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Apple Trees and Rodents

For the last few days I’ve been busy painting fruit trees before the cold weather arrives.  I bought 18 cans of flat white latex spray paint, a sizable investment.  My fingers got sore from all the spraying.  Most of the trees in the orchard got a coat of paint from the ground up at least 2 ft on the trunk, the average snow depth.

Painting the trunks is supposed to deter the ravages of rodents who crawl through the snow and gnaw on the trees for sustenance during the winter.  Last winter we had a glut of rodents and they killed several adult trees by chewing the bark off the roots, and girdled a bunch more.  This past spring I made bridge grafts over the worse rodent attacks to try and save the trees.  During the summer many of the grafts seemed to take hold.  They are full and robust.  The grafts that failed are shriveled.  The tree below has several healthy grafts.

To protect my work and, hopefully, the trees, I gave them all a good coat of paint.  Rodents are rumored to not chew on trunks covered with paint.  White paint is used because it reflects the winter sunlight, preventing the build-up of excess heat that can damage the bark.  After all this money and effort, my fingers are crossed that the paint does its job.  If not, we may need to say goodbye to our apple orchard.  The majority of the original trees have died over the years, many killed by rodents.  I hope we can save the hundred or so remaining trees.

 

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Inversion Table

Here I am trying my new inversion table.  For those who don’t know, the apparatus holds your body by the ankles while you hang upside down.  This is meant to stretch the spine.  The model I have is the latest base model Teeter HangUps, although I do not endorse any particular product.  I found the barely used table locally for half the new price.

For years I’ve suffered with body pain.  My upper back was injured in a car accident, tearing a rotator cuff in a place so deep it cannot be reached for a repair operation.  The injury has caused me constant pain for twenty years.  My lower back was fine until pregnancy.  Something was moved out of place and has never been the same.  The lower back sometimes goes out, making it difficult to straighten.  There is a lot of pain.  My hip was injured in a winter fall.  I slipped on ice and my body landed with the front side of my hip hitting a concrete block.  Since then that side of my pelvis aches after moderate walking, climbing, etc.

I take NSAID pain relievers only when I have an acute issue such as a muscle spasm.  Otherwise I deal with the pain mostly by ignoring it.  A Theracane and self-administered trigger point therapy is helpful in reducing muscles spasms and alleviating pain.  For several years I visited a chiropractor, but found the continual trips for short visits didn’t address the issues for long.  I had to return every few weeks for another adjustment.  It almost felt like a racket.  I have also used four massage therapists and an occupational therapist over the years with minimal results.

Often I wondered if stretching my spine by hanging upside down might provide some relief.  The idea was:  straighten the spine and stretch the space between the vertebral discs with gentle traction provided by my body weight and it might put things back where they belonged.

Finally, after several years of thinking about it, I took the big step of splurging $150 on an inversion table.  The ankles are firmly clamped, then you use your body weight to control the degree of inversion.  The table will allow a body to hang completely upside down, 90 degrees.  So far I’ve gone to around 85 degrees.  I try to use the table at least every day, sometimes two or three times in a day.  The instructions recommend repeated daily use.  It only takes a couple minutes each time.

What a difference already!  I’ve been using the table about one and a-half months.  Immediately I felt my pelvis stretch and almost pop.  It seemed that something was evened out in the bones.  Since then there has been no pain with exercise.  I can hike all I want and the pelvis doesn’t hurt.  The lower and upper back also have improved.  I have less sore days and decreased intensity of pain.  With continued use, I hope to see even more improvement.

An added benefit I’ve found is that the table is helping to strengthen my core.  It allows a type of sit up to be performed that doesn’t put any pressure on the spine.  Using the stomach muscles to pull up against gravity is an excellent workout.

The biggest advantage is that the time spent on the table is minimal.  Just a few minutes per use.  As you can see by my face in the photo, the blood all goes to the head.  Not a terribly comfortable position for extended periods.  Because one of my legs seems to be slightly shorter than the other, there is more strain on one ankle.  Also, the stress on both ankles cannot be overlooked.  Since I’ve been going to nearly 90 degrees, I’ve been wearing pants and socks to pad my ankles.  This does help significantly.  Luckily, benefits are achieved through sessions of short duration so the discomforts I’ve mentioned are not unbearable.

