Saturday, June 30, 2018

One Fine Meal

When we came to this land twenty-four years ago, my intention was to grow huge quantities of our food much in the manner of Helen and Scott Nearing.  Gifts of flowers were seen as a nuisance since all of the opened land was needed for food crops.  Our focus has changed as flowers now rule here but some food crops still hold their ground.

Oregon Giant snow peas remain at the top of the list.  Their harvest is eaten fresh so no time and effort are spent preserving the crop.  It takes all of one morning to prepare the ground and plant two twelve foot long rows on either side of the chicken wire fence.  Included in that effort is grinding and spreading last year's fallen hardwood tree leaves after the seeds are planted.  Some open ground is left for the soon to sprout seeds but the mulch is pulled in close after they are up and growing.  The combination of the water retaining function of the mulch and watering cans of water delivered during the recent drought have these plants in excellent condition.

Enough peas for one batch are picked early in the morning.  They are held in the refrigerator until evening.  Broken pieces are blanched in boiling water for only thirty seconds.  That is quickly followed by an ice water bath.  Freshly picked young peas handled this way are extremely crunchy.  Their taste is amazing.

Becky closely follows the Sesame Baked Tofu with Snow Peas and Almonds from the Moosewood Kitchen Garden Cookbook.  We use only locally processed firm tofu that has previously been frozen.  The time in the freezer nearly eliminates the mushy mouth feel of tofu.  Chicken or fish can be substituted for the tofu.  Sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar and freshly grated gingerroot combine to create a truly memorable flavor.  We only have this meal when snow peas can be freshly picked from our garden.  The quality of the peas and the magic contained in the recipe combine to make these meals well worth waiting for.  Many times I am tempted by limp snow peas in the grocery store but I always turn away knowing that they simply will not measure up.

When we visited the Moosewood Restaurant located in Ithaca, NY many years ago, it was a memorable experience.  A loose group of young people came together to prepare meals centered on locally grown produce.  Housed in an old school building one block west of the main street, the popularity of the place mandated an early arrival.  While sitting on an uncomfortable wooden school chair against a basement hall wall  waiting for seat in the serving areas, a young long haired man walked quickly by.  His tee shirt carried the message "Attitude Is Everything".  Those three words said it all.  I have found that expression to be a guide on how to live a happy productive life.  The message on the shirt was free.  The meal was excellent and it inspired our annual special enjoyment of a truly wonderful meal when the cookbook was published.

How Sharp Is This?

I was standing at my kitchen sink working on our latest batch of strawberry freezer jam when this black and white critter waddled by the window.  I knew what it was as soon as I saw it.  The animal's  gait reminded me of an inchworm.  It made a hump as it brought its back feet up to meet the front  paws and then stretched out flat as it moved its front feet forward.  It was moving right along, but I had no difficulty finding the camera, setting the zoom, getting the length of the house and out to the porch to snap this photo.  I was desperate to have a picture to prove that I actually saw it.  I might have tried for a second shot, but I was in my bare feet and chasing after a porcupine in bare feet seemed totally stupid.  What I got was a rear view of a porcupine, a black animal with stiff white quills.   Frequently I have seen porcupines dead along the road  and many years ago  Ed and I drove by one up in a tree next to the road but that was miles from here.  This is not the first porcupine seen at the Stone Wall Garden though.  One was seen here in the evening on May 31 2010.  Evening is when they are usually out and about.  I wonder where this one was going on such a hot sunny day?  I plan to study and learn how to read the signs to track a porcupine.   I would really like to see this one again!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Hiding In Plain Sight

I've often thought that weeds in my garden go to great lengths to hide from me.  This Woodsorrell is a prime example!  Here in the Sweet Ciceley it is bright green and matches the height of the  tall plant that surrounds it.  That requires at least eighteen inches of growth.

In the very same bed when  Woodsorrell  is surrounded by Coral Bells it matches the height and color again.  Here a six inch height is sufficient.  It's really kind of neat when you think about it.  With their heart shaped leaves and matching color they do look pretty.  Soon however, bright yellow flowers will give away the location of this weed.  It multiplies only by seed so if  I can get them first before the seed matures, I will.

