Thursday, February 28, 2013

Seasonal Madness

Judging from the recent flood of mail order plant or seed catalogs filling our mail box, this must be the season of extreme soft headedness for those of us that garden.  We have been successfully  prompted and are now placing new orders.  Our pot of forced tulips looking out on the snow covered square may have pushed us along in our desire to get into the garden.  Weeds are appearing at the base of the tulips.  With so little garden to tend now, there is really no excuse for weeds.

We were aware of the wet conditions near the road when this garden bed and wall were planned.  No drainage exists alongside of the road so water running downhill is trapped here.  Deep sandy deposits were dropped here by the melting glacier.  Surface water quickly soaks in unless the ground is frozen.  When we returned home three hours before these pictures were taken, standing water extended across our planting bed into the neighbor's field.  Most of the water has already disappeared.

This wet condition might be seen as an opportunity.  Some native flowering plants would thrive if planted in a moist spot.  Without intervention the water stands here only rarely.  I have considered digging this area out then placing a plastic liner in the hole.  Refilling the hole with soil would protect the liner from puncture when deer walked across it.  Damp soil would open up this spot to all manner of plants that struggle with our arid gravelly soil up by the house.

One immediate problem with this plan is the clash of the rectangular structure of the planting in front of the wall with the flowing free form that would be required for a soggy wild garden.  Digging a hole of adequate size would require moving a dump truck sized pile of dirt.  Likely no action will be taken to begin this new project. Trapped indoors a gardener gets all sorts of wonderful new garden ideas. Soon the ground will thaw, the days will warm and the existing gardens will demand the full measure of our attention.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Quick Check Before the Weather Changes Again

Ed and I took a walk around in the garden this afternoon.  The snow is gone in some places and we wanted to see what there was to be seen.  We had a brief discussion over this rather large pile of wildlife pellets.  I thought bunny berries, but Ed said deer because of the sheer number present.

Right next to said pile you will find what is left of my grape hyacinths.  Ed wins this one.  The rough edges are definitely made by deer.  Bunnies leave a less ragged more professional looking diagonal cut.  We thought of putting a cage over the hyacinths after the leaves have been stolen, but found the nearby cages were still frozen to the ground.  There's not much left to nip off right now anyway.

We were delighted to find some new growth on this  chrysanthemum.   Snow cover is usually better that the freeze thaw we have been getting, but the plants frequently come through for us anyway.

This cardinal flower looks very good at this point.  We can never have too many of these!

The Cambodian Queen chrysanthemums definitely have nice green growth at the base.  We will likely find new growth appear at a great distance from the base of this plant.  These really like to run.

This bedstraw is just about actual size.  Bedstraw was  planted here by the farmer before us when our garden area was a meadow.  It's fine where Ed mows, but not in the garden beds.  If the ground had been thawed I would have been delighted to pull this weed.  It will only get bigger with each passing day.  Not to worry,  I know where this one is rooted and it is on my hit list.  I just have to wait a little longer.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Smoke And Fire

On occasion wisdom comes with age.  Getting the most out of tackling a task follows matching the natural conditions to the job.  Recent snow cover offers complete protection from starting a wildfire with a small outdoor burn.  Most of the brush cut here ends up on a pile at the edge of the gravel bank.  Wood ashes are a great soil amendment so some of the wood is burned.  Rising smoke marks the location of our campfire site near the picnic table.

The snow covered ground seen in the picture is ours.  The ridge in the background is part of our neighbor's farm.  We get to see his ridge daily and it is one of our best views.  He cuts his firewood there.  Ours is the better deal as his ridge creates a wilderness aspect for our home every day.

In our second year here, we discovered blueberries growing in great numbers on part of the gravel bank hill.  Young trees were removed to allow light to reach  the blueberries.  Cut trunks were trimmed and placed around a larger tree in the style of Scott Nearing.  Cured firewood for a wood stove was the goal but the wood stove never materialized.  Now this wood is being converted to wood ashes.  Wood ashes soaked in water are the original source of the term  potash.

