Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Garlic To Ground

Mid October is the time to remember my Father's birthday and plant garlic.  The actual placement of the cloves into the ground is done on bent knees.  From this prayerful position, one can remember past pleasant moments and hope to be able to harvest yet another garlic crop come July. We are of an age where we no longer take future events for granted.

The planting holes have previously been punched using the wire fence pieces to establish a precise grid.  Since our ability to eat garlic has diminished, the distance between the rows has been increased by two inches.  Now we will have twenty-two rows rather than twenty seven.  Two hundred twenty garlic plants is still way more than we will use but garlic has been with us for decades.  At this point in my life the experience of planting next year's crop is more important than eating it.  This morning featured crisp cool air, bright sunshine and the promise of a tomorrow.

The smaller cloves on the left are a locally grown purple stripe variety.  Their growth habit is tall with widely spaced leaves.  They are used to mark the limits of the main crop.  Each bulb consists of eight cloves and doubles are common.  The larger cloves are a locally grown porcelain variety.  Here the number of cloves range from four to six.  Helen's is the name we assigned to this variety to remember Becky's dear friend Helen who is no longer with us.  This is our best variety since it remains free of rot spots that still linger in our other varieties.  Every clove peeled this morning was healthy.

These peeled skins resemble the remains of a shrimp meal.  Despite their overnight soak in baking soda and water, removing them is a hard job.  We carefully snip the top making sure to stay above the clove.  Loosening the outer skin requires carefully applied force since the clove must remain unmarked.  Sometimes a single layer of transparent skin remains on the clove.  It is both sticky and amazingly strong.  Once it is removed from the clove, it wants to remain attached to a finger.

Today is the second time we planted this year.  Two more days will finish the job.  The peeled cloves are given a brief vodka bath.  This method of preparing the cloves for planting has almost completely eliminated the nasty rot.  We also plant in new ground each year trying to avoid soil borne disease.  Space for two more new beds remain but then we will be forced to plant in ground that has previously grown garlic.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Patchy Frost

We were promised patchy frost for this morning.  When I checked outside there was frost on the car, frost on the porch railing and frost on the shed roof.  It was early and chilly.  I was cold and crawled back in bed for awhile.  Later after the sun had a chance to melt the frost,  I got the camera and took some pictures that show what patchy frost does at least here in our garden.  Being a tropical plant the basil turned black, gross and slimy, but the peppers came through unscathed.

The upper part of the Heliotrope got burned by the frost.  The flowers turned brown and the leaves dark, but down next to the stone path the leaves remain green.  The purple flowers still have their cherry pie aroma.

In another part of the garden these tropical Lemongrass plants are just fine.  October 13 is later than usual for our first frost.  This time Jack went easy on us.  He will be back very soon and perhaps snow will be with  him!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Two Late Monarchs, Part 3

Today was warm and when I saw the second chrysalis, I knew today was the day.  When I checked in the afternoon, this Monarch butterfly was nearly finished pumping up his wings.

This one is a male.  The black spots on his hind wings tell the tale.  It seems to me that the male Monarchs who migrate have a more narrow body and longer wings than those seen earlier in the season.  As far as I can tell he is a perfect specimen.  In the end my Too Late Butterflies turned out to be a pair.  Adious Amigos, we promise to have lots of fresh green milkweed waiting for the Monarchs that return in 2019!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Too Late Monarchs: Part Two

It was before September 25 when I started to watch this chrysalis hanging on Ed's Lime Green Daylily.  It is one of my Two Late Monarchs.  Now it is the end of the first week in October and it is still hanging out there.  We have not had a frost, but the weather has been wet and night temperatures have dropped out of the sixties.

The other of my Two Late Monarchs has spent the time in my kitchen where the temperatures never drop out of the sixties.  Even though this Monarch was still a caterpillar when I brought it in the house, it won the metamorphosis race with days to spare.  I knew as soon as the orange wings began to show and the shape of the chrysalis  began to change that a butterfly would emerge soon.

Here she is pumping up her wings.  To my delight the predicted rain held off and the temperature was predicted to stay in the sixties overnight.  It was great to watch this magical process so closely, but butterflies are meant to fly free.

I carried my Monarch out to the October Sky asters and set her free. 

