Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Two good things

  • Being first to stick a spoon in a new jar of peanut butter.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Douglas Dresch

You were my friend.

Imagine a whole bunch of words here
twenty years of laughter, tears,
anger, joy, words shouted, songs sung.

Imagine a very large hollow place
where your energy once
occupied the earth and filled
corners now left empty.

Imagine me imagining all that
and wondering how shattering the weeping
when suddenness and shock depart
and leaves life alone here.

Rest in Peace good buddy.


Last week, to anyone who would listen or who was trapped by circumstances and forced to listen, I issued my usual smug assertion about how "I have been driving on snow and ice for umpty-ump years and have never had a problem..."

Several decades ago I lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming and it was there I turned 16 during a January blizzard. My uncles Bill and L.C., themselves just kids in their 30's, took me out and showed me the ropes about driving on snow and ice. In Cheyenne in January, there really isn't any other choice.

My lessons were basically two:
1. Drive slow, even especially when it seems like everyone else is moving along at the speed limit.
2. Keep your foot off the brake. If you must use it to stop, tap tap tap, never mash the brake on snow and ice.

In case of skid or slide, turn the wheel toward the slide. Uh huh.

There were other things they taught me as well, eyes must always be moving; rear-view mirror, side mirrors, side of the road, ahead and behind - always know what is around you and where it is. Driving the way they taught me earned a lifetime of no accidents, no tickets, no squishing of small animals. And I really felt I knew my way around ice and snow and the road.

Until now. In my own driveway. I apologize for my arrogance and thank you for not saying whatever it is you're thinking, for even after the snow melts, I will need a tow truck to get me out. Lesson learned.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Marilyn Eylar

Mrs. Eylar,

I waited 45 years too long to tell you. For that I am profoundly sorry for it may be too late.

You were the best teacher I ever had.

You never let us get away with doing things the easy way. You forced us to think, you brooked no nonsense, you graded hard.

You made school worth it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Okay, so aphids aren't the greatest things to have around. They are tiny, soft-bodied insects that come in a variety of colors (the little bugs on the right in the picture). Aphids are most often seen in their wingless form, less than 1/8" long and in middle to large-size groups which generally contain eggs, nymphs, winged and wingless adults - all of which are female. The first time they reproduce, they do so without a male, which is why they seem to break out in such huge numbers all over your plants. The longer they are allowed to remain, the more quickly they will completely overcome the plant until it seems to teem with them as though it had a second skin.

In the picture above, the orange and blue pupae, or larva, on the left is actually a ladybug pupae which is about to consume large quantities of aphids, their eggs and nymphs.

Here is a picture of a ladybug larvae as it might appear to you in your own garden. Remember that the colors can range anywhere from light yellow and purple to deep orange and blue or any combination thereof. You don't want to inadvertently squish one of these - they destroy massive amounts of aphids. Spiders also consume large quantities of aphids.

It is fairly easy to get rid of aphids if they are caught early. I simply run my fingers up and down the stems and over the leaves where I find them, taking care that I don't destroy any beneficial insects while I'm doing it. Aphids are easily dislodged with a spray of water, but I don't use this method until it is quite warm outside because I always end up soaking wet myself! I have noticed over the years that aphids tend to confine themselves to one vertical area on a plant when first starting out. Therefore, when I see aphids in early spring, I look below and above the branch and usually find more hiding out. There are plants like nasturtiums and marigolds (and many others) that seem to attract aphids and people plant them for that purpose. Using the hand removal method, an occasional spray of water, and the cooperation of a multitude of beneficial insects will keep the aphid population pretty well under control. There will always be a few hanging around, but they will do minimal damage, especially compared to the damage that might be done if pesticides were used instead of organic methods.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Made in America - Boston Pencil Sharpener

Here it is, my trusty Boston pencil sharpener. I have had this sharpener for several years and it is still working as well as it did the first day I got it.

More and more I find myself using pencils instead of pens. They are inexpensive, easy to erase, and I like the way they feel in my hand.

There is another benefit I hadn't given thought to until just now. The aroma of pencil shavings brings me back ever briefly to my school days - a time I loved.

