Friday, January 29, 2010

Discover the Groundhog: Wojak

Groundhog Day – Make a “Wojak” Discovery

January seemed to come and go in a blink and it's time for the traditional groundhog fanfare. It is sort of a quaint superstition and a good reason for a mid-winter celebration.
Groundhogs are mammals, often called woodchucks, because of their ability to climb trees. Actually, these mammals are members of the squirrel family. Groundhogs, for most of the year in many regions, are pretty much shot on sight. They can also be used to help in making some great discoveries.
In ancient cultures, they were known as “Wojak” by the Lenni Lenapi Nation which lived in the area of Punxsutawney. The Lenni Lenapi, or the original people, believed all humans originated from animals; and Wojak was one of the grandfathers of all humans. The groundhog also helps to remind humans about the early peoples, like the Lenni Lenapi.
The customs of Europe arrived with the settlers including the myths about the weather abilities of the hedgehog, an animal somewhat similar to Wojak, along with religious purification beliefs celebrated on February 2nd, called Candlemas Day.
Groundhog Day is a signpost that spring and better weather for much of the north hemisphere is on it's way. As the snows melt, the brown earth returns and the maple syrup flows and Wojak is one of the first to be seen in the bare fields and meadows. Okay, there is yard work and spring clean-up work but it is a time to look for sheds, or deer antlers which can be easily found before leaf-out, check for the first wild leeks and discover some arrowheads.
Wojak is a good digger and moves a lot of dirt for his burrows. Often, his digs reveal hidden artifacts like arrowheads or ancient tools, or even just magical rocks. Wojak's dirt piles can help make for some fun discoveries. Groundhog Day is a fun superstition day about weather lore, but real groundhogs are the “original grandfather of humans”and Wojak will tells us, if we look.

Scrap Prices – Discover Rising Prices

Prices for scrap metal usually rise during the winter months. In this region, the price for aluminum is in the mid fifty cents/pound price range. Many civic and religious organizations have fund drives collecting the scrap metal products and the proceeds help the local activities. Canadohta Lake Area Business Association in this region, for example, collects the cans all winter and the proceeds help fund the annual July 4th fireworks display.

Discover the Oak

The Oak Tree is the national tree of the United States. Learn why this tree was selected as a national emblem and why the oak tree was selected, here.
There are many different species of oaks which grow throughout North America. They are an important tree for our wildlife, including valuable insects. The trees are a symbol of strength, loyalty and family. They are beautiful trees and they are fairly easy to grow from an acorn (if Wojak, a member of the squirrel family didn't discover them all first). More information, here.
For many in eastern North America, there is some related good news. The population of the destructive gypsy moth appears to be very low this year. Discover how to identify some of the problem insects this year, most are invasive insects. Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has some good information, as do many other states and Canada in the Northern Hemisphere.

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Asparagus and Wojak

Asparagus is an easy, early spring vegetable to have in the backyard. It is a money saver because it will produce for decades. It is also one of the healthiest vegetables.
While the roots can be purchased in the early spring and planted, consider starting from seeds for home production. Seeds are cheaper and are easy to start. Asparagus roots are generally mostly male plants which do not have to spend time on reproductive activities.
Plants started from seeds are a good mix of female and male plants; meaning little asparagus plants in a few years. For commercial growers, the roots are a better option because of profit margins; for the homeowner, seeds are a good option and the harvest will be more than enough. Groundhog Day is a good time to plan out an asparagus bed for the future. Just be sure to pick out a spot that won't be disturbed for decades.
Discover asparagus this year, it is an easy backyard crop. Pictured is what is called purple asparagus, an heirloom variety. It is sweeter and has a nut-like flavor. It is very hardy and an attractive plant.

Blogs Worth the Time:

On Your Way to the Top

Simply Snickers

New York's Southern Tier

Urban Veggie

Vincent di Fondi

Friday, January 15, 2010

Help Haiti: and the B's of January Thinking

Help Haiti

The reports from Haiti are gruesome. Try to help as much as you can. But be careful who you send cash too, there are a lot of crooks who will want to make a quick dollar. There are many good religious organizations which can be trusted, many of them on the local level.

