Friday, September 19, 2014

When the Light Goes Out

Help me, Oh Lord, not to sit under an umbrella and think the sun will never shine.  Let me look out of my cloud of depression and see your beautiful glories.  Glories meant for me.  Help me to understand that setbacks, defeats, sadness and failures are not the core to life.  They are only a part of life.  They are there for reasons as such as being in the wrong place, to making a poor decision, to an opportunity to learn and be taught, a result of trauma, or a chemical imbalance.  Help me open the envelope, reach inside and find a message of mercy and promise.  I pray this prayer for everyone suffering depression. 

Depression is not the world; it is a part of a world that keeps pulling us under its gray spell.  It is the meaning of negativity.  It’s the end of optimism, self-esteem and often the desire to live.  When we allow depression to engulf our mind, it effectively eliminates all our positive qualities because our mind no longer has room to think of them as qualities.  Each slip lower into depression eliminates our knowledge of a quality that makes us a valuable person.  

As those qualities are eliminated in our mind, they are replaced with real and imagined negative thoughts of our self and the world.   The pull is extremely hard and powerful. 

If the depressed have never been taught how those steps towards negativity mushroom and spiral into deeper and deeper depression.  If they’ve never been taught how to recognize and work at stopping that spiral, as the depression becomes more powerful, they will end up with no tools to combat the progress into darkness. 

No matter what methods are used to treat depression, methods to personally recognize and combat the spiral downward must be taught.  If a person is over drugged, they will not be able to use those methods effectively while in a stupor.  If a person is over analyzed, they will not be able to recognize the spiral while spending time blaming.  If families are not taught the steps needed and only rely on one form of treatment, they will be eliminating the powerful tool of self-awareness.

I know some people have been born with a physical propensity to depression.  My mother suffered from depression most of her life and it was difficult for not only her but also all who cared about her.  Back then no one talked about depression because it was considered an ugly little secret.  It was the preverbal elephant in the room.  Her treatment was mainly to over medicate.  At times she was admitted to the hospital for treatments that were very nearly an example out of the middle ages torture chambers.  She was doctored by the method to blame everything and everyone but never taught to manage her illness.  She never developed the skills needed to recognize the waves of depression nor how to manage those times.

Because it was not a topic discussed, her family didn’t have the knowledge and skills to recognize and help.  Here are a few things I learned as I got older and more informed:

When a person becomes depressed it’s a gradual process.  I like to term it a process of shutting doors in the mind to the outside world.  Slowly, the mind begins to focus inwardly instead of the world around them.  As that process progresses, as each thought turns inward, the ability to partake in life itself is closed.

I can often recognize this closing of doors by looking at the eyes of a person.  It’s where there’s a smile on their lips but the eye are expressionless.  It’s laughing but having no humor in the responses.  It’s hearing people talk only after someone makes the effort to gain their attention.  It’s subtle but real.

I encourage you and your family and friends to include professional instruction when you or someone is suffering depression.  Medication and hospitalization may be a part of treatment but learning the skills to combat the closing of mental doors is essential for surviving.  Once those doors completely close and they only look inward, it’s very difficult to help them prevent hopelessness.  The darkness of looking only inward prevents hope from gaining a foothold.

No matter if the one you care for is going through depression because they are a teenager, or have suffered a loss or if they have a predisposition for depression, it’s necessary for them to know how to stop the doors of the mind from closing out hope.

Loved ones cannot stop depression by loving more, by caring more or by talking them out of depression.  Loved ones can suggest, even insist, their treatment includes instruction on recognizing when depression is starting and methods to help turn it aside.

As family and friends, we can’t cure another of depression.  It’s a difficult and often thankless caregiver position.  We can be involved in the treatment by knowing exactly what treatment they are receiving and insisting on more than masking depression. 

Not exactly a garden article but was something that I felt strongly enough about to share today.  Before Robin Williams death, I saw several photos of him where I knew he was closing the doors of his mind to the positive outside influences.  His eyes no longer smiled.  When a well known celebrity closes all the doors of his mind and only looks inward, we see all too well how his loving family, the adoring public and his treatments no longer were able to pull him out.   I do not wish that loss on others.


