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

 

Quarry Farm Friday with Tyree the Corn Snake

This morning, a very wiggly Tyree the Corn Snake (also known as a Rat Snake) represented his beautiful reptilian kind during the “Quarry Farm Fridays with the Bluffton Public Library”. As Steve notes in the video, Tyree was bred in captivity and was placed here by someone who wished to find him a new home. Tyree does not look like a corn snake that you might find in the wild as he is what is called a “morph“, but he does eat small rodents just as his wild relatives do, making his kind popular with farmers who want to keep mice and rats out of corn cribs.

Read more about snakes and the wonderful role they play in a healthy environment by contacting the Bluffton Public Library and requesting a Quarry Farm Fridays/Summer Reading book bundle.

Duck Duck Group!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Donkey from Pandora sanctuary now taking virtual meetings (also pigs, peacocks and more)

PANDORA—Does your virtual office need a captivating key-note squeaker? The Quarry Farm Nature Preserve & Conservation Farm, Pandora, is inviting business, organizations, schools and senior living facilities to pull out a virtual chair at their video conference meetings and events for one or more of our farm animal sanctuary residents. We call this fun experience “Duck Duck Group” even though our peaceable kingdom is also home to donkeys, pigs, goats, turkeys, ducks and chickens. None of them wear pants, so the will fit right in at your next webinar.

Are your whiskers twitching? Call 419-384-7195 or email thequarryfarm@gmail.com to schedule the time and date of your “Duck Duck Group” experience. We can use any virtual meeting software you prefer. You will be asked to send us a link during the scheduling process. We will join your call and do a quick introduction of The Quarry Farm. You can ask us questions about particular animals or experience a virtual gallop through the whole herd.

The cost is $50 for a 10-minute “Duck Duck Group”. All “Duck Duck Group” proceeds support the work of The Quarry Farm by:

· Making it possible for the sanctuary animals, many of whom began their lives in fear and neglect, to reside here in peace with proper shelter.

· Providing species-specific food and bedding for sanctuary farm animals and fostered wildlife.

· Maintaining the nature preserve trails and control invasive plant species on the preserve and in the Red Fox Cabin gardens.

· Helping to provide quality educational programming in science, the arts, Ohio history and critical thinking.

· Contributing to the development and installation of interpretive signage.

The Quarry Farm Nature Preserve & Conservation Farm is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization. For more information, visit www.thequarryfarm.org and The Quarry Farm on Facebook and Instagram.

Caring for Nature’s Kidneys

The Quarry Farm newsletter for the winter season is at the printer. It’s also available for download—handily click on the cover to ‘receive’ your copy. But budget and conservation of natural resources limits that piece of paper to an 11″ x 17″ piece of paper folded to supply four printed pages. That’s the great thing about this website. We can share more stories and photos in between issues.

This newsletter contains details about engineer David Seitz’s most recent onsite project. This summer and fall, David began to engineer a system that would temper sediment loading from Cranberry Run and help the quarry wetland do its job as a natural water treatment system and wildlife habitat. His daughter Aili has been helping him bring the project to fruition. David is documenting the project via email to Board President Laura. As newsletter space is limited, here’s the rest of the story, so far.

August 15

Aili worked a bit across the creek with the string trimmer, going around the quarry. I kept going south on the west side path, with the brush cutter. Cut through about 40 yards of honeysuckle thicket, and the path is now open almost to the property line. But all the brush from the thicket is still on the path, and needs to be cleared from the path. Also a log down across the path at eye level. Can duck under, but it wants cutting with the chain saw. Will work on that on a windy day. 

September 11

I moved the dead tree which had fallen on the bank, partially blocking the path, and the outlet (gap) of the quarry. Is now much easier to walk south on the east side of the creek, and right on past the quarry. Moved a few rocks up out of the creek bed, and built up the quarry outlet a bit with them. Heavy work. Staggering through the shallow water carrying the rocks is not so good. I think moving them on the red cart would be OK. The creek bottom is mostly flat in that section, with a bit of sand. Saw my favorite invertebrate in the pool…a crawdad! Hadn’t seen one in decades. After I disturbed the sediment, he moved in to look for a snack.

September 17

Was planning to stop hauling and shovel some dirt, but I found a really nice rock, biggest of the day, in the creek bed. Couldn’t resist it! Took 20 minutes to get it on the cart, and 20 more minutes to get it to the quarry gap. And then couldn’t lift it. Finally got the cable puller and strap, to keep it from falling back on my feet. With pulling and pushing, got it up on top. For sure, need to start backing the stone wall with some dirt. Will start shoveling dirt onto the quarry side of the rocks next week. 

October 2

I came by today to work on building up the support for the rock wall. Moved about 2 cubic yards of dirt from the quarry to the bank, behind the rock wall. Basically just kept shoveling till I thought the “south quarry gap” and channel were adequately supported for a small to medium flood. Three and a half hours with the shovel, so I was a bit tired, at the end. Spent an additional half hour carrying some more rocks for the top of the bank. Definitely will help to have more rocks. 

Putting the culvert in is the second phase, in my mind, and I will try to start on it next Wednesday. I don’t think the bank is high enough yet at the south quarry gap, but there is enough dirt there now that the priority should shift to getting the fill/drain “culvert” installed in the north quarry gap. To function like a stand pipe for draining, and an inlet pipe during floods. At both times, it will be important to prevent erosion of the banks. Thus a couple feet of dirt above the culvert pipe. Am thinking an 8″ x 20 ft. piece of ABS plastic pipe.

Phase 3: Once the pipe is installed, and buried in the bank with a foot or two of quarry dirt, I can return to the south quarry gap area, and build up the bank another foot or so. And widen the bank, also. I’m hoping the pipe will help to maintain a foot or so more water in the quarry throughout the year. 

Laid a piece of 2 x 6 across the mud, where the path should probably go. Not necessary once the mud has time to dry up a bit more. Pretty sticky there today. 

October 15

Was pleased to get 15 ft. of the culvert pipe well bedded, and level. The dip in the north gap is well filled now. Covered just 10 ft. of the pipe so far, and only a little, but it looks better. Need to get another foot or more of dirt over the pipe, to keep it in place long term. But for now, the bank is 12–14 inches above the pipe inlet/outlet, so there should be much less erosion in the event of a small flood. The more dirt the better, so I’ll keep shoveling. 

The “grand canyon” is getting pretty big, but should disappear after the first big rain. Looks a bit of a construction site now. Trees and grass on the bank will be a big help holding it together, and improving the look. There’s a lot of vegetation in the dirt I’m moving. Should green up in the spring. I forgot to bring along my bug spray yesterday, but didn’t have a single bug bite during the day.

October 18

Water level was higher, but only up 2 inches from the little bit of rain. Was 19 inches from water to inlet of pipe on Monday. Today it is only 17 inches from the creek water to the bottom of the pipe. If the creek rises by 18 inches from today’s level, we’ll start filling the quarry! And if the creek rises 32″ from today’s level, it will overflow the bank and fill the quarry faster. Let’s hope for a 20″ rise in the creek level, sometime in January, and a slow and steady rise in the quarry level. 

I arrived at about 12:45, and left around 16:15 hrs. Got the pipe almost covered, and that was all I wanted to accomplish today. Enough dirt over it that it looks better, and hopefully won’t wash away on us. Leveling as I went. Could see that the water in the center of the quarry was slightly larger. And the dirt I’m taking from the “grand canyon” was a little wetter also. This is a stopping point, kind of. Stopping shoveling, anyhow. I need to bring up the cable puller, chains, and recovery straps, and move a few big rocks onto the banks at the south and north quarry gaps and in between. Once I build the banks up a bit more with large rocks, I will go back to shoveling. But I’ve a lot of work coming when I’m moving rocks, in the next session.

Last part of this job is just to raise the banks a foot or two more with dirt from the grand canyon. Will get it done by the end of the year, it it stays this dry! Won’t keep the floods from overflowing the banks, but the culvert pipe should help maintain a water level in the quarry and hopefully reduce some of the erosion. There are clumps of flood grass in the tree branches, 3 feet above the level of the banks at the north and south gaps.

November 1

Was quite nice down by the quarry today, shoveling. Bright sun and only a little breeze. I got about 4 hours in, and now have the south and north gaps adequately supported with dirt from the “grand canyon”. Not worried so much about them washing away. Or the culvert. Looks pretty good now. 

The creek water was up today, but still about 12″ below the pipe inlet. I looked in the pipe, and it was dry. The grand canyon was full up to the lip, but it didn’t stop me from digging the dirt from there. Sloppy walking though, for sure. Could see that the grand canyon water was more than a foot below the level of the creek water. And the water out in the center of the quarry was 2″ below the grand canyon water. 

