Monday, July 21, 2014

Blueberry Picking is Great!

Blueberry Picking is Great!

Ah, blueberries. One of my favorite foods. And this is great blueberry picking time in my area. We are near Hammonton, NJ, which is known for its blueberries. We went picking at an organic farm last week and came home with almost eight pounds of berries. What will we do with so many, you might wonder. Well, I’ve already made two batches of blueberry muffins and plan to bake a blueberry cobbler later this week. We munch on them daily and I’ll freeze some, if any are left in the next day or so. We may go back to the picking farm before the harvest time is over.

Blueberries have lots going for them besides good taste. They are native to North America. They are healthful, loaded with antioxidants. They’re rated as reasonably low on the glycemic index and calories.

I love picking blueberries. Seeing how they grow and choosing which berries to take is a privilege. It is almost a meditative experience, directing your focus berry-by-berry, on the wonder of nature. There is a practical side as well. There is no worry about perhaps getting squished ones in the supermarket container or how long the berries have traveled or been stored before you buy them – there is nothing fresher than pick-your-own berries. Plus, it’s a fun outing for the family. Depending on the farm you go to, you may get to ride on a hay wagon, an activity that never gets old. And to top it all off, the cost is less.

So, I wish you all happy blueberry picking. Perhaps we’ll see each other down a blueberry row. But hurry, the season lasts only a few weeks more!

Yay for blueberries!

Hints about working with blueberries and more:

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Lake Erie is a Great Lake

Lake Erie is a Great Lake

Here it is July already. I took a blogcation for a month, enjoying a little road trip, a family visit, and just allowing myself some off time, doing pretty much not much. Isn’t that what summer is for?

One of the things I saw on our road trip was Lake Erie, an incredibly sized body of fresh water. There are five Great Lakes- Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, and Lake Huron – that impact Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Ontario, Pennsylvania, Quebec, and Wisconsin. It was hard to believe that Lake Erie is the smallest of them in volume though the fourth in size. Quite impressive. Lots of people were enjoying the gentle waves and the warm water on this hot day; a serene respite from the usual hustle and bustle of everyday living.

But it wasn’t always this way. The Great Lakes have their problems. Lake Erie is a case in point. The native peoples revered the lake for its purity before the area was colonized. Then things changed with the new settlers. By the late 1960s it was polluted by industries spilling pollutants into it, sewer water being released there, and agricultural runoff. Algae flourished and the fish were all dying. Instead of Great Lake it was called Dead Lake. In 1969 the Cuyahoga River, which feeds into Lake Erie, caught fire. It was time to rethink our use of the lake.

In 1972, the United States and Canada signed The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement to establish guidelines for a cleaner Great Lakes environment. The International Joint Commission (IJC), in a final report in 1999 on the Great Lakes, recommended wetlands restoration and water quality research and monitoring. There are still periodic quality warnings issued for beach use but at least Lake Erie has its watchdogs now.

I was saddened when I learned about Lake Erie’s history. I wish I could have seen it in its original state; if it is so impressive now, how incredible it must have once been. We need to think of consequences to nature before we plow ahead with our plans. We aren’t separate from nature – it is us.

Lake Erie – past, present, and future:

A look at the International Joint Commission’s findings:

Monday, June 9, 2014

Blackberries and Raspberries – Delicious and Beneficial

Blackberries and Raspberries – Delicious and Beneficial

We planted two new bushes this season. One is a raspberry bush. It is leafing out nicely with flowers and thorns. The other is a blackberry bush, thornless and self-pollinating and also leafy and green. They both are growing nicely despite not being planted in ideal soil. They like sand and we have marl. We modified the soil as much as we could and hope they can adapt. They are in a sunny spot, which is favorable for their growth, and so far they seem to be doing well.

Berries are full of antioxidants, fiber, and Vitamin C, among other beneficial properties. While these particular berries are not on The Dirty Dozen list (those foods that are the most contaminated by pesticides), organic berries have been shown to have more of the health benefits than non-organic berries.

Dr. Andrew Weil partners with Environmental Working Group (EWG). He advocates eating organic produce but acknowledges that it is not always available and frequently is too expensive. He suggests that we choose as much as we can from the safer foods, or at least choose a mixture of the two.

Our berry bushes are organic because we planted them that way. We also shop at local organic farmstands when possible. I am glad to see that some of the larger supermarkets are including organic fruits and vegetables now as the demand increases. How we shop determines what we can buy. Let’s make our preferences for healthy food known. 

Nutrition facts for blackberries:
Nutrition facts for raspberries:

The Dirty Dozen:

Dr, Weil chats about EWG’s guide:


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Weather on Parade

The Weather on Parade

It was almost time for the parade to begin this Memorial Day. The roads entering town were closed to traffic Children sat on the curb eager for the fun to start. Their parents lined the sidewalks in folding chairs, chatting with their neighbors. We were all staring down the main street in anticipation. But it was hard to wait, even for the dog who came along for the event. He sighed and finally laid down. We heard some preparatory notes from a trumpet. Then, at last, the parade started.

There was the town marching band, lots of fire trucks and rescue vehicles, girl scout and boy scout troops tossing candy to the kids at the curb. We clapped for the veterans, the local politicians, and the Farm Fair Queen. Mother Nature lent a hand for the parade with beautiful weather. It was warm and sunny, perfect conditions that added to the joy of the day. The dog seemed to sense the excitement, too. He walked back and forth, accepting petting from the viewers as if he were a prominent part of the festivities.

The weather was as important as the participants to the spirit of the parade. Weather conditions affect our attitudes and influence our mood. Fortunately, sunny weather tends to bring out the friendliness in us so it was no surprise that I could talk to the woman next to me even though I didn’t know who she was, and I was handed a red and white carnation from a young woman who was walking by. The crowd was upbeat, reflecting the energy of the weather.  

