Saturday, March 31, 2012

Head'em Up... Move'em Out, March Round-up!

Jethro, the deck possum
Since I started blogging I have intended to get back with answers and it seems that the end of the month is a good time to do this. So here goes, in no particular order.....

From the most popular post, Possum Love, it seems that the possum lovers were outvoted by "marsupials creep me out” and “over grown rodents”. We did have a name suggestion for the deck possum- “Jethro, like the hillbillies".

It does not appear that Medaglia D'oro or Cafe Bustelo are fair trade coffees. The prices are awfully cheap and I couldn't find anything saying they were, and I am sure it would be on there somewhere if it was fair trade.

Ideas for glass jar recycling- I store all my grains and stuff like that in jars. I use them for give away vases for bouquets and for messy rooted cuttings or ones rooted in water. I store my garden seeds in little jars. I put my bath salts in them. I make emergency candles by melting down old or damaged candles into jars. When I send food or leftovers with someone they make the perfect non-return food container. There are all kinds of clever ways to stack them and glue together or attach to a board to make a vase arrangement for the wall or table-top. Look for unusual shapes and different heights. I haven't even checked Pinterest. I'll bet there are some great ideas there, let us know please.

Chitted potato sprout
The solar collector has been relocated to our property. The collection unit worked too well and the heat melted and deformed the plastic. I will try again toward fall and use recycled cans painted black instead. Still working on the water circulation issues.

It looks like the Northern Diamond-back Water-snake is in its normal range here in Arkansas. And my chitted potatoes are up and doing fine.

Thank you again for being such loyal and encouraging readers. I am going to take a couple of days off and catch up on some stuff.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Office Park

Park view, briefcase, & gummi bears
When a little extra motivation is needed to get me working on a project I may go to my other office space. Some people go to coffee shops and I have done that. But my favorite spot is in a local park overlooking the lake. It is a nice open place with plenty of folks passing by so I don't feel isolated. There are sunny spots and shady spots under my choice of oak, pine, or persimmon. I can sit at a wood picnic table or concrete picnic table. Sometimes I bring my own lawn chair and prop my feet up on the benches. I generally bring my own treats and drinks, although there is a water fountain close by.

I'm not sure when I started doing this. I am a pretty intense introvert and there are times when I have to get something done and I need some space. It is okay being around people, I just don't want to interact with them if I am trying to focus and I need to be able to tune them out. That is pretty hard for me to do, tune people out that is. I don't really have that mute button capability. And working from home can keep me really distracted, especially if it is too messy.
Evening coming on

It always feels like a treat to do this park visit. I don't do it every week, but maybe once or twice a month, sometimes more. Depends on the workload. As long as it isn't windy I can spread out my stuff all over the table (something that I often can't do at home).

Here are my favorite tips for an outdoor office away from home. Make sure you feel pretty secure about your spot. Dress for the weather. Take a cushion, the seat may get hard after a while. Check under the table and bench, especially in the summer, sometimes Black Widow spiders hang out there. Take a big insulated cup for your hot or cold drink. Locate within sight of a restroom if possible. 

Enjoy your surroundings and let novelty stimulate your creativity. I am grateful to live in an area with lots of natural beauty. The Corps of Engineers maintains my office.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Places to Live, Things to Eat

Nest in red-tip photinia
It was another glorious day to be a gardener. The azaleas are blooming their hearts out and the sun was spreading cheer and Vitamin D all around. I am working on a master list of spring chores for the grounds at work. Things like re-mulch the azaleas, transplant some volunteer shrub starts, spray for thrips, etc. While checking out the red-tip photinias I spotted a new nest. I think it is probably a robin's. It is decorated with long grass streamers and is set firmly into the “y” of two sturdy branches. The neighborhood may be a little loud, it is right next to some air conditioner units.

Poke weed
While assessing the decaying leaf piles for mulch and soil amendment possibilities I spotted this poke plant (Phytolacca americana). Picking poke sallet was an annual event at our house. Mother, Momma (maternal grandmother) and I would grab paper grocery sacks or the white enameled dish pan, jump in the car, and head off to wherever my mother had spotted the green shoots. They often show up around recently bulldozed piles where land has been cleared in the last year or two.

