Monday, December 31, 2012

Goodbye 2012

We were hoping for a brilliant sunset to close this year.  Clouds near the horizon at this time of day sometimes create great beauty but today's display was rather ordinary.  Snow coated pines and blue sky combine with unmarked snow on the ground to make a calm and satisfying image.  Mature eagerness colors our expectations for 2013.  Plans are forming to try at least one new project next year.  We do not require success.  We simply enjoy the effort and whatever the experience brings us.

Older houses with uninsulated  attics sport incredible hanging ice sculptures in this weather.  Our insulated attic contributed nothing to this icicle.  Clear skies and temperatures in the upper twenties combined to melt then freeze the snow on the overhang of our roof.  Becky tried to catch a drip falling free.  I can find no explanation for the series of bulges formed by melt water at below freezing air temperatures.

A final image of man and his machine will close out 2012 for us.  Best wishes for a healthy and happy 2013.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Blanketed With Snow

After the snowfall yesterday, the Stone Wall Garden is blanketed with snow.  We elected to spend the storm day inside with our gardening books.  William Cullina is a favorite contemporary author and we discovered his internet article about trailing arbutus.  He tells all about his highly successful technique for growing arbutus from seed.  Ed has read the article several times and is making his plans for next summer.  

Ed's project for the day was the clearing of the snow from driveway, paths, and vehicles.  Since his snow blower barely got out of the shed last winter, he is just now becoming more acquainted with the use of the machine.  I can see the bond between man and machine growing the more he uses it.  Today he said, "It is wonderful!"

Ed left his work and came in to warm up and have lunch. We were enjoying a steaming bowl of West African Groundnut Stew  when Ed spotted movement out the kitchen window. This is the view to the North that we enjoy looking out the kitchen window.  Today we saw a mature bald eagle flying over the river.  The eagle was flying below the ridge across the valley so white head and tail were unmistakable.  Since our home is sited on a plain overlooking the river, the eagle was flying level with our line of sight.  It is always a special day when we see an eagle.  This one turned and flew up river then turned again so we had a good long look.

Ed is back out there putting the finishing touches on his snow removal work.   Tomorrow we will make that trip to town that we have been putting off.  Snow is a mixed blessing.  It is quiet and looks beautiful.  It provides moisture and protection for the garden plants.  Its removal uses a lot of time and equipment.  Some of us are white knuckled when driving on it. Others like Ed take it as a challenge and find it rather exciting and fun.   The Town crew plows our road last, so it is hard packed when they get here.  It will be slippery, coated with packed snow until the next thaw.  

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Finally Snow

Once again the weather forecasts were dire.  Once again we were spared a damaging storm.  Snow caps on the wall minimize the total snowfall.  Wind removed some of the accumulation from the exposed high surfaces.  Our plants are finally under a protective blanket of snow.  We hope that this snow is still here in ten weeks.

Emerging from his burrow, the shoveler clears a path without leaving any footprints in the new snow. This stone chip ramp into the basement works only if it is kept clear of snow or ice.  A hard frozen surface here would sluice melt water into the basement.  Sun light on the cleared stones keeps a channel open to the deep gravel and water disappears harmlessly.

The end was almost reached but the lure of big machines pulled workman away.

When we first moved here thirteen years ago, I was still working.  A hand snow pusher proved adequate to clear most snowfalls.  It took the entire day to open the lane but since snowfall closes schools, I had the day off.  Illness necessitated power tools so a plow was attached to the lawn tractor.  Unable to curl plowed snow to the side, the plow proved inadequate.  Last year we acquired a bigger lawn tractor with a snow blower.  A snowless winter last year kept the new toy inactive.  Today was its maiden voyage.

