Problems? We All Have Them…

Problems… there are no shortages. Everyone has them. It’s not unusual for friends and family to come to us with problems that need to be solved. Usually, adults find ways to solve their own problems, they just want someone to listen to them while they talk through them. It makes them feel that we care. Some of us have open arms and lend an ear, others find it rude that anyone would think of dumping their problems onto them. Don’t we have enough of our own? The former may adore her friend, the latter may find her friend “toxic.” Whichever personality type you are; venter, dumper, compassionate listener, irritated unable enabler, the reality remains the same. We all have problems.

What are problems? Webster’s dictionary defines a problem as a perplexing question, situation, or person. It’s an ancient Latin word, problema meaning to “throw forward.” So true. Problems present themselves, over and over again. Over time, we should become pros at solving them and in a sense, we do. But growing older oftentimes means our patience grows thinner, hence a double quandary.

Sometimes problems get so out of hand, spinning our life out of control, that we become frozen and petrified, which only makes things worse. And when multiple persons are involved (as is often the case in family matters) one feels that their once pleasant life may never return. This is the time that we turn to the garden (or nature in the form of a park, the local strip of woods, the backyard or if none of these are available, the local nursery). For it is in nature that we find peace and rejuvenation that give us the best chance of answering the questions that life’s problems present.

Suellen Ocean is the author of many books on diverse topics. Her books are available here:

Women Who Weedeat

Gas powered weedeaters are heavy so a few years ago, when I ran across an electric “string trimmer” that looked like a weedeater, I bought it. They’re light and do a fairly good job cutting the tall grasses around my house. But this year, with all the rain we’ve had in Northern California, I didn’t want to burn out another entry-level weedeater so I bought a Black & Decker 14” string trimmer/edger. It has a 7.5-amp motor. The box says that it “provides high performance trimming of tough weeds, grass and overgrowth.” When my husband saw it, he said, “Wow, you’re going to go to town with this.”

I don’t usually give testimonials for a product but I’m so pleased with this new tool, I had to give a shout out. I’ve been running it all week for at least an hour a day and I’m still on the same spool of string. It has not faltered. Not even once. The other string trimmers, the dinky ones I used for several years, burnt out. Literally. I had to buy a new one every year. When they got hot and started smoking, they were done. This Black & Decker has the motor up at the top, just below the handle, so it doesn’t get clogged with grass. I think that’s what caused the others to burn out. Grass clogged the vents meant to cool the motor. That and they just didn’t have enough amps. Too bad I can’t just let the grasses grow. I hate cutting wildflowers, so I try to leave them as long as I can for the birds, butterflies, moths and bees. But I’ve seen first-hand the damage from a woodlands fire. So, in my neighborhood, we weedeat. Ladies too.

Suellen Ocean is the author of many books on diverse topics. Her books are available here:

Protecting Your Garden Produce from Mice

AcornMouseCoverMedI’ve posted before, my gardening experience with a terrified, newborn baby mouse but let me tell you what attracted the mouse family in the first place. Compost; eggshells, apple cores, banana peels and watermelon rinds drew them right to my garden. I cover the compost with horse manure but obviously not well enough. When volunteer pumpkins and tomato plants sprang from the pile in early spring, I was delighted and so were the mice. They started in on the tomatoes while they were still green. Ditto with the pumpkins. Further down the garden, I have cantaloupe. They like that too but so far I’ve kept them from eating it. I’ve found that if I place a white plastic tofu container (or the grocery store container that mushrooms come in) upside down on the ground and place the immature fruit on top of it, it keeps the fruit off the ground enough to keep the mice away. It’s necessary to keep an eye on them as sometimes the fruit rolls off. But it’s easy to put it back on the plastic. The plastic tubs help keep other feasting insects away from your produce too and they keep the fruit pristine.Poor Jonny's Cover  Suellen Ocean is the author of many books on diverse topics. Her books are available here:

Gardening… I wish the Mice weren’t so Cute

The Acorn MouseI was watering my small pumpkin patch by hand when I heard squealing. Out ran two baby mice. The blast of cold water on their newborn skins must have been traumatic. One was so distraught he rolled over on his back and stuck his feet in the air as if he believed his life was over. He was so young, he had no fur to speak of, just a dark gray felt. I couldn’t leave him there. He was so tiny and light, I was able to flip him over with a piece of straw. He was then able to run. Quite quickly he ditched back into the leafy pumpkin patch. I harvested all but one of the pumpkins. They had already eaten half of it. Even if they hadn’t, I would have left one.

I really don’t want mice in my garden but darn it… that little guy was so cute… and desperate to survive. Just like the rest of us mammals.

Suellen Ocean is the author of many books on diverse topics. Her books are available here:

Covering the Gardening Beds With Straw… Fantastic!

Smaller Gone North Front CoverI first read about covering the garden with straw in a book by Ruth Stout. I think it was called, “Gardening the Easy Way.” Something like that. It was well written and made you feel a fool if you gardened any other way. Every year or so, I’ll throw a little straw on my garden to mulch it, especially last year with the horrible Armageddon drought we had. But I’m doing it again this year and I will continue to do it as long as my local feed store has wheat straw in stock. I ask myself, what part of it keeps the weeds down don’t you understand? And the water conservation is fantastic. That and as it breaks down it feeds the earthworms.

