Monday, September 28, 2020

Vivid Fall Colors

Having just had my cataracts removed, I am positively giddy over the fall colors this year.  Everywhere I look the landscape is gorgeous and filled with color.  We knew it was beautiful at home, but since the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence a road trip seemed in order.  This clump of Sumac is red enough to knock your socks off.  There is even a small patch of purple New England asters on the left.

From a distance Ed thought he had spotted Poison ivy.  In the fall it is a bright red vine even in the shade, but this one turned out to be Virginia Creeper.  Many trees' leaves are still green or like the ones in this picture that are beginning to turn bright yellow.

The color of the red and yellow in this hedgerow of trees caused a little bit of a seat belt check when they came into view.   All of the trees appear to be the same height, but their  shapes are slightly different.  As for the vivid difference in color I have to say I could hardly believe what I was seeing.  Please note none of the color has been altered in any way in these pictures.

 We had a delightful drive.  Ed even picked up three bags of leaves to take home to use as mulch in our garden.

There is nothing like the beauty of Autumn in this part of New York.  Back in our own driveway I had to take a picture of these beautiful asters with milkweed fluff caught in their petals.  You can't beat the Susquehanna and Unadilla River Valleys  for a place to look at Autumn color.  But be warned I had friends who visited these valleys in the fall who loved it so much they moved here to stay.  I've known for years that it works for me.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Frost Then Color

Without question we had several consecutive nights featuring heavy frost recently.  Now many of the trees display color that draws visitors from distant states.  We spent more than one hour just driving around while taking in the sights.  Driving while looking at the trees is risky behavior but people driving on country roads around here go slow or are  stopped.   A couple out enjoying the leaves from their recumbent tricycles pulled over so we could pass.  Not far up the road we waved as they passed us.  We were stopped to take another picture.

All of these pictures showcase trees that grow on our property.  The lone Red Maple surrounded by Norway Spruce are ours while the lawn belongs to our neighbor.

Only the foreground trees and pasture belong to us.  The distant ridge is not ours but the view is free.

When this land was farmed many decades ago, stone was dumped in the middle of what could have been a small field.  I could find no possible reason for these stones' location but the spot is now marked by a solitary Red Maple.  The row of pine trees were planted to screen out the view of activities undertaken by the first owner of what had been farm but became a camping outpost.  Both new landowner and farmer's wife feared that the other would shoot them.  That never happened but neither now live in the immediate area.

This is the view from our kame terrace.  It is the highest ground on our parcel and we frequently drive its perimeter while taking in the view.

This is the view looking down from kame terrace.  The bedrock ridge is nearly gone here but seeping water and uneven ground prevent us from mowing to the tree line.  Our many years here have been amazing and we cannot imagine living anywhere else.  


Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Bent But Not Broken

After sitting for a spell, a walk up the hill took me to the last of my transplanted Arbutus plants.  One plant of each gender were placed here and the deeply rotted White pine needle soil has supported impressive growth.  Seeds have formed for several years so new plants may be included in the photo but no disturbance has happened looking for new from seed plants.  A wire cage is needed here to keep animals from eating these evergreen plants when snow melt reveals bright green leaves.  Edge stones prevent marauders from pushing the cage aside with the central stones supporting the cage when animals walk across it.  Today taller stones were needed as the cage was pushed down nearly crushing the desired plants.  No protective gloves nor kneeling pads can be seen as this started out as a walk to simply get the mail.

Today's patch is completed with the cage returned to its intended location.

The White pine has been here for years and this year's cone production was again impressive.  Both chipmunks and red squirrels live among the old stone wall.  At this time they are busy harvesting pine nuts that are likely being hidden in crevices in the wall.  Few intact cone are seen here now while the shredded remains are everywhere. 

 Back up the hill at home six deer were grazing on what I call lawn.  I took a series of pictures as I walked in their direction.  This is as close as I got before the herd moved into the taller weeds.   Before they bolted several tried turf stabs in an attempt to frighten me away.  These mature does and their fawns see this land as their own and they do feed on my garden plants.  In my younger days I would shout and harmlessly shoot my gun in an attempt to drive them away.  Now they spend a great deal of time here and we enjoy watching another generation get ready for the coming winter.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Composted Top Soil

Our first move when opening new ground for planting is to remove blocks of sod where quack grass is the dominat plant.  Top soil is also taken so the sod blocks are piled intending to have the grass and its extensive root system simply rot away.  The green vertical wall is quack grass growing where sunlight shines upon it.  The top of the pile was also green before a huge number of buckets of weeds were dumped and pushed to the rear of the pile removing all green growth.   

