Garden Update with Cactus

We’re still having an early spring. Today I was in the back yard without a jacket, sometimes reading, sometimes watching birds, and sometimes poking at the garden.

I KNOW you are not supposed to do anything gardening related in March in Minnesota, but I did take the piled-up leaves off the rhubarb again (I had covered it back up a few days ago when we got a bit of a snowstorm). And I cut back the dead catnip from last year to clear it out, the better to let this year’s crop come in. And coming in it is—several little clumps already a couple of inches high. With a few more sunny days, they could double in size. This would make my cat very happy, my catnip-loving cat who doesn’t understand why I don’t have fresh catnip for him every time I walk in the door.

The other thing I did was an experimental cactus transplant. Parts of my (prickly pear) cactus are getting a bit overlappy with the sidewalk, never a good thing where a cactus is involved. I clipped two pads off, and set them down in the rocky soil a few feet away. Nothing I could find online indicated that this would work, but I wanted to try it since I had seen the cactus itself doing this (though it was still attached to the plant, which is kind of a major caveat). We will see. I’m not even sure why I’m propagating this cactus. I think it’s mostly just that I so much love the idea of a cactus that is native to Minnesota.

But wait. This cactus is edible. Both the flowers and the pads. Since I’ve never seen mine flower, I don’t think I’ll wait for that. But I do think I will try eating the pads. Even on the one plant I have, the pads can get quite large—a substantial contribution to a meal. They are supposed to taste like mild lemon. They have a sort of gel-like consistency (perhaps like aloe vera?). How would you use that in cooking? With potatoes? Carrots? Asparagus? Deep fried on a stick?

At any rate, there are very few year-round edibles in Minnesota (though these cacti do look quite puny and melted in winter), so the fact that they are edible, in addition to providing a potential barrier to the raccoons that seem to love that south wall as a latrine (plus the fact that I can’t get anything else to grow in this space) has convinced me to work towards a prickly pear cactus garden on the south side of the house.

Other garden notes: The dogwoods are just starting to bud and I think the lilacs are nearly leafing. The currant bush has buds, as does the rosebush. Tiny buds. The feverfew is back, and I was happy to see the bit I transplanted to the front (can’t allow the feverfew to encroach on the rhubarb!) has taken hold quite nicely. The coming weeks will tell if the transplanted comfrey is doing as well.

Is there anything to be heard outdoors these days over the singing of the cardinals? They are so loud and so numerous sometimes I’m surrounded by chorus (in a happy singing way, not in an Alfred Hitchcock The Birds way). But I did hear something other than the cardinals after all: the first mourning dove of the season. I haven’t seen one yet, but I know they’re here.

This is one of the most magical times of the year. You never know what will show up next.

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Spring is Springing

We’ve had a gorgeous day here—sunny and temps in the 60s (not common in early March in Minnesota!). The first thing I noticed when I stepped outside is that my neighbor’s huge maple tree is starting to blossom. I swear it was just bare branches two days ago, and today it is fairly bursting. This caused me to examine other potential spring stirrings. Sure enough, the lilacs and blueberries are starting to bud, and the comfrey is starting to come up! The rhubarb is starting to emerge—just the smallest nub poking out of the ground.

The cactus is budding! Yes, we have cactus in Minnesota (the prickly pear). It collapses over the winter—it looks kind of melted—and I’m always surprised when it comes back in the spring. It looks so thoroughly dead, and then all of a sudden it has these buds. Lots of them. Another one of those everyday miracles of nature.

No sign of catnip or feverfew yet, but the sage had a few green leaves. Patience. It’s still March. Early March.

In the bird world, the cardinals are singing their spring song, and so are the chickadees. Eastern bluebirds should be back soon, as well as robins, great blue herons, and wood ducks.

I’ve seen 25 different kinds of birds so far this year. (I hit 25 yesterday when I saw a wild turkey in someone’s front yard, just as I was leaving the library.) Fourteen of those birds are on my yard list (meaning I saw them from my yard or house; but not necessarily in the yard). I’ve seen a lot of bald eagles. We have them year-round and they’re quite common along the river. A couple of weeks ago, while I was waiting at a stop sign to turn onto the river road, I glanced up to see a pair of bald eagles flying overhead. On the way home from my mom’s three weeks ago we saw two bald eagles perched in a dead tree. Earlier this week I was reading on the front porch (another 60+ degree day) and I saw a bald eagle flying through the sky a block or so away.

It’s nice to have a bald eagle on your yard list. I know they aren’t common everywhere, and I feel absolutely blessed to live in the heart of a major metro area and see them on a regular basis.

