Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Last Squash

We tried something new last fall when we harvested the butternut squash.  Marian Morash recommended cutting the vine rather than the stem that holds fast to the squash.  Her reasoning was that the point where the stem joins the squash is commonly the weak point that allows decay to enter the squash.  We followed her directions and the last squash nearly made it to April.  This is the longest that the squash have remained in prime condition.

This is the condition of the squash when it was brought into the kitchen from the basement.  It has yet to be washed.  The dried vine branching out from the stem makes an interesting looking sculpture.  Our past habit was to simply cut the stem at harvest.  Marian's method greatly increases the distance between the cuts and the fruit.  We plan to harvest the pumpkins this way in the coming year.  They got the old stem cut and the last of them went directly to the compost pile weeks ago.

Butternut squash is our favorite for a number of reasons.  Its taste is fantastic but look at the amount of fruit absolutely free of seeds and the sticky strings that accompany them.  This is as close to a hassle free garden product as one can get.

Slicing away the washed skin is all that is needed to prepare the food for the pot.  The thickness of the slices and the size of the cubes match the specifications of the recipe.  Salmon, kale, garlic and yogurt blended very well with the squash.  We will not have that meal again until the new crop is harvested.  For these special meals we use our garden produce.  That is a slight exaggeration since the fresh kale came from the grocery store.  Someone else caught the fish but the squash is the heart of this meal and it was grown here.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Watching And Waiting For Snow To Melt

Watching and waiting for the snow to melt is tough on a gardener!  It's boring like watching paint dry, but anticipation makes it much more difficult. Containing  the whining and moaning is even worse! Today when the rain stopped, I was very excited to get a chance to venture outside.  The garden is still out of  my reach and covered with snow, but I found some wonderful things growing anyway!

It has been years since Ed built this fence out of  split black locust logs.  It takes some real time for lichens to grow.  With all the  moisture from rain, fog, sleet ...  they are at their very best!  This one has great pale green color and interesting texture.

These tiny spikes are growing on top of a post right at my eye level.  Just like on the corn flakes box the picture is slightly enlarged to show texture!  I'm so happy I didn't have to get down on the wet ground to take this!

I know these lichens have been here for a long time.  With the background of never-ending white snow, oops a little bit of whining there,  I noticed their beautiful color and texture today!

This one is different than the others I think, but I am very interested in the  single file of little spikes growing in a crack in the wood.

On the same log nearby I found these red soldiers.  Wouldn't it be special if those spikes grew to be a line of red soldiers in single file!  Even if that were true, I wonder how long it takes them to grow?

The snow has receded enough to reveal these hens and chicks planted on top of Ed's  curved stone wall.  They brought joy to my heart.  Soon there will be many plants to attract my attention.  I was delighted to see these today!

Long After The Storm

When I plow the driveway with my lawn tractors, adjustments must be made for working with tools too small for the task at hand.  My plow will not move much snow to the side so a clear area must be there to receive the plowed snow.  When the job is done my driveway is nearly two lanes wide so that there will be a place to push the next snowfall.  The recent storm overwhelmed both me and my machines.  The pro that rescued us is familiar with how wide I plow but not the reasons behind it.  When he left a mountain of snow was piled where the blower tractor had to be driven to place it in the shed.

More than a week of sunshine and rain had reduced the size of the snow pile.  On two previous days a path through the pile had been opened.  Sunlight working on the exposed face increased the size of the opening.  The remaining snow that needed to be moved was incredibly heavy.  My flat long handled shovel limited the size of each load.  Patient persistence finally opened a sufficiently wide path.

The big tractor is now back in the shed.  You can see just how high the blower is presently set.  Riding over the fallen snow created a surface that neither tractor could cross on the steep part of the driveway.  That and the rate of the snowfall at lunch time overwhelmed both machine and operator.

Above freezing temperatures and cloud cover filtering the sunlight prompted me to move my cardinal flowers, the first transplants of the season, outside.  They have been trapped it the basement for more than two weeks. That is far too long.  The two rows at the left were obviously plants grown from seed when they were disturbed.  Their new growth has raised a question.  A cardinal flower plant from seed is reported to grow only a low basal cluster of leaves during its first year.  A stem that flowers grows the second year.  Some of the from seed plants are nearly as large as the daughter plants that started growing from the base of the old plant last fall.  These from seed plants may now be in their second year of growth.  If that is true, then I still do not know what newly emerging plants from seed look like.  So old and still so much to learn.

This last picture was taken from the opposite side when compared to the first photo.  The location of the almost dead transplant will help sort out the confusion.  One tray is totally daughter plants that will flower this year.  The other tray contains both daughter plants and plants from seed.  In one month there may be no discernible difference.  Perhaps the time is right to plant a tray of lettuce seeds.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Help! We Need Somebody!

First thing this morning there was no doubt we were in way too deep!  Ed's stone walls had vanished overnight.  The blue cast on and in the snow just before the sun comes up is an amazing sight.

This is the view from the living room window.  At least the ridge is back. We couldn't see it at all yesterday!

Ed decided to start with the ramp outside the kitchen door.  The door opens out and would barely open so Ed had to squeeze himself and his snow pusher out through a narrow opening.  He figured if he could get the snow off the ramp he could try to uncover the car.

Usually he starts at the basement entrance.  That door opens in but the amount of snow to move to get to the car was daunting.  It is a long throw up to to move the shoveled snow past the edge of the wall cap.

Ed had to shovel a lot of snow, but he reached the car.  Only the driver's side mirror was showing, otherwise it looked like everything else, just a big pile of snow.

My Dad always used to say it was a pleasure to watch Ed work.  He has always enjoyed physical work.  He does it well.  Let's just say with all this snow stranding us here, some of the fun was gone.  Does he look happy?  Well yes he does a little.  Frequent brief rests are necessary to avoid another trip to the emergency room.

When BJ's plow came driving up the driveway I knew Ed was smiling again.  Once before a plow truck stalled at the top of the long hill.  The large amount of snow that Ed cleared from the driveway before it grew deeper than his machines could handle made it possible for the plow truck to reach the top.  It was a beautiful sight!  Help that comes at the right time can make all the difference!  Ed still has lots of huge piles of snow to move and more is still falling.  Tonight the travel ban was lifted.  We can get out if we need or want to. Tomorrow has great possibilities!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Stella, Blizzard 2017

I was kind of hoping that my next blizzard would be purchased from Dairy Queen!  I much prefer my snow measured in inches instead of feet!  Last night the coyotes were howling at the moon and we had no snow.  Just look at us now!

Even if we could get out, there is no where to go.  We received an automated message from Otsego County that the roads are closed to all but emergency vehicles.  Basically New York is closed.

I got out my old fashioned Geiple's yardstick to measure what had fallen by about 2:30 this afternoon.

This is the most snow we have ever had in one day since we moved here.  It continues to snow without even showing a sign of letting up.

From inside the warm house, it still looks beautiful to me. I doubt if when Ed comes back in from out there, he will feel quite the same way!  We will probably update  snow totals tomorrow.  Apparently the end is not in sight until then!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Cardinal Flower Rescue

If there is a flower, either wild or created, that shines with a brighter purer red, I have yet to see it.  Cardinal Flower is a native plant in North America and may well have been the first New World plant sent back to Europe in the 1600's.  In its natural habitat it grows near water.  It is a temperamental garden subject but is well worth the effort to keep it alive.  The following picture shows the mid August appearance of this plant in our garden.

Many describe Cardinal Flower as a perennial plant.  Strictly speaking that description is incorrect since no part of the plant that flowered returns the following year.  As the old plant is rotting away, a cluster of six daughter plants begin new growth around the old stalk.  In the second year of growth things are getting quite crowded.  In the third year as many as thirty-six plants try to grow in very close quarters.  My opinion is that these plants need to be separated if they are to survive.  Fall division is seldom successful.

The tangle of white roots produced by each new plant over the winter is nothing short of amazing.  Trying to separate this tightly woven fabric without damaging each plant crown requires the gentle application of considerable wiggling force.

Cardinal Flower produces a huge number of seeds each summer.  Since garden soil is much drier than soil at water's edge, few seeds germinate in the garden.  I cannot be certain of the appearance of plants from seed since no published picture of them has ever been found.  One cluster dug for division today had several small plants growing at its edge.  Their leaf form is different from the daughter plants but the white root mass is the same.  These plants were the first potted.  Their location in the garden will be known and they will be watched to see what grows.  I may have potted up a pernicious weed but that chance is publicly taken.

Newly purchased pots now hold perhaps thirty young plants.  Some of the plants that grew under the snow were not singly separated.  Planting two or three together seemed better than inflicting possibly fatal damage pulling them apart.  For the next two months these trays will spend favorable days outside.  When cold threatens they will be moved into the basement.

