Wednesday, October 24, 2018

A Seasonal Change, From Hummingbirds And Butterflies To A Bald Eagle

Sometimes I wonder why we stay here in upstate New York.  The change from Autumn to Winter can be hard sometimes.  The flowers that we love are finished.  The hummingbirds and butterflies have flown South. The sky is gray and overcast.  Rain and chilly weather has dampened our enthusiasm.  Worst of all Ed is gimped up and is supposed to rest his left leg for several days.  Instead of walking down to the mailbox with the mail, he drove the car.  Once out of the house we decided to take a short drive up the road.  We were not quite to the neighbor's farm when I saw a Bald Eagle flying low alongside us over a field  between us and the ridge.  I don't know how fast Ed was going, but for a short while the eagle stayed even with us.  It was amazing to see an flying eagle from the side like that.  Of course Ed had to watch the road and the eagle was flying in a straight line.  I lost sight of the bird so we continued to the place where Ed had intended to turn around to head for home.

I was thrilled to have seen the Eagle, but disappointed that Ed had missed it.   Just after we turned around  the car was pointed toward the river.   It was then that the eagle flew over the road so that we could both see it.  For some unknown reason the eagle flew in several low circles over a field that sloped downhill between us and the river.   Usually when we see an eagle he is soaring, but this bird was so low he was flapping his wings.   Once it looked like something on the ground had caught its eye.  We expected to see the bird drop to the ground to feed on carrion but that did not happen. How rare it was to be able to look down from above and watch a magnificent full grown bald eagle in flight!  After several more low circles, the eagle flew to land in a tree near a small stream and the river.

Since the eagle seemed ready to hold its perch, we returned home.  Some time later we returned with camera in hand but the only birds seen were crows.  Watching this majestic bird fly so close to the ground for a rather lengthy period of time made this sighting something special to remember.  It also reminded me how often we see something wonderful and unexpected here.  This Winter it looks like we have Bald Eagles for neighbors. WOW!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Getting Ready For Winter

We usually post our first snowfall.  What happened last night might be too small to qualify but the ground was white this morning.  The YMCA finally decided that the time was right to replace the boiler that heats the building.  We did our hour of arthritis exercises in a properly heated pool but the air was cold.  The resulting chill is hard to shake so we were slow to crawl out from under the covers this morning.  By the time we were up the bright sunlight had melted the snow.  What little snow remained in the shade of a compost pile will have to do to support our claim of snow on the ground.

Our efforts have shifted from pulling weeds before they drop their seed load to preparations for winter.  Plants that form their flower buds in the fall continue to puzzle us.  How can it possibly be a sound survival strategy to expose next year's seed maker to bitter winter cold air?  We can do nothing about the temperature extremes but we can take action to deny the deer access to our flower buds.

When daughter Amy lived and worked in New York City, she took advantage of many of the remarkable places there.  The New York Botanical Gardens had a large grove of Magnolia trees growing on a rolling well manicured lawn.  When those trees were in bloom Amy would spend considerable time sitting under their blossoms.  She left the City after the Towers fell and we planted a Magnolia tree where it could be seen from her room here.  Our winters are much colder than those in Brooklyn but her tree manages at least a few blossoms each year.  The newly installed wire fence will protect some of the buds from the deer but others are just above the top of the fence.

Our day started under a cloudless blue sky.  Our house was designed so that a person  inside could see what was happening outside.  This morning we watched two mature bald eagles interaction with a common crow.  Rising air currents created by the warm sunlight made it possible for these three birds to fly in large lazy circles without beating a wing.  It is common here to see crows harassing eagles but the crows usually flap their wings furiously to keep up with the eagles.  This morning the crow copied the eagles flying style creating a never before seen show.  Slight trim changes in their flight feathers sent all three birds high into the sky.  The white heads and tails of the eagles glowed brilliantly in the bright sunlight.  It always puzzles me that the eagles tolerate the near attacks of the crows.  Their talons and beaks could easily snatch the crows from the air and absolutely shred them but they take no action other than an occasional change in their flight path.  After providing us with a great show, the eagles flew straight across the river disappearing from sight.  We feel extremely fortunate to live in the middle of this wilderness paradise.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Garlic To Ground

Mid October is the time to remember my Father's birthday and plant garlic.  The actual placement of the cloves into the ground is done on bent knees.  From this prayerful position, one can remember past pleasant moments and hope to be able to harvest yet another garlic crop come July. We are of an age where we no longer take future events for granted.

