Saturday, March 30, 2013

First Flowers And New Growth

Up until today these winter aconites have been closed up tight, but this morning the sun was shining, the air warm and some flies were awake.  I was buzzed by one as I walked over to the shade garden to take this picture.  Pollinators are just what the flowers have been waiting for. When you are a flower there  is no point in flashing your beauty if there is no one there to appreciate it.

Granted we are off to a slow start.  So far only a few of the snow drops have deigned to open up.  Some of them are still closed tight, playing it cool and  waiting for more activity.  There are a couple of nice little rose campion plants in this spot.  They will have to be carefully moved .  A small rosette the first year grows to a large one with flowers the next.  There is no room for them here at the base of my tree peony.

I could only find one open Dutch iris flower this morning, but by afternoon several more were open. I observed a few bees on the flowers. Every spring I delight in these beautiful  hardy little iris.

Ed's October sky asters are coming alive.  Last years' stems will have to be lopped off to make room for the new growth.

This baby foxglove looks pretty good.  It is sheltered by the stone square and coming up beneath the summer sweet.  Some of foxgloves in other places  don't look quite this good.

We were just a little late getting a protective cage over these crocus plants.  They were nipped in the bud, but it looks like they are going to try to open anyway.  You can count on the plants to make their best effort no matter what.  For them and for us spring is a new beginning.

Friday, March 29, 2013

First Garden Weeding

Snow still covers the ground in the shadow of the high meadow but this gently southward sloping garden bed has thawed and is ready for weeding.  Daffodils have claimed most of the planting with snow drops and Dutch iris along the edge.  This planting receives diligent care.  A fall weeding was followed by a top dressing of compost.  New weeds appear under the snow.  They need to be removed now while the flower growth is small.  A foot long piece of quack grass root was pulled from under a group of snow drops.  Quack grass persists here and it is difficult to remove.  Any broken piece of root develops into a new plant.  Still, I hope that none remains in this small area.

We have no luck with plants that finally find ground late in the season.  This English thyme spent much of the summer in a pot on the wall.  It was finally planted but its roots had no time to reach beyond the pot.  Which of our many frosts pushed it out of the ground matters not.  Today it was pushed back into the soil but its survival is unlikely.  If we hold to our promise of ordering fewer new plants, we might be able to plant all in a timely fashion.

Another shortcoming involves our collective inability to discard perfectly good plants.  Many catnip plants were found growing in what had been the carrot patch.  Despite the careful preparation that preceded last year's sowing of the carrots, sizable catnips were interspersed with the carrots.  Clearing out the mess yielded several small plants.  We have little luck transplanting catnip and all of these should have been dumped into the compost pile.  Five were tucked into the freshly weeded ground.  If they live, we will have to find a home for them.

The tray of lettuce plants spent some of today outside.  We believe that exposure to a light breeze builds stronger plant stems.  As we move closer to our last frost date, these walls will become covered with plants in pots.  The four pots in the picture contain plants that never found a spot in the garden last year.  The garden bench needs new wood and the day lilies need attention.  Last year by this date, the daffodils were in bloom.  It appears that this year's season in the garden may finally have begun.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Overdue Spring House Cleaning

After a clear and moonlit night, it was a bit frosty this morning.   It warmed up a bit so Ed went out to cut some brush.   I took this picture of the bluebird boxes visible from my kitchen window, because I was sure that I saw the red breast and beautiful blue of a bluebird. Of course the bird is gone, he flew from the roof of one of the nest boxes up over my head to the roof of the house.  Ed had already done  the spring cleaning of the bluebird boxes in the front, but now with the bluebirds actually in the neighborhood finishing the remaining boxes  became our top priority.  In 2008 I saw my first bluebird on Feb. 26.  Most other years the birds arrive in sometime in March.  This year arrival is  a little too close to April, but I'm glad they are back!

The nest  boxes are designed to be opened and cleaned.  It is always interesting to inspect the contents.  The remains of last years' nests tell us a story.

