Sunday, September 25, 2016

Just A Light Kiss

Last evening had all of the indicators for an overnight frost.  After sunset the temperature plummeted and the clear darkened skies were filled with stars.  All of the tender plants that we intend to save were in pots in the basement.  We awoke this morning to find the air densely filled with fog.  River valley fog drops copious quantities of liquid moisture on every exposed surface.  If any frost had developed it was soon washed away.   An early walk through the garden near the house revealed no frost damage.  Basil leaves were free of black slime.  We have some doubt about the moon flower buds but rarely do they open here.

The garden by the woods told a slightly different story.  Only a few squash and pumpkin leaves were blackened by frost.  This garden is at a higher elevation and at a greater distance from the river.  River valley fog is less dense here and the damaged leaves were close to the ground.  Where the vines had climbed the fence all of the leaves escaped damage.  Only a few of the leaves closer to the ground were blackened by frost.  How one leaf dies while those nearby escape damage remains a mystery.

River valley fog is both a curse and a blessing.  Most September nights here had fog form.  Wet foliage is prone to develop powdery mildew and the low sun allows moisture to remain on some leaves into the afternoon..  The leaf in to picture shows only mildew spots but many nearby are totally spotted and dead.  These leaves had died at the hands of the fog while last night the fog saved nearly everything from frost.  With any luck we may see several frost free nights here.  Pesto season lives on.

The garlic bed is ready to plant.  This area supported only growth from missed potatoes this year.  Corn was scheduled to be planted here but the dryness of May told us not to bother.  We did weed the potatoes and harvested a respectable crop.  A measure of compost was raked in several weeks ago and the ground was allowed to rest nearly free of weeds.  Today well aged compost from the lower garden was mixed with Miracle-Gro potting soil.  We have never used potting soil in planting beds but our dear friend Helen does.  Her gift of garlic performed better here than anything else we planted.  Sixty planted cloves produced sixty healthy plants.  Not willing to argue with success and wanting to use her idea here, we parted with the big bucks.  The first layer of the compost mix was turned into the soil.  The second layer was left undisturbed at the surface.  When the cloves are planted in mid October we hope to find the soil lose enough to plant without another session with the potato hook.  It we need to do that it will bring new weed seeds to the surface.  When the garlic cloves are returned to the soil, we feel that next year's garden is actually underway.

Friday, September 23, 2016

September Frost Forecast

In this part of New York State, September frosts have become all too common.  Today was a hot humid scorcher but frost warnings have been posted for tomorrow night.  We insist on growing and carrying over plants native to the tropics.  One light kiss of frost will end them.  They need to be moved into the house now.

The first step in separating this plant into smaller pieces is to insert two spades into the root mass.  Lemon grass will divide easily once the tangle of roots have been pried apart.  Pushing the spade forks into the root mass is the most difficult part of this job.  One can almost hear the plant scream out.

This clump of lemon grass spent the summer planted out as a garden plant.  Native to India it is accustomed to heat, floods and drought.  Here it experienced all of that and more.  We have found that it survives division and placement in a pot if it is watered heavily.  In this photo the two spades back to back are rocked against each other to pry the root mass apart.

As violent as it appears, little damage is done to the plant.  With the root mass separated, gentle tugs disengage the crown.  The near spade is an English product made by Smith and Hawkins.  When Amy lived and worked in New York City she purchased this tool for us in Manhattan.  It rode with her as a subway took them to Brooklyn.  Then a ride on a commuter train headed north was part of a weekend trip home.  My spade is well traveled and is only used to divide plants.  We will not risk breaking it on heavier work.

Two intact pieces of the original plant have been placed into three gallon pots.  Plants roots will quickly be pressing against the pot sides but the root mass is of sufficient size to allow its return to the garden in the late spring.  Now the pans full of water will give the transplant a generous soaking not unlike monsoon rains.  Tomorrow they will look as stately as they appear now.

These two plants will spend the winter on either side of the mostly glass front entry door.  Ample sunshine and active air currents there have always brought these plants through their season indoors in fine condition.  June seems so far away now but it will find us and these plants will return to the great outdoors.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

She Bear Hit The Lettuce

Wild animals owned this land before we arrived here.  They called it home then and continue to own it now.  We have had a woodchuck dig a den under one of the stone square walls.  Many times rabbits have nested among the roots of our Pinxter bushes.  We thought that we had shifted the balance in our favor with the wire cages.  Imagine our horror as we watched baby rabbits run right through the cage sides.  The 2 X 4 inch openings in the wire had absolutely no effect on bunnies.  The solid sided barrier was fashioned from the metal skirting that came with the old beat mobile home we placed nearby.  Large rabbits could easily jump over the side walls but the wire keeps them from eating our lettuce.  We thought that we had a fool proof system to exclude animals from our lettuce patch.

