Sunday, December 28, 2014

Cheap Date

Overnight rain left the ground wet this morning.  This pile of spring dumped stone has been calling to me for months.  The large stone with the flat surface was wiggled from the new pile to my ground when first discovered.  With no way to move this great wall stone because of its size and location, I had to find a way to grab at least part of this beauty.  Becky and I headed out with this stone as our destination.  I brought my hammer and stone splitting chisels.  She brought the camera.

This piece of woods is downhill from the gravel bank hill.  Our property line runs along the center of the old stone wall.  The cultivated field was part of the original farm but is now owned by an absentee neighbor.  He has granted me stone gathering rights but there is no way to bring either my lawn tractor nor truck to this area.  Anything that I remove must be hand carried up the hill.

Several roughly parallel cracks extended part way across the edge of this stone.  The deep grove on the flat surface and between the two chisels was made this spring by the farmer's tillage tool.  His instant response might have been colorful language but he soon returned with a bucket loader to remove a load of stone from the field.  He dumped the newly gathered stones where  field stones have always been dropped.  Planting corn was his agenda.  My desire to have this stone probably never occurred to him.

My chances for cleanly splitting the top layer of stone were questionable from the start.  The existing weathered cracks were wavy and extended only part way around the stone.  A sharp resistant sound resulting from the first hammer strike confirmed my fears.  Past experience had taught me that a hard section inside of the stone would make a clean split highly unlikely.  An interior silver gray deposit was revealed when a small section fell away.  These brown stones with an impossibly hard silver colored core have been seen here many times.

How these rocks were formed remains a mystery to me.  Surface fossils indicate that a sedimentary deposit under water initially formed the stone.  Some sort of solution bearing dissolved minerals must have penetrated the stone forming the hard core.  It also contains fossils so the exposure to the solution may have occurred after the rock was forming.  All that I know for certain is that the core is extremely hard and the brown edge stone easily breaks away from it.

This is the result of my pounding.  Vast differences can be seen on the newly exposed interior surfaces.  The brown upper section is rough with poorly defined remains of sea life.  Beneath it the slightly deeper surface shows the brown edge and the silvery hard interior.  A blue colored section further complicates the issue.

This nearly intact flat wall stone has been walked a short distance toward the uphill climb to the operational floor of the gravel bank.  Repeated future walks will likely complete the move.  With time and luck, this stone will find a place as a capstone on a new dry field stone wall.  Once placed, I will be able to recall my effort to acquire this stone as I sit upon it.  The pain this stone caused the farmer and his equipment will also be visible in its scratched surface.  This was truly time well spent.  A walk in our woods and retrieving a free stone for the wall might be a cheap date, but we always enjoy time spent together this way!

Leaving this stone in the woods was simply not an option.  Becky suggested that our hand truck and  her yoga cinch strap could be used to pull the stone up the hill.  Pausing to rest while on a slope and holding tightly to the cargo was a bit of a trick but I am still upright and the stone is now resting atop a wall.  This pile of stones left over from the wall by the road is waiting for the next project but for now it has a somewhat finished appearance to it.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Perfect Conditions For Pernicious Plant Pulling

Instead if a cold, white Christmas, we had a cool wet one.   When the rain finally stopped,  Ed went outside to see what he could find to do that would take advantage of this somewhat unusual chance to work outside at the end of December.  He settled on pulling out Japanese honeysuckle bushes.  With the soft wet ground, he could easily pull bushes that wouldn't budge an inch in dry weather.  Ed uses a neat cable with a ring on each end.  Not unlike a dog choke collar, the cable goes around the bush, through one ring and the other ring goes over the hitch on the back of the truck.  We just hop in the truck and let the Ranger gingerly do the hard work.      

Ed was elated at his success.  By pulling on the bush, easing up and then pulling again, he made short work of the smaller bushes.  He just tossed them in the truck replaced the sod in the hole that remained and moved on to the next bush.  He removed bushes that were too close to the driveway, bushes that he has been mowing around for ages and any bush that seemed to be where he would prefer it be gone.  With all that success under his belt he started to pull even bigger bushes.

