Sunday, January 22, 2017

First Tick Removal Of 2017

Recent warm days found me wanting to be outside working on something.  Frozen ground placed some limits on reasonable choices.  We have a sizable flat meadow that has been ignored for years.  Goldenrod and milkweed are now the dominant plants.  A few Japanese honeysuckles and conservation roses also dot the field.  Last year a process of reclamation was started.  I believe that the goldenrod will soon give up if it is mowed several times a year.  The milkweed will likely persist but that is fine with us since we like to help Monarch butterflies.  The second honeysuckle was cut off flush with the ground.  That was my outside work for the past two fabulous days.  I also slowly drive my truck across the previously unmowed area.   Truck tires flatten last season's weeds.  They also safely roll over small woodchuck burrows and protruding stones.  The stones will be levered out and the burrows filled.  So far these precautions have made possible safe mowing.  A surprise was waiting at the end of a truck pass.  High up in one of the white pines I saw this!

At first glance, I thought that this might be a humming bird nest.  That idea was quickly cast aside since the nest is far too large to have been built by a humming bird.  The tan base was likely a larger bird's nest last summer.  The white fluff is milkweed silk.  Mice frequently line their winter quarters with this.  It must have required a huge number of trips to find and carry this much up the tree.  Just thinking about it makes my mouth feel like I am chewing cotton.  Becky had to see this so I drove front to get her.

I usually do not drive on the area near the pines but to take a good picture of the nest I had to back the truck up close to the tree and climb into the bed of the truck to get my picture.   Waist high dead plants surround the trees.  This is where Becky walked to look at the nest and to avoid being hit by a truck moving in reverse.   Later, before bed, she found a very much alive tick attached to her calf.  We were stunned.  Our careful tick checks do not usually start until warmer weather.  Wrong again.   We have a pair of high quality tweezers whose jaws are at an angle to the handle.  This allows a fair sized section of tweezer to rest on the surface of the skin.  From that position it is a simple matter to close the jaws of the tweezers on the mouth parts of the tick.  No bodily fluids are pinched from the tick and it is pulled free completely intact. Since she could see the wretched thing but could not reach it, I had to remove it for her.  January and another tick season is already underway.  Yuck!

January Fun With Ed And Becky, Part Two

 While Ed is moving mountains with his pry bar, I focus my camera on the fluorescent green spots on the stones on the back side of the temporary stone pile.  

This small deep round hole turns this pink and black stone into a fascinating mystery!

Soft green moss is a welcome sight in January!

I wonder if these are moss flowers?  Do they usually bloom under the snow?

This lichen covered stone is wet.  I think when it dries the red color will be gone.  Neat!

This is the view from the leaning tree!

That is a very interesting rock with fossils at the base of the tree.  Ed has his eye on this one!

By afternoon  this day in January was as nice as the nicest day in May.  We had so much fun. It is a good day to remember!

January Fun With Ed And Becky, Part One

We woke up this January  morning to cool dry weather that was absolutely fantastic.  No doubt about it we were going to get dressed, get the camera and go outside to play!   One of the first things to capture Ed's attention was this temporary stone pile. It had developed a big bulge and a few stones had fallen out.  Ed said "I can fix that! I'll go get my pry bar."  

If some of the stones in this picture are a bit blurry it is because they are moving.  In the contest between Ed and his pry bar and gravity, gravity was the big winner.  Our morning was off to an exciting start.  The loud grating noise of the falling stones was unforgettable.  Ed still has those catlike reflexes when he needs them.  Not a single stone touched him!

It was all over so fast!  We both decided to let gravity work by itself on this stone pile.  When spring comes Ed will be back!  He has his eye on the big stone  just to the right of the stone avalanche.  It is a perfect stone  for his rock garden project.  

We walked the path up to the big hemlock tree.  The best way to maintain a path is to walk on it. We each took our turn to relax against the big tree. Next  Ed went to get a closer look at this red maple nearby.  It's trunk has a great hollow to stand in so you can relax against the tree not unlike Ed's favorite old maple in the back.

A little moving of stones was necessary to make a really comfortable place to stand.  From there we headed back to the garden.

Ed decided to cut back the October Sky asters that were blocking the path into the stone square.  When it was blooming the billow of flowers was worth taking a detour.  Now the  dead stalks are just dropping their seeds in the path.  By the Ed finished we both realized that it was time to head inside and have lunch.  We had a fantastic morning playing outside together!

