We like opossums and are always happy to see one shuffling off when we startle it after dark. This amazing animal gets too little respect and appreciation by people who consider them dirty, stupid, and ugly. They are just the opposite!
Opossums are doing something right. They’re survivors who have been on the planet far longer that humans. Often called ‘possums, they were once common only in southern states. Their fur is sparse and doesn’t cover tails or ears, so winter is rough on them. Warming temperatures are helping this animal move north, and they’re now common in Maine, Minnesota and other more northern states where they once were absent.
‘Possums are our only native marsupial. Like kangaroos, female opossums have a pouch to nourish their young. Born after only a 13-day pregnancy tiny babies make their way into her pouch where they remain for about 100 days feeding on mom’s milk. Once they leave the pouch they follow her around learning how to fend for themselves.
Mostly nocturnal, possums aren’t choosy eaters. They love over ripe fruit, especially persimmons but they’ll also snack on insects, worms, dead animals, and nearly any other animal they can catch or find. Think of them as a gardener’s assistant because they gravitate to decaying material.
New research reveals an important diet item. They enjoy eating ticks! ‘Possums groom often and any tick that climbs aboard one and attempts to bite is in for a surprise. The grooming animal is likely to find the tick and quickly devour it. Fewer than 4% of ticks that climb on a O’possum successfully enjoy a blood meal. The rest become a meal themselves.
We’re lucky to have opossums in our yard. We enjoy sharing space with these ancient, clean, and useful animals. We hope you also have a neighborhood ‘possum. Be sure to share a photo of your ‘possum with us. For information on the opossum/tick relationship go to Cary Institute.
Every once in a while, when we’re out in our summery yard enjoying birds and flowers, we encounter a snake. We’ve been around snakes for decades and know there are no venomous species in our area but we’re still startled when one slithers away.
Managing a yard to attract a diversity of wildlife sometimes encourages snakes to move in along with birds and butterflies. Usually the snakes that visit yards are non-venomous species merely looking for a place to live and something for dinner. Most common are garter snakes that mostly eat insects. We’ve written about garter snakes on Winding Pathways before. Sometimes we spot tiny brown snakes no bigger than a nightcrawler. They also eat worms and bugs. Once in a while we see a beautifully colored and patterned fox snake. They probably seek tasty white footed mice or maybe a chipmunk. And lots of folks combat the undermining work of chipmunks.
“Oh, the poor baby bunnies, they have no mom. What do I do?”
We get these type comments all the time at Winding Pathways. The short answer is: Do Nothing!
The babies are ready to “branch out!”
This summer millions of Americans will discover baby birds, fawns, bunnies, and a host of other seemingly helpless newborn animals in their yards and face the dilemma of “What do I do?”. Usually the baby is all alone with no mother in sight. It’s easy to assume the poor baby’s mother suffered a tragic fate and that the baby is doomed to an early death unless people “help” it.
We’ve often found baby bunnies and birds at Winding Pathways and we know the best way to help it is to leave them alone. A cottontail nest we found last spring is a good example.
Nature is not all sunshine and roses, cute baby animals and gentle breezes. Sometimes nature is rough, sometimes vicious, sometimes other creatures simply clean up carcasses of fallen animals. This spring the Heartland has had its share of hail, winds and heat. The front yard maples and Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth’s budding Bur Oak survived by bending with the winds. With the variable weather comes casualties. The last video graphically shows the scavengers cleaning up a fawn carcass that showed up on the back lawn after a night of cold, wind, and heavy rain. It’s sad but we have to remember than Mother Nature’s clean up crew will benefit from the loss. And, life goes on.
We never spray our lawn at Winding Pathways. Occasionally, that yields an exciting discovery like what happened in early May.
Rich shows the tiny oak seeding.
We wanted to plant a tree, preferably an oak, on the south side of our garage. But, we got busy and never found time to buy or plant one. One morning Rich, while walking across the lawn to fetch the morning newspaper, spotted a baby white oak tree that sprouted exactly where we wanted to plant one. It was serendipity.
Plant ecologists talk about the “seed bank.” In land that hasn’t been greatly disturbed by plowing, spraying or compacting of soil, seeds of desirable native plants often remain dormant in the soil for years or decades. Then, when conditions are right they’ll sprout like magic. Other desirable plants spread their seed through the wind or enlist the help of a hungry squirrel to carry and bury a nut or acorn. That’s probably how our new oak got planted.
Before mowing walk across your unsprayed lawn. You may discover a plant you want that is starting to grow. Just mow around it to let it thrive. Mark it with a stake or fence it off from rabbits and deer. If the plant is not quite in the right place, remember that tiny plants are usually easy to move with just a shovel full of dirt.
We protect volunteer trees that grow where we want them.
About seven years ago we found another baby oak in our lawn. We protected it from mowing and ran a screen around it to keep hungry deer away. It’s now about seven feet tall and growing rapidly.
That black oak didn’t cost a penny and will grace our yard long after we’re gone.
Another way to go about natural or plant and wildlife friendly yards is to deliberately plant certain forbs and grasses to attract a variety of beneficial insects and interesting birds and other wildlife.
A Kansas Couple Creatively Walk The Path
by Emily and Zach Hemmerling, guest bloggers
Anyone who has ever spent hours picking green beans knows it’s a thankless job. Aching backs, mosquito bites, and soaked sweatbands, all for a few pounds of produce that is consumed almost embarrassingly fast. Last spring, I made a resolution. If I was going to toil under the summer sun in that special brand of syrupy humidity unique to south-central Kansas, then I was going to make it look good.
String Bean Labyrinth
I decided I wanted a green bean labyrinth. My indulgent husband got quite a kick out of the idea, and planted the seeds in the sketched-out shape I left for him on the kitchen counter one morning. It’s a simple labyrinth, just a few turns, and the lines are three plants thick. We planted three different varieties: Jade, Royalty Purple Pod, and Dragon’s Tongue.
Two great flushes of beans gave us about twelve pounds before a sudden heat wave crumpled all but the inner circle. It was still a job to “go pickin’,” but the labyrinth made it easier. And, it was always nice to suddenly find myself in the middle, and even nicer to see I’d already filled my basket without realizing it. Sometimes when my husband got home from his landscaping work we would walk the labyrinth. We’d talk about our days or plan a camping trip, or dream about what the orchard will look like in a few years. Those few minutes to reconnect before moving on to our respective evening chores would keep us going. Then the pig-weed moved in, and by that time the grapes were turning, leaving the labyrinth to slowly dissolve back into the ground. The field where the green bean labyrinth was is already planted to red clover and will be fallowed next year. Since the next plot in rotation is a bit too narrow to hold a proper labyrinth, it might be a few years before the next vegetable labyrinth takes shape. It’s worth the wait.
Editor note: Below is a You Tube video about drawing three and five circuit labyrinths. Lars Howlett is a skilled builder and facilitator connected with The Labyrinth Society.