Thursday, June 25, 2009

Health Care - Sense and Nonsense

I don't normally blog about political issues here. Not because I don't care about political issues, but because I don't want this blog to be taken over by them, which can easily happen.

However, I feel like I need to make a comment or two "at large" on the health care issue....

Our current system is based upon 2 fundamental flaws that will keep it from EVER being good at delivering decent health care when people really need it:

1) Employer funded health insurance. I know why this started, but it makes no sense for it to continue now. When someone gets seriously ill, one of the first side effects is that they usually cannot work. Therefore they lose their employer and, soon after, their employer funded health insurance. Thus, when they need health care the most, they can't access it. (Note: Being the primary societal payers for health costs also gives our business community significant costs that companies in other countries don't have, putting them at an economic disadvantage in the global marketplace.)

2) Health "insurance" itself. Everyone is going to get ill or require medical care, sooner or later, no matter how well we take care of ourselves. Health "insurance" is an oxymoron. Being able to pay for health "insurance" doesn't insure that we will stay healthy individually. On a societal level, siphoning profit out of our health care system doesn't "insure" that people will stay healthier either - it just means that sick people cost too much money for health insurance companies to make a profit on. The statistic that sticks in my mind (although I have no source to quote for this) is that about $.30 out of every $1 spent on health care in this country goes for insurance company costs and profits. That's stupid. The only people getting benefit out of that are health insurance employees and owners. It's time for them to make a living elsewhere, and not at the expense of health care for the rest of our population.

I read (and hear) such statements as "we have the best health care in the world" bandied about. No, we don't. We have the MOST EXPENSIVE health care, per capita, in the world. We are somewhere around 30-40th on most health related standards such as longevity, maternal health, newborn health, etc. etc. Most other industrialized countries (who basically all have "socialized" medicine, by the way) provide better healthcare, as a whole, for half the cost or less, per capita.

Or how about "if the government takes over health care, we'll have HEALTH CARE RATIONING and then NO ONE WILL GET THE TREATMENT THEY NEED IN A TIMELY MANNER". Bull corn. We already have health care rationing - we are very stingy, as a nation, on how we provide health care to the working poor, for example. In the current recession, with all the layoffs that have occurred, health care is one of the first expenses that people are being encouraged to cut out. Oh, if it's an emergency, people can go to an ER and get treated with the hospital writing off their costs, but it often bankrupts the person/family. Meanwhile, the cheaper, preventive care (that could have kept them healthier in the first place) doesn't get done because it's still too expensive for individuals to afford.

In fact, right now, those who can afford medical costs the least - those who aren't covered by employer-based health care or government programs and who are "self pay" because they can't afford "insurance" - have to pay the highest costs at doctors' offices and hospitals. The health "insurance" companies negotiate quantity discounts, then physicians and hospitals are bound to charge the higher prices (that the discounts were based on) to the patients not covered by such discounts. The "savings to the system" essentially get made on the backs of the working poor.

Then there's the "Everyone in countries with 'socialized medicine' complains about their systems and feels like they get inadequate care. The entire world looks to the U.S. in longing because our health care is so wonderful." Ah, That's garbage, being repeated by people who either have a strong stake in the system remaining as it is, or by folks who never actually talk with people from other countries. The relatives that I have in countries with "socialized" medicine (an uncle & aunt with their 3 sons and their sons' families in Norway; several cousins on both sides of our family in Canada - all of whom visit the U.S. with fair frequency, so they are familiar with both systems) report being very happy with the health care they receive. Our son, in Germany, has told us that the Germans he talks with are very happy with their system too. Both our son and our daughter have spent significant time in Britain, as well, where they've reported that the citizens they've talked with are quite content with their health care as well. Are there some complaints? Of course. There's always room for improvement and some people will always complain, but overall people are very happy with their health care in those countries. The objective numbers also say that citizens' health in those countries (longevity, maternal health, etc. etc.) is better for much less money, per capita, than in our country.

Then there's the proposal to give people "tax breaks" on health insurance costs. Another sounds-good-but-actually-doesn't-help, smoke-and-mirrors idea. People without health insurance are probably not going to be able to pay for health insurance, even with "tax breaks" - these are folks who don't make enough money to pay rent, food and transportation costs without problems. There's no room in a budget like that for hundreds of dollars for health insurance!

