A wondrous journey

The first sighted monarch, migrating from the United States to its overwintering sanctuary deep in the mountains of central Mexico, reached its destination on November 6th, as reported by Journey North. Soon it will be joined by tens of thousands. Then by hundreds of thousands.

The spring and fall migration of the monarch butterfly is truly an amazing phenomenon. The monarch is the only butterfly known to make a two-way migration, similar to birds. Unlike other butterfly species that can overwinter here as larvae, pupae, or even as adults in some species, monarchs just can’t make it through our cold winters.

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Using clues from the environment, monarchs know when time is approaching to move on. Scientists believe shortening days and lowering temperatures, along with aging milkweed and nectar sources trigger a change in monarchs. And it’s this change that makes the monarch migration even more extraordinary: monarchs are the only known species to have a multi-generational migration.

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a generation unlike the others

Generally, monarchs produce four generations a year. The first three generations are bred and born in the United States after they arrive during the spring migration north from Mexico. Each of these generations makes its way northward with some reaching as far north as Canada. Individuals of the first three generations live from two to six weeks.

When the fourth generation is born, something happens—and what happens, exactly, is unknown. What is known is that this generation enters reproductive diapause as adults and can live as long as nine months. These are the little guys that make the great trip south, starting in the late summer (in the north) and fall. Somehow, this generation of butterflies knows exactly where they’re headed while never having been there before: the high elevation oyamel fir forests in the Transvolcanic Range of central Mexico. The trip can be an astonishing 3,000 miles long for the northern-most butterflies and can take about two and a half months to complete.

It is hard to contemplate a world without the monarch—it’s woven into the very fabric of our culture. But the monarch migration is now recognized as an “endangered biological phenomenon” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and our northern neighbors in Canada have already identified the monarch as a species at risk.

To see the monarchs gather in Mexico over the winter months is something to behold. Watch this short video by National Geographic to get a glimpse of a monarch sanctuary in Mexico:

more interesting bits about the monarch’s incredible journey…

  • Although the monarch migration is visible from the ground, glider and airplane pilots have reported monarchs flying at heights from 1200 to as much as 10,000 feet.
  • Monarchs have two speeds: powered flight (greater than 12 miles per hour) and gliding.
  • When gliding, monarchs catch thermals to gain altitude and then glide south to southwest with the help of the wind. If conditions are favorable, monarchs can maintain altitude by flapping their wings only once every 20 to 30 feet.
  • Flight requires sunny days, light winds, and temperatures greater than 55 degrees. Headwinds greater than 10 miles per hour and temperatures greater than 88 degrees impede migration.
  • Tracking migrating monarchs from various starting points in the interior United States shows that no matter where they begin their journey, they all fly, more or less, on a direct path toward central Mexico. Scientists don’t know how the butterfly determines its particular geographically appropriate direction.
  • Although the total migration advances southward only 25 to 30 miles per day, individuals have been recorded to have covered hundreds of miles in just a few days.
  • Monarchs overwinter in dense clusters on oyamel firs in a semi-dormant state. They become active when temperatures rise above 55 degrees to find water. Nectar is not required—they live off stored fats all through the winter months.

One late season monarch averaged 61 miles per day for two weeks while flying from Virginia to Texas.

See Journey North’s  interactive map to see the progress of the fall migration. And if you have citizen scientist interests, consider adding your monarch sightings in their interactive spring 2019 migration map.

What a perfect time to contemplate a new or improved pollinator garden to make ready for the spring migration back north!

Live music, shopping, and fun!

Enjoy it all at 3R Bazaar this Saturday at
The Woodlands Farmer’s Market at Grogan’s Mill.

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Saturday, November 10
8 a.m. to noon

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Reduce, reuse, recycle, recharge, repair, recover, reimagine, refuse – however you choose, the opportunities to divert waste from our landfills are infinite. Find out how at 3R Bazaar.

Discover artwork created by local artists using up-cycled materials.

Purchase treasures made from recycled or sustainable materials.

Kids can contribute to a plastic cap collage with The Woodlands Children’s Museum.

Create a “coollage” with eco-impressionist, Grant Manier.

Stage a super selfie with the Polymer Princess and Canned Crusader.

Recycling services on site

Bring items listed below for free recycling and learn how you can improve your current recycling routine at home by reducing contamination and helping to keep recycling strong. This year’s Village Challenge features the collection of Alkaline Batteries AA, AAA, C, D and 9 volt ONLY. Each village will receive scholarship funds based on the amount collected.

Alkaline Batteries
AA, AAA, C, D and 9 volt ONLY
NO rechargeable; NO lead-acid

Textiles
Unusable condition

Eyeglasses
Prescription and reading glasses, sunglasses
Plastic and metal frames; cases

Oral Care Products
Collected by Girl Scout Cadette Troop 11953
Used toothbrushes, empty toothpaste tubes, and floss containers

Secure document shredding on site

Boxed or bagged personal documents
Residential only
Please donate 5 cans of food or $5 per box to benefit Interfaith Food Pantry

For more information or inquiries about being involved in next year’s event, please visit the 3R Bazaar page on the Township website or call 281-210-3800.

