Love Your Trees

They Love You!

The above picture was taken last week on Arbor Day when we were in our back woods, which is a nature preserve, planting native Easter Pines. We also planted red maple, apricot and apple trees at our Mother's houses the week before.

Trees are the skin of the earth. They eliminate toxins, while they create and purify the air we breath. They draw up healing energy from deep in the ground, and can teach us to do the same. This Spring, take some time to sit quietly under a tree, with your back against it. You will be pleasantly refreshed and calmed.

Trees love us, and the earth, and are happy to help us. But they need help, too. Arbor day is a great time to plant trees, but you can plant trees most of the year. Plant native trees in your forests, and shade and windbreak trees in your yard to increase energy efficiency. Plant fruit or nut trees, and expect bountiful harvests in 3-5 years that will feed generations.

Wild Food - Foraging for Dinner

Tonight's dinner was an impromptu foraged meal: fiddleheads (young ferns) and dandelion flowers, alongside some leftover quiche from Friday night.

Fiddleheads are easy to prepare. Harvest when they are 6-8 inches tall. Remove the hairy or papery covering. Soak in cold water for a few hours. Boil for 10-30 minutes in several changes on water to remove bitterness (length of time depends on what kind of fern it is). Strain and do a quick saute in oil or butter with herbs and salt for flavor. Yum!

Dandelion flowers are super tasty. At my SIL's I saw she had a ton of them (in an untreated lawn, they're organic! And the only ones that are are really safe to eat.) so we harvested a small bucket worth of the largest flowers, without the bitter stems. At home, I mixed a whole egg and some water and dipped the flowers in. Then I dredged them in a 50/50 mix of Amaranth & Unbleached Wheat flours with salt and pepper. Fried them up in a pan with a 1/2 inch blend of Olive and Canola Oils. The sweet flower petals are the perfect blend to the slightly bitter green calyx underneath. Lucas adored them with ketchup, while we dipped ours in hot sauces.

We also went fishing for the first time this year (season opened last weekend.) Apparently the fish are biting in the rivers, but we went to a nearby lake where they haven't quite woken up yet... The only fish we "caught" were the minnows in our bait bucket. Lucas had great fun catching them over and over by hand and transferring them from bucket to bucket, often bestowing a kiss upon their fish lips. Yes, he made me kiss one, too. So if you hear about a "fish flu" pandemic going around, you will know where it began. Hah ha. He also let a few of them go in the lake, lucky fish!


Peeing In Style

Most women don't actually have penis envy (sorry guys!) but we do often wish we could pee standing up without undressing or lifting our skirts. And these days, apparently we can.

Companies like pstyle and pee zee are creating handy reusable gadgets that allow you to pee just like a man: simply unzip your pants, insert the 7-inch device and place against your privates, and watch the pee funnel out. Use it to wipe yourself, shake it off, and go. They even come in colors like lavender and orange, or clear for the discretely minded. I haven't tried one yet, but for $12 you can bet I am going to.

On a similar note, I just finished my moon-time, and thought I would let you all know that I use the Divacup and LOVE it. It is very easy to use, holds more blood than any tampon or pad ever could without accident, and lasts for years and years while saving you money. And no, unlike a diaphragm, you need never fear that it will become irretrievably "lost" up there. The silicone device can also be boiled as often as you want for hygienic purposes (I use a drop of unscented soap to wash it in the morning and evening, rinse with water other times during the day, and boil it each month before I begin using it.)
It comes in two sizes, one for under 30 year olds before vaginal childbirth and one for 30+ or after v.c. I was 32 and had had a baby naturally when I started using it, but I chose the smaller size and it works perfectly. Follow your own intuition. I wish I had known about the Divacup for the first 18 years I was menstruating...


How Green is Your Wine?

National Geographic just put out a great article about wine with some surprising news. They compared various wines from different regions in the world and how much they use in fossil fuels to get to you. What I would have thought carried the least impact was for my New York receiving area actually the worst culprit.

Here's the low-down. For a New York area customer, wine shipping from California produces almost 15 times more CO2 than wine coming from France, 11 times more than wine coming from Chile, and 5 times more than wine coming from Australia. Shocked? I was. The key is that trucking is vastly more wasteful than shipping by sea. According to the article, unless you live on the west coast or southwest, the calculations show that California wine is a poor choice (CO2-wise) for anyone in the US compared to other wines. I imagine the same goes for anyone buying East Coast wines, in reverse.

However, there are other factors to consider. California and other West Coast wineries are leaders in organic, pesticide free labels. And buying from them supports the American economy. In general, buying magnums also reduces packaging and the cost of shipping per ounce of wine consumed.

Of course, buying local and supporting nearby wineries is always the best choice from both a economic and environmental standpoint. You have the opportunity to meet the growers, and make new friends. Plus, many vineyards offer membership benefits for frequent buyers. One of our own local vineyards (the fabulous Hopkins Vineyard on Lake Waramaug) offers 20% case discounts to lifetime members -- all you need to do to qualify is buy 3 cases in one year at the vineyard: saving money, gas and supporting the local economy.



