Thursday, December 16, 2021

Arbutus Cleanup

This is our first patch of transplanted Arbutus.  Our goal was to reestablish this native treasure in a natural setting.  The visible tree trunk is a White Pine that provides a new layer of fallen needles each summer.  Their thick coating allows generous amounts of sunlight to reach the low growing plants while their decay deepens the highly acidic soil layer that is so beneficial to Epigaea repens.  If nothing else grew nearby, these plants would likely make it on their own underneath their protective wire cage.  Yes, a galvanized wire cage is not natural but the sheer number of hungry rabbits or woodchucks here may not be natural either.

Unfortunately, the small Oak trees growing nearby are now huge and their shed leaves form a thick layer that totally blocks out sunlight.  No Arbutus plants would survive the winter if kept in the dark.  One solution would be to cut down those trees but that seems extreme.  Still the Arbutus will not survive if kept in the dark.  Those leaves would possibly blow away in the wind but the wire cage keeps them trapped.


It was above 60 degrees F today so the time seemed right to clean up this mess.  Down on hands and knees is the only safe way to pick away the fallen leaves.  Pain is ever present and getting up is not graceful.  No fall accompanied this work but several bobbles were seen.  The wire cage fits inside of the low stone wall so that it cannot be pushed aside.  The four interior stones were placed to give me a handhold to reach distant leaves.

An old blog post featured a photo of a young plant sporting reddish buds.  The text identified this as the from seed plant that grew here following transplantation.  That plant and the four moved here have formed a dense mat preventing me from finding the plant that grew from seed.  If we remember to look for pink flowers when winter ends we may finally find it.  Other plants have reached the edge of the cage.  Our plan is to try once more to root cuttings.  We now have three different strengths of rooting compound so success may finally find us.  We certainly are looking forward to the end of winter despite its failure to find us yet this year. 

Sunday, December 12, 2021

December Rain

It is not uncommon here to find huge curls of plowed snow lining the edge of our driveway by the middle of December.  Advancing age seems to have tempered my never fear anything attitude.  The coming weather has made me more that a little uneasy.  This summer we hired driveway work and the gravel used was mostly small sized broken stone.  I fear that if we need to plow before this surface freezes much of the new gravel will be pushed into the ditches.  My preference would be a solid freeze ahead of the first plow.  For now this private road looks quite impressive.

One of our long term goals is to establish the native plant Cardinal Flower here as a specimen  requiring no human interference to keep it alive.  Early spring warm days followed by hard nightly freezes keeps this most beautiful native plant seldom seen in this part of NYS.  These plants are near the Unadilla River where its impact on night cold has kept these plants alive for the past several years.  Their growth habit is to replace one old plant with up to six daughter plants has created crowding.  Spring division would result in dozens of new plants but we are trying to let nature take its course.

This native plant has proved troublesome.  It appears to struggle each summer producing no flowers while holding on to life.  We expected it to die out but new plants are now visible.  Native plants frequently require several years to adjust to their new home so we patiently wait.  The visible wire cage keeps the deer from damaging these plants while the pine needle mulch builds acidic soil that may be a requirement for Rattlesnake Plantain.  It would have been more natural if we had applied newly fallen pine needles last month but that will now wait until spring.


Woodland Phlox is another transplanted native plant growing here.  Two years ago Becky was clearing around the parent plant when a small piece broke off.  She instructed me to plant that rootless piece and I did so expecting no new growth.  It still amazes me that a broken stem could grow into such an impressive plant.  The deer seem to find this foliage tasty so a wire cage encircles this treasure.

There are so many signs that our plants will return when the seasons change.  We know that snow is coming.  If we look forward to what is certain to follow, then all will likely be alright.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Gun Season Day 1

Our mowed field has been home for a large group of female deer and their offspring for the past several weeks.  Two bucks are sometimes seen but the ladies are for the moment left alone.  Each evening found them grazing or resting on the ground.  Flattened grass indicated that they may have spent the night sleeping here.  Then for no apparent reason they were gone.  This morning the group was back.  This youngster is looking at Becky who is watching it just outside of our living room window.  This deer gives every appearance of knowing that we pose it no danger.  The worst thing that has happened here in the recent past is us opening the window and instructing the deer not to eat, step on, harm or disturb Becky's Prairie smoke plants.