Overall, I give an inversion table designed like mine two thumbs up.  It has really helped me!

August Garden Tour

The garden is in full swing and I’m barely keeping ahead of it, especially the wax beans.  The weather has been in the 90sF and 90%+ humidity for days on end.  It is hard for me to work outside in such hot weather due to breathing difficulties with asthma.  The weeds keep right on growing.  After the thunderstorms finish tonight, we are supposed to have at least three days of temps in the 70s-low 80s and much lower humidity.  I’m so looking forward to that!  Hope to get my garden in shape then.

I’ve just managed to stay ahead of the wax string beans.  So far I’ve canned 6 pints with 6 more to do and another big bag to pick tomorrow.  Beans love hot, humid weather.  The only problem is they can’t be harvested if they are wet.  It causes the beans to get rusty marks on them.  Timing bean harvesting between thunderstorms can be tricky.

I like to place my rows of plantings close enough together so that when they are mature they fill the whole area, choking out weeds.  The plants shade the soil and retain moisture without the need to apply mulch.  Above we see pumpkins on the left, beans in the middle and tomatoes on the right.  There are a few weeds in the tomatoes.  I’ll get rid of those this weekend.

The tomatoes have formed a jungle and are producing more fruit than I can eat.  Soon I will be freezing tomatoes for winter soups.  Fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes right from the garden are so much better than the store-bought variety.  Store tomatoes should be sold under a different name, like cardboard tomatoes.

The indian corn started out slowly this year due to a month of drought in June.  The lack of rain was also hard on the grass.  The hay harvest is poor.  The corn looks better.  Rain, mostly from thunderstorms, has help the plants reach for the sky.  They are about six feet tall and busy tasseling and making ears.  I plant pumpkins as companions for the corn.  The vines run around the stalks where they have plenty of space to spread out.  The large squash leaves shade the ground around the corn, discouraging weeds and helping conserve moisture.  Sunflowers like to grow with the pumpkins as well.

In June I went to a clearance sale at a local greenhouse and saved the last two pots of straight-neck summer squash.  They were very unimpressive, root-bound, yellowed pitiful plants.  I figured, give’em a chance and stuck them in where the carrots failed due to the drought.  In no time they had taken over that spot and are now flexing their leaves over my bed of sweet basil.

From struggling seedlings, the plants have grown into squash making machines.  I pick the squash when it’s very small, about the length of my middle finger, to keep ahead of production.  Small squash are tender and delicious.  Any that get away to grow to monster proportions are fed to the chickens.  They love garden extras, especially squash and tomatoes.

Last year I planted sweet basil near the edge of the garden, right beside the fence.  Something ate all my plants and I never got any basil.  This year I made a bed near the center of the garden.  The basil is growing unmolested and I have harvested a bunch already to dry.  The fresh leaves are also yummy tossed in a salad with tomatoes and summer squash.  The new growth is pinched back by about 6″ or so to encourage branching and prevent the plants from going to flower.  I make bundles using four spears of basil then hang them upside down in a dark, airy room to dry.

This year I again planted the crazy tendril peas.  I didn’t give them any support since they are supposed to hold themselves up with the luxuriant over-growth of tendrils.  It works pretty well.  They do lean over a bit, providing perfect cover for a mouse who is stealing pods and eating my peas before I can pick them.  I guess there’s plenty for everyone.  I’m just worried the rodent will move on to the tomatoes when the peas are gone.  Once I harvest the peas, I’m going to replant carrots in that spot and hope for a fall crop.

By planting sweet peppers in the shade thrown by the corn, the plants get protection from strong sun and the extra moisture they need to perform well.  There will be lots of nice peppers this fall if all goes right.  Last time I got a good pepper harvest, I roasted the excess on the grill, sliced and froze them.  When I needed pepper for topping pizza or tossing in pasta, I just chopped some off the frozen block.  That worked very well, so I plan to do it again this year.