The trick to poke is picking it early in its growth and parboiling it thoroughly. The sap has toxins that will cause gastric distress, so you boil the greens, pour off the water and boil again. At that point you can treat it like spinach. We always just ate it like we ate any other green, but lots of folks scramble it with eggs.
Dewberry flowering

Close to the poke I saw dewberry flowers. In an amazingly short time we will have ripe berries. Dewberry is a close relative of the blackberry, but it grows low and has long trailing vines instead of erect, arching canes. It fruits much earlier. It also does well in newly cleared areas, especially alongside roads. On the drive to work this morning I saw hundreds of dewberry blossoms alongside my short stretch of interstate.

The things I saw today made me remember the verses about the flowers (lilies of the field) and the birds and worrying about what to eat and other stuff. How great to be able to live in the moment, stop striving, and appreciate the Creation.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Ceramic Knife and a Hobgoblin

New ceramic knife
An impromptu after-gardening meal gave me the opportunity to try out my co-gardener's new ceramic knife. It came via Fed-Ex today and I had never seen one before. I demo-ed it on a ripe tomato and an onion. It sliced the very ripe tomato handily. It was plenty sharp enough for the onion too, but the blade was a little short and I was afraid to push down too hard, because I didn't know exactly how it would cut the onion. It is very sharp and very light. My friend told me that the prices have dropped drastically in the last year.

The knife has some draw backs. You can't pry or cut on frozen food or bones. The blade is brittle and can break if it hits something or is dropped. One of the advantages is the non-porous blade material which means easy clean-up and it rarely needs any sharpening. This particular knife requires sharpening only once every two years. You send it back to the company for sharpening. Also, the blade won't stain or discolor due to reactions with the food you slice.
Thin and easy slicing

Today we harvested and cooked up the last of the collards. It is time to replant the bed. The old plants, which were going to seed, were ready to be replaced. Time for the old to make way for the new. Maybe the same thing for the ceramic knife. When I need my next knife replacement, I will probably purchase one. I like the best of both worlds. Tried and true crops. Saved seed, some heirlooms. New seeds, some hybrids. Old gardening methods and new technology tricks. I love that quote by Emerson “"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds...”. There is no virtue in refusing to try anything new or different and yet how often we act as though it is to be commended that we “always” do something a certain way. Silly us.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Cross Vine and Meditating Moth

Dead leaf close-up
Moth meditating
 On my way out the door this morning, I noticed that a moth had come in the evening before. It spent the night sitting on the corner of a picture in my entry, meditating perhaps. Maybe, it was enjoying the art, or just resting. Maybe it wasn't meditation but contemplation. The flash washes out the image but, in the close up, you can see the resemblance to a dead leaf, perhaps a dried box elder leaf.


Cross Vine

 The Carolina Jessamine are almost finished flowering here, but the Cross Vine (Bignonia) is coming into bloom. I really enjoy the muted color of this vine and its dark leaves, that subtle thing again (see Winter Palette blog entry).

I spent the afternoon carving holes into the clayey sandy topsoil in some of the beds to add in some extra replacement petunias and lantanas. Topsoil is such a misnomer. It is sand mixed with some chunks of clay, no notable organic matter unless I put it in. In addition there are the chunks of concrete, that were thrown back into the bed and covered with this “topsoil”. Planting a new petunia involves scraping out a hole, then taking out extra because the beds were overfilled. Then some decent potting mix or compost is added and mixed and then the plant is put in. I never managed to get one large chunk of concrete out, it was just too big . The plants will just have to spread. Life lesson here, don't just cover up stuff, get rid of it. Likewise, don't overdo something, it eventually gets in the way too.

More Deck Visitors and Others

Luna moth

Today was beautiful. Everybody and everything that could get out, got out. As I was drinking my first cup of coffee I saw a Luna moth on the deck. We almost always see a few sometime in the spring.

Another visitor was a titmouse. Apparently mister and missus are building a nest under the deck somewhere. They were fluttering and hopping around the deck, pulling off little pieces of cardboard and gathering clumps of weathered leaves. They had beaks full of various recycled materials. It was a very bold bird, but it didn't like the sound of the camera.

Coming back from checking on the garden I stopped to look at the turtle in the road. I am pretty sure it is a three-toed box turtle. It was
Three-toed box turtle
 very suspicious and refused to show me its legs
though.  I relocated it in the direction I think it 
was going and left it.

My transplanted tomatoes and blackberries are doing well. I am keeping the small tomato plants moist, but they have been hardened off well so I am not too worried. No sign of cutworms yet. They aren't as much of a problem in the raised beds, but I have stuck little twigs alongside the stalks just in case, to keep any cutworms from encircling the stem and gnawing it through. It seems especially wasteful to just cut the plant off and not eat the rest of it.

You have to work hard to make something, like a nest or a garden. You have to be careful and crafty too. There are things out there that can destroy all your work. Fruitfulness depends on effort, care, and intentionality as well instinct and the undeserved blessings of a beautiful day.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

First Tomato and Jelly Belly Compulsive Sort

Indoor Tomato
The weekends or Monday is the time I water my indoor plants (or when I see them drooping). While I was checking on them- Boom- there it was, my first tomato this season. Apparently a tomato seed sprouted with my avocado and mango pits. I knew it was in there and that it had bloomed, but I didn't think it would actually bear a tomato. It is touch and go if it will ripen or if the spider mites will find a way to suck all the liquid from it, but we shall see.

Spider mites are those things that lurk in dry places like the inside of our homes where the humidity stays really low. They love house plants and suck the sap. The way to check for them is to put a white sheet of paper under a branch and tap it. If dust falls off, check the dust for about fifteen seconds and if some of the dust has moved, then you have spider mites. They are pretty much
everywhere, but the good news is that regular
misting kills them (that's why people mist their
houseplants). If the infestation is really bad,
they build tiny little webs and make the leaves
look dusty, dry or bleached out.  I won't count
this as my first tomato, that really has to be in 
the garden to count as the first real tomato.
It is encouraging though.

Today the garden had two photogenic butterflies. I have to use my regular camera setting, they just won't sit still for the four shot HDR application. Today while I was there I planted tomatoes and and blackberries. A wonderful friend gave me the blackberry plants and I really can't think of any gift that I have wanted more this last year. I feel very thankful and extremely “fruitful”. Another benefit of community... friends who know what you REALLY want.

Fruit Bowl Flavored Jelly Beans
Speaking of fruit, I splurged and bought a package 
of “Fruit Bowl Flavors" Jelly Belly Jelly Beans. It is a
sure sign that I am aging. I remember marveling that
old folks always wanted fruit flavored stuff- Orange 
Crush, Grapettes or fruit punch. Now here I am
passing up chocolate for fruit bowl jelly beans. I am
enjoying them as I type. The arrangement is the work
of a closet slightly compulsive procrastinator. 
They are sorted by flavor/color from most favorite
(bottom left) to least favorite flavor (right). 
I did NOT eat them all in one sitting.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Buckeye and Bug

Buckeye bloom and bug 

The rain has moved away and the sun was out. It was a good afternoon to take a stroll. On the way toward the bayou I noticed the buckeye bushes are in bloom. Red buckeyes (Aesculus pavia) are small trees or bushes here near the Ozarks. They are a common understory plant in our location.

I grew up 100 or so miles from here and the buckeyes were less common there. The fruit of the plant is a largish round nut-like seed that was considered good luck to carry in your pocket by some folks. Our family wasn't much into superstition but there were one or two tucked away just for the show and tell interest (a phase I have never grown out of apparently).

The buckeye that I photographed had a bug on it. I think it may be an assassin bug, but remember my disclaimer, the Husband is the adept at insect identification. If there are any other entomologists in the audience, please feel free to shoot us a name.

This bug was slow moving enough that even I was able to get some shots, but then the phone/camera didn't cooperate very well. I did mention that my photography skills are limited although I am highly enthusiastic didn't I? A pair of swallowtail type butterflies also appeared but they were feeding and not posing so I didn't get any good shots there.

I also managed to collect my first sizable tick of the season. Actually he found me. Ticks were never that much of a problem until the deer population exploded. Several people on our road have had tick borne diseases. Deer are beautiful, but I wish they didn't carry this nasty price-tag. Life is like that. There are things that are good, but somehow they have become entwined with things that are not. I wish people could accept that some solutions are complex and that the best answers we have may not be that satisfying. That is reality, but I don't have to let it rob me of my enjoyment of the good things.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tulip Time

Red tulips

Nothing says Easter and gaudy like tulips. In fact they resemble the bright plastic eggs that show up full of candy in children's baskets. My paternal grandmother packed a mean plastic Easter egg. She crammed them full of Hershey's kisses (only one milk chocolate flavor back them) jelly beans, and Spicette gumdrops. I love spice flavored stuff. Imagine my horror when a friend told me that was the candy that was left in his family's Easter basket uneaten. It was the first I ate, well those, and the kisses. I had no idea! I was almost embarrassed by my uncritical taste, but then I thought “I don't care, I love Spicette gumdrops!”. Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah Kurt! The real plus of plastic eggs was that if I was hunting them, then I was with my cousins, and of course that was a lot of fun.
Small purple tulips

At my house we dyed our eggs. Really dyed them. Mother would pull out all the deep old tea cups, the ones we never used and she would boil a huge pot of eggs. We would put a spoonful of vinegar in the bottom of each cup and a few drops of McCormick or French's food coloring. Then we filled the cup up pretty full of boiling water and carefully spooned a boiled egg into the cup. We wanted the water to completely cover the eggs so there wouldn't be a ring left from part of the egg sticking above the dye. Whenever I smell vinegar I flash back to that childhood memory.

