Sunday, October 30, 2011

Beauty Without the Beast

When I awoke at 6:00 AM, it was still dark outside. The sky was clear and I could see the stars. Fog or clouds have blocked their view all summer. I've missed them so I went around the house doing a bit of stargazing out every window. When the sun did come up beautiful snowy winter scenes replaced the stars.

The sun reaches the far hill before it shines on us. The ridge to the east blocks the early morning light here. A blue cast to the snow may be no more than reflected sky color but it always catches my eye.

Snow coats the garden sticking to everything. All we had was gently falling snow. We escaped the winds and the power outages. The beastly part of the storm stayed east of us.

I know before winter is over I will tire of this snowy garden scene, but this morning all I can see is the beauty.

We didn't get a lot of snow here. The shapes of the stones atop the stone walls are clearly visible and the stone path into the basement is almost clear of snow. I watched as every movement of the birds in the trees caused snow to drop to the ground. Now with the  sunlight  the snow is dropping quickly. Soon the trees will have lost their beautiful coat of white. Later today I'm sure most of the snow will be gone and that's great. A brief winter preview is lovely, but I'm not ready for the full length feature to begin. I like snow for Christmas, but not so much for Halloween.

Friday, October 28, 2011

October Snow

Yesterday we watched the rain change to snow. It fell all afternoon before the ground surface cooled enough for the snow to stick. Overnight the temperature dropped into the twenties. Forget frost. The garden got a real freeze. This morning the garden had a thin white covering of snow. It was not a big surprise. In 2009 we had an even earlier October snow  and it was much heavier than this one.

This afternoon most of the snow is gone. Just a thin layer remains  in places that are shaded from the warmth of the sun. Mother Nature has given us reminder of things to come. Garden tools will soon be replaced with snow shovels . The garden tractor will swap its lawnmower for a snow plow. We hope for more gardening time, but tomorrow another storm approaches. It could be rain. It could be sleet. It could be snow. It could be all three. October weather in zone 4 can be just a little spooky!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Biggest Rock Ever

After hurricane Irene had nearly safely passed by us, a rather small branch fell across the supply wires shutting down our electrical power.  With so many others without power, we waited for nearly four days  for repairs.  Only 49 customers are served by our line.  We have a small pull start  generator but Ed has lost some of his power to pull.  We will not be without electric power again.  The stone pad is preparation for a self starting, propane powered, automatic transfer generator.   Our gravel bank is providing the fill to secure the pad.

When a small load of gravel was pulled uphill by our small lawn tractor,  Ed excitedly announced that he had uncovered the largest rock ever.  Since we discovered that our abandoned farmland contained too many rocks to be farmed, our fear has been that a unearthing a rock larger than we can move would stop a project.  So far we have been able to handle all that have come our way.

Gravity rolled the undermined rock out where we could see it.  Glacial deposition had broken this rock. The other half may be far away.  Cracks showed where to place the chisel.  A few well placed blows from the hand sledge hammer caused the rock to create an audible crack.  One rock became two. Two became four.

On occasion the newly revealed surface is smooth enough to be used as a sidewalk stone.  That was not the case with this monster.  These pieces will likely be used in the next stone wall project.  We usually build with much smaller stone since small stone is what we have in abundance.  Long flat chunks could make the wall visually interesting. They will wait at the gravel bank till we want to use them. One thing we have here is plenty of rocks!

Composting NOT Recommended

Here you see my very favorite pair of pruners. Ed found them when he harvested compost to add to his newly weeded garden beds.  It's not hard to guess how they got there. They were simply mixed in with whatever I was pruning at the time and I didn't notice . This is what my pruners look like after a year of composting. The handles really look pretty good.

The metal parts seem to have suffered some during the composting process. I would have thought they would be fused together for good.

Ed cleaned them off to get a better look. With silicone spray he managed to get them so that they would open and close.They will even cut if you have his hand strength. I don't!

Once again a new pair of pruners goes on my Christmas list.  I like to head out to the garden in the spring with a nice new pair of pruners fresh out of the package. You might notice that these pruners have a lifetime warranty, but losing them in the compost them for a year  certainly must void it. Anyway I would be way too embarrassed to send these back to the company, after I had treated them so badly. Really nice try Ed , but I want yet another shiny new pair of pruners.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Frost Or Frozen Dew

2011 has been a year of unusual weather.  October is nearly gone and we are still waiting for our first frost.  Today found a bluebird giving a nest box a solid look.  Neither of these events are what we would normally expect this late.

We awoke to find white grass and valley fog.  Our immediate question was did it frost?  Fog would seem to indicate no frost.  We definitely had a freeze.

