Friday, October 18, 2013

Cabbage Worms

The Ecohouse garden has been experimenting with fall-weather plants: broccoli, kale, cabbage, arugula, spinach, turnips, radishes, brussels sprouts, and carrots and more! Fall gardening has been a new challenge for me. In the past few weeks I have been researching cold frames, high tunnels and hoop houses- trying to decide what the most cost-effective and best option is for our community garden. In all my online research on how to protect the crops from the first winter frost I overlooked an entirely different danger- the imported cabbage worm (Pieris rapae)!  

I found a small caterpillar along the spine of this leaf
I noticed many of the leaves had several holes. Earlier this semester a friend of mine had shared with me that her broccoli plants had been severely damaged from little green caterpillars- which she identified as cabbage worms. They typically feed on broccoli, brussels spouts, cauliflower, collard greens and kale- many of which we have in the Ecohouse garden. 

Next I had the very tedious task of turning over every leaf of every cabbage, kale, and brussels sprouts. Much to my surprise our quaint little garden had been inundated with these little green worms - and though small, they can do a lot of damage. Even though checking for the worms was painstakingly boring the worse part was having to squish the little guys I found. I had to continuously rationalize my actions to myself. Yes - they were destroying all the hard work and laborious weed pulling, compost adding and soil tilling the group performed months earlier, but I was still pretty grossed out! It's no secret... I don't like most insects, but I also have other people kill them for me upon their discovery in my home. I don't like being the one that does the dirty work. 

This is difficult to see- but there is a
small yellow egg on this leaf


There are options other than disgustingly squishing them; however, it was my best immediate solution. I also made sure to look for any eggs. It appeared that many of them had already hatched, but I found a few yellow oval shaped objects underneath the leaves that I believed to be eggs and quickly wiped them. Many online resources recommend the use of a Bt (Bacillus thuringiensisinsecticides. 

It is said that Bt toxins will only target caterpillars; however, I am still cautious of these types of products. I do not claim by any means to be an expert, but I have read that corporations have utilized Bt in certain GMO crops which may eventually became resistant to particular caterpillars. While Bt based sprays and powders may be a more feasible option than other brands I personally prefer more creative and labor-intensive methods. My small garden may not  do a massive amount of environmental damage with the small application of sprays, but if every small farmer and gardener subscribes to this idea as well, well then we have to consider the aggregate effect. 

Click here for a creative non-toxic method to controlling cabbage worms! Does it work? I don't know--yet! But it looks to me like a creative, fun and different approach to pest control! 

As I conclude this post I hope you will be vigilant gardeners that put time, love, energy and a conscious thoughtfulness into growing your food. For many it is a forgotten art, made all too easy today with chemicals and enhanced soils and seeds. It is entirely possible for someone to live their entire life without growing a single vegetable, or actually see a farm or farmers market. It is this lack of experience, rooted in a lack of awareness and urgency, that makes us an all-too-vulnerable society. 

This not-so-little guy had made himself at home on these kale leaves!
He may be difficult to spot at first glance!

Check out these online sources for more information: 


And please... plant responsibly! 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Environmentalist

“Perhaps the time has come to cease calling it the 'environmentalist' view, as though it were a lobbying effort outside the mainstream of human activity, and to start calling it the real-world view.
~E.O. Wilson

How we identify ourselves can guide our behavior and our way of thinking. The way I categorize myself may not be the same among my peers, family or friends. Since the end of my undergraduate career I've found myself transitioning into this 'new' identify. I am hesitant to frame myself as someone 'new' as I feel I am actually evolving into the person I desire to be. It is no surprise that this process comes with some turmoil- choices have to be made and oftentimes there are limits in place that prevent the outcomes we would prefer. 

Throughout my first year of graduate school I was labeled as an 'environmentalist' simply due to the fact that I was IN an Environmental Studies program. Questions arose for me pertaining to my identity, particularly in regard to my self-acknowledged lack of action and commitment in the realm of activism, environmental awareness and lifestyle. 

Why should my view- my identity- be something special and separate from the majority? If what I'm doing, learning and believe in is SO right, then why isn't it the norm? I am, of course, not opposed or ashamed to be labeled as an environmentalist; however, I do not know if I have earned it yet- and why should it be a title that one must earn? 


As I return home each month from Athens my family and friends see a change in me- the foods I eat, the documentaries I watch, books I read and concerns I develop.  Sometimes it becomes awkward as we realize our priorities no longer sync and the conversations fizzle out... others simply don't understand my point of view which can, disappointingly, cause alarm and concern for my well-being. 


On the complete other end of the spectrum, in my classroom I get looks and comments from individuals that don't see me at all as belonging to their exclusive 'environmental club'. No, I do not always ride my bike to class, I have a smartphone and tend to not collect mason jars, or forage for mushrooms, I wear shoes, I shop at Kroger, and yes - I kill spiders that I find in my room. I have tried to be accepting of lifestyles other than mine, but both sides seem to be pulling at me, declaring that there is no balance in between. 

Although my lifestyle and image does not conform to the stereotypes of the crunchy-granola, earthy environmentalists, I am a thinking, breathing, conscientious individual - here to develop my academic as well as social and ethical skills. I care about the details... understanding that it's not enough to simply plant a tree...it needs to be the 'right' tree and that while a relaxing hike on a forest trail or invigorating climb up a mountain may fulfill our 'biophilic needs', I recognize that not everyone in our society is capable of the balance and endurance required to experience and appreciate nature. And for this reason I have had my own hesitations; these hesitations have caused individuals to doubt my altruism on the environmental front. 

Recently, in a meeting, I was expressing my thoughts on the importance of native vegetation and the dangers of exotic invasives. The group was intrigued by my comments and one man said my way of thinking was so unique and different. I didn't know how to respond to that... I fell in love with the idea of native plants- and later the plants themselves-because the very nature of this solution was to me logical and simple.   I still remember the first presentation I ever went to. I remember being captivated by this very practical idea of backing up your actions with ecological principles...something everyone with a backyard can participate in, and yet others find it unique and different. 

I am bewildered and deeply concerned that being a 'non-environmentalist' is synonymous with simply being human, being American. Meanwhile, women wear the flag on tube tops and short-shorts, native plant enthusiasts are called xenophobic lunatics, the boreal forest is destroyed and the Midwest is fracked to pieces all in the name of oil independence - of patriotism. And for some reason my deep concern for the environment is problematic for 'mainstream' America on one hand, and too reserved for the radical environmental-underground. 

I've never fully identified myself as an environmentalist, and yet I'm judged as one for both my extreme and lax habits, ideas and everyday decisions. 


Personally, I'm on a journey of identity-development; however, I feel it will never be complete so long as society lacks the ability of cooperation. Fundamental change can be inspired by concern- but until we become less concerned with trivial things like aesthetics we will never experience the changes required. Just as the roots of even the smallest native plants run deep into the ground, I too try to offer more than may appear on the surface, but you won't know until you try to dig deeper. 

In The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food Janisse Ray writes, "my job, too, as a writer, ferries me to many university campuses, where I find myself engaged in honest and deeply transformative conversations with young thinkers who understand very clearly what is not working. Tattooed arms and studs do not scare me, nor do hip boots with miniskirts or low-rider pants. I am not afraid of nudity, nor long hair, nor unshaven armpits. All of this is part of the story of belonging. I accept you" (XV).

I accept you. 

These three simple words from a faceless author empower the reader before they have even begun to dive deep into the book. She doesn't know me, but she values me academically and personally, acknowledging that I am an asset in the grand scheme of revolting against a rapidly changing world. She allows me to recognize myself as conscientious thinker and powerful player in the upcoming paradigm shift we (as a like-minded community - if that is possible) strive for. In a matter of 5 pages I feel more support from her than I have felt from my academic community in the past two years. 