It is hard to say which I loved more, coloring the eggs or hunting them. My dad was good at hiding them and it was fun to hunt them with him. But I got to hunt them several times and I only got to dye them once a year, so I guess that was the most special

One year I begged for a store bought Easter basket. Mother caved in and got it. She didn't tell me they were crummy compared to the ones she made up, but I figured it out pretty quickly. Flashy cellophane and ribbon do not take the place of substance.

Tulips feel that way to me, they are showy and what a spectacular range of colors. I have a friend whose favorite flowers are bright purple tulips. But I grew up loving daffodils and narcissus, just a family choice I guess. They are tough, long lasting and very fragrant. Tulips are bright and colorful. Kind of like people I guess. The challenge is to allow both to flourish and take the best from all and look for substance whenever you can.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Green and Gray Herbs and a Madonna

A Madonna in Lichen
Monday and Tuesday were gray, dreary days around here. That kind of day can be depressing but I have learned a few tricks in helping me cope with dreary day associated depressions. One simple one is to stand outside and look up at the brightest point in the sky (don't do this unless it is cloudy!). Something about the natural light elevates our mood, and we get more of it staring up into the cloudy sky. A greenhouse works in the same way. It allows you to be out in the natural light even when the weather is really nasty. My other more serious and certain help for depression is a strong, certain, spiritual life and a caring community. And some members of that caring community don't mind propping me up or kicking my butt depending on the needed cure.

Anyway one of of those members prescribed a personal day on Monday, and I spent part of it in the garden and part of it roaming around a smallish town. Between the local park/playground and the local feed-store/hardware store is a cemetery and as I was traversing it I came across this figures. I was struck by the lichen beauty of the concrete Madonna. A gray/green piece of statuary can be an awesome thing.

Lavender in bloom

Later when I was in the garden I noticed my new lavender blooms and the same gray and green colors in the herbs. This is the first time I have had truly happy, blooming lavender. I will use some of it in my soap making I think. One of my co-gardeners planted the lemongrass. It grew into a huge green fountain with lemony sharp-edged leaves. Really easy and satisfying to grow. It is enough to make you learn to cook Thai food. The sage is settled into the corner of a smaller bed. It was dwarfed by a large pineapple sage but I have recently separated them.




Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Temporary and Permanent Garden Visitors

Visiting reptile
 Before the heavens opened and the day turned to rain, I was hurrying around at work with the yellow wagon and moving some container plants. I spotted this little reptile lying very still in the leaves hoping I would not notice him (her?). I decided to relocate the snake and carefully pushed it into a container and carried it far away to a less humanly populated area. Hopefully it will stay there.

I have read that snakes are quite territorial and will travel several miles to return to their home turf. That reminds me of when we used to have chickens. The eggs and chicks would attract enormous black snakes. I am not a hater of reptiles and I would poke the snakes (even the ones with big eggy bulges) into a white plastic pickle bucket and cart them off to a gas well pad about a mile down the road. After reading about their ability to travel long distances I began to wonder if I was just hauling the same snake around time after time. They did seem to resemble one another, who knows?

I haven't identified this one yet. We have moved our reptile identification guides and it may take me a while to find them and identify the specimen. I hope my photo is clear enough.  It was reluctant to turn over for me to see the underside. This reminds me of the time I brought a snake in so the cat wouldn't kill it. I didn't have time to identify it and it was unusual, so I left it in a bucket in the house until I could get back. It managed to crawl out of the bucket while I was gone, and in a family incident that was the stuff of legends, the long suffering husband became a little irate when he had to move the deep freeze to recapture the unidentified snake.
Auction duck in iris

The other picture shows an auction item that has settled into an iris bed. It is at my home near the shop and just out of sight. I forget that it is there until I start visiting the iris beds in the spring. While the duck is charming, the reptile is sublime in camouflage and stealthiness. Both gave me a start when I saw them, but only one of them was exciting.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Dead Mini Blind-Plant Stake Conversion Kit

Dead mini-blinds

Presently I am in that phase of recycling and re-purposing where discarded items are eyed suspiciously and thoroughly for their hidden purposes. One of those items that came within my reach today was a discarded set of mini blinds.

