Friday, February 17, 2017

Sisters Supporting Sustainability

Praying Mantis overwintering
beneficial insect
We received a grant from National Catholic Sisters week for a project entitled Sisters Supporting Sustainability. Sisters will work with a local ecovillage to enhance sustainability in the neighborhood and region by planting Missouri native plants, enhancing pollinator habitat, increasing soil fertility and augmenting rainwater management.
We will hold a potluck event on March 9 to publicize the project and the involvement of Sisters and ecovillagers. Publicity before and after the event will draw attention to the active involvement of Sisters in life at the margins, and particularly today, our involvement in environmental sustainability projects both local and national.
American Hazelnut
Flowering in February
Little red flowers are female
Long tan part is the male flower
I thought it might be nice to have a few blog posts to highlight different aspects of the gardens and the enhancements that we are making with the assistance of the grant funding. The photos this week focus on some of the work that is already underway and what nature  is doing all around us in mid February. On the right side, I have two photos of some Praying Mantis egg cases that I found around the garden while working on various projects. The Praying Mantis eats lots of other bugs, so it is a sign that there is a lot of life and diversity in the area.
Another species of Praying Mantis
On the right, there is an image of the Hazelnut in bloom. It blooms in later winter, just after the Witch Hazel. It is a native plant that provides habitat for native bugs and birds. And each of those tiny red flowers that gets pollinated will produce a delicious hazelnut in the fall. I'll have to work fast to get them before the squirrels do.

Elderberry starting to leaf out.
Our weather is definitely on the warm side. We have had some very cold days, but most of February has seen above average temperatures. On the one hand, its great because we can start planting veggies. but this is also problematic for a few reasons. First, gardeners all know that our climate is changing. Plants are blooming sooner, plants what we couldn't grow in this zone are now grown here, and other plants that we used to be able to grow are not doing so well. For example, Apples need a certain amount of cold weather. If it gets much warmer, we won't be able to grow them here. And second, we may still see killing frosts after the bushes and trees have bloomed. This could damage the plants and crops.
Wildflower Nursery - each pot is seeded with a different species
Packera obovata - a shade loving ground cover
that stays green all winder
The Elderberry is already beginning to leaf out - it won't bloom for a few months though. And on the right here, you can see the wildflower nursery. The seeds are collected locally, or obtained from a native wildflower nursery. Most native plant seeds fall to the ground in the wild and stay there all winter; they need that period of cold weather to break dormancy. So let's do as nature does and plant them outside in the winter and then get ready for them to pop up in the spring. The chicken wire is to keep the curious squirrels from digging out the pots to see if there might be something yummy hidden at the bottom. 
The Packera obovata stays a lovely green all winter long. It makes a great ground cover for a shady area and in another month, it will send up a flurry of little yellow flowers. 
Wildflower mix seeded
The scruffy area below is seeded with a wildflower mix. Growing a prairie patch from seed is a multi-year process. Last year was spent 'solarizing' this area to remove all the weeds. Most of the wildflower mix was seeded a few weeks ago. There are a few wildflower and all the native grasses that do better if they are seeded a little bit later. This year we are just hoping for some sprouts, and next year, maybe some flowers.
Pruning cut on the pear tree
One of the spring projects is pruning the trees and bushes. Some of this is done for the health of the plant, some is done for aesthetics, some is done to increase fruit production. My brother is a master pruner, so I asked him to come over and prune, and to let me know what he was doing. Things look a lot better now and I learned a lot about how and why to make each cut. Thanks Chris!
The next few shots are a few things that are starting to green up. Ratibida pinnata is a summer coneflower that I planted last year. It just sprouted, but did not flower. It is already up this year, and hopefully, it will flower!!

Then there is Rhubarb - one of the great spring harvests. This comes back every year and slowly spreads. This plant started as a tiny leftover from a plant sale. After a few years, it looks like it is ready to burst out of the ground and we should have a good harvest!

The next few shots are of a low tunnel where I have planted a few spring veggies: turnips, radishes, carrots, spinach, lettuce, chard and various other greens. I'm not a big fan of the brassicas because we get a lot of cabbage worms. Maybe I should do a few though.
Low tunnel for early spring veggies

In any case, I've made this small tunnel about 4'x5'. It is really simple to make - I have done this in the past, but I think it is sturdier that my past efforts. Most of the materials I had around the garden. I also got some floating-row-cover. It helps to retain heat near the plants, it is permeable, so it lets air in and out and lets the sun shine in to the sprouts. I have tried this with plastic, but it is hard to keep it covered in a wind storm. So I'm hoping this will be more successful.
Low tunnel
And finally, we have a photo of the Wild Sweet William peeking through the leaf cover. I've left leaves on the ground around the plants to protect them and to provide habitat for the little critters to overwinter. Many of our native insects need a little leaf and plant debris in order to survive the winter. The plants also appreciate a little protection from the harsher weather. And flower heads provide a natural bird feeder for all our feathered friends.
By spring, a lot of these leaves and debris have broken down. I'll clear them away a little to let the new plants get going, then tuck them under the plants for a layer of mulch that will continue to break down and nourish the flora and fauna.
So that's what's happening now. Stay tuned for more developments over the coming weeks as the time of our potluck approaches.

Wild Sweet William

Friday, February 10, 2017

All You Can Be

I'm a Sister of St. Joseph.
I'm a lawyer.
I live in an ecovillage.
How cool is that?!?!

I often have the opportunity to talk with other sisters from the younger and middle-aged group of sisters. There are not a lot of us, but I love having conversations that help nurture the amazing life among us in this middle-time.
One sister recently reflected that as sisters, we are able to do many things and experience many things. We are able to maximize our potential personally, reaching goals that might not otherwise be possible. We are able to maximize our spiritual potential with a lifetime dedicated to the spiritual journey. And we are able to maximize our potential for service.
Religious life is a gift to those of us living it, when we are able to move in this direction. It is also a gift to the wider community with whom we are able to share our gifts, our wisdom and our service.
So the phrase "be all you can be" has taken on fresh meaning for me as a way to describe religious life. It is not a selfish phrase, but a celebration of God's call and invitation to fullness of life and to sharing the abundance with those we serve.
I am full of gratitude for this wild and wonderful gift that is religious life.