Archive for the 'Gardening For Life' category

Tree Wisdom

Jun 05 2017 Published by under Gardening For Life

Happily, I've increased my Daily Minimum Intake of printed matter in the past few years in the form of books. I've been reading real books, not ebooks, though for a time I did do a lot of ebook reading too.

I liked a lot of things about ebooks. I liked the search feature of ebooks, allowing me to easily find a phrase - very helpful at book club discussions. While reading, if I came across something I wanted to understand a little more deeply, why, the googles were right there in my hands! (Though this often led me astray and away from the book itself.) I loved the immediacy of ebooks. Did the NYT Book Review develop in me a sudden hankering for Yu Hua's The Seventh Day?  Very well, I shall possess it in this moment of hot desire! Naturally this wanton pursuit of books resulted in reading three books at once, not finishing a book or three, and sometimes being quite shocked when the Visa bill arrived.*

But ultimately I found ebooks unsatisfying. I grew up with books made of trees, held in the hands, pages grasped between thumb and forefinger and turned one by one, the heft of a book in hands or on the lap a visceral sensation, the sense of where one was in the story seen and felt by the thickness of pages in the left hand versus the right. I have always had an ability to locate a remembered passage in a book because of this visual-tactile experience: it was on the upper right hand side of the page, in the middle of a large blocky paragraph, about a third of the way through the book... The search function of ebooks compensates in a technical way for the loss of this visual-tactile information and is no doubt more efficient but less emotionally satisfying than the thrill I experience each time I find what I want right there on the page, right there in the book, where my brain and body knows and feels it should be. There is no way to grab hold of an ebook they aren't even flat, they are dimensionless. You cannot use spatial or tactile information to remember anything about an ebook reading experience, and for me this ultimately diminishes the reading experience.

And I do not wish for any more of diminishment than that which life will bring to each of us in due course. (Each of us, that is, capable of registering growth between our selves at first grade and at adulthood.)

How we diminish, thankful for
comfort, unevent, kindness,
sunlight on October-orange maple leaves.
How we mature, tired of romancing pain.

                                   Jeff Mann, poet, essayist, teacher
  The Failed Romantic Seduces A Blueberry Bar
in A Romantic Mann, Lethe Press, 2013

Several of my books (e- or tree) in the past year have featured trees as a metaphor, main subject, or recurring topic. The Seventh Day, referenced above, is a fascinating fable of the afterlife of the world's poor featuring trees and tree imagery. What happens when you cannot afford cremation or burial, when you have no one to mourn you? In a particularly affecting section, a tree's broad leaves provide a resting place to babies who were abandoned as medical waste. This powerfully imaginative tale renders the interconnections between economic violence, sexual violence, and environmental devastation in a most unforgettable way that kept me reading late into the night.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lab Girl for many reasons. Hope Jahren speaks with passion about the life and love she has devoted to science, and what science has given back to her. She conveys the wonders of trees and the challenges of sciencing while female, using a direct and humorous manner that startled, shocked, and delighted this reader. Lab Girl is, of course, a memoir, not a novel, but it reads like a jolly picaresque tale. It is a kind of Wissenschaftlerroman, if I may be allowed to coin a new (usage) of a word. There is of course the bildungsroman (novel of formation), the Künstlerroman (artist's novel), and the Erziehungsroman (educational novel). But as far as I can tell, when the words "roman" and "Wissenschaftler" are linked in German, it means science fiction. I intend Wissenschaftlerroman here to mean the story of an individual's growth from childhood to maturity wherein she finds her calling in science, and develops mastery of her craft. It is true what she says - Hope Jahren sure can write.

