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 …
Happy one hundredth birthday! I know I’m late, but the actual day did not go unnoticed. I was birding in Colombia with 3 others. We were in an expansive wetlands watching waterbirds. “Today would have been my father’s 100th birthday had he not died at 95,” I told them — maybe somewhat out of the blue!
Last summer when preparing for a public walk through the Kennel House meadow, I came upon this picture of us. Too bad, I thought then, that it does not show the plants in the meadow except as a haze of greenery. I wanted a before-and-after kind of photo so people could see the progress in restoring the meadow. You will remember how ruthlessly we tore up the bittersweet by its roots, how relentlessly we hacked away at the stems of Japanese bamboo. We look pretty clean and relaxed in the photo. It must have been snapped as we were on our way into the field. We’d be wringing wet by the time we finished.
Now I look at the picture and I see something else: we are both wearing second-hand gardening clothes. Well, you’re hat is a Dunes Club — i.e., first hand — item. Everything else is sourced from the Jonny Cake Shop or other second-hand store. Do you remember those pink pants of mine? I had a matching pair in an equally as WASPy-golf-club-color of green. I don’t know what happened to the green pants, but after 20 or 25 years, the pink ones disintegrated.
Thank you for passing on to me that practice of buying second-hand clothes. I don’t use it for all my clothing (as Mother will be glad to hear), but it is handy for gardening wear. Since the pink pants — which more or less fit — and an awareness of the hazards of Lyme-disease-bearing ticks, I’ve been buying second-hand garden wear that pulls over regular clothing so that I can shed a top layer when I come out of the field.
I know that at age 90 or so you wanted to live to 100 You should be glad you did not. You would be horrified with the state of American politics. You often told me that the Senate was not worthy of the respectable image it tried to project. Brawling, even fist fights, were not unusual at least in the 19th century you said. Today a fist fight would look civilized next to the unfathomable cruelty and callousness of Senators. And that’s just that start of the despicable behavior of our elected officials.
You would be pleased, however, with the state of the old field. It would be folly to say that the bittersweet (note the piece wrapping it’s way along the rail of the fence) is gone. But it is no longer the dominant plant species. The same can be said of the Japanese bamboo. The two hedgerows of evergreens that I planted from pencil-sized seedlings — one along the driveway to the houses behind and the other up the rise to the road — have grown in. They work well to choke out invasives and establish the boundaries of the field. The fence I lean on in the photo rotted away years ago. The edge between the field and the lawn is now defined by garden beds and the vegetable garden fence. A rose of Sharon that Winkie dug up for me from the Great House garden serves as a post between the lawn and the meadow in the south western corner.
Thank you for your gardening tutelage while I was growing up not to mention your physical labor at the Kennel House. Shed #1 is still stocked with your tools, by the way. You live on around here.
Happy birthday! usnan salguod
Last Saturday was a miserable day of snow, subzero temperatures and gray light so dark you needed illumination all day. Sunday morning when the storm was over we had more than a foot of picture-perfect, spotless dry powder. The snow was so fluffy that my snow shoes couldn’t keep me on the surface, but it was impossible to stay indoors. I plodded around the meadow sinking knee deep with each step despite the snow shoes.
A winter sun, strong as it can be in January, tinged the shadows, lengthened by its low arc, blue. That sun’s photons also promptly cleared both solar arrays of their snowy blankets, and popped the electrons in silicon cells of the PV panels into action. My energy factory was fully operational by noon.
If you have to have winter, it should be like the day after the storm. By mid week, warm rain, falling at night, washed the snow away. I’m old enough to know that winter isn’t over in January. But I’m not too old to wish that a warm day with a strong breeze could hasten spring’s return.
Maybe it did. The ground is workable. Despite temperatures under 40, the sun was out. In an hour and a half, I cleared a 15 foot by 15 foot section of meadow of both Chinese wisteria and honeysuckle (Lonicera I presume japonica, i.e., no good!) roots. I’ve let the Lonicera vine get too firm a foothold in that north western area close to the house and under the Maple. It thrives as well in the section of the meadow behind the western evergreen hedgerow and out to the road, but this is to be the year of trying to control the more open part of the meadow to prevent its escape into the boarder field.
I like to think I slowed the vine’s spread down. Slowing down a weed by pulling it up by its roots is a cherished concept of mine. I know eradication doesn’t work according to this metaphor, but I’ve held the notion so long I can’t remember when I did not use it as a mantra while weeding. Did I inherit this from my father? He preached trying to get all the root out when pulling weeds. But his battlefield was a lawn and his target mostly dandelions. You can slow down a dandelion by removing most of its tap root. Did I invent it myself? Whatever its origins, eradicating an invasive takes lots more muscle than pulling some of its roots.
Let the record show, however, that I found less than 3 feet of Bittersweet root and only one grub. When I’d finished the ground looked not dissimilar to terrain I’d seen in the Hill Country of Texas where wild boars are a nuisance.
Wildlife is reappearing as the days lengthen. Three robust squirrels with fulsome, twitchy tails have been prowling under the bird feeders. I can’t figure out their familial relationships: one seemed perturbed by another; these two ignored the third. A red squirrel has come out of hiding. Though I have not seen two together, its a good bet we have two red squirrels. I scared one down the driveway — that is in a different part of my yard from where I’d seen a red squirrel before; he darted across the road and through a hole in the neighbor’s stone wall suggesting he might live over there. One red squirrel is plenty.
