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The snowdrops are out today.   They have been out for at least 10 days.

A week ago Sunday (I think), we had a fine sunny day and they decided it was an optimum time to bloom.  Within two days, it got very cold, temperatures down in the teens.   They tucked their heads down and held on.

Then it warmed up a bit last Wednesday and Thursday.  They perked up.

The next day, the bottom dropped out of the temperatures again.  But it didn’t get so cold that we couldn’t achieve freezing rain.   Last Saturday, Sunday and part of Monday these flowers were coated with about a quarter of an inch of ice.   Nevertheless, they persisted.

Monday the ice started melting, and it continued to gradually warm up all week. Yesterday it got into the sixties, and today we reached a high of 78 degrees.   And so the snowdrops are merry.

They are joined in the party by a flock of early crocuses that popped up all over the lawn this afternoon.   There were two or three blooms yesterday, but today there are dozens.

It is sprinkling this evening.   And rumor has it that it is supposed to get cold again forthwith.

This weather is giving me whiplash.

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A good subtitle for this post could be NIMBY:  spotted knapweed (Centaurea stoebe).  I have written a previous NIMBY post on the showy evening primrose.   At least the primrose is actually a native here.   Spotted knapweed is a plant that was introduced to the North American continent sometime in the late 1800s.  The surmise that it came in on ballast or by contaminating some seed.

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That is a photo of a spotted knapweed plant in late spring.   Below is a shot of it in the original location on the property.

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It is that bushy thing to the left of my whiskey barrel.   Here is a decent close up of what the flowers look like.

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I came across knapweed while I was on a road trip.   Specifically, I was driving to Georgia in order to visit my son and daughter in law so that I could be there when my grandson was delivered.   I am always on the lookout for interesting plants, and on one of my rest stops I noticed a flowering plant that seemed to be very happy living by the pasture fence with no water and no cultivation.   It certainly looked like some sort of aster (which it is), and I decided to see if I could find some viable seeds on it.   I collected a few and put them in my purse for future reference.

After the child was born, I returned home and stashed the seeds in my “for future reference” file.   The following spring, I planted a few in a pot and stuck it by the whiskey barrels where I could keep an eye on it.   I was rather pleased when it came up, and over the course of the season it bloomed nicely.  I noticed that my pollinators approved of it, and I was very happy that it was the sort of plant that started blooming in early summer and kept at it until late fall.

Take a close look at the photo above.   Do you see the little seedlings growing in the gravel near the mother plant?   That should have been my first clue that perhaps I did not want to loose this on the world at large.   There were literally hundreds of seedlings around the mother plant.

At that point, I did a desultory identification of my mystery plant.  I thought it was a bushy aster, most likely.

Fast forward a couple of years.   Jim and I have spent over $2000 having the east line cleared in preparation for the new prairie.   We swallowed our distaste and treated the whole area with weed killer, because when you are establishing a prairie the best way to get rid of the competitor plants is to spray with glyphosphate.   I truly hate that substance, but it was a one time treatment and the result was a substrate where my baby prairie plants would not have to compete with weed species.

Then I seeded.   And I transplanted babies in from my Petite Prairie and from the prairie plant nursery by the sauna.   And I planted shrubs.   And the nascent prairie looked like this:

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It really seemed awfully bare to me, and so I thought I would plant something to give me some color while I waited for the two year maturation process of the seed mix.  Guess what I chose?

You are absolutely right.   I chose my aster.  After all, I had several viable seedlings near the original place.   It no longer needed a pot there, it was just growing there next to the pergola.

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There are a few plants of the aster visible against the fence.   The following year, noticed that it had reseeded itself.

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Yes, that is a seedling just in front of the hazelnut shrub.   So far, so good.

We watched the little prairie start to grow and thrive, rejoicing.

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It really started to look lovely, at all seasons.   Just like I had planned.   But do you notice that big clump of grey shrubby stuff back in the left hand corner of the picture?

That is the “aster”.   And the following spring, this was what I saw everywhere where I had planted a mother plant.

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Do you see all that green?   Almost universally, that is the “aster” I had planted in my new prairie.  At that point, I realized that I needed to exercise some control over this phenomenon.   Unfortunately, when I was looking at that and thinking “I really need to weed this back.  My prairie plants are doing well I and I am not sure I need so much of this” I was suffering extreme pain in my right hip.  So extreme that I could not bend down, or kneel, or sit on the ground for any length of time.

