Thursday, October 19, 2006

Temperance River State park Almost done with this year's batch of changes to my pond, and not a moment too soon -- seems there's a nasty mix of rain and snow moving in this weekend.
Dredging the last of the leaves out of the pond, I've netted a few sluggish frogs from the bottom. Looks like they're developing a shiny, slimy coating, and are preparing for winter dormancy.
Click image for more detail.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Just got back from our trip to Grand Marais.

While I'm still downloading and organizing the pictures, I've compiled a brief list of the wildlife we spotted on our trip:

Here are a few of the photos we've downloaded so far.

Click the thumbnail to view a larger image.

temperance river

Temperance River State Park

devil's kettle

Judge C.R. Magney State Park

garter snake

Garter Snake in Temperance River State Park

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Daisy Fleabane (Click to enlarge)
Pond Garden Flowers currently in bloom:

Trees Turning:

  • Sugar Maple (Peaking)
  • White Oak
  • Smooth Sumac

Fauna Spotted in the Pond Garden this week:

Friday, October 06, 2006

Maple trees look great next to a pond garden. They're hardy, they're native, they grow full and lush in the spring and summer, and a ripe, rich red in the Autumn. Then they dump their leaves into the pond, making for an pump-clogging breeding ground of algae and bacteria. Spending an hour each day with the net, ladling maple leaves and algae clumps out like some sort of chlorophyll soup, have led me to a new solution; a thin, mold-resistant net over the second basin with gaps wide enough to allow frogs and fish to pass through, but to catch the leaves as they fall.

(Click below for larger image)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A finalized picture of the new patio. While it took about 15 bags of sand to get a 1" deep layer in the 6X8 box, it only took two bags to fill in the gaps.

(click photo for larger image.)

Monday, October 02, 2006

boxelder bug explosion I just read a passage in Weird Minnesota (Mark Moran et all) about a plague of locusts averted when a strong frost wiped out the eggs. It got me wondering if the rising temperatures over the weekend were the spark in the boxelder bug powder keg that's left many Twin Cities houses and business fronts coated in a teeming skin of the small black and red-striped beetles. Fortunately, unlike locusts, these native insects are unlikely to wipe out our crops or cause blood poisoning in livestock. The only real damage involved is the nuisance of cleaning up the thousands of brittle insects carcasses.

patio bricksFinally polished off the patio blocks. Had to add a bit of color to the first set I poured out over three weeks ago, as the rain was already fading the red and turning the surface fo the brown stones to salt-and-pepper. Also added a coat of sealer to cure and weatherproof. Hope to get the sand packed in by Wednesday.

The other weekend big project, replacing the West pond basin, is at least half finished in that the pond has been drained, the plants, frogs and fish fry relocated to the East Basin, and holes punched in the bottom. Over the week I'm planning to take out some righteous IT-related rage ("you did WHAT to your work computer?") on the unsuspecting rigid liner with an axe and sledge hammer. But not tonight. Tonight's' my anniversary, which I PROBABLY would have remembered on my own, even if my beautiful Irish wife hadn't taken it upon herself to casually remind me for the last month and a half.

Her: Isn't it amazing we'll have been married for two years?
Me: It sure is.
Her: Two years as of five weeks and three days.
Me: Wow, I didn't know you had it down that far.
Her: Has it felt like two years?
Me: It sure has.
Me: Uh, I mean, NO, it hasn't.
Me: I mean --

At any rate, here's some fall color from our jaunt out to the Forest Lake/Wyoming side of the Carlos Avery WMA.

Click the thumbnails to see larger versions.

native grasscarlos avery wma carlos avery wma

goldenrod native plant minnesota native ferns in carlos avery wma redhead in carlos avery wma

maple leaves, fall color in Carlos Avery WMA

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Stacy, MN After what felt like a week of rain, clouds, and cold, Apollo's chariot made its appearance bright and early this morning. I couldn't have asked for a nicer day to end the weekend; clear skies, and temperatures hovering in the upper 60's! Took advantage of it to re-screed and lay as many bricks as our stash of concrete would allow.

do it yourself patio blocksI think I'm finally hitting my patio-laying stride, which is rather sad as I only have about 3 feet to go. Instead of just randomly placing the blocks I've worked them into what I think of as a 'Lake Superior' pattern, with brown as the lake and streams and red as the mainland and islands.

Found each form takes about 1 1/4 60 lb. bags of concrete, and about 1 can of color. Since I'm doing approximately half red and half brown, that means mixing the cement, color, and water in separate tubs, then transporting them from the tubs to the work site in small containers. Care has to be taken to pour the cement carefully (the colors look shoddy when mixed), and to make a red run and a brown run when leveling and smoothing the concrete, being careful to wash the trowel between each run.

mushroomsThe color washes pretty well out of decking, aluminum siding, and dried blocks, but not so much when it comes to clothing. This means that in addition to the cement ($2.35 a bag X 14), sand ($58 so far, though it turns out I bought more than I needed), the form/mold ($12) and the cement color mix ($4.50 X 6), I need to replace a pair of loafers ($20), pants ($25), a shirt ($20), and socks (depends on how you divide them I guess; $1?) which means this project is going to cost me a grand total of approx $208 by the time I'm done. That's not counting the time I've put into this project. I have no idea what to pay myself for manual labor.

Not bad when you compare it to paying professionals, or even the kid next door to have it done, but how's it compare to buying the patio blocks pre-made? The patio blocks I saw ranged from around $2 each to around $4, so let's average and say $3. At 7 blocks to a set that would make $21 a set. That would have made around $252 for the blocks, plus $58 (when you factor in that I'd still need to screed a 1" layer of sand, and, being a patio rookie, I'd still screw up and buy too much) which puts us at around $310. Looks like even with the red-splotched shoes and Dockers I saved. Just not by much.

green frogsIn other news, yes Virginia there are still frogs in my pond. You'd think that with the average temp dropping below 50 some days (and below 40 some nights,) they'd start burrowing in the mud around the banks, but I counted at least six Green Frogs sunning themselves in the shallows this morning. Hope they're not getting two comfy, as the project I have to take on next weekend is going to involve draining the plastic pond and smashing it into small enough pieces to cram into the trash bin.

Seems that when I added on the second pond basin and the stream to connect the two basins with rubber liner I forgot to take into account the fact that the sun heats the plastic basin to the point where it expands and contracts on a daily basis. Alone, and in a bed of sand, you'd never notice this, but try to couple it with a non-conductive rubber liner and no among of sealant, self-expanding foam, or bolts will keep a watertight seal.

Which means you're going to have leaks.

Which means adding more water via a hose on a timer on a daily basis. Which not only flies in the face of water conservation, but costs money, and forces the filters and the fish to cope with a daily influx of the brown rust crap from our water table. While I'm not exactly giddy about the prospect of rebuilding the first basin, it will give me an opportunity to excavate a deeper stream for my goldfish. If they continue growing at this rate, they'll certainly need it.

mystery plantSeems to have been a good year for native gardening; the Harebell's still blooming, the Pasqueflower is thick, and the stand of Swamp Milkweed flourishing by the driveway is almost as tall as I am. We've also got a transplant from Long Lake in Stillwater (I've included it to the left), some sort of rush-type plant with grass-like leaves and five balls of green spikes on each stalk.

Anyways, we're planning on a quiet evening and maybe a little archery practice here.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Nothing but rain, drizzle, and cloud cover for the past few days. Doesn't seem to bother the finches, who've been guzzling the feeder like little thistle-powered SUV's.

Was about to close up one of the bluebird houses for the winter when I noticed a Downy Woodpecker darting into it. Though woodpeckers usually prefer to do their nesting in tree cavities, it seems the cedar bluebird house was intriguing enough to warrant further investigation. This is probably more nesting as a convenient protection against the early chill than it is for breeding purposes; according to everything I've seen Downies usually start breeding in the February-March time frame. Still, I'll leave the house open for a while, popping in with a camera every few days.

Monday, September 18, 2006

In the insane rush to get this year's chunk of pond garden finished before the snow flies, we've started building a raised patio up above the waterfall. It's not a huge in area only about 8'X7', but that didn't mean it hasn't been a process.

So far, the area's been weeded, excavated, the pipes and cords run through aluminum pipes, the dirt screeded and packed down with a makeshift tamper, the screeder (a 2X6 mounted to a 2X4) raised to allow for 1" of sand. The sand (we needed about 20 bags for the area) was dumped in bag by bag, screeded, packed, and screeded again. Each rainfall (we've gotten three since Saturday; a bad one Saturday night that wreaked hell in Rogers), required an additional packing and screeding.

The cement had to be mixed in two basins; one for red (with ash for texture) and one for gray (with sand for texture), and was then poured into a random stone mold, which I picked up at Menards. The section you see was about a bag and a half. The black feeder pole you see was shoved in while the bricks were semi-hard.

Saw massive flocks of American Goldfinch over the weekend. Both feeders were filled with the smallish yellow birds at some points, with others queuing up on the pole or in the branched of the potted palm. I'd assume this indicates a good deal of them banding together to head South, and that soon enough we'll only be seeing the smallish bands of year-round resident finches making their rounds of the feeders.

Area wildlife spotted the last week:

Flowers Blooming in Pond Garden:

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Monarchs have been going mad over the Swamp Milkweed this year. We counted seven or eight fat, yellow-black-and-white banded monarch caterpillars on one stand near the driveway this year, so it was only a matter of time before the we spotted the first one clutching to a chive stalk one evening back in late August, stretching its body out like a branch, ready to weave his chrysalis.

We expected it to happen overnight, and charged our camera batteries up to get some shots of the cocoon and emerging butterfly come morning. What we saw was beautiful, fascinating and kind of gross all at the same time. To say the cocoon looked like spun glass would be a lie; it looked more like spun jade; a light green flecked with spots of yellow. The backside of the chrysalis, however, was completely caved in, and the mass that remained -- what was probably the caterpillar itself-- was a mottled brown jelly, with the black, jagged lips of the chrysalis puckered and twisted around it.

What could have caused this? According to Oakley Beisanz, naturalist and volunteer coordinator at the Maplewood Nature Center, it could have been several things, including an attack by ants, or eggs laid by predatory wasps (females often use their ovipositor to bore holes into cocoons and deposit eggs, when they hatch the wasp larva will eat the caterpillars alive).

While wasps are a native and beneficial species, there are certain steps, according to some websites, that can be taken to protect native butterflies, including placing caterpillars in a screened container out of direct sunlight on a porch or inside your home. Provide them with adequate water and host plant material (for Monarchs, it's almost any native milkweed; for others, see here,) release the butterflies when they emerge. I'm not sure how this ranks with all the wildlife rehabilitationists out there who urge people not to take wild animals into their home, but it might be an interesting project some year. With the onset of an early fall, I doubt we'll see many more Monarchs in 2006.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

crown vetch at carlos avery wma
Last weekend offered gray skies, a cold mist, and a near-hopeless rush to get the fence and pond finished before the snow flies, but that didn't rule out a trip to Carlos Avery WMA, one of the first parks we've been able to visit since early summer.

As we set out, we saw that Autumn color was already creeping along mid-Minnesota's backroads. There were yellow explosions of goldenrod, the rich burgundy of sumack, and fiery orange and yellow creeping into the green mantle of the maple trees like stray grey hairs. Some cherry trees were already bare. We saw the first purples as we drove in Carlos Avery; stands of vetch, an invasive weed often used as livestock fodder, ground cover, or for its nitrogen-fixing roots, thriving along the roadside or sending vine-like tendrils up along the forest edge.

Iwild swans at carlos avery wmaf there's something that sets Carlos Avery apart from the other parks in the area, it's the lack of the human element. Picnickers with noisy children, cyclists with Ipods and sunglasses filtering out the world, cutesy couples asking you to take their photo, you won't fine any of these metro park mainstays in Carlos Avery. Washboard roads aren't just the only way in or out; they're also the only human facility in the WMA. The hiss of wind scratching through the white pines, or animals of the deep woods and marsh seem enough to compel you to talk in whispers.

We didn't hike far out into the park this time, just enough to watch a pair of swans pass overhead, and hear the distant, high, laughing call of some unidentified bird.