27 April 2009

Watching the signs

Salad greens are ready to harvest in the freezer-cold frames, and the soil is ready to be worked, despite the lingering snow-pack along the tree-line and in the woods. Our garden is situated on the driest part of the property, there are still ponds in low-lying spots in the pastures and grain fields, but the garden soil is ready.

All signs pointed to an early spring, and they have not disappointed, we are working ground and planting seeds at least two weeks earlier than last spring. And we are taking full advantage of the time. All signs are pointing to a dry season as well, so we are planting in time to catch the generous spring rains, and then mulching over much of the garden to hold that precious rainfall in the soil. We cannot count out a late snow fall yet, but a bit of snow wouldn't hurt the crops we have planted: potatoes, carrots, parsnip and peas so far. The onions, beets, turnips and grains will follow next. I also re-planted the biennial seed saving crop of onions, carrots, beets, and turnips, as well as the solitary leek that overwintered under mulch in the garden.

We are amazed at how quickly the snow melt has been absorbed into the ground this spring, the ground seemed thirsty, and our well had dropped quite low over the winter. Our cumulative snowfall for the winter of 2008/9 came to 13'4", just under last winter's at 14'2", but if I hadn't kept records, I would have thought this past winter had half the snow as 2007/8, judging by the ground moisture.

An early spring has also meant an early re-appearance of Spring Peepers, as well as the migratory birds. Although the Peepers sounded their first herald of spring with gusto on Saturday evening, the migratory birds have not shown up in their usual numbers. Last spring we could not count the dozens of Robins, Grackles, Red-Winged Blackbirds and Starlings that flooded the sodden pastures, overturning manure for the treasure trove of earthworms. This spring, only a modest 4 dozen Grackles, a handful of Blackbirds, no Starlings as of yet, and perhaps 6 dozen Robins. Again, last spring the view out my kitchen windows was hopping with pairs of a half-dozen species of Sparrows, scooping up weed-seeds and flitting back and forth to the trees. This spring, only a single pair of Song Sparrows have graced my view. Not to mention the song, last spring it was a cacophony, and this spring it is a mere twitter.

We were aware of the decline of the swallow, flycatcher, and wood thrush populations locally, and have greatly desired their healthy return, to contend with the abundance of biting and blood-sucking insects. But there seems to be a decline in even the heartiest little bird fellows. Birds can be an invaluable ally in the organic garden, and I am learning more about how to create habitat, here in their summer breeding grounds, but if they simply do not return, it is a sad loss.

The return of the birds, the emergence of the peepers and the awakening of the bees are the three crucial signs of ecological health I watch closely. The bees are yet to appear, although this past weekend, sunny and 60F, should have brought them out, searching for pollen. And there is a source of pollen awaiting them in the trees. Dandelions and clover blooms are still a month away, but the hungry little bees make their first honey from an unlikely source.

This poplar bud has burst into long catkins, covered with minuscule flowers, all dusted with pollen.
Maple flowers are starting to open, revealing their nectar.

And the furry pussy willow has transformed into a bristle of delicate yellow stamens.


ChristyACB said...

Spring is well and truly hear also. Maybe we got all your birds since I have way more than usual this year. But why, oh why, won't they eat the cabbage worms?

angela said...

You have spring and winter has hit us early and hard.
Maybe we took it from you too soon.

Freija and Beringian Fritillary said...

Christy, it would be great if there was a bird out there that ate those plump little green worms! But it is mostly the job of the Braconid Wasps (see http://bugguide.net/node/view/170), who parasitize leaf eating larvae like the cabbage worm or the tomato hornworm. Here's a picture of a parasitized hornworm http://bugguide.net/node/view/29622, so if you ever see something like this, definately do not squish it!
Glad to hear the birds are plentiful in your area!

angela, sorry to hear about your early winter and gale force winds. Hope it doesn't do too much damage in the garden.