Heron today, turtle tomorrow

Joanna says I have little patience, and she is right.  Several weeks ago she reported that we had, for the first time since we’ve been here at the farm, a small group of Painted Turtles living in the pond below the house. She said that it would be nice if I could get a picture of one. She immediately thought about what she had said and added, No, you don’t have the patience. Over the next few days, and whenever I had the opportunity, I would scan the edge of the pond for turtles and, on several occasions they presented themselves, but whenever I would get down off the tractor or mower for a better look, they would dart away. Even when I displayed infinite patience and approached quietly, and on foot from a distance, it was clear that the turtles were very aware of movement at the edge of their newly adopted home. My solution was to construct a bit of a blind by laying a few ends of plywood down at the water’s edge and across from a spot that I thought would provide both a suitable place for turtles to bask and a nice backdrop for a photo. So, with my blind established, and while Joanna was away, I surprised myself by sitting along the edge of the pond, hiding among the Cat Tails, for a bit more than an hour. I saw no turtles, but I did demonstrate what was, for me, an infinite amount of patience. Yesterday Joanna walked up from the pond and said that she had spotted a young Green Heron. She suggested that I get the camera and, if I approached quietly, I might be able to get a nice shot of it. And so I did … and did!




I had no expectation of stopping to photograph Sunflowers yesterday and did not leave the farm with the intention of doing so, but that changed when I drove by a field near the river. I usually pass this particular spot under cloak of darkness, on my way to satisfy my coffee habit. Yesterday, however, I drove by in the middle of the day. I turned from the main road and passed the field, perpendicular to its planted rows, and the view below caught my eye. I think most folks believe that, unlike fields of corn for example, Sunflowers are planted by broadcasting seeds across the soil. Maybe they get this impression because large expanses of Helianthus seem disorganized. Be this as it may, it isn’t true and commercial fields are planted by machine, in rows, to facilitate the work of the combine come fall. With regard to the photo below, I felt that desaturation of the background had the effect of emphasizing the distance of the plants in the background. I also liked the perspective of the road, the elevation of which was above the flood plain. The photo above was taken with the panoramic feature of my HX9V and in a field across the road from the one below. I was able to get this shot because this section of the crop occupies a low point in the otherwise uniform field. As such this area remained wet after planting; so wet, in fact, that the seeds didn’t take (or they did and the germlings then rotted). The result was a large weedy area completely surrounded by sunflowers. I was able to immerse myself in the field with only a few plants in the immediate foreground. It would have been fun to record a full 360º view of the surrounding plants, but this 180º shot will do.


New to canoe

Who knew that the 2014 National Canoe and Kayak Championships were happening this weekend, and just down the road from us at Lock Haven? Joanna has always observed that I lack a flare for the obvious; and perhaps she is right, as I did not regard as unusual all the fancy canoes and kayaks atop cars driving around town this past week. It wasn’t until Saturday morning, when I took an alternate route home after picking up my usual infusion of coffee, that I noticed the hubbub on the north side of the Susquehanna at Dunnstown. Having completed afternoon chores, and gotten the floors vacuumed and the laundry hung out, we took ourselves to town to walk among modern outrigger canoes (OC1 class, outrigger canoe, one paddler) as well as more traditional C4 craft (open canoe, four paddlers). All of the activity stood in dramatic contrast to that which I experienced at an event sanctioned by the American Power Boat Association and which occurred at this very same venue, last year on Labor Day. This canoe and kayak event was quiet, there was no engine exhaust hanging on the air, and the action was of a very different sort. Neither Joanna nor I had ever been to a canoe race and didn’t know what to expect. This experience taught us that canoe racing is very much like attending a 10k road race or half-marathon, there is a bit of excitement at the start, surely lots at the end, and in between, well let’s just say that a canoe race isn’t all that exciting during the in between. Getting ready for and anticipating the start was quite exciting. There was lots of hurried activity along the river as teams readied individuals and their boats for the upcoming event. Equipment was checked and double checked while the paddlers scurried about to secure a PFD, a whistle, and a full-to-the-brim camel pack. Just how, I wondered, could a camel pack figure in a canoe race? Officials announced 15 minutes to start, 10 minutes to start, and then 5 minutes until race time … all racers in the water and to the start line. How exciting. The racers were given a 1 minute warning and told that the start gun could sound at anytime during the remaining 60 seconds. Excitement soared, tensions increased, and then increased more until the blast of the gun broke the unbearable silence. They were off. We watched paddles splash and teams cheer as the boats disappeared into the distance and around a bend in the river. And they were gone. I turned to the fellow next to me and asked, When will they be back? About an hour, he said knowingly, perhaps a bit more. So that explained the camel packs; it was warm, the sun was high in the sky, and the paddlers would be getting an aerobic workout for the next hour or more; they would need to keep hydrated. So Joanna and I walked across the bridge which connects Dunnstown to the city of Lock Haven. We sat in the shade and looked at our watches. We waited for what seemed an awfully long time until, in an instant, we were able to make out a flash of paddles about a mile up river. It was the first of the C4s returning home. We ran for the bridge and waited for the boats to pass underneath. After the last of the class had finished we decided to wait for the first of the OC1 paddlers to round the bend, pass under the bridge, and finish. When they did, we walked back to Dunnstown and among the competitors, their boats, and equipment. We were astonished (from a census of just a few license plates) by the distances folks had traveled to attend this national event.

Of names and naming

The weather was fine and the pastures were dry, so it was possible to lay about in the tall grass without getting soaked. Sheilagh, on the left, and a ewe lamb were my subjects. I was introduced to the name Sheilagh on March 17 of last year in a blog post at Duck? Starfish? But … 23? entitled Sheilagh’s Brush Came Early. For those not from Newfoundland, or parts thereabout, Sheilagh’s brush refers to what I would call a Nor’easter except Sheilagh’s brush is a very particular coastal storm which occurs around the time of St. Patrick’s Day. Late in the season, such a storm is viewed as the last of winter, so Sheilagh brushes winter away. Our Sheilagh was born just five days later, on March 22, and both the name and our wintery weather were lingering so we thought the label entirely appropriate. The ewe lamb was born this past April 8th and is now a bit more than four months old. Joanna says the brown fleece showing on this little one is comprised of sun bleached tips and that we will find her to be black underneath when she is relieved her fleece next spring. In something like the way in which the ear lobes of a laying hen indicate the color of the eggs she will produce (white ear lobes among breeds that lay white eggs, and red ear lobes among breeds that lay brown eggs), the inner membranes of the eyelids of a sheep are a good indicator of adult fleece color (brown membranes for moorit, or brown, fleece and black membranes for black fleece). The black eye lids, along with the black around the eyes and in the ears and nose tell us that, as a yearling, this ewe will be spotted about the face in black, she’ll sport a white yoke, and have a black body. The term, in Shetland dialect, for this pattern is Yuglet. Joanna likes the name Panda. Perhaps we should go for something like Su Lin, after the first Giant Panda brought to the US (back in 1936), or either Ling-Ling or Hsing-Hsing after the Pandas given to the US by China following Nixon’s historic visit there in 1972. What do you think?

The sincerest form of flattery

First Steve Schwartzman did it on August 7 … and then Stephen Gingold did it shortly thereafter on August 10. So now, I too, take the opportunity to present Rudbeckia (Black-Eyed Susan) to you. Rudbeckia belongs to the plant family Asteraceae, previously known as the Compositae. The former label refers to the star-like appearance of members of the family while the latter describes their composite architecture. This may look like an ordinary flower but, upon close examination, you will discover that it is actually a composite of many flowers. The ray flowers are yellow (in this case) while the disk flowers are black. Steve Schwartman’s nice discussion of these flower types will provide more detail.Another

Now that you know the Asteraceae are comprised of two flower types, does the structure of a Sun Flower make better sense?

True love, and …

I do not denigrate my up bringing, but suffice it to say that I grew up with a distinct lack of appreciation for vegetables. When I married Joanna, however, that changed and now I do not think there is an available vegetable that I have not tried and very few that I do not enjoy. One, which was a relative late-comer to my list of favorites is the tomato. Joanna has always grown them in our garden and she has, over the years, canned tomato sauce and whole tomatoes, much to the delight of all who have partaken of them at our table. Early this summer the generous folks at Village Acres Farm, a CSA out of Mifflintown, brought us some heritage tomato plants in partial exchange for a pair of weanling lambs. Each and every one of the plants grew well in Joanna’s raised beds and they began baring about a month ago and continue to do so, prolifically. If you had told me, thirty years ago, that one of my many pleasures would be to walk through the garden, casually pluck a cherry tomato from the vine and pop it into my mouth, I would have observed that you were nuts. But this is now true. We had a good bit of rain last night and things remained soggy at chores time. We are penning the turkeys in the garden this year, among a small number of fruit trees. As I was feeding and watering these birds I couldn’t help but notice a blaze of orange in the corner of my eye. Surely these beauties were pretty enough to warrant the trip back to the house for the camera.


