Backyard Life


Sometimes when I’m on my property I feel like I’m back in elementary school on the day when the local nature center people bring in a few animals for everyone to get excited about.  Just yesterday my gardener came upon a beautiful pickerel frog, a garter snake half way through digesting a mouse, and some incredible fuzzy caterpillars.  To some, these creatures are normal occurrences or at least common enough that they’re not worth getting excited about.  But to me, knowing how crucial each of these organisms is to its ecosystem, each spotting is a glimpse into the intricate web of life surrounding me.  Seeing the outline of a creature inside another creature—like mouse-in-snake—is a tragic, yet potent example that every creature plays a part.  My joy though comes at the same time, when I realize that even my small effort to preserve areas for native habitat is actually providing room for life to continue as it was meant to!

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Goldenrods in Bloom

As the goldenrods start to bloom here at Native Return in mid-August, it is always a good reminder of that arguably truest shade of yellow, found in these towering perennials—and Crayola 24 packs.  For as bountiful as these tried and true flowers are, their ample medicinal properties—let alone their beauty—seem to make up for their abundance.  Its scientific name “Solidago” actually means to make whole or heal, which is ironic given that they lure out the ever potent wasps, one of whom is the cause of my gardener’s left hand being twice its normal size right now.

Pollen foraging insects aside, goldenrods are known as one of the most effective treatments for urinary tract infection, soothing arthritis and rheumatism, and even helping pass those conspicuously inconspicuous kidney stones.  Common usage of the plant is through making tea with the leaves.  It can be gargled to help with laryngitis or drank to aid digestion, relieve congestion, and combat the common cold.  Goldenrod even contains rubber, which Thomas Edison used to make the tires for his Model T Ford!

These days though, the goldenrod seems to get put into the too-common-to-be-special category.  Hopefully though, with a little cup of solidago tea here and there and a loving glance to the fields every now and then, this wildflower can feel at home.  Just keep you’re your hands to yourselves when it’s wearing a yellow jacket.


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Edible Weeds, Part 2


Edible Invasive, Curly-leaf Dock

In Part 1 of Edible Weeds, which appears June 2, 2012 on the Native Plant and Wildlife Garden Blog (at I previewed foraged plants as nutritious alternatives to the pesticide-perfect, processed hybrid veggies from distant places which we have become accustomed to eating.  A few of the edible invasives that appear here in eastern Pennsylvania are chickweed, dandelion, purslane, dock, lambsquarter, and stinging nettle. In this segment I’ll expand on the virtues of three of these commonly found invasive plants which I enjoy adding to my meals.

Edible Invasive, Broadleaf Dock

Broadleaf dock / Curly dock, (Rumex obtusifolia / R. crispus), are alien species from Europe, also known by many other common names.  Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella) is similar to wild dock, but smaller.  They’re in the buckwheat family, all the varieties of dock are edible, and its habitat includes fields, ditches, riverbanks; any disturbed soil, wet or dry.  The leaves are high in vitamin A and C, minerals, protein, and the roots are high in iron.  Dock and sorrel contain oxalic acid, which in large amounts can inhibit the absorption of other minerals and cause intestinal irritation to some, but it is doubtful you would eat enough of this green to suffer these results.  Visit for details.   This veggie is best gathered in the spring, washed well and eaten either raw or cooked by plunging into lightly boiling water and simmering uncovered until tender, which neutralizes much of the oxalic acid and the strong taste. Cook them with sliced or chopped sweet onion to  mediate any bitterness.  The leaves become inedibly bitter by mid-spring, which is when the flower stalk can be collected.  Peel off the tough outer layer and either eat it raw or steam to soften, after which it can then be eaten ‘as is’, or sautéed with garlic in a little olive oil.  Read more about dock at

Edible Invasive, Lambsquarters

Lambsquarters, in the Chenopodium genus and also known by a bevy of common names, is an annual herbaceous plant in the goosefoot family.  It’s coming up as a volunteer in my container garden and finding its way to my salad plate as we speak!  This species was once a fully domesticated crop in prehistoric North America and is still cultivated in parts of Mexico.  There are some interesting recipes for lambsquarters at  The young tender leaves are good in salads, the older, larger ones are best plunged into a small amount of boiling water and simmered uncovered until tender.  The water bath is served with the greens.  For a treat, add fresh garlic cloves to the cooking greens and, when tender, serve with the bath, with a drizzle of olive oil.  A half-cup of the greens contains calcium, Vitamin A, B, especially riboflavin and folic acid, plus 4% protein.  Keep in mind that all edible plants in this family–including spinach, beets and chard—concentrate oxalic acid in the leaves.  Not to worry, learn more by going to   Top the plants if you don’t want them to flower, and from those that do, harvest the flowering shoots as a broccoli-like edible green, then harvest the seeds from those plants that finally go to seed.   Use them as you do Quinoa, cook them with grains, in soups, sauces, breads, pancakes.  Read more about lambsquarters at

