Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Native Plant and Wildlife Gardening Classes in September!

This September, my wife and I will each teach a class through the Missoula County Public Schools Lifelong Learning Center.  We each taught classes last year; Marilyn taught a class on composting, and I taught one on native bees and building a native solitary nesting bee box
A successful class!
We both enjoyed teaching such wonderful and engaged students so much, we will be back!
This time, on September 15, I will be teaching a one evening class on gardening for wildlife, obviously one of my favorite topics!
Here is the description of the class from the Lifelong Learning Center's website:
  • Do you want to create a sustainable landscape that attracts and encourages wildlife? If so, join David as he teaches you to provide all the features to draw birds, butterflies and other wildlife to your garden. This is a one night class where you will discuss the various components of creating an oasis for you and for wildlife in your garden.
Native plants attract insects!

Two days later (on September 17), Marilyn, one of the best native plant botanists in the state, will teach about native plants in the fall, how to plant, what to plant and how to identify.  What a great native plant and wildlife garden week!
Fall colors in the native plant garden
Here is a description of her class from the Lifelong Learning Center Website:
  • Who says it’s time to put your garden to rest? With the right plants and methods, fall is the prime time to create a beautiful color landscape. By using native plants (perennials, shrubs and trees) your fall garden will look beautiful for you and for birds getting ready to spend winter in Montana. We'll discuss plants with late blooms, leaves of all colors, and which shrubs bear interesting fruits and pods. We'll also talk about fall planting methods and how much to tidy up the garden for winter.
To register click here.

Hope to see you at one of these classes!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Spontaneous Construction '15 is almost here!

SponCon's coming!  This year celebrates over ten years of Spontaneous Construction, Home ReSource's annual festival of creative reinvention.  

It is my favorite event of the year- a day devoted to building something with materials found at Home ReSource.  A day when all I have on my calendar is to build something with our team.  And this year, our team (Butterfly Properties) will have our missing teammate Barry back!  We were the first team to register. 

Every year is a struggle to build something in the allotted time; seven hours goes by really quickly.  Each year we endeavor to make something smaller and quicker.  That never works.  Just the other day, Barry and I were discussing a couple of project ideas for SponCon, and he suggested we build both.  At first I laughed, but then I said, "sure".  We both figure fun is secondary, work comes first.

It is always a good opportunity to see  Barry (he lives in Idaho, and we don't see each other as much as when he lived in Montana).  So on September 19, we will get to stand next to each other, and work side by side all day, probably without any breaks, wearing hearing protection and eye protection, and not mutter a single sentence to each other.  Then at the end of the day, we will say how exhausted we are and how much fun we had together.  WTF?  Maybe we need a new hobby.
Team Butterfly Properties, circa 2011
Team Butterfly Properties:
Marilyn:  Work site custodial engineer, public outreach coordinator, chief information officer, paint application specialist (if necessary)
Marilyn, paint application specialist, inspects her work.  Acceptable!
Barry: Chief Welding Operation Officer, Chancellor of Fabrications, Woodworker
Barry at his happiest.  Getting it done.
David (me):  designer, vice welder,  woodworker, field marshal, resourcing logistician
No time to smile for the camera
So, what will we build?  We don't know yet, but it will be for the garden!
In the last four years our creations have been finalists, and we were fortunate to take home the grand prize in 2012.  All of our projects have used junk inventory from Home ReSource, be we especially endeavor to use stuff that otherwise does not sell well or at all.

 a garden table and chairs made from garden tools, 

Come down and see us and the other contestants on September 19, but you will have to talk to Marilyn, the chief information offcer, because Barry and I will be too busy catching up with each other.
Barrry and me: 7 hours of building side by side and never said a word to each other.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Little Free Library #12129

Little Free Library #12129 is in action!  This has been on my project list for over a year, and I am glad to get it crossed off.

I love the idea of the Little Free Library, and I wanted to participate and spread the word, but I have no idea how or of it will get used.  But really, I like building things.