Friday, January 20, 2017

First Order

This is the time of year when we begin to feel trapped inside by winter. We are therefore easy marks for garden catalogs.  Our resistance is up this year as no plants have been ordered yet.  That situation will soon change since we do have new ground ready for plants.

These new pots were ordered with a specific use in mind.  Every spring some Cardinal Flower plants are potted up so that they can be moved indoors when late frosts threaten.  The process has always started with a frantic search in our mountain of used pots.  This year will be different.  Two trays holding a total of thirty new pots stand ready.  That is a slight exaggeration since our order was one pot short.  A previously used pot filled the open spot.

We have never placed thirty Cardinal Flower plants in pots.  There is no plan in place for that many new plants.  Two different wild locations are under consideration to see if we can establish nongarden stands of this native plant.  There was a price break on fifty pots so some control was in place.

The vacuum formed trays are as flimsy as expected so we will use two trays nested.  They will still likely break as we move them but doubled up they may not dump their load.  These trays do show a design improvement.  An earlier order for similar trays were short on engineering savvy.  Individual pots fit snugly into the square receptacles but there was no room at the top for the adjacent pot.  Since the trays are useless they really need to find the trash.

Snowdrops were planted alongside of the memorial bench that marks the final resting place of Becky's parents.  This location may be perfect for the snowdrops.  Left alone, they now cover several large areas.  On a recent walk here, I was disturbed to find a good sized clump fully exposed.  Even the yellow and white parts of the stems could be seen.  Nearly all of these plants grew from seed that simply dropped onto the surface of the ground.  How those seeds develop underground parts suitably deep in the soil remains a mystery.  I am not the first to raise this question.  John Burroughs observed that Trout Lilies will not form flowers until the bulb is more than six inches below the soil surface.  He found the process that each year moved these bulbs ever deeper mysterious.

Our weather has been somewhat bizarre.  Recent days have seen temperatures that remained near or above freezing overnight.  Even exposed ground remains frozen and I am looking for some modest snowfall and slightly lower temperatures.  It was surprising to find that seventy-two year old gloved hands quickly begin to ache on what was seen as a beautiful January day.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Watch Where You Are Walking! Photos By Amy

White pine needles and oak leaves make an interesting surface for walking.  It is slippery especially on uneven ground. This causes a person to watch where they are walking.  When you have a camera and an eye for beautiful nature images, this is the result.  "Perforated Oak Leaf with Pine Needles"


I guess you could call this "Dead Stick with Fungus" but that would hardly cover what I see here!

Flattened leaves, a round fungus, green moss, a round fungus and sunlight in January make a perfect picture for me!  I'm calling this one "Natural Sphere".

This one titled "Milkweed Mess" by the photographer is not the image of milkweed we are accustomed to seeing.  Rain and snow have made their mark.  Most of the seeds have been eaten by hungry  bugs or rodents.

These milkweed seeds will not float on the wind under their fluffy white parachute.  Still they have a purpose.  I'm calling this one "Five Seeds in Half a Pod".   For January or anytime these are special images.  Watch where you are walking because there is so much to see!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Amy's Discovery

This beautiful clear and warm January day found Amy and I walking about outside.  We ended our walk at the base of the southern edge of the gravel bank hill.  This area is out of the way and we seldom walk here.  A creeping berry vine causes frequent stumbles and occasional ankle scratches.  I have read about a plant called witch hobble.  The name sounds great so I likely incorrectly use it in expressing my dissatisfaction with tripping on our version of the plant yet again.

These three young oak trees closely spaced caught Amy's eye first.  She found their appearance unique but quickly looked away at the hemlock behind them.

The sight of this tree growing out of the side hill at an angle then going vertical was inspiring.  Then I heard of the reported energy transfer from tree to person if ones stands in contact with a tree.  Recalling reading about this phenomenon in Anne LaBastile's Woodswoman books, I remembered that I formerly stood inside a crevice in the trunk of a massive red maple whenever I was near that tree.  A few minutes surrounded by that maple tree always make me feel better.

Stripped of its dead wood skirt, the tree was ready for us.  Becky went first.  All of the time she spends in the pool shows obvious benefit as she is relaxed in contact with the tree trunk from her head to her heels.  Tense me was unable to push my head back far enough to contact the tree.  That is a goal that I will work toward.

