Thursday, January 17, 2019

Nice to be included

My blog was included with a round-up of fifty gardening blogs to be included in their list  -- always nice to be recognized, whatever the site!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Taking advantage of the snow

There's not any gardening to do this time of year in Quebec, but there's botanizing to do.  Admiring the fir, spruce, and birch trees cloaked with snow makes the views from the windows remarkably different from summer.

view from where I'm sitting
Yesterday's skiing in the national park nearby was the topic of my post in Places of the Spirit.

We're about to head out again this morning.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Mild winter days

Posted in Places of the Spirit yesterday:

Today and yesterday were the perfect reminder of why winters in the Southeastern U.S. can be delightful, perhaps even more so in their changing climate iteration.  Frosty mornings gave way to clear, calm, sunny afternoons, with temperatures in the mid-50°F's.

We're expecting rain tomorrow and Friday, but for now, the bright mild winter days punctuate some of the colder weather we've had, which truly, is not very extreme as I track temperatures in Le Bic, Quebec, where we'll be heading in January.

A search for "mild winter days" brought up a number of posts, more than I thought it would, actually.

It was interesting to see how many were about overwintering and growing vegetables in winter.

My vegetable gardening (and gardening in general) has been quiet in our traveling times over the last year and a half or so. And oddly, I look at the remnants of the pocket meadow/pollinator border and think about doing the final clean-up (snow battered down its "winter interest") and think, well maybe tomorrow.

Juggling two different gardens now is an equal challenge -- fast growing winter greens from February to May? -- but wait, we'll be in Ireland from late April to mid-May) -  or do I just wait to plant my beds and boxes in Quebec in late May with leafy greens?  Probably the latter, including some early cool season transplants in my beds here in February.

The beds were ready in this photo from February 3, 2016.  That was one of our recent winters where dramatic cold snaps froze out everything, providing clear planting spaces....

ready to plant, February, 2016

The first post listed in my "mild winter days" search (based on relevance) was this one:

Gardening in winter  (Natural Gardening, November 20, 2010)

In a mild winter climate, there's not much excuse for retreating indoors at the first sign of gloom.

OK, I'm as susceptible as the next normal Southern U.S. gardener to whine when we have long dark rainy days for more than two days in a row.  Hmm, are we wimpy, or what?

But what our long seasons mean is that we can grow winter vegetables (some with a bit of protection) quite well, and that we can have winter interest in our gardens from berries, bark, seed heads, dried foliage, etc. that continue our gardening season through the winter and beyond.

I was reminded of this today by an excellent article by Piet Oudolf in Fine Gardening's regular e-mail.

In the long winter days in the Netherlands, he relies on many of our North American natives for winter interest in perennial borders.  He includes plants whose fruits, seedheads, or berries are interesting to look at throughout winter.  Totally wonderful.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Memories about past recipes

I'm doing almost all of my posts now on Places of the Spirit, as I'm not doing very much gardening at the moment, but thought I'd share this post here.

It's about remembering favorite recipes from the past.

This was one from my grandmother.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Snow in the forecast

It's interesting to contemplate our forecast of sleet, ice, and snow for late tomorrow and the next couple of days.  Here in the Southeastern U.S. -- snow and ice are big-time events, especially in early December.

But, we've been busy over the last weeks preparing for our January trek to Quebec:  winter tires, check; snow gear, check; new hybrid ski-shoes, check; car serviced and examined for winter trip, check.

So we feel more or less prepared for a winter storm.  Ha, my northern winter friends won't be impressed.  But, perhaps we'll be able to "practice" in the local school's parking lot, turning into skids, etc.

We've got lots of supplies (as is usual), I'm baking bread tonight, and I did a large roast chicken for dinner (lots of extra), and broth is being made in the Instant Pot.

Thankfully, we don't need to drive anywhere, can walk to the grocery, if needed, and if the power goes out, well, we're not that far from downtown, if there's power there.

And it will be cold enough outside for all of the refrigerator things to be fine and the freezer items would be OK, with a bit of supplemental ice, I think, too.

Maybe this is preparation for our January excursion to Quebec, too; we've been trying to "embrace the cold" as my gardening companion likes to say.

A gray day and sharing produce

Since I’ve largely been posting at Places of the Spirit, I thought I’d share this latest post here.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

A shell rembrance

A drawing based on a collected shell
In winter, I don't seem to have many gardening or nature posts at the moment.

My front-bed vegetable garden continues to provide herbs and a few greens, but I wasn't able to sow new greens this year to cover with my hoops and heavy "Remay" -- the quotes because I think I bought the generic version!  We returned too late in the fall to make sowing more greens a really viable option.

