Friday, October 30, 2009

Foggy Morn

Friday, October 30, 2009

For some reason, Karl the Wonder Dog changed his sleep-in-for-fall morning routine today and had me out and about before the coffee was ready. It rained all night and the 5 gallon buckets we use so many of served as small rain gauges and showed 2" or more had fallen since dinner time. Karl could care less as he wanted to sniff for early morning visitors apparently out for breakfast now that the rain had stopped.

The leash dragged me right and left and we came upon a moose track in the road that caused Karl to stop and turn. He knew it was big and the footprint in the hard dirt confirmed we'd be looking up to this one as we shared morning greetings. Back home we headed as the fog continued to build.

Karl turned right and headed for the maple sugar bush where I like to look out to Hooker Mountain. I doubted the fog would permit a view but Karl likes to walk in the deep leaves so off we went. As I stood among the trees, for some reason my favorite Carl Sandburg came back to me. Fog....

The fog comes
On little cat feet
It sits looking
over harbor and city,
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Sandburg, 1916

The fog was not moving on, it was thickening and coming closer. The woods smelled good. A rain drop landed on my nose. We headed for home.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a loon calls primitively as a chipmunk runs in front of us with a mouthful of maple seeds.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Just Hovering

Thursday, October 28, 2009

Already past 6:30 but it seems like I have been up for days. 37 degrees out and still darker than a pocket. It will be darker still come Sunday when the time falls back an hour. Daylight Savings Time is an interesting concept.

The phone rang at 4 this morning and it was Lifeline calling. Some gardeners have a plant kind of Lifeline to wake them up when the outside temperatures are about to drop into frosty depths or when the furnace goes out in a greenhouse. Some gardeners have a mental Lifeline that kicks in when the weatherman cautions that tomorrow morning will be below freezing and if you want a couple more days, maybe another week to enjoy your flowers, pick one last pepper or cuke, you better break out the sheets and blankets and odd pieces of plastic and cover things up. Today's Lifeline at our house was the people alert calling to advise that Gail's uncle had fallen again and was ambulance bound for the hospital. Those things happen when you are 92. This man in his prime was one of Vermont's best hunters and trappers, a Veteran of New Guinea during WWII, and a terrific gardener. I hope he is ok but age takes things out of our hands and decisions are made at a higher level. No matter what happens, I always will remember this man for a story from his military past and for his gardening ability.

As a Vermonter fighting a war on far off Pacific islands, history reminds us that all our soldiers were often at pretty bad odds. Richard was a hunter in Vermont and his collection of deer mounts hanging in his house and his knowledge of how to locate, cultivate and harvest ginseng were equally as strong. He had very good hunting skills. Story has it that one day he was fed up with canned rations and he was possessed to head into the jungle himself and bring back a deer. His friends advised against it but they also knew his skills and hoped for the best. Some time later he appeared carrying a deer, small by Vermont comparison but venison for him and his friends. I doubt there are many if any from that group still alive to remember this but it was a fact he was known for. For Gail and me, seeing him appear in his pick up truck every fall with a bushel of buttercup and butternut squash is also a memory. Lots of people grow buttercup squash but there was something about his that we will always remember. We hope he's ok.

Some gardeners read lots of magazines trying to figure out how to grow that perfect buttercup squash or flower. We fit into that group. I don't think we subscribe to as many as we used to, partly because some of our favorites aren't even around any more. Some that we read are trade magazines and some are now offered on the Internet. The online magazines are probably great for kids who know no different but for Gail and me, it's a tough learning curve to be able to navigate around an on-line magazine. Just the same we read a lot and apply all we learn.

The latest Greenhouse Management & Production Magazine had an interesting article on biological controls. Take a look at the article. It says that hover flies are useful as they feed on aphids, thrips and small caterpillars. Look closely up top at the cosmos picture (click to enlarge) and you'll see an adult hover fly, named for the way it hovers in one spot in your garden, looking for a new place to feed. As we know, aphids are plant specific and different aphids bother different plants. Thrips are a perennial problem with daylilies and drive many growers plain nuts with their ability to be so tiny and so destructive at bloom time. Caterpillars are only really nice when they appear in books for small children. Hover flies feed on all of these insects.

If developing a successful hover fly population interests you, plant dill like we do. The dill plant and its family members are a natural nesting place for hovers. Dill, fennel, etc are easy to grow and great to cook or pickle with and the dill can even be used in floral arrangements. This is also an easy way to keep chemicals out of your life which spicing up the garden and the table. Give it a try!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond and saying thanks to the gardener who ordered the five Tetrinas Daughter daylilies. They'll go out today.

