[This week’s blog is written by our departing interns Lauren McDonald and Emily Reiss; not only have they been helping us here at the Farmscape Ecology Program, but they have also been spending long hours helping out on the Farm itself. This blog describes a bit about what they have seen on the Farm of late.]
Just as in the natural areas we explore in Columbia County, the farm itself constantly changes with new and exciting happenings every week as different crops are planted, harvested, and turned under; the insects pollinating them arrive, mate and lay eggs; and new weeds sprout, flower and go to seed. When living and working on the farm, these natural cycles and the changing of seasons become integrated into the forefront of our consciousness and planning, not just the backdrop to a daily routine.
Right now we’re in full-on summer mode with tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil, green beans, cucumbers, and zucchini all coming in along with lettuce, chard, beets, carrots, kale, fennel, cauliflower, and more. Between the cultivated and non-cultivated plants, insects, birds and other animals on the farm, the fields are diverse, dynamic places to explore. Here are some pictures of what’s growing on the farm (both what was planted and not) and some of the animals who have made their homes in the vegetable gardens.
It’s especially interesting to compare some of the cultivated varieties to their related, non-domesticated weedy competitors.
For example, horse nettle (Solanum carolinense var. carolinense), a member of the nightshade family of plants, is quite prolific in parts of the Corner Garden. However it does seem to be popular with both bees (can you see the bumblebee in the picture?) and flea beetles, so it is useful to have around for attracting pollinators and keeping flea beetles from eating holes in the eggplant and brassica leaves. Thank goodness none of the delicious cultivated nightshades like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant have the vicious spines of horse nettle!
Here is the horse nettle flower,
and a tomato flower (& 'fruit')….
an eggplant flower (& 'fruit')…
…and a pepper flower (& 'fruit').
Similarly, bittersweet or climbing nightshade (Solanum dulcamara var. dulcamara) grows along the farm creek, and you can see from the poisonous fruits why Europeans were originally wary of tomatoes and other nightshades brought over from the New World.
They say that carrots love tomatoes, so the Corner Garden is experimenting with companion planting of the two.
This red/purple amaranth is a weed in the Corner Garden, but ...
its relative in the Amaranthaceae family, Swiss chard, is one of the most popular greens on the farm.
Queen Anne’s Lace or Wild Carrot (Daucus carota), Fennel, and Carrots of the Apiaceae family all grow in the gardens as well.
This is the Corner Garden fennel.
You can see the similar umbellate inflorescence of these wild carrots on the edge of the field.
And this is an impressive head of green oakleaf lettuce that bolted, or started to prepare to flower and go to seed.
The plywood greenhouse with the next successions of basil, lettuce, kale, and more.
Here are the beds of Siberian Kale in the Main Field.
Then zooming in, here are the eggs of a cabbage butterfly on the underside of a kale leaf.
In this winter squash flower you can see a striped cucumber beetle, a spotted cucumber beetle, and likely a Peponapis bee. The bees in the Peponapis genus are North American natives that specialize on the Cucurbitaceae family (squash, melons, gourds etc.). They originated near Mexico with their squash hosts, and have followed the movement of squash plants north with indigenous and later European cultivation. They are by far the most important pollinator for squash plants, but you’ll also find other bees and pollinators getting in on the action too. Unlike the honey bee and other social bees, Peponapis are solitary bees and dig holes (easily a foot deep) in the ground to lay eggs and raise young.
Thanks to the efforts of this Honey Bee and others, we’re starting to see...
small watermelons in the Corner Garden.
Bumble Bees are not as discriminating as Peponapis in their floral selection. They are well known for their tomato and other nightshade pollinating (remember the bumble bee on the horse nettle earlier), but can also be found enjoying red clovers, ...
and helping out the Peponapis (though they probably don’t need it) on Cucurbitaceae (melons, squashes, cucumbers and the like).
Joe Pye Weed planted in the Corner Garden. It grows along streambeds and in wet areas throughout Columbia County and is also quite popular with the bees.
Both native and non-native ladybugs are quite common in the gardens, and are incredibly valuable in eating aphids off the plants. This one is native,
but this one, which you might be more used to seeing, originally came from Asia.
Both can feast on these aphids though, shown on a chard leaf.
The Japanese beetles have done a bit of damage to basil, but thankfully not too much else. They can devour entire leaves except the veins and completely destroy plants.
Here is a head of red cabbage that can be harvested soon.
The Meadow Fritillary is a native butterfly that not surprisingly prefers meadows and other open areas for the abundance of their host plants, violets. The initial colonial clearing of land was a boon to the Meadow Fritillary, but once tilling and crop cultivation became more common, the important violets were not as available. The Meadow Fritillary is now gone from eastern Massachusetts, though it remains in the western part of the state. Although this butterfly was found in the vegetable gardens, most of the open land surrounding the vegetable fields is either cut for hay, or used for cow pasture, practices which might maintain the low-growing violet population for the Meadow Fritillary.
Birds on the farm are a great assets especially when they eat pests. When they (mostly crows) start going for the tomatoes though, it’s less ideal. These pie tins on the stakes in Main Field reflect light and make noise in the wind to scare the birds away.
These two killdeer are probably protecting one of their small, unassuming nests laid on open ground, often right in the fields. If you get too close, the male will shriek and the female will pretend to have a broken wing to sacrifice herself for their young. These are some of the grassland breeding birds that can use farm fields as analogies to their original coastal, wet meadow or prairie-like habitats.