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.
The excessive rain in Missouri made national news in December, with flooding in St. Louis and along the Mississippi. We received more than ample rain here, though not as much as some. Temperatures averaged well above normal. Though south-bound Snow Geese typically start to fly over us in November, our first observed south-bound Snows this fall appeared on December 1. Yet on December 31, we saw a small flock of Snows heading north. Fortunately, contrary to the implications of the geese, the National Weather Service is forecasting much needed normal-to-below-normal temperatures for the coming weeks.
November was mostly warm with a couple of wet spells, including a short-lived first snowfall. At times we wonder if we’ll run out of new & interesting discoveries or photographic opportunities for these monthly posts, but so far there’s always plenty to find or learn on our walks around the farm’s landscape. Read on for November’s spiders, fungi, parasitic plants, and more.
October was warm and dry, continuing in the pattern of September. The first two-thirds of the month brought 0.11″ of rain, and given the last rainfall of > 0.5″ had been all the way back on September 12, things were getting pretty crackly. Thankfully, the last nine days of the month gave us about an inch and a third with a gentle, soaking delivery. We technically saw the first frost crystals on October 3, but a killing frost was slower to come. The morning of October 15th brought the first crop-damaging frost (on a night that had been forecast above 45 until a few hours before dark). The next two nights, which had been forecast as clear and in the 30s, didn’t yield a single ice crystal, and instead we woke to dense cloud cover. Such is weather.
Sumac is about as reliable as it gets in offering a nice show of fall color. Fragrant Sumac on the right. Some of our maples put on nice shows of color, as well. Continue reading
September was warm and dry, with less than an inch of rain for the entire month. The contrast with our deluge-inal spring is startling; it will seem very strange if this long dry spell ends up drawing the annual precipitation average back toward “normal”. One thing about Missouri weather, it’s a textbook lesson in the danger of relying on averages for accurate information about a system.
Monarch caterpillars were present, though we saw fewer caterpillars than last year, in spite of allowing lots of Common Milkweed to grow for their benefit. I (Joanna) found the Hermit Sphinx (Sphinx eremitus) caterpillar on wild bergamot while pulling snakeroot in a goat paddock. The black spot did an impressively good job of making this look like an empty, hollowed out shell of plant or animal origin, perhaps a form of mimicry to convince predators that there’s nothing to eat here. It almost tricked me, but a second look convinced me this was a caterpillar worth bringing back to the house for ID and a picture. Since it eats mint family plants, I decided to keep it in a jar with some munchies from the herb garden. Turns out that the specimen had been visited by a parasitoid wasp, perhaps Cotesia congregata? Interestingly, the Hermit Sphinx’s relatives, the tomato-eating Tobacco Hornworms have been minimally present this year. Perhaps we can thank parasitoids for that?
This post also appeared in the October 2015 issue of the Columbia Audubon Society’s newsletter, The Chat, which Eric edits.
Red-bellied Woodpeckers used to be one of our favorite local birds. Colorful and flamboyant, they enliven our feeder in winter and patrol our woods in summer. We love how they chase Blue Jays away from the birdseed yet leave smaller birds alone, how they sidle along our porch railing with heads cocked, how they stash food in the woods through a conveyor belt of looping flights. Their brash and distinctive calls enrich our soundscape year-round. While conducting timber stand improvements in our woods, we’ve left abundant dead snags to support the woodpecker population. Then came the great fruit massacre of 2015.