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Moosewood in the Woods, Moose in the Field

Moosewood AKA Striped Maple

Yesterday we took a (wet) walk in the woods and saw  this moosewood tree. It is more properly known as a striped maple, and more properly still as Acer pensylvanicum. It is a small understory tree, very tolerant of shade, and has very large leaves.

Young Moose

Late in the afternoon, there was a flash of brown passing my window. I ran outside to see what it was. A moose. A young moose, who only stopped briefly to pose and let me get this photo.  Though I saw them both in one day, they are otherwise unrelated.

To see what else is (almost) wordless this Wednesday click here.

Hungry Cowbird and Beauty

Cowbird June 6, 2013

Yesterday morning I watched what I later confirmed was a cowbird being fed by another  bird. I just happened to look out the front window and there was this little bird (fully fledged) standing still and looking around while another bird, a different type of bird, much the same size was running around picking up insects from the lawn and bringing them over to the cowbird. Through the window I couldn’t hear the cowbird squawking, or whining piteously, but I could see its little beak opening and shutting, until its meal was brought to it.  I could almost imagine it tapping its tiny claw, wondering what was taking so long.

Out came the bird guide book. I knew that  cowbirds were famous for laying their eggs in another bird’s nest, and that the foster parents cared for that interloper as well as they could, as it grew bigger faster than their own brood. I never dreamed that the cowbird could stand around in its fledged adolescence and still get its foster parents to keep feeding it. It was quite a fascinating sight.  This sort of behavior is called brood parasitism.

Ordinarily, I would not trust my own ability to identify a bird but my Peterson’s Guide does describe this feeding behavior between cowbirds and other birds as a common phenomenon.

Tree peony – name lost

On a more serenely beautiful note, my white tree peony, that has endured various bouts of storm damage over the past couple of years came into bloom.  Tree peonies are not really trees, but they do have a shrubby form that does not die back over winter as the herbaceous peonies do. Tree peonies need to be planted more deeply that herbaceous peonies, but they are just as hardy and long lived. They bloom earlier and the blossoms are more ephemeral, but all the more treasured because of this.

Jono Neiger – Mimic Nature in Your Garden


Jono Neiger of Regenerative Design Group

Jono Neiger of the Regenerative Design Group which has its office in Greenfield, spoke to the Greenfield Garden Club a couple of weeks ago. His inspiring talk explained how gardeners could mimic nature, and require less work and inputs to create a garden that would give us what we desire out of our garden and what wildlife and pollinators require.

He gave some very specific advice beginning with the suggestion that vegetable gardens, and gardens that need substantial cultivating be sited near the house where their needs will not be forgotten. I can tell you how valuable this advice is from my own experience. The Herb Bed, the Front Garden, the Daylily and Rose Banks, all of which are right in front of the house get more attention because those south gardens warm up first in the spring and because it is easy to do a small job or two as I come and go, in and out of the house.

It is easy to remember to spread compost and other organic fertilizers on our vegetable and flower beds wherever they are, but remembering to weed or watch for problems is easier when the garden is right in front of us.

Water is becoming more of a concern as we often seem to have too much or too little. This has inspired many people to invest in rain barrels which collect rain off our roofs to use later in the garden when there is a dry spell. Those who have used 50 gallon barrels quickly learn that they don’t hold much of the roof run-off and add more barrels.

Neiger himself has arranged it so that the runoff from his roof runs into a small artificial pond that he has created below the house. The pond holds about 300 gallons of water. When the pond is full, there is an overflow pipe that takes water to a small bog garden that he planted when his son was young featuring pitcher plants. When that area is full water runs down to the vegetable garden. His goal is to get as much use out of all the water he can collect and keep it usefully on the site.

Those of us who don’t have enough room to move rainwater across our property could buy a larger water tank to collect more water off our roof. We can count on that tank costing about a dollar a gallon, so a 400 gallon tank would cost about $400. We can also plant a rain garden that will keep rain on our site and out of storm drains.

