Bulls, Carbon and Catalpa – Swoope Almanac June 2017
June in Swoope, Virginia – The Headwaters of the Shenandoah River
June is the beginning of the farm year for our cow/calf operation in America’s legendary Shenandoah Valley. It’s when the bulls go in with our three herds of cows. June is also when we make all the hay to feed the cows for the entire winter. Catalpa trees, super highways for pollinators are in full bloom.
The evenings are cool and we love to sit on the porch with a glass of wine at dusk and wait for the bats to drop out of the bat house. As we wait, we hear Robins fuss and a Catbird “meowing” as they settle in for the evening. Hundreds of fireflies flicker their tailights in the distance. The first bat drops out of the box ten feet straight down then lifts off in flight to feed on multitudes of insects throughout the night. Then another, then two more, then another until all seventeen have dropped out.
June is when we harvest carbon – the carbon sequestered by the grasses we cut for hay. It’s amazing – a cow digesting grass. We cut the grasses in our hay fields, let it dry then bale it into half-ton round bales that we’ll feed this winter when the pastures are dormant. I love the smell of hay. For some odd reason I love putting it up. It’s a wonderful feeling; knowing you have food for the cows for the entire winter. I like to think of making hay as baling sunshine. Afterall, sunlight and green plants make it possible for us to make hay and for all humanity to live.
Photons and Chloroplasts
A photon from a ray of sunshine hits a chloroplast in a leaf and the journey begins – photosynthesis: the most profound of all ecosystem services. Photo…synthesis…it provides virtually all our food either directly or indirectly and virtually all our oxygen. Remember the Calvin Cycle? Hill’s Reaction? In a nutshell plants take in carbon dioxide and water and use the sun’s energy to convert it into carbohydrates. In the process plants give off the Earth’s oxygen. And the world turns.
Catalpa: Runway for Bees
They are a super highway for pollinators. Standing near a tree at the river, I can hear hundreds of pollinators: bees, moths, bugs, flies. No wonder, the fragrance and flower design are magnets to them. The blossom is huge with a runway pattern of yellow and maroon to guide pollinators into the sweet spot – where all the nectar and pollen reside.
Catalpa, often called Indian Cigar Tree because of its long seed pods or beans it produces in the fall is a native, pioneer tree that is an excellent riparian buffer tree. It is a host specific plant for the Catalpa Sphinx moth which is often parasitized by wasps. The caterpillars make excellent fish bait and there are farms that grow Catalpa trees to harvest the “worms” for bait.
In 1736 Colonial Williamsburg Royal Governor William Gooch planted two rows of Catalpa trees to line the Palace Green. They were replanted in 1937 and stand today as a testament to their beauty and grandure.