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Nature and Environment
News about the health and beauty of the natural world that sustains us.


Burning Question: Safely Incinerate Trash and Debris at Home

 

The more self-sufficient our home lives become, the more need we have to manage our homestead trash efficiently. If you already burn your trash regularly or are considering doing so, make sure that you're going about it safely. What follows, are a few important safety tips that you can use to help keep your property safe.

  • Before burning, check conditions and your local weather forecast . Make sure that conditions are neither windy or dry.
  • Make sure that there's no restrictions for your area.
  • You may also need a permit . Make sure that you're burning the right materials.
  • You are permitted to burn vegetation growing on your property, unless local ordinances specify otherwise.
  • Plastics, tires and household trash are not recommended for burning . Some local ordinances may prohibit these items from being burned.
  • If using a metal burn barrel make sure that the barrel is 100% metal,  properly constructed and equipped. Meaning, the barrel is fully intact, with at least three, evenly-spaced, 3-inch metal screen vents coming up the side of the barrel (from bottom to top). The barrel should also have a metal top, with metal screen enclosure.
  • Look up - There should be no: power lines, tree limbs, buildings, structures, vehicles or equipment near the burn site.
  • Look around - There should be a vertical clearance at least three times the height of the burn pile. A 10-foot radius, formed of dirt or gravel, should radiate out from the burn pile, forming a complete perimeter surrounding the burn pile.
  • Keep the entire perimeter area surrounding the burn pile watered down and always keep a shovel handy nearby.
  • Keep the burn pile small and manageable, adding more debris as the pile becomes smaller from burning.
  • Do not leave an active fire while burning. Always stay with a live fire until it's totally put out.
  • To put out a fire, drown the fire and ashes with water, turn ashes over with a shovel, then drown again with water. Repeat the process several times, making sure the fire is totally out.
  • Check the burn area regularly the next couple of days, even the next couple of weeks following a burn, especially if the conditions are dry, warm and windy.

Create a Fire-Resistance Zone

If your property is in a wildland-urban interface (zone of transition between wildland and human development), create a 30-foot fire-resistant zone around the property.

  • Also consider using fire-resistant plants and landscaping.
  • When disposing of charcoal, always completely cover and stir with water several times making sure the fire is completely out.
  • When people are smoking outside on the premises, make sure to keep a 3-foot clearance around the smoker.
  • Always grind out a cigarette, cigar or pipe tobacco in the dirt, not on a log, stump or wood.
  • It's best to use an ashtray.
  • No smoking on trails. Ashes could land in dry brush and sparks could start a fire.

Monica White is a freelance writer, member of the Georgia Air National Guard, and an avid runner and cyclist who loves the great outdoors and all things DIY. She divides her time between Tampa and her central Florida property, where she's growing a self-sufficient homestead. Connect with Monica on her outdoor lifestyle blog, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Introducing a New Dog Into the Home

 

In an earlier blog post, we addressed choosing the right dog for your family and homestead and to be sure the potential new addition would also choose you, including the traits to look for when choosing the new family member. Assuming the choice has been made and the rescue dog and new family are compatible, what comes next? It is time to bring the new family member into the home but it is best to be prepared ahead of time. Before you bring the dog home, it will need its own food bowl, water dish, leash, collar or harness, and a bed to sleep on that will be its own.

Create a safe area. If you have a fenced backyard, it should be inspected to make sure there are no gaps the dog can get out through. It should be high enough so the dog can’t jump the fence. You also want it high enough so other animals can’t jump into your yard. Our fence is 6’ high specifically to keep predators out. The home should also be made dog proof and safe for the new addition.

Predators come in all forms. We walk our dogs on a 6’ leash to be sure they are safely close to us. In our 23 years here in the mountains, we have not had a serious close encounter in spite of the fact we have numerous predators around. When we see a predator, we cautiously head the other way to avoid conflict. Incidentally, bears mostly graze on the wild grasses we have and the cats have abundant deer and elk so they are not attracted by a human walking large dogs. From our experience, there are more predators in and around more populated areas than found in remote living. We have found wild animals to actually be far more respectful than many of the two legged variety.

