Monday, March 31, 2014

Mother Nature Gets The Last Word

March and Mother Nature get the last word.  The pictures make it clear.  What can I say?

* &!#@!  SNOW !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

What's Going On Out There?

It rained pretty hard during the night. The rain stopped for a short while this morning and Ed and I went outside to walk around an get a look at the garden.  It was way too wet to actually do anything out there.  Hmm... This looks a little like a Big Foot footprint.

I stuck my bright pink size 9 boot in there so you could see the size.  This is not a footprint however.  You can see by all the stems cut on the diagonal that the creator of this garden bald spot is rabbits.  Whether they spent time here under the snow or are intending to build a future nest, they are not welcome here.

Here is another one in the Siberian Iris.   We'll have to check on these as soon as it is dry enough to work in the garden. Beat it bunnies!  Move out or face the consequences. As far as we are concerned spring is here and the gardeners are taking over!

We still have some snow in the garden.  The recently uncovered foxgloves look nice and green.  Today's continuing rain should get rid of the rest of the icy snow.

With just a little warmth and sunlight, my Dutch iris should pop into bloom!

At last my snow drops are making an appearance. Their buds are just the very beginning of the promise of beauty to come.

Our Clara Curtis mums are holding back in this chilly rain, but that's  temporary I'm sure.

Sunday gloves is the first of Ed's day lilies to surface.  It's hard to contain our excitement.  I've had enough for now however.  My fingers hurt from the cold and like the flower buds in the garden I'm waiting for a warm sunny day before I really show my face out in the garden  for any length of time.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Finally An Outside Day

This winter seemed to continue to go on forever.  Usually it is possible to get some outside work done here in February.  For months the only activity possible was plowing snow and shoveling out machinery that had become trapped in the snowbank.  Today it was a quick task to remove the plow from the tractor but the chains will remain in place for a while longer.  April snowfall is common here.

My purchased pile of screened and washed gravel catches sunlight on two sides and is workable at the surface.  My gravel bank is still in daylong shadow and is frozen solid.  I prefer to use my gravel to repair the driveway.  Its brown muddy fines pack to a solid surface that is almost as hard as cement.  The washed gravel remains somewhat soft and quickly surrenders to running water.  It was all that was available to me today so that is what was used.

This winter the snowbank extended across the ditch onto the driveway.  The resulting ice pack forced early runoff down the gravel surface as the ditch was solid ice.  With two inches of rain forecast for tonight, the gully had to be filled while it was still small.  More runoff here now would have made a sizable channel.  Once running water cuts a ditch it quickly expands its claim.

I have recently discovered the many advantages of fitting the task to the opportunities offered by conditions of the day.  Ice still holds most of the garden plants so any cleanup there would have been a miserable experience for both plants and gardener.  The gravel however was soft and wet.  That combination is perfect for road work.  Only wet gravel packs hard.

A one and one half inch screen is used at the commercial gravel operation.  I find stones that large a nuisance when trying to resurface the lane.  My inch square screen was still frozen to the ground so another method had to be found to deal with the larger stones.  Gravel was dumped toward the center of the road and raked diagonally downhill in the direction of the ditch.  Larger stones stayed with the rake while the fines dropped out onto the road.  Filling the gully with larger stones will make it more resistant to erosion.  Running water quickly carries away the sand while larger stones resist being washed away.  After tonight's rainfall we shall have a chance to see if any of my repairs survive.


