Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Garlic Ready

For us, garlic will be planted in just over two weeks from now.  This ground grew potatoes recently and their harvest is finally complete.  One variety, Canela, was still sporting green growing leaves.  We needed this ground for garlic so the potatoes are now in the basement.  Eighteen feet long and five feet wide are the dimensions of this planting bed.  We plant rows that are eight inches apart with six inches between each clove in the row.  270 garlic cloves will soon be planted here.

Last year we mulched one half of the planting with dried fluffy grass clippings.  A generous snow cover packed the clippings into a thin dense mat.  Several plants needed a hand to push their way clear of the mulch.  This year we have thirty gallons of screened leaf litter on hand.  Old leaves were gathered before the new crop fell.  Our prepared leaves may be insufficient to cover the entire planting but more can be added when the snow melts.

This view shows pumpkins hanging on the protective fence and runaway squash in the foreground.  The ground ready for garlic is in the background.  Fresh bark mulch is at the same level as the freshly tilled planting bed.  We plant to the edge of the bed and the mulch will hold the soil in place.  Several years ago this ground was prepared for garlic cultivation. Apparently the  garden soil near the house had been contaminated for garlic by several futile attempts to grow  infected seed.  We are presently rotating squash, potatoes and garlic on this new ground.

A shallow gully lies between this flat land and the bedrock ridge.  Wooded, wild and quiet, it is a favorite place to walk.  No signs of human habitation can be seen from there and the only unnatural sounds heard there are from airplanes.  Four distinct and separate flat fields fill the plant-able area of our former farm.  Each is a glacial deposit that differs from the others in both elevation and soil composition.  This spot grew the largest weeds and that led us to plant here.  Its soil consists of grainy clay with few stones.  Just the lack of stones makes this ground special here.  Aged compost is worked in before planting and respectable crops grow here.

Purple stripe is the varietal name assigned to this garlic by its local grower.  It has shorter plants than our other types and each bulb contains about eight cloves.  The tag tells the story.  Fifty cloves were planted but only twenty-five plants were harvested.  Daphne's garlic treatment was only given to half of the planting and I lost track of the results for treated versus untreated but both included dead plants.  These bulbs all felt sound at final cleaning.  Every seed clove will get the vodka treatment this year.  Last year was our first time with that method and I was unwilling to commit the entire seed lot to the unknown.  Its results were so impressive that this year we are going all in.

This variety is similar in appearance to several of our others.  Its local grower knew nothing of its origin but I suspect it is descended from Extra Hardy German White.  The tall stems with widely separated leaves identifies it as a porcelain type garlic.  Bulb size is not impressive but with only four  cloves per bulb they are monsters.

For the past several years, I have purchased this garlic at a roadside stand within sight of Lake Canadargo.  Last year her crop turned out to be a disaster.  Most of it went into the trash but sixty clean, solid cloves were found.   All were given the naked clove vodka dip and all produced a plant for harvest.  Final cleaning revealed five bulbs that contained soft brown cloves.  Considering  the mess we started with, the results were fantastic.  More diseased cloves are expected when we pop the bulbs in preparation for planting but considering their condition last year I think that we are in good shape.  So much improvement in one year gives us hope.  Obtaining healthy seed garlic has proven impossible so we will dance with the Devil we know.  Right now the weather for Columbus day looks a little chilly, but plant naked garlic we will.

Friday, September 26, 2014

More Monarchs For Mexico

Today was another perfect fall day for the Monarchs.  This beautiful specimen is drinking nectar from Ed's Mammoth Pink  chrysanthemum.  His uncurled proboscis works like a straw drinking in nectar to fuel up for the trip.  Butterflies need 55 degrees to fly so today is  another great day to catch warm thermals and head South.

There is something magical about these beautiful butterflies and their long migration. We wish them Bon Voyage on their trip. Times' a wasting if they are going to reach Mexico by October 31 through November 2.  In Mexico that is when they celebrate the Days of the Dead.  According to ancient myth the butterflies represent the returning souls of the dead.  Numbers of returning butterflies are decreasing at an alarming rate.  I hope people's awareness has been aroused about this in time.  I so love to watch these beautiful creatures.  We do what we can to help, growing  the milkweed they need for their caterpillars plus goldenrod, asters, chrysanthemums and other nectar producing flowers they need for food.  Now it's time to watch them soar over the trees on warm thermals heading South,  and hope next year's generation of Monarchs will return here next summer.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Fall At Its Finest

Once the fog burned off the garden, this was a glorious sunny morning.  I was delighted to see several Monarchs sail over the garden heading South.  My favorite thing  is when one clears the roof of the house and glides above my head.  Ed and I headed out with the garden tractors to the back.  We wanted to weed and dig potatoes to prepare the garlic bed for planting.  The garlic planting is only a couple of weeks away now.  Ed dug for potatoes.  This year we seem to have a bumper crop.  Digging potatoes is one of the most fun things in gardening.  If you have never done it try it next year for sure.  The man who digs a five gallon bucket full of new organic potatoes for his table is rich indeed!

I spent my time weeding and dragging frosted pumpkin vines to the compost pile. Our pie pumpkins and butternut squash had quite a year this year too!  It  is so quiet in the back. I can see why Ed loves it there.  The sound of birds doesn't have to compete with the noises of civilization to get your attention.  I did not see, but I heard a Black Capped Chickadee.  These friendly little birds spend their winter here.  Now that the hummingbirds and other summer birds have left us, he is a delightful replacement.

After lunch I stayed front to work and hoped to catch a picture of a migrating Monarch, but butterflies like sunshine and the clouds rolled in.  I did manage to get a picture of just one of the many goldfinches that feast on the sunflower seeds left in the garden.  Their constant chatter and bobbing flight are a fine diversion from my work of deadheading Gloriosa Daisies.  Off in the distance I heard the who-who-who-who of a Great Horned Owl.  The beauty of the purples and yellows of the asters and golden rod is being joined by the gradual change of color of the trees.  It's a day like this that reminds me why I love it here so very much!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Altered Asters

It should come as no surprise to anyone that a plant with the natural color variation and hardiness of native asters would be the focus of plant hybridizers attention.  October Skies was one of our early mail order variations of an aster.  What has grown from the tiny scrap of a plant that the USPS delivered here continues to amaze us.  This single plant manages enough growth to close off the opening in the stone wall.  Next Spring we really need to consider dividing this plant.

Henry W. Art raises the question of why plant garden variety asters when so many color variations grow in the wild.  We certainly understand the validity of his question and will continue to plant both.  The compact rounded form of October Skies is a real plus.  The pictured plant was not pinched back.  This is the natural form of this variety.  Becky managed to include a Sulphur butterfly with its wings partially open in the photo.  Usually this butterfly stands upon the flowers with its wings closed.

September Ruby has finally managed to open some flowers.  Asters close their flowers at night and in response to overcast skies.  Intense pink ray flowers are the obvious appeal of this variety.  No new growth has appeared at the base of this plant so we continue to be limited to a few flowering stalks.  Perhaps next year will bring us an expanding plant.

Vibrant Dome is our last aster, either wild or garden, to bloom.  Some years it never manages to open flowers before frost ends them for the season.  This variety also presents a rounded flower studded appearance without any assistance from the gardener.  Plants that can take care of their own presentation are really appreciated by the overbooked staff here.

There are other garden asters that we have either lost or were unable to buy.  Alma Potschke  is a hot pink variety that was sold out when we tried to purchase it.  The unusual name and the bright color made this a must have plant.  Two low varieties, Black Knight and Dream of Beauty, were both lost to  invading quack grass.  The speed with which this weed retakes garden ground is unbelievable.  We must establish a bark mulch moat between the pasture grass and the garden beds in our campaign to reclaim our garden.  Every scrap of white rhizome must be cleared away or this weed will win again.  Regardless of how hard we work, this weed will retake our garden within two short years following our departure.  For now, we will focus on all the dazzling color on display here.    

