Center of the Universe

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Where is the center of the Universe?  Your focus is wherever you are.bug on leaf

A bug on a leaf, a spider on her web or momma bird on her nest…

grayncatbird

 

You focus your energy on the task at hand. 

No one else can sit on that nest like you can. The center of the Universe is  you.

Focus on your goals. 

These creatures in the photos don’t realize they are part of a vast Universe. They are completely focused on the task at hand. They will spend every moment of every day fulfilling their destiny. They will not give up.

The effort of each singular member helps ensure the success of  the total species and in turn, helps ensure the continued success of life.

Never lose focus of your goal. Some days, it may seem insignificant or just too hard.

But, every person is important and every contribution is essential.

Spin your web and catch your dreams.

 

Independence – Little by Little

via Daily Prompt: Taper

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This young Mourning Dove is experiencing life outside the nest for the first time. The nest is snuggled in the apple tree. I didn’t know it was there until the adult on nest duty noisily flew out when I got too close. The twin of this young bird is still waiting in the nest for its cue from the parents to try flying.

I love watching the Mourning Doves raise their young. The birds pair up and share family duties. From nest-building to raising their young, they help each other. The birds are larger than some of the small songbirds that build their nests in my yard, so they are easier to follow.

The Mourning Doves have beautiful coos and chirps to communicate with each other. The parents will stay close and slowly taper off their attention and care.

One day the young birds will fly away to start their new life. They will fulfill their destiny.

The birds don’t have to decide which school to attend, whom to marry, whether to have children or wonder what is their purpose. They spend today making this the best day ever. They will look for the most delicious food and the safest hiding place. The birds will worry about tomorrow when tomorrow gets here.

Maybe we could learn from nature. Let’s spend today making this the best day ever.

Learning by Doing

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The ducks were napping in the yard. Their long necks turned gracefully , keeping their bills nestled in downy feathers.

It wasn’t always like this.

This Spring, we decided to add 3 ducks to our home  – one duck for each human girl. I went to the Feed Store , where we purchased our chickens a year earlier, planning to “just look”. I walked back to the area where they keep the newly arrived chicks and ducklings. I peered into the tub marked “Ducks”. There they were, 3 remaining downy ducklings, huddled together . Just them against the world. One by one they had watched their tub mates disappear. They had watched as human hands appeared from nowhere and snatched them away. Listening to the frightened peeps of their friends getting more distant as they were carried through the store, must have been scary.  Where did their friends go? What would be their fate? All of their companions had vanished. The 3 Duck Musketeers were comforting each other.

I brought 3 ducklings home, that day. I just knew it was meant to be.

The ducklings were understandably nervous about the humans and their intentions. Up to this point, all of their interactions with humans had been unpleasant – why would this be any different?

Every day, I lovingly scooped them up from their sleeping area to place them in a safe fenced area outside. And every day, they would peep and run around, trying their best to avoid those human hands. They spent their days in a lovely ducky place. It had sun, shade, grass and just the right amount of water. They rested peacefully huddled together, in the grass.The ducklings were happy and content – until human hands swooped in and transferred them back to their nighttime place. Every day was the same routine. They never recovered from their fear of hands.

The ducklings grew fast. They seemed continuously ravenous. It wasn’t long before their fluffy down was replaced by sleek white feathers. They were so happy to find a container of water in their pen. They jumped in and right back out! But then, they were hooked! The ducks couldn’t resist splashing around and playing. They discovered joy.

The day came to let them experience freedom.

At first, they remained huddled together underneath the big forsythia bush beside the pen. They didn’t want to leave the safety of that spot. I walked around the yard, completing my chores. The girls ran and played and the chickens were elegant and sweet, as usual. If we got too close to their hiding spot, the ducks would grumble and complain. We didn’t push them. We talked soothingly as we fed them and slowly, they started to relax.

Some days, the ducks make huge leaps of independence.

One day they discovered the scratchy fragrant pine trees. They didn’t know what they would find there, but resistance was not an option. Another day, they found the big water tub on the far side of the yard. Now, it’s one of their favorite places to hang out.

