Tuesday, November 17, 2009

compost bin

I finally finished building my compost bin, and I could not possibly feel more butch about it. Okay, I guess I could feel more butch if I'd sawed all the lumber myself (the guy at Home Depot did most of it for me, although I did have to trim some pieces... which I did with my teeth! okay, I used a hand saw). Still, sawing and hammering and drilling is very satisfying work, and I ended up with a beauty of a compost bin:

It's a variation on plan #3 from this PDF. The plan originally called for removable slats on the front of each bin, but by the time I got to that point it seemed like a lot of extra work for very little benefit--it wouldn't keep critters out, and the way my bin is situated, if the wind does anything it will blow stuff *into* the bins. So now I've got some extra lumber left over for other projects.

I'm super excited about being able to compost again, and even though it hasn't even been in use for a full week yet, I can already see how much this is going to reduce my garbage output (it also helps that I can now recycle plastic bags and wrap at the co-op). I think I'm also eating more fruits and vegetables now, because I'm thinking, "I can compost whatever's left!" So that's another added benefit.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

November tomatoes, and a garden update

A month ago, just before the frost hit, I went and picked all the green tomatoes on my sungold plants and brought them inside. This is the first year that my little potted tomatoes produced enough fruit that there was any left at the end of the season, so this is the first time I've tried ripening green tomatoes indoors, and it seems like some kind of impossible magic trick. The skin is a little tougher than vine-ripened tomatoes, and they aren't quite as flavorful, but still--ripe, local tomatoes in Duluth in November.

Back in late September, I planted two pots of dill and basil seeds to see if I could grow them indoors through the winter. I probably should have started them a touch earlier, and I should be giving them some supplemental light now (they're just indoors in a south-facing window), but I am happy to report that they have sprouted and are growing. The dill is actually doing surprisingly well. The basil is a bit slower. I'll try to rig up some light for them (or pray for more sunlight; it's been overcast for the better part of the past month). My parsley and rosemary from last summer are still chugging along, and my parsley from two summers ago (2008) actually looks better than my parsley from this past summer.

This is how my actual outdoor garden looks now:
Or at least that's what it looked like before the wind kicked up again and ruffled the edges. The geometry of it in this photo makes me think it's some Andy Goldsworthy installation. What it actually is is flattened moving boxes put down to blot out the turf grass, a little bit of topsoil (and by "a little bit" I mean 560 pounds, but that's spread over about 450 square feet), and then 11 garbage bags full of leaves on top of that (with thanks to freecyclers and coworkers for the leaves; I have no big deciduous trees in the yard yet). In the spring hopefully the grass will be dead and the leaves and cardboard should be rotted enough that I can dig through without tilling. I dislike machines and would like to get by without rototilling if Ican.

I'd post a picture of what my compost bin looks like now, but it's just a pile of lumber with a few pieces nailed together. I'm going to try to finish it up this week or the next so that I can stop throwing perfectly good garbage in the landfill. Once I can start composting, I should be able to cut my garbage pick-up back to every other week.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Save Spirit Mountain (again)

Oh look, everyone hates me. (Click on "comments.") La la, that's okay, because I hate everyone, too.

I'm not going to bother to respond over there, since I really don't need to waste my energy on internet squabbling. When I e-mailed the City Council I was aware that my message could be forwarded to local media, but I was not anticipating it being posted on the newspaper's gossip blog, and I resent being thrown to the wolves like that. Besides, I think they've all already made up their mind that I am an evil liberal hellbent on destroying the American way of life (and proud of it!) so it's not like anything I could say would change their minds about me or the proposed Alpine Coaster at Spirit Mountain.

But I will say this: This is how habitat destruction happens. It's not all big land grabs, it's not selling Gooseberry Falls and building Mall of America #2 in its place, it is an incremental series of losses. It is a vacant corner paved over for a parking lot, it is scrub and weeds razed for condos, it is a few trees cut down and the noise, pollution and disruptive human activity of a roller coaster in the forest.

I never claimed that there were any rare birds nesting near the area proposed for the Alpine Coaster, but I can guarantee that there are some birds nesting there, and many more who depend on the area as a food source, and there will be a lot fewer if the Alpine Coaster is built. Other wildlife like squirrels or voles or shrews or porcupines will be displaced. Trees will be cut down, wildflowers and ferns will be trampled, insect and microorganism life will be disrupted. And, yes, I am enough of a bleeding heart liberal animal rights wacko that I believe that thousands of creatures' right to existence trumps a few human beings' desire to be entertained for 30 seconds. If they were cutting down some trees to build, say, low income housing, or a women's shelter, or a corner grocery store, or a solar panel manufacturing plant, I don't think I would complain as much.

