Saturday, December 31, 2011

Garden Fever

Our last day of 2011 was warm enough to allow garden work while in shirtsleeves.  Granted they are insulated shirtsleeves but this is the end of December.  Autumn Joy sedum are getting cut back for the winter.  New growth is normal and it looks promising.  The weeds get to stay since the ground shaded by the sedum remains frozen.  Still we had a chance to complete this one job ahead of the arrival of winter.

Winter has our pond firmly in its grip.  Daylong shade from the wooded ridge blocks sunlight from warming this area.  That one step from the bright sunlight into the seasonal shade is like walking into a refrigerator.   The temperature difference will be noticeable all winter.  Cold seasonal stability characterizes this area.  Plants here will be the last to break dormancy.

Some animal had what must have been a scary walk across the newly forming ice.  Its path was continuous to shore so a cold dunking was avoided.  My luck has held there also.  For reasons completely lacking all reason or logic, I always have to step onto the ice to see if it will support me.  So far that move has never been early but I know that cold wet feet are in my future.

Another clump of trees have been thrown by the wind.  Come spring some of this muck will be shoveled out of the pond and readied for use in the garden.  Its fine grain will improve moisture retention in our sandy soil.  Muck must be nutrient rich it is so dark in color.

On the last day of this year we had a chance to work in the garden this morning.  That made the day a great one.  Afternoon clouds brought a seasonal chill and we are now indoors.  More marks will appear in the seed catalog as we move toward 2012.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy to Start a New Year!!!

December in the garden has been warm and cold. What little snow we have had has not lasted long. The garden has been experiencing freezing temperatures at night in the twenties or sometimes in the teens. During the day the sunlight  melts the snow and softens the ground. White remains only in shaded locations. The plants in the garden have to deal with the constant change of freeze and thaw. It looks like a pretty snow covered garden photograph will not appear this year.

My focus has shifted to indoors and my "lush" house plants. I have never been really terrific at caring for house plants. I am usually content to get the plants through the winter . Most years things go pretty well. There are always a few dead plants to compost, but most of the plants get by fine. This year it has been a battle. The enemies have been spider mites and scale . My plants have been getting their soap and vodka spray. They are running up a considerable bar tab. These are definitely not the kind of lush plants I would like to have. For now the spider mites seem to be gone. You can see from the shiny leaf on my bay tree that the scale is still with us.

My curry leaf plant still has scale too. If you compare it an earlier photograph, you can see it is losing more of its leaves and the battle.  I'm thinking one more shot of alcohol for New Year's Eve, but when 2012 gets here this curry leaf plant may find itself out in the cold. The sweet bays will surely get a reprieve. They seem to be holding their own and waist high bay trees are not as easily replaced.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Stone Detective

Our land was originally part of a 130 acre triangular shaped farm.  Roughly half of the land was quality  bottom land well suited to farming bordering the Unadilla River.  Twisted lumpy glacial deposits covered the higher ground.  1887 is the oldest date on deeds we have covering this land.  It was settled prior to the coming of the railroad in the 1860s.  The first deeded owner, Ezekiel W. Batterson, operated an inn on the primitive wagon road from Sidney to Gilbertsville.  Today's pictures were taken where the flat bottom land graded into the area of sloped gravel deposits.   Picture one looks at a primitive borrow pit.  Hand tools removed gravel from here to be used elsewhere on the farm.  Our machine opened gravel pit is adjacent to this primitive dig.

This break in the stone wall lies in line with the borrow pit.  Horse and wagon likely hauled gravel through this break in the wall to the stage road.  Spring road maintenance was the responsibility of the landowner early in our country's history.  Today this stone wall marks a property line separating our lumpy sloped ground from the rich bottom land.

Here we see two different methods of handling the stone picked from the field.  My guess is that the wall was built first as stone was unloaded from a horse powered stone boat.  Placing the stone in a stack kept the ground open for the next load.  The stone in the heap was likely thrown from a wagon.  If the stone was on a wagon, heaving it would be less work than placing it in a wall.