When I was a kid, I did not like chard.  Now I love it!  The drought was tough on chard, but I got several plants that I transplanted to fill out a small row.  They seem to be having a competition to see who can produce the largest leaves.  I particularly like rainbow chard, such a pretty mix of colors when it grows.  

Just for fun and a splash of brightness in the veggie patch, I always grow some flowers.  This year bachelor buttons volunteered from seed dropped last year.  The mass of plants has to be tied up to prevent it flopping into the path and all over the neighboring plants.  These make lovely cut flower bouquets for the table that last over a week.

The zinnias have just started to bloom.  I almost got a picture of a hummingbird on the big red zinnia flower, but I wasn’t quite quick enough.  Hummingbirds also like the sunflowers.  Sometimes when I stand in the garden, the aerial hummingbird battles going on around me make me duck.  The tiny birds are very territorial and don’t like sharing even when there are plenty of flowers to go around.

Female ruby-throated hummingbird on the sunflowers, taken in 2017

This year I planted nasturtiums in the garden for the first time. Some didn’t do well, I suspect the drought got them.  A few have thrived and are producing orange, yellow and red flowers. So pretty. The flowers are supposed to be edible, but I probably will leave them in the garden rather than toss them on a salad.

Now we’ve reached the end of the garden tour.  Time to can some beans!

 

 

Ancient Grains

Farro with dried cranberries and sunflower seeds

Recently I decided to try some of the specialty ancient grains available in local stores.  The term ancient grains refers to cereals that were discovered and eaten millenia ago by our ancestors.  Many have fallen from use in modern times, replaced by more factory-farming friendly plants.  Judging from the variety available even in such an outpost of civilization as central Maine, the ancient grain business is good.  The grains I tried were all organic, meaning non-GMO, no pesticides or herbicides used for growing, storing or processing.  I decided to try kamut and spelt in addition to farro, a grain I’ve been eating for a year or so.  In the future I will try others.

The three grains are relatives of modern wheat.  They were first gathered from wild plants over 8000 years ago.  Man (as in most likely–women) learned to plant the wild seeds they gathered and cultivated the grain.  This provided a more secure food source for early communities.  Farro originated in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East and was eaten in Egypt.  It has a softer texture than some wheats, especially when it is pearled.  A semi-pearled grain has had some of the tough outer membrane, the bran, removed.  I use semi-pearled Italian farro because it cooks faster than the whole grain, yet still retains an impressive nutritional value.  A 1/4 dry cup serving of semi-pearled farro has 170 calories, 0 fat, 0 sodium, 35 g of carbs with 5 g of dietary fiber, 0 sugar and 7 g of protein and also some iron.  It is not a complete protein since it does not contain a full supply of lysine and should be paired with another lysine source.

Farro is delicious.  It is a very nutritious alternative to rice, especially white rice which is a nutrition wasteland.  Farro has a smooth, creamy, rice-like texture with a slightly nutty flavor from the retained bran coat and a wonderful fruity, sweet fragrance.  I like to cook it with a handful of dried cranberries and some raw sunflower seeds, simmer in three times its volume of water, covered, for 15 mins until al dente, drain before serving.  A perfect breakfast or side dish for pork, turkey or chicken.  For a more authentic and jaw-exercising experience, try whole grain farro which should be soaked before cooking to soften the bran layer.

Kamut with a soup spoon for size comparison

The next culinary adventure is kamut.  Enjoyed by the ancient Egyptians and originating around the Nile, kamut grains or berries are huge.  They are 3/8″ to 7/16″ long when cooked.  Kamut reminds me of tiny beans.  It has the same combination of snappy hull with soft insides and enough size to make its presence known in your mouth.  The taste is more wheat-like for sweetness, but starchy and similar to beans.  The kamut I tried is whole grain, with the full bran coat retained.

Cooking whole grain cereals requires more time.  The berries are soaked overnight in at least twice their volume of water.  I place them in the fridge to soak.  In the old days before refrigeration, I suspect our forebears discovered alcohol through this soaking of the grain.  I imagine some slacking hut-wife left the grain to soak too long, (several days at hut temperature) and it fermented.  The woman probably drained off the water with the alcohol content into another container and, because she was so lazy, just left the liquid sitting around the fire.  Then the hut-husband arrived home from hunting rabbits and birds, an activity that apparently can lead to a powerful thirst, he grabbed the jug of fermentation water for a drink and became the first man to fall in love with home brew.