Monday, September 8, 2014

Copious Amounts of Winter Panic

Following is an article (notice I didn't say "news article") from Empire News.   It's making the rounds of social media sites and as expected it's causing everything from comment to panic.  Folks:  The Empire News is a satirical publication with the primary focus of making fun and humor.  I have no idea if there's really a Dr. Boris Scvediok but the survivalists must be quoting him.

He suggests getting ready for the "snow of a lifetime" and pack in all the powdered milk and bread you can find.  Perhaps Dr. S has a powdered milk and bread factory...?  There's nothing wrong with preparing for bad weather - it's prudent.  Panic talk frightens the poor because they haven't the means to prepare for most daily life let alone "50 times the amount of snow in the past."  The gullible tend to latch on to these news stories and end up spending resources they can't afford to waste.

Local and regional meteorologists are commenting on the article and I think it's wise to temper the panic with their comments - unless you just like a freezer full of frozen bread and drinking powdered milk all winter.  Seriously, a freezer full of bread?  My family would enjoy a freezer full of meat, vegetables and fruit and be better fed.  It never hurts to have a box of powdered milk for emergencies (or canned) but my family would have to be pretty darn hard up before they'll drink it.

I enjoy a good laugh but I like humor that doesn't instill fear and panic in the vulnerable.  Prepare prudently for winter and then sit back and watch it snow.

The Empire News article:

"Chances are you will hear a lot about El Niño in the next month or two. Meteorologists and weather science experts at the National Weather Service (NWS) say that there is a 99% chance that the we will start to see a massive cold-front sooner in the year than has ever happened, which will produce not just record-breaking snowfall, but according to Dr. Boris Scvediok, a doctor of global weather sciences, record shattering snow storms across the board, affecting the entire United States.
“For the sake of comparison to the past winter, lets say that your area received a total of twenty inches of accumulative snow for the season. Because this year the snowfall is predicted to start by the end of September or the beginning of October, you can expect to multiply that number by up to five, ten, maybe even twenty times in some areas. In the worst zones, you could see 50 times the amount of snow you’ve had in the past. This is the type of winter the American public needs to prepare for. Several meteorologists are saying not to buy into what the models are showing. I can tell you from forty years of scientific weather research, they are doing you a disservice,” Dr. Scvediok told the Associated Press on Friday. “The Northeast, Ohio Valley, and Midwestern states will definitely get hit the hardest.”
Edward F. Blankenbaker, Senior Administrator of Meteorologists, also told the media that this will be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of snowy winter.
“Pretty much everyone will see snow like they never have in their lives. Most younger people don’t even know what an actual blizzard looks like, but by the end of March, they will be seasoned survivalists,” Blankenbaker said. “Everyone needs to make sure they have their weather emergency kits prepared and ready to go. There will undoubtably be mass power outages, which along with freezing temperatures and enough snowfall to immobilize entire cities, will most likely, and unfortunately, be a very dangerous recipe. Safety always comes first and the time to prepare is right now.”
Along with the mention of severe winter weather, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) predicts supply and demand could cause shortages, causing the prices of bread and milk to increase substantially. FDA spokesperson Rebecca Miller suggests alternatives in preparation of the coming months.
“We are encouraging that you go out and purchase bulk amounts of dry, powdered milk which can be stored in your cupboards. This will prevent frantic trips to grocery stores and super markets as the onslaught of storms begin to fall upon your respected region.” Miller said. “As far as bread, we suggest you buy as much as you can efficiently store in your freezer. Bread can be frozen and thawed without compromising the integrity of its quality. Preparations such as these are crucial and the fact that technology has brought us to a time and place in which such events can be predicted is quite remarkable. So stock up on your powdered milk and fill your freezer with loaves of bread, because once the blankets of snow begin to fall, brave souls will confront the elements to raid stores of these products like some sort of scavenger hunt. Don’t be a part of the Snowpocolypse, it’s a dangerous battlefield of crazed shopping winter bitten weather zombies.”
Stock up! Prices could more than triple in some locations
Public safety organizations also encourage the masses to prepare themselves by obtaining proper necessities. James Satterfield from the National Fire and Safety Advisory Board says preparation can save lives. “Don’t wait until temperatures plummet into a freeze; obtain cold weather clothing and footwear, including wool thermal socks. It is also crucial to have plenty of batteries, candles, weather radios, you name it. Get prepared, it’s coming.” Satterfield stated. “First and foremost, make sure you have an effective plan in place to make sure you have plenty of bread and milk.”
Dr. Scvediok says to be prepared for a storm that could come as early as the end of September, and plan for the entire winter season, which this year, he says, will more than likely spread into next June."

