Notes from The Currant Farm: Harvest and Fireflies

The harvest is finished for another year. Currants, like many berries, are harvested in the summer and it’s a bit of a frantic time because often the temperatures exceed 90° during harvest and while this is fine when the fruit is attached to the bush, the moment it’s picked it begins its march to becoming one with the universe so it’s crucial to harvest and freeze ASAP. Currants are only harvested once a year and since most Americans are still learning about what a currant is, it’s very risky to offer them to the fresh market. The folks who know currants snap them up while the majority of people pass them by for the more familiar raspberries, strawberries and blueberries and spoilage is inevitable. As the market grows and Americans become more savvy about our favorite little berry, the fresh market offerings will increase. In the meantime, it’s necessary to get the fruit frozen as soon after harvest as possible to ensure the highest possible quality.

This year was not a great year for currants mainly because of the extraordinarily warm winter. Currants need cold winters to set their fruit. I hope to have enough for all the currant aficionados out there but it wouldn’t be bad advice to suggest stocking up a bit. Just a thought.

When the harvest is done each year, there’s always the sense of completion that’s usually accompanied with a deep sigh. Last night, as I was sitting on the front porch of the old farm house thinking about all the other farmers over the last 180 years who sat in this very spot, looking out over the same field and feeling pretty much the same way as I was feeling right at that moment. The crops, livestock, farming methods and names have changed but the stewardship of the land and the sacred act of farming and producing food is the same. Soon after we moved to the farm, I noticed a series of deep scratches in the wood on the side of one of the barn door frames of the original cow barn. I thought about these ancient marks for a couple of years trying to figure out why they were made and why there. Then, one evening, as I closed the giant, old, red doors of the barn and laid the white washed wooden 2×4 into its cradle securing the doors as they have been for almost 200 years, I glanced over at the scratches and had an epiphany. I knew what they were. Some old farmer many, many decades ago would have closed the doors as I had just done and as was his ritual at the end of the day, took out a pipe, stuffed it with tobacco, and then scratched a match on the side of the door frame in pretty much the same spot every evening to light his pipe. A careful farmer never would have lit the pipe in the hay filled barn so this would have been the spot. Walking in the footsteps of those old hardy farmers, running my fingers over the scratches of a ten thousand matches and now, looking out over the field as I savored this post-harvest moment on the front porch creates the links; those tangible connections to the past that’s one of my great joys living the agrarian life on this old farm.

The field across the lane from the front porch is actually a hill and as the sun sets behind the house, the top of the hill is the last to let go of the day’s light. As I watched the bottom of the field succumb to darkness, the first fireflies began their evening luminescent chorography. Fireflies are crepuscular (from the Latin crepusculum meaning twilight), which means they are active only at dusk and dawn. They are one of many animals that produce bioluminescence. The larva has the same luminescent ability as the adult so this flashing is thought to be a warning to predators although since the on and off sequence is unique to each individual, some entomologists believe it plays a role in attracting mates as well. The light is caused when the beetle takes in oxygen and combines it with a substance called luciferin to produce the light with virtually no heat.

The name of the chemical compound, Luciferin comes from the word Lucifer. This is a great example of how meanings can evolve and change dramatically over time. The use of “Lucifer” is found in the Vulgate which is the 4th century Latin translation of the Bible. It is used to describe the morning star or Venus. The translations of the name hold similar meanings throughout many cultures. The Hebrew helel is translated to “shining one” and the Greek heosphoros, means “dawn-bearer.” The Christians later applied the name to Satan, ironically the Prince of Darkness and this definition was then popularized in Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Firefly

 

About 10 years ago some friends were visiting and one evening, after a dinner out, we climbed out of the car near the field and were greeted with one of the greatest shows of lightening bugs I have ever seen. They seemed to be moving in harmonious waves undulating like schools of fish. I don’t know what it was all about but I’ll never forget that dreamlike moment. There are about 2,000 species of fireflies around the world and there is concern that the numbers within certain species have been dwindling. While no one knows for sure why, one theory is that light pollution may play a role. I have certainly noticed what seems to be many fewer of these magical creatures over the last decade here on the farm. That is, until this year. There has been a greater show of these ethereal winged dancers than any time in recent memory. Nothing quite equals the sight of thousands of pirouetting blinks and while the abundance of fireflies doesn’t balance out the shortfall of currants, their fairylike twinkling on a warm summer’s eve touches my soul in the same way I imagine it touched the soul of a farmer a hundred years ago as he sat on this very porch smoking his pipe.

