Sunday, April 28, 2019

Signs of Spring!

There are lots of things that are signs of spring to us, after the hesitant days of early April tempt you into thinking that spring is here.  These are signs that spring is really here, usually by the end of April.

The willows have been somewhat yellow all winter, but by mid-April they are really yellow.

Lots of farm fields feature a small lake or two.  If the field is green like this one, it's likely winter wheat.

But a lot of fields in Grey County are like this, the light brown stubble of last year's hay crop.

 down on Lake Eugenia, the pair of Osprey who have used the nesting platform there for several years is back, though they obviously haven't laid eggs yet.

In the small urban stream valley around the corner, the grass is brilliant green in the sfternoon sun, and the water is flowing high.
At the end of that street there's a bright yellow patch of Sweet Coltsfoot, just the flower stems yet; the large leaves will come later.

Beautiful blue Eyed Grass coming up in a lawn around the corner.

A blurry long distance picture, but it's a Red Admiral, the first butterfly of the yearjust emerged from over-wintering larvae.

I think spring is really here!

Friday, April 26, 2019

Eastern Skunk Cabbage

The first place we stopped on that sunny afternoon drive was a secret spot where we watch for Skunk Cabbage every spring.  Described by some as the very first native wildflower to bloom here, it's a hollow purple spike emerging from the ground down in the swamp - often right through the ice or snow.

The wet ditch here is filled with skunk Cabbage spikes or spathes coming up.   The tiny flowers are held on a small spadix that is hidden inside the spathe.

Skunk Cabbage leaves are bright green, as seen here, and mature to be enormous in size.  They do have an odour, which gets them both their common and scientific (Symplocarpus foetidus) names.

It's almost impossible to photograph the spadix, which holds the flowers, and which can only be seen inside a dark opening in the purple spathe.

Skunk Cabbage spreads by growing up along a rhizome which can be nearly a foot thick.  With the energy stored in this rhizome, this is a thermogenic plant - it can generate temperatures above air temperature, and thereby melt its way through ice and snow to appear at the surface.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

A Sunny Afternoon Drive

The next day we managed a sunny afternoon drive, under brilliant blue skies.  We headed south this time, and eventually picked up some 'Pita' sandwiches in Flesherton.  From there we mosied over to Lake Eugenia where we sat and ate while watching the water.

This is the late April rural landscape here, brown fields waiting for the farmer's touch to turn them green.  Not much green outside of the swamps.  Just a very few white patches on the north side of fencerows where it was drifted deep, and the sun doesn't hit it directly.

This is Eugenia Lake, all traces of ice and snow gone, and only a very few waterfowl left.  Compare this to my post of Apr. 3rd. with it few swans, hundreds of ducks and thousands of Canada Geese!

Driving back home again we passed one of my favourite little barns, a property now purchsed by a non-farmer as a retirement or weekend place (notice the solar panels?).

A number of times we spotted glimpses of the distant blue Mountains across the valley.

There are lots of flooded fields that sometimes attract gulls.  They weren't flying much here, but they were certainly squawking!  The video is for the sound effects.

Coming back into Meaford I noticed for the first time the extensive low are extending out into the bay beyond the western bluff up on the tank range.  Time to get the topo map out and correct my mental map.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

A Rainy Afternoon Drive

Saturday about noon and we headed out for a drive.  Before we even got out of town it started to rain. But we carried on and headed for Collingwood, intent on finding some pots of spring flowers.  Eventually, we were successful.

We stopped in to Thornbury harbour to eat our sandwiches, and saw something we've never seen before.  All those black spots are Tree Swallows, zooming around catching insects.  All of them were just in this 100 yards of river, and we wondered why.

Looking closely, it appeared that the waves from the bay were washing in and bumping into the current coming down the river, creating a boiling, churning upwelling in the river.  Presumably the river was churning up the insects, attracting the swallows.  Fascinating!

Just upstream you could see the roaring current of the river, 2-3 feet higher than usual after the steady rains in the past few days.

Looking across the bay, you could see that the ski season is definitely over!

We carried on, but the rain never let up.

In Collingwood we finally found some nice pots of bright yellow Pansies for sale.

We're not sure the Alyssum will survive but Pansies will survive a frost, or even a few inches of snow, without much problem.

By the time we had put the plants down, the flies and bees were arriving.  We're the first on the street to have some spring flowers growing.

Monday, April 22, 2019

A Little More Maple Syrup

Just to show you that any size farm can make a little maple syrup, I'm going to share a few photos of three other operations.  We didn't go back to these this year because we knew they were not wheelchair friendly (picture the average farm yard).  But they're all good examples of families making a little maple syrup without a big investment.

The first has a small sugar shack and woodshed.  They gather sap in pails in their woodlot, and bring it home for boiling.  In 2016 it was a bright sunny day when we visited.

They have a very small evaporator where the steam simply vents through the raised roof, and the smoke through a stovepipe you can't see because it's hidden by the rising steam.

But their farm is mainly a sheep farm, with 1000 ewes.  They market the lamb in their farm store, where they also sell the syrup.

They have a pack of 15 Maremma sheepdogs who live with the sheep full-time to protect them from Coyotes.

Another family just boils the syrup in pans over a firebox, in an old garage.

I could watch the fire for some time; there's lots of wood to keep it going.

Their 13 year old son has a small herd of 10 sheep to be responsible for - great learning for a young teenager.

They also have a few hardy Highland cattle, which we love seeing.

The last family has a similar firebox and pans for boiling the sap, but just do it outside.  This is a non-farm family, a family who lives in the country and makes syrup for their own use.

This is the only place that we saw the sap being gathered in buckets.  It's expensive, but it's far better for you then sugar or honey, so enjoy it!

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Kemble Maple Syrup Tour

The Kemble Maple Syrup Tour takes you to 7 farms with different styles of maple syrup production including the one I featured yesterday.  Although we only visited the one we knew would be wheelchair accessible this year, the other farms are equally interesting, so let me share some highlights from3 years ago.

Regal Point Elk Farm also has a big maple syrup operation.  You drive to the sugar bush through the elk pasture, bulls on one side and cows on the other.  What a farm gate!

Like the other larger operations, this one uses blue tubing through the woods, running to a central pump and storage tank.  from here the pump feeds it into the sugar shack for processing.

The farmer sells this good-sized evaporator as the first electric evaporator in Canada.  Imagine, no firewood to cut, chop and toss in the firebox.  He claims it is 15% cheaper, though I would claim it's also 15% less traditional.

This photo shows two of the new plastic spiles as well as the collecting tubing.  The spiles are just put in for the season, but the tubing is left in place for next year.

One of the bull elk, just starting to grow antlers, saying hello as we left.  They sell the hard antler to pet stores, the velvet antler which is good for both humans and dogs, and the meat, which sounds very healthy and nutritious.  They also sell breeding stock - quite the operation.

The other large operation has a traditional sugar shack, with the large raised roof vent, even though it's relatively new.

They burn a lot of firewood over the season!

Inside, the steam vents through the two large steam pipes, as well as the open roof vent.  They have quite a large wood-powered evaporator.

They also had the grades of maple syrup on display, from the finest, on the left, to the dark, on the right.  We prefer about the middle, which has good flavour.  Much of the syrup you can buy from grocery stores is darker than the darkest here.