Monday, April 30, 2012

Potatoes Ready for Planting

Potatoes Ready for Planting

I am a sucker for plants that start growing on their own. Last spring it was a sweet potato, this season it is a white potato, three actually. They started sprouting in my pantry. They were forgotten in the dark and by the time I noticed them they had more than eyes. I put them in some water and they grew shoots and some roots. I transferred them to soil in a flowerpot and waited to see if they would continue to grow. They did. Green leaves unfurled. The stems began reaching for the sun. I turned the pot and the stems shifted direction. It seemed that they couldn’t wait to get outside so when the weather warmed without the threat of frost, we planted them in our side yard. They are continuing to stretch out and grow.

The other day our neighbor’s daughter asked if she can have some of our tomatoes again this year and have we planted them yet because she can hardly wait. She said they were better than any tomatoes she had ever eaten. I think her enthusiasm is partly because she saw them growing. But she was right about the taste – those tomatoes were great. I am hoping that the potatoes will be as satisfying; we’ll be happy to share.

I, obviously, am not a serious farmer but I can understand the passion of those who are. Growing food creates a relationship that nurtures both sides. I feed the potatoes so they will grow healthy and hearty and they return the favor when they develop to their potential. The process is a wonder to me. Grow, potatoes. Thrive in the garden. You will be appreciated when harvest time arrives.

I love this! There’s more than one way to plant a potato:

Monday, April 23, 2012

Azaleas are Blooming Now

Azaleas are Blooming Now

Azaleas are blooming now where I live, adding bursts of color that enliven neighborhood gardens. There are three azalea bushes in front of my house. One is huge, full of magnificent peachy-pink flowers. The middle bush is almost as beautiful though slightly smaller. They are both growing and thriving. The last bush, though, the one closest to the door, doesn’t do well. We planted it there to replace one that died previously. This one seems to be headed for the same fate. What could be causing two bushes to flourish and one to shrivel? They have the same soil (marl, so not very good though we did add topsoil when they were planted). The sad one does not get as much sun as the others as the house shadows it in the afternoon but azaleas like diffuse sunlight and gentle shade. We water them equally.  Last year I pruned all three and two out of three came back with even more flowers than ever.

I needed info and, hopefully, answers so I went online and found some sites that helped me know more about the plants I so love.

The University of Missouri Extension website gave me a clue. It said that azaleas should be protected from the wind and that houses make good barriers. These bushes are right in front of the house so that should be helpful except…we have noticed over the years that during a snowstorm the snow is blown in swirls in the front, up against the garage. We end up with drifts not far from where the distressed bush is planted. Maybe that is the reason for the azalea’s trouble – wind damage!

We’ll have to rethink the planting site. Perhaps the poor plant can be saved if we move it to a different part of our yard. Meanwhile, it’s good to know that we may have found the cause and it will alert us to what to be aware of in the future. This situation reminds me that all living things need nurturing according to individual needs. I hope I do a better job of it for the azaleas now.

Lots more information and some great photos:
And in answer to your questions:

Monday, April 16, 2012

Pug-noses - for Maple Trees and Fun

Pug-noses - for Maple Trees and Fun

All my friends called the maple tree seeds pug-noses when I was growing up in Brooklyn. We would open the sticky pod and affix it to our nose. Sometimes we would grab a handful of seeds and toss them into the air creating a pug-nose storm. We’d watch the pug-nose wings spin and flutter to the ground. Then we’d do it again. We would usually end up twirling around ourselves in our pug-nose imitations until we were too dizzy to stand. It was lots of fun.

But that was then. Before having grown up with a lawn to care for. Now pug-nose storms precede an abundance of new maple trees. If we leave them to grow we will have a forest in no time. Maples grow fast and I find seedlings in the most improbable places: poking out from cement seams on our driveway, in the flowerpots on the patio, up in the gutters, and, of course, everywhere in the lawn. We have several maple trees that planted themselves in the backyard and are now full grown. What used to be a gently shaded garden has turned into a deeply shaded one, which requires new shade-loving plants.

Still, the pug-noses backlit by the sun are beautiful. It is easy to appreciate their form and numbers while they remain on the tree though some have already fallen, blown by the windy spring days in their own flights of freedom. No doubt roots will start to spread any day now and I will find myself getting exercise as I bend down and try to manage their spread.

I have to admit, though, that I probably will end up reverting to my younger days when these pug-noses whirl down. If the neighbor’s children come outside and ask me what I’m doing, I’ll show them how to open the pods to stick on their noses and how to make a pug-nose storm and we can twirl around together.

Want to know about the variety of maple trees?

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Redbud Tree is All Heart(s)

The Redbud Tree is All Heart(s)

The ornamental Redbud tree is a delight to see. At every stage it draws you in to appreciate its color, flowers, and leaves. The flowers are now an attention-getting purply pink that last for weeks. The leaves, when they appear, start out as maroon, turn deep green, and eventually yellow. And you have to love the shape of the leaves – they look like hearts!

It is an understory tree, which means that it thrives under the canopy of taller trees, usually growing between twenty and thirty feet. Yet it is adaptable. It can grow out in the open and pretty much in any soil (even clay, hooray!) though it does prefer some drainage.

The Redbud is an early blossoming tree and stands out against the slower developing trees. The fruit hangs in pods like peas and is edible. The flowers can be used in salads. Native peoples used the bark to make a medicinal tea to treat fevers and congestion like whooping cough.

Quite a multi-purpose tree. It nurtures in a variety of ways. Did I mention that bees are attracted to its pollen and that hummingbirds like its nectar? Without a doubt, this is a tree that deserves to be valued. Whenever I look in my backyard and see the spring Redbud, I can feel my spirit expand. And all summer long its heart-shaped leaves will remind me to keep looking for the spirit in all life forms.

About the Redbud:

Pictorial details:

Monday, April 2, 2012

Bird Seed Experiment

Bird Seed Experiment

Last week I wrote about Starlings. One of the links suggested discouraging them from the feeders by using safflower seed instead of sunflower seed. It said that the other birds would love the safflower seeds but all the blackbirds – starlings, grackles, and redwing blackbirds – would leave it alone.

As the blackbirds, grackles in particular, were eating most of the seed, I decided an experiment was in order. So I bought some safflower seed. These seeds looked different, a stark white instead of black. We filled two of the feeders with it and left the sunflower seeds in the other feeders until they ran out. Each time we passed the kitchen window we peeked out to see who was munching on what.

At first it seemed that the information was correct; the grackles munched on the sunflower seeds and left the safflower seeds alone. The cardinals shifted back and forth between feeders, as did the finches. Then the sunflower seed ran out. The blackbirds were not happy. They hopped over to taste the new seed and left, disgusted. The other birds were testing it out, too. They seemed to prefer the original meal but most came back. It didn’t seem to bother the tufted titmouse, or the chickadee. We even saw a woodpecker munching away. The flocks of blackbirds that sweep in and decimate the feeders were not present. A lone grackle would show up and soon leave. The experiment was working! And then…

There it was. A grackle was eating the new seed! I thought it would leave once it realized this was not the delicious sunflower seed it was used to finding. It didn’t. The bird took another seed, and another. It didn’t seem upset at all. Now comes the question – Was this an aberration or an adaptation? Would this lone bird alert its flock that the change on the menu was okay? Were we participating in an evolutionary shift?

It’s too early to tell where this will end. All I know is if the blackbirds will eat both kinds of seeds, the sunflower seeds cost less. To be continued…