Saturday, October 26, 2013

Trees at Winterberry Farm

While visiting my parents at Winterberry Farm in western Massachusetts, where we planted the garlic, I wandered around in the back forty. Songbirds flitted and chirped from fields and shrubby hedges as they searched for seeds and fruits. Frost coated the edges of fallen leaves.
Trees, now leafless, revealed their shape and seed, including more southern species that I rarely see in New Hampshire. See if you can identify these next four species of trees before I give away their identifications at the bottom of the post. Here is a little bit of information about each...

A tree with gray furrowed bark; 
a nut favored by humans and wildlife,
 is found inside a round husk that stains ones hand.
Note the stout twigs.
This is a scrappy tree, sometimes called an ash-leaved maple.
But what other common name does it go by?
This tree grows in my parents front yard; a tree that I grew up playing under and it still stands tall next to the honey locust tree just outside the front door. The leaves linger late into the fall and produce large leaves it does. I placed a large garlic clove on one such leaf to show proportion.
This next tree unfortunately is succumbing to a fungus canker across its range. But many lovely specimens still grow in my parents yard. Squirrels love the nuts. The sticky outer husks leave a mess in the yard and cause the lawn mower to spit out pieces in all directions. It is in the same family as the first species showcased.

Okay, so here is the tree list in order of their photos: black walnut, boxelder, catalpa, and butternut.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Garlic Planting 2013

We planted the garlic today at Winterberry Farm--500 cloves from the 2012 crop. 
My parents helped me. Dad had prepped the garden bed by discing and adding manure. Mom helped me break open the 100-plus garlic bulbs. Dad helped hoe the 4-inch deep rows, while Mom supervised as the QA/QC person. She thought the rows were slightly wavy, but otherwise a good planting. Did I mention that my Mom is 92 and my Dad is 91? They are awesome.
Here's a look at the five rows spaced 9 inches apart
and planted with 100 cloves each spaced 6 inches apart. 
And then covered with two inches of soil and finally about 4 inches of light straw. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

At the Beach

From October 1st to May 14th each year, non-residents have parking access to Seapoint and Crescent Beaches in Kittery, Maine. This is when we visit with our dogs; it is a popular beach for people with dogs. Today--a warm, clear blue-sky day--was Henna's first visit to a coastal beach since we adopted her last April 13th. She seemed intrigued by the smells and textures of seaweed and snails and other flotsam and jetsam on the beach. Kodi tried to engage her in play a few times, but she mostly wanted to comb the beach instead.

I tried to capture the sounds and textures of the beach
as the tidal waves rushed in and out across sand and stone.
On the walk back along the top of the steep pebbled beach, Kodi kept pace with Henna and Kodi eventually settled in to chew on a piece of driftwood.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Life of a Leaf Blower

Steve Macone in the October 17th issue of The New Yorker online magazine has a short essay worth reading, especially if you are like me and despise leaf blowers.

Click on I am a Leaf Blower for the full story. Here is a brief excerpt:
"Do you have any idea how hard it used to be to pick up leaves, before I came along? Not very? Shut up. I exist."
Don't you think Kodi would be sad if we used a loud leaf blower instead of a rake....

Friday, October 18, 2013

Witchhazel Yellows

Beautiful fall days continue.
The yellow leaves of witchhazel light up the forest understory.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


A nearly full moon rising, as seen from the Mitchell Field late this afternoon.
The temperature reached 73 degrees today. One of the nicest autumns in memory.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Lorax Landscaping

My friend Patty is owner and head gardener of Lorax Landscaping in Epping, New Hampshire. Patty and I both help out at New Roots Farm and I can attest to her skill in ecological landscaping and all things gardening. Check out her website and facebook page for inspiration and guidance in the garden.

Patty also sends out an occasional email with some great gardening tips. Here is one of my favorites that she sent this week:

Dear Lorax friends & clients,

A few reminders as we head into fall:
  • Water broadleaved evergreens -  Broadleaved plants keep their leaves in the winter (Rhododendron, Azalea, Andromeda, Holly, Boxwood) and continue to transpire.  To do well, they and need the soil to be moist through the winter.  We have had a very dry fall, so it would be beneficial to water your broad-leaved evergreens, even established shrubs, 1 inch a week, until the ground freezes. 
  • Plant spring flowering bulbs and garlic now
  • Prepare new beds for spring planting
  • DON'T do a fall clean-up – see below
My blog entry from a year or so ago bears repeating…

Putting your Garden to Bed?
I am not a fan of late fall yard clean-ups.  The debris and leaves that accumulate in your yard in the fall are akin to a winter coat for your shrubs and perennials.  Cutting down your perennials and raking the leaves out of your garden beds is like your teenage daughter going to the bus-stop without a hat and coat so that she’ll look ‘cool’ and wont mess up her hair.

The leaves and debris provide a haven for good insects through the winter.  Uncut perennials allow better root and crown protection (they catch leaves and snow for their insulation), provide food and perches for birds and add winter landscape interest for you.

There are exceptions:

  • Leaves on the lawn – rake or mow, shred and use as mulch in your gardens – if left on the lawn, and matted under the snow, they can kill the grass and/or encourage snow mold
  • Plants that showed signs of disease – these should be cut back and disposed of properly
  • Plants that reseed readily (if you don’t want them to spread) – deadhead after flowering throughout the season
If you are new to ecological landcare and/or still haven’t gotten used to what some consider the ‘unkept’ look of an unmanicured fall garden manage your transition by cutting perennials only to within 8 inches of the ground.

