Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Bent But Not Broken

After sitting for a spell, a walk up the hill took me to the last of my transplanted Arbutus plants.  One plant of each gender were placed here and the deeply rotted White pine needle soil has supported impressive growth.  Seeds have formed for several years so new plants may be included in the photo but no disturbance has happened looking for new from seed plants.  A wire cage is needed here to keep animals from eating these evergreen plants when snow melt reveals bright green leaves.  Edge stones prevent marauders from pushing the cage aside with the central stones supporting the cage when animals walk across it.  Today taller stones were needed as the cage was pushed down nearly crushing the desired plants.  No protective gloves nor kneeling pads can be seen as this started out as a walk to simply get the mail.

Today's patch is completed with the cage returned to its intended location.

The White pine has been here for years and this year's cone production was again impressive.  Both chipmunks and red squirrels live among the old stone wall.  At this time they are busy harvesting pine nuts that are likely being hidden in crevices in the wall.  Few intact cone are seen here now while the shredded remains are everywhere. 

 Back up the hill at home six deer were grazing on what I call lawn.  I took a series of pictures as I walked in their direction.  This is as close as I got before the herd moved into the taller weeds.   Before they bolted several tried turf stabs in an attempt to frighten me away.  These mature does and their fawns see this land as their own and they do feed on my garden plants.  In my younger days I would shout and harmlessly shoot my gun in an attempt to drive them away.  Now they spend a great deal of time here and we enjoy watching another generation get ready for the coming winter.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Composted Top Soil

Our first move when opening new ground for planting is to remove blocks of sod where quack grass is the dominat plant.  Top soil is also taken so the sod blocks are piled intending to have the grass and its extensive root system simply rot away.  The green vertical wall is quack grass growing where sunlight shines upon it.  The top of the pile was also green before a huge number of buckets of weeds were dumped and pushed to the rear of the pile removing all green growth.   

This end of the pile contains well aged top soil that is free of weeds.  A wagon load of screened finished product was removed and carefully placed on the top of the bed that will soon receive the seed garlic cloves.  Screening allows us to remove any remaining plant parts and larger stones.  We intend to leave this freshly placed gold alone so that natural activity can work the aged topsoil down into the planting bed.

This view shows both treasure and trash.  Any green growth or root pieces removed are thrown to the rear of the pile where they can rot with the recently pulled weeds.  Our compost pile closer to home also contains all of the food scraps from the kitchen.  This mix produces a black compost that is rich in nutrients.  It is unlikely that we will haul any of this to the garlic bed for a lack of time.  Our combination of a bed that was fallow for several years then topped with well rotted manure and aged topsoil might just give us a decent harvest weather permitting.  In any event this is the best prepared bed that we have ever planted.


Saturday, September 19, 2020

First Frost 2020

As expected we found frost covering the ground this morning.  It appears that there are many different forms displayed by frost.  The valley fog may be frozen and it disappeared quickly.  The lawn grass received a uniform white coating without regard for slope or location.  This is unusual since fog typically pours out of the notch and flows downhill.  The depressed areas are usually covered with a heavier coating while higher ground receives less.

We commonly enjoy searching for interesting formations of frost crystals along the edges of wild berry leaves or on the wall stones.  None of that was found today as the frost formed as a blanket.  NOAA predicts more frost for the next several nights so we will be out and about checking out the new deposits.  We never knew that frost was this complicated.  Sometimes it is incredibly beautiful.

 Our rescued basil plants spent the night on the basement floor.  These plants were simply pulled from the ground and placed in the dish pans.  Soil was packed over the exposed roots then a generous amount of water was added.  Who knew that rescuing tender plants could be this easy.  We do not expect to have fresh pesto for Christmas dinner but these containers will supply basil as it is needed.  It is not often that a seventy-six year old learns something new.  The question will be will it be remembered next year.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Myrtle Remembered

Years ago Becky was part of a Fiber Arts Guild.  There she came into contact with skilled women some of who were many years her senior.  Their skills were eagerly shared with Becky benefiting greatly from her time with the group.  Myrtle was part of the Guild.  Well into her eighties she had moved from the farm to a third floor apartment.  That she climbed all of those stairs was impressive.  During the winter season heat from the lower floors found its way up to Myrtles apartment.  She always had a pot of basil growing in her warm kitchen.

