Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sturgeon: An Ancient Fish and a Moon

--Don't eat the sturgeon.

The August Full Moon, called the Full Sturgeon Moon, is August 5. Well, it ha some other names as well, but Sturgeon is the most common since this was the month when the prehistoric, large fish was more readily caught in the Great Lakes and other waters.

Two Sturgeon have been caught and released, they are endangered, in Lake Erie this summer. Sturgeon can live to be a hundred years old and are a fish which dates back to the Ice Age.

--The Ice Age in July

This past July has been like an ice age, cold and wet. It looks like in this region it will go down as the coldest and wettest on record. If not the number one spot, a damn close second place finish (there is one more day left to the month).

It has not been real good for home vegetable gardens so far. Although there is still hope for a recovery during August. I'm having pretty good luck with peppers, plenty of green tomatoes but small plants, beans are looking terrible ans so is the broccoli. But every year has it's ups and downs.

--Save Money Now

Hopefully, new gardeners get to understand that life issue and don't get disappointed. According to the National Gardening Association (NGA), there were 7 million new gardeners this year, an increase of 19 percent over last year.

Many had gardens to provide healthier food, better tasting food, and to save money during the current recession. In an NGA survey, the average USA home vegetable garden is 600 square feet. The average harvest should yield produced valued at $530 after expenses. Put in another perspective, that is about a $40 per week savings on groceries during the growing season here.

My example is lettuce. Salads are good and are a daily routine (besides there's always someone here around meal time.) My seed, I got the big package of mixed salad greens, cost $2.50, and I have been harvesting lettuce since May 1st. At the local supermarkets, the price is right about $3 and, when I was buying it, I usually purchased 2 packages. No matter what as soon as one is opened, everything automatically turns brown and awful looking. Expensive compost.

Just on salad lettuce, that means I saved about $70 and ate very healthy, nutritious greens. And the season is far from over for many crops. This is a good time to think about a fall garden and there are many vegetables, besides lettuce which can still be planted and harvested before the dreaded winter months.

--Plant a Fall Garden

Gamble now. Many bean varieties only take fifty days, same with broccoli, potatoes can mature quickly, spinach, peas, red beets, turnips and other greens are just a few late season crops which can be planted now. If long range weather predictions are correct for much of the mid-west and eastern USA, El Nino will be here meaning less cold, less snow and a milder winter.

--For the Heck of It:

August 3rd is National Watermelon Day: August 30th: National Toast a Marshmallow Day: August 22nd: National Tooth Fairy Day – but no one knows why, the designation was not made by Congress.

Some Great Blogs I follow and like to read:

Vincent di Fondi

On Your Way to the Top

New York's Southern Tier

Urban Veggie Garden

For some more reading check out some of my Helium articles by clicking the title, and some of my HubPage writings below. Thanks.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Don't Eat the Mullein

I am always amazed when I see the medicinal plant, mullein. It is a strange plant and easily recognizable. Several of the mullein plants I came across the other day had flower (brilliant yellow) spikes which reached upwards of seven feet.

Mullein is a pretty plant considered to be ornamental by many. I have seen it used effectively in flower gardens. Mullein, also sometimes called candlewick, is found growing wild throughout much of North America, Europe, Britain and in temperate climates of Asia. At times it can be found growing along the sides of roads, fields, and along the edges of woodlands.

Mullein is an ancient plant with quite a bit of folklore. Most of the folklore about mullein revolves around it's ability to ward off evil spirits and witches. Maybe that is one reason, in addition to it's ornamental value, people plant it. Mullein looks better than an old rusty horseshoe.

Mullein is also one of hundreds of plants recognized for it's medicinal properties. Mullein is believed by many herbalists to alleviate any number of disease problems related to the chest and gums and used with olive oil as an earache medication.

As with any medication or treatment, it is best to check with medical professionals before self treatment. Some things can be very dangerous and even fatal. Medicinal qualities are a large part of this plant's history worth noting.

Medicinal plants, like mullein, have been used for centuries. Actually, the medicinal plants are mankind's first health care system as humankind experimented and learned about our amazing natural world. Just remember though, no one kept a record of fatalities from such medicinal experiments. Don't eat the mullein without checking. It is an excellent plant, however, for flower or pollinator garden.

Many of the medical drugs used today have their origins in this simple beginning. So, it's probably best to use this ornamental to scare away the witches and evil spirits, enjoy it's amazing beauty and learn more about it's medical attributes from qualified sources.

