Monthly Archives: April 2013

Canoeing by moonlight

Friday night we took a nighttime canoe ride with our friends Cathy and Rob.  We were part of a larger group sponsored by Frog Hollow Outdoors, who provided the boats and led us on the tour.

nightcanoemattshawnnaWe canoed in the Three Rivers area of Durham, which is where  three rivers—the Eno, Flat and Neuse—converge and empty into Falls Lake.   Putting  in at the Eno River boat ramp off of Red Mill Road, our flotilla  headed east, to the end of the Eno River.

Our guides asked us to turn off our lights so that we could utilize our nighttime vision.  The full moon provided enough light for our paddle, and the weather was perfect. Occasionally a heron would fly overhead, and the owls definitely made their presence known.

nightcanoecathyrob2 Soon we reached the end of the Eno and came to the headwaters of the Neuse. The Flat river stretched out to the north of us.

We sat there and listened to the unusual sounds of the cricket frogs.  They made a surreal static popping noise, almost like a Geiger counter.  One of our companions was startled by the slapping of a beaver tail.

Although we had a blissful paddle through the moonlight, we were glad when we got back to the boat ramp.  That night we slept well, dreaming of herons and cricket frogs.


Way down yonder in the paw paw patch…

It made my morning to discover that our paw paw tree had flowered.  The flowers are an  astonishingly-pretty deep red with a hint of purple.  We planted this tree a few years ago, but this is the first time it’s flowered, which means it should fruit sometime over the late summer.

paw paw

I’ll be honest with you: I’ve never eaten a paw paw before, but I’m told they taste like mangos. They live in shady areas along streams and river basins   in much of the Eastern U.S.  When we planted this tree, we thought the back of the yard was wet and shady enough, and would be a nice addition to our edible landscape.  When I create my first paw paw smoothie, I will be sure to write a post about it.

Does anyone remember this song from their elementary school days?

Pickin’ up paw paws,
Put ‘em in your pocket
Pickin’ up paw paws,
Put ‘em in your pocket
Pickin’ up paw paws,
Put ‘em in your pocket
Way down yonder in the paw paw patch


UPDATE:  Dear readers, it turns out that the “bamboo” in my back yard is actually wheat.  Shows you what I know.  (5/10/13)

Recently some bamboo sprouted up in our yard.


The sight of it made me a little anxious, probably because I’ve heard enough bamboo horror stories over the years to compile an anthology.  These are tales that pit neighbor against neighbor; someone’s well-intentioned bamboo screen screen gets out of control and crosses the property line where it becomes a problem for someone else.

There are two kinds of  bamboo: running and clumping.   The running variety is such a problem because its rhizomes grow laterally, through the soil surface, which make it spread very fast.  I’ve  heard that if you’re going to plant bamboo, definitely plant the clumping kind. Check out the difference:

clumping vs. running
You can control the running kind by creating something called a rhizome barrier.   The idea is to dig a trench around the bamboo that is at least two-feet wide, and just two inches shallower than the width.  Because the rhizomes will eventually pierce through concrete and steel, a HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) barrier must be placed in the trench.  When placing the barrier in the trench, it is essential to angle it in such a way that the rhizomes will move upward as they start to spread.  That way,  any rhizomes peeking over the barrier can be clipped.

I dug around my neighbor’s fence line and discovered that the bamboo was coming up under the fence from their yard. I’ve been digging a trench along the fence line, and  I’m going to get some Polyethylene soon. As far as the rest of the bamboo that has sprouted just a few feet away from the fence line, I think I’m going to create a barrier around it as well so that I will be able to manage it.  I realize  some of you will think I have just lost my mind.  If I create an epidemic, I will take full responsibility for it, and you’ll be reading about it in another post.
I’m willing to take that risk because I truly want our lot to be a closed system, where everything is produced onsite  and nothing is thrown away. With that paradigm in mind, why shouldn’t we harvest our own bamboo? We use it extensively for building trellises and staking out plants in the garden. I’ve even constructed a privacy fence out of it before.  And besides,  Toby Hemeneway gushes over bamboo in Gaia’s Garden, This could be the best thing, or the worst thing we’ve done in the backyard this month.  To be continued…

Bat houses

I just purchased a bat house for $2.00 at a neighborhood garage sale.  What a bargain!

