Wednesday, September 28, 2011

White Pines and their Needles

This is the time of year that the white pines lose their inner needles - the needles that grew last year. While the pines have looked green all summer, now they're green on the outside and golden yellow on the inner branches. In a few weeks the inner golden needles will fall off, and the pines will be back to green.

I was once asked by a worried homeowner who saw the golden needles in the fall what disease his white pines had, and what could he do about it. Before that I hadn't been aware myself that the needles of white pine trees are held on the branches for about 18 months. All the needles now turning colour are the needles on branches that started growing a year and a half ago.

Just one of the many interesting patterns you can see in nature.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fall Colours are Suddenly Here

Suddenly, after a few cold nights, and noticeably shorter days, fall colours are appearing in the trees. Young silver and sugar maples are one of the earliest to turn, and among the brightest orange or red. This is a young silver maple that we planted in our meadow.

One of my favourites is the sumach. Growing in dense large clumps that shade out anything else, it forms bright red masses of compound leaves like this one. A few branches will turn red first, and then slowly the rest of the sumachs turn til they're a bright red feature in the landscape for a week or two.

The large round heart-shaped leaves of the basswood turn yellow. Young saplings, like this one, turn before the mature trees do. Together all these leaves paint the trees in a burst of colour before the leaves finally drop and summer ends.

Friday, September 23, 2011

It's Fall in the Garden

It's fall in the garden, and the last few bright plants from the summer are rapidly disappearing. With the colder temperatures (and a very long rain all day today), the garden will soon be going to sleep, while we look forward for 6 long months to next spring.

This rather weird looking flower has huge leaves, with a slight tinge of purple to them, and sports these bedraggled looked but bright orange-yellow blossoms at the end of the summer. It's called Ligularia, and it does add some interesting colour and texture to the garden.

These are the bright red blossoms of scarlet runner beans no less! They're steadily being replaced with the beans themselves now, 8" or more long, and nearly 1" wide.

And the best remaining flowers in the garden are the brown-eyed susans, a large circle of them around a great big limestone boulder that sits in the middle of our yard.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Canoeing in the North

Well, it's not the Beaver Valley, but it is a sign of the seasons, at least for me - time for the annual canoe trip. This year we went to The Massassauga Provincial Park, an amazing canoeing area just sound of Parry Sound, on the east side of Georgian Bay. Since the scenery was so spectacular, I thought I'd just share a few photos.

Northern Lakes -White Pine and the Precambrian Shield

Beautiful September Days

Exploring the corners

Rattler - A Massassauga

The Giant Snapper Comes to Visit

Dawn on Clear Lake

Last Morning - Spider Lake

Thursday, September 8, 2011

More Crops!

The grain and canola crops aren't the only ones around here. The corn and soybeans are coming on strong, though they won't be harvested for some time yet. And the other day I noticed a large field of millet, an unusual crop you don't see often.

Corn has been growing steadily since it was planted in May or early June, and though different fields may vary in getting started (see my post of July 8th), by now they've all caught up. By August the corn is tassling, and by now it's pretty well full grown. Harvest waits until the corn has dried out while still standing, depending on how the farmer intends to store or market it.

Soybeans are a late crop, that has to wait til after the last spring frost for planting, so it looks like it's just getting started while other crops are growing strong. But by now it's all caught up, and the soy beans have developed, as you can see in the second of the two photos below. At this time of year it starts turning yellow, and will be harvested in a few weeks. Along with canola, it is the other oilseed crop.

Millet is not often seen in most of southern Ontario, but this field is growing a short ways north of our place. Earlier in the year you couldn't tell it from other grain crops easily, but by this time of year it has quite a distinctive appearance. It has tiny seeds, held in these wavy fronds (which were blowing in the breeze when I took these pictures). Some seed heads turn from yellowy green to reddish brown earlier than others, leaving the field with a mottled appearance of green and brown as it matures. It will eventually be harvested like other grains.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Canola Harvest

At the same time as the grain harvest is going on, the canola crop is also being harvested around here. Canola is not a grain, but is an oilseed crop, similar to soybeans. However, the harvest is quite similar to grain harvests. It is grown for the tiny black seeds, which are used to make canola oil.

Canola fields are those fields that are brilliant yellow when they're in bloom in June and early July (see my post of July 8th). They then turn a light bluish green while the seed pods form and mature. You can see the characteristic colour in this field, and the beans forming in the close-up.

When they're ready for harvest the canola seed pods turn brown. They are usually harvested with a combine, as is wheat.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Grain Harvest, Part 2 - Oats and Barley

They're not nearly as common as wheat fields, but there are a fair number of farmers growing oats and barley around here - sometimes just oats or barley in a field, and sometimes mixed together, known as 'mixed grain. This field shows the mixture, much earlier in the summer, in early July, when the oats gave the field a bit of a blue-green colour and the barley provided a soft, feathery appearance.

A close-up shows the difference, the oats being the large individual seeds openly spaced on the top of the stalk, and the barley being much more like wheat, but with long feathery 'tails' or 'glumes' extending upward from the grain stalk. There's an out-of-place stalk of timothy in the upper left hand corner, a common component of hayfields.

The pictures below show a beautiful field of barley, more recently, a few weeks before combining. The fronds of the barley give the field a wavy, feathery appearance, especially in a gentle breeze. The barley turns golden-brown when ready for harvest, just like wheat, and the harvest is similar, with the grain combined first, then the straw baled, mostly for use as bedding for cattle. The second photo shows a combine harvesting a mixed grain field.

A close-up of barley, showing the grain as well as the long feathery 'glumes', already starting to turn gold, and a close-up of oats earlier in the summer, showing the clearly visible separate grains.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Grain Harvest, Part 1 - Wheat

The biggest parts of the rural landscape around here are the farm fields, and perhaps the most obvious change in the seasons is the sequence of planting, ripening and harvesting of the crops. As we reach the end of August, the grain harvest is nearly finished around here, though there are a few fields left to be combined and baled. Wheat is the biggest grain crop in southern Ontario, but there are fields of barley, oats and mixed grain (oats and barley mixed together) to be harvested as well. Canola is now being harvested too. But wheat is by far the biggest, and it's Canada's biggest agricultural export, because of the enormous acreages on the prairies.

Here the wheat is usually winter wheat, planted in late fall and showing like bright green grass before the first snow. It grows steadily in spring until the grains are clearly formed, and then in mid-July starts to turn golden brown. The fat grains of this wheat are what ends up making the bread you eat.

Once the wheat is ready for harvest, the combines move in, cutting off the grains at the top of the wheat stalk, and harvesting them seperately. The stalks are left lying on the ground to be baled as straw; the grain goes into those high-sided red wagons you see in farm fields at this time of year, and moves off, usually to be sold as a cash crop. The combine coming over the hill here is actually harvesting a field of mixed grain, but it's the best picture I have. In the next photo below, combining is finished, and baling has begun.

I think it took me many years, as an urbanite, to realize the difference between hay bales and straw bales. At first glance they look similar, but hay is cut and baled complete, that is with the seed head at the top of the grass included. It's the seed head that provides the protein for cattle fed on hay. With grain, the seeds are harvested separately by the combine, so it's only the stalks of the plants that get baled, as straw. Straw is mostly used for bedding, for all livestock, including horses.

I think I first learned this difference when we used straw for mulch in our garden, because using hay introduces all kinds of grass and weed seeds, but using straw doesn't. So don't use hay for your garden mulch; it defeats the purpose!

Grain mostly gets trucked off the farm (in those big grain trucks that rumble the roads of rural Ontario at this time of year), and taken to a grain elevator. Once it's weighed and graded the farmer gets paid, and the grain is probably exported, either by train or by ship. This is the Goderich grain elevator (the picture was taken, remarkably, the day before the tornado - it doesn't look quite like this any more), but most farmers will truck their grain to an inland elevator serviced by train.

These pictures reflect how virtually all our wheat is harvested, but driving to Goderich two weeks ago (where I got the picture of the grain elevator), we passed two farms where Mennonite farmers were actually stooking the wheat, the old-fashioned way. Picturesque to most of us, but incredibly hard work!