Saturday, March 31, 2012

Freeze Survivors

When our week of summer sharply snapped back to more typical March weather, Ed covered some early out lilies with dry fall leaves and plastic tubs.  Here the leaves are being returned to the tub ready for reuse.  Warm soil and insulation protected the early tender growth from freezing, 19 F after sunrise, but the number and spacing of these plants will continue to present a challenge.  Two tubs were required to protect these plants.  The need for cover will continue long after these lilies are taller than the tubs.  Our usually safe frost free date of June first is still many days away.

These orange spotted Asiatic lilies were part of a nameless mix that we purchased three seasons ago.  Their color is bright and beautiful and they grow invasively here.  Two bulbs have become many, enough to plant in three separate places in the garden.  Lack of fragrance left them waiting last fall while the lily sod house filled.   Everything in the picture grew from one mature bulb left here last year.  First and second year seed bulbs crowd the now many mature bulbs.  

Late frost will likely kill flower buds when these lilies are too large to cover.  A solution was to pot up two mature bulbs and their attending seedlings.  When frost or freeze threatens the potted plants will be moved inside.  After June is firmly here, the potted plants will be planted out in the garden to complete their year's growth.  

Something must be done to temper the lure of the lily.  Two new varieties will soon be here when the mail order plants are delivered.  What we have already exceeds our ability to care for them.  A larger lily sod house is in the plans for this summer.  A more permanent affair backed against a stone wall sounds good.  Its dimensions remain undefined.  Fewer lilies would also be a solution but Ed has been seen searching catalogs looking for the 2012 fall lily order.   

Friday, March 30, 2012

On the Trail of Arbutus in Chenango Valley State Park

It was a comment from a friend on the Mayflowers in March post that sent us on the trail of arbutus on the shores of Lily Lake. There are two kettle lakes at Chenango Valley State Park. Lily Lake is the smaller lake with nature trails. It has water lilies, a beaver hutch and wildflowers. Always interested in checking out natural growing conditions for arbutus, we went to have a look.  After we managed to make our way down the hill to the lake's edge, we chose to go to the right.  Our friend always walks the lake clockwise and we figured if we went the other way and she was there, we would meet on the trail.  As it turned out she was there earlier in the day so we missed her. We actually had the trail all to ourselves but we found out later that the best stands of arbutus were in the opposite direction.

It was on the east side of the lake trail where we located arbutus. These healthy looking leaves are growing right next to the root of a pine tree.  There may be a symbiotic relationship between microbes growing on pine roots and arbutus.  This robust plant growing right on a long pine root might suggest a certain benefit from its location.

Here the arbutus flowers were pink.  A rich carpet of moss grows with the arbutus.  Pine needles, oak leaves and an acorn cap identify nearby neighbors.

We were surprised to find wintergreen growing with the arbutus.  Its bright red berries are mealy this time of year and picking anything is not allowed in a State Park so leaving them be was an easy thing to do.  Not chewing on a leaf was more of a challenge.  Generally, we found the wintergreen plants large and numerous while the arbutus plants were for the most part puny but numerous.   It appears that the glacier left gravely soil rich with clay.  We would like to have removed a soil sample but rules are rules. A return trip to see where the arbutus grows best is likely next week.  A chance to observe natural growing conditions may just pull us away from the work to be done here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Down 60

We knew that summer temperatures in March would end abruptly and perhaps with damage to plants that had been teased out early.  A week of daytime temperatures in the seventies exploded  old record highs.  The new highs were twenty degrees above  previous records.   17 F was the low forecast for last night and our weatherman advised protecting tender plants.  These orange spotted Asiatic lilies were left in the open garden as the sod lily house was full.  Protection was required here,  but how does one protect plants when the temperatures are expected to fall fifteen degrees below freezing?

These plastic tubs were filled with dried leaves then placed over the lily shoots.  Stone weights seemed necessary since violent winds preceded the temperature drop.  We left the tubs in place today.  More cold is forecast tonight and the mess of cleaning up the dried leaves beneath the tubs did not seem worth it when cover will be necessary again tonight.  If the insulating value of the leaves was enough will not be known until  the tubs can be removed.

This is the best that our tree peony has ever looked.  Dried leaves filled the space between the tree peony and its wire cage all winter.  Putting the leaves back last night did not seem wise.  The new growth that may have needed protection was high above the warm ground so there would be no warmth for the leaves to retain.  Damage from placing the leaves was likely.  We chose to leave the tree peony unprotected and the new growth does not look damaged.  It will have to endure a second frigid night.

This bed of Ice Follies daffodils looks really sad and droopy.  The new flower stems were full of liquid when they froze.  Cell damage is apparent as the limp stems can no longer support the weight of the flowers.  Plant leaves look undamaged so the bulbs will be fed this season and we can look forward to another beautiful display of flowers next year.  For this year the show is over but it was grand while it lasted.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Pleasant Surprises

Today was a perfectly lovely day to be outside in the garden.  Even before we went outdoors we had the wonderful surprise of seeing the male red fox making his rounds in the garden.  It's always wonderful to see the fox in the garden, but today it was an extremely pleasant surprise.  It has been perhaps a week or more since we found the female red fox dead  next to the road not far from here.  We wondered if the male would wander off to search for a new mate.  It was good to see that he is still around!  When I did get outside I was surprised to see my Dutchman's breeches in flower.  This plant and its flowers appeared so quickly. I'm pretty  sure two days ago there was no sign anything.

It was a little surprising to see my pink trout lily pushing up through the leaves.  So far there is no sign of the wild trout lilies that are so numerous here.  I surprised a yellow shafted flicker and got a fabulous view of the bird and the yellow underside of his wings as he flew away.  I guess he was busy eating ants and didn't see me on my garden tour. It's early for him to be here.

These warm March days have made the garden a very pleasant place to be. It has been a delightful preview of things to come, but cold weather is coming back. I hope it doesn't bring too many unpleasant surprises!

Friday, March 23, 2012

May Flowers In March

Since the recent woodchuck attack on the transplanted arbutus, a daily inspection follows the morning trip to the mailbox.  Open flowers were found today.  Only two clusters of buds remained and we are pleased to have any blossoms.  Record breaking warm temperatures have teased the plants to start their season's work way too early.  Overnight lows in the 20s are forecast so these blossoms may not get to set seed.  Our two bud clusters are on different plants but with only two it would be a long shot to have both genders present.  Seeds may have been unlikely without the freeze issue.

This smaller plant was hidden under a cover of pine needles when the woodchuck visited.  It sustained no damage.  Now that a wire cage protects these plants, the pine needles have been carefully removed in something like a game of pick up sticks.  The two partially chewed leaves supplied some caterpillar a meal last fall.  This plant looks ready to put on a full year's growth.

This is what remains of what was our best arbutus plant.  It was chewed right down to the crown and its future looked grim.  Several bud clusters are gone but the plant still has some of its leaves.  There are signs of new growth.  We daily offer this plant words of encouragement along with a generous drink of water.  Recovery now seem possible.

A small mesh wire cage needs to be fashioned to protect the entire planting.  The make shift cage leaves one plant exposed.  There has been new activity at two of the four woodchuck burrows that I filled with rocks.  Every beginning of a new entrance is quickly filled with stone.  Baseball sized rounders are placed down the hole.  At some point the den will be filled with stone.  We hope the animals look for a new home far from the arbutus.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Remember It's Still March

It has been so warm here with temperatures in the seventies, I have trouble remembering that it is still actually March and this is still upstate New York. When I saw this hornet's nest under the deck, right next to the entrance to the basement, I really got my knickers in a twist!  I'm all for live and let live when a hornet's nest is out away from the house, but this one we walk over and next to  many times in a day. As always, Ed came to my rescue.  I was not anywhere in the vicinity when he removed this little wasp nest from beneath the deck. I've been stung  and I don't care to repeat the experience.

Of course I worried for nothing. As it turned out this nest was from last year and not new construction. After all this is March, it's  too early for hornet activity. Ed saved the nest so I could get a good look at it. It's structure is quite fascinating. Inside is a flat surface built of paper hexagons just like any ordinary wasp nest you might see.

The cone shaped covering is made in rings of paper that vary in color. The last layer seems to have just one stripe completed.  We frequently see wasps or hornets chewing on our wooden patio chairs.  One has to wonder if the dissolved wood fibers and wasp spit are the raw materials for the nest.

The  side of the nest where it had been attached to the deck shows the layers of paper that form the nest. What an incredible process they use to build their home.  It's fascinating to study as long as no one is home!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bluebird House Spring Cleaning

I was sure I saw the brilliant blue flash of a passing bluebird. That immediately moved the cleaning and repair of the bluebird houses to the top of the do it now list.  The job was more difficult and time consuming this year.  Several houses had come down over this past winter.  Ed had some posts to reset and houses to rehang.  We place our bluebird houses in twos hoping that the bluebirds will stay in one and the tree swallows will settle in the other. This method works well for us. We have a dozen boxes spread out over our land.  Each set of houses is isolated from the others to increase the chances of getting the beautiful birds to nest.

