Pond Frog Sitting

Photo: Tiny frog sitting on a large stone at the edge of the pond

Today the frog in the pond let me take its picture! I came outside this morning and just sat for a while at the edge of the pond, writing in my journal and being quiet under a cloudy sky. It felt a little bit peculiar to be done with the work of building the pond. To let go of the strange obsession for finding stones that has filled the last several weeks. I have been working on the pond since April! I didn’t see the frog at first. I was glancing around at the yard, and all the ways that Margy and I get overwhelmed trying to care for the land. We are old, we are disabled, we are ignorant of the many needs of plants, just beginners. It is hard to be good stewards of the land. There is always more to do than we can do. So I make a decision to let go: let go of the burden of it, let go of the overwhelm, let go of trying to do more than we can. Here I am, it’s a new day: be amazed at life!

At some point, I decided to walk around the edge of the pond to look at how the plants are doing. And then I suddenly saw the frog, sitting quietly. No plops into the water, no jumping away. Just sitting quietly, paying no mind to me while I was also sitting quietly, and now walking quietly. (Perhaps it has figured out that we people who come to this pond are no threat–we can share the pond?) It was on a big stone at the bottom of the beach, with its eyes out of the water and its very tiny body in the water. Its head maybe a half inch long, its body another inch, long folded legs. It let me take its picture many times. When I walked back to my chair, this is how it looked from over there, almost invisible, but now visible to me:

Photo: Can you see the tiny frog on the mottled stone near the deeper water, five stones to the right of the red stone?

When I came back inside, I did more research, and this frog seems to be of the species called the green frog–the most common frog in our region-it can be green, olive, brown. (One site joked–close your eyes and think of a frog–that is the green frog.) It is likely a female, because the tympanum–the round “ear” circles behind its eyes–are the same size as its eyes. In males, they are larger.

UPDATE: I’VE GONE ROUND AND ROUND ON THE IDENTIFICATION OF THIS FROG. I WONDERED IF IT COULD BE A FEMALE BULLFROG, BECAUSE THE DORSAL-LATERAL RIDGES GO BEHIND THE EARS, RATHER THAN DOWN THE BACK. BUT THEN I REALIZED IT WAS MUCH TOO SMALL FOR A BULLFROG. I AM BACK TO THINKING IT IS A GREEN FROG. SEE THIS CAN YOU ID THE FROG SITE.

I sat with the frog for quite a bit longer, until some raindrops started falling on the water, on me, on the frog. I stood and looked away for a moment, and when I looked back she was gone without a sound. What a lovely teacher she was for the practice of sitting quietly, for letting go, and being amazed by life.

Pond: Little Deck

Photo: Pond with deck

Yesterday, I installed a little deck on the edge of the pond! This idea was an evolving process–at first I was going to put a large slate stone at the spot on the surface that leads into the steps inside the pond. But working on the pond during the last several weeks, I discovered that slate gets really, really hot in the sun. So then I was trying to come up with something that could serve as a top step that wouldn’t get hot.

Happily, I found an upcycling solution! In our garage, there were six wooden decking boards from the previous owners that were stored on rafters above the cars. They were very heavy, about six feet long, and some of them were attached to each other, but I was able to get two of them down. The boards were painted brown, and they too got very hot in the sun. But then I found some older paint cans in the basement. I did a prime coat of white on one day, and then a coat of light gray concrete paint, which has some waterproof qualities, two days later. Yesterday, I drilled holes and screwed them together with small boards I had also painted.

Everything was a bit off level–the boards, the ground–so I installed them using small stones underneath to stabilize things. Voila! We now have a top step, which is also a little deck where we can sit on the very edge of the pond, with our feet in the water. And after positioning a few more stones, and slate rocks, I can now say that the surface level of the pond is virtually complete. I still need to find some more five inch stones to line the rest of the vertical sides under that area, but if you look at it from this side, you can’t see any liner showing.

The tiny plants are starting to grow a bit, the pond lily rhizome that I positioned on a lower level sent up a tiny leaf all the way to the surface. I’ve topped up the water level with water from the rain barrel once. I plan to add more small stones to the planting ledge to give plants more to hang onto. This morning it looked like someone had messed around with the pickerel rush plants. I still have to finish the overflow channel. It will all continue to grow and develop as the summer goes on… hopefully the plants will start to take over half the surface of the water. But what a happy moment today!

