Monday, June 29, 2009

Neighborhood Growers: Just Better

Local farms and neighborhood growers are important to any region and will likely by a wave of the future. Most are organic, or at least practice, many natural ways of growing produce and have less dependence on expensive chemicals and pesticides.

The food produced in the neighborhood is healthier. In most cases, the neighborhood growers are friends, acquaintances, even family and they are not going to poison the food supply with unsafe practices. There are even questions being asked about the safety of fish raised in some fish farms, you might want to be aware of this. Besides, most neighborhood growers and farmers are darn proud of their quality.

Purchasing food from neighborhood growers is also good for the environment. Much of the food found in supermarkets is shipped from thousands of miles away and gasoline isn't cheap. Nor is refrigeration. The more food that is purchased from neighborhood farms also helps to lessens national energy consumption.

Neighborhood farms and growers also provide employment and other opportunities. It is all money that stays in the local community.

The growing season is just getting under way in many regions and it is a good time to consider and go buy food from the neighborhood growers and farms. Strawberries, at least in the northwestern Pennsylvania, are in full swing now.

Many of the local growers are also actively involved in the community like the folks at Fresh from the Vines near Meadville. The Vines operate a great organic farm and bakery; are involved in many community programs. Some help is needed, according to Rebecca Vines to help find some housing for two Americacorps Vista workers who need an inexpensive place to live for th next year. Places are hard to find in the $300 per month price range (including utilities) and they are asking members of the community for help in finding a place for the workers. If you have any contacts or information, please contact the farm. The workers are expected to be in the area August 1st.

Some Blogs I am following: On Your Way to the Top and
Urban Veggie Garden

Pictured are some volunteers helping with the hand weeding at the Fresh from the Vines Farm and in the second photograph, Adam is checking out the now ripening strawberries at McNulty's Family Farm between Union City and Wattsburg on Route 8

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Go Green: Go Real Green

Everyone wants to go green. And rightfully so, the planet is in a lot of environmental trouble. Global warming is perhaps on the top of the list. But there are other green issues: Clean Air, Clean Water, the overuse of toxic chemicals in agriculture and even in the home vegetable or flower garden or the lawn. For some information on toxic chemicals and pesticides on Helium , click on the title or here.

June is a good time to go green in another sense. June is a good month to get outside and enjoy the green, and the pinks, the whites, the reds Mother Nature has on display. It is all free and generally unplanned. The woodlands, meadows and parks are “green” alive as are the creeks lakes and ponds.

June is also a busy month with graduations, weddings, Father's Day, getting the yard together and the vegetable and flower gardens planted. The pace of the month makes it even more important to go green and enjoy; there is really no need to go on an exotic vacation to some distant country. Sometimes it is a step out the back door or a short ride away.

The lone foxglove was never there before by the edge of this woodland pond. It bloomed today. Will it be there next year? Will there be more? Did a bird drop the seed?

Behind the foxglove in the photograph, the white dots are actually native water lilies blooming. So I had to get a close up photograph without getting soaking wet.

It is a scene duplicated throughout northwestern Pennsylvania and across much of North America. Take a few moments and go green, get outside and really Go Green. Relax.

An aside: On June 25th, 1876 pne of the worst US military disasters in history occurred at the Battle of Little Big Horn under the leadership of General Custer. There is a rich Native American history in northwestern Pennsylvania which is often overlooked and forgotten. It is a tragic story. So I think I'll dedicate the photograph of the white lily to all those who died and suffered on both sides in that horror. I;m sure there are some local connections, so if anyone would care to provide them, it would be appreciated.

And again for some other fun blog reading see Kathleen Richardson (she's trying hard to cut away some pounds) at On Your Way to the Top.Thanks.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Eternal Herb: A Buzz Guarentee and Cheap

For a reason now lost, I planted the herb Borage, maybe ten years ago. Young borage seedlings have been popping up all over the vegetable garden this spring, as they have every year since, and yesterday the first two began to bloom; they are the first of hundreds of plants which will be covered with “talk of the garden” blue, star shaped flowers.