Healthier lawns, cleaner streams

One thoughtful action can help promote both: Think before you fertilize. All too often, lawns are fertilized too heavily, at the wrong time, or when they don’t need it at all—thanks to the formidable marketing efforts by fertilizer companies. Instead of automatically reaching for your spreader, consider what your lawn really needs and the consequences of over-fertilization.

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Know what your lawn needs

Timing. The time to fertilize a lawn is when it’s growing more roots than blades; and to know when that is, know the type of grass in the lawn. Grass can be categorized in two ways: warm-season or cool-season. These terms refer to the weather in which the grass has adapted to grow. Turf grasses most common in our area, St. Augustine, Zoysia and Bermuda, are all warm-season grasses and start their growth in spring, making that the best time for fertilization.

Fall is when these grasses go dormant making fertilizers moot. Fertilizing at the wrong time can actually be harmful. Feeding your warm-season turf nitrogen in fall can force new top growth making the lawn susceptible to frost, shock and disease. What’s more is that this takes away energy from root growth, leading to weak, thin lawns.

No matter what, always follow a fertilizer’s instructions exactly when it comes to application.

Test it. Having said all this, don’t assume you need to fertilize every spring. The only way to know what nutrients your soil is lacking is to have your soil tested. Instructions for how to take a soil sample and the form for sending it to Texas A&M for analysis can be found with this link: Soil Test Form.

Go organic. If you find your soil needs supplemental nutrients for turf grass, consider using organic instead of synthetic fertilizers. Unlike synthetic fertilizers, organic fertilizers don’t create high levels of salts which kill beneficial soil organisms—the key to good soil health. And organic fertilizers work slowly, wasting nothing. They also improve soil texture making it easier for air to get to the roots and helping the soil retain water longer.

Organic forms of fertilizers include:

  • Alfalfa meal
  • Bat guano
  • Fish emulsion
  • Cotton seed meal
  • Seaweed
  • Manure
  • Compost

Refer to Best Organic Fertilizers for a full list of organic fertilizers and what they specifically offer.

How does this affect the quality of streams?

When quick-release synthetic fertilizers are over used, the chemicals are washed from our lawns in a downpour. The polluted run-off is channeled into the nearest waterway via storm drains, untreated and unfiltered. This water in turn contaminates our creeks, rivers and groundwater. High concentrations of nitrogen in water can also lead to an algae overgrowth, threatening the health of aquatic life.

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Currently, over 80% of waterways in Texas are listed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality as “impaired,” creating poor habitat for aquatic organisms such as fish and turtles. High bacteria levels are another culprit and may lead to restrictions on water-contact recreation, such as  swimming and wading, fishing, and kayaking.

Other ways to help keep our water clean:

  • Pick up pet waste—it’s the number one source of bacteria in our waterways.
  • Maintain cars so they don’t leak oil and other chemicals onto driveways.
  • Compost, compost, compost.
  • Never flush unwanted or out-of-date medicines down the toilet or drain.
  • Minimize areas of turf grass and pavement while increasing areas of native plants
  • Install a rain garden

For more information about lawn care, download Guide to Yard Care, by Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

To learn more about water conservation in The Woodlands, visit The Woodlands Township’s Water Conservation webpage.

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Fascinating snakes

Herpetophobia is the morbid fear of snakes. While they may provoke phobia in some, snakes are amazing animals with some pretty striking (please pardon the pun) attributes. Check out the list of some of them below. And for a closer look at the more common snake species in our area (yes, live specimens will be there for the viewing), attend the next week’s Walk in the Woods Nature Lecture.

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Nathan Wells will present, Snakes of The Woodlands
Thursday, November 8th, 6:00 to 7:30 p.m.
Recreation Center at Rob Fleming Park
Registration is required.

Where you’ll find them…

Snakes can live in almost any environment, ranging from jungles and deserts to lakes and mountains. They live everywhere on Earth except Ireland, Iceland, New Zealand, and the North and South Poles.

There is an island in Brazil known as the Snake Island that arguably has the highest occurrence of snakes in the world. It’s estimated that there is one snake every 11 square feet.

The most common snake in North America is the garter snake.

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Garter snake

They come in all sizes…

The smallest snake is the thread snake that lives on the island of Barbados. It is about 4 inches long and “thin as spaghetti.” The longest snake is the reticulated python which can reach over 33 feet long. And the heaviest snake in the world is the anaconda, weighing over 595 pounds.

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Green tree python

Eating habits…

All snakes are strictly carnivorous. Depending on their size, however, their prey differs considerably. The smallest snakes feed on insects, snails, and mice while the largest snakes kill and eat anything from an antelope, pig and even a jaguar.

Most snakes need to eat only six to 30 meals a year to stay healthy.

To keep from choking on large prey, a snake will push the end of its trachea, or windpipe, out of its mouth, similar to the way a snorkel works.

Snakes don’t lap up water like mammals do. Instead, they dunk their snouts underwater and use their throats to pump in water.

Some snakes have over 200 teeth. The teeth aren’t used to chew—they point backwards to prevent prey from escaping the snake’s throat. And only venomous snakes have fangs.

Snake biology…

Most species of snakes lay eggs, and some species are ovoviviparous (they retain the eggs within their bodies until they are ready to hatch), but it was recently found out, that several species (such as the boa constrictor and the green anaconda) are fully viviparous (giving live births).

