Sunday, November 23, 2014

More Winter Ready Than Yesterday

Two issues demanded attention today with the sharp moderation in outside temperatures.  We usually head into winter with sixty gallons of road sand stored in two garbage pails in the basement.  One pail was only half full and that needed fixing.  Sifting cold wet sand is a rather unpleasant chore but just being able to work outside made the task almost pleasant.   While working at the gravel bank I did get to see two Great Blue Herons fly close by below the tree line.  They must have just taken flight from the nearby river.  One announced my presence with a honk as they flew towards the pines near the house.

Recent high winds had dropped a branch onto the lane near the arbutus wall.  I had moved it to the side but more wind rolled it back into the lane.  Today seemed like the time to move all of the fallen branches there to the brush pile at the gravel bank.  Continued attention here will at the very least make it so that I can mow down the goldenrod and the pricker bushes.  With a stone bench and arbutus plants already in place, this might be a good location for more of a wild flower garden.

Anytime that I pass by the transplanted arbutus plants, they get a close look.  Much to my surprise, I found a new seedling growing very close to one of the transplants.  There is no way to know if this plant is growing from seed dropped in the past or from this year's seed.  I placed no seed in this spot but ants could have dropped it here either this year or in the past.  The seeds I did plant have shown no growth to date.  It may be that they must pass through a cold period before sprouting.  In any event, it was a major thrill to find a new arbutus plant growing here.  My goal is to help establish naturally increasing plantings of this native treasure.

Chrysanthemums are another difficult plant that I insist on trying to grow here.  Our winters are harsher by one climate zone than these plants prefer.  This slip of a mail order plant required two growing seasons to make a decent showing and we would like to aid its return next year.

We intentionally left the dead growth in place until today.  Secured to the ground, it was where we needed it.  Cutting it back revealed a encouraging amount of new growth.

Placing the cut stems over the original plant creates an airy but protected spot for the new growth.  If our coming snow cover is more or less continuous and low temperatures are not extreme, we should have enough new plants for several impressive plantings.

Weather forecasts predict a return to unseasonably cold temperatures.  We may have one more day to continue work on next year's garden.  If rain spoils our fun, we can recall seeing both a new arbutus plant and the possible promise of many beautiful chrysanthemums.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Iced Over Early

The monster storm that buried Buffalo with lake effect snow brought us days of cold weather.  Our Unadilla River is sporting an unusually early appearance of ice.  Taken from the bridge in Rockdale, this picture shows ice on the still water near shore.  In our long ago younger days we dug the aquatic larval stage of the Dobson fly to use as bass bait in the channel to the left of the small islands.  That was a two person job.  One held a wire mesh wood framed screen nearly perpendicular to the flow of the water while the upstream person overturned stones with a stone fork.  Dobson larvae would wash onto the screen.  Many happy hours were spent securing bait and catching the elusive smallmouth bass.

Here the Unadilla River flows past the bottom land to the left that was part of the former farm that includes our homestead.  Becky's father had a boat chained to a nearby tree.  This is where we turned the Dobson larvae into bass.  Rapidly moving water midstream will remain unfrozen for most of the winter.  Prolonged severe cold is necessary to freeze this part of the river from bank to bank.

Deep still water has already frozen across the width of the river.  In days long past, the New York Ontario and Western Railway tracks ran just behind the pine grove centered in the photo.  Passengers left the trains to picnic and enjoy the river here.  In the distant left center of the picture, outlined against the sky, the row of pines rising above the ridge belongs to us.  We usually feature photos that show what is happening at home but today we took a short drive.

 Here skin ice is trapped in the swirling currents upstream from the remains of a mill dam.  Part of the stone mill building is now used as a restaurant.  Not surprisingly, it is named The Old Mill.  A family group of five ducks flew from the open water in response to my presence.  My focus was on not slipping down the bank into the cold water so there is no picture of the flying ducks.

This  pond was scraped by enlarging a shallow depression cut by a small stream.  Beavers raised the level of the natural outlet considerably increasing the size of the pond soon after the bulldozer left.  Apparently the Department of Environmental Conservation could not take issue with the actions of the beavers so this artificial/natural pond persists.  Geese recently gathered here in impressive numbers as they organized themselves for migration.  Not ready to fly south just yet, the ice has moved them into nearby manure rich corn fields.  All of this ice may soon be gone when 60 degree air temperatures and falling rain leave their mark on the landscape.