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Country Moon

Hooked

Country MoonFishing has always held a special place in my heart. My Dad worked second shift in the factory as well as farmed. He had five weeks of vacation time per year, two of which he took in the spring to get the crops out, two in the fall for harvest and one week he saved for July to take us kids fishing. We had our certain spots on the St. Joe River by Colon, MI, that we went angling for blue gills. I am not sure if they were more fun to catch or to eat. I lived for that week.

That was, and still is, fishing at its finest for me but, for some, it's a whole different ball game. For many, bass sport fishing or tournament fishing is the big lure, pardon the pun. Tournament fishing requires long hours of practice, little sleep sometimes, days of travel, fuel money and lots of equipment. So, why do they do it? Mike Adkins, who belongs to the Whitewater Valley Bass Masters club of Richmond, IN, sums it up best, "It's the thrill of catching that big one and reeling him in after a big fight. It's the fight, not the fish."

Fishing tournaments have become the fourth most popular sport in the country with large and small mouth bass being the anglers' most sought-after catch. All fishing offers anglers the chance to get outside and spend time away from electronics and with friends. Fishing tournaments add a little more thrill by offering prize money and the chance to have caught the most or largest fish.

Actually, the first televised fishing competition, the Bassmaster Classic, was dreamed up in a hotel room in 1967 by an enterprising fisherman who saw no reason why fishing tournaments couldn't be televised just like basketball and other sporting events. He started drafting the rules that would promote the ideals of ethical angling, conservation and safety. The first tournament was held at Beaver Lake in Arkansas.

It doesn't happen in my neck of the woods, but in some areas of the country competitive bass fishing is sanctioned as a high school sport. Illinois was the first state to recognize it in 2009 and in its first year more than 800 students competed to represent 217 high schools at statewide competitions.

Various tournaments use different factors in determining winners. Some are based on the largest fish caught in length, many go by weight and some are based on species and number of fish caught. The one thing that most all tournaments have in common is being catch and release. Most have strict rules on keeping the catch alive until they are officially weighed and then releasing them gently. Usually nets are not allowed and the fish must be lowered to the bottom of the boat before they are released to prevent any further injury to them.

Some of the biggest fish ever caught have been reeled in during fishing tournaments. This is a little out of the norm, but a 17-year old competitor in Australia reeled in a record-breaking 585-pound swordfish. This was only after it took his team six hours to wrestle him in the boat.

What did I say a while ago about fishing being a way to unplug from modern technology? Well, anglers can even compete online in tournaments in some cases. Some sites give fishermen permission to upload digital pictures of their catch for online chances to win prize money. They must submit photos with their fish lying beside a tape measure and high-tech algorithms are used to make sure that photos are not photoshopped. Come on, is this really fishing?

Not all competitions are held under warm sunny skies. Every January the largest ice fishing competition takes place on Minnesota's Gull Lake. When it is all said and done, more than 30,000 holes have been drilled in the ice there.

Long considered a man-thing, women are now slowly making progress in this sport. Women were actually banned for decades from competing in bass fishing tournaments. In 2005 one organization sponsored the first women's pro tour which included 88 female boaters. In 2008 the first female qualified for the Bassmaster Classic.

So, how do you get started in tournament fishing? Lots of times it is by word-of-mouth when you know someone in a fishing club. If you don't know of one, you can always check the Internet for clubs in the area. Usually, it will list contact information, how much dues are and when the club meets. Joining one of these is a good way to learn the ins and outs from seasoned fishermen.

Like any other sport, it can be as expensive, or not, as you want it to be. You not only do not need a huge, fancy boat to enter a fishing tournament, you don't need a boat at all. Yep, you read that right. You can enter as a non-boater and a drawing at the beginning of the tournament will determine with whom you are partnered. If you fish off another's boat, the entry fee will be lowered but the prize money also will be. It is also customary to pay half the fuel cost.

As far as other equipment, you can go hog-wild on rods, reels and lures or you can stick to a few brands that you trust. Only experience will teach you what works for you. Often, it is only a matter of personal preference.

Whether you catch the big one or not depends a lot on experience, skill and a lot of luck of being in the right place at the right time. Some anglers are so serious about their fishing that superstition plays a part in it. Some won't fuel up the morning of the tournament because they don't want gas fumes on their lures. This is for the real serious ones. After all, if you get too serious, it takes the fun away.

So, what is the draw for some fishermen to enter tournaments instead of just kicking back on a riverbank and cracking open a cold one with a couple friends? Some actually do dream of making fishing a career but, for some like Mike, it's the pure love of the sport. Why does he tournament fish? In his words:

"I still remember and cherish the memories of the days that my dad took me fishing when I was probably 4 or 5 years old. It always made me wonder how he could catch so many more fish than I could. As time went on, every once in a while, I would catch a bigger one or a few more than Dad and it made me feel like I was the Michael Jordan of bass fishing.
When I first got married to Suzie I worked in a Buick/GMC dealership and the service manager there, Jack Matney, fished tournaments and always came to work with the stories of last weekend's tournament and all the stories of the outing that had just taken place. Man, I loved hearing those stories. And then it happened. After a year or so of these fantastic stories, he invited me to become a member of his local club. From the first meeting and outing I WAS HOOKED.

Now some 40 years later, I am still married to both of my loves... Suzie and my fishing club with my 20 or so brothers that I know would do just about anything to help each other in time of need and I always look forward to trying my best to out fish, out catch and out-smart those guys. Most of the time with no luck, but I guess I'll keep trying as long as I physically can.
You know the saying, till death do us part, it's kind of like that. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it."

This just says it all!

fishing
Photo property of Lois Hoffman.

It's a Jungle Out There

Country MoonI love summer. But then, I love the other seasons too. I hate to see the present one go, but I am always anxious to see the next one come. The only problem is all the other critters are happy to see summer too.

It seems like it takes forever for it to get warm in the spring. Then there is that perfect evening when the air is warm, the sunset is beautiful, the scents of the first spring flowers waft through the air and the world is right. Then it hits, the first mosquito attacks.

So begins the war between them and us. It's pretty sad when you wait all winter to break out the shorts and tank tops only to have to forego them or risk being dinner for mosquitoes.

Skunks like this time of year too. I have been pretty lucky. A couple have camped out in my lean-to barn the past couple years but they seem to leave me alone. I usually throw my garbage out in the field and they are happy to pick through it.

We have reached a mutual understanding on this subject. They don't venture toward the house as long as I keep throwing scraps out there. This works for me.

Along about June or July it becomes an all-out war between us humans and God's other creatures. I really do not mind co-existing with them as long as they mind their manners. After all, I try to be considerate of them.

I don't mess with their habitat, mess with their food supply or with raising their young... as long as they respect me. The trouble is that they do not seem to reciprocate.

The deer and I are still in a hot debate over whose garden it is. Last year they thought it was appropriate for them to help themselves to dessert in the form of lettuce, carrot tops, the green leaves of my squash and especially my hostas as they passed through the yard to eat the neighbor's soybeans out of the field.

This tends to get my dander up. After all, it is my seed and my hard work that went into the garden and I fully intend to reap the benefits. This is war.

I have installed a motion light, put hot pepper flakes on the plants and sprayed Deer-out around the perimeter. It deters them until they figure out the plan. That's OK, I have a few other tricks up my sleeve. I will prevail.

rabbit garden
Photo by Getty Images/mashabuba.

I have the same trouble with rabbits. Now, I really love to watch them munching on the green grass and there is always plenty of it for them to have a meal. After a while they get a little more adventurous and start checking out the garden too. Is nothing sacred anymore?

Even ants think they can invade our world. Hummingbirds bother no one and provide a colorful show when they come to eat at the flowers and feeders.

Somehow though, ants think the sweet nectar was put out for them as they scale the posts and fill the feeders. It is a little extra work but spraying the wires leading to the feeders with non-stick cooking spray seems to help for a few days. We will battle this all summer.

I often wonder how creatures so small can make life so miserable. It never fails that when it is time to pick wild raspberries that I have to wage war on chiggers.

Long pants with cuffs tucked into boots should be all I need to get through the grass to the berries. That is only wishful thinking because they always find a way to get through and for something so tiny, they sure can pack a punch of powerful itching.

I like to pick early in the morning and later in the evening when it is cool. So, that means when I get in mid-morning it is strip down and take a shower and the same thing in the evening. During berry season I am probably the cleanest person around. It is a lot of trouble but the berries are so worth it!

It is not only the fauna that can make summer miserable, but some of the flora packs even a worse punch. I have a hill out by the barn where I have tried to get various ground cover started.

Grass, thistles and stinging nettle seemed to find every square inch of bare ground. So, I braved the consequences and set out to clear it out. The stinging nettle got the first lick in. It sneaked up on me... fair enough.

The poison ivy and poison oak are a different story though. I knew it was there. I knew where it was and I stayed my distance. Well, it won again and I ended up with a case of it over my entire body as a reminder that it outsmarted me.

I guess this year it meant business because it seemed to be a hardier strain. It was harder to get over and even made me feel nauseous.

It is like the poison plant is making a firm statement that it has moved in for good. I think not. I don't like to use chemicals at all but this may be the one exception.

In all the books you read and in all the movies, summer is portrayed as a lazy and magical time of year to kick back and relax while all the flowers and crops bask in the sun. Yes, the world in summer is an idyllic place in theory but not in reality.

I like this picture that everyone sees through rose-colored glasses. I intend to live it and I will prevail over the critters.

To their credit, these pests make me enjoy summer even more because it keeps it interesting. Yes, we humans will prevail and take back our summer!

Wings of Change

Country MoonUsually the only people who like insects are entomologists. However, the one exception that pretty much everyone can agree on is butterflies, especially the monarch butterfly.

It is one bug that doesn't "bug" people. It doesn't bite, swarm, nor eat crops or flowers. Quite the contrary is true, it helps flowers pollinate, eats weeds and is a food source itself for other animals.

Butterflies have long been deep and powerful representations of life. Many cultures associate them with our souls. For Christians, they are a symbol of resurrection.

Around the world, people see the butterfly as a creature of endurance, change, hope and life. It has earned its idyllic symbolism for life after death because of its metamorphosis, its ability to transform from a caterpillar that crawls on the ground to a beautiful and almost ethereal creature that flies.

A butterfly's life cycle consists of four parts: egg, larvae, pupa and adult. It begins when an adult female lays eggs on a leaf. Soon, these hatch into caterpillars or larvae, which start feeding on the leaf on, which they were laid.

This is the eating stage where the larvae eat so much that it outgrows its own skin and must shed its skin four or five times while it is growing. When it is done growing, it makes a chrysalis where it will rest inside until it changes into a butterfly and finally emerge.

When the adults first emerge from the chrysalis, they are wet and cannot fly immediately. They will wait for a few hours to dry off and for their wings to fill with blood, which enables them to fly. Then the adults will mate and the cycle begins anew. This whole metamorphosis is completed within 10 to 15 days.

There are 20,000 different species of butterflies in the world and 575 various species in the continental United States. They exist on every continent except Antarctica. The cabbage white is the most common species found in the states.

butterfly on flower
Photo by Getty Images/borchee.

Although they are often grouped together, there are distinct differences between butterflies and moths. Butterflies antennae are long and slender and are club-shaped at the end whereas moths' antennae are feathery and saw-edged.

Butterflies rest with their wings closed and moths rest with them open. The other distinction is that butterflies fly during the day because their eyes are made up of 6,000 lenses, which enable them to see ultraviolet light, and moths take flight at night.

Butterflies feed on the nectar of certain flowers and their taste receptors are on their feet. They have long, tube-like tongues called proboscis, which allow them to soak up food. Adults use up all they eat for energy so they do not excrete waste. Ironically, males drink from mud puddles to extract minerals. This is sometimes called "puddling."

The bright, mesmerizing colors of butterflies are really illusions. Their wings are clear and the colors and patterns are made by the light reflecting off the long scales covering the wings.

When in flight, the wings move in a figure eight motion. Wing spans range from a half inch across to 12 inches across. Most fly between five and twelve miles per hour. Certain types can even outpace a horse.

It is amazing how monarch butterflies can migrate so far each season to escape the cold. It is the only insect in the world that will travel an average of 2,500 miles each winter. After migrating south, the female will lay eggs. The new generation will make the trip back north to complete the cycle.

In order to survive, monarchs are dependent on the conservation of their habitats. The milkweed plant is the only plant on, which they will lay their eggs and then they further depend on its flowers for nectar and food.

Because of advances in herbicides and better weed control, farmer's fields have fewer weeds, which is good for crop production but bad for monarchs. Unfortunately, this is true for the milkweed, which is vital to their survival.

This food chain must exist all along their migratory path from Canada to Mexico, which necessitates that all three countries work together. The Monarch Joint Venture is a partnership of federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations and academic programs all working together in the lower states to ensure their survival. No other species better emphasizes the ecological links between Canada, the United States and Mexico.

In many areas of our country, farmers are paid to grow butterfly habitats. Usually, this is on rolling ground that is harder to farm so farmers can get paid to also help preserve wildlife habitats. Anyone can join in this mission to save them by simply planting milkweeds.

There are different areas around the country where a special ecosystem is created in an enclosed space to support many different species of butterflies. It is a great way to watch these beautiful creatures, to film them and to learn about them.

One such place is the Wings of Mackinac, which offers visitors a unique assortment of hundreds of butterflies. It also has an emergence viewing area where you can witness adult butterflies emerging from their chrysalis.

No wonder butterflies are a universal sign of hope, rebirth and life itself. In different cultures, various colored ones take on different meanings. Generally, green ones symbolize powerful change and growth; yellow ones bring guidance and a sign of hope, happiness and the good around you; brown ones, when they enter a house, signify souls of departed loved ones and blue ones are signs of joy and a change in luck.

Whether you look to butterflies as symbols of hope and life or merely enjoy them for the exquisite creatures that they are, the one thing that everyone can agree on is that they definitely bring a little bit of beauty and grace to our world.

The Window

Country MoonI often wonder if the great inventors, scientists, composers, etc. get their inspiration as a great revelation or if it simmers in their soul for a while. My personal revelation came the other day and it hit me like a box of rocks. I don't know what the cause was, but it hit me that I am in my "window," the one I have waited for all my life and the one that will be gone before I know it.

Although the old adage that life goes faster the older you get is true, I have always looked at life a little differently. When you think of the phases that you go through, they are really quite defined.

As a kid, days are carefree and not really structured except for school. It is a time of exploring and finding out who you are as an individual. Then, all of a sudden when you hit the magical age of 18, you are supposed to leave the magical days of a kid behind and be a responsible adult, all overnight. This is where a lot of us have a few problems.

As an adult, years fly by and we are consumed by work, raising kids, paying mortgages and trying to save for our golden years. Then for most of us when we reach our mid-60s, like a butterfly, the transition continues. We throw in the towel from the work that we have done for the last 40-plus years and finally have our freedom. We are still young enough to pursue our dreams that have kept us going all the years, but we can't dally too long because this stage will close in 10 or 12 years for many of us when we slow down and start having a few health issues... thus, the "window."

It's almost like we revert back to part of our childhood, the carefree and exploring part. Perhaps the biggest resource we have is time. No longer confined by the restraints of an 8–5 job, or any career demands of travel, working at home, etc., we are free to plan (or not) how we would like to spend our time. This is the era to write that novel, learn to sky dive, travel to Antarctica or to try just about anything that has been on our back burner most of our lives. Our sixties are the 50s of our parents and the 40s of our grandparents. If we have heeded the progress made in the health field and been good to ourselves and also been blessed with good health and rewarded for our efforts, we are basically free to try anything... as long as we don't wait too long because that window will close early for some of us. When it will close, none of us know.

If the opportunities in life have been good to us and we have planned well financially, the sky is the limit for following our dreams. Even if our nest egg isn't quite what we had hoped, there are still exciting possibilities for us. Not everything good in life revolves around money; connecting with old friends, making new ones and trying our hand at new talents that have never been developed usually cost little to nothing.

So many times when we reach this age, we fall into the trap of realizing that we have started on the second half of our life. The fact that we have more years behind us than in front of us can be daunting and disturbing. Too many fall into this category and only look at the regrets along the way. We all have them, but let's not forget to look at what we have also accomplished. Most of us have kids and grandkids that will be going through this same "window" because of us. Hopefully, we have made a difference by what we have invested our lives in so far. Even if we haven't been one of these fortunate, this can be a new beginning.

The real trick is to start on that bucket list. The real trick here is not to ever get to the bottom. You take one thing off and put two back on. This world is filled with so many possibilities and opportunities that, I know I will never get to the bottom of my list... and that is just fine.

We want to see the giant redwoods in northern California. Now is the time to actually walk through them and not just look from afar. It is the time to let go of some things and rituals that have always been part of our lives and replace them with new ventures. Hang onto the golden ones and let go of the not-so-golden ones. The only thing that is finite is the time that we have. It is time to laugh more than cry, not sweat the small stuff, be adventurous and not worry so much what others will think.

A friend and I recently visited a store called The Mercantile in Shipshewana, IN that has a restored 1906 carousel on its third floor. We didn't watch the carousel; we rode and, for a few moments, we were transported back to being kids and we laughed. We are not looking through our window, we are living in it.

carousel
Photo by Getty Images/ArtMarie.

Second Go Around for Gardens

Country MoonHopefully, by the time that midsummer is smoldering, your garden is on its way to a good start. Although everything is up and growing, don't tuck those extra seeds that you always seem to end up with away just yet. Just as some farmers double-crop soybeans, some vegetables lend themselves well for a fall garden which means that fall can provide double bounties with some crops.

Actually, fall planting can be easier and more enjoyable than spring for gardening. Autumn usually brings less watering because of cooler temperatures, fewer insects and diseases and more pleasant working conditions. The soil is already warmer than in May which means that seeds will germinate much faster.

Timing is the biggest issue for fall planting. Be sure and check the frost dates for your area and the maturity dates for the seeds that you want to double-crop. The Old Farmer's Almanac will list first frost dates and is a good guideline to go by. Many garden seeds have maturity dates under ninety days and, if planting in mid-July or early August, there is plenty of time for the veggies to mature.

Even if the maturity dates are edging near the first frost date, you can protect your plants by covering them. I know, no one likes to mess with covering plants or bringing them in at night, but this is no different in fall than when you do it in early spring. Here in Michigan that is pretty much the norm.

Some plants grow as well or better in fall as they do in spring and some are even frost-tolerant. Spinach, Swiss chard, broccoli and kale are prime examples. Swiss chard requires only 25 days until it is edible. Kale is a winter staple. Fall-planted spinach actually does better than that planted in spring. It matures in cooler weather and will winter over if mulched. It is extra early and crisp in spring.

Summer squash and zucchini mature in 45 to 50 days. Last year, friends and family knew that whenever they saw me, I would be bearing a zucchini and I don't blame them for running the other way. After all, a person can only eat so many zucchini in so many ways during one season. So, this year I have a couple summer plants and am putting a couple more out for fall. By then, they will taste good again.

Cucumbers withstand cooler temps and lend themselves well to fall planting with most varieties maturing in 50 days. Bush beans can be double-cropped also. Care needs to be taken to cover them if a frost is imminent though.

Snap peas and snow peas start to bear in 60 days and mature in colder weather, cool and crisp. Pea vines can withstand temperatures down to 25 degrees Fahrenheit.

garden
Photo property of Lois Hoffman.

Some root crops are excellent choices for fall planting. Radishes mature in 25 days, which means you can plant several crops during the season to ensure that you always have them fresh for salads. Carrots, beets and turnips have longer maturity dates but actually get sweeter as days get cooler. My Dad would plant over an acre of turnips as a cover crop to help keep weeds down after other crops were done in our truck garden. He gave them away free and fall was the prime time that people would stop to harvest either the greens, turnips themselves or both. Parsnips are actually planted with the intention of letting them lay in the ground through the winter. When dug in the spring, they are a sweet and tender treat.

Broccoli and kohlrabi mature well in cold weather and are not bothered as much by the cabbage moth larvae as in spring. Later cabbage is also excellent, especially if making sauerkraut. It is much nicer to do this task when the temps are cooler.

Salad greens are also excellent choices. I usually end up planting three or four times during the year to ensure that I have fresh lettuce for salads throughout summer and fall. Leaf varieties can be cut multiple times but then they tend to get tough. The good thing is that lettuce seeds grow fast and it can be cut at any stage of its growing cycle. In direct contrast to planting after the soil has warmed in the spring, lettuce seeds sometimes do not weather the hot soil too well so sometimes so it is beneficial to start seeds in flats and keep them well watered and shaded until they are big enough to withstand the warmer conditions.

Asian greens like napa, talsoi, pac choi and miguna can weather a frost and even a hard freeze, if protected. Argula is another green that can withstand quite cold temps. Some of these greens are closely related to mustard and their tangy leaves add a bite to fall salads.

Don't forget about herbs either. Ones like rosemary, parsley, cilantro, thyme, chives, lavender and mint grow just as well in fall. They lend themselves well to containers. You can even get creative and plant two or three different ones in a container with flowers so you can just step out your back door and have fresh herbs for seasoning.

Fall gardens offer benefits that a summer garden can't. What I especially like is that you can have fresh salad right outside your door for nearly half the year. It also takes the headache out of everything ripening at once. There have been times that I literally did not know which vegetable to can or freeze first. With some ripening in the fall, it lets you preserve at a more leisurely pace.

Another advantage to the fall garden is that it takes less ground to produce the same amount of vegetables. When a summer crop is done, the space can be tilled up and used over for fall planting. By tilling this ground up, you also get rid of some garden pests who have laid their eggs in the soil.

With a little ingenuity, fall can definitely extend the growing season. Yeah, it can mean a little more work, but who doesn't like fresh from the garden for as long as you can have it!

Back on Weed Patrol in the Garden

Country MoonIt's midsummer and, like always, weeds are in full force again... or not. As most of you know, for the last two years I have been going organic with insecticides, fungicides and especially with herbicides. Just recently, research has confirmed that the glyphosate in the popular weed killer Roundup is a carcinogen. I have done enough research and tried the various natural approaches to know what works and what doesn't. More often than not, it is not cut and dry.

Last summer I tried using pure salt and the salt, vinegar and Dawn dish soap mixture. Salt literally sterilizes the soil so nothing will grow after a period of time. So, I bought the large bags of mixing salt at the local elevator and put it down beside the barn and other buildings where I knew I never wanted anything to grow again.

I put it down a couple of times during the season and by the end of the season the weeds that did come back were fewer in number and less hardy. The downside to using salt was that when rain caused it to liquefy, it leached into the lawn and I had a few brown streaks where the grass was killed. Being around the barn and other buildings, this did not bother me, as I wanted a wider berm where I could run my mower along the building and have a neat edge.

As far as the vinegar mixture, I needed to spray it on a weekly basis, so it was time consuming. However, even though it did not kill the roots, the multiple applications did weaken the plants so that by the end of the season they were not as hardy nor as vigilant. Had I continued that approach this year, I am sure that I would have seen a lot less growth. I was also using regular household vinegar with 5 percent acidity rather than the horticultural vinegar with 20 percent or higher acidity.

Another problem with the vinegar solution is getting the salt to fully dissolve. I even tried using hot water but, out of the two cups of salt, some crystals always remained and tended to clog my spray nozzle.

So, for this season I bought a flamer. I have done three applications with the flamer so far and am happy to report that the weed regrowth is sufficiently diminished. However, it does have its drawbacks too. If weeds get too large, mostly over six inches tall, it takes too much propane to burn them down because of the high water content. Also, I would not recommend its use around buildings or any dry material as the intense flame can cause things to catch fire. One of my shrubs had some dry underbrush and caught very quickly. Thus, it works great on smaller weeds and grasses that are around flower beds and rock piles.

Just because a product is natural, does not mean that it does not have safety issues. Vinegar can be a caustic agent with prolonged exposure. Last year I accidentally spilled some on my jeans while I was mixing the solution and did not go to change immediately. I ended up with a two-inch diameter blister on my leg. For this very reason, it is recommended to wear protective clothing and eyewear, especially if using the 20 percent vinegar.

Flamers can also be very dangerous. If you don't pay close attention to where the nozzle is directed, it can cause severe burns. With mine, every time the trigger is released, the flame goes out as a safety measure so I move around with it undistinguished, which is probably not a good idea.

weed control
Photo by Getty Images/gabort71.

So, after trying these methods, I can say that there is no one best solution for weed control, but rather, the solution lies in a combination. In some places in the garden and around some flowers, the old fashioned method of pulling them out by hand is the best shot. Using some form of mulch to prevent sunlight from reaching the weed seeds so they cannot sprout is excellent. I especially like pea stone in my rock gardens because it outlasts mulch. In my flower beds, putting plants in close proximity will prevent weeds from crowding in.

As far as around my rock borders and walks, etc., the best method of control is a combination of what I have tried. Early next spring before crabgrass begins to emerge I will apply corn gluten meal which is a by-product of corn processing. It is a good pre-emergent which means that it prevents weed seeds from sprouting. It is nature's answer to Preen. When some weeds do emerge it is time to use a post-emergent like EcoLogic to kill them off. Spraying once or twice per year and using a flamer to tidy up in between applications is the best method I have found to control weeds naturally.

It takes some ingenuity and some extra time to go the organic route when it comes to herbicides but the favorable payoff more than makes up for the disadvantages. Remember a couple generations ago when you could eat fruit and vegetables straight from the supermarket or right out of the garden. Those days are gone because far too many chemicals have contaminated our soil, food supply and our bodies. We need to clean things up so that our grandkids will not only not have to worry about washing their food, they also won't have to worry about if there will be food to eat.