This group of four, one is hidden behind the trunk of the Trumpet vine, is just outside of the kitchen door.  That planting area has been lost to the weeds so no encouragement to move away has been recently given.  They know that we are watching them but they were slow to go elsewhere.


This is the view outside of our kitchen window.  A third deer is feeding nearby but was just beyond the area pictured.  Once again the deer is making eye contact with Becky before returning to its frozen breakfast.

Clicking on this photo will make it larger allowing the two deer to be more easily seen.  I was able to walk clear across the garden with these deer watching me to get this picture.  My movements were slow and my gaze was directed away from the deer.  An attempt to get even closer sent these two running through the trees up the hill. 

We have yet to hear any gunshots this morning but there may well be movement as the hunters seek a prime location on this day one.  For now we will not venture to our acres to the south.  I have not welcomed trespassers in the past and see no reason to give them a free shot at me.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Outside My Window

When we were defining the floor plan for our new home, the placement of the rooms reflected our desire to live close to nature.  Only two rooms were placed in the south facing section.  Our master bedroom and the living room fill that space.  Each has a large three section window and a generous closet nearby.  The stairway to the basement completes the use of that half of our home.  At this time of year sunlight from the low in the sky sun and the heat that comes with it makes both rooms bright and warm.  Becky was sitting soaking up the sunlight when she saw our deer.


As is her custom, Becky always takes her coffee while looking out on our gardens and lawn.  On this first day of crossbow deer season, this impressive buck and his three lady friends were feeding on our plants.


Most of our deer visitors are ladies and their offspring.  They treat our gardens and lawn as their own are are slow to leave when they are feeding on plants that are special to us.  My wildly waving arms and strongest keep the students in line voice are slow to impact the herd's behavior.  Just yesterday a doe was munching on violets in the shade garden and would not move until I was uncomfortably close to her.  It was unclear just who was going to win that round.  Finally she moved a short distance toward the wild ground.  My continued shouts and waving arms eventually convinced the group that it was time to move on.

I do not hunt but knew that this beautiful male would move away when he first saw me.  Using the basement door, I was able to get close enough for two pictures.  Surprised that his initial movement was short, a second picture was snapped.  Now he and his three ladies have left the area.  Buck sightings are rare while their rub marks on our small trees are common.  This cold day is off to a great start.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Flat Fog Frost

My understanding, from an education that is now considered by some as completely socially unacceptable, is that Eskimos have perhaps hundreds of different words to describe snow.  We will soon enough coin some unique phrases ourselves to describe say car holding snow but for the moment morning frost marks the seasonable change.  Since the photo is looking downhill toward the river, the valley can be seen as full of river fog.  This fog coats every surface with a uniform coating of liquid.  When it freezes a totally uninteresting featureless frost forms.  We look forward to the frost crystals that build, one on top of another, when the cold drops straight down from the sky creating miniature castles each unique in its growing form.  But today we were given this plain coating.  Walking on the grass now will leave footprints on the frost that will turn black when the sunlight burns off the fog.  That is as good a reason as any to linger inside with a second cup of tea.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Sadly But Not Completely Gone

When we first purchased this land in 1994, Jane walked here with us.  She was a person of both tremendous intelligence and experience.  This cherry tree impressed her as the largest that she had ever seen.  Recently a sizeable branch fell blocking our driveway as the tree was now mostly dead.  A consequence of advancing years is that I now worry about nearly everything.  Had I been there when the branch fell it would have likely killed me.  As a result, I became fearful every time I passed under the tree.

This tree is just a stone wall away from our lane on two sides.  It stands in the corner of a field that belongs to our neighbor.  The daughter of the owners was quick to see that the tree needed to come down and gave us permission to get that done.  Today was the day.

Harrington's Tree Removal had helped us in the past.  Yesterday they were cutting down trees across the road from us.  With their equipment already here, today was our turn.  They started cutting at the top and are now working on the trunk.  Highly skilled, they quickly and safely cut away the tree.

This large section of trunk is being directed to the ground by the two men at the other end of the rope.  Their skill at placing the cut sections neatly on the ground amazed me.

