Friday, August 31, 2012

Heirloom German Foxtail Millet...and Other Millets

Not a lot of people appreciate millet.  Bird hunters.  Bird watchers.  Wetland biologists.  A few ethnographers who are into "primitive grains."  That's about it.  To most other folks, it's just a weed.  They are wrong.  Millets are a widely sorted group of large grass species that share more in a common form than they do in actual genetics - referred to as convergent evolution.   Some common traits include fire resistance, flood resistance, long-term seed viability, high palatability (sp?) of seed, high production of seed, and so on.

Ducks (and duck hunters) seem to favor Japanese Millet - in human cultivation for 4,000+ years.
Photo: Johnston Seed Company

Doves (and dove hunters) seem to favor Proso Millet, domesticated in China over 7,000 years ago.
Photo: Adaptive Seed Company

And these days, everybody is talking about a new hybrid called Chiwapa Millet, sold exclusively by 
Tony Vandemore's Habitat Flats company. Ducks are big fans too....305 days of the year.

Every year, I grow a few rows of Purple Millet to dry and save for winter bird food in the back yard. 
I think the doves are annoyed by the extra effort that's required to pluck the seeds from the heads.

And if you thought this post could not get more boring, you were wrong.  This year, I decided to plant an heirloom plant - in fact, one of the world's longest-cultivated plants - German Foxtail Millet - as a cover crop.  Originally from China, the "German" variety, sometimes called "German Rice," was more of a food staple than rice for a few thousand years.  Now relegated to the status of "abandoned food crops," it once was the source of royalty - near divination, and I kid you not, there was a "Lord of the Millets."
I bring you German Foxtail Millet.

This is just a neat plant.  Now, there are giant grasses like Egyptian Wheat, but this is just a "big grass" - about four to five feet tall with these solid six inch seed heads. One problem that folks seem to have with it is that it produced a substantial amount of stem and leaf - so much so that it's favored as a green hay for livestock - not as a source of seed for wild or domestic birds.

Like most of the millets, the german millet seems to have about a 90 day maturity calendar, and like most millets, it doesn't seem to be a fan of cold air temperatures. 

Once the heads dry out a bit, they are headed to my birdseed bin - I'll let you know how they like it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Preacher, Come On, Eat Your Supper With Us

My wife asked me to move some boxes the other night.  I knew what was in them - things I've been meaning to return to other people - things that are headed home soon.   One of the boxes broke and I ended up collecting a few of its contents from the basement floor.  I was struck pretty hard by them, in no small part because various versions of Lucero's "The War" has been in heavy rotation on my iPod.   The song is about an American soldier's journey from enlistment to deployment in England in 1943, subsequent trip across western Europe in 1944 and 1945, and the mental weight of going back home after watching so many friends perish.

Never talk about those first days
Lots of friends left behind

But I made it all the way across France

And I fought at the Maginot line

Rode a tank into Belgium

Like them better than the French
Like my daddy, thirty years before
I did my time in a trench

Please hit "play" on either version and keep scrolling. 

And so, amongst so many other things, I found these photos.  I didn't scan them, photoshop them (OK I cropped the borders) or even use a flash.  In fact, my wife had already scanned all of them in high-def a few years ago.  On this night, though, I just sat down and flipped through them.  Trying to understand what my Grandpa was going through mentally and emotionally in these photos was tough.  I laid them down on my black laptop and just took the pictures.  I felt like it was important in that moment to record it - not only those photos but what I was feeling - and so a less than Smithsonian-level photo preservation is what I have for you.

Wedding Day - Easter Sunday, 1940

Army Boot Camp Graduation, 1942. No unit insignia.

Airborne or Signal Corps Platoon Class, early 1943

Glamour shots! 1943. What's that on his hat?

A little closer?

Glider Corps of the 101st Airborne Division.
A ticket to a bumpy landing in Normandy's pastures at 2:30am, June 6, 1944.

