Archive for 4) Ecological Garden Designs

Seeds and Wetland Plants for Wildlife

 

   Two of the top wildlife plants are oaks and pines.  These trees produce large, nutritious seeds.  It may seem strange that a tree could sacrifice so many of its seeds and still reproduce.  But by strategically producing bumper crops in some years and very little in others, the trees provide an erratic food supply to limit the population growth of the seedeaters.  Birds, squirrels and other small rodents disperse the seeds by caching them for later use.  Forgotten seeds may sprout and grow into new trees.

 

If you have ever found a pile of cone scales under a Douglas Fir, it is a sure sign that a Douglas Squirrel has been at work!

If you have ever found a pile of cone scales under a Douglas Fir, it is a sure sign that a Douglas Squirrel has been at work!

 

   The seeds of other conifers, such as true firs, spruces, Douglas Fir, hemlocks, larches, and cedars are also important food sources for many animals.  Other deciduous trees and shrubs that bear nutritious seeds include: maples, birches, mesquite, beeches, alders, hickories & pecans, elms, hazelnuts and ashes.

 

 

 

 

    Many herbaceous plants produce seeds that are eaten by wildlife.  Although people may consider many of these plants weeds, they are often important food sources for many animals.  Many landscape gardeners will find it very difficult to accept the idea of growing a “weed patch;” but those that are committed to sharing this planet with other species may be able to find a way to integrate it into their design.  Try to stick with species that are native to your area and make sure to eradicate any non-natives that are considered noxious weeds in your state or county.

     Most grass seeds are eaten by wildlife, especially cultivated crops such as corn, wheat and oats, as well as wild bristlegrasses (Setaria sp.) and panicgrasses (Panicum sp.).

High wildlife value weed seeds

 

ragweeds Ambrosia sp.
pigweeds Amaranthus sp.
knotweeds Polygonum sp.
filarees Erodium sp.
sunflowers Helianthus sp.
lambsquarters Chenopodium sp.
clovers Trifolium sp.
Russian thistle Salsola kali
doveweeds Croton sp.
turkey mullein Eremocarpus stigerus
tarweeds Madia & Hemizonia sp.
deervetches Lotus sp.
chickweed Stellaria media
 star thistles Centaurea sp.
dandelion Taraxacum sp.
sheep sorrel Rumex sp.

   The above table lists several non-grass weed plants with seeds–arranged with the most valuable at the top.  It is interesting to note that many of the weeds that are most valuable to wildlife are some of the most troublesome weeds.  I often wonder if the weeds that pop up in my garden have been transported there by some wild creature.

    Many wetland plants are important food sources for wildlife.  If you are lucky enough to have a pond or other water feature/wetland in your landscape, you may want to include some of these plants.  The plants listed in the following table include not only those with seeds that are eaten but plants that have foliage or tubers eaten as well.  Wetland areas are very important to fish, amphibians, waterbirds, and several species of invertebrates.

High wildlife value wetland plants.

Pondweeds Potamogeton sp.
Bulrushes Scirpus sp.
Smartweeds Polygonum sp.
algae  
Widgeongrass Ruppia maritima
sedges Carex sp.
spikerushes Eleocharis sp.
Wild rice Zizania aquatica
Wild millets Echinochloa sp.
cordgrasses Spartina sp.
naiads Najas sp.
Wild celery Vallisneria spiralis
duckweeds Several genera
Saltgrasses Distichlis sp.
Horned pond weed Zannichellia palustris
Burreeds Sparganium sp.
waterlilies Nymphaea
arrowheads Sagittaria sp.

 

Propagating Plants from Kitchen Scraps

   Throughout most of human history, food was collected of grown within just a few miles of where people lived. Today, most Americans depend on food imported from far away for much of their diet.

   We go to the grocery store and buy bananas from Ecuador, grapes from Chile and strawberries from Mexico. But it can be fun and educational to grow your own. You can even use kitchen scraps to grow a new plant—some for food, others just as an interesting houseplant.

