Natural events, February 2016

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.

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Natural events, January 2016

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.

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Natural events, December 2015

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.

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Natural events, November 2015

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.

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Natural events, October 2015

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.

oct_natural_sumacSumac 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

Natural events, September 2015

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.

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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?

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When habitat and harvest collide

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.woodpecker_fruit_1

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Natural events, August 2015

The remarkable thing about August was the pleasant stretch of weather late in the month, with highs not exceeding the low 80s and lows not exceeding the mid 60s. We enjoyed many lovely August dinners on the porch, amazed by the comfortable temperature and low humidity. Typically, Missouri August comes with amazing food and miserable weather, so to enjoy eating August food in pleasant weather outdoors was a delight! Precipitation moderated in August (in comparison to the soggy months preceding it), though the month managed to give us both too little and too much rain. The bulk of the month’s rain came in a 2.89” one-morning dump, with the rest of the month contributing only about three-quarters of an inch, for a grand total of 3.67”. All in all, not a bad month, given what this state is capable of serving up. We haven’t hit 100ºF all summer (and we’re hoping it stays that way).

Which of these things is not like the others? The answer is below the break (along with many more photos).

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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:

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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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