Friday, October 31, 2008

Osage Orange

Click on the picture to enlarge for a better look at the Osage oranges still hanging in the tree. For even better pictures check out this Chicago area blogger .

This native north american tree is still fairly common in our area. Unique enough to have been allowed to go on growing in many areas but messy enough to keep todays homeowners from planting anew it is fairly well known in these parts.

I have read that this tree grew originally only in Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
First native americans then later farmers spread the osage orange tree across the plains states. The wood is very hard and rot resistant making it useful for bows,utensils,tools and other wooden items. The farmer grew hedges of osage orange that were thick and tall with thorns which kept in livestock. Then found further use for the trees wood as fence posts that seemed to last forever when barbed wired took over as fencing and the hedges were cut down.

Some wildlife, like squirrels, find the seed of osage orange quite tasty.The seeds are said to be edible by humans as well but are hard to extract.The pulp and other parts are not to be eaten.

For more information...
Selecting Trees For Your Home UIUC
Osage Orange, Hedgeapple/Maclura pomifera

Missouri Conservationist Osage
Osage orange is the best native wood for fence posts. It is one of the heaviest woods in North America and rates at the top for resistance to weathering. Anti-fungal and anti-oxidant compounds that protect the wood from decay have been identified in the heartwood. The outer sapwood is thin, so even small-diameter posts have a high proportion of heartwood. Osage orange posts set 50 years ago are still standing strong.

And lots of pictures...
Osage Orange

The tree's native range was a small area in western Arkansas, southern Oklahoma and parts of east Texas. But early explorers, like Marquette and Joliet, did find the trees growing near Osage Indian villages. And it was from the branch wood of the Osage orange tree that the Indians made their highly prized bows.

How To Build A Bow .

Osage Orange/Maclura pomifera ...

Dioecious - having unisexual reproductive units with male and female plants occurring on different individuals;
they are either gynoecious (female plants) or androecious (male plants).

Female plants that occur without male plants near, produce seedless fruits.
Males do not produce fruit only pollen.

Maclura pomifera/Osage Orange is wind pollinated.

Osage Orange-form in winter

Todays post inspired by Defining Your Home Garden

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bats In The Garden.

Mormoopidae: Pteronotus parnellii (Mustached bat), Brazil. Photo by L. H. Emmons. Smithsonian Encyclopedia Bat Facts

Garden Rant is a daily read around here. If the days offering is of particular interest then I will be back and forth often, following the conversation. Sadly my own favorites do not always get enough play. So today I thought I would hijack the subject.

While I do not garden to attract bats they are welcome. Gardening with wildlife in mind will encourage any local bat population. Bats need food (mostly insects), water (that pond or bird bath) and a safe undisturbed home for resting and reproducing.

Although some species of bats are endangered by loss of roosting space or open accessible water, bats in general are not rare even in urban areas. Cities are full of crevices, hollows and perches where bats may creep in or hang from, hidden away for the daylight hours. You might find a single bat or quite a few if there is room. Bat colonies tend to grow as signs showing inhabitants have been successful over time, draw more bats to investigate (hence the advise to place guano beneath your manmade bat house).
Some bats live in hollow old trees while others make do with loose bark peeling away from dead branches or trees that tend to shed old bark. An endangered Indiana bat (sometimes found locally in Chicago area) camouflaged so well it was comfortable just hanging onto the bark quite exposed. Other bat species do not overwinter in cold climates but migrate futher south where food is plentiful during winter. During their warm weather stay in the north the canopy of a tall densely branched tree can be home enough.
The exterior of a building will often have a multitude of hiding places for a young inquisitive bat. Behind an upper story shutter,loose siding, space just a 1/2 inch wide along a roof edge all and more will provide a warm place for a tired bat to get cozy for at least a day. Hopefully the bat will not be able to enter the dwelling proper to find space in the attic. That is not good for the homeowner or the bats. Window screen placed over all entrances to the attic will exclude bats and keep hibernating species from entering.

Any garden will have plenty of insects . A light left on at dusk will show just how many insects there are and provide a buffet area for bat residents. A Rose of Sharon in my garden draws large night moths right outside one bedroom window. At night I have been known to watch for a dark shape quickly passing. It would be very cool to see a bat catch dinner. Maybe we should look into Bat Detectors .

All bats need an accessible water source but especially lactating mothers. Bats drink by flying low over water and scooping up mouthfuls of water as they pass. Leaving an open flyway without dense planting will help as even bats need space to lift high again. An interesting article in National Wildlife
discussed drowning bats in water tanks for domestic animals and how to solve the problem.

