Friday, March 30, 2012

Electricity

Our electric company - Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) -- included an interesting chart with our most recent billing. A few years ago the NH Legislature passed a law requiring electric suppliers to disclose all energy sources and their air emissions characteristics. Here is the chart for our electricity supply, which comes from the New England power grid via PSNH (click on chart to enlarge) -- it is a little light so perhaps hard to read.
A couple key points from the chart:
  • The percentage of renewables in the mix is 19% for PSNH and 12% region-wide. Hydropower (9%) and wood (5.7%) are the biggest sources. Solar is less than 1%; other minor sources include landfill gas, wind, municipal waste, and biomass.
  • The non-renewables mix at 80% for PSNH includes: coal (60.9%), gas (11.8%), nuclear (5.9%), oil (<1%), jet (<1%).
  • The air emissions -- carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide -- for the PSNH mix are much worse than for the New England mix, presumably because of the high proportion of coal (60%) in the PSNH mix versus 11.8% coal in the regional mix.
  • Although the New England mix has less renewable sources in the mix (12%), the air emissions from the mix is far better, with a greater reliance on nuclear and gas and much less on coal.
The main conclusion that I draw from this information is that most of our electricity comes from air polluting fossil fuels. Unless we become self-sufficient and get off the grid, we are part of this polluting industry. And as far as I can tell, PSNH is our only choice for electricity supply. Our best contribution is to be as energy efficient as possible and reduce our use of electricity where possible. We try.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Red Flag Day

The National Weather Service in Gray, Maine posted a red flag warning today for our area. The combination of low relative humidity and strong winds has created a very high fire danger. The daffodils are nodding and the crocuses are closed up like champagne flutes, with the dip in temperatures and the cold winds.
One great benefit of these conditions is that the garden is dry. I am expanding the vegetable gardens again this year and the conditions are perfect for such work: cool temperatures, dry soil, and no bugs. Shovelful by shovelful I am converting more of our lawn to longer and wider garden rows. Each spade of dirt exposed a few worms (good) and some grubs (bad). The grub population seems to be down (good) given the few that I dispatched today.

I returned to New Roots Farm this morning for the start of the gardening season. Today I transplanted small tomato, eggplant, and pepper seedlings into bigger cells. It felt good to work the potting soil and lift the delicate seedlings from one growing cell into another. The greenhouse was warm; we stripped down to t-shirts, while cold winds whipped around outside. Farmer Renee thinned and transplanted tiny basil plants. I brought home a bag of the discarded thinned basil to make pesto.

Yesterday seemed like a red flag day too. Kodi and I spent some time at one of our favorite beaver wetlands in Durham. I sat near shore next to a sun-draped giant boulder that was protected from the wind. A group of tree swallows skimmed the water's surface, flying in acrobatic patterns that rivaled any airshow. I heard a kingfisher rattle from a snag in the water, before the wind whisked away its call.

The red flag warning has little bearing on the spring emergence of wild plants. The tussock sedge, Canada mayflower, and blue flag iris are sending up green shoots. For now there is enough moisture in the woods and wetlands. For the gardens we are thinking that rain barrels and soaker hoses will be a must for the 2012 growing season if the current weather trends continue. In the meantime, I have some basil pesto to tend to.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bees and Phoebes and Spring Flowers

Last week's well-above normal temperatures sped up the spring timetable. We sat on our east-facing deck in the early evenings as birds went about their busy lives. A pair of phoebes perched in the crabapple--the crooked one that I sculpted with the pruning loppers. The tree is a perfect perch for the phoebes as it grows only 15 feet from the deck, where they nest each year.

Meanwhile on the south-facing side of the house, where the sun warms the gable ends, carpenter bees were busy all week. The overwintering adults emerged from their excavated tunnels, mated, and set about nesting and laying eggs. On the driveway below, the dead males were piling up, while the females excavated each chamber, deposited an egg, supplied it with "bee bread" (a mixture of pollen and nectar), and then plugged it with a wad of sawdust.

