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    A COMPENDIUM FOR THE DRY GARDEN

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Into the fold–working with Mother Nature’s garden

I’ve got big planting plans–at least for me, up here.  When I moved here, I was happy to NOT have a garden.  Don’t get me wrong, I love plants, designing with them and caring for them, but you know, it is work.  I grew hundreds of species of plants in my California yard for pleasure and to learn about them.  All professional gardeners, at least the good ones, need their laboratory.  I always said, it you haven’t killed dozens of plants and moved plants dozens of times, then you’re not yet initiated into the fold.

That being said, when I moved here, wild nature was my self-tending garden and Oh, what enjoyment.  It still is and forever will be.  But the itch remains, and I do believe we humans can be caretakers and tenders in a good way.  So this year, not only am I continuing the ritual of planting tree liners, but I’m adding a few things to my plant order.

First, the liners.  My elevation and environment is chock full of Limber Pines.  Douglas firs move in naturally in a process called succession as the pines die off.  Higher up on the ridges are the favorite nuts of the bears–White Bark Pine nuts.  White Bark Pines in the GYE are functionally extinct.  I think its about 70% are dead and the others are dying…first weakened and dying from Blister Rust and then the final blow is coming from the beetle infestations rampaging the West.  But the bears will resort to Limber Pine nuts (a favorite food for the Indians that lived around here as well) in poor White Bark nut years.  Limber pines are smaller, and more difficult to extract, but they’ll do to fatten the bears up.  But Limber Pines are also in the Whitebark Pine family and susceptible to the rust (a European import from the 20’s; we’ll say that’s NOT good tending and caretaking).  The beetles are killing the Limber Pines as well.

A beautiful windswept Limber Pine in the Clarks Fork Canyon

My understanding of White Bark Pines is that it takes 50 years before they make seeds!  Wow.  Probably Limber pines are similar.  So I’m trying to replant seedlings now for later with the hopes of them being around when I am not and helping future bears.

One note of worth is that my two oldest limber pines on the property, probably 200-300 years old, were riddled with beetles last summer and I wept.  Beetles like older trees.  Neither are red-needled yet so I’m dancing with prayers around them metaphorically.  One is questionable as 1/2 of it is dying, but the other, the very oldest, so far is good.  I put up a painted elk skull on it last spring to ward off evil spirits and evil beetles.  Maybe it worked.

I order my ‘liners’, essentially seedling trees about 2″ tall, from the local conservation service in town–30 in a bundle.

Last years liners Douglas firs and Limber pines

Last year they told me they didn’t have my Limber Pines in stock, but at the last minute they found some.  This year they definitely don’t have any.  So I am trying a BIG experiment.  I ordered 30 Pinyon Pines.  They say they can make it at this altitude (for sure I’ve seen them higher up in lower latitudes in Nevada), and since our winters are not as cold as they used to be, I’m giving it a shot.  Good nuts for bears in the future.

Polymer crystals are an essential when planting in dry areas without irrigation

But my old gardening bug seems to be itching, and I’m purchasing 5 bare-root elderberries from the nursery, as well as, get this, 2 plum trees.  The plums are a big experiment in Bear country.  I am not crazy enough to plant apples, but my neighbor has a pear tree and not only gets pears but the bears don’t touch it.  So I’ll try two plums and see how it goes.

As for the Elderberries, they are native to around here, both black and red.  When you see them in moist locations, the deer keep them munched all summer to around 2-3′!  Elderberries can grow 10′ tall.  We have a riparian area, and I’m going to plant and cage these from the deer.  Supposedly the variety can get 10’x10′, so after 5′ I won’t have to worry.  Good food for me, the birds and the bears.

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A Sense of Place or A Sensibility of Place

In my work I can always tell where a person is from. No, not from their accent but from what kind of landscape they desire.  Usually, this is a memory deep in their subconscious from their childhood–their initial Sense of Place.

Most city people will tell you they have no idea what a ‘Sense of Place’ is, nor do they have one.  But I’d have to disagree having dealt with hundreds of clients.  It’s there, they just don’t identify it.

I grew up in the West.  Granted, it was California West, and Los Angeles, yet I spent all my summers in the high mountains of San Bernadino.  I also grew up next door to the largest municipal park in the world–Griffith Park.  Most of Griffith Park is still undeveloped chaparral.  During the 60’s when I was growing up, I probably spent all my free time roaming the hills of the Park.  My father was an avid and very good gardener.  He loved to bring home plants from around the world and see if he could grow them.  That spurred my interest in gardening.  Along with the exotic landscape of my childhood, the dry desert environments and the mountains are my sense of Place.

