Saturday, June 30, 2012

June End

The kingbird and the phoebe perch atop the bean poles,
then sally out to catch a fly.
Hummingbirds dance among the red bee balm, while
bees crowd around the lavender.
A deer browsed the garden night before last, 
snipping off the tops of all the sunflowers.
One doe jumped the fence,
snacking on some tomato tops and chard leaves.
The robins fledged; the fuzzy-headed phoebe young
are still in their nest tucked beneath the canoe.

Garden salads and sugar snap peas are staples at our table.
Kale and chard, onions and garlic, cilantro and parsley
fresh from the garden adorn our plates as well.
Meanwhile, we wait for eggplants and peppers,
tomatoes and potatoes, 
and the lovely okra
to grow under the summer sun.
The peaches are swelling, the chipmunks are fewer.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Hot Start to Summer

It is a hot, windless start to summer. By 9:00 am yesterday I was beginning to wilt while finishing the yard chores: finally planting the pole beans, watering some just-planted annuals and a few nasturtium seedlings. I am feeling good about the drip irrigation. This morning at 5:00 am I walked around to the back of the house and turned on the outdoor faucet, then listened to the drip, drip, drip as the main garden slowly absorbed the moisture. Today, when the temperature is predicted to reach 100 F, the irrigation system will earn some of its cost.

Here's how the garden looks on the first full day of summer, just as the morning sun is peaking over the house.
The heat-loving okra and peppers should show a burst of growth the next few days, while the cool-loving peas might sag. Speaking of veggies. We made a delicious dish last night with fresh bok choi (from Stout Oak Farm), freshly picked sugar snap peas, tofu, and a bunch of other things served with buckwheat noodles. This recipe was adapted from Kate Donald at Stout Oak Farm. Sometime in the near future I hope to add some recipes as a side bar. I'll include this one.

A robin pair re-used the successful phoebe nest under the deck. Robins are more restless than phoebes; the mother robin clucked every time we walked onto the deck or nearby the nest. Yet, she was successful in carrying the brood through to hatching. The nest has three robin nestlings and both parents are busy bringing insects to the young. Here are the three hungry (and hot) baby robins as they wait for more food; one flopped its head down when it realized that my arrival was not its mother bringing food.
Meanwhile, just a few feet away the phoebe had re-nested. This time on the seat of our canoe that is hanging upside down under the deck. You can tell that we don't canoe much! The phoebes just hatched. Here is a somewhat fuzzy picture of the mossy nest and the five young.
The two families--the robins and the phoebes--seem perfectly at ease near each other. These under-deck nest sites also seem quite safe from predators. I think the chipmunks, which are major predators on bird eggs and young, are too busy eating all of our small peaches in the front yard to notice these hard to reach bird nests.

Speaking of the chipmunks. I live-trapped one this morning, after I watched it skipping away from the old peach tree with a walnut-sized peach in its mouth. That was just one of many peaches they've run off with. Chipmunks are so easy to trap. Against my better professional judgement I drove the trap-happy chipmunk down the road and released it in a nice woodsy area with a stone wall. I hate to kill the cute little rodents.

Such are the goings on in our yard this hot summer day.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Drip Irrigation and the Florida Weave

We are trying a few new things in our vegetable garden this year. This is in part because we expanded the garden, nearly doubling it in size. So there are many more plants, more rows, and longer rows to tend to.

Since watering is so essential to plant growth and is time-consuming, we installed drip irrigation. This is experimental as there are various options for drip tape thickness, diameter, emitter spacing, and flow rate; we weren't sure what type to install. So we relied on guidance from Trevor at Brookdale Fruit Farm in Hollis, New Hampshire. They sell irrigation supplies and when we showed up he put together the various components that we needed: a big (too big) roll of Toro Aqua-Traxx irrigation drip tape, shut-off valves, drip couplers (if we spring a leak in the tape), insert tool (to make the holes in the mainline), and the pressure valve.

