Patterns of Spring

Since we settled here, we’ve been keeping records of natural events like bird migrations, flower bloomings, and so on, with the goal of documenting and better understanding the natural patterns here. Spring is one of the best times to appreciate these records, as so many new things are happening and arriving. So far, our general observations suggest that migratory birds are on about the same schedule as last year, but wildflowers and local animals are behind. This makes sense, as last spring the weather was abnormally warm here, so that local flowers bloomed early, but birds respond to large factors than local weather.

Anyway, here’s a few glimpses at the changes (or not) since last year:

Birds (first observation in 2007, 2008):
Woodcocks: 2/27, 3/6
Louisiana waterthrush: 3/26, 3/26
Phoebe: 3/11, 3/13
Towhee: 3/11, 3/19
Snow geese: 3/22, 3/23

Other animals (first observation in 2007, 2008):
Spring peepers: 3/8, 3/1
Young snake (prairie king snake?): 3/28, 3/26
Box turtles: 3/13, none
Bats: 3/13, none
Ticks: 3/28, none

Wildflowers (first observation in 2007, 2008):
Crocus: 3/4, 3/10
Harbinger of Spring: 3/13, 3/19
Redbuds: 3/27, none
Spring Beauty: 3/25, none
Bloodroot: 3/25, none

Soil temperature 6″ down (2007, 2008)
February 25 (32, 32)
March 10 (40, 36)
March 24 (none, 40)

These sorts of data will be even more valuable in years to come as we build a meaningful record of long-term patterns, but even now they’re fun to peruse. Keeping a simple notebook is relatively easy, and the rewards are quite meaningful.

Signs of Spring

I’m sure half the country is saying or writing something like this right now, but we’re definitely transitioning into spring here. The early flowers are coming up, like these bursts of color. Many birds have returned or become noticeable again, including woodcocks, bluebirds, phoebes, wood ducks, snow geese, and more. The spring peepers and other frogs are chorusing at full volume, to the point that standing near a stream or body of water will actually make your ears ring. Leaves are not budding yet, but there is an almost imperceptible greening of the grass, and the ground is finally thawed enough to work.

Our first crops of spring are in the ground and growing slowly. The garlic, which has overwintered from the fall, is looking very nice ( left). We have some early lettuce in the ground, which we start indoors under grow lights and then transplant. There are about 120 plants out right now, with about the same number awaiting transplant later today. We hope they’ll be ready for harvest within 2-3 weeks. The early lettuce is growing slowly, weathering cold snaps and an early transplant that was a little harsh on my part. I plan on being more gentle with the next round to go out today.

The Columbia Farmers Market opened this past weekend (March 22) with excellent attendance by both vendors and customers. I had held out hopes of having lettuce ready for this first market, but it’s very difficult to do without a proper greenhouse, and we didn’t get the perfect conditions we would have needed to achieve that. The straw and plastic cold frame at left helps, but only so much. In any case, we have radishes coming up and many more about to be seeded, many trays of onions about to be transplanted, and seeding of the first spring peas is not far behind.

For those who might be wondering, my previously discussed neck trouble has healed up for now, thanks to some muscle relaxants, several weeks of rest, and lots of stretching. I’m back at full capacity, and just in time. We just put in a long weekend of labor, cutting and hauling logs to build new garden beds, continuing the orchard clearing project, chipping more mulch, and generally taking advantage of the current warm weather. Within the next month, we plan to have new irrigation installed in the market garden, up to 20 new 4’x16′ raised beds built, a chicken yard and shed built for the chicks that should be arriving this week, fencing and shed built for the goats that will likely be arriving soon, an orchard area mostly cleared so I can sow alfalfa onto it to build and hold the soil, and weekly sales at market of early spring produce. We’ll do our best to keep photos and news coming as the busy season progresses.