This fresh brush pile includes pieces from our tree and the pine trees that were across the road.  Filling in this corner of our gravel bank with brush will soften the past scars from mining gravel.

This section was left standing for several reasons.  Two centuries of fence wire wrapped around the tree trunk had left their mark.  Moisture moved up the trunk by the life forces of the tree had dissolved the metal leaving unnatural deposits in the wood.  In addition to causing the tree to grow in an unusual manner and die, contacting old barbed wire with a saw chain would have destroyed it.  Thirty-five years were given as the time required for this stately trunk to safely decay.  The brush will be removed allowing the stone wall and the tree trunk to create an impressive picture.  Nothing here will fall on my head but the tree branch hanging over the driveway in the background will get our attention on another day.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Native Promises Of Spring

If there is a native plant that has inspired more written words than Epigia repens, I am totally unaware of it.  In our early days as a new nation, personal hygiene was severely lacking especially during winter.  One of the women of years that influenced and helped us with gifts of plants shared an experience she endured at the one room schoolhouse that she attended as a child.  One late winter day she fell through ice completely soaking her clothes during recess.  Back inside she was seated near the stove soon filling the room with the scent of both her clothes that had been worn for some time and her body that had not seen a bath recently.  Soon she was moved away from the stove and her classmates.  Needless to say, that stinky experience stayed with her for the rest of her years in that school.

Everyone's home, church or place of business needed sweet scented air as Spring took hold.  Great expeditions into the forests where Trailing arbutus grew were made to harvest the unbelievably sweet scent of these early flowers.  Unfortunately the flowers grew from the stem necessitating the removal of much of the plant when the flowers were gathered.  Concerned that these massive harvests were endangering the survival of this plant, a group of Massachusetts woman used several years of political activity to push for a law outlawing the harvesting of this plant.  Their organization became known as the New England Wildflower Society and this plant still grows in the wild today.

It is common to find written words describing Trailing arbutus's resistance to transplanting.  Mrs. William Star Dana wrote that this plant should be left alone.  Not one to blindly follow conventional wisdom, these pictured plants were moved here in a carefully selected location.  Soon the woodchucks and the rabbits demonstrated their need for food as Spring approached by chewing to the ground these evergreen plants.  Carefully laid low field stone walls hold the protective wire cage in place and so far have discouraged all attempts to get under the wire.  Other than this necessary protection, these impossible to transplant treasures have been on their own here for several years.  They have reached the edge of the cages and new growth will of necessity be available to the animals.

This photo shows flower buds now forming ahead of the Winter snow.  This seems risky to me but how else can flowers open so soon after snow melt?  Nothing will prevent us from dropping to the ground to sniff their fragrance without harming the plants.  Getting back up will not be graceful but the memory of their scent will once again get me past winter.



Lobelia cardinalis is a native treasure that has demonstrated its difficulty surviving in the Southern Tier or Catskill regions of NYS.  John Burroughs wrote about its scarcity more than one hundred years ago.  This plant is an evergreen that has already started next season's  growth.  These bright green new leaves will emerge from snow cover undamaged and ready to grow.  Early southern warm weather will push these leaves to fill with moisture.  Then the freezing night air will turn this water into ice exploding the leaf cells sometimes killing the entire plants.  We have seen many of our plants die and are searching for locations that will insulate survivors from death.  These plants are growing on our impossibly small piece of river bottom land.  Sheltered by sloping ground, the snow cover lingers here.  River fog helps to soften the freezing nights.  So far so good although one year we did have one close call with frost blackened leaves.  New leaves appeared and these plants still survive here.