I have been waiting patiently to find a junker set. It is like an Easter egg hunt. When you least expect it, there will be a set sticking out of someone's trash can. However the elusive discarded blind set didn't appear until today. I think they were thrown away at work and put in some of the cardboard boxes that I brought home. I didn't realize that I had the desired item until today when I glanced into my trashcan and there it was. Tomorrow is my regular trash pick-up day so it was divine intervention. Apparently, when the Husband did a little straightening around outside he put them into the trashcan. He doesn't always recognize the same perceived value in discarded objects that I do. And sometimes he definitely has a point. However, that is not the case here.

Trimmed plant stakes
What he could not know was that these blinds will make this year's plant markers. Plant markers are important to me in my gardening efforts. For many reasons, it is important to be able to identify plants. I want to see which plants are doing well and which ones aren't. When was this perennial planted? There are times when you have to be sure which one is which, they can be hard to tell apart. It is also crucial to know exactly where they are located, you don't want to dig up something by mistake or step on something you didn't see. Last year in an effort to be really frugal with my greenhouse budget I used a partial left over can of spray paint to repaint the printed markers that I had saved from previous purchases. I laid them all flat on newspaper and after shaking up the paint can, proceeded to spray them. Well, tried to. They were so light weight they kept flying off into the dirt. Also, it used up too much paint covering the dark writing and plant pictures.

I've also used cut up two liter bottle strips, but they are very sharp and a little too flexible. They are difficult to push into the potting soil. The plastic in the blinds is just right. It helps to curve the top a little so there aren't sharp corners. If I want to be really frugal I can use a pencil (a kid's big pencil works especially well) instead of a permanent marker. Next spring I can erase the name and reuse the marker. Maybe I will find other mini blinds and build up a permanent collection of labels that I will sort alphabetically. The search is half the fun.

Discarded objects can be re-purposed.  What about people who aren't as useful or attractive, can we see their possibilities and re-directions?  I think we can, if we really want to.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Little Yellow Work Buddy

Just wanted to introduce everyone to one of my favorite tools at work. I think this is called a “utility cart”, more dignified than little yellow wagon. Since this is marketed in Lowe's to the outdoor garden and yard working crowd, they had to come up with some other name. Whatever the name, it is a great work and time saver. I regularly load up the “utility cart” with plants and buckets and pruning tools and other implements of my gardening trade. I haul it all over the place and the inflatable tires make it easy to pull. When I have really heavy things to move, the handle is removed and a different piece is inserted that can attach to the back of a mower or garden tractor for towing.

Utility cart
The sides let down for easy unloading. It had a plastic liner that covered the bottom, but it has since worn through and been discarded. I like the cart because it is useful, simple, quick, and maneuverable. It doesn't have an engine and doesn't make much noise. It really is nicer and more efficient than the alternatives unless I need to move something really heavy. And ... it is part of my paid workout.

I often choose to haul things across the work property to add a little exercise to my day. I need to lose weight and how nice that I get paid while strength training. I guess you could say my “cart” is my work buddy and my workout buddy too.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Flea Market Finds and Mortality

$1 Best Pickles
One of the local flea markets is my sociology and marketing test laboratory.  I love looking around to see what is being bought, how much it costs, what is being discarded, in short what is hot and what is not!

Here are three shots from today's flea market.  Seems like there is a lot of nostalgia- from Elvis, and Stangl lamps to pickles as good as grandma's for $1. Are people longing for the past? Don't know.  The pickles are sure popular though.  The scissors are a personal favorite.  A buck a pair and mine work really well.  There are other matching craft accessories for one dollar as well and several bright styles to choose from.
Elvis and Stangl Lamp

If you think about it, a flea market or garage sale is like a cross section of current materialism, culture, and popularity. It is an indexing of what we think someone might want.  Estate sales and estate auctions are more like longitudinal studies.  They follow one individual or family and show what that person considered important, especially if the sale follows the death of a very elderly person.  What things did they choose to hold on to, what did they select as  beautiful at the end of a lifetime here on earth?

$1 Scissors
One of the most fascinating estate sales I ever attended was in an obviously wealthy household in our state's capital.  There were closets covering three walls of a large bedroom, closets down the hallway, and expansive wrap-around closets in the adjoining bedroom.  In these closets were expensive and representative styles of women's clothing from every decade beginning in the late 1940's-early 50's.  Dotted Swiss dresses, and Nehru collared pant suits, knit dresses and silk slips and to top it all off a collection of beautiful Japanese kimonos. There were all the accessories needed to complete all the outfits as well. It was a stroll through the fashion past.

Often times there will be a collection of older tools and yard implements and a group of new health and accessibility items.  This denotes the process of aging and the difficulties of independent living as we age.  Many people feel these sales are morbid, and I guess I can see that.  To me it seems like looking at a summary of a persons life represented in the things they chose to use and keep.  Not necessarily sad, but a reality check perhaps.  Reminds me of a friend who drove a Frito-Lay vending route.  He told me that every day he stopped and ate his lunch at a cemetery.  I asked him why and he said "It's quiet there and it helps keep everything in proper perspective".  Selah.

Anyway I don't find estate sales or flea markets sad at all.  The sadness is in the eye of the beholder or the regrets we discover in ourselves.  It is a great chance to evaluate current culture against my life and maybe get a bargain in the process.  I will report back on "Grandma's pickles".

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Solar Drying and Laundry Soap

Current clothes line

My desire to move toward a greener lifestyle and pay off a huge student loan motivate me to consider many frugalities and efficiencies. One of my favorite frugalities is my clothes line. I get real satisfaction marching out to that line to display all my clean wet clothes to the sun, the neighbors, and even the world.

We had a sturdy, functional, four strand line in the house of my childhood. In my early married life there was a clothes lines behind our garage apartment. Before our daughter was born, my parents gave us an avocado green clothes dryer. After we built our current house, my husband made a clothes line that went around a pulley. I could stand on my deck, hang the clothes and pull the line to send them swinging across the yard. Very clever the husband is. Now I have a single strand clothes line that is just adequate for one load. I will request more yardage now that the days are warming up.

Six Gallons Laundry Soap
My most favorite combination is my solar dryer and my homemade laundry detergent. I enjoy making my own detergent. It costs me about five bucks to make a huge vat (six gallons) of laundry soap. It is easy to do and I like the way it works and smells. It probably isn't as wonderful as some of the Tide types, but it washes my Goodwill clothing just fine. I love it, and if I want things whiter I add bleach. If you want to try it there are lots of recipes on-line. I think I started with a recipe from the Simple Dollar blog and keep tweaking it each time I concoct another batch. Makes doing laundry cheaper, greener and more self reliant- to quote the Martha, “Good Things”.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Carpenter Bee and Blond Mantis

Carpenter bee
Morning must be the time to photograph bees. Apparently the same ones that I couldn't photograph the other evening were slower this morning and I was able to get a shot. I am not an able identifier of insects, but the husband is much better and he said that my photo showed a carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica).

These bees make homes in outdoor wooden structures by drilling a hole into the wood. The eggs are laid in chambers that are divided by grasses. There is a blob of pollen and stuff put in for the larva to eat. After maturing they chew through the grass walls and exit the tunnel/hive. According to Wikipedia, that is one of the reasons woodpeckers make holes in wooden structures. They are finding the carpenter bee larva. Russ says he has read that these bees sting. I have been stung by many different kinds of wasps and bees but never one of these that I knew of. They are distinguished from bumble bees by their shiny black abdomens.

Every country boy has their favorite getting stung story. Country girls do too. One of my favorite ones involved a hippie friend who was singing during her outdoor wedding and a wasp flew into her mouth. She opened her mouth to sing the next word and the wasp flew out. Crazy story, but I believe her. Most getting stung stories involve pain, swelling, and emergency removal of clothing. My worst incident was the disruption of a yellow jacket hive in a compost pile. The yellow jackets (genera Vespula) chased me 100 feet, repeatedly stinging my neck, face, scalp, and arms. They followed me into and through the house and into a bathroom and two of them made it inside the bathroom with me. Not fun, but I survived.

I don't dislike or fear stinging insects even though I don't enjoy getting stung. My dad was extremely allergic to stings and had to be very careful around wasps. Yellow jackets are predators so I don't mind having them in the garden, not to build their nests, but to eat smaller pests that feed on my plants.

