Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Living Free

Kodi and I are spending more time together. He was going to doggie daycare three days a week or so. Kodi is young and energetic and loves to meet and play with other dogs. Daycare seemed like a perfect place for him. Lately though he was coming home with some bad report cards -- he was apparently "arriving with an attitude" and sometimes being a "brat." Now, like any parent, you always assume that your dog is perfect, or at least not a bully. Kodi was, we were told, pushing around a dog or two and not letting up, which led him to be put in "time-out." Our Kodi?!

Since the point of sending him to daycare was to burn off energy and for him to have a good time, we decided to keep him out of daycare for awhile. I think this was Kodi's way of saying he was bored there and wanted to go on hikes and outings with me. Kodi loves to run free, and perhaps the daycare pens, although fairly large, were still too confining. And maybe he got bored with the usual batch of dogs and he was uncertain how to deal with new dogs that showed up.

Now Kodi and I go for several walks a day. This reminds me of my first year with Bella. She too loved to live free and the two of us spent many hours wandering woods and trails. Now Kodi is my daily companion. Of course my work suffers a little, but since I work for myself I can get away with it. Fall is a wonderful time to play hooky.

Red maples in Betty Meadows wetland, Northwood Meadows State Park
Yesterday we hiked a trail in Pawtuckaway State Park that borders Pawtuckaway Lake. We were miles and miles from any center of human activity with the woods completely to ourselves. As we walked, Kodi played in the lake, chased after chipmunks and squirrels, sniffed the woodland air, and ran and ran. I listened to acorns falling and rain drops tapping leaves overhead. I stepped over two red efts and watched a young otter swim playfully in a wetland dammed by a beaver.

Red eft on trail
A foggy wetland, home to the otter
Kodi in Pawtuckaway Lake, wondering about a large, exposed rock just offshore
Last night Kodi slept well, exhausted from a day well spent. I was a little more restless, perhaps thinking a bit about my work yet to be done. The rain is continuing for a third day in a row, so perhaps a good day to stay at the computer, at least until Kodi nudges me for our first walk of the day.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Autumnal Equinox 2010

The sumacs and poison ivy are already a deep orange-red. One theory is that these early leaf-turners are shouting out to migrating birds that their fruits are ripe and ready to be had. Another theory is that the red pigments shade sensitive tissues when the plants are reabsorbing nutrients from their leaves. Regardless, the colors are splendid, and now, on this first day of fall, the brilliant colors are spreading to the maples and beyond. And acorns are falling like raindrops, startling Kodi as they fall all around us in the woods and on the road.


This afternoon Kodi and I walked up Bald Hill Road to the woodworking school as we used to do with all of our dogs. We've done that less with Kodi, as he seemed to be happy going off to doggie daycare several times a week. That has changed -- more on that tomorrow -- so we took advantage of a lovely afternoon to soak up the setting sun and admire the changing of the season.

We reached the woodworking school just as the late afternoon September sun lit up the shop's sign.


Alan is our woodworking teacher, friend, neighbor, carpenter, and owner of Homestead Woodworking School located on his family's homestead. I dedicate this post to his wife, Melissa, who died last week after a long battle with cancer. Such nice people should not have to suffer so.


Kodi and I walked among the tall grasses in the field above the woodworking shop and house, absorbing the sun's light and warmth on this autumnal equinox. A new season is upon us and a time to give thanks to our good fortune to be here and surrounded by such natural beauty.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Fall Harvest

Wednesday mornings I ride my mountain bike to New Roots Farm. As the weather has turned cooler and with the grass often damp with dew I wear knee high rubber boots. Since the boots are bulky I wear them riding. The neighbors probably wonder. My ride home is often a balancing act, with my daypack and a seat bag brimming with fresh vegetables. Sometimes I carry another plastic bag full of heavy tomatoes. And of course wearing my black rubber boots.

Although the temperature rose to near 80 today and the humidity was a tad high, it feels like fall. The leaves are changing daily and late tonight or early tomorrow morning is the Autumnal Equinox - the first day of Fall. I brought home a good harvest from New Roots to ring in the fall season: broccoli, beets, red bell peppers, red cabbage, lettuce, various tomatoes, zucchini and yellow summer squash, and a few onions.