Plus "tax breaks" like that are actually taxpayers subsidizing the health "insurance" industry.

If you want the private health "insurance" industry to work, insurance companies need to take entire communities at a time, sick people as well as healthy people, and insure them all at the same rate. They wouldn't be able to single out the sick people and not pay for their care, as they do now. They shouldn't be able to search for ways to deny payment, based on bogus claims of "experimental protocols" or "pre-exisiting conditions" such as treatment years before for a cough that is used as the basis for denying later claims for lung cancer, or treatment for menstrual cramps used as a basis for denying later claims for ovarian or uterine cancer.

My last comment is cynical, but heartfelt. I wish the American populace, as a whole, would quit proving the claim that "a lie repeated often enough becomes accepted as the truth." Come on, folks, talk with your neighbors and fellow workers about their actual experiences. Quit passively listening to talking heads spewing half truths and outright lies. Question what you read and hear.

Most of all, remember, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." The truth, as far as health goes, is, "There, in my time, will go I."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Plant Associations, Trailing Through Life

Earlier today, in writing my review of Our Life in Gardens by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd, I came upon a passage I had underlined that I want to share. On page 65, they wrote, "Plants, like words in poetry, are both beautiful in themselves and also for the associations they trail behind, the histories they have in the world and in one's own life."

Everytime I've read those lines, my mind starts wandering to plants that have associations in my own life....

My first memory of a garden is from when I was about 8 years old. We'd driven to visit my Great Aunt Elsie and Great Uncle Oscar in upper New York state. I remember little of Elsie and Oscar or their home, but I remember vividly their backyard garden. It was narrow and deep, with rich flower beds curving gently along the sides, completely surrounding the open grassy area in the middle. About halfway back the beds came out into the yard a little farther, making the area behind them seem hidden and mysterious and extra-special. That garden fascinated me and I think that, ever since, my memory of it has formed the basis of what a "real" garden should be like.

Also when I was about 8, my parents planted a weeping birch tree in our own front yard. It was a sapling, probably 6 feet tall, with just a couple branches hanging down, but I remember "sheltering" under the one weeping branch that hung the lowest, imagining myself in some sort of hidden grotto. As barren and open as that spot was, it seemed magical and hidden to my young mind.

From first grade through fourth grade, my favorite place to play was in the woods, along the creek, at the bottom of the hill upon which our house was perched. I would try to capture tadpoles or crayfish, then get bored and switch to pretending I was a princess on my own private island in the middle of the creek. Some days I just explored, other days I went to favorite places like the grove of young holly trees where I constructed elaborate stories in which I was, of course, the heroine of the day. I knew what holly was, even then, and I remember learning what sassafras leaves looked like in that woodland. I don't think that I saw another sassafras until I was in my late 40's in Mobile, but right away I knew exactly what young tree sapling had sprung up in my front garden bed there.

Eastern deciduous woodlands played a big part in my growing up a few years later, too. During my early adolescence in suburban Massachusetts, my best friend and I would sneak over to the little bait shop one street over from ours and buy snacks, then walk over to a hillside overlooking the local "pond" (which was actually a lake, by Kansas standards). There we would sit on a big log right beside the path and watch the water of the pond through the woodland trees, feeling both adult and slightly naughty and illicit, eating our candy bars and discussing all of those important adolescent issues that filled our minds so completely in those years.

When we first moved to Massachusetts, the year I'd turned 10, I remember helping Mom try to make 2 flower beds in our new backyard. She'd outlined the bed shapes that she wanted and we started digging. Or, rather, we started trying to dig. The soil was full of rocks of all shapes and sizes; digging was downright slow and painful. I think we finally did get some semblance of flower bed dug out, but since then I've had a visceral memory of the stoniness of New England soil that flares up whenever history lessons mention the trials of the early European settlers farming that land.

