Sunday, 17 May 2020

Woodland Looking Like a Wreck

Image of oriole and indigo bunting at backyard feeder

The newly open squirrel farm feeding station attracts the most brilliantly colored woodland birds around.

For the Birds

This week saw an explosion of spring flowers and activity across the squirrel farm. We hung the bird feeders as soon as we moved in a month ago but resisted the urge to fill them right away. We did not want the local wildlife to become dependent on handouts. Nearly every day, however, we saw bird arriving for the spring and checking out the empty feeders with obvious disappointment. This week we relented after neighbors told of the beautiful birds that frequently their backyards.

The response to our offerings was immediate and overwhelming. Unlike the house sparrows and chickadees that dominated our yard in Madison, visitors to the squirrel farm feeders include bluebirds, nuthatches, orioles, gold finches, rose breasted grosbeaks, downy woodpeckers, wood thrush, and hummingbirds. The brilliant colors of these beautiful birds remind me of a tropical zoo display more than any backyard I have ever known.The surrounding woods pay host to cardinals, bluejays, wrens, warblers, red winged blackbirds, red tail hawks and pileated woodpeckers.

Disaster Zone

On the other hand, the squirrel farm woodland is now officially a wreck. Shortly after moving in, I began cutting down buckthorn and treating the stumps with Garlon 4 to keep them from re-sprouting. At first, I looked for fairly open spots and began stacking the brush into compact piles for burning later. Trees begin to push sap up into trunk and out to branches as the days lengthen and weather warms. That upwelling of sap prevents herbicide from moving down into the roots where it does its damage.

So, once sap began to flow my tactics had to change, as well. Instead of killing the trees, my aim switched to preventing them from making seed. Instead of cutting trunks off neatly at the ground and treating the stumps, I started lopping trunks off around waist height and leaving them untreated. Though the tree remained alive, without branches, it could not flower and produce seed. Of course, that choice means I must return in late summer and cut those trunks and treat the stumps to kill the trees. But removing the tops prevents millions of seeds from entering the seed bank to plague the woodland for decades to come.

One retired guy working part time to clear five acres of buckthorn thicket in less than a month meant that all those tops were left where the dropped. The result is a woodland that resembles a battlefield. For the next couple months, it will be just me and the ticks turning that chaos into a scattering of well organized brush piles.

Image of forget me not flowers

These stunning blue flowers are quickly becoming the scourge of the north woods.

But wait, there’s more

Adding to my manmade disaster is that of invasive garlic mustard. The squirrel farm sports more than a half acre of dense stands along with scattered patches and pioneering individual plants. I filled a large construction bag of the plants each of the past three weeks. Most of the outlying individuals and small patches are removed and will not make seed in 2020. The large patches along the small ravine remain. With luck I will remove all or nearly all of them before the seed pods burst a month from now.

Joining the garlic mustard is another invasive plant more common in north country woodlands, the forget-me-not. With lovely little blue flowers, these common garden plants overrun woodlands, especially along river banks and other sunlit edges. The Baraboo hills are at the southern edge of the tension zone between northern woodland and sand country and the prairie and savanna plant communities that dominate the southern third of Wisconsin. Life in the tension zone means having the diversity of both native and invasive species. The infestation is currently confined to a 1,000 square foot area of woodland east of the road and south of the driveway. My challenge is to clear this patch in the next three days. Rain and warm weather will soon make the woodlands mosquito hell, so time is not on my side.

On the Up-Side

The squirrel farm is much more than a neglected woodland thicket. More amazing spring ephemeral wildflowers made their appearance this week. Yellow forest violets brightened the forest floor. Alternate-leaved dogwood, also called pagoda dogwood trees unfurled their leaves. Seedlings around their bases ensure that lovely mid-story trees will supply us with gorgeous flowers, while their dark purple berries will help woodland birds feed their young throughout the summer.

The oak seedlings and round saplings scattered across the property offer promise, hoping to compete with their more aggressive neighbors like cherry, walnut, locust and boxelder. It will up to me to place my thumb on the scale of the oaks, until there is enough surface fuel to begin prescribed burning in a few years. Once fire turns to the squirrel farm, the fire tolerant oaks and hickories will regain their dominance and those shade tolerant species like maples will retreat.

Mushrooms!

This week also brought our first morel mushroom harvest. First to arrive this week are the half-free morels. Neighbors claim the squirrel farm is a bountiful store of morels, the rains and warm weather we are getting this week make us truly hopeful.

