Thursday, December 31, 2009

Garden 2009, Put To Bed.

Twas the night before... no wait this is New Year's Eve.  Well not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse.   We had snow falling for much of the day.  The garden looks so pristine and white without a footprint in sight.  There's nothing like a blank slate to begin a new year.  It's one of the nice things about gardening in a cold climate.  The 2009 Stone Wall Garden has been put to bed.  Stone Wall Garden 2010 begins tomorrow.  There's nothing quite like a fresh clean start.

Happy New Year! Not being night owls Ed and I will also be put to bed, and spend the midnight hour dreaming not of sugar plums, but of next year's garden.  We are quite sure it will be the best ever!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Back To Winter

Our spring-like weather disappeared overnight.  I sat by the window this morning watching the snow fall.  With it comes icy roads, shoveling and plowing.  From the comfort of the living room, the scene is unbelievably beautiful.  As I sat drinking my coffee and staring out at the snow, a fox ran through the garden and up the hill into the trees.  Usually when we see a fox here he's moving slowly.  This fox ran with effortless speed and grace that was astounding.  I would hate to be a rabbit trying to escape such an animal, it would catch me for sure!  I've seen what I was pretty sure were fox tracks, but it was a thrill to catch even so short a glimpse of the animal.   He's so welcome here.  With all the rabbit tracks in the garden he can stop by for dinner every day if he wants.  He was too fast to get a look at his tail.  I don't know it it was white or black, but whether he's a red fox or a gray fox it's bunnies BEWARE!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

It Might As Well Be Spring

I knew this morning as I watched the sun come up over the hill dissipating the fog that hung in the valley overnight, that today was going to be a glorious day.  It was not terribly cold overnight so by 10:00 the garden beckoned.  Today was perfect for walking in the garden.   Geese flew over us so low that we could hear the swishing of their wings as they passed directly over our heads.

With the temperatures in the forties, it could be a day in April as far as
the garden is concerned.  The lambs ear, now without its cover of snow, looks like it's all ready to get started growing.


Ed's "Fiona Coghill" Shasta Daisies look beautiful.  But it's not really April.  I hope they will look this good then.  When winter comes back, and it will, it can be very unkind to exposed plants.

The main part of the vegetable garden is completely devoid of snow.  Ed's stone paths make it easy to inspect every bed.  Johnny Jump Ups have flowers that must have been under the snow.  The chervil has made a carpet in the Gloriosa Daisy bed.  Some beds have weeds waiting to be pulled.  Only the kale is really visible in the picture.  It's now at it's best for winter use.   So far Ed's garlic remains sleeping under its covering of mulch.  A little touch of spring in December made for a fantastic day, but what of tomorrow?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Present

In a Christmas long past, this was my Dad's Christmas present.  Children frequently got just one present in those days.  This one was beloved by him, and is treasured by us.   Wear shows that the toy was played with.   The antlers being intact show that it was given careful attention.

In less distant Christmases Past, we went out and hauled trees down off the hill at the Christmas tree farm.  The chosen tree was always too big and had to be cut down to fit in the living room.  It usually had a crooked trunk and had to be wired in the corner, because it would fall over otherwise.  We had bright lights,silver garlands, family heirloom ornaments, icicles, and best yet ornaments made by the children.  It was wonderful!

Now it is Christmas Present.  I wanted the smell of pine in the house, but no way did I want to cut down a tree.  Ed trudged through the garden to a white pine to cut some branches.  He came back with fragrant pine, asparagus berries and rose hips.  It's a small arrangement, but for us and for this year it's perfect!  The family will be together tomorrow.  That's the important thing.

And what of Christmas Future?  Who knows?

