SPRING IN THE MOUNTAINS

 

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Dogwoods of early spring

It’s been a beautiful spring here in North Carolina — our first one. We’ve been blessed with two months of one tree or another in full bloom, beginning with the dogwoods and then the flame azaleas. Now, along with the mountain laurel and wildflowers, our own flowers planted from seed, are starting to bloom. Here’s a little photo journey of what’s been happening this week.

 

Happy May to you! What’s blooming in your neighborhood?

Happy #Earth Day – Pay Dirt – #Composting

Happy Earth Day 2015!

Celebrating Earth Day is a little bit like giving canned goods to the homeless at the holidays as if that’s the only time the food is needed. Same with Earth Day. We get all warm and fuzzy inside thinking about doing things to help the environment, but then May comes along, and we forget that the Earth still struggles under the weight of human weight and consumption, just as the homeless need food as much, if not more, once January 1 rolls around.

Here’s something to do year round to help you, the environment, and maybe even those who have less than you do. Food banks welcome fresh produce and making compost surely helps you grow your own.

I’ve been composting kitchen waste ever since I had a small rooftop garden in my efficiency apartment in Ann Arbor in 1979. Since then, I’ve composted on a 20-acre homestead, in an urban backyard, and behind the shed in my current home in Pennsylvania. It’s a simple process and begins with finding a container with a sealable lid to keep in the kitchen for the food scraps.

Not all of your waste from the kitchen makes good compostable material. Avoid the use of meat scraps, fish byproducts, cheese, bones, fats, oils or grease because they all attract wild animals and take a very long time to break down. Egg shells, coffee grounds and vegetable matter make the best material to start the process of minting your very own black gold.

Once the container is filled, take it to the compost bin and put it inside and cover with either brown or green organic material. Making the rich topsoil requires a balancing act between green materials and brown materials placed on top of the kitchen scraps. Think of the green things as those still close to the live stage: grass clippings, food scraps and manures. The browns have been dead for a while and consist of dry leaves and woody materials and even shredded paper. We use the ashes from our fireplace. Layering these elements, with the browns taking up the most space, leads to the decomposition of the materials. Air and water are essential in assisting in this process, but usually there is enough liquid in my compost container and in the air to not worry about wetting the materials. If you notice the material in the bin looks dry, go ahead and water it.

There are products you can purchase, from shredders to rotating drums to three-stage bins. You can spend from $50 upwards to several hundreds of dollars. If you live in the extreme north, you may need to invest in the more sophisticated type of equipment to ensure the success of your compost bin. But I’ve composted in Michigan, Florida, and now Pennsylvania and managed to do it successfully without expending lots of money.

When I lived in an urban setting in Florida, I did the simplest thing. But it could easily have been expanded. I bought a plastic garbage can for under $10 and cut off the bottom. I drilled holes all over the lid and sides to allow air flow. A nail and hammer would have accomplished the same thing. I dug a hole about three-inches deep in the soil the diameter of the can and placed the bottom into the ground, filling around the sides to make it secure. I covered the bottom with the dirt I had just removed, making sure it was nice and loose. Then I placed my kitchen scraps on top. I covered those with leaves from my yard and put the lid back on the garbage can. Every time I put new material from the kitchen into the bin, I stirred the whole thing with a shovel.

Here in Pennsylvania, we bought a simple compost bin from Lowes for under $50. It has panels on all four sides that slide off for easy removal of the dirt from the bottom.

I fill my flower pots full of this healthy rich soil where grateful petunias and pansies thrive in the dirt that started in my kitchen. Our vegetables and herbs will receive a healthy dose of the soil when it’s time, and then we start the process all over again.

Earthworms are the essential ingredient for turning the scraps into rich dark soil. If I see a worm in the yard, I’ll pick it up and carry it to the bin, but mostly the earthworms find it all by themselves. If you don’t see any in your pile, buy a small container of earthworms from the local bait shop and let them loose. They eat the organic matter, and quite graciously poop behind nice dirt. Maybe that’s what I love most about composting. It’s a way to be a part of the cycle of nature without disturbing or destroying it.

When I began pulling together information for my book, From Seed to Table, my copy editor read the part on composted and was amazed that she could very easily start a small pile in her urban backyard. Just be sure to cover all the food scraps and keep a secure lid on the heap or you’ll have wildlife other than earthworms wanting to eat your scraps.

