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.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Roadside Weeds

Many years ago when I knew little more than which end of a shovel went in my hand, I stopped at a roadside plant stand staffed by a mother and daughter team.  Across the road was a sizeable field of plant divisions while potted specimens were offered for sale.  An amazing amount of effort had been invested in these plants but at the time I knew nothing about asters and purchased nothing.

These first pictured plants are growing at the northern end of one of our first planting beds.  Notice that each flower petal looks like an extended heart with the point attached to the central disc.  Yellow pollen marks newly opened blossoms while the reddish ones are developing seed.  This plant was mail order purchased so many years ago that we have no memory or record of its varietal name.

October Sky is a named variety that was bred to cover a huge area while remaining rather close to the ground.  For some reason the deer do not feed on this plant and those two characteristics make this a must have plant.  Its dense foliage shades out the weeds making it as close to a no tending garden plant as exists anywhere.

This wild plant bears a strong resemblance to the plant in the first photo.  The mature blossom centers are a different color suggesting two different plants.  There is no Goldenrod in the first picture but that does not rule out a second occurrence of the same variety.

Perhaps three years ago several wild plants were moved into a garden bed near the house.  Our deer herd greatly appreciated our efforts to provide them with tasty treats.  This small purple flowered specimen was given  protective cage limiting the deer nibbles to that part of the plant that is above the cage.  Left alone this plant would likely reach three feet in height and purple is a favorite flower color here.  We are not finished with this one as it deserves a more spacious protected home.  We shall put that on the list for next year.

These two colors appear to be growing from the same root mass but excavation would be necessary to be certain.  New England asters are a named wild plant that appear in two different colors.  The blue colored flowers are recognized as native while the pinkish flowers are seen as a naturally occurring color sport.  Frequent divisions have provided us with an impressively sized collection of both plants but they only appear together here near the house and and in one place close to
 the road.

These are a wild occurrence of an attractively colored plant.  This one deserves a spot in a garden bed  but to date that has not happened.

This plant lives on the edge of a manure pile that was provided by a considerate neighbor.  Most asters do not have leaves this wide but the heart shaped petals are displayed by many asters.  This grows as a ground cover but that may be the result of careless foot traffic.

 This picture strongly resembles a plant shown above.  The numbers on the photos indicate that they are different plants but they may be the same variety.  We would welcome help from a reader that is more familiar with asters.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Signs Of Seasonal Change

There is no question that our late August weather is less than fun to work in.  Searing heat and the accompanying heat advisories limit the amount of time that we are willing to remain outside.  The swarms of tiny biting insects are beyond unpleasant.  So far no broken safety glasses have accompanied frenzied moves to get the little buggers away from my eyes.  It might be considered heresy to wish for a frost but the thought has crossed my mind.

New England Asters are a favorite.  We enjoy them as do the deer and insects.  Deer pruning gives us shorter plants and slightly later blossoms.  This wire cage could be identified as deliberately placed protection but actually it is part of a pile of unused fencing.   

Goldenrod is an invasive weed beyond description.  Its root mass is so huge that a five foot pry bar is needed to loosen the plant for removal.  In short order it will choke out all of the other garden plants.  We would like it gone but it provides the last source of pollen for the newly arriving Monarch Butterflies.  Frost survival is an uncommon trait among flowering plants so we actually welcome extensive appearances of it.  Its yellow color is quite attractive if one can get by its invasive habit.

Becky found five different species of Goldenrod growing on our land when we first moved here.  Their names were easily retrieved then but those days are behind us now.  Even I recognized that this plant was different from the more common variety but I have absolutely no idea of its name.


The Clara Curtis chrysanthemums were deliberately planted here.  That small group has expanded wildly and they have been transplanted in many different locations throughout our gardens.  Cardinal Flower and Rudbeckia Triloba are both self planted and welcome.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

What Actually Is

It would be wildly inaccurate to claim that our gardens are anything close to well tended this year.  We have always had more cultivated ground than we could keep up with but the present combination of the weather and our age has created a huge mess in what was our garden.  This is the present state of our asparagus bed and the overwhelming presence of the giant weed seeds does not bode well for next year.  This is a sixty square foot planting bed and it could be cleared rather quickly but there are so many other places just like this one.  The combination of heat, humidity and biting bugs had us inside by 10 AM today.

