Saturday, August 8, 2009

Make a Loan - Change a Life

Last night I ran across an incredible website called Kiva. Kiva works with microcredit organizations around the world to provide small loans to poor people who want to start or improve their businesses. Kiva's mission is to connect people who are willing to loan $25.00 to a person who needs a small loan, for the sake of alleviating poverty.

Kiva is the world's first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs around the globe.

You can go to Kiva's website and lend to someone across the globe who needs a loan for their business - like raising goats, selling vegetables at market or making bricks. Each loan has a picture of the entrepreneur, a description of their business and how they plan to use the loan so you know exactly how your money is being spent - and you get updates letting you know how the entrepreneur is doing.

The best part is, when the entrepreneur pays off their loan you get your money back - and Kiva's loans are managed by local microfinance institutions who have a lot of experience doing this, so you can trust that your money is being handled responsibly.

I went through and found a group of women in Uganda Africa who had applied for a group loan of $825.00. Each woman in the Tumwebaze B Group will receive a loan of $103 for a 12 month term. Each month they pool funds to make a loan payment, and each of them is responsible for helping the others repay their part of the loan. I love this picture. Each woman holds her application and tries very hard to look appropriately serious and trustworthy. I hope they dance with joy when their loan money is distributed.

Jane Mbasagi is the leader of the group. She operates a grocery store selling sweet bananas, tomatoes, cabbages, and other produce. She is 45 years old and has eight children, four of whom are going to school. She is also taking care of one sibling. She has been in business for over two years. She will use her loan to purchase grocery items to add stock to her business. She is a hardworking business woman whose dream is to educate her children.

My small loan, combined with loans from 20 or more other people have now raised the $825.00 for the group loan, which each of them will use to finance business activity. So now, Jane Mbasagi, Scovia Kavabunga, Jane Pande, Damali Namugabe, Aida Kafuko, Alice Chandia, Suzan Nanja and Sarah Nakwaga in the wee village of Kaliro, Uganda have the opportunity to use their skills and hard work to improve the lives of themselves and their families.

This is powerful. It's finally easy to actually do something about poverty. Using Kiva I know exactly who my money is loaned to and what they're using it for. And most of all, I know that I'm helping them each build a sustainable business that will provide income to feed, clothe, house and educate their family long after my loan is paid back.

There are thousands of others waiting for a chance. Please join me in changing the world - one loan at a time.

All the best!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Ruth's Golden Thumb

Tony says Ruth doesn't have a "green thumb", she has a golden thumb! Her 4 x 4 garden has been spectacularly successful this summer, and the latest evidence is this green pepper which she picked this morning.

And the "gardeners" are not the only ones who enjoy our labours. I can see into the community garden from where I sit. I can't count the number of visitors who respectfully enter the space, who bend to touch a leaf, or show a tiny child a blossom, a squash, a tomato or other plant. And yes some kids have pinched a tomato or two, but maybe it's the first time they've ever popped a tomato, warm from the sun, off the vine and directly into their mouth. Maybe 10-15 years from now they will remember that little tomato and plant some of their own.

The Community Garden is about more than cabbages and pepper plants. It's as much about growing community as it is about vegetables. And since I am keenly interested in communities I see it as a bit of a social experiment. I ask the question, "Does it make this a better place to live?" and the answer must surely be yes.

You begin to create a safe and secure community when you decide that you will be a good neighbor. Like charity, building community begins at home. Building community is something we each can do, right here, right now, in this place.

Nobody is an island. We will do better, and have a better place to live, if we think of this little park by the lake as our village, and discover anew the truth that we have learned many times in history: united we stand, divided we fall, cooperation is as important as competition. Anything and everything we do to make this a better place to live helps us all, and helping us all is what community is about.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Don't You Wish You Were an Insomniac?

Look at all the stuff you miss while you are sleeping!

Critters eating my tomatoes! I went out yesterday and picked a colander full of almost-but-not-quite-ripe tomats. This is what was left after I shared the bounty with Kent, who was kind enough to let me put a 4 x 4 raised bed in his sunny site.

Purple Princes, who are living up to their name, and Brandywines, who are almost the same colour, just a little different in shape. The Tiny Tims and Sweet Millions are red, there's a yellow pear tomato in there somewhere, a couple of green pepper and a few burgundy bush beans.

I wanted to leave the tomatoes on the vine until they were really ripe, but as soon as they get a day or two from "really ripe" some critter eats them. Anybody have a double-barreled shotgun? I've about had it with this thief.

But the spectacular thing you are missing while you sleep is this sound and the show that goes with it.

Great Horned Owls Chicks Calling Mom

I was sleepless at 1:00 am a few nights ago and heard that sound, to the right, to the left.... I knew it was a bird but wondered what sort of bird it was, and worried (as I do about everything) that a young bird had fallen from the nest and was calling to its mama. But two? There were obviously two screamers, as the second's rasping call would begin before the first one quit.

I got my bird glass and went out on the porch. Heck, didn't need the glass. Circling under the street lamp directly across from our site was a HUGE buff-and brown bird, with a two-foot or more wingspan. I immediately thought red-tailed hawk but dismissed the idea almost as fast. The bird dropped to the pavement, fluttered a bit, and took off again, something in its talons. Into the dark it went.

The screeching grew louder and more frantic. Yes, two juvenile Great Horned Owls, yelling, "Here Mama! Here Mama! Bring it to me!" One from the big willow by the community garden, the other across in the tenting row.

In a minute she was back, first to perch on the fence post directly beneath the light, where she sat for a moment and then extended her wings out to the side and held them there. In a flash she dove up beyond the light, whisked back in again and was gone. (Obviously not this one, but imagine one like this under the street lamp on Landry, adjacent to the tenting row at 1:00 am, and be suitably impressed!)

The Great Horned Owl mama was hunting for her hungry young'uns in the streetlight. Was she grabbing suicidal mice who had chosen that moment to dash across the road, eating moths, or perhaps catching bats? Hard to say, we have some enormous moths here. I found one whose wing span covered my entire hand last summer.