One of the benies of volunteering at a friend's farm is that I can bring home as many veggies as I want that have a few blemishes. I can take red bell peppers that have a small black spot, or misshapen zucchinis, or scraggly looking cabbage -- once any little bad spots are trimmed off they all taste fine. I can also pick a few of my favorite tomatoes that are growing in the high tunnels.

A few oddball veggies that come home with me
My favorite Green Zebras from New Roots Farm

Our own garden is still offering up various vegetables for the equinox: fresh basil and cilantro, Beatrice and Fairy Tale eggplant, red Marconi peppers, the last of the cucumbers. I picked many of the remaining San Marzano tomatoes to let them ripen in the house so late season bugs and or a frost do not get them first.

Today's harvest from our garden
The cilantro went straight into the food processor to make pesto (cilantro, salt, garlic, vegetable oil, lime juice) to be served up with the grilled eggplant, onions, and summer squash tonight. Alas, a small piece of the Cuisinart broke so I switched to the blender which does not work nearly so well for such things. The basil pesto is now on hold until I can fix the food processor.

Fresh cilantro leaves from our garden
And now it is pesto

Monday, September 20, 2010

Horse-Powered Gardening

I've had horses on the mind the past week or so. We are not horse people, although I like to see horses grazing in a pasture. We visited our friend Beth this weekend in Maine and her two horses - Georgia and General Lee, her 8-month old Rottweiler Angel (she and Kodi became fast friends), and two cats (Kodi and the cats did not become fast friends - they were kept apart for the weekend). Beth is a horse person. She has a beautiful pasture with a wonderful view and a barn, and the horses nurture her garden.

Georgia
General Lee
I read some Extension publications that said horses do not digest seeds the way cows do. Meaning that weed seeds pass right through the horse and can then germinate in your garden without some good composting first. Also, horse manure mixed with bedding can tie up nitrogen, which is also not so good for the garden. Well, Beth's garden overlooking the horse pasture looked beautiful. The oversized beet greens (update: Beth now thinks the seeds got mixed up and this was actually Swiss chard; that is why her "beets" were so small!) were lush and dark (no yellowing from lack of nitrogen). We helped pulled some weeds, no more than any early fall garden might have. I'd say her garden was well-nourished by Georgia and the General.

Beth's garden; strawberry beds in the foreground
Lush beet greens Swiss chard
Brilliantly-colored zinnias


Beth and her animals have fabulous views from her house and the pasture. On cool mornings, when the fog hangs in the valley, you almost imagine looking out over a lake.

Fog  blankets the valley at 6:20 am.
For a brief moment we imagine Moosehead Lake stretched out below us.
By 7:00 am the fog had lifted and the lake effect drifted away
We gathered with several other Maine friends during the weekend and peeped at the start of the fall foliage season which is a week or more ahead of southeast New Hampshire. We were dazzled by the energy of Kodi and Angel, while keeping them away from (not always successfully) the fresh piles of horse manure in the paddock.

Angel and Kodi, playing chase and waiting for the other to make the next move

Even before we visited Beth, I'd talked some local farming friends who also have horses into letting me come over to shovel up some horse manure for my garden. Little did I know that Farmer Chuck meticulously manages his horse manure and had a well-composted, odorless pile ready for me to dig into. I've been twice to fill-up five gallon pails with the manure. Next year we will have our own horse-powered garden.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sedums and Asters

The phlox, coneflower, beebalm, and yarrow have faded in the perennial gardens. Fall is upon us. A few mornings ago the temperature was 45 F. Frost on the pumpkin is not far off, especially in the north country. We have a few more weeks here, I think, before a hard frost. Just the same, I harvested the four butternut squash and will let them cure in the basement.

Some of my favorite garden flowers are just coming into bloom -- the sedums and asters. These are also favorites of bees and wasps and other nectar-feeding insects. The rich colors of these plants brighten the yard as the leaves and flowers of other plants turn yellow and brown and begin to die back.