The Little Free Library organization has a wonderful mission:
  • "To promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide.  To build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations."
I also I really like that they encourage reuse in building libraries and initially all the libraries were built with recycled materials.

Like most of my garden projects, I made this from materials that were reused or re-purposed and all form Home ReSource.  Mostly these are leftovers from the chicken coop construction, and it shares a lot of similar style and materials.
A unique feature to this little library is the green roof.  On it I planted spearleaf sedum (Sedum lanceolatum), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and pussytoes (Antennaria rosea).

The library is surrounded by flowers now, but will be a nice bit of structure and a focal point in the garden yearlong.  It is perched on a fence post, just across the sidewalk from a bench we installed years ago.  This also reminds me that I really need to complete building the fence!

I love that the Little Free Library package comes with labels reminding people that these books are "always a gift, never for sale"
I want this library to have a garden and landscaping theme, and these are the books I started with.  Books ranging from chicken keeping to western landscaping and butterfly identification (of course).
Last night, the first night the library was in use, I heard some neighbors checking it out.  I was glad for that, but also (I have to admit) a little concerned!
However, I was so excited and delighted to look in the library this morning and see new books!  Not only did a neighbor leave new books, but they also fit the theme.
This was so gratifying and it really emphasized to me how a Little Free Library can build a sense of community, just like their mission.  I didn't expect to be so excited and surprised that someone would leave books (even though the motto is "Take a book, return a book").  
Without much of an explanation of a Little Free Library, people get it.  It is exciting to be part of this and to see that it's working. 
If you are in the neighborhood, please come by to take a book or leave a book!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Butterfly Properties Garden Tour!

Marilyn and I have been garden coaches in Missoula since about 2009 (Butterfly Properties).  Garden coaching is just what it sounds like: helping people identify garden goals and then helping them achieve those goals in a step-wise strategy.

Our favorite part about garden coaching is seeing how excited people get by transforming their yards from something generic to something beautiful that suits their personal vision and needs. It is inspirational to see! And now we want to share the inspiration with you, via the Inaugural Butterfly Properties Native Plant Garden Tour!

Four of our clients agreed to open their yards for the tour. We think that if you live in western Montana and are interested in native plant gardening for beauty, personal enjoyment, wildlife habitat and resource reduction, you will enjoy seeing these projects. You’ll probably get some ideas and meet some new friends. 

JOIN US!  Click here to RSVP on the Facebook event, or contact us by email by clicking here.

Inaugural Butterfly Properties Client Native Plant Garden Tour!

Date:  Sunday, June 28, 12-4 pm

Location: Begin and end at Butterfly Properties World Headquarters, 1750 South 8th Street
West, between Catlin and Garfield on 8th Street

Tour Description:

Join us as we tour four of our clients’ gardens: gardens envisioned and created by people just like you. Each garden is different: different stages of maturity, different goals, and different site considerations. But what do they have in common? Using native plants to create personal, beautiful spaces for people and wildlife to share.

We’ll meet at our house to hand out maps, meet each other and set up carpooling options. We’ll visit each garden as a group, and hear from the gardeners.  We hope this tour will become a regular event. It is an opportunity to get ideas, inspiration, and motivation and to meet like-minded gardeners.

We will conclude with a social and a recap form at our garden. We will probably have some native plants to give away, too.

Tentative Schedule:

12:00 Meet at 1750 S. 8th St. W. (Butterfly Properties World Headquarters) for map and carpooling

12:45- 1:15 “Downtown Secret Sanctuary”

1:30- 2:00 “Fun Family Space Garden”

2:15- 2:45 “Natural Playground and Family Compound”

3:00-3:30 “Bury the Evidence”

3:30- Social at Butterfly Properties World Headquarters!

Garden Descriptions

12:45- 1:15 Downtown Secret Sanctuary
Our Front Street yard is our sanctuary in the making, a secret garden in the downtown area. For years it was a blank canvas for which we had no vision. Its evolution has been equal parts planned (thanks to Butterfly Properties) and organic creativity. The yard has some unique features that we have tried to use to the best advantage of the garden and which help make it a fun place to explore. There’s a steep hill with a shady grove at the bottom, a sunny ledge near the house, and some structural elements we’ve tried to connect to the garden. We’ve incorporated pathways, dog friendly spots, vegetables, and low-water areas.We are excited to be a part of the Butterfly Properties garden tour, to share our progress and see the cool ways people are designing their yards.