Bats are part of a healthy ecosystem and we can learn to live with them, even in a garden.

For your reading pleasure...

drinking water
When bats or birds fall into tanks, they splash along the edges searching for a way out. If the water level is even a few inches below the rim, the animals are likely to find escape impossible. How many bats are killed in stock tanks yearly is unknown. However, the loss is so high, Tuttle says, that biologists have recommended skimming stock tanks for bat skulls to determine which species occur in an area.
To reduce this threat BCI, in partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, last year launched a program for putting escape ramps into troughs and storage tanks. A variety of ramps can be made out of expanded metal, which looks like heavy steel mesh. To be effective, a ramp must have side skirts that touch the inner wall of the tank. Ramps that merely rise from the water like a bridge, with no skirts, do not help, as bats and other animals simply pass under them. The side skirts provide animals with an escape route that they meet as they clamber along the tank edge. They can climb up the skirt and out of the water.
For details on making wildlife escape ramps for water tanks, visit Batcon.

Directionality of drinking passes by bats at water holes: is there cooperation?

These are the bats found in Illinois,
FE means federally endangered,
SE means state endangered.
You should check with a local resource to see which bats could be found in your area.
All bats are protected.

This list is from the Illinois Natural History Survey web site, mammals page: UIUC

Order Chiroptera: BatsFamily Vespertilionidae: Vespertilionid bats
Myotis lucifugus (Le Conte, 1831) - Little brown bat
Myotis sodalis Miller & G.M. Allen, 1928 - Indiana bat FE
Myotis austroriparius (Rhoads, 1897) - Southeastern myotis SE
Myotis grisescens A.H. Howell, 1909 - Gray bat FE
Myotis septentrionalis (Troussart, 1897) - northern long-eared bat
Lasionycteris noctivagans (Le Conte, 1831) - Silver-haired bat
Pipistrellus subflavus (F. Cuvier, 1832) - Eastern pipistrelle
Eptesicus fuscus (Beauvois, 1796) - Big brown bat
Lasiurus borealis (Müller, 1776) - Red bat
Lasiurus cinereus (Beauvois, 1796) - Hoary bat
Nycticeius humeralis (Rafinesque, 1818) - Evening bat
Plecotus rafinesquii Lesson, 1827 - Rafinesque's big-eared

NPR bat story beating the odds.

Bat House Success Tips


Listing of Issues and Articles at Bat Conservation International website concerning bat house research...

Successful Bat Houses Shed Light On Bat Needs. The Bat House Researcher. Vol 1, No. 1:1-2.
Five houses in Maryland, Wisconsin, and New York that received sun for 8 to 12 or more hours daily were all occupied. Three of these were either painted dark or were covered with tar paper. The two that were left a natural wood color received 12 or more hours of sun. Twenty-two bat houses in other northern locations received less than four hours of daily sun, and none of them were occupied, clearly confirming the vital role of solar heating. Even in the South, only one of 11 occupied houses received less than four hours of daily sun, while nine that received little or no sun were unoccupied.

Reminder to Owners of Unsuccessful Bat Houses

IF AFTER AT LEAST ONE active season, your bat house remains unoccupied, try moving it to a new location where it receives more or less sun. Reports thus far indicate that most successful bat houses are occupied within the first year, and that most failure results from too little exposure to sun. A house that fails at first, but is occupied after a move, may provide especially enlightening information on what local bats need.

If your houses are mounted on poles, try rotating them from a north/south exposure to sun to east/west. Since houses seem to be too cool more often than too warm, this may help. If your houses are insulated and empty, try removing the insulation to permit greater heat gain. You also can try painting houses a different color, most often darker.

Attaching nursery houses back-to-back on poles may reduce extremes of temperature fluctuations. Such houses in the hottest climates may benefit from tin roofs with enough overhang on the east and west sides to reduce solar heating during mid-day.
Ventilation slots, like those used by Lisa Williams, are also a good idea.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Orland Grasslands...Prairie Restoration in our midst.

A couple of weeks ago Elizabeth Bruhns sent out an e-mail informing Chicago Master Gardeners of a continuing Education opportunity at The Orland Grasslands Prairie Restoration.
Sounded like something I would enjoy so I called my sister and off we went to participate. There we met Ryan White and other volunteer seed collectors eager to learn. Ryan walked us through sections of the prairie giving us a brief history and then showing us how to identify the plants and seeds we wanted to collect that day. We started with Big Blue Stem and Compass Plant .

After collecting the seed for awhile Ryan demonstrated how to separate the seed with what I think was 1/4 inch screen but different sized screen may be used for larger seed. That is Big Blue Stem on the screen in the picture above. The compass plant seed is much larger than the big blue seed so the screen mostly just broke up the dried seedheads. Some of the greener seedheads needed separating by hand.

