I haven’t done much gardening this season, mostly weeding but still much remains to do. It’s been too hot and I have a lot of work to do. Excuses, excuses, I know, but I did spend a week dog sitting my son’s family’s new Corgi pup in June. While there I got to revisit my cactus named ‘Killer,’ a barrel cactus.

I was given the baby cactus in 1981 when we moved from our condo in Lansing to our first family house. He was about 2″ in diameter. Last summer I finally couldn’t haul Killer in and out of the house for his summer sojourn. He weighed in at least forty pounds in his container. He was too heavy for me to carry and his spines are very sharp and long. So, as requested and promised, I let my son take Killer to his home in Traverse City. My granddaughter looks after him in the winter.

Killer in 2019

I thought Chris’s request amazing as Killer received his name for the injury my son suffered years ago. Killer was, as usual, summering on our front porch in Harvester, Missouri. One day Chris and a neighbor boy were exchanging quips and barbs when his opponent got too smart. Chris jumped over Killer to go after his friend, but he was barefoot. Killer, of course, did not take direct action, but Chris in his hurry didn’t jump high enough to miss the Killer’s needles. His actions stuck one or two barbs between his toes. They went deep in. I ended up taking Chris to the emergency room to have them removed. He nearly broke my hand squeezing it as the doctor inserted a pain-relief needle between his toes. I don’t know what lesson he learned from the accident, but it must have been a good one because he treasures Killer.

NASA image of Earth

NASA image

Our Earth has a human-induced plastic problem. Plastic fills our dumps, our land, and oceans, and our air. Plastics not only make containers and equipment but are in cars, clothes, food packages, candy wrappers, papers, cigarettes, and our media devices. Just about everything has plastics in it, including our drinking water, food, and our bodies. The problem is we don’t know the ultimate effect of microplastics on our environment or within our bodies or how to remove them.

Earth’s land, water, and air are not ours, but part of the Earth where we live. Yes, you intuitively know that, but we act like we own the Earth. Some say God gave us this world to do with as we please. If so, he never promised a second world.

Plastics are necessary, and many people remain ignorant or uncaring about the problems that come from the unplanned disposal of all the plastic products we use. Our ever-increasing need for plastics and the resulting pollution expands as our populations’ demand for products surpass the limits of the Earth’s natural products to provide them.

We do not know all the dangers of the plastics to the Earth, but we can see what is happening in our waters. Many of us have seen the images of fish, seals, turtles, and other creatures caught up in plastics. We have islands of plastic floating in our oceans. Helen Briggs points out in a BBC article what might be happening to our water wildlife. She states “A study found bits of plastic outnumber baby fish by seven to one in the nursery waters off Hawaii,” AND, “There is growing evidence that plastic is being ingested by marine life, but the health implications are unclear.”

“Not only does it contaminate our oceans, but 22 million pounds of plastic are dumped into the Great Lakes every year” (Tony Briscoe, Chicago Tribune). Now, how they measured this I’m unsure, but I think its safe to say, we throw huge amounts of plastic into our waterways.

Plus, in Michigan, where every square inch is watershed for the Great Lakes, the state has tons of plastics dumped into landfills that have grown into mountains. Plastic in landfills may take 1000 years to decompose, and scientists are not sure how microparticles, those very tiny plastic particles that remain plastic and are now found in Earth’s air, water, and soil, will affect our ecosystems (UN Environment Program). Humans also freely dispose of any unwanted trash, much of it plastic, on roadsides, sidewalks, nature trails, and in our local, state, and national parks. I know because I help pick it up. We’ve all seen images of marine life caught in plastic, but it goes further, affecting microorganisms.

So, if you don’t care about what effect plastics are having on the chain of life, do you care that you now have microplastics in your body? They are in your water, even your beer and other liquid products, and in the food you consume. Microplastics are in the air you breathe. So what? The Ecology Center explains more and gives problem information related to each type of plastic. Microplastics can toxify your body with lead, cadmium, or mercury. It can damage fatty acids, which are important in brain function. It can affect other important body chemistry which can cause indigestion or depression problems. Further, it can lead to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or pancreas or thyroid damage as well as have effects on testosterone.

