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.

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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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

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Natural events, October 2016

Featured this month:

  • Spore producers
  • Lepidopterans
  • Unhappy caterpillar
  • Beetles
  • Hymenopterans
  • Oh, deer
  • Rose mallow

Weather recap:
October was warm and rather dry. A few nights brought light frost, the first of which was the morning of October 13. These frosts did only the most minor damage to some flowers and tender leaves (such as those of cucurbits) in exposed locations, but most crops didn’t mind. It is very unusual for us to make it to the end of October without a killing frost; see this Tweet from NWS Kansas City for a nice chart of first freeze dates over time.oct_natural_frostOctober 13 brought frost (left, frost on Gift Zinnia), as did October 21 (right, frost on kale).oct_natural_cover_cropsCover crops have had plenty of time to grow and thrive. The sunn hemp (tall plant with yellow flowers in the background) is frost-sensitive, but is still going strong. The oats and peas in the foreground are untouched, as it takes deeper cold to kill them.

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Natural events, August 2016

August typically juxtaposes garden overabundance with disheartening losses to pests. Likewise, August typically combines outrageously good food with utterly miserable weather. In these ways, August 2016 was pretty typical.

Featured this month:

  • Berries
  • August food
  • Attack of the flea beetles
  • Shade cloth pitfalls
  • March of the armyworms
  • The woodpeckers strike again
  • 2016 cash crops
  • Cup plants in flower

Weather recap: Muggy was the word of the month. Temperatures never broke 100ºF, but the heat index sure did. Precipitation whiplash continued. The month got off to a start with a more-than-we-needed downpour, but irrigation was back in the picture by mid-month. Then it went back to being on the wet side, with rain falling on 6 of the last 8 days of the month.


Quiz: What do these plants have in common? Answer below the break.

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Natural events, July 2016

Featured this month:

  • Predatory stink bugs to the rescue
  • Japanese beetle report
  • Black rat snake nest
  • Plants with milky sap
  • Fungi galore
  • Grazing strategy

Weather recap: July started very wet, then turned hot and steamy, tending towards dry by the end of the month. Between the morning of July 2 and the morning of July 3, we received 5.81″ of rain, an amount that would usually result in a real mess. Runoff was a problem during intense downpours, but overall the landscape soaked up the water remarkably quickly, a testament to just how dry June was and how thirsty the flora was. The temperature never broke 100ºF, but the heat index did repeatedly. We don’t remember ever going through so many soggy, icky, sweat-soaked changes of clothes as we did this July.

Quiz: Are the landscapes in the photos below overgrazed, well grazed, or undergrazed? And by what animal(s)? Answers at the end of the post.


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2016 garlic sales at World Harvest


Our diverse culinary garlic is now on sale for 2016! The harvest went smoothly due to cooperative weather conditions, and the crop looks really nice. All ~2,000 heads have been hanging to cure properly, and the first batch is ready for sale. You can find our display at World Harvest Foods on the south side of Columbia, MO; read more about each of our twelve varieties.


Please support and thank World Harvest for working with us to make this special garlic available.

Natural events, May 2016

May is a busy month of planting, good birding, and the onset of active nasty biting things that cause most people at this latitude to stay indoors for the next three to four months.

Weather recap: May weather was generally quite pleasant: temperate with moderate moisture. Total rainfall was about 3.3 inches, spread out relatively evenly through the month, with a maximum daily total of 0.6″. The ground stayed moist but not soggy, generating great conditions for germinating both crop and weed seeds. Temperatures were moderate, with no excessive heat, though we did have a light frost on the morning of May 15. Fortunately, the forecasts warned us of a cold spell well in advance, so we held back on transplanting frost-sensitive crops until after that date.

may_natural_flowersMay flowers! Some of these are native, some introduced, some wild, some cultivated, some edible, some not. We like all of these. Continue reading

New stories: Audubon Societies in Missouri and SARE grants

We have two new stories out in magazines this month, both of which may be of interest to readers of this site.

In the June/July issue of Missouri Life magazine, Eric writes about the diverse activities of local and state Audubon Societies in Missouri. As avid birders, we welcomed the chance to learn more about what birding groups are doing throughout the state, and hopefully inspire readers to get involved in bird-watching and conservation. Interviewing representative from eleven different organizations was a time-consuming but fascinating process, and we hope readers enjoy the result. While you can read the story online, we’re sure a physical copy will do the accompanying photography more justice.

The map below is a draft Joanna developed to accompany the story, though the magazine chose not to purchase it. So we’re sharing it here:


In the June-July issue of Growing for Market magazine (only available through a paywall), we write about the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) program, which funds research supporting sustainable agriculture. SARE is a really neat program that draws heavily on farmer expertise to ensure that its research is relevant and practical, and in the story we explain how farmers can get involved by proposing a research project, serving as a grant reviewer, or exploring the decades of useful research contained in SARE’s database. If you’re not a GFM subscriber, why not become one and gain access to all its useful articles?