Thursday, March 31, 2011

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

This posting is illustrated with photographs from my 2010 kitchen garden
Like many of you, my dear gardening friends, I try to "contribute to a greener world" through sustainable gardening practices: I make compost, limit chemical pesticides and fertilizers, encourage pest predators, collect rain water, reduce the lawn area, remove invasive plants (a never-ending battle with multiflora), and attempt to restore native plant communities. In honor of last year's Earth Day, I wrote about each of these practices in a posting I called, "What is Sustainable Gardening?" You can read it here. In her inspiring book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, Barbara Kingsolver takes sustainability to another level. 
Barbara Kingsolver, her husband and two children moved from Arizona to a Virginia farm in the Appalachian mountains near her childhood home. They vowed to buy food grown locally, grow it themselves, or do without ...
"This is the story of a year in which we made every attempt to feed ourselves animals and vegetables whose provenance we really knew ... and of how our family was changed by our first year of deliberately eating food produced from the same place where we worked, went to school, loved our neighbors, drank the water, and breathed the air." Barbara Kingsolver
Before World War II, most of us ate seasonal, local foods all year round. In winter, we ate the foods we had preserved. Now, we buy our foods at the supermarket, and we are accustomed to purchasing produce out of season. By the time foods arrive on the supermarket shelves, therefore, we have used an enormous amount of fossil fuels -- in growing, transporting, refrigerating, milling, and processing. We take for granted that no community sustains itself locally any more.

This easy-to-read book is a family project with contributions by Kingsolver's husband and their college-student daughter. Their third-grader, while not contributing to the book, takes full part in the project by selling eggs and poultry.

The book, written with great humor, is not a "how-to", it is not preachy, but it inspires me to be more mindful of my carbon footprint by eating locally grown foods that are in season, and by supporting local farmers. I am planning my vegetable garden with a different goal this year. H.H. is researching what our local farmers and butchers grow and supply, and we plan on visiting the local farmers' markets regularly this summer. I am hoping to increase the amount of produce I preserve for winter consumption. While I know we will not reach Kingsolver's level of sustainability, I am encouraged by her husband's comment,
"If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country's oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. That's not gallons, but barrels. Small changes in buying habits can make big differences. Becoming a less energy-dependent nation may just need to start with a good breakfast. Steven L. Hopp
This family are wonderful gardeners, farmers, and cooks, and I learned a lot. (Who knew how butterball turkeys reproduce?) There are some great recipes at the end of each chapter. I could say much, much more about this book; I don't feel I am doing it justice here, but maybe some of you will be encouraged to read it for yourselves. See below for your chance to win a copy.

This posting is my entry for the 2nd Annual Gardeners' Sustainable Living Project, hosted by Jan at Thanks For Today in honor of Earth Day, April 22, 2011.   **Leave a comment on Jan's sustainable living blog here for a chance to win this book -- I am happy to donate a copy.**  Also, you can click on the icon in my sidebar for more information.

It was fun looking back at last years veggie garden pictures ... I am looking forward to starting my new garden soon. Thanks again for all your good wishes. I continue to heal and will be ready to start planting -- if ever this snow goes away. There is a monster storm forecast for tonight.

Pamela x

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Friday, March 25, 2011

A Letter of Thanks To You, Dear Friends

I would like to begin this posting with a note of thanks:
Dear Friends,
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your prayers and best wishes! I came through cardiac surgery with flying colors, and I'm now at home resting. I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of good wishes in your comments on my last posting. Your kindness and caring mean so much to me. Gardeners and garden bloggers are the best!
  Pamela xx                          

When I walked into my kitchen on my return, there were beautiful tulips and daffodils on the island, put there by my husband and his sister. There is nothing more cheery than vases of spring blooms. It was lovely to be home!
I was happy to see crocuses blooming in my garden. (I took the crocus pictures shown above and here, before I left.)

Also, before I left, the tiny chipmunk who lives under the back porch made an appearance. I think my grandsons named this one Theodore. I was not sad to see Theodore, as in the past he was more entertaining than destructive. But I don't feel that way about the enormous groundhog that trotted across the yard the same day. I screamed, and he scurried down Bluebell Creek and out of sight, before I could take his picture. Groundhogs are the most destructive creatures in my garden. I just hope this is not going to be a bad year for my vegetables.

The first chipmunk appeared March 12. I saw a groundhog that day, too.
H.H. says he saw rabbit tracks in the snow this morning. Maybe they nibbled the tops off these crocus leaves ...
 Something nibbled the crocus leaves (photo taken 3/14)
Yes, I said rabbit prints IN THE SNOW. Heavy rain made all the snow disappear last week, and we were dealing with mud, but with the hope of some springlike weather. This week it is a very different story ...
What happened to spring?
The patio and fish pond.
Tractor shed, potting shed, and kitchen garden.
The walnut grove where H.H. saw the rabbit tracks.
I guess it's going to be a while before flowers replace snow in the bicycle's baskets!
Temperatures are 20 degrees below normal. Perhaps the snow and severe cold are Nature's way of telling me I can't garden right now, but must rest.

As I rest, I am reading a great book ...

 ... Barbara Kingsolver gives a convincing argument for eating locally-grown produce. This topic may be the focus of my entry for the 2nd Annual Gardeners' Sustainable Living Project, hosted by Jan at Thanks For Today. This fun project runs from March 15 to April 15, 2011. Click on the icon in my sidebar to find out more about this wonderful event in honor of Earth Day. I hope to see your posting there!

Thank you again, dear friends.
Pamela xx

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Phenology: My New Favorite Science

Can you see the Red-winged Blackbird in the white birch tree?
I am so excited; my blog has a new purpose! The data that I collect and record here will be used for the Eastern Pennsylvania Phenology Project. I will be helping to advance an important scientific project in the state by recording and reporting observations such as first sightings of birds and animals, first leaf or flower buds, first flowers, first singing, etc., and sharing photographs. So what is phenology? According to Diane Husic, Audubon TogetherGreen Fellow, phenology is,
"The observation of seasonal changes including the blooming of flowers, the appearance of migratory birds, the hatching of insects, and animals coming out of hibernation."
(Well, isn't that what garden bloggers do?) Diane explains why phenology is important,
"Phenological events are very sensitive to changes in our environment including climate change. By monitoring key species, we can observe the impact that environmental change has on our natural resources."
Wow! And I am now part of this important project! I know that anyone in Eastern PA can help, but I am thrilled that Diane thinks my blog has important data embedded in it. Now, when I take a morning walk around my gardens, I observe with new eyes.

I am happy to report that this week, a flock of red-winged blackbirds arrived. They did not move close enough for a really good picture (the one above is the best I could do.) There were at least a dozen of them, all males. The males, identified by the red and yellow wing bars called epaulets, return before the females. This flock settled in the walnut trees, on the edge of the upper field, and stayed there for several hours.
You can just see silouettes of Red-winged Blackbirds in the walnut grove.
A flock of robins visited every day this week. They spent time foraging where the snow melted at the edge of the pasture. I recorded my first sighting of them here.

American Robins at the edge of my horse's pasture. 
Most of the avian activity is around the bird feeder and the heated water dish. Large numbers of  dark-eyed juncos are still evident, with titmice, nuthatches, and cardinals.

Dark-eyed Junco
And what is this bird with such pretty feathers? ...

It is a house finch. The house finch stays around all winter, but this is the first I've seen this year.
House Finch
The gray squirrels are active, spending time under the feeder waiting for the seeds to drop as the birds scatter them. I have not yet seen a red squirrel this year, and the chipmunks haven't made their early-spring appearance. I smelled skunk, so I guess skunks are out and about, now.
This gray squirrel is an opportunist, waiting for the bird seed to fall his way.
My faithful friends, the cardinal couple, continue to visit the feeder daily and scratch around under it.
Female Cardinal on the roof of the bird feeder - looking for hubby?
Male Cardinal
The Northern flicker came to the heated water dish back in January. I haven't seen him since.

