Name the Newbie

A young female Virginia Opossum will be joining The Quarry Farm in January as an educational ambassador. She was surrendered to Lake Erie Nature & Science Center after she had spent the first months of her life in illegal captivity. She is not afraid of humans and has no experience of the wild world so will live here, helping us teach people about North America’s only native marsupial.

Years ago, we asked people to help us give a name to a male Virginia Opossum. The winning name was Captain John Smith. The name and the history behind it was so intriguing that we ask you to help us again. Please send possible names and the reason behind the suggestion to thequarryfarm@gmail.com by January 21.

Read more about what happened this fall by downloading the Winter 2023 Newsletter and add our calendar of events to your calendar this season.

The Bright Lights of Early Autumn

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By September and October, most of the white, blue, pink and purple wildflowers have faded from the landscape, but our byways glow into early autumn with the bright yellows and golds of what we might refer to simply as “pretty yellow flowers.” Let’s give a respectful nod to four of those cheery wildflowers—Goldenrod, False Sunflower, Jerusalem Artichoke, and Sneezeweed—and get to know them personally.


The four have much in common. All four are members of the huge family Asteraceae, also Compositae; their flower petals grow daisy-like in rays around a center. The centers are typically a cluster of many tiny florets. All four attract pollinators (bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds), so they are important economically and ecologically. Deer avoid them. All are perennial, and cultivars have become popular garden flowers. While they share family traits, their differences can help us distinguish them.


Goldenrod, a common name for Solidago, may be the easiest to identify. More than 100 species grow wild in moist soil in North America, but a few have become popular in gardens. The plant heights average three to five feet. The flower heads are fluffy plumes or fans densely covered by tiny florets. Because they produce almost no pollen, they can’t be blamed for allergies. They are not poisonous to humans; in fact, parts are edible and can have medicinal uses. Because they are native, they are not termed invasive, but they can spread aggressively by seeds and roots.


False Sunflower, one common name for heliopsis helianthoides, is a native that can be mistaken for a daisy. It prefers sun and can grow in a wide range of soil, preferably on roadsides, near wooded areas and in prairies. The plants reach three to six feet and bear flowers with yellow (the common color here) to orange rays that may droop slightly around a soft brown center, earning them the nickname Ox-Eye Daisy. They are neither invasive nor toxic.


Jerusalem Artichoke, or helianthus tuberosus, is not an artichoke but rather a species of sunflower native to central North America. The plants can grow from five to nine feet tall, bearing bright yellow, daisy-like flowers with sturdier petals than False Sunflower or Sneezeweed. Its elongated tubers (fleshy underground stems) vary in color from light brown to white, red or purple and have a nutty flavor. They are highly nutritious and can be eaten, either raw or cooked. In fact, tasty-looking recipes can be found online. The plant was once a widely cultivated root vegetable crop that is regaining popularity.


Sneezeweed, or helenium autumnale, is so called because its leaves were once dried and used to make snuff. The plants prefer moist soil and are at home along streams and wetlands. They grow from two to five feet tall and bear pale yellow to orange flowers with fan-shaped drooping rays. It is sometimes called Wingstem because of the gill-like “wings” running the length of the stems. Although attractive to pollinators, it is poisonous (in large amounts) to humans and livestock.


One final note: all four of these “pretty yellow flowers” look lovely in floral arrangements.

—The Gardener at The Quarry Farm

A big heart that could be

Nemo the Pig has been featured in this space before. She came to us in 2015 as a tiny shoat. She was scraped, bruised and broken from a fall onto I-270 from a transport truck in Columbus. A kind, determined person rescued her, nursed the piglet’s wounds and brought her to us. For a couple of weeks, we socialized little Nemo by carrying her around to programs in a baby sling. She housebroke easily, although she outgrew the house and was unable to turn around in hallways. At six months of age, the age that young pigs are typically “finished” and loaded into a crowded transport to be “processed,” Nemo was spayed at Ohio State University. For the first few years of her life, she was one of the first farm animal sanctuary residents to greet visitors.

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“I’ve never seen a pig that big,” everyone still says when they see her for the first time. There’s a reason that they haven’t.

Nemo excavated a mud wallow that is so deep and wide that the geese and ducks swim in it when rainwater fills it to the brim. She made friends with Carlton the Pot-bellied Pig, a buddy system that continues to this day. They allow the other pot-bellied pigs, the geese, ducks and the occasional chicken to use their mud wallow.

Seven years on, visitors don’t often see Nemo, especially when the sun is high and the air is hot. Children love to see her, but she doesn’t often run to greet them, even when we mention the word “apple.” I did coax her out to see third-grade students from Ottawa Elementary in May. She walked out of her favorite building, stared across the pasture at the kids waving at the fence, then turned and walked away to her muddy spa. “Not today,” she seemed to say. I explained to the students that, while they could shed their coats and put on sunscreen, Nemo can only protect her fair skin and floppy ears with sparse, fair pig bristles, cool mud and shade.

For those lucky enough to visit on a cool day, Nemo allows a soft jowl rub. She sighs the deep, rumbling sigh that one would expect to emanate from a body such as hers, closes her blonde lashes and rolls over for a belly pat.

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

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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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

How Clear the Waters Run

I think it will always thrill me to overhear someone asking someone else if they have ever been to The Quarry Farm, for people to talk about the animals, birds, gardens and the clarity of the stream. Not everyone will turn over their yard to goats, roosters, and geriatric pigs, but gardens—the riotous kind filled with a variety of native flowering plants—and trees can make birds and clear water more common. This region’s native grasses and trees have long, branching root systems that hold the soil like a strong net. Have you ever pulled English Ivy? This non-native is tenacious and fast-growing but you can remove a large patch with one pull, so shallow-rooted and interwoven is this European transplant. In contrast, ever tried to pull a Common Milkweed in its entirety? Best of luck.


Old Man Sycamore in the north floodplain of the nature preserve has a hollow base that provides shelter to who knows how many creatures each night and during winter’s worst. As shallow-rooted landscapes topple across Northwest Ohio, he and the 300-year oaks withstand wicked flood currents and down-bursts. As the floodwaters recede, the forbs at his feet grasp run-off silt and soil. Within 36 hours, Cranberry Run is clear again.


You hear a lot about native plants these days. Big-box stores as well as local nurseries stock a variety of plants labeled as native. Keep in mind that native doesn’t always mean native to here. Also, ask your green-grower what kind of substrate your plants are potted in. Mass-marketed plants are often potted for long shelf lives, their roots sandwiched in neonicotinoid-laced soils that wreak havoc on bees and other beneficial insects.


Remember that part about riotous gardens? Variety is the spice of life. Some native plants can be invasive without other native plants to keep them in check. The Quarry Farm Gardener finds it necessary to parcel out starts of Coneflower every now any then, as well as Menarda (Bee Balm). Much is made of the benefits of keeping Common Milkweed for the Monarch butterflies. Without Ironweed, Coneflower, Asters, and Common Hackberry trees to watch over them all, who will feed and shelter Comma, Question Mark, swallowtails, and the Hackberry Emporer butterflies? And without Jewelweed and its orange orchid-like flowers nodding on the riverbanks and floodplains, how will I ever be rid of this confounded poison ivy rash?

It Took a Blizzard

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The other day I stopped my car beside a roadside juniper to watch a flock of small birds feeding on frosty blue berries fallen on snow. The scene reminded me of a more somber one of 42 years ago: The blizzard of ’78 had struck with icy fury. The deck where my husband and I kept several feeders drifted so rapidly that soon frantic, hungry birds couldn’t reach their food. Lashing snow drifted high and fast on the sliding doors and froze solid in the near zero-degree temperatures, effectively blocking our attempts to help them. When the blizzard finally quieted, countless birds had starved and frozen to death. Bodies of blue jays and other species littered our deck. Farther out in the countryside, populations of quail and other seed-eaters like the jays were decimated. The quail have never recovered around here (habitat loss hasn’t helped), and it took a long time for jays to come back in any numbers.