Look carefully and you can see Ed on one of his trips to drop off bushes at the brush pile down at the gravel bank .

Quite an impressive pile of bushes  were gathering at the gravel bank.  Ed was having so much fun there is no telling how many bushes would have made it here, but perhaps that really big bush was a bit too much. While under pressure, one of the rings separated and flew off the cable never to be seen again.  That brought the bush pulling to a swift halt.  A new cable has been ordered.  When conditions are like this again he wants to be ready!

My how nice those bushes look when they are gone.  There are literally hundreds more yet to pull.

Ed cut up the  big bushes so that he could toss them on the brush pile.  It is all ready in case Ed gets another day to indulge in this kind of outdoor fun.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

No Snow

Winds from the south have brought us warm air temperatures and warm rain.  With that, the snow is gone and the ground is softening.  All of the plants will be fully exposed when the winds change direction and come to us from the north.  There is nothing to do for them so we wait for seasonally correct weather to find us once again.

There is always an opportunity to take advantage of prevailing conditions to make a task easier.  The new stone for the rock garden in progress was found uphill on the back side of the gravel bank hill.  A generous layer of wet fallen oak leaves provided for an easy pull for me to a point where the truck could do the hard work.  The end of season bargain snow sled once again was up to the task of supporting the rock as it was pulled across the uneven ground.  The only scary moment was when the stone was pulled downhill into the sled.  I needed it to come to rest in the sled and not continue rolling toward me.  Fortunately it stopped in the sled.

The stone was rolled into the pile where it will wait for its turn for another downhill move into the rock garden.  At the conclusion of the job no cracks were found in the sled and the ageing man is moving without pain. A chance to get some garden work done this late in December just feels good.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Spring Preview

With our December thaw so far most of the beds still have a covering of snow, but here and there the perennial plants are putting on new growth to be ready when spring finally arrives.  I am encouraged to see this kind of growth at the base of my perennial flax.  This plant put on quite show last summer.  I can close my eyes and remember the beautiful blue flowers but it's a lot more fun to actually see them.  Those delicate blue flowers that sway in the slightest breeze that open in the morning  and drop their petals to the ground before noon on a hot day, are a delight!

Ed's Mammoth Pink chrysanthemum is sending new growth in all directions.  If this continues we will have plenty of these gorgeous dark pinks flowers to spread around.  It almost feels like money in the bank!

The Doone Valley lemon thyme  looks perfect peeking out from the snow.  The fragrant and tasty green and yellow leaves are the stars here.  In the cold their fragrance is somewhat subdued, but if you rub a small sprig with your hands the aroma of spring is right there just waiting!

I failed in my search to find a picture of the sweet clove scented flowers that remind me of the fragrance of the carnations I remember from my youth.  I would be really tempted by the carnations at the checkout in the but that aroma seems to be missing and without that the flowers have lost their appeal for me.  I'll have to wait for these to bloom!

New Autumn Joy shoots are pushing up through last year's stems. It's kind of amazing since they don't bloom until September.  They will wait right where they are until the warmer weather.  Planted in the bed down by the road, the  big round mound of leaves get larger every year. The flowers are loved by bees, and Ed uses the dried stalks to make trees on his train layout. 

Of course some of our plants show absolutely nothing above ground at this point.  That doesn't prove a thing. Nature has to save some surprises for later. It's part of the fun!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

December Thaw

Our recent weather has not been kind to us or our plants.  Freezing rain falling on frozen ground quickly created a substantial coating of ice.  Trees remained only wet as the wood was not yet frozen. Electric power was uninterrupted but the roads were a nightmare.  More snow fell and soon it looked like winter.  This morning's warm air finally cleared the driveway and most of the snow cover elsewhere is gone.  Ever present clouds keep it gray, wet and depressing outside but a walk about was definitely in order.  Geese are still here and their honks filled the air as they flew north just above the river.

Any walk out of doors of necessity starts near the arbutus transplanted close to the house several years ago.  Temporarily removing the protective wire cage allows this native plant to appear wild and free.  A hungry rabbit was seen nearby and the cage was replaced following a quick look and a picture.  These buds look ready for an early spring opening.  We will not miss that.  The rabbit shall not find food here.

A walk up the lane took me to the arbutus transplanted this year.  They too live under a wire cage.  A larger cage, nestled in a low stone wall, is on the to do list for spring.  Spacing between the small transplants seemed adequate at the time but a natural location under a white pine tree and frequent watering when rainfall was scant resulted in impressive growth.  There is still no sign of new plants from the seed produced here but we expect to see new plants after their seasonal period of cold.

This appearance of wintergreen is totally wild.  Neither purchased plants nor transplants have survived my attempts to help this plant reestablish itself here.  Fallen leaves from the birch tree litter the ground but the wintergreen leaves remain above them and their life process continues without my interference.  That is as it should be.

Cardinal flower is a native plant that grows here only in a garden.  This clump of daughter plants is seriously overcrowded and without division will likely choke itself out.  Six brown stems identify this as a single two year old plant that multiplied to six plants this year.  Next year will see this clump try to support the growth of up to thirty-six overcrowded  plants already vying for space.  The way that cardinal flower multiplies may be a factor in why attempts to reestablish this plant in the wild have failed.  The tenacity of the escaped pasture grasses may simply overpower the slight native making reproduction by seed impossible.  Spring will find a dozen pots of cardinal flower waiting on the stone wall until the weather settles so that they can be planted out.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Snow Frosted Stonework

Most of the day Ed has been out clearing snow with his plow.  He did take some time off to take a walk around with the camera.  Looking out the window this morning I could see that Ed's stone walls  were frosted with snow.  Take some freezing rain, some wind and falling snow and the walls take on a very special look.  This stone square was Ed's first wall project here.  Started when we could only dream about living here, it is the centerpiece of the garden.

I chose this stone pile that sits down at the gravel bank because it looks different.  You can tell it is one of Ed's temporary piles by the casual way the stones are laid up.  I bet if I checked the top would be level.  Level is Ed's default stone piling setting.  Anyway, I love the way the snow stuck to the tree and the wire and there is not a footprint in sight!

The arbutus wall must have been sheltered somewhat.  It's snow frosting seems thicker on one end than the other.  I would think it was an optical delusion, but the snow is much heavier on the trees on one end that the other as well.

The stone wall down by the road seems a bit lonely without all the plants, but most of them are right there under the snow.  It's nice for the snow capped wall to be the center of attention for a change.  Ed  cleared around the mailbox, and the plow has been by on the road, but still snow covered it's kind of hard to exactly where that road might be.

With a thicker  covering of  snow the interesting rocks in Ed's new rock garden hide their individual charms.  The only indication that this area is a work in progress is the little pink flag. The grey sky explains why the pictures are almost devoid of color.  Next summer when it is hot and sunny, looking at these cool pictures will be a real treat!  

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Lucky Thanksgiving

Our geographic location in New York State limits the severity of many winter storms here.  The great distance separating us from the Great Lakes usually spares us from heavy lake effect snow.  Those storms drop most of their snow load before they reach us.  Similarly, the coastal storms do not usually hammer us with large accumulations of fresh snow.  A possible 10 inches of snow was forecast from a storm that started yesterday.  That amount of new snow mandates that I plow twice or my machines will become mired with no easy way out.

Previous cold had frozen the surface of the lane solid making it perfect for plowing.  Warm air and rain preceded the storm and the driveway thawed.  Plowing was not a workable option so the snow blower was pressed into action.  Wider than stock skids kept the bottom bar of the blower above the soft wet gravel.  Wet snow does not make the high arching plume that looks so impressive and it did clog the auger but the lane was passable at the end of the day.

Plowing where the grass grows does no damage to the unfrozen surface.  Snow covered cars are blindly backed from the parking spots to open ground.  There the snow is simply brushed to the ground.  When the car is cleared of snow, it is returned to its now clear parking space and the snow that was on the car is plowed to the side.  In all things we try to work smart.

