Water Quality

“The leaves fall, the wind blows, and the farm country slowly changes from the summer cotton into its winter wools” 

– Henry Beston

Travelling around the Connecticut landscape in the fall is full of colors, interesting buildings, signs that the growing season is coming to a close and, quite often, little surprises that can make crabapples smile. For instance, driving along country roads, you may see example of a whimsical trend where dead branches and tree trunks are used as “sculptures”.  One is even incorporated into use as a mailbox holder.

Leaves are turning and oaks are just about the only trees with leaves now. While perhaps not as colorful as maples, aspens, birch and other tree leaves, oak leaves offer a last look at autumn leaf color. Gingko trees also hold their bright yellow, fan-shaped leaves into November.

Oak leaves over a woodland pond
Fall color of a gingko on the UConn Campus

A local sand and gravel company is the home to bank swallows, who excavate holes in the exposed sand banks to use as nesting chambers. Every year the bank is dug into by machinery, leaving a fresh canvas for these birds. Holes resemble New Mexican pueblo structures, in a way.

Barn swallow excavations in a sand bank

Fields are mostly harvested by now, with some winter squash and pumpkins left behind until needed. As long as the stems are left intact, they can last a while longer in the cold before they rot or become deer chow.

This summer was one of drought and heat conditions that extended into early September. In late October parts of the state had heavy rainfalls of 3-5 inches, though, so some relief came. Two days after those rains, the Housatonic River was raging, as were the waterfalls at Kent Falls, and the waters shooting through the gorge near Bull’s Bridge. Both of these places are along Route 7 in Kent.

Covered bridge in West Cornwall
Triple waterfalls at Kent Falls
Raging water through the gorge just above Bull’s Bridge

Beavers are active all year, and my sister and I recently found a lot of small river and sweet birch felled by one of theses animals along the Scantic River. Birch and aspen are favorites of beavers because they can easily gnaw off the thin bark on saplings and young trees and eat it.

Beaver has gnawed bark off this small birch tree

A visit to Diana’s Pool in Chaplin was a first for me, and, like General MacArthur,  I will return. The trail along the Natchaug River is not hard to hike, and the pool formed by large boulders that trap the water is quite large. There are two sets of waterfalls along the trail.

View along the Natchaug River- Diana’s Pool- in Chaplin
Diana’s Pool

A large, stacked tooth fungus has interested me enough to revisit the old sugar maple where this large parasitic fungus has made its home in recent years. It takes a full season for it to reach its mature size, pushing its fruiting bodies outside the cavity where the fungal body makes its living. By fall, the teeth of this fungus are ready to release their spores.

Stacked tooth fungus fills a hole in a sugar maple where it originates from

Around East Windsor, Broad Brook and Enfield there are many farms, tobacco barns, old tree nurseries and horse stables. There is a place where old trains seem to be collected and left right on old tracks in a boneyard of sorts near a small grain elevator that still receives deliveries from newer trains. An old, retired engine has a spiffy rounded roof over the cab.

Old train in the boneyard

Weathervane on the roof of Coventry Library is the replica of the library
Barn on the way to the Cornwall Covered bridge

Autumn will gradually fade away into the sunset and winter will arrive with all that cold and snow that defines its season. Until then, I am looking forward to getting the most out of my November ramblings. I am of the same mind as whoever said this (credited to Unknown, so it could be any of us!)

“A September to remember. An October full of splendor. A November to treasure”


Pamm Cooper

This spicebush swallowtail caterpillar needs to hurry up and pupate before leaves are all gone

Tiny spring azure butterfly on a bluet flower

“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.”

― William Shakespeare

April is the time of Hyacinth, tulips, apple and cherry blossoms, and, usually, April showers. Although we caught up from the drought of last year, this spring has been dry and we clearly need rain. Waking up on April 16, it was really no surprise to find it snowing as weather guessers reported it would get cold enough to turn last night’s rain to snow by this morning (but not in our area- ha!). In recent years there seem to be late snow events that have coincided with various trees and shrubs bloom time. Hopefully, this snow will not damage their flowers and buds.

