Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Chestnuts Making a Comeback

Monday's Washington Post had a really cool article on those hoping to stage a comeback for the American Chestnut tree.

In the article, several researchers noted that if they succeeded they wouldn't likely live to see the fruits of their labors, literally, since it will take 75 to 100 years to know if the trees they are working on can be reestablished in the forests of the Eastern US.

I have often encouraged friends and neighbors to plant trees that won't be truly mature until long after we have all passed on. Not many people do that any more, although it used to be standard practice on farms because people planted with the fortunes of their children and grandchildren in mind and assumed their offspring would inherit the very earth around them. In a way, the article on Monday illustrated that same idea, only writ large.

Removing Rx From the Watershed with Federal Help

According to my friends who service on the Montgomery County Water Quality Advisory Group, our county's recent effort to work with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on the collection of unused or leftover pharmaceuticals was a success. The collection event occured on September 25 in Rockville and Bethesda and 22 boxes of pharmaceuticals were collected.

It would be great to have the county participate in this type of event on a regular basis.

Pharmaceuticals in local waterways have been recently connected with many ecological problems, including intersex fish. (It is believed that the majority of what shows up in local watersheds is likely from human waste water.) Unused prescription drugs can also pose a safety hazard in many homes.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

All that Beautiful Poison Ivy?

Is is possible for something be to really annoying and beautiful at the same time?

There's no mistaking the annoyance factor of poison ivy. One brush with this vigorous native plant and you'll itch and itch.

But at the same time, it is one of the first plants to become really fantastically beautiful in the early fall. Sometimes one vine will stretch up and out for twenty five feet more, ablaze in shades of orange, yellow and scarlet red over the still-green trees.

Surely the birds might find it beautiful, since many find this vine's berries so nutrionally valuable. They don't itch from exposure, they just get a feast. Maybe the color even helps them locate those poison ivy feasts quickly during their long, hard migrations south.

Maybe. Just a hypothesis.

But seeing as how I'm not a bird, I'll enjoy my hypothesizing and poison ivy leaf-peeping from a distance, thanks.

Learn About Our Own Local Locavores.

Calling all locavores and locavore-wannabes:

On Sunday, October 24, from 2:30 - 4:00pm Montgomery Victory Gardens will host an event celebrating "The Future of Food and Farming in Montgomery County" at Blueberry Gardens Farm in Ashton, just 12 miles north of downtown Silver Spring, a holistic healing center and the only organic blueberry farm in Montgomery County.

Montgomery Victory Gardens is the county's leading non-profit working to develop a healthy, sustainable, truly local food system. Gordon Clark, the project's director, will give a short presentation on local farming issues, including everything from school vegetable gardens to land use policy in our county's large but underutilized Agricultural Reserve.

Our featured guests at the event will be recording artists "emma's revolution!"

Suggested donation is $25, but all contributions are welcome - and are all 100% tax-deductible.

For directions and information visit the MVG website or call Ellen at 301-774-3636.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Seneca Creek State Park: Just Us and the Stink Bugs

I have to confess that Christopher Columbus was far from our thoughts on Monday. But all the same we were grateful that the for his holiday when we headed out with the kids. The sky was cerulean and almost cloudless and although it was a bit warm in the sun, the shade was dry, cool and comfortable. A perfect day to hike.

In reality, hiking with kids is never easy. No matter what the weather, both of my kids joyfully take to the trail for about a mile or so, then there’s an awful lot of whining that must be quieted until we get back to the end of the trail loop.

So although visions of Shenandoah and the Skyline Drive danced in my head I quickly did a reality check: a long drive causes as much whining as a long hike, so that seemed like a doubly bad proposition.

Instead we headed up to Seneca Creek State Park in Gaithersburg. Although this park is only a short distance from our house, we had never checked it out. Being a Baltimore girl I was always much more likely to head to Patapsco State Park when I wanted to get out in the woods and goof around. That just was more familiar.

What I learned on Monday, though, was that Seneca has a lot of offer, too, especially for a family with young kids. The lake is beautiful, and although we didn’t go for the fishing we saw a lot of families who were out with poles on Monday. As we took to the trails we found ourselves almost completely alone with the birds, including a few Pileated woodpeckers. Maybe Seneca is a kind of well-kept secret.

There is one kind of visitor that knows the place very well, though -- we were hounded by brown marmorated stink bugs for almost the entire hike. At one point I had at least ten of them on my shirt, as did each of my kids. There were smears of dead stink bugs on the parking lots, and as we drove off at the end of the day I had to pluck them off of my legs and shoes or risk stinking up the entire car.

I am not sure why I found this surprising. I kind of assumed that the stink bugs were mostly making themselves at home in suburban areas, where tidy, warm houses offer many places to tuck in on cold days. Our suburban neighborhood has seen its share of these invaders, but it was nothing compared to what we saw at Seneca.

In fact, it seemed like the deeper we went in the woods the more stink bugs we encountered. (We had the same experience at our favorite pick-your-own apple orchard last week as well, where the stink bugs had done a real number on the farmer’s lovely crops, putting corky pits into many of the nicest red apple skins.)

In spite of the stink bugs, we ended up walking for about three miles, which is actually pretty modest for our family hikes. And although those miles were pretty flat and easy, the kids did indeed whine for the last mile or so. And not because of the stink bugs.

My theory is that most of their whining on long hikes actually comes from an inability to fathom how much farther they have to go. I try to show them on the map but I think that they can’t really make relative comparisons for long distances. It just seems to them like it is never going to end. Then when it does they are always pretty proud of themselves. I think that the more they hike the more they will be able to mentally gauge the relativity of their endurance to a mile on a map.

Once we got home my theory seemed even more valid. While my husband and I both stretched out to take a rest on some big, comfy chairs, the kids saw some friends outside and went running up and down the block enthusiastically with their pals for several more hours. And I even heard them brag about the great hike we had just taken. So much for worrying that we’d exhausted them out in the woods!

Next time we go to Seneca I want to check out the historic one-room Seneca Schoolhouse Museum. Seems like it might make a great history field trip, especially if the stink bugs subside a bit.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Native Plant Sale in Baltimore

The Herring Run Nursery up in Baltimore will host two more plant sales this fall on October 9 & 24.
I love this organization because they are doing great things with native plants in a very urban area of Baltimore, my hometown. Although it is a bit of a drive from DC, it is worth it when you consider that your plant purchases help a great local non-profit.

Their nursery has a sizable selection of native trees, shrubs, and vines and a limited selection of native perennials. Sale times are 12:00-4:00 PM for both dates. (For an up-to-date plant list you can visit their website or call 410-254-1577 ext 104.)