Right now I am reading The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard. The former was recommended to me by a friend, a great plants-woman. I picked it up during a delirious visit to Politics & Prose in DC, read a few pages, and was enthralled. It is a magical tale of the real life of trees. One is hardly prepared for such outlandish reports as are gathered in this book of science, unless one was raised on a diet of the very best unadulterated Grimm's and A Thousand and One Nights. Dillard asks, "What if I fell in a forest? Would a tree hear?" Wohlleben's book is in some ways an extended meditation on Dillard's reversal of the traditional koan. The scale of life for trees, so much radically longer than ours, makes of us mayflies. We cut down an old tree and walk away and in another lifetime someone else discovers that nearby trees are keeping the roots of that cut-down tree alive. Why? We are only beginning to know to ask the question.

I'd known of Dillard's book for a long time but put off reading it. I had no idea how rapturous it is. I read small doses and meditate on it. People say "I'm not religious but I am spiritual." I envy them. Long ago I lost my childhood Roman Catholic belief; spiritualism never took its place. On high holy days at church we processed, and incense was burned, and I felt the presence of God; and when we were still allowed to have May Crowning we sang Glorious Mother, from high heaven/Down upon thy children gaze/Gathered in thy own loved season/Thee to bless and thee to praise!/See Sweet Mary, on thy altar/Bloom the fairest buds of May/O may we Earth's sons and daughters/Grow by grace as pure as they - then we were all part of the holy and the beauty and the grace.  Then came a cranky, vitriolic priest who disliked the flower-filled woman-centered Marian worship, declared it pagan and unfit for proper Catholics, and banned it shortly after arrival in our little coal-mining town.

I have found much solace in recent years in gardening. I have taken a Tree Tenders course, and become more active with my township's Shade Tree Commission. I have no illusions that caring for my tiny patch of soil, or planting trees in my local neighborhood, is anything but bailing a sinking ship with a teaspoon, and yet if we don't each wield our own teaspoon the best we can, what's the point of even being here. Annie Dillard reminds me that there is great joy in this world, she reminds me to be in the present, to face upstream in the creek at the great onrush of light and now, that there is a tree with the lights in it. " and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there." I am trying to be here. I did see the tree with the lights in it once. I try to remember to look close, look closer, look as closely as I can, pay attention to now, to remember that beauty and grace are being performed all around me, to at least do the least I can do.

O may we Earth's sons and daughters grow by grace as pure as they.

*To be honest, the fault lies not in our ebooks, but in myself. For when I walk into a bookstore, I walk out with a heavy bag, my TBR list unfurls  beyond my 127th year, and shock is duly feigned when the Visa bill arrives. If I had a House, my sigil would sport a book and the letters "TBR". Also, a tree.


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The Changing Seasons

Dec 23 2015 Published by under Gardening For Life

It's a balmy 59 degrees today as I write, here in eastern Pennsylvania. Forecast for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is 72 and 68, respectively. These kinds of temperatures may perhaps seem unusual for December in eastern PA. Nevertheless they are quite normal if one attends to the changing of the seasons. In 2015, we had:
Winter With A Vengeance (Jan-Feb-March)
Spring Thank God Spring! (April-May)
Summer (June-July)
Hell (August)
Summer (Sept)
Fall (Oct-Nov)
and now Springish Falmmer (December).
We can expect Winterish and Winter to come and go over the next two to three months (some say Winter Is Coming, but not till April 2016), to be followed by Spring lasting anywhere from two weeks to 2 months, leading into Jesus It's Summer Already! followed inevitably by Hell once again, etc.

When I see the following in my front yard in December

December bloom of black-eyed Susan

December bloom of black-eyed Susan

I think of my mother. Once, driving her to a doctor appointment in early February, I pointed out a tree that had budded and begun to leaf. "That tree doesn't know what it's supposed to be doing," she said. The flora around me are feverishly cogitating over Springish Falmmer. Who among them knows what to make of it, we shall see when actual Spring gets here.




