Tag Archives: Sandra Knauf

“The Man Who Found a Plant’s Heart”: The Story of Dr. Jagadish Chandra Bose – Part I

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This is my mini-bio about one of our world’s most fascinating scientists. I wrote it a few years ago and it first appeared in Greenwoman Volume 1. Imagine my surprise and delight today to realize that it’s Dr. Bose’s birthday! I planned to post this some time ago, it got pushed back, and now it’s the perfect time to share. ENJOY!

—Sandra Knauf

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May 10, 1901. The setting is a grand lecture hall in the Royal Society of London. An audience of scientists and scholars is awash in murmurs over what they’ve just seen.

Sitting on the lecture table are unusual metal instruments. They include something called a crescograph, a mechanical recording device created by the visiting scientist. This device is said by journalist F. Yeats-Brown, who is there reporting for The Spectator, to magnify “so inconceivably that the pace of a snail would become eight times faster than a bullet.” Nearby is a potted mimosa plant under artificial lights.

Yeats-Brown takes notes on what will be cabled as a “modern miracle of science.” The world will be “startled” to learn that Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, the Indian biologist, has demonstrated in the presence of this learned audience that a plant has a “heart,” which acts physiologically very much as a heart does in the animal kingdom.

The scientist Sir Jagadish described the mimosa earlier in his lecture saying, “This poor little plant is rather depressed, and no wonder. But it’s alive in spite of your climate, and so I shall be able to show you its nerve impulses and its reactions to various drugs.”

The audience watches as Sir Jagadish takes a pair of scissors and cuts a branch from the mimosa. He inserts it into his recording machine. A needle pierces the branch’s skin.
The audience watches the plant’s pulsations, like heart-beats, magnified a “million fold,” on a wall projection.

Sir Jagadish explains, “The pulse will grow fainter and fainter, of course, as it bleeds to death.”

The audience watches this occur, just as he predicted.

“Of course!” writes Yeats-Brown, as the audience stares at the spot of light that illustrates the “death-struggle” of the plant.

Earlier, the audience had witnessed Sir Jagadish as he administered a little bromide into the plant, which almost caused its death. Then he injected an extract of thyroid, which made for “skittish” readings, then, finally, the cobra venom, which produced a stimulus, then the death-pang.

The implications of Bose’s discoveries? In the words of Yeats-Brown: “Carrots can get drunk and write the scrawling story of their dissipation. Plants tell Sir Jagadis [sic] how they feel when he shocks them with a loud noise; fat ones feel it less than their more slender and sensitive sisters.”

An amazing revelation: Plants feel and react very much like we do.

Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose is best known as one of the founding fathers of radio science.  His demonstration of remote wireless signaling predated Marconi’s and he was a pioneer in the investigation of radio waves. His discoveries and inventions were many, including the design of an instrument in 1897 which generated very short electrical waves (measured in millimeters) when others were struggling with Hertzian electric waves that were about three meters long. Bose was also the first to use a semi-conducting crystal to detect radio waves, and he invented various microwave components that are in common use today.

Bose was what is known as a polymath (someone with knowledge of many subjects). Aside from being one of the fathers of radio science, he was a physicist, biologist, botanist, archaeologist, and the father of Bengali science fiction. But what may be most fascinating to those of us with an interest in botany is Bose’s discoveries about plant life. He was the first to proclaim, “We are all interconnected.”

Bose was born on the 30th of November, 1858, in Rarikhal, Bengal, India. His father was a civil servant who rebelled against the standard children’s education of that time for someone of his rank in society—he chose not to send his children to an English school for their early education, which was expected. Instead, he insisted his children learn first among their own people. In a vernacular school, young Jagadish studied his native language and culture among the children of those “who tilled the ground and made the land blossom with green verdure and ripening corn, and the sons of the fisher folk.” From his country’s literature he became familiar with the great epics, and from his fellow students he drew his love of nature. This early experience would forge a strong bond to his culture and Bose would remain connected to his people.

Bose’s education continued in Xavier’s Collegiate School in Calcutta, the Calcutta University, and finally at Christ’s College in Cambridge, England. He earned two science degrees. He also earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of London in 1884. In 1885, he became an officiating Professor of Physical Science at the Presidency College in Calcutta. There, being an Indian, and an officiating Professor, he was allowed to only draw one-third of his pay grade. In protest, Bose refused to accept any salary for three years. After those three years he was appointed to Professor, and received a pay increase of double his prior salary (which was still only two-thirds the pay of European professors) and the three years back pay. He would not receive an equal wage for 18 more years.

This, however, was only one of many challenges he would face. Unlike his American and European counterparts, Professor Bose did not have an appropriate laboratory in which to work. His facilities consisted of a 24-square foot room and he received only the help of one untrained tinsmith to assist in constructing research equipment. Research was conducted on his own time and with his own money. Nevertheless, within a decade Bose emerged as a pioneer in the developing research field of wireless waves.

by-the-birth-centenary-committee-printed-by-p-c-ray-acharya-jagadis-chandra-bose-birth-centenary-via-wikimedia-commons

J. C. Bose demonstrating wireless signaling in Calcutta, by The Birth Centenary Committee, printed by P.C. Ray, via Wikimedia Commons

In recognition of his many contributions during this decade, the University of London conferred on him the Degree of Doctor of Science, and, in 1896, the Cambridge University awarded him the degree of M.A. The Royal Institution of Great Britain invited him to deliver a ‘Friday Evening Discourse’ on his work, which was considered a privilege and the highest distinction that could be bestowed on a man of science.

Bose met Guglielmo Marconi in 1896, at least a year before Marconi conducted his wireless signaling experiment on Salisbury Plain, and a year after Bose conducted his public demonstrating of remote wireless signaling in Kolkata (Calcutta). Later, in an interview, Bose expressed disinterest in commercial telegraphy and made it known that others were welcome to use his research work. In 1904 he was the first from the Indian subcontinent to get a U. S. patent, for his invention of a certain crystal receiver which proved to be the most sensitive detector of the wireless signal. There were no secrets as to the construction of his inventions and he did not use the patents granted to him for personal gain. He declared that his work was, “open to all the world to adopt for practical and money-making purpose.” He was quoted in the Calcutta magazine Modern Review saying, “The spirit of our national culture demands that we should forever be free from the desecration of utilizing knowledge for personal gain.”

According to another article in Modern Review it was during this time, while he researching radio waves and materials used for receivers, that Bose became interested in the response of other materials, namely metals and plants. “[Bose] found that the uncertainty of the early type of his receiver was brought on by ‘fatigue’ and that the curve of fatigue of his [metal] instrument closely resembled the fatigue curve of animal muscle.” This spurred him to further experiments and he soon saw that the fatigue of his instrument was removed by suitable stimulants. In addition, he found that application of certain poisons permanently eradicated the instrument’s sensitiveness. He was amazed at this discovery—this parallelism in the behavior of the ‘receiver’ material to the living muscle tissue of animals. This led him to a systematic study of all matter, organic and inorganic, living and non-living.

Universal Response

Dr. Bose began to research how metals reacted to stimulus in a full range of experiments: mechanical, thermal, chemical and electrical. He found that each stimulus produced a measurable electric response. This led him to try the same stimulus in plants and animal tissues, and he found, again, the same results. All materials—metals, plant tissues, and animal tissues, were affected in the same ways. In his book, Response in the Living and Non-Living, Bose wrote that they were “benumbed by cold, intoxicated by alcohol, fatigued by excessive work, stupefied by anesthetics, excited by electric currents, stung by physical blows and killed by poison—they all exhibit essentially the same phenomena of fatigue and depression, together with possibilities of recovery and exaltation, yet also that of permanent irresponsiveness which is associated with death—they are all responsive or irresponsive under the same conditions and in the same manner.” This finding is what Dr. Bose termed “universal response.”

Dr. Bose wrote a paper on his findings in 1900, and on June 5, 1901 he presented a demonstration to the Royal Society “On Electric Response of Inorganic Substances.” Immediately, he was met with objections and strong criticism, particularly from Sir John Burden Sanderson (the leading physiologist) and his followers, who attacked him on the belief that a physicist should not be straying into the work of physiologists. Bose’s paper was not published but placed in the archives. A Modern Review article revealed how another paper, published in another journal by another Society, eight months later, was found to be a plagiarism of Dr. Bose’s work and led to “much unpleasantness.” The article also stated that “the determined hostility and misrepresentation of one man succeeded for more than 10 years to bar all avenues of publications for his [Bose’s] discoveries.”

The end result of all this would be that Dr. Bose would work for the next decade to prove his research was valid.

In March 1902, he performed a series of experiments before the Linnean Society showing electric response in plants when subjected to fatigue, temperature changes, poisons and anesthetics. Again, the responses were identical with those seen in animal muscle and nerve tissue. In June 1902 he wrote a paper, “On the Electric Response in Animal, Vegetable, and Metal.”

While Dr. Bose used the Mimosa pudica plant (now known as “sensitivity plant”) for his experiments to most easily demonstrate his findings, he made it clear in his book On Electric Response of Ordinary Plants Under Mechanical Stimulus that “all plants are sensitive.” He went on to demonstrate that not only every plant, but every part of every plant exhibited an electric response to stimulus. “. . . all plants, even the trees,” he was quoted in Modern Review, “are fully alive to changes of environment; they respond visibly to all stimuli, even to the slight fluctuations of light by a drifting cloud.”

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‘Tropic’ Movements,” Ascent of Sap” and “Growth”

Bose found that plants gave not only electric responses to stimulus but response through movement (also called tropic or motive response) which could be measured. These movements, however, were extremely diverse. Light, for example, sometimes induced a positive curvature in plant tissue, sometimes a negative one. Gravitation induced one movement in the root, and the opposition in the shoot. Other movements, not outwardly visible, could also be measured. Growth and the ascent of sap, for example, were shown to be reactions to outward stimulus. This may now seem simplistic, especially to gardeners who are used to thinking in these terms, but viewing plants as connected and perceptive life forms, and researching this through scientific means was unusual at that time. Bose invented a machine called the “shoshungraph” that measured the ascent of sap and a “growth recorder” or “balanced crescograph” that determined the influences of various agencies on growth. The instruments were so finely created that they could measure, within a few seconds, real growth, and in less than fifteen minutes the response of a plant to a fertilizer, food, poison, electrical current, or other stimulants.

(Stay tuned for Part II next week!)

—Sandra Knauf

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Sandra Knauf is the one-woman-show behind Greenwoman Publishing. Her books include the six-volume series Greenwoman, (a literary digest), her young adult fantasy novel, Zera and the Green Man, and an anthology of sexy gardening stories that she says is the feminist gardener answer to Fifty Shades of GreyFifty Shades of Green. She was a 2008-09 featured “Colorado Voices” columnist for The Denver Post and her humorous essays have appeared nationally in GreenPrints and MaryJanesFarm. Sandra lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado with her family, dogs, huge urban garden, and lots of books.

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Paper Roses and Marigolds . . . and Costumes!

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Image from VintagePrintable.com via Pinterest

This week I received a note from a friend. She’s read about my life through my newsletter, so I was very happy to finally get a glimpse into her life. When readers share, a connection is made. It’s beautiful!

Virginia (she signs her emails “Virg”) told me about her gardening history, how she’d had a lot of fun over the years tending gardens that she didn’t actually own. One she tended for 14 years, a church garden across the street from where she lived. When the Episcopalian priest went on vacation, she’d also take care of the “manse.” (Oooh, I thought, a manse! I wanted to see it, and the garden!) Other adopted gardens were a vacation rental by the water every August, and her son and daughter-in-law’s garden. As it was nearing Halloween, Virg mused on how she wished she had some marigolds. They would be just the thing for her black Depression glass salt and pepper shakers. Earlier she’d written to me about how her mother put garden flowers in the tiny containers, so fairy-like, so charming.

After mentioning the marigolds she wrote, “If I were my mother I’d just whip up a few crepe paper  marigolds! If I were only a witch I would conjure up a few. Concentrate, concentrate, visualize——I’m in a trance—I’ll let you know if it works.

No, no not daisies, marigolds!”

I grinned reading that—and thought about marigolds, the favorite flower of El Dia de los Muertos, or the Mexican Day of the Dead. I’ve been fascinated with that celebration for a long time—so much more meaningful than just dressing up and candy!

The thought of crepe paper marigolds really intrigued me. My mother had mentioned making flowers and decorations out of paper as a kid, but by the 1960s it was considered pretty “old-fashioned.” Decorations and fake flowers were now mass-produced.

I looked it up and found that others were intrigued by these delicate creations. Of course they sold them on Etsy. WHAT FUN!

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12 Button Mums, 1″ size, for only $4.80 on Etsy at ZoBeDesigns!

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From SnootyBlooms on Etsy – 12 for $12.99!

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I thought these were amazing. They’re not for sale, but you can learn how to make them at the website Simple Craft Ideas.

I wrote Virg back with the links to these blooms. I asked her if I could share her thoughts on crepe paper flowers and the holidays. She wrote back,

“I’m flattered, be my guest. I remember sitting in my crib downstairs when I was sick watching  Mom making crepe paper flowers at the dining room table after supper while listening to Wayne King (the waltz king) playing The Waltz You Saved For Me, The Lady Ester program—radio, of course.  I Remember Dennison crepe paper. This was BIG business back in the day. Look up the Dennison crepe paper costume books from the 20’s and 30’s, you will not believe Marie Antoinette in crepe paper complete with roses.!!!!! Do you have your black candles ready?”

She then sent me the link to a book on crepe paper costumes, which I ordered, and then she sent me a link for a free PDF of the book, How to Make Crepe Paper Flowers, now in the public domain, from the Dennison paper company.

Again—WHAT FUN. I was especially happy to the marigolds! Maybe next year I would (finally) be all set for El Dia de los Muertos. Maybe I would have some black candles, too!

Last night I found another free book, this one from Internet Archives. How to Make Paper Costumes, also from Dennison. It gives instructions for all kinds of enchanting costumes, including those that celebrate nature—flowers, vegetables, butterflies, birds, even “the elements.”

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Lily, Sweet Pea, and Jonquil

Somehow I feel that I will try this craft—or at the minimum enjoy some beautiful flowers from Etsy.

Perhaps poinsettias?

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Crepe Paper Flowers, by Chris, via Wikimedia Commons

Thanks for connecting with me, Virg. You certainly brightened my Halloween!

—Sandra Knauf

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Sandra Knauf is the one-woman-show behind Greenwoman Publishing. Her books include the six-volume series Greenwoman, (a literary digest), her young adult fantasy novel, Zera and the Green Man, and an anthology of sexy gardening stories that she says is the feminist gardener answer to Fifty Shades of GreyFifty Shades of Green. She was a 2008-09 featured “Colorado Voices” columnist for The Denver Post and her humorous essays have appeared nationally in GreenPrints and MaryJanesFarm. Sandra lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado with her family, dogs, huge urban garden, and lots of books.

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Today through Saturday, October 1st – ZERA AND THE GREEN MAN – 99 Cents!

Zera Pin - Green Woman I'm a Firm Believer

Quote from Zera and the Green Man (drawing by Mike Beenenga). All posters are by Lisa Repka.

 

I should have told everyone about this Monday, but it’s been one of those weeks.

Anyhow, my young adult novel is on sale, Kindle edition, and I think you should download it today or tomorrow! I really want you to read it!

I’m currently making notes for the sequel, and will be writing it this fall and winter.

Here’s the link! Tell your friends!

XO,

—Sandra Knauf

 

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The Whole Ruth (and nothin’ but the Ruth) Ruth Stout Mini-Bio FREE through Sept. 10th

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My sultry garden mentor, Ruth Stout. Another fun fact: she enjoyed gardening in the nude!

I’ve been enamored with garden writer Ruth Stout since I started reading her books in the early ’90s. I didn’t even have a garden yet, but I knew I would one day – and I wanted to learn it ALL. Ruth was at the forefront of organic garden writing in the 1960s. She had a column in Organic Gardening and Farming magazine after her book on straw mulch gardening, How to have a Green Thumb without an Aching Back: A New Method of Mulch Gardening, became a big hit.

I fell in love with her voice maybe more than her message. Ruth Stout was plain-spoken, smart, incredibly funny, and a little naughty at times (my favorite trait). She told about how she communicated with the plants – that’s how she came upon her famous “straw mulch method.”

Her personal story is fascinating. She was a true American rebel, a feminist (she said she didn’t know how to be anything but one), an original. She grew up in a Quaker household with lots of kids and lots of books, was one of the first to bob her hair in the early 1920s, took off for New York City at an early age, had many adventures in her youth (including a trip to Russia), and then she settled down and got married in her mid-forties. She published her first book in her late 50s. This was a woman who lived life to the FULLEST.

But, why tell about her here, when you can read all about it here. I think you will fall in love, too.

Tell your friends; FREE through Saturday, September 10th, The Whole Ruth: A Biography of Ruth Stout!

—Sandra Knauf

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Gardening Just Got Dirtier: Fifty Shades of Green FREE on Amazon Sept 1-5!

 

Bus copy

FREE download September 1-5!

 

Hi everyone,

Today through Sept. 5th I’m offering a giveaway for, if I do say so myself, an excellent collection of garden erotica!

Who knew there was such a thing as garden erotica? I didn’t, but I had always thought the idea was an intriguing one, so a couple of years ago I sort of . . .  invented a new genre. I decided to publish a book – a collection of sexy (and sometimes very humorous) stories that take place in the garden (you know, that paradise on Earth where some believe original “sin”occurred?). Of course I wanted it to have a feminist slant, and the title shows that I also wanted to poke a little fun at Fifty Shades of Grey. I sent out a call for submissions, and Fifty Shades of Green was the result.

You can read the story about how it all came about here.

And here’s a radio interview you might enjoy.

You can download the book FREE, today through Monday, by going here.

PLEASE tell your gardening friends about this naughty offer, and consider buying some early holiday gifts for your favorite dirty gardeners! I guarantee that this will help them get through the winter.

—Sandra Knauf

 

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Radish Gets Around

Greenwoman Comix Heading No Text USR_edited-5

I don’t think this one appeared in any of the Greenwoman volumes, but in each issue we (meaning myself, a.k.a. Mae Fayne, and my daughter Zora, a.k.a. Angus Skillet), tried to create a comic. Anthropomorphism, hooray!

—Sandra Knauf

Radish Gets Around Final

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The Green Wasteland

canstockphoto1881083 (3)vintage lawnmowers

Image from CanStockPhoto.

My sister and I ended many summer afternoons in the 1970s green from the knees of our jeans down, sweaty, and reeking of gas and exhaust. As servants of the Great American Lawn, we regularly mowed ours, the elderly Miss Howard’s next door, our grandma’s, and once in a while, our great Aunt Flora’s.

It was work that was necessary, and our lawn in particular was well used—the six kids in our family played games of tag, pitch and catch, badminton, and we used the space, as teenagers, for sunbathing. Dad saw physical labor as the best character-builder, so he “volunteered” us to maintain it. We received $5 a lawn, to share.

I didn’t mind the work, but Missouri summers were hot and humid, and occasionally at Miss Howard’s I ran over a toad (a horrifying thing).

I learned more about turf at age 20, verifying sales for a lawn-care company in Colorado Springs. I telephoned clients, confirming that they had joined our fertilizer/weed killer program, with insecticide and/or fungicide treatments as needed. With our help, their lawns would be the envy of the neighborhood!

During our one-day training, we learned to instruct clients with pets to remove dog and cat bowls before spraying, as there had been pet deaths from tainted water. We also cautioned them to keep pets and people off the grass until the applications dried. It sickened me to realize that the men who drove the trucks and sprayed these toxins daily would inhale them, get them on their clothing, their skin, and bring these toxins home. I wondered why people would pay good money for lawns you wouldn’t want a baby crawling on.

A decade later, as a college grad, mom, and hobby gardener, I had my own lawn—or, rather, weed/native grass lot. Seduced by the American ideal, we installed sod in our backyard. For a while, it looked gorgeous; but without pampering, chemicals, or a sprinkler system, it deteriorated fast. In Colorado, as in most parts of our country, lawns require not only constant maintenance but constant life support.

A few years later when I became a master gardener, I determined to get rid of our lawn. Bit by bit, with a tiny budget and lots of elbow grease, I created a garden instead—with fruit trees, herbs, flowers, native plants, sandstone paths, even a goldfish pond. I kept patches of grass/weeds for our dogs (and the occasional badminton game for the kids) and maintained it with a reel mower, enjoying a good workout in the process. Our established xeric garden requires less maintenance than a lawn. Except for the vegetable garden, I water once a week, deeply, and I do not water the grass/weeds at all.

I realize that turf is a multibillion-dollar U.S. industry and many are wedded to the old ways. Lawns, those pretty green carpets, do have an aesthetic charm, and they are good for sports. But they don’t support butterflies, honeybees, birds, or other wildlife, and caring for one is the antithesis of green. Five percent of all our nation’s air pollution comes from gas-powered lawn mowers. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, one gas-powered mower, used for one hour, emits as much pollution as eight new cars driven at 55 mph for the same time.

According to the EPA, Americans burn 800 million gallons of fuel each year trimming their lawns. Of this, 17 million gallons of fuel, mostly gasoline, are spilled each year while refueling lawn equipment. This is more than the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez. Fertilizer pollution is a huge problem, and lawns require significant water, yet another burden on our limited resources.

In addition, nearly 80 million pounds of pesticide active ingredients are used on U.S. lawns annually. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that “homeowners use up to 10 times more chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops.”

It’s past time to see traditional lawns for what they have become: antiquated, wasteful, and harmful. I propose that we return to our roots—cottage gardens. Gardens assist nature on a meaningful scale, and they are excellent outdoor classrooms/playgrounds for children and adults. My children had more fun in our back yard than I ever did in the 1970s as they had chickens, and flowers, and a pond—and lots of places to let their imagination run wild. Our home landscapes can also provide us with locally-grown food. You cannot grow luscious plums, pull up sweet carrots, snip chives for your potatoes (and grow potatoes, too), pick wildflower bouquets, or provide bird sanctuary or forage for honeybees with a grass lawn.

As the industrialized world races toward green living, homeowners everywhere can make a difference. It’s easy—take up your shovel and start getting rid of your lawn.

References:
People Powered Machines (much of their information comes from the EPA),
http://www.peoplepoweredmachines.com/faq-environment.htm

Environment and Human Health, Inc.,
http://www.ehhi.org/reports/lcpesticides/summary.shtml

CSU Extension Service,
http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/consumer/09952.html

Note from the author: This essay originally appeared in The Denver Post in 2009. I think it’s also one of the most important essays I’ve ever written, especially in light of the honeybee collapse that we now know is caused in great part by the use of insecticides and other toxins. The year I wrote this, turf was a billion dollar a year cash crop in Colorado. But the recession had just begun, and the numbers have changed as the lawn industry was impacted and continues to be. Times have changed (back then we did not imagine that marijuana would become our #4 cash crop in five years!), but lawns are still the norm for the home landscape. Fifty percent of all water used by homeowners in Colorado is used outdoors.

When I went to check the numbers last year, when this piece appeared in US Represented, I found few updates, but a new report on the EPA site showed, in alarming detail, the health impact on humans of not only lawn mowers, but all lawn and garden equipment. It is titled “National Lawn and Garden Equipment Emissions” and was written by Jamie Banks, PhD, MS, of Quiet Communities, Inc. and Robert McConnell of the U.S. EPA, Region 1. Here’s the link for this must-read.

—Sandra Knauf

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Butterfly Ladies

Butterfly women (2)

Aren’t they beautiful? At first it dampened the fun for me to learn that these ladies were from cards that came in cigarette packages in the 1920s. Flappers as butterflies, one tucked into each pack, with the common and Latin names of each species. There were 50 in the collection.

 

The red admiral

The Red Admiral, George Arents Collection, The New York Public Library, public domain.

 

I thought (rather sourly) at first, well, that’s a nice way for men to “collect” women, maybe they could even pin them to the walls! But then I thought about lady smokers, women enjoying a new and wild (albeit unwise) freedom. It was an exciting decade of change for women, both politically and socially. The 1920s was when women got the right to vote and it’s when they began wearing short hair. If you think about it, it’s not hard to see the metaphor of women going from caterpillar to butterfly! I concluded that these ladies, and their non-smoking lady friends, probably loved collecting these cards far more than the men.

Sandra Knauf

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In the Spring a Not-So-Young Woman’s Fancy Lightly Turns to Thoughts of Bees

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Apiary in the Village Varatic, 1980s. By Ion Chibzii from Chisinau. , Moldova. Via Wikimedia Commons

 

A Facebook friend’s post this week told how a large honeybee swarm had  taken up residence in an empty hive on his property. All on its own! He’d left the hive out all winter, “seasoning it with lemon grass every month,” (rubbing lemon grass into the wood), and the day before saw a scout bee checking it out. The next daya colony moved in! Free bees!

How incredibly exciting! I thought.

I’ve been dreaming of beekeeping for years here on my city property, but I’ve never made the move from dream to reality. Two neighbors on my block have given it a try. One had a hive for a couple of years, and a new neighbor across the street has a hive, or she did last summer. I’ve taken classes, and one year was thrilled to participate in a swarm capture, but I’ve always been just a little too wrapped up in other projects to take on yet another responsibility. (I would want to do right by the bees, you know!) I do take a lot of pleasure, though, in growing two big city lots full of plants that produce great bee forage flowers: lots of catmint, blue mist spirea, and borage, in addition to flowering trees and shrubs, vegetables, flowers, weeds, etc. We also provide water in a few birdbaths and a pond. The bees love to drink from the lily pads.

And every year I thinkhmmm, maybe next year.

This year’s musings were ignited first by the beekeeper, then by Pinterest, which sent me some suggested pins that included honeybee art. That took me to Etsy, and that took me to Wikimedia Commons, my favorite place for copyright-free antique images.

There I found a few more images I hope you’ll enjoy.

Bee well, and remember to love and care for our friends the honeybees!

Sandra Knauf

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Just one of many Etsy offerings of bee-you-tiful digital images. These are available at the shop Digital Magpie.

 

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I would love to have a room wallpapered with this. From British Bees: An Introduction to the Study of the Natural History and Economy of the Bees Indigenous to the British Isles, by W.E. Shuckard. Published 1866. Via Wikimedia Commons.

 

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From How to Keep Bees for Profit, by Anna Botsford Comstock, 1905. I learned that Comstock was a well-known  American artist, educator, conservationist, and leader of the nature study movement!

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Note the bees on his arm, a little stunt that beekeepers can have fun with. From How to Keep Bees for Profit.

 

How_to_keep_bees_BHL18160755 (2)By Comstock, Anna Botsford [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Another image, this one very lovely, from Anna Botsford Comstock’s book.

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From The American Bee Journal, 1916. The accompanying excerpt about women studying beekeeping looked promising, but soon I became very annoyed at the  condescending stance on women’s most important role in society: homemaking. “Their sisters may paint beautiful pictures, write wonderful stories or rise to exalted positions in business or the professions; but the home builder is, after all, the greatest producer of beauty and happiness.”

 

1917, book, The Home and School Reference Work

And, to end this post, a pretty color illustration from The Home and School Reference Work, Volume 1, 1917.

 

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Romancing the Seed

PLENTI-GRAND-SEXY-PIN-UP-GIRL-in-BRA-PANTIES-VINTAGE1940s-VEGETABLE-CRATE (2)

 

Winter. Once again, it’s seed buying time, planning time, dreaming time. On a frosty Colorado Saturday morn, as I sit at the kitchen table and browse my favorite catalogues, my thoughts turn to vegetables, to spring, . . . to love. I muse at how, in spring, all the garden becomes a stage for romance. Pregnant buds on trees, after a wintertime of slow hidden growth, open, joyously revealing perfect leaves and flowers. Birds sing throaty songs of mating, and bees begin their explorations, helping flowers meet.

In the catalogue I see asparagus, sex incarnate as they begin pushing up through the earth, thin chartreuse phalluses. Precoce d’Argenteuil from an Italian supplier sounds especially intriguing. In the photo it is handsome—rosy purple in color with only a bit of green at the head.

Another variety, Purple Passion, catches my eye. These deep burgundy men have a higher sugar content than their green counterparts. Although they turn green upon cooking, I learn that sweet young spears are often savored raw. I imagine eating them in the proper way, with the fingers.

Another page offers peas. Of all the springtime blossoms, the darling peas are probably the most delicate, the most like Georgia O’Keeffe masterpieces in miniature. Paradoxically, the catalogue boasts varieties with male names—mighty English peas named Green Arrow, Mr. Big, and Knight. That makes me wonder if they’re macho after all, but then I think of the babies, the peas in the pods.

Peas . . . seeds . . . suddenly I’m in my sun-filled potting shed, basking in the new March warmth. I roll up my sleeves, readying myself for a few hours of planting seeds, assisting nature’s miracles of birth. As I begin to work, my husband Andy surprises me with a visit. I am so pleased by his offer to help. We toil side by side, enjoying the musky smell of soil going into pots, the feel of the tepid water we spill, and the warm sunshine as it envelopes us from the window. Birds twitter and cavort outside, in rapturous mating rituals. They are happy spring is coming. We are happy, too. My husband says I look beautiful, even though my face is smudged with dirt and my hair is unloosed from its kerchief. As our fingers caress and count seeds, cover them, push them into the damp soil, the room heats up.

Our fingers touch when we reach for the watering can. Everything becomes sweetly electric, spring-fevery. The potting shed door closes, and . . .

My husband has walked into the kitchen. He notices my daydreamy smile. “Try not to overspend this time on seeds,” he says, “like you always do.”

“Whatever,” I say, my smile fading like a pressed flower.

Alas, my sexy potting shed is total fantasy. All my seedlings are started in the chilly unfinished basement, below shelves of fluorescent lights that illuminate a frightening amount of dust and cobwebs.

I move on to the eggplants. I find that new this year is Slim Jim. Slim Jim is supposed to be exceptionally early, garden flower pretty, long, slender, purple, mild. Maybe I’d enjoy its sensual flavor in a favorite Italian dish, Pollo con le Melanzane e I Pomodori Freshi (fricasseed chicken with eggplant and fresh tomatoes). Delicioso. The name Slim Jim suddenly seduces . . . I envision another Italian dish, a slender gentleman named Giacomo—dark, very sexy, and a master of culinary delights (among other things). I am sure this Jim would not limit his wife’s seed spending.

Certainly not on tomatoes, perhaps the most female fruit. My catalogue offers an incredible variety of tomatoes, but none very enticingly named. Green Zebra and Grandma Mary aren’t very lip smacking. I am old enough to know that a tomato used to be a word for a sexy young thing, like Betty Boop or Bettie Page. It makes sense if you think about it, the tight skin covering firm, unblemished flesh, the succulent and juicy insides.

While the taste of tomatoes is not overtly sexual, they have their moments, in Italian food with wine, of course, or eaten warm off the vine, the juice dripping down one’s arm. And I’m sure I’m not the only one to enjoy the sensual pleasure of taking a whole cherry tomato in my mouth—and squishing it. I should develop my own tomato, I decide, and name it simply . . . Betty.

Next I browse the selection of beans. At first I find little in the sexiness department, few provocative names. I do not understand—beans are energetic, forceful—they ramble up fences and trellises, twining, curling, and grasping like possessive lovers. Then a lusty Italian pole bean, Purple Trionfo Violetto, catches my eye. This bean’s vines are reported to overrun trellises, and the ornamental light purple blooms turn into thousands of dark purple beans, whose “nutty sweet flavor is just sublime.”

I feel an instant attraction . . .

I am in the vegetable patch. I wear a low-cut peasant’s blouse with floral print skirt and cradle a French wooden trug in one arm. The trug’s overflowing with multicolored beans, just picked from one of my large and rustic been teepees. My husband gazes upon me and approaches as a slight breeze tousles my hair and skirt. My amoroso tells me he cannot wait until dinner to sample my cooking. I offer him a bean and he lustily bites off the tip. I say the names. They roll off my tongue seductively—Purple Trionfo Violetto, Yellow Romano Burro D’Ingegnole. We look at each other and then the bean teepee, I feel his hand so gentle and . . .

Yuck! Alice, our dalmatian, has nudged her cold wet nose into my palm. “Stop it,” I scold. Oh well. In reality, I’d be wearing blue jeans, a dirt-stained shirt, and sandals with smudges of chicken manure on them, compliments of my tiny urban flock of bantams. I’d probably be slightly irritated that I barely had enough beans for a side dish, and furthermore, I’d botch the pronunciations so terribly that even I wouldn’t know what I was trying to say.

I turn the page to cucumbers. Cucumbers are so erotically charged there’s not a time I buy one that I don’t blushingly consider its reputation. I’m not alone. Andy once told me of a time in the produce aisle when he “just happened” to notice a very attractive woman as she moved toward the cucumber bin. As she approached the cukes, most of the male eyes in the vicinity zeroed in on her (including his, I pointed out). Now here, I think, is also an area where names could count. But before I can improve on the ones the catalogue offers, I notice the spread with melons, the female counterpoints to cucumbers in the produce aisle.

Under the selection of watermelons, I find one that exudes romance, Moon and Stars, an Amish heirloom. Moon and Stars is large, deep green, and sprinkled with yellow spots, like constellations of other galaxies. Some of the spots are larger, moon-like. A wet, sugary constellation that can fit in one’s hand.

The catalogue cantaloups range from the tiny-bosomed, one or two-pound Jenny Lind to the voluptuous five-pound Magnifisweets. A cornucopia of melons, one for every preference.

Melons . . . I’m on a picnic with my man, on a blanket near the bank of a secluded, private pond. Our shoes and our cares temporarily shed as we watch the fish jump, the dragonflies mate. Everything is easy, lazy. A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, a sweet, juicy melon to savor, and . . . we kiss, a long slow summertime kiss that seems to last forever. Thoughts turn to indulging in more of life’s riches, right then and there. I lean back and . . .

“MOM!” a hair-raising yell comes from the other room. It is my darling daughter, informing me that her just-as-darling sister has hit her.

Dang. Why did reality have to remind me about the maternal side of melons, pregnant, so pregnant, with responsibility? I know well what all that passionate abandon can lead to—fruits of love, fruits that yell “Mom” all the time. A rude thunderstorm suddenly drenches the picnicking lovers. Their fires extinguished, they run for cover.

Oh well, it was time to finish the order anyway. I smile in spite of it all. Gardening is sometimes described as “an old lady thing.” An old lady thing? Digging the fertile earth, enjoying the warmth of the sun, watching the birds and bees . . . gardening is about loving, nurturing, touching, smelling, tasting. It is sensual. Even more, it is sexual. Flowering, reproducing, fruiting—these are the primal acts of life.

Oh yes, I nod, as I finish filling out my order. Gardening is the sexiest hobby.

–Sandra Knauf

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