Archive for the ‘environment’ Category


May 14, 2013

alewifeSpring is alewife season in Maine.  No, it isn’t when we go hunting for the wives of ale-drinkers or -makers, it is when the alewives, a sea-going fish in the herring family, using their sense of smell, return to the freshwater lakes and ponds where they were spawned to themselves spawn. IMG_2985 Alewives (Alosa pseudoharengus), are fairly small fish of less than a foot in length, whose number used to be so great that bears would wade into streams to eat their fill as the millions of fish made their way upstream.  They have long been smoked and preserved for winter use, or harvested for lobster bait in Maine, but the damming of Maine’s rivers and streams for energy interrupted their passage and the number of alewives has plummeted in recent years.

Maine is working to restore the populations of alewives and other sea-running fish by dam removal aerialand the construction of fish ladders and passageways.  Even in the 12 years I’ve lived next to the Kennebec River, several dams have been removed, hastening the return of salmon and even sturgeon to the river.  Community groups, municipalities and state and federal agencies are working together to restore fish passageways and fish ladders across the state to keep the alewife and other sea-run fish from extinction.  IMG_3020

Sunday we took Dan’s mom to the historic Damariscotta Mills Fish Ladder to see the alewives. The ladder allows the fish to pass from Great Salt Bay into the ladder, marked with a yellow arrow in the photo, and then upstream along the yellow line into Damariscotta Lake at the second arrow.

A coalition of local community groups has been working hard to restore the ladder and educate IMG_3028the public about the alewives and the role they play in the ecosystem.  It is an amazing, inspiring sight.  Thousands of fish fill the stream, swimming as one body, packed so closely together it is difficult to see them as individuals when you first look.  The new fish ladder is engineered to add oxygen the water and has 8 resting pools where the plucky fish can catch their breath, so to speak, before continuing.  Netting over the pools prevents eagles, osprey, seagulls and other birds from excessive snacking as the fish make their way up the ladder.  The fish IMG_3033ladder is abutted by homes on one side.  In the photo above you can see some of the resting pools looking down the ladder.  At the top of the fish ladder is a concrete dam.  The alewives fight their way through a small opening in the dam into Damariscotta Lake.  After all their struggles to return to the lake, they are met with hungry ducks and cormorants (as seen in the photo) eager to dine.   The alewives form large schools, and eventually move to quiet water to spawn.  After spawning, the fish return to the sea, IMG_3041traveling downstream tail first, much like they traveled upstream.  A female alewife might lay 60,000 to 100,000 eggs, but only a tiny fraction survive to adulthood.  It is truly an amazing journey.

(above aerial photo from the Damariscotta Mills Fish Ladder Restoration webpage, my graphics added)

Urban greens are on the rise

April 9, 2013

I just read this story about a new urban farming operation sprouting up.  Gotham Greens will build a greenhouse on the rooftop of an industrial building in Jamaica, Queens.  How cool is that!


June 9, 2012

Lupines, Lupinus polyphyllus, have naturalized all over Maine.  They are not natives, but transplants from the west and have, like lilacs, become a beloved spring flower, spawning festivals, tourists, photographers, painters, and a few uncouth roadside plantnappers.

Unfortunately, they are muscling out our native lupine, Lupinus perennis, which among other things provides habitat or food for several kinds of butterflies, including the rare and lovely Karner Blue Butterfly.  I would plant some of the natives at Henbogle, but lupines prefer deep, sandy soil of low fertility, which is exactly what I do not have here, so my efforts would be wasted.

Nonetheless, the nonnative lupines are lovely and have become a needed economic driver in Maine.  In these photos, they are blooming in the fields around our town transfer station.  Where else can you find a transfer station, aka dump, this lovely I ask?  Only in Maine.

Dwindling seed diversity

January 26, 2012

As part of an article entitled Food Ark, National Geographic Magazine produced this great graphic demonstrating how hybridization is reducing the varieties of food crops.  A 1983 survey showed that since 1903 there has been a huge loss, of with over 93% of the 66 varieties in the survey now extinct.  The article highlights efforts to preserve genetic diversity in the seed supply, and is well worth a look.

The climes they are a-changin’

January 25, 2012

Come gather round, gardners, wherever you roam, and admit that the climate around you has warmed.

The USDA has released new climate zone maps which on the whole show a warming trend.  The Northeast is half a zone warmer than the previous map, released in 1990, indicated.  Henbogle has moved from 5a to 5b according to the new map.

While my oil bill might be smaller for this news, this really only has an impact for gardeners when considering plants that overwinter.  The increased temperature may mean a marginally hardy shrub or tree has a better chance of survival.  It doesn’t really mean the season will be longer, the frost later in the fall or earlier in the spring.  It might mean though that overwintered leeks are more successful.  It might also mean that some pests, reliably killed by cold winter temperatures, survive.  You takes the good with the bad.


Thanks Manny for the heads up.

Backyard drama: Snake vs. Toad

August 27, 2011

In the midst of scurrying about preparing for Hurricane Irene this afternoon, Dan and I were startled by a large garter snake crossing the back lawn.  A few minutes later, I saw a toad hopping oddly near the maple tree and went t look.  I called for Dan, and we arrived just as a large garter snake got the toad by one of its back legs.

It was very cool to see, and a vivid reminder that nature is cruel.  That poor toad was alive for at least 90% of the ordeal, and maybe all, and it took at about 70+ minutes.  The first photo I took was at 2:35, the last at 3:38.  Photos are in the album below, don’t look if you are squeamish.  I also shot a lot of video and will try and upload some of that later.

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A big, glorious moon

March 18, 2011

Don’t miss tomorrow’s Full Moon,the largest Perigee moon in nearly 20 years.  The elliptical orbit of the moon moves it closer to the earth at perigee, and every 19 or so years, that orbit will coincide with the full moon, making the moon appear about 14% bigger and 30% brighter than the norm.  With clear skies in Maine forecast for tomorrow night, it should be a beautiful sight.  For more info, check out this NASA article on the Perigee moon.

Let ‘er rip

July 30, 2010

the affected area -- right wall is the bath

As I mentioned in my previous post, as a result of our energy audit, we learned that replacing wood siding with vinyl and a thin layer of foam insulation would not make a significant improvement in our energy usage, which helped Dan and I make the decision to repair/replace the siding on the front of our old house, rather than go the vinyl route.

rotten trim above the granite block foundation --what lies beneath?

huh, that's an interesting big-ass hole in the sheathing!

One question we did not have an answer on is which choice is greener in the long run?  Yes, vinyl is awful to produce, and many of the siding/vinyl chloride industry leaders will probably have a toasty spot in hell for their environmental transgressions (along with the lead industry), but really, is paint much better.  Anyone recall all the problems with lead paint, and how the paint industry fought tooth and nail to prevent laws which would remove lead from paint (and other products).  As my dad owned a hardware store and sold a lot of paint, I well remember the battles of the early-mid 70s over lead.  And is paint today any better?  Yes, manufacturers are now making “greener” low VOC paint, but even still, what is the paint manufacturing process like?  How toxic is it, what is the safety record of the industry?  What about the production of the chemicals up the food chain that go into paint?  I just don’t know, but will be asking my environmental toxicologist colleague when I get the chance.

I hope I look as good when I'm 220 years old

And then there’s the short life span of paint.  We completely painted our house 8 years ago, and have been painting a side or two at a time –weather permitting!– in the summers since then.  Driving to buy the paint and materials needed, which is shipped from who knows where, painting, washing the brushes, and doing it again.  Again and again and again.  Evil vinyl siding has a much longer lifespan.  Aesthetically, vinyl is infinitely less appealing, but on the other hand, I ain’t getting any younger, and one of these days I’m not going to be able to paint the place myself.  And which is really the greener choice?  As far as I’m concerned the jury is still out on the low VOC paints, at least for exterior usage.

OK — looong preamble there to the work of the day, and yes, it was WORK.  We won’t be removing all the siding on the 2 front walls of the house, but the bottom 4 courses on the ell wall, and all the siding on the main house wall.  The main house wall is the outside wall of the primary bath, so this is a great time to get all the siding off, add a layer of moisture barrier, and make a nice new hole for the fan vent.  We’ll be adding a vent hole on the ell wall for a kitchen vent (hallelujah!).

Amazingly, considering the age of the siding, the large (now gone) rhododendron that kept it wet, and the cold, sunless northeast exposure, we had only a little rot on the bottom few rows of siding, and the lowermost course of sheathing.  The sheathing was original to the house, a big wide board of rough cut lumber.  We’ll repair the sheathing, add insulation, typar wrap, spray foam sealer, and flashing, then cover it all back up with wooden siding that is painted on both sides for added protection.

Once all that is done, we’ll remove more plant material (sob) to about 3 feet out, and the plants there will all be herbaceous perennials that will die back in the fall and winter to give plenty of air space.  In the area between the garden and the house, we will lay down industrial strength weed block and cover that with gravel to improve the draining and prevent splashing onto the siding.  Given what we feared, this turned out to be a project well within our capabilities.  We were lucky.

Plow Day

May 14, 2010

Got a hankering to see big, beautiful draft horses at work?  Head to the Deri Farm in North Yarmouth, Maine on Saturday for the 2nd annual Plow Day.

Skyline Farm, Deri Farm and the Farmers Draft Horse, Mule and Pony Club of Maine are sponsoring the demonstration, which is free and open to the public. The teams and teamsters will begin at 9 a.m. and finish sometime in the afternoon. “These hosses were born to work. They love it.” said Luther Gray, one of the teamsters who will be participating in the event with a team of draft horses. The teamsters will describe the proceedings and answer questions. In case of rain, the event will be held on May 15.

Thanks to Henbogle reader Patrick for giving me the heads up on this, it sound great!

Mild winters offer opportunity

May 13, 2010

Photo Maine Forest Service

The Portland Press Herald reported today that the Hemlock  Woolly Adelgid moved further up the coast during Maine’s mild winter, and an infestation was discovered in Harpswell.  This is not good news for Maine’s forest industries, as a severe infestation can kill a tree.  The Maine Forest Service will be treating the infected areas with multiple releases of lady beetles. The bad news continues with reports on a population explosion of the brown tail moth caterpillar in the midcoast area.

Photo Maine Forest Service

The caterpillar has toxic microscopic hairs which can cause a poison-ivy like rash or respiratory problems.  The moths, European invaders, benefited from the mild winter and early spring and the population has exploded.  Our best hope is that many of them starve as their early appearance deprived them of adequate forage.  While I love a mild winter, I’m not sure it is worth the springtime trauma!