Seeking Native Plants: It Just Got Easier

When I moved to my new home two years ago, I recognized some of the plants in the yard. Out back, wild grape and Virginia Creeper climbed the trees in the small wooded area. A familiar green carpet of Periwinkle spread out under the biggest trees. Out front, my childhood friend, Lily of the Valley, filled every nook and cranny not taken up by the Hydrangea and ferns. But my ability to memorize has never been great. Even the identity of the scrawny tree that just started blooming this week at the border of the lawn might have eluded me except for a tool friends recommended – SEEK by the folks at iNaturalist.

I downloaded this free ID app on my phone April 22nd, and since then I have used it to identify twenty-two plants in my yard. Some I knew, but got more information about, like the Periwinkle, which is Lesser Periwinkle, Vinca Minor. Some I’ve probably seen for years but never sorted out just what they were, like the Cukooflower, Cardamine pratensis. Some I might never have identified using my guide books, like Hedwig’s Fringeleaf Moss, Hedwigia ciliate.

I have a goal to maximize the number of native plants in my yard, and SEEK is a big help with that project: using the app, I can quickly find out whether the plant is a native or not. Here’s a list of natives I’ve been able to identify so far: Chokecherry, Prunus virginiana; Wild Strawberry, Fragaria vesca; Common Blue Violet, Viola sororia; Green False Hellebore, Veratrum viride (photo); Hedwig’s Fringeleaf Moss, Hedwigia ciliate.

SEEK has great pedigree: iNaturalist is a joint Initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society. The app is a great addition to my collection of go-to guides, but it hasn’t replaced my books. Every time I pick up a guide book, I wind up browsing past my starting point and I always learn something I wasn’t expecting – that’s a pleasure I won’t abandon.

It is great, though, to get a quick possible ID with SEEK. I’m really happy to have discovered this tool, and I’m equally glad to pass this recommendation on to you! In case you missed it, here is the link again: SEEK ID Tool

Reuse before you Recycle . . . the Salad Clamshell

How to reuse Salad Green Clamshells
Salad Green Clamshells – ready for the next job!

When the local salad greens disappear for the winter, I resort to salad-in-a-clamshell. The plastic clamshell containers do a great job of transporting fresh greens, but . . . then what? I started saving them in the hope I’d think of some use for them before I tossed them into the recycle bin. And, like so many other odds and ends that have finished one job but seem too useful to toss, these clear boxes found a new use. This time there was more than the usual amount of serendipity involved.

I happened to store my clam stash near the last of my old, plastic seedling trays and the one good dome lid that had survived along with them. In a side-by-side comparison, the similarities between the clam shells and the tray with its dome were clear in more ways than one: the clam shells were obviously meant for a second career as lidded seed trays. It seemed too much to hope that the seed starting cells would be a good fit, but see for yourself –

Two 6-cell packs fit nicely

While I’m waiting for the seeds to germinate, I’m using the deep end of the clamshell as the base but when the seedlings get started, I’ll turn the clamshell upside down so I have a domed lid.

I know I’m pushing the season a little, and I could wind up with leggy tomatoes. That will be okay: I go by the theory that a leggy tomato plant can be “trenched in” by planting the stem at an angle. Prepare a planting hole of the usual depth for the size of the seedling, then make a shallow trench running from the planting hole. Strip the leaves off the part of the long stem that will be buried, place the seedling in the hole and lay that stripped stem down in the trench. Cover with dirt and guide the unburied end to keep its head off the ground. I usually just mound up some dirt to give the top of the stem the general idea, and in a few days the sideways plant starts to head in the right direction. Water as usual. My mom taught me to fill the planting hole with water before placing the transplant in, and that’s the method I still use. The tomato plants I’ve grown using this method set roots all along the buried stem and grow vigorously.

Thanks for this tip to bury part of the tomato seedling stem go posthumously to Anstace and Larry Esmonde-White, authors of Vegetables from a A Country Garden and co-hosts of the long-running and wonderful show From A Country Garden that was sponsored by WPBS out of Watertown, N.Y. The authors transplanted their knowledge of Irish gardens to Canada and a great guide for northern gardens is the happy result.

I loved their show and purchased my copy of the book in 1993 – in their section on tomatoes they recommend setting transplants at a 45 degree angle with 1/2 – 2/3 of the stem underground. If your plants are leggy, as mine will probably be, you can plant 3/4 of the stem underground.

