Life in a Cubic Foot of My Lawn
January 31, 2020 3:27 AM   Subscribe

In March of 2018, freelance naturalist Charley Eiseman wondered what had neatly cut several goldenrod stems in his recently-returned-to-natural-state lawn, so he dug up a cubic foot of earth and waited to see what emerged.
posted by Johnny Wallflower (37 comments total) 82 users marked this as a favorite
Spoiler: a lot of bugs
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:56 AM on January 31 [11 favorites]

Fascinating, thanks for posting! I have shared this with my entomologist friends.
posted by daisyk at 5:02 AM on January 31

This is awesome. We moved out to some acreage a few years ago - much of it was pasture and one thing I hadn't really counted on was the maintenance that cutting a whole lot of grass requires. As a result, the natural-state areas get larger every year, though I keep a few paths mowed through them so I can walk around and see what's crawling or blooming. Next step would be to start eliminating the invasive stuff. Looking at you, privets.

Anyway - the result has been really gratifying, for reasons not least of which are that I don't have to cut as much. Lots of native bees, mantids, butterflies, and other things are all over it. The goldfinches take over when the thistle goes to seed, the whole 9 yards.

10/10, would neglect again.
posted by jquinby at 5:22 AM on January 31 [23 favorites]

This is really neat, thanks for posting it. It may inspire me to finally get around to a book that I've been meaning to pick up, The Forest Unseen by David George Haskell, in which he repeatedly visits and observes a one-square-meter patch of forest throughout a year.

It's pretty cool that he found a beetle "hasn't yet been officially documented in North America." It reminds me of a story from a couple years ago in about a Forest Service ranger in Arizona who was on a hike with his family when he found and documented a colorful rare beetle that had last been seen in 1976. He shared the photo using iNaturalist, and a beetle expert in Germany identified it.
posted by compartment at 5:43 AM on January 31 [3 favorites]

Related from a recent FPP I posted. This Belgian naturalist posted all the bugs he has found in his small garden - as well as tips on building an insect-friendly garden.
posted by vacapinta at 5:48 AM on January 31 [3 favorites]

Cool! - And I learned a new word, frass.
posted by carter at 6:03 AM on January 31 [4 favorites]

That is neat, and way more types of bugs than I would have guessed from such a small amount of soil.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:25 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]

Such a cool project. His new wild yard looks beautiful. If you like this, you might also enjoy the project photographer Joshua White made, A Photographic Survey of the American Yard. It's less scientific and more stylized, clearly owing a lot to Karl Blossfeldt.
posted by Drab_Parts at 6:52 AM on January 31 [2 favorites]

Gorgeous photographs... and I never expected to see so many Sesame Street characters.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 7:06 AM on January 31 [2 favorites]

that moth is crazy looking! i mean, everything that small is. But, i didn't think there were moths that held their wings like that.
posted by rebent at 7:26 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]

Also, it was interesting that he apparently documented a new invasive species:

…a so-called “pleasing fungus beetle,” Cryptophilus obliteratus (Erotylidae)—according to BugGuide this is an Asian species that has been in Europe since 1982 and hasn’t yet been officially documented in North America (guess I should have saved the specimen; oh well)…
posted by Dip Flash at 7:47 AM on January 31

Cool! - And I learned a new word, frass.

The child of friends really took a liking to that one: "Mommy, I have to frass."
posted by exogenous at 7:54 AM on January 31 [4 favorites]

Wonderful! Sent link to Botanizer Jr. who has both professional and avocational interest in the subject.
posted by Botanizer at 8:18 AM on January 31

Also, it was interesting that he apparently documented a new invasive species

How is it "invasive"?
posted by vacapinta at 8:23 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]

Holy smokes! They just kept coming and coming and coming.

Imagine being like a centimeter tall and being in there with ALL OF THEM.
posted by cocotine at 8:23 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]

Damn synchronicity, hours ago (not R'dTFA yet) I watched Opening a Mummy's Coffin - Objectivity #219 and learned "frass" while watching someone pick dead bugs out of a mummy.
posted by zengargoyle at 8:24 AM on January 31 [2 favorites]

I consulted the plume moth specialist, Debbie Matthews...

Deborah Matthews Lott (D.L. Matthews) is cool.
posted by pracowity at 9:05 AM on January 31

How is it "invasive"?

Thanks for catching that.

I read his comment to be saying that this species came from Asia, has established in Europe, and is now showing up in Massachusetts. Rereading, it is less clear to me what he is saying (ie, he could be saying it is native to North America but previously not identified, or something else entirely). If I could, I’d rephrase what I wrote as how it is interesting that he apparently identified a bug for the first time in North America, and leave it at that.

(There’s also the bigger question of whether or not “invasive” is an appropriate term in this context given the xenophobic baggage it carries; that is a topic that has been discussed here before. It’s still the standard term in practice but I won’t be surprised to see that shift over the next decade or two. In this context, even if my initial reading was correct, “non-native” or “introduced” would have been better options.)
posted by Dip Flash at 9:18 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]

Needs a trigger warning for giant pictures of spiders. I’m off to cement over my back garden now.
posted by w0mbat at 9:45 AM on January 31

Thanks so much for posting this! I am in year 2 of converting my Minneapolis yard to native prairie/food forest/vegetable garden, and I have been craving these types of before and after pictures. Re-wilding takes time, and during year 1 most of the change in my yard was happening below the ground, so I can’t wait to be able to see real progress like these guys! Sometimes I use the timeline slider on Google street view just to remind me how far my yard has come from the grass monoculture I started with.

Does anyone have any suggestions for websites/blogs/articles for other native planting before and after photos? I need this type of garden motivation to get me through two more months of winter. I am so envious of their hoop house.
posted by Maarika at 9:51 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]

Maarika - I often find myself looking at the pictures posted by seed companies for their wildflower/prairie mixes. Example, and another. They're just 'after' photos though.
posted by jquinby at 9:57 AM on January 31

Does anyone have any suggestions for websites/blogs/articles for other native planting before and after photos?

I assume you've looked at Prairie Moon? They're the best local natives nursery. Native Plants of the Midwest has some great before and afters.

You could also seek out some permaculture forums - they have aligned interests, but those people can be a little . . . intense about it all.
posted by Think_Long at 10:36 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]

I love the wild yard in concept but in practice the whole ticks situation terrifies me. He does not mention ticks anywhere in that post, or anywhere on the blog that I can find, how does he prevent ticks, which are horrible and everywhere.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:48 AM on January 31

god there are probably ticks on this post right now help
posted by poffin boffin at 10:48 AM on January 31 [6 favorites]

Wonderful but needed a scale.
posted by mareli at 10:52 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]

This is why it's important to introduce large flocks of tick-hungry chickens and possums into any rewilded lawn.
posted by mittens at 10:54 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]

He showed a dog tick.
posted by sjswitzer at 10:57 AM on January 31

And then he fed that tick to a chicken!
posted by foxfirefey at 11:01 AM on January 31 [3 favorites]

only the chickens can save us, i see this now
posted by poffin boffin at 11:40 AM on January 31 [5 favorites]

So you have a tick problem, and you buy some guinea fowl. Now you have 2 problems.
posted by jquinby at 12:14 PM on January 31 [3 favorites]

re: the term “invasive,” this describes a species that becomes established in a region/continent outside of their native range, and their behavior within those communities. Non-native species that establish in natural areas are generally considered invasive when they disrupt populations and dynamics of native species. Prominent examples in the eastern U.S.: garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) root exudates are allelopathic and can alter the soil microbial community and reduce germination and seedling recruitment of native flora; Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) shrubs proliferate rapidly in disturbed woodlands and can quickly shade out and deplete populations of native forbs.

Not all non-native species become invasive, and some native species have the potential to be nearly as detrimental: native sumacs (Rhus sp.) running roughshod through prairie habitats as a result of human disturbance and poor management is a growing problem in the Midwest.

Speaking from my specialty: non-native invasive plants in North America are typically Eurasian in origin, as the climates are similar enough to facilitate their proliferation. The reverse is true too! In Europe and Asia, the most damaging non-native species often come from North America. I think there’s an valuable discussion to be had about the words we use to describe these species, the terms “exotic” and “alien” are synonymous with “non-native.” Both carry obvious baggage and are used less often in the literature today. The term “invasive” is hauling around baggage of its own these days. A couple of ecologist friends who do public outreach and have had weird moments during a presentation where their use of the word invasive in reference to PLANTS inspired a really gross, xenophobic comment about HUMAN BEINGS from an audience member. We do need a word to describe it as an ecological concept, but it may behoove us to come up with an alternative to “invasive” if the term becomes completely inseparable from fascist political rhetoric.
posted by Ornate Rocksnail at 12:29 PM on January 31 [10 favorites]

From a Metafilter perspective the introduced plants that put local species at risk could be called colonizers.

English ivy is one of the bad ones on the West Coast; it can kill established Doug firs and redwoods, which is impressive but takes a looong time to fix. _Living Woods_ (British) hosted an argument IIRC that it needs to be heavily managed in the U.K. to preserve native trees there - that it was managed historically, and isn’t now mostly because ??.
posted by clew at 1:14 PM on January 31

"a sweet little jumping spider (Salticidae)" .. one of us is missing
posted by anadem at 9:05 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]

clew - I was asked to do a historic landscape assessment recently and English ivy had smothered and killed most of the trees that comprised said landscape. It's also a severe allergen and here - NZ - draws (introduced) wasps from miles around.
posted by unearthed at 11:01 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]

Thanks to you and Charley for reawakening my sense of wonder at the natural world. 🐛🕷️🦗 Also wanna be a freelance naturalist when I grow up.
posted by Rora at 10:48 AM on February 1

Bugs are just the best (except fruit flies). This is fabulous and exactly the sort of thing I would like to do at home, but rewilding is impossible when I don't have my own place - body corporate wouldn't like it.

Thankfully I have just discovered what I think is my new favourite YouTube channel: Crime Pays But Botany Doesn't. Excellent!
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:26 PM on February 2

I rented a place for a year and a bit where the previous, original, owners had lived there for 60+ years and had filled most of the front and back yards with shrubs, perennials, and re-seeding annuals. It was nice to look at and relatively low maintenance (just had to do some trimming and dead-heading) and there were so many bugs - there was one spot where we could keep still and butterflies would land on us. And because of the bugs there were so many birds. There were lots of raccoons too but they would be there regardless. We're in the process of doing something similar for our place and there'll be lots of gardening going on soon enough. I'm not entirely sure how my kids will deal with any increase in insects due to a "wilder" yard though. They seemed to be ok with all of the insects at the other house but they are also terrified by the small house spiders we have now.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:22 PM on February 6

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