Speaking up for moles

Winter 2018 Newsletter cover

The article below (how appropriate, considering the subject, don’t you think?) appears in the latest issue of The Quarry Farm Newsletter. Download your copy by clicking on the cover to the right.

Not long ago after autumn rains had softened the baked lawn around Red Fox Cabin, little volcano-shaped mounds erupted here and there, heralding the arrival of moles. Moles don’t alarm me because their burrowing hasn’t seemed to cause lasting damage in the garden. However, convinced that the humans on a nature preserve should be knowledgeable about their fellow inhabitants, I went online to learn more about moles.

Members of the family Talpidae, moles are found in most parts of North America, Europe and Asia. Seven species live in the U.S., the Eastern Mole being common in our region. They are 5 to 7 inches long, larger than shrews and voles. Males are called boars; females are sows; and the young are pups. A group is a labor (perhaps because they are so industrious?). They are carnivores, not herbivores. Their diet is primarily earthworms, grubs, and the occasional mouse, but not our garden plants. Once they have eaten the food in one area, they move on.

Moles are amazingly adapted to a subterranean life. They can distinguish light from dark but not colors. Although their eyesight is dim, their hearing and sense of smell are so acute that they can detect prey through many inches of soil. They have large, powerful, outward-pointing front legs and claws for pushing dirt aside as they “swim” through soft, moist earth. They are able to disappear from rare ventures to the surface in 10 seconds flat, to tunnel 1 foot in 3 minutes and to run through established tunnels at about 80 feet per minute. Their short, velvety fur is non-directional, causing little resistance as they move rapidly through tunnels. (Their soft, dense pelts once supported a thriving moleskin industry.) Moles can survive in their low-oxygen environment underground because they can tolerate the high carbon dioxide levels in the exhaled air they reuse. Their saliva paralyzes prey, which they store, still alive, in underground “larders” for future consumption. Moles can detect, capture, and eat their prey faster than the human eye can follow.

Moles make 2 types of tunnels: feeding runways close to the surface where the molehills pop up and permanent tunnels about a foot or more underground, leading to a nest about 2 feet deep. What might look like the work of many moles can be the product of one busy tunneler.

Moles are solitary and highly territorial, coming together only to mate. Breeding season runs from February to May. From 2 to 5 pups are born after a 1-month gestation, and leave the nest 30 to 45 days later in search of their own territories. Although tunnels may overlap, moles avoid each other and will attack and even fight to the death when they meet.

Many online gardening experts write about moles in terms of their being destructive pests that must be eradicated. They suggest many methods of doing so: poisons; traps that choke, spear, slice or confine for removal; buried repellants like broken glass, razor blades, or thorny branches; or natural, more humane repellants like plantings that smell bad to moles (daffodils, alliums, marigolds, castor beans, etc.), castor oil drenches; and reducing lawn watering that could force moles close to the surface.

However, I lean toward a smaller set of gardening experts represented online who believe that moles are more beneficial than destructive. Rather than taking offense at molehills, they point out that moles improve soil by loosening, aerating and fertilizing, and the cones subside quickly. Any soil that has been lifted off roots can be pressed down again with a foot. Moles receive the blame for plant damage caused by chipmunks, mice and voles, and generally receive little credit for destroying lawn grubs. I myself would rather let moles eat pesky soil-dwelling larvae than chase moles out by spreading harmful poisons to kill the grubs. In the view of one expert, Roger Mercer, “Moles aren’t all bad. In fact they’re 99% good.” As a 15th century saying goes: “Do not make a mountain out of a mole hill.”

—The Gardener at The Quarry Farm

falling sounds

20170910_165648The old stone quarry has changed a lot over 150 years, from not being there at all to a horse-drawn limestone operation, from spring-fed fishing hole to wetland. Black willows and other water-loving trees and plants grow there now. Wood ducks, wild turkeys, owls, squirrels, tree frogs and herons roost high above the banks. They see you before you even know they are there, falling silent or bursting from the branches in a great show of chatter or feathers.

One tree leaned at the northwest shore for as long as I can remember. My Gran said she used to make a blanket nest for Uncle Keith in its roots while the family fished for bluegill. The tree lived its life, watching two- and four-leggers wear a path below.20170910_172736

20170910_170849 (1)Last weekend the dogs and I found the tree in pieces. The path is strangely open now. Stick-tights thrive in the open sunlight, laying waste to another pair of shorts and leaving the future of my t-shirt in doubt as well. Thankfully, jewelweed grows nearby to stop the burr itch. I wonder if the wild ginger will move to shade further along the bank.

The tree’s fall was a long time coming. Not long after the tree died over a decade ago, its bark weathered away. Dad parked his ATV next to the tree to take photographs of the butterflies, dragonflies and other insects that perched on the smooth trunk. Walking the path sent wildlife running in every direction. The putt-putt of the ATV didn’t. From the driver’s seat, Dad filmed an ichneumon wasp, its long ovipositor extended into a woodpecker’s drill work.

We still have the photos, as well as Dad’s drawings of the wasp. The sketch was one of several used on a poster about beneficial insects. The illustrations are a reminder how nature and art are linked. Here on these 50 acres and beyond invisible parcel lines, the native arts must be nurtured as much as the first grasses and plants that secure this watershed.

Click, look and listen.20170909_183949

 

bird’s eye celebration

20170827_122848 (1)A mile northwest of here as the crow flies, family and friends gathered on the Seitz homestead to remember Miriam Joyce “Gran” Seitz. We made lasting leaf t-shirts and broke (lots of) bread.

A mile southeast of there, Andrew Seitz, sent his drone aloft to capture footage of the 50 acres that his grandmother had a hand in preserving. Click on the bird’s eye view here and take flight over Red Fox Cabin grounds and gardens, the old quarry, nature preserve, then follow Uncle Mike and his car (wave at Andy on your right) south to the farm animal sanctuary.Untitled

Thanks, Cousin, for the lift.

Branching out, under bright lights

20170419_143537You know that tingling excitement you get when you try something on for the first time, especially when it fits and what looks back at you in the mirror looks pretty good? Yeah, you know. That’s kind of what last week felt like.

The week’s events started last fall with an email from Quarry Farm Friend Robyn. The trails here are not new to her or her family. In fact her son Zane is one of our best advisers during programs. Zane is kind of a barometer—if he’s happy with the program’s progression, we go with the flow. Anyway, Robyn is a Findlay teacher who recommended us as a field trip destination. So back at the start of School Year 2016-17, her co-worker Alyson scheduled a spring field trip.

After the ball dropped in January, Ada Girl Scot Leader Cathy called to schedule a three-badge (Hiker, Bugs, and Animal Habitats) for Brownies and Juniors. A month later, I entered Erie Conservation District‘s “2017 Recycled Runway: A Clean Water Cause” on behalf of The Quarry Farm.

None of these things are truly new. We raise our hands all the time. In fact we all but shout, “Pick me! Pick me!” in order to fulfill our mission statement. What was a stretch is that all these things were set to happen in the same week in April 2017.

20170419_142307On Sunday, we fortified ourselves with chocolate and other Easter basket contents. From Monday to Thursday, 218 Findlay preschool students, their teachers, parents and bus drivers made lasting-leaf t-shirts and followed the Cranberry Run Trail to meet the farm animal sanctuary residents before making the bus ride back to Hancock County. The mornings were cool and afternoons exceedingly warm, but Miracle Max the Bronze Turkey was always the gate greeter for every group even if the other animals dove for cover.

Fearless Girl

Fearless Girl from “200 Years…Same Shoes”

Friday night was the big Sandusky runway show. Recycled Runway was a fundraiser to restore Lake Erie’s Big Island Preserve on the eastside shoreline off the Cedar Point Causeway. Since everything done upstream (here) impacts downstream (Lake Erie) the Fabulous Sarah wrapped herself in repurposed pop can tabs, plastic shopping bags, snack bags, mesh fruit bags, plastic bottles, plastic caps, plastic straws, bubble wrap, and feed bags and walked the red carpet in our Regency/Roaring ’20s/2020 Fearless Girl time-warp entry “200 Years…Same Shoes.”

We made the Final Four (whoo Hoo!) and they raised $10,000 towards increased water quality. Check out the media photos.18034077_1524536627558995_2990400833246355312_n20170422_110444

Saturday morning, the Ada scouts reused bush honeysuckle to make hiking sticks, hiked habitats, tasted garlic mustard, and met the animals. Max was red with happiness.

2017-04-23 16.12.32Today we rest. So does Mister Bill. Looking in the mirror, or at the photos and videos on our cells, and through the perspectives captured by others who shared the stage of the day, we’ll still keep raising our hands.

cookies with Jam

In 363 days, the 2017 Quarry Farm Jam is happening under the red roof of the Seitz Pavilion. Two days after the 2016 musical gathering, my toes are still tapping and I wonder at the videos and photos that keep popping up on Facebook, including this compilation from Dave Frick:

A few years back, Steve brought up the idea of inviting musicians to this place, this “whole different world” as Betty Wannemacher says. No program, said Steve, just ask people to come on over and play their favorite musical instrument…or not. Listeners could pack a lawn chair. We’d supply the cookies, per tradition.