This end of the pile contains well aged top soil that is free of weeds.  A wagon load of screened finished product was removed and carefully placed on the top of the bed that will soon receive the seed garlic cloves.  Screening allows us to remove any remaining plant parts and larger stones.  We intend to leave this freshly placed gold alone so that natural activity can work the aged topsoil down into the planting bed.

This view shows both treasure and trash.  Any green growth or root pieces removed are thrown to the rear of the pile where they can rot with the recently pulled weeds.  Our compost pile closer to home also contains all of the food scraps from the kitchen.  This mix produces a black compost that is rich in nutrients.  It is unlikely that we will haul any of this to the garlic bed for a lack of time.  Our combination of a bed that was fallow for several years then topped with well rotted manure and aged topsoil might just give us a decent harvest weather permitting.  In any event this is the best prepared bed that we have ever planted.


Saturday, September 19, 2020

First Frost 2020

As expected we found frost covering the ground this morning.  It appears that there are many different forms displayed by frost.  The valley fog may be frozen and it disappeared quickly.  The lawn grass received a uniform white coating without regard for slope or location.  This is unusual since fog typically pours out of the notch and flows downhill.  The depressed areas are usually covered with a heavier coating while higher ground receives less.

We commonly enjoy searching for interesting formations of frost crystals along the edges of wild berry leaves or on the wall stones.  None of that was found today as the frost formed as a blanket.  NOAA predicts more frost for the next several nights so we will be out and about checking out the new deposits.  We never knew that frost was this complicated.  Sometimes it is incredibly beautiful.

 Our rescued basil plants spent the night on the basement floor.  These plants were simply pulled from the ground and placed in the dish pans.  Soil was packed over the exposed roots then a generous amount of water was added.  Who knew that rescuing tender plants could be this easy.  We do not expect to have fresh pesto for Christmas dinner but these containers will supply basil as it is needed.  It is not often that a seventy-six year old learns something new.  The question will be will it be remembered next year.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Myrtle Remembered

Years ago Becky was part of a Fiber Arts Guild.  There she came into contact with skilled women some of who were many years her senior.  Their skills were eagerly shared with Becky benefiting greatly from her time with the group.  Myrtle was part of the Guild.  Well into her eighties she had moved from the farm to a third floor apartment.  That she climbed all of those stairs was impressive.  During the winter season heat from the lower floors found its way up to Myrtles apartment.  She always had a pot of basil growing in her warm kitchen.

Today was the day to remove our basil plants since frost is forecast for the next several nights.  Destroying plants is beyond unpleasant and as I arrived with my digging tools I remembered Myrtle.  Twelve plants were removed with their roots intact and placed in two plastic dishpans.  We have no intention of carrying these plants over but they will be used over the next several weeks.  Why this method has never been tried in the past cannot be explained but we are doing it now.

I was not the only one interested in the basil's last day outside.  Many bees were feeding on the flowers.  Usually bees are focused on the flowers and we work together in peace.  Today they seemed to have a sense of urgency and stung me twice.  My work continued.

Expecting to be moving these plants to the compost pile, I was obviously delighted to be placing them in the basement.  A generous amount of water was added after the dishpans were on the basement floor.  If it is possible to carry the now much heavier containers, these plants will spend more days in the sun.

 The planting bed was clear weeded early last spring.  After the basil plants were set out, a mulch of chopped tree leaves was worked among the plants.  Weeds were kept at bay while the leaf mulch also retained moisture.  Once again this area has been clear weeded.  This bare soil will winter over enjoying purifying sunlight on clear warm days.  The Clara Curtis chrysanthemums should be divided next spring.  Potted divisions placed in this beautiful soil could receive needed watering while they settle in prior to being planted out.  This before the frost day was expected to be horrible but now we are filled with the hope of fresh fragrant basil for days to come and the promise of well tended mum divisions come spring. Lucky for me I didn't weed out Becky's tiny Italian parsley plants from seed.  Tomorrow will be soon enough to pot those up for winter use.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Heat Is On

We have frost in the forecast for the next three nights starting tomorrow.  Our preference has been to avoid cleaning up frost blackened leaves by clearing out the sensitive plants ahead of the frost.  Powdery mildew has hit the pumpkins and squash rather hard making them a mess to clean up either way.  We planted a single hill that contained two pumpkin plants and two squash plants.  Soil preparations ahead of planting included adding aged manure to the planting site.  As the desired plants grew we cleared out weeds and covered the bare ground with chopped leaves.  During the drought we hauled in enough water to keep the plants alive.  When rainfall finally resumed, these plants exploded with extensive new growth.  This first picture was taken this morning before Becky started clearing the ground of squash and pumpkin vines.  

