The meadow got its spring haircut today. All the tidiness post cut is traumatic and troublesome but temporary. This year it also takes on a new meaning.

I read a book this winter by Isabelle Tree called Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm. While I’m not a European farmer, I have subscribed to the prevailing theory Tree describes that necessitates the mow:

“As any European farmer knows, if you leave a patch of land abandoned, it soon reverts to scrub and, eventually, tall trees. It is the state known as ‘climax vegetation’ — the destination which nature is supposedly endlessly struggling to reach. Before human impact — the prevailing theory goes — any land with the climate, soil and hydrology for trees to grow was covered with closed-canopy forest. By the late 19th century…closed-canopy forest came to be seen as the natural state of European landscape.” (page 62)

Mower in action.

But Tree doesn’t buy it.

“This theory of closed forest overlooks another force of nature altogether, one that works in opposition to vegetative succession, namely animal disturbance…The extinction of large wild animals encouraged closed-canopy forests that replaced wood pasture.”

So, the annual through partial mow is still required. Only the reason for it can now be explained differently: I have “no old, sturdy, primeval grazing animals living in herds without supplemental feeding to create and sustain a species-rich grsssland” through munching, trampling or otherwise disturbing.

Jungle no more or not until mid summer.

Today’s disturbance was not only on the ground but also in the air.

A Bald eagle must have wagered that a vole or two would be uncovered as the mower chomped through the brush because one circled overhead. But the resident Red-tailed hawk also had his eye on the field for the same reason and with some propriety. Two raptors of different species is one too many. An airborne battle ensued, which the eagle won. He claimed the airspace from a perch in the choke cherry.

The grassland species won’t miss a beat. They will continue their annual cycle. The aviary population — seeking lunch and nesting materials, maybe also a shield from raptors — may have a couple of weeks of distress, all because we have to rely on a mechanical marauder to groom the meadow annually.

Today is the Spring Equinox of 2021. But, really, this post is a summary of the last season in photos since it is so overdue. The global pandemic kept me grounded which meant I and others did lots more clearing last spring of unwanted plants in the meadow. Ryan and Emily cleared truckload after truckload …

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Birding on Block Island a few years back, a fellow birder, but someone I know only slightly, said to me something like “good thing you got your bulb fixed.”

Our little flock of birders had reached the point at the end of the Island where we would turn around. We were taking a break from birding to marvel at the vista of the Block Island Sound from atop a bluff. It was a picture perfect day.

“Bulb fixed?” What in heavens name was he talking about? Was he even talking to me? I turned from taking in the view of the Sound to look at him just to check. Yes, he was talking to me.

It seems he had read a recent blog post of mine about confounding — much the way he had just confounded me — my car repair man as I paid the bill for replacing a car light bulb with an out-of-context comment. “Good thing I am not a black man…I might be dead,” I had said to the repair man. You can read the post from 2017-07-24 here.

in July 2016, Philando Castile, a Black 32-year old had been fatally shot by a Minnesota police officer after being pulled over for a broken tail light. Castile’s girl friend was in the car with him. In June 2017, a jury acquitted the police officer. That brought back memories for me of the case of Walter Scott who had been killed by a police officer in Charleston after a traffic stop for a broken tail light. Black men frequently die for burned out car light bulbs.

As I paid the very small bill for my own tail light replacement, I could hear Joan Baez singing “There but for fortune go you or I.” That night I wrote a blog about broken car lights.

George, my Block Island birding friend, brought all this back when he posted a note on my most recent blog. I write my blogs for me, but of course posting makes them public. People’s comments often take me by surprise. Somebody’s reading these?

Just as I was thinking again about George, Philando, Walter, Joan and my privilege as a white person able to be fearless even should I neglect a broken car light bulb, I got an email via WordPress with another comment on Meadow Restoration to approve.

This one was tied to a post called August 4th from 2015. Why now? August 4th is approaching but this reader, a person I don’t know, already contacted me when I posted that blog five years ago. She’s a friend of the Crowell Hilaka Preserve in Richfield Ohio that used to be a Girl Scout camp where my friend Sallie Parker was struck and killed by lightning on August 4th 1959. Remembering Sallie was the subject of the blog. The woman from the preserve sent me a pdf of the plaque commemorating Sallie’s death. How did she find my small press blog?

“There but for fortune go you or I” often plays in my head when I think about Sallie. Maybe this is my theme song. As the lightning struck her, Sallie fell on the little girl sharing her pup tent. That little girl would have been me had my parents agreed that I could go from DC back to Ohio to join Sallie for another year at camp.

Blogging for me is largely an exercise in record keeping. When did the monarchs return this year versus last is the customary fodder for my posts. My sister thinks I should hew to the theme of meadow restoration when I post, avoiding light bulbs and death anniversaries. Maybe she’s right, although I feel I can write whatever I want since this is such a personal exercise.

