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.

dec_natural_crop_growth Continue reading

Cooking with kid: Koftas

kofta_mealWe don’t make Indian food as often as we’d like, so for this installment of “Cooking with kid” I decided to address my goals of culinary diversity by tackling koftas (spiced meatballs). Although ground meat has already been featured in Burgers and Tacos, it’s a practical way to use less-than-ideal cuts, and we always enjoy the results. This meal ended up being the most stressful to prepare of the entire series to date, but the end result was nice. Perhaps I’ll tell the full story in a different post, but for now here’s the simple version.

Continue reading

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.

nov_natural_spiderwebs Continue reading

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

Cooking with kid: Hocks in groundnut stew

This is the time of year to use meat as a condiment to vegetables. Produce is abundant, but as cooler weather sets in, hearty soups and stews begin to to return to our menu. So, for my most recent “cooking with kid” meal, I decided to use one of Eric’s favorite tricks: add meat to a beloved vegetarian recipe. (By the way, check out our new “Cooking with Kid” index page to learn more about this Joanna-cooks-a-goat project.)

groundnut_meal 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.

sep_natural_more_caterpillars

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?

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

Sorghum syrup, part of Missouri’s agricultural and culinary heritage

The September issue of Feast Magazine includes a feature story by Eric, which begins

What would you do without sugar?

This was a very real question for Missourians and their neighbors in the late 1850s. In the years leading up to the Civil War, Northerners became increasingly concerned with finding a source of domestic sweetener that wasn’t linked to the South, where sugar was produced and shipped up the Mississippi River. The answer was found in a new use for an old crop: sorghum syrup. You can still taste this piece of regional history today through the work of sorghum syrup producers across the Midwest, including Sandhill Farm, a certified organic producer in northeastern Missouri.

You can read the full story online in two formats, either as straight web text or the full magazine layout (with photography). This was a fun story to work on, highlighting a common ingredient in our kitchen and a farm we like and respect.

This story was born from a conversation with Stan Hildebrand of Sandhill Farm, who told us that they produced 500-800 gallons of sorghum syrup per year, and sold it as far away as Asia. On one hand, that’s a victory for international trade, but on the other, it struck us as odd that a local producer would NEED to market their product that far away. After all, our own two-person household uses a gallon of sorghum per year, and if even a fraction of Columbia residents (much less St Louis or Missouri residents) matched even a fraction of our consumption, Sandhill would sell out locally in no time. Sorghum syrup could, should, be a bigger part of the local-foods picture than it is. So we set out to learn more, and tell the story of this unique product and its Missouri roots. Continue reading

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).

aug_natural_caterpillars_mostly

Continue reading