Only one of these hands is mine.  We cannot say with certainty if what we felt came from the tree or our touching fingers but we definitely felt something.

Close contact with the tree comes with many sensations.  The scent of the hemlock is pleasant without being overbearing.  Somehow the strength of tree passes into the person.  This tree is but a short distance from the house and we will visit it often.  Its medicine is free.  There will be benefit to us if we simply believe that some of the tree's strength passes to us.  We can only hope that some of our negative energy does not harm the hemlock . It is a strong relatively young tree.  I think it can take it!

Ice Can Be Nice, Photos by Amy

Ed and Amy went for a walk this morning.  The sun was shining, but there was still a chill in the air.  I stayed in the warm house to make lunch and awaited their return.   Sunshine warmed things up quickly.  Tomorrow should be warmer still.  This interesting ice has probably already changed and will be gone soon.  It formed in the area near the base of the bedrock ridge.  Puddles form but there is no outlet for this water.  It simply drains in the gravel rich ground.

 By now these fantastic frozen footprints have certainly softened. Even if it freezes tonight the surface will be different.

Tiny needle sharp ice formations caught Amy's attention!  I can see why!

Here we have the classic ice crunching formation.  I know that this particular formation did not last but mere moments after this picture was taken.  If I had been there I would have crunched it myself!

I could not choose between this frozen ice picture and the next one!

With circles, straight lines, bubbles and bumps this cold image has a lot to say.  I'm thrilled I got to enjoy it before it melted!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Under A Blanket Of Snow, The Plants Are Carrying On!

You might think with all the cold, snow, ice and darkness that the plants would be dormant.  Some are of course.  We won't see a sign of the Lemon lilies until the Spring actually happens, but the Johnny jump ups have been flowering under the ice and snow.  They always do.  That bright green sprig of tall snapdragon is ready to try for another season.  It's not dead so it still has a chance!

This gorgeous sedum might be more pink than green in the cold, but I'm pretty sure the plants are growing and the clump is getting a little larger every time I get a chance to see it.  As far as I know the cold has little effect on these plants but sometimes rodents eat them!

Forget-me-nots have self seeded on top of the shade garden wall.  Some of its leaves are brown from the cold.  It is growing in a very exposed location.  This plant plans to flower when spring arrives.  It will not give up its chance to flower easily!

Ed's Shasta Daisies barely made it through the winter last year.  At this point this clump looks terrific.  It is well rooted and has a wonderful chance to survive.  I do see  some weeds plan to make a comeback as well.  They include Shepard's purse, a new dead nettle that appeared here in droves last summer and  that disgusting little sucker in the front of the picture.  I don't know the proper name of that pernicious weed and I would never print here what I call it!

This Lewisia, also called bitter root, was wonderful this summer  It had beautiful pink flowers in July.   However, I have to wonder just what it thinks it is doing now.  Whatever it is I  don't understand it.  I certainly wish the plant well, but just the same I'll be marking the Lewisia  in the catalogs when I find a place to get more.  Perhaps the idea of having the company of a few more of these plants will give this one the will to live.  I know it will cheer me up!  

Nothing But Good News

With nearly all of the snow melted, a garden walkabout was necessary.  We focused on plants that had done well under the snow.  It never fails to amaze us that plant life goes on under the snow in the dead of winter.  I'm dressed in snow pants, a head hood, an insulated hoodie and gloves and it was necessary for me to go inside after a very short time outside.  That makes me feel weak by comparison.

My Great Grandfather gave me a clump from one of his chrysanthemums when I was about 13 years old.  His garden was located in southwestern Pennsylvania while I lived in upstate  New York.  The difference in climate zones and the inattention typical of young boys combined to end the special gift.  Now that I am older and slower, chrysanthemums continue to present problems.  They simply prefer warmer conditions.  Mammoth pink is the name of this plant.  We nearly lost it last year but it is still here.  A loose mulch applied now would vastly improve the likely hood of survival.   After my hands warm up I should go and do that today.

Pinxter is a native shrub whose scientific classification remains muddled.  This plant was taken from the wild here while most plants that are written about were found well south of the Mason Dixon Line.  Its Latin name may be in doubt but as a garden specimen it is wonderful.  The open and empty seed clusters point to seed production and natural dispersion this year.  Come spring we will be cautious when weeding in this area.  New plants from seed would please us no end.  We believe that the buds contain next year's flowers.  We eagerly await the chance to wrap ourselves in their sweet scent.