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Roadside Asters

Asters and goldenrod provide much of the wild flower color at this time of year here.  We drove far out of our way today to revisit this stand of New York Asters.  It is by far the most impressive group of these flowers that we have ever found.  A small stream winds downhill alongside of the asters.  Their requirement for ample moisture is satisfied by this stream and its presence may explain the size of this group.  Beautiful in their own right, they pale by comparison to our next subject.

New England Asters are also common here growing alongside of roads.  Where roadside ditch water if frequent, their displays are impressively large.  If they grow in a dry meadow, a single stalk is frequently seen.  Their combination of purple and yellow appears to me as the perfect flower.  These photo subjects were moved into the garden long ago.

Given rich garden soil they soon display huge plants tenaciously holding onto a large area of the planting bed.  Frequent division is required to keep the clumps under control.  If one remembers to pinch them back, a more proper mound of color can be created.  Our herd of deer tend to this task in random locations.  We often promise ourselves to attend to pinching back next year but frequently overlook this important job.  Perhaps next year will be the year we see controlled flowering.

This is a naturally occurring color sport of a New England Aster.  We frequently see them growing wild alongside of the roads.  So far we have resisted successfully the temptation to harvest  someone else's beautiful plant.  This one was found growing in one of our meadows.  It was moved into the garden.  With luck, we should be able to take divisions next Spring.  This plant is a genuine treasure.

There are several different varieties of wild white asters.  We call this a Snow Aster but place no faith in the accuracy of our identification.  This specimen is low growing alongside of our lane.  We have other white asters that reach more than four feet in height and are invasive.  This plant may be limited in size by its location in gravel washed from the road.  There is still much to learn here.

A hard frost will end aster season but with luck we may be weeks away from the killing frost.  As a last source of pollen, these flowers are also popular with the bees.  We will all enjoy them while we may.

When we pulled off the road to take the first picture, we disturbed a Great Blue Heron that was working in a pool in the stream.  It flew up directly in front of us with little distance separating people and bird.  These massive birds are truly impressive as they gracefully but powerfully gain altitude.  The pickup truck following us barely passed beneath the rising bird.  Seeing the bird safely pass behind the trees added to the special sights of this day.

Friday, September 19, 2014

First Frost 2014

Local weather forecasts warned of frost last night.  We found that hard to believe since the evening was both warm and overcast.  Early this morning our thermometer registered 38 degrees F so  assumptions were made that we had escaped again the first fall frost.  This afternoon a trip to the back garden revealed that frost had lightly visited during the night.  Some of the butternut squash leaves showed the signs of just a little frost.  Part of this leaf is dead while some of it continues to perform life functions.  Butternut squash needs cold nights to set its sugars and last night surely moved that process along.  Many huge squash remain in the field improving their flavor in response to the cold.

Nearby, this leaf shows a frost curled edge.  Try as we might, no progress has been made in gaining insight or understanding about the actual workings of frost.  Cold sinks toward the ground and is moved about by air currents.  Plants nearest the woods displayed no frost damage while those at greater distance from the trees were hit.  Cold air slides down the nearby ridge and swirls about hitting some spots and missing others.

Our wake up temperature was 38 causing me to believe that we had missed a frost.  Later my error was discovered since there is no reason to believe that the lowest overnight temperature is reached just before dawn.  Air masses are constantly moving about so the coldest air could have visited here during the night.  Lack of visible morning frost does not mean that frost was absent.

Here the higher younger leaf is undamaged while the lower leaf is lightly burned.  Conventional wisdom says that frost settles downward from the sky so one would expect the higher leaves to burn first.  The outline of the upper leaf can be seen marking the edge of the burn on the lower leaf.  How did this happen?

