a bee?

Maybe the bee was sick, or maybe the sand wasp is just that tough.  There must be some explanation that I can accept!

Ground Ivy Invasion!

A new wildflower has sprung up all over my yard.  It's beautiful, it's everywhere, and it's highly invasive!  As you've already guessed, I've decided to make it next in my identification list.

Glechoma hederacea

Scientific Name:  Glechoma hederacea

Common Name: Ground Ivy, or Creeping Charlie

Leaf: Simple leaf with scalloped edges

Flower:  Irregular flower, shades of purple

Growth Habit:  Prefers partial to full shade, propagates through seeds and through cuttings.  Roots easily grow from stems that have bent toward the ground, thereby producing a 'creeping' effect.

Height:  Grows to 5-8 inches high

This plant is highly invasive in my area.  It's been kept reasonably in check this season, however, because this spring has been rather dry.  Ground Ivy needs decently moist soil to survive.  It looks like I'm going to have a great deal of work ahead of me if I want to keep it from covering my lawn.

There are some relatively nice aspects to ground ivy, however.

For one, it's a member of the mint family, which means that when you pick any portion of the plant a very pleasant scent is produced.  I imagine it's also quite wonderful after the rain, but as mentioned previously, it's been pretty dry around here.

Naturally, upon discovering that ground ivy is part of the mint family I raced to discover whether it's edible or not.  It is.  Hooray!!!

I rushed out to pick a leaf and test it.  Sure enough, it had a minty taste.  It wasn't exactly like the taste of mint, and was actually pretty strong, but palatable.  Ground Ivy is slightly bitter, however, so I don't think I'll be using it in a salad.  Violets are much better, in that regard.  If however, you enjoy a bit of a bite in your salad, this may work for you.  Just be sure you're using this same species!  I have no frame of reference for any of the others.

The Forest Service actually has a great wealth of information on the subject of ground ivy, and on the subject of edibility I've discovered that it's toxic to some species of livestock, especially horses.  On the flipside, however, it was also used historically in place of hops for beer, and the federal database also mentioned that it's cultivated for use in herbal medical treatments.

Naturally, I had to learn more about this.

It turns out that people tend to use ground ivy for several different types of ailments, such as bronchitis, diarrhea, arthritis... the list goes on.  For the most part, the dried leaves are what have been used, and mostly in teas, though I've also seen it suggested that the whole plant is used. 

Before you get too excited, however, I have seen a list of problems associated with this plant.  It's considered unsafe for pregnant women, and a free online medical dictionary I located referred to ground ivy as a toxin that can cause emphysema.  It's considered inadvisable to use this if you have epilepsy, and warned against in the case of kidney disease, as well.

Now, this is obviously a small sampling, and not a complete list, so with this in mind it would probably be a very bad idea to use ground ivy to treat any medical condition.  It seems to me that there is just too great of a chance that you'd end up making a bad condition worse. 

With that in mind, I don't think you'll be seeing any crazy ground ivy salad posts from me!  For now, violets and dandelions will suffice.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Fighting Bees???

I love bees, and become horribly upset about anything that causes them harm.  I've went on at length about systemic pesticides and I've worked toward ensuring bees that enter my yard are comfortable here.  Bees are incredible creatures that are worthy of deep respect.

I spend a great deal of time watching bees go from flower to flower, stopping beside puddles for drinks of water, or just resting upon leaves.

Yesterday, however, I saw something odd.

While my daughter and I were leaving the hilled area of the yard so that we could go inside, I saw something fall from the sky and roll... right at my feet.

I stopped and bent down to get a closer look.  What I saw caused me to decend into complete confusion.  It appeared to be two bees fighting, one on top of the other's back.

Strangely, they didn't seem to mind me hovering a few inches above them, literally breathing on their backs. 

Yes, I was that close.

I actually sat down to be able to get a closer look at what was transpiring, and to try to puzzle it all out.  It didn't make sense to me.  Sure, bees fight.  They'll naturally attack another bee that's trying to steal honey from their hive.

But if that was the case, there would be an angry buzzing in the air.  There'd be a pile of bees going after the thief.  Most importantly, there'd be an actual hive nearby!  There's not.  Clearly, this wasn't a defense against a robber bee. 

Even more interesting was the decided lack of buzzing - even from the two that were battling it out.

Some people may think they're mating.

No.  Just... no.  There's only one queen to a hive, and she doesn't go flitting off to visit a paramour, no matter how good that story would be in a Disney film.  So what, I wondered, was going on?

Naturally, I went off to research the matter.  More on this tomorrow, with identification of the 'bad guy' included!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Suet Feeder Fiasco!

I decided to add a suet feeder in order to entice birds not only into my backyard, but also to the front.  I elected to hang it on the trunk of one of my gigantic black walnut trees, in order to convince woodpeckers to visit the front yard.

It's been a few days, though, and aside from one squirrel (Who merely glanced at it in curiousity), I've had zero visitors.  I'm beginning to think this may not be the ideal location.

Granted, it takes a while for birds to recognize a new feeder as a safe place to eat, and realistically, it can be a few days before anyone visits at all.  Patience, therefore, is required with any new feeder.

My gut tells me I may have done something wrong, though.  I've seen birds that should be quite happy with the fruit and seed mixture within this suet feeder, so I know they're out there. 

I also know that there are plenty of woodpeckers, since I watch them in my yard quite frequently.  Woodpeckers are suet eaters, and they enjoy feeders that are tree mounted.  This should work.  Now, you may think that my suet choice is the problem, as woodpeckers aren't fruit feeders, and that's a valid argument, but the suet I chose has a nut and seed base, and woodpeckers enjoy nuts.


Looks like I have more research to do.  This could be a simple time issue, but I could also be doing something very, very wrong.  Feeder movement may be necessary.  Tree location, for one, may be a problem.  It's in the front, near a sidewalk.  The sidewalk isn't heavy traveled, but it does get some foot traffic in the early evening.

I'll be doing extensive research, but any comments would be greatly appreciated.  I'm new to the whole bird feeder thing, and while I enjoy experimentation, as was seen with my ground feeder attempts, any true knowledge from somebody with more experience (which pretty much means any experience) would be welcome!