Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What a Year This Has Been!

When we awoke on this the last day of the garden for 2008, a beautiful white world greeted us. I was wondering what kind of picture to choose for this final post, but as often happens the choice became obvious. Once out of bed I used the binoculars to see who the solitary bird in the tree with the bird feeders might be. It was a Northern harrier sitting there waiting for his entree du jour. I always like to think of these hawks as eating mice and snakes, but on a day like today I'm sure it's a bird he's after. Perhaps the service was slow, because he's gone now and the mourning doves and other birds have returned to the feeder.

Looking back it has been quite a year. We’ve had our challenges, early frosts, late frosts, hail, insect bites, deer, rabbits, and hordes of Baltimore Orioles, but we have also had wonderful days spent outside in the garden enjoying beautiful flowers, delightful fragrances, and intriguing wildlife. We have feasted on incredible fresh vegetables, herbs and fruits. Onions and garlic are still hanging in braids in the basement and the freezer still holds riches from this year's garden.

We treasure our time spent together in the garden in 2008! It's been a very special year!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Rabbits? I Didn't See Any Rabbits.

I questioned my little garden friend about the grazing that has been going on in this garden bed. He maintained a stony silence, but with all the clues left behind it doesn't take a detective to see that the rabbits are eating here regularly. I'm not at all surprised at the parsley, but the slanted trimming on the Russian sage was unexpected. Thank goodness I have cages around my coral bells.

Rabbits BEWARE! I have acquaintances who know how to take care of unwanted visitors. Obviously sometimes the guilty are caught. So thanks to the owl, or the hawk, or the fox. Come back and visit anytime!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

We're Havin' a Heatwave...

It's a balmy 54 degrees outside. The wind is from the south and the clouds are galloping across the sky. Ed headed outside with a gleam in his eye. Interestingly enough, he chose to weed around the lavender in the bed in front of the house. The ground in that bed is not frozen. What can I tell you? This time of year a gardener misses weeding. The plants left behind are catnip. In the spring they will be moved to a location where they will not crowd out their neighbor.

Next came a trim for the chrysanthemums. The new growth at the base looks encouraging. The variety is Clara Curtis. In his youth, Ed was able to grow his great grandfather's chrysanthemums near Ithaca, one full zone warmer. Here all we have been able to winter over are the empty pots. Perhaps this variety will prove hardy here. The cut off stems are placed on top of the low green leaves for a little protective mulch.

I walked the paths and checked things out. One of the things I love about Ed's stone paths is that you can get a close look at the garden no matter how wet the beds may be. My little gentian needed a friendly foot to push it back down. Frost heave of plants is one of the downsides of the freeze-thaw cycle. It's time to entice Ed in for lunch. After that I know he'll be back outside until the rain starts or darkness falls, whichever comes first.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Perfect White Christmas

The perfect white Christmas was ours this year. We had enough snow to keep the garden covered, but the rain cleared the paths, driveway, and roads to make the gathering of the family a joy. It was wonderful to be together. Great food, and gifts from those you love just add to the delightful day!

Garden related gifts add to the promise of spring. A new compost bucket graces my kitchen counter. I love it already. A new garden marker for writing plant names on stones will soon find a place in my garden cart. It’s time I cleaned it out to get ready for spring anyway. Bonnie gave me a ceramic tile that reads, "Leave a path in the garden so the angels can walk through.“ In the spring it will hang along a path in the garden.

Santa was kind enough to leave Ed some new rubberized garden gloves and a new pair of safety glasses. The safety glasses are great! I know that because somehow the first pair ended up in my garden cart! Now Ed has his.