Here are two national organizations which can be trusted: there are certainly, many, many others.

Doctors Without Borders at

American Red Cross at or call 800-733-2767

If any readers have a worthwhile project related to the Haiti Relief effort, please leave a comment with verification so it can be check as being legitimate. Many people do have family and friends in Haiti who were already on the island previous to the earthquake doing missionary or social work. If this blog can help in anyway, just send a comment with proper verification. Thanks.

Some “B” Thoughts

January and the nice colorful seed catalogs always give rise to thoughts about thing to do in the spring and summer. As usual, the list can get pretty long and ambitious in the dead of winter in January.
Give heirlooms and native flowers a good thought. The heirloom veggies are tried and tested, usually more flavorful and the seed can be saved (a money saver).
Native flowers are already adapted to local climates and soil conditions and are a tremendous food source for native pollinators.
But there are exceptions.
One experiment here will be another patch of buckwheat in the early spring mixed with the herb borage. Buckwheat attracts a lot of bees and is a good soil conditioner. Borage, a hardy self seeding herb, also attracts bees by the thousands. Buckwheat has white flowers, while borage has deep blue-purple flowers. Someplace in this bed, I want to add the sunflower.
North America is not the country of origin for either buckwheat or borage, though, both are pretty much naturalized. Buckwheat appears to have originated in China and Borage in the Mediterranean.
The newcomer plant I want to try this year is the Bleeding Heart. I like the way it looks, it is native and looks similar to a fuchsia which cost too much darn money and don't do all that well without a lot of babysitting.
Buckwheat, Borage, Bleeding Hearts and Bees, not sure how the “B” thoughts happened but it did. And it does go to show that B = A sometimes.

January Outdoors

The winter snow and ice damages many trees like this apple tree which will need some attention before the weather warms.

Pruning is one of the yard work activities which can be done during January. Fruit trees, grape vines and bushes, such as blueberries can be pruned. It makes for a healthier tree or bush and the end result will be higher yields.

January Indoors

It helps to order early before supplies run out. Besides, some companies offer special discounts. Look around, many local organizations have seed swaps or sell seeds locally at reduced prices. Dan, at Urban Veggie Blog below is seed swapping.
Spending a lot of time indoors can be troublesome and Kathleen in her blog below, On Your to the Top, has an experience all should read.
Consider some herbs this year, they are healthy, attractive, flavorful and also draw many good pollinators to the veggie garden. Now is the time to plan.
Consider maybe, planting an Oak Tree, the designated national tree.


The birds, need to eat. Keep the feeders filled. Another reason to grow buckwheat, sunflowers and even a patch of oats. Bird food is expensive and these crops can be money savers plus adding to winter enjoyment.
I try to keep the feeders under some protection like bushes and trees. However, an unfortunate blue jay became a meal for a hawk sitting high in an oak tree.

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Good Blogs

Vincent di Fondi – Vincent doesn't know what he's missing while he is living in Costa Rica.

On Your Way to the Top – Kathleen has some good medical insights in this post.

Urban Veggie Garden - Seed Swapping

Simply Snickers – More fun stuff.

Travel Destination – Fun things to see and do if your travels bring you into that beautiful area.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Weather Myths: Jack Wax and Dandelions

Global Warming and Snowstorm Myths

January is doing what January is suppose to do – snow, cold, wind, dead batteries, frozen water pipes, shoveling sidewalks, driveways and roofs. And it doesn't look like it's going to ease up anytime soon, if the forecasts are on target.
There's been a lot of comments about the cold and global warming. A comment heard frequently all week goes like: “What happened to global warming?” or a similar version of the question with some added political comments included.
The cold weather doesn't mean global warming is some sort of giant trick or a myth being played on the world community. Quite the opposite; the cold weather is an indicator that our weather is changing. The hard facts of science are real, our climates are changing; the myth is actually trying to debunk global warming, or pretending it doesn't exist.
Perhaps, a better phrase instead of global warming, would be “freaky weather changes”. Overall though, the changes are getting more and more dramatic if one looks at the long term instead of a particular cold frontal system.
A good article from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Co. has an interesting perspective on what appears to be contradictions in the weather. Basically, according to the report, the record high temperatures are far out pacing the recorded low temperatures throughout the US. Facts are facts; myths remain myths.
Sure, we have occasional bouts with cold weather, but one has to look a little beyond the present, and delve into our ancient past. Besides, winters use to be a lot more ferocious than they seem to be now. That is no myth.

