Bird list & other natural events, August 2013

August was our third dry month in a row, and with the rising heat by the end of the month it really began to feel like a flashback to last year’s brutal summer. Overall it was a remarkably stable month in terms of weather; very little variation in temperature, few notable weather systems: it was like farming in California, for better and for worse. The days just quietly passed by, crops grew like crazy, and the natural world puttered along. Horseflies grew really intense toward the end of the month, with Joanna killing 42 in one evening’s session of field work, and Eric multiple times killing 4 in one blow on the pigs’ backs. Continue reading

Bird list & other natural events, July 2013

This July really ought to be discussed in two parts. The first 3 weeks or so, it was seasonal to warm and really dry: we only recorded 0.25″ of rain through July 20. That’s worse than the equivalent period in July 2012, in the midst of the brutal drought. We were getting really worried about a growing repeat of that year, especially given the less than two inches recorded in all of June.  As we noted in last month’s natural post, “With some reasonable rain soon, we could be primed for a nice summer”. It took another three weeks, but then two and a half inches in the last ten days turned things around and got us headed into August with wonderfully seasonal to cool temperatures. All in all, we’ll look back on this month with fondness, now that we know how it ends. Still, only 2.71″ total compared to a monthly average of 4.37″ means we remain in a dry spell that could quickly turn problematic again. Continue reading

Bird list & other natural events, June 2013

This June was a generally pleasant month, with stable seasonal temperatures and a reasonable hot spell toward the end. It’s been quite dry, with only 1.89″ of rain recorded on the farm, compared to a monthly average for Columbia of 4.47″. Even that total is misleading, since much of that rain came in light, isolated showers, which didn’t really soak in before the intense sun burned it off. Only twice did we receive more than 0.25″ at a time. This dryness has been good in the short term, counteracting the cold wet spring, but it feels like an approaching tipping point. If it stays this dry here, we’ll start entering drought concerns again. With some reasonable rain soon, we could be primed for a nice summer. While crop pests haven’t been a major problem, lots of human pests like ticks, chiggers, mosquitoes, deer flies, horse flies, and more have been a constant source of frustration. Read on for a photo essay of interesting wildlife and the monthly bird list. Continue reading

Bird list & other natural events, May 2013

Having summarized last month as “We could write a novel about how frustrating April’s weather was“, we’re now working on a Tolkien epic of meteorological frustration for May. With a total recorded rainfall of exactly 12.00″ and just over 7″ in the final week, compared to an average monthly total of 4.98” for Columbia, this aspect of the last part of the month was miserable. We had our last spring frost on the morning of May 12, which is relatively late for us, though we have seen mid-May frosts before. However, it was a great birding month, with all sorts of interesting species moving through and the late spring leaf-out providing better viewing conditions. We were able to take numerous mushroom-hunting walks in the woods (with limited success) and otherwise generally enjoyed the natural-history part of the farm even as the rains refused to stop. Read on for some interesting photos and a massive bird list. Continue reading

Bird list & other natural events, April 2013

We could write a novel about how frustrating April’s weather was, especially following on the heels of March. Despite a few misleadingly hot, sunny days, the month overall was disproportionately cold, wet, and cloudy. Various markers of spring are well behind normal, as are pretty much all our crops. Soil temperatures have remained lower than desired, regular rain kept conditions problematically soggy, and with so little regular sun, transplants and newly seeded crops grew quite slowly if at all. We did compile a very nice bird list for the month, but overall this April, like March, is best left quickly behind us. Continue reading

Early April farm happenings

Spring has finally arrived in our valley, and with vigor. In just the past week of warm weather, an intense flush of green growth has invigorated the grasses, weeds and wildflowers everywhere we look. Lots of spring birds are arriving, while a diverse chorus of frogs provides background ambiance.  The very slow start to spring pushed our outdoor work far behind as we waited for the soil to dry & warm. Finally, last week’s dry spell allowed us to undertake a marathon week of bed prep, seeding, transplanting, and more, exhausting ourselves thoroughly while enjoying finally moving forward with the growing season. This important work was cut off by the recent swath of strong storms which dumped over 2″ of rain, very heavy at times, and caused various problems with flooding and erosion (with minimal problems in the growing area, but roads especially aren’t pretty). And, of course, this once again slows down our planting & seeding plans while we wait for things to dry out.  We  could really use a nice, long stretch of pleasant weather, however unlikely that is in a typical Missouri April (the upcoming forecast has repeated rounds of rain again). Read on for some photos of early spring on the farm, and a glimpse of the first new crops of the year. Continue reading

Bird list & other natural events, March 2013

We could not imagine two months much different than March of 2012 and 2013. Last year we basically had May in March, getting the natural & growing season off to a worryingly early start. Now the opposite is true; it stayed so cold and snowbound most of the month that we’re as far behind now as we were ahead in 2012. Compare the two monthly temperature graphs below for March 2012 and 2013 in Columbia, from the National Weather Service. The average high for March 2013 (47.5 F) was lower than the average low for March 2012 (48.4 F); for reference the normal average is 55.3 (high) & 34 (low). The paired photos in this post also vividly demonstrate the difference.

march_temp_graphs Continue reading

Contrasting spring weather & CSA implications

It’s hard to imagine a more striking contrast in weather conditions than the springs of 2012 and 2013 here. Last year, spring came absurdly, worryingly early and forced us into an unexpectedly quick start to the growing season, distributing CSA share #2 weeks before we expected. This year, three strong winter storms within a month have shut down our progress toward spring preparations and planting, and will delay the 2013 CSA season as much as last year accelerated it. To date, the average high for March 2013 (46ºF with a few days to go in the month) is lower than the average low for March 2012 (48.4ºF). To illustrate these wild swings in weather & growing conditions, here are two sequences of photographs from the two years, taken at the same locations within a day of each other. Continue reading

Bird list & natural events, Februrary 2013

Well, February will certainly be remembered around here; it was quite different from last year’s absurdly warm & dry month. After a  first three weeks of stable, moderately moist, unremarkable weather, winter remembered its existence for the first time in two years and dropped two major winter storms in our laps within 5 days. The remaining week of February was quite memorable, not least because of the excellent birding produced by so much snow. Though the short-term damage and inconvenience are real, in the long run we’ll be very grateful for this much moisture added to the soil as we hopefully begin recovering from last year’s drought. Read on for this month’s extra-long bird list and some fun photos taken at our feeder. Continue reading

Handling winter storms on a homestead farm

Two strong winter storms over the past week offer an excellent chance to examine how a farm like ours can both benefit and suffer from winter weather. While these storms created a variety of problems for us, our long-term focus on diversification and self-sufficiency in both business and personal life really paid off under these conditions. Here’s a look at what happened, and how it’ll affect us in both the short and long term. Continue reading