The planting holes have previously been punched using the wire fence pieces to establish a precise grid.  Since our ability to eat garlic has diminished, the distance between the rows has been increased by two inches.  Now we will have twenty-two rows rather than twenty seven.  Two hundred twenty garlic plants is still way more than we will use but garlic has been with us for decades.  At this point in my life the experience of planting next year's crop is more important than eating it.  This morning featured crisp cool air, bright sunshine and the promise of a tomorrow.

The smaller cloves on the left are a locally grown purple stripe variety.  Their growth habit is tall with widely spaced leaves.  They are used to mark the limits of the main crop.  Each bulb consists of eight cloves and doubles are common.  The larger cloves are a locally grown porcelain variety.  Here the number of cloves range from four to six.  Helen's is the name we assigned to this variety to remember Becky's dear friend Helen who is no longer with us.  This is our best variety since it remains free of rot spots that still linger in our other varieties.  Every clove peeled this morning was healthy.

These peeled skins resemble the remains of a shrimp meal.  Despite their overnight soak in baking soda and water, removing them is a hard job.  We carefully snip the top making sure to stay above the clove.  Loosening the outer skin requires carefully applied force since the clove must remain unmarked.  Sometimes a single layer of transparent skin remains on the clove.  It is both sticky and amazingly strong.  Once it is removed from the clove, it wants to remain attached to a finger.

Today is the second time we planted this year.  Two more days will finish the job.  The peeled cloves are given a brief vodka bath.  This method of preparing the cloves for planting has almost completely eliminated the nasty rot.  We also plant in new ground each year trying to avoid soil borne disease.  Space for two more new beds remain but then we will be forced to plant in ground that has previously grown garlic.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Patchy Frost

We were promised patchy frost for this morning.  When I checked outside there was frost on the car, frost on the porch railing and frost on the shed roof.  It was early and chilly.  I was cold and crawled back in bed for awhile.  Later after the sun had a chance to melt the frost,  I got the camera and took some pictures that show what patchy frost does at least here in our garden.  Being a tropical plant the basil turned black, gross and slimy, but the peppers came through unscathed.

The upper part of the Heliotrope got burned by the frost.  The flowers turned brown and the leaves dark, but down next to the stone path the leaves remain green.  The purple flowers still have their cherry pie aroma.

In another part of the garden these tropical Lemongrass plants are just fine.  October 13 is later than usual for our first frost.  This time Jack went easy on us.  He will be back very soon and perhaps snow will be with  him!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Two Late Monarchs, Part 3

Today was warm and when I saw the second chrysalis, I knew today was the day.  When I checked in the afternoon, this Monarch butterfly was nearly finished pumping up his wings.

This one is a male.  The black spots on his hind wings tell the tale.  It seems to me that the male Monarchs who migrate have a more narrow body and longer wings than those seen earlier in the season.  As far as I can tell he is a perfect specimen.  In the end my Too Late Butterflies turned out to be a pair.  Adious Amigos, we promise to have lots of fresh green milkweed waiting for the Monarchs that return in 2019!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Too Late Monarchs: Part Two

It was before September 25 when I started to watch this chrysalis hanging on Ed's Lime Green Daylily.  It is one of my Two Late Monarchs.  Now it is the end of the first week in October and it is still hanging out there.  We have not had a frost, but the weather has been wet and night temperatures have dropped out of the sixties.

The other of my Two Late Monarchs has spent the time in my kitchen where the temperatures never drop out of the sixties.  Even though this Monarch was still a caterpillar when I brought it in the house, it won the metamorphosis race with days to spare.  I knew as soon as the orange wings began to show and the shape of the chrysalis  began to change that a butterfly would emerge soon.

Here she is pumping up her wings.  To my delight the predicted rain held off and the temperature was predicted to stay in the sixties overnight.  It was great to watch this magical process so closely, but butterflies are meant to fly free.

I carried my Monarch out to the October Sky asters and set her free. 

When she began to flap her wings I left her there in the garden.  Just before dark Ed checked and found her on top of the October Sky asters.  We have since seen a newly emerged butterfly flitting past the windows as it moves from one clump of October Sky asters to the other plant. We would like to believe it is the one that spent days on the kitchen counter.  Now both the butterflies and the geese are now flying south so we expect this one to soon be gone.  There still remains one that we know of to emerge from its chrysalis. Flowers are becoming scare.  Even if it's too late to make it to Mexico, they will have their chance to fly and try!

Friday, October 5, 2018

Maidenhair Fern Finally Moved

Today was a glorious day to work outside.  Harvesting weeds has been our primary job of late and some of that work was done today.  During one trip up the drive a sizable pile of moss covered stones was spotted.  Two dump cart loads were brought close to yesterday's stone work.