The environmental impact of the stupid Alpine Coaster monstrosity is probably fairly small, in the grand scheme of things, but these losses add up. Wildlife habitat and quiet places are a very, very finite resource, and I don't think they should be wasted on something this inane.

ETA, 10-14-09: Related links, some more background (and a rant) on the Alpine Coaster, and a semi-related discussion on PDD about whether or not Duluth is anti-growth.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

So, house.

It's a house. It's got an ancient furnace in the basement, and two (out of three) radiators upstairs don't work. The electrical is ancient enough that when I had extra outlets put in (because there were exactly zero outlets in the dining room or in the room I was going to use as an office) it ended up costing three times what I thought because the electrician couldn't connect the wires to my fusebox and had to put a subpanel in. It's been windy, and it feels like the windows are more for show than for actually keeping the cold air out. There is not a lick of insulation in the attic (unless you count an empty bee's nest, which I guess would provide some insulation). Nearly half the rooms in the house are painted pink, and the carpetting in the living room is among the ugliest I have ever seen.

However, there appears to be beautiful, finished hard wood underneath the carpet, and underneath the linoleum in the dining room, too. There's carved wood molding around almost all the doors, and most of the doors have antique engraved (!) hinges. The clawfoot bathtub is deep enough that I can float in it, and my hotwater heater is butch enough to fill it up with hot water. I have a view of Lake Superior from my kitchen and bedroom, and the other side of the house faces some woods and a creek. The yard is big and sunny, a little barren looking right now, but I can think of it like a blank canvas, then.

I started prep for my vegetable garden this week. I don't have a rototiller or a strong enough back to till it all by hand, and tilling disturbs the soil too much anyway, so I'm doing a kind of lasagna gardening thing with old moving boxes. Right now they're jut weighted down with leftover potting soil, but the plan is to cover them with topsoil, compost and mulch, and then plant directly into that in the spring, digging through the cardboard (which should be mostly rotted by then) if necessary.

I moved in the first week of September, and would have had plenty of time to plant trees and things, but I was too busy with packing/closing/moving/unpacking to arrange that, but now I have all winter to decide what varieties of apple or pear or plum I want to grow. I can fit a few fruit trees along the south/west side of the house, maybe something else in the front after I tear up the (uneccessary) driveway, and bushy or brambly things everywhere else. My mom got me some peonies, and I planted them along the south side of the house, underneath the kitchen window.

And now that I have posted something, maybe I can get back in the habit of posting regularly.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

pesto recipe

The last of the basil
A few sprigs rosemary
A couple garlic cloves
Small handful raw pumpkin seeds
A few shavings of parmesan
Enough olive oil
Salt & pepper

Combine until pesto. Serve with cooked fusilli and pattypan squash sliced thin and fried until just crispy.

Monday, August 17, 2009


Personally I was happy with the cooler than average summer we were having for most of June and July, but my tomatoes have really appreciated the heat and humidity of the past week. I've been able to harvest a couple handfuls of Sun Gold cherry tomatoes so far, and my so-called Early Girls are starting to show some color now, too. My cucumber isn't doing to well; most of the fruit rotted on the vine, and the one that got to harvestable size was dry, dense and mealy. Cayennes are coming along beautifully, however, and I have a dozen or more fruits on my one little plant, although they're all still green. Made a batch of pesto with the basil, and the plants are coming back now so that I'll be able to make another batch in a few weeks; parsley and rosemary are thriving and have been harvested in handfuls here and there as needed. I'm going to start fresh pots of basil, dill and chives soon (although maybe not until after I move--first week of September, eek) to try to carry them through the winter. Dahlias, callas, snapdragons, zinnias, fuchsia, bee balm, bergamot, black-eyed susans, evening primrose and anise hyssop are all blooming now, much to the delight of local bees and hummingbirds.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

15 minutes from door to bus stop

The lupine I planted two years ago from wild-gathered seed finally bloomed this year, all shades of blue and purple. The flowers are fading now, and some volunteer Evening Primrose is coming up, getting ready to bloom. I hope my landlord will continue to not mow this little patch of the yard even after I'm gone; the lupine, at least, look enough like garden plants that it should count as a "flower bed." My monarda is getting ready to bloom, too, with buds forming and some of the leaves near the top of the plants getting red, like they're in training to be flowers.

In other people's yards the peonies are fading and flopping over and giving way to lilies. Roses are in all stages, some brown and crunchy, other in peak bloom, and others still in bud. There's a rental property I walk by where last year somebody had planted tomatoes and basil in a tiny scrap of land next to the sidewalk. Somebody must've sweettalked thier landlord into allowing some more pernament gardening, because this year there is a trellis with a little grape vine. Already there are about half a dozen clusters of grapes, still tiny, green and hard.

In the grass beyond the woods behind my apartment, there were three or four flicker fledglings picking around for bugs; around the corner in my neighbor's yard there were two or three more. (They all scattered when I came on the scene, thus the inexact count.) I've heard from other reports that there seem to be more flickers nesting in town this year, but I must not be in the right places at the right times, because these were my first flickers in a long while.

Going up the hill I found a thumbnail-sized irridescent purple-brown Junebug looking thing (not so skilled in beetle ID, sorry). I stopped to admire him, then saw that he was moving a bit slow; I didn't see any obvious injury, but he could have been stunned from pesticides or a car impact. He clasped onto my fingertip when I held it out, so I moved him into the grass so that he at least wouldn't get stepped on. While I was at the bus stop, a little white moth fluttered into the gutter and twitched around there for a while. This one did have an obvious impairment, a slightly deformed wing, although I couldn't tell if it was the result of injury or birth defect. I ushered her into my palm and moved her to the grass, too, where she could masquarade as a fallen peony petal. Between the beetle and the moth, there was a fat, bouncy monarch. He nectared very briefly at a hop clover in the boulevard, then lit off down the hill in search of sweeter lands.

Friday, July 10, 2009


Been busy fishing for a house this summer, and finally caught one. I just got the inspection done, so I think I get to relax a little bit until I close on August 31, and then I get to panic about moving in and fixing stuff. But--house! And a big sunny 50x140 lot for a garden.

This year's container garden continues to chug along, although it needs some real fertilizer. (I needed more potting soil when I was planting stuff this spring, and could not easily carry the 30 pound bags of organic soil home on the bus and did not feel like mooching a ride, so instead I bought Miracle Gro soil, because it came in smaller bags. Stuff looked okay at first, but now some of the leaves are yellowing.) Still, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers all have either baby fruit or flowers on them, my fuchsia is blooming and my dahlias are just starting to. Dill got a case of the aphids, but has somewhat recovered, and parsley, basil and rosemary are all doing well. No swallowtails on the parsley this year... I think the seeds took too long to germinate and the butterflies passed me over.

I'm itching to get in my house, and it seems like a month and a half is an incredibly long time to wait (but I wanted to give the little old lady who lives there now time to pack up the 60+ years of stuff she has packed in there). I'm not in any huge rush to see how much it's going to cost to replace the boiler and put in insulation, but I really, really want to start working in the yard and prepping it for next year's garden--blot out some of the turfgrass, plant some perrenials, make friends with the neighbors who have apple and plum trees planted in their yard. Taking possession in September will still give me time to do all that before winter, but I want to do it now.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

this year's garden

Earlier this year, I was hoping that I would have bought my house by now, so that I could have a real garden in the actual dirt this year. But it took me longer than anticipated to get paperwork stuff in order, and then everything I've looked at so far has either been a Scary Mold House of Doom and Woe, or somebody else snatched it up before I had a chance to put in an offer. So no house yet, which means it's another container garden on the back steps for me again this year.

I haven't had a super lot of luck with container gardening in the past. My herbs and flowers usually do pretty well, and my potatoes did well last year, but my greens have a tendency to either wilt or get leggy and bolt, and fruiting stuff never puts out much fruit, or the squirrels eat it before I get a chance to (although I've had some luck keeping them off with Liquid Fence). All the same, this year so far I have planted the following: tomatoes (one Early Girl and two Sun Gold), cucumber (first time I've tried it in a container), Russet potatoes, basil, parsley, dill, rosemary, dahlias, calla lilies, and a fuchsia. I also have some sickly cayenne pepper plants that I got for free, that I think I'll be able to nurse back to health. I'd like to think that the squirrels won't eat cayenne.

