Thursday, April 28, 2011

Widow Maker Neatly Dropped

Widow maker is a term lumberjacks use to describe a tree that failed to fall to the ground.  The crown remains hung up in another tree and the base remains partly attached to what will become the stump.  Forces on a widow maker make its behavior unpredictable.  An attempt to free it may cause it to violently snap in any direction taking the lumberjack with it.

Violent storms sent the rivers and streams into the fields and over the roads.  Tornadoes, rare here, made a farmers equipment barn disappear leaving no trace of its components.  We were lucky.  One broken branch hung up in the tree was our only storm issue.  First, a rope is placed over the branch.  A stone of proper shape and mass is tied to the end of the rope.  An underhanded girlie throw sends the stone and rope over the branch.  Flick the end of the rope and the stone with its rope slowly approaches the ground.  Discard the stone and fasten the ends of the rope.  Draw the loop tight and pause to consider the next move.

With luck the branch will fall.  Careful thought will place the rope puller a safe distance from the landing site.  This branch was firmly stuck in the tree.  The butt end was still partially attached and an elbow near the end of the branch was solidly over another branch. After two tries a third position, identified by Becky from quite a distance away, proved to be workable.  Several tugs got the branch really swinging.  It freed itself and fell harmlessly across the lane.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Sunny Day in April

What could be more beautiful than these Round lobed hepaticia flowers bathed in sunlight? For us the pleasure of having blue sky, sunny day to work in the garden comes close. Ed happily spent the entire day outside. A flock of brilliant goldfinches stopped by the bird feeder. I spotted my first butterfly of the season. Ed asked me what kind of butterfly it was and I had to say orange. It flitted away before I could even get a close look. It was so nice to see a bumblebee buzzing in and out of the daffodil flowers. Ed called me over to get a picture of the first snake we have seen this year. Even if you don't like snakes, this one is beautiful.

A close up reveals his smooth brilliant green body. The smooth scales makes this an Eastern smooth green snake. Ed called it a grass snake . This one was about two feet long making it large for its type. Although this brilliant green snake would tempt any small boy to keep it as a pet, they will not eat in captivity.They want live food and are are a huge asset in the garden .

After posing nicely for his picture the snake quickly slithered away into the grass where he disappeared against the green background to go on with his day. With the temperature into the eighties it actually got hot in the garden. It felt so good to have the heat of the sun on my back as weeded the thyme on the patio. Later in the evening we paid for our hot day in the garden with thunder , lightning, and more rain. What a glorious garden day!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Wet Flowers

Finally the rain let up enough to get a few pictures. Obviously the plants are responding to the rain. Water droplets sit like jewels on the Dutchman's breeches.

My trout plant, with it's pink and blue flowers has never looked this good!

This patch of daffodils is wet but gorgeous.

The bright yellow of the "King Alfred's " is always welcome wet or dry.

My primrose has a single open flower. There is enough water in the blossom that a pollinator would have to submerge to get at it. Looks like there are lots more of these cheery little flowers to come. Tonight we expect the garden will get wetter still.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Tiny Seldom Noticed Nature, Photos by Amy

When Amy visits we usually walk around with the camera. It never fails to amaze me that her sharp eyes see things I never notice. This beautiful shiny black fungus with the velvety looking edge is very small. The brown spruce needles in the picture are not even an inch long.

Another nearby fungus of the same type holds surprise that even Amy didn't see until we looked at the pictures with the computer. Incredibly tiny bugs apparently inhabit the small fungus.They look like grey specks, but if you zoom in they have tiny little legs.

Amy had this fossil rock in her hands before she noticed the tiny white spider. It took her several tries to get the camera to focus on the teeny weeny spider. He traveled very fast. At less than an eighth of an inch , it is either newly hatched or an extremely small variety of spider.

Mother Nature has some amazing things for us to see if we just take the time to notice!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sunny Memories

April showers are nice, they make everything green and growing, but I remember blue skies and sunshine and I want them back. I'm not asking for California weather or anything, just a lull in the waterworks so some comfortable, pleasant time can be spent in the garden. A photograph is nice, but I want the real thing. Perhaps an entire sunny day is to much to expect. How about one nice afternoon? That would be a very good start.

Friday, April 22, 2011

First You Dig a Hole

That is the first obvious step if you want to plant a tree. Here however, you first have to remove the meadow grass sod. Then you can begin to dig. Some places you can dig a hole easily. Here we have a few stones that need to be removed. The dirt in the bottom two thirds of the hole is a nasty yellow subsoil and it gets removed as well. Cobbles and goonies accompany the yellow subsoil. It took Ed some time, but here we have a beautiful planting hole. Fine black sand identifies the bottom of the hole.

The tractor cart is full of soil and cobbles from the hole. This load will be carted to a place where we want some fill.

But wait! There are a few more some what flat stones to be placed somewhere. They will be part of the next wall wherever that will be.

And just a few more including the goonie that Ed had to split into five pieces to safely remove it from the hole. They will need a wall home as well.

Next Ed mixes up enough of his nice soil mix to fill our beautiful hole. Now the tree can be planted and watered. The cage is added to keep the browsing deer at a distance. We hope our Magnolia will be happy here. A north slope combined with a wind shield formed by the pine trees may create the zone 5 conditions necessary for this tree's survival.

This morning the tree received a rather chilly reception being treated to a fairly hard April frost. This is Upstate New York. That's how it is!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Budding Excitement

Dutchman's Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria

Grape Hyacinth

Trout lily, Erythronium 'Pagoda'

Trailing arbutus, Epigea repens

There's a lot of excitement in the garden. Plants are really beginning to bud. We are thrilled to see them all, but the buds on the trailing arbutus are especially exciting. We watch with great anticipation, waiting for the flowers and fragrance to come.

We have been having lots of rain and the day is chilly. Plants have begun to arrive on our doorstep. Ed is working hard to keep up. Yesterday he planted the onions in spite of the rain. So far today he has planted the new 'Sparkle" strawberries and is working on the hole for the Magnolia soulangiana. We have chosen a protected spot near the house, sheltered from the north wind by the Norway spruce. We hope it is out of the downhill frost flow. This Magnolia is a zone 5-8 plant, and although we would like to think we in zone 5, we are definitely in zone 4. Sometimes when you really love a particular plant, you just have to push the envelope a little.

Monday, April 18, 2011

90 Days To Harvest

Persistence, new ground and new seed have worked together to produce a fine stand of garlic plants.  Conventional wisdom says to mulch a garlic bed in the fall.  Placing rotting vegetative around new plants when mold and rot have been a persistent problem caused me to skip the mulch.  Our snow cover was continuous last winter and snow served as mulch.  That will not always be the case but for this crop we are now in great shape.

Neat rows and uniform spacing suggest fussy planting.  That was hardly the case.  Galvanized 2" X 4" wire fence was placed flat on the soil to guide the hole making dibble.  Four plants per square foot may still be to dense but it is more generous than the former plan of six plants per square foot.  A watchful eye will follow this crop to see if the spacing is still too tight.

The horrid rot that wiped out nearly all of last year's crop was partly the result of  serious mistakes on my part.  Composting, I believed, killed all of the bad guys.  While the core of a well made compost pile generates enough heat to destroy pathogens, the cooler edges of the rotting pile kill nothing.  Be selective in what is chosen to go into the compost pile.  Some garden waste must be sent out with the garbage.  None of my compost was used on the new beds opened for garlic.  Rotted manure and forest litter were the only amendments placed there.

My other mistake was staying with my sick seed year after year.  Unique sources now gone provided me with several former varieties.  They are now  gone forever,  but I should have given them up years ago.  Sections of the main garden will never in my lifetime grow disease free garlic.

Numerous gray flecks on the ground puzzled me for a time.  All of that soil had been through the sifting screen to remove the stones.  Some how the pictured stones passed through the half inch square mesh of the screen.  These stones have a century of history interacting with tillers of this soil.  They are not done yet.   

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Lone Survivor

When you garden in a cold climate, fall planted bulbs are irresistible. They jump start the garden, giving the gardener something green and growing to enjoy, while waiting for the soil to warm up. Last fall we planted a dozen winter aconite bulbs in the shade garden. This lovely little plant seems to be the lone survivor. I would have liked having the dozen. I wonder what happened. Are the bulbs still there waiting till later or perhaps even next spring to emerge? Do I have something else to blame on the squirrels? Time will tell.

After several warm sunny days the Dutch iris and crocus are fading. My other bulbs are growing fast. Many of the perennials are showing new growth. Today is chilly and windy. The daffodils are almost ready to bloom. Perhaps the predicted rain will get all the plants moving again.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Was It Good For You?

