Thursday, March 31, 2016

Sure Signs Of Spring

As we come to the very last day of March, it's a delight to be out in the garden.  There are certain signs of spring everywhere.  I wondered if this winter would mean the end of many of my perennial garden plants.  Here to my delight is the Virginia bluebells that I planted last fall just emerging.  A spring ephemeral, this plant comes, blooms and disappears  again in the Spring.  I might not look like much, but it's cause fore celebration for me!

This is my Twin leaf plant. It blooms in the spring, but the beautiful butterfly like leaves flutter in the breeze all summer.  Boy was I glad to see it return!

The squirrel corn is coming back strong and it is several weeks ahead of last year.

Soon these lacy green leaves will be joined by dark pink bleeding hearts. It does my heart good to see them again!

Here the desirable plant is the Toothwort.  I will have to decide how much to tidy up around this plant and whether or not I should bury the roots.  John Burroughs called it Crinkleroot and talked about chewing the roots.  To my way of thinking you should have lots of plants before exhibiting that
kind of behavior. I want these to grow!

Last year when I visited Catskill Native Nursery in Kerhonkson, NY, I bought this Heartleaf Alexander.  I had never seen it before,  but it was an adorable plant with heart shaped leaves. With the kind of Winter we had without snow, I was concerned about frost heave.  It looks fabulous! No wonder I brought it home.

My pink trout lilies are coming up.  Beautiful speckled leaves and the beginnings of buds give me a thrill.  Ed carefully removed the cage top and teased the dandelions away from my prized plants.  Ed in the garden starting his war on dandelions is also a sure sign of Spring.  It might be my very favorite!

He wins a prize for the removal of the dandelion with its long taproot  intact. What could be better than that?

Monday, March 28, 2016

First Arbutus Flower 2016

Our carefully watched arbutus opened its first flower today.  In many ways that appearance marks the successful beginning of yet another gardening year.  One of our goals is to record the length of the bloom season.  If the purpose of the delightful scent is to draw in pollinators, it would not be needed yet.  The business parts of the flower have a great deal of maturing to do ahead of the arrival of the insects.  My nose will simply have to wait to collect that first delicious aroma.

Our point and shoot camera has difficulty finding a point of focus.  There is considerable depth to each open flower.  Some parts are always out of focus.  Abundant protruding hairs line the cylinder above the base of the flower adding to the complexity of the problem.  Many totally blurry pictures were taken in order to get two decent images.  A Joby gorillapod  helped steady the camera.  After taking all of those pictures, choosing between the two was difficult for me.  I solved the problem by including both of them.

New green growth was apparent in the area where arbutus seeds were scattered two years ago.  Leaf shape approaches those of the desired plant but the stems are all wrong.  Hairless leaves and stems clearly point away from arbutus plants.  These intruders might be plantain but they will be weeded out soon.  Still, they caused my heart to leap.  Complete success transplanting arbutus from the wild cannot be declared until daughter plants from seed appear on their own.  In the meantime "Mayflower" flowers in March is a exhilarating experience!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Ladybug, Ladybug This Is Your Home

This is Amy's amaryllis.  Most people keep amaryllis for just one year.  I'm way too cheap  thrifty for that.  In 2110 this one flowered late in May. I think it will be earlier this year.  I have been told that plants with scale should be disposed of immediately.  If you have never seen scale, they are the five brown spots on the leaf in the picture.  Think leeches for plants.  However, we have ladybugs in the house.  I took this picture yesterday.

Today the ladybug is still there.  If you check the scale you will see that they have had the juice sucked right out of them.  The residue  wiped right off the leaf.  Hope the ladybug sticks around to finish off any new ones that hatch.  Amy's amaryllis gets to stay!  I think this will be its seventh summer.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Green In The Seed Pots

Eleven days ago trailing arbutus seeds were moved from the refrigerator to carefully prepared natural soil.  How is that for a contradiction in terms?  Covered with plastic film, the pots have undergone visual inspection several times each day.  We thought that we saw specks of green and today the plastic film was set aside so that we could have a closer look.  Examination with a loupe revealed the fine hairs on both the stems and leaves that are so characteristic of arbutus plants.  We think that a few of our seeds have germinated.

The round reddish brown objects are swollen arbutus seeds.  A really close look will reveal their characteristic pattern of white spots.  The three spots of green are thought to be newly sprouted arbutus plants.  Both the seeds and the plants are incredibly small.  The gigantic tan logs are actually pieces of shredded pine needles.  The size of both the seeds and the new plants makes one wonder how new arbutus plants ever survive in the wild.  A stiff breeze could easily uproot them at this stage of development.  Any loss of moisture now would surely end them.  These factors may explain why we have yet to see new plants from seed produced here and left outdoors.

The William Cullina book in the photo contains the most comprehensive information about working with arbutus that we have been able to find.  It warns that the big danger now is damping off.  High humidity was necessary to coax the seeds into sprouting but now the seed leaves must be allowed to dry some.  Since we have never been successful at this we split the potential for damage.  One pot was uncovered so that the leaves could dry.  The unsprouted seeds in this pot may also dry out and die.  The second pot was left covered.  The new plants may succumb to damping off but more seeds may sprout.

Successfully growing arbutus plants from seed remains in the distant future but we have a solid start.  If we have even a single mature plant from these seeds we will be thrilled.  Arbutus plants outside are getting closer to opening their flower buds.  We are concerned about the effects of our cold winter days that included no snow cover.  We are also concerned about the impact on the more newly transplanted arbutus that endured a hot dry fall when I was unable to bring them water.  Those buds look shriveled and brown but we remain hopeful.  Perhaps it is now time for us to quit fooling around and get some lettuce seeds planted.

By May first, it was obvious that all of the sprouts were in fact common weeds.  For some reason I continue to defy conventional wisdom concerning the use of a sterile potting medium and insist on using natural soil.  While no weeds grow under the white pine tree where I harvested the potting soil, weed seeds were in residence there.  I have yet to have an arbutus seed sprout and none of my cuttings have ever rooted.  New plants from seed produced here have not yet made an appearance.

Unexpected Beauty

For the past several months, weekly trips to Syracuse have been the norm.  A nearly straight line route utilizing a combination of town, county and state roads traverse a geologically varied region of New York State and make for a challenging  drive.  My focus is on finding the best track for the numerous S curves.  I failed to notice this waterfall until last week.  Traveling west the curve in the road and the shale ledge effectively hide the waterfall.  Most of the time little water moves in this stream.  Last week my drive followed a rainfall of some significance and huge volumes of white water poured over this ledge.  Traveling east, it was impossible to miss seeing this roadside waterfall but prior planning was required for a safe stop here.

A shale deposit is very near the surface in this area.  Soil is thin and large areas of flat land suitable for farming are nonexistent here.  Small fields supported unprofitable farms in the past and the falling skeletons of abandoned barns are now common in this valley.  Soon even they will be gone.  Clusters of old tattered mobile homes surrounded by accumulations of trash tend to focus ones attention on quickly and safely clearing that area.  Music from the film Deliverance finds its way into the mind.  Then there is this spot of natural beauty.

Shingled shale slope is a frequently used combination of words used to describe this type of waterfall.  Water is continuously removing small bits of shale that now line the pool at the base of the falls.  One should reasonably expect that such mounds of wet stones would not provide secure footing.  That lesson was quickly taught as my foot pushed a pile of these stones back into the pool.  Once lightning fast reflexes combined with agility severely dulled by age kept both my feet and the camera dry but my move was certainly laughable.  In a place like this, there is no video!

This natural feature is one hour from our home.  Plans to make excursions here to capture the seasonal changes have already been made.  These trips will follow heavy rainfalls so that the water flow will be impressive.  Located right next to the road, pictures of ice formations will be possible with relative safety.  Hard as it is to believe, that has me looking forward to next winter. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Season's First Ticks

There was an afternoon break in today's cold rain and a perimeter walk was in order.  The lane provides a clear path and views of the changes that are happening daily.  The red maple buds are showing red color and are swollen.  Soon the trees will be covered with beautiful open flowers.  They are small in size but their masses are impressive to see.  Our neighbor was not pleased with the state of the buds.  Their condition marks the end of his sap season.  For the second consecutive year, unusual weather negatively impacted syrup production.  Nights with below freezing temperatures followed by warm days move the sap up the trees and into collection buckets.  That has not been our local conditions.  Days of below freezing temperatures produce no sap.  Nights of above freezing temperatures produce no sap.  By today all of his collecting buckets have been removed.  There is no market for syrup made from bitter cloudy sap.

Garlic planted near the back woods is up and looking good.  My shredded leaf mulch is a little thin and will have no impact on controlling weed growth.  Now that I have discovered that my hand mower has a collecting bag, I can easily make shredded leaves by the bucket.  Next year my garlic will push up through a proper layer of leaf mulch.

When I came indoors after my walk, two deer ticks were discovered walking on my ungloved hands.  This marks the beginning of the full body check season at the close of every day spent outside.  Lyme disease is nothing to treat lightly.  A former student was forced into disability retirement in his mid thirties by this disease.  Our college librarian daughter worked with a student recently blinded by this disease.  We continue to enjoy our time spent outside but undergo full body inspections daily.  Ticks have been found attached to the most personal body parts possible.  We did not include any tick photos with this post.  You're welcome.

