Thursday, January 03, 2013 9:17 PM
Snow fell on Christmas Eve giving us a white Christmas.
White Christmas is not common here but always possible. Some drive to the
mountains to enjoy the snow when it doesn’t fall on the plains. A running joke
is that celebrating Christmas on Halloween ensures a white “Christmas” as it
seems to snow more often on Halloween than on Christmas.
This years’ snow fall was only an inch or two but continuing
cold weather kept it on the ground for days. It is always interesting to me to
see what wildlife is about after a snowfall. Deeper snowfalls may keep animals
in for a day or even two but soon they are out foraging for food.
Bare patches in the snow with lots of rabbit, deer or other
animal tracks show that where they have dug down to eat. Larger animals such as
deer may eat tree bark while heavy snow cover is on. If you see a cluster of
their tracks in your orchard, check the trees.
Of course animals are about all during the year but their
trails and eating habits are often nearly invisible to us without snow cover.
On the dry lands, antelope may follow a trail that is all but invisible but
that is consistent. By walking their range after a snow, you can easily see
Occasionally animals seem to play in the snow much as humans
do but their tracks usually show the daily activities. Clusters of tracks point
to grazing or eating. Deep widely spaced tracks usually indicate running either
after food or to escape being caught. More leisurely deposited tracks will show
the trails to and from water, food or cover. Look carefully and you may also
find spots where animals have bedded down in the snow. Deeper holes made by rabbits can sometimes be
found in deeper snow banks. Amazingly
the rabbits appear to use these for days during heavy snow. During warmer hours
they may sit on the snow bank enjoying the sun ready to pop in if a predator
appears or the temperature drops.
I found a lovely bird print in the snow that didn’t really
tell a clear story. The size of the bird does not seem to indicate a bird of
prey. Perhaps it the bird simply flew down from the overhanging tree and spread
its wings to make the landing.
Today the Christmas snowfall is well tracked up in the lawn
area and ample rabbit droppings are deposited. The story is less interesting
than after the first fall. Subsequent snowfalls on old snow may make tracking
more challenging. Frequently the snow will crust during sunny days. If it
crusts with many tracks making it rough, new snow and new tracks will be more
difficult to trace. Likewise granular snow and very dry drifted snow may
capture many tracks.
The snow tales are obscured now and sadly the moisture
content was not a big help to plant life or animals. Perhaps we can hope for
another snow with or without a holiday.
Thursday, December 20, 2012 9:41 PM
There are many plants and animals in any area that are
non-native. These typically range from desirable introduced species such as
pheasant to those labeled invasive and noxious. It is easy to see how the
desirable species get transplanted. In my area there is a large local goose
population that was started by one person who thought it would be nice to have
a local population. Where we once had a
migratory population, we now have geese that nest here and spend their entire
Strangely enough, species that are later labeled invasive,
noxious and so on, are sometimes introduced with similar good intentions.
English sparrows and starlings were brought to this country by someone who
thought it would be nice to have all of the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s
works living in America.
Other species that become pests are accidently introduced.
Many of the weeds that are now classified as noxious apparently were introduced
in imported hay, bedding and feed as seeds. A current concern is the spread of
various aquatic plants and invertebrates such as snails that are moved from
waterway to waterway on boats, trailers and other equipment. Obviously weed
seeds, snail eggs and tiny organisms are difficult to control and easily spread
in other activities.
According to the USDA, an invasive species is a non-native
or alien species whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or
environmental harm or harm to human health.
They note that the vigor of invasive plant species combined with a lack
of natural enemies can lead to outbreak populations.
You have probably heard in the news about some of the
species listed as invasive on the USDA web site: Africanized honeybees,
Mediterranean fruit fly, soybean cyst nematode, Burmese python. Once a species
is considered invasive, it is usually opposed with regulations. Before a species reaches the level requiring
regulation, we can all do our part. Do not release or allow the escape of
animals, particularly exotic pets. When dealing with natural materials that could
contain unwanted seeds, eggs or tiny organisms, be sure that you are working
through legitimate business channels. Even buying plants at nurseries, for
example, may not ensure that you don’t receive some unwanted seeds or organisms
in the soil. More casual sources, such as buying an exotic potted plant at a
flea market, will certainly not ensure unwanted pests.
Nursery catalogues sometimes contain notes that particular
plants cannot be shipped to specific states. These guidelines are sometimes in
places to prevent the sale of nursery stock into areas where it can become
I purchased water hyacinth for a decorative pond. By the end
of summer, I was raking it off the pond and allowing it to dry out and die off.
After a winter of freezing weather, I no longer had water hyacinth. In a warm
climate, I can imagine it taking over every square inch of water surface and
living from year to year. Water hyacinth
may overgrow in our zone 10 but in other areas they can likely can overwinter
and become invasive.
Thursday, December 13, 2012 6:20 PM
Last week, I blogged about the challenges of driving where
you may encounter big game. Alas, small animals also use the backroads and can
become victims as well. Squirrels and rabbits seem to be the most common
animals encountered on roads. Like deer, they often appear indecisive and can
be difficult to avoid.
Our local resident geese population can also be obstacles.
Their slow sedate march across the road sometimes causes them to become the
victims. Geese and also ducks with young will not fly and if they start across
a roadway are totally at the mercy of drivers. Most drivers will try to avoid
wildlife but even animal lovers can sometimes cause deaths simply because the
animals don’t behave as expected or other traffic make car animal collisions
unavoidable. Considering the size of a grown goose, drivers would do well to
avoid collision with them. Imagine what one would do to a windshield?
Turtles and snakes are certainly at the mercy of drivers.
Few turtles are seen on the roads in this arid area but of course they move so
slowly that they are on the road a long time once they start a journey across
it. Snakes apparently enjoy the retained heat in the roadway and will sometimes
lie on the road for warmth. Sadly, many people will run over any snake with the
justification that they thought it to be a rattler. Most dead snakes that I
have seen on the road dead are bull snakes, a harmless and useful snake that
somewhat resembles rattlesnakes. Although many motorists can’t be bothered to
identify a snake before they run over it, I see a lot of people on back roads
stop to look at dead snakes apparently to verify the species.
Like the larger species, small mammals and snakes are often
active at night and can hit when they are suddenly in the headlights. Birds are
more likely to be hit in the daytime.
Although larger animals such as deer may survive a collision
at low speed, smaller animals are nearly always killed outright. Of course
collisions should be avoided at all times but considering the possible impact
on young animals, collisions in the spring can be particularly tragic. A female
mammal killed in the spring will usually mean young that die of neglect.
Likewise female birds that are killed usually mean that the young are at
serious risk. In some birds species, the male also tends the young but ‘single
parenting’ in animal species can mean that the young are left alone for long
periods while the surviving parent forages, and the predators often move in.
Animal vehicle collisions can not all be avoided sadly. If
you enjoy wildlife, a routine drive can be an opportunity to see nature.
Looking for wildlife can mean looking out for them on the roadway. Be
especially alert in areas where you may have seen wildlife in the past and at
the times of day when animals are most active. Often an animal on the roadway
at night is visible by variations in dark and light patterns. Slow down if you
see animals near or on the roadway. Not only may you save the animals life, you
may avoid some expensive damage to your vehicle!
Monday, December 03, 2012 6:49 PM
Fortunately members of the deer family now roam about everywhere in the United States. One of the down sides to the deer population is that the deer are sometimes hit on the back roads and highways. I can speak from experience that even a small
deer can cause significant auto damage and sadly most deer that are hit die.
In my area, mule deer, white tailed deer and antelope are all residents. Traveling to the mountains means the white tail deer and
antelope are not present but even larger elk or moose can be encountered. How can we enjoy the wildlife and not have these encounters?
One of the best strategies is to keep wildlife in mind and be particularly watchful in wooded areas, near streams and where deer crossing signs are posted. Of course the deer could care less about the signage but such signs are often posted where many car and animal collisions and near collisions have occurred. Mornings and evenings are prime times for collisions because the animals are active and the vision is less clear.
Besides considering the surroundings there are some strategies to use for avoiding collision with wildlife. Many people describe
collisions with deer as, “the deer jumped in front of me”. Recently when driving at night, I saw a doe and two half grown fawns. True to their character, they took a long time to decide which side of the road and then which side of the fence they wanted to escape to. I slowed down and let them make their decision without pressure. Usually a group of deer will stay together but it is hard to predict what their plan is. The expression, “like a deer in the headlights” may have some validity. Some deer seem to panic whether because of the lights or the motion.
Many times antelope are more wary than deer. Certainly they are less likely to use cover and are as likely to be encountered along a wide open stretch of highway as anywhere. Like deer, they will usually stay in a group. Unlike deer, they rarely seem to be about during the night, although it is not unknown. The dangers with antelope on a road are due to their habit of crawling under fences as opposed to leaping over them. A fence that would appear to be an easy leap for them to make, may seem like an obstacle and they
will stop and mill around or crawl under it. Another habit that is dangerous is their tendency to determine their course and stick with it. While it sounds easier to avoid collision than when dealing with the flighty deer, antelope may determine that their path is across the road and even the presence of traffic doesn’t always deter them. If you see them on the road or even running toward the road, stop. Their definition of right away only applies to them! Elk and moose on the highway are definitely something to be aware of when driving in the mountains. These are very large animals and their long legs may put the bulk of their weight at windshield height with a potential for disastrous accident.
Monday, November 26, 2012 10:27 AM
I am actually ahead of schedule for holidays this year, having celebrated Thanksgiving early. I am thinking ahead to Christmas and a
Christmas tree and other traditions. A live tree in the house, or even some green garlands or a centerpiece give a wonderful scent. Somehow the scent of evergreens is so reminiscent of the forest that nature lovers find it irresistible. Of course all evergreens, even those cut from the forest fresh, are dead and sooner or later shed needles.
An appealing alternative seems to be the live tree that can be planted later. If you have space to add a tree, this seems ideal. Reading
the care of live trees in the winter, adds some real challenges to the ideal solution. Trees should only be kept inside for about a week and then stored in an unheated garage, barn or other building. Also root balls add significant weight. In my house, the tree and root ball would have to be taken up or downstairs to living space or perhaps displayed in the unheated garage. While living trees seem to be an ideal solution, there are challenges.
Of course, artificial trees are available for the practical, those allergic to greenery and those constricted by time. Many designs have
came and gone over the years and the “realistic” ones have improved though it is doubtful that anyone would mistake one for a real tree. Of course any scent has to be somehow added.
Another solution is to have a potted tree in the house year-round. Norfolk pines or similar trees that do not grow to large size can
be used this way. During the remainder of the year, the small tree is a part of the indoor plantscape and never planted out-of-door.
The after Christmas season always involves taking down the tree, which for a living balled tree or a cut tree involves some extra work. Cut trees from my house and sometimes relative’s homes go into a brush pile for wildlife habitat. The work of dragging the tree there is only complicated if there is deep snow. Keeping the tree there is more of the challenge. January winds have often brought the trees back to the house or other places where they are not wanted. Apparently the brush pile is good for wildlife and the tree is kept from the landfill. Of course this is not a solution for everyone and many trees go to landfills. Another solution offered in some communities is to donate trees to landscape operations so they can be chipped for mulch. Trees should never be burnt in a home fireplace. The dying needles and still present sap create sudden intense heat that can cause a home fire.
While it is tempting to keep a live balled tree indoors for an extended time after the holidays, nurseries caution against this as the tree
will respond to the warmth and begin to grow. For best success in planting, the advice from nurseries is to remove the tree after a maximum of a week and hold it in a cool place until the normal spring planting time. If you can be sure that the tree will be undecorated and removed promptly, can be cared for appropriately and planted in the spring, this is a good solution.
Friday, November 16, 2012 10:19 AM
Several years ago, the National Wildlife Federation printed an article that intrigued me. The article started with the idea of what would happen over time if you quit tending your lawn. Of course your neighbors might be aggravated and things would look shabby. In the long run, your lawn or garden would return to nature. Of course, nature looks different in different areas of the country. In some areas, trees sprout and eventually turn into woodland. In other areas, trees die out and grass returns. The article scenario was for the east coast so only mowing was eliminated from the plan. Living on the plains, I would suggest that watering would also be eliminated from the plan as most lawns and gardens would be quite different living only on natural precipitation.
These scenarios are interesting and useful as well. Certainly we all like to improve upon nature, whether growing food, trees or sod but the improvement can take a lot of effort.
To see nature in your area, look about at land that is not cultivated or tended. It might look like some of the prairies in my area or it could grow taller grasses, or trees. Nature moves in stages and initially, weeds and other species that are sometimes described as growing in “disturbed” areas will invade. Rural roadsides are often like this. With frequent grading or mowing, only the first wave of the natural vegetation can become established. It can take twenty years or more for an area to return to nature.
Another area that can become very natural is near a creek or river where the land is either too wet or too rough for agriculture. In many parts of the country, these areas area are also rich in wildlife and used for hunting, bird watching and other wildlife activities.
A lesson that we can take away from studying these natural areas is the possibilities of what your land will support. I have seen numerous abandoned farmsteads on the plains and inevitably they are marked with dead or dying trees. Once trees are not regularly watered, they eventually become stressed by the cycles of precipitation and most die out in time. To have a tree shaded lawn here, I must either water trees regularly or select very drought resistant species that can more likely withstand the dry cycles.
Some in this area advocate xeriscaping, planning for very low water usage. One part of this plan is using Buffalo grass for lawn coverage. While, I water a lawn, I can see some befits to this tough, low growing grass. It never becomes tall or needs mowed. While it is more of a grey green, it is tough and endures with very little water.
Natural areas can also provide an inspiration. Rock gardens were initially planned as a bit of alpine landscape where plants from mountains could be grown and displayed. I am afraid my rock garden doesn’t look a lot like an alpine area, but certainly both the inspiration and plants are available to create such a spot here on the plains.
Wednesday, November 07, 2012 6:11 PM
What would a Western movie be without a few scudding tumbleweeds? Yes, they add to the atmosphere but beyond that, they are weeds!
Stories are told of messages being tied to tumbleweeds, much like messages in a bottle to be found who knows where and when. Other stories tell how they stabilized blowing soil during the dust bowl years and actually help create drifts of soil. At one time, crafters gathered the larger ones and spray painted them for a natural looking Christmas decorations. They have also been blamed for spooking horses and various other mishaps.
There are several species that can be tumble weeds including the imported Russian thistle. During the growing season, they are just a weed. With autumn weather the stem breaks off near the ground and the wind takes the weed away scattering seeds as it rolls along. Since many species can tumble, the sizes range from small to 3 or 4 feet across. Some species form very round bush-like growth and tumble very well. Other species are not so rounded but do break off near the ground and blow very well in the wind. The rounded types seem more prickly and still manage to catch hold and lodge. Once dead, the plant may not decay for two or more years.
Besides reseeding themselves, they lodge in fences, shrubs and any other convenient place. Many home and business owners make a regular patrol after high winds to gather up tumbleweeds and place them in trash so as to avoid the reseeding.
Famers sometimes burn tumbleweeds as a part of clearing irrigation ditches in the spring. Of course tumbleweeds collect in ditches as well as other places and can interfere with the irrigation system. Burning certainly eliminates them but can create other hazards as the burning tumble weeds can still blow about if a breeze comes up. On at least one occasion burning tumbleweeds spread a fire by floating on a ditch that was already flowing.
Occasionally people new to the west will refer to confuse sagebrush or other woody shrubs on the plains as tumbleweeds. This is an error as sagebrush and the more woody type shrub, while part of the landscape, do not break and blow about.
Is there any solution for tumbleweeds? Probably not. You can spray your own property to eliminate the tumbling types but living in a high wind area, you will likely get them from some distance away. If you are traveling in tumbleweed country and they blow across the road or lodge under your vehicle, don’t worry about it. They are quite brittle and have very little actual substance.
Yes, they are part of the western landscape and even gave their name to a famous cartoon but they are really just weeds that become mobile and not really loved by anyone.
Thursday, November 01, 2012 11:01 AM
Of course you have dirt! You probably own real estate. Some days when the wind or feet deposits soil inside the house, you probably think there is an excess of it everywhere. Dirt or soil is at once one of our most valuable resources, a nuisance and even a carrier of disease. Without soil, plant life doesn’t have a chance and neither do animals or humans.
Scientists describe three basic components of soil, clay, very fine particles, sand, coarser particles and humus, decayed materials. Generally in water, the decayed materials float. The sand and clay particles can be distinguished by feel with the sand being gritty and the clay smoother. A mixture of clay and sand provides ideal drainage as clay alone holds ample water while sand alone drains water too quickly. These mineral components of soil are the results of erosion from rock. The organic component of humus is from all sorts of decayed materials, grass, leaves, dead animals, manure and so on. Because soil has an organic component that contain about anything including possible disease organisms, we tell our children, don’t eat dirt! Without the organic component though, soil would lack much fertility.
My garden spot is sandy and initially was not particularly fertile. Over the years it has received all kinds of organic materials, grass clippings, kitchen scraps, leaves and other things. My rule is if there isn’t a reason to not put it on the garden that is where it is going. Last week, the additions included charcoal from our wiener roast and decayed material from cleaning the decorative ponds. This week, I hauled leaves off the lawn to put on it. Does this work? I haven’t had a soil test in some time but if earthworms are a test,
then my soil has increased in fertility.
This kind of effort takes longer than buying a bag of fertilizer and spreading it but it builds the soil and cuts down on things that
otherwise go to a landfill. Whenever feasible, I take grass clippings and leaves from friends and relatives as well. A friend of mine plowed some old rotting hay into the soil for quick enrichment. Another friend has used old newspapers to enrich soil. This requires wetting or other strategies to keep them in place but can help build soil. A compost pile is useful for some of the messier materials.
My compost pile is presently deep in tomato vines, corn stalks, rhubarb leaves and the like. Due to the dry climate, I will try hard to
water it over the winter to ensure that it is rotted before spring. If spring comes and these materials are still recognizable, I will need to rake them out into the garden area for plowing under, really a way to accelerate the rotting.
Of course extremely sandy or extremely clay-y soil may need some help besides composting. If drainage is a problem, you may need to find clay or sand to mix in with the existing soil. When adding soil, plan on a strategy to spread the soil around on the surface and then plow deeply to mix it well. Buying “top soil” can be rather expensive although much of what is sold as top soil is stripped from building sites and may or may not be better than what you are starting with. At the other extreme, free fill dirt, may contain many rocks and have very low fertility. Shop carefully. When used for growing things, soil is truly a valuable resource.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012 5:59 PM
Halloween seems like a good time to talk about bones. Have you ever found bones on the ground on your farm or acreage? Almost all bones on the surface are going to be animal bones and not human bones or dinosaur bones. While found bones are usually not a subject for crime investigation or archeology, they can tell a story. Scattered and perhaps broken bones can mean that an animal met a violent death or that at least a scavenger found the carcass and ate on it. However ligaments that hold bones together to make a skeleton usually deteriorate long before the bones themselves so bones may be scattered over time by other forces. Some predators, particularly those that create dens for young, will often take prey to their den to feed their young. Entrances to animal dens may be littered with bones. If you see a den with bones on the outside, think about the time of year and the possibility of meeting the den occupant who may be on the defense of hidden young before investigating such bones.
Identifying found bones can be interesting. Some such as snakes or turtles are readily identifiable by their unique shapes. Turtle shells will in time lose the outer plates, "tortoise shell", and be simply a bony shell. Four-legged creature bone identification may be trickier. Look for feet and the skull for the best clues. Do the feet have hooves or claws? What kind of teeth does the skull have? The picture below shows what is likely a cat skull. Look at the teeth and compare them to tabby’s teeth. Of course ears have their shape due to cartilage, so no ears will be visible. The eye sockets will appear to be much larger than the visible eyes of the living animal. Some skeletons may be from young animals so will appear much smaller than what we expect for the species.
Occasionally horned or antlered animal bones may be found. While these are easy to identify, the manner of death may be the most interesting aspect. Although I have never found deer or elk skulls with the antlers entwined in a struggle to the death, these fights do occur and the remains are occasionally found. Hunters sometimes bone out deer or elk and leave an essentially intact skeleton behind. Bones from hunting occasionally will show marks from cutting.
Bird bones are hollow so bird skeletons are more obvious. Look for the beak and the feet for clues. If the foot bones are present, are they for walking or perching? The overall size is a good clue and of course skeletons may be from younger, smaller birds as well.
Sometimes the location of a skeleton is a good clue. In the case of bird skeletons, the location may be the habitat where the bird nested. Thus a skeleton on a lakeshore may well be from waterfowl.
Although the sight of bones may seem strange, consider the story that they tell and learn more about the wildlife in your area.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012 8:13 PM
Was it a wasp? A hornet? A yellow jacket? A mud dauber? Actually the questions are rather moot since there are about 100,000 related species using these various names. Additionally, almost all stinging insects give me adverse reactions. I am not a person to be rushed to the emergency room but I have more swelling and itching and it lasts longer than for most folks. Also, unless there were one or more of those species that I was acutely allergic to, I am not really interested in catching and identifying the culprit.
Now that fall is here, and many of these stingers are dying off or suffering from the cooler temperatures, being stung is not really a problem and I have more time to learn what might be out there stinging me. I confess that I have generally viewed all of the above as species that are on earth to cause me pain. I avoid them unless they really give me a problem and then out with the spray!
I found one, see pictures, crawling on my floor. It was not healthy and the picture was taken after its demise when I felt that I could safely look it over.
Doing some online research, I found that "mud dauber" and "yellow jacket" are common names and may refer to various related wasp species. Hornets are described as a type of wasp. Probably the name that most people agree upon for all of these species is simply "wasp".
