Making a Way for Pollinators

Over the years we’ve written in this space about the long-term focus on pollinators at The Quarry Farm and ways our related gardening practices have evolved. We’ve talked about selecting butterfly-friendly plants for our garden at Red Fox Cabin and beyond. We’ve talked about conditions that butterflies, bees, bats and hummingbirds need to survive or that threaten their existence, and we’ve shared photos of some of the beauties that have graced our garden.

Our concern for pollinators really began during the 1990s when Gerald Coburn began photographing and studying the butterflies on The Quarry Farm. As his inventory grew (eventually to around 55), we learned about preferred host and food plants and began choosing plants accordingly. Our plantings of popular annuals and “Perennials of the Year” transitioned to mixed beds of plants and flowers known to support butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. We planted pollinator-friendly native grasses like Indian Grass and Big Bluestem. We put up bee blocks where native bees could lay their eggs. When we learned of the deadly impact of pesticides on butterflies and bees, we stopped using Sevin in our large vegetable garden at the time and became organic gardeners.

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As reported in previous issues, an exciting new chapter in our history of gardening for pollinators opened five years ago when, as an educational project, the Putnam County Master Gardeners designed and planted a pollinator habitat garden next to Red Fox Cabin. The dedication and hard work of the Master Gardeners have made the site a model in miniature of what a pollinator habitat garden should be—not rigidly structured, mulched and manicured, but purposefully planned, nevertheless. It’s become a diverse riot of plants that offer food and shelter for a stopover or home for an entire life cycle. It’s fenced in and has a handsome gated entrance, decorative hardscaping and informative signage.

Before the Master Gardeners turned the first shovelful, they studied pollinator issues—who the pollinators are, their vital ecological importance, the features of a pollinator habitat, and devastating environmental challenges to survival, including pesticide use and habitat loss. Because land is increasingly polluted, paved over, robbed of diversity, and otherwise made unsupportive, the distances between food and rest sources may be too great for long-distance migrators—for instance, bats and Monarchs—to survive their journeys.

Some concerned environmentalists have proposed creating pollinator corridors to support migratory pollinators throughout their journeys. The idea is for people living along migratory routes to make a concerted effort to offer habitats with food, water and shelter—even if they’re only a few square feet of garden space—at intervals necessary for life-saving stopovers.

An intriguing “what if?” is this: what if people living along interstates, highways, or even country roads like the one that runs past The Quarry Farm were to join in common cause to learn about pollinator issues and then plant habitat gardens, uncontaminated, big or small, along their “corridors.” Several residents on our country road have already established pollinator gardens and larger habitats. What might happen if we organized, gave our cause a name and spread the word?

—The Gardener at Red Fox Cabin

Herman Pollinator Habitat, Road 7L and Road O, Riley Township

Seeing Sean

We have been, and continue to be, blessed to not just interact with but to actually get to know many beings here on The Quarry Farm. We meet lots of people, learning each time how many are interested in the world around them and how we all can be better stewards of that world. Just about every visit, tour and workshop results in one of us responding to a question with, ” I can’t answer that,” prompting us to find out more about something.

People are great. We can exchange ideas pretty freely. But the beings that remind us most how much we have to learn in this life are the animals. They can readily communicate with each other—even the trees and plants talk—but it’s up to them to learn how to deal with humans.

Over the years, the farm animal sanctuary residents have dealt with us. They come and they go with the end of life. Johnny the Canade Goose who taught us how inquisitive and intelligent these birds are. Audrey the red hen that taught us that even a hot wire slice through a chick’s beak and a fall from a truck along I-75 couldn’t stop her from seeking a cuddle. Smart, determined Gertie the pot-bellied pig who taught us that pigs are cleaner than dogs, cats, and most humans (no they don’t like to live in swill.) Mister Bill the giant goat who absolutely did not like to be told ‘no’ but forgave you for saying it as long as you scritched between his horns. I’m going to stop naming these names because the tears are coming.

Some of them have barely tolerated us, forging kind of a love/hate relationship with us because they haven’t had a choice, what with humans being the most ruthless predator (dang those opposable thumbs that can latch a gate and turn a key.) Two residents come immediately to mind: Bernie the Rooster that attacked me and my red windbreaker and the red lawnmower, and Jacques the Canada Goose who could run across four acres before you could put a fence between you and his bony, flightless wings and bill.

I wouldn’t trade the knowing of either of them for the world.

