Monday, November 30, 2009

Landscape Corridors

" . . .the benefits of landscape corridors, the strips of habitat that connect isolated patches of habitat, extend well beyond those borders."

Beneficial Plant 'Spillover' Effect Seen From Landscape Corridors: article here.

And an amazing corridor success story here.

"It took a while for people to hear our answer: No, we do not want to preserve that ugly mess we want to restore it to something beautiful. We want to restore native vegetation to those cut and fill slopes on the Coal Canyon side of the freeway, and to the stables and the raceway. We want to rip the pavement and lighting out of this underpass. Then we want to take Coal Canyon out of its concrete tomb and put at least half of its flow back into that underpass. We don’t want to preserve that vehicle underpass we want to transform it into a waterway and an underpass for animals, plants, and people.

"The restoration is really the most exciting part of this project. So often conservationists in California spend their lives fighting one dismal project after another, trying to slow the rate at which things get worse. But this project is different. It is not working AGAINST something bad it is working FOR something good. Restoring a functional linkage for all plants and animals in what is now a degraded area is a powerful and positive thing to do. I am not aware of any other effort to restore a biological corridor with this level of regional importance to so many species. This effort will set a global precedent. Conservation-minded citizens and public servants around the world will soon be able to look at Coal Canyon as an inspiring example of how an ecological mistake was corrected through thoughtful public action. "

They did it! They bought up 600-plus acres and transformed the underpass for the use of migrating animals.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Collecting Violet Seeds

I love violets. Maybe someday I will learn how to tell one type from another. For now, I assume that they are all native plants, and I give them names like "the violets that grow under my poison sumac" and "the violets that grow in the muddy lawn at the school down the street".

The violets in Gabe's Garden, pictured above, are "the violets from Marna's Driveway", and they are the first violets that I have been able to watch for an entire growing season. Now, finally, I have an answer to the question "why do I never see a dead violet blossom?" It seems that when the flower is ready to make seeds, it bends over and hides its head in (or very near) the dirt. Obsessive gardeners take note: this variety of flower saves you the trouble of dead-heading!

Months later, the little football-shaped pod goes from green to greenish yellow, and once again stands up straight above the foliage. Then, when it dries, the pod pops open in three segments, revealing a couple dozen round seeds. Further drying causes the pod segments to constrict a little further, which tiddlywinks the seeds airborne. (At any rate that is what I have concluded after emptying some of the seed pods into my lawn. Pinch them gently in just the right spot and the seeds go flying rather forcefully.)

I seem to have missed seed-season for the "poison sumac" violets and "the one lonely violet under the maple tree out back", but I nabbed a few remaining pods from the "muddy lawn" violets, and lots from the violets in Gabe's Garden. The paper-bag method seems to have worked: the green pods left in a bag have dried and popped open nicely. Now I just have to see if they germinate. Does anyone out there know if these seeds need exposure to winter weather to germinate? If not, I would like to start some of these indoors over the winter. Already dreaming of Spring, I lust for violets.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


I love my husband: he takes photos for me when I'm too busy!

Unidentified Flying Object. . .

I looked out last week just in time to see the frost on Gabe's Garden lit up by the rising sun.

But what is that speck over the far clump of grass? Look closely. . .

It appears that a male cardinal was flying past just as I pressed the button!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Poetry of Winter Light

The shifting light seduced me out into the wetland today.

I am not good enough with a camera to adequately show what I see when I look at these shifting patches of sunlight.

Artist Andy Goldsworthy calls the darkness of holes "the fire of the earth". I have to agree. The first time I approached this glaring note of black, I was afraid there was an animal watching me from the darkness. Once the mud freezes, this must be grand central station for creatures seeking shelter in an otherwise flat and exposed area.

It's a tipped, but still living tree that created this cave, and the shock of its shadows contrasts in such a fascinating way with the subtle purples and golds of the woods, the soft greens of the distant evergreens, and the blue of the sky. If I ever pick up a paintbrush again, I will try, again, to capture those subtle winter colors.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Farming and Jellyfish

One of these days I'll do a real post again, I promise!

But for now, here is an inintended consequence of modern agriculture: the runoff coupled with rising sea temperatures creates ideal habitat for jellyfish. We are going to have to start eating these things soon if we continue to deplete our farmland and fail to conserve the ocean's fish.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I lied.

Here I am, again, using the blog as a scrapbook. Sorry! But this one is uplifting, I promise!

In Lynn, Massachusetts, the Food Project has started up yet another urban farm plot. If you follow the link, it will take you to an amazing series of super-wide-angle photos that document the transition of urban field to farm. I have been curious what methods they have used to avoid growing plants in lead-laced soil. In Lynn, they laid down plastic over the entire plot and then dumped alternating rows of soil and mulch on top of that.

Okay okay, just one more. . .

I really need to start posting on the backlog of photos from my own yard. But I can't help it. . . just one more article. . .

"We have shown that while genetic engineering has provided a solution to the problem of viral diseases, there are also these unintended consequences in terms of additional susceptibility to other diseases."

Creating new varieties of plants doesn't make a perfect plant? Shocking.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Death by Deforestation

"The Maya are often depicted as people who lived in complete harmony with their environment,' says PhD student Robert Griffin. "But like many other cultures before and after them, they ended up deforesting and destroying their landscape in efforts to eke out a living in hard times."

"We modeled the worst and best case scenarios: 100 percent deforestation in the Maya area and no deforestation," says Sever. "The results were eye opening. Loss of all the trees caused a 3-5 degree rise in temperature and a 20-30 percent decrease in rainfall."

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Failings of Herbicides

As expected, the weeds are adapting to Monsanto's herbicides, which is forcing a return to more organic forms of agriculture:

"The development of herbicide-tolerant crops has played a role in the growth of megafarms of 10,000 plus acres. That amount of land can’t be farmed unless you’re doing it from atop a sprayer and a combine. But dealing with pig weed now involves putting workers out in the fields to pull weeds by hands—pig weed is sturdy enough to “stop a combine in its track” according to the ABC News report. Handweeding isn’t feasible for these massive farms, which is why thousands of acres of land devoted to commodity crops are being abandoned in the face of the superweed onslaught.

"The Rodale article observes that mechanical cultivators—once considered an old-fashioned and outmoded approach to weed control—are making a comeback in the South as “steel in the field” becomes important again."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Perennial Wheat Project on NPR

Projects like this one fill me with hope!

"It's taken DeHaan years and years, but as we look around the greenhouse today, we see the result of his work: hundreds of plants, sitting on waist-high benches, that are a cross between wheat and grasses that grow year-round.

"DeHaan will soon plant them in the fields. He hopes that maybe — just maybe — up will sprout a wheat plant that produces lots of grain and actually tastes something like wheat, and has the hardiness of a native prairie grass."

Another little article here points out another potential bonus of perennial wheat:

"Perennial wheat could potentially offer farmers increased flexibility where the crop can be grazed and then harvested. "

Monday, November 2, 2009

GMO Crops Versus Organic

Susan Harris over at Garden Rant ended her post yesterday with the question "how about an answer to that tricky question about whether traditional organic farming methods can feed our overpopulated world?"

My take on GMO crops is not that GMO crops have anything inherently wrong with them. It is the lack of testing of these products that scares me. Monsanto actively squelches testing of its products. Also, varieties of plants that are created to be doused in more pesticides rather than less – yuck. And there’s the horrifying trend towards GMO-makers suing organic farms to death when the GMO pollen contaminates the organic crops. While genetic modification could be used to improve the world’s food supply safely, it is instead being used to earn its makers as much money as possible, while not addressing long-term problems.

There are also issues not just with GMO crops, but with conventional agricultural practices in general: the land has been so energetically plowed, and plowed, and plowed again, that there is no longer significant worm, insect, or fungal life in the soil. Monoculture farms displace and kill larger life-forms. Erosion is a huge problem, both for the farm’s productivity and through pollution of water downstream. And in conventional practices, the depleted nutrients in the soil are replaced with additives of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, but lesser nutrients aren’t added back to the soil, and therefore don’t end up in our food.

Due to these problems, our current agricultural model is unsustainable. If modern agriculture (GMO companies included) don’t step up to address these problems, then organic farming will be the only option left.