Monday, March 30, 2009


"Going Green," "Energy Revolution," "Off the Grid," "Community Supported [insert your favorite acitivity or cause]," "Top Ten Ways You Can Go Green," "Give Beets a Chance" (in response to President Obama's dislike of this root vegetable), "Start Your Very Own Victory Garden," and increasing interest in; organic gardening, fresh and local produce, chickens in the front yard, solar arrays on roofs for photovoltaic energy for homes, rooftop gardening, the list goes on and on, this new awareness of all things green and foody is definitely ubiquitous.

But is it for real? Are some just in it for the notoriety and public awareness it might bring to their business? Are you going green just to collect some green? I think I need a specialist in greenspeak just to help me interpret all the neologisms.

My good friends over at The Organic Gardeners might be having a little fun with their new campaign, but what about all those other claims? I've found that most of those tips you hear about going green are just plain common sense. It seems to me there's an air of oversimplification being associated with a very difficult and real environmental emergency. I'll let you decide what to believe, but don't take it lightly folks, we've not been very good stewards of the land, and you don't have to know anything about "going green" to realize that fact, just take a look around.

One last request: Dear God,

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Perimenopause: A Natural Nuisance

I guess we'll just have to accept the fact that the Google ads for this post will probably be a little gauche. When I decided to do the ad thing, I really didn't give much thought to what they would show, until I learned they were content related (although I've never figured out what wrinkled skin has to do with gardening). I've had to put several sites into the "blocked" list so they don't appear, but none of those were too bad, more ignorant than anything, at least they were to me. But I digress. . . .

I'd like to take this opportunity to talk about women. Now I know that there's way too much stuff to talk about when one talks about women, so I've decided to narrow my topic a bit. If you read the title of this post (and how could you not?), you already know what's about to be discussed. But don't worry ladies, and men, I'm even going to narrow it down more than that. Basically, what I want to talk about is: Hot.

No, I'm not talking about the adjective hot used to describe attractive women and/or men and other things, I'm talking about a physiological condition a lot of perimenopausal women know as hot flashes. And guys, let me tell you, they're really hot. I know. It's like being next to a human heater. Sometimes I think my wife is combustible.

Writing in the March 2009 issue of RDH, dental hygienist Kelli Swanson Jaecks gives us a vivid description of what she endured one night: "Sweat soaked sheets. Sweat beading on my brow and breasts. Sweat running in rivers through the valleys of my flesh. I woke, drenched in sweat and hotter than hell." I'll never complain about male pattern baldness again!

Even though you might think you've been "educated" on a particular subject (my minor was Women's Studies) something will invariably serve as a reminder that it's just been an exercise in sciolism. And I ultimately surrender to the notion that I'll never understand the arcana of women.

But I'm wondering if I should keep a fire extinguisher close to the bed, just in case one of those hot flahes gets a little too hot.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Water, water. Everywhere?

UPDATE: Unfortunately, my interview with the geologist fell through. She called while I was waiting for her to show up and explained that she had been in an area without cell phone towers and had been trying to call me to let me know. I will reschedule the interview. Thanks to all of you for the great input on this important topic.

Where does it come from? How does it get from there to here (i.e., my faucet)? What's a water table? A watershed? Ever hear of stream restoration? What's the difference between city water and well water and why the difference in taste? If you live in the country and have a well, does the water you use for watering lawns and gardens trickle back down through the earth and back into the water table? If so, why should those with well water worry about water conservation?

If you have a natural pond on your property that's been there for years, who really owns it? Is it considered a natural wetland? Why are swamps/wetlands protected in some areas, aren't they just mud pits and mosquito breeding grounds? How much water is used by gardeners and farmers? Who's responsible for water pollution from chemical runoff? What are you telling someone when you say: "It flows downstream"? How often should you have your water tested if you drink well water?

These are questions that I hope will be answered after I research my article "Water, water. Everywhere?" One of my sources is a geologist with Stream Restoration Incorporated and The Slippery Rock Watershed Coalition, I'll be interviewing her for the article.

