Saturday, April 30, 2011

Pot Culture

When I talk about pot culture, I’m referring to the practice of raising plants in pots. Contrary to what some seem to think, this topic has nothing to do with the growing of marijuana. Growing plants in pots gives me the opportunity to observe growth on a daily basis. It’s amazing what you can learn through this type of continuous monitoring. One of the first things I learned was the fact that many rare plants are highly palatable to wildlife and need protection if you are going to keep them around long enough to make observations. These pot covers were originally doors on rabbit hutches, but they serve quite nicely as animal guards.

Pots set into the ground give the plants more protection from fluctuating temperatures. Plants from these pots will be set into an exhibition bed which, for some reason, hasn’t yet been constructed. I’ll have to talk to the staff about that.

This pot holds my rare mustard collection. Leavenworthia uniflora, Draba cuneifolia, and Draba reptans all thrive here. Three-fourths of the pot was filled with clay subsoil to mimic the typical soil in the shallow bedrock areas. Two inches of pulverized limestone went on top of the clay. The limestone came from my excavation for the water garden and is a close match for the gravely surface deposits in the barrens. Several years ago, I collected ripened seed and scattered it into the pot. The population has been self supporting since and produces loads of extra seed to scatter around different places.

The Potato Dandelions, Krigia dandelion, have again filled their pot. They grow in three inches of a sand-loam mix over a clay base. This pot was planted with seven tubers collected from the wild and now produces many hundreds of new tubers each year. I’ve had little success in creating a self sustaining population outside of the pot, primarily because everything with a mouth seems to enjoy eating Krigias.

One disadvantage of pot culture is the tendency of plants to grow to proportions that you would never find in the wild. This False Aloe, Agave virginica, is a single plant that has a dozen different tops. It’s a great seed producer, but it’s not a good example of what would be happening in more natural conditions.

Some Nodding Wild Onions, Allium cernuum, have sprung up in this pot of compost-sand mix. I had a few seeds last year, and stuck five or six into several different pots to see what would happen. These are the only plants that developed. Maybe they’ll do well enough to give me more seed to experiment with.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Prairie Garden Progress

The black of a late winter burn has been replaced by the green of spring growth. One purpose of the prairie garden is to allow me to learn about the various growth stages of the plants native to Blue Jay Barrens. Burning makes it possible to observe the plants at their first sign of development. Many of the plants emerge much earlier than some people think. The bare area in the foreground is where I sprayed glyphosate herbicide to eliminate some encroaching Bluegrass and Fescue. Forbs that were dormant at the time I sprayed, are now beginning to show.

Some plants are doing too well. The broadleaved plant in the center of the photo is Western Sunflower. It spreads out into the lawn and persists even when mowed. It’s an uncommon plant in Ohio, but the aggressive nature that it displays makes me wonder why. The strip of dead grass in the center of the photo was made when I sprayed around the perimeter of the garden. I do this every year or two and expand the garden by about eight inches in all directions each time I spray.

This is the spot that was protected by the wet towel when I burned. The hole is from a rabbit that nested here last year.

The most common plants in the unburned spot are seedling Oxeye Daisy. It appears that the fire did a good job of killing these invasive exotics across the rest of the garden.

Black Medick seedlings are still prevalent in some areas. I was surprised when large patches of this plant died following a heavy frost. New seedlings continue to emerge, but it was interesting to learn of this susceptibility to cold temperatures.

Purple Coneflowers do well here, but they always look a little pale in the spring. This doesn’t seem to hurt their ability to produce an attractive floral display later in the season.

Four years ago, I threw a handful of Butterflyweed seeds into the garden. There are now several plants mature enough to bloom. Having a variety of attractive blooms in the garden helps in my attempts to convince people that this is not just a weed patch growing in the front yard.

False Gromwell is one of my favorites. The plants seem to have a life of only a few years, but they are now self perpetuating in the garden. Several plants produce seed and new plants appear each year.

The red stemmed plants are Round-podded St. John’s-wort. This plant also seems to be a short lived perennial and entire patches will vanish after a few years. Development of new patches keeps pace with disappearence of the old and the plants are always present somewhere in the garden area.

I started four False Aloe in pots and transplanted them to the garden in 1995. One died, but the other three are still present. Some years they exhibit multiple crowns and other years it’s just a single top. Deer will occasionally eat the plant down to ground level with a corresponding lack of vigor in the plant the following growing season.

There are seveal False Aloe seedlings scattered around the garden. It took 12 years before any but the original plants flowered and produced seed. Now there are about eight mature plants flowering on an annual basis.

The Nodding Wild Onions are doing well. So far, nothing has eaten them from the top or the bottom. I hope that trend continues. I’d like to see the onion become established in the garden. It’s funny that this plant can sometimes fill a person’s yard, but it has a tough time surviving here.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Edwards' Hairstreak Larvae

I visited some small oaks in hopes of discovering eggs of the Edwards’ Hairstreak butterfly and found a newly hatched larva instead.

With my hand in the background, you get a little better idea of the size of this newly hatched caterpillar. What I found odd was the absence of any Allegheny Mound Ants attending this little guy. Maybe they’ll be along soon.

Not much growth on these small oaks to feed a newly hatched caterpillar. The tree in the center hosted the larva, but the buds hardly looked as though they were beginning to swell.

On a second tree, I found more larvae along with their ant protectors. The larvae are busily feeding on the bud. They’ll be adults by mid-June, so their development should proceed at a fairly rapid pace.

The ants will guard the larvae and resulting pupae up to the point of adulthood. During the early stages of development, the larvae will spend most of their time on or next to the buds. At some later instar, the ants are supposed to escort the larvae to a protected area at the base of the tree for safety during daylight hours and then take them back up the tree to feed during the night. I have yet to witness this activity, but I’m going to try hard to catch it this year.

The tree doesn’t look like much, but its existence is essential for the survival of the Edwards’ Hairstreaks living in this small prairie opening. Click on Edwards’ Hairstreak from the list in the sidebar for more information on this interesting butterfly.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pond Water

The pond has certainly not been lacking for water this spring. I’m seeing plenty of salamander larvae and the frogs and toads are still busy laying eggs. The brown water is discouraging, but that’s something you have to put up with when you don’t control the entire watershed.

The water is actually cleaner than what it appears in the first photo. Although I’d prefer to have clear water, what I have doesn’t seem to have any noticeable negative effects on the pond life.

Following a heavy rain, we have a rapid inflow of water traveling overland. When the overland flow subsides, inflow continues from underground sources. I would never lack water if this spring flow would continue, but within a couple days it will slow to a trickle. The cave system that channels this water is only a few feet below the ground and doesn’t have the capacity to hold much water. It is fed by the rapid infiltration of rain water during a storm. The passage through the soil removes any sediment from the water, so it emerges from the ground perfectly clear.

This is what produces the sediment that clouds the pond. The Township road runs uphill in both directions from my driveway. The first bit of runoff from the road carries the dust in my direction. Fortunately, things have been fixed so the water leaves the road before reaching the driveway. This allows some of the sediment to be filtered out by the grass.

Water from across the road travels through a culvert and heads directly for the pond. This is the major source of unclean runoff.

Water that exits the road into my field gets trapped behind an old lane embankment. As the water is held in this temporary pond, the sediment begins to settle out. Much of this water filters through the ground and emerges in the spring. Very little sediment passes this point.

My portion of the watershed is protected by a healthy vegetative growth. When I first moved here, the compacted soils shed water very quickly and it didn’t take much rain before you saw water running off the field. The soil structure has improved tremendously over the past 25 years and much more water filters down into the soil rather than running off.

If water is going to run from a field, this is what it should look like. Sediment laden water is so common that many people don’t realize it can be clear. My goal is to have the water leaving my property to be as clear as it can possibly be.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


The sight of a Yellow Morel can certainly cause some excitement. I’ve seen people grab these highly prized edible mushrooms right out from in front of someone’s camera lens. I call it a mushroom because I’ve been told that this gem is too classy to be referred to as a fungus.

I don’t find many morels at Blue Jay Barrens. Most of my encounters are with single individuals that I leave in place to spread their spores to the wind. In 25 years there have only been two or three times that I’ve found enough mushrooms to make a collection worthwhile.

This year, I found in one place more Yellow Morels than I have ever found before in an entire season. This is the first time I’ve ever been able to take a photo of multiple mushrooms in one location. In total, there were about 40 morels in an area 30 feet across.

The site of the find was within the root zone of an old apple tree that died a few years ago. I’ve read that apples are one of many trees which may have an association with morels. The Tuliptree is said to be the most like species to have morels growing beneath its canopy. Most of my finds have been beneath Eastern Red Cedars growing in the barrens. I’ve always thought that was a rough place for mushrooms to be growing.

I learned years ago that the official system of measure for morel harvests is the Bread Sack, but I’m not sure if a full sack is one that’s filled completely to the top or just filled to the volume of a loaf of bread. I’m going to estimate that I collected a half bread sack worth of mushrooms, even though I used a half gallon container instead of a sack. My wife loves morels and I love my wife, so I prepared the whole batch for her dining pleasure. I did leave a few of the bug chewed morels under the tree to spread spores, just in case it makes a difference to future populations.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Bridges vs. Floods

There hasn’t been any snow for awhile, but we’re far from getting any relief from the weather. Now we’re in a pattern of rain storms coming through every few days. Saturday’s storm dumped 3.4 inches of rain on top of already saturated soils and the resulting flash flood rose to set a new record. One of my concerns during times such as these is the security of my foot bridges spanning the creek.

After the record setting floods of 1997, this bridge was relocated and elevated to keep the bridge deck above the high water mark. The accumulation of debris shows that the bridge was submerged for at least part of the recent flood event. Fortunately, the flood water wasn’t strong enough to move it from this position.

This bridge didn’t fare quite as well. It looks a mess, but things aren’t really as bad as they appear.

The bridges are intended to move with the flood water. Each bridge is tethered to an immovable object. When the water rises, the bridges float up and lay themselves along the bank. The restraining cable can be seen attached to the lower right-hand corner of this bridge. Repositioning the bridge is much easier when it’s still at its proper site rather than a quarter mile down the creek.

My options in a situation like this are to either let the bridge move during a severe flood or elevate it above the high water level. Elevated bridges make it difficult to cross with DR Brush and still require maintenance of the approaches after a flood. Anchoring the bridge in place doesn’t work because the immobile bridge causes the creation of plunge pools, bank erosion and channel redirection such as you would get when a tree falls across the channel. Bridge movement is a rare occasion, so it’s not something I have to deal with very often.

At its peak, the flood water completely covered the level ground between the hills. The leaves that weren’t washed away, ended up plastered on the bases of the tree trunks. It’ll take a little while for the plants to upright themselves.

This bridge on a smaller tributary is intended to stay in place. The rock bottom of the stream is immune to plunge pool development and rock in the banks makes the whole site fairly stable. Strong storms are predicted through the middle of the week, so the bridges may get hit again. I’ll wait until things dry up a bit before putting things back where they belong.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Spring Flies

It’s interesting how a little bit of warm weather triggers the emergence of an uncountable number of flies. Just because a few flies feed on items that we consider to be unappealing, many people refuse to consider their beauty. It’s worth the effort to get some close-up looks at these tiny creatures.

Tachinid flies have to be a leader in impressive appearances. Bright, shiny colors on a large body would be considered plenty, but when you add the spike-like bristles jutting from the abdomen, you get a combination that’s hard to beat.

There are many species of Tachinid flies, the larvae of which are parasites on other insects. I find most of these flies sitting on the leaf litter in the woods. It’s almost impossible to walk without scaring up a fly with every step.

This is one that I wish I saw more often. This hairy Bee Fly has a long pointed proboscis that much resembles a hypodermic needle. It’s a harmless creature that doesn’t sting or bite, but it has a wonderful look of menace about it.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Bird House Tenants

All of the bird boxes are occupied for round one of the Bluebird/Tree Swallow nesting season. After checking all of the boxes, I found that instead of only one pair of nesting Bluebirds as I mentioned yesterday, there were actually two boxes that contained Bluebird nests. I my error came about by assuming that seeing a pair of Tree Swallows sitting atop the box meant that they were the owners. I don’t know what the Bluebirds were up to that they would let Tree Swallows have such easy access to their nest site.

There was really a lot of material used to create this nest. It’s possible that the base was started by another pair of birds and the Bluebirds stole the box and built their own nest on top. I’ll dissect the nest when I clean out the box to see if this was the case.

Four eggs so far. I would expect one more before brooding begins. It looks like the boxes are doing a good job of staying dry, despite the downpours that seem to occur every couple of days.

No eggs yet in the Tree Swallow nest, but it’s already looking dirty. I think the birds found some of the feathers that were cleaned out of the box last year and used them again. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that happen before. I know that Tree Swallows can really mess up a nest, but they should at least start with clean building materials.