Over Eager: Newly returned beavers deal setbacks to local tree-planting efforts

The Tacony Creek, with evidence of trees damaged by beavers.The natural is often artificial in a city. It can take a lot of planning and work to get native species growing along the battered Tacony Creek, to keep the water unpolluted and the bed from getting scoured by runoff each time it rains. Thus it can be especially frustrating when a native animal foils your plans.
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Grave Garden

Story by Bernard Brown, photos by Jen BrittonMaybe you believe toward the end of October the wall between the dead and the living weakens a bit — a fine reason to hang out in a cemetery. Maybe you love autumn. The landscape of orderly stone, soft grass and falling leaves is the perfect place to enjoy the season. And maybe, like me, you figure this is a fine time to search for your own dead and see what might be living above them.
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Fields of Dreams: It’s tempting to believe in the dangerous illusion of biomass energy

You may have read articles—perhaps even in Grid—touting biofuels as a viable source to meet our energy needs. However, the science of biofuels points to one conclusion: They just don’t work.

The key concept is energy return on investment. Agrifuels—fuels derived from monocrops like corn or sugar—barely produce more energy than it takes to develop them. It takes at least three-quarters of a gallon of oil to produce a gallon of corn ethanol, reports the nonprofit Post Carbon Institute in their Energy Bulletin. This margin of energy is far too small to enable us to substitute agrifuels for nonrenewable fossil fuels. Without Congressional subsidies, largely going to corporate giants such as ADM and ConAgra to support their profits by boosting the price of corn, ethanol as fuel falls on its face. The petroleum needed to produce ethanol precludes independence from imported oil.

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Seize the Carp: Local aquatic ecosystems threatened by wall-to-wall carp eating

story by Bernard BrownOne nice thing about snorkeling in Philadelphia rivers is that you generally don’t have to think about sharks (the occasional, adventurous bull shark notwithstanding). But carp scare me, or at least startle me. More than once I have been nearly shocked out of my flippers by carp (which average the size of my leg) emerging from deep murky holes and lumbering past in the water. From land, I have studied the surface of more than one fetid Philadelphia pond for evidence of turtles and found my eyes drawn to something huge, rooting around in the shallows. Not a turtle…what the hell? A carp? 
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Mood Indigo: Growing blueberries is easy as pie

story by Char VandermeerI once took great pleasure in planning my flowering container garden. My imagination brimmed with bright annuals as I sketched plans and gathered supplies. I spent countless hours paging through seed catalogs, agonizing over varieties and colors, flowering times, watering requirements, height, greenery, grasses, vines and heaven knows what else. Although I’m still a sucker for a clump of bright cosmos, these days I’m all about eating what I grow. And if I only have to plant it once, even better.
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Kill Your Java Jacket: The insulating coffee sleeve and the damage done

I don’t go to coffee shops that often, but I’m obsessed with the waste they generate. (Okay, I’m obsessed with the waste everyone generates).  ¶  Coffee shops are big business, and, as such, one with a big footprint. But it’s also an industry with a reasonable shot at attaining nearly zero waste, at least on the retail end—very little that goes into making coffee can’t be easily reduced/reused/recycled.

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Battle of the Bugs: It's critter warfare out there

Beetles, worms, ants and aphids, oh my! I’m convinced that because my Pennsport deck is home to the only vegetables within, oh, most of the neighborhood, every pest in the ’hood sees my garden as an oasis of tastiness. Last year’s battles included all the garden-variety bugs you’d expect, plus whiteflies, cabbage loopers and brown marmorated stink bugs
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Urban Naturalist: Shell Game - Now you see the bog turtle—tomorrow you might not.

"You’re too cute to hate,” I told the hockey puck-sized black turtle as it clawed at me to get down and craned its neck to bite my hand. Biting is cute when the critter is round, helpless and has big, black eyes. Unfortunately, cute doesn’t count for much when you’re holding up development. The bog turtle (classified under the Endangered Species Act as “threatened”), like the desert tortoise in Southern California, is one of those species that gets in the way. If you’re a retiring farmer looking to cash out by selling your land to a developer, a little turtle hiding in marshy, overgrown fields seems like a ridiculous obstacle.

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Shoots & Ladders: Pestilence! There are big meanies out to destroy your precious little plants. There are ways to fight back.

One of the upsides to container gardening is that crops are less likely to succumb to soil-borne illnesses. Unlike traditional farmers and gardeners, container gardeners have the option of starting with fresh, sterile soil each year. If last year’s crops lost the battle against blights, wilts or mildews, then it’s smart to ditch the dirt, sterilize some containers, and start anew. Sadly, that’s rarely enough to keep a garden hale and hearty—every year, it seems as though my garden gets hit with one affliction or another, despite the clean dirt. Prevention is paramount, but when that doesn’t work, witches’ brews and sacrifices to the garden gods are in order.

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Science Friction: When your heart says heirloom, but your brain says hybrid.

I confess. I judge books by their covers. I’ll happily lay down an extra couple of dollars for the bottle of wine with the well-designed label. And yes, this unfortunate tendency extends to my little garden. For the past several years, containers sprouting heirlooms with awesome names (Mr. Stripey, Dragon’s Egg, Boothby’s Blonde, Painted Lady) and gorgeous packaging have taken up every available inch of dirt. Alas, the packaging often seems to be better than the yield.

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You Snake! Go a few rounds with the feisty, bite-y (and harmless) garter

I have many photographs of garter snakes attacking. Some are biting my hand. The others are going after the camera, their pink mouths open wide and ready to do battle. I am usually trying for a more peaceful composition, but garter snakes are fighters—they don’t sit there passively while a monster lifts them way off the ground and points a giant, shiny eye at them.

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