Natural events, November 2016

Featured this month:

  • November flowers
  • Shingle Oak dispersal
  • Orchard fungi
  • Blueberry plant status
  • Seed set on invasive vines
  • Cute(ish) fuzzy mammal of the month

Weather recap:
Similar to October, November was above normal in temperature and below normal in precipitation. This made for some really nice outdoor working conditions. It was a first in our experience to enter the month with frost-sensitive plants still going strong; in the photo below, note the zinnias, marigolds, tithonia, luffa, pole beans, and more. However, enjoyment of the weather was tempered by concerns about whether plants were getting the right cues to harden off and prepare for winter.  nov_natural_mg

nov_natural_flowers November flowers: November doesn’t usually come to mind as a month to photograph wildflowers, but this year it provided more-than-usual opportunities. For these four, I pulled out our copy of Missouri Wildflowers (Denison, 5th edition, 1998) and looked up the months that are considered to be normal for bloom time:

  • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta, upper left), May-October
  • Common Violet (Viola sororia?, upper right), March-June[!]
  • Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata, lower left) June-October
  • Brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba, lower right) June-November

Shingle Oak dispersal: This wasn’t a big mast year overall, but some of the Shingle Oaks did put on a rather good crop of acorns. Their small, cute acorns have a little bit of striping that makes them quite distinct. And they seemed to be everywhere, near or far from the oak trees. I turned them up in the garlic beds in the field as I planted, in the asparagus beds as I weeded, and in beds in the ‘market garden’ as I planted cover crop. The only bed without acorns around here may well be the one we sleep in! Squirrels were certainly getting in on the Shingle Oak acorn action, but we think that Blue Jays were the primary dispersal agent. During late October and much early November, we routinely saw Blue Jays–lots of them, often a dozen or more at a time–acting busy in the vicinity of Shingle Oaks that had good crops. The photo on the right shows a seedling Shingle Oak–one of many–in our orchard, a product of past year’s dispersal.

nov_natural_fungiOrchard fungi: Conditions were on the dry side overall for causing major fungal flushes, though one rainfall did trigger a really nice pulse of shiitakes on our logs. A close look at the wood-chip mulched zones of the orchard also revealed the fruiting bodies of some wild fungi. Left: Bird’s nest fungi. These are a bit past their prime, but at their peak they contain spore sacs that look like eggs. Center & right: Puff balls. According to Missouri’s Wild Mushrooms, puffballs such as this that are white inside are edible. We didn’t end up harvesting these for food, though, given that we still had lots of shiitakes.

nov_natural_blueberriesBlueberry plant status: Those puffballs were growing in the mulch of our blueberry plants. This is a good sign, as it means we are creating a soil ecosystem that is conducive to fungal growth, and that bodes well for fruit growing in general. Blueberries have been a real struggle for us, but after 4-6 years of adding chipped-hardwood mulch, the soil is building into something that looks, feels, and smells promising. That, combined with getting a bit more heavy-handed with the sulfur to really bring down the soil pH, seems to be to the liking of the plants. Most of them put on a nice growth spurt this year, as they ought to. But one thing that doesn’t make sense for them to do is to flower in November. As the photo on the right shows, a couple of plants did indeed invest some resources into a few doomed blossoms. What does that mean for the biological clocks of these plants? Growing fruit in Missouri is definitely a tug-of-war between hope and worry.

nov_natural_seeds_invasive_vinesSeed set on invasive vines: This year, we have a substantial amount of seed set on Japanese Honeysuckle (left) and Oriental Bittersweet (right), both photographed on our orchard fence. The former vine is one we’ve been complaining about for approximately a year. It took off aggressively in a few places last summer/fall, and this year’s weather seems to have pleased it. The stuff has now set seed, the first time we’ve noticed that here. And the seed set appears to be an issue not only on our property but also in other locales nearby. Two consolation prizes: The honeysuckle-blossom wine that we started back in May has a very promising aroma, intensely floral and rather intriguing. Also, goats seemed quite happy to eat the vines back in July, though another patch that we brought them to in November pleased them less.

The Oriental Bittersweet is even newer on the scene, as far as our awareness is concerned. It was pointed out to us on a Native Plant Society walk this spring, after which I started seeing it in lots of places here; it was flowering, too. Some of those flowers succeeded in producing the bright-orange seeds that are now ornamenting our orchard fence and other locations. The seeds are rather hard to overlook, so I suspect these plants have been established just long enough to start flowering and setting seed. This is one we expect to see more of, though it is too early to say how serious of a problem it may be. For now we’ll sigh, and soon we may need to scythe.

nov_natural_possumCute(ish) fuzzy mammal: Every once in a long while, we encounter an opossum. They usually are not active during the day, but this one was. Well, not very active. It sat quite still, not playing dead, but not moving very much either, as we took some photographs and admired this American marsupial. Eventually, it ran off into some brushy woods, and we continued our weekend stroll.

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