Go for the first walk. When it is time to actually bring the new canine member home, it is a good idea to take this new member for a walk first to allow them to expel some of that pent up energy. If they will be joining other canine family members they should be introduced away from the home one at a time. Having two or three other dogs greet the new member can throw that new dog into a full panic. Even though they may have met at the rescue or shelter and done well, it can be totally different when they are thrust into a new home environment.

Introduce the "pack" one member at a time. This method has worked for us for many years. The way we introduce the new dog into our pack is at a distance of roughly 100 yards from the cabin. We bring the current dogs one at a time to meet the new member. We watch carefully for any sign of aggression/dominance and if there is any, we quickly separate the dogs and let them try again once they have calmed down. When they have all met, and it goes well, we then take the new family member and our other dogs for a short walk together and bring them back home together.

Bring into the house slowly. When back home, leave their leashes on and allow them to wander around the backyard to relieve themselves if needed. We then take the new addition into the cabin first and then allow the other dogs in. The new dog will in all likelihood sniff everything as they explore the cabin. We are close by to avoid bathroom mistakes which is why we give them ample time to go outside before they come into the cabin. Males may tend to want to mark their new territory which invites the other males to respond. We want them to do any marking outside.

Give time to adjust and relax. Now that the new member has been introduced safely and successfully, it is time to give the new pack member time to familiarize and adjust to their new environment. While it is tempting to give the new member lots of attention, remember this is all new to them and they need space to adjust. Excess attention can also make other pack members jealous. We assume a calm and easy going posture and let the new member explore on their own. We discourage play as that can easily lead to dominance issues and we want the new addition to realize we are the alphas and not the other pack members.

Recognize varying times to adjust. It can take a few days or weeks for the new member to adjust to our routine and perhaps longer to fully adjust to their new environment. That depends on the dog and we allow ample time for the adjustment period. It took Ruby (see photo) almost 11 months to adjust fully and to be comfortable enough for her wonderful personality to emerge. Being deaf extended her adjustment so keeping a consistent daily routine was especially important for her. Other new canine members have taken from three days to three months. Lucy, who is only 1½, adjusted quickly but her initial introduction had some challenges.

Exercise patience and understanding. Lucy was terrified when she was brought home and when she was taken out of the car, we put her on an expandable leash so she would not feel cornered. She ran around ears back, tail between her legs, eyes wide; however,  our two senior dogs, Bozwell and Ruby, gave her distance remaining calm. Lucy soon took their lead and calmed down and gradually they engaged and sniffed each other. They gave her plenty of space until she was fully calm and they could safely interact. After a level of tranquility was established, we followed the above mentioned routine and now have three very well adjusted and compatible fur family members. It was an education watching the senior dogs calmly transform Lucy into a calm state and then welcome her home as one of the pack.

Bruce McElmurray homesteads at high elevation in the Southern Rockies with his wife, Carol. For more on their mountain lifestyle and their observances of animals coupled with their strange behavior, visit Bruce’s personal blog site at Bruce Carol Cabin. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Building a Green Community on a Suburban Street

Neighbors In Parking Lot Garden

Head Start work party prepares containers

 

We are seeing a steep spike in interest nationwide in gardening. Where I live in Eugene, Ore., I am seeing new front yard gardens here and there in my neighborhood a mile northwest of downtown. The local business that makes compost and garden soil at an industrial scale has become a very busy place. Instead of driving right up to make an order, you have to wait for 6 or 8 vehicles in front of you in line. Meanwhile, vegetable seeds are hard to find in area stores.

 

Historically, gardens have been a wonderful feature for homes, but with so much disruption caused by the coronavirus this year, gardens are looking like a better idea than ever. Our neighborhood is already known in the area for its many gardens, but we want to see more.

 

Neighborhood Association Advocates Container Gardening

 

“We” is our neighborhood association. The River Road Community Organization (RRCO) is affiliated with the City of Eugene. There are 25 neighborhoods in Eugene. Our neighborhood has a website, a monthly e-newsletter and, in normal times, monthly meetings about important issues relating to the neighborhood. RRCO also has a positive history and standing in the neighborhood.

