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:

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.