Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sorry We're Closed

I confess to being a Goldilocks gardener. I like it not too hot, not too cold but just right. Yesterday was cold and rainy and I stayed inside. Ed spent some time outside anyway, and when he came in he told me about the snow drops over by my parents' memorial bench. I promised to take a walk over there. Today is colder with little snow is in the air, but I bundled up, and we walked the path over to the bench. It's a popular path with the deer. We really had to watch where we were walking. Most of the droppings were on a sloped part of the path. We speculated on whether these deposits were made going up the hill or going down. When we arrived we were greeted with two clumps of snow drops. All of the flowers were closed tightly on this cold and cloudy day.

The clump in the front illustrates how persistent these little flowers are. If leaves are over them, they just pierce right through and bloom anyway. Even closed up tight they were worth the trip!

These snow drops are the most impressive that we have. Self planted and largely undisturbed they have flourished here. Some were chewed off but most were intact. Shade is part of this location. We do not know if the luxurious growth is the result of somehow favorable conditions or because we leave them alone.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Alliums Love The Rain

The Alliums are making an appearance now that we have had some rain. They love water. Their leaves collect it to save for later. This one has grown a lot since this morning. Bulbs are wonderful that way. I find my excitement building. We put in some new bulbs last year. They are just getting started and have some serious growing to do.
When you plant bulbs with a name like A. gigantium it's hard for a gardener to contain their enthusiasm, but then why should they?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

No Moss !

A rolling stone gathers no moss, but an uncultivated spot in the garden is a different story. It's easy to see that something is pushing this moss up in the air. With last night's rain, however light, the bulbs are on the march.

I removed the moss roof from this area and you can see there are crocus plants underneath. Hopefully they will now grow to their full potential in the sunlight. The moss is headed for a spot outside the garden.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Half An Oval Plus

The trunk of the locust tree is inside the line between the two ends of the wall. That means the wall is more than half done. Each days progress adds greatly to the sense of pending completion. Soil in the hole was the first task today. One pie shaped wedge is ready for planting. Now more soil must be added before wall work can happen. Sifting soil is a task. Building wall is play. If tomorrows rain materializes, the aching back will rest from all this work and play.

Tree swallows were in the air here today. Their return is always welcomed. Sheer joy is the only way to describe the flight of tree swallows. Constant turns, climbs and dives is their style. For them flight is much more than a way to get from here to there. Blue birds have been in and out of the nest boxes. We will watch to see if they can hold their claim under the pressure from the swallows. Last year we watched in horror as a diving swallow knocked a blue bird from the top of the nest box. They will have to work this out. All we do is watch.

Friday, March 27, 2009

My First Day

The first things I noticed this morning were hordes of tiny bugs that filled the air in the morning light. It soon became obvious that this was the first day so nice that I just had to get outside and work in the garden. The first crocus to open had some help as you can see. Deer? Rabbits? Who knows! The ones protected by cages are not open yet. While I was working in the day lily bed I saw my first snake. It was small and fast, just a baby. My Eek reflex is working fine again this year. My first glimpse of a butterfly was a welcome sight. It was orange, gorgeous and very fast. I think perhaps it may have been a comma. The first female bluebird made her appearance at the nest boxes outside the kitchen window. The guys have been around for awhile, but now we have a pair. The first cowbirds made an appearance at the bird feeder. This is also the first day Ed has been playing outside all day in his shirt sleeves. When dinner is started, I'll have to go look for him!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I've Crossed The Border!

The garden is in a holding pattern. My plants are just sitting there. It has been cold, but it has also been dry. Right now we are looking at a very dry March.We have had a sprinkle of rain or a dusting of snow, but no real moisture. I think my bulbs are on strike until they get their April showers.

In the meantime I have been thinking about the herbs I used to have. I decided that I would grow patchouli again this summer. Tired of waiting for a promised catalog, I spent some considerable time with my fascinating Richters catalog. I have frequently ordered seeds from them in the past with great results, but never ordered plants from them before, because they are across the border in Canada. Well, I've gone international now, and it was soo... easy!

