Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Thyme For Hard Frost

Jack Frost was back this morning and this time his icy breath was a killer!  When I first awoke and looked out the window the world outside was white.  It was still dark, so I snuggled back under the covers but I knew what would be waiting in the garden when it was daylight.  The frosted thyme on the patio at the west end of the house resembled silver edge thyme.  It looked quite beautiful.

Red creeping thyme was originally planted here.  Thyme that grows wild has mixed with it and I have given up trying to weed thyme from the thyme.  Both plants are extremely tough and went right back to green when the frost was gone.

At first glance the basil planted right outside my kitchen door doesn't look so bad.  It has the same silver edges as the thyme.  A closer look shows more.   Basil is tender and with the temperature below freezing,  Jack's icy frozen breath was the kiss of death!

When the sun hit this plant the frosted cells in the leaves exploded and turned to slime.  It was great to have fresh basil this late, but it's all over now.  Only the clean-up remains.

A close look at this Grandpa Ott morning glory leaf shows Jack's icy breath on the entire leaf.  It's location on top of the porch railing did not protect it.

This plant looks a little better than the basil, but it is just as dead.  Next year basil will be back because we will plant it.   Grandpa Ott seeds unfazed by the cold will return when the ground warms.   I still love a four season garden.  You need and end to have that wonderful new beginning!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Garlic To Ground Yet Again

Growing garlic has been a passion here for at least two decades.  Problems go hand in hand with this plant.  Age has impacted our ability to eat nearly raw garlic.  We recently tried garlic bread with the last batch of pesto.  That meal tasted great but discomfort quickly followed.  It was expected and we will likely try them again.

Garlic disease is the other problem.  It took us entirely too long to realize that sick plants poisoned the soil.  This year our garlic will be planted in nearly new soil.  The first crop in this new ground was potatoes.  Generous soil amendments were stirred in to get this ground ready for garlic.  Two sections of wire fence were used to mark off uniformly spaced planting holes.  One section of fence was rotated ninety degrees creating a graph paper accurate grid.  The fence sections were left covering the ground to keep the turkeys from stirring the new dirt.

We have been planting peeled cloves recently to avoid placing disease in our new ground.  We use Daphne's method and it is working.  Several of our six varieties showed no clove rot when peeled.  This is a major improvement.

Four of these cloves show the beginnings of a rot that can wipe out a planting across several years.  The other clove has something that we rarely see but it looks horrid.  The standard practice when popping cloves for planting is to feel the bulb checking for firmness.  Only solid bulbs provide the cloves to be planted.  None of the pictured rot would have been found using the light squeeze method.  All of these cloves might have been planted and their illness would have been transferred to the soil.  We plant only clean cloves but some problems do appear when the plants are growing.  Early removal of sickly plants is a wise course of action.

One hundred twenty cloves were planted this morning.  Sixty more will follow this afternoon.  That leaves ninety more for another day.  Here is a list of the six different varieties that we plant.  Five of these are porcelains since that variety stubbornly grows in our late summer wetness.  All of our stock was locally found.

White Bishop has been with us the longest.  We assigned the name to recognize the local legend that grows and sells this variety.  Charlie Bishop has yet to reveal his original source of this variety so we frequently return to his roadside stand to renew our stock.  Nearly half of last year's crop failed despite the fact that we planted only peeled cloves.  We will look carefully at the rest to see if any can be planted this year.

Richfield Springs is another name created here.  When a new roadside stand appeared, we purchased quantities of this garlic.  Her first season's garlic had been planted on ground that had previously been used to feed young cows.  Their leavings ran deep and dark and the garlic grown there was enormous.  Unfortunately disease appeared in subsequent crops and our planted stock carried the disease.  Using the soak and peel method has completely cleared this variety of disease.

Susquehanna White is a name created by its grower.  A roadside sign advertised his organic vegetables.  His location was the best that I have ever seen.  A glacial mound provided a site for his home that was above the highway providing quiet and privacy.  Behind the house the ground slowly fell away creating a gently sloped garden site that faced south.  At the base of the slope a greenhouse was installed on level ground.  The mainline of the former D & H railroad ran nearby.  The river is on the far side of the railroad tracks.  His garlic was healthy but small.  We have worked with his stock for several years and the last harvest was impressive.

Helen's is the name given for this recent gift from a now departed special person.  During her later years she made a tremendous positive impact on our lives.  This garlic serves to remind us of Helen frequently.  It is also the best variety that we grow.  Forty-seven bulbs were harvested from the fifty that we planted.  We found absolutely no sign of rot when these cloves were prepared for planting.  Helen was going to search out the source of her garlic for us but she was not given enough time for that unimportant task.  For us her name on this variety is perfect.

Lamb's Quarters is the name of a local family farm that raises and sells lamb meat.  They also sell garlic at the Farmer's Market.  Her story is that her father in law brought this garlic with him when he emigrated here from Poland.  It is an oft told story that just might be true.  In any event this variety features bulbs consisting of just four cloves.  The bulbs are not impressive but the four cloves are.  It is very easy to remove just four cloves from the bulb.

Guilford Purple Stripe identifies both town of origin and the type of this garlic.  It has a growth habit that is visually different from our main crop porcelains.  We use it to separate the plantings of the different porcelains.  This purple stripe displays attractively colored bulbs that contain brown skinned cloves.  The only drawback is its tendency to form huge double or triple cloves.  These are a nightmare to plant but are easy to use in the kitchen.

Daphne's Garlic Solution;
First before they are peeled I make up a solution of one quart of water and one teaspoon of baking soda. The night before I drop in all the good cloves I sorted out. The next morning I take them out and peel the skin off. The solution makes the skins much easier to peel in addition to helping to disinfect the cloves. When the cloves are peeled, I usually find a few cloves that are bad, but I couldn't see because of the skin. Once they are peeled, rinse them. Then put them in alcohol for three minutes. I use vodka which is 80 proof, but many use a higher proof. I don't happen to have anything higher in the house and 80 has worked for me. Once the three minutes is up then rinse them off again. Now the cloves are ready to plant.

Planting in October is an unusual experience.  Most food crops are started following winter.  We know that the bitter cold and snow will soon be ours but we also know that next season's garlic has already been planted.  Planting food now just feels great.

October 18th saw the last of the garlic planted. Three varieties, White Bishop, Lamb's Quarters and Guilford Purple Stripe, were soaked and peeled today.  There was not a single clove with the dreaded brown rot among the ninety prepared for planting.  Nearly one half of the White Bishop planting was lost to decay but none of the survivors displayed any signs of rot.  That suggests that the source of the problem was in the ground not the seed.  Of the four planting beds in the garden near the woods, the north eastern bed will never see garlic again.  Three years ago it did grow garlic and the rot from that crop must have persisted in the soil despite the years with other crops grown there.  Another area of pasture grass will be cleared for potatoes next spring.  That ground will see garlic that fall.  Two more areas await their turn to become garden beds.  That will give us four consecutive years of planting garlic where it has never grown before.  This year all of the seed planted was clean.  Susquehanna White had perhaps six cloves with small spots of rot.  Richfield Springs had the single disgusting clove.  We shall see what the next harvest brings.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Late Bloomers Are A Joy

It is so very nice to have a few late bloomers in the garden.  In October Autumn begins to wind down and most of the garden has gone to seed.  It is a real delight to still have something getting ready to bloom!

I have had this Sedum sieboldi for many years. I bought it on my one and only trip to Caprilands.  Small pink flowers with bright pink pollen have a subtle but pleasing aroma. Now that so few blooms are around they get to be the center of attention.

Treats for the bumblebees are down to a precious few.  It's easy to get their picture.  They are so intent on the fact that they have discovered pollen and nectar they don't care how close you get with the camera.   The Gallardias are also buzzing, but today I have a strong preference for pink.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Evergreen Puzzle

Do not let the yellowish cast of this all important White Pine tree alarm you.  This is the time of year when these trees renew themselves.  Some of the old needles have turned yellow in the process that will end with them falling to the ground.  Their vacated place will quickly be filled with bright new green needles.  This transformation continues in an orderly fashion with the tree always appearing mostly green.

Trailing Arbutus plants require a highly acidic soil if they are to grow.  Rotting fallen pine needles form such a soil.  We are working to keep the area near the arbutus free of nasty blackberry bushes and an evil creeping thorn bearing vine.  The thick covering of recently fallen pine needles may help our efforts in time.  My stone walls are built with two separate inward sloping faces.  That creates a low area down the center of the top of the wall which is now filled with brown needles.  That makes a slippery place  to sit and you could get pine sap on your pants but some think that it looks sharp.

Arbutus is also an evergreen plant but I have never seen it cast off old brown leaves.  These prized plants are under nearly constant surveillance and we look without success for old fallen leaves.  It seems unlikely that these leaves are several years old.  So far the method of leaf replacement for these plants remains their secret.

Every now and then we remove the wire cage that denies rabbits a meal from our plants while we examine closely the plants.  The thickness of the layer of fallen needles concerns me.  Arbutus plants prefer to grow in shady locations but it seems to me that some light is necessary for the plants to carry out life functions.  My inclination is to hand pick the needles from the arbutus.  Trusted naturalist Jane has talked of finding arbutus in flower guided only by the flowers' scent.  A layer of fallen tree leaves had totally obscured the arbutus from sight.  Life function seemed to continue despite the covering but I am certain that once the pine needles have all fallen, I will clear them away from the tops of the arbutus.  Being a parent is a difficult never ending job.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Nightly Valley Fog

This is the season for warm summer like days and chilly nights.  Having to turn on both the air conditioner and the heat in the same day does happen on occasion now but the fog that forms most nights is the subject under consideration.  For those of us that live in the valleys, the fog is at best a nuisance.  School aged children standing roadside waiting for their school bus while surrounded by fog is not the best way to start their day.  Those of us with fewer demands on our time wait for the fog to burn off before venturing out.  Others that live along the summit of a ridge are able to begin each day looking out at great natural beauty.

These pictures were taken from the crest of a ridge that forces the Susquehanna River to flow in a westward direction.  The small notch in the ridge across the valley marks the location of the Unadilla River as it approaches its confluence with the Susquehanna.  All of the visible land features seen here were created by the last glacier that first buried and then exposed all of this ground.

Geologically speaking, this is a rather dull area.  We have none of the shale lined gorges nor towering waterfalls that are so common just to our west in the Finger Lakes region.  Our two rivers are basically flat water.  Small waterfalls do exist in limited numbers on some of the streams feeding into our rivers.  The New York State Geologic Society holds a several days long exploration of areas within the state each year but has never ventured here.  Still, this is home and we consider it special.

These views of the fog filled valleys allow me to imagine how this area might have looked as the last glacier was melting.  The surface of the fog is pure without blemish while the decaying top of the glacier would be littered with mud, rocks and dead vegetation.  Of course the glacier ended all of the trees so the ridge surface would appear barren and worn.  How this land came to be in its present form is complex beyond imagination but invites one to take a long second look.

In this picture the sun has climbed higher into the sky and the fog is nearly gone.  Sidney, New York was established here near where the two rivers meet. Our homestead is located in or near the most distant band of fog that is wrapped around the end of a bedrock ridge.  We tend to forget that most or the ridges in this area run east to west since we border a south flowing river. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Missed By Frost, Kissed By Frost

Jack Frost can be pretty sneaky around here in the fall.  Last night there were no frost warnings issued.  When we stepped out the door this morning it was warm enough that frost seemed impossible.  This afternoon though, a walk around the garden made it obvious that  sometime during the night we had a cold icy visitor.  Nasturtiums find Jack's  breath to be the kiss of death, but these yellow nasturtiums inside the four stone walls look fine. They were missed by the frost.

These nasturtiums not too far away in one of the garden beds were lightly kissed by frost.  They took it hard.  It is October and time to say goodbye!

Basil hates frost. In fact it doesn't even like to be cool.  The basil between two of Ed's stone paths and  close to the front of our white house looks fine.  Clearly it was missed by the frost.

The basil in the garden was hit by the frost.  It was not enough to kill the entire plant outright, but these plants had a near death experience.  The compost is the perfect place for them now!  We hate cleaning up totally dead slimy basil but pulling these plants that are still holding their dead leaves won't be so bad.

This unusual self planted gourd plant is growing perhaps 18 inches above the ground on an old compost pile.   It was missed by the frost.

The gourd vine that got missed by the frost shows at the upper left of this picture.  The vine growing at ground level got kissed pretty hard by the frost.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, compost to compost.  This plant has a very short trip to its final resting place!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Fallen Leaves

Something for free has always appealed to me as long as I can quickly make good use of it.  Quaint old villages around here feature massive trees lining the streets and holding locations near houses.  Cleaning up the dropped leaves is a standard practice at this time of year but few see them as treasure.  Piling bags of leaves around the skirting of mobile homes to keep out winter's cold is a common activity here.  Some old stone house foundations receive a similar treatment.  There is some competition to be the first to find bags of leaves curbside.  They are free for the taking since that diminishes the work for the village crew.  I filled the pickup with bags of leaves and drove home happy!

Having done this for awhile, the best locations for clean leaves or leaves that are vacuumed up by lawn mowers are known to me.  Prechopped leaves are the best, but clean whole leaves get two runs by my mower.  We have found several advantages to placing leaves on our garden soil.  The people that just raked these leaves from their lawns might not understand why I dump them out on my lawn.

These Cardinal Flower plants from seed were moved to their permanent location in our new woodland garden several weeks ago.  Here the ground leaves serve three important functions.  Cardinal Flower plants grow in moist locations in the wild.  Their soil here will remain moist under a cover of leaves.  As the leaves decay the soil under them will become more like natural forest ground.  The leaf cover will also discourage weeds.  The desired plant in the foreground has a weed growing right next to its crown.  Several attempts to remove it have been made but the tangle of white Cardinal Flower roots has tightly held the weed crown.  This battle is expected to go on forever but fight the weed we will.  These three plant were growing so close together when dug that we felt separating them might be fatal.  Now they simply look crowded but nothing can be done about that until spring.  Fall divisions of Cardinal Flower are seldom successful.

At the end of last week this was our tomato bed.  The poles, weeds, straw mulch and fallen tomatoes have all be removed.  The trench between the field grasses and the bed has been dug again and filled with ground bark mulch.  A top dressing of lime followed by a mixture of long aged compost, purchased composted cow manure and peat moss was mixed into the soil.  A layer of new leaves that just had two trips under the mower completed the preparation of this ground.  The wire fence sections that usually are placed to keep the deer out will be placed on top of the leaves to hold them in place.  When winter ends this bed will emerge nearly ready for its next crop.  That is something to look forward to.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Metamorphosis Is Not Easy

It was just ten days ago when I chose the Monarch Butterflies over green beans.  Today was sunny and hot.  There was no doubt that a butterfly was inside this chrysalis this morning.  I found this quite exciting.  Not every Monarch makes it this far.  When I checked back just before lunchtime the butterfly was gone and the chrysalis was empty.  I saw no sign of an orange and black butterfly anywhere near the green beans. That is probably great news for this butterfly.  Ed did point out another green chrysalis on one of the bean plants so the saga continues.

In another part of the garden I passed by two newly hatched Monarchs on the white asters.  They surely are bright and beautiful when they are newly hatched.

 Sometime later when I returned, one of the Monarchs was gone.  The butterfly that remained had a fold on the edge of her right upper wing.  Her left wing did not pump up properly.  It is good to remember that not all eggs get to hatch, not all caterpillars get to be butterflies and not all Monarchs get to migrate. 

