Friday, January 30, 2015

Poet's Snow

January snowfall has for the most part been limited to nightly dustings of new snow.  Not enough to plow, the snow was driven over frequently.  That compression began the creation of a glacier on the surface of the driveway.  The resulting hard and slippery road surface caused a delivery driver to make a u turn at the reverse curve rather than continue up the gentler hill.  That seemed like a poor choice to me, but the driver was able to make her exit unassisted after dropping our package in a snow bank.  Lucky for her, I found the parcel before nightfall.

This morning the air was cool and calm.  Steadily falling large snow flakes and the insulation from sound produced by the density of snow in the air suggested that it was time for a walk in the woods.  Clearing the driveway called louder so I headed out to work rather than to walk.

My lawn tractor lacks the speed to push a quantity of snow to the side.  Two round trips with the plow left a fair sized row of snow near the edge of the roadway.  Then the snow blower was called upon to throw that snow clear of the driveway.  High wide skids keep the blower riding above the gravel surface.  The inch of snow left behind was then plowed to the edge.

The combination of the plow and the blower kept me out of trouble today.  I'm certain that the blower would do an excellent job of clearing a suburban blacktop level driveway.  My sloped, both to the side and downhill drive, has a tendency to pull either the front or the back of the machine into the deep snow depending on movement either uphill or down.  If one gets stuck going down hill, one is really stuck.  Trying to back out only makes matters worse as the rear of the tractor then moves to bury itself.

The plow tractor has a new parking spot next to the truck.  Bitter cold and an aged battery combine to require an occasional jump start.  That is more easily accomplished in newly fallen snow if the two machines are within reach of each other.

This afternoon winds  shifted to blast at us from the north. With the temperature dropping fast, my pleasant snowy morning turned into a windy, frigid afternoon. The walk in the woods will have to wait for a warmer day.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Pumpkin Procrastinator

We grew a plethora of pumpkins this year.  We gave some away.  We put many green and damaged pumpkins in the compost.  We left more back by the woods for the critters.  We also stored pumpkins in the basement.  Many of them are still lurking down there waiting.  Today Ed and I  took care of three pumpkins.  We do these together.  Ed doesn't like to see me with a large knife in my hand and he definitely doesn't like to make trips to the emergency room, so he cuts the pumpkins in half for me.  He also scrapes out the innards using an old gravy ladle.  I then place them cut half down surrounded by one half an inch of water and bake them in a 350 degree oven.  It takes about an hour, sometimes more depending on their size.  When the house smells like pumpkin and the shells cave in when touched, they are ready.

They look like this when they come out of the oven.  I give them some time to cool off so that I can handle them comfortably.

When they are cool you can scoop the pumpkin out leaving the intact skin to go in the compost.  After that I freeze the pumpkin in containers that contain enough pumpkin for six pumpkin custards or a pie.

We could have done this sooner so now for the procrastinator part.  The first pumpkin Ed cut was disgusting inside.  The pumpkin looked fine, but a close inspection revealed a small hole in the bottom.  Some insect had burrowed in through the blossom scar while the pumpkins were growing in the field.  Had this pumpkin been processed promptly, it would have been fine.  Our wait allowed rot to take hold so now it went directly to the compost.  Today's next two chosen pumpkins were fine.  Since we have waited so long some of the pumpkins have nasty surprises.  The worst are the ones that have developed soft spots.  When you pick up a pumpkin and your thumb sinks into a soft smelly spot, you know you have put things off too long.  Mithren, our cat, seems captivated by the smell.  I can't think why since when he licks that yucky pumpkin juice he always seems to throw up.

So we are multitasking.  We are warming the kitchen, cleaning up the basement, freezing pumpkin for later use and keeping the cat from throwing up all at the same time.  Oh right, did I tell you we had a huge bumper crop of Butternut squash?  They are processed in a similar manner.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Cold Clear Blue Sky

To date, January has been characterized by dismal overcast days and bitter cold.  Perennial plants were fully exposed to both the winds and the cold.  Frequent light dustings of snow failed to cover even the tips of the grass but road salt was needed in abundance.  Anyone that had to drive soon coated their car with dirty grayish white salt streaks.  A car wash was not an option because of the cold air.  Tightly frozen doors on a clean car guarantee that it will stay clean since there is no way to get inside.

Yesterday brought us a snowfall of substance.  Schools were closed and we had no interest in venturing out.  Freezing rain fell at both the beginning and the end of the storm.  The moisture content of the snow was sufficient to meet the seven inch forecast but the wet heavy snow compacted itself as it fell so the accumulated snowfall fell short of predictions.  Now at least, perennial plant crowns were under cover.