What makes plastics? Plastics are objects made from malleable synthetic or organic polymers, of repeating, often very long molecular threads of carbon and other elemental atoms. Biopolymers are natural and found in every living organism, but synthetic polymers differ. While biopolymers are the foundation of some of our natural products like cotton, linen, paper, and silk, synthetic polymers are man-made plastics. They play an important role in our way of life. Yes, they are made of natural elements but differ.

When was plastic invented? Alexander Parkes, a British scientist, invented the first plastic Parkesine in 1856 and through several variations became registered as celluloid in 1872. It is based on the natural compound cellulose. Celluloid became important in the photography and film industries. Movies were made from it.

Bakelite was patented by Leo Baekeland in 1907 and it was the first plastic made from synthetic materials. It soon formed the body components or containers of radios, telephones, and other household products. The invention of Bakelite led to the development of many other plastics.

This means that in 1000 years all known plastics used in the last 148 years will have degenerated into the elements that made them. If we control our disposal and find safe disposable systems now.

What makes up plastics today? Based on the materials used to create plastic, we have seven basics types of plastic which create products now vital to our way of life. They compose many of our appliances, containers, clothes, and even vehicles. The problem is too many people carelessly dispose of them both consciously and unconsciously.

Each type of plastic differs from others. Some are reusable, but others can become hazardous material after usage. Some plastics are easily recyclable, others are more difficult.

Take your nearest plastic product, maybe the lunch box you brought from home, your water bottle, your instant noodle cup. Study it closely, and you might find a number at its back or bottom. You probably already know what the number represents. It indicates the product’s type of plastic.

Seven types of plastic exist, Types 1, 2 and 5 are considered the safest for food and 1 and 2 are the most recyclable.
Type 1: PET or PETE, or Polyester (Polyethylene Terephthalate) is primarily used for food and beverage packaging as it helps prevent oxygen from entering a package’s contents. It also produces a wrinkle-free fabric. It does contain antimony which is a carcinogen and can contaminate any food or liquid stored in it for long or if the plastic is heated. This type of plastic is recyclable.
Type 2: HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) is a dense and strong plastic used in plastic bags and bottles for products from milk to shampoo to medicines, and is also recyclable.
Type 3: PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) plastics make toys, medical bags and tubing, and loose-leaf binders among many uses. It is considered a hazardous plastic and is usually not recyclable. The chemicals used to make it can be hazardous to health.
Type 4, LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene) “has the simplest plastic polymer chemical structure, making it very easy and very cheap to process.” Plastic bags, plastic wraps, milk cartons, beverage cups, and covering for wire are common products using this plastic, but It is difficult to recycle.
Type 5, PP (Polypropylene) makes up hot food containers and diapers. It isn’t recyclable.
Type 6: PS (Polystyrene) or Styrofoam is used for certain food containers, helmet lines, and packing materials. Hot oily food can leach styrene, a component that could damage the brain and nervous system. Polystyrene is also hard to recycle.
Type 7: Is all other plastics, which can be layers of several types of plastics, but also PC or Polycarbonate which is used for many infant products and food containers. It can cause many health problems and should be avoided as harmful and toxic in certain amounts
More sources for explanations of plastic types: Quality Logo Product, or at Non-Toxic Revolution or at How Stuff Works.

The public’s ignorance of plastic types has led to many of our problems. Disposable to most humans means throwing the product away– anywhere, but that is not always the best answer.

The biggest question is what needs to be done and can it be done? What can you do?

Note: Published in both my gardening and writing blogs.g blogs.

As a gardener, I know humans have introduced many invasive species like Dandelions, Japanese Knotweed, and Phragmites, into many of our native North American habitats. I have witnessed it, and to some extent participated (in ignorance) of the problem.

As little as two hundred years ago the forests surrounding the Great Lakes lacked earthworms. The Ice Age and glaciers eliminated the native species, and during the 10,000 years since the last glacier, our trees and plants evolved to live in the wormless local soils. This became a thick layer of duff or the debris of trees and shrubs that lined the forest floor. Duff remains for years, slowly decayed by fungi, but providing a habitat for many Michigan ferns, delicate wildflowers, and small animals like salamanders.

