Burrows Run Preserve

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By Ian Stewart, Ornithologist

“I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree” (Joyce Kilmer, 1913).

Trying to identify trees is a lot of fun and can be done by anyone with both patience and a good field guide because almost all trees belonging to the same species have the same general appearance in terms of their size, bark, and leaf shape and arrangement. Still, sometimes one comes across a specimen that stands out from the others, perhaps because of its unusual appearance or location. These are my four favorite trees found on DelNature lands.

1) This massive American Sycamore is affectionately known as “Old Mr Knobbles” and is a much-visited centerpiece of the Ashland Nature Center floodplain. Although there are several huge Sycamores growing along the creek they all have a single vertical trunk whereas this specimen has two equally thick trunks, one of which seems to defy gravity by growing almost horizontally!

American Sycamore, Ashland Nature Center

“Old Mr Knobbles” American Sycamore, Ashland Nature Center

2) This Gray Birch stands alone in the corner of the hilltop behind Coverdale Farm. There was a pair of Gray Birches standing side by side here for many years but one was blown down by a storm in the spring of 2016, leaving this distinctively-colored tree standing forlornly against a dramatic backdrop of sweeping fields.

Gray Birch, Coverdale Farm Preserve

Gray Birch, Coverdale Farm Preserve

3) The great majority of trees have just one trunk but this monster Bitternut Hickory hidden away in the woods of Coverdale Farm Preserve has no fewer than six! Although one of the trunks is fairly small and another two are joined at the base it is still an unusual tree as the six trunks form a neat crown that supports the many branches.

Bitternut Hickory with Six Trunks, Coverdale Farm Preserve

Bitternut Hickory with Six Trunks, Coverdale Farm Preserve

4) Swamp Oak. This striking pale gray tree is tucked away in a dark corner of Burrows Run Preserve. As with White Oaks the trunk is relatively smooth near the base but begins to peel and flake further up the tree. However the peeling is so pronounced on Swamp Oaks that the bark seems to hang in sheets like plates of armor!

Swamp Oak, Burrows Run Preserve

Swamp Oak, Burrows Run Preserve

The Plate-Like Bark of a Swamp Oak, Burrows Run Preserve

The Plate-Like Bark of a Swamp Oak, Burrows Run Preserve

There are many beautiful trees scattered around our properties. Next time you walk our trails be sure to look carefully into the woods – you may find your own favorite tree!

By Michele Wales, Farm Program Coordinator

Spring has just arrived…HOORAY! However, at Coverdale Farm, we have been working as if this verdant season has been here for weeks! Our 352-acre preserve is a dream-come-true for the green thumbs on staff that grow food for our CSA members; grow gardens to teach children about food plant life cycles; grow feed for our livestock; and manage the natural areas for biodiversity.

Timing is everything to make these gardens and fields thrive. Working early in the cold winter months we comb through seed catalogs; make field maps and garden plans; and devise management strategies to generate abroad range of desired products: organic vegetables, plant based “classrooms,” nutritious hay, and wildlife habitat.

Here’s a brief peek into what it takes to make the farm a booming center for food and ecology.

Community Supported Agriculture Program

By the time we have rung in the New Year, CSA Farmer Dan O’Brien has already ordered his seeds, planned his field rotations, and created his planting timeline. Several weeks ago Dan sowed several hundred vegetable seeds indoors in starter trays sandwiched between heat mats and lights. He worked with a local grower in Pennsylvania to raise thousands of plants that will eventually find their way into our 7-acre CSA site. Within the last month, as soon as the soil could be worked, Dan was out preparing the field for planting. He has already sown hearty cool- loving crops like peas, potatoes, carrots, and beets.

In February Dan and DNS Land Management staff members Steve and Josh, built a 2,000 square foot hoop house. This unheated, protective structure will allow Dan to extend the season of certain crops like tomatoes and cucumbers. The hoop house enables these “high summer” crops to be transplanted out earlier in the spring and remain in the field longer in the fall. In addition to this new house, Dan has 2 other hoop houses that he will use for season extension and seed germination. We still have shares available for the 2013 CSA season. Please visit our website www.delawarenaturesociety.org under “conservation corner” for registration details.

CSA Farmer Dan O’Brien with his shiny, new hoop house. Photo by Steve Johnas.

Education Gardens

Grey winter months set Farm Program Coordinator Michele Wales to dreaming of purple carrots, orange eggplant, and hundreds of heirloom tomatoes in all colors but red. Striving to show the genetic diversity of common and not-so-common foods that can be grown in our region, Michele focuses primarily on growing heirloom varieties. The goal of the 1 ¼ -acre education garden is to show all stages of the plants’ life from seed to flower, to fruit, and back to seed. This area of the farm grows an endless list of earthly delights like strawberries, rhubarb, and grapes to tomatoes, basil, potatoes, saffron, and lots of flowers. Seeding begins in the dark days of winter in an 80-degree greenhouse space generously provided by Gateway Garden Center. Michele sowed close to 900 seeds in mid-March, will transplant the thriving seedlings in April, and bring them to the farm in May. The garden will come alive through the work of children and farm education staff sowing seeds and heeling in transplants after the danger of frost has passed.

Thanks to Gateway Garden Center in Hockessin (www.gatewaygardens.com) for the greenhouse space and seeds to help our gardens grow!

Farm Program Coordinator Michele Wales seeding heirloom tomatoes. Photo by Jim Wolfer.

Feed Hay Fields

In late January and early February, Farm Steward, Jim Wolfer keeps his eyes on the ground and ears tuned to weather forecasts. Jim is looking for snow-free acreage and temperatures that reach above the freezing point. During periods of freezing and thawing, Jim will sow the seeds of red clover in our 9-acres of feed hay fields. This is known as frost seeding and is a method that this plant needs for successful germination. By March, on dry ground days, he is mowing down crop “residue” like corn and sunflower stalks from last year as well as spreading our farm-generated compost. By late May he will be mowing the hay, bailing it, and storing over 15 TONS of it in the stone barn to feed our cows and sheep next winter.

Farm Steward Jim Wolfer surveying the winter hayfield. Photo by Dan O’Brien.

Native Warm Season Grass Meadows

In the late fall of 2012, Land Manager Dave Pro was drilling the seeds of over 15 species of native grasses and wildflowers into 25 rolling acres of former agricultural fields. For the last 15 years Dave has been working to transition farm fields into native meadows that provide rich habitat for ground nesting-birds, mammals, and a wide diversity of insects including native pollinators. Gearing up for the growing season, Dave spent hours in March mowing down last year’s growth to open the landscape to the sun’s rays and to control woody shrub invasion. In addition to mowing, these native meadows thrive and excel against competitors through the implementation of fire. Dave schedules the early spring prescribed burn by paying attention to several key factors: wind speed, wind direction, humidity, precipitation, and the emergence of new plant growth. Once these factors have aligned, a regional team of highly trained wildfire fighters descend upon the preserve to artfully and safely employ this management technique. If all of the necessary criteria are met Dave and his skilled crew will be setting fire to 6-acres of well established meadow as early as this Thursday, March 28 or a date to be determined the week of April 1. We invite you to witness this exciting event. Please call 302.239.2334 to register. Space is limited. This very spontaneous offer is FREE with details to be communicated as soon as we have them to share.

Land Manager Dave Pro keeping a few steps ahead of a meadow fire. Photo by Derek Stoner.

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Programs Team Leader

Early spring is hiking time around here.  The winter weather has eased, flowers are blooming, and hiking conditions are ideal.  Meadow grass is green, but not so high you can’t walk through it, and temperatures are not too hot, not too cold.  So, during the past few weeks, I led three of our most popular exclusive day-hikes.  I say exclusive because these walks cross private property where the Delaware Nature Society has permission to lead walks occasionally. 

The Ashland to Coverdale Farm Preserve loop hike is 4 miles through oak-hickory forest, meadows, and involves a wet-foot crossing of Burrows Run.  The Ashland to Bucktoe Creek Preserve hike is 6 miles, and crosses rolling open hills of spectacular piedmont scenery.  Finally, the Flint Woods Preserve to Granogue Estate hike is 3 miles through some of the best old-growth woods in Delaware, and ends atop the Granogue water tower where you can see north to Downingtown, PA and south to Delaware City, DE.  Enjoy the photos of these walks below.

The group of Delaware Nature Society hikers prepares for the Ashland to Coverdale Farm Preserve loop hike. Photo by Tom Davis

The wet-foot crossing of Burrows Run is always a memorable moment. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Some hikers opt to cross Burrows Run without the wet feet. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Hiking from Ashland to Bucktoe Creek Preserve is a commitment of 6 miles, which was a 600-calories hike for one of our participants who had a calorie watch.  This hike features the Delaware Nature Society’s Red Clay Floodplain property, Auburn Heights State Park and Preserve (not open to the public…yet), several private properties, and finally, the 300-acre Bucktoe Creek Preserve (also private).  Luckily, after the hike, we take a van back to Ashland and don’t have to retrace our steps.

The route of the Ashland to Bucktoe hike passes this rock cut, where we are able to examine Piedmont rocks that are hundreds of millions of years old. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

The Ashland to Bucktoe hike also passes the 8th PA/DE border marker from 1892. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Finally, the very popular Flint Woods to Granogue hike starts with a gourmet meal prepared by Michele Wales, Coverdale Farm Program Coordinator.  It ends atop a stone water tower at Granogue, one of the most famous duPont estates.

Michele Wales describes the food she has prepared for participants of the walk at the Flint Woods Preserve. Gourmet and yummy! Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Dave Pro, Ashland Property Manager, finds an old pot at a historic dump along the walk. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Our goal is in sight. The Granogue Water Tower. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Looking north from the tower, we gaze up the Brandywine Valley to Downingtown, PA. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

If you are more interested in the short version of these hikes, register for the Evening Walk Series which features 6 hikes at many of the above locations on Thursday evenings, May through July.  More information on these hikes can be found here.

Photos and Story By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

Just like birds, edible wild plants are a way for people to become interested in the environment, stay in touch with the cycles of the nature, and give you a great deal of pleasure throughout your life.  Such are the sentiments of Lee Allen Peterson, author of the Peterson Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Eastern and Central North America.  Like his father, who interested millions of people in the world of birds and nature, Lee uses wild plants to get people interested in the environment around them and to become more attuned with the natural world. 

Yesterday, Lee led two groups of eager, edible wild plant buffs around the Burrows Run Preserve.  Through his leadership and identification skills, we tasted a variety of wild mustards, smelled the fragrance of Queen Anne’s lace and sweet cicely root, and learned about the variety of plants all around us that can be used as food.  We learned that lots of plants can technically be used as food, but some, like skunk cabbage, are very time consuming to prepare, and aren’t worth the effort in the end.  We were encouraged to develop our personal list of “go to plants” that are easy to obtain, won’t be causing harm to sensitive populations if collected, and are worth the time and effort to prepare.  You may already know what my “go to plant” is…Stinging Nettle!

Lee Peterson showed our group a variety of edible wild plants at the Delaware Nature Society's Burrows Run Preserve.

Using the senses during the walk was at least half the fun.  Pennsylvania bittercress has a sharp, peppery bite.  Garlic Mustard is pretty disgusting at this time of year.  Rape seed pods are sweet and crunchy, like a small green bean.  Don’t eat Dame’s Rocket…it is a mustard, but it’s awful!  Violets are best when they are small shoots, but they still are pretty tasty when they are all grown up.  The biggest lesson, however, was to know how to identify the plant before you eat it, know the parts of the plant to eat, and follow it through the seasons and get to know it before you harvest it.

A participant on the walk enjoyed the smell of sweet cicely root, which smells like root beer.

In the evening after the walks, we were treated to an wild edible food dinner at the Backburner Restaurant in Hockessin, DE.  The chef expertly prepared stinging nettle, ramps, Jerusalem artichokes, ostrich fern fiddleheads and much more for our group to try.  We wish you were there with us…so have a look at the menu and consider signing up for this program the next time we offer it. 

Stinging nettle and spinach soup with Paradocx Vineyard, Pinot Grigio, 2007

Steamed fiddleheads over baby arugula and bulls blood with heirloom tomatoes and shaved kohlrabi finished with fresh picked Coverdale Farm herbed vinaigrette.  Paired with Paradocx Vineyard Merlot, 2006

Grilled marinated venison served over butter braised ramps and roasted baby zucchini.  Finished with blended wild mushroom ragout and Jerusalem artichoke puree.  Paired with Paradocx Vineyard, Sangiovese, 2005

Coverdale Farm egg chocolate mousse with chocolate meringue strawberries and fresh spearmint.  Paired with Paradocx Vineyard, Pinot Blanc, 2007