What else should I grow? What does well in containers? I have one 6" by 28" planter, two 12" diameter pots, and a bunch of smaller (3" to 8" diameter) pots without anything in 'em yet. I was thinking about putting some lettuce or salad greens in the longer planter, but it seems like it's somehow too "late" for lettuce, even though we've just barely passed the local frost-free date, and anyway I'm afraid they'd just wilt dead, like my lettuces of the past. I could just fill up the pots with more herbs--oregano, chamomile, peppermint. Maybe I'll grow another pot of basil. One can never have too much basil.

Friday, May 15, 2009

spring flowers and everything else

House hunting and related angst has pretty much consumed my life this spring (who knew that "affordable" and "inhabitable" was such a tough combination?), plus I'm working extra hours at my day job, so I've had very little time for writing or blogging. Or for nature walks, for that matter, although I did get out for a brief frolic this week. Every spring I seem to miss the most ephemeral of the ephemerals--bloodroot, hepatica, spring beauty, etc.--or I'm just not in the right place at the right time, but the more sturdy spring flowers are starting up now. In Congdon Park, there are tons of mayflowers getting ready to bloom, and serviceberry flowers are just barely, almost, kind of starting to pop open (I was there two days ago, and they have certainly opened up by now), and the trillium are getting ready to go, too. There was one bright, celebratory bunch of marsh marigolds in bloom just below 4th Street, and a few anemones along the trail starting to blossom, and exactly one violet.
Elsewhere in town, there are strawberries, pussytoes, mertensia, phlox, ground ivy, dandelions, tulips, daffodils, scilla, hyacinth, and other flowers blooming, and the lilac and chokecherry buds are starting to swell. The fern fiddleheads are unfurling, and tree leaves are filling out so that the forest is starting to blush green. The sparrows are trickling back up, most song, chipping, and white-throated, although my nature-walk companion this week spotted a Lincoln's and white-crowned. The warblers and kinglets are coming back, too, and last week I found a robin's egg. Tortiseshell butterflies have been out for a while, and have recently been joined by bumblebees and cabbage/mustard butterflies. It is the time of year where, even if you had no other obligations and unlimited energy, you couldn't possibly see everything that's happening.

Monday, April 27, 2009

spring! when last year's cabbage begins to flower

I've never grown cabbage before last year, and never really got the hang of container gardening to begin with, and I think I probably overcrowded my cabbage, since it never formed heads and just sat around getting leggy. I brought it inside last fall, because it was still alive and some of them looked like they were just about to form heads. But they never did, and continued to get leggier and leggier. And last week they flowered.

The flowers are about 1/2 inch tall, a pale, sunny yellow without much scent, and have between three and eight petals, although four seems to be the norm. Looking stuff up on the internet now, I'm surprised that I'm not seeing any ornamental brassicaes grown for their flowers (instead of foliage; the "flowering" part "flowering kale" actually refers to the colored leaves), because they're really rather pretty.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

bear attack

Turns out a few slightly sniffly redpolls are the least of my concerns--I've got bigger reasons to take down my feeders.
Please note that I live in a city of 85,000, nowhere near the edge of town or even near any woodsy places bigger than half a block or so, and that my apartment is sandwiched between three very busy streets. All the same, there's a freakin' bear in the yard.

This photo was taken on Thursday evening, and when I woke up that day I saw that the birdfeeder had been pulled down, but the prospect of a bear in the yard was so absurd that I didn't seriously consider it, and i figured that the ground was soft from thawing and freezing, and maybe a really fat racoon tried to climb the shepherd's hook or something and it tipped over. But then Mr. Bear made his presence known that evening while I was making dinner. My dinner companion called 911, but apparently the authorities don't care about bears unless they become threatening, and are, like, actively mauling babies or something. It's great that they're respecting the bear's bearness and all, but I also don't think this is the greatest place for a very large black bear to be hanging out.

Luckily, though, I have a cat blob to protect me:
(Note also, if it's not obvious from the pictures, that I live on the second floor, and that nobody is in any real danger. Unless I decide to walk home through the "woods" behind the house, which I used to do every night after work but which I am never ever doing again now.)

