Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Patterns in the seasons

Have you ever sat up on a beach, up by the dunes, and watched the waves come in off of the Atlantic, rolling in one wave after the next?

Or how about walking down the beach, maybe wearing tennis shoes, walking just above the waterline, where the sand is still firm but your feet stay dry?

One moment you are watching the horizon your feet dry and the next moment a huge wave breaks and you are standing in water up to your knees.

Many, many, many years ago I lived near Chincoteague, Virginia and would spend much of my free time walking the beaches of the barrier islands. Assateague, Wallops (when I could finagle a pass), Cobb, Cedar, Parramore and Hog when I could get a boat ride out.

But before we take a trip to the beach let's stop for breakfast in the kitchen of my house near Wallops Island.

Let's sit down at the small table and look out the double wide east facing window.

It's not important that out the window we could look across an empty potato field or the fact they hadn't bothered to plant a cover crop for the winter.

What was important is that as the sun came up, and I had to get up at the same time every morning the sun hardly came in the window, not in December. The only sunlight in the room at the winter solstice was just a tad over there on the north wall.

Meaning? Well I didn't realize what it meant in December, but as the winter passed, as it turned into January and then February that tad of light on the north wall grew. First from a sliver to a board and then a tree.

Maybe we should think about it instead as a vine, growing across the wall until finally in the morning it dominated the entire room.

Meaning? Well, with each day the sun was moving further north and the more north it came the more direct the angle into my kitchen.

A pattern or should I say a rhythm.

As the summer finally arrived and then passed the pattern turned the other way. the light that had once filled the room started growing smaller with each passing day until back to December when the room was barely lit.

Until the room was dark again when the sun came up in the morning

The same sort of thing I noticed was happened out at the beach (of course caused by different forces).

Sitting up on the dunes and doing nothing but watching the waves break on the beach I would try to figure out the pattern.

A huge wave would break higher on the beach than any before, then a number of smaller waves would break. Followed by several larger waves, the largest coming up higher on the beach than the large one of the last set.

And this would go on and on, the ocean, or tide, gradually climbing up the beach until it reached its highest and then it would turn and slowly go back down the beach.

This is the sort of thing, I guess, those of you that surf sit out freezing on your boards notice.

Noticing the order of the breaking waves form a pattern.

You know, A big wave followed by a little wave, and then another little wave, another even small followed by that large wave again, a set of large waves, followed by a small wave, a set of small waves. Followed by that large wave once again.

All the while the water climbing higher and higher up the beach until it almost reaches, once again, the place you have been sitting.

Last night we had a frost. It dropped below 30 degrees out here on the farm.

Fortunately I knew it was coming and I was up in the greenhouse at 2 am refilling the boiler with wood.

2 am it was 35 degrees and stayed that way until 4 when it dropped quickly to where it was 29.6 when the sun rose.

When, if I was still living on the Eastern Shore, the sun would just be peaking in my kitchen window.

Other patterns.

If you look back, sort of like the waves on the beach, the last ‘cold’ night was on March 31st, over a week ago, where it didn’t quite drop down as cold. 35 degrees. And the time before that, on the 24th, it went down to below 25.

And we could go back all winter long and see a pattern, of sorts. Each week, going back to last fall, actually to last September, it gets just a little bit colder until the cycle turns again, around the end of January when it starts heading in the other direction.

Right now we are just about to that point that is really important to farmers.

The last frost of the season.

This date around here used to be predictable, year in and year out. It was the middle of April.

However, in the past decade the last frost has become much harder to predict.

Last year, 2008, our last frost (up here on the mountain) was March 30th, (and the first frost was October 30th. 
2007, the last frost was April 10th and the first one in early November.
2006 April 10th again but a first frost about October 10th. 
05 about March 25th and the first one in the middle of November.
2004 we almost had a frost in early May and the first one in mid-November
2003 late April and early October.

What does this mean for us?

For me it means I’m doing something I don’t like to do, Gamble.

Gamble with our seedlings. With our crop.

When should I put the first ones out? When should I start planting?

What if I count on the weather being stable, sort of like it used to be, and began putting plants out in mid April, that’s next week, and what if we get a May frost? Two weeks of work, and thousands of plants wasted. That would mean the broccoli and cauliflower, the pac choi and cabbage Most of the plants I intend to put in the shares in June would be dead.

Or, what if I played it conservatively. What if I held off in planting until May.

The plants wouldn’t be dead but they wouldn’t be ripe for the first week of the season. We wouldn’t get them until July.

And all the other plants that I would be planting right behind them, they would be either pushed back in the season, or dead. depending.

Depending on weather that has been increasingly harder to predict.

Oh well.


Here is this year’s game plan.

This year I played it safe with the onions and leeks. Instead of planting in late March, like I sometimes do, this year I scheduled them to arrive next week.

Do you want to help? not help in planting, but we need more help in getting the field ready.

Over the past two months we’ve spent a lot of time picking up rocks down there and until the last rain it looked like we had done a good job.

Clean, rockless soil. 

That was until the last rain.

After the rain the field, again was full of stones. Hundreds of them. Either rocks are like plants and grow well with a gentle spring shower, Either that or what happened is the soil settled and the rocks bubbled to the top.

Either way we have more rocks to pick up.

Rock picking party. This weekend. Saturday 12:30 to 2. If you want to help with the onion crop come on out. right now there is a 50/50 chance of showers but if its not raining I’d be glad to have your help.

Visit the farm and collect eggs. This Saturday 11-12:30

Other farm news?

Shares. We are sold out except for people wanting to sign up at the Manassas, pick up site.


If you signed up before the beginning of March you should have your payment in by now. If you signed up after that, your payment is due either April 15th or 30 days after you signed up, which ever is later.

Late payment? If you are late with your payment get it in to me as soon as possible. I haven’t started going through the list yet to see who has or hasn’t paid but I will soon and then, after writing and saying ‘where’s your payment?’ I’ll start contacting people on the waiting list.

egg shares. I had announced they were full however, like last year, we will be taking some of Susannah’s eggs. So if you wanted an egg share and didn’t get one you can sign up. If you want a whole dozen each week, lets wait. I’ll look at the egg supply closer to the first week of delivery and decide if we’ll sell whole dozen shares then.

Fruit shares. Since the fruit comes from a number of orchards I can always add more fruit.

Apple cider. I have ordered a hand made apple press so this fall we’ll have apple cider making parties. You don’t have to have a fruit share to be part of this. In the fall, I’ll buy bushels of apples for people who want to come out and make their own.

Honey bees and queens 

A couple hours ago I got a call from the local post office saying half a dozen queen bees had arrived in the mail and I should come down and pick them up.

These queens are a Russian/Yugoslavian cross. I bought them from a bee breeder out west because they are somewhat tolerant to Varroa mites.

Why do I care?

Several decades ago Varroa mites were accidentally imported into North America and quickly spread throughout the honey bee population wiping out honey bees like a plague.

Today, if you do not put a poison, a miteacide into your beehives the chances are with in two years they will be dead.

However, USDA researchers discovered a honey been living in Russia and the former Yugoslavia that was resistant.

What I will be doing is going into some of my old established hives, hives populated with Italian bees and I will kill the queen and replace her with the Russian.

The reason why?

Russian bees are more tolerant of Varroa mites. There is something the Russians do (or don’t do) that the Italian bees don’t (or do) that causes the mites to kill Italian honey bees.

What I’m hoping for is a bee that isn’t killed by the Vorroa mites.

Tomorrow, hopefully, I will get another call from the post office. This time announcing that 15 pounds of bees have arrived.

These will be Buckfast bees, Honeybees that were bred at the Buckfast abbey over in England for a number of good (by human thinking) characteristics one of them is resistance to Tracheal mites (this is another mite that was also accidentally imported into North America and has been also causing devastation).

The theory is, along with the surviver hives I have (bees that have survived attacks by the mites) my honeybees eventually will not be killed off by the mites.

and that’s it for the week. Oh, and before I close out what local animal sucks out the bodily fluids of its victims? Several animals do it but the one most common in our area is the Opossum. Most of the signs of last week’s attack on our chicken points to a possum or two getting into the fence. One thing that points in another direction, though, is the fact that so many birds were killed I n one night. Another animal that sucks out its victims fluids and also goes on a mad killing spree, killing more chickens than it can eat, is a weasel.

Except for the fact that weasels aren’t very common around here I would think its was a weasel. So my guess? An Opossum.
Leigh Hauter


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