By Rebecca Hammond
ON OUR MANY MINI-MICHIGAN TRIPS, WE NOTICE A LACK OF MILKWEED IN places that could sustain it, but we also notice an abundance of goldenrod. Monarch butterflies need both, milkweed being their only host plant, goldenrod and asters being the nectar plants that get the last generation of monarchs each year from northern places to central Mexico. You may have been told that goldenrod revs up your fall allergies. I was. But goldenrod pollen is too big and heavy to blow around and be inhaled. Most of us are really triggered by ragweed, which blooms at the same time, but with no attention-getting showiness.
I saw many monarchs in the UP a week or so ago, some along Lake Michigan, about to cross the Straits, one just off the coast of Grand Island, in the winds of a coming storm. We were on a ledge watching that storm roll in, and the monarch was a surprise.
If you visit Grand Island, consider the ferry schedule online and on the door of the ferry office in Munising to be a wee bit more flexible than stated. We thought we had a half hour to kill before the 9:00 A.M. ferry made the three-minute trip, but the captain wandered into the parking lot and gathered up four of us, and off we went. The ferries are actually pontoon boats, carrying only six passengers at a time, with three official trips a day at this time of year.
THREE DOWNY WOODPECKERS flew onto our porch recently, obviously nest-mates, a female and two males. They explored the place, rear-ranging things here and there. I have a bee house (although wasps and fireflies seemed to use it, no bees appeared to) and one compartment is full of wood shavings. A male pulled them out and dropped them, one at a time. Then the female pulled them out and inserted them into a different compartment, one at a time.
KATE FOX, NEIGHBOR WITH the “Keep Fernlandia Weird” straw-bale vegetable garden last year, expanded this year, same plants, just more of ‘em. Her carrots were so thick and abundant with foliage (itself edible) that she laughed at my inability to keep my hands out of it. The bales of straw are conditioned with fertilizer and heat up and cool down like compost.
Kate made recesses in the tops of the bales, and filled those with soil-less mix. The plants go right into that. Her basil was a healthy little fragrant forest, and the tomato plants were towering. She also has eggplant and cucumbers. The bales are already breaking down, and can be spread else-where like any mulch. Kate says this is her gardening method from now on.
My own tomatoes and peppers were lackluster. So, I googled. Filled a big watering can from the rain barrel, tossed in a handful of Epsom salts, and about the same amount of blackstrap molasses. Tomatoes like calcium. Molasses supplies that, and iron and potassium. I keep a bottle around for electrolyte issues I have in this older age, making sure to take a couple of spoonfuls any night we’ve been out getting sweaty hiking or biking. The salts have a lot of magnesium, which is supposedly why a good soak in a salty bath relaxes the muscles. If you’ve never tried this, you may be surprised. The tomatoes looked better two days later, and did fine from then on, as did green peppers that got the same medicine.
IF YOU’RE UP EARLY and sit outside in the dark, you may hear screech owls calling to each other just before dawn. Sitting outside in the early morning is so wonderful, so life-enriching, it’s a wonder that anyone who does it once isn’t up early and outside every day. Humans are odd things about continuing that which we find rewarding. We so often just go back to sleep, in more ways than one.
IF YOU TIRE EVEN OF FERNDALE’S great bike-lane system, head up Schoenherr and turn west on Clinton River Drive. You quickly come to a parking lot along power lines. It’s a trail-head for a paved path that goes through Utica and beyond. It shadows the Clinton River and goes up and down and around enough curves to be a relief to those of us locked into our incessant rectangles and straightaways. And it has some fun tunnels and bridges. Most of it feels quite remote from urbanness. Check out the paved trail right here in Harding Park. Fun addition to a pedal around town.
This urban setting is home to more deer now than I can believe. We visited some former neighborhood pals who moved to south Royal Oak, and were admiring their new home and back yard. Up walked a doe and buck. As the six of us, two couples, our friends’ two little girls, were shouting with surprise, and ooh-ing and ahh-ing, the deer decided to, right then and there, um, mate. At that moment, the older of the two girls remarked, quite innocently, “Maybe they’ll have a baby!” Uh, yeah. That’s just about a sure thing.
ADDING TO THE ONGOING LIST OF reasons I know I live in a great city this: When a police officer showed up at our house to take a look at vandalized plants in our front yard, her first comment was that the plants are milkweed, and monarchs need milkweed. And that we need to protect it. Thank you, officer. We are, and will continue.
Becky Hammond loves the Michigan outdoors and never wants to be anywhere else. Heaven is here.