Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Connecting the Dots and Deer

I re-read my previous post and realized that it was extremely choppy.  I had too much to say in one post and just kept cutting it down until it was horrible,  Sorry.

When writing about Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds, my point is that many people see things in isolation and don't connect all of the events preceding it to the result.  The fact that my neighborhood has an over population of deer is connected to the entire history of Europe and the Americas.  The land under my house was once a farm, it can be seen today in the exact way the soil in the yard had eroded, it can also be seen in the soil profile when I dig a hole for a tree.  The top layers of soil have been mixed, something that I  would not see if I were to dig a hole on the side of the ravine, because no sane person would plow the steep angles of that hill without terracing.


It is likely that my yard once was loaded with tobacco plants, the county flag has a tobacco leaf on it.  I know of only one tobacco farm left in the area. Most of the tobacco land in the area has either been converted to corn and sorghum, pasture, woods or giganti-homes (due to a Federal buyout of tobacco farms on which I am having difficulty locating information on the internet--I've met many people locally who tell the story of how an area used to be a huge farm, but the farmer took the Federal money offered and headed for a less expensive place to retire.  Some how the land gets sold to developers, who probably lobbied for the bill to fund the buyout.). Around here there is talk of houses being the best cash crop for farmers to raise.  There are a few exceptions  some local farms are now agricultural trusts and will remain farmland.


My neighborhood has been shaped by health policy and American smoking trends, agricultural price supports  that ended in 2005 and more. During the time period when this area was farmed from the late 1600's to late 20th century, it is unlikely that there were many deer after the first few years due to the forest being converted to fields, removing the edge habitat for the deer and over-hunting by the residents.  I doubt the people who built the 1920's era house next door ever saw deer in their yard.


There certainly is no lack of deer now, every day last fall I would see a minimum of four deer together in the yard at some point in the day. They weren't always the same deer either, their sizes, shapes, coloring, and antlers varied.  Now, I see a couple in the area every few days.  


I know that at least two neighbors have been feeding the deer, one as entertainment (much like I feed the birds) and the other has a deer stand (a hunting chair mounted in a tree with a deer decoy and food items to lure deer into the area below--as if he really needs to lure them. (I understand that there are frequent ER visits made by adult males in the area due to "falling out of trees"  Also, my daughter is not allowed in the woods in December or January because of hunting season gunfire.). I doubt either neighbor gardens or has a dog who goes into a frenzy over the sight of deer.


Going back further in time,  before European style farming, it is likely that there were some deer in the area.  Nearby there is a site that was used for tool and weapon making with artifacts that are up to 4000 years old,  The people making those weapons probably saw deer regularly, but it is unlikely that they found four deer hanging around their camp every time they returned.  The people, wolves and cougars would have kept the population in check.


Today, it seems the only things that keep the deer population in check are Fords, Toyotas and Mecedes (especially white SUV's, a favorite of the giganti-home dwellers).  The deer population also helps provide business for many medical facilities and body shops...and the omnipresent vultures.  (The only vultures I remember in my childhood were the ones that showed up in the Road Runner cartoons, but that's another story.)


The point of all of this is that the ecosystem is out of whack.  We've created a situation where the niche of predator has been removed from the food web and unless we think of a solution the predators that we can't remove from the food web, viruses and bacteria, will eventually take their toll.  In the meantime, we have budgeted money for putting circles of fencing around each of our newly planted trees to prevent defoliation by hungry deer, which they did to one of the apple trees last year.  It survived this time, but two years in a row for a new tree would be too much.


The book provides some ideas, not all of them palatable to everyone on how to resolve this issue, but, venison stew may be back on the Eastern American table for the first time in nearly three hundred years.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Writing is good, it raises little dust and doesn't involve cleaning solutions or rubber gloves.

A rainy day is  perfect for writing, it makes me put off the million things to do outside and face the million things inside that I need to do and wish to avoid. Writing is good, it raises little dust and doesn't involve cleaning solutions or rubber gloves.

Most of my final order of plants came in on Friday.  The dwarf pie cherries and horseradish will be arriving in next week, but the rest came.  The postal delivery person decided that this particular package needed to be stuffed between the black metal mailboxes, out of sight from the house on a warm sunny day.  Usually, she will open the car window and drop the boxes on the walk (if you are sending me something delicate, make sure to use Fedex or UPS, because the last few feet of their journey to my house can be pretty rough on a package).  A neighbor spotted the package jammed between the searing hot mailboxes and was going to leave it until he saw that it was labelled "PLANTS". He kindly brought it to our door.  We'll see how everything fared in the heat in the next few weeks.

I planted the sand cherries right away on Friday, their bed was set up and ready.  Then we planted 75 everbearing strawberries on Saturday, it was a little late for them to go in, but I think they will be okay.
The potatoes and the roses will wait until after the rain.

The pepper plants are one by one popping from their seeds many, many weeks after I planted them.  I have enough hot pepper plants for the year and may have to buy only one or two sweet pepper plants.  One eggplant seed made it.  Now I just have to baby the seedlings.  I bought some Zambia hot peppers too, just to experiment, they came up the best of all.

I am especially glad that a couple of the Aji Limon and Aji Cito seeds have sprouted.  I love the internet, I can find things that I would have never been able to find twenty years ago. I had been given some peppers that I adored from the ethnobotany garden plot at the University of Florida, they had a lemony flavor layer and these two Aji's are my best guesses as to what those peppers were.  I found them on a website called Hell Hot Peppers .
I put the tray of the remaining un-sprouted seeds in the cold frame outside, maybe a couple more will germinate. 

The really good news is a friend looked at the crab apple tree and said that it looked like sap suckers not woodpeckers doing the damage and again, I verified that on-line and it looks like we are going to be able to keep the beautiful tree!!  No bonfire necessary! Yeah!  We bought a very small crab apple tree, it is sitting in a pot waiting for its location, hmmmmmmmmmm.  This crab apple is supposed to be good for cider making, oh the projects that await us in the next few years!

The book Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds was recommended to me after a few of my posts about critters in the yard, luckily the library had it.  I just finished reading it.  The first part of the book was a synthesis of a few books that I read a few years back when I worked at the EcoTarium in Worcester, MA (Many of them are good reads, I'll put a list at the bottom of this post.), discussing suburban expansion, habitat change, habitat fragmentation and habitat succession--basically what happens to all of the critters that were here in pre-Columbian times when the European settlers chopped every thing down and hunted any food or fur bearing critter out of existence.   Then continues about how the abandonment of the farms of the East due to the opening up of better farmland farther west and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution allowed the trees to grow back creating a giant human populated forest.

My favorite quote from that part of the book is from John C. Gordon the former dean of the Yale School of Forestry, " If you looked down on Connecticut from on high in the summer, what you'd see was mostly unbroken forest.  If you did the same thing in late fall after the leaves have fallen from those trees, what you'd see was stockbrokers." Yup.

The next step is the reintroduction and legislation that protects all of these critters that are now over-populating many areas.  There are no predators to control these animals so there are no checks on the population. Leading to widespread Lyme disease, habitat destruction by over-grazing, beavers flooding streets, bears in the dumpsters, etc.

For example, I know that there is a forest corridor that goes directly behind my house through a ravine leading to a stream, I know that deer and other critters follow that corridor.  One more thing I know is that many of these animals do not make it across the street I live on, which has a high speed limit and heavy traffic flow.  All too often the scent of dead deer blows into the yard and gawky vultures circle above (Which was disconcerting when I started jogging two years ago after several years of inactivity-I did laps around the yard with the vultures circling above.  They seemed to be checking me out a bit too much).  When I am leaving the house from dusk to dawn, I am especially vigilant watching the forest edges for movement and the reflective eyes of deer.  I know they are there. I see the foot prints in my lawn. I see their eyes in the backyard. I hear them amble through the ravine as I garden (three in the last week).  I also know that the three lonely apples on the tree in the backyard were not eaten by any member of my family.

There are also fox, hawks, opossums, squirrels, crows, voles, moles and plenty more that I can't see at night.  The voles ate my parsley plant, again.  The park nearby has a huge (50+) black and turkey vulture population, they hang out by the dumpsters and sun themselves on the lawn.  It's kind of gross.

The book proposes some solutions, most of them are controversial in one way or another, depending upon your vantage point.  It was an interesting read.
These are for the vicarious chicken keepers:
Athena is getting an attitude, she doesn't like the fence, so she flaps her way over it.

Ursula has become protective of her eggs, in the coop, outside the fence..

Paisley is the only chick who can't escape the fence, she just can't get the altitude.

Book List:

Making Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World: A New History by Bunker, Nick (Apr 13, 2010)

THOREAU'S COUNTRY by Foster, David R. and Thoreau, Henry David (Jun 30, 2009) 

Forests in Time: The Environmental Consequences of 1,000 Years of Change in New England by Mr. David R. Foster and Mr. John D. Aber (Apr 27, 2006) 

The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-made Landscape by Kunstler, James Howard (Sep 13, 2013) (very readable, time for me to re-read this one--sounds much drier than it is.) 




Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ready to Start Mowing, Time to Take the Snow Shovel off the Porch

It is supposed to rain over an inch today.  I thought it might be a good time to write something, since working in the yard is a rather wet option.  I ran out a few minutes ago, knowing the impending storm was due in a few minutes to snap a few photos to illustrate what I am writing about. I cut it a little too close and in my last to photos there is a gray haze of rain coming down and I needed to twist my camera into my shirt to keep it dry as the sky let loose a heavy downpour as I bolted for the house, accompanied by the strange music of chicken throaty noises accusing me of creating this wet stuff that was going to make their day unpleasant.

Here are the last shot that I took as it started to dump.
Peas and onions
 The peas are just coming up, I probably should have planted them a bit sooner, but there was no transition from snow to gardening weather, it was like a switch flipped.  There is still a snow shovel on the front porch.
April 9, 2014, Front flower garden

April 15, 2014, Front flower garden

The frog surrounded by phlox, instead of snow
Shrubs to move and plan  for expansion.

All of the new plants have broken dormancy except the beach plums and the cherry plum, we will have to wait and see how they do.  The next shipment of plants is due near the end of this week, they were supposed to ship yesterday.  Of course, I have been getting ready for them.

I have been digging out some of the foundation shrubs in front of the house in preparation for the bush cherries.  I have been relocating them (with my husband's help--they are really heavy) to the fenced area with the chickens, since they seemed fond of laying eggs under them when they were (too) close to the house.  Digging here is nothing compared to digging in New England, the work goes so much faster when you don't have to work around thousands of rocks the glacier left behind.

The little seedlings under the lights have transformed themselves into garden plants under the floating row cover.  I have been picking a few of the outside leaves to go into my sandwiches, it won't be long until I will have enough to cook with.


The left of these two trees I found in the back yard, up against the woods with three very closely planted grape vines---all surrounded by brushy growth.  It appears to be a peach or a nectarine.  There is another young tree next to it, which appears to be some sort of plum with thorns, so it might be American, Canadian, Chickasaw or Blackthorn (sloe).  I'll key the leaves out when they appear.  I don't know how the folks who owned this property before us planned their plantings, but shade and three foot spacings are generally not good ideas.  They certainly were consistent though. Next winter we will relocate the mystery plants.  I relocated the grapes about a week ago, one was labelled as Cabernet Sauvignon, not the best choice for this area, but we'll see what happens.

The right photo is a victory, it is of the diseased old peach tree in the front yard that my husband has been nursing back to health, maybe there will be peaches this year!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Protection and Growth

Front flower garden, just getting started.

My daughter ate fourths with dinner last night, it seems she has made a full recovery.  She went to track practice on Thursday when she returned to school and managed to make the team!  I get the feeling she'll be eating fourths more often.

Girls inside the fence, for the moment.

The chickens are fenced, we can't count on the neighbors to keep their dogs in their yards and as a consequence (since we'd rather not have our girls die) we get to foot the bill for a fence.  That took a nice little chunk out of this month's budget.  We spent part of this weekend erecting it.  Within three hours of completion Athena went AWOL, three times, once when the pit bulls were out, sigh.  She was determined to lay her egg somewhere else.  We've been referring to her as our "special" chickie, because she doesn't seem to have normal chicken sense.  The other chickens barely tolerate or bully her.  The others dive for the worms in the roots of the weeds I pull up, she will peck my hands, not seeming to figure out that they are not food, even after the tenth attempt.  We're going to have to clip a couple of feathers on one of that special girl's wings, so she won't be able to steer herself over the fence and do herself some harm.  The others seem pretty content.  


I'll be placing some of the shrubs we are removing from the front within the fenced area to give them a little cover, and a neat little spot to lay eggs.  They seem to understand the value of thorns, they ran for the quince bush when the pit bulls came into the yard, luckily we were able to turn them around before they got to investigating the chickens and their prickly surroundings. Maybe we'll get the girls something prickly and pretty later in the season.


The garden in going in bit by bit.  Leeks, red and yellow onion sets went in as well as all of the little greens seedlings that I have posted pictures of.   The greens are under a floating row cover, after the bugs ate six times as many greens as the family ate last year.  Right after I put the cover over them I saw a cabbage white moth flutter by and was very glad I spent the time setting it up.


I planted some peas, lettuce, beets, daikon and white radishes in the back garden.  My tomato seeds are planted inside and coming up.  My mom sent me a few of her seeds for some huge tomatoes and suggested that we have a growing contest, three of the six seeds for that variety are up, so far.  The germination for the eggplant and peppers has been horrible. I planted over 100 seeds, knowing that they are a bit persnickety, but only six have come up and I accidentally broke one of them.   I may be buying plants this year.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

I'm not hungry

I haven't been to Walmart yet.   This past week my family wondered about my electronic disappearance, no facebook postings, no blog, not even a quick call. I can explain.

It all started with, "I'm not hungry.", a sentence that is never uttered by my 25th percentile in weight and 95th in height pre-teen, what I usually hear is, "Can I have seconds? (or thirds?)."  It all unravelled from there.

She had a friend coming over to bake something special for a gathering we were attending that evening.  After serious deliberation, they baked some amazing oatmeal raisin cookies.  We then headed out to "Soup Night", a late winter/early spring tradition of a weekly Saturday evening potluck with board game playing/guitar playing/jigsaw puzzling/video gaming,etc. evening, The hosts provide a giant crock or two of soup and home baked bread, hence the name "Soup Night.  The tradition has been on-going for 11 years, we joined in a few weeks ago.

The evening was going well until my daughter took me aside and said her stomach didn't feel all that great, but she wanted to stay.  Some ginger ale was found and she went off with the other kids. Later, she tapped me on the shoulder and with one look at her face, I was gathering her friend to go home while handing her a grocery bag, just in case, for the ride home.  She just made it home before it all started. My mind started going through all of the things that she had eaten in the past couple of days, and the only thing I came up with was a slice of cake that her dad had bought for her in a bakery near his work.  It had cream frosting, had it been refrigerated properly...?  It was only thing that she had eaten that no one else had.

She spent early part of the night trying to sleep on the bathroom floor, but then we moved her into the bedroom so that she could get some rest and I set up camp with couch cushions next to her bed.  At about 2 AM, as I was cleaning her up, for the fourth time, she turned her wan face to me lifted her head a little and said, "I'm sorry. I know you must be tired and want to go to bed."  Then put the great weight of her head down on the pillow.  I assured her that this is what moms do,   I did get to sleep several hours later when I woke her father, sent him for Gatorade at the gas station and then deputized him as cleaner-upper.

It appears that it was not the cake, after the vomiting ceased (fifteen hours after it had started) she had a high fever, chills and the whole ugly bit.  It looked like the flu, but it wasn't.  For several days I didn't even leave the house beyond letting the chickens out. One day I took my cell phone with me to the front garden, so that if she needed me she could call me without getting out of bed.  Today, Thursday, she is back to school for the first time.

Time to get some fencing, we need to corral the chickens in the evenings when the neighbors take their dogs out after work.  One neighbor, who moved in over the winter, has two large and reasonably trained pit bulls who have discovered that we have something interesting over here, but they aren't sure what it is.  They are well trained enough that if you tell them , "No." they stop, but we won't always be in the yard. We can also hear Tank barking most pitifully across the ravine in the evenings, I know exactly where he will head one of these days when he gets loose.  I'm going to have to train the girls to come around at about 4 PM for snacks inside their soon to be built chickie corral.  Time to call around to see who has the best price for fencing materials and get  to it.