Monday, September 11, 2017

An Ode to Okra -vs- Oh NO! Okra!

Okra Plant
This is not exactly a poetic tribute to Okra but it does touch on my love/hate relationship with this odd vegetable during this summer.  If you have read any of my other posts, namely, the last one, you will know that I work on a farm where the main part of my job is harvesting.

Harvesting okra is like an intense game of Where's Waldo but played at the pace of, say, hockey. Once the beautiful flower drops, the remaining fruit is well camouflaged among the stalk and leaves and, because it grows at the rate of about a foot a second, the fruit can become tough and inedible if not picked quickly.  So you are constantly trying to keep up.

Adding to the normal fun and games of an okra harvest is my inability to reach the top of the plant as some of the plants are about seven feet high. In addition, I had developed a strange skin reaction to the oils from the plant, and the bushy leaves flying in my face made seeking the fruit more frustrating.

Now we were instructed by our farmer friend Mr. C. that is was a good idea to give Okra a haircut every once in awhile.  I am not sure why this is good for the plant but it sure would make seeing the developing fruit much easier.  But for some unknown reason, I have a hard time performing actions that seem like they are harming a plant.  Another inane action on my part was not wearing gloves which would eliminate my rash problem.  So after a week being stubborn, I decided to take control of the situation.  I took out the clippers and put on my long gloves.  The result, a much better relationship with Okra.

When you get up close and personal with vegetables on a regular basis you come to know them out of context.  Yesterday, sitting in a restaurant with my husband, I glanced on a distant wall and noticed a painting of a flower, blown up very large a la O'Keefe. "That's okra", I said.  Having no okra on our plates my husband was puzzled but then saw I was pointing at the wall with the painting.  Of course I had to get up and go check to see if the artist named the flower in the painting and it was, indeed, okra.

Okra Flower

Monday, August 14, 2017

Down on the Farm

One year ago today I left my long time home in a large northern city and relocated to North Carolina.  We had never been here before, and did not know what to expect. What I definitely did not expect was to be employed on a farm.  I had no experience farming, am extremely small, and at times can get away with ordering off the senior menu.  There was absolutely no reason to think that I would be applying for such a job let alone anyone hiring me.  

When I started working in early March, all of our crops were in the greenhouse and I spent my time tending and harvesting those plants. Lots of lettuce, kale, beets and collards.  During this time I also worked a few afternoons in the farm store. The farm also raises beef; however, the beef is not located where the vegetable crops are so I have little to do with that.

But creatures are no strangers to the farm. One day at the store, a customer asked if we have animals on the farm and I responded that there were plenty - the raccoon that was eating the cantaloupe, the deer that was eating the green bean, the worms eating the corn, etc.

My favorite creature showed up one day last week and it was the first time I ever encountered one of these guys that were not squished in the road.  Take a look at the short video below!

The other thing I get to do on the farm is plant, which involves using this contraption that is technically called a high wheel cultivator (something my sister told me, who is another unlikely person you would find on a farm, but that is another story).  Basically, after the soil is tilled, the cultivator makes a nice furrow for planting seeds. Before adding the seeds, any fertilizer being used is spread in the furrow and you go over that again with the cultivator to mix the fertilizer and the soil.  Planting the seeds involves a bit more than just dropping in the seed and covering it with soil. Of course seeds have to be placed at certain depths and widths apart but you also need to create furrows along side where the seeds are planted for water run off.   

One of the people who comes to the farm often is Mr. C, a gentleman who lives near by. Mr. C has been farming his whole life and shares his knowledge as well as his equipment (I am fairly sure this is his cultivator).  He also grows great tomatoes and shared with us the only way to water them....his way, which means using this attachment on the end of the hose.  But I don't have a photo of that contraption at the moment.  

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Ladies of the Evening: Moth Night

Moth Night:  set up before dark
Ok, I really do not know if these moths are male or female but how can I resist that title?  So you may be wondering what is moth night?   Basically, it is an evening dedicated to studying moths, and by default, other insects that fly into the observation area.   While the set up at the event where these photos were take was on the relatively high tech side as far as such set ups go, you can easily have your own moth night by hanging a light colored cloth over something in your yard and having some sort of light source shine by it.

The event was part of a county study to see how many species of moths are  around and about this particular area.  So while there are people at this event doing real scientific data collecting, there are also people like myself there pointing and saying "Oh, look at this one!"    What is nice is that all participants' comments and observations are welcome because moths are quick and there are so many at any given time that extra eyes really do help those who are collecting the data.

Polygrammate hebraeicum (Hebrew moth)

Pyrrharctia isabella (Isabella Tigermoth)

Epimecis hortaria (Tulip Tree Beauty)

Xanthotype urticaria (False Crocus Geometer)

Desmia funeralis (Grape Leaffolder Moth)

Euchlaena amoenaria (Deep Yellow Euchlaena)

Top to Bottom:  Banasa calva (Green Stink Bug), Melanolophia canadaria
 (Canadian Melanolophia)Lomographa vestaliata (White Spring Moth)
Scopula limboundata (Large Lace Border)

Clydonopteron sacculana (Trumpet Vine Moth)

Addendum to above ~

Since moth night, I have come across some other wonderful moths.  See below:

Hyalophora cecropia  (Cecropia Silkmoth)

Actius Luna (Luna Moth)
Eudryas grata – Beautiful Wood-nymph Moth
Atteva aurea (Ailanthus Webworm)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Sidewalk Botany ~ Spotting Celebrities

Lonicera sempervirens

Many people enjoy reading.  Since I am a visual person and have the attention span of a gnat, I tend to read field guilds. When you spend way too much time pouring over the images in these guides, they tend to stick to your brain.  So when you come across something in the field that you are used to seeing in a book, it is like seeing a famous person walking down the street and it is kind of surreal.

A similar experience I recently had was with a plant that I saw many times in gardens, including my own garden, but never saw in the wild. The plant is Lonicera sempervirens (the common name is Coral Honeysuckle or Trumpet Honeysuckle).  Most importantly, it is a native honeysuckle.

Last week, a coworker of mine said he wanted a honeysuckle for his home and was going to pull some from the woods.  I begged him not to do that because the woods are full of the dreaded Lonicera japonica, an invasive honeysuckle that is reeking havoc on our forests.  So we discussed where he could purchase some native honeysuckle and the happy ending to the story is that he did. This got me thinking that I actually never saw the beloved native honeysuckle in the wild. It had to exist somewhere, but where?

A few days after all of the above thoughts and events, I was wandering around a local prairie and there, stretching high up to the sky and snuggling up below against all its neighbors was the magnificent Coral Honeysuckle in the wild!  What a treat!

Lonicera sermpervirens

Friday, February 3, 2017

Relative Matters

Fish Market, Mixed Media
Below is a story I originally wrote in 2008 and titled it Relative Matters.  I have kept the story semi-private but after recently completing a course in habitat stewardship I decided to post it. 

A good part of my winter of 2008 was spent hanging out with fish in my studio; in particular, a Whiting that went through stages ranging from fresh, frozen, slowly decaying, baked, and partly disemboweled.  It was a winter where I was preoccupied with many upcoming events. My daughter was graduating from college and relocating, fortunately, closer to home. But the logistics loomed large for me.

Four years earlier, when Esther left for college, I became obsessed with songbirds and was determined to have a “bird garden”. Ceaselessly, I scanned the internet trying to gather information for this project. The first year of the garden, I sat for hours at my kitchen window waiting for something to appear other than a pigeon.  One day, in almost a complete state of despair at the failure of my garden, I cried out to God to give me a sign that I should continue with this seemingly futile experiment.  Within seconds, two noisy blue jays flew down into my yard, raised a big racket, then departed. I was amazed that a prayer was answered so obviously and quickly. During these months, it never occurred to me that my obsession with birds was a way to ease my loneliness for my daughter. 

Over time, the bird garden grew in size and complexity and eventually attracted the normal range of creatures – cardinals, chickadees, catbirds, finches, and, of course, pigeons. As Esther’s college years passed and I got used to a quiet house, my obsession with birds was replaced with an easy enjoyment.  I accepted the fact that my current cast of visitors was never going to be exotic, but I had succeeded in building what I referred to as my Field of Dreams.

 For the most part, Esther’s move was uneventful. I found myself having some of the same feelings I did four years before; not so much the loneliness, but the concern you have for your children when they start something new.  But it was Spring and there was much work to be done in the garden, so I set my focus to those tasks knowing that we would survive the geographic transition. 

It was long since I watched compulsively out my window for "exotic" songbirds, but I did have a habit of surveying what was going on when I was within six feet of a rear-facing window.  As I walked by the back bedroom, I decided to glance out at the yard. In the feeder was a medium size white bird with dark tail feathers. At first, I thought it was an albino dove that had been hanging around the yard, but the shape was rounder. I decided to go downstairs to grab the binoculars.

By the time I got downstairs, the bird had turned around in the feeder and I had a frontal view, which
showcased a pronounced pinkish breast.  A grosbeak!  I stood mesmerized.  I recalled all the advertisements for bird feeders that I saw inhabited by grosbeaks and thinking to myself “Yeah, like I am going to get a grosbeak”.  But it was really there! REALLY! In MY backyard!  In the middle of Philadelphia!

Sketches from prepared specimens
I stood, stunned, staring for several minutes. I notified my husband and pointed proudly, “Look, A Rose Breasted Grosbeak”. Once he commented on the bird, it helped verify for me that I was not hallucinating.  The grosbeak visited the feeder throughout the day, and I saw it again the next morning. I called my mother to the window and proudly showed her my grosbeak, as if I had given birth to it, “Oh", she mused, " isn’t that pretty!”

 On Monday, my artist friends and I went to visit a mutual elderly friend who, knowing my enthusiasm for birds, pointed out the dead robin in his driveway.  This was the perfect chance for me to tell everyone about my grosbeak. Kit, who was a birder, shared in my enthusiasm. Others within the group made polite comments, most likely to get me to stop talking about birds.  The gathering broke up in shifts and I headed back to the city with my friend Anders to grab dinner.

Before going to dinner, Anders and I decided to stop by our art club to get a sneak preview of the Members’ Medal Exhibition. The exhibition was especially meaningful because the club awarded three medals - Gold, Silver and Bronze – that had roots dating back to the beginning of the organization some hundred years before.  It was a terrific honor to win one of these medals.

As we started looking at the work, I was caught somewhat by surprise at the site of my painting of the Whiting I had just wintered with. It seemed so different, framed and on display, than it did in my studio. Upon closer look, I noticed a small post-it note attached to the frame. I went over and looked at the note, which read “Gold”. When Anders saw the post- it, his excitement overflowed. “Please don’t tell anyone,” I asked, explaining I needed time to process the information by myself.

The week before the award ceremony, I received many messages of congratulations. When I received my medal, I was very pleased but, for some reason, it didn’t knock my socks off the way I always thought winning such an honor would. The same week leading up to the award ceremony, I kept vigil by my window in hopes that the grosbeak might return. He never did.

Some weeks later, my friends were discussing if a work of art ever moved them to a euphoric state. Julianna described how her knees had literally buckled before The Florence Pieta.  What came to my mind was the image of my feeder where, for two brief days, a rose breasted grosbeak took his meals.