Monday, April 26, 2010

One Good Thing About Tent Worms

Photo credit: Eden, Janine and Jim,
via flickr // CC BY 2.0

Let's face it: Eastern tent caterpillars, commonly known as tent worms, are a nuisance. And that's putting it nicely. Tent worms can completely defoliate trees (eat all of the leaves), they put up ugly "tents" of webbing in tree branches, and have even been implicated in Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome, a complication that occurs when horses inadvertently eat the caterpillars.

But, tent worms have one saving grace: they make nice pets. My boys like to collect tent worms and put them in their bug habitat, a small cylinder covered with netting.

Photo credit: Mama Joules

Tent worms are fun to watch, since they are active and like to crawl around. They are easy to feed. If Kerm and Little Brother forget to give them fresh offerings of leaves and grass daily, they don't seem to mind. Tent worms tend to get smaller if they aren't eating properly, so it's obvious when you should release them outside (away from your plants!). And, frankly, since they are an insect pest, you don't feel so bad if they die before becoming a moth. Most tent worms aren't as lucky as those in our bug habitat!

An interesting note: I read in several places that tent worms are social creatures. Some folks even described them coming out of their tent in succession, like cars on a train.

Photo credit: Tim and Selena Middleton, via flickr // CC BY 2.0

I wonder if tent worms get lonely and confused living in a bug habitat?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

Little Brother. Earth. 2010.
Paper plate and tissue paper. From the private collection of Mama Joules.

Today is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day! Little Brother, Princess, and I went to a local park with friends. Little Brother climbed on the playground equipment with his buddy. Princess ate wood chips. I snapped this picture of an incoming spring storm front.

How are you planning to celebrate your Earth Day?

Photo credits: Mama Joules

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ten Reasons to Love Dandelions

I snapped this picture today when I picked up Little Brother from preschool. It made me think of a Joe Mohr cartoon I saw recently over at Natural Papa, extolling the virtues of dandelions as a source of food for honeybees (and humans).

That got me thinking ... why do adults hate dandelions? As a kid, I loved dandelions. I liked their hollow stems. I loved blowing on their seeds. I used to tie their stems into knots and wear the flowers as rings.

But now, I react differently. A couple of days ago, when I saw a flash of yellow in my yard, I was excited until I realized that it wasn't a *real* flower, it was only a dandelion. My thoughts quickly turned: It might take over the yard!

And yet ... I kind of like dandelions. So, I thought I would post the top ten reasons that dandelions are awesome:

1) Dandelions remind us of childhood. Pick one and stick it in your lapel. Blow on the seeds (away from your yard!) and watch them drift away on the wind. It will remind you of a simpler time in your life.

2) Dandelions are persistent. They don't give up when we spray them. They dig their roots down deep and try again and again to grow (and thrive) in difficult places. (Just look at some of these enormous tools people have to use to get rid of them!)

3) Dandelions are harbingers of spring. You can't look at one and think of winter. They even look like little glowing suns.

4) Dandelions can add "zing" to your meals, according to this article -- with recipes -- from The Canadian Press. And according to the Alternative Medicine webpages of the University of Maryland Medical Center, "[d]andelion is a rich source of vitamins A, B complex, C, and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc."

5) A couple of years ago, The Washington Post ran an article on how we can help the honeybees, which stressed that "bees love dandelions. You may want to leave some for them as a food source."

6) Dandelions have historically been used to treat a variety of ailments, from digestive disorders to fever and swelling. The leaves and roots are still used today in some alternative medicines.

7) Would you rather drink your dandelions? Dandelion tea and dandelion wine are both popular.

8) You can use dandelions as a teaching tool, as outlined in this article, Fun with Dandelions!. I especially like the suggestion that dandelions make a perfect first plant for a child to dig up, transplant into a pot, and take home to grow. We all know how hard dandelions are to kill. Why not use them for good?

9) The dandelion has inspired dandelion poetry, dandelion art and even "wearable wind power"!