I ordered some Ayurvedic herbs,Ashwaganda, Bacopa,sushni and mucuna, for my daughter, patchouli (of course), a new Wintergreen mint,feverfew, lemon verbena and wintergreen plants. I ordered anise basil seeds too. The seeds will come soon. They do not ship plants until the weather is favorable. That will probably be a month at least. It will be interesting to see how I make out with my Canadian herbs. Eh?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Stefan Lives!

I had pretty much given up Stefan for dead. His trunk is down in the basement plant infirmary. I water there occasionally, but keep my distance.Those plants seem to do better that way. The stems that I put in water were hidden among the plants in the living room. Stefan's surgery was the end of January.For awhile I checked on him every day. This is now the end of March.I had given up hope, but the other day when I was working with my other plants, I knocked over the glass with Stefan's trunk pieces.It was then that I noticed. Look! We have roots!All of the pieces are showing some signs of life.

More than that, check out the top. New growth is pushing through the bark in several places. There will be a "Welcome Back Stefan" potting party very soon.

Curious I went down to check his trunk. It has a couple of new cracks in the bark. Maybe, just maybe it's not dead either!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Frozen Progress

Several warm bright days had encouraged outside work. Gravel could be screened for wall filling and it was possible to weed the garden beds. Birds were everywhere and bees found food in the freshly composted fruit peels. Then the wind shifted, blowing fiercely from the North driving us inside. It was an unwelcome 12 degrees F at wake up this morning. Everything in the garden is frozen solid again. The river is flowing freely, but the water has a thick look to it. Tonight will be clear. The sky will be full of stars. We will be watching from the warmth of the house. The cardinal flower plants will be exposed to the bitter cold. This is the kind of weather that sometimes ends their existence.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Lucky Me !

The weather here today was fantastic. Ed has been working on my shade garden wall all afternoon. I spent my time cleaning up the mint beds. How I miss the smell of fresh mints. Tea made from the dried leaves is lovely, but fresh mint is something very special. Just clearing away the dead plant material filled the air with the aroma. It was the same with the Monarda .

I found two flowers in the garden today. One is a snow drop and the other a rather anemic looking Johnny Jump Up. The first tricolor blackbird appeared today as well. One perhaps not so wonderful development is the return of the flies,but it goes with the territory. You can't expect the insect eating birds to return until the bugs are here.

It was after five when I went out and snapped these pictures. Ed is so focused on building the wall that I don't think he even noticed that I was doing it.

This has been a full sun garden for so long. I'm quite excited at the prospect of having at least a little bit of partial shade to plant. This spot will be sunny fairly late in the spring since it gets its shade from a locust tree. For me and the garden this was a very lucky day and I'm only a tiny bit Irish!

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Winds Of Change

Here is an area where the bedrock ridge meets the glacial fill. Water is always running between these two layers. Year round springs are common along the base of the ridge. Trees are limited to shallow root systems by the bedrock that is very near the surface. Plentiful water encourages rich growth. Wind had no difficulty pushing these trees over. An area that was beautiful and tranquil has been filled with a twisted jumble of fallen trees.

A shallow pond was formed with the back blade of a tractor to provide drinking water for livestock that pastured here. Those animals left with the previous owner. The pond remains. We were able to jump from the dam to the base of this tree when it was upright. This island of pines was home to a raccoon family and included a perch for the great horned owl. We have watched the young raccoons hide from us in the safety of a tree. Owl pellets littered the ground under the perch tree. Sometimes we just have to move on.

We have neither the tools nor the inclination to alter this mess. Trees that fall to the ground here decay rapidly. The attached root mass supports these fallen trees clear of the ground. They may remain intact for many years. We cannot modify so we will simply adjust.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

That Barbed Wire Will Get You!

It's a frosty morning , but the sun is shining, and I'm looking forward to another afternoon of wandering in the wild areas of the place. With the tall grass down you can walk almost everywhere, watching out for holes of course. Since we moved here we have removed miles of barbed wire. There is still fencing along the edges of the property line. They have been there for many years. I found it fascinating the way this black birch changed its growth when faced with the barbed wire. This tree managed to grow for years slowly growing wider and engulfing the offending wire. Sometime this winter the wind blew hard enough to snap the tree along the line of barbed wire .

The tree is being held up by its neighbors. It will be interesting to see if the tree is dead or if it will leaf out and carry on in its persistent growth in spite of the difficult conditions. Trees can teach you a lot!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Looking For Wintergreen

It was chilly this morning. I watched some crows harassing a red tail hawk just outside the living room window. What an aerial display! It really amazes me the way thos crows swoop after a hawk. This afternoon was much warmer. I went out to check the garden. Ed chased nine deer out of the garden last evening. They were munching on some of my plants. We moved cages around to try to protect some of the remaining bulbs. The rose campion only had a few leaves eaten so far.

After replacing a fallen birdhouse, Ed went down to work on his wall. I wandered around and found some wintergreen. It's a favorite plant of mine and it grows here in several places. New growth leaves are red and more tender. There are none here, either because it's too early or because they have been eaten. I admit I like to chew on them myself. The berries although hard to find are tasty as well. I was always a big fan of Teaberry gum and ice cream. Sadly most wintergreen flavoring now is artificial and tastes more like like Ben Gay. I'll keep looking for berries ane red leaves. The leaves make a delicious tea.

Ed and I pulled a wild grape vine out of a white pine. It probably wasn't the smartest thing we ever did. We stood well out away from the tree and nothing fell on our heads. I feel better with the vine gone before it strangled that nice tree.

Friday, March 13, 2009

It's March! Play It Cool!

Most of the snow is gone. It's chilly now having warmed up from cold overnight. One can't help but notice the increase in bird noise and activity. Geese , robins, starlings all represent signs of spring. A walk around the garden is more interesting now. The "garden skyscraper" hollyhock has growth at its base. It might make a comeback!

Some of the early spring bulbs are coming up, but the chilly weather has slowed their growth. I try to pay attention and heed my plants advice where the garden is concerned. I know even though I am itching to get to work in the garden, cutting back plants when the snow drops are hanging back is a bad idea. For the time being my perennials are on their own. This is the time of year here when plants that look like they have made it through the winter get zapped sometimes. I don't want to push it.

This is a New England aster. It's new growth looks so great and being a native it should know when to sprout. I take comfort from that. But I'm playing it cool! The early bird catches the worm, but not if the ground is still frozen!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Don't Try This At Home

We got more rain. The river is up, but staying nicely within its banks where it belongs. The garden is wet.This afternoon when the sun came out, Ed headed back to his wall . The stone down by the cherry tree is particularly gnarly. No matter how many times I have seen a wall appear using these misshapen and round stones, I still don't know how he does it. I need flat stones to build a wall and even then...

Working a wall like this is a combination of weight lifting and jigsaw puzzles. Ed finds it wonderful fun. It was a delightful afternoon to be outside. The geese are making plenty of noise. I'm sure I heard a bluebird. I saw one this morning sitting on top of the nest box in the rain. I mostly walked around checking to see how well the bulbs are coming up. There will be much to do when things dry off a bit. These early March days spent outside are really a bonus . My snow drops , glory of the snow, and Dutch iris are beginning to grow. Most years they come up through the snow. There's still time for that.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Over Wintered Spinach

Melting snow revealed growing spinach. Results like this are chancy. Continuous snow cover is credited for this first green crop. Left over spinach seed should be freely planted every fall. We need to tend to this task here. A large spinach patch could be ours if only we had completed this simple task. Every year we resolve to plant fall spinach in abundance. Prepare the ground, plant the seed and harvest the crop before it is time to plant the following year's beans. Fall planted spinach bolts quickly but there is a narrow window for early fresh greens. Young plants are more likely to overwinter. Predicting the time of ground freeze is inexact at best. Several fall plantings of spinach would improve the chances of spring survivors. Will the delight of fresh spinach salad now make us remember to plant spinach this fall? I hope so!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Stone Walls Grow Here!