This box had one bluebird nest.  Bluebird nests are usually made of grasses and white pine needles.  The sticks were likely added by other birds, after the bluebirds left. In this case they never finished their construction.

A bit of a bluebird feather shows the bright blue that catches the sunlight and makes getting a glimpse of these birds such a treat.  It's a sight that really does bring happiness to the dreariest day.

This nest box shows the ultimate of nesting success .  Two complete bluebird nests  means a second family of bluebirds was raised here last year.  The white fluff that looks like insulation is in fact milkweed.  It's presence indicates that mice have moved in during the winter and an immediate eviction is needed.  Ed whisked the entire contents of the nest box into his bucket.

These two houses are in the back meadow and the most distant from the house.  Now the last two of our 13 bluebird houses are ready for spring and the bluebirds' house hunting.  The birds will have a little  time to choose their favorite box before the tree swallows arrive.  The houses are placed in pairs so that bluebirds can claim one and tree swallows the other.

When Ed drove back to the front, he dumped his bucket of debris from the boxes.  One mouse was at home for this spring cleaning.  The rodent escaped, but with the nest destroyed and the bluebird box so far away, it will have to scurry to find a new place to live.  It will be cold again tonight.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Comings and Goings In The Garden

Before breakfast this  morning there were deer to chase from the garden.  It was cold so Ed did his  deer scaring by shouting out the opened living room window.  Begrudgingly they left and headed for the tree line.  We also had a kind of visitor we seldom see here.  A human clad in orange vest and hard hat was  busily entering the numbers from our electric  pole into his machine.  As we watched he climbed up the hill, made a bee line past the house, and crossed the grass toward the tree line.  Clearly he was headed to his next assigned pole.  Ed and I marveled as he headed up the hill climbing up and over a downed tree. Then he continued on up the ridiculously steep hill into the pines.  We can only assume he continued on through the brambles then down the hill in the back to arrive at the neighbors' electric pole.  We had not been here long before we discovered that  the shortest distance to the back might be a straight line, but meandering paths are a much easier way to get there.  The deer and all the other critters that hang out here know that too.

When I did venture out with the camera, I was not happy to find that the deer had been munching on my bluets in the shade garden.  It's bad enough that they take a big bite, but when they don't actually eat the plant it really ticks me off.

It got to be quite nice out toward the middle of the day. Ed took his baby lettuce plants outside for  a little time on the wall to enjoy the spring breeze.  Air circulation makes for stronger plants.  Cleaning out the bluebird boxes was on his to do list today.

Little plants are sending up new shoots everywhere.  I'm pretty sure these are Glory of the Snow making an appearance.

After lunch I went back out with the camera.   I was hoping that the winter aconite buds would be open, but the sun went behind the clouds and the air became chilly.  At least for today these buds stayed tightly closed.  Ed stayed outside cleaning out a few  more of the bluebird houses, but I headed back inside the warm house.

There I found that Amy's nutmeg geranium had very tiny, but very beautiful flowers.  This is not your average plant.  Purchased at the  Buffa10 bloggers' convention, this plant made the trip  across the Empire state to her bathroom where it got all leggy.  It was then moved here and is making a comeback.  It's so nice to see it flower again.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Garden Is Heating Up

I went downstairs with the camera hoping to see some green.  I was not disappointed. The lettuce is up.  Ed carefully planted lettuce seeds.  Making four holes with a toothpick, he dropped one seed in each hole.  Well, sometimes more than one seed goes in a hole.  Those darn  lettuce seeds are small!  It warms my heart and my pocket book  to see the beginnings of lettuce plants.  Visions of salads from the garden no longer seem like pipe dreams.

Here where two seeds went in the hole we have real lettuce leaves starting.  Seed leaves are exciting, but real lettuce leaves make me warm all over.  Perhaps Ed can transplant the second plant to a better spot where a seed didn't germinate.