He also told us that gray water is now legal in Massachusetts. If we can separate out our sink and bath water that gray water can be drained into our gardens. We would have to pay attention to the type of soaps and detergents we use. His passion is to produce no waste and to recycle any waste elements of our house and garden as much as possible. Compost!

He is a proponent of permaculture, growing perennial plants for food, as well as for ornament. He explained the Edible Forest Garden in terms that I could finally understand. The idea is to mimic nature in the way the forest grows with tall trees, then understory shrubs and then groundcovers. An edible forest in my garden simply means to include a fruit tree or two, some berry bushes and then ground covers. Rhubarb and asparagus are familiar perennial edible ‘ground covers.’ How simple.

If you are interested in perennial crops Eric Toensmeier’s excellent book Perennial Vegetables: From Artichoke to Zuiki Taro, a Gardeners Guide to Over 100 Delicious, Easy-to-Grow Edibles will give you full information about familiar and unfamiliar crops, many of which are hardy in our area.

Those of us who live in town will not be able to, or need to, include the food, fuel, fiber, fodder, farmeceuticals, fertilizer and fun that make up Neiger’s productive landscape, but all of us can include several of these elements. In the acre surrounding my house I have food in my vegetable gardens, some fodder for my chickens who then supply some fertilizer, compost for fertilizer, an herb garden for farmeceuticals and fun in the Lawn Beds that include small trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and even some groundcovers. I want to point out bee balm, mint, yarrow and other pollinator magnets are among the perennials in the herb and flower gardens.

How many of these elements do you have in your garden. Begin with fun.

Achillea, yarrow, attracts pollinators


While Jono Neiger gave us some new ecological ways to think about managing our domestic landscapes, Emily Monosson, PhD, teacher and environmental toxicologist at the University of Massachusetts will be leading a discussion at the Greenfield Library with those who have read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson on Saturday, February 2. This talk, The Relevance of Silent Spring after 50 Years, is scheduled from 11 am – 1 pm and is sponsored by the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners Association to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of this book which could be said to have started the whole environmental movement and new ways of. “No book since then has had the impact of Silent Spring. Carson saw an acute toxic change . . . and synthesized an immense amount of research. The changes in our environment today are more insidious,” Monosson said.

Between the Rows  January 26, 2013

Compost: Feeds the Soil and the Oppossum

Possum in the Compost Pile

This opossum has been a regular evening visit to our  compost pile. I don’t think it is heating up at this time of the year but at least s/he is loading up on nutrituous peels.

ADDENDUM – I had forgotten that oppossums are Marsupials – just like kangaroos. Only smaller, of course. Lots of fascinating information about oppossums here from the National Oppossum Society.

Cynthia Boettner and the Silvio O. Conte Fish and Wildlife Refuge


Cynthia Boettner


The first thing Cynthia Boettner had to explain to me about the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge is that the Refuge consists of  the 7.2 million acres of the Connecticut River Watershed that runs from the far reaches of New Hampshire, through Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut before it exits in Long Island Sound. That is an enormous charge and responsibility. As Boettner explained how she works to monitor, control and eradicate invasive plant species, it was clear that no one person can even coordinate such an effort and that it takes many other groups like  the Massachusetts Nature Conservancy to enable the Refuge to carry out its mission.

The Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge was established in 1997 and named in honor of Congressman Conte who felt strongly about the importance of conservation. The purpose of the Refuge is  to conserve the abundance and diversity of native plants and animals and their habitats in the Connecticut River Watershed. Boettner joined the Refuge staff 13 years ago when her group was deciding to focus on raising awareness of the importance of eradicating invasive plants

One way they are creating  awareness is through the Invasive Plant Newsbriefs that she sends out through email which include information about workshops, training sessions and conferences as well as information about invasive plant sitings and eradication efforts.

Boettner explained that the Refuge works with many other groups. One result is an Invasive Plant Atlas of New England (IPANE) that was created in cooperation with the University of Connecticut. Over 900 trained volunteers surveyed given areas and collected information about the invasive plants they found. That information is turned over to the national database called EDDMapS (early Detection and Distribution Mapping System) which now includes access through an iPhone app. Any of us with skill in identifying invasives and an iPhone can confidently add to this Atlas and know that our information will be verified.