Since settlers first moved into this area, they introduced European earthworms like the red wriggler to encourage composting. Gardeners still think of worms as a desirable asset to their garden’s soil. These worms eat decaying matter, aerate the soil, and leave humus-rich worm casting behind as they burrow. In general, they do good things for garden soil.

In the forests, however, worms eat the duff in as little as two years, lowering the soil’s acidity and making nutrients more available. The plants in our forests survived in the poor fertility and the high acidity of our original native soils. While the introduction of worms won’t necessarily harm the mature trees growing there, the duff’s absence affects the number of seedlings growing in an area. It also makes an advantageous situation for unwanted invasive species that couldn’t have grown in the more acidic original soil.

Bloodroot

As this debris layer disappears, so does the habitat for plants like Trillium, Solomon’s Seal, Blue Cohosh, Sweet Cicely, Mayflowers, Wild Ginger, Lady Fern, Bloodroot, Bellwort, and the tiny Goblin Fern which might already be extinct in this area. They adapted to germination and growth in the thick layer of duff that provided them nutrients, moisture, protection from extremes in temperature and predators, and microorganisms like fungi necessary for their survival.

It is also believed the loss of the duff effects the salamander population that fed on insects living in the debris. The salamanders, in turn, provided food for snakes, shrews, thrushes, and screech owls, so the earthworm invasion affects a whole chain of living organisms.

Worms were introduced from dumped fishing bait, on the root-soil clumps of purchased plants, and on the tires of vehicles entering the local forest. The most severe invasions are usually near roads. This is one reason the U.S. Forest Service is restricting logging and road-building in certain forest areas in states around the Great Lakes.

Trillium

Once the earthworms infest an area, little can be done to remove them without doing more harm to the forest. We know many of the above plants grow in worm-infested soil because we grow them in our gardens, but a study in the Chippewa National Forest in northern Minnesota showed these species do not return to worm-infested forests.

Some ecologists hope the ecosystem of the forest may eventually come to a new balance. In the meantime, don’t spread earthworms into wormless areas, don’t dump worm bait in forested lands, and keep your vehicles on roads and trails. Gardeners in wooded areas need to keep compost piles and worm contaminated soil from contaminating the woodlands. These may seem like small measures, but it was a little thing that started this change.

(Updated. Originally published in the Cadillac News in 2002.

Phlox divaricata blooming in spring

Groundcover plants do just what they claim–they spread out and cover large chunks of bare ground. For many years ground covers were used in erosion control. Besides helping stabilize banks, groundcovers can help reduce weeds and help define the edges of gardens and walkways. They are often a more attractive alternative to mulch. Some grow only a few inches high, others grow up to 12 inches or more.

In the flowerbed, they tended to take over all available space. Some invasive groundcovers like creeping myrtle and goutweed fell out of favor because they escaped and invaded our wild areas depriving local species of habitat. Even now gardeners need to be careful to use non-invasive species and keep some in very controlled spaces.

That said, there are fine groundcovers that speed up our northern area flowering season. These low-growing perennials can define a flowerbed and soften the hard edges of patios, decks and retaining walls. The most important aspect in selecting a groundcover is not the flower, but the leaves. While the flowers will help bridge the season between the spring-flowering bulbs and the summer blooming plants, the leaves create the groundcover’s interest throughout the growing season.

One of my favorites is Phlox subulata, called moss phlox. A sun-loving plant, it grows about eight inches tall and in May is a solid carpet of color. They come in soft pink, startlingly bright magenta, white and a very soft blue. Moss phlox slowly creeps over very large areas. It is easily divided into more plants. During the rest of the summer, this phlox has bright green needle-like foliage that stays attractive during the whole season. For a shady area, you might try Phlox divaricata or wild sweet William. They are taller and the lavender-blue flowers are fewer and much looser, but they are beautiful in the woodland garden.

Another sun-loving spring-blooming plant is Iberis sempervirens or candytuft. Candytufts bloom in frothy white blossoms at the same time as the moss phlox. Its foliage is darker greens with small, round to oval-shaped leaves that remain attractive all summer. The plants grow between six and nine inches tall.

