"And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days."
- James Russell Lowell
What is so rare as a day in June without a recent grad, a new bride, mouth-watering strawberries, sweet-smelling roses and tender plants breaking ground all across the land?
Ah, June - named for the Roman goddess (and Internet server?) Juno; embraced by gardeners, brides, and recently de-schooled children; and celebrated since ancient times for its summer-solstice Midsummer Day, the longest day of the brightest month of the year. Though having only 30 days, June still has more hours of daylight than any other month in the calendar year.
Long days, especially long, humid days, also bring on frequent thunderstorms. And so it was in June, 1752, during one of those sky-rending storms, that Benjamin Franklin set out to prove lightning is an electrical phenomenon. After attaching an iron rod to a silk kite, he sent the device aloft to attract the lightning and, as expected, electrify the kite's twine. Then, by placing his knuckle next to a key hanging from the twine, he created a spark - and the rest is scientific history.
As practical as he was creative, Franklin then invented the lightning rod to protect Philadelphia's public buildings - and his own house - from the damaging effects of this powerful force.
Franklin also may have been a "master gardener," judging by the gardening tips appearing throughout the June entries in "The Old Farmer's Almanac" collection of wit, wisdom, and practical advice from the venerable sage. From controlling - or taking advantage of - weeds to combating critters and repelling trespassing deer, this founding father had the genesis of the following solutions:
• Grow lots of garlic, and not just to season food. To get rid of moles, put a garlic bulb in their holes; to deter woodchucks, raccoons and even deer, plant the garlic around your garden.
• To protect yourself from flies while gardening, wrap a strip of flypaper around your hat and fasten it with a paper clip. (Not a fashion statement!)
• For beautiful roses, sprinkle Epsom salts around the base of the bushes and bury banana peels underneath to provide needed minerals, especially potassium.
• To kill weeds (and save money), pour boiling water over them.
• Save those dandelions! For tasty, iron-rich salads, and a mild diuretic, toss in a handful of young dandelion leaves.
• And this symbolic gardening tip from Franklin's reservoir of wit: "Vainglory flowereth, but beareth no fruit."
Lightning, gardening, inventing bifocals, helping to write the Constitution of the United States - and learning the language of ants? Is there nothing Ben Franklin couldn't do? Coming on the heels of his gardening advice, his ant discovery also appears on the pages of his June almanac.
One day when Franklin found ants inside a small pot of molasses, he shook out all but one of the insects and hung the pot by a string from the ceiling. He then watched as the lone ant feasted on the molasses, climbed the string, made its way across the ceiling and down an adjoining wall, and disappeared. But within 30 minutes a small army of ants appeared, retraced the lone ant's path to the pot and ate their collective fill.
Franklin wouldn't be the last to believe ants have a well-developed form of communication. In addition to scents or a trail of sticky molasses, other ant experts have discovered that the busy insects also use sound signals - a mini-Morse Code or bucket brigade perhaps - as each ant taps its "message" on the body of the next ant in line. If you want to pass along the message to stay out of your kitchen, the "scent method" of white vinegar or a few drops of clove or peppermint oil rubbed on your countertops should keep your ant army at bay.
In closing, this tip for the would-be bride waiting for her beau to become a groom: "It isn't tying himself to one woman that a man dreads when he thinks of marrying; it's separating himself from all the others."
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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