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.