Snakes are completely covered with scales—even their eyes. Instead of eyelids, they have a brille, which is a transparent, disc-shaped, immobile scale that covers the eye for protection.

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Scales completely cover a snake, including its eyes

While snakes don’t have external ears, or eardrums, their skin, muscles and bones carry sound vibrations to the inner ears.

To accommodate their narrow bodies, snakes’ paired organs (such as kidneys) appear one in front of the other, instead of side by side.

Pit vipers, pythons, and some boas have infrared-sensitive receptors in deep grooves on the snout, which allows them to “see” the radiated heat of warm-blooded prey.

Snakes have one of the highest occurrences of polycephaly—a rare condition of having more than one head. There have been many cases of two-headed snakes. The heads might fight each other for food.

Species with super-powers…

The brahminy blind snake is the only snake species made up of solely females. It’s also the most widespread terrestrial snake in the world.

The death adder has the fastest strike of any snake in the world. It can attack, inject venom, and return to striking position in under 0.15 seconds.

There is a genus commonly known as the flying (or gliding) snakes. Native to Southeast Asia, these snakes are capable of gliding over distances as great as 330 feet through the air. Watch the video below to see how they do it.

The muscles that cause a rattlesnake´s rattle to shake are some of the fastest known, firing 50 times per second on average, sustained for up to 3 hours.

The black mamba is the world’s fastest snake. It’s found in East Africa and can reach speed up to 12 miles per hour.

The great pumpkin

It’s an iconic symbol of the season. Porches, lamp posts, benches and steps are decorated with pumpkins—they are so ubiquitous that today 80% of the pumpkins grown in the U.S. are available in the month of October alone.

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The jack-o-lantern

For Halloween, these orange orbs are often carved with ghoulish faces illuminated with candles to the delight of children and adults alike. Originally known as jack-o-lanterns, we have the Irish to thank for this tradition that has folded into the fabric of our holiday. But the original jack-o-lantern wasn’t carved of pumpkin—pumpkins didn’t exist in Ireland. Ancient Celtic cultures in Ireland carved turnips. On All Hallow’s Eve, the Irish placed an ember in them to ward off evil spirits. The lore behind this tradition is the Irishman, Stingy Jack, who bargained with the devil and was doomed to roam the Earth with only a hollowed turnip to light his way.

There are other ways to use pumpkins as festive decoration. Use them as planters and set your Thanksgiving table apart.

History of the pumpkin in the Americas

There is more to the history of pumpkins to appreciate. One of the oldest known food crops in the western hemisphere, pumpkins are native to parts of the southwestern U.S., Mexico, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. Pumpkins are known to have been cultivated since about 3500 BCE. Some archaeological evidence shows that ancient Aztecs used pumpkin seeds as a quick energy snack. Native Americans roasted long strips of pumpkins over a fire and also dried pumpkin, weaving the strips into mats. Throughout South and Central America pumpkin pulp has long been used as a treatment for burns.

When European colonists arrived in the New World, they relied heavily on pumpkin as a food source. Colonists prepared pumpkin by cutting off the top of the fruit, removing the seeds and pulp and replacing them with a mixture of milk, spices and honey. This food was the origin of the pumpkin pie enjoyed today.

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Growing pumpkins

Cultivating pumpkins in the southeast Texas home garden is possible, although challenging. Pumpkins are heat-loving plants with seed germination dependent upon warm soil. In Montgomery County, late March to early April is the optimum planting time. Pumpkins require a day time temperature of 85-95 degrees with a night time temperature range of 60-70 degrees.

When preparing the garden for pumpkin growing, apply a generous amount of high quality compost to provide the nutrition requirements of these heavy feeders. Select a location with well-drained soil and few weeds, and select a pumpkin variety that’s small or dwarf since the large-fruited varieties require a space at least 18 feet in width and length for the vigorous vines. Smaller pumpkin varieties can be successfully grown in a space with plants two feet apart and rows 6 feet apart. If space is limited, you can even grow them in a pot.

Since pumpkin is a member of the cucurbit family, it’s susceptible to the same pests and diseases which plague squash, cucumbers and other cucurbits. Insect pests include:  squash bugs, squash vine borer, cucumber beetles and aphids. Plant diseases include powdery mildew, leaf spot, black rot, gummy stem blight, mosaic virus and bacterial wilt. Our local, frequently damp climate provides perfect conditions for these diseases. Removing plant debris and careful tool cleaning and sanitation will help prevent disease. For high quality fruit with a long life, harvesting at maturity is crucial. A pumpkin is mature when the entire shell has developed uniform hardness.

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Cooking with pumpkins

A versatile fruit for culinary endeavors, pumpkin lends itself to preparations ranging from soups to pies and breads. No wonder the pumpkin has found its way onto the Thanksgiving table. For inspiration in the kitchen, see these pumpkin recipes  from Fine Cooking.

Nutritionally, pumpkin is a powerful food which is low in calories and fat but high in fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin B, potassium, protein and iron. One cup of cooked pumpkin contains only 49 calories. Since every part of the pumpkin is edible, experiment with preparing not only the pulp but also the seeds, flowers, leaves and stems. Check out these guidelines for processing pumpkins.

