Thursday, April 30, 2015
Several years preceding my retirement were filled with dreams focused on how to pleasantly use endless days filled with free time. John Burroughs' writings described his time spent tramping about outside close to nature. That brought back pleasant memories of much of my childhood time spent doing exactly the same thing. A picture of a retirement lifestyle defined by living on remote private land gradually came into clear focus. In 1994 dreams became reality with the purchase of the last piece of a former farm.
Trout lily was first encountered by me in a Burroughs' essay entitled Among The Wild Flowers. It was there that he suggested several names more appropriate for this plant than the then used Adder's Tongue or Dog Tooth Violet. Lily had to be in the name since the structure of the flower is not a violet but is a lily. Trout accurately reflected a fish very popular to Burroughs and the timing of that fish rising to the surface of the water to feed on the first hatch of insects at the same time of year that these flowers appeared. His suggested name became widespread and remains in common use today. Erythronium americanum was well known to me because of frequent rereadings of this essay before I ever found the plant growing in the wild.
I was as giddy as a child on Christmas morning when a trout lily in flower was first found in our newly purchased woods. A single yellow blossom floated above twin fresh green leaves that were mottled with brown patches. All of this striking color had just pushed above the brown fallen leaves that carpeted the forest floor. Further exploration revealed single leaved plants by the hundreds but only an occasional twin leaved plant in bloom. The relative lack of flowers here made the rare find of a yellow lily flower seem precious to me.
Burroughs also wondered about just how a trout lily plant produced flowers. Seeds fell to the forest floor and the life cycles that followed took the lily bulb ever deeper into the soil. When the bulb was more than six inches under ground, two leaves and a flower were produced. At more shallow placements only a single leaf grew. Here the glacier left extremely stone filled soil and few bulbs are able to reach the deep placement necessary for flower production. In our more than two decades spent living here we have seen many single leaved plants return year after year but the flowering plants remain rare.
A careful look at the above photo will find a flower bud still tightly wrapped by the second leaf. Its job is to protect the bud as it is pushed thru several inches of soil and the web that is typical of the forest floor. How such a delicate flower can open unmarked after such a journey remains a source of wonder.
This bud is almost ready to push free of the leaf. Following years of preparation, this beautiful flower will last for only a short time. It will be replaced by a seed capsule containing the beginnings of another generation of plants few of which will ever flower.
Sunday, April 26, 2015
It is not likely that more closely watched wild arbutus plants exist anywhere. Six days each week two trips are made down the hill to the mail box. Arbutus plants are given a visual inspection on every return trip. Frequently the protective wire cage is set aside so that fallen tree leaves can be removed from arbutus leaves. This year's heavy snow load really flattened these evergreen plants. I must confess to a certain amount of fluffing to expose hidden bud clusters. Finally today, buds are beginning to open. Their sweet fragrance is still a day or two away. The sight of open flowers was a super spirit booster.
All of the flowers here from previous years have been white. This plant was transplanted last year and the bud tips have shown pink for the past few days. It is a female plant as shown by the seed clusters it produced last year. We will watch to see if any of the other female plants display pink flowers.
We feel extra pressure to keep this bed adjacent to the road in good shape since it is on prominent display. Most cars whip by at a high rate of speed so all that is seen is just a blur of colors. Grass clippings did cover the undeveloped section in the distance but the quack grass made a return. We will try to extend the garden by at least six feet this year. The distant brown mound holds all of the plant clippings and weeds removed from the garden last year. We were surprised by the volume of material taken from the garden.
The garlic planting looks promising. Only five of the two hundred seventy bulbs planted have yet to make an appearance. Daphne's method of treatment before planting has made a big difference on the health of our plants. Last year we tried dried grass clippings as a mulch at planting time. A winter's snow packed the trimmings into a difficult to penetrate mat. This planting was covered with a thin layer of ground leaves. Garlic tips had no trouble pushing their way past the leaf mulch. We will watch to see if any problems follow this mulch.
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
It seems that snow cover was deep and continuous just a few days ago. Unseasonable early warmth ended the snow quickly and perennial plants are now rapidly appearing. Shooting star was purchased from cultivated stock several years ago. Apparently foraging rodents have no taste for it as the emerging bright green shoots are numerous. Its dried stalks were allowed to drop seed at will so we will be looking for more of these close by. The three leaved plant is a wild columbine that grows here like a weed. Its numbers will have to be kept in check.
Fringed polygala is evergreen but at this time of year its leaves are reddish. The green leaves speckled with brown are new. Trout lilies corms were inadvertently moved with the polygala and they are also highly prized. We will see no lily flowers until each plant presents two leaves. A number of years must pass as the corm reforms itself deeper and deeper in the soil each year. Expecting no flowers yet, we were thrilled just to see the single leaves. Another look is needed to see if we have twins yet.
Aconite frequently blooms while surrounded by snow. This year the depth of the snow cover held the plant dormant until the snow was gone. Clear bright yellow flowers like this lift my spirits now.
This bleeding heart has been modified from its natural wild form. More compact and covered with deep bright flowers, we find it to be an improvement over its close by wild cousin. The dark green oval leaves belong to a weed that remained unseen because of its early appearance.
This squirrel corn remains despite its inadvertent disturbance several years ago. Now Becky is called in to closely watch my weeding activities here early in the season.
Many of these plants are woodland natives but appear here in our artificial shade garden. A single locust tree provides both the shade and the fallen leaves and stems. We will complete the filling of the wild shade garden with natural soil washed from the woods and diverted into a collection area near the lane. The more demanding wild flowers will be replanted in this more natural soil.
Monday, April 20, 2015
Of all the things that have been misplaced, I miss my memory most. During my six years as an undergraduate student an appointment calendar was never needed. If an obligation to be in a certain office in ten days at a specified time was told to me, I simply remembered and appeared in the named place on the correct day ten minutes early. The need to use six years to complete a four year course of study was not due to insufficient intelligence or poor memory but was the result of a lack of focus. The object of my focus and I will celebrate fifty years of marriage this year. Looking back, it was time well spent.
This year I could not remember the spacing for the potato onions. The protective wire cage is inverted to serve as a marking grid but how many rows and how many plants per row was information that simply could not be retrieved this year. This post will provide the lost information next year. A forty inch wide bed contains five rows of seed. Sixty inches from path to path accepted nine onions.
Multiplier onions is another name for potato onions. Each onion planted will grow into a clump of approximately six onions. We can expect to harvest at least two hundred seventy onions. This will supply next season's seed and satisfy our need for this food for a full year. A second similar planting was made for the shallots. We feel that the shallots possess a milder taste and that they are kinder on aging digestive systems.
My manner of dress requires an explanation. Recently a passing car began to stop while we were working on the flower bed near the road. Frightened by my appearance, they sped off. I am not a cult fanatic to be avoided at all costs. Decades of working on hands and knees while tending my plants has left me with sun damaged skin. The white hood and shirt by Solumbra effectively screen out harmful sun light. I find the clothing preferable to chemical sunscreens. Still, there is widespread concern about the mental viewpoints of one that would appear outside dressed like that. Many just drive quickly by.
The first picture does show several errant holes in the rigidly uniform spacing. They were made while trying to figure out the correct spacing. Unused for planting, they were simply brushed closed.
Friday, April 17, 2015
We had nice showers overnight. Ed has been watching the arbutus like a hawk. Surprise! We have fall formed flower buds now showing white. He is ecstatic. These plants are covered with many buds. The display should be stunning. I did check to see in the buds were releasing any scent. They were not. Just the sight of white blossom tips must have triggered the memory of a favorite scent since none is in the air yet.
Down in the driveway by the road, something interesting was going on overnight. I have heard all about crop circles, but these were new to me. I am familiar with worms. I used to be famous for going out at night with a flashlight in my bare feet to pick up fishing worms for Daddy. I'm sure Mrs. Robin will make short work of these. She has babies to feed!
Ed planted peas today. There is no surprise there. He does it every spring. Ignore the twine in the foreground of this picture. I did not notice it, but I like this picture because it shows where in the garden the peas are planted for 2015. Ed will use the twine before he comes in for the day to surround this planting with its wire cage. When the critters come around during the night, they will leave us their surprises elsewhere.
Thursday, April 16, 2015
Now the spring flowers are coming fast. Usually I watch these Giant Glory of the Snow come up surrounded by white. Frost in the morning gives way to temperatures in the high sixties.
My Dutch iris are beautiful, but are usually past before the crocuses bloom.
