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Saving the Planet…read it and weep OR become a better gardener?

This snowy morning I opened the newspaper to find:

  • a story about California’s drought: 600,000 acres of farmland will receive no water from reservoirs or canals this year because there is no water in them. What a weather disaster. It’s a drought fifteen years in the making but made worse by Arctic melting which allows heat to escape into the atmosphere and park as a high pressure ridge off the California coast, forcing rain to go way north. The water resources are strained, of course, by the water needs of California’s population and housing growth. This made me think, “Plant More Vegetables in the Garden this Year.” And, “Despite all the snow, we are just coming out of drought. Lake Michigan is still historically low so turn off the lawn sprinklers…”.

drought

  • a story about the huge (82,000 tons! tons! More than Love Canal!) coal ash spill by Duke Energy into the usually beautiful 200-mile Dan River in Raleigh, North Carolina. Really, coal companies? Again? Didn’t we just go through the same thing in West Virginia? Don’t we all know that we cannot invent the precious asset of water? California certainly believes water is its #1 priority. Texas legislators agreed to take $2B of their oil revenue to build water infrastructure.  We as a nation must stand tall and keep clean what remaining water we have, including by guaranteeing that private infrastructure is in good repair or that septics are replaced with high caliber water treatment facilities. [By the way, Duke is a huge conglomerate which in November, 2013, paid out $1 million in penalties for knowingly violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act when it killed 14 golden eagles and dozens of other birds in the way it constructed a wind turbine farm in Wyoming.] And this company is run by two women–where are their values? I expect better of gals…

dan-river-plant-greenpeace-304xx553-878-0-0-1

  • and a story about President Obama attending a summit this coming week with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico, Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada, and other North American leaders in Toluca, Mexico, just an hour’s drive from the mountains where Monarch butterflies overwinter. The world’s science and writing community is asking the leaders to pay attention to this area because of the ecological havoc we’ve created for Monarchs (ie non-human migrants). The butterfly area HAS SHRUNK TO 1.19 HECTARES (yes, you read it right) from 45 hectares (1 hectare=2.5 acres)  in 1996. While the area has been greatly deforested despite the creation of a biosphere (it gets “timber poached”), the small and shrinking habitat size actually means something else. It means that very few Monarchs arrived from the United States last year. Why? Because we Americans converted 15 million MORE acres of land to RoundUP Ready corn and soybeans, so every time we spray the corn we kill the Common milkweed–which grows best in disturbed areas like (hold it, get ready) CORNFIELDS!

Monarch-forests

Here’s some “guerrilla” efforts for you to do if you feel otherwise helpless to fight the biggest issues confronting Monarchs:

First, spare one hour of your time (oh, stop complaining and just do it) and watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fh42KGh-TkE. This is a lecture by Univ of Kansas professor Chip Taylor, who started Monarch Watch. I learned so much from this video–it totally explains what’s happening to the Monarchs. It also made me a much more aware (and activist) conservationist. This is required viewing. Please let me know of your reaction.

Second, write The White House. Michelle has a symbolic garden…does it have Milkweed in it? Also, the US can give Mexico some money so locals don’t cut the trees for firewood. Ask the President to direct the US Dept of Transportation to “rescue” an acre of roadside milkweed habitat for every acre the US Depts of Agriculture and Energy allow to be destroyed to plant corn and soybeans for biofuel production. In addition, ask the USDA to stop calling Milkweed, “weedy and invasive”, on its website. Last, amend the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to include Butterflies.

Second, ask your Garden Club, wildflower group, botanic garden, and your self whether you have planted enough pollinator plants in your garden and community. Create a Monarch Waystation. Put a sign up and register it, for science sake. Understand the lifecycle of a Monarch. Stop calling Milkweed, “weedy and invasive”, on gardening and botanic garden websites! Watch Weedpatch subscribers (yeah!) Mike Nowak and Jennifer Brennan in this video as they visit an incredible butterfly garden (including a screened enclosure) in Chicago.

Third, are you a landscape designer? Have you specified Common Milkweed [Asclepsias syriaca] in your clients’ drawings, especially for large commercial or industrial projects? Take part in the “Bring Back the Monarchs Campaign”. Not only will you be helping butterflies, but you will be storing a lot of water on site. Milkweed is very drought tolerant because it has very long roots. Planting it means far less run-off from properties.

