The Lost Art of A Good Letter

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Happy February! Can you believe we’ve already crossed a month off in 2018? It’s been such a frosty winter here; I’m glad it’s a short month!

My high school sophomore daughter crossed a traditional milestone yesterday- receiving her class ring. I still have mine, though not worn in almost three decades, it’s a special keepsake. Our world is changing at warp speed these days and many traditions are falling by the wayside. One important “tradition” that has all but disappeared, has faded far too quickly: the art of letter writing. We need an intervention – a Letter-Writing-Revival!

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Life Lessons Learned In Knitting

 

FBE3022B-45DE-45D4-B577-AFCAB6FC876AHappy New Year! It’s the coldest, darkest time of the year here in New England. Winter brings much-needed downtime from things like gardening and weeding. While January always seems to be the LONGEST month of the year, it’s still nice to hunker down next to a warm fireplace, watch a good movie or two, and knit! While I’ve been a professional instructor, teaching knitting classes for over ten years, knitting itself has taught me some good LIFE LESSONS.

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Christmas Nostalgia

 

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It’s my favorite time of year, Christmas! Fun with friends and family, holiday baking, decorating…such a joyful time, full of magic. Come share a wonderful, nostalgic holiday season!

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It’s A Big Bug World

 

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It’s fall, and lately I’ve been thinking a lot about…bugs! Has your home been invaded by stink bugs recently? Have you been seeing what seems like a lot of wasps acting frantic? Why is this happening? Why do we even need insects? The answer might surprise you. It’s actually a big bug world out there, but it’s pretty fascinating, too.

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I’m active in my area’s Master Gardener program. (I recently became an Advanced Master Gardener). For months, I’ve been identifying, organizing, and preserving a large collection of bugs for the local Master Gardener office. The boxes will be used to help ID insects, and to help educate and present to the public on insects. Through local Garden clubs and the MGs, I recently had the privilege to present to two schools all about insects. To see how excited the kids were, how eager they were to learn all about insects, and to share the boxes I’ve worked so hard on made me very happy! Doing this project, I learned more about insects than I could have ever imagined! It’s really an amazing world – right in our own backyards.

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Did you know that 90% of all living creatures are insects? Scientists think that for every one pound of human, there are 300 pounds of insects out there! That’s a whole lotta BUGS! Even those I’ve feared (and often times loathed) serve an important part in our world. Not all are to be hated -many insects are beneficial to humans and to gardens.

Insects are an important source of food for many other garden creatures.

I took this photo of snack time on my mom’s porch in Georgia this summer.

I took this photo of “snack time” from my mom’s porch in Georgia this summer.

 

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This little guy loved living in my garden all summer.

We watched the mama frequently feed her hungry brood of babies bugs this summer.

We watched the mama frequently feed her hungry brood of babies bugs this summer.

We need insects to pollinate our crops and gardens for food.

Adding color to our yards brings us joy and beneficials like this Monarch. Monarchs journey to Mexico for the winter!

Adding color to our yards brings us joy as well as beneficials like this Monarch. Monarchs journey south for the winter!

Bees are especially good at pollinating. Living in hives, drone bees are the male bees that are responsible for mating with the queen bee. Worker bees are all female, and the only ones you’ll see outside a hive.

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Those busy female worker bees build and protect the hive, and keep it clean and tidy (hmm… why does that sound familiar)? They also flap their wings to circulate stuffy inside hive air! In the time it takes to say “Mississippi”, a bee can flap her wings 200 times!

Bees give us honey and wax, but I’ve always wondered what purpose wasps serve. We had several large nests of wasps this year around our house, and I suffered some nasty stings. Female wasps are the only wasps that sting, and can do so over and over (bees only sting once). Penguins don’t have to deal with wasps, because the only place on Earth you won’t find these aggressive boogers is Antarctica!

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As we found this summer, their nests can go up quickly. Wasps make their homes from chewing up wood (Carpenter bees drilled into my brand new chicken coop this spring – arrrgh! Different insect, but this made me think of it). Wasps make a paper-like substance from the wood they chew to create their home.

Can you imagine how many wasps would be in this size nest? {shudder}

Can you imagine how many wasps would be in this size nest? {shudder}

An inside view of a wasp nest

An inside view of a wasp nest

But why does it seem like wasps are everywhere we go in early fall? As I sit in my glamper blogging, a wasp has just landed on the window next to me.

Hey I don’t remember inviting you in...

Hey I don’t remember inviting you in…

What is it about this time of year and wasps?!?

