Sunday, August 7, 2016

Taking Stock

It is about this time of the summer that I take stock of my vegetable garden. Every year is different: what and where I plant, the weather (no rain!) and temperature (hot!), insects and animals, weeds, time spent in the garden. Often by now the weeds have gotten the best of me and the tomatoes wilted from blight, but this year I feel particularly pleased with the garden, and oddly enough I think it is due to the lack of rain.

Rain is good of course, easier and more deep soaking than watering by hand. However, rain carries disease and causes back splash on the plants. Usually wet summers bring more insect pests and plant diseases. Not this year. The tomatoes are the best ever.

I'm seeing fewer bugs and and caterpillars--those that are pesky. The zucchini and summer squash plants are lush and overflowing (does anyone need zucchini?). Kale and Swiss chard and okra are exceptional.
This week I did find my first tomato hornworm of the season -- a huge 3-incher munching away on the cherry tomatoes. But on nearby plants smaller hornworms were embedded with the larvae of parasitic braconid wasps. This is nature's way of controlling the hornworms - thank you wasps.
Some things haven't worked well this year. The sugar snap peas lasted all of one week due to the heat in June. And my eggplant is looking sad. I do have a drip irrigation system, which is very effective especially during dry years, but maybe the eggplant still weren't getting enough moisture. One issue is chipmunks. They aren't so much eating things in the garden, but their tunneling creates holes around the plant roots, which dries them out before I notice. And something ate the broccoli stems. Lettuce bolted too soon. But I can plant more.

I saw our first monarch butterfly on the gorgeous purple zinnias yesterday.
In the perennial garden the tall anise hyssop and bee balm are loaded with bees and clearwings and other pollinators. Hummingbirds and dragonflies zoom about the yard, and sometimes land nearby.
Oh, and for the first time since my sister and I started growing garlic (400+ bulbs per year) at our parent's place, the crop was a bust. Garlic need water and we were not there to take care of them. It would have required too much water anyway. We did harvest some nice garlic, but much less and much smaller than usual.
So, I am buying new seed garlic from Fedco in Maine and will be planting my crop here this fall, since my parents are now gone and we are visiting the homestead (now rented) less. The garlic is a symbol of this transition as our parents helped us every year with the garlic planting and harvest.

I am already planning my garden for next year, especially since I now need to make room for 200 garlic bulbs. I'm going to skip the broccoli and plant fewer zukes and summer squash -- way too many this year. I need to move the rhubarb to a shadier spot (too hot in current location), which will make room for the cucumbers. And the catnip is in the wrong place. I need to get cow manure. So much to do in the garden and I love it. Now to find one more zucchini recipe.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

My Mom

I started Spicebush Log on February 8, 2009, inspired by Tom Ryan's blog, The Adventures of Tom & Atticus. My mother was one of my biggest fans and my most regular reader. In recent years, macular degeneration had robbed her of the ability to read well, but just recently she asked about Tom and Atticus, wondering how they were doing. As it happened Tom lost Atticus this year and I lost my mother.

I haven't blogged much this past year, instead I was caring for my parents as they lived their final months in their home of nearly 60 years. And then after my Dad passed in November, my mother came to live with us until her death in June. Although I miss her (and Dad), they lived full lives into their 90s. And this recent post by Tom, captures some of my thoughts too:

"When I think of my late friend, sometimes I sigh. But mostly I smile and wonder where the years went. When people tell me absolutes about where Atticus is or what he’s thinking or if he appeared in the form of a rainbow or a butterfly or a cardinal, I pretty much ignore them. All I need to know is that he’s alive within me. That is nourishment enough."

My mother was born in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania on August 31, 1921, the daughter of Agnes Stark Sumner and Sherman Sumner. She was born at home and the doctor who delivered her told her mother Agnes that he didn’t expect her to live long and certainly not to age 94!