(Gardeners learn to enjoy the simple things and to appreciate the fleeting moments perhaps more than those who do not dig and hoe, water and weed, fertilize and tend to - all for that glorious moment when a tiny seed punches its way through the crust of earth, reaching for the sun)

"Made in USA"

We need to get our country back to where this is the most familiar sign on the bottom of, well, everything!

That is the road to prosperity and pride for ourselves and our families, and while there can be no guarantees for anyone, American factories producing American goods can go a long way toward making this country whole again.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Don't Clean Up Your Garden!

As winter starts to chill the garden, we are tempted to get outside, tear out the dead and dying plants, clear away debris, have everything be neat and tidy. It may look better that way, but in nature, that is not the way things are handled. Nature knows best how to handle its cycles and she can teach us if we will watch and listen.

The pods left behind from our winter flowers and vegetables provide food and shelter for birds and insects over the long winter months. The debris of a dead plant may shelter the tender shoots when that plant reseeds itself in spring.

We are unseasonably warm here in the Northwest and many plants are still blooming, though some foliage may have been burned away by early frost. This picture shows a few dead leaves and some flowers and seedpods. We have had one heavy frost in my region and it withered several leaves. I may cut the leaves for the compost pile or simply let them alone to decompose where they are. I will definitely leave the seedpods to ripen and burst. Not only will they provide food for birds, there will always be enough seeds that escape into the soil to grow again next year. All the nasturtiums in my garden are volunteers. The tender young flowers can be eaten in salads and the bees love them too.

This picture shows a tangle of Blue Flax. The flowers are gone now, but the plants are laden with seedpods. Those are the round, brown objects scattered all over the plant. Blue Flax easily reseeds itself, but is not a problem to control. I love the flowers, they are small and bright blue and cover the plants from spring until late fall. Each flower only lasts one day, but there are so many, it seems in perpetual bloom. To tear out this plant simply because it has finished its seasonal bloom would, in my opinion, be foolish. Again, more seeds for the birds and insects, plus I will never have to purchase another Blue Flax, and the plant will provide years of joy in the garden.

Here is a part of the garden that is completely given over to wildflowers, herbs, and even a few weeds. You can see that some of them have gone completely to seed. During the spring and all through summer, this part of the garden is especially ahum with bees. That is the primary reason I planted it. I even allow some dandelions and other *weeds* to grow and I control them by pulling them out when they go where I don't want them. Dandelions are early bloomers and early bee flowers. If you are lucky enough to have skunk cabbage on your land, this is one of the earliest bloomers of all and therefore, a very early bee feeder. Allysum is an absolute necessity in any garden. It blooms early, attracting bumblebees and other beneficial insects, stays blooming pretty much all year especially if you trim it midway through the season, and has a wonderful light scent. Here's a picture of some Allysum that is still blooming although most of it has gone to seed.

I will leave all these plants, and more, to provide sustenance and shelter through the winter to the birds and beneficial insects that I want to have around come spring. Just like any other living thing, they go where the food is.

A true organic garden takes a lot of work and maybe a few years to really get going, particularly if damage has already been done to the ecosystem by the use of pesticides and/or herbicides. Pesticides and herbicides always kill more than advertised and always stay in the soil longer than their manufacturers would like you to believe. The use of pesticides in the garden to control *bad insects* has very much the same result as the overuse of antibiotics. What we have now are super bugs, not only in medicine, but also in our gardens, that are almost impossible to control. The pesticides wipe out beneficial insects AND BIRDS, allowing the unwanted insects to proliferate and grow stronger, developing immune systems that require more and larger applications of pesticides. We are seeing the results of pesticide use all over the world- the oceans and all streams on earth are polluted. Every man, woman, and child has poisons in their blood. This has to stop now - we face a devastating future if it does not. Start now to share your garden with other life, even if it looks like this:

This is a Rove Beetle. They are very tiny and can best be distinguished by a habit of holding up their tails like scorpions. They do not sting - however, they do eat an unbelievable amount of aphids, mites, nematodes, fly eggs, and maggots (which might explain why they like to hang around dead animals and decaying plant matter) and the occasional slug or snail. A person's first impulse might be to step on him. He's an ally, better to encourage him, not kill him.