Flavored water?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Firsts, or seconds

Ahhh! the first day of spring, finally. But my horoscope says, "Although the birds and buds know that spring means it's time to come out and be seen, you are somewhat more tentative." I am? Maybe.

Have you ever felt like your head was so full of stuff you wanted to say that you just didn't know where to begin? That's how I'm feeling right now:

Unwarranted alarmist bloggings about the proposed Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009, H.R. 875.
Sod busting today at the White House for Mrs. Obama's new veggie garden.
The first day of spring, and it's 28 degrees??
Number 2 son's 16th birthday.
A buggy bug talk with no Power Point projector.

So, how do I fit all that into one compact little blog post? If I ended it now it'd be nice and compact wouldn't it? But then I'd feel like I hadn't given you your money's worth (Arrgh! I just compared myself to AIG!).

First, let's get this H.R. 875 jazz out of the way. I don't claim to know a lot about politics, but I do know the basic workings of the legislative process. A similar bill was proposed in 2007 and it failed, I give the new one the same chance. But this isn't to say we shouldn't be aware of what's goin on. However, let's not be obtuse about the situation because then you risk being seen as ultracrepidarian.

Secondly, some folks (my lovely wife included) are having a great deal of difficulty picturing Michele Obama actually workin in a garden. My wife says the First Lady may get out a time or two for a photo op, but probably won't do a lot of weeding herself. I suppose if I had someone to do weeding for me (Dale Haney is the White House gardener, I've not Googled him yet but give me a few minutes, there.) I doubt if I'd bend over backwards to get it done. So, maybe she won't, but then again, maybe she will. I have no trouble picturing Ms. Michele in an old pair of jeans and a short sleeved shirt (and I'm not saying anything about her biceps) hoeing a garden.

Third, spring has sprung is how the sayin goes. But I'm a realist when it comes to zone 5 western PA gardening. Here, unless you have a greenhouse or live in a microclimate, it just doesn't stay warm long enough in March to do anything in the garden. Plus, it's usually a mud pit anyway. So, we try to schedule a little trip south to Kentucky at this time of year so we can experience the true arrival of spring.

Fourth (and why am I counting these things off??), I have four children. Of those, three have birthdays this month. Do you remember your 16th birthday? I can tell you what I remember about mine in two words: drivers license. The other day I stopped in at the Drivers License Center and picked up a copy of the drivers manual for my son. I had just downed a lukewarm cup of coffee before I left the house and knew that I'd be needing to pee pretty soon. I also knew there'd be a public restroom at the DLC. Ladies, when you're using a public restroom please lock the door behind you so that the unexpected doesn't happen at a most inopportune time, like when your panties are down around your ankles!

Lastly, I am looking forward to my "The Good, The Bad, and The Bugly" bug presentation tomorrow. I gave this talk last July at the public libary and it went over quite well. My wife asked if I'd be interested in giving the presentation to the ladies in the Herb Thymers herb club. How could I refuse? But I'll have to do without a Power Point projector since I don't own one. I guess I'll just have to rely on my skills as an educated orator (read: fake it).

Here's one of the pictures I'm using to get the Herb Thymers attention:

Have a great weekend and with March Madness in full swing I may not be around till Monday! Happy first day of spring!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


I didn't know a lot about my grandparents. I guess you could say I've never been bitten by the genealogical bug that drives some to go back hundreds of years in search of family history. I think it's called finding your family tree. I do know that at some point during my paternal grandfather's life, he worked as a lumberjack, which is probably how my father learned how to identify trees. Unfortunately, I'm not very adept at tree identification. I can tell a maple from an oak, and a pear from an apple, but we all know there's hundreds more varieties.

So, when I heard about the Arbor Day Foundation coming out with a compact little tree identification book, I was intrigued. About a week later, I received an advanced copy of the little book and I now offer my review.