Sedum

Aster
Asters

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Red Jacks

Weeks before the hillsides are awash in the reds and oranges of autumn leaves, you can find splashes of brilliant colors on a walk in the woods. The dense cluster of bright red berries of jack-in-the-pulpit look like red lanterns lighting up the forest floor.

Jack-in-the-pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum, fruiting in September

Earlier in the year -- April through June -- the jack-in-the pulpit flowers. A striped, greenish-purple hooded canopy or pulpit curves over the flower known as a spadix or just "Jack."

Jack-in-the-pulpit flowering in late April

In early summer when black bears are really hungry they search out foods near wetlands, in moist woods, and along stream edges -- places that green up early. Here they find jack-in-the pulpits, among other early foods. The bears dig up the underground tuber or corm. Jack-in-the-pulpit is also known as Indian tuber. Native Americans in the east boiled the tuber before eating, as all parts of the plant contain calcium oxylate crystals which cause severe burning if eaten raw. I am not sure how bears handle this, but they seem to relish the jacks raw.

The jack-in-the-pulpit typically has two, long-stemmed leaves, each with three leaflets, reaching 1-2 feet tall. The single fruiting body -- Jack and his pulpit -- emerges beneath the leaves. Fall colors are always beautiful and you can see them in places you might not expect,. Look to the forest floor for the red Jacks. You will see the fruit before you notice the vegetative parts, which are beginning to fade.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Bur-reed

Early fall is a time I enjoy re-visiting several favorite local wetlands. By now the winterberry bushes growing on pond shores are loaded with bright red berries, small flocks of birds -- ducks, waxwings, warblers, sparrows  -- gather to store up fat reserves for their flights south, turtles basking on logs soak up solar rays before they spend the winter buried in the pond bottom, and emergent plants are changing colors just like the maples and birches.

One wetland-loving plant that always catches my eye anytime of year is bur-reed. The narrow, linear leaves resemble iris or cattail. Bur-reed grows to about 1-2 feet tall in small colonies near the water's edge.

Bur-reed colony at a pond edge

It's the flowers and fruits of bur-reed, or Sparganium, that are unique. The round female and male flowers are borne on a branched zigzagging stem. The bigger, greenish female flowers below and the smaller, whitish male flowers near the tip. The female flower develops into a beaked nutlet or bur.

Bur-reed leaves changing color in September

Ducks and rails eat the nutlets and muskrats like the entire plant.
 
Fruits of bur-reed, Sparganium eurycarpum

Earlier this summer when I visited these local wetlands, the bur-reed was just flowering.

Bur-reed flowering in early June

Bur-reed in early June, flowers not yet open.

You can see that all during the growing season, bur-reed is a curious plant. You may overlook the leaves, but look closer and you'll see the zigzag stems with its round flowers or spikey fruits.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Peppers

Farmer Jeff (of New Roots Farm) and I were talking yesterday about the approaching end to the vegetable season. By this time of the year it is somewhat of a relief to wind down. Each growing season brings different rewards and stresses. One vegetable does well and another does poorly. It is as variable and unpredictable as the weather.

This was the year of the pepper. Late July to early September is peak pepper harvest. Often by now, the sweet red peppers have begun to rot on the vine. Not this year. They are as gorgeous now as any time during the season.

Sweet, red peppers

The hot peppers are also hot this year. The 90 degree days that I complained about earlier this month were perfect for one thing -- drying cayenne peppers. Lacking a dehydrator, I used the sun instead. Although it is taking longer to dry the peppers, I set them outside in the sunniest spot and let the sun do the work. These are looking pretty good.

Cayenne peppers drying under the sun

Many Indian dishes call for a dry, red chili. Our stash for the year is nearly ready. The green chilies and the jalapenos are used fresh and a healthy supply is in the freezer for year-round use.


