On Spring and how we're doing our part.
When we purchased our 60 acres we felt like we landed in paradise. This will be our third summer with our homestead and it is a constantly evolving project. In conversation with multiple people, I've decided to blog about what we're doing to help our part of PEI survive and flourish.
When we first bought the property, I spent two weeks (not joking, it took FOREVER) whipper-snippering the whole yard. The property had been on the market for a few years and the grass was mile high. I had considered asking an uncle to come over with a tractor for a rough cut, but it was blueberry season and all tractors were tied up in blueberry harvest. So, off I went, one tank of gas at a time, clearing our front and back yard, cutting a trail to the field, another to the dirt road. I noticed multiple nests in the grass as I went, mostly rodents, but also rabbit and birds. They were all empty, thank goodness. However, even as we continued to groom our yard that year and this past summer, I've often thought about how much habitat the long grass had provided for animals in our yard. So this year, we are cutting the grass in the front yard, and a trail to the garden, to the orchard, to the road, and to the field, but we are leaving the majority of the back yard alone and letting the grass grow long and untamed.
With the problem that we are having with a lack of pollinators on PEI (and all over the world), it is important for us to notice where we can make changes to help our ecosystems. The area that we are letting grow long will be supplying bees and butterflies with more flowers to feed from. In order to help this process along, we've also purchased packages of wildflower mixes that we will be sprinkling around the yard.
On our 10 acres of cleared land, we will also sprinkle these wildflower seeds. We also transplant trees, bushes, and flowers there whenever possible. The topsoil was stripped from this land before we purchased the property and so it is a field that we are trying to restore with as much diversity as we can.
As I've mentioned, we've cleared trails throughout our property to be able to find ourselves in a variety of animal habitats. With the brush that we have collected during these cutting sessions, we have built a brush pile in the middle of the cleared field. While you can burn your brush to keep things tidy, you can also build it up somewhere off the beaten path, where animals can make great use of it. The brush pile in the middle of the field provides a lookout for sparrows and other birds- there isn't a single time that I've walked past it that it hasn't been in use. The brush pile further into the woods is used by squirrels to cache seeds for winter.
PEI is an agricultural island, which means that most of our open land is used to produce food or livestock feed every year. One sad reality of this land use is that ground nesting birds will often build their nests in hay fields, which are then cut using large machinery with big tires. My kickstart into wanting to have my own safe haven was spurred from such an experience, and unfortunately the baby birds didn't fledge before the hay was cut on that field. However, having been raised in a farming family, I know that it's hard to change methods just to suit the animals. So next time I see this a ground nest in a hay field, I'll quickly mark off a square so that the tractor doesn't cut that area. I swear, the songs that bobolink and song sparrows make are worth the effort.
What can you do to help the animals in your community? Here are some suggestions:
1- Don't cut the dandelions this spring. They're beautiful and they help the insects.
2- Let the ditches grow, often they're full of beautiful lupins and Queen Anne's Lace, so they're gorgeous anyway- but if yours aren't, buy some seeds and sprinkle them in the ditch.
3- Let unused sections of your yard grow long. Think it looks unkept? Then start with just a two foot wide stretch along the fence where it's a pain to trim anyway. A lot of flowers can grow in a small space.
4- Don't pick flowers if you don't need to. This is the hardest for me! I LOVE having flowers in my house. However, now that I've got lots of houseplants, I'm happier to leave the pollinating flowers outside where they serve their purpose.
5- You only have a balcony? I bet if you planted wildflower seeds or bought some other pollinator friendly flowers for your window boxes you would see bees in no time.
6- Increase the diversity of your land. No, don't go crazy with wild cucumber or other invasive species. Read about what you can plant, find transplants, buy seeds. There are apps that you can download FOR FREE that let you take a photo of a plant and it will ID it for you. AMAZING. These are so useful for this type of project.
7- If you're lucky enough to notice a ground nest, mark it off so that you don't accidentally run it over with the mower. You'll likely notice the mama hopping around trying to distract you from her nest, so if you see that, pay attention underfoot.
8- The term 'weed' is used to describe a lot of plants that are great for our butterflies and bees. Just because something is a weed, doesn't mean you have to pull it. If it's beautiful and you're noticing bees on it, leave it to grow.
It all counts, friends. Hopefully with collective efforts from like minded people, we can start helping our tiny friends make a comeback on our little green island.
PS- I know this isn't necessarily photography related, however, I find great joy in photographing flowers and insects, which are helped by doing the previously mentioned steps. So technically, it's just a how to guide to make your own backyard a photographic paradise!
I'm an outdoors loving, animal obsessed, nuggets of happiness driven 27 year old woman. Here are my thoughts on the beauty I've encountered. Enjoy!