I had the opportunity at the beginning of the month to hear her speak and read excerpts from her book. I spoke to very briefly- thanking her for coming and asking if she had done any personal research on native plants. I spelled out my name for her as she signed my book, asking if that was my interest. I told her it was what brought me to graduate school. She complimented my name (although I really cannot take credit for that one- but accepted on behalf of my parents) and handed me back the book with a genuine and endearing smile. 

Now, whenever I feel as though I've lost my way, I can open to the front cover and read, "For Markie - who cares about the wild world. Thank you" as a reminder of who I am. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

The End of Summer

Welcome back students and faculty! The fall semester is here once again! The late spring frosts we had seemed to foreshadow an iffy-growing season in the Midwest, but the Ecohouse Garden survived and is now flourishing with tomatoes (and the occasional overgrown weed)! Personally, my prairie garden back home never looked better than this year- a promising sign for a lush, beautiful garden next season! 

The garlic planted last fall  at the Ecohouse was harvested and is by far the best tasting we've all ever had. I can definitely say that I've added garlic planting to my list of garden traditions! A lovely sign off of for the fall! 

But don't fret! Just because the summer will soon begin its transition into fall doesn't mean that you avid gardeners have to pack up for the winter. 

The Ecohouse Garden will be adopting out beds for the fall and winter for some experimental off-season fall and winter growing! Any student that wishes to apply for a plot should stay connected to the Office of Sustainability website and facebook page for updates on upcoming workshops and workdays! 

Fall has always been my favorite season. This sounds somewhat silly for someone that enjoys the summer gardening experience. There is something so clean and crisp about fall- a refreshing end to a hot and humid summer. The leaves, flowers and grasses worked so hard- they will soon have a break from the constant sun and humid temperatures, but not before they get that last opportunity to showcase their unique colors. They give a taste of beauty to the world before the end of their life- eventually feeding nutrients back into the Earth. Trees really never stop giving. 

I am reminded of a book published in 1964 by Shel Silverstein- The Giving Tree. I read this book many times as a child; never captivated by the colorful pictures- the classic Shel Silverstein style (simple black and white pictures) allowed the story to be more captivating and stimulating to my young mind. The story is one of unconditional love- the love a tree has for a young boy that plays on her branches and eats her apples. He spends his childhood and young adult years enjoying the simple pleasures the tree can offer- until he desires more material items that prevent him from visiting. 

(Hear the story here on youtube!)

The boy and the Giving Tree
The tree gives the boy everything she has- her apples, her branches, her trunk. In the end, the boy grows old and tired, but the tree still gives endlessly; even if it's a simple place to sit down and relax.

The image of the old man sitting on the stump has never left my mind. As a child it was the one of the saddest pictures I could recall- yet, at the same time, the most loving.

For a while the book made me very uncomfortable- confronted with mortality at a young age- but now I am able to look back and understand and appreciate the lesson learned. 

This leaves me to ask myself- who is my Giving Tree?

Turns out I have an entire forest! Whenever asked to prioritize my values "family" is consistently at the top of my list. I was raised by two supportive parents that would give me everything they had and then some. I have three older siblings that have protected me through the toughest times in my life. I have a very patient fiance who gives me everything he can- and loves me unconditionally even when we are separated by an ocean. Mentors that keep me sane- communicating with me weekly, and helping me see the light at the end of my academic tunnel! They give me comfort and support to stand for what I believe in and persist against ignorance and attitude. 

As much as I take comfort in the fact that I'm surrounded by people that love me and keep me sustained (emotionally, mentally and physically), nourished, happy, and secure- I have to make sure that I am myself as giving to my loved ones, my community and to all others.  

"It's not how much we give but how much love we put into giving."
~ Mother Teresa



Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Dear University...

This is a letter I've written a hundred times to a University I once had much respect and pride in: The University of Toledo. Today however, I find myself growing more and more disappointed with the behavior  of administrators and "important" individuals in control of the check books and (despite what they might think) the well-being of the student body. As I currently attend a university well-known for it's party-school label I often become frustrated with the poor choices I see my peers make, but the irresponsible party at Toledo is past the age of 'knowing better'... it has come down to pure ignorance and an unwillingness to learn- two characteristics that any institute of higher learning would (and should) be ashamed to portray. 