 

I serve as one of eight neighborhood associated Board members and we have agreed to reach out to the neighborhood to encourage more gardens. We sent out the garden initiative notice in our monthly newsletter and each of us sent out the same message to our own contacts in the neighborhood.

 

A Google Form identifies what we are offering and provides a way for people to indicate their interests. We are offering several approaches to making homes and lifestyles more green and resilient. First, we are making available 3-gallon nursery containers filled with a soil mix, at cost, ready to plant. We see containers like this as garden “training wheels.”

 

A month later, nearly 400 containers have gone out! Some people wanted two or three — one fellow has 25. Our local Head Start program took 200. We had a big work party out front of my house to fill the Head Start containers with garden mix. Those containers will go out to many less privileged kids and could be the start of a lifelong friendship with plants and gardens.

Two Gardeners Building Raised Bed

Brand new cooperative raised bed

New Connections on the Street

 

We also started a micro community garden on the property of one of our neighbors. Five people share a large raised bed. Several of the participants did not know each other before the garden, including a woman who recently bought a house down the street. We all water the entire raised bed as needed. It’s great to see the plants thriving and new friendships forming. Building social relations are just as important as the tomatoes, strawberries and beets.

 

One day, I was passing by the garden on my bike and saw one of our garden members. I pulled in and we had a great conversation about the garden and various chit chat. After a few minutes, the woman who owns the property with her husband came out and we all had a great conversation that lead to her giving us a tour of her garden closer to her house a short walk away.

 

She had a beautiful garden with paving stone raised beds — it looked like a mini Versailles. Their home would make for a nice feature in a garden magazine. She explained how she was away for a week 10 years ago and when she returned, her husband had built all the raised beds to make her garden work more comfortable for her at 65 years of age.

 

She also asked us to be aware that they had an efficiency apartment for rent and described the kind of person they would like to rent to. We had a very nice tour as we all learned more about each other in a very casual way.

 

Suburban Homestead Backyard Garden

A site tour here will show and tell many resilient features.

Becoming Acquainted with a Familiar Place

 

I have met a number of new people on my suburban street and have seen several backyards and small gardens for the first time. There are all kinds of interesting details we don't normally see, even on our familiar street — until we take the time.

 

Another day while out for the mail, I saw one of our garden group members, and we talked for a while. It turns out that he had told his girlfriend about the nearby apartment for rent. They had seen it and she will move in next month, making their seeing each other much easier. She will join the garden group. Another couple of neighbors over my backyard fence are very interested to make big changes to their large and sunny backyard, and they want me to help design and guide them through the multi-year process.

 

A chance front yard chat yesterday with another neighbor brought me up to date. After several years of unanticipated distractions, he is now returning to the task of reclaiming his half-acre property from invasive blackberries and producing more of his own food.

 

We now have a site tour planned for my home in a few weeks. There is a lot to see – grass to garden front and back, edible landscaping, rainwater catchment, passive solar, a tiny detached house, and much more. The idea is to show and tell and encourage others to adapt smart ideas to take into their own lives and property.

 

Imagine two parallel rows of eight houses and a street in the middle. And then imagine lines connecting those houses that represent spontaneous chats, sharing a tool, trading a plant. These are all small beginnings of more robust interactions that changing economic, social, environmental, and now public health circumstances will call for — people connecting more and more for common cause.

 

It’s so much fun and very satisfying to make connections with neighbors. There are so many benefits to be gained. We all have stories to share and relationships to build. We have more assets to work with to create a more green and resilient place to live, be they the neighborhood association or our own properties.

 

That makes me think: We should have a promenade on the street and then meet at the park for a picnic.