Our lower garden near the house appeared undamaged at first look.  Two frost burned heliotropes were discovered inside of the stone square adjacent to stone paths.  We have previously seen the protective effect of heat stored in stones but on this night cold swept in the opening in the wall and moved across these two low plants.  We could find no other damage inside of the walled square.

Cleaning up frost destroyed plants is a horrible task.  Foul odors, slippery leaves and the mass destruction combine to make the cleanup difficult.  Our preference is to move tender plants to the compost pile while they are still green.  All of the peppers and some of the basil were composted yesterday afternoon.  The remaining basil was covered and stands ready to supply one more pesto dinner.

Working outside now is nearly perfect.  Clear blue skies warm the surface air quickly.  As more planting beds are cleared of weeds, the garden is beginning to look like it is ready for the next crop.  Early afternoon finds the tiny flying biting insects feeding voraciously since the cold nights signal an end to their season.  Those insect bites have us looking forward to the first hard killing frost.  It will end many of the plants but it will also end the annoying bugs.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Heat Is On

An overnight low temperature of 39 degrees F remains in our weather forecast.  Frost warnings are absent from forecasts but our experience requires some caution.  Older hardiness zone maps show a finger of cold stretching from the high peaks of the Adirondacks to very near the southern border of New York.  Mountain cold spreads across the state bringing us temperatures that are frequently seven degrees colder that those forecast.  A little simple arithmetic tells us that frost here is possible tonight.

These two Lemon Verbena plants grew from cuttings taken earlier this year from plants overwintered in our basement.  Our experience with this plant has shown some frost hardiness but we are super cautious.  Four other plants will remain outside tonight.  Two plants are three years old now and are simply too large to pot up and bring inside.  The other two plants are in their second year and will spend the winter indoors.  A light frost tonight will do them no harm so their move into a pot is days away.

We have watched countless Lemon Verbenas die inside during winter.  Our success with them has improved greatly since we started cutting them back several days before the move to the pot.  The older plants will also require root pruning.  Notorious wilters, they pout for days after transplanting.  A close look at the above photo will reveal drooping stems already despite my flooding the pot and sprinkling water on the leaves.  Confined to a shady daytime location, it may take a week or more for them to recover.

We have found it impossible to buy these plants locally.  Richters is a reliable mail order source for Lemon Verbena but if we are successful starting new cuttings they may not get an order again next year.

Lemon grass is another plant that naturally grows in a much warmer climate.  Two of these plants will spend the next several months on a table where I build models.  They will be positioned between me and the large windows but all are content with that arrangement.  The other two will flank the mostly glass front door that we never use as a door.  Air currents swirling up the stairwell, heat from radiators on either side and a generous southern exposure combine to make this the best location that we have to overwinter plants inside.

We have discovered that a key to success with these plants in pots is generous amounts of water.  Each pot will be placed in a plastic dishpan intended to contain excess water.  The plants will draw from their individual reservoirs between waterings.

It is much too early for these plants to start their time indoors.  For the next several weeks they will spend warm days basking on the stone wall and cold nights indoors.  It seems that much of my time at either end of the gardening season is devoted to moving potted plants between the wall and the basement.  Hefting three gallon pots filled with soil keeps me fit.  I really look forward to the day next spring when this process starts again.  Then it will represent another beginning rather than the present ending.

Our wake up temperature was 49 degrees F the following morning.  The four butternut squash picked yesterday were almost completely ripe.  Cool nights set the sugars in butternut squash so those remaining in the field will be of better quality than the ones harvested yesterday.  The four pumpkins picked yesterday gave every appearance of being fully ripe.  As it turns out, we were overly cautious but when dealing with frost one error is fatal.  The plants in pots will be returned to the wall and another day in the garden will soon be underway.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

To Squish Or Not To Squish...

Cleaning up the fall garden is filled with so many decisions for the gardener.  It's not just the fate of the plants that has to be determined, but also the fate of the unending number of other garden residents must be decided.  I was busily trimming the basil.  Snipping off the flowering tops and seeds and removing nasty looking leaves makes picking basil for use a lot easier.  With the cooler September weather, fresh basil season is rapidly drawing to a close.  There in the middle of the patch was this amazing spider.  She is not quite as big as pictured, but it is close.  I would never purposely squish such a spider.  It is my policy to let these Argiope aurantia spiders live in the garden.  It warms my heart to think of all the babies she will produce, patrolling my garden eating those bugs that insist on eating me or my plants.  I just moved to another part of the garden to work on something else.

There have never  in my memory been so many of these spiders in the garden.  This one was over by one of the day lilies.  This picture shows more clearly why we have always called these Marge Simpson spiders.

The largest one I have seen so far was over by Ed's shed.  Even the underside of this spider is intricately patterned. I wonder just how many of these there are here in the garden and beyond?

I have always read about Marge's husband hanging around the web.  He was always described as nondescript and tiny. I never saw a picture of a male Argiope aurantia , but there he is in my basil. The difference in size is appalling. He is one brave spider!

A beetle like this one that looks  like a ladybug was left unmolested.

This spider gave me more of a start when I first saw it.  It was tucked up under the handle of the water hydrant.  I got the camera and took a picture of this "Garden Spider".   In the garden it would fare better, but I was not happy with the thing lurking where I put my hands so often.  I watched my chance and when the spider was not visible, I uses all the squirting power I could get to clean out the hydrant handle.  So far it seems to have moved on, but I try to keep an eye out for her return.

I used to be squeamish about killing anything.  Now I admit I take great delight in squishing Japanese beetles, cutworms... anything I know to be bad from my gardener's point of view.  Even circumstantial evidence is good enough for me.  If I find a cardinal flower plant striped of it's leaves and there is a caterpillar on the plant I squish it and feel good about it.  With practice maybe I can develop my mean streak!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Spirit Boosters

It was not that long ago that I completely dismissed day lilies as totally unsuited for garden cultivation.  The deep orange ones commonly grow untended in ditches alongside of roads.  This habit earned them the name sewer lilies.  How could any plant that rampantly grows wild possibly capture my attention?

Exotic scents, color combinations and ruffled edges quickly won me over.  This year I was genuinely sorry when their time of bloom passed.  Catalog descriptions frequently list re bloom as a characteristic of some varieties.  More interested in scent and color, I did not seek out those that bloom a second time.  The first photo features an Elegant Candy.  We never purchased this variety.  It was discovered growing in a pot of Indian Givers.  Its late flowers have lifted my sagging spirits.

Princeton Silky has been here several years.  It displayed a huge number of flowers this year.  Still not worn out, it is having another go at flowering.  Great quantities of undesirable pollen fill the air at this time of year so separating  out the subtle scent of this day lily is difficult.  We are glad just to have the flower.

Swallowtail Kite has also produced a bountiful number of flowers this year.  The white stains that spot the petal edges are disappointing.  This variety is relatively new to us so we do not know if these white spots are typical or a result of this summers weird weather.  The yellow green eye spot seems to be a source of light.  Stained or not  color at this time of year  really pleases the eye.

It is highly likely that soon many Winter hours will be passed looking at mail order catalogs.  This year we will search out re bloomers.  What is better than a colorful non chemical depression buster?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Still Growing

Mother Nature has finally and firmly taught us that she abhors bare soil.  If we do not plant something, then she will see that plants grow to cover the ground.  Her choice is always pernicious weeds.  To keep our garden soil somewhat clear of weeds we plant buckwheat.  Squash formerly grew in the area behind the mammoth pink chrysanthemums.  Grass clippings were spread under the young squash plants so the bed was relatively weed free when the squash played out.  The squash and clippings were removed, then a quick session with the stone fork left the bed ready for seed.  Compost was applied thinly over the seed.  Timely rain followed our feeble watering attempts with the sprinkling can.  A thick buckwheat cover will prevent weed seed germination.  All that remains to be done here is to cut down the buckwheat at the appropriate time.  I always wait too long as the bees heavily feed on buckwheat flowers.  Few food sources remain for the bees so I leave the buckwheat flowers standing.