Do you compost? What’s been your experience? Any tips or suggestions to add?

Click here for paperback Click here for KindleClick here for paperback
Click here for Kindle

And in honor of Earth Day and in remembrance of all we lost during Deepwater Horizon, I’m offering an eBook sale (either $.99 cents or free on Smashwords) on my novel Trails in the Sand. This contemporary fiction chronicles BP’s oil spill in 2010 as environmental reporter Caroline Carlisle races to save her family from the destructive forces of their past.

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Click below to be taken to the purchase site of your choice.

Amazon Kindle

B&N Nook

Apple iBook

Kobo

Smashwords (use coupon code FR84H)

Paperback (Sorry, I don’t set the price on this version!)

THE RITES AND RIGHTS OF SPRING

Tomato and pepper plants wait for warmer soil

Tomato plants wait for warmer soil.

It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! ~Mark Twain

It’s a rite of spring around our house that my husband begins preparing the soil and putting in the ground onion seedlings and pea sprouts.

Onions are in the ground.

Onions are in the ground.

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Spinach babies seeking the sun.

Spinach plants come out from under the grow lights and into the sunlight of warmer spring days. Tomato and pepper plants begin peeping out of the soil in their pots and when tall enough transferred to larger pots, waiting for that day in May when the ground and air temperatures are warm enough for them to stretch their roots into the soil of the raised beds.

Alas, this year hubby promised he’d go easy. After all, our house is for sale with hopes for a spring or early summer buyer and move. Hubby’s had a heck of a year health-wise, with the doctors no closer to a solution than they were a year and a half ago. A very large blood clot in his leg that broke off and moved to his lungs put him on the disabled list this past week. That didn’t stop him. The doctors at the hospital said he could do some planting, but they didn’t know that my husband believes the rite of spring planting is his right of life no matter his state. Sunday found him in his garden planting two rows–each fifteen feet–of pea seeds he’d sprouted during the past two weeks.

Rows of peas are planted in raised beds.

Rows of peas are planted in raised beds.

Monday found him in bad shape and a severe lecture from our family doctor has taken not only his right of spring to plant, but his rite of the season is squashed for now.

As we left the doctor’s office, he said, “There’s nothing more to plant for a while anyway.”

The pansies are my offering to brighten up the yard.

The pansies are my offering to brighten up the yard.

Thank goodness or we’d be right back where we started.

As the days warm and the daffodils bloom and tulips push forward, we also hope for answers for my stubborn husband with the green thumb.

How’s your garden growing this spring?

Don’t forget to download or get your paperback copy of From Seed to Table.

Pittsburgh’s Phipps Conservatory

PhippsGlassHouseFlashback to 2009, and the invitation to visit my now husband in Pittsburgh where he lived. I’d never had the city on my top ten places to visit, and Robert knew I was reluctant to travel to what I thought of as a dirty city. That’s why soon after my plane landed, he took me to the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.

First of all, the drive there from the airport dispelled my idea of black smoke still encircling the city. We drove through the Fort Pitt tunnel into the sunshine of downtown Pittsburgh and the meeting of three mighty rivers. We drove on to Oakland, the home of the University of Pittsburgh. On the other side of Panther Hollow lies the glass house. Henry Phipps commissioned the conservatory in 1892 to give the steel workers in Pittsburgh a place of beauty and fresh air in the middle of the pollution he and Andrew Carnegie helped create with their steel mills eventually purchased by U.S. Steel.

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One of many works of art from Dale Chihuly

Botanical gardens in large greenhouses were all the rage in the Victorian Era, and so the Phipps was built in the best tradition of the very first one, the Glass House of London. Today there’s a new entrance with welcome center, gift shop, and nationally recognized cafe. However, it’s when I step into the Palm Court, the very first room of the nine original glass houses, I am transported back in time, trying to imagine what it must have been like for the average Pittsburgh family to step into that room with its abundance of oxygen and lushness as an antidote to the harsh conditions of the outside world.

Here Phipps created an environment of health and beauty. He required the conservatory be free and open on Sundays to ensure his workers could come and enjoy.

Palm Court decorated with mums

Palm Court decorated with mums

From the moment I stepped inside, I fell in love with all of the rooms in the original structure, and those built in later years to house a tropical rain forest, a spice and fruit room, discovery gardens, edible gardens, and a Japanese garden.

One of my favorite rooms is the East Room now abloom with mums. This room resembles a natural woodland although decorated with the seasonal fall flowers. It will change with the holiday show set to open the day after Thanksgiving.

But there’s something else spectacular going on at the Phipps. It’s becoming a premier vision for a sustainable world. All water that comes into Phipps stay in Phipps through recycling in one form or another. Electricity is manufactured through solar panels and wind turbine. Heating and cooling in many of the rooms is passive through the use of computers to open and shut panels for the appropriate temperatures. Fans come on automatically to move air when needed.

Sunken Gardens

Sunken Gardens

Mums

Mums in full bloom

It’s a beautiful place. That’s why in September, I started training to become a museum docent. I’m now trained to give tours, but I still need to do a practice tour with an official. However, there is so much to know about this beautiful place that I don’t feel ready to conduct a tour. I’m in awe of the history and its place in Pittsburgh. I want to be sure I do it justice when I tell others about it.

East Room

East Room

So now I go and do shifts as a stationary docent. I stand in rooms and engage folks in conversation about the conservatory. They see my name badge and come up and ask me questions. I’m beginning to feel more and more comfortable in my role as Phipps expert. Yesterday I chatted with children and adults. I helped college students on a quest to find a particular rose, which we never did find, but it was great fun taking them through the rooms on the search. I may have imparted some information, but I was the real winner.

Ready to give a tour

Ready to give a tour

On a windy and cold fall day in Pittsburgh, I was transported into a wonderland of lush plants, colorful plants, and rich oxygen. Not a bad way to spend a day.

And by the way, I was wrong about Pittsburgh almost six years ago. It’s  now the place I call home.

Signs of Spring in the Yard

???????????????????????????????Short little post today to remind us all, spring is here. I’ll keep reminding myself of that this week. I’m in shorts today, but the weather experts keep saying there’s a chance for snow later this week. In the meantime, I’m enjoying a little color in the yard.

 

I planted pansies in an old bird water bath and in pots for the front steps a few weeks ago. So far they’ve survived a light frost. I don’t know how they’ll do in snow.???????????????????????????????

And the finally, I spied the daffodils in full bloom under the front bushes. Tulips have yet to burst out, but hopefully they won’t be long behind. ???????????????????????????????

 

 

 

 

 

What’s going on in your yard?

Suffer the Garden

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

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We’ve been having a time with the weather so far this summer. For several weeks, the weather was hotter here in western Pennsylvania than in Florida. Then two weeks ago, the rains began. Our property sits on a plateau above the Ohio River and often our weather is different from what is reported on the local news station twenty miles away in Pittsburgh. This past week, we received heavy rainfall that wasn’t even recorded in the totals around the region. The weatherman said today that we’re double the average amount of July rainfall already. We might be triple that where we live.

Tomatoes do not enjoy soggy weather. They do best in dry soil. Right now, some are rotting on the vine. My husband must be vigilant in picking them before they fall. Also, we’re getting lots and lots of bugs on all the plants. Short of spraying with pesticides, we’re a little flummoxed with how to handle this invasion on everything from the raspberries to potatoes.

Alas, we do not starve. We’re eating something fresh almost every night. This past weekend I made our favorite bread and butter pickle chips.DSC02683Some of our plants love this weather.DSC02687 DSC02688Any suggestions for the bug situation that is wholesome for all living things? Hope your garden is producing and you’re enjoying the bounty of summer. Remember to eat local while the getting is good – local farmers’ markets are thriving right now.

For all your gardening needs - available on Kindle for $2.99

For all your gardening needs – available on Kindle for $2.99

A Natural Bird Feeder

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

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My husband likes to plant sunflowers around the periphery of the garden. This beauty is a volunteer from years past. Soon it will develop seeds in the center and feed the songbirds in our yard.

We don’t leave out traditional bird feeders during spring and summer because it draws all kinds of wildlife who also love to munch on our garden produce. Instead, in the summer we have the sunflowers to give some natural food to my feathered friends.

 

The other flowers in the yard are flourishing as well. Some of them are perrenials and others are annuals I plant in pots around the patio. That way I can move them around for  sun, rain, and aesthetics.DSC02592 DSC02595

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy summer.