Living Lighter on the Land

Shall We Go On A Mushroom Hunt?

Mycophile or mycophobe?  Most people fall into one of these two categories, being either mushroom-loving or mushroom-fearing.  European and Asian cultures are generally mycophilic, passing on knowledge of favorite edibles and medicinals, along with hunting grounds for finding them, from generation to generation.  Americans tend to mushroom-phobic, being more concerned with the potential for toxicity, or perhaps simply lacking in knowledge due to the shorter history of our culture.

In this installment of the Living Lighter on the Land blog, I will provide a brief overview of fungal life forms in hopes of inspiring you to take another look, for this is the time of year to find them.  I also encourage you to join our Guided Walk and Talk in search of mushrooms, scheduled for September 21st.  Please email me to register for this free and family-friendly event.

Mushrooms, or fungi, are an exceedingly diverse group of organisms whose taxonomy and biology are bound by certain genetic contraints, which is why they can be described as comprising a kingdom of life.  They are known as the decomposers and are vital to ecological processes such as nutrient cycling. By transforming matter on the molecular level, making it available for trees and plants for example, mushrooms support all life on this planet.

Fungi come in forms both familiar and not, from the molds on our food to the classic polka-dotted parasol to vast networks of underground hyphae or mycelium.  They generally reside in the substrate upon which they eventually “flower,” or more accurately, fruit.  What we see are highly modified extensions of the hyphae which are formed in order to disperse spores, or reproductive cells, into the environment.  In this way, harvesting mushrooms is akin to picking berries from a bush.

Mushrooms can be divided into categories based upon their growth forms, and knowing these groupings is a first step for any budding mycologist:

      Slime molds   Sac Fungi   Puffballs   Jelly fungi   Corals   Bracket Fungi    Boletes   Gilled

Like plants and animals, fungal species have specific habitats and substrates that they are best adapted to and which provide clues to the kinds of fungi we can expect to find.  Most mushroom identification guides include keys to identifying species, and these will include details on growth form and environment, in addition to physical characteristics of the mushroom itself.

When I find a mushroom that I would like to identify, I take immediate note of the following:  the substrate upon which it grows, surrounding trees, fruiting habit (single, scattered, or clumped), and color, odor, and moisture level of the mushroom itself.  At home, the first thing I do is make a spore print: break the cap off (if there is one) and lay it gill- or pore-side down on a sheet of paper.  It works best to use a half black/half white sheet of paper, laying the mushroom down in the center, so that white or black spores show up against the contrasting color of the paper.  It might take a day or more for the spores to drop out.

While I wait, I make note of the following characteristics of the mushroom’s form (a good field guide can help to familiarize you with descriptive terms used for each factor):

cap diameter, shape, edge, surface texture and color

flesh thickness, brittleness, odor, and presence/absence of latex

gill attachment, spacing, color, thickness, depth, and margin

stalk size, shape, texture, color, hollowness, ring structure, cup structure

There is quite a lot of information that goes in to identifying a mushroom to species, and sometimes the differences between them are so subtle that genetic analysis is necessary.  Don’t be discouraged!  The joy of mushrooming is in experiencing the wonder of their ephemeral form and their place in nature.  With practice and the help of other mushroomers, you might one day enter the world of foraging fungi for food and medecine.  I recommend joining on-line groups such as Facebook’s Mushroom Identification Forum, as well as groups that meet in-person for forays, such as the Connecticut Westchester Mycological Assocation (COMA).

All photographs courtesy of the author.

 

Native Ground Cover Plants for Southern New York Region

Home gardeners and land stewards are interested in growing easy-care, ground cover plants to protect soil and to prevent areas from becoming infested by invasive weeds.  Native plants are the best choice for natural environments because they are adapted to local conditions and better support wildlife.  If native ground covers have grown beneath your radar, or if you need suggestions for filling in a tough spot, read on for my recommendations to add beauty and value to the landscape in southern New York.

Ground covers are low-growing plants that tend to spread by rhizomes (roots underground) or by stolons (roots sent out along the soil surface).  Many of these plants are aggressive spreaders that may eventually need control if given too much space.  Sun-loving species can be shaded out to stop their spread.  Mowing also works.  Shade-loving plants grow more slowly and can be maintained with occasional cutting or weeding.