Fourth, join scientists AND the children of North America in tracking the migration of butterflies and lots of other critters (hummingbirds, robins, bald eagles, orioles, whoopers) and the emergence of Milkweed and Tulips–thus keeping track of spring. Enter the existence of your “climate test garden” into the database. Have fun and help the world’s wildlife (scientists use your data to understand the geographic dispersal of species) by using this cool website:  http://www.learner.org/jnorth/maps/Maps.html

Fourth, send a few bucks to groups like Forests for Monarchs, which uses every donated dollar to plant two conifers and teach sustainable forestry in Mexico. Twenty dollars means forty new trees. Sweet!##

monarch-on-milkweed

The Turtle Hospital

One more afternoon in the Florida Keys before I have to return to snowy Chicago…In the meantime I want to tell you about an incredible facility in Marathon called The Turtle Hospital.

turtle hospital

Here’s what I now know. There are seven species of seawater turtles in the world, and while they all inhabit (see map) the world’s oceans, five of them can be found off the coast of Florida. Four species are endangered–meaning they risk extinction from being able to live in the ocean. Only the Loggerhead has enough population to say it’s “threatened” instead of endangered. A fine line.

They range from a foot or so in shell length (the rarest turtle: Kemp’s Ridley) to the Leatherback, which can be 6′ long, weigh 1,500 pounds, dive 1,000 feet down into the cooold ocean, and travel 13,000 miles (one-way) in its migration. If it is sick or injured, the Leatherback is unable to be brought onshore because its soft shell, made only of cartilage, would disintegrate. Below is a photo I took of a Green Turtle, recovering after swallowing a latex glove. Green turtles were once prized (heck, they probably still are) for their meat (ie turtle soup).

sea turtle 2

It’s not hard to imagine that turtles are brought weekly to The Turtle Hospital because they have been hit by a boat hull or propeller, or caught in a fishing net. But at The Turtle Hospital, the turtles are often operated on for removing fish hooks (ever see a 6″ fish hook next to an operating table?), swallowing plastic bags, deflated helium balloons, or large “nests” of fishing filament line. And then there’s surgery for removing tumors–fibropapillomas–which are disgusting cauliflower-like growths which are spread by a virus (like herpes). These infectious tumors, benign but terribly debilitating or fatal, are “the only known disease affecting wild animals on a global basis”. Ugh.

turtle with tumors
Tumors on a turtle at The Turtle Hospital

So for all us “Snowbirds”, here are some things we can do when visiting coastal waters (including places like Georgia, where 43% of turtle injuries were caused by boats in 2012):

  • Properly dispose of your garbage. Turtles may mistake plastic bags, styrofoam, and trash floating in the water as food and die when this trash blocks their intestines. (The Turtle Hospital uses a lot of Metamucil and vegetable oil to dislodge this junk from the turtles.)
  • Wherever you live or visit, pick up fishing line (600 years to biodegrade!), nylon rope, latex gloves, bikinis, and plastic six-pack holders. They get swallowed or cause flippers to be amputated (I decided not to post a photo of a rope twisted around a flipper: way too sad.)
  • Celebrate events without the use of helium balloon releases. Like plastic trash, balloons end up in the ocean, especially when released near the coast. Sea turtles mistakenly eat the balloons and die.
  • Remove recreational equipment, such as lounge chairs, cabanas, umbrellas, and boats, from the beach at night. Their presence can deter nesting attempts and interfere with the seaward journey of hatchlings (all summer thru October).
  • Protect beach vegetation that stabilizes sand and the natural coastline.
  • Minimize beachfront lighting during the sea turtle nesting season (May-August) by turning off, shielding, or redirecting lights.
  • Close blinds and draperies in oceanfront rooms at night during the nesting season (May-August) to keep indoor lighting from reaching the beach.
  • When boating, stay alert to avoid sea turtles. Propeller and collision impacts from boats and ships can result in injury and death of sea turtles. Also, stay in channels and avoid running in seagrass beds to protect this important habitat from prop scarring and damage. Avoid anchoring boats in seagrass beds and coral reefs, which serve as important foraging and resting habitats for sea turtles.
  • Use your natural vision when walking on the beach at night. The use of flashlights and flash photography can deter turtles from coming ashore to nest or cause them to abort nesting attempts.
  • Ask your boat captain if he has a propeller guard on his motor. This is controversial (the industry says it is worthless, h’mmm) but asking may alert your captain to how much you care about protecting wildlife, including manatees and turtles.

Last, while Florida made a great decision and created a license plate to support this turtle rescue facility and other efforts, this particular hospital was started by a northerner (still going strong) who moved to Florida and used the revenues from his motel to help these injured reptiles. When Hurricane Wilma wiped out the motel in 2005, he converted the whole building to a hospital. People like him deserve our greatest praise.#

 

Polar Plunge!

