Nature and Environment

Because at 160,000 years, the party is just getting started.

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8/11/2014

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August 3 to 9, 2014, is National Farmers Market Week! Throughout the week, USDA will celebrate our nation’s farmers markets, the farmers who make them possible and the communities that host them.

10502240615_b7915bace9_mHave you ever wondered how weather impacts the fruits and vegetables you find at your local farmers market? Here are a just a few ways weather plays a role in crop growth and harvest.

Many stone fruits (peaches, plums, nectarines and cherries) need a certain number of “chill hours” – exposure to temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit – in order to flower and produce fruit. Buds that don’t receive sufficient chilling hours during the winter months can result in small or misshapen fruit, and reduced fruit quality.
Very hot weather, too much moisture and other stressors can reduce production in vine crops like melons, cucumbers, pumpkins and squash. Cold rains and cloudy weather can inhibit pollination in these crops. Too much rain during the growing season can cause rot and disease, and in the case of watermelon, the fruit can actually swell and burst!
Heat and low humidity affect the blossom growth and pollination of beans and corn. When temperatures soar above 90 degrees, fruit on tomato, eggplant and pepper plants is significantly reduced.

Tip: Lots of planning and care goes into the farmers market foods we enjoy! See what’s in season: check out USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory to find a market where you live. Interested in growing fruits and vegetables at home? The National Gardening Association’s Food Gardening Guide has lots of info to help you succeed.

Photo: Lance Cheung, USDA. Taken at Kirby Farms, Mechanicsville, VA.

(Sources: USDA. “Know Your Food, Know Your Farmer.” http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/knowyourfarmer?navid=KNOWYOURFARMER; Clemson University Cooperative Extension. What are chilling hours and what do they have to do with dormancy? Do cultivars differ in their chilling hour requirement?” http://www.clemson.edu/extension/peach/faq/what_are_chilling_hours_and_what_do_they_have_to_do_with_dormancy_do_cultivars_differ_in_their_chilling_hour_requirement.html; Texas A&M University. “Chilling Accumulation: Its Importance and Estimation.” http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/stonefruit/chillacc.html; Casteele, J. Demand Media. “What is the Effect of Too Much Rain on Watermelons?” http://homeguides.sfgate.com/effect-much-rain-watermelons-75177.html; Colorado State Cooperative Extension, Plantalk. “Hot Weather Impacts Vegetables,” http://www.ext.colostate.edu/ptlk/1830.html)



8/7/2014

Asheville, North Carolina, possesses a rare trait of being many things to a lot of people.  A culinary destination, a gateway to nature, an artists’ community – and a place for wellness, the focus of this blog for Day 3 of a three day visit to the city. 

I previously blogged about how my wife and I embraced nature on Day 1.  On Day 2, we were on an adrenaline rush high in the trees on a zipline.  But for Day 3, it’s time to chill, revitalize ourselves and do some rebalancing of our mind, body and spirit on a health and wellness tour. 

As it turns out, Asheville has a long history of attracting people searching for a tranquil place for personal retreats and wellness. Perhaps due in equal parts to the city’s spectacular scenery and mild climate, Asheville has long been an oasis for the health conscious.  Today, even more so, with more than 630 message therapists, numerous yoga centers, plentiful vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free restaurants, and eco-minded lodging options.

A Wellness TourSalt Cave

For the ultimate in relaxation and rejuvenation, we joined the two-hour-long Asheville Wellness Tour that covers the highlights on foot.  First, we soaked up the restorative powers inside the Asheville Salt Cave, the only all natural salt cave in the United States.  With over twenty tons of curative salts imported from Poland and recomposed into a cave, our half hour “salt therapy” and silent meditation helped us center ourselves and, perhaps, detox a bit.  It’s believed that on-going therapies inside the salt cave can be beneficial in the treatment for those suffering from respiratory ailments, skin problems or arthritis.

Following our salt therapy, we were joined by the bubbly Cameron Gunther, founder of Traveling Yogini Tours, for some simple yoga stretches and breathing inside the cave before she led our small group of five through the city on a guided walking tour.

Our final stop and our favorite -- having just come from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Fair -- was Wake, a foot sanctuary and shop. After a foot soak with warm waters infused with fragrant herbs, a warmed neck wrap and a cup of herbal tea resulted in the busyness of our day magically melting away. A little pampering goes a long way when you’re a homesteader with calloused hands.

Gluten-Free Indulgence at Posana

Posana Cafe

With an emphasis creative preparations and mouthwatering flavor combos, executive chef and co-owner Peter Pollay of Posana Cafe sets the bar high on cuisine that’s local, farm-to-table – and gluten free. You’d never know that his restaurant is gluten free since the salads, soups, entrees and desserts don’t miss a beat on flavor or texture.