The tray of lettuce plants spent some time outside again today.  A house shadow limits exposure to sunlight but allows the stems to strengthen in response to light wind.  They also had some time outside yesterday.  Forgotten, they spent the night outside.  Fortunately the night temperatures did not drop much below freezing.  Residual heat from the house and the stone wall afforded enough protection to avoid frost burn.  The plants are presently in the basement to prevent damage from their first rainfall.  I plan to start the tomato and pepper plants tomorrow.  It is a little early for tomato plants but they will be moved into large pots for the last month when frost is still likely.  Out on the wall by day and back into the basement for the night will be their routine.  I cannot wait any longer to watch garden plants grow.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Bluebird Housecleaning And Eviction Service

This morning there were robins all over the grass that is  now uncovered by the snow.  More thrilling than that, I noticed two birds perched on a cage and a post in the garden.  I thought they looked like bluebirds so I got my binoculars to check.  Not only were they bluebirds, but they were a male and a female. Time for procrastination is over.  The bluebird boxes needed to be cleaned out today.  After lunch Ed  headed out with two buckets, one for the contents of the houses and the other with the necessary tools to make repairs to the houses if needed.  I tagged along with the camera.  Sometimes we clean the boxes out in the fall.  The two in the garden down by the road were still empty and ready for use.  The rest of our 15 nest boxes were anything but empty.  Bluebird nests are made of grasses, tree swallow nests are sticks and feathers, chickadees use moss, wrens fill the nest box to the top with sticks.  White  fluffy stuff is chewed up pieces of milkweed and it means just one thing....MICE!

"Don't look at me like that with those black eyes or wiggle your whiskers and cute little pink nose. This is a bluebird house and you have got to go."  Of course I talk big, but furry little critters make me  go  EEEK!  It is Ed's job to actually evict them from the houses.  He deftly flicks the sticks and fluff into the bucket and whisks the mice onto the ground.  They scurry off into the tall grass in a hurry. I don't ever remember a year when there were mice in almost all of the boxes.  This year some of the boxes were filled with fluff and had two or three mice.  One could hardly expect the bluebirds to select a house under those conditions.  Now all the boxes are empty of old nests and mice.  One house in particular smelled way too much like mice to my nose.  I hope it will air out.  Certainly today's sunshine and brisk breeze should help.  While we were working a pair of red tail hawks circled overhead. It's great to have them back.  We invited them to catch as many mice as they could find.  Moles, voles and rabbits are on the welcome back menu as well!

In the bed down by the road the icy snow is finally retreating.  Lemon thyme and my King Alfred  daffodils are now making a welcome appearance.

Tiny tips of my Dutch iris are now pushing up through the mulch.  Beautiful flowers won't be far behind.   The garden is still slightly chilled, but Spring is here !

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

An Exciting Spring Walk In The Garden

Oh Yippee, I finally got to walk around in the garden today.  Yesterday was special because I saw my first bluebird and that always makes me ecstatic, but today it was actually warm enough to walk around in the garden a bit.  I know my old photography teacher would say this is a picture of dirt.  You're darn right it is! I had to look for awhile to find a nice bare patch of garden dirt that wasn't under water or snow.  This one had the bonus of Siberian squill breaking through the surface.  It won't be long until magnificent blue flowers will appear.

Most of the garden looks  more like this.  The great majority of our plants are still covered in white icy snow  and water.  This dianthus looks pretty terrific to me even surrounded in icy white.

The very tips of the first of my daffodils can be seen here.  I was hoping to see my snow drops or lovely little Dutch iris that are in this bed making an appearance, but they are still under the snow.

Ed's lettuce that he planted in the basement is coming up. Just the idea of having my own lettuce makes me salivate in expectation.  I'm glad we can buy lettuce in the store through the winter, but the price is steep and the quality poor when compared to fresh lettuce from the garden.  Ed's lettuce came up in just 3 days!  Not every pot has the four plants he hoped for, but it is still early.

Just feast your eyes on these four gorgeous, if tiny, lettuce plants.  Three days ago they were a tiny seed. Imagine the changes a week will bring.  There's a lot of dirt in this post, but there's a lot of  great promise for the future too!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Spring Run

Yesterday featured clear skies and comfortable temperatures.  This morning found exposed ground frozen hard again with a wake up temperature in the mid twenties F.  Still, cloudless bright skies pulled me outside for a walk.  Snow that lingers is now frozen solid enough to support me.  Walking is much less strenuous when feet do not penetrate into the snow pack.  Attention to detail is still necessary as ice is everywhere.

Our pond was nearly empty when I last visited it.  Today the spring that keeps it full most of the year had started to run.  Just under the surface of the ground, heat has found its way close enough to the top to allow the water to flow.  Where I was standing to take the photo is usually underwater.  We will watch to see how soon the pond refills.

This is the first time that I have seen standing water on this pasture.  The depression in the ground is obvious but deep gravel usually carries away rain or melt water before a pool can form.  Frost still sealed the ground when recent rain fell on melting snow.  Had I ventured out onto the ice, I would probably found it unsupported as the water has now worked its way into the ground.  The child still within wanted a slide but the old man did not want to risk a fall in this remote location.

Apparently, our right of way users took advantage of the disappearing snow cover to try and visit their land.  Finding the upper section of the lane blocked by both deep snow and ice, a return to the highway was mandated.  How does one turn their vehicle around on a narrow right of way?

They back their truck onto the field of their neighbor.  The same neighbor that is regularly blocked from turning his truck around in their field by a barricade. Where the lane ends at their field's edge, a barricade bearing a posted sing and warning that firearms are always in use blocks anyone from entering.  They have to stop their truck, move the barricade, stop their truck again to replace the barricade.  Since I am the only other person that ever drives the right of way, I feel that it is intended that I never set foot or wheel onto their land.  I sense inequity here.  Common courtesy and consideration should run both ways.  One never knows when he will need a helping hand from his neighbor.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Start Your Engines

We are not waiting for this interminable Winter to wind down to start the new garden.  Seeds, soil containers and light are in the basement ready to use.  Six varieties of lettuce seeds were placed in soil this morning.  This early start may mean that the plants might remain in the pots indefinitely but they will still produce delicious early fresh salads.

Three favorite seed suppliers have their wares displayed in the photo.  Botanical Interests was our first source for Tavera green beans.  These are by far the best tasting green beans that we have ever eaten so Botanical Interests will receive an order from us every year.  Stokes have proven to be  a source of fairly priced reliable seeds packed in user friendly envelopes.  They always process an order from us.  Johnny's was a favorite seed source in the past.  Since the founder sold his company to the workers, seed prices have increased sharply to a point that I am unwilling to pay.  Flashy Trout Back is a fantastic lettuce that I can find no where else.  My few remaining old seeds were once again planted.  I wonder if I could persuade Botanical Interests to stock it?

The potting trays will hold 18 pots.  We leave one cell empty so that we can water the tray from the bottom and check on water still in the tray.  Each pot will be home to four plants if all of the seeds germinate.  A single seed was dropped in a shallow well near each corner of the pot.  Planting a single seed is no longer a skill taken for granted.  Manual dexterity, sensitivity and eye sight are not what they used to be.  I know that errant seeds were dropped and that no seeds may have been planted in some holes.  We will never know if the missing plants were the result of poor seed or fumble fingers.

Two quarts of water were poured in the empty cell and the plastic cover placed.  Four florescent tubes are on a timer scheduled for 16 hours of light each day.  Now we have seeded ground to watch.

My soil mix will provide some insight into the fussy nature of this gardener.  One measure each of sharp sand, woods dirt, peat moss and Miracle-Gro potting mix were combined with two measures of our own compost to make our seeding mix.  The Miracle-Gro mix contains large pieces of tree bark.  These were screened out.  Thirty gallons of this mixture are in the basement ready to use while everything outside remains cold or frozen.  One year long ago, I used the kitchen oven to sterilize my soil mixture.  The smell of baking worms filled the entire house.  Not surprisingly, we no longer plant in sterilized soil.

