Tuesday, July 28, 2015



I always loved summer as a kid. Besides it bringing my birthday, school was out and my friends and I spent most of the long, hot days outside. I also spent lots of time in the library catching up on books by my favorite authors. Sometimes my family would have a picnic with the cousins or we’d spend a day at the beach. It was welcome time away from our usual activities. So when summer came upon us this year I decided to take a needed blogcation for a few weeks to regenerate myself.

Now it’s time to return to my backyard. My blogcation helped me look at things through refreshed eyes. And I see that the yard needs tending. Things have grown abundantly over the years. The trees we planted for shade have done their job very well. The yard looks wooded and natural but we see that the bulbs we had planted no long bear flowers because of the shade generated by the trees. The privet hedges are long and lanky, reaching up through the tree branches to find the sun. The lovely Rose-of-Sharon bush spread to the other side of the yard and the seedlings seem to want to take over. Yes, tending is in order.

 At least I have the choice of gardening or resting; not everything in nature has that option. The bees have been busy gathering nectar and pollen from the Hibiscus and Echinacea flowers. They sing their way around the purple Salvia and Butterfly Bushes. Their visitations help distribute the pollen that fertilizes the plants. I hear them buzzing in the vegetable garden and I am grateful for their help. They make the juicy tomatoes we so love possible. In fact, a good portion of everyone’s diet is facilitated by honeybee pollination.

Which brings up the problem of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Our honeybees are in trouble. More colonies than ever have been failing.  Several dead hives have been found. Sometimes a queen bee and immature bees are present but no adult bees to do the hive’s work. The Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USDA's internal research agency, is trying to find out what causes CCD. Is it due to pesticides? Is it merely cyclical? Does it reflect poor management?

It makes a case for all of us being dependent upon each other. Bees are important to our survival – and we are necessary to theirs. As I enjoy the fruits- and vegetables – of their labor, I hope that we find a way to guarantee their continued presence. Come autumn, the old guard will be over and the new queens will hibernate until the next spring approaches. I understand about down time, even in Nature, but let’s not make CCD a permanent state for the bees.

Become familiar with the life of the honeybee:
Understand the problems bees currently face:

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Blame the Mosquitoes

Blame the Mosquitoes

I’ve been considering putting up a tented gazebo for a few years. The reason being that we couldn’t sit out on our back patio due to the mosquitoes. It’s almost as if they are waiting for us to come out and settle in our chairs. Then it’s a free-for-all. They buzz around our ears, land on our arms, and have a snack. We used to be able to go out mid-day without worrying because mosquitoes would only be around early morning or at sundown; not any more. They are now out all day long.

We tried citronella plants and candles but the mosquitoes seem to laugh at that. I’ve worn wristbands that claim to ward off mosquitoes that didn’t work either. I’ve sprayed and rubbed – without luck.

So this year we bought a gazebo kit and put it together. It sits quietly in our backyard, hardly noticeable, and provides a peaceful place to be outdoors without being bitten. It actually surprises me that the mosquitoes haven’t pushed their way inside, as the netting is not bug tight. Occasionally a fly ventures inside and we do see spiders now and then. Perhaps mosquitoes need a more intimate connection with our bodies; they react to the carbon dioxide we exhale and to our body odors and temperature, but whatever the reason, so far we have been enjoying our primitive outdoor haven.

What do we do there? We read or chat, sometimes nap, but mostly we observe. There is a sense of calm within the netting, almost as if we are invisible to the outside world. Birds chirp around us. They walk right near the gazebo, closer to us than they would if we were more visible on the patio, pecking at the ground for seeds. Squirrels frolic in their mating dances; it’s like having a ballet company for our own pleasure. But even if nothing is happening, there is serenity there among the hedges and trees as if we are in a tree house without the height.

Will it last through the winter? I don’t know. Whatever happens, it is a delight right now. I blame the mosquitoes for making it necessary but I am grateful for the experience. In a way it’s a reminder of the fun we had in our camping days, communing with nature and removing ourselves from the bustle of everyday life. We feel ourselves let go as we sit there, enjoying the mosquito-free respite in our backyard.

Mosquito info:

Want to try some natural mosquito repellents?:

Try these suggestions to keep the newly introduced tiger mosquitoes at bay:

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Goldfinch Growing Up

Goldfinch Growing Up

The male American Goldfinch is a brilliant bird. His bright yellow feathers attract the attention not only of the female goldfinch but of anyone nearby. It’s hard to ignore, or take for granted, the almost neon quality of him on the feeder. He is regal.

He doesn’t start out that way, though. The baby bird is scrawny and demanding. As he grows, the young bird starts to fill out his feathers but they are splotchy and not very attractive, yellow mixed with gray in an exuberant disarray. There is nothing graceful about him, which is endearing in its own way.

It reminds me of a boy’s growing years. He starts out as a cute but demanding baby and slowly grows into his teen years when his voice breaks in mid-word, his face starts to get stubble, and he outgrows the sleeves of his shirt and the legs of his pants almost on a daily basis. Eventually, the boy finds his balance and the awkwardness slips away. He, like the goldfinch, shines in his youthful maturity.

It seems that nature mirrors itself, whatever the species. Regardless of the outside, the inside of us all develops in our own particular ways and that gets reflected externally. I find the young goldfinch on my feeder exciting, knowing that it will soon become something stunning – even if he doesn’t know it yet.

Click on photo for a larger view.
So much to know about American Goldfinches:

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Seeds Are Everywhere!

Seeds are Everywhere!

