The Garden Spotter


Citizen Science – 5 Projects for Mainers

citizen science

Common Loon via Wikimedia Commons

Citizen science has been around for centuries.  John James Audubon, for example, traveled the country sketching and painting all the birds of North America with precise detail. Henry David Thoreau kept journals of bird and animal sightings and the timing of flower blooms and leaf drops. And even more recently, weather watchers have collected information on snow and rainfall information for the National Weather Service and local TV and radio stations. All this information has been compiled by ordinary people with nothing more than perhaps a strong interest in the subject.

Since the development and expansion of the internet, citizen science has exploded.  Often led by professional scientists, projects are created with public participation in mind, and analysis is practically instantaneous. The Great Backyard Bird Count is an example of a very successful citizen science project. Led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the GBBC was held this year on February 12-15. Some 160,000 people from 130 countries counted 5,689 species – the most detailed snapshot ever of bird populations around the world.

It was actually the GBBC that first exposed me to citizen science. I participated this year – without, incidentally, spotting a single bird that cold, cold day – and it has developed into an interest in similar projects near and far.


While the official GBBC is over for the year, the counting of birds continues. To take part in the GBBC, you have to create an online account with Cornell, which gives you access to all sorts of interactive pages for recording your ornithological findings. And you can sign up easily for next year’s GBBC count, which takes place February 17-20, 2017.

Maine Birds

This is actually a Facebook group page, which you can join pretty easily if you live in Maine and love to watch birds. It has about 5,700 members who are very active in spotting and photographing the variety of birds that visit the Pine Tree State.

The Maine Loon Project

Since 1983, Maine Audubon has sponsored an annual count to assess the population of one of Maine’s most iconic wildlife species, the loon. Hundreds of people participate, many of whom have volunteered for years. This year, the count will be held July 16th.

The Great Sunflower Project

Based at San Francisco State University, the Great Sunflower Project is not so much about sunflowers as it is about pollinators. As you probably know, bees are in decline. Scientists are trying to find out why. The Sunflower Project enlists subscribers to count pollinators of all types and record them in an online forum. Though it no longer gives seeds away, the organization encourages the planting of a type of sunflower, Lemon Queen, because they produce a good amount of pollen. The website has a wealth of information about identifying types of bees and how to attract them to your yard.

Signs of the Season: A New England Phenology Program

Another backyard laboratory program, the New England Phenology Program uses hundreds of volunteers across Maine and New Hampshire to track the effects of climate change on plants and wildlife. The key here is that the volunteers are actually trained through a series of webinars and sessions at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Maine Audubon, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, and other organizations. Participants track such things as growth of milkweed and rockweed, and the nesting of spring robins, so scientists can monitor any changes in the seasons.

Of course, there are many, many more ways you can take part in this global citizen science revolution – just take a quick scan of the web using the keywords “citizen science” and you’ll get the bug, too.


Small City Lot: Digging & Dividing

IMG_4473 Our lot in Bath is a typical small city lot, rectangular in shape, bordered by neighbors on three sides and the street on the other. As such, we have many of the same goals and issues for our yard that so many other homeowners do. We want curb appeal – we want the house to look attractive from the road – to add to its value and to give us the warm fuzzies when we come home. We want privacy, seclusion from neighbors and quiet outdoor “rooms” for entertaining and relaxing. We want a mix of sun and shade, and beds with nutrient rich soil for growing flowers and a few vegetables. And like a lot of homeowners, we have inherited someone else’s idea of how all that should work.
IMG_4458-001 In the eight months since we moved in, we’ve cleaned out the garage, taken out the rotted floor and replaced it with gravel. We had an excavator come in and dig and install a new gravel driveway that runs the length of the house. On the other side, we had him pull out a massively overgrown bush and a space for the patio off the kitchen.

Now that spring is finally here, and the ground thawed, we’ve been focusing on digging new beds and enlarging existing ones, like this one near the back door. Overgrown with hosta, day lilies, ferns, and centaura, the plants were competing for space and nutrition, so we dug them up, divided the plants and expanded the space, adding some new topsoil and composted manure and changing the position of the existing railroad tie to hold in the soil. The bed has doubled in size. Already, the plants seem to be perking up.

IMG_4465-001 Next up, a trellis for the climbers in this space, which right now consists of a clematis and a small pink climbing rose. I may add a third climber on the end, maybe a larger red or dark pink rose.

There is much to be done, and we can let it overwhelm us and create anxiety, or we can look at it as a step-by-step process, a series of weekend projects that will somehow get us to where we want to be with this 100-year old property – our home for now.

What plans do you have for your yard this year? I’d love to hear.

 April 12th, 2016  
 H O M E . Y A R D  
 0 Comment

Coaxing Your Flowering Shrubs Into Bloom


It’s one of those years where the calendar may say it’s spring, but the flowers and shrubs in my yard are acting like they missed the memo. The crocuses flashed a little purple and saffron. The tulips pushed their petals through the earth. And then the temperatures dropped again, and the snow fell. And suddenly, all the flowers got a little shy.

Eager to see a little more than tiny green buds, I decided to take matters into my own hands and force the quince that borders our front porch into an early spring. And within a matter of a week or so, I had beautiful pink blossoms in my living room.

Take that Mother Nature.


To do this yourself, just grab a pair of pruners and head outside. Quince, lilacs, forsythia, apple and magnolia – any tree or shrub that naturally flowers can be coaxed into bloom much earlier than nature intends.

Cut pieces that make sense from a pruning standpoint, cuts that improve the health and/or shape of the bush or tree. Cut just above the joints if you can. Cut off branches that cross into others and inhabit their growth. Cut off branches with wounds or disease. Cut branches that extend beyond the rest and spoil the pleasing roundness of the bush or tree.

When you’ve gathered a handful, bring them inside and trim off the lower leaves and make deep angled cuts on the lower ends so your stems will be able to drink freely. Fill a deep vase with warm water and add a little sugar if you want for extra energy.

Sit back, and watch the early spring show.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: