Earth Day 2019

Happy Earth Day! Can you believe that Earth Day is 49 years old? Goodness, neither could I–I had to look it up.

Thankfully, as with all things internet, Earth Day has its own web site so you can check it out for yourself if you’d like.

I am old enough to remember when Earth Day was started (although I am not quite old enough to remember a lot about the first Earth Day–as I like to say, I missed all the fun things about the 60s and got disco for my teen years–sigh!)

But that does make me old enough to have experienced the first great house plant revolution so by now, at least, I am a house plant expert. There are some benefits to age. Just some.

But if we think about how our lives have changed–for the better–since that first Earth Day–we won’t be lamenting so much, I don’t think.

I think back to the pesticides in use in my childhood and teen years–now all of them banned, thank goodness.

We didn’t think about anything like water use, energy use, the type of light bulbs we used, or recycling. And now, most of us have become so efficient at recycling that there’s actually a glut and no market for our recyclables. Wow.

In our gardens, more of us than ever are seeking the least toxic alternative possible. We’re growing our own vegetables and sometimes our own fruits, and raising backyard chickens and bees. Sometimes we have goats or alpacas and even spin our own fleece.

We have come a long way in 49 years. There is still a lot more to do, of course. But let’s not forget to celebrate our successes.

The Eye of the Beholder

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I had an interesting thing happen when I was asked about how to control weeds at my last lecture. I began to talk about using low, ground-cover plants as living mulch for weed control and I said that while it was a relatively new idea to the United States, it was being used in Europe for several years and that I had been doing it my house for a decade or more with two different materials–leaves and moss.

The gentleman I was speaking to said, “Moss? Isn’t that something you kill?”

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And while I am just famous for saying that we can’t all like the same thing, I just shudder at that.

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My answer to him was that yes, I had seen the moss-killing products in the aisles of the big box stores, but he might be surprised to learn that moss was actually a living plant, and a very valuable one at that. I told him that if he were to go home and try to buy flats of moss online, he would spend a minimum of $80 per flat and could spend considerably more (that seemed to get his attention!)

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And while I don’t have a spectacular garden of moss-that’s not really my intention, although someday I would love it if that were to happen–but I need to do a lot more than I am doing to make that happen (and probably have a lot more shade and reliable moisture than I do), I do have lots of different species of moss and I just adore them. I encourage the moss whenever and where ever I can. It solves a multitude of problems.

And yes, it makes a great mulch for me as well.

So please, do yourself a favor. Next time you see some moss, don’t just reach for a “product.” Stop to appreciate it–and perhaps put it to work for your as a mulch!

Little Mouses’ Ears?

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Every year when I am thinking about my last frost date (which averages April 25) I don’t look at the calendar: I look at the oak trees.

There’s an old saying that when the oak leaves are the size of little mouse’s ears, it’s safe to plant.

You may think that this sounds like an old wives’ tale. Call it what you want. I think it’s a farmer’s saying. And in the years before sophisticated technology and weather satellites, what did the farmers use? Phenology–the study of signs in nature.

Internet searches yield lots of different ways to use this for planting guidelines. There are all sorts of regional planting guidelines cued to the flowering of various local trees and shrubs–search for “farming guides and phenology.” To make it local, add your state or region.

As for me, I am not sure where I first heard the “little mouses’ ears” advice. But I have plenty of oaks and I watch them carefully. And, so far, the advice has been great–no frost after the oaks leaf out.

But of course, by the look of these oaks, I won’t be planting anything tender anytime soon!

Spring Clean-Up

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What?! Dead trees again?! Actually no. Take a look at what’s beneath them. See all those leaves? Every cultivated garden bed in my yard looks similar to that. And it’s going to for awhile yet.

I postpone my spring clean-up until at least May most years. Some years, things happen and the beds never get cleaned out. In that case, I call this “mulch.” Nothing terrible happens to my plants. I don’t harbor over-wintering insects (at least not the bad kind–more on that later) and I don’t have a whole slew of fungal diseases.

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So why–or perhaps more important–how can I tolerate this look–in my garden beds? (Here’s what this really looks like, with some of the spring foliage coming up through it, in my “wildlife garden”.)

It’s pretty simple: These leaves are sheltering all kinds of over-wintering things: good bugs like spiders, over-wintering larva of mourning cloak butterflies. The stems of the upright perennials may be sheltering bees that use hollow stems like mason bees (which don’t sting, by the way). I have ant colonies under here (and you know that I love my ants and consider them pollinators). I have earthworms. I know that I have ground beetles because I see lots of them all summer.

So I ask you–with all that “goodness” going on here, could you put up with some ugliness for a bit into the spring?

Because I tell you, I sure can!

Dead Trees?

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Why are you looking at 2 dead trees? I know that I am always whining about spring coming too slowly to Connecticut (actually I usually say that it doesn’t come at all and that all we have is winter and July.) But surely this isn’t a post about that.

No, it isn’t. And if I carefully think about it, most years, our trees leaf out about the first week of May and stay in leaf until the first week of November when the leaves come down almost like a blizzard. If we’re lucky, there’s enough time between leaf fall and snow fall to get them off the grass.

But the 2 dead trees are important. They are in the portion of our yard that will shortly be leafy woods. We leave them there as “snags,” or wildlife nesting places.

Even if they were to fall, there is enough land around them that nothing could be harmed.

And there are several fallen trees in our tiny woods as well, to provide cover for small creatures and habitat for their young.

Most people don’t have the ability to leave a type of wild place like this in their yards, but a brush pile out of sight can also work (on a smaller scale, of course).

We need to try to provide habitat for our wildlife or we will lose it.