The shocking images of those birds losing their battle against insurmountable odds made a lasting impression on my husband and me, causing us to see our pleasant pastime of feeding the birds in a more serious light. Doing a good job that matters to their survival, we understood, takes more than throwing out buckets of birdseed. While not every winter produces a catastrophic blizzard, even in a mild winter, birds face challenges and the more accurately we can meet their food needs, the better their chances. Scientific studies from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and other institutions, observations from the Audubon Society and the legions of birders like Quarry Farm Board member Deb Weston continue to enlighten us about such issues as how to feed the birds with specially adapted feeders (an interesting subject for another time), what foods are most nutritious—and what we shouldn’t feed them. For example, we’ve been told that bread, fresh or dried, offers no nutrition to birds and can be deadly if it contains mold; and table scraps can be sickening.

Thanks to the studies, a lot of sound information is available now about what to feed birds throughout the year. In a recent online search I found several detailed articles about the best foods for the birds we see in our NW Ohio backyards right now, when they especially can use the help. The food considered the best for the most species is black oil sunflower seed. One writer calls it “the hamburger of the bird world.” The shells are thinner than those of striped sunflower seeds, making the nutritious, high-calorie content easier to reach. Another good high-fat bird food is suet, raw from the butcher shop or rendered and formed into blocks containing seed mixes. The blocks tend to last longer than raw suet, which can melt and become rancid more quickly in warmer temperatures.

Small finches love thistle seed (also, nyjer). Something to keep in mind when feeding thistle seed is that it can quickly become moldy and rancid when wet. A sure sign of thistle seed gone bad is that birds stop eating it. Woodpeckers, jays, nuthatches, chickadees and titmice, and to a lesser extent finches and cardinals, like peanuts—shelled, dry-roasted and unsalted. Birds will go for peanut butter (not peanut “spread”), as well, rubbed into bark, packed in pine cones, etc. Many small ground-feeding birds such as juncos, sparrows and doves like the starchy content of white proso millet. Cracked corn appeals to sparrows, blackbirds, jays, doves (and squirrels) and many other birds.

If you feed a seed mix, as I suspect most of us do, read the label to make sure it’s a good one with large amounts of the seeds mentioned here, and very little junky filler. Or you can buy the individual seeds in bulk and mix your own.

There is so much more to know about helping birds survive the extremes of winter and mounting pressures of other kinds. The rewards of making the effort are great for all of us.

—The Quarry Farm Gardener

 

Fall 2020 Newsletter

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Summer 2020 didn’t go according to plan, but then none of this year has been business-as-usual. This very warm season was active, nonetheless, with virtual visits with the Bluffton Public Library, small group outings on the trails, and new volunteers who helped clear invasive bush honeysuckle.
August 7 was the final Facebook Live segment in the “Quarry Farm Fridays with the Bluffton Public Library”. Donkeys Buddy, Lucy and Silkie were the featured stars, although S’more the Nigerian Dwarf Goat and Chablis the Llama made cameo appearances.

The Quarry Farm is currently Putnam County’s #1 birding hotspot on eBird.org, thanks to Deb Weston and David Smith. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology created eBird in 2002 as an online database of bird observations providing scientists, researchers and amateur naturalists with real-time data about bird distribution and abundance. When Deb wasn’t logging spring and summer miles on the trails to document and photograph most of the 201 species of birds currently on our hotspot list, she was leading other avian enthusiasts here. View some of Deb’s bird photos in this newsletter and on our website. You can also join Deb for birding on the trails if you register for the “October Big Day” scheduled for October 17.