Cheers from the Farm,

Greg

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Notes from The Currant Farm: Willows and Joy

Spring has come in on the same rails as winter rode out. Temperatures often exceed 60 degrees and things are predictably early. The first peepers were about 10 days ahead of schedule, the red wing blackbirds, which I’ve always considered the real harbingers of the end of winter, arrived 2 weeks early. The black currants have already flowered and little green berries are forming at the base of every spent blossom. The reds, whites and pinks are not far behind. Winter was uncomfortably warm and virtually snowless and March, the month I usually refer to as “mud month” here on the farm was without precipitation. I’ve never seen such a dry winter and spring so far. April was not looking much more promising until this past weekend when we were kissed with almost 2 inches of rain. A big wet kiss, I’m unashamed to report. I could almost hear the farm breathe a sigh of relief.

My honey bees got an early start this year. The collection of the first pollen of spring by the workers signals the queen to shift into high gear laying eggs. It takes about 21 days for a worker bee to develop from an egg and it’s important for the hive to have as many workers as possible when the nectar begins to flow from the blooms of fruit trees, bushes, locusts and more. One of the first plants to produce pollen are the willows. The ubiquitous pussy willow is a great source of early pollen. All willows are dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers occur on separate plants. When that soft furry catkin of the male pussy willow blooms, its hundreds of anthers become tipped with wonderful, bright yellow pollen which the bees smell from miles away. In addition to providing a great early sources of pollen for honey bees, the 500 plus varieties of this valuable plant family have held an important place throughout human history.

Pussy Willow

Pussy Willow

The Willow has many uses, of which the most common early ones were as rods and timber for crude ancient dwellings. The strong but pliable twigs and branches of the young willows, called osiers, are idea for use in baskets, wicker, cane for the seats of chairs and the bark was used to tan hides. The wood is notably easy to bend when green without using steam. Willows canes were vital for building very small, often one passenger boats called coracles (from the Welsh, cwrwgl). These were made from the strong willow branches and covered with leather. It was in such coracles that missionary monks from Ireland traveled to Wales, Cornwall, Brittany and around Scotland to Northumbria in the 7th century. It’s said they even reached Iceland in these tiny vessels around 1000 AD, a voyage of over 1200 miles. These Coracles are still used for salmon fishing in both Ireland and Wales today.

My favorite story about the value of the willow, however, goes back to about 440 B.C. Hippocrates of Cos, the father of medicine had, as the story goes, hypothesized that if one could determine the geographical source of an ailment, nature would have provided a botanical cure in the same location. One of the most familiar afflictions then, as now, was the common cold with all of the usual fevers, inflammation, aches and pains. He deduced that colds were most often brought on by exposure to damp, chilly environments so he began exploring the flora around ponds, streams and wetlands. Since willows are found throughout the world growing in these types of areas, it didn’t take him long to discover that boiling the bark of the plant produced a tea that greatly helped to reduce fevers and inflammation and ease pain. The botanical name of willows is Salix and the magic compound he discovered, salicin, was named after the genus. Today we know it as salicylic acid…..aspirin.

Hippocrates may have been the first person to write his findings down but here in North America, perhaps even before the Greeks, the Alabama, Chickasaw, Montagnai and probably many other Indians used the willow to relieve fevers, aches, and pains, and there’s good evidence that the Hottentots of southern Africa have used it for the same purpose for centuries.