Have you noticed? Seeds are everywhere! Maple trees are sending their seeds spinning around the neighborhood. They whirl through the air at the slightest breeze and land on everything. The yellow dandelion flowers have changed into fairy seeds, catching the slightest movement of wind or breath to send them into new growing places. Pollen coats cars and houses, lawns, patio and deck furniture and people, if we can judge by the sneezes caused by allergic reactions to the powdery stuff. Leave a flowerpot filled with plain dirt outside and soon something will be growing there. Spring is a time for regeneration.

While we may have made a gazillion wishes blowing on dandelion seeds as kids (and kids still do) we adults seem to have lost our fondness for the plant. It does have a way of taking over a lawn. It is resilient to the point of defiance. Yet the dandelion has been a valued herb over the centuries. Almost every part of it has some health benefit. And while most of us are trying to rid our lawns of them, dandelion seeds are being sold with a host of other, more respected herbs.

So maybe we can give the dandelion a break and remember it has a beneficial purpose even if we choose not to cultivate it on our lawns. And perhaps once in a while forget that we are grown up, lift the stem gently from the ground, take a breath and blow out a wish!

What to value about dandelions and what to be careful of health wise:

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Lily Of the Valley Pushing the Boundaries

Lily Of the Valley Pushing the Boundaries

Years ago I replanted about a dozen Lily of the Valley plants that were growing too near our air conditioning unit to our backyard to fill in a space in the shade. They accepted their new surroundings and grew. Each year there were a few more, thick green leaves with a delicate spray of white flowers that would come up in the Spring. Last year they had spread to the point of perhaps being too many so we put an edging around the outer plants and hoped that would contain them.

By this time, anyone with knowledge of this plant knows what I am about to say. They were not contained. In fact, they ignored the edging and now are heading for the main part of the yard. We noticed a similar thing happening at another house. The plants were growing beyond the wooden edging and were even starting to come up in a crack in the sidewalk.

It’s hard to believe that such a delicate plant is so vigorous. But maybe that’s why it is so loved. It graces gentle things like weddings and religious services. It is seen as the flower of fairies in folklore. It’s included in many birthday bouquets.

And yet, it can be a problem, outgrowing its designated place in the garden. I guess everything is on a continuum, the positive and negative blending into each other so that it is all part of the whole. All of nature, us included, has aspects that are pleasing to some, not so much to others. And that can change as customs and generations shift in their likes and dislikes. I appreciate the enthusiasm of the Lily of the Valley to be out there in the world but I think it’s time to insist on some boundaries. 

An affectionate look at cultivating Lily of the Valley:

Various meanings inspired by Lily of the Valley:

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

My Squirrel Angst

My Squirrel Angst

I know I often complain about the squirrel antics in my backyard but I had a squirrel experience today that shook me up. My husband and I were out walking this afternoon and saw two young squirrels coming down from a tree. I stopped for a few seconds to say, “Oh, look at the tiny squirrels!” Then I said to the closest one, “You are adorable!” After that we moved on up the street. And so did that little squirrel. It followed us, running between our feet and looking up longingly. After telling it gently that it needed to go back to its tree, we walked on. But the squirrel came with us. We were walking carefully so as not to step on it. It pawed at our shoes and the bottom of our jeans and tried to climb up. It wanted to follow us across the street but we turned back so it would stay on the sidewalk.

By this time, my heart was aching. Surely this poor critter was looking for its mother. What might have happened to her? Was it hungry? Sad? Was it imprinting? I knew relatively nothing about a baby squirrel’s needs. We had nothing to carry it in to transport it to an animal center or vet so we couldn’t take it with us. We tried to lead it back to the tree we saw it climbing down from but it stopped following. It must have gotten the message that we were not going to be its parents.

When we got back home, I tried calling several animal shelters and natural centers for advice but it was after hours and I only got their voice mail. I hope the squirrel took after its smart adult counterparts and found its way back to its tree home to climb up to its nest and be safe. I think I will look at my backyard squirrels differently from now on and perhaps be less critical as I remember my squirrel angst for one of the new generation.

If you run into this situation, here is how to handle it:

Squirrel nests:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Pea Plant Grows Indoors

A Pea Plant Grows Indoors

I buy as much organic food as I can. I figure I’m supporting responsible farming, Mother Earth, and my family’s health. I try to plant my garden responsibly each year so that when it’s harvest time, our veggies are the best they can be.

But it wasn’t planting time yet when I discovered a green pea that gotten lost in the shuffle of the vegetable bin. It started to grow on its own so I put it in some dirt, in a small pot on the windowsill, just to see what would happen. At first it remained the same, a tiny bit of green peeking up from its gritty bed. But then it started to grow. And once it began, it continued sending up a delicate shoot toward the sun. Then leaves sprouted and viney tendrils began reaching for anything they could grab onto. And then a pea pod appeared with one beautiful, plump pea inside! How exciting! We had our own sugar snap pea plant. It makes me eager to get into the dirt and get the garden ready.

I am always amazed at how food grows. A seed gives no hint of what it will eventually look like but holds all of its potential wrapped inside that tiny package. Sometimes, like the pea, you can see its final form but it first must grow into the plant to take root and nourish its development. The cycle assures the survival of the plant. 

And not so far from our own survival as a species. We can see our roots in our children from the genetic resemblances to the acquired characteristics. All of nature passes along what keeps things going in our evolutionary process. Parents to children to grandchildren and beyond. Pretty wonderful, I think.

Here is how to grow your own delicious snap peas: