The Backyard

The Backyard

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Annual Visit from the Bobs

How often do you relate a bird to our environment? Do you ever think about the life of a certain species of you know the varied species of birds and the integral role they play in our ecosystems? Our fine feathered friends tell many, many stories of our environment -- one species in particular I've grown to know, love, and wait for their arrival every year on May 1 is the BOBOLINK. And yes, its within a day or two of May 1 every single year for the past 15 years. BOBOLINKS are declining and someday will not be around. Why? Mostly due to modern farming practies (no-til farming, use of chemicals, growing soybeans and corn) and the lack of hay and grass fields. They require at least a 20-acre patch of grassland for spring nesting, and its rare to find a patch of grassland that large that isn't tilled under before July 1 - the date most fledglings take flight. From May 1 to July 1, its a show of tuxedo-clad birds singing for the girls, then protecting their brood after they catch the girl and start raising the family. My father got his orders a long time ago to NOT cut the grass in the field until after July 1. And he and my mother have grown to love the Bob-o-links too, and my dad always asks come July 1, are the bob-links gone yet? He's so careful not to distrub that 20 acre plot until he knows the bobs on their merry way back home to Argentina. There's the other fascinating part of these creatures. The Bobolink is an extraordinary migrant, traveling to south of the equator each autumn and making a round-trip of approximately 20,000 kilometers (12,500 mi). One female, known to be at least 9 years old, presumably made this trip annually, a total distance equal to traveling 4.5 times around the earth at the equator! And each year, they come back to the same field to nest. Amazing - aboslutely amazing.

The PA Game Commission and Agricultural District recognize the decline in Grasslands, and even introduced government programs to help protect our grasslands and the species that live there. And even Terry Bicycles recognized the decline in grassland birds last year and introduced two shirts with very catchy logo's -- "The bobolink can log 1000 miles in one week. What's YOUR goal this week?" Very cool stuff. Always pay attention to the birds in your back yard.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Growing Asparagus

Several years ago, some urban friends made the trek north to visit Rick and I. It was spring, and the asparagus was just finishing up, and their lacy, feathery fronds were taking shape. Our friends were amazed... Eileen commented she was ashamed to say, but she had no idea how asparagus grew. I've since found there's many others like Eileen, unaware of how asparagus grows. So here's a brief lesson on Asparagus. The basics:

  • --It's a perenniel plant and lives 15-25 years.
    --"Crowns" are planted in a well-prepared 12-inch trench.
  • --What you eat is the spring sprouts of the crown.

--The sprouts grow into 5 foot fern-like plants for the summer.

--The plants feeds the roots, which grows the asparagus next spring.

-- Make sure you pick a fairly large spot that the plants can grow for many years.

-- It takes about 2-3 years to get your first harvest.

--Its fairly maintenance free once planted.
--No chemicals needed! Just a late fall feeding of compost or mushroom soil after the fronds die back and you cut off.

I found a good summary of growing and planting asparagus here. And I found Miller Nurseries in New York to be a reliable, good quality plant mail order company to get the asparagus crowns. And I couldn't resist this informative article on Why Does Asparagus Make your Pee Stink. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Garden to Plate in 30 Minutes Flat

The warmth has pushed the asparagus rather quickly. On Monday, the tops were barely poking through the ground, and today, I picked a lb and it went from this:

to this:

in 30 minutes.

Sausage Asparagus Skillet

6 soy sausage links

1 medium onion - fry together until light browned.

1 lb asparagus, cut in 1 inch pieces. Add to sausage and onion until tender.

2 baked potates, diced, thrown on top of asparagus to steam.

salt and pepper to taste.

Kids are Growing Up

Just 3 weeks ago, the kids were toddlers:
And today they are about to embark on their own:

The maters, basil, and peppers were set out this morning to harden off. Hardening off is setting the seedlings in a protected area out of the weather, to allow them to adjust to the varied temperatures and conditions of the outside world - the garden. For the past 6 weeks, they were toasty warm under lights in peacefulness. They are now being subjected to the elements in prep for their planting in about two weeks. That's actually a little early, but they are growing out of their clothes and need new -- the ground.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Subjecting my Dear Husband to My Ideas

Ricky Brown is SUCH a sport -- sometimes giving in to my persistence on trying this and trying that or doing this and doing that -- other times flat out arguing and refusing. The past few years he's really been changing his habits - he's eating better foods (for the most part), is using organic soap now, and is exercising regularly. He'll try most of the organic things that come in to the house, and will either use for a while to be nice to me, or actually change forever. He's a faithful Laura's beef user now (although I think her beef is raised in a feedlot, not sure on that one), and has recently made the official switch to Dr. Bronner's Organic Soap rather than DOVE. He tolerates my love of dandelions and will to let them grow, while he complains every grass mowing of mowing the weeds. (Dandelion is a WONDERFUL plant!)

But the latest product did NOT make the grade-- even for myself. It's organic, natural shave cream:

DESCRIPTION:Certified by the same National Organic Program that certifies food our shaving gels are smooth and effective without any synthetic ingredients. Organic Shikakai comes from the seed pods of the small South Asian tree Acacia Concinna. Extracted in organic sucrose and grape juice it provides soothing moisturizing glide. Dr. Bronner's Pure-Castile Baby Mild Soap provides superior hair lift and wetting. Sold in a 7 oz. tube.INGREDIENTS:Grape (Vitis Vinifera) Juice, Sucrose, Potassium Cocoate, Potassium Olivate, Glycerin, Acacia concinna (Shikakai) Nut Powder, Potassium Hempate, Potassium Jojobate, Citric Acid, Tocopherols

Note there's grape juice and some sort of Nut powder. THAT'S the stuff that makes it the nastiest, ugly goop we've ever used. We both have been joking about "THE SHAVE CREAM" since. When you squeeze it out, this brown slime - similar to pond scum - oozes on your hands. You then slather this slime on with an equally-bad smell and if you didn't vomit by then, you quickly get the shaving done so you can get this fungus off your skin. Its really, really, nasty. I'll use it, simply so we don't waste it. But I'm going to have to come up very pleasant thoughts for each use.

