Notes From the Brambles – Early-Summer

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses with eglantine

William Shakespeare

Poetry about the gifts of nature hold a special place for most of us, whether we view them in the written form as the quote above by the “Bard of Avon” or they come to us through our senses as the seasons change. Our access to the Ct. River can provide us a continuous source of inspiration and opportunity. In the last blog there was a discussion of Plogging and No Mow May, both of which are designed to be opportunities to help heal our environment through small local steps. In this edition of the Brambles I’ll discuss the use of rain gardens and rain barrels as a way to help keep our storm water as clean and manageable as possible. The most deleterious pollutant contained in stormwater is nitrogen. All the species of fish mentioned in this blog as well as the blue crab (crustacean) are effected by the lack of oxygen in water, commonly referred to as hypoxia. While fish can escape the effects of hypoxia by swimming to areas with higher levels of oxygen in the water crustaceans are not able to do this resulting in periodic die offs of crabs and other crustaceans. The expression “death by a thousand cuts” can be flipped on its head and reframed as solutions through a thousand small decisions. Each of us can make
individual decisions about the gray water (storm water) which flows through our property and make sure we do our part to help the environment through individual choices. The importance of managing stormwater is illustrated by an ongoing study by DEEP regarding hypoxia in Long Island Sound.

Annual Summer Hypoxia Monitoring Reports
Hypoxia is a condition of low dissolved oxygen concentrations in the waters of Long Island Sound that impacts up to half of the Sound’s waters each summer. The primary cause of hypoxia is nitrogen enrichment that comes from a variety of sources throughout the Long Island Sound watershed, in particular sewage treatment plants, stormwater runoff and atmospheric deposition. The nitrogen stimulates the growth of phytoplankton, microscopic
plants that grow in the Sound. Today, so much nitrogen has been added that the amount of phytoplankton generated causes low oxygen in the summer when it decays in the bottom waters.

Please access the link which is available through the town of Deep River’s website. There are a number of helpful suggestions which are specific to Ct. My partner installed a rain barrel a number of years ago and it has been a godsend when our areas has experienced a lack of rain. We simply attach a soaker hose to the barrel run it through our garden and a portion of the water that came out of our gutters and was collected provides a long drink to our thirsty plants. It’s like having our own private reservoir system.

There are also directions to building your very own rain garden brought to you by UCONN. The beauty of a rain garden is it’s simplicity and ease of design. I followed the directions and designed and built a rain garden which fits into my small yard, provides native water loving plants a place to thrive and most importantly prevents gray water from running off into the street and then into the storm water system.

While walking about our fair town of Deep River after a rain one will hear the soft gurgle on most streets as basements are emptied by sump pumps and water is diverted from roof tops to gutters to driveways to streets and ultimately to the sewer system. Deep River has a state of the art sewage treatment plant which processes sewage but does not accept storm water. As is the case in most sewage treatment plants in Ct. storm water is separated from sewage. This means the responsibility for helping to keep pollutants ie. nitrogen and debris out of the surface water rests with each of us and the efforts of the town officials to educate and ultimately follow best practices when it comes to what we put into our storm drains. There have been ongoing efforts through the federal and local government to
provide guidance regarding how to deal with “gray water”. For anyone interested Deep River has an informative document which is due to be updated by the end of this month. Much of what is discussed fits in with the green infrastructure link posted above.

If we are able to be responsible stewards of our gray water we can in turn help the critters which depend on having clean water in order to thrive. As we move from spring to summer we have the opportunity to sample the changes brought to us by our proximity to both the Ct. River and the Long Island Sound. This writer tracks the seasons through food and plants. We are just coming out of Shad season in Ct. and entering into the game fish season, including black fish, blue fish, scup, winter flounder and striped bass. For those interested there is a delightful article written by Deep River’s very own Christine Woodside about the history and biology of Shad. The link is provided below.

Two books about game fish are worth a look. Blues by John Hersey and American Catch by Paul Greenberg. There is a website which has a delightful livestream discussion regarding migratory fish and the role they play in our environment. This organization has it’s own you tube Chanel and is dedicated to all things relevant to the Ct. River watershed. LiveStream, S1, Ep1: Learning to Love Your Migratory Fish. Although blue crabs in our area do not support a fishing fleet as they do in the Chesapeake Bay Area there is still a consistent population of them to support recreational crabbing each summer in Old Saybrook and most other shoreline towns. My children spent part of each summer
crabbing in the ponds and estuaries of Chappaquiddick Island. Many years later they each have stories about the first time they were initiated into the adventures of crabbing. A good summer read is Beautiful Swimmers by William Warner which details the history of the Chesapeake Bay, blue crabs and watermen.

In between cooking and eating the wonderful bounty provided by both the ocean and fresh water systems adjacent to us the changes in the native plants are breathtaking. The early rush of lilacs gives way to honey suckle bee balm and numerous other flowering plants which provide sustenance for our pollinators. Spend a few minutes observing wildflowers and you will see what looks like grains of rice with wings landing on the flowers. We have over four hundred different species of bees in New England. Planting native species of flowering plants is critical for the pollinators working so diligently in our gardens. There is new research which came out this month in the journal Science regarding the harm to bumblebees caused by glysophates.

This is one of the most widely used chemicals in weed control products. Please read the label on weed killers and remember our friends the bees before you spray. Having a succession of flowering plants in your yard is vital to supporting bees throughout the summer. In my garden the slow transition from one blooming cycle to another is always anchored by the rose. I must confess roses are not native to this country as the rootstock for all roses with exception of beach roses (Japan) originated in China. I now only plant roses which need a minimum of care and no spraying with toxic chemicals. The use of native plants in our gardens lessens the amount of water and special care non native plants need. This in turn helps to conserve the amount of water needed to care for plants.

In other news

I was involved in a discussion with John Cunningham who is a member of the Deep River Land Trust. We were commiserating about invasive plants. He paused for a moment and made the observation that many of the plants we now view as native were at one time invasive. Score one for the ornithologist. Recently, I had the good fortune to spent part of two days with John digging in the dirt at the Smythe property while we were installing native plants in the meadow. For anyone interested in having a wonderful education about birds, plants and ecosystems in general I highly recommend taking the
opportunity to tag along with John. He is simply one of the best teachers and story tellers I have had the pleasure to be around.

For anyone interested in a wonderfully quirky series you can find one called the Detectorists on Netflix. I bring this up because I had an adventure in the woods of the Whittlesley sanctuary with Paul Mikulak, Georgia Male and Janet Stone. We were in these lovely woods to find the boundary markers for the property. This is where the fun began in earnest. Georgia and I were the unintentional “straight men” to Paul and Janet. As we crawled through the woods looking for the ever elusive markers there was a
nonstop dialogue between Janet and Paul. I’m sure there has never been so much laughter in those woods. I felt like a detectorist as we hunted for the ever elusive hidden treasure (boundary markers) and I couldn’t decide which of the main characters from this series fit Janet or Paul the best. I’ll leave it up to you dear reader to decide.

To share in the adventures and frivolity simply join the Deep River Land Trust.

Until next time.
From the brambles,
Patrick Liddle

Notes From the Brambles – Mid-Spring

As we move into mid-spring there is an anticipation of hearing the first chorus of peepers, watching ospreys perform aerial displays after traveling thousands of miles and of course the myriad of flowers
starting with daffodils. There is a sense of all being right with the world as this season of rebirth awakens around us.
What can we do to support the large and small critters who cohabitate this wonderful blue world? I wondered this as I worked in the Whittlesley Brook Sanctuary over the winter. Surrounded by wetlands and a brook that never froze (even in the coldest stretch of winter), this writer was awed by the rhythm of this small piece of land tucked among housing developments. This little jewel of the property goes about its business of filtering water, storing carbon, and providing a refuge for a wide variety of wildlife. In the entire year spent in the woods, there were only occasional bits of trash found scattered mostly on the edges of the property.
There are a number of things we can do to make this a softer spring for ourselves and the natural world.
The following are two items which are easy to take part in and have websites which are nice support tools should you choose to take part.
Two weeks ago my wife and I had the opportunity to attend a reading by David Sedaris in New Haven. Little did I know at the time that Mr. Sedaris is an active Plogger. What you may ask is Plogging? Simply put it is the process of combining exercise with picking up litter. For more information, you can visit An article in the online newsletter The Age made the following mention of Mr. Sedaris’ and his plogging activities.
David Sedaris, the American humorist, has extolled the benefits of combining exercise with a dash of social good.
The 61-year-old roams the streets near his West Sussex home with a “hand-sized claw on a pole” and a Fitbit, which tracks his litter-picking exertions: “I’m up to 60,000 [steps a day],” he wrote of his love of social-worth-wellness.
“Walking that distance… while lugging a heavy bag of garbage takes close to nine hours.” It has transformed his local area, no doubt, as well as his waistline: clothes that had become uncomfortably strained are “suddenly loose again”. Not to mention Horsham district council’s own paean to Sedaris’s work – a rubbish truck was named in his honor.
Now, it isn’t likely any of us will have a garbage truck displaying our names, no matter how much litter we retrieve from the streets, trails or river banks of our fair town. Having adopted a route which runs through Deep River and includes the Fountain Hill Cemetery I would certainly agree that there are health benefits to be had in addition to the social good. For those of you who have an interest in cleaning up beaches or the banks of the Ct. River please download the Marine Debris Tracker app.
A second activity doesn’t demand more than letting the grass grow. As simple as it sounds resisting peer pressure to mow our lawns early and often is hard to push back against. Lawn companies have done a remarkable job of convincing the population at large, that having a “tidy” yard in the spring and fall is as close as most of us will get to a spiritual experience. There is a movement afoot to modify this behavior,
at least for one month. It is called No Mow May. Please find more information at Towns across the country are passing resolutions encouraging homeowners to let their grass grow until
the end of May. An example of this is the town of Wisconsin Rapids located in (you guessed it) Wisconsin. A local newspaper described it thusly.
WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wis. (WSAW) – The city of Wisconsin Rapids has adopted a resolution designating the month of May as No Mow May.
The goal of No Mow May is to provide early-season forage for native pollinators. Allowing lawns to grow longer, without treating them with chemical pesticides or herbicides, leads to an increase in the number and types of native plants, which are a great source of food for pollinators, such as bees and butterflies.
Property owners that register in the program can voluntarily delay lawn care until June. Each registered property
will receive one free yard sign. Yard signs will be available starting April 12.
Hopefully, these suggestions will be helpful in supporting the web of life we all depend on.
Until next time,
Cheers from the brambles.

Patrick Liddle