Plants for Shade to Part Shade

canada-mayflower-by-stefan-bloodworth

Canada mayflower by Stefan Bloodworth

virginia-bluebells-by-r-w-smith

Va. bluebells by R.W.Smith

Anemone canadensis, Canada anemone
Antennaria neglecta, Pussytoes
Asarum canadensis, Wild ginger
Chrysogonum, Green and gold – Part shade
Jeffersonia diphylla, Twinleaf – Part shade
Maianthemum canadense, Canada mayflower
Mertensia virginica, Virginia bluebells
Mitchella repens, Partridge berry
Packera aurea, Golden groundsel
Packera obovata, Golden groundsel
Phlox divaricata, Forest phlox – Part shade
Phlox stolonifera, Creeping phlox – Shade
Podophyllum peltatum, Mayapple – Part shade
Stylophorum diphyllum, Celandine poppy
Symplocarpus foetides, Skunkcabbage

Groundsel by S. and A.Wasowski

Groundsel by S. and A.Wasowski

Tiarella cordifolia, Foamflower
Uvularia grandifolia, Merry bells
Viola canadense, Canada white violet
Viola pubescens, Downy yellow violet

Ferns for Shade to Part Shade

Phegopteris connectilis, Long beech fern
Theylpteris novaborenscis, New york fern

Grasses for Shade to Part Shade
Carex pennsylvanica, Pennsylvania sedge
Elymus virginica, Va. wild rye – Part shade

Plants for Part Sun to Full Sun

New York fern by by S. and A. Wasowski

New York fern by by S. and A. Wasowski

Antennaria neglecta, Pussytoes
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, Bearberry
Chaemacrista fasciculata, Partridge pea
Fragaria virginiana, Virginia strawberry
Houstonia caerulea, Azure bluets
Packera aurea, Golden groundsel
Phlox subulata, Moss phlox
Rudbeckia hirta, Blackeyed susan
Sedum ternatum, Stonecrop
Viola sororia, Common blue violet
Waldsteinia fragaroides, Barren strawberry

Ferns for Part Sun to Full Sun

Dennstaedia punctilobula Hay scented fern

Moss phlox by New York  by S. and A. Wasowski

Moss phlox by New York by S. and A. Wasowski

Stonecrop by R.W.Smith

Partridge pea by Jack Bodger

Partridge pea by Jack Bodger

Native Plant Propagation at Pound Ridge Land Conservancy Preserves, Westchester County NY

Richard Chianella

Nature lovers who garden are almost as numerous as gardeners who love nature, and they are teaming up for a great cause in our Native Plant Propagation Lab at PRLC’s Armstrong Preserve and Education Center.  With all the buzz about declines in wildflowers and their insect pollinators, now is the perfect time to share what we have learned over the last three growing seasons.   Join me for a tour of the Prop Lab and Armstrong’s native plant restoration areas and outdoor classrooms this Saturday, June 25, and read on for details on how to volunteer to raise plants for our other nature preserves as well as your home.

Cardinal flowerThis year, our volunteer team of land stewards, master gardeners, and students raised more than 500 plants from seed and another 20 from cuttings.  We start by collecting seed from plants of known local origin in the summer and fall.  If we can avoid cultivars and garden escapes, we are more assured of the hardiness and overall suitability of the plant for restoration areas, which are tended and watered far less often than a typical garden.  We also know that local insects and birds will have evolved in concert with these plants and are best adapted to make use of them.  The seed collector may have to find and mark the location of a desired plant during its flowering time, and return later when the seeds have matured.  He or she carries a stash of paper bags and a marker to label each with the species name, location, and date.  Seeds are shaken into the bag, or entire flower heads thrown in and dealt with later.  Ethics dictate that only 5-10% of seed be collected from any one plant, and that harvesting be dispersed over a large and healthy population.

At home, the chaff is separated from the seeds to prevent molding.  All material excepting the seed should be removed.  I use a paper plate for this task, brushing and blowing the chaff to one side. Store the cleaned seeds in their paper bag until late fall, when we will attempt to mimic the conditions of nature by putting them into cold storage.  Consider the life cycle of the seed:  it will likely drop from the plant to the ground during fall rains, or pass through the intestinal tract of an animal, and then to the ground.  If it is lucky, it will land in soil and be covered by organic debris over the winter.  We bank the seed over winter in shallow trays of soil that are covered to protect from animals and stored outside.  Plastic take-out containers work well for this as they are sturdy and stackable;   just be sure to poke holes in the bottom for drainage.IMG_20160321_122115533

In mid-February, we bring the seed trays in to a heated space and watch for germination. At this point, we are artificially hastening their development so that theplants can grow large enough to be transplanted into the great outdoors in May, before hot weather sets in.   When the tiny seedlings break through the surface, they must be moved into the light.  I keep florescent grow lights on them for 16 hours per day and water them gently, every day.  Young seedlings thrive on consistent heat, light, and moisture.

