MY OLD BOSS used to remind us of her mantra: “Learn something new every day.” So that I can keep learning something new every week, if not each day, I–yes, somewhat selfishly–create my radio show-podcast episodes, interviewing experts who can teach me (us!) a thing or two. Here are 11 of the things I learned from creating 2016’s 52 weeks of broadcasts, from why we shouldn’t “thin” woodlots and forest, to what color flowers bees like (not red!) and more:
1. THAT THE conventional wisdom that we need to “manage” forests or woodlots by the common practice of thinning isn’t necessarily a good thing. More about forests, and why to let trees age–and die–in place.
2. THAT WEEDS have multiple tactics that make them good at being so weedy, and they pose environmental impacts far beyond just taking space away from desired plants (like spreading plant diseases, or harming monarch butterflies, for example). More about weeds.
3. THAT THE SECRETS to making spinach happier in the garden include understanding the oddball reproductive system that makes spinach bolt and other insights, like how among all the vegetable crops it’s the most sensitive to a low pH (meaning it likes lime). More about growing great spinach.
4. THAT TO A BEE’S EYES, what looks good color-wise in a flower is not what you might think—that their “favorites” are often blue or yellow or white, not red (like we’re told to plant to attract hummingbirds). Turns out a red petal looks green to bees, so they can’t tell the foliage from the blooms. More about best bee plants.
5. HOW LITTLE the honey bee—the image most of us conjure when thinking “bees”—has in common with the other 4,000 species in the U.S.—and how to tell bees apart from lookalike flies and wasps. More about bees and their needs.
6. THAT BY SHARING our bird-watching observations on eBird.org, we mere citizens are helping unravel the incredible, giant mystery of bird migration…which may in turn help with urgent conservation efforts. I knew the data I shared was useful to scientists–but not in this way. More about bird migration.
7. THAT NATIVE perennials can be used to create a formal “English-style” border–not just in looser “wildflower meadows.” More on using natives in formal designs.
8. THAT THERE IS a reason why most woodpecker species are mainly black and white—and that their formidable ability to withstand all that hammering has made them research subjects for insights to design football helmets, for instance. More about woodpeckers.
9. THAT MANY baby songbirds, though often born helplessly naked and with eyes closed (called “altricial”), may attempt their first flights at Day 8 or 9. More about the lives of baby birds.
10. THAT THE PROS who enter their plants at the North American Clivia Show have a very specific regimen for coaxing one of my favorite houseplants—Clivia miniata–into bloom on a reliable schedule, having to do with a minimum of 40 days of chill (under 50 and above 35)F. More about growing Clivia to perfection.
11. AND I LEARNED to make sourdough starter the old-style way—without buying any pre-made starter, but just with water, honey, sugar, raisins and flour. More about mastering sourdough.
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MY WEEKLY public-radio show, rated a “top-5 garden podcast” by “The Guardian” newspaper in the UK, began its seventh year in March 2016. In 2016, it won three silver medals for excellence from the Garden Writers Association, too. It’s produced at Robin Hood Radio, the smallest NPR station in the nation. Listen locally in the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) Mondays at 8:30 AM Eastern, rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. Better yet, listen anywhere on your phone, iPad or computer by subscribing: