Friday, May 25, 2012

Phoebes Fledged

The phoebe nest is empty. I am hopeful that the three young fledged successfully a few days ago. They were bulging out of the nest the last time I peeked at their nest under the deck. The robins are clucking loudly in the yard and chasing chipmunks, protecting their young as best they can.

Warm rain fell for a fourth week in a row, mostly Tuesday to Thursday. The perennials are lush, the still tiny peaches look healthy so far, and the peas are reaching high up the pea fence. I made cilantro-arugula pesto last night from our own plantings. This week we made a delicious asparagus frittata and incorporated spinach into several dishes with fresh ingredients from my farmer friends Renee and Kate. The flavor and texture of these fresh vegetables is welcome after months of winter tubers and store-bought foods.

Our vegetable garden expansion is nearly complete. After slogging away at turning over lawn a shovelful at a time, our neighbor kindly brought over his cultivator and finished the work. Yesterday we added about 10 wheelbarrows of our own compost. We are laying in irrigation tape for the first time this year, a hedge against droughty conditions.

I've seen few insect pollinators during the recent rainy periods, although the warm air temperatures has brought out some to the yard. Yesterday a tiger swallowtail flitted among the flowers and a hummingbird clearwing hovered among the bleeding heart. My camera is on the blink so here is a picture of a clearwing from a few years ago. Such a beautiful moth.
This is one of the most beautiful times of year in New England. Enjoy.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Potions, Saffron, and Wild Greens

On Saturday at noon I sampled a sauté of wild greens. The dish included leaves of tender dandelions, nettles, and wild carrot tops along with green garlic, chives, and thyme all from my sister's garden and yard. The chefs were my 9-year old niece and her friend, with a little help from my 7-year old niece. They added salt and sautéed the mix in olive oil on the stove. After tasting, my niece said it needed a little something more and I suggested some fresh squeezed lemon juice and red wine vinegar. It was truly delicious, all the more since my young niece and her friend created it on their own while playing outside and the ingredients were mostly what they found in the yard.

The sauté was the result of their earnest efforts to create powerful potions in their indoor and outdoor laboratories. When I arrived on Thursday my niece prepared a happy potion for me in her bedroom laboratory. Meanwhile my even younger niece worked on a sleeping potion and then a potion that "makes angels come to you." The latter included water, lavender, parsley, sunflower seed, sunlight, and a spell. The spell is placed on potions by waving their special wands that they created themselves. We gave them small branches of red maple and spicebush for Christmas. They carved and sanded the wands themselves (or perhaps with a bit of help) and added a gem at the hand end.

On Saturday the laboratory moved outdoors and the wild green sauté was the ultimate result. The girls were tremendously impressed with their sauté, as were we.

During my three day visit with my nieces we also made kulfi--an Indian ice cream--with ingredients that I brought along: one can condensed milk, 1/2 cup ground cashews, 1/4 tsp cardamon seeds ground in a mortar and pestle with 1 tsp sugar, a few more teaspoons of sugar, and 5-6 strands of saffrons, plus 3 cups of milk. Thanks to my sister-in-law in India for the recipe.

The delicate, thread-like, vibrant red saffron strands are considered the most expensive spice in the world, as they are hand-picked stigmas (flower part) of the saffron crocus. The kulfi was a big hit. I also helped my niece gather the stigmas of a plant growing in my sister's yard--the invasive gill-over-the-ground, also known as creeping charlie. We carefully pulled the pale, slender stigmas from the blue flowers and gathered them in a small tin. My niece now has her own supply of "saffron" as one more powerful ingredient for future potions.

Who knew potions could be such fun and lead to such delicious food and vice versa. Thanks to Lia, Rosie, and their friend (and my sister's yard) for great fun and food.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Treefrogs and More

Another stretch of rainy days ended yesterday, petering out by mid-day.  The moist, muggy air has helped the garden grow, although the sun is most welcome now. Despite the spate of rainy spells in May the mosquitoes and black fly populations are surprisingly and pleasantly low. A droughty April surely helped squelch the hatch of the pesky bugs.