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Copious Amount of Snow?

It’s September and we are starting the “what if” cycle of winter weather predictions.  At this point most are based on the 2015 “Farmer’s Almanac”. 

The question is “Do we batten down the hatches?” in our homes, businesses and gardens or “let winterizing slide?”

First off let’s acknowledge the fine art of predicting weather is as easy as getting an orchid to survive in the Midwest.  It might be spot on but the law of averages tells us maybe not so much accuracy is possible.  The important thing about weather predictions is it’s the number one topic of conversation if you live in a Midwest farm community.  And if you don’t love the topic, you’re not really Midwest, farm, or community are you?

Back yard and woods during snow storm

 My farmer dad, born in 1908, could talk weather from every side of the coin.  I used to love hanging out when a neighbor would stop by.  They would stand with one leg propped up on the bumper of a pick-up, talk and spit, spit and talk, and predict, ruminate and complain about the weather.

Even though farmer weather talk is an interesting cultural phenomenon not to be missed by any little kid – the fact remains weather can make or break the back of families depending on nature for their very livelihood.  And another fact is the truth to the old saying, “Everyone talks about the weather but no one can do anything about it.”

In the garden, there is more (but not a lot) we can do if we suspect there’s going to be a nasty winter like last year.  

Front yard with no clean up in the fall
Mulching is one important step to take for perennials.  It doesn’t keep the ground from freezing but it keeps the roots from deadly freezing/thawing over and over all winter.  In fact, many perennials do better when they have a good frozen winter.  A thick cover of mulch over the root area (but not touching the stem) will be a welcome protection.

The front of our drive 2011
A thick covering of straw is a great mulch for garden perennials or other short-stemmed plants.  Unless the garden had some kind of disease, I don’t clean up my fall beds.  By leaving until spring, the leaves and snow form thick protection for my perennials.  Up on this hill, we have lots of cold wind and that cold wind is a worse killer of trees, bushes and perennials than snow and low temperatures.

Roses have a whole sophisticated instruction for winter protection.  Do you want to keep your tea roses, then you better know how to implement those steps.  For more hardy roses, the heavy mulching will help.

Howard County IN 1978
Snow damage (and to some extent ice damage) may be lessoned on multi-stemmed evergreen bushes if you take old nylon stockings and loosely tie the several trunks together prior to winter.  If you’ve ever seen a juniper or arborvitae after lots of heavy wet snow weighs down the branches, you’ll be able to picture this damage.  This often splits the trunks and most never really recover completely.

One thing we can be certain about is last winter culled out most of our semi-hardy plants and we won’t have to worry about what’s left as much.

Kokomo IN 1978
Side Note:  And if you didn’t find out where those cold drafts were coming into your home last winter, you might want to consider making a caulk gun your new best friend this fall.  The amount you spend on caulk is so much less than the amount you’ll spend heating a drafty house.  I used to do energy audits at one time during my Illinois Power career and drafty leaks are such an energy waster.  Suck up your pride and cover those leaky windows with plastic – it may save you enough to buy new windows down the road.  Our very own Hathaway’s hardware store has everything you need to winterize your home.    