Looking past the brightly colored self planted Gloriosa Daisy, one can see the stone path that edges our planting beds and a horribly invasive relatively new weed that has taken and holds this ground.  It grows close to the ground and finding the centered root mass is not easy.  We believe it essential to remove both the seed bearing growth and the root mass in a futile attempt to eliminate this weed.


When selecting photographs to share, it is customary to frame the image so that only beauty can be seen.  This combination of Ruby Spice Summer Sweet, Milkweed leaves that have served as a food source for perhaps a Monarch Butterfly caterpillar, a feeding butterfly whose name is not known and a background of grass and trees is a great picture.  In addition to the visual image, the scent of the pink flowers is fantastic beyond description.

These feeding bugs and a caterpillar appear to be working together despite their obvious differences.  We cannot be certain that they are not harming each other but they may be sharing.

We have been posting Lobelia cardinalis pictures perhaps to excess but the real star here is the Giant Blue Lobelia.  How these plants that feature so many differences can have the same last name puzzles us.  Both are native plants but the structure of their flowers is more different than just color.  These plants are both self planted here but we tend to focus our efforts on the striking red plants.  That should change but we can no longer keep up so the blue beauty will remain on its own.  One thing in its favor is our limited time weeding will not remove a self seeded plant that we do not instantly recognize.

Closed Gentian is a native plant that presents flowers that never open.  It is a vigorous plant that has taken and holds considerable space in our garden.  Pollination falls to the huge bumblebees that force their way into the tightly closed blossoms from the top point where the  petals meet.  Upon first glance, I thought that an insect had chewed a hole to gain an entrance into the flowers interior but that is not true.  A closer look will reveal that the fly's internal organs are visible and that the bug is totally outside of the undamaged blossom.


Monday, August 16, 2021

Healthy Fun

When this land was purchased as an age of 50 years approached, my plan was to have a life lived close to nature and to work with hand tools.  Several years later health issues mandated the purchase of machines so physical labor was assisted by noisy, polluting help.  Originally this driveway consisted of two ruts permitting truck access to a gravel bank.  The Town of Unadilla removed enough gravel each year to cover the taxes but otherwise access was limited.  An ancient field stone dump extended far enough into the lane from the left to require evasive steering to drive a small Subaru up the hill.  An impressive amount of stone was removed using hand labor to both widen the lane and build a stone wall.  Recent heavy rain had severely cut ruts on this downhill run and they needed attention.

A local contractor brought a bulldozer and three truckloads of gravel.  His work was impressive but apparently he saw my road as excessively wide.  Both sides required more fill to both raise the level of the roadway and define the drainage ditches.  The smooth wet surface that climbs the hill is the result of several days of physical effort on my part.  One of the things that I have learned is that it is impossible to pack dry sand.  Wet sand however will pack hard enough to resist runoff for some time.  It is also easier to unload wet gravel since it pours out of the trailer onto the road.  So this picture shows the result of several days effort moving gravel.  The other side of the lane also will receive some attention.

This is what remains of a truck load of gravel.  Given my age, the physical effort must be controlled to keep me out of the emergency room.  Thirty shovels full of gravel are moved from the pile to the cart to make a load.  Then a trip up the hill is made to add a sizable amount of water to the mix.  When that is dumped on the driveway, the combination of a down hill run and the mortar like consistency does most of the work.  Raking wet gravel is far easier than moving the dry stuff.  After the load is raked smooth and leveled, it is given several hours of inattention to allow the water to distribute itself.  When the surface is mostly hard, both the tractor then the pickup truck are used to pack down the new fill.

This view shows just how much gravel has been moved.  The original pile extended to where the cart is now parked.  On day one, I moved three loads and then took a break.  There was no chest pain but I did feel tired.  After some inactivity, another three loads were moved.  The following day the load count increased to four before a break was taken.  Now I am up to five loads and am expecting to place an order for another truck load to finish this job.  Anyone might be impressed if they knew the age of the resident workman.  The product of two consecutive prime numbers equals my age in years.  2X3 or 3X5 or 5X7 are small but consecutive prime numbers but you get the idea.  The master believes that there is only one correct answer.