A few days ago, on the morning following the big rain, I sat over my first cup of coffee at the old harvest table in our east facing kitchen thinking about bees and pussy willows and the riches of the farm. The field across the lane began to slowly reveal itself as daylight crept down the hill. Inch by inch, the first rays of sun ignited the billions of drops clinging to the tips of the new green grass. I took my coffee out onto the porch and slowly, decadently inhaled in the damp, cool, rain cleansed air. You could almost hear plants stretching and leaves unfolding. Three does suddenly hopped from the woods over the old stone wall half way up the field. Two were yearlings and the larger doe appeared to be heavy with this year’s fawns. As though enjoying the new wet earth, the young ones raced each other up the hill and back down over the glistening, spring green carpet, white tails erect with excitement and joy. C.S. Lewis wrote that “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” With the death of the dry spell and the new life of spring, I, too, felt Surprised by Joy.

Mother's Day Gift Basket

Mother's Day Gift Basket

There’s lots to talk about in the wonderful world of CurrantC™. Mother’s Day is right around the corner and we’re featuring a new gift basket, perfect for mom. It contains our now famous Dark Chocolate with Black Currants, our brand new delicious Black Currant coulis, a beautiful fragrant currant candle, CurrantC™ All Natural Black Currant Nectar and delicious and healthy genuine dried Black Currants. Click here to order.

Also, the school year will be winding up before you know it and we have the perfect gift to show your appreciation to your children’s teachers. A wonderful Teacher’s Thank You gift with CurrantC™ All Natural Black Currant Nectar and our fabulous Dark Chocolate with Black Currants nested in a beautiful organza gift bag for only $9.99 plus shipping. Click here to order.

Wishing you all the joy of spring,

Greg

Posted in antioxidants, Black currant nectar, black currants, Farm Life, omega 3, Pussy Willows | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Notes from The Currant Farm: The Call of the Wild

After a very strange 2011, weather wise, 2012 seems to be starting out on the same path. It’s been an unusually warm winter so far with very little snow and temperatures in the 30s and 40s most days. While some folks are grateful for this, farmers in the Northeast are concerned. Unusually warmer or colder weather affects everything in the natural world. The science that studies this is Phenology. Phenology examines recurring biological phenomena and their relationship to weather. Bird migration, hunting and gathering seasons, blooming of wildflowers and trees, and the seasonal appearance of insects are examples of phenological events that have been recorded for centuries. We have all observed that plants bloom earlier in warm springs. Insects also emerge earlier when it is warm. For this reason, plant phenology can be used to predict insect emergence. The use of plant phenology to predict insect activity is an old practice, with recorded observations dating back at least 300 years. Research at The Ohio State University has shown that plants bloom and insects emerge in virtually the same order every year, no matter what kind of weather occurred that winter or spring. For this reason, the flowering sequence of plants can be used as a biological calendar to predict insect activity, and to time other gardening practices that are dependent on a particular stage of plant development, such as propagation or weed control. The cold period of winter is necessary for northern fruit plants such as currants, to set their buds which are the precursor of the flowers and subsequent fruit. If there’s not enough cold, it’ll be a poor crop. If it is warm enough to encourage early blooming and we then get a freeze when the flowers are open, it could kill the entire harvest. It’s a pretty delicate balancing act that usually works out fine but only usually.

Our globe’s dance through the cosmos and the result on our climate is complex to say the least. The first day of winter marks the time when days grow colder even though the amount of daylight increases each day. The first day of summer is the beginning of the very hot season while the daylight decreases with each passing day. To add to the confusion, the first week in January, usually the coldest time of the year in the Northern hemisphere, is the time of the perihelion, when Earth reaches its closest point to the Sun.

I saw a bear poking around my compost pile the middle of December, long after he was supposed to be tucked in for his winter’s slumber and last week, robber bees from a strong hive somewhere nearby were attacking the new weaker colony I hived up 8 months ago and stealing their precious stores of honey. I’ll have to start feeding them to get them through until the first nectar flow. Of course, amidst all of this natural chaos, there are constants, one of which is a year round resident here on our farm. It’s a presence that we’re most often aware of in the dead of night and when they are most frenzied it can stand the hair up on the back of your neck. The eerie howls, yips, barks and, if they’re close enough, growls of the eastern Coyote are the stuff of legend and lore. Recent DNA research has proven that this distant cousin of the lanky, mangy looking western version is actually a cross with an eastern wolf. This explains their beautiful full coat, bushy tail and varied color patterns from yellow to grey.