Shortly after the above picture was taken, I had my right hip joint totally replaced.   And all summer long, I watched those patches of green grow, and bloom and make seeds, and I could do nothing to stop it.  When my hip finally healed enough that I could get in there, the damage was done.  And while I was waiting for the surgery to heal, I did an extensive search and learned that I had planted spotted knapweed, an invasive exotic.  If you search it, you will find extensive warnings against this plant.  It crowds out forage grasses, it…  is an abomination.

Everywhere where you see those green plants, there are thousands of seedlings.   I have been struggling for months to get them out of there.   I dealt with a forest of this plant, the flowering stalks were as tall as I was.   It seems like every flower gets pollinated and makes 50 seeds or so, and every seed that hits the ground sprouts and grows.

The grow into the middle of clumps of grass.  They suffocate other plants nearby just by the very fact that there are so many of them.  The little seedlings look a lot like members of the echinacea and rudbeckia families.  When you are pulling the mature plants, if you don’t get at least 90% of the root stock, the plant will come up again.

I could go on, but I won’t.   The sad lesson I learned here is to NEVER plant something that you are not absolutely sure you have identified correctly.

I am sorry to say that the problem is so severe that I am seriously contemplating doing another glyphosphate treatment and starting over.   I am not that far along yet in the decision making process.  It depends on how I do next spring when I start addressing the carpet of knapweed seedlings that covers five 100 sq. ft. patches (guess how many mother plants I put in three years ago?) of my prairie.

Wish me luck.

 

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The picture above is a shot of the newest addition to The Havens garden installations.  It was taken early this spring.  Here are a couple of more close in shots taken later in the season.

In all of these shots there is a fairly bushy shrub sort of in the background.  That shrub no longer exists.  We saved it to help preserve the flyway when we were developing the garden.  But it is an invasive exotic, notably bush honeysuckle, and once the native shrubs I planted got bigger and the fence on the property line was built, we eradicated it.  Now I am trying to eradicate it elsewhere on the property.  I would say I am about 50% complete with that chore.

I have talked about the east property line before on this blog.   You can find that post here.  I suppose I should have updated that story, but I just never got around to it.  The denouement was that the nasty neighbor up and sold the property to the Dollar General corporation.   While that sale was imminent, the property line in question was surveyed and, ironically enough, the actual property line was about ten feet closer to West Elm Street than the fence line that was causing our lovely neighbor such angst in the previous post.   Ha ha.  The joke was on him.  During all that legal bull shit, it turned out that HE had been encroaching on our property for over 20 years by parking his trailers on it.

I have to admit that I have always had a love/hate relationship with that property line.  It was really just a twenty foot wide strip of trees and brush.  I loved it because it made a very good visual barrier between our place and the street, and it was a wonderful haven for all sorts of birds and other wild life.  I hated it because it was so very untidy, it collected trash, and the trumpet creeper vine that lived there was trying to take over the orchard and vineyard.  Consequently, I rarely took any pictures of it, but you can see it in the background of this picture, doing its wild and wooly thing.

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Once we learned that the sale had gone through, we hired a brush clearing service and had the whole area cleared.  They chipped up all those shrubs and trees, and piled them in great big piles.

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To the right is the lot where Dollar General was going to build.  To the left, behind the piles, you can see the trumpet creeper vine, which we chose to leave behind for a season so the birds would have some place to hang out while the new garden got established.

Eventually, Dollar General finished constructing their building, and put in an absolutely gorgeous privacy fence.  After spending a couple of afternoons trying to spread out the piles of mulch, we hired a guy with a mini excavator to do it for us.  He did in a couple of hours what would have taken us days of hard labor to accomplish.

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Bear in mind that the fence is 300 feet long.  My new prairie sort of undulates along the fence, ranging from 15 to 30 feet wide.  If you look carefully at the shot above, you will see the aforementioned bush honeysuckle back there, just coming into leaf.  Behind it is a sprawling mulberry tree.  That tree is roughly 50 feet south of our north property line.  A long time ago, I planted a row of forsythia bushes between the mulberry and the north line.  That row of forsythias is now about 15 feet wide and much taller than I am.

When we had the  new prairie cleared, we left that line of bushes alone, as well as the plum thicket that is back in that corner.   In the process of developing the new garden, I have pretty much abandoned all hope of taming that section.  In addition to the plums and forsythias, there is honeysuckle, winterberry, currants, a honey locust, and a few other indeterminate trees back there.   The old fence is tangled in amongst them (which is partly why it did not get cleared), garnished with black berries and poison ivy.

We mow under the plum thicket, but I pretty much leave the rest of that area alone.  The brown thrasher and several other birds think that is a very wise decision.  This summer the thrasher raised two clutches of babies back there.

It has taken me two years and several hundred dollars to get the prairie garden started.   We initially seeded it with a mesic prairie mixture of grasses and forbs.  I have also collected hundreds of seeds from the Petite Prairie and sown them.  I have acquired shrubs that you find in native prairies and planted them.   I have also purchased plants from the native plant sales, and planted them.  It is coming along pretty well.

But there is a fly in my ointment, unfortunately.  I shall elaborate on that fly in the next post.   But the following picture might give you a clue as to the nature of my dilemma.

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“Whipsaw:  n 1. A narrow two person crosscut saw. v 1. To cut with a whipsaw, 2. To defeat in two ways at once” 

It was a lovely day today at The Havens.  Last week, after several days of pretty cold temperatures (sub zero at night), it snowed.  Then it warmed up enough to melt the thin layer of snow on the ground.  This was followed by some days around freezing accompanied by gusty winds.  Finally it warmed up and the wind blew like a wind tunnel testing a jet airplane.

This morning it dawned clear and cool and totally calm.  It would have been ideal to burn off the labyrinth right then, but we had a date at the kid’s house for home made waffles.   So we went over there (a matter of walking half a block) at the appointed time and thoroughly enjoyed our breakfast with the family.  It is really lovely to have our grandkids so close.  AND their parents…  I must not leave them out!

After our repast, we came home, got busy, and burned off the tall grass that had accumulated in the labyrinth over the last summer.  It was a perfect day for burning, and still hadn’t gotten so warm that tending the fire was onerous.  There have been times when it was sort of like an introduction to Hades, what with a warm day and a brisk breeze.  Today it was just damp enough that the grass burned well but not like an inferno.  No wind to speak of, so the flames crept their way through the paths and rocks desultorily.  We had to use the flame thrower a few times to encourage them to do a complete job.

There are lots of rags and tags of grass tops, as well as things like the stems of goldenrod, little white asters, and primroses spread in the paths.   They really need to be raked up but I decided to do something else instead.  If I leave them long enough they will blow away or compost in place, maybe.

After unhooking and draining the hoses we had deployed for fire safety reasons, we rolled them and coiled them back up on their supports.  Winter is not over yet and we have had enough of frozen pipes.

Speaking of frozen pipes, the contractor man has been here since Wednesday repairing the utility bathroom.  We picked out new floor tile for it, auditioning a style that we are considering using for the Great Bathroom Remodel, which is scheduled for a future date yet to be determined.   We LOVE the tile and lucky for us it was on sale so we bought the necessary quantity and have stashed it in the sauna dressing room.  The bathroom should become functional early next week.

Of course, there has been a daily (except for Thursday) pilgrimage to Springfield to visit the Ailing Mother.  She came through her popliteal bypass alive (barely).  There were a few rough days, and once the hospital figured out that she really needed a blood transfusion, she rallied enough to be moved to a rehabilitation hospital.  Since then she has walked as much as 70 feet during physical therapy and can get up out of her wheel chair and move to the bed “unassisted” (meaning two people stand nearby at the ready to make sure that she does not lose her balance and fall during the painstaking process).  But her appetite has returned, and her mind is once again active.  She has been working on her tatting project.  Aside from the open incision around the bypass site, she is looking fairly good.  There is still a lot of ground to cover, but we are no longer in fear of her life.

And my sister was released from the hospital today, after fighting infection from the cat bite she got while she was neutropenic from her latest chemotherapy for her leukemia.  Thank God for small favors.

With both people that were in so much danger moving towards safety, maybe I can actually get some sleep tonight.

Anyway, back to today.   Instead of raking the labyrinth, I cleared the old dry tops out of the asparagus bed.   While I was engaged in that chore, I noticed that the bees were out foraging.   Then I started wondering if they still had enough honey to keep them going through the rest of the winter.  (Despite the lovely day today, winter is FAR from over.) Presently my curiosity grew so much that I went into the house and prevailed on Jim to make a wellness check on the colony.  He suited up and opened the hive and we determined that they have LOTS of honey to eat, they seem very healthy and active.   Without disturbing them much more than that, he put the hive back together and we watched them continue about their bee business.

This activity made me wonder what on earth they could be finding to forage this time of year?  It didn’t take me long to remember that yesterday while I was walking Ruby I noticed that the witch hazel out at Bennet Spring was blooming.  I have a few witch hazel trees here at the Havens, so it wasn’t much of a leap to wonder if perhaps our bees had found them.

I went to look, and lo and behold!

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The bees have indeed discovered that there is a source of pollen out there for them.  While I was playing bee paparazzi, I saw a couple of tachnid wasps out there too. They declined to be photographed, so I can’t prove it.

Then I went out and weeded the strawberry, blueberry and raspberry cage.   It was very healing to dig out all that henbit and chickweed.  The whole cage looks great!  While I was working, I could hear the hum of the hive on the other side of the fence.

Maybe I will have some time to work on my art journal this evening.  That would be very good.

 

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It was a very white start to Martin Luther King Day here at the Havens.  When I awoke, it was snowing, but the precipitation has stopped for now.   There was no water aerobics this morning, and I am not really excited about getting out on the roads.  While I cut my “driving teeth” in the mountains west of Boulder, Colorado; and then developed them experiencing the roads of Alaska, I still stay off the roads if I don’t have to go out when the weather is like this.

Around here people get way excited when a couple of inches of snow fall and there is a light rime of ice on the roadways, conditions that would make a seasoned Alaskan or Colorado mountain driver simply slow down a bit.  Around here, they close school and the weather people have regular conniptions about how dangerous it all is.  I have no qualms about my ability to negotiate the highways here in the Ozarks.  It is the REST of the drivers that give me pause.  They are so unpredictable I am reluctant to put myself in their vicinity.  Many of them seem to believe that since they have four wheel drive they can still drive over the speed limit and also stop on a dime if they need to. (She shakes her head…)

So I am home, and wondering if I will have any clients this afternoon.  There are three scheduled, whether they will show up is another question entirely.  It makes earning a living very unpredictable.

Meanwhile, the view from my kitchen window is splendid.  The little birds surely did appreciate me filling the feeders this morning.  There was a huge crowd of them at breakfast time.  The hawk flew through and scattered them, afterwards the yard was devoid of birds (and squirrels) for a good half hour.   I did not go out and investigate, but usually that means that the Cooper’s hawk was able to secure her breakfast.  She seems to view the pond area as her dining room.

The petite prairie is looking quite fine, as you can see from my opening photo above.  I love to go out there and inspect the environs after a few hours of no snow fall.  That is when it becomes evident just how important that cover is to the residents of the yard.

There was a small flock of cardinals hanging around after the hawk scare ebbed.   Here is a shot of them I took from the porch.

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That is not all of them, several of them were availing themselves of the sunflower seeds while I was taking these images.

There are more of them in that bush than meets the casual eye.  Here is a closer shot of the same group.

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Aside from the trio of juncos there is one male cardinal and four females sharing this bush.

The male is very suspicious of me.  Even though I was a good 30 meters away when I took this shot, his demeanor tells me “I know you are there and you are probably up to no good.”

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“Just stay on your porch and everyone will be happy.”

 

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We are getting some badly needed rain.  It has been threatening all morning, flashing and muttering under its breath, teasing us with brief sprinkles.

The radar shows that all of this activity is moving along to the south, which is odd because most of the lightning and clouds I am looking at are to the north of me.  At any rate, I am glad it is raining.   We need for the ground to be nicely wet and more rain promised in order to distribute the beneficial nematodes that are reputed to dine on Japanese beetle grubs.  With a good rain under our belt, and more promised, we can order the supplier to ship them.  With any luck, the weather will cooperate and keep the ground nice and wet after they are applied.

I am happy that there is a storm, Impy is NOT.   I don’t know what horrible trauma happened to him in his kittenhood, but he is terrified of thunder and slinks off full speed ahead for the nearest closet as soon as the first distant rumble occurs.  This morning has been just terrible for him.  With the sporadic nature of this storm, there have been periods of calm in between the heavenly percussion performance long enough for him to stick his whiskers out.   Inevitably, as soon as he is bold enough to exit his sanctuary, a random clap of thunder will send him scurrying back under cover.

We have hypothesized that Impy can understand the weatherman and has listened to all the instructions regarding what to do to be safe in a stormy situation.   If you don’t have a shelter to move into, you should stay in an interior room (preferably with no windows) and put a pillow over your head.  When you hear thunder, you should keep yourself as close to the ground as possible while you move to shelter to minimize the danger of being struck by lightning.   And for God’s sake, don’t go stand under a tree.

Our local YMCA is so careful about lightning danger that they clear the pool if there is any within a few miles of us.   Consequently, this morning our water aerobics class was only 15 minutes long.

I have been surfing the interwebs excessively, so I finally decided I ought to get something worthwhile done instead of endlessly posting on facebook.  I made the bed, and cleaned the catboxes.   I did the dishes, and I am contemplating the idea of vacuuming.   I am pretty sure I can spend enough time on my blog that I simply won’t have time to do that chore before I have to leave for my mammogram.

While I was washing the dishes the storm finally blew into our area and produced a measurable amount of rain.   I was musing as I scrubbed my pots about how one would depict the skies opening up as a response to a prompt of “Open” on an the Art Journal Adventure.   The view out my window captivated me as I worked and pondered.  The finches are busy at  the feeder, they don’t care it is raining and neither do the squirrels, who use their tails as easily as an umbrella as they do a sunshade or blanket.

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The rain will be good for the garden too.  The peas are about an inch tall, and the lettuce that we tended all winter is going gangbusters.   I heartily endorse the use of cold frames in this climate.   We ate beautiful lettuce all winter.

So as I allowed this train of thought to pass through the station of my mind, a huge ground strike flashed down just to the northeast.

I was standing at the window, scrubbing a metal pot with my hands in running water, and I recalled the wisdom that says you can get a pretty bad shock if lightning strikes near your water line when you have your hands in running water.   Suddenly I thought “If that bolt had struck the house and electrocuted me where I stood, I suppose my last thought would have been ‘Impy was right’.”

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I’m sure that is not the longest title ever put on an ariticle, but I’m sure it is right up there.  We have been working very hard getting the yard in shape.   It won’t be long now before we will have to mow the lawns.  The peas are up and looking very nice.

There is a LOT of work to do around here.   Yesterday I worked on the East Prairie; cleaned out the last of the branches of last year’s tiny white asters.   Do not be fooled by that name, the flowers are tiny but the plants can be absolutely rampant.   They got about 5 feet tall last summer, since they had no competition except for the poke weed and some wild lettuce named fireweed (for some arcane reason).

Let me just say that in my head, fireweed is that amazing magenta flower that grows all over the Alaska Interior, not this 6 foot tall Ozarks giant that has insignificant flowers that the pollinators adore.

Anyway, I got that cleaned up and then we went out to dinner, which was scrumptious.   After we got home it was a dead calm so we burned the little brush pile out in the savanna.  That has been there about a year and a half, ever since I beat a path through the forsythia thicket so I could work on removing elm sprouts.

Today I cleaned up the garden area around the sauna.  Now that has turned into quite the place.  My job, now that all the forbs have gotten established, is to keep the honeysuckle and the elm trees from moving in.  It blooms all summer with plants I collected seeds from while walking the dog.   When I first planted this garden, I put some beautiful day lilies in there, but now that it has turned into a micro prairie, the day lilies have a lot of competition.  They bloom, but it is a struggle.  The little birds love this garden.

After I got that done, I decided to have a beer and see if I could see any birds at the pond.  I was rewarded by a gold finch, who came down to the waterfall for a drink.

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He didn’t stay very long.   I waited for a while, and Jim came to join me.   We sat for a while, and all of a sudden a junco dropped by.   This little bird knew darn well we were there, and did not come down to drink.  It took a while for me to capture him looking in our direction.  It is not safe for little birds, you know, and he was trying to look in all directions at once.

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Then I went off for mosquito dunks, and on my way back to the pond I sort of wandered around looking at the yard.

There are about five million violet seedlings in my path, something for future reference.  They are invisible in this shot, which is all about the grape hyacinths and the dragon’s teeth.

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Other than that, I think it is looking pretty special.   I wandered past the Green Man on my way to the pond.   I can actually see him this time of year.  The bittersweet vine really fills in.  Right now it is barely sprouting.

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Right behind him is the pond.   While I was getting this shot, there were a grackle and a robin in the pond taking a bath.  By the time I got around the corner, the grackle was done and had vacated the area.

The robin was very wet.

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He sat there for several minutes as I stood frozen on the opposite side of the pond from him.  After a while, he decided that he was not sufficiently bathed, and so he hopped back into the pool.

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Well.  That’s better.

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He is even more wet.

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But , apparently, not wet enough.   Back in he went for another splash.

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We have a pretty good sized pile of prunings from the yard, so if the wind calms down at sunset we shall have an Equinoctical bonfire.  That will be nice.

Happy Spring!

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