Thursday, May 28, 2009

Vegetables for Families in Need

The company I work for has a volunteering reward. Each year, if you volunteer your time, the company gives you a paid day off. So last week I volunteered with some co-workers to build a vegetable garden for a low income family through the Growing Places Garden Project organization.

We met at the home of the recipient at 10am. Since it was in Westford, I had a nice short commute to work for a change! When I arrived, Nikki from Growing Places was there, unloading tools from the truck. I started helping, and the others started arriving. MB was next, and she started pitching in. Then SL arrived. We were making a raised bed garden, so Nikki directed us to position the three 4 ft. by 8 ft. bed frames, and start laying newspaper on the lawn inside the frames. No digging up the sod for us! BJ arrived and then MR, and they helped finish laying the news paper. And then it was time for the heavy lifting.

A load of compost had been delivered to the front of the house. The garden was in the back, about 100 ft. away. So, with 4 wheel barrows, we started moving the compost to the back. When the first bed was about 1/2 full, Nikki and MB stayed to mix in vermiculite (to help hold water) and chicken manure (to add microbial activity and nutrients). BG showed up and helped us lug more wheel barrow fulls of compost. And more. And more. When the second bed was 3/4 full, I stayed to help mix in the amendments, while SL attached a wire fence trellis to the back of the now full first bed.

And the compost kept coming. I kept mixing and spreading, while the others finished bringing the compost back. Then they filled the wheelbarrows so we could move the remaining compost off the lawn, once we asked the homeowner where she wanted it. At about this time, a man pulled up in a truck. He was the homeowners nephew, and was worried about his aunt, since there were so many cars at her place. We assured him that we were just there to build a garden for her, and he went in to ask about the extra compost.

When all 3 beds were full, I helped SL put a trellis on the back of the second bed. BJ and MB were putting nails int he frames to attach twine to. The twine made up 1 ft by 1 ft squares, to help the homeowner know where to put the plants. And MR, BG, and Nikki started putting up a wire fence around the garden. When the trellis was done, SL and I helped with the fence. B was unrolling, SL and MR attaching it to the posts, and I was pounding them the rest of the way into the ground with a 5 pound beater. Fun! During the fencing stage, another truck pulled in. This time it was Cindy, one of the founders of Growing Places. She'd brought the vegetable seedlings by.

When the fence was up, a group went to move the compost while the rest of us picked up tools. Nikki remarked how we had the fastest garden completion time this year, we were done in an hour and a half! When everything was picked up, we took a group picture, and then my coworkers and I headed off for a celebratory lunch, on the company. Another perk of the volunteer program!

So at this point, you're probably saying, hey, wait a minute, you forgot to plant the vegetables! It turns out that's a separate part of the program, a mentor helps the homeowner plant the vegetables and gives them tips. It usually occurs when the beds are set up, but since the homeowner wasn't feeling well, they'd scheduled to plant on another day.

So, next time you're in the gardening mood, but don't have anything to do in your garden, consider building a vegetable garden for those in need!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Great Blue Herons

The other day I was telling E about the birds I saw while on my way home. He asked if I'd seen the Great Blue Heron in the stream down the road, and I jokingly said, you mean the one standing near the shore on one foot? Then I had to explain to E that they all did that, and no, I hadn't seen the one he mentioned.

But, that lead me to think about how I've been seeing a lot of Great Blue Herons this spring. If I leave the house, I see at least one. I don't recall seeing a Heron a day ever before. Maybe I'm just in their flight path. Maybe there's a great nesting/feeding spot and they've invited friends. Or maybe I wasn't this observant in previous years.

Who knows?

Now, I know you're saying, hey, if you see so many, why isn't there a picture? And the answer is that usually they're flying overhead while I'm driving to or from work. On the highway. At 65 mph. Yeah, I'm really going to whip out the camera then!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Childhood 'Truth' Debunked

Growing up, I thought that lady's slipper orchids were rare. We'd go down into the backwoods to the one spot where the bloomed. And over time, they stopped blooming there, and I though, wow, they must be just about extinct now...

And then I grew up, and moved to Townsend MA.

It's blooming season for the Pink Lady's Slipper orchid. I went for a short walk in the backwoods (here) this weekend. And I found a multitude of Pink Lady's Slipper orchids. In one 10 x 10 area, I counted a colony of 38 orchids! They're everywhere here! I feel like I've found a lost treasure! So I went back to the house and got the camera, so I could share with you.

Since then, I've done some research. The Pink Lady's Slipper orchid is listed in NY, where I grew up, as "Exploitably Vulnerable due to loss of habitat and exploitation". I also have my own theory that the backwoods (back home in NY) was logged enough for firewood that the orchids didn't make it. They seem to be very fragile flowers. They can't even be transplanted because they won't make it without their fungus symbiot. That's some dependent lady! Makes me think they're royalty... Or Goa'uld...

Elsewhere in New England, they're listed as "Secure (common, widespread and abundant)". My research also turned up that they do better in acidic pine forests, which I live amongst here, versus deciduous forests, which were back in NY.

So, one more childhood 'truth' has been debunked. I now no longer think that:
  • Pink Lady's Slipper orchids are almost extinct
  • Red and Gray squirrels don't occupy the same territory because they don't get along
  • Snakes eat strawberries
  • My mom can change traffic lights to green with her mind
Oh, and here's a little Red Eft (so cute!), that I saw on my walk, too. Enjoy!