Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Yard Renovating

This is our new Dogwood tree all nice and tucked in in its new home.

When we first moved in there was a Sweetgum tree here. It was one of several trees we had removed, for various reasons. We replaced it with a Serviceberry.

This Serviceberry, relocated to the Bench Garden. Each year it would start out fine, nice white flowers and plenty of green foliage. But then it would quickly deteriorate, the leaves turning brown and spotted. It was not happy in that location. Hopefully it will find this one more to its liking, a bit shadier.

Moving the Serviceberry was easier than I expected but still not easy. And it left a big hole. With the remnants of the Sweetgum stump. I chopped away but in the end I gave up and left it there.

We bought the Dogwood from a local nursery, Briands, and they delivered it the next day. So ready or not in it goes!

A bit of manhandling but there it is standing tall.

Patty then cleaned up the area, removing the black plastic ground cover and replanting some of what we'd removed from this little garden island.

She also remove the deteriorating edging, which had been further chopped up by the lawnmower.

And I replaced it with some leftover plastic edging from other garden projects, adding a bit more garden area (and removing a bit more lawn -- less mowing!).

And now the little garden island is covered with a mulch of salt hay, keeping weeds at bay, waiting for the day, that Patty's seedlings will be ready to plant.

And for those April showers ...

Friday, March 27, 2020

Life Interrupted

My brother moved from Missouri to California in 1996. And he and I drove form Kansas City to San Mateo. It was the first time I was out west.

And until last year, I had been out west every year since.

Patty and I, and seven friends (all women) had planned to be out west this week.

At the place shown above, the Grand Canyon.

Like many people our plans have changed.

The good news is that our reservation at the Phantom Ranch has been rescheduled for 2021. Normally, and how we got our slots in the first place, one gets a bed at the ranch via lottery. And at first it seemed we'd have to go through that process again. But as the global, and local, situation worsened, things changed.

And I've another year to train.

There's A Sucker Born Every Minute ...

Which would you choose?

$912.89 ...

... or $38.99?

Hmmm ... maybe I should buy a few and open an Amazon store.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

House Plants

In addition to the Pussy Willows, Patty is overseeing a small seed farm.

Several Christmases ago Santa (where Santa = me) brought Patty a mini-greenhouse.

And this year it is set up in what we call the "Three Season Room", which we use as our home office.

Lots of little plants, that this year, won't turn into deer food. We can't wait.

And another nice reminder of spring, that I see all day as I'm working from home.


I spotted this pretty little flower on the edge of our parking area.

It was very similar to the plant I thought might be, and turns out it is, Marsh Marigold, re-shown below for your viewing pleasure.

Note the leaves, and how toothed they are, compared to leaves of the new flower.

Also not that this new flower has three sepals, which the Marigold does not.

I mentioned this to new flower to Patty and she realized what it was straight away, Lesser Celandine, also know as Fig Buttercup.

Here is a handy graphic showing the differences:

Image courtesy USDA/NRCS
This is a very invasive plant. One we do not want in our yard. And one that is no longer in our yard.

The invader has been repulsed.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

It's Comcastic!

And that's not a good thing.

Comcast added something called "xFi Advanced Security" which won't let me get to my blog.

First off, the url is wrong, as it is "https:// ...". But how did they determine my blog has dangerous content? Dangerous to who? It seems Comcast outsourced this to some other company, that uses "keywords and best practices" or some such bullshit. The Comcast support forum has messages galore of people who can't access software they paid for, can't access work websites (wonderful when everyone is working from home) and so forth.

Fortunately, if this is happening to you or someone you know it can be turned off. Here are the steps, which I copied from the Comcast Support forum, posted by a user not a Comcast employee:

1. Go to the Xfnity website and login to your account.
2. Click the wifi icon on the the tool bar, top of the page.
3. On the resulting page click on "More ..."
4. Click on "My Services".
5. This will take you to a page where you can turn off xFi Advanced Security.
6. You'll be presented with a toggle button to select Disable (or Enable).

It may take ten minutes to take effect.

I would love to know what triggered my blog to get flagged. But there does not appear to be any way to get that information. Just boiler plate about protecting me from bad stuff.

I mean, the blog isn't that bad, is it?

Salix discolor

aka Pussy Willows. 

My friend and fellow botany aficionado sent me an email yesterday with a link to an article entitled, "Pussy Willow - A Valuable Native Plant", along with the the comment, "Steve - this sounds exactly made for your place."