Blond Praying Mantis
Another ferocious insect predator I am looking forward to seeing again is the praying mantis (Mantoididae family). Their alert alien face among my plants lets me know that my biological pest controls are at work. This golden colored mantis was photographed last fall which may account for the blond coloring. The mantis is easy to photograph. They love to sit still until their next meal comes along, then watch out! They are fast. They are cool, but a tiny bit creepy. Insects that can sting or look scary, they can be useful too.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Three Yellows and a White

Carolina Jessamine

In case you haven't figured it out yet, I am fascinated by colors in flowers.  I wanted to write a senior undergrad paper on the color sequence of flowering but I couldn't find enough information on it.  Maybe now that I know how to research a little better I should try that again, I still want to know which colors of plants bloom when and why.  But right now, I am busy tending flowers and gardens and the greenhouse.  I did take a minute and photograph some current blooms around the greenhouse and home.

Behind the greenhouse there is a tall fence covered in Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) bursting into bloom. Many people mistakenly call this jasmine. There were shiny, round black bees and some moths feeding on the flowers but none of the insects would cooperate with the camera.  I also can't capture the wonderful scent of the yellow trumpets.

King Alfred Daffodils

The King Alfred daffodils (Narcissus 'King Alfred') also defy my ability to describe scent or take a proper picture.  The flowers are so large that it is difficult to do justice to the blossoms.  It reminds me of trying to take pictures of trees in the rain forest of Costa Rica.  If you showed the trunk there was just a big tree wall.  If you showed the top, then it just looked like a regular treetop because there was no way to show how far away it was.  Probably just my lack of photography experience.  Suffice to say that King Alfreds are huge and smell delightful.

The forsythia is by the steps to my home next to where I park.  Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia) used to be one of the
switches of choice of my mom.  Seemed like about once a month I got into trouble for wiggling in church (see hyperactivity explanation in previous coffee blog).  Mother didn't believe in hesitating after we got home out of the car and depending on whether she chose her switch with her right hand (the butterfly bush- Vitex) or the left (forsythia) I was promptly punished.  The forsythia and  the butterfly stung equally.  Before you judge her too harshly remember this was the mom who let me read Tarzan and Bomba the Jungle Boy books during church.  Some kind soul had donated a bunch of them to the church library.   Eventually I worked my way through them all and the church library held little interest for me after that.  

'Thalia' Narcissus
The last picture is of Narcissus triandrus 'Thalia'.  It is a white narcissus, dependable and very adaptable. The white blooms harmonize well in bouquets with other colors. Thalia is a Greek name that may refer to a nymph, a Grace, the muse of comedy, or secondary goddess of vegetation (thank you Wikipedia).

Before I log out I also want to take a minute to thank everyone for visiting my posts.  I should have a thousand page-views sometime this week.  Blogging and writing is something that I have wanted do for a long time, thanks for sharing the journey!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Waste Wood and Hugelkultur

Wood in bed before soil
So this year we are trying something a little different. The co-gardeners have been researching hugelkultur. You may ask yourself “What is hugelkultur?” and that is a valid question. And, I'm not really sure, at least about the German word part of it. But basically you take a well dug garden bed and bury wood in it down at the bottom, and it waters your garden. Eventually anyhow. The decaying wood soaks up and holds lots of moisture that the plant roots can suck up.

At first I was skeptical, but after looking around on-line, seems like there is plenty of proof out there. And part of the convincing is our own experience. Last year we got compost from the city. People take there branches, sawdust, grass clippings and leaves and dump them around the back of the animal shelter. The city eventually gets an industrial chipper machine that grinds all the wood up. A big front end loader mixes and turns it and it becomes this dark substance with big wood chunks. And when I say chunky I mean huge chunks. We sifted it before we put it into the garden, and it still had fist-sized chunks of partially decayed and dried out wood in the compost, lots of it. We used the chunks we sifted out to mulch the garden pathways.

Pumpkins on F150
Don't know about this hugelkultur stuff with sawdust. There may be a problem, not sure yet. According to Mother Earth News sawdust does makes a good mulch (on the soil surface, not mixed in) if you add a little extra nitrogen along with it. I think the chunks of wood don't have as much surface exposed as sawdust so the nitrogen levels (that the plant needs to be green and fruit) are okay. For whatever reason, our garden did well, especially considering the summer temperatures we had to deal with last year. There was no sign of nitrogen deficiency and lots of growth. Maybe we compensated because we added plenty of horse manure from the neighbor's stable (Thank You Marielle K.).