Carpenter bees and bumble bees resemble each other; both are native bees and important pollinators. The carpenter bee has a shiny black abdomen, while bumblebees have hairy abdomens. They differ in their habits as well. Bumblebees nest in the ground and are more social. The carpenter bee, as its name suggests, nests in wood, such as under the eaves of our house. The male carpenter bee buzzes and hovers and sounds and looks menacing as it patrols its territory, but it is harmless as it has no stinger. Here is a male carpenter bee lying dead on the driveway, with a yellow patch on its forehead; females have no color patch.
As honey bee colonies have collapsed in recent years due to various maladies, more attention is focused on our native bees--including bumblebees and carpenter bees--and their importance for pollination of vegetables, fruit trees, and flowers. As bees emerge early in spring they need a source of nectar from now till fall. One of the earliest plants available to them are the willows along with red maples. Thanks to the warm temperatures many of the willows are in full bloom, although we have none in our yard (yet). These willows were seen on one of our walkabouts with Kodi.
A local farmer has plowed his cornfield already, although planting is likely still a ways off. We saw our first road-killed snake--a small brown snake that lived in the fields along Bald Hill Road, but ventured out to the pavement to sun itself. From now until fall we will see too many that won't make it back to the field.

This morning I woke to the soothing sound of rain drops. The air and soil felt parched last week with several days in a row in the mid-80s. The rain was welcome as are the cooler temperatures for the coming week. At a glance the woodlands are already showing their late spring colors: the reds of the red maple flowers, snow white magnolia flowers, sunny yellow forsythia and spicebush in full bloom, and the soft green of woodland shrubs beginning their leaf-out.

We have to remind ourselves that it is still too early to plant in the garden, although the weeding has already begun as the unwanted plants seem to flourish everywhere that I don't want them. For a change I am glad to see the clouds, to feel the raindrops on my face and the coolness of the air.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Woodland Trickster

Today felt like a lazy June day. A day when the temperature gets a little too warm. When a walk in the woods at mid-day makes your arms sweat just a bit, making them feel clammy in the dry warm air. As I sat by a languid river flies buzzed in the patch of sunlight on the forest floor. Surely this is not just the beginning of spring.

I shake myself free of my summer stupor. As I walk farther along I hear the trickster of woodland pools: the wood frog with its black mask and mating calls that sound so much like quacking ducks and not at all like a frog. And I know it really is still spring. Then I hear the soft trill of the pine warblers that just arrived today from their southern U.S. wintering grounds. The warbler so well-named since it spends most of its breeding season in white pines.

The lilac leaf buds suddenly burst open. Everything is happening so fast; I have to stay vigilant on my yard walkabouts so as not to miss something exciting. The tulips have shot up so fast that I expect a flower bud to appear any day. I wake each day now with great anticipation on what new things I might see or hear or smell.

Srini and I thought we should get a rain barrel to hook up to our downspout. We might need extra water this year, at this pace. March is looking like a dry month. No wonder the wood frog has evolved to breed early in spring when there is still water in their ephemeral pools. Some years the pools dry up early so they better be quick with the quack.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Gardening on the Vernal Equinox

It is Springtime in New Hampshire. The phoebe arrived in our yard on Saturday while I was away. Srini noted its arrival. I heard its familiar raspy phoe-be yesterday while hanging out laundry on a 75 degree day.

Earlier, on our morning walk, we saw the slender crescent moon rising just before sunrise as it heads toward new moon this week. While we gazed at the stars and the moon and the growing light we listened to the now daily woodcock peents. A turkey gobbled from the hardwoods on Bald Hill. The great horned owl hooted from the big pines along the wetland edge. Mallards quacked to each other from the wetland and a band of spring peepers joined the dawn chorus.

Today, we celebrate the vernal equinox, with equal parts night and day, when the sun rises due east and sets due west. Although to be precise, apparently there is already a little more day than night on the first day of spring. And more daylight to celebrate each day forward.

I messed around in the yard today. It felt good, although a little early, to be working on my garden rows. The soil is so dry I can transplant the rhubarb and plant cilantro. As warm as it will be this week--80s for three days in a row--watering is required. In March!

As I was gardening, a pair of red-shouldered hawks circled and soared overhead, their loud, clear keeyuur keeyuur calls to each other drew my attention skyward.

It is Springtime.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Springtime at Winterberry Farm

A black ant crawls across the sunny bathroom floor, the first house ant of the year. I'm at Winterberry Farm in western Massachusetts this weekend visiting my parents, where spring is just a bit ahead compared to southeast New Hampshire. The ants have not yet emerged at our house.

On my walkabout around the yard and down into the back forty this afternoon there was plenty to notice, although you had to look close at times.  Last fall my dad and I cleared the woodland trail--it was littered with fallen limbs from the Halloween storm. This trail leads past a small hillside seep that is the first place to see skunk cabbage in March. The newly emerged leaves, known as the hood or the spathe, appear like tiny woodland sculptures, each one unique in shape and color pattern.

