Monday, December 21, 2015

GreenPrints And The Compost Pile

I have been reading GreenPrints for many years.  This year, you have the opportunity to get some great Christmas artwork done by my very good friend Linda.  With it you can send a very special gift to your gardening friends even me!  I wanted to share it with you but you will have to visit GreenPrints on Facebook to see it.

Linda and I go back more than a few years, back before we retired, all the way back to our old garden in Unadilla, NY.  I never even thought about writing about the garden then, but I knew Linda was perfect to illustrate for Green Prints.  She sent in an article with her fantastic illustrations. It was accepted. Linda and I were both thrilled.  She encouraged me to send in a story about my garden and I did.  Mine was rejected.  We laughed about needing a magazine called "The Compost Pile" as a place for all our rejected stories.  Linda has been illustrating for the magazine ever since.  She has not missed a single issue.  I remember how excited she was when she got her first cover.  With permission, she autographed the copies in the nearest Barnes and Noble.  Both of her covers are pictured above.  I happened to find my rejected story the other day.  Here it is in "The Compost Pile."


"What a beautiful morning!" I think as I prepare for a glorious day in the garden.  Putting on my sunscreen, my old jeans, a big loose shirt and my floppy hat, I can feel the anticipation.  Nothing makes me happier than spending time in my garden.  Out the door I go with my tool bucket and my bucket for harvesting compost (weeding to some folks).

What a treat it is to work in an herb garden.  The air is filled with so many wonderful smells.  Peppermint, lemon verbena, bee balm, southernwood and lavender all release their aroma as I brush by them.  Today I'm harvesting compost among the sage plants that grow next to the beautiful wood steps that Ed built for me.  Now some people get rid of weeds with a hoe.  I get down on my hands and knees and get into my work.  Things are going well.  The weeds come out easily.  My compost bucket is filling up.  The intoxicating aroma of sage is in the air.  Every time the plants are touched they release more of their delightful smell.

Suddenly I feel a stab of pain!  "Ouch" I thought. "That was a bee."  When a second sting came and then a third, I became aware of buzzing all around me.  Panic ensued!  I jumped up and fled down the steps with the bees in hot pursuit.  They were under my hat and inside my shirt stinging me unmercifully.  As I ran down the driveway, I dropped my tools, threw off my hat and ripped off my shirt.  I ran into the house to escape the swarm and jumped into the shower still wearing what was left of my clothes.  What a mess.  I was covered with red ugly stings, swelling by the minute.  How could my beautiful peaceful day in the garden turn into such misery?   I found the Benedril and took it at once.

That evening when Ed got home we went out to investigate the situation.  There they were, still angry yellow jackets nesting underneath my garden steps.  After watching them flying back and forth, it became obvious that it was dangerous to cross their path.  Ed went to the hardware store and came home with yellow CAUTION DO NOT CROSS tape and strung it across the entrance to my beautiful garden.  Now it looked like a crime scene.  I was distraught.

For two days I was in retreat.  My mind was consumed with plans to get rid of my tormentors.  Burning was out of the question.  The nest was directly under the steps.  Poison crossed my mind, but chemical weapons in an organic garden?  Never!  "Put a clear bowl over the entrance to their nest", a gardening friend suggested.  This seemed like a good idea but was impractical for this nest under the steps.  The situation seemed hopeless.  That evening we went out and when we came home after dark, I saw something big furry, black and white in the driveway.  SKUNKS!  When the lights of the truck hit them, seven skunks, mom and six babies, scurried off in the direction of the barn.  "What next?"  I thought. "Locusts?"

The next day when I went outside there was no buzzing.  There were no bees.  Carefully approaching the garden, I saw something incredible.  There was a large and lovely hole dug under the side of the steps.  The dreaded yellow jackets were gone.  The faint, but familiar scent in the air said it all.  The beautiful mother skunk and her babies had eaten the yellow jackets during the night.  How good it felt to remove that nasty yellow tape and fill in the hole.  I could walk up the steps to my beautiful garden again.  That evening I sat on the bench in the garden with a cup of tea waiting for the evening scented stock to release its fragrance.  It was so nice to be back.  I guess I have room for seven skunks under the barn.  You can't always tell who your allies are.  Tomorrow I'll harvest the weeds under the sage plants.  At least for now, there is peace in the garden again.

I admit I did a tiny bit of editing myself.  I couldn't help it.  Maybe what I found was my first draft.  After all not everything goes in "The Compost Pile" either.  Merry Christmas to everyone, and especially to Linda.  I hope this makes her smile!!!!!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Magic Of Christmas

Now this is what I like to see when I look out the window at the garden in December!  Oh we have had plenty of hard frosts but the ground remains soft.  Many a morning the entire landscape has been white with frost, but that is not the same thing as snow.  When snow covers the ground there is a muffled stillness that descends on the garden.  It is a peaceful silence that I adore.

The first Christmas we spent here, we strung popcorn and cranberries and hung them on a small white pine for the animals to enjoy.  Twenty-one years later that white pine is so big and tall we would need the fire department's aerial truck and a carload of popcorn to repeat that event.  Our lifetime collection of tree decorations were not brought here when we moved from our large village home to a used single wide mobile home.  Since then a few pine boughs have been our holiday decorations.

Our search for a small tree suitable for potting up revealed several bigger pines growing near the electric lines.  Removal was required with one tree suitably sized for the center of the stone square.  Ed's bow saw easily felled the tree and it was stuck into the ground much like a tomato plant pole.  A south wind moved the tree away from vertical since the ground is wet and unfrozen. With a little of little of Ed's Christmas magic, I have a Christmas tree exactly where I wanted one!   Perhaps the family will string popcorn and cranberries on this tree on Christmas day. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Oh Christmas Tree

I love Christmas.  I would however be the first to admit that some things I used to do, I do no longer.  I used to bake for Christmas and now I do not.  We used to get a huge tree, but this year I was definitely thinking small.  I went on a little shopping trip.  I like to spend some time looking around in local stores.   The decorations, store displays and music help me build my Christmas spirit.  Snow works too, but not this year!  I looked at small potted trees.   I gave up rescuing sick and dying plants  years ago.  Now I want my plants to be healthy when I get them.  These tiny trees were misshapen and pathetic.  When I remembered that I had a nice red pot at home, I decided to come home  take a walk in the unbelievably warm weather and search for a cute little tree.  Ed joined me in the search and we found this one growing under our electric wires.  It was easy to dig up the little tree since it was growing in a place where it would have to be cut down sometime anyway.  If it survives in it's pot we will plant it in a better location.

Ed potted the tree using some of his beautiful garden soil.  He just brushed aside the leaf mulch and filled the pot.  Under the leaves the ground was not frozen.

He mulched the pot with pine needles and we left it on the wall overnight, watering it well.  Now I have  my beautiful little tree sitting proudly in the living room.  It feels more like Christmas in the house already.  I had forgotten how much more fun it is to search for  a tree than it is to just buy one!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Her Favorite Rock

When we were first exploring our newly purchased retirement land, Becky was thrilled when we came upon this rock.  The last glacier had broken off a piece of the bedrock ridge and pushed it here.  Its level placement and size made for a perfect bench.  The man that built the nearby house wanted this rock to anchor the stone wall in front of his home.  Fearing that he would break it with his tractor and chains, I denied his request.  Knowing that Becky would really miss this rock also factored in my decision to retain possession of this rock.

Natural forces are at work dissolving this rock into soil.  Various lichens and moss are drawing their nourishment from the surface of the rock.  The pace of this activity is incredibly slow.  Great beauty can be seen here if one takes the time to stop and look.  A Disney-like face appears near the upper right edge of the picture.  The splat of white and light green growth is edged in pinkish purple.  Both of those growths appear in several other different places on the surface of the rock.

A recent locally severe weather event toppled a neighbor's hickory tree across the lane.  That falling tree snapped off a section of another hickory on our side.  Ownership of the fallen wood never came into question.  Our neighbor heats with wood and we all felt that he should put the fallen trees to good use.  When the first tree fell it snapped off the top of one section of the tree near the rock.  The remaining section of trunk was branch-less, long and looked threatening.  Our neighbor placed a ladder against the tree and skillfully dropped the snag into the lane.  More fuel for him and a hazard safely removed for everyone.

A generous supply of campfire wood remains.  This feels like a perfect afternoon to do some light work in the woods.  A campfire built with hickory wood should produce some sweet smelling smoke.  The area around the special rock will also be cleaned up.  It came through all of this unmarked and soon no trace of the damaged trees will detract from the beauty of its natural placement.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Lichens And Stones

When the family was here for Thanksgiving, Amy and I took a walk as we often do.  It was sunny and beautiful, but chilly.  Usually we take the camera, but this time it was left behind.  I've always thought that she has a very special eye when it comes to finding interesting nature subjects to photograph.  We found some fantastic lichens on some of the stones on the top of  Ed's wall.  I went back with the camera today.  Mother Nature did a great job on this stone.  In a way it reminds me of cedar leaves.  I think the black is a lichen too.  This stone is so pretty the temptation is to take it inside to enjoy, but I know that would ruin it.  I know where it is and if I want to see it when it is covered with snow I can visit it here.  I can even click on the picture and get a closer look.

This stone is frosted with lichens. One is the same as before, but the brown is new and unfamiliar to me.  My curious mind wants to know more about these interesting plants.

Here is an even closer look.  I would love to find a great field guide about lichens with great pictures and descriptions that I might understand.  If you are into lichens and can help me with my curiosity, I would love to hear from you!  On the other hand, if you have never noticed what grows on a stone wall you are missing some cool stuff!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Yet Another Arbutus Post

Our unusually warm November days have drawn us outside focusing on cleanup to get a jump on next year's garden.  Daily walks always include a visit to the arbutus plantings.  Transplanted last year, these plants are closely watched.  Their new flower buds seemed smaller and less healthy than the buds on our older plants.  These pictures were expected to reveal dead flower buds since I was unable to carry water to them during the dry months of August and September.  Once again the camera sees more detail than our old eyes.  These buds may be smaller than the others but they are alive and healthy.  The possibility of a generous flower display here has us looking forward to the end of winter.

Another situation sets these plants apart from our other three plantings.  Numerous chewed leaves here show that many creatures are feeding on these plants.  The leaf that still displays its skeletal structure and lower leaf surface is particularly interesting.  What is the identity of the delicate feeder that left this behind?  These meals were taken earlier in the year when we were not making daily visits.   We did not see the feeders and have no clue as to their identity.  No action will be taken to limit the foraging since this is a wild plant that is supposed to survive on its own.  We do screen out the rabbits and the woodchucks but their numbers are excessive here as this former farm reverts to woodland.

These six plants have had two summers here.  Their close spacing will soon make it impossible to tell where one plant ends and another begins.  As the plants grow across each other, male flowers and female flowers will appear in close proximity to each other.  This was not the plan but it might just work in producing viable seeds.

The mostly mossy patch to the right is the location of a transplant that endured a continuous drip of pine pitch last year.  Leaves coated with the sticky white stuff could not function to support new growth.  This plant remains alive and should in time catch up with the others.  Now the pine drippings are falling on the plant at the top of the photo.  With numerous larger leaves it continues to prosper despite the hardship.

One of our goals is to understand the habits of this plant.  A recent revelation is that flower buds appear at the ends of stems newly grown this year.  We cannot say for certain that buds only form on new growth  but that seems likely.  Roots form at junctions in older stems so we do not disturb the plants by poking around looking for answers to questions that are of no real consequence.  We do enjoy this plant and are eager for the sweet scent that will fill spring air.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Late November, Still Looking Good

This afternoon was way to gorgeous not to take the camera out to the garden.  If you think these new Johnny-Jump-Up plants will wait for spring to bloom, think again.  Come cold wind even snow, they  still do their thing.

This is our first year with Ice Plant. When the sun comes out, this plant flowers.  Being frozen for awhile doesn't seem to change that.  I wonder if these will peek out from beneath the snow in the spring?

This Sedum  was planted this year too.  We were late getting it planted, but it looks terrific today.  I feel great about its chance to winter over till spring.

I wanted to take a picture of my rosemary and scented geraniums from outside.  Straight on all I could see was my reflection.  I thought I was so darn smart taking this picture from way off to the side.  Not only is my reflection still there, but it is there twice. Please just ignore that blurry woman in the picture!  Don't my plants look good?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

More Dead Wood

My medical treatment team, in consideration of my preferences, has outlined a program that includes two miles of walking each day and sitting in a firm chair whenever back pain presents itself.  I was skeptical at first but can report that either activity lessens the pain.  This plan is truly affordable health care with no down side.  When slippery snow or ice are present underfoot, we will walk inside of a superstore or in the field house of the local YMCA.

Today's walk found me on the kame terrace that defines our high meadow.  The sharp drop to the valley floor is hidden by trees in the foreground but can be discerned by looking at the green fields at the base of the bed rock ridge at the other side of the valley.  This tree has been dead for several years and I am watching it to see how it finds ground.  Small upper branches have fallen away causing no real problem unless you happen to be standing beneath them when they drop.  Most times it is very windy and often wet when they do fall.  This massive trunk may remain standing longer than I do.  The ground here is steep, and littered with slippery leaves and fallen sticks.   I do my walking and watching from a  distance.

Bringing starting soil into the basement was today's gardening activity.  A custom mix that included the nearly spent remains of a bag of Miracle Gro potting soil and a partial bag of peat moss as well as our compost will spent the winter in the warm basement.  Plants that are for sale must be grown in a soil-less mix but our experience is that the root mass of such plants is reluctant to spread into the garden soil.  By including real soil in the starting mix we hope to lessen that problem.  The pail of usable soil will be most welcome when I feel the need to start plants when the garden is still frozen.
That makes it sound like time spent with seed catalogs and placing orders will once again carry us through winter.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

My A-Maze-ing Garden

When the sun finally climbed above the ridge in the east, the frost glittered in the garden in an amazing way.  I'm always just a little disappointed that I can't capture the sparking frost that I  see with the camera.  Without the frost our garden maze is almost invisible.  Not the usual maze found in a garden, ours is meant to confuse the deer and contain the leaf mulch.  Because we keep changing where we plant things and where the fences are located it works pretty well.  Sometimes I take the wrong path and get a little confused myself.  The frost will be gone from the garden soon and the maze will blend in again. Right now it is truly a-Maze-ing!

We were able to work in the garden after the bright sunlight warmed the air.  These mild November days have been truly remarkable.  An early sunset ushered in the chill once more and we headed inside.  The area beyond the right side of the photo remained in shadow for the entire day.  Despite the warmed daytime air this ground held sufficient chill to be still coated in frosty white at day's end.  The cold will prevail and soon the ground will be frozen.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Evening-Scented Stock Indoors

Becky has been growing evening-scented stock for more than the twenty-one years that we have owned our retirement land.  When garden space first became available here, she sprinkled seed taken from our village garden.  Over most of the two past decades these plants would reliably return year after year.  Their recent disappearance was likely the result of an ignorant early weeder clearing a spot that also contained bulbs.  In retrospect, the bulbs and the stocks would have grown together quite nicely.

New seed was purchased but nothing grew.  These seeds must not be allowed to dry out after they are sown.  Our recurring early spring drought probably ended them.  For whatever reason nothing but weeds grew where the stock seeds were sown.  Never known to be one that gives up, Becky scattered stock seeds when a pea bed was cleared.  Three plants appeared but there was insufficient time for masses of flowers to appear.

When frost warnings were broadcast, the decision was made to try and pot up the stock plants.  Two of the plants had grown impressive tap roots.  They did not respond well to the move to a pot.  The third plant had only a shallow but extensive root mass and it took the move in stride.  Flowers have finally appeared indoors.

The flowers open after dark at this time of year.  Attempts to capture an image with our simple camera were a total disaster.  This morning we tried again in daylight.  The upper photo shows several green buds that will open soon.  One partially open bud will flower and scent tonight.  The lowest flower was open last night.  Lacking both wind and pollinators, seed from these flowers is unlikely.

The second picture was taken after the plant was moved outside in the relatively warm morning air.  Natural light allowed a usable photo capture.  Here again, the promise of future flowers appears in tiny buds.  From their position on a table in our bedroom, no breeze stirs to fill the air with their captivating fragrance.  One must bring their nose close to the flower to enjoy this seasonally incorrect but delightful scent.  If this plant lives through the winter we will plant it out in the garden after  spring frosts are past.  We will also be looking for a place to buy new seed to begin again!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Autumn Leaves And Bluebirds

November's weather has given us a chance to spend some time catching up outside.  It has been wonderful!  This morning, November 7, I noticed bird movement around the bluebird houses.  After not seeing bluebirds here since the pea ending spring drought, I was delighted to see them  checking  the houses.  I have never seen slate gray juncos chasing other birds before, but they were definitely annoyed by the bluebird's presence.  Everything about November 2015 has been a little weird so far.  Some of it has been in a very good way.  There is no bluebird in the photo.  Our simple point and shoot camera has no chance of capturing a usable bird closeup.

Ed and I spent the morning bagging leaves at a friend's house in Unadilla.  They still bag up leaves for pickup there and Ed is mulching the garden with leaves as we get it cleared .  We turned it into a bit of a lawn party.  It was fun to spend the morning  working together.  The leaves are all cleaned up at Helen's.  Ed got bags and bags of leaves for his garden beds.  Working together saved time and energy for everyone.  What could be better than that?

  • Sunset comes early these days before 5:00 pm. Days continue to get shorter until the winter solstice but progress continues in the garden.  Today was a wonderful warm November day.  We made the most of it.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Incredible November Day

Having missed ten consecutive weeks of being able to work in the garden since August first, now four hours of outside work in a day is possible.  The weeds enjoyed my absence and they took giant steps toward reclaiming my planting beds as their own.  With a beautiful day today, steps were taken to reclaim what I view as mine.  We are working toward the mess in the right foreground.  If we are given a few more days like today, order will be restored to more garden beds.

Peas were planted here this spring.  As has been the case for the past several years, an early season hot and dry spell ended the tender young plants.  Spinach and beet plants were also hammered. We tried to carry enough water to these plants to keep them alive but no usable crop was seen this year.  Neglect following the crop failure produced this mess.  We  did not work here today but this bed should be cleared soon.  The weeds can be pulled and the chicken wire can be taken down but the countless number of new weed seeds will remain.  This season's neglect will bring an impressive weed crop next year.

The center bed also held peas this year.  These suffered the same fate as those in the upper photo.  All of the weeds here have been cleared.  We are trying something new.  Usually the cleared beds are left bare for the winter.  Exposed to sunlight, disease and pests would face unfavorable conditions resulting in a decline in their numbers.  Our experience has been that many weeds start to grow before the snow clears.  With the huge number of fresh seeds dropped this year, we had to try something different.  Nearby leaves have been gathered and placed on the freshly weeded planting soil.  We hope the leaf cover will prevent weed seeds from germinating.  In the spring, these leaves will be close at hand to be used as mulch during the next growing season.  Now the inverted wire cages will prevent the leaves from simply blowing away.  Some decomposition may occur before planting time and that will enrich the soil.  We shall see what these leaf covered beds look like at winter's end.  For now the bed in the background has been weeded and is awaiting its leaf blanket.

We go to bed tonight tired and a little sore, but happy.  It is exciting to see things headed in the right direction!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Fallen Leaves

As October draws to a close, the sights and sounds of man fighting fallen leaves are common here.  If left to winter over where they fell, a slimy sodden mess will be revealed when the snow cover finally disappears.  Clearing leaves on a bright fall day has pleasant components.  Lawns are light bright green when the leaf cover is quickly pulled away.  A pleasant scent unlike any other fills the air at this time of year.  Cold has ended most of the annoying flying insects by now and pleasant days outside are definitely limited at this time of year.  We do not have lawns to rake but in some places the leaves require attention.

Arbutus is an evergreen plant that cannot simply sleep until spring.  Sunlight to some degree is needed to maintain its life function.  Our first discovered wild patch of arbutus grew on a steep slope that was becoming home to birch trees.  Despite the steep north tending slope, fallen leaves did not clear and the arbutus were smothered under their deep dark cover.  Wild plants finding death is a natural process.  Human intervention is short term but is all that we can do.

These plants found their location without human meddling.  They grow in the lumpy overburden that was pushed aside more than a half century ago to open a gravel pit.  We have known about the location of these plants for years but sometimes we could find no trace of them.  Two winters ago I discovered tell tale signs that a rabbit was eating these plants.  That is yet another peril of being evergreen.  When the weather warmed, a protective wire cage and a field stone wall were placed to protect the remains of these plants.  Recover they did but now fallen leaves threatened to end them once again.  Human hands had to intervene.

With the cage set aside, fallen leaves were gingerly removed from the recovering arbutus.  All of this regrowth is one year's work since the foraging rabbit left no sign of a leaf anywhere.  Flower buds were found on larger pieces of new growth.  This surprised me since I expected two year's of regrowth would be required before flowers would be seen here.  The wire cage is back in place and low sunlight is once again nourishing the desired plants.

What will happen to these native treasures when we are forced to leave this land is uncertain.  Without someone to clear them, the increasing load of  dead leaves will likely smother these arbutus.  When this happens it will be a natural process that our actions were only able to delay.  As it is, these plants are back and their flowers will be enjoyed when the snow finally disappears.

This is the present state of the arbutus that were transplanted here four years ago.  Their wild home was on a ridge that had recently seen its forest cover cut.  Exposed to unrelenting daylong sunlight, these plants managed to modify and adjust.  Only tiny sunburned leaves grew close to the ground and flowering was profuse.  The four transplants have undergone a complete transformation in their new location under a white pine tree.  Longer taller leaves extend far above the litter of fallen pine needles.  An occasional oak leaf will cover and smother an individual arbutus leaf  but the plant will survive.  The wire cage must remain to protect from foraging rabbits and woodchucks.  The plants have reached the limits of the cage and we will watch to see how the stems deal with the barrier.  If the growing stems push past the wire cage, the new growth will be exposed to danger.  Natural pruning will likely occur but the bulk of the plants will be protected until the wire rusts away.

These six new flower buds hold the promise of memorable scents next spring.  Their seed will provide an opportunity for a natural increase in the number of plants here but the laws of nature will rule.  Some may survive and some will be eaten.

These four transplants have brought to me pleasure that is beyond description.  Having them survive transplanting and watching them prosper here has been great.  They do set seed so there is always hope that they will increase in number .

Monday, October 19, 2015

Some Of My Plants Are Old Friends!

Many of the plants in the stone wall garden are very old friends.  While we may find a passing fancy in the new things that come along, it is the plants that we have cared for over the years that mean the most.  This pink sedum, Sedum sieboldi, originally came from a single small plant purchased on a visit to Caprilands in 1993.  It always blooms late in the season here, usually sometime in October.

This one is planted in the top of Ed's curved stone wall.  The hard freeze that we had has begun to turn the leaves pink, but the flowers still have their lovely aroma.  It's a real treat for the senses when so many of garden plants are dead or dying back.

I have three of these plants at the moment.  Planted near Ed's stone walls, this one is still green and just beginning to bloom.  It also has some weed cover that may offer some additional frost protection.  That could be baloney of course, but it makes me feel a little better about seeing a plant I love so much surrounded by weeds.

The third plant looks very nice with lots of pretty pink flowers.  Ed took special care to place this plant this spring. You can see his carefully sifted gravel at its base.   The neighboring weeds here are not yet huge.  As the weather continues to turn cold these plants will die back to ground level.
After 22 years I have formed quite an attachment to this plant.  It is one of my garden treasures.  If the plants do well this spring perhaps I will divide one to share with friends.  After all this time, I would like to keep this pretty pink plant going and going and going!

Monday, October 12, 2015

First Frost & Garlic To Ground

When we ventured out yesterday morning, it was soon obvious that the garden had been lightly touched by frost for the first time this season.  Cold pours downhill following the low ground to a final fall to the river.  Ground hugging pumpkin leaves were burned brown while the parts of the same plant that had climbed the side of the compost bin were still green.  Heliotropes near the house remain in flower while those nearer the frost river have been blackened.  We usually have a September frost and this late first appearance gave us an extra two weeks.

The carefully weeded bed that runs to the stone path now contains 270 garlic cloves.  They are covered with a ground leaf mulch that followed contact with the nylon string trimmer and a coarse wire screen.  This fine covering will delay early weed emergence giving the garlic a head start.  By harvest time the leaf mulch will have decomposed becoming part of the soil.    A similar approach last year brought the garlic to harvest with a single weeding.  Adjacent beds require attention that will follow now that the Fall planted crop is in the ground.

A carefully spaced planting grid was defined using the pieces of wire fence that usually surround the garden.  A second section of fence was used with the long spacing set across these pieces.  Squares 2 inches by 2 inches then covered the planting bed.  In a row, push a hole then skip two squares to the next hole quickly defined ten planting holes per row.  For row spacing, the procedure was from a hole skip three squares before making the next hole.  My purpose in writing this here is so that I will be able to read the plan next year rather than needing to figure it out by trial and error as was done yet again this year.  Dimples visible at the bottom of the photo attest to my first misplaced attempt.   This is rather close spacing but I can work a weeding hand between the rows.  My plants might produce even larger bulbs if the spacing was more generous.

We are still soaking and peeling our cloves before planting.  These sixty cloves are free of the evil brown rot.  Nearly all of them should grow to maturity.  This garlic was given to us last year by our good friend Helen.  She lives in the village house that belonged to her grandmother.  Adjacent to the Susquehanna River and tended for generations, her rich soil produced an impressive crop.  It is possible that we gave her the seed cloves that she planted but none of us can remember for certain.  The twenty cloves planted here last season all grew large bulbs that appear different from anything else that we plant.  The name Helen's has been assigned to this garlic.  It is the best that we have and it was the first to be planted.

Two rows of Purple Stripe were planted next.  It is different in appearance than the porcelain types that we widely plant.  Purple Stripe is a shorter more compact plant with more leaves than the others.  This visual difference helps keep the varieties separate at harvest time.  Purple Stripe does produce a larger number of cloves per bulb but many are small and doubles are common.  These remain available for cooking since we only plant the best.

The brown rot seen here is why we peel our planting cloves.  This small amount of rot is undetectable when popping cloves but if planted a diseased plant would appear for only a short time.  We try to keep our soil clean by planting only clean cloves.  Since we are still seeing rot we need to continue soaking and peeling.

White Bishop is the next variety planted.  Here again we assigned the name to this variety.  Anyone that has attended the Saugerties  Garlic Festival has encountered local grower Charlie Bishop.  He sells his garlic there with a continuous carnival barker's banter that never fails to draw a spending crowd.  He is a frequent source of seed for us as that gives us a chance to talk with him, gleaning the latest tips on growing garlic in the harsh climate of upstate New York.

Two more rows of Purple Stripe separate the White Bishop from the Richfield Springs.  Here again we assigned the name that identifies the original source of the seed.  This garlic was horribly diseased when purchased but we are making progress in cleaning the stock.  Nearly half of the cloves were diseased this year but none showed the huge blue fungal masses so common last year.

Three rows of Susquehanna White were planted next.  Two rows of Lambs Quarters finished our planting.  All of our stock is from local growers.

This may be our last season growing garlic.  We have placed our names on the waiting list for an apartment.  Finding suitable senior housing has proven to be a real challenge.  Income limits exclude us from a huge number of area apartments.  It seems that most developers prefer a subsidized but guaranteed profit over a free market risk.  That reality leaves those who have been financially responsible for their entire working lives lost between facilities that cost more than five thousand dollars per month and subsidized housing where our income excludes us.  So we wait.  When one of the present tenants dies or is forced to go to a home, we might have a chance at an apartment.  In the meantime the garlic is planted and we hope to still be here at harvest time.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Mum's The Word

                                                          Debutante chrysanthemum

                                                        Clara Curtis chrysanthemum

                                                      Clara Curtis chrysanthemum

                                                   Mammoth Pink chrysanthemum

Monday, September 28, 2015

Upright Autumn Joy Sedums

Each year in the past, these plants have been beaten to the ground by a combination of the weight of the flower masses and rain.  This year an intervention was attempted.  Since there has been no significant rainfall on these flowers, it would be presumptuous to assume that my meddling was completely successful.  Still, there are eight huge plants supporting impressive masses of flowers in an upright position.

When this was an active dairy farm several decades ago, the cows were brought from pasture and held in the area of my garden until they were ready to cross the road to the barn at milking time.  This is the most fertile ground that we own.  Decades of manure was worked into the ground and allowed to decompose naturally.  Actually, this ground is excessively rich in nutrients as is shown by the size of these plants.  Our more common poor dirt should have been mixed in to thin this ground before the plants were placed.

These plants are not old since I frequently dig and divide to obtain enough sedums to complete the row.  We started here with only three plants.  If we are able to prepare new ground next season, this monster will be split in half.  One piece will be replanted here.  The other division will add to the length of the line.  Our plan is to have sedums and iris fill the area between the stone wall and the trees.  No new plants of either variety will be purchased.  Divisions will supply needed plants.

This picture was taken on June 16, 2015.  A 2" X 4" welded wire cage has been placed tightly around the quickly expanding plant.  The cage would make future weeding impossible so a final weeding was part of the process.  The cage needed to be surrounded by future growth so that its existence would remain secret.  Perhaps the cages need to be a bit larger.  We will try these again next year but do allow for the possibility that heavy rain could break the stems where they contact the cage.

Last evening we enjoyed the lunar show.  Since we live near the base of a rather narrow valley, celestial observations require some creativity.  By definition, a full moon rises as the sun sets.  We had to drive up out of our valley to see both an amazing sunset and a rising super moon.  Forty-five minutes later the moon finally appeared above our ridge.  The first moon rise that we witnessed happened in the bright light of sunset.  The second moon rise for us happened in darkness.

As is so often the case here, clouds rolled in and blocked out the sky.  We are persistent and kept checking for an opening in the cloud cover.  The clouds cleared in time for us to watch the orange moon go dark surrounded by a sea of stars.  These are the kind of experiences that will live in our memories if it ever becomes necessary for us to leave this special place.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Early Fall Arbutus Buds

Overnight temperatures in the mid 50s F followed by bright sunlight drew me outside today.  This is the season when arbutus plants are forming next year's flower buds.  These first to flower plants must get a jump on the season if their white sweetly scented flowers are going to be ready early.  This patch of four plants was transplanted from the wild four years ago.  They were scheduled to receive a new larger protective cage with newly laid drystone walls to prevent hungry rabbits and woodchucks from feeding here.  That task will not be completed this year.

At least three bud clusters can be seen here in a curved line between leaves.  Start at the left edge of the photo just below the large leaf that extends to the top.  A cluster of buds are adjacent to the pine needles.  Stay focused on the gap between leaves and move across encountering two more clusters of buds.

Now that you know what to look for, these two buds are quickly found.  The tell tale hole in the leaf identifies these buds as the same ones seen in the upper photo.

This is our only patch of wild arbutus.  Two years ago a hungry bunny ate all of these plants clear to the ground.  Only then did we come to understand the reason why these plants seemed to repeatedly disappear.  Rugged beyond description, these plants regrew under a wire cage.  This is a rather small appearance for plants that we know are more than a quarter of a century old.  We will see how quickly they fill the area under the cage.

Two years after the attack, this plant is set to flower next Spring.

This is our twice transplanted arbutus.  When we last moved plants from the wild, a small cluster of perhaps three separate plants could not be left behind.  Two were moved this year to a location under an ancient white pine that has grown up in an old stone wall.  We planned to remove the rusted barbed wire and reset the wall so that these plants could grow next to a stone wall.  That is another job that awaits completion.

My last day of outside garden work was on August 1, 2015.  A simple move from kneeling to standing unleashed pain in my lower back that extended to the right hip and ran to the end of that foot.  Three muscles that attach to the hip remained firmly flexed and could not be persuaded to relax. A large quantity of prescribed pain medicines finally brought relief, but then caused massive bowel problems.  That uproar set off an aged gall bladder that threatened my liver.  Emergency surgical intervention followed in a week by surgical removal of the gall bladder may finally finish this experience.  With help I may be able to plant my garlic in three weeks as this gardening season comes to a close.  One has to wonder if  the prudent course is to be a move into a senior community.  I would like it best if it had a spot where I could transplant some of my arbutus.  Does anyone know of a good one?