Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Houseplant season

In autumn, a young woman's fancy gently turns to thoughts of...houseplants. Several of my plants died during the move to Colorado--some because I left them on the patio too long (my poor violets!), some because they were stashed in the low-light basement too long, some just from general trauma and perhaps homesickness. I went into a holding pattern for a while, keeping the survivors alive, taking cuttings from semi-rotted succulents, and just waiting for time and interest to catch back up with me.

Finally! I am ready to get back into the swing of things. I had left many plants behind, mostly easy-to-find things like pothos and philodendrons and holiday cacti. This left me with a dearth of hanging plants that I needed to correct. I was thrilled to find a great source of cool plants here in Fort Collins - Fort Collins Nursery. I also received the order I placed with Glasshouse Works a few weeks ago.

New juniors from Glasshouse Works

I'll post more pictures later, and an updated inventory, but for now, here's the plant I won at the Sustainable Living Fair in September. It's a croton, Codiaeum variegatum, very pretty. Unfortunately, I know what happens to crotons in my care! I've had it for a couple of weeks and it's already lost leaves. It droops every two days. According to Mr. Subjunctive, it WILL get spider mites, if I don't kill it first. I'll do my best but sorry, little croton, you may be doomed.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Cleaning up the aspen grove

Our aspen grove lies between the meadow and the ravine south of the house. The larger trees are about 30 feet tall, and there are dozens of saplings. The High Park Fire burned through much of the grove in June, killing smaller trees and damaging or killing many of the large ones. Since the grove is so visible from the house, and it is our preferred source of firewood (aspen is less resinous than pine), we're diligently trying to clear out the dead trees this fall. For a small grove, it is turning out to be a daunting task, and it sets an ominous tone for the acres of burned pines awaiting our attention.

This was the aspen grove just after the fire, on June 29. IMG_9709

It was easy to see at that time what burned and what did not. IMG_9713

On September 11, we started clearing dead trees. This was taken from the deck just before we started. IMG_9963

Yesterday, this was the grove: IMG_0001
It's impossible to see a difference but trust me, there are far fewer trees now! Even with dozens of dead trees cleared out, there are a LOT of saplings and many larger trees still alive. Once we're done for the season, I will take a picture from the deck for a better comparison.

Some larger trees lost their lower limbs while the tops remain intact. IMG_0006

As I lopped off small dead trees (1 to 1 1/2 inches) in order to increase sunlight to the forest floor, I observed new growth at the base of nearly every tree. Aspens have thin bark, useless against fire, but their underground stems survive and even seem to be stimulated by the heat.

Here is a section that we haven't cleared yet; most or all of these trees are dead: IMG_0011

while this adjacent section didn't burn at all. IMG_0018

There are two piles of logs waiting to be bucked (=sectioned into fireplace-sized pieces). IMG_0004

TMCH built this nifty foldable bucking stand and is sectioning logs as fast as he can. I then put them in the trailer and drive them up to the woodpile. Like all of our neighbors, we are going to have more wood than we will ever be able to use!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Aspens in autumn

We have our very own aspen grove. It was hit hard during the fire and we've been clearing dead trees out seemingly non-stop, but plenty still stand. In late September/early October, they look pretty amazing.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The greyhound herself

This is Foley, our big dopey sweet greyhound! Isn't she a doll?
Foley has adapted very well to life in the mountains, after being a city dog most of her (post-racing) life. She enjoys chasing chipmunks and she finds mule deer very interesting. Her turn-ons are cheese, meat, and snuggles. Turn-offs are carrots, thunderstorms, and being left at home.


Hey, where did our canyon go?
It drizzled all evening and night and most of the day. The fog advanced and retreated but never left, and the next ridge remained invisible all day. Luckily I had nowhere to go, but TMCH had to find his way down the road after fire department training.

We figured out how to work the propane stove today. After years of having a forced-air furnace, learning to heat a house using wood and propane is quite an adjustment! The stove turns out to be pretty straightforward once you figure out how to light the pilot. It's lovely and toasty to stand in front of. We'll see how charming it is during the dead of winter.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

High Park Fire symposium

On Monday at CSU I attended an all-day symposium about the High Park Fire and its aftermath. I was hoping for two outcomes: learn something useful about our burned land, and get a lead on a job. Partial success on one front, and I did at least find someone to send a CV to "just in case something opens up." Baby steps!

Overall I thought it was an excellent program. The Warner College received an NSF RAPID grant to do some post-fire study and work is already well underway. (Hindered, unfortunately, by the lack of pre-fire data points.) I was as always greatly amused by the scientists' reluctance to commit to a definite answer on anything. I know that science deals in confidence intervals and nothing can ever really be proven to be right, but at a conference like this where homeowners want to know, "What is the best thing to plant for erosion control?", "it depends" or "we're still looking into that" is unsatisfying.
I learned a great deal about hydrology and sedimentation in steep forested areas, a topic I know little about. Evidence from the Hayman fire of ten years ago, and from other fire studies, suggests that most ground cover rebounds within two years except in the most severely burned areas. Seeding may or may not be helpful and is greatly at the mercy of the precipitation that follows seeding. (And today after nearly 24 hours of drizzle, I wish I could go back in time and plant some seed!) Native plants with fibrous root systems are preferable for erosion control, and shrubs are the best. Be cautious of planting for the short-term; perennial grasses may establish so well that they outcompete the shrubs and trees that are supposed to succeed them. Contour log erosion barriers were actually frowned upon by the hydrology guy, who said unless they are perfectly positioned, they can cause even worse eroding rills than the sheeting water they were meant to interrupt.

Only about 47% of the total burn area was moderately to severely burned (per the BAER report). Restoration and erosion control should be concentrated on the most severe areas; the rest will largely rebound on its own. (I believe we have bits of all four severity categories on our land.) A researcher from the Rocky Mountain Research Station mentioned that it is not known how patch size affects regeneration. What an interesting topic that would be to investigate!
Ground cover regeneration seems like it is not something to fret about. Trees, however, are a different story. Aspens regenerate from below-ground stems and in fact are fire-stimulated, so they'll take care of themselves (our own aspen grove is filled with tiny trees). The conifers however tend to produce huge seed crops (mast) only every 4-6 years, and those result in large numbers of seedlings only if they coincide with a good precipitation season. This alignment is infrequent. The Hayman study showed abundant Ponderosa pine regeneration and poor Douglas-fir regeneration after ten years in less-severe burn areas. In the severely burned areas, tree regeneration was poor all around. This is a discouraging result, although the Hayman was just one site and other burns have shown better regeneration. A later speaker mentioned that places where natural reseeding is unlikely are good candidates for tree planting.

Next step for me: investigate our land and see how the rains are affecting those "severely burned" areas, and let that guide our restoration actions. Also, send a couple of "I enjoyed your talk" emails and meet people in my field! I signed up to volunteer with the Colorado Natural Heritage Program as well. As the Alma College career center loved to tell us, It's all about networking. Ugh.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Fire aftermath

The High Park Fire is done but its aftereffects will linger for years. We were fortunate; we lost a large number of trees on our property but the structures were not damaged. Sadly, 259 homes were lost, mostly in Rist Canyon and in Glacier View to the north. The people we've met who lost their homes, including the woman who was the selling realtor on this house, have amazing, positive attitudes towards the destruction, treating it as an opportunity to rebuild even better homes. Of course, we're seeing a biased sample. The people who lost so much that they never want to see this place again--well, they've already left and we'll never meet them. My heart goes out to them.
This week has been filled with aerial reseeding and mulching of slopes in the canyon. With the vegetation gone in so many places, erosion and flash flooding are a huge problem. Access to steep, densely forested areas is difficult so the work is done by helicopter. The same was true for the firefighting effort itself, only now they're spreading seed and straw rather than water. The helicopter landing zone (the "LZ," as my volunteer firefighter-in-training husband tells me it's called) is right across the road from us so we're getting a lot of chopper noise. They leave with a full bag of materials, fly west, and return with the bag dangling empty.
One particular bit of damage I was sad about was the huge mountain mahogany shrub (Cercocarpus montanus) next to the propane tank. The fire reached the tank and scorched it (eek!!) and destroyed the shrub. I saw this morning, however, that it is still alive. Mountain mahogany seems to have an amazing ability to regenerate from its roots; what a good little fire-adapted shrub!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Welcome to Colorado!

Six months ago, I was a city girl living in Chicago with Too Much Coffee Husband, Foley the neurotic greyhound, and Lucy the always-hungry beagle. I rode the L to campus every day, could get coffee or Thai or Moroccan food within two blocks of home, mouthed off at drivers who tried to run me over in the crosswalk, and ran errands on foot in the Loop. I was also frantically writing my dissertation, chained to the desk in our back bedroom from 8 a.m. until sometimes after midnight (and, to be honest, sometimes much much earlier than that). TMCH and I had other things to do with our lives, but first I needed to finish the beast.

On Friday the 13th of April, I successfully defended. A month later, I had presented it in public, finished revisions, and been approved by the Graduate College. After 7 1/2 years, I was finally DONE.

Then a crazy whirlwind of activity took place, a house was purchased, another was sold, movers were hired, and boom! Rustic log home, 30 acres of Ponderosa pine forest and sunny meadows, and a 17 minute drive to the nearest restaurant. Whoa, what just happened?

I will have lots to share over the coming months and years. Adjusting to country living, learning how to garden at high altitude, and exploring the beautiful lands of Northern Colorado should give me plenty to write about. Stay tuned as I spend lots of money on plants that are all eaten by deer! Be amused as I utterly fail at building a fire in the fireplace! Marvel at the strange meals we concoct because the grocery store is so far away! Share in Lucy's joy at discovering wild turkeys!

This is going to be fun. :)