Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Our To Do List Grows

As the sun climbs higher and its light grows stronger, the gardener stirs and finds activity among the plants.  These hens and chicks have had a good winter and look ready for the next growing season.  Sited adjacent to the ramp leading out of the basement they receive almost daily attention because we walk there many times each day.  Any weed that tries to grow here is quickly removed.  The growth habit of the hens and chicks tends to claim an area as its own.  Either way weeds have no chance here.

We found catnip growing wild here when we first came to this place.  Every year since then we have tried to transplant catnip wanting it to grow in open places.  Every year our transplants die while self seeded plants flourish.  This catnip is growing among the Siberian squill.  We will find out if squill plants can be reset after we remove the catnip.  The root mass of the catnip is huge and dozens of squill will be displaced when it is levered out.  Or we may just keep the catnip cut to the ground as this area belongs to the squill.

We expected that our snowless winter would be hard on the cardinal flower.  Repeated unprotected freeze thaw cycles have pushed the crown of this mature plant out of the ground and many of its green leaves have already turned to grey mush.  Still the plant is alive and it will soon get some help.  One tray of new cardinal flower transplants will be placed on the stone wall near the basement ramp.  If a freeze threatens the tray will be moved into the basement.  In the past this method has been foolproof.  We really love the intense red color of cardinal flower blossoms and find them well worth the effort needed to help them survive here.

These thyme plants on the patio outside of the west door have received frequent attention.  When Becky finds the morning sun oppressively hot, she moves to the shade of the house to tend her plants.  Seated on the edge of the patio, she moves with the shade and beats back the weeds.  In most areas of the garden the weeds appear ahead of the cultivated plants but here the favored plant grows alone.  Outside work is close at hand and we are itching to get out there and start again.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

First and Last Snowy Weekend in February

It's last weekend in February and the view out the living room window is  snowy and white. Most of the snow fell Friday night. We didn't get a lot of snow. I suppose there might be four inches. It's hard to be sure because the howling wind blew the snow around all day on Saturday. Swirls of snow danced along the ridge. Some places are barely covered with snow. The grass can be seen poking through its surface. In other places the snow is drifted deeper. This morning  it is sunny with blue skies, but cold. By 2:30 the bright sun has already melted much of the snow. Tomorrow promises above freezing temperatures. It's likely that this first February snow to last through a day will be gone very soon.

This weekend is more like the winter garden scene we are used to having. Last year on February 26, we had lots of snow.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lily Fever

It was early this morning when I heard Ed shouting from the living room.  He had opened the window and was addressing his tirade to this deer in the garden. The deer heard Ed.  You can tell because it is looking right at him.

Clearly the deer was not impressed.  Not only did the deer turn his head away ignoring the tirade, but he proceeded to step onto Ed's potted lilies. That was a step too far.  Ed loves his lilies and he hates to be ignored!  Immediate action was required.

What happened next in the garden sent the deer speeding away tail raised in alarm.  My reaction was different.  Obviously  I was laughing hard enough to shake the camera.  Perhaps it was the warning shot from the  rifle that frightened the deer or  perhaps it was because Ed was not wearing the camouflage it is accustomed to seeing. The important thing is that the deer was gone.

With the deer  out of sight, Ed stopped to inspect the damage to his prized potted lilies.

Deer foot prints were everywhere, but I think the pot with Ed's new Pandora lily was the worst.

Later after eating breakfast and adding pants to his attire, Ed covered his precious lilies with wire cages. You might think he's locking the barn after the horse has been stolen, but trust me that brazen deer will be back! To the deer around here we are the intruders.

So that no one thinks Ed is scaring children on the passing school bus, our home is not visible from the road.  He did take the time to slip on his garden rubbers but that deer had to be quickly moved away.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Where Is Winter?

Pioneer settlers had to clear their land as a first order of business.  Hauling stone to what would become field's edge preceded planting.  Stones were likely heaved in a pile since there was no time to build walls.  Years later stone walls could have served as pasture fences.  A wall occupied less land than a stone heap and having the livestock walk on solid cleared ground was safer than having them slipping on slanted stone.  Here at field's edge traces of an old wall can be found among the rubble.  The new stone tower holds a string to define a straight wall edge.  Two strings, one high and one low, would clearly define the plane face of the wall but one will almost do.  A rubber hammer makes necessary adjustments without marking the face of the whacked stone.

Today's 50 degree temperature drew me outside.  This entire area was littered with stone.  Cleaning up the mess seemed  like a good use of this unseasonable day.  Frost still held the buried stone but a little time in the sun softened the duff.  Clearing the stone pile was the day's task.  Placing it in the wall gave me a place to git rid of the litter.  Disposing of the stone was the task.  Keeping the new wall solid would prevent me from having to pick them up again.  Artful tight stone placement would have to wait for another wall in another place.

The area in front of the wall is not yet ready to plant.  Much stone still lies beneath the surface.  Briers and roses have been uprooted but will likely stage a come back.  This season will be spent battling noxious weeds and levering out more stone.  Planned planting will have to wait one more year.

Last year we had more snow in February than I could handle with my lawn tractor.  Plowing pros were called in several times to clear the snow and remove nearly three hundred dollars from my wallet.  That winter was easier on the plants but I did enjoy today.

Spring For Today

The temperature is a balmy 50 degrees.  I managed to find a snow drop that has a bud.  Snow is nowhere to be seen.

Ed has been outside all morning working on a wall. I spent some pleasant time sitting on the bench in the garden watching the birds.  It's hard to believe that this is February 22. In the 2008 on this day the view out of the living room window looked like this.  Last year in 2011, February 22 looked like this.
I'm headed back outside. Blue skies, sunshine and fifty in February should not  be missed!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Just Enough Snow

We awoke this morning to watch the  moon rise over a white coated garden.  It's amazing how fast the moon pops up above the horizon.  This morning there was just enough snow for tracking.  It appears that these tracks were made by something that wanders off a straight line like a weasel.  In fact these tracks were made by me.  Honestly, I just don't know how a fox walks so straight.

Here we have some more interesting tracks. I was puzzled,  but Ed told me they were made by the brush he had been dragging behind him.  These tracks turn into the area where we have our campfires.

We have been waiting for a day with some snow cover and calm winds to build a fire.  This morning was perfect.  We have been collecting  a bucket of onions and garlic infested with black mold and pink root rot.  Here in NY burning of that sort of thing is allowed.  It made for interesting smelling smoke.  Both of us are smelling pretty woodsy with just a touch of onion and garlic.  It's not a smell that washes right off.

This stack of wood has been around for awhile.  The wood rots from the outside in.   I couldn't resist taking a picture of that log with a complete circle of fungus.  This afternoon the snow is gone and rain is predicted.  Timing is everything and this morning we had just enough snow to get some burning done.  Wood ashes will be screened and added to compost for plants that need a special something.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Time For A New Start

Every winter we try to winter over our lemon verbena, Aloysia triphalla with limited success.  This year the plants remained green and growing until the spider mites gained the upper hand.  Becky's intervention with dish washing liquid and vodka spray turned the tide.  One plant lost many leaves to the mites but responded with new tender growth.  This new growth looks like ideal cutting material.  So we are going to try and get new plants to grow from pieces of the old plant.

For some reason I favor heel cuttings that include a thin sliver of the old stem.  Three stem cuttings and three heel cuttings would have allowed a comparison of the two methods but that idea did not present itself until the job was done.  So the heels were placed in water then dusted with rooting hormone.  The stems were placed in shallow depressions and the soil brought to the stems.  That sequence of steps is intended to keep the rooting powder on the freshly cut surface.

The pots were placed in a bucket of water to bring moisture up from the bottom.  Then they were placed in saucers and capped with bottomless juice bottles.  Plastic juice bottle covers are intended to maintain high humidity around the leaves until roots form.  A spot at the end of the shelf out of direct sunlight is the present location of these pots.  

