Change in the weather

I don’t know if John Fogerty had climate change in mind when he released this song in 1986, but the ‘weather’ is certainly a hot topic nearly 30 years later.

The weather changes have affected many aspects of life on Seven Trees Farm, most noticeably, plants and animals. In 2012 there were so many Pacific tree frogs that chores like mowing, weeding and stacking firewood were complicated by these little peepers popping up everywhere.

But this year, once the rains dried up, we’ve seen less than a handful of frogs. Even the fruit fly plagued berry patches aren’t enough to lure them out of whatever damp refuges they have retreated to. Hopefully they will return once fall falls, assuming the rain returns as well, and assuming they don’t fall victim to the newly-discovered tadpole plague. In the meantime, we haven’t been without native pest control, much to our delight and surprise. Swallow2

Even though our ‘barn’ is a 16 x 16 foot stable-turned-dog house-and-chicken run, a pair of swallows took up residence and raised four babies that recently fledged.Swallow1 They weren’t too pleased with humans coming & going, but we’re hoping they will forgive us our trespasses and raise more babies next year. Swallow3

Barn swallows are a lot like daytime bats. Flying insects are a major part of their diet, and when we decided to let our little pasture go to seed and rejuvenate this season, dinner was served. Swallow4

Another weather-related surprise was the increase in garter snake sightings. They are common in our part of Cascadia, but we usually don’t see much of them. The spate of over-80F temperatures mean the snakes can be more active in more places, which requires more food. This Red-spotted garter snake took advantage of the cover provided by the raised deck in the dog’s kennel to nab a tree frog drawn to the shaded water bucket. Snake

Picking spring nettles is one of our seasonal rituals. Nettles are one of the most nutrient-dense plants around, and usually grow like the weeds they are. We eat them steamed at the start of the harvest, to get the most of their tasty goodness, then pick more to dry for tea and soup additives. They also go into winter chicken mash. But this year they made a poor showing, so we picked enough to try making nettle ‘cordial‘ and left the rest to go to seed.

Not all was lost though, in terms of magical plant nutrition. We were surprised yet again when hot weather and ‘hot’ hen house mulch manifested a strange-looking succulent called purslane, which is chock full of omega 3’s, vitamins A, B, C and E, plus antioxidants, iron, protein and other nutrients. It’s running rampant in the new herb bed aisles, but will soon be harvested, chopped and frozen, perfect for bumping up our morning smoothies and winter soups. Eaten raw, it tastes a bit spinachy, a bit herby, but not bad in a salad. One plant was moved into the actual herb bed and has since gone to seed, hopefully providing us with future foraged feral food. Purslane

But wait, there’s more!

WesternToad1 Just the other day we were gifted with yet another surprise summer appearance – a large plump healthy female Western toad.WesternToad2 She had been spooked out of her cabbage patch retreat after the soaker hoses were rearranged, and decided to settle down in the berry patch to munch on some of the many bees and fruit flies that forage there all day. WesternToad

Sprocket was gone by morning, but we had done some fast googling and made a toad house (complete with soaking pool) from a clay pot we had hanging around.ToadHouse She may not move into the new house, but her offspring might, especially since her visit also prompted us to add a little trough pond near the garden. NewPond

Luckily we still had a functioning fountain pump from a small planter water garden we made a decade ago (sometimes it pays to packrat), a 50 gallon trough no longer needed by large livestock, some pretty landscape rock salvaged from a friend’s yard, and a ceramic pot for the bog plant we picked up for $3. Our little pond will need some spiffing up, and we’re excited to check out a pond/koi/water garden shop in town this weekend. Since 50 gallons isn’t big enough to house fish sustainably, we’re going to set things up to attract frogs and toads. More plants, both in and out of the water, and possibly changing from a fountain bubbler to a wee waterfall. We’ll pretty-up the edging, leaving lots of nooks & crannies for amphibians to hide in, and when winter arrives (if it does) we will put a trough heater in to keep it warm enough for them to survive.

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