Saturday, April 11, 2009

toad time of year

How will we know when its spring without a toad pond?

Or, at least a goldfish pond that the toad can use?

You know about toads, of course? How, in the spring, they are the ones that tell us when the last frost has come and gone?

(for more on last frosts and farming see my latest non-newsletter blog entry)

But, back to the toads. Each year toads come out of the forest, hop, hop hopping from, I guess, miles and miles away. Fording rivers, climbing mountains, crossing highways, risking electric fences (for more information try the Saturday, April 15, 2006 blog), until they finally, all of them, hundreds and hundreds of toads, on the same day converge on the same pond, the same pond being the one we had in our front yard.

Notice the word HAD. As in no longer there. Having been but not now. Kaput. Disappeared. As in, unfortunately, the pond in our front yard has been, alas, filled in. No longer a pool of water, Now, just a memory and grass.

What happened is...

Well, some time last fall we upgraded. 

We captured the twenty some koi and goldfish swimming about in the pond put these two dozen fishy creatures in one of those large 500 gallon black livestock troughs and filled in their home.

Sort of an urban renewal project. As in: ‘That wasn’t a real koi pond. What you had was just a hole in the ground filled with water and with a bunch of stones thrown around its edge.‘

(those people, the people that say that, have a hard time differentiating between a loving home and urban blight). 

But, be that as it may.

We filled in the old hole with a combination of clay, potting soil and manure and when it was filled in planted grass seed.

And the koi? Well, they were upgraded. Instead of the ghetto they were moved out to the burbs and into a brand spanking new community ‘executive homes for those with taste and income.‘ (the sign out front might have said).

That is, we dug another hole. This one deeper, larger, and with straighter sides.  

Then, instead of just a piece of waterproof pool plastic on the bottom and sides, we poured concrete ( yes, very tasteful and expensive), and stoned, (yes using real organic stones), the sides. 

And the new Koi pond didn’t end with the surface of the land but no, it rose several fish stories above the surrounding landscape.

The sides of the stone pond stood almost two feet (very handsome) above the ground.

When construction ended and the artisans went home we began to fill the new pond with water. Filling it all the way to the top of the stone walls.

And when it was all done, we took the Koi and goldfish out of their temporary housing and introduced them to their new, executive home.

And of course, they lived happily ever after.

Except there was a little bitty problem.

Just think of those fancy Frank Lloyd Wright designed houses with the elaborate skylights that would never stop leaking. We sort of have the same problem with our pond.

A few design glitches. A difference between concept and practice.

Our problem isn’t leaky skylights. No. Instead its leaky stone walls. And while we have drained and filled the pond five times, each time putting more patching material on the inside, looking for that one leak. Well, it still doesn’t fill up to the top. Water still leaks out.

But that’s not what I set out to write about. 

What I meant to write about was the toads and how the new koi pond is not toad compatible (or, at least not very toad compatible).

Two foot stone walls are, you can imagine, difficult to scale, especially when you are a toad. and while the other night almost twenty toads showed up and were seen hopping around the outside of the new pond, and while I leaned boards up against the wall for them to hop up, no one made it into the pond on their own.

In other words, this year’s toad orgy seems as though it will be stifled by modern architecture. 

Which leaves me here wondering, and thinking: Maybe I should go back out and quickly, with a shovel, dig up that new grass and dirt in our front yard.

Maybe I should dig a hole in the front yard and fill it up with water. Maybe I should make a pond just for the toads. One where they can congregate (or is the word conjugate?) on that special night so I will know that it is now safe to start planting. That we will know that the last frost is finally a thing of the past.

What do you think?

Farm news

Open house again this Saturday. Let’s make it 11-12:30 I’ll give tours, again, of the farm. Also you can come out and collect eggs or go for a hike. Hopefully I have time to get up the mountain this evening to make sure the trails are marked.

And at 12:30 until 2 Saturday lets have ‘help around the farm.’ Last week we picked up the rocks around the cemetery. Thank you very much. This week we will pick up the remains of that old stone wall that was between the fields below the house. If we get those rocks up we can plant there next week.

Shares are mostly sold out I’m collecting names for a waiting list and shortly I’ll have a sense of who signed up but changed their mind and didn’t send in a check and I’ll fill those spots from the waiting list.

We are still, though, taking shares at the Manassas pick up.

Hoop houses. This last week I got carried away and bought another 100 feet of hoophouse. That means we now have 500 feet erected and another 100 feet coming. The new plastic is on 400 feet of it.

Hoop house vegetables. The 100 feet of salad greens in hp1 have sprouted and are growing. When they are ready, in about a month, we will have the shareholders out for salad greens.

Hoophouse tomatoes, eggplant and bell peppers. We’ll be putting the plants in the ground just as soon as the seedlings are old enough. I’ve never had particular luck with greenhouse cucumbers but ‘they’ say cucumbers grow well under plastic so we will try again. Maybe this will be the year.

Asparagus. Some asparagus is up but its not ready for picking yet. Maybe next week we’ll invite shareholders out to cut asparagus.

Planting onions. 20,000 onion and leek seedlings are supposed to be shipped this way next Monday and should be here by Wednesday. If all does as planned we’ll have them in the ground by the end of next week.

Honey bees. Yesterday was bee day for me. Six Russian/Yugoslavian queens had arrived the day before and I went into six hives of Italian bees and killed the queen and inserted the cage with the R/Y queen. Let’s home the Italian workers and drones accept a new Russian queen. 

Then, yesterday evening at 4 pm the woman at my post office called to say that five cages full of honey bees had just arrived in the mail truck and if I wanted them come around and knock on the back door. I did, and back at the farm took these Buckfast bees (originally from Buckfast abbey) and their Buckfast queens and put them into bee boxes. This morning I went back and checked each hive to make sure all was going well and fed them each a gallon of sugar water. All seems to be well.

This afternoon, after I go to the store and buy another 100 pounds of sugar I’ll mix that up with water and feed last week’s hives again.

Baby chicks. This one is so cute I should give it its own story. Maybe I will next week. Remember that lone chicken, the lone hen I talked about over a month ago? Well, she had disappeared. I thought she had given up and was living with the other chickens. Yesterday I found out this was not the case. Yesterday, there she was, in front of the house, and following her were two adorable baby chicks. Somewhere, over the last month, momma had found a quiet place to lay eggs and for the past three weeks she has been sitting on them.

My experience is that baby chicks on the farm never (or at least seldom) live to maturity. Just think: black snakes, raccoons, possums, hawks and if I put them in with the grown up chickens, other chickens all work double time to make sure they don’t see adulthood. What should I do? Catch momma and her babies and lock them up in a cage?

Blue birds. Over the years I’ve put up about ten blue bird nest boxes. I did a survey yesterday and they all have bluebirds building nesting inside. Some of them have already layed eggs.

And that’s it for this week. Isn’t spring wonderful?

Leigh

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