Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Spring Time Fascinations and Endeavors

 Hello dear friends and family,

The spring season is here and we are more than thrilled. The dessicated Jennifer is rehydrating with all the abundance of spring. ;) Make time to go outdoors. It will fill you up...I promise.

Just look at the life all around us...a tree 100% determined to live:

Bloodroot trusting the warmth and unfurling their magnificent, elephant-ear-like leaves...

Do you know sedges? We invite you to, if not. Look at the color of this Plantain-leaved Sedge (Carex plantaginea)...holy smokes!

Ohio Buckeye unfurling leaves stop us in our tracks every single time. Can you even believe these leaves are all bunched up inside the protective buds over the winter? It feels like a miracle.

Bluets (Houstonia) are one of the very first native plants I really learned thanks to a super kind and sharing college professor who gave me one upon my graduation. Ever since that time, I find myself smitten every time we pass a patch growing out of some piles of rocks or very hard scrabble earth. This patch is right on the edge of a trail...

Spring Beauty emerging from soil working their beauty magic...

I adore cohosh and here is a fabulous patch of Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides). We have blue and black (Actaea racemosa) growing on our land now and we can't wait till we can propagate them and get them sustainably out into the world.

Steve stopped to listen to a Louisiana waterthrush and then noticed these young American Sycamores lining the trail in a cathedral of moisture and sunshine loving trees.

Leatherwood is an understory shrub hardly anyone knows about and it is sooooooo cool! Steve seeks this shrub out everywhere we go. The twigs are bendy, the flowers stunning, the foliage colorful...everything is to love about this shrub.

Witch Hazel is adored by many, including us. If you get the opportunity to smell the blooms, don't ever pass it up. Your whole day will be lifted thanks to the sweet, sweet scent.

How does this teeny, tiny Harbinger-of-Spring or Salt and Pepper emerge so early? We are constantly in awe of these little plants that are so much hardier than we find ourselves. I had to get down on my knees and thank my almighty stars for this gift of spring.

Spicebush blooms truly dance their little sunshine flowers when in bloom. They light up the forest with their brightness and make us remember that soon Spicebush Swallowtails will emerge and lay their precious eggs on the very leaves of this important plant.

This time of year is also when our larders get a little empty and so we find ourselves seeking new flavors. Thank goodness we have horseradish in the garden. Steve braved the fiery, volatile oils and processed the roots. We flung all the windows open and still his eyes (and mine) cried. Minnie Pearl didn't seem to mind...

In fact, she and Alvin just love sitting in the kitchen, in the smallest part of our house to make sure we don't forget to give them treats.

Superman Steve is also raising up some more of our garden beds, by harvesting all the wonderful path soil and putting that in the beds. We used to add woodchips every year to our paths and it broke down to the most beautiful, loose, black soil you might ever want in a growing bed so there it went.

We are posting WAY more frequently to You Tube, than our blog, so make sure to follow us there too. I linked to all our recent videos below and in the future, I will just give the general video link since we are so prolific. ;) Take good care everyone!

Happy Earth Day
Beauty in Life and Life Lost (Barred Owl)
Bloodroot and Leaf Litter
Silly Girl thrilled by Louisiana Waterthrush
Totally Fascinating Ants
Willows, plant some!
2019 Spring High Tunnel Tour
Seed Miracles

Friday, March 29, 2019

Life near a Chicken Coop and Why you Never EVER Want to Poison Rats

Happy spring friends! The wood frogs, spring peepers and chorus frogs are all singing here and we've even attracted a few wood frogs into our constructed vernal pool and frog pond, which is just beyond thrilling to us.

Yesterday, Steve harvested oodles of horseradish we are going to process for eating; we can really never get enough of this root - we just put it on everything because it is oh so good!

We have some massive totes of organic potting media here ready for all our native plant seeds and baby plants and we are just itching to get our hands into the soil. The goodness these plants will work as they go out into the world and get planted in your yards, will surprise all of us many times over again. That's what we find...our expectations are always exceeded. We know so little about this planet and the more we learn, the less we truly know. What a gift to live and experience the marvel of diverse life.

Now it's time for a brief and fascinating post on rats...truly!

You know from our last post we lost all five of our chicken girls in two separate events this winter/spring to a hungry mink attracted to the rats living here, but we wanted to show you everyone else visting and how terribly harmful rat poison can be to other life.

Here is our chicken coop with a wild bird feeding station to the left side of the photo. The bird seed coupled with the chicken feed attracted the rats here initially. We live rurally, but our road is populated with other folks keeping livestock or feeding the birds so it's good living here for the Norway Rat. They aren't native and their birth rate is shocking, but we've decided to let nature take her course and handle this abundance of small mammals (more on this later).