Last evening gray treefrogs trilled from the trees in our yard. Four or five males were competing to attract females. Their loud bird-like trilling belies their small size, only two inches in length. I've spotted a treefrog only a few times as they are well-camouflaged, changing colors according to light, humidity, and temperature. Often they look just like the lichen-covered tree bark. As I listened to their trills I pictured the diminutive frog with huge sticky toe pads and warty, lichen-colored skin melting into the tree branch, hidden from all predators while charming the female treefrogs.

In the wee hours of the morning the barred owls cackled and hooted from the backyard as a cool breeze wafted into our open bedroom windows. On our dawn walk we heard three type of thrushes: a veery, a wood thrush, and several robins. All the birds are busy foraging for insects in the sudden sunshine. Many are already feeding young, including the pair of phoebes beneath our deck. I saw about three or four small heads hunkered low in the nest, while their parents were off gathering food.

We had another sort of hatch as a result of the recent rains. The shiitake logs sprouted and I gathered a half dozen mushrooms just now.
It feels good to see and feel the morning sun, after days of gray sky. May is such a lush, busy month for plants, for birds and frogs, for gardening, for weeding. The days are full.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sandwich Dome and Jennings Peak

My heart started pounding as soon as we began our ascent on Sandwich Mountain Trail off Rte 49 in Waterville Valley this morning. The air was still cool, below 40F, when we set out at 8:30 am. Fortunately the trail passes through a scenic region of the Sandwich Range, prompting us to stop often to catch a breath and look and listen. It always takes me awhile to hit my stride after weeks away from the mountains; we live in the relatively flat coastal plain of southeastern New Hampshire.

We paced ourselves as there was much to pause for. A winter wren sang its long, melodious song from the thickets near Drakes Brook. The painted trilliums were in full bloom along the trail. The flowers stunning with their splotches of pink centers.
Hobblebush--a viburnum--was just coming into flower. This large-leaved shrub has equally large, white flower clusters; the large outer flowers are sterile while the small, inner flowers are fertile. Black-throated blue warblers often nest in hobblebush. We heard many "BTBs" today as we hiked, especially in the lower section of trail where hobblebush were thick.
We were more alert (as was Kodi) after we passed a very fresh and very large pile of black bear scat. I would show a picture of the scat, but it is not nearly as pretty as the wildflowers.

The trail climbs through dense woods of young spruce, the forest floor covered in mosses and lichens. A place to lose yourself in the solitude, which we enjoyed all the way to the 3,980' summit of Sandwich Dome (now more commonly called Sandwich Mountain). One large erratic boulder caught our eye as we passed by.
At 1.6 miles, an open ledge offers the first view, and a spectacular one it is. We sat for a snack and a rest and to look north toward the snow-covered High Presidentials and many 4,000-footers in between. The blue sky above was a welcome change to the rainy spells of late.
The top of Sandwich Mountain is a small rocky outcrop. If you stand on top of the rocks there is a nice view to the north, but the spruce and fir are growing up all around and closing in. We relished our sandwiches here on top of Sandwich Dome/Mountain. The sandwiches spread with our own homegrown and homemade cilantro pesto (just an aside!). The breeze was surprisingly brisk and cool on top, so we ate our lunch while tucked into the rocks, took a few photos and then began our descent. Here is Kodi and me, battered by the wind.
Kodi was happy to be on the trail again today. Below is a photo of him as we descended from Sandwich Dome. Soon after this picture we met a nice couple from Canterbury at the junction of Sandwich Mountain Trail and Smarts Brook Trail. To Kodi's delight they had two beautiful and playful Samoyeds ("Sams"). While we chatted the three dogs entertained each other.
On the way down we hiked up the 0.2 mile spur trail to the top of 3,460' Jennings Peak. This peak has a gently sloping ledge that offers great views to the south. Well worth the extra effort and a destination in itself. Here is the view over to Sandwich Dome from Jennings Peak. If you are short on time I would hike to Jennings Peak via the Sandwich Mountain Trail as it offered the most interesting views near and far.
From there we began the longer descent down Drakes Brook Trail. This trail follows along an old logging trail and parallels Drakes Brook for a stretch. We passed a bunch more people on the way down. Despite all the rain and the high water in the brook, the woods on this east side still seem a little dry. The Sandwich Mountain Trail was decidedly cooler and held more moisture in the soil. The mosses and lichens were quite lush there.
I spotted one lone red trillium in bloom as we neared the Drakes Brook crossing. The latter took a little searching to find the best crossing. We managed to hop across large rocks with the help of a big stick without getting wet.

