Archive for the ‘Garden’ Category

On the Ground, In the Wild, A Path To Inner Peace

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Anne Raver
REISTERSTOWN, MD–It was a gray, blustery December day when I walked the labyrinth in the woods behind Pamela White’s ranch-style house in Glyndon, an old community a few miles from my place.

The town started out as a Methodist revival camp and a summer place, 10 degrees cooler than the city, for wealthy Baltimoreans. My grandmother used to go every summer and get closer to God under a big tent. The camp is long gone, and now the streets are lined with Victorian houses with wide porches, mixed in with 1950s ranch houses.

Ms. White has a two-acre stand of woods out back, with a low, curving stone wall at the edge of the forest, which slopes down to a natural bowl in the land where stones mark a spiraling path laid beneath tall oaks and poplars.

I met Ms. White, a garden designer, about a year ago in a master gardening composting class, where she showed off her homemade worm bin and gave me the recipe for a deer repellent that won’t wash off with the rain. She was bright and inquisitive, drove a little white pickup truck and appeared ready for anything in her tidy jeans and sturdy shoes. So when she told me about her labyrinth, I was intrigued.

Maybe I was looking for some connection to the ancients that could help me deal with two deaths in my family in one year—first my brother and then my mother. Or, maybe I can’t stand the darkness that descends at this time of year, as the earth tilts away from the sun. I count the days until the winter solstice—Dec. 22 this year—when the days start to grow longer again.

The design of a labyrinth echos spirals in nature, from a snail’s shell to the inner ear to the winding of a bean vine as it springs from the earth. Evidence of labyrinths has been found in Minoan Crete as well as Europe, India and the American Southwest, according to Hermann Kern’s “Through the Labyrinth: Designs and Meanings Over 5,000 Years” (Prestel, 2000), translated by Abigail Clay and edited by Robert Ferré, a labyrinth builder and teacher in St. Louis, and Jeff Saward, a British authority on labyrinths. Mr. Kern, a German historian who died in 1985, was probably the world’s foremost scholar on labyrinths. Ms. White handed me this 260-page tome and a stack of other books before I left that day, stoked on hot tea and homemade cookies.

This ancient form has long been used for walking meditations in which those who enter shed the burdens of the world, or their fears, or even evil spirits.

“There are labyrinths in the mosaics of Pompeii,” said Ms. White, who has studied with Mr. Ferré in St. Louis, and walked many labyrinths in this country as well as Europe. “Fishermen had a great belief in labyrinths. They would walk the labyrinth before going to sea, to shed the evil spirits that sank their ships or made the weather bad.”

A labyrinth differs from a maze, which can have more than one entrance and many choices of paths that often dead-end if you take the wrong turn.

“With a labyrinth, you know you’re going to the center,” she said. “It’s unicursal: one path to the center and one path out.”

The two most familiar labyrinth types are the classical, or Cretan, form, which has 7 concentric paths around the center, and the medieval form, which has 11 circuits around the center, like the one at the Chartres cathedral in France.

The simpler Cretan form recalls the Greek legend of the Minotaur, half-man, half-bull, hidden in the labyrinth that Daedalus built for King Minos. When Theseus, the son of Aegeus, the king of Athens, killed the Minotaur, he found his way out by following the ball of thread that Ariadne, Minos’s daughter, gave him to unwind along the twisting path.

That journey into the unknown — and the return — occurs in many cultures.

“It is a very nice metaphor for life,” Ms. White said. “Because we really are on the same path, just at different times and different ways. But we’re really all there together.”

The spiraling path, wide enough for one, with room for another to pass, was made of wood chips, and lined with rough-hewn Pennsylvania bluestones. And it seemed at home there, among the fallen oak leaves and the rotted stumps of trees, full of beetles and worms that Ms. White leaves for the birds.

“I knew when I saw the property that there would be a labyrinth down there,” Ms. White said. “It was a natural amphitheater.” (Her first labyrinth was behind a town house—flat stones set into the lawn, so it could be mowed. Some labyrinths are carved in the sand on a beach, to be erased by the tide, while others, made of turf, have lasted for centuries.)

In the spring of 2005, Ms. White worked with a labyrinth designer, Michael Clarridge; her husband, John Lowery; and their son, Curtis Lowery, to set the circular space into the forest, with as little disturbance as possible. They cleared invasive species, like euonymus and barberry, and moved saplings of native redbud and spicebush.

They replanted the natives in another part of the woods to honor what grew here long before humans laid their paths. They left a soaring tulip poplar where it was, to be encountered in the middle of the path.

The whole labyrinth was no more than 30 ft. in diameter. Walking that spiraling path, which turned back on itself several times — and turned me 180 degrees — before setting off in another direction, seems to switch the tracks in the brain. It’s like the shift when you swing into a waltz; you have to stop thinking and give in to the music, or you will miss a step and falter.

This labyrinth in the woods released my mind in other ways too. The sharp call of birds brought my head up to the sky, to watch their dark shapes flying over the black treetops. There wasn’t room in my head for anything else.

“When I’m worrying about something, this is the perfect space for quieting my thoughts and just being in the moment,” Ms. White said.

So now I followed behind her, in lovely silence. I had to put my arm around that poplar to keep my balance as I edged around it on the path. On the way back, I held it with my other arm, a kind of do-si-do with a tree. I don’t know if I felt its energy or not, but I certainly experienced how alive it was, and its singular place in the forest.

Walking meditations are different from sitting ones, in which you remain still, listening to your own breath. Here, the rhythm is in the feet and the arms. Some people dance down the spiral; children run it. I can imagine what walking such a path could do for half an hour a day, every day for a year. I can imagine the tiny changes in lichen on a rock, droplets on a branch, buds on a twig.

Ms. White said she walked her first labyrinth, in Marblehead, MA, with her best friend, who had received a diagnosis of ovarian cancer.

“It was in the snow, outside of a church, and the path was surrounded by herbs, like thyme and rosemary,” Ms. White said. “I had a long coat on, which kept brushing the herbs, and I remember the scent.”

And so, as winter arrives—and the planet tilts back toward the sun, bringing us closer to spring —I will be looking around my own farm for a place to build a labyrinth. It might just announce itself, on the brow of a hill, where you could gaze in all directions.

Labyrinths are easy to draw, find and research, as shown on the Labyrinth Society’s Web site (labyrinthsociety.org), a good source of information, both historical and practical. –New York Times

You Can Do More For Wildlife

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Kathy Van Mullekom
NEWPORT NEWS, VA–Wildlife needs four elements to survive in this world: food, water, cover and places to bear and raise young. They can pick some crazy places to nest as evidenced by the mother duck that laid 11 eggs in a sparsely planted bed at our front steps.

All of us should make every effort to include native plants in our yards. Non-native species are nice but they typically don’t support the same number of insects that are food sources for wildlife.

Years ago, I didn’t give native plants a second thought, thinking I had to have everything exotic. I’ve greatly changed my tune, realizing native plants create a natural kind of beauty and bring more songbirds than ever to my feeders and windows.

Native plants in my new garden include bald cypress, dogwood, fringe tree, sweet bay magnolia, holly, Virginia sweetspire, deciduous azalea, wax myrtle, loblolly pine and swamp hibiscus. It’s a start and my goal is to plant them with an assortment of native perennials and groundcovers.

Predators play a part. You never use toxic chemicals in a wildlife habitat, so predators play a vital role in controlling bad bugs. Icky spiders catch and eat more biting and plant-eating insects than all other insectivorous animals put together.

Ladybugs can eat about 5,400 aphids in a lifetime. Salamanders consume insects and slugs. Night-cruising owls kill small mammals –hopefully voles and moles. Other predators you can count on include dragonflies, damselflies, bats, foxes and good snakes like the black rat kind.

Foods are a must. Most attention in a backyard habitat focuses on songbirds you can enjoy. Ken and I marvel at how fast birds take up residence in a new birdhouse–one bird flew in a house literally the minute Ken walked away with the hammer he used to install it.

In addition to feeders, songbirds like fruits such as cherries, cranberries, grapes, orange halves and fruit jelly. Mealworms are recommended for bluebirds, but we’ve never enjoyed great success with them and still have numerous bluebirds in our yard.

There are numerous ways to make suet and decorative food supplies, including grapefruit feeders, edible garland, bird bagels and energy muffins.

For butterflies, experts suggest you hang a cluster of over-ripe grapes and watch them arrive at the buffet. Give them water. Birdbaths and fountains are eye-catching additions to yards but they can be unsuitable water sources for songbirds and butterflies if they are too deep. Shallow sources work better. Butterflies actually prefer muddy depressions in soil.

You can create a natural water feature with an old tree stump– something we had plenty of after Hurricane Isabel in 2003. A stump still in the ground or a flat-bottomed large log works. Use a sharp chisel to chip out chunks of wood from the top of the wood, making the depression 3 inches deep or less.

The depression doesn’t have to be smooth because birds prefer the safety of a rough surface while they bathe or drink. You can place some little rocks in the water–something helpful you can also do in a too-deep birdbath so birds have them to stand on. Plant native groundcovers or small shrubs around the base of your birdbath stump. Empty and refill it every few days.–Newport News

Why Choose Native Plants?