Image

They are about the size of a small German Shepard with pointy ears and alert intense eyes. Their numbers have been increasing over the last few decades to the point where they are now quite common although rarely seen due to their mostly nocturnal lifestyle. Their diet is an opportunistic one mainly of mice, insects, berries and rabbits and the occasional turkey when they can catch one as solitary hunters. They live in packs and there seems to be evidence that they are beginning to hunt in packs and take small or sickly deer. This development may help balance out the overpopulation of deer around these parts. Like most carnivores, they’ll readily avail themselves of carrion. The biggest problem with their proximity to humans is that they will also carry off the odd cat or small dog if the opportunity presents itself.

Nature is pretty much made up of eators and eatees and most eators become eatees eventually. Cycles and balance. The constant affray for balance perpetuates the cycles. The mouse that’s gnawing away the bark of my currant bush becomes dinner for the coyote which allows the currant bush to live producing a crop of currants which becomes the harvest of the farm and the healthy berries on your table. To live the agrarian life is to live with and be acutely aware of nature’s cycles. And even when, at 2am, my sleep is broken by the cold, soulless howl of predators nearby, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Cheers from the farm,

Greg

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Notes from The Currant Farm: The Call of the Wild

After a very strange 2011, weather wise, 2012 seems to be starting out on the same path. It’s been an unusually warm winter so far with very little snow and temperatures in the 30s and 40s most days. While some folks are grateful for this, farmers in the Northeast are concerned. Unusually warmer or colder weather affects everything in the natural world. The science that studies this is Phenology. Phenology examines recurring biological phenomena and their relationship to weather. Bird migration, hunting and gathering seasons, blooming of wildflowers and trees, and the seasonal appearance of insects are examples of phenological events that have been recorded for centuries. We have all observed that plants bloom earlier in warm springs. Insects also emerge earlier when it is warm. For this reason, plant phenology can be used to predict insect emergence. The use of plant phenology to predict insect activity is an old practice, with recorded observations dating back at least 300 years. Research at The Ohio State University has shown that plants bloom and insects emerge in virtually the same order every year, no matter what kind of weather occurred that winter or spring. For this reason, the flowering sequence of plants can be used as a biological calendar to predict insect activity, and to time other gardening practices that are dependent on a particular stage of plant development, such as propagation or weed control. The cold period of winter is necessary for northern fruit plants such as currants, to set their buds which are the precursor of the flowers and subsequent fruit. If there’s not enough cold, it’ll be a poor crop. If it is warm enough to encourage early blooming and we then get a freeze when the flowers are open, it could kill the entire harvest. It’s a pretty delicate balancing act that usually works out fine but only usually.

Our globe’s dance through the cosmos and the result on our climate is complex to say the least. The first day of winter marks the time when days grow colder even though the amount of daylight increases each day. The first day of summer is the beginning of the very hot season while the daylight decreases with each passing day. To add to the confusion, the first week in January, usually the coldest time of the year in the Northern hemisphere, is the time of the perihelion, when Earth reaches its closest point to the Sun.

I saw a bear poking around my compost pile the middle of December, long after he was supposed to be tucked in for his winter’s slumber and last week, robber bees from a strong hive somewhere nearby were attacking the new weaker colony I hived up 8 months ago and stealing their precious stores of honey. I’ll have to start feeding them to get them through until the first nectar flow. Of course, amidst all of this natural chaos, there are constants, one of which is a year round resident here on our farm. It’s a presence that we’re most often aware of in the dead of night and when they are most frenzied it can stand the hair up on the back of your neck. The eerie howls, yips, barks and, if they’re close enough, growls of the eastern Coyote are the stuff of legend and lore. Recent DNA research has proven that this distant cousin of the lanky, mangy looking western version is actually a cross with an eastern wolf. This explains their beautiful full coat, bushy tail and varied color patterns from yellow to grey.