In the past coyote pups have used our shade covers as trampolines or tug of war toys.  This recent incursion was much more serious.  Becky had gone into the garden to harvest fresh lettuce for our lunch.  She attempted to replace the cage while still holding onto the lettuce.  Sensing her loss of balance, she deftly turned around so that she fell on her backside instead of on her arms and hands.  The collapsing wire cage slowed her descent and she found herself on her back in the bed with the lettuce and her feet outside.  Once she discovered she was not injured her mind went to the thought of me finding her reclining there in the lettuce patch.        

She was stuck there for some time unable to extricate herself.  Her feet were still on the stone path but there was no obvious way for the rest of her to join them.  Finally she was able sit up and pull herself up so that she was sitting on the solid metal barrier.  From that position she was able to move her knees onto the path and then stand.  Once again our luck prevented injury.  She gathered up her picked lettuce and headed back into the house.  Lunch was a little late, but it was delicious especially the lettuce!

This is the lettuce that she fell on.  It was watered, protected with a new cage and covered with shade cloth.  There may be a few bent leaves tomorrow but we expect to be able to continue harvesting lettuce here as if nothing had happened.

Our investment in these plants is more than one might expect.  Extreme shifts in our weather prevent lettuce seeds from germinating if simply planted outside for the entire growing season.  All of our lettuce plants are started in pots under florescent lights in the basement.  Soon after germination, the new plants are transplanted so that each pot contains a single plant.  When the time seems right they are transplanted again outside.  This process is repeated several times each summer so that we always have fresh young lettuce.  Becky was certain that her fall had ended these plants.  All that really mattered was that she was uninjured.  She is fine and if she finds this post humorous,  you get to read it.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Hardy Mums

Chrysanthemums, and the family member that introduced them to me, have been an enduring force in my need to garden.  At about thirteen years of age, I visited my great grandfather's home in south western Pennsylvania.  Carefully tended fruit trees, flowers and vegetables flourished across his home site.  He gave me a piece of one of his mums to take with me when I returned home.  The fate of that plant cannot be recalled but memories of his gardens are still with me.

This hardy mum is named Mammoth Pink.  Our harsh spring nearly ended this plant but it managed to survive in two places.  Located near the house, reflected winter sunlight and its warmth helped this plant survive.  Early growth was sparse and the plant is low to the ground but it may return again next year.  The other one is planted out in the garden and displayed similar growth.  That patch was huge but only a couple of plants remain alive now.  Bright pink color marks newly opened flowers.  Washed out white and broken petals identify older blossoms.

Clara Curtis grows here with a vigor that reminds one of dandelions.  These two clumps are on the south side of a stone wall and that favorable placement may have helped them survive.  We move these throughout the garden and the plant self seeds.

We have spring purchased small potted mums from Bluestone Perennials for several years.  Their mums are clearly labeled as hardy to zone 5 but we try and try again with mixed success.  At this moment only one of their traditional mums remains alive.  Small and showing only a single bud atop a solitary stem, the plant remains alive.  If the coming winter brings lasting snow cover, it may make a greater appearance next year.  We will order again intending to place the new arrivals in the area in front of the house.

This Emperor of China has been here for years.  In milder weather it spreads widely.  Late to open flowers, it is without question among the last to bloom.  It is possible that the buds must be frosted before they will open.  It too is shorter than usual this year.  We will watch to see if this gardening year ends with these pink blossoms.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

New England Aster Color Change

New England aster is without question a wild flower.  It is described as a native plant in many places and we prefer to think of it that way.  Somehow working with a native plant carries with it a hint of magic.  This treasure grows along side of the roads here in great number.  That common occurrence and possible characterization as a weed in some people's minds does not diminish this plant in our eyes.  We have it throughout our gardens.  Some of it we planted and some is self sown.  This first picture features our compost pile.  Two asters were in the way during spring planting and they were placed on the compost pile until we could find them a proper home.  They have been joined be a self sown pumpkin.  Wind toppled the asters but they care not.  This mass of purple flowers is beautiful.

In general, the asters serve as a fall food source for many insects.  This bee like bug is new to us and we do not know its name.  For most of the day clusters of aster flowers are densely covered with foragers.

We also do not know the name of this insect.  Most impressive is the size of its pollen load.

This combination of purple asters and yellow goldenrod just happened in a neglected corner of the garden.  We have a spot down by the road that could profit from a similar planting.  Now grass clippings are in place there to discourage the quack grass.  Its white underground runners will be removed before the asters are planted.  Wild occurrences of asters frequently feature plants with but a single stalk.  They seem unable to hold the upper hand in competition with other invasive plants.  When the asters are well established and the quack grass appears to be gone, we will add goldenrod to the planting.  Left untended, the goldenrod will displace the asters but we intend to meddle to help the asters hold space.