Yes, my garden beds are almost completely covered in bright yellow wheat straw. It looks so cheerful and it hides the weeds that I am unable to yank up. If I put enough straw on them, they will die. And if weeds do pop up out of the straw, they are really easy to pull up.CreatespaceAcornsAndEat'emFRONTCOVER

Life is good isn’t it? When we garden? I look forward to spending a lot of time out there this summer… lounging and watering. I hope you are enjoying yours or if you don’t have one, enjoying looking at other people’s gardens. There are a lot of them out there these days. It’s very trendy…

Suellen Ocean is the author of many books on diverse topics. Her books are available here:

The Garden of Eden Has Weeds to Pull

There it is, tall green grass, yellow buttercups, wild purple violets, songbirds… just like the Garden of Eden… until… it all dries and turns to weeds and the county threatens the neighborhood. “Cut that grass or we’ll cut it for you and send you the bill.”

Such is the life of those who live in the country. It all comes at once, the change of the seasons when everything needs to get done… now. Seeds need to be planted, soil needs turning, fences need repairing… quick, hurry, stress!

Years ago, a friend came by and I stood gazing out the window at the beauty the spring brought. “I get really stressed out about needing to get my garden started,” I told him. He was not easy on me. He rolled his eyes disgustedly and said, “What’s the point?”

My friend had it right. I moved to the country so I could let my hair down, wear two different colors of socks, grow my own food, have a horse, dogs, cats, rabbits. The Garden of Eden meets Noah’s Ark. Even if it’s a mini farm, it is a lot of work. It’s tiring just thinking about it. In the old days, the farmers had kids. My kids wanted a ride to town where they could skateboard. Good thing I have a husband, I call him, P G & Jon. (PG&E is our utility company.) There is nothing my husband can’t build or fix. “Even a broken heart,” my mother used to say.

I’ve been living like this most of my adult life. Someday, I’ll move from here because I’ll be too old to lift a shovel, or maneuver a weed eater. Until then, I’ll try not to forget that it’s paradise. I give thanks that I made it.

Suellen Ocean is the author of many books on diverse topics. Her books are available here:

Last Summer, the Bees Took Over the Garden… I Let Them

It all started with the forget-me-not flowers that popped up in the middle of the garden. The bees loved it. Then I started noticing the weeds that bees liked and decided it best to leave them. And then any other weed that flowered that bees were drawn too, that stayed. By the end of the summer my garden was swarming with bees. I never once got stung. This summer, my plan is to be a little tougher and pull some of the bees’ favorite weeds. I’ve already started pulling. But because I have a soft spot for the bees (and understand their importance in pollination) I will be leaving the weeds that I remember attracted the most bees. I will also be careful to disturb the ground as little as possible because bees nest in the ground. I hope this summer I can reclaim a little of the territory that I let sprawl with flowering weeds but I can’t promise. I’ve grown to love the bees as much as the birds. There’s nothing like standing in the garden with the birds and the bees. Happy garden planning!

Suellen Ocean is the author of the vegetarian cookbook, Poor Jonny’s Cookbook. Available here


Gardening… Good News All the Way Around

I went into my garden yesterday and was delighted that not one but three hummingbirds enjoy my new addition of Myosotis sylvatica, commonly known as “forget-me-not.” I planted the seeds after my mother died. I had given the colorful packet to her years ago but she had not planted it. It came up last year and I was pleased at the large number of honeybees it attracted. Now hummingbirds are dancing around it. And it appears to be very drought tolerant. I looked up forget-me-not at the department of agriculture to see if it was poisonous and it is considered safe. I saw a mention elsewhere that the flowers were good in salads. What’s not to like?

Forget-me-not is considered an annual or a biennial so I’d better throw seeds around so it will come up next year. I live in a temperate climate and it did not die over the winter. Anything that attracts honeybees and hummingbirds is magical. Throw that in your salad!

Suellen Ocean is the author of the vegetarian cookbook, Poor Jonny’s Cookbook. Available here:

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Russian Draft Dodgers Made History…

Spaniards brought wheat to the New World in 1520 and during the 1600’s, English Colonists grew it, or tried to, but it didn’t work out. Thanks to the Mennonites who settled in Pennsylvania, we have a history of wheat being successfully grown in America. Not that other pockets of Colonists didn’t succeed with their wheat fields but unstable weather, storms and pestilence ravaged crops everywhere, including Pennsylvania. But in the 1870’s when Russian immigrants came in great numbers to the Midwest and Oklahoma and Texas, bringing wheat strains from Turkey and the Crimea, we experienced the birth of American wheat. These wheat strains worked well in these states because the climate was similar to that in Turkey and the Crimea. What’s that got to do with draft dodgers? Besides seeking religious freedom, many of these Russians immigrated to avoid joining the military. Suellen Ocean is the author of Acorns and Eat’em, a how-to vegetarian cookbook and field guide for eating acorns. Find it here:–Vegetarian-Cookbook/dp/1491288973


What’s a Monarch Butterfly?

Monarch butterflies nest in tree canopies. Due to the massive logging of forests, those tree canopies are disappearing and so are millions of Monarch butterflies. I saw less than ten last year. A Monarch is a big, golden brown butterfly with black and white marks on its wings. They love milkweed, but unfortunately pesticides have been wiping out milkweed, causing this magical butterfly to seriously dwindle in population. From New York to South America, the Monarch butterfly feeds on milkweed. In the early fall, in the north, Monarch butterflies have been known to appear in the millions before flying south. When the weather turns cold, the Monarch hibernates in tree canopies (if the canopies exist). When the spring comes, they come out of hibernation and travel back to the north. Let’s hope humans cherish these colorful butterflies so much, that we let the milkweed again flourish and we cherish our forests.  Suellen Ocean is the author of Acorns and Eat’em, a how-to vegetarian cookbook and field guide for eating acorns. Find it here:–Vegetarian-Cookbook/dp/1491288973