  • Tubers: Have you ever had potatoes begin to sprout in your pantry? I often plant them out in my garden. In our area, it is best to grow potatoes in a container or raised bed with new soil in order to prevent infestations from wireworms. You can start harvesting new potatoes when plants are big and blooming. Commercial potatoes are often treated to delay sprouting, so only plant those that have started to grow on their own. Planted Jerusalem Artichokes will multiply and grow into pretty sunflowers.
  • Bulbs: Just recently I rescued some green onions from the compost pile. They were a little limp from the fridge, so I stuck them in a glass of water to hydrate them before I planted them out. I often plant extra garlic cloves into my garden beds. They grow quite nicely, but need to be marked because they are hard to find when dormant
  • Rhizomes: Ginger and turmeric are tropical plants that can be grown inside to make an attractive houseplant.
  • Cuttings: Many people put basil and other herbs in a glass of water to keep them fresh longer. Some herbs will grow roots and can be planted. To prolong harvesting, pinch off flowers. You can also regrow many plants from their top or crown. For pineapple, cut the top a quarter-inch or so below its base into the fruit and plant it in a sandy soil. The tops of carrots, beets, turnips and celeriac can similarly be planted to grow greens. For celery, cut most of the tops away and put the bottom in a dish of water until the leaves turn green and grow; then plant in soil.
  • Seeds: You can grow houseplants from avocado, citrus, mango, and raw coffee bean seeds; but don’t expect to be harvesting anytime soon. They take many years to flower and fruit. I get kiwi, melon, squash and tomatoes coming up in my compost all the time, but store-bought varieties may require a warmer climate, or, due to cross pollination, the resulting fruit may be surprisingly different. You can try planting nuts, but I always have trouble with squirrels digging them up before they sprout. You can also try planting a bag of mixed dried beans in May. You can even plant birdseed, but usually the rodents and jays do that for you, especially the sunflowers! You could try planting spice seeds: anise, caraway, coriander, cumin, dill, fenugreek, mustard, poppy and sesame. Some, however, such as Fennel are considered noxious weeds in Washington. Fresh seed is best.

      In the 17th century the Dutch East India Company brutally seized control and protected their monopoly of nutmeg production by executing natives and smugglers. To prevent the availability of fertile seeds they drenched the nutmegs in lime before shipping them out to be sold—So before you throw out or compost living plant material, decide whether it still has value.  Perhaps you can regrow it!

 

 

What can I plant, when?

    A couple of my friends have been asking what they should be planting and when…I am sure they are not alone in wanting garden scheduling advice.

    An easy way to start is to use the following guide to divide up your seed packets according to planting times and whether they will be direct sown or grown as transplants.  Although using a calendar is the easiest method to decide when to plant, soil temperature is actually a better guide to determine the best planting time.

My garden spring 2012

My garden spring 2012

   Early Spring:  (soil temperature 40-45° F) Plants that prefer colder temperatures can be planted in early March, (maybe even late February).  Peas do not do well in hot weather so it is important to get them planted as early as possible.   Radishes, lettuce, and spinach can be sown in successive plantings to extend harvest times until the weather gets too warm.  They can be sown again in late summer or fall.  Perennials such as asparagus, rhubarb, and strawberries can be planted as soon as they are available in nurseries.

   Early Transplants: Some plants are better sown indoors and moved out to the garden later for better success and to extend the growing season for those crops that benefit from a longer period of warmth.  Most can be started in early to mid-March, but artichoke is better sown earlier in the year.  Cole crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, and Brussels sprouts, prefer cooler temperatures and are best started in a cool greenhouse or a cold frame.  Some herbs, such as parsley, can also be started early.  I start my tomatoes and peppers in my warm house and transfer them to my greenhouse once they have germinated.  If kept in the house, make sure they get plenty of light!

I like to grow salad greens or "Mesclun" mixes in a pot. It is easy to snip a few leaves to add to a sandwich!

I like to grow salad greens or “Mesclun” mixes in a pot. It is easy to snip a few leaves to add to a sandwich!

   If you haven’t started any transplants, you can buy starts at a nursery.  The advantage of buying seeds and growing your own is that you can grow different varieties—I especially like seed mixes: my favorites include a hot pepper mix, a broccoli mix, and a lettuce or “mesclun, “(salad greens) mix.  The disadvantage is that you end up with more plants than you can use.  I often give extras to friends.  You may even be able to plan with a friend and decide to grow certain plants to share with each other!