My hoops covered a wonderful spinach harvest two years ago, but that's not happening this year, alas.

What I've been writing about is reflections, drawings, and other things:  here was my latest post on Places of the Spirit.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Sharing vegetables and fruits

We had an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruits to share today at the YMCA's Healthy Living Mobile Pantry distribution.  It was at Southside's Edington Center, above the Southside Community Garden where I volunteered for over 3 years.

I've not gone back to volunteering in the garden there, returning from traveling, as I know that I'm a better teacher than farm hand, and with gimpy hands -- well, I'd rather write, draw, and do some gardening than use my hands for market gardening harvesting, as much fun and as rewarding as it was.

At the Y's Mobile Pantry distribution, what I love is encouraging people around vegetables and fruits.  It's such a wonderful way to connect folks with the abundance of food that we produce, often in excess.

Today, one of the items that we had to distribute were 3 lb. bags of perfect small Bartlett pears.  They came as part of a giant pallet of them -- some huge amount from an Eastern wholesale distributor through our local Manna Food Bank.

They weren't this brand (I've photo-shopped it out), but looked quite similar.

Pears are an interesting fruit: you normally buy Bartletts (and other varieties) green, and let them ripen.  Some people like them less ripe and a bit crunchy (apparently) or more ripe, and sweeter.

So they're a bit challenging for us fruit-buyers. 

I looked at the 3 lb. bag and thought, well,  I wouldn't have bought this many at a time, so no wonder the distributor and the packager is having trouble selling them to groceries.

They could be kept in the refrigerator and taken out a few at a time to ripen, I told the folks coming through.  These bags had clever packaging that wrote about ripeness in Bartletts, too.  We'll probably see more of this.  I'm thinking about buying more pears, too, if they're small like these!

We had so many other things too:  carrots, butternut squash, zucchini, yellow squash, apples, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, okra, lettuce, shredded cabbage, fresh berries, etc.  plus some cheddar and Brie, thanks to Trader Joe's.

Monday, December 3, 2018

A daily post reflection

My gardening and natural history reflections haven't taken center stage recently, as I've continued to do daily posts at Places of the Spirit.

It's an interesting practice to do a daily post;  I try to write something that I'd find interesting to read again, whether it's a reflection on nature, past travels, or a current experience.

Join me there, if you're so inclined.

My post today was about daily posting;  an ordinary post;  it's all about the practice of daily writing.

Southwest Ireland coast, fall 2015

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Holiday decorations

I have had so many posts here over the years about traveling during the holiday season, enjoying new experiences, and honoring the traditions of others around the holidays.

Here is what I was thinking about this evening.  On my new blog: Places of the Spirit.

Please come follow me there, as I share my thoughts (on a daily post commitment) or just drop by occasionally. Thanks for being part of the community.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Being grateful and practicing gratitude

I’m not always thankful enough.

But being thankful and counting blessings is fundamentally what Thanksgiving is about for me. It’s not been about family or friends, although they’ve been part of past Thanksgivings — but definitely about gratitude for what we have and where we are in the world.

I shared a post from nine years ago on my sister blog, Places of the Spirit, this afternoon.

This is the post I shared.

It's about being aware and noticing our blessings.  And I remember the folks who are no longer with us.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Another ginkgo post

I posted about ginkgos (again) on Places of the Spirit, so am linking that post here.
I've included links to many of the past posts about ginkgos that I've made on this blog over the years -- ginkgos are such great tree with a wonderful story.

Nov. 15,  2016
This year, the small tree in front is much yellower already, more like last year, although there are still ginkgos in the neighborhood that are completely green.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Wildlife in the garden

I'm currently revising and updating a favorite presentation (Gardening for Nature/Gardening for Wildlife/Creating a Garden that's Full of Life) for the Blue Ridge Eco-Gardener program at the NC Arboretum.  Their course satisfies a Wildlife and Garden credit for their certificate program. 

I've always focused on encouraging habitat and plant diversity (especially natives) in urban, suburban, and rural gardens (large or small), with the goal of restoring as much ecological balance in our landscapes in all of the versions of this presentation I've done over the decades.

But having a class with a more general title (Wildlife in the Garden) is giving me a fresh opportunity to reframe the benefits of ecological balance and diversity in our gardens, for a group of participants who live in a diversity of places in Western North Carolina.  Some live on mountain ridges, others in the urban landscapes in the Asheville Basin, and yet others in the open agricultural landscapes near Hendersonville -- with lots of other sorts of places, too.

