A Guest Column by Jackie and Peter Hull
When we first moved to Virginia fifteen years ago, we had no idea that the entire state was in a drought which had been ongoing for a couple of years. In order to help water the garden we wanted to grow, we decided to construct rain barrels. We had seen the master gardeners of Bedford, VA, demonstrate how to put them together.
To begin we bought four 55-gallon barrels from Southern Flavorings for $10 apiece. The faucets and pool filters added another $15 bringing the total to $25 a barrel as opposed to $75 to $100 a piece fully equipped from a company. When we modified our barrels a few years later no longer using pool filters, we had to add the cost of screening and bungee cords which made a total of $30 a barrel.
In outfitting the barrels Peter cut circular holes in the top of each barrel and fitted them with pool filters to catch debris and give an access to help clean out the barrels in the fall. About five inches from the bottom of the barrels he cut holes just large enough to insert the faucets and rings. To help seal this entrance he used caulking compound. He modified the down spout of the rain gutter to arc over the pool filter to catch the rain. The remaining barrels sat adjacent to the first barrel and each was attached to the other with a short piece of PVC pipe that was inserted from one barrel to the next so the water would flow filling each barrel. The last barrel had an overflow spout at the top pointing to the ground so once it was filled the rain water could dribble to the ground.
As we added more barrels, Peter changed from cutting holes in the top of the barrels to cutting the entire top off and covering with plastic screen and using a bungee cord. Fortunately, the top of each barrel has a lip so the bungee cord fits snugly around the barrel holding the screen securely in place. His thinking was this would make cleaning the barrels much easier. It is. To keep mosquito larvae to a minimum, we put a mosquito donut into each barrel. The screening also protects the birds which was initially my concern when he decided to cut the tops entirely off.
All the barrels sit on benches that we constructed so that the water is gravity fed to the garden through a number of hoses. Over the past several years we’ve added more barrels for a total of eleven rain barrels containing 55 gallons each for a total of 550 gallons of water collected from the metal roofed house and garage. This year we’ve emptied them twice over the growing season as we’ve had alternating rain and warm sunshine.
Winding Pathways Notes: Some people may prefer to buy rain barrels ready to install. Most large home improvement stores sell barrels as do many nature centers. Also, be aware that in some arid areas harvesting rain water is in dispute or illegal unless a person owns the water rights. These laws are changing as times and uses change.
Years ago a tremendous lightning bolt struck a white pine at the Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The powerful blast tore a vertical strip of bark from nearly the tree’s top to the ground. It was at least 25 feet long and about four inches wide. Fearing that the hit was fatal I called then Cedar Rapids City Forester Eric Faaborg who came out and examined the pine.
I was certain it had suffered the kiss of death, but Eric reassured me. “I don’t think the hit was fatal. Give it a few years and see what happens,” he remarked.
He was correct. By the next year the pine had partially healed. Now about 20 years later it is healthy and has grown considerably. The scar from the lightning wound is still visible but has faded.
The massive white oak that was struck by lightning near our home at Winding Pathways isn’t as lucky. Unlike the pine, the oak suffered extreme damage that extended all around the circumference of the tree. Four vertical strips of bark were torn off, and where bark remained it had been blown away from the tree’s wood. Essentially the oak has been girdled. We expect it to slowly die.
According to Cedar Rapids arborist, Todd Fagan, lightning damage often stresses a tree, causing it to go into decline and eventually die. It also opens the tree up to insects and diseases. However lightning damage isn’t always fatal. If in doubt he suggests contacting a certified arborist to evaluate the tree. Or you can simply leave it in place and remove if it dies.
Fagan added that it is possible to prevent lightning damage to special trees. “Often trees on golf courses are fitted with a copper wire that channels lightning harmlessly down into the ground. It’s expensive but can prevent the loss of an especially valuable tree,” he remarked.
To locate a certified arborist in your area access the website of the International Society of Aboriculture at and click on the appropriate link.
This stately Oak took a full bodies hit that vaporized the sap and blew off the bark in four places.
An enormous explosion brought us bolt upright in bed. 10:44 p.m. just after we’d fallen asleep on April 27th. . The blast was so powerful it knocked pictures off the wall shattering the frames and glass. A quick check revealed no other home damage and a few low rumbles assured us that the noise had been thunder created by a very close lighting strike and not a bomb.
A few days later we discovered a massive white oak about 300 feet from our home with its bark blown off in four different places and loose in others. The lightning’s heat and force vaporized the tree’s sap and enormous pressure blew the bark off. It’s hard to imagine that so much damage could happen in a two tenths of a second-long lightning bolt. The thing is, the tree top is lower than our home! Why did lightning strike there and not the house?
A lightning strike isn’t always a tree’s kiss of death. If only a narrow swath of bark is blown off it may recover. But we fear our magnificent oak was so damaged that its days are numbered.
The tree’s imminent death is good news for small songbirds, especially brown creepers that seek shelter between loose bark and a tree’s trunk. As the oak gradually deteriorates it will provide food and shelter for a host of insects and the woodpeckers that love dining on them. We anticipate a day when our pileated, red headed, red bellied, hairy and downy woodpeckers nest in the old oak snag. Eventually it will topple over and over time return nutrients from rotting wood to the soil.
The distance from the lightning strike to the house is about a football field.
Lighting can be both lethal and sneaky. Every year it strikes about 25 million times in the United States and kills an average of 49 people. Many more humans are hit but survive, often with lingering physical problems. Ligntning is nothing to fool around with. As we learned on April 27th sometimes lightning strikes well before the main storm arrives and after it leaves. The safest place to be is inside a building away from windows, pipes, water, wires and landline telephones.
To stay safe, follow the 30-30 rule of thumb. When you first see lightning, begin to count “One Mississippi, two Mississippi….” until you hear thunder. If you hear thunder before you reach the number 30, lightning from the storm is in striking distance. Go inside! And, after the last rumble of thunder wait 30 minutes before venturing outside again.
An outstanding source of information, including many safety tips, is on the US Government’s website.
Heart of the tree
A short reflection walking in the Laughing Labyrinth.
Imagine an enormous elephant in the back yard, its huge tusks smashing a tree while it gobbles leaves, branches, and fruits. It once happened! Mastodons, mammoths, camels, horses, and sloths were once native Iowa wild animals before they slipped into extinction some 10,000 years ago.
They dined on the fruit of a long suffering tree that is getting a new lease on life because oil in its seeds promotes beautiful, healthy hair.
The humble Osage orange tree once grew across a vast area of North America. Scrubby, small, and prickly it thrived in poor soil and challenging climates. Today, its range is limited. On its thorny branches grow softball sized warty green fruits often called hedge apples or hedge balls. Without elephants to harvest them they drop to the ground and rot. Any seeds that might sprout can’t grow in their parent’s shade.
Elephants and sloths once devoured these hedge balls and wandered off, digesting the fleshy part and pooping out the seeds a distance from the parent tree. In exchange for a meal the animal planted a new tree generation. Around 13,000 years ago humans appeared and with razor sharp spears decimated the tasty animals. Lacking big mammals to spread its seeds the tree’s range slowly shrank to a small area of Texas and Oklahoma. Then people gave it a helping hand.
Farmers homesteaded the Midwest before barbed wire was invented. They needed fences and planted rows of Osage orange trees that grew into long linear impenetrable tangles. For a while the tree was valued and planted far and wide. When barbed wire was invented it rendered living fences obsolete and the hapless tree again went into decline. Then it got lucky, again.
Now cosmetologists are replacing elephants and farmers as the newest partners of this humble tree. Iowa chemist, Todd Johnson, learned how to extract oil from its seeds. When used as an ingredient in hair care products it promotes healthy hair. According to Capri College of Cosmetology Director of Education, Madison Seaborn, Osage orange oil is used in shampoo, cleansing conditioner, and volumizing gel.
Johnson buys tons of Osage orange fruits from farmers and youth groups and processes them into oil that’s sold to cosmetologists. Once again the Osage orange has value, and it’s likely that people will plant new ones as aging trees die.
Wooly mammoths and mastodons had long fine hair that kept them toasty warm in the cold glacial climate. Perhaps the oil that today is valued as a human hair care product once kept their fur in prime condition.
Late this winter and early spring dozens of maple syrup festivals will shake the winter blahs. From the Midwest to the Atlantic and from the mid-South to Canada folks will be getting outside as days lengthen and temperatures warm to welcome the season’s first harvest.
Most festivals feature tree tapping and boiling demonstrations as well as delicious pancakes topped with local maple syrup.
For over 40 years, the Indian Creek Nature Center has hosted families at their two day festival.
Children love to re-live harvesting methods.
Explaining the evaporation process.
Volunteers arrive early at Indian Creek Nature Center’s Festival to serve hungry families.
Just enough to finish the pancakes and sausage.
There’s likely a festival near your home. Just type into your search engine MAPLE SYRUP FESTIVAL IN (your state or province) and details will pop up. Here are just a few:
Indian Creek Nature Center Maple Syrup Festival. Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Indiana National Maple Fest. Brown County, Indiana
Mt. Rogers Maple Syrup Festival. Virginia
Elmira Maple Syrup Festival. Elmira, Ontario, Canada