Please remember that we have no idea what we are doing.  This post is intended to give us an easily found record of what we did and when we did it. If the cuttings root, we will be able to date to their growth prior to planting out and modify if necessary.  If the cuttings die, we can try to figure out why.  In either event our fall back position is to order three new plants from Richters.  For today I got dirt under my finger nails and it felt great.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Twice Pressed

That the area where we live was once covered by one mile thick ice is now accepted scientific conjecture.  Our surface soil is not from around here.  Glaciers brought it here from perhaps as much as 200 miles north northeast of here.  Pieces of the Adirondack Mountains may litter the surface of our soil.  Exactly how our land was formed has always puzzled me.  This one rock sent me looking for answers. Amy found a geologic history of New York State but it was written in 1914.  Glacial theory was only 75 years old when that book was written.  A more recent book has yet  to be found.  Still there is this rock that was found lying on the surface at the margin of our gravel bank.  Its rich moss coating speaks to the abundant recent rainfall.

We frequently find rock similar to this one.  They are extremely heavy for their size and usually do not split cleanly.  Their core is sometimes more dense, darker in color and loaded with shell fossils.  The differences between the inner and outer layers are many.  The interior is light gray, dense and hard while the brown exterior is porous, damp and soft.  Most of the rock found here is sedimentary in origin but this one seems to have been buried and pressed twice.

Frequent freeze thaw cycles and generous rainfall have already begun to separate the two layers of this freshly split stone.  When found, the outer layer was continuous and unbroken.  Hammer and chisel easily separated the rock into several slices.  Now the weather is stripping away the soft crumbly outer layer.  The heavy gray interior slice will wait on the ground until it can be placed as a capstone on the next built stone wall.  The broken soft exterior fragments will be left to weather to dust ready for their return trip to the ocean where they will help form a new layer of sediment.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lemon Grass, Lemon Verbena, and a Mummy

I dry herbs for tea so we can enjoy them in the winter, but I really miss herb tea made from fresh green plants. One of my favorite herbal blends is a triple lemon tea.  It consists of lemon balm, lemon grass, and lemon verbena.  I don't have lemon balm growing in the house, but today I picked some lemon verbena leaves and lemon grass leaves to make a nice pot of fresh herb tea.

When I picked the lemon verbena leaves, I also picked this leaf that clearly has a resident. My first thought was to toss it into the compost for immediate disposal. But I was curious to know just who lurked in this mummy like cocoon.

I can breathe through a tissue, so I chose that for the top of my jar. I wanted something fine in case whatever hatches out is tiny.

Now the mummy lurks on my kitchen windowsill. If something hatches I will be sure to see it there. Ed thinks it might be a spider. I don't know what it is, but I hope this mummy doesn't come with a curse.

 February 17: Whatever was in the jar escaped into my kitchen. A hole in the tissue was my first clue. Examination of the remains on the leaf showed that something hatched out of a thin shell. Darn I guess it came with a small curse.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Another Shot for My Curry Leaf, and Leave the Bottle!

For two months my curry leaf plant has been in solitary confinement in my bathroom.  It looks pretty pathetic.  In January it had more leaves at the top and looked like this.  In between then and now things have been sad.  It seemed like every day more leaf stems were falling to the floor. I fed the plant yogurt.  I gave it an eggshell and I continued to spray it from time to time with vodka and soap. I was all but ready to give up,  but then to my amazement new growth began to appear on the tall spindly plant. The first growth started at the base of the plant.

Then a new set of cute little leaves appeared  along the stem.  Tiny green bumps can be seen in other places too.

If the plant can try this hard to battle those disgusting little sucking scales,  then the least I can do is do my part.  Maybe my lush plant can be a lush plant again if I hang in there, and if the booze holds out until spring.  It's worth at least a shot or two!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Out Of Season

Our garden madness expresses itself in many ways.  Planting something on New Year's Day just seemed right although a little crazy.  When our lilies were transferred to pots for the winter, we had more bulbs than planting space.  The left over Easter lilies, L. longiflorum, were planted in four pots and placed near the south side of the house.  We planned to move these pots into the house during the winter and see if they would grow.