So I took down the feeders--again. The bear eventually did pull down that one shepherd's hook again, and destroyed one feeder, but most of them are intact and the pole isn't even too bent. The internet is telling me to keep the birdfeeders down all summer if there's a bear in the 'hood, but the prospect of that depresses me greatly, so I might try to easing them back out one by one after a week or so and seeing what happens. It is migration season, after all, and it would be very sad to miss all my sparrows this spring.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

showing off my redpoll pictures

It's been a finchy winter in the northland. Earlier in the year there were lots of crossbills hanging around, and although none of them came to my yard (I do not, admittedly, have the most crossbill-friendly yard) I did get to see them on hikes and such. And then later in the winter into early spring, there was a redpoll and siskin explosion, and everybody on the bird lists was reporting huge numbers of them. I was all excited about my six redpolls during the GBBC in February, but by late March and early April, I was having 30+ (and sometimes 50+) finchy birds in my yard, mostly Common Redpolls, and a handful of Pine Siskins, and at least one or two Hoary Redpolls. Before this year, I never had very many finches, so I only have a tiny thistle feeder, maybe eight inches tall, and they were cleaning it out everyday, sometimes twice a day, plus they were doing a number on my sunflower and mixed seed feeders. I guess I was out there refilling the feeders often enough that they got used to me, and I could literally walk right up to the feeder, within about 18 inches, and the birds still kept flying in and out, making their chirpy, musical racket. (I tried coaxing them onto my hand, but they weren't quite that bold.) So one day after I filled the feeders I went back out with my camera and got these shots.

Redpoll party!

That's a siskin on the left and two redpolls on the right.

A nice redpoll portrait.

And a goofy one, too.

But with bird numbers that big (and in such a small space as my feeders/yard) there's bound to be some sick birds in the flock:

That's a healthy redpoll and siskin up top, but the redpoll on the bottom that looks poofy and droopy ain't doing so hot.

So, to try to keep the other birds from getting sick, I did the "right" thing and let the feeders go empty and then washed them out with a 10% bleach solution. And then you're supposed to keep the feeders empty for a few weeks so that the sick birds either die or fly away... but it's migration season, and I can't bring myself to leave the feeders empty that long, so I filled them up again after a few days of being empty.

That was yesterday, and today I saw one siskin and one redpoll, but I think the big flock has dispersed. Redpolls spend the summer up in the tundra, so it was getting a bit late for them to be hanging around Duluth, anyway. Still, the yard seems awfully quiet now without them.

Monday, March 30, 2009

published in Mother Earth News!

This isn't a blog where I crow about getting published or other writing stuff (I'll probably put something like that together later, when I have more clips; tried doing a free thing with wordpress but I don't like their layout, and I don't want to pay for a real website yet) but I had a little something published in Mother Earth News, and just noticed today (thank you google alerts!) that they put it on their website, and since it is relevant to the blog I will put a link to it here. Mother Earth News is one of my dream publications, and even though this is just a little "reader tip" thing, and probably doesn't count as a real published clip, and even though they edited my sentences slightly so that they're not how I wrote them and they sound (I think) a little more awkward now, it is still sort of thrilling to see my name and Mother Earth News together in such close proximety.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

White House Kitchen Garden

According to the New York Times, the Obamas are planting a kitchen garden on the south lawn of the White House, the first vegetable garden at the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt's during WWII.
While the organic garden will provide food for the first family’s meals and formal dinners, its most important role, Mrs. Obama said, will be to educate children about healthful, locally grown fruit and vegetables at a time when obesity and diabetes have become a national concern.

“My hope,” the first lady said in an interview in her East Wing office, “is that through children, they will begin to educate their families and that will, in turn, begin to educate our communities.”


Whether there would be a White House garden had become more than a matter of landscaping. The question had taken on political and environmental symbolism, with the Obamas lobbied for months by advocates who believe that growing more food locally, and organically, can lead to more healthful eating and reduce reliance on huge industrial farms that use more oil for transportation and chemicals for fertilizer.

I'm insanely jealous of the garden plan (pasted below): 1,000 square feet, 55 varieties of vegetables, plus herbs, berries, and two bee hives. Sigh.

Props to Eat the View for helping make this happen.

Friday, March 20, 2009

equinox flowers

I got a few miraculous days off work this week, and I made plans, but thanks to the weather and Alamo's car rental policies those plans fell through, so I'm stuck at home on a grey, cold, icy spring equinox weekend.

But it ain't all bad. My geranium flowered again today, for the first time since November. Check it out:

The flower stalk juts out fourteen inches from the nearest joint, and the entire stem that the flower stalk is on is twenty six inches, making it by far the tallest of the entire pot. It's so tall that it's pressed up against the ceiling; it would probably grow taller if I let it, but if it hangs any lower it is in danger of being cat-accessible. This is the geranium in the south-facing window; the west-facing geranium is still merrily chugging along, but it hasn't put out any fresh flower stalks yet.

