Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Our agriculture is a mess

" A sponsor of Alabama's tough new immigration law told desperate tomato farmers Monday that he won't change the law, even though they told him that their crops are rotting in the field and they are at risk of losing their farms."  Yikes.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I should have mentioned. . .

A reporter at a local news source got word of Unicorn 1's discovery and pollination, and gave me a call right before I took off on vacation. Heh. . . my first time being interviewed, and I happened to be about to set foot in the shower. I was answering questions while wearing a towel, and trying and failing not to laugh as my naked son climbed in and out of suitcases.

In other news, I stopped by the American chestnut orchard at Idylbrook, and most of the trees have been marked with blue ribbon. Those, I suppose, are the losers in the breeding competition. I need to get out there and photograph them before they are cut down.

Friday, July 15, 2011



Unicorn One has been pollinated! See the paper bags? There are 11 of them that I could see.

The nuts under these bags will be collected when ripe, and used to grow the next generation of Restoration Chestnuts. There are somewhere between 11 and 44 pollinated female blossoms in there, each blossom could make up to three nuts. So that's as many as 132 future trees here!

These nuts are developing higher on the tree. I don't know if these nuts are viable for growing new trees.

This is the American chestnut tree growing next to the Upper Charles Trail in Milford, MA. It turns out the Friends of the Trail group had already spotted the tree, but I guess they didn't know to pass the info along to the American Chestnut Foundation.

I feel like I have done something deeply good for humanity and the environment. :) Someday the wilderness will be full of these trees again, and I have now played a small part.

Friday, July 8, 2011

My Husband is Not a Tool

This is my husband Chris, standing in the community garden that he built. The garden was a team effort, but his involvement was pivotal. And now there it is, and there he is. Awesome, both of them.

He's hot, isn't he?

Now, let me explain the division of labor in our yard. Chris does the veggies. Lots of veggies. I do most everything else: the arid lawn, the swamp, the wooded paths, the flower beds, the oak tree that needed felling, the toddler play area, the meadows. Even the pile of rocks topped with cacti.

Everything in my domain is a mess right now. I have a three-month-old baby and an older child going through potty training. The lawn looks perilously similar to the meadows at the moment. A cottonwood tree is cracked and poised to fall onto the woodland paths. Every flowerbed needs weeding, every pot and transplant needs watering.

But the poison ivy is under control.

It so happens that the number one thing that brings people to this blog is information on poison ivy removal. I don't know why - perhaps it's just that time of year? A bumper crop of Toxicodendron radicans? - but I'm getting a lot of snotty anonymous comments on one of my older poison ivy removal posts. "Dump poison on it." "Hire a professional." "Hire a professional, like me! I pull poison ivy with my bare hands! And I eat it for breakfast!"

But nothing tops this:

"Have your husband do it."

Excuse me? My husband does not come to my rescue as I retreat in some prissy fashion from dangerous things. Poison ivy is my personal enemy, and I consider its control within our yard to be my obligation. My obligation. It is a vendetta that I carry out myself, with vicious, cautious, and thorough glee. My husband is my beloved equal, with his own worthy pursuits and his own lack of time. He is not some macho tool to be pulled from a drawer to solve problems at my whim with hairy chest and grunts.

Mister anonymous, your sexism is a contemptible relic. May garden gnomes rub urushiol in the tighty whities you have no doubt left lying on the bathroom floor. Go have a beer and watch a football game, instead of wasting my time editing up your messes.

In other words, fuck off.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

More Unicorns

After having stumbled across a blooming American chestnut quite by accident, I was inspired to go hunting for more. I knew that the Nature Trail and Cranberry Bog at Patriot Place was full of chestnut regrowth, so it seemed like a logical place to search. While there were lots of chestnuts, tall ones even, along the wooded trail, they appeared to be too busy trying to reach sunlight to produce flowers. So I tried the parking lot.

And I lucked out - not one, but two flowering American chestnuts!

As a joke, I have been telling my friends how I am hunting for unicorns. So, I am giving my chestnut finds unicorn designation numbers. Let me introduce you to Unicorn 2 and Unicorn 3. (You've already met Unicorn 1.)

Unicorn 2 is a scraggly shrub, no more than 15 feet tall. She has some dead twigs, with withered leaves on some. Other dead twigs are bare.

The catkins are scattered unevenly about the tree. Most, from what I could see, only had male flowers.

More catkins. Click to see the image enlarged. I'm not seeing any female flowers here.

This one has female flowers, though.

These three female flowers were the only ones I was able to see, even when I zoomed in on my photos.

This tree is a shrubbery of suckers. But it isn't blocked by undergrowth, the ground is reasonably flat around it, and it would be easy to get a ladder here.

The main trunk measured in at 4 inches in diameter, at approximately 4.5 feet from the ground. But as you can see, there is blight damage.

Here are those dead twigs I had mentioned.

Lastly, here is the tree with each visible catkin-bearing branch marked. There are 30 marks. But I'm guessing that most of those clusters don't have female flowers.

Onward! Here is Unicorn 3, to the left of a light post. This one is maybe 25 or 30 feet tall. At first glance, it didn't appear to have flowers at all.

Male flowers.

More male flowers.

More male flowers. And overall, the catkins on this one are a lot smaller and . . . less enthusiastic?

Are these catkins just a bit more immature than the previous trees? I don't know.

The trunk is large, but I couldn't get to it to take a measurement. Nor could I see the ground. It may slope downward in there. And this looks like blight damage.

