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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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.

aug_natural_wine_worthy

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.

july_natural_grazing

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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

Natural events, April 2016

Overall, April was a glorious month; it usually is. The temperatures and precipitation were moderate and unproblematic most of the time. One very big exception was the night that dipped well below freezing; our porch thermometer read 21ºF prior to dawn. As a result, we lost most of our tree fruit crop.

apr_natural_frozen_blossomsThese photos show Asian pear blossoms (left) and apple blossoms (right) that got killed by the freeze on the morning of April 9. The warm preceding weather meant that blossoming was ahead of a sensible schedule. We tried to provide some protection by wrapping trees or branches in row cover where practical, but this seems to have provided effectively no benefit. We might have considered spraying water for protection, but as we were teaching a long-ago scheduled birding class that morning, we couldn’t stick around until temperature rose above freezing, so our options were limited. Guess we’ll plant extra melons this year.

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Are deer bad for songbirds?

The following essay appeared in the April 2016 newsletter of the Columbia Audubon Society (The Chat), but we thought we’d repost it here as it deals directly with our struggles against abundant deer on this farm.

While deer are a natural part of many North American ecosystems, there is concern that some populations have grown beyond the carrying capacity of their environment. Studies using exclosure fences have documented more biodiversity and lusher growth in areas from which deer are restricted, and the reverse in areas where deer are abundant. While this has direct consequences on botanical diversity, it also has disturbing implications for birds which share this disturbed habitat. Al Cambronne wrote about this in his fascinating 2013 book Deerland:

Deer reduce the total density of plants in the understory, but they also alter species composition and diversity. Scientists don’t understand (the) indirect effects of overabundant deer as clearly as they do the more simple, direct ones . . . If the forest understory is gone completely, it stands to reason that ground-nesting birds will be more exposed to predators and the elements . . . As plants in the midstory die or graduate into the canopy, birds that nest and forage there will be homeless too.

exclosure

Dramatic deer-exclosure study in Wisconsin; image courtesy of Dr. Thomas Rooney,
Wright State University.

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