Northern Flicker on January 22, 2011.
The male Northern Flicker has a black moustache.
The flicker is a woodpecker. Other woodpeckers like the suet H.H. puts out for them. The downy woodpecker below was rather disconcerted to find that it was all gone. He hung around all day until H.H. returned from work and refilled the container.
Downy Woodpecker waits for suet to appear.
One of the joys of springtime is listening to birdsong. There is some to be heard each morning now. Increasing daylight triggers spring activity in many animals through a process known as photoperiodism. Sunlight entering the eye triggers glands to release hormones, setting the stage for the spring mating ritual. I found this piece of interesting information here. The blue jays are becoming vocal these days, and I've heard wrens and sparrows chirping quite enthusiastically ... not exactly a full dawn chorus, but very welcome.

Song Sparrow
On yesterday's walk through my gardens I found a few more buds, leaf-bursts, and shoots:
Blueberry Vaccinium angustifolium
Honeysuckle Lonicera
English bluebell Hyacinthoides - non-scripta
Stonecrop Sedum 'Dragon's Blood'
Rhubarb in the Kitchen Garden
The Eastern PA Phenology Project has a list of species of particular interest to its goals. I hope to put more information about the Project in my sidebar soon. The Project partners are Audubon TogetherGreen Fellows Program, Lehigh Gap Nature Center, Moravian College, PA State Parks (eastern region), PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Lehigh Valley Audubon Society, Wildlands Conservancy, and ME! If you live in Eastern PA and you are interested in participating, let me know. There is a blog, Eastern Pennsylvania Phenology, about the project in my blogroll, and a website is coming soon.

This posting is probably my (early) entry for March Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, as I am returning to the hospital for cardiac surgery again next week. Don't forget to write your GBBD post on the 15th, and visit Carol's blog, May Dreams Gardens, to see what is blooming around the world this month.

Your friend in gardening,
Pamela x

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Chaste Snowdrop; Welcome as a Friend

I like to read some of my favorite blogs before I begin the daily chores.  Lately, when I head over to Blotanical, I find a plethora of spring blooms: There are crocuses at Holley Garden and at The Garden Roof Coop. Hellebores are a delight in Carolyn's Shade Garden; and Bloomingwriter is dreaming of daffodils. Muscari Musings displays a planter of pretty primroses and other spring blooms. Always Growing gives center stage to a stunning daffodil. There were daffodils at Green and Serene last week and fuschia 'ballerinas' in a pot there, now. Thanks For Today brought forsythia inside to bloom and expresses what we are all feeling, "Winter I am so over you."

I peered anxiously through the window to see if I could spot anything blooming in the areas where the snow had melted. I saw something green and white in the shade garden under the old cedar tree. Although it was very cold, I had to go out to investigate. I am so glad I did, because at last there is something worthwhile to photograph ...

Exploring further I found hellebore buds ...

Most of my gardens are still under snow and ice, but I searched and found daffodil shoots ....

... and some of my sweet crocuses are making an appearance. 

Only a gardener can understand my excitement at these discoveries. The deer I spotted inside the entrance to the Woodland Walk was not impressed. Can you see her lying on a carpet of pine needles to the right of the arbor?

Back indoors, I watered the miniature daffodils I had planted in a teapot. H.H. bought them for me last week, and I so enjoyed transplanting them out of their little plastic pot. Having potting soil under my finger nails again was such a joy.

There are still lots of buds to open on this sunshiny plant ...

 The title of this posting is taken from William Wordsworth's poem To A Snowdrop written in 1819. I love it, but the last line gives pause for thought. This winter wasn't 'fleeting' though, was it?
 LONE Flower, hemmed in with snows and white as they 

But hardier far, once more I see thee bend

Thy forehead, as if fearful to offend,

Like an unbidden guest. Though day by day, 

Storms, sallying from the mountain-tops, waylay 

The rising sun, and on the plains descend; 

Yet art thou welcome, welcome as a friend 

Whose zeal outruns his promise! Blue-eyed May 

Shall soon behold this border thickly set 

With bright jonquils, their odours lavishing 
On the soft west-wind and his frolic peers; 

Nor will I then thy modest grace forget, 

Chaste Snowdrop, venturous harbinger of Spring, 

And pensive monitor of fleeting years! 

Thank you, gardening friends, for the immense joy your blogs give me!
Pamela x

A gift from my sister-in-law

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