This show has happened several nights. I have only gotten up twice to watch her pirouette beneath the streetlight, but if you haven't seen her it's worth a few moments of lost sleep.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Under Cover of Darkness

I should have been sound asleep, but like the cat, I am often nocturnal. Unfortunately, unlike the cat, I can rarely sleep during the daytime. What do you call someone who doesn't sleep besides tired?

Anyway, at the usual 1:00 am there was a scramble of little feet on my pots, little toenails scrabbling across plastic. I had left the spray bottle of home made Tabasco and soap Critter Off! in the garden, because though I'd planned to spray after turning the compost, I forgot.

In the middle of the night I paid the price of absent-mindedness. The park is full of people. While I was not shy about getting up and going out to shoo away critters when I was still sleeping in my (highly alluring) sweat pants and monster-sized T-shirt, I did not feel like getting up in my abbreviated summer jammies and causing alarm and dismay among any passersby. I gritted my teeth and listened for the munching of watermelon leaves. I dozed off and on listening for munching.

All night long a parade of critters came to call. When I did finally sleep I had a nightmare that my entire garden had been eaten to bare stems. That's scarier than dreaming of monsters!

I need a camera which takes pictures in the dark! Some of the critters had teeny feet, some were bigger. But as dawn was breaking there was a set of feet which were much bigger. I remembered Cat's belief that we have a resident weasel. Fine by me, the weasel is a carnivore and the hurried scrambling away of small feet that took place when those larger feet hit the pots cheered me up immensely. I never heard a squeak, so I'm not sure the weasel (or whatever) caught its meal, but I heard no more little feet.

I was almost afraid to look this morning, but to my surprise (and relief) not a leaf appeared nibbled, no new bare stems, no missing marble-sized melons (there are now three). I guess the cayenne spray lingers longer than I had anticipated. Yay! But you can bet I'll be out spraying tonight.

There's a new set of pictures in the Flickr album, mostly the 4 x 4's in the community garden but also a couple of the "Hen and Chicks" blooms in my garden. I didn't know they bloomed until last year, but they have beautiful flowers!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Non-Toxic Mosquito Spray

I was horrified last night when I was closing up for the night to find that there were about 100 mosquitoes on my kitchen ceiling and walls. Yikes!

What to do? I have no bug spray in the house and really wouldn't want to use a toxic spray in my kitchen anyway.

But I grabbed my spray bottle, put in 1/2 cup of water, added 1/4 tsp of dish soap and three drops of peppermint oil. I shook it a bit and started spraying.

The mist hit the 'skeeters and they sort of did a little tizzy dance, curled up and fell down dead. It took about three seconds. Yowzers. In two minutes my kitchen was free of mosquitoes, and smelled really nice to boot.

There were three or four lingerers this morning which must have been hiding in the curtains or behind the dishwasher. I sprayed them and they turned toes up and died.

No more skeeters. :)

Thursday, July 2, 2009


I have grown quite aggravated at whatever critter has been eating my garden. Other people are dealing with aphids and white flies. I have no aphids and only a few scattered white flies; But I do appear to have a cow visiting my teeny patch. Well, a small cow... but one who adores watermelon vines and bean plants!

My first two watermelon plants were eaten off right down to the stem. The second set have grown and produced a half dozen marble-sized watermelons. Still a long way to go but it's a start towards that watermelon I am longing for!

That is until the hungry hungry whatever came and began eating on them again. It stripped half the leaves and ate all but one watermelon in two nights. The only watermelon left is one I put a flowerpot on.

And my bush beans! Several plants eaten right down to the stem!

This calls for war! The live trap was baited, with a slice of watermelon and some ripe cherries. No luck. The "cow" prefers fresh, organic, thanks, not yer "boughten" stuff.

War is ramped up. As the shadows fell yesterday I mixed up two teaspoons of Louisiana Tabasco (aka known as Texas mouthwash), three drops of dishwash soap and a cup of water in a spray bottle and liberally sprayed/doused my melons and beans. I got caught in the spray drift at one point, gasp! cough, snort! Potent stuff! Good!

About 1:00 am I was awakened by the now familiar sound of little feet scrambling over the loose pots at the base of the watermelon SIP. There was a pause, the sound of nibbling (I have very acute hearing) and then....

Ah-choo! Ah-choo! AHHHHHH-CHOO!

Then Hisssssssssss....... Apparently a comment on the quality of my greenery! LOL

This morning, a bean leaf nibbled, but no further depredations thanks. Tonight I will repeat the spraying until "Mr. Hungry" gets the message and moves to the orchard next door.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Green in the Garden

Our gardens are thriving! But one thing you can count on when you garden; everyone wants a share. That includes white flies, aphids and caterpillars. Most gardeners believe in sharing the bounty, but we want some for our own tables too! So how do we discourage the wholesale destruction of our plants by little critters?

Insects are a vital part of a healthy garden. We can never completely eradicate them nor should we try, since the ecosystem is first of all a system, in which every species plays a role. The belief that insects and weeds must be totally eliminated from our gardens has led to the acceptance of the use of poisons which are ultimately harmful to our own vitality. Pesticides contribute to an increasingly toxic environment marked by rising rates of autoimmune disease and even cancer.

Maintain a Healthy Garden

Healthy plants are resistant to insect infestation and disease, so consider these tips for keeping your plants healthy.

1) Don't wash cars or trailers on the grass or garden areas, as soap and waxes contaminate the soil.
2) Add compost to your soil in the spring and fall.
3) Don't use too much fertilizer, as insects love the fragile leaves produced by plants which are overfed.
4) Mulch plants to keep roots cool and conserve moisture.
5) Keep plant roots moist but not saturated, and don't allow plants to dry out and wilt.
6) Water early enough in the day that leaves have time to dry off completely before dark.
7) Avoid crowding plants together, as they need air circulation to avoid fungal diseases.
8) Remove tomato branches which touch the ground, as they are a pathway for soil-borne pathogens.
9) Remove any diseased or dying plants immediately before they infect the plants around them.
10) Pull weeds when they are small.
11) Rotate families of vegetables; for example, don't plant members of the cabbage family in the same space or soil two years running.

Some of these things we can do now, like pruning low hanging branches and mulching, but others will have to wait for next season. In the meantime, how do we cope when white flies, aphids and caterpillars are eating their way through our tomatoes and cucumbers, ants are marching by the hundreds across the kitchen counter and the weeds are taking over?