The snow drops have more competition for pollinators. The peepers are peeping. The birds are singing. All of a sudden there are beds to clean, plants to trim, weeds to pull, seeds to plant
and the grass is beginning to grow. I found a fresh robin's egg shell in the flower bed down by the road. New life is quickly emerging everywhere. After all that waiting, we are suddenly falling behind. I'm a little sore and tired, but I'm as twitterpated as the birds. The fresh air and sunshine is exhilarating. Only the stench from the fields of fermented cow manure dampens my spirits and that's just until the wind changes or it is plowed under.
Monday, April 13, 2015
Ed's special stone collection on top of the curved stone wall has finally emerged from its blanket of snow.
Stones may get second billing in the title of the blog, but they hold fascination for all of us.
When Amy was here she took these amazing photographs. While not quite the same as being able to pick them up and feel the texture, her pictures are so detailed it is very close.
It would be hard to choose which stone to fondle here. The gray and white one looks so smooth! I have a thing for purple, but those holes in the brown one are irresistible
There are so many. They are all so different, so captivating if you have a fondness for stones.
I think if you could resist this beautiful fossil then you must be immune to the attraction of interesting stones.
Next winter when the snow covers Ed's stones again. We can look at them here and remember how they feel in our hand or our pocket.
For Ed, the allure of these stones is how they came to be here. Our valley is so ordinary that it does not attract scientific study. Erosion of an ancient mountain range to our east poured massive fine muddy deposits into the inland sea that covered this region. Thick layers of shale formed to cover this part of the state. These native rocks are dull gray with occasional marine fossils. Glaciers and their melt water cut valleys in the shale plain and left behind exotic stones from exciting geological regions to our north. Limestone formed in deeper parts of the sea is sometimes found in our gravel bank. Coral fossils are rare here but have been found. Near volcanic stones formed in the Adirondack Mountains are also among the stones on our wall. Tumbling in glacial melt water for those distances made these stones smooth and small. Not impressive in size, they are still items of interest here.
Sunday, April 12, 2015
Today was promised to be clear and warm with temperatures climbing into the mid fifties F. Overnight was clear and cold. We found heavy frost and frozen ground early on. A group of turkeys working across our mowed field surprised us. Previously we had seen only a single bird that appeared to be suffering as a possible result of the deep and lasting snow cover. These seven birds were doing what turkeys do at this time of year.
Two of the males were in constant display for the several minutes that it took for the group to cross in front of us. Fanned tail feathers, foot drumming and stiffened body feathers must require a great expenditure of energy over an unbelievably long period of time. The top of the males featherless head appears swollen and bright blue. His snood hangs down over his beak and is red. A careful look at the first picture will find both of these bright colors.
Birds have made a number of adaptations in order to make flight possible. Their sexual parts shrink and remain dormant for most of the year. Extended courtship rituals are necessary to wake up the sleeping bits and get them ready to function. Unlike many mammals, male turkeys are usually devoid of seed. They need time to prepare for mating. While these two males were shaking their tail feathers, the girls were simply feeding apparently ignoring the show around them. Actually their parts were also waking up but the girls need tremendous amounts of nourishment in order to fuel the huge egg output that is soon to follow. We were amazed at how quickly this breeding behavior followed the melting of the snow.
A group of deer were also heading toward the rising sun. The presence of the deer was closely watched by the hen turkeys but it caused them no alarm. The deer mated last fall and are now feeding heavily to support their growing fawns.
Becky thought that she saw tree swallows flying about. That meant that it was time for me to clean out the nest boxes. Despite the continuing presence of snow, this bird has already claimed her home. I could have disturbed her and cleaned out the old nest but decided to leave her alone. There is plenty of room for her to build a new nest on top of the old nest.
The lower grass nest was started by bluebirds. Our early drought last year interrupted their food supply. They left our area in search of a better place to rear their young. Wrens built their stick nest above the abandoned bluebird nest. How those small birds cut and move all of those comparatively large sticks remains a puzzle. It must be quite a chore to work the sticks through the hole in the nest box.
When I first found the beady tan fluff in a nest box, I thought that it was insulation pulled from the walls of our old beat camper. Soaked with a winters worth of mouse urine, it did not invite close inspection. We have since determined that milkweed parachutes are the actual source of the material. The mice may eat the milkweed seeds before rolling up the parachutes for bedding. Here again the effort expended to move all of that material up the post supporting the nest box is impressive.
The day was every bit as pleasant as forecast. All but one of the nest boxes are ready for new tenants. We go to bed tonight tired, a little sore and happy. Garden cleanup continues and spinach will be planted tomorrow weather permitting.
