Coverdale Farm 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!

Raising Broiler Chickens at Coverdale Farm Preserve

By Dan O’Brien, Community Supported Agriculture Farmer, Coverdale Farm Preserve

This season, the farmers at Coverdale Farm Preserve are trying something new. Farm Director Michele Wales and Community Supported Agriculture Farmer Dan O’Brien have started a small pilot program of raising broiler chickens for our farm-meat chicken production. These chickens live in a protected hoop house that is used for growing cucumbers and tomatoes during the CSA season. The chicken poop provides an excellent source of nitrogen to the plants throughout the growing season.

Our Hoop House provides a living quarters for our Chickens, and their droppings will provide fertilizer for crops grown here next year. Photo by Dan O'Brien.

Our Hoop House provides a living quarters for our Chickens, and their droppings will provide fertilizer for crops grown here next year. Photo by Dan O’Brien.

The chickens are fed a mixture of naturally grown grains, such as corn and wheat, along with a high protein mixture of soybean mash and vegetable scraps. The chickens will be processed after about eight weeks. “We want to really connect our Delaware community to where their food comes from” says Farmer Dan. “The goal of this pilot program is to determine the demand in our foodshed for small scale, locally produced poultry. Ideally we would like to be able to offer our sustainably produced poultry throughout the year to all people visiting Coverdale Farm Preserve” says Farm Director Michele Wales.

Join us December 12 and 13 for our course on how to process a chicken.

Join us December 12 and 13 for our course on how to process a chicken, December 12 and 13, 10am to 4pm.  Photo by Dan O’Brien.

Coverdale Farm Preserve is offering a hands on program that will teach all aspects of on farm chicken processing. “This is not a program for the faint of heart” says Farmer Dan. The program will be held on the weekend of December 12th and 13th, from 10am-4pm both days. To sign up for the program please visit Delnature.org or call (302) 239-2334 ext. 134.

By Joe Sebastiani, Ashland Nature Center Manager, and Dave Pro, Ashland Property Steward

The Delaware Nature Society is in the process of converting some of the Coverdale Farm Preserve grassland areas from cool-season, exotic agricultural grasses to native warm-season grasses and wildflowers.  The process takes years, but is well worth the wait.  Our goal is to convert over 50-acres, which will provide a diversity of native meadow species, and create much better habitat for a wide variety of mammals, birds, insects, and much more.  Dave Pro and I led a group of DNS members on a walk through the meadow last week to showcase how it is coming along.  The answer…beautifully!  Wildflowers such as Wild Senna and Partridge Pea were in full bloom, as were native grasses such as Purpletop, Indian Grass, and Big Bluestem.  Wild Bergamot was just finishing up its bloom, and multiple species of butterflies were still nectaring from these plants.

The Coverdale Farm Preserve meadow restoration as it appeared during the second week of August, 2015.

The Coverdale Farm Preserve meadow restoration as it appeared during the second week of August, 2015.

The scale of this project is impressive.  For a project of this size, 50 seeds per square foot are planted, representing over 20 native plant species.  The federal government, through a “habitat restoration lease”, pays the Delaware Nature Society to do this project through the Early Successional Habitat program.  To prepare the site for seeding, we first had to wipe out the existing non-native, cold-season grass that existed here.  Then, the meadow was seeded over late-fall, and a cover crop Winter Rye, was also planted to prevent weeds from getting established.  We then had to mow the new meadow several times in the first year to prevent any annual weeds that did get established from flowering.  The young meadow plants don’t really start to show themselves until the second year of growth.  Now that the meadow is established, we were able to conduct a prescribed burn this spring.  This helped to remove built up thatch from previous winter mowings, giving the young native plants room to grow and photosynthesize.

Wildlife has responded to the meadow transformation.  Many species of birds can be found in this location now, and include nesting Eastern Meadowlark, American Kestrel, and a variety of sparrows, warblers, and other species such as Orchard Oriole.  With the abundance of flowering plants available, butterfly numbers have increased.  Monarch butterflies were easily seen on our walk last week as they nectared on the remaining Wild Bergamot.  Great Spangled Fritillary, Pearl Crescent, Tiger Swallowtail, and Black Swallowtail were all swarming the meadow as well.  In the past, with few flowering plants, we would have had a tough time finding these species here.

A Black Swallowtail is pictured here nectaring on Wild Bergamot in the Coverdale Farm Preserve Meadow.

A Black Swallowtail is pictured here nectaring on Wild Bergamot in the Coverdale Farm Preserve Meadow.

Another butterfly, the Variegated Fritillary, is a common sight in the Coverdale Farm Preserve meadow in August.

Another butterfly, the Variegated Fritillary, is a common sight in the Coverdale Farm Preserve meadow in August.  Disclaimer: this one is feeding on Red Clover, which is an unwanted weed in the meadow.

Some of the wildflower species that we planted in this meadow include Bush-clover, Tall White Beardtongue, Early Goldenrod, Black-eyed Susan, Marsh Blazing-star, Partridge Pea, and Wild Senna.  Now, other native plants are coming in on their own as well, including Common Milkweed, and Butterfly Weed.

Wild Senna is a large wildflower that has formed drifts of yellow across parts of the meadow.

Wild Senna is a large wildflower that has formed drifts of yellow across parts of the meadow.

A lucky group of Delaware Nature Society members were able to enjoy the guided walk through the Coverdale Farm Preserve meadow last week.

A lucky group of Delaware Nature Society members were able to enjoy the guided walk through the Coverdale Farm Preserve meadow last week.

This is just one of the many habitat restoration projects that the Delaware Nature Society is conducting on properties including Ashland Nature Center, Coverdale Farm Preserve, Middle Run Natural Area, Dupont Environmental Education Center, and Abbott’s Mill Nature Center.  We will offer more free walks for members in the coming months, and we would love to show you some of these wonderful places.

By Dan O’Brien, Community Supported Agriculture Farmer:

Spring is officially here in Delaware! At Coverdale Farm Preserve on the first day of spring we welcomed five new porcine pals to our ever-growing farm family. Between 5:00pm – 10:00pm on March 20th our black-spotted sow, a heritage cross-breed of Gloucestershire Old Spot and Tamworth, delivered a litter of five healthy and robust piglets. Farm Manager Michele Wales and CSA Farmer Dan O’Brien were on hand to help the laboring mother through her first farrowing.

The piglets will be used for Coverdale Farm education programs as part of the living classroom.  Students will learn about the farm habitat, animal behavior, and the husbandry needs of these highly intelligent creatures.

The piglets will be used for Coverdale Farm education programs as part of the living classroom. Students will learn about the farm habitat, animal behavior, and the husbandry needs of these highly intelligent creatures.

Michele was cool under pressure and knew exactly what to do at all the right times, an experienced pig midwife. Dan took lead as an enthusiastic assistant, learning the ropes and capturing the process in pictures. We made certain to keep the bedding clean as the sow made mounding nests during delivery. Next came the mounting of a heat lamp to warm the tiny piglets as they entered the world. As each piglet was born we kept watchful eyes to ensure the new arrivals were breathing freely, seeking and receiving mother’s milk, and huddling under the heat lamp together. Our eyes were also fixed on the sow. Post-delivery, it is vital to see her move around, drink water, and eat food. Healthy piglets only remain healthy if the mother is strong!

The new piglets are very hungry!

The new piglets are very hungry!

After a few cold, dark hours, all of the piglets had finally arrived and aggressively pursued the mother’s swollen teats and the warmth of her body. Total success! With all of the new baby piglets safely piled upon one another for warmth, Farmers Michele and Dan were able to call it a night knowing that the new happy family would be safe and sound in their warm straw bed. Over the next few days the little piglets have become more active and will continue to grow at the rate of around one pound per day.  Enjoy this short video of the piglets getting their first meal.

Come and visit these piglets along with our other farm babies on May 9! Coverdale Farm will be OPEN for visitation each Saturday beginning May 9 through September 26, 9:00am – 4:00pm.