We do not know if the overnight low temperature fell to three below as forecast since the sun was well up when we finally ventured out.  We do know that the thermometer barely registered double digits early this afternoon.  Still, stones absorbed heat from bright sunlight sufficient to melt some snow.  Refrozen beads of ice and wet water dribble trails lie in contact with each other on the warmed surface of the stones.

My plan was to wait for the snowfall to stop before attacking it.  The snow blower could have handled the thickness of the accumulation but the wet snow rendered it useless.  Since I was uncharacteristically late in starting, a neighbor plowed the driveway.  The finishing work fell to me and the little yellow plow in the background made the snow pile near the truck.  It will push great mounds forward but cannot discharge heavy wet snow to the side.

This wet snow would freeze solid overnight and might then remain at the roadway's edge for weeks.  I had to push it straight back to clear space for subsequent plowing.  Darkness fell before both sides of the lane could be cleared so we will have to make this much open space work.

Time under the bright sun has dissipated the accumulated seasonal gloom and aching muscles from physical exertion somehow feel right.  Our plants are finally under protective snow cover and we have spent time in the sunlight.  Another seed catalog arrived in today's mail.  We are finally heading in a comforting direction.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Baby It's Cold Out There!

The crazy up and down temperatures we have been having lately are headed for the sub basement  now.  The rosemary, lady bugs and I are all sitting by the south facing windows hoping for some sunshine and warmth.

Now is the time to sift through the big stack of garden catalogs.   Once in awhile a new one for a company I have never heard of comes, and naturally I at least have to take a look at those.  The idea of some new and wonderful plants in the garden helps me through the winter months.  There are certain catalogs that I look for every year.  Logee's used to be one of those.  Exotic is the word for the plants that they sell.  After all these years, however, I am not so easily charmed by exotic tropical plants that are interesting, but suffer here since often they come from a zone where the minimum temperature is warmer than I heat my house.  This year I dropped it into the recycling.  Others get dropped in there without even a second thought.  Sometimes it's because of past disappointments.  Sometimes it's because the plant colors are so vibrant I know they can't be real and I need a certain amount of trust to part with my money.  Sometimes the prices are so high I just can't justify the extravagance even in January.

There are catalogs that I watch for and yesterday I spotted the Richter's catalog just peeking out of the stack of mail.  I have always loved this catalog.  If you are interested in herbs it is a must have.  For me it is as fascinating as any book on herbs I might have in my library.  I will look through it many times before I place my order.  It is full of temptation.  Over the years I have purchased seeds for weeds like lambs quarters and teasels.  One year we purchased wild rice to put in the pond.  It didn't grow.  Sometimes when you do something stupid like that you luck out and the plant doesn't take.  On the other hand the Good King Henry planted next to the stone square  comes right back no matter how much you cut it back and self seeds too if you are not paying attention.  What will I buy this year?  I'm still reading. I'll let you know.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Natural Rock Garden

Today's post photos were taken five days ago during the December warm spell.  Seasonably colder weather with snow in the air has returned and we are staying inside.  The first picture shows the oldest stone wall on the original farm.  A river bottom field that gave up these stones lies just beyond a sad excuse for a hedgerow.  A spot of red color marks the location of the present barn.  A missile shaped white blot nearby is the single remaining capped silo. The long strip of bottom land alongside of the barn is not anywhere edged with stone.  Pioneer farmers may have dumped stone from those fields over the river bank where flood waters moved them out of sight down river.

Round puddles of blueish white primitive plant growth sets this stone apart from its neighbors.  If this type of growth has been seen here before, it escapes my memory.  What I had for breakfast also escapes my memory so this plant may be as common as dirt.  In any event, the appearance of this stone placed it in this post.

Hard lichens and darker green mosses are commonly seen here on stone lying near the ground under tree cover.  Stone, moisture and shade provide favorable growing conditions for these simple plants.  The bare areas on the top surface of the stone are puzzles.  Why are no plants growing in those spots?

Ocean water swirling over a coral reef is suggested by these round balls of moss.  Somehow this growth just seems out of place here.  Actually, it would be out of place any where else.  Carefully placing stones sporting similar growth near the base of a new wall has always ended the moss.  Perhaps they just shrink when exposed to sunlight.

This stone is supporting plant growth that is nothing like the others.  Stems and leaves point to a more complex higher plant.  Perhaps these plants are growing in trapped soil on the stone surface that was earlier created by eons of lichens that had called this spot home.  What better way to begin  2015 here at the Stone Wall Garden than with plants that actually grow on stones?  We are still fascinated by their beauty.