This house is an example of almost total success. Bluebirds made a nest using grasses. The lower nest was made and used to raise a bluebird clutch. The upper stick nest was made by wrens.  For some reason the bluebirds left after raising their young.

This nest box has the two bluebird nests, but it has more! The white stuff at the top is milkweed fluff. It means that mice have made a nest and spent the winter in this bluebird box. Bluebird boxes need to be empty in the spring.

Ed flipped the contents of the nest to the ground.  Unfortunately our mouse tenants were at home at the time.  I let out a shriek as a brown and white furry creature ran across my feet disappearing into the tall grass.   Ed tells me I did quite a dance to avoid the speeding rodent. Thank goodness I had the camera so no viral video of that is available. Perhaps I'm not really sore from weeding, but instead from my fancy mouse-avoiding footwork done on uneven ground.

Now the houses are ready for the returning bluebirds. We just need to check back to make sure the mice stay gone. Actually I'm quite sure Ed will be doing that!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

March 15, Bloom and Groom Day

This little brilliant yellow Dutch iris is the star of the garden today. First thing this morning, when I was looking out the window at the garden, it was this single tiny flower that immediately caught my eye.

These Dutch iris, Katharine Hodgkin, are also blooming today. They are lovely, but understated.  It actually  takes a close up with the camera to completely appreciate these flowers.

The bed containing the little yellow iris has been cleared and is ready for spring planting.

We are waiting to clear away the brown leaves on my flat leaf parsley.  These plants actually look like they may have survived the winter.  If they did we will have parsley early, but the plants will quickly go to seed.  New plants will still need to be started.

The next bed in line was Ed's project for the day. Because we garden where we do our grass is not of the mild mannered variety. Quack grass, Agropyron repens is a constant source of irritation for us whenever beds come in contact with our lawn.  I have read that a severely infested acre can produce 7 to 9 tons of these nasty rhizomes. That tiny little grass shoot sends out a rhizome that can pierce a bulb, plant stem or potato with ease.  Ed worked hard to get the bed free of this and other weeds and grasses.  Still we know that it will return.  The only way to get rid of it is to move.

Now that is a beautiful sight! An entire 5 by 32 foot bed cleared and ready to plant. More than a dozen additional beds wait for attention. It is still March, we are off to a  very good beginning!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bunker Busting Blows

Part of the daily routine is a walk down the hill to place the outgoing mail in the mailbox.  The trip back up the hill usually includes a detour to check on the four trailing arbutus plants that were transplanted here last year.  Yesterday all four plants looked good with their overwintered flower buds intact and ready to open.  Today found two of the plants completely eaten to the ground with the other two only partly eaten. I was more than a little annoyed.

Woodchucks are among the wild creatures that live here.  Their old burrows are used by other animals as dens to raise young.  Since we enjoy seeing the fox, tolerate seeing the skunk and would like to see more of the opossum we have never declared all out war on the woodchuck.  That changed today.  We cannot know with absolute certainty that a woodchuck ate the arbutus, but the deer have had all winter to eat the plant and did not. Having just awakened, there is a good chance the woodchuck is the culprit.  Action was necessary.

Woodchucks are wiley creatures.  They frequently lift their heads while feeding to check their surroundings.  Getting within shooting range is no easy task.  Once when the feeding chuck sensed my presence and safely returned to its den, I sat on the ground with my back up against a stone wall and waited for the animal to return to its meal.  I waited a long while.  Today my action was to fill in three known dens that are close to the arbutus.  Throwing stone into the den opening is usually unsuccessful.  Mr. Woodchuck simply digs a new entrance.  Today the stone in the hole trick was followed by a large flat rock carefully placed over the former entrance.  The den pictured had two entrances with a shallow connecting tunnel.  Here I was able to collapse the tunnel.  The war is not over but these former dens will receive daily attention.  Any attempt to restore them will be turned back.

A heavy wire cage was placed over some of the arbutus.  The two plants that were only partly destroyed may recover.  We are less confident about the return of the two that were cleanly eaten to the ground.  It appears that arbutus must be added to the list of plants that require a protective cage.  We have galvanized wire cages everywhere and they are not attractive.  We remove them when we want an unobstructed view of the plants.   Many of our favorite plants would have no chance of survival if left unprotected.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Pure Delight of Early Spring Bulbs

These are the snow drops that came up in the leaves around my tree peony.  Their flowers are open in spite of the fact that the foliage  is still yellowed from the lack of sunlight.  I think in time the leaves and stems will be their normal green, but the flowers have no time to wait.  If the weather stays warm, their chance to bloom will be short.