Particularly in these pandemic days I have realized how lucky I am to have a big old field in which to putter and about which to blog. The restoration is as much of me as it is of the meadow. Any reader is taking his chances with my posts.

To my enormous relief, the first Monarch appeared tardily on 2 July. It took me until this week to catch it in a photo. I am beginning to see several.

The fawn is in all-day day care without an attendant in the lower portion of the meadow. I flush it on my way to pick blueberries. I had not realized that it would not be part of a family in its neonatany. That seems to be a word I made up to refer to the long period of development between birth and becoming an adult, but I’m sticking to it.

The fawn’s experience of childhood is quite different from that of a poult. The turkeys form gaggles (“rafter” is the collective noun according to “An Exaltation of Larks“) that roam the gardens and field. Each rafter consists of a odd number of adults and a scurry (my collective noun) of poults. No child left behind with turkeys.

The ground hog has not made himself visible for over two weeks. More importantly, the plants in the vegetable garden have not been decimated. In fact, I took a grocery bag full of yellow and green squash and a large bunch of chard to the Jonnycake Food Pantry — the first of several such deliveries I predict. I’m daring to hope that the ground hog found the Kennel House inhospitable after the installation of the 4-foot fortress and has departed for greener pastures.

A single baby bunny did not get a mention in the returning section of the previous report. However, I had one. And following the reproductive realities of rabbitdom, the colony now has two members. The 1/4 inch hardware cloth also keeps them out of the vegetable garden, but they (and I) are content with their consumption of clover blossoms. Like deer, adult rabbits don’t seem to invest too much effort in raising their young, perhaps because they so frequently find their lives truncated by a predator’s meal plan.

By 7;35 Monday 15 June I had looked out my bathroom window to see a pair of grackles mating in front of the bird feeder and stepped out on the porch to catch the first romps of a fawn. The Scrooge in me said, “damn, more of them!” but as a patroness of the meadow, I also had to admit to the privilege of such witnessing.

The fawn was adorable — all covered in speckles and testing its legs by racing around in wide circles. Its mother was trying to catch up with it to finish licking off the amniotic sac. Cute but not cute enough to want deer around.

Advice on eliminating or at least substantially reducing Lyme and other tick-borne diseases is to cull the deer population by 90%. Erring on the conservative side, which would not be my preference, would cull this pack who appeared in April back to three. Even that would be a relief. In a restructured, post-covid world, I’d love to see resources spent on such a project. It would pay for itself I’m sure in the savings for the medical treatments and the reduced disabilities, which can be life-long, resulting from the disease. But here are photos of the other reason I could do with fewer deer: the chomping they do on plants. Images from before deer browse and after.

In the returning or emerging from hibernation category, I recently had my first good look (even if the photo isn’t) from that same bathroom window at the groundhog. My neighbors lent me their very large have-a-heart trap when I had evidence he was out of hibernation even if I hadn’t yet seen him. That was a couple of months ago. I pondered briefly what I would do once I had the groundhog in the trap, but decided those odds were so long that I could postpone giving that any thought. How right I was. Although last year this groundhog eat large helpings of kale from the veggie garden, he did not fall for kale as bait when in the trap. He is supposed to love cantaloupe as well. Not this one. My success with the trap was in causing the groundhog to move from under the folly back to his previous haunt under the kayaks. He’s still a free groundhog.

In the long interval of not catching him, he’s had time to break into the garden. So far he hasn’t. Scott finished re-enforcing the perimeter fence with 4-foot quarter-inch hardware cloth buried 2 feet. If this is the new deal: groundhog eats clover flowers in the grass but nothing in the veggie garden, I can return the trap to my neighbors and congratulate myself for not wasting time wondering what to do with a captured animal.

Other returners include the Baltimore orioles and the Ruby-throated hummingbirds who came back on schedule. And while I can’t count bees are returning, I unpacked a nuc of Carnolian bees into a hive on Monday. The nuc with its five busy frames of bees and a marked queen (blue dot) is henceforth the way I will replenish my bee yard. My previous method of renewing a hive by buying a package of bees is history.

Baltimore orioles at feeder

In the missing category — and this is serious — are the monarchs who have not returned. In past years, they have come back sometime in the first 2 weeks of June. Last year they were here on Flag Day. The milkweed is ready for them, and this year’s crop is a good one. I can’t imagine what a loss it will be if they don’t arrive. The privilege of monitoring this old field will be drastically diminished. More importantly, what does this foretell of the crisis facing the Monarch population? I’ll trade deer for the Monarchs.

