“Bringing Nature Home” changed my life

Well, ok, not my whole life, but certainly the part that I spend gardening, which is close to 15% of my life in the summer.

Bringing Nature Home, Douglas TallamyEverything that Douglas Tallamy says makes so much sense that it amazes me I didn’t know this stuff until I read this book:

1. Insects that are native to an ecosystem have evolved to eat only plants native to that ecosystem
2. Baby birds eat insects. Even normally seed-eating birds need a large insect population to support their young.
3. So, if there are fewer native plants around, there are fewer native insects, and fewer birds.
4. Suburban gardeners have a responsibility to rebuild the native ecosystem which the suburb has displaced.

Tallamy makes these points quickly, then spends a chapter on how to make a garden of native plants look attractive and formal so you don’t irritate your neighbors. The bulk of the book is descriptions of insects native to the eastern U.S. and the plants they live on, accompanied by attractive color photographs. I’ve identified the little red bugs on my coneflowers as the nymph stage of Red Milkweed Beetles.

Something is eating my Joe Pye Weed

For the last few years I’ve grown some native prairie plants because they are drought-tolerant and don’t require any attention. But I’ve also been planting various exotic ornamental species that are drought-tolerant, and it never occurred to me that they are just wasting space in my garden. Nothing can eat them, so they’re not in the food chain. I never thought about the insect part of the ecosystem, and how important it is to provide food and shelter for the insects that other local fauna depend on.

From now on only native plants and vegetables are allowed in my garden. And when I see that something is eating my perennials, instead of being irritated I’ll be happy that a tiny bit of the ecosystem is working as it should.

Time to start seeds

It’s 8 weeks to the last frost date here in Region 5, and the most recent snow is quickly melting away. It’s spring! Time to get the garden started. My seeds arrived from seedsavers.org this week and I’m getting my seed trays set up under lights in the basement. In this years batch:

Shipment from seedsavers.org

Tomatoes: Stupice, Beam’s Yellow Pear, Mexico Midget, Green Zebra, Amish Paste. This is the third year I’ve grown most of these varieties. This year I’m growing them from seeds instead of buying them as transplants. Another change this year: Beam’s Yellow Pear and Mexico Midget, which are both small-fruited huge plants, are going to be grown in containers on the patio, inside tomato towers. I’m tired of having mini-tomatoes take over my whole garden.

Beans and Peas! I’ve never grown beans or peas before. I chose Climbing French, Fin de Bagnol, and Dwarf Gray Sugar because they seemed basic and easy. They’re getting planted outside – the peas can take some cold, so I might even plant them this weekend.

Peppers: Wisconsin Lakes and Sweet Chocolate. I’ve never grown peppers before. The packets say they won’t germinate unless the soil temp is 80°; which I doubt will happen either in the basement or outside. I’ll just plant them and see what happens.

Greens: Forellenschuss and Slobolt lettuce, Five Color Silverbeet. I grew Forellenschuss two years ago and it was good but bolted a few weeks after the leaves were big enough to eat. So I’m trying Slobolt as well, which is supposed to stay leafy and tasty a long time. I planted Rainbow Swiss Chard (same as Five Color Silverbeet) last fall, and thought it was great. Grew fast, didn’t mind the cold, and 8 plants gave me enough for a salad every day.

Cupplant, Silphium perfoliatum. This year I’m making an effort to increase the insect and bird population of my yard by using more native plants as ornamentals.

Oh, good, more snow

I was just thinking, hasn’t it been almost a week since it last snowed? I sure do miss winter, what with all the temperatures slightly above freezing we’ve been having lately. I was getting tired of being able to push the stroller down ice-free sidewalks, and those daffodils sprouting in my garden? Hate them.

snow forecast

Thanks, climate!

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NY Times article about geeks and DnD

The New York Times posted a thoughtful article about Gary Gygax’s contribution to geek – and therefore mass – culture (NYT login required).

Op-Ed Contributor: Geek Love
By ADAM ROGERS

I like his discussion of D&D’s effect on introvert-thinker geek types, particularly his point about how having a way to quantify personalities helps them cope with people in the real world. I, uh, totally do not identify with that.

The path in the diagram that goes through “painting pewter figurines” to “web designer” = me. It’s a cute diagram, but it assumes that all geeks are male, and don’t get me started on that. There are plenty of female geeks out there. One of my earliest D&D memories is of my mom (who is also a programmer) having her first edition thief character kill the rest of the party in their sleep so she could run away with all the treasure. My brother and I were so mad.

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Five years ago today

I was on a plane to Frankfurt. I was moving to Geneva to work for the World Health Organization. I’d been married to the sidekick for two days, and he was going to join me in July. The American media had spent the winter enthusiastically building up to the invasion of Iraq, which was expected any day. When I arrived in Switzerland spring was well under way, and the stress of living with the pro-war US media vanished. It was like being teleported to a better world, and apart from having to find an apartment in a foreign city in a language I barely speak, everything was immediately great. I met wonderful new friends, and there was a lot of interesting cheese and cheap wine to be had.

Five years later I’m back in the States and my life is very different, but it’s good. I have a nice house, a new baby, friendly neighbors, and great plans for my garden this spring, whenever spring arrives.

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