 

Jan Spencer has been transforming his quarter-acre suburban property for 15 years. The project shows what home economics and suburbia can look like — taking care of more needs closer to home. Read Jan’s book, Notes from the Suburban Frontier, as well as listen to his podcast, check out his YouTube channel, and find community-building resources at Suburban Permaculture.He is available for making presentations about transforming suburbia, economy and culture. Read all of Jan’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Walking Under the Whirling Rainbow: All-Faith Cross-Country Pilgrimage Celebrates 25 Years

Whirling Rainbow odyssey 

A quarter of a century ago — June 23, 1995 — a band of pilgrims gathered at First Encounter Beach on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. They came on behalf of all the people, plants, and animals of the Earth. From this place of sand and sea at America's Eastern Door, this intercultural band of pilgrims took the first steps on the epic Sunbow 5 Walk for the Earth. In many respects and in a global context, everyone is still walking.

The small, ecumenical band of sunbow pilgrims journeyed from the Atlantic to the Pacific over a span of eight intensive months. They walked under the Algonquin teachings of the Seven Fires, the inspiration of a White Buffalo, and the global skysign of the Whirling Rainbow (Sunbow).

The walkers paid close attention to the image of the Sunbow. When this natural phenomenon occurs, a full 360-degree rainbow circle appears in a wide ring around the Sun. The colorful, whirling vortex is said to signify critical understandings that lead to a healthy, inclusive, sustainable future for all.

For the purposes of the walk, the number 5 was added to Sunbow to signify five colors of human beings: Red, White, Black, Yellow, and Brown. The sunbow pilgrims were walking from the Eastern Door on the Atlantic toward the Western Gate at the Pacific to help unite all peoples and all nations in honesty, caring, sharing, and respect.

Their epic spiritual adventure involved untold U.S. and world history, pressing environmental and social issues, a convoluted web of personal relationships, and a wealth of spiritual insight with direct relevance for our era.

Now as world culture continues on a larger, more challenging journey from an old time to a new time, our long walk together under the whirling rainbow may serve to illumine some of the steps.

All of this is outlined in the freely available, nonfiction online saga, Odyssey of the 8th Fire. Beyond the basic story of a band of pilgrims off on a mission to understand and to care for Mother Earth, Odyssey of the 8th Fire is also a compendium of teachings. The long walkers met with dozens of learned elders along the trail from east to west. They generously shared many of the key wisdom knowings of Turtle Island (North America). Those teachings—long ago left by the side of the trail—remain urgently relevant.

My sand painting 

Whirling rainbow sand painting.

Seven Fires

I first met Grandfather William Commanda, in the late 1980s at his home at Bitobi Lake on the Maniwaki Reserve, Quebec, Canada. We sat in his living room and talked for a long time. Deep in our conversation, Grandfather shared with me the Annishinaabeg (Algonquin) teachings of the Seven Fires and the Seven Prophets.

To cut to the heart of the matter, Grandfather spoke of the seventh prophet, who came to the Algonquin peoples many generations ago and warned of dying trees and poisoned waters, a time when strange sicknesses would arise, when deranged people would see no purpose in living other than to horde the world's treasures while other human beings went hungry, and when soul and social sicknesses would breed immense sorrows.

Drawing on his own knowledge as keeper of the Seven Fires Wampum Belt, and on the work of Eddie Benton Banai, Grandfather explained that the seventh prophet also said that '"in the time of the Seventh Fire there will arise Oshkibimadizeeg (a new people) who will emerge from the clouds of illusion. They will retrace their steps to find what was left by the side of the trail long ago. Stories that had been lost will be returned to them. They will remember the Original Instructions given to the human beings by Creator. They will find strength in the way of the circle...If the new people remain strong in their quest, the sacred fire will again be lit."

That's what caught my attention back when I first heard the tale, the part about the new people retracing the footsteps of the ancestors to seek out what had been left by the side of the trail. As it turned out, that element of the story caught the attention of many other people as well.

Thus 25 years ago under the guidance of Grandfather Commanda, a man named Tom Dostou and his wife at the time, Naoko Haga, assembled a band of walkers, a multiracial, multispiritual group that fluctuated in numbers from 7 to 100 or more over the nearly eight months of the coast-to-coast odyssey.

By the time June 1995 rolled around, people were primed to go. The walkers had been moved by the directness and integrity of the Seven Fires story, by the authority of the long-awaited Hopi elders' message at the House of Mica (UN Headquarters on Manhattan), by the promise expressed in the birth of a White Buffalo, and by the mounting distress evident all around them in human beings and the environment. They were of one mind to begin. 

saga 1 

The Teachings of Our Heart

The long walkers gathered on June 23, 1995 under the summer sun at noon around a blazing ceremonial fire at First Encounter Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. During that send-off ceremony, elders representing different traditions offered messages, and brought us together in focused prayer for the safety of all walkers, and for the realization of the vision.

Taking an eagle feather in his hand, Algonquin elder Frank Decontie paced intently around the wind-whipped fire, and offered an eloquent oration. "I ask you to listen," he said, "not just with your minds. I ask you to listen with your hearts, because that is the only way you can receive what it is, what we are giving. These are the teachings of our hearts."

When Rev. Eugene Callender of the Harlem Presbyterian Church in New York City spoke by the fire, he created a frame of historical reference: "I began walking a long time ago, you know. Forty years ago, I began walking in a little town in Alabama, in Selma. People decided that they could walk no longer the way they had been walking. They knew that they needed to walk with dignity. They needed to be recognized as children of God. That walk helped to spark a tremendous transformation.

"Today we know that there are chords of disharmony in the symphony of our lives. This is why we must walk again, and recognize with grateful heart that we are all God's children. How can we wipe away the tears of the people, of all the people, if our hands are like knives? We cannot. Our hands must be open and filled with love and understanding.

"This walk, I sincerely believe, will honor the Creator, and uplift the consciousness of people everywhere that the walk goes...This is a pilgrimage of righteousness. This is a pilgrimage of healing. This is a pilgrimage of truth. I am honored to be here at the start. I pray a blessing on my brothers and sisters of all colors, of all faiths, as the walk begins."

After lining up behind a crack in pavement of the beach road, the walkers looked up and beheld a Red Eagle circling directly above, a great bird soon joined by shrieking crows intent on mayhem. Then off the sunbow pilgrims went, down the road heading south to Cherokee, then west across the continent, day by day, step by step.

Now, a quarter century after the beginning of this great global adventure, it's clear it's not over. The mission is incomplete. We all have miles to go before we sleep. Walk on.

Independent journalist Steven McFadden is rooted in cyberspace at DeepAgroecology.net. Information about his wider work and all of his nonfiction books is available at Chiron-Communications.com. You can read all of Steven's Mother Earth News blog posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Preserving the Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout: Lessons in Environmental Activism

 

When we first moved to our mountain community we learned that the creeks in our community contained native species of trout. The streams and their clear sparkling water are perfect habitat for abundant native trout that have been in the streams for millennia. The trout and their habitat were being monitored by the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado biologist would make periodic visits to ensure non-native fish were not overpowering the native fish. The Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout have specific genetic markers that set them apart from other cutthroat trout, which makes them unique to the San Luis Valley.

We are therefore privileged to reside in an area that holds native trout which have been in the stream for thousands of years. Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado had only a few streams that contained these native species and they had been close to being put on the endangered species list over the years if not for the intense conservation efforts. 

Suddenly Placed In Danger. One day when on a picnic with friends by the stream, I noticed a white pipe sticking up out of the stream and went to investigate. I found the stream had recently been dammed up. Fish were no longer able to swim up and down the stream and were cut off from being able to protect themselves during our harsh winters here in the mountains. Unable to reach the deeper holes up/downstream, it would ultimately endanger the native population in our stream. I have been involved in environmental issues over my lifetime and I could not stand by and allow this to happen. I also reported on this via a blog post for MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

No Legal Protection? I soon had the state biologist looking at the dammed up portion with me. He sadly reported that there were no state laws to prohibit this. That has since been remedied by New Mexico and Colorado coming together to pass a law in 2009 that will now protect our waters and the native fish. I subsequently contacted a friend in Denver who is a U.S. government investigator for advice and the next thing I knew there were 5 different government agencies who did have the legal authority to address this illegal procedure.

