Saturday, June 27, 2015

Brave New Habitat

I could hardly believe the words coming out of my mouth -mosquito h a b i t a t. Yet that's what I said to the young lady in hot pink sweat jacket (ahem, hoodie) that loped out of the north (formerly little) wetland after I announced myself with a stern good morning.

The Metropolitan Mosquito Control District makes regular, unannounced visits to survey the mosquito load of our wetlands. I have yet to be unsurprised by their presence or put in other words: they do not knock, call, or in any way let you know when they are there (unless you see their truck; in this case it was parked on the road). I asked her to let us know when they would be present with a simple knock on the door, that they need to be careful of falling limbs or trees, and by all means -please use the trails instead of trouncing the understory. 

This was the second time this spring that I've asked them not to spray. Things need to eat I say, and they eat mosquitoes, and even more so -the spray kills indiscriminately. When I ask why they are spraying, this is mosquito habitat after all (there it is), they toss up the usual suspect -West Nile Virus. To which I've got a handful of retorts, and they then see that I am less than hospitable to this "public service." 

What we have here is a major home to countless frogs and toads, dragonflies that we love, bats, birds, and so much more. Mosquitoes bother the humans, don't get me wrong -I am thoroughly annoyed by them, but there are maybe 20 humans around these wetlands. West Nile Virus is not deeply concerning to me (maybe you, I can't say) but it is to me a "worrying tactic" used to nudge people into being agreeable to spraying. The truth is, or rather my truth is, that I believe they are spraying because mosquitoes are a nuisance and people just wish they were gone. 

Great. Now I am a proponent of mosquito habitat. I probably just broke the Fox News whacko meter. 

The helicopters fly just over the tree line in order to dump BTI, Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israelensis, into the wetlands. I accept this practice as a compromise measure between myself and the mosquito-agitated public, although it seems an exorbitant use of funds for such spotty coverage. I can't say I've noticed a difference between post-BTI spread periods and untreated periods (but then, I'm biased -science please!).

The spraying of adult pesticides is done via backpack by day and likely by truck fogger at night (you may have seen this in NYC). I've continually asked surveyors to report back to their managers that we do not accept spraying on this land, even if our neighbors do. Apparently we need to get onto some sort of "do not spray" list. I have yet to find out how to do that, but I will, eventually.

O wonder!
How many godly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't.

 —William Shakespeare, The Tempest


I've begun posting on Facebook, at MOUND, and if you click the link at the upper left it will take you to my new page. Consider following me there, too, because I have begun using it for all the short form pictures and posts that never make it into this journal.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Creep

Looking to the north we see the little wetland. Not so little, so maybe I should start calling it the north wetland. It's a glorious place.

Turn around and this is what you will see. Maybe you are familiar with it -Creeping Charlie, Glechoma hederacea. Charlie is the third weed in our list of once appreciated, now fallen plants. Unfamiliar to me, it turned up the charm early this spring with its geranium-like scent when crushed or walked on (I was quite ready to plant it in garden paths), but it turned on the creep as I got to know it. Now I see that it inhabits every garden, every path, and most of the lawn.

Creeping charlie was most likely brought to this location by my father in law. He may have planted it in his garden, where it still grows but less vigorously. From there it went to the lawn, where it spread readily via lawn mower-chopped stolons, each able to start a new plant. The spread from the lawn down into the woods was brought on by leaf raking. Bits of charlie would get caught up in the rake and leaves which were then deposited down slope each spring. The herb found the super rich soil, damp ground and shady location to be perfect.

Since this zone is a hotbed of garlic mustard and creeping charlie, I think mechanical extraction is the way to go. This side of the woods, the wet and cooler side, is likely habitat for the scattered ferns I see to the east and west. Twenty years of leaf deposits have made a very rich soil for future planting, meanwhile I will need to find another way to remove an acre of leaves from the charlie infested lawn.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Our Vegetables

My attitude about garlic growing is considerably more casual than in previous years. So far these varieties have shown excellent progress without more than a dose of blood meal and liquid fish fertilizer. The French grey shallots have done exceedingly well with little maintenance but the occasional weeding.

In fact, since the top photo was taken, they have lodged -meaning it is near to harvest and hardly any different from the time frame of my 2012 upstate New York growing experiment. These will be cured on the porch.

Very few interesting things going on with the garlic. They are taller, lankier than my Long Island grown garlic, although these were planted from my own LI grown heads. Each variety made the transition, so far, from coastal New York to Minnesota pretty well. There has been one interesting thing -the strange appearance of dead flies on some of the leaf tips.

They seem glued in place. Has another creature done this? Saving them for later? Or has the garlic done them in? No answers, yet.

About a month and a half ago I planted potatoes. They appear to be doing exceptionally well, with each rain adding another few inches in the last three weeks. No Colorado Potato Beetles yet and I can't keep enough soil on hand to mound up!

Of course, we put tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant in two weeks back. They were planted in 14-inch wide strips tilled into the front lawn -the only place sunny enough for vegetables. So far no creature has come to eat. I'm wary of adding green beans knowing how well rabbits take to those tender seedlings. Deer have not browsed, although we do have a resident raccoon living in a big, old maple in the woods about 75 feet from the garden. So far she's only been good for digging up a single, just-planted spud and harassing Betsy by tipping over her newly planted coleus.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Balm of Night

The other night it was warm and breezy. The most perfect balm of temperature and dew point.

We walked out through the dappled moonlit woods to watch the clouds blow by from the quiet road. Then a raccoon went crazy where the road turns, tearing up the silence of night, and we headed back to the house.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

In This Cornahh -Garlic Mustahhd!

The fight against garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata, will be a long one. Above, you see a partially cleared area to the east of the drainage stream and an uncleared zone to the west (right side). Below you see the waterway and woods we are trying to protect.

Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis, is a native inhabitant of this part of the woods but comes to rise late as it is quite frost intolerant. It's also a lovely plant in leaf, flower, and remedy. I love this part of the woods and do not want to see it over run, but that's what's in store without our management. Sadly, we'll have to create some compaction damage in order to pull garlic mustard. With that in mind, keen observation is drumming up some techniques that keep us pulling only once a year until the seed bank is exhausted. This area has now been completely cleared (but not of buckthorn, another day).

In all, we cleared about 1 acre of garlic mustard. That's a drop in the bucket, but we had to start somewhere. Above, you see it gaining a foothold among our rare wild-growing ferns. Garlic mustard is a biennial that outcompetes everything around it by growing before winter loses its grip. It also leaves chemical compounds that help establish its foothold.

From Wikipedia:
"Garlic Mustard produces allelochemicals, mainly in the form of the cyanide compounds allyl isothiocyanate and benzyl isothiocyanate,[16] which suppress mycorrhizal fungi that most plants, including native forest trees, require for optimum growth.[17] However, allelochemicals produced by Garlic Mustard do not affect mycorrhizal fungi from Garlic Mustard's native range, indicating that this "novel weapon" in the invaded range explains Garlic Mustard's success in North America.[18] Additionally, because white-tailed deer rarely feed on Garlic Mustard, large deer populations may help to increase its population densities by consuming competing native plants. Trampling by browsing deer encourages additional seed growth by disturbing the soil. Seeds contained in the soil can germinate up to five years after being produced (and possibly more).[19] The persistence of the seed bank and suppression of mycorrhizal fungi both complicate restoration of invaded areas because long-term removal is required to deplete the seed bank and allow recovery of mycorrhizae."

And above, another reason it's so pernicious. Like the monster in a movie, just because you gave it a good whack doesn't mean its dead! All my piles of garlic mustard turned their growing tips upward after a day or so, continuing to flower and set seed! You cannot compost these unless it is well before, well before, flower formation. Don't think chopping them up is good either, and stay clear from the weed whacker if you find yourself falling behind -it will just distribute the very viable seed. I found that even picking up piles created great opportunities for the seed heads to get stuck to my muddy shoes and transport elsewhere.

I am no fan of Monsanto, nor pesticides of any kind. That said, I am considering the use of glyphosate during a dry period of early or late winter when there is no snow and the garlic mustard is green. It is about the only thing that is up at the time and from what I understand (considering how everyday the use of this product is on our food crops) it will have little obvious effect on plants dormant at that time. I will test this theory, and be considerate as can be.

I am sad to say I did not get to every major patch of garlic mustard growing this year. The back swale comes to mind, and everything over the bridge was completely untouched by us. Now that the woods are summering, the mosquitos prevalent, and the seed heads likely to break, I may just leave the thousands that remain until autumn.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Rosmarinus officinalis 'prostratus' -ink on paper, 1999

My blog has served many purposes for me over the last seven years and 1855 posts. Now, we are in a time of transition -not only of place, but also our work and identity as artists. One of the things I would like to do here is bring the artist to the fore whereas previously it hummed in the background. This means I will write more about my projects and exhibitions, but it also means I will seek to contextualize my actions as art. I think my readership is open-minded and will welcome this. 

On July 26 I will be giving a presentation in New York City at a salon called Presenting at 17. Presenting is orchestrated by my good friend and fellow artist (and Italian-American!) Elise Gardella. The salon is open to any and all guests, albeit standing room only beyond the fixed number of seats. My goal for this long awaited moment in time is to recalibrate all my experiences, productions, and insights into a string of connected actions -a life of curiosity and the land. Expect me to utilize this blog as the forum to stitch different ideas together, many that will be pulled from prior posts. I may publish the presentation here simultaneously, although without the effect of my physical presence and voice, a hot NYC room in late July, and a dozen plus sweaty bodies.

I will be teaching my intensive week long course in Vermont this summer at Art New England -2nd year running and with greater enrollment! I will develop this class each year it is taught, eventually branching it into different courses to be taught elsewhere. 

I have seven(!) paintings in an artistically diverse exhibit, Arcadia: Thoughts on the Contemporary Pastoral. My good friend and fellow artist Steve Locke curated this outstanding and provocative collection of art for the Boston Center for the Arts Mills Gallery. I will be there for either the opening (Friday, July 10) or the roundtable discussion (September 18) or both if I can swing it.

There will be reminders about these events as they near and, as always, journaling my experience of the land. Posts may be less frequent as I enter this very busy time. It is summer, of course, so we're mowing lawns, evading mosquitoes, and absorbing reflected green wavelengths while sipping cold drinks.

Rosmarinus officinalis 'prostratus' -pencil, gouache and watercolor on paper, 1999

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Bad Bath

We're not much for bird baths and although usually filled with rain water, I can't say I've ever seen a bird washing up. I'm going to hazard the assumption that bird baths are a thing out of drier climates. Out of place here and with a swath of moss removed to plant ferns given to us by our neighbor, I reinvented the bath as dish of moss.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Little Wetland

I have many favorite spots at our place, but this one is high on the list. It is hard to fathom that we are stewards of such a place. The lower photo reveals a deer trail entering the wetland. I am considering a plank walk so that we can experience the wetland from within outside of winter.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Bridge, Spring

A small foot bridge crosses our local waterway, Painter's Creek, that is perennially lit with led lights.