I do very little cleanup in my garden in the fall, preferring to leave most plants to go to seed in order to provide food for birds and beneficial insects and also shelter from larger predators. I do remove plants like squash and tomatoes for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that they will generally leave the soil in better shape if they are removed when the plant dies with the frost. Over the winter, I will do virtually no weeding or culling. In the spring, when the first little sprouts stick their heads above soil, I still hold back a bit - maybe just remove some of the older, larger remnants of dead plants. I do not want to disturb the ground too much - who knows what is waiting there to push itself above the soil?

Friday, October 10, 2008

It's not a full moon

But the moon tonight is very bright and the stars are out. What brought me from my bed on this October night was the sound of owls. I step outside on my deck to listen and to see and all around me they call to one another, so high up in the trees, such a gentle sound.

Owls hooting, moonlight bright as day, stars across the sky. What is there about owls, insisting in the night that I come from my bed to hear them. It's as though they whisper to me then disappear, leaving me in wonder.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Nostalgia Cafe - Macaroni Tuna

A guaranteed crowd pleaser at dinner. Make a huge batch of this because they really stow it away.

To go with the Macaroni Tuna we often had a very simple salad of cut-up oranges and bananas. Cut the bananas first and then cut the oranges over the bowl so the juice drips on the bananas. When strawberries are in season, those are great in the mix too, but the old tried and true "salad" that I remember from my own childhood contained only bananas and oranges, no sugar, no syrup, nothing but fresh ripe fruit.

1 Cup dry elbow macaroni
1/4 cup bottled Italian salad dressing
1 teaspoon celery seed
3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
ground pepper to taste
salt to taste
7-ounce can tuna, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
3 Tablespoons mayonnaise

Bring 1 quart of water to boil and cook macaroni just until tender - about 8 minutes. Drain and rinse.

Combine salad dressing and seasonings in a skillet and heat to boiling. Add macaroni, tuna, celery, green pepper and toss. Continue to cook until heated through, remove from heat and stir in mayo. Makes 6 servings.

Of course there is no harm in playing around with the ingredients depending on what everyone likes!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ladybugs and their incarnations

Ladybugs are such voracious aphid eaters that many of us go to nurseries early in spring for the sole purpose of purchasing a container of these pretty little bugs for our gardens. Unfortunately, we often release them as soon as we arrive home, which is the absolute wrong tactic to use. What normally happens is they will flit around in your yard for awhile and next morning you will discover they have moved next door to your neighbor's yard.

Here is how to assure you keep the majority of your precious purchase in your own yard: When you get home from the nursery, put the container of ladybugs in your refrigerator and then go outside and water your garden thoroughly. Enjoy the day while you wait for dusk to release your ladybugs because ladybugs do not fly at night. That, combined with the water that you have supplied, will guarantee they stay in your yard. By evening they will be very thirsty. Release them in several areas of your garden, close to plants that aphids tend to like the most, but also tucked away a bit so that larger predators won't spot them. Next morning you will discover your ladybugs already at work throughout your garden, finding their mates and preparing to lay their eggs right in the middle of an aphid colony.

Speaking of larvae, if you see a creature resembling the blue and orange one in the picture, don't squish it! That is ladybug larva about to munch down on a lot of aphids. The larvae or pupae may look exactly like this or may have more or less orange or yellow or more or less black, blue or purple. It may be a little longish or more roundish, but it will be very similar to the picture. The larvae will consume vast quantities of aphids for several weeks before entering its pupa stage for about a week, after which it will emerge as a brand new ladybug! Brand new ladybugs often do not have spots for several days, so if you see a plain red or orange hardshell that could be a ladybug if only it had spots, it probably is!

This is a welcome sight in any garden. It is a ladybug egg cluster. Note that it is on the backside of a leaf and that the eggs are slightly elongated and stand on end. Be watchful as you go about your garden so if you spot eggs like these, you will remember their location and be careful not to dislodge them.

Remember, aphids are a ladybugs favorite food!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Jeff - Age 5

A little hand,
So soft and small,
To hang somewhere,
Upon the wall,
To watch the years,
Go flying by,
How I grow,
My hands and I.

Spiders and Their Incredible Webs

Spider webs are a work of art - magnificent engineering feats performed before our eyes by their determined creators. If a spider web is broken, it will be rebuilt within hours to exacting specifications. Spider webs in your garden should be celebrated, not vilified. Spiders are a first line of attack against the very creatures who would suck the life from your vegetables and flowers. Yet, look how they are maligned! Leave them alone and they will repay you many times over.

Spiders consume vast amount of aphids, flies, mosquitoes, earwigs, sow bugs, whiteflies, and any other insect foolish, or careless, enough to step into their web, including other spiders! Some spiders, such as daddy long legs do not build webs, but spend their days running around on the ground searching under leaves and sticks for their prey. One must be especially careful of daddy long legs, for contrary to popular belief, their legs do not grow back if removed and to cripple these gentle guardians of your garden is a great sadness. Please teach children to be kind to all living creatures.

Very few spiders are poisonous and those that are tend to be very shy. They do not seek out hands or feet to bite and will only bite when startled or unable to avoid contact. Poisonous spiders live in seclusion, preferring to be as far away from humans as possible. The one exception to that might be the hobo spider, which builds a sticky funnel-type nest on, or close to, the ground. Its nest does not in any way resemble the spider webs you see strung about your garden; however, there are other spiders that also build funnel nests so if you see that type of nest, it is most unlikely that it will belong to a hobo. In all my years of gardening, I have seen this spider only once. It is to be avoided as it can have a painful and debilitating bite, but panic is not the proper course to follow and please do not spray as these spiders most generally are taken care of by other predators in the garden and spraying almost always leads to an increase in the number of hobo spiders. Bear in mind that because a spider is big, it does not follow that it is a hobo spider, most likely it is totally harmless. Spiders tend to look very much alike, requiring an expert to actually determine what is or is not a hobo.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Basics - Brush Piles and Snags, Safety, Water

Snags are dead trees left standing. They can be cut or broken several feet from the ground if they pose a falling hazard, but if you are lucky enough to have one in your yard that can be left alone, it will soon be teeming with life. In the forest these snags will often be covered with moss or ferns and are visually appealing. It seems that snags are nature's way of telling us that nothing should be wasted. Every kind of woodpecker will be attracted to your snag, as well as bark-climbing birds from the tiny bushtit to the brown creeper. A snag is a good centerpiece for your brush pile. Often, people like to keep their yards and gardens free of debris, dead branches, leaves, weeds, etc., and that is fine up to a point. It is, however, advantageous to allow a small corner of the yard to "return to nature" as this will become a sanctuary for small ground-dwelling birds such as spotted towhees and juncos and the young of every variety of bird as it is often weeks before they have mastered the art of flying. During this time, they are particularly vulnerable to predators. Your place of refuge will also become home to daddy long-leg spiders, bumblebees, and other valuable ground dwellers that would not survive in an immaculate yard simply because they have nowhere to hide from bigger bugs, birds, cats, and dogs.

My brush pile consists of a snag (and I realize not everyone is lucky enough to have an intact dead tree in their yard!), surrounded by various weeds, a low pile of cut branches and bushes, and a few old pieces of lumber. I supplement this with low dishes, usually just discarded jar lids or cracked saucers, which I keep filled with water during the summer months. A water supply is invaluable to the small critters that will take up residence in your snag/brush pile.

In addition to the small containers of water placed around my garden, I always have some kind of water feature. I enjoy building these from scratch. They do not have to be expensive or time consuming to make. It can be something as simple as a large bowl turned into a birdbath or a whiskey barrel turned into something more elaborate.
Here is a temporary "fountain" I made one year while I built a more permanent one. As you can see, it is just a bowl, about two feet across with some shells and rocks and a very small pump to keep the water circulating. circulating water will not freeze and will provide a place for birds and bugs to drink through a long cold winter. This tiny fountain was visited by hummingbirds, robins, finches, bluejays, and an occasional raccoon, and by the time I finished a bigger water feature, I had already attracted a wide variety of creatures to my yard.

In the lower right you can see a fountain I built for a friend. It is a 3-foot tall piece of stone with a hole drilled through it vertically that allows water to be pumped up and over the lip. There is a small depression in the top of the stone that creates a pool. Hummingbirds visit this very tiny pool almost nonstop all summer long to bathe and drink water. It was really a complete surprise to have them take over the fountain this way, a surprise and an absolute delight!