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

Today, native plants are recognized for their value not only for wildlife, but also for the beauty and hardiness that they bring to the home garden, their economic potential, and their unique spot in the ecology of our environment.TT

For many years, native plants in this country were considered little better than undesirable weeds. Farmers cleared them from the land to plant crops. Gardeners pulled them up relentlessly to make room for “designer” plants which may have started as natives, but had been manipulated by breeders to reflect current standards of floral beauty.

Early European immigrants tried to reproduce the lush gardens of their homelands, regardless of the differences in climate and soil conditions in this new world. Then, as the pendulum swung back, “native plants” became a catch phrase, a rallying cry for environmentalists concerned about the loss of habitat for wildlife.

What exactly is a native plant?
The answer to this question isn’t as easy as you might think. All plants (unless they are the product of human manipulation) are natives of somewhere.

What people today term “wildflowers” frequently include “exotic” species which have come from other countries and have become so well-established that we see them growing everywhere in the wild, often at the expense of the true native plants that they crowd out. Common examples of these invasives would be Japanese honeysuckle, Multiflora rose, and Purple loosestrife.

The problem has become so severe that the federal government has finally written laws and established committees to help find ways to eradicate some of the most aggressive species. In addition, federal regulations now call for the use of native plants in landscaping projects on federal and public property.

Most current definitions of native plants require that the species was present in this country before Columbus arrived in 1492. There are plants which were native to the North American continent, and others that were regional natives.

Some experts believe that it is important to only grow those plants which were originally native to your specific area of the country. There is some validity to this viewpoint, since even native plants can become invasive when grown in a location outside their normal range. For instance, some species which are well-behaved in their typically dry southwestern locale can become aggressive when encouraged by plentiful rainfall and richer soil.

Why bother growing native plants at all, when there are so many beautiful species available from all over the world?

While it isn’t necessary to turn away completely from these varieties, there are many advantages to incorporating native plants into your habitat, including value to wildlife, hardiness, and conservation.

Value for Wildlife
As plants and wildlife evolved together, adaptations were made by both to ensure that each was able to serve the other in the most effective way possible. As more and more natural habitat is destroyed by development, we need to help wildlife survive by replacing some of the native flora which is lost.

Butterflies are a prime example. It would be difficult not to appreciate the beauty of these insects and we tend to take their presence for granted, until we suddenly realize that there are far fewer than we remember from years ago.

A look at their requirements for survival gives us some clues to the reasons for their decreasing numbers. We often read in the newspaper about the declining forest habitat for Monarch butterflies when they reach the end of their migratory journey in Mexico. This is indeed a concern, but we need look no farther than our own local suburbs to find threats to their survival.

Monarch caterpillars eat only milkweed plants. They have not adapted to other food sources, so if there is no milkweed in an area, there are no monarchs. Milkweed is a plant that survives in “waste places,” in abandoned fields and along roadsides. If we have cleared the fields for homes and shopping centers, or even for cultivated crops, and mowed the roadsides or polluted them with salt in the winter, then there will be no milkweed.

With this awareness, we can take steps to bring the monarch back. In our own yards we can plant native milkweed and once again provide a food source for the Monarch caterpillars as well as nectar for a wide variety of adult butterflies.

If you have an area that can be left natural, the Common milkweed can be allowed to grow. If you prefer a more cultivated appearance, Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) with its bright orange blossoms, Pink-blooming swamp milkweed (A. incarnata), or White milkweed (A. variegata) all make lovely additions to the home garden.

Using butterflies for still another example of wildlife’s continued need for native plants, consider the common effort of plant breeders to create “showier” flowers. Starting with a simple, open blossom, breeders will manipulate the plant until the blooms are double or triple-petaled and ruffled and elaborate in structure.

These are lovely to behold and may certainly have a place in your garden, but they are useless to the butterfly. In order for a butterfly to land and get its curled tongue into the nectar, the flower must be fairly open and flat, or tubular without a lot of extra petals to block the entrance.

You can incorporate many different kinds of native plants in your landscape, thus attracting a wide range of wildlife. Fruiting shrubs such as Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) will draw birds, as will native evergreens and vines such as Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia).

To attract mammals, you can plant nut trees like native oaks and hickories. Whatever native plants you choose, you can be sure that you will be benefiting some species of wildlife because they are so closely interrelated.

When allowed to flourish in the wild, native plants provide the diversity that wildlife needs. Food sources are produced at a variety of heights, and at different times of the year.

Some berries are eaten immediately, while others languish on the branch. These less-favored fruits will still be there in winter when most other food sources have disappeared, and can mean the difference between survival and starvation.

Every part of a native plant has value, whether it be the nectar of the flowers, the bark for winter consumption or for hiding insects, or the leaves for forage. The roots loosen the soil, creating space, and sometimes food, for underground creatures.

Different growth habits create shelter to suit every species. When we clear natural areas and plant only lawn grass and a variety of exotic plants, the results may be pleasing to human eyes which have been acclimated to current standards of horticultural beauty, but little remains of value for wildlife.

Hardiness

Despite the overly-adaptable nature of certain exotic species, many introduced plants are temperamental and require a lot of work on the part of the gardener if they are to thrive.

This may include frequent fertilizing and spraying with pesticides, both of which are expensive and have a negative effect on the environment. In times of drought, these plants will require additional watering to survive, thus using up large quantities of that valuable resource when we most need to conserve it.

Plants native to a given area, on the other hand, have adapted strategies over many years to survive climate extremes in their natural habitat. Those species which grow in arid regions have developed smaller leaves, or even no leaves at all, in order to lessen both the need for water and its loss through evaporation.

Prairie species “cooperate” by distributing their roots at various levels underground, rather than having them all concentrate on the nutrients and moisture at a single level.

Although periods of major drought may occur only once or twice in our own lifetimes, even species from normally wet regions will have seen many droughts during their evolution and will be somewhat adapted.

Flowers may be shorter due to lack of rain, but they will generally bloom. Trees that are severely stressed by drought will actually produce more fruit (seed) than usual, ensuring that even if the individual tree dies, the species will continue.

Native plants also frequently have a resistance to common fungal infections and insect problems. Even if they are attacked, they have developed the skills to survive. Milkweed plants are likely to be eaten by caterpillars, yet their roots persist and they return each year.

Oak trees which are attacked by insects will not only survive, but the next year will produce higher amounts of toxic tannic acid, thus “fighting back” during the new season of growth.

Some natives have other distinct advantages over their cultivated counterparts. A number of landscape trees, such as the Bradford pear, have been bred to provide a mass of showy flowers in the spring, but that’s the end of their performance. A native Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum), by comparison, has beautiful white blossoms in late spring, vibrant fall foliage, and fruits which persist through the winter.

The Bradford pear is also an example of what can happen when we tamper with Mother Nature. It has been used widely for landscaping because of its uniform, vase-like shape. This is the result of breeding to get all of the major limbs to emerge from the same spot on the trunk.

While the result may be attractive, now that these trees have been around long enough to mature, many of them are beginning to split down the middle. Having the weight centered in one area makes them exceedingly vulnerable to wind and snow, unlike native varieties which have branches extending from points all along the trunk, thus evenly distributing the weight.

For more information regarding native plants, including their conservation plus where to buy and use native plants, see Best Native Plants For Wildlife.

Turn Your Back Yard Into Wildlife Refuge

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Suzanne Sproul

YOUR BACKYARD is for the birds, butterflies and whatever form of wildlife you like.

To ensure they are attracted to your yard, set out the welcome mat. Create a habitat or environment that combines sources of food, water, shelter and space. With the proper landscaping, nature’s creatures will want to stop and stay a spell.

“I’m a gardener, so all this comes naturally to me. Creating the habitat is part of my life’s mission, really. My husband and I are involved with the local humane society and we try to help where we can. With our population growing so quickly, the land is falling to development all the time. We still need space for wildlife. I believe that one individual can make a difference, that one back yard can make all the difference,” said Nancy Alexander of Redlands, CA.

Alexander isn’t alone in her beliefs. She and her husband, Cliff, bought their present home eight years ago. The former owner of the house told them that the yard was certified as a backyard habitat.

“That intrigued me, so I found out more about the program. I liked what I found out, and we decided to do something ourselves. We wanted to create our own habitat and get the yard recertified,” she said. So the Alexanders relandscaped their back yard.

“We chose to go native, and it’s been wonderful. Choosing native plants works because birds and wildlife already are accustomed to it and the plants are so easy to work with. There’s very little maintenance. The yard basically takes care of itself.”

Local wildlife love it, especially a family of California Thrashers that used to live next door in what was once a 40-acre field. The field is gone, replaced by development, but the thrashers apparently have jumped the fence and now enjoy the confines of the Alexander yard. They have joined the birds that stop by daily and lizards that scamper at will.

“You don’t have to relandscape like we did. All you need to do is carve out a small piece of your back yard. Plant some natives. If they provide berries, all the better. Then you’ll have shelter and a food source all in one place. Add a birdbath. It doesn’t have to take over your life and you can give back a little of the joy that nature gives us.”

Susan Campos also feels a special kinship with nature.

“I was raised with the citrus industry. I love agriculture and animals. I love to garden. I love birds and flowers. Creating a backyard habitat for me is just plain natural,” said the Pomona resident.

Her yard is filled with fragrant roses, vibrant salvias and countless other plants as well as water fountains and feeders. She’s particularly fond of hummingbirds and finches, both frequent and welcome visitors.