This is the the newest stone pile along our property line.  Lack of covering vegetation easily shows the relative youth of this pile.  The last farmer left this ground 24 years ago.  This stone pile must be older that that.  The height of this pile suggests that it was dumped from a tractor bucket.  The stones in this pile are also smaller than the stones in the wall.  Every year the frost sends a new crop of stone to the surface. The new crop contains smaller but more numerous stones.  There is never a crop failure with the stone.

All of the stone shown in these photos lies on the neighbor's land except the wall that forms the actual property line.  I have permission to use the neighbor's stone to rebuild our common wall.   That task is far down on the to do list since this ground is far removed from our house and gardens.  No one would see the restored wall by any means other than photographs.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

December Weeding

This wet bleak December day may not look like a prime gardening day but it does present a rare opportunity to air out the lemon verbenas, Aloysia triphylla, that are over wintering in the basement.  Hardy to zone 8, a day in the light rain with temperatures in the mid 40s should be good for these plants.    A little wet breeze may end some white flies and improve the overall condition of the leaves.
We will have to keep a weather eye open since the temperature may not remain  above freezing for long.  The risk of cold damage is slight as zone 8 lows are in the 10 to 20 degree range.

The usual weeds, catnip, Johnny jump ups and chickweed, were cleared from the pots.  No serious informed gardener would bring unsterilized garden soil inside but we prefer a natural route.  Chemical fertilizer  and soil less mixtures are of no interest to us so we deal with bugs and weeds.

Our patchouli plant hit the compost pile today.  We thought that it had a good year here.  Planted in the shade garden, the plant grew.  It survived the move into the house but went downhill after that. We keep our house too cool for this plant.  Between the chill the spider mites and the scale, it was pretty much dead.  I was surprised to find very little new root growth.  As a mail order plant, it arrived in a small plastic pot that was filled with a soil less mixture.  Swishing the plant in a bucket of water before transplanting removed much of this chemical laden soil but some remained.  The plant roots never really ventured beyond the limits of the original pot.  Others must experience similar problems with nursery plants.  Has anyone found a method  of transplanting that results in vigorous root growth?  There must be a better way and we would like to know what it is.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Why I Bought a Seed Catalog ????

We receive a huge number of seed catalogs here. They have only just begun to arrive and they will continue well into 2012. We get more catalogs than we could possibly order from even if space, time and money were no object. Why then would I pay for a seed catalog to be sent to me? Ed asked me that question and it is a good one. I shall try to explain. The catalog in question is from the D. Landreth Seed Company, the oldest seed house in America, purveyors of fine seed since 1784. I was definitely intrigued by the idea that this company sold seeds to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The catalog was created by an American graphic artist and printed in York, PA by American workers. It combines nostalgic graphics with up to date color photos of heirloom  varieties of vegetables and flowers. Those are all reasons why this seed catalog might be worth buying. Finally this seed company is located in New Freedom, PA. I lived in New Freedom for several years as a child. I still have relatives who live there. That personal connection is what really made me do it. There it sits on the top of the stack. Whether we will order from it or not is hard to say. It's early,we are still just looking.

Meanwhile outside after a few days of rain our garden's snow cover has melted. Now it is cold again with a few snow flakes  in the air.  Ed still braves the cold to work outside.  I took a quick walk around the garden and found these Johnny Jump Ups that have been blooming under the snow. The cold sends me back inside very quickly. I have a warm heart and very cold hands. It's the promise of spring and next year's garden that has my attention.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Winter Walk

With the garden frozen hard and covered with snow, Ed gets his required time outside by walking the perimeter of our thirty-six acres.  This moss covered glacial erratic lies near a neighbor's field.  Its companion tree is a black birch that is now large enough to tap.  Making birch syrup has long held a fascination for us.  We have reduced maple sap to syrup by boiling but have never tried the same process with birch trees.  An outdoors man friend of my father reported several unsuccessful attempts to tap birch trees.  He could never get the sap to run.  I have since read that the time to tap birch trees is after the taps are pulled from the maples.  Birch sap does not start to run as early as maple sap.  One tree does not a sap line make so this tree is likely safe from the tapping drill.

