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Daffodils are some of the most eagerly anticipated early heralds of spring here on the farm.

Nothing says 'spring is near' like the first daffodil blooms

When our orchard slope was first cleared, the entire area looked depressingly bare.

A few short years ago we started with this barren wasteland of a slope

Even with the newly planted fruit trees in place, there was a definite lack of presence in the orchard.  It would take time for the trees to grow and fill in, and I’m not a terribly patient person by nature.

The deer fence went up, then the trees were planted, but the slope was still bare

In a quest for some instant garden gratification, I started out by planting a few hundred daffodil bulbs.  They emerged the next spring, but they seemed few and far between, so the following fall I added more.  In my mind’s eye,  I envisioned how the slope might look some day as the bulbs slowly naturalized, and the daffodils gained a greater presence, but I knew it would take time.

A spider seeks refuge in a bloom

Daffodils aren’t native, obviously, but they do bring a certain cheer to the orchard before anything else blooms, and they have the advantage of being done for the season before the deciduous fruit trees leaf in too much.  By the time these daffodils fade, the native poppies should be in bloom.

These Tete-a-Tetes are growing through a small patch of California poppies that aren't yet in bloom

The last two years the daffodils have popped up in late winter, but seemed somewhat sparsely scattered across the orchard.  I don’t know how 500+ bulbs can result in sparse anything, but here it’s a question of scale.

The entire orchard is surrounded by towering trees, that naturally draw the eye upward.  It would be a challenge for the daffodils to stand out against such views, as their tiny scattered specks of yellow emerged along the slope in spring.

To see the daffodils on the slope below these trees they need to be planted en masse

This year though I feel all that bulb planting is finally starting to pay off.

The daffodils are definitely more noticeable this year

Although not yet the continuous drift of yellow I have envisioned for this area, the bulbs are clearly starting to multiply, and beginning to hold their own in the orchard.

This season the daffodils are finally starting to hold their own on the slope

Even the tiny Tete-a-Tetes this year have burst forth in miniature masses.  Considering the scale of the planting, I’m actually quite surprised just how much impact even these diminutive blooms have in the orchard.

The Tete-a-Tetes were planted as single bulbs in the fall of 2010, and are filling in nicely

Ordinarily, I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to plant something bright pink next to a yellow bloom, but there’s something quite pleasing about seeing this Indian Free peach in bloom, with yellow blossoms at its feet.

A view of some daffodils through the 'Indian Free' peach tree that's in bloom

Last year I started to extend the daffodils outside of the orchard fence, to bring a little cheer down to the level of the farm road. This is only their second season, but hopefully they’ll begin to fill in similarly next season.

To extend the color beyond the orchard, these daffodils were planted near the farm road

One area that I planted the daffodils outside the fence though, is a problem.  Believe it or not, Daffodils have a dark and sinister side.

There’s a small green weedy patch that leads up to the orchard gate.  Most of what grows in this area seems to be gophers and voles, so last year I unloaded a few ‘spare’ daffodil bulbs on that slope.  I didn’t expect much else would survive the constant churning of the soil in that area.  We’ve focused on gopher removal inside the orchard, so this area has been rather neglected thus far.

We refer to this weedy grassy patch near the orchard gate as our mini-meadow

I knew the gophers wouldn’t eat them, although they have managed to relocate about half of them over the past year.  This weekend though, I pulled them up…all of them.  Even the ones in bloom.

Every single daffodil, even the ones not yet blooming, hiding in the grass, was pulled

I wasn’t sure if I could successfully transplant blooming daffodils, or if the shock would be too much for them.  It didn’t hurt to try though, or they’d be destined for compost, so I moved them to inside the orchard fence.

This is one of the blooming daffodils I transplanted, and it seems to be doing just fine

The question is, why would I want to move all these daffodils?  As you probably know, daffodils are one of the few spring bulbs that are truly gopher, and deer proof.  This is because flowers in the Amaryllidaceae family, like daffodils, contain various toxic alkaloids, including Lycorine, Galanthamine, and Narciclasine [1], that animals find unpleasant.  When ingested, daffodils can cause gastrointestinal upset, including vomiting, and diarrhea.  Excessive consumption of Narcissus bulbs can cause tremors and convulsions, and cardiac arrhythmias [2,3,4].

Lycorine is one of the toxic compounds that keeps our gophers and deer from devouring our daffodils (Image Source: Public Domain)

Although the bulbs are more toxic than the leaves, in light of our recent new additions to the farm, we’ve chosen to pull the daffodils from this area.

We never presume that any animal ‘knows’ to leave toxic plants alone.  If that were true, toxicologists wouldn’t be as busy as they are!  As such, the daffodils have now been rehomed inside the orchard where the goats can’t reach them.

Goats are curious by nature, and there's always a risk they'll eat something they shouldn't

As this weedy patch gets plenty of sun, we’ve had a change of plan.  The revised plan for this area is to turn our mini-meadow into a safe place for the goats to occasionally romp around on a warm summer’s afternoon, without worrying about whether or not they’ll browse on potentially poisonous plants.

This area will now become pasture for the goats

With a shift in the weather this week, to something that more closely resembles winter than spring, we’re expecting some significant rainfall over the next few days.  We’ve already had more than 2 inches of rain since midnight.  This slope was desert dry over the weekend, so much so the soil was beginning to crack, so the rain is very welcome.

Our mini-meadow will now be planted as a goat-friendly garden area

With the daffodils now gone, the meadow area was cut, and today, between the rain showers, I’m hoping to dash out to sow some of this goat-friendly dairy pasture mix in the meadow instead.

The goats will still be able to see these daffodils, they just won't be able to nibble on them

It won’t be as pretty, but the goats will enjoy that area once it’s replanted.  They’ll just have to be content to admire the daffodils from afar.

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[1] Vigneau CH, Tsao J, Chamaillard C, and Galzot J. Accidental Absorption of Daffodils (Narcissus jonquilla): Two Common Intoxicants. Vet Hum Toxicol. 1982;24:133–135.

[2] Aganga A, Nsinamwa M., Oteng K., and Maule B.  Poisonous Plants in Gardens and Grazing Lands.  Online Journal of Animal Feed and Research.  2011; 1(2): 52-59.

[3] Saxon-Buri, S.  Daffodil Toxicosis in an Adult Cat.  The Canadian Veterinary  Journal.  2004; 45(3): 248-250.

[4] Animal Poison Control Center: Daffodil