IMG_20160411_115634987Our first major task is to transplant each individual seedlings into its own pot.  This is delicate work, best done with latex gloves or none at all.  A chopstick or knitting needle makes a useful tool for easing each tender stalk out of the cluster of young seedlings.  Use recycled plastic containers of any kind for pots (remember the drainage holes).  Fill them to the top with a light mixture of mainly leaf litter, with some compost and sand.  Carefully label at least one of the batch for reference (and old window blinds make great labels).  Water well, and keep the transplants under light and warm conditions for a minimum of two days.

hoop houseI do not have much heated space and so move the plants out early into makeshift green houses, where they at least have abundant sun and protection from wind and rain.  Conditions can be harsh however, ranging from freezing to 90 degrees on some days.  Daily watering is essential.  Growers with heated greenhouse space will grow plants at more than twice the rate that I can, or more, but a simple plastic covering is enough to keep them alive.  By last frost date, all plants can be moved outside of covered areas, although they will need to be dampened off (transitioned slowly) to full sun, wind, and rain.

IMG_20160619_164701432By June 1, our plants were ready to be moved out to fenced restoration areas in PRLC’s nature preserves.  One of our local partners, the Rusticus Garden Club, generously sponsored the hiring of a local college student intern to aid us in getting all 500+ wildflowers into the ground this month, and he will continue to water and weed planting areas through the summer.  Volunteers are needed at a number of our preserves to provide supplemental water and to assist with weeding until these plants become established.  We also welcome the donation of native plants, either from nurseries or areas that are slated for disturbance.  Please contact me at 914-205-3533 or by email at landsteward.educator@prlc.net for details on how you can help out at your favorite preserve.

Endnote:  Our efforts to restore native trees, shrubs, and pollinator plants to our nature preserves is a direct response to the incursion of overabundant deer and alien invasive plant species in Pound Ridge.  It is our hope that by creating reservoirs of protected plants, we can preserve current levels of biodiversity and provide continued seed stock for colonization of unprotected areas.  Deer management is therefore an integral aspect to our program.

Restoration area at Armstrong Preserve, before and after:


2 2014 (2)3 Sunny side June 2016 2

 

PRLC Native Plant Propagation Lab 2016
Total Count and Distribution
Common name 5/21/2016 Armstrong Grove Clark Russell Halle
Count
Giant hyssop 8 2 2 2 3
Aster, heart leaved 20 4 8 3 5
Tick trefoil 10 6 4
Wild yam 5 2
Woodland sunflower 2 2
Tall Sunflower 3 3
Meadow rue 44 8 16 20
Evening primrose 27 8 6 3 10
Pokeweed 5 3 2
Scarlet smartweed 4 3 1
Bluestem goldenrod 7 3 4
Canada goldenrod ? 28 3 12 3 10
Meadow goldenrod ? 30 6 12 12
Gray goldenrod 36 6 12 3 3 12
Goldenrod Bridge St 10 3 4 3
Joe Pye weed 8 8
Common boneset 42 22 20
Dogbane 27 16 2 6
Swamp milkweed 1 1
Cardinal flower 36 10 6 6 6 8
Great blue lobelia 30 7 8 2 3 10
New York Ironweed 18 8 10
Monkeyflower 34 14 20
Baptisia 3 held over
Buttonbush 19 held over
Swamp rose 11 held over
468

When A Tree Falls in the Forest...

794A tree has fallen on your property.  What should you do?  From a conservationist’s standpoint, the best course of action is often to leave the wood where it lies.   Ecosystem health depends upon the nutrients provided by decaying plant matter, and downed trees are a major boost for the bottom of the food chain.  Their great storehouse of carbon sustains a host of mycorrhizal fungi, bacteria, and other microscopic life forms that break down the molecular structures of organic matter and convert them back into the building blocks of life.  That is why dead trees make great nurseries for other plants, including replacement trees.  Take a look at the Late fall oyster mushrooms pictured here – they fed beetles, deer, and my own family for weeks.

