Friday, June 8, 2018

Did you know -- Zucchini is a foreigner (but good)?

Zucchini in the garden

     They may not be space invaders, but they "do" come from a foreign country. I'm not talking about starlings, snakehead fish, or British soldiers (during the 1700s). I'm talking about my favorite summer vegetable, that dark green summer squash, the humble, versatile zucchini.
     It has a rather foreign sounding name, said to come from the Italian word for squash (zucca). But Italians brought it over to America in the 1920s and it started getting popular, even though it was already being grown in places like Mexico and South America. I had always found it pretty easy to plant and grow, and sometimes, it comes in a deluge! In fact, one summer I had so much I basically substituted celery for it, and called my recipe "Zucchini Chow Mein." Of course, that presupposes I wasn't using much chicken, but it was in there, along with the bean sprouts, onions, soy sauce, a dash of sugar and some rice on the side. The Bristol Herald Courier (VA.) daily liked it and gave me a  white (with red border) "potluck" apron for my efforts.
     I've since learned that this low cal phenom is loaded with vitamins. It has a whole "set" of vitamins, such as vitamins A, C, K,  B6, as well as potassium and magnesium. And it has such a mild taste that is great in soups, salads, chow mein(!), or in the kind of sweet bread recipe used for bananas. I so look forward to this favorite fruit (it has a lot of seeds in it, as a fruit does). But last summer it didn't do as well, as it needs certain insects (bees) to pollinate it. People can help pollinate the female flower (the male flower is much smaller) using a Q tip, if needed. I may try that. But I did put marigolds nearby and wonder if they didn't distract or repel the bees last year.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Did You Know -- A few things to know about Snow

                                     Snowflakes come in an abundant array of shapes and sizes

         This winter season it seems we had "more" snow in March and April than actual winter! (Climate change, perhaps?) And our next to last snow, right around the beginning of spring, was 13 full inches! But the next day it was sunny and warmer, most of it melting away in one day. So why wasn't the area flooded?
     It's interesting (perhaps Mother Nature's way of being merciful) that 10 inches of snow equals only one inch of water when it melts. When all that snow melted it didn't cause a horrendous flood. I guess the snowflakes themselves, since they are all shaped differently, had a lot of spaces in between, piling up in a lopsided fashion.
     According to a Mental Floss article, a snow with the largest snowflakes was reported in 1887 at Fort Keogh, Montana. The people there saw the snow coming down and thought the flakes were bigger than "milk pans," which I'm guessing were pretty wide. Deep, compressed snow can appear to have a color -- why else would those icebergs in Alaska look blue?
     They say igloos can actually be quite warm. The compacted snow traps air and keeps colder air out, so it's a great insulator. Even so, I don't see myself any time soon residing in a snow house, though somewhere up in Scandinavia there is a hotel that is all ice, I believe. I heard the temperature was NOT warm!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Snowdogs in the future?


Virginia in the winter.

    We received "some" healthy fresh air when we went outside the other day to build a snowman. I tried something a tiny bit different -- I gave the snowman a smile shaped from yellow squash. It surprises me that there even "is" squash this time of year. This time of year this vegetable is probably trucked in from Mexico and been sprayed with a half dozen noxious chemicals, no doubt.
    This winter all the big snows have gone to the south or north of us. So Mr. Snowman was a long time in coming. We're not kids anymore but so what? It's fun to get out and do something in the snow. Right as we were finishing our messter-piece, my spouse suggested we should have done something more original, you know, like a snowdog or even a snowcat. But what would you use for whiskers, straws? Blades of grass? Long pieces of material plastered to the side of the head to represent dog ears?
    We haven't done this yet. And as our gloves easily got soaked in this wet yet clumpy snow, we realized there wasn't time to fix our snow person into something else. Maybe next time.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Was the groundhog wrong -- warm February and weather concerns


                                     Chickadees seem to hang around in the winter.

     Is this climate change or is this just "the usual" for February? Living in the southeast a number of years, there seems to always be a bit of a thaw the end of January or mid February. But now it's staying warmer for longer periods -- yet now too long, as my daffodils have yet to come up.
    I know we need the moisture, but all this rain has turned part of our unpaved parking lot into mud! Mud remains me of the name of that doctor who infamously tended to  John Wilkes Booth's leg during his escape from D. C. after shooting President Lincoln. That occurred in April, one of my favorite months of years in the weather department. Wilkes Booth ran north (well, not literally) for a while and then headed south, about 25 miles from D. C., perhaps in rainy weather himself. For a short time he and an associate stayed at the Garrett farm, where they had heard little of his serious act. But he was tracked down to the Garrett's tobacco barn, almost going out surrounded by a blaze of fire, after being shot by Sergeant Boston Corbett in a burning barn. Booth was dragged out the of barn and died a little later of a neck wound. Whether the day was warm or cold, it didn't turn out well for Booth.
     Here is hoping February warms a bit (without all the rain), leading us into March and the optimistic hope of green plants growing and spring!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018