And look how pink it is!

So if my theory is correct, and that geraniums in lower light conditions produce white flowers, it would make sense that now that the days are getting longer and the sunlight is getting stronger, that the plant would not only flower again, but that it would come out hot pink. And right on the equinox!

Monday, March 2, 2009

toughen up your butt

This just in at Alternet:

America's Love Affair with Really Soft Toilet Paper Is Causing an Environmental Catastrophe

Americans have been long chastised for our environmental footprints (and for good reason). But the latest report from environmental groups including Greenpeace should give us major reason to pause. The Guardian could not have said it any better:

The tenderness of the delicate American buttock is causing more environmental devastation than the country's love of gas-guzzling cars, fast food or McMansions, according to green campaigners. At fault, they say, is the US public's insistence on extra-soft, quilted and multi-ply products when they use the bathroom.

The numbers are shocking: More than 98 percent of the toilet paper we use in the US is from virgin forests, the Guardian reports. Across the world, people are struggling to save our forests from deforestation, and instead of helping out, we're wiping are butts with our best defense against climate change.

Me, I've mostly been using recycled TP for as long as I've been buying my own TP, and I've come to prefer it over the squishy, fluffy stuff. And, hint hint, Green Forest toilet paper is on sale at co-ops across the US for $1.59 for a 4 pack.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

vegan iron fest

Since I haven't made a food post in a long time, here is my dinner tonight:

Chard, squash and quinoa. I hadn't intended it to be a vegan iron fest, it just sort of worked out that way. I had some squash to use up, and chard was on sale at the co-op, and I wanted some grain on the side that would finish cooking by the time the squash came out of the oven.

Below are the recipes, which don't really have names unless you want to delineate the ingredients (this with that and that). The meal worked out nice in that I could start the squash, and then start the quinoa, and then clean the chard and cook the chard, and everything wound up being done at the same time. I ate alone and have some chard and quinoa left over, so if you double the squash you'd have a meal for two.

1 delicata squash
6 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
2 teaspoons brown sugar
sesame oil

Wash the squash, cut it in half and scoop out the guts. Lay the squash cut side up in a baking dish and fill each half with 3 cloves of garlic and a teaspoon of brown sugar. Drizzle with sesame oil. Salt. Roast at 350F for 20-30 minutes, or until squash is cooked through and garlic is soft. Scrape out squash flesh and mash everything together. (The garlic may not fully incorporate itself, but lumps of sesame roasted garlic are very yummy.)

1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon veg broth powder
1/2 teaspoon ground anise
1/4 cup dried currants

Bring quinoa, water, broth powder and anise to a boil; reduce heat, cover pot, and simmer until the quinoa unfurls its tails, about 10 to 15 minutes. Turn off heat, stir in currants, cover pot and allow to sit for 5-10 mintes so that the currants plump up a bit.

1 bunch rainbow chard
1/2 onion, sliced
1/3 cup whole raw almonds
olive oil
salt and pepper

Rinse chard and slice stems and leaves seperately. Saute onion in oil and salt on high heat for about a minute, until they just start to soften, then add chard stems and saute a minute longer. Add chard leaves with water still clinging to them, reduce heat, cover pan and allow to steam until done, about one more minute. Turn off heat, remove cover and stir in almonds and fresh ground pepper.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

my un-big day

Usually when birders post their bird lists, it is to boast about seeing 7,000 species in three hours or whatever. Which is all well and good for them, but it can leave the rest of us feeling a little inadequate, like whatever birds we might have seen aren't as "important" because they're common or were only seen in small numbers. (But then, I'm not really much of a lister, and I'm certainly not the kind of birder who's going to go racing through the terrain just to check another bird off the list; I'd rather enjoy the hike.)