Tomato Blight UPDATE – This fatal disease continues to spread in eastern North America. It can destroy a tomato or potato crop quickly. Monitor and check your plants frequently and be sure about what you are dealing with. Some brown spots on the edges of the leaves and yellowing could be the result of the cool and wet weather many regions have endured since spring.

Sautauthig UPDATE – It took two days to dry the blueberries in a dehydrator. Next time, I'll be more careful, the ripe berries dried nicely, the less ripe berries were still mushy even after two days. Dried blueberries were actually very tasty and have a different texture.

Fruit Fly Season: That time of year again for those pesky insects in the kitchen. Here is one simple solution. Get a jar, place some rotten fruit in and put a funnel on the top. The fruit flies get inside and can't figure how to get back out. It's easy to take the jar and the flies outside where they belong.

NEW : Vincent di Fondi is retired and now lives in Costa Rica. He has just had his book published,BLESSED ABDUCTION. It sounds like a fascinating work. The book is presently being sold at Barnes and Noble and Amazon. For more information, check out Vincent's blog from Costa Rica. It is a fun, and informative blog well worth the time.

Blogs I enjoy:

Vincent di Fondi

On Your Way to the Top

New York's Southern Tier

Urban Veggie Garden
Here are the links for of my other writing.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Blueberry Thoughts and Sautauthig

The blueberries are so abundant this year the branches are drooping. I'm not sure what variety they are; sometime long ago, someone planted them here. They were big bushes even in 1966; when I first came here. In talking with a former property owner, the bushes were big and mature in 1948 and he remembered picking them.

With so many berries, it's time to freeze some and make wine (it'll be ready for Thanksgiving). Today, I dusted off the food dehydrator and decided to dry some of the berries. All the recipes said to coat the blueberries with lemon juice. Anyone got any hints as to why? Apples sure, lemon juice keeps them from turning brown, but blueberries?

Regardless, I coated the blueberries with some lemon juice and turned the the drier on. It should be about eight hours or so, according to the directions. Sort of curious about this.

In the course of checking our how to dry blueberries I did come across some blueberry facts. Of course the Native people knew a lot about blueberries including a lot of health wisdom. They also dried the blueberries and used the powder as a meat rub. This is another culinary experiment. Could be pretty good with a nice venison steak.

The blosoom end of the blueberry is shaped like a perfect five point star, actuall known today as the "calyx" (for crossword puzzle lovers). In some Native traditions, the blueberry was sent to earth by the Great Spirit to ward off famine and starvation.

Another option, besides more wine, is “sautauthig”. Now I like blueberries in oatmeal, in pancakes and fritters, muffins and bread, and my favorite, pie, or just eaten raw. This recipe calls for dried blueberries in cornmeal mush or grits. According to some Web sites, it was eaten on the very first Thanksgiving. Seems those Pilgrims were mighty hungry.

For sautauthig: 1 ½ cup of water
1 ½ cup milk
¾ cup of cornmeal or quick cooking grits
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons of maple syrup or honey
2 cups of fresh or frozen or canned blueberries
OR ½ cup dried blueberries

Heat the water and milk, add cornmeal gradually, stirring until it thickens add the blueberries and honey.

I'll give it a whirl this week, (thinking Cool Whip would be nice) and be a pilgrim. Maybe when I make the wine...and a venison steak.

Blueberries are in season now, buy local. There's plenty of places to get them and they are one of the healthiest fruits to eat and enjoy.

Blogs I enjoy and read

On Your Wat to the Top

New York's Southern Tier

Urban Veggie Garden

And if you care here is the link to my HubPages. Click the title for Helium articles. Thanks.

*UPDATE: Thanks to two people who work for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council who responded to a question about "sautauthig", Ruth Lowenberg and Marcy Erhard. Ruth sent this link about sautauthig and it is pretty good especially if you have children or are a teacher. Thanks to both.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Do Your Part: Support Local growers

The local harvest is getting underway and within weeks there will be a wide variety of local homegrown foods in season.

There are a numbers of reasons to purchase from local growers, either at the farm, roadside stands or at the Farmer's Market's. Fresh vegetables and fruits are the most nutritious, that is a no-brainer.

Buying locally helps the local economy, the money stays in the local community. It provides the income for many of our neighbors and friends and helps pay the wages of hired workers.

Locally grown fruits and vegetables are better for the environment, locally and worldwide (previous post). For more information and facts, Why Buying from Local Growers Benefits the Environment
HeliumWhy buying from local growers benefits the environment

Blogs I am following:

On Your Way to the Top

New York's Southern Tier

Urban Veggie Garden Blog

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Gasps of a Dying Culture as Storm Clouds Gather.