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Nearly all of the snow is now gone from the garden. Outside air temperature of 40 degrees F and a forecast for rain opened a narrow window for early cleanup. This planting of young day lilies seemed like a good place to start. Many of the different varieties have already pushed green growth above ground. We have read that it is sound practice to pull the bark mulch clear of the plant crowns at this time of year to lessen the likelihood of leaf fungus later. Dead leaves pull clear as do the cut remains of last year's flower stalks. Indian Giver, I hate that name, was the winner with eleven flower stalk stubs. One of the many catalogs delivered here listed this variety at $50. That of course is an exaggeration since common thinking among merchants requires that the price end with ninety-nine cents. A new shoot appeared away from the central crown so we should soon have another of this beautiful plant.
Rain came and ended my outdoor fun. The many returning birds seemed quite unaware of the light rain grading to mist. Flocks of geese have separated and now we see pairs flying overhead. Slate gray Juncos are finding much that pleases them in the driveway. My trip to the mailbox sent up a group as I neared the road. I disturbed them again at the top of the hill on my return trip. A truly nasty weed grows in the gravel drive and it seeds profusely. Perhaps the birds are feeding on those hated weed seeds.
The good news is that time spent kneeling today caused no knee pain. Soreness in the thigh muscles is another matter entirely. Today was wonderfully pleasant but I do miss my youthful body.
Monday, April 6, 2015
We had white Easter morning here at the Stone Wall Garden.
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. Wait I've got the wrong holiday! This morning was the closest thing to sunshine we had today. At times the snow came down hard. The lawn retained warmth sufficient to quickly melt its new white cover while the pines held their white dusting. It was beautiful to look at but we remained indoors all day.
For the past several years we have potted up several Easter lily bulbs late in the fall. Buried to their rims, they had a cold period that ended at New Year's day. Then they were moved to the basement for a bit of warmth. When growth appeared, the pots were moved upstairs and placed in a sunny window. It was a game to see how close to Easter Sunday our flowers appeared. Last year our bulbs tired of growing so far removed from their native zone 9 temperatures produced no flowers. Even so the bulbs were planted out. Now we have lily leaves pushing out of the ground much too early. It would have been kinder if these old bulbs had been composted. We really need new stock. Perhaps we will hit the after holiday sale offerings today. White flowers would be a nice change from snow!
Thursday, April 2, 2015
This morning the temperature started out in the twenties, but it's April now, and with the sun shining by this afternoon it was glorious outside. Enough snow had melted for Ed to put his new lettuce plants out on the wall for a little fresh air and sunshine. He took his tools and headed down to work on the muddy driveway.
I got the camera and went to take a walk exploring today's newly uncovered patches. My spirits really got a lift when I spotted a wooley bear caterpillar. I've seen one or two very frozen looking ones before this spring, but this caterpillar was alive and moving. I gently picked him up and he curled up into a ball in my hand. It might have been awake for a very short time. Perhaps I should have let him be, but I couldn't resist. After all these years, I'm still just a big kid. The other great thing in this picture is the green grass. Once uncovered and heated by the sun the brown thatch is giving way to new growth. At last there is something green for the deer to eat besides my garden plants.
As I walked by the stone patio, I picked up this uprooted, dried out and dead thyme plant. Apparently the deer don't eat the roots, they spit them out and leave them for me. Once I had future compost in my hand it was inevitable that I headed to the basement to get my trug and garden cart. The rattle of its wheels was music to my ears and I only had to cross a short patch of snow to get to where I could work on the bed in front of the house. Mostly I cut back dead seed heads and stalks of New England asters, Black-eyed Susans and Brown-eyed Susans, Rudebeckia triloba. I picked up a lot of black locust seed pods. They are everywhere this year. It's too soon to do much in the garden beds when it is still so wet. I kept my cart on the stones and worked only where I could easily reach.
I wasn't going to pull weeds. It is really too soon. I don't like it when they break off leaving the root behind, but a pernicious garlic mustard was too much for me and I gave it a good yank!
What could give a gardener more satisfaction than pulling a hated weed and getting all of that incredibly long tap root? Oh my, that felt good! I didn't stay out too long. One container of weeds to compost was a great beginning. Like Ed's lettuce I had my time in the garden to enjoy the sunshine and the fresh air. We don't want any sunburn and I have hope for tomorrow without sore muscles!