Our treasured arbutus are at the base of the smaller white pine tree in the background.  When the mess around this ancient wood pile is cleaned up, a clear path to the arbutus will follow.  That makes today's effort a two fer.

New York State has made all outdoor burning contrary to law with certain exceptions.  So that I do not do a Kevorkian, publicly admit to an illegal act, the exemption in play for this fire is a farmer burning a diseased plant.  Our onions are still hanging in the basement awaiting their time in the stew pot.  Some of the onions have spoiled.  Composting bad onions is not sound practice so we have from time to time a fire to destroy the black mold.  That makes this job a three fer.  We get wood ashes to add to the garden soil.  We safely destroy a future crop threatening mold and the little boy that sometimes is still seen here gets to have a campfire.  He came inside happy with the old familiar smokey campfire aroma clinging to his clothes.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Fungus Flowers and Footprints

Once again the garden is covered with snow.  It's not too deep this time and today was a perfect day to get outside.  Ed decided to build a fire and I went out to take pictures .  I frequently get sidetracked by little things I notice.  I thought this fungus on a stick was so attractive.


But then Ed called my attention to this gorgeous orange fungus.  It is as pretty as any flower and truth be told flowers are absent from my garden right now.  I was delighted to see the bright color  against the sea of white snow.

Other smaller specimens were scattered along another  tree branch like tiny flower buds.


Evidence of the parade of deer that walked through the garden last night include this patch where they uncovered grass for a snack.

There were lots of deer footprints in the snow.  We saw  deer last night just before dark.  There were a large number of animals  just passing through.  Some of the younger ones did a little running around before they left.  There has always been a deer path through here and we have had very little impact on their behavior.

I didn't see or hear  turkeys, but a perfect footprint was left in the in the fresh snow.   I didn't forget to take the fire pictures.  Ed will come inside soon and they will be his next post.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Signs of Spring

In some respects February is for me the longest month of the year.  Sunlight is gaining strength daily as the sun climbs higher in the sky but the air can still be frigid.  Yesterday was exactly that kind of day.  Bright daylight pulled me outside but my hands soon ached from the cold arctic air.  Still, I filled the bed of the pickup with brush cut along the lane.  One load was enough and indoor warmth drew me back inside.

Others are itching to get started with a new season's work.  Skunks on the highway are becoming a common sight.  No picture is posted here since some good judgement occasionally takes control.  Late winter roadkill is somewhat sad.  It seems grossly unfair that an animal that survived the rigors of winter should not see spring.

All three pots of Easter Lily bulbs are now showing growth.  About eighteen days pass between pulling the pots from the ground and first signs of green.  The number of bulbs planted exceeds the number of plants now growing.  Only the best looking bulbs were placed in the pots so what happened to the rest remains a puzzle.  Since no notes were made on planting day, the number of duds is unknown.  All that we can say for certain is that Easter Lily bulbs here grow to the side of the pot before turning upward. I know that the largest bulbs were placed in the center of the pot.

One of our fall plant orders included five free tulip bulbs.  Fire blight ended our interest in growing tulips in the garden but something had to be done with the free bulbs.  This pot was pulled from the ground February first with the last pot of lilies.  Tulips are quick to wake up and grow.  At this time of year, new green plant growth fills a big empty for this gardener.  Once again snow fills the air but the time to work outside among newly emerging plants will soon be here.  Until then the tulips and the lilies will fill a void.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Recent Stone Piles

Placing stone in ordered piles is deeply satisfying to me.  Physical exertion that changes chaos to order is its own reward.  Then the question will it last waits for an answer.  Years of inactivity here has allowed the gravel bank to reach a condition of stability.  One cannot walk here without sliding downhill with the stones that move when stepped on.  It seems an unlikely place to try to build a stone wall if permanence is the goal.  The purpose of a wall on the slope of a gravel bank is not immediately obvious either.

