Archives

The Best-Laid Plans

It’s been a hectic week and a bit since my last post! As I promised, I do have exciting news that returned with my in-laws from their vacation visiting family in upstate New York, but I’m saving the formal post for after I have a chance to take pictures. They brought something else with them too, that I wasn’t expecting: a whole bushel of sweet cherries! What I didn’t know when I first heard this was just how big a bushel is – according to good old Google, a bushel of cherries is around 50lbs! I immediately made plans for a whole slew of preserves with this bounty, and if all had gone according to schedule I’d have several well-documented posts to share with you about my cherry-canning escapades.

Needless to say, things did not go even a tiny bit according to schedule. On Tuesday night we had a very violent 10-minute thunderstorm that knocked out our power for nearly 24 hours. The chest freezer was full enough to stay frozen, but we lost most of the contents of our indoor fridges and freezers. Since we have an electric stove, we couldn’t do anything in the way of cooking or preserving, and so everything was thrown off. Trying to catch up, my mother-in-law and I took the weekend and pounded out several batches of jam, jelly, and pickles from stocks that were getting ready to spoil or over-ripen – the last of the early kohlrabi and strawberries, remnants of rhubarb left over from other jams, and of course the cherries! I also picked up some pickling cucumbers and green beans at the farmer’s market to try my hand at pickling on my own, and I have chunks of watermelon rind in the fridge for pickling as well. And at last, the cherries are all processed and juiced in preparation for jelly, or chopped and frozen in preparation for jam. Now perhaps we can get back to some semblance of organization!

Under Invasion

Invasive species are a problem everywhere, and one I don’t think we talk about enough. Recently I’ve been seeing one old nemesis crop up, and I thought I’d share. The more people are aware of the problems invasive species can cause, the more people can help to limit their spread as much as possible.

Let’s start by making one thing perfectly clear: in a well-balanced ecosystem, everything has its place, no matter how annoying it may be. Things that are invasive in the Northeastern United States have a place of origin where they make a valuable contribution to the overall balance of life. The key word there is balance. Nature generally has checks and balances to keep everything in harmony. Herbivores feed on plant species so they don’t overgrow. Predators keep the herbivore populations from getting out of hand. When a plant or animal is moved from its native area to a new place, the new environment doesn’t have any checks and balances to control it. The new species can badly upset the established harmony.

Today’s example is a plant known as garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata). This herb is native to Europe and parts of Asia, and is first recorded in North America in 1868 on Long Island. Now, it is found in various areas of the northeast and midwest. It was most likely introduced for its culinary and medicinal uses. It is often found in forest understories, particularly along trails and forest edges, or along roadsides, and it can form dense stands. It is a biennial, and spends its first year as a small rosette of toothed green leaves. In its more recognizable second-year form, it is a tall plant, standing as much as 2-3 feet high and fairly straight, with clusters of small white flowers.

A stand of garlic mustard

A stand of garlic mustard

So, what’s the problem? At first glance it may seem that garlic mustard is just another wildflower, and an edible one at that. In fact, it looks an awful lot like some of our native understory plants, like toothwort, early saxifrage, and sweet cicely. But because it is not a native plant, there are some important differences. Firstly, garlic mustard is able to out-compete the comparable native plants listed above, in part because the major native herbivores like deer don’t feed on it. They will preferentially pick out and eat the others instead. As garlic mustard becomes over-represented in the understory, other imbalances arise. For example, several species of native butterfly typically lay their eggs on plants like toothwort. When toothwort is less available, they lay those eggs on garlic mustard instead. The oils in the leaves of the garlic mustard can interfere with the eggs and keep them from hatching, or be unhealthy to caterpillars trying to eat them. One of these butterflies is the endangered West Virginia white butterfly.

Did you know that plants engage in chemical warfare? It’s true: plants give off chemicals that help them compete with other nearby plants for territory and nutrients. When this back-and-forth of chemical exchanges evolves over long periods, it is just another set of steps in the elaborate dance of the ecosystem. When an imported plant is dropped in the middle of this dance, however, the chemicals it exudes that were perfectly in step with its normal habitat cause havoc instead. Garlic mustard interferes with the beneficial fungi that are important for native tree seedling growth.

What can you do to keep your forest ecosystem healthy? Eradicating garlic mustard is a big job, but every little bit helps. Start by being certain you’ve identified garlic mustard correctly. It’s pretty distinctive, but make sure not to confuse it with the similar native plants mentioned above. The leaves have a heart shape and are toothed around the edges, and are generally pointed at the tips. The first-year rosettes have similar leaves, but more kidney-shaped.

IMG_4197

The flowers grow in clusters, usually with an iconic cluster at the top of the plant. Each small blossom will have 4 white petals oriented in the shape of a cross. (The clusters can have more flowers than this, but the specimens around my yard are a little light right now). The long, four-sided seed pods will also start to appear around this time of year.

IMG_4237

If in doubt, pluck a few leaves and crush them in your fingers. They should give off a garlic or onion-like smell. This will tell you you’ve got the right plant! Once you’ve identified it, you’ll want to grasp near the root and simply pull it out of the ground. This is easier when the soil is damp. Try to get as much of the root as possible, or it can regrow. Do this every year! Seeds can grow after even as long as five years in the soil. Once the plant is pulled, you need to make sure the seeds don’t go back into the soil. Put it in a burn barrel if you have one, or bag it securely and put it in the garbage. Feel free to use the leaves as a culinary herb, if you know they haven’t been sprayed.

