Saturday, October 27, 2012

Waiting For Sandy

We got a brief glimpse of the sun through the mist this morning.  It was just enough to help us remember that sunshine does happen here. In spite of the overcast skies, it was really quite pleasant outside.  I took the camera when Amy and I walked down the lane to put a letter in the mailbox.  We found this beautiful assassin bug posed for a picture on the railing when we returned.

Later in the day I was delighted to see a small group of bluebirds inspecting the nest boxes that are visible from my kitchen window.  Nothing brightens a day in the garden more than getting a glimpse of the iridescent blue of those amazing birds.  Perhaps they were just passing through, checking out the accommodations for next spring or  maybe they were looking for a dry spot to wait out the storm.  They are always more than  welcome here.  On my second trip down the hill to fetch the mail something small brown and wiggly crossed in front of my feet.  I guess my first thought was a worm because the shriek that usually comes when I see a snake didn't happen.  It was a small brown snake barely 5 inches long.  It would be a much colder day than this one before I would pick up a snake.  However, this baby was so small I felt he deserved a chance to grow up so I walked carefully behind him until he crossed the driveway and found the safety of the grass.   The driveway is a place where you can get run over.  There is a flattened wooley bear caterpillar out there right now that proves my point.

This view of the garden facing the western horizon was my last picture today.   A few cool raindrops landed on the back of my neck reminding me that it was time to head inside.  I'm sure more rain is coming, but really I don't mind waiting.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

It's Dreary But At Least It's Not Snow!

I was all set to moan and groan about our lack of sunshine.   It is true that we have been getting a lot of rainy days.  On days like today when the sun was supposed to shine, the morning fog has been thick hanging there for what seems like forever.  I thought I remembered warm sunny days in the garden at the end of  October.  When I searched through past years' October blog posts, instead of warm sunny days I found posts about snow.  The earliest was on the 16th in 2009, but every year since I started the blog we have had snow in October.  Maybe gray and dreary isn't so bad after all.
 We still have a little fall color in places.  Here a few red blueberry leaves still hang tightly onto their branches.  They have been joined  by  needles falling from a nearby white pine.

There is no doubt the sky is a dreary gray.  The plant you see outlined against the darkened sky is my passion flower vine.  It totally surprised me by still being green.  I thought our first spell of freezing weather would kill this vine like it did the moon flower and the jasmine.  I am pleasantly surprised.  Perhaps it will survive the winter planted so close to Ed's stone wall.

The emperor of China mum leaves are turning bright pink with color to rival the flowers.   I guess October rainy days are not so bad, but I'm still wishing for just a few more sunny days.  Tomorrow would be a great start!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Late October Bloomers

Last night's thunder storms dropped about an inch of rain on the garden.  Everything was wet, but when it looks and feels as great as it did out there today you just have to go out  and do something.  Ed headed for the back to work on the wilderness garden.  I tried weeding here and there, but too much of Ed's garden soil came along with the weeds.  I did get a great look at a Northern Harrier while I was working.  It soared low enough over the garden that I could easily see its distinctive white rump patch.  Eventually, I put away my garden tools and swapped them for the camera.  I decided to search the garden for after the frost blooming flowers.

Perennial flax plants are so lacy and fragile.  It's surprising to me that these plants are still green and making flowers.  These plants self seeded and are growing on their own terms.

Although the wild asters seem to have completely finished blooming, this cultivated variety planted on the east side of the stone square is still making a few perfect flowers.  Ed saw a late Monarch butterfly that was trying to fly into stiff south winds.  Few flowers remain to provide nourishment for this straggler.

The freezing temperatures and hard frosts killed the blooms on this chrysanthemum, but some of the remaining buds are opening in the warmth of the sun.

We were sure that this Helen Mae chrysanthemum had missed its chance to bloom this year, but never say never.  The persistent plant has a beautiful flower with several more buds to come.  I hope this one gets an earlier start next year.

The Emperor of China is always a late bloomer.  This year is no exception.

I found a few yarrow blossoms.

As always, the Johnny Jump Ups flower no matter what.  These last two plants are considered flowers or weeds here depending on where they are growing.

That is not the case with this last plant.  This is a true weed.  It was still blooming and green after the freeze and it continues to thrive now.  When things dry off a bit, this one has to go!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Beautiful Autumn Garden Days Bring Big Rewards

The last couple of days the weather has been beautiful for working in the garden and there is plenty to do.  Ed and I enjoyed spending the day getting this bed ready for winter.  Weeds were removed, plants were trimmed and  plant tags were renewed.  Finally Ed installed  the fence to keep the ever present deer out of the bed.  The fence is a little late as several strawberry plants and one day lily already served as lunch for the deer.

Yesterday while Ed worked on mowing for the last time, I cut back the Autumn Joy sedum plants. Twice  the wheelbarrow was filled to overflowing with the heavy stems and seed heads of these plants.

Next years growth is already visible at the base of the plants.  From the look of the new growth these plants will be even bigger next year.

In the past we have not necessarily cut these plants down in the fall but this year there  was quite a lot of leaf debris on the ground under the plants.  From the look of them, cleaning up this bed could only be a good thing.  I  also discovered that critter had dug a hole at the base of one of the plants.   Ed filled in the hole to cover the exposed plant roots.  With the plants cut back low wire cages can be  placed to protect the new growth.  Every nice day gives us a chance to work on more of the garden.  Whatever we can get done now will reap big dividends come spring.

Today the fall rains have returned.  It was a nice morning to take a drive to  admire the misty clouds and what's left of the trees' autumn color on the surrounding hills.  We hope for more beautiful fall days to work in the garden.  Every one that we get  brings us autumn joy!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Garlic 2013

With daily rains for most of October, the timely planting of garlic was in question.  Here we are on the 16th putting garlic in the ground as we always do.  The fence that is usually positioned to keep the wild things out is now serving as a grid to mark four planting holes per square foot.  Almost no effort is required to lay out straight rows.  I prefer order but the small effort is the real clincher.

Disease is a new and serious problem for commercial garlic growers in New York State.  We have made some changes in our practices to try and avoid a recurrence of the problem here.  This is the third consecutive year that the garlic is going into new ground.  Pasture grass has grown here for the recent past.  No garlic or onion finds its way into our compost.  We trash or burn debris from potatoes, tomatoes, onions and garlic.  Great care was exercised in choosing garlic to plant.  Any softness or discoloration in the cloves earned placement in the food pile.  Weather stress did expose the crop to excessive rainfall just before harvest but that is usually the case here.  A published garlic author, Ron L Engeland, flatly stated that garlic cannot be grown in New York because of the pattern of July thunderstorms.  With this new outbreak of serious disease, he may be proven correct.

This wilderness garden is nearly ready for winter.  One area still needs to be cleared of weeds.  Soil here contains much less stone than what we find nearer the house.  Imported stone will be necessary to finish the paths.  Six more weeks of unfrozen ground are possible so much can still be done.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Frosty October Morning

You have to get outside early to catch the beauty of the first hard frost.  With a starry sky and night temperatures in the twenties, everything looks crusted with white.

This sedum close to the house, near the stored heat of a stone wall got just a touch of frost.

The taller hens and chicks  got a little bit more.

In the garden frosted flowers have cold lacy edges.

They look so perfect.  It's hard to think that some of them have received a deadly chill.

Red blueberry leaves  look nice with their frosted edges.

Ed braved the cold to get these great pictures.  There so many lacy crystals on this plant that I can't tell what it is.

Even the stones got touched by the frost.  It all looks so beautiful, but when the sun comes up death will visit the garden.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Now These Are Bird Berries

It was rainy today and by the time the weather cleared it was really too late to get out gardening tools so Ed and I took a walk with the camera.  I even got a shot of a little blue sky above this large, interesting looking plant. It is Phytolacca americana, pokeweed.  Sometimes it is called inkberry.  I came from a family of wild berry pickers.   When we were kids Mom simply told us that some berries are good to pick, but some are bird berries and those should  be avoided.  Pokeweed berries are definitely bird berries.  We never picked them.  We never tried to make ink either.   Many times my Dad told the story of his boyhood pokeberry ink.  He mixed it in a bottle in the attic and left it there.  When it fermented and overflowed under pressure, a large magenta stain appeared on the downstairs ceiling.  He got in big trouble for that and we always considered it a cautionary tale.

I have to admit these shiny berries and their magenta stems look attractive.  Even the thick  main stems of this plant are that incredible color. It is amazing to me that some people eat the new shoots of this plant in the spring.  To me anything that has to be boiled in two changes of water to remove the poison before it can be eaten is not worth the risk.  They say it tastes like asparagus so I'll just have that.

