Saturday, October 30, 2010

How Not To Photograph A Wild Mink.

Ed  came to the door and called, "Quick, come out here and bring your camera." I joined him as fast as I could. He was hiding behind the generator shed. He explained that he had seen some kind of black weasel. It had walked right up the stone path next to where he was digging. He spoke to it, and it ran toward the shed.  It quickly moved in random circles disappearing behind the plants that border the shed.

I readied the camera while Ed circled around  to get behind the big mound, hoping to send the animal in my direction. A rabbit burst out of the cover of the grass with the sleek black weasel on its heels. Both animals ran right by me. The weasel was incredibly fast, but that rabbit was even faster escaping into the garden. For several minutes we watched the weasel streak around before he disappeared into the tall grass north of the house. Even given all those chances, I got so flustered that this is the best picture I got. As far as I can tell there is no sign of the weasel in this picture. I also got a blurry picture of  grass, and worst of all, a  picture of the palm of my hand.

We wondered just what kind of weasel we had seen. I have seen an ermine here in the past, but this animal was was too big. We thought of an escaped pet ferret, but this animal was totally black. A little research would seem to indicate that this weasel was likely a wild mink. I'm disappointed that I didn't get a picture, but I am thrilled to have had the chance to watch this long, sleek, black animal. Honestly, a mink that is free to catch rodents in our garden is the only kind I'm interested in having.

We have had occasional glimpses of an animal like this moving near the edge of the mown field.  One spring Ed found, lightly buried in a planting bed, half of a rabbit and a headless crow.  We suspected that a fox had cached extra food but the headless bird is characteristic behavior for a weasel.  Perhaps this mink calls our garden part of his home range.  We hope we get to see him again!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Watching The West Wind

We still have a few magnificently colored leaves in the Stone Wall Garden. These happen to be the leaves of this year's growth on the smokebush. Today is a beautiful day with blue sky and white clouds, but the west wind is blowing. The colored leaves are losing their grip on the trees.

 It's mesmerizing to watch the milkweed seeds with their fluffy parachutes dancing on the wind. Often  they cross the entire garden space from west to east without touching the ground. Occasionally they catch an updraft and fly  high in the air.  A late Monarch butterfly fluttered by on the wind. The chrysalis on the lily cage is gone. The temperatures have moderated , but there almost no flowers left where a butterfly might find nectar.

Later as Ed and I sat on the bench, we saw a hawk kiting on the wind. How amazing it must be to hang there motionless in one spot with the wind holding you high above the garden. As we watched, the hawk made a fast dive into the wind, landing in the pines. We barely got a look at the bird's beautiful, brown- speckled feathers, glowing in the sun, before the crows cawed. Crows consider the pines theirs, and waste no time chasing off intruders, no matter how big they are. The gang of noisy black birds chased the hawk, squawking, flapping, and diving as close as possible, to intimidate the larger bird. They are no match for a hawk when it comes to flying on a windy day. That hawk caught the air current and soared high on the wind leaving the noisy flapping crows to return to their piny woods. We watched for some time as the hawk continued to kite over the garden . Eventually he caught the wind and soared  along the ridge until he was out of sight.

Now the garden is cooling off. The wind has died down.The fluffy milkweed dancers are resting on the grass. The air show is over, but today watching the wind blow in the garden was exciting!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Creepy Crawler

Ed stopped digging long enough to show me this caterpillar that he had captured in a bucket.  We turned him loose on the top of the stone wall for his photo op.  I'm generally pretty brave about picking up caterpillars, but this one is big, over three inches, and that red horn on his butt is intimidating. It never ceases to amaze me how many interesting animals live in our garden. This one is Hyles gallii, Galium sphinx. It likes bedstraw and we have an acre or two of bedstraw here. I have to wonder if this is one of the sphinx moths that I sometimes see on the lavender bee balm in the summer. Now that I know what to look for, I will try to be more observant.

Monday, October 25, 2010

October Tricks And Treats

The weather here in October always runs hot and cold. This year it has been so changeable that the plants are confused. These two bunchberry plants are the same age, planted right next to each other, but one is still green and the other has turned red.  It's the same with the trees. Some still have green leaves, some are beautiful fall colors and many are naked having completely dropped their leaves.

The day that our bulbs arrived in the mail the weather here was frigid. All morning we watched the white wall of snow squalls blow across the valley from the north .  So far at least, the ground was warm enough to melt it.  Finally in the afternoon the snow stopped. Ed braved the cold to plant some of the bulbs. Here he is planting purple dog toothed violets. We tried these before, but something ate the bulbs. There are several suspects to choose from including mice, chipmunks and a particularly guilty looking red squirrel. This time the bulbs are protected in a wire cage with a top buried just under the surface of the dirt. 

