Today was Spring Family Day on The Quarry Farm. At 1 p.m., the temperature was in the 90s, sending a puddle of honeybees up the side of the north hive to cool…maybe. We are very, very new to beekeeping so I don’t know why they are washboarding backwards and forwards above the hive entrance. But I did learn this week that this inch-by-inch dance is called ”washboarding” and I would do it to cool off outside my hive if I were a honeybee.
So a little before 1 p.m. the first family arrived. The Rita the Greeter’s table and umbrella was up, ice water and cookies were in the pavilion and “staff” appeared as coolly collected as anyone could be during a Midwest heatwave. Dragonflies swanned in and out of blooming Lizard’s Tongue on the quarry wetland. Pearly Crescent Butterflies flickered orange under Buckeye tree leaves. Nemo cooled in her mud bath and Beatrice emerged from her own spa to visit with her piggy admirers.
“It’s all so peaceful,” someone said.
I smiled, making a mental note to take my new plants out of the truck as soon as possible. At 6 a.m. this morning, My Steven saw the donkeys at the front door, Nemo lounging in the flowering herb bed and several goats munching away at the blossoms. I forgot to latch the lower chain on the south gate last night. While Steve sold his bread at the Bluffton Farmer’s Market, I bought new herbs from Ann Boyd’s My Own Backyard.
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.
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?
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.
Click on the newsletter at right to download the Winter 2022 newsletter.
For a warm minute, Northwest Ohioans were treated to spectacular fall color, said to be a result of a wet spring and dry fall. A droughty spring can cause tree branches to seal themselves off from new leaves. They’ll drop before they’ve had a chance to develop an autumn foliate aurora.
The minute has all but passed. The ghost of toilet-paper streamers haunt leafless branches. Who is going to chuck those golden streamers over the tallest tree after waiting in line to buy even the roughest roll of sandpaper not six months ago?
Moth in Leaves
But there are other signs of autumn ticking off the clock. Last week’s storms rained newly-shorn corn husks. The cottonwoods along Cranberry Run are decorated with turkey vultures. They spread their six-foot wingspans and lift off for sunnier skies when I try to take a photo. Winter birds skitter up and down bare trees and Eastern Fox Squirrels fatten themselves on Osage Oranges. Moths blend with browning leaves on the woodland floor. The latter doesn’t bode well for wild winter stores since the green fruits are the rodents’ least favorite food source. Bring forth your tired, your weary, your fallen acorns because the wild ones are going to need them.
There is running water in Cranberry Run. After last week’s rain, small puddles became a smooth pool of stained glass in shades of leaf-litter orange, red and yellow. After work, I walked down to where my grandpa once forded the stream and was sad to see that the stream wasn’t flowing. But it was, trickling over the most elevated riffle. What I didn’t realize was that Riley Creek was rising with heavy rains from the south, so fast that the Run’s current was flowing upstream.
Everything is flowing backwards these days. We can’t civilly agree (or disagree) on what to display in our yards, on our bumpers, or what to wear (or not.) What we can agree on is that cold air makes wearing a face mask easier. As Saturday evening’s snow fell fast and thick enough to leave a visible dusting, I didn’t mind so much when Quinn the Fox stashed her toys under my blanketed body, effectively tucking me in for a chilly night.
(Thanks to Deb Weston for sharing her photos. Her subjects cooperated. Maybe it’s because she is such an avid birder here on The Quarry Farm that she’s become one of the flock.)
The headline of this post is a slogan from some years ago. The toymaker Gund used it to promote sales of their plush animals. It’s borrowed to encourage Easter bunnies to place toy rabbits, chicks and ducklings in baskets this Spring and to discourage everyone from giving live animals as gifts.
Brownie is our resident spotlight in the Spring 2020 Quarry Farm Newsletter which you may download by clicking on the cover to the right. Brownie rules a small flock of Rouen ducks in The Quarry Farm farm animal sanctuary. This expressive lady even took under her gentle (but firm) wing a young Canada Goose placed here for release by Nature’s Nursery. The gosling, creatively known here as “Baby Goose,” is so enamored of Brownie that she sleeps with her in the hen house at night, even though Baby Goose is now fully-feathered and can fly.
Brownie was surrendered to us by someone who acquired her as a duckling. Although Rouens look very much like large Mallards, Rouens are a heavyweight breed of domesticated duck that originated in France sometime before the 19th century. While Mallards are wild, lightweight flyers, Rouens weigh between 9 and 10 pounds and can only fly short distances. Brownie prefers to waddle-march around the sanctuary, sliding nimbly under the paddock gates to attend to whatever piques her considerable interest.
We spotlight Brownie here not only for her charming personality but as a reminder to refrain from purchasing live rabbits, chicks and ducklings as Easter gifts in April. Each year, Easter pets die cruelly from neglect or mistreatment or are surrendered to animal shelters that receive a surge of unwanteds. These animals are given up after owners lose interest or become unable to care for them. Others that are not taken to shelters are “set free” into the wild where they have no knowledge or experience at foraging or evading predators. Death is inevitable. Those that may survive become part of feral colonies of domestic and hybrid birds that cause problems for native wildlife.
Statistics indicate that within the first weeks after the holiday, 30 percent of all Easter pets die, and another 60 percent to 70 percent are abandoned or turned in to shelters. Instead of a Brownie, fill your Easter basket with a fuzzy toy and gelatin-free jelly beans.