Federal Government Stepped Up Big Time. As I was speaking with my friend, he was able to access a satellite view of the creek and determine it originated on federal land and therefore they had jurisdiction. Next, the US Army Corp of Engineers delivered a letter to those responsible giving them 10 days to restore the creek to its original condition or face fines up to $50,000.00 a day until it was restored. The threats I had been getting from those responsible suddenly stopped and the culprits focused on trying to intimidate the government agencies but the creek was restored to its near original condition within the allotted time.

Spring Wildfire Disaster. Then in 2018, the Spring Wildfire (3rd largest in Colorado history) consumed much of our area including the pristine creeks. The creeks are now black with ash and the creek bottom is covered with soot so any life in the creek has been greatly impacted. Fortunately, the story does not end there because  the native Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout are part of a conservation project in Pitkin hatchery, where they are breeding these native fish in order to conserve the species. Our creeks are going to require much work to make them suitable again for these native fish but it is nice knowing the fish will be available for restocking when the creeks are restored.

Finally Protection For The Fish. The future of this native species is now protected and if anyone in the future does anything to put these fish at risk there are now laws that can apply. I don’t know if it was the action I took to restore our creek that brought it to the attention of state officials to act to protect a rare and unique species of fish but no longer will a biologist have to stand by a violation involving this species of fish and sadly say there are no laws that apply.

Bullies and Intimidation. Those who illegally dammed up the creek and their threats to destroy/harm me for reporting them did not deter me because I knew I was doing the right thing. Anyone else who is sure they are right should not cave in to threats or bully tactics either. Threats and intimidation are often tactics by those caught doing wrong. When the US Army Corp of Engineers got involved they stopped threatening me and instead threatened to sue the government agencies and directed their bluster at them.

Native Trout For Future Generations. These native trout are now safely guarded for the future and it all started when I investigated and documented facts. Facts don’t change but stories and excuses do, so it is very important to document facts and carefully research your issue. I got very lucky in contacting a friend for advice because he knew exactly where to go and what to do. Not everyone has such a friend so a little research ahead of time as to who to contact could save a lot of time.

Persistence Pays Off. As an example, I once reported the dispersion of a toxic chemical in our community and was rebuffed by the EPA and State of Colorado agency that regulate such incidents. I didn’t give up but sent a letter to the Governor inquiring why our enforcement agencies were too busy to address toxic chemicals that pose a serious health risk. I included names and facts to bolster  my inquiry. I promptly received a reply from the very same person who said they were not interested initially. His tone and demeanor were greatly improved and my request went to the top of his to-do projects and the matter was quickly resolved.

The Power Of One. Both instances demonstrate that the power of one person can be highly effective if that person is willing to persist, has documented the facts and can present them in a fair and unbiased manner without being threatening or hostile. Be prepared to spend the time and effort necessary and don’t get sidelined by those who want to engage you in distractions or bully tactics and stay focused. In the later case of the carcinogenic chemicals the laws were outdated and subsequently I was invited to participate in the development of more applicable laws. Getting involved means time and commitment and if you know or have someone to assist you that knows the proper procedures it is helpful.

Photo by Bruce McElmurray

Bruce McElmurray homesteads at high elevation in the Southern Rockies with his wife, Carol. For more on their mountain lifestyle and their observances of animals coupled with their strange behavior, visit Bruce’s personal blog site at Bruce Carol Cabin. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Mother Nature Teaches Flexibility During Times of Upheaval

Normal Garden Routine

My normal spring routine includes removing all of last year’s weed fabric from my veggie beds, weeding those beds and my perennial beds, laying down new fabric and straw in preparation for vegetable planting, then planting all of my babies in 6-8 hour stretches over a matter of weeks.

At the beginning of March, just as I was about to begin this time-intensive process, I came down with Covid-19. I’ll say right now, this was a strange and frustrating battle. The first week or so, I strongly sensed I should take it easy but not stay in bed. My daily routine was to move from my bed to my favorite chair so I could be upright. I took this opportunity to research and try to find out more about this new coronavirus.

