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bird feeding

A lot of you probably have bird feeders around your home. It’s a great way to see birds up close. It is a good supplement for local birds, as long as it is kept filled. But birds will sometimes rely on feeders and then when they aren’t filled or are taken away they may struggle to find natural sources, especially during winter.

A great alternative is to bring birds to your home by growing native plants that offer not only food but shelter and last for several seasons and can also be perennial feeders.

The Audubon Native Plant Database is a great tool to find the best plants for the birds in your area.  I did a search for my area and found more than 70 plants paired with the birds that feed from them.  Growing bird-friendly plants will attract and protect the birds you love while making your space beautiful, easy to care for, and better for the environment.

Another bit of gardening I have written about before is “guerilla gardening.” One of the methods is using “seed bombs” (AKA seed balls, for gentler folks) as a way to plant native plants in bare areas like vacant lots.

They are made using clay as a way to retain moisture as the seeds germinate and provide some protection from wind, sun – and hungry birds who would get at them before they sprout. People use artist’s clay, but clay powder, or unscented clay kitty litter can be mixed with water and is cheaper.

You mix in seed-starting soil or fine compost as a nutrient (dirt from your yard will probably add weed seeds which is not good).

Most important is adding seeds of plants that are native to your area. The database mentioned above helps there.


All the gardeners I know, including myself, feel better when we are working in the garden. Some people say it is a meditative experience – a way to separate yourself from the troubles of the everyday.

I love getting my hands into the soil. I rarely wear gloves because I like the feel of the soil.

Recent research has given some scientific basis for that good feeling we get in working the soil. Contained in soil is Mycobacterium vaccae, a nonpathogenic species of bacteria. It occurs naturally. Researchers have been studying how killed Mycobacterium vaccae vaccine might be used as immunotherapy for allergic asthma, cancer, leprosy, psoriasis, dermatitis, eczema, tuberculosis, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis – and depression.

That last area of research is what brings me to happy soil. It has recently been hypothesized that exposure to Mycobacterium vaccae may result in an antidepressant effect, because it stimulates the generation of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. There may be some natural Prozac in that dirt.

Lack of serotonin is linked to depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and bipolar problems. Many antidepressant drugs are ones that trigger the production of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain.

Now, don’t go out in the backyard and start eating dirt. Working the soil means we make contact with the microbes through the skin and also by breathing some in as we stir up the soil.

The research shows that these microbes cause cytokine levels to rise and that results in the production of higher levels of serotonin. In the studies, the bacterium was tested both by injection and ingestion – but that was on rats. The natural antidepressant effect can be felt for up to 3 weeks.

Maybe those pigs and other animals rolling in the dirt were doing more than keeping cool and keeping off insects.


I did no spring planting until today. Today is the New Moon and the melted snow, spring rain and warmer days probably has many of us outside planting or preparing for planting this weekend.

If planting and Moon lore mix together for you, then you may have been observing the unscientific but ancient tradition of planting root crops the past two weeks during the waning moon that happens after the full moon and until the new moon.

With today’s New Moon, you would plant your above-ground crops as the waxing moon thickens, like the wax drippings of a candle from today until the May Full Moon on the 4th.

Science will not support this practice, but the belief was that the moon’s magnetic force pulls everything that contains water, and so the water in plants and even in seeds will make leafy plants seek the Moon during its waxing phase. Conversely, root crops growing below the ground will be pushed down, away from the moon, during the waning phase. If you missed getting those root crops in earlier this month, you can try again during the May phases.


I wrote about tonight’s Full Moon as sometimes being referred to as the Lenten Moon. Egg Moon and as the Moon of the Winds.

Lent began on Ash Wednesday and is a time for sacrificing as it’s the season of penance and prayer, which is why many fast, give up something (food or otherwise) that they normally enjoy, and I think it can be connected in  secular ways to lots of other ways of welcoming the season with a “spring-cleaning” for your life.

I have been writing about this time of year and about spring planting and planting by the Egg Full Moon for a few years. The March Full Moon is also called the Planter’s Moon sometimes, but this year it comes too early for me to be in the garden. There are still patches of snow and lots of mud.

But I am hopeful in this season of seed and garden catalogs that the melting snow, spring rains and warmer days are coming and I can prepare for planting, even if it’s not warm enough to actually plant where you live.

moon plantingMoon folklore about planting says that you should plant root crops during the waning moon (after the full moon and until the new moon) and plant your above-ground crops during the waxing moon (as the moon thickens, like the wax drippings of a candle) from the new moon until the next full moon.

Why? This unscientific practice was based on the belief that the moon’s magnetic force pulls everything that contains water – from oceans to our blood and including water in plants and seeds. Following that line of thought, green leafy plants will seek the moon during its waxing phase and root crops growing below the ground will push their energy down, away from the moon, during its waning phase.

If it’s too cold for garden work where you are, as it is in Paradelle, then you can consider the possibilities this Egg Moon season. Long symbolic of spring, regeneration and rebirth, eggs are associated with both religious holidays and cultural celebrations. Domesticated hens do begin laying more eggs with longer days and many wild bird species also lay their eggs now.

