The warm weather has brought out the frogs in abundance! This video was recorded at midnight near the river’s edge. Two (maybe three?) different calls can be heard. If you’re interested, try identifying them from the recordings posted on Ontario Frog Calls .
When Poland was invaded and occupied by Germany at the outset of World War II, the exiled Polish government established itself in England. Part of this government’s activities during that period involved negotiating with Canada and the United States to recruit and train North American volunteers of Polish descent for the Polish armed forces.
The turmoil and tragedy of the war certainly affected this corner of the world. However, it seems unlikely that there would be a local connection to such negotiations. But there is, and the history of that connection is partially retained by an old, obscure American Beech. Early this morning I combined a hike with a treasure hunt to search out that tree. It was beautiful morning for doing so; sunny with the temperature hovering at 0′C, but promising to reach 10′C by midday. The search began on a ridge trail winding through a stand of young hardwoods.
Heavy rains and a week of above freezing temperatures have removed the major snow cover. Last night however, an inch fell and the remains were still present in shaded nooks and crannies below and in the shadow of the ridge. In one such spot, the snow revealed two night-time travellers, a Red Fox and a Snowshoe Hare, apparent companions in their wanderings (although more likely travelling at different times or perhaps fox in pursuit of hare..?)
This portion of the trail remains shaded and chilly for a good kilometer as it hugs the base of the escarpment. The dolomite rock outcroppings here though are beautiful..
Just before the trail leaves the ridge and begins its descent, I come across a stream literally flowing out of the rocks! People often speak and write about the headwaters of a river, but I’ve never actually seen one before.
As the trail leaves the escarpment, the forest changes to a mix of hardwood and balsam, and the ground is saturated. According to the guidebook, the beech I’m looking for is hiding somewhere nearby. And truth to tell, in a forest less than 30 years old, a century old veteran of a previous growth is not hard to find. There are a half dozen of these gnarled relics left here and the second one I check is it, the Polish Soldier Tree, as it’s known locally.
The exiled Polish government succeeded in negotiating training and recruitment efforts in North America. In Canada, over 200 men were recruited and here’s the local connection: they received basic and mechanized infantry training at a camp that ran in Owen Sound from May 1941 to May 1942. This wood, or rather the one that existed before it but was logged after the war, formed part of their training ground. And this beech, part of that earlier forest, bears an inscription carved over 70 years ago by one of those soldiers. Though distorted by weathering and the expansion of the tree’s trunk, the words, “Polska” and the year “1942″ can be seen clearly. The rest of the wording is less clear, but has been deciphered and translated to reveal the soldier’s name and the words, “Poland shall not perish” (the first words of the Polish national anthem).
What became of this soldier? Did he fight overseas and did he survive and return to Canada? And if so, did he ever come back to this tree to look at the inscription and recall his time here?
The tug of war between spring and winter is in full swing here with alternating cold snaps and increasingly stronger periods of thaw. This normal seasonal transition is far preferred to last year’s bizarre March heat wave. Though enjoyable in a sit-outdoors-after-dinner way, it decimated the local apple crop (buds erupted in the heat and were killed by a later frost) and cut maple syrup production almost in half. Local syrup producers however report ideal conditions this year. Product is already available at roadside stands and local farmers’ markets (pancakes for breakfast this weekend!).
This year’s thaw has also been a lesson in rising rivers and high water. Last winter (the first for me), there was very little accumulated snow on the ground. As a result, spring melt water only encroached a few metres beyond the river’s normal banks. This year however, flooding was rapid and expansive. Returning home last week after only two day’s absence, I found the river nearly reaching up to the barn and the sump pump in the cellar of the house running overtime. The possibility of this happening wasn’t a surprise. Part of the pasture is situated on a flood plain (a fact in Ontario that must be disclosed when a property is offered for sale) and the previous owners had been very forthright and instructive about what can happen in a very wet spring. “The cellar will get damp but has never flooded – just be sure the sump pump works.”
They also advised that the flooding is short-lived and this has certainly been true so far. In only a matter of days, the river pulled itself back to its near normal width, though the bank-side willows still have partially feet wet.