Friday, March 14, 2014

There Is Hope

That most recent bitter Arctic blast felt like a hard punch to the midsection.  We are usually working outside by this date.  Today the temperature inched above freezing and a  check on the exposed plants was in order.  Native Lobelia cardinalis is a personal favorite.  It is not a true perennial as none of last year's plant returns.  A cluster of new daughter plants emerge from the snow cover already growing. We are underway with this year's garden.  

Dwarf phlox was new to us last season.  This plant seems to have shrugged off the cold and the snow. Deer feed on the regular phlox so we have kept the dwarf plants caged.

Chervil is actually a treasured weed here.  As a frequent ingredient in early salads, I have to sneak the overabundance into the compost bucket.

Finding this Shasta daisy alive was a real treat.  Then the picture revealed the fact that a rabbit found it before I did.  That diagonal stem nip is a sure sign of rabbit.

Becky found blue eyed grass growing in the lawn when we lived in the village.  It has had a home in our garden ever since.  It resembles many weedy grasses and has been nearly pulled out many times.

These bluets were protected by locust leaves and the stems that they grow on.  The stems hold the old leaves in place.  I find the size of locust leaves tidy.  Generous air circulation around the small curled leaves helps prevent rot while providing some shelter.

Fringed polygala is another prized evergreen native.  Its crow excluding wire cage has been set aside allowing close visual inspection.  That looks like new growth trying for an early start.

Recent melt water formed a sizable pond near the town road.  That bitter Arctic air froze the surface water before it could drain away.  Now the sedum stems support the ice showing just how much water was briefly trapped here.

The walk about was pleasant enough but I simply must put some seeds to soil.  A 30 gallon trash can was filled with prime potting soil last Fall and stored in the basement.  Everything is in place and the planting will soon begin.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Free For A Moment

Our snow cover continues to be widespread but under the protective canopy of a white pine tree our five arbutus plants have thrown off their white blanket.  Tips of dark green leaves found an opening in the snow and soaked up warmth from the sunlight and the snow melted.  Warm fog and light rain finished the job here.  The ice that held the wire cage in place is gone so an unobstructed view is now possible.

From a normal viewing distance, the hairy nature of this plant would go unnoticed.  These mature leaves still have hairs along their edges.  Stems also bristle with reddish brown hairs.  Blossoms formed last Fall look nearly ready to open.  I did manage to resist the temptation to check for the presence of their delicious scent.  Taking pictures in the rain seemed bizarre enough.

Three bud clusters are easily seen in this photo.  Another may be seen near the left edge of the picture.  In seems somehow unfair that the treasures of these flowers are so frequently secreted away. Last year early warm weather drew the flowers out before their pollinators were active and none of these plants set seed.  This year I plan to hand pollinate but that activity will be limited to easily accessible flowers.

This plant is located in the lower right corner of the first photo.  When we moved these plants from the wild, we selected only remote small specimens.  Their root systems were also small and the move was made without inflicting any damage to that fragile mass.  This plant was the runt of the group and has only recently put out growth that extends beyond the moss.  Flower buds are making their first appearance on this plant.  We will finally know the gender of each plant moved here. Our from seed baby plant has yet to flower although it may be carrying buds now.

The plant that was chewed to the nub by a foraging woodchuck sent out impressive new growth last season.  My peering eyes were unable to find any flower buds on that plant.  It may be that arbutus flowers only on growth that is more than one year old.

Another unanswered question deals with the life span of arbutus leaves.  In the wild I have seen large dead leaves among the green actively growing leaves.  Some of these mature leaves display brown sections but that may be the result of fallen tree leaves covering the arbutus leaf.

It is difficult to accurately describe the improvement in my general mood that followed the brief time spent peering down on these plants.  Their already white flower tips and the promise of sights and scents soon to follow removed much of the gloom attached to this severe winter.  We are under a Winter storm warning again today.  As the temperature plummets to well below freezing, rapid icing of the roads will occur.  Then up to nine inches of new snow will fall.  The green leaves and new buds will again disappear beneath the snow.  I think perhaps it is better or at least safer for them that way.

