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Last year in May (2015) Dr. John P. Holdren, who advises President Obama on science and technology, announced new steps to increase the population of insects that help pollinate our food crops. According to Holdren in his release “Announcing New Steps to Promote Pollinator Health,” these insects have helped  add “more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops.” The article announced three goals:

  1. Reduce honey bee colony losses to economically sustainable levels;
  2. Increase monarch butterfly numbers to protect the annual migration; and
  3. Restore or enhance millions of acres of land for pollinators through combined public and private action.

So while our chemical companies have been developing poisons to kill predatory insects, there is a possibility they have also decimated insects important to our well being, and now with a population topping 7 billion people on Earth, we need all the help we can get to feed them all. There are other contributing causes to pollinator decline, and one is we have changed the landscape so it doesn’t provide what they need to survive. These, of course, our suppositions on my part since I haven’t followed all of the research.

However, when my package came from Burpee with my seed purchases, included was a free packet of Pollinators  Seed Mix. It included cornflowers, flax, cosmos, poppy, larkspur, zinnias, and sunflowers. Because I have been concerned about the decline in honeybees—I have witnessed it in my garden—I decided to plant them, giving a 4×4′ vegetable bed over to the seeds. Of all the disasters in my vegetable garden this year, the pollinators shined in success. Yes; I saw many insects on the flowers, including honeybees. But a Monarch also visited. To help these butterflies I also let the wild milkweed grow, although I’ve noticed they really like my butterflyweed (another species of milkweed) better.

pollinators

Why bring this up? To let you know these seed packets are available for sale now in various plant combinations, including herbal. I took this photo last Thursday, so you can see the plants are still blooming. I’ve used some for bouquets for indoors, too (not a lot, I left most for the insects!) Please grow some. Lets keep the honeybees and Monarch butterflies around.

Oops! Posted and then added more. Here are Holdren’s sites for more information on the new policy copied from the site:

  • Read the National Strategy to Promote Pollinator Health HERE
  • Read the Pollinator Research Action Plan HERE
  • Read Pollinator-Friendly Best Management Practices for Federal Lands HERE
  • Access Appendices to the National Strategy HERE

Gardening is always an adventure and an investigation into the plant world and nature. This year’s vegetable garden has been very different and not very successful. In a word, the cause is DEER, and my garden is not the only one attacked this year. I’ve spoken with several other gardeners whose crops have been decimated by deer. It could be the increase in corn fields around us, which provide also provide food.

Last week we repaired some fencing and put up more fence posts. Yet, this year the grapes have been very successful and weighed down sections of the fence. No matter what Bill and I did, the deer jumped the fence at some point in the perimeter and dined at leisure in the garden beds. The results are the tomatoes have well-cropped tops, and are developing tomatoes on the bottom branches.

Pumpkin blossomYesterday, the deer again jumped the fence and this time ate all the ripening grapes. ALL the grapes of an abundant crop off three vines. So much for making homemade wine. Deer also like Jerusalem artichokes,  horseradish, Swiss chard, beans, and sunflowers. All gone. However, the yellow crookneck squash are huge and abundant as are the pumpkins. On the back deck Bill finally put the lettuce containers on the small table and the raccoons he insists on feeding haven’t been able to get into them.

My flower gardens have done well except for the fact I haven’t kept them as well weeded as they needed to be. Four years after planting the seeds, the white Liatris Florestan White, or Blazing Star, finally bloomed, including one hidden one that I thought had died. I love raising plants from seed and I thought this one a lost cause, and here the plants finally deliver flowers! Deer did eat many of the daylily blooms, but I had daylilies blooming from the end of June to the end of August.  With my vegetable seeds from both Burpee’s and Park’s, I received free packets of ‘pollinators.’ They are blooming in the vegetable garden now and are beautiful.

