Saturday, January 31, 2009

I'm Sorry, So Sorry...

This plant was so incredibly gorgeous when it was given to me. It's a white cyclamen. I'm ashamed to say it has been going down hill ever since I got it. I don't know what it needs, but it obviously is not getting it from me. If it survives the rest of the winter in my care, I think I'll plant it in Ed's new shade garden. At this rate I'll have to set up a plant ICU.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Fox Fun?

There's not much to see in the garden. It is mostly just white. The fox is on patrol however. In the past, I have watched out the window to see him walk along, then stop and tilt his head to listen. This is followed by a pounce, then he sticks his head in the snow. These tracks take me to that point, but after that I don't know.

It's obvious from the tracks that he didn't just go back to his straight walking stride. My hope is that he's finding those little brown , scurrying, furry creatures that hang out in the garden. The fewer of those the better. The darn things give me a stress test every time I see them. My shriek is not as loud as for a snake, but it's loud!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Breakfast In Bed

The experience of caring for parents in their last days was fresh in our minds when we designed our new house. Since one can be forced to spend much of their day in bed, the view from the bed had to be able to take one outside. The bedroom windows face south and east. No neighbors allow for no curtains. The locust tree with its several bird feeders fill the eastern view from the bed.

This morning the effects of yesterdays fight with the new storm had me lingering in bed. The mystery raptor flew into the locust tree. This bird is a frequent visitor but we have been unable to make an identification. It is either a small hawk or a large falcon. The flock of morning doves followed the raptor toward the tree. The raptor shot into the incoming doves and grabbed a dove in midair. It was our intention to feed the birds from our tree. We supply suet blocks, bargain peanut butter and seed. The birds that are drawn to the food we provide are themselves food for larger birds.

The morning show was not yet over. There was movement on the hill behind the locust tree. The fox was also looking for a meal. Sometimes the new snow remains trackless for a day or two. Yesterday's storm left a generous snowfall. Its surface is crisscrossed with many different tracks this morning. The late winter breeding season is close at hand.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Look It's A Weed

Too cheap or stubborn to buy sterilized potting soil,we mix our own. That of course means I get weeds in my pots. This particular weed is a bedstraw. In the summer the meadows around our mowed area have huge patches of it. The farmer who worked this land planted it to improve the meadow based on information from Cornell. It's lovely in the meadow, but not so welcome in the garden or in my potted plants.

It's odd perhaps that I haven't yanked out this particular weed yet. I guess I'm saving it for a day when I feel compelled to play in the dirt. It's almost big enough now to be really satisfying to pull. Soon...I'll pull it soon!

Is There A Tree Surgeon In The House?

I knew it was coming. Stefan was reaching for the light and becoming more and more off balance. It was getting to be a limbo contest to get under him to go down the stairs. Then cracks began to appear on his lower trunks. The pot toppled over at the least provocation. It was time! Ed went out to the shed and brought in the loppers. I held Stefan's trunk not once, but twice so that Ed could cut it off. You can see the results.

I saved several lengths of trunk and put them in water. Who knows? They might sprout. The other remains are out on top of the frigid compost pile. Stefan pulled through this kind of operation once before. All we can do now is water, watch, wait and hope. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Snow Tracks

These very interesting marks in the snow are near the base of the compost pile. Many different types of marks are evident here, but it's the mark that looks like it was made by a bird's wing that fuels my imagination.

We have a pair of Great Horned owls that we sometimes see, and more often hear. I don't know if the print in the snow was made by an owl's wing. Still, it is very easy to imagine an owl silently gliding down to softly land in the snow and then fly away with its brown furry prize. The owls are beginning their nesting now. The complete lack of marks of a struggle, fur,or blood in the snow would seem to indicate that the unsuspecting prey was swept away. Perhaps it's fate was to be a catered breakfast for a nesting mother.

Of course I could be completely wrong. The marks could be something else entirely. They could be anything... the Statue of Liberty maybe! One thing sure there was a lot going on in the snow while we were sleeping!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Fresh, Really Fresh, Ginger

My ginger plant is doing much better in spite of the snow just outside the window. I am totally thrilled, and I owe it all to Sunita.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be getting plant advice from India , halfway around the world, but so it is. It's all quite magical! Just one click on her name and you go from the cold of Upstate New York to a fascinating tropical scene.