Bitter wind, freezing temperatures but almost no snow were the features of this latest storm.  Some protective snow remained around the crowns of the plants but all else was exposed to the harsh elements.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Bare Grass

Today the sun was bright but the wind from the North was cold.  Bright sunlight tricked me into venturing out lightly dressed.  Some considerable distance  had been walked before I was aware that appendages were starting to ache from the cold.  This view shows a hillside facing Southwest.  Wind blew much of the snow away then inclination allowed the sunlight to melt the remaining white cover. Standing here I was comfortably warm in this micro-climate.

My wilderness garden is located on flat land in the shadow of deciduous trees.  Filtered sunlight has made no impact on the snow cover here.  Two compost piles are partially cleared of snow but the garlic is still covered.  Compared with last year, this is a good thing.  Then early warmth drew the plants from the ground and bitter cold froze them brittle.  Last year's harvest was scant.  This year's enduring snow cover keeps me inactive while my garlic lies protected under a generous blanket of insulation. 

This is what a pond scraped in deep gravel looks like during Winter.  In milder seasons, when the springs are running, the pond remains full.  When frozen ground shuts the springs down, our pond drains.  This clear area received runoff during one of our recent warm days.  Hemlocks shade this area and at this time of year walking here is like stepping into a walk in freezer.  It was here that my fingers began to ache signaling my inadequate preparations for today's walk.  The only available option was to continue quickly.

Trees growing just above bedrock develop shallow roots.  Constantly wet thin soil promotes growth but the trees are frequently wind thrown.  When we first found this land I viewed the trees as permanent residents.  Sadly, that is not the case.  These two rocks have been buried for decades.  Why fake looking safety green is the color of the first growth on the stones seems to me to be a contradiction.  Dignified  dark green moss would be a better look.

Those few exposed dark arbutus leaves absorbed a great deal of warmth from the sunlight compared with their recent appearance here.  Two of our five plants lie fully exposed.  Becky saw Australia lying close to Africa.  We really need to stop reading fossil books that describe a time when the land masses were close together.  We see our arbutus Australia fitting neatly into Africa.  We really need to get outside to work in the warm soil.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Drawn Outside

Clear blue skies and bright warming sunshine drew us outside this morning.  Snow cover continues to be widespread and deep, filled with ice crystals that fail to support a human foot.  The pictured sumac seed clusters did attract our first robin today.  Natural winter bird food is a feature of this trash tree.  We find its bright color spirit lifting during our barren Winter and the birds drawn to it are a bonus.

We cannot identify with certainty that the robin made these fresh tracks in the snow.  A body impression in the snow near the fallen sumac seed cluster shows a table setting used for breakfast this morning.  The red dots scattered about are from a meal taken at the top of the tree.  If this day continues to be clear and warm, the lawn area behind the house that is kept plowed of snow will soften and we should see robins feeding there this afternoon.  Any sign that this Winter is drawing to a close is welcome.  Our current electric bill shows that February was seven degrees colder than last year and our electric consumption had increased by one third.  We really need to see some Spring.

The return trip from the mailbox included a visit to the arbutus.  Expecting to find only the protective cage and snow,  seeing dark green hairy leaves was an unexpected surprise.  Current plans are to try hand pollination this year as no seeds were produced last year.  We will also try to get better pictures of the differences displayed by male and female flowers.  Amy's camera and tripod will be borrowed for this attempt.  Still, the problem of photographing the deeply placed white flower parts presents challenges.  

My interesting stone collection located atop the stone wall leading to the basement has been cleared of snow.  Dark colored objects absorb heat from the sunlight and this spot is the first to clear.  These signs of sea life point to a far different landscape here in times long past.

This rather common looking piece of black limestone contains a real puzzle.  Near the center is a thin structure filled with holes.  The thinness  is what puzzles me.  It looks more like bird skin than coral or sponge.  We plan to place this piece before the college professor and learn what he thinks has been turned to stone here.