When the predictions use words like:  “copious amounts of snow and rain”, “below-normal temperatures”, “frigid arctic air…perhaps 40 below zero”, and the scary “red flagging”, it could describe a Midwest winter. 

My brother and I -1945
What is the “Farmer’s Almanac” predicting for us?  “Stinging, biting cold and normal snowfall.”  West of the Mississippi: “Piercing, bitter, frigid cold and normal snowfall.”  Will they be right? My prediction is it will be winter.  OK, that’s lame but it’s true.  We live in the Midwest and we will be cold and have snow.  My most certain prediction is we will talk about it until spring hits and then we’ll predict if we’ll have a good summer.  It’s what we do in the Midwest farm communities and we do it well.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Vertical Amazement

Big Bluestem "Vitman"
Even the smallest gardens can use a little vertical amazement.  Vertical in the form of ornamental grass.

Perennial ornamental grass in Zone 5 (where we live in Illinois) hasn’t had too many new varieties because many can’t take our freezing ground temperatures.  Most of the hardy ones are native to this area.

I have several varieties and I love how they look and perform:
Blue Festuca "Elijah Blue"
Small clumps:
Blue Festuca “Elijah Blue” – 9x10 inches in a soft blue clump.
Japanese Blood Grass “Red Baron” – 18 inches green with deep red stripes and tips.
Tiger Grass – 18 inches – likes to spread.
Blue Dune Grass

Medium clumps:
Little Bluestem “Blaze” – 3 ft. and turns red in the fall.
Little Bluestem “The Blues” – 3 ft. with blue leaves.
Flame Grass “Purpurascens” – 3 ft. with red/orange fall color.
Maiden Grass “Huron Sunrise” – 4 ft. with red seed heads in fall.

Large clumps:
Big Bluestem “Vitman” – 8 ft or more with large seed heads in the fall.
Zebra Grass “Strietus” – 8 ft. – stripes
Japanese Blood Grass "Red Baron"

Crazy Invasive:
Blue Dune Grass – 3 ft. light blue straps – underground runners.  Beautiful and impossible to keep in bounds.  I don’t recommend planting.
Bamboo – Technically not a grass but some people use as grass.  Do not plant or you will regret it to the point of it growing into your house, into your bedroom and overtaking the mattress and eventually covering your spouse who you won’t be able to find and people will suspect foul play.  I’m telling you this because I care.
Zebra Grass

May or may not survive the winter:
 Japanese forest grass “Aureola” – 2 ft. – lime and green strip leaves
Northern Sea Oats – 3 ft. – some consider invasive.
Corkscrew Rush “Spiralis” – 2 ft.  Green leaves that twist.
Giant Reed Grass – 12 ft. – looks like a corn stalk.  Can be invasive under perfect conditions.

The choices are expanding as annual ornamental grass has been embraced for potting.  The sizes, colors, patterns and fall seed heads are just some of the fun attributes.  There are tiny examples for fairy gardens and tall upright for limited space.   Since some are up to 3 ft. tall and wide, they can be interplanted with your perennials. 

Maiden Grass "Huron Sunrise"
Need a backdrop for a beautiful flowering perennial?  Have a bare spot?  Want to draw the eye along a certain path?  Need privacy?  Annual grasses can fill the order.  They come in a variety of prices starting at about $10.  I’ve had pretty good luck over wintering annual grass in my basement. 

Annual grasses can be divided easily.  Perennial grasses take some pretty serious muscle or a backhoe to divide some of the large clumps.  If you don’t want the perennial grass to spread, make sure you either don’t buy any that even hints at “invasive” or plant in pots and treat as an annual.

Annual dwarf "King Tut" grass

Cut the seed head off in the fall for bouquets or leave for bird feed.  Leaving the grasses stand over winter insures a safe and warmer hiding place for several varieties of birds. 