Fertile female wasps overwinter, waiting to emerge next year to create new nests and lay eggs. This year’s crop of workers that were tending the young all summer no longer have young mouths to feed, so now they’re busy trying to take care of themselves. They’re basically kicked out of the hive, and aren’t too happy. You’d be grumpy, too, if you were evicted, hungry and knew you were about to die! Although wasps are a nuisance to humans, they are predators (some are also parasitic) to many other pests that eat crops and cause bigger problems for humans.

Beetles are another group of insects I find fascinating. One in four insects is a beetle. Worldwide over 300,000 different kinds of beetles share our world; 12,000 varieties are found here in the USA.

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I find the sizes of beetles, ranging from flea-size to much larger, interesting, as well as the many colors and patterns. Though this Colorado potato beetle I found that made a meal of some of my plants, I think his stripes and coloring are neat looking.

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Not all beetles are bad, such as this beneficial and beautiful Six Spotted Tiger Beetle I found hiding in a pine cone.

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I admit, I did scream when this Eastern Click Eyed beetle landed in my hair this summer. (Harmless, the false eyes are alarming, but what cool factor this beetle has, like he’s wearing shades!)

And those green or brown stink bugs that are driving us all crazy by coming into our homes? They are just looking for a warm place to hunker down for the winter. Just be careful not to squish them when you “capture” them.

Until Next time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole 

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Farmgirl Roadtrip: A Great Burger Journey

 

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It’s October, though in Connecticut, lately we’ve had weather that have feels like mid-July! Instead of craving pumpkin, I’ve been dreaming of hamburgers! No matter what the temperature or season, a fabulous burger is one of life’s simplest, best pleasures!

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Vintage Glamping Dream Come True, Part 2

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What a month it’s been! We worked day and night to get our little camper ready for a Vintage Camper Roundup last weekend. (Check out the updates we’ve made to her since the last blog!) Being our maiden voyage, we weren’t sure what to expect. Would we be comfortable sleeping in the camper? Would she travel well? After all the excitement, hard work and dreaming, would we even like camping??

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Vintage Glamping Dream Come True – And A Giveaway!

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In September, my husband Kim and I celebrate our 25th anniversary! One dream we’ve always shared is someday having a camper or RV.

I’d be hard-pressed to count all the ways MaryJane’s influenced me! When I first saw MaryJane’s writing on “Glamping” (she originally coined that word!) – that was it! Our dream morphed to wanting a vintage camper. Recently, that wish came true!

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A Suburban Chicken Tale

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It’s been almost four years since I first got chickens. I’ve learned much since then, many lessons that only come with experience. Just like with most anything in life, there’s ups and downs – which I found out first hand!

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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Summer Changes

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It’s my favorite time of the year, as spring morphs into summer! Connecticut winters are often harsh, but summers are really pretty, full of changes! We’ve been busy bees ourselves making changes- sprucing up, cleaning up, and even adding a new family member!

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Orchids, 101

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Spring’s here! I love warmer weather, wearing brighter clothes, and getting outside. I just got back from spring break in Texas, where things were so much greener than my area. (I’ll share pics)! While everything in New England isn’t yet in full bloom, I’m enjoying indoor blooms, including my favorite, orchids. Mother’s Day is this month – why not give Mom an orchid? While they have a reputation for being “difficult”, with a little care and know-how, orchids are a beautiful, easy and long-lasting houseplant.

I couldn’t wait to go to Texas with my daughter for spring break. Connecticut was damp and unusually cold for much of April. I was so thrilled to see my family! I also was looking forward to seeing green outside, and I wasn’t disappointed! The weather was beautiful. Everything was lush and blooming.

 

Enjoyin' blue skies, green grass and Poochie at my niece's lovely home!

Enjoyin’ blue skies, green grass and Poochie at my niece’s lovely home!

My brother's yard and patio is a beautiful oasis with desert rose...

My brother’s yard and patio is a beautiful oasis with desert rose…

And various species of cacti. The large cactus was transplanted from my dad's ranch.

…and various species of cacti. The large cactus was transplanted from my dad’s hill country ranch.

Nothing beats a Texas sunset!

Nothing beats a Texas sunset! We fed treats to the cows at a relative’s farm.

Check out this shrimp plant growing in my father’s yard. I wish it would grow in my zone!

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While things are starting to bloom, sometimes it seems like forever in Connecticut for things to green. Having houseplants is a must! My favorite orchid on my desk has just bloomed again, and about to bloom more flowers!

