Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Truth About Gardening

Today is Halloween, and fortunately these plants you are about to see were put into their pockets last weekend, or was it the weekend before I went up to Duluth to help install an art project? Truth is that I cannot recall, but at the very least, when I look outside, now that our long summer has changed to autumn, I see that someone has put these plants into the ground.

I like buying plants in autumn because they're usually discounted, if a bit root bound from a summer in a pot, and since I have no trouble keeping plants alive I rarely lose one to a root bound condition. It is winter that I am worried about. Egged on by continuously warm weather, I allowed these potted plants to sit around as I wondered whether this warmth would hold out. I used the time on more pressing housework, notably siding and windows. Meanwhile, the vegetable patch looked like August and it was October.

Although finally, while I was in Duluth, a light freeze made an appearance, yet the weather hadn't really changed. We are about to go into the sixties for several days. Gardening is out of the question, the idea needed to be put to bed. Rather, I'll be using a two part epoxy resin to harden rotted brickmould and jambs, waiting over night, then filling these pockets with a two part epoxy putty, waiting over night, and then priming and painting them.

I'll be using the best paint possible, and fortunately Sherwin Williams sent me a customer appreciation coupon for 30% off, starting tomorrow. The best paint available is expensive, over seventy dollars a gallon, but windows are way more expensive. Your contractor will tell you it is three thousand a hole and you are surrounded by holes; we all like a picture of the land on our walls. A window is the conceptual preamble to landscape painting, so I do not underestimate its hold on us. Yet a cold of twenty below zero is a phantom that makes sieves of our aesthetics and the rot in a jamb exposes the carpenter who refused our only defense -that apotropaic, pink spun glass.

It may be unfathomable to those in warmer corners, but I welcome the oncoming cold as a return to interiority, away from the outdoor projects I thought I could accomplish last spring. These will have to wait. There are indoor projects to be sure, but there is studio time, professional development, and even this journal to attend to.

There is a landscape project I wish to accomplish, at either a sculpture park or county park. Details to be worked out, but this Swamp Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, is the seed of it. And I've yet to plant the garlic. Soon, maybe in a week's time. And painting, too, of course, there are several running in the studio now and an exhibit in Milwaukee for next fall. I will be teaching my course, once again next summer, at Art New England.

Bugbane or Cohosh, Cimicifuga racemosa.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Autumn Dogwood

There is a dogwood tree, I'm not sure of the species, that grows atop the mesic south-facing slope of the great wetland. It angles upslope, toward what light it may find on the northern side of neighboring large oaks. It is just off the front porch. It takes on a lovely color in fall, as you see here complementing the yellows of maple and bass. The leaves dropped well before the oaks had shifted to their autumn colors.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Felling and Bucking

This, nine months ago, seemed a good spot for my garlic patch. It's gently sloping, south facing, and clean. Trees would need to come down. The garlic has been shipped, a bit late I think, no doubt due to the raging fires surrounding the garlic growing regions of Washington. One of my favorite suppliers had nothing to offer this season thanks to drought and fire.

What made this spot the obvious choice for my growing also made it the obvious choice for an outbuilding. At the Minnesota State Fair we spoke with a manufacturer of these buildings and they came out to the site. Last Friday, we signed. This January they start building.

My job is to make sure the site is cleared and excavated, plans and permits submitted, and the extra components -gravel, concrete, electrical and heating all get done in a coordinated fashion.

Whether it be garlic or a structure, felling trees is necessary. It's is not something we take lightly. Betsy's dad never cut a live tree, but he never had too. His old property was sculpted long ago and this new one is a work in progress.

A chainsaw wielding neighbor has done all the trees larger than four inches. Together we chip the branches and pitch the bucked logs into his truck. Dragging sixteen foot long leafy branches to the chipper, tangled as they are with other branches, over ankle twisting logs and stumps is rugged work and physically draining. Most I can do is three hours at a time.

Nothing shall be wasted. The black cherry and hickory limbs have been chipped for smoking meats. The firewood logs are partial payment to the chainsawing neighbor. We've saved several eight to twelve foot logs for lumber: hickory, black cherry, sugar maple, red oak, ironwood, and basswood. The Minneapolis College of Art and Design has a furniture program with a saw mill that goes relatively unused. We are affiliated with the school now and may take advantage of this idle tool. 

Basswood, Tilia americana, are weak-wooded trees that can grow to great heights. In other words, fairly dangerous for buildings and even people. I had one come down right in front of me last March, on a perfectly still day. I lucked out -the sound of trickling water distracted me from my path. Then, snap, and a sixty foot tree leaped from its trunk, landing just were I would have been had I not been the type to be distracted by burbling freshets. This one was, and two others will be, cut to prevent any interaction with our new building. With hesitation we are sparing a very tall cluster between the back yard and the new building because it provides some shade and screening between the house and the outbuilding. Are we sparing the monster?

The Vermeer. It eats wood for lunch.

I did all that I could to figure a way to spare this sexy red oak, Quercus rubra. These trees have strong wood, and stand for years after they have died. And they are dying, thanks to the oak wilt fungus, Ceratocystis fagacearum. Our woods is a chaos of wind fallen trees and branches, woodpeckers and other bark boring birds and insects. This damages the oaks (and other trees) and makes them susceptible to the insects that carry the fungus. The trees, once infected, die rapidly -usually a month or two, and it's dead by July. Felling trees must happen in the cool season or winter, branches chipped or burned. The logs need to be bucked and split for firewood. Drying them apparently puts an end to the fungus. Yet, we're not fooling ourselves -the red oaks are dying and we won't be able to stop it.

I didn't know there were small patches of hickory in our woods, but since identifying this one, I've found two clusters of more substantial trees. I haven't yet discerned whether these youngish trees are shagbark or bitternut, but I will let you know. The branches of this hickory have been chipped for smoking, a log saved for milling, and the rest went to firewood.

Sling the rope over the top.

And pull in the direction you hope it will fall.

Finally, there is limb work outsourced to an arborist with a cherry-picker. 

He will also tackle a couple of wilt-dead oaks from a few years back and this dangerous limb hanging from a very old sugar maple.

Later, maybe, we'll get to the several large oaks and basswood that have fallen throughout the woods in 2015. It appears to me that all the older trees are dying; a changing of the guard. What will these sunny clearing produce? Multitudinous sugar maples from the north, invasive buckthorn from the south, and whatever it is we have to say about it.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Prairieside Goldenrod

This summer's Red Hook, Brooklyn transplanted seaside goldenrod, Solidago sempervirens.