If you want yellow flowers you might try Alyssum montanum, or Aurinia saxatile also called basket of gold. These mat-forming perennials have grayish foliage and many small four-petaled flowers. Mine bloomed at the same time as my Phlox subulata ‘Emerald Blue’ and looked lovely next to each other.

Many good, low-growing Dianthus species and cultivars are available, so it is impossible to list them. You will need to check the plant’s label for hardiness zone and height. Selections from the alpine pinks, maiden pinks, cheddar pinks will do very well. All are mat-forming with pink, red, or white flowers.

Iris cristata, or crested iris, grows to a height of four to six inches and while not growing as thick as the above groundcovers, will boom very early in partial shade areas. These also like a moister location. Look for other dwarf iris. They come in many colors, will work as well and their spike-shaped foliage adds textural interest.

There are many other groundcover plants. Some are much taller, some are grown for foliage only, and some are meant to grow only in tough locations. All of the selections mentioned start the season off with a burst of color and then their foliage adds an attractive carpet for summer’s flowers.

improperly pruned forsythia

Improperly pruned forsythia

Pruning is the one garden activity that often separates mundane plants from exquisite ones, and the one skill many gardeners do not understand and often overdo.  Mangling an overgrown plant can create an unsightly shrub or tree for a year or more or cut out the year’s flowering effect. There are many methods and reasons for pruning.  Hedges are cut for a specific shape. Fruit trees are pruned to open the structure of the tree and to produce stronger branches.

Pruning is simply cutting branches back or off to create a better-shaped plant or to encourage more fruit or flowers.  Branches may be cut off completely to direct growth of the tree or shrub, to encourage fuller plants, to open the interior of a plant for more airflow, or to create more attractive branching patterns. Practically speaking, it is probably best to buy a book on pruning to learn why certain shrubs and trees are pruned in specific ways, particularly if you want to grow grapes, or fruit trees, or create a special shaped shrub.

A few general rules govern most basic home pruning. Summer blooming shrubs should be pruned in early spring as most flower on new wood. Pruning in the fall encourages unwanted growth that hasn’t time to harden off for winter. Do not prune spring-flowering shrubs in the spring. Doing so cuts away the emerging buds before the plant flowers. Prune after they finish blooming. Do not prune maples, birch and walnuts in the spring as they bleed sap if pruned too early. Pine trees are pruned when the spring growth appears by simply snipping the new growth, or candle, back by half.

The important part is to know where to make a cut.  For cutting off a branch it is just above the collar at the base of the branch, or at the slight swelling where the branch emerges from another branch. Leaving the collar allows natural growth to heal the cut.  When you only want to cut back a branch, it is important to cut just above a bud at a 45-degree in a direction away from the bud.  This lets rainwater drain away from the bud. Since new growth emerges from the bud, too much wood left above the bud will die and might allow disease or insects to enter the plant.prune above bud

Dead or diseased wood and twigs can be cut out at any time of year. Diseased parts should be cut out well below the diseased area.  With branches that rub or cross each other interfering with growth, one branch should be cut out. Branches that grow into the shrub or tree should be cut out.  Twigs that grow straight up on fruit tree branches are called water shoots, and twigs that grow up from the base of the tree are suckers. These should be cut out.

An amazing assortment of pruning equipment is available from stores or online, from hand pruners to power shears and saws. You don’t need every piece, but for safety, you have to know how to use them and keep them clean. Dirty equipment can spread disease from plant to plant.  In some cases where plants are susceptible to diseases like fire blight, disinfecting cutting blades after each cut is recommend.

Pruning isn’t that hard, and once you know the why and how. It can become one of the pleasurable tasks of gardening.

Here it is the beginning of July and I’m tied up in everything but my failing garden. Bad weather has plagued the spring, but the asparagus seemed to like it. It did better this year than it ever has and we had about 20 pounds of produce from our 21 plants. I planted the vegetable garden in the first week of June, but many of the vegetables did not come up. Some were new packets of seeds and still did not sprout. The weeds, on the other hand, are thriving. My flower gardens are overgrowing their bounds. I weed in spurts between other projects.