“I love to just watch my yard. I discover things every day. One day there was this little green bird that kept coming around my hummer feeder. I watched and loved it and I wanted to learn more. So I asked a friend who knows all about birds and gardening. She said it probably was a finch,” Campos said. So she put in another bird feeder. That one features finch food. Now Campos has aerial ballets every day.

“Hummers are comical characters, and finches are charming. The more I’m out in the yard and the more noise I make, the more the birds get friendly. I saw the most beautiful butterfly the other day. I love it. The more you plant, the more you bring in to your yard.” she said.

Plant your landscape with everything you enjoy, but keep in mind that animals and birds require some basics. Water sources are essential in any backyard habitat. If left unattended, however, they can become stagnant and dirty, providing an ideal climate for mosquitoes. Remember to keep everything clean. –Los Angeles Daily News

Try Gardening On Your Roof!

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Patricia Leigh Brown
CARMEL VALLEY, CA– It is the green season, when the rains give way to a landscape of renewal, and gardeners clutching copies of Sunset magazine’s Western Garden Book emerge exultantly from their winter dens.

In this place where the political climate, too, is green, it is perhaps not surprising to encounter a hardy new perennial in the world of horticulture—the green roof gardener.

While others nearby toil over grapes and artichokes, Cooper Scollan spends his days hunched over some 1.7 million baby sedum and other native plants destined for hillocks atop the green roof at the new California Academy of Sciences building, nearing completion in Golden Gate Park.

Mr. Scollan, 30, is a green collar worker, responsible for the safety and well-being of what soon will be the largest continuous swatch of vegetation in San Francisco. The academy, designed by the architect Renzo Piano, whom Mr. Scollan has seen only on television, will feature the country’s most technically ambitious eco-roof, the latest example of what is known in highbrow circles as “regenerative” or “living” architecture.

It is a growing movement that originated in Germany and now includes, to name a few, bottlebrush grasses and wild rye atop Chicago City Hall, succulents on the 10-acre roof of Ford’s River Rouge truck plant in Dearborn, MI, flowering chives and dianthus on the Bronx County building in New York, and, at an office building for the Gap in San Bruno, CA, a coastal oak savannah landscape.

Though green roofs are hardly new—think of the fabled hanging gardens of Babylon—eco-roofs may represent gardening’s next frontier, as cities from Los Angeles to Chicago offer incentives, including fast-tracking development, to builders who forgo drab stretches of concrete in favor of a living roof. The reasons are pure Al Gore: the new California Academy of Sciences roof is expected to reduce storm water run-off by half. That water will then be used, instead of potable water, to flush toilets.

The design is also calculated to prevent the release of more than 405,000 pounds of greenhouse gases and substantially reduce the urban “heat island” generated by roads, sidewalks and parking lots.

More poetically for Mr. Scollan, who is fond of comparing his favorite plant, the towering blue “Pride of Tenerife,” to Marge Simpson’s hair, the poppies, strawberries, sedum and other California native plants on the roof will provide a wildlife park in the sky protected from windblown weeds and the vagaries of man. Should all go well, it will also attract the endangered San Bruno Elfin Butterfly, a coppery brown temptress.

Like meditation, he said, gardening is repetitive yet constantly changing. “Plants, like insects, metamorphize,” he philosophized, “transforming from a tangled mass of cells into a fig hanging in midair.”

As nursery manager for Rana Creek Habitat Restoration, an ecological design firm, Mr. Scollan is one of a growing number of green roof gardeners. According to a survey last year by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, a nonprofit industry association based in Toronto, over 3 million sq. ft. of green roofs were planted in North America in 2005, worth about $60 to $80 million. This year growth is expected to rise 125 percent, between 6 and 7 million sq. ft., said Steven Peck, the group’s founder.

Gardeners like Mr. Scollan are tackling challenges at once similar and distinct from “terrestrial” gardening, in the words of Ed Snodgrass, a pioneering green roof nurseryman in Maryland who writes an “Ask Ed” column for green roofs.com and is the author of the definitive “Green Roof Plants: A Resource and Planting Guide” (Timber Press, 2006).

Mr. Scollan checks his brood each morning, when this stunningly pristine valley is still swaddled in mist. The plants’ environmental pedigree does not fend off nature’s whims: Mr. Scollan buys copious amounts of chunky peanut butter to put in mousetraps—20 traps a week—to discourage mice from dining on mosses or on the prunella, a plant with tubular purple flowers beloved by hummingbirds.

Mr. Scollan personally raised the prunella from seed, hand-collected in Point Reyes, starting with a couple of hundred that, in less than a year, have generated more than 200,000 plants.

Although his enemies are typical—mites and aphids are high on the hit list— the unusual configuration of the roof has required horticultural derring-do. Mr. Piano’s third-story design resembles the downhill ski run at the Winter Olympics: it includes seven steep undulating hills. (Mr. Piano, who designed the new building for The New York Times, created his first green roof for a project in Berlin.)

Plants will adhere to the daunting slopes by way of 50,000 “bio trays,” biodegradable planters made from coconut fibers that allow roots to attach the trays to one another and also to the soil. (A waterproof membrane and fabric mats protect the roof from water.). As on all large green roofs, the soil is not dirt exactly but a gravel-like growing medium of granulated pumice, shales, clays and other minerals.

Paul Kephart, the founder of Rana Creek, calls the roof “the most challenging vegetative structure in the world.” The need for gardening ingenuity is likely to increase as green architecture gets ever more sophisticated, Mr. Kephart said. “The cultural idea of a beautiful place now includes ecology, aligning nature’s life cycles to ours,” he said.

Although less prone to weeds than earthbound gardens, green roofs tend to be drier and windier, said Mr. Snodgrass, a fifth-generation alfalfa farmer who saw a market niche and established one of the country’s first green roof nurseries. The logistics of roof gardening—in the case of the California Academy of Sciences, 2.6 million pounds of plants and soil—require immense forethought, especially the issue of weed-hauling.

“You do need to think about how you will get everything on and off the roof,” said Mr. Snodgrass. “It’s a whole different world than pulling up to the sidewalk in a pickup truck.”

Daydreaming while gardening is not a good strategy. “You have to be mindful that there’s an edge,” he said.

If drought-tolerant green roof grasses and other plants are a new American crop, pioneers like Mr. Scollan, who carries a pruner, assorted plastic frogs and a beat-up copy of Scientific American in his Honda, are brave new harvesters. His passion for plants started early: his mother has a green thumb. He first studied ornithology, including a stint in Central and South America with Roger Tory Peterson, who, he recalled, “could hear an Eastern Meadowlark a quarter mile away with the radio on.”

Green architecture may one day be the equivalent of medieval cathedrals, but with living things the architectural inspiration, rather than soaring stone and glass.

For Mr. Scollan, creating life for the tops of buildings is “Jack and the Beanstalk” redux, but with an eco-twist. “Plants are the true magicians,” he said. “With just a few seeds sown, a whole new world is grown in the sky.” –New York Times

Sights And Sounds Of The End Of Summer

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Scott Shalaway
EVENING FLIGHTS of chimney swifts swirling down to roost, nighthawks feeding by the lights at high school football games and nightly katydid choruses confirm the inevitable. Summer is fading fast.

The sun sets a few minutes after 8 p.m. this week, and in the morning the bedroom brightens at about 6:45 a.m. Ever shorter days send clear signals to migrating birds, hungry rodents and amorous deer — cooler, shorter days will only get cooler and shorter.

As I walked my favorite trails Wednesday, I noticed many other signs of the transition from summer to fall. Juvenile goldfinches have joined the adults on my finch feeders and some adult males have begun to lose their brilliant luster.

Among the most conspicuous changes in the landscape is the appearance of late summer wildflowers. Every patch of ground that escaped the mower’s blades this summer is covered with plants that reach well above my head.

Ironweed and Joe-Pye-weed attract dozens of tiger swallowtails, monarchs, fritillaries and skippers. A huge stand of nectar-bearing jewelweed along the road served my hummingbirds well while the family was on vacation earlier in the month. I’m sure my nectar feeders ran dry within two days of our departure, but when we returned, hummers returned to the replenished feeders within 30 minutes.

I’m already noticing fewer adult male hummingbirds, the ones with the ruby red throat. Adult males began to leave in mid August and, within another week, any males you see will be migrants from further north. Adult females and juveniles will linger for another week before heading south. But throughout September migrants from points north will continue to pass through and use nectar feeders. So, do not take nectar feeders down Labor Day.

Shorter days, not a dwindling food supply, trigger hummingbird migration. Plan to keep at least one feeder filled until the end of Sept. I never take my nectar feeders down until I go 10 days without seeing a hummer. That usually takes me into early October. And if you keep one feeder up until Thanksgiving, you just might see a Rufous Hummingbird, a western species that has been showing up throughout the east with increasing frequency in the fall.

Another sure sign of the end of summer are maturing pods of milkweeds. Keep an eye on them and when they split, collect seeds to plant next spring. Monarch butterflies will thank you by laying eggs on the spring growth.

As I walk the edge of the yard, I notice pokeweeds that tower two ft. above me. The productivity of this annual “weed” is remarkable. From a single seed grows an 8-ft. “wildflower” that bears hundreds, if not thousands, of succulent berries.