Next project – figure out where I’m going to find enough sun for tomatoes in my wonderfully shady yard!

Welcome to Spring!

Crocuses coming up through the fallen leaves

Last year at this time I was getting in early peas in the vegetable garden behind our rented house. Over the summer, we found a house of our own and moved in at the end of July. From that day on, I’ve gotten to know what late summer, fall, and winter can be like in this new yard: wild grape and Virginia Creeper reaching into the trees in the small stretch of brush and trees along the back of the yard, the mid-sized maple tree shading much of the narrow backyard and then turning a golden hue that seems to be illuminated from within. When that tree rained down its leaves, I set up a temporary leaf bin with the only length of fencing I could find at the hardware store and raked up pile after pile of leaves. Where I didn’t rake, the leaves settled into a thick layer.

Early this week, I got a glimpse of color among those unraked leaves and went to find out what it could be. A lovely line of crocuses had made its way to the open air. I freed the few that hadn’t quite broken through, but resisted the temptation to peel back more leaves and hurry any other spring bulbs along. We’ve had unusually warm weather, but the forecast was calling for nights below freezing. Crocuses are tough, but I’ll leave them insulated from the swings in temperature of a North Country spring for a while longer. The arrival of these few has been a balm to my spirit – I can wait to discover the full extent of the spring flowers that call this new yard “home.”

Goldenrod Feast

DSC_0374 painted lady not cropped

My backfield takes on a yellow hue when the Goldenrod comes into bloom, and having learned to blame the correct pollen  – ragweed – for my hay fever, I am unreserved in my welcome of it. Many others are unreserved as well. The yellow that catches my eye catches the attention of many species, and while I do the Goldenrod the good of simply leaving it alone, others do it the good of flying in for a meal and flying out with pollen they’ll spread to other Goldenrod plants.

On a sunny September day, Painted Lady Butterflies, bees, and wasps showed up to feast on the golden plumes.

Of Raspberries and Bees

DSC_0563 Bee raspberry nice for web

These hot September days are ripening the fall-bearing raspberries. Their canes arch and nod, and many clusters of fruit are partially hidden by leaves. When I’m out picking berries, I have often held a cane at its tip to lift it up for a look underneath – checking for fruit and for bees that might be feeding there. The berry patch has been especially active with bees these sunny days, and I’ve been picking raspberries early in the morning to keep out of the bees’ way.

Today I got a late start: the sun was well up, and the bees were in full swing of feeding. I moved slowly as I picked, and often stopped to photograph the insects I saw. That unhurriedness gave me time to observe where the bees actually do settle on the plants. I learned that our foraging territories don’t overlap at all – they are after a far different harvest. I am looking for the ripest raspberries, they are only interested in the earliest stages of that fruit, just when the blossom has started to turn in on itself in preparation of creating a berry. In the company of these bees, a few hours later in the day makes no difference: there is nothing to fear.

Early morning raspberry harvest

I lifted a nodding cane of raspberry to check for fruit, and found as well a crab spider crouched there, its light-green, almost translucent coloring a perfect complement to the red of the berries. The spider drew back into the berry, and I let the cane nod back down.

taken october 4 50 degrees 076spider eyes

Last year, to the week, I didn’t see the spider until I had the fruit inside. I took her photograph and released her back into the berry patch.

Dahlias’ Gift

DSC_0301At a local fund-raising event this summer, people lined up with their dogs in the parking lot outside the sports arena for a communal walk. Inside the arena, local craft folks and fund-raising tables were set up. From one long table of plants I selected three dahlia tubers from their cardboard box. They were, as is the way of dahlias, contorted beings that held no outwardly sign of what will come. Planted, the dahlias grew to over five feet in height. There, they unfurled blossom upon blossom. I will return their gift and dig them up to shelter them for another season.

First Frost

First Frost Grapes

Last night’s light frost held no danger for the gardens; even the dahlias took no notice. By 7:30 in the morning it was only slight water dripping off the roof gutters into the rain barrel, and a puddle of fragile light the shape of the shadow cast by a berm on the far side of the barn. The fall-bearing raspberries, just thinking of coming into ripeness, were untouched, and the grapes offered no signs that they had noticed the chill that in the house had us bringing out blankets and talking about which day we’ll finally turn the heat back on.