Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree …

September 20th, 2009

Shopping for apples in a supermarket you are likely to find just a handful of names. Red or Golden Delicious – a misleading name if there ever was one because as hard as I try I can find nothing the least bit delicious about them – then there is Jonathan, Granny Smith, McIntosh, and just a few more. As far as I am concerned not a one among them to get excited about.

Out of the thousands of varieties of apples why do we only find a handful in the stores? Because in order for apples to be of use to the professional grower they must have certain characteristics;  being tough enough to transport is probably number one on the list, resistance to certain diseases is another, closely followed by how long the fruit will keep nice and crisp looking, and then of course the trees have to produce reliably year after year.

If you were to look at the apple trees in our garden right now, their branches so heavy with fruit they in places touch the ground, you might be tempted to conclude that these varieties would be in the list of must haves.  Their skins so beautiful they appear as if someone had taken a paint brush to them, a taste that must be experienced, sweet and juicy and tart at the same time. Most of the trees have been around so long that generations of wood-peckers have been raised in the holes in their branches. They look like the old warriors they are, gnarled and bent, yet still they produce an abundance of delicious fruit. Every other year that is. This year we don’t know what to do with the harvest, next year we might, if we are really, really lucky, get a dozen apples from five big trees.

In another week or so we will start picking, but since everything in our garden is allowed to grow naturally without pesticides or chemical feritlizers, there is a bit of windfall. And this is where the title of this post comes into play – do not venture under the apple tree on a breezy day, unless you are equipped with a footbal helmet that is ;)

Recycling and such

July 28th, 2009

there appear to be as many ways to recycle as the number of creative people interested in recycling. It is amazing how many ideas people dream up.

I took a rare afternoon off last week. I spent the time at a friend’s house drinking “Eiskaffee” (no no, not cold coffee with ice cubes, but the European version,  made with the same basic cold coffe to which a generous scoop of ice cream has been added, topped with a healthy dollop of whipped cream -  if you have never tried this, go for it, live a little and worry about the calories another time ;)

We were sitting on the edge of a pond, feet dangling in the water, sipping this fabulous concoction, counting butterflies, listening to bird song, and talking about whatever came to mind.  There are 16 apricot trees in my friend’s garden that produced an unbelievable amount of luscious, sweet, ripe apricots this year, thus the best way to preserve the fruit was one of the topics that came up. I love apricot jam, and in order to get that from the cooking pot into the jars with the minimum amount of drips and spills I have gone through girations from using little ladles to cutting the tips off funnels. One of my friends cuts a plastic bottle in half and uses the pouring end as a funnel. No fuss, no mess, you don’t even have to wash it afterwards, just toss it when you are done. Pretty neat, huh?

Do you have obsolete CDs hanging around? String them up! Do you have fruit trees or berry bushes in your garden? Hang a few CDs on the branches and the birds will stay away. I saw this in a restaurant garden where a giant horse chestnut tree sparkled with CDs. Pretty nasty to have birds sitting above your food.

For more great ideas you can look here.

Or share your ideas. I’d love to hear them.

Plastic bottles and their uses.

July 12th, 2009

Ask anyone and they will undoubtedly tell you that plastic bottles are bad for the environment, their manufacture requires oil based products,  they take a long time to decompose, and even though they can be recycled many plastic bottles wind up in garbage dumps and landfills, and that is especially the case for bottled water that is not consumed in or near the home. So what to do with all that bulky waste?

How about using plastic bottles to generate energy.  Industrial designer Chris Allen has developed a plan to use stacks of capped plastic bottles to build huge platforms in the ocean to generate energy. Certainly an interesting idea if one can ignore the danger of these towers disintegrating, and littering the ocean with millions of bottles.

Or, on a much smaller scale of course, one can take an example of what must have been a school project in a nearby village. Plastic bottles, each a unique specimen, painted and glued into various forms, mounted on sticks and merrily spinning in the breeze were in front of many houses. Real eye catchers.

I found a use for plastic bottles too, not as artistic as these, but quite useful still. I put them on the ends of the poles that hold the tomatoes so I don’t poke out my eyes when I bend over them ;)

Crooked cucumbers are back!