   Mid-Spring: (soil temperature 45-55° F) Early April is a good time to sow many root crops such as carrots, beets, turnips and parsnips.  You can also direct-sow the cole crops. Plant seed potatoes in a raised bed with new soil to avoid wireworm infestation.  Onion starts should also be available at feed stores and nurseries.

   Late Transplants: I like to give my cucumbers, pumpkins and squashes (including zucchini) a head start by starting them in mid-April.  Basil can be sown at this time too.

    The “average last killing frost” for the Puget Sound region is between April  1st – 15th.  This is when it is considered safe to plant most transplants outside.   But you may want to wait until the weather is warmer for your tomatoes, peppers and basil.

   Late Spring: (soil temperature > 60° F) Corn, beans, gourds, and sunflowers need warm temperatures to germinate.  A soil thermometer can help you to decide whether you can plant earlier than mid-May.  If you didn’t start squashes earlier, you can also direct-sow them at this time.

    For a more comprehensive guide, Seattle Tilth’s “The Maritime Northwest Garden Guide,” tells you month by month what can be planted outside, in a cold frame or inside, including flowers and herbs!

(This article was first published in the Peninsula Gateway on April 14, 2010)

Is home food preservation a lost art?

Autumn is harvest time.  If you are like most people you have had some successes and some failures.

Some fruits and vegetables such as apples, winter squashes, cabbages, potatoes, and many root crops will store well without any preparation; as long as only healthy, intact, and unblemished produce is stored.  These foods were traditionally stored in a root cellar dug into a hillside.  Some root crops can just be left in the ground with extra mulch to prevent freezing.  A proper root cellar needs darkness, cool temperatures (32-40° F), adequate ventilation, and high humidity, with no dripping condensation.  Some older houses even have built in cupboards that have ventilation to the outside for storing produce.

    Drying is perhaps the oldest form of food preservation; fish, meat, fruits, vegetables, and herbs have been dried in the sun for thousands of years.  The traditional method is just to lay the food out on drying screens.  Daytime temperatures, however, should be 85-100°F or more, which is unlikely in our climate—except with specially designed solar dehydrators.  Homemade or commercial electric dehydrators give you much more control (especially in excluding insects and other pests).  Oven-drying is only possible if your oven can be set at lower temperatures (130-150° F).  Smoking is a better option for meats and fish, but requires a specially built barbecue or smokehouse.  Curing, the dehydration of food using salts, is usually done prior to smoking.

Blueberries, frozen on a tray prior to packaging.

Blueberries, frozen on a tray prior to packaging.

Freezing was used in colder climates.  Modern freezers make this the easiest way to preserve your food.  It’s best to look up the best method for each crop.  Fruit can be frozen with or without sugar or syrup.  Berries can be frozen on trays to keep them separate and subsequently repackaged.  Most vegetables need to be blanched first.  Blanching involves dipping them in boiling water for a few minutes; this process slows enzyme action and preserves flavor, texture and nutritive value.  I’ve found that frozen vegetables that were not blanched end up tasting bitter.  Tomatoes, peppers and onions do not need to be blanched.

    Fermentation uses microorganisms to convert starches and sugars to alcohol; barley into beer, fruits into wine, and cabbage into sauerkraut or kimchi. Wines, beers or ciders that have transformed into vinegar can then used to make pickles. Pickling involves soaking a food in acid (usually vinegar) to chemically transform it.  Spices are added to many pickling recipes to make chutneys, relishes, and other sauces.

Early cultures stored fruit in honey.  Although sugar had been known to Europeans since the time of the crusades, due to taxation and other trade barriers it was not widely available to common people until the end of the 19th century.   With sugar, you can preserve fruits by making jams and jellies.  For the best results, follow an appropriate recipe in a box of pectin.

Canned plums and mixed berry jam

Canned plums and mixed berry jam

   Canning is a process of heating foods in jars or cans to destroy microorganisms and inactivate enzymes, as the jars cool they create a vacuum seal that prevents recontamination.  This can be done with a large kettle or a pressure cooker.  Canning fruits, such as peaches and pears (and tomatoes), is safe and rewarding.  I have even made my own apple pie filling!  Low-acid foods such as meat or vegetables (excluding pickles) need to be processed with a steam pressure canner to prevent against botulism poisoning.

Keep growing to eat healthy!  Starts of cool-season vegetables can still be planted. — Sprouts can be grown year-round in your kitchen!

(This article was first published in the Peninsula Gateway on September 29, 2010)

 

What do Animals Eat?

 

Ducks in a row

Ducks in a row

   Birds: Waterbirds, such as ducks and geese, feed mainly on plants such as pondweed and bulrushes but may also eat fish, crustaceans or mollusks.  Marshbirds or shorebirds, such as cranes and herons, eat more crustaceans, worms, insects and mollusks.  Gamebirds, such as grouse, turkey and doves, rely mostly on plant buds, leaves, fruits and seeds. Corvids, such as crows, ravens & jays are omnivorous, and will eat insects, nestlings, small mammals, berries, fruits, seeds, and carrion. Songbirds also have wide ranging diets—including seeds, berries and insects.  Birds of Prey, such as hawks and owls, eat small rodents, birds and fish.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

A Raven

A Raven

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Hawks

Hawks

Woodpecker

Woodpecker

 

Elk

Elk

 

 

 

 

 

   Mammals: Hoofed Browsers feed almost exclusively on plants; Deer and elk mostly on the tender shoots of trees and shrubs; Bison and antelope mostly on grass and herbs.  Small Rodents, such as rats, mice, and squirrels feed mainly on seeds and nuts.  Moles, shrews and bats feed almost entirely on insects or worms.  Larger rodents, such as beaver, mountain beaver and porcupine, as well as rabbits and hares feed almost exclusively on leaves, twigs or bark.  Skunks are mostly insectivorous but will eat other small animals and berries.  Opossums, raccoons and bears are omnivorous.  Carnivores include: weasels, badgers, foxes, coyotes, wolves, lynx, bobcat and mountain lions. 

Rabbit

Rabbit

Douglas Squirrel

Douglas Squirrel

Raccoon

Raccoon

Black Bear

Black Bear

Coyotes

Coyotes

Deer

Deer


 

Lizard

Lizard

    Reptiles: Lizards feed mostly on insects, spiders, earthworms and other invertebrates.  Most snakes are completely carnivorous with a varied diet from invertebrates and bird’s eggs to other small vertebrates.  Most turtles are more herbivorous, feeding on fruits, leaves, tender shoots or aquatic plants, some will also eat invertebrates and small waterfowl.

  

 

Frog

Frog

   Amphibians:  Frog and toad tadpoles are mostly herbivores, adults live mostly on insects.  Salamanders are largely carnivorous, feeding on worms, sowbugs, insects and crustaceans.

 

 

 

Salmon

Salmon

   Fish: Young fry may feed on phytoplankton or algae, otherwise fish generally consume invertebrates or smaller fish.

 

 

 

 

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

   Insects and other invertebrates:  Many people may not be anxious to invite these “creepy crawlies” into their garden.  But as you can see from the above list, many animals depend on invertebrates for food.  They are an important part of the food web.  Broad use of pesticides can severely impact the availability of these important food sources and disrupt the balance of predator to prey.  Invertebrates may eat plants, nectar, decaying matter, or other invertebrates.

 

 

Should Gardeners Grow Endangered Species?

    Of the about 150 “Species of Concern” (Endangered, Threatened, Sensitive, or Candidate Species) listed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 25% are birds, 21% are mammals, 21% are fish, 15% are insects (10% butterflies or moths), 7% mollusks, 6% amphibians, and  5% reptiles, with one listed annelid:  the Giant Palouse Earthworm!  These are just the species that people have noticed, either because of their economic significance, their “cute and cuddly” factor or simply due to the fascination of individual hobbyists and scientists.   You can visit the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife for a complete list.

      Botanical gardens and arboreta perform the same functions as zoological gardens (“zoos”).  Although historically, they both were primarily created by avid collectors for amusement, now both strongly focus on education and conservation.

     Home gardeners are also often motivated by the urge to collect beautiful, interesting, or exotic plant species.  The cultivation of rare plants in home gardens can help preserve species as long as it is done responsibly.  The well-known Gingko tree, probably would not have survived if Chinese monks had not started cultivating them in their monasteries over 1000 years ago!