No more snow? You gotta be kidding! Well, that is one of the conclusion of a July 15th report completed by Penn State. The study was mandated by the PA Climate Change Act 70 of 2008.

Basically, no matter what we do today is not going to matter for the next half century. What's done is done. It is going to take the next fifty years or so of environmentally good practices and efforts against global warming, to undo the damage.

The study predicts shortened, rainy winters with little or no snowfall. (did I hear clapping and screaming?) A longer and hotter growing season (temperatures will rise 3 to 7 degrees F) with more extreme weather conditions. Did I hear culture shock?

The report is not very good news for northwestern Pennsylvania and the small towns. It's not a very good report for nearby states as well since global warming doesn't give a hoot about artificial political boundaries.

Many rural economies depend on winter recreation: ice fishing, snowmobiles, skiing, hunting and trapping. The forest is important and many species will not tolerate the upcoming changes. The report could signal some major lumbering changes in the next two or three decades. Trout fishing depends on cold waters and the closest anyone will come to one will be mounted on a wall. And I have to wonder about the impact on the whitetail deer and other species. What are your thoughts?

Sure a longer growing season sounds fine. But the reverse is a problem. Warmer weather and more moist conditions will lead to new and more aggressive pests and other diseases in the woodlands and on the farm. What about maple syrup production?

Yup, agreed, it is hard to peer into next week, let alone, the next century. But there are some disturbing indicators. So I figured this post will be accompanied by two winter scenes for posterity, friend Mike checking out a buck rub and the snow covered trail. The sooner we start changing some things, the better. But it is going to take a long time. As it stands now, global warming will wipe out a culture for the next generation or so. What we know and do today is changing, the culture of today will no longer exist.

Update: On the subject of diseases and pests, Late Tomato Blight continues to spread and has been discovered in at least 17 Pennsylvania counties, along the east coast as far north as Montreal and as far west as Ohio. For more information click here and here. Take action now to help manage and control it's spread.

Blueberries are in season and there are many places to pick your own or locally produced berries can be found at a number of locations and farm markets. Blueberry are excellent for health.

Blogs which I am following, are good reading and informative are:

On Your Way to the Top

New York's Southern Tier

Urban Veggie Garden

Solokoyote is my pen name at another writing site,Hubpages. Check out some of the articles I have done there if you want. Thanks.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Garlic: Two Healthy Harvests

Why not plant a garlic garden this fall? Now, is a good time to get started. There are many varieties to choose from and if you have to order bulbs, do it soon. Frequently, towards the end of summer the supplies are low and some varieties may be sold out.

There are numerous varieties to choose from depending on your taste and climate zone. Most of the garlic sold at roadside stands and farm markets is hardneck garlic. It generally has a more robust garlic flavor and some even has a little heat. Hardneck garlics produce a scape as the underground garlic bulb matures.

Scapes are very flavorful and have a mild garlic flavor. There can be used in a pesto, pickled, froze for later use, fried (great in home fries) and added to a lot of dishes (a great topping for grilled steak or fish).

Softneck garlics are generally found most frequently at the supermarket. They are easier for commercial growers to harvest. A few varieties of softneck garlics will produce a scape, but most do not.

Garlic, one of the most healthy garden foods, is an easy crop to grow; it is not very demanding. Like most crops, it wants sunshine and well drained, and well managed soil. Garlic is planted in the north in September and October before the really cold weather arrives.

Winter doesn't bother the single clove planted underground. That clove will produce the some of the first greens of the spring. In this Zone 5, the scape then appear about mid-June, depending on the weather. Normally, the garlic is ready to harvest in late July.

Remember to save you largest bulbs to re-plant. Large cloves grow the following year into large bulbs once again. The smaller cloves can be used in cooking.

If your thinking about planting garlic, consider the hardneck varieties, you actually get two healthy and flavorful harvests.

Blogs I am following:

On Your Way to the Top

New York's Southern Tier

Urban Veggie Garden

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Blueberries and Health: Now Weight Reduction

Blueberries are ripening. The season is just getting underway, so peak will likely be in another week or so. It's a good time to get them. The price is a lot lower than trying to purchase them at other times of the year.

Blueberries are tasty food. The berries are packed full of a lot of good vitamins. Some of the latest research from the University of Michigan also claims they might pack a good punch for weight loss. Eat blueberries and say goodbye to belly fat.

