Saturday, February 26, 2011

Still More Snow

Yesterday was filled with a real winter storm. What was predicted to pass well to our north hit us with an all day snow event. Sheer beauty is no longer enough to keep away the whine. Three bald eagle sightings during two days of snow removal did that trick. I was plowing across the lane looking in the direction of the first photo when a mature bald eagle, flying low and slow, passed directly over me. When it cleared my view a second eagle also flew right over me. As a child in the 1950's I never saw a bald eagle. DDT had pushed them to the brink of extinction. Now there is a breeding pair hunting in our river valley flying directly over our homestead. Today while I was releasing my truck from winter's grasp, an eagle flew over so low that it had to swerve to go between two trees. These are rather small trees less than two decades old so I was extremely close to the eagle. Were it not for the snowfall these magnificent birds and I would not have been in such close proximity.

Heavy wet snow has bent the blueberry bushes low to the ground. Late frost and early drought have denied us a blueberry crop for the past two years. Warm rain is predicted soon. If it happens, our bushes will be released from this heavy load. We were planning on a bumper crop this year.

One more view of snow plowed with my lawn tractor is required. How snow is piled this high with my tiny John Deere remains a mystery to even me. The plow is showing signs of wear but it has plowed more snow here than it was ever designed to do. Perhaps a new plow will be needed for next year. If it was only that easy to do something about my shoulder made sore by repeatedly raising and lowering the snow plow, we would really be ready for next winter.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Do You Believe In Magic?

I started seed trials on February 7th, not because I was bored with winter, although I was, but because this year I wanted to weed out some of my old seed collection before I ordered new seeds. Many old seeds were easy to eliminate, but I decided to test these seeds for germination before I tossed them and ordered replacements. The moschata squash seeds were a gift from a gardening friend, and I'm sure are more than 5 years old. The sweet peas were from 2007. The watermelon and asparagus beans were from 2008. The Nicotiana seeds were saved from the garden and marked with the kind of seed, but unfortunately had no date. A zip lock bag and a wet paper towel were my low tech choice for this seed trial.

By February 15th, two the squash, two watermelon and all four asparagus beans were showing root growth. I slipped samples from the bag for their photo opp. The sweet pea seeds had swollen a bit, but that was all. I found it intriguing to see the seeds sending out their roots like a snail sticking his head out of his shell. I've planted hundreds of seeds waiting for them to emerge, but for the first time I had a close look at exactly what the seeds were doing. It is magical!

One week later on February 22, this watermelon seed has developed a root system and seed leaves have almost pushed the seed casing aside. The moschata seeds were the same. One of the sweet peas had germinated and the others looked promising.

Tiny Nicotiana seeds on the wet paper towel show absolutely no change so they are headed for the compost. The others did well on their test so seed will be saved for this year's spring planting. For a brief moment, I was tempted to plant the tiny watermelon and squash plants in a pot. They looked so cute, but June 1 is our usual frost safe date here. That's about 90 days away, about the same as our entire frost free growing season. Squash or watermelon seedlings potted up now would be as large as the dining room table before they could be safely planted outside. It is a hard choice but these small plants must be composted.

The iris insata seeds are doing better. Eight of the twelve seeds planted February 1st emerged. All will remain in the large pots in the south facing window until they can be safely transplanted outside. Their early inside start may allow them to bloom a year earlier than the seeds planted outside last fall. In two or three years we will know for sure.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

While We Were Sleeping

When we went to bed last night, it was quite impossible not to notice the newly fallen, pristine, white snow in the garden . Lit up by the moonlight, the landscape was as visible as if it were daylight. We looked out the window for a few minutes , hoping to see something interesting, but the garden seemed deserted. Looking at the footprints in garden this morning, it's easy to see that a lot went on out there during the night while we were sleeping. Two sets of tracks come from the pines , down the hill, and into the garden. One set is a straight double register , likely a fox. I 'm guessing the female. The other set was more exuberant with some prints at significant distance apart indicating a lot more speed. Notice how the paths cross!

There are many interesting marks in the snow. One can imagine the foxes were having quite a bit of fun in the garden.

Here and there more single register tracks were to be found.

These tracks are my favorite. I wish I had been awake to watch and see just exactly what those two foxes were doing atop the stone wall. I know from having watched foxes mate here in the past that February is their time. Whatever they were up to, Ed and I are both sorry we missed the party! Talk about watching the wildlife!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Snow, More Fun

We caught a real break from old man winter. Two warm days cleared all of the ice from the lane. The subsequent frigid Arctic blast turned the mud into a firm surface. Last night's snowfall was within the plowing capabilities of our lawn tractor. The driveway is neatly plowed ready for whatever comes next. When our professional snow removal expert turned in here to plow today, he found the job already done.