The thicket is too dense to casually walk up to this tree. I guestimate a diameter of 17 inches.

Higher up the tree.

I would mark flower clusters on this tree, but I can't even see them when I zoom into the photo. Click the image to enlarge.

Chris joked that I'm having such luck finding these unicorns because I have a virgin maiden along. Har har har.

Lastly, here is a map of the area, thanks to Google.

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Blooming Chestnut!

While I was out with a friend walking the Milford Section of the Upper Charles Trail, we stopped so that I could nurse Kaylee. While shooing away mosquitoes, I noticed that there was a lot of American chestnut regrowth in the area. And then I saw that the largest of them was covered in catkins.

Kathy Desjardin at the American Chestnut Society has confirmed from a photo I sent that this is an American Chestnut, and that it has female flowers, which means that if they can get permission in time, and if it has enough female flowers to be worth their while, they can pollinate this tree as a part of their breeding program.

The bike path starts from a parking lot off of Dilla Street, at Louisa Lake.

This is the gate leading to the path. (And a note for the folks at TACF, the path is large enough for a truck. Turning the truck around in there would be difficult, however, and the gate is locked.)

The tree is here, by a "pull off area", less than a mile down the path. The backpack on the path marks the location of the tree.

Here it is, by the end of the fence, with my son as scale reference.
The tree is ten or fifteen feet from the path, down an incline, and surrounded by raspberry brambles and other plants. (But there was no poison ivy that I could see, at least.)

I was wearing Kaylee at the time, so I couldn't safely get in there to make a measurement or assess the health of the trunk. But I could see this much from the path.

Here is a view showing a slightly lower segment of the trunk. I don't know if that vertical mark is a feature of chestnut bark, or evidence of blight.

Fiddling around with a piece of string and a ruler, I guestimate the diameter of the tree at 4.5 feet from where I think the ground is to be about 16 inches.

Kathy was curious if we could figure out from my photos how many nuts the tree is making. I couldn't see female flowers on all of the clusters of catkins. . .

. . .but this one has four.

Here is a close-up of the female flowers. Each one will become a nut.

This one has four as well.

Here is another shot of the tree.

This is the same photo, cropped in close. I have placed a purple dot at the location of every catkin cluster I could see in the photo. There are about fifty dots. So, my conservative estimate would be fifty nuts. More wishfully, two hundred. I don't know how many potential nuts would make this tree worth the TACF's time, since pollinating a tree requires a large truck and someone with a lot of patience.

This is the remains of another American chestnut tree nearby. This one also made it to a good 20 feet tall before it was killed by the blight. The live one is 25 or 30 feet. Hopefully it lasts a few productive seasons before dying.

I never thought I would see an American chestnut blooming in the wild, much less find one myself. I don't have adequate words to describe how I feel right now. I had to tell my friends that this is like seeing a unicorn.

Tomorrow I plan on going to the Cranberry Bog at Patriot Place, because there is another American chestnut there, too, that I spotted last month. It is of a similar size, and appears to be suffering from blight. I'll get some photos for TACF. Hopefully it is blooming, too.


I found an American chestnut in flower. The tree appears to my untrained eye to have female flowers. Posting this for the TACF folks. . . more photos of the tree and location coming shortly. . .

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Tall Peas and a Happy Father's Day

The Sugar Snap peas are so tall at this point that even with Gabe on my shoulders they're still peaking out over his head. They've produced a bounty of delicious peas, made all the more sweet by the memories of Gabe planting them with me. For those of you with toddlers you also know how hard it can be to get them to eat greens, and seeing Gabe demolish peas in the garden is a welcome sight indeed.

Nursery Web Spider

When I went to clean out the salad garden that had spent the winter snug in the greenhouse there were several spiders per sq. ft. It really was amazing just how much bio-diversity that 4'x8' section of garden was sporting. The biggest spider of them all was this Nursery Web Spider that really startled me.

While it isn't huge by Tarantula standards, for New England this is a monster. It was very patient with me and even stayed still when I placed a dime behind it for scale. I should say that I adore spiders and the job they do. They are very welcome in the garden and this one was released into the pea plants to keep up the good work.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

As seen from the windows. . .

See it?

Watch out for the hawks, snakey.

You aren't as hidden as you seem to think you are.

When Chris dived for the camera yelling what I though was a four-letter word. . .

. . .he was actually yelling "oh, FOX!"

One less bunny, too.

Other wildlife observed recently:

Salamanders under the log segments everywhere, even in Gabe's Garden.

A great horned owl hooting late one night.


A plague of squirrels, dining on nuts in the giant mulch mess.

A red tailed hawk eating a rabbit on a sidewalk on Martha's Vineyard.

The kik calls of a male Cooper's hawk letting his lady friend know his whereabouts.

Bunnies. In the yard. In Chris's garden. Chris is not pleased.

A black and white house cat in the yard, sauntering.

Crows, at the compost pile, as usual.

A snapping turtle at the side of the road, carried to the safe shade of poison ivy by a kindly old man who didn't lose a finger. It gave Gabe nightmares.

Blue jays in the yard. One of them screeches like a hawk.

A doe, on a drizzly day, spotted a block from home while pushing the little boy on his tricycle and carrying the baby in the mei tai. I have never seen a deer leap before. Impressive.

A chukar partridge, the size of a small turkey, seen from the window of a local coffee shop, swiftly identified by a group of regulars armed with ipads and smart phones. What is a chukar partridge doing this far from Asia, anyway? This one looked like it was waiting for a cab.