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.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

In The Shade By 4 PM

A mid November day with temperatures in the 60's is an unexpected treat.  We were able to work with our hands in the dirt without the aching fingers that follow contact with cold soil so common at this time of year.  It is only mid afternoon but the length of the shadows show that sun is soon to set.  Temperatures will drop like a rock and darkness will quickly cloak everything.

Chrysanthemums near the wall have been cut back.  Next year's growth is already well underway.  Cut stems are piled nearby. They will used as loose mulch once the frost has entered the ground.  Next Spring we should dig up this clump and replant perhaps just three prime plants.  This section of garden is intended to be orderly and we must work to keep all of the plants within their small space.

Foxgloves, growing wildly in the distance, are all plants from seed this year.  We have never had large plants like these and all of them need to be dug come Spring.  We wanted them to grow only right next to the stone wall.  How can we leave tall plants at the front edge of the bed?

Gray green foliage and magenta colored flowers make Rose Campion a winner anywhere.  It freely reseeds and there are always more of these than needed.  We will wait until Winter's end to decide which of these stays.

Most of the recently cleared ground in the photo was completely covered by Oenothera siskiyou.  Its pale pink flowers nestled above dark green serrated leaves made a striking appearance.  Planted in the harsh dry soil in front of the house, this plant barely clings to life.  In the deeply rich and moist soil near the road, this plant became wildly invasive.  We intend to keep it but it cannot grow in the cramped bed by the stone wall.  It will be interesting to see the degree to which we were able to remove this plant from here.

Creeping lemon thyme is one of the plants that is behaving as expected.  We wanted it to edge the planting bed and grow over the row of stones.  Despite the richness of the soil here, this plant has stayed in bounds.  The late winter flood did no damage to this still frozen plant.  Neighbors have grown over other thymes and we work to trim them back since this is the desired plant.

Planting next to a former pasture comes with guaranteed problems.  Coarse grasses will try to take back their ground with a persistence that is frightening.  We fully expect that our chosen plants will be displaced by the natives shortly after we stop working here.  Our line of defense is a trench filled with bark mulch.  The picture clearly shows that the weeds grow freely in the mulch.  What is not shown is the relative ease in removing entire plants including an intact root system.  We worked this strip in the Spring and have done nothing here since then.  If the weather holds, a line will be stretched defining the edge tomorrow and this area will become neatly weed free.