"If knowledge can create problems, it is not through ignorance that we can solve them."
~ Isaac Asimov 


Dear University,


I am an alumna of your institution. I hold three outstanding student awards and my name has frequently occupied the Deans List. However, I do not write to you today to brag about my accomplishments, but rather to beg (for lack of a better word)- for some kind of understanding or well-grounded reason for your shameful behavior with regard to our environment, the campus landscape and utter disregard for ecology.

I preface my concerns with my "credentials" of being an alumna of the University of Toledo because I would like you to recognize that as a student and graduate of your institution I am stakeholder in this campus and during my five very dedicated years there the decisions made above me affected me greatly. Having graduated I thought I was done with my undergraduate connections but that isn't true. The label of your institution is something I carry with me always- in my personal and professional life (whether I like it or not).


I am a product of your curriculum and of the resources you have invested into your 'student centered' operation. As this is the case, I feel I would be doing your fine institution a disservice to let me education go to waste and not point out fundamental problems I have watched unfold before me. In 2011 the Student Activities Committee helped fund a living laboratory in the west courtyard of University Hall. This garden was comprised of rare and endangered native plants. The Anthropological Society (an active student group) wanted this space established for its academic and environmental benefits, providing students with a gateway to ecology, ethnobotany, anthropology, and environmental studies.  I could go into great detail of the ecosystem services provided by the native plants- the deep roots to soak up excess water, filter out pollutants and combat erosion, the habitat provided for overwintering insects, the co-evolution these plants have with insects, pollinators and lepidoptera native to the region- depending on these rare plants for survival, and the seeds, insects and shelter provided for birds and small mammals... yes I could go on for hours about the miracles of these plants... but I digress... the focus of this letter is to address the utter disregard and irresponsible actions that have taken place.

Shortly after my graduation, the east court yard was re-landscaped and for some reason the west courtyard was next. The native plants in the West Courtyard were planted very carefully and researched before chosen. Watching the garden develop and having the opportunity to participate in it's establishment have inspired me more than I can ever appreciate. My strong connection to the
beauty and wonder of these plants brought me to graduate school and continue to encourage my life choices every day. To see the complete disregard for this space- a student project- has been devastating to me on a very personal and professional level. Prior to the installment of the new windows we had asked if it was necessary to remove any plants. We were told with no urgency that it was up to our discretion. It was indicated that no direct harm or destruction would occur. Unable to retrieve all of these rare and endangered plants (of which there were over 60 different species) you can imagine the outrage when we saw the beds being used as storage areas for pipes, hoses and equipment. It was easy to observe however that the plants were removed from the east courtyard prior to any construction. I see a more cohesive decisions was made to rescue those plantings.

The shade garden no longer growing
Pipes crushing anything that may have had a chance to survive
The entire bed smothered- apart from one bush
(which existed prior to the establishment of the native garden)

This gorgeous display occupied the same space as the tarp last summer (2012); this is a major loss of plants, beauty, biodiversity and place - but at least we will have new windows... 

Had such a destruction of university property occurred at the hands of students a scandal would have broken out over their unruly and uninformed childlike behavior. Yet here we have well-educated adults to blame. Meanwhile, all over campus we are overrun with invasive and exotic plants: Norway maple, English ivy, privet, and kousa dogwood to name a few. Sustainability begins with the environment- which we often forget starts with the soil and roots. It is more than green building design and energy efficiency. These are important topics, but mean nothing if we allow our landscapes to be degraded around us. Green for the sake of green is no longer a viable option. We can no longer afford to look the other way. I can not be silent and allow such decisions to be made; that would be a complete disservice to the education I received from this very institution.

While I understand all too well that the burden of knowledge (ask any environmentalist) can be a heavy load to bear, that is the risk one takes in acquiring an education. Your students are expected to learn with an open mind each day- and while everyone is entitled to their opinion- basic scientific principles should not be ignored in favor of personal, aesthetic preferences.

