Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Playin' In The Rain

It's too rainy to mow. It's too rainy to work in the garden beds. What's a guy to do who loves to play outside? In this case Ed has gone back to working on the shade garden wall. The wall ends are coming together. This flat area of wall bothers Ed. Somehow when working on this part he drifted back to straight. Straight is Ed's default position! Part of him really wants to take it down and redo it since he was going for curved. I'm so pleased that it will stand. It makes this wall distinctively Ed's

The two ends of the wall have come together. As Ed works on the wall, he uses wet gravel from the gravel bank to fill in the spaces between the stones. It will dry hard, not as hard as concrete of course, but very firm, yet flexible.

He will work on the gap until the top of the wall is level. It might not be perfectly level, but Ed has a great eye, so I bet it will be close. This "back" view of the shade garden shows work yet to be done. Soil and amendments must be added. Weeds need to be removed. One thing we didn't consider was exactly how we will keep this bed weeded. It's wider than either of us can reach when sitting on the wall. Time will work out that small detail. The weather forecast is for more rain, and more rain means more wall.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Party's Almost Over

The garden has been teeming with birds. There are still lots of flowers, but many of the plants have gone to seed. Seed heads of all sizes and shapes are there for the different birds to eat. This sunflower is nearly empty. The smaller ones are picked cleaner still. It's been dreary and rainy for several days, but the birds were still out there. Yesterday there were more robins than I could count. The migrating birds are moving through. The blue jays, woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, and perhaps a pair of cardinals will stick around to help clean up when the others have moved the party further south. We will reward them with suet and a full bird feeder, thankful that they stay here with us.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Big Beet

Sometimes when you wait for a Monarch butterfly to hatch before you harvest your beets, they get just a tad too big. Yes, size matters. I've heard of yard long beans, but yard long beets?

We grow Rodina cylindrical type beets.I like the fact that when sliced, all of the pieces are are relatively uniform. Since I have plenty of beets the perfect size for freezing, this one just won't make the cut. Such an over achieving vegetable should be rewarded however, so instead of being dinner, this big beet gets to be just a little bit famous!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Fall Color Source

Here in the great Northeast we consider ourselves special because our trees display great Fall color. News broadcasts originating from New York City report the development of leaf color. Bus and train excursions move people to see these great color displays. Motels raise their rates during leaf peeping season. It is a little humbling to learn that the source of much of the red color is the trash tree sumac. Sumac growth is rapid and coarse. Annual growth rings are so wide that the trees have little strength. No self respecting country boy would build so much as a campfire with sumac. But it is sumac that supplies much of the red for our Fall display. The tree may be trash but there is no denying the brilliance of its red Fall leaves.

Sumac berries supply a food source for overwintering birds. Spring robins are seen picking at the remains of berry clusters. Tea can be made from these red seed heads but it will never replace Orange Crush. Plant nurseries sell a weeping version of sumac. Not bad for a tree that country boys consider to be trash.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A New Path For An Old Bed

A decade has passed since these planting beds were established. Pasture grass was retaking this area. I have been mowing around the stakes for entirely too long. The time for a path buffer is now. Squares of sod have been cut and stacked. Large stones have been levered out. Flat stones go to the wall pile. Round ones are used for fill at the gravel bank. Soil is moved to the shade garden. Smaller stones will fill the path.

A dry stone wall is laid against the edge board. When the board is removed the little stone wall will keep the soil separate from the path stones. This sounds like excessive work but the last glacier left us with more stone than soil. Gardening is possible only after the stone is removed. All of that stone has to go some place. Why not build a garden path?

Half a century ago the barn on this farm was struck by lightening and burned. Rubble from the fire was buried in this field. My current dig is in an area filled with fire debris. No metal has appeared on the sifting screen yet, but I keep looking for some. The mixture of soil and ash is dark. It looks like it could be prime soil. Fear of chemical contamination will keep me from planting carrots in this soil. It might grow great flowers.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Winning Combination

The Mary Stoker mums have been in front of the house for 2 years now. They really are a favorite. Chrysanthemums have a special place in Ed's heart. His great grandfather had them in his garden. It never dawned on us, however, that New England asters would be such a fantastic combination plant for them. Yellow and purple are a favorite color combination, and both plants bloom in the fall. It took a self-sewn aster among the chrysanthemums to call our attention to the possibilities.

Plans are being made to divide the mums and transplant asters so that we can enjoy more of this winning combination next year. It's nice to plan your garden, but sometimes the garden plans itself with inspiring results.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Summer Sweet, Caged For The Winter

It's time well spent to get a bed all weeded and ready for the coming winter. This summer sweet had a difficult year. The June frost hit just when it was starting to leaf out. For a long time the plant looked dead. It recovered but,we had only one or two of the white fragrant flowers that usually cover this plant. Amy and Ed discovered summer sweet while hiking. Its fragrance is a reminder of that special day. We go all out to help this specimen any way we can. The cage will keep the deer from grazing on it this winter. The small offshoot needs protection from rabbits. The bed has been weeded and amended.

The plan is to move the daughter plant to a North facing slope. In theory the glancing contact from the low sun will warm soil there slowly. Holding the frost in the ground a little longer should delay leaf out. Extra time dormant may lessen damage from late frosts.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Frost Kissed Spicy Globe Basil

Last night Jack Frost did a little sneaking around in our garden. This cute, round spicy globe basil was just kissed by the frost. The top is all brown, but the leaves near the ground are still green. The rest of our basil got more of the kiss of death except for a few plants on top of an old compost pile. There the frost swept by missing the basil, but laying it's nasty brown kiss on the butternut squash leaves right next to it. Some of our tender plants like the moonflower escaped completely. We were not expecting the frost last night. We did bring in the pots of sweet bay. It's a lucky thing we did. Sweet bays don't tolerate even a whisper of frost. In our defense, it was overcast, and we really thought the garden would be safe.

Tonight is a different story. The sky is clear and cloudless. The severe weather warnings were issued days ago. I picked the peppers. The potted plants are in the basement. Tomorrow morning I expect to wake up to a frosted white garden. tonight's predicted low is 35 degrees. Only July and August were frost free for us in 2009. Next year I hope we can do better!

Friday, September 18, 2009

It's A Girl?

Today was the day. The monarch emerged sometime after 11:30. We missed the actual event, arriving home in time to take the picture above. What had started out to be a sunny day became over cast and threatening. Strong wind gusts and scattered rain caused us great concern. The butterfly hung on the mallow close to the chrysalis for several hours.

Such a beautiful and complicated creature. This butterfly, born at the stone wall garden, will feed then head south. If she makes it through the entire migration , she will spend the winter in Mexico. We are located near the confluence of two valleys. Topography concentrates the migrating butterflies as they fly over us. We have seen no signs indicating that the migration is underway. For now our butterfly is free to feed on our flowers in preparation for her journey. How she knows this is a mystery to me.

It was after 4:00 when I finally got a chance to catch her with open wings.
Mature males display two dark scent glands visible on the wings. The absence of these markings suggests that ours is female but reproductive organs are incompletely developed at this stage. Whatever the reality we will look for a bright new Monarch tomorrow and wish her well when it is time for her to leave.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

There's Hope For Tomorrow !

Finally the orange and black is showing through the chrysalis shell. There's real hope for the hatching of this Monarch tomorrow. As it happens I have to go somewhere tomorrow morning . Whether I get pictures of it or not, if this butterfly hatches and flies away, I will be happy. I really love watching the monarchs fly south on their way to Mexico. Some stop at the garden or in the fields of goldenrod and New England asters to eat. Others are higher and just fly on by without stopping. Having one start on its journey from the stone wall garden is a wonderful bonus.

Different Color Same Smell

Death is not usually a subject featured here. Occasionally something so special is seen that it must be included even though the animal is dead. We had nothing to do with this animal meeting its ultimate fate. When we happened on it the deed had been done. John Burroughs wrote of killing the birds that he studied. In his later years he grew to regret that action and observed as best he could from a living distance.

References to brown skunks speak only of their existence but feature no picture. This is the first brown skunk that we have ever seen. The unusual color is not the result of the accident nor does it appear to be a stain. None of the reddish brown color is on the black fur. It looks like natural color.

We encountered a car stopped in the road its occupants examining the skunk. Our arrival seemed to embarrass them and they left. We felt no such shame. Becky watched for oncoming traffic while I stood in the middle of the road taking pictures. An approaching school bus from the district where I formerly taught moved me to the shoulder of the road. After a wave to the driver it was back to work. We felt fortunate to see this animal. I was certain that it would have been removed to the collection of some naturalist before we could photograph it. Luck was with us.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Still Waiting, Not Quite So Patiently

We are still waiting. Two weeks from when we first discovered the chrysalis passed on September 8th. The leaf it is attached to was drooping perilously, so Ed carefully tied it up. I'm still hoping that this butterfly will hatch. They call me Pollyanna! The time period for hatching given in "An Extraordinary Life,The Story of a Monarch Butterfly" is 5 to 15 days. We're a bit overdue. I will keep checking anyway,but at some point I will have to give up and harvest those beets!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Spring Preview

The garden is full of surprises. I never expected to see this beautiful little primrose in September. From the look of it the plant will stay green through the winter and then really bloom in the spring. This my first primrose. Amy picked it out, so it's cheery little flower, so welcome now, reminds me of her.

The moon flower bud we have been watching is looking a little brown. The nights are getting pretty cool for a delicate, tender flower. I don't think this one will open. There are more buds, if the weather warms who knows?

Still it's fun to go out with the flashlight and check. Breathing in the heady fragrance of the evening scented stock and Nicotiana is a wonderful experience.
I must check on our Monarch chrysalis. I have beets to harvest.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Autumn Joy For Winter's Delight

Sedum Autumn Joy has been placed in the garden. It is hardy with Fall flowers and a Winter display of the spent seed heads. Why it has taken us this long to obtain this plant is an unanswerable question. The reason that we have it now is a special use of the dried seed heads. These can be used to make miniature trees.

Making these trees is simplicity itself. The dried seed heads are trimmed to size and cleaned of leaves. The right most sprig is still holding a leaf. A dip in thinned white glue is followed by a sprinkling of ground foam and then allowed to dry.

Besides gardening, Ed's other interest is the New York, Ontario and Western Railroad. Its New Berlin branch ran across the river in sight of our home. An HO model of parts of this railroad is under construction in our basement. The train pictured is coming off of the Sidney Center bridge moving milk to New York City. Many more sedum trees are needed. Our new garden plants will supply the material for the trees. So much for the garden's Winter display of spent seed heads. Yes, that is a dry stone wall in the foreground. Our wild stone must be broken to provide pieces this small.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind

When Ed headed out the basement door on this beautiful, sunny, September morning, he was greeted by this sun bathing garter snake. There's nothing like a south facing dry stone wall to appeal to a snake. Living there he's safe and warm.The sun heats up the rocks so beautifully. The only annoying part of this perfect location is that we pass by so closely.The annoyance works both ways . The snake gives us the creeps, and we make him equally nervous. Ed managed this photo, but when moving little closer for a better shot, he disappeared.

The snake is still there, it's Ed who disappeared. As far as the snake is concerned as soon he couldn't see the problem , it was gone. With his head tucked safely back in the wall,he was perfectly comfortable again. Just seeing the loops of snake hanging from the wall gives me that uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I guess I'll take my cue from the snake and quit looking at it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Magical Moonflower

I had to be up early this morning, and as I dressed in the bedroom,something white caught my eye out in the garden. What I saw was a big surprise! After the weather we have had, I had all but given up on the idea that the moonflower would bloom this year. It's really out of its zone here.I buy plants every year anyway. Some years I get flowers , some years I don't. The huge white flowers that open at night and send out their fabulous fragrance are worth the chance to me, so I grow it and hope.