After soaking the grains overnight, drain the liquid and use it to water something, then add the grain to three times its volume of water and simmer, covered for 30-40 minutes until it is al dente.  Drain excess liquid before serving.  I tried kamut with a little salt and butter, yummy!  The whole bran definitely provides chewing exercise.  I would substitute this grain for any bean recipe or serve it as a side dish sweetened up by cooking with any dried fruit, including tomatoes.  A serving of kamut provided an excellent nutritional source for ancient Egyptians.  A dry 1/4 cup has 160 calories, 1 g fat (not saturated or trans fat,) 0 sodium, 32 g of carbs with 4 g being dietary fiber and 4 g sugars, and 7 g of protein.  Again, this grain is lacking in lysine and should be paired with an appropriate amino acid source to form a complete protein for vegetarians.  It is also a source of thiamine and niacin.

Piping hot spelt with a bit of salt and a pat of melted butter

Finally, I tried spelt.  This is a better known type of wheat, at least to me since I’d heard of it.  Spelt is related to durum wheat and came from the Middle East.  Its use spread to Europe and was especially popular in Germany where it fed the population during the Middle Ages and is still grown today.  The berries are smaller than either kamut or farro, very nutty and sweet and lead to plenty of chewing with the bran of the whole grain.

Spelt is prepared in the same fashion as kamut, soaked overnight in twice its volume of water for best results, drained then simmered, covered in three times the volume of water for 40-60 minutes to al dente.  Drain the excess liquid.  The grain is delicious served warm with some salt and melted butter.  The sweetness pairs well with fruits and light meats.  I even tried it with melted cheddar and loved it.  Mixed with cinnamon, a bowl of spelt did not last long when given to my two granddaughters aged 5 and 2.  They gobbled it up and wanted more!

This ancient grain, like the other two, is nutritionally superior to most modern starchy side dishes.  A 1/4 dry cup serving has 180 calories, 2 g fat ( not saturated or trans,) 0 sodium, 38 g of carbs with 5 g dietary fiber and 2 g sugars and 7 g protein.  Spelt is also low on lysine but is higher in many minerals than the other two grains I tried.  It is a good source of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper and manganese, among others.

Since all three of these grains are related to wheat, they contain gluten and are not for gluten intolerant diets.  I pity the ancestors with celiac disease who had to try and survive on wheat grains.  I wonder if they figured out what made their guts hurt and tried alternate foods?  Luckily, I love gluten and can digest it, so will be adding these heirloom wheat varieties to my diet.

Hazelnuts In Bloom

The three young hazelnut trees I’ve planted in the orchard all survived the winter and are in bloom.  Each plant has male and female flowers.  The males are long catkins filled with pollen.  The females are tiny, round, bud-like forms with projecting bright red styles.  Hazelnuts are wind pollinators, which explains why such copious amounts of pollen are produced.  The plants must cross-pollinate to produce nuts, they are not self-pollinating.  The woods are full of wild hazelnuts in bloom; some of their pollen could also easily reach my little trees.

The largest hazelnut bush grows in leaps and bounds every year.  This spring I trimmed out some of the oldest, least productive limbs.  I gave the trimming to my rabbits.  Bunnies love hazelnut wood!  This largest plant has produced a crop of nuts for the past 3 years or so.  This year it is covered in blooms, so if all goes well I will have hazelnuts to eat in September.

The other two trees are smaller.  One, the same age as the the largest bush, is only starting to thrive after its transplant a few years ago.  The other hazelnut survived the second winter.  The white bags on this tree are an experiment I conducted over the winter.  Last year, the poor sapling was nibbled by deer.  The original leader was nipped off and a side branch has become the new leader.  I had heard of placing human hair in cloth bags and tying them to the branches to deter deer.  When my husband got a haircut last fall, I collected the hair and tucked it in some small muslin bags I had on hand.  To my surprise, the tree was not touched by the deer last winter, although they had plenty of opportunity.  So perhaps this strategy actually works!  I’m glad, since this was an expensive little hazelnut, purchased from Stark Bros. nursery.  The other two were quite inexpensive and came from The Arbor Day Foundation.  I bought the Stark tree because it is supposed to produce large nuts.  Hazelnuts are my favorite for eating, so I’m rooting for these trees to do well.