Amy gave Ed a wonderful new stone book. This is a considerable feat since he has quite a collection. It is a gorgeous book by Dan Snow called "In The Company Of Stone: The Art of the Stone Wall." What a inspirational book it is! Now ’tis the season for garden books, seed catalogs and big plans for next spring. It’s one of the great things about having a garden here in upstate New York. While the plants are resting we have time to do a little garden dreaming and planning.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Solstice

The garden is perfectly dressed in white for a winter solstice celebration. Starting today instead of less and less sunlight we begin to get more and more. It's just like reaching the top of a mountain. We have some distance to travel to reach spring, but now it's a downhill run all the way. Every day will be a little longer and the sun a little higher in the sky. Time to start getting serious about plans for next years garden.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Forgotten Details

The idea to chip out part of the broken stone seemed plausible. I had forgotten the full nature of these mud stones. They commonly have a core of silvery gray material that is filled with fossils and is incredibly hard. When these mud stones are out in the open this core is impervious to sledge hammer blows. What made me think that I could chip away at it when it was part of the wall? The silvery gray color is hidden under frozen reddish brown mud.

Five new stones have secured the right end of the fault. A shim can be worked under the second stone of the patch. The repair should hold the wall in place. When the supply of wall stones is not frozen under ice and snow we may be able to find stones that will do a better looking job of filling the hole. For now the wall is ready for winter.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Depth of the Problem

There's a lot of wall resting on our "weakest link". I removed the pieces of stone that I could get out with my fingers. There are more broken pieces, but they are frozen in place at the moment. The thought of removing all the stones in the wall above the bad one is not a happy one. The attempt to chisel out the offending mud stone is looking like the best alternative.

It is fortunate the such a nice long stone with considerable weight on the right end rests on our crumbling stone. It makes partial removal seem possible. It's just a matter of time before Ed gathers his hammer and chisels and gives it a try

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Weakest Link

To date all of the stone walls that we have built are still standing. Here the certain future failure is rooted in a poor choice of stone. We call stones like this mud stones. They remain soft after they are removed from the ground. This stone will continue to disintegrate in the near future. The novice builder placed it near the bottom of the wall. Replacing this stone will be a major task.

Looking at this photo has spawned an idea. Perhaps the crumbling area of stone could be chiseled out and replaced with the rest of the wall remaining in place. If only half the stone was removed at a time, the stone above should support the wall. Winter would be a good time to try that. The frozen planting bed in front of the wall could be safely walked on with no damage to the plants.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Long Shadows

Now that the plants are blanketed with white, it's the stone walls that take the spotlight in the garden. The top of the stone wall is a great place to monitor the snow depth, and the melt-freeze process. The mourning doves love to sit on the top of this wall in between snacks at the bird feeder. Six on the wall at once is the current record.

The shadows are very long! The shadow of this wall completely covers the opening between the walls. We are still watching the sun move to its lowest point in the sky. Just one more week and the shadows will begin to shorten and the daylight hours will lengthen. You have to start to think about spring then. It's all down hill from there!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ed's Icy Walk

The storm was two days ago but the ice still coats the trees. Air temperature in the low twenties and broken clouds are leaving the ice just as it formed. The greatest sparkle is seen when looking in the direction of the sun. The eye sees it but not the camera.

The weatherman calls this accumulation nuisance ice. We have all of the beauty but none of the damage. Sadness is just below the surface knowing that so many are without electricity, heat and water for the next several days.

These blackberry briars are just over the fence line. This wild mess is not my responsibility. They will look this good again when covered with blossoms next year.

This far corner of our homestead would make a suitable holiday scene if the bush in the center was replaced with a stone cabin. It is good for an old man to walk his land, to have dreams, and to plant trees.

Today after lunch we were lucky enough to see a Great Blue Heron fly directly over the garden from east to west. He was flying very low, low enough to be seen easily from the living room window. What a surprise! I thought they had all flown south.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Somtimes Thin Ice Is a Great Thing!

This snow storm has made it so beautiful here. Around 3:00AM the full moon on the white snow lit up the night,making it brighter out than on a cloudy day. I spent some considerable time looking out the windows before I returned to bed. Today the beauty continues. The morning sun playing on the ice made for a shimmering display.