There are still some beautiful flowers in the garden. This pink phlox is fragrant and lovely.  The really big excitement for today in the garden came when Ed called my attention to a black butterfly that was cruising around the garden.  I was the lucky one because I was wishing to get a better look to identify the butterfly and it flew over and sat for perhaps ten seconds with its wings open on a flower right in front of me.  It was a black and blue butterfly.  I know that doesn't sound very pretty, but the upper wings of the butterfly were black and the lower ones were bright blue when they caught the sunlight.  When I came inside and checked my butterfly book I was almost certain that this was a Pipevine Swallowtail.  Most of the blue butterflies around here are tiny.  I love to see them but this butterfly was the size of a Monarch or perhaps even a bit bigger.  I was totally captivated.  Now I will be looking for a place to get a native Pipevine.  Yes it is true that we are just north of  the Pipevine swallowtail's range but I saw one and I want more.  I will dream tonight of big beautiful black and blue butterflies in next years garden. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

September Splendor

We have been having warm sunny days and walking around outside in the garden has been truly splendid!   For someone who has purposely loaded the garden with nectar plants preferred by butterflies and their caterpillars these are the best of times.  Most of the time butterflies take off when you walk by or even if your shadow passes over them.  Just one click of the camera  usually sends them off.  Sometimes they speed past directly in front of you.   The beautiful creature you see here is a Painted Lady butterfly, Cynthia Vanessa.  I have seen painted ladies here before, but never so many as this year.  Several years ago it was Red Admirals that were so plentiful.  Their caterpillars practically ate all the stinging nettles to the ground!

This Painted lady is enjoying the October Skies asters in front of the house.  All of the asters are having a magnificent year and these purple beauties are one of my favorites!

Many of the blooms on my butterfly bush have gone past, but the ones that are still blooming are fragrant and welcoming.  There are four Painted Ladies in this photo.   Each one sits on a plume of pink flowers except for the one that is flying and I think just about to land.

This amazing clump of  Malva sylvestris is in the same bed as the butterfly bush.  I am lot more accepting of the holes in their leaves now that I know mallows are a favorite food of painted lady caterpillars.  We still see some Monarchs, Sulfurs and others, but this year the Painted Ladies have made for a splendid September!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Garlic Bed Awaits

This is our garden near the back woods.  We looked here for new ground that had not been contaminated by several years of trying to grow diseased garlic.  Slow to learn, our first crop here was garlic from our old stock.  That poisoned the far bed that now supports strawberry plants.  We will never plant garlic in that area again and the soil borne disease seems to have stayed put.  This year our seed garlic will be planted in the near bed.  It was newly opened this spring.  Potatoes were the first crop planted here and they provided us with a substantial harvest.

Twelve five gallon pails of soil amendment and a sprinkling of lime were added to this ground.  Our mix contains our own compost that never contained garlic, Black Kow dehydrated manure and peat moss.  This soil is vastly different from what we have near the house.  Here stones are relatively few in number and this ground contains a great deal of clay.  The clay retains moisture helping the plants survive rainless periods but it bakes nearly as solid as bricks.  We will try to add soil building  amendments that will loosen this ground.   The relative lack of stones has prevented the completion of stone paths between the planting beds.  Reground tree bark mulch covers the path separating the two halves of this garden.  Anything organic fills the path between two beds.

Our major hurdle remains clearing the ground of quack grass and preventing its reentry.  Repeated applications of dried grass clippings encourages the quack grass root system to move out of the ground and into the rotting grass clippings.  Rolling large clumps free of the soil requires persistence but the weed is nearly completely removed.  Followup removal of missed roots eventually clears the ground of this pest.

These four planting beds have been cleared of weeds and three of them covered with leaves collected last year.  Some of the leaves have experienced a trip through the lawn mower while others await their turn.  The chopped leaves decay much faster than the whole leaves and are far less likely to be wind blown about.  Despite this effort, some of our treasure of millions of weed seeds will find an opportunity to grow alongside of the desired crops that we plant.  We would prefer that our garden remain weed free but all that we manage is to give our desired plants a head start.  Some hand weeding is timely completed thereby feeding the compost pile.  We are certain that this is a never ending task.