As it happens the stones along this line are thawed and ready for building. Here the stone was pitched at field's edge in a random pile. The original farm has been sectioned and sold. Now this stone pile is a property line. The owner of the other half of the pile would also prefer a wall. No part of the garden is ready for attention so work is done here. This project will go dormant as soon as work in the garden is possible. These stones are not the best for wall building. Large gaps and rapid progress characterize the work here. Resident chipmunks objected over work in their territory. They lost no time finding use for the holes inside this wall.

Stones are the dominant feature here. A stake is customarily driven to secure the end of the marker line. Underlying stones would deny entrance to a stake. A stone tower holds the string. This stone pile is surprisingly deep. Plant matter that falls on stones decomposes into a black powder called duff. Duff will be the basis for the woodland garden that will grow here. We just need to pull out all of the stone.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Springtime Change

It's not just the clocks that are springing ahead. Suddenly after weeks of waiting for something to happen in the garden, so much is going on outside. All over the garden, plants that have finally lost their blanket of snow are bursting out of the soil. One of the reasons we northern gardeners plant bulbs is their thrilling , rapid growth. Blooms are soon to come!

Ed set up a new compost bin. The first fresh kitchen scraps were ceremoniously dumped this morning. Today, the first blue birds made their appearance atop the nest boxes outside the kitchen window. I wasn't entirely sure at first , but then I got a flash of brilliant blue.The cleaning of the nesting boxes went directly to the top of Ed's to do list. The contents of the boxes was mostly old nesting material from last year. Ed did have to evict one squatting tenant. A mouse had set up a nest in one of the boxes. The white fluff you see in the compost bin is the nest. She must have worked quite hard on it. It appeared to be made of little balls of plant material, perhaps milkweed or goldenrod fluff. No matter, the bluebirds have an ironclad lease on these nest boxes. Eviction is not negotiable! The beautiful bluebirds have until the arrival of the tree swallows to choose their nest site. The boxes are placed in twos so that tree swallows can nest in one and bluebirds in the other. It's a system that works well!

I was outside inspecting the garden and then walked down the drive to see Ed's progress on the wall by the wild cherry tree. A group of geese flew overhead, flying very high in the sky and going north. Even looking through the branches of the wild cherry tree you can see this was quite a large group. It must have been the fourth or fifth group to fly over so far today. Having left the wall long enough to have lunch, Ed is back out there now. He'll probably be out there until sundown unless rain dampens the fun.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Baby Sycamore

In the winter the sycamore is a magnificent tree. In this area the beautiful gray ladies stand majestically along rivers and streams. Without leaves, their gorgeous shape and peeling bark stand out against the white landscape. When we first purchased our land in the country,we walked every inch of the 30 acres. Not a single sycamore was growing here.

I had a tiny sycamore in my old garden. It was one of many plants given to me by Elle, one of my oldest gardening friends. So often she would call and say " I have a volunteer for you if you want it." She lived along the Ouleout Creek and sycamore trees were a frequent "weed" in her garden, "weed" being any plant that 's growing where it isn't wanted. When we left that garden some of the plants came with us. Baby sycamore got transplanted again. We carefully chose a spot back by the pond where there is plenty of water. Ed dug a large hole, removing many stones. Unbelievably there are even more stones back there than there are here in the garden. He refilled the hole with dirt and placed a metal cage around the tree to at least partially protect it from critters.

Now our baby has grown. the metal cage has long been replaced with fence posts and barbed wire to keep the deer from rubbing on her beautiful trunk. She still looks quite small outlined against the hemlock trees, but after more than a decade the tree grows an amazing amount every year.

Peeling bark is normal for a sycamore as it matures. The brown bark of youth is replaced with a smooth gray outer surface. We look for seed balls each year but so far our young tree remains fruitless. I read that sycamore trees live for five hundred years. Maybe our tree really is still a baby. Our hope is to have sycamore trees sprung from seed. The idea growing trees from seeds keeps us looking for a long future.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Wildlife Neighbors

The area where we live is more than ten square miles surrounded by secondary town roads. One seasonal road, no snow plow service, cuts across these wilds. Human homes and a few working farms are scattered alongside of the town roads. Our land has not been farmed for decades. Wolves and mountain lions did live here when the first Europeans arrived. Local legend has both mountain lions and wolves still here. There are reports that the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation has released mountain lions in the area hoping for a self sustaining population. It is likely that the wolf lives on only in legend.