Severe cold is in the forecast for the coming two nights.  How a plant that spends the winter growing under the snow can be turned to mush by snow-less cold is a mystery. Tomorrow will be spent covering the plants remaining in the garden with a loose mulch of dead iris leaves.  How that can protect from near zero temperatures remains to be seen.  Whatever the fate of the plants left outside, nearly two dozen protected plants will keep Cardinal Flower alive here for yet another year.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Cool March Day In The Garden

 Early March is the time when we look longingly out the window wondering if we can venture out to play in the garden.  It was cool this morning but the sun was so bright and the sky so blue that we threw caution to the wind and headed outside. Where  should we begin?  We wanted to stick together and so we decided to start in the garden down by the road.  Since the garden tractors are still equipped for snow, Ed loaded our garden carts and tools into the back of  his Red Ranger.  We started in front of the stone wall and the vibrations from our activity  tickled a big night-crawler to the surface.  Too bad the  flock of robins that Ed saw yesterday were gone.  They missed a feast.  I should have taken his picture, but my hands were cold and I decided not to take off my gloves to use the camera.  Finding the soil next to the wall still frozen, we moved to the Siberian iris that were in the sun.

All of the Siberian iris were need of a trim.  Who know what might be under all of those leaves?

The plant that I was working on had red bee balm growing all around it.  I knew it was there before I could see it because when it was disturbed  it gave  off its amazing scent.  I love my fragrant plants!

We had fun and seeing the bed looking neater made us both felt great, but our hands were getting very cold.  I thought we might be heading back to the house, but once inside the truck where it was warm  we decided to drive to Ed's garden in the back to check on his garlic.

Ed was not at all sure if he should be happy to see his garlic up now.  He mulched it with leaves to keep it from coming up too soon.  In the end the plants decide when the time is right.  I was glad to see it!  It was definitely time to head back to the house for lunch.  Hot soup and a grilled sandwich seemed like heaven to two chilled gardeners.  We were really glad to be inside when the wind started wailing and rain or sleet pelted the windows.  The lights blinked three different times, but the power stayed on.  Still cold the two of us cuddled together for a little afternoon nap.

When we awoke it was nice out again but cooler.  Ed went back out anyway and  trimmed this garden bed.  I was thrilled to see my Dutch iris coming up.  The cage will keep the deer from nipping them in the bud!  Gull's Wing Siberian Iris hold the left near corner.  Three small plants were mail ordered several years ago.  The tiny plant had been given up for dead but it made an appearance last year.

It was good to see this quack grass go from among the crocus.  Ed is a master at teasing these nasty invaders out of his garden soil.  A cage was put in place over the crocus.  This year the deer will not get to eat them before they bloom.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Changeable March

Our outside work on the first day of this month seems to have awakened in us a need to garden now.  We ventured outside in response to incredibly clear blue skies and blindingly bright sunshine.  Knowing that skies that clear only occur here when our air is fresh from the North Pole, we were expecting cold air.  It did not disappoint.  Gloved hands quickly began to ache and we soon retreated back inside the house.

Our inside plants suffer from less than perfect care.  Somehow days slip by and attention to basic issues is missed.  This rosemary has managed to stay with us for years.  Its twisted growth habit was the reason it was purchased.  Unusual traits and weaker plants seem to go hand in hand.  We were expecting this specimen to be nearing its final hours.  New growth was appearing so it seemed right to give this plant some help.  Dead wood was cut away and it now looks like this one may live to see another year outside.

Three small heel cuttings were taken.  We use juice bottles with the bottoms cut away to cover the cutting.  That keeps the air around the cutting moist.  Water in the saucer prevents the soil from going dry.  At this time of year cuttings usually die as the basement is chilly.  These early cuttings were moved upstairs into relative warmth.  My need to plant something today was satisfied.

The winter aconites finally pushed their flowers into the air.  In response to an overnight air temperature of zero, the flowers remain tightly closed.  One must marvel at the toughness of these plants.

Nearby snowdrops also have their flower buds closed in the cold air.  We will see their beautiful white flowers later this week as warmer temperatures are in the forecast.

These bluets self seeded in the top of the shade garden wall.  Our transplants were set in the adjacent soil and they prospered for a few years.  Bluets need moist soil and their former location was excessively dry.  Only the moisture captured by the stones keeps these plants alive.  We plan to move two of these plants to a better location soon.  It appears that one of these plants is not like the others.  Some bluets plants are male while others are female.  We will move the two plants at either end of the row in an attempt to get both genders and viable seed.  Their new location will include a nearness to water grabbing stones.  These plants are among Becky's favorites so I really need then to survive under my care.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

March 1, A New Record ? !