After 2 years in Massachusetts, we moved to the Panama Canal Zone. Thinking of my junior high years there brings memories of huge bougainvillea shrubs, their branches covered in blooms, hanging over the sidewalks. There were tall palm trees everywhere, a big bamboo grove right next to our home's clothes lines outside my room, and, not infrequently, sloths hanging from trees in the neighborhood. Once I even saw a small band of monkeys chattering and travelling through the treetops while my best friend and I walked from her house to the movie theater.

Beautiful plants and interesting animals. Beautiful memories associated with them all. Even in, especially in childhood, plants and gardens and wild areas enriched my life. Those memories continue to enrich my life, even now.

The Power of Stories

For 40 years or so, I've been interested in family history. Like most people, I started out collecting names and dates and places, births and deaths and marriages. After a while, those long "laundry" lists started losing their meaning to me. They started becoming simple facts, generally quite dry, that told me very little about the people who actually experienced those births and deaths and marriages, who chose to stay put or move across an ocean, who worked and loved and hated and tried to get by in the world in the best way they could.

So, about 10 years ago, I started becoming much more interested in learning the stories of my relatives. What challenges had they faced and how had they overcome them? What were their strengths and weaknesses? their hobbies and interests? their proudest moments? their biggest regrets? What were their personalities like?

It's actually amazingly hard to collect stories like this. Many folks assume that you just want "the dirt" on people when you ask for stories about them, but that wasn't my wish at all. I wanted to get a feel for my ancestors and relatives as real people, wanted to get to know them in the same ways I might have known them had I lived near them in time and space. I wanted, too, to learn what they could teach me about myself, my ways of coping with stress, my responses to happiness and sorrow.

I was a little unsure how to explain to others what I was searching for, even a little unsure myself about what, exactly, I wanted to know. So my family story collecting has been spotty, meeting with limited success, and I haven't pursued it actively for several years.

Enter Kitchen Table Wisdom, by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D. I was aware of this book when it came out over 10 years ago and it sounded interesting, but I never picked it up. Soon it morphed in my mind into a sort-of companion to the Chicken Soup series, which I also never found compelling enough to actually pick up and read. Then, a few months ago, 2 good friends (with whom I try to get together on a weekly basis to discuss books...and children and husbands and pets and housecleaning and careers...and the meaning of life) both enthusiastically said that I had missed a gem by not reading this book. They recommended that I not only read it as soon as possible, but that I also read its actual companion book, My Grandfather's Blessings.

So I picked up both and have now read Kitchen Table Wisdom. It is truly wonderful. Remen is a physician, trained as a pediatrician, who has spent the last several decades counseling patients who are dealing with cancer. Obviously many of them are dealing with the prospect of their mortality. She has also dealt personally with a chronic, debilitating illness that, at times, has left her feeling hopeless and despairing. This book, then, is a collection of real stories that she is either telling from her own experiences or from the lives of patients she has counselled. Each of these stories has helped her enrich her own life, helped her begin to discover life's meaning, or has helped others in their own searches for happiness, contentment, or meaning.

This book is also a testament to the power of stories, real stories of things that have happened to real people, and the ability of such stories to help each one of us know who we are, why we are here, and why we matter.

As I read this book, it became obvious to me why I wanted to know these same sorts of real stories about my ancestors and relatives - they can help me learn to see the patterns and meaning in my own life, and hopefully they can help those who come after me to see their place and value in the world a little more clearly too.

As Remen writes in the preface to the 10th anniversary edition of this book, "I have discovered the power of story to change people. I have seen a story heal shame and free people from fear, ease suffering and restore a lost sense of worth. I have learned that the ways we can befriend and strengthen the life in one another are very simple and very old. Stories have not lost their power to heal over generations. Stories need no footnotes.
"Since Kitchen Table Wisdom was published, I have learned that the things that divide us are far less important than those that connect us."

Read this book. I can almost guarantee that you'll be glad you did.

Gut-Level "Got to Share" Gardening Books

I like to share good books when I come across ones that seem particularly special to me, and I've suddenly got three books that meet my gut-level "need to be blogged about" criteria. Two are gardening books and one is literally about life and death matters, but in a very gentle, non-threatening way.

Given that this is a blog that focuses on gardening, I'll start with the gardening books.