Edible Invasive, Stinging Nettle

Stinging nettle or common nettle, Urtica dioica, a non-native import from Europe is a dioecious (having separate sexes) herbaceous perennial with soft green leaves 1-6” long on a wiry green stem, covered with many hollow stinging hairs which inject stinging chemicals when contacted.  It grows from two to seven feet tall,  thrives best in a moist environment, and provides more nutrients than any other edible invasive plant.  It has long been used in the treatment of arthritis as it contains active compounds that reduce inflammatory cytokines.  Soaking young leaves in water, or steaming them until tender removes the stinging chemicals from the plant so that it can be handled, chopped or pureed in soups and stews, added to polenta, omelettes, and smoothies.  Because covering greens while cooking tends to darken them, an alternative method is to simmer them uncovered until tender.  Nettle has a flavor similar to spinach and cucumber when cooked, and is rich in vitamins A and C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium.  At peak growth cycle, stinging nettle contains up to 25% protein, dry weight, which is high for a leafy green vegetable.  For more on stinging nettle, go to

And finally, but importantly, the novice forager should heed this advice from  Terese Allen, Food Editor, OrganicValley Coop, published at :

“Check with the appropriate authority before setting out. Foraging restrictions vary on public lands, and on private property you must get the owner’s permission. Reference a reputable field guide book, preferably one that’s specific to your region, or apprentice with an experienced hunter. Never eat a wild plant you can’t positively identify.

“When you get home, take care to thoroughly clean your cache. Tender greens, especially, should be rinsed well under or in cold water and often require several washings. Dry them in cotton or paper towels and keep them chilled in plastic bags. This will help prevent loss of moisture and vitamins, but not for long–most wild greens decline after a couple of days.

“If you’re new to a particular wild edible, make our first serving a small one. As with any food, allergic reactions are rare, but possible.

“Finally, whether you gather, grow or purchase the wild foods of spring, get them now, for all too soon, they’ll be gone.”

For additional important and helpful tips on responsible foraging and conservation go to

Edible Invasive, Stinging Nettle

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Improve Soil Health — A Practical Remedy submitted by Larry Murrell

Reader Larry Murrell writes: Here is an approach that also holds promise that supports your goals of a less toxic environment from chemical dependency of “sterile” green lawns. Please add to your blog if you can help spread the word. 

Larry Murrell, Pat Feeney-Murrell, and Paul McCullen,

 Soil health has been widely compromised in New Jersey by a combination of soil compaction, water-logging, erosion, pesticides, and water contamination leading to flooding issues and to poor water percolation over wide areas.  These conditions can be reversed by employing a surprisingly simple approach.  This approach pulses high concentrations of air into soil using a well-known consumer product.  The consumer product costs less than two dollars and can transform even sterile red shale to high vitality in less than a month’s time.

 Here is the description of a practical approach that anyone can use in their lawn or garden to improve the soil health in less than 10 days time.  

Buy a giant-size roll of Bounty paper towel, six inches in diameter.  Dig a hole about 11” deep and 8” in width and place the roll into the hole so the card board central tube is vertical in the hole.  Fill the central card board tube with soil from the hole, and compact the soil as it is added to the central core with a rake handle so the central core is a solid mass. Then fill in the hole with the soil around the outside of the paper towel roll and compact the soil tightly to the roll of paper towel. Leave the top of the paper towel roll exposed and level or slightly above the soil.  Add 7-cups of water to the top of the paper towel roll so that the water wicks evenly into the paper towel roll. Wait at least 10 minutes.  Then add 7-cups of water to the top of the paper towel roll and wait approximately 10 minutes. Repeat this procedure for a total of ten additions of 7-cups of water. (It is not necessary that the 7-cups of water be added in an exact time frame for the effective air transport into the soil).

This simple procedure will pulse 70 cups of air into the soil.  This amounts to an astonishing 17,500 cc of air pulsed into the soil in a total time of an hour and a half.  This large oxygen pulse will destroy the bad bacteria in the soil, eliminate toxins, such as phenols and organic acids, and promotes healthy populations of bacteria and fungi.  In about 30 days a high population of worms will rejuvenate the damaged or dead soil.  The paper towel roll will be completely consumed by bacteria in 3-5 months time, and the hole will fill with soil from surrounding areas.  This entire approach is a completely green technology that takes little time and effort to accomplish large changes in soil health.

 It is estimated that restoration of all soils damaged by bad agricultural-practices over the past 10,000-years could solve the climate-change crisis.  So, get started, tackle a soil in your yard or neighborhood and watch for the improvements in the plant health in a wide circle around the location of the paper towel roll.  Take photographs and spread the word about this new approach to improve soil health.  All of our future drinking water needs are dependent on healthy soil, so spread the word to friends and family.

For more information see page 81 in  CBD Technical Series No. 62:

If you try it, let ( know your results. Or post a comment below.

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Meadow Lawns featured at Natural Plants and Wildlife Gardens

Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens

Native Aster (photo by Fay Kobland)

Spring is upon us, more or less! The temperature seems to be reflecting the stock market, up one day and down the next, but always making slow progress towards a higher or lower objective.  At this time of year it’s going gradually higher, giving us warmer weather with healthy returns expected in emerging flora and fauna!

You might have thought that had headed south for the winter, but although the blog took a wee nap, its creator (that’d be me) was busy working throughout those weeks of short days on FlightTurf™, a commercial turf-seed mix I designed and developed as a product of Native Return®.  Now that life is stirring, it’s time to get, a blog created for the support of wildlife in all its variants, out of hibernation.

You’ll find my first blog post of the spring on Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens, a site to which I am a regular contributor, and which embraces my signature theme:   recreating native plant habitat as a first step in restoring to healthy interaction the naturally evolved biology of a region.  Both and Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens are concerned with wildlife issues on a global scale, but our stewardship begins on a local scale, for ecology, that branch of biology dealing with the relations and interactions between organisms and their environment, begins at home.

To read my blog “Meadow Lawns” please go now to Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens.

Native Return meadow lawn with native Coneflowers and Black-eyed Susans

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Christina Kobland to lecture at Delaware Recreation & Parks Society Annual Conference February 22, 2012

Christina Kobland, Ecological Solutions Lecturer

I’ve been invited to participate as a speaker at the annual Delaware Recreation amd Parks Society Conference at the Atlantic Sands Hotel in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware on February 22, 2012.

My lecture on Building Biodiversity as a Best Practice in Landscape  Management will be accompanied by an insightful  power point presentation and anecdotal  information drawn from years of experience working with native plant and wildlife  habitats.

I’ll explain the many benefits of using indigenous species in landscape  development,  I’ll describe some of my professional projects, and I’ll share with you the magic of living within the four-acre native landscape I created which surrounds my home.

I’ll  also share with you the sweat and science that went into the development of of my live turf product FlightTurf™,  an innovative, patent-pending approach to wildlife control which involves the research, selection, testing, and managed use of a low-input turfgrass — requiring just one mow per year — to discourage deer and geese from gathering to graze in hazardous areas such as highways and airfields.

I hope all my Delaware friends will be available to join me and the other excellent speakers — including  Joseph “Beau” Biden, III — at the conference in Rehoboth Beach on February 22d and 23rd.



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Catherine Zimmerman’s Meadow Project needs our help

Catherine Zimmerman

One of Native Return’s signature projects before I established my blog involved returning areas infested with invasive plants to their former health as self-sustainable native meadows, thereby promoting the survival of native species like bobolinks and many others which require meadows for breeding, feeding and nesting.

So it is with great enthusiasm that I recommend to you Catherine Zimmerman.  Four years ago  Catherine, a native habitat advocate, sustainable landscape gardener, author, filmmaker, friend and fellow team member at Native Plant and Wildlife Gardens, began traveling the country filming meadow and prarie landscapes for her book and film entitled  Urban & Suburban Meadows, Bringing Meadowscaping to Big and Small Spaces, an undertaking she named The Meadow Project.  The book has been published and is doing well, but she is scouting for funds to complete the remaining work on the film.

As Catherine so adeptly notes, “Meadow plantings don’t have to be out in fields-hence the name of the book. I advocate for sustainable, meadowscapes in our back yards, at schools, anywhere we have too much lawn. I’m trying to get people to reduce lawn in favor of habitat.”

School in Virginia

Catherine is using the help of a Kickstarter website to raise funds to complete the film, and must raise the full $20,000 by Monday February 20th, or “no money changes hands”.

Please take a good look at The Meadow Project kickstarter site description and video, and make a generous donation to The Meadow Project your first and best contribution of 2012.

Native Return's Christina Kobland (left) and Catherine Zimmerman (right)

About Catherine:  Catherine Zimmerman is an award winning filmmaker and sustainable landscape designer based in the Washington, DC area. She is accredited in organic land care through the Northeast Organic Farmers Association, N.O.F.A. She has recently authored Urban & Suburban Meadows, Bringing Meadowscaping to Big and Small Spaces and is working on the companion video which she hopes to release in 2012.

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Protest Sat.1/28/12 Against deer kill in the Wissahickon

Join the Philadelphia Advocates for the Deer (PAD) this Saturday in their protest against the killing of deer in the Wissahickon.  PAD advocates for the long-term ecological health of Fairmount Park while respecting the park’s indigenous animals, and believes that deer have a right to live freely in the park on their own terms.

The kill began last December 1, 2011 and will continue until March 31, 2012.  PAD reports they have been trying to meet with the Commision of Parks and Recreation since November 2011 without success.

  •  Saturday, January 28, 2012 *
  • Germantown and Gravers Lane
  • 11:00 am to 1:00 pm
  • Parking available behind the stores on Germantown Pike and Gravers Lane.  The #23 bus stops at Gravers Lane.
  • For additional information, contact
  • Make your voice heard!

They ask you use the names and contact information listed below to make your voice heard on this issue:




Dangerous fences are another source of hardship and death for deer.  Read more about Wildlife Fence-Death Syndrome, the topic of my February 2nd  monthly blog  on the Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens website.

Handouts describing fences that are safe rather than dangerous to wildlife will be available at the Protest on Saturday.

* Note:  This PAD Protest was originally scheduled for January 21, cancelled and rescheduled for this Saturday January 28, giving more people the opportunity to attend.  Please participate!

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Christina Kobland joins The Team at Blog “Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens”

Native Plants And Wildlife Gardens

Christina Kobland's posts appear the 2nd of every month

The truth spoken by individual voices is magnified and achieves strength in numbers.  I’m happy to have qualified for a place on ‘The Team’ at Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens where my ongoing advocacy for native species and the preservation of biodiversity joins the work of many others of like mind.

Contributors to this site include not only gardeners, but book authors, writers, professors, landscape designers, biologists, photographers and more.  It is a premier site which gathers posts (and blogs) to provide a plethora of information to counteract the shrinking biodiversity and disappearing wildness of our planet.

To quote from Douglas Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home,  “Like it or not, gardeners have become important players in the management of our nation’s wildlife.  It is now within the power of individual gardeners to do something that we all dream of doing:  to make a difference.” 

I will be posting the on the second of every month on the Native Plant and Wildlife Gardens site.   Click here to see my first post, which appeared January 2nd, or go to to find me on ‘The Team’.

Read, learn, enjoy, and anticipate!


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Christina Kobland’s Native Return Launches New FlightTurf™ Website


Christina Kobland’s Native Return is proud to launch a new website for FlightTurf™ — the ultimate airfield turfgrass. (

 Although developed specifically for airports, FlightTurf™ can be used anywhere geese or other grazing wildlife must be discouraged, reducing the need for extreme wildlife reduction measures. It is excellent for use in any areas where low-maintenance turf protocols are desirable.

Corporate, industrial, school or university campuses, parks, roadsides, (especially along arteries where wildlife traffic-kills are high), transmission corridor rights-of-way, cemeteries and other low maintenance lawns are examples of areas where FlightTurf™ can be used.

Our new FlightTurf™ website includes additional information about the many cost-saving and environmental benefits of this natural, patent-pending turf technology which conserves green space, wildlife, and operating costs.

■ Only one mow per year to maintain an average 6″ height

■ No fertilization or watering

■ Improved resistance to insects, turf disease, and weeds

■ Animals hazardous to aircraft, such as geese and deer, dislike FlightTurf™ and tend to graze elsewhere

■ Reduced emissions and operational risk, and increased security by greatly reducing mowing events

■ Lower equipment and wildlife management costs

■ Decreased stormwater runoff

Visit our exciting new FlightTurf™ website for more information, and visualize what our product can do for your commercial or residential needs and services!


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