So I am posting my lists from the Great Backyard Bird Count last week, even though my lists are very short and fairly paltry. I counted in the yard twice, and this is my Friday morning list:

  • 6 Rock Pigeons
  • 1 Downy Woodpecker
  • 1 American Crow
  • 4 Black-capped Chickadees
  • 1 Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • 1 White-breasted Nuthatch

And this is my Monday morning list:

  • 8 Rock Pigeons
  • 2 Downy Woodpeckers
  • 1 American Crow
  • 3 Black-capped Chickadees
  • 1 White-breasted Nuthatch
  • 3 Dark-eyed Juncos
  • 6 Common Redpolls

I also went out to the bus stop early on Friday so that I could do a quick count there:

  • 1 Merlin
  • 2 Rock Pigeons
  • 1 American Crow
  • 2 Black-capped Chickadees

I was all excited that my redpolls came by for the count, since this is the first time I've had them in the yard at this apartment. Must be a good year for redpolls, though--as of right now there were 18,768 counted in Minnesota (the highest number by far for any bird in the state; second place goes to Mallards with 7,222). However, my three juncos account for more than a quarter of all the juncos seen in Duluth, and not only is my Merlin the only one for Duluth (or at least it will be, once the data goes through) but so far there is only one other one listed for the entire state. So I am very glad that I went out to the bus stop early for that little half hour count. Every bird matters when it comes to citizen science, and even tiny numbers are important.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

birds, climate change and citizen science

A study released by Audubon today found that almost 60% of the 305 bird species in North America have shifted their range to the north as climate change raised temperatures over the past 40 years (average January temperature rose about five degrees Fahrenheit during the course of the study). Birds' ranges moved northward an average of 35 miles, although some have moved a great deal more than that—Purple Finches, for example, now winter on average somewhere around Wisconsin instead of Missouri, a difference of about 433 miles. Meanwhile, tundra species like the Snowy Owl are quickly running out of "north," and grassland species like Meadowlarks have populations that are plummeting since their habitat is getting eaten up by sprawl and they have no place else to go. A quote from the AP story:

"This is as close as science at this scale gets to proof," said Greg Butcher, the lead scientist on the study and the director of bird conservation at the Audubon Society. "It is not what each of these individual birds did. It is the wide diversity of birds that suggests it has something to do with temperature, rather than ecology."

Of course, observant birders have been saying this for years—a friend of mine who's lived in Duluth on and off for about twelve years says that when she first moved up here, cardinals showed up this far north only rarely, and now they are a regular occurrence. But it's great to have a detailed, scientific study to back us up—here's hoping it translates into some real change. Audubon put together a nice website on birds and climate change with the full report, plus maps and species highlights, and it is definitely worth checking out.

The data for this study was collected from Christmas Bird Counts, a citizen science program that is over a hundred years old and is exactly what it sounds like—people go out around Christmastime and count birds. I participated one year, but normally the local count is on a Saturday and I have to work. But it's a lot of fun, nosing around the forest to see what you can see, and then later going to the compilation or reading the report to see what everybody else saw. Trained scientists can't possibly be everywhere to gather this data, and so volunteer efforts like the CBC are invaluable.

Wanna participate but don't want to wait around ten months for the next CBC? The Great Backyard Bird Count is this weekend, February 13th through the 16th. You can define "backyard" however you want (actual yard, local park, nature reserve, office window, etc.) and can count for as little as 15 minutes or as long as you want. Send in your results, and Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology will compile the data to see how birds are surviving the winter and where they are spending it.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

spring creeping in quicker and quicker

There's been a change in the air recently, and for a few weeks now the days have been getting noticeably longer. Today was a luscious almost-getting-to-be-spring-like day, with the temperature easily topping 30F and warm sunshine all day. This afternoon, a friend and I went walking through the portion of the Superior Hiking Trail that goes through Hartley Park. I'd never been on that portion of the trail before, and even though it's between two buslines and in the middle of the city, it, like much of the green space in Duluth, is astonishingly lovely, with lots of birch and conifers, some so big that your outstretched arms won't even reach halfway around. Th trail here goes up and down a few hills, and this is the view from about 1,300 feet up:

(For locals: the bump on the right is Rock Knob, and the indentation on the left is the marsh.)

One of the highlights of the day, in addition to all the zigzags of I'm-guessing-shrew tracks everywhere in the snow, was the hairy woodpecker who drummed on a hollow tree just a few feet away from us. The drumming echoed through the woods, singing the praises of his big, burly woodpeckerishness to any females within listening distance. We were close enough to easily watch him without binoculars, and when he flew off over our head we could hear his wings slicing through the sky.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

props to my home state

Some HMOs Madison, Wisconsin, are offering rebates on health insurance if the insured eat more fresh produces, particularly by subscribing to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture program). What a great way to support local farmers, healthy diets, and more affordable health insurance! Too bad my insurance company doesn't do that. I don't belong to a CSA, but I sure do eat a lot of vegetables.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

garden, birds, weather, life

The broccoli I brought inside in November didn't handle the transition very well, and it crumbled up and died after about two weeks, but the cabbage I brought in in October not only has survived but has become beautiful. I don't think it'll ever be edible/tasty, since it's still not quite forming heads (some of them are slightly more head-like than the one pictured here, but the leaves are still very loosely arranged and are very thick and stout). And even so--they're so pretty now I don't think I could eat them.

