Friday, December 28, 2007
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Now we enter winter, dark cold nights, short bright days; we are snug in our home sitting near the woodstove surrounded by books and wonderful things to eat. Time to crack open some of those volumes we have no time to read during the busy outdoor seasons, and begin dreaming of the warmth and life to come.
Its time for folks all over America to gather around a tree, natural or man-made, to celebrate the solstice and the various religious events associated with it. I, also, cannot resist the urge to bring a bit of natural fragrant green into our living room to provide a focus for our celebrations. Fortunately, there are thick patches of white pine seedlings, Pinus strobus, growing on the hillside behind our house. I trek out in the cold pouring rain to thin a volunteer from one of these patches. It looks good growing in the house across from the wood stove. I love its soft needles, its open branches for dangling decorations, and its fresh aroma.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
This morning the sunrise ended its journey south along the mountain ridge across the road. Tomorrow it will begin its trek northward, rising earlier each day bringing more light to each day. Plenty of reason for celebration! (Unfortunately it was quite cloudy this morning, so this photo from several days ago approximates the location of today's sunrise.)
Driving home one night this week my headlights picked out a big "black cat" waddling down the gravel road. As the truck slowly rolled closer, I identified the critter as a spotted skunk, Spilogale putorius, the first one I have ever seen. This nice photo was taken by and is copyright Roger Barbour. Found on GoogleImage, it looks most like the fellow I saw.
Monday, December 17, 2007
I find the oak leaf hydrangeas planted around homes in town are just as beautiful now as they are in their summer glory (6.03.07). And later in the winter when the storms have blown and we may be left with just bare branches I can find plenty of visual interest in their fascinating exfoliating bark.
Friday, December 14, 2007
Monday, December 10, 2007
The spring oats I planted as a cover crop on November 19 have sprouted! What joy they bring even as the rest of the garden settles down to a winter nap. I am hoping the oats will grow off and on during the occasional warm days of winter to provide protection to this bare garden bed and to create some "biomass" or green manure to improve my soil’s tilth.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Monday, December 3, 2007
In the early twentieth century the Episcopal Church began to missionize the mountain people of my neighborhood. As part of that project, a small health center, St. Anne's Preventorium, was built at the top of the hill near our home. The Episcopal Church has moved down the road to a 1960s era building, but this tower of hope remains. A stone monument easily seen now that the leaves have disappeared and we are left with just tracings of brown and gray against the deep blue sky.
Saturday, December 1, 2007
The trees have finished their grand show. All the bright colors have been blown to the ground where they lose their color and take on a new role as insulation providing a natural mulch which protects the living crowns of forest plants over the winter. My Mennonite neighbors tidy up all the leaves and burn them in great piles along the road. I prefer to let the wind spend these prestorm days packing all of the leaves tightly under our bushes so we can take adavantage of this free mulch.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
It is not uncommon to find this unusual organism growing among the leaf litter along the edges of the forest. It is probably the lichen Cladonia rangiferina, commonly called "reindeer moss." Cladonia is an important source of food for reindeer in the alpine tundra as it is extremely cold hardy.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Friday, November 23, 2007
I have a "Thanksgiving cactus," from the Schlumbergera genus growing in my studio. All year long I water this peculiar looking plant and keep it in a bright window hoping that it will bloom again. Then come Thanksgiving I am rewarded with these beautiful bizarre flowers. These plants are tropical rainforest epiphytes from Brazil.
It's awfully late in the season for planting a fall cover crop in the vegetable garden. But warm bright days have me working cleaning out some of the growing beds. I plant spring oats on the exposed soil in the hope that they will germinate and grow in the continuing coolish weather, providing some protection from erosion during the storms of winter and some useful biomass, or green manure, to be worked into the soil in the spring.
Riding my bicycle through the country today I come across some land that the owner has filled with a grove of chestnut trees. Dozens of trees, maybe 25 years old, spread over the rolling acreage once used as pasture. Perhaps these are American chestnuts being grown in the hope of finding a blight resistant strain. American chestnuts, Castanea dentata, were once a characteristic tree of our Appalachian forest. One in every four trees is thought to have been a chestnut. They could be giants, growing to 150 feet and up to ten feet in diameter! In the fall the massive crop of nuts, "mast," provided vital food for forest wildlife. In the early twentieth century a blight appeared in America, probably introduced on imported asiatic chestnut trees (which are immune to this same blight). The infamous chestnut blight quickly ravaged the eastern forest killing almost every forest chestnut. Today several organizations are breeding American chestnuts from a few surviving stragglers and attempting to breed in some blight resistant genes from other species of chestnuts. Perhaps one day these "redwoods of the east" will return to our forests!