You never know what you will see when you get up in the morning and look out the window to see if anything is going on in the garden. Even though it's a bit frigid this morning with frost on the grass, hot stuff is happening out there. Spring is here and the wild turkeys are turned on to it. A male wild turkey puts on quite a display. His tail is fanned out as erect as he can manage similar to a peacock's display. His wings are rigid and thrust out to the side with wing tips dragging on the ground. A rhythmic cluck, cluck,cluck serenade complete with total body shudder enhances the mood. All this and he struts around at the same time. We watched all this for several minutes from a discreet distance of course. For a brief moment it looked good for Mr. turkey as a female walked coyly in his direction. Food in the grass distracted her and after eating she veered off into the bushes. He did not pursue. Apparently she must present herself to him.

I have to say I don't know what these hens are waiting for. I know I was impressed! But they are still giving him the cold shoulder eating grass, pretending not to look and walking away into the bushes. More than the morning temperature is frigid!

With the girls gone he deflated and headed up the path toward the back, but you can't keep a good Tom down. Before he made it to the top of the hill his tail feathers were coming up again and again. Why not, there's more than one hen in the bushes. Wild turkey mating goes on for days. Looks like he's up to it!

This male display reminded Ed of his years teaching eighth graders. It was not unlike the bravado constantly on display wherever the eighth grade boys gathered. In the halls between classes, at the lockers before homeroom, in the lunch line and most troubling in the locker room for gym class, the boys were displaying like turkeys. Aren't hormones great?

It was another beautiful day . Ed planted two beds of peas.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Twofer

Spring has finally made an appearance here and it is time for some serious outside work.  Many new plants have been ordered.  Some are for the shade garden.  A large void there needs to be filled with soil fit for plants.  Where do I look for good soil?  None exists here as the glacier left more stone than dirt.  This section of lawn, really only mowed pasture grasses, is scheduled to become a path.  First, the sod is stripped and moved to a remote pile to compost. 

Next, stones are screened out using two wheelbarrows, a shovel, a maddock and a screen.  Soil that passes through the screen goes to fill in the shade garden.  Stone left on the screen is dumped into the second wheelbarrow on its way to make the path.  The edge board is temporary.  Flat stones are stacked against the board creating a small wall that will keep the bed soil and the path stones apart when the board is removed.  As the hole grows a second edge board will be placed, and the path will fill.  This job completes two tasks at once.  Plantable soil goes to the shade garden while  another stone path appears.  Everything is used.  Both jobs move toward completion.

Our land was farmed for perhaps a century.  Small fields and stony ground limited the profit for the farmers.  Their efforts did make for great path stones.  Sedimentary rock struck repeatedly by plows broke into small, potato chip sized, flat pieces that make great paths.  They are firm to the step, tend to stay where placed and have a visual appeal.  Round goonies are still here but a stone fork rakes them out leaving a flat path surface. Perhaps the goonies can be used to fill the woodchuck hole over by the compost bin.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Dividing the French Tarragon

J'adore my patch of French tarragon. Nothing comes close to the flavor of this herb fresh from the garden. My clump has gotten quite large, but it has also been invaded by weeds. Picking tiny little weeds from between the new sprigs of tarragon is not my idea of a good time. So division it is!

Here Ed is holding one of the three divisions that we moved to pots. After some time passes we will check the clumps for more weeds to remove and then plant the tarragon in the kitchen garden. We only dug up a fraction of the old clump so we can do this again and again if any problems develop. You can only get French tarragon from divisions . A friend or a nursery will do. For friends nearby, you can get French tarragon here, but you have to weed and divide it yourself.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Birds, and the Bees, and the Flowers...

The tree swallows returned today. There was a lot of swooping and diving to celebrate their arrival. Add to that the flash of bluebirds and much squabbling over the prime bird house locations. It seems that tree swallows are dominant and get first choice of a nest box. Bluebirds try to claim a box but they are no match for strong flying swallows. Even the little black capped chickadees got in on the ruckus. When it all sorts out each house will have a nest.

By afternoon the birds had settled down, but now there was a lot of buzzing in the garden. In the warm sunshine the crocus flowers were wide open to welcome visitors. The bees were delighted with this early pollen source.