More questions? Want to check out the sources I used to investigate garlic mustard? I first learned about garlic mustard from the Brandywine Conservancy, a local conservation group. Then I did some more research here:

http://www.columbia.edu/itc/cerc/danoff-burg/invasion_bio/inv_spp_summ/Alliaria_petiolata.html

http://www.nyis.info/index.php?action=invasive_detail&id=25

http://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/pubs/midatlantic/alpe.htm

(Egg) Breaking News!

We interrupt your regularly scheduled blog post to bring you this breaking news! WE HAVE DUCKLINGS! That’s right, the Muscovy duck mama’s eggs have hatched! They weren’t there on Thursday night, but by Friday morning they were waiting for me in the barn! We have either 14 or 15 baby Muscovies, but we’re pretty sure it’s 15. Because we let the girls set up their own nest, we’re not 100% sure how many eggs were under her, but it looks like she hatched every last one of them! We’re just thrilled. Mom is doing a great job, teaching them to eat and drink and generally be ducks. She does not want to let us have anything to do with them, so getting good photos (or an accurate count) has been challenging, but here’s a shot of the family together!

IMG_4258As you can see, we have a mix of mostly-yellow and mostly-black babies. I’m pretty certain, based on the research I’ve been doing about Muscovy duck color genetics, that this means both my males are fertile! My white drake should only be able to father white ducklings on the two females we had at the time this clutch started incubating. So in order to get non-white babies, that means my black male should also be fertile. The reason I spent so much time thinking about this is because we had suspected there was a chance the black drake could be a Muscovy cross. Muscovy and mallard-stock ducks can interbreed, but their offspring are mules, unable to reproduce. But it seems like he is a Muscovy after all!

This group will have a space to themselves for a week or so, then we’ll open the door and let mama integrate them with the rest of the flock!

Video Killed the Blog Post

I have a blog post all written and ready to post, except I need to go take some photos for it. Unfortunately finding time to go get the pictures that I need during the hours where there’s good light is proving to be a challenge, even with as long as the days are now. Look for a new post on Saturday evening, most likely! In the meantime, here is a picture of a duck.

IMG_3796

Reboot

Eleven months after my last post – almost to the day – I’m here again, making an effort to reboot this blog into something that’s sustainable for me and interesting for you. You’ll notice a lot of similarities in layout, style, and design, but some changes in terms of title and content. Part of what has hindered me in the past is the idea that a blog has to be “about” just one thing to gain interest, and I’m very bad at that. I have a lot of varied interests and so far there’s not one dominant one that takes up enough of my time and energy to be worth blogging about day in and day out. So I’ve scrapped the “Eboracum Knits” approach, although you will certainly see knitting content! Instead, you’ll see varied snippets from the eclectic life of Celia York. (The first interesting tidbit for some of you might come from my choice of moniker. Check out the header, or my twitter feed. Eboracum was the Roman name for the city of York in Great Britain. As a history and classics nerd, this reworking of the surname York just felt right!)

So, you ask, what have I been up to in the past year? Here are the highlights!

I’m still knitting.

I have certainly not stopped knitting! Rather than try to show you everything I’ve done, I’ll just show you my most recent FO, a pair of fingerless gloves for a friend. A quick and easy knit!

IMG_20140215_142115_095

Pattern: Woven Cable Fingerless Gloves by Harry Wells. Yarn: Dream in Color Classy, purchased at my very favorite LYS, Stitches with Style in Newark, DE.

I got a job.

This is part of what ate into my blogging time. Prior to this, I was doing the full-time student gig. You probably won’t hear too much about work in these pages. Although I do love my job, it isn’t something that I’m driven to share as blog fodder. I throw myself into it wholeheartedly and spend a lot of my personal energy on it as well, so while it may spill over into the blog sometimes, it won’t be the driving focus. I’m striving to keep the spotlight on my personal pursuits outside of work, as part of a greater overall work-life balance.

I bought a bow and took up archery.

This is my bow, a Samick Sage Takedown Recurve from Lancaster Archery. I went to a Women’s Day at my local sportsmen’s club in August, and did a few hours of archery there. It was my first time shooting a traditional bow (as opposed to a modern compound bow) and I was absolutely hooked. I took a lesson, bought a bow, hit the archery range with a friend of mine, and have been going to indoor archery nights at the sportsmen’s club as often as the weather allows.

I got a new cat.

This brings the total to three cats, two dogs, and one lizard. That’s house pets only, mind you; there are still chickens and Muscovy ducks in the barnyard department. His name is Grendel, and he was basically an accident – he just turned up one day needing a home. Gratuitous kitty picture!

Grendel

And on that bombshell, it’s time to end. See you next time!

Musical Interlude

The hardest part of blogging seems to be, really, having interesting things to say and pictures to show! All progress is exciting to me, but you probably don’t want to see pictures of a few more inches of purple cabled sweater every week. 🙂 I think I have some interesting progress to show in the next couple of days, though! In the meantime, please enjoy this awesome rock ballad by my friend Em McKeever. It’s all about – what else? – KNITTING! If you like it, check out her website at www.emkeev.com or her YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/emkeev!