This long view shows the entire pumpkin patch now cleared.  Some weeds were found on the center path and also on the crossing path that is only half stone.  Clearly our early weeding and addition of leaf mulch kept new weeds at bay.  The four planting beds at the far end of this garden are in great shape for next year's garden.  The remains of the sunflower plants will be left in place to both feed the birds and drop seeds for next year's plants.  We intend to be here early come spring to pot up newly emerging sunflower plants for placement in an area of our choosing.

The garlic bed in the left foreground is almost ready to plant.  Two additions of aged manure have been spread and turned under.  The dark spots are pieces of this screened manure that remained at the surface.  Next, sifted compost will be spread on the surface then turned under.  One last pass with the potato hook will be made just before planting time which is quickly approaching.

Freshly applied reground bark mulch is reestablishing a weed free path between two planting beds.  The first time we did this, plastic was rolled out before the bark mulch was added.  Quack grass roots quickly wove their way under and through this barrier making their removal impossible.  Now we will have total access to this pesky weed that is sure to return and perhaps this battle will finally be won.

This is the extent of our ripe harvest.  We have read that pumpkins showing some orange color will continue to ripen after they are harvested.  We shall see.  A spot on the front deck is where these were placed.  Placement next to the south facing house wall might moderate the coming cold frosty nights.  A blanket will be added as cover to try to avoid freezing the fruit.  If that works, many warmer days in the sun may fully ripen each of these.

 Here is the delivery system used to bring in bark mulch.  Needless to say the tractor driver was rather proud of being able to back the wagon past the gate posts.  The drop into a hole for one wheel did not simplify that move.  I wonder how Sidney's FFA teacher would have rated this park job?

Monday, September 14, 2020

Pain In The Asparagus!

It was a cool and beautiful morning in the garden.  Ed headed to the gravel bank to get bark mulch.  Continued progress on the woodland garden  and his garlic bed was at the top of his to do list.  I decided to work on the asparagus bed until he was ready to go to the back.  I have to admit I was a bit discouraged at the beginning.  The asparagus plants were lost in weeds.  Horse weed, crab grass, goldenrod... all going to seed.  What a pain!  I removed the wire fence that is meant to keep the deer out of the bed.   Armed with my Cobrahead weeder and several trugs, I sat on my garden cart and started.  I had forgotten how pleasant it is to pull weeds in Ed's well prepared garden beds,   It took me just a few minutes to reveal that first asparagus plant.  Coming to the rescue of that second plant made me fell great!  The whole process was getting to be fun.  What a joy to get all of those weeds and seeds out of there.  By the time an hour had passed most of the weeds were gone.

My trugs were overflowing with weeds.  Two huge Rudebecka triloba plants  remain in the asparagus bed.  I am a motivated weeder, but I drew the line at pulling out those native Brown-eyed Susan flowers. They are a biennial so after they bloom they can be removed with ease.  Not only did I find the asparagus, but now I can see Helen's bird house, my tractor, Ed's shed and the house.  

Two things remain to be done here.  Fine weeding from arms that reach all the way to the center of the bed and an application of well seasoned compost will finish the soil preparation.  Then the fence posts will be driven deeper while setting them upright making ready for the fencing.


Thursday, September 10, 2020

Signs Of Fall

The foreground shrub is Silky dogwood.  Its berries start out blue then turn white.  Somehow that seems backwards to me as the darker color is stunning.  In a moist location it would reach ten feet in height but here on the gravel deposit we are fortunate just to have it.

That Locust tree closer to our house grew from a pile of imported compost.  Its size is a measure of just how long we have been working here.  Twenty-six years is the actual count.  The pines behind the house were planted by a farmer's offspring long before we found this land.  We do not know if it was a 4H or FFA project that brought these trees here  We have two different plantings of these trees.  Both are on some of the steepest slopes that that were part of the original farm.

Our Red maple trees are still covered with mostly green leaves.  When taking a break from weeding what will soon be the garlic bed, occasional falling leaves caught my eye.  It is an unmistakable sign of what season is approaching.

Goldenrod and New England asters loudly announce the coming of Fall.  This color combination is among the most beautiful seen here and both are native plants.  Goldenrod is a tenacious invader so my plan for creating this combination in a garden is to give the asters several years to take hold of some ground before the Goldenrod is introduced.  The single survivor is well known but the Asters will likely persist for as long as we remain here.

