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 …
Mating, birthing, returning and missing
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.
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.
This gallery contains 3 photos.
Shortest day. Longest night. Welcome. Sunrise and sunset aren’t visible from my kitchen window as I make breakfast. The sun is already up; it won’t set for a few more hours. But the effect on the meadow of the earth’s deepest point in its tilt to the sun and its position at the closest point …
A flock of birds, likely robins, devoured the winterberries. I missed the feeding frenzy this year. with its loud, chaotic soundtrack. The berries are said to have a higher nutrient value after a hard freeze. We’ve had plenty of those, so I assume the birds got a big boost from the berries. They certainly stripped the bushes clean.
Deer have browsed an even smaller waist into the red cedar at the edge of the meadow. The “Deer Out” I sprayed in the fall apparently was not a deterrent or maybe the deer have been especially hungry this season. I am grateful they have left the rhodies along the road intact.
A great horned owl called all night on Valentine’s eve. I heard him while I was snuggled up in my reading nook before bed, the couple of times I awoke during the night and again in the light of early dawn. If he was calling a mate, he got no answer. He’s moved out of hearing distance the past few nights, but I know I’m living in his territory.
I love the rufous hue of little bluestem in winter. Its fuzzy flowers catch the sunlight in a magical way. The tan switchgrass is a blah color, although its inflorescence–the highest in the field now as in summer–is majestic. The broome sedge has more red than switchgrass and less little bluestem, but it’s feathery stalks make up for the fact that its a lousy forage plant. Unlike the winterberries and the cedar, no one’s eating it anyway.
Finally, the days are getting longer. The sun rose today at 6:32 and set at 17:22. The arc it takes through the sky is still low to the horizon making long shadows, even at noon.
Changes in the land
With apologies to William Cronin for taking his title, this is an update on changes in my land — the old field, the wood lot and the election.
First the old field. Common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, the larval host to the beleaguered Monarch butterfly, and various Goldenrods, Solidago, are reclaiming territory from the intensely hearty switch grass, Panicum virgatum, planted a decade ago atop the then new septic field. Switch grass prevented the Little blue stem, Schizachyrium scoparium, also planted in the disturbed soil of the sewer project, from taking hold. But in the last season or two, volunteer (i.e., not planted) forbs have pushed the grass back at least 10 feet.
My opinion carries little weight in this rebalancing especially since I’m disinterested (so far) in intervening. Yet I feel some relief. The Switch grass appears intrepid enough to march all over the meadow, if given free reign. Since I would not want that, maybe I can count on the Goldenrod and Milkweed to keep the Switch grass in bounds. Switch grass, like all tall prairie grasses, roots deeply to anchor its sod-forming clumps, so an assist from the forbs would be welcome.
In the wet lower portion of the field, another competition with a a less desirable outcome unfolded this summer. Again Goldenrod species were involved. This time they pushed the Joe-pye weeds, Eupatorium, into retreat but not extinction. Again, my opinion doesn’t matter; this part of the field is spared my trespass because it is too boggy. But I like the Joe-pyes with their pink and violet clustered flowers; they break the monotony of the Goldenrods. May they rage back next summer!
Second the wood lot. Winter storm, Nemo, of 2013 felled nearly half of a century old White pine in the wood lot. The tree never recovered. This summer’s drought may have been the final straw. The losers here are the birds, especially the woodpeckers, who have banged away at its bark for generations. The oaks behind the pine will have a better shot at some sunlight. The wood lot will evolve.
Finally, my country. It’s Election Day guaranteeing changes in my wider land. The Economist, based on “opinion polls, betting markets and forecasters,” suggests a 20 to 30% chance that Trump can win the presidency. It makes various grim analogies for that probability to rain on a given day in London or rolling a 6 on a dice. This “probably won’t happen. But history is made by low-probability, high-impact events, and a Trump win would certainly be that,” writes the journal.
I’m rooting hard (prying desperately?) for the higher probability outcome of a Clinton victory. That would be the better change for the land.
It was snowing as I returned in early April from a month in NYC. I guess it can’t rain at 22 degrees F. The spinach seeds I had planted in a few warm days of early March before leaving for the city in the anticipation that they would be ready to harvest upon my return, germinated, grew and froze. The lettuce seeds did not even bother to germinate. Only the peas survived that experiment in jumping the gun: they germinated but only now are they finally starting to grow.
By the second week of April, night time temperatures were hovering around but above freezing. Precipitation fell then as rain. On 7 April, notwithstanding the rain, I needed my sunglasses to look out the kitchen window at the grass it was so intensely green. My little bit of Ireland. The grass greened up early but it has been slow to grow. The rabbits have been the only lawn mowers needed to date. I seem to have two rabbits at present. How long can that last?
The first-of-year (FOY) chipmunk appeared before Emancipation Day. The lilacs in the dooryard were again not close to blooming that day, though the branches did have buds. Even today, at the start of May, blooming lilacs are a full two weeks away. Whitman and I following different blooming calendars.
I expect peonies to bloom by Memorial Day but that’s because I grew up in more southerly places, Here I can report that the ruby red shoots have emerged. Likewise, the first asparagus spears have finally appeared. I must be confused, but I thought I was already getting sick of asparagus by this time last year. The first rhubarb leaves are moving from red to green. The sage made it through the winter and one of the two tarragon bushes did as well. Along the road side of the stone wall where three years ago Emily planted four types of daffodils, only one type seems to be blooming — and it started after all the daffodils in other parts of the yard have finished.
The blueberries, both low and high bush, appear to have liked the winter if that’s what setting lots of fruit buds means. I was tardy in pruning them, but spring is arriving slowly as well.
On 18 April, I saw a gigantic bird in the folly. A Harpy eagle, I thought, as I raced to get my bins. By the time I had the bird in focus, it had become a turkey. She was doing what I love to do when the weather warms up: sitting, well, she was standing, on the bench in the folly taking in the late afternoon sun and observing the meadow. The hen has been around frequently since then, although I have not seen her again in the folly.
Other FOY birds include a male Ruby-throated hummingbird who came to the nectar feeder on 25 April. A male Eastern towhee was feeding on the ground under the front feeder on 27 April. “Oh Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody” (the White-throated sparrows) have been highly conversational of late, though their numbers seem to be declining suggesting they have started flying north.
All four pairs of Northern cardinals are in residence. Can they be the very same birds who have been here for several years? One of the males is distinctly more orange in his plumage than red just as in past years.
For the record, the Cabbage white butterfly arrived mid April.
Perhaps to make up for a dry April, the onset of May was raw and rainy. Spring seems slow to bloom this year.
Being a negligent bee keeper has its rewards. I harvested about 30 pounds of honey from one of the two hives that did not make it into February. The second hive with last summer’s captured swarm had not capped off any honey. I wonder how the bees made it to January.
Taking honey from a dead hive allows the beekeeper to skip the worst step of honey extraction — fumigating the frames with stinky stuff so the bees fly away for a breather. There’s another advantage to working on a dead hive; there are not as many bees trying to get on the porch to watch. The job is still strenuous and, of course, sticky. My extractor holds 2 frames. I am the motor.
Frames of capped honey are heavy. Spinning them entails sitting on the extractor so it doesn’t wobble too much and a long bouts of cranking the handle. Then I strain the honey through paint filters to remove the wax caps and other debris. It takes about a week to get all the bits of stray honey off the counters, door knobs, hand rails and floor after the process is over.
This honey is dark no doubt because much of it started as goldenrod. It’s also thinner than usual as though the wax caps the bees made could not compete with the condition’s of this winter. Still, a honey harvest is compensation for a lost hive.
No mow, no more
The meadow experiment this year has been to mow only the paths.
That practice was most successful in meadow restoration terms in the boggiest areas where the Goldenrod and Joe Pye weed have grown into a dense mass of yellow and pink. Together they have squeezed out the Thistle and driven the invasives to a less visible position close to the ground. And the Dodder of last year has not returned. This section will get mowed before winter so the plants will not have to be disturbed in the spring. A fall mowing every other year may be just what the bog requires.
In the driest section of the field where the soil is the poorest, skipping a mowing in the spring seems to have made almost no difference: the warm season grasses that grow there have regrown on schedule. The poor soil seems to have kept succession in check. Perhaps a spring mowing every second year is what this “desert” needs.
Moving up the meadow, the ground slopes ever so slightly to the west and the soil must improve because cool season grasses crop up among the warm. Here the no-mow plan seems to have allowed for a gain for the forbs like these Black-eyed Susans which appeared for the first time in great masses this year.
The extra weeks of growing that the no-mow plan gave herbaceous plants allowed them to take over ground left after the Bittersweet succumbed to Triclopyr. Milkweed and Goldenrod but also Asters, Poke Weed, Pearly Everlasting, Agastache and (the non-native) Tansy took advantage of the opening.
The score after a season of the no-mow plan seems to be forbs one, graminoids zero. Neither the cool nor the warm season grasses appear to have spread with the no-mow plan. The real losers might be the invasives. (The meadow keeper hopes that Zeus is not reading this blog; he would be loading a thunderbolt with orange roots and berries for flinging directly next to the bee hives as recompense for such hubris). Bittersweet and Black Swallow wort appear to be on the decline though of course not gone.
There may be another loss, an aesthetic one. Mowing in the late spring knocks the cool season grasses and the herbaceous plants back giving the warm season grasses a break — just as it’s supposed to. Without that assist, Little Bluestem, Broom Sedge, Switch Grass and the other warm season native grasses will have have to share the stage with the less balletic Goldenrod when they start bowing with the fall breezes.
No-mow as a practice has come to an end. Management of the meadow will now follow a mowing schedule for each habitat of the field.
Balancing Goldernrod with Asters
“What you need is a few sunflowers,” suggested the goldenrod authority. He was circling the meadow in fading light as evening was settling in. He had observed that I had nothing but the usual goldenrod, but to my great disappointment he would not name them. I was hoping for an authoritative identification of the few species that populate the field.
Sunflowers were not on my radar. The only native sunflower I know prefers woodland of which I have almost none. But scanning the meadow bursting with goldenrod I decided what I want is more asters like these New York asters that grow near the bog.
The goldenrod authority was also a house guest, and notwithstanding the sunflower suggestion, brought an aster as a gift. I planted his aster on Monday but it looked lonely. Wednesday bought 6 more: Rhody Native asters ( 3 A. novi-belgii and 3 A. undulatus) from Blue Moon Nursery. Emily planted them at the edge of meadow between “Susan’s folly” and the veggie garden. These seven asters have their work cut out to begin to balance the resurgence of goldenrod where Bittersweet used to dominate.
A year ago, I could not have imagined that I would have a field yellowed with Goldenrod today. It seems that where I disturbed the ground in pulling Bittersweet, Goldernrod seeded.
15h 13m 16s
15h 13m 16s. 20 June was the last of the lengthening days. Isn’t it odd that “summer” means ever less daylight?
But at the moment I took this photo I could not complain about the light or about the restoration of parts of the meadow. As the seconds of daylight decline, I’ll get back to work on the spray and pray program.