A sort of disclaimer first though, there's no leaves on the trees yet here in zone 5 western PA, but that really don't alter my critique of this little book. The first thing I do with any new book is hold it to my nose, fan through the pages, and inhale deeply; I just love the smell of a new book. You avid readers know what I mean. The second thing I noticed was the book's water-resistant cover, which feels really rugged and would prevent some water damage should you encounter a rain shower while using the book. However, the book's inside pages are not waterproof. But I wouldn't think many folks would be out tryin to ID trees in the rain anyway.

There's flaps on the front and back of the book. The front one unfolds to show "Words to Know" and gives simple definitions of 26 words relating to parts of a tree. There's a couple of small, nicely done drawings, one shows three different types of samara (winged fruit), some maples have what I call "helicopter" samara; the other has a couple of leaves with identifying features named, there's also a small drawing of a stem showing a "bud scar." These are all what I would consider to be very helpful tree identification facts. Inside the back flap is Arbor Day Foundation information along with an edge ruler (in cm), and on the outside is info about the book and an edge ruler in inches (handy for general purpose measuring).

So, how do you use the book to identify a tree? It's really easy. All you have to do is answer a series of "yes" and "or" questions which direct you to another identifying feature, or gives you the name of the tree. The illustrations by Karina I. Helm are very well done with just the right amount of detail.

Included in the little book is the "Arbor Day Hardiness Zones" map and several blank pages at the end for "Field Notes" and "Field Sketches," and an Index. I give the "What Tree Is That?" tree identification guide a positive review and would recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about what trees might be growing in their neck of the woods. Its compact size, great drawings, and ample listing of trees make it a valuable addition to the garden bookshelf.

You can order "What Tree Is That?" online now. The book will also be available everywhere else April 1st.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Monday, March 9, 2009

It gets too complicated

When Googled:
Organically grown - "Results 1 - 10 of about 1,270,000"
Environmentally friendly -"Results 1 - 10 of about 1,270,000"
Fresh and local - "Results 1 - 10 of about 110,000,000"
Certified natural - "Results 1 - 10 of about 12,000,000"

Have you been able to decipher all the different certifications yet? Good for you! I've not, even after attending a two hour presentation that was supposed to enlighten and educate. I used to think the main difference, and most important one, had to do with the non use of chemicals. But when you dig further into what's defined as "chemical," things get a little foggy.

I suppose there's really no simple method of determining whether or not your lettuce was rinsed with clean water, or whether that apple you just bit into was sprayed with some type of chemical pesticide or fungicide (it probably was), or what that cow or pig ate just before it was slaughtered and used in the hamburger we had for supper the other evenin and the bacon we ate with our pancakes Sunday mornin.

The ONLY sure method I know of is if you grow it and/or process it yourself. Can you know your local farmer well enough to have confidence that they're using safe and healthy production methods? Is the peer review system some farmers abide by based on accuracy and unbiased inspections?

After the presentation, I told one of the panelists, whose farm was USDA Certified Organic, that I was just as confused about all the different certifications as I was before I sat down. Here's what he said: "So am I."

When we're at the table, can we slow down enough to take a closer look at what's on the end of that fork, where it came from, and how it got there? Sometimes I wonder whether there's a sure method of doin that.

Spring in Kentucky

Friday, March 6, 2009

Woe is me (and you?)

Michele Owen over at Garden Rant wrote a very nice little piece about why she Belongs To the Wrong Generation and it got me to thinkin. I'm four years older than Michele and we're both in the Baby Boomer generation of gardeners. And like Michele, I too think I was born at the wrong time. If I were my son or daughter's age, and had two garden loving parents like they have, I would know exactly what my career field would be. Of course this is taking into consideration that a young 15-year old Terry had a love for gardening like he does now. Given the chance, I think Terry would have graduated from some top notch horticultural/agricultural/floracultural educational institution, and would probably own a garden center or nursery or garden book publishing company.

But, with woe, I unhappily accept the fact that I'm where I'm at right now for reasons not quite visible. Now don't go thinking I'm layin around all day complainin and whinin about why bad things happen to good people; I have enough sense to know that I'm not the only one struggling and that there are millions more in worse shape than I.