She loved gardening, reading, music, ice cream and chocolate, puffy clouds and sunny days. For nearly 60 years she cared for the 1760s-era old saltbox house that Dad restored and where she raised four of us and welcomed in many neighborhood kids. Even into their 90s, they visited the local dance halls enjoying swing, country and especially contra dancing. Their 60-acre Amherst farm was among the first to be part of the Massachusetts Agricultural Preservation Program. They leased their farmland to a local CSA, Brookfield Farm, and were dear friends and mentors to Brookfield’s farmers and apprentices.  

My mother, I think, would want me to be blogging again. Although I am not sure how many people read blogs anymore, I never did it for readership, but rather to journal about experiences, places, people, nature, and other musings. The blog connections that I have made over the years are precious and I still check in with those writers now and then--they've been more persistent in their writings. So, I begin again, my blogging career (!), for you Mom.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

First Woodcock of Spring 2016

While walking with Kodi and Henna on a woodland trail in Durham, NH today I looked to my left at a clump of alder growing in a wet swale. Something on the ground among the dead leaves and twigs caught my eye. I had to stop and stare, for there sitting tight to the ground was a well-camouflaged woodcock. I tried to get a little closer for a photo before it flushed.

Can you find the woodcock in this photo?
Now is the time to get out just before dawn or just after sunset to listen for the peenting of male woodcock. More than the return of robins (since many robins spend the winter here), the return of the woodcock is a sure sign of spring. So too were the arrival of red-winged blackbirds last week and the swelling of aspen buds.

These weeks of late winter and early spring are one of my favorite times to be outside. So many sounds and rich smells and emergence of life.

Here is the woodcock, in a very murky zoomed in iPhone photo. Is it where you thought it was?

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Winter Returns

On Thursday afternoon my mom and I sat outside enjoying the unusually warm winter temperature of nearly 60 F. Of note, also, was the lack of snow in the yard.
What a difference a day makes. We were expecting a bit of snow Friday morning, about 3-5 inches forecasted for our area. But the snow kept falling all day and by late afternoon we had 10 inches.
The clouds cleared as we shoveled and snowplowed the fresh snow, creating a lovely winter scene. The setting sun lit the snow-covered tree tops.
Winter is back -- whoopee!!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

My Favorite Two Hours

My favorite two hours of the day are 5:00 to 7:00 o'clock in the morning, especially in winter. Every day I wake up a little before 5 a.m. to New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR). After the weather report, I get dressed appropriately and trundle downstairs to make coffee or start the fire in the wood stove. While we enjoy our first cup of hot coffee and read and listen to the news of the day, Kodi and Henna wait patiently curled up on the sofa. Around about 6 a.m. we venture outside for our daily walk down Bald Hill Road in the dark with headlamps, bundled up against the brisk winter morning.

The early morning walks loosen up my muscles and jiggle the little gray cells. Cold mornings are especially refreshing. And we see and hear things that most people miss by sleeping in or just stirring in their homes at these hours. (Although we do note the same people that pass us each weekday morning in the dark on their way to work).

Just this morning we had a new sighting in the stonewall that parallels Bald Hill Road: a white weasel. We first noticed the shine from its tiny, round eyes poking out from the stonewall. In the early morning light we could see its sleek, all-white body (we could not see the tail, which is black-tipped). Only once before have we seen a weasel along our walks -- that was a brown weasel in summer; it too was peeking out from a stonewall. Both weasels found in this area -- the ermine and the long-tailed weasel -- turn white in winter and are difficult to tell apart. It is fine with me to know simply that it was one of these two, incredibly handsome weasels.

On clear mornings this week, as we walked south on Bald Hill Road, we looked skyward at the alignment of stars and planets. Venus and Jupiter were shining bright, bracketing the more subtle light of Saturn and Mars. Mercury was there somewhere in the southeast, but too low on the horizon for us to see. On these pre-dawn walks we witness first light on the eastern horizon, sometimes colorful in shades of pink and blue, sometimes gray and somber. Always, we welcome a new day.

We see fresh tracks of coyote, fox, and fisher where they've crossed the road. Sometimes in the distance a great horned owl hoots or a pair of barred owls call back and forth. Sometimes we hear coyotes yelping.

As the dark sky recedes and dawn emerges we arrive back home, remarking on the beauty of the day, especially when we've caught sight of a white weasel.