Add beauty and manage rain with a rain garden

Rain gardens are simple landscaping features used to slow, collect, infiltrate and filter storm water. They offer a great way to turn a landscape “problem” into a real benefit. Rain gardens are planted areas—best added to a low lying area that collects rain water—that include deep-rooted native plants and grasses that are designed to thrive in wet soil, soak up excess rain water, and withstand intermittent dry periods.

There are aesthetic benefits to rain gardens as well, transforming a bare, wet area into a green, blooming habitat that provides food and shelter for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife. Amphibians such as frogs and toads will be attracted to this naturally wet area.

The problem

Increased stormwater runoff is the real problem. Add soil erosion to that and the result is vulnerability to flooding. Rain gardens help prevent both, helping to conserve water and soil.

Water Cycle

Consider the water cycle shown above and then add human development to the picture. Humans create stormwater runoff when natural areas are developed, replacing them with a sea of impervious surfaces fragmenting our green spaces.  Within a developed residential area, pollutants such as fertilizers, herbicides, pet waste, and oil are washed from lawns, streets, and parking lots into local streams and drainage systems.

Polluted runoff is the number one water
quality issue in the United States. 

How rain gardens help

While a single rain garden may seem inconsequential, it has great value, and several in a neighborhood collectively can produce substantial benefits. They slow the water down and let it collect in the garden’s depression, settling soil, silt and organic material that are washed by the water from higher ground. Water slowly filters back into the soil where it is needed most.  The deep rooted plants and grasses in the rain garden hold of the soil, keeping it in place. Rain gardens can also be designed to divert run off from sewer systems.

Plants within the rain garden increase the infiltration of water, giving the natural process that removes pollutants time to do its work. Naturally purified water then recharges the groundwater system. The end result is that by adding a rain garden to the landscape is a strategy that makes a difference.  Flooding is reduced.  Pollutants are filtered from the water. Runoff is diverted from streets and storm sewers.

Concern that a rain garden might serve as a breeding area for mosquitoes is not valid when they are sited correctly. Following a rain, ponding should last no longer than approximately 72 hours. This is a much shorter time frame than the 7 to 14 days required for most species of mosquitoes to develop and hatch from eggs laid in standing water.

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Rain garden basics

Choose a site. Locate your garden in a low lying area of your landscape that tends to collect rain water at least 10 feet from your foundation. Choose a sunny or partially sunny spot. Also consider how it can be incorporated into your existing landscape replacing an area of traditional turf grass where the lawn slopes toward the street. An area that would catch roof run off or water from a down spout is perfect. If the rain garden is located on a slope, create a berm on the low side to retail water and soil.

Compared to a patch of lawn, a rain garden allows 30% more water to soak in the ground.

Test drainage. Test the location’s drainage before you create the bed. Dig a hole 8 to 12 inches deep and fill the hole with water. The water should soak in within 48 to 72 hours. Soils heavy in clay will drain much more slowly than soils heavier in loam, silt or sand. Amend sites heavy in clay with organic compost to improve the soil and help drainage. If the site doesn’t drain within 72 hours, choose another site.

Start digging. Rain gardens can be any size, but a typical residential rain garden ranges from 100 to 300 square feet. The depth of the garden can range between four and eight inches. Anything too deep might pond water too long and if too shallow, it will require greater surface area to effectively manage water.

Add plants. Choose a variety of native forbs and grasses, planting those with higher water tolerance in the middle of the garden. Include plants of varying heights and bloom times to maximize the garden’s depth, texture and color. Plant in groups of three to seven plants of a single species.  Go for diversity. In natural areas, a diversity of plant types not only adds beauty, but also creates thick underground root network that keeps the entire plant community in balance.

The chart below includes plants for our area suitable for a rain garden. Planting zones are indicated as:

Margin: the high edge around the rain garden that is the driest zone
Median: the area between the margin and center
Center: the middle of the garden that is deeper and will stay wet longest

Rain garden plant listHelp it flourish. Rain gardens can be maintained with little effort after plants are established. Weeding and some watering during dry periods will be needed the first two years.

Attend the upcoming rain garden class

Join Patrick Dickinson, Texas A&M Water University horticulturist on Saturday, October 27, 2018 from 9:00 a.m. to noon as he presents Gardening 102:  Rain Gardens.

Register here.

Resources

Refer to Harris County AgriLife Extension gardening fact sheet, Rain Gardens, for more details about planning a rain garden and for a full plant list.

Check out WaterSmart, a presentation by Chris LaChance of Texas AgriLife Extension, for good information and nice photos of various rain gardens.

This how-to manual on Rain Gardens by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources may have plant lists that aren’t suitable for this area, but it’s a good guide to creating a rain garden no matter where you live.

Rethink waste at 3R Bazaar

Reduce, reuse, recycle, recharge, repair, recover, reimagine, refuse – however you choose, the opportunities to divert waste from our landfills are infinite. Join The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department in celebrating America Recycles Day 2018 at the 3R Bazaar, this year at its new location, The Woodlands Farmer’s Market at Grogan’s Mill. Enjoy live music, locally sourced foods, shopping and fun for the whole family on November 10 from 8 a.m. to noon.

