Phenology - The Study of Physiological Time
Weird word... What's this all about?
Phenology is one of those subjects which has really stirred my curiosity. The
whole concept just makes sense to me. The various cycles of life of all
the plants and insects which affect them are determined by the amount
of heat they accumulate. These cycles start over each year and have
nothing to do with calendar time.
My interest is not so much on the subject in general, but rather in the
Phenology of our farm's ecosystem. I think this can provide a real
insight into the relationships of all the pieces parts.
Weather, weather all around ...
I realized early on that since this is all based on accumulated heat, I
would need accurate local weather data. To me local doesn't mean the
regional airport 50 miles away or the local elementary school's 4th
grade class's weather station 10 miles away. It means a weather station
here on the farm. After a lot of research, checking customer feedback,
and saving my pennies for a couple of years, I finally purchased a
Vantage Pro 2 station from
. Ours is the remote model and works really well. The solar powered data
collection part is mounted on a pole at the edge of our Compass Garden.
The console is located in our office about 150 yards away. I also
purchased the computer software and interface with the data collector
This is where it gets a little nerdy...
My computer is collecting weather data every minute and storing it in a
file. Although the weather system works great and continually collects
data, I couldn't seem to find a way to display it in the format that I
wanted. Please don't misunderstand me, the Davis software collects,
archives and displays the data. It will plot just about any combination
of data you can imagine on a graph, but I couldn;t get it to display
the amount of rainfall on a weekly basis. Daily and monthly it does
great. But I water plants each week based on the amount of rainfall the
So...being the somewhat nerdy type, I am in the process of writing a
Phenology computer program to archive the weather data into monthly
chunks, display it in a more farmer useful format
and store data about observed life cycles of our plants and insects. There are
Phenology programs available for storing the observations but without
the weather data part, life cycle predictions seem very difficult.
The grand plan is to collect the weather data , extract and store on a
daily basis both rainfall and the accumulated heat data in terms of
degree days. Along with this we try to record observations on life
cycle changes, such as, on what day did apple trees break buds, or on
what day did we see the first lady bug flying around. In time, by
combining the two, I hope we can predict the cycles close enough to
help schedule plantings.
I know this whole project sounds like a "poor man's attempt" at a
scientific study. If you want to see what a real study into this
subject is like check out
pages from these guys. Cool stuff. Now they are serious!!
Update: Jan 2010
I wasn't collecting observation data on the farm fast enough to suit me,
so I decided to take a different tack.
The website at The University of California at Davis mentioned above has a
collection of observations for a lot of insects from different parts of the country.
This data contains the accumulated heat in degree days for different live stages
for the insects. I am curious if a certain insects life cycle based on
accumulated heat is somewhat constant no matter where they live?
My plan was to
- Input the insect data into my phenology computer program
- Use my accumulated weather data from here on the farm and let
the program predict when we should see the various life cycles of the insects.
That way we could be looking for something specific at a particular time.
- Then we could tweak the observations to be more accurate for our location.
So I downloaded the insect data and was inputting it into my system when a
lightening storm one night fried my computer.
That event started a chain which is still continuing. My old computer's operating
system was Windows XP Pro which I really liked. All of my data gadgets and
programming languages ran on that system without a hitch.
Of course my new computer came with Windows "Vista", which in my opinion is
the worst system Microsoft has every unleashed on the public.
Most of the gadgets such as the program which collects data from the
Davis weather station work OK on "Vista", but parts of the system crashed
so often I am constantly rebooting. The programming languages I was using,
which are from Microsoft by the way, are "not compatible" with Vista.
I thought my problems would be temporary since my new computer came with a
free upgrade to Windows 7 which was supposed to be the long awaited upgrade from XP.
Of course it wasn't released for several months after I purchased the new
system. Window 7 was released in October, I finally received my upgrade
in December and boy was I ready.
Imagine my disappointment when my programming languages wouldn't run
under Windows 7 either and the system has the same temperament as "Vista".
Microsoft, in their marketing wisdom, offers a solution to this dilemma.
They offer an "XP Compatible Mode" which is just running a copy of
XP in a virtual machine under Windows 7. With this option, you can
run software which ran under XP.
Of course this option is free only with Windows 7 Professional
or higher which is an expensive upgrade from the Home Edition I have.
I believe you can purchase the "XP Compatible Mode" package if it is
not included with your system. Does that seem fair?
They provide a new system which will not run a lot of existing software,
then expect users to pay for the privilege of using the system they replaced.
I used to really like Microsoft. Now I think Bill should be ashamed of himself.
What to do with this long sad tale of woe? Well I think I may actually have a
solution. At least I'm researching it now and will post an update here if it works.
My idea is to delete Windows 7 from my computer and install
Linux Fedora from Red Hat. To regain the use of my XP software,
I intend to install a virtual software package from Sun Microsystems
called "VirtualBox". Using "Virtualbox", I will install XP Pro in a
virtual system running under Linux.
Then I can reinstall my old XP software in the new XP virtual system.
When I get it all worked out, I'll post the results here as an update.
The best part of my new plan is that both Linux and VirtualBox are free!!
When I get all of my endless computer problems resolved, I do intend to continue
with my amateur Phenology project!!!!