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: 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Periwinkle Flowers Again

Periwinkle Flowers Again

Our periwinkle (vinca) has blossomed again, as it does each year. It is a groundcover that takes its mission seriously. Given no interference, it tends to take over, which can be a good thing depending on where it is planted. It sends out vines and, well, covers the ground. It is green even in the winter months, a bright spot when everything seems dark and dreary. What a treat to see it peek out as the snow melts, reminding us of greener times to come.

And now, when spring is confused, sending us cold days alternating with warm days, it thumbs its leaves at the weather and sends up tiny, exquisite purple, blue, pink or white flowers. That is only the start of the options. These plants are adaptable. They like semi-shade but will grow in deeper shade or sun. They are exuberant, growing wherever they are placed and head out for other parts of the garden if not contained. Some homeowners use periwinkle instead of grass for their lawns – no mowing required.

I like vinca’s feistiness. It seems to know its destiny to grow and goes right at it. Wouldn’t it be great if we were all so confident in our own providence? We would all flower from within, allowing the world to see our potential as we embrace it ourselves. There is so much to learn from nature; periwinkle is one reminder of our own possibilities.

How to get started planting vinca:

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Getting Ready to Plant

Getting Ready to Plant

I bought a container of organic strawberries from California last week. They were huge, ripe and delicious! We were still in winter coats while gardens out West were thriving. I can’t wait to dig in my own garden. I’m getting ready to plant!

We didn’t get to eat homegrown strawberries last spring though the squirrels did. I saw them haul off the fruit just before it was ripe enough for people to eat. They do that with the peaches, too. At least we had a bumper crop of tomatoes that were scrumptious. We planted four different kinds and feasted on red, yellow, and mottled varieties. Each had its own taste and texture but every one was a treat. That we had a crop at all was a surprise.

Last year we set up a small greenhouse that had a way of breaking loose from its boundaries despite the spikes we used to hold it down. It flipped over uprooting our peas and beans but the tomato plants were least affected. We couldn’t figure out if an animal pushed it over or some of the neighborhood kids were having fun but it isn’t going back up this season. We’re considering pulling out the ol’ posthole digger and getting serious. We don’t have a large plot so it shouldn’t be too hard to set up posts, connect them with screening, and keep the greenhouse stable. Hah!

I hope that we succeed. There is nothing quite as wonderful as eating what you have grown yourself. But if anyone has a foolproof/easy plan that you want to share, please feel free to do so. We’re probably not the only ones who could use some help.

Free plans for making a greenhouse:

And if you want to grow strawberries, here’s some advice:

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Do Robins Herald Spring?

Do Robins Herald Spring? 

the robins are here
redbreasts hopping on brown grass
prompting thoughts of spring

This weekend it’s officially Spring. Hard to believe when today’s temperature is in the 30s to low 40s and tomorrow it will be hovering around freezing again. The forecast for Friday is snow.

But there are signs all around to bring our thoughts to warmer times. Daffodils are rising green and confident despite the weather predictions. Soon there will be bright, yellow flowers cheering up the barren garden. The lilac bushes are putting out tiny, cautious buds that will become fragrant purple blossoms. Geese are heading north in noisy flocks. And there are robins bounding over grass that is still recovering from being packed down with snow, finding worms and renewing expectations of the next season

Robins are credited with heralding Spring. Is that true? Well, some do migrate and return as winter starts to let go but many stay in their breeding grounds. They may be huddled in more wooded areas where there is more protection so they are less noticeable; it all depends on the availability of food. Our affection for the robin as herald remains in tact, however, and why not? Robin-spotting is a way for us to anticipate the more amiable season. 

In the midst of Winter it is always easy to pine for Spring but then we often ache for Summer and its swimming weather only to welcome Autumn for the heat-relief it brings. Then Winter calls to skiers, sledders, and everyone for holiday fun. The year’s variety, while it can be challenging, is emotionally bracing. It adds variety to our days and a sense of movement to our lives; almost like a well-written novel, it keeps us intrigued about what will happen next.

For the most part I like the change of seasons. And when I see the robins, even if they have been here all along, just out of my sight, my energy shifts into a lighter space. It’s time to expand, to plant, to come out of the house and greet the world that, like me, is ready to be new and refreshed. The first robin we see is a reminder of all of that.

Robin myths and reality:

More about robins:

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Squirrel on the Roof

Squirrel on the Roof

It was a busy morning, in my head, anyway. I was wondering what to do first – go food shopping or work on the article I was writing or go to the library to return and replenish books or get a jump on house cleaning or bring stuff to the cleaners or…well, that was the kind of day it started out as. Food shopping won and I was on my way to the car when I saw a squirrel on the roof of the house. He/she was looking down at something. Then he looked up. Then turned toward me but didn’t scoot down as I expected he would. It seemed that he was just staring into space.

I sat in my car watching him for a while before I went on my errand. Was that squirrel going through a similar conundrum about what to do today or did he have something particular in mind? I know squirrels are smart. I have seen them figure out ways to get onto the bird feeders regardless of the obstacles we put in their way. A study of gray squirrels from the University of Exeter shows that they learn from observation, particularly if it relates to finding food. Was this one planning its next meal? Well, so was I.

I drove off to the market but I didn’t forget about that squirrel. We are learning so much about how animals think. Humans may be verbal but we are not exclusive to intelligence. Each species has its own way of interpreting information, especially about feeding, mating, and survival. It makes me look at other creatures with a less jaundiced eye. We all have to contend with the circumstances of life and we all need smarts to do it. Perhaps focus is the key. When I returned home the squirrel was gone. I had no doubt that he made a wise decision from the perspective on the roof.

University of Exeter study:

A fascinating study on animal intelligence by Virginia Morrell:

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What a Winter!

What a Winter!

It snowed a few days ago. Then we had freezing rain. The streets were iced and the accidents abundant. Then it thawed a bit causing some flooding. Now, late afternoon on this gray Tuesday it is starting to snow again. Just a few flakes so far and only a couple of inches predicted. Oops, it has already shifted to freezing rain. It’s one storm after another.

What a winter. It is affecting the whole country differently. Boston is on the cusp of having record snows this year: Maine already surpassed its record. And while it would seem terrific to be in San Francisco where the Bay Area is experiencing the warmest weather in its history, it also in the midst of a record drought. Even Sitka, Alaska, is having an unusual winter – it’s warmest.

Call it polar vortex or whatever, it is certainly a strange season. I wonder how the migrating creatures are faring. Are they as confused as we are? Is nature playing games with us or is it that we have been playing games with nature? Both, it seems. Nature traditionally fluctuates in the amount of heat and chemicals available to earth but it is human activity that is creating a larger problem. Check out what NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency have to say about climate change. This winter may be a fluke but it might be a harbinger as well.

Temperature extremes this winter:

NASA’s look at climate change:

For an in-depth analysis from the EPA:

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Hawk in Nature

Hawk in Nature

It snowed again, a beautiful powdery fluff that made everything seem so pristine. I did what was needed, shoveling the front drive and relieving the cars from their white burden. As I was working I heard the birds around me  – a woodpecker knocking on the trunk of a tree, the frantic chirping of the finches as they rushed in and out of the forsythia bush, geese chatting overhead as they made their way south in a long vee. What I didn’t hear was something that was happening in the backyard.

There were no birds on the feeders, a rather unusual occurrence for the time of day, especially during a snowy day when food is harder to find. They had been there earlier in the day, flitting back and forth between mouthfuls of seed. A mourning dove had joined them and was quietly cooing. Now there was silence. Hmmm.

Then I knew why. Toward the back of the yard was a large bird – a hawk! It was on the snow, pecking at something. By the look of the feathers underneath its feet, the mourning dove was its meal. Poor thing.

Nature can seem cruel at times but then everything has to eat. In the natural scheme of things, there is something for everyone. It is when part of nature becomes greedy that cruelty comes in. Animals that are forced out of their natural habitat must find a source of food. WHYY has been presenting a series by M. Sanjayan called A New Wild about the interaction of people and animals. It is worth seeing and, even more so, contemplating our impact on this incredible earth.

An interview with M. Sanjayan: