Welcome!  -
Wee bits of information:
     Hibernation:
     A chipmunks heart rate normally beats at 200 beats per minute, but during hibernation it drops to 5 beats per minute.
 
Projects:
     This months project involved working on skirts and dresses that are meant to be used if you're working in the garden or doing your housework. They are designed to be worked in as they have pockets and ties to store miscellaneous items and keys. They take the place of shorts and tees or workout clothing as they are lighter in weight and thus feel much cooler. The added bonus to these work clothes is that you always look attractive no matter who shows up at your door. You also can be ready to leave your house in a minute to do your errands by quickly switching your shoes, adding a necklace and a bit of lip colour.  They will be available for purchase shortly.       
 
Plant info:
     Forsythia: Zones 4-9
     Classified in the division Magnoliophyta,class  Magnoliopsida, order Scrophulariales, Oleaceae (olive family).
     About 11 species
     Named after British botanist, William Forsyth.
     Bright yellow four-lobed flowers that emerge before the leaves of shrub in very early spring.
     Fast growing
     Varieties - compact plant to shrub (3-10 ft and rarely 20 ft in height)
     Can be used as hedgerows or as a specimen plant.
     Loves full sun/light shade
     Any type of soil
     One of the loveliest things to see this time of year is the burst of luminescence of a forsythia shrub juxtaposed against the persistently grey backdrop of late winter. These indefatigable shrubs are very tolerant of pollution and poor growing conditions which means that they can even thrive within a city setting. But be aware that although they're a tolerant plant, they will flourish best under optimum conditions. They enjoy full sun or light shade and well-drained soil.  It's wise to add a little garden compost, peat-moss or composted manure to your soil if it's less than optimal to give your shrub the best possible start.  It's also a good idea to feed it once a year with a bit of all-purpose fertilizer (10-10-10) from mid-February through mid-May.  Ensure that you have given your shrub plenty of space to grow without encumbrances. 
     Probably the most important thing to know about forsythia is that it flowers from the previous season's growth like lilacs.  So it is very important to to prune the shrub of its spent flowers immediately after it has finished blossoming. Otherwise you will share in the curse of the forsythia.  You will wait all winter long for the beautiful gift of inspiration that nature has given to staid you through the last few weeks of winter to find... nothing and nothing the next few years as you wait patiently.  The worst part is yet to come, for you then must cut down your forsythia to the ground and then have to wait several more years until it comes back in full force.  By that time so many years will have passed that you will forget about the pruning and the whole nasty cycle will start all over again! So remember, prune after flowering.
     There are some interesting bits of info on forsythia such as the fact that in Korea they use its sticks to bow a string instrument called a "ajaeng".  As well, Forsythia suspensa (drooping variety) is one of the 50 most important herbs in Chinese herbology. Finally, it is widely believed that forsythia flowers are able to produce lactose, or milk sugar.  But this belief has not been able to find full support.
     There are approximately eleven types of varieties of forsythia.  The variety that we are most familiar with today came from two species, Forsythia suspensa and F. viridissima.  These early species from the Far East were the very first to be grown in Western gardens.  In 1833, a Westerner named Carl Peter Thunberg (botanist surgeon) discovered Forsythia suspensa and brought it back to Holland to be cultivated and sold.  The other, F.viridissima, was discovered by a Scottish plant hunter named Robert Fortune, in 1861 near Peking.  During the mid-late 1800's these shrubs were considered very rare but their beauty and ease of growing saw them flourish.
     Speaking of which, propogating them is very easy.  it can be achieved one of three ways.  Find new growth and take a soft wood cutting.  This should be done in late spring to early summer.  The second method is to try tip or ground layering.  Ensure that the tip of a branch is secured to the ground by pinning it down. Once it takes root, you cut it free from the parent plant and place it in your desired location.  Planting or moving a forsythia should be done when they are dormant during winter, but any time of the year is fine.  The final way is to simply leave your forsythia branches in their vases of water that you would have used to force their blooms in spring.  Eventually roots will emerge after several weeks. Transplant them into pots and give to friends or move them directly into the ground.
     To force blooms indoors to enjoy, choose the branches at the top of the plant.  Ensure that the buds are closely spaced.  Make your cut all the way back to the bottom of the stem. Trim away anything that will be below water.  Fill a vase with cool water and cut the bottom of the stems at a long angle.  Place them in a cool area such as a garage for several days, after which bring them inside to the warmth and recut their stems once more.  Give them fresh, warm water this time and find a sunny window to place them in for several weeks.  They will be spectacular!
 
Rememberances:
     My rememberances this week are of how I lacked something this time of year.  Remember what I last said about enjoying the snow?  Well, with the excitement of Christmas gone and having used the cold winter months as opportunities to improve my skills or learn new infomation, I found myself longing for spring just like everyone else. As a child growing up in the country, I often spent a good part of the day praying.  Praying, that is, for the sun to hurry up and melt the snow.  While outdoors I thought of small, desperate ways that I could help speed spring along.  Such as attempting to break up the remaining ice and snow in the vast fields with my small boots so that the rivulets might carry it away to the river.  Hopeless indeed, since we had at least six more months of winter there!  I realised this was probably futile but every little bit might be of some help, so it was worth a try.  What I was longing for were signs of life.  Some greenery, the sound of birds, animals scurrying about, the smell of warm earth.
     This week I saw a little field mouse dash across the road, noticed a forsythia bush had blossomed and our resident chipmunk had emerged from his den.  Spring had arrived!  This despite the huge snow storm we just had.  Seeing these little creatures awaken made me want to know more about hibernation and how it works.
     Many people believe that hibernation simply involves mammals crawling into a den (hibernacula) and sleeping the cold winter months away.  It turns out that it is actually much more varied and involved than that.  The above definition is not true hibernation as hibernation is more like being in a coma-like state than being asleep, thus bears do not truely hibernate.
     During hibernation many triggers can convey to an animal that it is time to enter hibernation: the temperature outdoors, decreasing food supplies, the length of day or photoperiod and also the innate sense that it's time to hibernate.  But even more responsible are the incredible physiological changes that occur in the animal to induce the coma-like state.  The thyroid gland along with melatonin, the pituitary gland and insulin prepare the animal so that it might survive the extreme weather conditions.
     The dens that are typically made from mud or foliage can house the animal completely or only partially as is the case with bears who often sleep with some of their body exposed to the elements.
     There are also different types of hibernation that occur at different times of the year.  Brumation is when reptiles hibernate.  They also need to find a warm area to survive the cold months as they cannot control their body temperature.  Estivation, another form of hibernation, has to do with food supply and hot weather.  In areas where the temperature becomes unbearable such as in tropical climates, deserts or during the summer months, animals have survived the terrible heat by burrowing into the ground to find a cool spot and lowered their metabolic rate. An amazing example of this is the lungfish who can hibernate by using the process of estivation for three years.  There is also a daily type of hibernation called torpor.  Torpor can be seen in birds and bats helping them through the cold winter months. The little black-capped chickadee experiences torpor every winter night for a few hours by decreasing its body temperature. Another example of daily torpor is found in the hummingbird who has a need to conserve energy because it has a heart rate of twelve hundred beats per minute. 
     When we look more closely at the physiological changes, they seem impossible for us to believe. For instance, the respiratory rate can be greatly reduced by fifty to one hundred percent as evidenced by some reptiles who stop breathing entirely.  As well, the animals' body temperature also can drop drastically.  In this process the animals' physiological triggers inspire its body to drop its temperature until it reaches a very low set point, which is not unlike a thermostat, for a very long period of time.  For some animals that can be as much as 63 degrees F.  Once the set point has been reached the body begins to burn the fat reserves to keep the body temperature above the set point.  This body fat also serves as a resource of hydration for the animal. 
     Awakening from hibernation is just as complex. When the animal finally begins to wake from hibernation, it is exhausted as it has had to consume all of its stored energy to warm itself to the degree that would allow a wakeful state to occur.  You see when an animal truely hibernates it is almost impossible to wake them.  Even though their body temperature, heart and respiratory rate drop drastically, their brain waves are minimally changed so they remain alert but unable to be roused.  When they wake, it takes several days to recover from hibernation, whereas animals that wake from sleep can be fully awake in a few minutes.  Finally one should never disturb a hibernating animal as it will mean sure death to it.  It takes so much energy for them to warm themselves up to a wakeful state, that they would never have enough energy left over to re-enter hibernation again in order to get them through the rest of winter and thus they will die. 
     This gave me more of an appreciation of how hard the daily lives of animals can be and made me even more grateful for spring.       
 
 
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