 I almost missed this Spiderwort flower and the bee because it was  in the shade between the Summer Sweet and the stone wall.  Definitely not a weed, it should not be missed.  I won't say how many fuzzy bee pictures I had to delete, but I got my picture. and my flower.  I'm an old pro at garden hide and seek!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Garden By The Woods

This long view of our garden by the woods was taken from our highest ground.  Our house would have been built where I am standing to take the picture if money had been limitless.  Two stories on the south side with only one story above ground on the north side was the plan.  The lower level would have been set into the hill with a wall of windows on the exposed side.  That did not happen but working this ground now is as good as it gets.  Remote quiet and distant views make this seemingly wilderness land perfect for the way I want to live.  Pictures show that this is the best tended land on our place.

There is a second ridge behind the one that can be seen.  It is huge and separates the Susquehanna river and Unadilla river watersheds.  The geographic impact on us is the miles of frost rivers that pour down these hills and sweep across our gardens.  I could not have put the garden near the house in a colder spot if that had been my goal.  As it is the cold flow sometimes stays just above this garden when it hits the lower one with full force.

The visible ridge is part of several square wooded miles crossed only by one seasonal road.  We have heard the old timers talk about interactions with bears, wildcats and wolves.  In my younger days I had the land owner's permission to walk his land to the top of the ridge.  Age and a small measure of common sense now keep me closer to home.  On many days it feels like coyotes are close at hand watching me.  So far they have kept their distance.

The original purpose of opening this garden land was to provide ground that had not been contaminated by garlic diseases.  Potatoes are the first crop planted in newly cleared meadow ground.  Next year garlic will be planted where the two rows of potatoes now grow.  Potatoes will then be sown where the pasture grasses now reign.  That area will be cleared of grasses and stones as time allows.  A quick count shows that there will be three more beds where garlic has never before  grown.  If I am still here then, the garlic will of necessity return to ground previously used to grow it.  Considering the elapsed time interval and the near disease free state of our garlic there should be no major problem.

The possible passing of the man that had operated a pick your own strawberry farm prompted me to plant strawberries in larger numbers here.  Previously we had grown only enough plants to supply fresh fruit for our cereal.  Two rows of purchased plants were formed.  New plants from runners were carefully set in four additional rows.  There was to be a one foot wide clear path down the center.  The berries had different ideas and we did it their way.  This year runner plants will be taken to start a new bed.  We hope to see three years of decent harvests from the original planting.  This is a learning experience for us since we know nothing about the proper cultivation of strawberry plants.  We do intend to move new plants into ground that has not previously grown strawberries.

This is the current state of our plants.  Filtered shade created by the nearby trees delayed the active growth of our plants.  Hot dry weather has kept the crop in a holding pattern.  We picked and processed eight quarts of berries from another location.  They were closed for three days to allow their plants time to recover from the ravages of hot dry picking.  We now have about one half of a years supply of jam in the freezer and we are counting on our own fruit to supply the other half.  The going is shaky and slow.  Yesterday's harvest yielded only two more jars of jam.  We clearly have enough berries.  We have little control over the weather and its impact on our crop.  Yesterday I trucked ten gallons of water for these plants.  Hand watering with a sprinkling can took considerable time and effort but likely fell far short of what the plants need.  Rain is in the forecast for the next several days.  My winters supply of jam depends on some real rain.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

First Monarch Caterpillar

Becky first spotted this young caterpillar three days ago.  Their appearance seems unusually early this year. Usually it is the second week in July before the first caterpillar is spotted.   It has been more than six weeks since our last frost and that may be the defining number.  The flower buds remain tightly closed but the caterpillar feeds only on the leaves.  Lush soft new growth is widely available inside of the stone square that anchors our garden and we will remain watchful looking for other future butterflies.

It might seem to be a strong contradiction to encourage milkweed to grow in our planting beds.  Its horizontal root runs for far more than one foot several inches below the surface of our finely prepared planting soil.  Any attempt to remove milkweed results in a broken piece of root in hand and the certainty that the plant will return.  In this picture milkweed is growing among Black Eyed Susans.  Since both are native meadow plants this might be seen as a natural planting in one corner of our garden.  Oriental lilies, Daylilies and tomato plants reveal the intended function of this ground but we benefit greatly from all of these plants.

The stone wall defines one corner of our center square.  The Pinxter and neighboring but hidden Cardinal Flower plants are the intended growth here.  Some ferns came along when the Pinxter was moved from the woods.  The milkweed is self planted and the pictured caterpillar feeds close by.

