Punxsutawney Phil stuck his head outside on February 2, 2013 (Groundhog Day) and did not see his shadow. So that famous woodchuck announced to the world that winter was over and spring would arrive soon. A few days later we had the worst snowstorm in decades. So much for looking to a rodent to predict the weather.
The organizers of this yearly groundhog event (since 1886) claim 75 to 90% accuracy. The mayor wears a formal tail coat and top hat for this big event. Phil saw his shadow 98 times, no shadow 15 times, and no record 10 times.
Yet in 2005, 18,000 people gathered at Gobblers Knob, Pennsylvania to see if he would see his shadow. In 2001, the rodent’s weather prediction was displayed in Times Square. In 1995, he was on the Oprah TV show. His actual record is 37% accurate.
So far this year, we have had one of the worst winters with snowfalls and cold. The reality of global warming is that the storms are more violent and more frequent. The jet stream is making bigger and bigger gyrations and even Texas has had a huge snow storm.
Predicting the weather is really a skill and a science and a gamble. For our Famous Rodent Phil, flipping a coin would have been more accurate. The Old Farmers Almanac is another well known weather predictor. This year they predicted the east would be cold and snowy and the west warm and dry. Better than the rodent. They use a secret formula developed in 1792 for which they claim 80% accuracy.
Based in New Hampshire, the Almanac has all kinds of useful information, which, before Google, farmers really needed. Like when its warm enough to plant the peas. (In Ireland it’s when you can sit naked on the ground.) Also the tides and the full moon - most useful if you had to sail out of the harbor. I enjoy what vegetables to plant, when, and when to double crop. And the old faama’s “wisdom” is most amusing. I learn things too.
When farmers get together, it is said that they always talk about the weather, because that’s what determines their crops’ success. The Old Farmers Almanac was really necessary when everyone farmed, sowed and reaped, and milked the cows each day. Lots of info has been lost by us urban folks. (Like, do you know how many tits a cow has?) In 1981 Weatherwise Magazine found their weather predictions about 52% accurate.
Well, March has finally come, and spring is on the way. As I write this, this February’s 3 feet of snowfall is finally melting. But are winter’s troubles over? It depends on how you feel about the Ides of March.
Ruth S. Foster is a landscape consultant and arborist.
The world is changing in this year. We do not wake up anymore and go out to milk the cows. A century ago, 90% of people farmed. Today it's about 2%.
The steam engine played a part, as did the oil industry, rural electrification during the recession of the 1930's, multiple wars, their technological advances, reliable birth control, and scientific farming.
We are now, in 2013, on the threshold of another huge societal change - the digital age. Computers steal our time and our privacy. While milking those cows would anyone have thought that computer mega-giants (like Google) would be selling our search engine information to marketing companies?
We have instant access to all of human wisdom on search engines. And information overload. Unfortunately, we don't know whether it's true, or who wrote it, or what they're trying to sell us.
We communicate constantly and easily with anyone, anywhere, who has a cell-phone, and even with dozens of people at a time. We send our most intimate thoughts of the moment (think Twitter) to the whole world. (It helps to have a good agent so that it makes money.)
Everybody multi-tasks. Dinner table conversation is shared with cells phones. No longer is this the world of serious Jeffersonian dinner table conversation. Today, we can relate to others, instantly, through the written word on a little machine that eats electricity.
The world is changing and our thinking has to change too. We garden differently. We may value "organic" even if its more hearsay than science. We choose the fashionable buzz words "ecology" and "green," which are good, but often need more science and cost-analyses.
It was only 30 years ago since the first commercial cell network started. The first internet worm infected computers 5 years later. In 1990, a government panel linked human activities to global warming. Yet some folks still choose to not believe it, despite the weird weather and stronger storms.
In 1999 West Nile Virus invaded the US. Today, it's a widespread disease spread by culex mosquitoes. My local Mosquito Control Unit scientist ( with 26 towns) told me that the mosquitoes prefer the blood of the thrush family, especially robins and the robin population has increased by 25%. After the babies leave the nest, the mosquitoes go after humans because Mother nature picks whatever blood is easiest.
Wetland preservation, global warming and storms increase mosquito habitats. This year, my area had the most cases of West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis it has ever had, and I am so glad my state supports scientific mosquito monitoring units to keep our environment safer.
This year, we did not go over the meadow and through the woods to grandma's house in a one horse open sleigh, although I still have unused Christmas cards with pictures of that mythical memory. Today, we are into brain plasticity among other unimaginable scientific discoveries.
We are just beginning to understand the many microscopic organisms in our soil, our plants and even ourselves. The ecology of our planet and how will we grow enough food for all the people on earth.
What will be new this year? More reliable science about actual complex ecological systems we have only scratched the surface of. For gardeners and ecology buffs, it will be a fascinating, learning year.
A huge flock of huge turkeys just paraded again through my yard. Perhaps to impress upon our too human emotions that they were here first. They are big creatures. And smart. And adaptable. They have evolved and survive in our human urban-ecosystem despite their forest genes.
The first Thanksgiving was to give thanks for those settlers that survived. Disease and hunger were rampant. The Indians brought food (and then were wiped out by white folks' diseases). Visiting their recreated Plymouth Plantation today makes stark the contrast between how we live today (houses, electricity, medicine, food) and how they lived.
In olden times, the myths of winter were scary. Weird opinions that sought to explain the changing of the seasons, starvation, wild animals, diseases, floods, hurricanes, death. They've been replaced by even sillier modern myths like Harry Potter, and a teen-aged vampire. I read fairy tales when I was young.