One eradication effort that many local people are familiar with is the removal of patches of Japanese silt grass in Conway. This plant has been identified fairly recently and the hope is that with early attempts at eradication they can really prevent further spread. Boettner has a fact sheet with colored photos of the plant at various stages. She welcomes information about sightings that include clear digital photos with full location information.

Individuals can also get in touch with Ted Elliman at the New England Wildflower Society, another one of the organizations the Refuge works with.

Once you have identified the silt grass you can pull it up by hand or cut it down with a string trimmer in mid-to late August. This is before seeds have set, and late enough in the season so that it will not have time to regrow and still set seeds. You can also watch for notice of Community Workdays in August to pull up patches. Pulled plants need to be bagged and placed in the sun to rot. Boettner explained that it is vital for landowners to survey their own land and watch for infestation of invasives.

She also reminded me that “ínvasive plant removal is just one component of trying to revive a habitat to bring the balance back and improve it for wildlife. Sometimes we get so caught up in removing the invasives that we forget the bigger picture of what we are trying to achieve. That’s something that I want to be more aware of and focus on in my work. A lot is about setting priorities. For example, one of our refuge properties in Hadley, the Fort River Division, is covered with multiflora rose and Oriental bittersweet. We will be focusing our immediate attention on controlling the bittersweet because we are managing the floodplain forest for migrating birds. As Christian Marks from The Nature Conservancy points out, the bittersweet is bringing down the large canopy trees which the birds need as stopover habitat on their journey. These vines are also overpowering the young saplings that would be the forest of tomorrow. So, it’s the migrating birds we have on our minds as we prioritize work on the forest. In the fields where we want to manage for grassland birds, the multiflora rose may be more of a threat to the establishment of that habitat.”

Education is a very important part of the Refuge’s mission. I have often taken my grandchildren to the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls without totally realizing this wonderful, fascinating and informative place was connected with the Refuge. It is one of several education centers operating in the Watershed.

I was also fascinated to learn that there is a US Youth Conservation Corps that provides an opportunity for teenagers to work (for pay) as conservationists on several sites over a four to six week summer session, the closest being at Fort River in Hadley. This program is overseen by the North Woods Stewardship Center in Vermont.

Boettner has always loved the outdoors, camping as a Girl Scout and vacationing in northern Michigan as a child. Still, she said it was a Field Biology class she took and loved while studying at the University of Michigan-Dearborn that set her on the road to the work she does at the Refuge. “I love to link people up with the information they are seeking in their quest to do good things for the environment. I find that so satisfying, especially when I ultimately get to see the resulting fruits of their labor!” she said.

Between the Rows  November 10, 2012


Beavers are at work – on Wordless Wednesday

Beaver pond

Beavers have been working this area out on Rte 8A and now the water has risen nearly to the road.

Beaver pond

The pond has become quite large and there is more.

Lower beaver dam

It’s hard to see the steps of the dam below the beaver pond but the water is rushing here.

Beavers worked here

And here is evidence that work continues.

For more (almost) Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.


Priorities and Preparations for Hurricane Sandy

Garlic Planted October 26, 2012

While Hurricane Sandy was making its slow and warning filled way to Heath we had to set priorities and make preparations to weather the storm. With so much notice, and stories about a possible Sandy snow  storm (like last year) I realized it was time to plant the garlic. Fortunately I had already prepared the bed so it didn’t take much to pull apart my choice garlic bulbs and plant each clove about eight inches apart in four rows. Then I mulched the wide row with slightly rotted straw from the not-very-successful tomatoes-in-a-strawbale experiment. That story in a post soon.

Beaver damage

With up to 8 inches of rain predicted we set off for the Frog Pond to see if the beavers really were back and what they had been up to. The walk down to the pond showed definite signs of their presence.