I also have a pot of parsley that is still robust and strong, and I used some in potato soup earlier this week. Last year I overwintered a pot of parsley, too, and it eventually died just as the fresh pot I planted in the spring was ready to harvest, so that worked out perfectly. Next year I really want to grow more herbs and try to overwinter them, since it's such a treat to have fresh green things in spite of all the snow and ice and cold.

My geraniums are doing well, too, although I haven't had any flowers since early December. But they're putting out fresh leaves, and I'm not losing as many older leaves as I was in the fall. Oddly, though, almost all the leaves are a solid green, or only have a ghost of the patterning that you normally associate with cultivated geranium foliage. (You can sort of see it in the leaf on the bottom-most right in the picture.) I have one pot in a south facing window, and one in a west facing window, so they're both getting plenty of light, so I'm not sure what the deal is.

Outside it is bitterly cold, seventeen below zero when I woke up this morning, and with a fierce, strong, terrible wind. In the yard there was one redpoll, one junco, and two or three chickadees cruising for seeds. Since it's warmed up to nine below, there has also been starlings and pigeons, a downy woodpecker, and more chickadees and juncos. There's still the fierce, strong, terrible wind, and according to the internet the current windchill is negative twenty seven. All the feeders in the yard are mostly full, and I'll put more seed out on the ground when I leave for work.

To remind myself of summer, today for breakfast I had pancakes with chokecherry syrup. Food becomes more precious when you make it yourself from scratch, all the way from gathering or growing it. Chokecherries are very, very common, almost to the point of being weedy, but there is still a limited amount of them, and even more limited is the amount of berries that any one person should gather . I made a ton of chokecherry syrup last fall, enough to give some away and still have plenty left for myself, but it'll be about another seven months from now until I can make any more syrup (or jam--I want to make chokecherry jam next year). And to have gone out walking, found the cherry trees, picked a big sack ful and carried it home, then cleaned them and cooked them down and made the syrup, and then to have some of that bottled summertime in the fridge in Janurary... it feels luscious and sacred. I am not above licking the plate clean.

Monday, January 5, 2009

deer hunters cause lead poisoning in eagles

There was an article in the paper yesterday about how research has linked the lead content in bullets used for deer hunting with lead poisoning in bald eagles. (Link, but it probably won't last very long and you'll probably have to register to read it, because the local paper is stupid like that, but do read it if you can.) I am slightly embarrassed by my own species that it took us this long to make the connection--hunters field dress the deer, eagles feed at the gut piles, duh--but I'm glad the connection has been made and that people are trying to do something about it.

What I'm not so glad about is how much trouble the wildlife researchers are having trying to convince hunters to use alternatives to lead bullets. The article says that when they talk to hunters about the issue, one of the responses that they hear the most is "So what?" So what if a few eagles are dying? They're off the endagered species list, the population has recovered from DDT. So what if we're poisoning them with lead now?

And the thing is, a lot of the wildlife researchers are deer hunters themselves, and they are doing their darnedest to make it clear that they're not anti-hunting or anti-gun. But they are anti-poison, and they're just trying to find a solution that will work for everyone. But the majority of hunters still fuss and pout and keep using lead bullets, and so eagles keep getting poisoned. And it's not like the evidence is inconclusive—something like a third of all the eagles that enter rehabilition centers test positive for lead poisoning (and most end up dying because of it), and nearly all the cases of lead poisoning come in during deer season.

Despite the fact that I am a tenderhearted vegetarian, in theory I don't really have a lot of issues with ethical, sustainable hunting. If people are going to eat meat anyway--and I don't think I can convince them all not to--I would much rather that they get their meat from hunting, fishing, or raising their own livestock, instead of picking up some factory-farmed, plastic wrapped chicken from the supermarket. But oh, hunters, please get your act together soon, because you're really not endearing yourself to anyone here.