October 26th, 2012 § § permalink
If you are a livestock farmer, much of your day is spent fixing barns and pens and flat tires, unloading feed trucks, and moving livestock from one pasture to another. If you are a high-rise maintenance worker, your workday starts as you rappel down 20 stories to wash away window goop in bone-numbing cold and unpredictable wind. If you are a high altitude alpine guide, a typical day includes repairing a broken climbing harness, carrying 40 pounds of gear up a ravine, cooking Mexican refried beans over a small pellet stove, and restringing your ukulele. If you are a kid, your job is to play.
Childhood is a short season. There is just this small pocket of time when a person alone in a room can be easily lured into designing an escape tunnel for some kind of top secret mission to protect innocent from evil—to criss-cross the globe and actively battle, risking it all, for the betterment of humankind (or doll-kind, or stuffed animal-kind). Given a collection of plastic crates, large empty cardboard boxes, an old telephone, a map, buttons, phone books, fabric scraps, fake train tickets and postcards, my small girls can easily overcome impossible odds to obtain godlike Supergirl powers and defeat massive magical beasts. In just an hour.
But, adventures can get messy. And oftentimes during this frantic hour or so the entire fabric bin is overturned, fuzzy scraps are transported into the bathroom sink, the bottle of buttons rolls under the dining table and its contents mingle with last night’s fossilized cornbread bits and a discarded grime-encrusted strawberry, giant cardboard boxes are dismantled and transformed into slides with detachable cat-sized dirigibles, awkward costumes wind up on innocent furry passersby, and permanent cap-less Sharpies magically appear and threaten to deface the sofa.
I cannot pretend that this does not sometimes bother me.
Sometimes, just sometimes, when I am without much time or patience (which lately seems to be fairly often), things are better when they are completely flat—not things like baby bellies, tires, or lakes without wind—but things that are held in small busy hands.
My two girls make small flat things they call Paper Pets. They never got fully into the doll thing, but these paper critters are really just like paper dolls and, in fact, they have very similar accessories, but without the bling. These flat friends have beds, brushes, bows, collars and treats—and they are perfect for that quiet rainy afternoon when we have just an hour to pop them out and then tuck them away nicely. For a long time, we kept them secured in an old manila folder, but just the other day we upgraded their home and then moved them in.
To complete this simple project, you will need the following:
An old hardcover book (8 x 10 in or larger, 300+ pp)
Mod Podge or watery glue (1 part glue to 2 parts water)
This requires an old hardcover book. Choose it wisely. Do not choose a book that your great aunt gave you for high school graduation. Do not choose a handwritten copy of J.K. Rowling’s “The Tales of Beedle the Bard” or an 1827 copy of Audubon’s “Birds of America.” Do not choose a book that looks even slightly interesting, or one that you plan to someday reread. You will not ever get to read this book again.
Open the book to the first page (or flyleaf). Draw a line one inch from each edge of the first page (including the spine)—this will determine the interior dimensions of the box. With the ruler as a guide, carefully cut along each line with a utility knife. Apply enough pressure to cut several pages at a time. After you cut through a large section of pages, you may need to turn these back to get farther along in the book. Leave at least a few of the book’s last pages as a box “bottom.” Again, open the book to the first page and inspect the cut edges. Clean up all bits and pieces and rough edges with the utility knife.
With Mod Podge and brush, generously paint all book pages that follow the box “bottom” so they will stick together. Make a cup of tea. Close the book and sit on it for a few minutes to flatten. Drink your tea. Clip out a photo or magazine print to use as a decorative box bottom—use Mod Podge to seal. Paint the book’s inside edges with Mod Podge, leaving the book’s exterior unpainted. Allow it to soak in and then apply a second coat. Paint all surfaces inside the box.
Place a generous layer of plastic wrap inside the box. Fill the box with a small book. Place a layer of plastic wrap over the small book. Close the book. Allow it to dry overnight underneath something heavy.