Becky thought that she saw a Monarch several days ago.  These beautiful insects move about quickly and the slightest breeze moves them out of sight before a certain identification can be made.  I also saw a female as she darted from leaf to leaf after depositing a single egg on the underside of each leaf.

The butterflies that complete the fall migration hatch out closer to September.  It seems unlikely that our first caterpillar will survive long enough to make that trip.  Instead it will likely play a part in the creation of the fall eggs.  We will keep our eyes open looking for the first chrysalis of the current cycle.  Tremendous satisfaction follows our plants playing a part in the life cycle of this threatened beautiful butterfly. 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Mary Jo Remembered

No one could ignore the Catchfly that is blooming in the garden.   Certainly the butterflies are attracted to it.  Amy managed to catch this Tiger swallowtail with the camera.  Many Skippers visit the plant, but they are all too fast for us. These days Ed and I try to think back into the previous century and remember  how these plants came to be in our garden.  Back in the 1990's I belonged to an amazing herb group.  It seems to me that the first time I saw Catchfly, it was growing in the garden at Mary Jo's home.  I remember being given some seeds.  I would have planted them at our previous location since we did not yet own our homestead land.  After all these years we are thrilled to still have Catchfly with us today.  Its color demands a larger planting and we will seed a patch down by the road when mature seeds form.  Catchfly color will certainly catch the eye of drivers speeding by since it simply is too bright to be missed.

Somehow the camera does not capture the intensely hot magenta of these flowers that I see.  I could change the color saturation I suppose, but I prefer my photos as they are.  It's more natural!

It was that trip to Mary Jo's garden where I first saw Copra onions.   I can still see them laid out to dry.  The stalks were straight.  The onions were large and round.  I was told that they stored very well.  I had to grow them.  At the beginning we grew the onions from seed.  Now we purchase onion plants from Dixondale Farms.  Weeding the onions brought back distant memories of  Mary Jo. We will see if this year we will have those big round  Copra onions to make Bodacious Braids!

The weed patch behind the onion bed was formerly a planting bed.  We have known for some time that we have more garden than we can  properly cared for.  The current plan is to cut the weeds close to the ground then cover the area with grass clippings.  The change in levels between the lawn and the planting bed will be smoothed so that the next owner will have the option of mowing the entire area.  The soil that we have built here is rich, fine and deep compared with the gravel that deeply covers the field.  I would be interested in seeing the pattern if the area is simply mowed.  The stone paths will support only poor weedy growth while the garden beds will grow grass that will be much taller and much greener than what grows in the fields.  For now we are here and can still reach to the center of the planting.  The onions look great and we are still eating last year's crop.  The weather at dry down will determine whether or not braids can be made.  Stems must be dry and solid for the braids to hold the onions although a double strand of twine helps to hold the weight..

Friday, June 8, 2018

Shade Garden Grows

Confronted with age related decline in physical stamina, we are looking for work saving strategies that will allow us to continue gardening.  Just how an expansion of this garden fits into that plan might seem to be in contradiction of that goal.  The grass clippings, notice how they follow the line between shade and sunlight, will end the pasture grass that now grows here.  That newly cleared ground will provide space for divisions of our Siberian Iris collection that are long overdue.  Proper spacing and reground bark mulch will make this area relatively free of work once it is planted.  We want to be ready to plant here next spring.

Every bag of collected leaves has been opened and dumped in the shaded area.  We are trying to build forest soil with decaying hardwood leaves.  Little rain is in the forecast for the next several days so these leaves should dry out.  The small hand mower will be used to shred these leaves.  Quicker decay and more of a tendency to stay in place are the reasons for shredding.  The compost pile is slated for removal.
This is the long view as seen from the road.  The wire caged lilies clearly show their ugly protection but the evening munching deer is already eating the New England Asters.  Two years ago that deer ate every lily bud.  Now the lilies are protected but the colorful flowers will be behind wire.

Catskill Native Nursery was the source of this Smooth Solomon's Seal plant.  Buds promise flowers when most of the native woodland plants are going dormant.  A huge Spring Beauty was in the pot with this plant.  That hitchhiker was the actual reason for the purchase.  It was magnificent and should have dropped a load of seeds.  We will watch and see just what treasure this purchase provides next spring.

This is a weed that must be allowed to grow where self-planted.  A Red Clover flower is attractively colored and this one is home for a tiny white spider.  Becky is the one who sees events like this.  I get to enjoy them in her photos.