When the tall stone was placed yesterday, it was rather obvious that a tall plant would be needed close by to hide the stone.  The plants should be what catches the eye and holds its attention.  Stones are intended to play only a supporting role.

Becky remained fond of her maidenhair ferns with their location in the shade garden at the top of the hill.  She made no secret about her desire to have some of this beautiful plant in the new shade garden.  No action followed since I had no idea of a suitable location for the treasured plants.  That tall stone resolved that problem.

The ferns do an impressive job of hiding the problem stone.  With the edge of the planting bed defined, the ferns should be fine here.  Given more space in view of their present size, these plants should grow together forming an attractive group.

Fallen tree leaves that had been run through the mower finished the job.  A partial bag of ground leaves remained unused after last spring's work was completed.  They add a look of long standing permanence to the newly planted transplants.  What is amazing is that both their existence and location was timely remembered.  Both the transplanted plants and the ones that remain in the old shade garden look better after the move!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Turned A Corner

Recently much of our time in the gardens has been spent removing weeds before their seed load was dropped on the planting beds.  That urgency has passed as most of the weeds seeds are now mature.  Additionally, heavy rain fell here overnight.  Garden soil that wet is best left alone.  So we turned to the shade garden down near the road.  Working from the hardwood bark mulch path, we were able to reach into the woods soil while doing no damage.

The last five stones at path's edge were placed today.  The moss covered stone near the tree trunk caught my eye some time ago.  It was nearly buried by the gravel fill that was used to bury the remains of the burned barn in the late 50's.  Moss stones appeal to me since they add a natural look to the woodland garden.  This stone was worked free of the fill and rolled into the trailer.  As luck would have it, the stone was easily rocked free and worked into the back edge of the dump cart.

The carefully tended lawn belongs to our neighbor.  We are trying to establish a garden that is worthy of space adjacent to their lawn.  Visible weeds show that we are still working on our part of the picture.  The path will continue on the narrow strip of ground between the tree trunks.  For now, we need to place the stones along the side of the path opposite today's work.

This is the view looking in the opposite direction.  The area opposite the bench has been partially planted with native woodland plants.  Moving in the opposite direction takes us out of the shaded canopy of the sumac trees.  Here we intend to plant asters and black-eyed Susans.  Both the jumble of rocks and the weeds show that this area still needs considerable work.  Another thick layer of grass clippings recently placed will make removal of the pasture grasses and their roots relatively easy if we get to it before snowfall.  Our time spent outside today was wonderful.  Any day that includes the safe placement of native stones is both pleasant and permanent.  These stones will stay where placed.  They have been carefully supported underneath so that any child walking on top of them will find solid footing.  In time in their new home, moss will spread giving these rocks the appearance of having been here for a long time.

Monday, October 1, 2018


Hazelnut bushes exist here because a naturalist friend recommended them to us. We planted them in 1998.   She advised us to allow the suckers to grow creating a bush rather than trying for a tree with a single trunk.  We followed her advice and now have the two bushes required for pollination.  Rock hard nuts and aged teeth do not seem like much of a match so no attempt is made to harvest these nuts.  They are finally doing well here and we do enjoy watching their natural cycle.

The fall appearing catkins appearing alongside of the mature fruit seem to be in contradiction.  Many plants form their flower buds in the fall then hold them over for spring function.  We will pay closer attention to the cycle of this bush.

The hull protecting each developing nut is nothing short of amazing.  This one has fallen from the tree, split open and still holds tightly to its fruit.

The largest chipmunk ever seen here claims ownership of this bounty.  The pile of discarded hull wrappers remains on the wall while the nuts have been secreted away.  Chipmunks tend to be sassy animals that are slow to flee from humans.  The monster claiming ownership of this wall will not be challenged.  It appears to be serious about protecting this wall and bush.

A Scene Worth Watching

 Amy and I were having a walk around the garden when Ed told us that butterflies were congregating on the October Sky asters in the bed down by the road.  What a wonderful thing is was to stand and watch beautiful Monarch butterflies dance in the sunshine. 

The large mound of bluish purple asters is amazing on its own, but today it was buzzing with bees and dotted with butterflies.


We spent some time trying to capture pictures of the butterflies.  When disturbed they would fly away, but never went far.

After a short while we stopped trying to capture the butterflies and just enjoyed watching them.  We wish them well on their trip south.  These beautiful butterflies are such a great example of Nature coming back against the odds.  To me they are a symbol of real hope!