Scott blew Oscar’s cover. Or, more precisely, Scott began the spring restoration of Oscar’s borrowed meadow by mowing sections back to their proverbial studs. Now Oscar, the neighbor’s cat who, despite my protests, spends the preponderance of his time in my meadow satisfying his hunger for birds, mice, voles and frogs, is disoriented, if I interpret circling and circling and circling cat behavior correctly.

Before meadow mowing photos above; mowed below. Can you find Oscar in the mowed shot? Hint: in the middle ground heading towards the unmowed little bluestem.

 

Early spring brings changes in addition to the annual mowing of rotating sections of the meadow. The Red-winged blackbirds returned in time to be counted in the Feeder Watch Project (mid February). They didn’t start with their reliable “spring’s here” gurgling call until a few weeks later. (Do they await the calendar arrival of spring?) The first American robin came back for St Patrick’s Day; now there are at least three hopping, stopping, listening then lunging.

Days now begin with an hour’s worth of birdsong although the full chorus isn’t assembled yet. The peepers are calling insistently from sunset until well into the evening from the trees beside the pond.

Buds are swelling with the longer daylight, the grass is greening in the rains and the Sanguinaria canadensis (blood-root) is blooming.

But away from the meadow, early spring this year has been like no other. I can almost sympathize with unwelcome Oscar circling aimlessly aghast at what has happened. “His” meadow, like “my” world, has been mowed down. Of course, the meadow will regrow. What are the odds that the larger world will do the same especially in a season? I hope greater than it feels right now.

 

 

It’s not official. I’ll get those measurements from URI next month, but the rain gauge in the garden topped 5 inches for a period beginning last night ending this morning. And for the first time ever, water pooled in places on the floor in both the new and the old basements.

The storm that produced this extraordinary amount of rain was itself exceptional. Thunder rolled continuously. Heat lightening — that which does not come with a bolt — flashed every few minutes. Rain obliterated the view from the porch. A friend who lives by the beach said they had a clap of thunder that she thought would break the house into match sticks.  Another friend near URI and therefore the opposite direction from my fiend at the beach also reported on the loud claps — the loudest she could remember.

Kennel House was apparently not in the eye of the storm based on the thunder, but rain overflowed in the birdbath, a watering can and a plastic bucket with some treasures the grandchildren brought home from the beach that I have not yet — despite the passage of a year — added to the gravel beds under the eaves. Of course rain collected in the depressions in the rocks in the garden walls.

 

A female Northern cardinal who could not withstand the elements.

The violence of the rain storms this year is worrisome. And this one arrives just a day and a half after 2 days of  nearly record-breaking heat.

It is vaguely satisfying to be able to switch off the irrigation system from time to time. I’m astounded to need a fleece to be comfortable sitting on the porch in July. I am worried about how rapidly and forcefully weather patterns are changing as the planet overheats.

This post was supposed to be upbeat detailing all the remarkable forms of help the vegetable garden has had this year making it the best ever. That view is apparently shared by an afternoon marauder.

Peas, beans, radishes

Cucumbers and Patty Pan squash in the front box back with extra fencing

Eggplants and tomatoes

Kale and chards

In preparation for writing, I took photos this afternoon. But first to show the garden in all its glory I removed the makeshift covers over a couple of areas where someone has been nibbling on the tender leaves — notably on the Patty Pan squash and four little lettuce plants (not in any of the afternoon photos).

This evening I went out to recover the plants. To my horror, the squash, those 4 lettuces and also the kale had been chomped to within a stem of their lives. In broad daylight! In the space of a few hours! You’ll be able to compare the landscape views of the garden with the close-ups of the decimated plants, if you have the stomach as it were.

Chomped kale

Decimated Patty Pan squash

All that’s left of the 4 little lettuces

Linda is coming on Tuesday and I had planned to harvest some of the kale (she complains but eats what she calls my sticks and twigs diet). Ah, if only I had done that after the photos! Ah if only I had covered the squash and the lettuce back up! It’s early in the season for such regrets. Maybe it’s also early enough for the plants to recover.

But back to the intended post. This year’s garden has brand new, made-to-order, cedar boxes for the raised beds. Those beds have some 3 cubic yards of new raised bed garden soil from Earth Care Farm — the gold standard around here. In between the beds we have new oak wood chips dropped off by Wallace Tree Service, my tree guys as it were. Then Emily has been planting both seedlings and seeds; she’s spent several years managing Casey Farm.

Finally, Scott has added additional fencing to those boxes most popular with the marauder. I sprayed the wood of the boxes with Deer Out but we had a lot of rain since then. I’ll do that again tomorrow, although maybe it doesn’t work for rabbits or groundhogs. I have had good luck with it with the deer.

Add all that help to the wet spring and I have the best vegetable garden ever — for me. Really for me and my marauder.