We had to make this up as we went along since we knew nothing about forcing bulbs.  A certain amount of cold was assumed necessary before the bulbs could come back to life.  This winter has been mild so we did not know if the chilling had been sufficient when the first pot was pulled from the ground and placed in the basement in early January.  About two weeks in the insulated but unheated basement were allotted to give the bulbs a slow wake up.  Then the pot was moved upstairs and placed in a south facing window.  To date two lilies have broken the surface with new growth.  A second pot is now in the basement making the transition from winter to its artificial spring.

July 9, 2011 found our overwintered lilies in bloom.  Foliage growth was compact but the flowers were appropriately sized.  We bought these plants from the grocery store after Easter 2009.  Two mild winters allowed these zone 7 plants to survive here.  A normal winter will likely end these plants but we are enjoying them for now.  We will count the days between moving the pots indoors and first flower.  Then next year we may be able to enjoy our own flowers at Easter.

The above photo shows one of the best tended areas of our garden.  Sweet peppers and basil both receive this special treatment.  Weeds are allowed to sprout and grow a little after the plants are set out.  Weeding is followed by an application of ground maple leaves.  Very few weeds had to be pulled when this area was prepared for its photo op.

Ed takes his wheelbarrow and coarse, half inch square mesh screen, into the woods where the red maples grow.  Forrest floor litter is forced through the screen.  This material makes great mulch suppressing weeds and adding to the soil for next year's garden. We hope we will have the pleasure of enjoying  fragrant lily blossoms even if it takes until  July.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Match The Task To The Day

Usually snow madness has set in here by the first week in February.  Weeks of unrelenting snow fall limits outside activity.  That is not the case this year.  Once again we awoke to find frost covering the bare ground but the sun quickly melted that.  On the sunny side of this stone wall the ground is soft while the shady side remains firmly frozen.  A quick tap with a hammer releases the frozen stones so some wall building is possible today.  Most of the stones in this area have been thrown in a heap.  The farmer's children were likely given the task of picking these rather small stones from the field and they had no interest in wall building.  Putting this right made for an incredibly pleasant day.

One advantage to working stone in the cold is the lack of critter activity.  Snakes, wasps and spiders are dormant now.  Not so for this stone roach.  This creature may have a proper name but it is unknown to us.  We assigned the name stone roach to these numerous occupants of our stone piles.  Despite the removal of the roof from its frozen quarters, this guy moved quickly.  It was gone in a flash returning to the stone wall.  Another second and he would have been missing from this picture leaving just a cool and frosty fossilized stone.

The purpose of this wall is to consolidate the stone pile freeing up the ground for planting.  An attractive wall is unlikely given the poor quality of the stone.  All this wall has to do is remain standing for a few years.  Stone placement in the interior of the wall is the most important factor in building a stable wall with this rubble.  A great number of stones were handled today to build a rather short section of low wall.

Day's end found about six feet of new wall.  The dumped stone pile is shrinking.  If this wall is to continue to grow, additional stone will have to be brought to the site.  We have the stone but time for this kind of play is limited.  One thing about a stone wall it waits quietly and patiently  for the builder's return no matter how long that takes.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Fox Tale

Our lack of snow at the Stone Wall Garden makes watching the wildlife a bit of a challenge.  The animals blend in to the point that you can be watching a deer and as soon as his movement stops he disappears as if by magic. The animal is still right there in plain sight, but matches the background perfectly.  This morning I was lucky enough to spot a fox walking down the hill on Ed's curved path.  I got the binoculars to get a better look.  This fox is in magnificent condition.  Her huge bushy tail looks black, but with a white tip.  Her red fur glistened even in the subdued light of this cloudy morning.  Her front legs were black.  I watched as she walked along the top edge of the mowed area.  The leg movements fascinate me because I want to understand exactly how a fox manages to leave those single line tracks in the snow.

