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Spring Has Sprung and Some Dirt on Dirt
March 21, 2011

Welcome new readers.

Do you smell that?


Not last week's corned beef and cabbage (though I suppose that could be).

Can you smell Spring?

Yes, we made it through another long winter.

For some, winter is still hanging around.

For me...............................

I've been around long enough to be even keeled about early spring.

Even though the snow has melted and the ice is almost off the pond, I know better.

It takes another month and more for the air to really warm up and become a constant.

Still, there is that smell of spring.

Migrating birds continue to appear and disappear.

Birds that don't migrate are beginning to disperse as they get into mating mode.

Robins, cardinals, chickadees, titmice woodpeckers and more are singing songs and jockeying for territorial rights.

I'm sure you too may witness the males of any species going at it from time to time.

On my nightly walks, I now hear Killdeer and a species of bird that is some what common to the eastern half of the United States and lower Canada.

The American woodcock (pictured).

Rarely seen, but this time of year is often heard if you live near a woods or brush filled fields.

I kick one up once in a while when I'm out and about and see them in flight at dusk.

A rather plain looking bird, but the coloration is ideal for ground nesting as they camouflage well.

Copy and paste or click on the following link from Cornell to listen to a woodcock and to learn more about this elusive game bird.

As birds continue the trek north, there are those that seem to be a bit eager.

Birds that seem to jump the gun or show up before they should.

I suppose it is cute to call these birds scouts, but there is no such thing as a scout when it comes to birds.

A scout implies that they are checking things out and then go back to retrieve the rest of the gang.

What is really happens when you see an early bird (martins, swallows hummingbirds, etc)?

You are witnessing a bird that may have hormones raging a bit more.

You may have an experienced male that understands the risk and reward for showing up early.

A strong gene pool to keep the line going.

You may have a young male that knows he must get established.

Most years, this may pay off. but there is always that year of cold, snowy or rainy stretch of weather that may cost the early arrival its life.

Risk and reward.

No way does a bird go back to report in.......

Prime territory and mating rights are at stake, not the buddy system.

The Tom turkeys left or were kicked from the family flock earlier this year.

Here is a head shot of a single young Tom as he visited last week.

Notice the seasonal colors as the head turns more blue and the small wattle is more red.

This young turkey doesn't stand a chance to mate with the more mature Toms that are out there.

I have mentioned the use of old window screens or screening under your bird feeders.

As you scroll down to read, you will see a couple of pictures I remembered to take so you can see how this works.

One picture shows an old screen under a platform feeder on the deck.

A couple of times throughout the winter I was able to pick up the screen and shake off the mess.

Another picture shows some screening under a feeding station (I almost pulled up before snapping the picture shown below).

The last couple of images posted, show after the screen has been removed.

Take note to the clean grass area.

No dead grass.

No hulls to clean up.

The screen sat there all winter (once the snow came and stayed).

You may want to keep this in mind for next winter.

Screens also help with the mess during the rest of the year.

Last week I mentioned to cut your ornamental grasses way back, to within an inch from the soil.

Here are a couple of images of my native Panicums I just cut back grasses.

(Panicum Shenendoah)

Dead grass cut back, close to the ground.

This allows for new grass to grow unimpeded and you don't have dead, woody stubs that can remain for years.

This too is a concern for thinning grasses.

When cut back short, the stubs can decompose much more quickly.

Below is Panicum Cloud Nine, cut back close to the ground.

Spring is the most favorite time of the year for me(If you didn't know that, you do now).

Fresh air................

Open windows......

Longer days..........

The sights and sounds of birds.....

Peeper frogs...................

Children at play...............

A brown landscape turns green......

Various flowers show off their stuff....

The world seems to come to life.......

Yes, Spring is my favorite time.

Spring also brings the urge to get out and wanting to play in the gardens.

The smell of fresh dirt.

The body of this letter is to hopefully get you to curb those urges.

I'm not going into all the chemistry of soil.

No worries about getting bored from chemical compositions.

Simply some Dirt on Dirt....


(Screens with seed hulls collected over winter.)

The fields and woods were to wet to really explore.

All the melted snow and warming temperatures have given me the itch.

You may have the same itch I have.

That urge to get out and start digging and pulling etc.

Stop Scratching that Itch and read some dirt on your soil.

Come on Ron, it's dirt.........

How can you harm dirt?

Your soil serves many important duties and like anything else, has a delicate structure that performs many duties.

It is home to countless creatures, insects, microbes and plant life.

Life needs oxygen to breathe. and water to drink.

When you are out there walking around and digging in your gardens and beds, you are packing the soil.

Crushing and squeezing the life giving oxygen right from the very soil you plan on growing your gardens in.

Altering the chemistry so to speak.

Soil that is too wet when we try to work it, looses the ability to breathe and the ability to absorb water may be much less than is needed.

In the trade it is called Compacted Soil.

We destroy the dirt's integrity.

Do you ever wonder why some folks aerate their lawn?

We push spikes in or pull out plugs of dirt that let air and water flow more freely.

We turn over and loosen the soil in our gardens to allow plants to germinate and grow roots in a fluffy soil.

When we turn the soil over, to soften it up, the plant's roots are able to grow and expand.

Your lawn and gardens are able to suck up more water and food.

They are able to breathe or take in oxygen.

Working and walking on wet soil, has just the opposite effect.

Oxygen you say?

I thought plants breathed in carbon dioxide and made oxygen.

Oh so true.

The green part does just that, but the roots take in oxygen from the soil.

If you pack the soil down, the plant looses the ability it needs to take in oxygen and water and will die a slow death.

Yes, patience is a virtue and it is time to practice some patience.

Compacted soil happens at construction sights where heavy
equipment has packed the ground around existing trees.

Every time a heavy truck or piece of equipment drives across your lawn (tree trimmers, moving trucks, etc.) they are packing down the soil.

(Companies that care will place down sheets of wood to help disperse the weight.)

All those nice little pockets of oxygen are literally squeezed out of the ground.

Within a few years, you can see trees suffering above from damage done below.

When you are early and eager to work your soil, you are compacting the soil without knowing it.

You may plant something and wonder why it is slow to grow or why it is dying.

Are you compacting the soil around your plantings?

Did you dig your planting hole a good two times wider and deeper to allow for roots to grow and feed your plants?

A good 80% of a any damage done to a plant can be traced back to compacted soil.

(Notice how clean it is where the screen was sitting all winter.)

It's true.........................

When roots are unhealthy or trapped, it weakens the greenery and that makes a plant weak and susceptible to all kinds of sickness and insect issues.

Think about it my friend.

Take heart, you can add some
relief by aerating the soil as much as possible.

Drill or pound little holes around your plantings to help them breathe, but wait till the ground is a bit drier and easier to work.

A vast majority (about 90%) of a tree and shrub's roots are in the top one foot of soil.

Now you know some dirt about your dirt.

Resist the itch for now.

You soil is workable when you can pick up a handful, and squeeze it. If you can flake it apart or it falls apart your soil is dry enough to work.

If you take that same fist full of soil and it remains as a ball when you try to flake it or you squeeze moisture from it, it is to wet to even think about messing with.

Over time, you can improve your soils ability to breathe by adding compost.

Let some leaf litter remain and work it in over time.

Attract earthworms by offering litter and compost.

Worms and insects are "Nature's" aerators.

Oxygen allows microbes to breakdown plant and animal materials.

Materials that feed living plants.

Living plants that feed on the broken down materials..

Healthy roots bring healthy plants that provide nectar and food to our wildlife.

Yes, the circle of live is everywhere.

Nothing goes to waste, and that is how our Creator so carefully plans everything.

Now who would've thought that dirt was so complicated?

One Side Note...................

The heavier your soil (clay and clay mix) the more compact it will become, because the particles are smaller and stick together more easy.

Sand and soil rich in organics are made of larger particles to allow air and water to flow with less resistance.

Are you planning on a hummingbird garden this year?

Remember to plant in groups.

Sure hummers have keen eyesight, but a mass of color is much more attractive than a plant placed here and there.

I have a list of hummer plants for you.

I know things have been left out and in time I will work on it some more, but it gives you a good general idea.

Click on the link.

Hummingbird Flowers

Don't limit your plantings to just your hardiness zone, Feel free to plant tender perennials as an annual.

Well, it is time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your positive thought for the week.

God Bless.

Children need models rather than critics.

Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) French Philosopher

How quick we are to complain and criticize.

A child should be seen and not heard.

How does our future grow and learn if they don't have role models and people to love them?

Read on.

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.
When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them,

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

Mark 10:13-16 (NIV)

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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