How long does it take for a dead tree to rot?  Generally 70-150 years, depending upon the species, the size, and the climate.  Hardwoods like maple and oak actually rot faster than softwoods like spruce and pine, and both degrade faster with moisture.  It might be said that the true life of a tree is measured in living years (50-150 on average) plus 30 years as a standing snag, and another 70 years or so on the ground.

spotted salamanderIf this seems like a long time to wait, consider that in the meantime, the limbs from downed trees provide habitat to plants and animals that require cover on the forest floor, like wrens and chipmunks.  Salamanders, toads, and many mammals make burrows under logs, or live inside.  It may be possible to work these features into your landscaping scheme, or to obscure them with a native climbing vine like Virginia creeper.

blowdownWhere it is unfeasible to leave downed wood on the ground, you might stick with a living lighter on the land approach and move it in large pieces to rot in a natural and out-of-the-way location.  Smaller pieces will rot more quickly but require more time and energy to cut.  Do not stack unless you seek to preserve the wood for burning or other use.  Occasionally, treefall in wind storms is so catastrophic that the survival of nearby trees and understory is threatened.  Pictured here is some of the damage wrought by Superstorm Sandy upon the forest in Carolin’s Grove Preserve in Pound Ridge, NY in 2012.

When so many trees are lost from the canopy in such a short time, there is great potential for lasting ecological changes including species loss, soil loss, and decline in water quality.  Our stewardship crew recognized that natural forest regeneration at this site was additionally threatened by excessive deer browse and the invasion of non-native species, and we decided to take action.  We hired a trained crew to spend several days cutting and chipping dead spruce in the Preserve, with a special focus on removing dangerous hanging limbs.  blowdown2Then, we installed a series of fenced areas in the new clearing and planted those with an assortment of native tree and shrub saplings.  This year, we plan to add more trees and pollinator plants.  We are already seeing the signs of natural forest regeneration.

When a tree falls in the forest, or even in your yard, it pays to think long-term about what course to take.  To learn how to select and plant native tree species on your property, attend our free workshop on May 7, 2016 (more information here) or volunteer with us on a tree-planting project in Pound Ridge this Spring!

 

 

 

 

For the Love of Nature

012How’s this for a paradox?  I am going to use my computer today to tell you about the many benefits of spending time outdoors in the natural world.  You likely already know this – you crave the sun on your face or the feel of soft earth underfoot.  Think of the joy in watching a child run after butterflies, or running after them yourself, and consider that this natural freedom and engagement is important to our overall well-being and humanity.

Henry David Thoreau experienced the healing powers of nature at Walden Pond, and John Burroughs at Slabsides.  Great thinkers from Aristotle to E. O. Wilson have used the term biophilia to describe what is in essence our deep love for life.  Cynics might point out that the environmental crisis suggests otherwise, but Wilson hypothesizes that there is an instinctive and inescapable bond between us and other living systems.  This is both biological and spiritual in nature, and it explains why we love our pets and our gardens and the notion of wilderness.  It explains why I keep getting pulled out my office door to find what bird is calling.  (I think we are seeing the first fall migrants on this cool morning.)

Just look at these happy faces on our preserve volunteers!

Deborah10532385_795118557194359_7539130908646882795_nIMG_0944

If you’ve had enough time at your screen and want to get outside, stop reading now and go for a hike at one of our many preserves in Pound Ridge (map).  To learn more about ways to engage yourself and your family in free-range discovery and other games and activities for life-long love of nature, you can attend our free workshop tomorrow at the Armstrong Preserve & Education Center (directions), from 2 to 4pm.   The public is invited to share ideas and to tour the outdoor classrooms on the Preserve on what looks to be a beautiful summer afternoon.  Please contact me for more information or visit our website at www.prlc.net.

August 9 Nature Education and Play.

 

March 23, 20152 years ago

Getting Started in the Garden

Getting Started in the GardenIt has been a tricky start to Spring, hasn’t it?  Five inches of snow fell here on the vernal equinox, just in time for our workshop and volunteer work session on Getting Started in the Garden.  I was prepared for this with a list of tasks that can be done under cover as well as a few out in the garden and compost areas in our Working Backyard demonstration area at the Armstrong Preserve and Education Center.

Getting started in the garden tasksOur first task was to clear the hoop house and compost bins of snow so that we could work in them.  Five hardy student volunteers from Pleasantville High School assisted in preparing these areas for workshop participants and then listened in to hear how their work contributes to our mission and programming at PRLC.

Students from Pleasantville High SchoolThey were astounded to learn that the dark brown compost in our seed starting mixture was harvested in fall from the same bins now in need of mixing.  They took turns forking in a winter’s worth of kitchen scraps and chicken coop bedding.  In a separate bin, they stirred leaves that are breaking down slowly into a nice weed-free seed-starting medium.  Here they are petting our rabbit, who produces a rich fertilizer for the compost.DSC_0898

Speaking of seeds, we have experimented with a number of starting mixes, which are intended to provide optimal conditions for germination but not necessarily for growing.  Mixes that lack compost will not support growing seedlings, so the gardener must either carefully add nutrients or transplant to containers with soil right away.  Our philosophy is to mimic natural ecological processes as much as possible, so I sacrifice some seed and plant in a mixture that contains 15-20% compost.

We also try to use what we have on hand:  this year, a large brick of coir, or coconut husk fiber, which is commonly used in greenhouses for tropical plants.  It breaks apart like peat moss and both absorbs and releases water in the same way.  I either scatter seed across filled trays or place them individually in plastic cells.  Seeds planted now do better in plastic, but closer to May, I will use cardboard egg cartons that have been soaked and prepped with drainage holes.

IMG_20140907_133330701_HDRThe first seeds I plant under lights are celery, leeks, and onion.  Next, started in mid-March, are the Mediterranean vegetables like eggplant, peppers and tomatoes.  They need the extra time in order to yield mature fruit by late summer.  Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and kale produce will better harvests when started early, say at the end of March.  Most other vegetables can be planted directly as seed in the garden.

hoop house seedlingsOutdoors in the (unheated) hoop house, we re-seeded lettuces, kales, and spinach over and around the surviving fall plantings of spring onion, carrots, and parsnips.  Feel free to plant the following outdoors now:  peas, arugula, spinach, and maybe even cabbage, onion sets, mustard, and turnips.  Wait a few weeks to plant beets, carrots, chard, and radishes, as they struggle against insects in cool weather.

See my prior blog posts on garden planning and getting a jump start on spring for more information on seed starting and use a cold frame or hoop house to extend the gardening season.  You can contact me for a tour of the garden and working backyard landscape at Armstrong, and please share your knowledge and your questions at our  May 30 workshop on planting and productivity.  Happy spring!

 

Winter Wildlife Tracking

IMG_20150128_084007826We have had a very good year for snow, and that means a good year for seeing the signs of winter wildlife.  Have you noticed the delicate tracks of bird feet around bushes and shrubs?  Have you wondered if the neighbor’s cat is visiting, or if that’s a bobcat?  The internet is a wonderful resource for learning to identify tracks, with endless pictures for comparison.  I will make a few recommendations here of books and websites that I find useful, but really, the best way to learn tracking is to practice tracking.   I will share some of my experiences with you and hope to inspire you to spend time in nature this long weekend.

Fox trackOn the long walk up to the Armstrong House from my daughter’s bus-stop, we made first tracks in a lightly falling powder.  Luckily, it was not enough snow for the plow.  In the morning, a fox’s track paralleled our own!  We followed it down to where it met a squirrel, right at the place where we often cross a stone wall to make a short-cut.  The squirrel got away, that was clear, and the track resumed down the driveway.  Later, on the walk back up, I saw that a young deer had entered the mix, and was probably just up ahead of me, leaving fresh track over mine and over the foxes.  Who else was out and about in this forest?  Animals are so very secretive…but they do leave evidence behind!

Another day, it had snowed steadily for 36 hours.  The snow was now so deep that mice, voles, and other small animals could move freely in tunnels under a warm blanket of snow.  Snow tunnels will measure a balmy 32 degrees F when outside, the wind is howling and the trees are cracking.  Snow cover is very beneficial to animals.  The forest feels pristine after such an event, with little sign of life other than the occasional, mixed flock of winter songbirds.  I found a deep track coming out of a cliff face on the Armstrong Preserve, from a “cave” where I had once seen a large canine scat, full of wild grape seeds.  I thought at first that I had found its winter den, but instead, the track led me on a long chase up and across a steep and rocky cliff face, from viewpoint to viewpoint on the preserve.  Oh, to be a fox for one day!