Besides adding vivid color to a veggie garden, the flowers attract bees by the the droves from sun up to sundown. There are so many bees you don't have to strain your ears to the bzzzz. That is a guarantee. Here the two main species attracted to the flowers are honeybees and the big yellow bumblebees. I've never been stung by the bees feasting on the herb; maybe they are so contented, they just ignore us humans.

Once Borage is planted, it readily reseeds itself every year. If several get too gangly, or even after the infamous visit by Jack Frost, I just take the plants and place them where I want more to grow next year. No tilling, no mess, no fuss.

According to all sources, the herb originates from the Mediterranean area and is widely grown in Spain. Some bee keepers keep fields of Borage because of the light colored and highly flavored honey produced by the honeybees. Borage can bloom in white and shades of pink. Mine are good ole blue.

Borage is edible; the flowers, the stalk and leaves. It has a mild cucumber taste and can be used in salads, stews and soups, dried and used as a tea, and the flowers are used as garnishes, sometimes placed in ice cube and used for some drinks. Never tried one in a drink, but there is a recipe to fry the leaves in a battered like a fritter. That will be on the list this summer, well, maybe an ice cube or two as well.

Borage is also reputed to be a good companion plant for tomatoes, squash and strawberries. It is claimed that the herb enhances the flavor. But it certainly has to increase the amount of vegetables with all the bees it attracts.

The lone photograph of the herb without an insect was taken the first day of summer, June 21st; the others were taken in previous years. Borage is a good herb to consider in the vegetable or pollinator garden, even as July approaches, it is not too late at all for this spectacular herb.

For some additional great reading, click On My Way to the Top, by Kathleen Richardson. She also writes a blog on the nearby Southern Tier section of New York. Also Dan at Urban Veggie Garden , in Ontario is already picking brocolli!

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Rosy Red Fry, Scapes and Horseradish: Weather the Storm.

The deluge began on Friday and finally ended Saturday night. I don't have a rain gage but empty five gallon buckets had three to four inches of rain water in them. We needed some rain but not quite so much so fast and furious.

The Rosy Red minnows (a red colored variation of flatheads) hatched on Tuesday in the frog bog pond next to the veggie garden. I was looking for tadpoles when I noticed the small fry for the first time. There's seemingly thousands of them.

It was next to impossible to get a photograph.

It amazes me since we put in Rosy Red fry (most were hardly a half inch) in October a month after the pond was deepened. They grew all winter under the snow and ice and are now breeding.

Another new beginning also happened last week, the sunflowers from the Great Sunflower Project sprouted. They are Lemon Queen Sunflowers. The seeds sprouted in just about ten days. There is more information of the Great Sunflower Project on the June 5th post.

The garlic scapes also appeared this week. The garlic-asparagus tasting flowers can be used on just about on or in anything from stir fry to soup. This seed head needs to be removed to help the garlic bulb swell. Like the leeks in April, scapes are little known treasures in June. Click, scape, for more information.

I never thought of this before but I never had horseradish planted around here because I always had a dependable fresh supply. Last year, I got three plants from a neighbor who was moving and put them in the ground. They looked pretty beat-up and it was mid summer. But wow, they grew and grew.

Horseradish is really hardy, is sort of a nice looking plant and the smallest missed root will start to grow all over again. So, hopefully, now I have it contained in a section of the garden where it can do what it wants and I might just go ahead and open a new section. Not too many people this perennial root crop.

Horseradish has always been a favorite but I never realized all the health benefits. This is a plant to consider to plant in the garden or yard. Click, horseradish, for more information.

For some good, down to earth blog reading, be sure to Click here, On My Way to the Top, and see Kathleen Richardson's blog. She is also a fellow Helium writer. At Helium, she also writes a Zone on the Southern Tier area of New York State.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Run, Old Jeremiah

This Friday is Juneteenth, an important day of remembrance nationally and around the world. It was on this day in 1885 that the last of the slaves held in Texas were told they were freed two years earlier by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863. For some more information on the history scroll down to the June 4th post.