I also read about using banana peels on plants for fertilizer and implemented the trial. It worked on the tomatoes (although this effort was largely a lost cause) and on the few roses I have. Just wrap the banana peel around the base of the stem. Recycling and fertilizing in one step–how convenient!

While the vegetable garden has been disappointing, it has been an interesting season of gardening. Since I’ve been very busy indoors working on creating an  online course for my classes, painting the walls, woodwork, floors (I truly have a painted house), and writing, most of my gardening has been a few sessions of weeding and much looking. Now I look forward to a fruitful fall hunting season for some hunter, and next spring, new fencing, and another table for the back deck, it should be a good gardening season.

After my post about Gardeners and God Complex, I’ve reaped some bad karma for my presumption.

First, all the seeds I planted when the soil first became workable died or were eaten by birds or insects.

Second, a drought has followed the cold spell that followed the warm spell that let me plant early.

Third, the peas came up but languish in the heat.

Fourth, deer jumped the fence and ate all the new pepper plants I had grown from seeds and just planted, along with the leaves of the Jerusalem artichoke, the asparagus (although we had a great harvest of asparagus), and the parsley that has gone wild in the garden. The deer did not touch the eggplants or tomatoes. Bought and planted more peppers, two of which have disappeared.

Fifth, within a day of  the cucumber seedlings breaking ground, they disappeared, as happened to the beets, parsnips and turnips. And something is eating the young squash plants. Moles? Birds? Insects? Grasshoppers?

Sixth, I planted a bed with beans, but now see I’d planted it with sunflowers too. It will be war of the world all over again.

Seventh, a special someone (not giving away names!) wanting to be helpful tilled the walkways between the beds so my feet sink into loose sandy soil whenever I walk the garden.

So, grrr, I didn’t take into consideration all the things not necessarily under my control. I’m hoping its not too late to plant more crops. What else can happen?

Two good aspects: the grapes seem to have abundant fruit developing for the first time. (I really need to learn how to prune those vines, and I’m sure the Baltimore Oriole nesting nearby will enjoy them as they did the Juneberries!)  Yet the rhubarb is doing tremendous and the ancient apple trees have fruit developing.

phloxs

Take a section of land, perhaps put a fence around it to protect it from predators, tear off all the existing vegetation, prepare the soil, and plant what you want to grow: that can be either a farm field or a garden, a human creation. Both farmers and gardeners create gardens by imposing their will on nature. The gardener chooses the location, chooses the plants allowed to live and grow, and what plants (weeds) to pull and let die. A gardener creates a world in a garden. Does that give a gardener some type of God complex?

Gardens are hard work and take continued effort. If the gardener doesn’t keep up their garden, the natural world, believed to have been created by the real God, takes over. Local nature reclaims its property very quickly, making this world-building ephemeral. So why garden?

Certainly gardeners create gardens for food. Even with the cost of seeds, plants, fertilizer or organic materials to incorporate into the soil, watering, and the effort of all the work, a gardener can produce enough vegetables to feed their family through the winter for less cost than the grocery story. There is also satisfaction in this production of food, and the taste is usually far superior to any bought vegetable. The gardener knows what chemicals have been used on the produce which is often not the case with purchased produce.

Other benefits come with gardening beyond growing the family food. The creation of flower gardens and landscaping offer the chance to be creative, to mix the colors and textures of plants into vistas of extraordinary beauty. They offer the opportunity to inspect the beauty of plants up close, and discover the differences of each species. Wonderful flowering scents can permeate gardens. Gardening activities and plant selections can be very successful; some are failures, so gardening teaches the gardener about nature, about ecosystems, and the extensive world of plants, which leads to a greater appreciation for nature. This can lead to explorations of chemistry, weather patterns, and biology, adding a greater understanding of life.