                                       Frog glued to a rock at Margaret Beeks Elementary

    If you were to visit New York City's 843 acre Central Park, you'd find yourself being surprised every so often by the statues you'd see along your walk. Like the one of Christopher Columbus, and a brown looking, well, brown bear. There's also a bronze of Alice in Wonderland, the literary character with a Cheshire cat and Mad Hatter surrounding her, and heroic sled dog Balto in the distance. Statues make any walk more interesting. Some even have a purpose.
    The bronze frogs in and around downtown Blacksburg (VA), the Virginia Tech college town, do indeed have a purpose, showing off the town watershed, among other things. On a cold day in mid January I set out with some hearty hikers (good alliteration there) to discover where exactly the 16 different frogs were.
    At twenty degrees, it was NOT the ideal day for a hike around town. But the sun was out and we bundled up in layers (like two layers of socks in my fur lined boots), so with a coat, insulated gloves, a hat and scarf covering part of my face, I set off with several others. 
    Just what are the 16 frogs?  They were four inches of bronzed statues, some attached to a lily pad, some not, set in different places throughout Blacksburg to point out the waterways that once provided life giving drinking water to town residents. (The New River has since taken over that task.)
    How much value do we place in our waterways, streams and creeks that feed into rivers that feed into big lakes that may feed into really major waterways, like the ocean? These creeks are living worlds for fish and mayflies and salamanders. The frogs in the area need them as well. 
    We walked all over downtown to different spots. I liked the one by a fountain at the renovated Black House on Draper Road.  One of the walkers said I was nuts to sit on the cement area next to the frog and lily pad attached (cemented?) to it. But hey, I had on my good winter coat, jeans, and three layers under that! When our leader Pauletta took a pic of the group, I was the one pointing to this dark gray colored frog.
    A few frogs were noticeably glued in place. I was told a few had already been "stolen" -- really, too cheap to go to your own nearby garden supply store for decorations? Or perhaps they were big animal lovers. Not long after this we took a break and warmed up at the Squires Student Center. But there were parks, bridges, and other places still to explore.

Monday, December 4, 2017


     It would appear that finally, fall has fallen away. The true colors of the leaves have given way to a dreary landscape of standing tall grayish sticks on dull brown land, trying to go to sleep. If it snows in the near future, the forest will undeniably be at rest, dormant,  with little movement.
     What is surprising, though, is that even at this late stage of near winter, some salamanders move about-- well, it's really more during moments of winter with a bit of thaw and rain. But in late fall into winter you can still see squirrels jumping about, and if you leave out enough seeds and it snows the red hued, male cardinal will make his presence known. So much most of the forest will be preparing to go off for a winter's nap, but not everything will. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017



           A chestnut tree developing fruit (chestnut nut pods).

         Did you know that chestnuts need to make a comeback?
        There was that ol' Nat King Cole song with the phrase "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" that was popular decades ago. As a young adult I actually "did" roast some (more like "toast") some chestnut tree nuts in a broiler. They were good, and Hot! (But roasting does give them extra flavor.)
        But can you even do that now? Maybe, in the future. In Virginia the "Chestnut Foundation" is trying to bring them back. The East coast was once the home of thousands and thousands of chestnut trees, some as big around as the grand giant sequoias (of the redwood family) in California forests.
        The beginning of the 20th century, a foreign fungus was discovered, some saying it was brought in to the Bronx Zoo in New York City. This "blight" on the American chestnut killed the cambium, the growing layer of the tree inside the bark. The blight, at one time, killed over billion trees! This changed the Eastern forests. No more roasting chestnuts or stuffing them in turkey for Thanksgiving.
        But in recent years tree experts had created a hybrid, an American-Chinese blend of chestnut to withstand the terrible fungus. Today, with 110 middle school students, a rep from the Chestnut Foundation said we were planning (I'm told) fully American chestnut saplings, to hopefully one day become the big, fat trees they were supposed to be from the past. 
        The students I helped supervise at Heritage Park (Blacksburg, VA) seemed more knowledgeable about trees than I was at that age. They told me about having wild blackberry  bushes on their property, and their uncle telling them how to dig and plant a tree. Certainly planting a tree, getting kids outside and around nature, away from all their durn electronic gadgets, was worth the effort.
        After planting the  trees and having a sit down lunch they had brought themselves, we then also did something they don't usually do at school -- we walked through the park. How many students, outside, identifying chestnuts and learning about trees, would benefit from being in the "outdoor classroom" that is a park full of trees, chestnut or otherwise?  In some schools they even give up outside activity for art. Trees are important and so is being outside and exercising. And learning about chestnuts outside seemed like the perfect thing to do.