Gravel has many uses on our homestead.  Our driveway was built in part with gravel from this glacial deposit.  Time, a shovel and a wheelbarrow moved several cubic yards of gravel from here to the new driveway.  Large unusable stones unearthed while mining gravel needed a final resting place away from the area being worked.  A wall consumes large quantities of stone in a rather small place.  So the waste stone was pushed into the side of the gravel bank creating a narrow road.  More rubble was dumped here leveling the new surface.  In time this new road may climb to the top of the gravel bank.

This stone pile holds the material left over from the wall built near the road.  Little extra effort is needed to pile the stone rather than simply throwing it in a heap.  It looks to me like there is sufficient good stone here to build an extension on the wall near the road.  Universal support for this new project is lacking.  Some feel that the wall looks great as it is and that further work might mess things up.  Then the matter of the seam between the completed wall and the new extension is an issue.  It will be interesting to see what happens when the frost leaves the ground and another season of outside work begins.

This little project will likely remain unfinished.  Age has made it less smart for me to push wheelbarrow loads of gravel up hill to the driveway.  Hauling stone in a cart behind my lawn tractor destroyed its transmission.  I thought a ramp to permit the gravel to be rolled into the pickup truck represented a solution.  Becky felt that a more powerful tractor was a better solution.  She was right.  Now these stones need a new home.  Some of them a so large that I can only safely move them down hill.   They may just remain where they are.

Becky says about the stone wall down by the road "I rest my case."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Come Walk With Me

On this beautiful sunny 40 degree day, we absolutely had to  head outside with the camera for a walk around.  The snow has melted quite a bit and there are things to see.  We headed over to the area where the sun melts the snow off the south facing slope of the gravel bank hill.  It is easiest to walk there after the snow has flattened the prickers.   There are many patches of this interesting lichen growing there.  They are brittle hard when dry and easily broken if stepped on, but soft when wet.

Beautiful soft green mosses grow there too, revealed by the melting snow.  Finding bright green plant growth as winter is drawing toward its end is a special treat.

I was fascinated by the round marks in the snow.  I can only guess that they were made by water dripping from the trees overhead.

I always look for this creeping evergreen that Mom always called princess pine.  I was quite surprised to see the two orange and black milkweed bugs.  Apparently they were drawn out into the winter sunlight from their sheltered spot just like us.

We wandered around the garden for awhile. Ed was able to get a great closeup of the catkins on the hazelnut we planted there.   Without the steep south facing slope  a thin layer of snow still covers just about everything here.   There were many tracks in the snow, but there has been enough melting to make identification difficult.  I was only really sure about the turkeys.   The  retreating of the melted snow left the impression of very large bird feet.

We continued on and walked down the lane to the  other side of the gravel bank.  I never noticed the intertwined branches of  this tree before.  They wind around each other in a sort of embrace or perhaps it is  more of a slow motion strangulation in process with the two branches struggling for control.  Either way I love the way it looks.

Snow still clings north facing slope of the gravel bank.    The remains of a snowball that rolled down the hill sits at the bottom of its track in the snow.  It started small at the top and grew as it rolled down the hill.  It's not unlike the process used to build a snowman  except that gravity is doing the work.  This is the last of our pictures today.  There was one more I would have liked to add of our footprints side by side in the snow, but the battery on the camera begged to be charged so that picture  will wait for another day and another walk.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Friday Flashback

                       Amy                       Ed                        Becky

This blog has always been intended as a written record for us.  Most of our posts focus on the garden and natural world around us.  Today's post is more personal and for that reason an apology is offered in advance for this departure from the norm.  Our mail today included a package from a person that had accepted the responsibility of disposing of the contents of an estate.  It contained some old familiar photographs.  This picture surprised me as I cannot recall ever having seen it.

The writing on the back of the photo indicates that the picture was taken in August 1992.  It is always interesting to see the past but this is a picture of the first free standing wall I ever built.  Two former students lived on a valley dairy farm that featured fields rimmed with stone.  Permission was granted for me to pick stone along side of one of those fields.  That was the source of the stone in wall number 1.