Think Yellow

Aphids and white flies are attracted to the colour yellow. Smear a thin layer of Vaseline, vegetable oil or Crisco on yellow cardstock and tie them to plants to attract and trap these insects.

Ants in the House?

Ants invade our homes only during a short period in early summer as they get ready to launch a new generation of queens. To discourage ants store food in sealed, air-tight containers. Wash away even the tiniest spots of all sweet foods like juice and fruits, and wipe down counters with vinegar and water to destroy the ant's scent trails. Sprinkle cinnamon, cornmeal, baby powder or black pepper over and around their entry point.

When ants stay outside they need no "controlling" unless they move a herd of aphids onto your plants. Ants “farm” aphids like we farm dairy cows, and it is the aphids which do the damage. So we target the aphids. But whatever we use eventually ends up in the the soil and ground water. Take responsibility for the environment around you and don't use toxic chemicals. There are many economical non-toxic ways to protect your garden from pests.

To reduce insect infestations first remove any leaves which are more than 50% damaged and discard them in the garbage (not in the compost pile). Then spray a fine mist of one of the following non-toxic sprays over the leaves and stems, twice, completely covering them each time. Repeat this treatment every three-four days for 12-14 days. You should see a reduction in the number of pests within a day or two after each spraying. Always spray in the evening when beneficial insects like bees are less likely to be affected.

Natural Citrus Spray – Kills aphids and discourages ants

Ingredients: 2 cups of water and the grated rind from one lemon.

Bring the water to a boil. Remove the water from the heat and add the grated lemon rind. Cover and allow to steep overnight. Strain the mixture and pour it into a spray bottle.

Apply the citrus spray to both top and bottom of plant leaves that are under attack by aphids or other soft-bodied insects. The spray must come in contact with the insects' bodies to be effective.

White Flies

White flies are so small you can hardly see them but they can suck a plant of its life in a few days. White flies evolve from egg to nymph, to pupa, to an adult fly in 8-10 days. No method of control will kill all four stages with one application. Repeated application every 3-4 days is needed for 12-14 days to ensure that eggs do not mature to start the cycle all over again.

Onion Juice and Peppermint Spray - Effective on ants, caterpillars, aphids and white flies.

1/4 tsp dish soap; 1 litre of water; 2 drops peppermint essential oil; one large onion

Instructions: Juice the onion or blend it with ½ litre of water, and strain through a fine strainer or cloth. Put the onion juice in a one litre spray bottle, add water to almost fill, then add the dish soap. Stir gently. Add one or two drops of peppermint essential oil (peppermint essence or flavouring won't work) into the mix.


In the garden there is no alternative except to pull weeds, preferably when they are small, and before they have set seed. But if there are weeds growing in your gravel driveway, or along the roadside, use this non-toxic weed killer.


Into a one litre spray bottle pour:
1 cup of vinegar
½ cup of regular dish washing soap (not dishwasher detergent)
Fill the rest of the bottle up with water.

Shake well before each use. Spray mixture directly on the weed; be careful not to spray any other plant material! The vinegar is what kills the weeds, but the dish soap holds the vinegar in place so it stays on the plant instead of running off. Best time to spray is in the middle of the day when the sun is beating down.

Under no circumstances should you put borax or chlorine bleach on weeds or soil, as this contaminates the soil and ground water, and kills adjacent plants.

New Compost Project

The two compost bins we have going now are doing so well that Cat and Jed are going to set up a larger bin exclusively for lawn clippings. Please read the signs and add only approved items. Kitchen trimmings may be added to the green compost bin at the back of Deb's site near the hose for the Community Garden. Please cover your scraps when you add them. There's a small hoe by the bin. :)

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Tilling Tale

What every garden needs is a deep tilling to bring mineral-rich soil up to the surface, work organic matter down to the root level, improve water penetration and improve aeration. No other preparation can match it. But any gardener can tell you that digging over a garden this thoroughly is a big job. Blisters and sore muscles predicted, even if you have a powerful garden tiller and the strength to keep it from taking off across the lawn and chewing up the flower beds.

But there's a little four-legger who deep tills, adds organic matter by the bushel and aerates your garden (and lawn) for free, while the gardener sits on the deck and watches the clouds float by. Granted, the four-legger's wages may be the occasional bulb or potato, but no one could be expected to do all this work for free!

In the Okanagan the resident "burrower" is the Northern Pocket Gopher (Thomomys talpoides), a cute little fellow who looks as if he might have been dreamed up by a Disney animator. He's about five or six inches long, and weighs about half a pound as an adult. He has fur-lined cheek pouches which he uses like we use shopping bags. He stuffs them full of grass (which is his primary food) and turns them completely inside out to empty them.

The pocket gopher has short soft fur which is nearly uniform in colour, but the colour depends on his habitat, and it usually closely matches the soil of his home territory. He's stocky with short legs with small ears and eyes. His claws are long and well-developed as would be expected in a burrowing animal.

The pocket gopher digs an extensive network of system of burrows consisting of deep permanent galleries and shallow feeding tunnels and spends most of its life underground. Galleries can be from three to nine feet below the surface. These contain centralized nesting and storage chambers. The feeding tunnels radiate from them. Feeding tunnels can be from two to 18 inches below the surface of the soil, and are about two inches in diameter.

Tunnel entrances are marked by fan-shaped mounds of dirt surrounding the holes. These entrances are usually blocked with a plug of dirt. The pocket gopher seldom strays far from the entrance during the day. They are somewhat more adventurous at night, venturing as much as three feet from the burrow entrance. They do not hibernate, and in areas where there is deep snow cover they build passages through the snow, lining them with excavated earth. (Apparently white walls are not to their taste.)

Their diet consists of roots, bulbs, leaves, and other vegetation. If possible, they will burrow beneath a plant, chew off the roots and pull it through the ground by the stem. This behaviour has been well-documented in such epic Mel Blanc films as A Bone for a Bone and Gopher Broke.

The gopher is a polite animal, cutting its food into small pieces before stashing it in their cheek pouches for transportation. Pocket gophers do not drink water, as they get the fluid they need from their food.