Today was the day to remove our basil plants since frost is forecast for the next several nights.  Destroying plants is beyond unpleasant and as I arrived with my digging tools I remembered Myrtle.  Twelve plants were removed with their roots intact and placed in two plastic dishpans.  We have no intention of carrying these plants over but they will be used over the next several weeks.  Why this method has never been tried in the past cannot be explained but we are doing it now.

I was not the only one interested in the basil's last day outside.  Many bees were feeding on the flowers.  Usually bees are focused on the flowers and we work together in peace.  Today they seemed to have a sense of urgency and stung me twice.  My work continued.

Expecting to be moving these plants to the compost pile, I was obviously delighted to be placing them in the basement.  A generous amount of water was added after the dishpans were on the basement floor.  If it is possible to carry the now much heavier containers, these plants will spend more days in the sun.

 The planting bed was clear weeded early last spring.  After the basil plants were set out, a mulch of chopped tree leaves was worked among the plants.  Weeds were kept at bay while the leaf mulch also retained moisture.  Once again this area has been clear weeded.  This bare soil will winter over enjoying purifying sunlight on clear warm days.  The Clara Curtis chrysanthemums should be divided next spring.  Potted divisions placed in this beautiful soil could receive needed watering while they settle in prior to being planted out.  This before the frost day was expected to be horrible but now we are filled with the hope of fresh fragrant basil for days to come and the promise of well tended mum divisions come spring. Lucky for me I didn't weed out Becky's tiny Italian parsley plants from seed.  Tomorrow will be soon enough to pot those up for winter use.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Heat Is On

We have frost in the forecast for the next three nights starting tomorrow.  Our preference has been to avoid cleaning up frost blackened leaves by clearing out the sensitive plants ahead of the frost.  Powdery mildew has hit the pumpkins and squash rather hard making them a mess to clean up either way.  We planted a single hill that contained two pumpkin plants and two squash plants.  Soil preparations ahead of planting included adding aged manure to the planting site.  As the desired plants grew we cleared out weeds and covered the bare ground with chopped leaves.  During the drought we hauled in enough water to keep the plants alive.  When rainfall finally resumed, these plants exploded with extensive new growth.  This first picture was taken this morning before Becky started clearing the ground of squash and pumpkin vines.  

This long view shows the entire pumpkin patch now cleared.  Some weeds were found on the center path and also on the crossing path that is only half stone.  Clearly our early weeding and addition of leaf mulch kept new weeds at bay.  The four planting beds at the far end of this garden are in great shape for next year's garden.  The remains of the sunflower plants will be left in place to both feed the birds and drop seeds for next year's plants.  We intend to be here early come spring to pot up newly emerging sunflower plants for placement in an area of our choosing.

The garlic bed in the left foreground is almost ready to plant.  Two additions of aged manure have been spread and turned under.  The dark spots are pieces of this screened manure that remained at the surface.  Next, sifted compost will be spread on the surface then turned under.  One last pass with the potato hook will be made just before planting time which is quickly approaching.

Freshly applied reground bark mulch is reestablishing a weed free path between two planting beds.  The first time we did this, plastic was rolled out before the bark mulch was added.  Quack grass roots quickly wove their way under and through this barrier making their removal impossible.  Now we will have total access to this pesky weed that is sure to return and perhaps this battle will finally be won.

This is the extent of our ripe harvest.  We have read that pumpkins showing some orange color will continue to ripen after they are harvested.  We shall see.  A spot on the front deck is where these were placed.  Placement next to the south facing house wall might moderate the coming cold frosty nights.  A blanket will be added as cover to try to avoid freezing the fruit.  If that works, many warmer days in the sun may fully ripen each of these.

 Here is the delivery system used to bring in bark mulch.  Needless to say the tractor driver was rather proud of being able to back the wagon past the gate posts.  The drop into a hole for one wheel did not simplify that move.  I wonder how Sidney's FFA teacher would have rated this park job?