Chef Pollay showcases local artisan food producers and farmers, many listed right on the menu.  Here, the taste is both delicious and local.  It’s so good, even if you’re normally a glutton for gluten, you won’t miss it.  Perhaps the only clue is the rolls missing from the table.

“This is like us, eating at home,” says Pollay, who followed a gluten free approach in the kitchen after his wife had been diagnosed with Celiac disease.  “Veggies, a protein and a starch.  We’ve been this way since the start.”

We savored his Sunburst Farms trout, served with a warm quinoa salad, endives, shaved carrots, black radish and orange vinaigrette, lobster mac and cheese with ricotta gnocchi and aged cheddar cheese, and North Carolina monkfish with a curry mussel soup, potato gnocchi, royal trumpet mushrooms and local ramps.

Posana Café has received a 3-Star certification from the Green Restaurant Association, in part for Pollay’s artful cuisine made from organic, seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, but also for their solar thermal system on the roof, repurposed materials used in their renovation, and numerous energy and water conservation initiatives.

Detox at Asheville Green Cottage

Asheville Green Cottage

For those with chemical sensitivities, or anyone who wants to avoid anything toxic that they might be sleeping on, eating or sitting in, then the Asheville Green Cottage is the place to go. 

Nestled in a quiet historic neighborhood, the cozy B&B was completely renovated by innkeepers Vicki Schomer and Neeraj Kebede, leaving no details overlooked when it comes to removing any toxic substances in their 1920s Arts & Crafts granite block house.  Besides no or low VOC paints and finishes, area rugs made from wool, hemp or sisal, and hardwood or bamboo floors, numerous energy conserving products are used throughout the home.

Their internationally-themed rooms feature natural latex foam mattresses and cruelty free duvets and chlorine filtering showerheads.  The simple and immaculate property has attracted travelers with special needs or chemical sensitivities.  Most special dietary requests are happily accommodated.  For other bed and breakfast options in the area, check out the Asheville Bed & Breakfast Association.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef, along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, “9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living”. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine.



7/30/2014

As I stepped into our shed this morning to gather tools for the day, I noticed the latest configuration.  In searching for something the day before, Ryan had shuffled the stacks of totes and tools.  Where previously had sat a wooden bowl of bolts and a few seashells atop our stuffed-to-bursting toolbox, stood a new arrangement.  It caught my eye: two cast iron pans, in need of a sandblasting, topped by Ryan’s bright orange hard hat. cast iron pans and chainsaw helmut 

Mundane, and symptomatic of nothing more than a slightly disheveled storage shed with a few too many items in a tad too small space.  And yet, something about it stuck with me.  The worn helmet, with knicks and sawdust evidence of its use, balanced on the thick and heavy cast iron, extras that were set aside until need called them back into the kitchen.  Both are held atop the old, grey toolbox by the corner boards of the shed, pine slabs unceremoniously nailed to the hand-peeled pole frame of fir and spruce.  

Glancing twice as I gather my garden fork and pruning loppers, I try to identify what this accidental corner stack evokes.  Strength, sweat, labor; the smell of a hot chain on wood, sawdust.  Comfort, satiation, the heat of a cookstove; fire, fresh produce, a meal out of dirt and care.  Man and machine; woman and sustenance.  

Yes, that, and something more: vigor, gumption, care, effort.   

Somehow, I found all that in one glance.  Somehow, it seems to sum up what we’re doing out here.  Wood and food, and the creation of a home out of the hills in which we live.  It’s piecemeal and chaotic - as our shed so easily suggests - but also beautiful and powerful.  Our little clearing is filling with flowers and edibles, gradually turning from woods to a working homestead.  We saw and split our wood, though fresh trees seem to out-pace us.  Rocks, endless as they may be, are moved while compost enriches the gardens; fruit trees are encouraged and weeds pulled.  And at the end of each day, we set down our tools and sit about the tiny table to share a meal.  Our hands are calloused and the dirt never quite comes off, but a smile comes easily to our eyes and our hearts.    Echinacea and asparagus

Garden work is my specialty!  Weeding, planting, mulching and pruning services available, plus edible landscapes and garden designs.  Contact Beth via b.a.weick@gmail.com for your annual, perennial, herbal, or ornamental garden needs (see Business Directory listing under ‘Garden Design & Services’).

 

 



7/17/2014
Tags: elephants

Not only do elephants like to get down and boogie to music, some even like to play it. Watch, and listen, as Peter the Elephant plays the piano with his mahout, Pat.

Youtube video posted by Paul Barton

More Videos!

The MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff has been featured in videos covering topics from seed starting to skin toner. Check out our full collection of wiser living videos on our video page.



7/16/2014

squirrel sq jpg

Squirrels have always been plentiful here — gray squirrels, fox squirrels, and even the occasional flying squirrel. A few years ago, we had a hard freeze in late spring followed by an usual period of drought. Hickory nuts, walnuts, and acorns did not emerge to dot the trees and feed the squirrels. The squirrels died, and I did not see another one for 2 years.