We drove to the top of the ridge for this picture.  For the past several years a pair of geese have used this spot to raise their family.  A sizable man made pond can be seen at the top of the photo but the geese nest amid the brush and trees.  We have no way of knowing if this pair is the same pair that nested here in the past.  We do know that these two have been on this water for the past several weeks.  Once they were seen floating in a small patch of open water that was surrounded by ice.  Soon only one goose will be easily seen as the other will be sitting on their clutch of eggs.

This is the season for an important period of March madness that is more useful than basketball.  Breeding time is here for the wild animals.  While I was walking the lane, two gray squirrels came charging in my direction.  One was close behind the other and neither noticed me standing in the center of the lane.  At the last possible moment one veered left up a tree while the other went right into the bushes.  It is highly likely that after I had passed, they found one another and finished their business.  Moments later two birds flying beak to tail passed very close to my head.  The turn to avoid me was just a brief moment in their aerial dance.  Spring might be officially a week away, but things are definitely heating up here!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Spring Ahead

Today is the day that you wake up at 7:00 and think " Oh no! It's really 8:00 ."  It will take me a few days to acclimate to the new time.  I'll be hungry before lunch and hungry before dinner.   I would be wide awake at bedtime, but this was a beautiful day and Ed and I both made much of it in the garden.  I just had to clean up the bed where these beautiful Dutch Iris are blooming.  They deserve it.  Most years they peek out of snow but not this year.  I know spring is on the way when these hardy flowers make their appearance.  Rain is in the forecast for the next several days.  Cool wet days will extend the bloom time of these early jewels.

Snow drops have pushed their way through Ed's  layer of mulch.  Finally they are blooming too!

Ed spent the morning cleaning up his daylily bed.  I worked on the Black-eyed Susan bed in the foreground.  It was sunny and comfortable.  It was nice to spend some time working in the same area of the garden.  Later Ed headed off on his own.  I  was focused on cutting back the lavender bee balm.  The dead stems were tall this year.  I didn't have a lot of trouble cutting the stems, but it never ceases to amaze me how those round seed heads can catch on everything.

By lunchtime we were both hungry and tired.  Ed wanted to go right back outside after lunch, but I needed a little rest.  After a short nap, we headed back outside for the afternoon.  It is important to enjoy wonderful days in March.  Sometimes they are rare.

The bed in front of the house was chosen for our afternoon fun.  Ed worked here close to the curved stone walls.  I worked in front of the house.  Several hours went by, but it is early in the season .  We were both getting tired and a little sore.  When we came back inside we discovered that it was time for dinner.  When I look out the living room window the progress we are making on this year's garden makes me very happy.  We have rain in the forecast.  I think for the gardeners here and the plants in the garden that might make for another perfect day!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Arbutus Seeds To Soil

Arbutus has so far managed to keep many of her secrets hidden from us.  Seeds have been produced for two years here but no new plants from seed have appeared.  We watched ants carry off chunks of the seed berries but no new plants appeared.  We tried scattering seed on favorable ground but no new plants appeared.  These seeds spent months in our refrigerator.  Contained in a waxed paper envelope that was placed inside of a plastic storage bag, these seeds have been kept cold and watched.  No signs of mold or decay were seen.  The month of January found the seeds in the freezer.  We placed them in a self defrosting freezer so that they would undergo daily fluctuations in temperature.  Today these seeds were moved into the relative warmth of our bedroom.

Our potting medium was taken from the base of an old white pine tree.  Fallen rotted pine needles and some of the underlying soil were placed in a bucket.  Field stones littered this ground.  Our opinion is that plant matter that decays in the company of stones is rich in minerals leeched from the stones.  We try to take this soil whenever possible.  Gloved hands worked this material through the small screen.  When filled with this special soil, the pots were placed in a dishpan partially filled with water.  We want the water to work its way up into the pots from their bottoms.  The seeds must not be allowed to dry out during the germination process.  The seeds were simply scattered on the surface.

A plastic wrap cover seals in the moisture and the bottom trays will be kept wet.  Both pots were placed in a south facing window near our tender plants that spend the winter indoors.  Now we wait.  The seeds are tiny and new seedlings will also be minuscule if they appear at all.  Without ample moisture the seeds will not germinate.  If we do see tiny specks of green, the risk of damping off is real.  The soil surface must then be allowed to dry while keeping moisture within reach of tiny roots.

The outdoor plants have been carefully watched.  Flower buds are numerous and open flowers will be found soon.  Then the cycle of seed production begins again.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Off To A Fantastic Start

This is the kind of March day we have been waiting for.  No longer frigid, the wood anemone flowers are open and look happy.  Today was perfect for getting out there in the garden.  Ed started the morning working on removing the trees and brush under the electric wires.  I decided to work close to the house.  The sky was blue with a few fluffy white clouds, but the wind was blowing  pretty hard from the south.   I looked for a spot to work that was a little sheltered from the wind.