Tests with rats indicate that blueberry consumption reduces abdominal fat and reduces cholesterol and “improved glucose control and insulin sensitivity”. Researches said more information and studies are being conducted but so far it looks like weight reduction can be added to the healthy benefits of eating North America's native blueberries.

Blueberries are very high in antioxidants. They are good for overall health and well being, particularly for the heart and certain cancers. Some research also indicates that a cup of blueberries every day is good for different motor skills.

As noted in the previous post, late blight may be a real problem for home gardeners this year. The time to take action is now. Stake the plants, add mulch and get on a spraying program. There is compost tea, and a spray which can be made from baking soda. To a gallon of water add 1 tablespoon of baking soda, a few drops of liquid dish detergent and a tablespoon of vegetable oil. (Don't even think of using motor oil.). Plants need to be sprayed several times a week with either spray. Commercial sprays are also available but be sure to read and follow the directions.

Late blight is deadly and highly contagious. Monitor the tomatoes every day if possible. If you see blackened leaves, lesions, trash the plant. Burn it, never compost it; the spores can and will spread. The plant is a goner one way or the other. The late blight will kill the plant within a couple of days.

Blogs I like to read, check them out too:

On Your Way to the Top

New York's Southern TierUrban Veggie Garden

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Warning! Get Ready.

Late tomato blight is making an early appearance, according to many agricultural researchers, including Penn State. The blight is fatal to both tomatoes and potatoes two closely related botanical cousins. The blight will cause the plants to blacken and die within a short period of time, in most cases less than week.

It appears that infected tomato plants have been discovered throughout much of the Eastern United States, including Pennsylvania and New York. The blight has been discovered in tomato plants which were sold by a southern grower to some big chain stores, called “Big Box” stores such as Wal-Mart, Lowes, Home Depot and Kmart.

That could mean many home gardeners, including first timers, could have infected plants, which need to be immediately destroyed. The blight organism, the same one which caused the great Irish Potato Famine, spreads like wildfire and is carried by the wind. It can easily spread from neighbor to neighbor and places such community garden in danger. It also has the commercial growers nervous.

If you bought plants from a smaller grower or grew themselves, your chances are a little better. Another good reason to choose heirlooms, save your seeds, and grow your own seedlings.

The blight is making an appearance early and has been fueled by our wet and cool weather this spring and early summer. Conditions are ripe for a serious disease outbreak. Once the blight has been discovered , pull the plants, Do not add to the compost pile. Burn them or enclosed in a plastic bag and let them fry in the sun for several days, then trash them. Again, never compost these sick plants, the risk of spores remaining in the compost is too high to take the chance.

There are some commercial sprays which are available to use to prevent or lessen the blight's attack. These remain somewhat controversial as to their effectiveness. There are other options, there is a baking soda spray from Cornell University, this is a three page article and the spray formula is near the end.

Another homemade option is compost tea. I would start using this as soon as possible. I have tried it and it works but it is a constant challenge. Be sure to remove any infected leaves before you start spraying, but it won't hurt one bit to start spraying now even if the plants appear healthy. There is no reason to panic, just get started now and save that crop of tomatoes or potatoes.

It is also important to make sure the tomatoes are staked and not crowded. A good layer of organic mulch can also help.

Clicking on any of the links (underlined words) will take you to additional information about this serious problem facing all gardeners. And note, the blight has been a problem for a long time; it is not harmful to humans.

Pictured: Well, the heirloom tomatoes here look good so far, have a few about the size of bunker marbles, and, the potatoes seem okay to date, but I'll be spraying compost tea this weekend.

Blogs to read that are informative and just good reading:

On Your Way to the Top

New York's Southern Tier

Urban Veggie Garden

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Monday, July 6, 2009

A Ten Point Moon and Grass Clippings

Tuesday, July 7th, is the Full Moon called the Full Buck Moon or the Thunder Moon. The moon is called the Full Buck Moon since this is the time of the year when the bucks begin to grow their antlers. Just a quick note, there are only 77 days till the first day of autumn (groan or sigh). At this time of year the deer have a reddish-brown coat which is actually pretty.

Here I am seeing plenty of deer, maybe some big bucks. But I have heard others say the opposite.

This is also the time of the year when grass cutting becomes a weekly chore (if the rain would stop). Depending on the size of the yard and the frequency of mowing, that can be a lot of grass, which actually is a high value fertilizer.

Grass clippings, basically free, are filled with benefits. They are excellent to leave on the lawn instead of raking and bagging, the clippings can be used as a good mulch, and can be used in the compost pile to make an superb compost.

