Sunday, April 21, 2013

Spicebush in Bloom

On this nice spring weekend we made a quick trip to my parents place --Winterberry Farm--in western Massachusetts. It is there and at this time of year that I search out the spicebush. The woodland path behind their house meanders along a small drainage dotted with skunk cabbage, through patches of cinnamon fern, and alongside scattered spicebush bushes. Fern fiddleheads were just emerging, while the spicebush were in full bloom. I peeled off a small twig to inhale the aroma of spice and spring.

Cinnamon fern fiddleheads emerging from the forest floor.
Skunk cabbage dot the small drainage
along the woodland path at Winterberry Farm.
Lemon yellow spicebush flowers stand out
in the still mostly bare hardwood understory.
The spicebush seem to be blooming on time, but everything else looked slow in emerging. The red maples were just beginning to put on a spring show, against the backdrop of Long Mountain.
Here is a another view of Long Mountain from atop Rattlesnake Knob, one of our favorite spring jaunts. The woodlands look bare, but down below things are happening.
We stepped over a sunbathing garter snake.
Downy rattlesnake plantain leaves poked through the leaf layer.
Early saxifrage, a small plant of dry woods and rocky plants,
was in full bloom along the steep trail to the top of Rattlesnake Knob.
And beech buds were long and slender--some nearly two inches long.
Spring is arriving in fits and starts, and a cold wind seems to be the norm this year. But if you look high and low, you will find signs of spring and capture the excitement of emergence and re-birth all around us.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Arugula and More Spinach

I lifted the Reemay off the low hoops to have a good look at the greens growing beneath. There was more spinach to harvest, which we enjoyed in a fresh salad for dinner. I clipped a couple handfuls of arugula for sandwiches the rest of the week. The cilantro and Swiss Chard are lush, but still too small to harvest. I watered the plants, since we've been light on rainfall lately. I also gave the newly planted peas a watering.

Arugula: planted seed last fall in October, first harvest was today.
Lush-looking cilantro, planted from seed last October
The bed of cilantro and arugula, protected all winter by the thin fabric of Reemay
The Swiss chard--planted as small seedlings last fall--
is sending up new, fresh stems; spinach in front, chard behind

A daily dose of gardening makes my day.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Thankful for Green Shoots and Tart Rhubarb

I planted sugar snap peas today. Last year I planted them on April 4th, so I am not as late as I thought. Although my blog friend Ken at art, birds, nature has 2-3 inch snow peas. He is a little farther south in Philly. We both commented that taking pleasure in spring flowers and early migrants and green things in the garden feels that much more important and thankful today. I like to think that I planted 179 peas -- for the three people killed and the 176 injured in yesterday's bomb blasts at the Boston Marathon. Small, tender shoots will spout from these seeds and in time sweet peas will hang from the long tendrils. This is what I want to think about today, something tender and sweet.

The days are getting warmer, although a cold wind seems to blow through almost daily. The Reemay remains over the low hoops in the garden, protecting the spinach and Swiss chard and arugula. I'll take some pictures of their lush and leafy growth. We have harvested several batches of spinach. I'm sure I have already mentioned how stunningly delicious it is, just fresh in a salad. The arugula is next on the menu.

The rhubarb finally emerged. I thought I had lost some to winter. But there it is, the crinkled leaves nearly three inches high already. I will savor the taste when I bake my first fresh rhubarb pie of the year, one slightly sweet and slightly tart. Just right for spring.

Our stack of cord wood has dwindled, although we still have some left from the three cords of firewood that we bought in December. The wood stove kept us warm during the cold winter days and breaks the chill on these still cold spring mornings. But the fires are smaller and fewer and we are looking ahead to sunshine and barbecues and bike rides and long hikes with Kodi and Henna. For all that we are thankful.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


On Tuesday afternoon we adopted Henna from the NH SPCA. She was a transfer from an Indiana shelter, as was Kodi, who we adopted three years ago this month. Henna is slightly smaller at just under 40 pounds, soft and sweet, but a little devilish at less than one year old.
Henna is a cross between an Australian cattle dog and something that we haven't figured out. To us she looks like a mix of hyena and tasmanian tiger. Her coloration is brindle. Since she did not know her shelter name, Parita, we changed it to Henna, more fitting to her color and looks.
She and Kodi are getting along quite well. They wrestle with each other and share bones and other toys. As young dogs do, Henna copies Kodi, licks his mouth, and harasses him more than he might like. Generally though, he is quite tolerant.
Kodi rides in a crate in the car, so we are getting Henna used to the same. I've taken them on the road several times and they are both completely silent during the rides, and wait patiently if I am occupied by work or errand. We've yet to leave her at home alone--too soon for that. Maybe in another week we'll see how she does at daycare. In time we will start taking her on long hikes in the Whites. She is full of energy and will easily take to the trail.
We have discovered that adopting a dog that is close to one year old or older is the best way to take in a new dog. Henna is mostly house trained and is calmer than a younger pup. She sleeps quietly through the night and has adapted to our schedule. Still, her personality will develop and change over the next year and we look forward to watching her mature and us all to bond.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Wood Frogs

Here is a video and sound recording that I made today using my iPhone. I am standing near a vernal pool that is full of wood frogs mating. If you turn up your volume you can hear the wood frogs calling. Don't they sound like a flock of small ducks!
Some of these woodlands pools are still ice-covered at one end. The frogs hop on down to the sunny end and spend just a few days calling and mating. The females lay their eggs and then they head back into the surrounding upland where they spend the rest of the year.

A Fox Family

Red fox are raising pups this time of year. Although we've not been fortunate to have a den near us, some friends have enjoyed a fox pair and their four pups the past two weeks. The den is in a thick pile of brush about 40 feet from their house. They shared the following photos as they've quietly watched the den.
These pups seem a little young to be outside the den. Typically they stay hidden for about a month, by then their coat has started turning a sandy color. The adult red fox is a surprisingly small mammal, weighing less than 15 pounds. It's luxurious tail makes up one-third of its length.

After the pair mate in late December, the female establishes several den sites in case she moves the pups, which is not uncommon. Sure enough, a few days ago, this mother suddenly moved all the pups. Perhaps the den was too crowded or perhaps there was some disturbance. Apparently wild turkeys were active around the den; that combined with nearby road traffic may have prompted the move. Here she is toting the pups to some new, unknown location.
In a couple months the fox pups will be on their own. Until then they are well cared for by the adults.
Spring continues its slow roll-out and yet signs of spring are emerging. I heard wood frogs "quacking" from woodland pools on Friday. A phoebe returned, although not yet to our yard. A tree swallow soared over a wetland, while twenty painted turtles basked on logs at the water's edge. We've enjoyed our over-wintered spring spinach in two salads. The delicious texture and flavor of this fresh garden spinach is so vastly superior to store-bought packaged stuff. Note to self: plant more spinach next fall.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Spring Greens

It rained last night. This marked the transition from a snowy March to what I hope is a more spring-like April. The rain and warmer temperatures of late have caused the snow to disappear before our eyes. The garden is finally clear of snow and I was able to lift the row cover from the greens that I planted last October.
I direct seeded arugula and cilantro and planted small seedlings of spinach, Swiss chard, and beets that I got from my farmer friend Renee at New Roots Farm. The plants did not do much from November on. Just in a holding pattern until now, when I expect them to put on a growth spurt when the sun shines.

The spinach looks awesome; the first picking will be ready this week. The Swiss chard is sending up new shoots. The beets look spindly, but I see some signs of re-birth. The arugula and cilantro are about an inch tall and looking a little pale, but they will improve.
I am quite satisfied with my first experiment with a fall planting protected during winter by the row cover (Reemay). The garden is still too damp to work, so having these shoots already in the ground is a big head start and will provide an early spring harvest.

I will let you know how the spinach tastes and provide photo updates as spring advances and my experiment continues.

Winterberry Bird Scat

A week ago--on a coldish January day--a small flock of robins ate all the berries from one winterberry shrub in our yard. They flew off as q...