More potatoes were harvested today to make space for the last lettuce planting.  We start all of our lettuce in these plastic pots for several reasons.  Lettuce seed will not germinate if the soil is warm.  Our cool basement remains at a temperature lettuce seed is comfortable with.  Dimming eyesight and fumble fingers combine to make planting individual seeds while kneeling on the ground unlikely.  Working at a high bench improves the single seed odds but we still need to thin before transplanting out.  Thinning at a high bench beats thinning at ground level every time.  This is another example of modify and adjust.

Dividing bearded iris still frightens me.  Breaking them apart and cutting the leaves to a short fan seems deadly to me.  Shallowly planted so that the rhizome burns daily in the sun also seems unwise to me.  Reluctantly, the described process was followed and this shows their condition today.  Bright sturdy generous new growth has these plants well conditioned for next season's display.  I simply must toughen up.

Here is a picture of a dismal failure that directly followed my mistake.  Tomato seeds are started indoors here way too early.  Transplanted into one gallon pots, the plants were outside growing on early warm days.  When severe weather threatened, the pots were moved indoors.  After our June 1st frost free date, the plants were set out in the garden.  This is when it all went wrong.  I know that soil splash on tomato leaves is deadly.  When the pots were inverted to shake the plants free, the covering straw mulch failed to hold all of the soil.  Some soil rained down on the undersides of the leaves.  Trouble was expected but we had no idea how to prevent it.  Slowly the leaves blackened starting at the bottom of the plant.  We still enjoyed a bountiful tomato harvest but fresh tomato season has ended one month early for us this year.  A plastic lid has been found that can be modified to slip around a stem.  Allowing the plant to slip from the pot onto  that lid might contain the soil away from the underside of the leaves.  We also need fewer plants.  Sixteen tomato plants supply way more fresh tomatoes than two people can eat.  We have had enough  bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches until next year..

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Fall Planted Potatoes

Purple Viking have been a favorite potato here for years.  Pink and purple blotched skin coloring are a reminder of the 1960's.  At that time in our experience, drug use had not found the math majors yet. Only some of the art majors were experimenting with hallucinogenics during our college years.  These wildly marked potatoes do suggest that turbulent time.

This five gallon pail was filled with the harvest from two six foot long rows.  Our single drop seed potatoes were rather puny but sound.  They had a record year.  This variety tends to produce lunkers.  Small seed is somewhat hard to find.  The seed potatoes were planted close together in a futile attempt to control the size of the crop.  We lack proper storage conditions so seed production was never part of the plan.  This variety keeps all of the new potatoes close together.  Crowding the plants had absolutely no impact of the underground activity.

A cluster of eyes makes this potato visually stunning.

These three unwashed potatoes were selected for seed.  Several years ago I returned seed to soil at harvest time with excellent results.  Their Spring growth was timed to avoid frost and they produced a decent crop.  Documentation of that experiment may be lacking so we repeat it here to establish a written record.  These potatoes were replanted within hours of their removal from the soil.

Two rows of three potatoes each were planted across the West end of the bed near the stone square.  A marker still needs to be placed to help us remember what we planted here.  Potatoes have never before been planted in this bed so their appearance next year could confuse us.  Avoiding that is the real reason for this post.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Something Special For Someone Special

It was like a midsummer's day in the garden today.  Billows of white clouds, blue sky and heat.  The red hibiscus are in their glory.  I know someone who just loves the big tropical looking flowers and this post is for her and for you.  I was so thrilled when they first bloomed in the garden and they still do it for me!

This big garden spider is also for someone special.  I think this might be the biggest one I ever saw.  I know we have plenty of bugs this year.  To see the other side of this Arigope aurantia  and read more about it, click here.

Rain is likely tonight, but tomorrow looks like another day in the garden like this one.