That sense of environmental familiarity is like comfort food when you’re sick.  I believe that it’s hard-wired into us.  For most of our time as humans on this earth, we stayed in one area.  Even if we were nomadic, we were familiar with the environments we wandered and these environments were not too dissimilar.  But now we are on the move all the time.  Most of us are ‘not from here’, and probably grew up in a completely different landscape, with different weather patterns, plants, temperatures, and cultural elements.  All that moving around, as well as living in concrete jungles, misinforms our innate senses and leaves us Bereft of Place.

With the influx of people to California from the mid-west and East Coast in the 80’s and 90’s, these people brought their sense of Place with them.  Those clients want a landscape with plants like birches, lawns, hostas, or daffodils. One client I consulted showed me a fairly steep front yard and told me he wanted lawn.  I had to educate him on why that was not possible, nor desirable in Northern California.  He was, of course, from back East.

CA Madrones--Arbutus menziesii

Garrya elliptica-Silk Tassle bush...a beautiful CA native

Even though each of us, subconsciously, desires the psychological comfort of our childhood home, I would advocate that we have to become adaptive to where we are, casting out our old sense of Place for a new one.  In our modern world where we are going ‘nowhere’ and from ‘nowhere’, in a world where our role as caretakers of the Earth is becoming increasingly critical, this is essential.

What I am suggesting is that we take a look at where we are living now, and live there for a time before changing things around.  Understand the weather patterns, where the winds come from, how much snow or rainfall you get. Look around at what is growing there naturally; consider what the birds are eating, the kind of cover they might need; see what is invasive, not-native and intruding on the landscape; notice your drainage patterns, or snowfall drifts; understand how the animals are moving in your landscape, their corridors.  Research the history of the area.  Search for those clues.  Understand historically what took place that co-existed and what occurred that altered.  Once you get a feeling for all that, then consider how you want to ‘improve’ your property, nudging it into a more harmonic existence with the natural landscape, removing the old scars of someone else’s Sense of Place.

Earliest city in Montana. Homesteaders sense of Place

Scars of people confusing their own sense of Place with the existing landscape are everywhere and all pervasive no matter where you live.  Where I live, it began with the homesteaders coming to get their free 160 acres at the turn of the 20th century, to work this rocky barren soil, or run sheep and cattle.  In order for these farmers and ranchers to work this land, they had to first move the native Indians onto reservations, then exterminate the Bison which would ruin their crops, build dams, kill natural predators, unearth mountains of rocks, build barbed wire fences, and plant non-native crops.  They did all this not because they were terrible people, but because this was their comfort zone, their Sense of Place which they tried to impose upon this foreign landscape.

What Lewis & Clark saw in Montana

Today people are still altering this area by building homes on windy bluffs for the view (when the smart thing to do is to build down in the bottoms for protection), or using cheap, non-native building materials, over-building such as Mc-Mansions, building on wildlife corridors and habitat, planting invasive species, irrigating in wasteful ways, building fences not friendly to wildlife, over-grazing, and other acts of insensitivity to this Place called the West.

People have a short cultural memory, a few generations at best.  Long ago our cultures of Place were passed on verbally, through story and song.  Today its’ what you see when you got there, or how long you’ve lived in a place, or maybe the story of just one past generation.  That lack of continuity of Story makes us fragmented people without true History of Place.

I guided school children in Muir Woods/Muir Beach for many years.  Muir Woods is a National Monument, and a very much altered, although breathtaking, environment.  There are asphalt pathways with railings to keep you from wandering among the trees and damaging them.  But no one remembers that in the 1930’s, the landscape was altered even more, as people picnicked by the stream, trampling the understory and planting lawns.  A railway actually went through the Park till 1929.  And before that it was a well traveled route of trade for the Miwok Indians.  What we remember though, is what we’ve seen in our lifetime.

Ancient sense of Place and Wonder

In the Greater Yellowstone Area, outfitters who came here 20 years ago remember many more elk than today.  They use that memory as a marker against which to gauge what they think the reintroduction of native wolves are doing to the population.  But with the 1988 fires, the number of elk exploded due to increased habitat.  Locals will tell you that there used to be 5000 head of elk here every winter; now there are only 1500.  But if you ask my 86 year old neighbor who grew up here, he’ll tell you that there were no overwintering elk here when he grew up.  And if you go back further, you’ll be hard-pressed to find evidence of much use of elk by the native americans who lived here. They mostly dined on deer, sheep and some bison.

What we need today is to develop a Sensibility of Present Place–the ability to appreciate and respond to all the emotional, aesthetic, scientific, historical, and environmental complexities and influences of where we are living.

Coming to Wyoming part 1

How did you get to Wyoming?

