When You are Given Lemons, Make Lemonade

by Ted Farnworth

Since my arrival as a volunteer at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, not a day has gone by when someone doesn’t make mention of dog-strangling vine or DSV. I must admit it took me a day or so to realize that dog strangling vine = DSV = swallowwort. Why, I am not sure.

Usually, the reference to DSV is in a sentence such as “We’ve got to do something about that @$@#%% DSV. Well actually, I never have heard any of the very polite volunteers use the word @$@#%%, but you know what I mean.

In spite of many past efforts, by the end of the season, many parts of the garden are buried in DSV. Literally buried. As a way of giving the appearance of doing something, many volunteers including me have cut back the thick vines in an attempt to let other things grow. This approach may have some merit. What it does do is generate a tonne – that’s the metric unit for a whole bunch – of hacked up DSV vines, some with mature seed pods. The standard operating procedure has been to pile the cut vines up. This avoids moving them any great distance, which would spread the seed.  But there has always been the question of whether we should be composting the cut vines. If the composting is done at a high enough temperature and under the right conditions, the vegetation and the seeds should be decomposed to harmless yet useful compost.

It was Tony D who suggested that we try an extreme composting experiment using a black sealed composter – a separate barrel for DSV so that we don’t cross-contaminate other compost. Black to help keep the interior hot using sunlight and sealed to accelerate the decomposition. So that is what we are going to try.

We have purchased a black plastic barrel that we will fill only with cut DSV, let it cook in the sun, agitate it as required, and, if we are lucky, in the end we will have turned our dreaded enemy into growth promoting compost. The skull and cross bones painted on the side is a signal to all DSV that we are taking no prisoners. Cross our path and into the barrel you go!

Perhaps we can find a use for this unwanted intruder.

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FWG in early July 2013

by Christine Hanrahan

Despite coolish temperatures and gray skies, there was much to see at the garden today.

House wrens busy feeding young

House wrens busy feeding young

Birds are VERY active feeding their young. I watched a pair of house wrens constantly carrying food to their nest. Meanwhile, a male common yellowthroat sounded the alert when I inadvertently walked past his nest site. He was joined by catbirds, a red-eyed vireo, one of the house wrens, song sparrows (one carrying food), all agitated by my presence and scolding loudly. The kestrel pair were flying above the new woods, calling and swooping as if deeply alarmed. I walked over to their nest box, but could see nothing around that site, so not sure what they were upset about. The great crested flycatchers continue to hang around near the pond.

Butterflies were, not surprisingly, few on such a day, but I did see half a dozen european skippers, a few cabbage whites, and the first hairstreak of the year (at least for me) – a banded hairstreak.

Chrysomelid beetle case made of poop

Chrysomelid beetle case made of poop

I made it my mission to go on a poop patrol today. No, not for doggie scat, but for insects who use their excrement in one way or another. Larvae of Chrysomelid beetles in the Cryptocephalinae subfamily make their larval cases of their own poop, and as they keep adding to it, it gets bigger and bigger. Still with Chrysomelid beetles, many larvae in this family pile their frass (poop) on their backs, perhaps to protect them from predators, perhaps to provide cover, or both. And I was successful… you can see shots of both of these on the July photo blog.

Also found: many asian ladybeetles ready to chow down on the aphids on so many plants. A tiny bronze Buprestid beetle, lots of juvenile grasshoppers, syrphid flies, bald-faced hornets nectaring on figwort (which they seem to especially like), and so on and so on…

The June photo blog has a wealth of recently added photos from Diane and Barry. Some stunning shots in there, so please check it out.

Also one night late in June, Barry, Diane and I went mothing at the garden. Not many moths, but some interesting other insects. Photos of some of these are on the PBase gallery, and moth photos taken by Diane will be posted to our moth gallery over the coming week.

By the way, we have passed the ONE MILLION mark, our FWG site having been viewed 1,015,801 times as of today.