This rock always reminds me of Scott Nearing.  He built a woodland study atop a similar rock.  My rock is not large enough to support an office.  Peeling off the rough surface could be easily done but what would I do with the birch tree.  This tree will never see the rock cutting chisel attack its anchorage.

We have lost several trees that grew on the edge of our field adjacent to the bedrock ledge.  Here the trees roots were restricted to a few inches of soil overlaying the rock ledge.  Abundant water moving above the ledge also kept the tree roots shallow.  A strong wind has little difficulty throwing such trees to the ground.  Mother nature will have to clean up this mess.  We have neither the necessary tools nor the will to tackle a job of this proportion.

Here is a recent picture taken from almost the same location as the first picture in the last post.  When we first obtained the land I had serious reservations about placing our new house so that it looked into the raw edge of this glacial terrace.  Time without grazing livestock has allowed trees to grow here.  Now our house faces a wooded slope.  Some selective cutting would improve the developing structure of these trees.  Cutting some of these trees would make a decent winter task.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Post 1,000: A Look Back

Google identifies this as our one thousandth post.  We thought a look back would be appropriate.  In 1994 Ed marked his 50 th birthday by purchasing the last piece of an abandoned farm.  This photo was taken when we walked the land prior to buying it. We loved this place at first sight.  Ed was looking to reshape our lives as hand tillers of the soil.  A life in close harmony with nature was the goal. What was once an open field is now the home of our house and garden.

A stone square was planned to anchor the garden.  Nearby stone was moved to the wall site by wheelbarrow.  Stone from the back of the property was moved in the pickup truck. Special water worn stones were brought here from Jane's stream.  Batter boards and stakes defined both the  location and height of the planned walls.

Raising all four walls at the same time would have been easier but we had no experience.  One at a time, each corner wall grew.

Four walls are done and work shifts to preparing planting beds.  We expected to scratch and plant in the rich old fields.  What we found was gravel just under the surface.  A thin layer of plow broken stone mixed with some soil covered the gravel.  Old hay bales, leaves, sod and weeds build compost behind the walls.

The red level helps adjust the masonite strips that separate the soil and the path.  Removing those curved strips was the most difficult part of the job. Time has made changes. Plants, particularly thyme, have grown into the stone paths muting the fine dividing lines seen here.

A more simple lifestyle in tune with nature seems to suit the two of us.  Many years later, the old bench needs rebuilding and we move a little slower. Some hand tools have been replaced with motorized ones  but the smiles remain. We still love it here together!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

First Snowfall

Winter storm warnings were the main feature of yesterday's weather stations as a large system worked its way northward along the Atlantic coast.  Wet heavy snow is delivered here by storms that come from the south.  We were lucky as the accumulation was small with no wind.  The electric power remained on and all that we really need do is enjoy the views from our windows.  In the first picture the view from the living room window is to the southeast.  The snow covered garden is on its own now.

Here we are looking northeast from the kitchen door.  Our driveway crosses from left to right and curves inside of the line of trees.  Normally this scene would feature furious activity of Ed clearing the road of snow.  Today we will leave the snow as it fell.

Looking west is one of our favorite views.  The pines were planted decades ago by the farmer's son as a 4-H project.  The ground is steeply sloped here and of little use in farming.  These trees create an incredible view and insulate us from highway noise from state route 8 across the valley.