1:30- 2:00 Fun Family Spaces

A year ago we were stuck on what to do with our large, flat, square backyard that contained a small deck, eight huge vegetable planters and far too much weedy, dry lawn. We had almost no gardening experience, and the little we had was in a tiny yard in England.  We wanted to use the space for outdoor eating, for kids to plan and explore, to relax with a book or chat with friends on warm evenings. We also wanted to reduce the time and water inputs required to maintain the vast lawn. Since we met with Marilyn and David last summer, we've planned out spaces for eating, playing, lying in the hammock and socializing. We've removed half the lawn; laid what feels like acres of weed matting and mulch; planted some initial shrubs; built a small sandbox and added a climbing structure; and, most recently, dug a large hole and turned the dirt into a hill. We're very much “in-progress,” but the space has already been transformed – there’s increasing variety and plenty more to come. One real benefit of making drastic changes like removing 1200 sq ft of grass and moving 10 yards of dirt is that it definitely makes the prospect of further changes seem quite manageable.

2:15-2:45 Natural Playground and Family Compound

Our "garden" is actually our entire lot, and now expanding into Lisa's mom's backyard next door. We have a food and cut flower garden and some native plant beds out front but most of our energy and time is spent in our back yard right now. We began working on our landscape plan in 2008! We were initially looking to add some interesting landscape design and start experimenting with natives. At first, we worried if we were keeping enough lawn for our needs, but now we are always thinking about which sections of sod to remove next. The biggest challenge for us is always removing sod--that first sod cutter experience was a marriage test! But with each year we are inspired to keep the project going. Our yard is used for many things including privacy in an urban setting, family gathering space, growing some food, and creating wildlife habitat. Lisa is exploring how the yard can become a testing ground for preschool playground ideas. We want to have a back yard that draws our kids outside and can keep them busy in imaginary play for hours where they can run back and forth between our house and Grandma's.

3:00- 3:30 Bury the Evidence

We wanted a beautiful but low maintenance front yard that let us focus energy on vegetable gardening instead of lawn care. It makes me happy to work in the garden, and it makes me even happier when the garden returns the favor with food. I love vegetable gardening and this is my first stab at working with natives. We started our garden project last June with a visit from David and Marilyn. Their enthusiasm threw us into several weeks of sod cutting, rolling, and Craigslisting. That was followed by mounding loads and load of soil (including our entire compost pile, accidentally stealing rocks from our neighbor, and a deep well I was conveniently digging for our egress window). The project culminated with my mom flying in from Detroit to help me plant all our fresh starts, only to break both of her legs the night we completed the work. We decided that would be a good point to wrap things up for the season.  Our favorite thing about the garden is the mounds David suggested. Not only do they make the neighbors think that we're a little off, but they look really cool with snow on them in the winter when you can't see all the plant babies. Countless neighbors and bike commuters have gone by and made a crack about what we're hiding under the mounds. A mother-in-law? The last person who asked? Cats? You name it.  Removing the sod was ridiculously hard work, but David's method worked like a charm. Not one blade of grass has sprung up. This season we are finding out who survived the winter, learning to identify the native plants, and probably filling in with some new additions.

Finale: Social at the Butterfly Properties World Headquarters

Our garden goals are to use only Missoula area native plants to create places for wildlife and for us. We also think it is important to only water what we eat. Our yard is arranged into a series of rooms- laundry, cooking, dining, potting, and more.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Make a Bee House Class Follow-Up

I had a lot of fun talking about native plants, native insects that use them, and our native pollinators at the Make a Bee House Class I taught last week through the Missoula County Public Schools Lifelong Learning Center.   
Twelve people participated in the class, some had never used a drill, others had never really thought there was a difference between a bald faced hornet, western yellow jacket, European paper wasp, etc… but all were eager to learn and excited about native bees!

