About a month ago, I was on a Natural Neighbors visit walking a property with a landowner and talking about things that can be done to increase the diversity of native species. The property owner said she was having trouble bonding with her land and this started the wheels spinning in my head… Is there a weekend activity that can help someone know their own piece of land better? The answer I came up with was to look at a particular spot more closely and get to know it intimately. I decided to propose this activity to our Facebook Group, the Natural Neighbors Network and what follows here are the first three weeks of my own journey.
If you would like to bond with your land, or if you are looking for a nature-based activity close to home, why not look at plants? They are abundant and everywhere! Try marking off a square meter area in your yard and see what you find. Take a minute to look at it, get a quick first impression, then write down what you saw and walk away. Return the next day and spend five to ten minutes taking a closer look, get down on your hands and knees and really get in there! Is it just grass, or are there other plants? Any insects? How about leaves? If so, what kinds of leaves? Write it all down and see how it compares to your first impression, how close were you? Did you see a lot more? If you have a smartphone, and could use a little assistance in with identification, take a few pictures of the life in your plot and submit them to iNaturalist. iNat’s artificial intelligence and online naturalist community can be immensely helpful to budding naturalist.
You can download iNaturalist here:https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/mobile_apps_nz
In your notes, don’t forget to include the weather, date, and time of day as that information will become meaningful over time. Check back whenever you like to see if anything has changed (has the grass grown seed head heads? Is something blooming that wasn’t last week? Has a new pollinator visited a flower? You could even set up another plot in a different location to see what else is going on in your little piece of the world. You don’t have to be an expert botanist to enjoy this activity. I am certainly no where near an expert, as you will see by my notes, but I do know I will check mine regularly, and you can read along here to see how it’s going in my yard plot.
Saturday morning I woke up and thought, what kind of person would I be if I suggested an activity to people and didn’t do it myself! So I went out to the shed, found some short rebar and pink flagging and walked out to the back field. Now, I realize that many people don’t have a field on their property, but really, what is a field but an overgrown lawn?
I made some notes of what I found and took a few pictures: Common Milkweed, Common Dewberry, and Pasture Rose.
Saturday morning, while my coffee steeped inside my French press, I thought about my plot and thought about how long I am going to do this? Is this officially going to my thing? Yep. It’s out there. I already posted about it so I am going to have to commit for the entire growing season and see just how much I can learn about this one little patch. By the time I pushed the plunger on my French press I had convinced myself, the answers to all my questions and possibly even the meaning of life could be awaiting me there. I was in and heading out the door coffee in hand.
While the plants were all still the same plants as last week, they were all different. Some had grown substantially, others were flowering, while other were losing their flowers. I was happy to be able to identify a flower that I was not able to identify last week. It was Carolina Horsenettle, a native plant that most would simply refer to as a weed because that is exactly what it looks like. I had one mystery solved, with many more left to go – specifically with the grasses which are going to take some detective work.
While I did not record any insects in my plot, American Copper butterflies were still abundant around it, as were honey bees, bumble bees, sweat bees and calico pennant dragonflies. It’s looking to be a rainy weekend and I am curious how that will affect things, I am betting on some bigger, happier plants!
The milkweed flowers have wilted, the dewberry has ripened, and rose hips are forming on the pasture rose.
During week three of monitoring, I found myself walking out to my little plot with great anticipation and with substantial distractions along the way. I spotted other plants that I wished were growing inside my self-imposed boundaries! Even so, I was more than content to see what the world within my square meter was like. I noted substantial growth in the plants I have found there and while I am not seeing any new plant species, the changes that have occurred in the species I do have almost make them seem like different plants. In addition to the plants I found some interesting insect activity including a True Bug and a Jumping Spider!. All in all I am enjoying this experiment thus far and find myself already curious about what I will find this weekend. If there is a curious naturalist inside you waiting to be set free, setting up a little plot like this is a fun and low-impact way to kick-start yourself.
The seed pods on the milkweed have started to grow while a Broad-headed Bug was hanging out on it’s leaves, and a Whitman’s Jumping Spider was hunting in the grass.
You can join the Natural Neighbors Network here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/779866293684989