Well Georgia, you have officially made me a wimp to cold weather. I knew it was happening long before I admitted it, but at last here we are. It is about 50 degrees outside and I am huddled inside, bundled up complete with soft slippers and my geek gear (sweatpants and a Star Wars t-shirt I bought for 2 dollars at Goodwill a year ago.) My cold blooded Yankee past is starting to mix with the warm sugary ways of the South and I find myself very confused and concerned for the rest of the Country when I hear about temperatures in the 20′s and snow on the ground. I don’t know that it is such a bad thing, adaptation is natural and maybe all this time spent in the humidity and sunlight is making me more of a native species. In any case, the farm is misty and magical this chilly, spring day. It feels like all the spirits are whispering; our bright jackets and mud boots set off by the gray sky allow me to imagine I’ve been transplanted into the U.K. We awoke, back in Georgia, around 5:30 this morning to bolts of lightening so menacing and close to the homestead that it felt as though Zeus himself was trying to light us all on fire. Fortunately for us, his firework display left little but puddles in our crops and some pretty frazzled goats.
The progress of Sun Dog Farm is somewhat incredible when viewing the pictures of the property before tines churned up the Earth and seedlings explored their way towards the sun. The greenhouse we built from scratch has successfully raised hundreds of transplants, some now making their home in the deep, drip tape irrigated beds. With little help from me, Elliot has put up an impressive deer fence that will protect our young growth from the devastating appetites of our four legged friends. We’ve successfully converted a former chicken tractor into a mobile goat shelter and completed construction on our new, improved chicken mansion that is currently providing us with gorgeous eggs everyday and providing our chickens with high class shelter and fresh green grass. Our direct seeded crops are starting to put on true leaves and we anticipate our newly established transplants to blow up after this quenching rain. We’ve already spent long, hard hours out in the field building a farm and getting things growing this Spring and it finally feels like we’ve got this show on the road.
So what’s next? Well, we’ll be selling our produce once again at the Peachtree Road Farmers Market every Saturday starting on April 9th. We look forward to seeing all of those friendly, familiar faces of folks excited and inspired by food farmed with love. Our first CSA drop off will occur May 4th and we’re anxious to share with our members the delicious results of their contributions to our farm. We’ve got a lot to do between now and then and I look forward to many exhausting days met by beautiful dreams brewed from hard work and stars. I’ve seen one or two fireflies at night and the host of migratory bird species have returned, all reminding me that before I know it the land will be lush and the heat will be on. The beautiful chorus of frogs from the pond and the buzzing and clicking of returned insects has brought even the nighttime back to life. We know that the return of warm weather not only brings about growth for our crops in the ground, but also the growth and life cycles of so many creatures, both helpful and harmful, and it is once again time to challenge ourselves to find balance in all of it.
We’ve been lucky enough to spend some evenings by our pond as the bats stir from their roosts and take to the night’s sky. Discernible from birds by their flight patterns and wing strokes, they can be found bobbing and weaving through the air, their wings fluttering seemingly frantically as they scan the pond and fields for food. They are an incredible companion to us here at the farm, consuming a third of their own body weight in insects every night. This can be as much as 3000 mosquitoes in just one nighttime prowl. Helping control our mosquitoes is a wonderful advantage to having a bat population in our ecosystem, but bats also eat many other insects such as beetles, moths, leafhoppers, flies, gnats, and grasshoppers. Many of these creatures themselves, or the larval stages of their life cycle, feed on our crops. Helping support our bat population by growing food without the use of pesticides and leaving dead trees to stand as roosts helps us keep our pests in check. What you learn when you start working with the cycles of nature is that the complete elimination of one problem does not cause resolution. Generally in order to protect your plants from the harm of predators, you must view the problem holistically. Many times this means balance in soil nutrients, balance in water and sunlight, and balance in pests and beneficial organisms.
While we delight in the presence of our unique furry fliers, the bat population of the United States is undergoing hardship that is not at all delightful. More than a million bats have succumbed to an unusual illness now named White Nose Syndrome. This illness, caused by a fungus, has been confirmed in 14 states and has affected nine known bat species. When a bat catches White Nose Syndrome, a white fungus forms around the mouth and nose of the bat during hibernation. This initial symptom leads to emaciation and ultimately starvation. Theories suggest that the illness works in two ways. First, the fungus initiates within the bat an immuno-response as the bat’s body attempts to fight off the fungus, which in turn forces the bat to metabolize more of its stored fats. Second, the fungus may actually increase the amount of time that the bats are awake during times they are typically hibernating which can also lead to unnecessary metabolizing of food reserves within the body. Generally this leads to bats consuming all of their stored nutrients before their hibernation period is over and they starve before they have a chance to wake up. Other factors that have been said to exaggerate the harmful nature of the illness are, global warming which has changed the temperature in caves across the United States interrupting normal hibernation patterns, and the increased spraying of pesticides including Malathion which has also been said to affect the metabolic rates of bats.
With the United States bat population in serious decline, it is time to start asking ourselves what we can do to aid this important creature and nurture the population back to health. While we have already lost to extinction a host of exotic creatures you may have never heard of before, losing something as commonplace and symbolic as bats would not only be dangerous for the balance of our everyday insect pests and prey, it would also be shameful. It is time to rid ourselves of our ridiculous fears of this “scary” bedtime creature and embrace them in our own backyards and farms. If you don’t have a woodlot with scattered dead trees containing loose bark and holes, put up a Bat House mounted on your own house or on a pole in your yard. Try to landscape your vegetable and flower gardens and lawns without the aid of synthetic fertilizers and chemical pest control. Read about them and appreciate them; go out in the evening hours and marvel at their moonlit flights. Just like all other life here on this planet there is a connection, a way to help this creature that will always in some way, also help us.
“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.” – Henry David Thoreau