Saturday, September 10, 2011

Late Summer Gardens

Sometimes at this time of year I pull into the driveway and think: "Ugh." What must the neighbors think? The cupplant are beginning to brown, towering above the rest of the garden beds. Most of the flowers have given up their blooms. Various plants are dying back, setting seeds, and generally not putting on the best show. This is when I have to stop and remind myself that this is one of my favorite times of year in the gardens.
Those dried cupplant heads attract my beloved goldfinches. The finches stop throughout the summer, checking to see if their coveted seeds are ready yet, knowing our yard will provide a smorgasbord when they are. Now we hear the finches from everywhere in the yard, chattering as they feast. There's one little lady in particular that steals my heart. Yes, one. There's no doubt who she is when she arrives. She's cheeky as can be and she prefers some of the seeds that are setting in one of the forest garden beds near the rain barrels. When I water from the barrel, she scolds me until I leave the premises. She gets more daring each week. Today when I decided to try to get a shot of her, she let me within 3 to 4 feet before flying to a further perch and scolding me heartily. Her mate has begun his transition into fall coloring, and is a lovely shade of lime green.

The prairie beds, rain gardens, and spent vegetable beds all buzz with pollinators that find our yard to be an oasis as gardens start to die back. Our asters, butterfly weed, and even traditional garden plants like sunflowers, butterfly bush and russian sage all attract visitors. I watched a female hummingbird at the russian sage and sweet peas for a solid 10 minutes today. In the summer, they only visit for a few seconds at a time. The spiders love the visitors as well. As little love as I have for arachnids, I have to admit their particular stark beauty. The yellow and black arigopes are the most prominent, with their zig zag down the middle of their web to support their bulk. It's always a bit of a shock to come across one in the gardens, so you have to step carefully, knowing they're quite abundant. We have a variety of crawlers, and they decorate the spaces in-between the plants throughout the yard.

It's amazing what you find when you take a few moments to just poke around. We haven't spotted a single monarch caterpillar this year. Usually we have dozens in the gardens, but the butterflies have been few and far between this year. In my quest to find one yesterday, I came across this beautiful imperial moth caterpillar in our sycamores that dot the back prairie bed. He'll be heading underground soon to pupate.

As the garden beds slow down and surrender the last of their fruits, I almost forget to look up and remember that we're just weeks away from the trees' contribution to our harvest. A few tiny apples and some lovely asian pears are shadowed this year by our big pear trees. They had hundreds of buds this year and are boasting impressive fruits now.

It's a busy time of year, and it helps to remember that though our suburban neighbors may shake their heads, we are hosting a whole amazing ecosystem right outside our door. Enjoy these last beautiful days of summer.

For a closer look at any of the pictures, just click. Enjoy!

Monday, February 07, 2011

Groupon's "Save the Money" Commercials

Once a year our family goes in for a night of being a "normal" American family and watches the superbowl together. None of us are into football at all, but we have fun cheering along with millions of those who are around the world, gnoshing on goodies and best of all, watching the commercials. I admit I don't have the toughest skin, and there were a few moments in multiple commercials that I found tasteless. But when Groupon's Tibet themed ad came on, I had a naive moment of thinking that the ICT had actually raised enough money to run a superbowl commercial, which quickly turned into having my jaw drop when it turned into a "ha ha" moment for Groupon. My husband and I were both shocked that a company would take something as serious as the atrocities of Tibet and try to make a joke out of it. We logged onto Facebook to see the potential fallout. While encouraged that there was some, we wished there was more. Plenty of people were posting to bash the "hippies" (there was much worse name calling going on) who were offended. I tried to take a moment to analyze my feelings about the commercial. After sleeping on it and watching it along with Groupon's other commercials, I've decided that my initial reaction was sound. Quite simply, using a situation where we have seen a generation of murder, rape, religious oppression, and exile to make a joke is tasteless in the extreme. I've seen bloggers this morning defending Groupon as having been making a joke about themselves--being self deprecating by admitting that it's about money and nothing more. I don't see how that excuses the situation. Once again, it seems that the only way to try to get people to understand why it is offensive is to beg the comparison of something that would be significant to them. Can you imagine a company trying to get away with making light of something that the majority of Americans hold sacred? Would Groupon have ever even considered starting a commercial with the tragedies of 9/11 and then turning it into a joke about getting cheap New York pizza? Absolutely not. Yet they exploited an equally tragic situation because it was removed enough from the American psyche for them to get away with it.