Gardens are peaceful. They can give the gardener moments of single minded, thoughtless work, relaxing an over wrought mind. Just as often, gardening gives the gardener the ability to expand their personal thoughts. Either way can be very calming. Flowers, branches, leaves, and vegetables brought inside and made into an arrangement can bring the outdoors in, bringing the same beauty and peace found in a garden to a room

The successful efforts gone into making a garden give not only the gardener but also others something to enjoy. Having a visitor appreciate a garden brings the gardener another reward. Yet, just standing in the middle of a garden can bring a special contentment. Another benefit–good landscape increases property values.

Gardens tell time, give the seasons a distinct joy. Each season has its special jobs, its special plants and blooms. The joy of the first daffodils, to the ending summer’s chrysanthemums bring unique happiness, and a warning of how fast time passes.

Yet most gardens are doomed. Sometimes it’s temporary, like in Michigan where each winter the garden goes dormant, often providing an entirely different beauty. Ultimately, though, when the gardener is gone, usually so is the garden. So, gardens bring a sense of mortality providing the gardener the wisdom to enjoy each day; so not quite God, but a God-like experience.

All these reasons and more are why I garden.

Here it is, six weeks later, and some seedlings have s-l-o-w-l-y begun to sprout. The spinach has been up about a week and a half and is only now putting out second leaves. This past week some carrot and kohlrabi sprouts began to show.  At least this give me some hope for the seeds remaining underground—they might spout yet. So okay, up here in north central western Michigan, you can plant as soon as the ground can be worked, but the results, like the weather, might be mixed.Six wees to sprout? Really? Kale, a very cold tolerant plant has shown no signs of germination, neither have the beets, radishes, or Swiss chard. It might work out better for me to plant some of these in late August and grow them through the fall, and just wait until about now to put other seeds in the ground. On the other hand, the annual seeds of camomile and parsley are all over the garden! They have literally turned wild and are competing with the Veronica peregrina, in other words they’ve joined the weed community. I don’t really want to pull any of them out. Perhaps the veronica would make a good ground cover on the walkways between the growing boxes? Gardening is an adventure and an experiment!

My daffodils. scilla siberica, and hyacinth  are all blooming, and in the wild, so are the Amelanchier trees, so I can state spring is well underway here. Doesn’t mean we won’t have more snow! However, the blueberry plants from White Flower Farm arrived last Friday and I planted them Sunday. Hope they survive.

Well, I’ve checked the planted bed. Nothing has popped out of the soil. While the soil remains workable, the weather has not. My location has been hit by several snow storms and very cold temperatures. I know when seedlings wither, they are gone quickly and probably invisible on my soil. So have some sprouted and died, or has nothing come up? Will the seeds remain viable until the weather goes from freezing to cold? Is it just the unexpected swings between seasonable and unseasonable weather this spring?  I expect to know if I have to buy more seeds in another week or so. Perhaps the ‘workable soil’ soil timeline is different in Northern Michigan than in Southern Michigan or further south. Certainly an experiment, but at least I’ll know  one way or another.

Yesterday morning.

Yesterday morning.

I planted some cold crops two Saturdays ago and another group one Saturday ago. As of last Wednesday, nothing had sprouted. Well, the plants in the indoor biodome have. Two types of tomatoes, eggplants, amaranth, and Penstemon ‘Rocky Mountain’ have come up. I’ve tried the Penstemon outdoors two years in a row with no luck, so at least I should hopefully have plants to put in the ground this year. Nothing else up in the vegetable garden except the carrots left over from last summer, and the garlic is coming up.

Thursday a long lasting snow-sleet storm hit the state, and even the community college where I teach was closed. The snow continued on into April Fool’s Day. It was very cold, but today (Saturday) is in the 50s. Most of the plants emerging from the soil remained impervious to the weather. I have twigs and branches to pick up and lots of last year’s stems to remove from the flower garden, and weeds emerging, so work is already lining up. But no emerging crops. Maybe that is a good thing.

Time will tell, but it started the season off early, and looks to be a different season. Looking forward to spring. Snowdrops and a few crocus are already up and blooming, and daffodils have leaves emerging from ground.