Remove the plastic wrap. Check to be sure the book is dry. Fill it with flat friends or small special somethings like a collection of heart-shaped rocks or worm-like twigs, or secret plans for potential scientific inventions. Lucky us, we found our Vol 1 and Vol 2 within a slipcase. We transformed both volumes into paper pet book boxes and then painted the entire slipcase—first with a layer of gesso to provide some texture, then with a few fancy layers of acrylic paint. Alternatively, decorate the actual book cover. Or leave it unadorned and mysterious.
A magical box can be your new best friend—it allows time for smallish people to become quietly immersed in little things. It promotes stillness. And it is this stillness that helps provide focus during times of clutter and chaos. Which, at our house, is most of the time.
June 11th, 2012 § § permalink
I think some people are born magicians
Hatching artful diversions
While we watch dazed
The bullet catch
The cabinet escape
The elastic lady
Seamless 5-ball cascade juggling
We stare mouths open
My firecracker friend Jenny is magical like this.
And now for the next trick!
Fava bean crostini
I am so blown away.
She has written it all down.
Voila! It’s HERE!
May 31st, 2012 § § permalink
Seed bombs are magical little nuggets of clay, compost and native seeds used to surreptitiously improve areas you’re unable to reach.
To determine native species in your area, ask a smart friend, or visit the Native Plant Database. My family and I live in the Northeastern U.S., and our seed bombs include (among other seeds) eastern red columbine, red milkweed, butterfly weed, New England aster, joe pye weed, lanceleaf coreopsis, blazing star, wild bergamot, sweet coneflower and rigid goldenrod. Select low-maintenance drought-tolerant native species that can thrive with intermittent care. As mentioned previously, choose seeds wisely. You certainly do not want to select invasive species that will threaten biodiversity. Consider species that create habitats for other native critters like butterflies and birds.
To determine your soil type, do the squeeze test: take a handful of moist (but not wet) soil and give it a firm squeeze. Most likely, one of three things will happen:
- The soil falls apart as soon as you open your hand. This means you have sandy soil.
- The soil holds it’s shape, and when you give it a little poke, it crumbles. This means you have loam. Perfect for a garden—it retains moisture and nutrients, but doesn’t stay soggy.
- It holds it shape, and when you give it a little poke, it sits stubbornly in your hand. This means you have nutrient-rich clay soil. Perfect for this project.
If you have dreams of a yard-ful of annuals, perennials and veggies, yet have the horrible misfortune of heavy clay soil (I can relate), today you are in luck. There is little need for clay amendment in your seed bomb recipe. Just head to your backyard and collect some clay soil. If your soil is sandy or loamy, however, you must add natural clay (often found in natural stream banks), terracotta clay powder or air-dry clay (found in art supply or health food stores).
Like making a mudpie, making a seed bomb is not an exact science. Use the below recipe as a guide, but your measurements needn’t be exact.
Seed Bomb Recipe:
3 parts clay (see note above)
3 parts dry organic compost or worm castings
1 part small native perennial seed
1 to 2 parts water (added by the Tbs)
The mixture should be moist, but not wet. Knead it with your hands, being sure to incorporate all seeds. Roll it into 1 to 2 inch balls. Set them on newspaper to dry for 2 days before using, or store on a sunny windowsill before throwing over a fence. Your seed bombs are ready to wreak havoc on green wastelands. Just throw and they will grow. Rich in nutrients, the clay and compost aid in germination and help strengthen plant root systems.
Nicely packaged in a handmade bag, seed bombs make fantastic handmade gifts for friends, family and teachers. Include a nice note or quote like one of these:
- Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant. –Robert Louis Stevenson
- Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them. –A.A. Milne
- Once there was a tree, and she loved a little boy. –Shel Silverstein
- The greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. –Roald Dahl
- Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart. –A.A. Milne
- Small as a peanut, big as a giant, we’re all the same size when we turn off the light. –Shel Silverstein
Once you have perfected the seed bomb, you may get the urge to branch out and attempt other small-scale unlawful acts. Do not mention my name during your interrogation!
Now, Joanie or Johnny Appleseed, plant something already!
