Sage Flowers

•June 22, 2014 • Leave a Comment

No, not wise or smart flowers.. but actual flowers on the herb Sage.

Last year we had a nice patch of Sage in our garden. Over winter it, of course, lost all the remaining leaves that we didn’t pick last fall. Come spring it looked dead. Grey and brown woody stems. We almost pulled it from the ground but for some reason I left it alone. Sure enough a month later a few leaves started coming out from the base of the plant.

Within a month all the “dead” stems came back to life with leaves. Then, just a few weeks ago, it started to send up flowers. Normally you can pinch these off to help force more leaves but since we like to also save seeds for future growing we’re quite happy to see it flowering.

 

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At first the flower buds appeared and while it was obvious they would become flowers there was nothing particularly colorful about them initially.

 

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Soon the purplish blue color started to peak out and eventually the flowers fully bloomed.

 

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They are not large as this small fly sitting on one can illustrate. The fly itself is about half the size of a common housefly. Reading in garden forums and seems hit or miss for people to have these plants survive over the winter. I suspect the deep almost six inch mulch layer I have in this garden bed may have helped insulate the roots and helped the plant come back this year. Our winter was one of the coldest on record so I’m even more excited that it survived.

The leaves are quite delicious mixed into various recipes that call for sage. Fall squash crops, like butternut, pair well with the sage.

Medicinally sage is also useful. As listed on WebMD :

Sage is used for digestive problems, including loss of appetite, gas (flatulence), stomach pain (gastritis), diarrhea, bloating, and heartburn. It is also used for reducing overproduction of perspiration and saliva; and for depression, memory loss, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Women use sage for painful menstrual periods, to correct excessive milk flow during nursing, and to reduce hot flashes during menopause.

Sage is applied directly to the skin for cold sores; gum disease (gingivitis); sore mouth, throat or tongue; and swollen, painful nasal passages.

 

 

Spittlebug

•June 15, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Ever seen a plant that looks like someone spit on it?

Spit1

The cause of this spit is a small little bug, and specifically the nymph stage of the insect. The creature is generally known as a Froghopper which is part of the superfamily, Cercopoidea. The insects, in the nymph stage, are quite vulnerable and would most likely dry out and die or get predated upon. To avoid these fates it has developed the spittle defense. They start by piercing a plant, usually the stem I’ve observed and suck the sap. It uses the sap to produce the froth which serves a number of factors. First, it hides it. Second it keeps it in a moist environment. Third the froth is distasteful keeping predators from exploring further and fining the tasty little snack.

 

A simple plant misting bottle is all you need to wash away the spittle and see the insect. Below you can see most of it on the left side of the stem.

 

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The froghoppers are related to the leafhoppers and like them can jump quite easily. Some are able to jump well over two feel vertically and in a comparison of distance vs. body size are even better at jumping than fleas are. Identification in the adults of froghoppers vs. leafhoppers is partially done by comparing the number of spines on the legs.

 

In misting the spit away I accidentally washed the insect off the stem. The nymph dropped to the leaf below. A relatively quick full circle and it spotted another spot of spittle which it immediately headed towards and disappeared into.

 

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Plantain

•June 8, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Plantain.

It is everywhere!

As a child growing up in Chicago I even remember it. It has been a familiar ‘weed’ throughout my life, but it wasn’t until the advent of the computer and immediate access to google did I start to investigate what was growing in my backyard and how I might use it.

Plaintain

There are so many great websites that give info on plantain and its uses but I especially like the Green Med Info site that had these very interesting facts about plantain:

Plantain is one of the most common herbs found growing in North America. It can literally be seen growing out of the cracks of sidewalks and roads, found on the majority of homeowners lawns, cultivated or waste ground and even in places where there is little sun. Not only is this plant abundant everywhere, it is present for good reason. There is an old saying that plants grow where they are needed most. In the case of plantain, it is clear that this plant is greatly needed in the urban societies we live in today, as we suffer from many illnesses in which this plant can offer help.

Food
It is easy to pull this common weed from the garden without even realizing that it is probably more nutritious than most of the leafy greens we tend to eat. Young leaves can be eaten raw in salads and sandwiches; however, as they age they become stringy and rather tough, sometimes to the point where they cannot be eaten without cooking them.

The seeds can also be dried and ground into a meal or flour for its use in making bread or pancakes – an excellent way to save money on groceries and fuel your body with quality nutrients. Plantain is rich in magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K.

Medicine
The leaves as well as the juice have been widely used as topical substances in poultices and lotions for treating sunburns, stings, insect bites, snakebites, poison ivy breakouts, rashes, burns, blisters, and cuts.

(After being bitten by mosquitoes in the yard while gardening, Gary and I have repeatedly (and successfully) applied fresh plantain leaves that we plucked and crushed, to our bite site and felt immediate relief from the itching!)

