Smelling spring with new fingers

20180509_095537This land that we two-leggers call The Quarry Farm has been in family hands for a long time. I remember walking up the trail toward what we still call ‘The Cut-Off.’ My Uncle Carl led the way. He was a teenager and I was pretty sure he would get us home. This wetland, an oxbow severed by 1950s-era engineers from the free-flow of Cranberry Run, was the outer reaches for me. I had faith that teenage Carl, a grown-up to grade-school me, would know the way back.

20180509_100344Around the time that Carl and I took that walk, I decided that my mission was to preserve this 50-acre island. I know how lucky I am to have this memory. After adult years of looking for my purpose in life, I realized that my small self was right.  I came to my senses in time for my child to create her own memories among the native flowers, trees and cricket frogs that sing of wild spring here. Luckily, My Steven agreed.

There are lots of reasons why we do what we do here. In my mind, the best thing we can do is give people of all ages the opportunity to connect with the natural world of Northwest Ohio as we do every day. If you’ve seen a baby dragonfly with your own eyes, touched its budding wings as an emerald-winged adult snatches a whining mosquito from the air around you, you’ll remember that and want to see it again and again, here and in your own backyard.

20180509_094706Last week, we introduced The Quarry Farm to children, teachers and parents from Patrick Henry Preschool. On May 9 and 10, they made lasting leaf shirts from the foliage of blooming buckeye trees. They took a “Smelling Hike” of Red Fox Cabin gardens to enjoy the scents of mint, costmary, and viburnum. They saw the inhabitants of Cranberry Run and were greeted at the farm animal sanctuary gate by pigs Nemo, Carlton and Beatrice.

Before they did any of these things, the visitors met Tyree the Cornsnake. Small fingers brushed his smooth skin, described as “ripply” by one boy. Never would have thought of that myself, but that young man is spot-on. Teacher Cheryl, a self-professed ophiophobia, stretched out her own hand and touched the snake’s red-orange scales. She’d never touched a snake before.

That’s what we’re talking about.20180510_091636

Bridging confused seasons

This week’s April morning snow reminded me that the mucks will likely occupy a place on the door mat beside the sandals, probably for a double-digit number of days. The garden hose thawed in 80°F last Friday. Resting water froze again on Saturday. There is a groundhog somewhere who predicts eight more weeks of hauling water buckets.

We grouse about layers of sweaters, vests and coats, socks and boots. We never know what to tell visitors to wear, so we just tell them, “Come prepared for the weather. There will be hot chocolate or lemonade.” Pigs Nemo and Carlton have done their winter worst, rooting three acres of soil so that the pastures resemble a mine field. If this didn’t happen every year, we would despair of the unsightly furrowed ground.

“We’ll never be able to fix this,” commented Steve on the first spring with multiple pigs in the farm animal sanctuary. We stood on the front porch and despaired over upturned soil, bare of green grass and treacherous for foot traffic. A month later, after the first mow, the grass was green and patches of Grandpa Seitz’s bird’s-foot trefoil bloomed on the hillside. The garden was remarkably free of Japanese beetles. We realized that the pigs had feasted on more grubs than shoots. Now we grin and bear the brown ruts, knowing that there will be more than enough thick grass to cut when shorts-and-T weather settles in.

So…this snow. The sky is clear and the forecast predicts a high of 55°F. The barn and shed roofs are beginning to drip. The chickens and turkeys dodge the drops as they breakfast and the geese revel in widening puddles.

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20180419_072542In the cold shadows of the nature preserve, the colors are still blue, gray and purple. I cross the footbridge, going where a raccoon has recently come. Blue flag shoots and water grasses rise from wetlands, brilliant green contrasts to the white that coats the trees on the high bank and the land bridge between the old stone quarry and Cranberry Run. Thanks to Paul Nusbaum, the land bridge is clear of bush honeysuckle. This will provide a living lab for school groups to discover the differences between wetlands and running streams.

Here comes the sun. I’m off to work, away…and it’s alright.20180419_072730

Winter bird watch and listen

The 2018 Great Backyard Bird Count ended Monday. Tuesday evening we heard our first American Woodcock hurtle across the lowland. Both occurrences are memorable, but maybe not for the same reasons they were in recent years.

Twelve springs ago, I sat on the front steps in shorts and a long-sleeved t-shirt. Not an hour before we discovered the death of a cherished family member–a creative, young, outdoor, salt-of-the-earth. I sat there in the quiet after sunset and heard the first woodcock wings whistle overhead. The date was April 6.

Things are definitely changing. Call it what you like, but the fact is that we are a few weeks away from official spring and Red-Winged Blackbirds are already trilling in the trees above the Blanchard River. The wild mood swings of the 21st Century’s seasons leave us shivering one day and in short sleeves the next. We’ll keep the feeders full for the feathered ones who are flying in to face plunging temperatures.

20180217_075509_002The Boy Scouts that hiked the trails from 8 to 10 a.m. on February 17 used their ears and eyes to see a variety of woodpeckers. Audio recordings helped us identify other birds back at the shelter house. Overall, the birds we documented this year were different than those listed on past walks. We did see some of the same species but not in the quantities of years past.

It was a joy to hear a crow caw above the oxbow. The only corvids we’ve heard in recent years are Blue Jays. West Nile took its toll on crows in the ‘90s and Noughts. However, the likely reason for the missing crows is that someone used them for target practice. Crows have long memories. Saturday was quiet, so the scout we heard may share an ‘all-clear’ with the rest of the flock.

Take a look at what we did see and hear this year, as well as what other people documented: https://ebird.org/gbbc/hotspot/L2709897?yr=cur&m=&rank=mrec

Under the brim

20180107_142631Thrill-seekers here in the Midwest are riding a roller coaster of weather this year. We keep a varied wardrobe at the ready. Some days require five layers across the body to keep fresh water available for chickens, geese, turkeys, pigs, goats and donkeys. Those days require a third arm to cart chopped potatoes, apples, peanuts, and oranges to the wee beasties along with water-filled buckets.

Five days after the quarry froze over and (pictured above) we added our tracks to those of deer, turkeys, rabbits, and squirrels, we wore rain coats and boots as 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit thawed everything to bog-worthy mud. There’s a sock buried in the pasture now, one that fell off my foot while I tried to extricate my boots. That sock can stay there until spring. I’ll need the boots, though.

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Capture of footbridge approach by Katie (courtesy of Hometown Stations)

It got cold enough to snow again, enough to make for a gorgeous Hat Day Hike on January 14. It was maybe a little colder than necessary, truth be told. But the wind was low; even lower in the shelter of the trees on the preserve. Hometown Stations’ Katie Honigford joined us for the first leg from the Seitz Family Pavilion, down the hill to the footbridge.

http://www.hometownstations.com/clip/14049406/hikers-celebrate-national-hat-day

The quarry was no longer hard frozen. During the thaw earlier in the week, the thick surface ice cracked. High water lifted one sheet, overlapping another, leaving the layers to freeze into a sort of uneven fault line. Wildlife tracks padded from one plate to another on their way to open water at Cranberry Run.

20180107_143301Up the hill, Wendy spotted a small herd of whitetailed deer, wondering what they ate. She asked if we feed honeylocust pods to the pigs (the jury is still out.) The pods aren’t a first choice for wildlife, either, and quite a few still hang from trees and litter the ground alongside osage oranges. Unlike last winter, 2017 yielded a bumper crop of black walnuts and acorns–the preferred food of deer and other herbivores.

20180114_141813Naturalist Natalie shared her track ID expertise. She led us in a scat spot challenge, too, up the hill in the back field. The wind reached us there in the open grasslands. We looped back down the hill, around the quarry, and back to hot cocoa, chocolate-cherry and sugar cookies.

The crowning moment was the award ceremony for Most Colorful Hat and Most Unusual Hat. With a dinosaur, a sunflower, snuggly ear flaps and a fluffy snowball in the running, I couldn’t pick just one. Keep in mind that the judge is a softy when you select your headgear for Hat Day Hike 2019.

Speaking up for moles

Winter 2018 Newsletter cover

The article below (how appropriate, considering the subject, don’t you think?) appears in the latest issue of The Quarry Farm Newsletter. Download your copy by clicking on the cover to the right.

Not long ago after autumn rains had softened the baked lawn around Red Fox Cabin, little volcano-shaped mounds erupted here and there, heralding the arrival of moles. Moles don’t alarm me because their burrowing hasn’t seemed to cause lasting damage in the garden. However, convinced that the humans on a nature preserve should be knowledgeable about their fellow inhabitants, I went online to learn more about moles.

Members of the family Talpidae, moles are found in most parts of North America, Europe and Asia. Seven species live in the U.S., the Eastern Mole being common in our region. They are 5 to 7 inches long, larger than shrews and voles. Males are called boars; females are sows; and the young are pups. A group is a labor (perhaps because they are so industrious?). They are carnivores, not herbivores. Their diet is primarily earthworms, grubs, and the occasional mouse, but not our garden plants. Once they have eaten the food in one area, they move on.

