Pesticide drift: the rest of the story

National Public Radio is airing a story about pesticide drift threatening organic farms, which includes a portion of our story from 2014. The nature of radio stories inevitably leaves out details and context, so here we re-link to the three-part series we wrote for our website, laying out our experience in more detail. It’s an important read for anyone interested in this topic:

Experiencing pesticide drift, part I

Experiencing pesticide drift, part II: Calling in the government

Experiencing pesticide drift, part III: how drift isn’t taken seriously

We also wrote an article for small-farm trade journal Growing For Market about the topic.

Are birds damaging our apples?

What’s doing this to our apples?

bird_apples_1

For weeks, we’ve been finding cavities dug out of our young apples, often with some kind of rot starting within the excavation. We don’t find any insects or caterpillars inside the  cavities, nor any frass. Generally the cavities have smaller wounds nearby. This damage devastated the fruit on our William’s Pride tree, damaging over half the fruit. As they were nearly ripe, we were able to carve around and eat some of the damaged fruits, but still lost a lot of apples. About the time the William’s Prides were gone, the same thing started happening on the two nearby Liberty trees, a worse loss because Liberty doesn’t ripen until September, so the fruits are way too underripe to eat. Not being able to identify any insect behavior linked to this has been maddening, until a belated two-part aha moment cleared things up. Continue reading

Natural events, June 2015

The month of June has been brought to us by the letters R, A, I, N, and the symbols @$#!. This has been an awfully wet period for much of our region, starting after the first week of May, in which round after round of rain keeps sweeping through. This has caused all sorts of agricultural headaches, including supercharged weed growth, plant disease, soil erosion, muddy farm roads, and soggy, un-hoe-able soil preventing us from planting, maintaining, and harvesting crops for sale or personal use. We’ve been keeping on-farm precipitation records since late 2009; here’s what the cumulative rainfall numbers look like for each year starting at the beginning of May:

june_natural_precip

While other years had higher totals at times, they also all had longer periods between rainfall events, providing a chance to dry out and get work done. This year, after the first week of May, only TWICE have we gone three days in a row without measurable rainfall, and the daily totals are often heavy. We’re not regretting our sabbatical from the CSA this year, as it’s been stressful enough managing the land under these conditions without the added pressure of biweekly harvest and deliveries.

Nevertheless, we experienced a lot of interesting natural phenomena in June, and took a lot of photos, so read on for an illustrated tour of the farm’s ecosystem during this time of year.

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Natural events, May 2015

A late April dry spell continued into the first week of May, overlapping almost perfectly the time we would otherwise have expected to find morels. Our farm-total morel count this year was one (technically in late April). Then it turned wet and has remained so; we recorded rain on 18 days of the month. Temperatures were remarkably pleasant, with the warmest days in the low 80s. Despite the overall cool weather, it did not frost in May. Our last spring frost was the morning of April 28, though we just escaped frost on May 20 thanks to persistence in cloud cover. May is always a good month for nature observation; photo highlights below.

may_natural_caterpillars

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Birding local farms in May: Recap of Columbia Audubon Society field trips

We organized and led two birding field trips this May to central Missouri sustainable farms whose land management integrates a wide variety of wildlife habitat into their food production. Unlike monoculture cropland, the right kind of farmland can actually increase bird habitat and biodiversity, and such private farms host interesting landscapes that might not be represented on public lands. We hoped to give Columbia Audubon Society members, and other birders, a chance to visit and interact with some new locations and landscapes they might otherwise not have access to. Read on for details of each trip. Continue reading

Natural events, April 2015

What a pleasant month April was this year, with May following its example. Reasonably stable weather and seasonal temperatures made it a joy to be outside. We keep asking why we couldn’t have had a spring like this when farming full-time?

The limited responses to last month’s Natural Events post makes it clear that we can’t justify putting too much time into these going forward (sorry, faraway friends!). However, we also can’t bring ourselves to break continuity with this multi-year journal of observations. So for now we’re going to try to carry on more efficiently. One change we’re making is to omit the bird listing from the monthly post. Not to worry, we’re still keeping bird records, and we look forward to finding another way to present bird data on the website in future.