I dressed and went out to the garden to get a picture, and took a long wonderful inhale of its fabulous perfume. It was a magical day brightener in spite of I was about to do.

You just have to love country living! Early in this LONG... weekend we discovered that we had a dead mouse in the ventilation system of the car. I say discovered. You could smell the thing without even getting in the car. The morning of the second day there were cat footprints on the hood. Yuck, I thought cats liked fresh mice.

With the temperature in the forties, I put on my jacket, rolled down the windows, and drove the half hour necessary to the reach the car dealership.I took a barf bag with me just in case. Two hours and $100 later I came back home. Thank goodness the removal was a success! By the time I got back the moonflower had faded. I knew it would, they only get one night to show off their magical beauty and fragrance. There are more buds on the vine. I will be watching for flowers now. I won't miss a chance to sit out on the bench after dark to get the full benefit of the moonflower again. I can always use a little magic especially if it smells terrific!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Beautiful Day For A Walk

What could be better on such a gorgeous September day that a walk around outside. Amy and I headed off and took the path up the hill disappearing out of sight of the garden. At the top of the hill, Amy's meadow is a sea of yellow, glowing on this sunny day. As we walked along together I gave her the camera to see what would catch her eye.

We followed the path around the high meadow stopping by the garden bed in the back to see of there was a zucchini to be had. We did see one small squash and a couple of blossoms, but nothing big enough to pick. From there we took the path that goes up and down along the fence line. Shaded by the trees, this spider web still glistened with dew from the morning fog. A tiny brown spider is visible tending the web. I love the thorns and think this is quite the photo. One photograph of a huge fly on a milkweed plant was too fuzzy to get a good look. I was a bit disappointed to miss seeing him twice. With lunch time approaching we headed back to the garden.

We stood and watched a bumblebee wriggle his way into the blue closed gentian. he wriggled in there and then came back out head first. It's a fascinating and rare sight. It's one that I'm glad Amy got to observe. It's so bizarre everyone should get to see it.

I was not surprised that the red hibiscus caught her camera's attention. I was however quite surprised by the intriguing close up detail inside the huge red flower. I had never noticed it before.

What a fabulous walk on a beautiful day made even more special by doing it together!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Bird Feeder Au Natural

There's a part of me that wants a perfectly weeded and deadheaded garden. I love the look of a formal garden, but that doesn't fly here. We have Ed's stone walls and the perfectly rectangular beds, but we also have my self seeded plants that pop up everywhere. This bed is just outside the bedroom window. Now is the time that goldfinches and black capped chickadees spend their day picking out seeds, chasing and chattering right where I can get a close up view.I wouldn't miss it.

Watching birds in the garden is one of the joys of having it. The humming birds are still here. They will leave soon and the goldfinches will go too, but the chickadees will stay here all winter. The least we can do is make it a nice place for them to be.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Flamboyant For A Day

What could be more flamboyant than a red hibiscus? I first saw flowers like these driving by a house at, let's say 55 miles per hour. At that speed or even faster, hibiscus flowers are a real eye catcher. The first Hibiscus plant I bought turned out to be white trimmed with pink. It's beautiful with many large flowers and I love it.Last year I got a chance to buy the red.Wow!

Evening is approaching, and the day's hibiscus flowers are closing up. They are big and glorious, but one day is all they get. Tomorrow there will be new flowers to take their turn at being flamboyant. I still drive by the house where I first saw the red hibiscus flowers. This year that plant is gone. Being in zone 4 I consider myself lucky whenever my hibiscus plants come back in the spring. Just how long can beauty that intense last anyway?