And here is my current fountain. This is simply a barrel liner buried in a hole. It takes some work, but eventually it does get done. This fountain is a focal point for every kind of wildlife and provides very nice water sounds besides. The small pump was less than $30 and has been running continuously for five years, even through 10 degree winters.

All of this can be part of what helps maintain an organic garden by attracting beneficial insects, frogs, toads and lots of birds, and eliminating the poisons that have a devastating effect on not only "bad" bugs, but all life and Mother Earth herself.

Monday, June 23, 2008

When I was ten, Grandma handed me a pack of Nasturtium seeds

She pointed me to a patch of ground and set me free. I planted those seeds, watered them, and tried to sneak outdoors after dark to see if they were coming up. That was over 50 years ago and things haven't changed much. Even before robins start singing in early spring, my hands are itching to feel the soil, to plunder it for its richness and life, to plant a seed.

Over the years I have learned much about gardens, nurturing them and in turn nurturing all the wildlife that can and should abound in every garden. Everything contributes to the success of a garden. The sun and the rain we know about. Birds, snakes, frogs, lizards, toads, slugs and snails also have a place. And bugs.

Around 97% of all the bugs in our gardens are beneficial - that means either that they have as part of their diet other bugs or they are valuable as pollinators, or both. When we use pesticides, we kill the good bugs along with the bad. That of course wipes out a large part of our arsenal, but it also tends to produce a more militant strain of "bad bug." They develop immunities, become stronger and harder to kill. I will talk more about pesticides later on. I do not use them, never have.

All the pictures I use here are of my own gardens, past or present, none of which has ever seen the use of pesticides or herbicides. Occasionally I have had to start from scratch in a garden, undoing damage that years of pesticides have caused. The soil is often barren of earthworms, beetles, spiders - it's enough to make me cry! But even barren soil can be fixed - it just takes time and caring. If you have leftover pesticides or herbicides, there are places that will dispose of them. Here, in the Pacific NW, we have a very enlightened population and there's help on the web: http://1800recycle.wa.gov/

But what I'd like to do is start off by giving information about the basics of starting or maintaining an organic garden. There are certain rules that I adhere to, standards that include respecting the life that is already here, waiting to help you build a beautiful, nearly maintenance free, and certainly far less expensive garden, whether it be vegetables or flowers or a combination of both, which happens to be my personal favorite.

So tomorrow, The Basics.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Made in America - Homer Laughlin Saucer

This is a saucer I bought at a thrift store years ago - it came to my attention recently while rearranging cupboard things. There is nothing special about this saucer - it's heavy crockery that might have belonged to a roadside diner.

Wait - there is something special about it. It was made in America. Notice that unlike most of the stuff we bring in from abroad, it contains no lead.

I've decided to spotlight the occasional item I run across in my own home that was made in this great country - back before we were sold out to become part of "The Global Economy," which simply means a few people make a whole bunch of money while masses of middle class workers in America watch their jobs (and their hopes and dreams) go overseas.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Next President of The United States

A Little Bit of Love

They were so beautiful.
They didn't deserve
What they got.
They deserved a Love
So profound,
It would never
Let them down.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Nostalgia Cafe - Lazy Pie

This was my kids' favorite dessert maybe thirty years ago, mine too.

It's called Lazy Pie because it's so easy to make, but it's not the sort of thing you'll find in any of today's "healthy cooking" cookbooks.

Preheat oven to 350. Melt in a casserole dish 1/2 cup of butter.

Mix together:

1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup milk
1 tablespoon baking powder

Pour into melted butter and this is important: DO NOT STIR.

Add 2.5 cups cooked fruit (canned that means) I prefer peaches, but any fruit will work: Do NOT stir.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour (top should be golden).

It's done. LET IT COOL. I emphasize that because I am always tempted to dig in while it's still warm and then sorry when I do. This is one of those things that is so much better when it's cooled. Then if you want it warm, heat a slab in the microwave, drop a spoonful of hard vanilla ice cream on top and indulge yourself in wonderful.