I picked the wrong day to stop bingeing on toast

Having just had a smidgeon of a friend’s strawberry-rhubarb preserves on toast – a piece of toast that made me do the happy dance around the kitchen, exclaiming and ooo-ing – I realized that I have a kitchen FULL of homemade food gifts from various folks.

There’s blood orange marmalade, honey from three different keepers’ hives, vintage sourdough starter that half the town is also in possession of, home brewed beer, a freezer container full of the viscous sugary delicious base for hot buttered rums, homemade champagne vinegar, and the aforementioned nectar from heaven of strawberry-rhubarb preserves.  (Seriously, they are unbelievably good, like fresh, ripe strawberries.  Better than the preserves at the Big Yellow House in Santa Barbara, and that’s saying something.)

I have been offered, but refused due to lilliputian kitchen dimensions, locally grown and freshly milled whole wheat flour (25-pound bags only!), a vinegar mother, dried chanterelles (honestly, I didn’t know what to do with them), grated and frozen zucchini, a metric-yard of eggplant, homemade dog food (I don’t have a dog), a yogurt mother culture (for making your own yogurt), and on 3 different occasions, homeless swarms of bees.

If I recall correctly, my rental agreement specifically forbids keeping bees in my kitchen.

Despite the ecstatic toast incident, the day has pummeled me.  I planned to work some more this evening, but I feel a mouth breathe coming on.


Competing objectives in ecology

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the more knowledge we have, the more gray areas appear in the distinct divide between black and white.

It’s easy to identify n00bs because they have tidy, streamlined, carefully reasoned positions on big issues.  Logging?  Always bad!  Restoration activities?  Always good!  GMOs: bad.  Organic agriculture: good.

Meet burdock (Asteraceae: Arctium minus).  Or burr dock, if you so desire.

Burdock is a European introduction, a noxious weed in two states, and ubiquitous in North America.

Noxious and introduced?  Bad!

It’s also a source of nectar and pollen for foraging butterflies, bees, and wasps.

Food for beneficial insects?  Good!

It eats Ruby-crowned Kinglets (Regulus calendula).  Its flower heads are prickly, tangled and sticky and ensnare these tiny birds.

Bird eating weed?  Most definitely bad.  (The birds are common and not endangered if that makes you feel any better.  I know, it probably doesn’t.)

The tap root is tasty and the leaves have been used for a variety of medicinal purposes across a number of cultures.

Medicinal and delicious?  Good.  Invasives as a food source?  Even better.

The flower heads stick to fur and make pets sick if ingested.

Barfing dogs?  Très bad.

Here’s a good one: Burdock was the inspiration for Velcro.  True story.

You can see where I’m going with this.  Ecology isn’t easy.  It’s complex, and it’s always about competing objectives.  The ornithologists see one priority.  The farmers see another.  The botanists have an opinion, and so do the entomologists.  Citizens are enthusiastic opinionators, and the land manager is faced with a huge task: to manage the needs of the plant community and the animal community in line with prevailing ecological goals and economic mandates.

I would say here that I sure wouldn’t want that job, but I totally do.



[1] http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=ARMI2&photoID=armi2_004_ahp.jpg#
[2] http://www.missouriplants.com/Pinkalt/Arctium_minus_page.html
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_de_Mestral
[4] http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/119/articles/demography

2010, I hardly knew you

I can’t believe it’s been a year since I last updated.  Thank you, WordPress, for hanging onto the blog while it languished.

Vox Hortus has its own domain now, so you can find it at www.voxhortus.com or at the WordPress address.

So much has happened in a year.  I’ve finished my third field season for my research project, I’m writing my thesis and looking for a job.  I graduate this spring, into an economy that is, as we know, underwhelming.  I remain optimistic.

In 2010, I stomped grapes for Chardonnay, drank a good amount of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, read a metric tonne of journal articles, wrote some papers, took a few classes, went to Idaho, went to Washington, went on one date, took up birding, dropped the ball on knitting, took up spinning, identified 4,150 insects, learned and forgot a bunch of statistical whatnot, sat through 5 successful graduate defenses in my cohort.  I’ve made great strides in getting over my fear of arachnids.  It’s been good.  Strange, but good.

Vox Hortus is 5 years old!  There are new features in the works and lots of ground to cover in gardening, insects, science, and the natural world.  The blog has a new theme and it’s all new from here out.  Welcome back!