The bees are just as delighted as I am to see these beautiful little Dutch Iris flowers.  Many years they bloom in the snow.  They thrive in cool weather.  Even if these early  temperatures in the sixties  shorten their bloom time, their exquisite beauty lifts my spirits.

With  the deer frequently visiting here, wire cages give these little flowers a measure of protection against being eaten or trampled.  The system is not foolproof.  Small rabbits or squirrels can easily pass through the wire mesh. I look forward to tomorrow  in the garden confident there will be even more of these perfect little flowers making an appearance. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Recycling Creates a Buzz

This is an interesting time of year at the compost pile.  There are enough freshly pulled weeds from the garden to cover the kitchen scraps but we leave them uncovered for the honey bees.  Fresh food is scarce now for the foraging bees.  Few flowers are open now but the temperatures are warm enough for the bees to fly.  They spend a great deal of time on the fruit peels.  We do not know if they actually find food on the compost but the bees are here in numbers every warm day.  We had an old jar of honey that was put out for the bees.  Few found it the first day but now it is popular.

Several years ago a former student placed five of his hives here.  Ed found the bees fascinating and bought a bee suit so that he could join in the work on the hives.  The next year the former student left his wife and bees and moved out of the area.  We did not learn fast enough how to care for the bees.  We lost every hive after three years with the original queens.  Winter survival for the hive was no problem but after three years the queens egg supply was exhausted.  No new eggs meant that the hive died.   This jar of our own honey remained in the back of the cupboard for years.  A diabetic has little use for honey.

Ed was never stung while he worked the hives.  Once when he had to right a hive that had been knocked over by a passing deer, his foot had to be placed very near a huge puddle of bees on the ground.  When he opened his bee suit after the job was done  several bees flew out.  The leg cuffs of a bee suit are open and several bees went inside of the suit with Ed.  Still no sting.  Ed believes that his calm confident manner is the reason that no bees sting him.  That same manner kept his students relatively subdued.  Today he approached the feeding bees with no protection.  He quietly took several pictures with the bees buzzing around him.  The camera was held close to the honey jar.  Feeding bees pose little danger.  None stung him or the wasp that was sharing the bounty.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Glorious Gardening Day

This morning with the time change we were a little late getting going, but by the time we did head outside the day was gloriously warm.  I was delighted to find this single winter aconite in bloom.  It is the very first bit of  bright color to show in the garden.  Why only one of twelve bulbs planted remains is an unanswered question.  We will replant this fall.

 I worked on cleaning up the bed in front of the house, and Ed tackled the job of  removing weeds from this bed of emerging bulbs. He removed a huge catnip from this spot. I didn't think it could be done, but he did it. The bulbs don't even look like they have been disturbed.

It was  a heated  battle, weeds and grass had made serious inroads into this area.  Ed is a well motivated and persistent weeder. When he is finished the beds always  look fantastic.  A top dressing of compost and duff replaced the soil that was removed with the weeds.  He watered the disturbed plants and headed off to attack another spot in the garden.

The sun was down and the light dwindling when Ed finally came in from the garden. He'll have to rest up tonight because tomorrow looks like another glorious gardening day!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Snow in March

Usually snow in March here is anything but news. It is the norm. This year a snowy garden scene has been a bit hard to come by. It was easy to see the visiting early morning deer against the snow and for once it left without anyone having to go outside.

The sunflower seeds in the bird feeder are rapidly disappearing. A large flock of what looks to me like goldfinches are hanging about to enjoy the free lunch. The black capped chickadees that are faithful all winter customers seem a bit miffed at the crowds.

It's a good day to do some  indoor garden stuff. Because of our horribly wet fall, we didn't have any scarlet runner bean seed from last year. I must  plant scarlet runner beans. Whether grown on a trellis or  an arch, the red flowers are delightful. Not only do they attract hummingbirds, they are edible as well. The beans are edible too both in the green pods when young and as a shelled bean. The shiny black and pink seeds are  so beautiful that they are nice enough to display in a jar.  I did a germination check on the seeds I had saved from 2010. I chose large smooth beans and they germinated 100%.  I was pleased. I haven't actually shelled out for new scarlet runner bean seed for years.  Most years I give these gorgeous pink and black seeds to friends as a gift.