Part of today was spent readying the planting bench. Four new fluorescent tubes are needed to replace the tired old ones. Fluorescent bulbs cannot be put in the trash here so the question of what to do with the spent ones remains unanswered. If intelligent restraint controls, we will wait three more weeks before we plant in the basement. Cleaning up the potting bench today suggests a possible early start.

Friday, February 18, 2011

February Thaw

With two straight days of a little sunshine and above freezing temperatures the lane has transformed from a luge track to a mix of mud and ice. Even the postman remarked about the big improvement. Steeper that it appears in the photograph, some people would still just say no to heading up this hill. The glossy shine along the right edge is hard smooth treacherous ice.

Once you get around the curve by the big cherry tree the lane looks even better. Only the top surface is muddy. Newly contoured gravel fill is keeping runoff water in the ditches. Things are really quite firm. The thawing of the driveway and the tapping of sugar maple trees are sure signs of spring .

Check out this promising looking planting bed. The snow has completely melted here. How interesting! This spot has never beeen shoveled or plowed. It's not a place where the wind blows the snow away. It is the area directly over the septic tank. I guess hot showers and laundry provide bottom heat like the fresh manure in the bottom of an old style cold frame. Perhaps with some outside the box thinking, we can use this to our advantage. In the meantime it sure is nice to see some nice brown dirt!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Anxious to Be Out in the Garden

Strong sunlight is shrinking the snow pack. When you are looking at the opening in the east wall you can see the snow retreating to the north. The snow on the south wall is nearly gone. The big stone on the south end of the wall to the right is completely uncovered. I was so encouraged by this that yesterday, I ventured out with the camera. I didn't get very far. Gravity has always had an extremely strong pull on me and yesterday was no exception. I fell before I even made it to the garden. Slightly shaken, but unhurt, I came back in the house. I confessed to Ed that I had fallen. I had no choice since I had left an obvious mark in the snow that any decent tracker would have recognized as my butt.

Today I ventured out again with Ed blazing a trail to firm the snow where I wanted to walk. There were so many interesting tracks in the snow. Big and small birds, red squirrels, and rabbits had left tracks in a confused jumble, especially around the bird feeders.

But I'm tiring of white, it was something green I was really searching to find. I was so pleased to see this catnip plant peeking out of the snow. It has new growth that looks terrific.

Even these perky green leaves were a welcome sight. It's garlic mustard, one of the persistent weeds we try to eliminate here, but never do. I couldn't pull it today, but I know where it is and when the ground thaws this plant will be compost. I can hardly wait!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Hanging On By a Thread

My poor Alpine strawberries are barely clinging to life. Their chances of survival until spring are dismal. Not to be denied, I have ordered new plants to replace them. They are a weeder's reward I am not giving up! This time I promise to plant them in a nice spot in the garden, and not in a strawberry pot like I did this year.
I love the idea of a strawberry pot. They look so pretty in the magazines. They even look inviting in the store, just sitting there empty. They may be fine for some people, but not for me. I've never mastered watering when they are outside in the sun, and when I brought this one inside, disaster! With the below zero weather we have been getting , our heated house is a dry as the Sahara. Alpine strawberries can't survive that!
I've had my strawberry pots for decades. Perhaps I should get rid of them. When I plant in them they are always a source of aggravation, but they look so darn pretty . Maybe this year ...? I guess like Scarlett O'Hara, I'll think about that tomorrow. I still have many weeks of watering this pathetic specimen ahead of me.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Enough Already !

Last night's snowfall was warm and wet. It may have been preceded by rain. Snow coated trees create a special image and a silence that makes everything feel close. We have had unusually high amounts of snow this winter with no real thaw. Our perennial plants have been protected from the cold by their insulating blanket of snow. One has to wonder about the condition of the soil under the snow. Has the warmth of mother earth crept near the surface?

Ice has been constant on our lane. A professional was called to deal with the mess. His plow preceded by sunlight moved the ice to the edge of the driveway. There it refroze into rough unmovable masses. Last night's snow brought us some magic. Its warm and wet coating caused the frozen masses to soften. They could be plowed by my John Deere lawn tractor.

Cold air returned with a vengeance so the window for scraping the road was narrow. With a 4:30 AM start I was able to plow the new snow and push back the old mixed mess by 1:00 PM. The push back requires moving the tractor across the short width of the lane. Much back and forth with frequent raising and lowering the blade along with turning the steering wheel sharply pointed out that I am no longer young.