Jack Wax and the Groundhog

Groundhog Day is Tuesday, February 2nd, something of a sign of approaching spring. But the real indicators are when the sap begins to flow in the sugar maples trees and the fires are lit in sugar shacks all across the north.
Jack Wax is rustic maple sugar candy and one of the best candies ever made. It's pretty simple to do and can even be made at home. Basically, boiling the sap until it is close to being syrup, is poured on the clean snow or in a hole in the snow. It quickly hardens like a taffy. Nothing better on a chilly winter day and much better tasting than some other spring related celebrations.
Maple producers work hard and are generally family owned and operated. In northwestern PA, the big event of the year is a “Taste and Tour” weekend. It is an open house where everyone is invited to dozens of participating sugar shacks to learn about maple syrup, how it is made (pictured above) and to taste free samples of maple products.
If you get a chance to talk to a producer or two, the conversation will likely lead to the subject of the earlier and earlier runs of the sap. For the sap to run, the trees need warm days above freezing, and cold nights when the thermometer dips below freezing. It use to be the run happened in mid-March, nowadays it's more like mid-February. Someone say “global warming”?
The weekend for the event is March 20 and 21st, and there will be the first ever Maple Festival organized by the association at the Edinboro Fire Hall the same weekend. For more information, Northwest Pennsylvania Maple Association.
If you can't make it, or are looking for unique gifts, there are links in the Web site with listing of sugar shacks and products available.

Wild Horses

Thanks to Linda Nickerson for the information and the protest regarding the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) round-up of wild horses in Nevada. The government sponsored helicopter round-up began on December 28th and is expected to continue for the next two months during the harsh winter weather (no, I won't mention global warming).
Protests over the cruel winter round-up and the use of helicopters are beginning to spread across the nation and Linda has an article with some more information, click here.
If your concerned about our wild horses, or interested in the BLM adopt a horse program, Linda is a great resource. For her article Linda used the photograph above which is from the BLM. It's a nice photograph, wish the round-up was a little nicer.
One of Linda's blogs, “Simply Snickers”, is posted below in “Good Blogs”. Thanks, Linda for sharing. Maybe we can get you some, Jack Wax.


We are all familiar with these early spring bloomers. Kathleen Richardson, who is also listed in “Good Blogs” below, contributed these photographs, after reading a Helium article “Defending Dandelions”.
Kathleen's son took these photo's while he was stationed in Alaska. Dandelions are a global plant and are good eating and considered an herb. A friend from Portugal says they call them dentes de leano (thinking means tooth of the lion). Read Kathleen's blog, “On Your Way to the Top” listed below about how she remembers them.
Dandelions don't make Jack Wax, but they can be used to make wines, jellies and tea.
Many times, the dandelion is considered a weed, another myth, and is sprayed with deadly chemicals. The flowers, however, are an important food source for our native bees, and the gentle honeybee and their populations are in serious decline. For more information read, Defending Dandelions.
A special thanks to Kathleen for contributing the photographs, bet a piece or two of Jack Wax won't tip any scales.

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Good Blogs

Vincent di Fondi – Vincent is retired, enjoying the good life in Costa Rica and has just published his first novel. Lucky, Vincent, doesn't have to shovel.

On Your Way to the Top – Kathleen's homespun insights and adventures.

Veggie Garden – Dan is a backyard gardener in nearby Ontario. He is listing some insights about seed companies and getting his spring garden ordered.

Simply Snickers – This is a great blog with a lot of fun things, insights and projects by Linda

Travel Destination – Kathleen also writes a Helium Zone blog about New York's Southern Tier.

You may also be interested in some of these links at Associated Content. Thanks.