Moles are amazingly adapted to a subterranean life. They can distinguish light from dark but not colors. Although their eyesight is dim, their hearing and sense of smell are so acute that they can detect prey through many inches of soil. They have large, powerful, outward-pointing front legs and claws for pushing dirt aside as they “swim” through soft, moist earth. They are able to disappear from rare ventures to the surface in 10 seconds flat, to tunnel 1 foot in 3 minutes and to run through established tunnels at about 80 feet per minute. Their short, velvety fur is non-directional, causing little resistance as they move rapidly through tunnels. (Their soft, dense pelts once supported a thriving moleskin industry.) Moles can survive in their low-oxygen environment underground because they can tolerate the high carbon dioxide levels in the exhaled air they reuse. Their saliva paralyzes prey, which they store, still alive, in underground “larders” for future consumption. Moles can detect, capture, and eat their prey faster than the human eye can follow.

Moles make 2 types of tunnels: feeding runways close to the surface where the molehills pop up and permanent tunnels about a foot or more underground, leading to a nest about 2 feet deep. What might look like the work of many moles can be the product of one busy tunneler.

Moles are solitary and highly territorial, coming together only to mate. Breeding season runs from February to May. From 2 to 5 pups are born after a 1-month gestation, and leave the nest 30 to 45 days later in search of their own territories. Although tunnels may overlap, moles avoid each other and will attack and even fight to the death when they meet.

Many online gardening experts write about moles in terms of their being destructive pests that must be eradicated. They suggest many methods of doing so: poisons; traps that choke, spear, slice or confine for removal; buried repellants like broken glass, razor blades, or thorny branches; or natural, more humane repellants like plantings that smell bad to moles (daffodils, alliums, marigolds, castor beans, etc.), castor oil drenches; and reducing lawn watering that could force moles close to the surface.

However, I lean toward a smaller set of gardening experts represented online who believe that moles are more beneficial than destructive. Rather than taking offense at molehills, they point out that moles improve soil by loosening, aerating and fertilizing, and the cones subside quickly. Any soil that has been lifted off roots can be pressed down again with a foot. Moles receive the blame for plant damage caused by chipmunks, mice and voles, and generally receive little credit for destroying lawn grubs. I myself would rather let moles eat pesky soil-dwelling larvae than chase moles out by spreading harmful poisons to kill the grubs. In the view of one expert, Roger Mercer, “Moles aren’t all bad. In fact they’re 99% good.” As a 15th century saying goes: “Do not make a mountain out of a mole hill.”

—The Gardener at The Quarry Farm

That’s a run wrap, 2017

22228528_10210043864324925_7156834222902347581_nThe sun comes late now in Northwest Oho. On October days like today, heavy wet clouds mute sunshine even more. The youngest roosters crow at the very inkling of sunrise, causing more than a little discussion in the henhouse. Last Saturday began gray and sleepy, too, but it didn’t stay that way. Thanks be for that, because the 7th was the second time we held a Quarry Farm 5K walk/run on Roads 7L and M7.

Just two fat, cold drops hit my forehead as Phil Seitz gave participants the go at 10 a.m. As runners and walkers approached the first downhill, the clouds parted for blue. By the time the first-place finisher came back up that slope, a sweet breeze blew in from the southwest, just enough to dry sweat worked up after 3.2 miles out and back.

20171007_103010There was water for all, thanks to Ted’s Market, and to Paula Harper for making sure it was distributed at the turnaround and to Phyllis Seitz for passing more bottles out at the finish. Bananas and homemade cookies (oatmeal chocolate chip, cranberry white chocolate, molasses, granola—glutened and without) further refreshed as the event winners received their Knott-pottered mugs and medals.

Everyone got a pumpkin, courtesy of Mike Erchenbrecher. Ms. Beatrice is happy that not all of them found a home.22279407_10210034443489410_8078367306305513948_n

Thanks to everyone who participated in The Quarry Farm 5K 2017 onsite. The virtual race is still on and will be into November.

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Andy and Jennifer Seitz did this year’s 5K virtually, in South Carolina.

Top Male: Mark Hahn, with a time of 23:40

Top Female: Rachel Schroeder, with a time of  27:13 (just one—one!—second ahead of the person behind her)

Top Team:

Jeremy Haselman family

Joan Hahn captured the day in her camera and shared the contents. Between the two of us, you all have proof that you trekked 3.2 miles one gorgeous morning in October, for the love of butterflies, Beatrice, and the future of the environment in which they live.

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