Notes from Turtle Ridge – April 2012

2012 4-4 Box Turtle Hatchling (2)smBy Jill Henderson

This week’s article is the  first in a new series  I’m calling Notes from Turtle Ridge.  This series is definitely more personal and less academic than my regular weekly column, but hopefully, just as informative and entertaining.

Turtle Ridge is a wildly diverse bit of land featuring many unique geological, topographical and botanical niches.  It’s long flat ridge, rocky slopes, verdant valleys, and numerous hollows and swales support a fantastic array of life forms – including us humans.   Notes from Turtle Ridge will attempt to share life on Turtle Ridge through pictures.  In honor of the farm’s namesake, we’ll begin this first installment with this sweet little box turtle that hatched in our herb garden in the early weeks of April.

Pheobe Nest Platform © 2012 Jill HendersonAlmost as soon as the box turtle hatched,  a pair of Eastern Phoebes  began preparations for nesting.  While not the most striking bird around, phoebes eat a ton of insects and have a charismatic charm that is hard for me to resist.

They do, however, pick the worst places to build their mud and waddle nests – back porch lights, house trim, window sills, and porch awnings are all fair game.  After an attempt to divert our pair of phoebes from the back porch light, I came up with this simple “nest box”, which was built by nailing an 8” piece of 2” x 4” and a 7” piece of 2”x 2” onto a square of pressboard.  I gave the whole thing a coat of water seal and nailed it on the house.  Within minutes, the phoebes abandoned all other sites and began to build on this perch.  Nest perches like this should be placed high on an east or northeast side of a building with at least a 2’ overhang.  If there is no overhang, a roof should be added to this design.  Avoid hanging the perch too close to downspouts, posts, trees or railings that rat snakes could climb.  Rat snakes love phoebe eggs and chicks.

Cream Wild Indigo © 2012 Jill Henderson

The mild winter induced many late spring plants to bloom earlier than usual, including this beautiful native Cream Wild Indigo (Baptisia bracteata).  To grow these in your garden,  collect the dry seedpods in late summer  and plant them in well-drained soil in full to part shade for a reliable, deer resistant, drought tolerant and pest free perennial.

Native Blueberry © 2012 Jill HendersonAnd speaking of beautiful flowers,  on April 8th, we discovered several nice patches of forest-dwelling native blueberry bushes in full bloom.  These understory plants produce small, but flavorful blueberries that are a favorite food of many kinds of birds and animals.  Because of the mild winter, this year’s blueberry crop should be bountiful, but if we want to harvest some for ourselves, we’ll have to pick the ripe berries daily.

Redbud Pods © 2012 Jill HendersonThis was a great year for the dogwood and redbud blossoms.  I  haven’t seen redbuds bloom like this for years!  I knew that redbud flowers were edible, but I never even thought about eating the seedpods.  I was surprised how sweet  and delicious they were when eaten straight from the tree.  They’re also excellent are when lightly sautéed in butter!

Southern Coal Skink © 2012 Jill HendersonWhile puttering around the garden we are often kept  company by one of several resident Coal skinks. This male is identified by the bright orange jaw.   We enjoy watching the skinks, who also seem to enjoy watching us.

Cinquefoil © 2012 Jill HendersonFlowers abound in spring and down in the valley tall cinquefoil bloom in large drifts.  There are many different species of cinquefoil in the Ozarks, but all are easily identifiable by their simple five-petalled yellow flowers whose surfaces are distinctly shiny.  Where abundant, cinquefoil makes a nice addition to vases of fresh-cut flowers.

Penstemmon © 2012 Jill HendersonThere are so many flowers blooming in the month of April, it’s hard to keep up with them all.  This Pale Penstemon (Penstemon pallidus), enjoys growing in the light shade found beneath the oak trees at the edge of the meadow.  These beauties are extremely attractive to both hummingbirds and butterflies and will do well if planted in a more formal garden setting.   Collect their seeds around the end of May and plant them in the garden immediately for spring germination.

From all the wild things on Turtle Ridge:  See you next time!

Jill Henderson is an artist, author and the editor of Show Me Oz
© 2012 Jill Henderson

Read more about living in the Ozarks

A Journey of Seasons:
A Year in the Ozarks High Country

A Journey of Seasons is a beautifully recounted story of life on a rural Missouri homestead. Based on the changing landscape of the seasons and filled with nature notes, botanical musings, back-woods wisdom and just a pinch of hillbilly humor, noted author, naturalist and organic gardener, Jill Henderson, spins a story of delight and enchantment. This is one journey you don’t want to miss!

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