The pressure valve cost $95, but apparently it is essential to avoid blowing out the drip tape. We have three raised beds in the backyard that we've rigged up with drip tape, but no pressure valve. If we blow holes in the tape we'll know that you do indeed need a pressure valve! Here is how the pressure valve set-up looks in the main garden.
Trevor sold us 4,000 feet of drip tape--the only size they carried. For those interested in the details: hose diameter 5/8", wall thickness 15 mil, emitter spacing 12". Apparently you can buy thinner tape--8 mil-- although I think the 15 mil will last longer, to be re-used from year to year. Later, we thought that closer emitter spacing, 4" or 8" would be better, but perhaps not available in the 15 mil thickness. We only used about 400 feet of tape for the various rows, so 4,000 feet was way, way more than we needed. After reserving another 600 feet for future use, I managed to sell the rest of the roll (3,000 feet) on Craigslist to a nice farmer from Effingham.

In addition to all the equipment from Brookdale, we still needed to buy the "mainline" which connects from the hose/valve to each drip tape. Trevor suggested buying (from Home Depot) 1" low density PVC pipe for use as the mainline. It took us a while to figure out how to use the insert tool (a $25 plastic tool!) to punch holes in the mainline. After another call to Brookdale for advice, Srini mastered the technique using a socket wrench and a hammer to pound the shut-off valves into the mainline. he had to do this on the paved driveway--a hard surface was necessary to penetrate the hard PVC pipe. Here is the end result.
And here is one of our 36" garden rows with two drip tapes, spaced about a foot apart.
Only time will tell whether this was a good investment. Already though we are spending far less time hand watering. The next three days of hot weather will be a good test of the effectiveness of the slow drip.

The other new technique this year is the use of the "Florida Weave" to stake the tomatoes. In the past we've caged each plant and staked the cage. After trying to puncture the landscape fabric with the 4-pointed cages and then realizing that we might have punctured the drip tape, we tossed out that approach. Instead, I placed 4-5-foot stakes in each tomato row, spaced every three tomatoes. Then wove the tomato twine from stake to stake, sandwiching each tomato plant between two strands. As the plants get taller, I'll repeat this a couple more times. Here is how it looks.

The Twine
The Weave
The Tomato Row

You can watch a nice You Tube video on doing the Florida Weave here.

I am really enjoying the garden this year. Sure, it takes a bit of time, but I enjoy walking the rows each morning and evening to see how the garden grows, to check for pesky pests, and to harvest food for dinner.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

First Cucumber

The timing seems right, the day before a string of 90-100 F days, to taste the first cucumber of the year. My farmer friend Renee tucked a fresh, just picked cucumber in my daypack when I was at New Roots Farm this morning. She planted a few cuke plants in her greenhouse so her son (and friends) could enjoy early cucumbers.

We've been enjoying much fresh food recently, harvests from our own garden and from New Roots. Renee has a special garden for her family and friends who help out, in which she is growing gorgeous lettuce, kale, and chard. Such good fortune that I am in that later group. Here is the bounty that I brought home on my bicycle at mid-day from New Roots. Just look at this harvest--the first cucumber, a pile of sugar snap peas, a bigger pile of garlic scapes, kale and Swiss chard, and a giant head of red lettuce.

Each has a place on the menu. The kale is to become kale chips for snacking. The garlic scapes will become garlic scape pesto, as a spread for sandwiches. The chard will substitute for spinach in an Indian dish called molagootal, the sugar snap peas can be eaten straight up, in salad, or in a pasta (with bok choi and buckwheat noodles), and the lettuce provides the base for my lunch salads. Yum.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Bedrock Gardens

We recently discovered Bedrock Gardens, a 30-acre gem in Lee, not far from our home. The gardens are the work of the couple that owns this private property, Jill Nooney and Bob Munger. In 1987 they began transforming an old dairy farm into a landscaped oasis, creating walking paths, access roads, terraced gardens and streams, vistas, sitting areas, and much more. Jill is a sculptor and her dramatic pieces are placed throughout the property; many are for sale on site or through her website, Fine Garden Art.

I'm not sure when they started opening their place to the public, but we just learned about the open houses recently. We visited the gardens last Saturday, one of the five open houses held from May to September. A local band was playing near the entrance, while a small flock of guinea hens scratched among the gardens and occasionally made a ruckus if too disturbed from their scratchings.

The gardens are now maintained with the help of volunteers and Jill and Bob are hoping to transfer Bedrock Gardens into a non-profit as a way to maintain this lovely space. It is a lot of work. You can read more about their lives and the history of Bedrock Gardens at their website here.

Here are some scenes from our Saturday wandering through Bedrock Garden. You will notice that many of the sculptures are made from old farm or industrial equipment  such as tractor seats, pitchforks, saw blades, wheels, axils; their barn is overflowing with piles of such raw material for future sculptures.

A pair of horse heads guard the entrance to the Perterre Garden.

Gardens decorated with sculptures slopes down from the barn.

The shade garden is filled with hostas and adorned with Gem Stems,
made from glass deck prisms.

A view from the shade garden.

One of my favorites: the Gymnasts mark the entrance to the Tea Garden.

The Tea House, provides a quiet get-away for guests or family.

Two rotating tractor seats provide a wide view of the Wiggle Waggle,
a 200-foot stream with spring house at the top.

A wind fence

A gathering of storks

Ballerinas and Guinea Hens

We plan to return to Bedrock Gardens during the other open houses, to see the gardens in different seasons. With so many gardens and paths and sculptures there is still so much to see.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A June Morning

The robins start singing about 4:15 am. Sometimes a pair of barred owls cackles from the back woods about then too. If the morning temperature is above 50 F, the gray tree frogs respond in kind and start their loud trills. By 4:30 am the phoebe is singing and then the tufted titmouse joins in closer to 5:00 am. I listen to this morning choir as I lie in bed. During the long, lush, lovely days of June, I often get up with the birds.

If you've never experienced early June mornings, between 4:00 and 6:00 am, you are missing one of the most beautiful periods of the day and the year. Morning dew coats the webs of spiders. Songbirds declare their territories in between gathering caterpillars and other insects to feed their nestlings. You might catch a glimpse of a female fox heading out on a hunting trip. The air is cool.

This morning we drove down the road for a longer walk on a nearby conservation area. We watched swallows swoop low over the Cole Farm pond, on their first forays of the day. The wet grass dampened our shoes. On this sunny morning the dampness seeping into our socks felt refreshing.

The day begins slowly and naturally, as the sun warms a sleeping insect and a closed up flower bud. Our own bodies unwind and relax and prepare for the rest of the day as we absorb the rays of the rising sun on this early June morning.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Wood Turtle

It is not often that you happen upon a wood turtle in the wild. They are secretive and live among wetland shrubs along rivers, habitats that are difficult to penetrate. Which is perhaps good for the wood turtle. It is one of several species favored by the pet trade, and some are still collected illegally. So, the more it can hide from humans the better.

On Saturday a group of us were inventorying a property as part of a Biothon (noting all the plants and animals observed) and one of the team members found a wood turtle. He brought it out for all of us to see. After we'd admired the handsome male wood turtle he took it back to the same spot where he found it.

My camera is on the blink and the iPhone camera did not do it justice. But my friend Scott Young, a fabulous photography, got some great shots. See his series of photos here. This was a large, handsome, male turtle. Often turtles pull into their shell when held. This wood turtle stuck his head and legs way out, showing off his gorgeous orange legs and striking head. The top shell (carapace) was highly sculpted, a feature that is acknowledged in the wood turtle's species name, "insculpta."

Team member Kim estimated his age at 20 years. That is a long time to avoid roads, collectors, and predators in the highly fragmented landscape of southeastern New Hampshire. To help ensure that this turtle lives at least another 20 years I will remain vague about the exact location of our turtle sighting. Needless to say it was the highlight of our morning.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Drowned Muskrat?

Before this year I'd never come across a dead beaver or a dead muskrat in the wild (except for seeing roadkill). This year I've seen both. Back in early April my niece and I discovered a beaver floating in a pond -- you can read about that here. Then yesterday I saw a dead muskrat. It was lying in a small pool of water near the Exeter River in Exeter. Kodi and I were setting off on a walk at Phillips Exeter Academy, a popular dog-walking spot. The muskrat was in the middle of an access road.
Kodi paid no attention so we continued on. When we returned after 30 minutes or so the muskrat was still there. I moved it off into the weeds after taking a few photos. I saw no external injuries to indicate why the muskrat died.

Muskrats are much smaller than beaver; both are rodents with large teeth for eating vegetation. This muskrat was about the size of a small (trim) woodchuck. The most noticeable difference between beaver and muskrat are the tails. Beavers have a broad flat tail, while muskrats have a thin rat-like tail. Here are the two in comparison.
In her most recent column in Northern Woodlands magazine, expert tracker Susan Morse perhaps put it best when she wrote about a muskrat swimming towards her, "The creature resembled an oversized meadow vole, yet acted more like a tiny beaver." The muskrat's rather tidy size and its flexible diet that includes plants as well as aquatic animals enables it to survive in a wide range of habitats and places from freshwater to saltwater.

I'd much prefer to see a muskrat swimming then to stumble across a dead one. Yet, this up close encounter offered a unique opportunity to study its features and to ponder its fate.

Monday, June 4, 2012


We made a quick trip over the wet weekend to visit my parents at Winterberry Farm--the place they've been living for more than 55 years. They were planning a several week driving trip to the midwest this month, but decided to postpone until next year. Because of the planned trip there was not to be a vegetable garden this year. After the change in plans, my Dad got to work planting--sweet corn, pickling cukes, winter squash, pumpkins, a few tomatoes, sunflowers, zinnias and cosmos, and a big patch of his favorite red clover.

When we arrived on Friday the corn was already several inches high and other plants had sprouted. The rows were carefully weeded. I brought a few more seedlings--extras from my garden--which found a home in an empty row. I planted nasturtiums and more zinnias in the flower garden at the back door. My mother likes to look out the kitchen window at the lush backyard. Together, both aged 90, they sit on the Leopold Bench and take in the view.

For many years now Brookfield Farm, a local organic farm, has leased some of the Winterberry Farm fields for crops and pasture. Each year a new crew of young aspiring farmers works at Brookfield and most meet up with my parents as they drive past the house to reach lower fields or to water the cows or when my parents pick up their share of fresh vegetables provided by Brookfield.

Two young farmers who met my parents years ago were Missy and Casey. Missy was growing beautiful cut flowers and selling bouquets. One summer she had a small farm stand at my parent's place, shown here.
Casey and Missy own and operate Old Friends Farm not far from Winterberry Farm in Amherst, Massachusetts. This weekend I learned why it is named Old Friends Farm. Their website is as beautiful as the flowers and other produce that they grow. Under Who's Who at Old Friends Farm it describes each of the farmers and their helpers and tells the story of how they got their name. It is a wonderful tribute to my parents. I've included it here, but check out the website of Old Friends Farm and catch them at a farmer's market if you are in the area. They too inspire.

Many people are curious about our farm name.  Here's the story...

The farm is named in honor of Mary and Dana Snyder, of South Amherst, for their admirable friendship for many, many decades- to each other, to the people around them, and to the land they live on. They let us use some of their land for the first year of the farm, and it started us off!

Mary and Dana are very inspiring to us on many levels... their friendship, their political involvement, their dedication to preserving agriculture in our community, and their remarkable youthfulness.  It became clear that 'Old Friends' would be a great name to remind and honor, and so our farm was named.

Mary and Dana are busy people, and you might see them just about anywhere- on top of the roof, on the farm, in the kitchen, at a contradance, in town protesting, at Ag. meetings, at a swing dance, at the opera, playing boggle, or traveling to visit their kids and grandkids.  If you do see them, do us a favor, (and yourself a favor too!), commend them for their lovely friendship and dedication to our community and the land.  Thank you for being YOU, Mary and Dana!

I'll second that -- thanks for being you Mom and Dad.

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