Perhaps the saddest part of all of this for me is the opportunity it has created for the division of our country to play itself out on yet another canvas. Go to Groupon's Facebook page or any of the blogs where people are commenting, and you'll see people ripping apart those condemning Groupon. Thankfully as of early this morning there wasn't too much acknowledgement of those barbs, but there was some mud slinging back and forth. There is a definite air from those not offended of "Why should I care?". Mostly it's all just name calling and cries of "It's just advertising!" Again, I would challenge those defenders of Groupon to imagine a similar commercial with something that is dear to their heart. How about a joke ad about Hurricane Katrina's devastation that turns into a funny bit about saving money at a hardware store? Or maybe poking fun at our men and women in uniform who are in the line of fire and then turning into a laugh about cheap airline tickets? The point is that with this method of advertising, Groupon is capitalizing on our propensity that already exists to turn a blind eye to issues that we can easily forget about. These are issues that are easy for Americans to forget about--to think it doesn't affect us because it's not our backyard. Groupon is giving a nudge and a wink to things that we should be ashamed to be brushing aside as "not my problem". It's truly shameful.

Groupon's only saving grace is their "Save the Money" site where the ads are posted along with buttons where people can donate to related charities for each of the issues that Groupon is mocking: currently commercial whaling, rainforest deforestation, and Tibet. (All very funny issues, right?) For the Greenpeace donation, Groupon will give you a $15 credit for a $15 donation. Groupon is also matching donations to the organization they chose: "The Tibet Fund", up to $100,000. That's nice, sure, but does it really make up for exploiting gross human rights violations for advertising? I find it almost equally offensive that they feel that throwing a "donate" button up under the commercial makes up for their tasteless ads. There is some information from The Tibet Fund on the option to purchase the $15 donation for them. At this point I think Groupon should at the very least make a bigger deal about encouraging people to learn about the issues in Tibet. At the time of this post 1,667 people have purchased the donation to Greenpeace (getting $15 back in Groupon credit). Only 47 have purchased the Tibet donation. I myself wouldn't purchase it because it feels like condoning the ad. Until Groupon ups the ante in repairing this colossal blunder I'll be canceling my Groupon account (which they've made very difficult to do) and continuing to ask people to pay attention to things like these ads that are encouraging us to forget about everyone else's problems in favor of lining our own nests. While I would love to see an apology from Groupon, I'm learning to tone down my naivete.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

M2F Brand Denims

I was very excited to discover a new denim brand that focuses not only on sustainable fibers but also sustainable dyes. I first heard about the denim on Facebook when a friend posted about how incredibly comfortable the jeans were. I'm always on the lookout for eco-friendly fashion so I started doing some digging. I was impressed to learn that the yarn that M2F produces for their fabric is OKO-TEX certified. At first I was a bit hesitant about M2F's approach to color. Their dyes are completely non-toxic and use 50% less energy and water than standard denim dye processes. The dye process is designed to create an authentic saturated color. The colors in M2F's denim range from soft pastels to deep jewel tones. The more I looked, the more I warmed to the uniquely colored jeans. After all, I'm always envying my daughter's bright, bold colored clothing. I opted for a couple of skinny pairs from the previous collection, one in earthy Greek Olive, another in Purple Haze. They are wonderfully soft jeans with a hint of stretch. Not too low cut, they are a true skinny jean, fitting almost like a legging. My previous jean colors have delved only into black, brown, and traditional indigo. These colors are deliciously fun. Both the olive and the purple are deeply saturated but also naturally faded, creating a rich vintage look. My picture does not do them justice, but take a gander at the beautiful picture of the colors from M2F's Spring Line above. As far as price goes, they're reasonable for a sustainable fashion jean at around $129. Look for M2F's Spring Line to start appearing as Winter fades away. The pastel color lineup will be a welcome light note. The Spring Look Book can be found at Made to Fade's website.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