Red admiral butterflies also kept us company on the trail today. And purple finches--the state bird of New Hampshire--were in full song. One sang beautifully from the top of a balsam fir on the higher slopes of Sandwich Mountain. And then another in the parking lot above our car when we finished the 8.7 mile hike at 2:15 pm.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Thinning the Chard and Planting Beets

This year I am volunteering at two local farms, helping each farm one morning every week. I've been helping Farmer Renee at New Roots Farm in Newmarket for many years and this year I also started helping Farmer Kate at Stout Oak Farm in Brentwood. I fill trays will soil, plant seeds, thin seedlings, transplant seedlings into bigger cells, plant outside, and as the season goes along I'll add weeding and harvesting and more planting.

As I work with the soil and the plants I listen to the chickens clucking from their free range pen and to the songs of wild birds. I bend and stretch and walk up and down rows. We work in the greenhouse when it rains and outdoors when it doesn't. I often go home with a couple seedlings for my own garden, or a dozen fresh eggs, or some new knowledge about farming, or perhaps just admiration for these hardworking, organic farmers.

Today at Stout Oak Farm I helped Kate and her assistant Joanne plant three kinds of beets and several types of lettuce. Last week we planted rows and rows of various kales, five kinds I think. Such beauty and diversity in these local farm fields, so much more than you find in a grocery store.

In between planting beets and lettuce, I thinned trays of Swiss chard and lettuce in the greenhouse. Several seeds are planted in each cell to ensure sufficient germination. Sometimes all the seeds germinate and thus need to be thinned to one sturdy seedling per cell. The stems removed are saved and eaten -- the first fresh greens of the season. I brought home a bag of the thinnings, a small treasure really.

At New Roots, Renee is a master at growing tomatoes. Yesterday I spent the morning transplanting tomato seedlings into bigger cells. All sorts of tomatoes: San Marzano, green zebra, garden peach, sun gold, sweet olive, and a hybrid named BHN 589--a better name will come apparently if it does well. There were many more kinds waiting to be transplanted. Sitting alone in the greenhouse surrounded by tomato plants while rain rattled the plastic roof I felt fortunate to be in this cozy place.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Birds Arriving in the Rain

A family of barred owls cackled and called from our backyard at 4:30 am today. This was a nice wake-up call if you get up early like we do. Rain fell overnight, a continuation of the on-again off-again gentle rain that has fallen all week. The vernal pools and small brooks are nearly full again, for now, after this week of rain. The woods are filling in with vegetation and starting to fill-up with bird song.
I am always amazed at the transition from bud to leaf-out in spring. Not only in the transformation of the forest from openness to dense foliage, but the emergence of the leaves from such tiny buds. The beech is a great example of this annual ritual.
The wood thrush just arrived from its wintering grounds in central America. We heard a male singing his beautiful ee-oy-lay song from the hardwoods on the lower slope of Bald Hill on our walk at daybreak. The ovenbird arrived too. I heard its familiar teacher-TEAcher-TEACHer-TEACHER song today on a morning walk with Kodi. They've joined other migrants in our local woods including the black-throated green warbler, a common bird of mixed woods that is easily recognizable by its buzzy song: zoo-zee, zoo-zoo-zee.

Eric Orff who lives in Epsom and writes at New Hampshire Notes checks the movement of amphibians in his neighborhood every spring when it rains. This week he went out and found some spotted salamanders moving - unfortunately 50% had been run over by cars. Amphibians are small creatures with regular migration routes, which sometimes involves crossing roads. To avoid running over these animals it is best to avoid driving at night during spring rains.

This week we've helped a couple red efts across Bald Hill Road and sadly a few were already squashed. Thus, it was nice to cross paths with a live eft in the woods today -- this is for my blog friend John who is still looking for his first eft sighting.
On Monday (April 30th) we saw our first Canada goose goslings of the year. The parents were wary as they guarded their four fluffy young. Other geese, including the one below, in the same wetland were not so concerned with our presence.

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