 

Summer arrived in a downpour making it hard to distinguish from spring. While I’m still wearing fleece at the dawn and dusk, I have put away my flannel nightgown. It’s warming up.

Sadly, I was not snapping photos in the spring so that season is not represented here. With all the cool — really cold — rain, plants thrived. This was something of a triumph because last year I sent soil samples to the University of Connecticut only to learn that the three areas I have been trying to convert to gardens adjacent to my out buildings were nearly Superfund sites. The other area that did not test well was a corner of the meadow, what I now call the hillside garden, that for at least the three decades had supported Lonicera, Japanese knotweed and Goldenrod. There has been much speculation around here about why the soil next to the sheds and the old barn were so poor. Our favorite thesis based on elevated lead levels in those areas is that there was a good bit of dumping that went on there.

SKIP AHEAD if you don’t want to read soil reports. The clothes line garden had excessive calcium and below optimum Potassium. The outside shower garden had above optimum calcium and below optimum Potassium. The eastern side of the guest house garden, the only piece I tested because the other areas support plants, was below optimum for calcium, Magnesium and Potassium. I am pleased to report it has optimum amounts of Phosphorus. The hillside garden was below optimum for all four elements. Even the Winterberry garden that was planted in largely new soil imported as part of the 2010 renovation was shy of optimum Magnesium and Potassium. Only the clothes line garden was within a range of tolerable acidity and around here, we tolerate a lot of acidity.

The fall and early winter were busy times for soil amendment campaigns. This spring as I planted in the areas that had tested poorly, I kept up the soil augmentation. The process has been taxing. Although I mix my own fertilizers, I could not make one batch for all areas because each area needs a different prescription. Then UCONN gave the rates of application for areas much bigger than mine so I had to do more arithmetic to scale down to my small gardens. Patience is a virtue in gardening but one I don’t always have. I hope I have not put too many plants into unhealthy soil because I spent only a few months making amendments.

Ninebark and Buttonbush

Astillbe, Bloodroot and a non-native Solomon’s seal

Box and Meadow rue

Penstemon and Oakleaf hydrangea

Lamb’s ear and Iris

Rhododendron maximum and Hay scented fern

Douglas fir new growth

Blue spruce new growth

While its too early to tell about the “new” gardens, the old ones thought they were in England and thrived. Not only am I an impatient gardener, I am also untrained when it comes to garden design. The one design idea I do employ is leave shape and color contrasts. If Eskimos need hundreds of words for ice, I could use a larger hue vocabulary for green.

On the fauna front: the honey bees did not make it to the spring but they left me a full box of honey. I was in Holland and Germany at the time when I would have started new hives, so I’m going without this year. First time in a decade. Honey bees are around. Today I saw quite a number by the empty, open boxes stacked beside the mud room porch.

A Monarch returned on the exact day she arrived last year — 3 June. It was sunny and relatively warm that day. She did the first-Monarch-back thing of looking as though she barely had energy to fly, limping from one milkweed to another. Then she seemed to be gone. Another has appeared as of today. This one is full of energy, flitting around the meadow.

The June bugs seemed to come later than usual, although I don’t make note of when they arrive. Maybe I shouldn’t expect them before mid month.

There’s nothing special to report about the birds: all the usual suspects have been here more or less on schedule. No maybe the Hummingbirds were later than usual. There also seem to be fewer of them. Only the Grackles and the Cardinals come to the feeders most days so I have slacked off in keeping them full. The other birds are busy catching bugs to feed their babies. The Orioles liked the new feeder that Charlotte gave me for my birthday. I like it too; it requires half and orange and no syrup.

The Eastern bluebirds who seemed to be taking up residence in the early spring moved on. I culled some 15 eggs from the two House sparrow nests in the nesting boxes. I set the trap when I saw a few juvenile House sparrows but I only ensnared a Cat bird, a male Cardinal, and a Cow bird so I disbanded that activity for the year. Tree swallows have a nest box in the meadow that’s about to fledge. A Wren has the fourth box.

We have a good crop of Downy woodpeckers. A couple of juveniles were squawking from a low branch of the Sugar maple just off the porch as I eat breakfast. They were soon feed some no doubt yummy bugs and then went about trying for themselves to find something in the bark of the tree to eat.

Great horned and Barred owls call at night. Peepers and other amphibians keep the nights noisy until first light when the bird ruckass starts. Yariv was here with his family over Memorial Day weekend. It’s louder here than Second Avenue, he said at breakfast.

A lone deer appears many evenings at dusk. Perhaps I’m sleeping through their calls, but I haven’t heard coyotes or foxes since I returned from Europe in early May.

So on to the shortening days of summer. If past years are a prediction, we’ll soon be in a heat wave accompanied by a drought. We’ll be longing for the cool rains of the spring even if, from time to time, they were torrential.