Hot peppers!
As good as this year is for peppers, it is a bust for eggplant. I think various bugs and wilts (fungus) got to them. Fortunately, my sister's garden in the upper Champlain Valley of Vermont was not so inflicted and we returned home on Monday with several long Asian types and one big black Italian type. Crop rotation seems to be the only solution to avoiding eggplant wilt so there is always next year for our eggplant. In the meantime, peppers are on the menu.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hiking in the Champlain Valley

We spent the Labor Day weekend in Charlotte, Vermont, celebrating three birthdays in the family and hiking. Each day we hiked higher and higher. On Saturday we climbed Mt. Philo in Charlotte. Located within the oldest State Park in Vermont, the 968' high mountain is more like a high hill, but still offers a grand view of the Champlain Valley. Ribbons of hardwoods wind around fields of corn, vegetables, hay, pasture, and meadow. Champlain Lake spreads out beyond and the Adirondack Mountains rise up in the distance. Although we were a bit early for peak hawk migration -- turkey vultures, an osprey, and an immature bald eagle soared past.

The view from atop Mt. Philo

On Sunday we drove farther south to the Snake Mountain Wildlife Management Area. My young nieces were along for this hike. After a slow start, they rallied and we all reached the top. At 1,287' Snake Mountain offered yet another grand view of the valley, lake, and mountains. A large concrete slab at the top is the former site of the Grand View Hotel. This name was used instead of Snake Mountain, thinking that people might be scared off by a reptilian name.The mountain was actually named for its serpentine ridgeline. The trail to the top passes through Wilmarth Woods, a beautiful oak-northern hardwood forest owned by The Nature Conservancy, and the Snake Mountain WMA. Both Mt. Philo and Snake Mountain are hugely popular.


The view from atop Snake Mountain

On our way home we traveled back roads through Vermont. We drove through Lincoln Gap, noticed many cars, and decided to stop and hike part of the Long Trail -- the oldest long-distance trail in the country. A beautiful Labor Day brought many people to the same spot. We counted 60 cars when we arrived back at the car. Despite the crowds, we were alone along many stretches of the 2.6 miles to the height of land - Mt Abraham. At 4,006,' it is the fifth highest peak in Vermont.


A small area of alpine vegetation marks the top of Mt. Abraham with views stretching out in all directions. We saw Mt. Mansfield to the north and took in sweeping views of the Champlain Valley to the west.

 
A view from atop Mt. Abraham

The three-hour round trip hike was well worth the effort. A tinge of color on the upper slopes offered a peek at what must be spectacular fall foliage later this month. We descended Lincoln Gap Road, the top portion of which is closed in winter, to the small village of Warren. Here we found the Warren Store with an awesome deli with outside seating overlooking a small waterfall. A fine ending to three days of hiking in the Green Mountain State.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Dormouse Gets A Bridge

Yesterday I heard a story on National Public Radio -- specifically on PRI's The World -- about a small, rare rodent in South Wales. It seems that the common or hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) is not so common, declining in population due to the usual suspects -- loss of and changes to its woodland habitat and isolation of breeding populations by roads and other development.

The local Council in one South Wales community is trying to help by building the dormouse a bridge across a new bypass. This species of dormouse spends its spring and summer in trees and shrubs, rarely coming to the ground. So they can't walk or run across a road to reach dormice on the other side. They move about in trees and the bypass severed that link. The new bridge -- a series of suspended reinforced mesh tubes that lead from one side of the road to the other -- is meant to re-establish an arboreal corridor for dormice movement. You can see a picture of the bridges here.

Of course there is some local outrage, as taxpayer funds were used to build the bridge, and as these things go, it was a bit expensive. However, if the bypass had not been built, the dormice would not need a bridge. Nice to know some local officials care about wildlife when development wreaks havoc on their populations.

The dormouse is golden in color with a furry, prehensile tail and large, black eyes. You can read more about the dormouse and see pictures via The Dormouse Monitor, here and here. There is a saying in France, "to sleep like a dormouse." They are sleepy creatures, spending six months or more hibernating in a small woven nest on or near the ground. The dormouse, like our flying squirrels, are nocturnal so most people never see them.

I just might have to visit South Wales someday to see the diminutive dormouse (or at least its bridge) and other favorite creatures such as the hedgehog and badger that I first learned about reading Beatrix Potter, a favorite author when I was young.