Monday, March 28, 2011

It's an Early Spring on the Farm

What an early spring we’re having.

Here at 2 Pond Farm, our maple syrup-making was shorter than usual because the maple trees started budding. It’s during that interim period between winter and spring, when the nights are still cold and the days get warm, that the sap flows. Some years, this weather has lasted for up to five weeks, but this year it lasted only two weeks.

Still, we did get a few gallons of syrup and now, spring is here.

Through the stand of still-bare trees, a patch of daffodils is blooming in the woods. The forsythia outside my kitchen window is aflame with yellow. Onion grass (delicious chopped into mashed potatoes) grows in tufts around the yard. The budding lilacs are waiting their turn.

The husband has plowed the fields. When it stops raining for a few days, he can finish tilling the large plots. However he did plant some peas. Lots of other early-planting seeds have yet to go in. Next week, we’ll put 200 strawberry plants in the ground, as well as some new berry vines.

Last weekend I planted some Tennessee orchid ferns, given to me by some friends. In the early spring they are supposed to pop from the ground as fiddleheads, a delicacy in some states similar to the way we enjoy morel mushrooms here.
Then there’s the chore of cleaning the yard: raking up leaves, pine needles and small sticks; clearing the dead growth in the flower beds; pulling out honeysuckle before it goes rampant.

The nights are warm enough now to keep the bedroom window open a crack. The breeze carries with it the all-night broadcast of Virginia peepers (thanks to the “front pond” the husband created years ago).

I found a few eloquent quotes about this annual event online in people’s blogs:

“And there is now a grand chorus of Virginia peepers in all the ponds and creeks around us!”

“As I drove in our nearly half-mile long driveway, the sound of the Virginia peepers overpowered my radio, even with my truck windows rolled-up. What a beautiful sound.”

I wanted to see a spring peeper but they are hard to spot, so I looked them up in our book, “Amphibians and Reptiles of the Carolinas and Virginia,” published by the UNC Press Chapel Hill in 1980. We bought this book when we lived in the hollow, where the spring peepers were loud enough to keep you awake at night. That is, until you got used to the sound. At first I thought they were insects.

The scientific name for these little guys is hyla crucifer, so named because of the prominent dark X marking on their backs. They can be tan, brown or gray. They also have large toepads to help them get a grip as they climb.

The beautiful sound is a mating call. It is the male peeper calling for a female, all night long. The females come to the male, mate, and then lay eggs on underwater sticks and plants. In 12 days, the baby peepers are born. The tadpoles eat algae and tiny organisms in the water.

In three to four months, the tadpoles undergo metamorphosis and become adults. Then they take up residence in the woods, where they come out at night to look for food: beetles, ants, flies and spiders. In the winter, they hibernate under logs or loose bark on trees. For their size, they are quite sturdy: They can survive having most of their body frozen.

Getting a bit off subject here, the list of the peepers’ prey I found on a website contains some fascinating names. Like daring jumping spider, rabid wolf spider, horned fungus beetle, six-spotted tiger beetle and Asian tiger mosquito.

So much for Virginia peepers.

On the farm, the next thing we’ll harvest (I think) is asparagus. The husband has always remembered that it comes up around the time of his father’s birthday in late April. In years past, we’ve had asparagus through July, enough for ourselves and to share with other family members. However, the husband has been expanding the patch, so it will be exciting to see what comes up this year. The roots take three years to get established, so it takes patience.

We also have wild asparagus growing along the fencerows on the property. These are especially delicious. One plant by the “back pond” grows very thick and tall stalks, but tender as butter. Go figure.

Ah, Spring! All around us and in our hearts!

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