Most of the annuals in the garden are dead from the cold. There's lots of cleaning up to do in the garden. Sometimes though, other things push themselves to the top on our to do list. Ed loves to dig in the garden, but digging to expose a broken septic line on our 6 year old house doesn't hold quite the same appeal. Today was a beautiful day for digging. He will need more just like it to finish this job.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bulbs and Garden Friends

I arrived just a bit late with the camera. I wanted to get a picture of Ed planting bulbs. These are not just any bulbs. They came all the way from Buffalo. I didn't buy them there, although I have purchased bulbs in Buffalo in the distant past. These are the special kind of bulbs that are passed from one gardener to another. Bulbs with a history. These narcissus bulbs came from Kathy Purdy, a great blogger I met this July at the bloggers' convention. It's really her story, so click on her name to read it. I know this picture is mostly of dirt, and Ed's foot, but if you look closely you can see another friend in the picture.

A closer look reveals a Monarch chrysalis on the wire cage. Perhaps it is too late for this friend to become a butterfly. We left him undisturbed. Depending on the weather he may have his chance.

Later Ed and I watched as this woolly bear caterpillar tried to climb up out of the hole where Ed had been  standing. The dirt was loose and several times he tumbled back to the bottom of the hole. I confess I have had a thing for woolly bears since I was a child. They never fail to make me smile. I reached down and gently picked up my little garden friend, lifting him up to the lawn. He curled up in a tight ball as they always do. I guess I made him a bit tense, but I hope I helped him on his way to where ever he was going.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Blooming Late!


Yesterday, the 15th, was hardly a day to be in the garden taking pictures. The all day rain and the cold made it more a day for gazing out the window with a cup of hot chocolate. Even so, this sedum is just beginning to bloom. The original plant was purchased at Caprilands in 1993. Since then divisions grow in several places around the garden. Sometimes the plants do not survive the winter. It's such an old friend, I really should find out exactly what it is and what it likes.

The "Emperor of China Chrysanthemums" still have green leaves. Flower buds are now beginning to open. Even when it gets colder still these mums will continue to bloom and the foliage will turn a gorgeous Burgundy color. This mum is not just hardy, it actually  seems to like the cold!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Unexpected Lunch Guest

What a beautiful October day. Ed had just come inside for lunch when I spotted the fox in the garden. Usually fox sightings are made  in the morning or early evening, but not this time. We watched as the fox wandered among the plants. He sat down and gave the back of his head a good scratch.  We wondered if the fox is healthy. He looked rather lanky and seemed to be without his thick  winter coat. Perhaps the lack of cold weather has made a difference. When the fox decided to leave, he ran off quickly into the pines. He certainly looked like he was feeling fine then.

Ed finished planting the last of his garlic in the wilderness garden. It's good to have that done. Rain is forecast and the hunters are out and about. Bow season for deer starts on Saturday.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

More Pictures By Amy

Yesterday was a perfect day for a few laps around the meadow with the camera. Even after several hard frosts the meadow is buzzing with activity. Amy was able to take a picture of this American Copper Butterfly on one of the last of the goldenrod  flowers. I've never seen  this butterfly here before, but its host plant is sheep sorrel, one of our most hated weeds. It will be nice to remember that the American Copper loves it.

Much of this activity centers around the wild asters. Now that's a big fly!

A Bumblebee adds to the buzzing around the white asters that have not yet gone to seed.

The milkweed has gone to seed now. Fluff is in the wind and caught in the aster plants.


I've chased sulfur butterflies with the camera with nothing but frustration to show for it. How wonderful that Amy was able to catch one on the asters. Flowers are becoming scarce since the frost. Late blooming asters fill the gap.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

October Frost

With yesterday's cloudless skies and cool temperatures, we didn't need a weather forecast to expect this view of the garden this morning. It was still dark when I got up . I could see Orion and other stars overhead. In the early morning light the garden was covered in white. Later when the sun reached the garden the frost disappeared leaving the ugly  remains of any annuals still in the garden. By ten o'clock it was another gorgeous fall day. But this frost marks an end to this summer's garden. From this point it's next year's garden  that matters. This year it's late enough to be welcome. We like having a four season garden.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Glorious Autumn

For the past two days it has been a delight to be in the garden, enjoying  blue skies  sunshine and fall color.  The chaotic sound of  Canada geese on the river always gets our attention. It's fun to watch the birds prepare to get organized for their flight south.  A trial run down  the river is made in somewhat disorganized fashion. When the large group returns back up the river, we delight in the stragglers as they take the short cut over the garden. Since the river is at a lower level, and  the bird's altitude remains the same, we get a very close look at the birds even hearing the beats of their wings. It happens every year, but it never fails to thrill.