One way of describing wasp species is by they manner of living, solitary or social. Social wasps tend to be more conspicuous because we see their nests of mud or paper and we see many insects at one time.
Many social wasps can release an attack pheromone, which signals the danger to the entire nest. For this reason, killing a wasp near its nest by physical means, swatting it or stepping on it for example, is not a good idea. It is better to use a spray to kill the entire nest with one shot and avoid the possibility of multiple stings.
One of the most interesting facts that I learned is that wasps tend to focus on one or a few types of insects or spiders for food. Many of these insects or spiders are considered pests either to people or in agriculture. One example of food that I found is the black widow spider. This certainly refutes my idea that wasps are here to sting humans! Wasps may also feed upon flower nectar, overripe fruit and carrion.
I have often found dead wasps under shingles that I removed for replacement or in crevices of siding and other tight spots. I learned that only the queen wasp survives winter temperatures in this area so I can not explain why wasps take refuge in these spots. Perhaps they are looking for shelter from cooler weather but with or without shelter, they all appear to perish over the winter. The queen emerges from hibernation and starts a new generation.
In spite of the adverse reaction that I have to their stings, I generally will leave wasps and their relatives alone unless they build nest were it is inevitable that someone will be stung. A nest under a tractor seat can stay! Any insect that preys upon pests is not all bad!
Tuesday, October 09, 2012 6:02 PM
You probably have read that aspens qualify as the largest organisms on earth because an entire mountainside grove of aspens may be actually one organism appearing as many trees but actually interconnected by their common root system.
Something that successful and pervasion would seem to be a likely pest but people love aspens. They are one of the signature species of the Colorado mountains. Although Colorado doesn’t have the multi-color, multi-species woodlands of the east, people drive to the mountains in the autumn to see the golden and orange hillsides with areas of spruce and pine interspersed. The tree is truly lovely. It is not huge and has a graceful white barked trunk. The name quaking aspen comes from the way the leaves flutter at the slightest breeze. The stems are particularly limber and the tree always seems to be in motion, whether the leaves are green in the summer or golden in autumn. The golden leaves settled onto snow-covered spruce boughs are a beautiful sign in early winter.
But back to not so endearing habits of spreading. Every spring, the female aspens produce catkins similar to willows. The trees produce only female flowers and others only male flowers. Apparently some aspens start from seeds that fall to the ground. However, good many appear to start from the root systems. If you should try digging up an appropriate sized aspen for transplanting, you are likely to find that instead of a root system that somewhat mirrors the top structure in form, two horizontal roots and very few roots going vertically down. One of the horizontal roots, if followed, would lead back to a larger parent tree, and the other horizontal root would lead to more small aspens. These aspens do not transplant well because of the root structure.
The advantage to the root structure is that the homeowner can easily create the aspen grove effect with several trees of various sizes by only planting one or two aspens. The disadvantage is that there will be many small aspens that will grow where they are not wanted. Mowing them off in the lawn usually keeps them in check. If allowed to grow for two or more years, they will need more substantial tools for cutting, as the truck will be woody. About once a year, I clean out flowerbeds and locations too near buildings to keep the aspens from taking over. Since they don’t transplant well, most of these that come from the roots simply have to be killed off. I am not sure how they are propagated for sale in nurseries. Perhaps they sew seed to raise transplantable trees.
So does this lovely tree that can become a pest have other value? I am sure that it provides homes for birds and it is food and dam material for beavers. The wood is very soft and about the only commercial application that I have heard about is toothpick manufacturing. For all the drawbacks that it has, people continue to love and plant the beautiful aspen to have a touch of mountains in their lawn.
Wednesday, October 03, 2012 8:40 PM
Last week several rainy days changed the landscape and the outlook. The grass is greening up probably for the last time and the dust is gone. Often these rains bring cooler temperatures and signal the beginning of fall weather. Leaves are starting to fall and even with rain the gardens are slowing down. While we all look forward to fewer lawn and garden chores and lower water bills, there are still some things to be done before we get to winter.
In my area, many trees still show the signs of damage from heavy snows in last October when leaves where still on the trees last year. Usually there is more of a warning and time to prepare. Pruning trees is a good chore for the autumn and helps prevent that type of damage that can occur either in autumn or spring. Watering trees in the fall also helps them get through a potentially dry winter.
While many people plow gardens and fields, many others do not. A common pattern of winter weather here is for the mountains to get heavy snows and the plains to get winds from those storms but no snow. If this weather pattern occurs, a lot of topsoil can be lost. Thirty mile per hour winds are not uncommon and 100 mile per hour winds can happen as well.
Lawn and garden irrigation systems must be winterized to prevent damage. This involves using an air compressor to blow out the lines. The trick is to let your lawn go as long as possible so that it is in good shape for the winter but not to be out there with an air compressor on a frosty autumn afternoon when people are saying, "It is snowing in Cheyenne" or "It is snowing in the high country" and knowing that you must get it done now! It is possible to provide some protection for above ground components by covering with old blankets or other insulation but it feels good when you know that you are safe for the winter.
I have hoses and as well as in ground irrigation, so I drain all of the hoses and store them inside while getting the irrigation system winterized. If winter provides some warmer temperatures, I can pull out some for watering trees but generally they stay stored for the winter.
Cutting off the tops of perennials makes life a little simpler. When iris, phlox, day lilies and various other perennials die down, their dry dead foliage can provide wintering places for insects that can hit the ground running the following spring. Depending on the amount of moisture that falls, removing dead foliage the following spring can be between messy and impossible.
As long as you are planning for spring, fall cleanup can be a good time to locate and carefully remove wasp nests and other over wintering undesirable insects.
The mulched leaves from the yard go on the garden and hopefully stay there for the duration of the winter and enrich the next year’s garden. Okay, everything is clean and put away, let that storm move down from the north or the mountains, I am ready!
Wednesday, September 26, 2012 6:22 PM
A favorite walk of mine is along an irrigation ditch near where I live. Although it is a natural rural area it offers the advantage of easy access by a dirt roadway alongside. The ditch itself is large enough to perhaps accommodate small vehicles in the bottom but is never used this way due to the steep sides. From May until September the steep sides contain cold swiftly flowing water. It makes for a cooling scene but such ditches can be dangerous and are no place for swimming.
During the remainder of the year the ditch may be dry in the bottom or hold some water. When the water level is low it is rather like a small stream with ripples and deeper pools interspersed with sand and gravel bars. While some streams go through seasonal variations in flow, few if any are as extreme as ditches. Also, a stream may have a wide meadow here at streamside or a rocky area elsewhere while a ditch always has steep sides. Just the same, the ditch in autumn seems much like a stream. There are schools of small fish, crayfish and various other animals still present. Raccoon tracks and bird nests suggest other visitors.
It offers some great nature lessons for adults, children or dogs. Although they are usually dispersed by September, the swallow’s nests under the bridge and the kingfisher’s nests in the dirt banks are easy to view. The lush streamside with moss and occasional willows shows a marked contrast to the top of the banks arid areas where yuccas and cacti grow. Edible plants such as asparagus and rose hips can be identified. Pick rose hips (seedpods) now to make a tasty and high in vitamin C jelly. Note locations of asparagus for future picking.
The sculpted ditch bottom shows the effects of water currents. Sandbars may have wave marks showing the current. Inlets and outlets typically have deeper pools nearby. The curves of the ditch, like most streams, are marked by sandbars where the water moves more slowly.
Although your dog can’t tell you the details, his sense of smells reads the area to be alive with wildlife and occasional sign can be noticed on the roadway or streamside.
Viewing the local soil layers in the steep banks offers some lessons in geology and soils.
It is amazing to think that many of the ditches were dug long ago before modern earth moving equipment.
The engineering problem of moving water to fields is another subject to study and marvel at. The gentle drop of the ditch and its curves which follow hillsides and natural streams have made arid areas into farmland. Overall a ditch makes an interesting place to explore and learn nature. Put on your sloggers, roll up your jeans and gather up the kids and dogs and learn about nature with a fall hike along a ditch.
Wednesday, September 19, 2012 2:55 PM
I have 6 pumpkin plants and between 60 and 70 pumpkins maturing. Like growing every vegetable it is a challenge to know how many pumpkin vines to plant. I actually had another hill where the seedlings were so damaged by rabbits that they died. Apparently this year’s weather was good for pumpkins and many people did well with them. My upcoming challenge is getting rid of the pumpkins that I have in a responsible way. I don’t like to leave them to rot or to supply Halloween ammunition that creates a mess on roads and lawns.
Obviously each pumpkin provides a lot of food value. How many ways can we have pumpkin besides pie? I am researching recipes that create side dishes rather than desserts. The pumpkin pulp itself is not overly sweet so this angle looks promising.
Of course Halloween carving and decoration should take some of them off my hands. I usually host a pre-Halloween pumpkin gathering for family, friends and neighbors. Kids seem to enjoy the idea that they are helping harvest and of course they can pick out and take home as many pumpkins in the sizes and shapes that they like. After we haul in a few loads with the garden tractor and trailer we roast brats and wieners and have a great time around the fire.
I am sometimes able to donate pumpkins for the fall festivals. A lot of people like to use pumpkins and any leftover corn stalks as yard decorations. The smaller pumpkins can even be used for inside decorations. One of the most cleaver uses that I have seen is to use a pumpkin with the top cut off as a seasonal cut flower container. People who live in town and can’t imagine growing pumpkins are happy to get them for free.
By Halloween, if I still have 40 pumpkins or so, I am going to have to find other strategies. The demand and interest drops way off after the holiday. Some people will take them for food. I always share my tips for preparation to those people who usually buy canned pumpkin. Cut the pumpkins in half (quarters for very large ones). Remove the seed and pulps. The seed can be gently roasted for snacks as well. Place the cut pumpkin on baking sheets and bake in a medium oven until a fork can be stuck through the skin. When the pumpkins cool peel off the skin. Often no knife is necessary for removing the skin. The chunks of pumpkin may be stringy and still too firm to mash up for pie. I use a food grinder but a blender or other tools can be used to turn the pumpkin into pulp. The pulp can be divided into portions suitable for your favorite recipes and frozen or canned.
Pumpkins can be stored for later in the season use. If you plan to keep pumpkins, be sure that they are completely ripe. Leaving on some of the stem seems to help them ripen even when they are removed from the vine. Store them in a cool but non-freezing location and you can enjoy them well into the winter months.
Still have pumpkins left? One of the best uses I have found is offering them for cattle feed. Even old jack-0-lanterns can be used this way. Cows LOVE pumpkins! It is a good idea to cut or break them to give cattle a start. If the cattle belong to someone else, ask first but most cattle owners are happy to have the treat for the livestock. If children see that cows enjoy their jack-o-lanterns it can make the Halloween clean up that much easier.
Every year I try to grow a reasonable number of pumpkin and every year I have more than enough. I make the most of them though and kids and cows are happy!
Thursday, September 13, 2012 12:29 PM
We plant our garden and think that we know what to expect. Every year there are some unusual insects or weeds but occasionally even the vegetables don’t look familiar. We star at something unfamiliar and ask ourselves, ‘Did I plant this?’