Furthermore, the leaves have also been heated and applied topically to swollen joints, sore muscles, sprains, and sore feet. Interestingly enough, Plantain is a common folk remedy in many part of Latin America for treating cancer. It has also been used for many centuries in treating sore throats, coughs, bronchitis, tuberculosis, and mouth sores.

Studies have shown that plantain has anti-inflammatory effects, and it is also rich in tannin (which helps draw tissues together to stop bleeding) and allantoin (a compound that promotes healing of injured skin cells). Further studies have indicated that plantain may also reduce blood pressure, and that the seeds of the plant may reduce blood cholesterol levels. Plantain seeds were also widely used as a natural laxative, given their high source of fibre. Teas made from the plant, were used to treat diarrhea, dysentery, intestinal worms, and bleeding mucous membranes. The roots were also recommended for relieving toothaches and headaches as well as healing poor gums.

What a truly remarkable ‘weed’ we have growing all around us!

Look for it next time you are walking in your neighborhood.

Dandelion-Zilla

•June 1, 2014 • Leave a Comment

A quick entry today of a single picture. We’ve all seen Dandelions growing and we’ve posted before about some of the useful things you can do with them. Well, this morning we discovered the king of the dandelions. Dandelion-Zilla if you may.

DandeZilla

The bucket holds 2 1/2 gallons of water to give you a sense of scale. All told we estimated the seed head at over 3 feet tall!

Pelican. Pelican? In your yard?

•April 13, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Well, not in our yard, but flying over our yard (which still counts) was a small flock of White Pelicans.

Pelican1

Unfortunately it was well after sunset with dusk well under way and the lighting was poor. At first we thought they were sandhill cranes, but with the zoom on the camera I was able to get a good view and notice the missing trailing legs that sandhills would normally have. In the limited light I was just able to make out the horn on the beak.

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Each year for the last 3 or 4 years now they would stop over on their northern migration at a nearby lake and apparently they were coming in for their first visit to the lake this year. For many years they have stopped at Nelson Lake Marsh in Kane County (Nelson Lake Marsh). Only in the last few have they also been using the nearby lake. A few years ago I got some shots of the flock on the lake, those images are shown below.

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The Pelicans breed in interior North American migrating to the south and the coasts during winter. Some make it as far as South America to over winter.

Their wing span ranges from 8 to 10 feet and, in North America, is second only to the California Condor.

Only during breeding season is the horn on the beak present. They are the only species of pelican that exhibits this horn and shortly after the eggs are laid the horn is shed until the following breeding season when it grows back.

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Spring is here. Yeah! Spring is here. Boo!

•March 30, 2014 • 1 Comment

Spring is finally here. Deep blue sky, bright and sunny, temperatures in the 60s and you could hear the sandhills flying over on the northerly migration. The most definite sign, however, is the first flower of the year.

Crocus

We had three crocuses blooming today.

So why the boo? Don’t I like spring?

Certainly! But the one part I don’t like is seeing what we do to the planet. Part of our nice spring day included cleaning up the yard. Here is just a sampling of the trash in our yard.

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Trash2

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The sad part… this is nothing. Insignificant. Not even noticeable when you start looking along the sides of our major streets and highways… or looking in retention ponds and wetland areas near strip malls. You hear people complain about goose droppings. I don’t think I’ve ever heard these same people complain about the droppings of our society and consumerism.

Ok, enough venting for today. Get out there and enjoy the nice weather while it lasts… and maybe pick up a few pieces of trash too. Wildlife will thank you.

Tracking Wildlife in Winter

•March 12, 2014 • 2 Comments

The snow provides a great opportunity to track wildlife and see where it goes, where it comes from and where it might be living.

Our first example is a rabbit hole. Perhaps a warren, perhaps just a sheltered area that it goes to. The round dark area slightly below the middle of the photo, while more pronounced a few weeks ago, is still obviously a hole tunneled into the bottom of a brush pile. With the large pile (approx 15′ x 5′ x 5′) covered in a thick layer of snow the inside becomes a nicely sheltered area for wildlife. A rabbit was witnessed emerging from this hole on more than one occasion and a distinct trail in the snow leading up to it was visible.

 

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Another part of our yard had a very distinct well worn trail in the snow. Occasional footprints of lighter critters, like squirrels are visible in the right of the photo but the trail on the left had been regularly traversed. By what I could not tell but I’m suspecting possibly skunks, opossums and/or raccoons.

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The trail led straight to our shed, then along the front of it before turning right into it plunging down through the snow to go underneath it. The clear signs of digging help solidify that something has taken up residence under there.

Shed Hole1

Other parts of our yard have clearly displayed vole trails, bird tracks, wing marks where a bird took flight and other signs that wildlife is coexisting in our backyard habitat.

 
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