The Ecological Benefits of the Not So Perfect Yard

Our annual plea for sustainable fall landscaping care has been recycled below.

by Joanne Mullowney

The first frost has come and gone and today it is sunny, humidity-free and gorgeous.  We love autumn.  We are finally leaving the hot, sticky days of summer behind for the cooler, more breathable days of fall.  Soon the neighborhood trees will blanket the ground with their last gift of the growing season.  This seasonal leaf drop can recharge your landscape and create habitat for wildlife.  So, don’t treat your leaf litter as trash, but rather as the gift that it truly is to the millions of tiny creatures that are a part of our gardens’ ecosystems.

The Benefits of Leaf Litter

Raking up and disposing of our leaves, chopping down dead flower stalks and grasses all contribute to a manicured appearance which we have been conditioned to think of as the norm.  However, in nature, trees don’t drop their bounty at the curb for pick up, but rather they blanket the earth while providing a host of ecological benefits.

Leaves provide an insulating winter cover in the garden for plants and those tiny creatures that sustain life in the garden.   We encourage you to mulch with fallen leaves.  Wherever possible, leave them to decompose where they fall in your garden beds.  Or settle the leaves under the branches of your shrubs. Give it a year or so and your leaf litter will have broken down while providing mulch and increasing the soil’s water retention abilities.

You can also rake out some of the leaves from the beds that are simply too much and might smother tender plants and cause them to rot over the winter. Add them to the compost pile or the leaf pile on the lawn while the rest remain in the beds. Then take your mulching mower and chop them up into small pieces.  Rake up most of the chopped leaves and place them back in the garden around shrubs and plants.   Now that they are greatly reduced in volume they contribute to the more manicured look that suburban mores demand.  The remainder can stay on your lawn and decompose there. Do this as needed until the end of the season and the leaves will break down over the winter providing your soil with valuable nutrients all the while enhancing wildlife habitat.  One incidental benefit is that of reduction of Township resources allotted to fall cleanup, saving taxpayer dollars.

While you might think that this leaves the yard looking a little less than perfect, you are nourishing the landscape and providing valuable resources and habitat for wildlife.

The Benefit of Providing Habitat

This somewhat messy yard contributes yet another important benefit – habitat.  While not a traditional concern of the average gardener, we believe it should be.  Did you know that despite its not so perfect look, leaf litter provides an important foraging space and shelter for a wide variety of birds, small mammals and insects?  Also providing benefit is the untrimmed garden where ladybugs and lacewings reside in native grasses and pollinating bees settle in hollow plant stems.  Butterflies and moths winter in chrysalides on the ground and baby spiders hide out amid the decaying plant stems. Birds feed from dried seed heads in winter.

Some wildlife use the leaf litter and other dead vegetation to insulate them from winter’s chill, while others, such as earthworms feed on the litter, breaking it into smaller pieces. Bacteria and fungi in turn convert theses smaller pieces into nutrients which then sustain neighboring plants. They in turn help support biodiversity by becoming food themselves. Toads, beetles, ladybugs and much more also live in your backyard’s leaf litter. Each is an integral part of the food web.

Support Wildlife Thru Your Not So Perfect Yard

We recommend the following practices from the Habitat Network to help you in your quest to provide habitat and reduce your ecological impact.  Adopting good practices in the fall also leaves you well set for spring in the garden.

  • Leave your leaves on the property (Leaves are too valuable a resource to dispose of!)
  • Leave them in the garden beds when you can, mow them or compost them.
  • Allow dried flower heads of some of your garden favorites to stay standing in your garden.
  • The dark stems and flower heads of some of our native flowers look gorgeous against the snow and nothing is more exciting than seeing our small winged friends feasting upon the seed heads.
  • Let your ornamental grasses grow tall and seed.
  • Don’t cut down your ornamental grasses. They provide shelter for the insects that pollinate our gardens and feed fledgling birds and other wildlife. Not to mention that they also look fabulous swaying in the wind.  They make a fabulous addition to the fall (and winter) landscape.
  • Build a brush pile with fallen branches instead of removing them.
  • If you build it, they will come. This author no sooner established a small brush pile in a back corner in the yard and it was inhabited.
  • Forget the chemicals. (This one is not hard. Just do it!)
  • Finally, don’t be in a rush to begin your garden cleanup in the spring. Wait until after several 50℉ days to begin, when spring has really arrived, allowing overwintering pollinators to move on first.  You gave them a home all winter; don’t yank it away from them too soon.

