All posts for the month May, 2015

by Michele Wales, Coverdale Farm Preserve Manager

For 15 years Coverdale has raised livestock in our pastures & barns and grown acres of vegetables in our teaching gardens & CSA. Now we are reaching beyond the farm borders to the woodland to grow…..mushrooms!

Specifically, the delicious Pleurotus ostreatus. Pleurotus (“sideways”) ostreatus (“oyster”) come by their name honestly as the fruiting body grows in a sideways manner from the stem and forms a shell-like cap. These common wild mushrooms can be found growing in forests throughout the world in temperate to semi tropical climates.

Oyster mushrooms are in a class of fungi known as “saprophytes.” Saprophytic fungi (shiitake, oysters, lion’s mane, wine caps) are decomposers that scavenge dead organic matter for their nourishment. In the case of oysters this material is wood. But not just any wood will do, the oyster mushroom thrives in hardwoods like Tulip Poplar and Beech.

Tulip Poplar trees are a fast growing, native, “pioneer” species that can reach the perfect size for growing oyster mushrooms within 5 years, easily. At Coverdale we have a sustainable population to harvest, making oyster mushroom the ecologically sound choice.


Photo by Shaun Quinlan

Back in March, Shaun Quinlan and I “planted” 38 totems of oyster mushrooms in the woodland above the Coverdale Farm Preserve pond. The substrate, or wood, must be harvested prior to budding out making March prime-time mushroom planting season! The mycelium, the vegetative part of fungus, was delivered to us in blocks of saw dust where it had colonized. We selected a location deep within the woods that would provide good shade come summer and set wooden pallets down to raise our totems off the ground.


Photo by Michele Wales

Then, down to business matching two like-sized sections of 1’ tall rounds of the poplar tree to form totems.


Photo by Shaun Quinlan

Once the matching game was completed, we sandwiched a thick layer of sawdust spawn between the two rounds of poplar. The top of the totem had a small “cookie” cut from it to afford one more layer of mycelium.


Photo by Shaun Quinlan

Once all totems were planted, we covered each stack with a paper lawn bag. This will ensure the moisture level of the wood to remain high, protect the totem from competitive fungi, and ensure darkness during the incubation period known as the “spawn run.” This very important time, which can last 12 – 18 months for oyster mushrooms is the critical stretch when the mycelium begins to colonize the poplar. We will check on these totems periodically throughout the next 6 – 12 months to make certain we are maintaining the proper growing conditions for this experimental new crop.

oyster planting 17 2015

Photo by Shaun Quinlan

Stay tuned for the next installment in the wood-grown mushroom trials. We highlight the bio-control we are preparing for and will be employing to combat public enemy #1 of the mushroom, the mighty slug. Any guesses?

Come visit us and join in the farm fun each and every Saturday from 9:00am – 4:00pm. Meet our awesome staff, tour the CSA fields, visit the farmyard to see our resident livestock, stop in our welcome barn to shop for farm grown vegetable plants, a dozen fresh Eggmobile eggs and pick up the new Coverdale Farm Preserve canvas grocery bag to carry your goods home. Fresh vegetables will be coming soon to the welcome barn!

By Ian Stewart, Ashland Nature Center Weekend Naturalist

Anyone walking the creekside trails at Ashland Nature Center in early spring is likely to see three very different and distinctive yellow flowers. At first glance these bright flowers are a welcome sight after the long hard snowy winter. Look more closely however and they are not so welcome – all three are alien invaders native to Europe which have now become firmly established in the US.

The most abundant of these species, and the one that has the most negative effects upon native wildflowers, is the Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria). This is in the buttercup family and is commonly found in damp areas like floodplains where it forms dense green carpets studded with shiny yellow flowers. It is particularly problematic because the heart-shaped leaves appear early and are packed so tightly together that the later-emerging native flowers never receive enough sunlight to fully develop.

Lesser Celandine blooms over a dense carpet of their foliage.

Lesser Celandine blooms over a dense carpet of their foliage.

Once established, Lesser Celandine can smother just about all other plants, especially on floodplains.

Once established, Lesser Celandine can smother just about all other plants, especially on floodplains.