Pole Bean Teepee, Mini-greenhouses & DIY Table "Refinishing"

Today was quite the project day. In addition to doing a major spring cleaning on the house and gardening outside, Lucas and I put the Blue Lake Pole Beans in around his teepee, protecting them from the chicken all the while, and gave our dining table a facelift. Here are the pics and instructions.
Our teepee has nine 8-foot poles cut from saplings, with a wide opening on one side for the doorway. It is tied together at the top with sinew.
Here is one of our bean babies. They sprouted about a week ago. The minute I planted them in the ground the chicken came over and pecked off half a leaf -- but I was ready for her!
We've been saving milk jugs and other containers all winter and cutting the bottoms off to make mini-greenhouses for our tender seedlings. This will also protect them from Phoenix, our hungry lady!
This winter I saved Plant catalogs, Better Home & Garden and National Geographic Magazines, and cut the prettiest flower and plant pictures out, including some neat waterfalls and forests from around the world (Thanks NGM!) I saved these up all winter while I watched my cheap IKEA dinner table get more and more scratched up.
Finally, today was a nice warm day with little wind, so I took the table outside and spray-primed it gray (that's what was on-hand.)

I used a paintbrush and clear acrylic paint as "glue" to paste down the pictures on the table top. The thinner catalogue pages rippled a little bit, but I smoothed them down as best I could. I covered the whole thing with a couple coats of the clear paint, and the used a two-part epoxy "liquid glass" to make a very smooth table top that will resist just about ANYTHING.
Et, Voila! It is particularly nice with these iron chairs we picked up a few years ago at an antique shop. My husband thinks the table is very pretty, if not masculine. Myself, just thinking about this table all winter got me through the dreary days.


Plant Guides

Spring is here (even if it's rather hard to tell here in the northeast with April snow showering down upon us.) Spring, for me, is a wonderful time of regeneration and growth. I clean, I clear, I prune, I plant. I dig and a till, I run and I laugh. Spring is a wondrous time. Every year I pore over catalogues and websites, order tons of plants and seeds during the winter, and wait for Spring to arrive. When it does, the decision of where to plant becomes paramount.

Some plants I know just the right spot for them. Other plants I carefully consider height and sun requirements, and still I am not sure. All plants, however, get the last say on where and when they would like to be planted. Yes, you heard correctly: I ask the plants.


I quiet my mind. If I'm outside, great. If I'm inside I imagine myself outside. Either way, I close my eyes, quiet my mind, and let myself feel the garden as a whole. Then I think of the particular plant or seed, and "talk" to it. Sometimes, I ask silently where it would like to planted and receive an answer. Other times I picture in a spot where I would like it to be planted, and see if I get a good accepting feeling in my body, or a rejection. Then I imagine another spot, and so on, until I receive the best-feeling location with the strongest feelings of affirmation. And sometimes I draw a map of the property and dowse for my answers.

Thus, this year my amaranth seeds, which I have never planted before, have asked me to tame and till an area which is usually filled with jewelweed each August, claiming that they will do very well there. My pole beans have asked for their teepee to be next to my son's small pool -- this is also very near our cream-colored house in nearly full sun, so they will be getting both prolific sun and water here. My fava beans wish to be planted where the tomatoes were last year. Corn wants to be where I had grapes and squash -- I am only too happy to move the grapes as they will not fruit on my property and have asked to go live with my mother who gets true full sun. My basil wants to be planted in a triangular formation, and my hot hungarian wax peppers in circle with a plant in the middle. Mint has asked to be planted among the glacial rock boulders in our backyard. And so it grows...


Deep Solar Minimum -- An Update on Our Sun

Here's an update on the activity (or lack thereof) in our Sun, following up last months article, "Is the Sun Trying to Save Us?" Nasa and other reluctant solar scientists are now acknowledging the fact that solar activity has reached siginificant lows on several levels. For the last six months Nasa in particular was saying that a long solar minimum was not unusual -- but instead of the sun waking up and resuming activity, as it should be at this point in its cycle, it is actually become even quieter. This, conversely, is disquieting news -- at least for a gardener who has been looking to a warm Spring! Temperatures here are staying stubbornly low, and we are still burning our wood stove in teh mornings and evenings, and using a bit of propane heat while we sleep to keep the house above 50F.

Here is what Nasa said on April 1st:

The sunspot cycle is behaving a little like the stock market. Just when you think it has hit bottom, it goes even lower. 2008 was a bear. There were no sunspots observed on 266 of the year's 366 days (73%). To find a year with more blank suns, you have to go all the way back to 1913, which had 311 spotless days. Prompted by these numbers, some observers suggested that the solar cycle had hit bottom in 2008.
Maybe not. Sunspot counts for 2009 have dropped even lower. As of March 31st, there were no sunspots on 78 of the year's 90 days (87%).
It adds up to one inescapable conclusion: "We're experiencing a very deep solar minimum," says solar physicist Dean Pesnell of the Goddard Space Flight Center.
"This is the quietest sun we've seen in almost a century," agrees sunspot expert David Hathaway of the Marshall Space Flight Center.