 

 

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

A spring morning amble

Image of woodland in the early morning light

View from the front porch of the squirrel farm.

It is about time that I acknowledge maybe the biggest difficulty I have writing, especially about land stewardship; particularly living on the squirrel farm. My office has a large window behind which sits my desk. The heating vent sits on the floor in front of the window. I am sitting here at my desk hot air blowing at my feet staring out the window with geranium plants flanking my face, competing with me for the precious light outside. How can I sit here on such a beautiful spring morning when all I want to do is go outside?

The last frost date for this part of the state is right around May 15th, so it should be no great surprise that the air outside this morning is a frigid twenty five degrees. That same air is really dry, so dry that while we are getting a hard freeze, there is no frost. The sun has risen high enough over the south ridge that at 7:15 am, we are fully bathed in that rich golden sunlight that photographers call the golden hour.

When I am walking the land and losing myself in the small and infinite world around me, I have no notebook to record the experience. Even if a notebook is tucked under my arm, I have no desire to pull it out and lose the moment trying in vane to capture it. This is the paradox of the naturalist, of every erstwhile wander and those watching the robin and peewees plying their trade just outside the window.

Out the door

I am not, by nature, a particularly literate person. I am a landowner who wants to give back some of what the Wisconsin outdoors has given to me. Today, that means pouring another cup of coffee, showering and spraying down my cloths with permethrin before heading out the door. Two days ago, while digging a trench, I acquired my first tick of the season. While that critter was a dog tick, the unwanted harbinger put me on notice that tick season is here. As the mercury climbs, the ticks will become active … and hungry.

By 9:15 am on this spring morning the temperature has climbed to 38 degrees with bright sunshine and little wind. The first bloodroot make an appearance just north of the driveway. Their leaves, nearly three inches across, spread out to grab sunlight and power the impending flower production sure to arrive in a matter of days. Boxelder and buckthorn leaves are opening. The spring sap flow halts dormant season cutting and stump treatment. While dormant trees readily take herbicide like Garlon 4 down into their roots, the emergence of leaves means flow will be moving away from the roots. Any chemical applied now will be pushed right back out.

For the next two six weeks, the only hope of preventing this year’s seed crop will mean cutting the stumps at waist height. I will need to return later in the summer to remove the trunks and treat the stumps once the normal leaf out period is over and the roots are once again ready to take nutrient downward once again.

Image of rock wall viewed from atop the wall

Rock wall marking the section line is nearly wide enough for a cart.

Surprise me

The aim this spring morning is to take a slow stroll through the woods to see what spring on the squirrel farm wants to reveal about itself. I make my way north from the driveway along an old stone wall. It is only 3-4 feet high, but for most of its length, the wall is wider than it is tall. The road we live on begins to veer away to the west less than 200 feet past the driveway. The area was platted and parcels sold off thirty years ago, but this wall is much older. There are red oak trees growing out of it flanks that first sprouted nearly a century ago.

Making my way deep into the woodland, the wall stays on my left hip. I turn to look over my right shoulder I look directly at our living room window and am reminded that homes and roads here no longer obey cardinal compass directions, as farmers who settled this land did. I pull out my smart phone and open the compass app. Sure enough, that rock way runs directly north and south, and it suddenly clicks in my mind that this is no random wall, it marks the section line that once would have declared the boundary between two settler farmsteads.

Not all surprises are welcome

There is so much more to learn; nearly every step reveals something new. Depending the slope along the wall, my way is blocked by dense black locust saplings. I will need to cut, stack and burn them this fall. Black locust are native to Wisconsin. Oak and hickory savannah covered this land prior to settlement, and black locust were not typically food there. Farmers planted them to harvest as supply of young trees for fence posts. Fast growing, rot resistant and straight, locust posts filled an important need.

Today, their nasty thorns and prolific seed production make them most unwelcome. Because black locust is a legume, nearly every tool I have to control locusts comes with its own drawbacks. Fire stimulates seed germination. Pulling saplings out by the roots opens the soil (encouraging erosion) and causes locust seeds to germinate. Mowing kills top growth, but the black locust simply re-sprout. Most effective herbicides persist in the soil and kill nearby native plants. Getting this problem under control will be a long and unpleasant slog.

