Monday, July 28, 2014

An Oasis

Now and then we think about moving from the country into town. Our nearest store is about 5 miles, and anything else we might need or want is that far or farther. So we have to drive to get to things. Sometimes we dream about living in a place where we can walk to a store or library or restaurant. We could then use our car less, a good deed for the health of the planet.

Then we think about the good parts of living out of town, which, so far, have convinced us to stay put: the quiet road, nearby open spaces, dark night skies, and our yard, including all the plants and animals that we share it with.

Just last week, as I collected Japanese beetles into a soapy container and picked wild growing raspberries in our backyard, I spotted two spring peepers. They each sat quietly on a raspberry leaf, likely newborns from the nearby wetland, as they were smaller than a raspberry.
These guys are adorable and I take great pleasure in knowing they live in our yard. Our animal community is diverse and beautiful, including this lovely female goldenrod (crab) spider on a purple coneflower.
A family of hummingbirds visits our flower beds all summer, along with butterflies, bees and so many other insects. Deer, skunks, foxes, turkeys, and other small and mid-sized animals wander through. 

Our yard is an oasis. While neighbors spray and blow away every leaf from their yard, we tend to encourage the opposite. Each day we are rewarded with interesting sights and sounds--each a reason to stay in the country. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Potatoes, Beans, and Lots of Zukes & Cukes

In full swing here with summer vegetable harvest. The Red Norland potato plants are looking drab so I dug a few hills and uncovered the following for dinner....
I collected and will eat even those peanut-sized taters, but most were the size of lemons. Not bad. And we escaped the season without potato beetles. Yahoo, although the cucumber beetle adults and larvae were bad enough.

I also picked a handful of green beans today. Not enough for a meal so those went into the fridge. The few sugar snap pea plants that survived the early deer browse are producing a few (very few), but very sweet pea pods. Added to a green salad they are delicious, along with ones and twos of sun gold and cherry tomatoes.
The real producers right now (in addition to the steady supply of kale and Swiss chard) are the zucchinis and cucumbers.
Last week I passed off a few baseball bat-sized zucchinis to friends. They took them only because their plants were not producing yet. Plus, there is always room for another loaf of zucchini bread (have you tried adding mini chocolate bits?!).  Last night I set out a few zukes and cukes by the road with a "free" sign and was glad to see them gone by morning.

Next up--in a few days--eggplant.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Oriental Beetle

There is a relatively new beetle in the yard. I've noticed it for the last couple of years. It looks a lot like the Japanese beetle except for its colors. And it is not nearly as abundant nor as voracious as Japanese beetles, thankfully, at least not yet.
I contacted my favorite entomologist at the University of New Hampshire--Alan Eaton--and he confirmed that this newcomer is the Oriental beetle (Anomala orientalis). Not a very original name, but it does clue you in to where it came from: Asia.

This beetle comes in a variety of browns and blacks--I've seen all of the following (and the one above) shades of Oriental beetle in our yard.
I mentioned to Alan that I walk about my yard every morning and/or evening flicking Japanese beetles into a yogurt container of soapy water (note: pheromone traps do not work). He suggested that I do the same for the Oriental beetles. Although the latter are not nearly as common, their populations may grow and become more of a nuisance over time. So, in the soapy bath they go.

Just for comparison, here are the more devilish Japanese beetles. Note that both beetles (same family--Scarabs--but different genera) have funky clubbed antennae that can spread into what looks like a bird's foot.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Mole

Kodi and I were heading into College Woods in Durham yesterday morning, when a hairy-tailed mole scurried across the parking lot behind us. It moved fast despite its very short legs as it nosed under leaves and branches in search of insects and other small prey. It is not often that I see a live mole, busying itself above ground during the day.

I captured a bit of its travels on my iPhone, but it was too fast for static pictures. About a month ago the dogs and I found a dead mole on one of our woodland walks. This too was a hairy-tailed mole. In the following pictures (of the dead mole), you can see the wonderful adaptations for living mostly undergound: huge front feet turned sideways to the body, like shovels, for digging, no external ears and small eyes since they are moving about in dark tunnels. Their long pointed nose helps them find food.
You can i.d. this mole by its short, hairy tail. The other two moles found around here are the star-nosed mole, which has a crazy star-shaped nose, and the eastern mole, which is bigger and has a naked tail.

I'm always happy to find a mole or see its tunnel activities, since they eat grubs, aerate the soil, and are rather cool looking.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Baldface Knob Trail

The Baldface Knob Trail is a short (0.7 miles), sweet stretch of trail that runs along a ridge between the Baldface Circle and Slippery Brook Trails in the Baldface-Royce Range of the White Mountains. Baldface Knob is only about 2,900 feet, but offers great views west to little known Sable and Chandler Mountains. The views and the trail, lined with alpine flowers, heath shrubs and exposed rock, prompt hikers to go slowly and quietly. We did.

Sights along the Baldface Knob Trail

We ended up on the Baldface Knob Trail after opting for a shorter route than the full Baldface Circle Loop Trail on a hike last Friday. This was on account of Henna pulling or straining a muscle or something on the way up Baldface Circle. Not sure what she did, but by the time we climbed the big slabs and blocky ledges above the Baldface shelter she was pretty lame, holding up her left front leg.

On future hikes in this region, when conditions are wet, icy, or if a hiking companion has some slight injury we would opt for the longer, more gradual Slippery Brook Trail and Baldface Knob Trail to reach South Baldface. It is about a mile longer and not as scenic, but much easier if conditions are not ideal.

Slippery Brook Trail

If conditions are good, however, the Baldface Circle Trail
above the shelter is quite scenic and worth the effort.

There was plenty of water in all the brooks along the way. Up high though it got a little hot and dry so we needed a couple quarts of water for Kodi and Henna (in addition to our hydration packs).
On nearly every hike in New Hampshire, from the seacoast to the mountains, we seem to always cross paths with one or more toads. Here is our Baldface Circle Trail toad...
We saw few hikers on this day, partly (mainly) because it was a weekday and also this region sees fewer hikers than the more popular notches. I guess we will keep it our little secret. (And Henna seems to have fully recovered and is ready for the next hike).

Friday, July 4, 2014

Fresh Garlic and More

Storms passing through the region last night provided some natural fireworks: thunder, lightning, wind, rain, and even a tornado warning. Gentle rains started up again in the afternoon today here in western Massachusetts. But not before we worked in the gardens; the moist soil ideal for weeding and it was past time to snap off the garlic scapes from our crop of 500 cloves that we planted last October.
Removing these flower stalks shifts more energy to the bulbs, giving a boost to their size over the next few weeks until we harvest in late July. We're using the last of last year's crop and it's a bit dried up, so I pulled 10 bulbs of fresh garlic today to check size and to take back home for cooking.
The black and red raspberries in the backyard are ready for picking too. Tomorrow, when the sun is out, should be a good day for picking. Today we got enough for a little red, white, and bluish dessert.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

First Zucchini

Yesterday I harvested the first zucchini from our squash plants. The kale, Swiss chard, and squash all look healthy and pest-free so far--better than I've had in past years by July 1st.
The tomatoes too are looking good, if a bit anemic. No sign of early blight or other ailments yet. The next couple garden rows, in contrast, have had some issues this year. The potatoes are always troublesome, especially trying to keep cucumber beetles at bay. Fortunately, the larger and more voracious potato beetles have not arrived yet (always lots of "yet" in gardening). 
As noted, the potatoes look good--see the above photo. In that same photo you may not notice a few hoof prints. A deer visited two nights ago, nipping the tip of a tomato plant and mowing the tops of the bean plants. I'm thankful that we escaped with minor damage, but she will return. And I am headed to the hardware store for another roll of laundry line to string 6 feet high around the garden. Even that is not enough, only an electric fence will be full-proof, but I am not yet ready for that step.

The annuals and herbs are showing some growth during this heat wave, although requiring daily watering. Hoping for a good rain by the 4th, before all the picnicking begins.
Last night I made bruschetta with fresh basil (that you see in photo, above left), but the tomatoes were store-bought, so flavor was a little mealy. Boy, I can't wait for a fresh tomato from the garden. I wish they ripened now, along with the aromatic basil. 

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...