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Winter Giving Way to Spring

February 16th, 2009

As winter’s cold has crept back in we’re still feeding the birds and carrying firewood to the stove.  But a few days ago I heard the first Spring Peepers… and they’ve been calling everyday since.   It’s amazing that a tiny frog can make such a loud bird-like call, and they’re the best harbingers of spring that I know.  They usually start calling around mid-to-late February in our area as the sun brings warmer daytime temperatures to shallow water.

After school one day we took a walk in our small patch of forest to see what might be emerging.  I’ve heard that Witch-Hazel is blooming around the area, but we don’t have any that I know of.  They’re neat small trees or shrubs with beautiful yellow fingery flowers.  I think I ordered some from the conservation department, so with any luck after planting this year, we could have a tree or two of our own in a couple years.  I hope to continue to plant many diverse native species, but also to emphasize the one’s that flower at different months so the honey bees will benefit.  Which means we would benefit from the honey too!

On our little hike we discovered some beautiful patches of moss among the leaf litter.  It’s so green and lush and reminds me of stories of fairies, leprechauns and other forest enchantments when I find places like this.  Not to mention how soft it is… usually I try not to walk on the moss and lichens knowing how long it takes for most of them to grow.  But it looks so inviting… on a warm day I could just lay down and take a nap.

Winter moss in the forest

We also saw the bluebirds checking out the nest boxes, and defending them from the sparrows.  I’ll probably try to help the bluebirds by shooing the sparrows away…   I also saw an enormous flock of White-fronted Geese flying high above heading northward.  The Canada Geese are looking for nesting places too.  That afternoon a flock of geese landed on the pond.  I walk toward the pond and most of them fly off… which is okay with me given the amount of you-know-what they leave behind.  Two remained behind to check out the pond… and eventually they flew off too.  I do enjoy it when they visit.

 Canada Geese in February

It’s really fascinating to watch the seasons unfold- literally in the spring of course.  Most of the changes are very subtle, such as flowers that emerge and disappear in a matter of days.   Many changes are more apparent… the pond’s ice is now gone for the year.  It’s nice to see the open water again, and the shadows and reflections. 

Sunset in February at Fox Haven

After a warm day exploring, we finally watch the sun disappear behind the trees. It all looks so peaceful… and then we see something moving on that little stump by the water’s edge.  It’s one of the cats, prowling along the shoreline.

Pond Ice and Green Thoughts

February 3rd, 2009

Too busy catching up on projects and activities over the weekend.  Ah, but that’s good right?  The weather can’t make up it’s mind however, swinging from cold to warm days and back again.  I think tonight the low will be around 7 degrees F, but in a couple of days the high will reach well above 50 degrees.  Just maybe this is the last really cold spell for the winter?  The ice will probably be gone in a week or so.  I’ve started making the rounds and pruning a few more trees- and it’s time to prune the apple trees too.  That’ll be a project for this weekend, along with the garden if we have time.

The snow melted off most areas around the property, but the pond is still frozen over.  I was never quite confident enough to walk on the ice beyond the really shallow corners.  I did see some folks ice fishing on a few smaller ponds in the local area.  Our pond is mostly filled from the watershed, with many warmer spots where the groundwater runs off the property- hence the ice along some of the shoreline areas is far too unstable.

I’m not sure if these cracks in the ice go all the way through, but I’m not walking out there to check either!  The snow has melted off, but the ice has gone through several freeze and thaw cycles.

Cracks in pond ice

Here’s where one of the circles in the ice has thawed, with cracks branching out.   The stump was from a hundred year old oak tree that had a rope swing on it from two decades ago.  The tree eventually died and woodpeckers tore it all apart.   I wonder how long it will last…

Hole in the pond ice

It’s not all ice, snow, brown and gray…  I found my little Shortleaf Pine tree the other day- actually there’s two of them.  They were the only two that survived after planting a couple dozen seedlings two years ago.  But this one is doing great, and has started developing branches.  

Shortleaf Pine

Naturally I picked a drought year to attempt planting those seedlings in the spring of 2007.   If I had done the same last year the survival rate would have been much higher.   But I’ve ordered more native plants again- especially smaller shrubs and trees that help local wildlife such as sumac, buttonbush, elderberry, etc.  (I love having elderberry plants around- they’re great for sauce and jelly during the late summer’s harvest!).   The plants will arrive in March or April, and I’ll spend a week or two trying to figure out where to put the seedlings.

I really appreciate Missouri’s State Forest Nursery and the fact that they make native plants available at very fair prices.  It’s almost too easy these days to choose landscaping plants that really don’t belong in many regions across the country.  We may see a plant or shrub we really like but without realizing it we end up spreading invasive species that detract from the biodiversity of the native environment.    I do appreciate new plants and beautiful landscaping, but at least for the fields and forests in Missouri’s rural areas I hope to foster a more natural approach with native plants.  It makes you wonder though- we’ve got non-native Autumnberry trees around that are very invasive, and yet they’ve been here for about a hundred years now.  I’ve got a bunch of them I need to cut back and remove, but at least the Autumnberry fruit is edible and can make decent jelly too.

