Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It's Onion Time Again

 I just placed our onion order for 2012. This is the earliest I have ever done that. For some years we have been ordering  onion plants from Dixondale Farms in Texas. Given the drought conditions there this summer , I wanted to make sure to get my order in early. In spite of the nasty weather here this year, we had a  nice onion crop. This braid of red marble cippolinis is still looking  good. I ordered yellow Spanish, Redwing, Copras and red marble cippolinis this year.

My copras were beautiful and large. Onion plants work out well for us. Unfortunately, this year we had to harvest them wet. Some of them have spoiled, but we still have good onions to use. This braid is definitely getting down to its end. Hanging them in the basement in braids helps to keep them at their best. Some years I never have to buy onions in the store. I love it when that happens!

Monday, November 28, 2011

A November to Remember

After the summer we have had this year, November has been the gardening month to remember.  It has been cold at night and frosty in the morning, and the days are short. By 5:00 it is dark. But in the middle of the day it has been very pleasant to be outside and without all the biting bugs. Ed has been working with stone. Today was overcast but in the middle of the day it was nearly warm as inside the house. It was a perfect day for me  to spend some time in the garden. The foxgloves hold promise for flowers next year. These low rosettes are built to survive even under snow, but this picture looks more like spring.


I searched for blossoms in the garden and there were very few. This single chickweed flower was on a huge plant.

I found a dandelion too. Blooming on the shortest of stems, it's taking advantage of the warm days and trying to protect itself from the cold nights by hugging the ground.

The red creeping thyme has turned from green to burgundy on the stone patio.

This stone that I found intriguing fit so nicely in an indentation of a wall top stone. I picked  it up today and disturbed a tiny gray larva underneath. I replaced the stone, but I may have ruined the larva's chances for survival.

I can't say there was a lot of buzzing in the garden today, but it was warm enough for some activity. Here we have the backside of a Johnny Jump Up complete with the backside of a bee.

We're not the only ones eating Thanksgiving leftovers. These two bees seem to find our composting sweet potato peels and apple peels to be a perfectly acceptable substitute for flowers.

I was delighted to see a woolly bear on the stone path. They have been a favorite of mine since childhood. Those who consider these little guys weather forecasters might say that all the brown on this one means that we will have a mild winter. Certainly November has been terrific, but the worm can turn any time and I wouldn't bet on it any more than I would on the forecast of the Weather Channel. This is still Upstate New York and we are still in zone 4. December could be a bear!

Frost Images

Certain problems accompany the desire to get great frost pictures.  Leaving the warm house just after sunrise is not an easy way to start the day.  Inertia and a cup of hot tea hold me inside.  I did venture out this morning but it was to late to get crisp pictures.  Warmth from the sun had started to soften the frost by the time I finally went outside.  Great frost pictures will have to wait for another day.  These are worth a look.

First year strawberry plants were thinned from the bed several weeks ago.  Trashing them seemed wrong so they were placed in a dish pan.  Pushed together in a clump without soil, they still look to be in great condition.  Bright red leaf color keeps them out of the trash.

Extreme cold finds the roof of the car.  The thin metal surface at some distance from the warmth of the ground is the coldest surface around.  Sunlight may have degraded these frost crystals prior to the photo.  Feathery frost formations will have to be recorded just after sunrise.  That has not happened yet.

Wood betony and weeds are the subjects here.  Quack grass is a formidable enemy.  Reducing its numbers is an ongoing quest.  We have given up hope of ever eradicating it here.

These deep fossils are a favorite subject. It's amazing how the frost brings out the details.

The hens and chicks are on top of a stone wall near the house.  Residual warmth limited frost growth here. Delicate white frost outlines each leaf making the plant structure an interesting subject.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Tumbled Down Wall

A section of our road divides cultivated fields.  Old stone walls line both sides of the road for quite a distance.   Time, trees, weather and thieves have left these walls in quiet disrepair.  We have been driving this road for nearly half a century and I always felt that these walls deserved repair.  My initial conversation with the owners of this land was with the farmer's wife.  I offered to work on fixing some of the holes in the walls.

