My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Milkweed Project

I usually see life as a glass half full.  That was not the case when the core that lets me turn the key and start my car failed and I had to get it to a dealer to have it fixed. That cost about $900 including a tow to Bangor, Maine,  about 75 miles away.  Then I had to wait until my boss was heading  from the refuge, which he only does once or twice a week.  The first time, he had to leave before I was finished with my course on driving off-road vehicles.  So I was even more bummed out about not having a car. 

Finally I was able to catch a ride with him and go retrieve my car.  Steve is a fascinating person as he started life as a biologist and also has a very quick mind.  In the course of our conversation, I mentioned how I love to grow plants.  He said that maybe I was the person to start a milkweed project.  He wanted to grow a lot of milkweed and then plant it on the refuge.  At that point, I got real excited and was kind of glad I had had car trouble, since I would get to grow plants. 

Monarch butterflies go just a little past Maine into southern Canada, but they have been disappearing from Maine for the last decade.  Maine is asking people to grow milkweed, the ONLY genus of plants that the caterpillars can feed on, to help bring back habitat for them. And milkweeds are also VERY important to native bees, another species I'm passionate about saving. So I was REALLY excited to get to be in on this project.  And I LOVE the perfume of common milkweed so I want to be around LOTS of it. 

 I started researching how to do start milkweed.   We had some seeds collected last year which needed to be cleaned of their floss, and stratified - soaked in water overnight, then mixed with a dampened mix of perlite and vermiculite and refrigerated for two to four weeks. Then the seeds needed to be started in trays before being transplanted into five inch pots to accommodate their extensive root system. 

I found sources for the planting cells plus trays, vermiculite, compost, and perlite.  Steve rapidly got it all ordered and I bought 35 dishpans to use as seed starting trays.  He also decided to buy 1000 seeds each of common milkweed and swamp milkweed. I conned an intern into cleaning the collected seeds - we have a homemade cage that we can crank around.  It has rocks in it which nock off the little parachutes and leave the seeds behind.  (The floss falls out through the screen.) These gave us several thousand more seeds. 

We were starting this project a few months late so I pushed the seeds along, only stratifying them for two weeks, and then transplanting them when only a few of them had true leaves.  I had so many seeds, that I planted some directly into the ground before stratifying, and others after stratifying, after I filled up all my bins with seeds. 

The dishpan planting trays of milkweed seeds plus views of my garden

The next problem was that I had maybe 6000 seeds that sprouted but we could only afford to raise 2000 plants in cells. So we decided to plant the rest of the seedlings directly into the ground.  I had potting mix left over, so I decided to add a little of it around each little transplant. Then I transplanted seeds for many days.  But even with help from the YCC kids on a day and a half and help for a few hours from various staff members and two volunteers - all the way from Israel - I still had some plants still in their sprouting trays. 

I got seven flats of forty cells from the first dishpan of seedlings - ended up using nine of the thirty-five to transplant to the cells

The first day, the YCC kids helped me, we had several of them absent. But I think we were five or six and were using those little weeders to build our holds in clay soil.  It was REALLY hard to get the clay to break up enough for us to cover the seedlings.   I think we all planted less than one hundred seedlings each. 

Michael had landscaping experience and preworked his plot  

Daniel concentrating on getting a hole made

Then watering his plot

Our watering system - that's a collapsible watering tank in the back of the truck - we fill it with a fire hose

The second time the YCC kids helped, we had the full crew and I had found a MUCH easier place to plant to seeds - along a newly worked ditch where the planting cover failed. 

Another day - another site and several new workers so I'm explaining the setup - each pair of bins is a planting station - one has the seedlings, and one potting mix 

I'm demonstrating how to carefully loosen the mix around the seedlings and then carefully separate them as they are growing in clumps and we have to tease their roots apart without breaking them or touching the roots

I'm demonstrating how to hold the seedling by ONLY the leaves and what a good root system looks like - with so many seedlings, we don't transplant plants with poor roots

We are planting in a ditch that needs cover and which is at the end of the meadow around headquarters they used trowels and the weeders here 

Christina, a summer worker and two ladies from Israel helped me one morning

No, that's clover, NOT milkweed. The milkweed is that tiny little green stem just above the index finger - it will take about a week before it gets over planting shock and starts growing 

I'm writing this blog on Friday, July 29.  I planned to plant seeds for a few hours last night and most of the day today as well as most of the day tomorrow.  But we had a big long rain last evening so everything is too wet to attempt to plant until later today. An I'm going off for a week of play with two of my daughters, starting Sunday, so  about a thousand of my babies are going to die because they aren't in growing medium. 

Last week, I started planning my next two steps in this  project - to get places ready in which to transplant the seeds and to arrange for help to get them in the ground. I planned it all out, with possible dates, and got Steve's approval.  So we are having a work day August 21 and grilling hot dogs and providing a hot dog lunch to planting volunteers. So far, we have put out more posters than we need people as I think we can plant with about thirty helpers. 

You are invited too! - I'll provide lodging to the first out of town volunteer!

Next week, the refuge staff will first mow and then till lots of  little patches within the big meadow around the Refuge Headquarters.  They will also lay out a hose system so we can water each patch.  I plan to give the plots LOTS of water, to (hopefully) make dormant seeds think it's spring and sprout.  Then we'll till one more time just before the work day to murder them all. 

Hopefully we'll get enough people out for planting.  If not, we plan on me planting them over the course of the following week, then making sure they have enough water to grow fast until around September 10.  Then I'll let them start to go dormant so they will survive winter.

Then I'll be holding my breath that these little guys will get big enough to harden off before frost - which I expect near October 1st this year.  And I'll have to beg for reports on the fate of them next summer.  But I hope they look like this next July and August. These pictures are from plants already growing and blooming on the refuge.  Several species of bees were VERY excited about them. 

A tricolored bumblebee feeding on milkweed

I'm not sure of this species of bee?  but I have only seen them on milkweed

If this is a bee, it's really long and skinny - but there were LOTS of them in the milkweed patch

I've had a great time growing the little guys.  And my now my glass is again half full.  

My swamp milkweed is growing faster than is the common milkweed - this picture on July30

 I'll post another blog on our work day.  And stay tuned for my play week with my daughters - through Maine's Bold Coast, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. I'll be playing with my youngest daughter when this blog comes out. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Trails and Gardens in the Woods at Coastal Maine Botanical Garden

July 17, 2016

Besides the heavily planted gardens, there are several trails that lead through mostly natural woods, with views of the bay and interspersed with a few gardens, garden art, benches, and a gazebo.

It was on the trail leading from the planted gardens into the wood trails, that I finally met up with Christina. She said to be sure to visit the Fairy Village and to enjoy the trail along the shore of Huckleberry Cove and Back River. I took her advice and went down to where I had to turn left to visit the Vayo Meditation Garden. I wished I had had more time to just sit and enjoy it – it was composed of lots of boulders and benches made of rock and looked out through the trees to the Cove. To top it off, kayakers were paddling past. It was very quiet there and only one other couple were quietly enjoying each other and the garden.

I enjoyed the surprise of this big  ball in the woods

Bench in the Mediation Garden

A wider view of the garden

A lovely pond in a boulder overlooking the bay

A view around the curving trail through the Mediation Garden

Such calm - note the couple enjoying the almost solitude

The trail along the bay

A pine cone sculpture

This guy looked like he was tending the rental kayaks from a paddle board


From there I continued along the shore trail and soon came to the Fairy Garden. This is an interactive site for children and families. They collect pieces of wood and build little structures. The dad in one family seemed to be having the best time of all.

View from the trail to part of the stone fence

A family having fun building a fairy house

I enjoyed the rest of the lower set of trails before my time ran out and I had to head back. I didn't get to see the rhododendron garden. But did take time to enjoy the stone fences I came across and to read the information on them. Settlers in New England had to clear the land of rocks before they could farm it so they built rock fences. By 1870, they had built 240,000 miles of stone fences, the distance the earth is from the moon. It took a total of about three billion hours to build them. They were mostly used for boundaries between farms and to fence in fields to hold sheep and cows. Sheep used to be grazed on these lands – the soil is too thin to grow crops.

The trail came close to the stone fence and had and interpretative sign there

Soon I was back at the visitor center and within a few minutes, Christina met me and we headed off for one more adventure – this time to visit the lighthouse whose image graces the Maine quarter. And we also visited the aquarium and the town while waiting for rains to end and the sun to come out. More on this day later. We left the refuge at 5:30 and got back on 9:30. It was a very fun day. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A visit to Coastal Maine Botanical Garden

July 17, 2016

(I'll try, but I'm afraid I'm going to have WAY too many pictures.  So spare a little more time for this blog.)

View of the Visitor Center - this is the only grass in the garden

Our third stop in the Boothbay area was the Coastal Main Botanical Garden. (Since this was the BEST adventure, you'll have to wait for the others.) I had found a write-up about this garden and found it is 270 acres of tidal shore in Boothbay, Maine and that Trip Advisor has named it the #1 public garden in the United States. So I was willing to drive the seven hours round trip distance needed to get to Boothbay to visit it. Just walking in, I was amazed at the layers and textures in this garden.

Some of a group of fish at the entrance

A little bed near the entrance is still exuberantly textured and colored

 I told Christina, the intern who accompanied me, to go do whatever she wanted, since I would drive her crazy if she was waiting on me to take pictures. We agreed to meet in three hours. Then I started exploring the kitchen garden which had a beautiful mix of flowers and vegetables in raised beds. There was a beautiful fountain as the focal point.

The view that drew me into the kitchen garden

Even in the kitchen garden the textures were amazing

This plant had a little more texture that I'd want in my garden

What a marvelous lettuce

My next stop was at the children's garden. This was quite large and again had lots of colors and textures. It also had a pond and a full model of the little whaler boat, Tidly Idly from the children's book, Burt Dow, Deep Water Man. I had never heard this Maine story but soon I found a little children's reading room, hosted by a docent, and this was one of the first books I saw. I had to stop, sit in a rocking chair, and read the story of Burt Dow, his laughing seagull, and his barely floatable boat. One day, while out fishing, he managed to catch a whale by the tail. He got his hook out and then put a bandaid on the tail. Then a big wind came up and Burt asked the whale to swallow him until the wind went down, since his boat would not withstand the big waves. The whale did swallow him but Burt had to make the whale a little sick in his stomach to get back out. (You'll have to read the book to find all those amusing details.) He erupted out of the whale's stomach to find himself surrounded by whales. He finally figured out they too wanted bandaids on their tails. After that he managed to get back to land.

Kids can put on oilskins and climb into the boat and imagine themselves inside a whale. (The oilskins weren't quite big enough for me.)

A long view of part of the children's garden

I found a frog with a very sore nose in the children's garden

One of the structures in the children's garden

A water lily in the children''s pond

Another fun spot in the children's garden

I've always wanted a bed like this in my garden - but with a raised bed planted "mattress"

There were lots of fun things in this area. Kids are allowed to pick blueberries, and there are lots of whimsical things to enjoy. There is also a kind of a tree house with a bridge built into a net connecting it to another house. Below it there is another sitting area with lots of stump stools.

Loved the praying mantis and the succulents on the roof of one of the houses
 in the children's garden

The bees and I loved these echinaceas - that's a tricolor bumblebee and is also found on the refuge

Then I started down all the paths I could find in the main garden. The garden is in a forest and has so many layers. The trails are often parallel but you only occasionally see the heads of visitors on them. Otherwise, you are walking past flower beds and shrubs, and sometimes under trees. Lots of flowers were in bloom, but some had already gone to seed and some were still in bud. So this is probably a fun place to visit from very late spring through early fall. And I'm sure it's bones will also look great after the flowering season. And there are little branching trails off the main trails that lead to little dead end rooms. Each of them has a very different feel. One of them was visible as the trail crossed a small creek, just below a musical waterfall, then ended up at a bench agains the background of shrubs. One of the three woman ahead of me voiced my thoughts, saying, “I could just sit here for hours and enjoy the peace.”

The entrance to the children's garden

Art in the only open area of the gardens

A path showing the textures and colors and attraction to the next "around the bend"

A very small but densely planted area plus art

Another path view

The paths had some differences in paving materials adding to the diversity of texture

A view around the main pond

Level changes also help make this garden feel tightly planted

Loved this sweet pea - and how spring,  summer, and fall plants seem to bloom almost at once 

Many plants could add structure, texture and color, all within themselves

Another great little view

The art was integrated into the site and complemented the other textures and colors

Textures redoux plus art

One of the most interesting exhibits was several walls of plants. There was a docent in that area and I talked to her about them. I think the story was that the original donors of the garden had a handicapped relative and wanted the garden to be accessible and enjoyable for people that might be missing a sense or not be very mobile. They invented a system consisting of a wooden frame that holds cubes made of a kind of stiff fencing. These are packed with planting medium, apparently inside of “pillowcases” of landscape fabric, then planted. The frames have different flowers planted on each side and are oriented to have a sunny side and a shady side. I immediately wanted to add frames of very textured plants, as well as plants with different scents, that people could touch and smell without having to bend over.  The garden has offered classes on how to replicate these planters. 

One of the wall gardens - begonias are planted on the other side

This is the cube that is filled with soil and then stacked inside the frames, two deep

I soon realized that the garden is set right into a coastal forest and that there are hiking trails through that forest to where there are a few other gardens. But I'm sure you are tired of this blog by now, so I'll save them for my next blog. And we had a few other adventures that day. Watch for them as well.

If you want to learn more about this outstanding garden, click here.