Except for a brief courting period in early spring the pocket gopher is a loner. They do not gather on the lawn for croquet tournaments or hold family reunions to remember their foregophers. In fact they are such loners that if one pocket gopher's tunnel intersects another's one of them will seal the intersection, quite possibly swearing in gopherese at the inconvenience.

Males are allowed to enter the burrows of females only during mating season. Female pocket gophers have one litter of 1-10 young each year. Pregnancy lasts a mercifully short 18 days, and the babies remain in their mother's burrow for eight weeks, at which point they are teenagers and insufferably untidy, and their mother gives them the boot. Young pocket gophers breed at about a year of age, which is convenient since life expectancy is only two years. A prey species, they live fast and die young.

Though they are often accused of damaging grasslands, their burrowing actually benefits the ecosystem by aerating the soil, and their stores of underground plant matter enriches the soil by creating humus. Their tunnels also allow rain and snow to move deep into the soil.

Unfortunately most people get uncomfortably excited when they find a mound of soft earth on the lawn, but it's probably best to simply rake the nice fresh soil from the mound onto the surrounding area and not to get too stressed about it, as stress is bad for one's heart.

If you have a mound show up on your site and you simply have to do something to discourage the gopher who put it there, try Cat's Gopher Irritator, which is a soda or water bottle sunk into the tunnel entrance. Burrowers are exquisitely sensitive to vibrations, and the low frequency sound waves produced by the wind as it blows across the bottle neck apparently aggravates them enough to make them head for greener (or at least less noisy) pastures. Here is one of the Gopher Irritators Cat has placed in various locations around the Park. The pink ribbon signifies that technology is at work encouraging the gophers to go live on the other side of the fence. Please do not pluck the "Irritators" from their burrows, as they are costly and time-consuming to replace.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Father's Day Potluck

Edit 23 June Ruth's Pineapple Desert Recipe added at the end of this post!

Now we know how to end a dry spell in the Okanagan; schedule a potluck and post the information where the weather witch can read it! Two inches of rain guaranteed!

Despite the wind, rain and 12 degree temperature a record-breaking crowd showed up to chow down, visit and be neighborly. I am guessing 30-35 people attended! :) It was a packed house which was even more surprising given the state of the weather! I like this picture, even though it is out of focus. Food and fireworks, what could be better? Although the only "fireworks" was my flash, which is out of synch with my camera's shutter, resulting in some surreal photos. Special effects, yeah, that's what it was. I meant to do that!

Some highly intelligent person made the decision to move the whole shebang into the office, though the brave and hardy souls went out under the "Sunshine" canopy and sat at the picnic tables.

There was so much food we almost had to stack it! Such a rich and delicious assortment. The only disappointment was that it was almost impossible to try everything. There were the pot-luck standbys, without which no potluck could deserve the name; i.e. lasagnas and tuna casseroles, macaroni and vegetable salads, plus surprises like ginger beef, sausage rolls, chicken wings, pulled pork, chili, . (Stops typing to wipe away drool.)

A big THANK YOU to all who came out and brought food, their smiles and their appetites. It was so nice to see people we don't often have a chance to visit with. THANKS to Ruth, Linda and Judy for playing hostess, and for setting up the room on such short notice. They may have had help, and if you were a helper hold up your hand for acknowledgement. I know everyone appreciates your contribution toward making this a very pleasant social occasion.

I am twisting arms for recipes; Loretta was almost stampeded by requests for her recipe for Thai Chicken/Shrimp Salad. She brought it to me this afternoon, and I hereby officially share it with the entire Park.

Loretta's Thai Chicken/Shrimp Salad

The Thai dressing makes the flavour of this salad. You can use chicken or shrimp, or a mixture of the two.


Farkay Brand steam-fried noodles (in Asian food section) 14 oz package
1 lb cooked shrimp or prawns and/or cooked cubed chicken
1 each red, yellow and green sweet bell peppers diced
3 green onions finely sliced
Thai Sesame Dressing and Marinade (Safeway deli section- orange & green label)
Olive oil

1) Put half of the package of noodles in a bowl or saucepan with a little salt. Cover with boiling water and leave for 90 seconds. Drain and immediately drench with cold water and drain to stop the cooking;

2) Combine noodles, cooked shrimp/chicken and vegetables in a large bowl. Add 1/4 bottle of the Thai dressing, a dash of black pepper and 1 tbs. olive oil. Check for flavour, add more dressing and oil if required. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

For a less spicy version decrease the Thai dressing by half and replace it with 2 tbs of Ranch or Caesar dressing.

Thank you Loretta!

Ruth's Pineapple Dessert

Crust Ingredients:
1/2 lb Cristies Vanilla wafers, crushed to make 2 cups fine crumbs
5 tbs melted butter

Mix the butter and wafer crumbs together. BUtter and flour a 12 x 18 inch pan, press half the butter/crumb mixture into it, pressing it down firmly.

1/2 cup butter
1 c. icing (confectioner's) sugar
1 package cream cheese
2 eggs, well beaten
1/4 c chopped nuts
1 c crushed pineapple, wel-drained
1/2 pint cream, whipped

Cream butter, sugar and cream cheese. Add the well-beaten eggs. Mix thoroughly. Spread over crust in pan. Layer nuts over mix, then add a layer of pineapple. Spread on whipping cream. Top with remaining crust mix. Refrigerate 24 hours. Serves 8-10.

Thank you Ruth!

I still have to arm wrestle the recipe for Judy's rhubarb/strawberry crumble from her. If there was a dish you especially liked let me know and I will attempt to extract it from the appropriate person and post it. I know there's one I am forgetting to mention one which was requested by several people. Remind me please, I have a great memory, it's just a little short...

Friday, June 19, 2009

An Orgy in the Garden!

The goings-on in the Community Garden are definitely x-rated, but the nice ladies who diligently water, weed and tend to their little plots are missing the entire thing!

Well girls, what do you think all that flowering and fruiting is about? And where do little seeds come from? Time to take these innocent gardeners behind the woodshed and share the facts of life with them. Hold on to your sunbonnets!