Photo: Pond lily leaf, about one inch in diameter

Pond Progress

Photo: The pond on June 11

I am slowly adding stones and plants and developing the top edge of the pond, to cover up all the liner. I did a minor adjustment to the overflow channel to lower the water level by about an inch, and added some soil (underneath the liner and layers) to an edge that was a little bit lower than other parts. I’ve been using my pile of small stones for the edges, but stabilizing them behind larger stones. I decided to use the larger stones to also cover the vertical slope between the planting ledge and the top. This was in the original plan, but I didn’t think I would have enough stones to do it. And I don’t. The other day, Margy and I went to another rural road and brought home another batch of larger stones from the side of the road. But it doesn’t take long to use them up.

By the way, in the background, from left to right, you can see a ninebark shrub in bloom, a summer sweet shrub, and a little elderberry that’s barely visible. I am trying to start some hazelnut bushes from off shoots of our big ones. Also, there is a lot of goldenrod that will flower later in the season, and on the far right back, our mulberry tree–which after a couple rough starts is finally doing better this year.

Back to the stones for the pond, even though I don’t have enough of the larger stones, it seemed smart to do as complete a finish as possible, section by section. Here is a close up of the most completed section, behind the cardinal flower, where I also incorporated an old piece of a branch. I am enjoying this design process.

Photo: pond detail with stones and log

I also ordered and received some more plants–this time I got some pickerel rush (or pickerel weed), Pontederia cordata. This native plant will grow 2-4 feet tall and have blue flowers. I ordered five, but received eight little root and stem starts. So then I decided to rearrange the arrowhead plants, moving them closer to the “front” from where the photo is taken, and where we’ll sit to watch the pond. I planted the pickerel rush mostly where the arrowhead had been, on the back left, and then put a couple of the smallest ones in front of that log. Here is what it looks like right now, and this is the largest one. It takes faith and imagination to see them growing and flowering in the summer and fall.

Photo: Pickerel Rush held in place in the water by stones

In other news, I have twice seen (from my window) a crow walk up to the pond and get a drink of water. Tonight I also saw a few little water bugs of some kind swimming around. Animal life is starting to arrive. The other day, when it was so hot, there was some green algae in the water, which is to be expected until the plants grow bigger–but then it disappeared again today. Time to think of another place to find some more of the larger stones. It all feels magical.

Pond Water Plants

Photo: Pond with new plants, and also pine pollen covering the whole surface.

This morning I was up at sunrise, which seemed such a sacred time to finish filling the pond! While the hose was running, I planted several plants that I had previously purchased, and then added three ferns from our yard. Sometimes, I just had to sit and watch, amazed at its coming to life in this way.

I used our city water from the outdoor spigot because the rain barrels nearby were empty from yesterday’s filling. City water is less ideal because of chlorine, but the chlorine will evaporate quickly, especially in our 90 degree sunny weather today. Plus it is being intermixed with the water already there. I filled it until it just started to drain into the overflow channel. Hurray! The overflow channel worked.

The method I used for planting was that recommended by Robert Pavlis in Building Natural Ponds. No soil, just anchor the roots of each plant with some stones. That meant rinsing off the plant roots from the soil they were packed in. I added some more stones in one area because the recommended depth was less than what I had. Here are the plants I planted:

Photo: Sweetflag

Sweetflag was first. It was a bit unclear whether this was Acorus calamus, or Acorus americanus. Online where I purchased it, it was listed as Acorus calamus (Americanus). I was hoping to buy the plant native to here (americanus); the other was brought by Europeans, but naturalized, and then it was also used by Indigenous people. I learned the Passamaquoddy name for this plant in the class I took. Kiwhosuwasq, (which now can refer to either plant). It means “muskrat root,” because the muskrat would eat it, and it was an important medicinal plant.

Next I planted Cardinal Flower, or Lobelia cardinalis, which will have a bright red blossom that is beloved by hummingbirds. It is a native plant. Both Sweetflag and Cardinal Flowers will grow tall, so I placed them toward the back of the pond, across from where we tend to sit.

Photo: Cardinal Flower

The next plant is Arrowhead, or Sagittaria latifolia, which is a shorter plant. It will have white flowers. When I rinsed off its roots, it divided into two plants, so I planted them near each other. It is native plant, but also an aggressive grower so I placed it on the narrower planting ledge where it can spread out on its own. I hope that all of these plants will spread out to fill their areas, but also make room for each other. The goal is to cover half the water surface with these plants on the planting ledges.