Fruit-eating birds, such as robins, bluebirds, catbirds and Brown Thrashers, disperse the seeds through their droppings, so there’s never a shortage of new growth. The stalks are just now beginning to droop under the weight of the ripening fruit. Only about a quarter of the berries have turned deep purple, so there will be an almost limitless supply of poke berries for the next six weeks. They usually keep flocks of notoriously nomadic cedar waxwings around the yard for at least a week.

The last blooms of summer are just beginning to appear in the hayfield. Goldenrod and asters add splashes of color to grasses just approaching maturity. And for the last two years, I’ve been watching several small patches of big bluestem, a tall grass prairie species typically found on the native prairies of the Midwest.

I picked up a few small bags of big bluestem seeds a few years ago and scattered them over some freshly mown spots. Much to my surprise, the big bluestem has thrived and spread. The tallest stems stand well over six ft. high.

Observing the predictable transitions from summer to fall can be a really learning experience. You’ve just got to know when and where to look. –Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Rain Gardens Save the Bay and the Basement

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Jeanne Huber

A RAIN GARDEN is a way to turn a problem–excess storm water– into an amenity.

Instead of dumping your gutter water into a storm drain or letting it empty next to your foundation, where it can make your basement or crawl space damp, you funnel the water to a low spot on your lot. There, plants soak up some of the water and the rest mostly percolates slowly into the ground. If you do it right, you’ll get lovely, low-maintenance landscaping that attracts birds and butterflies.

Rain gardens are designed to replicate the way thick grasses and forests once absorbed rainfall. By holding back the rain, these gardens help reduce flooding and allow microbes in the soil to break down pollutants, such as spilled automobile oil, before they reach rivers and streams. Rain gardens are “a beautiful solution to pollution,” says Larry Coffman, a private consultant who originated the rain garden concept while he was associate director for programs and planning with the Prince George’s County (MD) Department of Environmental Resources.

Coffman guided planning for the first rain gardens, which were installed in 1998 in Somerset, MD. The developer skipped the usual storm drains and storm sewers and instead installed a 300- to 400-sq.-ft. rain garden on each 10,000-sq.-ft. lot. This approach saved $4,000 per lot and worked so well that communities across the country are now promoting the idea as a way of reducing the harmful effects of development. The District changed its plumbing and building codes last year to encourage the concept. Storm water can now be diverted into rain gardens (as well as green roofs, rain barrels and cisterns), while previously it had to go into a storm sewer system, which allowed untreated water to reach Chesapeake Bay.

So how do you build a rain garden?
Engineers need to calculate water runoff and specify a specific mixture of gravel, sand, soil and compost when they design large-scale rain gardens that handle runoff from commercial buildings and parking lots.
But, if you want to build a rain garden at your house, you can “engineer in place” by starting small and watching what happens when you begin using your storm water instead of throwing it away.

You might begin by directing water from one downspout to a garden bed that’s at least 10 ft. away from your house (so water doesn’t seep into the basement or crawl space). Or you can also direct the water to a low spot in your yard and turn that area into a garden.

If your soil is relatively sandy, you can probably use whatever plants you like. If the soil contains a lot of clay, choose plants that like wet soil. Native plants are best because they are adapted to the climate and provide shelter and food to a wide variety of birds and other wildlife.

Good choices for the Mid-Atlantic include swamp milkweed, joe-pye weed, New England aster, wild bergamot, and black-eyed Susan, all native to the Chesapeake region. Lord Baltimore hibiscus–a hybrid of the native hibiscus–purple coneflower, coreopsis, bee balm and blueberry are other options. (Editor’s Note:  Google “native plant society” for your state recommended species for where you live)

After you see what plants thrive with the amount of care you’re willing to provide, you can expand your rain garden or build more, so that each downspout is connected to one. To maximize water absorption, you may want to invest more energy and money in amending your soil. Test it first to determine how well it is draining. Dig a hole 8 inches deep and 8 inches wide and dump a bucket of water in it. If the water goes down at least 1 inch per hour, you’ll need to dig down just 6 to 12 inches and refill half way with a fluffy soil mixture that contains one part compost to 10 parts soil.

If the water drains more slowly, you can make your rain garden function better if you excavate 2 feet down and refill most of the hole with a mixture of 50 to 60 percent sand, 20 to 30 percent topsoil, and 20 to 30 percent compost. Where the soil is especially heavy with clay, you might want to excavate even deeper so you can add gravel before layering the fill soil on top. Spaces between the gravel act as a reservoir, allowing the rain garden to hold more water. Or you can add a trench drain to carry away the excess water.

Before you begin deep digging, call your local utility company to find out how to locate underground wires or pipes. Also spread a tarp so you can store the excavated soil without making a mess of nearby landscaping. Add the compost and perhaps sand as you refill the hole. Be sure not to incorporate clay in the replacement soil. Don’t mound the enriched soil into a raised bed. A rain garden needs the opposite shape — a shallow depression, usually about 3 inches, where water can pool during the rainstorm and then slowly sink into the ground. “That’s the point,” Coffman says. “We want to keep water where it falls and retain pollutants on the land instead of washing them off into our rivers.”

Check your work by watching what happens in heavy rainstorms. If the rain garden overflows, make it larger or add a trench so the runoff can go to another rain garden or even into the storm sewer or whatever solution you now use. Even a small, functioning rain garden is better than no rain garden — or the ultimate rain garden that exists only as a plan.–AP

November Is For Preparing For Seasonal Change

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

NOW IS THE TIME to prepare your feeders and garden for winter.  Here’s a few reminders.

At the feeder:

  • Sign up for Project FeederWatch and become a citizen scientist by counting the birds that come to your feeding station from November to April.
  • Learn more about birding by joining a bird club or signing up for a bird walk.
  • Birds need plenty of roosting places in winter. Don’t take down your bird houses; leave them up so the birds can use them as shelters in the cold.
  • Keep a good stock of bird seed in case of emergencies. You don’t want to get caught short when you need it most and the weather has gone bad. Consider storing more seed during the winter, or better yet, put a couple of bags in the trunk of your car for safe keeping. The extra weight will give you added traction when the roads are slick, and you’ll always have a ready supply on hand for your hungry winter visitors!
  • Put your posts in the ground before it freezes for your new bluebird houses. You’ll want them up in February when the ground will be too frozen.
  • Set up a submersible heater in your birdbath to keep water accessible thoughtout the winter.
  • In the garden:
  • Drain your hoses and put them away so that they won’t burst.
  • One of the most asked questions at this time of year is “when can I transplant my shrubs and trees?” This month and throughout the next several months will be good times to transplant trees and shrubs. At this time of the year, most ornamentals have entered into dormancy, and can be safely dug and replanted. The key to transplanting is to dig a large root ball (get as much of the root system as is possible). Equally important, is getting the plant back into the prepared soil as quickly as possible, to keep the roots from drying out. Large trees or shrubs should be staked to protect them from wind whipping during winter storms. Keep them staked until the roots have a chance to develop and anchor them.
  • Dig a hole now for a living Christmas tree.
  • Use chicken wire or hard plastic wrap around young trees to prevent deer feeding.
  • Shred your leaves; the smaller you can shred them the faster they will compost. Oak leaves take the longest to break down.
  • Mulch new perennials once the ground has frozen hard to prevent freezing and thawing. –Irvine Nature Center

Master Naturalists For Conservation

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Rob Kantor
IN HIS DAY JOB, Doug Mills helps University of Illinois instructors make good use of computers and the World Wide Web in their teaching. At home, he’s a husband and father who is heavily involved in the lives of his children, with the soccer games, swim meets and youth group activities that entails.

But on certain evenings this Spring, Doug has been listening to the call of the wild. Well, the mating calls of frogs and toads, actually.

You see, in addition to his family and work, Doug is keenly interested in the natural world. And in the past year he has found a way to pursue that interest through the East Central Illinois Master Naturalist Program.

Sponsored cooperatively by University of Illinois Extension, the Urbana Park District, and the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, the Master Naturalist Program aims to educate a corps of volunteers to provide support for the conservation, management, and interpretation of natural resources in our area.

Doug Mills was among the participants in the first Master Naturalist training course, which was conducted last Fall. From early on, he knew that he wanted to devote his volunteer hours to conservation efforts involving reptiles and amphibians.

In cooperation with Dan Olson, Director of Natural Resources for the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, Doug initiated frog call surveys to establish some baseline data about the frogs and toads that inhabit Forest Preserve sites. Such surveys are a standard method for gathering information about these critters, since they can be difficult to see, but are readily identified by their vocalizations during the mating season. (See Doug’s frog blog at http://frogblogci.blogspot.com/)

Doug is conducting his surveys at the Homer Lake and River Bend County Forest Preserves. So far he has visited each site twice and has plans to return three more times.

He begins listening at about sunset, walking a predetermined circuit and recording information about the numbers and species of frogs and toads he hears. So far he has found two species of toads and five species of frogs, including Grey Treefrogs, which are of particular interest because they seem to be declining in central Illinois.

Beyond establishing a baseline for future investigations, the information about frogs and toads provided by Doug’s surveys will also help the Forest Preserve District gauge the quality of the sites it maintains, since the presence or absence of frogs is an indicator of ecosystem health.

Now, having said so much about frog call surveys, I should emphasize that most of the people who participated in last Fall’s Master Naturalist training have not been tramping around after dark listening to amorous amphibians.