The second week (10 days, actually) I had to force myself to make the trek down a simple flight of stairs to my chair. My daily shower and any cooking became distant dreams while my husband stepped up and took over my daily indoor chores.

I checked in regularly with my body about whether or not I should go to the hospital. Because of our worries, we ended up getting this finger oximeter. Though it came too late for monitoring during the worst of it, I’m finding it interesting how my oxygen and pulse levels vary depending on my energy output.

Subsequent weeks returned to a state more like the first week but roller coastered every few days back to the worst of it depending on my activity levels. My frustration only grew knowing that my veg babies, which I’d started in February, had been thriving indoors and at least the cabbage family was wanting to make it into the ground where they could truly enjoy themselves.

During this latter period, I was occasionally able to do small, menial chores in the garden like weeding the bank that the community sees. The last thing I needed was another letter to comply with local ordinances while I was trying to maintain any semblance of well-being. Our previous letters each came with hits to my eating and sleeping capabilities—I was already drained and hardly needed more stress.

At most during my climb back to health, I was able to get two hours a day in the garden—only if I was seated. While I never had a fever, I definitely had the cough and shortness of breath. If I wasn’t sitting while weeding, I couldn’t easily maintain even breathing—talk about limiting! My frustration and patience levels were definitely stretched to their limits.

Slow Go Gardening

The duration of my battle lasted most of March, all of April, and well into May. In fact, the first time I was able to function normally, without any shortness of breath, was May 26th. I was ecstatic when I realized that I’d been hauling yard waste back to my pickup pile without any breathing issues!

Woman Showing COVID HairBecause of this sideways curveball Mother Nature hurled at me, I’ve had to completely change my usual methods. I usually complete all of one task before going onto the next. I remove the fabric and weeds from all the annual vegetable beds, then I lay down fresh fabric and top it with fresh straw. My last step is to plant my babies.

This year, I’m working partial beds doing each step in small increments as I go. I didn’t know how far I’d make it or whether or not I’d be able to get all my veggies in the ground at all. Thankfully, my husband helped out a couple of days and our youngest popped over for several hours. I still have a lot of planting to do but most of the annual beds are ready and I’m now able to plant without hesitation of a relapse (though my lungs are still occasionally poking at me to behave).

Thankfully, at birth I came prepackaged with a strength in flexibility. Usually it’s Mother Nature’s weatherly fits that I need to work around. Speaking of weather, in a way I was lucky to be ill during this time because my garden is normally fully planted by early-May, having started planting in April. This year, we ended up with a hard frost at 28 degrees in early May. That would likely have taken out most of my seedlings. I’m very grateful that they were still safely in the house.

It’s in my nature to find silver linings… the two I’m taking away from this battle are the survival and safety of my veggie starts from that killing frost and that even at the ripe, old age of 62 I can flex and learn new ways of doing things as I find workarounds for the stumbling blocks life throws at me. Now, if I can just avert my eyes a little more easily when walking past the perennial beds brimming with weeds and to my overgrown head of hair…

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Honeybee Swarm Season in New England!

Swarm setting in tree.

It’s May in Western Massachusetts- and that means the start of honeybee swarm season! Swarm season is the time of year when honeybee colonies may feel the need to take off in search of a new home.

There are many reasons a honeybee colony decides to swarm- including overcrowding, underproductive queen bee and disease. Beekeepers work to manage hives throughout the year, adding new frames and boxes to allow space for bees to store honey, pollen and for the queen to lay eggs. Beekeepers manage pests and diseases in a variety of ways, both synthetic and organic to keep colonies healthy and to prevent swarms. If the colony feels there is not enough space to store their necessities- or if the queen no longer has space to lay eggs a hive may swarm. If the colony feels their queen is subpar, they may swarm. If the colony is overrun with parasites, they may swarm. Sometimes colonies swarm on their own secret agenda- leaving even the most experienced beekeepers scratching their heads as to why.