May 20th, 2012 § § permalink
It’s time for unlawful mischief. It is time to plan swift small-scale attacks and organize aggressive mini mobile units to exhaust opposing forces. It’s time to take back orphaned land all but forgotten. To arm yourself with trowel, seeds, bulbs, saplings, and a vision of verdant green. It’s time to plant everywhere. Anywhere.
Fare-the-well sterile orphaned lots with rubble and rubbish—vacant unloved spots thrust between broken buildings and wildness! It’s time to whisper plans to each other—to break ground and work silently, stealthily—to race home and dance with heart exposed and arms in the sky. We will win! We will win!
Guerilla Gardening. Unbeknownst to you perhaps, this (slightly) unlawful silent underground movement—the unauthorized cultivation of plants on otherwise neglected public or private land in response to dwindling green space—is cropping up all around us. The idea is to reclaim green space, regardless of who actually owns it. Technically, guerilla gardening is illegal. You must accept the fact that some might view seedbombing as vandalism, just performed with plants instead of spray paint, rocks, matches or eggs. One part beautification, one part eco-activism, guerilla gardening is a burgeoning movement of green enthusiasts—free-range planters on a mission.
But, it’s more than just planting. It’s putting green where it’s not expected—putting something common in an unusual place or something uncommon in a usual place—surprising people and making them re-evaluate their position in the natural world.
Never underestimate the power of a plant.
Before grabbing your spade (Holy moly! I can’t wait!), ask yourself the following:
- Will you be part of an organized gang (launching your green thumbs into an unstoppable offensive of wax myrtle at Calumet and Main) or will you work solo, impulsively scattering shooting star seeds in pavement cracks on your way to the post office?
- Will you be a one-time guerillero, or will you be making this a regularly scheduled habit of dogwood debauchery? You’re far more likely to avoid trouble if you bring smallish people with you. This lends some credibility to your act.
- Will you work in the early morning, evening, or furtively at midnight? I highly recommend early morning hours to avoid detection from suspicious passersby. Or, you may opt to be discovered. If so, wear THIS.
Where Do I Plant?
If not working alone, you should meet with your trusty gardening team (mine has small, steady hands) and do some research. Look around you and consider a few unloved orphan spots close to home—empty pots or concrete planters, abandoned public gardens, vacant car parks—even a gap in pavement can serve as a modest blank canvas. Now, let’s be clear. I don’t advocate tossing seeds or planting plants in your neighbor’s weedy flowerbed, and you don’t need to plant a farm or a community garden. Just one plant will do for now. You do need a sunny spot and good soil. You may consider planting at first in a portable pot. Placed near a street sign or next to the barber’s door, this may be the ideal start to a career of gardening with intention. Of course, you should sneak by to water it every so often, or leave with it a kind sign: I’m yours. Water Me Please.
What Should I Plant?
If possible, find a generous gardening friend with a good plant or seed selection. Otherwise, purchase species from a local plant or seed supplier. Often, native wildflower seed mixes are available. Select low-maintenance drought-tolerant native species that can thrive with intermittent care. Choose perennial species wisely. You certainly do not want to select invasive perennials that will threaten biodiversity. Consider species that create habitats for other native species like butterflies and birds. For a list of recommended native species in your area, visit the Native Plant Database.
The following are your planting options:
Native Bulbs: Usually planted in the fall, these miraculous little storehouses are simple to plant and bring a spring surprise.
Native Plants, Shrubs and Trees: Just pop in a plant. Choose hardy, preferably perennial native plants that are easy to maintain.
Annual Plants with Big “Wow” Factor: Choose plants that will catch someone’s eye—plants with a powerful punch.
Classic Clay Seed Bombs: These little fistfuls of compacted clay, compost and native perennial wildflower seed break down over time and eventually plants sprout in place of dirt, weeds and invasive species. Seed bombs are used to surreptitiously improve areas that a guerillero is unable to reach. Locked vacant lots or roadside embankments—all are promising native plant nurseries. Keep in mind that seed germination is highly dependent on water. Keep track of the weather. Scatter the seed bombs on the ground—over a fence onto an empty lot—right before an early spring rainy spell to ensure germination.