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Formica (But Not the Countertop): A Cautionary Tale

Jul 06 2015 Published by under Daily Struggles, Gardening For Life

Formica is not just a made up word for a substitute material for mica insulation that eventually became countertop material because corporate monopolies in the early 20th century forced it out of the insulation biz. (Btw, the new Jonathan Adler collection patterns are very hip! Also Aqua Dotscreen is retro-funky. But I digress.) No, formica is first and foremost the Latin word for ant.

As in: ants, who make the foul smelling formic acid. Which, when they bite you, they will inject into the bite, because they are tiny, and how else is an ant going to defend itself and the colony? And you, stupid gardener, blithely ripping out tired pansies from late April to replace them with sunnier summer annuals, you who disturb the colony and look at all the teeny tiny ants swarming madly - so very small! - and think it's nothing to do with you, and brush them off as they start crawling over your gloves - so fast! - you are a fool. They will crawl right inside your glove cuff where you cannot get at them - they are tiny, but crafty! - and they will bite, Bite, BITE! Tiny, sting-y, ant bites. Hastily you finish planting, swiftly you rush to clean up, lavishly you apply cortisone cream. Alas! It is no use. You will have swarms of unsightly swollen itchy red bumps all over your wrists for days.

Do not fuck with the tiny little black ants.
They will acid-lace your sorry-ass wrists.

The End


For the ant-lovers in the reading audience, these ants were making their home and their living in the ground near the top edge of a rock wall in the garden - nice loamy well-drained soil, shade in morning and evening but sun from about ten a.m. to two p.m., near plantings of annuals, some perennials (dianthus, heuchera, wild strawberry vine, wild violets, day lilies) and a witch hazel shrub. They were very, very small - maybe 3-4 mm - and all black. And bitey. And fast. Beyond that I didn't stick around to get much more information about them. I have tried to figure out who they are using Alex Wild's website, the School of Ants, and other web resources, and guess they may be Little Black Ants, Monomorium mimimum. But it really is just that, a guess.

In case they (whoever they may be) or their designated representative(s) are reading, I herewith respectfully apologize for the disturbance I caused.
Please enjoy that patch of the garden - it's all yours!

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Paving Paradise (or just trampling it)

Dec 06 2014 Published by under Gardening For Life, Isn't It Ironic?

This past April I wrote the following post but never published it for some reason. It's very ironic to me that I came across it again today. Mr. Z and I will be going on a long-planned vacation in a few weeks. The place where we are going offers tours to various locations nearby. One is to a beautiful nature site. I looked into it online and saw pictures of this nature site crawling with tourists, posing for the camera. It is indeed a truly beautiful place but I thought maybe it didn't need my footsteps all over it; there would be plenty of others. I recognize that tourism is a source of income to the place where we are going, and the place where we will stay was once some unspoiled natural site that has been thoroughly pre-trampled for our vacationing pleasure. I guess that will just be enough trampling for my guilty soul for one vacation. 


The Morris Arboretum is in my backyard, so to speak, and it is easy for me to zip over for a quick visit any day the mood strikes and the migraines don't. This time of year I want to be there all the time. From around the end of March through April you can practically hear plants growing. Every day at the arboretum there is a new look. Something has just come into bloom or budbreak; some other bloom has just finished its show. A week ago the walk from the parking lot down along the open south-facing hillside was littered with little purple crocus. Yesterday not a one was to be seen. Only their green shoots remained, and will soon be mowed with the grass. But I've been keeping my eye on the katsura tree and yesterday was the day to be there!

I have been watching it closely since the last week of March, going to the arboretum as often possible. Yesterday it was in the flush of budbreak, the deep red buds on the tips of branches still tightly shut but further down unfurling in delicate imitation of blossom. Yet they are leaves, and will soon turn green, and the show of color will disappear. But not yet. Come around the corner of the arboretum path where the giant tree once hidden is now revealed, and yes, it takes the breath. It is so immense, its little rosy buds so delicate and so numerous. It says come closer, absorb this feeling of color, linger in this moment.