Flowers are the sexual organs of flowering plants. (blush) I don't know how anyone else feels but I worked hospital wards for years and for looks I think almost any flower beats the heck out of what we've got to work with!

There are two types of reproduction in plants: ASEXUAL and SEXUAL

Asexual reproduction (as practiced by mushrooms or plants which send out runners or suckers) requires only one parent. No mate is needed, all offspring are genetically identical to the parent and there is no diversity in the species. This is potentially dangerous because the entire species can be wiped out by a pathogenic, environmental or climatic disaster. If one is vulnerable, all are vulnerable since none of them will have any greater resistance than its clone.

But flowering plants use sexual reproduction and they have developed it into an art form. Flowers can be pistillate (female), staminate (male) or perfect (both male and female).

Sexual reproduction requires two parents, a male and a female, both of which contribute DNA. (Any mother will understand this perfectly well since all of a child's irritating traits come from their father's side of the family.) Sexual reproduction insures genetic diversity, which is needed for vigor. Each new offspring is genetically unique.

So peeping through the petals we see the Androecium - the male reproductive part of the flower. The individual units of androecium are called the stamens. Each stamen has a thread-like filament at its free end where a four-lobed anther is attached. The anther contains four pollen-sacs, one in each lobe. These pollen-sacs produce pollen which contains sperm cells. When the pollen is mature the anthers burst open and the pollen is released onto the surface.

The Gynoecium is the female part of the flower. The individual units are called the carpels or pistils. A flower may have any number of carpels each of which is made up of an ovary, a hollow tube called a style (think fallopian tube), and a stigma. The ovary contains many ovules each of which consists of an egg and associated cells. The stigma is a sticky structure that receives the pollen. The style is hollow and provides a passageway for the sperm to reach the eggs.

Transfer of pollen to the stigma is called pollination. When the pollen is transferred to the stigma of the same flower, it's called self-pollination. If the pollen grains are transferred to the stigma of another flower of the same species it's called cross-pollination. Cross pollination is helped along by wind, water, bees, birds, bats and other animals including people who stick their noses into one flower after another. That's the reason for the extravagant colours, the lush fragrances, the nectar, the wild shapes. It's all a part of the plants' strategy to attract some creature which will carry out its reproductive cycle.

When the strategy works and a grain of pollen reaches a stigma, the pollen grain immediately puts out a tube which grows down the style and enters the ovule where it bursts at the tip releasing a two-man sperm team. One sperm fuses with the egg and fertilizes it. This results in the formation of single cell with both parent's DNA - the zygote - which develops into the seedling. The other sperm fuses with a separate part of the egg and forms the endosperm, the plant equivalent of the placenta, which nourishes the zygote. The ovule then becomes the seed and the ovary changes into fruit. Think tomato - the ovule becomes seeds and the ovary gets sliced and eaten with your salad.

And the reason I was out in the garden with a paint brush this morning - no matter how small the blossom, a female squash blossom always has a micro-version of the squash it will eventually produce behind it. If there's no baby squash behind the blossom it's a male blossom. And unless that male blossom has a chance to get its pollen over onto the female blossom's pistils, her baby squash will wither and fall off. No sentimentality. Fertilized ovules get all the energy, because they carry the genetic material of that plant forward to next year. I was out making whoopee with the squash.

And that, ladies, is as why I am able to say there's an orgy going on in our gardens.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

She SAID It's a Competition!

We were looking at the first blossom on my zucchini plant when Judy said, "Your zucchini plant is way bigger than mine!"

I said something like, "There, there, it's not a competition."

And she replied, "It is if you don't have the biggest zucchini!"

I can see it now, steely-eyed judges assessing the size, shape and colour of our tomatoes, squash, beans, cabbages, peas, and peppers. (Not the flavour. Unless I get to be a judge.)

Are we competitive? NAW.... But if I can believe the stories I've heard a couple of the neighbours down the way got into a "friendly" competition a few years back over who could grow the biggest, or best, or first ripe, tomato. This "friendliness" led to one of them contriving to somehow attach tomatoes bought at the nearby produce outlet to her tomato vines.

This chicanery was discovered and she went down in defeat but absolutely no shame. Gardeners are a bad lot. No telling what we will stoop to given motivation.

But not keeping score or anything, just reporting, Ruth has the biggest cabbage plant, which is as pretty as any flower! And she has loads of large delicious strawberries too. I got one pea-sized strawberry that tasted like medicine. I don't have any hope of being crowned strawberry queen.

I'm not sure who has the largest tomato plants. Mine are big but Ronnie's may be bigger. Judy has an enormous tomato plant, loaded with little tomatoes. However it was already about four feet tall when she bought it, so she may get disqualified on the "bought your win" technicality.

Our Groundskeeper "Cat", shown here with the Park's lipstick pink truck, improved my advantage yesterday when she trimmed the tree up front. She thinned out the lower branches so we get some morning sun. I know the plants in my vertical planter will appreciate it. Poor things are starved for sun.

Cat also brought an old rain-barrel which we recycled into a compost bin. Art from next door drilled several dozen 1/2" holes in the bottom and each side of it, and blessed it with several loads of freshly cut grass mixed with leaves. The thing is out there cooking like crazy. The two compost bins should eliminate the need to haul the grass clippings and leaves to the dump, and lots of people bring their kitchen scraps to toss in. We will have fantastic compost for the gardens next spring. Mine will be bigger and better than... oh... it's not a competition.... Oh sure.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Things That Go Bump in the Night

Worse, things that go "munch" in the night! Since the two or three night raids on the gardens a couple of weeks back we haven't had any more trouble, although something upended and emptied a neighbour's recycling fountain a few nights ago, and the pump burned out.

The big live catch trap has been sitting about six feet from the back end of our trailer for those couple of weeks, and hadn't caught anything. That changed at 11:45 last night when we heard a clang! and some very vigorous cage rattling.
We couldn't see what was in the trap from inside so we got the flashlight and went outside to have a look.

Here ya go... although this was taken this morning. I'd say a 10-12 pound raccoon. It snarled and growled and threatened and we decided to go in and leave it in peace. But the racket would have awakened any dead who happened to be nearby. So, with hopes that it (and we) might sleep if it had a full stomach I cut a half of a sweet potato into strips, opened a five ounce can of turkey and giblets cat food and took it outside. Though the coon threatened to do me serious injury I managed to poke the sweet potato strips inside and spoon the cat food through the wire onto the metal floor.