It will be a fun test, and a chance to use up some wood we didn't have any good use for at the moment. If you want to read more about hugelkultur and square foot gardening check out one of the co-gardeners blogs-

Deck possum waiting on the steps
I am still smelling chicken litter from my gardening today. Our newly acquired piles of litter are next to the garden and the husband threw some onto the wood in the bed. There is water still standing in that bed and the aroma of the wet litter is stuck in my sinuses. Or maybe that is also what's stuck on the bottom of my my grungy garden sneakers sitting next to me and the computer. On my way to shower and bed I think I will leave the shoes out on the deck. I bet the possum will be impressed.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Cafe Du Jour

Bustelo and Medaglia
Here are my current off-the-shelf favorite brands of coffee.  I love them both, and think they are great.  I brew them in my hand-me-down coffee maker (Thank you Elegant Astronaut see blog link).  I use a mesh filter and a paper filter.  I read somewhere that paper filtering helps the coffee to not affect your blood pressure as negatively.  Anyway, all that filtering keeps the fine ground stuff out of my cup.

I looked up Cafe Bustelo and it turns out it is something of a Latinesque star.  There is an interesting site ( with the history and current trendiness quotient in Hollywood, Coachella, etc.  I didn't see anything about trade practices but I will watch for this and post back when I find something out.  I discovered Cafe Bustelo in my Spanish study days (90s).  I was genuinely ahead of the trend wave and never even knew it! Bustelo is labeled a dark roast espresso.

Medaglia D'oro is another long time favorite.  This espresso is Italian Roast and appears intermittently on my Kroger's shelves.  My local store carried it for several years then one day it disappeared.  I inquired at the customer service booth and was told they would check on availability.  When I touched base again, I was told "It is no longer in our warehouse, we can't get it anymore".  I would check back every couple of years, same answer.  About two months ago I went there (love their olives, 10 for $10 frozen veggies, and cheese selection) and boom... there it was just as before.  I guess it appeared in their warehouse again.  Anyway, I went my way rejoicing with two cans (all my grocery budget could afford at that moment).

Coffee and I go way back.  We were a Folgers family growing up.  One of my grandmothers always brewed Maxwell House.  The other one liked Maxim instant and we would drink it and work the daily crossword puzzle. I truly remember sitting in my highchair as a toddler and getting coffee poured into my cup after I drank my milk for breakfast. I do have very early memories, but I think my mother kept me in that highchair for a long time. I was pretty hyperactive (related to caffeine perhaps!!!?). Those days we made coffee in an aluminum percolator on the stove.  For special occasions we used the electric stainless steel percolator.  

I am sure that I am less depressed and more productive as a result of coffee in my cup.  I read that it is has lots of antioxidants.  I'm glad that I have seen the elevation of coffee and coffeehouses in my lifetime. This is a good time to be drinking coffee.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Tale of Two Greens (Chard and Collards)

Red Swiss Chard
Two other greens from the garden that have performed well are Swiss Chard and Collards. They have overwintered beautifully with little or no protection. IMHO they are beautiful and they make me feel good about gardening every time I open the gate and see them there poking over the top of the concrete block bed.

The Swiss chard is my favorite. I married a Yankee guy from Western New York. I kid you not, Western New York is every bit as rural as Arkansas. The people up there are just as crazy about hunting, there are just as many farms and two lane country highways going through little burgs no one has ever heard of. There are also Mennonite buggies, and apple orchards and roadside vegetable stands but that's a different story. Anyway... my mother-in-law introduced me to fresh beets and beet greens. These had never graced my childhood garden or table.

The only beets I ever saw served as a child were sitting on the “seconds table” School lunches had commodity foods that you could serve yourself at our lunches, things like raisins, beans, butter, honey, beets, grits etc. I think this was one of the ways that the government used up the foods from farms that were subsidized by the agricultural subsidy programs. Very few kids ever went for seconds from the seconds table. I realize now that a few who were really hungry did and those who were picky or had strange tastes (that would be me).
Anyway, as an adult I discovered I loved beets and chard. Believe me, if you can eat a mustard green or turnip green, then you can eat a beet green or chard, they are much milder than mustard or turnip. I can't tell the difference taste-wise between beet greens and chard. They look different, the chard is a larger leaf and fleshier, but they taste much the same.

The other greens are collards. This is the pick of one of my co-gardeners in this shared garden. His mom dried collards for him to take with him when he hiked the Appalachian Trail (see Minimal Intentions blog link this page). That's how much they like collards. I don't remember how he said they prepared them.

He can pick chard if he wants and I can pick collards. I like collards but he doesn't like chard much, hmmmm..... . The key to community gardening is to communicate really well and frequently and then just don't worry about the transgressions or misunderstandings. Let them go. Sounds simple but it takes some work to care but not clench.