Several hawks soared over the garden, but our most exciting visitor was a piliated woodpecker. Ed recognized its dippy flight. He watched to see where this large bird went, then he came to get me. What a guy! The woodpecker had flown to the large wild cherry tree.  I hurried outside hoping for a glimpse of the shy bird. Ed and I took different paths to try to sneak up on the bird. We both got a chance to see it , but  when it saw us, it squawked loudly and dropped down to ground level. Still making plenty of noise the bird flew out of sight. Seeing one of these big,  red headed, black and white woodpeckers is a real coup. It made an already glorious autumn day incredibly special!

Garlic Ready

New ground has been made ready for planting garlic. A mid October planting date here usually allows for six weeks of root growth before the ground freezes. This U shaped bed comes with a problem. I can reach to the middle of the five foot wide beds. Across the corner is more than five feet. We do not walk on the planting beds so a piece of board will provide a kneeling place to plant from. Once planted, weeds here will be out of reach. Stone paths provide a dump for the all too common stones the glacier left in our soil. An active compost trench will replace the field grass next to the bed.

Removing the sod was the first step in preparing this garden. We may avoid that step if the grass clippings kill the grass in next year's new bed. Raking out the larger stones allowed us to grow potatoes and squash here this year. Sifting out the smaller stones will allow finer crops to be tended. Trying to pull weeds with the stones in the ground is an unpleasant chore. Pulling weeds from the sifted soil is a breeze.

Disease made developing this new ground necessary. This year we harvested perhaps one hundred pathetic garlic bulbs from the seven hundred twenty planted. Pink root, Pyenochaeta terrestris, plagues onions and garlic in the garden near the house. A three year crop rotation has failed to remove this pest. Both the soil and our compost are infected. New seed stock has been found. No garden compost was added to the new planting beds. More than the usual anticipation surrounds this year's garlic planting.

Deer can easily jump over a four foot high fence. The small area inside the fence does not provide enough space for the deer to land the jump. A circular running start would be required to jump out. So far the fence system has prevented any deer from entering the area. I gain access by untying twine that secures fence to posts. Laying sections of fence aside opens the entire area to me. Nest building birds do take fiber from the twine but to date none have opened a gate.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Buried Treasure

Briers and ferns have claimed the strip of ground between the field and the woods. Why the plow line ended so far from the trees was a mystery to me. Stones may be the reason the plow did not venture here. I knew that some stones littered the surface, but I just discovered a deposit that is deep. Many of the stones unearthed so far are excellent flat wall stones. They are located so that loading them into the truck will be easy. Much less work for me than the farmers who cleared these stones from the field perhaps more than a century ago.

Fallen leaves and stones sometimes make unusual compost. If a stone pile is above ground, the leaves turn into a fine black powder that stains gloves, clothes and the person working the pile. Anything that black must be a great soil amendment. I always take all that I find. This buried stone pile shows no trace of that black gold. Regular brown rotted leaves are all that I have found so far.

For now these stones will remain near the woods. Winter is not that far away and no wall projects are currently underway. A small stone wall surrounded by flowers placed down by the road is a possible future project. It just seems right that the location of Stone Wall Garden should be subtly suggested by such a structure. We are so far from the road that few passersby know what grows at the top of the hill.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Latest Bloom List

This is the latest bloom list for a couple of reasons. Planned for October 1 , the pictures were not taken until after that. Finally I am getting around to posting it today. This "Who Dun It" Dahlia is gorgeous now. Because Ed started it in a pot, and frost has been holding back, we have enjoyed blooms on this plant for a long time.

This single red hibiscus bloom may be the last. This plant has been spectacular this year. Hibiscus in October here is totally amazing.

We have been experiencing lots of hard rain. Some of the plants with a lot of flowers were flattened . These pink chrysanthemums went from magnificent to bedraggled.

Oct 1 Bloom list; New England aster, Rudebeckia triloba, "Dream of Beauty " aster, white yarrow, "Who Dun It", Dahlia, lavender, tuberose, Nicotiana, anise hyssop, Ingeborg's mallow, "Mary Stoker" chrysanthemum, meadow sage, helitrope, snapdragons cosmos, Johnny jump ups, peppermint zinnias as, nasturtiums, butterfly bush, pink foxglove, sea holly, catnip, Stella D'oro lily, peas , gloriosa daisy, arugula, yellow squash, zucchini, buckwheat, "Autumn Joy " sedum, fennel, Russian sage, red bee balm, Robin's plaintain, "Mammoth pink" chrysanthemums.

Frost or not , the garden is winding down. Most things have gone to seed. Some plants like the bee balm, cosmos and Robin's plantain are squeezing one last bloom while they can. The list is getting short, we will see if we have a list on October 15.