     Rare species are not often found in nurseries, except in states where they are more common.  Gardeners should purchase plants, bulbs or seeds only from a reputable nursery (one that documents the sources of their stock).  Many of our favorite cultivated flower bulb species are now rare or extinct in their native lands (mostly Eastern Europe) due to overcollection.  Collection of wild plants should be done sensitively.  Some plants such as many of our native orchids, have complex, semiparasitic life strategies and will not survive transplantation, so are better left alone.   Others can be propagated by judicious collection of seeds or cuttings.  The digging of a whole plant should only be done if it is in danger by development, or if other methods are not viable—as long as there is a large enough, sustainable population at the collection site!—and you have permission of the property owner.

    There are over 400 rare vascular plants tracked by the Washington National Heritage Program of the Department of Natural Resources.  Listed separately are about 80 mosses, 130 lichens, 30 marine algae, and 60 macrofungi.   It is important to note that even though a plant is listed as rare in Washington, it may be common in other states.   Of the 31 rare plants listed for Pierce County, 16 are only known due to historical records. 

Golden Chinkapin, Chrysolepis chrysophylla, is listed as a "sensitive" species in Washington State.

Golden Chinkapin, Chrysolepis chrysophylla, is listed as a “sensitive” species in Washington State.

    About 10% of the rare plants in Washington are sedges, rushes and reeds with another 5% miscellaneous water plants; 9% are grasses; 7% are ferns.   Few are woody species:  several willows, a raspberry, some alpine heather-relatives, a currant, a gooseberry, a hawthorn, and a species related to chestnuts: the Golden Chinquapin.  Many rare plants are weedy-looking species that would have very little appeal to the home gardener, however many species are related to well-known cultivated species: several daisy-like fleabanes and asters, campanulas and lobelias, lupines, gentians, blue-eyed grasses, alliums, evening primroses, saxifrages, monkey flowers and penstemons, a nicotiana, and a violet.  Click here for a complete list and more information on each species.

    The listing of endangered species is useful to help us identify critical habitats.  Although the extinction of any single species is a sad event (excluding diseases and certain “pest” organisms), even more important is preserving habitat.  As humans continue to encroach into “undeveloped,” wild areas, habitat preservation and restoration become more and more important to preserve the “web-of-life” on which we all depend.  That is why growing and planting native plants is one of my passions!

(This article was first published in the Peninsula Gateway on June 16, 2010 as Should gardeners grow endangered species locally?)

 

Propagation of Native Plants

   Native plants may be propagated by seed or by different methods of asexual propagation.  A little bit of research can help you to determine the best method for each species. Learning and using methods that have been used successfully by others, will increase the chances of your own success.

Many native plant seeds need to be left outside over the winter. Covering them with hardware or another tray with small mesh openings may discourage seed eaters & herbivores, rodents, birds, slugs, rabbits, etc.)

Many native plant seeds need to be left outside over the winter. Covering them with hardware or another tray with small mesh openings may discourage seed eaters & herbivores, rodents, birds, slugs, rabbits, etc.)

Seed propagation is the preferred method to ensure genetic variability, or when greater numbers are desired.  Many seeds, however, are not ready to germinate directly after ripening on the mother plant.  They often need to go through chemical or physical changes before they are able to grow.

Stratification: Many of our native plant seeds need to go through a cold period before they will germinate.  Some need a warm period prior to the cold period (especially those that ripen earlier in the summer).  This kind of seed treatment is called stratification from the Latin “to layer.”  The easiest way to stratify seeds is simply to mimic the conditions the seed would encounter in nature.   For many plants, simply sowing the seeds in the fall and leaving them out through the winter will work.  If you need to, you can stratify seeds by placing them in a moist media, in a partially open bag (for gas exchange) in a refrigerator for the appropriate amount of time, but seedlings that germinate in the bag before planting, often do not fair well.

Scarification:  Some seeds have a very hard seed coat that prevents them from absorbing water or oxygen.  In nature, these seeds would go through a process that would break through this hard seed coat.  Often seeds that are contained in a fruit would pass through the digestive system of an animal.  Some seeds, where forest fires are common, need heat to melt resins to be released from their cone or they need to be burned slightly to weaken the hard seed coat. The word scarify, means “to scratch” in Latin.  To mechanically scarify seeds, you can rub them with sand paper, notch them with a file, or crack them with a hammer, being careful not to damage the embryo.  Seeds are also sometimes scarified by soaking them in acid or hot water.