When she began to flap her wings I left her there in the garden.  Just before dark Ed checked and found her on top of the October Sky asters.  We have since seen a newly emerged butterfly flitting past the windows as it moves from one clump of October Sky asters to the other plant. We would like to believe it is the one that spent days on the kitchen counter.  Now both the butterflies and the geese are now flying south so we expect this one to soon be gone.  There still remains one that we know of to emerge from its chrysalis. Flowers are becoming scare.  Even if it's too late to make it to Mexico, they will have their chance to fly and try!

Friday, October 5, 2018

Maidenhair Fern Finally Moved

Today was a glorious day to work outside.  Harvesting weeds has been our primary job of late and some of that work was done today.  During one trip up the drive a sizable pile of moss covered stones was spotted.  Two dump cart loads were brought close to yesterday's stone work.

When the tall stone was placed yesterday, it was rather obvious that a tall plant would be needed close by to hide the stone.  The plants should be what catches the eye and holds its attention.  Stones are intended to play only a supporting role.

Becky remained fond of her maidenhair ferns with their location in the shade garden at the top of the hill.  She made no secret about her desire to have some of this beautiful plant in the new shade garden.  No action followed since I had no idea of a suitable location for the treasured plants.  That tall stone resolved that problem.

The ferns do an impressive job of hiding the problem stone.  With the edge of the planting bed defined, the ferns should be fine here.  Given more space in view of their present size, these plants should grow together forming an attractive group.

Fallen tree leaves that had been run through the mower finished the job.  A partial bag of ground leaves remained unused after last spring's work was completed.  They add a look of long standing permanence to the newly planted transplants.  What is amazing is that both their existence and location was timely remembered.  Both the transplanted plants and the ones that remain in the old shade garden look better after the move!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Turned A Corner

Recently much of our time in the gardens has been spent removing weeds before their seed load was dropped on the planting beds.  That urgency has passed as most of the weeds seeds are now mature.  Additionally, heavy rain fell here overnight.  Garden soil that wet is best left alone.  So we turned to the shade garden down near the road.  Working from the hardwood bark mulch path, we were able to reach into the woods soil while doing no damage.

The last five stones at path's edge were placed today.  The moss covered stone near the tree trunk caught my eye some time ago.  It was nearly buried by the gravel fill that was used to bury the remains of the burned barn in the late 50's.  Moss stones appeal to me since they add a natural look to the woodland garden.  This stone was worked free of the fill and rolled into the trailer.  As luck would have it, the stone was easily rocked free and worked into the back edge of the dump cart.

The carefully tended lawn belongs to our neighbor.  We are trying to establish a garden that is worthy of space adjacent to their lawn.  Visible weeds show that we are still working on our part of the picture.  The path will continue on the narrow strip of ground between the tree trunks.  For now, we need to place the stones along the side of the path opposite today's work.

This is the view looking in the opposite direction.  The area opposite the bench has been partially planted with native woodland plants.  Moving in the opposite direction takes us out of the shaded canopy of the sumac trees.  Here we intend to plant asters and black-eyed Susans.  Both the jumble of rocks and the weeds show that this area still needs considerable work.  Another thick layer of grass clippings recently placed will make removal of the pasture grasses and their roots relatively easy if we get to it before snowfall.  Our time spent outside today was wonderful.  Any day that includes the safe placement of native stones is both pleasant and permanent.  These stones will stay where placed.  They have been carefully supported underneath so that any child walking on top of them will find solid footing.  In time in their new home, moss will spread giving these rocks the appearance of having been here for a long time.

Monday, October 1, 2018


Hazelnut bushes exist here because a naturalist friend recommended them to us. We planted them in 1998.   She advised us to allow the suckers to grow creating a bush rather than trying for a tree with a single trunk.  We followed her advice and now have the two bushes required for pollination.  Rock hard nuts and aged teeth do not seem like much of a match so no attempt is made to harvest these nuts.  They are finally doing well here and we do enjoy watching their natural cycle.

The fall appearing catkins appearing alongside of the mature fruit seem to be in contradiction.  Many plants form their flower buds in the fall then hold them over for spring function.  We will pay closer attention to the cycle of this bush.

The hull protecting each developing nut is nothing short of amazing.  This one has fallen from the tree, split open and still holds tightly to its fruit.

The largest chipmunk ever seen here claims ownership of this bounty.  The pile of discarded hull wrappers remains on the wall while the nuts have been secreted away.  Chipmunks tend to be sassy animals that are slow to flee from humans.  The monster claiming ownership of this wall will not be challenged.  It appears to be serious about protecting this wall and bush.