Until the latter part of the 19th century, most of Putnam County was part of the Great Black Swamp in what is now the physiographic region known as the Huron-Erie Lake Plains. But the southeast portion of the county was a slightly higher area with drier prairies as well as wetlands. This area, now called the Central Lowland, is where The Quarry Farm is located. While the 50-acres probably included upland and lowland forest, floodplain and wetland, grassland may have been here, too. For this reason, the 10-acre grassland is undergoing substantial maintenance this year, thanks to Brad Brooks. Brad began by brush-hogging the area that had been overrun by invasive grass species. He is currently clearing small trees and shrubs, leaving native oaks, sycamores and ash in certain areas to provide shade and shelter to wildlife.

The August 8 Family Day included a number of stations where groups learned about trees, insects, herbs, and the farm animal sanctuary. Rick Carles, acting president of the Blanchard River Archeology Club, was on hand outside the c.1853 Red Fox Cabin to demonstrate pioneer and Native American skills. The event attracted local media who aired and printed interviews with board members and Family Day visitors.

Although we are not able to offer hands-ons projects this year, we are able to lead small groups on hikes in the nature preserve and tours of the farm animal sanctuary. If you wish to schedule an outdoor visit onsite during Fall 2020, send an email to thequarryfarm@gmail.com with a details about your group, including number of people, ages, and possible dates and times.

Summer 2020 Newsletter

The following is an excerpt from the Summer 2020 Quarry Farm Newsletter. Click on the cover to the left to download your complete copy, including scheduled events and activities for the season.

As it did for everyone, March 2020 threw The Quarry Farm for a loop, upending plans for programs, school group visits and public workshops. But we know this is nothing compared to what others have gone through. Indeed, the nature preserve has been a refuge with ample opportunity for social distancing.

Just before the State of Ohio announced stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of the coronavirus, The Quarry Farm Board of Directors was able to conduct the annual meeting on January 16. A major goal for the new decade is to develop a clearly marked trail system on the nature preserve, complete with directional markers and trailhead signage that includes a map. Board member Paul Nusbaum went to work this spring on a new trail that loops through the north eastern floodplain. This low scrub area is perfect habitat for migratory warblers. Board member Deb Weston, an avid birder, discovered the value of the new trail along with fellow birder David Smith. On one birding venture on the new path, they found themselves spinning in circles to identify all of the different species of birds singing their travelling hearts out. On that May morning, just one of the early-rise walks Deb spent here with her binoculars and eBird app, they identified and recorded 57 avian species.

“That’s the beauty of The Quarry Farm,” she said. “You don’t have to walk 20 miles to be in the different habitats and see the birds that utilize them.” During this “Stay Home” time, The Quarry Farm has provided a place for a lot of people to social distance while volunteering their time and talents to help out here. Just before local schools shuttered doors in March, Miller City-New Cleveland High School student Emma Barlage registered as The Quarry Farm’s Spring intern. From March through May, Emma spent up to 20 hours per week lopping and pulling bush honeysuckle saplings and seedlings. Findlay’s Rich and Nora Park offered to help out, too. With Emma assigned to the northwest hillsides and floodplain, the Parks’ to the uplands east of the old stone quarry, and David Seitz continuing his work in the south (see back page), we are watching native trees and wildflowers emerge along the trails almost overnight.

As noted above, this season has not gone according to plan. However, with social distancing and sanitizer at the ready, we have continued to provide tours and offer programs for individual families and small groups, by appointment. In early May, a Girl Scout troop from Leipsic came here to earn their hiking badges. As they climbed out of the Riley Creek floodplain toward the grass prairie, two large fluffy feathered great horned owl fledglings bobbed in a black walnut at eye level. In June, a Bluffton Boy Scout Troop came to hike. Hike they did, down, up and around almost every trail, including those not traversed by most visiting groups. We looked for the nesting pair of Scarlet Tanagers with no luck, but we did see a male Baltimore Oriole bobbing amongst the aquatic plants on the quarry wetland.

There is a tremendous amount of golf cart traffic in front of the farm animal sanctuary fence. Chablis the Llama sits placidly under the pines at sunset, blinking her long lashes at the onlookers. If you wish to schedule an outdoor visit onsite during Summer 2020, send an email to thequarryfarm@gmail.com.