Green Team
  • Autumn Arrives...

    Posted by Joni Wisniewski at 9/23/2014

    If you scan the edge of the woods surrounding the playground for signs of fall, the fringe of goldenrod outlining the perimeter is sure to catch your attention.  The brilliant bursts of orange are beginning to pop on the sassafras trees as well.  I heard the crunch of leaves beneath my feet, as I walked the cross country trail after school today, when just Friday the path was silent.  As if on cue, a shower of leaves rained down on my car, as I drove home tonight.  Autumn is definitely here! :)

    The official time of the equinox for Philadelphia is 10:29 PM, as that is when the sun will cross the celestial equator from the northern hemisphere to the southern one.  Equinox translates as "equal night" in Latin, but strictly speaking, that's not true.  Since the number of daylight hours is actually determined by your latitude, the equator and poles do not experience equal hours of day and night.  But here in New Egypt, it will be pretty close.

    Autumn is all about the trees, and the weather that we have been experiencing is just perfect for peak fall foliage.  There is an old saying that goes something like this: "Autumn rains wash away the colors."    That's because bright sunny days and cool, crisp nights produce the best colors.   As chlorophyll production ceases, the tree's true colors are allowed to shine through.   It should be a spectacular show this year!
    Gardeners tend to think a season or two ahead.  If you want to add a tree to your property, now is the time to do it.  Fall is an excellent time to plant trees.  As long as the ground is not frozen solid, you're good to go.
    Consider planting a native species for easier maintenance and greatest benefits for wildlife.  A typical oak tree will support 534 species, whereas an exotic species might only support a handful.  This is because it takes a very long time for species to adapt.  Native animals have been living with their native plant counterparts for thousands of years.  

     Instead of planting a Bradford Pear, try native Allegheny Serviceberry.  They have similar plant requirements.  Both have white flowers in the spring and gorgeous fall color.  The difference is in the berries.   Serviceberries are coveted by our native wildlife, and people too.  Whereas the fruit of the Bradford Pear is eaten only as a last alternative by animals and not at all by people.  Serviceberries were a staple for many Native Americans, and I love them.  They taste like blueberries with a hint of almond.   If I manage to find one that the birds missed, I consider myself lucky.

    Some native trees to consider: Red Oak (NJ State Tree), Willow Oak, River Birch,  Pin Cherry, American Plum or Beach Plum, Tulip Poplar, Crabapple, Sugar Maple, Red Maple,  Shagbark Hickory, Eastern White Pine, Eastern Redcedar , American Beech, Walnut, Butternut, American Chestnut, Linden, Ash, Elm, Alder, Spruce, Canadian Hemlock, Witchhazel, American Redbud, Flowering Dogwood (NOT Kousa), American Holly, and Sassafras

    (Most of these trees support at least 100 species, some support several hundred.)

    Some native shrubs to consider: Pussy Willow, Blueberry, Cranberry, Viburnums, American Hazelnut, Mountain Laurel, Bayberry, Red Twig Dogwood, Gray Dogwood, Virginia Fringetree, Sweetbay Magnolia, Virginia Sweetspire, Red or Black Chokeberries, Ninebark, and NJ TeaTree.

    If you are looking for a drought tolerant grass for your lawn, try Blue Grama Grass.  It can be cropped short like a typical lawn, but requires far less water.  If you are looking for a more ornamental grass, try Indian Grass or Little Bluestem.  

    If you are interested in landscaping with native plants, I highly recommend the book Bringing Nature Home by Douglas W. Tallamy.  Our local library has a copy.

    Comments (-1)
  • The Zinnia

    Posted by Joni Wisniewski at 9/9/2014
    First, let me say that neither the photograph nor the zinnia was tampered with in any way.   This is an actual flower currently blooming in the NEPS garden.  It's discovery was purely serendipity.  I was reaching to pick a flower for a new student, when I glanced down and was amazed by what I saw.  If you have any interest in seeing it for yourself, it is in the rainbow pollinator bed, close to the main path and the butterfly puddler.
    There are so many things that come to mind when I look at this flower, but if I had to focus on just one  thought, it would be this one.  The purpose of the school garden is to cultivate a sense of wonder.   When I look at this flower, I wonder what caused this striking coloration.  I wonder how often does this phenomenon occurs?   And I wonder how many times I walked through that garden and simply failed to see it!   I know that I was out there only an hour before, but I completely missed it on that visit to the garden.  I know that I was in the garden the day before to replenish the feeders, but I left again, knowing nothing of this unique flower's existence.
    Give yourself and your students time to really look at things.  It's important to take a closer look, to pay attention and be observant.   There is so much activity taking place in that enclosed space.  Why not use it as an outdoor classroom?  Imagine the questions a trip to the garden could generate!
    One word of caution, as someone who has spent the last 24 hours trying to answer my own questions about this flower, arm yourself with patience and ibuprofen. :)  I still do not have the answers to my questions, but I will not give up the search until I do. 
     To quote Einstein, "The important thing is not to stop questioning.  Curiosity has its own reason for existing."
    If this flower has sparked your curiosity, you may want to do a Google image search for "animal gynandromorphs".  (Hence the ibuprofen!)  I promise it will be worth your while.
    One parting thought : When Einstein was five years old, and home sick in bed, his father gave him a pocket compass to keep him busy.  This simple compass sparked Einstein's curiosity about the unseen forces acting on the needle.  As an adult, Einstein said the experience was one of the most revelatory of his life.
    Comments (-1)
  • The Deer

    Posted by Joni Wisniewski at 8/16/2014
    Today, when I went to fill up the feeders in the garden, I saw a doe with twin fawns. They were grazing behind the first grade wing near the tree line.   Mom retreated into the woods almost immediately, but the curious fawns lingered to check me out.  They were tiny and still had spots. Too cute!  I wish I had taken my camera with me, so that I could have shared pictures with you.  Maybe next time...
    I also caught a brief glimpse of what I believe was a bluebird in flight.  It flew towards the tall grassy area behind the playground and perched on a cedar at the edge of the field.  Bluebirds prefer habitat that includes an open field, so if we are lucky, it will stick around.  The area behind the school is full of transitional habitat areas. These areas tend to attract the most diversity in wildlife species.  
    Comments (-1)
  • Some Photos..

    Posted by Joni Wisniewski at 8/13/2014
    pumpkin   sunflower and zinnias   tall sunflower
    Comments (-1)
  • July Garden Update

    Posted by Joni Wisniewski at 7/26/2014
    Hummingbirds have arrived at NEPS!   I went to change the nectar solution this morning, and as soon as it was changed, this little guy buzzed by me.  He is not alone.  I saw two hummingbirds while I was there.  My guess is that the blooming zinnias acted as a beacon and drew them into our garden.  Hummingbirds are drawn to the color red, so the scarlet runner bean blossoms are a favorite dining spot.   I watched them for about 10 minutes.  They did not visit the feeder during that time, preferring the flowers.  However, since the feeder was empty this morning, they must be using it as well.   
    If you are interested in seeing a hummingbird, I suggest you spend a few minutes in the school garden.  Once a hummer finds you, it will stake its territory and visit continually.   These little birds are feisty and fearless!  They are not afraid of humans, so your presence in the garden will not alter their visitation schedule.   They will chase off other hummers, bigger birds, or people if they get too close to their feeder or a cherished stand of flowers.  I had one buzz right through my hair while changing the sugar water in the feeder at my house.  It did not hurt me, simply let me know who was boss.  Apparently, it was not me! :)
    Hummingbirds migrate, so we can expect to be amazed by these entertaining creatures until about mid-October.  I will be changing the feeder twice a week now to keep them happy.  It is my sincere hope that the students get to observe these amazing birds once they return in September.   If you take the ESY students out to observe them, I suggest scanning the feeder, the scarlet runner beans at the entrance, the zinnias, and the fence netting.   They like to perch in the openings in between snacks.  
    Comments (-1)