We were lucky enough to get a thin coat of ice on the trees. Just another half an inch spells the trouble that so many people in the northeast are enduring. Thankful for our good fortune, we enjoy the beauty while we can.

As the sun goes higher in the sky the picture changes. The ice is still beautiful, but different. The sun is strong and bright. I imagine the ice on the trees will be gone by the time things refreeze tonight. Beauty can be fleeting. Catch it while you can!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Same Picture, Different Day

For now the garden has its snow cover again. We were very lucky. The trees got a light coat of ice before the snow, but not enough to cause trouble. Some people had a lot of ice and loss of power with this storm. I've been around for ice storms when you could hear the sickening sound of breaking trees. I feel for the people in places where that occurred. Having the power go out is the pits even if you have a generator.

From the look of the weather forecast the plants will have to edure the freeze thaw cycle for at least another week. Perhaps the winter solstice will bring a change, perhaps not. Right now, today, it's a beautiful snowy view out every window.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Someone Took the Covers

Just when I thought the plants were all tucked in their beds with a nice little cover of snow to help protect them from the cold, a warmer air mass and rain changed all that. Sometimes December days here are much like spring. The temperature is up in the forties. The ice in the river is melting or heading downstream. The snow on the countryside is nearly gone. The streams and river are rising and running fast.

Of course the cold will be back and so will the snow. I'm very sure of that. When, who knows? When you live, or are planted in upstate New York, you have to expect surprises. It goes with the territory.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Why Did the Rodents Cross the Path?

If we had more snow, these pathways would be tunnels, and I wouldn’t know the rodents were there. Last year, when the foxes were around, the voles, moles, and field mice were all but gone. I hope that the fact that they have built a divided highway to get across the stone path does not indicate a big increase in traffic. It‘s not just that I have an irrational aversion to little furry creatures scurrying around. I do, but it’s also that they also love to eat bulbs and plant roots.

Perhaps I’ll put up a sign.

RODENT PREDATORS WANTED: beautiful garden setting, friendly humans, and all the little brown furry critters you can eat. Experience a plus, but not necessary!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Amy's Varigated Jade

The weather has turned cold. While working outside, Ed's water bottle developed a skin of ice before he had time to drink it. He was playing at the gravel bank while he could still break through the gravel's frozen crust. I took a short walk outside. Everywhere you walked it felt like concrete under foot. Brrr! It was back inside for me. Time for a houseplant picture!

Amy's varigated jade was a college graduation present. The jade was left in my care. At that time I was a notorious killer of house plants, and I very nearly killed this one. Actually I thought it was gone, but I found a leaf on the windowsill. Ed potted it and the plant you see has grown back from that tiny piece.

With its lovely green , white and sometimes pink tinged leaves, a varigated jade is a beautiful plant. This one could be more beautiful, but I can't bear to do anything but remove unhealty looking leaves. I guess I could use some sage jade pruning advice!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Fascinating Stones

The four stone walls that define the center square of our garden were our first project here. Both top edges needed to be straight. That left a wandering canyon in the center of each top surface. When we find an interesting stone it is placed in these center voids. We were the first humans to see the sharply defined fossils in the newly split stone. These fossils weather quickly but they will last for our blink of existence here. The long dark line across the brown stone looks like a tree branch. I do not understand how wood could from a fossil here. Can any reader help us with an explanation?

Thursday, December 4, 2008


This section of new stone wall is to define a raised shade garden under the locust tree. Careful planning determined the height of the wall on the sloping lawn. A place for us to sit was the plan. The locust tree is the only tree in the former pasture that now is our lawn. Where else could we hang the bird feeders? The tree provides cover for the birds in the summer. Its perches function year round. For our seat perhaps portable cushions will secure a clean location. We will not want to sit here for long periods of time. When we approach the birds fly away. In time they return.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Blue Sky Day

It was a beautiful blue sky day today. Much of the snow has melted, but the temperature is dropping. Walking around in the garden was quite the chilly experience. It's hard to think of this part of December as autumn. The sun's rays make a long shadow behind the bench. It will get longer still for three more weeks until the winter solstice when the sun begins to move higher in the sky again. In the meantime it just gets dark a little earlier each day. There seems to be no time for outside work after lunch. The birds are busy at the suet feeder. I think they know it will be cold tonight.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

If You Build It, They Will Come.