What a tight squeeze this miniature iris was for this fat bee. He disappeared inside the flower, but then had to back his way out beehind first. Ed spent the entire day outside. I joined him at every opportunity. It was exactly the kind of gorgeous spring day we have been waiting for.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Hiding In Plain Sight

When we first moved here , I was delighted to discover trailing arbutus. I recognized the aroma immediately and searched until I found the plants. I got right down on the ground to get a good whiff of its lovely perfume. For several years we have been unable to find any sign of the trailing arbutus plants. Yesterday afternoon Ed was hacking back the growth along the lane to the gravel bank.  Japanese honeysuckle and briers have been making the opening smaller with every passing year. Just picture the growth around Sleeping Beauty's castle. For Ed to drive his new truck to the gravel bank a reopening was necessary.  As I walked down the newly reopened road way admiring his work, something green  peeking out from under the leaf litter  caught my eye . Hallelujah, It was trailing arbutus!


There it is, growing right at the base of a small spruce tree. In truth the plant never moved. It was hidden right there all the time. We couldn't find it because the area around it had become overgrown. We were simply looking for it in the wrong place.

You can be very sure I won't lose track of this plant's location again. I don't want to miss my chance to experience the fabulous fragrance of this plant's spring flowers. It is sometimes called Mayflower after the month in which it ususally blooms.  A walk to the gravel bank every day will be good for me, and if those fragrant flowers make an appearance I won't miss them again!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

We've Got the Blues

Finally we got a blue sky day without it's being so cold. Ed spent most of the day outside. This morning the bluebirds were back and checking out the newly moved nest boxes. Last year they came back on March 23. In 2009 it was March 9. Better late than never. They are worth the wait.

The Siberian Squills are beginning to open adding to the blues in the garden.

Miniature iris glow in blue and gold. We've got the blues and it's just the beginning!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Early Spring Flowers and Promising Buds

Last year my little yellow Dutch iris got nipped in the bud. Because of that I never got a chance to see how beautiful they are. I was unaware of the green stripes and the tiny spots until I saw this up- close photograph. Now I love them even more!

Pickwick crocuses are my favorite. I just love the purple stripes. Although I have others, these flowers at the base of a lavender plant are the first to open. They are a welcome sight. The sedum that I got from Thelma H. is back as usual. I'm sure it will outlast us just like it did her.

Already a magnificent shade of blue, these Siberian squill buds will be even more blue when they open. It looks like they self seeded in this bed. Who could ever have too many of these blue beauties.

This weekend has been a fantastic beginning to gardening season here. After a somewhat chilly start yesterday, today was a delight. There is much to do and it's hard to decide where to start, but as long a we are having fun playing outside in the dirt, it's perfect!

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Fool's Day Is for the Birds!

Having been promised the cruel joke of seven inches of snow made this chilly rainy day seem quite acceptable. Ed took the opportunity to finish the income taxes. We decided to take the truck, and to go on the shortcut to the post office. This shortcut consists of a dirt road through a cornfield surrounded by wetlands. Timing is crucial. First this road is icy, and then muddy and rutted. Then it reaches the wet, but passable stage before it goes to dusty and dry. Today the conditions were perfect. I had actually remembered to bring my binoculars and boy was I happy that I did!

We saw several pairs of Canada geese. I love these birds, but they have become commonplace here. That is not the case with the pair of wood ducks we spotted. Unmistakable, this pair of ducks was a real treat to see. The male is really wild! Natural design can be truly amazing! Already thrilled , the next pair of ducks we spotted was a pair of hooded mergansers. The female has a cool crest, but the male's black and white crest is stunning. I thought he had his crest up since his head seemed quite large, but as I saw in the bird book when I returned home ,he was not even close to the display he is capable of. She's a really lucky duck.

A pair of common mergansers were also on the water. They were a little far away to get a great look , but I'm pretty sure of my identification . Last but not least we spotted a belted kingfisher in a tree. We watched as he dove into the water with incredible speed and then returned to the tree branch. Crested and dressed in gray feathers that resemble a tuxedo with tails, this bird was a sight to behold. The trip was so much fun, the fact that we were mailing our taxes hardly made a ripple in our excitement.

Later in the evening 7 members of the local deer herd stopped by the garden for a snack. I managed to move them along by shouting at them out the living room window. Not impressed by me, they didn't go far. I'm sure they came back after dark. Considering it was too wet to really spend time outside, we certainly had an exciting wildlife day and that's no joke!

PS.If you are interested in these ducks go to Nature Tales and Camera Trails and use the search box. Ann's photographs are magnificent right down to the baby wood ducks!