Monday, October 30, 2017

Late Walkabout

When it comes to hardy, these Emperor of China chrysanthemums can't be beat.  They don't even get started until it gets cooler in October.  When it gets cold the leaves change to dark red, but the flowers  continue to bloom.  So far the latest flower we have had has been in December! 

At this time of year our focus is on cleaning up another mess in preparation for the next gardening season.  We have found no time for a simple walk in the garden.  Daylight outlasted the chore tasks so we had time for a look around.  This is likely a Cardinal Flower from seed.  There is but a single plant here so new growth near a dying flowering stem is unlikely.  There is also no sign of the remains of a stem.  In the company of violets and clover this might have been seen as just another weed.  Its location in the south west corner inside of the stone square is marked here so that it can be found in the spring.  It is much larger than the plants growing at the base of flowering stems and we would like to try potting it up.

These are newly discovered buds on the Pinxter bush.  We knew that the buds formed in the fall and as luck would have it we found them today.  Last year the deer ate here so timely preventative action was taken today.  Wire cages were placed so that the Pinxters were surrounded by either wire or stone wall.  During this time we found an additional bush growing very near the larger plant.  We have known about this small plant for several years but have resisted trying to move it.  This coming spring perhaps we will try our luck at moving this plant for the third time.

As fall color photos go, this one is somewhat unusual.  The setting sun is lighting up these Goldenrod seed heads in an attractive manner.  Traditional fall colors meet the sky on the edge of the gravel bank hill.  Goldenrod presents a conflict to us.  It is a highly invasive weed that takes and holds ground at the expense of whatever plant grew there in the past.  For that reason it needs to be exterminated.  It is the last plant to flower in our meadows providing nearly the only food source for late appearing Monarch butterflies.  For that reason we must have this plant.  It takes a pry bar and a block of wood to lever out the root mass and some plants are removed in that manner.  Others are left in place to feed the next season's crop of butterflies.

Repeated frosts have caused the trumpet vine to drop its leaves.  Today it was bald enough to reveal the wren nest that we knew must be there.  When the vine was covered with its red trumpets this summer, wren vs. hummingbird activity was wonderful fun to watch.  It seemed like the birds enjoyed their competition.  I fully expect all of them to return next year!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Fall Garden Fun

It was a beautiful day today.  At 7:00 AM the sun  filled the sky with glowing color as it rose above the ridge, but the thing I really noticed was the speed with which the low clouds were moving along the ridge.  It turned into a cloudy day right before my eyes.  The fact remained that it was warm and pleasant outside.  Both Ed and I had been itching to work cleaning up the overly exuberant bed down by the road.   We loaded the tractor's cart with our tools and headed down the hill. First we each pulled a trug full of weeds from the woodland garden. We have high hopes for this garden in the spring.  Of course right now most of the plants are dormant.  It looks more and more like a natural woodland setting with every change that Ed makes!

All warmed up by pulling the small weeds in the woodland garden, we really went for the gusto here.  Ed trimmed back the huge Swallowwort also known as swamp milkweed.  It was magnificent, but needed to be cut back.  It definitely was a home to some orange aphids that needed to be sent packing.  Anise hyssop plants are a personal favorite of mine. I love their lavender flowers and sweet aroma,but they had jumped the stone edging and there where plants nearly as tall as me growing out of bounds in front of the bed.  Ed and his spade got called in for that big job.  It did not take long to fill the cart to overflowing with discarded plants.  Ed drove them up the hill to the rough compost pile.

It was a pleasure to mulch around the plants chosen to remain in the bed.  It is an amazing change with all the grass, nightshade and overgrown Johnny Jump Up plants gone.   Dead flower stalks from the coneflowers,  bee balm and false indigo filled the cart a second time.   Now we were getting somewhere!   Mulch was spread around the plants that were chosen to remain.

It was quite a reach for Ed to lean over the wall and  make this Siberian Iris and Daylily look presentable again.