Outside the garden is heating up too. Please ignore the snow.  I have been told ENOUGH with the snow pictures.  We are talking turkey now!  When I first looked out the window the turkeys were in the garden.  I snapped a few pictures through the glass, but they seemed to notice the movement and started for the trees.

I opened the window to get a better shot as the turkeys headed for the trees.  One of the males  tried to get a little something  started out in the open.  He made a rather weak attempt to spread his tail for the girls. He is that rather odd shape just to the right of center in the picture.  Ignoring him the ladies continued to head for the tree line.

As the girls continued up the hill he made a second larger and more impressive display.  I guess I could understand the ladies being a tad frigid given all the s _ _ _ and all.  Once the turkeys got out of the open and into the trees, their interest warmed a bit.   At this distance I couldn't see any beards, but  it turned out more than one male was in this group of turkeys.  The brush couldn't hide the exciting display that that started next.  Two males faced off.  Each one spread his tail and puffed up  as big as possible.  With turkeys, the  largest tail display, the reddest neck, the bluest face and the most enthusiastic shakes and shivers determine the big winner when it comes to the ladies.  The girls sat on the hill and watched the show.  In a just few minutes the show was over.  It's hard to stay all pumped up like that for long and the mating season is just getting started.  The entire group moved on and out of sight.  I hope they come back.  I have a bit of the voyeur in me and I love to share the heat!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Not Just Another Snow Picture

Our garden continues to rest frozen under its new blanket of snow.  My desire to escape the cabin fever sent me to a nearby location that boasts of scenic splendor.  This former mill still harnesses the waters of Canascwacta Creek despite our two recent 150 year floods.  Mill operations have ceased here.  Now the building is used as a house of worship.

Despite its location directly adjacent to the road, I have only recently discovered this waterfall.  Apparently my past aggressive driving style kept my eyes riveted on the highway.  The combination of a natural waterfall over a stone ledge and the mill dam create a scene of unusual splendor.  A combination of color created by both snow and evergreen trees made today special.  That both the ledge and the dam still exist points to the craftsmanship evidenced by both the siteing and the construction of the dam.

If an opportunity presents itself, conversation with a mature native may yield information about the history of this mill.  For now we will simply enjoy the view as we drive by carefully observing the posted speed limit.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Winter's Last Days

This latest snow storm has been in the forecast for days.  A small amount of wet heavy snow creates scenes of unparalleled beauty with few of the negative consequences.  Wet snow catches on every nearly horizontal tree branch.  The contrast between the dark tree bark and the pure white of new snow is captivating to see.  We choose to live here in part because of winter.  Its cold kills pesky plant munchers and makes the warmth of spring special.  Still, it is close to the end of March and outdoor work calls strongly.

Tuesday is a day when we travel to an indoor pool for controlled exercise.  Ed was up early to clear the driveway so that we could get to the road.  As the time to leave for the pool drew near, the snow began to fall in earnest.  We have to cross over a high hill to get to the pool and that road is  frequently slippery.  We opted to remain at home.  Still, the snow on the pine trees is beautiful.  If we ever retire to the south we will miss scenes like this one.

A state wide ban on all outdoor burning is now in effect because of the seasonal risk of forest fire.  One has to wonder if this new snow cover would ease the enforcement of that ban.

This seemed like a good day to enjoy our indoor plants.  We seem to have stumbled on the requirements of lemon verbena that must be met for its winter survival.  Pruning both above and below ground matches the size of the plant to the size of the pot.  Any disturbance of the roots sends lemon verbena into a major pout.  Days in the shade and gallons of water are necessary to unshrivel the leaves.  This plant also has a high water need inside that must be satisfied. Twice this winter these pots have been carried outside on mild days.  Wind and a shower from the sprinkling can helped control the white flies.  Soon it will be time to take cuttings to start new small plants.

Scented geraniums are both easy and pleasant to keep over the winter.  Every time that they are watered they fill the air with pleasant scents.  Fresh cuttings will also be taken here to keep the size of these plants manageable.  Some may accomplish that task with pruning but we find it easier to start new plants.

Two rosemary plants silhouetted against the harsh last days of winter will close this post.  They look ready for some time in the sunshine.  We know that we are ready.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Seeds To Soil

Large joined together flakes of snow filled the air at wake up time this morning.  Their downward spiral held me transfixed for a considerable period of time.  Trying to focus on the motion of an individual flake was dizzying.  They quickly passed below the view afforded by the window.  Snow in March is common here but so is the need to start this year's garden.

We try to learn from our mistakes but the number of variables is large and our learning curve is flattening out.  Soil borne disease does impact some of our plants.  Our complete faith in the curative power of a working compost heap has left us with piles of mature, likely contaminated compost.  We looked to a commercial seed starting mixture to get our seedlings off to a healthy start.  Peat moss was nearly the only substance in the mix.  A bale of peat moss could be purchased for the cost of a two quart bag of seed starting mix so I bought a bale and a bag of perlite intending to mix my own.

Peat moss and stunted roots seem to go hand in hand.  In the end I combined my own soil mix with the peat moss and perlite mix in equal parts.  Some builders sand was added to improve drainage.  If my compost mix is contaminated, I have at least diluted the poison.

Accurate record keeping is a task usually ignored.  An age weakened memory now demands written notes.  A little dated note card and this picture should be enough to help me remember what was planted.  The three suppliers of our lettuce seed are favorites.  Botanical Interests seed was introduced to Becky at the Buffalo bloggers convention.  D. H. Landreth  is located near Becky's childhood home and their catalog is excellent.  Johnny's has been our major supplier for years but the transfer of the company has raised the price of their seed beyond our willingness to pay.  These old flashy trout back seeds yield a beautiful and tasty lettuce.  We hope that these seeds will still germinate.

A clear plastic dome finishes for today, this much too early planting of some seeds.  Sixteen hours of closely placed fluorescent lights will soon draw out green leaves.  Our early start will require extra care later but it really feels good to be underway.

Our other bit of garden madness is shown by these Easter lilies.  We potted up some bulbs last fall and exposed them to winter cold.  This first bud is on a plant that was pulled from the ground on January first.  We will wait to see how closely this bud opens to the special day.  If they match it will be the result of dumb luck.  Still, we will soon have some summer scent in our home.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Early Harvest

This line of stones was dumped here long ago when pioneers first cleared for farm land.  For the most part, they are irregular, misshapen and twisted making them undesirable for wall building.  Access is easy and some of these stones have parallel planer surfaces.  These workable stones need to be placed in a wall.

The calendar identifies winter as the controlling season. The desire to be outside performing physical work is strong now.  With the ground still frozen, finding a suitable place to work is not easy.  The top layer or two of this stone pile is frost free and the stones can be moved.  Matching the conditions of the day with a task that could be done led me here.

As expected, some of the best wall stones were hidden under brush.  Later in the year green growth will hide these stones from view.  Today when these treasures were in plain sight it required clever thinking to safely remove them.  Brush grabbed my cap several times but no scratches were delivered.

Most of the stones in this wall face were harvested today.  The large red stone with the flat top is a rare find.  Stones like this tend to be round and they rarely split smoothly.  This one came out of the ground neatly trimmed.  Lichen grows on the flat surface so the split happened many years ago.  Usually large stones like this one are placed in the ground in the first course of the wall.  Such placement would partially hide its beauty so a spot at the top of a wall is perhaps a better use of this stone.

This picture may look like a stone wall but it actually shows a temporary stone pile.  Raw material has been gathered in one place so that it can easily be accessed when the next wall is underway.  Many faults are visible in this hastily thrown together pile.  Unsupported stone and large voids are easily seen.  Far to many places for critters to set up housekeeping are provided with this loose pile.

