The Fall Flurry is On!

Originally posted on Oakmoss Education:

Some critters with high levels of activity during Autumn.

Some critters with high levels of activity during Autumn.

The arrival of Autumn brings with it increased activity among wildlife as most species have behaviors that kick-in this time of year. Some are preparing for hibernation or deep sleep, others are bulking up for a long migration and, queerly enough, there are a few for whom the Fall season means reproduction. And then we have some “oddballs” for whom Winter presents other challenges for which they must prepare. Let’s see who is doing what.

True Hibernators: these are primarily reptiles and amphibians, along with many insects and a few mammals. Most activity surrounds eating as critters try to internally stockpile nutrition and fats to see them through the long, deep sleep. Assisting in this endeavor is a significantly lowered metabolism once in hibernation, which goes a long way in helping these animals make it through to Spring. Another autumnal activity…

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Nature’s Profound Lesson

The character of all life on Earth is cyclical, allowing for the experience of every aspect of existence – from plenty to lack, pain to good health, joy to sadness. If one closely observes the natural world, we see these cycles play out. In studying animals we note they also go through these phases and that during tough times will show agony, fear, or anger and sometimes may even openly grieve. Yet in the end they accept the experience and continue on their own journey – not becoming “immobilized” by these difficult periods.GreatEgret

Consider looking at life like a timepiece – we can picture the positive aspects at 12:00 o’clock and the negative at 6:00 o’clock. As we go around, we eventually pass through both hours and all the moments in between. When we begin to understand that this is the reality of living on this planet, that pain and sadness are just a part of our Earthly experience, we can come away with a more realistic outlook on the journey. We start to accept that while the negative cannot be eliminated, we can take advantage of these times to learn and grow – so as we approach the 6:00 o’clock hour again, the experience of our previous pass-through can help us better navigate the coming “darker time” – that way we need not get stuck at 6:00 o’clock and become incapacitated.

The old saying “life is not fair” is true yet untrue when you consider that fairness implies balance. To have balance requires the incorporation of extremes – an inescapable condition of life on Planet Earth.

Garden Lust

Garden Lust

Been away for a while spending as much time possible working “The Acre”, as is my lust during the warmer 6 months of the year. Actually, I only tend to 1/3 of the property, which is a mix of native and non-native species. Except for Purple Loosestrife beheadings,  Phragmites wacking and the occasional planting of a native tree or cattail, the other two-thirds is allowed to do as the elements dictate (see earlier post).  So I thought it best to drop in and share a bit of what’s been going on.

You reap what you sow: tasty salad toppers.

You reap what you sow: tasty salad toppers.

Each season, I introduce more plants to the property, which is all love and part research for my educational endeavors.  Emphasis is on returning native plants long missing from the landscape, particularly those that benefit wildlife. Despite the small quarters, the land offers a variety of conditions, from dry shade to sunny wet meadow, allowing for a diverse selection of species for trial. Challenges are present, as well. A yet to be identified insect has annually devoured the leaves of one variety of Marshmallow (unfortunately, I remember not which variety) despite regular spraying of insecticidal soap. This year, however, I’ve added Neem oil to the spray and the nibbling has been reduced substantially. Interestingly, the nearby Common Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) is completely unaffected by whatever plagues its neighbor. This is where the research part comes in. I note that the Common variety, while no more than 30 feet away, is in considerably drier soil which: 1.) may make it a stronger specimen; 2.) is in a spot where the drier conditions are less hospitable for the gnawing insect; or 3.) its location among the culinary and medicinal herbs creates a deterrent.  Of course, determining what is eating the other Marshmallow would help but I’ve yet to see the culprit – it must be very tiny or is preying upon the plant at night.