The first bok is Our Life in Gardens, by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd. Part garden memoir, part "how-to" guide, part philosophy of life and gardening, part plant guide - with touches of poetical descriptions and caustic comments - this book was first recommended to me by a dear friend from Mobile, a woman whose life is intertwined with gardening and with the gardening community of that city. In selecting a quote from the book that encapsulates why I enjoyed it so much, I think it's perhaps appropriate to go with one that echoes the blog entry I just wrote on watching the changing of the seasons last night....

"We have come to feel that an ordered movement through days and months and years is essential to happiness, or to our happiness at least.... Of all the many joyful obligations of our existence, the garden here has been the most sustaining just in part because it is the most rhythmic, through winter, spring, summer, and fall. It actually has taught us to love every day of our life. One cannot ask more of love for a garden than that." (p.310)

The second book, also about gardening, is very different. Home Outside: Creating the Landscape You Love, by Julie Moir Messervy, is one of the best "how to" guides for designing your home landscape that I think I've ever read. Rich in photos and small details that get my creative juices flowing, it's also excellent in making the big steps and design process overall seem accessible and inviting. The top of my copy is now bristling with post-it note flags marking ideas and photos that I want to specifically try in my own yard, while the text has numerous underlined sections of points that I think were particularly important or that gave me "aha!" moments as I read.

To give you just a little flavor of Home Outside, here are a few mental peeks into the book (filtered, of course, through my psyche, such as it is!):

* a concrete lion's face, hung on an exterior house wall and surrounded by a "mane" of vines, above an inviting table for two, half hidden by shrubs....

* 6 different possibilities, incorporating everything from curves to formal gardens, sketched out for one simple suburban house and its basic, rectangular lot....

* a garden, designed by a pair of gardening grandparents, both for their own everyday enjoyment and as a place for their visiting grandchildren to play, with special touches like a rose tunnel, a rusting dragon, and commemorative concrete stepping stones guaranteed to get the kids outside and to give them rich memories that will last a lifetime....

* different patio textures, including a circular terrace whose stones are set in ever-expanding circles that seem to echo radiating waves in a pond....

* discussions of the yin and yang of energy in a landscape....

I could go on for...the length of an entire book, actually, but hopefully this gives you a taste and encourages you to at least leaf through Home Outside at your local library or bookstore.

The last book that I want to talk about here is a total change of pace...and perhaps it should be the subject of a separate blog entry. In fact, I know it should. So I'll wrap this post up and begin a new one. Meanwhile, be sure to check out these 2 books! They're almost sure to enrich your gardening experience.

Watching the Seasons Change

Yesterday was the solstice. It was a busy day - being Fathers' Day, we had hosted a family steak cookout in the afternoon - but, by evening, everyone had gone home and I was free to relax. Remembering what day it was, I walked out back and simply stood, watching the sun go down and listening....

The sun was just above the horizon when I got to the edge of the draw and could see the whole of the western sky. The colors were blues and pinks and purples, bounded by rich lavendar-gray clouds above and the fast darkening edge of the Earth below. First I noticed a mourning dove calling, then a bobwhite, joined by cardinals and eastern meadowlarks. Fittingly, the first cicada of the season started buzzing, echoed by others near and far over the next 30 minutes. A bullfrog croaked in the neighbor's pond, and a few chorus frogs grated nearby. The wind was riffling through the willow and cottonwood leaves, rustling.

After a while the colors washed out and the wind seemed to die down too. The quail and mourning doves quit calling, although I saw the doves fly, presumably to their evening roost. Robins started to join the bird chorus, and I noticed red-winged blackbirds calling too.

Soon I saw a single firefly signalling from under the trees in the draw. Then another. The wind started to pick up again and the sky, between the horizon and the clouds, started glowing a soft gold. The colors of the leaves and grass began to fade, with the dance of the tree branches becoming a graceful silhouette against the golden sky. The bird chorus faded out, while the crickets and chorus frogs took over and other insects, whose songs I recognized but couldn't name, joined in the harmonies. By the time I walked back up to the house, the fireflies were dancing a visual symphony over the draw and through the trees, echoing the golden glow of the sky behind them in their shining, pinpoint, aerial displays.

As I stood watching and listening, I felt I could sense the Earth turning. Spring seemed to fade out and summer slowly take her place. The pinks and blues in the sky changed to gold, as inevitably as the pastel flowers of May give way to the vivid displays of July. Calm and peaceful, but unstoppable. Life, ever circling and ever changing.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Bagworms Made It a Successful Day (...and how often can you say that?)

It's been a successful day, as Prairiewolf likes to say, because I've learned something new.

In reading our local paper this afternoon, I came across an article by one of the area Extension agents on bagworms (Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis). Normally I might have scanned it at least briefly, because I'm generally interested in learning about insects, but we are in the middle of a major bagworm outbreak. They are everywhere, and have been "decorating" trees all over the place for several years now. So I read the article quite closely, looking for hints about what I can do besides spray insecticides.

(The photo below was taken last August, behind the draw. It's obviously a fresh bagworm bag, given the bright color of the cedar berries that the larva attached to his/her bag for camoflage. In fact, the bagworm inside this bag was probably pupating as I took this photo!)

Although I knew a fair amount of the material presented, I did learn some important new information. For example, I learned how bagworms disperse. I've wondered about this, since I've only seen the larvae crawl around, quite laboriously, and I know that only the males ever attain adult form and fly. Yet the redcedars out in the middle of grassy fields will be festooned with obviously they must be more mobile than I've given them credit for in the past.

(Here is a photo, taken last September 15th, of a male bagworm moth resting on the side of our house.)

Which, I learned, they are. After hatching, the tiny little caterpillars (larvae) will spin a long thread of silk, catching a breeze (of which we have plenty in Kansas), and ballooning to a new site. By the way, "ballooning" is the actual technical term - a lovely scientific concept. Only when the larvae have found a suitable feeding site will they settle down, start producing their characteristic bags...and eat their way to our attention.

Knowing that bagworms have hatched out in the last month or so, I started wondering about what SHOULD be keeping their population under control naturally. Multiple website visits later, I can report that...

* Ichneumon wasps, especially the species Itoplectis conquisitor, parasitize the larvae. There are many other insect predators as well, with tachinid flies mentioned by name.

* Altogether at least 19 species of insects have been recovered from bagworm cases, including parasitoids like the ichneumons, hyperparasites, and scavengers.

* Bacteria, at least one virus, and numerous fungal species can also cause bagworm larvae to die.

* Finally, birds can be significant predators of the bagworm larvae as well. Species mentioned by name were chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, sapsuckers, sparrows and finches.

So why are the bagworms so out of control around here these days? In my research, I found the normal explanation that their numbers are cyclical, with the population climbing rapidly at times until predator/parasite populations can follow suit and bring the bagworms back "under control" again. For now, I'll assume that's the entire explanation...although with weather disruptions, chemical interference and other environmental changes, I also find myself thinking about more permanent and long-lasting bagworm issues.

Perhaps the most interesting parts of the research I looked at today involved non-chemical means of decreasing bagworm populations. You've probably heard about picking the bags off and destroying them. But how do you do that in 20' tall cedars, like the 50 or so that I have lining my driveway, parts of the draw, and the north side of the house?

A suggested idea that I loved was to plant flowers who are members of the Aster family. These daisy-shaped flowers attract and feed the adult ichneumon wasps and tachinid flies that parasitize the bagworms, helping to bring them into your area and increase their numbers. I already have quite a few asters and their relatives, especially in my front flower garden. I just need to plant a lot more, especially around the base of infested evergreens.

I'm already feeding birds and providing lots of habitat (as well as nesting boxes) to support their presence in the yard. Judging by the activity in the yard, I've got nesting Carolina wrens, chickadees, goldfinch, and house finch - all of which are likely bagworm predators.

Hopefully climate conditions will increase fungal or bacterial infestations of bagworms, too. I can't imagine my yard without its many big red cedars, but time will tell. Meanwhile, I'll be out planting and transplanting perennials to provide sumptuous nectar and pollen feasts for ichneumons and tachinids. Bagworms, watch out!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

More Fun with Fleeting Visitors

Two special guests visited the yard today: a green tiger beetle and a little blue heron. Best of all, both let me photograph them!

