Natural events, January 2016

Our monthly birds/natural event post series began in January 2011, so this post begins our sixth year (archive to old posts on the Landscape page). We started the series because most of the topics we felt compelled to blog about oozed pessimism about the country’s bizarre and dysfunctional agricultural system. We felt we needed content with a positive tone, what Eric calls “fuzzy bunny” posts. Perky, feel-good posts aren’t quite our style, but we figured that even if we wouldn’t coo over their fuzziness, we could at least write about bunnies, and the hawks that eat them, and the ecosystem that otherwise surrounds us and into which our farm is integrated. And so began the natural event post series. The style has evolved over time, from short posts featuring a bird list to longer, photo-driven posts featuring observations that caught our attention and especially those caught on camera. We enjoy doing these, but we don’t get paid for them and they take a fair amount of time to prepare, so if you like these posts, please consider commenting and/or sharing with friends.

January 2016’s weather was moderate. Temperatures did drop below zero, but warm days were numerous, as well. The pond froze but never reached a thickness that we were comfortable venturing out on; will this be our first Missouri winter without outdoor ice skating? Precipitation totaled less than an inch, some in the form of light snow. The ground was free of snow for much of the month, but a snow on Tuesday January 19th that persisted to the weekend was great for capturing tracks.

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Cooking with kid: Adobo hocks

Hocks (the lower part of the leg) are not inherently the most tender cuts of meat from an animal, goat or otherwise. One of the tricks to cooking one’s way through an entire animal—as I am doing for this “Cooking with kid” series—is learning to use those “lower quality” cuts to yield meals that are every bit as delicious and satisfying as ones made with the fancier pieces. A Filipino-style adobo does just that, yielding a rich garlic-vinegar-pepper-infused meat that is melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The preparation is great for the tougher cuts from kids, any cut of an old goat, and also for old hens or even stringy old roosters. Adobo is one of Eric’s favorite methods of preparing meat, and the results are always so tasty I tend to think of it as a complicated meal. But now I know: This is an easy preparation that should be in every omnivore’s repertoire.

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Wooden model class at Columbia Area Career Center

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Would you like to build and display something like this? Building wooden models engages the mind and hands, teaching patience and craftsmanship. It’s a hobby I really enjoy, and can be pursued on a tight budget with creativity and planning. While interacting with communities online, I’ve found that many new modelers tend to ask the same questions, face the same confusions, and make the same mistakes. Model-building is a hands-on, tactile experience and it’s hard to convey answers and experience through the web, yet many people also don’t have in-person access to other modelers.

On Saturday, February 20th, 2016, I’m offering an Introduction to Building Wooden Models class through the Columbia Area Career Center, from 9 a.m. to noon. Attendees will explore basic skills for kit or scratch-built models. While I’ll be drawing on my own experience with maritime, aircraft, and model-railroad structural models, I hope to facilitate discussion within the group to bring out as many different experiences and perspectives as possible. Continue reading

Natural events, December 2015

The excessive rain in Missouri made national news in December, with flooding in St. Louis and along the Mississippi. We received more than ample rain here, though not as much as some. Temperatures averaged well above normal. Though south-bound Snow Geese typically start to fly over us in November, our first observed south-bound Snows this fall appeared on December 1. Yet on December 31, we saw a small flock of Snows heading north. Fortunately, contrary to the implications of the geese, the National Weather Service is forecasting much needed normal-to-below-normal temperatures for the coming weeks.

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Cooking with kid: Koftas

kofta_mealWe don’t make Indian food as often as we’d like, so for this installment of “Cooking with kid” I decided to address my goals of culinary diversity by tackling koftas (spiced meatballs). Although ground meat has already been featured in Burgers and Tacos, it’s a practical way to use less-than-ideal cuts, and we always enjoy the results. This meal ended up being the most stressful to prepare of the entire series to date, but the end result was nice. Perhaps I’ll tell the full story in a different post, but for now here’s the simple version.

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Natural events, November 2015

November was mostly warm with a couple of wet spells, including a short-lived first snowfall. At times we wonder if we’ll run out of new & interesting discoveries or photographic opportunities for these monthly posts, but so far there’s always plenty to find or learn on our walks around the farm’s landscape. Read on for November’s spiders, fungi, parasitic plants, and more.

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Natural events, October 2015

October was warm and dry, continuing in the pattern of September. The first two-thirds of the month brought 0.11″ of rain, and given the last rainfall of > 0.5″ had been all the way back on September 12, things were getting pretty crackly. Thankfully, the last nine days of the month gave us about an inch and a third with a gentle, soaking delivery. We technically saw the first frost crystals on October 3, but a killing frost was slower to come. The morning of October 15th brought the first crop-damaging frost (on a night that had been forecast above 45 until a few hours before dark). The next two nights, which had been forecast as clear and in the 30s, didn’t yield a single ice crystal, and instead we woke to dense cloud cover. Such is weather.

oct_natural_sumacSumac is about as reliable as it gets in offering a nice show of fall color. Fragrant Sumac on the right. Some of our maples put on nice shows of color, as well. Continue reading

Cooking with kid: Hocks in groundnut stew

This is the time of year to use meat as a condiment to vegetables. Produce is abundant, but as cooler weather sets in, hearty soups and stews begin to to return to our menu. So, for my most recent “cooking with kid” meal, I decided to use one of Eric’s favorite tricks: add meat to a beloved vegetarian recipe. (By the way, check out our new “Cooking with Kid” index page to learn more about this Joanna-cooks-a-goat project.)

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Natural events, September 2015

September was warm and dry, with less than an inch of rain for the entire month. The contrast with our deluge-inal spring is startling; it will seem very strange if this long dry spell ends up drawing the annual precipitation average back toward “normal”. One thing about Missouri weather, it’s a textbook lesson in the danger of relying on averages for accurate information about a system.

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Monarch caterpillars were present, though we saw fewer caterpillars than last year, in spite of allowing lots of Common Milkweed to grow for their benefit. I (Joanna) found the Hermit Sphinx (Sphinx eremitus) caterpillar on wild bergamot while pulling snakeroot in a goat paddock. The black spot did an impressively good job of making this look like an empty, hollowed out shell of plant or animal origin, perhaps a form of mimicry to convince predators that there’s nothing to eat here. It almost tricked me, but a second look convinced me this was a caterpillar worth bringing back to the house for ID and a picture. Since it eats mint family plants, I decided to keep it in a jar with some munchies from the herb garden. Turns out that the specimen had been visited by a parasitoid wasp, perhaps Cotesia congregata? Interestingly, the Hermit Sphinx’s relatives, the tomato-eating Tobacco Hornworms have been minimally present this year. Perhaps we can thank parasitoids for that?

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