Natural events: orchard edition, October 2017

The orchard was done with its fruit for the year in September, so our attention was largely focused away from the orchard as well. This month’s post includes an assortment of topics, some orchard-related, some touching on other perennial edibles or random ecological topics from around the farm.

Featured this month:

  • Fall color
  • Orchard-floor fungi
  • October weather
  • Saffron crocus
  • Japanese Beetle larvae
  • Black walnuts
  • Honey locust pods
  • Little snake, big toad

Orchard fall colors: In spite of the drab early fall, we had a few bright highlights of fall color in the orchard, including an Olympic Asian Pear (upper left) and blueberry (upper right). The Olympic dropped its leaves not long after the Oct. 23 photo, but most of the other Asian pears, European pears, and apples were slower to respond to the onset of fall, and as a result their still-green leaves got “burned” by cold a few days later. In the background of the upper-left Olympic photo, there’s a Hosui Asian Pear with leaves that were still intensely green at the time; after the late-October cold snap, they turned brown (lower left). The wild Red Mulberry (lower right) ended up with withered leaves as a result of the cold snap (as did the Illiniois Everbearing Mulberry in the orchard). We’re not sure how much this matters for the long-term health of the tree. Continue reading

Natural events: orchard edition, September 2017

Featured this month:

  • Wild harvest
  • September weather
  • Signs of drought stress
  • Seed dispersal of persimmons and pawpaws
  • Pawpaw seed saving

Wild fruits and nuts: Our orchard harvest in September was pretty much restricted to Shinko Asian Pears, and that was a small harvest due to damage from late frosts (but they were delicious). However, it’s been a banner year for seed production by wild trees and shrubs, and some of those are human edible. Wild pawpaws (upper left) and persimmons (upper right)  ripened in September. Sumac berries (lower left) can be good for making a fresh beverage with lemonade-like qualities or a fermented wine. They’re best harvested at the end of a dry spell, but this year was so dry that the berries just shriveled and we decided we weren’t sure they were of good enough quality to go through the work of wine making. Hickory trees were loaded with nuts (lower right) that dropped in September. The husks come off easily; a good whack with a hammer cracks them and putting the nut in a cotton bag beforehand helps to contain all the pieces. Picking out the nutmeat is tedious, but it works well to have a bowl of them on the table and eat a few now and then as a snack or a post-meal nibble. They are tasty, with a hint of black walnut flavor, but not as strong. Continue reading

Natural events: orchard edition, July 2017

Featured this month:

  • Harvesting
  • July weather
  • What are the big problems in the orchard?
  • Mammals
  • Woodpeckers
  • Japanese Beetles on:
    • Perennials
    • Annuals
    • Wild plants
  • June quiz answer
  • A few orchard insects

Harvesting this month: One of our goals is to get a steady stream of fruit from our plantings, and that didn’t quite happen in July. Blueberries normally produce in July, but they were done in June this year. Peaches produce in July; our blossoms were killed by frost, but we did acquire some from another source. Blackberries came on eventually, but yields were disappointing, in part because of damage by Japanese beetles. We ate some nice William’s Pride Apples (left photo), along with a number of slightly messed up apples (mostly William’s Pride and Initial) that dropped off the trees for one reason or another. Towards the end of the month, we had a few small bunches of grapes; the variety is Bluebell, and it has been the most vigorous of four vines that we planted a few years ago. The bunches may look a little pathetic, but given the Japanese Beetle pressure each year since they’ve been planted, along with the young age of the vines, we’re pretty excited to get anything at all. And they are really, really tasty.

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Natural events: orchard edition, June 2017

Featured this month:

  • Early June optimism
  • Late June reality
  • Japanese Beetle feeding behavior
  • Japanese Beetles over the years
  • June weather
  • Stalk Borer
  • Quiz

Early June optimism: Fruit crops were looking pretty good in early June. The blueberries began ripening ridiculously early. We actually managed to eat a handful of cherries off of our sour cherry tree, which was remarkable since we didn’t put up bird netting (on account of the cherry quantity being too low to bother). One of our young grape vines was setting nice clusters, and the blackberries were heavily blooming and setting fruit.

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Yellow Morel

Yellow Morel

We’ve found a scattering of morels now and then, usually in late April. Our earliest find was on April 7 (in 2017) and our latest was May 8 (in 2013). We never seem to find them in the same place twice.

Natural events: orchard edition, January 2017

To have a chance at being successful fruit growers in Missouri, we need to be keen observers of the ecosystem, able to identify and understand what is going right and what is not from the perspective of our fruit plantings. This means delving deeper into entomological ID, paying attention to details of plant growth, noticing what herbaceous plants are around, poking around in the wood-chip mulch at the base of the plants to monitor life in the soil, and more. In other words, it means perfect fodder for a continuation of this natural events series.

This is our motivation for a planned shift in this series’ focus from the whole farm to the parts where we’re growing (or attempting to grow) perennial crops, especially fruits. As shown in the orchard photo below, these areas are managed but far from manicured, and there’s more than enough wildness and nature here to keep the amateur naturalists in us busy for a long while.

Featured this month:

  • Basic bud identification
  • Twig damage
  • Signs of mammals
  • Understory plants
  • Swans overhead

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Natural events, December 2016

This post completes our 6th full year of monthly natural-events blogging; the full archive can be viewed under the Landscape and ecosystem tag. What started primarily as a monthly bird list back in 2011 has gradually evolved into a monthly photo essay. We plan yet another shift in focus for 2017, this time toward an emphasis on the orchard and perennial fruit production. More on that when January comes to a close, but first the final installment for 2016.

Featured this month:

  • Frost flowers
  • Barred Owl
  • Bird nests
  • Forest floor greenery
  • Unhappy raccoon

Weather recap:
December started cold and ended warm. Joanna milked the goats on two successive -2ºF mornings in early December (brr!). But temperatures rapidly turned balmy, followed by genuinely warm. Christmas night thunderstorms gifted us with nearly an inch of rain, a welcome amount as fall and early winter have been on the dry side.

dec_natural_frost_flowers
Frost flowers: Frost flowers bring joy to some of the days of first real cold. Certain plants are responsible for these amazing and delicate ice structures. This one is White Crownbeard (Verbesina virginica); though it is a native Missouri plant, we did not have any here, so we acquired some seeds from Joanna’s parents. We started this specimen from seed in the greenhouse last spring, planted it near the house, and more or less forgot about it. What a nice reminder of the effort when we noticed this “bloom” on December 9! Yellow Crownbeard (Verbesina helianthoides) is also well established near the house, verging towards weediness; though in the same genus, that plant does not produce frost flowers.

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