Snowy Landscapes

January 29th, 2009

What a snowfall we got the other day.  Our thoughts are with all those folks struggling to get their lives back together after the ice storms this week.  Thankfully we only received the white stuff- about 6-8 inches worth.    The kids were out of school for a couple of days, and we enjoyed a chance to spend some time together.     

The Shiba Inu loves to run around in the snow, and has a coat so thick he would be just fine outside all the time.    He’s running through the garden here and likes to look for rabbits and moles. 

Shiba Inu in winter

Speaking of the garden, it’s pretty sad looking.  I’m embarrassed to show how we’ve barely cleaned up last year’s growth.  The next warm spell we get I’m going to head out and clean it up, and topdress the rows with leaves.  It’s time… I’m already imagining tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, beans, peas…

Garden bare in winter

I keep telling myself spring isn’t far off, especially while plowing the gravel drive.  I took half the snow off, but it’s still a few inches deep.  I don’t want to plow too closely or I would scrape away the packed gravel base.  We park one of the cars near the road during snowstorms because it doesn’t drive very well down and up the snow-covered slope.  Hopefully some of this will melt off today.

Plowing snow on gravel drive

But I just love how the landscape looks when covered in snow.  Maybe it even keeps the bees a little warmer?  Who knows, but in about a month it will be time for the queen bee to start producing a lot more baby bees.  Oh, if you’re wondering- the beehives are black looking because I wrapped them with black-painted insulation for warmth. 

Some people debate whether you should wrap hives in winter in the midwest.  Some believe it makes them too warm and hence they could be more active and eat more their winter stores of honey.  I like to think it helps them stay warmer, using less of their own metabolic energy to stay warm comparatively, and hence eating less of their stored honey over time.  I’m sure there are a lot more opinions and research out there… I’m a new beekeeper and still learning.  But this winter has been colder than normal for us, and I’m glad I wrapped them up. Hopefully they make it to late winter when I’ll start feeding and the cycle will begin again.

Winter landscape and bee hives

Winter Mysteries and Bee Shadows

January 25th, 2009

Looks like snow in the forecast for tonight or tomorrow…  If it’s going to be winter, I enjoy having some of that white stuff around- especially if the alternative is ice or freezing rain.   Late one afternoon as I walked along the pond dam the Little Bluestem just stood out beautifully against the background of the pond.  Snow flurries in the afternoon covered the ice briefly.

Little Bluestem and snow on pond

The next day was warm enough that the sun begain melting the snow.   I found the footprints of an animal that crossed the ice- they look like coyote or fox tracks, but I don’t really know.   Neat to see however.  I also have to wonder how the fish are doing under the ice?  Maybe if it stays cold enough we could even try ice fishing this year.

Footprints on the ice at Fox Haven

The next day the sun melted the snow off the ice to reveal a marvelous scene.  The thawing and freezing of the ice had created some of the most beautiful designs!  It almost looks like stained glass or something created by man… but only God and nature creates such beautiful scenes as this. 

 Designs in the Ice

It was even warm enough one day for the bees to fly around.  It was weeks since I had seen them, and I always worry that they are getting enough to eat through winter.  Watching them buzz all around the outside of the hive was pretty neat. 

 Bees flying about in January

I had to zoom in on one part of that picture above- I love how that one bee’s shadow is reflected on the white landing board!  Here’s a close-up-

Bee and Shadow © Fox Haven Media 2009

Is that cool or what?  I liked it so much that I cropped just the bee’s shadow and added it to the image rotation of the little pictures by the quotes above.  With cold nights and warming days, we could think about tapping a few maple trees for syrup.  That’s a project for another year, however, and for now we’ll just enjoy getting things done around the house.  I actually cleaned off that workbench in the barn yesterday with a nice fire in the woodstove- first time in several years.  With any luck, this mad streak of productivity will continue for a few months into spring.   Goodness knows it’s time to think about what’s going in the garden this year.

Running Through Bluestem

January 17th, 2009

Well the blast of colder weather is giving way to normal winter temps.  I love being outside and training with a little snowfall on the ground.  There was a couple hours of flurries, just enough to brighten the landscape.  It looked like a big snowstorm was coming, but after a while the snow dwindled to tiny flakes again.  The Little Bluestem around the field really brightens the view. 

Falling snow across field of Little Bluestem

The Bluestem also makes for great hiding places.  Yesterday I went out for some training with the yellow lab- it was a cold, breezy 11 degrees F, but he had a grand time, and I did too. He’s been cooped up inside (with the rest of us!) for too long,  and was getting antsy.   They’re such strong, muscular animals that they really need exercise, and he loves running in the field. 

Yellow Labrador Retriever training in winter field

 The orange colored “dummies” I throw for him are difficult to find sometimes, but he has an amazing ability to figure out where they are even if I don’t help direct him.  Sometimes I’ll have him sit at the edge of the field while I meander through it, dropping training dummies in various places so that he doesn’t see.  Then I’ll come back and send him off in one direction to look for them- he’ll start a search pattern like he’s running in the above picture, and use his nose to find them.  We are not at the point where he will follow my hand signals, but he will come back towards me with a certain whistle, and then head out again on command. Eventually he finds them all.  The big pup runs back with such enthusiasm! 

 2-year old Yellow Lab retrieving

Today is bright and sunny, and my younger brother is in town.  He came back from the middle east last month, and has taken time to see the family members- he looks really good! 

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