All I had to hear was that ginger comes up during monsoon season and I knew that more water was the missing ingredient for my ginger plant. With the additional water, not only are new stalks forming, but the rhizomes are growing too. I love cooking with "fresh" ginger. I wonder just how long it has been since the ginger root I can buy has been growing. I can hardly wait to try this really fresh ginger. The trouble is I only have one plant. I'll be checking out the organic ginger when I get to the health food store for more rhizomes to plant. This year I'm going to have my own little ginger plantation!

Oh Deer Visitors !

It's warm enough today to do a little melting. I took advantage of the warmth to get out and take some pictures. Obviously the deer are making themselves right at home here , yellow snow and all. It's circumstantial evidence, I know, but Ed swears it wasn't him ! Apparently this deer stopped for a pit stop on his way up the hill to munch on the tender buds and shoots of our high bush blueberry bushes. Both the blueberries and the deer were here before we came here, so I guess it's only right.

Deer tracks crisscross the yard from the pines, through the garden around the apple trees and into the bushes. Sometimes the deer are running and tracks are an unbelievable distance apart. Sometimes they just walk along and nibble on any plant they happen to pass by.Occasionally we see them, but if they are anywhere near a bush or some trees , they can literally disappear before your very eyes.

I have to admit a fondness for them in spite of any problems they might cause in the garden.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Winter's Promise

The snow deposited on the upper surfaces of the trees is what caught my eye. The storm that deposited this snow occurred several days ago. The cold stillness that followed the storm left the snow undisturbed. The bright sunshine could build no warmth to soften this snow. The picture is two days old. Most of the snow on the branches dropped today. The air temperature reached the mid twenties F and the sun managed to build some heat on the dark tree branches.

The sky was really that blue when the photo was taken. The cleanness of the polar air mass that descended upon us did have its positive points. A Catskill hike under an Arctic air mass has always intrigued me. The possible smog free views would be worth the effort. Risk vs reward must be considered. So far risk has been the controlling factor.

The red buds on the soft maple trees went unnoticed until we saw the picture. The buds are tightly closed but the red color of the maple flowers is clearly there. There is little local respect for the soft or swamp maple. The hard maple supplies the sap for maple syrup. Syrup can be made from the sap of the soft maple but the boil is longer because the sugar content is lower. Still the sap drips from a broken soft maple branch caught on an outstretched tongue are a late winter treat. It will not be long before the sap begins to move up the trees. The sap flow will be followed by the maple flowers. The promise will be kept.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Common Sumac

Today I took the first walk to the back of the property this year. The cold, ice and snow have kept me near the house. The stand of sumac with its red seed clusters was the bright source of color today. Sumac is an often overlooked scrub tree. It commonly grows along the roadside with other weeds. We have moved some ditch weeds into our garden. New England aster and sweet rocket are two examples of roadside weeds that we have placed in the garden. This sumac planted itself but we have not cut it down. Occasionally the snow will be littered with the red seed casings scattered by a feeding bird. We will have to pay closer attention to what bird actually feeds on sumac.

Sumac is a major source of Fall color here. The leaves turn a bright solid red. This tree is rather unkempt in general appearance. The picture that shows the red color in a pleasing way has so far escaped us.

Sumac berries can be boiled to make a lemon tasting tea. An elementary school teacher introduced our children to sumac tea but we have yet to try it.

Today's walk was pleasant. The temperature was only in the mid teens F but the sunlight is showing some strength as it climbs higher each day. I walked with my bald solar panel hat-less collecting some natural vitamin D.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Stones and More Snow

On my trip to the basement to get the last butternut squash from the garden for another batch of African groundnut stew, I stopped to gaze out the window at the falling snow. More falling snow is building up on our mysterious ledge of snow. As I watched the whole thing became less mysterious. The flakes that fall directly on the ledge make it higher. That's not really a surprise. It's the flakes that almost brush by but catch on the edges and stick, that make it grow horizontally. It's a mesmerizing process. Speaking of flakes, who would stand there with onions , garlic and squash in their arms long enough to make such a discovery? The answer is obvious. That would be me! Fortunately I was able to break the spell . Lunch will be ready soon. It smells GREAT!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Stones and Snow

Ed snapped these great shots of his curved walls before he headed outside. The snow on the horizontal surfaces of these walls accentuates the irregularities of the field stone we have here. The stones used are far from bricks . They are even very different from uniform thickness blue stone you might buy by the pallet. My photography teacher would have loved these shots. He was fond of a curved path that disappears out of sight. Ahh the drama of the unknown is exciting!