Perennial or annual grass is a great thing to share because it invigorates the clump to have part of the roots dug out.  And in the “yes, it was an odd winter and I’m still finding crazy things” category:  I had three clumps of native “Big Bluestem Vitman”.  One clump almost totally died, one is only about four foot tall and the third doubled in diameter and is over eighteen foot tall.  Now that’s vertical amazement!   
Big Bluestem rockin' fall.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Bee in Your Bonnet

This little guy has so much pollen on his back legs,
he looks like he has gold chaps.

People are finally sitting up and taking notice of the decline in bees and what affects it has upon produce.  I sometimes think it has been ignored because the ramifications are so enormous and dire it’s hard to get your thoughts around them.  How can one little honeybee and its wild bee cousins be responsible for the majority of our food supply?

Little black bee loving Bachelor Buttons
We can play the blame game but that won’t save one bee or keep one hive alive unless everyone takes an interest in saving these little fuzz balls.  What can the aver homeowner do?

Pollen gathering from a zinnia.
Supping the sticky sweet off the petals of an Oriental Lily.
Do not use chemical pesticides unless you are threatened with total crop failure.  A crop needed to sustain your family or as your income.  Home gardeners have the advantage of being able to care for their plot of land with natural methods or pesticides applied in a manner, time of day or on a specific area that will least come in contact with bees.

Don’t apply pesticides to the flowers of plants – only the areas where the insects are destroying.

Pick off insects that are damaging your plants.  Usually early morning before they warm up is the best time.  Drop them in a bucket or dishwashing soapy water or into a zip-lock baggie.

More pollen gathering from a daylily
Study insecticide labels and understand what will be killed before you spread it willy nilly over beneficial insects.  Spraying everything in your yard with insecticide is the true meaning of “overkill.”

Tolerate some damage.

Learn what plants naturally deter insects and plant them with your vegetables.

Buy plants bred to resist insects and disease.

Try natural insecticides or protection first.

Keep your beds clean of debris since it can be a great place for damaging insects to overwinter.

Bees need a water source.
If you would like a “live demo”, plant squash, pumpkins or gourds and see how the bloom last one day and if a bee has not pollinated it during that short bloom time, it will not produce a vegetable.  One flower, open just one day and must have at least one bee to have one vegetable.  Notice the number of blooms that don’t get pollinated.

Keep some areas of your yard mulch free.  Some bees dig nests in the soil.

Teach your children to respect bees.  Most will never sting you if you let them go about their work of gathering pollen, building their nests and flying their specific paths.

Ask your local bee keepers to give a talk to your club or school.  Support them by buying their locally gathered honey.  It really is the elixir of the gods!

Use town plots, abandoned lots and roadsides to grow bee friendly sustainable crops.

Bumble bees are pollenizers, too.
If you have some extra space or even if you have extra acres, plant alfalfa, clover or other plants appealing to both bees and livestock.  Any farm person of my era remembers pastures of both alfalfa and clover because we all had animals that grazed all summer.  We rotated the animals into fields to let them graze it down so far and moved them on to another field in time to let it come back.  With the decline in animal breeding, those pastures have all but gone away.

Native plant Liatris is a bee magnet
In your back yard gardens and flowerbeds, plant flowers bees love.  Choose a variety of flowers that bloom from early spring to frost.  Not just ornamental flowers, but, flowering bushes and trees.  Lean towards native plants because they thrive in this environment and they’ve been benefiting bees for centuries.

Study which plants are needed for what functions in a bee’s life; some may need specific plants for nesting as well as for pollen gathering.

Heritage Farms bee hives - photo from HF.

The USDA has a program for dairy farmers and ranchers in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas to fund a $3 million project to reseed pastures with alfalfa, clover and other specified plants.  The bill will include incentives for building fences, installing water tanks and efforts to help move their animals so the land doesn’t get worn down.  Whether you are a proponent of government farm subsidies or not, at least they have woke up to the need to strengthen our bee populations.

Commercial honeybees pollinate an estimated $25 billion worth of produce each year.  That doesn’t count the wild honeybees or it’s pollinating cousins.  If the population continues to die, it really could change the destiny of mankind.