Quiet suns come along every 11 years or so. It's a natural part of the sunspot cycle, discovered by German astronomer Heinrich Schwabe in the mid-1800s. Sunspots are planet-sized islands of magnetism on the surface of the sun; they are sources of solar flares, coronal mass ejections and intense UV radiation. Plotting sunspot counts, Schwabe saw that peaks of solar activity were always followed by valleys of relative calm—a clockwork pattern that has held true for more than 200 years.
The current solar minimum is part of that pattern. In fact, it's right on time. "We're due for a bit of quiet—and here it is," says Pesnell.

But is it supposed to be this quiet? In 2008, the sun set the following records:

A 50-year low in solar wind pressure: Measurements by the Ulysses spacecraft reveal a 20% drop in solar wind pressure since the mid-1990s—the lowest point since such measurements began in the 1960s. The solar wind helps keep galactic cosmic rays out of the inner solar system. With the solar wind flagging, more cosmic rays are permitted to enter, resulting in increased health hazards for astronauts. Weaker solar wind also means fewer geomagnetic storms and auroras on Earth.
A 12-year low in solar "irradiance": Careful measurements by several NASA spacecraft show that the sun's brightness has dropped by 0.02% at visible wavelengths and 6% at extreme UV wavelengths since the solar minimum of 1996. The changes so far are not enough to reverse the course of global warming, but there are some other significant side-effects: Earth's upper atmosphere is heated less by the sun and it is therefore less "puffed up." Satellites in low Earth orbit experience less atmospheric drag, extending their operational lifetimes. Unfortunately, space junk also remains longer in Earth orbit, increasing hazards to spacecraft and satellites.

A 55-year low in solar radio emissions: After World War II, astronomers began keeping records of the sun's brightness at radio wavelengths. Records of 10.7 cm flux extend back all the way to the early 1950s. Radio telescopes are now recording the dimmest "radio sun" since 1955. Some researchers believe that the lessening of radio emissions is an indication of weakness in the sun's global magnetic field. No one is certain, however, because the source of these long-monitored radio emissions is not fully understood.
All these lows have sparked a debate about whether the ongoing minimum is "weird", "extreme" or just an overdue "market correction" following a string of unusually intense solar maxima.
"Since the Space Age began in the 1950s, solar activity has been generally high," notes Hathaway. "Five of the ten most intense solar cycles on record have occurred in the last 50 years. We're just not used to this kind of deep calm."
Deep calm was fairly common a hundred years ago. The solar minima of 1901 and 1913, for instance, were even longer than the one we're experiencing now. To match those minima in terms of depth and longevity, the current minimum will have to last at least another year.

In a way, the calm is exciting, says Pesnell. "For the first time in history, we're getting to see what a deep solar minimum is really like." A fleet of spacecraft including the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), the twin STEREO probes, the five THEMIS probes, Hinode, ACE, Wind, TRACE, AIM, TIMED, Geotail and others are studying the sun and its effects on Earth 24/7 using technology that didn't exist 100 years ago. Their measurements of solar wind, cosmic rays, irradiance and magnetic fields show that solar minimum is much more interesting and profound than anyone expected.

Modern technology cannot, however, predict what comes next. Competing models by dozens of top solar physicists disagree, sometimes sharply, on when this solar minimum will end and how big the next solar maximum will be. Pesnell has surveyed the scientific literature and prepared a "piano plot" showing the range of predictions. The great uncertainty stems from one simple fact: No one fully understands the underlying physics of the sunspot cycle.
Pesnell believes sunspot counts will pick up again soon, "possibly by the end of the year," to be followed by a solar maximum of below-average intensity in 2012 or 2013.
But like other forecasters, he knows he could be wrong. Bull or bear? Stay tuned for updates."


How smart are your chickens?

As a chicken lover who is really looking forward to adding some new pullets to her flock in less than a month, I couldn't resist sharing this article from discover.com with you all:
Baby chickens aren't just cute -- they are also whizzes at math, according to a new study.
The study, published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B, presents the first known evidence that any non-human animal can perform consecutive addition and subtraction calculations on the same set.
It is also "the very first demonstration of some arithmetic ability in young animals," lead author Rosa Rugani told Discovery News.
Since the chicks could work with numbers up to five, and prior research suggests the limit for human newborns is three, it's possible that chicks could beat babies if the two groups were pitted against each other in a math contest.
Taken as a whole, however, the study supports the theory "that animals and humans share a non-verbal, and even pre-verbal in the case of humans, numerical system" that can perform precise arithmetic on small number sets -- "with a limit of three or four" -- and make estimates about larger sets, said Rugani, a researcher in the Center for Mind/Brain Sciences at the University of Trento in Italy. To read the rest of the article, click here.