Monday, September 14, 2020

Pain In The Asparagus!

It was a cool and beautiful morning in the garden.  Ed headed to the gravel bank to get bark mulch.  Continued progress on the woodland garden  and his garlic bed was at the top of his to do list.  I decided to work on the asparagus bed until he was ready to go to the back.  I have to admit I was a bit discouraged at the beginning.  The asparagus plants were lost in weeds.  Horse weed, crab grass, goldenrod... all going to seed.  What a pain!  I removed the wire fence that is meant to keep the deer out of the bed.   Armed with my Cobrahead weeder and several trugs, I sat on my garden cart and started.  I had forgotten how pleasant it is to pull weeds in Ed's well prepared garden beds,   It took me just a few minutes to reveal that first asparagus plant.  Coming to the rescue of that second plant made me fell great!  The whole process was getting to be fun.  What a joy to get all of those weeds and seeds out of there.  By the time an hour had passed most of the weeds were gone.

My trugs were overflowing with weeds.  Two huge Rudebecka triloba plants  remain in the asparagus bed.  I am a motivated weeder, but I drew the line at pulling out those native Brown-eyed Susan flowers. They are a biennial so after they bloom they can be removed with ease.  Not only did I find the asparagus, but now I can see Helen's bird house, my tractor, Ed's shed and the house.  

Two things remain to be done here.  Fine weeding from arms that reach all the way to the center of the bed and an application of well seasoned compost will finish the soil preparation.  Then the fence posts will be driven deeper while setting them upright making ready for the fencing.


Thursday, September 10, 2020

Signs Of Fall

The foreground shrub is Silky dogwood.  Its berries start out blue then turn white.  Somehow that seems backwards to me as the darker color is stunning.  In a moist location it would reach ten feet in height but here on the gravel deposit we are fortunate just to have it.

That Locust tree closer to our house grew from a pile of imported compost.  Its size is a measure of just how long we have been working here.  Twenty-six years is the actual count.  The pines behind the house were planted by a farmer's offspring long before we found this land.  We do not know if it was a 4H or FFA project that brought these trees here  We have two different plantings of these trees.  Both are on some of the steepest slopes that that were part of the original farm.

Our Red maple trees are still covered with mostly green leaves.  When taking a break from weeding what will soon be the garlic bed, occasional falling leaves caught my eye.  It is an unmistakable sign of what season is approaching.

Goldenrod and New England asters loudly announce the coming of Fall.  This color combination is among the most beautiful seen here and both are native plants.  Goldenrod is a tenacious invader so my plan for creating this combination in a garden is to give the asters several years to take hold of some ground before the Goldenrod is introduced.  The single survivor is well known but the Asters will likely persist for as long as we remain here.

My maternal great grandfather was a strong influence on my interest in plants.  His Eden like home was located in southwestern Pennsylvania and his Chrysanthemums were beautiful.  I have spent a small fortune trying to find plants that are hardy along the Unadilla River.  Only the Clara Curtis and Mammoth Pink survive.  We freely share these plants for those interested in actually growing mums rather than buying the potted ones widely offered for sale.  Our choice of color is limited but these are our plants.  Charles Wesley Felton would have approved seeing these hardy mums next to dry stone walls.

Yesterday when the day's work had ended, a loud group of disorganized geese  barely cleared the pines having just taken off from the nearby river.  As they passed over our meadows the energy efficient V formation came to be.  This is the time of year when the geese take their training flights to build up their strength and skill for the approaching migration flight.  This location is usually silent but the chatter of the geese while finding the needed formation was loud and unmistakable.  There was insufficient time to find the camera so imagination will be needed to see the geese barely clearing the pine trees.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Almost Done

Almost done refers only to this planting bed.  This picture shows its condition after the first weeding and application of aged manure.  A second weeding mostly cleared previously missed or broken weeds.  We understand that a third weeding will be necessary just prior to garlic planting.  That event is nearly six weeks away so with any combination of luck and skill this ground should be garlic ready.

We receive and store materials that will be used in the gardens on the other side of our land.  Here road access is the defining issue.  The huge dark pile contains reground hardwood bark mulch.  We buy it by the dump truck load and distribute it from here.  Our current project will require that the path across the garden be renewed with some of this mulch.

The adjacent weed covered mass is beef manure delivered by our actively farming neighbor.  We allowed it to mature for two years before using it on the garden.

This combination of shovel and screen is how all of our planting soil was converted from glacial till to rich stone free soil.  Today the manure needed a trip through the screen to clear it of all weed parts and break up the hard baked clumps.  Twenty-five gallons of this black gold were made garden ready and hand spread on the planting bed.

The manure was worked into the soil using a Cobra Head hand cultivation tool.  It is also our primary weed removal tool.  To the left of the planting bed is a bark mulch path.  Its weeds are also being removed and the conclusion of that task will be followed by new mulch.  This year's garlic seed will be planted in the finest soil that we can create.

The weed mass to the left of the garlic bed has yet to be converted into garden soil.  Repeated applications of grass clippings have drawn the weed roots up out of the ground and into the rotting grass clippings.  Hand removal is possible but we have never had the time to complete that task here.  Winter will find at least six of a possible eight planting beds cleared and ready for the next crop.

This is a wonderful place to work.  Other than our changes to the natural lay of this land, no other signs of the presence of man can be seen or heard.  This is a totally peaceful place allowing one to clear his head and use some muscles.  I believe that quiet time spent here physically working is part of what has kept me alive.  My Primary Care Physician shares that feeling.  We did not hear the woodpecker today.  Perhaps it will return tomorrow. Really the only sound today was the wind whispering through the trees!

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Opportunistic Pests

There is so much about this natural world that surrounds us that we simply know nothing about.  My introduction to Tent Caterpillars happened as an elementary school student when the class was taken outside for a nature walk.  A male high school student was in charge of our experience.  At one point he snapped off a small branch and burned both the tent caterpillars and their nest.  He described this action as necessary since left unchecked the caterpillars would destroy the tree.  Many decades later finds me knowing nothing more about these creatures than I did on that day.

The young trees at the edge of the forest are covered with white webs that look rather sharp in the low light of morning.  The good news is that the older trees in the woods seem to be free of the pests.  I can neither explain  nor guess as to why that is the case.

A closer look reveals the damage done to the host trees.  We will look here in the spring to see if these trees manage any leaf growth after this experience.  There was simply nothing that I could do to end the  huge infestation.

This Black Walnut was a splendid gift from a special person.  Mrs. Grays worked with me for many years helping our students learn much more than simply math.  She also contributed plants in support of my attempts to reintroduce native plants here.  The Tent Caterpillar infestation is thinner here and we expect that this tree will return next year.  The lesson taught here is that trees planted are for the next generation to hold this land.  We are finally seeing nuts but the question of how to harvest them remains unanswered.  Harvesting timber may be two generation away.  In any event, that is a good looking tree and always reminds me of its source.

This view from our living room window captures the presence of what could be considered pests.  The deer eat many plants some of which will not return.  The turkeys eat insects in the grass and that action does not rise to the level of harmful behavior.  Their dust baths in our cleared and cultivated soil is another matter.  We are seeing wild life daily in numbers never before seen here.  Perhaps the loss of the coyotes is responsible for this.

The twin fawns mother has dropped twins here for a number of years.  Her rearing of her young is so skilled that we frequently see last year's twins stopping by for a visit.

Thursday, August 27, 2020


We opened our Wilderness garden one decade ago so that garlic could be planted in soil free of pathogens from the deadly disease that nearly destroyed our entire crop.  Written references  to that situation indicated that our garden near home would always carry the seeds of that illness.  New garlic was purchased and we have been able to grow healthy garlic here ever since.

Eight planting beds were planned but two of them remain undeveloped.  It seems that more than can be completed is always part of the plan.  The soil near the house contains many broken stones that can be used to build decent safe paths but here the soil was more finely ground by the glaciers with the desired small flat stones mostly missing.  With planting beds needing attention this central path was more of a stone dump than a safe place to walk.

Earlier this year Becky attempted to enter the garden crossing the weed filled jumble of stones that filled this area them.  A stone of some size caught the end of her foot throwing her toward the ground.  A steel pipe had been driven into the ground to mark the edge of the planting bed.  Becky fell  heading directly toward that pipe.  Some combination of luck and skill resulted in the pipe end barely grazing the side of her head.  No blood was drawn and we will not mention the contents of my pants as I stood behind her helplessly.  The pipe was pulled that day and this proper end of the path was built yesterday.  A load of junk stone has been removed but small flat stones are still needed to finish this job.  For now the end stones have been solidly placed with absolutely no wiggle.  Small flat stones will be placed on top of the path as they become available.  No steel rods now reach for the sky and they will always be removed before I leave the job.  The white plastic pipe near the fence serves as the hinge for the gate.  It is totally encased by the bent fence and is a hazard to no one.

Here we see the boundary between a bed that has been fallow but weed filled.  Believe it or not these weeds are rather small since this bed has been already cleared this year.  The adjacent bed has been repeatedly covered with grass clippings and the weeds are removable using only hand tools.  As of today the planting bed is totally free of weeds from end to end.  Screened manure would have been spread here today had the early morning lightening and rain not altered our plans.  This ground will be frequently enriched and hand tilled between now and mid-October when the garlic is returned to the ground.

Here are our tools of choice.  All of the weeds on the pile in the background were carried there using the purple trug.  The American made Cobra Head hand cultivator follows the spade that only loosens the weeds.  Gloves protect Becky's hands with an ample supply of water close by.

This wild location at the base of a wooded slope is developing as planned.  In response to reading two sentences written by John Burroughs describing his search for the seldom seen in this area Cardinal Flower, I have spent many years trying to find a location that will support this plant without further help from me.  The raised road to the gravel bank traps the water that moves down the hill in the background.  Cardinal Flower needs generous amounts of water in order to survive.  This hill slopes toward he north delaying the early plant growth that so often freezes out both here and in Burrough's Catskills.  Lingering snow cover protects the tender green growth that has been under the snow for the entire winter.  Our garden plants have been severely hammered by this year's drought.  Short stems bearing few flowers are all that we find in our there.  Many early spring visits will be made here to check the progress of these plants next year.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Meadow Sweet

Once again the level ground adjacent to the remains of the bedrock ridge holds a plant with beautiful flowers not seen anywhere else here.  They lured me in across terribly uneven ground hidden by chest high Goldenrod.  Each placement of a foot required testing for solid ground before any weight could be transferred.  Slow progress was made to the location of the flowering plant.  Pictures were my focus since the identification of the plant was unknown to me.

Once safely home identification was made.  Meadow Sweet is the name of this long naturalized native from Eurasia.  Just how a single plant found our land remains a mystery.  Now that the name of this plant is known, a return trip will of necessity be made to sample the aroma of the flowers.  There is no justification for failing to take a sniff on the first trip. The fragrance just might be grand.

We remain unsure of what about this ground near the house draws these turkeys here several times each day.  Three hens and their broods feed here during their leisurely stroll across this tended meadow.  As is the natural course for ground birds, their numbers have been in steady decline.  Thirteen chicks of various sizes remain on this visit.  These three hens hatched their eggs at different times as can be seen by the differing size if the offspring.

As also can be seen, our trees are filled with tent caterpillars in unusually high numbers this year.  Their large number is perhaps a result of the recent generous rainfalls.  Tree leaves are being consumed at a great rate but this is just one of many things that I can do nothing about.

