Everyone has stuff to do. Some of us are list makers, like Quarry Farm Board President Laura. Others have swirls of snippets of chatter spinning through their brain, like yours truly. Or little notes jotted on the backs of envelopes stuffed in the glove compartment, drawers and/or stacked on the kitchen table (again, fingers pointing right back.) Here on The Quarry Farm, there is always so much to do. Water tubs and buckets to clean and refill, food to prep and food bowls to juggle, hungry potbellies to restrain, hinnying donkeys to brush, and buildings to clean, rinse and repeat. This year, we have buildings to paint. And that’s just in the farm animal sanctuary. In the gardens of Red Fox Cabin, the long wait for nature to prevail over invasives is one which has yet to be won. But Nature is making headway, with a little help from her friends. After years of solarizing beds and hand-picking beetles rather than spraying and dusting, has allowed natural insect predators to get a foothold. The gigantic rainbarrel that collects droplets from the roof of Red Fox Cabin is almost always full for the watering. But those of us who currently ‘mind the store’ rarely have the opportunity to check everything off our wish list. Last Saturday — that golden day — we got to pen a whole host of checkmarks. About a month ago, I received an email from William Schumacher. I first met Bill when an Ohio Department of Natural Resources co-worker suggested that the man, an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency employee, might be willing to lend his expertise as a soil science presenter at a teacher workshop I was planning. It turns out that actually wasn’t the first time that I met Bill. He and his brothers Joe and Dan grew up along the opposite bank of Riley Creek. We rode the same school bus and developed the same love for nature while walking the creeks, pastures and woods. Getting back to that email. Although Bill and his brothers no longer live nearby, they remember. They remember the fish that swam in Riley Creek and the pasture that their dad tended for years. And they’ve seen what happened to the creek when that floodplain pasture was plowed and subsequently eroded. They like the clear waters of Cranberry Run that flow through The Quarry Farm on their way to the Riley, so much so that Bill offered up his helping hand as well of those his wife Carol and their teenaged daughters and sons. Since his brother Joe was flying in from South Dakota and his brother Dan would also be up from the Dayton area, why, they could bring up their tools and pitch in to help us out, too. Boy, did they ever. When Sophie the potbelly pig arrived here last month, she was so overweight that she couldn’t walk, much less be spayed. In less than eight hours, we had a new wooden fence in the quarantine area where Sophie is now dieting. The butterfly gardens were weeded of quack grass, with straw down between the rows. Bill had dug and walled a kidney-shaped raingarden off the north gable of the cabin. Dan had led a crew along the south end of the Cranberry, clearing windfall from the path and cutting a big dent in bush honeysuckle along the way. Words cannot sufficiently express our gratitude to the Schumachers. Instead, I’ll let the impressions of some of our youngest visitors say it for me. These drawings just arrived in the mail, sent to us by the third grade class from Pandora-Gilboa Elementary School following a day spent here on May 8. Those kids are one of the greatest reasons why we do what we do, so that these creeks, pastures and woods, as well as the nonhumans that share it, will mean as much to them as they did to much younger Bill, Joe, Dan and me. Still do.
Before we continue along the trail in a search of wildflowers and wild mushrooms, let’s take a moment to highlight a Friday adventure that we shared with the third grade class from Pandora-Gilboa Elementary School.
Although the school is just around a few corners from The Quarry Farm, this is the first time a class has been able to pay us visit in a while. This morning, the sun rose in a clear blue sky, the tortuous winds that we’ve had of late held their breath for the most part, and 41 students descending the bus steps to join us for the morning.
At three different stations, these curious kids learned about herbs alongside the butterfly garden, beneficial insects that spend much of their life in and along Cranberry Run and Riley Creek, and met some of the animals of the sanctuary.
At Station 1, Laura talked about past and present uses for herbs, and the pollinators that live amongst them in the Red Fox Cabin gardens. The students chose snipped samples of their favorites from a selection of culinary and/or fragrant herbs, zip-lock bagged the cuttings and labeled the bags for the journey home.
Steve brought on the dragonfly nymphs, or at least a bucket of them, at Station 2. He talked about the life cycles and habits of these predators, as well as others like damselflies and water scorpions. He pulled the old arm-covered-with-leeches trick, asking, “How long will it be before these leeches suck all the blood from my arm?” The answer? Never. The leeches he displayed were fish leeches.
Bronze turkeys Humperdink, Inigo, and Miracle Max were the greeting party at Station 3, the farm animal sanctuary. Johnny the Canada goose joined in, too. Most of the residents were lying low — in outbuildings and under trees — due to warm, sweaty temperatures, but Buddy the donkey came out. Potbelly Carlton and Lucy the donkey made their large group debut as well. Carlton rolled over for a belly scratch and Lucy leaned in for ear whispers.
Captain John Smith the Virginia opossum was the special guest “speaker” during the lunch hour. Half of the class met the Captain at Christmas time during a classroom reading of Jan Brett’s The Mitten. We thought it only fair he should meet the whole class on his own turf.
