Sunday, July 18, 2010

What's going on out on the roadways?

On a quiet Friday afternoon, a wooly bear crosses Crusher Road. Makes it safely to the other side.

On a hot Saturday afternoon, remnants of a party that U.S. 1 newspaper did not crash. Locals plea with party-goers to "Be good."

Phoebe report

The phoebe adults have been quiet, except for some calling yesterday morning and their alarm calls.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Yesterday, I heard the phoebe calling in the hour prior to Jared noticing three fledgling phoebes perched outside the bathroom window. His (?) calling had been daily, but I have not noticed the call today. It's possible that one of us was too busy - too busy preparing breakfast to listen for birds; too busy catching breakfast to call. I'll listen tomorrow.

Their nest was above the light fixture on the north side of the house. They had nested there in years prior, though not last year.

One phoebe parent did not like our outdoor dining area just a few yards from the nest. We eat breakfast outside, when temperature, insects, and time (and phoebes) allow.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Noodle roots

The USDA PLANTS database names it Quackgrass, ELRE4, Elymus repens, also known as: Agropyron repens, Elytrigia repens, Elytrigia repens, Elytrigia vaillantiana, Triticum repens, Triticum vaillantianum...

Unlike its botanical cousin, bottlebrush grass (Elymus hystrix), quackgrass is a garden weed, a mesic rangeland invader, a disturbed soil and abandoned cropland colonizer. Bottlebrush is, in my experience, a species found on dry roadsides, slopes, and open woodlands. Quackgrass creeps (repens) rather than being porcupine-like (hystrix)...hardly a direct comparison, but namings based on notable characteristics.

Both plants occupy corners of our gardens. Bottlebrush at the edge of a native "woodland" garden which features a jumble of plants from a jumble of habitats: jewelweed, oldfield aster, false unicorn, maidenhair fern, blue cohosh, Pennsylvania sedge. The bottlebrush is fading from the garden while it's immediate companion, columbine, also a dry soil plant, thrives.

The quackgrass hugs the corner of the cultivated vegetable garden. There, too, is a jumble of plants: giant Solomon's seal, beach plum (grown from New Jersey shore seed), a dwarf basil variety and a mat of "weeds". The quackgrass makes its way uphill to the hazelnut, lupine, rattlesnake master, lowbush blueberry, chicory, and Meyer lemon circus.

We've been trying to make sense of the garden over the years. We began with a naturalistic approach with annual vegetables that was difficult to maintain. We now have annuals in rows and perennials ringing the garden. Plants are grouped by water and soil type needs and their natural companions. Mostly. And often not. As you may have noticed.

So, I've been ripping and digging out the quackgrass. "I hate this plant. Look at the roots." White noodles with joints every inch or so. Some head above ground a become leaves, others shoot through the soil. I weedwacked the flowering individuals (along with the crown vetch. I'm not sure I'll ever come around to crown vetch...).

"When you're weeding your garden, look at the plants you are taking out. You might find them an herbal remedy," said my teacher.

Yes, I really should figure out what this plant is...yank. This one likes the worst soil...yank. Oh, here's noodle roots...yank.

The front edge of this photograph shows the beach plum (r) and low bush blueberry (l) patches.

While doing my homework on herbal remedies for the urinary tract, I found a list of plants, as one often does. (A list of what to bring when camping is helpful, especially if you've been camping before. A list of plant remedies is not helpful especially if you've never used them before.) Couchgrass was listed.

I found a photograph of couchgrass - noodle roots - quackgrass. I check Lauren Brown's Grasses: An Identification Guide. Indeed. "When you're weeding your garden, look at the plants you are taking out. You might find them an herbal remedy."


My herbal homework for this Saturday came via email. "Choose one: linden...hibiscus...corn silk...couchgrass..." And so, I made two jars of couchgrass tea. The infusion made by pouring boiling water over the roots sits on the counter. The sun infusion sits in the sun and occasional, too brief rainshower. The unused portion of the couchgrass also sits in the sun, but instead is desiccating like a weed (sorry!).


Quackgrass, where did you get your name? Conversing with ducks or did you not heal the right person?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The weeds are growing well...

The prairie on top the rootcellar at Elawa Farm, Lake Forest, Illlinois

and we have been eating many of them. A second flush of lambsquarters seedlings is coming up where the parsnips never did. Purslane has created a steady groundcover under the tomatoes. We're thankful - the heat and drought has slowed many of our cultivated annuals and dwarfed the fruits of others, like the raspberries (they are very flavorful regardless).

During the previous two growing seasons, we were members of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm and picked up our share weekly. Meanwhile, we had our garden, and I also worked at a farm.

Often, the CSA harvest was generous - in spring, eight heads of lettuce as well as other early greens. Three pounds of tomatoes in August are easy to eat or freeze, but eight heads of lettuce in May after a winter of frozen venison and kale from California. My intestines aren't yet up to the digestive challenge.

We often shared our share with our friends, always feeling a little sheepish that it did not come from our garden. Sharing felt a less like a gift, and more like dropping off a rusty hibachi on Welton Street in New Brunswick - I don't want this, maybe someone else does, I am sick of this, but it is too good to toss, wow, someone does want this. The rusty hibachi and the 7th head of deer tongue lettuce is gone to good homes.

Drive up to the farm, collect three pounds of tomatoes, a bunch of scallions, a bunch of cilantro, kale, chard, potatoes. Drive away.

Our garden was neglected. The CSA was easy, and though organic, the produce was perfect. Catbirds did not peck the strawberries - the farm's woodland edge was too far away. A farmhand tossed the vole chewed potatoes and the splitting tomatoes. The greens were washed and chilled. They didn't have the tomatillo eating beetle plague that we had two years ago (this year not a problem), or at least I wasn't the one squashing each beetle by hand until sickened by the though of eating the tomatillos.

Additionally, and most compellingly, it was paid for. And, so our garden was neglected.

I could return to my Rutgers days and do a post-modern, anti-capitalistic analysis of my relationship to the local, organic CSA farm grown food. I could. That's pretty boring, however, and it's more easily said that I often put aside the pleasures and hardships of and pride in our garden.

Without the CSA, I walk to garden - I do wish it was closer - and snack on blueberries, chew on gritty purslane while weeding, watch the dragonflies, and water our recent additions: the lupines, lavender, lemon, and lemongrass.