It is not my intention to provide an exhaustive review of Songs of the Garden so please forgive this offering of just three of my favorites which relate to vegetables and to gardening. The first has its significance in the image above. With thanks to Guy Clark for this classic contribution to the canon.

And, of course, there’s Joanna’s all-time favorite which she says, in all seriousness, was (and remains) formative for her. Even this evening as I played it, she teared up … a wee bit. Forever thanks to Pete Seeger for this tranditional, and most beloved, favorite.

And finally a wink and a nod to John Prine and that Spanish Pipedream we all habor, deep inside.

Baling, baling over the …

Those who follow the farm will know that we cut hay on Thursday and raked on Friday. Because the dew was heavy, and because we felt the weather would hold, we decided to give the crop more drying time and raked it again on Saturday. I am happy to report that Joanna and I baled the crop on Sunday and it is now in the barn, safe from the front which has brought measurable rain. And so yesterday, after I had gotten off the tractor and finished afternoon chores, what do you think I did as a reward? I went to watch good friends making hay of their own, down by the river. The alfalfa they were harvesting had been cut the day before. The first photo shows a rotary rake in action. The tines rotate around a cam such that they sweep toward the ground only just before making contact with the crop. If you look closely you will see the windrow just behind the right-rear tractor tire. This rake works to push the crop up against a barrier, which you can’t see from this vantage. The effect of this stacks the windrow to encourage air movement within and through it rather than over it. The next photo shows the side-delivery rake which follows. The job of this second implement is to gently combine two windrows which allows for more effective and efficient use of the baler. The big baler is next. The operation of this mammoth New Holland 7060 is computer-assisted via sensors which have been placed inside the bale chamber and which communicate with the box shown in the center of the cab-view of the equally-large John Deere 6400. The controller tells the driver which way to lead the baler along the windrow to fully and evenly feed the voluminous and voracious bale chamber. The computer tells the driver when the chamber is full and that the bale is complete. The wrap is automatically deployed and a blade deftly cuts the bale free; hydraulic release of the bale is fully automated and orchestrated from a climate-controlled cab. All of this is a far cry from what is required to operate our vintage Vermeer 605C which is mechanically driven by a PTO but is otherwise under full manual control. Getting the bale off to a good start is a real trick. So, the next time you’re running a 605C, here’s what to do. Be sure the baler is closed by listening for the squeal of the cylinders as you shut the gate, run up the RPMs, position the baler over the windrow and then engage the PTO. As you let out the clutch pull the tractor such that the right side of the pickup runs along the right side of the windrow, once that alignment has been established immediately steer the tractor such that the left side of the pickup runs along the left side of the windrow. Look behind you and check the positions of the belts to be sure the bale is forming evenly. What you’ll see, more often than not, is that the bale is not forming nicely and there is something of an embolism in the bale which threatens to explode outward and through the rapidly-rotating belts. You need to take decisive action or you run the risk of having to shut down to remove the partially formed, mutant, bale. Immediately steer the tractor to move the baler such that hay is fed to either side of the embolism. Note that this isn’t possible, you can’t feed hay to two areas at once! You’ve got to quickly and deftly swerve to feed hay to the right of the embolism, watch the belts, and then swerve with equal precision to the left to feed hay to the left of the offending bulge. Hopefully, once this maneuver is complete, you’ll turn around to see that the embolism is gone and that you have hay distributed evenly across the chamber. With the bale now established and forming rapidly, and because the windrow is narrower than the baler, one has to negotiate the field in an exaggerated zig-zag to be sure the chamber fills evenly and uniformly. This requires constant visual checks on the chamber which can be seen through the rotating belts. The driver determines when the bale is done then stops the tractor and draws a spring-loaded wand back-and-forth across the rotating bale to deliver twine which will wrap the bale, making it easier to handle and to transport. The hatch is then opened by hydraulic cylinders and the bale is ejected as the tractor is brought forward. Determining when the bale is done is a bit of a trick as well. Wrap too soon and the bale will be too small; wrap too late and you’ll create a monster which might possibly exceed the capacity of the belts, PTO, and engine to keep the thing rotating. I’ve done this once or twice before and when it happens everything which is capable of doing so screams in protest. This typically happens as a result of inattention on the part of the operator and bales formed under these conditions may weigh nearly a ton. All you can do with a mammoth such as this is to dump it, unwrapped, into the field. So, there you go, I hope you’ve enjoyed this time making a little hay. If you’d like to see a video of the Vermeer 605C at work here on the farm, check out this YouTube video.

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