Monday, March 19, 2018

Fresh Strawberries In 90 Days

In his essay titled Pepacton : A Summer Voyage, John Burroughs described his June float down a section of the East Branch of the Delaware River.  Since many of my younger days were spent in a boat drifting with the current on the Susquehanna or Unadilla Rivers, it seemed that he and I enjoyed a common experience.  Many times I read his words and connected them to my adventures. Two of his observations are easily recalled from memory.  One involves his boat silently floating toward two young women that were wading in the shallows unaware of his approach.  They needed to raise their skirts above the level of the water.  Burroughs' words described his delight with what he saw. 

He also described the aroma of ripe wild strawberries that drifted from the fields across the river.  He went ashore and filled his pail with tasty berries.  Having happened upon wild strawberries many times in my youth, the memory of the taste of a wild strawberry is easily recalled.  No king has ever tasted anything better than a wild strawberry warmed by the sunlight.

A recent trip to the grocery store included a display of fresh Florida strawberries.  They were perfectly shaped huge dark red berries.  No blemish could be found.  I was tempted to buy a container but did not when I recalled that these berries bred for shipment are nearly tasteless.  The berries that we grow continue to ripen after they are picked and must be quickly eaten or processed.  Their outstanding feature is flavor.

The fruit in the photo came from our freezer.  We both grow our own berries and visit a pick your own business.  In addition to eating freshly picked berries, we make freezer jam and freeze some sliced fruit.  Frozen fresh berries are a treat and we usually eat them only on special occasions.  Since this season's crop is close at hand, we now must eat this treasure on ordinary days.  We must empty the freezer ahead of the arrival of the new harvest.

The freezer jam will likely last until the new is made.  We recognize the truly special start to each new day that begins with our own strawberry jam spread on toast.  When we were younger much of our garden harvest went into the freezer.  We can no longer do all that was accomplished years ago but the frozen strawberries and jam remain.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Outside In Bright Sunlight

In the past I felt that February was the worst month of winter.  Cold and snow was usually with us for what seemed like an eternity and something else was needed.  This March has now been labeled as the worst month of this winter.  Early warm air drew the frost up out of the driveway.  Soft muddy gravel grabs the plow tip removing huge quantities of gravel along with the snow.  I cleared snow once under those conditions and the man with the big plow was called in once.  We both did damage to the driveway.  Recently the only choice seemed to be to leave the snow in place.  Repeatedly driving on snow firmly packs it leaving a slick but passable surface.  After my recent fall, walking down hill on slippery snow or ice is simply not going to happen.  The truck has been used twice a day on mail runs.  Since short trips are hard on a vehicle, each trip included a drive about of nearly ten miles.

These Mammoth Pink Chrysanthemums are just now peeking out from the new snow cover.  The stones used to control the drop in elevation are the first things to appear as the snow shrinks.  They capture warmth from the sunlight that strikes them and the nearby snow melts revealing plants and ground.  Located close to the south side of the house, reflected sunlight adds to the daily warmth.  Chrysanthemums frequently do not survive the winter here.  We were thrilled to see the large number of green plants that will require division later.  This variety is a treasure and it has been with us for several years.  Some of the divisions will remain in this spot while others will be placed in new locations seeking other placements that the plant can survive in.

The warmth of the strengthening sunlight has cleared half of the stone wall down by the road of its snow cover.  Our driveway is also beginning to show itself.  The warm gravel and some new sunlight are rapidly clearing the mess.  When the moisture has drained away the surface will begin to firm up.  We are looking forward to being able to cross the length of the lane without feeling the sliding tires or the sinking boots.

This is another shot of the planting area next to the house.  The broken stone path gives us a solid place to walk and drains away the water that falls from the roof.  Since there is no safe place to walk here, pictures were taken from an open living room window.

Watching how the snow melts on this section of sloped lane has proved interesting.  Initially, the packed snow at the top of the hill became saturated with melt water.  The change in color from white to brown signaled the advance of the water.  Each recent evening has featured temperatures that were well below freezing.  Having recently fallen here, I will not walk on this section until the snow and ice are gone.  My snow pusher is sliding the softened ice toward the ditch.  Clear skies and likely above freezing temperatures are expected tomorrow so this mess may clear.  The early birds spend a great deal of time pecking at the exposed gravel.  Perhaps active springtails are providing an early meal.

Blue Sky, Bluebirds And Shrinking Snow

There was a magnificent view of blue sky and bright white gleaming snow out of the living room window this morning.  I was delighted to see a sunny day, but I could also see that it was frigid and frozen by the way the light gleamed off the icy crust on the snow. 

 We had just finished breakfast when I spotted a bluebird atop one of the bluebird houses.  He saw me when I went to the window for a closer look and flew to the Norwegian spruce behind the house.  I was not to be denied and got my chance to watch him with the binoculars from the bedroom window.   I got  a close look at him.  The feathers on his bright blue head and back, his red chest and his white tummy were all puffed up against the cold.  His color was brilliant in the bright sunlight and I was thrilled to see him.  In the afternoon, when the sun had a chance to warm things up, I ventured outside with the camera.  I found that I couldn't get a close look at much outside.  I could see that the snow had melted over the septic tank and a little of the stone wall that borders my kitchen garden .

I walked down the driveway being careful to stay on areas where the gravel was showing.  The buds on the oak tree that grows along the drive are closed up tight and will be for some time.  Oaks don't like to have their leaves frosted.

I saw more bluebirds on my walk which made me very happy.  I also saw a large woodpecker and several beautiful red cardinals.  However I had no chance to get a picture of them.  I had lots of chances to take pictures of melting snow.  I thought this one was interesting.  I have a great imagination so I think it might look like a bird, perhaps a chicken or a duck or a swan?

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Last Winter Squash

It has been another day of snow showers and cold.  It seemed like the perfect day to bring the very last Waltham Butternut  squash up from the basement.  It falls to Ed to carve up the squash.  It takes  a big  heavy knife and some muscle to cut the neck of the squash into uniform three-quarter inch slices.  We got our 4 cups of diced squash without getting down to the seed cavity.

This squash was in perfect condition.  Perhaps we could have waited, but just on the off chance winter has been hanging around until my winter squash were all used, today was the day.

Dinner made in my red pot is a cold weather pleasure.  The oven warms the kitchen and the aroma of dinner cooking makes it so everyone is already salivating when dinner comes from the oven.  I chose Tandoori Salmon with Kale.  It is a favorite from Elizabeth Yarnell's book.  I use a lot more squash and more kale than she does and we like it served with brown rice. 

Dinner looks great.  It's too bad the picture doesn't have that tantalizing aroma.  I'm not at all sorry to see the last of our winter squash.  I'm ready for the seasonal change, besides half of what's in the pot is waiting in the fridge for its encore performance. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Grandmother's Garden

Being trapped indoors by severe winter weather has presented opportunities to dig through old boxes looking for who knows what. These old photos brought back pleasant memories.  My maternal grandmother and her father were tremendously influential in establishing my interest in flowering plants.  For most of my youth, grandma lived in a second floor apartment and only had flower boxes on the covered porch railing that spanned the front of the building.  She was forever cutting slips, as she called them, and placing them in glasses filled with water.  If roots formed, she had  new plants to replace the old worn out ones in the flower boxes.  In the late 1950's she moved to a proper house and replaced the back lawn with an impressive garden.  Looking back in light of my later experiences with grass next to planting beds, I must wonder just how she kept the grass out of the flowers.

These photos are identified as having been taken in 1958.  This one shows a fourteen year old me bringing a box of so far unidentified wild ferns to my grandmother for her new garden.  We are standing at field's edge close to the house that my father had built in Newfield, N.Y.  The property line follows a stream located deep in the woods at the far edge of the field.  These plants were dug from the woods for her garden.

Grandmother's house is visible in the background.  Little did I know then that my life was about to change.  My father worked for the Railway Express Agency in Ithaca.  Railway Express was a package delivery service much like UPS is now.  Passenger trains were used to move parcels.  When the Lehigh Valley Railroad discontinued their passenger service, my father's job also disappeared.  We left eighteen rural acres and moved into a main street third floor apartment in Nyack.  Early on as an adult, I found a secluded village house with enough land for a garden.  Retirement to thirty-six rural acres took me back to a life style similar to what I had known as a kid.  Ranging over the presently owned land has to a degree returned me to a skinnier more healthy self.

It seems apparent that the nearly twenty-five years lived here at Stone Wall Garden has returned a youthful sparkle to my eyes and  the return of an occasional smile.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Poet's Snow

Having been recently trapped on our hillside home site by a snow filled driveway and closed roads, finding indescribable beauty in newly fallen snow may seem contradictory.  At bedtime last night the calm air was filled with large flakes of gently falling snow.  This morning we were pleased to discover that our new snowfall was much less than had been forecast.  A decision will have to be made about the driveway but doing nothing may be the best choice since frost has left that ground.

These cone flower seed heads show both the amount of new snow that fell here and the gentle nature of the windless night.  We prefer to leave dead flower stalks in place over winter so that the birds have access to their seeds.  Recently we watched Dark-Eyed  Juncos harvest their morning meal.  At first they appeared to be feeding on objects so small that we could not identify the food.  Darting about on the surface of the snow, they were rapidly eating something.  Then one of the birds grabbed the Anise Hyssop stem with its beak and gave the plant a firm shake.  That action released more seeds that fell on the snow and the bird resumed feeding.  It almost looked like a wild bird using a tool to harvest its food.

It may be difficult to understand how an individual that has lost much of his ability to hear can marvel in and enjoy the muffled silence that fills the air during snowfall like this.  Absolutely no sound penetrates the dense barrier of the snow covered trees.  Vehicles are now moving on the road just across the river but no sound from them reaches us here.  Airplanes are still flying overhead but we cannot hear them.

In my younger more reckless days, a walk to the distant ridge would have been my activity of choice during this calm in the storm.  The risks of walking alone in the nearly endless forest were understood and accepted.  Call it cowardice or wisdom that sometimes comes with age, but home is where I will stay today.  Past adventures remain vivid in my memory and using words and pictures once again brings them close.

The end of this pine branch is showing me how to carry the load without breaking.  A slight bend keeps the branch attached to the tree for now and creates an attractive image.  It will spring back when the snow is gone.

This row of pines that were planted by a child of the farmer that lived here for a time many years ago, always look great.  We have used their images many times in the past.  The plowed dirty snow heaps show just what is here today.  Dead branches have been cleared to create a path that traverses the length of this wooded area.  The quiet created by these trees is almost as strong as what surrounds us today.  We will not explore this peaceful area today since ice now covers the sloped ground.  Its peace and quiet will be experienced once the weather has warmed.

Anise Hyssop stems can be seen just to the right of the bench.  No birds are presently feeding there but they will return as will we.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Horrible Timing

March snowstorms here in upstate New York are frequently fierce.  As the storm moves eastward we get frigid winds from the northeast and extra snowfall from moisture picked up over the ocean.  What made this storm serious trouble for us was the mild weather that preceded it.  Exposed ground like our driveway lost its frost.  Moist goo characterized its consistency just before the storm hit.  Rain was the first event when the storm system found us.  Followed by snow, the resulting mess was too deep and too heavy for my machines to handle.  The blower outfitted with high heeled skids  would have left behind firmly packed snow about one inch thick.  Wheel spin on that surface would trap and hold the tractor.  We knew before the storm arrived that we would be forced to call a full sized truck with a large plow to open our path to the outside world.

We also knew that a great deal of the driveway surface would be plowed to the side with the snow.  Traditionally, a roadway is built higher than the adjacent ground.  Since our handmade lane cuts across a slope, in many places the shoulder is higher than the driving surface.  That situation caused major problems for the truck driver.  Given the nature of the complex curved surface he was plowing, the amount of gravel plowed is amazingly small.

We will see if I still feel that way when the displaced gravel is cleaned up.  Today my toy plow was called in to clear the moisture filled snow that was left behind because of the adjacent high ground.

Here is the serious potential problem.  All of this snow will soon turn into melt water and it will run downhill.  Under the plowed snow and gravel is my totally inadequate drainage ditch.  Ditch is far too generous of a word to describe the small depression that must direct this water downhill and away from the driveway.  Here is another place where my lawn tractor was used to try and push back the huge pile of snow that was left directly over the ditch.