Over the years we have frequently seen pink asters growing alongside of the road.  We have resisted the temptation to steal with great difficulty.  Two years ago a single stem on a small plant produced pink flowers in a garden bed.  Marked and tended, the plant grew in size.  This spring six divisions were taken.  Three were planted down by the road and two were planted in a bed near the house.  A wire cage kept the deer from eating here but was recently removed so that the flowers could be enjoyed by us in a more natural presentation.  It may be that the deer feed on asters only early in the year.  Pruned plants still flower as do the roadside plants that are mowed down by the highway crew.  Garden specimens would benefit from from intentional cutting back.  Left alone, they approach four feet in height and the lower leaves blacken.  One of these years we will give some of these gorgeous plants the attention that they deserve.  This year even with our dry conditions, they look pretty great!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Danger Falling Rock Zone

All of the stones have been placed across the bed to deal with the slope and rain water.  With any luck both the stones and the soil will remain in place.  This job waited for years because I was unsure that the necessary skills to complete it were in place.  No injuries were sustained although there were two close calls.  Pinching a finger between two stones is a sensation that is not soon forgotten.  It was a close call today but my reflexes are still good enough to escape.  One stone falling into place ended its move against the side of my lower leg.  Fortunately the stone was finished moving when it contacted me and no damage was done.  Feeling all of that mass suddenly against old bones was an experience that will not be soon forgotten.  Great care must always be the rule.

The upper most bed has been cleared of stony dirt and had it replaced with screened topsoil and aged compost.  The finely shredded leaves spent the summer under the squash shading out weeds and conserving moisture.  In their new location they will again smother weeds while rotting to an excellent soil amendment.  The next two bed needs to be cleared of weed crowns and roots as well as numerous stones.

My largest stones were placed in the uppermost wall since that is where the greatest change in elevation occurs.  Stones this massive seldom cause injury because sharply focused attention and tools are required to move them.  It is impossible to manage even a wiggle with hand pressure alone. Working with the smaller stones tempts one to grab hold and move the stone with only brute force.  This is where injuries happen.  Placing myself in the path of where the stone was planned to fall thinking that I could keep it from moving too far was simply flawed dangerous thinking.

There are always stones left over when a job is finished.  The jumble of four resting on the lawn were not used and will need to be moved into storage someplace.  An out of place stone on the top wall will also move out.  I am amazed how quickly and safely this job was  completed.  Last year at this time I was unable to even dig my potatoes. That was then. This is now!   I clearly understand that days spent working like this are finite as they have always been.  Working smart not hard and enjoying every moment are now the focus of each day.  Today was terrific!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Stone Dance Day Two

This problem area has been waiting for action for thirteen years.  The house was set lower than necessary and we have been trying to figure out a solution for years.  Last fall a professional with power machines was given the option of completing this job but he never returned.  We needed a series of steps to make a stable transition down this slope.  Unsure on how to proceed, the task remained ignored.  For reasons that are elusive, we decided that now was the time.

Four stones in the foreground have been placed.  Three stones arcing out from the corner of the house are where they will remain.  One stone has been set in the second wall.  The third wall has a stone that is out of place.  It fell into a hole and was finally worked to the top of the stones meant to be there,  When its turn comes, it will be moved to a different location.  The jumble to the left is the stock pile.

We need to tie in the ground near the stone patio with the sloped planting that will develop in front of the house.  Behind the three stones at the corner of the house, ground level will approach the top of the stones.  When the newly graded area reaches the front of the patio, there will still be a slope from the lawn to deal with the extra height.  This slope down to the house is what discouraged the man with the power equipment.  Standard practice does not direct water toward the house.  The house is perched atop a deep gravel glacial deposit. The drainage is such that there is no water to run toward the house.  We have been free of water in the basement and will remain so when the regrading is finished.

The pile of stones to the left were dropped off above but near their final resting place.  The trick now is to limit the number of unnecessary moves while placing stones in their final resting place.  We would really like to finish this job before winter takes hold.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Dancing With The Big Stone

I have been waiting in breathless anticipation for this performance.  The weather is perfect and well it should be.  Doing these kind of moves with a partner that is very heavy, a dead weight in fact, is not often attempted.  I am thrilled to be able to catch this on film!  Ed is feeling good and is in great form!  He deftly prepares the spot for the final move with his maddock while his partner waits in stony silence.

Note Ed's unusual move with the side of the potato hook.  It is not often seen, but Ed is a master with his tool!

Now the real dance commences. This lift requires grace and pry bar leverage with a partner that is so dense.  The mud and stones are all prepared  to make a successful landing possible for this incredibly complex move.