A wide combination of factors must remain in play if a person is to reach 70 years of age.  I have long recognized the degree to which pure luck has kept me in the game.  It was dark last night when the blower tractor was backed into the shed.  The tractor barely fits inside of the shed and the doors latch from the interior.  I was standing in the narrow gap with my back to the tractor while trying to latch the door in the dark.  Suddenly I was falling backwards over the blower into the small space between the mower deck and the tractor.  There was no skill or grace in play that sent the back of my head into the smooth green metal forming the foot rest rather than the various rods or brackets on the mower deck.  It was once again pure luck.  Did you ever have one of those moments when you can't decide if you are glad you fell when you were alone or wish someone was there in case you needed help?  The thought of Becky trudging through the snow to fine me draped  over the tractor like a deer on the hood of a pick up truck was  enough to help me get up and into the house.  In the daylight this morning the picture made it crystal clear  just how tight a spot I was in.  

We all recognize the degree to which I was lucky to have come out of this event largely unhurt.  A new law has been enacted that requires me to stand between the blower and the tractor while closing the doors.  It would have been better if I had seen that solution before I fell.  In this case my sometimes miraculous good luck kicked in  and we enjoyed a festive family Thanksgiving dinner in our home.  It's interesting the things that make us realize how thankful we should be!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

More Winter Ready Than Yesterday

Two issues demanded attention today with the sharp moderation in outside temperatures.  We usually head into winter with sixty gallons of road sand stored in two garbage pails in the basement.  One pail was only half full and that needed fixing.  Sifting cold wet sand is a rather unpleasant chore but just being able to work outside made the task almost pleasant.   While working at the gravel bank I did get to see two Great Blue Herons fly close by below the tree line.  They must have just taken flight from the nearby river.  One announced my presence with a honk as they flew towards the pines near the house.

Recent high winds had dropped a branch onto the lane near the arbutus wall.  I had moved it to the side but more wind rolled it back into the lane.  Today seemed like the time to move all of the fallen branches there to the brush pile at the gravel bank.  Continued attention here will at the very least make it so that I can mow down the goldenrod and the pricker bushes.  With a stone bench and arbutus plants already in place, this might be a good location for more of a wild flower garden.

Anytime that I pass by the transplanted arbutus plants, they get a close look.  Much to my surprise, I found a new seedling growing very close to one of the transplants.  There is no way to know if this plant is growing from seed dropped in the past or from this year's seed.  I placed no seed in this spot but ants could have dropped it here either this year or in the past.  The seeds I did plant have shown no growth to date.  It may be that they must pass through a cold period before sprouting.  In any event, it was a major thrill to find a new arbutus plant growing here.  My goal is to help establish naturally increasing plantings of this native treasure.

Chrysanthemums are another difficult plant that I insist on trying to grow here.  Our winters are harsher by one climate zone than these plants prefer.  This slip of a mail order plant required two growing seasons to make a decent showing and we would like to aid its return next year.

We intentionally left the dead growth in place until today.  Secured to the ground, it was where we needed it.  Cutting it back revealed a encouraging amount of new growth.

Placing the cut stems over the original plant creates an airy but protected spot for the new growth.  If our coming snow cover is more or less continuous and low temperatures are not extreme, we should have enough new plants for several impressive plantings.

Weather forecasts predict a return to unseasonably cold temperatures.  We may have one more day to continue work on next year's garden.  If rain spoils our fun, we can recall seeing both a new arbutus plant and the possible promise of many beautiful chrysanthemums.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Iced Over Early

The monster storm that buried Buffalo with lake effect snow brought us days of cold weather.  Our Unadilla River is sporting an unusually early appearance of ice.  Taken from the bridge in Rockdale, this picture shows ice on the still water near shore.  In our long ago younger days we dug the aquatic larval stage of the Dobson fly to use as bass bait in the channel to the left of the small islands.  That was a two person job.  One held a wire mesh wood framed screen nearly perpendicular to the flow of the water while the upstream person overturned stones with a stone fork.  Dobson larvae would wash onto the screen.  Many happy hours were spent securing bait and catching the elusive smallmouth bass.