Blue Lobelia exists in our garden because it is a close relative of Cardinal Flower.  Blue Lobelia grows like a weed here while Cardinal Flower needs our help to just hold on.  This clump of the blue was levered out and thrown to the side awaiting removal.  I did not get back to finish the job and this clump just continued to grow and flower totally on its own.  It needs to be moved to a larger and wilder location.

This clump of Cardinal Flower grows inside of the stone square.  Early this spring this clump will be dug and divided.  Each plant will get its own pot which will be moved into the basement when frost threatens.  The difficulty associated with keeping this plant alive is part of its appeal.

The red hips mark the location of our Carolina Rose.  This is a native wildflower and is the New York State flower in spite of its southern name.  We found it growing along the fence line and moved it into the garden.  It spreads freely by long underground runners.  This plant also needs more room to grow.  We are preparing a place down by the road where our New England Asters, Black-eyed Susans and this rose can freely grow.  But now I need to place mulch over the chrysanthemums.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

We Have It All!

Monday was a beautiful winter day here.  I love to see a rosy colored sunrise.  You don't have to get up early to see this here.  It takes some time before the sun comes up above the distant ridge.  Looking over the garden makes it easy to appreciate the clean cool stillness of new snow.

Tuesday morning the world outside was covered with a coating of ice.  The sun reflected off of every surface. Single blades of grass sticking up in the surface of the lawn glinted with sunlight.  It was pretty, but made stepping out the door an adventure.  The potential for interesting ice pictures was everywhere, but for me venturing out on that kind of slippery surface with the camera at this point is just stupid.  As it was we needed to go out, so Ed sanded the ramp and we both made it  to the car without incident. Roads that were quite awful in the morning were much better for the trip home. Through the day the ice disappeared from many places.  Too bad our driveway was not one of those.

Today warmer temperatures have brought rain.  The ice and snow are disappearing fast.  Green grass and uncovered plants make a walk in the garden seem tempting, but the rain is quite heavy at times and cold!  It is a fine day to start in on the foot deep stack of garden catalogs that have arrived so far.  We will see what tomorrow brings!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Something To Eat

We are accustomed to seeing bird tracks on the snow under sumac trees.  The red berry clusters are a generous cache of winter food.  Both the footprint and the dig in the snow point to a deer also feeding here.  The path that this deer took went directly in front of an arbutus patch.  We have never seen indications of deer feeding on  our arbutus.  Others have written that deer do feed on this plant.

Our treasured four transplants are under a wire cage designed to keep out both rabbits and woodchucks.  Both of those animals have in the past eaten arbutus here.  Today it looks like this cage may have prevented a hungry deer from feeding here.

These more recent transplants also grow under wire.  Their location behind the arbutus wall places them in afternoon winter sunshine despite being under a white pine tree.  Remaining snow is in the shadow of the wall.

This was a glorious day to be outside.  Clear skies and ever strengthening sunshine combined to provide our first January thaw.  If the forecast for the rest of the week holds, we will see a daytime temperature in the 40s.

Making Tracks In The New Year!

The first day of 2017 is a beauty!  We woke up to bright sunlight streaming in the windows.  When I took a look outside I could see that something spent the early hours of the new year making tracks in the garden.  I did see a pretty tufted titmouse in the trumpet vine, but the tracks I wanted to check out were not bird tracks. There was no melting snow except for a few drips off the roof of the house on the south facing side.   Ed and I dressed warmly and set out to make some tracks of our own.  Tracks like the ones on the right of the picture seemed to crisscross the garden. Blue shadows on the snow reflected the blue sky above us.  I love the curved shadow of Ed's tumbled down wall!

I'm no expert at reading the signs, but there is a real clue in this picture.  The animal who left these tracks spent some time eating or rubbing against the remains of a big catnip plant.  We have seen bobcats here before.  But they have big furry feet and these prints seem a bit small but a feline is a good bet .

Imagine walking along the edge of a stone wall and then leaping fifty-four inches  to the other side of the ramp into the basement.  If I tried that where would be much more of a disturbance than a few footprints when I landed.  From here the tracks went along the edge of another wall, under the ramp and then down the driveway.  Now I was almost positive exactly whom I was tracking.

Sure enough there were footprints leading to Rainbow's tree.  The only remaining question is "Who let the cat out?"