Here are a few more images from the day. Thank you to Nikki Beckman for sharing photos, Jessica Arthur and Jill Henry for sharing your class time, and top Paulding Putnam Electric Cooperative and First National Bank of Pandora for supporting this educational program. If anymore photos arrive in the email box, we’ll add them to the show.
If the bloodroot blooms did weather the April freezes, they were gone by May 2, when naturalist Tammy Spillis led a walk along greening Quarry Farm trails. Armed with field guides and mnemonic devices like “sedges have edges,” staff and registered attendees started down Red Fox hill in a search for wildflowers and fungi.
Our first find beyond a carpet of wood violets was tall meadow rue. “Anything in the buttercup family is poisonous, but they’re good pollinators,” said Tammy.
A sap test on the next find was done on something in the lettuce family, a plant called lion’s foot. A painted turtle raised his head from Cranberry Run, perhaps at the mention of wild lettuce, then swam upstream and away.
One of the preserve’s many corded grapevines, thick as a bodybuilder’s bicep, hung over the creek. “I never cut grapevines down,” said Tammy. “The larger the root going into the ground, the greater the volume of water. What actually brings down a tree is not because the grapevine is a parasite, but because water is heavy.”
She explained that an upper offshoot of a grapevine such as this one, when tapped with a plastic bag secured over the cut, can yield up to a quart of sweet water in a half-hour’s time. “Always keep a grapevine in your woods, just in case your well goes bad,” our guide advised.
Black mustard grew, hot and spicy, near the vine. Kidney leaf buttercup was a few steps beyond. Way back when, certain plants were thought to be a tonic for the body parts they resembled. “As science advanced and they made explanations into the different folklore, they found many of the plants held true to that,” said Spillis. “But many did not. This is toxic. Don’t eat it.”
She pointed out a native loosestrife, common name moneywort, good for pollinators, flanked by spring beauties. Spring beauties are related to purslane. So let it grow — purslane is high in Omega 3 oils. That means it’s good for you.
Eric, the brewer in our party, was interested in the wild ginger growing on the old quarry’s edge. We first noticed one or two plants and their burgundy pipe-like flower in that spot a couple of years ago. The warm green leaves have increased in number since then, and new beds are springing up elsewhere in the flood plain. Tammy told us that ants are making this happen.
“The wild ginger seeds have this oily sugar coating. The ants come back for the seeds and move them to their ant colony. They don’t eat the seeds themselves; all they want is the sugar coating. Wherever the colony is, you’ll get another colony of wild ginger. Isn’t that nice?”
It sure is. More good things to come, further up the hillside.
Click on the newsletter cover to the right to read the highlights of what has happened recently on the nature preserve, gardens and farm animal sanctuary, as well as what is to come.
SAVE THE DATE: On Saturday, May 2, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., rain or shine, walk The Quarry Farm Nature Preserve with naturalist Tamara Spillis and learn more about native mushrooms and wild plants.
– Registration: Open to the first 20 applicants (age 16 and over). Call 419-384-7195 or 419-234-4620 or email firstname.lastname@example.org before April 30 to register.
– Workshop Fee: $15 (includes lunch)
(Optional) Bring a favorite field guide, notebook, pencil, cameras, trail snacks.
• If you are allergic to penicillin, you should not eat morel mushrooms, no matter how delectable. Morels contain a substance also found in penicillin that accumulates in body tissues and can eventually cause anaphylactic shock.
• Oil lamps containing mushroom wicks may have lighted the world for ancient peoples.
• Genghis Khan made gun powder out of charred shelf mushrooms.
These are a few of the fascinating mushroom facts shared by naturalist Tamara Spillis during a recent slide presentation to The Gathering Basket Herb Society.
On Saturday, May 2, Tamara will share her extensive knowledge with 20 lucky people as we walk The Quarry Farm nature trails and prairie. We will have the opportunity to explore with Tammy as she identifies and talks about the mushrooms, flowers, and plants along the way, and if you have brought your camera, you can get some great photos.
Some wildflowers that we know about, like wood violets, blood root, and Jack-in-the-pulpit should be blooming on May 2, but the Quarry Farm staff are excited about the prospect of discovering other species that we haven’t yet identified. When Tamara is finished surveying plant life here, we will have a great educational resource to share with visitors of all ages in the future.
Keep an eye on the weather forecast and come prepared for conditions. No matter what, we will have a great day on the trail.
Tamara works part-time as Master Gardener Coordinator in Henry County (Ohio). In addition, she is a small business owner who manages a naturalist service, working with private landowners and conservation entities to identify and document populations of wildflower and wildlife species.
She also teaches and lectures at museums and colleges on Native American bone and stone tool use. An amateur mycologist, she has published articles on the use of mushrooms by diverse ancient and modern cultures for fire, warfare, and medicine.
Color photos that Tamara has taken in the field showed insects feeding on and pollinating wildflowers, plants in the various stages of their life cycles, easily confused plants with similar flowers — one edible and the other deadly, mutually supportive plant and insect relationships, common wild plants that are edible and others that are toxic, plants that we live alongside of but rarely see in our everyday lives, and many other insights into the natural world of the fields and woods around us.
The oaks, the last trees to lose their leaves in fall, were down to just a few spots of brittle color when we first learned of Lucy.
A family in southwest Indiana sent out a distress signal that life had thrown them a curve, making it necessary for them to rehome a small flock of sheep and their guardian donkey. Bot flies and shearing wool appealed to neither our time nor talents, but the thought of opening our gate to another donkey seemed the ticket for our little Buddy. Six months and a bitter winter later, Lucy and her person made the four-hour journey to Riley Township.
My Steven and I were on the south boundary Saturday replacing old fencing, much to the dismay of two sassy goats whose nimble limbs and twitching noses were turned by the grass on the other side. The job also gave us an excuse to watch for a truck-pulling-trailer with Indiana plates.
I think Buddy knew. As I leaned over to stretch the bottom of the fence, he walked up and laid his head across my shoulder. They always know something’s up, whether it’s a storm or a class trip full of adoring little persons with apple slices and peanuts in their pockets.
Lucy’s wheels rolled up around 1 p.m. The welcoming committee lined up along the fence to meet the driver, except for Buddy. He pressed himself against the fence and stared in the window of the horse trailer. When Lucy was led through the gate and let off the lead, Buddy did an-honest-to-goodness happy dance.
For her part, Lucy was a little stand-offish. Her person Brandi Ireland told us that they lost a donkey to the winter of 2013-14, leaving a sad Lucy to mind the sheep. For the first hour on Ohio soil, she put on a good show of preferring grass and hay over some boy, but she never let that boy get more than a few strides away.
For the rest of the afternoon into evening, Buddy showed Lucy around her new digs, placing himself dutifully between her and the goats. I’m not sure if that was for her safety, theirs, or just Buddy making a statement of ownership.
Through human eyes and sensibilities, it seems that Buddy’s warm brown eyes are brighter and five years lifted from his gait in a few hours’ time. The goats are watching them both to see which donkey will figure out how to open the hay barn doors now that the salad bar next door is off the menu.
That’s not anthropomorphizing; that’s a day in the life with a Buddy boy and his goats, plus one. Better than a Sudoku puzzle to keep any two-legger on their toes.
It’s Monday and snow is falling outside the window. The temperature is low enough that the white stuff of winter is sticking in clumps on trees and on what new grass there is. Two days ago it wasn’t much warmer, but it was still the first full day of spring. And even though the morning blew in on a cold northwest wind, Spring is great cause for celebration after a polar cold winter that began prematurely with snow on October 31.
We planned a March 21 ‘Welcome Spring’ Family Day three months ago by placing the event announcement in our winter newsletter. It was an optimistic move, one which dreamed big of turning over logs to find salamanders and the first bloodroot leaves curling up from the ground around the old homestead well north of the 10-acre grassland.
The forecast looked promising for Saturday, with sun and predicted temps in the high 50s. As noted two paragraphs ago, what we got was cold wind and gray. Laura switched the refreshment menu from cookies and lemonade to doughnut holes, cookies and a selection of hot beverages which we thought would consumed by those of us who live close by.
Instead, we were joined by three families, all hat-and-coated and ready to hit the trails. Most were return visitors, so they knew that the wind chill would drop once we entered the nature preserve with its tree lines of defense.
Two Canada geese stayed put on the melted quarry surface, at least long enough for us to watch them lift off. We saw plenty of signs of movement, from a variety of tracks to wild turkey feathers. And since this walk was one to greet Spring, this group inaugurated the vernal pool trail for all future guests.
Steve gathered two water samples from the largest pool, an oxbow that was once part of Cranberry Run prior to a brutal 1950s attempt to ditch the natural, wild creek. The oxbow is home to frogs, dragonflies, woods ducks and a variety of turtles. Saturday, most burrowed deep and our enthusiasm sent anything with wings away, but the net did yield scuds, a tiny crustacean akin to shrimp.
We pondered scat in the upland grassland, talked about the sharp hawthorn that sometimes stores a shrike’s lunch and made maple leaf angels on the main hardwoods trail.
Up and out again, and several donuts and hot chocolate cups later, the south Cranberry Run trail led us to the farm animal sanctuary where Buddy, Beatrice, Johnny, Marsh and Mister Bill led the pack in a high-five. Turkeys Inigo and Humperdink paraded their splendid selves about, puffing and drumming as their heads mottled from pink to blue to purple and back again.
It was the first visit with guests for Mister Bill, a very, very, very large Boer goat, and he was tolerant until he’d had enough and wandered away to chew on a spruce. We took the hint at high noon, the scheduled departure time anyway, and were escorted to the gate by turkeys, goats, Buddy and Beatrice.
A warmer spring walk, one fit for wildflowers and light sweaters, is in the works for April.