What we have now is the present, and Ed and I wish everyone the Merriest Christmas ever!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Solstice Bonfire

New York State has banned outdoor burning with a few exceptions.  Religious observations are allowed.   In marking the Winter Solstice we had a fire.   As darkness fell the fire displayed true splendor.   Glowing ash was carried skyward by the rising hot air to the height of nearby trees. Occasionally a chunk of ash would break into pieces and the still glowing parts would fall earthward having lost the rising air currents.  Closer to the fire the burning ash would leave a visible trail of burning gasses.  These glowing threads snaked around each other as they shot toward the heavens. Some of those trails can be seen in the picture.   I have never seen a fire like this.   Standing outside as the temperature dropped into the teens is an activity that I seldom endure.   Is it possible that the light display was produced by a combination of cold dry air and the hot fire?   Whatever the cause, I stood and watched for a great while.   The constellation Orion climbed above the ridge that is our eastern horizon.    Coyote activity was heard nearby.   It was by all accounts a night to remember.

There are plans for the wood ash created by the fire.  We recently read that Madonna Lilies benefit from being planted in wood ash. If our lilies remain alive this Spring, I plan to enrich their ground with the wood ashes from our solstice fire.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

It's Frozen Now!

If one should wait for the ground to be frozen to cut chrysanthemum stems and lay them across the plants to protect the new growth, then the time for waiting is definitely over.  It's frigid outside.  The ground is hard.  Even around noon on this shortest of days, the temperature has not improved much. Ed went outside anyway, and did some cutting back on the chrysanthemums.  He came inside for lunch and to warm up.  I bundled up and went out with the camera.  I followed his tracks in the snow to take some pictures.  This Emperor of China plant remains intact.  These plants show new green growth on the old wood.   Not sure of the best course of action, he decided to cut some plants down but left this one.  Time will tell which works out the best.

These are the Clara Curtis mums on the South side of the stone square.  They were so beautiful this year.   I hope they come back.  The latest snow storm didn't reach us.  Only a thin layer of snow covers the garden.  I can almost feel the plants shivering under their too thin blanket of snow.

I was feeling cold, but I walked over by the shade garden and the bird feeder.  A woodpecker and two black cap chickadees were in the locust tree.  I wonder to myself why they stay where it is so cold when they could just fly South, but then I guess the same question applies to us.  We still love it here even with the cold.  The water in the butterfly bath is frozen hard.  I can't help noticing that white circle of ice that has formed in the center.  The freezing habits of water are a complicated mystery to me.   The river is freezing up too.  The deep slow moving section of the river near here looks like a skating ring.  The faster moving areas are thickening with floating ice.  Winter has officially started. January and February can be very cold here, but at least the sun has stopped it's descent to the South. Now every day the sun will climb a little higher and the daylight will last a little longer.  With that knowledge and my seed catalogs, I know I can make it to Spring

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Garden Prints

The sun is shining brightly and the sky is blue.  When I looked out the window this morning I noticed some interesting tracks in the garden.  I put on my boots, hat, and coat and headed outside with the camera.  This first set of prints are on the patio at the top of the ramp from the basement.  I'm pretty sure they belong to a skunk.  The diagonal pattern is distinctive.  These tracks went down the ramp to the basement door.   We give the outdoors to the critters after dark with good reason.  I must have been sheltered from the wind by the house because at first it seemed quite nice out but it was really cold.

I headed over to another set of promising looking footprints.  These I think, and really hope, are fox tracks.  The straight line of double register prints make the chances of my wish being true very good indeed.  If the fox has returned to our garden, it is most welcome.   In its absence the numbers of mice have increased dramatically.  We haven't had a lot of new snow, but now the wind was blowing hard enough to make swirls of snow that danced across the garden.  I found more tracks from mice and birds to photograph, but with the temperatures in the teens, and the wind incredibly cold I headed in. When I checked my pictures I found that the longer I stayed out, the more blurry my photos became. Maybe I was shivering enough to move the camera or maybe I was in a hurry to get back inside.  It's too chilly outside today for me.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Bigger Cage

I sometimes talk to my plants.  If this Dianthus could talk to me, it would say "Excuse me, I think I need a bigger cage here!".  Now it tells me!  The ground may be too hard to make the change.  We have to cage Dianthus in this garden because they stay so beautiful through the winter even under the snow, that the deer and the rabbits really enjoy eating them.

It's easy to see that the trimming has already begun.  By spring this plant will likely be trimmed right back to the wire cage.  Our weather has warmed somewhat.  It's in the high thirties today, but it's cloudy and drizzly.  Our snow has been reduced to little balls of ice.  In some places like the south facing bed in front of the house and the driveway, it is gone altogether.  Perhaps tomorrow we can get some mulch on the Madonna Lilies and cut back the chrysanthemums using the stems to mulch the new green growth at the base.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Blue Hubbard Squash Day

Freezing rain followed by gigantic snowflakes changing back to rain and the promise from the DOT of icy roads made this a perfect day for staying home.  It's also a perfect day to have the oven going making the kitchen cozy.  This fall, after hearing about our tragic squash borer wars, my neighbor Rose left squash on my porch.  I used the butternuts already but the big blue Hubbard sat waiting in the basement.  Processing a 20 inch blue Hubbard squash is a two person production for us.

I got out my worn copy of The Victory Garden Cookbook.  It is a fantastic resource on the growing, processing and cooking of garden produce.  This squash cut in half would take 1 1/2 hours at 350 per half to bake.  While I checked out the cooking times, Ed got the saw to cut the squash in half.

We were not pleased to find bad spots in the squash.  Part of me wants to be the kind of cook who only uses perfect ingredients, but I come from a family of gleaners and that part of my upbringing says to save what is good and compost what is not.  This procedure required the use of a rather large knife so Ed performed the surgery on my squash, removing the seeds and the bad spots.

This is the second half covered in plastic wrap waiting for its turn in the oven.
When the first half was cool enough to handle, I scraped the cooked squash from the shell and put it in containers for the freezer.  I washed the pan so we could begin again.

The second half is ready for the oven. The foil helps to protect the area where the bad part was cut away from drying out.   Water is added after the pan is placed in the oven.  This half of the squash is in the oven now.  We will have 7 quarts of processed squash to put in the freezer from one big blue Hubbard.  Having tasted the squash, I have to say it has wonderful flavor.  The flesh is a bit drier that butternut, but I think these big squash are definitely worth growing if you have the space, a saw, and someone strong enough to lift the thing to help you process it.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Hummingbirds In A Box

It was a starry night last night and with no clouds the temperature plunged.   I awoke to the sight of a Cheshire Cat moon just outside the bedroom window.  Today the sky is blue and cloudless.   It's cold out there.  No drips are to be seen even on the South side of the house.  It's a really nice day to work on some little gifts from the garden.  We grow Scarlet Runner Beans for the hummingbirds.  The beans are shiny, pink and black, pretty enough to sit in a crystal bowl in the living room.   Planted in the garden they make terrific vines that will climb a trellis or wall and then bloom with beautiful red blossoms that the hummingbirds love. Few hummingbird plants have as long a bloom period.

Today I'm using old calendar pictures to make Origami hummingbird boxes.   Each box will contain about a dozen pink and black beans tied in a square of nylon net.  Planted after any chance of frost in a sunny location with something to climb on, these beans will grow and produce red blossoms that make hummingbirds appear. So indeed we have hummingbirds in a box.  Just add soil, water, and sunshine and wait.  If you plant them, they will come!

Friday, December 11, 2009

"Dangerous Pleasures"

Being a fragrant plant lover, I just could not resist the catalog description of tuberose.  I know I live in zone 4 and Polianthes tuberose is from Mexico, but I succumbed to temptation anyway.  That was last year.  I started with 5 bulbs.  By frost there were just 3 plants to bring inside.  The plant never died back and we planted it outside again this year when the danger of frost had passed.  Now it's back in the house.  Green growth has filled the pot to be sure, but I want flowers!