This is a native plant and it is very happy here.  I count 5 little pokeweeds in this picture. The plant self seeds with abandon.  It also gets help from the birds, foxes and coyotes all of whom eat the berries.  Those same berries would make people very sick and the seeds, stems and roots are really poisonous. Established plants have a huge tap root.  We try to eliminate the small plants when we see them. Native or not we don't want so many of them here.

Some sharpshooting bird was really on target hitting this edging stone dead center.  It's a nice color isn't it?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

New Garlic Ground

At first glance this looks like a strange location for a garden.  The forest in the background extends almost to forever.  Heading east one could walk in a straight line for three miles before encountering the first year round hard road.  Traffic noise is nonexistent here.  An occasional airplane is the only outside machine that violates the silence.  It is possible to look in a full circle and see no buildings.  Little imagination is needed to see this as pioneer farming.  I now need the tractor to bring in the tools used to till the soil here but all of them are hand tools.  Long views and solitude make this a delightful place to work.

Disease has made the garden near the house unsuitable for growing garlic.  New ground and new seed were necessary if we were to continue growing garlic.  The remains of squash vines in the right foreground are in the bed that grew garlic last year.  Vines and weeds to the left mark this year's garlic bed.  Two wheelbarrows are in the area being prepared for the next garlic planting.  Brown grass clippings are killing the sod as the first step toward clearing next year's new soil.

Our basic method to open new ground is to first kill the sod.  Then the stones are screened out.  Waste stone builds great looking and fully functional garden paths.  From them the growing beds can be worked without ever stepping onto the planting soil.  The addition of woods soil, pond muck or compost completes the preparation of the planting area.  Here I need to get a move on as the garlic should be planted next week.

Today digging revealed a puzzle.  Under nearly a foot of  brown topsoil, a layer of sticky yellow subsoil is revealed.  Exactly how the glaciers laid down these different materials is not understood by us.  It is possible that the topsoil was deposited long after the subsoil.  Markings of an ancient fire were found under the topsoil.  It could have been a natural burn.  It could have been a prehistoric fire.  It does not seem possible that it is a modern burn.  There has been no disturbance of the soil here that deep.  The circumstances surrounding this burn remain a puzzle.  It seems unlikely that the remains of a fire would persist for a long period of time.  It seems unlikely that the burn is recent since the soil is undisturbed.

In all of the soil sifting that I have done here, no Native American artifacts have ever been found.  Lower ground near the river and the eel weir has yielded countless primitive points.  A flint factory was located nearby opposite a feeder stream.  A summer camp near the eel weir seems likely.  It appears that all of the activity of these early residents here was concentrated near the river.  Our stony hills saw little early activity.  That diminishes the chances that the fire remains mark their presence here.  So I ponder and dig surrounded by natures splendor.    

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Clear Signs From The North

This week  signs of change in the garden have been clear.  The goldenrod and milkweed have gone to seed.   Butterflies and hummingbirds now gone  have been replaced with flocks of twittering birds.  A flock of starlings changing its undulating shape over a neighboring cornfield caught my eye.  My trips to the garden sent an explosion of  goldfinches and chickadees to the safety of the trees from the sunflowers where they were feasting on seeds.  They returned to their feeding as soon as the coast was clear.  For several mornings we  watched a fairly large bird sit atop the tallest beanpole in the garden.  At first we thought it was a kestrel, but close examination through the  binoculars revealed  a dark gray back and head, a rusty red chest with white spots, yellow feet and a red eye.  From the size of the bird Ed and I decided it must be a sharp shinned hawk.

Today the signs became stronger.  The small birds seem to have deserted the garden.  The distant sound of geese filled the air, but at first all we could see was the bottom of dark clouds.  The geese were flying  above them.  Later in the day more flocks of geese formed large Vs in the sky so high that they were hard to see.  It seems early in the year for serious migration.   Some geese remain on the river until the ice begins to form.  But today many were heading south.

This year some of the trees are beautifully colored, others are still green and many like this one have lost their leaves completely.  Where this has happened the leaves on the ground give off the unmistakable fragrance of late fall.   This tree that really got my attention.  Its leaves are totally gone while a nearby sugar maple still holds its green leaves.