While gardening is good moderate exercise, three years ago I had a terrible pain in my hip and groin down to my knee. The doctor had an x-ray taken and then asked me if I knew when my hip had been injured. Yes, in a car accident in 1979. He told me that was causing the pain and if I wanted to keep using it, I’d better exercise. I didn’t do anything for one year, then used our old rowing machine to work out for over a year. At 4000 strokes a week I ended up wearing out the pull rope and replacing it was more expensive than the machine. Since I’ve worn out my rowing machine, I’ve been walking. I’m up to two miles at 40 minutes five or six days a week, which is over the CDC  recommendation of 150 minutes of “moderate-intensity aerobic activity.” I plan to buy a new rowing machine in October to use during the winter months.

One thing I’ve noticed while walking is the amount of trash thrown out on the roadside. Interestingly, all states have anti-littering regulations, but they are all different in what is litter and penalties applied. In Michigan, it is a civil infraction and any amounts less than one cubic foot is fined up to $800; amounts greater than one cubic foot but less than three cubic feet are fined up to $1,500. So ethically, we all know littering is illegal, but many people make moral choices to ignore this and throw the unwanted out the window. I regularly find empty beer cans alongside the road even with Michigan’s 10¢ refund for returns. I’m sure this dumpster is also breaking the no drinking and driving law. On July 4th in my 1-mile trek down the road and return I picked up two plastic grocery bags of mostly plastic trash. At least there were no dirty diapers to collect.

What many residents don’t realize is that every square inch of Michigan is part of the Great Lakes watershed. And while plastic doesn’t break down for many years, it does break into microplastics that litter the world’s waters. The heavy tractor the village or county uses to mow the roadsides breaks the plastic up into small pieces (as well as the road’s asphalt edge). The Great Lakes now have large percentages of microplastics (22 million pounds of plastic added each year). Matter of fact, a new study says everyone is now pooping microplastics, so I’m glad I’m doing the little tiny bit I can to help prevent more plastic (and other trash) seeping into Lake Michigan, but was glad to learn of the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

 

I love seeing leaf buds as they are about to burst from branches. Often they emerge in colors that identify a plant, like the yellow-gold of willows. For me buds symbolize the promise of life and timeless renewal, and the introduction of a new gardening season.

We all enjoy the shade of leaves above streets in summer, and the sound of wind rustling through a canopy of leaves, but you might not find leaves an exciting topic for many reasons. For the most part, they are green, although they come in different shades and tints. Many leaves’ shapes come in an uninspired oval, varying only in size. Leaves seem to be more concerned with function than aesthetics; a plain green leaf produces more food than a fancy-shaped variegated one. Leaves can cause work, too. Some leaves, as in lawns, need labor to make them attractive. Others need raking every autumn.

Yet to me, leaves are so much more.

Every leaf is a complicated chemical laboratory and manufacturing site, and the only one known to be capable of taking water, air, and sunlight to make food. We all live off this wonderful ability because we either eat leaves or animals that eat leaves.

They perform another service. Leaves change carbon dioxide into oxygen and water, helping humidify the air we breathe. Matter of fact, all the breathable free oxygen in our atmosphere comes from leaves. And while they perform this miraculous service, they help clean the air of pollutants.

Inside these little chemical factories, sugar, their main food product, can be changed into starches, protein, oil, and alcohol for consumption or sometimes for fuel. They also produce chemicals that heal us. Many drugs are still based on organic formulas found in leaves.

Some of these chemicals are poisonous, capable of killing rather than feeding or healing. A few poisonings by a plant are famous, like Socrates, whose politics forced him to swallow poison hemlock. Instead of using these leaf chemicals to eliminate our fellow man, we now use them as weapons against bacterial agents and insects.

Besides all these attributes, leaves can talk to the gardener, telling them of a plant’s needs before it is too late and the plant dies. If I read the message, I know when your plant needs water, and when there is too much or not enough sun for their liking. If they mature smallish in size with yellow or reddish veins, they are telling me their soil needs an application of nitrogen, a common complaint. If leaves mature twisted and misshapen, the soil might lack zinc, an unusual occurrence. If I know the language, leaves can tell me when they need phosphorus, potassium, calcium, boron, manganese, sulfur or iron. There are garden books that tell everyone how to understand leaf talk.

In our area, where we enjoy leaves that are deciduous, lasting only for the season, they have one more wondrous trick, they tell time. When swelling along the edges of bare winter branches they calculate spring. A full overhead glory of green tells of summer, and the changing of colors says autumn has arrived. When they have all fallen, except for the dried brown leaves showing an oak tree’s stubbornness, I know to turn on the furnace. So watch the leaves and enjoy the gardening season.

A news release from MGC website says “Piet Oudolf is coming to Detroit. Belle Isle is the perfect point of connection for residents and visitors—to the park’s amenities, the city, water and the region’s greenways. This is why Piet Oudolf has selected the land surrounding the Nancy Brown Peace Carillon for his newest public garden—in the cultural heart of Belle Isle, adjacent to the historic Conservatory, Aquarium and Remick Band Shell. The Garden Club of Michigan an affiliate of Michigan Garden Clubs of Michigan and National Garden Club spearheaded the effort to encourage Piet Oudolf to create his next garden in Detroit. In his own words, he announced, “I am coming to Detroit to make a garden… This is the most natural location for one of my public gardens.’”

Michigan Garden Clubs, Inc. donated to the development of this new public garden at Belle Isle, a state park operated by the Michigan Department of Natural Resouces, by one of the world’s premier landscape designers, Piet Oudolf. The none aligned with MGC, Inc, The Garden Club of Michigan, has been instrumental in attracting Oudolf to Detroit and Belle Isle. The Oudolf Garden, an all-volunteer group under the Belle Isle Conservancy, says an approximately two-acre garden will be installed at the cost of $3 to 4 million dollars. Planting will begin in August and September of 2019. The organization seeks donations to pay for the garden. You can donate via PayPal online at http://www.oudolfgardendetroit.org/donate or you can mail a check made out to BIC/Oudolf Garden Detroit and mail it to Oudolf Garden Detroit c/o BIC at 300 River Place Drive, Suite 2800, Detroit, MI 48207.

Other gardens designed by Piet Oudolf (from Wikipedia)

  • Singer Laren Sculpture Garden at The Singer Laren Museum and Concert Hall in Laren, Netherlands, 2018
  • Vlinderhof Public Garden at the Máxima Park in Leidsche Rijn, Netherlands, 2014
  • London branch of Hauser & Wirth, a Swiss contemporary and modern art  gallery of Zurich, Switzerland in 2013
  • Serpentine Gallery, interior garden in Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Central London, England, 2011 with Peter Zumthor

    High Line Park, New York

  • High Line a 1.45-mile-long (2.33 km) elevated linear park, greenway and rail trail created on a former New York Central Railroad spur on the west side of Manhattan in New York City in 2006
  • At the Toronto Botanical Garden, the Entry Garden Walk in Toronto, Canada in 2006
  • Trentham Estate in Trentham, Stoke-On-Trent, 2004. Trentham Gardens are formal Italianate gardens, part of an English landscape park. The gardens are set within a large area of woodland which currently cover 300 acres. The gardens were designed as a serpentine park by Capability Brown from 1758, overlying an earlier formal design attributed to Charles Bridgeman. Trentham Gardens are now principally known for the surviving formal gardens laid out in the 1840s by Sir Charles Barry, which have recently been restored. In 2012 the Trentham Estate was selected as the site of a Royal Diamond Jubilee wood, and a new woodland of 200,000 native oak trees will be planted on the Estate. Successful garden designers Tom Stuart-Smith, Piet Oudolf, and Nigel Dunnett have collaborated together on the garden redesign.
  • Battery Park in New York City, 2003
  • Lurie Garden in the Millennium Park in Chicago, 2003 with Kathryn Gustafson
  • Scampston’s refurbished Walled Garden at Scampston Hall in England, 2002-2003
  • ABN Amro Bank, Netherlands, 2000
  • Hoogland in Netherlands, 2001
  • Millennium Garden at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve in Norfolk, England
  • Country Cork Garden, Republic of Ireland
  • Parts of Kurpark Bad Driburg, Germany
  • Municipal park of Enköping, Sweden.