George Africa
TheVermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Monday, October 26, 2009

Erratic Behaviors

Monday, October 26, 2009

A bright, sunny morning here on the mountain. 27 degrees and a 4 mpg wind bring a chilling reminder to us that the snow flakes we have seen recently will soon be staying with us. I've noticed that Karl the Wonder Dog has picked up on the temperature changes too and is less hurried for early morning walks than perhaps a month ago.

Some gardeners have been known to express erratic design behaviors and I have been offered that handle more than once. I really don't care as good gardeners should be able to find talent in any design. My excuse is that I live in the land of erratics and as such there should be no surprises to what I design. I like stone and I like this part of Vermont.

Years ago I was introduced to the term "glacial erratics". Looking back, I cannot recall the introduction but I fell in literary love with the term that represents the odd shaped and sized pieces of stone that were broken off larger stones and tumbled along as glaciers advanced and receded. Glacial erratics work very well in gardens although they must be sized properly. The ones I picture here might be considered extreme in size for typical Vermont gardens but have merit in the correct setting.

I have come to learn that the enthusiasm of the gardener relative to the money in their pocket can translate to the movement of erratics. The bigger the erratic, the larger the need for a big pocket and large heavy equipment. Just the same, the hard scape can begin with massive stones like these and work down with an accompaniment of vertical and horizontal plants, textures and colors. You need the money but you also need a vision.

The land around here is very acidic and moss begins to grow on the forest floor and on new stones as soon as they are disturbed. The mosses appear to cushion the hardness of the stones while creating a cloak of color that this time of year looks so nice dotted with leaf confetti in different colors.
If you are out and about and up our way sometime soon, call ahead and see if we can arrange an "erratic walk". Our journey will be round about too but you'll get a chance to see and photograph some fine specimens and perhaps think differently about adding stone to your design palette.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where one brave little junco pecks seed from the platform feeder in the company of vocal blue jays.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Seed Collection

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Evening news is just finishing up and the rain is coming down. The temperature in Burlington, less than 65 miles from here as the crow flies, has dropped 20 degrees in the past hour. The 54 degrees here at 6 PM is now 45.9. The wind is holding a steady 5 miles per hour. Yellow leaves from the sugar maples are swirling past the window in big rushes of color. Unclothed maples will prevail tomorrow morning. Weather changes lots of things.

Up top is a picture of a native Vermont lily, Lilium canadense. I have always loved these lilies which bloom around July 4th here. The are ever so slow to start from seed as they need a couple freeze-thaw cycles to germinate. Gardeners who bought some from me perhaps ten years ago still ask for more so I decided I needed to build up a supply. We're talking several years from seed to first flower so other than love for flowers, there's no getting rich growing these from seed.

Two weeks back I thought I had probably missed the opening of the seed pods but then reminded myself how late the flowers were this year with colder temperatures and constant rain through July. I set out to some sites where I have fairly regularly snapped the pods and planted the seeds, along stream beds and damp field beds. This time, the number of pods, as yet unopened, was a surprise.

My typical procedure is to take the best pod off the stem, open it, check for apparent seed viability, and then plant those seeds in close proximity to where I took it. My thinking has always been to try to keep certain colonies together. There is a little variation among the canadense I look at each year but I find the way they are developing over the years quite interesting. In no place do dozens of reds or dozens of clear and spotless flowers appear but the changes are nice to see.

If you decide to search some out, it's too late now, especially around here with the storm that's coming up. Check with me in a couple years and I'll share the progress report. In the meantime, enjoy the picture up top. There's a swamp spider of sorts on the backside.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where I saw 2 loons tonight close to the fishing access as they searched for dinner. They'll be heading out in November.

Fall gardening wishes!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lady Bugs & Butterflies

Monday, October 19, 2009

A crisp, clear morning here on the mountain. Not a cloud in the sky but the thick white ground frost is reminder that the 21 degrees this morning does more than suggest winter is coming. There's something about the heaviness in the air today that is keeping the woodsmoke in a layer above the ground and it's bothering the crows coming into the compost pile, scavenging the remains of last night's New England fish chowder preparation. Why they carry a lone mussel shell 50 yards into the trees to peck out one tiny hinge is beyond me. They need to study Return On Investment a bit more!

My post on climate change was more a series of observations than a firm statement. When you garden like Gail and I do, you have to hone good observation skills to try to keep a step ahead of unknown problems before they materialize. We are not vegetable farmers although we grow some for ourselves. This year's late blight surfaced as small spots on tomatoes and potatoes one day and became dead plants within a week. Our skill at observing was of little use for this problem but often times it works.