The arboretum is a managed and manicured place, and I do no harm by walking its paved pathways. It is a museum of flora from around the world, and sometimes I crave to wander among something more native. The arboretum sponsors garden trips, and several years ago there was one to Shenk's Ferry Wildflower Preserve. It is famous for its richness of spring ephemerals. I was not able to go, but I promised myself that someday I would. This year was shaping up to be the year.

I was poking around online for some information about Shenk's Ferry and I came across this blog post. It is a beautiful travelogue of a trip to Shenk's Ferry, with many photos, and I was so excited. Then near the end I read this:

On this small path we encountered a disturbing scene.  An infestation of Euonymous alatus, the exotic invasive burning bush, overtaking the Trilliums along the path...This infestation reminded us that we cannot escape the invasives, and that the problems we face in Morris Park  are everywhere. In a way, we can clearly see that Shenks Ferry Wildflower Preserve is not a fantasy escape of happy wildflowers growing in a rich ravine, but a place just like many others: A happy place of diverse species and some invasives, at risk of becoming degraded.

I felt grief when I read this, and yet what had I expected? I realized that in some way I thought of Shenk's Ferry as a pure place I could find the unspoiled woodland I wished I could recreate in my backyard, bordering as it does on a small wooded area. But if I can go to Shenk's Ferry, and Shenk's Ferry has a walking trail and a Port-o-Potty, it is not unspoiled and certainly not pure. Visitors trample the plants in the quest for great photos, despite signs and brochure warnings. People steal the plants. People, apparently, go hunting in this area. The brochure notes that "shooting of firearms is permitted only during hunting seasons." Otherwise, please stay on the trails folks - this is a fragile area.

Commenters on that blog post complained about the poor state of the dirt road leading to the trail head at Shenk's Ferry. Why, some people couldn't make it down the road and had to turn back! Why not pave it? That would make it more accessible! More people could walk the paths! Maybe they could put in a little building with a real toilet! And I'm just saying, it wouldn't hurt to have a real parking lot! Do it up Yellowstone style! Hey - where have all the flowers gone?

I don't know how we can continue to have "wild" places if at the same time we all want to go and see the lovely wild places, for ourselves, close up. Somebody has to not go. I volunteer me this year.

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First the Squirrels, Now the Deer

Feb 26 2014 Published by under Gardening For Life

I like birds. In no way can I call myself a birder, but I like birds. This year I have managed to identify six different birds at my backyard feeder: the cardinal (Mr. & Mrs.); tufted titmouse; red-bellied woodpecker; downy woodpecker; goldfinch; house finch. Also, I can spot robins. I consider this a tremendous leap over my past years "look! a woodpecker! look! a little yellow birdee! look! birds!" Someday, I hope to identify my seventh bird.

I feed the birds in winter because birds are nifty and birds have it tough. We humans chew up their habitats at an astonishing and mortifying clip.  Birds fly into our glass windows and die, they eat our plastic and die, they become prey of our kittehs and die. Stray cats and house kittehs unsupervised by their owners kill many, many birds. So I keep my cats under control, and I set up a feeder in the winter, when bugs are hard to find. It will lift my mood anytime I watch the feeder show.

But the squirrels. Oh, the squirrels. I finally obtained a feeder that is more or less squirrel proof. Particularly ambitious and acrobatic squirrels have still found ways to sneak seed out of it. I have yet to obtain a squirrel-proof suet feeder. I have heard tell there is such a thing but I will believe it when I see it in action. Last year and this squirrel seed consumption is way down, thanks to the new feeder. It is essentially like this squirrel buster classic. Do not waste time on baffles and guards, these are just like resting platforms and climbing guides for squirrels, in my experience. Anyway, I felt I had reached a stand-off with the squirrels where seed was concerned, and had conceded the suet territory to them, while holding out faint hope that a suet-proof feeder might someday be found.

And then came the deer.

