How Does Our Garden Grow?

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by Barbara Walvoord

Recently, Thom Wright and Dining Director Paul Westerfield asked the Land Conservation Committee to response to the suggestion that Lathrop build a greenhouse with raised beds. The Farm/Fields subcommittee discussed the idea, conducted a resident survey (43 residents responded, from both campuses), and brought survey results to the entire committee for discussion at their March meeting.

Survey respondents appreciated the benefits of gardening in general–exercise, social engagement, and fresh food.  There was support for making gardening more accessible and some support for Continue reading How Does Our Garden Grow?


New Construction at Lathrop?

by Barbara Walvoord

On Tuesday, March 15, two experts from the Kestrel Land Trust walked our land to explore the possibility of constructing a new home–a nesting box–for kestrels in one of our fields or meadows.

The Kestrel Land Trust is an amazing, very active organization that helps landowners put their land into Conservation Restriction (  Lathrop may collaborate with Kestrel one day for land conservation.

But the Kestrel Land Trust also helps landowners mount nesting boxes for these amazing little falcons, whose numbers are declining.

The American kestrel (Falco sparvarius) is the smallest North American falcon–bluejay size.  A kestrel hunts insects and other Continue reading New Construction at Lathrop?

Lathrop’s North Campus: Part of a Larger Whole

by Barbara Walvoord

If our east campus is a “missing link” between conserved lands (last week’s column), then our north campus is part of a larger whole–the large Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area, legally and permanently in “Conservation Restriction” (green).  Lathrop’s protected area is the toe of the boot near the bottom right:

map north area 1456152439_582037240

The map shows several important relationships:

  • Our campus forms a protective shield around Pine Brook, which flows east into the Connecticut River. Our run-off, our land management practices, our construction–all directly impact the quality of the brook and the Connecticut River.
  • Our “conservation restriction” land forms the southern tail of the larger, city-owned Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area.
  • Our trail connects directly to a whole system of trails in the Fitzgerald Lake Area. On their trail map, we are called “loop trail” (
  • The Fitzgerald Lake area is a priority in the Northampton city open spaces plan: (
  • The Broad Brook Coalition, a very active citizen group that manages the Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area, is our natural collaborator (

Continue reading Lathrop’s North Campus: Part of a Larger Whole

The Missing Link

As part of the “Year of the Brooks” series, last week’s column explored our lands as part of the Connecticut River watershed. Now I’ll narrow down a bit to our immediate vicinity for the east campus (north campus, you’ll have a future column).

This map shows our east campus (outlined in black) in relation to adjacent land that is permanently in conservation or agricultural protection (shaded).

map Park Hill conserved land scan0035

You’ll see that our east campus includes a plot of protected land that lies within the city of Northampton. The rest of our east campus land is not protected, but forms a “missing link” between the Ravenwold protected land to our north and the Park Hill protected land to our south and west. The photo at the top of this article shows the beauty of this land, with Bassett Brook running through it.

Both towns’ “open-space” plans prioritize this area, including filling in the missing links. As we enter conversation with both towns about future building and conservation on our land, we represent, to them, a “missing link.”

2016 — The Year of the Brooks

by Barbara Walvoord

In the coming weeks, you may see folks wearing wading boots and carrying clipboards walking around on both campuses. They’ll be from our own Land Conservation Committee, from Polatin Ecological Services (our contractor for invasives removal), and from the town Conservation Commissions (who give permission for invasives removal along streams and wetlands).

They will be here because we have received two grants, as well as resident gifts, to focus this year on the ecology of our brooks–Pine Brook on the north campus, and Bassett Brook on the east campus, as well as their banks, floodplains, and smaller tributaries.

So let’s begin our Year of the Brooks with the big picture. Both our brooks flow eventually into the Connecticut River, which makes Continue reading 2016 — The Year of the Brooks

Stuffing Your Mouth at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

When our little grandchildren share a meal with us, we try to combat their tendency to stuff their mouths as full as possible and then brag about (or show us) how much food they have in there.

Meanwhile, outside our window are some creatures that REALLY stuff their mouths. The mourning doves in our yard eat fast, bobbing around, scarfing up the seeds that are their only diet (except for an occasional escargot). They stuff the seeds into their crop–a pouch in the esophagus. The record is 17,200 bluegrass seeds in a single bird’s crop, according to the Cornell University web page. Don’t ask me how some ornithologist (or graduate student) counted–I don’t know.

Feeding on the ground, as they do, makes these birds vulnerable to predators (including your cat, if you let it outdoors contrary to Lathrop rules). So they hastily stuff seeds into their crop and then fly Continue reading Stuffing Your Mouth at Lathrop

What’s NOT Here at Lathrop: Phragmites

by Barbara Walvoord

As you drive from the east campus north on Florence Road, near Ravenwold (where I took this picture), or along almost any Valley road that passes wetlands, look for a stand of tall, dried reeds with droopy fringed heads. These are Phragmites australis (frag MITE eeze), also called “common reed.”

These plants are real goons. They:

  • Eliminate competition by killing other plants–crowding them and changing the soil
  • Fail to provide shelter or food needed by our native toads, frogs, salamanders, and wetland birds
  • Form a dense mat that reduces water flow, reducing the wetland’s ability to retain flood waters
  • Trap sediments, making the water body increasingly shallow
  • (

Phragmites are very hard to eradicate because that stand you see is basically all one plant, with the stalks connected by deep, Continue reading What’s NOT Here at Lathrop: Phragmites