Solar warmth held by the stone patio has already melted some of the snow.  The ground is wet from recent rainfall and remains unfrozen.  Temperatures in the 40's are predicted for Sunday so all of this snow should have melted by then.  Our gravel driveway is also soft from warm rain so our choice is to leave it alone.  Any attempt to plow would remove surface gravel along with snow. A trip out today will mean driving on the snowy driveway. We have 4 wheel drive transportation here for a reason.  The Town road is likely to be snow covered. It usually spends the winter that way, but after a mile of winter driving practice we will arrive at Route 8 and can expect the road to be clear . The most exciting part of the trip will be getting back up the driveway. It will add a bit of excitement our day!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Heartless Landlords Evict Tenants

Once the rain stopped it was another nice day here with  temperatures well above freezing. Ed was finishing up the ditch work for the new generator. As I was standing there watching him work, I thought I saw movement through the entrance hole of the bluebird box. Thinking perhaps it was my imagination, I asked Ed and he saw it too.  This nest box has a handy side panel that opens and so we went to investigate. This is the sight that greeted us when we opened the box. Years of cleaning out Bluebird houses spring and fall have taught us that this nest does not belong to birds. When we first saw this kind of nest we thought it was made from insulation taken from the trailer we lived in before we built the house. We have since learned that the white material is chewed up balls of milkweed fluff. Ed whisked the contents of the birdhouse onto the ground.

The remains of the nest are on the ground. The evicted tenant, a white footed  mouse, escaped .

Later in the afternoon I went back with the camera to take another peek. The mouse had returned. Apparently the accommodations were so tempting that even giant humans  bent on nest destruction didn't keep this beady eyed furry little creature from returning. Momentarily frozen by fright,I was able to get a picture, but the mouse soon recovered and escaped. In most years mice like these nest under the snow taking advantage of the blanket of snow and the warmth of the ground. I guess this year the bluebird house seemed cozy. The heartless landlords here are stubborn. This mouse must move on or face the consequences.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

December Sunset

At the end of the day, what could be better than a beautiful December sunset in the Stone Wall Garden?

Got Prickers?

I remember a quote or at least the beginning of it. "Now is the winter of our discontent..." With the days getting shorter for almost another three weeks and then 3 weeks more to get back to where we are now, Ed has some discontent.  Actually, like a kid stuck indoors after a week of rain, he is downright grumpy. What could that possibly have to do with prickers?  This morning prickers made us both laugh out loud. We were positively giddy with tear filled eyes!  Prickers don't look funny, they look painful. It was the sound of the word.  If you write prickers on the blackboard in any classroom, I guarantee giggles will breakout.   Both of us call these prickers even though our childhood's were spent in different states. Blackberry canes is a more proper term.  Briers is another word used for these plants.  Imagine the literary plea,"please don't throw me in the pricker patch".   So how widespread is the use of  the word prickers?  What do you call them?

I realize that there are lots of city gardeners who never see prickers. We have lots of prickers here. There are big patches where the rabbits hide and the birds nest. Prickers provide them with  protection and food. If you find yourself  stuck in the middle of a pricker patch, it's not quite so funny. Perhaps prickers are only funny when you are outside the patch looking in. All this frivolity about prickers was brought up when Ed looked out the window and discovered that his blue tarp had blown off the tractor and landed in the pricker patch.

In my mind I pictured the blue tarp stuck in the middle of the prickers, but when Ed returned with the pictures for my pricker post, I discovered that really the prickers saved the tarp from blowing far away. Blue tarps can be funny too, but that another story.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Thyme for a Touch of Snow

This morning we awoke to find a thin layer of snow covering the landscape. Everything was cold and white. The morning sun shown brightly off the white surface making a picture from inside the house impossible. Up until this morning anything that landed on the garden's planting beds has melted immediately or very early in the morning. Today was different. The ground is colder. It was cold enough that anyplace shaded from the sun still has a light trace of snow in the afternoon. This thyme is shaded by the stone wall. Because it is out of the sun's reach, the snow remains. The temperature has begun to drop. It will not melt now.

This morning the entire top of the stone square has a thin frosting of white. Anywhere the sunlight could reach on the wall the snow disappeared. Not even moisture remains on most of the stones. This particular stone is tilted ever so slightly away from the south. That and the shade from the Baptisia kept the snow on this stone from melting.  It is a perfect example of the  cooling power of  shade and the incredible warming power of the winter sun.