The cage had a 1/4 thick piece of plywood laid over the floor, about 12" x 20". We could hear the raccoon ripping this plywood apart as it growled. Eventually I heard munching and the scent of sweet potato drifted through the window. Things got a bit (but not a lot) quieter. We closed the window and turned on the fan to mask the noise, and at about 2:30 I finally went to sleep.

This morning when I went out at 7:00 the coon was sound asleep in her cage. She woke as I approached, but didn't growl at me. I took a couple of pictures and fed it more sweet potato and cat food. Also tried to give it water, as I imagine ripping up that much plywood would work up a powerful thirst.

Catherine arrived and covered the cage with an old sheet, and as the sun moved around, she moved the cage to a sheltered, shady position while we waited for the fellow to arrive to pick the coon up for relocation. He came, rebaited the trap, put down a new plywood floor and said we may catch this one's mate.

The one we caught is a female, and he said he could tell she'd had kits this year. While she may not have any surviving kits I hate the thought of little baby coons on their own too early. They might be weaned by now, but would be easy prey for the coyotes, eagles and hawks. Still there's no way you can allow a coon to roam a campground like this. It's too dangerous for tenters, and the pets people tie and leave while they go to the beach or town. Nature and man collide violently all the time, sadly. While the Mama coon will be relocated to a lake farther up in the mountains, all we can hope now is that the young ones will follow her scent here and be caught themselves, so they can be reunited.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

How Does Your Garden Grow?

The Community Garden is looking great! The 4 x 4s are in several stages from "planted three weeks ago" to "planted last weekend". But every garden has green growing things in it, and everyone seems to be enjoying tending their little plots and comparing notes. And, of course, quite a few people have planted tomatoes, herbs and veggies in their own sites.

As you may recall we are trying a number of techniques to increase our gardening room, from upside-down tomatoes, 4 x 4 raised beds, using a child's wading pool as a container bed for squash, an adapted version of the Japanese tomato ring, pots of every size, tiers for containers and even some in-ground gardening.

Sometimes you come across something that ought to be glaring obvious to any gardener, but isn't. Compare the two pictures; Ruth's 4 x 4 24 hours before and 24 hours after application of ground volcanic lava.

There's a gentleman camping here now who is giving away bags of a product called "Supragrow" which is basically ground up red volcanic lava. He brought me a bag and said, "Tomatoes can grow two inches in 24 hours after an application of this stuff."

I was a bit skeptical but I had transplanted a row of four inch tall tomatoes into my 4 x 4 a couple of weeks ago, just because I couldn't bear to throw them away. Poor little things were purple as eggplants because of the cold nights they had endured. Though they had gradually turned from purple to green they hadn't really grown that much.

So I did as he suggested, adding four tablespoons of the ground mineral to a two litre bottle of water. I watered them at about 4:00 pm. When I went back at 6:00 pm to water everything else I was astounded to see that my little tomato plants had grown visibly in that two hours! By the next morning they had all grown two inches in height and put on a new cluster of leaves! They are still growing. I staked them this morning, something I didn't think I was going to have to do.

So yesterday I took five two-inch tall tomato plants I hadn't even been able to give away and transplanted them into the bed under the willow tree, adding the ground minerals to the soil around the hole and in the water I watered them in with. When I transplant anything I dig the hole, fill it with water, poke the plant in and push the soil up around the root ball. This is a technique I learned from a botanist in the 70s and I have not lost a plant to transplant shock since.

Results? One plant is six inches high today. Three are about four inches high and the fifth hasn't gotten much bigger but has a new set of leaves. Everything I "doctored" with the minerals grew faster than usual and developed a much more intense colour. I watered the Brussels sprouts with the mineral and water combo last night and not only did they grow a couple of inches, I can't believe how green they became, overnight. They looked fine before, but now they are the darkest, glossiest, healthiest-looking brassicas I have ever seen!

This is not a fertilizer. It does not contain nitrogen or potash. It contains a lot of iron, as well as calcium and potassium, other minerals and trace elements. Calcium and potassium are charged ions essential to the exchange of energy in biological systems.

So we add yet another experiment to our growing techniques. Several people have bags of the minerals now and are testing them. This is the kind of thing that makes growing things so exciting and so much fun. You just never know what you will learn, what is waiting around the corner!

Monday, June 1, 2009

In the Garden and Down the Lane

The weather has finally turned hot and the plots 'n pots in the community garden are doing very well. Some people had help planting their plots, and you know that good help is hard to find these days!

Things are springing out of the ground, and while some of us have had a critter snacking on the plants in our sites at night, so far (knock wood) no critters have eaten anything out of the community garden.

I have promised to make up a sign, as everyone who passes by wants to know what exactly is going on. You'd think they'd never seen a farm before!

As far as gardens around the park go, any number of people report that they have big fat buds on their tomato plants. My Brandywines have flowers! It seems that everyone's tomatoes are doing really well. And there are radishes, carrots, lettuce, beans, peas and other assorted veggies coming up from seed, and the "starts" are doing equally well. We're going to all have to eat a lot of squash if all these squash plants we've planted produce as well as they usually do! There are lots of cukes, strawberries and cabbages around as well.

We have already harvested several meals of greens, including bok choi and Chinese kale. I'll be planting my second crop of Asian greens in a day or two, and in this kind of weather they are often ready for harvest within three weeks!

The flowers in the park are just spectacular this year, so last evening I did a flower tour with the camera, and will share the pictures with you. I have a bunch, so I put most of them on Flickr. To see them click here.

But one I will put here is a picture of Judy and Annabelle's purple clematis. To describe these as spectacular is doing them a disservice. Breathtaking is more like it. I've never seen such enormous blossoms on a clematis. The only one I ever got to bloom had one pitiful quarter-sized bloom. These are almost the size of dinner plates! Well, the old-fashioned 10" dinner plates, like we had when I was a kid and everything was "regular" size and not super-sized, including dinner plates.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Park in Bloom

Yesterday was Planting Time at IB. Late morning half a dozen of us assembled on the beach with the huge bunch of plants we'd bought the day previous, and plant we did!