The second is the Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), a flower in the Aster family that is a perennial source of frustration to anyone who tries to maintain a tidy lawn. It gets its peculiar name from its long toothed leaves which were thought to resemble lion’s teeth (or ‘dent de lion’ in French, which over time became corrupted to ‘Dandelion’). The yellow flower heads later become gray spherical ‘clocks’ of seed which are easily dispersed by even a light breeze or human touch, so it is not hard to see how they have become so widespread.

The ever-familiar lawn weed...Dandelion.

The ever-familiar lawn weed…Dandelion.

The third not-so-mellow yellow is the Daffodil (Narcissus sp.). Daffodils do not occur in carpets like the Celandine or in loose clusters like the Dandelion but regrow in the same place each year, as the bulbs contain toxic substances and few animals eat them. Daffodils and Dandelions are both tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions and can be found growing throughout the state.

Daffodils can be found growing throughout Delaware, but especially near places near human settlements.  They pop up in the strangest places far from humans too, but are not native.

Daffodils can be found growing throughout Delaware, but especially near places near human settlements. They pop up in the strangest places far from humans too, but are not native.  Lesser Celandine meets Daffodil.  Daffodil wins.

Invasive flowers such as these three species present many problems for native flora and fauna. As well as simply blocking out sunlight and using up soil nutrients they likely host fewer native arthropods which in turn reduces the amount of food available for animals higher up in the food chain such as small mammals and birds. Plus, they seem less likely to be eaten by native animals, perhaps because they have not evolved with them, which is probably part of the reason they have become so widespread. They were probably introduced by European settlers for obscure medicinal purposes and as colorful reminders of their homeland gardens, but whatever the reason, we are stuck with them now. However, there are many native alternatives if you would like to plant early spring flowers, including Trillium (Trillium sp.), Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) and Spring Beauties (Claytonia sp.), and Common Blue Violets (Viola sororia). All of these produce attractive, colorful flowers that would enhance any garden!

Ian Stewart

Weekend Naturalist

By Matthew Babbitt, Abbott’s Mill Nature Center Manager

Spring is in full bloom here at Abbott’s Mill Nature Center!  Flowers are blooming, bees are buzzing, birds are chirping, frogs are croaking, and fish are biting.  While spring brings plenty of excitement for nature enthusiasts of all passions, there are a few birds that have arrived here at Abbott’s Mill Nature Center that we hold near and dear to our heart.

The first “birds of spring” that arrived were the largest member of the swallow family, Purple Martins. These birds will spend the winter in South America and then migrate all over North America during their mating season. Adult females have a lighter breast than the adult males, and both take part in building nests and feeding young.

Purple Martins taking a break from chasing insects.  Photo by Matt Babbitt.

Purple Martins taking a break from chasing insects. Photo by Matt Babbitt.

Populations that migrate to the Eastern United States are completely dependent on man-made structures, like the ones pictured above, for nesting. Researchers theorize that this is due to conditioning over many generations, as early writings from European settlers note that Native Americans placed whitened gourds near their crops and dwellings to attract Purple Martins in order to take advantage of their voracious appetite for insects.

Not long after the Purple Martins arrived, their cousins and the most common member of the swallow family, Barn Swallows announced their arrival with flashes of glossy blue wings and their chitter-chattery calls. They winter in Central and South America and then make their way back to North America during their mating season. Barn Swallows are also largely dependent on man-made structures to build their nest upon, which they make out of a mixture of mud and grass. In the communities of Tangier and Smith Island, located in the heart of the Chesapeake Bay, watermen and their families affectionately call these birds “Shanty Birds”, due to the multitude of nests that are built each spring under their crab shanties that sit just above the water on pilings.

Later in the year, the Barn Swallows will be raising their families in mud cup nests attached to the barn, mill, or house here at Abbott's Mill.  Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Later in the year, the Barn Swallows will be raising their families in mud cup nests attached to the barn, mill, or house here at Abbott’s Mill. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Barn Swallows have the deepest forked tail of the swallow family, and you can catch a glimpse the bright white dots that highlight their tail when it is fully fanned out. Their swooping and diving through the air isn’t for naught, as all members of the swallow family are aerial insectivores, meaning they dine solely on flying insects. The adult male has bolder colorings and a darker throat than the adult female, and soon we will be seeing the pale-yellow beaks of their young.

Finally, just this past week we spotted the first pair of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds fluttering about in the native plant demonstration garden just in front of our Visitor Center. The only hummingbird that breeds in the Eastern United States, this short-footed, fast-flapping bird spends its winters in Central America, sometimes crossing the Gulf of Mexico during its migration. Adult males, like the one pictured below, are easily identified by their eye-catching, iridescent throat. All hummingbirds are uniquely adapted to feeding on the nectar of flowers with elongated beaks and wings that flap up to 53 times per second. Not only are they the smallest species of bird known, but they are also the only species that can both fly backwards and hover in place.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird by Derek Stoner.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird by Derek Stoner.

If you have a hummingbird feeder at home, making your own “nectar” is an easy process. Start by combining mixture of 4 parts water to 1 part sugar in a large pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, with occasional stirring to aid the dissolving process, and then let it cool. Don’t add food coloring or honey to your nectar mixture. It may be harmful to them, and all they want is sugar-water.  Clean your feeder once a week with a weak bleach and water solution to prevent and kill mold.  While hummingbirds will also dine on nature’s nectar, keeping your feeder out until their latest migration period, usually late September to early October, will help ensure your viewing pleasure and a final dose of energy for their long flight south. Additionally, research has found that these fascinating birds even remember where you put your feeder from year to year, so make sure to place your feeder in an optimal viewing area for you and your family and mark the spot when you take it down for the winter.

By Brenna Goggin, Advocacy Manager

Walking your dog along the trails at Ashland, bird watching off the boardwalk at the DuPont Environmental Education Center, picking vegetables at our Coverdale Farm Preserve, and canoeing on the Abbott’s Mill pond are a big part of Delaware Nature Society’s community. All of these activities also depend on our waterways being clean and healthy. Improving Delaware’s water quality is a strategic focus for Delaware Nature Society because clean water is critical to our economy, environment, wildlife, food source, and public health. Therefore, Delaware Nature Society, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, and Center for the Inland Bays are leading a campaign educating outdoor enthusiasts about the importance of investing in programs that will remove toxins from Delaware’s waterways, improve the water we drink and protect parks, open spaces, farms and wetlands.


Many of Delaware’s waterways are polluted due to failing infrastructure, population growth, and legacy contamination from chemicals, pesticides, and other harmful substances. While the state has made great strides to address our water quality impairments, there are still millions of dollars worth of projects and infrastructure that need to be funded. Delawareans resoundingly believe its residents and government can work together to improve the quality of our water. According to a recent poll with a maximum potential sampling error of only +/- 4.9%, 82% of Delawareans believe the pollution problem in Delaware’s waterways can be improved and think the State of Delaware can do more. To learn more about the Campaign visit our website or “Like” us on Facebook for more information on how you can show your support for clean water!

The lower Brandywine River in Wilmington.  Photo by Sally O'Byrne.

The lower Brandywine River in Wilmington. Photo by Sally O’Byrne.


Join Us June 2nd for Delaware’s Clean Water Rally!

The Clean Water Rally will be a celebration of the work that’s already been done in Delaware to improve water quality and illustrate the need for future projects. Supporters will have the opportunity to thank legislators that are supportive of clean water initiatives and ask other elected officials to join in our efforts. The Clean Water Rally will include vendors, information on our Clean Water Campaign, music, food, and a short program featuring some of our state’s strongest clean water leaders. We believe the best way for residents to show their support for dedicated funding of clean water is to share their personal story of how water is important to them-whether they be a parent, grandparent, business owner, pet owner, hunter, fisherman, etc.

We’re excited to see you on the Dover Green in front of Legislative Hall on June 2, 2015 10:30-12:30pm to show support for clean water! Meeting with legislators are optional and would take place 1:00pm-4:00pm. Delaware Nature Society will offer carpooling options leaving from our Ashland and Abbott’s Mill Nature Centers. In order to receive your FREE T-shirt, carpool, and registration packet, please register with Delaware Nature Society.