I'm somewhat fascinated with the one clump of snow sticking out from the wall on the right . It seems to be just hanging there. I'm curious about how it came to be formed in such a way and truthfully I'm a bit stumped. One wonders if it will collect more snow and become larger or just drop off when it warms up. All this mystery from snow, stones and wind. Isn't it amazing where a gardener's mind wanders in January?

No time for this kind of reverie for Ed, he is still out there plowing the driveway again. The snow continues to fall.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Frozen Footprints

The weather has moderated a bit today. The goal of readings above zero seems within reach. Yesterday no tracks in the snow were evident, but now the animals are moving. I'm still curled up in my den, but maybe after several frigid days they are hungry.

Just what can we tell from this great set of tracks? The print on the left is easy to identify. It's Ed's size 11 boot and measures 12" long. The other tracks belong to a fox. The footprints in a line like that clearly were made by a fox

When a fox walks his tracks double register. That is the hind foot is placed directly on top of the print from the front. It seems like it would be difficult to do that , but if you are smart like a fox , I guess it's easy. There are two kinds of foxes here, the red fox, Vulpes vulpes, and the gray fox,Urocyon cinereoargenteus. We have seen both kinds based on the white or black on the end of their tail. According to my reference, Tracking and the Art of Seeing, these less than 12" apart tracks are more likely to belong to a gray fox.

Gray foxes are native. Red foxes are from Europe. I'm not entirely convinced that there hasn't been some hybridization going on. Until we moved here I had never heard of a gray fox. The most incredible thing about a gray fox is it's ability to climb trees. I even followed some tracks to the edge of the woods once, and saw them end at the trees. Frankly I was spooked at first to think that a fox could get up in the trees, but gray foxes just have a lot in common with cats.

I love having a friendly fox hanging around the garden. Here's hoping our fox found the furry breakfast he was looking for.

Friday, January 16, 2009

I Live In Zone 4, I Live In Zone 4...

This tuberose is the poster child to remind me that I live in zone 4. Not only did I not get any fragrant flowers, but the plant barely got started growing when it was time to dig it up and move it inside. Three plants from the five bulbs may be great success in zone 4, but I want fragrant flowers!

Actually the weather today is a vivid reminder that I live in zone 4. You know it's cold when we look through the binoculars to see if the flag is down on the mailbox before we suit up and trudge down there . No extra trips are being made outside today. It's blindingly white and bitterly cold out there .

We intend to settle down and order seeds,and we did make some progress today, dropping some of the catalogs we know we won't be ordering from into the recycling. With all the catalogs we get, there are way too many choices.

This year one catalog in particular captured my imagination for some reason. High Country Gardens : plants for the water wise garden and beyond is the name of this piece of temptation. This catalog comes from Santa Fe, NM. Something in me balks at ordering plants and having the poor things travel that kind of distance in a cardboard box. Still there is an agave on the front cover that is just sooo BIG!

Something needed to be done so I got a big old black marker and black marked all the plants that were zone 5 and up. Most of the really tempting plants were eliminated. Checking the rainfall map I discovered only non-Xeric plants are recommended for here. Now the temptation is nearly gone. At least it's down to a level where I can move this catalog into the recycling. Oh there is one other thing. The is the only catalog where I have ever seen Ribes odoratum, clove currant, for sale. Of course I have that so I don't need any more, but they do have it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

It's Still Winter

It's a calm winter day today. The garden is a beautiful scene. We watched an immature eagle soar down from the high meadow to the river. He never flapped his wings, not even once, until he reached the river.Yesterday we got some new snow, and wind to go with it.The snow blew through the garden and erased any sign of tracks. The paths we require to get in and out had to be shoveled once again.

It's quite amazing to me the way the snow evens everything out, but then sometimes it leaves a hole for no apparent reason. Ed's footprints leading to the garden shed have disappeared completely until just before the door to the shed. Waves and ripples appear much like the ripples on sand dunes. Drifts appear in the most interesting places.

Our inside gardening project for today is to order the potatoes. We like to order directly from a small potato farmer, Ronniger's. Right now we are playing a game of phone tag. When that order is done the serious seed shopping will begin.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

After The Snow, A Perfect Day

This is a really beautiful spot right after the snow. It's so muffled and quiet, so new white and clean. What a perfect day to sit with a nice cup of herb tea and stare outside. But there are other things to do after a snow storm.

