Mother Natures Press Secretary

February 26, 2015
by admin

My Morning Commute at Ordway-Swisher Biological Station in North Central Florida is amazing. Officially it is a combination of the Swisher and Ordway family estates but unofficially it is a patchwork of collected estates and undeveloped properties. Running over 9ooo acres it has many lakes, swamps and eco-systems. Part of the land was held by the Nature Conservancy and now falls under the jurisdiction of the University of Florida in Gainesville.

I am a part of the Conservation Campers of which there are three slated for each season. I am here till the end of April. My day starts at 7:30 am when Bob picks me up in the old 4-wheel drive Dodge. Who knew that driving an RV would help me navigate some of the very narrow roads on this Station. This is our campground:

OS conservation campground

We drive to the Conservation Building, lovingly referred to as the Conversation Barn where we get our projects for the day. This is some of my morning commute, the ‘street signs’ tell me where I am on this seventy-five acres of roads that all look the same to me.


I got here at the end of January, the peak of a great orange season and we have a tree we get to harvest. Orange trees grace everyone’s backyards and people are always sharing their citrus. The oranges are large, peel like a tangerine and are very, very sweet; so sweet that my dog ‘girls’ like to eat them.


The vegetation is fascinating and very different then what I am used to from thirty years in arid Texas. Though it is colder here than I expected, spring is in the air and everything is blooming.

OSFILE7 Coontie (Zamia pumila) is an odd plant that looks ancient to my eyes. They have the most interesting reproductive system I have ever seen. The seeds are encased in these mushroom-like projectiles that burst open and lay on the ground like orange candy corn. If you zoom in on the first picture, to the center, you can see the mushroom-like male and female flowers that erupt from the ground.


The rains and spring have brought the ferns out in all of their lovely shapes.

One our regular jobs here is to eradicate invasive species and Ardisia has ‘gone native’ here. The process of eradicating a species is multi-leveled and labor intensive; the berries need to be picked/harvested and the plants pulled from their roots. With time and perseverance they may be eradicated but it will take many years and many, many hands.  There is a lot of it in the marshes and there are marshes everywhere. Read more here: http://blogs.tallahassee.com/community/2013/09/13/seek-and-destroy-ardisia-and-other-invasive-exotic-plants/

OSF5Can you see the edge at the feet of the palmetto with grass clump growing in the middle? A cavity forms as the sinking occurs. The Palmettos form a jungle like thickness on the edge. Sinkholes are strange things and not at all what you see on the TV news happening in suburban areas, they are as naturally occurring as earthquakes.  On our (Bob is in red and the other fellow is our ‘boss’, Andy) walk back I found that lovely piece of flint, that I of course left behind.

Nightly tick checks are a part of my life though oddly I seem to be their magnet and not the ‘girls’. That’s a teaspoon, by the way.OSF778

The molds, Funguses and Lichens are in full bloom here even though the temps are dipping into the 30’s at night and I have yet to see 70 with a humidity between 35 to 80%.

Lichens have totally captivated me having been lucky enough to catch them in bloom. They look to be a life form that belongs in the ocean and an ancient one at that. Here are a few of them and a little of what I am learning about them. Lichens are a successful alliance between a fungus and an algae. Only certain algae and certain fungi can get together to form a lichen.  Most lichen live on trees, hanging from them, or growing on the bark while others grow out of the ground. OSF543


I hear that you can get a special license to go and harvest these and sell them to the model train industry where they dry, paint and use them as bushes or trees.OSF776OSF435


There are a lot of things happening here, we work hard, laugh hard and my fellow campers lovingly take me to town for food so I do not have to unplug the RV and button everything down. The girls and I play ball daily and walk up to the Woody house on our days off.

I have seen many wild turkeys, deer, a few hawks, sand hill crane flocks and one eagle but the vegetation, as always, captures my attention.



February 21, 2015
by admin

Permaculture is a whole systems approach to designing and building human settlements that restore, protect, and beautify the places where we live, work and play.