A Scene Worth Watching

 Amy and I were having a walk around the garden when Ed told us that butterflies were congregating on the October Sky asters in the bed down by the road.  What a wonderful thing is was to stand and watch beautiful Monarch butterflies dance in the sunshine. 

The large mound of bluish purple asters is amazing on its own, but today it was buzzing with bees and dotted with butterflies.


We spent some time trying to capture pictures of the butterflies.  When disturbed they would fly away, but never went far.

After a short while we stopped trying to capture the butterflies and just enjoyed watching them.  We wish them well on their trip south.  These beautiful butterflies are such a great example of Nature coming back against the odds.  To me they are a symbol of real hope!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Two Late Monarchs

Here we have two  late Monarch chrysalises.  This one is hanging from a leaf on Ed's Lime Frost Daylily.  This week the weather has been cool and we have had lots of rain.  As you can see this chrysalis is wet.  We are still seeing Monarch butterflies in the garden, but time is getting short because the flowers are almost gone.

 When I was out in the garden weeding on the last sunny day we had, I found a Monarch caterpillar curled up on the soil looking like it might be dead.  I carefully picked it up and laid it on a stone in the garden path to see if the warmth of the sun would make a difference. It did!  We decided to take it inside.  I found some nice green milkweed.  Most of the milkweed has gone to yellow.  Many plants have dropped their leaves.  Ed put in the two sticks.  The next day it was raining hard all day.  The caterpillar did not seem interested in eating.  He wanted to climb up and find a place to hang.  We did not see it attach, or shed its skin, but we did get to watch it wiggle and change losing its ridges and smoothing out from bottom to top.  AMAZING!  It will be interesting to see if we have too late Monarchs or two late Monarchs.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Undervalued Asters

In our area, asters fill the roadside ditches with beautiful flowers at this time of year.  So placed they are subjected to mowing by road crews.  This assault is taken in stride and those plants are presently in flower just on shorter stems.  The purple flowered plants are named New England Asters.  Purple is an admired color here so we have a wild ditch weed planted in the garden in front of the house.  Wild plants frequently have only a single stem but when placed in rich garden soil large clusters of stems follow.  These have held this ground for years and division would again be in order.  The question of where to plant the resulting divisions is one of the obstacles preventing responsible care of these plants.

One of the issues here is the height of the untended plants.  The long lower stems are now filled with dead leaves.  Without something shorter growing in front, the dead leaves are unsightly.  We did manage to prune the plant in the foreground.  Following the trim the plant looked ridiculous but it looks great now.  It would be sound planning to try and trim all of these plants early next summer.

This is a natural color mutation of a New England Aster.  For years I lusted after plants like this in the ditches next to the road to Norwich.  I was tempted to stop and dig one but that would have been a violation of the law.   Finally a single stemmed plant with this color flowers appeared on our land.  This cluster has been divided and we now have four plants just like this one.  Additional divisions need to be made but first new ground must be prepared for the resulting plants.  We are going to need a lot of new ground.

This plant grows alongside of the lane leading to the back acres.  Moving it has been considered but it remains where nature placed it.  If this plant's location was marked now, we could move it when new growth first appeared next spring.  It would be interesting to watch this wild plant respond to cultivation.  Perhaps next year will find this aster growing in an easier neighborhood.

This aster is growing among the pasture grass near the back woods.  The problem of separating the aster from the grasses has kept this plant growing in the wild.  There is no way that I will risk introducing more pernicious grasses into the gardens.  At the very least this plant would be required to spend a year or two in clear ground to make sure that all of the grass roots have been removed..

Our East Gate of the stone square has been temporarily closed by a Summer Sweet and a modified aster.  October Sky is the name of this aster variety.  Its natural tendency to grow tall has been replaced by an eagerness to grow wide.  A tiny mail order plant has given us three huge plants.  This one clearly needs to be divided again.

It seems that plants that are difficult to grow are prized while these easy to grow ones are largely passed by.  An aster garden is seen by many as one small step above cultivated dandelions.  Other's opinions have never shaped my actions and a larger aster garden is in the works.  These common weeds also serve a vital function now.  As the Monarch Butterflies are getting ready to fly south, few flowers remain to provide them with food at this critical time in their life cycle.  It pleases us to see butterflies feeding on our asters.

As September drew to a close, the wind shifted to coming from the north and the temperature dropped.  It appeared that the butterflies had begun their migration taking advantage of the air moving in the direction that they need to take.  Several factors impacted the Monarch population here this summer.  Sightings were common and that has not always been the case.  The number of butterflies on or near this aster is high.  They had to share the food with both yellow butterflies and bees.  Collisions were common resulting in short flights.  All quickly returned to the aster flowers to feed.   Our season has clearly changed and the number of Monarchs feeding on our plants made this day truly memorable.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Lemon Grass Ready To Move Indoors

Lemon Grass is a native plant in India.  Growing there in climate zone 9 or 10, it will reach four feet in height.  We have kept this plant alive in rather cold conditions for a number of years.  Winters are passed indoors where we heat heat the house to 68 degrees.  Two plants are placed on the landing midway up the stairs from the basement.  A mostly glass entry door provides the plants near it to enjoy generous amounts of sunshine.  The extra distance to the ceiling creates strong air currents which seem to benefit the plants.  The other two plants are placed on a work table directly in front of the three bedroom windows.  These plants have a rather tidy growing habit so they create little liter.  Each pot is placed in a plastic dishpan so that generous amounts of water can be given to the plants.

These plants grow to a size that makes placing them in three gallon pots difficult.  Our habit is to divide the monsters so that we always have reasonably sized plants to lug around.  We were late in getting to breaking apart the overwintered plants and their condition was poor.  Seven plants were set out in a garden bed in late June and we expected several of them to simply die.  All seven grew into impressively healthy specimens.  We only have room to bring four indoors so we must make an effort to harvest the remaining plants.  Fresh leaves are used to make tea but we do not dry any.  We have fresh leaves all winter long so why bother drying leaves?

Here the chosen four will make the transition to life in a pot.  The shade garden protects the new transplants from full sun.  Now we need to stay aware of coming weather so that these plants can be moved indoors ahead of the first frost.  We really do garden to some degree all year.  We need to be more aware of this wonderful experience and enjoy it to the fullest.

This plant came through last winter in excellent condition.  When the risk of frost had passed, this plant was removed from its pot and planted in the shade garden.  It has given us fresh leaves for tea all summer but its end is near.  Anyone with greenhouse space is welcome to provide this plant with a winter home. You will need a five gallon bucket and a strong back.  We do not deliver!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Potato Planting Time

Anyone that follows commonly accepted practices might think that I am a bit daft for planting potatoes now.  Everyone knows that potatoes are spring planted while there remains a chance of additional frosts.  Anyone that has grown potatoes knows that some of last year's crop was inadvertently left in the ground and freely grows in the middle of the current crop.  Those missed potatoes show that it is possible for potatoes left in the ground over winter to grow the following spring.  Not only do they grow but the timing of their emergence is perfect while those that I spring planted frequently face frost.

Others have tried to fall plant but their efforts failed to produce plants.  I reasoned that potatoes left in the ground will grow while harvested ones dropped into the collecting bucket frequently do not.  My habit is to have an old dishpan on hand while digging potatoes.  When a perfectly sized potato is encountered it is immediately placed in the dishpan and covered with soil.  Its time exposed to light and air is kept very short as it is quickly planted.

Not every potato planted this way grows.  The thirty-six that will be planted now are planned to be the only ones given ground here.  If they fail to grow, it will be too late to buy additional seed.  Supplies will have been exhausted by the time that we see the failed plantings.  That risk will be taken and we shall see just how much harvest follows next year.

Here are two of this year's crop.  The three russets are a new variety named Canela.  These display a uniformly sized harvest that is well suited to the fast food chain that offers baked potatoes for sale.  The skin is durable but our newly harvested ones split their skins while in the oven.  Wrapped in foil, there was no mess and their appearance on the plate was super.  We have never seen this before and expect that as the skin cures it will become stronger and remain intact.

Colorado Rose is the name of the four red skinned ones.  Since they were harvested just yesterday, we have yet to eat them this year.  That situation will soon change.

The vines on the La Ratte fingerlings remain green.  This presents a problem since our garlic will be planted in just one month where these potatoes are still growing.  We will give them some additional time but there must be enough days to complete soil preparation.  We plant our potatoes in new ground that spent the last several decades growing pasture grass.  Fertilizer increases the appearance of scab so we take the soil as it is.  Garlic relishes rich soil so we need enough time to work in the manure and compost.  Somehow planting at this time of year just feels right.  At the very least this ground has been cleared of weeds.  We try to clean up all of our garden ground before winter closes the gardens.

Captured By Beauty; Photos by Amy

There is nothing quite like a walk in the garden when the fog is just beginning to lift and the dew is on the spiderwebs.  It is especially nice if you have an eye for the beauty of nature like Amy does.   This is not a view of the Stonewall Garden that has been seen until now.  WOW!

Tiny droplets of dew on the bud and backside of this fragrant gladiola , Acidanthera bicolor,  with Ed's stonewall in the background, make a stunningly gorgeous picture.  The only thing missing is the heavenly fragrance that floats on the slightest breeze.

The Snapdragons may have gone to seed,  the Butterfly Bush's blooms may be winding down and the Edward's Fritillary butterfly may be slightly tattered, but beauty remains!

Small white cupped spider webs and bright red asparagus berries make a beautifully festive picture.  When the dew dries the webs will still be there, but invisible.  Their beauty will be hidden to those who walk along the garden path.

Back in the wild part of the garden, the little spider webs are too numerous to count. I wonder what kind of spider weaves these beautiful little nests.

One tiny green and lavender bud remains on this sharp prickly thistle.  I can't decide which is more beautiful,  the tiny little bit of color or the piercing texture of the rest of the plant.  It doesn't matter because Amy's photo captures both!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Butterflies Are Free

For years we have cultivated plants that attract butterflies.  This year we have been rewarded with Monarch sightings on a daily basis.  Now though, when the milkweed has gone to seed, it is the late nectar-producing flowers that lure butterflies into the garden.

Clara Curtis Chrysanthemums, Pink New England Asters and Brown-eyed Susans all provide food for butterflies.  I wanted to snap a picture a Milbert's Tortise Shell on the mums, but it was too fast for me. Yes there is orange in the upper left of this picture and it is some kind of butterfly, but it is not the shot I was hoping to get!!

Persistence pays!  I chased this butterfly from flower to flower and finally got a half-winged picture of that speedy Milbert's Tortoise Shell.  With the dry weather we have had, the leaves on the sunflowers make kind of an ugly background.  They are left there so that the soon-to-leave goldfinches and the newly arrived Black-capped Chickadees have sunflower seeds to eat.

With just a little cropping, I got my picture.  This butterfly is a real jewel!  It is the patch of stinging nettles relished by the caterpillars of this beauty that attract it to the garden.  Like us, this butterfly stays put when cold weather comes and may be seen in the garden on warm days long after the Monarchs have gone!  Butterflies in our garden are free  to come and go as they please.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Looking To Next Year

This is perhaps the busiest time of year in the gardens.  We race to pull the grassy weeds before they drop their seed load.  Vegetable beds must be cleared of weeds and dead plants in preparation for fall enrichment of the soil.  While we try to find a time of the day relatively free of stifling heat and humidity for our efforts, the plants are also at work preparing for next year.

Cardinal Flower reproduces by both seeds and daughter plants.  Up to six new plants appear at this time of year around the base of the soon to be dead stem.  These plants remain green all winter with or without snow cover.  The thin flowering stem is something that we have never seen before.  Plants similar to this one can be seen in several places throughout the garden.  They may be new plants from seed.  If so, they do not usually flower in their first year.  They more commonly grow only a rosette of low leaves in preparation for the coming winter.  This miniature plant is also displaying the sexual activity that precedes the formation of seeds.

One of the remaining mysteries about Cardinal Flower is how the large number of daughter plants that form under a cluster of enduring flowering plants survive.  Each browning stem in this photo identifies a single mature plant.  Each mature stem will try to produce up to six daughter plants for next year.  Overcrowding seems highly likely and we will leave this plant in place to see how it grows next year.  A plastic bucket will be used to protect these young plants from frost so that we can watch and perhaps learn more about this native treasure.

Pinxter is another native plant that seems to hide its business from our prying eyes.  This cluster of maturing seed pods will be closely watched every day now.  The brown object among the seed pods has already split open releasing its seeds.  We have read that each seed has fluff similar to milkweed at both ends of the seed.  We would like to see that and a controlled planting of these seeds should prove interesting.  It is likely that we have weeded out Pinxter seedlings every year simply because we did not know what they looked like.  I wonder just how many years are required for a Pinxter plant from seed to form flowers?

Pinxter is a plant that forms its flower buds ahead of the coming winter.  Several early flowering plants share this trait.  These buds are at great risk of becoming wildlife food during the harsh days of winter.  We will surround our plants with wire cages to deny the deer access to our plants.  It seems that many native plants cannot survive without human intervention now.

We have appeared to be gone from the face of the earth lately.  Our internet connection disappeared and the phone company had great difficulty both finding and repairing the problem.  We hope that their recent efforts prove durable.