Cardinal flower is hard to categorize.  The almost dead stems mark the complete disappearance of this year's plants.  Young growth around the base are totally new plants.  In the past we would dig up and separate these young plants and place them in pots in early Spring.  Moving them inside on cold nights gave us new plants to try again.  Now we have found protected areas where these plants have survived without attention from us.  Our time here is limited but we want these two native treasures to hold this ground after we are no longer here.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Garlic To Ground

There is much to see in this picture.  Weeds are everywhere since we simply could not keep up this year.  In the distant past, I would work here under the blazing sun totally soaking my clothes with perspiration.  As the shirt dried concentric circles of white salt deposits appeared across the chest strongly resembling hippy art work.  The year before my cancers were found, I simply could not tolerate the heat anymore.  Now the time that I can work outside is severely limited allowing the weeds to spread unchecked.  This planting bed is eighteen feet long and five feet wide.  The Ames cart serves as both a seat and a tool box.  A hand cultivator with one tine works wonders in removing the weeds intact while deeply loosening the soil.  The blue trug transports the pulled weeds to a compost pile.  The white clothes both screen out the sun and discourage insects.  Strangers find my overall appearance troubling so we are seldom bothered by punks.

In response to garlic disease we now soak and peel the cloves.  A vodka bath completes the rot control.  The time needed to peel the cloves without causing damage is enormous but we have nearly eliminated the deadly fungus.  Before peeling, we relied on the appearance of the fully covered cloves.  Then the rot was so severe the problem could be seen or felt.  Now it remains small and hidden so we must search it out.

Last year's crop was planted in land that had not seen garlic or onions for a full decade.  We did grow infected garlic there once but felt that this ground would now be safe to use.  Wrong again.  We planted 40 cloves of garlic given to us by Helen.  Both the garlic and the person were special and we expected a good harvest.  All 40 cloves sent up strong looking growth early but then death swept across those plants.  We harvested only 6 plants and expected the worst when they were peeled prior to planting.  None of those survivors displayed any sign of disease and we simply cannot understand how that happened.  28 cloves were planted and we are hopeful that their miracle will continue.  Helen is no longer with us and we really want to keep her garlic growing here.

Former students may remember that I am a bit fussy about neatness.  Using two pieces of welded wire fencing with one rotated 90 degrees, a grid of two inch squares covers the ground.  Uniform spacing and straight alignment quickly follows.  Each row becomes home to 10 cloves and there are 21 rows.

This infected clove is unusual in that the problem is near the tip.  Usually the rot forms nearer the base at the source of the roots.  This infection is so small that it would have gone undetected if the clove had not been peeled.  We found only three bad cloves from 170 peeled until we got to the last variety.  The forty White Bishops gave us 6 disgustingly rotten cloves.  Here is another puzzle since the plants looked great at harvest and the bulbs felt solid.  So once again we have planted peeled cloves that also were soaked in vodka just prior to planting.  I do not know if the purpose of the vodka was to sterilize or to make the cloves happy. 

Planting vegetables as winter approaches is unusual.  That is a factor in what makes garlic so special to us.  The plants will appear when it is way to early for garden planting.  An appropriate end to this year's garden and an early promise of the start of the next garden.  Our usual planting time was closer to mid October to coincide with my father's birthday.  Conditions seemed perfect to plant early and I am confident that he would have approved of that decision.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Butterfly Food

The Unadilla River provides a north south valley for much of its length.  Near our land a westerly jog greatly lengthens the distance required if the river is followed rather than just flying south.   Migrating animals fly over our land and home to efficiently use their energy.  Butterflies and geese are commonly seen at this time of year.  As the brown flowerheads on the goldenrod show, food is getting scarce for the Monarchs.  As a result fewer are seen now.  On a recent trip across my mowed path, I came across two butterflies on the green path.  No flowers were seen there but the grass was heavily wet with dew.  My best guess is that the butterflies were taking on water.  As I moved carefully past them, one flew up and stayed even with me flying high enough to be adjacent to my head.  Those were special moments.

The Goldenrod in the first picture has grown without any human interference.  In an attempt to keep the high meadow free of invasive shrubs, I tried to keep it mowed.  The entire field was cut once but subsequent visits only cut parts of it.  After July first, mowing was discontinued allowing the Milkweed and Goldenrod to grow.  The stems are shorter and the flowers appeared later but this Goldenrod is still in bloom.  As the Monarch migration wound down, most of the butterflies seen were in this meadow.  Also this late in their year, we saw several newly emerged butterflies with damaged or incomplete wings.

This brightly colored perfectly formed new arrival is feeding on Amy's marigolds.  They were planted late so these flowers are young and fresh.  With the butterflies moving to the south and the wooded hillsides sporting bright colors we know what lies ahead of us.  Days like this are few in number and we try to enjoy as many of these special moments as we can fit into a day.