There were a couple of very excited gardeners here this morning.  For March 1 in upstate New York, it was warm and balmy.  We decided to get ready and head down to play in the garden by the road.  It took us a while to get everything together.  Where did I put my favorite nippers last fall anyway?  By the time we were all ready to go out it began to rain!  I was crestfallen, but we decided to take the truck for a ride to visit the back. By the time we got back there the rain let up. We had a fabulous time  in the woods.  I saw a flock of bluebirds and that was fantastic. While we were back there the rain stopped, but the wind was picking up.  Our original plan seemed within reach so we made a pit stop at the house then headed down the lane to garden by the road.

A walk around inspection tour of the plants no longer covered by snow was first.  These foxglove plants flourished under the snow cover. They look terrific for now!

One thing we have discovered about this garden bed is that almost everything grows like Jack's beanstalk.   Here are three Dame's Rocket plants.  We love the flowers but these plants fill  the picture now and  will be gigantic later.  Ed will need his pry bar  and determination to tackle them.  They are definitely not the project for today!

The green tips of King Alfred daffodils are a welcome sight.  Just thinking about those bright yellow flowers makes me happy!  But what about today's fun?

Here is a close look at one of Ed's Autumn Joy sedums.  The time for cutting these plants back is right NOW!  It's a good thing I found those nippers!  Ed removed the cages and we worked side by side.  The idea was to cut back the dead stalks before the green shoots get bigger.  Ed dug out any weeds near the sedums muttering about the quack grass sneaking in from next door.

As we worked the wind was picking up.  Ed had to chase his hat several times and the trugs kept blowing over.  I'm a little rusty using my garden cart, but I only did one wheelie and I did not end up on the ground.

Now that's what I call progress! We finished the entire row of sedum plants.

When our mail was delivered, our mail carrier remarked, " In the garden on March 1, isn't that a new record!"  Maybe, but  we got a glimpse of spring and we grabbed the chance to enjoy it!  We knew it must be time for lunch.  Ed cut back just one Siberian iris and then we headed back up the lane to the house.

The rest of the first day of March featured rain, thunder, winds, plummeting temperatures and finally some snow  but we had a glorious morning!

March Has Arrived

This first day of March featured both garden work and a walk in the woods.  At our age we need to vary our activities to limit the impact of various physical impairments.  Today we got it right.  After activity ice on the hips was all that was needed to control the pain following outside work.  If we can stay smart, we may get to work every day weather permitting.

Partridge Berry is a native wildflower that persists in our dry woods.  When we happen upon it, the patches are usually small or limited to a single plant.  We encountered a huge group of these plants while exploring a nearby waterfall.  Conditions there favored its growth.  Here the plant is in competition with escaped pasture grasses.  There is little doubt about which plant will survive.  The consequences of early farming activity continues to inhibit the occurrences of our native plants.

These plants were growing under the fallen tree leaves.  I simply cannot understand how covered plants continue to function when fallen leaves block their exposure to life giving sunlight.  Jane has told us of finding arbutus plants in bloom when the only clue to their existence was their scent drifting on the breeze.  She brushed aside the covering leaves to find arbutus plants in full bloom despite the blanket that had hidden them.  Willing to take no chances, I keep my arbutus clear of fallen leaves with careful hand picking.

We planted snow drops near the memorial bench built to mark the final  resting place of Becky's parents.  The pictured plants self seeded from the introduced plants.  They have pushed their new growth above the leaf cover in most spots.  Some leaves have been pierced by the new growth.  The serious bad news here is the appearance of a garlic mustard plant.  We have recently read that garlic mustard puts a chemical into the soil that may limit the growth of desired plants.  It directly attacks the mycorrhizae fungi that aide wildflowers in extracting nutrition from poor woodland soil.  This garlic mustard will have to go.  Garlic mustard is on the eradicate list for 2017.

The mechanics of how seeds naturally dropped on the soil surface form underground bulbs has always puzzled me.  Here bulbs were found growing above the ground.  They were carefully pushed into the soft moist soil.

Becky found this hemlock tree with two trunks growing in the back woods.  The near trunk is dead and it was likely opened by a Pileated Woodpecker.  We frequently hear the sounds of their drilling echoing from the ridges but rarely see them.  The fascinating texture of the exposed dead wood needed to be photographed.  We wonder what creature will find this opening to be a suitable home site.

This tree had the misfortune of taking root along the line separating a field from the woods.  A fence was set to keep the cows in the pasture.  The tree simply grew around the wire.  Seven strands of barbed wire seems excessive but as original strands weakened with rust new wire was simply added.  The fallen fence post shows that the tree survives long after the artificial posts rotted and fell.  We will need leaves to identify the type of tree still growing here.  Scars in the bark limit accurate identification.  The tree is showing buds so identification should be possible when they open.