If you would like to explore the possibility of becoming a WindStar National Master Naturalist, you can learn more about the program by going  to www.windstar.org or call 800-324-9044

Loss Of Habitat Greatest Threat To Migratory Birds

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Kathy Reshetiloff

  • MOST OF US associate the arrival of spring with robins. But did you know that more than 200 species of birds that nest in North America migrate to Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean to overwinter?

    Birds do not migrate to avoid cold temperatures. Many birds can survive in harsh temperatures if they are able to find enough food. Birds that rely on food that is not available at certain times of the year must either change their diet or move to areas where they can find food.

    When cold temperatures cause insects to disappear, many insect-eating birds migrate. Each spring, these same birds fly back to breeding grounds in North America and the Arctic.

    Birds that feed on nectar, and even some seed-eating birds, also migrate in search of food. Some of these birds are common to us — the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Baltimore Oriole, Gray Catbird, Purple Martin, Barn Swallow and Chimney Swift. Others, such as the Indigo Bunting, Scarlet Tanager, Bobolink and Cape May Warbler, may only be familiar to bird watchers.

    The importance of migratory birds cannot be overlooked. Birds control insects by eating tons of them every year. As leaves emerge each spring, so do millions of caterpillars and insects. Coinciding with this event, an array of birds, such as orioles, vireos, flycatchers, warblers and swallows, return to North America and feast upon the abundant insects. Birds protect our forests and crops from harmful insects. Seed-eating birds help to distribute seeds, and nectar-eating birds help to pollinate plants.

    With the arrival of migratory songbirds, shorebirds, waterfowl and raptors comes the emergence of the bird watcher. Bird watching is a leading recreational industry. Americans devote a great deal of time and money to enjoy the sights and sounds of their favorite birds. Expenditures related to bird feeding and bird watching exceeded $29 billion in 1996.

    Despite their importance, many migratory birds are declining. Causes include the loss of both breeding and wintering habitat, habitat fragmentation, decreasing sources of important food, pesticide poisonings and predation.

    In North America, the loss or fragmentation of habitat appears to be the major contributing factor. Although public lands like National Wildlife Refuges and National Parks are extremely important to migrating birds, this small amount of land cannot provide all the food and habitat birds need. Nationwide, 71 percent of the land is privately owned.

    In the eastern United States that figure is closer to 90 percent. To help maintain the glorious diversity of songbirds, shorebirds, raptors (owls, hawks, falcons and eagles) and waterfowl, private landowners need to provide habitat. All types of land can be managed to increase their value for wildlife while still maintaining their current use.

    So what can you do to help migratory birds?

    Restore habitat. Homeowners and landowners can restore, enhance or protect habitats beneficial to birds and other wildlife. State and federal wildlife agencies have many programs to assist landowners with habitat enhancement or restoration projects. By planting native vegetation, homeowners can provide badly needed food and cover. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish & Wildlife program offers assistance to private landowners to restore wetlands and other habitats that benefit migratory birds, endangered or threatened species or anadromous (migratory) fish.

    For information, contact the Partners for Fish and Wildlife coordinator for your state:

    * Delaware: 302-653-9152;
    * District of Columbia: 703-358-2161;
    * Maryland: 410-573-4500;
    * Virginia: 804-693-6694;
    * Pennsylvania: 814-234-4090;
    * New York: 607-753-9334; and
    * West Virginia 304-636-6586.

    Homeowners can also receive information on how to “BayScape” their yard. BayScaping is a form of landscaping that provides habitat while reducing chemicals and conserving water. BayScapes are beneficial to people, wildlife and the Chesapeake Bay.

    For information, contact the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at 410-573-4500 or access: www.fws.gov/r5cbfo. BayScapes information is also available from any Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay office: in Maryland, 410-377-6270; in Virginia, 804-775-0951 or in Pennsylvania, 717-236-8825.

    Drink shade-grown coffee. Wintering habitats in Central and South America are also being altered and are disappearing, in some cases, faster than breeding habitats. If you’re a coffee lover, consider buying shade-grown coffee. Coffee grown on clear-cut plantations destroys critical wintering habitat for migratory birds.

    For more information about shade-grown coffee, contact the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation at 202-857-0166 or the American Bird Conservancy at 888-BIRD-MAG.

    Keep cats indoors. There are at least 68 million pet cats in the United States. This number does not include stray or feral cats. Roaming cats kill birds. Studies have shown that birds make up 20–30 percent of cats’ prey. Cat owners can reduce the number of birds maimed and killed simply by keeping their cats indoors.

    This is also good for cats. Indoor cats are healthier and live longer than outdoor cats. Indoor cats contract less diseases and require fewer trips to the veterinarian, saving their owners money.

    Reduce or eliminate chemical usage. Despite the banning of toxic pesticides, like DDT, birds are still exposed to harmful pesticides in this country. Although pesticides are intended to control specific pests, they can also harm or kill non-target species. Forty active ingredients in pesticides have been linked to bird die-offs. Most of those known to be toxic to birds belong to one of three classes of chemicals: organochlorines, organophosphates and carbamates.

    To reduce the risk of harm to wildlife, use pesticides very carefully. First, determine whether you actually have a problem. If you must use a pesticide, choose one targeted specifically for your pest problem. If possible, use low- impact types of pesticides like dormant oils, insecticidal soaps or repellents free of organic solvents.

    Contact your local cooperative extension office for more information. –Bay Journal

Homeowners Group Says ‘No Wildflowers”

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Tony Davis

MARILYN HANSON planted pinkish violet, native Arizona wildflowers next to her Continental Ranch driveway in hopes of drawing butterflies.

She got them—20 species, in fact. But now her yard may draw fines of $25 to $100 and up, as well.

Her neighborhood’s homeowners association in Marana says those flowers look like weeds when they aren’t blooming. The association rules require homeowners to keep yards clear of weeds. Hanson says she won’t pay the fines because the association hasn’t scientifically defined what it means by weeds.

“It’s outrageous,” she said with a sigh, as she bent over the now-dormant wildflowers, called Arizona foldwing. They bloom a lush purple in the spring from water out of her drip-irrigation system. “These are native plants. This is a natural habitat garden.”

Her front and back yards were written up last year in Phoenix Home and Garden Magazine, which said Hanson “embraces the Sonoran Desert with a landscape rich in indigenous plants.”

But Al Stark, a committee chair of her homeowners association, said wildflowers “look like weeds when they are growing, are beautiful when they bloom, but when they die they look like weeds and garbage again.”

Most of the yards in Continental Ranch, just west of the Santa Cruz River and north of Cortaro Road, have desert landscaping, he said.

“I know wildflowers are part of that and there are times when they look like weeds. You can’t tell the difference… I drove by her place and I wouldn’t want her as a neighbor. She may think it’s nice but it looked trashy to me,” he added.

Stark chairs the association’s Covenants Committee, which recommended recently that Hanson be found in violation of the association’s restrictions against weeds.

Hanson’s case has drawn support from the Tucson Botanical Gardens and the Arizona Native Plant Society. And in Continental Ranch, the tussle over Hanson’s wildflowers is but one of many disputes that has rained harsh criticism onto the homeowners’ group from other residents as an organization that has overstepped its bounds.

At a board meeting last month, homeowner Jerry Hairston likened the group to the Gestapo, as he tried to avoid a citation for trees that the association said were planted too close to a boundary fence.

Russell Clanagan, who served as association board president for a year, said he worked closely with management and staff. “I saw firsthand the way they bullied and intimidated people,” he said.

“The board is looking out for the best interests of the community at large,” said Nicole Glasner, the board’s second vice president. “Those are the rules. If people want to change them, they can join the committee. They have a voice, if they can get enough people to vote.”

Everybody who lives there must sign a paper saying they have read the association’s various covenants and restrictions and agree with them, association board member Gunter Haussler said.

“Personally, I looked for an association with rules, and I live by the rules and if I cannot live by the rules, I guess I move,” Haussler said.

In a 2005 case similar to Hanson’s, resident Dan Anderson removed a yardful of blue, yellow and white wildflowers after the association told him they were in violation. Anderson said this week that he felt frustrated and powerless about having to remove the flowers.

“The problem with the HOAs is that they don’t answer to anyone,” said Anderson. “They make their decisions — there is nothing you can do about it.”

The association was being dictatorial because it never told Hanson which plants of hers are in violation, said Nancy Zierenberg, an administrative assistant for the Arizona Native Plant Society.

Hanson said she is frustrated because the association’s list of permitted plants includes four non-native ones, including the highly invasive tamarisk tree and the rhus lancea or African sumac. The association, for its part, laid out its views on weeds in its July 2005 newsletter, saying wildflowers are not an approved plant in Continental Ranch.

“These particular flowers are beautiful when they are in bloom but with many drawbacks,” the association wrote.

Besides their weedlike appearance after the flowers die, the association wrote: “Their seeds spread, and the next thing you know, everyone on the block has wildflowers whether they want them or not. … Be proactive and spray them now before the rains hit.” — Arizona Daily Star

Grow A Garden, Help Wildlife

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Fred J. Aun
THERE would be a lot of happy little critters if every homeowner in New Jersey with a backyard embraced the state’s nickname and planted a garden, especially one containing some native plants and a little pond.

