Updated: Apr 10, 2019
Today was my first time on the farm in several weeks, thanks to school and sickness. When I returned, my family and the warming weather had transformed the land so much that it felt as if there had been a time jump.
The peas Lilly planted are sprouting. The flower seedlings are strong enough to enjoy days uncovered. The vegetable garden is now nearly a dozen beds, most of them full of young plants like celery, lettuce, spinach, and lavender. And the potatoes, which it seemed like just yesterday I had planted, are cute little sprouts!
Mistakes have been made and lessons learned. The artichokes suffered from frost damage, but Concetta made them a home of growing cloth, and they're hardy enough now to survive without it. Deer trampled and sampled our strawberries, so my family quickly built a fence to keep them out.
Pollinators and I buzzed with excitement at the abundant new blooms. A new yellow Brassicaceae has joined the little one I found a few weeks ago. Irises and a white star-shaped flower (maybe in the Amaryllidaceae family) colored the grass at the edges of the old home site. A few little bluets persisted along the road despite the warming days.
All the flowers offer exiting chances to learn names and facts and flower faces. But it can also be overwhelming. Luckily, people have put a lot of time and thought into organizing the chaos. This ordering and naming of organisms is called taxonomy.
Taxonomists have organized plants into groups. The groups start out big; all plants are in one group. Then that group is broken down into smaller groups, and each smaller group is broken down again, and so on. There are many levels, but really the only ones I use to identify plants are the lowest 3: family, genus, and species. Scientific names are written Genus species.
For example, the Brassicaceae family contains the genus Brassica, which contains the species Brassica oleracea. That species of plant has been bred over time into many vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, collards, and cabbage.
Taxonomy is largely based on genetic relationships. But those relationships often appear as common forms and habits. For example, members of the Fabaceae family, also called legumes, share several characteristics.
You may have noticed Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) cascading from trees. It's a showy, fragrant, woody vine. Vetch (Vicia sp.) is less grandiose, trailing through the grass with thin tendrils and small purple blooms. But both belong to the Fabaceae family. They share a five-petal flower form, with a curled lower petal (the keel), two side petals (the wings) and a large upper petal (the banner). When the flowers have done their jobs, both species will produce bean-like pods containing the next generation of Fabaceae.
My family has watered and planted and fenced and fed. Hunter and Concetta installed a trellis for the grapes as they grow upwards. Concetta dug holes and set up 3 bluebird houses. Hunter moved our entire original mulch pile, consolidating it with the rest. And they got 2 new hives of bees, to help pollinate and, hopefully, to make honey.
Our land is more than just the beds we make and the pretty flowers. There are 21 acres of decisions to be made. When we cleared the invasive pears, we did our best to save the persimmons and red-cedars. As the trees mature they will provide fruit, habitat, and windbreaks. We also left a large bank of brambles. They are prime wildlife habitat for birds and other creatures, and might even make a few berries.
Concetta chose a network of paths and mowed them out. The rest of the field will be allowed to regrow. This is why the flowers are so abundant, and why pollinators and other helpful bugs are, too. We'll manage the aggressive invasives like Kudzu and the pears, so that they don't dominate the diversity.
While I was sick, so were the young chickens. They got a mite infestation, a common but potentially dangerous affliction, especially when chickens are small. Concetta carefully treated them with natural remedies, cleaned under their wings, and kept their home as clean as possible. The flock is on the upswing now, and the mites will be completely eradicated soon.
The pullets are happy to spend their days outside. The grass is quite tall for them, but they seem to like the concealment. They test out their wings when they can, fluttering a few feet at a time. They are getting bigger at a speed only teenagers could manage. Soon, when they are completely healthy and grown, they will join our ladies in the big coop.