The foundations of Permaculture are based on design principles that are guided by three basic ethics: 1. Care for Earth 2. Care for People 3. Fair share: surplus resource redistribution

Finding great teachings and incorporating them into my life is a passion I embrace. I studied Permaculture with its creator Bill Mollison in an intensive two week long workshop at Fossil Rim, Texas. Permaculture is now the lens from which I see the landscapes I inhabit. This is one of my stories.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This morning I awoke to another sweet cloudy day that followed a long day of pounding rains. The windows are open letting the cool air in to mingle with the sounds of the birds’ morning chatter. Suddenly the echo of the cooper hawk breaks through my revere filling my heart with a beat of delight. The cooper hawk has been in my yard for a few months. Every dawn her hunting cries greet me as I do my yoga stretches. One afternoon as I sat on the front porch this early spring, I caught sight of her in a tree. I realized there were two hawks. As I watched, one preened atop a high branch while the other slowly sidled up to the other, dipping wings to some unheard melody. I slowly came to see the dance was a mating dance, no different in the fowl species from the human one. She would quietly move to a branch outside of his view pretending indifference to his presence. He would puff and preen his chest feathers seeking her adulation only to look up and find the branch empty. Frantically searching around, he caught site of her upturned back and flew to her side. It was hysterical to see this dance for the mating one it was.


As I observed their unique mating behavior, I knew a nest would soon be appearing in my yard. My first clue came from the absence of her morning hunts, my yoga stretches no longer punctuated by the chorus of her cries. I scanned the canopy to see if I could spot her nest. One day my friend, Alyssa, spotted it high up in one of the strongest oaks of the property. As the trees had not yet leafed-out, it was easy to watch her patiently tending her nest. I rarely heard her cries piercing the sky as if motherhood had robbed her of her voice. As the days warmed up, I would catch glimpses of her hunting. She would swoop down into the yard to get her meals, the yards wild-zone providing her both food and protection.

I lived on an acre by the shores of Lake Grapevine in Texas in the Cross Timbers bioregion, on the edge of the Blackland Prairie. Most of my neighbors sported the normal yard; lush green lawn under the canopy of trees, followed by foundation plantings around the house with an occasional kidney shaped bed of nandinas, rocks, or azaleas to break the monotony. Years ago, after taking Bill Mollison’s Permaculture Intensive Course, I returned home determined to implement the zone principles to my little corner of the world. The concept of zones is mostly geared to farms and big pieces of property, but Bill Mollison advocates the principle be applied in ALL design plans. The reason for zones is to think about what each space is being used for, how often each day it is visited, and what equipment needs access to it.

The concept of zones begins with zero and ripples out in circles (zones) all the way to the edge of your property/space. Zone zero is the center and heart of the space you are designing, from where you start and end. From each zone, everything flows from and then back. When you head out to the garden to harvest, you leave from zone zero, harvest your crops, and return them to zone zero. How far do you want to lug the veggies? Where will you leave the clumps of soil that tend to cling to nature’s bounty? Where will you store the produce that is to be eaten another day, or sold, or given away?



Flowing outward from the center is zone 1 that gets visited one or more times a day, like your compost pile or the chicken house. Zone Two is visited less often like the orchard or the pumpkin patch. The zones keep extending out from here in increasing numbers, like ripples undulating away from the core. Zones are a way to organize spaces by use and not appearance and they need not be symmetrical.  The farthest zone that surrounds your property is the nature/wild zone. This zone is left un-manicured, a place where nature rules and your job is to be an observant-caretaker.

Remember, this is ONE person’s interpretation and your needs might be different. Only two things stay consistent: zone zero is your center, the core, and heartbeat. The last zone is your wild zone where nothing is touched and nature rules.

The concept of zones appeals to my organizational nature so I zoned my yard. On my former one acre yard there were native cherry laurels, which stayed green all year long. Over the years, I would spend the winter months moving the young saplings to create a natural boundary along the street side edge of the property. As a long time ‘gorilla gardener’, (one who rescues plants from developers’ backhoes) my friend Sarah and I rescued truckloads of nandinas and Iris bulbs. On the house side of the property, I planted the nandinas in hedge rows adding an understory to the Cherry Laurels in my wild zone.

Bolo nandina hedge 3-12

So, between the cherry laurels and the nandinas a lovely hedge was created within nature’s boundary I respect. I tried  to keep the vines from choking-out the trees and pulled up ragweed. After twenty-eight years the space was magical, the diversity intense, and the blessings multiplied. It became a win-win for me and nature. A wonderful privacy hedge had grown thick and lush allowing me to garden in peaceful seclusion and shrinking my usable yard to half an acre for manageable weeding and cultivation. This wild-nature zone is where the cooper hawk had made her nest and where she continued to hunt from and feed her young. I no longer wonder about the creation of nature zones in small spaces. My attempt was successful. The beauty and diversity that greeted me inside the hedges re-bonded me with nature. I was reminded of the importance of dedicating a space to nature, allowing her innate wisdom to rule rather than mine. Watching the nature zone, I see what is planted by the birds’ droppings and what is invited to live and thrive inside this sacred space as the edges commingle.