The stone missed the landing ever so slightly.  This will require delicate maneuvers on Ed's part.

Ed positions another stone while his partner rests in anticipation of the final landing.

What an exciting move!  Ed and his pry bar are poetry in motion and the unwieldy stone has made an almost perfect landing.

This one leg in the air move is unprecedented, but really paid off.  The big stone is almost exactly where Ed wanted it!!

He places stones at the base of the big stone so that it can remain solidly in place.

Now it is over.  The stone is perfectly placed and Ed is still looking terrific.  What a fabulous performance!  Bravo!!!!!!  What can Ed possibly do for an encore?   I can hardly wait!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Weeding On The Wild Side

This year the garden down by the road has a tame side and a wild side.  The tame side has Ed's fantastic stone wall and Siberian iris alternated with Autumn Joy sedums in the foreground with tall flowers in the back.  It looks just like we planned it.  It is what our neighbors get to see.

This is how it looks from the wild side.  We have been wanting to do something about this and today was the day.  We even had some shade to work in but the edge of the garden bed had to be found before we could begin.  We worked together.   Known weeds, crab grass, quack grass, woody nightshade... filled our trugs over and over again.

Eventually garden plants begin to appear.  Inga's mallow, the Siberian iris and a sedum finally came into view.  The sunflowers are picked clean of seeds by the goldfinches and chickadees. They have been great, but it is time for them to go!  The plants are huge and require Ed and his spade for removal.

We spent a delightful morning together in the garden.  When the shade disappeared so did I.  Ed stayed a little longer.  Look at the fantastic difference we made!  I'm looking forward to our next chance to go weeding on the wild side!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Seasonal Shift

In the background of each passing day is the subtle change in the length of its daylight.  Our customary summer wake up time of 6 am. has slid to 7 am. in response to the now longer period of night darkness.  We no longer have the rigid schedule mandated by a job.  We happily fill each day with activities of our choice but the time of year is impacting each day now.  Our gardens need to be as weed free as we can get them and the driveway must be ready for the snow plow so much remains to be done as the length of our workday lessens.

New flowers now fill the fields and abandoned corners of the gardens.  The summer sweetness of milkweed flowers has been replaced by the masses of dark yellow goldenrod blossoms.  Asters and goldenrod will keep the bees fed from now until frost.

This field of yellow is ours.  The nearby hill belongs to our neighbor and we have always had his permission to walk there.  In our younger days we thought nothing of exploring that wooded slope singly or in groups.  We found the road that once led to a home site but failed to find the remains of that remote cabin.  Once I saw the rear end of a bear as it disappeared into the undergrowth.  We found a coyote den between a cluster of glacial erratics. Older and maybe smarter now I am no longer confident that a safe return will follow a solitary trip into the woods and I no longer explore there.

Goldenrod is sometimes sold as a garden plant.  Hardy and beautiful makes for a desirable plant but this one has a dark side.  Underground growth is so tenacious that tracked power machines may be needed to remove it once it is established.  It is best removed while young especially if the tools at hand are limited to a pry bar and spade.  I am trying to restore a back meadow to grass for our other neighbor's horses.  It may be that repeated mowing will turn the balance in the favor of grass and clover. It worked for the walking paths, but the milkweed still comes back!

The nearly pristine condition of this area shows the type of work that did not happen last year.  Our weeds went into winter unmolested and dropped an uncountable number of seeds.  A constant battle has been waged this year to try and shift the balance in our favor.  For the moment, conditions look good.  Bare ground never remains growth free and continued  vigilance will be required to keep the weeds at bay.

The patch of brown grass clippings marks the path between two planting beds.  Our habit is to define the paths with small stones sifted from the planting soil.  The last glacier dropped more clay and fewer stones here so we  modify and adjust.  Occasionally, small stone is trucked in to finish the path perpendicular to the dried grass.  It is unlikely that enough stone will be found in this area to finish the job.

Potatoes still need to be harvested from the green area in the distance.  Our harvest has been small in response to  hot dry summer weather.  Despite the disappointing crop, we plan to finish digging and clear the remaining weeds.

On our trip for supplies this afternoon, we encountered the first school bus of the season.  Its flashing red lights stopped traffic in both directions on a busy state highway for a long time.  Mom, dad and little sister waited impatiently for the young man to finally step off of the bus.  Mother smothered him with hugs and kisses after this first day of school.  She will have to restrain herself in the future or her son's bus rides will include teasing from the older less loved boys.  This farm is one of the best in the valley.  The family that had operated it since the 1950's is gone and a new family has taken over the operation.  Hard long hours are needed here and it was heartwarming that dad took time away from his work to greet his son as he returned home from school.  Family values must be in place if the family farm is to survive.