God did not give us any disease, pest or weed for which He did not give us a natural solution for which to control it. We just have to find the right combination and back-to-basic organic weed control is part of that scheme.

It's a Grand Old Flag

Country MoonThe stars and stripes, the flag of the United States of America, stands for the unity of America, a common cause and the hope for a better tomorrow. Past, present and future, the flag represents the freedom that we Americans cherish and the price that we have paid for it. Like our country, the flag has some interesting history and facts of its own.

The very first flag was the result of the Flag Resolution that was passed on July 14, 1777. It states, "Resolved, That the flag of the 13 United States be 13 stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be 13 stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation." George Washington was the only president to serve under this flag which Congressman Francis Hopkinson designed. Betsy Ross, a seamstress friend of George Washington was commissioned to sew the first flag. This first Star Spangled Banner, which inspired Francis Scott Key to write our national anthem of the same name, is one of the most treasured artifacts of our history and is in the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

The Congressional Act of April 4, 1818, signed by President Monroe, required the number of stars to equal the number of states in the union and fixed the number of stripes at 13. Following the admission of each new state, a star for each state was added each year on July 4. Our 50-star flag as we know it today, was ordered by President Eisenhower and adopted in July of 1960.

American flag
Photo property of Getty Images/akurtz.

The stars are in nine rows staggered horizontally and in eleven rows staggered vertically. These stripes stand for the 13 original states. The colors of red, white and blue also have significance. White signifies purity and innocence, red represents hardiness and valor, while blue stands for vigilance, perseverance and justice.

On June 22, 1942, Congress passed a joint resolution that has come to be known as the US Flag Code. Quite simply, it states how citizens should behave around the flag, after all it is a symbol of our freedom and pride and deserves to be revered. Most importantly, it is to be saluted during parades, every time our National Anthem is sung and every time it is hoisted up.

The flag should be displayed every day of the year except during inclement weather. However, there are days that it should especially be displayed. These include New Year's Day, Inauguration Day, Martin Luther King's Birthday, Presidents' Day, Easter, Mother's Day, Armed Forces Day, Memorial Flag Day, Father's Day, July 4, Labor Day, Constitution Day, Columbus Day, Navy Day, Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and any other day proclaimed by the president of the United States.

There are also guidelines on how to display the flag. Always, it should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously. Ideally, it should be displayed from sunrise to sunset. When hung vertically, the Union (blue section) should be on the left and also the same if hung horizontally. The flag should always be on a staff on a float and not draped over anything.

When hung in an auditorium, the position of the flag should always be behind the speaker and to the speaker's right as viewed from the audience. When the flag is to be flown at half-staff, it should first be hoisted to the top of the pole and then lowered back down.

As there are many do's for the flag, there are also some dont's that must be adhered to in order to show respect. Here are a few:

  • The flag should never be dipped to anyone, not even the President of the United States.
  • It should never be flown with the union down because that is a sign of distress.
  • It must never be allowed to touch anything beneath it including the ground, floor or merchandise.
  • It should never be carried flat, but rather always aloft and free.
  • It must never be fastened to anything nor stored in any fashion that would damage it in any way. This is probably the most lenient of the rules since we do see many flags attached to walls, buildings, etc.
  • Nothing should be placed on it, nor should it ever be used as a covering for a ceiling.
  • The flag must never be used for advertising nor printed on linens, napkins, etc. This too is a lenient rule since we see many articles of clothing sporting the flag.

The proper disposal of flags is what has always flabbergasted me. All worn and old flags are to be disposed of in a dignified and ceremonious fashion, preferably by burning. Each year the American Legion holds a ceremony to retire old flags. To me, burning would show a sign of disrespect as opposed to just disposing of the flag, but the contrary is true.

Flag Day is celebrated every June 14 in the United States. It honors the day that Congress passed the resolution for a national flag. The proclamation for Flag Day came on May 30, 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson and President Harry Truman signed it into law in 1949.

Our country has its problems and there is always some conflict, but the flag of the United States stands for unity, sacrifice and all the good that can be. Whatever issues we disagree with in this country, there should always be an underlying sense of pride and respect for what this country is to each one of us and, for that reason, our flag should always be a symbol of that pride and respect.