All stones tell the story of their creation but reading it is not easy.  Geology textbooks describe a vast inland sea that once existed here.  Sediments carried into this sea settled out of the water and fell in layers on the sea floor.  Most of the stone here is sedimentary in origin but some are red while most are grey.  How this stone that was once part of the sea floor came to be broken and rounded is a complete mystery.  How could all of that happen without the layers separating?   This stone will be handled with care and securely placed in a wall so that it remains intact.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

52 Degrees And Shadows

Unusual sights are common as the snow disappears.  This sculpture in the snow cried out for an explanation of its existence.  A post and rail fence is between the sun light and the stone path here.  Shadows of the rails insulated the snow from the warmth of the sun.  Irregular melting created these very temporary lines of snow.  They are gone now as nothing could protect them from today's warmth.

My trip home from Syracuse yesterday also provided unusual sights.  It is common for working people to simply drive over small snowfalls between their houses and the highway.  The resulting hard packed snow has a way of accumulating over the course of a winter.  Warm days soften the deep deposit and it traps and holds car wheels securely.  A back blade on a tractor was seen pulling these glaciers from the driveways at several rural homes.  At one home, a woman was seen shoveling snow where the house roof had shed its burden on the homemaker's flower bed.  It looked at first glance like she was shoveling to clear the lawn.  More likely she was clearing a way for her spring bulbs to find daylight.

These spring bulb sprouts are in our shade garden.  I planted them but no identifying record was written.  Star of Bethlehem bulbs were planted someplace nearby but they flower during summer and might not be up this early.  Winter aconites were twice planted in this general area but the first planting failed to grow during their first year in the ground.  These may be the second planting.  A protective cage protects these early sprouts from the foraging deer.  More growth and flowers will identify these now unknown plants.  We use small flat stones and permanent markers to make durable plant labels but how does one place a stone over newly planted bulbs?  With growth present we can place the stone between the plants.  For now we will frequently check for flowers or leaf structure to identify these plants for us.

This picture of our home grown tulips was taken two days ago after the most recent snowstorm.  The oldest flower is flattening its petals in preparation for dropping them while the newly opened red and yellow blossom is tight.  These bulbs provided us with colorful flowers just when we needed it most.  At least we did not have to put the snow shovel to the ground to help these bulbs find daylight.

Early Spring Stroll, The Things I See

I was going to do a predictable early spring post with pictures taken yesterday.  I had a colorful picture of my indoor tulips and of course a picture of snow drops.  Ed took a wonderful shot  of snow remaining in the shadow of the corral fence.  It was a dramatic picture, definitely worth posting, but for some reason I just couldn't get the photo upload to work properly for pictures taken yesterday.

Today the temperature in the fifties sent us outside with the new camera.  The sky was a beautiful blue. Several large flocks of  Canada geese flew over high above our heads.  It was fun to hear their distant squawking and then search for the characteristic formations of tiny dots heading North.

The new camera works like a charm.  Clearly over time the old one had become worn and developed poor eyesight like an old lady.  I was delighted with this picture of my French tarragon coming to life.  You can see the fuzz on the tiny new leaves. The promise of new growth and fresh tarragon for cooking is exciting!

I passed by this wooley bear caterpillar several times before I took his picture.  He never moved.  In truth he looks kind of bent and broken like a body that fell from a high place that gets traced with a white chalk outline.  Perhaps he is not dead, just cold, but I have my doubts.

These interesting patches are growing on the vertical surface of one of the top stones on Ed's stone square that is the centerpiece of our garden.  Perhaps they have been there for some time, but today was the first time I ever noticed them.  I find them fascinating!

Mosses of all kinds grow here.  No longer covered with snow they look fresh, green and ready for spring.  I thought this acorn landed in the perfect place for a photo. You can almost see how soft that moss would feel on your bare toes.  More went on in the garden today.  Perhaps it will be worth another post, if Blogger cooperates!