That we had an overnight freeze was obvious.  The granular deposits on this Gloriosa daisy are ice crystals not frost.  Ice formed when the dew on the flower froze.  Frost forms when water vapor moves directly from a gas to a solid.  Here the vapor condensed to a liquid then froze.

Patterns on the catnip leaf immediately grab the attention of the eye but look to the blades of grass to see frozen water droplets.

Beads of ice coat the web.  Finding a spider web coated with water droplets is a common summer experience.  Seeing those droplets frozen is not so common. Just click on the picture to get a better look. Most of the day that followed was sunny and clear.  Cleaning some the planting beds of all vegetation was a pleasant task.  While we were doing this a mature female marsh hawk flew two lazy low circles overhead.  This is what October days are supposed to look like.  Then the rain came.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

October Garden Walk, Photos by Amy

Blue skies and sunshine made this a delightful day to spend  time in the garden. Ed spent most of the day outside.  Amy spent some  time weeding one of the stone patios. It's one of the hardest weeding assignments in the garden and one I have difficulty  doing. It was  sweet of her to tackle it. After that hard work,  I gave her the camera to have some fun. She captured the Black swallowtail caterpillars eating the dill as fast as they can. It was just over a week ago that they looked so different. Here's how they looked on October 13.

The second one isn't quite as big, but he looks like a familiar Black swallowtail caterpillar too. I love the gray of the lavender in the background here.

Never before have there been so many Large Milkweed Bugs, Onocopeltus fasciatus in the garden. Before this year I have never seen more than a few adults. Their bright orange and black coloring would catch any one's eye. These all look like adults.

Here is a single adult and small immature bugs. I have read that adults overwinter. I can't help but wonder how many of these will be around in the spring. It's a lucky thing we have plenty of milkweed here for everybody!

This terrific picture shows immature bugs inside the milkweed pod. Much of the milkweed fluff  has had its seeds consumed. I guess those will never get to dance on the wind without the cargo they are made to carry. These orange and black bugs have been chowing down on the seeds. I first noticed these amazing garden inhabitants on October 5 when I wrote a post for Beautiful Wildlife Gardens. 

Looking very much like a couple of flowers in the grass, these mushrooms are striking in their beauty. Not bad for a fungus.

Today was a gorgeous October day to be outside in the garden made perfect because we enjoyed it together.

Friday, October 21, 2011

It Ain't Over Till It's Over!

Looking  from a distance, it appears that the garden season is over. I headed out with the camera to look for a few remaining flowers to photograph. This still green vine caught my immediate attention.  Sheltered  by the stone wall, this determined moon flower  clings to life even though it's already way too late for it here.  The frost that has visited here has been light.  The stream of cold that pours downhill across our garden is deflected by the stone wall.  Warmth radiated by the wall has kept these leaves from freezing.  The vine above the wall was frozen dead some weeks ago.

Of the plants that are usually gone by now  many still have one or two flowers  blooming. I chose this photograph of a somewhat less than perfect 'Stardust' chrysanthemum to represent the group. Some of them like the evening scented stock or rose campion have a single flower on plants that have pretty much gone to seed. Meadow sage, dianthus, gloriosa daisies, catchfly, goldenrod, and even a pathetic pink poppy are giving it one more try. I even saw a couple of yellow nasturtiums flowers peeking out of the compost pile where the plants have been already been tossed.

This sedum is normally one of the late bloomers in the garden. This year it has been gorgeous for a long time. These slow moving bumblebees have been on this plant for days. I don't think they even leave to go home at night. Every time I pass by they are there and I take their picture again. If you can find a flower without a bee, and you get your nose really close, you can still enjoy the delicate fragrance of these pink flowers.

This pink Emperor of China chrysanthemum is usually the last plant to flower here. It is really hardy. Even after a frost turns the leaves to burgundy, pink flowers continue to open. With the foliage still green this plant looks like it is just getting started.

But the real surprise are the plants who seem to think it is still summer. Planted this spring and stalled until now, this Jackmani clematis is blooming like the summer is just beginning. It has plenty of buds still ready to open.

This Gaillardia 'Arizona Sun' plant is also working on new flowers. The catalog said  " blooms June to October", but I'm still amazed! The freezing night temperatures that we are so accustomed have not happened. Normally a beautiful clear blue sky day is followed by plummeting temperatures . What we have been getting this year is a little sunshine early in the day, followed by clouds and rain or just rain. Instead of a quick frozen death, the garden is slowly ebbing away. It is not what we are accustomed to, but flowers in late October are a nice extra innings bonus!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

New Garlic Bed

It is unclear  if Ed could garden at all without his 2 X 4 inch welded wire fence.  Here two pieces are placed at a right angle to each other forming a 2inch by 2 inch grid.  Rows of evenly spaced parallel planting holes are rather quickly made.  The 5 ft. by 13 ft. beds are also defined.