I intended to take my camera and get pictures of the crew in action, but left it at home and didn't take time to go back to get it. They are no substitute for pictures of the "crew", but I will put in some pictures of the containers full of flowers later. This gorgeous tulip is growing right next door.

I won't even begin to guess how many plants were put into containers, but we started at the beach, did one on a corner, and then broke for lunch at Timmy's.

Once back we moved up to the front end of the Park, and filled containers around the office and in the garden next to the office, where an old rowboat holds a cargo of flowers each year. Very pretty it is too.

Gardens are popping up all over the Park. People have planted loads of flowers, in pots, the ground and in hanging baskets. In the Community Garden things are popping out of the ground. There are radishes, carrots, kohlrabis, peas, cabbages and some marigolds in Ruth's garden. I have tomatoes in a container. Others will soon be filling their containers and planting. After a day or two of rest I will be planting as well.

Today is warm but overcast, which is probably good for all the plants we transplanted yesterday. They need a day to get accustomed to their new homes and bright sunshine.

It was a long weekend and the Park was busy with visitors. I love seeing the many kids riding up and down on their bikes, trikes and scooters, under the watchful eye of dozens of adults. I love hearing people laugh and enjoy themselves as they visit, cook a meal or play with their children.

From now until school vacation there will be a rhythm as families arrive on Friday evenings and leave Sunday afternoons. The Park is quieter during the week, and there may not be more than a few campers, though the RV lane is almost always full. Once summer vacation starts it will be wall to wall campers, and the pleasure of sitting outside late into the evening watching bats dip through the pools of light from the street lamps. They are a welcome sight, as each eats its weight in bugs every night.

Ahhh, summer approaches...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Why Eat Local?

This post is a "steal", directly from the 100 Mile Diet site. Why? Because it says exactly what I want to say, and am too inept to do! :) We live in a area which is rich with wonderful local foods. Our foods need not travel 2000 miles from California or 10,000 from China, New Zealand, or Argentina.

Over 30 years ago I learned to dry foods from a neighbour, and in one summer dried over 1000 pounds of locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables when they were plentiful and inexpensive. Much came from my own garden! Dried food need only be kept dry and protected from light to retain its colour and nutrition. It is easily stored in plastic buckets or in jars.

When cherries like these are dried properly they rehydrate so well they even retain their original colour and texture. This bowlful went into the drier as soon as we had a picture. Imagine those on your cereal or in baked goods in February! I have a small drier and may make a larger one. They are very simple and easy to both build and use. And they allow you to eat many local foods year-round.

Why Eat Local?

1. Taste the difference.
At a farmers’ market, most local produce has been picked inside of 24 hours. It comes to you ripe, fresh, and with its full flavor, unlike supermarket food that may have been picked weeks or months before. Close-to-home foods can also be bred for taste, rather than withstanding the abuse of shipping or industrial harvesting. Many of the foods we ate on the 100-Mile Diet were the best we’d ever had.

2. Know what you’re eating.
Buying food today is complicated. What pesticides were used? Is that corn genetically modified? Was that chicken free range or did it grow up in a box? People who eat locally find it easier to get answers. Many build relationships with farmers whom they trust. And when in doubt, they can drive out to the farms and see for themselves.

3. Meet your neighbors.
Local eating is social. Studies show that people shopping at farmers’ markets have 10 times more conversations than their counterparts at the supermarket. Join a community garden and you’ll actually meet the people you pass on the street.

4. Get in touch with the seasons.
When you eat locally, you eat what’s in season. You’ll remember that cherries are the taste of summer. Even in winter, comfort foods like squash soup and pancakes just make sense–a lot more sense than flavorless cherries from the other side of the world.

5. Discover new flavors.
Ever tried sunchokes? How about purslane, quail eggs, yerba mora, or tayberries? These are just a few of the new (to us) flavors we sampled over a year of local eating. Our local spot prawns, we learned, are tastier than popular tiger prawns. Even familiar foods were more interesting. Count the types of pear on offer at your supermarket. Maybe three? Small farms are keeping alive nearly 300 other varieties–while more than 2,000 more have been lost in our rush to sameness .

6. Explore your home.
Visiting local farms is a way to be a tourist on your own home turf, with plenty of stops for snacks.

7. Save the world.
A study in Iowa found that a regional diet consumed 17 times less oil and gas than a typical diet based on food shipped across the country. The ingredients for a typical British meal, sourced locally, traveled 66 times fewer “food miles.” Or we can just keep burning those fossil fuels and learn to live with global climate change, the fiercest hurricane seasons in history, wars over resources…

8. Support small farms.
We discovered that many people from all walks of life dream of working the land–maybe you do too. In areas with strong local markets, the family farm is reviving. That’s a whole lot better than the jobs at Wal-Mart and fast-food outlets that the globalized economy offers in North American towns.

9. Give back to the local economy.
A British study tracked how much of the money spent at a local food business stayed in the local economy, and how many times it was reinvested. The total value was almost twice the contribution of a dollar spent at a supermarket chain .

10. Be healthy.
Everyone wants to know whether the 100-Mile Diet worked as a weight-loss program. Well, yes, we lost a few pounds apiece. More importantly, though, we felt better than ever. We ate more vegetables and fewer processed products, sampled a wider variety of foods, and ate more fresh food at its nutritional peak. Eating from farmers’ markets and cooking from scratch, we never felt a need to count calories.

11. Create memories.
A friend of ours has a theory that a night spent making jam–or in his case, perogies–with friends will always be better a time than the latest Hollywood blockbuster. We’re convinced.

12. Have more fun while traveling.
Once you’re addicted to local eating, you’ll want to explore it wherever you go. On a trip to Mexico, earth-baked corn and hot-spiced sour oranges led us away from the resorts and into the small towns. Somewhere along the line, a mute magician gave us a free show over bowls of lime soup in a little cantina.

Monday, May 11, 2009

How to Build an Earthbox-type Container

The sub-irrigated planter box (aka SIP or "Earthbox") is said by many gardeners to be the most productive type of container. With an SIP plants are never overwatered, and it's even possible to go away for a few days and plants will not dry out and die on you. You pour water into the bottom chamber through the pipe, and the water wicks up into the soil as drawn up by the plant. You never water from the top.