As a university please realize that you have an array of faculty, students and alumni willing and available to make the appropriate changes in the name of sustainability, land ethic and ecology.


“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” 

~Rachel Carson  

  


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Exposure to Nature


“We seem so frightened today of being alone that we never let it happen. . . . We choke the space with continuous music, chatter, and companionship to which we do not even listen. It is simply there to fill the vacuum. When the noise stops there is no inner music to take its place.”

                                                                                                - Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Recently, my professor distributed the above quote from Anne Morrow Lindbergh. My initial reaction was to scoff at this idea (mainly because I did not want to admit how true I knew it was). Adjusting to life in Athens has not been easy for me- no secret among my friends and family. I have often felt the need to fill the empty space that distance from home has left in my head and heart. Spotify, Pandora, Facebook and Netflix became some of my best friends- providing constant background noise- keeping the thoughts of loneliness and homesickness at bay. I had not realized this fully until the same professor asked us to spend 48 hours "unplugged" from technology. It was difficult. My phone is my connection home. I prioritize it greatly. I attribute this to the fact that my fiance spent the entire previous year overseas in England and our communication was extremely limited. Even now that he is back in the US, we are once again separated, but this time not by time zones and international waters. Having the ability to text and call him on a whim has made a huge difference in my life and giving that up is a great sacrifice. 

What did we ever do before cell phones, right? Well- having done the year without phone communication- relying on e-mails and letters- I imagine it was not only difficult, but miserable. I value this technology but I certainly do not take it for granted. 

That being said, I realize that I rely heavily on filling the silence. This professor asked us to set aside three hours of our time and go for a hike- somewhere remote where you couldn't hear traffic and other societal disturbances (if such a place exists). I completed this assignment, trying to keep the above quote in mind, but found it difficult. I searched for this powerful connection that my colleagues felt- a small part of me jealous of their connection. I found myself feeling vulnerable, alone and undeniably sad. Perhaps it was the condition of the area: transitioning from winter to spring... still cold and not yet green. The trees themselves looked vulnerable and sad. In this way- nature and I may have connected greatly. The assignment forced me to reconnect with the land- but it was too early. In its own time, it will happen and flourish like a garden of wildflowers- unpredictable, beautiful and oh so important. 

As an environmental studies student an assignment like this should be easy, if not fun. However, I feel as though my situation was quite different from that of my peers. My childhood is not filled with fond memories of climbing trees, exploring the woods and creeks surrounding my neighborhood. I did not stay out until the sun went down, in fact, being a fair-skinned blonde I was often cautioned to stay indoors! I do not sit in the dirt or like when the grass gets my shoes wet. Sleeping under the stars? No sir! It simply isn't for me. So why am I here? I get this question a lot.... 

I don't seem to fit... and it is no secret to me. I have felt like a foreigner in Athens since the day I arrived. My personal connection to nature is irrelevant. I am here because I not only see a problem in how we, as a society, function within out natural environment but I understand that the every day actions of one DOES make a difference. 

I see an opportunity to make life meaningful and contribute to something greater than myself and my own personal pleasure. I fell in love with a garden- I found my place of refuge and didn't see how I could ever turn away from this part of my life now. Nature and I may not be fully acquainted with one another, but in the meantime I do what I can to respect and protect it...usually (for me) this involves staying out of it.  

Before people jump to ask me why I (of all people!) have placed myself in an environmental studies program, I would appreciated it if they surveyed their own values and actions first. Instead of shunning me for my discomfort in a natural setting, appreciate that i'm here and understand the importance of being a citizen of the environment. I am learning- just like you. 



Monday, April 8, 2013

Bamboozled!

I've observed something very interesting since I've moved to Athens, Ohio: there is bamboo EVERYWHERE! It is sprouting up in oddly shaped thickets and patches in backyards, front lawns, in forgotten about locations, behind businesses and even intentionally surrounding so-called sustainable vegetable gardens on campus property.

