Chaetura pelagica, voracious eaters of all flying insects, like mosquitos. These birds, native to the Americas, spend the winter (as I would like to do) in South America (northwestern countries), but breed in North America during our summers. Their range is from the Rockies eastward to the Atlantic and northward into lower parts of Canada. Like all swifts, they are incapable of perching, but instead cling vertically to surfaces. And this is where chimneys come in.
A swift spirals down to its roost opening from above. Originally these birds roosted and nested in trees. While they are diurnal foragers, able to stay afloat in the sky for hours, the time I am most aware of them is in the liminal hours of dawn and dusk. They are easily recognized, with their strange short, neck-less bodies, long slender wings, swift erratic flight and chittering call, but they are also easily mistaken for swallows (hence the name confusion). Able to drink and bath on the wing, they are one of the swiftest of birds.
They have extremely acute vision and interestingly, can focus with one eye or both eyes, and, like our native whippoorwill, which they somewhat resemble, they have a huge mouth gape — the better to eat you, little flying insect – but they are sociable rather than solitary, and many birds – sometimes hundreds – will share a roost.In that roost there is only one breeding pair, mated for life.
Although originally cavity-in-tree dwellers, since the arrival of European colonists – and chimneys – these birds now almost exclusively use chimneys (and air shafts, isolated corners in lightly used buildings, and the walls of cisterns and wells). Here’s the catch, however: today many of us cage our chimneys, thus preventing chimney swifts/swallows from using them.
In 2010 the International Union for the Conservation of Nature changed this bird’s status from LeastConcern to Near Threatened. Its population has declined precipitously across the majority of its range. The causes of its population decline are unclear. There may be contributing factors besides loss of roosts.In the U.S, the chimney swift is protected and neither birds nor nests can be removed from chimneys.
How can you help? You can build a chimney ‘swallow’ tower.
This tall slender structure offers an alternative to chimneys. It is usually placed to allow easy maneuverability to descending birds, in an open field, or in a yard, in an open area…. but could also be placed, it seems to me, on a flat roof or deck. They can be big or small. As with chimneys, some maintenance is required. You can find plans on line; look for chimney swift houses.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Mycorrhizal Planet, a new book by Michael Phillips, is a true breakthrough book, one that will provide new, valuable information for every serious organic gardener.The book describes how mycorrhizal fungi work with plant partners and gives detailed, practical information on how to maximize the power of fungi in all sorts of gardens—from backyard tomato patches to full-fledged agroforests.
The book combines a distillation of extensive scientific literature with decades of the author’s hands-on experience growing fruit and other crops. [As chance would have it, I just completed an Ohio State mycology course last fall and wrote my class paper on Maxmizing Positive Fungal Power in the Food Forest. So I know a little of the difficult scientific terrain Phillips had to traverse.]You would expect such a book to be densely packed, and it is. But it is also logical, good-humored, and down-to-earth, which should be more than enough to lead the committed gardener down a productive path toward a new set of best practices.
We need them.
The 20th Century produced some of the most brutal wars in history, but none so little noticed or comprehended as its War on Soil.Some background and at least a partial explanation of why the War on Soil was so unwitting:
Soil, understood as something orders of magnitude different than mere dirt, consists of minerals, dead organic matter, and multiple living organisms that are often measured, breathtakingly, in billions per teaspoon.Of these organisms, mycorrhizal fungi form the connective tissue on binds most plants. Their hyphae—microscopic filaments—exude chemicals that dissolve potential food—from minerals to wood to dead insects—and then capture it by forming the equivalent of a new stomach wall around it.See the graphic below where the red represents all the fungus’s external chemical activity. As its “stomach wall” expands, the fungus burrows its way tens of meters from its point of origin, all in the search for more food.
Much of the food it seeks, however, is not for itself, but for its plant partners.In return for the phosphorus, nitrogen and other elements our fungus gathers, it trades them in for plant sugars.These provide the fungus energy to expand and capture still more plant nutrients. Put simply, mycorrhizal fungi extend the reach of plant roots by factors of 10 or more—costing the plant far less energy than if they had to expand their root system to cover the same territory.
Fungally-derived nutrients are so important to plants that they may devote one-third of all the sugars they produce to feeding fungi. It is no exaggeration to say that this trading system forms the core of life on earth.It has been in place since both plants and fungi crawled their way out of prehistoric seas. The relationship is so tight that mycorrhizae and plants have evolved to cooperate at the cellular level with the most prevalent mycorrhizal type—arbuscular mycorrhizae—actually penetrating the cell walls of a given plant root.
But that’s only the beginning.Individual fungi merge with other members of their own species to further increase their reach.The resulting network forms microscopic highways for beneficial bacteria to travel the landscape. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnsYh6511Ic And fungi emit a soil protein called glomalin which binds soil minerals and organic matter loosely together in a way that allows the overall soil complex to both breathe and retain water.We call the resulting aggregation soil “tilth” —-the exact opposite of that gardening curse: soil compaction.
Surprisingly, much of this knowledge has only emerged recently.Glomalin, for example, was identified by a U.S. Dept. of Agriculture scientist in 1996!
It is this tightly-woven mineral/fungal/plant interrelationship that 20th Century agriculture and horticulture ripped apart.Tillage and plowing chopped up all those fungal hyphae. Artificial fertilizers fooled plants into happily dropping their partnership with living food providers (sort of like satisfying children with a perpetual diet of macaroni and cheese!).Disconnection from fungal partners, however, limited the availability of trace elements that fungi help scavenge.These trace elements—molybdenum, boron, etc.–are essential to full plant health. Fungally-trapped soil carbon also disappeared.All together, the negative cascade of disappearing nutrients left a void that growers filled with ever more fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.The ultimate result: ever less nutrition for both plants and their human consumers.
Phillips explains our downward agricultural slide in nuanced detail. But his greater emphasis is not on what went wrong, but how to make one’s own garden right. The three chapters (“Provisioning the Mycorrhizosphere,” “Fungal Accrual,” and “Practical Nondisturbance Techniques”) that make up the bulk of the book tell how to energize and expand fungal networks.
The committed gardener will find numerous possibilities for fungal enhancement of soil, ones that will require rereading and also rethinking of one’s approach to gardening.Out of dozens and dozens ideas the book offers, here are a few that I’m either implementing now or plan to in the near future.
Ramial wood chips.These are wood chips made from fresh twigs and branches, the ones where a tree’s most recent growth has occurred. As one might expect, such high growth portions of the tree carry the highest concentration of nutrients—calcium, phosphorus, nitrogen, etc.Fortunately, these young branches are often the ones professional arborists insert into their chipping machines and which they often have to pay to dispose of as landfill.So it’s easy to persuade neighborhood tree cutters to dump a truck load.I’ve done that and the chips have made my soil darker and richer and my plants happier.
Direct feeding of mycorrhizae by air-knifing holes in the soil under a tree’s drip line, then injecting (often proprietary) fungal food.I had this done last fall to reinvigorate what my arborist diagnosed as oxygen-deprived oak trees.The result: more vigorous-appearing oaks, but also a tripling (!) of fruit production of my pawpaw and peach trees planted under the oak’s drip line.
Planting of what Phillips calls “bridge trees.”These are trees planted specifically to connect more of the separate fungal pathways of a given orchard or food forest and thus, as fungal networks tend to do, share nutrients to those plants which need them most.Fruit trees typically work with arbuscular mycorrhizal partners, while oaks, maple and hickory work with ectomycorrhizal partners. Typically those two groups of fungi don’t “talk.” But a few tree species—willows, poplars, alders—partner happily bridge with both fungal communication gap. Within a broader landscape, they and their fungal partners open the possibility of tapping a much wider nutrient pool.So I’ve begun to encourage alders—already self-seeding to some extent in my food forest—by planting more in strategic locations.
As readers can now gather, Phillips goes into considerable detail.Yet what makes the appearance of this book especially exciting is how readablethe author is able to make it.
A typical passage will begin close to the “duh” level of simplicity; e.g. “Mycorrhizal fungi are the principal means plants have for obtaining phosphorus…the middle letter in NPK as represented by those three omnipresent numbers on a bag of fertilizer.”But then Phillips escalates quickly into a discussion of slow- vs. fast-release phosphorus and the relative “cost” to the plant of exuding organic acids to feed phosphorous-gathering fungi.Similarly, when Phillips must dip into scientific language—like “anastomosis,” the merging of separate fungi—he always defines it in understandable terms.
So, readable, yes, but also dense and complex.
Did I mention that this book is for gardening nerds?
13th Annual Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights Weekend!
Presented by The Shaker Historical Society
The Shaker Historical Society is hosting its 13th Annual Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights weekend June 16-18, 2017. This highly popular Father’s Day weekend event attracts more than 1,000 people from across the region.
The Friday evening Cocktails in the Garden Party is held at a private home with superb historic architecture and gardens. This garden has twice been a highlight of the Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights tour and was featured in Fine Garden Gardening magazine for its “Curve Appeal.”
On Sunday, visit eight beautiful gardens that are sure to inspire you to create your own outdoor oasis like the designs you’ll see within the city of Shaker Heights.
As part of the Gracious Gardens Sunday tour, there will be an admission-free open house with lawn games on the grounds of the museum at 16740 South Park Boulevard, where people wishing to go on the Garden Tour can purchase their tickets, visit the museum and art gallery, and enjoy light refreshments.
The Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights weekend is a major fundraiser that supports the Shaker Historical Society’s commitment to historic preservation, education, and community engagement. This event is also produced in partnership with Cuyahoga Arts & Culture and the Ohio History Connection.
Ticket and event information:
Cocktails in the Garden Party
Friday, June 16, 2017
6pm – 9pm
Tickets: $75.00 each
Private historic home in Shaker Heights
Sponsorships are available.
Includes cocktails, hors d’oeuvres,
and live music
Gracious Garden Tour and Museum
Sunday, June 18, 2017
12pm – 5pm.
Rain or Shine!
Advance tickets for Garden Tour: $20.00 each
Week before tour tickets: $25.00 each
Sunday admission to the Museum will be FREE. Tour the museum and art gallery, purchase your Garden Tour tickets and enjoy light refreshments!
Go to shakerhistoricalsociety.org or call 216-921-1201 for ticket information.
Ticket Sale locations: Bremec on the Heights, Gali’s Florist & Garden Center, J. Pistone Market, Juma Gallery, Shaker Hardware, and the Shaker Historical Society