Oak Fire in July mushrooms
Please forgive me for complaining a little at the start of this blog. I know it is meant to discuss my pollinator work, and I am sorry to be a downer. All the things we do are entwined as elements of our life -so the bleed over and into is all part of the same narrative I guess. It has been a very difficult last three months. If you were wondering why a post had not been published in a while, I did not have the energy. A close, dear friend fell, became ill and died. It was a rapid, difficult, frustrating experience made worse by a fragmented healthcare system. His fall was in June, and by July he was gone. COVID finally caught up to me in June despite my being extremely careful. Although it was mild for me, I was positive for 10 days and had to put many things on hold. In July, wildfire hit just east of us displacing many friends with several losing everything. We took on evacuees at the ranch with their animals. The emotional exhaustion was evident among everyone – evacuees, responders and the average community member. The compassion fatigue, overwhelming sadness for all living things and extreme, ongoing heat has gotten to everyone I think. I could not believe my temperature gauge when driving home from a meeting in the Central Valley. It said 118F.
I find it remarkable that anything can exist in these circumstances of heat, smoke, drought and extremes. It is no surprise that very few butterflies have visited the ranch despite plenty of blooms. All is not depressing. We have had a proliferation of tarantula hawks and more dragonflies than have been here in years. Perhaps the increase in dragonflies, a natural predator of butterflies, is part of the reason for limited sightings. I don’t think we have gotten to a place of balance at the ranch yet. Regular drip irrigation has increased soil moisture around the house, but the drought has taken its toll on everything, soil, plants, trees, humans.
The milkweed in the older plots were mature enough to produce seed pods. It was a joy to see them healthy and doing well despite gopher attacks over the past 3 years.
I am now able to identify narrow leaf milkweed in the wild and have seen several plants in my creek bed and on the side of the road around the county. It is very interesting that they often appear alone or quite a distance from one another. I wonder if that has to do with years of grazing and pesticide use (on the major highways). On a monitoring excursion to Odom Creek last week, I found two or three milkweeds in bloom in the creek bed. There were several California Hairstreak butterflies around each plant. I saw a buttery yellow cabbage or sulfur butterfly and one buckeye butterfly.
As planned, we have plants in bloom from the beginning of Spring throughout Fall. In bloom currently are California fuchsia, goldenrod (just opening), marigold, sunflower (still going!), pacific aster, a few gum weed and Mexican sunflower blooms, buddleia, vinegarweed (lots of these plants this year), and tarweed. There are even several herbs and onions blooming. There are many options for the pollinators to choose from.
Concern for the Grand Blue Oak
It is normal for oaks to conserve their energy during drought. They kill off their leaves and drop limbs. It can be very dangerous to walk under stressed oaks. I mentioned one of the large oaks in the front of the house in my last post and earlier in this post. It started with one branch having all its leaves dead in May. Then, almost overnight, all the leaves were brown and falling by August. A small branch dropped earlier this month. It has been incredibly distressing. These trees in the front of my home are over 200 years old, and they just cannot die on my watch.
Several years ago, a landscape and water expert was at my house when another tree in the front was extremely stressed. She recommended digging a trench just outside the drip line of the tree crown so that rain water would be stopped and recharge the area around the tree. Not only did I do that for two of the four oaks in front of the house, I ran my front gutters into the trenches. It worked! The branches I thought were dead all came back except for one.
I did this exact same thing for the newest tree in crisis. I am hopeful it will work too.
The other issue with the oaks and drought is reduced production of acorns, a critical food source for animals and humans alike. It is also the next generation of oak babies. We need to have an overwhelming number of acorns just to get a handful of seedlings. Sadly, most of the oaks on the ranch do not have many acorns, and many that are growing are still very green and undersized. I want to see those acorns mature and drop. All I can do is implement good land practices, swales to slow rainwater runoff, and hope for better next year. Land restoration is a patient practice. Stewardship is a way of life anyone can adopt anywhere they live.
New Raised Bed
I raise a number of plants from high quality organic/non-GMO seed or seed gathered from my plants. Not only its it more cost effective, but I receive great joy from starting them and watching them grow. The seedling trays have also served as an important source of water for bees this year. Even birds have dropped by to visit. When the birds come by, I can be assured it is not just for water but seed snacks. Every seeding batch, several never start. For some, the seed just is not viable. For others, they become a snack for birds. I am ok with that. Fortunately, I don’t depend on my garden as my only source of food. If I did, I am sure I would feel differently. Additionally, I grow native plant starts, herbs and flowers. All of these, including my food, will become blooms for pollinators. It is a tripe win for everyone.
The weather has been so warm I decided to start a winter garden with plants that should have been full grown by now and producing food – like tomatoes. I am also including vegetables, herbs and flowers that should be ok late and/or over winter normally – like lettuce and spinach. I have a number of strong looking seedlings, but will not plant in my tomato tub raised bed due to the ongoing gopher intrusion. There is no other place cultivated to plant, so I asked my darling husband to build me a new raised bed. Truthfully, I can do this myself, but David loves to work with wood and is much handier than I am. So- he gets the job. David built me a gorgeous raised bed using redwood and secured it with a roll of Diggers double galvanized mesh (same company I get the speed baskets from to plant my native plants). Because I am raising vegetables, I needed richer soil and did not have time to bring my local soil up in nutrients (bad planning on my part). I had to purchase soil, which was costly. I have a couple of old french doors I salvaged, which I will use to make a greenhouse over the tomato part of the bed. I am hoping this will help bring the tomatoes to maturity. It is all an experiment.
I use a square foot gardening method. In this way, I can make the most use of the garden space, water with efficiency and co-locate natural pest deterrents, such as marigolds. See the link for more information about how many vegetables you can plant per square foot. In my situation, most of the seedlings I have are plants that need space, so you will see that I generally have one plant per square foot. For some, I could probably get more, but I was too lazy to pull out my book to check planting amounts per sq ft. There is definitely a cost to being impatient!
Last Days of Summer Bring Rain and Fall has Arrived
On September 18 and 19, we received .75″ and .5″ respectively of rain. It was a delightful late summer storm. The smell brought me as much joy and anticipation as being hungry smelling baking bread or BBQ meat. You cannot wait to get outside to work, take a walk, just breathe. I think most of the area hoped this meant cooler temperatures from then out, but the miserable heat came back a few days later. It has been in the high 80s and high 90s for the past several days. Air conditioner is on again. Not good.
Still, the temperatures are cooler than 115 – something to be grateful for. Besides the temperatures cooling, Fall is heralded by my dear loves, the tarantulas (Ok, some people determine the beginning of Fall when pumpkin drinks appear at Starbucks; I prefer spiders.). I have counted 5 so far. It is an imprecise, unscientific count, but it has helped me to understand their populations by counting the number of sightings. We had several healthy, large ones at the ranch.
I am seeing a number of small ant holes in close proximity. I think I am living on top of ant LA. To think my bucolic, slow-paced surroundings are directly above a bustling, major metropolis of a billion small, vicious, biting red ants is a bit unnerving. People think I have too much coffee, but now you know why I keep moving and don’t stay in one place for too long.