MIMG_20150211_135432422y final story is this:  I skied from Armstrong to Richards Preserve.  (Where we have a Guided hike on June 20).  Near the kiosk, I came upon markings in the snow that were completely isolated by a trackless surface around them.  A squirrel’s track started from the base of a tree and extended out only a few steps to a an area of disturbed snow.  Beyond that, five stripes cut into the surface on one side, five more on another.  A mouse’s track came to investigate.  Whooo was here?  Whooo was eaten?

To share stories of your tracking experiences and to learn more, please join me in further investigations of winter wildlife at our upcoming guided hike, at the Halle Ravine Preserve:  Saturday, February 28, at 10am.  Directions and a trail map are available on our website at prlc.net.  Updates and cancellations will be posted to our Facebook page.Guided Hike Flyer winter wildlife.

 

The American Woodcock

americanwoodcock AudubonAn odd little bird flushed up from the ground in late November at the Armstrong Preserve, startling me with its distinctive shape and erratic flight pattern.  It landed again on the ground and disappeared, camouflaged against the brown leaves of Autumn.  It was an American woodcock, rarely seen in southern New York except during migration.range map

The Breeding Bird Atlas of New York has documented a decline in this sandpiper species over the last thirty years, especially on Long Island and in the lower Hudson Valley.  Habitat loss and the prevalence of predators in suburban areas are a threat to ground-dwelling birds like the woodcock.  They are still hunted as game however, with open season in New York from October 1 to November 14.

The woodcock’s preferred habitat is old field in transition to forest.  This increasingly uncommon ecotype is also home to the now-rare New England cottontail rabbit.  In Pound Ridge, woodcock have been known to breed in the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation and are likely to at PRLC’s Clark Preserve.

woodcockimageA recommended resource for identifying and learning more about winged wildlife is All About Birds, by the famous Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

A list of the Birds of Westchester County, compiled by Hudson River Audubon, is a good place to fact-check when confirming the identity of a questionable bird.  They list the Woodcock as being common in spring (probably migrating birds) and uncommon in summer and fall.  Winter sightings have been made, meriting an “occasional.” Their year-round range should expand north with a warming climate.

NYS Breeding Bird Atlas

Author’s note on field guides: I am forever grateful to Roger Tory Peterson for his system of identifying field marks and also to David Sibley for his comprehensive descriptions.  I still prefer them to apps in the field.

 

 

 

 

 

Forest Stewardship in Westchester County

How much do you love your land?  Judging by real estate prices in our area, the residents of Pound Ridge and northern Westchester County value their lands highly.  They love it for its scenery, for the tranquil feelings it inspires, for the privacy it offers, and for opportunities to feel connected to the larger web of life.  Many of our residents feel a responsibility to steward their property in a way that preserves these cherished values for future generations.  They may also feel obligated to protect irreplaceable ecosystem services that our lands together provide, such as water filtration, flood control, wildlife habitat, and air quality control.  As a private and not-for-profit land trust, PRLC is committed to stewardship of the land we own (now totalling 360 acres) and to helping other area landowners live lighter on the land.  We offer a series of eduational workshops and guided hikes in addition to the information contained in our website and in this blog.

pine_natregen

Recent work on our preserves has been largely focused upon building resilience to change in our forests.  Functioning natural communities are always in flux but are also generally quite stable when they are large and interconnected across a landscape.  In the fragmented northeast, change is occurring at an acclerating rate, even faster than our climate.  It may be time to take the gloves off, or put them on and get to work on addressing some of the most potent threats to our local ecosystem.  These include an influx of invasive, non-native species and an overabundance of deer, along with cascading effects that limit forest regeneration, wildflower abundance, and overall plant, bird, and insect diversity.