The Junco birds are back so I know that winter has arrived. They are Mother Nature's calendar. It's time to light the wood stove and wait for the coming of spring and return of the planting season.
Perhaps it is time for us humans to grow up and out of the old mythology and fairy tales. Scientific information is illuminating our physical world as never before. Neurological science is explaining the cellular activity in the human brain. And this is changing our understanding of why we believe what we think we know. It's also changing our understanding of some long held beliefs.
Some serious thoughts: What is fact and what is opinion? More important, what is science and what is passion. For example, Darwinism versus Creationism is an old dichotomy that has been dragging along for more than an century.
Today, with information coming in tweets and blogs plus plagiarized books and articles, plus passionate opinions, it's hard to know what's fact, and what's hot air. A lot of people have an idea and spout off, but often really don't know anything about the subject. First they make up their minds, then get "the facts" on line. But they only look at information to support themselves, never both sides.
I, for one, enjoy the arrival of the Junco at the bird feeder. In his bones, he can tell how fast the temperature is dropping in Canada, and he remembers that food is available in my garden. He can't read the scientific Growing Degree Days temperature charts as I can. But he will feel the warmth when its time to fly north again. And often be wrong.
That is the difference between understanding the world by feelings or by scientific information. Human society is still learning when it comes to myths versus knowledge. And Thanksgiving is a good time to recall the myths and black fears of the Pilgrims and try to move from their log houses to the modern world. And be give thanks for what a better life we enjoy today.
Ruth S. Foster is a landscape consultant and arborist. More gardening information can be found on her website: www.mothersgarden.net.
What is subconscious belief and what is free rational thought? Particularly in an election season.
Fall evenings are full of sounds of insects subconsciously looking to mate before the first frost and the end of their short time here on earth. Katydids, crickets, grasshoppers, sometimes cicadas. Close your eyes at night and listen. (Wear mosquito repellant.)
Is this a remembered song of your childhood? I remember nighttime foghorns and ringing ocean buoys and train whistles. Subconscious memories.
Subconscious beliefs exist as well. I was at a dinner a while ago with a bunch of psychiatrists who discussed when our beliefs are formed. They postulated from about age 10 to the beginning of puberty, and solidified in the first years of adolescence.
Then these beliefs are ingrained or questioned for the next few years, until 16 or so when more adult reasoning and thinking begins. (Apologies to you parents of adolescents who are dealing with this age group and don't agree about the adult reasoning.)
Recently, there have been a plethora of psychology books on this thinking/feeling phenomenon. One, " Thinking Fast and Slow " has been on the best seller list for months. (It deals with financial decisions, which is why it's a best seller. Money, you know.) "Fast thinking" is our quick decisions. "Slow thinking" is questioning the reasons behind those decisions, and is more difficult.
Political books are another big draw these days as the elections loom. What quick subconscious beliefs, as opposed to what slower "rational thought" (if any) modifies your choices.
Do you always vote your parents' party? Or do you never, never vote as they did? My uncle Harry believed passionately in only one party and he even refused a judgeship because the other party offered it. That is the power of irrational subconscious thought.
Old Farmers Wisdom in the garden falls into the same category. It's a subconscious feeling that arises from a long series of seemingly connected and repeated events. Some fashionable ecological beliefs are founded on such passions. However much scientific evidence does exist. It's just a question of what you choose to believe.
For now, Indian Summer is a most glorious time despite the heated political rhetoric. The season moves on as it always does. The tomatoes ripen as usual. The first expected frost used to be about mid October, which is when you cover the tomatoes to prolong their harvest.
The first frost is also about 3 months after katydids and their insect friends first start their flirting. Plants and insects are subconsciously more sensitive to tiny changes in their total environmental ecosystem than our weather science can predict.
I have read (an opinion) that frost will be a week later due to the global warming trend. Or one can be scientific and use the new Plant Hardiness Zones Map which shows most zones as warmer than the 1990 map. It can be seen at www.planthardiness.ars.usda.gov
Should you passionately believe your "fast thinking" subconscious opinions? Should you prefer what you learned in early adolescence? Would you rely on the Old Farmers Wisdom and the katydids? Or do you take time for the thoughtful "slow thinking" that tempers one's opinions? Both in the
garden and in elections.
Gardening information can be found on www.mothersgarden.net
Just in time for National Garden Month (April, for those who didn't know), Harris Interactive recently released a survey that suggests age plays a role in flower preference.
According to the survey, conducted on behalf of the Lebanon Seaboard Corporation, Americans 45 years of age and older prefer to grow roses while younger generations (18 to 44 years old) prefer tulips. Overall, Americans 35 and older are more likely to grow flowers than those in the 18-34 age bracket.
That last stat is no real surprise. There aren't that many 18-year-olds with gardens to tend. But the rose v. tulip finding is an interesting one. It means that one can, with some measure of accuracy, predict the age of a home's occupants just by looking at the flowers in their garden.
What one can do with that information is another matter.
The snow is long gone and Winter is a distant memory. If you haven't done so already, it's high time to get those lawn and garden tools out and get them into tip-top shape.
Off all the tools that need the most TLC, none compares to the lawn mower (with the exception of the trimmer, which must not be neglected either).
The majority of us cannot afford to be buying a new lawn mower every half decade, so following a few simple in-season steps to keep the mower operating smoothly will go a long way in extending its life and ensuring a hassle-free cutting experience.
Here are three must-see How To videos on keeping that lawn equipment fine-tuned: