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Monthly Archives: April 2012

Grass has been growing here for about a month.  Some meadow grasses already have flowers.  So what’s the status of the invasives?

Knotweed got an early but feeble start. I’ve pulled about 30 shoots, none of them more than a foot, many only a few inches. That’s all currently above ground.

That might be Black swallow wort in the photo. It must not get going until later in the season because the photo shows the entire crop to date. Wait, I can’t say that. The photo shows all the shoots of that plant that I came across in the areas that had had Black swallow wort last year. When I looked online for photos to use as comparisons, I found my own shots!

Black swallow wort?

And, dear reader, I know you are waiting for the update on the Bittersweet! Rest assured, Bittersweet is still in the meadow. But, it has not been this absent since it began invading the field more than two decades ago. It is most prevalent in those places in the north east section where I could not spray herbicide because it was too tightly interlaced with desirable broadleaved plants.

It is also coming back in relatively greater strength than in other parts of the meadow in an area I hand pulled last April to the south of the path to to the former bee yard. Does this suggest that hand pulling is less successful than spraying?

A patch to the south of the Barberry heather had a minor resurgence as well. That area was another where I had to be careful not to spray desirable plants so I had used herbicide extremely sparingly. This spot, and other areas that did get some herbicide, show something else as well: many of the youngest leaves of the Bittersweet are wilting. is the wilt from a lack of rain or is the plant systemically weakened? Maybe I’ll know after a rain, although I am cutting back as many shoots as I can so I am reducing my ability to tell. I want to keep my need for further spraying to a minimum. I also want to keep after the Bittersweet before it further tangles with the plants I want to preserve.

Youngest Bittersweet leaves wilting

So, on first blush, the herbicide treatment seems to have been a resounding success. And wildlife appears not to have been too disturbed. These butterflies were mating while I snipped around them. They were using a old, cut Bittersweet stem but note the strawberries flowering below them. (These butterflies are orange when they open their wings; I better learn to identify these meadow residents!)

The poison ivy seems undaunted, although it collapsed immediately when sprayed last summer. The dewberry is debating how to fill some of the gaps in its network of foot-snaggers. I’m confident it will find brilliant new routes.

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Everyone is saying it is going to be a bad year for ticks. No winter freeze to knock back the population. Here’s my support for the observation, starting with one tick taped to an oyster shell fragment.

The rest of my evidence, about 15 others, represent no more than two hours worth of collecting in the tiny area around the cold frame outside the vegetable garden.

I have not heard any comments on tick habitat preference changes yet there seem to be more in the most heavily cultivated part of the yard, namely the vegetable garden, than in the meadow where their vectors, the deer, roam. So far this year, I have found only one tick in the meadow. But every time I go near the vegetable garden, I’ll spy a dozen.

There will be no fledging party for the first family of bluebird to use my box this year after all. The two eggs in the bluebird nest are without a mother now.

Coming in from harvesting asparagus for supper, the blue caught my eye. The scene tripped my heart. Behind the cold frame was the female bluebird. She was standing in the grass mid stride, one leg in front of the other, a blade of dry grass still in her beak. She was also dead.

I picked her up. Whatever caused her death left no traces on the outide. I took photos while deciding where to bury her. Usually, small creatures that die on the premises get dumped in the meadow by the big composting bins so carrion-eating animals can have an easy evening meal. That would not do for this beloved bluebird. The stone monkey could serve as her tombstone. The herb garden would provide a peaceful place without foot or mower traffic.

Only yesterday, I headed out to count the eggs in the box. As I approached, I could see the female was inside. We agreed I’d come back later. Today I checked the status and number of eggs after finding the dead female. The air in the box and the nest were warm. There are two eggs.

Could I be implicated in her death? Was she behind the cold frame because she had been confused by its glass cover? The cover is nearly horizontal and only a foot or so off the ground. The glass is propped open but she was not by the side that was open. The damp soil in the cold frame showed no bird tracks. Still, could she have flown inside the frame? Could she have broken her neck trying to get out? Or was it the corn gluten or the milky spore spread on the lawn last week. Both are considered the organic way to handle a lawn and both had been watered in by the weekend rain. Still could the bluebird have ingested too much of either of those?

Goodbye little bird. Thank you for the thrill of choosing my nesting box, your tuneful singing and the beautiful color you lent to my meadow. I will miss you more than you could ever imagine.

Female bluebird where found behind the back of the cold frame.

In between rains, the old field had its annual haircut on Thursday (29 March). Set at its highest position (5 inches), the mowing machine and the mower, Scott Wallace, needed all afternoon to do the deed. Scott mowed at right angles to last year’s paths as a precaution against reenforcing last year’s ruts but the ground was much drier this year and the mower lighter so that was not an issue.

Mowing from the middle

But the meadow did end up with a new feature. It has a Mohawk! (You have to enlarge the photo to see it.)

The Mohawk

Last summer, I discovered a Bayberry health on a rise mid-field. I sprayed and pulled Bittersweet until the area looked to be predominantly Bayberry again. Then I marked it off from the mowing. The result, is a ridge of Little bluestem at the periphery of the heath.

The well head, the bird boxes, the large brush compost and the bee hives in a new location, are now the only other level changers in the field. Despite the frost this morning, I think I can hear the grass growing.