The wind picked up and the sky began to darken.  More important than that it was lunchtime!  It was wonderful fun working together to return this out of control garden to a more civilized look.  This morning was perfect.  There is still more to be done, but we headed up the hill for lunch feeling really great, happy about what we accomplished together.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

October Red

Carolina Rose seems like a strange name for the New York State flower but that is the reality.  Now more than ever before the actions undertaken by politicians seem to be devoid of logic or general benefit.  Monetary donations to campaign funds appears to be the ruling force.  How that factor influenced the selection of our State Flower remains a complete mystery.

We found this native plant growing along the fence line separating our land from our neighbors.  We secured his permission to dig on his land if necessary.  As it turned out, the desired plant was totally on our land.  A single pink flower carrying a deliciously sweet scent is this rose's claim to fame.  We are pleased to have it in our garden but it deserves a better location.

This close up shows both the prickly surface of the red rose hips and the long thin sharp thorns that line the stems.  These thorns pass through gloves or sleeves with ease delivering a painful stab.  We need a location for this plant that is far away from routine cultivation.  Hand weeding under this plant is always painful.  That is why that task is seldom completed.  We are still searching for a good spot for this plant so it remains in a nursery bed.  Actually, most of the original plant has spread into the nearby stone path where it attacks lower legs.  Beauty often comes with a price and in this case the price is pain.

Sumac is a more docile plant that is held in general disregard.  These trees are short lived and messy.  We have this trash tree defining our shade garden near the road.  At this time of year its red leaves are stunning.  During the summer they provide a shade cover that appears to be tropical.  Soon both the leaves and the stems that hold them will drop to the ground.  The fallen leaves are not a problem but the tangle of cast off stems is messy.  Since we plant under these trees raking up the mess is out of the question.  What is required is some quiet time under the trees picking up individual stems.  That is not a bad way to spend some quiet outside on warm blue skies days.  We also get to check on the progress of recent transplants.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Immovable Stone Versus Irresistible Forces

This week began with a visit to my Primary Care Physician.  A focus of our discussion was the condition of my lower back.  For the first time the doctor uttered the words back surgery.  My age and  past choices of activities have left their mark on my lower spine.  My passion for building walls with native fieldstone was identified as a possible contributing factor to the back pain.  Later that same day I discovered this beautiful rock at the edge of the woods.

Where our fields approach the remains of the bedrock ridge, the torrents of glacial melt water cut a shallow ravine.  Occasional springs are now common there so the area is always interesting.  A break from garden work found me looking down into this depression.  At my feet was a rock of unusual beauty.  A quick hand check revealed the massive nature of this stone since it would not move even a tiny amount in response to light carefully applied pressure.

Stones this large are seldom the cause of injury since it is obvious that just man power will have no impact on them.  I returned with a pry bar and a block of wood to see just what was at hand.  A cautious 90 degree rotation showed just how massive this rock is.  There was no way that I could move this one.

Closer inspection revealed a crack that extended the entire length of one face.  Past experience indicated that a clean split of the rock into two pieces was within my skill set.  The resulting thin piece of the stone did not appeal to me since the charm was its massiveness.  Various options for moving it intact were considered.  All involved big machines that could be rented or coerced from a neighbor.  I am more of a do it myself kind of guy.

Careful work with the block and pry bar created a narrow opening under the stone where the end of a log skidder cable would pass.  The cable was attached to the hitch on my trusty Ranger.  A journey of one half of a mile moved the stone into my woodland bower near the road. The path of the stone left quite an impression.   The skidding cable suffered serious damage rubbing against the lane surface but the stone shows only a single mark from its contact with the cable.  A new replacement cable will be here in a couple of days since  the frayed cable will injure the hands that hold it.

A disconnect was required to move the truck to the far side of the bower trees.  The distance between the rock and the truck required three cables and a section of rope to pull the stone near its final position.  The rope only broke once and my knots of the moment could be easily untied.