Happy Gardening,
Patty Laughlin, NHCLP, AOLCP
Manager/Head Gardener
Lorax Landscaping
Epping, NH

The part I like is "don't do a fall clean-up" but instead leave the plants tall for insects and birds and for healthier plants. Here is my own somewhat unkempt winter garden habitat.
And here are still lovely perennials and annuals and shrubs in late fall colors in our yard.

New England aster with bumblebees moving slowly in mid-October
American hazel

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Mitchell Field

We live just down the road from the Mitchell's and the Mitchell Field as we call it. They live on scenic Bald Hill Road--our daily walking route--and they maintain large fields that provide a scenic backdrop along the tree-lined road. Late in the afternoon I wander down to the Mitchell Field with Kodi and Henna as the sun sets behind Bald Hill. The dogs sniff the grass for signs of deer and turkey and voles and other meadow life. We've been wading into the tall grass for weeks now without a single tick sighting. Where did they go I wonder, but without missing their presence. The Mitchell Field is such a gift to those of us who live nearby.

Henna and Kodi in their hunter orange in the MItchell Field this afternoon.

A Light Frost

Yesterday morning the thermometer dipped below 30 degrees, resulting in the first light frost of the season. It was dark at 6:00 am as we headed out on our daily walk with Kodi and Henna. We wore headlamps, the dogs wore their orange jackets and were on leash in case a deer or skunk or possum wandered across our path in the early darkness.

A great horned owl hooted from Bald Hill; sometimes we hear it call from the thick pines along the wetland. The little bluestem along the roadside glistened with tiny ice crystals. A small flock of ducks, their wings whistling in flight, flew over just as the sky began to lighten. Maybe they were rousted from their night roost by a duck hunter.

A bright October sun warmed the air quickly and by late afternoon it felt like a summer day. A few late blooming snapdragons in our garden were unharmed by the overnight cold. And I am still harvesting handfuls of sweet peppers daily.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Splitting Firewood with a Timberwolf

A month ago we carted home a pile of hardwood logs from a friend's property. Srini cut them to length with a chainsaw, but they still needed to be split to better dry the wood. A search on Craigslist yielded a log splitter for rent from Gabe at Sidewinder Rentals in Concord. Gabe arrived Saturday morning at 7:45 am with the Timberwolf TW-5 Log Splitter with a Honda engine, two-way wedge, and hydraulic log lift. Since we had never used one before, this seemed like the perfect tool for the job.

The Timberwolf that we spent the weekend with (note the pile of logs behind)...
Here's the splitter in action...
And here is the result, after a total of 8 hours over two days, of splitting, carting, stacking wood...two stacks and a big pile, plus some more that was stacked in other yard locales.
While we worked, Henna chewed on bits of the freshly cut wood, while Kodi settled into a leaf pile.
Srini split the last log on the Timberwolf at 4:30 Sunday. By then we were both tired but pleased with the results. What better way to celebrate than a fire in the woodstove (with previously dried wood) and a cold drink. Now, if the Red Sox win tonight, that would cap off a fine New England fall weekend.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

First Fire of the Fall

The overnight temperature dipped to 34 degrees outside and 61 degrees in the house. Fine conditions for a first fire in the woodstove. We brought up a box of kindling more than a week ago, so it was dry and ready to burn. Now it is being put to its proper use instead of a toy for Henna. When we are not around Henna has been selecting sticks of wood from the box and chewing them into little bits on the carpet.
The dry wood is burning so clean that we barely see a wisp of smoke from the chimney. Dry, dry, dry. That is the key to heating efficiently by wood. The challenge is readying a season's worth of dry wood. We are still working on that.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Fall Colors and Other Happenings

Leaves are quietly changing colors from green to yellows and reds and other autumn colors, as the days grow shorter. The colors are beautiful, if maybe a little muted this year. Intense fall colors result from bright days and cold nights; this fall we've experienced few cold nights and no killing frost. A few nights ago the evening temperature was 70F.

On Sunday, a cold rain almost tempted us to start a first fire of the season in our wood stove. Early October seemed like the right time of year for a fire, but we held off as the rain ended and temperatures rose. Daytime temperatures remain in the 60s and 70s.

The extraordinary pepper crop continues to produce a bounty and I harvested an armful of eggplant from our garden yesterday.
Deer still jump the garden fence some nights to nibble down the Swiss chard. Skunk are active at night too, digging small holes in the yard in search of grubs. Snakes--brown snakes, milk snakes, and garter snakes--are still sunning themselves on warm road pavement; some don't survive. Chipmunks are everywhere--in stonewalls and wood piles, in their round underground tunnels dug among the gardens, in roads feeding on nuts. They drive Henna and Kodi crazy as they scurry just out of reach and then up a tree.

The warm days and nights give animals more time to prepare for winter and for more southerly species to spread northward. Opossums seem more common than ever in our region; unfortunately I know this because of the ones I see killed on the road. This marsupial has a narrow braincase and favors a diet of carrion, which leads to bad endings on the roadway.

The warm weather has given us more time to get our firewood supply cut and stacked. Our first year of wood gathering and stacking needed a better plan. We stacked dry wood too far from the door and the wet wood is close by. So we've spent hours moving wood here and there, searching for the sunniest spots in our yard to ensure good drying conditions. As we moved the driest stack of wood, we uncovered a small congregation of young garter snakes and a few unhappy wasps.
It is a busy, beautiful time of year, except for animals that venture onto roads.

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