Little Brother Wally got in on the action too - he became a Marine.
The brothers both volunteered - despite the fact that their family
had become Americans just a few decades prior.

Wally was a goofball (and one of my favorite guys of all time),
but he also suffered through basically every major battle of
the Pacific Theatre in World War II.  His Marine nickname was
"Short Stack."  Ha ha.

Cathedral of Notre Dame, Spring 1945.
Grandpa had already been wounded at Market Garden (bullet)
and again while marching through the snow in Bastogne (mine shrapnel).

Roman aqueduct somewhere in western Europe.  Spring 1945.

101st Airborne field encampment, somewhere in Germany, Spring 1945.

I don't understand what the point of this pasted-photo-situation is,
but it's cute.  My grandparents.

"WELCOME HOME BILL," December 1945

There he is! Notice the snow - Grandpa's unit of the 101st was one of the  many
who remained in theatre for quite a while after Germany's surrender.

Down in the easy chair....but...something's missing.

There we go! 

My grandfather loved a good story but rarely spoke of the war.   He lived it, and I guess he thought there was no reason in re-living it.  That being said, he died sixty years - nearly to the day - after his return from Europe.  I cannot imagine such darkness. I cannot imagine that it wasn't so easily captured by photography - for everything seems to be captured by camera these days.  I can't imagine having to come back from that into a world that has no idea all that you've done, and all that's been done to you.  It is impressive.

RIP William "Bill" Henry Mantay, 1914-2006
RIP Adele Mantay, 1918-2009
RIP Walter "Wally" Mantay, 1920-2009
RIP Herman Ergard Mantay, 1904-1982
RIP Emma Mantay, 1910-1992

Monday, August 27, 2012

Coastal Plain Bog Bass

The heat wave has finally broken, and so hopefully my trend of catching tiny (or no fish) is broken as well.  Before work on one of the last truly hot days (89 degrees by 7:30am), I got a chance to stop by  a restored peat bog, where I've been trying to fly fish with limited success (sunfish bass, no perch).   Now, you have to understand that biologists at a variety of federal government agencies, notably NOAA and USFWS, contend that these restored bogs are actually fish barriers - that fish cannot get from the lowest point of the bog to the highest point of the bog because of the number and alignment of rock structures down the slope (to prevent the bog from turning into a raging gully).  Luckily, they are quite wrong.

I missed at least one bigger bass and a ton of very nice bluegills.  I still haven't found the perch or pickerel I strongly suspect are hanging out in this bog, but the beaver have recently moved back in, which, while producing some tough day-to-day fish passage barriers, generally seem to allow fish back through.  I'll be fishing this spot quite a bit over the next 10 months to see if we can pick up any interesting migratory fish like herring or perch.  For the moment, though, it sure was nice to have a healthy little bass in hand.  Cheers!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Alligators in Virginia - The Search Begins - With Your Help

Chowan tributary headwaters in North Carolina - site of northernmost
government-acknowledged wild alligators.  This swamp and river
continue well past the Virginia border (18 miles away), where the
state and federal government swear that there are no wild alligators, ever.

Roughly 15,000 inquisitive folks have read my three blog posts on why, how, and where wild alligators are headed into Virginia...assuming (for a moment) that they aren't there already.  Read them here:

One:   Refuting the Baseless Claims that Wild Alligators Do Not - And Cannot - Live in Virginia
Two:  Analysis of Potential Alligator Habitat North of the VA-NC Border
Three: Analysis of Virginia Areas Where Wild Alligators Are Most Likely to Settle and be Left Alone

So what's the deal with this topic, and who cares?  In a nutshell, the American Alligator came off of federally threatened listing about 15 years ago. In various parts of its range (Virginia to Texas), it is protected, or hunted, or reviled, or revered.  Managing the South's apex wetland predator (besides panthers, which are functionally extinct) is a tall task, in other words.  And the name of the game with such wildlife management tasks is too often to pretend that something doesn't exist, because federal and state law require a certain set of expensive, tedious actions if a wildlife agency acknowledges that such a species is, indeed, present within their jurisdiction.

We know that released alligators (I make the distinction between them and wild gators for a variety of reasons) can live for several years in wetland and open water habitats in eastern Virginia - perhaps as far north as Richmond.  We know that just a dozen miles south of the VA-NC line, wild alligators are successfully reproducing.   And we know, from reports by hunters, boaters, and other outdoorsfolk, that mature wild alligators spend some summer days in nights in Virginia water bodies that drain to North Carolina.    So, perhaps you'd like to see what the Virginia Department of Game and Fisheries has to say about alligators, in their own words:

1) The alligator is legally a non-native reptile, no different than a Chinese bullfrog
2) Rabbit predators include alligators (but not in Virginia)
3) "Here in Virginia, we don't have any alligators"
4) Alligators are not native or naturalized to Virginia
5) Alligators are exotic and undesirable to the Commonwealth of Virginia
6) "I don't believe there's a connection"

All this being the case, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has actually got me.  Why? I can't spend endless days beating back canebrake and trying to look for the northernmost alligator nest in North America, just to prove it has successfully migrated into Virginia, just to make VDGIF look dumb (although, they've done a good job of that with the above quotes).

Photo from Let Them Eat Meat
Fortunately, someone else can, though!  Meet Jack Landers, author of "Eating Aliens," "Hunting Deer for Food" and "The Locavore Hunter." Jack is trying to organize an alligator search in the southern Virginia swamps where I'm convinced the big lizards are already spending their summers.

Here's where I'd like you to go click and send Jack a few dollars for the requisite travel expenses.  Do it.  Just a little cash.

Why does Jack think it's worthwhile?

There is still no solid proof that they are here in Virginia. State and federal officials deny that it is even possible. But it is also a fact that nobody has gone out to deliberately look for them.

What difference does it make whether there are gators in Virginia? Plenty. This would provide evidence that global warming has already changed this ecosystem with the arrival of a new top predator. And if there are alligators here then we're going to have to decide what our relationship is going to be with them. Are they invasive, or a native species naturally returning to its ancient range? Will they be removed or protected? None of the policy-makers will even have this conversation until we know for sure that the alligators have arrived.

So donate a little money, and let's see where this goes, shall we?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

To Friends Lost

August 17th, 1997.  I had just quit my job as a wildlife technician for the US Army and had moved to Boone, North Carolina to start graduate school at Appalachian State University.  First - and last - time I'd ever lived beyond the eastern continental divide.  To make the move happen, I'd overdrafted my bank account by about $400, and then of course, my 15 year old 4WD Subaru died as I pulled into downtown Boone.  Oh well.  I couldn't afford the $175/year campus parking permit anyway. 

When I settled into my $200/month concrete basement apartment in the floodplain of a mountain stream fed by highway runoff (turns out, that was a bad idea, which is a whole 'nother story), I checked into the ASU campus, only to learn that I wouldn't receive my first paycheck for another six weeks.  I don't curse much on this blog, but "F*ckin' Perfect," was about all that I could say that week.  And I said it repeatedly.  I ate a lot of corn out of the can, generic tater tots, and the cheapest hot dogs available for human consumption. I wondered a lot about why God was making things so hard on me, when so many other people (read: other grad students with financial support from their parents), had it so good.  On the flip side, the scenery was amazing and people were outgoing and friendly.  Maybe things might be okay.

Later that week, Thursday, I believe - making it August 21, I got four calls from four different friends in about a thirty minute period to tell me that our dear friend Scott had taken his own life.

I couldn't, and I didn't, make it to Scott's funeral 300 miles east of my new home, a reality that I regret, and one for which I'm not sure I've been collectively forgiven by my old friends.  I regret missing it not for Scott, but for the rest of our friends who were grieving acutely over his decision to move on from this life.   We loved him.  I've made peace with Scott's decision over the years - it was his life, after all - but I cannot abide by the wake of pain and turmoil his action caused.   And, sick though he was, he was also quite aware of the stir, the mourning, and the scarring that his action would cause.  He'd talked about his own death for years, actually.....which is why I've not used the word "surprise" anywhere in this essay.