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Orchids are unique plants. They make up the largest plant family; in the wild there’s over 28,000 species of orchids, with 90% found in the tropics. Five varieties commonly sold are Spray orchids (Dendrobium), Dancing Ladies (Oncidium), Lady’s Slippers (Paphiopedilum) and Moth orchids (Phalaenopsis). When Moth orchids reach 6 to 7 years old, they bloom almost continually! In between blooms, orchids keep their shiny green leaves that I think are often overlooked as beautiful foliage adding color to a home.

Though this orchid is in between blooms, its foliage looks lovely!

Though this orchid is in between blooms, its foliage looks lovely!

Indoors, orchids love light, even warmth, and high humidity. Humidity’s bad for hair, but great for plants! Most homes are drier than the tropics, so misting with a spray bottle or using humidity trays can help houseplants by increasing the humidity around the plant. Place an orchid on a tray of pebbles or sea glass with a bit of water (add a few grains of activated charcoal to keep the water from turning sour). As the water evaporates, it surrounds the plant with humidity. Just make sure the pot and roots are not sitting in water, but rather on top of the stones.

I repurpose old plates for saucers under plants. When making a humidity tray, make sure the pot sits on top of stones or sea glass, and that the width is bigger than the plant, not just the pot. Evaporation needs to reach the leaves. Grouping plants also aids in humidity needs.

I repurpose old plates for saucers under plants. When making a humidity tray, make sure the pot sits on top of stones or sea glass, and that the width is bigger than the plant, not just the pot. Evaporation needs to reach the leaves. Grouping plants also aids in humidity needs.

Keeping plants in a humid room like a bathroom (as long as there is the right light) can aid humidity, too, but avoid placing orchids in a kitchen. Phalaenopsis are susceptible to ethylene gas emitted from foods like apples and bananas; the blossoms will turn black and drop all at once if too close to ripening fruit.

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As for light, orchids love light! Bright indirect light from a Southern facing window is best, but you can get away with less light with Lady Slipper and Moth varieties.

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Orchids aren’t potted in “soil”, but rather a “medium” of coarsely chopped bark and wood with small amounts of peat moss, perlite and vermiculite mixed in. This allows for quick drainage and air to surround the roots. You can purchase special orchid potting mix (that also works for Bromeliads) at most stores carrying gardening products. (I found mine at Lowes). The medium eventually decomposes, so repotting your orchids every two years is a good idea. Orchids grow “Monopodial” or “upright”, or grow “Sympodial”, creeping. You need to know this when repotting your orchid, and provide it with the right type of pot. It’s recommended to avoid dark-colored pots that can warm roots too quickly, but clay pots are okay…just watch your water. The only water not recommended for orchids is water that comes directly from a water softener. Since I have a well, I use distilled water.

IMG_2866When it comes to houseplants, what causes failure is a “one size fits all” mentality, especially with orchids. This is particularly true when watering. Some orchids have storage organs for water, and will need a rest period. Orchids prefer drying out a bit between waterings; the potting medium should feel dry before adding more water (usually 7 to 10 days, but it depends on your room’s climate and the size of the pot). Orchids probably won’t need water as often as your other houseplants.

Watch your water with orchids. Overwatering is a common cause of orchid death.

Watch your water with orchids. Overwatering is a common cause of orchid death.

There’s a method of watering orchids called the “Ice Method”, where you allow 3 or so ice cubes to melt on top of the medium each week. Research shows that this is not the best method for watering orchids.

As for feeding, I love the saying “Feed them weakly, weekly”! You can use houseplant food that is diluted to ¼ strength. I like easy, so I prefer to use a spray formulated for orchids, and have had wonderful results. Just don’t spray the flowers.

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Orchids are often called “rare” or are pricey in stores. They have both male and female parts fused into one organ, so to be pollinated the right insect must visit. Produced seeds are extremely tiny, and special fungi must be present to grow. Many orchids now are produced using newer methods like tissue culture, so prices aren’t what they used to be. IKEA has good, inexpensive prices on orchids, with a great selection of healthy, beautiful plants. I’ve found orchids at IKEA at half the cost of other places near me.

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Are you an orchid fan, too? Let me know, (or just say hello) in comments! Wishing everyone a Happy Mother’s Day! And be sure to read MaryJane’s article, “Easily Re-Bloom Your Supermarket Orchids,” in the latest issue of MaryJanesFarm, “Blue Moon,” June/July 2017. 

 

Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

 

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