Our gravel driveway presented a problem.  High skids were welded and attached to the blower.  It clears above the road surface but leaves an inch of snow.  The old plow finishes to job scraping down to the frozen gravel surface.  Exposed stone and sunshine work together to totally clear the lane.  It still takes all day but outside is where I want to be.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Winter Arrives Right On The Solstice

Last night it rained hard most of the night.  This morning we watched as the rain changed to sleet and then to snow.  It was dizzying to look out the windows for awhile.  Huge snowflakes were falling fast past the windows.  Without the movement the effect is lost, but the large snowflakes are evident anyway.  Some things that the eye can see just can't be shown in a two dimensional picture.

By 9:00 AM the garden was covered in white.   There was a lull in the storm and  at 2:00 PM, the snow continues, but now it is falling at a leisurely pace.  The previous sickening feeling is replaced with a calmness.  Snowflakes float leisurely to the now white ground.  Soon darkness will fall and winter will officially be here.  Tomorrow's daylight will be just a little longer than today's.  

We have reached the sun's turning point.  Spring is up next.  It's time to begin thinking about next year's garden.  Catalogs are already piling up on the coffee table.  My good friend, Linda Cook Devona 's illustration on GreenPrints  cover pictures how I love to spend a snowy winter day.  Clearly, it's time to begin ordering seeds!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Luck Holds

I have been struggling with my sweet bays since 2010.  I worked hard to try to save them, but this fall, following the advice of a professional, I sent my bay trees to what I thought was an icy death  in the brush pile.  I wanted closure and given the cold weather and frosts we have had, I thought I had it.  Today Ed took pictures of the sweet bays.  Instead of dropping their leaves and dying like any well behaved zone 7 plant might do, they are making new leaves.

Of course the new leaves still have the disgusting disease is that caused me to ostracize them in the first place.  They are lucky to have survived December, but I will not weaken.  Smart gardeners grow healthy plants and  discard the sick ones.  I'd like to think I'm getting smarter!   I would like to think Ed is getting smarter too.  If not I hope his luck holds.  His confession, story follows.

Three highly invasive plants are slowly but surely taking over our abandoned fields.  They are blackberry briers, a rose introduced by the NYS Conservation Department to control erosion and Japanese Honeysuckle.  Since winter has not yet found us, uprooting honeysuckles seemed like a good way to use this day.  Using the Ford Ranger as an anchor for the cable winch and the pry bar to wiggle loose the far ranging roots, five of these monsters were pulled from the ground.

A pry bar is a simple machine capable of producing great force.  Some precautions are required for its safe use.  Thumbs should be always aligned with fingers when grasping the bar.  If the thumbs wrap around the bar, a sudden slip can easily dislocate a thumb or two.  The bar should be solidly placed to prevent slipping before force is applied.  A sudden slip could have caused trouble today.

A head high spindly honeysuckle should have been easy to remove.  Its roots were massive running several feet in various directions.  Many roots had been forced clear and the bush was on its side.  I was trying to roll it to finish it off.  Without warning the bar slipped launching me into the air flying over the bush, clearing it by at least a yard.  Instinctively I landed in a front somersault followed by a feet high half twist that brought me gingerly to the ground.  Flat on my belly facing the bush I felt no pain.  I could not believe my luck.  Approaching birthday 69 is no time for such antics.  Serious injury could have been my lot today.  Still, I cannot believe my luck.  During the vault my ankles were not touching and my toes were not pointed so gymnastic  judges would have scored my move not much more than my age.  Not likely to get smarter, I must rely on luck and instinct.  Still, there is no pain but I suspect several aches find me come morning.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Frozen Turkeys

It was frosty this morning.   The landscape was coated with shimmering white.  I was surprised and delighted to watch a large flock of turkeys walk from the tall grass into the mowed area around the garden.  Because the turkeys were between me and the bright morning sun, getting a picture was a bit tricky.   I was able to get a picture of part of the flock.  There are more than twenty turkeys in the picture and there were still more to the right of the shade garden.  I don't think I remember ever seeing this large a flock here.   As it happened we were headed out this morning.  Ed made the first trip out to the car.  Since he was headed away from them, the turkeys barely noticed him, but when he made noise opening the car door, the turkeys all flew at once  across the garden.  It's not often that I get to see turkeys fly like that.  They really prefer to walk.  It's a big effort for them to take to the air, but it is an awesome sight!