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Birding on the farm this weekend with Columbia Audubon Society

On Sunday morning, May 3, we’ll be hosting a birding field trip on the farm through the Columbia Audubon Society (CAS). All are welcome on CAS field trips, even if you are not a member of CAS (or a CSA); all that’s required is an interest in nature and birds and a willingness to join us in exploring the diverse habitats of our landscape. The CAS carpool will meet at the Patricia’s parking lot, 900 N Keene St, leaving at 7:30 so we can start birding the farm by 8:00 a.m. If you’d like to come birding, please contact us to reserve your spot.cherthollow

We’ll spend as much of the morning as necessary to cover the woods, stream, fields, hollows, and other habitats in search of interesting birds. If time and interest allow, we may also visit nearby natural areas including Pinnacles Youth Park and/or Rocky Fork Conservation Area. No experience is necessary,  just an interest in birds and a desire to enjoy the spring landscape. We have a couple of spare pairs of binoculars available if needed.

This is a great time of year for birding, as the leaves aren’t fully out, allowing easier observation in treetops. Migratory warblers and other birds are beginning to pass through; new arrivals in the past few weeks include Kentucky Warbler, White-eyed Vireo, Indigo Bunting, Scarlet Tanager (abundant this year!), Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Eastern Towhee, and many more. Understand that this is a birding trip, not a farm tour per se, so the focus will be on wildlife and nature rather than agricultural interpretation.

If you’re interested in other such trips, the CAS website hosts the official listing for all upcoming trips, as do the monthly newsletters which Eric edits. In two weeks. we’ll be leading a similar trip to Goatsbeard Farm and Sullivan Farms, northwest of Columbia, and there are many more opportunities to get out and enjoy birding with other like-minded folks.

Visit us at Columbia’s Earth Day, Sunday April 26

Note: The Columbia Earth Day event has been postponed to April 26.

For the second year, we’ll be hosting a booth at Columbia’s Earth Day festival. Last year, we won the organization’s Best For-Profit Booth award. We are looking forward to another enjoyable experience, this time with a location on Eco Avenue, the heart of Earth Day, located on Elm St between 7th & 8th St.

This year we intend to have a variety of interesting reasons to stop by, including:

  • Kid-friendly, hands-on interpretive displays of natural items from the farm.
  • Wood products for sale, including garden-bed frame kits and birdhouses built to Audubon standards, all made from cedar wood cut and milled on-farm (more about birdhouses here).
  • Signups for notification of produce available later in the season, including strawberries and garlic.
  • Small packets of Mercuri tomato seeds, a rare heirloom tomato that come from a friend’s Canadian-Italian family. These are winter-storage tomatoes; they will not beat most summer tomatoes in fresh flavor, but will store for months in your pantry, giving you fresh tomatoes long after the growing season is over (and saving significant canning work). They are prolific, hardy, and disease-resistant. We offer these through the Seed Savers Exchange network, but will make them available at Earth Day as a way to encourage home gardening and local food consumption.
  • We may have small amounts of herbs or other produce for sale. This will be a last-minute decision.

Here are photos of some prototype wood products we’ll be offering. Top photo, from left to right, wren house, bluebird house, phoebe shelf. Bottom photo, 3’x4′ garden bed frame. Finished product will be screwed together at the joints, ready to be filled with soil/compost and planted. Also available, 4’x4′ squares. Cedar lumber resists rot very well and will last many years as a bed frame. These are also good for framing young trees.
birdhouses garden_frame

We both plan to attend this year, so stop by, check out the displays, chat about eco-friendly diversified farming, consider adding a birdhouse or garden bed to your home, and help make this another great Earth Day!

Bird list & natural events, March 2015

We were away for part of March, so the bird list has a few gaps in it, and there aren’t many photos to share. This provides us with an opportunity to ask readers for some feedback on our monthly natural events posts.

We started this series many years ago with several goals: to help us track observations and changes in our surroundings, to demonstrate that farming can happen in concert with environmental awareness, and to engage customers in the natural context of their food’s source. We hoped we would gain and retain customers who wanted to support farmers who paid attention to the natural world, and weren’t “just” farmers. Putting these posts together, though generally enjoyable, does take a fair amount of time and focus. It’s not clear to us how many customers or readers really value the result. We can keep track of birds, photos, and observations off-line, too, so if there isn’t a concrete value to the extra work of packaging these data onto the web, we’re questioning how or whether to keep doing it. So we’re interested in hearing any feedback on the content, format, or value of these posts to anyone who’s reading. Comments or emails are fine. In the meantime, read on for March 2015. Continue reading