While I’m happy to have the quarry water level be low at this point, when I’m finished building up the banks (Christmas?) I can set up a siphon and begin raising the water level in the quarry a bit that way.  Good to siphon in creek water when the creek is carrying less silt and stuff. A day or two after a big rain would be better. Want to build the banks up a bit more north of the north quarry gap. It is the first point where water will go over the bank now…and the dirt is free. Not fun to move, but good exercise!

November 5

I started shoveling dirt up onto the bank at the north gap. Was thinking I’d just build up to the north of the north gap, but have been thinking about the path there. To get it flat and welcoming to someone hiking around the quarry, it should be level, and at least 3 feet wide. So I just built up the bank some more with that goal in mind, higher than the rocks, and relatively flat as the south gap part. I’d say that the condition of the bank is stabilized, but “not complete”. Will keep building the bank up as time allows, to level the path there.

November 9

Didn’t quite get the corner filled. Ran out of daylight. Really want to get the path across the top of the bank finished, so it is a pleasant walk all the way around the quarry. Will figure out a rope for a handrail, attached to the trees, as it is an uneven path still, and a drop on both sides, particularly the creek side. I’d like to move a big rock onto the north side of the gaps, to support the dirt better. Have moved the easy ones, so will have to be a little more ambitious about the next rock. I will sleep well tonight.

 

A gift to be read aloud

A Field Trip for Beatrice, the very first book in what we hope will be a library of Quarry Farm stories, is now available for purchase. If you have visited the farm animal sanctuary, you have undoubtedly had the pleasure of making Beatrice’s acquaintance. You may have given her a scritch, an apple slice, and, if so, you know that the resident ‘Queen’ of this peaceable kingdom is a love whose story must be read aloud and treasured, just like Queen Bea herself.

Order yours today. Maybe your friends would like a copy, too.

24 pages, heavy paperback with full-color illustrations.

A Field Trip for Beatrice

While only she knows the exact details of Beatrice’s first six months of life, we do know that she outgrew the welcome at her first home. We also know that she loves a good apple and ‘scritch’, especially when they are delivered by visiting school children. "A Field Trip for Beatrice" is the story of one of those visits, with colorful 3-D watercolor collage illustrations of the day included in the tale.

$12.00

Never met a fake runner

Mosaic

Mosaic

Llamas can reach speeds up to 35 mph. No humans kept that pace during The Quarry Farm 3rd Annual 5K on October 6. Chablis and Mosaic, llama dams who arrived at the farm animal sanctuary the night before the run/walk, didn’t run that fast either. Instead, the matronly camelids watched people trot past on the south leg of the course (more to come about the llamas in The Quarry Farm 2018-2019 Newsletter.)

I woke before dawn on Saturday to the sound of a torrential downpour, lightning and thunder. My alarm went off a few minutes later. I pulled the covers up and over, sure that we would be cancelling the 5K. The clouds lifted briefly so I set off for my own run at 7 a.m. and got drenched for my efforts. By 8:30, blue sky peeked through gray clouds, cleared by a breeze from the west. Remembering that Gran always said to look out for wind from the east (attributed to “When the wind is in the east, ’tis neither good for man nor beast”) we set up parking signs, registration, coffee and cookies.

20181006_101438

Upstream view from Mallaham Bridge, October 6, 2018, 10:15 a.m.

The west wind remained true. By 11 a.m., 21 participants had passed the first tree in the Road 7L catalpa corridor, crossed over the historic Mallaham Bridge (and smiled for my camera), turned around at Bridenbaugh Schoolhouse and crossed the finish line in front of Red Fox Cabin.

By noon, we had coffee dregs, three lemon cookies and plenty of photos to help us remember. We had our four first finishers: Jeremy Haselman, Christine Meeker, Martha Erchenbrecher (5K Birthday Award) and (under 12) Asher Haselman. We also had three lessons for the 4th Annual 5K:

  • Keep the color run option, but don’t use the little gel paint balls. They don’t break unless you really bean your target (not a good idea.)
  • Ask Steve to make more French macaron with blueberry, lemon and raspberry curd.
  • Get the word out early (mark Saturday, October 5, 10 a.m. start on your calendar—spread the word.)

Thank you to everyone who turned out and to anyone who crosses their own finish line to raise funds in support of what we do here and in educational settings in Northwest Ohio.

 

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.