On occasion we drive past our former home of thirty years.  My first wall still stands but it could use some maintenance.  A combination of my inexperience building with stone and the new tenant's unruly children have left the wall in a bit of a sad state.  Some stones have been removed and some have fallen.  The top surface is no longer linear as it once was.

This photo carries the date 1997.  The interior of the stone square is receiving some finishing touches.  White wooden stakes and Masonite strips were used to define the circular stone path and its four exits.  The level is way to fussy for this job but that is the nature of the builder.  Thyme has muted the sharp line between the planting beds and the path but that fundamental structure still defines the area.

We still lived in our former village home when these walls were built.  I would race home from school, throw some tools in the back of the pickup truck and spend pleasant hours working here surrounded by nature.  Each day ended with time spent seated on the bench surveying the day's progress.

Once when Becky was with me, an Eastern Coyote sauntered over the ridge and moved down the hill toward us.  When it sensed our presence, it quickly turned and disappeared back over the ridge.  Moments later the coyote returned to our view.  It was crawling on its belly and peeking over the edge of the hill to get a better look at the strangers that had invaded its world.  We were given a long once over then the coyote disappeared back into the tall weeds.  Now after 16 years the gardeners and the garden are part of the scenery and the animals are no longer impressed.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

First Seeds Put To Ground

When we found serious gardening several decades ago, several mature gardening women took us under their wings and supported our efforts.  They freely offered us favored plants from their gardens.   Their plants live on in our garden and they live on in our memories.  Stone markers identify both the name of the plant and the person that moved it along to us.  Every time we visit the plant we remember with fondness the person that brought us to that plant.  Today marks another passed along plant.

A new plant needs a hole and we just happened to have one ready.  Lily bulbs in pots created this hole.  Those pots are in the house showing early new growth.  Today we recycled the hole.

Seeds need soil.  We have a 30 gallon can with our own potting soil mix but these seeds are new to us.  We needed a weed free soil.  This bag of commercial mix was outside frozen to the ground.  Yesterday's late sun softened things and the bag was pulled free and brought into the basement to warm.  This potting mix contains large pieces of bark.  We felt that a finer mix would be better suited to start seeds.  A trip through the fine screen yielded more appropriately sized soil.

The stone marker identifies the name of the plant and the person that made seeds available to us.  These magical seeds came in the mail from Gail of Clay and Limestone.   Gail wrote that frost weed seeds need a period of cold before they will germinate.  Today seemed perfectly suited to meeting the chill requirement.  Our entire supply of these seeds has been committed to the ground.  If anything sprouts in this pot, it will most likely be frost weed.

Many plants reproduce by simply dropping seeds on the surface of the soil.  Some need light to germinate so we left our seeds on the surface.  Some granular snow was found in a shaded spot and sprinkled on the seeds.  We do not want the approaching storm to scatter our seeds about.  Now we wait till spring to see what grows from the generous gift of seed from a favored plant.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Hot and Cold Flashes

I know a little something about hot and cold flashes and I suppose to call Wednesday's sixty degree temperature hot is exaggerating just a bit.  Still the garden was out there dripping wet from the rain,  its blanket of snow gone.  Some of the plants like this cute little clump of bluets looked great anyway.

This primrose looked terrific too, waiting patiently for spring.  However, this week was not the start of spring , it was the beginning of February.

This fragrant viola looks a lot more bedraggled.  It still has some green underneath, but the change from hot to cold is not so well received by this plant.  Thursday was a day of swirling snow and howling winds as the weather abruptly changed over.  The all too familiar freezing February had arrived in a flash.

Now that we are back to winter outside,  it's time to spend some time fussing over  our indoor plants.  Ed and I spent some time watering, weeding and cutting back the plants in the basement.  I was covered in the aromas of peppermint, rose and lemon scented geraniums.  It was delightful.  Soon we must be ready for Ed to plant  his seeds.  We are working on that first seed order now.  I doubt if February's cold will be gone in a flash, but  I think  it the shortest month for a reason.   As a gardener here, I appreciate it!