Why a bat house? For one thing, bats are a natural form of pest control: a single bat can eat up to 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour.  I’ve seen them flying around our pond at dusk, so I know they are already here.

bathouseDid you know that over 5 million bats have died from a fungal disease called white-nose syndrome?  This disease has decimated bat colonies everywhere, which makes  creating a bat habitat that much more important.

I’ll be the first to admit that bats freak me out a little bit, and I usually don’t have a problem with wild animals.  We had to remove one a couple of years ago that came down our chimney, and I still remember those sharp little teeth, those wings that were really flaps of skin, and its dark onyx color.  Creepy.

Bats are rabies carriers of course, but it turns out that a very low percentage of bats carry rabies.  They also don’t live very long after they become infected.  I’ve never heard of someone contracting it from a bat.  In fact, there is a bridge in Austin, Texas that is home to almost a million bats; it is the largest urban bat colony in the U.S. and there has not been a single bat-biting incident.

Now I have to think about how I’m going to hang the bat house.  I’ve been looking at some bat-house best practices which happen to be confirmed with statistical data.  It turns out that a higher percentage of bats prefer their homes mounted on the sides of buildings or poles rather than a tree.  They love being near water and in an area that gets adequate sunlight to warm up their homes.  The bat house also needs to be around 20 feet high.  I think I’m going to find some very large pieces of bamboo and mount the house on that.  Currently I’m trying to find something long and thick enough. Pictures to come soon!

Duke Gardens named one of nation’s top 10

Duke Gardens have been named one of the top 10 public gardens in the United States.  Check out the article on  I feel lucky to work right next door.

If you can’t get out to the gardens today, visit them virtually using their interactive map.

Foraging for onions

Nothing could be finer than foraging for food in your backyard on a glorious North Carolina spring morning.  Today’s harvest was wild onions, and there were  onions ‘o plenty.

wild onions

Wild onions are part of the allium genus of plants which includes all types of onions, garlics, chives, and leeks.  (Allium is the Latin word for garlic, by the way.)  This morning’s  mantra was “all alliums are edible,” which happens to be true.

I dug a whole bunch out of the ground, washed them and put them on the chopping block.  They looked a lot like scallions to me and definitely had a similar taste.   I chopped them up and threw them in the crockpot to give my beef stew some more flavor.


Franklin decided to get a little taste for himself.

Franklin  tries some wild onions

I’d be curious to know if anyone out there knows where to find “ramps” which are a variety of wild onion that have become increasingly popular on the restaurant scene.  Their stems are flatter and wider then the more conventional kind you see around here, and have a distinct garlic taste.  They are also native to the Appalachians.  Next time I go up to Boone I think I’ll try to find some.

By the way,  Chicago got its name from Checagou, which is the Potawatomi name for wild leeks. Apparently the  surrounding marshlands were saturated with rotting, wild leeks.  True story.

Bon Appétit!


Outlawing sustainability

The states of Kansas and North Carolina have a lot more in common than a shared basketball legacy.  They also have  legislatures that are embarrassing the good people of both states.  While  the exploits of our own Tarheel Taliban have been making national headlines lately, the Kansas State Legislature has too.  It’s hard to believe, but they have actually proposed a bill outlawing sustainability.

The bill, HB 2366, would outlaw the use of public funds for sustainability efforts. It defines sustainability as  “a mode of human development in which resource use aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for generations to come, but not to include the idea, principle or practice of conservation or conservationism.”
A recent article pointed out that this very definition of sustainability was lifted verbatim from the Brundtland Report, published by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987.  ( I had no idea this document even existed, or that today the U.N. has it’s own Commission for Sustainable Development.)

The sponsor of the bill,  Kansas Rep. Dennis Hedke (R-Wichita) last year supported a resolution condemning the U.N.’s Agenda 21 sustainability plan.
Hedke, a geophysicist and oil contractor,  is chair of the State Committee on Energy and Environment.  Koch Industries, which happens to be the second-largest privately-held company in the U.S.,  is listed as one of the top contributors to his campaign.