Every book on fragrant flowers mentions tuberose.  The fragrance is called enchanting,curiously strange. It has been called the sweetest flower and said to cast a spell.   In Dr. Jeffries book on the meaning of flowers published in 1893 the tuberose means "dangerous pleasures."  Just what do you suppose dangerous pleasures consisted of in 1893?  I guess I should stop reading about this plant, it's making me green with envy of gardeners who live where this plant will bloom easily.  But how can I stop?  I want desperately to know how to get my tuberose to bloom.

It has never died back. There's no way it can go outside in April.  Probably about June 1 we plan to plant the clump right in front of the house in our warmest bed.  Maybe we need some kind of temporary greenhouse to place over it when it gets too cool.  We have to try.  I'm not giving up easily on this plant.  It's way too intriguing.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My Pet Pelargoniums

It didn't take long for the white world outside in the garden to make me turn to the solace of my indoor pet plants.  These are my scented geraniums.  One of them is a peppermint purchased some years ago at Caprilands.  The other two are rose and I no longer remember exactly where they came from.  This year Ed took cuttings and we brought in beautiful compact plants.  The big woody plants were composted.  Today I spent some time working on these plants.  I pulled any weeds, removed any less than perfect leaves, loosened the surface of the dirt and watered.   The fragrance exuded when they are watered or brushed against make them a fabulous pet plant.  They respond to attention whenever they get it.  The peppermint's leaves not only release their scent, they are as soft and fuzzy as a new puppy.   Fondling its leaves is extremely satisfying.

The rose geraniums are growing quite rapidly.   I have to start thinking about taking the top out of the plants to make them more bushy.  I considered it, but I decided to leave that for another day.  I returned the plants to their spot turning them so their best side faces the room.  They will of course turn and face the light streaming in the south facing window.  That's fine because I'll be back.  Even pet plants need their attention, and I need their fragrant response to my touch.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sudden Seasonal Change

This snow that fell three days ago is still with us.   Today the temperature remained below freezing again.   Ice that forms on the ponds now stays all day.   Geese rise from the fields, quickly form their energy efficient wedge and head south.   These signs all point to winter.   The suddenness of the change is startling.  One day before this snowfall I was working in the garden soil.   An ice crust would form overnight but by 10 am it softened.   Now the ground is frozen solid.  A robin was seen here on my last day of garden work.  Why it was still here and what happened to it with the change in the weather are not known.

Our monthly electric bill shows the average daily temperature for the past month and the same month one year ago.  44 degrees F for November 09 and 37 degrees F for November 08 appeared on the bill. An average daily temperature difference of 7 degrees F is quite a change.   The extra days of warmth sufficient for outside work were pleasant, but now it seems that winter is here.   Chrysanthemums need to be covered with coarse mulch now.  Their dried stems cut and placed over the new growth will be supplemented with some buckwheat straw.  A covering that is light enough to avoid moisture rot, but thick enough to insulate from severe cold is the goal.

The cold temperatures that make for aching hands last longer in the morning and return more quickly in the afternoon.  By 4:30 it is nearly dark and still the days are getting shorter.   But a few gardening hours in the middle of the day are better than nothing.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Just In Time

Four days have passed since this picture was taken.  Converting the lawn tractor to a snow plow was done on a bright warm fall day.  When the chains were placed on the wheels, I was able to hook the ends one link short.  Not sure that the tight fit was acceptable, I checked with the sales person at the tractor supply store.   He said that some people let the air out of the tires before attaching the chains. Reinflating the tires with the chains in place would give a really tight fit.   I stayed with one link short.   This could be the first winter when the chains do not come off during plowing, a possible but not likely outcome.

No oil nor oil filter were on hand, so that part of the job was postponed pending a trip to the store.   As the oil change was being completed yesterday morning, the snow began to fall.  The header picture was taken this morning.   Snow was in the air most of yesterday.   Temperatures remained below freezing overnight and our tree shaded road was slick today.  My first day on slippery roads always includes some unintentional skidding.  The car remained between the ditches as winter driving skills were awakened.  Some additional intentional skidding sharpened necessary reactions.  I was alone, so there were no audible gasps from white knuckled passengers.  Practice makes perfect, besides I find it FUN!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Ed's Sandbox

Waste stone is our largest crop.  Any attempt to work the ground turns up stone.  Wall quality stones are uncommon.   Stones small enough for use as mulch in the paths must be separated.   What to do with the rest of the stone is a problem.   Casting it in a heap to be dealt with later is no solution. Pasture grass, snakes and bees claim the waste stone heap in short order.   Placing waste stone in its final resting place is a better solution.   What is an appropriate location is the remaining question.

Our gravel bank was opened by the farmer that tried to make his living here.   The town road crews removed enough gravel each year to cover the taxes.   It is downhill from the garden to the gravel bank so pushing a wheelbarrow of waste stone here is rather easy.   Still the piles of waste stone get in the way.  Building a road seemed a simple solution.  An added bonus was making something out of the large misshapen goonies that really make something to trip over.   My goal is to reach the top of the gravel bank.  The larger stones could end my career so they are moved with a mix of caution and smarts.  Some of the real monsters remain downhill of where they were found. That is just smart.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sempervivium: Live Forever

This clump of Hens and Chicks grows atop the stone wall that forms the entrance to the basement of the house.  It is filling in the space between the stones.  As individual rosettes become large and crowded, they send up a flower stalk and go to seed.  After that the rosette dies.  Along with that, small rosettes grow from beneath the plant like chicks under a mother hen.  This plant knows how to reproduce.

The dried seed heads look a bit like flowers, but they are dry, brown and contain small black seeds. One advantage to a garden blog over a a garden journal is that it allows you to go back in time.  "Hens and Chicks" typed in the search box at the upper left of your screen will take you back to see how this plant looked last year.  Pictures of the developing flower stalk, the flowers and last years seed heads are right there for you to see.

Something new is going on with the hens and chicks this year.  Some of last year's seeds have found a place between the stones.  Tiny little chicks are growing there.  It was the color that caught my attention.  These plants are so small you might call them Chicklets!  My Hens and Chicks are happily increasing their numbers.  That's really good news because these plants do have predators.  Sometimes in the winter under the snow, mice eat these plants.  I've lost them before, but now that they are coming up from seed Sempervivium it is!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Early Bird Catches The Walla Wallas

It seems to me that the seed catalogs are coming earlier than they did last year.  I have other things to do now and am not yet ready to sit down and pour over the seed catalogs.  The first few got cast aside to look at later.  After all it's only the 2nd of December.  Usually I start to think about the next gardening season in January.  However when the Dixondale Farms onion catalog arrived, I sat right down to check it out.  "Walla wallas are very limited supply, order early.  First come, first served." fairly jumped off the page at me.  I also noted this might be the last year for Mars.  The seed company will no longer produce this hybrid and will not give up the proprietary information.  Last year we ordered our onions on Jan.8.  It was our first order for the 2009 garden season.

I went downstairs to check our supply of onions.  My plan was to label all the onions so would know which ones kept the best.  The Copras always do well.  The red onions are doing well also, but one of the really great looking braids is marked Red Zepplin.  A partial braid is tagged Mars, but the best looking braid has no tag.  So much for my perfect system.

But information from the catalog helped me make my decision.  After careful consideration I eliminated Mars.  If I love them and then can't get them any more I might be unhappy.  I decided to skip that angst, and order Ringmasters, Copras and Walla Wallas.  A new for 2010 variety, Red Marble Cippolini, caught my eye.  They are dark red, flat, and the red color goes deep into the rings.  I can see those beautiful onion slices now.  I made the call today, more than a month ahead of last year.  What can I say. I want my Walla Wallas.

The weather seems to have normalized somewhat.  It's sunny but chilly today, just warm enough for Ed to take the mower deck off the tractor and replace it with the snow plow.  Now when the snow comes, he will be ready.  I know the garden is ready for a nice blanket of snow, and I guess we are too.