When the fox reached the  patch of long grass beyond the wall, she stopped to hunt.  I watched as she stood there motionless, listening.  Then she stuck her nose into the grass to get a good whiff.  Finally she pounced like a cat.  Alas she came up empty.  The entire process was repeated again.  This time she caught a grey critter about the size of a red squirrel.  I couldn't see what it was for sure.  The furry critter menu here is extensive.  I watched as she ate her prize.

This is a closer picture of the area where the fox was hunting.  After she finished eating she stopped to mark this spot with urine and then headed toward the trees.  I thought the show was over, but the fox took off with incredible speed.  She had found a rabbit.  The rabbit had a considerable lead on the fox, but as they headed up the hill the blinding speed of the fox was closing the gap.  They disappeared over the crest of the hill.  Once again I thought the show was over, but in just a minute or two the fox appeared again walking down Ed's curved path.

This time she walked along the edge of the grass and climbed to the top of the rough compost pile.  As she stood there I just had to try to get a picture.  The windows of the kitchen door were a little foggy.  I set the camera and then carefully opened the door.  I never saw the fox leave or saw where she went.  This fox tale came to a quick but final end.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

And an Award Goes to...

I want to thank Donna from Garden's Eye View for the Blogger Versatility Award. Coming from her it means so much. Even though Donna and I have not actually met we faithfully read each others blogs and have exchanged snail mail. She has some of  my Mom's iris.  Great gardening friendships have been built on a lot less.

Next I need to share 7 things about myself.
1. I'm not a Master Gardener. I garden for the fun of it by trial and error.
2. I never learned to type properly. Who knew a keyboard would become so important?
3. For the first two years I blogged using dial up. My computer is faster now, but I'm not.
4. I love watching wildlife in the garden. Sometimes I'm glad it's from the safety of the house.
5. I love fragrant flowers and plants, and  stones, perhaps too much.
6. If a plant attracts  butterflies, hummingbird moths, hummingbirds and bees, it attracts me.
7. I can only write when I have something I want to say. Give me a deadline and I can't write a word!

I'm listing fifteen blogs that I would love to give an award.  However, I have no idea how to connect all this. When I first started my blog it had to be really basic to work. Now I like it that way. If you are interested in how this award works you'll need to double back to Donna's blog.

1. Sunita, The Urban Gardener, provides a visit to a garden in tropical India.
2. Linda, Farmhouse Greetings, writes about her terrific artwork, her garden and more.
3. Petka, Dedeckove zahrada (Grandfather's Garden), is writing about restoring her grandfather's          garden.            
4. Wiseacre Gardens is full of interesting photos of often unnoticed things and is so funny. I hold out hope that new posts will appear someday.
5. Christine, The Last Frontier Garden makes gardening in Alaska sound fun funny.
6. Ann, Camera Tales and Camera Trails takes wonderful wildlife pictures .
7. Kathy, The Violet Fern, has a garden that deserves a visit.
8. Jim, The Art of Gardening, is all about gardening in Buffalo and more.
9. Daphne, Daphne's Dandelions, reveals her love gardening as she writes about her garden
10. Lyn, The Amateur Weeder, writes about gardening in South Africa.
11. Nancy, All Nature, My Garden is a beautiful nature blog.
12. Liz, Gwirrel's Garden, is my choice for an English garden to visit.
13. Laveta, Laveta's Place is a blog with a great  new photo every day from Colorado.
14. Chris, Outside Clyde is fun to read and will keep you up to date on Asheville Fling.
15. Erin, Urban Organic Gardening in Sidney, read my whole blog from the beginning in about a week. That certainly deserves  an award!

The list of garden blogs that I try to read when I can is much longer than this. Making this list was harder than choosing up teams for dodge ball.  All I need to do now is visit all 15 blogs and leave a comment. Of course I'll have to do some reading while I'm there.