Everyone had great questions and I think were pretty excited to install their houses and see who shows up.  I hope people keep me posted about their boxes.  I also know most were eager to build more.  Like I mentioned in the class, if nothing else building the bee houses and watching them is a great way to learn about out native bees and other insects.  

Ultimately the class made 14 boxes, and only a little blood was shed.   

I got all the materials at my favorite building material reuse center, Home ReSource, including Douglas fir 4x4" and 4x6" for the boxes, cedar shakes and tin ridge cap for the roofs, cedar fence boards for the backs and a variety of nails and screws to fasten it all together.  Home ReSource has it all.

This just in....I just got an email from Cate from the class showing where she installed her bee house- right next to her vegetable garden!  Beautiful!
Marilyn, my wife, made a box too (she was a test subject for the class; she survived), and this one will be installed at the Native Plant Garden at 8th and Grant this Thursday when we do a spring cleaning, and weeding of this neighborhood native plant garden.   Everyone is welcome to attend, and we will even be giving out free native plants!  See I was able to turn this post into a plea for help!  Here is a link to the event page with more information, but you can just show up at 8th and Grant, at 6pm on Thursday (April 30), ready for an hour or so of light work in this little garden.  Bring gloves and your favorite weeding tool if you have one.

This box is heading to the Native Plant Garden at 8th and Grant!
The idea of ground nesting bees interested a lot of people and prompted some discussion of what we can do for them (since they comprise the majority of our native bees), and I thought I would pass a long some timely information.  One was a recent blog post on how to provide habitat for native ground nesting bees from my favorite native plant and insect personality, Heather Holm of Restoring the Landscape with Native Plants, and author of Pollinators of Native Plants.  Be sure to follow her on Facebook, and any other social media you can.  And buy her book.  She is a wealth of information on native plants and insects, and a fantastic artist, graphic designer, educator and landscape designer! 

The other experience with ground nesting bees came to me yesterday (unexpectedly) when I was hunting in a snow storm in the mountains east of Missoula.  As I was sitting under a ponderosa pine escaping the cold and wet snow, a bumblebee came buzzing by me visiting some flowering lupines and other snow covered plants.  I immediately thought of how I explained to the class that our native bees will tolerate a much wider range of temperatures and conditions than Eurasian honeybees.  So I took out my phone to get a picture of a bumblebee pollinating flowers in the snow.  Then the bee landed on a patch of bare ground and started furiously digging, probably a excavating nesting burrow.  I captured this action on camera:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A flower a day

Biscuitroot (Lomatium ambiguum)
Follow me on Instagram (montanawildlifegardener) where I am trying to post a picture each day of a species that is flowering in our garden.  I say "try" because we have over 100 species of Missoula area native plants and their flowering time has a lot of overlap.  It has been easy for the last week or so as things are just getting started.  Here are a few examples from this week...
Shooting star (Dodecatheon conjugens)

Golden currant (Ribes aureum)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014 Cat of the Year, Voting is Open!

It is that time of the year again, to step away from the garden, from birding, and from re-purposing projects to focus on our family. More importantly, to recognize the contributions of some exceptional individuals.

2014 has seen a change in personnel in the Marler- Schmetterling household. Natalie, our once big and faithful cat, passed away in July. However, Natalie, the (undeserving) 2012 Cat of the Year did complete more than the requisite .5 of the year, so she (according to the official rules) is eligible this year for competition. Our newest acquisition, Winston, a re-purposed, recycled Persian, will not be eligible for the title this year, but we included his statistics below for consideration for 2015.
After the voting in 2013, it was brought to our attention, that Miles, our wire-haired chihuahua is not a cat.  Following some research, careful observation and consideration, we concurred.  Therefore, miles will not be eligible for the title of the 2014 Cat of the Year.
Don't feel too bad for Miles, he had a good year.  He has explored a lot of mountain lakes and even met the governor.
In addition to adopting Winston, in 2013 we were the high bidders at the Missoula County Fair's livestock auction for these three chickens. Not just any chickens, but the grand champion layers! All three are Rhode Island Reds, and they are named Winnie, and the other two.
Verdict: not cats
So the 2014 Cat of the Year title comes down to a classic showdown between two former champions, two heavyweights: Alex vs Natalie for the crown.


He is hard to photograph.
Alex is the defending 2013 Cat of the Year and also winner  by a landslide in 2009, defeating not only Natalie, but Squeak and Junebug (a two time champion herself).  The prestige and glory of his victory never changed how he goes about his day.  He has retained his unassuming nature, almost as if he was unaware of his victory.
Since Natalie’s passing, Alex, the once aloof weird cat we adopted, has become affectionate and cuddly. It has been quite a transformation. In a strange turn of events, he is the most normal pet we have now. I never would have guessed it. We have long sought a playmate for Alex, especially since Squeak, his only friend, died in 2010. Alex enjoys playing the classic games like "Hit," "Bite" and "Chase."  Since Squeak left, no one plays with him. We looked for months for a young male cat with whom he could play and bond. So we got him Winston. (Whoops. More on that later.) But, being his Alex self, he doesn't mind. He is completely unflappable.  He has seen worse, he was hoarded.

Age: 15+

Weight: 6 lbs 12 oz, holding steady (down 1 oz in a year).

Background: Innocent victim of a hoarder. A Bitterrooter, he was at Bitterroot Humane Association's Hamilton shelter for 2 years because no one wanted to adopt an adult black cat. We adopted him in summer of 2007 as a friend for Natalie.  Until her last breath she thought of him as her mortal enemy and nemesis.  Alex loved her.  We are not very good at match making.
Health: chronic warts (cancer), good health otherwise, no signs of pain and has never complained.

On a recent trip to the vet (the amazing Dr. Z at Animal Blessings) his diagnosis was “Aging.”

Accomplishments in 2014: Sits on my chest while I am reading. Improved cuddly-ness.


Natalie's one true friend, the mountain lion rug.
Oh Natalie, our once big and faithful cat withered in 2014. Whereas she once possessed great stomp and vigor, her age betrayed her.

Age:  19

Weight:  She was big boned.  In her heyday, she was well over 18 lbs.  Through some dieting and excercise (read: mandatory lifestyle change) she maintained her weight around 13 lbs.  Sadly, toward the end, she was below 6 lbs.

Accomplishments: Retained her mighty purr until her final day. Also retained her ill will toward Alex and disdain for Dr. Z, her mortal enemy, yet savior.  They have a complicated relationship. Good sleeper.  Liked to help with crafts, but not new for 2014.
Though not a new skill in 2014, Natalie liked to help with sewing projects.


Good lord. We thought we had seen it all. He is a nice guy, but something is wrong with this cat.
Thanks to inbreeding, his face is too small for his tongue.
Winston spends all day sleeping on the northwest corner of our bed. That is, until he RUNS into the kitchen and drinks approximately one gallon of water and sits there for about an hour. Then he RUNS to the bathroom, where he, wait for it… pees and poops in the bathtub. Yep. That is how he rolls. 

All things considered, this "litterbox" strategy is pretty good and if nothing else, consistent.  We have had to deal with worse (Junebug, the 2010 and 2011 Cat of the Year). It could be he is very environmentally conscience and eschews clay based cat litter. Kudos to him for that. However, we use a wheat based cat litter and provided him with two boxes for his exclusive use..

He snores.  Loud.  Obviously.

A classic profile.

The good news is that he eats dry food.  And wet food.  And Miles' dog food.  And even rejected dog food.
He doesn't really interact with us or the other pets. He is really lazy and apart from his running to pee, running to drink, and running to eat, all he does is sleep. He only uses the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. He has no interest in visiting the rest of the house, nor greeting us, nor sitting on our lap, nothing. He does spend a lot of time grooming, but I think he is doing it wrong. He gets his fur soaking wet (this is probably where all the water he drinks goes), and then promptly rolls over for a 15 hour nap. A warm, moist, sleep. He is in fact felting his coat.

Age: 9

Weight:7 lbs

Health: treating him for chronic diarrhea. He has some teeth. His tongue sticks out of his mouth all the time. Just plain weird.  Seriously, there has got to be something wrong with him.

Other tidbits:  Nothing fazes him.  He is he afraid of nothing.

UPDATE:  since I started writing this, Winston has switched from sleeping on the northwest corner of the bed, to underneath the bed on top of a backpack.  So basically, what we have now is a cat that lives under our bed and poops in our bathtub.  Awesome.

Vote now!  Voting is open until Dec 31, 5:00 pm!
If you are using a mobile device, scroll to the bottom and select "View web version" and cast your vote on the right hand tool bar.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Trailer Mover

Beyond plants in the garden we have a lot of structure- trellises, outbuildings (greenhouse, tool closet, chicken coop, grill shed) and even our camper.  The camper makes a delightful addition as a little "guest house" in our backyard when we are not in the mountains or prairies camping.  People often ask how we get our camper in the garden tongue-first (as opposed to backing it in, the conventional way).  

That is a good question. After some research, I purchased a "heavy duty" trailer dolly Like the one below (I don't have a picture of mine anymore, because I cut it up for scrap and reused some parts of it).
Not my photo, don't buy one of these.
Not surprisingly these are all made in China, and since I don't buy anything new from China,  (A little sidebar, this reminds me I need to update this buy nothing from China project, it has been almost two years since I began that endeavor, but I digress...) I was able to find one used.  I was a little dubious about the quality, but people swore by them.  The first time I used it I noticed a lot of flexing, so I strengthened it with some welds and bolstered it in a few places with some steel supports.  This seemed to help the rigidity and it seemed to transfer torque and force to the matter at hand.
Nevertheless, I wasn't really satisfied with it.   Those trailer dollies probably work really well on a level compacted surface (like a concrete driveway) but going from our alley into our garden was a two or three person job.

Unfortunately, it was usually me and my wife struggling to move it, which usually lead to the trailer going where it was supposed to, but also involved an argument (probably my fault). So I figured I could find a better way to do this and I could probably build something that would make it a one person job.  After some searching online for dolly plans, I found plans to make a battery powered trailer mover.  The plans came in either heavy duty or light duty plans.  I went with the heavy duty.

It turned out to be a really fun project and very enjoyable, and even a little challenging.  But best of all, it works!  And it looks cool.  And it was fun to build.  And it helped save our marriage.  
The skeleton of the mover.
The mover uses a 12V winch you modify to accept a sprocket. The winch turns a HUGE sprocket on the axle connected to the front wheels (those big lawn tractor tires). From a welding and fabrication standpoint, it was a really fun project.  Did I mention that already?
The completed mover.
It is slow, but it could probably move a house.  In retrospect, I could have probably gotten away with the gearing or the smaller front tires from the lighter duty model. But I would definitely recommend the rear tire configuration of the heavy duty model for traveling over uneven surfaces (the light duty model uses swiveling casters).
Hooked up the the trailer- a thing of beauty.
Here it is hooked up to my trailer before I bring it into the garden through the removable fence panel.
Easily making the 90 degree turn from the alley into our backyard.
Moving the trailer is now a one person job. It is really easy to maneuver over rough ground, and even in mud.  The motor (the winch) is controlled by a remote switch I mounted to the handle, so you can toggle forward and backward with your thumb.  Turning the mover (and trailer) is easily done with the long handle.
Now moving the camper is a one person job.
I was able to get a lot of the components for it from Home ReSource (some steel, wheels, and hardware), and used parts (like the winch) online, and even from cutting up the original dolly! I was able to get a pretty big used (made in the USA) gel battery for it from the Axman, for only $45.  On a single charge I was able to move the trailer back and forth from the garden to the alley all spring, summer and fall.  Since it is a gel battery, I don't have to worry about it in the winter, which is good, because I just wanted to leave it outside.