Frog Pond October 28, 2012

The level of the pond was very high and the beavers had clearly been working on the old lodge that was abandoned during the summer. There is an overflow pipe that keeps the pond at a reasonable level, but the beavers always block it. Instant beaver dam. Those lazy creatures.

Beaver lodge closeup

We did not try to get close to the beaver lodge and just set to work clearing out the overflow.

Frog Pond Overflow Pipe Flowing

Fortunately it did not take Henry long to unclog the pipe and send water gushing through into the wetland area below the pond.  We’ll have to check the pond again right after the storm passes because it does not take those beavers long to plug up the overflow.

Bridge of Flowers – Closed for the Season

This morning I was up at dawn to get down to Shelburne Falls to help close the Bridge of Flowers before Hurricane Sandy arrived in full force. Officially closed for the season! Let the storm begin!  Not too hard.

ADDENDUM – Although it didn’t seem like much of a storm we lost power around 2 pm Monday afternoon, and just got power and the phone back around 2 pm today, Tuesday. We did not suffer at all except for worrying about our full freezer. We are so fortunate, and know others really are suffering and our hearts go out to them.


Black Swallowtail Caterpillar – Provoked

Black swallowtail butterfly caterpillar

I think the black swallowtail butterfly caterpillar (Papilio polyxenes) is really pretty and I have never complained that it eats so much of my dill. How unlike the  Giant swallowtail butterfly caterpillar I showed yesterday. However they both have the forked osmeterium that they exhibit when they are provoked and alarmed. It  sends out a bad smell to discourage predators. I got to see what I thought was a forked tongue when I was trying to put my caterpillar into a jar, but when I wanted him to perform for my husband by poking him (gently) he remained cool. Or shy. I don’t know which.

What I learned. There is more than one type of swallowtail. I should have known that. What are the odds there is only one type? And I learned each variety has a different range (understandable) and slightly different appearance in each stage of development. Male and female also have slightly different markings. So much more to learn.

Thank you to Wikipedia for the photo.

Does This Look Like Bird Poop to You?

Giant swallowtail butterfly caterpillar


Some creatures will do anything to keep from  getting eaten by a bird! Great camouflage Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes).

For more  Wordlessness on Wednesday click here.

Planting the Wild Garden by Kathryn Galbraith

Planting the Wild Garden by Kathryn O. Galbraith

My friend Kathryn O. Galbraith was recently presented with a Growing Good Kids 2012 award from the American Horticultural Society for Excellence in Children’s Literature. This book, beautifully illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin depicts the myriad of ways that we all, people, birds, and animals as well as the wind and the rain plant the beautiful and fruitful gardens that grow along the roadsides, riversides and meadows. I wrote about Kathryn and her book when it first came out here.

White aster in our field

I am surrounded by wild gardens, in my fields and alongside my country roads. Kathryn lives in a much more populated area in Washington Sate, but you don’t need to live in a rural area to appreciate wild gardens.

When I asked her where this lovely idea came from she said, “I remember exactly where the seeds of this story began. I was at a writing workshop in one of our state parks.  Every morning and evening I’d take a walk along its many paths.  There I saw rabbits nibbling on grasses and goldfinches feeding on huge purple thistles.  And woe be to you if you stepped off the path – there prickly, sticky weeds were just waiting to catch on your jeans and socks.

I wrote those images down in my notebook, but only several years later, when I went back to my notebook, looking for gold, did I see how all those images could be connected.”

Goldenrod in our field

We have acres of goldenrod in our field,

Autumn dandelion, black eyed susan and oxeye daisy

and even at this season of the year our ‘lawn’ is a  flowery mead with ox eye daisies, black eyed susans and autumn dandelions. Christina Rosetti asked “Who has seen the wind? Neither you nor I:. . . ” but here, just outside my door is evidence of all the beautiful places our Heath breezes have visited.

And inside the pages of Planting the Wild Garden you can join Kathryn, and Wendy, in a garden that we never planted, but that surrounds us where ever we go. We just have to keep our eyes open.