Monday, October 11, 2021

A Close Look At An October Walk: Photos By Amy

For some reason this year there are lots of pearly white mushrooms growing  among the rough grass and speedwell that we call our lawn.  This one is circular and perfect complete with dew drops!


Amy had to get way down to ground level to get this shot.  I love the close up shot of the gills!

This photo is closer still and focuses on the ring around the stem.  We do not have the knowledge necessary to do anything with mushrooms but take their picture.  Without it experimenting with mushrooms is more dangerous than skydiving!

This is a picture taken by Amy under a group of big white pines. I have no idea what this is. It looks vile!!

Every year I bring Helen's Travelocity Gnome inside for the winter.  This year a praying mantis decided to place its egg capsule  so that it was hidden under his coat. That means TG will be spending his first winter right out there in the garden.

The marigolds that Amy planted are putting on a fantastic fall display. This bud is opening in an unusual asymmetrical way. I wish you could catch the fragrance that emanates from the foliage of this plant.

The Bumblebees are positively delighted with these  marigolds. Next year we hope to get them planted a little earlier so we can enjoy them even more.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Trillium Ready

This picture shows the condition of our Trillium bed in May of this year.  I would be ashamed to reveal just how many purchased plants have been transplanted here over several years.  Authors frequently describe seven years as the time required to see flowers from plants grown from seed.  It can be nearly that long for transplants to settle in to a new home.  Add to that the impacts of our totally at home deer herd to explain this less than spectacular display.  Our weather was less than favorable as was also seen by the poor showing at the huge section of native plants growing as nature intended across the river.


This picture taken just this week shows that we are dedicated to growing native plants here.  The weeds that covered this bare summer ground have been carefully removed.  Dandelions predominated with occasional clumps of a tall thin grass.  That low stone to the right served as a seat from which to work.  My trip down was far less than graceful but getting back up was nearly impossible.  Must remember to have the four tined spade close at hand.  With the weeds removed past years bagged leaves were mower ground and sprinkled across the bed.  We have used ground leaves here every year to speed up the woodland soil building process.  Now we need to sprinkle some lime pellets then replace the wire cages.  Then we will wait for May's arrival to see just how many Trilliums appear here.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

One Bed Ready

It appears that we plan to garden here next year.  Some areas are not in horrible shape while others are nightmares.  The weed-free perfect looking bed  was a horrible mess just a few days ago.  Serious weed removal was followed by an application of screened aged Black Angus manure.  Well aged compost from the garden by the woods completed our preparation.  Soil near the woods contains a decent amount of clay so this compost will improve moisture retention here.  Of course several years of continued application would be needed to make a difference but all we can do is try now.

The iris at bed's end are a family treasure.  Becky's maternal grandmother grew these at her home in Gatchellville, Pa.  Every time Becky's mother moved, these plants went with her.  Time in Pennsylvania was followed by living in Georgia then New York.  The pictured plants were divided and replanted this summer.  They have sent out healthy new growth so we expect to see impressive flowers come summer.

This bed clearly needs attention.  Stone paths between planting beds clean up quickly but the beds will take longer.  Next year's growth will include many weeds since these were allowed to go to seed.  I can no longer work outside in the heat so little time was spent in the garden.  Recent temperatures have been more reasonable so time working in the garden is now possible.  Perhaps we will check back after this bed has received some attention.

On occasion help comes from unexpected sources.  This in-the-ground bee's nest is directly adjacent to where I mow but the bees' presence remained a secret.  The digging was done by a skunk in search of what must have been a tasty meal.  How they endure the stinging bees while eating both bees and their honey is completely unimaginable.  Some bees remained but they were in no mood to attack me when these pictures were snapped.  Sifting this compost will definitely wait for another day.  Hopefully I will remember then that bees may still live here.


This self planted Grandpa Ott's morning glory is beyond impressive.  The center of that flower looks like it contains an electric light.  We have grown this aggressive weed for years but these are self planted in a rich garden bed.  Never before have we seen such large flowers and leaves.  Our weed will hold this ground until frost ends its growth.  Here again the dropped seed load will be huge but if caught early new plants are easily removed.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Bog Lives On

This pictured bog is part of the 130 acre farm that included our 36 acres.  We do not own this land where the bog is located but are on good terms with its current owner.  Just this week the Town Highway crew replaced an old rotted sluice pipe with a new and larger model.  Sometimes road crews are made uneasy by water close to their road and this spirit might have been intensified by the recent Gilbertsville flood where four huge beaver dams burst in response to local heavy rainfall inflicting heavy damage.  In this instance the new pipe was placed so that the bog could maintain its past water level.  This bog is not fed by any stream as its only source of water is rainfall  that makes its way down a small wooded slope in a subdued manner.

My first experience with this bog happened more than thirty years ago when I served as adult supervision for an outing of seventh grade students.  The owner of this land then, Ginny, felt that her daughter's classmates might enjoy a visit here.  We were accompanied by a retired science teacher with a long association with the great outdoors.  At that time the bog was more open with a natural walking  path along the edge of the woods opposite the road.  The teacher guide shared the names of a large number of native plants that grew here and all of us had a pleasant dry outdoor experience.

This picture is similar to the one above it but this view shows more water.  This farm was established more than 200 years ago and it is likely that gravel fill was dumped where the road is now lessening the severity of the natural dip in the road.  The last glacier dropped a great deal of sand below the present surface of the ground  allowing water to simply disappear into the ground.  The muck that formed here as plant material rotted slowed water seepage so this spot is never totally dry.  We have absolutely no desire to discover the depth of the muck.  Blue Flag is claiming more of this ground every year.  I would like to move a few but have not sought permission from the owners since I do not want to risk a closeup muck experience.

Becky captured this image of a Wild Cranberry bush that is doing extremely well in this location.

A number of years ago I was allowed to accompany the members of Becky's  herb group to an outing at the Bolster Hill Bog.  Our leader was a professor at a local community college.  This bog met all of the requirements necessary to be called a bog,  No stream delivered water there.  Rainfall was the only source of the impounded water.  The plants that grew there were not in contact with firm ground but grew as part of floating masses.  We were advised to simply remain calm if we fell in as a rescue would be attempted.  We were to take some comfort from the fact that if we slipped under and died our bodies would not rot because of the acidity of the water and lack of wildlife in the water.

The bog here is much smaller than the Bolster Hill bog and not likely as deep.  It deserves another visit from us.  Come Spring we will seek permission to venture around the dry side of this well hidden treasure.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Migration Food

Monarch butterflies and Milkweed plants have played an important role in our retirement lives focused on nature.  We allow the plants to grow mixed in with garden plants despite their deep extensive roots because food for the caterpillars is deemed to be an absolute necessity.  Many of the plants carry no leaves at this time of year and we interfere by mowing large areas of plants.  After July first we no longer mow and those plants still have the leaves necessary for butterfly production.  Butterflies have been numerous here this year but the ravages of age combined with hot days have limited our outdoor time.  We have yet to see a Milkweed leaf providing food for a growing caterpillars or a chrysalis containing a developing butterfly.  The process has continued without us and numerous new butterflies are feeding on our flowers.

Most of the time a feeding Monarch closes its wings above its body but this morning was different.  The overnight fog and dew had everything outside wet this morning.  The butterflies kept their wings flat and open while feeding to allow their wings to dry.  Great pictures seldom seen presented themselves.  If the approach was deemed too close, the butterfly simply flew away.


These two photos may be of the same male butterfly.  There is a black colored vein that connects the heavy black line at the edge of a wing with a similar line centered on the body.  The larger area of black on this line identifies this one as a male.  That feature is more clearly visible on the right wing in the first photo.

Butterflies were seen feeding on this native aster today but we have included this photo to accurately show the condition of our gardens this year.  We simply could not keep up and now the weeds are everywhere.  Their seed production continues uninterrupted so the problem will be more severe next year.  The pictured aster was moved into the garden recently and a wire cage has limited the deer feeding on this plant.  There is no growth beyond the top edge of the cage but we suspect that it would have grown much taller without the deer.  This one is late to open so the food it supplies will continue longer that the other flowers open now.  We wish that its name was known but for now we see it as Ed's Favorite.