My maternal great grandfather was a strong influence on my interest in plants.  His Eden like home was located in southwestern Pennsylvania and his Chrysanthemums were beautiful.  I have spent a small fortune trying to find plants that are hardy along the Unadilla River.  Only the Clara Curtis and Mammoth Pink survive.  We freely share these plants for those interested in actually growing mums rather than buying the potted ones widely offered for sale.  Our choice of color is limited but these are our plants.  Charles Wesley Felton would have approved seeing these hardy mums next to dry stone walls.

Yesterday when the day's work had ended, a loud group of disorganized geese  barely cleared the pines having just taken off from the nearby river.  As they passed over our meadows the energy efficient V formation came to be.  This is the time of year when the geese take their training flights to build up their strength and skill for the approaching migration flight.  This location is usually silent but the chatter of the geese while finding the needed formation was loud and unmistakable.  There was insufficient time to find the camera so imagination will be needed to see the geese barely clearing the pine trees.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Almost Done

Almost done refers only to this planting bed.  This picture shows its condition after the first weeding and application of aged manure.  A second weeding mostly cleared previously missed or broken weeds.  We understand that a third weeding will be necessary just prior to garlic planting.  That event is nearly six weeks away so with any combination of luck and skill this ground should be garlic ready.

We receive and store materials that will be used in the gardens on the other side of our land.  Here road access is the defining issue.  The huge dark pile contains reground hardwood bark mulch.  We buy it by the dump truck load and distribute it from here.  Our current project will require that the path across the garden be renewed with some of this mulch.

The adjacent weed covered mass is beef manure delivered by our actively farming neighbor.  We allowed it to mature for two years before using it on the garden.

This combination of shovel and screen is how all of our planting soil was converted from glacial till to rich stone free soil.  Today the manure needed a trip through the screen to clear it of all weed parts and break up the hard baked clumps.  Twenty-five gallons of this black gold were made garden ready and hand spread on the planting bed.

The manure was worked into the soil using a Cobra Head hand cultivation tool.  It is also our primary weed removal tool.  To the left of the planting bed is a bark mulch path.  Its weeds are also being removed and the conclusion of that task will be followed by new mulch.  This year's garlic seed will be planted in the finest soil that we can create.

The weed mass to the left of the garlic bed has yet to be converted into garden soil.  Repeated applications of grass clippings have drawn the weed roots up out of the ground and into the rotting grass clippings.  Hand removal is possible but we have never had the time to complete that task here.  Winter will find at least six of a possible eight planting beds cleared and ready for the next crop.

This is a wonderful place to work.  Other than our changes to the natural lay of this land, no other signs of the presence of man can be seen or heard.  This is a totally peaceful place allowing one to clear his head and use some muscles.  I believe that quiet time spent here physically working is part of what has kept me alive.  My Primary Care Physician shares that feeling.  We did not hear the woodpecker today.  Perhaps it will return tomorrow. Really the only sound today was the wind whispering through the trees!

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Opportunistic Pests

There is so much about this natural world that surrounds us that we simply know nothing about.  My introduction to Tent Caterpillars happened as an elementary school student when the class was taken outside for a nature walk.  A male high school student was in charge of our experience.  At one point he snapped off a small branch and burned both the tent caterpillars and their nest.  He described this action as necessary since left unchecked the caterpillars would destroy the tree.  Many decades later finds me knowing nothing more about these creatures than I did on that day.

The young trees at the edge of the forest are covered with white webs that look rather sharp in the low light of morning.  The good news is that the older trees in the woods seem to be free of the pests.  I can neither explain  nor guess as to why that is the case.

A closer look reveals the damage done to the host trees.  We will look here in the spring to see if these trees manage any leaf growth after this experience.  There was simply nothing that I could do to end the  huge infestation.

This Black Walnut was a splendid gift from a special person.  Mrs. Grays worked with me for many years helping our students learn much more than simply math.  She also contributed plants in support of my attempts to reintroduce native plants here.  The Tent Caterpillar infestation is thinner here and we expect that this tree will return next year.  The lesson taught here is that trees planted are for the next generation to hold this land.  We are finally seeing nuts but the question of how to harvest them remains unanswered.  Harvesting timber may be two generation away.  In any event, that is a good looking tree and always reminds me of its source.

This view from our living room window captures the presence of what could be considered pests.  The deer eat many plants some of which will not return.  The turkeys eat insects in the grass and that action does not rise to the level of harmful behavior.  Their dust baths in our cleared and cultivated soil is another matter.  We are seeing wild life daily in numbers never before seen here.  Perhaps the loss of the coyotes is responsible for this.

The twin fawns mother has dropped twins here for a number of years.  Her rearing of her young is so skilled that we frequently see last year's twins stopping by for a visit.