The ducks keep a wary and watchful eye on the chickens. They realize the chickens have useful knowledge about the yard and the humans. The chickens have secret places  to find treats, like worms and seeds. The chickens know where all the water sources are located. And they know when it is feeding time!

It makes sense for the ducks to follow the travels of the chickens. So, when the chickens follow me around the yard while I am working, the ducks will also.

There was a time when the ducks would never have thought it was possible to leave the safety of the forsythia bush. 

Watching and learning from the chickens has helped the ducks imagine their own possible potential. The ducks realized there was a big exciting world, just waiting to be explored. The ducks are discovering their true purpose. They are happy.

First, the ducks had to take a leap of faith.

Or maybe in this case, a waddle of faith! The ducks had to stop hiding from new experiences. They had to try.

As the creature in charge, I knew the ducks had limitless potential for happiness. I knew they were capable of more than just hiding from life. But, the ducks could not know until they allowed their natural instincts to surface. The ducks had to trust. 

The ducks journey of happiness is a parallel journey to my own.

The ducks needed 2 things to succeed:

First, they had to believe in themselves.

Even though the world seemed so scary and they had no idea what to expect, they had to start with those first steps. If the ducks had remained hidden in the darkness of the forsythia bush, they would still be sad and afraid. They would still be looking out, wondering about all the possibilities, but never truly experiencing life. They had to try.

Once they stepped into the yard, they discovered everything they were meant to discover. They started to experience the endless possibilities the Universe had to offer.

I am also learning to believe in myself. I am stepping into the light and I don’t want to go back to darkness. There is a big fantastic world out there. I can not possibly imagine everything the Universe has to offer. But, I have to leave the safety of the familiar to discover my true potential.

The second factor needed for the ducks life affirming journey, was to find guidance.

For the ducks, this came in the form of the wise chickens. The chickens had already conquered the backyard. The chickens knew the humans brought food and provided safety. They knew where the gardens were and how to find yummy worms and tasty seeds. The ducks benefitted from the chickens experience. 

I also benefit from the prior experiences of others. I can seek out others who have conquered scary new experiences similar to mine. The best way to illuminate my journey is to utilize the light others provide. In the form of books, blogs and websites, I can seek out others that have succeeded.

The Universe already knows  my true potential. The Universe knows everything I can accomplish. Sometimes, it can be difficult for me to believe in myself.

It can be hard to take that leap of faith, just like it was for my ducks. But, once they stepped into the light and started moving – they never looked back. Now, they take naps right in the middle of the yard!

I have decided to be like those ducks. I am going to leave the safety of the bushes and experience everything life has to offer. I want to find out what the Universe already knows about me.

Come with me.

I would love to hear about the tactics you have used to experience your dreams and full potential.

 

 

 

 

2 Easy and Non-Toxic Ways to Control Pests in your Garden

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Having your own backyard garden is truly one of the joys of summer. I can prepare dinner with the freshest ingredients possible, without leaving the house. Juicy tomatoes, fragrant herbs, and a couple of perfectly sized zucchinis and I have the makings of a fabulous light lunch or side dish for dinner.

What can turn this idyllic scene into instant disappointment? Discovering unwanted pests have already had a meal of your vegetables !

One of the reasons I like to grow my own food is that I want to control the quality. Knowing that my ingredients are as fresh as possible and free of unnecessary chemicals is of absolute importance. I don’t want to use pesticides or herbicides in my vegetable or flower gardens. I use organic fertilizer and buy organic seeds and plants.

Walking into the garden, early in the morning, while the dew is still hanging onto the leaves and hearing the robins in the apple trees starts my day perfectly until… my eyes rest upon the tomato plants. Instead of seeing a lush plant, I am accosted by the sight of a plant stalk that had their yummy leaves completely eaten.  It doesn’t even seem possible! At first, I think…maybe a rabbit or groundhog has been making a meal of my tomato plants? I look around, thinking I will see a little rabbit hiding in the grass, giggling at my misfortune. But then, I see the telltale signs. Tomato Hornworm droppings.

Tomato Hornworms are actually caterpillars of the sphinx moth. The caterpillars are huge. (If you have ever accidentally rested your hand on one as you are working in the garden, you know  – it can be kind of shocking if you aren’t prepared for it.)

Witnessing the devastation that garden pests can unleash on your hard work can bring out the warrior in us.  But, in the quest to keep it organic, we can turn to chemical free alternatives to combat unwanted pests. By using targeted and safe methods, we can attack the destructive visitors and protect the beneficial ones.

1.) Handpicking

One of the easiest and most cost-effective pest control methods is handpicking the pests off your plants. You don’t need any special equipment or supplies. This might even be one task in the garden your kids will help with! Whether they just want to get a closer look at a really cool bug, or keep them for pets ( my kids) you can probably enlist their help. Handpicking pests is exactly what it sounds like.The only tool you will need are your hands. Look for the caterpillars underneath the leaves in the mornings while it is still cool. It is best to look for them as soon as you notice their existence. They will move from plant to plant and hide.  Just pick off the pests and drop into a bucket of soapy water if you want to kill them. My kids are fascinated with the huge green worms and often keep them in a container full of tomato leaves so they can observe them. If the worms have a parasitic wasp cocoon attached to theirs back, this method is quite useful. The wasps that lay their eggs on the worms will help naturally control the worm’s population. Allowing the wasps to hatch will ensure a whole new population of natural predators to control the pests.

Image result
 Hornworm with Parasitic Wasp Eggs

2.) Adding Natural Predators

If Mother Nature is working as intended, there will be a proper balance of prey and predator insects in your gardens. If pests invade your space, there should be another beneficial insect that comes along to control it. However, the balance can shift disproportionately, at times, because of external factors beyond your control. Weather patterns, precipitation , temperature and invasive species can alter the natural balance.

For example, if you are experiencing an invasion of aphids, you can introduce ladybugs to prey on the aphids. Aphids are tiny mite-like creatures. because of their size,they will go unnoticed until there are hundreds of them clustered on a leaf. The leaves will turn yellow and their will be a sticky substance. The sticky stuff is “dew” created by the aphids.

adult-ladybug
ladybug

Green Lacewings are also used to naturally control aphids. Green Lacewings will also eat aphids and other small soft-bodied insects.

Lacewing Adult
green lacewing

You can purchase lady bugs, green lacewings and other beneficial insects inexpensively through many mail order garden companies and DIY outlets. Amazon offers 1500 live ladybugs for only $12.50. The same site offers 1000 Green Lacewings eggs for $12.50. The instructions are quite simple. Most recommend dropping the purchased insects in your garden during the cool of the evening. Never drop them into your garden during the heat of a summer afternoon. Once the beneficial insects are in your garden, they will take care of the job you hired them to do. As long as there is available food in the garden, they will stick around to keep the pests away.

These are just 2 non-toxic ways to control pests in your gardens. There are other easy and inexpensive ways to control pests that I will cover in future articles.

I would love to hear about your favorite methods of non-toxic pest control.

 

 

Friend. Confessions of a Poultry Parent

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I acquired 6 chickens last spring. My girls and I had talked about it for awhile, and last year was the right time.

I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. I was excited about having fresh eggs and organic pest control (in the form of foraging chickens).  I didn’t know what the chickens themselves would be like.

When we brought them home, they were so cute and fluffy. We fell in love with them instantly. Chickens grow fast, so in no time at all, their fluff was replaced with feathers. They began making clucking sounds and personalities developed. Within 4-5 months, they were laying eggs. I assumed they would lay their eggs in their hen hotel, inside their nest boxes I built. But, they had their own ideas! We found eggs in the flowerbeds and on the workbench.  We let the girls do their own thing.

The chickens love it when I work in my gardens. They know what the shovel, hoe and wheelbarrow mean. The girls come running (yes, chickens run) when I walk towards the gardens. They hungrily scratch around for worms, bugs and other seemingly invisible morsels.

It didn’t take long for individual personalities to emerge. Like any group of friends, each individual has their place in the group. There is the bossy, noisy and quiet personality.

One of the most surprising facts I learned about our girls is, they talk! Now, they don’t say “How you doin’? ”  or anything like that. But, they have a whole range of chirps, growls, trills, clucks and songs that have subtle meanings. They talk to each other and they talk to us. Just like we learn to interpret our dogs’ language, we have learned to interpret the chickens language, as well.

I was born a dog lover but I have a whole new appreciation for my chickens. Our chickens are pets with benefits. They will never be Sunday dinner but they will eat Sunday dinner with us. I take my lunch outside and sit on the grass. The chickens come running over to see what I have. I look around. My dogs are sitting on one side of me and the chickens are milling around me on the other side.

Friends. Life is good.

 

 

 

 

Fill Your Yard with Flowers for Free (practically)!

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Birds, bees and butterflies rejoice! It’s the season to fill our yards with blooming fragrant flowers. Whether it’s flowerpots brimming with colorful blooms or beautiful flowerbeds adorning a house – flowers and plants are a great way to make every yard more attractive.

I love having lots of flowers in my yard. I always feel a twinge of envy when I pass a home that has a yard filled with flowerbeds and flower gardens. But, these well tended lawns with matching mulches and weed free edging take lots of time and money to create and maintain.

Personally, I like my yard to look like the flowers were always there. I am not a big fan of super manicured lawns. I live in a home with kids – not a golf course or country club estate. I love to see carefree blooms waving their fragrant blossoms in the breeze to attract all manner of pollinators. So, how do I go about creating a yard with tons of flowers, for free?

As a single mother of 3 young girls, I manage a tight budget. It is just not possible for me to spend hundreds of dollars on flowers, mulch, fertilizer and all of the other supplies necessary required for landscaping. Heck, I don’t have $100 extra to spend on flowers. Colorful flowers surrounding my home transform it into a colorful and cheerful farmhouse. During the summer, I grow tall happy sunflowers in the back of the flowerbeds and lots of zinnias and marigolds in the front.I have elegant Love Lies Bleeding bowing gracefully at the corners of my vegetable gardens. In the spring, Daisies pop up everywhere and during summer Black-Eyed Susans (my fave) appear in surprising places.

How do I manage to grow all of these beautiful flowers on such a tight  budget? All of my flowers are started from seeds that I saved from last season’s flowers!

I moved to my current home about 6 years ago. It is an older farmhouse-style home situated perfectly amongst cornfields and grazing cows. During the summer months, I can’t even see my neighbor’s houses due to the height of the growing corn. Our trees are filled with a melody of songbirds that migrate to Ohio to raise their offspring. Owls and Red-Tailed Hawks perch high in the old trees, patiently watching their territory. The first I saw this house, I fell in love with it. The only heating source for the 2 story home was a wood stove, the windows were rattly and drafty and the crawl space under the house helped keep it nice and cold during the winter, but I didn’t care. All I could see were my future vegetable and flower gardens. I could visualize my girls playing on a tire swing and giggling.

In my quest to plant as many flowers as possible, I had to get creative. I knew saving my seeds was my best option to guarantee continuous and bountiful blooms. The first step was to prepare the existing flowerbeds for planting. I used a spade shovel to turn over the soil. This loosens the soil and helps aerate, as well. I incorporated peat moss into the soil to help moisture retention during the hot summer. I didn’t have any saved to seeds that first planting season, so I purchased the most inexpensive zinnia, marigold and sunflower seed packets I could find. All of these plants work great to use for saved seeds.