Let's dispense with the conventional examination of "all the damage that suicide causes."  Whatever. It happened.  That wound was created in the rest of us, and it either healed or scarred in each of us.   It's long done, and rarely discussed amongst us any more.  Here's my issue with the scenario, 15 years later.  Scott, like nearly everyone on earth, had something to give.  Scott, like many suicidal people, mistakenly thought that the world owed him something - at the very least, an equal opportunity at  Happiness. Contentment. Mental quiet.  And he held that ill notion that if one's path is repeatedly beset by trials and tribulations, then living is destined to fail, and not worth the effort.

In written word, it's hard to show how strongly I disagree with that attitude.  It's clear to me that life on earth - this life - is a blessing - which doesn't mean that it's easy.  Or fair.  Or fun.  Sure, we don't have the ability to jump between dimensions, exist in a single state forever, or to manipulate time.  But we can reason.  We can adapt.  We taste. Smell. Hear.  Feel.  Differentiate between thought, emotion, bias, belief, and assumptions.  Our species appears to be at least somewhat singular in the combination of those abilities.  That combination is a blessing, and no matter what happens when we leave this world, we'll leave almost all of those abilities and perceptions behind. Forever.  We each have a unique chance here to do something worthwhile - if only in our spare time.  And then we are gone - never to return in the same way we were once here.

Scott Miller once jokingly wrote, "Oh Lord, hear me cry; I've not earned the right to die."  The older I get, the more sense that makes.  The world owes us nothing.  It's given us life.  Somewhere to grow food and get clean water.  The chance to prepare for future generations of our species in almost anyway we choose to do so.  That is truly massive biological power.  Life should be more than a chore.  It should be an obligation to those who receive it to truly make a mark, even at the smallest scale.

It's popular right now to bash the millenial generation as being coddled and lazy.  To them, I say: this is your chance.  Your only chance.  The older you get, the harder it will be to start making an impact.  This is your chance and your responsibility to leave this country and this planet in better shape than when you arrived here.  We can disagree on what "better" means.  But it means that you should feel obligated to act. To live.  To learn....and to be wrong. To "Go and Sin Boldly," as the manic depressive Martin Luther once stated. 

It doesn't mean you have to do it according to your parents' plans, or according to society's expectations.  After all, parents' plans are just that, and society is a creation of human beings that simply feeds itself at the expense of so many other things.  There is something you were meant to do here.  Go find it with an open heart.   Embrace the pain, the victories, the struggles, but focus on none of those.   Just go find it.  Go do it.

I lost friends both before and after Scott to suicide, drugs, alcohol, or a combination of those, especially when combined with fast cars and trucks.  Given our collective love of big adventure, high speed, and righteous parties, I'm lucky to have not lost more - I'm thankful to have so many friends who found their way through their own darkness somehow.  And I'm lucky to have lived this long that I can bear the burden of the final choices of friends like Scott, and use that burden to inform the way I live my life.

To try to live fully, understand as much as I can, share what I've learned, and cast off that which I cannot fix.

Scott, thank you for that.  We still miss you.

Monday, August 20, 2012

....Is Better than Not Fishing

Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis knows that my outdoor adventures are routinely focused on stacking the deck against my favor as ridiculously as possible.  As such, I bring you:

"Fly fishing for bass in an urban lake, from a kayak, in 95 degree heat." 

My friend Mike and I decided to meet up after work and give it a go, so once I got Hank home and fed, my wife generously took over and I putted down to the lake about 3 miles from our house.  Now that Baltimore County, not City, maintains the lake, long gone are the junkies, the poachers, the thieves, the homeless camps (and their shoreline piles of waste, toilet paper, and coke bottles), and the dogs running wild all over the wooded shoreline.  Instead, they now have actual regulations and actual, real, armed park rangers.  The first thing I heard when I got out of the truck by the ramp (several paddlers getting in the water) was from the ranger, "OKAY SUNSET IS 8:19 THAT MEANS I WANT BOATS OUT OF THE WATER AT 8:19!" cuts both ways.  At least I knew my truck would be there when I returned - historically, not a guarantee at this spot.

My head wasn't quite together and with 95 degree air, I knew we needed to get into the shade.  Mike started working on a sunken log under some high canopy trees, but I went right for the overhanging brush - absolutely the best way to catch bass in this lake.  Mike was fishing poppers and I was fishing hoppers.  There has to be a joke in there, but I can't find it.  I wrapped so much tippet around so many branches, it wasn't even funny.  In fact, it was infuriating.  I was sweating like crazy, and not fishing.  I finally yelled out some obscenities and paddled diagonally across the lake to where I caught this guy a few months ago.   A few days prior, when I was out here with Hank (I call this Spot #1), I saw several decent bass waiting in the shallows for a buggy meal to fall from above.

No dice.  Didn't see a fish.  Didn't get a bite.  DID catch this.  I think Redington will be psyched about the product placement. No?

Mike gave up on his spot as well, and we paddled over to the east cliffs, where I've caught bass before, in a kayak, no less.  We worked that shoreline and some heavy, heavy cover, with several blow-ups and near misses but not a single connection.   Just north of the cliffs are an amazing set of lay-downs, from oak to pine and everything inbetween.  Great structure.  No fish today.

The sky started rumbling, as it's been doing quite a bit this summer, and as we've learned, there's a fine line between "Oh, it's storming downtown" and "OH MY GOD 8 MILLION PEOPLE JUST LOST POWER," so we casually headed in.  I finally got the boat out around 8:25pm, and the ranger was a-circlin'.   She was super friendly, though and mostly wanted us to get out of there so she could lock up and be done with it.

I was a bit disappointed to not catch fish - it's only happened 3 or 4 of the 30-ish times I've been out this year.  But it was a good workout, and it sure beat not fishing.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Toddler Fishing v3.3 - Patience

"Daddy, it's dirty."
This summer, a debacle though it's been, has allowed me to think a little bit, well, a lot, about priorities.  About where and how lines are drawn, and boundaries are created.

About what is important and what is not.

One very simple thing I've done is switched my "half" of Hank's day care "equation" with my son - instead of seeing him often for just a rushed 60-minute period in the mornings and for a few minutes right before bed, I now skip the mornings and pick him up from day care by 530pm, almost every day.

A great exercise now encapsulated in most every afternoon has been that of toddler whimsy.  "Hey Bug, What Do You Want to Do Now?"  Since my truck is fully geared up (aka "a nasty mess"), it means that we have what we need for  a quick trip to our neighborhood lake, the community garden, or a quick run at the ball fields.  This requires patience in itself, for three year olds are fickle beings.

It takes a certain type of person to appreciate
fishing a $200 fly rod alongside a $9 Spider Man rod
And so, to fishing.  In a longwinded sort of way. At least once a week, Hank proclaims that in some combination, he wants a hot dog, he wants to go fishing, and he wants a lemonade.  A convenience store between Day Care and The Lake offers us a chance at lemonade made with organic lemons, organic cane sugar, and no preservatives, sold alongside hot dogs made with a variety of parts of a variety of species of animals, solidified in a paste of unknown preservatives and God Knows What genetically modified whatever, cooked by unknown means and kept warm by methods that are dubiously sanitary at best.  Sounds perfect, right?

Hank is closing in on three.  He's taller.  Faster.  So fast now, that he winds himself after exploding into the woods or down the shoreline of a pond.  He takes direction, as long as it is provided beforehand, and calmly.  And he wants to stick closer by.  These are not things that I could have taught, but they make our time outdoors much easier for me, and no less fun for Hank.  But it still requires patience.