The next Friday October 11th we returned for more instruction and seed collection. This time one of the seeds we collected was from Tall Coreopsis/coreopsis triperis

The seedheads were easy to spot standing tall over the prairie. The leaves three or five segments ,opposite on reddish stems.

Ryan also helped us learn to identify and collect seed from...
Since collecting as much quality prairie seed as possible is a priority for the stewards of the prairie, Ryan has decided to do one more day of collection with us this Friday October 24th. He is inviting anyone that would like to learn a bit about prairie plant seed collecting to join us.

This picture above is of a wetland area that is being cleared of most woody species except a few natives and will be replanted with desirable species. We met a few of the people involved .They were friendly and enthusiastic about their accomplishments making us feel welcome to join the group.

Linda,Barbara and Ryan holding our mornings collection.

This from Ryan White...
This coming Friday is our last seed collection outing at Orland Grassland before the seed is mixed and sown back to our priority sites. Orland volunteer steward, Pat Hayes, mentioned we need to target the last "good quantities of tall coreopsis, goldenrods, and gray headed coneflower on the western half of the site. There is also thimbleweed remaining here and there." These plants and some beautiful asters will be our primary goal this Friday. Joining us will be stewards Bill and Marybeth Fath, and you can ask about their years of restoration experience on the Grassland that enable us to collect these seeds this year.
We'll meet this Friday, at 10:00 am along 104th just north of 179th. (where we all first met). Look for the sign.

Map Link

Many were interested in coming to The Annual Seed Cleaning Event held next Thursday, November 6th at 6:30 at the Civic Center in Orland. This is the last step before dispersing the seed back at Orland Grassland. We'll mix the millions of seed together as if baking for acres of new prairie vistas. This process is a great celebration of the cooperation from everyone's fall seed harvest. You all played a significant role in this, and are warmly invited to this event.
We hope you or a friends can join us this Friday.
Audubon Chicago Region Field Representative--

2008 Seed Collection Summary: by Pat Hayes
What a wonderful year for those of us who have worked so hard at the Grassland over these many years. For the first time we have actually been able to harvest measurable quantities of seed.

To date, we have collected almost two grocery bags full of cleaned little blue stem. Not cleaned: a full bag of blazing star, a grocery bag of gray headed cone flower, half a bag of compass plant, some prairie dock, rosen weed, whorled milk weed, a full bag of monarda, four grocery bags of wild quinine, some indigo, ironweed, prairie coreopsis and rattlesnake master. Additionally, Ryan has also collected big bluestem (for the shrubland areas), tall coreopsis, and flat headed goldenrod. All these seeds have been collected throughout the extended Phoenix area, Kwadekik, and Northwest Savanna area.

Seed was not collected from The Scrape to allow it all to fully blow around and reseed itself there.

Scurfy pea got away from us this year. While it spread like crazy, it seemingly produced very little to no seed. Also, I had marked with a green tape and had been watching a stand of round-headed bush clover waiting for it to be ready to collect. It's either been collected by someone else, or eaten, as seed heads were snipped as of yesterday.

The little blue was most abundant in the Northwest Savanna area. In this sensitive area, some little blue was collected, and some left behind. Outside sensitive areas, all seed was removed from little blue. Good quantities of tall coreopsis, good goldenrods, and gray headed coneflower remain to be collected throughout the western half of the site. There is also thimbleweed remaining here and there.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Harvesting Vermicompost

Saturday October 18th was the final Master Composter class for 2008.
Larry W Wilson , a University of Illinois Extension Educator that provides training in community leadership and volunteerism, started out the morning. His program brings a better understanding of the Extension mission,some history of the university and the Land Grant system,and as volunteers our connection with and support from the Extension Staff.
As volunteers we get to be the link between our universities reseach findings and bringing that information out to the general public in practical daily life application. He was interesting and had everyone animated and joining the discussion.
I took from this presentation a closer look at what we, as volunteers, have a responsibility to provide. That is accurate, well presented, university provided information so that individuals may select their own course of action in using these science-based facts.

The compost demonstrations were lively and creative. Above is a picture of one teams props. Those little bags actually contain dried brown leaves.

Making the worm bins was the highlight of the day. If you want to see how to build the Worm Bins check out last years post.

Kate Weinans led the afternoon telling about worm anatomy and reproduction, showing how to build a worm bin and then how and when to harvest the vermicompost.