I think I'll get another plastic bag and another wet paper towel to do some more tests on my old seeds. It's a good deal more fun, faster and a lot less work than planting them in soil and waiting. Ed's basement lettuce is up. Our garden fun has begun!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Becky's Found Flint

Yesterday's sunshine found Becky sitting on a stone wall under the huge cherry tree.  She saw this stone nearly buried in the litter close to the edge of the wall recently built by us. Not the usual stone, this one deserved closer inspection.  Some of the edges of this stone are as sharp as a knife edge.  Other surfaces are soft and porous.  We believe that the hard gray area of this stone is flint.  We would like to know how the stone was formed.

There is evidence that Native Americans lived on land very close to our present home.  We can almost see the vee shaped stone structure that still spans the river and was thought to concentrate the migrating fish, eels, shad or salmon, making harvest of this natural food  source easier.  A flint factory appears to have existed a short distance downstream of the eel weir.  I have spoken to a man that grew up on this farm.  He describes finding primitive stone points here in great quantities.  Our land overlooks the river and is largely glacial gravel deposits. The fertile part of the farm lies below us along the riverside.  Native Americans left no signs of their presence on the land where we live.

Most of the rock here is sedimentary in origin.  Ancient mountains were eroded away and their sediments formed layers thousands of feet thick.  At this depth, heat and pressure liquefied mineral matter.  Some of this flowed into voids in the sediments where it hardened. Flint is quartz and quartz is composed of silicon and oxygen.  Glass is manufactured from silicon sands.  This flint does have a glassy appearance and it breaks to a sharp edge.  I have tried to understand the science describing the formation of the earth's crust but it is conjecture, complicated and contradictory.  Identification of the myriad of brightly colored stones found here remains impossible for us.  This piece of flint is one of the easy ones.

We tend to pick up stones that catch our eye.  Most wind up in the small voids in the tops of our walls. A visiting child spotted a piece of flint while he was walking the top of one of our walls.  He wanted to take the flint home with him.  I felt that its sharp edges were too dangerous to place in the hands of a child.  A small stone bearing a really well defined shell fossil was exchanged for the flint but the child felt that he had gotten the poorer end of the deal.  I can see his point.  He was allowed to walk the top of a wall several feet high.  If he had the skill to accomplish that dangerous feat he certainly could have safely handled a sharp piece of stone.  Disappointment is usually temporary.  If he was really interested in a piece of flint, I'm sure he has found a piece of his own by now.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

First Day In The Garden

There was no question that today was to be a garden day.  The wind had shifted 180 degrees and now came from the south.  Temperatures were forecast to reach near 60 degrees F.  We took no time to check the thermometer there was too much to do.  Getting the pile of leaves off the tree peony was job one.  We prepared this plant for winter by filling the wire cage with fallen maple leaves.  Insulated protection was the goal.  The green dwarf iris leaves at the base told us that it was time to get rid of the leaves.  Bleached yellow iris shoots were totally covered by the leaves.  They should quickly green up now that they are in the light.

Our tree peony has never been happy here.  One or two flowers is the best display it has ever produced.  We picked a good year to try the protective leaf cover as we had no snow this winter.  These buds look promising.  When the frozen leaf mass on the north side of the plant thaws, it will be removed and we will get a look at the entire plant.

This patch of bulbs was well weeded last fall.  Snow never came and the weeds grew over the winter.  A slight tilt to the south warmed this bed early so weeding was a workable option today.

This is one of our most hated weeds.  We do not know its name.  Extensive deep roots spread wide under its insignificant above ground growth.  Removing this monster from the emerging snow drops was a challenge.  Usually the root mass of this weed holds enough soil to make way for a new layer of compost.  Soft freshly thawed soil released these roots today.  Only one snow drop was uprooted by weeding.

This is the other most hated weed.  Its tap root is impressive but was easily pulled today.  I am certain that this weed will regrow if even the smell of the tap root is left in the hole.  Today they pulled cleanly.

The bed is weeded now.  We will see if the bulbs finish flowering ahead of the return of the weeds.  Knowing the names of things allows one to more fully express their feelings.  We have been unable to find the names of either of these pests.  I would really like to be able to attach a proper name to the string of words that spew forth while removing these buggers.

The lemon verbenas were given a brief moment in the sun today.  Some soft leggy new growth was broken off in the wind.  It found its way to the teapot and the plants should do fine.  These plants made the first of many round trips from the basement to the outside today.  June will have arrived before these plants can be safely placed in the garden.