There are a couple tricks to using grass clippings, rich in nitrogen, in the compost bin. Brown material, such as leaves saved from last autumn, need to be mixed into the pile. Other brown material (carbon or “dead stuff”) can be used as well.

Grass clippings because of their high moisture content, need to be turned over frequently, otherwise the grass clippings tend to compact and can emit a strong smell. Another option is to include hedge trimmings to allow air or oxygen into the pile to preventing the matting. Adding some lime will help to kick start the decaying process as well as a few springs of the herb yarrow (white flowers pictured above).

Blogs I am following, all informative and god reading:

New York Southern Tier

On Your Way to the Top

Urban Veggie Garden

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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Cornplanter and the Lemon Queen Sunflower

The sunflowers, Lemon Queen, are growing by leaps and bounds, along the the fence with the pole beans. There are about two dozen, germination was good and animals didn't devour them. The plants are basically about eight inches tall. The seeds were from the Great Sunflower Project.

The seeds were free but I do have to record data on the number of bees which visit the flowers once they bloom. There are about 65,000 people across North America involved in the project. An email update (a newsletter sort of thing) from the project I received said that even though the sunflowers were blooming in San Fransisco, no bees were reported, at least in one yard. Based on some experience, I don't expect these to bloom until August.

The newsletter said the yard was just dirt and needed to be restored and planted in native flowers and a few vegetables. I would be pretty sure someone is going to mention compost.

Bees are a little hard to find but I am seeing them especially on the herb, borage. The reseeding annual is blooming all over the place. I am seeing both bumblebees and honeybees as well as some other flying insects. I also have some sage blooming which is attracting quite a few bees. All this activity is good since both peppers and tomatoes are now blooming. Pictured are buckets of compost to be used for a side dressing.

Last week's email for this blog also included some interest in Chief Cornplanter, a Native American leader from the American Revolutionary time period. (Note to Tony: You really think there is a resemblance?).

The Cornplanter story is a fascinating one and a look back story which I think I'll begin to post. The story has something of a modern day twist with the construction of the Kinzua Dam in Pennsylvania and in the nearby Southern Tier area. (Kathleen Richardson). It also background for some of the unrest on the Reservation today.

Blogs I am following:

1.Southern Tier
2.On Your Way to the Top That was a nice looking pig!
3.Urban Veggie Garden.

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Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Forgotten Soil: Start Compost Anytime

Soil is, perhaps, one of the one of the most overlooked features of any garden, flower or vegetable. Yet, soil is crucial to a good looking, healthy, and bountiful garden.

Compost is perhaps the best natural recycling effort anyone can undertake to improve the soil. We live with a lot of garbage from the kitchen and various yard wastes, all of which can be successful used with little effort. For the most, it is free or relatively very inexpensive.

Grass clippings and leaves can be used along with many kitchen scraps excepts for meat, bones, dairy products and raw eggs. There are methods to speed up the decomposition to a few eeks or there are ways to let it work more slowly over several months, including the cold winters.

There are advantages to using mature compost. Compost helps encourage many of unseen micro-organism which help to easily provide necessary nutrient rich food to plants as well as oxygen to plant roots. Compost also helps the soil retain moisture and helps with drainage problems.

Compost acts differently than synthetic or chemical fertilizers. Artificial fertilizers are a quick fix and have little or no long term benefits for either the soil of the plants. Besides, chemical fertilizers are petroleum based and usually fairly expensive.

There are many resources available for home gardeners. One good source are local agricultural extension offices which provide free classes and often free compost bins. Another good source in northwestern Pennsylvania is the Master Gardeners Club in Meadville, Crawford County. They provide a wealth of information and can be contacted through the Crawford County Extension Office. Online there are many additional sources of information.

Compost bins can be rather unsightly but they can be located in out of the way areas of the garden. Or planting can be used around the compost heap bin. And another advantage to compost is one can make compost tea for even better healthier and more abundant vegetables and flowers.

Compost can also help reduce household expenses since less garbage needs to be hauled away to landfills and garbage bags are also not cheap. Compost, once properly done, will not attract flies or rodents, nor should there be foul odors.

It is never too late to start the compost heap and start saving money and creating a healthy soil environment.

A weather note: It has been a bad weather week here in northwestern Pennsylvania with upwards of five inches or more of rain, serious flooding and some really cool temperatures for the opening of July. Compost won't solve those problems but composted plants are healthier and a soil with compost added into it has a better discharge of excess water will retaining it for drier conditions which hopefully come next real soon.

Blogs I am following: On Your Way to the Top and Urban Veggie Garden. Check them out and thanks for stopping.

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