Category Archives: Environment

The importance of trees in suburban landscapes.

 

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Wild spaces are increasingly in peril due to population expansion.  More open space is being used to provide the infrastructure for the needs of all the new residents and more and more land is converted into blacktop, buildings and roads.  The importance of trees can’t be measured but we know that their loss will have heavy implications for our environment locally as well as globally.

Some of the major benefits of trees in urban spaces directly affect our well being  by improving our air, producing oxygen as a by-product of photosynthesis, as well as absorbing harmful gasses such as carbon monoxide therefore helping us prevent climate change. Their foliage filters dust and pollen.  They reduce flooding by absorbing run off. Help us save energy by providing shade and shelter our homes from harmful winds.

Trees also increase biodiversity, they are crucial for many species of birds and small animals providing habitat, food and shelter.  When a tree is in bloom it attracts many insects and pollinators to their nectar which in turn help birds feed their chicks during nesting season. We can help our environment and improve the ecology of our surrounding landscapes by incorporating trees around our homes.

“A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people. ”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt

 

 

 

 

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Native Bromeliads in Florida

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Spent some time with Dr.Teresa M. Cooper at the Enchanted Forest Sanctuary in Titusville Florida, where she graciously invited a group of Master Naturalists to learn about  the experimental efforts to save the native bromeliads (of the genus Tillandsia), in Florida.  An epiphytic plant, it survives by attaching itself on tree surfaces and extracting water and nutrients from the atmosphere. The Mexican Weevil  Metamasius callizona , introduced in 1989  in a shipment of bromeliads to Fort Lauderdale from Veracruz, Mexico, has been  decimating all twelve species of the florida native wild population. Since then, scientists have been studying and experimenting with  various methods to control the weevil without much success.  The weevil continues to encroach on the natural wilderness.  The goal is to stop it. It is believed the weevil has spread to 22 counties in the State of Florida.

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Dr. Teresa M. Cooper

At the Enchanted Forest, the work happens in the thick of a hammock.  Growing under the canopy are hundreds of bromeliad shoots or “pups” in protected baskets suspended from trees. Hanging from marked trees, specimens of beautiful larger plants are being grown in their natural environment. When the plants start blooming, they are moved to a protected screened room where the seeds can be collected and used to grow more plants in the forest.  This is a long term process as it takes up to seven years for the plants to produce seed. Learn more about the wonderful efforts of Dr. Teresa Cooper and her volunteers  here.

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One of the sites where small plants are grown.

So the race is on.  Volunteers water the plants, keep them clean and document the ecosystems around them. In their natural habitat, the plants populate the the branches of large and small trees providing an important ecosystem that is both aquatic and terrestrial, therefore providing a rich habitat for invertebrates and larvae.  Many species of spiders, salamanders and tree frogs lay their eggs in and around the pools. Young tadpoles feed on insects and larvae. There is more than meets the eye. When we see a colony of bromeliads, including the large showy Mexican bromeliads in most of our gardens, we must remember the rich diverse habitat that they provide.

Wildness is the preservation of the World.
― Henry David Thoreau

 

 

Exploring Wild Mushrooms

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Since Joining the Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Society last year, I have had the privilege of attending educational meetings and foreys in the many forested parks around the city which have opened up a new world of the diversity and abundance of mushrooms. A word of caution, you should always have your mushrooms examined by an experienced identifier or Mycologist.  Some mushrooms, as we all know, can make you very sick and in some cases can be deadly. It takes time, study and dedication to learn to identify and differentiate the choice edibles from the poisonous and deadly species.

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Chicken Mushroom

Aptly named, this mushroom tasted like chicken, really! I have tried it on its own tossed in a hot pan with butter, in a vegetable stir fry or a creamy soup. All delicious!

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Deadly Amanita

This beauty was at least eight inches in diameter.  Harvested for educational purposes only, it was an impressive specimen. Deadly.

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Red Reishi

I found this specimen in my own back yard!  Red Reishi  Turns out to be quite rare and prized for its many medicinal properties. It has been used for millennia to fight decease and boost the immune system.

These are just a few of the many specimens found and collected on our forays. I have enjoyed many Chanterelle dishes in the past weeks so excited to find them, I forgot to get a photo! The benefits of mushrooms are many but going out into the woods have the added reward or being in the outdoors exploring another aspect of nature. If this interest you, follow the link to the Mushroom Club above and join us at the next meeting or foray.

“Mushrooms are miniature pharmaceutical factories, and of the thousands of mushroom species in nature, our ancestors and modern scientists have identified several dozen that have a unique combination of talents that improve our health.” Paul Stamets

 

 

Weeding Blues

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I left my  garden during the height of the summer for a month. The weather was hot and rainy while I was gone evident by the profusion of weeds I found when I came back.  Photo is not great, but yes, there is basil under all those weeds!  At first I could not even see the plants from the weeds.  This particularly pesky weed is Prostrate Knotweed, Polygonum aviculare. An annual weed, it spreads widely and very difficult to eradicate. Just finding the root is a real challenge!It covered all my vegetable beds even in places where I had laid black weed prevention cloth.I also found abundant Crabgrass some plants as wide as a child’s swimming pool! Not exaggerating… In my perennial beds, Prostate Spurge, Euphorbia maculata, Ground Ivy, Healall, Deadnettle, Dandelion and my archenemy, Canada Thistle! Clearly, I had a lot of work ahead!