The temporary stone pile is pictured here. From a distance it looks like a stone wall. Up close its many holes can be seen. These stones were placed with no consideration of a tight fit. We needed a tidy storage pile for the raw materials for a proper wall. This carelessness illustrates one unexpected outcome of building stone walls. Many creatures find a home in stone walls. Some of them eat garden plants. Some of them sting. The slithery ones cause the lady of the garden to shriek loudly. These are all good reasons to build the wall with no spaces between the stones.

The fossil rock supporting the wasps' nest may never find a home in a wall. These rocks are visually interesting but they tend to crumble. If they are placed near the top of the wall, they can be replaced with little effort. Time will tell if this rock remains in the temporary pile or if it finds a home in a wall.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Holiday Thyme

Yesterday the weather outside was frightful! Freezing rain, slush on the highways and automobiles in the ditch were the features of the day. It warmed up and rained over night. When the sun came out this morning so did the camera. I wandered around the garden. The snow has melted in many places. Many of the plants no longer look their best. Some are being chewed on by mice, rabbits and deer. Not being in the mood for that kind of picture, I kept looking. Then I came around to the patio where the red creeping thyme is planted in the cracks between the stones. WOW! It looks terrific! The green leaves of summer have turned a gorgeous holiday red.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Now the Ginger Looks Better!

This ginger was outside all summer. It pretty much just sat there. Now that it is in the house it is doing much better. I checked one of my books to see why. Being from Asia ginger likes very hot, humid weather and plenty of rain. It grows to six feet, spreads like crazy and has white flowers. It's supposed to keep the tigers away. This plant does get watered but I'm afraid the rest of its requirements are out of reach. The thermostat is set in the sixties, and it won't be going higher. No worries about tigers here anyway.

I use fresh ginger regularly in the kitchen. Sometimes when a root has been around for awhile it begins to sprout. I always feel compelled to plant it. My pot of ginger is the result. The ginger caught my attention today because it is doing better, but also because it had (Wait for it!) weeds. Can you believe it's only the end of November and I miss weeding? So here is the ginger all of 18" tall, weeded for its picture.

In case you are missing weeds too, here is the before picture. Hmm... woody nightshade, bedstraw, grass, garlic mustard, (Or is that ground ivy?) and some tiny ones I can't identify. What a pleasure it was to pull them out and drop them in the compost pail. I'll just do the one plant today. I'll be wanting to pull weeds again soon.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Remember Rosemary

Rosemary is the herb of memory. This rosemary blooming today is a lovely reminder to stop and be thankful. In the garden as in life, things are never perfect, but if you look, there is always something beautiful, something miraculous every single day.

Here the rosemary lives in a clay pot. It spends the growing season outside on the stone patio and the winter inside as a house plant. Right now my hands have that wonderful aroma from having touched the leaves. Rosemary releases its scent whenever it is touched and as a thank you for being watered. Everyone should have a rosemary plant. It has lovely dark green leaves, beautiful flowers, a fabulous aroma, and is delicious besides. What more could one ask of a plant?

Oh! I just remembered one more thing. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Don't Adjust Your Set, We Control the Picture

An unbelievable saga has been unfolding surrounding my dial up, the only choice available in this valley, and placing photos on the blog. It has truly sent me to the outer limits of my patience, perhaps my sanity. It started with the sad slow demise of my old computer. So I bit the bullet and got a new computer. However, my old beloved camera would not work with the new Windows Vista.
@!#*...HP...@#!*... ( Trust me.You don't want to read this part!)

Today Ed came home with a memory card reader and voila an uploaded photo using the new computer.

