Saturday, March 30, 2013

Phenology 3.30.2013

Blackbirds in the Silver Maples
My head is spinning; its a phenologists dream world out there right now!  Spring has arrived and it is here in full force.  Here are just a few of the changes that have been noted today:
  • 1st Thunderstorm of the season
  • American Robins have returned to the farm
  • Our pair of killdeer have come back and are eagerly flying around the farm looking for the ideal nesting site
  • Flock after flock of migratory waterfowl are flying back and forth from the large wetland to the east to their feeding grounds in the west - here are the varieties I have seen so far:  Canadian Geese, Mallards, Wood Ducks, Lesser Canadian Geese, Tundra Swans, and even Sandhill Cranes
  • Apple trees buds are swelling
  • Chickadees have changed their tune from their winter chirps to the wonderful "Chicka -dee-dee-dee" song
  • Spring cool-season grasses and clover are starting to show their green leaves
  • Flocks of red-winged blackbirds and common grackles are flying by and resting in the large maples
  • Even a few flying insects have emerged, but I have yet to identify them
With all of these changes happening around us, I can hardly stand to spend a moment indoors.  Yes the season of muddy boots and the fresh smell of rain is here - get out there and enjoy it!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ladies & gents, we have germination!

3/4" soil blocks, seeded with tiny celery seeds.

And the first seedlings are baaarely peeking their little cotyledons through the soil. I really have to get my face down there, close enough to really smell the dirt, but I am excited, so I wanted to share!

We have celery germinating! Our first plants of the year :)

Phenology 3.19.13

Although it appears winter will never pass, the transition ahead of us from late March to April marks a significant shift in temperatures. The average low temperatures go from 20° in March to 35° in April. These changes in low temperatures are what spurs maples to start running sap, causes tree buds to swell and even mark the bloom of our first spring flowers.

The anticipation of spring is nearly unbearable, but signs of new life are all around us and increasing daily! Of note, a family of Tundra Swans was sighted flying over the farm yesterday. The winds were blasting from the Northwest at around 30-35 mph, and it was cold, yet this group of magnificent birds were making short time flying field over field.

Annually Tundra swans migrate 3,725 miles from their breeding grounds in the arctic circle to their wintering areas in the Southwest United States/Northern Mexico. How birds know how find their nesting areas and wintering areas with no GPS is somewhat of a scientific mystery; there are some strong arguments that navigation by stars, the sun, magnetic fields and mental maps play a role.  We do know that length of day is what triggers the start of migration. With some of these ideas making sense, still it is almost impossible to explain how some birds can figure out migration. Take for instance our MN State Bird, the common loon--annually the two loon parents visit the same water body for their nesting grounds and may have a clutch of chicks. After an entire summer on the water, these chicks are left alone in late fall, as their parents have already taken off migrating to the Gulf of Mexico.  These young, only months-old loons somehow decide to take flight and head South to the warm wintering waters of the Gulf with no map, no GPS and no parents to guide them! In my opinion it is these triumphs of nature that keep me interested; I do not necessarily need to scientifically prove how or why  it works to enjoy the fact that there are just some amazing feats that are a mystery.

On these quiet winter evenings at hand one can hear the calls of the Great Horned owl and the Eastern Screech owl in the distance. This time of year is when these owls are pairing up and getting ready to start a new family. I urge you to step outside for a few minutes each evening this time of year and listen for these raptors--this is the season when they are most vocal.

With the cold weather still upon us, these little signs of spring and new life put things into perspective and keep the will strong to begin another growing season on the farm!


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Phenology 3.13.13

Hoarfrost on silver maple.

Early March 2013

Phenology:  The study of the timing of natural events

Signs of spring are all around us in early March, we just might have to look a little harder this year.  While driving to and from work on Highway 15 I have started noticing more and more striped skunk fatalities; I have even heard reports from friends that they have had late night visits near their homes by these inquisitive mammals.  Whether we enjoy these creatures or despise their smell, they are a sure sign of spring approaching.  After months in a state of torpor underground in a burrow or inside an abandoned woodpile the male skunks are out there eagerly looking for a mate – this was the first event noted in Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac.  With these creatures abound, if you are lucky you may even catch a glimpse of the now uncommon Eastern Spotted Skunk or civet cat.  Populations of these skunks have steadily declined due to the loss of habitat and food availability.  Brake for skunks – its just Love in the air!