Trees in Dusk SkyMany science fiction stories deal with aliens, either aggressive sentient beings set to grab all Earth’s resources for their own, or beings we encounter in our own space exploration with whom we establish friendly communications and accord. Personally, from our experiences on Earth, I think we tend to fall into the first category, but hope we might eventually reach the second. We do try.

As self-appointed most intelligent species, our learning curve has been dismally flat in inter-species communications. Of the thousands of species living with us on this planet, we have only managed to instill communications on a few, a process called training. However, though we may understand our pets’ behaviors, we have never established true communications with them. How do we expect to communicate with completely alien species if we cannot do so with Earth species, say, like trees?

For the most part, we love trees. They grow into majestically beautify forms that inspire our imaginations. We treasure their shade, they increase the value of our property. We appreciate their lumber for its structural strength, the beauty of its grain in products we make from it, and for the fuel it provides to warm us.

We don’t believe trees intelligent because we’ve never discovered brain or nerve tissue in their physiology. However, even that is changing. Consider the paper Aspects of Plant Intelligence and another paper on the consideration of that topic. Then consider some commonly known facts. Trees clean the environment. They remove carbon dioxide from the air, and poisons from the soil. They control erosion and clean water. They can protect their own domain (soil), often changing it to their own specifications. They react to changes in their environment to preserve their existence. They make their own food. And they leave a long lasting, un-technical record of their existence (tree rings). So just how intelligent are we?

Plus trees outlive us by many years. The short-lived trees often reach between 100 and 150 years. Not so much greater an age than us, but definitely longer. The longest-lived trees often outlast us by hundreds or even thousands of years. If you check out the link just given, note Prometheus, the Bristlecone Pine. Prometheus lived for 5,000 years, faithfully recording the Earth’s history annually. What did we do? We cut it down.

Now granted, after Prometheus was cut down, other Bristlecone Pines were saved for the sake of the seniority they hold. Yet you can, hopefully, understand why I doubt our ability to deal with anything alien. Before we deal with outer space, we need to sharpen our learning curve here at home.

INTELLIGENCE IN TREES 5
References
Goldenburg, E. “n.d.” Last modified 2011, October 08, 5:12:44 PM) Eldan Goldenburg’s lab notebook, notes about my work and other peoples’.
Blog@Case. “n.d” Retrievd May 2 , 2009 from http://blog.case.edu/exg39/2006/06/01/plant_intelligence
Hightshoe, G. (1988). Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America, A Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers (pp. 88). Van Nostrand Reinhold, NY: New York.
Prometheus (tree), (last modified 2012, October 09, at 23:18) Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prometheus_%28tree%29
Trewavas, A. (2003). Aspects of Plant Intelligence. Annals of Botany 92. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4243628/?report=classic

Some gardeners insist on the necessity to improve their garden soil. They till in organic matter, peat moss, vermiculite, add sand to clay soils, lime and fertilize trying to achieve perfect soil for gardening. While this works very well, it is just that, work, and often very expensive. There is another argument that claims disturbing the soil causes more harm than good; these gardeners promote growing plants that naturally grow in the soil type found in their yard. It is certainly less work, and if the plants are adapted to your soil, they grow very nicely. Both are right. The argument is not about soil at all, but about the gardener, time, effort, and cost.

My soil is sand deposited by melting glaciers eons ago. It has fast drainage, so can go dry very fast. I have also gardened on very deep silt soil called Loess or the dusty silt blown off glaciers. It’s similar to clay in that it compacts and makes for poor drainage.

The soil topic comprises entire books, including the geology and science behind the types and how to handle them. However, there are one common sense tip for ordinary gardeners: know the soil type and the pH of the garden bed. A soil test will tell the soil’s composition, its pH, and the amount of NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium–the components of fertilizer) needed for optimum plant growth.