Above is a picture of a mesh bag ( onions or potatoes packaging) which is filled with vegetable and fruit scraps and then buried in a corner of the bin. Worms are drawn inside the bag to find food and easily lifted from the castings. This gets many of the worms out of the bin and out of harms way before sifting or separating begins.

Kate showed how to use a fine screen and large plastic fork. The worms remain on top,the compost (worm castings) are sifted through into a plactic bin. The worms can safely be added to the new bedding and you have a wonderful consistent product for use in potting medium mixes or to make a quality compost tea.

The white spots in these pictures is from the addition of egg shells. Unless very finely ground the shells will remain a long time in the bins. Check out my Non Electric Grinding Method .

I have seen the 10 gallon Roughneck at Target,Lowes and Ace Hardware.

10 gallon Rubbermaid Roughneck
23.8"L x 15.6"W x 8.9"H

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

October GBBD 2008

It rained off and on all day today here in Chicago,but I was able to take a few pictures to show.
Leaves are beginning to change color as the daylight hours lessen and nights are cooling.

Most plants have just a few blooms left. Like the Chelone/turtlehead,

A few annual coreopsis,

a Ratibiba pinnata here and there,
gallardia (it just keeps on blooming), the hydrangea,which normally have very yellow leaves by now will continue with a presence all winter long,

and a look at the leaf strewn hobbit garden.

Check out May Dreams Garden for a list of other October Bloom Day participants.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Parking Lot Landscape.

Parking lot landscapes are increasingly more interesting. The pictures shown here are of the main entrance parking lot at Chicago Highschool For Agricultural Sciences .

A low growing drought tolerant sun/heat loving annual that self seeds and grows on quickly

with an abundantly long summer bloom.

Goldenrod and purple asters add color and insect activity for a fall display.

Tall grass, short grass, drying seedheads and blooming flowers.

Impressive for a group of students,yes?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Master Composter Class 2008

Even many non gardeners want to know more about disposing of food and yard waste responsibly. So each October the University of Illinois Agricultural Extension Service holds classes at the Chicago Highschool For Agricultural Sciences.

Last year I took the class as part of the continuing education requirement for being a Master Gardener Volunteer. This year I am helping out.

For some of the classmates composting is new and they have never tried to make compost or keep a worm bin. Others have composted for years but would like to become volunteers taking this knowledge to school children and urban residents through city programs. They share an enthusiasm that is inspiring.

Bill Shores leads the discussion about the science of composting and shows everyone how to use worm castings with coir to mix up a batch of potting soil.
5 parts compost and 4 parts coir (or peat) with one part perlite, then everyone plants a few seeds for winter greens.

The afternoon is dedicated to hands on compost making at the compost demonstration station, located on the campus of the Chicago Highschool for Agricultural Sciences

The types of bins are examined.

Tools and materials are gathered.

Some greens, rich in nitrogen. Fruit and vegetable prep scraps,coffee grounds, gleanings from the harvest cleanup.
with brown carbons stock piled for todays class. All must be clipped into small pieces,

then layered in the bins.

Water is added with each addition, making sure the browns are good and wet. Any excess will drain away through the wire sides. Easier to hose as you go than try to moisten the pile afterwards.

Finally most of the bins were full and looking good. The class did an excelllent job. Next week they can monitor progress before making their own worm bins.

Everyone pitched in to sift last seasons completed compost so that each classmate was able to take home a bucket full for their hard work.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Best Laid Plans

Garfield Conservatory Front Garden

I like to read about gardening and all that has to do with our interactions within the natural world.
Many have said that our gardens have little to do with nature,that we are in control. It seems a harmless enough conceit.
Until a storm or drought reminds us that forces beyond our control still rage.
That weeds and insects and disease remain after all our onslaught.

We are learning. The garden can be a refuge for both the gardener and the wildlife drawn to cohabitation in our outdoor spaces.

Today on No Impact Man there is a statement about achieving happiness...
"Happiness research is showing that it is not material possessions but relationships, community, meaning, a sense of purpose, and use of one's most valued skills that make us happy."

This may be the key, the benefit, the attraction of gardening.

To A Mouse

Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim'rous beastie,
O, what panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murd'ring pattle!

I'm truly sorry Man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An' fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen-icker in a thrave 'S a sma' request:
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
An' never miss't!

Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
O' foggage green! An' bleak December's winds ensuin,
Baith snell an' keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an' wast,
An' weary Winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro' thy cell.

That wee-bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou's turn'd out, for a' thy trouble,
But house or hald.
To thole the Winter's sleety dribble,
An' cranreuch cauld!

But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Still, thou art blest, compar'd wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e'e,
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!

by Robert Burns