You can build a SIP from a two-litre pop bottle. For instructions click here. But the directions on this page are for building the larger SIP, suitable for growing tomatoes, or other large plants.

To get the pictures to line up without overlapping I am going to have to add text in a few places. So read, or disregard, the bits in italic. They are there to make the pictures line up properly. And besides, a little philosophy early in the day never hurt a soul. :)

We've built three SIPs to try this method out. We planted tomatoes in two of them and will plant a watermelon in the third one. We began with an 18 gal/68 litre Sterilite tote from Wal*Mart - $5.98. Building the first one took 15 minutes start to finish. The second one was faster.

In addition we used the following:

1) a plastic basket bought at the dollar store, two for $1.00.

2) Four empty yogurt containers. Any kind of rigid plastic container would work. Put the lid on, as it adds to the rigidity of the container.

3) a pipe or piece of hose. For one of our SIPs we used a length of garden hose, for another we used a two-foot section of aluminum pipe and for the third a piece of black PVC pipe.

4) Landscape cloth. If you don't want to buy a 50 foot roll of landscape cloth for this one project you can use j-cloths 10 for $1.00 at the good ole dollar store

5) A black garbage bag.

Tools required;

1) a drill

2) a sabre (jig) saw

3) a marking pen

How - to

1) Remove the lid and draw a line with the marking pen around the lid where it dips in.

The Community Garden is coming along. Ruth has planted peas, marigolds and cabbages so far. This is going to be a very pretty addition to the park's landscape when we get all the boxes in. If you haven't yet decided to take a growing space please consider it. It's work to get it started but what lovely rewards will be yours when you can come down and gather food for your summer meals.

2) Drill a pilot hole at one corner of the lid so you can slip the blade of the sabre saw into it to start your cut. It's easiest to do this while the lid is on the container.

Zak tried the next steps two different ways, the first time (here) cutting the inner section out first and then cutting holes for the wicking basket, pipe and aeration. The second time he cut the holes for the wicking basket, pipe and aeration before he cut out the inner lid. He felt the second way was better. Although a bit more awkward the outer rim lent rigidity which made it easier to handle while cutting.

In every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations ~ The Great Law of Peace - The Iroquois Confederacy

3) Cut a hole in the lid, following the line you drew around. This is easiest when the lid is held on a table with just the edge you are cutting projecting over the lip of the table. It's a good idea to wear safety glasses, because these little plastic shavings can really fly. A finer toothed blade on the saw is helpful too.

"They disparage one who remains silent, they disparage one who talks a lot, and they even disparage one who talks in moderation. There is no-one in the world who is not disparaged."

4) Place the basket in the middle of the cut out piece of lid and draw around it. You can use a round basket, like an old plastic colander with the handle cut off, or even a yogurt container with 10-15 holes drilled in it. The water needs to be able to come into this wicking basket freely.

The art of living is learning to be content with where you are now, with what is. ~ John Haines

5) Remove the wicking basket and draw a second line 1/4 inch inside the outline. This is to keep the wicking basket suspended in the water chamber below it. Whatever you use for a wicking chamber should be at least an inch off the bottom of the container.

The world has enough for everyone's need,
but not enough for everyone's greed. 

~ Mahatma Gandhi.

6) Place the pipe near one end and draw a line around it. You can see the outline of the pipe in the next picture.

7) Drill a pilot hole in the edge of the pipe tracing, and one in a corner of the basket tracing. Drill a series of holes in the lid to act as aeration holes for the roots of the plants. Drill at least a dozen but not so many that the lid looks like a screen door!

8) Cut out the holes for the pipe and basket with the sabre saw. Again, a table edge makes this easier. What makes it even easier is having a big strong guy to do the work for you while you take pictures!

“If I look at all the mass, I will never act.  If I look at the one, I will.” - Mother Teresa

10) Place the yogurt containers upside down in the corners of the box. The inner lid will rest on these. You don't have to use any one particular kind of container, but they should all be the same size/height. Put the lids on them to increase their strength and rigidity.

‘Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.’ Mahatma Gandhi.

11) Lay the inside lid on top of the yogurt containers and insert the pipe. The pipe should be at least an inch above the bottom of the container and long enough to stick up above the soil when the box is filled with soil. You water through this pipe. Also put the wicking basket in place. The bottom half of the wicking basket sticks down into the water and is the conduit for the water to move upwards to the plant's roots.

"In the depth of winter I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer." ~ Albert Camus

13) 13) Cover the surface of the inside lid with landscape cloth, pushing the fabric down into the wicking basket and drawing it up the sides. (Here it is pushed down, but it needs to be drawn up before you begin to fill it with soil. Drawing the landscape cloth up the sides up the sides prevents soil from falling into the water chamber below.

Difference is not a threat, it should be perceived as ever energizing diversity. ~ Anwarul K. Chowdhury UN Under-Secretary-General

Drill an overflow hole on each of the four sides, an inch below the level of the inner lid. This ensures the soil does not become waterlogged. Some people drill one hole, but by having one on each side you are certain that at least one will remain open throughout the growing season.

"Be the change you want to see." ~ Mahatma Gandhi

At this point take your SIP and place it where you want it for the season. Once filled they weigh about 125 lbs and are immovable! Moisten soil meant for container gardening and place it in the wicking basket. Moisten the rest of the soil, which can be a combo of container soil and topsoil, and fill the container. With a hose fill the bottom of the container until water runs from the overflow holes.

For tomatoes lay in one cup of agricultural lime along one edge of the box, and a cup of an organic fertilizer meant for tomatoes and vegetables in a line on the other side. Do not mix these into the soil. Leave them lying on top of the soil. For other vegetables lay in the fertilizer but not the lime.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. ~ Jesus Christ

Transplant your plants into the SIP. Cut a black garbage bag into two pieces and lay it over the top. Feel carefully for the tops of your plants, and cut an X in the garbage bag large enough to gently slip the tops of the plants through. Water lightly. This is the only time you will water from the top all season.

It's taken far longer to write about it than it took to build it!