First, we run.  We explore.  I carry all of the gear - and cookies in reserve.

Hank's favorite spot at the lake (other than the fishing platform by the parking lot) is this sandy gully.
It's out of the way from where we fish, but I always oblige his curiosity.

Spot #2 for the win!
Now, given that a three hour read about a two hour fishing trip is now considered "great writing" in today's fly fishing magazines of note, I still have a fishing story to tell.

 If I listened to the seriously high quality fishing/parenting advice doled out to me by the likes of Mike Sepalak and Howard Levvitt, I might be farther ahead in learning how to fish with a toddler.  But what fun would that be? Hopefully they'll both read this and see their advice reflected here.

I picked out two places to try fishing with Hank on this 95 degree evening.  One was the mouth of the spring creek where I caught this bass a few months ago.  Tons of fish.  Great spot. The other spot was farther upstream in the spring creek, and where I'd never caught a respectable fish, but also never not caught a fish.  If you follow.

The first spot was a bust.  Knowing to minimize my gear for a toddler fishing trip, I had only a few hoppers and my 6'0" 5wt Cabela's TQR.  Hey, late July, you know?  However, the cover was way to thick to effectively cast - even roll cast - and Hank was bored almost instantly (equals rock throwing).   The shoreline was muddy which provided Hank with quick amusement (getting dirty), immediately fading to frustration (wanting to not be dirty).  With fish visible in the water, I abandoned the first spot after only about five minutes.  Yup.  That's how quick you have to be with the little guys and gals.

Spot #2 required a little pre-game conference about throwing rocks, listening to Daddy, and being careful on the rocks.  Those conference call items did not go over well with Hank, who thought he was in trouble, despite my overly soft delivery.  The little ones are touchy around dinnertime.

Heckler / student

Reaching deep into my vast well of parenting skills, I asked the tired but less frantic Hank, "Can you please sit on that rock if I give you some cookies?"


Hey, don't judge.

The brief parenting break allowed me to slang around some fly line and the greenies immediately obliged.  Sitting in cold water in the shade on a hot day, these guys were starving.    Hank could care less about the first fish.  Mildly interested in the second fish.  After the third fish, he turned around and watched me, demanding, "Catch another fish!"

The action on sub-6 inch green sunfish was hot and heavy - a statement I'd be afraid to make in any other situation.  In about 40 minutes of fishing Spot #2, I caught about 30 fish.  Hank wanted to be in charge of letting each one go, which was great to see, if a bit perilous for the fish.  Finally, it came.

"Daddy, I wanna go home."

That was good enough for me, so we headed back to the truck.

No big fish.  No frowns.  All big smiles.

Yes, I know the kid is cuter.  Thanks.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Gardens, and the Blessing and Curse of Life Online

My taters
I love my life.  It's been thoughtfully built, though in fits and starts; with a lot of good decisions - usually in the wrong order; some good luck - usually at the wrong time; some good help, and most importantly, some good recoveries from bad situations...some of which were mistakes attributable to no one but me.

Most of all, I am thankful - daily - to be alive.   I have a set of particular and peculiar interests, and it's brought me into groups of friends who are particular and peculiar themselves (see how I did that?!).   I occasionally "ghost out" of computer social networking for a few days or weeks to get "re-centered", but generally I am connected to these folks in pretty much real time.  It's awesome.  It's awesome to be alive in this era of history.

Rosemary/Garlic Pickles
(my wife's)

One thing I've noticed lately is that as a result of widespread heat and drought conditions, all my friends all over the country have the same things coming out of their gardens at the same time. It's not just gardening - it's a celebration of being alive, of mastering food.  My type of people grow their food.  Or at least, as much as they reasonably can.  They are conservatives and liberals.  Hunters and vegetarians.  East coasters and midwesterners.  My people. 
Heirloom organic Romas (mine)

I love sharing my outdoor victories and defeats, and sharing in theirs as well.  Growing our food is a humble and humbling pursuit.  It is spiritually worthwhile, I'd argue.  It makes me happy to see so many good friends on that same path - spending time with food.  Which means they are spending time with soil.  Water.  Air. It's really good.