Garlic may grow better in evenly spaced parallel rows or the gardener here may just be excessively fussy.  The cloves are spaced six inches apart in both directions.  This close spacing makes weeding difficult.  I have developed a concern that dirt that falls on a garlic plant lodges where the leaf grows from the stem.  Nasty soil micro organisms then have a route to the interior of the plant causing mold and rot.  Not weeding solves this problem so the close spacing is a plus.

The fence that marked the bed now serves a more traditional role.  The third section of this planting area will be developed in the spring.  Grass clippings were used to kill the pasture grass but some still grew. Rotted grass clippings in contact with the somewhat clear topsoil underneath make a great start for a new planting area.  The top slimy mess of grass clippings waits in heaps while we look for a way to use it.

Garlic has a special appeal because it is fall planted.  While the bulk of our plants are becoming dormant or just plain dying, garlic is beginning its growth cycle.  The actual act of planting a food crop now is uplifting.  All of the hopes and dreams of next year's garden came alive as each clove of garlic went into the ground.  Not bad for a dreary fall day.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Eastern Coyote Visitor

During the morning blur that surrounds our morning coffee, Becky sprang to the window shouting fox.  It was the coyote moving near the garden.  The motion in the window caused the visitor to change direction moving away from the house.  Its pause near the tall weeds gave me time to get the camera.  Becky directed me to the west end of the house where the coyote was passing close by.  Again the motion in the window resulted in a change of direction.  A pause for its portrait was followed by its disappearance into the pines.

We rarely see an adult coyote near the house.  They own the more remote area of our thirty-six acres with a den placed among some glacial erratics in nearby woods.  In my relative youth, I would walk in these woods.  I never saw an animal but I sometimes felt that I was not alone.  Now the woods are outside of my comfort range.  This morning's encounter left me impressed with the size of this magnificent animal.  Totally aware of its surroundings, it moved with a quick confident quiet grace.  Clearly, the coyote is master of its space.

Two days without rain has placed garlic planting on today's list.  I have to venture back into the coyotes domain to work in the wilderness garden.  Some fear will be with me there today.  In our rural location, coyotes shun man so I need not be afraid.  The coyote will be aware of my presence and move away from me.  I hope it has read the playbook that describes his expected actions.  My opposable thumbs and skill solving quadratic equations would be outmatched by the coyotes agile quickness.

Monday, October 17, 2011

An Uninvited Guest

I must confess that Ed and I have never adopted the conventional wisdom of using sterilized potting soil for our indoor plants. Ed likes to mix his own soil anyway.  In the distant past we tried to sterilize soil in my oven. I forget how long it was to be baked or at what temperature. What I do remember and will never forget is the disgusting smell of baked worms and dirt. That was definitely a once and done project. Now a quick spray with insecticidal soap as the plants come inside is our line of defense. Since the weather has cooled the scented geraniums are on a table in front of the south facing bedroom window. It didn't take me long to notice the droppings on the table. We had an uninvited guest living in our bedroom.

 I took me considerable time to locate our green friend. His color match to the scented geranium was flawless. He sticks up  those black pointy legs up when disturbed.

 I'm not familiar with this caterpillar, but I think he is headed down in this picture. The closest picture  for any kind of identification I could find was a sphinx.  They throw their head back and stick their front legs out when disturbed. The hummingbird moth that I find so fascinating is a sphinx.

Here he is curled up in a ball just like a woolly bear or a cutworm. Ed was patient enough to get these great pictures. He also gave the caterpillar a ride outside to enjoy this beautiful day.  It will have to find another plant to chow down on. Rose geraniums are from South Africa and definitely not his usual food source. Perhaps he'll do fine. He's obviously not a picky eater. If he is to have any chance at all to continue his life cycle, he needs to be outside. Anyway, no one with toenails that sharp gets to stay in my bedroom!!!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Garlic Planting Time, Part Two

Good weather means a day working on the garlic bed to prepare it for planting. Yesterday when the rain finally drove me front to dry off, I left things as you see them here. Today sunshine sent me back to continue on the garlic project. When I arrived at the wilderness garden I discovered that my ball of garden twine was unwound trailing up the path.  Since I pull the twine from the center of the ball, all my playful canine had to do was put the ball in its mouth and run off.  The twine unwound until the ball was exhausted.  I followed the twine trail across the lawn, up the path then down into the woods.    I returned back up the trail winding twine as I walked.  A flat stone now holds my twine ball where I want it to remain.

