Saturday, February 26, 2011

Winter Limits

Snow on Locust Hill

The world beyond my window is a vision of white.  It's been a really tough winter, hasn't it?  I can't get to the compost pile, my sheep can't get out of the barn, I had gutters that blew away in the wind, leaks in  the
master bedroom, plus a chimney fire.  But you've got to admit this year's New England winter has been     spectacularly beautiful.  It's a little hard to think about gardening, however.  My solution has been to get     out my Idea File which is full of newspaper clippings, jotted down thoughts that never germinated and a lot of little informative nuggets on a par with string too short to save.  I think of them as balloons too small to blow up into full sized columns.   

For instance, did you know you could turn your flower garden into a clock?  There's a flower that opens at just about every hour of the day.  These time-keeping mechanisms are known as circadian rhythms, from the Latin circa diem     which means "about a day."  We start with the Scarlet Pimpernel whose blossom unfolds each morning at 8 AM.  By   9AM the dandelion shakes out its shaggy yellow head and at 10 the morning glory tells us the time.     At 11 the water lily opens, followed at noon by the goatrsbeard.  Now we're up to 1PM when Califormnnia poppies spread their petals, but only on sunny days.  Chicory tells us when it's t 2PM, but when we skip to 4PM and - you guessed it - the 4 l'clocks open their flowers. Next it's the evening primrase...  OK, you get the idea.  I'm chucking that article into the wastebasket. 

Let's see what else is in my file. Here's an article titled "Doggedness pays off" about a Florida gardener who spreads
dry kibble, cat litter and alfalfa pellets on her garden, covering this unusual combination with cardboard and hay.  The dogfood is full of vitamins and trace minerals.  The alfalfa pellets provide potassium and beneficial bacteria as well as releasing nitrogen and phosphorus.  The clay in the cat litter helps to hold water in the garden's sandy Florida soil and the topping of cardboard and hay deters raccoons                                                                                                                     

Here’s a newspaper clipping I probably should have already thrown away.. “David Kurt of Pennsylvania State U. says that nude gardeners pick up 16 more pesticides on their bodies than gardeners wearing normal clothing.” Daughter Trum sent me this ages ago because I happen to live at the end of a dead-end road without a neighbor in sight, and used to enjoy sitting on a car mat in the nude when weeding the garden. Then I began wearing a Walkman while I weeded and decided if I was going to wear earphones while gardening, I’d better also wear clothing. OK, that’s crumpled up and thrown away.  I doubt if I could turn it into a full length column.

How about this one -  “What the Trees Really Say”  No one has discovered what Longfellow’s murmuring pines and hemlocks are talking about, thank goodness, but biologists have evidence that when Sitka willow trees are attacked by insects they communicate their distress to other trees by sending chemical signals.  Trees attacked by tent caterpillars exude a chemical called ethylene, a caustic compound present in wood tar, which when introduced into the tree leaves, makes them less appetizing to insects.  Nearby trees, even though not yet under attack, obviously get the word and begin producing this defensive chemical as well.

I always like to include something useful in my columns and I'm afraid my Idea File has failed in that respect.  Just this week, however, I  received an article on the affects of weather on the world’s food supply. that is well worth reading. I’m not a great believer in Global Warming since the temperatures on Locust Hill have already been below zero three times this month, but there’s no question that our climate gets crazier every day. So whether we’re headed for years of roasting heat or another Ice Age, our food supply will be in trouble. I hope you’ll go to, click on “Food Fight”  to the right and read the article.  And when you finish, I hope you'll start planning where you’ll put your vegetable garden come spring.                                                                                                              

Here's one more little balloon in the form of a light-hearted poem  given to me by a biology teacher whose name I’ve forgotten.                                                                                                                  .

There should be no monotony
In studying your botany.
It helps to train and spurs the brain
Unless you haven’t gotany.
It teaches you – does botany –
To know the plants and spotany
And learn just why they live and die
In case you plant or potany.
You learn from reading botany
Of wooly plants and cottony
That grow on earth, and what they’re worth
And why some spots of notany.


  1. What a terrible winter! But rather photogenic too!

    Thanks for providing the link to the Crop Diversity article; it was certainly 'food for thought.' While I feel that the suggested correlation between global temperature increases and warfare is presented in a overly dramatic way, the logic makes sense. Hunger and power struggles over food absolutely lead to strife and warfare and upheaval, naturally! At least YOU will be sitting happy on your car mat, in the blistering sun, surrounded by food you have grown. You are an inspiration to us all to plant our own gardens and distance ourselves a bit from contributions to world food crises.

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