The fourth annual public commemoration of the day will be held in Diamond Park in Meadville from 1 pm to 7 pm., according to Melisa Burnett of the local NAACP Chapter. “A Community Celebration of Freedom” will focus on what has gone on before and and focus on the future of the freedom movement. There will be songs, dances, music and food and a lot of activities and educational events.

Some of the spiritual gospel music composed by Harry Burleigh, a native of the region, will be sung led by Angela Johnson and Charles Kennedy, president of the Burleigh Society, for more information on Burleigh and his life, click here. There will also be a public Ring Shout.

Ring Shout (pictured above) is a dance form which originated with slaves after they were forbidden to raised their feet a couple of inches from the ground. Ring Shout has two circles one inside the other, moving in separate directions. Each dancer can improvise their own dance movements.

Some of the dances have been recorded over time and one the most moving is “Run, Old Jeremiah”. Ring Shout is a powerful, defiant dance against evil, a dance of hope and freedom, a dance for America.

Northwestern Pennsylvania was a hotbed of the anti-slavery movement. The Underground Railroad, the largest mass civil disobedience movement in American history, rumbled constantly through the hills and fields of this region. John Brown lived in northwestern Pennsylvania and opearte a farm which is now a museum, well worth the trip.

A drive past any cemetery, large or small, at a four corners or forgotten farm, is a never to be forgotten view of seemingly countless GAR bronze plagues and American Flags. Thousands of northwestern Pennsylvanians died for the Union.
Largely rural and agricultural northwestern Pennsylvania, was a forerunner in many equality issues, African Americans, Women and Native peoples were public officer holders, voters, property owners and co-equal citizens long before other regions of the country. It is an amazing history of local civil rights.

Juneteenth celebrations are being held in areas across the country, as they have been for well over a hundred years, and are growing in popularity. If you can't make the Meadville celebration, or one in your area, spend some time and learn about the many fascinating issues and art forms that have evolved over time. Information is a powerful weapon against the hate and white supremacist groups in this country; no answers or justice are ever found in violence, so perhaps, Juneteenth is also a day to pray for one's enemies, both in the past and those to come.

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Friday, June 5, 2009

Sunflowers and Frogs: Apples and Peas

Back sometime in the middle of winter I signed up for the Great Sunflower Project. I forgot all about this sunflower project until my free seeds arrived in todays mail. The project is sponsored by the Department of Biology at San Fransisco State University.
They send the seeds, free, then I in turn plant and tend them, along with thousands of other volunteers across the country. Once the sunflowers bloom,taking note of how many are blooming and the time of day, one counts the number of bees which visit, stopping at five or after a half hour. The data is then sent twice a month to their Web site.
I thought this would be a responsible, educational and fun project and already have a couple of friends interested in counting. There were about thirty seeds in the package, called Lemon Queen Sunflower. I planted the first ten along the pea fence after planting a short row of Italian Pole beans. I'll keep a post going live here on the Sunflower Project. Tomorrow or Sunday I should be ready to plant the rest. Check out the project on a google search, there is a lot of other information.
The Alaska peas for the most part were a disaster this year. In a ten foot row only two sprouted and the other rows was sparse. Along another fence at the opposite side of the garden, the Little Marvels did pretty good, but not excellent. Usually, I have peas by Memorial Day but they are just now beginning to bloom.
Weather is the likely culprit. We had a cold and rainy spring. It was so cold last week it appears that the apples will be non-existent. The neighbor down the road says his thermometer dropped to 23 degrees F two mornings last week in a row. I had some scattered frost here on top of the hill but even so I am not seeing any apples though I haven't spent a lot of time looking just yet.
While planting the sunflowers, I snapped a photograph of the frogs in the small pond adjacent to the veggie garden. I am pretty certain they are called leopard frogs.
I never saw the second frog in the water until I download the picture. “Jump in, the water is fine,” the frog in the water seems to be saying to the one of the log. Someplace back there the bullfrogs were croakingthis afternoon; hope that is a good sign for the sunflowers and the bees.
For more information on how to attract the bees in the garden click on the title or here Thanks.
UPDATE: A good site I found after posting is the Xerces Society.
For some additional valuable information on the honeybees, check out Maarec. It's really worth the time and effort.