Of course, I am asked that question regularly.  And, there is the short answer and the long answer, but both replies are more full of questions than answers.

Long ago, a few lifetimes in my personal history, I spent several weeks backpacking through the Tetons with two girlfriends.  We were hitchhiking through the West in a summer between high school and college.  After a fine time, with many adventures, we were ready to put out our thumbs and head back to California, when a driver who picked us up asked “Have you girls been to the Wind Rivers?”

“No, where’s that?”

“Just an hour east of here.  You must go.  I’ll drop you off and you can backpack there.”

The Winds, as aficionados and lovers like to fondly call them, have several put-ins on their western front, all at least 10 to 15 miles from the hiker’s main destination—the rugged base of the Continental Divide.  But after several days of being eaten by mosquitoes, (with thousands of lakes the Winds are notorious for their bugs) and never quite making it to the divide, we called it quits.  But you could see those tantalizing mountains in the background and I swore to myself that I’d come back someday.

Flash forward 27 years.  I’m a single mom newly divorced with a nine-year old.  Close friends are going to visit their son in Yellowstone who is a seasonal worker.  They have a nine-year old too and invite us along.  We fly into Salt Lake and drive the rest of the way.  After a week in the Park, I see my opportunity and jump on it.  They drive home with my son and I arrange to fly out of Jackson, rent a car, and put in at Big Sandy for a modest 5-day hike.

In those 27 years inbetween, I’d had some serious back injuries and was not even sure if I can backpack anymore, but this is my first time in years so I pick a fairly easy route.  The hike is about 5 miles to Big Sandy Lake, the shortest distance to the Winds from any trailhead.  It’s a well-traveled route, because its also the quickest way to the Cirque of the Towers, a massive granite glacial cirque treasured by climbers from all over the world.

Mission accomplished, I was able to complete the trip, and so began coming back every summer for a seven day backpack over the course of more than eight years.  During that time I usually hiked about 40-50 miles and eventually completed most of the Highline Trail, a glorious trail that traverses a north/south axis through the Bridger-Teton wilderness.

When my son was about 15, and I’d finished another solo trip to the Wind Rivers, I started to wonder why I was coming home so soon.  Couldn’t I find a summer rental in Pinedale or Lander?  I tried but it wasn’t so easy.  Wyoming isn’t Tahoe and summer rentals are not the norm in these small towns.  Jackson would be out of the question over-my-head expensive.  Rental hunting led to the idea of just buying a small 2nd home or piece of land.

One time while hiking in Wyoming, a fellow hiker asked if I’d been to the Beartooths.

“Where is that?”

“Charles Kuralt called the Beartooth Highway the most beautiful highway in America.  You’ve got to drive home that way.”

But it wasn’t on my way home, and I was always in a time constraint.  So the following summer I decided to hike, with a few friends, into the Beartooth Range instead of the Winds.

It was a rainy experience and crowded, although spectacular.  But I missed my Winds.  So I decided to take a short trek to the Winds from the Eastern side, the reservation side.  This required me to head home via Cody.  I’d been thinking about towns to live in.  Pinedale had been tops on my list.  Little did I know that Pinedale can be the coldest town in America at times.  I’m really not a great researcher of these things.  I was just going on my gut and on my love affair with the Wind Rivers.

But when I drove into Cody, I immediately knew this was a town I could live in.  I was attracted to it.  It felt like a real town.

In the winter of 2005 I contacted a realtor via the internet in the Cody area.  Since I really had only been to Cody one night, I arranged to fly into town in the February break, with my son, and have him show me areas around the town.  Then my son and I would snowmobile into Yellowstone for a vacation.

I had a vision in the back of my head of what I wanted.  Either a place to fix up, or land to build.  It needed to have trees but not be ‘in the trees’;  there must be a creek on or near the property; somewhat isolated but not too isolated.  I was figuring I’d live around town on the outskirts.

My realtor Al showed me the North Fork area, which is the North Fork of the Shoshone, the road that leads into the East entrance of Yellowstone.  Expensive lots and homes abound in this breathtakingly beautiful valley.  He showed me the South Fork of the Shoshone, a massive wide valley that dead ends into trails to the Thorofare of Yellowstone.  These areas all had lots and cabins, but what I didn’t account for was that way back when, when the government was giving out homesteads and people were settling here, the government took the timbered areas while the homesteaders built and farmed in the low, open, praire parts of the valley.  All these homes, excepting the giant ranches, were subdivided 20 and 40 acre lots of bare ground usually with a well.  A housing boom of retired Floridians and Californians who’d made money selling their own homes had changed the valley as well.  The houses were in general exposed to each other, sometimes even with little subdivisions of lesser acreage.  For a million dollars plus I might find something special, but I didn’t have that kind of money.  The image in my mind of what I wanted was just not available here.