Although not always a sign of spring, one might have noticed that there are more mornings recently where you look outside and notice the trees are covered in beautiful white “fuzz”.  This phenomenon is known as hoarfrost.  Hoarfrost forms whenever it cold enough outside to freeze yet there is an ample supply of water vapor in the air.  This is why we commonly see hoarfrost in late winter, when the temperatures get into the 30’s during the day and then dip below freezing at night.

Lastly, as I was sitting in my garage last Saturday night my dog, Hazel, approached me with a curious creature – A muskrat!  I thought to myself, “What is a muskrat doing out here, there is not a wetland area within a mile of our place?”  Then it occurred to me, this is the start of the mating season for them as well.  This little guy was likely a young male looking to find a new partner and expand into new territory.  When I woke up the next morning I inspected the scene further.  Apparently this muskrat had done an entire tour of the farm, looking in every nook and cranny. 

When you get a moment take a look at our native river bottom tree, the Silver Maple.  These maples are showing signs of spring preparation with their swelling buds.  Often these enlarged buds are a maroon/red color and quite striking against the backdrop of a snow-covered landscape.  Soon enough these buds will break and begin to flower, we will talk more about the fascination with trees in flower in the near future.

As we near the spring thaw, signs of new life will begin to show themselves more frequently.  If we pay closer attention to the trees, birds, and animals around us they would surely tell you spring is near.

.     .     .     .     .

I am looking forward to doing phenology reports on a regular basis. I certainly do hope you enjoy them.  -John

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Pigs Like Apples

Piggies getting apple treats.

We're getting excited about the apples this year! These piggies are excited too. Right now they are cleaning up the rest of the apples from our fridge, which are no good for us anymore. In the summer they will get dropped and non-saleable apples fresh from the orchard--piggy heaven!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Orchard Photo Update 3.5.13

John began pruning at the orchard last weekend. Finishing all the larger trees and moving on to some of the smaller ones. Thanks Larry for your help! You can see piles of trimmed branches in the back ground. Hanging from the ladder you can see John's loppers that he just loves (thanks Mom!).

In total there are 60 apple trees at the orchard. John got a good start on the first pruning in a decade last winter--the early warm weather cut the pruning season short--and he aims to get all the way through the whole orchard this March. There is also one lone pear tree, which won't produce on it's own, sadly.

Larry and John built this fabulous tripod orchard ladder from upcycled oak. Cost--minimal hardware & free wood. Brand new this would be $180--way to go boys!

We are planning for lots of delicious apples this year! Hope you are too :)

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Random Farmy Stuff

The work John and I are doing right now for the farm mirrors the title of this post--random farmy stuff. We have energy going in all sorts of directions at this time of year, much of it getting us ready for the season. As I finalize our planting schedule, we're readying our seed starting station, cleaning up work from the winter, and a dozen other things, and even today a new project starts with John out in the orchard beginning the pruning work. He was having fun sharpening all of his tools last night :) I

Given this it is a great comfort and blessing to have our CSA Shares all sold out for 2013. This allows me to get some other member-management work done pre-season.


 We love being a part of this "agricultural revival"...

I just love these farmy stickers I got from the conference--they are right on. Don't buy food from strangers folks. Speaking of strangers...

Snapshot of Brooke promoting the River Valley Woman
...this gal isn't one! You may have seen your friendly farmer's mugshot in the Feb. 22nd edition of the River Valley Extra?! I recently went to a little photo shoot, which produced the above shot, for the cover of the upcoming River Valley Woman magazine--out May 3rd. It was a fun diversion from my usual activities :) I am super pumped about a new woman's mag and thrilled to be a part of the launch!

More thing on my mind right now is getting some chores and projects done now that aren't so likely to get done during the growing season. I got one painting project out of the way and am ready to start another! And let's cap the post with a pig pic ;)

Piggies all nested up for the night! These creatures are amazing. Each night they are all huddled up like this and make themselves a nice nest to rest in, and most of the time you can only see a couple of them :)