Spicebush shrubs dot the woodland near the skunk cabbage seep. The tiny flower buds, look like small round, yellow buttons along the stem. I break a twig and smell deeply of the spice.
Further along in my walk, along the wooded stream that drains down to the swamp, I find alders and red maples flowering. And a swamp sparrow sits quietly in a silky dogwood at the edge of the cattails, fluffing its feathers in the warm sun.
Up at the house the 90 tulips--planted by my brother last fall in celebration of mom's 90th--are a good four inches tall. Likewise the fall-planted garlic is four inches above the straw. And then there is the first crocus, so beautiful in the afternoon sun.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Beaver Ponds in Spring

The day started cloudy, which allowed the woodcock peenting and twittering to continue a little longer until 6:30 am or so this morning. The day unfolded much like yesterday, with temperatures reaching into the high 60s by mid-afternoon. A modest breeze and some cloudiness kept it from being a "too hot" day.

Kodi and I wandered the Sweet Trail today with friends and dogs. This is an especially great trail in spring as it passes many wetlands. And spring has arrived there, with the ponds mostly free of ice. A beaver in one of the bigger ponds was swimming about, touring its territory, warning us and its lodge mates with a couple loud slaps.The beavers were clearly busy with new harvesting operations to replenish the dam and lodge and to find fresh food.
The plethora of beaver ponds in this region between Durham and Newmarket lie within a large block of conserved land. The lands were conserved, in large part, to protect the wetlands and the ducks and other wildlife that use them. Many, many ducks pass through these wetlands during migration and many stay and nest. Today we saw a large flock of ring-necked ducks, perhaps the most beautiful native duck. These birds will continue on north to nest. Pairs of mallards and Canada geese have already staked out territories. Wood ducks and red-breasted mergansers were still checking things out.

Sunlight filtered down through the tall red oaks, a mourning cloak floated by. This large brown butterfly with bright yellow borders overwinters and is the first butterfly that we see in the spring each year. A few spring peppers, sounding like small birds in the trees, were peeping. They had not yet made the trek to the nearby ponds for breeding.

The common polypody has unfurled and looks lush on its sunny, rocky habitats.This warm air will continue to push things along.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Woodcock Return

When we walked with Kodi on our usual 6:00 am morning outing it was still a little dark, due to the time change yesterday. The sunrise was now an hour later. This was to great effect as the first sound I heard in the early morning darkness was the distant peenting of a woodcock--the first of the year. Without the time change, it would have been too light by 6:00 am and the woodcock would have stopped their mating rituals for the day, before resuming again at dusk.

I checked my blog posts from past years and this is the week the woodcock arrive in our neighborhood. Usually toward the later part of the week; this year they are early as is the spring weather.

This morning we walked down Bald Hill Road a bit, then into the Mitchell field now that it is free of snow, if a bit damp. The field is rolling and we like to climb the short rise to the top. We stood quietly, while Kodi sniffed clumps of little bluestem. We heard a couple woodcock peenting from the lower edge of the field, where it dips down to a brushy edge. I gazed east toward the salmon-colored skyline and caught a glimpse of one woodcock in the midst of its "sky dance," twittering as it flew up in a wide spiral, before swooping back down to its peenting spot at the field edge.

Later in the morning, around 10 o'clock, I was ready for a break from work. Something also caught my ear just then--a bluebird was singing nearby. And there it was in the morning sunlight perched on our deck and singing to its mate. I stepped outside onto the deck and heard a chorus of birds. More chirps and chucks than actual songs. I think the birds were chatting with their mates about potential nest sites or perhaps a good food source. The resident birds start their nest search much earlier than migrants, locating the best sites in the crotch of a tree or a suitable cavity depending on their preferences. And with the trees still bare it is fun to watch them check out the options. Pairs of robins, nuthatches, tufted titmice, and downy woodpeckers were all busy in our yard at mid-morning.

It bears repeating that early spring is one of the sweetest times to step outside for a walkabout in the neighborhood. The birds are full of energy, the soil is active with new growth, buds are just starting to swell and open. You might want to step out soon to enjoy the early spring, as summer may just come a little sooner than we want (the temperature reached nearly 70F today).

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Early Spring

Is there a sweeter time of year than early spring? I think not. Perhaps this is really late winter, since the Equinox is still more than a week away, yet it feels like spring. Although on top of Mt. Moosilauke yesterday it still felt like winter.

I enjoy the winter hikes up into the spruce and fir and alpine tundra and deep snows, but I like to live down low where spring comes sooner. In our yard the snow has nearly melted away, again, and probably mostly for good until next winter. The frost is leaving the ground. Sweet, tender shoots of chives are pushing up through the decayed leaves of last year. The pointed tips of the tulip bulbs are just poking through the cold soil.
Red maple buds are swelling.
 
The buds of the hazelnut bush in our yard absorb the late afternoon sun.
I pruned the fruit trees today, giving them a good haircut. The old peach tree which lost a major branch to storms last year is looking old. We'll keep it another year at least despite its decrepit appearance, it has been a good peach tree.

While I pruned I listened to the male red-winged blackbirds calling from the wetland. They arrived last week and I thought of Gerry. He would have noted their arrival. A brown creeper sang from one of the white pines--the first time I heard their thin, high notes this year.

It feels like winter is behind us and each day forward will bring new sights and sounds of a sweet spring.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Moosilauke

We climbed The Moose today--the 4,802-foot Mt. Moosilauke--after deciding against an attempt of Mt. Washington. The weather forecast was a bit too cold and windy for the high peaks. The approximately 8-mile round trip up the Glencliff and Carriage Road Trails to the top of Moosilauke was a great alternative. Two to three inches of fresh snow had fallen overnight, providing a nice coating over hard packed snow and ice. We wore snowshoes all the way, except just at the bottom on our descent. By then the fresh snow had melted and the trail was bare. Here is a morning and afternoon shot of the Glencliff Trail at the edge of the field.
The Glencliff Trail is a favorite hike as it passes through a stand of paper birch then rises into a northern hardwood forest studded with huge, old, gnarly yellow birches, before entering spruce and fir country.
The Glencliff Trail climbs steadily and then much more steeply toward the top. The final stretch passes a talus slope to the right. The snow-covered spruce and fir were beautiful as I paused to catch my breath.
Before we left the wind-protected trail and emerged above treeline we paused for nourishment and to add layers. A few people coming down from the top said it was pretty windy up there. Although not a perfectly clear day, the views were plenty fine, including a clear view of the summit as we ascended.
Srini and Kodi led, following the cairns up the wind-swept ridge.
It was windy at the top, but we had on plenty of gear, so we wandered around the broad, rocky summit to see the views in every direction.
 John, one of our hiking companions, studied the mountains in the distance.
  Our friend Kevin gazed out from the summit, enjoying the day on top of one of his favorite mountains.
Kodi and I shared a hug before beginning the descent.
After taking in the last of the sweeping views from the summit we descended the way we came. The cairns were clearly visible and oh so helpful above treeline in winter.The south summit was visible in the distance. We did take in that peak, which required a short 0.1 mile (seemed like more) snowshoe hike up to the top.
The short trek to South Summit, which itself is 4,523-feet, is worth the extra few minutes. It offers some interesting views back toward Moosilauke and down into the valley below.
 
This view from the South Summit reveals a series of patch cuts in the forest below.
We crossed paths with fewer than two dozen people today. We expected more on this popular peak, although perhaps the wind kept them away. We had Glencliff Trail almost entirely to ourselves, except for the small woodland creatures. It was a fine day in the woods and in the wind.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Low, Low Tide

When the temperature nearly tops 60F, the sky is blue, and the full moon is rising, the low, low tide is just right for a late afternoon visit to Seapoint Beach in Kittery, Maine--a dog friendly beach in winter. Srini arrived home early from work, Kodi gave him a big smile, and we headed out. Kodi whined a bit in his car crate, wondering why we were driving so far for an outing. Once there, though, he was thrilled.

He ran and twirled and generally entertained himself and other dogs on the long, low slung beach. At times he waited for other dogs to make their move or looked out across the clear blue ocean.

We arrived at about dead low tide, when it was minus 0.6 feet (below sea level). The previous high tides had brought in tremendous amounts of seaweed and the ecosystem of life tangled up with it. What wonderful garden compost it would make.
A flock of surf scoters floated off-shore along with a lone horned grebe in winter plumage. The sea snails were making tracks in the wet sand.
The tides create beautiful patterns on the beach that vary depending on the slope of the beach and the energy of the incoming tide.
The visibility was crystal clear across the ocean toward the Isles of Shoals and a merchant ship sailing south.
No trip to Seapoint Beach would be complete without a stop at our favorite bakery: the Beach Pea Baking Co. on Route 1 in Kittery. It was near closing time so all the day's bread was gone. Instead we opted for a small passion fruit cheesecake. Oh well, sacrifices must be made.