This morning, when Beatrice’s Belly Rub Girl offered Sean the Virginia Opossum his dried cranberries, greens plus a peanut butter sandwich for winter sustenance, Sean didn’t wake up. Just last Friday, Sean met the entire second grade class at Kalida Elementary School. Sean was always great with people. He didn’t hiss or growl or show his 50 teeth like most Virgina Opossums do to defend themselves from the two-legged predators that could very well mean to eat him. He tolerated all of us quite well, so he was one of our go-to wildlife ambassadors for offsite classroom visits.

Sean and Cousin Lily, 2021

The second graders thought Sean was “adorable.” They couldn’t understand how anyone would go out of their way to hurt his kind. They asked if they could see him walk. He was more interested in sitting, even though he was born with no eyes and had every reason to be afraid of squirrely limbs and echoes in the halls of school.

They asked how old he was. “He’s almost three,” I told them. How long would he live, they wanted to know. “Two to three years,” I said. How old is he in people years? “Very, very old.”

So it wasn’t a huge surprise that Sean fell asleep last night and didn’t wake up. He isn’t the first Virginia Opossum to have served The Quarry Farm as an ambassador of his kind to those who might wish him harm, but he was the one who immediately convinced them that Virginia Opossums have every right to live, under our porches and wherever their nomadic ways take them, in peace.

It’s not so much what the Fox says as what she doesn’t

Ylvis is a Norwegian comedy duo consisting of brothers Vegard and Bård Ylvisåker. They are the creators of the viral song and video The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?) that I did listen to after I lost count of how many kids and parents brought it up after meeting Quinn, The Quarry Farm’s rescued fox and educational ambassador for her species.

I can tell you that most foxes do not have blue eyes and I’m not sure what the Ylvisåker Brothers did to have a fox assigned to them as a guardian angel. That is one spirit/bodyguard that is going to melt away into the landscape at the first sign of trouble. But before it takes off, it’s going to pick your pocket, race away with the goods, stash them in a secret location, and urinate on whatever it is to lay everlasting claim. Items that we have found in Quinn’s “secret” hideaway (a litterbox in the basement) include: socks, underwear, dog toys, peanuts, a jar of peanut butter, potholders, dog collars, cat treats, baby carrots, potatoes, Fig Newtons, buttered toast, and whole bags of bread and rolls of toilet paper.

As far as what the fox says, Quinn says a whole lot. I’ve never heard her ring-ding-ding, although she did snatch a bell off the Christmas tree and that rang mightily until it was buried in kitty litter. The Ylvisåkers really didn’t reproduce much of Quinn’s vocalizations in their 2013 earworm, although she did mutter fraka-kaka-kaka when I changed the litter box and a wrapped stick of butter fell out into the garbage bag. And after she grabbed a second stick of butter from the box I hadn’t yet emptied, she screamed a-hee-ahee ha-hee while she ran up the stairs with her reclaimed treasure.

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Little feet feats

A homeschool group from the Pandora area came for a hike, black walnut tasting, and some good tree sitting.

The final (at least the last scheduled) fall field trips drove away this week. Each offers its own teachable moments. As I stood at along the front fence of the farm animal sanctuary with a preschool group from Dupont, one of the smallest boys stopped and called, ”Soo-wee! Soo-wee!” in hopes of calling forth pigs. I puzzled over that, wondering why he would think they would come.

“Um, that’s not going to work. They’ve never heard that before. Call them by name. Try calling Nemo, Beatrice, Bob…”

Adults might have been offended. Heck, I probably would have. After all, we are all told that turkeys gobble, donkeys hee-haw, geese honk, and pigs come running when you shout Soo-wee. That little guy never stopped to take a breathe before he called to Nemo and she trotted up and over the hill followed by Beatrice and Carlton. Clive, a much more cautious pot-belly, watched from a distance in the southern area of the pasture.

“What’s his name?” asked the boy.

“Oh, that’s Clive. But he won’t come. He’s very shy about people.”

“CLI-I-IVE!” called the small young voice of optimism. Here came Clive. The boy asked if Clive would eat the mint leaves that the boy had collected in the garden. I said no. But what do I know? Clive took it gently between his tiny front teeth, then allowed the boy and several classmates to pet his tufty fur.

Just when I’m feeling all wise and knowledgable, something raises a metaphysical eyebrow in my direction and suggests eh, maybe not so much.

R

5K 2021

This morning at 10 a.m. EST, skies were blue and a west windy breeze made for good running/walking conditions for this year’s Quarry Farm 5K. Participants passed Birder Deb who played the theme from Rocky at the Mallaham Bridge. They navigated through one goodly gust of soybean dust kicked loose from a harvesting crew, turned around at the halfway point where Rita called out split times, then returned to cow bells at the finish line.