Humans are imitators with their decorated eggs. That goes back to the ancient Persians who painted eggs for Nowrooz, their New Year celebration, which falls on the Spring equinox. In Persepolis, there are paintings of  show people carrying eggs to the king.

At the Jewish Passover Seder, a hard-boiled egg dipped in salt water symbolizes the Passover sacrifice offered at the Temple in Jerusalem.

The pre-Christian Saxons had a spring goddess called Eostre, whose feast was held on the Vernal Equinox, around March 21. Eostre’s special animal was the spring hare (rabbit) and that association of eggs, rabbits and spring is all mixed into the cultural aspects of  Easter.


Benjamin Franklin. We know him for many things. Did you know that he also introduced rhubarb to America?

When he was representing the American colonies as an ambassador in London, her sent a crate of rhubarb to his friend John Bartram. John Bartram was also responsible for introducing kohlrabi and poinsettias to America.

Rhubarb is a plant that is native to central Asia, but plants had been introduced in Europe by traders. The rhubarb that Franklin sent to America had come to London from Siberia.

I think of rhubarb as something my grandmother and my mother grow in the garden and used in applesauce and mixed into a wonderful strawberry rhubarb pie.

Until I did a bit of research, I didn’t realize that Siberian rhubarb extract is sold as a natural remedy with claims that it helps with “sleep disturbances, irritability, anxiety, exhaustion, joint and muscle complaints, even women’s sexual problems.”

Rhubarb first appeared in American seed catalogs in 1829, and soon became a popular ingredient in pies.


Rutgers football may be just entering the Big Ten this fall, but the Rutgers tomato was in the top 10 of tomatoes starting in the 1950s. For several decades the Rutgers tomato reigned in popularity for its Jersey tomato taste. It was tart, sweet, tender, round, red and ripened on the vine.

Companies, like Campbell Soup, loved them for juice, soup and ketchup. So why use the past tense when talking about this variety? It fell victim to commerce.  As the interstate highway system expanded in the 1950s, more produce was being trucked longer distances. The soft Rutgers tomato did not travel well. Scientists worked on developing varieties that did travel.

Those newer hybrids were firmer with thicker skins and interior walls and could be ripened after picking.  And they tasted lousy.

I have been a backyard gardener since I was a kid helping my father. We planted Rutgers tomatoes. My father saved seeds from the best ones for next year. But I moved on to buying plants at the garden center and at some point in the 1980s the Rutgers plants disappeared.


Lots of cherry tomatoes in July. Pop them in your mouth right in the garden.

My tomatoes only travel about 100 feet, so “shippability” doesn’t matter – taste does. The next generation tomato from Rutgers was the Ramapo, developed in 1968 which had a good ten-year run, disappeared and the was reintroduced in 2008. It tastes like a Jersey tomato, but doesn’t ripen until August. Gardeners and farmer like a product in July.

“Heirloom” tomatoes were big for a few years. Those are varieties that go back pre-WWII. Nostalgic, but flawed for the same reasons that they fell away in the 1950s; they cracked, softened in heavy rain, got fungus and other diseases and you ended up throwing too many away. So much for nostalgia.

It probably surprises folks that New Jersey, even with its disappearing  farmland, still ranks fourth in the nation in value of agricultural products sold per acre.

The tomato that we often find in stores now is pretty dreadful compared to what I can pick in my backyard.  Stores, and many consumers, want firmness and picture-perfect fruit. Now that a lot of production is in Florida, California and Mexico,  those supermarket tomatoes are picked green and then gassed with ethylene to turn a sickly red, then refrigerated for shipping. Tomato gardeners know that you never refrigerate your tomatoes unless you want to halt ripening.

I have to plant one yellow tomato for my sister - a fan of the

I have to plant one yellow tomato for my sister – a fan of the “low acid.”

My mom showed me the gassing method without knowing the science. Put some half-ripe tomatoes in a brown bag with a few slices of an apple and close it up. She couldn’t tell you why it worked, but it did. It didn’t taste like one picked off a plant, carried into the kitchen, sliced and eaten with a little salt, or olive oil and some oregano., but better than the store-bought ones that she called “greenhouse tomatoes.”

The Rutgers agriculture people have been working to resurrect the Rutgers tomato we once knew and are down to a dozen or so contenders from several hundred. It will be a Rutgers tomato reborn.

They have been having a Great Tomato Tasting for the past few years (this year’s will be at the end of August) where regular folks taste and rate.

The new name is still undecided. “Rutgers250” is a possibility to mark its debut in 2016 which is the 250th anniversary of the college. We’ll see if it tastes like the summer of 1962, but hopefully it will taste like summer.


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A cake appropriate for a Jersey girl turned California girl.  Happy day and year! #foreveryoung She wants film. She wants to go outside. She loves light. Something always remains. Textile Goddess, by Victoria Pero. (Hamilton Club Gallery, Paterson) It is a day to be quiet and pensive. Line ‘em up.


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