Repairing a fallen wall is a new experience for me.  While I was clearing the hole a fair sized section of standing wall collapsed.  The scope of the task had increased by at least a  factor of two.  Doubt filled my mind about my ability to set this right when the farmer appeared.  Someone had called to alert him that a thief was stealing stone.  During our conversation it became clear to me that he and his wife had not reached a meeting of the minds on allowing me to work on his walls.  Now the pressure on me to fix my mess was great.

A short time later another huge pickup truck pulled up.  The young man that climbed down out of the cab was enormous.  His muscular frame built by a lifetime of hard physical work blocked much of the horizon.  His arms were pushed out to the side rather than hanging straight down by his massive upper body.  He was certain that he had caught a thief red handed.  There was stone in the bed of my small truck.  I had brought some of my leftovers to help fill the hole.  We reached an uneasy understanding.  He had a difficult time believing that anyone would repair another person's wall.

Much to my surprise by late afternoon the hole was filled.  Tomorrow we will see if the monster rock on the ground can be safely walked up a ramp to the top of the wall.  The vertical seam between the original wall and the repaired section concerns me.  This weak area may allow the wall to fall again .  For now we will wait and see if our neighbor will give me permission to do another repair.  My work must pass his inspection.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Finished Stone Wall

Six days ago none of these stones were here.  There was a loose pile of stones nearby.  Now the wall is done.  The setting sun still strikes the distant hill but the wall is in shadow.  From this vantage point none of the left over stone are visible and it really looks like the wall is completed.

This picture shows a more honest view of the actual situation. Every stone project always leaves a pile of unused stone. Some of these leftovers are misshapen difficult to use stones that went unchosen for good reason. When they appear at the site of the next project they will likely get passed over again. Eventually the leftover pile contains quite a collection of difficult to use stone. At some point they really need to be dumped over a bank.  Perhaps some of them will find a new home tomorrow.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Wall Stone Run

Stone cleared from the fields is dumped on ground not suitable for cultivation.  Walking here is a real challenge as the ground is unevenly littered with weed covered stones.  One must test for secure footing before putting full weight on the foot.  The resulting halting gait looks really strange but it is necessary to cross uneven ground.  Avoiding blackberry cane scratches adds to the task.  There is enough good wall stone here to make the effort worthwhile.

Avoiding injury is an absolute if wall building is to continue.  Any large stone has the potential to be a career ender.  Walking large stones up a ramp allows harvesting of beauties that never could be safely lifted.  Splitting large flat stones into pieces is another technique frequently used.  This stone being walked up the ramp was previously split from a real monster.

This stone shows its history of interaction with farm machinery. All of these plow strikes failed to break the stone.  I wonder if the plow remained unbroken.  The marked surface will be on top of the wall when this stone finds its next resting place. This piece of farm machinery sculpture  will likely be used as a seat.

The strings have been moved to the top of the wall and leveled.  Filling the center gap is time consuming fussy work but the job is almost finished.  The large out of place stones on top of the wall were moved there from the bed of the pickup truck.  No need to lift them to the wall's top.  A stress test was applied to the wall when I stood on its unfinished top surface to move these monsters from the truck to the wall.  My footing was rock solid.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Stone Gift

Breaking into the old boy farmers' network is not an easy thing to do.  That I taught school did not work in my favor in that regard.  Our neighbor has spent his lifetime working two farms on either side of us.  We would wave and smile as he passed by our place but I remained that little known stranger that gardened out of sight up the hill.  This new stone wall is the first time he has seen me work.  It must have impressed him as he offered me access to a stone dump on his lower farm.  Here is my first load of his stone.  Less than one mile separates our lands but his stone is different from mine.  A different part of the glacier dumped his stone in soil.  My stone was dumped with gravel.  It is indeed an honor that his stone is now mine.

The wall now has its second end.  The space between the wall faces is first filled with small misshapen broken stone.  Taking out the wobble from the interior of the wall means the wedges cannot fall out.  Screened gravel is shoveled onto the filler stones.  The next layer of wall will rest upon a smooth forgiving surface.  Weather will settle this fill into the voids.

The second wall end will be finished next.  Then the work will proceed to the center.  By working alternately from both ends, the uneven seam where the halves come together will be largely invisible.  A level string will have to be stretched at the top of the wall to define the correct height of the second end.

My four foot level made its first appearance on the job today.  I have been working by sight alone.  Unevenness in the ground had me questioning the levelness of the cap stones.  There are Irish in my family tree.  Perhaps they are the source of the skill and passion in laying stone.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Stone Pile or Stone Wall?

 In our neighborhood, on this incredibly gorgeous warm  November day, many men are out looking for  deer to shoot. For them that is the reason for the season. Ed spent the day outside  too.  Even though he is working down by the road, he wears a fluorescent orange "I am not a deer hat".  Ed is working on his latest stone wall.  As he works the stone pile is getting smaller and the stone wall larger.  It's interesting that at this point they are both about the same size.  The wall grows faster than the pile diminishes since every trip down the hill brings more stone.

Standing by itself the stone pile looked  good, but now that the finished wall is in the picture it's rough appearance is obvious. When Ed is in wall building mode the stones fall into place like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. He has a real talent for it and if he is in the groove it takes considerable effort to drag him away even for lunch.  As long as the stones cooperate he will work there, but sometimes as he tires the muse leaves him and nothing seems to fit together. When that happens he goes and looks for more wall stones to add to the pile.  It's nearly 5:00 and darkness is falling.  He is still out there.  He will come in soon tired and smelly but happy.  He spent this unbelievably beautiful November day doing something he truly loves.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Wall Season

Any stone pile, whether random or organized, is home to a wide variety of creatures.  Some of them sting while others bite and those that slither sometimes cause me to dance and shriek.  Late fall finds these insects and animals asleep for the winter.  My solitary ownership of the stones now makes this wall building season.  Many areas of the garden  need work but the pull of the stones grabs and holds my attention.

Grass clippings were piled here this summer to kill the pasture grass.  Once again the stone fork was the tool of choice.  Pulling the clippings and what little remained of the dead plants to the next area to be cleared, left the soil ready to plant.  Our narrow strip of river bottom land is free of stones.  Top soil is deep here.  Usually we find gravel just under the surface.  We will for the first time build a wall in rich dirt. The stones may stay where placed or they may move around in response to frost action.

Large stones with at least one nearly flat surface form the first course of the wall.  Custom holes are dug under each stone to accommodate wobble knobs.  The flat face needs to be nearly horizontal.  Any tip is in the direction of the wall's center.  Rubble fills the voids and fine gravel seals the interior.  My goal is to have the interior of the wall filled so that no critters can find space for a home.  One experience of weeding plants next to a wall while hornets moved in and out of their home above me taught me to fill the voids.

Frost had firmed the ground this morning.  A tap from the hammer loosens the stones but screening frozen gravel is impossible.  Three pails of gravel are in the basement.  They will get the building started tomorrow while the sun warms the frozen ground.

Chilled Garden Close Ups

Things are cooling off in the garden. If out thermometer is correct it went down to 10 degrees last night. Obviously this sedum plant has reacted to the cold, but the hens and chicks are still looking good.

An even closer look shows us that as gross as this  sedum looks it still has  has tiny new growth at its base ready for next spring.

Right now this English lavender plant couldn't look more beautiful. It's not the cold but moisture that lavender despises.

Yes! This is a dead stick. I was captivated by the white fungus growing on it. Its white color and coral like texture  captured my imagination.