Pre-made seed bombs may be purchased HERE and HERE. Or, check back in a few days for my GREAT GUERILLA SEED BOMB RECIPE.
Please send me your before and after photos–I’d love to see.
Now, go forth and garden!
April 22nd, 2012 § § permalink
This recipe is super easy. The peels taste just like sweet lemon drops. You’ll be certain to have your kitchen stocked with a jar or two of these from now on—ready to grab for that upcoming day hike or camping trip. You may love them plain, with only a dusting of sugar, but in the end you may opt to dip your peels in chocolate for extra yumminess. Look out! These peels disappear fast!
You will need:
5 organic, un-waxed thick-skinned lemons (or 5 limes, 2 oranges, or 1 large grapefruit)
2 cups sugar
¾ tsp cream of tartar
Semisweet chocolate (optional)
What to do:
- Wash the lemons and slice off both ends with a knife.
- Make 4 equally spaced lengthwise slices just through the peel of each lemon.
- With your fingers, pry each section of peel off each lemon, leaving as much white pith on the fruit as possible.
- In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups water to a simmer.
- Add the peels to the simmering water. Simmer for 2 minutes and strain with a colander.
- Rinse the peels with fresh water and wash out the pan with soap and water.
- Repeat 2 more times, each time using fresh water to rinse peels and saucepan, and fresh cold water to refill saucepan.
- The pith of the fruit has a bitter taste. If the peels are very thick, use a spoon or butter knife to scrape off most of the pith from the peel. This should rid the peels of bitterness. But don’t remove all the pith from the peels—it will provide some structure and tastiness.
- Combine 2 cups sugar, 2 cups water and ¾ tsp cream of tartar. Slowly bring to a simmer, whisking often. The sugar syrup should be clear before it reaches a simmer. Be careful—this liquid is hot!
- Add the peels to the sugar syrup (add enough water to completely cover the peels) and simmer gently for about 1 hour, until the mixture forms a thick syrup and the peels are translucent and tender. The temperature should be about 230 degrees.
- To test for doneness, lift a peel slice from the syrup with a slotted spoon, let it cool slightly and then sample. If you can easily bite through the peel, it’s done. If not, continue simmering peels until tender. If the syrup becomes too thick, add additional water.
- Turn off heat, gently remove peels from the sugar syrup with slotted spoon and lay separately on a wire rack set on an edged baking sheet. Watch out! The peels will be very hot.
- Once cooled, cut each peel into thin strips (no wider than ¼ inch). These can be great knife practice for smallish hands, but be sure to work carefully. Set peels separately on a clean wire rack to dry overnight.
- A few pieces at a time, toss each peel in a sugar-filled bowl to coat.
- Store in an airtight container.
Candied peels are best used at least two days after you’ve made them—they won’t have dried sufficiently if used right away. After no longer gooey to the touch, they should be kept refrigerated in an airtight container. They will last several weeks (assuming they are not gobbled up before then by unicorns).
And try this:
- Dip peel ends in thinned royal icing or tempered chocolate and place on parchment-lined baking sheet to cool.
- For orange peels, try adding ground ginger or nutmeg to the sugar.
- Chopped, the candied peels may be used as a topping to pudding, custard, ice cream, pie, fresh granola or cookies.
- Remaining citrus and cooled liquid and may be used as simple syrup to make amazing homemade lemonade Just add juice of 5 lemons (leftover from the above recipe) and water to taste and refrigerate.
- Or, on the eve an especially long day, concoct a comforting cocktail. Cool the remaining citrus and liquid, and serve with your spirit of choice.
Note: I originally published a version of this (sans above cocktail tip, of course) in Whip Up’s Action Pack Magazine for kids (Issue 6). Chock full of quality projects for creative curious kids who love to do stuff, Action Pack is a downloadable high-quality ad-free e-magazine by Kathreen Ricketson. Diagrams and photos illustrate each boredom-busting step-by-step kid-friendly project—make a lemon battery, a citric acid fizz popper, cinnamon sticks wooden jewelry and handmade chalk. For more hands-on projects like this one, click HERE.
