Featured this month:
- Biodiversity in the sweet potato patch
- Unhappy caterpillars, parts 1 & 2
- It might be a bad day to free-range the chickens when…
- Fall flowers
September was warm with sufficient moisture. Really not too much to complain about, other than some much-above-normal temperatures.
Biodiversity in the sweet potato patch
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:
- 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.
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.
Mentioned this month: a few flowers, desperate dryness, garlic galore, reptile reproduction, interesting insects, cup plant critters, and
fantastic &*#! foxes.
Left to right: Heartleaf Skullcap (Scutellaria ovata), Ohio horsement (Blephilia ciliata), and Wild Petunia (Ruellia humilis).
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 flowers! Some of these are native, some introduced, some wild, some cultivated, some edible, some not. We like all of these. Continue reading
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.
These 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.
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.
Dramatic deer-exclosure study in Wisconsin; image courtesy of Dr. Thomas Rooney,
Wright State University.
March brought wacky weather, as March has been prone to do lately. We had a big early warm pulse followed by big temperature fluctuations featuring some cold nights, including one in the low 20s according to our porch thermometer. We saw our first ever peach blossom at Chert Hollow on March 18. In spite of trying to protect the still-small trees with row cover on cold nights, we don’t think these trees are going to be putting on any peaches in 2016. So enjoy the blossom photo in all its glory; that’s our peachy reward for the year.
The March rainfall total was a little under 2 inches, definitely below average for March, but for once it came in small doses and mostly had a chance to infiltrate into the soil instead of running off. Continue reading
February was warm and dry, with less than half an inch of precipitation and only dustings of snow. We had one decent cold spell near the beginning of the month, but February had more than its fair share of days that were warm enough to strip down to a t-shirt while working. In isolation, it is hard to complain about such a day, but collectively the unseasonable warmth is concerning. Agriculturally and ecologically, too much warmth too soon is just asking for trouble. We saw it in 2007 when early warmth was followed by the “Easter freeze” that destroyed fruit crops and set back forest leaf-out in a wide swath of the country’s midsection. We saw it in 2012 when a warm March was probably indirectly responsible for a terrible garlic crop here and across much of the Midwest. March of 2012 was also a preface to a miserably hot & dry summer, an experience we do not care to repeat.
Our monthly birds/natural event post series began in January 2011, so this post begins our sixth year (archive to old posts on the Landscape page). We started the series because most of the topics we felt compelled to blog about oozed pessimism about the country’s bizarre and dysfunctional agricultural system. We felt we needed content with a positive tone, what Eric calls “fuzzy bunny” posts. Perky, feel-good posts aren’t quite our style, but we figured that even if we wouldn’t coo over their fuzziness, we could at least write about bunnies, and the hawks that eat them, and the ecosystem that otherwise surrounds us and into which our farm is integrated. And so began the natural event post series. The style has evolved over time, from short posts featuring a bird list to longer, photo-driven posts featuring observations that caught our attention and especially those caught on camera. We enjoy doing these, but we don’t get paid for them and they take a fair amount of time to prepare, so if you like these posts, please consider commenting and/or sharing with friends.
January 2016’s weather was moderate. Temperatures did drop below zero, but warm days were numerous, as well. The pond froze but never reached a thickness that we were comfortable venturing out on; will this be our first Missouri winter without outdoor ice skating? Precipitation totaled less than an inch, some in the form of light snow. The ground was free of snow for much of the month, but a snow on Tuesday January 19th that persisted to the weekend was great for capturing tracks.