This year has been a record year for garden mysteries. I planted my usual few hills of pumpkins. A friend who spent time in South Africa asked me to plant some African pumpkins. The vines and blossoms look the same as those next to it. The fruit, see picture, is quite different. The color is pale green although my friend assures me that gray is the mature color. They are much flatter and more deeply creased than the familiar orange types. I’ll be interested to hear how these pumpkins are used and perhaps get a sample of pie or whatever the favorite dish is that they make.
Meanwhile at the other end of the garden my broccoli has positively turned into a hedge. I have learned that the over production of leaves and lack of heads is a result of uneven temperatures in the spring. I haven’t found a use for all of the leaves on the nearly two foot tall plants. I have gotten some small heads.
The biggest mystery was in the potato patch and this one sent me searching online. My potatoes have small green tomato like fruit on them. The University of Iowa web site assures me that this is not from cross-pollination with tomatoes. The part of the potato that we enjoy is actual a tuber on the roots. Most of the plant is otherwise poisonous and should not be eaten. The familiar flowers that we see in mid summer on potatoes occasionally are pollinated and develop fruits, which is what I found. The web site assures me that they contain solanine, the poisons found throughout the potato plant and are not edible. Also, since potatoes are grown from cuttings, the seeds could be a more challenging to produce a potato plant.
If you grow sweet corn, you have probably seen those alien-looking ears that have smut growing on them. The kernels are replaced with large grayish shapes that eventually open to release black spores. Occasionally smut is found in the tassel area or as large growths near the ground. This is actually yeast like parasitic plant that grows on corn. It is particularly a problem during drought years when it thrives.
While it is to most eyes rather ugly and blight, it is actually edible and is considered a delicacy in some cuisines. The taste is described as mushroom like.
My take away from finding unusual things in the garden is to investigate before ingesting. I would have thought corn smut to be poisonous and fruit from any garden plant potentially food but how wrong I would have been.
Tuesday, September 04, 2012 9:54 AM
I have a lovely crab apple tree in my yard. It was once one of those with a profusion of pink blossoms. After it died back and came up from the roots, I let it regain its former size. The results are mixed. Many of the flowering fruit trees are grafted and the rootstock is something other than what you see above ground. Now I have a crab apple with white blossoms and mid-sized apples. When they are red and ripe they are about the size of a plum. I can just let them mature and fall to the ground but this creates new problems. The little tree is so prolific that untended, it will likely break and split under the load of fruit!
To relieve the burden on the tree, I pick off a large number of the green apples that I can reach. I don’t spray the remaining apples resulting in a certain amount of waste. Finally the day comes in August when I may as well pick off the remaining apples. This year that resulted in about 7 gallons of small apples. They are so small, that I find it tedious to peel and core them and yet there is so much food value that I hate to waste them.
Likewise, my tomatoes that bear early enough to escape the frost are often small and require more handling. For both of these undersized fruits, I make sauces.
For the apples, I sort and quarter them. Once they are boiled down they easily press through a Foley mill and I have sauce. I prefer to add sugar and seasoning and continue cooking the sauce to make apple butter. This year even with the small size, culling and boiling down, I have 20 pints of apple butter. I think of it as gifts that I can give.
The tomatoes also make sauce. Again the size of the tomato doesn’t matter for my strategy. The process again begins with boiling down of fruit. If you don’t mind seeds in your sauce, try washing and de-stemming tomatoes and running them through the blender before cooking. This saves having a lot of skins and seeds to discard and also the time involved in pressing the cooked tomatoes. Once blended I cook them to the desired consistency along with seasonings.
You can use undersized sweet fruits for making jam and jelly. For small plums, as an example, you can simply remove the pits first and no further cutting up will be needed. If your fruit does not measure up due to weather or other factors, consider options where you can omit peeling and other time consuming processing steps. Consider using a blender or Foley mill. A final product of sauce, butter, jam, or jelly will have the same great taste as what can be had from full-sized fruit.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012 4:51 PM
Meadowlarks are a wonderful compliment to nature on the high plains. They serenade. They build wonderful hidden nests on the ground. They walk around the lawn much as robins do on a quest for food. As pleasant as they are, they are not the only birds of the high plains. I would guess that there are more bird species in the wooded areas than on the high plains, but there is an amazing variety here.
If you are a waterfowl hunter, you might first notice the large resident and migratory geese population. There are many other waterfowl that visit or reside at the many lakes and reservoirs. Numerous types of duck such as mallards, red heads and teal are here at least part of the year. Many shore birds such as killdeer and avocets live near the lakes as well. In the spring, the seagulls are very noticeable as they flying screaming overhead. Yes, seagulls live far inland and forage in farm fields as well as at the waterside. They are so common inland that perhaps their name should just be "gulls" to avoid the confusion. Another bird associated with large open water, the white pelican lives here as well. They prefer the larger reservoirs and can sometimes be seen riding thermals or winging in formation. It is hard to realize how large they are just seeing them in the air. Their wingspan is about 9 feet!
The high plains have a full compliment of icterids, the blackbird family. Besides common blackbirds, there are marsh loving redwings, the less common yellow heads and an occasional bob-o-link. We also have crows and in the mountains, ravens.
Robins are quite common both on the plains and the mountains. The jay family is also well represented. The blue jays seem to visit me spring and fall but nest elsewhere. In the mountains the gray jay (camp robber) and Steller’s jay are common.
We also have many raptors, bald and golden eagles and numerous hawks, owls and ospreys. Small animals beware!
Some of the less common types seen on the high plains include woodpeckers, finches and hummingbirds. Less common means that you can see them fairly easily but may not see them everyday. Flycatchers are another bird that is around seasonally. In the case of my lawn, they are here to nest and then visit sporadically during the late summer. Swallows are also rather seasonal in appearance. Many can be seen during mosquito season but they are less noticeable later.
One of the loveliest birds to make a seasonal appearance is the mountain bluebird. Some springs they hang out on the high plains and foothills and other years they are not to be found.
Will all of this variety, what is the Colorado state bird? It is the lark bunting. They really are lovely to see and to hear. In fact I wish that I could say that I see and hear them more often. They are not endangered but like many of the other mentioned species, they are not in the same place every year so are not seen frequently.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012 4:59 PM
It is scaly and slithering through the flowerbeds! Some ask ‘what kind is it?’ and others simply run. Although there are many kinds of snakes that seem to inhabit Colorado, about 90 percent of the sightings in my area involve three common types: rattlesnakes, bull snakes and garter (or garden snakes). With one of them poison and two harmless, what kind is a snake is an important issue?
In my area, especially where there is irrigation; there are few rattlesnakes. But almost everyone is aware of the possibility of them and watch where they are stepping. They can usually be identified by their aggressive disposition but sometimes are guarding their young, sleeping or sluggish from a recent meal. It is important to positively identify them. Rattlesnakes and bull snakes superficially look quite similar in coloration and scale patterns. Of course the rattlesnakes have the wider head and the rattle on the tail or at least a blunt tail where a rattle once was. Mistaken identify seems to be a problem. Many snakes that I see dead on the road are the harmless bull snakes. Possibly drivers think to kill first and identify later? Another fact worth knowing when identifying snakes is that bull snakes will imitate the pose and even the rattle sound of rattlesnakes. Apparently them make a sound similar to the rattle with their mount. Always get that tail in sight for positive identification.
This week, I had a 4-foot bull snake in my yard. It is admittedly startling at first sight. Before getting very close I ascertained that it was a bull snake and after a few minutes retreated to allow it to go on its way. Many old timers say that bull snakes kill rattlesnakes. I can’t confirm that from personal experience. Certainly bull snakes eat a lot of things that we generally do not like around, like mice and other rodents. Whether babies that are a foot or so long or mature ones like the one I encountered, I let them go on their way.
Garter snakes, called garden or gardener snakes by some, are completely different in appearance. Their stripy pattern is often highlighted by an orange stripe down the back. Top size for them is probably 18 to 24 inches. I know that I have two or three resident ones and try hard to avoid them while mowing. They will sometimes try for concealment but often times make a hasty retreat. Their love of tall grass is probably due to their diet of grasshoppers and other insects and occasional rodents.
Either garter or bull snakes can be easily caught and handled safely. I would not consider them pets, as they much prefer the freedom of the countryside to being your companion. An article in the Colorado Outdoors says that a third of rattlesnake bites are due to people attempting to handle or kill rattlesnakes. Hmmm, that tells me that it is pretty easy to avoid being bit and that the best bet is to leave them alone. Of course it is more of a challenge to those who live in the foothills and other areas where they may encounter them at any time and place on their property. It is worth knowing that they are only found up to a certain elevation, varying with latitude, due to the cooler temperatures.
If you encounter a snake, give it plenty of room until you can identify it. If it is a species that you can have safely in your lawn or garden, let it go on its way and enjoy fewer insects and rodents.
Friday, August 17, 2012 5:21 PM
Hardly anyone likes mosquitoes. I probably like them less than many as they really produce a nasty long lasting welt on me. If I forget the repellent on a warm still evening, I’ll have reminders for a week or more. With insects and their multiplication factors it is hard to combat them with natural predators but I try to protect those things that eat mosquitoes. This year I have had a lot of the large dragonflies darting around the yard. It turns out that they are on a quest for mosquitoes. Keep those dragonflies flying! Swallows are another darting mosquito predator.
This charming nestful of swallows hatched under a porch roof. Yes, it was messy! But they are mosquito predators and so were left to hatch, fledge and go out and eat more mosquitoes.
Some other strategies that work are more passive. I use mosquito dunks in ponds to keep down the larvae This seems really effective as it get them before they are out flying about. Citronella seems to work as well. Of course with citronella and various other vegetation solutions, we are repelling mosquitoes not killing them. Your yard may be brightly lit by citronella scented oil torches and you will be happily mosquito free. Those mosquitoes may be eating up your neighbor though.
When the West Nile virus made its appearance here, just repelling mosquitoes was important. I found dead birds in my yard and know people who were hospitalized with West Nile disease. It is not one to take chances with.
The bug lights of some years ago were found to be less effective as they indiscriminately attracted night flying insects.
Carbon dioxide mosquito traps seem like a solution although they are more expensive, from $300 to $1500 according to a University of Florida web site.
Other factors that the University of Florida article mentions are species of mosquitoes and the range of the various species. Florida has 74 species. They conclude that trying to trap the species that is annoying you right now with a CO2 trap is like trying to catch the grains of sand on a beach. Hmmm. That is a significant expenditure for something that may not really resolve your problem.
I suppose the swallows, dragonflies, bats and other things that prey on mosquitoes are the best bet. If they are not catching mosquitoes with their acrobatic flying stunts, they are certainly entertaining to watch. As I watch them swoop and dart at targets that are invisible to me, I wonder how they possible catch anything and how they avoid collision with each other, tree branches and other things in the air. Do you remember running around in the dusk trying to catch lighting bugs? That was only running around, not flying through the air. I look forward to frost in a few more weeks but in the meantime, swallows, dragonflies and other mosquito eaters, welcome!