These holes first alerted us to the rats (and one killed by the chickens confirmed it; oh yes, chickens can kill a lot of animals):

The game cam is set up on the right (north) side of the coop because there is a well-trod animal path leading to a heavily and frequently marked NW corner of the building (pictured). Think of this corner as one of the many communication centers of the neighborhood.

Heavily and frequently trod path:

We both were fond of this cute patchwork rat we frequently saw and the game cam photographed. The rats moved in under the coop and excavated an impressive amount of soil out of the ground. Their home here is a major reason for all the animal sightings on this cam.

In this next photo you can readily see the scent (spray) left by a wandering neighborhood cat:

Almost every day raccoons come and smell this corner, perhaps leave their own scent and check under the coop for rat snacks after dining on black oil bird seed.

Opossums visit almost everyday as well and also go under the coop. They are omnivores so will eat the bird seed on the ground, plus some rats if they get lucky.

 As mentioned last post, a red fox found the communication center too. It seems like one or all of these animals are marking saying, "I am here and there's lots of food here."

Neighborhood kitties are here daily (at least 5 different ones and we've already adopted 4 from here, help!). This girl is super pretty, quite shy and a certain rat hunter...

She is also checking the communication station:

Here's a few others:

The rats are hunted by so many different animals and so sometimes the game cam catches rats running as fast as possible back under the coop to their "safe" tunnels.

But sometimes, some rats don't make it back to safety:

See the rat tail? This Cooper's hawk captured a mighty fine, filling meal for the day.

The tunnels aren't always safe, when you have a tunnel explorer such as an American mink living in the neighborhood.

He or she is frequently on camera here and we see him or her running around our created wetlands. Our part of Morrow County, OH is a wet woods area with streams, brush piles, and abundant rodents....perfect mink habitat. This mink occasionally visits during the day as well.

I think by now you can see why no one should ever poison rats if you understand that the poison stays in the rat (or mouse) during and after death. All of these animals pictured (cats, mink, fox, raccoons, opossum) plus owls, coyotes, dogs, etc. will eat dead rats and the poison will move up the food chain and slowly and painfully (think internal hemorraghing) kill the other animals as well. No one wants to do that! I think most people have no idea how awful this poison is and how persistent.

Spread the word: STOP THE POISON. What to do instead? Stop the food source for the rats and they will leave or use snap traps or shoot them (but not with lead! same issue). You get the idea. What are we doing at The Common Milkweed? We are taking down the bird feeders during the warm season so all the life will disperse and letting the natural food chains work. Already, the rat population is great diminished just from the predators that found the rats. We are really in awe how quickly they ate the life out of this rat colony. Our little patchwork rat is long gone.

Just for fun a few more pics from the game cam of non-rat eating life:

Dark-eyed juncos:


fox squirrel...

song sparrow...

and a cottontail rabbit. There is just so much life about. We get super excited to check this game cam card every other day or so. It's like we get a look into the world in which we really live, but are hidden from inside this house. I know this is part of why we love camping so much...we are not separated from real life. As Rainer Maria Rilke writes: "Ah, not to be cut off, not through the slightest partition shut out from the law of the stars..."

We post way more frequently on You Tube so follow our channel if you want more timely posts. In case you didn't catch our latest You Tube videos - find them here:

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis) Intoxication
Happy Spring Equinox: it's time for Frog Magic
We Love the American Sycamore...
The Wonderful Wild Leek aka Ramps
Fast Growing River Birch
The Red-budded Basswood

Hugs! We wish you all a joyful, joyful spring.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Florida Adventures, Chicken Friends & Mink...oh yes.

Hey y'all! We celebrated Steve's 52nd birthday down south in Florida - a place Steve has never been and I've not been since a kiddo; it's so great to go back through the pictures now and remember the sunshine, warmth and insects everywhere. We anxiously await more signs of spring here in Ohio, but we thank our lucky stars for the red-winged blackbirds and turkey vultures that have returned. Daylight is noticeably longer and we awake each morning to a few eager singing birds. We are going to make it!

There's so much to share about the trip, but I will just do a quick recap and say GO. Thanks to Misti Little over at Oceanic Wilderness for all the recommendations.

We arrived late in the evening to the Ocala National Forest and right away we found this super cool Spinybacked Orbweaver and heard frogs and insects singing. Oh my word...our winter starved hearts cracked right open and we felt like our normal human selves again. Long, cold winter does something akin to freezing us mentally and emotionally.

Hopkins Prairie in the Ocala National Forest is magnificent and the campsites here were only $10 so we landed here and stayed for a while.

Our campsite abutted this prairie/wetland view so every morning we took our coffee and went out and sat on the margins and soaked up the sunshine and the oodles of migratory birds congregated here before heading our way in a few months. (Think catbirds, white-eyed vireos, common yellowthroats and hundreds of yellow-rumped warblers.)