Seeds that you have sown often need to be protected from foraging rodents and birds.  Covering them with a floating row cover may discourage birds and keep out weed seeds, too. Covering the trays with hardware cloth or another tray with small mesh openings may also help discourage birds and rodents; it may be necessary to set out traps, bait or repellents. Emerging seedlings and cuttings may also need protection from slugs and rabbits.

Asexual propagation:  The most common method of asexual propagation is by stem (sometimes root) cuttings.  Cuttings may be dipped in a hormone treatment such as IBA (indolebutyric acid) to aid in rooting and then stuck (right side up!) in an appropriate media, such as sand, peat moss, vermiculite, perlite or regular potting soil.  More difficult plants may be propagated by layering; where a branch that is still attached to the tree or shrub is bent down, and covered with soil to encourage root growth. Wounding by scarring or notching the bark prior to burial may aid this process.  Division: Plants that produce many stems or spread by rhizomes may simply be dug up and divided as long as each piece has sufficient roots to sustain it.

All of these propagation methods require the appropriate temperature, moisture and light levels.  Misting and bottom heat may be beneficial.

Growing new plants that will enhance your landscape or revegetate natural areas is very rewarding.  Especially when you can watch the plants grow through the years!  Unfortunately, I do not get to see many of the plants that I grow at the nursery mature; but I have the satisfaction of knowing they are helping to improve the ecology of our region by providing food and cover for wildlife, helping to combat pollution by filtering our watersheds and reducing global warming by sequestering CO2!

My native plant encyclopedia, http://nativeplantspnw.com gives some basic propagation procedures for each species that had been uploaded so far. For more detailed information, a link is given to the Propagation Protocol Database, http://www.nativeplantnetwork.org/Network/ if available.

 

 

(This article was first published in the Peninsula Gateway on November 10, 2010 as Propagating native plants for your backyard habitat.)

Ponds, Pollywogs & Sallywogs

    I recently went to a workshop on identifying amphibians and their egg-masses.  It was put on by the Stream Team of Thurston County and was taught at the LOTT Wet Center by Marc Hayes, a Senior Research Scientist and herpetologist from the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife. They were training volunteers to help survey the populations of amphibians in several urban wetlands in and around Olympia.

. Pacific Chorus Frogs can be a different colors, including green, tan, reddish, gray, brown, cream, and black, even blue! They start their chirping when temperatures reach about 40° F.

. Pacific Chorus Frogs can be a different colors, including green, tan, reddish, gray, brown, cream, and black, even blue! They start their chirping when temperatures reach about 40° F.

    I am fortunate to have good amphibian habitat on my property. I have an “ephemeral” pond that dries up in the summer.   Pacific Tree Frogs seem to lay their eggs as long as water is there.  Dr. Hayes said they may breed for over 2 months, whereas most other species only breed for a week or two. We love listening to their chorus during evenings in spring—temperatures have to be above 40°F before they start their chorus— some say that if you count the number of ribbits in 14 seconds and add the result to 40, you will get the approximate outside temperature.

   I provided tadpoles every year for my son’s classes when he was in elementary school.   A couple years ago, I went hunting for frog eggs in the wetland at the back of my property and brought back a huge gelatinous mass. I was surprised and delighted to discover Northwestern Salamander “sallywogs” had hatched out.

My "scummy" fountain is always full of life!

My “scummy” fountain is always full of life!

   Whenever I collect amphibian eggs or tadpoles, I always make sure to keep plenty of the pond water and some grass, too.  Keeping a balanced ecosystem gives the tadpoles a better chance of survival. Recently, I spoke with someone who said that they had bad luck with raising tadpoles—it sounded like they tried to keep the water too clean. Tadpoles are largely vegetarian and will eat algae and the grass in the tank. You can supplement by feeding them fish food flakes, too.   Sallywogs eat insects and other invertebrates, but they will eat tadpoles and cannibalize other sallywogs, too.  Adult frogs eat mostly insects. I usually release them in my outside fountain before they completely metamorphose so they can find their own prey. Some people are critical of the algae-green-tinged water in my fountain.  I clean it out later in the summer, but I usually find one remaining salamander still living there!

