Just the back yard!? Nah, I want the front and side yards landscaped in natives too.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Native Habitat Design Plan

Even a week later, I never got around to taking after photos of what I did last weekend.

This weekend, I took the first step to creating a master plan for habitat.  It is not perfect, but this is what I envision the property to look like in the coming years.
I began by drawing in some changes over top of an aerial view 
of the property.  The driveway currently does not extend to the
barn, the stone patio has yet to be extended, and the large pond
 and stream are still in my head. 

The general placement of the trees and shrubs is fairly accurate.  I
plan to add the meadow and its paths.

Reclaiming What I Lost

Each year, in the winter, I work at improving the woodland (my "would-be-woods" I tend to call it).  I have easier access to it this time of the year...each summer it fills in densely with pioneer species (such as goldenrod).  I'd be okay if it were just native species that are intermediate in the succession process, but all too often I have non-natives and invasives--mainly mugwort.  The mugwort has run rampant in the woodland since I last cleared it.

I'm embarrassed to show how I let the mugwort out of hand.
After cutting back the forsythia, the bare ground underneath 
erupted in mugwort.

The woodland, though not as overgrown, has its share of 
mugwort as well.

Last weekend, while walking the property, I decided to venture into the woodland which has been mostly off limits to me over the past 6 months or more.  With hope that this will be a year of vast improvements, I set off for the camera and the sickle.  I ended up cutting through the mostly fallen mugwort to make the paths more visible and more viable.  I made it through the main path (the one that was most grown in as well) and part way through a thicker section above (and on the edge of) the woodland.  Later, in the spring, a biologist from the WHIP program is supposed to come to check out what I have growing and to make suggestions about the best way to remove the invasives.
Of the small trees, I've been putting in each spring, the one that has impressed me the most so far, is the spicebush.  It has grown tall and filled in nicely--the biggest of the five or so that I put in so far.  I'm assuming this is the perfect site for it.

The spicebush I put in is going strong...
it is hard to see from the photo, but it is taller 
than me, and well on its way to maturity.

We got things done in the house yesterday, and today, I worked on the outside.  I still have to get my seeds planted in the next couple of weeks, but all in all it has been a good, and fairly productive winter. :)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Nice Find

Today was another spring-like day despite it being January.  The high was only 43 as compared to yesterday's 50s...but there was no rain today.  :)  I spent time walking the paths and looking at what I did yesterday as well as time on the computer researching about plant communities...after a conversation about nine bark sparked on WildlifeGardeners this morning.

Over the years, I've come to realize that I don't just want to landscape with natives...I'm leaning much more towards a restoration.  Even the areas near the house which will be more tailored to a landscaped look, in my mind, will at least be influenced by natural plant communities.  

Periodically, I've tried searching for "native companion plants", "growing in association with", and numerous other attempted phrases.  For what ever reason, I've had little luck finding the information I've sought researching on the web--until today.  Today, I came across this link: Terrestrial & Palustrine Plant Communities of Pennsylvania 2nd Ed. which is even specific to Pennsylvania.  I couldn't believe my luck.

After scanning it briefly, I went back outside and walked the trails (paths?) over and over again thinking about what this place will become--a wildlife magnet...and my own private nature preserve (of course I'll share it with Jeff...hopefully he'll be more and more enticed to enjoy the outdoors in the coming years).

(Updated 1-19-2014) Here is another great source for me:

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Winter Reprieve

After the frigid temperatures earlier this week, today was 55 degrees with rain...but I didn't let the rain stop me. :)  I've been known to get a lot done in the yard during the winter months (at least my first couple of years here, I did), but normally those are on sunny days.  Today, on my way to the gym (yes, I finally joined a gym for the first time in my life!)...I decided to stop at a local appliance store where I've picked up cardboard before.  Luckily it had stopped raining by the time I got there, and, luckily, the damp cardboard boxes folded much easier then the dry ones.