Image

They are about the size of a small German Shepard with pointy ears and alert intense eyes. Their numbers have been increasing over the last few decades to the point where they are now quite common although rarely seen due to their mostly nocturnal lifestyle. Their diet is an opportunistic one mainly of mice, insects, berries and rabbits and the occasional turkey when they can catch one as solitary hunters. They live in packs and there seems to be evidence that they are beginning to hunt in packs and take small or sickly deer. This development may help balance out the overpopulation of deer around these parts. Like most carnivores, they’ll readily avail themselves of carrion. The biggest problem with their proximity to humans is that they will also carry off the odd cat or small dog if the opportunity presents itself.

Nature is pretty much made up of eators and eatees and most eators become eatees eventually. Cycles and balance. The constant affray for balance perpetuates the cycles. The mouse that’s gnawing away the bark of my currant bush becomes dinner for the coyote which allows the currant bush to live producing a crop of currants which becomes the harvest of the farm and the healthy berries on your table. To live the agrarian life is to live with and be acutely aware of nature’s cycles. And even when, at 2am, my sleep is broken by the cold, soulless howl of predators nearby, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Cheers from the farm,

Greg

Greg

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Notes from The Currant Farm: A Farm Visit and Other Miracles

Mornings on the farm begin mostly in the dark for me this time of year. The exceptions are on clear nights when the moon is still above the horizon and its luminance scatters an otherworldly light around trees and over clearings. The result is a strange world of shadows and stillness. It was such a morning about a week ago as the light from waning gibbous moon reflected off of a skim of winter’s first ice on the pond behind the farmhouse. My habit upon rising is to gaze out the bedroom window over the pond and surrounding fields and trees. After all these years, I’m still startled at the beauty of this farm.

My attention was immediately drawn to the only movement in this frozen scene. I focused on the end of the pond where water, gently flowing over the damn, resists freezing. There, in the small unfrozen patch, were the concentric ripples of something that had just surfaced or dove under. I strained to see other movement in the moonlight for several minutes but there was none. I scanned the edges of the pond for signs of a duck, which is usually the only active visitor this time of year. The fish are quiet and the muskrats, turtles and frogs are tucked away in deep slumber. Nothing. Then at the other end of the pond where the creek flows in, the surface of the still, open water was punctured. The moon lit the rounded hump of an animal’s back as it surfaced and dove again with the smooth graceful movement of an aquatic dancer. I instantly knew what I had seen. I had seen it only twice before in the last decade; a North American river otter. The other two (or one that visited twice) were over 4 feet long which would suggest adult males because females are about a foot shorter.  The pattern of otters in the pond, this time of year, is to swim the 150 feet beneath the ice from opening to opening, so I again focused on the water at the other end of the pond near the damn and sure enough, the otter effortlessly glided up from the water and onto the little damn with a sunfish in its mouth. The light was just enough to see the shape of the weasel like visitor, a glint of wet fur and the flopping breakfast. This was a young otter or perhaps a very small female.

There are 13 species of otter in the world and this was a real treat as the North American river otter is on the sensitive species list to which they were upgraded from the endangered list at one time. They can be found throughout North America from Alaska to Florida and most parts of the U.S. except the Southwest but their numbers dramatically declined from the ‘50s to the ‘80s because of loss of habitat and the fact that they are at the top trophic (feeding) consumer of the food chain. This position means they are exposed to elevated levels of environmental contaminants such as PCBs, DDT and other persistent pollutants as well as heavy metals including cadmium and mercury and lead. This “end of the line” position is called bio-magnification. As contaminants accumulate in the organic materials in the sediments of waterways, they become ingested by aquatic invertebrates such as snails, mussels, and insects. These are then consumed by fish, which may then be eaten by larger fish, all of which are consumed by river otter. Many of the chlorinated hydrocarbons (PCBs, DDT, Chlordane, etc.) have been taken out of use and much of their remnants are gradually covered by less contaminated sediment which is then less available to the population of invertebrates down near the beginning of the food chain.  
The river otter in the pond was thinking about none of this as she munched on the sunfish. All animals have a level of satisfaction when eating and I’m sure some achieve real enjoyment. I know my Lab does when I splash some chicken drippings on her food. This otter was enjoying her meal.

The otter is one of the few wild animals that seem to truly enjoy most of their life and in fact I would even go so far as to say they have fun. They don’t spend much time worrying about building nests or dens, they just find an unoccupied beaver lodge, muskrat burrow or some other readymade dwelling and move in. They don’t spend much time hunting for food either. They travel waterways from pond to pond or the banks of rivers where there is always an abundance of fish, snails, crawfish, and even the occasional bird’s egg or wild blueberry bush. They do, however, spend a lot of time in what might be called frolic. I’ve watched them bounding in their loping gate up the little slope on the side of the pond in the snow, turn around and launch themselves in a belly flop, head first, sliding down the snow bank with their front paws tucked by their sides out onto the ice, sometimes somersaulting at the end of the journey with, what I’m pretty sure can be called, “glee.” They then run back up the hill and do it all over again and again.

This member of the weasel family was once common throughout all of New York State. They virtually disappeared in central and western New York as well as many other parts of the country over the last century but in the late ‘90s, the New York River Otter Project aimed to restore the river otter to the watersheds of western New York. Volunteers and DEC staff live-trapped otters in the Adirondacks, the Catskills and the Hudson Valley. From 1995 through 2000, 279 river otter were captured in eastern New York and released at 16 different sites across the western part of the State. Other States, such as Pennsylvania, have similar programs. To date, it appears the efforts are working as otter families have been spotted in areas that haven’t seen them for a hundred years.

That’s good news and at a time when the world seems precarious at best and on the verge of calamity at the worst we can all use some good news. I’m not sure what miracles really are but this seems like the perfect time of year to ponder that. I think everyone gets to decide what a miracle is for them. It might be something as simple as a playful little animal whose visit reminds me I’m not taking enough time out to just have fun. It might be as breathtaking as the silhouettes  of a V of migrating geese that just happen to pass the full moon on a winter’s night at the very moment I look up at it. It could well be when all the vagaries of wind, moisture, temperature, pressure and gravity conspire to create that one, unique, crystal snowflake.  It might be the friend that unexpectedly shows up when you need them most….or the simple birth of a perfectly innocent child who, at that moment, possesses infinite promise. On the farm, I’m awash in science and miracles and I find no conflict between the two.
I send you all the warmth of good wishes for this season of miracles,
Greg

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Notes from the Farm – Thanksgiving and Owls

Like many, Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. In my case, it probably has a lot to do with being so close to the land and having a holiday that coincides with the end of the growing season here on the farm. As I reflect on the season past, I always enjoy the inevitable celebration (good years and bad) and am always thankful for whatever bounty the perennial collaboration of the farm and I yield.

Of course the feast, the family, the friends and the fête are all wonderful but my favorite moments are at the end of the day when the farm is quiet and I take my annual Thanksgiving walk outside just to be still for a while. Thanksgiving night this year was clear and cold. I crossed the lane and walked into the field opposite the farm house and looked up into the frozen crystal universe. I found myself an audience of one for billions of stars performing their tremulous dance of billions of years. Beholding the night sky on a crisp, clear, winter’s night in the country, far away from any light pollution, is one of only a few

Great Horned Female Owl

ways to really see the night sky. I’ve experienced this miracle thousands of times and this time like all the others was as if it were the first. The beginnings and ends of seasons are not dictated by the Julian calendar for me. In my calendar, the night of Thanksgiving is the sweet end of autumn and the beginning of the quiet season that is winter. Standing alone in the field, I embraced the cold and it embraced me. For a while the only movement was the mute twinkling of the stars.  After several moments of peaceful solitude, the silence was perforated by the plaintive hoots of a great horned owl from the woods at the top of the field. It was her evening announcement, “This is where I’ll be hunting for my thanksgiving feast tonight. Friends and relatives not invited.”

There are two distinct species of owls in the world, the barn owl which is comprised of about 20 sub species and true owls, which is a group of about 190 subs. Eight different owls can be found here on the farm at one time or another including the endangered Short-eared owl (Asio flammeus).  The great horned owl with their prominent ear tufts (which have nothing to do with hearing) is sometimes called the “hoot owl” and is a year round resident here on the farm. Not all owls hoot. Hisses, screeches and beeps are just a few of the calls that different owls make and many have different vocalizations for different communications such as territory, food breeding, etc. They’re generally solitary birds but on the rare occasion that there are a group of owls, you wordsmiths would call the group a parliament or a stare. They are also generally quiet birds. Their calls are usually only to announce their presence in a hunting or breeding area to others.

Many birds of prey rely heavily on their sight to locate prey. Like primates, owls have binocular vision, enabling them to pinpoint prey in a 3D field of vision, but unlike primates they can’t move their eyes. They move their heads instead and many owls can twist their heads more than 270 degrees. They have extraordinary hearing. This incredible hearing is the result of their unusual ear placement. While the ears of most animals are symmetrically positioned on the head, the ears of most owls are asymmetrical. One ear is actually lower that the other. Faint sounds, such as a mouse scurrying underneath the leaves on the forest floor, reaches each of the ears differently and the owl is able to pin point the location of the sound by triangulation and the owl can accurately detect the mouse from 60 feet away.

The owl's facial discs

A similar thing happens when a dog cocks his head to one side or the other trying to locate and understand the source or the subtle nuances in a word or sound which he has to do because his ears are symmetrical. The large ring of feathers around owls’ eyes, called facial discs, also aid in hearing by actually directing the sound in from of an owl to its ear canals not unlike satellite dishes.

Another attribute which make owls excellent hunters are soft downy serrations on the wing tips which reduce turbulence and completely muffle the sound of their wing beats, allowing them to swoop down on prey in absolute silence. I remember one autumn afternoon many years ago as I was strolling through a patch of woods, an enormous great horned owl with a wing span of about 5 feet flew past me from behind and quite close to my right side. I didn’t hear a thing and only became aware of his presence when he approached my peripheral vision only a few feet away from my head. I’m pretty sure I lost 2 or 3 years off my life at that moment.

Throughout history, and in many cultures around the world, owls have garnered a bad reputation often associated with death, curses, evil and many other foreboding associations. They have also been attributed with great wisdom and intelligence and are often the constant companion of wizards. In J.K. Rowling’s enchanted world, owls bridge the gap between the magical and muggle worlds, carrying messages, packages, and even Nimbus 2000s. They make it clear to muggles that when a message needs to get through, it WILL get through.

More pragmatically, farmers love having owls around. It’s not uncommon for many to erect tall owl boxes to attract these wonderful flying mouse traps. A single barn owl can consume 800 rodents a year. Many owls, including the great horned mate for life. However they spend very little time together except during breeding season when they return to their partner. A pair of mated great horned  owls don’t travel very far away from each other, though, and will often have adjacent hunting territories. Great horned owls can live up to 13 years in the wild.

As we move past Thanksgiving and the holiday season kicks into high gear may I suggest one of the most unique gifts this season is the gift of currants. As you all know by now we are the folks that put currants on the map in the U.S. and we are the number one source for healthy, delicious currants. We have many wonderful gift ideas and to choose from and yours will be the one gift they will all remember and love. And if you’ve been invited to dinner, why not bring something truly unique like our CurrantC™ All Natural Black Currant syrup for all the festive dishes or our delicious decadent Dark Chocolate Black Currant Bars. And nothing brings out the creativity with holiday cocktails like a 6 pack of CurrantC™ All Natural Black Currant Nectar. Whichever you choose, you’ll be the only one giving the “Wealth of Health” with CurrantC™ Black Currants.

Cheers from the farm,

Greg

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Chopin and Currants

I’ve just returned from Poland where I’m securing new varieties of currants for the U.S. market. Poland is the largest grower of currants in the world. As I drove around the countryside one couldn’t help but notice, anyone with 100 square meters of back yard had some currant bushes. Currants in Poland are like apples or tomatoes here in the U.S. There’s an Institute outside of Warsaw that is one of the two largest breeders of new varieties of currants in the world. I have been visiting this Institute for the last 6 years and the plant breeders and scientists there are among the finest in the world. I am happy to count them among my friends. Their new varieties of currants are more disease resistant, more flavorful and better producers and one day, in the next year or so, I expect to be able to offer them to the U.S. market. Because of the ban on currants over the last hundred years, we just don’t have many great varieties here in this country but soon, I hope to change all that. Stay tuned.

I spent several days wandering farms and experimental fields studying hundreds of different cultivars looking at growth habits and checking for desirable traits, tasting the different fruits from these varieties and then back to their laboratories viewing in vitro cellular propagation of new baby currant plants, DNA fingerprinting, and a whole host of other very sophisticated botanical magic. After the third day, the head of the Institute Dr. Edward Żurawicz, told me we were taking the afternoon off. He said he had a surprise for me.

We drove to the tiny village of Żelazowa Wola which lies on the Utrata River, about 30 miles west of Warsaw. I had no idea what was in store. We parked in a small lot and strolled up a narrow shaded path which wound through some well-kept trees. I began to hear piano music wafting through the woods from up ahead. The trees opened to reveal a reflecting pool behind which was simple white stucco house with wooden shingles, the source of the incredibly beautiful cords that were seducing us.  

My friend led me around to the side of the house where there were several benches randomly placed throughout a modest garden of hosta, ferns and a few globe flowers which survived the summer. As we sat on one of the benches facing the open French doors to the parlor of the house, Edward explained to me that this was where Fryderyk Chopin was born and we were listening to a sampling of his works played on one of his actual pianos.

The piece that brought us down the path and now engulfed the whole area was his Barcarolle. Some experts claim that it is the best work ever written for piano. I can’t speak to that but I can report that sitting there on that bench but a few yards from the place he was born, I closed my eyes, felt the warmth of the September sun on my face through just a kiss of a breeze and was bathed in the lyrical, romantic strains of this metaphysical creation emanating from his very own piano. The afternoon flew and we felt joy, exhilaration, sadness, melancholy, power, peace and a palette of other emotions that Chopin’s music elicits. The last piece performed was his Ballade No.4 perhaps the perfect music to enjoy while sitting in his garden or any garden for that matter. It’s been said that it’s the Mona Lisa of Romantic music. The genius of this piece is that you can make it your own experience. It will reflect whatever your frame of mind is. You get to write the story.  There are moments in our lives which get packed away in precious boxes in our memories. The sounds and sights and feels and smells of that place and time are there to be called upon at will and make us smile. This was one of those moments. There are many things I like about Poland and that afternoon was a crowning jewel in my collection.

Chopin is one of Poland’s favorite sons and his birthplace is now a museum boasting 2 of his pianos. If you haven’t really experienced Chopin’s music, I invite you to go for a ride. There are over 230 works that we know of so there’s lots to have fun with. You can get a taste right on your computer watching some of the great pianists perform his works on You Tube. A really good set of speakers and a garden will serve you even better. It’s truly some of the most beautiful music ever written.

One could say farming is neither a full opera nor a protracted symphony. It’s a series of poems, triumphant poems, sad poems, poignant poems,  poems of life and death and rebirth, poems of loss and poems of love. Chopin never wrote lengthy symphonies or tragic operas. He wrote and performed musical poetry. Maybe that’s why his music speaks to me. Of course, sometimes, farming is just downright rock and roll!

As the first chills of autumn settle in, I, and probably many of you, begin to think about warm kitchens and comfort food. Check out the dozens of wonderful recipes made with our delicious farm fresh black currant products on our website. Healthy hot teas made with CurrantC Nectar or CurrantC Concentrate, great deserts made from out fresh frozen and dried currants, delicious sauces to bring out the flavor of game, duck, pork and chicken and a whole list of black currant cocktail recipes to steal the show at any party. Happy Autumn!

Cheers from the farm,

Greg

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