I tried to snap a photo of the FIVE male Northern cardinals who are in residence. By the time I had my camera out (photo of three attached), two males had flown into the Douglas firs. Five couples increases the carry capacity of past years by one pair.
The Blue jays have not done as well. Carrying capacity has been two pairs. Earlier this year a Sharp-shined hawk had a jay for lunch. The pile of feathers was the tip. I had a rare sighting of the hawk recently. It perched atop the bird feeder with its back to the kitchen window allowing me to decide it was Sharp-shined not Cooper’s by the shortness of its tail. Needless to say, the entire meadow was silent of all bird calls while he visited. Had I not been on the phone, I just might have caught the hawk on camera; he sat for longer than I anticipated.
Looking forward to the breeding season, I emptied inactive nests from the four bird houses. One nest had been built by a Carolina wren, two were made by Tree swallows and one was an incomplete effort by House sparrow. I did not remove a sparrow’s nest from a Prairie rose bush. I also just admired the many insect galls attached to the stronger stems still standing in the meadow.
My book dealing neighbor gave me a book on moss gardening. I don’t need another project, but it’s encouraged me to be more accepting of what moss I already have. On my circuit around the meadow today, I photographed the club mosses in the path in the lower field and the moss that has taken hold where I’m allowing sedges to propagate under the three Amelanchier trees.
This may be the year for fire management of the meadow. After a four year hiatus, Dodder is again ensnaring the Goldenrod and Joe pye weed in the wetland end of the meadow.
Dodder, to refresh your memory, is a parasitic plant that drops its own root once it has borrowed into the stem of its host. “Burn it,” is the instruction I remember for ridding an area of Dodder. Nic, now a college graduate who cleared dodder from the lower meadow before his freshman year at Vassar, built a funeral pyre of the infected branches that I planned to burn.But my fastidious neighbors, who did not like the looks of a heap of decomposing vegetation, suggested that they’d ask the tree men to haul the pile away. I explained my plan for a fire thinking that would convince them to leave my problems to me. I also cautioned that the tree men would not want to collect dodder given how hard it is to eradicate after it gets established. To my dismay, the site of the pyre is now the location of the most intense invasion of dodder!
The pile disappeared. I never asked whether the tree guys had knowingly taken away such a pervasive parasite.
As a concession to my neighbors and to spare the tree service further pollution, Jim and Emily, who have taken Nic’s place in the meadow, are bagging the dodder for delivery to the household waste collection chute at the transfer station. So far, they have carted away four contractor-sized garbage bags’ worth of the stuff.
The UC Davis website is not as clear that burning is the management tool as I remembered. It cautions to remove the host plant before the dodder sets seed. The seeds, as we have just witnessed, can stay in the soil for five to 10 years, maybe longer. Under my lax management, the dodder removal job has not been accomplished before the dodder set seed. At least, we’re throwing the host plant and the dodder in the trash, as recommended by the UC Davis site.
The website also recommends frequent mowing. I could ask Scott, the meadow path mower, to mow dodder-invaded spots or to keep plants from regrowing after Jim and Emily cut out the dodder.
I have not ruled out burning either. That area still has more Bittersweet than I’d like. A general fire could be beneficial.
Despite the dodder problem, management of the meadow to keep invasives and succession at bay has become a simpler task in recent years. I have not sprayed Triclopyr on anything in the meadow (save poison ivy and the persistent Black swallow wort that peeks out from under the folly) for about two years.
I (or Jim and Emily) dug Bittersweet as the meadow was beginning to regrow in the spring. I dug up a dozen Thistle plants as they emerged and Lonicera bushes — maybe its Latin name is Lonicera maackii — and a couple of Japanese barberry bushes, known for its nasty thorns, deep yellow roots and invasive habits. I chopped back many a Wild cherry (Prunus serotina), a native but a successional plant. So far, I have left two sumacs, Rhus glabra, growing in the wetland section. They are also signs of succession and, like the cherry, loved by wildlife. The sumacs can’t stay beyond their setting seed, but I plan to collect — before the fire — the fruit that the birds leave for grinding on top of humus.
Most of my interaction with the meadow involves watching it from the paths, the folly and the porch. It is, to me, endlessly entertaining even when it is depressing. The butterfly count is not what it should be. Only 4 Monarchs, circling endlessly, have made the meadow their home. A few Cabbage whites have been above the meadow and the gardens beds all summer. One Eastern tiger swallow tail has visited the Buttonbushes (Cephalanthus occidentalis). I have not seen Painted ladies or Mourning cloaks. I need a butterfly/moth authority to report on the small browns (Satyrs, Frittilaries, Eyespots) of which there are a few. But the tally is way down from past years.
The Dragon and Damsel flies have not appeared in the numbers they should. I recently learned from an authority on those insects that their populations are drastically reduced state-wide. But, in June we had, to the delight of Henning, my German son-in-law, a meadow full of June bugs/ Fireflies. The calls of Tree frogs provided the sound for the Firefly light show.
My grandson, Owen, was disappointed that he visited so early in the season that he did not get to see Wild turkeys. They are around now.
Meadow management may include an element of fire this year but mostly its the practice of observation.
This gallery contains 3 photos.
Disaster — in the form of weak hives invaded by wax moths — awaited, I was certain. So certain that I called in a veteran beekeeper to help me open my hives. True, bees were flying in and out of both hives but this summer challenged my sub par beekeeping skills more than ever. First, …
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.