Whenever I would kick my son & his friends outside away from the video games they would usually end up in the pond hunting frogs!

Whenever I would kick my son & his friends outside away from the video games they would usually end up in the pond hunting frogs!

   Amphibians have become one of the indicator species of a healthy ecosystem. They are sensitive to pollution and to invasive diseases, such as the Chytrid fungus. You can help out by creating your own frog pond. It is not hard; you just have to be willing to accept having some algal growth. You can dig a pond in the ground, but you may need a pond liner if the water drains away too quickly. Or you can have an above ground water feature, pool or fountain. An important step is introducing natural pond flora & fauna to your pond by getting some pond detritus from a friend or neighbor along with the frog eggs or tadpoles. Dr. Hayes adds a feeder goldfish to each of his pools to control mosquitoes.

   It is fun and educational to see what else appears. One of the most fascinating insects is the Caddis Fly larva that makes a cocoon of bits of debris. If you have a microscope, you can see and study the tiny pond critters, too.

   In this day and age, it is hard to get the kids outside away from video games and TV, but whenever my son’s friends come over and I kick them outside, they end up knee deep in the pond searching for frogs!

(This article was first published in the Peninsula Gateway on February 13, 2013)

Got Slugs? Encourage snakes with a Hibernaculum!

    If your landscape is designed to harbor a healthy habitat for a variety of creatures, you will have less of a problem with pest species.   Frogs continue to lay eggs as long as there is water in our seasonal pond—it always dries up before all the tadpoles grow up.  Sometimes we rescue a few and put them in my fountain.  Visitors often tell me I should clean out the algae, but I don’t want to disrupt the small ecosystem contained therein!  Often there are salamander larvae along with the frog tadpoles.  Although tadpoles are mostly herbivorous, adult frogs and salamanders are mostly carnivorous, eating insects, worms, slugs and even bigger prey depending on the size of the frog or salamander.  I enjoy hearing a frog’s ribbit in my greenhouse and am happy to let it hunt for prey in there!

    I rarely have trouble with slugs.  I am convinced it is because of the predator species that live in and around my garden.  It is amazing that creatures you rarely even see can be helping to control the ones that could potentially cause a lot of damage.  Although frogs, salamanders, lizards, birds and other predators may help to control slugs, I believe that garter snakes have the biggest impact.  We actually found a garter snake one time that was in the process of eating a slug!

    Few reptiles live here in the cool Pacific Northwest.  Being poikilothermic or “cold-blooded,” they hibernate during cold spells and only come out when it is warmer to bask in the sun.  In Western Washington, there are two turtle species; two lizards, a Rubber Boa, and three species of garter snakes: the Common Garter Snake, the Western Terrestrial Garter Snake and the Northwestern Garter Snake.

   Garter snakes hibernate in aggregations; hundreds, sometimes thousands, collect in the same hibernaculum to spend winter together.  A hibernaculum is the place where animals hibernate.  You can build one in your yard to provide a nice warm spot for garter snakes to hide and live through the winter.  The basic idea is to create a labyrinth of tunnels with materials that absorb heat and stay warm for a long period of time. Start by finding a sunny, well-drained spot protected from cold winds.  It should not be too dry; however, snakes require adequate humidity levels so that they do not dehydrate.  Dig a pit deeper than the frost-line (in the Puget Lowlands, about 12-18.”)  Fill the hole with rocks, concrete blocks, bricks, slabs, black PVC drain pipes or other appropriate materials, creating many chambers at different levels, making sure there are open passages and several entrances.  Cap with an insulating layer of smaller rock rubble, or other heat absorbing material, making sure to keep entrances open.  Keep the area clear of vegetation that could grow up and shade your hibernaculum, but provide cover for emerging snakes in the form of logs, rocks, brush or uncut grass.

     Breeding season occurs in the spring as they emerge from hibernation.  During the summer, you can often find garter snakes hiding under black plastic, plywood or other materials that absorb solar radiation and in crevices next to warm bricks or rocks.  Garter snakes are also likely to take advantage of tunnels created by moles, voles and gophers.

     Besides weeds, rodents–mice and voles, (and the neighbor’s peacocks) are my worst pest problem.  They eat seeds and emerging seedlings.  My cat always seemed more interested birds and squirrels.  Now what predator could I encourage to control the rodents? … Hmmm…– Maybe foxes, or weasels or even a raptor?

