Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Out and About: Round Lake Nature Notes: September 2011

    First, I would like to thank everyone who either brought over mushrooms or told us where good mushroom patches were located.  Bob Conners found the largest puffball we’ve ever seen.  It was the size of at least two basketballs!  He found it growing in his yard.  Pat and Rich took a walk in One Hundred Acre Woods in the Tech Park and reported seeing at least nine different types of mushrooms.  With so many mushrooms out and about, Dan started using a dehydrator.  He dries the mushrooms, stores them in glass jars and then uses them later in soups and stews.  If you have a favorite mushroom recipe please send it our way.
     Garden books and gardeners often talk about the Autumn task of putting a garden to bed.  It is a general clean-up and winterizing of the garden. It may include cutting back perennial plants, raking leaves, and giving winter protection to some of the more fragile plants and shrubs by mulching, staking or wrapping in burlap.  Here’s a piece I wrote last year, on my blog, concerning this task.
    I usually wait for the last leaf to fall from our two large maple trees before I begin raking.  It then seems like an endless job of covering garden plants and shrubs with some leaves, composting as much as will fit in the piles, and bagging the rest.  I procrastinate raking them up.  I enjoy the crunch of leaves underfoot and shuffling through them.  I love seeing kids in our neighborhood tossing them up in the air, making leaf forts, and jumping into huge piles.  Now it’s November and the first snow has surprised us.  I look out on a half raked yard, still littered with a good amount of leaves, and a forlorn looking garden.  It’s certainly not looking neat and tidy.
    However, I know from my readings and direct observations, that a messy yard is more attractive to birds and other wildlife.  Leaf litter is a good hiding place for insects and larvae to winter over in and will also attract wrens, robins, White throated sparrows, and juncos looking for these food sources.  In addition, leaves will act as an insulator and fertilizer for grass and plants.  My huge ornamental grass will flop over and become a frozen table where I’ll place seed to be eaten by squirrels ( of course) and birds.  Underneath the grass, birds will take cover on frigid days and the neighbor’s cat will need to be chatted with as she slips under there too.  I haven’t cut down my garden plants because I’ve noticed in past years, the seed pods from coneflowers, black-eyed susans, and obedient plants are enjoyed by the goldfinches and chickadees.  A pile of sticks, meant for a fire, is turning into a nice brush pile.  It will offer winter protection for birds and small mammals.  Now I’m looking out at the yard thinking things are looking pretty good, at least from a nature lover’s standpoint.  I think I’m done with raking!

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