Teddy Bear and Little Elf
sunflowers (mine)
 But that sense of pride and sharing is bittersweet - each time I see a picture of tomatoes that must be washed, peppers that must be canned, or pests that must be sprayed in a friend's garden 40, 400, or 1500 miles away, I want to be there, in that kitchen, sharpening knives.  In that garden, smoking a cigar and plucking off hornworms.  Talking.  Living.  Our social networking "life" has let me share all of that with my friends (and I wish I had more like-minded local friends), but when it comes down to it, it doesn't let me be there.  With you.

To everyone else, go grow some food.  Laugh at your success and your failure.   I promise you'll feel more alive.

So, below a short few photos of my friends' photos, gleaned from just 12 hours of Facebook.  Miss you and love you all.

Jonesy's jalapeno/onion and rosemary/garlic pickles
Nate's afternoon haul.

Drew's heirloom

Jonesy's morning haul

Our Romas

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Courting Wild Bergamot

I've been a fan of the bee balms (genus Monarda) for years.  I've used these native mints in seed mixes and planting plans for over a decade, and damned be the deer and powdery mildew that attack those wonderful plants.  I'd heard of Bergamot, but to me, it seemed like another landscape architect's word for "bee balm."  When you call it the french "Bergamot" or the native American "Oswego," I guess you can charge more money for the plants than just ratty old "bee balm."

In 2008, I took a wetland construction class in the Finger Lakes of New York.  The region wasn't what I expected, in both good and bad ways, but what it lacked in culture and real mountains it made up for in vast forests, rivers full of smallmouth bass, and native flowers I'd never seen.  We were on the site of a restored prehistoric wetland when I discovered a really curious lavender bee balm.  I asked, "What is that?"  Someone replied, "Wild Bergamot."  Here's the photo I took of it.

Funny - I never even uploaded it to Flickr - this is its first public viewing
I set about on a plan to grow Wild Bergamot myself.  It can't be hard - I mean, it's a mint, it's closely related to the other bee balms which grow wonderfully in central/eastern Maryland, should work, right?

The problem is that in the southeast and mid-atlantic states, Wild Bergamot is not native to the coastal plain (or even the eastern portion of the piedmont).   The plant seeds prolifically, can grow by runners, and yet, can't survive (I'm guessing) the summer humidity.

(map removed, thanks, virus)

In 2009, I bought live Bergamot plants from three different sources.  One died of stem rot, one died from stress as a result of powdery mildew, and the other one was destroyed by marauding ants (a problem I occasionally encounter with bee balm, for some reason).   In 2010, I bought a live plant from a high end nursery in Maryland.  It turned out to be.......bee balm.  Their response, "Oh, it has lots of names! (proceeds to list every plant in the Monarda genus)."  In 2011, I tried to grow it from seed.  It failed.

In 2011, I ordered some seed through Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, which sourced the seed from Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.   It survived but did not bloom.  I had very low hopes.  But somehow in 2013, it returned.  And grew.  And grew. And bloomed.  See it near the center of this image?  It requires a tomato cage to support its weight.

And the bees are on it.  I've succeeded.  Every time I see the plant, I think of that amazing restored wetland and meadow in the New York Finger Lakes.  Of a tough and strenuous week, before Amy was even pregnant with Hank.  Before I knew what stress and love really were.  It's a good plant. Everybody said it wouldn't grow.  It's too hot.  Too humid.  The mildew will kill it.  And yes, after watching it grow all spring, I can see all of those stresses on these plants.  But they live.


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Over 12 years ago, I started this blog. There were very few conservation or outdoor blogs at the time, few websites with fast-breaking con...