Saturday, January 29, 2011

Native perennials

I was poking around in one of the meadow beds this afternoon (clearing the crowns of leaves and mulch).  My gardening companion is enthusiastic about mulch, and some had crept in along the edges of the bed.  Combined with fallen leaves, it was a bit thick.

I had figured that a few extra leaves were protective during the winter snows, but a plus 60°F afternoon had me thinking spring again.  And there's only so much reading one can do about plants and planting, without being out there!

Amazingly, signs of growth were everywhere, from the expanding basal leaf buds to young shoots coming up through the mulch.  Admittedly, these were all tough native perennials (so presumably are right on schedule for emergence now).

I thought I had posted a planting list  (uh, this is my online garden 'record' -- Thomas Jefferson would not be impressed).   But I didn't find one, although it was nice to review the posts that I found (linked above).

Front meadow last summer (August 2010)
Another that popped up was this post about sustainable gardening.  It was a good reminder to read it again.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Native woodland gardens

I've been working on a species list for plants to add in the understory of our ravine forest in the mountains.  It's much more moist than our created Piedmont woodland because of the slope and deep shade.  We've also added LOTS of leaves and mulch, to add to the existing fairly rich soil.

Piedmont front yard, 1993
In the Piedmont, we started from lawn, so our incipient forest (on the slope in the front of the house) is just now starting to be a multi-layer canopy of taller oaks (white and chestnut in addition to the red oaks already here), with tulip poplars, maples, beech, and sassafras, black gum and sourwood on the woodland margin.

Through the front gate, Fall 2008
With an mixed understory of redbuds, dogwood, rhododendron (deciduous and evergreen), fothergilla, paw-paw, and bottlebrush buckeye, it's an eclectic representation of an Eastern woodland forest habitat.

Out the front door in the Piedmont, 2009
The mulching has now gone on for over 15 years, so the soil is built up quite nicely, but it still isn't quite suitable for moisture-loving forest herbs, at least without supplemental summer watering.

Mountain ravine in winter
So I'm hopeful that our mountain habitat will be hospitable for many of our native woodland wildflowers (plus the understory shrubs such as Rhododendron calendulaceum, Flame Azalea and trees such as Fraser's Magnolia, Magnolia fraseri).

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Gardening and birds

As our lawns have been transformed to habitats, one of the aspects I've most enjoyed is observing the birds that have 'moved in.'

There wasn't much diversity in our landscape when we started (flocks of robins in the spring?), but with the created and developing natural gardens that now surround us, we have most all of the regular 'backyard birds' as well as others dropping by.

I've had fun recently looking at BirdsEye (an app for locating birds in real time) and signing up for eBird, which is a Cornell/Audubon cooperative site supporting by a number of organizations, which, I think, is related to the BirdsEye data in some way.

I'm not really interested in creating a life list, or keeping detailed track of the birds that I see, simply for numbers, as my focus and interest is on their ecology and behavior in my garden and in places that I'm visiting.  So it's fun to see what's been reported nearby.  Check it out!

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Looking forward to spring

This time of year is one of looking forward. 

For those of us in the Southern U.S., spring is practically around the corner, as February will bring a number of pleasant days (just like we've had recently, with highs pushing 50°F with sunshine, woo-hoo!)

After the extremely cold weather in December and January, we're ready for a bit of our 'normal' Southern winter weather.

Actually, spring renewal doesn't really begin until mid February, with the flowering of the native red maples, along with the Asian ornamentals (Prunus & Magnolia selections, as well as many others).

But with the days lengthening, I feel the sense of spring just around the corner.  That's a good feeling.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bird calls and songs

I'm practicing listening to bird songs and calls, as part of learning more about birds and their ecology in my region of Piedmont and Mountains.  It's a LOT easier than it used to be, thanks to digital technology.

I've used CDs, chip-based players, and web-based programs in the past, but I've been delighted with the two digital field guides (available as 'apps') that I'm using currently. 

I first used Thayer's eBird software on my laptop -- it's a nice program with a web connection capability, but it's on my computer or laptop, not on a field device.

iBird Explorer Pro was the first birding app (purchased) that I used on my iPod Touch.  It's great.  It runs on both an iPod Touch and an iPad, allowing you to listen to songs and calls, and view images and photos of birds.  What a gift to be able to review songs and calls in the field, connected with photos and illustrations, along with their ecology, etc.!

If you're in range of an internet connection, you can connect to more information online, too.  Woo-hoo!

Sibley's Guide to Birds (the link is a review) is also available as an app (another purchase).  It's great, too, and there are even more song and call examples per species to listen to. 

These two field-guide apps have similar interfaces, and cost just as much as print field guides, but the ability of taking them with you, with sound, wow.  What's not to like about that?

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

A juvenile red-tailed hawk

In my birding lab this morning, we had a treat:  a bumbling red-tailed juvenile (probably a year old, according to our instructor) that hung around the small woods on campus where we were.  It was a classic juvenile bird, ineffectively trying to catch squirrels, looking scruffy because of feather molting, etc. 

But, it provided us with a LONG look at a very interesting bird.

Here's a link to red-tailed hawk info.

Hmm, maybe I should drag my camera along too, along with the binoculars and iPod Touch (uh, that's for my virtual field guides, not to mention the connection to real-time observations).

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cold houses and winter vegetables

Coming back from winter break, I've been amazed with the productivity of our winter vegetable gardening experiment in the unheated teaching greenhouse (the Sprouting Wings Greenhouse).


Kales, lettuces, and spinach

a flourishing mesclun mix
With no heat, regular poly/hoophouse covering, and plastic water-filled barrels as a heat source, these greens have not only survived, but they've thrived and grown.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Learning about birds

I've had a lot of fun learning more about birds over the last decade.  I don't consider myself a birder.  I'm a wildlife gardener, plant ecologist, and naturalist.  So, I'm always interested in learning more about the natural world, birds included.

Being familiar with the birds in your garden and who visits the feeders is a wonderful part of gardening;  it's like recognizing the voices of your friends on the phone (or via Skype!)  Our landscape (once a fairly dull and barren landscape of lawn punctuated by a few trees) didn't harbor much bird diversity.

But as we've added trees, shrubs, mixed shrub borders and hedges, we've essentially created a diversity of habitats in our acre and a half, supporting the bird and wildlife diversity that we have now.

I'm sitting in on a Field Ornithology class this semester -- a benefit of being associated with a university as an employee-- and am excited about the habitat/birding/ field recognition approach. I already 'know' a lot of feeder and garden birds, but am less familiar with the inhabitants of our varied habitats in the Piedmont and Mountains (of the Southern US).

It'll be fun to learn more.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Winter snow

The ravine below our small house in the mountains was covered with snow in the Christmas storm.  The most recent snow covered the ravine, too, but is now melting with warmer temperatures. 

Snow-covered ravine
My gardening companion just sent me this photo (finally) downloaded from 'his' camera, a small digital camera that we're now taking traveling, instead of my Nikon D100, an older digital workhorse.

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Seeds and seed catalogs

I have more than enough vegetable seeds already, I'm sure, both for my own use, and to donate to grow as transplants for Garden Fest, a South Carolina Botanical Garden event in April that encourages folks to grow their own vegetables.

And thanks to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Renee's Garden Seeds, with their policies of distributing extra seeds from last year's packaging for non-profit use, I should be set for my outreach activities, both in classes and in our demonstration gardens.

Hmm, so why am I still looking at seed catalogs?  It's fun, of course.  Fortunately, ordering potatoes, leeks, and onion sets helps satisfy the urge to order more seeds....

Next year, I'm going to have low hoops covering some of my vegetable beds (in the mountains and the Piedmont) -- then, even with snowy conditions, I'll be able to harvest kale, collards, and other hardy winter greens.  And, there's an unheated hoophouse at the middle school around the corner in the mountains sponsored by a great program called Winter Green.  The soil has been worked up, but there's currently nothing growing in there.  Hmm. It'll be time to plant soon for early spring harvest.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Gardening in winter

Winter has been snowy and cold here in the Southern US. Way beyond usual. 

Normally, I'd be out mulching and harvesting kale. But the frigid cold and ice has kept the kale frozen and wan.  It's not exactly ready to harvest.

And it's hard to even think about revisioning a home landscape or winter vegetable gardening (or any of the other programs I'd thought up for late January at the Garden where I work).

But I've got personal plans for low tunnels and quick hoops, etc. for next year.  And our (now) unheated teaching greenhouse at the Garden is an experimental cold house.

And, I just ordered organic 'seed' potatoes from Wood Prairie Farm, perennial leeks from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and am trying not to order anything more before I survey my seed supply.

I could order onions from Dixondale Farms, however. I just received their catalog in the mail.  Onions aren't something I'd normally grow from seed, so it's rewarding to order short-day sets that are ready to go, and will bulb up in our lower latitude.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Garden Bloggers Fling 2011

I had a GREAT time last summer at the Garden Bloggers gathering in Buffalo.  Check out this series of posts.

So I'm definitely keen on going to the Garden Bloggers Fling 2011 this summer in Seattle.

I'm a veteran of many years of scientific meetings (hmmm), botanical garden (APGA) meetings (much more interesting and collegial with great garden study tours), but the Garden Bloggers meetup was a joy -- how fun to interact with fellow garden bloggers while visiting wonderful gardens.  And, there were NO talks in windowless hotel rooms. How nice.

The BGCI International Congress of Garden Educators has been another favorite meeting  -- what a wonderful experience to interact with counterparts from gardens around the world.  I've been to two:  in NYC and Oxford, England -- both great.

I've thoroughly enjoyed Garden Writers Association meetings for the last three years, (in Portland, Raleigh, and Dallas) too, for similar reasons. There are talks to listen to (in those same windowless hotel rooms), but they're quite informative and interesting, and attending has been beneficial to my work.  (Even if going to GWA and Garden Bloggers is self-financed).

So, I'm looking forward to Seattle, a place I haven't been for many years, but was once quite familiar with.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A snowy pond

Meadow pond surrounded by snow in the SC Botanical Garden
A winter morning walk brought me by the Meadow Pond, which was lovely in the early light.  Campus is closed again today because of heavy snow and icy roads, but with AWD, the short trip to the Garden was uneventful.  The two killdeer flying around the meadow were a treat to see -- a sign of winter.  I saw flocks of killdeer last year at this time, but the meadows weren't covered with snow!

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Seeds for birds in winter

I just refilled the feeders yesterday;  they'd been empty while we were away, but it didn't take long for the parade to begin.  A nice mix of Dark-eyed Juncos, Eastern Towhees, sparrows, and a large flock of American Goldfinches joined the usual Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees, and Tufted Titmice (which were the last to start visiting the feeder this afternoon.

On such a snowy day, it was nice to be able to see them foraging on the ground as well as at the feeders -- I'd also tossed out some thistle and sunflower seeds for birds that like to feed on the ground.

An (unidentified) bird was foraging below one of the old dogwoods.

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Snow day

We've seen more snow this winter than we've seen for many years...and it's only January.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Yellow-Rumped Warbler

A flash of yellow on the suet feeder caught my attention from the study window. 

I managed to get the binoculars focused in time to make a mental note of the yellow spot at the base of the tail and the yellow wing patches.  I knew I'd seen this bird before (but not at the feeders).

Fortunately, the field marks are pretty clear, and my memory of a yellow-rumped warbler seen on a birding outing was on target.

This fellow was a male, based on his markings -- I didn't manage a photo before he was off, but here's a good look, along with some great information from one of my favorite sites.

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

A mild winter day

Even though there was a skiff of snow overnight that made for slippery roads and sidewalks early, it was a lovely day in the mountains.  The light was beautiful at sunset.   At the end of winter break, we'll be heading back down the hill to the Piedmont tomorrow.  We're fortunate (totally) to be on academic schedules, with time off to reflect and refresh.

Mocha and me (Christmas Day 2010)
And our old boy (Mocha) was totally delighted to have us all to himself, practically 24/7, and there was snow, woo-hoo!  He loved the snow and the cold weather.

He won't be so happy when we're back at work next week.

But there are programs to do, classes to teach, presentations to prepare, seeds to be ordered for spring transplants, beds to be tended, articles to write, and winter crops in the hoop house to monitor.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Backyard birds

It's fun to become familiar with the common winter birds in our backyard in the mountains.  Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice,  American Goldfinches, House Finches, and Northern Cardinals are regular feeder visitors, along with an occasional White-breasted Nuthatch.  And there are lots of them.

There are plenty of ground-foragers, too: Mourning Doves (six showed up this morning),  Song Sparrows (they visit the feeders, too), and Eastern Towhees.

But the highlight today was the hawk (red-shouldered, maybe?) up in the big red oak in front, calling out.  S/he is a regular around the back ravine, spotting squirrels, rodents, etc.  And the woodpeckers (red-bellied woodpeckers and yellow-bellied sapsuckers) are regulars, too, in the big trees down in the ravine.

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Monday, January 3, 2011

January gardening

My gardening companion spent a good bit of time yesterday pulling up more ivy in the ravine behind our small house in the mountains.  He's done an amazing job clearing out undesirable species (think invasives) in the understory, so it's waiting for woodland wildflowers to be planted (that'll be my job, whether we end up building a studio down on the old coal road, or not.)

It's getting close to time to head home down the hill to the Piedmont; classes start next week, and there are things to do.  My vegetable garden there is pretty much dormant, except for garlic and kale, although the hoophouse experiment at the garden where I work is apparently doing well. I'm looking forward to ordering seeds for growing transplants, turning over the beds, amending the soil, etc.

The temperatures in the mountains were in the upper 40's (°F) -- quite lovely, really.   It was ideal weather for walking, observing, and enjoying the beautiful blue skies.

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Sunday, January 2, 2011

A new year and new gardening

In the middle of winter, it seems normal to think ahead. 

I peer at the prostrate rosemaries in the raised beds in the mountains, hoping that their needles will green up in the spring (they're a reddish-green now, not looking terribly promising).  The thyme, parsley, and oregano look better, and amazingly, the arugula looks like it might actually still grow a bit (after being covered with at least ten inches of now).  Who knew.

I ventured forth on a (finally) balmy day for a long walk, visiting the Pearson Community Garden on the way. Happily, they've got row covers over quite a few of their beds, and their hoop house in cover crops.  Nice to see.

There was a story in a local monthly magazine about warm-season crops such as tomatoes and peppers being grown in local greenhouses (one of the producers was part of a company that is a local flower and annual producer, with over 12 acres devoted to greenhouses).  What an excellent idea to have one of them devoted growing peppers and tomatoes, and offer the harvest to local restaurants and groceries! 

I don't quite understand why we're offered up only large colored bell peppers grown in Holland, British Columbia, and Mexico.  OK, we're totally spoiled and shouldn't eat colored peppers out of season, I know.  But, couldn't some be grown close by, too?  They're good for us to eat, after all.

I'm hopeful for the New Year.  Gardening is always there, and growing food is part of that.  It's one of the best ways that I know to be connected to the earth and what's important.

Happy New Year,