During the past year we have noticed that ladybugs and Monarch butterflies are less obvious than before. We are not alone in noticing this as tracking systems have been put in place to help gather information about where these helpers have gone. Take a look at the Lost Ladybug Project or Monarch Butterfly: Journey North Both projects solicit folks like you and me to gather data and try to figure out what is happening. If you have any observations you would like to share, drop us a note.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a pick up just went by pulling a duck boat fully camouflaged with cedar boughs. All sorts of hunting seasons are open in Vermont now. The moose and deer are really moving now and I guess I better get going too!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day '09: Climate Change


In the early fifties my dad moved us from Port Chester, NY to Woodstock, Vermont. There were a number of reasons the move was not popular with me. There was no ocean in Vermont, people didn’t know what pizza was, there weren’t any chestnut trees and the climate was very difficult. Just like the Pilgrims needed the Native Americans, we needed the farmers next door and a nice community to make it through that first winter. Things did not improve for many more seasons to come.

My immediate reaction to Vermont was that the summers were short and cold, you could never buck up enough wood to keep warm, and growing seasons were unpredictable but you had to grow food to survive. When you were the kid weeding, picking, dusting and harvesting vegetables, milking a goat and feeding heifers, chickens and a couple pigs, you had to work hard at making it fun. Rarely was I successful.

Someplace in lost albums there are pictures of my dad, 6 feet 6 inches tall back then, shoveling snow over his head, building temporary corduroy roads to get us home from church or school or shopping, chopping ice and giant icicles off the roof, turning rivers of water out of the road before in ended up in the Ottauquechee River and spraying DDT on long rows of potatoes until the plants were all white to deal with potato bugs. These were responses to the climate back then. Winter snow was higher than the top of the ground floor windows by mid January and minus 35 degrees was common. Howling winds and snowdrifts only managed by the road grader were common.

Fast forward more than 55 years and changes are more obvious. It has not been -30 degrees here in Marshfield since our first winter in ‘89-‘90. Snow comes in various amounts but in the past five years, late winter storms have come few in number but deep in inches to the point that without the tractor and bucket, there would be no way to keep the driveways open. January thaws bring +50 degrees days—several of them, plus freezing rain, ice and downed power lines that are frequent around the state.

Animal life is interesting. Chickadees, the “everywhere bird” at Vermont birdfeeders in the fifties have moved further north where it is colder. Woodpeckers are abundant because of the demise of the hardwood and softwood forests. Pileated woodpeckers, representing America’s largest living woodpecker, are everywhere, especially on dying sugar maples. Cedar waxwings arrived in Marshfield perhaps five years ago and apparently are here to stay. Turkey buzzards from the south have moved to the north. Although they head slightly south each fall, they are noticeable in mid Vermont by the first of March.

Bald eagles nest in every state in the Continental US except Vermont but a recent restoration project is changing that. Peregrine falcons that were absent from Vermont were restored here beginning in 1979 and are doing very well. White and also rose breasted nuthatches, often described as territorial, approach the feeders in an abundance that contradicts their territorial label. Titmouse now visit each year but only briefly. Rufous Towhees have been seen here twice lately, kicking up maple leaves in search for food. Late spring storms have pushed in individual Scarlet Tanager couples, Indigo Buntings and Rose Breasted Grosbeaks. October eruptions of Pine Grosbeaks and Evening Grosbeaks prevail annually but always for different time frames as they stop to eat the seeds from crabapples like sargentii. Shrikes snatch small birds of winter from the feeders. Barred owls call often but are most noticeable just after New Years. Turkeys are well established over all of Vermont, having gone from nonexistent to “too darn many” along western farm fields, all in 30 years.

Vermont’s moose population continues to grow and move south. Moose have become a problem in the lower New England states as they check out new territory. I have personally witnessed two fine examples of Canada Lynx close by. A neighbor has recently seen and photographed a bobcat on her front lawn half a mile from here. Other neighbors are missing housecats, perhaps the result of bobcats but more likely due to fishers. River, lakes, ponds and streams see more otter now but mink in various color shades prevail. Black bears are appearing everywhere and often receive publicity for bad behavior. We have had many here at the house but none for the past month or so.

In almost twenty years at this house, skunks just did not exist. Parts of the lawn and adjacent fields are now full of Japanese beetle grubs and skunks have arrived to feast on them. They are willing to share their defensive scent with feral cats, sadly in abundance, the result of one way trips from urban areas, and Vermont poverty. Possums have made it to the western side of Vermont to Burlington and slightly north. Coyotes are everywhere and wolves are on the northern border. Bats of all type have succumbed by the thousands to white nose syndrome, a terminal illness of unknown etiology.

