Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Making Your Yard a Wildlife Sanctuary

Cardinal in front yard azalea in winter.
The National Audubon Society is well known for its support of birds and other wildlife through the conservation and restoration of natural habitats. What you may not know is that through a few simple steps and an interest in this important effort, you can work toward meeting the requirements to be designated a participant in the Audubon at Home Program with your very own wildlife sanctuary.

Bluebird eggs in side yard nesting box.
The Audubon Society of Northern Virginia is the chapter that hosts meetings and activities in my area. I happened to attend a bird talk a few months ago, where I picked up a flyer on the Audubon at Home program.  I'm lucky to live on 1.5 acres, more than half of which is wooded and filled with all manner of birds, reptiles, and other wildlife. With that in mind, I was hopeful that meeting the Program's requirements wouldn't be difficult. I was right! Even if you have a more modestly sized yard -- say, a typical 1/4 acre for suburban Northern Virginia -- you might be surprised at how a few small actions can help you meet the requirements for this Program.

In my case, I read up on the Program, then filled out the application (choose the one for your area at the bottom of the Audubon at Home page). Checking off the species and features in my yard that the Program looks for, I was able to meet the requirements immediately.

Frog on edge of back yard fountain.
After an initial review by a the Northern Virginia team, my application was accepted and two members from my county contacted me to make an appointment to visit my property.  Their visit took about an hour as we walked around my yard and they observed various features, asked me a few questions, and answered a few questions that I had. Where removing invasive plants was impractical, they offered excellent advice on controlling them. They even offered suggestions on plantings for the property's shady slope and runoff areas.

Within a few days I received an official letter congratulating me for meeting the requirements for the Audubon at Home Program. Woo hoo! I was so thrilled, enough to mail in a check for $35 for the official yard sign.

Several of my neighbors have shown an interest in doing what I did. How cool would it be to have our whole street designated?! 

A couple of days after I put up my sign, I was awakened by my favorite song bird, the wood thrush, singing his heart out at the top of the trees on the edge of my property. I'm fairly sure he was thanking me for doing my bit to protect his 'hood.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Chicken Sweet Potato Hash

A friend gave me several sweet potatoes at about the same time I happened to tune into the Barefoot Contessa cooking show on TV.  In that episode, Ina Garten prepares her own take on a dish that Truman Capote served to guests at a Black & White Party -- chicken hash.  Her version uses regular white potatoes, so I needed to make a few adjustments in quantities and process.

The result? Delicious! It makes a wonderful dinner served with a green salad, and leftovers are terrific warmed up on their own, or with a poached egg on top.

Jan's Chicken Sweet Potato Hash
(Two generous servings)

1 or 2 boneless chicken breast halves (depending on their size)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. dried basil
4 T. butter, divided
1 sweet potato, scrubbed and cut into small dice
1 large or 2 small white onions, diced
1/2 bell pepper (red, orange, or green work fine), diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. tomato paste
Salt and pepper

Rub chicken with olive oil and sprinkle with basil, salt, and pepper. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until internal temperature is 165.  Set aside until cool enough to handle and then chop into dice. Set aside.

Baked seasoned chicken, diced.

Melt 3 T. of butter into a large skillet over medium heat.  Toss in diced sweet potato, salt and pepper, and saute for 8 minutes. Add onion and saute an additional 10 minutes, until evenly browned and sweet potatoes are tender.

Sweet potatoes and onions have reached
a nice color and the potatoes are tender.

In another skillet, melt remaining 1 T. butter over medium heat. Saute bell pepper and garlic to combine, then stir in paprika, thyme, and tomato paste. Saute for 5 minutes.

The bell pepper mixture is ready.

When sweet potato mixture is tender, add chicken chunks and bell pepper mixture and stir to incorporate and warm all ingredients for 2-3 minutes.

Nyum nyum nyum.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Indoor Gardening: String of Pearls Plant

It's been decades since the first time I saw a String of Pearls houseplant. It was one that my sister had. She has quite the green thumb, and always has interesting and diverse plants in her beautiful home.

The long, delicate branches and little pea-like foliage
give this plant its name.
A few months ago, I bought myself one of these unique succulents and positioned it in a southwest-facing kitchen window where it gets good afternoon sun.  When the central heat was set low during my long absence, I worried about what I'd find upon my return. Not only did the plant survive, but it seemed to thrive.

The side that faces the window even developed a few blossoms, though my photo doesn't do them justice.

After 3 months in a sunny window, the strings (branches?) have grown another 2 inches, no thanks to me.

Once the weather warms up, my plan is to put the pot in a hanger on the porch.  The "strings" should grow unabated. Gosh, what'll I do with it if those branches have grown by several feet by next winter?!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Late Fall Visit to Meadowlark

What do you do on a 70 degree mid-December day?  Visit Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, of course.

Located in Vienna off Beulah Road, Meadowlark is the area's largest botanical garden. 

The park includes various plant collections, three lakes, a spectacular Korean Bell Garden, conservation areas, and outdoor sculptures. 

Even in late fall, the area is stunning.

Part of the Korean Bell Garden.

Healthy koi in one of the lakes.

Climb up a gently sloping path on the Spiral Mound to
a rough gazebo for a lovely view.

In winter, the park opens after dark for a "walk of lights," too.  I need to plan for that next.