We acquired this land in 1994. Our initial activity focused on establishing a garden. Our second year here brought the garden bench. We were sitting on the bench following a days work when an Eastern Coyote crested the high meadow and started down the hill in our direction. The coyote quickly sensed our silent presence and retreated back to the high meadow. Shortly it reappeared moving forward while pressed to the ground. He gave us a good long look before disappearing. Subsequent coyote sightings have been rare. Coyotes simply avoid people.

Our most common contact with coyotes is at night. Their calls and howls sometimes fill the night air. Echoes from the hidden valley near the ridge multiply the howls. It can sound like we are surrounded by a very large group of scary animals. Literature describes the coyote as a solitary creature. Solitary creature and the night chorus seem contradictory to me.

Admiration has to be a response to the adaptability of the coyote. Not all wild animals can flourish adjacent to man's activities. A coyote will eat a grasshopper or the grass it hops in as well as the deer mouse or a deer. A willingness to eat almost anything makes it unlikely that one would ever meet a hungry coyote. In reality the likelihood of a hostile encounter with a coyote is extremely small.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Fresh Surprise

My outside walk took me to the back of the property. This area is in the shelter of a pine tree covered ridge. Daytime sunlight does not directly shine here. When walking across the meadow toward the area one reaches a point where the air is noticeably colder. The tracks in the snow suggest a fresh kill. The red stained snow supports that speculation. This was clearly the recent work of coyotes.

Near the area of the kill was a frozen venison steak. There were no bones anywhere in the area. Basic common sense dictates that one not linger at the site of a fresh kill. The new owners may be nearby. After a cursory inspection of the area I was gone from there. Scenes like this cause me to question the wisdom of walking about in this relative wilderness armed only with my wit and a smile. Any discussion of a weapon ends quickly. Becky is confident that the most likely outcome of me walking with a gun would be a self inflicted wound. I have to hope that these killers keep themselves well fed.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Late Winter Surprise

Finally a day fit for an outside walk. Overnight the temperature fell into the low teens covering the car with frost. By early afternoon the thermometer registered in the forties. Outside was the only place to be. I followed a deer trail up the south side of the gravel bank hill. Walking the deer trail allows one to miss most of the blackberry cane scratches. This deer skeleton was next to the trail at the top of the hill. Since the antlers are still attached, this deer went down in the fall. There are two likely causes of death. Bucks fight each other for the favor of the does. A horn wound to the side is possible. An incompletely skilled hunter could also have caused this death. We do not hunt but we do allow one hunter to thin the herd. Many hunt on land adjacent to ours.

In any event the deer became food for many creatures. Only bones and scraps of fur remain. The air is tinged with the smell of death. This was an eight point buck. I have found two other buck skulls over the years. All of these skulls were from bucks with eight points. Does that coincidence measure the fertility of the area? Available forage will support the development of average sized bucks but is it insufficient to grow trophy deer? The deep glacial gravel at or just below the surface supports scraggly plant growth.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Anticipation Is Making Me ...

Wait? Yes! Whine, I'm afraid so. I think I can handle the snow, but I'm not happy with wind chill advisories. It's March for Pete's sake! The seed catalogs that I love to look at are beginning to irritate as well. Do I really need another copy of a beautiful, glossy, tree- wasting, catalog after I have already ordered?

Last night I thought I heard the great horned owl hooting outside my window. Ordinarily I would crank open the window and listen, but was too cold. Perhaps it was only the wind and wishful thinking.

Curling up under a blanket with one of my old favorite gardening books seemed like a good thing to do. In the process I found an old price list from an herb nursery dated 2000. I used to order unusual and exotic herbs from this place before herbs were popular. Some of my favorite herb nurseries are now gone. I miss them! With the popular herbs being sold everywhere, it's hard to compete. I called and they are sending me a new catalog and price list . Oh boy! I hope they still have anise basil , patchouli and lemon verbena for starters. Once again I'm checking the mailbox in breathless anticipation. It feels great!