Here the treasured stone has found its place at the edge of the woodland garden.  The nearby stone displays about the same surface area but it is just a thin slice that was moved by hand.  Rolling it on edge  probably caused more injury to my back than the effort made to move the much heavier neighbor.  The only time that my hand touched the monster was to push it over into the hole dug to receive it.  Perhaps a couple of Jacob's Ladder plants would look good planted near this stone.  That leaves space behind and at both ends for other plants.  Time trapped inside this winter will be spent finding just the right woodland plants for this spot now made special. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Thyme For Hard Frost

Jack Frost was back this morning and this time his icy breath was a killer!  When I first awoke and looked out the window the world outside was white.  It was still dark, so I snuggled back under the covers but I knew what would be waiting in the garden when it was daylight.  The frosted thyme on the patio at the west end of the house resembled silver edge thyme.  It looked quite beautiful.

Red creeping thyme was originally planted here.  Thyme that grows wild has mixed with it and I have given up trying to weed thyme from the thyme.  Both plants are extremely tough and went right back to green when the frost was gone.

At first glance the basil planted right outside my kitchen door doesn't look so bad.  It has the same silver edges as the thyme.  A closer look shows more.   Basil is tender and with the temperature below freezing,  Jack's icy frozen breath was the kiss of death!

When the sun hit this plant the frosted cells in the leaves exploded and turned to slime.  It was great to have fresh basil this late, but it's all over now.  Only the clean-up remains.

A close look at this Grandpa Ott morning glory leaf shows Jack's icy breath on the entire leaf.  It's location on top of the porch railing did not protect it.

This plant looks a little better than the basil, but it is just as dead.  Next year basil will be back because we will plant it.   Grandpa Ott seeds unfazed by the cold will return when the ground warms.   I still love a four season garden.  You need and end to have that wonderful new beginning!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Garlic To Ground Yet Again

Growing garlic has been a passion here for at least two decades.  Problems go hand in hand with this plant.  Age has impacted our ability to eat nearly raw garlic.  We recently tried garlic bread with the last batch of pesto.  That meal tasted great but discomfort quickly followed.  It was expected and we will likely try them again.

Garlic disease is the other problem.  It took us entirely too long to realize that sick plants poisoned the soil.  This year our garlic will be planted in nearly new soil.  The first crop in this new ground was potatoes.  Generous soil amendments were stirred in to get this ground ready for garlic.  Two sections of wire fence were used to mark off uniformly spaced planting holes.  One section of fence was rotated ninety degrees creating a graph paper accurate grid.  The fence sections were left covering the ground to keep the turkeys from stirring the new dirt.

We have been planting peeled cloves recently to avoid placing disease in our new ground.  We use Daphne's method and it is working.  Several of our six varieties showed no clove rot when peeled.  This is a major improvement.

Four of these cloves show the beginnings of a rot that can wipe out a planting across several years.  The other clove has something that we rarely see but it looks horrid.  The standard practice when popping cloves for planting is to feel the bulb checking for firmness.  Only solid bulbs provide the cloves to be planted.  None of the pictured rot would have been found using the light squeeze method.  All of these cloves might have been planted and their illness would have been transferred to the soil.  We plant only clean cloves but some problems do appear when the plants are growing.  Early removal of sickly plants is a wise course of action.

One hundred twenty cloves were planted this morning.  Sixty more will follow this afternoon.  That leaves ninety more for another day.  Here is a list of the six different varieties that we plant.  Five of these are porcelains since that variety stubbornly grows in our late summer wetness.  All of our stock was locally found.

White Bishop has been with us the longest.  We assigned the name to recognize the local legend that grows and sells this variety.  Charlie Bishop has yet to reveal his original source of this variety so we frequently return to his roadside stand to renew our stock.  Nearly half of last year's crop failed despite the fact that we planted only peeled cloves.  We will look carefully at the rest to see if any can be planted this year.