The blue cast on the snow shows it was early this morning when Ed headed out to get his garden tractor to begin to clear the driveway. We have a long curvy driveway with quite a drop in elevation down to the road and the river. He was out there all morning. With some effort I managed to get him to come in for lunch. He went right back out and is still pushing snow like a kid with a Tonka toy. Nothing makes him happier than spending the day outside, using his garden tractor is just a bonus. It's a bit of a race now. There is just over an hour of daylight left, and he has not yet reached the road. Oh right, I forgot, he has headlights. Perhaps dinner will be late, but I'm betting he'll reach his goal. Like I said, "What a perfect snowy day!"

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Wabbit Twacks!

Obviously there was a rabbit party here. I'm no tracker. I can't tell when, or how many, but I do know rabbit tracks when I see them. Those big back feet are a dead giveaway. This rabbit party was not in the garden. The rabbits were under my car, under the porch and even on top of the stone wall leading into the basement. In each case there is nothing for a rabbit to eat in any of those those locations. I guess they were there for some other reason. Let's see what else do rabbits do besides eat? Uh-Oh!!! That means more rabbits!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Seed Potatoes Now?

This is the last of our Purple Viking potatoes. These potatoes with their red and purple skins and pure white flesh are almost too pretty to eat. These look like they are ready to plant, but it's January.They are on the menu for tonight.

We do not have the perfect conditions for potato storage. The basement is heated enough to be too warm for them. Given proper storage they would not look like this until spring. If you look closely, you can see we have a problem with scab. The plain fact is that Ed's garden beds enriched with three year old compost and even older old manure are too good for potatoes. They prefer new soil. We still have more to learn about growing better potatoes.

I love it when I can leave the skins on when I cook these colorful potatoes. However I would rather cut off the bad spots and take off the sprouts knowing that they indicate a lack of chemicals. In this case I prefer the imperfections.

Since we don't have the perfect storage conditions for potatoes, we buy new seed every year. I must look for that potato catalog. Ordering seed potatoes is definitely up next!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Onion Plants , Our First Catalog Order

The first catalog order is done. Since we have been pleased with the onions grown last year, we simply repeated the order for this year. The variety Red Zeppelin is pictured above. Red onions that keep are a first for us. Their colorful contribution to winter meals seems to make the meal more pleasant. If there is a downside to this variety, we have yet to discover it.

The copra onions are almost gone. They are a definite favorite. They are so uniform and such a nice size, that when you want a large onion it's just natural to reach for a copra. We used to grow these from seed, but we had such great results with plants ordered directly from Dixondale Farms in Texas that we have made the change. There is a wealth of information on growing onions in their catalog. I'm happy now! I can check ordering the onions off my to do list.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

How Do I Love Onions, Let Me Count...

First are chives. I use regular chives for a mild onion flavor and the blossoms in salads . I have circle chives too, but I've never tried eating those. They are just too pretty.

Second are Egyptian walking onions. I use those instead of scallions. Both of these are now out of reach in the frozen garden.

Third are shallots. These have a mild onion flavor too ,and are my choice for winter use where mild uncooked onion flavor is called for. Some of the shallot crop is saved for seed. The seed braids hang in the background. The seed braids have a tag at the bottom that reads SEED. The seed braids are hung as high as possible hopefully beyond each reach of the cook. This has to do with past experience . No need to go there again.

Fourth are potato onions. The braid in the foreground of the photo is potato onions. They are great for cooking. Both shallots and potato onions are bunching onions. You plant one onion and get a bunch. Once purchased the same stock can be carried over from year to year. The saved seed onions and shallots will be planted in the garden very early in the spring.

Some gardeners might stop there, but not me. I said I love onions ! Onion plants get ordered in January. Wait that's NOW! Gotta go!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Frost Along The River

Our wake temperature was near zero this morning. The river is still flowing freely but the ice is closing in from the riverbanks. The cold dry air draws moisture from the river. The sea smoke fills the air near the river but it freezes quickly. Any surface near the river grows ice crystals. The photo would have been more impressive if it had been taken nearer sunrise. It is a fair walk down the hill to the frost. The photo had to wait until we were leaving for other reasons.

The big event for today was a bald eagle soaring over the river. He perched in a tree right on the river bank just east of here. It's still a great thrill to see a bald eagle. It gives a person hope since they have come so far back from near extinction. It makes environmental change for the better seem possible.