Here the Unadilla River flows past the bottom land to the left that was part of the former farm that includes our homestead.  Becky's father had a boat chained to a nearby tree.  This is where we turned the Dobson larvae into bass.  Rapidly moving water midstream will remain unfrozen for most of the winter.  Prolonged severe cold is necessary to freeze this part of the river from bank to bank.

Deep still water has already frozen across the width of the river.  In days long past, the New York Ontario and Western Railway tracks ran just behind the pine grove centered in the photo.  Passengers left the trains to picnic and enjoy the river here.  In the distant left center of the picture, outlined against the sky, the row of pines rising above the ridge belongs to us.  We usually feature photos that show what is happening at home but today we took a short drive.

 Here skin ice is trapped in the swirling currents upstream from the remains of a mill dam.  Part of the stone mill building is now used as a restaurant.  Not surprisingly, it is named The Old Mill.  A family group of five ducks flew from the open water in response to my presence.  My focus was on not slipping down the bank into the cold water so there is no picture of the flying ducks.

This  pond was scraped by enlarging a shallow depression cut by a small stream.  Beavers raised the level of the natural outlet considerably increasing the size of the pond soon after the bulldozer left.  Apparently the Department of Environmental Conservation could not take issue with the actions of the beavers so this artificial/natural pond persists.  Geese recently gathered here in impressive numbers as they organized themselves for migration.  Not ready to fly south just yet, the ice has moved them into nearby manure rich corn fields.  All of this ice may soon be gone when 60 degree air temperatures and falling rain leave their mark on the landscape.

Fresh Lettuce Season Is Over

November 4th found me weeding the last outdoor planting of lettuce for this year.  We have found planting lettuce seeds in plastic pots to be the most effective method for us.  High soil temperatures inhibit seed germination during the summer.  An early start is possible when the soil remains cold in the spring.  It is also much easier for our creaky bodies to thin the lettuce seedlings on the planting bench.  No bending over and the ability to see what needs to be removed are big pluses for us.  This planting was properly weeded and Becky clear cut it before the monster storm froze everything solid.  We ate the last of this lettuce yesterday.  It was wonderful.

There are always more plants than can be planted out since lettuce must go under a wire cage.  The plan was to move these plants into the basement on cold nights and set them out on the wall on warm sunny days.  There have been no warm sunny days recently and these plants now languish on a basement windowsill.  With December days close at hand, these plants are facing the end of their season.

Johnny's Select Seeds was our source for Flashy Trout Back lettuce.  Its color is bright and cheerful and the tasty is incredible.  Johnny recently retired selling the business to the employees.  It may be that the transfer of funds will be completed by an increase on each seed pack.  That is an admirable and responsible plan to transfer ownership but I found the new cost of a pack of lettuce seeds to be more than I was willing to pay.  The last of my stock of Flashy Trout Back seeds were planted.  The plants were left to go to seed but I never got around to collecting any.  Some self planted seed grew of its own accord but they are simply too late. I have to wonder if we can keep these little lettuce plants alive until spring but the odds are if I am to continue eating this variety of lettuce, the high price of seed will have to be paid.

Our fresh from the garden lettuce season started early and is ending quite late.  Repeated plantings kept the supply continuous.  Several years ago in a much smaller garden, we did enjoy fresh from the garden lettuce with Christmas dinner.  A small cold frame and a much later arrival of winter made that possible.  Perhaps we should look into a new cold frame for next year.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Wild Unbridled Excitement

I awoke this morning expecting this to be an exciting day.  My new stove was going to be delivered and I was cleaning in places that haven't seen me for years.  I just happened to glance out the kitchen window above the sink.  I saw movement along the edge of the  grass where it meets the goldenrod. My immediate thought was a Bobcat.  I have never see one outside of zoos.  Unable to contain my excitement I called Ed, but of course the animal was gone before he arrived.  Ed came and while I was explaining where I thought had seen a Bobcat, two Bobcats appeared.  Ed and I both got to see them and there was no question.  Picture a big house cat only with a much heavier body.  These cats were light golden brown with spots and black markings.  Their tails were short and wide, sort of rectangular in shape with more black markings.  No house cat tail would look like that even if it was cut short. They looked to us like youngsters.  They quickly disappeared into the path in the tall goldenrod just to the right of the bluebird house.  Apparently they are seldom seen so we were very lucky indeed to see two such beautiful creatures.  As of now we have no Bobcat photos.  We will watch our chance.  Perhaps it is wishful thinking to think we can get a picture.  We will be very lucky just to see them again.  We have quite a buffet of rabbits, mice, moles, voles and chipmunks around the garden.  We wish them good hunting.

My new stove was delivered and I am thrilled .  It will be even more exciting when the gas company comes tomorrow to install it and I can use it.  For now, Ed will be carrying the camera on his walks.  Since the animals moved from the pine trees to our field lawn, it is possible that they are using the old fox den there for shelter.  Maybe we won't see the Bobcats again but snapping a great photograph of them would be so exciting!

Our usual dusting of overnight snow recorded the presence of our resident bobcat cubs searching for breakfast.  Four toes and a pad point to feline tracks.  It seems that their fifth toe is higher and to the side of the paw.  It may approach an opposable thumb in actual function.  The thinness of the fine dry snow cover made finding clear prints difficult.  Steps taken in the vegetation lacked definition.  Underlying stones confused many of the tracks left in the driveway.  Only one photo was clear enough to be usable but one was all that we needed.

Bobcats are described as common but wary and elusive.  For that reason they are seldom seen and pictures of wild specimens are not common.  An abandoned fox den at the base of a pine tree might be serving as temporary quarters for these cubs.  A stealthy check on the den yesterday revealed nothing but I am persistent.  Had I remembered to take the camera on my walk to the mailbox, I would have found nothing at the den since the cubs had already gone to work.  My chances of finding them home are better when the afternoon trip to get the mail is made.  They tend to rest during the middle of the day.  I've started doing some of that myself.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Way Too Early

For each of the past two mornings we have found new snowfall covering the ground when we finally crawled out of bed.  The first picture was actually taken yesterday as was the new header photo.  Bright sunlight quickly melted all of the snow that it could reach.  Snow in the shadows slowly gave way to residual warmth in the ground.  We plan on being able to work in the gardens until the end of November.  Perhaps we are finished now.

Stone walls and fresh snowfall always make great photo subjects.  Time is limited to see this image as the stones quickly grab and hold the heat from sunlight.  The snow covering this wall will be the first to melt.

A wire cage prevents the deer that are seeking refuge from the hunters by moving near our house from eating our kale.  Early hard frost burned some of the leaves but the lower ones are still great to eat.  A village friend went to her garden to cut and freeze her parsley but found that the animals had already eaten it to the ground.

The walk to the mailbox was quiet and filled with beauty.  This snowfall was small enough to clear itself from the lane with no action required of me.  The real advantage to that is not placing my plow in contact with the still soft driveway surface.  It is better to leave the gravel where it is and hope that the road will freeze solid before the first plow.

A drive to Utica was made with no snow incidents seen.  Early snow catches some unaware but all were safe here today.  A particular hazard exists where the road is in the shadow of pine trees.  Denied the warmth from sunlight, ice sometimes is encountered there while the rest of the road is clear.  Skin ice was seen on a pond today but the roads were apparently clear.

Today was the first day of gun season for hunting deer.  With fresh tracking snow I expected the deck to be stacked heavily in favor of the hunters.  Not a single deer carcass strapped to a fender or tossed in the back of a pickup truck was seen during my three hours on the road today.  ATV tracks crisscrossed my fields but none included blood stains.  The deer are numerous here but the goldenrod grew so high this year that they can move about without being easily seen.  I do not hunt but do see the need to reduce the numbers of wild animals.  One man has permission to hunt on our land and his history here is good.  We will join the deer that seek protection near our home and stay close by ourselves.