Photo: Arrowhead plants
Photo: Blue Eyed Grass

I had two pots of Blue Eyed Grass, or Sisyrinchium atlanticum. This one is also a smaller plant, and in the spring it blooms early with delicate blue flowers. I placed it in the part of the pond nearest to where we will sit.

Because it is so late in the season, a number of the plants I wanted to buy were no longer available this year. I am hoping I can find some Marsh Marigold sometime. (Calthus palustris.) It is another shorter plant, with spring blooming bright yellow flowers.

I was able to purchase a hardy white water lily, on Etsy. (Nymphaea spp.) The hardy variety of lilies can survive the winters in Maine, especially if their roots are deep in the pond. They sent me two root tubers. They arrived in my mailbox on one of the hot days, and were warm when I opened the package, so I hope they will be okay. But I planted them in temporary pots filled with stones, and placed those pots on the planting ledge. When they get bigger, I will move them lower in the pond. Water lilies are important parts of a natural pond, partly because their pads cover the surface of the water, providing shade and inhibiting algal growth. Plus, maybe frogs will sit on them. But for now, they are tiny.

Photo: Water lily in pot

After planting all these, I found two types of ferns among the many growing at the back of our yard, dug them up, rinsed off their roots, and planted three of them in the pond. I tried a few different ones–one tall, one small, one mixed, to see which might transplant best. A friend has offered me some Blue Flag Irises from her pond, so I’ve saved a space in my plan for them. Of course, now the question is, shall we try to buy some more plants to fill in more space right away, or wait for these to grow into larger versions of themselves? In the meantime, by 10 a.m. I had to come inside to get away from the heat, so all future parts of this project have to wait. Maybe this evening, we’ll just sit by the side of the water and enjoy.

Pond, Water!

Photo by Margy Dowzer: I am in the water as we fill the pond!

Such an exciting moment when we began to put water in the pond yesterday! It was a sunny hot day, so being in the cold water was great. I found I had to get right into it to do the folds of the pond liner which are necessary when you take a square liner and put it into a round hole. We filled it up to just under the level of the planting shelf.

Photo: black cloth underlayment

But back to the earlier parts of the process–the first thing I did yesterday was install the pond liner underlayment–a very light felty fabric thing that protects the pond liner. We might not have needed it, because of the carpet strips, but the pond liner is guaranteed for life if you use the underlayment. I had purchased a 20 by 20 foot 45 mil EPDM liner, and the underlayment came in two pieces of 10 by 20. I overlapped them about 3 feet. After that, I also dug further and deeper on the overflow channel, and made sure it sloped away from the pond. You can see it in the left on the photo.

Then, midday, our neighbors came by to help with installing the pond liner itself–the liner is very heavy, but with the three of us (plus a kid!), it wasn’t hard to position it over the hole. So grateful for helping hands! Because the pond wasn’t quite as deep as planned, I knew we’d have extra liner on the sides, so we didn’t have to worry about getting everything exactly centered.

Photo: getting in position to install the liner.

As it turns out, black rubber gets very hot in the sun, so we all wore gloves, along with our masks for COVID.

After the liner was roughly in place, the neighbors went home. I got into the hole and adjusted everything so it was flush with all the surfaces underneath, creating folds where needed. It was recommended by my Building Natural Ponds book to not step on it with shoes, but socks weren’t enough to protect my feet from the heat–so I pulled out my fuzzy slippers and a blanket.

Photo by Margy Dowzer: Taking a moment to rest while shaping the liner to the hole.

After a short break, we started filling the pond with our garden hose. Water from the house has chlorine in it, but the chlorine will evaporate quickly and so this water is fine to use especially before we have any life in the pond. Eventually, we’ll use water from the rain barrels you can see in the back of the photo, but we’ve had no significant rain for a while. While the hose was running, Margy and I wandered around the back of the yard looking at plants, and then finally pulled up chairs to watch the water fill. And I got in a few times to keep adjusting the liner–glad to have an excuse!

It isn’t the end of the process by any means. I have been doing this step by step, not knowing how long each step would take. The next thing to do, and why we only filled up to the planting shelf, is to cover the planting shelf with stones and pebbles. I’ve collected lots of rocks from around the yard, but will definitely need to purchase more. And that is a bit more complicated than I realized, likely involving borrowing or renting a pickup truck. But in the meantime, I went online and ordered 5 native pond plants that will arrive in about 10 days. It is really happening! And there is water in the pond!

Zucchini Plants!

hugelkultur jun 13

Zucchini plants June 13

This was our hugelkultur bed on June 13–the zucchini plants were coming up nicely. The green beans I planted never sprouted–must have been too old.  In the back you can also see a kale plant that is doing great.  And then, in the next two weeks, the zucchini plants just exploded with growth. Here below is a photo from yesterday, June 27. The plants are as high as the hugelkultur mound.

hugelkultur June 27

Zucchini plants June 27

In the background of this photo you might see towels hanging on the side of the deck–we went to the beach on June 26 for our first swim of the season. It was so great. We arrived about 4 p.m. and very few people were there–we never had to be closer than 20 feet from anyone else, though we wore our masks as we walked to the beach. Sand, water, wind, waves, and that restoration that comes from being in mother ocean. So needed!

If you look very close in the photo, or just jump to the next one, you’ll see that yesterday I also found huge yellow flowers inside the zucchini plants.

Zucchini flower June 27

Zucchini flowers June 27

And then, today, we could already see tiny zucchinis forming behind the flowers. I know that people joke about the prolific nature of zucchini plants. But this is my first time growing them, and it is truly amazing how quickly they grow and flower and fruit, and how huge and beautiful they are. Hopefully, they will stay healthy and we’ll be those people asking all our neighbors if anyone wants some zucchini.

Baby zucchini June 28

Baby zucchini! June 28

 

Hugelkultur 4–Moments

I haven’t forgotten about the hugelkultur bed we are creating (mostly me at this stage, since Margy’s back won’t let her dig or carry.) At times I wonder if it will ever be ready for planting, but then my spirit reminds me to stay in the process, enjoy the moments, rather than being attached to outcomes.  So the other day, I came out and dug some shovels full of sod and wet soil from the center of the future pond, put them in a wheelbarrow, then brought it over to a chair in our fire circle. There I sat and I painstakingly pulled out all the tiny bittersweet starts. It helps that they are like hard little red sticks with orange roots, and very easy to differentiate from the soft moss and grass and other growth. I couldn’t get very much “accomplished,” but I loved sitting in the sun with my hands in the soil. What could be better than that?

Today I couldn’t continue doing that process because the future pond was actually full of water from the big rain.  I don’t know if we will ever finish the pond, but days like this remind us what it might be like. I saw a bird drinking from it later.

future pond with rain

Instead, I shifted to opening up one of our compost bins that has been sitting for a year, and adding more compost to the mound.  I also had a little bit of sod from another spot that I turned inside out and added to crevices on the side.  When the compost was piled high, I layered seaweed over the top–which also helped to stabilize it.

Here are the stages. First with compost.

hugelkultur compost

Then, seaweed, which we had gathered from Winslow Park.

hugelkultur seaweed

If it seems hard to see the difference from earlier photos, that is because it expands only by millimeters. But it is so beautiful out here today–in the 50s, sunny, birds singing, and one can feel the surging of green life that is almost ready to burst forth. I have observed that there is one week in spring when everything wakes up–maybe we are about to enter that week. I walked along the strip near our street that I had planted in perennials two years ago, and look!–the lupine planted from seed last year is already poking through the dead leaves. This year we will get flowers. I am trying to remember–notice the beauty, be present to the moment, be filled with gratitude for this very day.

lupine coming up

 

Hugelkultur, part 3

Continuing to build a hugelkultur garden bed, yesterday, we added some brush to the top and sides of the mound, over the cut grass layer. Margy pounded some branches into the ground on the side as stakes for further stabilization.

hugelkultur Margy stakes

Next, today, I covered it all with dried leaves, one full wheelbarrow plus a big garbage bag full, saved from last fall.

hugelkultur leaves added

Finally, I added about 3 wheelbarrow loads of yard waste compost, and watered all of it. But this stage of adding compost is going to need many more loads before it is finished.  I should be adding several more inches of compost.  The mound is about 15 feet long, and will be 4 1/2 feet wide when complete. I had one of those moments when I thought, “Why did I make it so big?” I think this stage is going to take a while.

hugelkulture Tuesday

Meanwhile, I was pondering the fact that I often feel anxious when I am trying new things in the garden. I was realizing that my parents and grandparents were urban or suburban people. My dad wanted to get back to the land, and was a cowboy for a while, but mostly he worked as a draftsman for the auto industry. His parents tried to homestead in Wyoming, but that fell through and they came back to Detroit. My mom’s parents came from Linz, Austria and Quebec near Ottawa, Ontario, and lived most of their lives in Detroit.  She had flower gardens while I was growing up. So I didn’t learn how to grow food from my family. It has only been as an adult that I’ve tried to learn about food gardens, off and on as circumstances allowed it.

The more I learn, the more aware I am of how much I don’t know. Each plant is like a stranger to me, then perhaps an acquaintance, and I hope in a while it might be a friend. It is hard to believe that we could be relatives to each other.  (Well, except for kale–kale already feels like a relative, since I have grown it for a long time.)  But I try to remember to embrace this beginner’s mind, to be present and attuned to the process. It is good to be outside, to feel the spring, to forget for a while the grief and fear that this pandemic is unleashing.

Plants are amazing

Comfrey

Comfrey Plant in our Orchard

Last night, I watched (again) the documentary, What Plants Talk About. Did you know that plants change their chemistry based on the environmental stressors they experience? So, for example, if a certain caterpillar is munching on their leaves, they can release chemicals into the air, scents, that attract the insect predator of that caterpillar.  Or they might offer nectars that shift the scent of the bug itself, and that scent attracts predators. They also share nutrients with their child plants and other tree species in a forest.

This got me thinking about our human use of plants for healing. We benefit from their chemical wizardry and can use their medicines for our own challenges. Over thousands of years of human “prehistory” and “history,” we learned the benefits of so many various plants in our environment. A body of knowledge has accumulated for the medicinal use of herbs.

Plant medicines can also be used to help other plants. Michael Phillips, in the book Holistic Orchard, recommends making fermented teas of comfrey, horsetail, stinging nettles, and/or garlic scapes to use as a foliar spray to help orchard trees during the summer.  Comfrey provides large amounts of calcium. Horsetail has natural silica which helps the plant cuticle defense against certain summer fungi.  Nettles are a tonic of overall nutrition with trace minerals, vitamins, nitrogen, calcium, and potassium. They also have silica, with levels skyrocketing when seeds formation is just beginning, so that is a great time to use it. Garlic helps to carry other nutrients.

It just so happens that I was in the orchard last week, thinking I needed to trim back the comfrey because it was getting too big.  Then I noticed that the nettles in Sylvia’s herb garden were flowering, maybe starting to form seeds. (We’d rather that they didn’t spread nettles everywhere.) And lo and behold, the garlic plants had formed scapes. So maybe it was time to make some herbal tea. (We don’t have any horsetail, sadly.)

Comfrey Nettles Garlic brewTo make the fermented tea, you use a five-gallon bucket.  Cut plant leaves into the bucket and loosely pack them in.  Then, pour a kettle of boiling water over the leaves to get things started, and add unchlorinated water to fill it to the top. I used water from our rain barrels. Then “let sit for seven to ten days somewhere outside, loosely covered to prevent significant evaporation. This fermentation period makes the constituents that much more bioavailable for foliar absorption.” It gets pretty smelly with sulfur compounds–that’s how it is supposed to smell. You strain it when you use it. Once brewed, you dilute it, using about a cup of the tea per gallon of spray.

So I made the tea on July 6. It is likely ready to use about now, though I went ahead and added two cups to the spray formula I did on July 9th.  Having such a small orchard, I might not be able to use all of the tea in a timely way, so I figured that partially brewed tea would add something beneficial in any case. I will add whatever I don’t use to the compost pile.

A few other thoughts were brewing in my mind after watching What Plants Talk About. If you think about how plants change their chemicals to fit their environmental stressors, you have to conclude that the medicines in the plants might be changing day by day, hour by hour. So when you harvest that plant, and in what condition you harvest it, might make all the difference in the world about whether that plant has the medicine you need. And perhaps that is the source of the “old wives’ tales” about when and how to pick various medicinal herbs. When the moon is full, or first thing in the morning? (By the way, I think that old wives’ tales are often the source of much hidden wisdom.)

If I were a young person just starting out as a scientist herbalist, I would want to ponder how we might experiment and cooperate with plants to create particular medicines that we need. We’d have to start by understanding and measuring the differences in their chemical composition under various conditions. Try to better understand why the old herbalists knew the best times for picking. That might take a while. But then, once we better understood these marvelous beings, maybe we could learn to communicate back and forth with them, and then, perhaps we could invite them to create new medicines for the diseases we face in these times. What a line of research that would be!

Stinging Nettles

Stinging Nettles