When I finished my long chilly tractor ride, before I came in the house, I cut a few flowers from the garden.  I chose a sprig of butterfly bush, a moon flower bud, some of Ed's lovely mums, a sprig of heliotrope and the flowering jasmine starbright.  From the signs I'm getting, tomorrow might be too late!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Autumn Chrysanthemums And Spring Hope

Fall and chrysanthemums are a perfect match.  Most of the garden is well past but mums give one last splash of color.  Reputable catalogs list most mums as hardy to zone 5.  Our zone 4 placement presents real challenges to over wintering these plants.  Firestorm was new to us last year.  This spring the single purchased plant looked almost totally dead.  Despite the temptation to compost the remains, I placed four tiny bits of plant in pots.  All four are alive and flowering.  We are hopeful that this one will return again next spring.

Nor'easter is new to us this year.  Bluestone Perennials offers a wide collection of mums in the spring.  Small potted divisions give the gardener the chance to shape their own plants.  Also a season in the garden rather than confined to a pot allows these plants to establish a normal root mass.  We have had almost no success carrying over fall purchased plants.  We hope for new spring growth from these plants.  Much will depend on the winter.  The drought of '56 was followed by record snowfall.  We shall see what happens here following the drought of '12.

  Daisy Rose is also in its first year here.  Encouraged by our fabulous success with Clara Curtis  mums we hope that daisy type mums will be more hardy than other types.  Spring will provide results that will give us some help with future purchases.

Debutante is also new to us this year.  Color alone makes this one a great choice.  We have it planted with white flowered varieties.  A bright yellow mum has yet to be found.  I would like the right yellow planted with Debutante.  That may happen next year.

This is the only plant purchased from Bluestone that failed to thrive.  Once again I was reluctant to compost the dead remains.  The nearly empty potted mass was set out in the garden.  We have four small new plants heading into winter.  After the ground freezes a light airy twig mulch will cover these plants.  We fully expect to see green growth here come spring.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

October Easter Lily

L. longiflorum is native to the southern islands of Japan.  It is listed in catalogs as hardy to zone 7.  Here in zone 4 we have kept if alive but barely.  Plants left outdoors produce a single flower on very short stems.  A full sized blossom on a four inch stem is comical at best.  Bulbs that were moved indoors during the heart of winter did produce normal foliage and clusters of flowers.  So the bulk of our bulbs were prepared for indoor forcing.  The rest were planted in the last available pot in the lily sod house.

These three pots are near the house by a south facing wall.  Protected from north winter winds, this is the warmest spot that we have.  Each pot contains one large bulb and three medium sized ones.  The pot in a pot trick is designed to make the removal of a pot from the frozen ground possible.  A layer of dried grass between the pot bases raises the inner pot a bit.  This may keep the pots from sticking together.  On January first one pot will be pulled from the ground and placed in a cool dark corner of the basement.  Three weeks later it will be moved upstairs to the relative warmth of our bedroom and placed near a south facing window.  At that time a second pot will be moved indoors.  After June first the contents of each pot will be planted out in the garden.

The single pot left outside all winter will get protection from late frost.  It to will be planted out in the garden after June first.  We expect short growth and single flowers but these plants will do one special thing.  They will produce a multitude of daughter bulbs.  Better note taking would tell us how large these bulbs will grow with two seasons of outdoor growth.

Monday, October 1, 2012

We Have A Baby

We were expecting our October arbutus post to show only new flower bud growth.  Our carefully watched seedlings had revealed themselves to be as yet unknown weeds.  Hope for an arbutus seedling had dimmed considerably.  Look at the top edge of the photo just left of center.

We are quite certain that the cluster of three properly shaped and hairy leaves are a new arbutus plant from seed.  The soil mass taken when we transplanted was deep but not wide.  That new plant is growing in our soil.  That suggests that the seed from which it grew was formed here.  If that is the case, then we have both genders of arbutus plant here.  

This close up leaves little doubt about the identity of this plant.  Its growth has been quite rapid as it was just a green spot under the pine needles in last month's photos.

These flower buds are what we expected to find.  The exact placement of the bud cluster relative to the leaf stem and the main stem will be determined later.  For now we do not want to poke about and risk snapping off a bud cluster.

Our next task is to manage the wire cage and snowfall.  We need to have snow inside of the cage.  When that first snowfall is forecast the protective cage will have to be removed so that the snow falls on the arbutus.