Soil pH is important to know, indicating if the soil is acid or alkaline. pH 7 is neutral, anything below acid, anything above alkaline. Most low rain fall area soils are alkaline as various mineral salts accumulate and are are not washed by frequent rain, most soils in rainy areas are acidic as the various mineral salts are dissolved and washed away. So what? Some Plants have soil pH preferences, others don’t care. Some plants like blueberries want very acid soil, others like lavender prefer alkaline soils. Very acidic or alkaline soils limit the plants that grow in them. In many cases plant preferences depend on the plant’s original global location.

Other than that, there are very few soils that grow nothing, and few perfect soils that grow everything. The base of good soil or garden loam combines clay, sand, and silt, the three basic sizes of mineral content in a soil. Clay is the smallest and compacts easily into, well, clay bricks, but has greater surface area for holding necessary minerals. Sand is the largest and drains fast, but holds less fertility. Silt is somewhere between the two, created by water sedimentation. It has characteristics of both, and the problems of both. Clay soils hold nutrients and water, but they are slow to dry out, and once dry may crack into rock-hard plates on the soil’s surface. Sand soils hold little moisture or nutrients.

It is also important to know that the mineral content makes up only part of a soil’s content. Fifty to fifty-five percent of soil consists of air, water, decaying plant materials (humus), insects, worms, bacteria, fungi and other living organisms. Plant roots use the air, water, and humus for plant growth as well as the minerals found in the soil. Their pH preference helps them absorb these substances. All the living organisms within the soil help decay plant material and often act in symbiosis with the plant’s roots. I’ve read where there is more life below the soil’s surface than there is living on its surface.

Even if you have amended your soil, you need to know its basic type and how to work it. Three rules of thumb:
1. Never work in a wet clay soil, and don’t walk on a wet lawn growing in clay soil. You drive the air spaces out of the soil. Once compacted, reintegrating air space into clay soils is difficult.
2. Sandy soils need additional water and fertilizer applications.
3. In cases of extremely sandy or clay soils, garden in raised beds formed by mounding good loam on top of the native soil.

If you don’t have inclination for the work involved in soil improvement, grow plants for the soil you have.

Clay soil? Grow Aconitum (delphinium), Anemone, Aruncus (goats beard), Asters, Buxus (boxwood), Camassia, Digitalis (foxglove), Forsythia, Helenium, Hemerocallis (daylily), Ilex (holly), Leucojum (snowflake), Mondarda (bee balm), Myosotis (for-get-me-not), Narcissus, Paeonia, Rudbeckia (coneflowers), Solidago (goldenrod), and Viburnum.

Acid soil? Grow Achillea, Allyssum (gold dust), Artemisia, Echinacea, Eryngium, Gaillardia, Helianthemum, Iberis (candytuft), Lavandula, Lilium, Oenothera (evening primrose), Salvia, Sedum, Sempervivum (houseleek). Look up the plants preferences before you purchase them. If you don’t, invest in one for a trial growing period. If it thrives, grow more.

A good garden book will give you more plants for each type of soil. If a plant requires good drainage it will do well in sand. If it requires rich soil, it might grow better in clay or loam soils. Good drainage and rich soil usually means soils leaning towards sandy with high humus amounts.

Parry the parrot

Parry liked to look at the world from upside down, or maybe it was the awful jerry-rigged cage.

I called the parrot we caught Parry. I know, not very original. Parry loved people! He must have had a dedicated and loving previous owner. He liked talking to women and would crawl around his cage to stay right in front of them. No one called about having lost a parrot however.

In talking about the parrot we found Nancy whose parrot had recently died. It was a different type from Parry who was a Pilgrim Parrot or Monk Parakeet. Her parrot had been with her for decades and I think she still mourned it. She still had it’s cage and reluctantly came to see Parry when we offered him to her. I think he charmed her because she did take him home. I’m sure Nancy will provide a much better home than I could although I’d already begun to love the little guy. She knows what to do with a parrot, how to take care of Parry, and didn’t own eight cats. I think it was meant to be.

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