All of this drama took place surrounded by incredible beauty. A fierce north wind has reshaped the picture. Drifts have replaced snow covered trees. When it less cold out a walk to the back should find some huge snow drifts.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Lurking Danger

Ed called to me from the bedroom to bring the binoculars. I wasn't expecting much since frequently by the time I arrive at the window whatever there is to see is gone. That was not the case this time.  I had lots of time to look at the gray hawk perched in the locust tree. I could see that this individual had a few white spots on his back, white under his wings and  reddish brown speckles on the white under his chin. While the bird was in this position, the garden was empty of other birds. Even the red squirrels seemed to have ducked into their tunnels under the snow. I  hoped the bird would turn around so I could get a better look  at his front. Instead of that he moved into toward center of the tree. His gray back was perfect camouflage against the trunk of the tree. He sat there for a long time waiting. Slowly the blue jays and mourning doves landed in the top of the tree. They didn't notice the hawk pressed up against the tree trunk. In a flash the hawk was chasing the birds, weaving in and out through the branches at amazing speed. He was not focused enough as everyone escaped.  The hawk flew across the garden to land in a big pine tree. This caused an immediate exodus of crows that had been perching there.  Thinking the show was over, I dragged out all of my bird identification books and tried to figure out just who this visitor was. It turned out that the likely candidate was the same as the bird recently flying in the Library of Congress, a Cooper's hawk.

Slowly the bird activity at the feeders returned to normal. There must have been at least a dozen mourning doves in the tree and more on the ground under the bird feeder. This time the hawk swooped across the garden  in a fast dive.
 The birds scattered and although the hawk flew fast, everyone escaped again. This time when he perched in the tree I got a good look at his front side. The yellow spot at the top of his gray beak made the identification positive. He was indeed a Cooper's hawk.  A Cooper's hawk is built for maneuverability. His tail is long and flexible, his wings short and wide.  Right after I took this picture the bird left. This afternoon things  at  the bird feeders back to normal, but danger is lurking out there somewhere in the form of a beautiful Cooper's hawk.

Friday, February 4, 2011

February Gardeners Trapped Indoors

Early this morning the sky was crystal clear, overhead filled with stars. Now the sun is streaming in the windows and the sky is blue and cloudless. It would be a perfect day to be outside except that it is COLD! When the temperature drops below zero it's time to find something to do inside. I felt the need to weed. This pot of lemongrass in the basement had some nice big weeds growing against the basement window. They turned out to be lady's bed straw and dead nettle. I pulled them and composted them . Boy that felt good!

I got my nippers and gave that lemon grass a haircut. Next I cultivated the soil in the pot and  watered the plant. I don't know if the lemongrass feels better, but I know I do.

Ed takes a different approach. He misses his plants, but he really misses his stones. We don't bring stones in for the winter so he just makes his own. If he keeps at this he'll have a small stone mountain!

He doesn't stop at mountains of course. Plants are part of the scene too. Some of the trees Ed made using "Autumn Joy" sedum  from the garden. Many of the plants are as artificial as the mountains.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

February First: Frustrating and Fantastic

When I looked out the window first thing this morning, there was a curtain of snow falling at an incredibly fast and dizzying pace. I was thinking that today would be a day of nothing but shoveling and plowing mountains of snow when a huge bird emerged from the whiteness. He was flying just above the level of the trees so low that even through the snow I could see the bald eagle's white head and tail . He flew directly over my head and down the ridge line of the house roof. I hurried to the other end of the house hoping for a second look but by the time I got there all that could be seen was falling snow. Wow!  What a fantastic way to start the day!

Ed spent nearly  the entire day outside working hard to push back the snow. Because of our January rain, a thick layer of ice covers the driveway. I'm afraid Ed's John Deere just wasn't up to the task. Even a slight incline sent the tractor's wheels  spinning.  The tire chains couldn't get a grip on the icy surface. Several times it took both of us to get the tractor unstuck.

 When Ed was plowing down by the large cherry tree, he had a close encounter with our resident mink. Face to face, Ed got a chance to admire the mink's sleek,  black fur coat and his bright shiny eyes. In a flash the mink was gone. When Ed came in for lunch told me of his experience with the mink.

Later in the afternoon I noticed movement  along the tree line beyond the garden.  It was the mink. His long black furry body was unmistakable. I watched as he went up the hill, his long body moving in an undulating fashion, alternately arching his back high and then stretching out flat. After going up the hill, he turned and made his body long and straight then slid down the hill on the snow's surface.  He looked like he was having so much fun. I watched the mink for a long time as worked his way across the hill. Sometimes the slides were short, but once he slid from the top of the hill nearly to the bottom. I squealed with delight. That brought  Ed to find out what I was watching. I pointed out where the mink was on the hill so he could watch for movement. It was right then that two animals headed right toward us.

 A rabbit was the first animal to come into view.  Moving through the deep snow slowed the rabbit's pace.  He was followed by the mink, leaping through the snow, hot on his trail. For a moment I thought the day would take a frightful turn, but the lucky  rabbit finding newly plowed ground escaped. The mink continued to sniff around the area for sometime, finally disappearing behind the piles of snow.

Ed and I agreed it was time to call in professional  help for the driveway. It was very dark when the plow came. I watched the flashing, colored  lights of the truck as he pushed back the snow. Tomorrow whatever snow comes, the big truck will rescue us!