Love is in the Air

It’s confirmed: not one but two beavers reside in the Arboretum’s wetland. Known as a “colonial couple,” this pair is most likely awaiting the arrival of its first litter sometime in the spring. Beavers can produce two or three litters of one to ten kits in a season, making for quite a large family. 

Two beavers! Look closely…they’re in there! Photo by Kathy Thornton.

Given the limited size of a beaver lodge, perhaps it’s fortunate that beaver kits can swim and dive at only two weeks. At six weeks, they’ll begin to nibble on grasses. Kits will be fully mature and ready to move out on their own after two years. 

Historically, beaver kits were prey to coyotes, wolves, and mountain lions. With the disappearance of many large predators from our region, kits are more likely than ever to reach adulthood, at which point crossing the road will pose their greatest threat.

Beavers mate for life and have strong family units. With this in mind, what better way to keep the spirit of Valentine’s Day in the air than by taking a walk along the Arboretum’s wetland?  While there, be sure to congratulate Ma and Pa Beaver on their imminent arrivals.

by Jenny Houghton, Assistant Director
with input from Nathan Simmons, Chesapeake Conservation Corps intern

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Funshine Facelift

If you have visited our children’s garden recently, you may have noticed that it looks more like a construction zone than a cute play space. That’s because (with permission from staff) Chesapeake Conservation Corps fellow Emily Castle is in the process of implementing a new design plan for her Chesapeake Bay Trust-funded capstone project. Aligning with the mission of cultivating an educational and interactive nature play space, Emily’s plans have a permaculture twist.

The Funshine Garden prior to its permaculture revamp.

Permaculture is a systems-thinking approach to landscape design that emphasizes working with nature’s patterns to address human needs. Rather than focusing on the inclusion of particular plants and objects in a garden, a permaculture designer looks at how features will relate to one another to create a healthy, sustainable, and interconnected whole. A familiar iteration of permaculture design is a food forest; however, a distinctive plan reveals itself for every landscape.

Plans for the Funshine Garden include a central mandala garden composed of hugelkultur-style raised beds. Hugelkultur (pronounced ‘hOOgull-culture’ if you’re American) is a German word that describes the practice of burying logs beneath planting beds for a source of nutrients and water. Surrounding the mandala will be sheet-mulched beds growing native plant guilds (i.e., mutualistic combinations of species). These guilds will comprise plants chosen for their edible, wildlife-supporting, and sensory value to children. 

Designated play areas both within and outside the garden will be devoted to such built structures as a labyrinth, a small water feature, a mud kitchen, balancing logs, and a willow den. In this way, different types of play, such as loose parts, imaginative, reflective, social, and explorative, will be encouraged. The end result: a permaculture playground.

So far, three workdays have been held with a team of volunteers. The bulk of the work will happen throughout the spring and summer before Emily departs in August. If you are interested in becoming involved, contact Volunteer Coordinator Martha Sullivan at msullivan@adkinsarboretum.org or Emily Castle at ecastle@adkinsarboretum.org or 410-634-2847, ext 21.

Beginning February 27, Earth Wisdom is a new homeschool educational program offered to 13- to 16-year-olds who wish to delve more deeply into permaculture concepts. Students will practice creating their own ecological design concepts and will engage in hands-on activities in the children’s garden. This program is limited to 15 students; click here for more information and to register.

More on Mr. Nibbles

Mr. Nibbles, the Arboretum’s resident beaver, is well on his way to earning the alternate nickname of “Chainsaw.” Not content with his efforts to dam up the drain that connects our wetland to the Lower Blockston Branch, Nibbles has built an impressive lodge further upstream, complete with an adjacent flotilla of sticks for good eating throughout the winter months.

So far, Adkins Arboretum is sticking to its “live and let live” philosophy. Preventative measures against complete deforestation of the wetland include wrapping our most valued trees in chicken wire. Despite the destruction that beavers cause, they are an important keystone species. The pond habitats that their dams create provide habitat for a host of other wildlife.

To see signs of Mr. Nibbles’ activities—if not the elusive beaver himself—walk by the pyramid-shaped weir located at the edge of the wetland. Each week, Chesapeake Conservation Corps interns and the Arboretum’s Land Steward remove beaver-chewed branches from the weir. A mound of these branches is steadily growing. You may also cross the members-only bridge by the parking lot and look to the left; Mr. Nibbles’ lodge and flotilla of branches will be on the far bank.

By Jenny Houghton
Photos by Kellen McCluskey

Introducing Mr. Nibbles

There’s a new kid in town. Mr. Nibbles, AKA Chainsaw, moved to Adkins Arboretum last spring. He’s slick, sly, and well groomed. He’s also a beaver.

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Beavers are motivated to build their dams by the sound of running water. In Mr. Nibbles’ case, that running water flows through a drainage system connecting our wetland to the Lower Blockston Branch. Damming this area has, in part, been responsible for elevating the water level.

In the past, similar attempts by beavers to transform the wetland were met with relocation strategies that led to tragic, unintended beaver fatalities. Under current leadership, and with the help of a motivated Chesapeake Bay Trust intern, measures are now being taken to protect the interests of both Mr. Nibbles and the Arboretum.

A few beaver facts:

  • Well-known for their industrious nature, beavers also have the dubious honor of being the largest rodents in North America.
  • The sound of running water dictates when and where a beaver builds its dam.
  • Dams are built with bark, sticks, and mud to change the course of streams and create ponds.
  • Lodges contain a nesting chamber and a chamber for sleeping, eating, and grooming.
  • Bedding is changed regularly
  • A ventilation shaft can be found in the top of the lodge.
  • A dam includes at least two water-filled tunnels for entering and exiting underwater.

Stay tuned for future updates on the progress of beaver mediation at Adkins Arboretum. To see Mr. Nibbles, visit the Arboretum’s wetland at dusk, when he is most likely to be active.

By Jenny Houghton
Assistant Director

Photo of Mr. Nibbles by CBT Chesapeake Conservation Corps Volunteer
Nathan Simmons

Eastern Gray Squirrel Observations

On a colorful fall day with some rainy drizzle, I sat watching two squirrels running down an eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and jumping onto an American beech (Fagus grandifolia), biting off small branches full of leaves, and running back up the tree as fast as they could climb. Back and forth—the two squirrels took turns and continued this behavior for several hours as they worked on their nest-building.

squirrel

American beech has always been one of my favorite landscape plants because of its winter interest: the leaves hold on to the tree all winter long.  Every spring, I enjoy trying to guess what day in the first week of April the leaves will finally fall off. Of course, these leaves would be excellent nest-building materials. Eastern squirrels will also use pine needles and white oak leaves if available, and squirrels, being social creatures, will share their nests during certain times of the year.

Another fun squirrel behavior is to see them use their bushy tail as an umbrella in the rain as they sit on a tree branch. A little rain does not keep them from being active and enjoying their habitat. This is a prime example of the importance of planting native trees for habitat.

by Robyn Affron
Visitor Services & Volunteer Coordinator