If you would ljke more information, the University of Illinois, Purdue University and Michigan State University’s Department of Entomology will have additional facts and advice.  Most will have designs for increasing pollinator friendly yards.

No need to have a bee in your bonnet – just friendly yards or fields will do perfectly.

By clicking on the first picture, it will allow you to have larger views in a form to page through them.  Bees really are worth a closeup shot.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Thinking Annuals

I think all gardeners have a favorite annual; maybe several favorites.  Some of the reasons:

There are those that have the garden discipline to only use annuals that make perfect pots, borders and arrangements.

A beautiful frilly annual poppy.
For those with lots of room, having a “cutting garden” of annuals planted in rows like vegetables gives a summer’s worth of bouquets.

Combining certain annual flowers with vegetables may help repel insects.

Adding bright annuals to a perennial bed keeps it flowering all summer.

Then, there are those of us who plant flowers that bring back good memories.  I like the old fashioned annuals I saw in my grandma’s gardens.  Planted from seed, they are inexpensive and provide a riot of colors. 

Annuals from seed are easy and probably the reason kids are allowed to help plant them.  Some of my favorites to grow from seed:

Every zinnia I've ever had is my favorite.
Zinnia is a hardy plant with almost every color except blue.  Short, tall, big, little, solid or variegated colors and different petal shapes.  Include white and green for serene and elegant.  The riot of colors are reds, gold, orange and all shades in between.

A few Cosmos in a bud vase is especially sweet.

Cosmos look dainty and are tough as nails.  The soft fern-like leaves fill in around other plants and the beautiful flat flowers keep coming all season.  Shades of pink, white and gold are the most popular.

Bachelor Buttons fronting an old stump
full of petunias.
Bachelor Button is another deceptively tough plant and perfect for those needing blue in the gardens.  It also comes in shades of pink and white.  They may self seed. 

These bright Four-O'Clocks add zing to my veggie garden.
Four-o’clock is a thick bushy plant in bright pinks, oranges, yellow, red and white.   As their name indicates, they provide a visual statement in the evening and on cloudy days.

Marigolds are like a scoop of sunshine.

Marigolds are so tough some folks consider them too common and overlook the benefits of being drought tolerant.  It isn’t bashful about standing it’s ground against weeds and is virtually disease and insect resistant.  Many folks believe they help keep insects off garden vegetables; at any rate it brightens up a garden, bed, or pot.   There are many new hybrids in shades of gold, maroon, white and yellow.  Tall, short, small or large flowered.

Cleomes are a good insect magnet.

Cleome is a tall feathery plant that keeps on giving since the flowers keep blooming on the top.  White, pink and wine colors.  Gather the seeds before they drop if you don’t want zillions of plants next spring.  They do pull easily.  I generally let some drop and throw seeds over beds hoping for a mix in with perennials.

All of these may be seeded in rows, used in pots, put in selected areas or scattered to form a dense bed.  With some searching, you can find plant sets  at nurseries.  The above seeds can be mixed to form a combo of size and color perfect for a spectacular attraction or to hide something. 

One of about two-hundred zillion colors of Nasturtiums
The annuals above (and most others) need full sun, moisture when getting established and then they are happy with a typical Illinois summer.  Keeping weeds pulled insures they have all the moisture, sun and nutrients available.  

Once they’ve seeded or you’ve harvested the seeds, pull annuals and compost.  Annuals are better not left in the ground over winter because they can harbor diseases and insects plus most are no longer attractive.

To harvest the seeds, pick when the flower is dry and lay on newspaper for a few days just to make sure the seeds are dry.  Then put in a paper envelop, label and store in a dry spot where it won’t freeze. 

The old fashioned fragrant Nicotiana
Enjoy a riot of annuals throughout summer and bring a little old fashioned love back into your gardens.

(I know I didn't include some of our favorites, but I had to stop at some point.  I agree there are so many to choose from and I didn't even get into annual vines.)