The landscape that you start with is an essential part of the mix, of course.  What's around the property?  Is it forest?  How "natural?"  Is there farmland nearby?  New subdivision?  Old subdivision?   Is the landscape conventional tree and lawn?  What kinds of shrubs and trees?  Ornamental? Native?  What are your neighbors growing?  Are there sources of water?  etc.  These situations influence all sorts of things:  from the kinds of wildlife you may be able to enjoy watching in your landscape to the ones that you may wish to discourage!

Some of the most sterile landscapes I've ever seen are gardens full of ornamental plants that offer little in the way of food or habitat -- no flowers producing nectar, no native plants with leaves that provide food for a variety of wildlife, no shrubs with edible berries, etc. 

Not my kind of garden, nor one that satisfies any goal of doing anything more than producing some CO2 (it's still better than concrete and stone!)

A paper wasp nest
 Watching a Carolina Wren and a Tufted Titmouse forage for the larvae in this paper wasp nest on the porch roof this afternoon pleased me.  We don't bother active nests (unless they're next to a frequently used door) as the wasps do beneficial work in the garden -- and otherwise don't interfere with our activities.  (Yellowjackets are another story).

location of paper wasp nest

I believe strongly that we need to recreate and strengthen the ecological frameworks of our landscapes, communities, and neighborhoods to keep our cities and towns healthy and vibrant places for humans and wildlife.  I've been following habitat loss since I was a young plant ecologist, teaching classes on People and the Environment and doing research. 

I became an advocate of gardening with native plants and encouraging people to be gardeners as an antidote to just being gloomy about the state of the natural world;  it seemed more helpful to encourage people to plant a diversity of native plants and grow their own vegetables than to keep lamenting about loss of habitat.   Two Natural Gardening posts that came up doing a label search for "sustainability" were telling.  I've been thinking about these things for a long time.  Here was one on Sustainable Gardening and another on Gardening as Stewardship

I could just as easily have written them today.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

BearWise basics: co-existing peacefully with black bears.

I hadn't been aware until hearing a Backyard Bears program last Sunday how strongly the black bear population had rebounded in North Carolina;  this range map tells the story.

From a low of 1500-2000 bears in the 1970's, there are now close to 20,000 bears in our state.  So more bears and more people mean that we're more likely to interact, so we need to learn how to better co-exist responsibly. 

With an acorn failure at higher elevations in the mountains this summer,  many more bears than usual have been in spotted in urban Asheville, where I live, particularly in neighborhoods that don't usually see bears in the summer.  They're looking for food and being unfortunately "rewarded" by the easy pickings available in our trashcans, dumpsters, bird feeders, pet food bowls, and recycling containers.

Yes, they may also take advantage of the abundant acorns in the urban forest, or occasional fruit-bearing trees or shrubs, too, but the easy pickings are the unsecured "unnatural" foods.  Bears are adaptable and smart. But they're also normally shy and wary of people; we don't want them to lose their fear of people by becoming accustomed to unnatural human foods.

The neighborhoods in the mountains and more rural communities located in more typical bear habitat are used to bears and securing their trash, not so much in our central neighborhoods near downtown, where we normally might see just a few single males wandering through in spring or early summer.  (I wrote more about bear sightings this summer and fall on a previous post in Places of the Spirit.)

I was so impressed with the Bearwise program (and website) which the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission takes part in, that I'm planning to distribute their literature and outreach materials to some of my neighborhoods and include their recommendations in upcoming gardening for wildlife programs.

Black bears are NOT inherently dangerous to humans and black bear attacks are extremely rare, in spite of what you might "hear."  Black bears often walk through rural and suburban neighborhoods looking for food; ; if food and garbage are secured, they'll keep on going.  According to the BearWise site, bears that get unnatural foods may eventually lose their fear of people, which can be a risk to public safety.  Also, don't confuse grizzly bear behavior with black bear behavior.  They're quite different animals.

So, here are the BearWise basics:

I'm planning to learn a lot more about black bear ecology and their habitat requirements;  as a biologist, albeit a plant one,  I'm inherently interested in promoting living harmoniously with wildlife as much as possible.

The ecological framework of our planet is dependent on these interconnections, after all, and as  forests slowly came back across the Southeast (and the Eastern U.S., too), post widespread logging in the late 1800's and early 1900's,  and as abandoned farm fields turned back into forest, bear habitat came back as well, so their numbers have also come back.

More about black bear ecology to come!

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