 

Stump Experiment Revisited

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Subject stump 9/2015

Last September 13, I posted about an experiment I decided to conduct on a method for naturally removing tree stumps.  The subject stump is of a sweet cherry tree that had recently been cut.  There were several of the same species in the area so I used one as the experiment and one as a control.a1

The experimental process involved drilling several holes in the subject stump and filling them with 45-0-0, or full nitrogen, fertilizer.  The stump was then watered and covered with a plastic grain sack.  The covering was held down with rocks, but not made air tight.  The control stump was just left open to the air and not touched in any way.

This past year had warmer than normal temperatures throughout the seasons with two months of extreme drought in July and August.  No new growth sprouted from either stump, so I believe both are dead.  First we will look at the control stump to gauge any changes.

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Control stump 9/2015

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Control stump 11/2016

This stump has darkened in color and the oozing tree sap is gone.  Otherwise, the control stump looks pretty much as it did last fall.  The wood is still hard and solid.  It is not possible for me to push a screwdriver down into the wood.

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Control stump 11/2016

Peeling back the old plastic grain bag reveals that the experimental stump has undergone some changes.  While the wood is not soaked, it is uniformly damp.  The surface has a powdery coating that seems to be made up of dirt-like material.  Fungus is thriving on the surface, including an orange fruiting body of a mushroom-like fungus.  Much of the surface of the stump is soft. a2
When I drilled the holes in the stump, they were made in solid, hard wood. The wood in the areas surrounding the holes is now soft and punky. I can push the screwdriver at least 1/2″ into the surface near the holes.a5

Around the outside edge of the stump the wood is still mostly solid.  The hard wood extends about 2″-3″ into the stump before punky wood starts.

It seems to me that there is a definite difference between the subject and the control.  The subject stump is decomposing more quickly.  There is no way to be certain that the accelerated rotting is due to the added nitrogen, the plastic covering, or both.  I should have used a third stump that had nitrogen in drilled holes, but no covering to be more certain of the results.  The fact that the wood around the drill holes on the subject stump is all soft now could indicate that the added nitrogen does speed the decomposition process.

The results of the experiment are enough to convince me to treat all the remaining cherry stumps to a dose of nitrogen and a plastic grain bag.  It certainly couldn’t hurt!

Pseudoscorpion

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What could this little creature be?  I found it crawling across a ceiling.  Looks like a tick, maybe, or some minute crab.  It is about one-quarter inch long and a fast mover.

Over the years I’ve found several of these in my house, mostly in the library.  I’m sorry to say I killed the first few, before a friend told me what they are.  Pseudoscorpions.  The one pictured is likely a house pseudoscorpion, Chelifer cancroides.  They are members of the spider family.p1

These tiny, alert insects are quite beneficial in the home because they eat various insect pests including mites, springtails, ants, beetle larvae and book lice.  Hence their appearance on our book shelves.  They like humid areas with wood, probably because their prey prefer these places.

Pseudoscorpions are not a danger to humans.  They do have venom, in their large front pincer appendages, but they are too small to pierce our skin.  These spiders are known to hitch rides on larger animals to travel around.

Their lives are quite interesting.  The adults do not have sex in the way we understand.  The male deposits a semen packet in an area he specially prepares then waits until a female is attracted by his sexy scent.  When she arrives, he does a mating dance then guides her to the semen packet where she takes it into her body to fertilize the eggs.  The eggs brood in the mother and the nymphs sometimes ride on her back after they hatch.  The babies go through three molts before reaching adulthood.  The insect’s lifespan is 4-5 years.

Now that I know what these little guys are doing, I welcome them in our book-filled house.  They are performing quite a service for us.