Four years ago, the first Quarry Farm Acoustic Night included guitar players and kazoos. The next year, fiddles and a saxophone showed up, too. The third year, scheduled for late October, was renamed a Jam as the pavilion was wired with electric outlets and lights. The weather didn’t care, however, as the Jam was snowed out (yes, snow.) The next day, we circled the second Saturday in 2016 as the fourth music night, plugged or unplugged.dsc_0046dsc_0044

Saturday’s instruments included guitars of various scale, a ukulele, autoharps, fiddles, harmonicas, and I believe that a mandolin made an appearance, too. There was a good gathering of music lovers to listen alongside and in the peaceable kingdom next door.

Oh so many thanks to Doug, Mike, Ralph, Gus, Dondi, Lynn, Bob, David and Michelle. And Erin, who has joined us every time with her roadie/soundman dad Bruce and musician mom Beth. Did you notice that great blue heron skimming low over the cabin on its way to sunset? That was your great-grandpa, Erin, and boy, is he proud.

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Color run

It took the dregs of July, the last real rain to percolate through the cracked ground, to get us through three weeks of no rain. A mustard haze hovered over the corn field across the road. Any bit of breeze brushed it into the water pans and left a brown coating on grass that was already crispy. Water in the cabin rainbarrel was conserved used sparingly.

In the floodplain, Cranberry Run didn’t run. Darters, minnows, crayfish and blue gill duked it out in pools, the survivors left to feed the great blue herons by day and raccoons by night.IMG_2139 (1)A week ago, rain–rain we needed so very much–came and went, leaving fungi of all sorts sprouting and the rainbarrel full. The drought dried up the mosquito swarms, leaving perfect conditions for outdoor art workshops. There’s no better time to paint in watercolors than when water drips from the eaves of the shelterhouse, eh?IMG_2122

On August 20, we dug through the kitchen cupboard, the garden and its edges to pool a palette of natural pigments with which to paint still lifes and landscapes. The Saturday class includes individuals from right here in Putnam County to a Tennessee visitor. Using rich colors derived from paprika, turmeric, blueberries and poke berries (plus black coffee, something that’s part of every workshop here), participants developed pieces lush with late summer color. Store-bought paints were also available and most everyone washed the first layer of a second work.

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There were visitors of different species, including an unidentified caterpillar and two haywagons-full of riders shuttled by neighbor Daryl Bridenbaugh. When paints were put away, the creative mood was still fresh. Board President Laura shared a slurry of shredded, soaked paper, mixed in some concrete plus a little dab of this and that so those that could stay onsite could make papercrete containers.

On this last day of August, one pot has traveled home to North Carolina while the others are still drying in Ohio. Instead of yellow dust, there is fog.

And it’s raining.

Not one just like the other

20160519_100149 (1)Right now, as the sun sets on Saturday, Sophie is rooting grasses for a bed to sleep under the stars. In a week’s time, she seems to have developed a penchant for the outside rather than her nest inside her outbuilding. Her stint as visiting ambassador at Sauder Village, for porcine everywhere, and here on The Quarry Farm for two days of welcoming two schools from two counties, must have made this so.

As for me, my voice is gone, but the temporary loss is well spent on two full days of spring fields trips with over 170 people painting lasting leaf t-shirts, getting up close and personal with macroinvertebrates as water quality indicators, and meeting a six-spotted tiger beetle, pot-bellies, turkeys and Sophie herself.IMG_1184

Thursday morning, preschoolers and parents from the Pandora area hiked around the Red Fox gardens to select interesting leaves. With a little help from the adults, the children arranged dandelion, violet and burdock on their white shirts and spritzed paint around the greens. Several malfunctioning spray bottles later, there were some very colorful shirts, not a single one exactly like the one next to it.IMG_1213

Third graders from Chamberlin Hill Intermediate School in Findlay arrived on Friday in two shifts. The first 70-some got off the bus around 10 a.m., made their shirts (using all new spray bottles) and hung their finished wearable art in the bushes and trees before hiking down the hill, along Cranberry Run and splitting into two groups at the north gate. Half went through the gate to meet the farm animals, the other to see dragonflies, damselflies, crayfish and the amazing boneless swimming acrobatics of fish leeches.

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Thanks to Zoe for showing everyone that fish leeches won’t suck human blood, even after 10 whole minutes.

With a lot of paint left in the bottles after the second bus drove away south on 7L, we tackled the north picnic table with splashes of red, purple, green, and blue. The other table remains for another visit and another day.IMG_1221