Here’s a brief but spiritually invigorating (brrr, especially today!) video sent from subscriber and great humanist Mordechai Levin, who lives along the Nippersink Creek in Richmond, McHenry, Illinois. He suggests that the creek be renamed, the “NipperMink”…

 

If you know of the wonderful work of the poet, Mary Oliver, you will enjoy this poem of her’s (I don’t have permission to publish it, but I hope she will forgive me when each of you buys her latest book, A Thousand Mornings, or Evidence, the earlier book containing this poem, entitled, It Was Early:

It was early, which has always been my hour to begin looking at the world and of course, even in the darkness, to begin listening into it, especially under the pines where the owl lives and sometimes calls out as I walk by, as he did on this morning.   So many gifts! What do they mean?   In the marshes where the pink light was just arriving the mink with his bristle tail was stalking the soft-eared mice, and in the pines the cones were heavy, each one ordained to open.   Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.   Little mink, let me watch you. Little mice, run and run. Dear pine cone, let me hold you as you open.”

HAPPIEST NEW YEAR, FULL OF BLESSINGS, WHEREVER YOU FIND YOURSELF STANDING.##

Mink-by-Audubon
Potorius vison [Mink] by John James Audubon, printed 1844.

STOP the presses and read this!

Many of you know that I volunteer with a GREAT charity called Mothers Trust Foundation (MTF). It is so great that it won the “2013 Human Services Philanthropy Award” by Make It Better magazine, and the prize was a free professional videotape for marketing our organization. This week the tapings were done, which included testimonials by social workers from Lake County (IL) and some of the oh-so-desperately-poor kids they help, each discussing how MTF came to the rescue.

Today MTF’s Executive Director, Cheri Richardson, received two emails, which she forwarded to volunteers and I want to share with you. The first comes from the movie director, Adam, describing his experience with “Henry”. But make sure you keep reading…read down and take in the email from Brenda, the social worker from an elementary school that suggested that Henry’s story might be just right for the movie. And then believe in all things right and good. There is a Santa…or is there an angel among us?

From Adam the Director:

“Cheri: Wow – what a story.  And two incredible interviews!  That kid was something else – such a little character!  He has been through SO much and yet he was so resilient and funny.  We’ve been quoting him nonstop.  He was just a piece of work.  The first thing he did was challenge himself to conduct the first ever blooper-free interview.  Next, he told us about his design for a perpetual motion machine.  Free energy!  He described it in great detail, then asked me, “do you know how many schools you could power with a machine like that?”

I responded, “all of them?” His answer: “35.”

We were dying…so cute and funny!

And Brenda was amazing.  She cried.  And pretty much had us on the verge of tears.  That’s a social worker who cares!

I’ll tell you what – MTF has some fans out there.  The challenge will be cutting this thing down to a manageable length – there are so many gems of wisdom and insight “in the can” – we have an embarrassment of riches”.

And here’s the show-stopper from Brenda the Social Worker:

“Hi Cheri!

It was a blast watching Henry and hearing him tell his “Life Story”!  I didn’t know if I should have laughed or cried….so I did a little of both!  The crew was really fantastic, just like you said they’d be.  I hope we were able to represent Mothers Trust Foundation in a way it should be represented!  Thanks for giving us the privilege!

It was quite a day for Henry….right after his interview, he had to go to the police station to meet DCFS.  They were planning to take him into custody and put him in some type of temporary foster care.  Well, long story short, they couldn’t find family or foster care setting that would take him immediately—so I have him!  Yes, he is at my house right now.  It looks as though he will be here for the holidays!  The family was evicted from their house because of squalor-like conditions (sewage backup) in the home.  It’s condemned and no one can get in.  Family is split up right now.

It’s very interesting…my hubby and I are usually alone and not used to entertaining a 12 year old.

Hope you have a very special Christmas season.  Take care, Brenda

 P.S.  If you know of anyone who is a foster parent in the Waukegan/Zion area, please let me know”!

Merry Merry Christmas, Weedpatch readers. May your hearts be full of peace and love for all the Henry’s and Brenda’s in the world. xxx’s Rommy ##

Save the Raptors, Savor the White (But Don’t Drink the Milk)

A small blurb in the Lake County, IL Audubon Society‘s fall newsletter caught my eye…and as a result I visited a website called, barnswallow.net. What a wonderful thing that Wauconda resident Linda Breuer is doing to care for and raise owls, hawks and other raptors. Don’t you just LOVE LOVE LOVE people who are so devoted to animals? And don’t you just LOVE LOVE LOVE “Boopie”, the owl? He needs your money to care for his amputated foot.

Boopie-the-Owl

Autumn is the time to savor orange and red and yellow, but this year I particularly noticed a white flower growing prolifically in a local park and also volunteering in my garden. And it’s not just me: bees and insects noticed the White Snakeroot [Eupatorium rugosum] too. Turns out that this native plant is NOT one that you should encourage in your landscape if you are anywhere near cows. This plant’s flowers may be beloved of bees and pollinators, but its leaves and stems contain a toxic oil that can cause cattle to get tremors, especially in the flank and hind legs, and a fatal lethargy. Horses prefer grass and goats seem pretty immune, but cattle eat everything, so this is how cow’s milk becomes poisoned. And you all know the story of Abraham Lincoln’s mother dying of…milksickness. The settlers were drinking raw cow’s milk poisoned by Eupatorium rugosum.

White snakeroot with bee Eupatorium 9-24-2013 10-40-23 AM 480x640

CIMG1191 snakeroot

CIMG1241 white snakerootA slope full of White Snakeroot

What you may not know is that an Illinois woman was the person who figured out the connection between the fatal illness and this pretty white-flowered plant. Her name was Anna Pierce Hobbs Bixby (1812–1873) and she was a physician: that is, as much a physician as a woman could officially be in 1830: midwife, dentist, nurse. She was alarmed by the quick (1 day to 3 weeks) death of her mother, sister-in-law, and serious illness of her father, along with other people in the region around her small town on the IL/OH border. She realized it was seasonal and affected people who drank milk and ate butter, but it was an old Shawnee woman who told Dr. Bixby the connection to the White Snakeroot. It wasn’t until 50 years after Dr. Bixby’s death, however, that she was given credit for discovering that a plant was causing a fatal illness. Moral of the story: do not drink raw milk from cows AND make sure the seeds from your plant are staying put–away from cows, horses, and foraging humans. Speaking of milk, there is a version of this plant named, ‘Chocolate’. Death from Chocolate Milksickness?!

One more white feature in our Midwest landscape. This GREAT EGRET (the black legs tell you it’s an egret), cavorting yesterday in the mist with his friends at Mellody Farm Nature Preserve…

P1080872 great egret

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News Briefs from around the World…

In case you missed these stories…

. TWIGITECTURE: my new favorite word and my new favorite garden idea. Gotta have my own nest! Check out this NYTimes story by Penelope Green. People are soooo creative…

Nest-of-Twigs

 

. Conserving water is very important, especially when Illinois is in drought and, despite a lot of rain this year, Lake Michigan is 19″ below where it should be. I live in Lake Forest, which borders Lake Michigan, where we have a daytime “sprinkling ban” by which half the town (even-numbered houses) gets to irrigate between midnight-10 am or 8 pm-midnight on one day, and then the other half of homes gets to irrigate the next night. We don’t have automatic sprinklers at our house because I think they waste more water than they save, and my plants don’t need equal amounts of water. Thus I hand-water–in the morning. Usually. Maybe on an even day. (So arrest me.)

But, according to the NYTimes, the water-parched City of PHOENIX, AZ doesn’t have such restrictions. “There is no limit to how many times someone can wash a car or water flowers in a yard…that’s just myopic”, says Phoenix’s Policy Advisor for Sustainability. Instead, it uses strategies such as “graywater” from bathrooms and washing machines to irrigate, or uses treated wastewater to cool a nuclear power plant and a man-made wetland. Water use is a factor in zoning decisions. While Phoenix does not, other cities such as Mesa, Las Vegas, and Tucson give rebates for residents who remove grass and xeriscape, harvest rainwater, or use graywater for landscaping. Some towns regulate homeowners’ trees, shrubs and flower choices. The article does not say how much residents pay per gallon of water, but these strategies appear to be working: in 1990, Phoenix residents used 250 gallons of water/day. Now they use 123. H’mmm…

1-P1050277 los angeles

. NYC aims to make recycling mandatory by 2016. Wow, good! That means 1.2 million tons of food waste will be made into COMPOST!

. CHINA is moving 250 million (yes, you read it right) farmers off their land and into high-rise apartment buildings in newly-made “cities”. The hope is to create 250 million CONSUMERS. Can you say, “worldwide social, moral, cultural, and economic DISASTER”?

. NYC has released its Climate Change report which predicts that 800,000 people will live in the 100-year flood plain by 2050, more than double the current 398,000 currently at risk. The number of days with temperatures above 90 degrees is expected to jump from 22 to 48/year by 2050.

. LOURDES, FRANCE is under flood water. They are hoping for a miracle.##

Lourdes-photo