To have such a designer of such repute is sure to make Belle Isle and even greater Michigan attraction.

BUZZBy author Thor Hanson
From publisher Basic Books
ISBN-10: 0465052614
ISBN-13: 978-0465052615
Publish date: July, 2018

BUZZ is more than a title because a ‘buzz’ of interest kept me reading. The information on the evolution of bees from wasps, changing from carnivores to vegetarians during the age of dinosaurs, was fascinating, as was learning how long man has been harvesting and treasuring honey. It shows cave paintings of this activity! As a gardener, I also found the number of bee species astounding and their effects on how flowers developed through the millennia interesting. Only recently I learned Michigan has over 300 variety of bees, but had no idea on how many species there are in the world. All the information Mr. Hanson gives on the many types of bees in BUZZ is thought-provoking, and goes far beyond the scope of honey bees and their decline.

BUZZ is a well written personal narrative telling of the author’s own interest and journey of discovery on the topic of bees. Author Thor Hanson writes in easy to understand language rather than in the jargon of science, but he provides quick definitions when words of a scientific nature are used and gives supporting evidence on his information from many experts in the field. BUZZ also holds a message that humans need to become more aware of their relationship to the creatures and plants that surround us and makes living possible.

Even people, who do not think of themselves as ‘vegetable gardeners’ grow tomatoes because almost everyone loves that great ‘homegrown’ taste of vine-ripened tomatoes.

Besides growing tomatoes in the traditional vegetable bed, they have been grown in containers, hanging baskets, stuck in their own forty-pound bag of soil, and raised in herb and flower gardens.

The tomato is a charming fruit declared a vegetable by the Supreme Court in 1893, and one that inspires passions among many gardeners, sending them on an unending quest for the best-tasting tomato, the earliest ripening or the biggest fruit or largest yield. Many growers helped develop the many variations found in the tomato varieties now available. Hybridizers developed tomatoes for their sweet flavor, meaty texture, yellow color, pear shaped, or type of usage.

Its history is just as bewildering. Early European explorers in South American took the tomato plant to Europe sometime before 1544. It was considered poisonous because of its relation to deadly nightshade, which as its name suggests, is a lethal poison. The tomato earned the name Pomme d’Amour, or Love Apple, which gives an interesting insight into personal relationships of the sixteenth century. Tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, potatoes, nightshade and jimsonweed all come from the Solanaceae family. We now know to eat the tomato raw only when fully ripened or to cook the green tomato, which breaks down the alkaloids that make it poisonous.

A warm-season crop, tomatoes grow best in temperatures between seventy and seventy-five degrees and won’t grow well until those conditions are reached. A touch of frost quickly kills them, so plant them after danger of frost is past. Garden centers sell many mechanical devices such as crop caps and ‘walls-of-water’ to protect plants set out earlier in the season. The best sites have rich soil that is slightly acidic with at least six hours of sun a day. Black plastic or straw or other mulch put around the soil helps keep the soil warm in cool weather. Tomatoes need watering once a week and the soil fertilized several times during summer. There are manuals and books galore on growing tomatoes that give more in-depth information than presented here.

Due to the diseases which tomatoes are susceptible to, it is best if you do not grow tomatoes in the same spot every year but rotate where they are grown for a series of four years. For the same reason, you should never smoke around tomatoes, or handle them after handling cigarettes.

For the hunter of exotic of heirloom varieties, tomatoes are easy to grow from seed and are available from many catalogue and retail sources. When shopping for seeds or plants, look for short-seasoned tomatoes (quick ripening) for areas in colder zones, and select hybrids with the most disease resistance. The plant label should give you this information.

During the growing season you might have to protect your ripening tomatoes from local wildlife as many enjoy tomatoes as much as we do.  Also, if you see huge green caterpillars known as the Tomato Hornworm which has yellow spots and horns and is the larva of the Five-Spotted Hawkmoth, pull them off and destroy them in soapy water. Or get someone to do it for you.

Photo of tomato hornworm

Tomato Hornworm by Amanda Hill, and given to public domain.

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