We've had an unusual amount of snow this winter, and it has stuck around for an unusually long time. So I haven't seen the deer much for weeks. I think it's been too difficult for them to trek into my yard. But then we had a warming trend, a few sunny days, one long rain storm, and voila! no more snow. Suddenly the deer were in the backyard like a herd of cattle.

This evening there were four of them gathered around the feeder, with four or five more lounging off to the side and one or two more up the hillside in the forest. The ones around the feeder were taking turns eating out of it. I am not sure how they were getting anything out of the tiny little feeder holes - maybe they were just jostling it around to knock the seed out, and then picking at it on the ground. I had not known that deer were big fans of birdseed, but you live and learn. Mr. Z opened the window and yelled at them. They took off at a slow sort of half-run, and five minutes later were right back at it. I went outside and yelled at them and they just looked at me. Like, what do you want? Or, why don't you just go fetch us some more seed?

I chased them off and set about spraying the entire area with Liquid Fence. I didn't see them back before it got full dark but who knows. They were probably up in the woods laughing at me and biding their time. Damn you dirty deer!

Now I have to find a bird feeder that is both squirrel-proof and deer-proof. Last year I visited a friend I had not seen in many years, and found she had taken to backyard bird-watching. Her feeder setup was impressive. The feeder was sheltered from above with a large plastic dome, and the pole it was on was shielded by a large diameter spiky metal cylinder that looked like a bad-ass dog collar crossed with concertina wire. I will have to get some advice from her about where and how she got that rig. Maybe it will work to keep away deer, too.

Otherwise I guess I will have to bring the feeder in at night, and/or spray the seed with capsaicin and/or raise the feeder to six feet high or more. One website I consulted suggests taking the feeder down altogether for several days so the deer will forget about it and look elsewhere for food. Like the deer will ever forget, I am so sure.

I hate the deer, but I feel sorry for them as well. They are trying to survive in a 9-acre plot of woodland surrounded by suburbia on the edge of Philadelphia. There are far, far too many of them for the available space. I don't know how they survive, yet each year they do. They have no predators save starvation and disease. It is one messed up world we have created for ourselves and the critters.

I feel sorry for the deer, but mostly I hate them. I spent a lot of money last fall to have part of my yard landscaped, reclaimed from these past years of neglect as elder care took up more and more of my life. I focused on adding native plants to the yard, along with non-natives that would be hardy and require little in the way of watering. The deer have eaten a good chunk of the little plants put in last fall, and now that the snow is gone I am sure they will resume their munching. What will be left when the spring growth kicks in, I wonder. I was supposed to be greeted this spring by a beautiful new garden coming to life but I think it's going to look flea-bitten and scabby.

It's only fair. We've taken habitat away from all the wild animals, and those that have managed to survive have come back to our yards to take them away from us. The deer in my backyard don't know or care that birds are in more desperate shape than are deer as a species. Even if I could tell them so, would they be willing to sacrifice themselves in favor of the birds? Would I have the nerve to ask them?

Would I do it myself if I were them? I want to save the birds, and I want to save myself. I would like both things to be possible. If we save ourselves at the cost of the birds, then we are no more than deer in the world's backyard.

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How Soon Can I Go Back???

Whole lotta everything going on in the past few weeks.  Past coupla months.  Okay, the whole dang year.  It's not been one of my better blogging years.  But I've been spending time with people who matter to me, and that is something I treasure.

Last week, though, last week was just for me and Mr. Z.  We took our annual vacation to a warm sunny beachy sandy place.  We don't buy each other gifts or cards or flowers for birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays. We save money for this vacation and relaxing time alone with each other, away from all the things we deal with in our daily lives.  This year the vacation seemed to stretch on and on; it felt much longer than the one week, and I felt thoroughly relaxed. Yay!  Eventually we had to come home, though, back to cell phones and stacks of mail and things that need doing for the people we care about and the kittehs we love even though they use litter boxes and the yard that looks like someone is trying to let it go back to the wild.

Last night I dreamed I went outside to get the paper and there was a tough old man with leathery sunburnt skin and strongly muscled arms and legs, busily working over one of my garden beds and in the process of turning it into a thing of beauty.  He'd already completed work on one - weeds gone, soil turned over and compost mixed in, some new perennials planted in pleasing arrangements, perfectly edged with natural stone - and was hard at work on the next.  I was bewildered.  Why was he here, where had he come from?  He said he had been sent to ensure that my garden would flourish until I had time to properly care for it again. Well, and then I woke up.

The beachy sandy place was lush with beautiful foliage. I went on a guided nature tour of the area to learn about the flora around me, and the gardens on site that produced many of the vegetables and herbs we found on our dinner plates. Someday, someday, I will be a real gardener.  Meanwhile, here are a few pics of things that enchanted me.

Dragonfly on palm frond


This is quite near the water, and I spent a lot of time here.

Sea grapes growing into beach hut


And here I was just enamored of the color and geometry.

Japanese fanpalm


During our yearly vacation, Mr. Z and I play gardener to each other's soul and spirit.  If we can't completely guarantee a year of flourishing between vacations, it seems we at least prevent complete wilting and withering.  We trade tips and make plans for proper care in the coming year.

For some things it takes a long time to see results but in others you get a bit of reward early on, if you are paying attention.  Last year I planted a tiny ninebark sometime around the end of June.  One year later it had turned into a fine young bushy plant and lo! -this dude showed up.

Ninebark leaves and mantis

I'm pretty sure that's a praying mantis. I can't remember the last time I saw one of those.  Even if my garden looks like crap to me, putting in those native plants is starting to make a bit of a difference.  Lots more bees this year, and other kinds of bugs.  Little things like that can keep you going for a long time.

So, dear Zuskateers: how does your garden grow?  None of us have that gardener of our dreams who will show up and take care of everything till we're able to get back to it ourselves.  How do you refresh?  What small thing in the past year gave you much delight?  Semesters are ending and we're gearing up for holiday madness so it might be good to reflect for a minute upon those things that bring us brief moments of joy, keep us sane, or keep us from going completely nuts.  At least until we can get back to the sandy beachy place once more.

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A Farmer's Laments

Aug 31 2011 Published by under Farm Market Foodapalooza!, Gardening For Life

Tomato season, no matter how long it lasts, always seems painfully short to me.  Real tomatoes, with all their juicy flavorful delight, are an incomparable treat.  I've been making sauce, tomato juice, a fancy tomato-and-melon soup, a simple and amazingly good tomato-and-green bean dish, tomato sandwiches, BLTs, and of course, just plain old sliced tomatoes with a little drizzle of olive oil and balsamic, and maybe some mozzarella and fresh basil.  Tomorrow I'm going to concoct a roasted heirloom tomato Bloody Mary mix for a friend of mine.  I know the tomatoes will be gone soon and so I eat as many as I can now.

I eat through the seasons courtesy of the wonderful farmers who come each week to the markets I frequent.  I eat what they are growing and have to sell; the Z-table features whatever they've got.  Today one of my favorite farmers asked me if I was a vegetarian.  No, I said, it's just that when there's so much good stuff available, we tend to eat more of it and go lighter on the meat.  (Side effect: cheaper, and better for our health. Mr. Z asked me once, "Am I becoming a vegetarian?"  Ha ha!  Veggie by stealth!)

At the market

Today at the farm market I got into a conversation about farming's travails with one of my favorite farmers. They did not suffer too badly from Irene.  Many young fruit trees were blown over by the wind and had to be restaked; the corn was blown down, but could still be harvested.  (He feels for the farmers with large corn crops that are normally harvested mechanically.  It will be much more difficult, if not impossible, to run a mechanical harvester across the blown down rows.  For sure they will only be able to go in one direction, not turn and go back and forth across the field like they normally do.  They'll have to make one pass, then turn and go all the way back up the field and start over.) Peaches took a beating, and the cantaloupes may be done, but the watermelons are harvested and will keep for awhile.  The blackberries came through unscathed.

Irene was not the main aggravation on his mind, however.  Stinkbugs were, and a new devastating invasive pest, the Asian spotted wing fruit fly.  Stinkbugs poke into ripening fruit and leave only a small blemish - the fruit could still be saleable - but the punctured skin leaks scent and juices that attract hornets and yellow jackets. The fruit fly, however, is a real nightmare.  Normally fruit flies are attracted to rotting fruit but these flies come to ripening fruit on trees and vines and lay their eggs, which mature and decimate the fruit.

The farmer said his raspberry crop was infested.  He had to pick off every fruit and discard them, spray thoroughly, and continue to discard ripening fruit for a week.  He said this new pest, combined with the stinkbugs, is making him rethink the whole idea of organic farming.  His family has tried to do organic farming, partly because they believe in it for the good of the land and partly because customers want it, but he is sickened by seeing the literal fruits of his labor ruined just before time to go to market. There was anger in his voice as he spoke about this, and about people who want to buy fruits and vegetables shipped from China because they are cheap, or because it's something interesting.  Every time you bring a fruit or vegetable in this country from China, he said, you are taking the chance to bring in another pest, and you are hurting me, and you are hurting agriculture in this country.  I wouldn't eat anything from China, he said.

He also talked about GM corn.  Worms get in to his corn, of course, and they do light spraying to control the worms, even though some of the "organic only" crowd fusses about this and hesitates to purchase oh noes! the lightly sprayed wormless corn.  He looked into a type of GM corn that is resistant to worms, but ended up deciding against growing it for three reasons.  (1) Lots of his customers don't want to eat GM crops. (2) They make you sign all kinds of paperwork to get the seed and grow the corn, and you are not allowed to save seed.  You have to buy it again each year, and it's just too expensive.  (3) It simply doesn't taste as good;  "Who wants to eat cardboard?"  He's not opposed to GMOs on principle, but is unwilling to compromise on flavor, and dislikes losing the autonomy of being able to save his own seed.  On this latter point: he talked about the issue of some GM soybeans that are designed with self-terminating seeds - they cannot reproduce.  He thinks this is madness, and is worried that making seed sterile is a trait that might spread into the wild population.  All in all, he doesn't see GMOs as providing any value for him at this time.  One of the main points of his operation is to provide the markets with locally grown food with a taste far superior to that in the supermarkets, which helps justify the somewhat higher price that allows him to make a living and keep going.  GMOs that resist pests but have no flavor are of no real help.

Time and again I am staggered to realize how hard the farmers work, constantly, day in and day out, to bring their produce to the markets.  The food they grow is wonderful.  It takes more time (and the money, and the utensils)  to prepare and cook fresh produce than, say, ordering take-out, or heating up a tv dinner in the microwave.  Everything in our lives is stacked against us devoting that time to food prep.  We are pushed toward the baguette dispenser and away from the bakery, but we owe it to ourselves and to the farmers, and to the kind of life we would like the children of today to have when they grow up, to resist that push as much as possible.  In some parts of Philadelphia, there are young kids who have never seen fresh vegetables and cannot identify them by sight. A world in which young children do not know what a tomato looks like, let alone how good a true fresh tomato tastes, is one we should feel shame to inhabit.



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What's That Blooming? Witch Hazel, and the Guest Blogge!

It was spring in February today.  Temps in the sixties, and the buds that broke on the witch hazel on Tuesday finally came full flower.  I didn't get out in the yard with the camera till the light was almost dying.