Spring is a cliche for all things new. There's just no other way to say it. So, having not said it, I'll ready the garden beds again like I've been doing for the past 25 years and wait.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Fast Food Gardening?

About a year ago, I signed up to receive a trade industry publication called GARDENCHIC inspired retailing for independents. I did so in order to have another tool I could use that might provide me with a few ideas for future columns and blog posts. This is one of those times.

On Page 3 ("You Can Be GARDENCHIC") of the March, 2009 issue, I read the following ("Solutions, Solutions"): "Today's young gardener wants ready-made solutions, and it's your job to deliver them." An image of fast food joint drive-thru gardening immediately came to mind. That rather odd image (picture a McGarden's center with large green vining arches on the roof) was made even more bold when I continued reading: "Think of it as the Rachael Ray style of gardening. Ingredients 1-2-3, here's the sheet of directions. Get out your credit card, and pow - you're out of here!"

At the McGarden's drive-thru, there's a large menu where you can order Double Deluxe Dahlias, Zany Zesty Zinnias, and there'd be things besides plants: Six-Pax-Pots, GroMaculous MilkShake, you get the idea. What are we coming to folks? Or perhaps the question is what have we bred into our kids?

In one section of the trade publication - "Garden Chic Life: Adventures in IGC Entrepreneurial Retailing," Dave Bosco, Vice President of Bosco's Garden Center in Vermont, is profiled. Mr. Bosco said in the piece, "If you're not on the ball and coming up with new ideas and new products, customers get bored. They want something new." If new means fast food gardening at McGarden's, then I'm opting out.

The author goes on to say, "They [Generation X and Y homeowners] come in with their iPhones loaded with photos of their yards, along with measurements, and the staff lays it all out, suggesting what to plant where." Mr. Bosco reiterates this when he says, "They don't want to trim it, they don't really want to take care of it - they just want to be able to enjoy it."

I suppose all of this ties in with the declining do-it-yourself crowd - what's emerging now is a you-do-it-for-me populace. Which, when you come to think about it, is conducive to capitalism. I wonder if I can get a small business loan for my McGarden's idea?

Lastly, and in a slight nod of approval for GARDENCHIC, they have good writers that offer advice to regular gardeners like you and me. Amy Stewart did a very informative article about Integrated Pest Management (IPM) which is what Penn State Master Gardeners are required to suggest to consumers when asked about pesticide use. Maureen Gilmore wrote a piece on using native plants that is worthy of any major gardening publication (and we all should use more native plants). So, even though GARDENCHIC is geared toward young, sexy, independent retail garden center owners and seems to ignore those owned by my generation, their staff would be welcome at my McGarden's.

And now for your listening pleasure, a recent practice session at Phil's Woodshed, featuring The Doghouse Three.

Monday, March 2, 2009

What have I done??

As is quite evident, I've switched templates. Much like starting a brand new garden, things will be dirty around here until I get all the plants arranged like I want them. I'm not even sure this landscape design will be my final choice.

Nevertheless, right now I need to post something related to gardening so there's no ignorant ads.

On my Facebook status for yesterday I wrote: "Extra food miles driven just to buy organic negates the overall benefit." This brought a bevy of replies, which was good. Without goin into it too much, simply because it's my article for Wednesday's paper, it has to do with the choices we make and how organic gardening/farming sometimes appears to be used as a status symbol.

So, I pose the question to you: When you must drive an extra 20 miles or so (or do most of your organic supply shopping online) in order to purchase organic gardening products, does the added cost of gasoline (CO2 emissions, etc.) and shipping and handling fees (trucking and/or flying miles), cancell out the benefits of environmentally sound (i.e., organic) gardening/farming practices? And please justify your answer with sound reasoning and do provide examples from personal experience.

Also, don't forget to add a tip or two or three about where to put this or that perennial or annual, or tree or shrub, here in the new landscape. Thanks!