3R Bazaar

Recycle

Bring items listed below for free recycling and learn how you can improve your current recycling routine at home by reducing contamination and helping to keep recycling strong. This year’s Village Challenge features the collection of Alkaline Batteries AA, AAA, C, D and 9 volt ONLY. Each village will receive scholarship funds based on the amount collected.

On-site Recycling

Alkaline Batteries
AA, AAA, C, D and 9 volt ONLY
NO rechargeable; NO lead-acid

Textiles
Unusable condition

Eyeglasses
Prescription and reading glasses, sunglasses
Plastic and metal frames; cases

Oral Care Products
Collected by Girl Scout Cadette Troop 11953
Used toothbrushes, empty toothpaste tubes, and floss containers

On-site Secure Document Shredding

Boxed or bagged personal documents
Residential only
Donate 5 cans of food or $5 per box to benefit Interfaith Food Pantry

 Shop

Receive an exclusive reusable tote to shop the market and say goodbye to single-use plastic bags. Remember to return your used plastic bags, wrap and film to the grocery store to be recycled – never put them in your curbside recycle cart. Purchase treasures made from recycled or sustainable materials at the award-winning Buy Recycled Boutique hosted by The Woodlands G.R.E.E.N and discover artwork created by local artists using up-cycled materials.

Reimagine

Rethink waste when you contribute to a plastic cap collage with The Woodlands Children’s Museum or create a “coollage” with eco-impressionist, Grant Manier. Join forces with the Super Recyclers, The Woodlands’ Recycling Squad, to fight contamination or stage a super selfie with the Polymer Princess and Canned Crusader.

Volunteer

Sign up to volunteer at 3R Bazaar. Volunteers make a significant contribution to Township events. Consider being part of the 3R Bazaar volunteer team.

The 3R Bazaar is a free event brought to you by The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department with sponsorship from Waste Management, Gullo Dealerships, The Woodlands Joint Powers Agency (WJPA), Southern Shred, and The Woodlands G.R.E.E.N.

For more information or inquiries about being involved in next year’s event, please visit the 3R Bazaar page on the Township website or call 281-210-3800.

Backyard birds

Whether you have a home with a backyard or an apartment with a balcony, the fun of birding can be enjoyed by all. There are over 800 bird species in North America, and as many as 500 can be found in Texas alone. This rich diversity of birdlife is a testament to Texas’s diversity of habitat.

The state’s biodiversity is easily grasped when the high number of ecoregions in Texas—ten to be exact—are taken into account.

An ecoregion denotes a geographic area of similarity in its mosaic of flora, fauna, and ecosystems.

Gould ecorregions of texas

 

Texas’s geographic location is a crossroads where eastern habitats meet western ones and southern subtropical habitats meet northern temperate ones. Adding to the state’s super-birding aspects is the fact that it’s situated smack dab in the central flyway. During the spring and fall migrations, birders are apt to see species that aren’t generally seen otherwise. The Woodlands is situated in the Piney Woods ecoregion.

Attract birds to your landscape

By providing the essentials:

  • feeders and native food-producing plants,
  • water, and
  • shrubs, trees and birdhouses for nesting and shelter

in home landscapes, backyards can be transformed into bird wonderlands.

What’s growing in a backyard is key, and there are many native plants you can add to your property to attract birds and other wildlife. Here’s a short-list of some excellent ones for the Piney Woods. And remember—the best habitats address all four layers of your landscape—canopy, understory, high ground, and ground.

Plants for Birds Chart

Birds of the Piney Woods

Here’s a look at some common and less-common birds that visit The Woodlands backyards—either year-round or seasonally during migration. See how many visit your backyard feeder this season.

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Especially for birders…

For aspiring and dedicated citizen scientists of all ages, take part in this year’s Project FeederWatch, developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at Cornell University. The project kicks off in November. FeederWatch data help scientists track broad-scale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.

Another great resource for birders is also brought to you by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, eBird, where bird enthusiasts can connect to and contribute to the world of birding.

 

 

The way of the future: sustainable landscapes

Community resilience. Sustainable landscapes. These terms are becoming more commonplace and heard more often. Why? Because our collective and growing knowledge and experience tells us that global climate change is the impetus for increased catastrophic weather events.

What do these terms mean, exactly?

Taken one at a time, community resilience is the ability to anticipate risk, limit impact, and bounce back rapidly through survival, adaptability, evolution, and growth in the face of turbulent change, as defined by the Community and Regional Resilience Institute.

Turbulent change can include severe threats such as sea level rise, hurricanes, wildfires, drought, economic down-turns, social unrest, and other disruptions.

Environmental threats make up just one component—though significant—to the whole of turbulence that impacts resiliency, and designing landscapes that are sustainable is one way to help manage them.

The American Society of Landscape Architects defines sustainable landscapes best: “Sustainable landscapes are responsive to the environment, re-generative, and can actively contribute to the development of healthy communities. Sustainable landscapes sequester carbon, clean the air and water, increase energy efficiency, restore habitats, and create value through significant economic, social and, environmental benefits.”

It’s worth noting too, that a sustainable landscape is designed to be both attractive and to require minimal resources in terms of cost and ongoing maintenance.

Attend The Woodlands Township’s upcoming event:

Walk in the Woods Nature Lecture Series 

Thursday, October 11
6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
at HARC, 8801 Gosling Rd, The Woodlands
Lisa Gonzalez, President and CEO of HARC, will present:

Working with Nature to Build Resilient Communities

Registration is required.

A sustainable landscape can include:

  • Reduction of stormwater run-off through the use of bio-swales, rain gardens and green roofs and walls
  • Reduction of water use in landscapes through design of water-wise garden techniques (sometimes known as xeriscaping)
  • Bio-filtering of wastes through constructed wetlands
  • Landscape irrigation using water from showers and sinks (known as gray water)
  • Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques for pest control
  • Creating and enhancing wildlife habitat in urban environments
  • Energy-efficient landscape design in the form of proper placement and selection of shade trees and creation of wind breaks
  • Permeable paving materials to reduce stormwater run-off and allow rain water to infiltrate into the ground and replenish groundwater rather than run into surface water
  • Use of sustainably harvested wood, composite wood products for decking and other landscape projects, as well as use of plastic lumber
  • Recycling of products, such as glass, rubber from tires and other materials to create landscape products such as paving stones, mulch and other materials
  • Soil management techniques, including composting kitchen and yard wastes, to maintain and enhance healthy soil that supports a diversity of soil life
  • Integration and adoption of renewable energy, including solar-powered landscape lighting

That’s a lot. Let’s take a closer look at just two aspects of a sustainable landscape.

FIRST: Enhancing wildlife habitat.  Habitat loss, and the corresponding loss of biodiversity, can be curbed when we connect properties into networks of attractive, wildlife-friendly neighborhoods, cities, and regions. Starting with the home landscape, fragmented habitats can be rewoven together, creating spaces that are not only healthier for wildlife but also for people.

Watch this informative, short (4-minute) video produced by American Society of Landscape Architects, Designing Neighborhoods for People and Wildlife.

 

 

SECOND: Reduction of stormwater run-off.  In many communities, rain water flows into combined stormwater and sewer systems, which channel both sewage and rainwater together through underground pipes to central treatment facilities. Storms can quickly overrun these combined systems, leading to flooding with pollutant-laden water and even backed up sewage.

Watch this informative, short (4-minute) video produced by American Society of Landscape Architects, Leveraging the Landscape to Manage Water.

 

When these approaches are viewed with a wide scope and on a large scale, the potential impacts of sustainable landscaping are pretty powerful. At the same time, it’s important to recognize that change often starts on a small scale. And there might be no better place to start than in your own back yard.

For further reading, that’s as fun to read as it is informative, get Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Doug Tallamy, Timber Press, 2009.

Grow a native American vegetable and treat your landscape and palate alike

Helianthus tuberosus

Cultivated for centuries prior to the arrival of European explorers and settlers, our country’s only native vegetable is also a Texas native sunflower. The “jerusalem artichoke” or “sunchoke” is the enlarged underground stem of helianthus tuberosus, a type of sunflower in the aster family with edible tuberous roots. While commonly regarded as native vegetables, potatoes, tomatoes, corn and peppers all originated either in Central or South America.

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Today, we take the food on our plate for granted, but the History of Vegetables  is a fascinating study.

The common name “Jerusalem artichoke” is likely a corruption of the Italian girasole (turning toward the sun) which is a trait shared by all sunflowers. In more recent years, the edible tubers of helianthus tuberosus have become known as “sunchokes”.

Sunchokes have a delicious, sweet nutty taste.  As an extra bonus, these tubers are nutritious and an excellent source of iron, potassium and fiber.

The original distribution of this native Texas sunflower is unclear because the plant was transported to many different geographic locations for cultivation by Native Americans.  Today, helianthus tuberosus can be found along the edges of wooded areas, in former fields and along roadsides.

Helianthus tuberosus

This showy sunflower is also sometimes grown simply for its bright yellow blooms and tall, fast growing stems. Broad, thick leaves and rough hairy stems add to the visual attractiveness of this native plant.

Blooming in late summer and early fall, helianthus tuberosus requires full sun to part shade. A tough and versatile plant, this sunflower will grow in moist or dry soil and tolerates drought, heat and frigid temperatures. Because of these qualities, it’s very easy to grow. Helianthus tuberosus is extremely useful in the garden where it can quickly become a temporary summer screen, a stunning background for a native plant border or the sunny edge of a natural wooded area.

Nectar source for butterflies

This particular sunflower is beneficial for both insects and wildlife. The large yellow flowers offer nectar for butterflies, pollen for bees while also supporting many predatory and parasitoid wasps, flies and beetles. In fall, the seed heads attract birds while the large plants offer cover for small wildlife.

Beekeepers have noted that helianthus tuberosus  is an excellent honey plant resulting in a clear amber product when harvested.

Very little is known about pests or diseases which damage this plant. It appears to be quite resistant, which contributes to its easy to grow nature. In the southeast Texas climate, the optimum planting time is early spring with the main harvest in fall. Since helianthus tuberosus is a perennial plant, once started in the garden, it’ll return each spring from tubers left in the soil.

Growing helianthus tuberosus in your garden or landscape offers new opportunities for applying culinary skills as well as providing beauty, food for pollinators and cover for wildlife.

The edible tubers or sunchokes can be harvested beginning within two or three weeks after the flowers fade. Harvesting can continue after the first freeze damages the stems and leaves of the plant. Each plant will produce approximately 2-5 pounds of sunchokes. When left in the ground after the first frost, the tubers become sweeter and crispier. To preserve the freshness, store sunchokes in a zip top plastic bag in the refrigerator. This strategy preserves the tuber’s natural moisture.

While sunchokes are frequently used in cooking as a potato substitute, unlike potatoes, they can be used raw and add a nutritious crunch to salads. Sunchokes are also an excellent vegetable for pickling.

If you like to get even more creative in the kitchen, try Pan-Roasted Sunchokes and Artichoke Hearts with Lemon-Herb Butter.

Looks and sounds delish.

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For more information on the nutritional value of various foods, check out this nutrition guide, by the USDA.

 

Make the most of your landscape

Woodlands Landscaping Solutions has been a featured community event hosted by Environmental Services for more than 20 years, and this year’s event boasts a new location, guest speakers, live music, and new exhibitors.

WLS blog box

Connect with some of the best local experts at over 30 booths, where they will share current landscaping and gardening know-how that has been proven for this region. Montgomery County Master Gardeners will be on hand to assist with:

  • Lawn, tree and plant selection and care
  • Vegetable and herb gardening in The Woodlands
  • The benefits of amending your soil with compost
  • Drip irrigation and rain-water harvesting
  • Common bees, butterflies, and insects in the garden
  • Plant propagation
  • Garden tool repair and maintenance
  • Plant problem diagnosis—bring a cutting of your problem plant!

Meet representatives from Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, North American Butterfly Association, and Texas Master Naturalists, and other organizations.

See a presentation—or two—by our guest speakers Mark Morgenstern from Morning Star Prairie Plants who will speak on the value of native plants in home landscapes, and Tom LeRoy who will address caring for lawns and issues related to them.

Enjoy live music by Andy McCarthy.

Shop the marketplace for plants, backyard birding supplies, gardening tools, and garden-themed gifts.

Planning fall landscaping projects and spring gardens is easier with help from great resources–and you can find them at Woodlands Landscaping Solutions. Don’t miss it! This is a free event.

For information, visit the website’s Event Details page.

Map of location.

Fall is perfect for mushroom hunting

The Piney Woods ecoregion of East Texas (in which The Woodlands sits) is home to towering pines, delicate dogwoods, the red-cockaded woodpecker, and miles of tea-colored, sandy creeks. Its lush flora and fauna are supported by the area’s heavy rainfall, and this also makes way for more elusive natural treasures—mushrooms.

One day there’s no trace, and then the next—there they are. Wild mushrooms may be harder to spot, but they are plentiful especially after a good rain. And fall is a great time to find them along The Woodlands’ hike and bike paths.

What is a mushroom?

A mushroom is comparable to the flower or fruit of a plant—but without much going on above ground. Most of the fungal organism lives within the soil or wood as thread-like strands known as mycelium. Below ground, a fungus can be downright humongous—like the documented Armillaria in eastern Oregon.

Scientists call the fungus in eastern Oregon the largest single living organism in the world, and it’s somewhere between 2,000 to 8,000 years old.

Some fungi are mycorrhizae that grow in association with the roots of a plant, supplying it with nutrients. These fungi play an especially important role in soil biology.

When fungi bloom, they send their tiny forest sculptures above ground and we find mushrooms. They are most often found on dead or decaying organic matter—making fall a great time to find them as they decompose the season’s fallen leaves.

Common species

A favorite of artists and photographers alike is Amanita muscaria, one of the most recognizable and common mushrooms.  It may be a looker, but don’t be tempted to do more with it. It’s toxic. Find it among pines and other conifers.

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Look for this graceful, long-stemmed mushroom, Oudemansiella radicata, often found near hardwoods. It’s one of the hardest working decomposers out there, quickly breaking down dead materials into the soil and releasing nutrients that trees can absorb.

Oudemansiella radicata

Another interesting find is the Ganoderma species. Though it’s not an edible mushroom, they are highly prized in some cultures for medicinal properties. Specimens are dried, ground, and steeped as a tea thought to treat anything from stomach pain to some cancers. It’s another great decomposer.

Ganoderma

Finally, when you see this messy mushroom that almost looks like broken eggs on the ground, you have found one of the Scleroderma species. It’s highly toxic if consumed, but like the other mushrooms, helps move nutrients around in mixed pine and hardwood forests.

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Take a walk and see what you find. And keep in mind: many mushrooms are toxic, so take pictures rather than pick them. To learn more about mushrooms and get help identifying the hundreds of species that grow in the area, grab a field guide.

Suggested Field Guides

Texas Mushrooms: A Field Guide, Susan and Van Metzler, University of Texas Press
Mushrooms Demystified, David Arora, Ten Speed Press

 

Walk in the Woods fall series takes off

Join the fun on September 13th for the fall’s first lecture and get a close-up look at some fascinating birds. The folks at Wildlife Revealed will present Birds of Prey and thrill the audience with a flight demonstration featuring vultures, hawks, falcons and owls. Enjoy an evening outdoors at the Amphitheater at the Recreation Center at Rob Fleming Park and get ready to be amazed.

Birds of Prey

Bottom row, left to right: American Kestrel; Red-shouldered Hawk; Black Vulture; Eastern Screech Owl.

Birds of prey, also known as raptors, include several species of bird that are carnivorous. They embody the seemingly opposing qualities of both grace and power—their very name comes from the Latin word rapere, meaning to seize or take by force. While many birds are carnivorous, the raptors are set apart by their:

  • Keen eyesight
  • Powerful, curved talons
  • Hooked beaks

Yet all raptors are not created equal. Each type of raptor has its very own unique features:

Vultures.  They almost always have featherless heads, which help reduce infection when feeding on carrion, their usual diet.

Hawks. There’s a reason they are the root of the saying, “Watch like a hawk.” Their vision is eight times greater than our own.

Eagles. These guys are BIG with a wingspan ranging from six to eight feet.  And their nests are no small matter either. They can measure up to six feet wide and weigh 100 pounds.

Falcons. Falcons are easy to differentiate from other hawks by the distinct stripes below their eyes. They are the most acrobatic of the raptors and can fly at incredible speeds.

The Peregrine Falcon is the world’s fastest bird, flying a whopping 240 miles an hour.

Kites. They appear falcon-like, but have distinctive tails that, like their wings, are long and pointed.

Owls. These nocturnal predators have eyes that are fixed in their sockets—in order to take in their surroundings they have to turn their heads. And most can up to 270 degrees.

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Make this a great night out and join the fun.

Walk in the Woods, Birds of Prey

September 13, 2018
6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Recreation Center Amphitheater at Rob Fleming Park

This event is free.
Registration is required.

Rob Fleming Amphitheater

To learn more about Houston-area birds including raptors, download Houston Audubon Society’s Common Birds of Houston guide.

Learn more about owls at Houston Audubon Society’s Owl Prowls.

To see the full fall line-up for Walk in the Woods lecture series, view and print the event flyer. To register for this event, click the Register Here link on the event details page of The Woodlands Township website.

trash pick upThere will be no interruption or delay of services over the Labor Day holiday. Waste Management will provide curbside pick-up of trash, recycling, and yard trimmings to all residents on their regularly scheduled service day, including Monday, September 3, 2018.

Simple Recycling will also provide curbside textile recycling with no service interruption.

Solid waste services in the community will occur as usual over the Labor Day holiday.

If your holiday celebration generates more trash than the 96-gallon trash cart can hold, extra service tags are available for purchase for $1.75 each at Township offices, Kroger and Randalls.  One pink service tag should be affixed to each plastic bag of household trash that will NOT fit into the trash cart.

The Montgomery County Precinct 3 Recycling facility will be closed on Monday, September 3. The Woodlands Recycling Center on Research Forest Drive is open every Wednesday from 4 to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. regardless of holidays.

As always, the only holidays that affect residential trash and recycling collection are New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.

For more information about trash and recycling services, visit the Recycling and Solid Waste page on the website. To report missed pick-ups, please call Waste Management Customer Service at 800-800-5804. 

Growing your own builds strong bodies and minds

The health benefits of vegetables are many, not the least of which is that they are important sources of nutrients, including potassium, dietary fiber, folate (folic acid), vitamin A, and vitamin C. Take the health benefits a step further and grow your own. When you grow your own veggies organically, the nutritional payoff is even higher (not to mention you ensure that no chemicals are being ingested with your zucchini).

Organic fruits and vegetables deliver between
20 and 40 percent higher antioxidant activity, according to a 2014 study published in British Journal of Nutrition.

And don’t forget another important health benefit to growing your own: Working an hour in the garden tending your harvest provides exercise benefits equal to a 30-minute jog.

Soul food

Did you know growing your own is also good for your soul?  “What?” you ask? Well, yes. A 2016 meta-analysis has shown a link between gardening and increased mental health. Getting your hands in the dirt brings you in contact with mycobacterium vaccae, a bacterium found in soil that may stimulate the production of serotonin—one of our “feel good” hormones. Gardening also opens your mind to nature:  bird song and insect sounds; colors and textures of plants; cloud patterns; changes in weather; soft breezes. All this good stuff has been found to:

  • Reduce stress
  • Reduce depression and lower anxiety
  • Increase focus and mindfulness
  • Inspire a sense of awe
  • Create a sense of hope and purpose

Get started on your own vegetable garden

daniel-cunningham-sq-3Learn more about growing your own vegetables this weekend.  Join Daniel Cunningham, Texas A&M Water University horticulturist as he shares his knowledge in our Fall Vegetable Gardening Class on Saturday, August 25, 2018.  Daniel will offer strategies for overcoming the challenges of vegetable gardening in our humid and hot southeast Texas climate.  Learn when to plant and which vegetables grow best in the fall gardening season.  Find out how to reduce your water footprint.  Gather information on ways to conserve and protect our natural resources.

Learn more about growing your own vegetables in Saturday’s class.

Bring your gardening questions and plant problems.  Montgomery County Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer your questions with proven information.

Grow Your Own Vegetables is a free class; however, space is limited and registration is required.

Grow Your Own Vegetables Class
Saturday, August 25, 2018
9 a.m. to noon
The Woodlands Emergency Training Center
16135 I-45 South, The Woodlands, TX 77385

For more information about this class and to register, visit the Event Details page on the website.