Preparing for Scarcity

So goes nature, feast and famine, flood and drought, plenty and scarcity. As industrious as the squirrels are at preparing for winter, they can’t see what’s coming in these long-term fluctuations and are pretty much at the mercy of these cycles. In good years, they will eat all the mast, grow fat, and have lots of little squirrels. In lean years, starvation will whittle their numbers down to what is sustainable.

And so it is with humans, except that we have the capacity to see the changes that are coming and to alter our behavior accordingly — if we choose. And change is coming. We have spread out over the inhabitable Earth and thrived on its bounty of natural resources. In our current age, we are squeezing/fracking out the last drops of our “mast.” Gas and oil power our civilization and have allowed our numbers to expand.

Unlike acorns and walnuts, new oil is not being formed fast enough to sustain us at our current population level, much less support future growth. If you believe God wanted us to replenish the earth, believe me we’ve done it, and our children, like the squirrel babies of a few years ago, are in for a world of hurt. The best thing we can do for ourselves and the natural world that we are a part of is to control and limit our numbers - now, willingly and of our own accord.

Conflict Over Resources

When resources become scarce, people fight over them. The old are sent off on figurative ice floes, the young die in real wars, and the wealthy grab what’s left and “outlaw” the poor to the far margins of life, eventually pushing them over the edge. The children of the poor will be seen as a scourge - as worse than secondhand smoke, interfering with quality of life for the elite. Human life becomes cheap.

It doesn’t have to be this way, but it’s going to take more than recycling and conservation of resources. It’s going to take decreasing our numbers through voluntary population control. We can control our numbers consciously to preserve quality of life for all or we can continue on and it will happen naturally - starvation, disease, war.

Who will survive? and will these people make the kind of neighbors we want to live among? After a long period of hardship and starvation, of watching one another die, we like the squirrels might come back to “replenish” the Earth.



7/15/2014
Tags: ducks

Watch as a brave mama duck leads her ducklings on a harrowing journey across a busy Toronto highway. These cute creatures may be tiny, but they sure are tough.

Youtube video posted by ozebdsheep2

More Videos!

The MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff has been featured in videos covering topics from seed starting to skin toner. Check out our full collection of wiser living videos on our video page.



7/14/2014

on the way to the swimming hole

Here’s how it goes. It’s a hot and dusty day, we’ve worked hard, and it’s not yet time to cook dinner.  We leave the cabin, pass between the scraggly pillars of young balsam to our left and robust cherry sprouts to our right. Jump the hole where we had previously dug a cooler into the ground for summer refrigeration, and step up and over the three-trunk staircase of old pine trees. We head into the woods, walking the well-trodden path along the river’s bank and the shady north slope that brings us past the old sawmill site. The land then levels out to a plateau of hemlock mixed with hardwoods. We arrive at the opposite end of the our property, and the confluence of the South Branch and Rocky Branch of the Baker River.

Here is our swim hole. A natural pool that’s deep and lined with rock; water streams in from the South Branch, warmed by the dam upstream. From the Rocky Branch, water cascades in, jumping and bubbling into the pool over rocks and boulder, much cooler and sparkling.

Early in the season, it’s a matter of much convincing, psyching oneself up to make the plunge, then getting out almost as quickly. Now, though, after a stretch of superbly hot and humid days, it’s refreshing, inviting, and oh-so-comfortable.  

The sun stays shining on this spot until about 3pm, after which the hemlocks on the opposing steep slope shade out the area. Nevertheless, the place doesn’t lose it’s charm. We wade out to our preferred rock slabs, drop our towels and t-shirts, and splash our way in.  

We’ve been taking regular trips of late: upon completing a project, before lunch, after lunch, upon arriving home from work, before dinner, after dinner, after weekend errands ... you name it. It’s our refreshment, our relaxation, our cool-down, our rinse off, and our luxury. We couldn’t feel more fortunate.  

It’s interesting, too, to see how the swimming hole changes with storms and seasons. Just in our few years here we’ve seen big rain events leave boulders in new spots and reshape the water course.  Too, just an evening of pouring rain can leave the confluence high and our favorite rocks underwater.  Consecutive days of hard rain can leave the river muddy, whirling, swift, and dangerous.  Water is powerful, and we don’t let ourselves forget it.

This spot completes the comfort and serenity of our homestead (in our biased opinions, of course!), offering a place of cool refreshment, and wooded beauty that balances the strong sun, physical labor, and verdant plants of our working homesite. It’s one more part of what makes our home a delight.

Garden work is my specialty!  Weeding, planting, mulching and pruning services available, plus edible landscapes and garden designs. Contact Beth via b.a.weick@gmail.com for your annual, perennial, herbal, or ornamental garden needs (see Business Directory listing under ‘Garden Design & Services’).












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