Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Buds And Bluebirds

This morning started with the welcome sight of male bluebirds checking out the houses that can be seen from my kitchen window.  What could be a better day brightener with your morning coffee than that?  A walk around the garden revealed buds on the winter aconite.  I thought they might open today, but the bright sunshine was replaced with grey clouds.  One thing spring ephemerals know is when to close up tight and when to open.  There is no point in having your tender parts hanging out when no pollinators are flying around.

Ed took his garden twine to the back garden and tied up the fences in the wilderness garden.  It may not keep the deer from stepping on his garlic, but at least they will have to make  the effort  of jumping the fence to do it.  It was obvious that he had a wonderful time just being outside doing something in the garden.  He came back to the house just in time for lunch.  Clouds are moving in. We will see what tomorrow brings.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Setting Goals

This area is among my favorite places to walk on this glacially twisted land that is ours for the moment.  The massive white pine tree has grown up through the stone wall that was built when the field, visible through the trees at the left of the picture, was first cleared nearly two centuries ago.  That river bottom land becomes covered with a cone shaped pile of mixed outwash that poured over the edge of the receding  glacier.  Filled with an assortment of stones of various sizes, mud, clay and sand, that ground was quickly deemed not suitable for farming.  It is a pleasant place to walk if one stays on the lower edges of the steep slope.

A deep natural soil developed at the base of the old tree.  Several generations of fallen pine needles have rotted into an acidic mix that should support the growth of arbutus plants.  Two of our transplants were moved here last summer.  A small old cage protected the plants from hungry rabbits this past winter but more permanent arrangements need to be made.  A 6 X 6 foot square of wire fence was bent to a 5 X 5 square with 6 inch high edges.  After the ground thaws, a low field stone well will be built around the outside edge of the cage.  That will prevent hungry woodchucks from pushing the cage aside or rabbits from wiggling under it to feast on evergreen arbutus leaves.

The growing white pine tree simply pushed the old stone wall aside.  That piece of wall is still largely intact but now sports a curved outer edge.  Restoring the near edge of the wall to a straight surface is an option.  If that happens, the curved outer edge will be left as it is.  The new straight wall will only approach the tree.  Room for some additional tree growth without moving the new wall will be left.

My desire to help the native treasure arbutus find a natural home here is filled with contradictions.  Without the cover of the ugly wire cage, numerous hungry animals will eat the plant flush to the ground.  Looking ahead, arbutus will likely prosper here and soon reach the limits of the cage.  New growth will then appear beyond the cage and be at risk of becoming rabbit.  In time the cage will rot and the entire patch of arbutus will then be at risk.  We cannot change the fact that former farm land supports animal growth in numbers that far exceed what was present before man came and made this his home.  Our efforts may allow wild arbutus to grow here again if only for a short period of time.  We find that limited success well worth the effort.  Time spent working outside at this time of year is an additional bonus.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Late Winter Woods Walk

Our days huddled inside in response to the bitterly cold arctic air that recently swept across here have finally ended.  It was time to have a walk about to examine the status of the plants.  This reddish fungus may well have been the object of a fall photo when it was alive with new growth.  Now its two nearby companions are clearly dead while this one may still hold some life.  The piece of hickory nut shell is as it was found but general housekeeping was performed before I moved on.  Luck continues to stay close by me since the dead grass stem was seen to be surrounded by fungus before the mighty tug.  No damage was done.

This nearby tree sports fungal growth of a kind that I have never seen before.  The dark groove near their base is an opening into the interior.  Its function remains unknown.  Return visits to this tree may reveal the growth cycle if this fungus is indeed growing now.

This shaggy yellow birch prompted a memory of a John Burroughs confession.  In trying to plan my retirement, I read of the outdoor experiences of naturalist authors.  Burroughs was a favorite since his time was spent in a nearby section of New York State.  This made it possible for me to visit Woodchuck Lodge and his camp nearer to the Hudson River.  In one of his essays he describes a questionable act while tramping about in the Catskills.  On the spur of the moment, he set fire to the highly flammable bark curls on a standing yellow birch.  Flames climbed far up into the top of the tree.  Having read of his regret of his questionable actions, I did not follow in those footsteps.  My evil smile was prompted by the thought of such a blaze.  It must have been an impressive sight.  Birch bark curls have long been used to start a campfire burning.

