What is this Project

About the Project
When COVID shelter-in-place hit, I was lucky. I got to continue to work, but from home. It became all too easy to become stuck in front of my computer for hours on end, so I very quickly added outdoor lunch breaks in my backyard. I decided I'd work on my birding "yard list", and then as spring took hold, started noticing all of the insects, especially hover flies. Before long, I decided I'd try to document 365 animal species in the course of the next year.

I talk about this journey and many of the interesting "discoveries" in this talk for the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority . I already feel like I need an update because since April I've discovered at least 30 new species, including this really fun gall:

https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/78310668

About the Yard
My yard is typical suburban disrupted habitat. We have a large concrete driveway in the front, with a small grass patch. The back is concrete patio, grass patch, and perimeter raised garden beds. The only trees we have are non-native Italian Cypress, Citrus, and Privets. We have many non-native rose bushes and ornamental flowers. And yes, a few native plants. More later...

I'm a big believer in native plants and the importance of native plants in our properties. Turf grass, which by-and-large is a mismanaged monoculture, takes up as much land area as the state of Florida in the USA. Anything we can do to reduce that impact is a good thing. So, I don't use pesticides aside from protecting my home from termites. I don't use herbicides or fungicides. I rarely use fertilizers, and usually only in my containers.

As for improving the plant life, when we moved in I planted a Frangula californica, aka California Coffeeberry. This was the best decision I made for the garden. During peak days in the spring I can usually identify up to 30 species of insects using it in various ways. I'm sure it would be more if I literally monitored it all day.

I've added some buckwheat, milkweed, California poppies, and yarrow which also helps. Unfortunately, in my naivety, I purchased "tropical milkweed", which isn't native, and grows year-round in our climate. It can become diseased, support year-round aphids (and honeydew) which can help spread pathogens to monarchs. There is a lot of debate, bordering on religious wars, on whether tropical milkweed is good or bad in California. And after consulting with experts who have looked at the studies, I've come to the conclusion that it is a net benefit IF managed properly. In my case, I have great populations of aphid eaters which controls the honeydew and pathogen propagation. And I cut back the plants in late autumn, eliminating the year-round growth. FWIW, I do plan to replace most with Narrowleaf Milkweed (native) which I'm sure will be even better.

I've noticed some "native-ish" ornamentals are also beneficial. For example, we have "Chocolate Flower", aka Lyre-leaf Greeneyes or more properly Berlandiera lyrata, native to west Texas and New Mexico, which the pollinators love. I don't see many insects using the leaves, however, as I see on true natives. But the low leafy growth provides cover for a lot of insects and arachnids.

I also grow a few vegetables and fruits each year (tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, strawberries, peppers) which draws in pollinators and a lot of the introduced insects and a few generalists. But these insects also provide food for our backyard wrens and bushtits.

I'd love to add more natives, but space and time are limited. I plan to chip-away at this by at least adding a couple natives each year. And we're in early planning to remove our front lawn - maybe this autumn?

Posted by naturesarchive naturesarchive, May 23, 2021 02:45 PM

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