Zinnias are a fantastic annual flower to grow. The come in a dazzling array of colors, sizes and textures.  You can buy Thumbelina which is a small single bloom variety all the way to the Giant Cactus variety. You can choose the traditional red and pink hues or go for green blooms, yellow, white, striped and spotted. I grow a pretty Lime Queen variety which has a green double bloom and red stripes. It looks pretty to group one color together, such as red, and then separate the groups with some visually interesting striped flowers. Zinnias are a hardy annual that are pest and disease resistant. They hold up well during those long, hot and dry summer days. The butterflies and bees will have a choice of plants and colors to drink their nectar from, pollinating life as they go.

I start the seeds directly into the prepared soil after it has warmed. I live in a Ohio Zone 4, so this is usually early to mid May. I just sprinkle the seeds over the ground and cover with a fine layer of peat moss. Keep your seeds uniformly moist for the  first week or so. The seeds should sprout within 7-10 days depending on weather. Once they sprout, I give them a drink of organic all-purpose fertilizer, which will give them a growth boost. If the seedlings are too dense, gingerly pluck out a few and gently transplant to a bare area. Small plants and seedlings can’t hold much water, so make sure they don’t dry out. At the same time I plant the zinnia seeds, I also plant marigold and sunflower seeds. They require the same basic care, so they are perfect to plant together. Just be aware of the height the mature plants will be and put the taller plants in the back. You don’t want tall sunflowers to create too much shade for your smaller plants.

All three of these flowers also make beautiful cut flower arrangements. Sunflowers look stunning in a vase. They will start dropping pollen after they have been in the house for a few days, so be careful where you place them. Zinnias and marigolds both hold up well in cut flower arrangements. Remember to change the water every couple of days and you will extend their shelf life. By growing my own flowers from seed, I can have fresh flowers all over the house. It feels like such a luxury to have beautiful flowers on the stand next to my bed or to see them first thing in the morning on the bathroom sink. Also as you cut the flowers for use in the house, you help the plant. By removing the mature flower, the plant can use its energy to grow new flowers and keep it’s roots healthy. You can extend your flowers well into early Fall.

As the end of Summer approaches and early Fall is beckoning, you will notice your plants are slowing their growth and turning brown. This is the time, you let some of the flowers grow into full maturity. Select some of the biggest and healthiest flowers and resist cutting them.

Now, you just need a little patience. The leaf petals will turn brown and start to fall off. The seed heads will dry out and turn brown also. Select flowers intermittently throughout the gardens to allow to turn brown. Your gardens will stay pretty while you are cultivating seeds for next season. You will be graced with lingering migratory Monarchs and Swallowtails getting ready for winter discovering a respite in your gardens.

After the flowers have turned brown and crunchy, you can either snip off the top halves or pull the plants out, roots and all. Tie the uprooted plants together. Hang upside down in a protected area to finish drying.

‘Once the seeds are completely dry, the next step is to package them in secure containers that will last all winter. I use clean and dry coffee containers, large spice containers, or any containers that are heavy plastic with secure screw lids. I store my seeds in an unheated laundry room.They are vulnerable to chipmunks and mice looking for a winter meal.As long as the containers are heavy plastic and have secure lids, they will remain unscathed during the cold months.

The more flowers you plant, the more seeds you will be able to harvest. Every year, I slowly increase the size of my existing flowerbeds or start a new one. Last year, I started a new flower garden in the front yard. I planted all saved seeds and those plants provided a whole new crop of seeds.

It is so gratifying to look at your beautiful gardens filled with blooming flowers of all colors and textures, and know, you did it all for FREE!

I hope you try saving seeds. Let me know if you have any tips or tricks on saving seeds or other gardening wisdom.

 

4 Herbs that you can Grow Easily from Seed, Now!

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/imaginary/

Open any seed catalog and turn to the Herb section. The choices are endless! I counted almost 50 different herbs to choose from in one catalog. There were 7 types of basil and 5 different types of oregano alone. And, don’t even get me started on such intriguing varieties like chocolate mint, french tarragon and lemon verbena!

How do I decide?

Never fear. The time is just right to grow those fresh herbs you love to use and I can help you decide on which ones are right for you.