Some of the wonderful riches from our garden are already gone. Next year we need to plant more carrots and peas. I need to dry more catnip and spearmint. I really need to put on my gloves and inventory to see what's left. We are almost ready to send out that first seed order of 2009!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Indoor Garden Guilt

I really prefer to garden outside. Outside the conditions are what they are. They are not my responsibility. As soon as the plants come inside the finger of guilt if something goes wrong pretty much points in my direction.
This "Huntington Carpet' rosemary" looked perfectly fine when it came in for the winter. Now it's starting to drop its leaves like last year's Christmas tree. At first glance I thought it might be dead. I could have dealt with that I guess. There's some guilt tossing a plant on the compost pile, but at least it's over quickly.

Closer inspection reveals that this rosemary is still with us. There are some green leaves with brown tips and even little flower buds. Now I have to deal with my guilt. What do those brown tips mean? Did I give the plant too much water or not enough? Do I strip the dead leaves or let them drop naturally? Obviously something needs to change , but what?

The first change will be a change of scenery. Like any plant that starts to look pathetic, the rosemary will be banished to the basement.Perhaps the plant will do better there. It's cooler, but not nearly so cold as the compost pile. The plant might die, but I don't have to watch!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Lemon Verbena In January

In a warmer climate lemon verbena this time of year would be no big deal. Around here by this time often the plants are already doing their dead stick imitation. We are going to visit my daughter today and I'm taking fruit salad with lemon verbena. There's no recipe. Just chop up whatever fresh or frozen fruit you may have, for us it's apples, bananas, clementines,blueberries, and strawberries. Trim the rib from 3 or 4 lemon verbena leaves and chop. Add to the fruit and give the flavors a little time to blend. No sugar is needed and you won't believe how special your fruit becomes. Dried leaves make a nice lemon tea and go well in potpourri.

My plants seem to be doing well in the south facing basement window. It's a little cool down there. Perhaps that discourages the white flies that are so bothersome for lemon verbena.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Bay Laurel , Herb of the Year

My Richter's catalog finally came. Besides being a catalog it is a great reference on herbs. I have a passion for herbs, having cooled down from a true obsession. I don't feel like I have to collect every herb on the planet any more, but I still love them. Laurus Nobilis is the herb for 2009. Isn't that just about the classiest Latin name ever? I suppose that has to do with the laurel wreath thing. I used to use dried bay leaves in cooking thinking that they didn't add much flavor, if any. Once I obtained my first bay plant and used the fresh leaves that all changed. You would not believe the difference. The leaves still need to be removed before serving They are quite stiff and I have read dangerous to swallow.

Bays are a bit fussy about chills. They are the first pots to come in in the fall and the last to go out in the spring. They can up and die on you with just a chill let alone a frost. Their other common problem is scale. Many's the time I've scraped the disgusting little things off the underside of the leaves and painted the plant with insecticidal soap. The past couple of years that has not been a problem. This plant is truly worth it all, if you ever use bay in cooking. Yes, I have two. They stay in their pots and sit on either side of the stone patio when they have their time in the garden.

Friday, January 2, 2009

How Weird Is That ?

My P.tomentosum, peppermint scented geranium, has some real weirdness going on at the base of the plant. I don't know what it's doing , but I know what has to be done. This year, without fail, cutting must be rooted from this plant so it can have a new start.

The leaves are still fuzzy soft and adorable. To me my peppermint geranium is the plant equivalent to a Persian cat. It doesn't purr when caressed, but it does release its delightful aroma whenever it is touched or watered.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

An Auspicious Beginning

Watching the sun come up over the ridge is something I enjoy doing. This morning, on the first day of 2009, something special greeted me. For the first time in my life I saw not just one, but two sun dogs standing like pillars on either side of the sun as it peeked over the top of the ridge at sunrise. I managed to snap a picture of the sun dog to the south. Perhaps if I had suited up and gone outside I could have gotten the whole scene, but more likely by the time I got dressed and out there the whole thing would have been gone. It's cold today . That's not a surprise since the sun dogs are made by the refraction of light on crystals of ice.

Now begins planning on this years garden in earnest. It's a fine day to sort through the seeds on hand. There are always some seeds left over from planting last year, seed packets we never got around to opening, and seeds saved from the garden.It might seem like more seeds would be unnecessary, but they really are. Besides seed catalogs are some of the best entertainment there is for a gardener in January.