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Juneteenth: Get Involved

Juneteenth (June 19th) is a very important day locally in northwestern Pennsylvania and throughout the nation and actually throughout the world. On this day in 1865, which falls on a Friday this year, federal troops announced to a group of people in Texas they had been freed years earlier on January 1, 1863 when President Lincoln abolished slavery when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation. There are a lot of theories regarding the long-time delay.
Meadville, Pennsylvania will commemorate the day, on the 19th, with a number of activities as the community has done for many, many years. Melissa Burnett of the NAACP has been working hard on getting the events organized and will be sending a schedule of events has soon as it becomes finalized.
For several years, the day was marked by a long march from downtown Meadville to the John Brown Farm and Museum some 12 miles away in New Richmond. There was always a good turn-out and a nice picnic after the long walk Freedom Walk. Events this year, as last year, will be held at Diamond Park in the city.
John Brown was a leading abolitionist just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. He is perhaps best known for his raid on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry. Brown, prior to that, had established a tannery and farm at New Richmond.
He was active, along with many other Meadville residents and churches, in the Underground Railroad, one of the largest civil disobedience movements in American history. Thousands of slaves found their way to freedom with the help of many farm families, churches and other organizations despite the strict penalties for helping the slaves. It was flat out illegal.
Historically, Meadville was a hotbed of unrest over the issue of slavery. The Civil Rights movement in the city and throughout the northwest Pennsylvania region, was always very active. There are many notable events such as early school desegregation, voting and property rights and political opportunities.
Thousands from this area served in the Union forces and thousands were killed, just visit any of the local cemeteries. These unsung and often forgotten heroes sacrificed for us today and helped to create the ongoing process of complete equality and civil rights, a struggle, while advances have been made, needs to be furthered. Juneteenth is the day to celebrate those folks and renew our efforts.
Once the schedule is set, it will be posted here, hopefully in a couple days or so. Get involved in the struggle, there is more to be done. For more information on some of the history click on any of the underlined links or click the title.

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Monday, June 1, 2009

Help the Pollinators; Go Native

Honeybees have been having a difficult time the last decade or so. First it was mites and now for the last several years, a mysterious and fatal ailment dubbed Colony Collapse Disorders or CCD. Researchers are still trying to determine what is going on with the bees, which are essential to many of our food crops.
It could be a mysterious virus, pesticides, lack of our food and habitat or any combination of the three plus other agricultural factors such as genetically modified crops.
Pollinators, in general, are on the decline, although it is uncertain if CCD plays a role or if the decline is also the result of loss of habitat and food sources, pesticide use on the farm and around the house. Pollinators include many native species of bees (honeybees are not native insects), birds and butterflies and an untold number of valuable and amazing insects.
Because of the serious decline in the general pollinator population and because of their value to food crops, home gardeners can take some steps to help. One important step would be to plant a pollinator garden filled with native plant species which provide food and nourishment, habitat and breeding areas. Try to plant a variety of plant species which will provide blossoms throughout the growing seasons to ensure a constant supply of nourishment.
Another option would be to plant an herb garden or expand an existing one. Herbs attract pollinators and can provide some extra drama in the garden and in the kitchen. Borage is a good bee herb; so are sage, fennel, thyme, oregano and parsley to name a few.
Yet another option if possible, would be to leave some “wild areas” in the yard alone. Leave the weeds and dead trees; they provide habitat and food.
Try to never use chemical pesticides. They were developed to kill and usually kill everything in sight. If possible, try to use or build a water source; everything likes a drink.
Attracting the pollinators ensures even better pollination for the vegetables and will help in increased yields. Besides, it opens up a whole new world in the backyard and provides additional insights into our amazing, natural world.

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