(This article was first published in the Peninsula Gateway on August, 18 2010))

Fruits are made to be eaten!

 

Acorns are nutritious food for squirrels & jays.

Acorns are nutritious food for squirrels & jays.

     Fruits evolved to offer animals a nutritious food, encouraging them to disperse the seeds of the plant.  Frugivores can be free of guilt—fruit is produced to be eaten!   You can be sure that a fruit will attract some kind of hungry animal just as a showy flower will attract a pollinator.  In fact many seeds must pass through the gut of an animal before they will germinate.

    Two of the top wildlife plants are oaks and pines.  Instead of fruit, these trees produce large, nutritious seeds.  It may seem strange that a tree could sacrifice so many of its seeds and still reproduce.  But by strategically producing bumper crops in some years and very little in others, the trees provide an erratic food supply to limit the population growth of the seedeaters.  Birds, squirrels and other small rodents disperse the seeds by caching them for later use.  Forgotten seeds may sprout and grow into new trees.

Blue Elderberry

Blue Elderberry

    Elderberries are next in importance.  Red Elderberry, Sambucus racemosa, is the most common in our area.  Blue Elderberry, S. caerulea, can also be found in more open sites.  Pileated Woodpeckers, Flickers, Steller’s Jays and many other birds eat these berries.  People eat them too, usually cooked or made into jelly or wine.  Raw Red Elderberries may cause nausea in people.

    Surprisingly, Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum, is listed as the next important species. Wren Tits, Thrushes, Flickers, Sapsuckers and other Woodpeckers eat its white berries.  The only places I have seen Poison Oak is on Cutt’s Island and Maury Island.  There is a saying: “Leaves of three, let it be; berries white, poisonous sight.”  Most people would not want this in their yard even with its high wildlife value!

Salmonberries

Salmonberries

    The most important native Brambles, for people and wildlife are Salmonberry, Rubus spectabilis, Blackcap Raspberry, R. leucodermis, and Thimbleberry, R. parviflorus.  Many birds eat these berries, including Robins, Thrushes, Towhees, Tanagers, Grosbeaks, Waxwings and Grouse.  Trailing Blackberry (Dewberry), R. ursinus is our only native blackberry; it often appears as a weed, but you may want to allow some of it to grow in a wild garden.  Himalayan and Evergreen Blackberries, although good for wildlife, are invasive non-natives and should be controlled.

    Many of our important berries are in the Heath family, Ericaceae. The most common are Salal, Gaultheria shallon and Evergreen Huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum.   People and wildlife enjoy these and other huckleberries, including Red Huckleberry, V. parvifolium.  Manzanitas, Arctostaphylos sp., are more important in California, but we have two native species:  Kinnikinnick or Bearberry, A. uva-ursi, a popular groundcover, and Hairy Manzanita, A. columbiana.  Our only broad-leaved evergreen tree, the Pacific Madrone, Arbutus menziesii has red berries.  

Evergreen Huckleberry

Evergreen Huckleberry

    We have 3 species of Dogwood: a tree; Pacific Dogwood, Cornus nuttallii, a shrub; Redtwig Dogwood, C. sericea, and a groundcover; Bunchberry C. canadensis.  Grosbeaks, Waxwings and Woodpeckers eat dogwood fruits.

    Other fruiting natives include: Cascara, Rhamnus purshiana, Serviceberry, Amelanchier alnifolia, Gooseberries and Currants, Ribes sp., Oregon Grapes, Mahonia sp., Pacific Crabapple, Malus fusca, Black Hawthorn. Crataegus douglasii, Highbush Cranberries, Viburnum sp., Roses, Rosa sp., Honeysuckles, Lonicera sp. Mountain Ashes, Sorbus sp., Indian Plum, Oemleria cerasiformis, and Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus.  Of these, Serviceberries, Gooseberries and Oregon Grapes are frequently eaten by people; often prepared into jellies.

    In addition to providing food for wildlife and people, berries are often an attractive feature in the landscape during fall and winter, especially the ones with bright red berries.  Treat yourself and the local wildlife to a smorgasbord by planting some of these juicy selections.

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