Buddy’s Big Day

Tiger in the garden

The Junior Master Gardeners of Continental (Ohio) graced The Quarry Farm with their presence on July 11, the first group to visit since the big wind blew through. Although there are still a couple of downed trees here and there, the paths were clear and mowed in time for the travelers to arrive.

Led by Charlene Finch, the group of 20 adults and children of varying ages drove in around 10 a.m. to beat the afternoon heat. They divided into three groups to rotate through three different learning and activity stations.

Mints and other herbs and flowers are bundled

Group #1 met under the shady zelkova in front of Red Fox Cabin. From Board President Laura they discovered the history of the cabin and the grounds, the gardens and made herb bundles from cuttings gathered there.

Group #2 circled next to the ash stumps, recent victims of the invasive emerald ash borer. This was the perfect spot to hear Steve the Insect Guy talk about stream ecology, perfect because his roundtable included a meet-and-greet with riverine beneficial insects that grow up to combat harmful insects.

Meeting a dragonfly nymph

Group #3 walked to the farm animal sanctuary where they were heartily welcomed by Buddy the miniature donkey. Despite the white-hot rising sun, Buddy held his post at the southwest corner of the paddock and brayed greetings to each group, keeping up the conversation throughout their stay at the station. One volunteer in each group was assigned to pet Buddy so that he would keep quiet long enough for Beatrice the pygmy pot-bellied pig to come out and meet the kids. This event was the first educational outing for Beatrice. She took a special shine to a gentle boy named Brandon, allowing him to feed her a piece of apple. Geese and chickens checked out the group from a distance, as did the goats.

Buddy greets a gardener

After all groups had rotated through the stations, everyone met at the cabin for cookies, lemonade, ice water and a group photo on the front porch. Some strolled through the gardens to see the blooms of drought-tolerant flowers and to scout for butterflies and dragonflies. Many thanks to Board Secretary Rita for photographically recording the event and for sharing them for this post.

Live and Learn

As with nearly every other environmentally-minded organization that I can think of, a big part of The Quarry Farm’s mission is education. We hold teacher workshops here, host programs both in-class and on-site for school groups, conduct tours for civic organizations and offer hands-on, guided workshops in organic gardening, water quality assessment, macroinvertebrate identification and a wide variety of other similar programming.

Yesterday, the shoe was on the other foot.

Representatives of The Quarry Farm attended the annual meeting of the Ohio Odonata Society (http://www.marietta.edu/~odonata/officers.html) in the Buehner Center at Oak Openings Metropark (http://www.metroparkstoledo.com/metro/parksandplaces/index.asp?page_id=510). Highlighting the day’s events were trips to two sites where participants photographed and collected odonates.

Bob Restifo, secretary-treasurer for the Ohio Odonata Society, examines a Prince Baskettail.

Now I suppose that there are a few of you feeling more than a bit smug right now since you already know what an odonate is. For those of you who don’t have nearly as much spare time as the aforementioned, we’re talking about dragonflies and damselflies. And they were teeming. While we did see more than a few species that we have yet to record here at The Quarry

Cedar Waxwing

Farm, such as the Unicorn Clubtail and the Prince Baskettail, most are common visitors and residents along Cranberry Run, in the eleven-acre back field and on the quarry. Among the more common species were Blue Dashers, Black Saddlebag, Common Whitetail, Widow and Twelve-spots. What wasn’t nearly as common were the sheer numbers of dragonflies, both in the number of different species present and the number of individuals within those species. And with that increase in numbers came a similar increase in the activity of animals that feed on odonates. Bullfrogs leapt from wetlands and cedar waxwings swooped over grasses snatching these aerial predators for their own meals. In fact, at one of the two sites the cedar waxwings clearly used us to improve their chances of catching a quick bite. They stalked us as we walked the verge of a wetland, waiting until we’d disturbed newly hatched dragonflies from their hiding places and then catching them as they flitted up and away.

Bullfrogs leapt from the water to prey on passing odonates.

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank the Ohio Odonata Society for the opportunity to spend a day in such an interesting fashion. We’d also like to single out three men in particular:  providing a great deal of insight and information were Bob Restifo, secretary-treasurer of the OOS, and Bob Glotzhober, member at large and a former president of the society, both of whom have spent decades studying and collecting odonates; we’d also like to thank Dave Betts, without whose input we’d have missed this incredible opportunity.

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Raiding the Pantry, Old School

When I first started reading, after the picture books but before Tolkein and Bradbury and Ellison, I was drawn to stories like The Swiss Family Robinson and My Side of the Mountain. They were tales about people who basically fell off the map, who by accident or design no longer had access to civilization. To me, in great part, civilization meant grocery stores, because, hey, you can always find shelter, build a fire, weave a poncho out of leaves, design a method for extracting potable water from the air. That’s easy, right? But food? Come on, what are you gonna do if you can’t jet down to the local 7-Eleven or Krogers or Piggly Wiggly and grab a loaf of Wonder Bread and a jar of Peter Pan?

Virginia Creeper Sphinx Moth on black raspberry bramble

As it turns out, you make the whole world your larder. Man, but that grabbed by imagination; that a person could just walk out and pick breakfast, unearth lunch and chase down dinner was about the coolest thing I could think of. I used to hide bananas and bologna sandwiches (safely wrapped in plastic baggies) in our back yard. Then I’d set out in search of food, knowing that if I failed, I’d surely starve. Those were great days and, not surprisingly, given all the melodrama I invested in the whole process, that was some of the best food I ever ate. And now, well, I have the opportunity to do it for real.

So I do.

Right now, the raspberries are starting to come in. It’s early for them. I usually don’t start seriously picking until around the 4th of July. This year, however, they’ve been coming on since the beginning of June. You’ll probably hear me say this a lot this year, but it’s the weather: the mild winter, the rain we had earlier this spring and the hot and dry conditions we have now. Everything’s early. We had red-winged blackbirds on the property in March, blossoms on the blackberry brambles in late April, grasshoppers in the bottom land in mid-May and now, black raspberries.

Berry patches are rife with macroinvertebrates. Here, an immature wheel bug perches in a bowl of black raspberries.

Now I get to go and play castaway, claw my way through the wilderness until I’ve gathered enough sustenance to keep me alive for a few more hours. It’s hard and dangerous work, but food is life.

On the other hand, if the berries don’t pan out, there’s always that loaf of Wonder Bread and the jar of Peter Pan.

An Hour On the Quarry

We, here at The Quarry Farm, have the great good fortune of living on a piece of land that provides a host of possibilities. Because of the forward thinking of a few remarkable people (and here I’m going to name names: Carl Seitz, Joyce Seitz, Gerald Coburn and Laura Coburn), we have houses and gardens and driveways and such. But we also have an area that, for the past 40 years at any rate, has had the opportunity to go Nature’s way.

For me, there’s a definite split, a line where domestic ends and wild begins. Here is where we keep the chickens, chase the pig, run the dogs, elude the duck and other happy little domestic activities. There is where the wild things are. Here: yard. There: not yard. It’s a convenient line, too, because it’s visible: a strip of trees that divides here and there. I include the line itself, the trees, in the there category, as part of the wild area of the Quarry Farm. From the tree line on is where Nature looms. That’s where Cranberry Run snakes through the property, where the turkeys make themselves known with gobbles and great splay-footed tracks, where great blue herons heave themselves from the water with complaining voices that Hollywood stole for Jurassic Park, where the occasional coyote howls and the foxes yip and the tree frogs sing and the squirrels, raccoons and skunks argue amongst themselves and with anyone or anything else that happens to grab their attention. It’s loud, it’s messy, it’s chaotic and it is absolutely beautiful. It’s a place I love to go. And today, in a very small way, I’m going to share. I set myself a challenge, gave myself one hour to walk along and across the stream, past the quarry and through the trees to the big field, then loop back along the path, across the stream and home again. In that time and along that walk, I took photographs. Fifty-nine photographs, to be precise. I’m not going to burden you with all of them, but I do want to share a few. And it all started in the tree line.

My first photo op fell into the “well, you just don’t see that every day” category. Before passing from here to there, I paused to try and get a shot of a widow skimmer dragonfly. While in the process of completely failing to do that, I heard a rustling in the grass in the treeline. Rabbit, I thought. Then rethought, because I heard a bit of scrabbling as it ran up a tree. Squirrel, then. Nope. I’d heard of groundhogs climbing trees, but that was the first time I’d ever seen it up close and personal. It was a juvenile and had obviously found something tasty (as evidenced by the leaf dangling from the corner of its mouth) that drew it just a little too far from a bolt hole. When it realized that I was coming in its direction, it took the best avenue of escape open to it. Up.

I was pleased to find that the wood duck who had nested on the quarry was still in place along with her brood of four ducklings. They’re skittish birds, quick to run at the first sign of possible trouble. As I came up on them, mother went one way and the four little ones, another. Even so, I caught a quick glimpse of them as they fled across the duck weed. The little ones have grown enough so that they are nearly fully feathered. Their wings whickered as they half-flew, half-ran across the water.

Although it was hot today – temperatures here were pushing 90 degrees – the main trail leading to the big back field was relatively cool. Over the course of the past four decades, the property surrounding the quarry has undergone significant changes. In many places, scrub and thick undergrowth is giving way to hard woods: in most cases, sugar maple trees. Where a relatively short time ago jersey cows grazed, there is now a full-blown second-stage forest. This year in particular, with its mild winter and wet spring, seems to have fostered growth. The trees form a canopy that filters the sun, dappling the ground with shifting patterns of light.

The big back field is nearly as varied in its habitats as the whole of the property. The greatest part of the eleven acres could easily be considered meadow, though there are, spotted here and there, scrub trees and brush. It is surrounded on all four sides by verdant growth: the forest that is the bulk of The Quarry Farm. Black raspberry and blackberry brambles tangle at the edges with wild rose and grape vines reaching out from the woods. On this particular day, a red-tailed hawk spun about the field in ever-widening circles. She screamed as she flew, though I’m not sure why. Maybe calling to a mate or to young offspring in nearby trees, or possibly just announcing her presence.

It’s a source of pride for us that we have such a healthy macroinvertebrate population on the property. This time of year, we see all manner of dragonflies and damselflies.

Twelve-spotted skimmer

They swarm up and down the stream, hunting, procreating and laying eggs, and they teem in the back field where there are plenty of prey species for them to feed on. While there are all manner of stories suggesting that dragonflies and damselflies are a nuisance, possibly even life-threatening, they are simply not true.

Bluet damselfly on rose cane

The fact is that these members of the order Odonata are some of the most beneficial insects out there, eating their weight every day in mosquitoes, midges and other annoying insects.

Ebony jewelwing damselfy

I was fascinated by them as a child, though I rarely had the opportunity to see them.

Now, generally beginning in late April, I go for a walk and there they are. When I see them, I can’t help but think of how cartographers, when they were filling in uncharted areas on maps, would write, Here Be Dragons. And they were probably right.

So there it is. One hour on the quarry. But you don’t have to take my word for it. It’s not necessary to limit yourself to two-dimensions. Contact us and make an appointment to see it in 3D. We’re not only happy to show it to you, but, in many ways, doing precisely that is who we are and certainly what we do. Contact us. Please. We’re counting on it.

Bluet damselfly hovering over Cranberry Run

 

A Bird of an Entirely Different Feather

I spend a good deal of my time looking down. I mean, that’s where the chickens usually are, right? Not to mention my feet, which need more than a little governance. But, head down, I miss a lot. I manage to stay on my feet, which is good, and not step on one of the girls, which is even better, but the wonders of the world frequently pass me by. So I’m amazed that on one of those rare occasions that I do look up, I spot something breathtaking, something beautiful.

According to the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology Diversity Web, yellow warblers are common in North America. Declining numbers have been noted here and there, generally because of land clearance and herbicide and pesticide use. Usually when riparian corridor (a healthy number of trees and plants along a river or stream) is allowed to recover, these beautiful summerbirds make a good comeback. Cranberry Run passes through The Quarry Farm on its way to Riley Creek, with trees, grasses, and blackraspberry brambles to feed warblers. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Dendroica_petechia.html