Sunday, April 20, 2014

Breeding in the Dark

Spring cleaning reveals that much has gone on in closets, cabinets, baskets, and drawers that I did not have a clue about. Certain items reproduced themselves. Perhaps at your house a similar laxity of morals and discipline among your inanimate objects has caused the same situation. I dealt with them ruthlessly. The culprits at my house included:

Throttled and sent to the cleaners
1. Hangers
2. Gift bags
3. Forks
4. Socks
5. Condoms
6. Hoodies
7. Key rings
8. Lip-care products
9. Pesto cubes in the freezer
10. Spice jars

Also, certain species have diminished, died off, evolved (in the Darwinian sense), ran away, or vanished into the Great Wheel of Karma:

1. Spoons
2. Scissors
3. Shot glasses
4. Pens
5. Drinking glasses
6. Safety pins
7. Ammo

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Why It's Called Hail

Exactly on cue, on April 1 it thunderstormed like crazy. The next day, 100 of us were at a meeting listening to a speaker through shattering bashes of thunder when a strange sudden sound came from the roof. It intensified. Then someone near a window said "Hail." We all groaned because nature, without a care as to who could afford the deductible and who couldn't, was wreaking hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage on our cars and we couldn't do squat about it. Politely waiting until the speaker finished, we then looked outside, marveled, and I photographed the hailstones for everyone who'd need to file an insurance claim.

I wondered why frozen rain is called "hail." As we know, in English "hail" can also mean "greet," "flag down," or "salute," and that particular "hail" is from Old Scandinavian--but "hail" meaning "frozen rain" is from Old English "haegl" from the Old German "Hagel," derived God knows how from a Greek word meaning "pebble," and there's a chance it's from a Sanskrit root meaning "cold."

Friday, April 4, 2014

Home Mushroom Growing: Phase 2

I forgot about the mushroom terrarium I made on March 22 and only today, while sneezing and muttering "*--!*&@! mold," did I remember the damp straw and mushroom spores in the plastic vegetable bag stuck in my darkest closet, and sure enough today it had white fuzz growing in it exactly as the mushroom farmer said it would, and the next step is to give it a little light--not blazing sunlight but perhaps the light from an eastern window, just a few hours of sun, and it is said that lovely oyster mushrooms will erupt from this mess, get harvested and taste real good. Truthfully, I have to force myself to believe this, but I am always game for an experiment that might end in mushrooms -- and by the way, it's almost morel season. I'll finish my taxes this weekend so that next week I may crawl around in the woods with a recycled Easter basket, poking beneath fallen trees in search of rare delicacies.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Moving Into His New House

When a tall person visited on March 9, I got his help taking down the old bluebird house, all weatherbeaten and cracked top to bottom, and mounting a brand-new one. Then, with an eye out for those house wrens who load up bluebird houses with sticks and thorns just to be ornery, I watched for a week, then two weeks, and was finally rewarded this morning as I sat in the spring sun drinking tea. Male bluebirds sit atop a bluebird house and flap their wings to attract their mates' attention. If she approves of the dwelling, she creates the nest and they go for it. Bluebirds are shy, so when this one saw me he fled the bluebird house and perched in a tree. I dream all year of this moment when the first bluebirds first nest in the bluebird house and I am the host and witness. This new bluebird box has a hinged side secured with a hook and eye--good design for box cleaning or nest viewing. It's raw pine. You can see it on the right, on the  old wooden post, which is 7 feet high. The downward-curved thing on the post is chicken wire to keep critters from crawling up the post to feast on bluebirds or their eggs. During previous birdhouse cleanings I've found lifeless blacksnakes and live bees in the box. I don't visit or handle the box very often, because that leaves a scent trail that might attract predators.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Ripping Out Honeysuckles

There are three or four different kinds of invasive honeysuckles: Japanese, Amur, and others, and while not all honeysuckles are invasive tree killers, the tangled shrubbery you see along Missouri roadways and trainways, so thickly overgrown it can look almost like mist, about half the heights of the trees and and twining its way up, is the thing to root out. Yesterday I volunteered for Honeysuckle Removal Day at Bluebird Park. I'd never been there, but its name drew me, and I hate invasive honeysuckles too. Young people from colleges and prep schools were there en masse, and I worked with three young men who chopped, yanked and uprooted, while I pulled yards and yards of honeysuckle out of the grove of persimmon trees and put it at the curb for pickup. I honestly felt the trees thanking us. We cleared an area about the size of a living room, and after three hours we hadn't removed it all and there were some stalks (like the curved one on the left of the photo) too thick for anything but a chainsaw, but we had made a good start. Bluebird Park is a suburban park and I saw no bluebirds there, but I saw robins.

Tips from our leader: Remove honeysuckle shrubs by the roots if possible. When pulling their vines from the earth, pull out, not up. Cut the stalks as low on the trunks as you can, and the leader will come by and paint the stumps with Monsanto's Roundup, the only thing that kills 'em besides fire.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Lost Art of Tea-Towel Embroidery

Mom embroidered these tea towels in the 1950s while waiting for me to be born, and I know that's true because afterward she didn't embroider for seven years, having three more screaming babies in short order. She used these in her kitchen, because I recall misapprehending the image as "the dish running away with the spoon," but in fact it's a saucer eloping with a teacup. I hid this towel for years after it inspired rebellion among my own teacups and saucers. The salt cellar is backed with the forget-me-nots. Salt cellars, used for centuries, were outmoded in 1911 when Morton Salt made salt shake-able by adding magnesium carbonate. These designs came pre-stamped on the towels, and I still wonder whose surreal dream-images they were.

Bringing them out of storage perhaps ten years ago, at first I was careful with these towels, as a new mother is very very careful with Baby #1. They proved sturdy and colorfast. I now use them regularly and think of Mom. For a Scout badge in Embroidery, a Scout leader--not Mom--taught me running stitch, cross-stitch, French knots, and huck-a-back stitch. I haven't done embroidery since, but a keyboard is a kind of sewing machine.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Making a Mushroom Kit

Growing gourmet oyster mushrooms is easy: Get a plastic bag, the kind from the produce section of the supermarket. Place at least one pound of damp straw in this bag. This is ordinary straw shredded into 2-inch segments and flattened to expose the pith, and specially soaked in alkalinized water. This straw is the mushroom-growing medium. Then:

Brace Smith
"Seed" your straw with a handful of oyster-mushroom mycelium, which is nothing more than white fuzzy fungus deliberately grown in a bag of grain. This fuzz was first cultivated in petri dishes and test tubes from a single spore of a fine mushroom. Add a handful of gypsum to the plastic bag.

Twist the bag shut. What you have now is a kind of terrarium. The mushrooms-to-be, however, need to breathe, so over the twist goes a small collar cut from a tube of PVC [pictured], and it is rubber-banded there. Then fluff open the "collar" of the bag. Now the bag can breathe through the PVC tube. But to keep other spores and things out while mushrooms are developing, stuff the PVC tube with a thumb's length of that synthetic fill that goes into pillows. Now the bag can breathe but nothing can get in.

Place bag in the dark for I don't know how long, because I just made my first mushroom terrarium this morning, wondering: Will this really work? Mushroom production scientist and lecturer Brace Smith said that when the straw in the bag appears covered with white stuff, move the bag to a place getting mild sunlight. Soon proto-mushrooms or "pins" will appear. Slit the bag there, making room for the mushrooms to grow outside of the bag, and in three days, harvest and eat. Smith said to expect two or three crops, or about one pound, of oyster mushrooms.

If you are able to get mycelium (by mail order; it takes a scientist like Smith to grow it correctly), all the rest is very low-tech.

I will keep you posted as to what's happening with my mushroom kit. Nothing is more exciting than something growing.