The Schiff Nature Center in Mendham, NJ opened its new Native Plant and Butterfly Garden this year, and even director Tanya Bi signano–who thought she knew what to expect–was surprised by what happened once an artificial pond with recirculating water was installed.

“We put it in the end of March last year,” said Bisignano. “We got Gray Tree Frogs at the end of last summer.”

While she said she wasn’t surprised when the tree frogs showed up –since there are many of them in the area–she was amazed one day when, while working elsewhere in the garden, she heard Wood Frogs calling from the pond.

“Wood Frogs typically like vernal pools, not running water,” said Bi signano. The surprises didn’t end there. “Two weeks later, there were toads mating in the pond,” she said.

Amphibians are hardly the only creatures enjoying Schiff’s quarter- acre creation. Birds and insects, especially butterflies, are showing up in throngs.

“The idea was to create a garden containing plants native to New Jersey that would offer some kind of benefit to wildlife, whether it’s food plants for caterpillars or nectar for butterflies or blueberries for the birds,” said Bisignano.

The garden is divided into quarters, each featuring a different habitat. There’s a wetland plant section (with the artificial pond), a specialty plant section with orchids and some unusual ferns, a berry section for the birds and a butterfly meadow containing native flowers.

The Schiff garden proves you don’t need hundreds of acres to help wildlife. However, it’s important that the right plants–and some water, if possible–be included.

“It doesn’t matter what size yard you have,” said Bisignano. “There are always things you can do to benefit local wildlife, whether it’s planting native plants or not mowing certain sections of lawn and letting them revert back to more meadow-type habitats.”

Few will suggest subdivisions beat open spaces when it comes to wildlife habitat. But urban or suburban gardens can provide food and shelter that have been disappearing even in undeveloped areas.

“Because of deer over-browsing of native plants, there are declines in some food plants that different butterfly species use,” said Bisig nano. “That’s one benefit of enticing people to plant native pants in their yards.” –Star Ledger

Giving Back To Nature

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Karen Gardner
MYERSVILLE, MD– Children got down and dirty recently at Myersville Elementary School, but it was for a good cause.

They planted native wildflowers in a formerly grassy area of the school’s grounds, an area students and teachers hope will soon be attractive to bees, butterflies and birds.

The planting is part of the Schoolyard Habitat program in Frederick County schools. This year, the first for the program, culminated in wildflower garden plantings at participating schools. Students at Wolfsville Elementary, Walkersville Elementary and Walkersville High School also are taking part. Next year four more schools will become part of the project, and the following year, three more will sign on.

Teachers and parents dug holes in Myersville’s newly plowed garden, while students planted more than 500 coneflowers, columbine, switchgrass and great blue lobelias. Each child in the school had the opportunity to plant one of the perennials.

Each grade also planted a redbud tree. All of the plants in the school’s gardens are native to this area. Once established, they will not need to be watered and should bloom year after year.

April Wells, schoolyard habitat teacher specialist for Frederick County Public Schools, said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration awarded the county a $300,000 grant for the program. The grant pays two half-time salaries for Wells and a biologist from Community Commons, and for materials. Wells said the hardest part of a schoolyard habitat program is getting it started.

“Teachers are so busy,” she said.

The program helps teachers and students learn which plants to place where. The plants chosen for Myersville’s garden need to thrive in a hot, sunny location. They also need to tolerate bouts of rain interspersed with times of drought.

“When people think of habitat, they usually think of big animals,” Wells said.

Bugs, birds, butterflies, reptiles and aquatic life are equally important. Another part of the program will be to put bluebird nesting boxes around the Myersville school grounds.

Carolyn Mark and Debbie Smith, two Myersville teachers, attended a workshop last summer on creating a schoolyard habitat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation helped to pay for that.

Smith said the students are learning that what they do in the mountains around Myersville affects the Chesapeake Bay, and that improving habitat for birds, insects, reptiles and mammals around Myersville helps the Bay.

“We started with recycling in the fall,” Smith said. “We also planted black-eyed susans around lightpoles.” The state flower spreads easily and tolerates hot, dry conditions once it is established.

“We’ve been teaching about native species, and that they all have a purpose,” Smith said. Pointing to the seedpods of a tree, she said students learn that seeds are food for animals. “It’s a big part of our curriculum.”

“We’re planting plants so there are buffers for chemicals that run down into the ground and clean it so that the runoff won’t hurt the Chesapeake Bay,” said Alison Miller, 9, a third-grader at Myersville. “If we don’t keep the Bay clean, animals will die.”

“We’re planting flowers and grasses so when they grow bees and other animals can use them for nectar,” said Rachel Glessner, 9, also a third-grader. Alison added that the trees will help filter air pollution.

The garden plot was baked clay with rocks two weeks ago when Chuck Houck, a local landscape architect, chopped up the sod. A week later parents added topsoil and mulch to the plot. After the planting, the Myersville Volunteer Fire Company watered the patch.

“We’re hoping to extend the project one day,” said Maureen Nissel, a parent who helped write the grant for the program. She is also an assistant professor for recreation and parks management at Frostburg University.

“My dream is an outdoor classroom, an area where kids can learn, have a weather station and a shelter and learn about their individual impact on the environment,” she said. “Kids are spending more and more time indoors. We want them to become more aware.” –Frederick News Post

A World Without Pollinators Is A World Without Plants

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Kathy Reshetiloff
IMAGINE the world without natural fibers, fruits, vegetables or flowers.

That’s what our world would be like without insects and other animals that pollinate our plants. Seventy-five percent of our flowering plants rely on insects, birds or bats to move pollen from one plant to another.

Pollination is critical to successful orchards, field crops, forage crops, home gardens, endangered species and ecological restoration. As food producers and consumers, we all need to be aware of the importance of pollinators to plants and our environment.

Most plants need to make seeds to reproduce. But many can’t do it by themselves. To make seeds, the female part of the plant, called a pistil, needs pollen from the male part of the flower, called a stamen. Cross-pollination is the rule of thumb in the plant world. This means not only does pollen have to be transported from stamen to pistil but it also must come from separate flowers. Some plants rely on the wind to do this. Many others depend on animals.

Pollinators use the nectar from flowers for food. Many, like bees, get sticky pollen grains on their bodies. By moving from one flower to another, they transfer pollen to the pistils.

Bees aren’t the only pollinators, though. Other insects, such as wasps, flies, butterflies, moths and beetles are important pollinators. Larger animals, such as birds (especially hummingbirds), flying foxes, bats, opossums, lemurs, rodents and even a gecko, help to move pollen.

Plants often help their specific pollinators find their way. This co-
dependence is exhibited in many ways. Many night-pollinated flowers close during the day to prevent daytime thieves from getting at their nectar and pollen. On the other hand, many daytime-pollinated flowers close at night for the same reason. Flowers pollinated at night are usually white or pale yellow and very fragrant. This helps to announce the flowers’ presence. Darker-colored flowers, not as visible at night, are usually pollinated by day-flying insects.

Flowers assist the pollinator in finding where the pollen or nectar is stored. There are often bee lines, dots or color variations that direct the pollinator. Flowers’ shapes—bowl, cup, star or tube—are specific to pollinators and, in some cases, also keep out unwanted pollen collectors.

Despite their importance to our economy and lives, many pollinators are in trouble.

Honeybees raised specifically to pollinate crops are in decline. In the last 50 years, the domesticated honeybee population has declined by 50 percent because of parasitic mites, disease, pesticide poisoning and a phenomenon, Colony Collapse Disorder, where the bees go off in search of nectar and do not return to the hive. Wild pollinators are also disappearing at alarming rates because of habitat loss, pesticide poisoning, diseases and pests.

A healthy ecosystem provides pollinators with habitat for foraging, nesting, roosting and mating. Homes, businesses and roads are replacing the native fields, wetlands and forests that are home to many pollinators. In addition, many of the wildflowers used by pollinators for food, nesting or egg-laying are rapidly disappearing.

Pesticides are also a threat. Many pesticides used on farms and backyard gardens are broad-spectrum types, meaning they can harm non-target species. Many insecticides that get rid of plant pests are toxic to bees and other beneficial insects

Pollinators such as bats, butterflies and hummingbirds face even more problems. They may migrate many miles over the course of a year. These travelers need nectar-producing flowers all along their journeys. But wildflowers and natural habitats are being replaced by development. Less food and habitat is available to pollinators as they migrate.

There are many ways that the public can help pollinators:

  • Reduce the use of pesticides or, if possible, stop using them altogether. If one must use an insecticide, apply it in the evening when many pollinators are inactive.
  • Plant gardens filled with nectar-producing flowers that are native to the area. Refer to the Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping at www.nps.gov/plants/pubs/chesapeake/.
  • Leave tree stumps, dead branches and rotting trees on your property, if possible. They provide nests for some species of bees as well as birds, bats, butterflies, bees and other insects.


If a bee’s nest is too close to a home, don’t destroy it. Contact a local beekeeper or state cooperative extension service for advice about removing the nest without harming the bees.

For information on pollinators and how to help them, visit www.pollinator.org –Bay Journal

What To Do When Wildlife Comes Calling

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By C. Boyd Pfeiffer
BALTIMORE, MD–Geese seem friendly enough, except when they are guarding a nest.

Unfortunately, they eat a lot at the front end and do unmentionable things at the back end, messing up lawns, driveways, walkways, parks, docks, etc. In short, they can be almost as much as a nuisance as deer eating you out of hedges and hibiscus.

Scares of avian bird flu, noise, lawn damage, agriculture destruction and traffic problems are just some of the additional concerns over geese. Coupled with that is the fact that we now have a too-high nuisance population of resident Canada Geese. The best solution is to not let geese get established, according to Larry Hindman, a waterfowl specialist for the MD Department of Natural Resources.

Easy for him to say. The problem is how to do this, since federal permits are required to deal with birds.

“Every bird, with the exception of pigeons, starlings and house sparrows, is protected by law,” said Kevin Sullivan, project leader for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services.

For example, you can’t harass, kill or trap woodpeckers even when they are making Swiss cheese out of your cedar shake siding. Professional help is needed.

One solution with geese is to plant high shrubs and grasses in areas where you don’t want geese, Hindman said. Geese don’t like living where they can’t see oncoming predators such as people, foxes and coyotes.

Coyotes are another problem, according to DNR furbearer project leader Robert Colona. They are now found nationwide, including the Eastern Shore and the central Piedmont region.

“They can destroy plants and eat livestock,” Colona said.

Unfortunately, the repellents that may or may not work for deer are mostly in the “may-not” category with furbearers. Colona’s suggestion for problem coyotes and furbearing wildlife such as Raccoons, skunks and opossums is basic preventative measures.

Don’t allow pets to roam. Coyotes eat cats and small dogs. Keep dog food indoors. Don’t feed pets outdoors where spillage can attract wildlife. Secure garbage cans and lids—a must when Raccoons are around.

The only way to solve furbearer problems once they develop is to remove the animal, according to Colona. During legal seasons, if hunting is allowed in the neighborhood, this can be handled by the homeowner. Naturally, this is only possible in rural areas. Some furbearers—Raccoons and foxes, for example — can be found in cities and are prevalent in suburbs.

For added tips, you can also call the Nuisance Wildlife Hotline (877-463-6497) jointly operated/funded by the Maryland DNR and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. A Web site link for other ideas is www.dnr.state.md.us/wildlife/wauninvited.asp.

If all else fails, professional invasive wildlife cooperators can legally trap and remove nuisance animals. Most of the animals are destroyed. To prevent this last-ditch solution, think preventative measures and don’t let them get a paw-hold. — Examiner

EDITOR’S NOTE: C. Boyd Pfeiffer is an internationally known sportsman and award-winning writer on fishing, hunting, and the outdoors, and is currently working on his 25th book. He can be reached at cbpfeiffer@msn.com.

Turn Your Back Yard Into Wildlife Refuge

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Suzanne Sproul

YOUR BACKYARD is for the birds, butterflies and whatever form of wildlife you like.

To ensure they are attracted to your yard, set out the welcome mat. Create a habitat or environment that combines sources of food, water, shelter and space. With the proper landscaping, nature’s creatures will want to stop and stay a spell.

“I’m a gardener, so all this comes naturally to me. Creating the habitat is part of my life’s mission, really. My husband and I are involved with the local humane society and we try to help where we can. With our population growing so quickly, the land is falling to development all the time. We still need space for wildlife. I believe that one individual can make a difference, that one back yard can make all the difference,” said Nancy Alexander of Redlands, CA.

Alexander isn’t alone in her beliefs. She and her husband, Cliff, bought their present home eight years ago. The former owner of the house told them that the yard was certified as a backyard habitat.

“That intrigued me, so I found out more about the program. I liked what I found out, and we decided to do something ourselves. We wanted to create our own habitat and get the yard recertified,” she said. So the Alexanders relandscaped their back yard.

“We chose to go native, and it’s been wonderful. Choosing native plants works because birds and wildlife already are accustomed to it and the plants are so easy to work with. There’s very little maintenance. The yard basically takes care of itself.”

Local wildlife love it, especially a family of California Thrashers that used to live next door in what was once a 40-acre field. The field is gone, replaced by development, but the thrashers apparently have jumped the fence and now enjoy the confines of the Alexander yard. They have joined the birds that stop by daily and lizards that scamper at will.

“You don’t have to relandscape like we did. All you need to do is carve out a small piece of your back yard. Plant some natives. If they provide berries, all the better. Then you’ll have shelter and a food source all in one place. Add a birdbath. It doesn’t have to take over your life and you can give back a little of the joy that nature gives us.”

Susan Campos also feels a special kinship with nature.

“I was raised with the citrus industry. I love agriculture and animals. I love to garden. I love birds and flowers. Creating a backyard habitat for me is just plain natural,” said the Pomona resident.

Her yard is filled with fragrant roses, vibrant salvias and countless other plants as well as water fountains and feeders. She’s particularly fond of hummingbirds and finches, both frequent and welcome visitors.

“I love to just watch my yard. I discover things every day. One day there was this little green bird that kept coming around my hummer feeder. I watched and loved it and I wanted to learn more. So I asked a friend who knows all about birds and gardening. She said it probably was a finch,” Campos said. So she put in another bird feeder. That one features finch food. Now Campos has aerial ballets every day.

“Hummers are comical characters, and finches are charming. The more I’m out in the yard and the more noise I make, the more the birds get friendly. I saw the most beautiful butterfly the other day. I love it. The more you plant, the more you bring in to your yard.” she said.

Plant your landscape with everything you enjoy, but keep in mind that animals and birds require some basics. Water sources are essential in any backyard habitat. If left unattended, however, they can become stagnant and dirty, providing an ideal climate for mosquitoes. Remember to keep everything clean. –Los Angeles Daily News

Sights And Sounds Of The End Of Summer

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Scott Shalaway
EVENING FLIGHTS of chimney swifts swirling down to roost, nighthawks feeding by the lights at high school football games and nightly katydid choruses confirm the inevitable. Summer is fading fast.

The sun sets a few minutes after 8 p.m. this week, and in the morning the bedroom brightens at about 6:45 a.m. Ever shorter days send clear signals to migrating birds, hungry rodents and amorous deer — cooler, shorter days will only get cooler and shorter.

As I walked my favorite trails Wednesday, I noticed many other signs of the transition from summer to fall. Juvenile goldfinches have joined the adults on my finch feeders and some adult males have begun to lose their brilliant luster.

Among the most conspicuous changes in the landscape is the appearance of late summer wildflowers. Every patch of ground that escaped the mower’s blades this summer is covered with plants that reach well above my head.

Ironweed and Joe-Pye-weed attract dozens of tiger swallowtails, monarchs, fritillaries and skippers. A huge stand of nectar-bearing jewelweed along the road served my hummingbirds well while the family was on vacation earlier in the month. I’m sure my nectar feeders ran dry within two days of our departure, but when we returned, hummers returned to the replenished feeders within 30 minutes.

I’m already noticing fewer adult male hummingbirds, the ones with the ruby red throat. Adult males began to leave in mid August and, within another week, any males you see will be migrants from further north. Adult females and juveniles will linger for another week before heading south. But throughout September migrants from points north will continue to pass through and use nectar feeders. So, do not take nectar feeders down Labor Day.

Shorter days, not a dwindling food supply, trigger hummingbird migration. Plan to keep at least one feeder filled until the end of Sept. I never take my nectar feeders down until I go 10 days without seeing a hummer. That usually takes me into early October. And if you keep one feeder up until Thanksgiving, you just might see a Rufous Hummingbird, a western species that has been showing up throughout the east with increasing frequency in the fall.

Another sure sign of the end of summer are maturing pods of milkweeds. Keep an eye on them and when they split, collect seeds to plant next spring. Monarch butterflies will thank you by laying eggs on the spring growth.

As I walk the edge of the yard, I notice pokeweeds that tower two ft. above me. The productivity of this annual “weed” is remarkable. From a single seed grows an 8-ft. “wildflower” that bears hundreds, if not thousands, of succulent berries.

Fruit-eating birds, such as robins, bluebirds, catbirds and Brown Thrashers, disperse the seeds through their droppings, so there’s never a shortage of new growth. The stalks are just now beginning to droop under the weight of the ripening fruit. Only about a quarter of the berries have turned deep purple, so there will be an almost limitless supply of poke berries for the next six weeks. They usually keep flocks of notoriously nomadic cedar waxwings around the yard for at least a week.

The last blooms of summer are just beginning to appear in the hayfield. Goldenrod and asters add splashes of color to grasses just approaching maturity. And for the last two years, I’ve been watching several small patches of big bluestem, a tall grass prairie species typically found on the native prairies of the Midwest.

I picked up a few small bags of big bluestem seeds a few years ago and scattered them over some freshly mown spots. Much to my surprise, the big bluestem has thrived and spread. The tallest stems stand well over six ft. high.

Observing the predictable transitions from summer to fall can be a really learning experience. You’ve just got to know when and where to look. –Pittsburgh Post Gazette

How to Create a Wildlife Habitat Plan

Friday, June 25th, 2010

A plan provides you with a clear picture of the completed project and a road map on how to get there.

The greater the number and variety of habitat components that you provide… the more wildlife you will have to observe and enjoy. Those of you with acreages or farms usually have numerous opportunities to observe wildlife in their habitat. But, for those of you who live in or near urban areas, this may be limited to several days or weekends during the year when you are on vacation.