Richfield Springs is another name created here.  When a new roadside stand appeared, we purchased quantities of this garlic.  Her first season's garlic had been planted on ground that had previously been used to feed young cows.  Their leavings ran deep and dark and the garlic grown there was enormous.  Unfortunately disease appeared in subsequent crops and our planted stock carried the disease.  Using the soak and peel method has completely cleared this variety of disease.

Susquehanna White is a name created by its grower.  A roadside sign advertised his organic vegetables.  His location was the best that I have ever seen.  A glacial mound provided a site for his home that was above the highway providing quiet and privacy.  Behind the house the ground slowly fell away creating a gently sloped garden site that faced south.  At the base of the slope a greenhouse was installed on level ground.  The mainline of the former D & H railroad ran nearby.  The river is on the far side of the railroad tracks.  His garlic was healthy but small.  We have worked with his stock for several years and the last harvest was impressive.

Helen's is the name given for this recent gift from a now departed special person.  During her later years she made a tremendous positive impact on our lives.  This garlic serves to remind us of Helen frequently.  It is also the best variety that we grow.  Forty-seven bulbs were harvested from the fifty that we planted.  We found absolutely no sign of rot when these cloves were prepared for planting.  Helen was going to search out the source of her garlic for us but she was not given enough time for that unimportant task.  For us her name on this variety is perfect.

Lamb's Quarters is the name of a local family farm that raises and sells lamb meat.  They also sell garlic at the Farmer's Market.  Her story is that her father in law brought this garlic with him when he emigrated here from Poland.  It is an oft told story that just might be true.  In any event this variety features bulbs consisting of just four cloves.  The bulbs are not impressive but the four cloves are.  It is very easy to remove just four cloves from the bulb.

Guilford Purple Stripe identifies both town of origin and the type of this garlic.  It has a growth habit that is visually different from our main crop porcelains.  We use it to separate the plantings of the different porcelains.  This purple stripe displays attractively colored bulbs that contain brown skinned cloves.  The only drawback is its tendency to form huge double or triple cloves.  These are a nightmare to plant but are easy to use in the kitchen.

Daphne's Garlic Solution;
First before they are peeled I make up a solution of one quart of water and one teaspoon of baking soda. The night before I drop in all the good cloves I sorted out. The next morning I take them out and peel the skin off. The solution makes the skins much easier to peel in addition to helping to disinfect the cloves. When the cloves are peeled, I usually find a few cloves that are bad, but I couldn't see because of the skin. Once they are peeled, rinse them. Then put them in alcohol for three minutes. I use vodka which is 80 proof, but many use a higher proof. I don't happen to have anything higher in the house and 80 has worked for me. Once the three minutes is up then rinse them off again. Now the cloves are ready to plant.

Planting in October is an unusual experience.  Most food crops are started following winter.  We know that the bitter cold and snow will soon be ours but we also know that next season's garlic has already been planted.  Planting food now just feels great.

October 18th saw the last of the garlic planted. Three varieties, White Bishop, Lamb's Quarters and Guilford Purple Stripe, were soaked and peeled today.  There was not a single clove with the dreaded brown rot among the ninety prepared for planting.  Nearly one half of the White Bishop planting was lost to decay but none of the survivors displayed any signs of rot.  That suggests that the source of the problem was in the ground not the seed.  Of the four planting beds in the garden near the woods, the north eastern bed will never see garlic again.  Three years ago it did grow garlic and the rot from that crop must have persisted in the soil despite the years with other crops grown there.  Another area of pasture grass will be cleared for potatoes next spring.  That ground will see garlic that fall.  Two more areas await their turn to become garden beds.  That will give us four consecutive years of planting garlic where it has never grown before.  This year all of the seed planted was clean.  Susquehanna White had perhaps six cloves with small spots of rot.  Richfield Springs had the single disgusting clove.  We shall see what the next harvest brings.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Late Bloomers Are A Joy

It is so very nice to have a few late bloomers in the garden.  In October Autumn begins to wind down and most of the garden has gone to seed.  It is a real delight to still have something getting ready to bloom!