A neighbor has placed a hunting blind on the high meadow overlooking the wilderness garden.  I have given serious thought to spending an evening sitting in the blind.  If I did that, I might get to see and perhaps photograph my coyote.  But then the biting insects sent me front today by 4:30 pm.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Garlic Planting Time

The calender  says it is time to plant the garlic here in zone 4, but recent heavy rains have left the soil unworkable.  Its present moisture content would be better suited to brick making than clove planting.  Path development seemed a better choice today.  Keeping field grass out of the planting beds is the purpose of the path.  Last fall landscape fabric was placed around the outside of the garden and covered with grass clippings.  That worked reasonably well but the mower would dislodge the clippings.

The planting bed is the darker L shaped area.  It too was covered with grass clippings for more than a year.  Dead sod and stones have been pulled away using a mattock and a stone fork.  Several loads of compost have been turned in resulting in the darker soil.  Pasture grass has grown here for decades and now the soil is ready for a planted crop.

Dead sod and some topsoil have been removed from the path to lower the level of the fabric.  Bark mulch from a nearby hardwood lumber operation will form the path surface.  The bark mulch will rot down creating excellent compost.  We can count on yearly replenishment of  the bark mulch in the path.

This garden is far from the house hidden from view by the high meadow.  When I reported for work here this morning, the green Butternut squash left at garden's edge was gone.  Canine footprints covered one corner of my carefully prepared planting bed.  The squash was found some distance away.  Deep teeth marks pointed to its use as a chew toy by a fairly large animal.

Nearby neighbors do have two dogs.  One of them is large and they have been know to roam.  The fresh scat points more toward coyote.  Examination of the photo shows that both corn and apples were on the menu.  I have read that as life forms disappear from this planet as a result of our destruction of our home,   coyotes may be the last mammal alive.  Among their wily ways is their ability to eat almost anything.  Since my new garlic bed is part of their playground, a fence will be needed to keep them away from my plants.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Autumn Metamorphosis

Sunny Days and the and the changing of the leaves have made this an incredibly beautiful place to be. Amy always likes to be here for peak fall color and to snap a few pictures. Who can blame her. I have been other places during  the autumn and I always feel this spectacle is most beautiful here at home.

This year the colors are beautiful, but our wild weather has left its mark. In some areas the trees are bare. The winds and rain stripped them . In other places the trees have their color, but many of the leaves are gone giving them a slightly transparent ghostly look. The overall effect is still breathtakingly beautiful.

It's always a wonderful surprise to find something new in the garden. I had slipped out to get some fresh dill for the salmon that we were having for dinner. As I was cutting my dill, I noticed two black caterpillars. One was small and the other tiny. It was too dark to get a good look , but the next morning I got my picture. I searched to find the identity of this unknown caterpillar. What I discovered was that metamorphosis is a longer and more complicated process than I ever imagined. This is the first instar of the Black swallowtail butterfly, one of several that completes the process from egg to butterfly. I always thought that this butterfly went from this caterpillar into a chrysalis and emerged as this butterfly.  So I didn't see a new caterpillar at all, but one of the different forms of my old friend the Black swallowtail butterfly. I hope he didn't mind sharing the dill!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Potatoes Planted At Harvest

Our crop rotation scheme has peas planted where potatoes grew the previous year.  We always have volunteer potato plants growing among the peas.  Seeing a chance to try something different, four small potatoes were planted at harvest time.  These seeds went right back into the ground while the potatoes were being dug.

We usually plant potatoes mid May.  Early green shoots are easily covered with dirt when late frost threatens.  My harvest time planted potatoes did not emerge from the ground until mid June. They knew more about when the time was right to begin growth.  Four were planted and all four grew.

This harvest might not look like much, but considering that the early drought killed my spring planted potatoes before they produced much I am pleased with these edible tubers.  Harvest is late since squash overran the potatoes denying me access.  Frost took out the squash and I harvested potatoes.

Caribe is the name of this variety.  Snow white flesh lies beneath the purple skin.  Both the appearance and the taste make this a favorite here.  Our supplier depleted his supply before he shipped our order.  These twelve potatoes represent our entire crop this year.  A mosquito is shown in the picture.  Our first frost only served to heighten their purpose so bites are the order of the day.  Now we are really looking for a hard freeze so that no mosquitoes are part of our outside time.