I don't recall mentioning this before (and I know last year I documented little here despite accomplishing a few things), but last fall, I began collecting large pieces of cardboard with the goal of smothering sections of the field to prepare them for planting my dreamed-of native meadow.  Aside from the boxes, I collected bags and bags of leaf bags full of mostly oak and maple leaves from a suburban area near my work.  I began covering my crownvetch problem with cardboard, then I scattered a thick layer of leaves on top to weigh it down, conceal the cardboard so it is not an eyesore, and create more of a barrier for the sun to penetrate and the plants to grow through.  I'm uncertain if this will be enough to eradicate my despised crownvetch patch, but I do expect it to work in the grassy areas.
 From November 16, 2013, smothering Eurasian weeds and
 grasses along a path.
Hopefully, the extra thick layer of grass clippings is enough to
prevent weeds from growing through the gaps between the pole
and the cardboard.
I don't remember the exact temperature, but I remember being 
surprised to see a spider and a few insects warming themselves
on the cardboard.

Today, I went out in the light drizzle to continue what I'd started.  By the time I was half through, my hair was drenched, my denim shirt was wet down to the T-shirt I had on under it, and my sneakers were soaked.  Still, with this warm (almost balmy after our windchill days) weather, I kept plugging along until I depleted my supply of fall leaves.  It makes me wish I'd made more trips to that suburban street lined with scores of bagged leaves.  Maybe next year, I'll do better.

A small patch of crownvetch quickly took over an entire area.
The darker, wet leaves in the foreground (right) is from work I'd
done earlier this fall.  The lighter, dry leaves are from today.  
I think I should probably extend the coverage next time I get 
a chance.
It is a good thing the cardboard blends in with the leaves... I just
may have to spread them thinner once I lay more cardboard,
unless I figure out something else I can use.

While working, drenched from the rain, I thought of the picture this post would paint...then, I even got Jeff to snap a few shots of me as I finished up.  I don't think I look as much like the drowned rat I felt like, but here I am:

I lined the path with the brown paper lawn bags, then covered them with the remaining leaves--oh, and I got some sawdust from the shop class at work that I've been using as well.  Come spring, I'm hoping to be able to plant the seedlings that I will winter sow in the coming weeks (I actually got a head start on some of them back in October!).  I'd like to have a nice start of native grasses and wildflowers to line the path and hint at what is to come...then seed the areas behind them and wait as they become established.

One of the paths that will lead through the meadow.
The same path now bordered by a narrow strip of brown paper
bags covered in leaves.  (After)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Bitter Cold

Yesterday we had a high of 54 and a low of 4.  After the rain and warmer temperatures over night, the temps dropped all day...today we had a high of 3 with windchill making it feel like -16.  I hate to think of wildlife (especially the bluebirds if they are still around) in these temperatures.  I guess they are equipped to handle them.

Sure enough, birds came for the seeds I put out...as well as a squirrel


Today, I put in an application to the WHIP program (Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program).  I'm hoping to get approved.  If so, perhaps I can make improvements to the habitat faster than originally planned.  I'm excited about the possibilities. :)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Updated Look

I've been meaning to update the look of my blog for quite some time; I finally did something about it yesterday.  It is not too far off from what I have been picturing for some time.  Last time I updated the blog, I had no record of the original, more simplistic look, so this time, I thought I'd post what it was and what it is now, so in the future, I'll be able to look back on any other changes I make.

What it looked like after my first change
(the original was just the title with no photo).

My updated look...with more to come, I hope.

A Real Winter

Over the years of this blog (hard to believe it has already been over four years!), I've done a "Year in Review" post which highlights the change of seasons here on our property through the past year--this year I overdid it, posting at least 3 times the photos I did last year.  In the past, I was hard pressed to find any photos that looked much like December, January, or February to me--especially two winters ago when the lakes and ponds never froze over.  This time, I was able to start and end with pictures that actually looked like winter...and with the snow we have now in January, I'm at least guaranteed that the beginning photos in 2014's Year in Review will include snow-blanketed scenes.

Here are just a few from the past few days:

This is the way I remember winters from my youth.  Although I'm sure it will get old before too long, I'm surprised that I'm still okay with it.  I'm hoping that feeling lasts as spring is still a long way off...but we are heading in the right direction.