Ready for something different, Ed cut back one clump of the Siberian Iris .  This one is Lavender Bounty. We leave the dead foliage in place for its insulative value during winter.  Removing it now before new growth appears avoids the disappointment of cutting off new growth tips.  When he was working on the Roaring Jelly plants  he discovered the beginnings of a rabbit nest in the crown of the plant.  If that bunny is smart she will move on and build her nest elsewhere.  When it comes to rabbits Ed roots for Mr. McGregor  while I'm a softy, but even I have my limits!  No rabbit is welcome in the garden but baby bunnies are a particular nuisance.  They can slip right through my wire fencing.  Nothing is safe from their meal time.

I had a fabulous time clearing under the Clove Currant bushes.  Wild white asters really took over this bed.  The plants are still there. They are a weed, native plant that grows incredibly well here.  I feel like I accomplished a great deal this morning.  I also got to see 7 different flocks of geese fly over heading north. They we so high up that they were tiny. Their honking was still loud enough to make me look up from my work.

After lunch and a short nap, Ed and I both headed back outside.  Clouds had moved in but it was still too nice to stay inside.   First, Ed drove to the back to clean out the rest of the bluebird boxes.  Having seen a pair of bluebirds house hunting, that job could be put off no longer.   I worked removing the stems from  red bee balm.  It's fragrance filled the air while I worked.  Wow it's good to be back in the garden!  When he returned we both worked on the bed in front of the house.

Ed's work displaced the first snake of the season.  It was a small garter snake with a bright red tongue.  He was not happy.  Clearly Ed was between him and where he wanted to go.  When Ed moved away  we both watched in amazement as the snake disappeared down a small space between the house foundation and the stone path.  I will be watching for him since he has distinctive markings just behind his head.  It will be neat to see how much he grows if he manages to avoid the milk snakes that live here too!

We worked until we were both very tired and spent some time sitting on the bench together.  Tomorrow is another day.  We are off to a fantastic start!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Temporary Stone Pile

Finding this dry stone wall blown over came as a bit of a surprise.  We have been in the path of fierce polar winds and this wall had begun to show some signs of displacement in response to prevailing north winds.  The curved wall in the distance was carefully built as a wall and it remains unmoved.

When we build a wall that is intended to be permanent, the two faces are piled so that both are sloped inward.  Each is constantly falling toward the other and the net result is no movement.  This fallen wall was intended to be a temporary stone pile so less time and care was invested in stone placement.  Even the exposed end shows long vertical seams.  When building a stone wall it is customary to combine long and short stones in such a way that the exposed end surface is tightly laced by overlapping stones.

Our surface ground was deposited here by the last receding glacier.  Bedrock ridges pinch the valley nearly closed and a series of dams likely occurred here.  Rich farm fields upstream were formed when sediments were dropped in standing water.  Our land formed under far more turbulent conditions.  Dams formed and were quickly washed away.  Our surface deposits consist of more stone than soil and all is piled in a jumbled mess.  The size of the stones left behind vary widely from wall stones to sand.  To date no stone unearthed has proven too large to move but some have required splitting into several slabs before they could be removed using hand power.  The stones in this pile were unearthed when the nearby area was first disturbed intending to make another garden bed.  The larger wall stones were moved only a short distance.  Now they will be moved again.

Another practice in skilled wall building is to place the larger heavier stones at the top of the wall.  It is more work to lift big stones rather than simply roll them to a ground level placement.  Their concentrated mass is supposed to make the wall more resistant to movement.  That the end of the wall is still standing may point to the soundness of placing large stones at the top of the wall.

This stone pile has been in place for many years.   Minimal care was taken in the initial placement of the stones.  The resulting wall strayed several inches away from a straight line placement.  Becky strongly objected to tearing down the wall so that it could be correctly placed.  It did seem like a great deal of work for little gain.  Now the pile must be moved.  I swear that I had no active part in toppling the wall.  Unless the Big Bad Wolf was around it must have been the wind!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Closed until ?

Mother Nature is menopausal here this year.  Her hot and cold flashes are brutal.  There are more winter aconite flowers now, but you can tell by the way the leaves look that it is freezing out there. The flowers will be closed until the next hot flash hits.

The snow drops are closed even tighter.  I find it more difficult to patiently wait when there is no snow cover.  A little blanket of white makes me feel the plants are protected even if it is a thin one.  Now my plants are out there bare,  uncovered and shivering in the cold. Gardening friends further south and even those at a slightly lower elevation are showing crocus and open snow drops.  I admit it.  I am green with envy.  I think I heard next week will be warmer.  Perhaps another hot flash is coming.  I'm ready!