Growing your own herbs from seed just makes sense. If you are like me, you hate wasting food. I buy one of those plastic sealed packages of herbs from the store. I enthusiastically use some that day but the rest seems to go to waste. In no time, they go from fresh and green to limp and yellow. Yuck.

If you grow your own herbs, you can just walk out the back door and snip off just the right amount that you will need. Your plants will still be growing happily in the garden, waiting for the next time you need just the right amount.

Growing herbs from seed is easier than you might think. My list is comprised of herbs that are relatively easy to start and virtually maintenance free. I grow all of the herbs mentioned below, except the Basil, in the same flowerbed. It is at the back of my house so it isn’t visible to visitors. I can let the plants  grow happily and it is only a few feet from my kitchen door.  I grow the Basil in one of my vegetable gardens where they will get plenty of sun.

My favorite herb to start from seed is Basil. I usually grow 2 varieties: Genovese or Sweet Basil and a purple variety such as, Purple Ruffles or Opal. Genovese is a traditional large leaf basil. It has a clean fragrance with a licorice background.  Purple basil looks really pretty chopped up and sprinkled on top of salads or deviled eggs.  Purple varieties have a milder flavor. Both types work great with salads, potato dishes, marinades and chicken or fish dishes.

Basil likes warm weather and plenty of water. Starting basil seeds outdoors after the soil has warmed works best. If you try to start the seeds outside too early while there is a chill in the air, there is a chance they won’t germinate. But, once the soil has warmed, just drop those tiny seeds into the ground and watch those lovely seedlings pop up. Once they start growing, add some all-purpose fertilizer and water faithfully. When you need some, just pinch back to the first or second nodes and you will encourage new growth and get bushier plants. If you see flowers starting to appear, pinch back then also. If you don’t need it right away, dry it for later use.

Another herb that is easy to grow from seed is Cilantro. Now I know, some people love Cilantro and some people hate it. But, if you like having fresh cilantro in your  homemade salsa, it is super easy to grow. Drop seeds into a prepared bed and cover with fine soil. They practically grow themselves. Another cool aspect of cilantro is that it will re-seed itself. I grow my cilantro in a flowerbed against the house that not much else will grow in. It grows prolifically and I always let a few plants go to seed so they will drop into the ground to insure new plants. Every year, I have volunteer plants that pop up.  I seem to have a never-ending supply of fresh cilantro. It looks pretty and produces lacy white flowers.

Parsley is a versatile herb that is easy to grow, There are curly leaf and flat leaf varieties. I usually grow some of each. Flat leaf seems hardier and easier to grow. It will also re-seed itself. Parsley is considered a biennial, which means one plant should last 2 growing seasons. However, if you allow some plants to mature and drop their seeds in a protected flowerbed or garden you will have a virtually endless supply of parsley. Parsley has a fresh clean taste. Whole leaves can be used in salads and it freshens your breath! Curly leaf is pretty and is often used as a garnish.

Dill is another versatile herb that will grow easily from seed. I often grow my dill, parsley and cilantro in the same flowerbed. It is against the house and doesn’t get alot of sun or attention. But these 3 herbs seem to get along fine there. They don’t need alot of maintenance and don’t seem to have many pests or diseases. I use the leaves and seeds of the dill plants. I like putting dill in tuna salad and other vegetable . The dill plants will also self propogate if some plants are left to mature and go to seed. The seeds will drop and next season you will have volunteer plants. I love growing plants that do some of the work for me!

Herbs add that extra ‘something’ that can make a plain dish like deviled eggs or potato salad into something special. When I am trying to find foods that fill up my kids bellies but don’t break the bank, I often to starchy carbs, like potatoes or rice. Adding fresh herbs can make them feel special. It makes me feel more like chef and less like a short order cook for the family. The process of gathering them and preparing them adds a tantalizing fragrance to my kitchen. The extras can be put into a vase for a pretty display.  And when they pop up in my garden, unexpectedly, it makes it even more special.

Growing herbs can be easy and fun. Try it this summer and let me know how it works out for you.