Sunday, April 13, 2014

Winter quarters

Another few old photos; these are from last October.

Woodbug in rotting pine cone, with snail.

Every fall, I pile some of the current crop of pine cones underneath a potted cedar, to help keep the cold out. In a pot, without the insulation provided by the surrounding soil, a plant is more vulnerable to cold, so even when the plant itself is winter-hardy, I wrap and cover its pot.

Over the winter, the centers of the cones rot, liberating the seeds. Some of these sprout, but that's not the point. The tightly-closed cone becomes a mini-compost pile, its own heat source; even when the ground is frozen hard, the center of the cone stays cool and moist. So it's a winter home for the small animals that don't necessarily go into stasis during these months.

Several times during the cold weather, I bring in a few cones and break them up to see who's living there. There are always a fair number, all wide awake.

In this batch, I found several snails, a family of woodbugs, a few baby slugs, earthworms, two species of springtails, millipedes, and one plant louse. Smaller things scuttled and slithered out of sight as fast as I broke off the scales of the cone; probably more 'pedes, and a spider or three.

Cyanide millipede

Another millipede, sleeping. And the head of a long earthworm, plowing through the composted wood.

Plant louse, exploring a sheet of paper on my desk. Seriously cute.

A pinhead snail, not the same species as the one above. He hid when I moved him to the paper, but a minute later, set out to explore the desk. I put him back in the cone.

When I was done, as usual, I collected the remains of the cones, critters and all, and replaced them under the tree, covered with a layer of duff for warmth.

They made it through the winter; this afternoon, when I moved a couple of pots in the garden, they were all there, with a crowd of their friends and relations.

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