I have had this Sedum sieboldi for many years. I bought it on my one and only trip to Caprilands.  Small pink flowers with bright pink pollen have a subtle but pleasing aroma. Now that so few blooms are around they get to be the center of attention.

Treats for the bumblebees are down to a precious few.  It's easy to get their picture.  They are so intent on the fact that they have discovered pollen and nectar they don't care how close you get with the camera.   The Gallardias are also buzzing, but today I have a strong preference for pink.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Evergreen Puzzle

Do not let the yellowish cast of this all important White Pine tree alarm you.  This is the time of year when these trees renew themselves.  Some of the old needles have turned yellow in the process that will end with them falling to the ground.  Their vacated place will quickly be filled with bright new green needles.  This transformation continues in an orderly fashion with the tree always appearing mostly green.

Trailing Arbutus plants require a highly acidic soil if they are to grow.  Rotting fallen pine needles form such a soil.  We are working to keep the area near the arbutus free of nasty blackberry bushes and an evil creeping thorn bearing vine.  The thick covering of recently fallen pine needles may help our efforts in time.  My stone walls are built with two separate inward sloping faces.  That creates a low area down the center of the top of the wall which is now filled with brown needles.  That makes a slippery place  to sit and you could get pine sap on your pants but some think that it looks sharp.

Arbutus is also an evergreen plant but I have never seen it cast off old brown leaves.  These prized plants are under nearly constant surveillance and we look without success for old fallen leaves.  It seems unlikely that these leaves are several years old.  So far the method of leaf replacement for these plants remains their secret.

Every now and then we remove the wire cage that denies rabbits a meal from our plants while we examine closely the plants.  The thickness of the layer of fallen needles concerns me.  Arbutus plants prefer to grow in shady locations but it seems to me that some light is necessary for the plants to carry out life functions.  My inclination is to hand pick the needles from the arbutus.  Trusted naturalist Jane has talked of finding arbutus in flower guided only by the flowers' scent.  A layer of fallen tree leaves had totally obscured the arbutus from sight.  Life function seemed to continue despite the covering but I am certain that once the pine needles have all fallen, I will clear them away from the tops of the arbutus.  Being a parent is a difficult never ending job.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Nightly Valley Fog

This is the season for warm summer like days and chilly nights.  Having to turn on both the air conditioner and the heat in the same day does happen on occasion now but the fog that forms most nights is the subject under consideration.  For those of us that live in the valleys, the fog is at best a nuisance.  School aged children standing roadside waiting for their school bus while surrounded by fog is not the best way to start their day.  Those of us with fewer demands on our time wait for the fog to burn off before venturing out.  Others that live along the summit of a ridge are able to begin each day looking out at great natural beauty.

These pictures were taken from the crest of a ridge that forces the Susquehanna River to flow in a westward direction.  The small notch in the ridge across the valley marks the location of the Unadilla River as it approaches its confluence with the Susquehanna.  All of the visible land features seen here were created by the last glacier that first buried and then exposed all of this ground.

Geologically speaking, this is a rather dull area.  We have none of the shale lined gorges nor towering waterfalls that are so common just to our west in the Finger Lakes region.  Our two rivers are basically flat water.  Small waterfalls do exist in limited numbers on some of the streams feeding into our rivers.  The New York State Geologic Society holds a several days long exploration of areas within the state each year but has never ventured here.  Still, this is home and we consider it special.

These views of the fog filled valleys allow me to imagine how this area might have looked as the last glacier was melting.  The surface of the fog is pure without blemish while the decaying top of the glacier would be littered with mud, rocks and dead vegetation.  Of course the glacier ended all of the trees so the ridge surface would appear barren and worn.  How this land came to be in its present form is complex beyond imagination but invites one to take a long second look.