FIrst Run Finish, Men: Frank Ordaz
First Run Finish, Women: Erin Firch
First Walker Finish, Men: Jay Shapiro
First Walker Finish, Women: Lois Seitz
First Child Finish: Titus Haselman
First Team Finish: Lois Felkey, Phyllis Seitz, Susan Seitz

There is rain this afternoon to tamp down the bean dust. Still a few oatmeal/white chocolate/dried apricot cookies, too (but not many). Much thanks to everyone who came out in support of a beautiful day and what we do.

Opossum and Snake Go to School

Tyree the Red Rat Snake (also called Corn Snake) and Sean the Virginia Opossum starred at the Wildlife station at the 49th Annual 5th Grade Conservation Tour in September.

Every now and then someone tells us about the Virginia Opossum that has lived under
their porch for years. If there is one thing that we learned while volunteering with
Nature’s Nursery Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and during the years following is that
these individuals are probably not the same Virginia Opossum. While getting to know
educational ambassadors for this fascinating species, we have discovered that they are
nomadic creatures, moving from place to place to eat whatever they find in their path and
sleeping in the most convenient dry spot when they need to. Combined with the fact that
Virginia Opossums only live for two or (maybe, if we’re lucky) three years, the animal that
people see around their porch from year to year is actually a parade of several of North
America’s only member of the marsupial class of mammals.

Did you notice that I said “if we’re lucky”? There are a lot of reasons that it’s a great thing
to have Virginia Opossums around. These free-ranging omnivores consume a varied diet
that includes plant material, grasses and leaves, grains, fruits, carrion, snails, slugs, worms,
insects, rats, mice, snakes, amphibians, eggs, crayfish, and fish. They are nature’s garbage
collectors. We would be up to our eyeballs in offal without these animals coming and
going. We would also be dealing with more biting, disease-transmitting ticks. Research on
captive Virginia Opossums at Illinois’ Eureka College estimates that they eat, on average,
5,500 larval ticks per week. That’s nearly 95% of ticks that cross their path.

The biggest and best reason that we are lucky to have Virginia Opossums is that we just are…lucky,
that is. They have been around for a very long time—at least 70 million years—as one of
Earth’s oldest surviving mammals. Because they eat almost everything, they are disease-resistant. In fact, they will do just about anything to avoid direct contact. To appear
threatening, a Virginia Opossum will first bare its 50 teeth, snap its jaw, hiss, drool, poo
and stand its fur on end to look bigger. If this does not work, the Virginia opossum is
noted for feigning death (passing out) in response to extreme fear.

Here on The Quarry Farm, we are so lucky to have known a few non-releasable Virginia
Opossums. Sean is the current onsite educational ambassador of his kind. Sean was born
without eyes so can’t properly protect himself from predators. He is also agreeable to
human contact, which is why we have a State of Ohio education permit that allows us
to house him and introduce him to people who want to know more about him and the
world around all of us.

A Hard Lesson Learned (Again) about Plant Selection

About 20 years ago, I planted a ground cover that was all the rage at the time. I decided that glossy, dark-green euonymus fortunei, a native of Asia, would be ideal to fill in prettily around shrubs and to block weeds. As years went by, a patch in Red Fox Garden succumbed to scale, and the euonymus at my house had a rude habit of climbing up the garage siding and suckering in until pulled down. However, its dense cover did block weeds, and I liked the look of it.

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So, I was not prepared when Cousin David, who has spent years clearing invasive shrubs and vines from the Quarry Farm nature preserve, reported an unfamiliar branching vine climbing in a cluster of trees deep in the woods, well beyond my house and garden. It was neither poison ivy nor wild grape vine, and its leaves looked a little like myrtle, only larger. I made a discomfiting discovery: The invader was euonymus fortunei, my pretty ground cover gone rogue. Looking it up on the internet, I was shocked to learn that euonymus is now generally considered an invasive species, a landscaping no-no.

Horticultural websites discuss the aggressive nature of euonymus fortunei. One example is this from North Carolina State University Extension: “Some cultivars may be more of a vine and others more of a small shrub, but the vining cultivars and some shrubs can both be invasive… Climbing euonymus readily escapes into native forests and has no trouble dominating medium-sized trees. [It] is listed as invasive in North Carolina and in other states of the southeast and northeast. When used as ground cover for the showy leaves, it tends to climb if given support. . . .When this vine climbs trees it produces aerial rootlets along its branches. [Its small white berries] are eaten by some birds which is how the plant is spread and often how it becomes more invasive.” This is surely how euonymus flew from my garden into the woods of the preserve.

My experience with euonymus fortunei has been another hard lesson learned about plant selection over the years. When perusing catalogs and nurseries, I should try harder to temper my feverish impulses with some cautionary reminders: Choose natives to the area, more likely to settle companionably into the landscape. Don’t make impulsive purchases based solely on glowing descriptions, especially if a plant is an introduction, sometimes even a “new, improved” cultivar. Know soil (sand, loam, and/or clay), moisture and light preferences. Know how a plant propagates and spreads, so it can be contained if it sends out runners or produces thousands of seeds per plant. In general, know how it interacts with other plants and wildlife.

Better knowledge about such issues might have prevented invasions of bush honeysuckle and multiflora rose, and too many others, which were thought decades ago to have beneficial uses as wildlife food and cover and as living fencing, but became scourges to field and forest, including The Quarry Farm.

The Gardener at the Quarry Farm

Colonial-style floor treatment

Saturday, July 31, 2021 was gorgeous: light clouds, a breeze to move them slowly across the sky, and cooler, drier temperatures. If the scheduled “Create a Floor Cloth for Your ‘Cabin'” workshop had happened earlier in the week, the acrylic paint applied by 10 textile artists to rug-worthy canvas would have puddled in the humidity. As it was, it didn’t. And just look at the participants and their work in action in the Seitz Family Pavilion.

While we can’t offer you workshop or supplies (maybe next year?), here’s TQF Board President Laura’s recipe for one of the snacks provided. There were also fresh strawberries and hot coffee, but you’re on your own there.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats [quick oats will work in a pinch]
  • 2 cups chocolate chips (semi-sweet, milk chocolate, or a mixture)
  • [Optional] ½ cup dried cranberries or cherries

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly grease a 9 x 13 in. pan with cooking spray.
  2. In a large mixing bowl beat together the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until smooth and light.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition.  Add the vanilla.
  4. In a separate bowl combine the dry ingredients:  salt, baking soda, baking powder, flour, rolled oats, 1 cup chocolate chips, and cranberries, if using.
  5. Add to the butter mixture and stir until combined.
  6. Spread the cookie dough into the prepared pan.  Sprinkle remaining cup of chocolate chips on top.
  7. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.  
  8. [Optional] Scatter chocolate or vanilla melting wafers over the surface while the bars are still warm, allow to soften, and spread by criss-crossing a fork lightly through the melted chocolate.
  9. Cool completely before cutting.  Freezes well.

A David Update

We haven’t provided a Super Dave update for a while. That doesn’t mean that David Seitz hasn’t been here at least two times a week, clearing invasive plants, combatting poison ivy, engineering and re-engineering bridges and boulder crossings, and mowing paths. Here’s a month’s-worth of catch-up.

Please never give up, David.

June 24

Had a pleasant afternoon yesterday, working at the QF.  Clearing the euonymus patch.  Pushing to the south, opening that area.  It is really old honeysuckle, with a mass of new ones coming up, and really thick.  Also worked through a couple growing multiflora patches.  Trying to save the young trees, while digging the honeysuckle around them, and cutting the grape and poison ivy vines.  Am now far enough south that I’m closer to the turtle pile again, and moving the brush to the turtle pile is easier. 

Saw the big heron landing, as I was walking to the Jeep, but couldn’t get close enough to get a picture. 

June 26

Was watching the weather radar, and it looked like the worst of the front would miss the QF, off to the west, so I came on up for an afternoon of digging honeysuckle.  Got the first shower just around 1300 hrs, but it didn’t last too long, and was cool enough after that.  Less than 1/4 inch.   I could wear the rain coat for the day.  I ran the chain saw to start, and walked around the work area with it, just east of the turtle pile, trimming branches off the big old honeysuckle.  Surprising how the bugs leave the area to get away from the saw.  Continued on south and east, doing a band of honeysuckle 10 meters wide, till I got to the open corridor east of the turtle pile.  Where you can see out east into the swampy area.  Will start moving back north next week, widening the corridor.  Visible progress.  Was tired by 17:30, and called it a day. 

Hauling to just the north side of the turtle pile now, and it is growing.  Lot of mass there.  

Saw several deer come bounding through, but otherwise it was a quiet day for critters. 

June 29

Made a visit today.  Didn’t have anything else going, so came up and did about 5 hours of honeysuckle, vines, and multiflora, widening the turtle-swamp corridor.  Just clearing to the north, back toward the euonymus pile. I kept working till I’d ran out of ice tea.  It was hot and with almost no breeze, and the half gallon thermos was needed. 