Cardinal Flower has captured and held my attention for several years.  Just why this native plant remains scarce in this general area remains a bit of a puzzle.  These plants taken from our gardens early this year have spent cold nights in the basement.  Now they are on their way to new owners in three different locations in our attempt to increase the number of plants with a chance to drop seed.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

First Daylily

For us the strongest allure of a flower may be the manner in which it came to be ours.  Lemon Lily is just such a plant.  A friend of Becky's family was an experienced gardener.  Her home was nestled at the base of a narrow valley between two steep ridges.  Most cars would take the curve at the base of the hill at a high rate of speed to ease the climb up out of the other side of the valley just a short distance away.  Her beautiful garden near the road would be seen as only a blur of color if it was noticed at all from passing cars.  Fortunately for us Thelma shared her love of flowers through her gifts of plants.  A Lemon Lily possesses powerful traits in its own right but we always first recall Thelma and her generosity to us when her plants bloom.

The clear bright yellow color shouts out from a considerable distance.  No one can miss seeing this blossom.  Drawn near by the color, one is quickly enveloped in a cloud of sweet fragrance. A visitor need not place his nose near the open flower to sample its scent.  It carries on the wind for a great distance.

At the present time breeding day lilies to produce wild variations in color and scent is a popular activity.  Hundreds of named varieties are offered for sale.  Scented varieties often have a Lemon Lily in their family tree as the original source of their aroma.  On thing about this puzzles me.  Our Lemon Lilies are open ahead of the others even beginning to show buds.  How is this pollen used to fertilize flowers that will not be open for a considerable period of time?  Can pollen be harvested and stored?

Our initial gift of this plant has both survived and spread.  We are now finding new plants appearing as weeds in distant parts of the garden.  They are welcome weeds for sure but we had no part in their finding a new location.

Most years late frost takes these buds long before they have a chance to open.  The flowerless plants continue to grow and spread by sending out root runners.  In years when flowers do appear, seeds form as shown by the new distant plants.  Lemon Lily will always hold a place in our gardens and we offer plants to any visitor that would like to have them.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

One In Five Sometimes

Black Locust is a tree that is native to North America but not to New York State.  Central Pennsylvania marks the northern limit of the natural appearance of this tree.  Our late frost is the issue that hampers this tree's natural rhythms.  Here it is among the last trees to leaf out.  On occasion a late frost will take the young leaves but to date a second set has always followed.  Blossoms fare far harder here.  When frost ends them there are none that year.  If we are lucky blossoms form one year in five.  This is the first year in our memory that the month of May was totally frost free here.  Many of our plants have responded strongly to the steady warm temperatures. 

Huge clusters of white hooded flowers impact several of our senses.  Since most of my time is spent looking downward to find safe passage over our rough uneven ground, it was the airborne scent that first captured my attention.  Its subtle sweetness is unmistakable and when I walked into the scented air the existence of locust flowers was instantly recognized.  How their perfume can be so quickly recognized despite its lightness is a puzzle.  The visual statement of these sparkling white flowers is a rare treat.  The buzzing of hundreds of feeding bees is quite an experience.  Feeding bees are not likely to sting.  Full pollen baskets prevent the bees from taking the stinging posture and the abundant food stabilizes their good mood so nearness to happy bees can be an uncommon but enjoyable experience.

We planted both the locust and pine trees to form a screen between us and the new house that appeared after we had purchased our land.  The combination of the two species is working well.  Locust growth is rather open as these trees require full sunlight to sustain life.  The younger pines are filling in the desired visual screen behind the locusts.

When we first obtained this land, truckloads of compost were moved here from the village facility.  This locust tree grew up out of the resulting compost pile.  It now provides the shade for our garden and the lateness of its leaves lengthens the sunny period for our woodland plants.  For the next few days sitting on the stone wall under this tree will provide us with both shade and the many benefits that spring from locust flowers.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Night Prowlers

Yesterday the catnip planted right in front of the house looked pretty much like this! 

This morning I was amazed to see that the catnip planted right in front of the house looked like this.  How could this have happened overnight?  It could have been an ordinary house cat I suppose, but in all the years we have lived here many a cat has stopped by the catnip plants and they never made a mess like this!  Curious, I checked good old You Tube and after watching a pair of Bobcats rolling in catnip, I can imagine that happening here.  After all we have seen Bobcats here before.  I am actually thrilled at the idea that we might have BIG CATS in the neighborhood.  Maybe they can catch those naughty baby bunnies that have moved into the garden.  I can dream can't I?  Not to worry these catnip plants have been bent and bruised, but they will come back.  I hope the night prowlers come back too and if that catnip gives them the munchies so much the better!

Friday, June 1, 2018

Two Old Tools

My focus this morning was to finally get some seed potatoes into the ground.  This soil has been undisturbed for the two plus decades that we have owned this land.  For several years grass clippings were piled here to try and end the quack grass that owns this ground.  The quack grass held on but its roots moved upward into the rotting grass clippings.  Removing both the above ground growth and the roots is rather simply accomplished.  Rolling back the root mass with a four tined spade is easily done.  With the active growth transferred to the compost pile, it was time to loosen the soil.

This Planet Junior cultivator has been mine for almost fifty years.  It still does a masterful job of turning the ground.  My pace is slower now but that lessens the risk of breaking a tine on a long buried rocks.  When man and machine were finished, thirty-two potatoes were carefully placed in the newly loosened soil.

Just a note on the dress of the day.  Sun protection and tick avoidance overrule appearance concerns.  Passersby may see me as someone to be avoided just because I dress a little differently.  That does make my time truly my time.

These ninety square feet are now ready to receive thirty-two seed potatoes.  The garlic visible just to the right is growing where the potatoes grew last year.  Next year garlic will hold this newly opened ground.  The quack grass in the distance will then be cleared for potatoes.  That will be the last new ground opened here.  This garden will finally consist of eight beds and the crops will rotate across used ground.  The garlic disease that drove us to open new ground seems to be gone from our stock.  We should be able to reuse planting beds that previously grew garlic.

Our seed potatoes, purchased from a Colorado grower, have been waking up while supported on plastic greenhouse trays in our hallway.  Chitting is the name of this process.  Warmth and subdued light begin active growth in the potatoes.  We should soon see above ground plants.  From left to right the following varieties can be seen.  La Ratte is a fingerling that produces impressive potatoes.  Canela is a new russet that seems to have been bred to turn out uniformly sized single portion baking potatoes.  Colorado Rose is a newly produced strain that is protected from resale.  Red Gold had to wait for the second trip.  It is an old favorite that shows its yellow flesh through the red skin.  When washed, freshly dug potatoes look like oranges because of the combination of colors.

The tight growth from the eyes is visually attractive.  Complex structure and various different colors invite careful moving to the planting hole.  I carelessly broke off only one eye while planting all of these seeds.

Both the old cultivator and the experienced man pushing it came through the day in great shape.  When I retired to this land, I was confident that somewhat strenuous activity would prolong my usable life span.  Today that appears to have been a sound plan.

It's June? Seriously?

I looked at the calendar and May had thirty-one days this year just like always.  How did it go by so darn fast?  We have not had Lemon Lily flowers for several years.  They  have usually been frosted in May but not this year!  Early this morning I saw the cheery yellow flowers from the house.  I wanted to get out there while it was still cool.  Since there are weeds popping up everywhere,  I chose to work right next to these lovely flowers.  The first thing I did was stick my nose into this flower coming face to face with a Flower spider.  I backed off and so did she but she only went to the other side of the flower where I could no longer see her.  The whole area around the lilies was filled with fragrance.  It was a pleasure to remove unwanted plants and give these beauties their place in the sun.  While I was out there, two  blue Indigo Buntings stopped by close enough for me to enjoy their iridescent color and twittering.  I stopped to watch them and  the  House Wrens that seem to have babies  to feed in the pink birdhouse.  

The Robin's Plantain, also known as Blue Spring Daisy, is blooming now too.  It is a native from a patch that  used to grow in the back meadow.   It is a plant I have rarely seen elsewhere.  It could use some help holding its spot.  Perhaps it will get moved to the top of the list for my next time spent in the garden.

Gorgeous flowers are blooming everywhere.  This is the Blue Flag that grows in front of the house..

All of the Iris are opening now.  This family heirloom goes back to my Mom and my Grandmother.  The fragrance of this flower is a memory from my childhood.  Not big and showy, but hardy, fragrant and lovely, this is one of the plants that garden visitors ask me to share.  I do that often and gladly!  It is cooling off now.  Perhaps I can do a little more before it rains!