I hope you are enjoying the final days of spring! The weather has been fantastic, providing plenty of opportunities to check up on things outside.
I recently biked past Plymouth’s downtown pollinator garden, the brainchild of the Marshall County Soil & Water office. It’s looking very colorful!
Sr. Mary and I have been keeping an eye out for this nesting Killdeer, which nests on gravel and bare ground. Since she set up shop, this gravel drive has been temporarily closed to allow for social distancing! 🙂 Good thing we are used to that now. They have four eggs they’ve been guarding, all throughout this extreme sun and heat. That’s some dedication.
Ancilla College Director of Library Services, Cassaundra Bash wrote about the Unexpected Cycnia in a guest post back in 2018, and I saw them for the first time about a week later. I don’t recall if I spotted them last year, but they are back! I saw 6 caterpillars on this Butterfly Weed plant, which is a native milkweed species. They look pretty similar to the orange blooms of the plant.
Dodder is back! Dodder is ” an annual seed-bearing parasitic vine in the dodder family… Its thin, thread-like, yellow or orange stems grow rapidly entwining and covering their host plants.” We saw it on this hill previously, so apparently it’s happy. It’s an interesting plant indeed. Turns out they can even “sniff” out their prey and direct their growth towards their preferred host!
I went to check on the status of our 2018 solar installation, where the pollinator mix between the panels is in its 2nd year of growth.
A Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly nectars on a coreopsis flower growing between the panels.
While I was checking things out, a Song Sparrow perched on the cattle-excluding fence and sang a song:
Ahhhh… where was I? Oh yes! The point of this post.
Last week and this, Kurt and I have been teaming up to tackle some of our worst invasive species, the shrubs Bush Honeysuckle and Autumn Olive, and trees like Tree of Heaven and White Mulberry. As a reminder, the majority of non-native species are rather harmless. We only categorized a species as “invasive” if it is both 1) not native, and 2) causes ecological and/or environmental harm. Dandelions, for example, aren’t native, but they don’t cause ecological or environmental harm, so they aren’t invasive and no ecologist bothers messing with them (in fact, the early spring pollen is kind of nice for pollinators).
Invasive shrubs and trees are a serious threat to the ecological health of Indiana forests, savannas, and prairies. Left unchecked, they can greatly alter the nutrients and light available at the ground level. There are not yet enough pathogens and insects adapted to these species to control their populations, like happens with native species.
See if you can figure out our process:
We recently got a GreenWorks electric chainsaw. It is mostly a great improvement over the gas variety, for three reasons: 1) much less vibration (stress on hands/arms), 2) so much less noise! a team of two can actually communicate with each other! Between cuts you can hear the sounds of the woods, 3) no emissions! no more huffing clouds of carbon monoxide.
The battery life was sufficient for us to work for ~90 minutes. At that point, we should probably take a break anyway. Swap out a battery and you’re back at it. There are some differences with how the torque is applied with electric power vs gasoline, but by and large it’s a great one-to-one replacement for a standard chainsaw. One caution is that the lack of noise and stench may cause the 2nd person to become a little complacent, one has to mentally maintain vigilance and give the sawyer plenty of space, even if the saw isn’t “running.”
Immediately after the cut, the 2nd person dabs the stump with an herbicide stick applicator. We “The Makatu”, designed and sold by The Prairie Enthusiasts of Wisconsin. What a great tool! You can tell that this is field-tested and went through a couple re-designs. It is basically a long tube with a sponge on the bottom and a valve to turn on/off the flow of chemical.
There are several reasons I like this method vs. other approaches, such as spraying leaves with a mist of herbicide (foliar application). This is a lot cleaner and targeted, with essentially no “oversprayer” that occurs to some extent even with careful foliar applications. The shrubs are immediately cut down, so you can see and celebrate your progress, physically. The leaves wilt and more sunlight is immediately available to native species underneath. There is also a little more flexibility in terms of when this method can be used.
If the tree is too large to be safely felled, we will instead girdle it with a continuous cut around the outside, cutting through the living rings on the outside edge, interrupting the flow of nutrients. The Makatu isn’t exactly designed to apply herbicide for this cut, but I managed to sneak get some herbicide into the cut to increase the odds that this Tree of Heaven is eliminated.
But sometimes there is ample space to fell a tree safely. It immediately opens up the canopy for native species. And it’s oddly satisfying…
We try to learn and adapt as we go. We saw that this particular Tree of Heaven was very tall, but struggling. The bark appeared to have some sort of fungus or pathogen on it. It was unclear whether the tree died from other causes, or whether this was a cause. We figured that if it was a pathogen, we want it around! So we left this one be.
We also run into some great stuff in the woods. This chick didn’t seem to have a single feather and must have just hatched. An American Robin, maybe?
Kurt and I continued the woody removal alongside the ditch that runs through the property, where bush honeysuckle and oriental bittersweet were colonizing. It was getting pretty thick!
Apologies if the photos are all topsy-turvy. They downloaded fine on my desktop, but when I upload them into the blog, many (but not all) are turned sideways. Would you mind leaving a note saying whether the photos are right side up, and what device you are reading on? Thanks.