Now from the turtle pile, you can easily see east into the swamp area.  Is some heavy thicket there, working north. Big old honeysuckle trunks take a lot of work to dig out. 

The rain last night raised the level at the old bridge dam. Hoping for a bit more rain this week, and less heat. 

July 2

Had a pleasant, cool afternoon at the QF, digging honeysuckle southeast of the euonymus pile.  Working the thicket to the north of the turtle-swamp corridor.  Widening the opening.  Looking much more open now, across the swamp,  as I dig into that thick old growth. 

Got into some poison ivy liana.  Several were so big they looked like trees themselves, except you could see the heavy PI vines and their branches were just off the vine trunks.  Chopped the vines, and will let them go for a while.  May want to cut the dead trees, to stop them just growing again.  So much PI growing in that area, that just clearing the brush means carrying bits of PI is inevitable.   Washed up with goop once home, but have the usual small rashes this morning where I got scratches. 

At the end of the day, I patched some of the leaks on the old bridge dam, to raise the water level a bit there. The level at the dam was up 2 inches while I worked, and still rising.  At 73, still playing in the puddles. 

July 5

Was a bit warm, and no wind down by the quarry.  But I did get in about 3 and a half hours of honeysuckle and vine cutting.  Working north still, and piling on the euonymus pile.

At the end of the day, I worked plugging up the old bridge dam some more.  Water was 3″ below the “hanging rock” when I started,, and after 45 minutes, it was just at the hanging rock.  Not much flow, so changes in level are slower.  Hope we get a shower this week. 

Had the shovel with me, so walked down to the stepping stones and re-spaced them a bit.  Now easier to use.  Dragged the tire and rim up on the bank.  Next visit I’ll bring it up to the road, and put it next to the truck tire.  Is actually a pretty good tire, and holding air. 

There was a little (14″) northern water snake in the creek, north of the dam. 

July 9

Lovely day at the QF.  Started by bringing the “spare tire” up to the fence.  Holding air fine.  Looks like an old Jeep Cherokee rim, with an almost new tire.  Don’t know what you want done with it, but you can always roll it down into the creek during the next flood!
Worked SE of the euonymus pile, back into the thicket.  Is interesting there, as the thicket is now mostly other trees, and the honeysuckle is smaller and only 1/3 of the brush.  Looks better every session, but a lot left to clear. 

Plenty of PI vines to cut, too.  Did that in the last 15 minutes, and then cleaned up my arms when I got to the Jeep. 

The old bridge dam pool was 4″ below the hanging rock when I arrived.  Decided to patch up some of the bigger leaks with small rocks and gravel.  After,  the level in the creek rose about 2″,  over 45 minutes.  Was still rising slowly, when I left.  Creek flow was very small.  Photos attached. 

Saw a 6″ crawdad come down the bank, and play in the edge of the water.  But didn’t go fully into it.  Just wet itself, and then hid by a rock.  Surprised me, again. 

July 14

Was a pleasant day at the QF, except for the bugs.  They are doing well, in the thickets.  Used a bunch of permethrin spray on my clothes, then “Skin-so-soft” for the mosquitos, and finally frequent shots of DEET for the flies, as usual.  But today they were back at me after just a few minutes. 

Working north into the thicket, east of the euonymus pile.  Working the eastern side of the thicket, so not much honeysuckle out in the swamp area.  But a bunch of multiflora, and poison ivy galore.  Nasty.  Cut and hauled about 5 hours. 

Next visit, I will mow the paths around the quarry with the brush cutter.  Just need a trim. 

Thanks for the cookies!

July 19

Didn’t get to the QF until 1400 hrs, and started right in with your Bolens brush cutter.  Spent about 2 and a half hours mowing the paths around the quarry, and down to the stepping stones.  Unfortunately, the Bolens lost a screw off the shaft, and I had to stop mowing for the day.  Brought it back, and will put new screws in and return it.  Small repair. 

Spent the last half hour touching up the old bridge dam, where there were a couple larger leaks.  Water level was 4″ up on the hanging rock, and climbing, and the quarry was at +2″ on the pipe, and draining out into the creek.   Creek water was almost clear, fortunately. 

Leaves of Glory

What an incredible morning of artistic demonstration we experience with the 2021 Putnam County Educational Service Center Migrant Education Program students and their teachers. Last night’s storms provided oak, black walnut, silver maple, sycamore, and hackberry leaves. Board Member Rita supplied leaves from her garden and woods. The kids supplied the talent. The sky kept try just long enough for them to put that talent to glorious use.