“What you want comes up every ten years or so,” Al said.

Al took me to Clark, an unincorporated town on the far outskirts, situated at the base of the Clarks’ Fork canyon, the town was smack in a wind tunnel.  It had a strange displaced aura about it, a town without a town, with stories of transients, drug runners and government haters.

He drove us to the nearby town of Powell, a farming village that felt quite settled and sensible.  Powell was a nice town but not what I had in mind.  I left feeling quite discouraged.

That summer I took my son for the first time with me to the Winds.  The whole experience had changed from one summer to the next.  Cheney had pushed through drilling on public lands without the need for the same limits and waiting periods as previously.  Wyoming was a boom state.  There was not a hotel, motel nor campground space between Salt Lake and the Pinedale turnoff at Green River.  My son and I slept on the side of the road south of Big Piney after driving for 25 hours.  The Persius meteor shower was a brilliant consolation in the clear open desert sky.

Pinedale had transformed itself as well, with large hotels.  The Jonas field was fueling the economy.  Ticky-tacky houses were springing up everywhere.  “Thank God I didn’t buy here” I told myself.

We had a rainy but beautiful adventure in the Winds, and I was reminded how much I love Wyoming, and that I hadn’t heard a peep from Al.  He had never shown me even one house, just neighborhoods.  I called him when I returned.

“Everything that was in the book last February has sold” he said.  “Like I said, what you want comes up every ten years.”

That was August.  In September I got a call from Al.  “I have a house that fell through.  It will be re-listed in a few days and its’ gonna go quick.  I think it’s what your looking for.  There’s 40 acres, a creek, cottonwoods, and an old homestead on it, a new well and electricity.  You better come right away if you’re interested in seeing it.”

I booked a flight to Cody.  Being in a busy work season, I made arrangements to come into town on the 5pm Wednesday flight, and leave the next evening back to San Francisco.

What a disappointment the property was.  Yes, it had all the elements I asked for, but the ‘feeling’ just wasn’t right.  The land was broken, neglected, desolate and tired.

The house on the neglected land

The country around the other house

“Well, I’m here and got a few more hours till my flight.  Is there anything else you want to show me while I’m here.”

“There is one place, up in Sunlight Basin, but its not on the market.  The parents died and the kids now own it.  They’ve been squabbling for over a year as to whether they want to sell or not.  But I’ll be their listing agent if they do.”

“Show it to me in case they ever do.  Where is Sunlight?”

I’d been wanting to be within 20 minutes of town.  Sunlight was an hour northwest, over an 8500 ft. pass.  I was skeptical, but I was here so why not.

As soon as we turned off 120 highway onto Chief Joseph Scenic road, I was mesmerized, hooked.  From Dead Indian pass, you could see the entire country for millions of miles.  West to Yellowstone, northeast to Beartooth Plateau, below to the stunning Clark’s fork canyon 900’ deep, and across into the wide glacier valley of Sunlight.  I’d never seen a landscape more varied geologically, nor more breathtaking that this view.

We got to the cabin—a run-down summer cabin built in 1959.  Cluttered with too many old couches and chairs, a tacked down orange shag carpet brought out from Washington state by the owners when it no longer was in style in their main home, animal heads on the wall, 50’s linoleum that was coming apart, original windows that questionably opened, and the entire back area of the house was unfinished with open joists and studs.

First glance at what would become my cabin...too much furniture

Unfinished ceiling. Warped cheap paneling

the bulging paneling alongside the shower

I stood on the porch and looked east at a massive ridge jutting into the horizon.

“I could die here.” I said aloud.

“I’d buy it if I could,” said Al.

I asked Al what the comps were, and told him to offer just a bit more, and that was my final price.  I was nervous, I was firm, I’d never put myself out on a financial limb like this before, was I making a mistake….mostly I was just going by my heart.  I’d put it out there and see what they said.  The reality was…this house wasn’t on the market and the three children hadn’t decided if they were selling.  The reality was…I’d seen only two homes around Cody, both today.  The reality was…I hadn’t even done any homework about this place, its weather, anything. But I was already in love, and when you’re in love you usually act before you think.

Living and working in California, I slowly fixed my little cabin up to be livable anytime of the year.  I dreamed of coming here in the summer, watching the weather, and when it was good, going hiking in the Winds.  I thought about spending Christmases here in the snow with family.  Oh, but I’d have to winterize it as well as lots of other things.  That meant lots of work and all that cost money, money that I had only bit by bit, little by little.   So that’s how I fixed it up, little by little, over several years.

New T&G bluestain pine with my California crew

Never did I think about moving here permanently.  But once this place was mine, strange coincidences conspired, over and over, to point the way here.  For some reason, this place in Sunlight was calling me, suggesting it was the center of my universe, the place of peace for me.  Over time it became an irresistible urge.  My journey was just beginning.

Limber Pine and Doug Fir seedling trees–reforesting my property

I finally got my tree seedling order.  I almost didn’t get my Limber Pines, but at the last minute the CCD found at least 1/2 my order.  Today was a frigid day, hovering around 35 degrees with a chilling wind–perfect for planting.  I gathered up my pick, several containers of left-over chippings from splitting wood last fall, a can of polymer crystals, and the plants and off I went to the back forty of the property.

What I used for mulch...leftovers from splitting wood

Since the trees were in tubes, just little things, I thought it would be no problem planting the 60 that I had.  But the ground is all rock, so planting just 15 today was enough.   I dug all the holes first, excavating about twice as wide as deep.  The depth should be no more than the plant itself.  Remove all the rocks, but save them for later.

For a long time now I’ve noticed and wondered why the limber pines seemed to congregate next to large boulders, sometimes even growing in a boulder pocket.  Today I solved the mystery.  Believe it or not, it was way easier to dig a hole next to a boulder—even next to one that had a tree by it that I had to cut down because of beetle kill (meaning there would be roots nearby).  That was because between the wind and snow, over years and years soil tended to pile up against the rocks.  Elsewhere, in the open, there was so little soil, mostly rock, that when I went to plant the tiny tree I had a hard time finding enough actual soil to refill the hole.

I learned fast and started digging next to rocks.  I also know that Limber Pines regenerate nicely after fires.  Although the pines themselves are not specifically fire adapted, after a fire when the birds cache their seeds, the seeds grow quickly in a newly burnt area.  With that in mind, I planted in the areas where I burnt brush piles this winter.  Those areas were also really easy to dig in.  Why?  Although there were still rocks there, there were NO roots to contend with from grasses.  The soil was thick and loose there.

Mystery solved!

One interesting thing that happened…I saw a nice start for a hole by a rock and thought to put a tree there.  I dug the hole around a bit deeper and uncovered a cache of meat!  Some animal this winter (the meat smelled fresh still) had cached several fistfuls of what looked to me like deer meat.  The meat was not chewed or regurgitated, but in slabs.  Koda immediately grabbed the chunks and re-cached them elsewhere.

Where the cache was.

In planting each tree, I added a small amount of polymer crystals.

This stuff is a good moisure keeper

I used these before and highly recommend them where it will be difficult to water and in order to give plants a start.  Since there is no irrigation nor water available where I’m planting, these crystals will absorb a great amount of water and expand about 5 times their size.  Then they slowly release the moisture.  Another but much more expensive alternative used on oaks in California is a product called Dri-Water.  But watch out with the crystals. Newcomers to the product tend to think they’re not putting hardly enough in the hole.  If you go over the recommended amount, the crystals ‘bubble’ out of the soil like an alien.

I filled the hole, being careful to keep the roots straight and deep, putting some crystals on the bottom of the hole, some in the middle after filling.  Tamped the soil down around the tree, making sure I didn’t plant the tree too deeply.  Never plant a tree deeper than its crown.  In this case, with the seedling so small, basically don’t plant it lower than it is in the pot.  Then I mulched the tree with my wood chips.  If you use a tight mulch, like from a store bought bag, then you have to be careful again about smothering the crown.  I’ve planted a lot of California natives and the one thing they are all sensitive to is crown rot.  Its better to plant too high on a mound so moisture runs off.  But in this case, in a state where it snows but rarely rains, planting on a mound seemed like overkill.  The chips are natural and loose, allowing air to pass through.

Burn areas were easy to dig in

Remember we saved all the rocks.  I took those rocks and placed them around the tree and over the mulch.  I’ve found that rocks can be one of the best mulches as they keep the moisture in underneath.

Lastly, I put a seedling tree guard around each tree.  Unfortunately they only had a few left of these at CCD from last year.  I’m used to using these in California on native trees in outlying areas.  They give the seedling a chance for protection against browsing.  I cut these in half because I’m having a difficult time finding them for sale around Cody.  None of the stores even know what I’m talking about.

Can you tell which are the Pines and which are the Douglas Firs?

The reason I like these is because they’re easy and also yellow, making it easy for me to find the seedlings to water them over the summer.  Of course, I can use homemade chicken wire ones; or take coat hanger wire, make an umbrella and throw netting over it.  Just make sure each year to raise the height to accommodate the tree growth.  But I prefer these simple plastic tubes.  I hope I can find more.

I’ll have to hand water these guys about every 2 weeks for the first year, even with the polymers.  If I succeed in a 50% viability I’ll be happy.  Natives are hard to start.  Probably the 2nd year it would be good to water them 1 time/month.  By the third year they should be on their own.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

New ideas for lawns: Part 1 – Meadow-making with Red Fescue

Lawn replacements are hot!  We live in the West–a thirsty environment, so let’s adapt our plant material to our water and not the other way around.

 

An example of a natural bunch grass meadow--nature's perfection

An example of a natural bunch grass meadow--nature's perfection

 

Here is one recipe for making a meadow.  I no longer use Festuca rubra or Red Fescue as a lawn substitute in California.  I am now using, exclusively, a native Carex or sedge, which I’ll describe in Part 2, coming later.

 

High altitude meadow

Meadow at 9000 feet with wildflowers

 

As a side note, my native grass mix  that I put together here in Wyoming is coming up very nicely.  I ordered a mix of Blue Bunch wheatgrass (Agropyron spicatum), Koeleria cristata, and Festuca–all natives to this area.  In early June, after I graded my new dirt road, I scattered the seed, raked it in, then watered it heavily for several days.  It rained every afternoon for several weeks and the new seed came up.  It’s still green and establishing nicely, and I haven’t watered it at all (now mid-July).  When the afternoon thunderstorms slow down, the grass might go dormant, then be covered with snow, but it will come up again thickly in the spring, and hold my steep road together.

 

Meadow of bunchgrasses and sage

Meadow of bunchgrasses and sage

 

Making a native lawn or meadow requires ridding the area of non-native weeds and annual grasses.  The Wests’ native grasses are bunch grasses.  Bunch grasses give to the soil, while European annuals taketh away from the soil.  But since the annuals reseed profusely and our perennial bunch grasses take more time to establish, the annuals overwhelm the natives.  That is why this is the ONLY situation in which I use an herbicide.  Native grasses need a leg-up to establish.  I use Round-up because it breaks down fairly fast.  You may need to Round-up, water for 6 weeks, then Round-up again if you are overwhelmed with weeds.  If you don’t do this, then the natives can not get established and the ‘weeds’ will take over quickly.

Preparation of Seedbed

1. Remove weeds and non-native exotics.  This can be done by hand, preferably during winter months.  Well-established introduced exotics, e.g. broom can be cut at the base.  Apply Round-up to the woody stems.  Leaving the roots in the ground may prevent erosion until the new meadow is established.
2. If the meadow is on a steep slope (50% or more), lay down jute netting on the steepest slope sections prior to seeding.  Hold in place with irrigation pins.
3. Soil bed should be loose and friable.  If not, cultivate and add rich composted material to a depth of 2-3”, well mixed with existing soils, to a depth of 6” if possible.  If erosion control is an issue, or a leach field, you might not choose to cultivate as deep as 6”

Irrigation

1. The entire meadow area should be irrigated with pop-up spray heads that provide 100% coverage of the area to be seeded.  If this is not possible, the meadow must be seeded in the late fall/early winter and hand watered on a weekly basis for the first year.  Water regime can be adjusted based on weather, site conditions and seed germination rates.  Rely on winter rains when possible.

Seeding

1.  Festuca rubra, Red Fescue, is recommended for sun or shade.  This is a rhizomatous grass.  Allow at least 3 years to establish a thick, fully covered meadow.  Seed the first year with 5# per acre (43,00 sq. ft.  @t 400,000 seeds/lb.  Use 2 oz/1000 sq. ft. or use 3.7 oz/1000 sq. ft.)  Seed the following years as needed to fill in sparse areas.  If you want wild flowers, seed these heavily as well, 2 1/2 pounds per acre.  The grass will crowd the wildflower seeds out in subsequent years if not managed.  Grass and wildflower seeding should be done separately.  Seed grass first, taking care not to seed as heavily in areas where wildflowers are desired.  Go back and seed wildflowers, preferably by species in drifts for maximum aesthetic impact.
2. Another meadow grass seed to consider is Festuca idahoensis.  Rubra and idahoensis can be mixed.  Nasella pulchra and Melica californica can also be mixed in.  Mix Nasella at the rate of 20 lbs./acre (7.4oz. /1000sq.ft.) and Melica at 10-30lb./acre (7.4oz/1000sq.ft.) with the festuca at 3.7oz/1000sq.ft.
3. Bunch grasses can also be used such as festuca occidentalis, and festuca californica.  These can be mixed with the rhizomatous grasses to add more stabilization to a slope.
4. Seeds or seedlings of shrubby plants and/or perennials that are native can be also added.  For example, Baccharis is excellent for erosion control, as well as Toyon, Rhamnus, Artemesia, Mimulus, Lupine, Garrya, etc.  They should be seeded separately, by species, after grass and wildflowers are seeded.
5. For seeding over large areas, hydro seeding of grasses and wildflowers is recommended and hand seeding of woody shrubs and perennials.  Limit your wildflower selection to 2 or 3 species when hydro seeding.

Mulching
1. After seeding, apply 1-2” of fine mulch (forest mulch etc.).  Seed must make firm contact with the soil.  The best way to do this is either by using a roller, or laying plywood and walking over it to establish firm contact.  This can be done both before and after mulch is applied.

Maintenance

1. Irrigate immediately with a fine mist (15 minutes).  Water daily in the a.m. for 5 to 8 minutes until grass blades are visible or allow winter rains to force germination.  This must be monitored and additional water applied if rains are not forthcoming, and maximum germination is desired.  Fertilization is optional.
2. Observe closely for signs of germination.  Depending on time of year and weather, once germination is complete (6 to 8 months) reduce water to twice or three times a week for 8 to 10 minutes.
3. Pull any visible weeds, taking care not to remove wild flowers.  Don’t leave this job to a novice.  You will be sorry.
4. Continue to remove weeds, reseed in sparse areas and add more wildflower seeds in subsequent years.  Mark the areas where you newly seed.
5. This process should continue for the first 3 seasons.  Thereafter, your meadow will require little maintenance
6. Cut the meadow back 1 to 2 times per year.  If you want a green meadow 12 months a year, summer water is required.
7. Remember, meadow making is a process.  Be patient and enjoy the journey.

Part 2 will come soon.  Part two will describe using alternatives to fescues for meadow making.  I prefer these because they require very low water and do not need cutting at all.

The Moose

My neighbor just had his 85th birthday.  He’s lived in the Valley all his life.  His father homesteaded here back in the early 1900’s.  I love to hang out with him, help with his two horses, and pick his brain for stories.  He knows this country like I might know all the shortcuts in my old hometown neighborhood.  Except his neighborhood is vast, wild, without roads or trails.

I’ve learned over time that, although his memory for details and names is way better than mine, the time periods and placements of events need to be sorted out.  He might tell a tale like it was last week, until I question him more and find out the events took place in the 30’s.  It took me a while to figure out that most of his Yellowstone stories were from the 50’s (when he worked there) rather than just 10 or 20 years ago.

I’d been seeing quite a few moose lately.  One came into my yard the other day, a resident who likes to hang in the marshy willows nearby.  Moose numbers for Wyoming are really low, only 44% of objective, according to a just published Game and Fish report.  I told this to JB and that got him storytelling.

Moose walking down my road at dusk

Moose walking down my road at dusk

Moose in nearby meadow

Moose in nearby meadow

Young bull moose in front yard

Young bull moose in front yard

“It was a snowy winter and I was at the homestead.  I’d feed the cows at the bottom of the pasture near the trees to get them walking a bit.  That’s good for them you know, especially for the pregnant ones.  One day I was down in the timber when I saw a cow moose and three calves.  There were stuck there in a hole and couldn’t get out, the drifts were so bad.  They were real skinny and starving down there.  When the momma saw me, her hair stood on end.”

“So I brought a few bales of hay on my sleigh over.  Every day I’d come to check on them and the cow moose got used to me.  I’d bring them hay, but each day I’d place it a little bit further out of the timber towards the pasture.  Slowly, they came out.  They spent that entire winter in the pasture with my cows.”

Clarks fork drainage near Russell Creek.

Clarks fork drainage near Russell Creek.

“Another time I was way up Dead Indian, you know where the willows are up there?”

I nodded.  I’d seen moose tracks there.  Its about 3 miles or more up the trail.

“I was up there and saw a bull moose.  He’d been shot and was bleeding from the side.  Some hunter shot him but the moose had run off.  He was in real bad shape and the snows were getting deep.  I hauled 20 bales of hay up to him.  I didn’t put it all in one place.  I put it around in the timber where he was at.  Then I left him for the winter.  Come early spring, I went back to check on him.  You know what I found?  He had a friend.  Another bull had come in there and all that hay was gone.  That bull was all healed up and getting around fine now.  I don’t really know how he survived that wound, cause I think he was bleeding on both sides. There had been blood around.  But he made it.”

Dead Indian Creek

Dead Indian Creek

To begin to get a feeling for what’s going on with moose numbers in Wyoming, this is an excellent thesis by Scott Becker.

Chief Standing Bear and Grandpa

My neighbor JB was born in 1924 in my valley down by the Clark’s Fork.  His parents’ homestead is in a unique and beautiful hollow below the main road.  From this hidden depression, you can look out over the meadow where their horses graze and view Bald Ridge directly on.The flats above the gorge of the Clarks Fork

Bald Ridge

Yesterday it was snowing so I went to visit JB.  He told me this story:

My grandfather was born in Nebraska.  When he was just nine years old, he was playing and broke his leg.  His father was a hard man and beat him for that.  My grandpa swore to himself that when he got better he was going to run away and he did, at 10 years old.  He and a friend were catching rides on freighters going down river, going West.  They hitched a ride on a wagon that was attacked by Indians.  The Indians killed everyone in that wagon train, including his friend, but my grandpa hid in a flour drum.  The flour was in 55 gallon drums and he hid behind one.   The Indian Chief and his wife found the boy and the Chief’s wife took pity on him.  They took him back to the tribe and raised him with their own child, which I think was a girl.  That Chief was Standing Bear.  My Grandpa lived with them for 5 years. Chief Standing Bear--I think its this one.

The Indians liked to gamble and compete.  There was one boy the same age as my grandfather who didn’t get along with him at all.  When my grandpa was 15, this boy challenged my grandfather to a horse race.  Grandfather was an excellent horseman and he was winning.  The Indian boy was mad and pulled out a knife.  Grandpa knocked that boy down, off his horse, and I think he killed him.  Or hurt him badly.  No, I think he killed him, but it was kill or be killed.

The whole tribe had a meeting.  Since my grandfather was white, they banished him.  Chief Standing Bear and his wife took my grandpa in the middle of the night, on horseback, and told him he should leave and go far away; far enough away so no one in the tribe would come after him.  The chief told him that he would always love him and think of him as a son, strong, brave and worthy to become a chief, but that now he must go.

Photo of Chief and family from the Buffalo Bill Historical Center

Photo of Chief and family from the Buffalo Bill Historical Center

Grandpa came out to this country and spent time here with the Shoshone as well.  He was working at Pahaska Teepee taking people into the Park when Buffalo Bill came out here.

It is true he had a wooden leg.  He was logging and in an accident.  His leg broke, a clean break right here (points to below his knee).  He knew how to set bones and had set many breaks on other people. But they took him to a doctor who cut off his leg at the knee.  That shouldn’t have been.  He’d wear lots and lots of socks over that peg to cushion it against his knee.  But he could do anything he wanted with that leg.

He lived near the mouth of the Clarks Fork.  One time us kids were down there visiting.  My sister was taking a nap in the house and all of us other kids were down at the river swimming and fishing.  Grandpa was working in his shop nearby.  In those days there was lots of sheet lightening in this country.   My sister had just gotten up from her nap and was coming down to the river, when lightening struck the house.  You couldn’t do nothing.  In an instant, the entire house was in flames.  My grandpa thought my little sister was still in the house.  You should’ve seen him run with that peg leg!

I went to live with my grandpa when I was about 12.  I had a hard time finishing up those last two years of school between the 6th and 8th grades.  I did graduate though.  I only went till 8th grade.  Sometimes I was on the other side of the mountain going to school there.  They had a better teacher.  Sometimes I had to come back home and go to school here.  There were only 3 students here and all that teacher was interested in was the ranch hands. All that back and forth on foot and horseback over Dead Indian.  There wasn’t a real good road in those days, all dirt.  The old road went straight down the mountain.  From Cody it took four stout horses to pull an empty wagon up the hill most of the day. When you got to the top of Dead Indian, a man put a roughlock shoe on his hind wheels which kept them from turning.  Then he cut a tree, left all the branches on it, and chained it behind the load.  Then he headed straight down the hill, praying that his leaders would outrun his wheelers.Atop Dead Indian.  Strap a log behind the wagon to go downhill

Grandpa had really strong hands, all his life.  It was because he had spent so much time driving teams of horses.  You have to hold those reins between each finger and use your hands to hold back the horses.  He drove hay and other goods for a living.  I think he had done just about everything.  He was an excellent blacksmith and made all his tools.

It was a good story for a snowy day.  I thought about how I was just one hair’s breath away from Chief Standing Bear.  How less than a hundred years ago men knew how to do everything in order to survive–how to set a bone, fire and hammer out their tools, drive a team of horses.  I thought how our lives had become so quickly removed from those generations– so flaccid with the advent of electricity, large machinery, computers, phones–and wondered how much lore and skills have already been buried forever.

When I talk story with JB, I can feel him reaching back in his mind.  He has an impeccable memory for details. His stories contain names and dates.  He might have only an 8th grade education, but his powers of observation far surpass many I’ve met with college degrees.  I get him to tell me stories.  I write them down.  I listen.  They need to be re-told.