Springtail swarms

 

I bought a set of extension tubes this year to get more detail in my close-up my photos. I have tried them out on my camera’s 100 mm macro lens sometimes with good results. It’s a learning process with lots of duds, but I like the increased magnification on the shots that do turn out. With the extension tubes I’ve been taking many photos of lichens, mosses, fungi, bark, and wood grain. As the seasons move along I will be looking at the finer details of leaves and flowers.

Last month I saw hundreds springtails swarming on an old spruce log and decided to go in for some closeups. The shots taken with 31 mm and 21 mm extension tubes added to a 100 mm macro aren’t as sharp as I’d like but good enough considering how small (about 1 mm) they are and how fast they move. If they sense danger they can jump 100 times their body length which would be 10 cm.

A springtail that caught my attention was the larger (about 1.5 mm) light brown hirsute one with darker brown markings on its body segments. I’d seen this type before crawling in lichens on trees on warm the winter days. Named Entomobrya nivalis, it is a springtail that normally lives in the canopies of forest trees. Taxonomically they are placed in the family Entomobryidae in the order Entomobryomorpha one of the three orders of the hexapods in the subclass Collembola.

The other springtails with the black bodies are probably a species of Hypogastrura a genus with 169 species, 112 of which occur in the US and Canada, in the family Hypogastruridae also in the order Entomobryomorpha. These look similar to ones in photos of H. tooliki but without observing specimens under higher magnification it is only a guess. Hypogastrura are common inhabitants of leaf litter and soil. While there was plenty to eat on the surface of the log (spores, algae, fungi) the springtails weren’t there for eating. Instead, large swarms like these in the early spring are mating swarms. You can see these on mild days after snow melt when hundreds or even thousands of springtails find each other and congregate on damp wood, moss, leaves, twigs, and fungi. When a mass of springtails is large enough you can here hear the clicking sound they make as they jump. All you need to do is get close to to ground and listen.

 

Devil's urn and springtails
Springtails (Hypogastrura sp.) on devil’s urn fungus (Urnula cratarium). This shot was taken with the 100 mm macro lens and no extension tubes.

November 1

Wooly Bear
A woolly bear on a rare warm October day. Does the wider red band mean a mild winter? Time will tell.

 

Cold and wet probably best describes most of October yet there were days when it was incredibly warm and sunny. I’ve fallen behind on my garden clean-up waiting for the rain to stop. I did get the garlic and some shallots in the ground. There is space ready in one garden for about another 150 feet of shallots and multiplier onions. If we get a day or two next week without rain then they can be planted. Or maybe I’ll just plant in between rain showers because the safe time for planting bulbs is getting short.

Everything is harvested except the root crops and some kale. That isn’t as bad as it sounds since the weather, although cool, is not cold. Evening temperatures are in the upper 30’s to low 40’s and so the ground does not freeze and lately there has been no frost.

I usually put away 20 or so pounds of broccoli and cauliflower every year. This year I only got a few pounds of broccoli from a small patch and that one grew strangely- 3 feet tall and with small heads. My main broccoli and cauliflower patch has not made a single head. There are signs of head development but it is too late in the season to expect much. I planted my usual mix of varieties that have done well in previous years but for reasons unknown they did not produce. Fortunately, there is plenty of cabbage, kale, turnip, and rutabaga. Lot’s of beets, too, in many varieties each a little different tasting. I had the variety “Cylindra” with my dinner last night and  a yellow-skinned variety the night before.

 

Little Bluestem Grass

 

It has been a colorful October fall but the trees dropped their leaves early after a week of cold nights and strong winds. Fall colors are not just in the trees but in the shrubs, grasses, herbs, mosses, and of course, mushrooms. There are fewer birds passing through now. Lately, I have seen or heard chickadees and bluejays which always stay during the winter. These birds are actually migrants from Canada as our summer residents have migrated further south. There are ruffed grouse in the woods and also coming to my yard where they feed on tiny crab-apples from several planted trees. Some robins have also been feeding on them.

Weather, as I noted above has been cool but not very cold. The coldest temperature was 24 degrees on October 16. Overall, lows have stayed in the 40’s and until October 20 highs were between 50 and 70. Now, the high temperatures are in the upper 40’s to 50’s and the skies are cloudy. So we head into November which can be a strange month for weather. It may be mild and sunny or it could get cold and cover us with a foot of snow. I’m hoping for the former.

October 1

Frost on squash leaf
Frost on squash leaf on September 29.

 

The Vegetable Garden and Orchard
September is over and with it the vegetable garden. In the hours just before sunrise on Sept 29 with a huge but waning moon setting in the western sky temperatures dropped to a very cold 28 degrees. Frost settled everywhere in that moment taking down any tender plants not covered with hay or cloth. In the days before that I had harvested all the remaining winter squash and tomatoes setting them out on tarps in the sun to finish ripening and covering them in layers of frost blankets at night. Most of the dry bean were picked, those that remained would be able to stand the cold and could be left on the vines to finish drying. The corn, sunflowers, and amaranth were harvested, dried or drying, their stalks cut down and fed to the sheep. So except for root crops and cole crops there was nothing left to harvest and those could easily stand cold nights.

My freezers are full with this summer’s produce. The harvest so far is:

32 packs (about 1 pound each) of shredded squash
18 packs (about 1 pound each) of kale
6 packs (about 1 pound each) of cabbage
11 packs(about 1/2 pound each) of tomatillos
9 quarts of paste tomatoes (more when they are ripe)
57 quarts of rhubarb
60 quarts of apple sauce
14 pounds sliced frozen apples
8 quarts of dried apples
11 quarts of plum sauce
1 quart of dried plums
13 pounds frozen sweet corn kernels

There are about 80 pounds of green tomatoes ripening and 35 butternut squash, 10 tonda padana squash, 4 zapalo plomo squash, 43 spaghetti squash, and 86 winter squash curing. Consider an average weight of 5 pounds per squash and that comes to 890 pounds. I don’t eat that much in a year so there is plenty for the sheep, the chickens, and the dog, too, as she gets cooked squash in her food everyday. Add to that three packed wheelbarrows-full of fully ripe summer squash (scallopini and crookneck) for the chickens. There is a lot of squash.

 

 

Except for onions (about 100 pounds) and garlic (25 pounds) the root crops haven’t been harvested yet but I expect about 200 pounds of potatoes, 30 pounds of carrots, 15 to 20 pounds each of parsnips, beets, and chicory root, about 5 pounds each of turnips and rutabagas, and a few roots of gobo and salsify. Jerusalem artichoke will be however many pounds I want to dig up. I hope to get 25 pounds of cabbage in the freezer (lightly sauteed in oil with some white champagne vinegar) and about that many pounds more of kale.

The amount of dry corn should be large but it is hard to estimate pounds right now. However, there are 12 full shopping bags filled with dry corn on the cob.

The apple wine has failed because the crock had a minute fracture on the inside glaze. As the apples fermented the liquid worked its way into the fracture and then found another weak spot on the outside where it leaked out all over the floor. A very nice mess and a banquet for fruit flies. I’ll try again next year. The brandied apples are looking good, though.

Weather and Phenological Changes
Most of September was very warm even at night until the 29th when a hard frost hit like a hammer. Fortunately, most of the garden was done producing and what wasn’t either cold hardy or was harvested to ripen in a safe place. This was probably the first time in years that garden crops died of old age and not frostbite. The average high temperature for the month was 78 degrees and the low 49. Rainfall was 5 inches.

 

 

Leaves on shrubs and trees had been slowly changing color all month. By the 26th many aspen were turning yellow and pines were shedding old needles. The last few nights of freezing weather will speed up the color changes.

The catbirds and cedar waxwings have left after eating all the black elderberries and mountain ash berries. Ruffed grouse are moving about in the woods finishing off the last of the bunch-berries and blackberries and some are now heading to the small crab-apple trees I planted for them.

Warblers began passing through on their fall migration on and were soon gone. White throated sparrows and juncos have arrived and are staying for the time eating crabgrass and other seeds in lawn and along the driveway. Some are also eating grain amaranth from the few stalks I left standing. I am thinking about planting a bigger patch next year to provide seeds for migrating birds.

Flocks of goldfinches have been busy feasting on the oily seeds of wild sunflowers that grow in so many places here. Last spring I planted twelve clumps of wild sunflowers near the road on the north edge of my land. They bloomed this summer and I have plans to add more sunflowers there and in several other places where they are not now growing.

Some things to do in October
Summer is over but the gardens need to be made ready for next year. Weeds must be pulled (again) from the rhubarb and new currant plantings. Crop debris needs to be removed and piled up to rot with a nice mix of chicken manure to heat it up. Garlic, shallots, and bunching onions are on the “to do list” for planting in October. I’ll be cutting a few more poles for beans and hauling in others I cut back in July.

May 1

Bloodroot Flowers


 

April is the real month of spring around here. Temperatures are beginning to stay above freezing for more than a day. There is snow but there is rain also. The soil starts to thaw and even though there may be frost or even ice a few inches down trees and other plants start to awaken. The warmer weather brings out insects and spiders. Most of these are small moths, flies, and nursery web spiders but there are enough of them that insect-eating birds like olive-sided flycatchers can find something to eat.

Normally, there is a flood in the sedge meadow and shrub carr along the river and I can canoe in it as though it were a large lake. This year we have not had our spring flood because of below normal snowfall during the winter and almost no rain for two months. The daytime temperatures have been very warm with only a few days in the 30’s and 40’s. And it has been windy which is also drying out tall grass and contributing to a fire danger. Many swampy areas are only damp and do not have enough water for wood frogs and spring peepers to lay their eggs. I am hoping for a small flood in May as the small river on my property is low and it is important that it stay full for all the wildlife living there.

Many new birds have returned or are passing through. On April 3 two trumpeter swans flew over. Other new avian arrivals this month include woodcock, mourning dove, redwings, cowbirds, white-throated sparrow, song sparrow, flickers, yellow warbler, purple finches, turkey vultures, marsh hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, broad-wing hawk, olive-sided flycatchers, barn swallows, and biterns. Robins and flycatchers are beginning to claim nesting sites by the house.

Insects are still slow to come out but cabbage white butterflies and Milbert’s tortoiseshell butterflies have been frequent. I have seen three different species of small ants including the common cornfield ant. A few bumblebees have been flying. They are collecting pollen and nectar from squill (Scilla siberica), dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), black currant (Ribes oxyacanthoides), red maple (Acer rubrum), bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), and meadow willow (Salix petiolaris). The meadow willow is abundant in shrub wetlands around here and produces many flowering catkins. It is certainly an important early spring flower for many nectar and pollen eating insects.

Some aquatic insects are now coming out of hibernation. In the river water striders, diving beetles, and giant water bugs are now active. There are not many fish in the river this year but for a short period I was catching about 50 mudminnows (Umbra limi) every day in a minnow trap. I do not trap them for bait only to see what is in the river. Mudminnows are able to survive low oxygen levels which is a frequent event in small headwaters streams.

Other arthropods seen this month are centipedes. Two centipedes, the yellow soil centipedes (Geophilus flavus) and the stone centipedes (Lithobius forficatus) are active. I have found many of them under rocks and mulch. Also under the mulch are earthworms so it looks like the robins will have plenty to eat.

The trees are still bare but quaking aspens have a faint green haze in their upper branches a sign that leaves are peeking out from their buds. Many willows are leafing out as are elderberries (Sambucus pubens), honeysuckles (Lonicera villosa and L. canadensis, and currants (Ribes triste). Woodrush (Luzula acuminata), hepatica (Hepatica americana) and the forest sedges Carex peduncullata and C. peckii are in flower. Tussock sedge (C. stricta) is now crowned with the first spikey leaves.

Garden work is in full swing and so far I have built two raised beds, spread about 70 cartloads of bedding and manure, planted more rhubarb, horseradish, and asparagus, got in the first of several 50 foot rows of potatoes, planted a strip of currants and elderberries for the birds, planted white pine seedlings, and planted a bee garden of mustard, vetch, buckwheat, and peas. Today, its back to hauling more mulch and weeding around the rhubarb before the predicted rain comes.