Friday, March 25, 2016

Pushing Spring

I was beginning to be concerned. After all, I planted my garlic this season just before Thanksgiving. In New York that is nothing, but here? My concern was relieved by the sudden growth pushing past the straw and leaf mulch about a week ago. Below is the Turban variety 'Xian.'

Today I have two tasks. While tending to the fire which boils down the maple sap I've collected (15 gallons so far), I am preparing the bed and laying pavers for the floor of the greenhouse. I need to get the greenhouse up as soon as possible so that I may sprout this year's milkweed seedlings inside it. 

While pounding stakes for the level lines I spotted some bulbs pushing up through the tangle of nettle. I dug them out and placed them into a new garden near the driveway. Didn't think I'd get any gardening in today, but I think this counts. And what luck,  just miles to our south, some areas received seven to ten inches of snow two days ago. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Boy's Winter

I was wakened by the subtle flash and rumble that, not more than a minute later, became the brilliant glare and shattering crash of this year's first post midnight, pre dawn thunderstorm. The rains came, soaking what would normally be earth frozen forty inches, give or take. The birds had been arriving for over a week, vees of geese are seen and heard, while the prehistoric calls of sand hill cranes are heard, all traveling northerly. Comb-playing chorus frogs have made their seasonal debut and chipmunks have ascended from their dens. The grays and pale orange-reds predominating the woods are often punctuated by intense, moisture-activated greens. Most lakes have lost their ice and those that haven't remain only a stormy-green skim coat of icy slush. Most of all, even by last year's early spring standard, the trees have been budding strong and flowering early. The silver maples of the middle slough have been fully in flower for over a week. This is El Nino in the Midwestern north.

It should still be winter by calendar, averages, and tradition and this post should be timely. It is not, however, by fact and experience. Winter is over before its time and this is its eulogy.

Strong winds raked snow and desiccated grasses across the large wetland, leaving easy access for bipeds like myself.

This winter's fluctuating temperatures created a nearly constant stream of runoff from the little wetland which pooled at the northern end of the large wetland. It was a popular watering hole for all the Big Woods' animals.

Freezing and thawing of the pool made for unique ice crystals.

The dead trees of the large wetland, killed by higher water or blight.

Orange lichens on the south side of the trunks.

Wet feet is not a problem for Red Osier Dogwood, Cornus sericea.

Its branches a brilliant red in the sunny open of the wetland.

A protective structure for warm season nesting.

An unknown plant, possible weed, growing in the center of the wetland.

A rare view of the house from the wetland.

The earliest sign of approaching spring -emerging buds of shrub willows.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Stratify This

This winter I've proposed a landscape project for Franconia Sculpture Park's program. Materially, the artwork will be made of milkweed, Asclepias species, sourced from the northern tier. I don't want to say too much more about the form this planting will take as the jury is still out. I do, however want to share with you the process for stratifying milkweed seeds. It's an easy and fun thing to do should you want to get a jump on milkweed for your yard. You may, of course, plant seeds in fall and the damp, cold climate will do all the work for you, but what fun is that?

It's important to source your milkweed seeds regionally because they will be best adapted to your climate extremes. My project's seeds were purchased from Prairie Moon Nursery, a Minnesota based native seed company. Like many perennials (plants that come back each year), Milkweed requires a period of cold and damp to break dormancy of its seed. This process is known as stratification. 

First you will need sand. It's possible that any sand will do, but I bought this very fine, washed sand at the big box. The fifty pound paper sack (which leaks all over, keep it outside) was under five dollars and I used only a fraction of it.

You must dampen the sand and the first thing you will notice is how the water percolates through it just as it does at the beach. If you'd rather go to the beach than the box store, I recommend bringing a coffee can with you for your seed stratification needs. 

You'll also need some kind of sealable bag, ziplock type or even a baggie. There shouldn't be any free water in the bag after dropping in the sand. Add the seeds and label. I wrote the start date, how long they should be stratified, and the quantity of seeds. And since it is easy to forget about them, I put an alert on my phone to remind me to check in 28 and 30 days.

Here they are -seven varieties of milkweed ready for the refrigerator. If all goes according to plan, I will be potting these seeds in deep cell trays come late March. Afterward, the trays will go into the greenhouse, ahem, the as yet unbuilt greenhouse leaning against an oak tree in the back yard. All in good time. By May they should be ready to plant in our Monarch Park over the drain field and quite possibly at the sculpture park forty five minutes to our north and east.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Pileated's Favorites

We have several dead oaks that are among the pileated woodpecker's favorites. This one, however, will be coming down soon. It has been dead and rotting for years and is too close to the driveway. But no worries, there are plenty more as the big trees continue to be lost to storms and disease.

As it lifts off we get a rare view of the white stripes of the upper wing.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Animal Way

I am always taken by the animals willingness to use the human made pathways. 

It reminds me that we are as much animals and we all prefer the easiest route.