In winter months, the snows come, and I bundle against the winds. Long socks, boots, and a knitted hat protect me. I wind a scarf around my neck, don a coat, and encase my fingers in wool mittens. I scoop snow from the sidewalk with raspy scrapes.
I like shoveling snow. I wave to neighbors and shake my fist at city snowplows that bury my hard work under mounds of ice.
When snows melt in spring, I grab a different shovel. I pull on long socks (stripey ones for fun), sandals, and a long-sleeved shirt.
Well-worn gloves and battered hat complete my ensemble.
All of this is needed to thwart the relentless mosquitoes whose bite itches, and itches, and itches.
Snow or mud, sweltering or freezing, outside is a good place.
Quite fitting with the title of this blog and the theme of discovering the ordinary…an Evening Alley Walk led by a local botanist. A cracked cellphone captured some of the highlights, and all the plants have medicinal or culinary uses.
Fascinating that food and medicine can be found growing around the corner–even in the middle of the city. Wait, you thought them weeds? Me too. And I really didn’t need to leave my yard to find most of them.
Cautions if you possess the desire to duplicate such a walk:
- It could be a little disconcerting to find someone harvesting weeds on the edges of private property–make arrangements with property owners beforehand.
- Make sure the plants grow in areas unexposed to pesticides and herbicides. Forage only where property owners maintain organic practices. In our area, alleys are not sprayed by city foresters, but the streets, parks, and rural roads are routinely maintained with chemicals.
- Most importantly, make certain of the correct plant identification. As Socrates would know, a cup of Hemlock tea could prove fatal.
Tucked in a corner of my yard, under the shadow of soon-giant sunflowers, I planted weeds. Yes, planted not pulled. Milkweed to be exact. The milkweed plant provides all the nourishment needed to transform the Monarch caterpillar into the adult butterfly.
The Monarch Butterfly is also known as the “milkweed butterfly,” because Monarch caterpillars eat ONLY milkweed. But these plants are rapidly disappearing due to the loss of habitat stemming from land development and the widespread spraying of weed killer on the fields where they live.
The Monarch population has declined dramatically over the last 20 years with last year’s population down 94% from 1995. But we should not give up hope. I am on the far edge of migration paths, but any stray Monarch that flutters my way will find a resting place.
Oh, give me a home
Dressed with Buffalo loam,
Where the bees and butterflies play.
Where often is heard,
The sweet chirp of a bird,
And the raucous call of the jay.
I love bees and still dream of humming hives of honey. But I am allergic to the stings and daunted by the intricacies of maintaining a healthy hive. As the yard becomes more bee-friendly, I hope to have a friend set up hives in the back yard and apprentice myself to his expertise.
Meanwhile, I entertain the native bees and provide spots for them to nest and find refuge. Bumble Bees are my favorite—I can watch their antics for hours; however, attracting them to nest is fraught with challenges. In spite of promises from well-intentioned products, research reports a mere 7% success rate. So if you have a Bumble Bee nesting in your yard, you are quite special. I expect to attempt a nest for them anyhow, and I will report any progress.
Today I gathered last season’s Sunflower stalks to make nesting places for the other important pollinators, native and solitary bees. Any other hollow-stemmed flower would work as well.
Using pruning shears, I cut the stalks into 8-inch lengths. With a long screwdriver, I removed the pith about halfway down the stalks—leaving the rest as nesting material for burrowing. I bound the stems tightly with natural jute with all open ends facing the same direction. I will hang them under a protected eave—facing the morning sun.
These bees are important pollinators–often overlooked and purposely destroyed when misunderstood and labeled a nuisance. Spraying or removing their habitats leaves a vacuum which attracts more aggressive, less beneficial varieties of Hymenoptera.