I was heading to the house for a water break when I saw the tiger beetle. It was one of the gorgeous, irridescent green ones, although this one seemed to have had an accident with one of its elytra.

True to tiger beetle natures, as soon as this one realized that I was paying attention to it, it sashayed away...amazingly rapidly, considering its size...and considering the fact that it didn't look like it was hurrying at all. By kneeling down and "hiding" behind the camera, though, I was able to sneak up on him. I think he's a sixspotted tiger beetle, Cicindela sexguttata. (You've gotta love that species name!) Apparently individuals in the Great Plains population of this species, like this one, often don't have the six spots that are mentioned in the name. They are common, though, and often found on dirt trails, as well as sidewalks and gravel or paved roads.

Sixspotted tiger beetles hunt small insects and other arthropods such as spiders, ants, and caterpillars. (Tiger beetles, as a group, are known as fierce predators.) They lay their eggs in sandy soil, and the newly hatched larvae burrow into the ground where they lie in wait to jump out and capture their prey. These beetles seem quite long-lived to me: they are reported to stay in larval form for a year, and to live for as much as 5 years. I guess it's not surprising, then, that this one's elytron is mangled - a lot can happen to a little insect in 5 years.

The second visitor, the little blue heron, Egretta caerulea, was camped out in our sewage lagoon, busily hunting down frogs, I suspect. I wasn't close enough to see exactly what he was eating, but he was having great success finding some sort of small, fast moving animal to eat.

Prairiewolf saw him first, while I was busy trying to get the tiger beetle to pause charismatically for a photograph. Prairiewolf hissed to come over to the other end of the front garden, quickly but quietly. I tried to ignore him, but he was pretty insistent, so I gave up on the tiger beetle and went slinking over to see what he had found. Our experience is that little blues are pretty spooky, but I was able to hide behind a pine tree and later the compost bin to get a series of enjoyable photos.

After 10 minutes or so of photographing this guy, I finally noticed a pair of red-winged blackbirds flying distractedly back and forth, calling. Watching their behavior a bit, I realized they had a nest in the bunch of cattails next to where the heron was fishing. They were NOT happy to have this giant predator nearby, although I never saw any sign of the heron noticing them, let alone looking for their nest and nestlings. If you look at the right-hand edge of the catttails, you can see Papa Red-wing pointedly watching the heron's every movement.

I think half the reason I garden is because it gets me outside so that I can notice all of the cool events happening right under my nose. Fascinating, real life drama - served up every time I take the time and effort to spend an hour or so outdoors. It amazes me that more people don't take the time to notice this wonderful, ongoing saga.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Bug Day

Yesterday felt like Bug Day. I walked outside in the morning and spied this guy, just sitting quietly on the porch floor.

I've seen photos before, but this was the first time I'd seen the live beastie, an eyed click beetle (Alaus oculatus). These are BIG beetles, as beetles go - about 1 1/2" in length. This one seemed quite happy to just rest calmly while I snapped several photos.

After doing some web research, I learned that eyed click beetles spend their larval time in rotten wood, usually stumps, eating the grubs of other beetles, especially long-horned or wood-boring beetles. That makes this species benign at the very least, and potentially a positive predator. Despite their fierce appearance, the adults are not harmful - the big eyes are thought to be a defense against predators, making them look much scarier than they really are.

Many other click beetle species have larvae that can do damage when found in large numbers - these are the "wire worms" of vegetable gardens. One of nature's ironies, then, is that this scary-looking member of a family often considered destructive is such a pussycat.

The next insect I noticed yesterday was a flower beetle on the oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) near where I was weeding. (By the way, the oakleaf hydrangea blooms have a wonderful fragrance which I'd never noticed before.) I didn't pay too much attention to the beetle, but the next time I looked up it was attached to the front end of a wheel bug nymph!

It's amazing to me that the wheel bug nymph can take this large a beetle - the beetle looks twice as heavy as the nymph and it seems like its weight alone would cause the nymph to fall from the shrub. I saw no sign of that happening, though.

Last, but hardly least, I noticed a great spangled fritillary (Speyeria cybele) nectaring at my newly opening Echinacea hybrids.

Both the flowers and the butterfly are at least 3" across, to give you a sense of scale. Fritillary caterpillars eat violets and are a wonderful reason to let violets flourish in your yard...if you need a reason beyond the charm of violets themselves. (I've also found fritillary caterpillars on pansies, so I assume they can eat any members of the Viola genus.)
Flowers and plants are beautiful, but it is the insects, birds, amphibians and reptiles that visit them that make the yard truly seem to come alive. This time of year is a blast!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Post Burn Report #1

Glancing over my blog entries earlier this spring, I was glad to see that my entry on burning our front prairie had actually made it from the chaotic depths of my mind onto the web, complete with a couple pictures, no less. Towards the end of that piece, I mentioned that I was curious to see if I found any new wildflowers this spring, the burn having released them from obscurity. So here are a couple, more recent photos.

First, here is the front prairie on May 22, about 6 weeks after we burned. I love the clean lines of a newly burned grassland. Much of the soft blue-green color shown in this shot is emerging big bluestem, Andropogon gerardii. We inherited a particularly nice stand of big blue when we bought this property, although we didn't know it at the time.

Meanwhile, as far as new species showing up, there have been many new individuals of plants popping up that I'd seen a scattered few of in this prairie parcel over the last two years. This lone individual is the one new species to show up so far, Baptisia australis var. minor, a.k.a. blue wild indigo. Since it's one of my favorite wildflowers, I was particularly happy to see its bloom spikes. Added to the 2 individual plants of this species I've found behind the house and the 2 or 3 I've found in the Beyond, this makes at least 6 blue wild indigo plants on our property.
I've collected seeds from the pods that I've found each fall and scattered them in our back 5. I wonder if any of them have germinated and started new little plants back there? I'd love to have a field full of wild indigo blue!


Nothing fancy, but I just had to share that I picked almost 2 cups of big, fat, juicy, tasty blueberries from our bushes this morning. We've never gotten this many at one time before, so I am thrilled and excited. This still isn't enough to do more than eat them fresh, but I'm beginning to think that my dreams of growing enough to make fresh blueberry crisp (and even to freeze for use in blueberry muffins and pancakes during the winter) may not be so farfetched after all.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Weeks Have Flown By....

I can't believe that I've let so much time lapse since I last posted. It's been a busy time, but 6 weeks of "down time" is getting a little ridiculous. To partially justify my time away, I feel I should explain a little. During the weeks I've been neglecting this journal, I travelled to Lindsborg for a "girls' time out" with two good friends. Then, Prairiewolf and I travelled to Pensacola to help my brother celebrate his 50th birthday. After that exciting party and family get-together, I stayed on in the area and visited good friends in Mobile for several days. I've put together and given two talks, the first on "Green Gardening" in celebration of Earth Day and the second on "Gardening with Native Plants". It's garden tour season, and I've visited as many of the gardens on tour as I've been able to fit in, while "hostessing" at two of them.

Last in my list, but probably first in keeping me from blogging, Prairiewolf and I attended the Dyck Arboretum plant sale...and I went a little overboard. I actually had most of a new bed cleared and ready for occupants in the front yard, plus I had some definite holes in my courtyard (shade) bed, so I was primed and ready for plants!
And, boy, did I ever buy plants. For weeks, this has been the breezeway, while the plants have waited to be planted.

You see, I found that I wanted to have the front bed COMPLETELY cleared before I sited everything, so that I'd be able to plan for varying bloom times, plant heights, and flower colors more efficiently.
Then, of course, I kept finding a few more plants here, at this nursery...and a few more plants there, in Mobile...and yet a few more plants at the Farmers' Market...and so on and so forth. The piles never seemed to go down, no matter how many plants I got in the ground, and the weather started getting hotter and hotter.
Then HotLine began. All along, too, the vegetable garden has needed care.
I'm finally beginning to see a little open space developing again on the breezeway. Better yet, I seem to be developing a little bit of self control regarding buying new plants! It's been a lot of fun, but I'm ready to get all of my plants "put to bed" and move on with other summertime activities. I'll keep you posted on how that goes. Promise!