Amy called to tell us how great the Geminids were tonight.  Ed and I went out on the porch and stood together to watch.  We saw quite a few while we were out there, but it was cold and the clouds closed in more and more.  When we came inside only the stars directly overhead were still visible.   I'm glad we didn't miss it!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Venus and The Crescent Moon

This morning I awoke to a view of the moon and Venus rising  above the ridge that is visible out the bedroom window.  It was an amazing sight.  Ed went outside in the cold darkness to take pictures.  This is the best one, but it hardly does justice to the cosmic event.

A few minutes later, the moon had risen  a bit higher over the ridge.  When the sun was just beginning to light up the sky, we  watched in awe for  a few minutes, but grey clouds quickly rolled in obliterating the view.  It was one of those fleeting opportunities so often missed.  This morning We were lucky enough to wake up and take notice.  The pictures are a bit fuzzy, but our memory if this morning's moon and Venus rising is crystal clear.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Found Treasure

We have an interesting history with wintergreen, Gaultheria procumbens.  Early exploration of our newly purchased land revealed a large patch of this plant.  It was growing on a steep north facing slope.  Too steep to plow, the land had been used as pasture for dairy cows many decades ago.  Now wild berry briers made the area difficult to access.  Trying to do right by this native wildflower, I cleared the briers.  That winter hungry deer easily walked my newly cleared wild garden and feasted on the exposed wintergreen.  An occasional plant can still be found there but the briers returned with a vengeance.

Purchased plants have refused to grow for us.  Cuttings refused to root here.  Following our success transplanting arbutus, I have been thinking about giving wintergreen another go.  In the wild we have encountered the two plants growing in close proximity.

Taking advantage of our mild December weather, I have been clearing my side of the shared lane.  Today I discovered a large patch of wintergreen growing under the protective cover of black birch branches that had been thrown over my fence by a lane user.  I usually resent people throwing things over my fence but these branches appear to have provided protective cover for the wintergreen.  As I did a proper job of cutting back the brush, additional branches were carefully placed over the wintergreen.  Easy to drive to, we will make frequent trips here to see and record the life cycle of these wild plants.

Both Henry W. Art and William Cullina describe wintergreen as a suitable plant to introduce into the garden.  Stem and runner cuttings should be taken early in the year while the growth is still soft advises Art.  Perhaps my cuttings were taken a bit late.  Rather than trying to force these plants into cultivation, maybe I should be content to enjoy them where they are.  A native plant deserves a wild home.

In my readings I encountered a tale describing pioneer women as sipping wintergreen wine at quilting bees.  Unable to remember the author describing this practice, I cannot get the experience out of my head.  Wintergreen wine must be a real taste treat.  How could it be anything less?  Early in our history wintergreen must have been a common plant.  I cannot imagine a stand of this plant so vast  that would supply the buckets of leaves necessary to make wine.   Perhaps this is what they mean when referring to the good old days.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Hidden So Close

This is a borrowed view that our neighbors can enjoy from across the farm lane and right of way which separates our two properties.  This magnificent stand of Norway spruce has been here for decades.  The trees were planted by the son of the farmer who owned the land before us.  It's hard to see from this picture that there is a den often used by foxes hidden behind the beautiful flowing boughs of the trees.

The den is situated right at the base of the trunk of one of the trees.  There is fresh digging activity there.

It is fascinating to notice that as the digging progresses darker sand is now being replaced with fine white sand.  There doesn't seem to be a stone in any of it.  This fine sand is totally different from dirt anywhere else that Ed has dug on the property and he has done a whole  lot of digging here.   I'm sure he would have liked to get right into that sand to check it out, but we do not wish to disturb the tenants.

Here is a little closer look at the area.  The den is just a few feet to the right of the orange posted sign.  The lowest spruce branches are beginning to encroach on the right of way.  We plan to drive around them and hope our neighbors will do the same.  Trimming  would result in the death of the branches back to the trunk of the tree and result in complete exposure of the foxes  hiding place.  As Ed clears along the lane, he will carefully place brush in the open spaces  to give the animals the privacy they deserve.  If we are very lucky we will be rewarded next year with  an occasional glimpse of fox kits and foxes on rodent patrol in the garden.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Rock, Lichen, Scissors

We have all played the game of rock paper scissors.  Paper covers rock, rock breaks scissors and scissors cut paper.  For the stone walls in the garden it is not paper that beats them, but lichens.  I like some of the lichens that grow on the walls.  I find them attractive.  The longer the walls stand out there in the sun the more lichens grow on them.  The lichens are in fact very slowly consuming the stones.

It's impossible not to notice the black lichen that is growing on the stone square.  I find it interesting to notice that where the stone is shaded the black lichen is absent.

Here a number of lichens are growing on the top of the wall.

Although the black lichen looks smooth from a distance, it is really quite pebbly in texture.  How the black lichen got started or where is came from I don't know.  I'm sure it has a name, but I don't know it.  Perhaps is the stone equivalent of a sunburn.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Spring For A Day

Today our weather was almost unbelievable. It is December 4 in upstate New York and the temperature in the shade reads 62 degrees.  Whatever else I might have planned to do, the pull to walk around the garden with the camera  was stronger.  I stuck close to the house like the smartest of the deer in our neighborhood.  I don't feel comfortable walking the paths in the woods while there is possibility of running into folks with guns and Buck Fever.

Everywhere I walked the ground was thawed.  The red color of these yarrow leaves caught my attention.  They are not the flowers that I miss so much, but are still lovely.

So many of the plants are showing new growth in preparation for spring. This picture of catkins on the hazelnut with green grass, trees and blue sky in the background hardly brings December to mind.  I enjoyed our breath of spring even if it only lasted for a day.  As I write this a cold front is blowing through.  Tomorrow we will be back to December's chill, rain and perhaps snow, but today was fantastic!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

New Growth

Death seems to be a large player in the fall garden.  Slippery slime from frost blackened squash leaves still coats my garden gloves.  Less tropical plants take the change of season in stride and are presently putting out new growth.  This foxglove seedling found itself growing at the west facing base of a dry stone wall.  Shelter and warmth should carry this plant into next summers garden.  The picture would look much more impressive without the dead leaves but finding and operating the pruner with cold gloved hands seemed too much.

Mammoth pink chrysanthemums are reliably hardy here.  Soon the ground will be frozen and the old growth will be cut and placed over the new growth.  The light airy mulch will help the young plants overwinter.  Wood sorrel and Johnny jump ups are persistent weeds here and will overwinter no matter what.

Great lobelia has finished two seasons with us.  Some are blue flowered and some are white.  Not everyone understands why we buy this rather common ditch weed but taking any plants from the roadside comes with risk of a fine.  Many new plants crowd around last season's stems.  Spring division will be required to keep these plants growing freely.  For now, it is time to cut the stems and place them over the new plants.

Only the first Rose campion  requires planting by the gardener.  Following that they come up everywhere.  Their delicate looking whitish foliage and the promise of magenta flowers combine to make it difficult to weed them out.  We always leave more than we should.  Their delicate appearance belies the toughness displayed in the face of frost and freezing.  Compare that with my unwillingness to take off my gloves and snip off some dead leaves.  Working in the cold used to be easier!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Impatiently Waiting For Spring

This may have been the first stone wall built on the pioneer farm here.  Grading uphill from the river bottom land, stones were abundant in this early field.  Along the field's edge, the order of the stones ranges from still solid wall to fallen down heaps.  The wall in the background represents two early springs efforts to put things right.  Low late winter sun softens this ground first as spring begins to take hold.  While the gardens remain frozen hard, this area will yield to determined hands and tools.  Newly restored wall will result from the first real outside work of 2013.  The stone cairn that holds the string defining wall's edge will have to be moved as the wall is overtaking it.