Vanishing Habitat

As habitat for wildlife is decreasing, so too is wildlife, and at an alarming rate.  A recent National Wildlife Federation newsletter states:  More than half the world’s wildlife has vanished since 1970.1  This includes mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish.  Quite simply, we’re destroying our planet’s ability to support our way of life.

Wildlife needs habitat to survive and we need to do a better job balancing the need to provide habitat for animals’ survival against commercial forces.  Habitat requires food, water and shelter and even a small yard can support birds, butterflies, beneficial insects, and small animals thru proper landscaping and landscaping habits.  They need more than lawn and it is important to provide trees, shrubs, and other plants (particularly native varieties and a topic for another post) that shelter and feed wildlife.

We ask you to adopt a somewhat messy yard and eschew the leaf disposal.  Keep your leaves so that they can decompose naturally in your own yard and support the butterflies and other small insects that live in the leaf litter.  To learn more about how we are promoting gardening for wildlife, take a look at our initiative – the Ewing Community Wildlife Habitat Project.   During this season of renewal so essential to preserving the next generation of wildlife, we invite you to join with us and pledge to garden messy.  Then put your feet up and enjoy the season.

Printable brochure of sustainable fall landscaping tips.

  1. Source:  Living Planet Report 2016 by World Wildlife Fund http://awsassets.panda.org/downloads/lpr_living_planet_report_2016.pdf

 

Trash Talk: New EGT/EEC Sustainability Series Publication

As we recently posted, we are in the midst of the worst recycling environment which we have seen in the last 20 years and all indications are that the market for recycling materials will not improve in the foreseeable future.  You may have read about the restrictions placed by China on importing recyclable materials from the United States.  China has closed its doors to many types of recycling materials and is requiring that the material be 99.5% free from contamination.  According to the staff at the Mercer County Improvement Authority (MCIA), the contamination rate for recycling collected from Mercer County communities is 11.4%.  This means that we have significant work to do to make our recycling acceptable for the market.

China was also the largest consumer of US recyclable volume and no longer is purchasing the volumes that it did in the past.  This means that there is a glut of supply in the market which is significantly driving down the value of this materials.  As a result, in many cities across the nation, recyclables are ending up in landfills.

What this Means for Us

We must do a better job of recycling or face:

  • Higher taxes because of skyrocketing recycling costs.
  • More landfills to bury contaminated recycling.
  • Risks for wildlife, waterways, oceans and the quality of life on our planet.
  • Imperiled futures for our children and grandchildren.

There is no magic want to wave away our trash!  We are now facing the consequences of thoughtless consumption and waste,  We MUST rethink our disposable lifestyles.   In some of our upcoming posts, we will discuss ways in which each one of us can make a difference in combating this relentless crisis.

Ewing’s Green Team and Environmental Commission have joined together to publish a new addition to our Sustainability Series of publications, the attached recycling flyer, Trash Talk: Recycling in Crisis, for easy reference to answer your recycling questions.

To summarize:  One piece of garbage makes it all garbage!  We advocate that when it doubt, throw it out!  We ask that all residents keep the following do’s and don’ts in mind when recycling:

Recycling Do’s and Don’ts

  • DO remember the first of the 3Rs of recycling: Reduce. Make every effort to reduce the amount of waste that you produce.  Single-use plastics are a significant component of that waste stream because they “don’t go away and essentially, last forever.  Make every effort to eliminate single-use items such as plastic grocery bags, straws, utensils and cups, bottled water, take-out containers…   Use reusable versions of those products instead.
  • DO recycle all empty bottles, cans, paper and cardboard.
  • DO recycle clean materials: i.e. keep foods and liquids out of recycling.
  • DO keep plastic bags out of recycling.
  • DO check out this site for more information about how you can do your share to Reduce | Reuse | Recycle.
  • DON’T bag your recyclables. Plastic bags and film get tangled in the machinery.  (Our local supermarkets have plastic bag collection bins at their entrances.)
  • DON’T include soiled food items. They can turn an entire load of recycling into trash.
  • DON’T add sharp or dangerous materials like needles and electronics. They can cause injury to workers.
  • DON’T include bulky items like propane tanks or construction debris (no wood). The Township Convenience Center at 136 Scotch Road will take a lot of materials that you cannot leave at the curb.  Please check our website or call 609- 882-3382 for accepted materials.
  • DON’T add items that are not on the list of accepted materials. This will contaminate the entire load.

 

American Elm Tree – Plant of the Month

American elms were the dominant tree species along city and suburban streets across the Eastern United States through the first half of the 20th century. These graceful, towering trees with their vase-shape form created cathedral-like canopies. The elm was prized for its fast growth that provided quick shade and for its ability to tolerate poor soil conditions along city streets.

Disaster struck when elm logs shipped from Europe to the United States released the European elm bark beetle, carrier for the fungus that causes Dutch Elm Disease.   First found in Ohio in the 1930s, it spread from state to state and by the mid-60s it had killed millions of trees, leaving cities with the task of removing thousands of massive elms.

The loss of the American elm as a street tree left a hole that was difficult to replace. Maples and ashes were planted in larger numbers along streets to replace the elm, but now ash tree populations are being decimated by another introduced pest, the Emerald ash borer.

The search for an elm resistant to Dutch elm disease that grows in the typical vaseshaped form has been going on for decades. Three promising American elm cultivars, ‘Valley Forge’, ‘Princeton,’ introduced by Princeton Nurseries from around Kingston, and ‘New Harmony,’ are showing good Dutch elm disease resistance.

On Arbor Day [April 27th] a ‘Princeton’ elm tree donated by members of the Environmental Commission and Green Team was planted along the driveway to the Benjamin Temple House at Drake Farm Park.   Mayor Steinmann spoke to those gathered about the importance of planting trees in Ewing Township.

Ewing Council passes RGGI Resolution

Ewing’s Mayor and Council recently passed Resolution 18R-81 supporting New Jersey’s steps to return to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), an innovative 9 state cap and trade program that has successfully reduced climate-changing carbon pollution from East Coast power plants. Climate change is a dire threat to the citizens of Ewing. The State’s withdrawal from RGGI in 2011 posed a risk to our town and region; efforts to rejoin RGGI are underway. This resolution seeks to support that goal.

CLICK HERE for the full text of this resolution.

Emerald Ash Borer Information Session Rescheduled for Tuesday, April 17th

The Emerald Ash Borer information program that was originally scheduled for March 20th and cancelled for inclement weather, has been rescheduled for Tuesday, April 17th, beginning at 6:30 pm.

So don’t Kiss Your Ash Goodbye, but come to the Ewing Environmental Commission’s April meeting to learn from the experts about the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) threat, how it will affect your property, options for managing your ash trees, and potential solutions.

The Emerald Ash borer has been found in Ewing Township.  (See the Rutgers  EAB Rapid Ash Survey Report and Management Options, Prepared for the Township of Ewing, Mercer County , NJ, By The Rapid Ash Survey Team (RAST) October 2015.)  As this invasive pest can easily spread to neighboring trees, all residents should check their ash trees for symptoms of infestation.

“The emerald ash borer will kill 99 percent of all ash trees within the next few years,” said Bill Brash, the NJ State Certified Tree Expert with whom the EGT has been working about the EAB threat to the municipal tree canopy. “Residents should identify ash trees on their property and monitor for signs of damage or decline such as unusual woodpecker activity or missing bark.”

EAB Facts

Since the discovery of emerald ash borer in Michigan in 2002, the beetle has killed hundreds of millions of ash trees in North America. In May 2014, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture confirmed New Jersey’s first detection of the emerald ash borer in Bridgewater in Somerset County, NJ.

The emerald ash borer is a small, metallic green, non-native invasive pest. Trees can be infested for years before the tree begins to show symptoms of infestation. Symptoms include canopy dieback, woodpecker activity, missing bark, D-shaped exit holes, shoots sprouting from the trunk, and S-shaped larval galleries under the bark.

Ash Tree Management

If a tree is already infested or in poor health, it may be best to remove the tree before it becomes infested and poses a hazard to people and surrounding structures. But for those residents with high-value ash in good health, trees can be treated before they become infested.

A Certified Tree Expert can help residents evaluate, then treat or remove ash trees. Contact the Board of Certified Tree Experts at 732-833-0325 or njtreeexperts@gmail.com for a list of professionals serving your area.

Report any signs. If any signs of the EAB beetle are found, call the New Jersey Department of Agriculture at 609-406-6939. Visit http://www.emeraldashborer.nj.gov for more information and check out our own EAB resource page.


untitled-5This program is being provided by the Ewing EAB Partnership, a coalition composed of Ewing Green Team  and Environmental Commission members and representatives from Mercer County, Rutgers University and PSE&G under the direction of NJ State Certified Tree Expert Bill Brash.  It is funded by a 2016 PSE&G grant Partnering for the Restoration of the Community Forest: The 3P Plan, Partnerships-Plan-Planting which funded development of partnerships  to manage the spread and removals of trees infected with the Emerald Ash Borer on Ewing municipal lands.

Date: Tuesday, April 17th
Time: 6:30 p.m.
Location: Ewing Senior and Community Center, 999 Lower Ferry Road, Ewing
Details:  Free and open to the public. No registration is required.
Additional Information: Contact EGT Chair, Joanne Mullowney at 609-883-0862 or email: ewinggreenteam@gmail.com

Emerald Ash Borer Presentation Cancelled

The Emerald Ash Borer presentation scheduled for Tuesday, March 20th has been cancelled due to impending snowstorm.  It has been rescheduled for April 17th.  Hope to see you then instead.  In the meantime, stay safe and warm.

Feeder Watch Update – Two for the Price of One!

by Lee Farnham

Apologies for not having sent these separately, but I never got around to sending in the 3/10-11 until today, so it’s the last two columns to look at.

Weekend of March 10-11

This was a pretty low key affair after the deluge that came with the snow the previous week…but the numbers show that most of the regulars were there except for the White-Breasted Nuthatch; this was its first miss since we began watching in early November.  My presumption is that it all has to do with when you’re watching, not just that you are watching because Nuttie (as we call him) stands out immediately.  We first see him on our Cherry tree, about 15 feet above the Sunflower Hearts, and a little to their east.  He wastes no time in getting to the feeder, for he swoops down and makes a three point landing on the Squirrel Buster’s Cardinal Ring, and from there grabs a seed or two and flies off to a close branch.  Then, like the Carolina Chickadee, he puts the seed on the branch, held by one foot, and pounds on it until it gets a little smaller, and then it’s gone and time for another feeding run, so he repeats the swoop and feed.

Meanwhile, we were thrilled to see a Northern Flicker, though briefly!  This time “Flicikie” zeroed in on the Peanut Butter Suet, a favorite of the Woodpeckers, Chickadees, Carolina Wren and Juncos.  He was first spotted as he hung onto our suet cage and banged away at the slab of suet.  Of course, some of it was staying on his beak, but some also fell to the ground where a Junco and Carolina Wren waited to dispatch it; it’s almost as If they knew he was going to be there.  After a couple of minutes on the suet the Flicker left, but we trust he’ll come back next week.

One more thing, about the Northern Junco.  You know that we spread Thistle Seed (Niger) on our deck rail and deck itself, in addition to putting it In two feeders.  The Juncos take it on the deck mostly, perhaps because they also seek cover in the vine that’s coming up from beneath the deck. Anyway, we can always count on seven or eight at first light, getting an early breakfast.

March 17 – 18

It was difficult to get as much time in this weekend because the Green Expo at Rider College was on, and the Ewing Environmental Commission and Green Team had separate, adjoining, exhibits which needed staffing.  Although there was no birding presentation (unlike in some years past) we had Feeder Watch brochures for one and all, so there was some birding emphasis at our table.  There was more emphasis on the damage tree volcanoes can do, and we had information on the Emerald Ash Borer seminar for the public on 3/20 at 6:30PM at the Ewing Senior Center.

That over, one thing interesting about the birds this past weekend was that the Northern Flicker was back, for the second week in a row!  This may be a harbinger of spring, as we’ve only seen a Flicker about 25% of the time this winter, but it’s now two weekends running!  If you want to contemplate beauty in bird design, with black, tan, red and white, then the Flicker is the one for you.  Something about its coloring, and design, really attracts me.

A surprise turned up on early Sunday afternoon, a bird that we had only seen nine times in the 240  we’ve reported for Feeder Watch over 13 years…a ratio of 3.375%;  it was a textbook example of a male Purple Finch,  and it was nibbling on the Safflower Seed we spread under our Safflower Feeder for birds which are more ground feeders.  I’ve always said that a Purple Finch looks like a Finch that’s been dipped in raspberry Juice, and it was a textbook example of that.  Even better, it was right next to a male House Finch, so you could compare the two side-by-side to see the marked difference.

The only disappointment this past weekend was that “Wrennie,” our beloved Carolina Wren(s) had a schedule different from ours so we didn’t see one.  This LOUD bird, for one so small, must’ve been travelling, so we’re looking forward to seeing it next weekend, the penultimate one in the Feeder Watch season, which ends on April 7 (since we’re supposed to report two consecutive days with a gap of five days between the last report, it doesn’t look like we’ll be reporting on the last weekend because we won’t be able to do two consecutive days.

Emerald Ash Borer Information Session – Tuesday, March 20th

Come to the Ewing Environmental Commission’s March meeting to learn from the experts about the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) threat, how it will affect your property, options for managing your ash trees, and potential solutions.

The Emerald Ash borer has been found in Ewing Township.  (See the Rutgers  EAB Rapid Ash Survey Report and Management Options, Prepared for the Township of Ewing, Mercer County , NJ, By The Rapid Ash Survey Team (RAST) October 2015.)  As this invasive pest can easily spread to neighboring trees, all residents should check their ash trees for symptoms of infestation.

“The emerald ash borer will kill 99 percent of all ash trees within the next few years,” said Bill Brash, the NJ State Certified Tree Expert with whom the EGT has been working about the EAB threat to the municipal tree canopy. “Residents should identify ash trees on their property and monitor for signs of damage or decline such as unusual woodpecker activity or missing bark.”

EAB Facts

Since the discovery of emerald ash borer in Michigan in 2002, the beetle has killed hundreds of millions of ash trees in North America. In May 2014, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture confirmed New Jersey’s first detection of the emerald ash borer in Bridgewater in Somerset County, NJ.

The emerald ash borer is a small, metallic green, non-native invasive pest. Trees can be infested for years before the tree begins to show symptoms of infestation. Symptoms include canopy dieback, woodpecker activity, missing bark, D-shaped exit holes, shoots sprouting from the trunk, and S-shaped larval galleries under the bark.

Ash Tree Management

If a tree is already infested or in poor health, it may be best to remove the tree before it becomes infested and poses a hazard to people and surrounding structures. But for those residents with high-value ash in good health, trees can be treated before they become infested.

A Certified Tree Expert can help residents evaluate, then treat or remove ash trees. Contact the Board of Certified Tree Experts at 732-833-0325 or njtreeexperts@gmail.com for a list of professionals serving your area.

Report any signs. If any signs of the EAB beetle are found, call the New Jersey Department of Agriculture at 609-406-6939. Visit http://www.emeraldashborer.nj.gov for more information and check out our own EAB resource page.


untitled-5This program is being provided by the Ewing EAB Partnership, a coalition composed of Ewing Green Team  and Environmental Commission members and representatives from Mercer County, Rutgers University and PSE&G under the direction of NJ State Certified Tree Expert Bill Brash.  It is funded by a 2016 PSE&G grant Partnering for the Restoration of the Community Forest: The 3P Plan, Partnerships-Plan-Planting which funded development of partnerships  to manage the spread and removals of trees infected with the Emerald Ash Borer on Ewing municipal lands.

Date: Tuesday, March 20th
Time: 6:30 p.m.
Location: Ewing Senior and Community Center, 999 Lower Ferry Road, Ewing
Details:  Free and open to the public. No registration is required.
Additional Information: Contact EGT Co-Chair, Joanne Mullowney at 609-883-0862 or email: ewinggreenteam@gmail.com

FeederWatch Update

by Lee Farnham

Sometimes, when you look forward to doing Feeder Watch each week, you build yourself up by expecting to see something new (a new bird, a record number of one Species, a bird that shouldn’t be in this area, etc.).  This past weekend was not a good one for that because it combined a number of different weather related events To keep the numbers quite modest.  The rain started early Saturday afternoon, and didn’t stop until late on Sunday afternoon, that wasn’t fun.  Higher temperature may have had an effect too.

Consider these numbers, for example:

  1. We’ve been averaging around 45-50 Goldfinches for the season, but saw only 8 while we were watching!
  2. Likewise, White-Throated Sparrows were down to three, Mourning Doves were 10 and House Finches just four.
  3. On the other hand, Cardinals were seven, pretty high; it was fun to watch them zooming around the safflower feeder and perching on the Sunflower Hearts feeder, and then sitting on nearby branches watching others.
  4. Several species were higher than normal, three Downy Woodpeckers and TWO Hairys, three Titmice, three Carolina Chickadees and a relative, one Black Capped Chickadee.

The temperature was pretty mild when compared with weekends past, and it got over 60 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday, which had its effect too.

Strangest of all was something we didn’t report to Feeder Watch:  on Wednesday a.m. around 0800, we counted 83 Goldfinches on our feeders, the deck rail, the deck, in the trees and around the Sunflower Heart feeder!!!  Maybe they were stocking up for the seasonal change which will take them elsewhere, it was quite a sight.

Six weekends are left in this season’s Feeder Watch reporting; we’re looking forward to reporting some Pileated Woodpeckers if we’re lucky.  They’re around; we saw one on an early morning dog walk this week, so maybe we’ll report our first for the year hammering away at the suet next weekend.  Here’s hoping.