Wednesday, August 08, 2012 11:06 AM
By August, we can usually see what the results of our gardening efforts will be. Harvest of some crops may be a month or more away while the early spring vegetables are a memory. I like to look at the results and see how the next year may be different. One of my goals is to put up enough of some vegetables to pretty much eliminate purchasing them during the winter. These include corn, beans, tomatoes and sometimes peas and spinach. I also like to freeze peppers already stuffed for quick winter meals.
Of course there are other goals. I like salad fixings in the spring and pumpkins to share and make a few pies with. The results and goals are never quite met. A big factor is the weather and that is the one that we can do the least about. I have had huge spring rains right after planting. Summer droughts can be addressed with watering but unseasonable temperatures are a factor that is harder to deal with. Other factors can be pests of all types. This year the rabbits were really a challenge and I lost most of my spring crops. Insects and other small pest can be a challenge as well.
Of course sometimes we don’t give gardens the attention that they need. We are called away on important business just when our garden needs us. Other times we fail to recognize and address problems and realize too late the damage.
In the fall, I like to look at what I harvest compared to my goals. Of course those factors mentioned above, weather, pests, time away and so on have to be factored in. I start thinking about next year’s goals. I can’t control the weather, but sometimes I find new ways of dealing with other challenges. This year, I used automatic watering for the first time and that had mixed results. I had leaks and a new timer to learn how to operate. Sometimes the garden was too muddy and other times too dry. I plan to improve that next year.Of course we all can resolve to spend more time weeding and attending to garden chores. Late in the season I found a strategy for dealing with rabbits.
A big lesson learned, for me, is how much and what to plant. I have in some years planted so much lettuce that I gave it away by the bag-full. This year I planted a more modest amount but the rabbits ate most of it.
I no longer try to plant later lettuce and radishes. By the time the first batch is done, it is generally too hot to get good results. Likewise, I don’t plant tomatoe and other vegetable varieties that take over 100 days. I have had a lot of green tomatoes to ripen inside or leave outside to freeze. The growing season is just too short here.
Besides adjusting how much to plant, my goals for next year are: start earlier on rabbit deterrent plans, get the watering system more finely tuned to give better results without wasting water, and I am building a cold frame with plans of starting some plants a little earlier for the short growing season. I am sure that over the long winter, I will think of more improvements, perhaps discover improved varieties to plant and resolve anew to spend more time weeding.
Wednesday, August 01, 2012 8:57 PM
Nurseries make life look easy. Buy this and plant it and your lawn and garden will look like the picture or display. Life is not so easy for young plants and sometimes at the end of the first year, we are disappointed. We ask, what happened? Sometimes we feel like giving up. Are our expectations too high? Are the plants, seeds or bulbs not of good quality? Did we not give enough care in some way?
Probably all of the above are often factors. Whether sowing grass seed, putting in tulip bulbs, or buying and planting a tree from the nursery, the new plants have a big ordeal ahead. What we can’t see or monitor is the root growth that goes on under ground. We have all heard that there is as much underground as above ground but mostly I have a hard time imaging it. If I think about the roots, I tend to think that they take care of themselves.
It appears that the first year most plants are putting down roots. Certainly both a long hot and sometimes dry growing season can stress new plants and slow down rooting. Sadly the winter kills off a lot of plants and the following spring is when we discover the loss. When I have to dig up dead plants or trees, I sometimes find that the root ball has hardly expanded beyond the original container. This probably puts some of the fault on me. Perhaps I didn’t break up the root ball and spread the roots. Perhaps I failed to water enough to support new root growth.
What can we realistically expect, if we give plants our best care in the first year of their life? Spring planted grass may be pretty well rooted down and have a nice color by fall. Generally it is not ready for use as a golf course or other heavy traffic purposes. You might take down the "keep off the grass" signs but find that it is still tender and can be uprooted easily. Autumn fertilizing and in many places winter watering will help it through the winter. In areas of heavy snow, grass can actually die out under the snow over winter. This is a little harder to detect and address. Shoveling all of the snow off your lawn is likely not feasible.
Trees that we buy in nurseries are usually significantly more than 1 year old. If you have seedlings in your yard or have grown trees from seed, you may have seen a tree of only a few inches tall after a year. Nurseries would find these hard to sell and likely face a lot of replacements because these really are pretty fragile. Regardless of the age and size that we buy, they all face a certain amount of transplant shock and need for rooting. Both grass and trees and some other perennials may need protection from deer, rabbits and other grazers that can kill off plants, particularly in the winter. Trees are one of the more expensive things to plant, so either have the nursery do it for you, or follow planting instructions and care instructions carefully. If you plant a fruit or nut tree, don’t expect anything for some time. In fact, some nursery people suggest removing and discarding any green fruit or nuts that may be on the tree when you buy it. Trees put significant energy, water and nutrients into producing fruit and this can take too much away from the rooting that will be needed for winter.
Likewise perennial flowers may not bloom profusely the first year. Each year can get better with proper care but the blooms may not appear the first year or be few and small. In many cases there are warranties on plants living one year. We can’t control the weather conditions, but we can plant correctly and give the very best care, including winter watering where needed, to ensure survival. Regardless of the summer sales, avoid planting in hot weather. Cooler fall weather with sufficient time for rooting before winter weather provides a better start for your plants.
Thursday, July 26, 2012 9:09 AM
A small pond as the center of a tranquil spot in the lawn sounds so inviting. Besides the tranquility that it can provide you, it will serve as a place for small animals and birds to obtain water and for some to live. A pond truly is a beauty spot.
If you dream of a pond, consider some of the realities before you dig. A liner, either a hard plastic one or a flexible rubber type on is probably essential. If you live in a wetter climate, there may be other strategies. Location is important. Trees can shade a pond but more debris will fall into the water. Obviously traffic patterns and safety can dictate placement as well.
A larger pond requires quite a bit of digging. You might even consider power equipment in some cases. Rocks or pre-cast stone-like edging are nice touches that will make a pond appear more natural. Plantings around a pond or plants in the water are also nice.
Once you have a pond installed, surrounded by rocks and plantings, you can truly enjoy it. There are still other things to consider. If mosquitoes are a problem, use dunks or other controls. String or hair algae can be a real problem but there is a simple solution. Removal of the algae on a regular basis can help but it also seems to help in the reproductive cycle and can be a losing battle. Adjusting the water pH is also supposed to help. Allowing the algae to grow is a bad option. Eventually the algae will have a mass die off and the water will become a lifeless smelly mess. The easiest and most effective solution that I have found is to place barley straw in the pond. For some reason, algae will not grow where there is barley straw. I put a handful under an overturned flowerpot and the problem is cured for the season.
Plants in the water will need some attention to prevent overgrowing. Water lilies should be cut back at the end of the season and the dying tops discarded. Water hyacinths, although pretty, can cover the surface of a pond very quickly. Iris or flags grow amazingly well and can eventually take up a pretty large area.
Rather like an aquarium, which also provides tranquil viewing, a pond must also be cleaned out occasionally or the tranquil view will turn in to muck. I plan to clean mine at the end of the growing season after plants have died down but the air temperature is still high enough to be able to work outside and get wet without being miserable. It is a nasty smelly job, but better than letting the muck continue. A wet and dry vacuum can help a lot, but it is never a neat job. For smaller ponds, less than 2 feet deep, drain, clean and leave dry over the winter. In the spring, there will be leaves, sticks and whatever to clean out before filling them and adding the barley straw but it is quick work. For larger ponds, over 2 feet deep, you can refill with clean water and put trimmed plants in to over winter.
Presently, the only animal life that I have are toads, frogs, salamanders and whatever else may make their home there. Caring for fish is another challenge. While I have power available to run a pump for a waterfall, fountain or other accessories, I am also not using that at the present. There really are a lot of options. Plan carefully and remember the maintenance. A pond is more than just some water.
Wednesday, July 18, 2012 7:07 PM
While volunteering is generally a good thing, how about those volunteers in the garden? You know how it starts, a bean sprout growing in the onions, or tomato plants coming up before you have even planted garden. Do you let volunteer plants grow, transplant them or give them the hoe?
If you want nice neat rows and no mysteries, the hoe is the solution. The sooner that you get rid of volunteer plants, the less water and space they can take up.
If you are willing to work with nature and enjoy a few surprises, volunteer plants can be allowed to grow either where they occur or elsewhere. In an irrigated garden, they certainly can grow where the water is applied and they will almost certainly die where the water is not applied so that gives some decision to the matter.
Occasionally volunteers sprout before we even plant garden. If the weather remains mild, you can transplant such volunteers and get a head start without the work of growing seedlings indoors. One of the drawbacks of allowing any volunteer to grow is the possibility that if derived from a hybrid it will not be true to the original plants. While you might get an interesting even heirloom type of vegetable, you might not. Basic identification can even be tricky. While tomatoes are distinct from the seedling size other types may need to grow quite large for complete identification.
Some plants, particularly vining ones such as cucumbers and melons, don’t tend to transplant well. I have tried relocating them and generally lose them. This can pretty much eliminate the option of transplanting.
Suppose you do let them grow. How’s that working for you? I have tried it the last couple of years and I can’t say that I recommend it. Presently, I have a couple of pumpkin vines smothering the onions and lettuce. I am afraid in time they will take a lot of water away from the planted vegetables and also shade them. Last year I had a lot of volunteer pole beans come up. I hoped that they would be bush beans and be manageable. Pole beans, as the name implies, need staking. I not only had more than enough pole beans, the garden just got really confusing to navigate and water.
Another type of volunteer can come from composting. I actually had a honeydew melon come up that way. Alas, the one melon that approached maturity was bitten off by the dog. These types of volunteers are particularly likely to be from hybrids and thus the exact strain unknown.
Next year, I am resolving to either transplant or give them the hoe…but may let the pumpkins continuing growing this year. My main problem with allowing them to grow is the irrigation needed. It is a challenge to keep the intended vegetables watered without allowing volunteers to remain and compete for water.
Thursday, July 12, 2012 9:07 AM
I call my blog, Nature and Gardening on the Edge because I live in that area between the mountains and the high plains where there is irrigation water from the mountains. To the west are the mountains. The higher elevation has thinner cooler air. The mountains catch moisture as weather systems rise to go over them and the moisture condenses into rain or snow. Those of us on the east side of the mountains are in the rain shadow as many storms that come through have already deposited their moisture and leave this area a semi-desert. The average moisture per year, including snow melt, is 15 inches. However, since we are not too far from the mountains, many reservoirs, canals, ditches and sprinklers keep some areas green and growing with water from the mountains. Further to the east, past this edge, on the true high plains, the irrigation is more limited.
This summer has been really dry and pastures and other non-irrigated places are brown. This past week the monsoons came through. These are not true monsoons as most people would define them but that is the local name for the soaking rains that we often get in July. One of these in the past was the memorable Big Thompson flood. Another brought record sized hail some years ago. This year my area got two back to back good rains. In a few days the pastures will be green. Right now everything is muddy and the clouds are hanging over keeping the moisture in. If you live in an area with ample rainfall, you can hardly imagine how people in this area really LIKE rain. It saves crops, lawns, gardens and money.
Walking about between rains I found some unusual life for my area. I suppose these life forms are always present but mainly visible only after rains or near ditches or reservoirs.
I found lichens growing on the ground in the usually dry pasture. Studying these, I realized that they are always present but are normally a dry black scale on the ground and hardly distinguishable as life. If I noticed them, I perhaps thought that they were some long dead plant. After the rain they were plump and moist.
I also found "brownie caps" mushrooms in my lawn. These and puffballs are occasionally found after over watering but more often after the big rains. Again, the spores must remain somewhere ready to grow when sufficient moisture occurs. I also found some now green moss growing. Like the lichens, when the rains don’t come, it is brown and dead appearing.
The most amazing life form that I found was a salamander on my lawn trying to escape mowing. I have seen salamanders in this area before but not often. Of course they tend to be nocturnal so perhaps they are about at night when the sprinkler system is running and I am sleeping.
From time to time I have toads in my lawn and garden. Sometimes after the monsoons, there are lots of little toads about. Apparently the life cycle is accelerated and the population is replenished after big rains. I’ll be watching for these in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, gratitude for rain and lots of interesting life forms that I rarely see or see and hardly recognize during the dry season!
Wednesday, July 04, 2012 11:52 AM
Summer time brings babies and protective Mamas. I may start wearing a hat to get the mail as the flycatchers are nested in a tree by the road and always remind me that I am too close when I pass by daily. So far, their dive bombing as stopped before they actually made contact and I hope it stays that way. They really don’t like the dog or cat and I suppose that I am suspect by association.
A more aggressive species, paper wasps also defended their nest against me this week. In that instance, I was simply changing an outdoor light bulb and trying to let them be. Again, I was deemed too close.
Sometimes it is hard to stay out of trouble. When further afield it is always a good idea to watch out for wildlife. Adorable bear cubs, deer or antelope fawns or calf elk can bring on serious attacks. You will not be seen as innocent because you did not know the young were there! If you notice wildlife, particularly the larger varieties standing their ground, not running away as you might normally expect, retreat immediately! Backing away while keeping an eye on Mama might be a good strategy. No photo of young wildlife is worth the wrath of the Mama.
Avoid nesting sites, thickets, caves and other possible dens at this time of year. Estes Park is a popular day trip in this area. Because it is adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park, deer and elk not only come into the city limits but occasionally have young there. People have been seriously injured by trampling when they unwittingly stepped outside their doors into the nursery. Of course most of us do not live where wildlife is so close but such examples can serve to keep us on the alert.
Another problem that occasionally occurs is finding of unattended young animals. Almost every instance plays out to be an animal that is left in hiding by the foraging parents and not actually abandoned. Grazing animals such as deer and rabbits often leave their young for extended periods. Not only is the return of Mama to be avoided but generally the young animal is best left alone for its own protection. Your attention can draw the attention of pets that can cause problems or wild predators.
Adopting baby animals is not a good strategy either. Long term care of wildlife is not feasible or a good idea. In most instances we cannot provide appropriate nutrition or care. Virtually every state, county and municipality has laws against keeping wildlife as pets. Additionally wildlife usually suffers in the loss of their fear of people.
Avoid encounters with animal parents. Cherish any wild encounters that you might have but keep them brief and retreat as soon as possible. Like human babies, the baby stage passes quickly and they’ll soon be delighting us as they get a little bigger and more active.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012 5:29 PM
With hot mid summer here, how can you keep color going in the garden? Hollyhocks are simple to grow and produce a profusion of blossoms in colors from deep red to white and yellow. The stems and leaves are covered with small hairs making them less friendly for plant eaters and few insects pose a serious threat. A few holes in the leaves seem inevitable in most locations but they are otherwise free of problems.
The tall spike produce blooms continuously but since buds, blooms and spent blooms are all present at one time, they are not attractive as cut flowers. Bees, wasps and various other insects pollinate hollyhocks. In mid summer the hollyhock patch is fairly buzzing with pollinators. Of course we expect that the pollinators being brought in benefit other flowers and crops.
Once you have hollyhocks, you will probably always have them. That doesn’t seem to prove them to be a perennial. The University of Illinois describes them as short-lived perennials that live as biennials. It seems true that hollyhocks usually take two years to bloom but some seem to live more than two years. It confuses more than a few people. Another issue mentioned on the web is that they easily re-seed. All of those busy pollinators account for many filled seedpods at the end of the season. The following spring the flowerbed is full of seedlings, many of which grow to maturity.
Still another issue is confusion with the similar hollyhock mallow, which is a true perennial. I am not trying to keep track of individual plants so I can’t really say how long they live. The hardiness and the generous reseeding will ensure a perennial effect after at least one year.
Besides buying seed at a nursery in the spring, you can likely get seeds from friends who grow them. You can either leave the seeds in the pods or shell them out. Be certain that they are completely dry before storing as they can mold over the winter if moisture is present.
Once you have them started in your yard, you can simply gather and redistribute seedpods to spread the color to other corners.
Where to plant them? Most varieties are over a foot tall so along a fence or in the back of a flower bed works well. During the growing season they can be used to create a low screen or yard boundary. If there are areas where you need pollinators, consider some hollyhocks to attract bees. Plant the seeds shallowly in late spring and be patient as blossoming may take two years. Then enjoy the summer color. If you find them irresistible as cut flowers, consider floating a few in a bowl of water, for a one-day display. They also dry well.
I usually cut down the dried stalks at the end of the season but this is just for appearances and does not seem to affect the return the following year. New leaves usually appear around the base of the cut off stalks along with new seedlings. If you are not enjoying hollyhocks now, consider planning for them next year and for years to come.
Thursday, June 21, 2012 10:04 AM
What could be more charming than a nest full of tiny birds being fed by the doting parents? Of course in time, we hope to see them venture out under parents' watchful eyes and try their wings.
The reality is not so idyllic. Perhaps you have found broken shells on the ground or more disturbing, dead or alive nestlings. I only have casual observation as well, but apparently not all birds leave the nest and many do not survive very long. Some experts suggest that most songbirds only live about a year. If that is an average age perhaps some live a few years but many die young. Except for banded birds it is hard to have good information on bird life.
The recent hailstorm here seem to account for at least two young birds in the small area of my yard. I found a young robin, still spotted on the breast but not full-grown beneath a hail beaten tree. Later I saw a much smaller barely fledged bird dead under another tree. Looking up for possible causes, I saw a nest, perhaps its former home, hanging upside down.
A day or so later I saw a young robin, perhaps a nestmate of the one found under the tree, still doing well. I was alerted to its presence by the loud chirping of a parent foraging on the lawn. Every time my dog or I moved near a certain juniper, the chirps got louder. Young robins and other species that can fly appear to still be protected by parents and fed at least part of their diet. This little one sat quietly while I photographed.
Predators, including dogs and cats seem to take their toll as well. How tempting is a young bird that doesn’t realize that sitting on the ground makes them quiet vulnerable? Unless parents warn them or dive-bomb the pets or predators, the young ones can be gone in an instant.
It is a little harder in most cases to really know about predators when birds are still in the nest. I have seen the vigorous defense of a nest tree put up by flycatchers when larger birds got too close. I later found egg fragments and young under the tree. I can only imagine what kind of nest raiding provokes small birds to mob hawks, owls and larger predatory birds.
Understanding the life or death struggles of birds and animals can present a dilemma. Do you intervene or let nature take its course? On whose side do you intervene? Predators are often seen as the bad guy but after all they have to eat too and they don’t eat grass and seed. Sometimes I have successfully helped small birds or at least distracted a cat from ending their short lives. Apparently the old rule that nest should never be touched or birds will abandon them does not hold true. Of course it is a risk to mess with nature. All kinds of unintended consequences can occur from you getting dive bombed to a bird dying in your hand.
I would rather not find dead birds or such but I can only do so much and most of that is to provide a place of trees and other cover, water and sometimes feed. The drama goes on in their short lives.
Thursday, June 14, 2012 9:02 AM
Gardening has been rather low-key in my area of northern Colorado this week. Although I am located on the high plains, heavy smoke at time and ash and charcoal fall from the mountain forest fires are keeping many people inside. It is disturbing to see the billowing smoke to the west and realize that it means destruction of many acres of forest lands and wildlife habitat and even worse, homes and gardens of people who lived in this beautiful area. Likewise ash and charcoal on the ground remind us that the fire is near. During dry weather, the plains may have grass fires but without large stands of trees, we generally only have ash and smoke from forest fires.
As is typical of many wildfires, weather plays a crucial part. High temperatures, winds and dry conditions are fueling the fire while cooler temperatures, calm air and high humidity or rain are usually the edge that can bring it under control. Let’s hope for a change in the weather that can change the outlook on fires.
While a fire is a drastic weather related condition, gardeners and farmers well know how weather can seriously impact their efforts. Just prior to the fire starting (which is attributed to lightening) we had serious hail in this area. Most crops and vegetables are small enough to recover at this point although in some areas there were major loses in truck crops. Trees also took a beating and lost branches of pencil size. Wind the following night revealed more damage as wilted branches caught in the trees came down requiring a second clean up. Small fruits such as apples and cherries were damaged as well as those with large leaves, rhubarb notably. We can expect the yields to be lower.
Although we all hate to lose our gardens, in a dry climate, trees are seen as investment, in time, money and water. If a choice must be made, saving one’s trees may be the priority. Sadly due to their size, they are difficult to protect.
Besides requiring watering in the high plains area, the trees are challenged by hail, occasional high winds, primarily in late winter and heavy snow in fall or spring. Last fall two back to back snowstorms prior to leaf fall broke many trees and the damage is still noticeable. A late spring snowstorm after leaves have emerged has the same effect.
When the snows fall, many people go out with brooms or other tools and knock off snow to lighten the load on trees and prevent breakage. Watering trees is of course a part of their maintenance. Trees that do not receive adequate water are more prone to disease and breakage. Strategic pruning of trees helps prevent some breakage. The hail and wind are just challenges to deal with and clean up after. We gardeners are all trying in their own way to improve nature. It seems whenever we go too far and believe that we can control the weather, we get stern reminders. We can only deal with the weather.
Wednesday, June 06, 2012 5:11 PM
Imagine this. Sitting in a swing at the end of the day with a neighbor while your dog sits some distance away with his back to you. My neighbor, who fancies himself something of a dog whisper says, your dog is disgusted with you when he sits with his back to you. That is news to me. I had thought that my dog was the disgusting one. You know how they are. I remember the time when the mop bucket had to be brought out at the vets. There is the matter of my other neighbor’s dog. How can I disgust my dog, I ask?
My dog is a rescue dog where an owner surrendered him. I soon learned his one bad habit. He is good with children, a reasonable watchdog, and doesn’t tear up stuff. His bad habit is that he likes to run around. He comes back at the end of the day, unless someone sends him to the pound or unless he meets up with coyotes or other mishaps that I don’t want to think about. I bought an invisible fence, which changed his life a lot. You soon realize that invisible fences will not keep coyotes out of the yard and still can allow for quite a bit to go on. For these reasons, I put him in at night.
An invisible fence is really a solution if you can’t get a dog to stay where you want him to be. I enclosed a pretty large area by buying extra wire. Although many people bury the wire, making the fence invisible, I mounted it on existing fences in many cases. Of course the wire and the fence are visible but the existing fence was not necessarily effective at keeping the dog inside.
The invisible fence must make a loop. There are some strategies that you can use if that is not really how your property works. Each end of the wire is connected to a transmitter that is connected to an outlet. The dog (or dogs) wears a collar with a receiver that has a couple of blunt prongs. If the collar fits securely and both prongs are fairly near the skin, the dog will receive correction when he strays near the wire. The instruction manual calls this static correction. My dog yelped during the training phase. If you are familiar with radio frequency (RF) you probably have an idea of what the dog experiences. One nice feature is that the collar first transmits a high pitched beep as a warning. Although you won't notice the beep, the dog apparently does. When the dog moves outside, the warning zone he receives correction. They learn and once they learn they rarely experience correction. If you want to take the dog out of the area, remove the collar and perhaps replace it with an ordinary collar.
If my dog is ever outside the loop, I can check for problems. Is electricity going to the transmitter? Is the loop continuous or has the wire gotten broken? I check this at the transmitter. Is the collar working or could the battery be dead, or contacts corroded? Is the collar on securely enough?
Of course if he is outside the loop, I have to retrieve him (the hard part sometimes). Remove the collar and bring him back in. Having to return to the looped area or having to go in at night may be the reasons that my dog is disgusted but we have a truce of sorts. He gets a lot of freedom, inside the loop with occasional excursions outside the loop on a leash, and plenty of treats. I know where the dog is and that he is mostly happy!
Wednesday, May 30, 2012 6:58 PM
A lawn tractor is not a tractor. I mainly drive lawn tractors. That is probably about right for my driving skills. I am not always successful at backing a fertilizer spreader. I have knocked the grass catcher off a couple of times. I have been stuck in loose dirt and high centered. Mostly these things have taken place where other people can see me in my embarrassment. I can only imagine what kinds of things could happen if I spent much time on a full-sized tractor.
In my defense, I have a lot of grass to mow. Also, most farm tasks that require a full-sized tractor are not the obstacle course that lawn-mowing presents, although maneuvering is certainly a useful skill for all.
I can certainly see the value of the bigger tractors. They can do a lot of work that can not be done either way. Perhaps someday my tractor driving skills will improve to where I can "graduate".
Some things that I have learned on the garden tractor: Watch for low hanging limbs, swings and other things that may be out of your main vision as you watch the edge of the mower platform. Not only can you do real damage to yourself, but also the mower or grass catcher can be damaged. Also, you can do damage to the shrub or whatever is above you.
As tempting as it is sometimes, I don’t take passengers and I don’t disconnect the interlocks to allow getting off the tractor while it is running. I read the safety instructions and I am pretty sure that these warnings and interlocks are present for a reason.
I don’t mow when it is wet and I always wear shoes. While those may sound unrelated good tractor for tires and feet are important. Dry grass cuts much nicer also.
I plan my mowing and remove all reasonable obstacles first! It is almost impossible to remove an obstacle while the tractor is in motion. I would say, just don’t go there! Do it the safe way and clear the path first or at least stop the tractor to remove obstacles.
An ongoing project is smoothing out the contours so that I can avoid backing and tight squeezes. Sometimes due to growth of shrubs and other factors, backing, tight squeezes, multiple passes and the like are just impossible. Of course these situations increase the possibility of hitting something such as a fence, a rock or other landscape feature. I haven’t seen a rear-view mirror for a lawn tractor but it wouldn’t be a bad idea. I try to plan my direction of travel to give the grass catcher side more clearance and thus avoid some scrapes and rubs. I also try to check behind me to be sure the way is clear. We all think we know the exact placement of things on the lawn but backing into trees and the like can happen.
Another good strategy is to mow in a very low gear. Not only does this give a better cut but it certainly helps avoid problems. A few seconds with the eyes on the mower deck and watching clearance can translate into several feet of travel and possible contact with some object.
Perhaps someday I’ll feel more confident on a "real" tractor. In the meantime, I am trying to stay safe and not do any real damage. Whether you drive or walk to mow, keep it safe.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 11:35 AM
Easy to grow and tolerant of dry conditions, what is there not to like about succulents? Some are even nicknamed "life forever". Succulents are especially a great ground cover in a dry climate. Part of the definition of succulent plants, is that they store water in their leaves. Although succulents include cacti, I mainly use the term to refer to those non-spiny types that typically have leaves, which are plump and shiny during the summer. In the winter, the entire plant may seem to shrink and may even appear dead. Some succulents lose their leaves during the winter and regrow them in the spring. The blossoms are often small and not particularly showy.
One of the most common and prolific succulents is called hen and chickens. A friend gave me several to start my rock garden and now a few years later, I also have plenty to share with other gardeners. The "hen" plant grows larger and larger and then sends out runners, each with a "chick" plant which roots down and soon sends out runners of its own. Some are reddish or have other interesting leaves. Since they do not root deeply, they can overgrow stones, walkways and other obstacles, sometimes creating a problem. Of course they don’t actually root into rocks and cement, so they can be peeled off these and transplanted or shared with others. Breaking the runner from the mother "hen" plant almost always results in a viable plant that can be placed elsewhere. Hens and chickens occasionally bloom, sending up a flower stalk with multiple flowers at the top. However, I notice that blooming usually leads to the demise of the mother plant. I am experiment with removing the flower stalks before the blooms actually emerge to see if this keeps the plant alive and thus avoids a bare spot. Conversely, if one plant dies out in a cluster, I can certainly depend upon the surrounding plants soon growing into the space.
Sedums are another group of succulents that are versatile and colorful. Some have interesting leaves with and exotic names as "dragons blood". For others, the flowers are the attraction. While the flowers are small, they tend to form in large masses providing an easy way to have color in your summer yard. They also bloom over a long time period.
Stonecrops are another group that is mainly valued for their texture. In Colorado, they can be found growing wild in the mountains in some areas. Stonecrops tend to stay small, topping out a few inches. A variety of leaf forms provides the textures.
What these all have in common is shallow roots, making for easy transplanting, low water usage and hardiness, being able to survive with little care. Occasionally aphids are attracted to succulents. Otherwise, almost nothing bothers them and they are usually disease free. About the only problem you might have is the over proliferation, such as in the hens and chickens.
If you are having trouble keeping flowers alive, either due to challenging growing conditions or perhaps not enough time for watering and care, consider some succulents. Gardening challenges resolved!
Wednesday, May 16, 2012 8:05 PM
Along with flowers, birds and insects, spring brings spiders. I know. There is an ick factor or maybe even a terror factor for some. I don’t want a spider on me and I consider that all of them are to some degree poisonous. After all, that is how they get their prey. If it can paralyze an insect, it can cause a nasty welt or worse for me. But without touching them, there are some fascinating ways to study them. Every spring, I see nests of yellow spiderlings. I looked this up on the Internet and others report similar, but somewhat different nests. The tiny ones that I find are yellow with brownish legs. Clearly they don’t all survive or I would see a huge number of one type of spider and I could better identify the particular species by the adults.
What I first see with these is a suspended mass of yellow, perhaps as large as a golf ball in shrubs. As the weather warms, the "ball" expands as the spiders move away from each other. On cooler days, the "ball" contracts again. Eventually they all dissipate to find their ways in the world, or perhaps find themselves to be lunch.
The most fascinating spiders, for me, are the jumping spiders. They really work for their meals by hiding in cracks and other hidden locations to leap out and snare a fly or other insect. I have seen them dragging flies nearly as large as their own bodies. They also will stalk flies in the open, such as on a glass windowpanes. I wish that I could show pictures of one catching a fly, but I have not actually gotten that photo yet!
I watched one stalk a fly on a window and the fly seemed to want to tease the spider. Perhaps it had a death wish. The spider would pounce at it and the fly escaped more than once only to light again near the spider. When I looked away for a moment and then looked back, the spider had the fly in its clutches.
Besides their habit of jumping, these spiders can be identified by their large heads that you can sometimes see them turn to look at you or their prey. Some of them are rather hairy in appearance. I know that is an ick factor! Their long front legs and large head rather de-emphasize their back legs, which are actually the ones that give them the ability to jump.
The jumpers do spin silk lines and apparently use them as safety tethers when on ceilings or on vertical surfaces. Occasionally they can be seen dropping down on a line.
The females, like many egg laying life forms can become quite large before laying eggs. I have seen their spiderlings as well, but they are very tiny and I only found them by looking near a previously large female spider and her little web nest.
I can’t really say that jumping spiders do not bite but, I have never been bit by one so I tolerate them. Of course, they are much more interesting to watch than an orb spinner sitting in its web for hours. If a spider in the house is alarming, they can be carefully transplanted to the outdoors where they generally live well.
Tuesday, May 08, 2012 2:54 PM
Perhaps if we defined lawn or landscape we would have to sooner or later use words like non-native or transplanted. Wherever we live, we somehow like to grow things that do not grow there naturally. We are rarely happy simply maintaining what naturally grows around our house. We want something different. The problems come in when we try to grow things that do not naturally grow in our area or even anywhere similar.
The USDA zone map is some help in determining if you can grow a plant where you live. I notice that it advises that it only maps the minimum winter temperatures. The tropical and semi-tropical plants may grow anyway in the United States but there are some limitations: They may not bloom or put on fruit or seeds with a shorter growing season. While they may live for years (perennial) in southern zones, you can either let them die in northern zones, or dig them up and let them winter indoors (or in a greenhouse).
There are many other factors besides minimum winter temperatures that can affect how plants grow. Some reference books talk about wildlife communities or ecology but they differ as well in the types and numbers of areas that they identify. It is easy to see that the plants of the Rocky Mountains are quite different than those of the high plains. Identifying exactly why plants grow readily one place and with difficulty in another place seems trickier.
Aspen, one of the most common trees in the Rocky Mountains are not so hardy at lower elevations. I am told that the warmer temperatures cause the problems. They do stay alive and even reproduce readily on the plains of Colorado and elsewhere, if you move them there. Sadly they don’t have as long a life as in the mountains and often start losing limbs and die. The photo here shows one that is starting to have problems.
Another common tree of the Rocky Mountains, the Colorado blue spruce is more versatile. Again, they are native to the mountains and you can see every size from seedling to towering old trees. Unlike aspens, they generally transplant and live as long in different areas of the country.
Whether buying or transplanting trees and plants, it is a good idea to find their origin and preferred habitat so you can do your best to keep the plant healthy and growing. Many domestic flowers originally grew in Asia or Europe as wild flowers. With a little research and perhaps information from the growers you can find ways to create their habitat and keep them healthy.
Moving from east to west, one of my latest projects is attempting to grow the lovely redbud tree, common in Eastern Woodlands, to the Front Range. It is a challenge but can be done. I know of several of the grown trees in the area and they certainly did NOT grow wild here. No picture is included, as my surviving specimen, nearly a year old, is only a few inches tall and of course has no blooms. Maybe in a future blog, we can see how well I have reproduced its preferred habitat.
Wednesday, May 02, 2012 7:55 AM
Vines are generally defined as plants with weak stems. This also seems to define some ground covers so I would add elongated stems to the definition. Some vines have tendrils or other means of hanging onto trellises, walls, trees or other plants. At one time, I probably had no vines. Trees, shrubs, flowers and lawn defined landscaping. I have now welcomed vines into the landscape. Vines are great at disguising and camouflaging anything in the landscape that is not exactly a positive. Of course, they also can harmonize nicely with a trellis and grace a fence or a wall.
My next addition is some English ivy. I snipped a start from a friend’s garage wall. I have long enjoyed it indoors but obviously it grows well in this climate and if I have it outdoors, I have an endless supply of starts for indoor pots. Many vining plants, including English ivy will root in water. Others, like Virginia creeper, readily put down roots wherever it touches the ground. These starts on the soil can be uprooted and moved to better locations or given to friends.
Many berries will grow on the support of a fence or trellis but are not actually vines. These include blackberries, raspberries and currents. Grapes of course are the most popular vining small fruit. With their tendrils they readily gain support.
Flowering vines such as wisteria and clematis are great additions because they flower in season but are very attractive most of the year. I have never had much success with these types without providing a trellis or other support.
I find that the most vigorously growing vines are great at creating shade where there are trellises.
Shade from vines can definitely take planning ahead, as the real shade may not develop for years.
Euonymus is a broadleaf evergreen that is usually called a shrub but is another plant that will grow on a trellis. In fact, if it is not pruned or tied up to a trellis, it may take up a lot more space than planned. It does actually shed leaves in the fall but never is bare. It also has flowers that are not significant in appearance but seem to really draw bees, flies and other insects.
One of the challenges that I have found is maintaining the trellis or wall once the vine starts growing. Painting a trellis is fine but repainting it is probably not going to happen! If a vine is one that you prune back annually, maintaining the trellis can be done after pruning.
Vines on wooden walls or fences create a similar problem, as repainting is nearly impossible. Another support problem that I have heard about but not experienced is that of vines, particularly ivy, clinging to rock and even glass so firmly that it is almost impossible to remove. Apparently it actually creates an etch effect on glass.
Which brings me back to my newest vine and the dilemma of where to plant it. I think not against a structure but placing vines can be a challenge. Power poles may eventually become a hazard if the vines reach the electrical wires and connections. Some vines should not be placed on fences where livestock grazes least they are eaten. As mentioned above, enough room must be allowed for support for years of growth. Like all plants, sun or shade requirements, drainage, and soil type can be concerns. Perhaps by the time the roots appear, I will find the perfect location!
Tuesday, April 24, 2012 6:43 PM
As it warms up, everything begins to grow. The perennials from previous years, newly sowed flowers and vegetables, and all of the unwanted things as well. It all comes back to us in a rush. The battle of the aphids, the bindweed wars and assaults on giant ant hills.
I primarily use natural remedies because they are available and inexpensive. Last year I acquired some bindweed sprigs that supposedly have mite infestations. I only say supposedly because the mites are tiny and their presence cannot be verified by simple observation.
The back-story is that bindweed is a major pest in this area of Colorado. Superficially it looks similar to common morning glories. The main differences are that the roots go very deep, perhaps 20 feet and over winter. This allows the plant to emerge from the ground with full grown leaves Also cut roots propagate bindweed so cultivation can actually help spread it. It loves semi-dry areas that have some disturbance, like a garden that is plowed once a year and then cultivated. It can even invade a lawn. Of course they are very hardy and readily take water intended for other plants and smother those plants.
Since bindweed is a native of Europe, its natural enemy, the bindweed mite has been imported to help control it. While it can take a few years to eliminate the pest, it is the only effective way that has been found.
Bindweed is such a problem that the Colorado Department of Agriculture has a program to provide the mites free to residents. For larger infestations, such as a hay field, the mites can be given a little help by redistributing them. Apparently mowing and cutting operations help disperse them and of course, cutting sprigs and placing them in other locations helps as well.
Another pest of sorts in this area is red ants. Although they bite, the main problem that they create are large sandy anthills surrounded by bare ground. The bare ground is the result of their foraging and the patches can be a few feet across. My remedy for these is less scientific but from folk knowledge. I place coffee grounds on the hills. So far, this seems to be having an effect. Lots of water, as in irrigation, also discourages them, but in a land of higher water bills, this is not always a feasible remedy.
For aphids, I have purchased lady bugs to supplement the natural population. Preying mantis are also good insectivores but apparently don’t restrain their appetite to just the pests. Soapy water sprayed on plants, even indoor plants, is a good remedy for aphids and similar small insects.
A potential seasonal pest in most areas is the raccoon. Although water is nearby and I grow sweet-corn, they have never raided my patch. It is hard to believe that they can’t smell ripening sweet corn from a quarter of a mile away. I did some research on-line and apparently my preferred gardening style deters them. I like to plant the pole beans in the cornrows. I also grow pumpkins and cucumbers. It seems that raccoons do not like vines. Of course this is speculation, as we can’t really know why something like this works. If you have seen your juicy corn ears eaten just before you were ready to pick them, you might try this strategy. It is easy and inexpensive and it seems to work.
I am always looking for new strategies to combat the various pests that I have to deal with. Every gardening year brings new battles!
Tuesday, April 17, 2012 2:25 PM
One of the local parks is a farm park with animals, educational exhibits, and even an old tractor for kids to play on. Why do kids like tractors? Even those children who live in town near the park seem to enjoy climbing on, grabbing the steering wheel and making tractor noises.
Perhaps the older, smaller tractors seem more kid-friendly. Newer four-wheel-drive tractors that have many steps up to the cab may seem a little daunting to little people. If you want to have some fun, let kids explore tractors. Perhaps you have some in the back or have neighbors who won’t mind letting kids explore their equipment. Some other ways are at farm auctions or at farm parks.
My father was a steam engine fan, and we could not drive past a steam engine without stopping to look it over. I learned the names of the steam engine and theshing machine manufacturers at a young age. And yes, I was allowed to climb around on them. Addmittedly, a steam engine is not small, and certainly when they were fired up I was less brave about climing on them. But my early introduction to old farm equipment led to a lifelong love of rural life, old tractors and history.
While my grandkids live in town, I am doing all that I can to pass along the rural lifestyle and particularly the historical aspects. We have been to fairs and looked at the tractor shows (and all of the other neat stuff), and I have thoughts of taking them to Pioneer Village in Minden, Nebraska (Pioneervillage.org), at a later date. While not all exhibits and shows will allow kids to climb on and grab the wheel, there are still lessons to be learned from the ground.
I was encouraged when the one grandson wanted a toy combine for his birthday. Admittedly, some of his knowledge of combines comes from a "Cars" movie. But I bought him the combine and later a CD on combine manufacturing that he saw on display at the farm store. We all learned a lot about combines from that CD!
If you don’t know much about older tractors, antique tractor shows can be a great history lesson for the entire family. The owners and collectors are usually more than happy to tell you all about their tractor, how it fits in the historical development of tractors, how much power it has, and how it operates. An interesting point that I have found is that many of the large, older tractors have no more horsepower than a modern garden tractor.
Tractor weight and design gave the old tractors the pulling power necessary for farm work, while the little garden tractor is fuel efficient and simply pulls itself and turns the mower blades using the same horsepower. Can you imagine plowing a field with no more horsepower than a garden tractor has?
Everyone can’t live on the farm, but we can all help pass along our rural heritage. As the weather warms up, get those kids out to see some tractors!
Tuesday, April 10, 2012 12:25 PM
While the pastures are still brown, I look for cacti that I can transplant to my rock garden. While cacti grow wild here, it is only semi-arid, so pasture grass grows also, and somehow every few years there are cacti that appear in the grass. I usually take some small stakes that I can mark the location of the evergreen cacti among the winter dry grass. When it is warm enough to transplant, I return with a bucket, spade and heavy gloves. The cacti do not root deeply, but of course must be handled with care.
I try to locate the transplants in areas where I have rock and landscape cloth. Ever try to weed a cacti patch? I have a neighbor who likes to use native plants in her landscaping as well. She has transplanted various “weeds” that grow along the adjacent irrigation ditch to her flowerbeds.
Some things to keep in mind when looking for “wild” flowers to transplant; It is illegal to dig up plants and trees from public land. Likewise be sure private property owners agree to let you dig up plants. Most people don’t mind getting rid of cacti but it is good policy to ask. Transplant wild plants in the spring or fall. If you can’t get it done in the spring, don’t do it in the summer. Just like nursery stock, plants struggle greatly in the summer heat and dryness. Also many plants are in the midst of flowering or seeding and the resources that could go into growing new roots are not available. Study what you are transplanting. Is it a perennial or an annual? Is it attractive most of the year? Does it need any special care?
If you admire water lilies, for example, know what you are getting into. They grow in water over a foot deep. You may need waders or even a small boat to get them. Once you have them you need to provide a similar habitat for them to grow. Water lilies present another challenge. While they are perennials, they need some special care for wintering over. This is a challenge for me, so I buy from the nursery every few years!
Another tempting transplant is wild asparagus. If you like asparagus, you may know that spring is the time to cut off the new shoots for a tasty spring dish. Since the shoots are forced to regrow repeatedly, this may not be an ideal time to transplant. I have to say that this challenge has also eluded me and I am planning on buying some from the nursery.
I notice some nurseries now sell “Dog Fennel” which was always considered a weed in my youth. If you don’t feel like searching out wild plants, nurseries are offering more and more options it appears. Whether you buy from a nursery or take a long walk with a shovel and bucket, wild species can add another dimension to your garden or landscape. If the plant grows wild in your area, it should do well when transplanted to your lawn or garden.
Think ahead where you want to place it and prepare a spot. Again, if you look at the plant and where it is thriving in the wild, you have a good idea of where it likes to grow and how big it gets. In the case of cacti and asparagus, they seem to do well in poor sandy soil…no preparation required in most cases, just planning. The water lilies are at the other end of the scale and a small pond will be required to keep them going. Woodland plants may require a shady area and lots of peat or other soil enrichments to survive transplanting.
While it takes some effort to transplant wild plants, it gives a look, or taste, of nature to your own little corner of the world and a sense of satisfaction that you can create the environment that they thrive in.