March 25th, 2012 § § permalink
It’s been way too long. Truth is, the school garden is in full swing and I’ve been busy getting small hands dirty—turning over the winter cover crop, preparing the beds, planting sugar snap peas, packaging and selling spring seeds—it is that time of year. Time to get dirty…. and then time to get cleaned up!
And nothing does the trick better than a handmade sugar scrub. Upon completion of this practical project, you will have a novel and crafty cleanser-softener-smoother-moisturizer combo guaranteed to tempt even the most stubborn grimy kid into the tub. In fact, you and your crafty team will be inclined to make oodles of these scrubs for deserving friends, dedicated teachers or for yourself—yes, even you are entitled to a complete body exfoliation with invigorating natural citrus scent. Not only will your skin be healthy, it will feel smooth and smell delicious.
Natural sugar scrubs are fun, simple, and inexpensive concoctions. No cooking is necessary, and most ingredients can be found right in your kitchen cupboard. Make a big batch, keep some, and give some away.
You’ll need the following:
- A small, clean plastic or glass container with a lid. A short, squat, wide container is best. This could be found in your recycling bin or at a thrift store.
- Sugar. Coarse natural brown or white granulated (raw sugar works great), or a mix of both will work to exfoliate the skin. Do not use soft brown baking sugar.
- Oil. Any oil that originates from a nut or fruit will work as a moisturizer, and will leave your skin soft and hydrated. Light apricot, olive, avocado, jojoba, coconut are good choices. Do not use cooking oil like corn oil—this will make a funky smell and a too-slick feel.
- Natural additives. You may add a small amount of any of the following: citrus juice (orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit), honey, aloe vera, vitamin E oil, essential citrus oil (sweet orange, lemon, grapefruit)
What to do:
Before starting, remind everyone that some ingredients used can sting eyes and that the resulting concoction smells really yummy but tastes really horrible. Yuck!
In general, you’ll want to measure 2 parts sugar to 1 part oil. Add enough oil to turn your sugar into the perfect slushy snow mixture. Pour all ingredients into a small bowl. Stir until ingredients combine. Pour into clean container. Label your container. Cover the label with transparent packing tape.
Now for the fun part:
At the sink, or in the tub or shower, scoop a small amount of the scrub into your hand and massage gently onto your damp skin for a minute to exfoliate and moisturize. Wash it off with water. Pat your skin dry with a clean towel.
You can keep the remaining scrub in the sealed jar. Use the sugar scrub no more than once a week.
For a pick-me-up: An easy way to make your scrub even more luxurious is to add a few drops of your favorite essential oil. Try citrus oil like grapefruit, sweet orange or tangerine.
For extra-dry skin: Add a small amount of Aloe vera gel or vitamin E oil as a moisturizer.
Nice mixes to try: Grapefruit and peppermint; orange, clove and lemon; almond and orange.
Add herbs or flowers to the mix: Shredded ginger, orange peel, lavender flowers, linden flower—all of these are great options.
Things to keep in mind:
- Because you can never be too careful when it comes to your skin, before you use the scrub, do a patch test on the inside of your arm to see how your skin reacts.
- Do not use citrus oil (such as sweet orange, lemon or grapefruit) on your skin before you plan to spend the day in the sun. Your skin is more likely to get sunburned.
- Do not use on your face or neck. And never use it on irritated skin. If you have a sunburn, rash or cut, skip the scrub.
- Also, as with anything that contains oil, a body scrub will make the tub or shower slippery. Do not apply the scrub to the bottoms of your feet while in the shower. You may slip. Also, be sure to give the tub its own “scrub” when you’re done.
BODY SCRUB RECIPES:
O.J. Coconut Scrub
In this scrub, sugar granules gently exfoliate the skin. The combined power of coconut, mango and orange provide nourishment.