Back on what was once a trail leading to the house, nuthatches flit from trunk to trunk, feeding on the newly emerging insects. A pair of wood thrush hop across the lawn near the house. Every walk in the woods so far is a new adventure. I cannot wait to see how the land responds to its new steward. Perhaps the care I provide can begin to match the wisdom the it will impart in exchange.

April 2020

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Get Active in the Woodland this Spring

Image of boxelder bud opening

Boxelder, while not a welcome guest, is among the first trees to leaf out each spring.

Spring in the woodland brings promise and challenge. Yesterday saw the first violets of the spring on the squirrel farm, a five acre woodland property my wife Anette and I  recently purchased. These blossoms, however, are in our lawn where the abundance of sunlight and relatively dry soil no doubt hasten their display. Anette spotted our first pileated woodpecker in the top of a dead elm along the driveway.

Last week, a male bluebird set up residence in the backyard. He enjoys using a five foot tall stump in the middle of the yard as his primary perch. From there, he has a 360 degree view of his domain; his proud stance and fluttering wings announcing him dominance to any would be rivals.

Invasive shrubs threaten the squirrel farm

While the cool April holds back many from breaking their winter dormancy, garlic mustard thrives with some plants already setting flower buds. The property has patches up to twenty feet in diameter, with a larger stretch along the banks of an intermittent stream. Scattered plants elsewhere on the property promise an uncontrollable problem if the infestation is not dealt with in the year or two.

Image of buckthorn on brush pile

Cut buckthorn and wild grape vines fill a brush pile waiting to burn once the snow flies.

Common buckthorn is another serious problem at the squirrel farm. Because we were not able to get into the woods until a few weeks ago, my first priority was to cut and stump treat as many large, seed producing, trees as possible. Leaves are now beginning to emerge. That means sap is flowing. Because the roots are pushing flow upward, the stumps will not absorb the Garlon 4 and carry it down to the roots. This translocation will only resume once the trees have bloomed and leaves have fully opened. That will not happen until sometime in mid June. My hope is to have buckthorn cut and stacked for burning when the snows arrive in December.

Image of bush honeysuckle

Honeysuckle leaves open as this woodland invader prepares to menace another growing season.

Another invasive shrub is the bush honeysuckle. Yes, the squirrel farm also has it share of this bad boy of the woods. Because it emerges even earlier than buckthorn, I got to deal with only a small portion of the bushes scattered across the squirrel farm. And like buckthorn, it will need to wait for late summer and fall for removal.

Image of mayapples

Mayapples unfold their umbrella of leaves to greet another spring.

Spring brings the promise of better times

Mayapples began emerging last week and are now beginning to spread their umbrella shaped leaves. Heavy shrub growth has changed the character of Wisconsin woodlands over the past forty years. Many spring wildflowers that were once common are all but gone from or woodlands. One of the most robust woodland spring wildflowers, mayapples can persist in deep shade that prevent many of their native neighbors from thriving.

My challenge is to remove those invasive shrubs and open up the canopy enough to allow native woodland wildflowers to return. Once light reaches the ground other woodland flowers and grasses will once again take up residence.

Those ground layer plants, along with leaf litter will provide enough fuel to permit returning fire to the land. Southern Wisconsin was, until European settlement, a landscape dominated by fire. Lightning and fires set by Native Americans regularly burned the prairies, savannah and open woodlands the covered much of the lower two-thirds of the state.

Image of gooseberry

Gooseberry bushes are an important woodland inhabitant. They provide valuable wildlife food.

A fire dominated land

The squirrel farm was dominated by red oak, white oak and bur oak. Because of the slopes and rocky soil, those trees were probably scattered so widely that their branches seldom touched. Oak trees have relatively thick and corky bark. The wildfires that regularly visited the squirrel farm prevented shrubs from getting established. Likewise, fire killed maple, cherry, black walnut and other tree species whose bark could not tolerate fires of even low intensity and short duration. Grasses and wildflowers bounce back quickly from fires, their roots taking up the nutrients left in the ash.

As a result, the squirrel farm probably resembled a park like setting; the hillside dotted here and there with large spreading oak trees. The stream would have hosted shagbark and possibly bitternut hickory, owing to the moist soil and higher humidity. The abundance and variety of grasses, sedges and wildflowers would have provided food for a wide range of bugs, spiders, and all manner of insects; both crawling and flying. These would have supported abundanant wildlife, small and large.

Our farming neighbors will continue to make sure that the deer population is kept well fed with corn and grass. The landowners who neglect their woodlands will keep squirrels supplied with hickory nuts and black walnuts. My mission will be to provide homes for badgers and bobcats; grouse and woodcock. A healthy plant community makes abundant wildlife possible.

February 2020

Friday, 07 February 2020

Build Better Birdhouses

I don’t know about you, but I get restless during the cold and lazy days of winter. I felled and hauled firewood for next year  much of it is even split. Woody brush got its basal bark treatment before hunting season. I ordered seeds garden for next season. Snow is deep and the land is resting up for spring.

Now is the time I get busy in the workshop. Nobody will ever confuse me with a competent woodworker, but when faced with the alternative of preparing my taxes, just about anything will due as a distraction. This is just the right time to build some birdhouses. I like to rely on the native plants on my land to serve as the bird feeders. However, our feathered neighbors will need shelter  for their young just as much as food if they are to successfully raise a brood this year.

Birdhouse Design Tips

Over the years, I have made my share of birdhouses. Often no birds used them at all. Invasive birds, such as starlings or house sparrows may raid or take over your birdhouses. I learned a few lessons on my own, but found this list of tips from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that pulls together best practices for birdhouses, regardless of the species. A good box should have:

  • Ventilation – small holes, usually placed under the roof overhang, are important for airflow.
  • Drainage holes – you don’t want the box to fill with rainwater.
  • Roof – the roof should be sloped to help keep out rain and should extend over the walls of the box for extra protection.
  • No perch – predators can potentially use a perch for support. Birds do not require a perch to get in and out of the box.
  • Predator guard – adding a baffle to the pole supporting your nest box will help deter predators like snakes and raccoons.
  • Hinged door – you will need to clean out your nest box at the end of the nesting season, and a hinged door makes this much simpler. It will also enable you to easily monitor nests!

Better Birdhouses Start With A Plan

Here is a site that provides free birdhouse plans that are proven to work. You enter your region (here in Wisconsin, that is the Great Lakes-Big Rivers) and your habitat type. The good folks at Cornell Lab of Ornithology will show you a list of bird house plans for species that will nest there. The plans include drawings, tips and tricks to make sure your nest box to ensure you build, site and properly install them. That way you get the best chance of attracting the birds you want.

color drawing of two people building a nest cam equipped birdhouse

Yes, you can build your very own nest cam.

Ever thought of building your very own nest cam? Now it is easier than you think to create your own nest cam and engage in real citizen science. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology NestWatch project contains a series of slides that show you how to install and operate a successful and ethical nest cam.

Rent Your Woodworking Shop

Lots of folks who live in town have limited access to woodworking tools. A well equipped woodworking shop can easily run more than ten thousand dollars. Fortunately, my rudimentary workshop is sufficient for a building birdhouse or two.

But if your complete shop fits in a small toolbox, you may still be in luck. Maker spaces, like The Bodgery in Madison are makers cooperatives that give you access to a fully equipped woodworking shop for a modest monthly membership fee. For $50.00 a month ($25.00 for senior citizens) you get to use all the tools in their incredible woodworking shop, but also get access to their welding, laser cutting, electronics, and fiber arts shops as well.

The Bodgery also conducts classes to teach you how to use their tools. This is an awesome place to learn and grow. I signed up for a couple months just to get access to their large drill press that I used to drill the three inch long holes needed to make pollinator house. Members range in age, background and ability levels. Most are incredibly generous with their knowledge and can help when you get stuck.

2019

November 2019

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Remember to Thank the Turkey

image of wild turkey

The wild turkey reintroduction is a true Wisconsin conservation success story.

Thanksgiving is the time of year when we give thanks for bountiful gifts that come to us throughout the year. While many Wisconsinites equate Thanksgiving with the fall deer hunt, everybody can agree that the true symbol of the holiday is the turkey. Why not thank the turkey?

Whether your table features a wild or domestic bird, whether it is fresh or frozen, the centerpiece of the holiday table is a turkey. Wild turkeys were hunted to extinction in Wisconsin by 1881. They only made a return in 1976, when the Wisconsin DNR traded 29 pairs of ruffed grouse with Missouri for wild turkey. The DNR released those first birds in Vernon County. They thrived in their new home so much that the DNR trapped 3,000 birds and transplanted them to 49 counties across the state. Today, you can find wild turkey everywhere, even beyond their traditional home range.

Private landowners across Wisconsin are a great place to start. They provide habitat for wild turkeys. Because of them, we all enjoy the return of wild turkeys to our woodlands, meadows and wetlands. The Land Conservation Assistance Network helps private landowners improve conservation practices that benefit wild turkeys, as well as other Wisconsin wildlife.

image of turkey feather on the ground

Wise land stewardship improves habitat for wildlife like the wild turkey.

Those wild turkeys did not just appear on the Wisconsin landscape, however. Groups like the National Wild Turkey Federation, give private landowners advice though their Landowner’s Tool Box. Local chapter members also assist with work days that help improve turkey habitat across the state. 

Most of us will sit down to a traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner  featuring domestic turnkey with all the trimmings. Let us take a minute to thank the turkey farmers that raised the bird that graces our table.

October 2019

Tuesday, 01 October 2019

Stop CWD Spread by Safe Harvest Practices

 

Living in Wisconsin means dealing with chronic wasting disease (CWD). Since its discovery here in 2002, the disease has spread from white-tailed deer in western Dane and eastern Iowa counties across the state. Currently, all but 17 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties are under quarantine.

Image result for wisconsin CWD map

What is CWD?

CWD is a contagious neurological disease that infects deer, elk and moose. CWD is 100% lethal though it can take a number of years for the disease to kill its victims. It causes the animal to drop weight, become disoriented and lose control of its muscles. The disease agent is related to mad cow disease and the human Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD).

There have been no cases reported of CWD crossing over into humans. However, some primate studies revealed that the disease could infect monkeys that ate CWD infected meat, or came in contact with brains and body fluids.

Safe Field Handling Venison

Here is a video from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership that shows how to deer hunters can prevent the spread of CWD when processing their deer. Whether this is your first hunt or you are a veteran, this video does a great job of showing you how to harvest your meat in the field. It will show how to keep you and your deer safe.

Recent DNR Response

CWD Response Plan

The Wisconsin DNR has a CWD Response Plan that provides long-range guidance for dealing with the disease. Originally created in 2010, the plan was reviewed in 2017.

Testing deer for CWD was a problem in past years. There simply were not enough locations where hunters could drop off deer samples for testing. As a response, the DNR launched an Adopt-A-Kiosk program where they partner with local sporting groups to make it easier for hunters to get their harvest tested.

The DNR wants to make sure that deer carcasses end up in landfills that can provide for disposal. To that end, the department has created an Adopt-A-Dumpster program. Volunteer organizations sponsor a dumpster during the deer season. A bill introduced by State Senator Howard Marklein, SB 325, would expand the fleet of dumpsters around the state for disposal of CWD carcasses.

September 2019

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Stihl Battery Chainsaw MSA 200-C

MSA 200-C chainsaw on sawbuck

If you are like me, you think a battery operated chainsaw is only for the suburban homeowner who wants to remove the bottom branches from a Christmas tree or occasionally clean up the stump from a tree limb; nothing serious.

But wait a minute. I spend most of my time clearing brush and small trees; that is what woodland and savannah restoration is all. So why am I hauling around a two gallon gas can, yanking on a starter cord and cursing every time I flood my gas saw?

With the MSA 200-C, Stihl has a credible chainsaw for landowners who spend most of their time doing just that kind of work. It is rated for 45 minutes of continuous operation. That might not sound like a serious chainsaw, but think about it. An electric chainsaw only operates when the trigger is being pulled.

Stihl designed its battery chainsaw to look and operate nearly the same as similar gas models. The chain break works like a champ. Even though there is no danger of an idling chain accidentally cutting me, I still engage the break whenever I move with the saw.

This is where I admit that I am not a big fan of the chain tensioner system that Stihl uses on their small saws, gas or electric. The thumb wheel is too small and stiff for gloved hands and while the Quick Chain Adjuster is faster than hex nuts, it tends to loosen up much faster, causing the chain to jump off the bar.

Overall

The Stihl MSA 200-C is easy to use and maintain. The battery fully recharged in 30 minutes. The Stihl chainsaw seemed to have somewhat more power than the Husqvarna battery saw tested last year. The Instruction Manual contains detailed information about operation and maintenance.

Retail price is around $330. That price does not include batteries at $175 each and charger that sells for $40.

Field Tests

I put the saw through three different tests, each designed to gage its performance on three of the most common jobs you face in the woods. 

Chainsaw Test 1: Brush and saplings

Image of chainsaw with two of four batter indicators lit.

I don’t know about you but I spend more time clearing honeysuckle, buckthorn, and similar brush; not to mention the saplings of such low value trees and boxelder and silver maple.

These species do not require a great deal of power, but they are everywhere. Every year, trying to catch up or keep up with shrubby growth eats up more time than any other single chore.

This is the first job a battery chainsaw has to prove itself on. If I can stay out in the field all morning without the battery going dead, that is a saw I will consider buying.

The first test started with a patch of sumac and scattered small hardwood saplings. The area was cleared and burned several years ago, but has started brushing back in. It took around 90 minutes to clear this area, including cutting back enough brambles and wild grape vines to get the other brush cut. Stumps were treated with 25% gallon 4 in bark oil.

As expected, the MSA 200-C chewed through this small stuff with no problem. Its 12″ bar made the job so much easier than the 24″ bar my gas saw carries. It is lightweight and well balanced. Ease of use is a big deal when you are in heavy brambles when maneuverability makes a difference; no taking the trigger to control the idol, no time lost stopping and starting the saw when crossing fences or dead falls.

The second site was a stream bank where beaver gnawed the sapling trunks years before. Those stumps, now re-sprouted, sported 2-4″ stems 6-10′ tall. Again, these were not big trees but required making flush cuts at ground level below the beaver damaged stumps. This patch took 2.5 hours and left me with a burn pile six feet wide, fifteen feet long and seven feet tall. As with the other patch, all stumps were treated to prevent re-sprouting.

“The equivalent work would have burned 3-4 tanks of gas.”

The equivalent work would have burned 3-4 tanks of gas. A single spare would have probably gotten through the afternoon. So, instead of carrying a can of saw gas back and forth to the truck, you can probably cut brush pretty much all day with one spare battery.


Chainsaw Test 2: Bucking firewood

Image of MSA 200-C chainsaw from the rear, resting on sawbuck.

Okay, so this was not a big test. Heavy rains cancelled other work, so I headed to a pile of red cedar trunks piled up after last year’s savannah clearing. It was just me, the MSA 200-C and a sawbuck. I build pollinator houses to encourage wild bees and other insects to set up housekeeping near native plantings. Think of it as workforce housing for the world’s biggest free labor pool. I cut each trunk into 3″ sections. I drill each section through with multiple holes. These holes let pollinators can seek shelter and lay their eggs in the fall.

Image of red cedar logs cut into section for bee houses.

Red cedar for pollinator houses.

Cutting up four trunks took about 45 minutes. In the end, I had two boxes of sections for my bee houses. The MSA 200-C walked through every cut, regardless of how wet or dry the log. No balking of bogging down. Nice clean straight cuts.


Chainsaw Test 3: Tree felling, limbing and bucking

Finally, I wanted to pit this little mighty mite against a grown-up tree. In this case, I was a 16″ diameter boxelder. I chose that tree because I wanted to see how the MSA 200-C would handle a complex felling problem.

This tree had a slight lean in the wrong direction, which meant I would need to use plunge cuts wedges to counter the lean. As the bar on the MSA 200-C is only 12″ long, there would need to be two opposing plunge cuts through the middle of the trunk. I also made two matched face cuts in the direction I wanted the tree to fall.

The face cuts were smooth and easy to match up from both sides. The plunge cuts did bog down the saw. It automatically stops when asked to do too much work. All I had to do was pull the bar our an inch, release the trigger and pull a second time. The saw jumped back to life and went back to work where it had left off. Both plunge cuts came off without a hitch leaving a nice hinge and plenty or room for the wedges.

Once wedged, I went for the release cut. I made the plunge cuts far enough back so that I was able to make a single release cut. The whole process went without a hitch. The tree came down in a safe and controlled manner, exactly on target.

“The tree came down in a safe and controlled manner, exactly on target.”

Limbing was quick and easy. I can say with honesty that was able to complete the job, including bucking up the trunk, with a single battery. Full disclosure — there was only enough battery to cut the trunk to timber lengths rather than stove wood sections. I had to stop and pull the trigger again several times to get through the last large cut.

Maintenance

Cleaning the MSA 200-C is nearly identical to an MS 210 gas powered saw, including the chain tensioner system. Removing the housing and thoroughly cleaning is particularly important when brush clearing as small twigs, stems and even grass can bind the clutch.

Make sure to remove the battery prior to sharpening the chain. This prevents the saw from accidentally running while you are trying to sharpen the teeth. I simply recharged the battery while sharpening the chain. Even with the Stihl 2in1 Easy File Chainsaw Chain Sharpener, the exceptionally small chain has 1/4″ cutting edge which I found to be more difficult to keep aligned than the normal 3/8″ chains.

Conclusion:

While a single battery got me through a medium sized tree, it just barely made it. The MSA 200-C will not replace a large gas powered chainsaw or even my Stihl 361 for felling trees. Its reliability, great power to weight ratio and maneuverability make this an excellent choice for brush work. Its easy handling also means it will handle limbing like a champ. This might just be my second saw.

Thursday, 05 September 2019

Obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana)

Welcome to the first edition of Plant of the Week. Every week will feature a native plant that is currently in bloom somewhere in Wisconsin.

Our first selection is the obedient plant. This early fall beauty has been particularly successful in 2019. It has rapidly grown and spread due to plenty of moisture along with summer sunshine.

Morphology

Physostegia virginiana is a broadleaf perennial. This member of the Lamiaceae family grows 3-4 feet tall and its rhizomes can spread 2-3 feet per year. Plants flower in late summer and fall, lasting 1 1/2 months. Flower stalks grow up to 10 1/2 inches and contain multiple flowers. The tubular flowers are white, lavender, or purplish pink, and they often have dots, fine stripes, or swirls of a slightly darker color.  Each flower produces 4 sharply angled, dull brown seeds.

Requirements

  • love the sun
  • likes plenty of moisture
  • grows in zones 3-9

Pros and Cons

They can tolerate both deer browse and clay soils. Stems tend to flop in rich soils, too much shade or hot summer temperatures. Given the right conditions, obedient plants spread quickly and may crowd out their neighbors. Hummingbirds and bumble bees love the blossoms.

July 2019

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Score big with Wisconsin Wetlands Field Trips

image of the Fish Creek estuary in Ashland County.

Fish Creek Estuary is a haven of bio-diversity at the head of Chequamegon Bay.

Make the summer of 2019 a real hit with this triple play from the Wisconsin Wetlands Association. As part of their 50th Anniversary celebration, WWA is offering field trips to some of coolest wetlands in Wisconsin. There are three field trips, all quickly coming up. So fit at least one of these into your calendar and make it a summer you will not soon forget.

image of springs in the Chippewa Moraine wetlands.

Wetlands are all about the place where water and the land meet.

 

 

 

 

Field Trips

July 27, 29019 – Wetlands of the Chippewa Moraine. Treat yourself to a diverse tour of the bogs, sedge meadows, and ephemeral ponds that make up the Deerfly Swamp State Natural Area. Wear rubber boots because this is a walk for those who aren’t afraid to get their feet wet.

August 1, 2019 – Wetlands of the Penokee Hills. You may know the Penokee Hills as part of the Gogebic Range that was the site of proposed iron mining several years ago. Take a walk through interesting wetlands that are the home of cold water brook trout, beaver, and trumpeter swans. Learn how these wetlands capture runoff and provide cool, clean water to the creeks and rivers downstream, all the way to Lake Superior.

August 16, 2019 – Paddling the Fish Creek Estuary. This fish creek is not in Door County. This fish creek feeds the Chequamegon Bay in Ashland County. This is an important Lake Superior fish spawning grounds that is packed with wildlife in an incredibly bio-diverse setting.

image of Penokee Hills wetlands.

A creek flows through the wetlands of the Bad River watershed.

Add some excitement to your summer with a field trip to one of Wisconsin’s delightful wetlands. Treat yourself and your family to an adventure into some of the most interesting and diverse ecosystems in Wisconsin. You will be batting a thousand when it comes to making nature a big part of your summer enjoyment.

Wednesday, 03 July 2019

How the Environment Affects Plants

Recently, I was asked by a young Asian student, “Do plants raised in a good environment flourish and grow bigger than plants raised in a bad environment?” At first, I wanted to dismiss what seemed like a silly question. As I headed for the creek to check on some honeysuckle and buckthorn that got treated last week, I thought more about that question. The more I though about it, the more interesting his became.

Broadly speaking, his assertion was probably true. The answer, however, changed with the species. Also, it depended on how the budding scholar defined the environment. Finally, the answer would hinge on what the young questioner thought was good and bad. Answering his question first meant understanding that the environment includes the soil, water and air.

Soil

Soil differs in its composition naturally from one place to another based on the underlying geology, as well as surface layer history like glaciation and floods. Soils fertility differs based on those factors. Human activities, most notably farming, have changed the characteristics of soil in many environments. Erosion and poor agricultural and horticultural practices have depleted many native soils. Likewise, resource extraction and industrial activities have polluted soils in many areas.

Water

We are all familiar with water pollution and its effects on plants. Acid rain harms plants, causing deforestation around the world. Toxic discharges from factories, leaking landfills, and pathogen laden runoff from factory farms pose threats to plants downstream.

Air

The air has several factors to consider. Increased CO2 from burning fossil fuels benefits some plant species, while others are unaffected or even suffer because they evolved to thrive in an atmosphere with less carbon dioxide. Toxins discharged from smoke stacks and tailpipes definitely injure most plants.

The reason I did not declare these impacts as good or bad is that under certain circumstances a particular plant species in a specific location might benefit from certain environmental degradation. Even if many native plants suffer, there are bound to be tough species that will move in and take their place.

This morning, I am walking along the floodplain of a small creek in the driftless area of Wisconsin. Because a large block of very hard rock split the southward advancing glaciers for millennia, glacial ice never scoured this part of Wisconsin like it did the rest of the state.

Farming Along the Creek

However, for the past century, farmers using poor practices caused erosion of tons of topsoil from surrounding hills. That topsoil landed in the valley below, covering the wetland adapted species and degrading the wetlands so they are far less capable of controlling flood events. The rains this spring, along with flooding last summer mean for a second year in a row, the farmers on either side of the creek will see disappointing harvests.

Aside from the money lost by the neighboring farmers, erosion has devastated those buried wetland plants and seeds. On the other hand, other plant species brought downhill with the soil, blown in by the wind or dropped by passing birds and animals now thrive in fertile topsoil with plenty of moisture. The creek corridor is a riot of growth, though most of it is invasive species that do little to recharge the groundwater or control flooding.

So what is the “correct answer” in this situation? It seems to me that the loss of topsoil from the uplands, as well as the loss of wetland plants, loss of groundwater recharge, and increased flooding downstream, more than offset any benefits.

Southern Wisconsin was a disturbance dominated ecosystem before Europeans settled here nearly two hundred years ago. Wildfire sparked by lightning and Native Americans burned the land every few years. The result was a landscape dominated by prairie and savannah. This kind of landscape is called an early successional ecosystem because it dominates soon after big disturbances like windstorms and fire.

Early Verses Late Succession Plant Communities

Today, most of the land is farmed, but woods and scrublands dominate the areas too steep or wet to crop. These woody species cannot tolerate fire. They are called late succession ecosystems because they move in after those first sun loving pioneer species. When fire disappears from the landscape, shade tolerant trees like cherry and maple are able to take over. They crowd out the scattered sun loving oaks, which cannot regenerate under the closed canopy of the darkened woodlands.

Many of the plants that once covered the prairies and savannah are now rare; with many threatened or endanger of extinction.

Effects of Farming

Because their root systems were so deep and they recycled nutrients so efficiently, those prairie and savannah plants built up fertile topsoils 3–8 feet thick. Now, through changed land use and erosion, most of that topsoil can be found more than a thousand miles south in the Gulf of Mexico.

Corn and soybeans still grow in tremendous abundance, thanks to chemical fertilizers and pesticides. That abundance allows farmers near my home to export their bounty around the world. Is that good or bad? Row crops suited for agriculture grow large and yield hundreds of tons per acre. That grain feeds millions of people around the world, How can that be bad?

Heading for Home

My notebook now holds the shrub kill observations that brought me here this morning. Almost without thinking, my entries show that the herbicide sprayed on the basal bark of those invasive shrubs is having its intended deadly impact. By fall they will be dead. In a few years their carcasses will fall over and their trunks will decay. If I continue to do my job, their offspring will join them. The native seeds I plant in their place will begin to stabilize the soil along this little trout stream.

Heading back to the truck my musings on plants, as well as good and bad environments come together. I think about the “land ethic” from A Sand County Almanac. Aldo Leopold first made this profound way of looking at the world popular. He wrote, “A thing is right when it tends to perserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”