This from seed baby arbutus plant is expected see its first spring.  Three hairy leaves with more growth in the center  should carry it through the winter.  We visit here almost daily offering kind words of encouragement to this little guy.

What may be mother arbutus sports two bud clusters peeking out from the cover of overhanging leaves.  Can the scent of a flower actually be remembered or are we just stretching our imaginations looking forward to the first flowers of spring?

The sod house is anything but a work of art.  Primitive but functional, it already shows the effect of shade.  The sod mound prevents warmth of direct sunlight from reaching the ground where snow remains.  Frost hardened, winter is well under way here in this small spot of ground.  Pots of Oriental lilies are winter ready.  The next big challenge here will come from marauding rodents intent on chewing tender green new growth.  Traps, repellent and the will to move all of those pots stand ready to do battle.  For the moment, the wire cages keep the deer from walking here as we impatiently wait for spring.  Of course winter is the next season to arrive here, but if the arbutus is ready so are we!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sharp Frost

Transition time between two seasons can create scenes of wonder.  This morning we woke up to see air that looked like it was filled with frozen fog.  Conflicted between a desire for something hot to drink and wanting to be outside amid the splendor of the moment, I chose the hot drink.

The sun was just beginning to burn through the frost when I finally ventured out.  Air temperature then was at 30 degrees F.  Frost was not heavy on the ground still warm from yesterday's bright sunshine.  Blueberry leaves exposed to the currents of frosty air display both pebbly frosted surfaces and sharp spikes of frost formed on  leaf edges.

This weed of unknown variety is located in a spot where the air currents are strong.  Located at the base of the gravel bank hill, the stream of cold air must have poured around its edge.  Grass and leaf litter beneath it are nearly frost free while the weed has a generous coating of frost.

A blueberry branch has a heavy coating of frost spikes.  They look menacingly sharp and remained untouched.

A splinter on the split rail fence is heavily coated with frost while the surface of the rail is largely frost free.

Frost coats many surfaces exposed to the air.  Some frost is on the grass but the soil in the planting beds is frost free.  No frost on the massive stone wall is common when the preceding day was warm.

Someone smarter than I am might offer an explanation of the generous crystal growth on one side of the post in contrast to rather small deposits on the opposite side.  Moving air accounts for the difference but I have no idea which way the air flowed.  Clear skies are now visible overhead and all of this crystalline wonder is melting. Soon it will be completely gone.  The water will have evaporated and only these sharp frost pictures will remain.

Friday, November 16, 2012

How Did They Get Here?

The land that we occupy is quite a mystery to even a casual observer.  Five meadows ranging in size from two to five acres are each on a different level.  Each is relatively flat but all are separated by changes in elevation.  All are the product of the receding glacier.  Different soil types are found in the various meadows.  Some are rich with clay while others are sandy gravel.  We cannot begin to understand exactly how our land came to be.  It must represent more than a single event in the melting of the glacier.

Water sorted deposits fill our valley.  Operating gravel banks abound.  Last fall we had our road improved with several truck loads of gravel from an operation a few miles upstream from us.  On my daily trips up and down the lane with the mail, different appearing stones would catch my eye.  Some found my pocket and wound up on the wall near the basement entrance.  Geology books suggest that our soil may have come from as far away as the Adirondack Mountains.  I would really like to know the identity of these stones to aid in understanding just how they came to be here.  

Fossils clearly identify a sandstone of some type.  Chunks cemented together in a single stone are conglomerate similar to the deposits that form the Catskill escarpment.  More dense stones show pits that could have been formed by gas bubbles under tremendous heat and pressure.  Perhaps I should rent a geologist to walk this land and describe just how it came to be.  He might even be able to identify the names of the pebbles atop my wall.  All those different  colors and textures are so intriguing to look at especially if you have a thing for stones and I do.