1 ½ cup sugar
½ cup coconut oil
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
¼ cup mango puree
To do: Chop mango into small pieces without peel. Place in blender to puree. Mix sugar into coconut oil in a small bowl and stir well to combine. Stir in orange juice and mango puree.
Grapefruit, Aloe Vera Scrub
This scrub makes your skin feel moisturized and fruity fresh.
1 ½ cup sugar
4 Tbs jojoba oil
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs fresh grapefruit juice
2 Tbs aloe vera gel
2 drops grapefruit essential oil
To do: In small bowl, combine sugar, grapefruit oil and juice. Stir well to combine. Add remaining ingredients. Stir well.
Sweet Orange and Lime Scrub
This tropical scrub exfoliates and leaves skin silky smooth.
1 cup sugar
4 Tbs coconut oil
2 Tbs fresh lime juice
6 drops vitamin E oil
2 drops sweet orange essential oil
To do: Mix sugar and oil in a small bowl. Stir to combine. Add remaining ingredients and stir well to make a paste.
Honey and Orange Scrub
Honey is a natural humectant, which means it attracts moisture and keeps it where it should be—under your skin. This scrub hydrates, moisturizes and protects your skin.
1 cup sugar
4 Tbs dark organic honey
2 Tbs fresh orange juice
To do: Mix ingredients until you have a smooth paste.
Salty Sugary Scrub
This scrub leaves your skin soft and moist. Just perfect for dry skin.
½ cup coarse brown sugar
½ cup sea salt or kosher salt
2 Tbs coconut oil
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
2 Tbs dark organic honey
To do: Mix all ingredients until you have a smooth paste.
I originally published this article in Whip Up’s Action Pack Magazine for kids (Issue 6: Zap and Zest). This downloadable high-quality ad-free e-magazine by Kathreen Ricketson is chock full of quality projects for creative curious kids who love to do stuff. Diagrams and photos illustrate each boredom-busting step-by-step kid-friendly project—make a lemon battery, a citric acid fizz popper, cinnamon sticks, wooden jewelry and handmade chalk! For more hands-on projects like this one, click HERE.
February 14th, 2012 § § permalink
Forget the fancy flowers. We are the dreamers of dreams. Give me a thought.
We made a valentine banner. Constructed out of felted wool sweater and cotton fabric scraps and remnant bias tape, it’s printed with thoughtful notes to each other. Simple to make.
Printing on fabric requires an ink jet printer, thin cotton fabric (I just use remnant drapery liner) and freezer paper.
Here are the steps:
- Trim the fabric slightly larger than 8 ½ x 11 inches.
- Place the fabric onto an ironing board (or thick towel).
- Place the shiny side of the freezer paper onto the fabric.
- Iron. Two will become one.
- Trim the fabricky paper to 8 ½ x 11.
- Treat it like a normal piece of paper and place it into your printer with the proper sides up and down. Print your image.
To make a banner like ours, cut the printed material into the desired shape, peel off the freezer paper and sew to a sturdy material (like wool or felt). Cut two small openings in the back of the material and carefully slip bias tape through using a safety pin as a guide.
A simple haiku can get you through the winter and then some.
January 18th, 2012 § § permalink
When my workday has ended, and I have carefully put to bed my small spicy accomplices, I look forward to at least a light snack and a footrest in recognition of my achievement. It would be a shame if this did not happen. I am sorry to say, this is the case with many hardworking beings—nimble industrious laborers who endlessly whirl about finding food, making babies and cultivating crops only to return to, well, an empty snack bowl and an unfurnished apartment.
Small beings have the same basic needs as you and I—food, water, a place to live, and a healthy environment. Amphibians, birds, small mammals, and beneficial insects—many of these busy little creatures, neither destructive nor aggressive, are an important part of our ecosystem. However, due to fast-paced environmental change and habitat reduction, it has become increasingly more challenging for them.
It is easy to encourage these critters and to be good neighbors. Generally, larger areas with diverse vegetation have greater species diversity, but a well-laid-out modest backyard with a variety of food, cover and water can entice a wide assortment of wildlife. The relative location of food, water and cover is what creates usable wildlife habitat. Below are some simple steps to take.