These spring flooding events seem to have good points and bad. On the one hand, inundation of the pasture near the barn will be a problem for livestock access. However on the other, I wonder if these floods, like the Nile, deposit fertile silts on the pasture that could increase its productivity – perhaps a flood plain vegetable garden is worth considering…
I’ve delayed this post in order for it not to be a general whinge about the weather, forced inactivity regarding farm work and the like. There’s still plenty of snow on the ground and the temperature is still well below zero (Celsius), but the days are now getting promisingly longer. And so, plans, preparations and deliberations for the spring have begun.
The sign outside the village feed store says they’re now taking orders for layer hens (another sign of spring!). On Monday, I’ll order a dozen. This is a big increase from last year’s four which will mean adding some additional nest boxes and perches in the hen house, and making sure it’s mink-proof this time around. Figuring that each hen will lay at least every other day means three to four dozen eggs per week can be expected. Hardly enough to grow rich from, but it will be satisfying to begin selling produce at the farm gate.
The emphasis in the garden this year will be on crops sewn directly into it with a large area devoted to dried beans. These did so well last year and have been so great to have in the kitchen this winter. So last week, a mere dozen each of Black Krim Tomatoes and Fish Hot Peppers were started, although this should be more than enough – the Fish Hots typically yield 200 peppers per plant! Also under the grow lights are two plantings of Mesclun salad greens started in orange crates back in January. This was an experiment prompted by the ridiculous winter price of lettuce. Though I was also curious to see if they’d actually grow and whether this might lead to some sort of small-scale greenhouse operation next winter. They’ve done pretty well and will be part of tomorrow night’s dinner.
To Sheep or not to Sheep..?
I confess I’m wavering between bringing in sheep this spring or waiting another year. There’s still a lot of work to do (and expense to bear) to get the entire pasture fenced and the barn completely outfitted and winterized.
Or Perchance to Pig instead..?
But, an alternative and simpler livestock option is being considered – pigs! The idea of raising pigs immediately brings to mind miserable, smelly animals enclosed in a muddy pen. However, pigs free-ranged on pasture are clean, happy and yield leaner, tastier pork. Last year, my friend’s daughter raised them as part of her market garden operation (we bought a quarter pig from her) with great success. We’re now thinking of sharing the purchase of four Berkshires, a flavourful, heritage breed. Two pigs won’t require the range of pasture that a small flock of sheep would, so fencing costs could be spread out over two seasons. Pigs are also ready for market in the fall meaning no over-wintering of livestock this season.
The only real question is a remnant city-dweller one: Pigs are damn cute – how hard will it be to send them to the butcher in September?
This picture was taken at approximately 7:30 on the morning after the first blizzard of the year swept through the area. The location is about three km up the County road leading to the farm. The evening before, I’d been creeping home along this road following the driver in front of me whom I hoped could see better than me. I’ll never know though; my own car was suddenly engulfed in a whiteout. Fearing a head-on collision with an unseen car coming the other way, I veered to the right and, of course, went into the ditch.
Fortunately, as I stood outside the car surveying the damage (not a terribly intelligent thing to be doing in a blizzard) a guy in a truck stopped and offered me a ride. At first, this seemed like an out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire situation. But the temperature was already -15′C and expected to drop to -25′C overnight. This posed a very real hypothermia, if not worse, risk. Staying with the car was dicey - how long would the gas hold out and what if the tailpipe got clogged with snow? (i.e. carbon monoxide). Leaving the car to try and walk home was equally dangerous – getting lost or struck by another vehicle in the blinding wind and snow seemed a near certainty. And so, I gratefully jumped into the truck and off we went.
The driver of the truck had the windshield wipers going full tilt and was moving along at at a fairly quick pace (too quick, I thought). Leaning over the wheel and peering out into the white nothing, he was all concentration but didn’t seem particularly worried. “Can you actually see out there?” I asked him. “Sort of,” he replied, “I’ve lived around here all my life – you kind of get a feel for where the road is.” And this seemed true for we avoided the ditches, evaded other vehicles and were soon in the village. Here the trees and buildings formed enough of a windbreak to provide some visibility. It was then I realized how close to home I’d been when I’d gone in. The driver lived in the village but insisted on taking me another half km down the road to the end of my laneway. It’s an understatement to say this was generous thing to do – the storm was not letting up and it was beginning to get dark.
The weather hasn’t finished with us yet. The next morning when I was digging out and waiting for the tow truck, I watched another big storm bank approach from out over Lake Huron. This one hit at midday enshrouding us once again and there are more on the way.
Spring, where are you…?!
Bognor Marsh is a protected wetland that lies about 25 km east of the farm. Last weekend when there was still a lot of snow on the ground, we tried skiing the trails that run around it. It was fun but a) the snow was like peanut butter – you could crawl faster than ski and b) almost half the trail runs up and along the ridge of the escarpment – not great terrain for novice skiers. So today with the temperature running at 10′C, I went back with camera and boots (no skis) to give the loop another try.
The marsh lies in a depression at the base of the escarpment and therefore drains all the land around it. This was uncomfortably evident in today’s thaw as hundreds of streaming rivulets crossed the trail as the melt water made its way into the lowland - wellies would’ve been a good fashion choice. According to the conservation authority that looks after Bognor, the site was originally a hardwood forest that became perpetually flooded (the reason why isn’t clear), giving rise to a swamp . As the trees decayed, the swamp gradually filled in with organic material which gave rise to the growth of non-woody plants and the swamp became a marsh. These were interesting new facts for me – I’d thought the terms swamp and marsh were synonymous to say nothing of bogs and fens. Some pictures posted while the boots were drying (and continue to do so) on the heater…..
A male Pine Grosbeak. These beautiful birds are a boreal forest species that sometimes winter over here in southern Ontario. For a bird from the “wild north woods” it was surprisingly tolerant of human attention.
One of the many flooded out sections of the trail..
This boulder on the top of the escarpment is almost as big as a small car. Boulders this size aren’t uncommon in this part of Ontario. Known as “erratics”, they were pushed, often hundreds of miles, to their current locations by glaciers during the ice age and left behind when the ice receded.
A stand of Paper Birch on the top of the escarpment…
A stand of Red Osier Dogwood below the escarpment. The species is native to Ontario and loves wetland areas.
Approaching the marsh on the return portion of the trail…
And finally back to the marsh edge (some remaining dead trees can be seen out in the middle) . It will be wonderful to revisit Bognor this spring when the migratory birds return to nest and the plants begin to grow!
Winter makes me gloomy if I give it the chance. True, the stark beauty of barren, snow-covered fields beneath slate gray skies far surpasses the dirt and slush of city winters. But the lack of sunlight, the cold and the simple functional headaches of the season can get under my skin. The trick of course is to meet winter head-on. Embrace the cold and snow, savour the bleak beauty, relish the coziness of a warm farmhouse and be productive (well, at least semi-productive). And so, some chores to tackle in anticipation of spring….
Hedgerow Preparation. Hedgerows make both excellent livestock barriers and wildlife habitat. They’re also a whole lot prettier and easier to maintain than most fences. The posts here will be strung this winter with heavy gauge single strand wire and banked with wild hawthorn branches from a couple of trees that were getting too big. These will provide support structures for the wild grape that grows rampant around here. And in the spring, the row will be planted with Elderberry. Hopefully they’ll grow, take over from the decaying hawthorn branches and with the grape, produce a long, beautiful thicket. And perhaps the birds will spare us some berries for pies and jelly!
Apple Tree Pruning. Frankly, I find fruit tree pruning baffling. No matter how many articles read, YouTube videos watched and folks listened to, the process remains confusing and contradictory practices seem to abound. However, at least in the case of the two trees here, it’s clear that last year’s vertical growth of suckers (a.k.a. watersprouts) needs to be removed, If not, they’ll draw on nutrients that the trees could be putting into fruit production.
Barn Floor Construction. As mentioned in previous posts, the barn has been cleaned out and all that’s needed for sheep sheltering is to lay down a floor. Friends in Toronto have been wanting for ages to come up for a visit and help out on the farm. So we’ve finally settled on February and the “floor will be the chore”.
Happy New Year!