I'm afraid we can't recommend this one as a good product - unless of course you LIKE pond scum!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Garden Happenings - April 10, 2008

Pictures are coming...but for now, here's the update of what went in the garden yesterday:

  • 250 Yellow Spanish Onion Plants
  • 125 Red Onions - variety is MARS
  • 24 Brocolli plants
LOTS of seeds:
  • Turnips (for my momma and pappa)
  • Carrots
  • Red Beets
  • Spicy Mixed Greens Mix
  • Salad Greens
  • Spinach
  • Radishes

Coldweather seeds to plant yet: Romaine Lettuce (for hubby) and Fennel. Moved the stinkin (literally!) compost pile a 3rd time! I thought it made sense to put it directly in the garden...until I realized I needed the garden space for seeds. So I moved it under the grape arbor, and didn't like it there. So it ended up basically back where it started from! Geez. Its actually easiest to turn where its at now and its out of the way, yet accessible (a little further from the house, but it'll do. I ain't moving again this season!). And its barely cooking, but the grass is about to be cut for the first time, so I'll get some green on it.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Loving Ladybugs

They are one of the best little friends you can have, so don't go sucking them up in the vacuum unless you empty them back outside to save your garden from sap-sucking aphids! Most find the ladybug nothing more than an indoor pest in the fall and at this time of the year, yet these tiny creatures are one of the most beneficial insects you could have. GardensAlive actually sells ladybug larva as a garden pest controller. In one of Manhattan's most famous middle-class rental complexes, Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, 720,000 ladybugs were released as pest control to move away from chemical use. The ladys made themselves at home on the 40 acres of lush greenery throughout the complex, and gobbled up as many aphids and mites as they could eat. Some ladys DO like to eat! Ladybugs actually feed off their own bodyfats during the winter and will lay eggs in your house - usually in crevices of windows or doorjams. Come spring, the eggs start to hatch and on a warm day, they start getting very active and begin looking for ways to get out. So what do you do with the gazillion ladys flying, drinking, hanging out on your lampshades? Its rather simple -- gather the family together and start collecting them and releasing them outside. The vacuum isn't the preferred method...there's a potential for death and you really don't want to kill any of these little beauties. So start collecting the ladys and watch them smile when you let them free!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Spring is Springing Up Everywhere

Finally! Color is, yellow, blue, red buds. Its SO nice to see it again and for some crazy reason this year seemed to take longer for it occur than past springs. Possibly its because I was paying more attention to it than the past few years. On Friday night, Rick says to me "Jill, there's an Amish guy down along the road picking your daffodils." I said, "What?! He can't pick my flowers and I'll have to tell him about it." I planted the bulbs almost 20 years ago when we decided we would someday build a house here. I purposely scattered them along the roadside for a natural appearance. Well Mr. Amish Guy and his wife thought they really were "wild." And I couldn't tell him not to pick them. It crossed my mind, was I planning to pick them? Is it that bad that he's picking them? No, I thought. If he wants them, he can have them. His skirt-clad wife was climbing the embankment too and filling her apron with flowers. Afterward, I thought I should have done what they would have done... "That will be $5 dollars please." Next time.

The seeds are coming along nicely. I only started one flat of my favorites - maters, peppers, and basil. Prior years had two, two-shelved, light systems going strong - 8 flats altogether of flowers, veges, and herbs. After a nasty drought a couple years ago, I opted to NOT plant anything that needed watering other then vegetables. So I plant few annuals any more - maybe a geranium in pot. I let mother nature do her thing with the perenniels and herbs, and I'll throw some seeds around for fun -- mostly those that will benefit the wildlife like sunflowers, umbrels (Dill and fennel) and the butterflys LOVE candy-striped zinnias.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Nobel Peace Prize Winner and Environmental Guru?

There was a blip on the radio this morning (and an article by the Associated Press in most papers) that Barak O'Bama will ask Al Gore to serve on a post in his Cabinet if he becomes President. As much as folks love to make fun of Mr. Nobel Peace Prize Winner, he's accomplishing what he set out to do -- inform the world about Climate Change and Global Warming. Yes, folks love to make of Global Warming too..."maybe the sun's just getting hotter" or "maybe you're brain is frying in the heat." I'll just bet its those same jokesters paying aboslutely no attention to how their daily actions are affecting the planet. Mr. Gore is making some good points backed by scientific evidence. If you haven't had a chance to read much about him and his preachings, now is the time to do so! Especially if one of our Presidential candidates is willing to go out on a limb and make a statement like this (does that say something about O'Bama and his beliefs in the environment and Global Warming?) And one last note on the political side of things and the environment. Hiliary's former Law Firm, Rose Law, is the firm that backs Monsanto who is (in my opinion) one of the top destroyers of mother earth. John McCain will likely continue President Bush's legacy of who-really-cares-much-about-the-enviornment. I can't even find much on McCain's position on the environment. The two presidential candidates that actually showed some concern for the environment are pretty much out of the picture at this point -- John Edwards and Huckabee. I say we join the ranks that are pushing Al Gore to run for President.