In this picture the sun has climbed higher into the sky and the fog is nearly gone.  Sidney, New York was established here near where the two rivers meet. Our homestead is located in or near the most distant band of fog that is wrapped around the end of a bedrock ridge.  We tend to forget that most or the ridges in this area run east to west since we border a south flowing river. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Missed By Frost, Kissed By Frost

Jack Frost can be pretty sneaky around here in the fall.  Last night there were no frost warnings issued.  When we stepped out the door this morning it was warm enough that frost seemed impossible.  This afternoon though, a walk around the garden made it obvious that  sometime during the night we had a cold icy visitor.  Nasturtiums find Jack's  breath to be the kiss of death, but these yellow nasturtiums inside the four stone walls look fine. They were missed by the frost.

These nasturtiums not too far away in one of the garden beds were lightly kissed by frost.  They took it hard.  It is October and time to say goodbye!

Basil hates frost. In fact it doesn't even like to be cool.  The basil between two of Ed's stone paths and  close to the front of our white house looks fine.  Clearly it was missed by the frost.

The basil in the garden was hit by the frost.  It was not enough to kill the entire plant outright, but these plants had a near death experience.  The compost is the perfect place for them now!  We hate cleaning up totally dead slimy basil but pulling these plants that are still holding their dead leaves won't be so bad.

This unusual self planted gourd plant is growing perhaps 18 inches above the ground on an old compost pile.   It was missed by the frost.

The gourd vine that got missed by the frost shows at the upper left of this picture.  The vine growing at ground level got kissed pretty hard by the frost.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, compost to compost.  This plant has a very short trip to its final resting place!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Fallen Leaves

Something for free has always appealed to me as long as I can quickly make good use of it.  Quaint old villages around here feature massive trees lining the streets and holding locations near houses.  Cleaning up the dropped leaves is a standard practice at this time of year but few see them as treasure.  Piling bags of leaves around the skirting of mobile homes to keep out winter's cold is a common activity here.  Some old stone house foundations receive a similar treatment.  There is some competition to be the first to find bags of leaves curbside.  They are free for the taking since that diminishes the work for the village crew.  I filled the pickup with bags of leaves and drove home happy!

Having done this for awhile, the best locations for clean leaves or leaves that are vacuumed up by lawn mowers are known to me.  Prechopped leaves are the best, but clean whole leaves get two runs by my mower.  We have found several advantages to placing leaves on our garden soil.  The people that just raked these leaves from their lawns might not understand why I dump them out on my lawn.

These Cardinal Flower plants from seed were moved to their permanent location in our new woodland garden several weeks ago.  Here the ground leaves serve three important functions.  Cardinal Flower plants grow in moist locations in the wild.  Their soil here will remain moist under a cover of leaves.  As the leaves decay the soil under them will become more like natural forest ground.  The leaf cover will also discourage weeds.  The desired plant in the foreground has a weed growing right next to its crown.  Several attempts to remove it have been made but the tangle of white Cardinal Flower roots has tightly held the weed crown.  This battle is expected to go on forever but fight the weed we will.  These three plant were growing so close together when dug that we felt separating them might be fatal.  Now they simply look crowded but nothing can be done about that until spring.  Fall divisions of Cardinal Flower are seldom successful.

At the end of last week this was our tomato bed.  The poles, weeds, straw mulch and fallen tomatoes have all be removed.  The trench between the field grasses and the bed has been dug again and filled with ground bark mulch.  A top dressing of lime followed by a mixture of long aged compost, purchased composted cow manure and peat moss was mixed into the soil.  A layer of new leaves that just had two trips under the mower completed the preparation of this ground.  The wire fence sections that usually are placed to keep the deer out will be placed on top of the leaves to hold them in place.  When winter ends this bed will emerge nearly ready for its next crop.  That is something to look forward to.