The tuberose, lemon grass, and society garlic are lucky to be inside looking out. It's been getting colder at night. The still parts of the river are frozen. In the morning we have new snow. Then some of it melts during the day. I just hope we can save the big storms for later.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Meet Stefan

At twenty years, Stefan is the senior member of our houseplant family. He started out as a small plant on the window sill of Amy's college dorm room. Stefan did well in college, but had to drop out when he became too tall to fit in the car. The house where we used to live had ten foot ceilings and Stefan rose to the challenge. When he reached the ceiling , after much discussion I attempted air layering. The top died, but the bottom sprouted the two trunks that you see today.

Not long ago Stefan reached the ceiling here. With some considerable effort I moved him from the bedroom to the stairwell. I thought it would give him more height to grow taller. Of course instead of that, like any plant, he chose to grow toward the sunlight. Soon we will need a machete to get down the stairs to the basement. I'm afraid I need to sharpen up the loppers and cut him off at the base again. I do not find this kind of operation easy or pleasant. Now I ponder the question. Should I do it now while the strong winter sun streams in the south facing window or should I give Stefan a reprieve and wait until spring?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sparkling Snow

The sun is shining and the snow is falling. The sun hitting the snow flakes looks like diamonds falling from the sky. It's one of those incredible, magical light effects that the camera or at least my camera doesn't capture. There are small hints of the effect in the glints of light that show in the snow on the ground, but the falling snow leaves its sparkling impression only on me. Not unlike a rainbow, as the sun moves higher in the sky the magic will be gone even if the flakes continue to fall. It's a Monet thing. A change in light alters everything. So many beautiful sights in nature are transitory and easily missed. Even if the picture isn't perfect, the memory is there. Who knows tomorrow the magic may be back!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Winter Warmth

Now the sun is low enough in the sky to stream in our south facing bedroom windows. It's rather pleasant to awaken because the bright sun warms your face. We had a dusting of snow overnight, but now the sun is out and the air feels warm. Where the sun hits directly the snow is already gone. It the shaded places it may stay all day or even longer.

As I walked around the garden looking at the plants peeking out from under the snow, it was the snow on the top of the stone wall that caught my camera's eye. It's an amazingly beautiful picture!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Warm Stew for a Cold Day

It's getting cold here. Ice is forming on the ponds. I took the camera outside with me to cut the kale for a nice warming dinner. My hands were hurting by the time I got back in the house. This kale might be the last thing I harvest directly from the garden. Other garden ingredients for my stew are already in the basement or in the freezer.

I chose West African Groundnut Stew from Vegetarian Soup Cuisine by Jay Solomon. What follows has a few changes from the original recipe.

West African Groundnut Stew

1 T oil
1 med. onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
2 c. water
2 c. tomato juice
1 (14-ounce) can tomatoes
2 c. diced butternut squash
1 T dried parsley
1 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 c chunky peanut butter
4 c, shredded kale, stems removed

In a large saucepan heat the oil. Add the onion, bell pepper, garlic, ginger and cayenne. Saute for 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the water, tomato juice, tomatoes, squash, and seasonings. Cook for 25 minutes over med-low heat , stirring occasionally until the squash is tender.

Aggressively stir in the peanut butter. Stir in the kale and return to a gentle simmer. Remove the stew from the heat and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with chopped peanuts. Serves 6.

It's too bad you can't smell the aroma coming from the kitchen!

Monday, November 17, 2008

What a Difference A Day Makes

Ed spent yesterday mixing garden soil for the finished part of the shade garden. It was cold out there, but he dressed properly and made great progress on his project. He's the hardy gardener. I'm only half-hardy, so I went out only to get some peppermint to make tea.

This morning the scene has changed. Snow is falling and the garden is going from green to white. This will make the deer hunters happy since tracking the deer is so much easier in the snow. I've heard several gun retorts already this morning. Time will tell if this is the final white curtain on real garden work. Sometimes here the November snow lasts. Ed is hoping for encore and a chance to continue his project. Either way it's been a great gardening season!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Planting Stone

As promised my fascinating stone has found its place in the shade garden wall.The weather was beautiful today and Ed was working on the wall. When I brought the stone to him he just placed it in the wall where he was working. Today was one of those magical days when the stones just fit together. It looks like mortar squeezing out between some stones. That is actually wet sand. Bedding the stones in a thin layer of wet sand fills the final voids and keeps the stones from rocking. Rain and time will erase the visible sand leaving us a solid place to sit.

This is the "ugly" side of the wall. Since these stones will not show when the planting soil is added to the shade garden, irregular stones have been used on the inside of the wall. The only issue here is structural integrity. It is also a place to bury the stones unsuited for the visible side of the wall. I've always been amazed watching Ed build a wall using the varied stone. The well placed stone stays where it is put.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Time to Burn

Yesterday was cold and rainy and an easy day to stay inside. Today is a beautiful day and perfect for working outside. Since everything is wet it is a perfect time to build a fire, but since everything is wet it's a smoky business. This particular fire is not a happy bonfire but a final farewell to our thrip infested gladiola bulbs. Having read the soak in disinfectant, spread out to dry, and repeat in the spring treatment for thrip infested bulbs, we decided to do the more final but perhaps more sensible thing and burn them. We will have a glad free garden next year.

I never had thrips before and I don't know where they came from. One has to wonder if it was the weather or if they came in on a new bulb purchase? Three of the most infested varieties came from one nursery. I'm sad about the bulbs, but for the thrips I say "Burn baby burn"!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stone Fascination

Both Ed and I have a real fascination with stones. It's not just the walls and paths he builds, but the interesting qualities of the stones themselves. This stone is a gorgeous wall stone. It has two parallel sides , but the shape is nicely off square. The color, texture and density are a little different from most stones we find here. Its present location is the temporary stone pile. A place in the shade garden wall is its likely destination. Because our stone here was dropped by the glacier we have a great diversity of stones. Fossils, flint, flat stones, round get the idea.

This stone is a top stone on the shade garden wall. I have no idea how the interesting pattern was formed, but it's fun to look at and so it gets a spot on the top of the wall. The sand in the three holes around the tinted area is a consequence of wall building. How the holes were formed is anyone's guess.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Finally Some Foxgloves

I've bought foxgloves from nurseries several times, and I've had flowers here and there. This year I was on the lookout for small foxglove plants. All summer when I was weeding and I came upon a tiny foxglove plant, Ed would come and carefully move it to this spot by the stone wall. Now I have a foxglove patch. The plants are looking good and they should have the necessary roots to get through the winter and produce their a beautiful display next year.

The low rosettes will reman under the snow like Sleeping Beauty requireing the kiss of the warm spring sun to awaken and bloom. It's a good thing they are ready. We have snow in the air and the garden soil is cooling down. It's time for a nice long nap!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hollyhock Skyscraper Demolition

It's cold and cloudy outside and a bit damp after yesterday's all-day rain. That doesn't keep Ed out of the garden. The broccoli got composted. Time is not going to make it smell any better. Next he decided to cut off the flower stalk of our garden skyscraper.This demolition was scheduled weeks ago, but the plant continued to flower. With growth at the base there is a good chance it will return next year. After considering the chainsaw, the big loppers were chosen for the job.

So how big is this hollyhock? Let me see, if Ed is 6' 3", and the hollyhock is more than twice his height then...

There's nothing quite like a tape measure to answer these difficult math problems. No cheating, I promise!  I saved a few more seeds, but most of the seeds have been scattered in the garden. Ed went off toward the compost with the hollyhock and his loppers. He'll be cutting it up into shorter lengths to fit it in the compost bin. I headed back in the house, stopping just long enough to watch a crow harassing a beautiful red tail hawk in the sky over the garden. I know why the crows hate hawks, but I can't help wondering why the hawks put up with such abuse.