10 March, 2012

Answering Googled Questions

“why do spring peepers sing”

What you’re hearing is male frogs attempting to a) claim territory and b) attract a beautiful lady frog to them for the purpose of procreation. Lady spring peeper frogs apparently find that little “peep? peep!” deeply sexy, and will head for the sexiest and most peepery peeps, whereupon if the gentleman frog has also managed to claim a nice puddle, a stork will arrive and deliver tadpoles.

In other news, the incubator is on lockdown and baby chickens are due to arrive on Tuesday, when I will be at work. Boo hiss. Daniel has been tasked with updating me every hour at least on the status of pips, zips, and chicks in the incubator. It is entirely possible that by the time I get home, the hatching will be all over. Of course, given how contrary baby chickens can be at times, it is also possible that by the time I get home, we will have one pip with a baby chicken staring balefully out at us through the hole. You never know with these guys, really.

4 March, 2012

Spring is always sort of hopeful.

So despite the fact that apparently NO ONE ON THE PLANET wants to hire me, or at least if they do they don’t have offices located in Northern Virginia, I am feeling kind of hopeful.

And anyway, there are still good things going on. For instance, yesterday we went down to see Christine and picked up baby chickens! Three Madagascar Games and ten bantam Sumatras. Alas, one of the little Madagascars didn’t make it through the night, but then she hadn’t grown any since hatching so I suspect there was something odd going on there. The remaining dozen chicks are doing just fine.

There’s also eggs in the incubator, due to hatch in 9 days — a mix of eggs from Christine’s flocks and six crele Old English Game Bantam eggs from Merlin and his ladies (we’d set him up with a flock of 3 ladies of his very own for just this purpose).

Daniel’s been working over the garden beds, too, so today I planted what I am affectionately calling our “Salad Bed”. It’s got salad beets, lettuce, spinach, sugar snap peas, and short fat Nantes carrots in it. Plus a row of garlic, which is not really a salady thing but we do love garlic so there we go. There’s one more bed being worked over nice and deep for potatoes, Other Carrots, parsnips, and salsify. We have a lot of other stuff left to go in but most of it needs waiting until the temps warm up a little more and the threat of frost is past. So in a couple weeks it will be time to plant other peas, sweet corn, sugar pumpkins, cantaloupe, muskmelon, Bull’s Blood beets, endive (chicory to some), romaine lettuce, and I am probably forgetting something in there. Oh, squash, we have buttercup and butternut squash to plant, as well. Daniel should probably get going on the beds.

Later this year I’ll be learning to pickle beets, because I do love some pickled beets. And anyway, at least between the garden and the chickens we won’t starve to death, for sure. If we’re lucky, the weird warm winter hasn’t destroyed the blackberry crop, and I can make some jam and just can some berries straight up for pie filling and the like.

Speaking of the weird warm winter, the grey tree frogs are out in force already a little east of us, so the spring peepers cannot be far behind. And there’s slugs out already, in early March! How’s THAT for weird? We normally don’t see them til a little later in the spring!

At any rate, pictures of baby chickens to follow once I have found the charger for Daniel’s camera…

23 March, 2011

Spring is officially here!

Yes, yes, the temperatures have been getting steadily warmer for weeks and the bulbs we planted last fall have put up actual leaves and might decide to do flowers some day, and the first official day of spring has already passed. But as I know from growing up in northern Illinois, the official first day of spring often has nothing whatsoever to do with actual spring.

Actual spring, however, has sprung. Or to be more accurate, it has peeped! That’s right, the Spring Peepers are calling! And you can click right over there to the Virginia Herpetological Society page and hear them. Right now they’re not yet up to the “hundreds of frogs” level of calls, but there’s more than one of the plaintive little buggers out there peeping his little amphibious heart out.

I really love the frog calls that I get to hear here at the Manor. We also get the Gray Treefrog here, the Hyla versicolor one, and if you click over to VHS page for Hyla versicolor you can get an idea of what my back yard sounds like in the spring since they managed to capture peepers on that same recording. And we get the Upland Chorus Frog, who comes out earlier than the other two to make querulous creaking noises in huge numbers.

Screw the calendar, it’s not spring until the little frogs sing.

9 April, 2010

Someday I will breathe through my nose again.

It is definitely spring in Virginia. You can tell because everything that has been outside for more than two minutes has turned yellow under a thick coating of pollen. There’s flowers all over the place but mostly it’s the trees doing it. I have been living on Zyrtec for a month now, y’all, and am anxiously awaiting actual summer when the trees will stop with their airborne romance.

Speaking of trees, I have planted three more here at the Manor: two pawpaws (Asimina triloba) and one American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana). One of the best places I have found for baby trees is Edible Landscaping. I’ve bought several from them, including two pawpaws that were casualties of a buck whitetail that lives or lived in the area, and they’ve all arrived in great condition and established themselves with a minimum of tending from me, which is exactly what I want in a tree. This is also, not so coincidentally, why I strongly believe in planting native species of tree, and did the research to find out what snack-producing varieties are native to my particular neck of the woods. Many of these native trees are also having a hard time, because their fruits are not commercially popular, or invasive imports are taking over their habitat, or in the case of the red mulberry (Morus rubra) the invasive white mulberry (Morus alba, from Asia) is taking over its very genome, since they can hybridize.

So here I am on the Manor, doing my part to save obscure native trees like the pawpaw. Odds are you have never heard of a pawpaw, unless a) you live overseas where the word pawpaw refers to another fruit entirely or b) your grandmother used to sing the pawpaw song to you like mine did. However, it is a nifty little tree that lives in the understory of the forest. It’s endangered in New Jersey, threatened in New York, and “vulnerable” in Ontario, Canada. The leaves contain a natural pesticide that keep bugs off them with the notable exception of the zebra swallowtail butterfly and the pawpaw sphinx moth, for which it is the larval host. The fruit feeds birds and small mammals. Weirdly, it is pollinated by blow flies, which normally feed on carrion, which means its flowers smell like dead rotting things, and if you want to improve your fruit yield you can hang chicken necks from the branches of the trees to rot. Yum. Wildflower.org has great information on the pawpaw and lists it as a PlantWise native alternative to Russian olive. Compounds in the seeds of pawpaws show promise for chemotherapy against prostate and colon cancers. How much more useful and cool do you need a tree to be, seriously? The problem, of course, is that the fruit does not ship well, and therefore it doesn’t have much commercial potential. As an understory tree, it’s also losing habitat as Americans cut down forests and put in housing developments.

You may have seen fruits of the Asian persimmon varieties in grocery stores. American persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) produce much smaller fruits that are horribly bitter and sour until after the first frost hits them. It is a hardy little bugger of a tree, able to handle high sun and low water conditions. Abraham Lincoln had one at his home in Illinois, even! Like the pawpaw, it’s a hardy native tree whose fruits just happen to be not as commercially viable as the agricultural conglomerates would like, so it’s listed as “special concern” in Connecticut and “threatened” in New York. Confidential to New York State: WTF are you guys doing to your native trees, yo?

Still in the plans for this year are a couple red mulberries (Morus rubra) as I think the one I planted last year did not survive the apocalyptic winter, and some hazelnut bushes. I also need to replace my butternut sapling that got mowed down by the neighbor I pay to do my lawn last fall. Meanwhile, I also need to go savage some damn Paulownia that have sprung up on the back acre, thin out the pine saplings from around the sassafras seedlings to give them room, and otherwise continue the grand re-treeification project.

Also, confidential to the person who got here googling “how to sneak up on a spring peeper”: If you find out, let me know! But I am inclined to say that it is impossible, because the little buggers will always hear you coming and shut up. The only way I’ve found to get a good look at them is to be out driving in the rain in the spring and summer, in the dark just before dawn. You will often see them hopping across the road and if you’re very swift and conditions are safe you can stop the car, leap out, and intercept one before it disappears into the ditch on the side of the road. But please don’t take them from their natural habitat, frogs are having a hard enough time out there. If you’re in an area where there are Spring Peepers and you’d like to have some around, may I suggest constructing them a little pond to hang out at?

26 March, 2010

It’s the little things, part 2: Amphibious Edition

Spring has definitely sprung, despite today’s cold nasty weather and the prediction of a light freeze tonight. I know this because the frogs have been chorusing like nobody’s business lately. My neighbor has 60 acres and a couple ponds, and with all the rain we’ve had there’s a bunch of ephemeral puddles and things around which the wee amphibians gather and sing their little hearts out.

I of course have no pictures of them in their adorableness, because the minute you try to sneak up on a frog, it stops singing and becomes invisible. Actually, the Gray Treefrogs are pretty well invisible already when they hang out on trees.

At any rate, in the dark of the morning when I go to work, the Spring Peepers are peeping. You can hear them over at that link, and they are totally hilarious, because when there’s only a few Peepers, they are plaintive and lonely-sounding frogs: peep? peep? But let a few other Peepers move into the area and they become more and more emphatic until suddenly a resounding round of “PEEP! PEEP! PEEP!” is sounding through the woods.

Later in the morning, the Upland Chorus Frogs and Gray Treefrogs start chiming in. Their calls have a similar sound, except that the Upland Chorus Frogs are interrogative, and the Gray Treefrogs are more declarative. Once they start in, it’s nothing but “Rrrrrrt? Rrrrrrrt? Rrrrrrt. Rrrrrrrt.” until the sun gets high enough to send them under cover.

At the end of the day, the frogs reverse their choruses, with the Upland Chorus Frogs and the Gray Treefrogs beginning their songs early in the evening, ceding to the Spring Peepers a little before the bats come out to swoop up bugs. The Peepers then carry us all into nightfall before tucking themselves in. They do get up early, you know.