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Saturday is the first day of regular hunting season. A neighbor has put out some deer skulls to mark the entrance to his land. The deer are a blessing and a curse. They have severely overpopulated the forest around here and affect the health of the habitat for many creatures. And of course they wreak havoc on the gardens of those of us silly enough to try using their territory for vegetables! I welcome the hunters who have come to perform a necessary service. Their bow season began in early October and gun season will go through January 5 with quiet days on Sunday when I can cautiously, very cautiously, return to the woods.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Several years ago my wife planted garlic chives in one of the flower beds. Its a beautiful and useful plant. Grass green ribbon-like leaves and pretty white flowers are used in asian cooking for a mild garlic flavor. It is a perennial, the clumps expanding slowly. This time of year the flower stalks turn to seed which spread easily throughout the garden starting new plants whenever a seed can find a tiny bare spot of ground.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Many people revere the amazing Ginkgo tree, Ginkgo biloba. It comes to my attention this time of year as it turns bright gold and then seemingly all at once drops its yellow leaves in a carpet of color. The Ginkgo deserves the reverence it receives. Its leaves appear in the fossil record 270 million years ago yet it is thought by some to be currently extinct in the wild. A European discovered that the trees were still being maintained by Japanese monks in their gardens in 1690 and it was then found that this practice is common in temple gardens of Japan, China, and Korea.
An amazingly resilient tree, some trees are believed to be over 1500 years old. It has few disease or insect problems and survives well in urban conditions. The most amazing story I have come across is that four Ginkgos growing in the area between 1000 and 2000 meters of the epicenter of the Hiroshima atomic bomb blast still survive!
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Sunday, November 4, 2007
The intensity of afternoon light at this season's shallower angle sets the fallen leaves ablaze. Their fire is fleeting and will soon be replaced by the dull browns and grays of winter. The season, just as this afternoon moment, must be caught and savored before it passes.
One of the common "jungle" vines in the forest here is bittersweet. It twists around tree trunks or forms dense thickets. Our native bittersweet, Celastrus scandens, is being forced out of the ecosystem by a much more vigorous but very similar looking vine, oriental bittersweet, Celastrus orbiculatus. The oriental version was introduced in 1879 as another unfortunate tool for fighting soil erosion. Bittersweet vines are covered with beautiful berries this time of year which are often used for holiday decorations. Bittersweet is poisonous.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
We have tried several times to grow figs out here in the mountains with no luck. But in town my wife has a garden outside the door of her catering kitchen and has no problem getting a huge crop of figs every year. This gem-like harvest, picked just before the frost, was turned into an incredibly delicious clafouti for last night's supper.
Years ago I bought a packet of tomatillo seed and grew a couple of plants with the tomatoes and peppers. I have never had to plant them again. They self sow easily and appear throughout the garden. We rarely seem to get around to harvesting them, so each year even more seedlings appear. I took this picture a couple of days before the frosty cold arrived.
Cold last night! We get out the blankets and turn the heat on downstairs. We awake in the morning to a frost covered world. Frost is a bit late this year, I would have expected it more toward the middle of the month. I can remember that in 1979 we even had a snow in October!
Our Japanese persimmon tree fruited for the first time in the garden this summer. Fall turns both fruit and leaves an amazing color. My wife, the chef, tells me we must wait until the fruit has been tempered by frost before eating them.
Friday, October 26, 2007
Thursday, October 25, 2007
It poured all night. The mountains sing again with the sound of flowing water. The creeks are running again. The rivers fill to their banks. And this morning the clouds lift briefly to reveal an autumn world here in the high land.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
The fall drought has continued for weeks. Last night the dry dusty air was washed clean by several hard rains. Peering through the windshield of the car this morning I see how each tiny drop of water acts as a different lens for viewing the landscape and warps the light in wierdly wonderful ways.
Monday, October 22, 2007
When we think of an image of a tree, we very often think of this one, the white oak, Quercus alba. And justly so since it is one of the most common trees of the eastern forest in the United States. Superlative as well in longevity, a white oak can live to be eight hundred years old. Here it is loaded with acorns ready to feed all sorts of wildlife. The fallen acorns, or mast, are an essential part of the forest ecology. The Smithsonian recently reported that white oak seedlings, despite all of the frenzied planting by squirrels, are taking a hit. The huge increase in the herds of deer in our eastern forests are making it very difficult for white oak seedlings to survive. They are commonly browsed by hungry deer. Researchers note that we won't see it for many years, but the lack of juvenile oaks will have a dramatic effect on our future forest.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
It has happened, and literally overnight. The maples and the tulip poplars have burst into color adding a raucous visual noise to the landscape. The blazing oranges reveal that there are more sugar maples, Acer saccharum, around here than I thought. Deep reds from red maples, Acer rubrum, and brilliant yellows from the tulip poplars, Liriodendron tulipifera.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Walking across town this morning, I decided to check on the progress of the fall crops at the Friendship Urban Garden. This locally organized community vegetable garden has been built in an empty lot behind a downtown low income housing complex. I know the "farmer" directing the garden is using the latest innovations in vegetable gardening such as row irrigation, cover cloth, green manure crops, etc. But my hat is off to their spinach crop. This single plant was more than a foot in diameter!
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
The native Virginia persimmon, Diospyros virginia, is now large and showing its beautiful fall/winter color. It's name, persimmon, is an Algonquin Indian word; while its Latin genus name, Diospyros, means "food for the gods." Tricky to eat, being quite astringent until fully ripe, they are a favorite food of North America's only marsupial, the opossum.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Sometimes the gardener has little to do beyond watching the garden grow. A year ago we grew some dill in this vegetable bed, but this year it was potatoes. After the potatoes were finished a dill plant sprouted up by itself as a volunteer in the garden. It has finished its season but self-seeded an entire bed now flourishing as a carpet of beautiful young dill plants. The miraculous tenacity of the seed.