PRLC’s land management strategy is to prioritize the values of a particular property and to outline both short- and long-term plans for protection.  For properties within the Croton Reservoir watershed, we partner with the Watershed Agricultural Council Management Assistance Program for advice and technical support on promoting forest health.  Several of our preserves now have management plans to guide stewardship over the next five to fifteen years.  At the 70 acre Clark Preserve for instance, we have worked steadily to control Japanese barberry (an invasive shrub) within an area of potentially healthy forest.  As a followup, volunteers fenced and planted a test strip with native shrubs and small trees that better support wildlife.  Species planted include Purple-flowering raspberry, American hazelnut, Spicebush, Winterberry, Northern bayberry, Witchhazel, Black currant, and Northern bush honeysuckle.  All of these are native to Pound Ridge and will grow in part-shade under a forest canopy.  Indeed, many of them can still be found where deer can not reach them.

DSC_1610

Similar work to establish and protect native forest understory was conducted at the Carolin’s Grove and Armstrong Preserves this year.  At Carolin’s Grove, we enclosed three 100 foot perimeter circles with deer fencing to promote the growth of young, naturally occurring trees within a blowdown (an area of forest damaged by Superstorm Sandy).  These small exclosures will foster the growth of “daughter” trees from the mothers that still stand, and will hopefully carry us into future generations.  In the meantime, we have work to do on controlling the deer population outside of fenced areas.

At the Armstrong Preserve, we recieved a grant to support the installation of a 500 foot perimeter deer fence in an area of older-aged oak forest.  Young oaks are a delicacy to deer and are rarely seen these days, while older oaks are top providers for a whole chain of forest creatures.  The Armstrong deer exclosure is featured as an outdoor learning environment at the Armstrong Education Center and is sure to be a big draw for visitors desiring a rich forest experience.  You are invited to tour this and other outdoor learning environments at Armstrong, including restoration areas in a woodland meadow and vernal pool, any day between dawn and dusk.  For more information, please contact the PRLC Land Steward & Educator Krista Munger.

IMG_20140520_150810_796

“Anyone who has a garden, park or orchard tree has an opportunity to ensure that it offers protection, brings beauty and bears fruit for future generations. In short, every one of us should aspire to be a forester.”
― Gabriel HemeryThe New Sylva: A Discourse of Forest and Orchard Trees for the Twenty-First Century

 

 

 

Cool Weather Gardening

DSC_1554 (2)

We greatly expanded our growing area this spring and summer at the Armstrong Education Center and have been reaping the fruits of our labor, both in the organic vegetable garden and in our native plant gardens.  These gardens are used to demonstrate sustainable land use concepts such as local food production for humans, honeybees, and other wildlife.  

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The plants have enjoyed our lovely fall weather and produced a late abundance of fruit and blossoms.  This summer was persistently cool and cloudy, which allowed for an extended planting season but also delayed or stunted blooming.  It also encouraged plant predation by insects.  Our vegetable gardens sustained heavy damage early on from Colorado potato beetles and the Squash vine borer (see my earlier blog post about how to keep squash producing into fall).  Later, we had difficultly controlling the Mexican bean beetle and caterpillars on the cole crops.  Not even our resident bull frog, pictured here, could keep them in check.  Because we strive to strike a balance with insect populations as part of the web of life, we use only organic methods in our gardens and attempt to deter them mainly through crop rotation and mulching.

IMG_20140901_192513898_HDRWhen things get out of hand, my tried-and-true method for organic pest control in the garden is to make "bug juice," also known as "sick juice."  I collect as many of the offenders as I can in a small jar with a lid.  I puree these in a little water in an old blender that I have reserved for this use.  Then I strain this liquid through a fine sieve and pour it into a spray bottle.  I use the rinse water from the blender jar (after it has been sieved) to dilute the liquid further.  Then I spray this on plants that are affected by that particular insect.  This is basically biological warfare: the premise being that one of the bugs in the mixture will carry a disease that then quickly spreads through the entire population.  This works on insects that have become overabundant on any kind of plant, including this native milkweed that has been infested with aphids.

milkweed with aphids

See our website calendar for a list of events you can attend for hands-on education on how to manage your own property with a Living Lighter on the Land mindset.  Learn how your activities can support the Pound Ridge's efforts to become a certified Community Wildlife Habitat, and please join our mailing list or like our facebook page for news and updates related to local conservation initiatives.

Chores still to be done at this time:

  • Plant winter rye as a cover crop, or mulch beds with shredded leaves covered by straw.
  • Plant trees and shrubs, and consider adding support until roots are set next year.
  • Create a leaf pile for a steady source of Fall mulch and Spring seed-sowing medium.
  • Harvest fall crops such as spinach, lettuce, and kale, and keep those beds covered at night.

 

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