Happy Spring!

The first day of Spring brought us a 4th Nor’easter in 3 weeks. We avoided much of the heavy snow for the first 3 storms, but this last storm delivered a foot of snow.  The big, fluffy flakes were beautiful falling from the sky.

And the trees remind you of Narnia, with their branches covered in snow.

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But where was this all winter? I love snowstorms and have waiting for this kind of snow every time the forecast hinted at snow. It is quiet during a snowstorm and everything is blanketed in white, clean and sparkling.

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It is nearly April, though, and this snow will not be here long.  Soon we will be tucking seeds into the gradually warming soil of our gardens and waiting for tiny plants to emerge from the ground. Birds will hunt for insects and bees will search for nectar and pollen.

Fall is Almost Here…

…and the garden is winding down. 

This summer, in southeastern PA, has been a weather rollercoaster.  A pleasant but dry June was followed by a HOT and even drier July.  August brought some cooler temperatures and rain.  Lots of rain.  And flooding – especially with the arrival of Hurricane Irene and the remnants of Tropical Depression Lee.  Philadelphia recorded its wettest month EVER in August!  My garden is looking a little unkept now – to say the least – since I haven’t been tending it in the rain.

I had several firsts this year in my veggie garden!  I harvested my 1st asparagus from the bed I started last year.  I tried growing tomatoes from seed planted directly into the ground.  I didn’t spray any insecticide (I only use 100% natural sprays when I need to use them).  I also saw my 1st lacewing in my garden!

Last year I planted 10 asparagus crowns and only 2 didn’t make it.  The other 8 began sending up spears in April and I was able to harvest a few during a 2-3 week window.  New research has shown that you don’t have to wait till the 3rd year before harvesting, and harvesting the 1st year after planting actually increases the buds that are formed by the crown.  For more information on growing asparagus, click here.

For the 2nd year in a row my seedlings didn’t grow more than 2 inches.  Although I haven’t figured out the cause yet, I tried planting my tomato seeds outside at our last frost date (for our zone 6 garden, it’s May 15th).  I heard someone say that they regularly do this and harvest tomatoes the same time as their neighbor who uses started plants.  I must say I was a little skeptical, but my seeds sprouted and grew.  I trellised and pruned them, and they began to produce fruit.  I ended up harvesting tomatoes the same week my father-in-law, who used started plants, did!

This summer I didn’t spray my garden at all with pesticide.  I usually use an all-natural product called Pyola from a company called Garden’s Alive.  It’s a concentrate made of pyrethrins and canola oil that you dilute with water and apply as needed. I did use diatomaceous earth on my eggplant to try to control the flea beetles that were attacking it, but after seeing my 1st lacewing in my garden I decided to try to do without spraying the entire garden.  In addition to the lacewing, my Garden Patrol also included Wheel Bugs,

adult wheel bug eating a bumblebee

 

hatchling wheel bugs and eggs

 

wheel bug nymphs

Praying Mantises,

praying mantis on a tomato plant

various spiders, native and Asian Ladybugs,

pink spotted ladybug

 

checkerboard ladybug

frogs, American Toads,

American toad

various songbirds and Milk Snakes .

juvenile milk snake

I truly enjoyed all of the life in the garden this year and always wondered what I’d see each time I worked in it.  I have big plans for next year and I’m anxious to start on them.  We’re going to finish putting mulch down in between the beds to eliminate the need to mow the garden.  I’m also adding a perennial herb bed with rocky areas for snakes and toads to hide.  The birdbath will move to the center of this bed.  Lastly, we’re going to plant 2 organically grown blueberry bushes next spring.

Stay tuned for updates along the way!

More Babies on the Farm – Updated!

 

 Last night, after 7 days incubation,  the caterpillar eggs on our front door began to hatch and this morning I got photos of the tiny hatchlings.  You can see the tiny, 1st instar yellow Wooly Bear caterpillars below:

Newly hatched caterpillars

Update!

Later, yesterday afternoon I took the following photo:

More eggs have hatched!

 You can see that more of the caterpillars have hatched and they are eating the egg remains.  More eggs have hatched! 

Wooly Bear caterpillars eat grasses, clovers and leaves from various shrubs and trees so I carefully transferred the tiny larvae to the grass this morning.  Spilosoma virginica (Virginia Tiger Moth) has 3-4 life cycles per year and mature caterpillars are usually active from May to November.  These caterpillars will probably grow larger and hibernate as caterpillars, creating an antifreeze-like substance in their bodies to protect their cells from freezing. 

 

New Life

Every year we experience the wonderful miracle of life here on our farm many times over.  Sometimes it happens right under our noses without us knowing.  Tonight I found a female Tiger Moth laying her eggs on our front door.

Female Tiger Moth

Amazing to watch!

Laying another egg!

A New Season … More Stink Bugs

More and more people are meeting one of our most recent invasive pests, the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB).  It had spread to at least 29 states since it was introduced in a shipment to eastern PA sometime during the 1990s.  They were first collected in Allentown, PA, in 1998.

BMSBs are a major agricultural pest in Asia, feeding on fruit crops and their population in the US has reached numbers to make it a real problem to American orchardists, too.  They don’t eat entire fruits or even make them inedible.  They disfigure hundreds of individual fruits – like apples – so that they cannot be marketed for fresh fruit sale.  Instead these apples and other fruits can only be used for cider or juice. 

Adult BMSB
Now that spring has arrived (in most of the country, anyway) we will be seeing more adult stink bugs waking up from hibernation in our homes.  Our family flushes all that we find so they don’t stink up our vacuum cleaner!  I have been wondering, lately, if they could be used for anything else…say a food source for something.  I happened upon a forum today with some interesting ideas for “disposing” of BMSBs.  Here’s the link: http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/pagard/msg101628188305.html; the discussion thread is called “Fun Organic way to Deal with Pesky Brown Stink Bugs.”  I particularly like that one person’s pet turtle loves them!  I’m considering catching some in a jar, freezing them and feeding them to our chickens.  I’ll let you know if they eat them!

In addition to waking up from hibernation, BMSBs will also be reproducing soon.  Here’s a photo from the Penn State Cooperative Extension, York County of stink bug eggs and the hatched larvae:

BMSB eggs and larvae
The Penn State department of Entomology describes the eggs as, “elliptical (1.6 x 1.3 mm), light yellow to yellow-red with minute spines forming fine lines. They are attached, side-by-side, to the underside of leaves in masses of 20 to 30 eggs.” The adults reproduce from May to August and produce one generation per year in Pennsylvania , depending on the temperatures. Here is an image of BMSB nymphs

BMSB Nymphs

If we educate ourselves to the different stage of the BMSB, we can work at reducing their numbers – from egg stage to adult!

You know it’s spring when…

…you hear spring peepers at night.

…dandelions start blooming.

…you see the 1st eastern phoebe of the season.

…you have to weave around the toads in the driveway when you come home on a rainy night.

…the maple trees have beautiful red flowers.

…the pastures look green.

…lambs are bouncing around the field.

…groundhogs are emerging from hibernation.

Coyote Alert!!

Yesterday was the first time we’ve seen a coyote around the house. We always knew they were around, especially after we lost a bunch of turkeys and had a sheep get attacked a couple years ago. During the snow storm yesterday around 1pm Dave saw a coyote run across the pasture. He took this picture from Noah’s bedroom window.