This is our twice transplanted sycamore tree.  One of the dear older ladies that took some delight in our village gardens gave us a sycamore seedling.  It was planted near the septic system since these trees appreciate ample moisture.  A short time later we found our rural retirement land.  Baby Sycamore was among the first plants moved to what would become our new home.  Most of our land consists of deep glacial deposits of freely draining dry gravel.  We do own a small section of bedrock ridge.  The water that seeps from the base of the ridge keeps the sycamore tree suitable wet.  The tree has reached a sufficient size now to be shedding its tan bark, revealing white bark that marks a maturing tree.  The frigid polar air turned the surface water to ice making it possible to walk here without getting wet feet.  A visit to this tree always brings to the surface pleasant memories of Ellie and all the help she freely gave to these then young gardeners.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Spring For Almost A Day

Today was a day to remember.  It all started last night with frigid cold and the kind of very fine snow that falls when the temperature is below zero.  Through the night the snow changed to sleet which froze immediately since the ground was so cold.   Everything was covered with ice and then came the rain.  For a time there was an ice coating on everything, but it was thickest  where the snow had been compressed before  things warmed up.  The heavy rain melted the top surface of the ice.  The driveway was shiny with black ice for much of the day.  We decided that driving or walking on it would be stupid.  Although we have our moments, we did the smart thing and stayed inside.
In the late afternoon the rain stopped.  There were still some puddles here and there around the garden.  Under normal conditions the water would drain away quickly, but  the ice underneath slows that down.   I decided to chance a walk down to get the mail.  Most of the ice was gone. The ice remaining was extremely slick , but easy to avoid.  This large puddle remained in front of the perennial bed down by the road.  I might have lingered taking more pictures, but the rain started up again.  I had to double time it back up the hill to keep the camera and myself from getting drenched.

It was  spring  for a very short time.  By five the temperature began to drop and once again there was snow in the air. On this day the changes were too fast for me.  I hope when Spring returns again it stays longer!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

On The Inside Looking Out

When there is ice like this on the inside of our double pane windows, I don't need to look at a thermometer to know that inside is the place for me today.  I know that the temperature is well below zero.  NOAA reported eighteen degrees F below zero for our zip code.  That number is the actual reading at the Binghamton airport and we usually find our temperatures a few degrees colder than that.  Once it goes into negative digits I need serious motivation to venture outside! The severe weather warnings advise us to remain indoors.  We will heed that recommendation.

Jack Frost did some of his beautiful work on the storm door that opens from the kitchen.  This door is tight enough that there is an air lock when you close it and still the floor is cold just inside the door. We can enjoy these dainty complex formations from the relative warmth indoors.

The sun is bright and the sky is blue.  It is almost noon and the ice on the inside of the windows on the south side of the house has melted, but everywhere else it is holding firm.  Ed and I will spend Valentine's Day here together where we love to be.  We saw a fox the other day, moving quickly from right to left where the window ice blocks the view.  We hurried to the living room windows  on the other side of the house and watched the fox streaking across the grass so fast that his beautiful tail streamed out behind him as straight as a arrow.  He ran in a straight line up the hill disappearing into the pines.  Just a little later we saw him again following basically the same path in the opposite direction and running at the same speed.  For awhile we were a little concerned that he was out in the middle of the day, but then we remembered that February  and Valentine's Day are for foxes too!  Foxes in love is part of February fun here!  I have to think that they are curled up together today in their cozy den just like we are.

I have flowers on my rosemary. Blueish purple is my favorite!  There is always some chocolate in the house.  We will dine on homemade chili, our longtime favorite for a cold winter day.  Maybe we will do a seed or plant order.  Best of all we are still here together!

After more than 50 Valentine's days together, deep down we still feel the same about each other.  We were in love then and we are in love now.  Gosh when Ed reads this he will really need that insulin shot! Happy Valentine's Day 2016!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Drawn Outside

These recent mild days are an unexpected treasure.  Snow is in the forecast for the next several days but it is after all still early February.  We have approached work in the garden but found the ground frozen hard.  Removing trees that have grown up into the electric wires seemed better suited to actual outdoor conditions.  Only the scrub trees in the foreground are on our property.  The white fence and the green field belong to the current owners of the original farmhouse.  The silo and barn are across the road and are owned by downstaters.

My cardiologist has been recently dismissed.  It seems that all he does during my appointments with him is type at his computer keyboard.  Listening to anything that I have to say appears to be an interruption so why continue to interfere with his day.  That means that I must work cautiously to avoid needing an ER run.  Since I do not use a power driven saw, limits must be observed when working.  This single tree was the only one scheduled to be cut today.

Kneeling on the ground is the position from which I cut.  Bending over is a more traditional approach but I tend to be lightheaded when I stand.  The first cut was made from the right of the photo.  The downward angle of the cut was not planned and may not be an advantage.  The upper cut went as planned.  At one point the saw path began to widen slightly.  Since it takes me some time to stand from a kneeling position, I began standing while the tree was still upright.  At about the same time that I became vertical and therefore able to move away, an audible snap was heard followed by the tree falling where planned.

Tree trimmings and cut brush are loaded into the trusty Ford Ranger and hauled to the brush pile at the gravel bank.  These cut trunks will be moved to the area where we have campfires.  Wild cherry trees will burn with sweet smelling smoke or so I think.  Not everyone sees it that way since my sweatshirt is always moved to the laundry following a fire.

Looking back uphill reveals more trees in need of trimming.  Cutting in the stately pines is way beyond my skill set.  My wish is that the pines remain a relatively safe distance away from the wires for as many years that we continue to live here.  We do not need to look at these trees sporting holes in their branches made to give the wires safe passage.  The smaller leafless trees under the path of the wires will be removed soon.

If you think that the pole in the foreground is not supporting any electrical wires you are correct.  Many decades ago this pole was installed to carry a support wire connected to the roadside pole where wires cross the road to the barn.  A more traditional support to the ground near the pole would have been an obstacle for farming.  Perhaps a second tree can be safely cut this afternoon.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Out Of The Freezer

Becky's first response to this picture asked for the identity of the subject.  It shows a folded waxed paper envelope containing arbutus seeds.  Tucked inside of a zip lock bag, these seeds have passed months in the refrigerator.  January saw them in the freezer and now they are back in the refrigerator.  The plan is to plant them indoors next month.

Arbutus has stubbornly refused to take part in my attempts to propagate it.  More than one hundred cuttings have failed to root.  Heel cuttings taken from new growth turned brown and died.  Stem cuttings did the same.  A special rooting compound did not change the outcome.  On the plus side, it is amazing just how long the cuttings remained green when absolutely no roots formed.

Seeds have also stubbornly refused to germinate here.  Ants and rodents have eaten the sticky sweet pulp holding the seeds together in the seed berry.  The books describe how the seeds are cast aside while the pulp is devoured.  So far no new plants have appeared near our treasured transplants.  I tried planting seeds in a sterile medium near the adult plants.  Some seeds were stirred in while others were simply scattered on the surface.  In two years the only green that appeared here was a weed.

So the plan for this year is to try and get seeds to germinate indoors.  Some seeds will be scattered on the surface and the clear dome covered pots will be placed on a south facing window sill.  Other seeds will find their pots on the heating pad under artificial lights.  Expectations are very low in light of past repeated failures.  There must be a crucial step that I am missing.  It might involve the seed passing through the digestive system of a specific living creature.  If that is indeed the case, I will never see arbutus plants from these seeds.

Bright sunshine and warm temperatures had us walking about outside.  We visited our remote transplants and sat on their protective stone wall.  Clusters of flower buds are visible and we are patiently waiting for those sweet scented blossoms.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Just Wait Lichens Will Grow On You

I wanted to learn about lichens this winter.  So far I have learned that these tiny plants are legion in numbers and complicated.  Identification is a problem, but they still fascinate me.   Now when look at a stone or a dead branch,  I move in closer using my camera.  The scalloped edges on this grey lichen  captured my attention.           

We more commonly find moss growing on the ground itself or on rocks nearly totally buried in the soil.  Past attempts to move moss covered rocks in stone walls frequently results in the death of the moss.  During dry periods the lichens become brittle and dormant but regenerate when moisture returns.  When the moss becomes dry it usually disappears.  The small patches of moss and the lichens chose this spot to grow.  The process is a very slow one.

This fallen dead branch was found lying across the lane.  The brown shaggy growth covered the upper surface only and likely grew after the dead branch fell.  The light and dark green lichens were actively growing when the branch was alive and still attached to its tree.  Our tree surgeon told us that when these growths appear the tree is doomed to die and that nothing can be done to stop that final process.  It now appears that much more action follows the death of the branch.  This brown growth appeared quickly since we walk where it was found frequently and did not see it earlier.  We placed the fallen branch across the barbed wire fence for the photo.  It was returned to the ground so that the natural process already in motion could continue.

This bright yellow lichen was hard to miss.  We have to walk past this spot every time we leave the house via the basement ramp.  A closer inspection reveals bright yellow bubbly round growth when I scroll in on this picture.  Nature  has so much to for you see if you bother to notice!

Textbooks describe a large sea that once covered the area where we live.  The presence of the shell fossil points to sediments washing into that  sea covering the living mollusk.  The sediments became layers of stone and we are in awe whenever we find a well formed fossil.  The white blob remains an unsolved puzzle.  It resembles the silk that formed inside of a milkweed seed pod following exposure to rodents and birds that feed on the mature seeds.  Perhaps it is just that and it became stuck on the moss growing on this interesting stone.  Most years all this is covered with snow.  This February is different and I am enjoying  the view!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Spring Sneak Preview

Forget the groundhog.  No one can predict the weather this year!  This morning we had heavy rain.  It might not be spring , but it will do until spring comes along.  This afternoon I walked about to visit some of my plant friends.  This is Cardinal flower  coming back in front of Ed's wall down by the road.

I hope this a pink foxglove.  If it is white I will not really be disappointed.  Familiar green leaves are so nice to see!

This is a chrysanthemum that seeded on top of Ed's stone wall.  Exposed like that, I didn't think this little plant had a chance.  So far it is showing me!  One tiny stem has become two since I first noticed it in the fall.

No snow to peek  through doesn't stop the snow drops.  I thought about bringing the little bulb on the surface in the house to force.  More likely I will go out tomorrow and  push it into the empty space next to the others.

The front half of the ice plant  turned brown and dry where it was growing over the stone path.  The back half over the soil changed to red.  This plant is new to me, but I like all the green I see coming up under it all.

Many plants here die back to ground level here.  It is always great to see them growing again and this Sedum sieboldi is one of my favorite old friends.  I know it is still February but for me spring was here at least for today!