It’s early days yet for spring; we haven’t even hit the vernal equinox yet! But you can sense things ramping up.

the cardinal’s spring song
lilac buds, boxelder bugs
and the smell of rain

February Reprise

February was mostly reading and writing with a little shoveling thrown in. We finally got a nice dumping of snow in early February—about 10 inches. The book launch party I was planning to attend was canceled, so instead I made a tuna casserole, shoveled, and read.

I read 13 books in February, pretty evenly divided between poetry (5), fiction (4), and nonfiction (4). My favorite book of the month was Iron Hearted Violet, a YA novel by Kelly Barnhill. I loved this book for many reasons and was completely captivated. Without giving anything away, I can tell you that I loved it because it has lots of strong female characters, a mistress of falconry, a princess who isn’t beautiful, a dragon, a runty god, and a dab of physics.

Other than that it was just kind of a blah reading month; nothing else really grabbed me. I think it’s the February blues. Not that it’s been a particularly rough February (on the contrary). But my heart wants to be puttering in the back yard, pulling weeds and harvesting herbs. Two months to go yet.

I continued the GMO postcard project through all of February (a postcard a day to my two senators, with a fact a day about GMOs and what we know and don’t know and asking them to vote against the Dark Act). It was a lot of fun but kind of intense. I really got quite immersed in the GMO world (learned a lot, too) and while the postcards themselves only took about an hour a day, the issue occupied my mind for many more hours. I did give myself Sundays off, but it was still pretty intense.

And I’m still continuing my daily haiku postcard project. From February:

white-breasted nuthatch
calls from the top of the tree
is it springtime yet?

winter storm warning
gleefully anticipate
5 to 9 inches

the perfect snowstorm
not too cold, nowhere to be
Groundhog Day indeed

The final thing that took a good chunk of time in February was politics: It’s been a bit of a wild ride and a lot to follow. From the presidential candidates to the Supreme Court to the many strains of populism being displayed by the citizenry. It’s a fascinating time to be alive.

Again, scary but fun.

Caucusing

I went to my precinct caucus last night—it was a lot of fun. (Mostly.) In Minnesota, both parties bucked the national trend: Democrats’ choice for president was Sanders (62% vs. 38% for Clinton) while the Republicans’ candidate of choice was Rubio (37%) over Trump (21%). I kind of like that we march to a different drum.

I was at the Democratic caucus. It was held at a nearby high school and each precinct met in a different room. Most people (including us) didn’t know our precinct number so that caused a bit of a jam at the door. Once we got inside, we found our room and took a seat. There were 32 desks and it looked to be maybe a third-grade classroom. We arrived about 15 minutes early and there were plenty of desks available. We were suprised by how uncrowded it was. All we had to do was wait.

It turned out 275 people showed up for our precinct. The first thing you do (after signing in) is vote for your presidential candidate of choice. A lot of people left right after voting, but a good number of us stayed around for the resolution portion and it was standing room only. I was glad we got there early!

I have been to caucuses where the resolutions go on and on (and sometimes verge on the silly) but the ones presented last night were pretty good, and many of them passed unanimously or nearly so: restore voting rights to felons once they’re released from prison; remove the Social Security tax ceiling; support urban agriculture; mandatory GMO labeling; reduce the use of toxic chemicals in our parks; a six-point plan to help struggling pollinator species; invest some of our environmental dollars to buy land preserving wild rice habitat; invest in policies and strategies to reduce homelessness; divest the state pension fund from investments in fossil fuels; and require all Democratic candidates to sign a pledge saying they will not accept campaign contributions from Monsanto (I personally would have added Syngenta and Cargill, but singling out Monsanto is not such a bad idea since they are so very keen on their neonicotinoids).

A not-quite contentious discussion arose around a resolution to increase funding for treatment of ash trees (we’re having emerald ash borer problems here). An amendment to not use systemic insecticides (which make the entire tree poisonous to critters that eat, live in, land on, or otherwise use ash trees) was introduced. I learned quite a bit about ash trees and their future, and also systemic insecticides. Eventually the insecticide amendment was added and the resolution passed.

The only resolution that I can remember not passing was for legalizing marijuana for recreational use and allowing people to grow their own. I am heartily in favor of this, as marijuana has great medicinal properties as an herb. A lot of people in the room were in favor of legalizing pot, but the rub was the method: an amendment to our state constitution. I asked if there wasn’t a better route (I hate amending the constitution willy nilly, and a few others had a similar concern). I think I voted for it, even with the constitutional amendment aspect, but I was a little relieved when it didn’t pass (it was close though).

We wrapped up a little after 9:00. It was a good way to spend an evening: I learned a lot, met some of my near neighbors, and got to see which issues we are pretty unanimous about and which are a little more contested. I forget how invigorating it can be to hear different viewpoints and sides. I signed up to be an alternate delegate (I did this once before, and it was a little bit scary and a little bit fun). We’ll see where it goes this time. I’m good with scary but fun.