This year, I’ve really worked on adding species specifically intended for aiding pollinators. Milkweeds,  Butterfly Weed, Turtleheads, native Roses and Lupines have been put in and all except the Lupines are doing very well.  Natural precipitation has been nearly perfect so far which is sure to be helping.  Also in the mix has been work on critter deterrents, particularly for White-tailed Deer who, despite having lots to eat in the wild meadow where their young regularly bed down, make regular stops at the garden beds to snack. Protecting both an established and newly added Daylily bed has taken up some time. Gold Dial Soap hanging on a string works for about one season but then has to be rotated out.  Planting a border of Garlic and Onions around the new bed kept the Deer from eating the greens, but once the Daylily flower buds formed, they were quickly nibbled off. So, I expanded the bed and added Lavender and Tarragon on the outside with a complimentary planting of one Curry Plant and one Artemisia as decorative and strongly fragrant corners.  A Curry Plant has worked quite well protecting a planting of Echinacea for several years, which beforehand were regularly beheaded, so hoping this one-two punch will be enough to keep the Deer at bay on the more highly favored Daylilies. Last Autumn, I planted small Boxwoods on two sides of the established Daylily bed. So far the Boxwood (which Deer completely ignore) and the Dial Soap have been doing the job.

In the shady areas, Foam Flower, Wild Ginger and Mayapple have been added to a variety of native ferns planted in previous seasons. St. John’s Wort has volunteered itself, which is a nice addition to the ever increasing medicinal herbs that are on the property, both wild and cultivated.  The Yucca, which is planted in a bed along a sunny dry slope, flowered very heavily this year for the first time – wish they lasted longer. Native Prairie Blazing Star was also planted to compliment the established Yarrow, Echinacea and Coreopsis. I’ve also done some companion planting in the vegetable garden adding Borage to aid the Strawberries. The Borage flowers are a great attractant for pollinators along with being a tasty addition to salads.

Gardening is one long experiment, affected differently each year by weather, climate change and fluctuations in wildlife populations. It never gets boring. I’ve posted a few photos below (click one photo and glide through the larger image gallery) and will follow up later in the season as other plants come into their bloom time. In the meantime, be well and enjoy Nature’s wonders.




Foraging Season Begins

Echinacea, a native composite, supports human health and feeds native pollinators

Echinacea, a native composite, supports human health and feeds native pollinators

A concern about the composition of commercially produced food, genetically modified crops and a seemingly endless litany of food recalls has spurred many people to become more knowledgeable about the source of their sustenance. The rise in kitchen gardens, the opening of more farmers markets each year, and the conversion of empty urban lots to community gardens are definitive signs of a surge in the local food movement, allowing us to have a solid grasp on that which nourishes our bodies. Add to this a swelling interest in wild foraging for both food and medicine, and it becomes clear that we are taking self-reliance much more seriously. This can have many excellent benefits for our environment.

But with this rediscovery of “homegrown” comes an important responsibility, particularly in our foraging and wildcrafting. To understand how to be an ethical harvester of wild plants, one must become well-versed about these species beyond just what value they bring to our own personal well being. In addition to the “Six Knows” of harvesting wild plants, we must also consider the following.

      • Know the plant’s value to other species: We are not alone on this planet. While humans can grow their own food, wild animals depend upon naturally occurring plants for their sustenance. If a plant you wish to harvest is an important food source for another species (including insects), evaluate its local availability before harvesting. If its occurrence is limited, perhaps you can forsake the harvest in this location, finding a more prolific source, or forgo that plant altogether until it becomes more established.
      • Understand the plant’s life cycle (reproductivity): Many plants are like animals in that they take some time to reach sexual maturity. Harvesting a plant before it has begun reproductivity can compromise the future population of that species. Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) is an excellent example. While it is a perennial, it takes up to five years for it to reach flowering age. We want to avoid harvesting the Trout Lily in its first year of flowering, which we can determine by the presence of two leaves, instead of one.

So, please enjoy your foraging but remember to take no more than 1/3 of a complete stand and become acquainted with the aspects of your selection to ensure its future availability for the many species who rely on these wonderful gifts of nature.

The Paradox of Earth Day

A view from the trail up Hin Han Kaga (the top of the world), the Lakota name for Mount Harney in the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota.

A view from the trail up Hinhan Kaga Paha (the top of the world), the Lakota name for Mount Harney in the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota.

Time again for my annual “rant” (see link below). Sadly, after reviewing this for the 5th year running, not one word needs to be changed because the status quo on our ignorance of a healthy environment and our role in its degradation continues. Let’s hope for better in 2015 and the potential for this post to at last be retired.

The Paradox of Earth Day