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Connecting to Our Food Web

Dedicated to educational resources towards building and sustaining viable food webs and ecosystems
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Welcome to My Jungle - November 2017

My 'to do" list seems to be getting longer rather than shorter as I prepare my Jungle for the coming of winter. Some items on the list have been relatively simple, while others have presented some interesting and humorous challenges. One of my easy tasks was collecting and washing gazing balls. Some gardeners leave them out for a bit of color in the winter garden but I prefer to bring mine in to avoid any potential breakage. A few years ago, my husband made a simple storage rack for our gazing balls out of a 1"x6" pine board with holes cut specific to hold each base size. I keep the rack on top of a bookcase where we can enjoy the decorative glass throughout the winter.

One of my more challenging tasks was bringing in oversized containers by myself this year. I joke that my husband developed a hernia just when I needed him most, but in reality he probably developed the hernia from moving pots around for me in the past. Most of my containers are usually small enough to easily load into a garden cart and move to the garage for overwintering. But just a few are beyond my lifting capability without giving myself a hernia too. Those I shifted on to a long thin sheet of scrap paneling and pulled them along like a sled into the garage. I have seen "real" plant sleds for sale and now I see their usefulness! My philodendron though was so heavy I could barely shift it onto my improvised sled, let alone tug it all the way into the garage. What to do? It crossed my mind to just let it freeze out, but I have had this plant a long time and have developed somewhat of a personal relationship with it, so letting it die wasn't an option. What I needed was a tree dolly. Good thing I had a friend who owned one and I could borrow. Amazing how the right tool can make a tough job easy, or at the very least doable.

Another "right" tool recently resulted in a moment of sheer joy for me, and I still can't really believe my good luck. The lead-up to this moment started when I remembered too late that I had broken my favorite bulb planting auger the year before. What prompted this memory was the arrival of 200 daffodil bulbs that needed planting in a really tough-to-dig site. My thinking at the time was to go ahead and order a new auger (Friday), but to not wait for its arrival to start planting the bulbs on the following Sunday so I could get the task done over the weekend. It didn't take me long to regret that decision. None of my other augers were up to the task and I only had three bulbs in the ground of the 200 laid out when I stood up to consider my conditions for surrender. Then a really odd thing happened. A delivery van pulled up in the driveway near my workplace and the driver got out and handed me a package. Unbelievably it was my PowerPlanter 2"x7" Garden and Grass Plug Auger that I had ordered less than two days previous. Most augers available in the garden center are too large both in length and diameter for all but the largest bulbs like crown imperials (Fritillaria imperialis) or large ornamental onions (Allium spp.). A two-inch auger is the perfect diameter for any bulb smaller than a daffodil and it allows for a fairly tight planting. I prefer to auger holes from a kneeling position and drop bulbs as I go, so a seven-inch drill works best for me. A 24-inch drill is great for augering holes from a standing position.

I waited until recently to harvest a small crop of medlars (Mespilus germanica). Medlars are traditionally allowed to soften on the tree (bletted) or brought inside to ripen naturally over time. The squirrels got my crop last year so I decided to harvest after a few frosts and finish ripening inside. After harvest, I washed, rinsed and dried the fruit before placing the fruit on a covered plate to ripen. They are near hard as rocks right now, but I am hopeful that I can ripen them on the counter without any fruit rots or fruit fly infestations setting in. From what I have read and others have reported, I need then to allow them to ripen until the skin wrinkles and the flesh has turned brown and become the texture of applesauce. At that stage they can be eaten as is or used to make desserts and jellies.

While my husband and I were being overly cautious about taking down our bald-faced hornet nest until all activity ceased, the local red-bellied woodpecker (and others) had no such hesitation. They have already created two large holes in the nests, exposing the honeycomb structure inside. Like raccoon scenting ripe corn, woodpeckers seem to know when it is safe to check out a bald-faced hornet nest. When I saw the damage to the nest, I remembered something similar with my solitary bee nesting box. I was so excited to see the tubes mudded over, signifying something had nested in the tube structures only to see a woodpecker at short time later perched on the nesting box pecking at the ends of said tubes. All I can say is that Mother Nature is a wondrously complex and intriguing puzzle.

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