My Blog Week: July 18 to July 24
A Word on the Week
The Habitat Island
This was a watershed week…though not in the sense the western states would like.
East of the Mississippi we’ve seen repeated days of smoke haze blotting the sky, a good reminder that there’s basically one issue these days, vital to everyone, and even mask and vaccine fusses pale in its shadow. On this side of the country, we’re fortunate to be getting the lighter, and not the heavier lesson. How nice if instead of rocket ships, huge sums of money would come down from on high. Money, that is, dedicated to restoring habitat, and natural rainfall patterns, before it’s too late.
The idea of backyard gardening has always been to collect precious things, locate them outdoors, and get mad at discovering this and that depredation. Even organic gardeners are taught to kill…just with sulphur and copper, bacteria and nematodes. Natural things. Our new view has to be that we are privileged to have the stewardship of our little patch, and that like good soldiers, we can rally to nature’s distress call. That means loving and respecting all signs of life, including insects and spots.
Many of us put out food for birds (encouragingly, the latest disease may have come via cicada, and may soon pass, so bird lovers can do their thing again). And while we look at ordinary species visiting our yards, we wish for something rarer. But migrants…orioles, cuckoos, warblers, tanagers, are insect eaters. They won’t expend the energy to leave the forest, where they have food to give their nestlings, just to perch in your yard, where few host trees are growing.
It’s a blind spot homeowners have. In fact, we cut trees and shrubs out of our yards all the time, when they get too big, or infested, or we decide we don’t like them. But we don’t plant hickories, oaks, buckeyes, basswoods, native willows, as yard trees. We think of forest trees as growing too large, dropping too many nuts and fruits, not being prettily ornamental. We don’t think of succession planting with large trees. But for the sake of habitat, we should—if a tree overgrows your yard, you can take it out, let a younger one supply the same food and shelter.
Still, you have decades to enjoy any tree before it could become troublesome, and trees give a lot to nature even when they’re small. As roughly illustrated above, the habitat island is a tiny slice of forest we can assemble on our own property. A hundred houses, a thousand houses, with habitat islands, can create a loosely organized continual forest where wildlife can move from patch to patch. That’s better for the preservation of gene pools, since populations don’t have to be isolated to a few places, with vast amounts of suburbia in between.
The habitat island should have three native canopy trees, one of which should be evergreen (White Pine, for pines, is the chief eastern US choice); three understory trees, which could be redbud (Cercis canadensis), dogwood (Cornus florida), Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), persimmon, pawpaw, sassafras, and plenty of others. Then shrubs, broadleaf evergreens, such as mountain laurel and American holly, or Lepidoptera hosts, spicebush and viburnum. Hazelnuts, blueberries, and blackberries are good for wildlife, and fun for humans too.
The island also needs rocks and decaying logs, essential to a forest ecosystem. At the fringes of your island, you can plant native perennials: coneflowers, milkweeds, monardas, asters, trilliums, ferns, grasses… Outside the island (or the two or three islands, if you have a large property), plant your garden with anything you like, daylilies, weigelas, etc.—or go all native. Skip mowing, and surround the island area with paths. In a few years you’ll have insects, gastropods, arthropods…with a little luck, reptiles and amphibians, and small mammals, even if chiefly squirrels, chipmunks, and moles.
Then you may get migrant birds, owls, and hawks, butterflies and fancy moths, etc., etc.
On Monday, Hammersmith, Vic’s services coopted by a stranger. Wednesday, part one of the “The Bog”, a story of finding value in what can be given. Also Wednesday, The Sword Decides!, Andreas on a hunt to cover his pursuit of Giovanna. Thursday, Shine!, Annie and Patrice reunited. Friday, a poem, “Keep his distance”. Saturday, part two of the “The Bog”, with Laurel and her sister about to set up camp.
Images on my posts often have a link to related information (click first image), sometimes serious, sometimes whimsical, sometimes in answer to a direct reference. Since people can be leery about links, I include them here: what they are, what sites they point to.
My Blog Week: July 18 to July 24