You know you’re ready for spring when…

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…you’re talking to your friends (and plants) about the “thigmo response.”

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…you’re nearing the end of cleaning jobs and getting creative.

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…things on the winter project list (operation organization aka chalkboard wall) are getting done!

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…you’re excited to start shoveling.

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…you’re so eager for new life around you, the smallest creature catches your eye.

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…you’re photographing that new little life around you so you can post it to various media and blog about it (because you are procrastinating on your succession plans).

A Little Mistletoe History

The Facts: Botanically speaking, mistletoe is a ‘hemiparasite,’ which means it’s capable of producing its own food by photosynthesis but often/also sends out roots that penetrate the branches or trunk of the host tree in order to steal nutrients. Because it’s an evergreen that cozies up in deciduous trees, we notice it more often in the winter time once host tree leaves have fallen. The seeds are spread through bird droppings – sometimes it is so high up in trees it gets “harvested” by shotgun! .

The Folklore: So how did a parasite become a symbol and tradition during holiday festivities? Some say the answer lies in Norse Mythology. In ancient Scandinavia, if enemies met by chance beneath mistletoe in the forest, they would lay down their arms and hold a truce until the next day. This custom went hand-in-hand with the Norse myth or Baldur, whose mother, Frigga, made every object, animal and plant promise not to harm her son except mistletoe, which she overlooked. After a Norse god killed Baldur, with a spear fashioned from mistletoe that brought winter into the world, his mother declared the plant sacred. Baldur was eventually resurrected and Frigga ordered that any two people passing beneath it must celebrate Baldur’s life by kissing.

The Footnote??: In more recent history, Washington Irving wrote about a now often-overlooked aspect of the mistletoe tradition in a footnote of “Christmas Eve”

“The mistletoe is still hung up in farm-houses and kitchens at Christmas, and the young men have the privilege of kissing the girls under it, plucking each time a berry from the bush. When the berries are all plucked the privilege ceases.” 

Those berries, by the way, probably shouldn’t be eaten. Quite a few sources say they are poisonous despite the fact that they have long been considered an aphrodisiac.

Dogs Love Okra?

Wondering what to do with okra you can’t eat? Overgrown okra getting you down?

It is a true joy to be harvesting okra throughout all of Sep. and into Oct. from my garden at home. The best part is when the okra is too big for me to enjoy, I am able to share it with my Shar Pei, Logan. Just for fun, here he is enjoying his selection of oversized okra.

 

Upcoming Events: September 2012

September is full of farm-focused-fun. Here are a few local ones we’ll likely attend and are proud to promote:

Pressure Canning Class Prince George’s County Extension Office: Friday September 14th 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. The class will teach up-to-date techniques and safety procedures (USDA approved) for canning low acid foods such as meats and vegetables.  Pre-registration required. Tickets are $35 per person and fee includes a copy of “So Easy to Preserve” as well as handouts and materials for a hands-on activity. For more information please contact Norma Fitzhugh at 301.868.8784.

6th Annual Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello: September 14th-15th. Pre-Fesitval activities on Friday the 14th include “Growing a Greener World Workshop” with Joe Lamp’l (Reservations Required and tickets are $15) and “Grand Preview Field-to-Fork Dinner and Evening” with Joel Salatin (Reservations Required and tickets are $90).

Baltimore City Farm Alliance 2nd Annual Urban Farm and Food Fair: Saturday September 15th 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. There will be lots of local farms and farmers swapping stories, planting and other activities for kids, and beekeeping demos. More details here.

Herbal Medicine Making and Body Care at Centro Ashé Farm: Sunday September 16th 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. This introductory class will be a hands on day including herbal plant walk around the farm, tincture making as well as a medicine making rotation including ear ache oil, tea formulas, herbal salves, and dream pillows.  Each student will leave with their own tincture, salve, tea formula, dream pillow, and ear ache oil, an incredible beginning to an herbal medicine kit! The course will also go through folk medicine making techniques and students will have an opportunity to get hands on harvesting and creating their own medicine!  (Reservations required and course cost is $55)

Farm to Chef Maryland: Monday September 24th at The American Visionary Art Museum. A local culinary competition that benefits ‘Days of Taste.’ 30 Chefs pair with 30 Farms to create amazing dishes for guests to enjoy! ‘Days of Taste’ is an interactive program for fourth and fifth grade students that helps build a food and nutrition vocabulary. (Tickets required. $90 in advance, $100 day of.)

Did we miss any? If so, please email information about your event to: deb@compost2themoon.com

Agritourism at its Finest

Willowsford Farm hosted their monthly farm tour this weekend and as you would suspect, Allie and I made a day of it and hung out at the farm and garden and had dinner and drinks with fellow food-loving friends at a great spot in nearby Leesburg: The Wine Kitchen. Here are a few pics from our adventure:

Our third musketeer, Christie Balch, chatting beekeeping at Willowsford
Farmer Mike’s best kept secret
Annie’s Project 2012 Gals
Allie with her new favorites: “Ground Cherries” “Cape Gooseberries” “Husk Tomatoes”
Charcuterie plate at The Wine Kitchen
“Rare, Hard to Find, Just Plain Cool Wines”
Wine Kitchen marinated Olives
BBQ Bacon Wrapped Quail / Amish cheddar stone ground grits / smoked mushrooms & fava beans
Late Night Falafal at Doener Bistro

Blink Blink: It’s Firefly Season

With so many of us busy as bees on a daily (and nightly) basis, it is easy to find ourselves overlooking the small wonders in our own backyard. Sure, we notice the unusually colorful migratory birds and chat with neighbors about the raccoon breaking into trash cans, but rarely do we stand or sit still long enough to admire how the littlest species (littlest yet visible to the naked eye, that is) communicate with one another and how we can communicate with them.

Insect interactions are incredibly complex and warrant fields and fields of study far more engaging than this little blog post can accommodate, but the call and response mating rituals between fireflies can be observed and contemplated by interested backyard bug-lovers after a few moments reading up on the topic in Carl Zimmer’s 2009 New York Times article: Blink Twice If You Like Me
In the article Dr. Sara Lewis, an evolutionary ecologist at Tufts University, offers insight on the insects and a few patterns to look for when the fireflies emerge – at that perfect evening hour to coincide with winding down – and throughout their fascinating nightlife. Take a few moments to take a closer look and you may observe the following:
  • Each firefly species has its own pattern of flashes, discernible by the number of pulses (flashes) and seconds of delay in between.
  • Fireflies flashing in the air are males. The females stay down in the grass observing and looking for the flash patterns of males of their own species.
  • Female fireflies will sometimes respond with a single flash of their own, always at a precise interval after the males.
If this topic captivates you as much as it does me, you may want to check out this Tufts Now news article about the 2011 findings in Correlated Evolution of Female Neoteny and Flightlessness with Male Spermatophore Production in Fireflies (Coleopetera: Lampyridae) and start practicing the double blink of the male Photinus greeni on your penlight.

Purple Squirrel

What’s better than waking up to find a baby seal has entered your house and snuggled up for a nap on your couch? Not much. But if you happen to love squirrels and have an affinity for all things purple (because it is your niece’s favorite color), hearing about a bright-colored, bushy-tailed little fella like this is a pretty nice way to start the day.

Connie Emert, of Jersey Shore, Pa., spotted the purple squirrel dining on bird seed a few times before her husband Percy trapped it on Sunday. Experts at AccuWeather.com have speculated that the squirrel may have fallen into “some purple ink of purple paint at some point.” I suspect the squirrel is nature made because nature is just that awesome.
Read the full story and listen to the news report here.