More Monarchs

Back in 2006 I wrote about our first adventures with monarchs on the fledgling praire plants in our yard. Those plants have come a long way, and this year our monarch population caught up. I haven't noticed too many caterpillars the past couple of years, but this year has been absolutely insane. We started looking for eggs shortly after learning in early July that many monarch eggs get eaten by ants or earwigs. I always thought it was better to leave nature well enough alone, but I decided to go ahead and 'save' some butterflies and that the ants and earwigs could find plenty of other munchables in the prairie. Our first night out Bird spotted a gigantic caterpillar and we found a couple of eggs. Over the course of the next month we found more and more eggs and started a monarch nursery! It's minimal work but you do need to keep the enclosure clean and make sure that the leaves are fresh. We did have a couple of very tiny caterpillars "disappear" but overall we had really good success with those we brought in. In recent weeks it's gotten to the point that we would have them randomly appearing in the cage, having hitchiked in on some of the fresh milkweed we brought in. I got tired of the constant cleaning and getting fresh leaves so I've been trying to avoid bringing more in, but I can't really avoid it. Today I was getting ready to take out a vase of flowers I picked from the gardens last week, and I spotted some frass and a caterpillar skin--they molt theirs when they go into their chrysalis stage. I poked around and sure enough, there was a chrysalis hanging from a wilting coneflower blossom. We'd had red milkweed in the bouquet and he must have been living there the whole time. Interestingly enough we found the earlier eggs and caterpillars on the regular milkweed that you see in ditches, etc. that we have around the yard. But lately it's been the native red milkweed we planted that's literally crawling with them.

One of the best things about having so many is that we've had a better chance of seeing the "as it happens" moments. We saw a caterpillar just as he molted into his chrysalis a couple of weeks ago. This morning that same little guy emerged from his chrysalis right before our eyes. His chrysalis had turned clear so Bird was keeping a close eye and called us all over just in time to see him burst out. Simply amazing. We've learned a lot and enjoyed feeling like we're playing for the monarch team. I think it's an experience every child should get to enjoy.

You can look for eggs on the underside (sometimes the top) of milkweed leaves. They are a tiny white raised bump. Just before they hatch they will turn dark as the little one emerges. Keep the original leaf fresh by wrapping some wet paper towel around the stem and covering it with foil. You may need to moisten the towel again but don't let it go too wet--you want to avoid mold. After that just make sure that you leave fresh leaves in. They get positively voracious when they're about ready to go into their chrysalis (about the size of the caterpillar in the third picture, but we've noticed they do it at all different sizes--just look at the difference in the sizes of the chrysali on the lid), so be prepared. Our latest caterpillars have preferred red milkweed right on the stem. Don't let the frass build up in the cage. Remember that when they want to build their chrysalis, they go UP, so be sure to have a secure top on the cage that the caterpillars can't crawl out of. We use a terarrium type plastic cage with fine ventilation. Keep an eye on the chrysalis and you'll see it turn clear before the butterfly emerges. Ours have emerged between 8:30-10:30. Let the wings dry for a couple of house before releasing them. Don't release them in the rain or the dark. Release near a food source is ideal. Enjoy the magic of seeing this spectacle of nature up close and personal!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Elemental Garden Dinner

All the fancy recipes come later. For our first big harvest, we stuck with the basics. Tonight's dinner is brought to you by what Rob brought home from the farm today: broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots; and my evening's garden harvest: chard, and beets. Throw in some onions from last year's garden, a bit of olive oil here, lemon juice there, a sprinkle of apple cider vinegar... Ahhhh, summer!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Fraternizing with the Enemy

Spring has come on so quickly here in Wisconsin. I've watched Rob busily working on starting seeds and getting cold tolerant crops in the ground for the farm and nearly forgot about our home gardens. Last week I got a small area cleared and turned and got a few rows of beets started. My goal on this beautiful day was to finish clearing and turning that bed and get it planted with carrots and spinach. I was clearing the last little corner of the bed with a small rake when I noticed some fur in the straw I was pulling back. I carefully cleared away a bit more, expecting an abandoned mouse nest, but saw it was actually rabbit fur, and soon spotted a few pairs of teeny ears to match. I know I will be cursing our cottontailed friends in a few short months or even weeks, but lets face it, I'm a sucker. I've always been a sucker in particular for baby bunnies. So I called Wildlife in Need and they assured me that mom won't care that I disturbed the nest, and that if the dogs hadn't bothered them thus far then they might not bother them at all. Baby bunnies have big mammalian tummies, so Mom is careful to only visit at dawn and dusk so as not to attract predators. Wildlife in Need assured me that I could even fence off 3 sides of the nest to keep the dogs out, and that as long as mom could get to them, she would. I let the kids get a closer look before I covered them back up. They are quickly outgrowing their little depression in the garden but we think we counted 5 sets of ears in the little jumble of legs and backs. I planted the other half of the bed that I'd already turned, but left this half for momma and her babies. Hopefully when they grow up they'll decide that a two-dog yard isn't the best home, and move along. Happy planting!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

WGBH Family Nature Program

WGBH-Boston is developing a new TV program to help parents connect their kids with nature and get families outdoors! They have asked that I share this survey with you to help them design the program. It is short and to the point, so please take a minute to provide your input on this valuable project! I'm excited to see what develops!