And so you would think.

Patty and I have been going to the Philadelphia Flower Show since 2016. And each year Patty (where Patty = Steve) buys a Pussy Willow bunch, with plans of growing them in the yard. The two images above are the results of her labor.

We again enjoyed the Flower Show this year. And brought home a bunch of Pussy Willow stalks. But this year we brought home something additional. Instructions on how to grow them. So far, it seems to be working. The article John sent will help too.

And maybe, just maybe, the next time Johnny B. visits, we'll have a nice stand of Salix discolor for him to enjoy.

Outside In

As you might have noticed, we enjoy the birds in our yard. Part of that enjoyment is hearing their songs. Alas, for much of the year it is too cold to have the windows open. And thus the birds are, to our ears, silent.

But last summer we visited our friend Edie at her place in the Poconos. And she had a speaker on her kitchen windowsill, with a microphone attached on a long wire. The microphone was placed outside, resulting in birdsong inside.

And lucky us, as Santa brought us one of those special speakers for Christmas. It is the tall black device in the image below.

I hooked the speaker up in the kitchen near an electrical outlet and a window. Curiously, the window frame had a notch the perfect size for the wire. I wonder what it had been used for?

This setup works fine ... except we don't really spend much time in the kitchen. Thus the small square device in the right of the image. This is a Bluetooth transmitter. The speaker has a line out RCA jack in the back which supplies the signal to the transmitter. Which then sends to the third device in the image, the one labeled "Tribit".

This is a Bluetooth speaker. Which is shown on a bookcase above my desk. The speaker and transmitter are through the doors at the far wall. We're looking through the office, dining room, and kitchen. And the signal comes through just fine.

It is very nice to hear the sounds of the yard while I'm at my desk working.

🎤  📡  📻

Birding is very popular in the US and a number of other countries, so one might think there would be a number of products to choose from to bring birdsong inside. One would be disappointed. I had looked and found nothing. We had tried to use a baby monitor, but were not successful.

Here's info on the kit I assembled, should you want to try this at home.

The speaker is called "Nature's Window" and can be found here. I, err ... I mean Santa! ... ordered it with the line out option. The line out allowed me to hook it up to the Bluetooth transmitter.

The transmitter is a MaedHawk X5, which I ordered via Amazon (link). There are quite a few Bluetooth transmitters to choose from. I selected this one because of the signal range. And it reaches any room in our house.

The speaker is a Tribit X Sound Go, which I had also purchased at Amazon (link). An excellent speaker for the money, I purchased it when I was at my parent's place during my dad's recovery from his broken hip, playing music form my laptop.

Mystery Solved?

In this post about nightlife at our back pond, I noted the woodpecker holes Patty had found.

The trail cam captured one image with a woodpecker on the tree.

This one.

We were hoping for a Pileated Woodpecker, but it was not to be. Seems the culprit is a Hairy Woodpecker.

Although the bird is not actually living up to its name. So I'll leave the camera there a little bit longer.

A Puzzlement

While working in the yard this weekend I cam upon this. A reflection from one of the house windows. I don't know why it is shaped like a kite.

And more interestingly to me, I don't know why it is pink.

You see, from every other angle it is white.

Moving around the reflection nor changing the height of the viewing angle had any effect. If it was white it stayed white. If it was pink it stayed pink. I would have expected it to change colors, through the visible spectrum. But it did not. A puzzlement for sure.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Compound Interest

In the 10% post I mentioned we were expanding the 'Grassland' area out by the back pond.

This image shows the extent of last years 'unmowed' area, as it looked one morning this past week.

Recall last year it had a nice crop of wildflowers.

The above image shows the expansion area, delineated by more of those fallen branches, close to doubling in size. We've planted a few more things back there, stuff we got at the NJ Native Plant Society Annual Meeting, and will probably plant some more native grasses. But mostly we're just going to let it be.

It will be fun to see what shows up.

And I won't mind not having to mow back there.

More Signs of Spring

Spring has officially sprung. And as we are homebound we spent a lot of time working about the yard. De-winterizing if you will. And the yard is de-winterizing as well (springerizing?).

The water is again falling.

Flowers are blooming ...

... Daffodils ...

... Creeping Speedwell ...

... and this yellow one (perhaps Marsh Marigold?).

Pigs-ear Fungi is again gracing the front garden, under the pine tree.

The Peepers are peeping ☜ click to listen.

