Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Created Wetland Maintenance

We created a wetland a long while ago because we are 100% smitten with amphibians and all the insects, birds, mammals and plants also attracted to water. (So far we don't have any reptiles calling our wetland home though we hope some find us soon!)

This Northern Leopard frog is quite a creature of habit and claimed this rock long ago.

The American Toads spent the last couple of weeks singing their beautiful song...

and laying strand and strands of eggs, which are all hatched out now.

We have some Northern Leopard Frog eggs in here too. The densely packed eggs and noticeably separate eggs (not covered in an outer layer of jelly, which would mean salamander) indentify these eggs as leopard frog. Wood frog egg masses are similar in size, but less densely packed.

Green frogs are happy here too and are the most abundant amphibian in our wetland.

Our one foe in the wetland is filamentous algae. We had no problems with algae until about year three (last year).

Because the algae gets so thick, lots of tadpoles and macroinvertebrates get stuck in it. The algae sometimes covers the entire surface of the water....not good, so we rake it out.

Raking works well to remove the large clumps of algae, but there are thousands of macroinvertebrates in the algae that die if we don't find them and pick them out before the algae dries. Check out this super awesome dragonfly larvae I found:

We also find damselfly larvae, giant water bugs, predacious diving beetles, water boatman, caddisflies, and many others in the algae so we know this wetland is hopping with life.

Raking the algae takes a lot of time and killing macroinvertebrates is not ok with us so after lots of research and conversations with very knowledgeable water people, we learned our wetland is too shallow with too much sun exposure. Ok great....now what? Our fast and cheap solution is boards:

We covered at least 50% of the wetland with old barn wood to shade the water until we can get more plants growing to shade the water. We are going to introduce some duckweed to help us with this. The entire wetland is surrounded by forbs, but they don't shade quite like buttonbush, swamp rose and other water loving shrubs so we will add more of these on the south side.

We still have algae growing, but it's slower and the frogs seem to like the boards too...

Margaret Roach has some good ideas on backyard pond management including barley straw.  We plan to try adding some of this straw to help control the algae and see how that works with our shading. Pumps, filters, dyes, etc. get more complicated and/or more harmful than we would like so we will see how these simple, natural methods work. Let us know if you have other ideas!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Native Plant Nursery Building Continues

We spent this past beautiful, warm weekend making great progress in our plant nursery and enjoying all the signs of spring. It felt positively lovely to work outdoors in t-shirts!

We are making changes to our nursery layout to make room for more plants and more parking by integrating our plant tables into our orchard. Eventually these trees will offer shade and make for a very pleasant plant perusal experience. Steve has a very good idea how to build a shade structure over the tables using lots of reclaimed materials so we will share that process as we make it.

Our stacks of free pallets are now in place to hold more plant pots. These pallets have some wide gaps so we will add an extra board then put snow fence on top to maximize the amount of plant pots they will hold. It feels so good to clean up and put to use some of our accumulated piles of free stuff!

We are repurposing our path mat we removed from our wildflower zones in these new plant pot zones and will cover them with woodchips. (We know free chips will find us soon!) The path mat is something neither of us like very well and is something we are using in a much more thoughtful way. It's not an end all be all to weeds, is a bit of a nightmare to pickup and leaves fragments everywhere.

Here's another new zone for more pots...most likely trees and shrubs. We just love the sinuous nature of this new zone and will craft more areas like this over time.

The back side of our orchard and native plant nursery is where we thought we might put a high tunnel so we killed the sod two years ago by smothering it with a large piece of plastic. We aren't sure yet if we are going to do this so rather than keep this area killed under plastic, we are going to cover crop it this year with lots of bee/soil feeding plants. When we pulled the cover off, we watched a little vole scurry through its myriad tunnels to get to its hidy hole. What a fast and cute little bugger!

Since we pulled all the path mat out of this wildflower zone we scattered lots of native seeds last fall and I spread wheat straw this weekend to protect the soil and maintain some soil moisture. This wheat straw has lots of seeds in it since many farmers were unable to harvest the wheat last year due to crazy rains. Some of the seeds are still viable and will be a nice cover crop until other plants grow. We plan to manage these wildflower beds as meadows (not prairies) and only manage the super aggressive invasive plants. Dandelions stay!

Many of our overwintered plants are growing fabulously and we will start seeding hundreds or maybe thousands of new plants soon. We don't know yet our open days for 2016, but we will let you all know when we do. We look forward to a great growing year!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Thinning Beautiful, Healthy Vegetable Seedlings

We are eagerly preparing for the 2016 gardening season and our little vegetable plants are growing under our grow lights...some slow and some super fast.

Besides tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos and a few flowers, we decided to start some of our winter squash indoors this year as well because our garden zone always seems to frost first. Boo! It's a low part of our property so it makes sense, but wasn't something we realized until we lived here for a few seasons. Since many of these winter squash need a long season, this seems the best way to deal with the shortened season.

They might be crazy big by our frost free date of May 15...

We planted a couple of seeds per cell because we keep our seeds in the refrigerator until they are gone so viability tends to go down after a couple of years. Multiple seeds germinated in many cells so today was culling day. I'm not a fan because all the plants are growing so beautifully, but it is so much easier than trying to separate seedlings and repot them. I'm sorry little plants!

I pick the strongest plant to live and with scissors, snip below the soil line on the others.

I think the chickens will like these tasty, culled plants so even though they won't grow vegetables for us to eat, they will give us more eggs.

Even some monster eggs! Go Little Girl. Wow.

Lately, the chickens have taken to hanging out on the porch, which we totally crack up about,

and they also are loving the sunshine - just like us! We can learn a thing or two from chickens...to just sit down in the warm sun, on the soft earth and enjoy the present moment.

P.S. Thanks to all who came to our presentation this past weekend at the Licking County Master Gardener Conference! We really enjoyed chatting with so many cool people and had a blast sharing a photo tour of our place.