"Orange Peel" witch hazel in the front yard

Yay!  This year I finally have witch hazel blossoms!  Okay, last year I dug up the non-performer and replaced it with this one.  It turns out that all the showy bloomer witch hazels are grafted onto rootstock that has teeny tiny non-showy little buds that bloom in the fall.  The rootstock will take over if not pruned back.  Apparently, when I bought my dud, the rootstock was already growing vigorously through the graft and just kept on doing so.  "Orange Peel" survived last summer's heat wave and even though it looked awfully droopy at one point, it set out a nice batch of buds.  And here we are!  Blossoms in February to cheer the soul!  Here's a closeup.

"Orange Peel" blossoms

Spring in February brings a blossoming to Scientopia as well, with the start of our Guest Blogge!  Our inaugural guest bloggers are Frautech, who blogs at Design. Build. Play. and Paolo who blogs at Zygoma.  In her inaugural guest post, Frautech talks about putting the E in STEM.    Paolo talks about celebrating Darwin's birthday and ponders whether he would get a job in science today.  Stop over, read these and their other posts, and say hello! And keep an eye on the guest blogge - lots of other great bloggers are in the lineup for the future!

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The Eensy-Weensy Spider

Oct 03 2010 Published by under Gardening For Life, Some Good News For A Change

We had some crashing rain storms at the end of last week.  Serious rain and flooding.  Roads were closed, and a sinkhole opened up on one of the major routes in the area. Saturday the sun came out, and dried up all the rain.

Today I trucked some of last night's dinner prep scraps out to the compost bin, and thought I'd give my mini-kitchen compost can (an old plastic coffee container) a nice rinsing at the rain barrel.  Lo and behold!  The eensy-weensy spider was out, busily spinning a beautiful web spanning the space between the boxwood and holly shrubs on either side of the rain barrel.

Not so eensy-weensy spider

I didn't have the heart to mess with its enterprise.  I went to the other side of the house and used the hose.

(You can tell I'm no nature photographer.  Wish I had gotten a better pic.)

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A Well-Spent Afternoon

Jun 07 2010 Published by under Gardening For Life, Some Good News For A Change

I made myself a nice lunch. Diced two small yellow squash, sauteed them in butter till just tender, plated and topped with some minced parsley from my herb garden...mmmm. Sliced up a kohlrabi and ate that too. Iced decaf coffee. Ate outside on the back patio, cats lolling about with Papa Cardinal chirping fiercely at them (because Mama Cardinal and, I think, babies are in the nest in the nearby arborvitae. Don't worry, Papa - I keep an eye on the kitties, too, and never leave them unsupervised.) Took out the spent flower stalks from all the iris in the garden bed by the street. (Really am gonna have to lift all those suckers this July and split...that will be a huge undertaking. The damn daylilies are invading the iris, too. Should have lifted and split them this past spring.) Poked around the burgeoning forest edge garden bed and found a spot where I could actually dig - better soil - and FINALLY GOT THOSE DOGGONE FOAMFLOWERS IN THE GROUND!!!! YAY!!!! Got out the short-tined metal rake and went at the leaf pile - spent the better part of half an hour turning it over, the accumulation of last fall's drop. (Note to self: really could use a pitchfork for this task.) Last year I composted leaves for the first time and after sifting got two rectangular recycle bins full of fine leafy crumble dirt, good for topping off planting beds, mixing in with soil to help break down clay, or placing around your ferns because I think leaf dust is sort of like fern food. This year we held back ALL of our leaves, not just a portion, to compost, so maybe I'll get even more. It's nice to throw a bit into the compost bin as well, along with the kitchen scraps - makes for good balance in the bin. All in all a well spent afternoon and a most excellent brain rinse.
Now I just need to find a spot for that ninebark and my year's planting of native plants will be accomplished. Maybe. I am really looking forward to the upcoming June 14 daylong seminar at the Morris Arboretum to be conducted by Professor Douglas Tallamay, Restoring Our Native Ecosystems. They may still have openings. If you live in the Philly area, and can afford it, think about attending. It should be an amazing day.

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