During the sunny part of the day Ed is working with stones now, getting ready to build a wall. He found this  fossil. It  was fascinating enough to place on  top of the shade garden wall where we can look at it whenever we wish. This small stone may have the deepest fossil imprint we have found here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Saved by a White Knight on a 1948 Ford 8N Tractor

It was early this morning when we heard the truck arrive with gravel for the top surface of the driveway. It takes a talented driver and master of the rolling dump to spread the gravel on our lane. Not only is it a steep hill, but the curve at the top that goes under a huge wild cherry tree is a real challenge. When the truck left the driveway looked like this. Disappointed, Ed was not looking forward to spreading all this gravel by himself, but the driver promised to come back to help to smooth it out.

This afternoon he was back with his 1948  Ford 8N tractor. What a beautiful machine! In what seemed like no time at all he used his scraper blade to smooth  out the gravel in the driveway.

It's amazing what a talented driver can do with the right equipment. A job that could have taken Ed days to finish was accomplished very quickly.

It was a joy to stand and watch this experienced man and his classic machine make short work of a difficult job. Incredibly he did all this and refused payment for his extra special service. It's fantastic to know that there are still a few white knights around to save you when you need help. What started out as a rather gray and dismal day turned into a day to look back on with pleasure!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Precious November Days

These November days when the temperature warms in the middle of the day you can work outside comfortably unmolested by mosquitoes and other biters. Later in the late afternoon towards dark a few of them are still around taking advantage of their last chances for that free meal.
These fleeting days are precious. Ed spends some time cleaning up garden beds. Those he doesn't get to will wait till spring. Here the debate whether to clean the garden of all debris or leave it alone for the wildlife is settled by Mother Nature. She decides how much remains untouched.

Late fall always brings on Ed's stone wall fever. Once you find out you love to build stone walls there is always a new place to put one. Here the pile of wall stone grows at the site of the next project. Usually Ed's wall building is a solitary process, but based on the last few days it looks like building  this  wall will include a lot of socializing with our neighbors and others. In this area stone walls are plentiful but many of them are falling down. People are intrigued to see one being built.

With most of the garden looking brown black or gray in response to our freezing nights, I am amazed to see this butterfly bush still looking green. Planted on the south side of the stone wall is apparently a perfect location for it.

The garden appears to be finished with flowers except for Johnny jump ups. These little purple and yellow flowers are spread all through the garden. I have a weakness for these hardy flowers. I guess you could say they grow here as a cover crop. In some places they are weeds and have to be pulled. In other places I let them stay. Some winters I see them blooming under the snow. I can't imagine the garden without them and I won't have to. They are as sure to come up as the sun in the east.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Gone to Seed

The garden is filled with interesting seeds and seed pods. Here Chinese forget me not seeds have captured milkweed seeds. I'm afraid this is one plant we will wish we had deadheaded. If we brush up against them  the little round seeds are so sticky that Ed and I have to take turns picking them off each others clothes . These seeds are made to stick to any critter that passes by.

New England asters have pretty soft brown seeds.

All of the  poppy seeds are long gone. Some eaten by birds and some planted by the wind. I know when the ground warms next spring my pink poppies will return.

I really can't see that there are any seeds left in this bee balm seed head. It still makes an interesting picture.

These sumac seeds will attract birds to the garden this winter.

Most of the hollyhock seeds are gone. They have been either eaten or planted.

I would not want to have to count the tiny seeds on the stinging nettles. Some might think that allowing stinging nettles to grow here is foolish, but Ed and I both recognize the plant when we see it and it is the food plant for Red Admiral butterflies and others.

The sunflowers have been stripped clean by the birds, but birds are messy eaters and I'm sure the sunflowers will be back too.

For the first time in my memory every black locust tree you see here  has seed pods this year. With all the rain the pods seem to have a black mold on them even as they remain attached to the tree.

 Ed has been clearing the beds preparing them for spring planting. No seeds are visible here, but I know they are there waiting for spring and their chance germinate.