This doesn’t have to be the case. If you are limited on being able to go where there are wildlife, why not establish or enhance the wildlife habitat where you live and bring the wildlife to you.

You will save yourself energy, money, and the frustration of having to do parts of your habitat over again if you follow a plan. It can be flexible enough for you to alter your plan as you go along, if your needs or conditions change.

And, it can be done no matter what your budget. Keep in mind that shrubs are more desirable than trees since shrubs provide habitat quicker and at less cost. Trees generally take longer to grow to maturity and cost more.

While doing your plan, you have an opportunity to really get creative and have some fun! In fact, this is a great family activity. What better legacy for your children or friends than an appreciation of nature. Creating or enhancing your wildlife habitat can lead to father-son, mother-daughter, and entire family projects.

Oftentimes, these activities produce fond memories that we carry with us for the rest of our lives – or at least until our children do the same things for their children.

Now, move ahead to Step 1:


Step 1:

What are your primary interests?

  • Bird watching
  • Teaching or sharing nature experience
  • Nature photography
  • Hunting
  • Other nature interests


Do you want to observe wildlife from a specific window or door of your home? If yes, which?

If you want to observe or make photographs, where is the best place to install a feeder station or birdbath so you can take advantage of the light and make better photographs?

What are your objectives for your wildlife habitat? For example, you might want to attract five new wildlife species to your property. Or, you may want to install within the next month, two new feeders or birdhouses and a birdbath along with planting some new trees or shrubs in the fall that eventually will produce food for wildlife.

Those of you with acreages or farms may want to set aside an acre or two and plant them to such crops as soybeans, millet, grain sorghum, or sunflowers and then leave the crop in the field over the winter rather than harvesting it. This will give wildlife food to eat during a time when it is hard to find.

Step 2:

What kinds of wildlife are already on your property?

List the different species you currently observe and those you would like to attract on separate sheets of paper. Now check which habitat elements—food, water, cover, and space—you currently have and check the elements you want to add to your habitat.

FOOD – nuts, berries, insects, fruits, grain and seeds, nectar, browse and forage plants. Providing a variety of foods is probably the most important part of your wildlife habitat.

If you can’t plant trees or shrubs on your property, establish a year-round feeding and watering station.

COVER – provides protection from weather and predators. It is right behind food in importance. Cover can be trees, shrubs, grasses, flowers, rock piles, brush piles, field crops such as corn, grain sorghum, and soybeans, cut banks, hollow trees, birdhouses, burrows, bridges, abandoned buildings, fence rows and hedgerows. It is important for cover to be close to food and water.

WATER – essential for all wildlife – includes ponds, streams, plants, dew on grass, leaves, fruits, and birdbaths. You need to preserve and manage water in your habitat where it exists and, if absent, build new sources such as ponds, fountains, and baths.

SPACE – territory to roam in and to raise families in. This can range from needing 100 acres for pairs of wild turkeys to at least 300 ft. between bluebird houses. Space may be the most difficult to provide.

Step 3:

Now take a tape measure (100-ft. if possible) and a pad of paper outside so you can make a rough map of your property.

This will save you time and mistakes that can be costly later. It’s a lot easier to move elements around on paper instead of having to dig up and move plants or trees if they aren’t what you want. Start with the outside dimensions of your property. Measure and mark your map with the boundaries. Your property title or deed should list the dimensions. Now locate all structures such as your house. You can do this by first drawing the basic exterior structure outline of each building. Make sure you indicate which elements jog out from, or indent into, the main walls.

Walk around the exterior of your structures, measure each side of the outside walls and record the measurements on your rough map. Next, measure the distances from the corners of each structure to your property lines. Indicate where windows and doors are located on your house. Finally, measure, locate, and label existing trees, shrubs, flower beds, and any water features.

If you have an acreage or farm, you may want to first do a plan for just your house, yard, and buildings. Then, do a plan for your entire property on a different scale. Indicate the size of your fields, field positions in relationship to your house and buildings, what crops you are growing—also rivers, streams, fencerows, thickets, ponds, woodlots, etc.

Step 4:

Now sit down with your rough map and draw your habitat map to-scale.

Indicate directions and the prevailing wind patterns. Be sure and plot all food, water, and cover elements. You might also want to indicate where you have observed specific species.

Step 5:

Check the wildlife habitat components for each basic habitat element that you have or want to add.

If your property contains the following living plants and structural components, chances are you will have wildlife galore. But, don’t despair if you can only provide one or more – every effort helps.

Living Plants:

  • Conifers
  • Grasses and Legumes/ Nectar Plants
  • Summer Fruit & Cover Plants
  • Fall Fruit, Grain & Cover Plants
  • Winter Fruits and Cover Plants
  • Nuts and Acorns (mast)


Structural:

  • Den Trees (snags)
  • Nest Boxes
  • Rock Piles & Brush Piles
  • Cut Banks, Cliffs & Caves
  • Dust & Grit
  • Salt


After you have indicated your choices, take a look at each item as to what is practical from the following points of view: access, time, money, location, assistance needed, and what is legal.

Step 6:

Select the projects or components you want to implement.

If you are planting trees or shrubs, allow enough space for the size you expect them to be in 20 years. Sometimes it is good to set your map aside after you complete it, and, after a couple of weeks, come back and see if it still fits your needs.

Step 7:

Sketch out an action plan/schedule and budget for the projects you have selected and implement them.

If you are going to do the work yourself, be practical and realistic about the time you can devote to the work.

Grow A Garden, Help Wildlife

Friday, June 25th, 2010

By Fred J. Aun
THERE would be a lot of happy little critters if every homeowner in New Jersey with a backyard embraced the state’s nickname and planted a garden, especially one containing some native plants and a little pond.

The Schiff Nature Center in Mendham, NJ opened its new Native Plant and Butterfly Garden this year, and even director Tanya Bi signano–who thought she knew what to expect–was surprised by what happened once an artificial pond with recirculating water was installed.

“We put it in the end of March last year,” said Bisignano. “We got Gray Tree Frogs at the end of last summer.”

While she said she wasn’t surprised when the tree frogs showed up –since there are many of them in the area–she was amazed one day when, while working elsewhere in the garden, she heard Wood Frogs calling from the pond.

“Wood Frogs typically like vernal pools, not running water,” said Bi signano. The surprises didn’t end there. “Two weeks later, there were toads mating in the pond,” she said.

Amphibians are hardly the only creatures enjoying Schiff’s quarter- acre creation. Birds and insects, especially butterflies, are showing up in throngs.

“The idea was to create a garden containing plants native to New Jersey that would offer some kind of benefit to wildlife, whether it’s food plants for caterpillars or nectar for butterflies or blueberries for the birds,” said Bisignano.

The garden is divided into quarters, each featuring a different habitat. There’s a wetland plant section (with the artificial pond), a specialty plant section with orchids and some unusual ferns, a berry section for the birds and a butterfly meadow containing native flowers.

The Schiff garden proves you don’t need hundreds of acres to help wildlife. However, it’s important that the right plants–and some water, if possible–be included.

“It doesn’t matter what size yard you have,” said Bisignano. “There are always things you can do to benefit local wildlife, whether it’s planting native plants or not mowing certain sections of lawn and letting them revert back to more meadow-type habitats.”

Few will suggest subdivisions beat open spaces when it comes to wildlife habitat. But urban or suburban gardens can provide food and shelter that have been disappearing even in undeveloped areas.

“Because of deer over-browsing of native plants, there are declines in some food plants that different butterfly species use,” said Bisig nano. “That’s one benefit of enticing people to plant native pants in their yards.” –Star Ledger

Backyard Wildlife Enjoyable To Watch

Friday, June 25th, 2010

By Kenn Alan
I LOVE TO WATCH my birds every morning and afternoon. They come to the feeders about 5 a.m. and keep on coming until dark.

It starts with the chickadees and titmice and then the cardinals and hummingbirds come.

These wonders of nature feed all day long in my back yard. They seem to have a pecking order (no pun intended) or, if you will, a certain protocol they follow.

The cardinals are somewhat timid and the least thing will spook them. The nuthatches and titmice are bold and will hang around even while I’m filling one of the feeders. They usually move to one of the upper branches of the short trees and wait until I serve dinner and then, as if to say, “Thank you,” they start feeding and talking again.

I read a report done by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and paraphrased by Dr. H. Lee Stribling (Auburn Extension Wildlife Scientist), that said Americans spend more time watching wildlife than any other leisure time activity except gardening.

Dr. Stribling also pointed out that more than 50 million Americans feed wild birds. Americans spend over $2.7 billion dollars a year on bird feed and $830 million dollars on birdfeeders, bird houses and nesting boxes.

I won’t even try to tell you how much I spend on these creatures, but I will say that I have nine songbird feeders, four hummingbird feeders, two nesting boxes and countless bird houses in their own subdivision in the yard.

Sure, I feed the squirrels too. Oh, sometimes I’ll chase them down the hill to the woods, but I realize that I’m in their territory and they deserve a snack too. Sometimes they look like little monkeys; hanging upside down and reaching their little hands through the cages surrounding the birdfeeders. It’s all part of my somewhat free entertainment that I enjoy in the back yard.

Remember to keep your birdbaths clean and full of water so your wild birds and other creatures can have a much needed drink and a bath without attracting mosquitoes. –Shelby County Reporter