Here again the ground next to the lane is higher.  Here again the ditch is filled with snow and plowed gravel.  Today's effort improved the situation but it is certain that work done in the rain will be needed  for me to direct the runoff toward where it must flow.  These realities may explain why it is common practice to place a home near the road and to install an asphalt driveway. 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

A Snow Day To Remember!

I thought it would be nice to look back on this storm and remember how it really was.  I'll start with the view I enjoyed yesterday with my morning coffee.  Don't bother cleaning your glasses, it won't help!  Wind driven snow stuck to the window and melted some.  Then the dribbles froze.

Snow had been pasted against all of the windows overnight.  Some of Ed's wire cages looked like they were full of snow, but the snow just stuck to the wires and filled up the holes.

Mid morning, this was the view out the basement door before Ed ventured out to clear some of the sticky, heavy snow.  It was still snowing enough to obliterate the ridge in the distance. 

The kitchen door opens out and the snow was piling up.  Once Ed got out of the basement this was the next job to be done.  The pictures that I took of Ed shoveling snow off the ramp reminded me of one of those flip books we used to love as a kid. 

The snow was so sticky it left his scoop in one big piece. 

That was a lot bigger than a snowball. It must have landed with a thud.  Ed repeated this process many times, coming inside often to warm up, rest or have something to eat.  I spent a little time using these three pictures to move the snow forward and then backwards with my mouse when I was writing this.  It was fun!  My Dad always used to say "It is a pleasure to watch Ed work."  It has always made him happy to be outside working primarily with hand tools!

Finally he had moved the snow necessary to free his snowblower from the shed.  It was clear that this snow was not going to blow away easily.  We gave up on the idea of getting down to the road.  There was no mail, no garbage pickup and no place to go anyway.

Usually Ed plows during the storm since his machines cannot handle deep snow.  This storm had begun with rain then changed over to snow.  That made the bottom layer both wet and heavy.  His blower would have pushed up on top of the wet layer packing it firmly.  The inevitable wheel spin on that thick layer would have resulted in a stuck tractor.  He displayed uncharacteristic wisdom and only worked near the house where the ground is nearly level.  A short pass into the snow was followed by backing up and moving over for another short run.  That way the drive wheels were always next to an open area.  There was a great deal of back and forth but the tractor never became stuck.

By evening the ridge was back in sight.  Last night the lights only blinked a couple of times and we were warm and cozy snowed in here together!  Today the man with the  big plow answered our call.  Despite the quality machine and his skill in operating it, a great deal of soft gravel was removed from the surface of the lane.   Ed's little plow would have made an even bigger mess.  But now the driveway is open, the cars are uncovered  and we are back to normal for March 3 in Upstate New York! 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

A Bad Case Of Spring Fever

It seems with each passing year Ed and I have become more susceptible to a horrible case of Spring Fever.  The words, Hot to Trot, come to mind.  For example Ed has been out there weeding one of his garden beds.  He would have finished the entire bed, but the soil two inches down was still frozen solid as concrete and his hands got extremely cold and stiff.  The bed  looks great though!

I myself wander the garden with the camera looking for something good to photograph.  Just hearing a few birds sing makes me giddy.  When I heard and then saw a flock of Canada geese way up high flying North it made my heart soar.  It's not the geese.  They are here all winter.  We see them nearly every day, but they were flying North!  I found poufs of rabbit fur underneath Ed's Carolina rose.  The rest of the rabbit was gone.  I left it where it was. The fur that kept that rabbit warm will thrill nesting birds when they show up here in the garden!

I love rose campion and this plant is looking spectacular.  I did notice a few bunny berries in the picture and a few of the leaves have been nibbled, but this plant is poised for springs arrival.  This is its year to bloom.  I can close my eyes and see the lovely magenta flowers on fuzzy gray green stems.

 My dwarf Dutch iris frequently bloom in the snow.  Last year they did not bloom at all.  The leaves  that usually come after the flowers grew big and tall and fed the bulbs.  I expected to see buds this year and when I checked the bed I was so thrilled to see them I felt warm all over.  We are not too concerned about our overblown case of spring fever.  Unless the weather forecasters are completely wrong, Mother Nature is going to cool our jets with a healthy layer of  heavy snow.  For gardeners Spring Fever has no cure,  but I think  the snow will make us chill out at least until it starts to melt!