This bark mulch moat is intended to keep the quack grass from reentering the planting beds.  Both the cardboard base and the bark chips will rot but removing the weeds is rather easily done.  We previously tried landscape fabric but the weed roots firmly anchored themselves in the fabric.  The tops of the weeds could be pulled free with great difficulty but the remaining roots quickly sent up new growth and completed their steady march into the planting beds.  This modified system will likely work better.  We need to take this system around the corner and to the far edge of the new garlic bed.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Potato Planting Time

This is not the generally accepted time of the year to plant potatoes.  Here, mid May is generally accepted as appropriate potato planting time.  Anyone that has grown potatoes has experienced last year's missed spuds growing as weeds in the following year's crop.  It just seemed obvious to me that fall planting was possible.  Others have tried this without success.  My reasoning was that those selected for seed should remain in the soil.  I usually have the dishpan filled with soil ready for the seed as soon as it is found.  That is not being done here as I was confused when these were dug.  They have been out of the ground little more than two hours but there is nothing that can be done about that now.  So, I plant, record and hope.

Summer squash grew in this bed earlier this year.  Leaf mulch was used to control weed growth and the ground remained mostly free of unwanted plants.  Two rows containing twelve seed potatoes each were planted in the 12 ft. X 5 ft. planting area.  Red Pontiac's finished off this planting.  As a mid season red potato, they are impressive.  A search was required to find the size preferred for planting.  Most were too large to plant without cutting.

The coarse leaf mulch that spent the summer under the squash was forced through a wire screen sieve with a 1 in. X 1 in. hole size.  This smaller size will help keep the mulch in place over the winter with no plant growth above it.  Also, the leaves will largely rot away by spring.

We have planted six each of the four varieties Red Pontiac, Rio Grande, Genessee and Purple Viking. That will give us a red skinned white flesh potato, a russet of impressive size, a tan skinned white potato and a psychedelic patterned red and purple skinned white potato.  Only the Purple Viking is in its third year here.  It tends to throw lunkers so finding suitably sized seed is difficult.  This variety may well be in its last year with us.  We are reluctant to keep planting our own seed thereby risking blight that caused the Irish Potato Famine.

Sunday, September 17, 2017


There are numerous signs that the season is about to change.  Fallen leaves from the wild cherry trees that line our lane are among the earliest signals.  Now lawn maple trees are coating the green with the brown of dropped leaves.  A more pleasant sign is the flowers of the asters.  Purple ray flowers with golden centers make the New England Aster a personal favorite.  It is a common roadside weed here but that fact did not prevent me from bringing it into the gardens.  Wild specimens are frequently limited to a single stalk or two but given care and fertile ground, monsters follow.

A perfect natural color combination places Goldenrod and New England Asters together.  In this instance both are growing as weeds that have taken over a planting bed.  These are slated for removal soon as we try to take back tended ground.

  This is a natural color mutation in the New England Aster.  These line the roadside ditches on the route we drive several times each week.  We were tempted to steal a plant or two but that goes against our standards of behavior.  After a long wait, one of these plants simply appeared here.  Patience and divisions have increased our holdings to five substantial clumps.

The proper name of this wild plant is not known to us.  It grows in several different locations here.  Placed along the edge of an abandoned pasture in full sunlight, this plant towers over me.  Located in the nearly full shade alongside of the lane severely limits the size of this plant.  If we gather together the various asters that grow here we can expect runaway growth.  As problems go that is not a bad one to have.

 This light blue variety's name eludes us.  It also grows at the edge of our shady lane.

This photo clearly shows the down side of having goldenrod and asters planted together.  Goldenrod simply overruns an area quickly becoming the only plant growing there.  One season of repeated mowing eliminated the goldenrod.  There are places where it grows in the gardens that makes digging it out without damaging the desired plants impossible  We will try repeated total pruning to eliminate it there.  Here on the sloped ground adjacent to the fields it simply grows unchecked.

We found the air filled with bright new Monarch Butterflies today.  These did not display the behavior typical of migrating butterflies so we feel that they were recently formed here.  The goldenrod serves as their major food source since many of the other flowers are no longer in bloom.  For the benefit of the Monarchs,  we encourage milkweed growth and tolerate the invasive nature of the goldenrod.