July 7th, 2009

in case you missed the earth shattering announcement a few days ago let me be the first to inform you that … drum roll please … crooked cucumbers are coming back! Cukes and 25 other varieties of fruit and vegetables with less than perfect shapes will be allowed to be sold in stores again. If you live in a country that belongs to the European Union that is. And isn’t that impressive enough to make your heart beat faster. It is truly amazing how long it took the various commissions in Brussels to realize that ruling on curvature, shape and color of fruit and veggies might just be a bit of overkill and excessive in terms of bureaucracy. Didn’t anyone tell these people that nature does not usually grow things uniformly and perfect? But not to worry, there is enough of these inane laws left in place to put the sparkle back in the eyes of any pedant. Ten items, apples, citrus fruit, kiwi, lettuce, peaches and nectarines, strawberries, peppers, grapes and tomatoes, will have to be labelled if they are non-conformant to the standards devised by the wise men and women of the European Commission.

Instead of worrying about perfection I would be much more impressed if some of the old varieties that were known for how good they tasted were coming back. I take a lopsided tomato with flavor and aroma over the overbred bright red perfectly round hard tasteless globes that we find on the shelves of most super markets. And whatever happened to the many varieties of potatoes which used to be available? There are about 5500 known varieties of potatoes, so how come we can only choose between baking, for salad, mashing, early, or not? That to me is not progress but a step in the wrong direction. To think that we we are paying representatives for this silliness. But then dealing with produce is probably less controversial than having to worry about climate change, energy crisis, the environmental impact of industrial waste just to mention a few. Some form of identification of the distance an item had to travel to reach us would be a good thing, tell us the environmental impact and let us decide whether we like what we see. Instead, they discuss how perfect a piece of fruit must be in order to be sold in a market? Somone tell these clowns to get in touch with reality. Please. . .

carefully testing the waters …

June 28th, 2009

well, that was quite a break from blogging, and if you think I was just goofing off let me tell you I really truly wasn’t. Things got in the way, mostly work, and though I was tempted many times to talk about things that might be of interest these thoughts never made it to the virtual paper. Procrastination I guess, combined with a need to just step back for a while.

But first I have to tell you that I am thrilled/amazed/blown away by the fact that some of you actually missed my posts! If that is not encouragement I don’t know what is ;) So my sencere thanks to you for giving me that extra push that I apparently needed.

Many things have happened, and focussing on the positive, one of the first things that comes to mind is the Clean Energy bill that passed the House of Representatives just a few days ago, sadly with not as much support as one could wish for and not nearly enough for what we would need, but maybe we have to count our blessings that it even made it this far. The combination of industry and money is such a powerful force that what happens to the environment seems inconsequential. And we must not forget the coal plants that are still spewing dirt and poisons into the air. There is still a lot to be corrected.

On the other hand people are getting together to take up the slack where governments fail.  Ocean Grove is a small and fabulously pictureque town on the New Jersey shore, just south of Asbury Park (yep, that is the place where Bruce Springstein with the E Street Band played at the Stone Pony  – I had to throw that in just because ;)  where cars used to be banned on Sundays. Ocean Grove bills itself as ‘God’s square mile at the Jersey shore’ and the no-car rule was until a few years ago enforced for purely religious reasons. Now there are towns springing up, I read about one of them recently in Germany, where people ban motorized vehicles from the streets. You want to live there you better know you have to park on the outskirts.  Isn’t that a great idea though, cleaner air, no traffic noise, a safe place for kids to play, it is something one could get used to.

JG supplied the picture of one of the yellow daisies that will take over the world if I don’t get out there soon ;)

Earth Day 2009

April 22nd, 2009

April 22nd has always been  a special occasion in our family, a celebration way before we even knew there was an  ‘Earth Day’. You see, April 22nd is also my brother’s birthday – so bear with me when I shout – HAVE A HAPPY BIRTHDAY, and many more, brother dear! He is still my baby brother and I love him dearly, even though his beard these days is more white than brown, and his hair, well, as they say, god gives and god taketh away ;)

Which brings me to this day when we supposedly stop to think about our earth and how we take care of it.  Maybe therein lies the problem – one day out of the year? If we want to see any measure of progress we have to be aware not once a year but every single day in how we live our lives, in the actions we take as individuals and as a group.

A year ago things looked quite dire and the temptation to give in to desperation was huge. Now? I have a strong feeling that things are beginning to head in a very different direction. The new administration is moving right along proposing changes that are good for the environment and even attempting to undo what the previous administration so casually and callously implemented.

And still – if I only look at the reports within the past month or so – scary stuff.

;( Promises by the biotechnology industry that its genetically engineered crops will produce higher yields turns out to be not quite factual. The increase in yield is negligible, the use of pesticide and fertilizer however quite large.

;( Reports claiming that U.S. manufacturers, including major drug companies, have released at least 271 million pounds (!) of pharmaceuticals into waterways that provide drinking water. Quite legally it seems.

;( A story about legal issues related to the pesticide ICON manufactored by  Bayer CropScience. It appears that when rice farmers used ICON to control rice weevils the pesticide also sterilized crawfish which were raised in the same fields as the rice. Splitting hairs whether this unfortunate event is caused by negligence or callousness, the end result is still the spoiling of the environment, countless people losing their livelihood, and it will take years and years to eliminate the results of these poisons.

Scary, isn’t it! The motive? None other than greed.

But, there is also positive news.

-) ‘The US government is to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, having decided that it and five other greenhouse gases may endanger human health and well-being.’ This is quite a switch from the Bush administration which ruled that California for instance could not set targets for vehicle efficiency.

-) The administration has a ‘Vision of High-Speed Rail in America‘ that would link communities across the U.S.

-) Under pressure from shareholders McDonald’s will opt for less pesticides in potatoes used in their kitchens.

-) Good news also on my side of the ocean – Germany barred genetically modified corn even though it is allowed (encouraged?) by the European Union, and of course by the chemical companies that manufacture it.

So on this Earth Day of 2009 I hope that we all come to realize that if we do not take responsibility for our actions in our daily lives, put pressure on our government, on various companies that put profit over environment, on anyone who can make a difference, we may not have much to pass on to our children and their children. As I look out my window the sun is shining, the apple trees are in full bloom, birds are singing, what a treasure we have. Let us treat our earth with the care it deserves, and give the generations that follow a chance to enjoy a healthy environment where the water runs clear and the air smells of flowers.

Cooking the eco-friendly way

April 9th, 2009

Some truly innovative ideas are born out of necessity, in this case however they come from a contest for green ideas. First prize went to the Kyoto Box, a solar cooker made from two cardboard boxes lined with reflective foil and black paint that can reach temperature of at least 80°C.

Not only is this solar cooker easily made, it eliminates the need for cutting and gathering wood in many places on earth where trees are a rarity. Take the time to read the article. It is fascinating.

Spring cleaning the green way

March 23rd, 2009

Spring is just around the corner, or so they want us to believe because you sure could fool me if I look at the rain and listen to the wind howling; but as the weather turns warmer comes the desire to let in lots of fresh air, and to get rid of the accumulation of wintry grime around the house. It is the time when we want to have clean windows so we can admire the flowers or look at the birds, give the bathroom a good scrubbing, clean the kitchen cabinets, the oven – you get the idea, right?  Except the work itself is drudgery, it is not something I look forward to and in the past I was forever looking for new products to try. However …

now is a time to think green once more. We are careful how we shop, what we eat, doesn’t it make sense to also keep to the same standards when cleaning? And just in time I discovered this article that not only ensures that no poisons get introduced into the home, but shows how we can actually make cleaning products quite easily and a lot cheaper. The ingredients are easily available, you probably don’t even have to run to the store for many of the recipes. Great stuff, try it out!

The federal vegetable patch

March 20th, 2009

With the days getting a little bit warmer and fewer reminders of winter out there, my mind has been going round and round about what to plant this spring in my vegetable garden. Apparently this condition is not unique to me. It seems also the case in Washington. I just found out that the First Lady, Michelle Obama, is also planning a vegetable garden on the south lawn of the White House where she intends to grow healthy, organically grown foods. Sure sounds to me like the petitions many of us signed had an effect.

first harbinger of spring

March 16th, 2009

as I opened the window this morning it was evident that spring is not far in coming. There is a sweetness in the air, the birds have dug out their songbook with chipper tunes, and when I go outside spring flowers have pushed up through the earth seemingly overnight.

A lovely time of year, this early ‘not quite there yet’ time between winter and true spring where anything is still possible; there might be snow tomorrow, but today, ah today, the first bee is busy flying from one crocus to the next, the sun is warm on my face, and my legs carry me to the still dormant vegetable garden. My blood starts to hum – soon, soon . . .