Hyacinth under the snow

Bloodroot flowers have mostly come and gone and bluets have just started blooming heralding the expected return of some of our thrushes, such as the veery. Tiger swallowtail butterflies often visit bluet flowers, as do many native bee species.

Returning veery among some bluets

The six-spotted tiger beetles are out running along woodland trails. This small, predatory beetle is a brilliant metallic green, so it is hard to miss against a brown background of a woodland trail.

Six-spotted tiger beetle

The other day while walking up a woodland hill trying to find a barred owl family, I came upon a really nice surprise. Just poking above the leaf litter were these tiny purple-blue flowers that were new to me. The plants each had unusual leaves with three rounded lobes. Flower and leaf stems were hairy, and this small area was the only place they could be found. They are Hepatica americana, round-lobed Hepatica. A native buttercup family member, they can bloom March-May and are found on leafy woodland slopes with higher calcium content than most of our Connecticut woodlands


Round-lobed Hepatica flower and leaf

Walking along the banks of a woodland double pond, there was evidence of recent beaver activity. A nice dam was getting some restructuring by the beaver, plus there were tree felling operations along the edges of the pond. Some nice moss was at the base of some  trees that so far are not in this beaver’s line of fire.

Moss under trees in a woodland pond
Beaver toothmarks and gnawed bark

I found what I thought were clam shells along this woodland pond’s banks, but found out they are really the shells of freshwater mussels that were eaten by a river otter, muskrat or some other animal and left behind for people like me to find. Freshwater mussels spend the first part of their life as a tiny glochidium on a host fish. Afterward, they fall off and drop to the bottom of the lake, pond, stream or river bed where they remain partially buried. They help keep water clean by filtering it as they eat algae and other small water organisms.

Freshwater mussel shell

Bee activity has been somewhat slow this spring, but recently a small Andrena nasonii ground-nesting bee was just emerging from under a landscape shrub where it had overwintered underground. This species often emerges when snow is melting and sometimes days before their foraging plants have flowered.. Most of our solitary native bee species are not aggressive, and this female rested on my finger for a while.

Native Andrena bee

Native eastern red cedar Juniperus virginiana is in flower along the shoreline in Connecticut. Male and female flowers are cone like structures called strobili, borne on separate trees. Male cones are oval to egg shaped, with yellowish brown scales that hold the pollen, and they are located at the tips of 2nd year branches.

Male flowers of eastern red cedar

Turkeys are still stomping, hissing and fanning their tails, mourning doves have just fledged their first brood, kit foxes are playing around their dens and spring azure, mourning cloak and comma butterflies are flying around, so April has succeeded in its modest enterprise of pushing new life out of its winter slumber.

Kit fox near its den

I agree with the sentiment of Hans Christian Andersen- “Just living is not enough… one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower. “

Pamm Cooper

Round- lobed Hepatica flower

A great sustainable way to collect water for use in your garden and flower beds is to use a rain barrel. Placed beneath a down spout, these barrels will collect free water every time that it rains. We have one 45-gallon barrel placed in the front of our home and a 60-gallon barrel in the back. It is amazing how quickly they can fill up. A watering can left beside each one makes it easy to water flower beds, window boxes, and the vegetable garden. Okay, the last one may take a bit more effort but consider it free strength-conditioning! The barrels come in many different styles and sizes including a collapsible version which makes for easy winter storage.

Vegetable gardens need a consistent supply of water in order to achieve their full potential, generally 1” per week. Since Connecticut’s average rainfall is 3-4” per month it would seem that rainfall alone would be sufficient. However, sunny days with temperatures in the 80’s and 90’s and warm nights will increase the demand as will sandy soils that drain more quickly than clay soils. It isn’t easy to gauge the amount that is actually available to the plant roots.
Unless you are using soaker hoses or drip irrigation, it can be difficult to direct water to the roots of a plant. So much tends to run off to where you don’t need it. Last year I tried a new method of delivering water to the tomato plants using purchased disposable aluminum angel food/bundt cake pans.

Tomato plant with foil watering pan   Photo by Susan Pelton



With an awl or a large nail, punch holes through the flat bottom of the pan and also through the center core. Do not put any holes in the outer sides as you want the water to be directed in and down. When planting, dig a hole that is the width of the pan but not quite as deep. You will also need to dig an area in the center of this hole into which the seedling will sit. Holding the seedling in one hand gently thread the stem and leaves up and through the center cone of the pan. Place the seedling and pan into the prepared hole filling in with soil under the pan if necessary. Press down gently to seat the pan. The rim should still be about ½”above the soil line.

Water is poured directly into the pan where it then seeps into the soil. It makes it very easy to see how much water is being supplied and fertilizer supplements can be put into the pan where they will be released. As the plants are surrounded by foil it may decrease the amount of soil-borne pathogens that might splash up onto the plants. The results of this project were good enough to do it again this year.


 My second experiment at target watering was directed at the cucurbits in the garden. We all know that squash, cucumbers and zucchini are often planted in hills. Every year I get the mounds nicely set, with lovely little plants growing forth, but it seems that every watering erodes the hills until there is nothing left. And most of the water applied just seems to trickle down the sides. I punched holes into the bottom and sides of empty soup cans and pushed one into the center of each hill. Seeds were planted around the cans with the hope that the water would reach the roots. It worked to some extent but the hills still tended to erode.

This year, as I was hanging some wire-framed coco fiber-lined baskets, a thought occurred to me. Why not invert the basket and let the liner and frame hold the squash hill in place? I cut a 3” hole from the base of the coco liner, filled the basket with garden soil, and inverted it directly on the spot in the garden. I then planted the seeds in the hole which was now at the ‘top’ of the basket.



Squash mounds Photo by Susan Pelton







All watering is done directly into the center hole and the coco fibers prevent the soil from drying out. The wire frame of the basket also makes a great support for plant stakes that keep the vines up off the ground. So far this year the results of these innovations have been good and the plants are thriving.




Watering directly to the base of the Squash  Photo by Susan Pelton


There isn’t anything as delicious as tomatoes, squash and zucchini fresh from the garden! Here’s a recipe to try that makes use of these ingredients: Slice them into ½” rounds, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and grill until cooked through.

Fresh zucchini, tomatoes, and mozzarella  Photo by Susan Pelton

Starting with a base of fresh or grilled polenta, stack the vegetables alternately with rounds of fresh mozzarella and pesto. Enjoy!

Zucchini & Tomato Napoleon  Photo by Susan PeltonSusan Pelton


Ok I have had enough snow and ice for the winter. Although I say I am done, I know there is more to come, so lets learn to deal with it. That sheet of black ice on top of my driveway and sidewalk needs an ice melting product, but which one and what is the difference in the products I find in the local hardware store? The answer is in the chemical makeup and temperatures at which they are most effective.

There are five different deicing products readily available;  Sodium chloride (rock salt), calcium chloride, potassium chloride, magnesium chloride and calcium magnesium acetate. You may find these products packaged individually or two or more combined together to take advantage of their different ice and snow melting qualities.

Sodium chloride (rock salt) (NaCl) is the old standby. It is commonly available,  widely used for decades and inexpensive.  As sodium chloride dissolves, it releases the most amount of chloride ions causing the most damage to surfaces and plants. Chloride can corrode metal and seep into ground water, and streams and rivers causing pollution. It is most effective melting ice above 20° F. It will not work below 16° F.

Calcium chloride (Cacl2) will melt snow and ice at a much lower temperature, down to 25° F. It comes in different forms, white pellets, flakes and liquid.  Its down side is it can cause skin irritation if handled and is easily washed away from where it is used meaning you must reapply it more frequently than some of the others. It can also cause damage to concrete surfaces like sidewalks. It can damage plants if it is overused or concentrated in areas such as road sides and under  repeatedly added to snow piles.

Potassium chloride (KCl) works when the air temperature is above 15° F. It is commonly used as a fertilizer for plants but too much will burn plants. It will melt ice until the air temperatures reach 12° F.

Magnesium chloride (MgCl) is less damaging to concrete, plants and trees. It is the new kid on the block and may be referred to as ‘environmentally safe’.  It melts ice and snow down to -13° F. Magnesium chloride will not leave a white residue on shoes or floors and claims to be gentler on vegetation. It release 40% less ions than calcium chloride making it less toxic to the plant life and less harsh on concrete.

Calcium magnesium acetate (CMA) is made from dolomitic limestone and acetic acid. It is a new salt-free product. It is  effective to 25° F. It is most costly better easier on the environment and vegetation and concrete. CMA prevents ice particles from sticking to each other.

Always read and follow label directions when applying deicing materials.




Stream with riffle    photo Ct DEP

Stream with riffle photo CT DEP




The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection has been directed to develop standards to protect the nearly 4,000 lakes and ponds, nearly 6,000 miles of rivers and streams, and more than 200 miles of coastline along Long Island Sound.  DEPs new Stream Flow Standards and Regulations are meant to promote better, more efficient management of our water resources and supplies.

Good water quality is essential for life.  It is well documented that increases in impervious surfaces, roads, parking lots, roof tops and so on that occur with urban growth are directly related to increases in the amount of storm water runoff which is responsible for decreasing the quality of water in our streams, rivers, wetlands and wells.   Urbanization increases impervious surfaces, which by definition are unable to allow pollutants carried in storm water to percolate and filter through soil.  Runoff water conveys these storm water pollutants into streams and waterways.  Urbanization in Connecticut is detrimental to the ecology of many of our rivers and streams.

One determinant of water quality is the ecological assessment of a water body. Connecticut’s approximately 5,484 miles of rivers and perennial streams are monitored and their quality assessed by staff assigned to the CT DEP’s Bureau of Water Protection & Land Reuse, Planning and Standards Division (WPLR).


Photo CT DEP

Photo CT DEP



Monitoring thousands of miles of rivers and streams is a huge undertaking.  In 1999 CT DEP developed a volunteer based Rapid Bioassessment in Wadeable Streams and Rivers program (RBV) as a citizen based screening tool to assist them in identifying high quality streams.  Through this program stream quality is assessed by the presence or absence of aquatic macro-invertebrates, in particular riffle-dwelling benthic macro-invertebrate communities. A riffle: is a section of a stream or river characterized by rapid turbulent flow, a stable rocky substrate, and is wadeable most of the year. Benthic refers to living in or on the substrate (bottom) of an aquatic environment. Macro- invertebrate are animals without a backbone that are large enough to be seen with the unaided eye. The macro-invertebrate community in a stream or river is very sensitive to stress and thus its characteristics serve as a useful tool for detecting environmental disturbance resulting from introduced pollution.

Benthic macro- invertebrate

More information can be found at




Specimen collection Bolton stream November 7, 2010

In late October the UConn Master Gardener Program sponsored a training session on Rapid Bioassessment in Streams at the Tolland County Extension Center.  The class was taught by DEP’s Michael Beauchene who designed the program.  In early November class participants carried out assessment of four streams in Bolton CT.  Master Gardeners Deb and Ron Beaudoin sponsored the stream collection part of the program. They have been running these assessments with the Bolton Conservation Commission since the late 1990s.  The bio-assessment field study was attended by twenty participants fourteen of them were UConn Master Gardeners.  The groups split up into teams and went out to the streams for collection.  After sorting their finds following DEP’s protocol, reports which include a data sheet and vials of voucher organisms were sent to DEP.

Master Gardeners and other interested citizens can participate in these studies. The UConn Master Gardener Program will sponsor more classes next fall.  If you are interested in participating in future training classes please contact my office, the Master Gardener Coordinator in your nearest County Extension office or at the Bartlett Arboretum.




Specimens photo CT DEP

Sorting specimens RBV class

Sorting specimens RBV class