And hiding. Or at least trying to.

As are Bullfrogs.

And where there are frogs there are tadpoles. Multiple different sizes are swimming in the pond. Click here to see some trying to eat a bit of cat food kibble.

The kibble was Hamster's leftovers.

The Water Lilies are waking up. And the Water Lily Planthoppers have appeared in force (look closely at the Bullfrog and you'll see a planthopper sitting on it).

A lot more is going on. Buds are waking up on shrubs. Birds are checking out nest boxes. Chipmunks are looking for food. And all manner of insects are emerging.

Spring has sprung. And it is good to be alive.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Sixspotted Fishing Spider

Dolomedes triton, the Sixspotted Fishing Spider.

This is a large spider, I spotted it from across the back pond.

The black body with the white stripe helped it sand out.

Then I noticed ...

... this other one, a bit further back. Much more camouflaged. And yet the same species.

Pretty cool that I captured in one image both the black and grey and the brown phases of this critter.

🕷  🕷  🕷  🕷  🕷

You can find all of the Yard Critter posts listed here.

Midnight at the Oasis

Hamster isn't the only critter that uses the back pond.

I've had the trail cam out there by the back pond, by day it captured images of Hamster and blowing vegetation (lots of blowing vegetation). At night the mammals come out. Like the Eastern Cottontail here.

Make that two Eastern Cottontails ... (insert math operator joke here).

Northern Raccoons are frequent nighttime visitors to the back pond. 

This cat has been seen before. And is not welcome. Grrr.

🐘  🦛  🐆  🦓  🦏  🦒  🐃

As someone who grew up watching Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, I expected the pond to be a popular watering hole first thing in the morning. Yet that does not seem to be the case. Even prior to the deer fence, the trail cam did not record any early morning visitors. 

And now the camera has been relocated. Patty found this woodpecker activity earlier today. 

Hopefully I, and then you, will know what has been working this dead tree. Fingers crossed.

Friday, March 20, 2020


Our newest garden area:

The "Triangle" garden. Although it doesn't look like a triangle now, it started out as this:

One way to lay out garden areas is to use a hose. The problem with that is that eventually you''ll want to use the hose as a hose. We have plenty of fallen trees and branches, which I used to delineate this and other garden areas. And they can be left in place as borders, holding in the dirt, compost, and mulch. And making it clear this is a designed area, not just a messy yard. It also shows where to mow.

As with other garden projects, we used the 'lasagna' method. First cardboard, then dirt/compost, then mulch.

I told you we had a lot of downed branches. Here they are holing down the cardboard, and will add interest to the final garden. They also serve as shelter and nest sites for all manner of little critters.

Dirt from the hole for the new Mini-Bog, a bag of potting soil we had in the quonset hut, and the last of the compost from the Bench Garden project covered the cardboard. Fortunately I hadn't gotten too far when the chief landscape architect decided the triangle was too pointy.

A bit of sawing, dirt moving, and the reconfiguration met with her approval.

Look closely and you'll see some of the plants were moved about as well.

A water feature in the form of a birdbath with a solar powered fountain and mulch in the form of wood chips. I've a chipper and now fewer of those fallen branches I mentioned earlier.

The image at the top is the 'finished', for now, garden. Patty's got six trays of seeds sprouting in our indoor greenhouse. And I'm sure we'll be visiting native plant nurseries, as soon as such things are safe to do. Until then there's mail order.

🌳  🌱  🌿  🎋  🍃  🍂  🌾  🌻

Two Saturdays and what seems like a lifetime ago, Patty and I went to the annual meeting of the NJ Native Plant Society. I mentioned that meeting in the Mini-Bog post. A talk by Pat Sutton earlier in the day on Wildlife Gardening reiterated much of what we heard at Doug Tallamy's talk in February. But where Dr. Tallamy advocated putting aside 50% of one's lawn as native gardens, Ms. Sutton suggested putting aside 10% a year, as a more manageable goal. Further suggesting that most folks would be so pleased with the result in the first year they would make hit the 50% mark by the third or even the second year.

We've been doing what I've been calling the "War on Lawn" since we moved in. This year, in addition to the Mini-Bog and Triangle Garden, we are expanding the 'grassland' area out by the back pond. We are also putting aside part of our front yard, across the driveway from the Mini-Meadow, as a no-mow zone, just to see what grows there.

We'll still have some lawn, but much less than when we first moved in. And that's a good thing.