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Here, one small area after weeding.

This brings me to the purpose of this essay. WEEDING. It requires tenacity, discipline and above all, the right frame of mind. To all those who have asked, no, there are no shortcuts. I always advise against using synthetic herbicides . Besides affecting our health and that of our beloved pets, they disrupt the delicate web connecting the millions of organisms that populate our soil.  I do recommend the use of organic controls such as corn gluten which is a pre-emergent that prevents seed from germinating. A very economical -and eco friendly-  homemade herbicide mix I use: 1 Gallon vinegar, 1/4 cup of Dawn and 2 cups of epson salts. Mix in sprayer and apply.  Works quite well on hard surfaces like  brick patios and driveways, or applied directly on deep rooted weeds like dandelion. Best sprayed on a sunny day. A cover of mulch on bare areas is a good option too. Here are some more tips to make weeding more manageable:

Be consistent.  Pull them when you see them and do not let them go to seed or you will have them forever.

Get those roots. If you are doing the work, might as well get the whole plant.  Most can regenerate within weeks if some of the root is left behind.

Do one area at the time.  This has the benefit of giving you that sense of accomplishment by seeing your results without being overwhelming. You will be surprised by what you can accomplish in just one hour a day.

Plant densely. Weeds are opportunistic.  If there is available exposed soil they will be the first to populate.  So use perennial ground covers in the front of your borders to keep them out.

Make the best of it. Look at all the positive aspects:  Spending time outdoors, can be a great workout once you incorporate some stretching and moving around, music or podcasts really help, my IPod happens to be an indispensable tool when weeding. Or just tune in to the sounds of nature. I am always surprised of how much is going even in a very small garden! So, get “in the zone”and weed on…

“Many gardeners will agree that hand-weeding is not the terrible drudgery that it is often made out to be.  Some people find in it a kind of soothing monotony.  It leaves their minds free to develop the plot for their next novel or to perfect the brilliant repartee with which they should have encountered a relative’s latest example of unreasonableness.”  ~Christopher Lloyd, The Well-Tempered Garden, 1973

 

 

Sharp insights on Native Pollinators

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Hillary Sardiñas will reveal to you amazing facts of the hidden world and habits of our native pollinator bees.  She has a PhD from UC Berkely in Pollination Ecology and specialties in Restoration Ecology, Agrobiodiversity, Habitat Restoration and Bee Conservation. With an easy pleasant manner and in great detail, she describes the habits and challenges that our native bees face in today’s agricultural world and what we can do to protect them.  I came across this insightful podcast in Delicious Revolution, a podcast about food, where it comes from, and the many specialists involved in getting it to us. It is reassuring to me to know that so many brilliant young people are actively advocating for our environment and food safety.

“We think we can make honey without sharing in the fate of bees, but we are in truth nothing but poor bees, destined to accomplish our task and then die.”
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

 

The Deadliest Product in your Shed

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It appears the science is in and in all recent studies the reality of the toxicity of Monsanto’s Roundup Herbicide is coming to light. The results are downright terrifying. If you read the findings of scientists studying its effects, the story that develops is one that belongs in a science fiction plot except it is real and we are uncovering the truth more fully every day.  It is now linked to the majority of chronic modern diseases in Western society.

Glyphosate, developed by Monsanto and billed as a “safe, biodegradable and environmentally friendly” is anything but.  In combination with other additives that Monsanto is not required to disclose, this herbicide becomes systemic in the plants it is sprayed on.  It is now known that it will persist in our soils up to twenty years after the last application. Originally designed to be used with GMO crops, like corn, sugar,soybean and wheat in order to control weeds in the fields, it started getting our of control when the weeds became resistant and farmers applied more and more product to compensate.  It is estimated that in the last couple of decades 2.6 billion pounds of Roundup has been dumped in our fields. As we are finding out, not only does it not biodegrade, but because it is systemic, it is not just in the plant, but also in the fruit the plants produce, in the soil, in our water, and as a result in our bodies now as well.  According to Dr. Stephanie Seneff, research scientist at MIT, glyphosate residues “enhance the damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues and toxins in the environment to disrupt normal body functions and induce disease.”  She has linked it to diseases like Cancer, Autism, Allergies, Parkinson’s  just to name a few.  I urge you to take the time to read the study and and watch the video “The Horrific Truth about Monsanto’s Roundup” were Dr. Seneff  gives the specifics of how this insidious, poisonous herbicide affects our bodies.

As gardeners we are in close contact with our individual environments.  Every decision we take affects the natural world and our own health and that of our families and pets. Let’s go out and garden in a responsible and natural way. Happy organic gardening!

Related reading:

Widely used herbicide linked to Cancer. Scientific American.

Study finds Monsanto’s glyphosate in 100% of wines tested -even organic ones.

Glyphosate fact sheet

“We have some very suggestive evidence that the use of pesticides and herbicides affects our mental function and brain physiology, including increasing the incidence of Parkinson’s disease up to seven times in those most heavily exposed to them. This is not exactly a surprise when we realize that pesticides are designed to be neurotoxic to the pests.”
Gabriel Cousens M.D., Conscious Parenting: The Holistic Guide to Raising and Nourishing Healthy, Happy Children