When many people think of bamboo they think of panda bears and beautiful Asian landscapes- perhaps even some of the products we use that are made out of bamboo! While I too enjoy the unique display of bamboo, I have difficulty being passive in its intrusion here. I think bamboo can be a very attractive plant! It is unlike the wildflowers of the Midwest and ornamental landscape plants and grasses that we commonly find. However, when I step back and ask myself what benefits the landscaped bamboo is bringing to me, my neighborhood or the native wildlife and vegetation the answer is: absolutely none! 

Bamboo grows very rapidly; certain varieties of bamboo have been observed to grow 4 feet in one day. Its rhizome root system helps it pop up all over the yard without your help or approval. Last time I checked, there were no pandas in Athens to help us put the invasive bamboo to good use.

Don't get me wrong! In the right location and with adequate research bamboo forestry could do great things! It is a very durable and flexible material that is known to withstand powerful earthquakes. In terms of bamboo agriculture, it regenerates quickly and efficiently (compared to some trees that may take 30+ years to become reestablished). Consumers can often find bamboo products  that are labeled as 'sustainable'. However, exotic bamboo simply doesn't belong in the in Ohio.

As is usually the case- exotic plants bring exotic pests! The bamboo spider mites (what a delightful name) are durable little professionals when it comes to attacking bamboo. So now we have an invasive exotic plant that is taking over landscapes, it is difficult to control once the root system is established and brings with it an exotic pest. These mites are not going to have a system of predators (apart from pesticides) to keep them in check and down the road may adapt to attack more than just our exotic ornamental bamboo.        

Proclaiming that bamboo doesn't belong here may offend some people. I may appear narrow-minded and xenophobic for making such anti-bamboo (and therefore, according to some individuals, anti-Asian) statements... after all  America is the great melting pot (or is mixed salad these days?) of the world! But for the life of me, I cannot understand how such racially charged perspectives of native and exotic vegetation have pushed their way over top of basic ecology and responsible land management principles. It just doesn't make sense. 

If you choose to consider this more social aspect to natives vs. exotics, perhaps you should consider this: instead of simply accepting every species of plant because it is culturally or visibly appealing, and relating the ethics of native plant enthusiasts to the Nazi party, become an ecological citizen.

Ecological citizenship recognizes where you live right now. As people, we rely on plants to help filter out the pollutants (that we most likely distributed) in our air, water and soil. Vegetation can be beautiful and fragrant, even restorative for our health and well-being, but we need plants to survive in the world we created. We may not eat the seeds, pick the insects off the leaves or overwinter in the plants spring remnants- but birds, bees, insects and spiders depend on the availability of particular plants. And although we may not like to admit it, we depend on the existence of these important pollinators and bugs! As ecological citizens, we have to set aside out ethnic and racial perspectives and do right by the forgotten and often unappreciated organisms that sustain us.


When individuals express their dislike for native prairie vegetation I do not automatically assume their preference in flowers is based on their personal prejudice for the Native American people that were here before us- living with and on the wildflowers- for food, medicine, clothing and shelter. I can only assume that they do not understand the importance of native flora and fauna- and why should they? It is not a skill-set or knowledge that we grow up learning. However, with a little more research and consideration of land ethic, we can make great improvements to our ecological system. 


"It is impossible for any culture to be sound and healthy without 
a proper respect and proper regard for the soil."
~ Andrew Nelson Lytle 

Bamboo sprouting up behind the house-
getting lots of nutrients from the compost pile
Photo by: Markie Miller 

http://www.calibamboo.com/whybamboo.html
http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/endangered_species/giant_panda/panda/what_do_pandas_they_eat/
http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/eb1992e/eb1992e.pdf
http://www.livingwithbugs.com/PDFiles/bamboo.pdf

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Garden Plots Available!

The Ecohouse Community Garden has 4 available plots left! The plots are open to individuals and groups. 

No garden experience needed! Learn about organic gardening and food security! 

Going away this summer? No problem! We will donate your harvest to local food pantries! 

Click here for the registration form: Adopt a Plot!