10) Dandelion seeds provide food for birds, insects, and rodents. "Pigs, goats and rabbits will eat the [dandelion] plant," according to this Dandelion page from Columbia University's website. And I found this part of their summary particularly interesting: "The dandelion has a low ecological impact and provides no real damage to the ecosystem ... It seems only necessary to control the species when seen as an aesthetic problem or ‘weed’."

Is it time for us to change the way we think about dandelions? Lisa at 5 Orange Potatoes is on a campaign to Save the Dandelions!. Perhaps we should all join her ...

Photo credits: Mama Joules

Monday, April 12, 2010

40th Anniversary of Earth Day!

April 22, 2010 is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. According to Earth Day Network, Earth Day is "the largest secular holiday in the world, now celebrated by more than one billion people."

How are you going to celebrate? You could sign a petition, pledge to take better care of the earth, find a green event (like the big Earth Day Climate Rally planned for April 25th on the National Mall in Washington, DC), or read up about some of the biggest environmental issues facing our planet.

But participating in Earth Day doesn't require a big fancy activity. You can start small. Get out your rubber gloves, find a trash bag, and organize a cleanup of your favorite park, walking trail, or even your own backyard. Every little bit helps.

I thank you and the earth thanks you. Happy Earth Day!

Photo credit: Lauren "Lolly" Weinhold, via flickr // CC BY 2.0

Monday, April 5, 2010

In praise of gardening ...

My boys and I spent the day in the dirt. I had to reseed the grass, so we dug up the top layer of soil, added a soil amendment, and put down a grass patching material. Our native soils are rocky with a high clay content, but since I added a layer of topsoil last year, it was interesting to observe what came up in my spade. The boys were fascinated by the worms, grubs, rocks, and roots. I pondered why some shovelfuls were brown topsoil mixed with orange clay and some were all orange clay: a clear sign that some of last year's topsoil was missing. Where did the topsoil go? Our lawn is flat, so how did it wash away?

We all liked planting flowers in the front yard. Baby Princess watched us from her exersaucer. Each boy has his own pot and every year I let the boys pick out the types of flowers that they want to plant. We went to Home Depot and picked up whatever caught our eye. Little Brother chose a yellow-orange marigold and some light purple flowers this year. I'm partial to petunias and snapdragons so I have a couple of those in my pot. Kerm decided on a tomato plant in addition to his flowers. I really wanted to get him a strawberry planter, but I couldn't find one.

I keep intending to "go native" and grow native plants, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. I wish that native plants were easier to find in the marketplace. Where I live, most gardening centers don't carry them. And I would need some help to get started, especially since I didn't grow up here and I'm not familiar with plants native to the Mid-Atlantic region.

I have to admit, for someone who likes gardening as much as I do, I don't know very much about flowers. But I know enough to show my boys how to "crack" the plastic bedding pots and gently tug on the flowers until the root balls of the plants are released. I showed the boys that you don't carry a plant by its flowers but instead hold the stem, just above the roots. I reminded them to break up the root ball before burying it into the newly dug soil. And after placed the flower pots onto the steps of our home, I watered both the plants and the kids.

The house looks ready for summer now. It was a good day.

Photo credit: D. Sharon Pruitt, via flickr // CC BY 2.0

Friday, April 2, 2010

World Autism Awareness Day

Today, April 2, is World Autism Awareness Day. Designated by the United Nations in 2007, this event highlights the growing number of people affected by this developmental brain disorder. According to Autism Speaks, autism affects one in 110 children in the United States. Tens of millions of people are affected worldwide, and the numbers are on the rise. "Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.," according to the Autism Speaks website.

Although there are a number of theories, no one knows exactly what causes autism. Researchers suspect that some people are more susceptible to developing the condition, because there appears to be a genetic link. For example, siblings of a child with autism are more likely to have the condition. (My friend Ilene blogs about her life with autistic boy-girl twins at My Family's Experience with Autism.) One thing is nearly certain: the cause of autism is a complex mix of factors.

How can you show support for World Autism Awareness Day? Learn the signs of autism. CNN has put together a link list of 10 sites worth checking out if your child has autism. Share the special autism-themed Arthur episode (airing on PBS on April 5) with your family. And wear blue today to show support for everyone touched by this condition.