Monthly Archives: June 2013

Pictures of Lily

Last year I thought it would be a good idea to get some lily pads for the frogs of Farthing Pond.  What I actually bought were some hardy water lilies, which contain lily pads.  This morning I noticed that one was getting ready to flower. By 10:00 a.m. it had opened up in all its glory.


Nothing today could have made me happier than this.  Duke Gardens hosts the annual water lily contest every year which is sponsored by the International Waterlily and Watergardening Society.  It’s always fun to see those lilies; never thought I’d see one as beautiful in our own backyard.



A frog named Jabba the Hutt

We’ve  got a new friend in the backyard.  An enormous bullfrog, who I’ve named Jabba the Hutt, has established a presence at Farthing Pond.  We’ve become quite close; I can sit down right beside him and he won’t even budge.  He does let me know that I’m  in his territory, though.  He even  answered my greeting of Die Wanna Wannga. Unfortunately,  that’s about all of the Huttese language  I know.  (It just occurred to me in writing that phrase that Huttese might have some relation to German, although  die in Huttese  is pronounced  day as in neighbor or way, and does not appear to be used as a modifier.)

I named him Jabba because of his resemblance to the fictional character, particularly in  his sheer  enormity, his brownish-yellow hue, and bumps around his mouth.  Later, I had some regrets about the name I gave him; after all,  the character from Return of the Jedi  exemplifies morbid obesity and personifies at least four of the seven deadly sins, including greed, lust, gluttony and avarice.

Me:  Do you think it’s disrespectful that I named our friend “Jabba the Hutt”?

Shawnna: I think he would be honored to be named after such an epic story.

My wife, master of the re-frame. Strong with the Force she is.

2013 will go down in history as “The Year the Frogs Came.”  We finished Farthing Pond in 2010, and it only took a couple of months for the word to spread amongst the amphibians. We’d hear tree frogs and the occasional bullfrog after heavy rains.  This year is different.  They’ve totally established a beachhead.  We hear them every night now, lots of them, regardless of the weather conditions.  I’ve asked several of my neighbors if the noise bothers them, but they don’t seem to mind, maybe because it  drowns out the sounds of I-85.  When I close my eyes at bedtime I can imagine I am in a more bucolic locale.

The frogs love hanging out in the various plant containers I have submerged in the pond, such as this scouring rush.

The containers are submerged in the pond and held up by pvc pipe.  The frogs enjoy them because there is enough room for them to sit  upright in the container with their eyes just above the water.  I never realized  that in placing these plants I had helped create an ideal habitat for our amphibian friends.



I found  this little one while I was re-potting one of the containers.


Feeling inspired, I decided to construct a shelter in one of the containers.  I named it “Jabba’s Palace.”

farthing_pond_houseHopefully this will be a nice place for Mr. Hutt  or members of his clan to chill on hot summer days.  Who knows, maybe it will even provide some protection from the herons, raccoons, crows and kitties who consider Farthing Pond a fun,  locally-owned restaurant and watering hole.  They are true Durham foodies, believe me.  I think that the birds have realized that it’s a nice place to fuel up on their flights from Northgate Park to the  Ellerbe Creek Beaver Pond.

For various reasons, amphibian populations have been on the decline for the last few decades, including  the extinction of some species.   It makes me happy to know that we are encouraging amphibian conservation here in Durham.  Even if you don’t have a pond at your house,  constructing a toad house  does not take a lot of effort.  Remember that frogs and toads  like to eat mosquitoes, and are a natural form of pest control.

For further reading, check out the Amphibian Specialist Group’s website.



3 feet high and rising

Yesterday the rains came, completely submerging Northgate Park for a few hours until the water receded.

Northgate Park 6.8.13

Kudos to our stormwater folks here in Durham; the fact that the water drained  so quickly shows that  all of their hard work and planning has paid off.

It was quite a sight to behold, and for a while I was thinking that they should invite the beavers over from the Ellerbe Creek Preserve and have them dam everything up.  It would be lots of fun having a 17-acre lake or swamp only two blocks from the house.


6.8.13 Northgate Park

Ellerbe Creek was raging;  it was almost like being on the Haw River.  I planned on getting my canoe out, until I saw a wicked current that could  have sucked me under the bridge and spat me out on the other side.  I decided it wasn’t worth the risk.


Back home, I had to pat myself on the back because the overflow from our pond  was doing just what it was supposed to do.


I watched the water as it trickled down the side of our yard, into the driveway and down into the street.


All the swales in the backyard were  completely swollen, and the bog we built for water overflow actually looked like a bog.

I shudder to think what could have happened to our basement  yesterday had we not created the bioretention area in the backyard.  In this era of climate destabilization, living a quarter of a mile from a floodplain tops my worry list.

I watched as water gushed down our street.   Such a waste, I thought.  I wish there was some way I could catch and store it.  Who knows when we’ll have another drought…

Northgate Park 6.8.13





Thrills from Blueberry Hill

For years we’ve been trying to grow blueberries, but we’ve had scant results.  Despite giving them plenty of water–blueberry plants require at least an inch or two of  water a week–the berries have always been few and  tiny.  That’s why my eyes almost popped out of my head when I visited our neighborhood friends  Sally and Sandi yesterday.

Before my eyes were BlueberriesNorthgate several blueberry bushes,  sagging with plump, ripening fruit. Seething green (or blue?) with jealousy, I grabbed the biggest, fattest blueberry I  could find, and ate it.   At least it made me feel better.

Naturally I wanted to know what their secret was.  Comparing and contrasting their bushes with ours, I discovered three factors that seems to have contributed towards their more  bountiful harvest.

First, their blueberry orchard sits at the bottom of a sloped hill, an area of the yard that gets a lot of drainage. In fact, it is the perfect location for a rain garden.
BlueberriesNorthgate3Sandi told me that they don’t water their plants very often, and I can see why.  Permaculture at work!

There are also no large trees near their yard, which meant  that the plants weren’t visited by those pesky  cankerworms this spring.  These worms chewed huge holes in the leaves of our blueberry plants, which I know must have stressed them out.  Next year we’ll be banding the trees in our yard to repel  the cankerworm invasion.

What might be helping them the most, however, is something called soil acidifier, which is available at most garden centers.  Sandi told me that she applies the soil acidifier at the base of the plant, careful not to get any on the leaves.
blueberriesfertAs you might know, blueberries love acidic soil, which is one of the reasons they thrive in the North Carolina mountains.  Now I’m convinced that we might have the winning formula for blueberry production.

 Why all this fuss about blueberries?   For one thing, they are a healthy dessert alternative; one cup of blueberries has 80 calories.  They are a true super food, containing antioxidants, Vitamin C and fiber.   They seem to promote cardiovascular and brain health, and might help prevent certain types of cancers.  Research studies have shown that they reduce brain damage in rats.  And of course they are tasty!

For more on blueberries, check out the U.S. Highbush Bluberry Council’s website.

Nice work Sally and Sandi!