Longleaf Pine Forest is COOL. So damn cool. Let's just leave it at that. We didn't see the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker that calls these trees home, but saw dozens of red-headed woodpeckers and know that this forest, just like almost all other forests we know and love needs some help in protection. Vote for the forest and please, please spread the word how important it is we integrate into wild space and preserve the native vegetation instead of clearing it out and planting non-native/non-ecologically connected plants.

Hiking the path we spotted this eclosed polyphemus moth cocoon and I, of course, stopped because INSECTS, you know? I love them!

Now it's time for just a few thoughts to share directly with the life we saw:

Spanish enchant us.

Saw do you.

Lichen forest...absolutely 100%.

Christmas Wreath Lichen, too? Um yes! Pink lichens? Wow!

The Florida Trail goes through the Ocala National Forest so we day hiked and backpacked on this trail and met so many super nice people, several whom are starting the AT this spring...we wish you all luck!

Bears are abundant in this area so we saw lots of scat and lots of...

beautiful prints. We recently learned the Juniper Ridge Wilderness area in the Ocala National Forest is currently closed to people because there is so much bear activity and officials are trying to avoid a conflict. Smart.

Evening bats and Brazilian free-tailed bats call this maternity bat house home. We watched thousands and thousands pour out of the house at dusk with a small group of other wonder-struck observers. (Make sure to check out Steve's video of the first wave of bats flying out at the end of this post.)

I tried to learn from Steve about the soil in these areas. Soil is the foundation for life and is not easy for me to learn, but I am quite easily enchanted by the many textures, colors and plants that call each type home. This world is a fascinating place. 

Juniper Prairie Wildnerness exceeded our expectations and we were so glad to leave the camper for a few nights and sleep on the ground, under the stars and embrace the simplicity of backpacking. It can be so hard and sometimes we wonder why we do it and then we do it and then we remember: life is distilled to its most beautiful essence - nature, observation, focused attention, movement and meeting bodily needs of survival. That's it. We need more of this in our lives.

Steve spotted several of these Two-striped Walkingsticks along our path as we hiked and I am very grateful I was so gentle in my movement of them (out of the path of foot traffic) or I might have hurt for a few days. I had a hunch so caution saved the day. I really fell rather in love with these insects upon our first meeting.

Our Florida made Zpacks tent...

Water, water everywhere....

The water supports these Sundew and there were HUNDREDS in this area. That little sticky plant waiting for insects is always endlessly fascinating. I had a hard time gathering my gear and leaving this spot.

Juniper Springs made up for the departure though with all the seeps and springs oozing from the Earth seemingly everywhere in this land of water. What a gift to witness clear water, all the sediments held in place by vegetation and forest. We humans have so much to learn from this planet from which we are a part. Our systems can't compare to the natural cleansing process of a forest.

The adaptations of this tree in the buttressing for support in this land of water stopped us both in our paths. We've seen buttressing before. We've seen grander buttressing before. Will we ever tire of it? Never.

We, of course, had to go see the mighty ocean, too, so we visited Canaveral National Seashore and all the life immediatly evident. This Herring Gull likes people, not surprisingly, so I just chatted with him for a while.

We both were wowed with the power of the ocean and dug our feet into the sand, watched the shorebirds running around everywhere and let our spirits soar out over and amongst that mighty body of water that enchants.

An armadillo visited us on one of our last stops in Florida; this is the first we've seen one alive and not hit on a road crossing his or her homeland. We were thrilled!

This rotting log illustrates the magnificence of decay and the resulting fertilization and regeneration of surrounding plants. Look how wonderfully happy this log made these ferns...

All processes of decay remind us that our last three chicken girls, whom we lost to a predator while we were gone, will soon grow into beautiful flowers and new trees and offer sustenance to so much life in the soil. Ivy, Aster and Fern are supremely missed by us, but our pain is eased a bit in knowing we lost them because we have created wildlife habitat here and wildlife has returned.

Our game cam confirmed my thoughts based on the clues; yes, my friends - we have mink and s/he used rat tunnels to access our coop and dine on our girls. 2' deep 1/2" hardware cloth was undermined by those tunneling rats. Impressive, really.

Steve found a mink latrine in our wood pile and I just had to pull it out to photograph it. I wasn't sure which weasel at first, but size confirms it.

Just for fun, look who else the game cam showed in just one night:

A family of raccoons:

An adult opossum:

and our first documented red fox. We are truly in awe of all this life and feel so grateful and humbled to live amongst such magnificient beings.

Wonder Wednesday Videos

The Super Cool Wild Turkey
Florida Wildernesss
Bat House at Hopkins Prairie
Bat Flight
Canaveral National Seashore
Wood Pile

Here's our new method for overwintering our native plants. It's working great so far!

More later our sweet friends,

j and s