Friday, August 20, 2010

"New" prairie, 8/20/10

This is the west-northwest view I have posted three times previously. The clarkia has all gone to seed and the plants look like amber tumbleweeds without the thorns, and I have gone through the area in the foreground with the mower. There is plenty of Idaho fescue (the bluish-looking grass), and the shrubby-looking clumps are Epilobium brachycarpum--it's nice to have something still green in the landscape. In the image you can just barely see the subtle cloud of pink that represents the bloom of this native annual, which just started showing up in force a couple of years ago. It seems like such a blessing to get Nature to help out like this. There are about four elderberry plants in this part of the prairie (but they're invisible little sprouts from this vantage point), similarly showing up as a gift from the birds or the local deity or something. Individual plants, such as the elderberries, lupines, and geraniums, are marked with little pink flags, some of which you can see in the image above, so I don't inadvertently cut them down or anything. Anyway, the pink cloud is made of tiny (1/4" square) pink flowers like this...

As with the clarkia earlier this year, the lack of competition in this newly-planted area makes an annual like epilobium thicker than it is in a mature native prairie. In fact it is much more sparse throughout the rest of the property.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Making a Squash-stalk Clarinet

It's harvest time, finally. We are just starting to get tomatoes, about a month late with the odd cool weather we had in late Spring, but now the garden is delivering. We have only one summer squash plant but it is huge! Do you have more squash than you know what to do with? Well, this won't help, really, but it will give you something else to do with it. Here I am using a stalk from a yellow "crookneck" squash, but it works with zucchini and maybe others, too. You can actually make a functional musical instrument from stuff you usually throw in the compost bin!

The first thing is to cut off the leaf, right at the point where the hollow stalk expands into the leaf--you want that end to be plugged. Then, holding the knife perpendicular to the stalk, scrape off the spines. The next part is really important: cut an inch-long slit about a half-inch away from the plugged end.

Now you have to get your clarinet to sound. The entire slit has to go in your mouth. It will take several minutes to warm up and loosen up the reeds (technically, I suppose this is an oboe more than a clarinet since the two sides of the slit are the two "reeds," but it sounds like a clarinet). Keep trying to blow through it. If the air blows through too easily, then press gently on the top of the reeds to push them together, and if it is too hard to blow air through the reeds, put the knife in the slit and wiggle it gently to loosen them up. Keep trying to get a sound by blowing--the moisture and warmth of your breath will loosen things up. You might get a squeak--that's a good sign...keep going. Then, once you get a sound, you can try cutting finger holes.

Have fun!!