- Do nothing. Allow half of your garden to remain unmanicured. Leave some wild, untamed areas in your backyard. Allow the weeds to grow up and the insects to move in.
- Go organic, or minimize pesticide use. Use compost, not chemicals.
- Reduce the size of your lawn. Instead, plant a wide variety of flowering native plants to attract beneficial insects such as ladybugs, ground beetles, rove beetles, lacewings and praying mantises. Choose long-blooming, nectar-rich flowers and plants that bloom at different times of the season.
- Feed them and they will come. Plant bushes and trees with edible fruit. Don’t snip dead flowers. The seeds within them provide essential food for many animals. Leave fallen trees or leaves in place whenever possible to allow birds to hunt for insects. Keep birdfeeders stocked with thistle, safflower and black oil sunflower seed. If you start feeding, don’t stop during the winter months.
- Landscape with features that appeal to you. A bed of vibrant flowers, a shady spot under a tree, a privacy hedge, colorful fall berries, and evergreen winter shrubs are pleasing to everybody, including backyard critters.
- Add a birdbath. Birds need a dependable supply of fresh, clean water for drinking and bathing. The best birdbath mimics nature—gently sloping, shallow, and shady at ground level. Change the water once a week.
- Provide nooks in the backyard with a variety of nesting material. Hang concentrated stashes in tree crevices, berry baskets, or mesh bags. Fallen leaves, unraked twigs, dry grass, straw, pet fur, sheep wool, feathers, bark strips, pine needles, small sticks and twigs, yarn, string, and thin strips of cloth all make excellent nest materials.
- If you have a birdhouse, add a roost box. Birds only nest during spring and summer. Overwintering birds such as chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and small woodpeckers require large nesting cavities during winter months.
Be patient. Depending on your property size, it may take several years to see all the desired results. Make a plan now, and, come spring, put out a vacancy sign. Give vegetation time to become established, and the tenants will move in.
Soon, you will receive tiny handwritten messages regarding extra storage space, laundry and parking facilities; high-pitched calls about hooking up teeny home theater components and keeping microscopic exotic pets; and little notes about room service and spa treatments.
January 4th, 2012 § § permalink
Almost two years ago, through a local educational grant, I was among a group of parents, students, teachers and administrators who helped establish a vegetable garden at our grade school. We designed and installed a 25’ x 40’ garden with nine rectangular wood-framed beds, permanent above- and below-ground fencing, and an underground high-efficiency drip irrigation system.
Today, our small gardening program provides benefits that reach well beyond the garden gate. Our small garden helps teach an environmental ethic, helps demystify the concept of food production, and helps get kids really dirty. In December, we harvested the hearty carrots and turnips and watched our winter cover crop come up. In January, we keep small busy hands warm inside. Now we plant paperwhites.
Bulbs are miraculous little storehouses that hold not only a future flower, but also a stockpile of plant fuel required to produce an entire season of blooms. Here in New York’s Hudson Valley, typical hardy flower bulbs and the bulbs we eat (onions, shallots, garlic) require a chilling period before bloom or harvest time. Cool temperatures spark an internal biochemical response that triggers the embryonic flower to start its development. Most flower bulbs (tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, crocus, Dutch iris, scilla) require 16 to 18 weeks of cold before the flower is fully formed. Once the blooms have faded, the bulb is nourished by the foliage and is equipped to produce flowers next season. It is a self-sustaining cycle.
Unlike most bulbs, Narcissus papyraceus is uncomplicated and quiet and doesn’t ask for much. Native to the southeastern Mediterranean’s warm climates, paperwhites are coaxed into indoor bloom with very little effort. Kept evenly moist in a bowlful of pebbles in the sun, they are reliable to the point of being foolproof. The outcome: fast-blooming star-shaped clusters of delicate white sweet-scented flowers—instant gratification in the dead of a northeast winter.
Paperwhites will bloom about 4 to 6 weeks after planting, so if you’d like flowers for special occasions, plan accordingly. For continuous bloom throughout the winter, plant bulbs every two weeks from now until mid-February.
How to plant paperwhites:
- Choose firm top size unsprouted bulbs, free of blemishes or discoloration. Select a watertight container 4- to 5-inches in height. Be creative—a small salad bowl, glazed pottery, clear glass vase or wide-mouthed jar is perfect for the job. Choose a size that’s wide enough to hold a small quantity of bulbs shoulder to shoulder.
- Spread a layer of clean river rocks, marbles, glass beads, or gravel along the bottom of the container. Gently position the bulbs, pointed end up, on top of the medium. Paperwhites prefer a big crowd, so squeeze them in. The more the merrier! Add another layer of anchoring material (rocks, etc.) to fill any gaps. Cover the bulbs up to their shoulders, leaving the pointed tips exposed.
- To avoid bulb rot, fill the container with just enough water so it contacts the roots, but not the bulb. Dutch farmers say to keep the water close enough so the bulb can “sniff” it, but not touch it.
- Set the container in a cool location with indirect light. Replenish the water every 2 to 3 days. Be patient. When roots develop in 2 to 3 weeks, move the container to a sunny window with southern exposure. Once the plants flower, remove the bulbs from direct sunlight and place them in a cooler place with indirect or diffused light.
- Ahhh! Spring in the midst of winter!
December 15th, 2011 § § permalink
It’s become clear that sometime during the next few weeks or so, you may have something to give me. Quite possibly it will be something that doesn’t cost much. Maybe it will be free—a shoulder massage, a ukulele tutorial, a list of trustworthy sitters, your timeshare in Antrim, Ireland—in any case, since you know I am a surprise-junkie, it will likely require some sort of superawesome wrapping to ambush and wow me.
This will be easily done, I think, since it is still fall here and I’ve recently discovered some mind-blowing tutorials HERE and HERE on transforming fall leaves into crafty decorative flowers—perfect for topping off your thoughtful gift. I understand you may be concerned that fall is coming to a close, and leaves are becoming scarce and crinkly and delicate, and it might just take longer than expected for you to figure out just how to get those leaves folded. Just. Perfectly. I am here to prepare you for alternatives.
This project requires a Felted Wool Ball, needle and thread, remnant wool felt, and a small collection of felted sweaters. First, prepare the “petals” for the project. With sharp sewing scissors, cut the felted sweaters into long zigzaggy strips, leaving a connection on the bottom edge—pointy or rounded tops. Cut thin sweaters into narrow strips (for inner petals) and thick sweaters into wider strips (for outer petals).
I keep a stash of these strips handy for noteworthy projects like button bracelets and collars for small lively monster friends.
Next (and this is optional) use a felting needle, felting pad and skinny wool roving to embellish the wool ball, adding spirals or dots or anything else superfancy (see Dry Felting).
With needle and thread in hand, stitch the bottom edge of one narrow zigzaggy strip around the sides of the felted ball until you meet up with the starting point. Cut off the extra end of the strip. Stitch a wider zigzaggy strip around the sides of the ball, matching bottom edges and overlapping the first strip until you meet up with the starting point. Cut off the end. Stitch a third (the widest) zigzaggy strip over the first two. Cut off the end.
Next, cut a large leaf-shaped piece of wool felt. Place this piece on the bottom of your flower and sew around the edges, attaching it to your flower top and covering the rough zigzaggy strip edges. Good job.
Gift ribbons can be easily made with light cotton fabric scrap. Cut in about an inch from the edge. Grab fabric edges and pull away, leaving raw-edged ribbon.
Wrap your gift with a larger fabric scrap, tying with raw-edged ribbon.
With needle and thread, secure flower onto ribbon. Ta da!
Note: don’t attempt perfection with these felted flowers. As with other projects, quirky outcomes are preferred over conventional. That said, remind yourself that, in nature, some flowers are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, and some even lose petals.
Celebrate the uniqueness.