April 1, 2015

Seedlings of matted knotweed (Polygonum aviculare) in the driveway this afternoon. This plant is tough and the first to sprout every year.
Seedlings of matted knotweed (Polygonum aviculare) in the driveway this afternoon. This plant is tough and the first to sprout every year.

 

No fooling here! Just a recap of the weather and other happenings in March. Although it is still too cold for anything to be growing in the garden I’ve already planted a flat of paste tomato and hot pepper seeds. These are up now and have just begun to grow their first set of true leaves. The next batch of seeds planted are basil, sage, okra, and another group of peppers and tomatoes. These should be up in ten days or so. I start most of my tender annual seeds indoors on temperature regulated heating mats. Light is supplied by a bank of 40 watt fluorescent lights on a timer set for 15 hours a day which will be close to the natural day-night cycle when the plants are set out. Our March weather has been warm and cold a typical scenario for March in northern Minnesota. The month started out with a week of low temperatures that got well below zero. On March 4 the low was -11° and the next day -26°! That’s in Fahrenheit. But beginning on March 8th the lows weren’t so low and stayed around the mid-20’s and highs reaching from the 30’s to 50’s melting our scant winter snow and thawing the river. There were two nights when lows went down to about 10 above zero and that was enough to re-form a thin layer of ice on the river but not for long. Usually, in March there is a heavy snowstorm (these frequently happen in February, too), but this year there were no storms with 30 mph winds and snow piling up over a foot in a day. On March 3rd we got five inches of snow and that was it. It was almost completely gone on March 8th when the highs reached 46°. After the snow melted the ground in the fields and woods remained frozen. In the gardens it thawed and re-froze so doing any garden work was not practical. I took the time to clean up more clutter, pile up spoiled hay for mulch, and get more poles for my squash trellis. And I fixed the rams’ shed roof which they had knocked down over the winter by slamming into it everyday until the sheet metal and beams were disconnected from each other and the posts. It’s a temporary fix and I’ll need to add more posts and beams.

A rooted currant branch just transplanted to its new row.
A rooted currant branch just transplanted to its new row.

During the last week of March I was able to measure out rows for a new berry patch. I’ll be planting rooted cuttings and divisions of currants and honeyberry bushes. Sunday and Tuesday the ground softened enough that I got all the holes dug and even planted three currant cuttings. Rain on March 30th. Real rain, not ice pellets, all day long and gentle slowly accumulating to a quarter-inch. Warmer weather is forecast for the rest of the week. The chickens are back in full production laying an average of four eggs per day. The sheep seem glad for the warmer weather, too. They are also really happy about the hay I’ve been feeding them this month. These bales are very green and leafy. During the winter I was opening some bales of alfalfa that were moldy and it was a daily task to pick out the worst parts. To make sure they didn’t suffer any nutrient deficiencies I fed them field peas and whole corn as a supplement.

Duckweed (Lemna minor) that has survived intact frozen in the river ice all winter and now ready to grow again.
Duckweed (Lemna minor) that has survived intact frozen in the river ice all winter and now ready to grow again.

Warming weather and ice-free water means more wildlife and new birds coming in for the summer. So far, there have been sandhill cranes, Canada geese, a redwing blackbird, juncos, robins, purple finches, and bald eagles. Today there were three black ducks on the river. Otters are living in my river, too and on March 11th I saw a pair of them. There should be lots of crayfish in the river at this time of year. I put out a fish trap at night to find what is living there but so far no crayfish. I think the otters have eaten most of the crayfish as their abundant scat is full of shell fragments. There are plenty of mudminnows, though, and many look like they are full of eggs. Breeding season for these little fish is in April or May around here depending on water temperature. I’m still finding new lichens including more colonies of a rare one. On March 30th I found another species called Tuckermannopsis americana which is widespread in the state but apparently scarce in my woods growing mostly on the ends of branches of old tamaracks. I’ve also been measuring tree diameters and have found some huge specimens. One white pine is about three feet in diameter and there are several tamarack, yellow birch, red maple, and black ash about half that size. I’m not doing this to calculate board feet but in order to determine if some parts of the forest are approaching old-growth criteria. I’ll be posting about this in the future.

Tuckermannopsis
Tuckermannopsis americana

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