The display of vintage cars brought back eras of old, with their shiny tail fins and oo-gah horns. What fun it all was. Too soon the parade was over and the streets turned back into ordinary thoroughfares again. The dog, wagging his tail happily, came over for a goodbye pat before we all went on our way.

I was feeling wonderful as I walked back to our car. What a day. Not a cloud in the sky hinted of rain. Perhaps if we know how weather affects us, we can be prepared for the sway it has on us. And make the most of a sunny day. 

This link is technically for kids but it has so much weather information, I couldn’t resist sharing it:
How does a sunny day affect us?:
And what about other weather patterns?:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Happy Osprey Day!

Happy Osprey Day!

On Mother’s Day, we took a trip to the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey. This is the kind of gift I love, to be out in natural settings, observing animals and birds in their native habitats.

One particular thing I observed that day was the scattering of osprey nests through the refuge. In the wild, the male osprey gathers the makings of the outside of the nest - twigs, sticks and branches - and the female lines it with grass, sod, vines, and sometimes found materials. They like to build their nests in open spaces, usually near a water source as they tend to eat fish exclusively, leading to their description as fish hawks. The problem is that ospreys may build nests on man-made structures such as telephone poles, utility poles, buildings, and other open spaces, which can pose a hazard for the birds. This was not the only hazard. Ospreys became endangered as a result of DDT spraying, before the chemical was banned in 1972. They have recently been rebounding, partly due to the support of wildlife and conservation organizations. They often construct platforms for ospreys to nest on, in protected areas out of harm’s way.

This day, we saw lots of ospreys perching alongside the nests. I wondered if they were the males or females as both tend to the nestlings. On this special day, I chose to imagine they were the mother birds, watching over their babies. Mothers, regardless of category, have much in common. I sent them silent messages of appreciation and understanding; raising youngsters is an all-consuming job (Can you see the baby in the nest?). I was glad that the adults were being cared for, too, by the wildlife conservation community. We need to support each other. It is cause for celebration when we can say that a species is reclaiming its right to exist.

Happy Osprey Day!

Get a feeling about ospreys:

Lots of photos of ospreys at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge:


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Lilac Presence

The Lilac Presence

Purple is a color that cannot be ignored. At least not in nature. I see purple tulips in people’s yards, purple buds on flowering plum trees, purple outlining pansies. It is a dramatic color. And nothing is more dramatic in my Spring garden than the lilac bush. It insists I pay attention to it. It has an intense presence that calls me to come and admire it. And admire it I do, knowing that this will only last two to three weeks before the blossoms fall and all I will see will be green leaves.

But lilacs are just as famous for their scent as their color. The early buds are tight, withholding their smell until the flowers open. Then they release their heady fragrance, filling the air like the perfume sprayers at department stores. It is an imitated scent in perfumes, candles, oils.

Yet, as with most things, lilacs vary. The deep purple is only one of its shades. They can be lighter purple, pinkish, sky blue, sometimes yellow or white. And the scent varies depending upon the stage of blossoming, the time of day, and the kind of lilac; there are dozens of varieties that can smell sweet or spicy, cloying or calming. The lilac is a harbinger of Spring and also symbolizes first love.

It isn’t necessary to analyze the lilac to value it though. Each type can be appreciated for its own individuality. It kind of reminds me of babies; they all belong to a specific category, that of baby, but each one immediately exhibits its own personality, preferences, and energy, and every child has a presence from the moment of her/his birth. I find it refreshing that no two of anything is exactly alike – not people, not birds, not animals, not flowers, not even lilacs.

What to know if you want to plant lilacs:

And more about lilacs:

Monday, April 28, 2014

Our Tiny Farm

Our Tiny Farm 

We just put up a really basic greenhouse in our side yard. It came with a PVC covering, which we refuse to use because we are planning to plant edibles inside. So we spent way more time than we expected enclosing it with screening. It will permit the plants, when we get around to planting them, to have sun and rain and they can be easily watered when necessary. This is all being done to keep out the squirrels and rabbits who have plenty of greens to eat elsewhere in the backyard.

We will be planting tomatoes again. Last year I wrapped each tomato individually with mesh so we actually had some to eat. This should be easier. I’m thinking of peas and carrots and lettuce, maybe spinach, too. It’s all organic – the soil, seeds, plants, and feed. I don’t say it’s cheaper than buying it in the market but picking your own food is extremely satisfying and the just-picked taste is incredible. I won’t be putting any farmers out of business with the small scale of this garden but I do enjoy the idea of growing, at least some, of my own produce.

New Jersey is known as the Garden State. We used to have the most acres of productive land with two-thirds of the state being farmland. Now, we are the most densely populated state in the U.S. but the name remains.

But we should never forget that farms mean food. Industrial agriculture and biofuels work against that focus. Fortunately, there is a movement toward creating farmland trusts. My town is 90% built up but the township bought the last farm to keep the heritage alive. We lost a lot of farmland during the housing boom. Now we have a Green Acres program that helps to keep land undeveloped and agreements to keep farmland as working farms when sold. And there is a new understanding of what pesticides can do, to our food, our water, and our land. Small organic family farms are becoming more popular, as is the emphasis on local crops.

I don’t claim that my tiny patch of peas will make a difference in the larger farming picture but it does help me to appreciate those who are trying to keep our lands pure and our food healthy. And I will be sure that the wild strawberries, clover, and grass that the squirrels and rabbits eat are safe and healthy, too.

Here’s a history of New Jersey’s farm development:

Some states are having problems: