Garden Greetings

What’s happening in the garden? More than we know – even with the lingering cover of snow! Peter Alexanian tells us what’s happening in the Pfeiffer Garden, our particular piece of cultivated earth.


Back in February we (folks at the Pfeiffer Center) began sowing seeds in our heated greenhouse.  Having a heated greenhouse is indeed a luxury, but even more luxurious was getting my hands into the soil again, as this has been a very long and layered winter. By soil, I mean potting soil, our proven mix of kitchen compost, horse manure compost, and sand. Still, scooping up shovel after shovel of potting soil felt much more invigorating than shovel after shovel full of snow. As of March the onions, leeks, and scallions are looking well. Last week we sowed our early greens: kale, swiss chard, spinach, lettuce, and cabbage.  They’re so cute when they start to come up.

Early greens

Most of our apple trees got pruned, with the help of our adult class participants, except for the one that is fenced in in one of our gardens. The gates only open toward the inside and all the entrances were heavily blocked by snow and ice. Arg! We’ll burn all the cut branches and spread the ashes around the drip line of the trees, providing a healthy supplement of potassium.

Collecting pollen

Having a warm, sunny day gave us the opportunity to check in on our honeybees. I even caught sight of a bee with bright orange pollen on its leg, and I have no idea where she could have gotten it from as I haven’t seen a single crocus yet. Having all this snow around has slowed our activity quite a bit, nevertheless the greenhouse is already getting full of seedlings, and very soon we’re going to have to start moving really fast – REALLY FAST! That’s Spring . . . moving like quicksilver.

Checking in on the bees

Shoulder bee


Mud is messy. If you can get past this, mud can be absolutely marvelous! March is when mother nature tends to make a lot of mud, and with some old clothes you don’t mind dirtying and a sense of adventure, playing in the mud can be truly freeing.

Here are some simple things we like to do with mud:

Make a mud castle
Just like at the beach, but not so warm and even messier, mud is a great medium for building, especially when it’s a little dryer than it is wet. We built a fairy home with a moat around it, but you could build a castle, a house, a boat, or anything else that strikes your fancy and needs to be created.

Fairy mud house

Worm Charming
Alternately called worm grunting or worm fiddling, this activity is too much fun. By making vibrations in the mud that mimic the sounds of a tunneling mole, we can literally charm the worms out of the earth and up to the surface. One technique to lure your worms involves putting one end of a stick in the mud, and to rub the top of the stick back and forth between your hands so that it begins to ‘tunnel’ into the earth. Another popular technique is to place a pitchfork or rake or another similar yard tool into the earth and then hit that tool in order to create vibrations that travel through the soil. The World Worm Charming Championships are held every year in the village of Willaston, in Chesire, England. Happy worm hunting! (Doing this when it’s been a little warmer for a little longer – maybe within 2 weeks from now – might produce better results).

Stick technique

Pitchfork technique

Painting with Mud
For mud paint we like mud that is wetter than it is dry. You’ll be surprised to find the variety of color and texture that mud produces, and you can use this variety to create mud paintings on pieces of paper, trees, rocks, pavement, the sidewalk, or any other surface that will hold your mud. When it rains on your outside mud painting don’t worry, while nature might have washed away your creation, you’re also getting more mud to make something new!

Mud painting

Make mud pies
A classic mud activity, all you need is a pair of hands, a pie tin, and this month’s messy medium. Fill your pie tin with some mud (you can even make a fancy crust around the edges), and then leave your concoction in a sunlit spot to bake. Come back after a few hours and your pie should be cooked to perfection.


Muddy Toes
If you’ve been to camp, you’ve probably done this in our barefoot zone, but March’s mud is even fresher. All you need to do is take off your shoes and socks, roll up your pants, take a deep breath, and wade into a mud puddle! Squish, splash, and mush this mud around with your feet. Find a dry patch of earth or a flat rock and leave your muddy footprint, just be sure to rinse your feet off before heading back into the house.

Muddy toes

Animal Tracks
Mud is the perfect medium in which to find animal tracks. You’ll commonly find dog prints, cat paws, or bird tracks in mud by your house or apartment, but keep an eye out for something that looks a little more unusual (raccoon, rabbit, even coyote). Let us know if you find something neat or want help identifying your muddy animal track.

Raccoon track

Ed’s Corner – Spring!

You may be feeling (as we ourselves have been) that the snow will never melt. Well it is melting, but it’s been a long, cold winter, which definitely makes this spring so much sweeter!

Heralds of springtime

Get outside to celebrate the arrival of warm sunlight, budding flowers, springtime, and all the good nature that comes with it:

  • Plan an outdoor lunch or dinner
  • Make a small outdoor fire (safely, of course) to help celebrate the sun’s return.
  • Look for any flowers that may be blooming or green leaves pushing through the soil.
  • Make bets (using acorns as currency) on when any left over patches of snow will melt.
  • Check some branches to see if any buds are getting fatter or even beginning to open.
  • Take an outdoor walk and be aware of any small, flying insects that may be out and about. Now where were they this winter?!
  • If it’s sunny, stand still and tilt one cheek toward the sun, close your eyes, and feel the warmth. Now turn the other cheek.
  • Lie down in a woodland or forested area, look up at the sky, its beauty, how it changes, and know that this view will not be possible once the leaves are on the tree again. Take it in while you can.
  • Walk across lawn and other areas and feel how soft and spongy they are, not like the frozen solid, cement feel of winter ground.
  • Look at the tiny creatures that may have spent this winter in the holes and crevasses of tree bark. Look at the bark carefully, up and down and all around. Look up close, and use a magnifier if you have one. Wish them all a happy spring!
  • Blow bubbles outside and watch how they make the paths of the winds visible.

The Vernal Equinox

The first day of spring is this coming Thursday, March 20th, at precisely 12:57 pm. It is a time when day and night are close to equal, and something that all people in the northern hemisphere experience, though most may be unaware.

Seasons occur because the earth is tilted 23.5 degrees. When the top, or northern hemisphere, is tilted toward the sun, it is summer. When the top is tilted away, it is winter. Most people would say that the earth is closest to the sun in the summer, and farther from the sun in the winter. Just the opposite, which might at first seem a little strange. In summer the earth is farthest from the sun, but our northern hemisphere is tilted toward the sun, making our summer. During winter the earth is closest to the sun, but winter occurs for us because our ‘top of the earth’ is tilted away from the sun.

Poking out toward the sun

Can you really balance an egg on its end during an equinox? Yes, you can! But, you can also balance an egg on its end any day of the year if you really try. An equal amount of daytime and night does not in fact make it any easy to balance an egg, and there aren’t any invisible equinox waves that give your egg extra stability. But it’s not surprising to us that folks think of eggs and the spring equinox together, as eggs are an old and reliable symbol for the new season of growth, sunlight, and rebirth.

This year especially we’ve been waiting for the day when we can say, “Ah, it’s the first day of spring.”

Play Games! and Open House

Great, galloping, goofy, gratifying games! At The Nature Place we play games that are cooperative rather than competitive, which means we all have fun, play hard, play fair, usually laugh a lot, and everyone gets included. Join us as we play some of the games we love to play at camp.

Stick around for our open house to learn more about the ins and outs of being a camper at The Nature Place.

Saturday, April 19th from 11 am until Noon we’ll be playing games.
Our open house will be after that from 1-4 pm.

307 Hungry Hollow Road, Chestnut Ridge, NY 10977.

Play Games!

Maple Sugaring was Sweet

We had a terrific time tapping trees at our maple sugaring program! The sap was flowing (the cold weather gave us a slow, steady drip), the outside fire boiling our sap provided a welcomed break from the cold, and the pairing of hot syrup on ice alongside a dill pickle was a delectable match made in maple heaven.

Events, Open Houses, Camp Fairs

Open Houses
Attend an open house to learn more about The Nature Place. We’ll take a tour across the fairy stream, past the pond, and through the garden as we answer your questions and go over the ins and outs of camp. Want to know what ‘non-competitive and nature-oriented’ actually means? Stop by to find out.

All open houses run from 1-4 pm and are located in the Lower School building of Green Meadow Waldorf School, 307 Hungry Hollow Road, Chestnut Ridge NY 10977

Sunday, 4/6
Saturday, 4/19
Saturday, 5/3
Sunday, 5/18
Sunday, 6/1

The free public programs preceding some of our open houses are an opportunity to experience a ‘taste’ of camp firsthand, whether you’re sitting enraptured by Chuck’s winter tales or tromping through the swamp with us hunting spring peepers. Camp families and friends who just can’t wait until summer enthusiastically attend our events, and this often gives prospective families a chance to chat with current camp families about what things are really like at The Nature Place!

Play Games!
Saturday, 4/19. 11am-Noon

Great, galloping, goofy, gratifying games! At The Nature Place we play games that are cooperative rather than competitive, which means we all have fun, play hard, play fair, usually laugh a lot, and everyone gets included. Join us as we play some of the games we love to play at camp.

Spring Peeper Hunt
Saturday, 5/3. 7:30-9pm

Come ‘hunt’ the harbingers of spring with The Nature Place as we tromp through the swamp at dusk, using our ears to find these tiny but very loud frogs. No nets or other ‘hunting’ gear required, only a sharp ear, a quiet footfall, patience, and a decent pair of boots.

Camp Fairs
Our camp fairs in Manhattan and Brooklyn are convenient opportunities for prospective NYC families to meet us and learn more about The Nature Place, right in your neighborhood. We’ll be at a table next to other camps, just keep your eye out for the handmade wooden display and the small rocks we hand out!

All camp fairs run from Noon-3pm

Saturday, 4/5
St. Jean Baptiste HS
173 East 75th Street

Sunday, 4/6
Rodeph Sholom
7 West 83rd Street

Debris Hut

Beyond leading us on tasty wild edible adventures, our local wild foraging expert and Nature Place activity leader Paul Tappenden has another neat skill that would help us thrive in the wild without our usual camping accoutrement of stoves, tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, etc. -Building debris huts!

Debris hut exterior

With some guidance and additional help, Paul created this shelter by first framing it out with some fallen logs, gradually building up the walls with branches and twigs, and then covering the whole structure with a thick coating of leaves. The building team then created a padded floor using leaves and evergreen bows.

Debris hut interior – looks cozy!

A shelter like this can really stay warm and dry, even in the worst of weather. Luckily for us we’ll be building debris huts in the summer, when the weather is balmy. If we’re on a camping overnight we have tents to sleep in!

Paul Tappenden is the Rockland Forager. See regularly updated blogs, videos, events, and what he and other foragers, herbalists, and naturalists are up to at