The image of a swarm of tens of thousands of bees flying through the air is one that can bring great terror- but- it does not have to. Honeybee swarms are generally docile, they are focussed on finding a suitable new home and keeping their queen safe and warm during the journey- they are not looking for a fight. Before swarming, honeybees gorge on honey to sustain themselves for the long flight and search for a new home. With their bellies full of honey, it is difficult for bees to curve their abdomen in order to sting- great news for us!

A swarm of honeybees will at first look like a cloud of bees in the air, all flying in what look like little circles. There is a distinct sound swarms make, like a roar of buzzing- it is a sound beekeepers become very familiar with, and if you have heard it before you will know exactly what I mean. The swarm will settle on a tree branch, fence or other surface and cluster around the queen to keep her safe and warm. While the swarm rests, scout bees will fly off in all directions searching for a suitable new home- possibly a hollow tree, an empty hive in another beekeeper’s yard, or (hopefully not, but it does happen) a hole in your siding, chimney or deck.

Capped queen cell.

Queen bees give off distinct pheromones so honeybees that go out and collect nectar or pollen will be able to discern their hive from others. Once a swarm lands in a tree, or on a fence post- a pheromone is left behind and can lead to additional swarms landing in the same spot repeatedly. We have an old apple tree on our farm where at least four swarms have landed- our own ‘bee tree.’ 

If a colony feels their queen is not performing up to standard, they will supersede her by raising a new queen, the current queen’s daughter. Worker bees, who are all female, will build a specially shaped cup using beeswax. The current queen will lay an egg inside this special cup and worker bees will feed the larva royal jelly so it develops into a queen. It takes sixteen days for the new queen to fully develop. The current queen has to leave the hive before her daughter hatches, or risk a battle to the death- so when she senses the new queen is about to emerge, she will take a portion of the colony, usually about half, and swarm away. There are occasions where more than one queen cell will be built within the same hive. This can lead to multiple swarms, or a battle royale between the young queens where the victor kills her sisters to win the throne.

Caged Queen attracting bees with pheramone.

Interesting honeybee sting facts- worker bees are all female, and can sting but have barbed stingers, meaning their stinger gets stuck in whatever or whomever they stung- killing them. Male bees are called drones and do not have stingers. Queen honeybees have retractable stingers, similar to a wasp or hornet, and can sting multiple times- but generally save their stinging only for other queens.

If a honeybee colony is overrun with parasites, or does not have space in the hive they may abscond in a swarm- meaning the entire colony will fly off leaving only an empty hive behind. This type of swarm is a beekeeper’s worst nightmare- and if the absconding swarm can not be caught it means you watch your assets fly away!

A few days before swarming, the queen bee will stop laying eggs so that she is light enough to fly, and so there are not baby bees left behind. A queen bee lays up to 2,000 eggs per day and because of her abdominal size can not typically fly long distances. In order to make the swarm flight she has to take a break from egg laying and size down. 

Queen bee.

Honeybee swarms are the ultimate form of procreation- not making single bees, but a whole colony at once. While dealing with swarms is extra work for beekeepers, it is also an excellent way to expand an apiary if the swarms can be caught. Capturing swarms saves money and can help in developing generations of bees that are acclimated to specific climates and conditions.

If you come across a swarm of honeybees- do not fear! Watch them from a safe distance, and listen to them roar. Contact a local beekeeper to collect the swarm, and if you are in Berkshire County, MA- look up Olsen Farm. We are always happy to help remove a swarm!

Kristen Tool is co-owner of Olsen Farm in Lanesborough, Mass., where she works with her husband to revive 28 acres of a four-generation family farm by keeping bees, growing fruit, vegetables and herbs without the use of pesticides, raising poultry, cultivating mushrooms, leading workshops, and preparing plant remedies. She is the Secretary of the Northern Berkshire Beekeepers Association and manages a crew of incredible teens who run the local farmers market through a nonprofit program, Roots Rising. Connect with Kristen at Olsen Farm on Facebook, on Instagram @olsen_farm, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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