Mother turkeys maintain keen vigilance of their surroundings resulting in pictures taken from a distance.  They knew that I was close by but have found us to be of no danger to her chicks.  I find it interesting that all are feeding in the taller grass yet to be cut.  We hope that the too cute reference linking birds to the title yet unmentioned has not gone unnoticed.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Long Time Coming

Daughter Amy and I discovered both of these native plants while hiking in the Shawangunk Mountains.  The red flowered Cardinal Flower was growing in full sun next to a year round stream.  Summer Sweet was found in full shade under widely spaced Oak trees.  Both plants present unique issues concerning their willingness or ability to grow in the same spot year after year.  Both of these plants were transplanted here this year.  Our hope is that they will grow on this spot without much interference from us.  We plan to enlarge the area free of Goldenrod when outside temperature moderates allowing us to remain outside for more than a few minutes.  If it is not kept at bay neither plant will survive.

This photo does not do justice to either plant.  Cardinal Flower is well known for its presentation of incredibly bright deep red flowers.  This afternoon full sun caused problems for our old point and shoot camera..  We will try again when the sun is lower in the sky.  We know that, but we were here at the wrong time today and thrilled to see new flowers..

Amy and I walked into a deliciously sweet invisible cloud of plant fragrance on our long ago hike.  Woodland flowers are scarce in August and we reluctantly left the trail to find this plant.  All that we took away from our encounter was mental images of dark glossy green leaves and pure white flowers.  Once home identification of the plant was quickly found.  Now it grows in several locations here since we view it as a native treasure.

As we developed an understanding of the needs of each of these plants, I wanted them growing in close proximity to each other.  Brilliant clear red blossoms near pure white flowers would be an image of lasting beauty.  Hopefully both plants will return next year.  Their low area between the lane and the wooded hillside traps water runoff.  This generous supply of moisture should help the Summer Sweet survive half day exposure to sunlight.  The Cardinal Flower will also benefit from a moist location.  Early spring cold presents survival problems for Cardinal Flower but if we can remove the Goldenrod its survival is possible here.

Growing squash and pumpkins next to a wire fence is not a smart placement.  Frequent visits are made to keep the vines headed toward open ground.  The vines passed under the sunflowers with no apparent problem.  Both plants look fine.

Since we drove to the back, I did not bother with my usual sun protection clothing or even a hat.  It would be helpful if more of the vines had headed toward this open ground.  I explain this to them on every trip back to keep the vines out of the fence but like some unruly eighth graders from my past it may take time for the advise to register.  Expecting to be ignored, I plan more trips to pull the plants out of the fence.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

After The Rain

Many of our plants have struggled to stay alive during this hot drought.  Despite the distance from running water, we have hauled water down the hill to the shade garden.  Our efforts preserved life but nothing brings plants alive like an all day gentle rainfall.  These   Rattlesnake Plantains have increased in number from last year's single purchased plant but have remained tiny.  Their response to the natural moisture was an obvious increase in the size of the leaves.  No flowers were seen last year.  Perhaps this year will be different.  This orchid does not naturally occur south of Canada in the eastern part of North America.  Its unique leaves are a visual treat and are reason enough to keep give this plant a growing area.

Fragrant Lady's-tresses grow naturally two climate zones warmer than here.  Out of place, it remained hidden in the soil for our harsh early frosts and freezes.  We were both surprised and pleased when three stalks finally appeared.  Last year the flowering spires wrapped themselves around each other creating a visual treat.  The USPS Wild Orchid stamps feature this plant.  None of the selected plants were identified by name but this one appears in the top row adjacent to the header.

Jacob's Ladder is commonly seen in established older gardens.  The lack of moisture had this specimen looking dreadful.  It is amazing how quickly recovery followed a generous rainfall.

These Cardinal Flower plants were bent over and withered prior to our water rescue.  Their short term recovery was made more permanent by the daylong rain.  The general lack of adequate moisture has limited growth to about one half of a normal year's presentation but the red blossoms are as vivid as ever..

Maidenhair Spleenwort is in its first year here.  As a new transplant, these have received more regular visits from the watering can.  Their natural growth habit places them in cracks and crevices of stone outcroppings.  We built a version of a stone ledge that seems to suit the plants just fine.  They are without question a tiny treasure.

This purchased fern was not an informed choice.  Its small size and rugged looking leaves made it a natural in front of our transplanted stump.  Yes, we do plant both stones and stumps.  How could a native woodland garden be complete without them?