Insect populations have grown so quickly as temperatures have changed that almost every day from spring through fall you can spot a new insect you have not seen before. The greatest current threat is probably the Asian Longhorned Beetle. Vermont’s fine forests now occupy over 75% of the state but special tree species are gone or going. The emerald ash borer is taking out the ash trees, wooly adelgid is heading hemlock to extinction, balsam adelgid is wiping out large portions of our surrounding forest with trees dying within 5 years or less. A red ant I do not want to know about is building colonies beneath the long needle pines that coincidently are dying.

Beech trees are dying by the thousands as they are first attacked by beech scale and then a fungus follows the weakened bark. They stand pock marked, tall and partially leaved out for a few years while the vascular system fails and they die. Viburnums are attacked by beetles and they succumb in a single season. American elms can be found but not many have withstood the Dutch Elm beetle. Butternuts, precious for nut meats that go with maple fudge, are fighting butternut canker and are difficult to find now. They will be history in another 10-15 years, perhaps less. Even lilies including the wild L. canadense and L. superbum are being defoliated by the lily leaf beetle that over time will cause the demise of these favorite wildflowers.

Invasive plants are abundant and grow in number annually. Wild parsnip, garlic mustard, giant hogweed, and Japanese knotweed are four of the most important. The knotweed gets my vote for doing the most damage as it proliferates along streambeds although it can be found practically anywhere. It is shallow rooted but grows in masses, tall and quick, and shades out any vegetation underneath its leaves. When streams rise, there is nothing to hold the banks and they fall into the rivers and move slowly to Lake Champlain or the ocean via The Connecticut River. There are a variety of terrible aquatic plants clogging St Albans, Shelburne and Missisquoi Bays and Lake Champlain below the Crown Point Bridge. Inland ponds and lakes are noticing similar levels of intrusion by weeds and the zebra mussel haunts Lake Champlain by the trillions.

Climate change may have an obvious impact although this past summer the temperature was colder than usual and the month of July saw more than 15 inches of rain. Weather conditions have brought on more precipitation both during summer and winter seasons. This is not new and it will not go away. Many of these problems cannot be erased and those that can be erased must take a second seat to human protection. Climate change is like a book of many pages. It may be a long read, but we cannot save the ending until later.

George Africa

The Vermont Gardener

Vermont Flower Farm

Blog Action Day 09

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fall Leaves Leave

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Returned home from Burlington this afternoon to find Karl the Wonder Dog laying on a pile of "clean" laundry. Note on the counter simply said "Alex to art at Cutler". The new wood stove had not been touched since last night although the soapstone still had some warmth left. It was quiet.

As I looked though the mail laying on the table, Karl came into the kitchen and gave me a nudge suggesting he wanted to do what I was doing; really I just wanted to sit still for a while and not move. He put two paws on my knees and leaned forward with a kiss. I could have questioned his affection as there was no one else there to kiss but I know better--the dog really does love me. "But why?" Gail often asks.

In a couple minutes I was looking more like a Carhartt ad than a regular me but Karl didn't mind and away we went for a walk along the woods trail. Last night's snow was still heavy in places and the leaves that remained on the maples could be heard drip-drip-dripping from heavily bent limbs. It was calm as we made a circle with Karl's sniffer being our guide.

We crossed the road and walked through the maple border and looked off towards Hooker Mountain. Fog swirled around the peak. It came to me that I never made it up there this summer and had I climbed even a couple days ago I could have taken some beautiful shots of Peacham Pond and Groton Forest. More "could'uves". When we first moved here in 1989, you could hear bears talking up there on Hooker but in recent years they have moved closer to humanville around the roads and ponds where houses offer easy pickin's to chow down on. It's still a very nice mountain.

Karl pulled me into the field and as we looked west, the valley reminded me of previous flashbacks about life 200 years ago traveling the valley with horses and buggies. It's a great view!

The edge of the pasture was blanketed with spent leaves from the sugar bush. They fanned out into the pasture but as we retreated into the woods, the leaves piled thicker and the walk, even
with the snow, became quieter.

We stopped for a bit as Karl smelled something. I enjoyed the mountain views and then noticed a row of marigolds and then a row of ......pulmonarias???? I was standing in my neighbor's garden except that I didn't see it, didn't know about it before. I hadn't been there since spring and it wasn't there back then. I pulled Karl in the direction of fewer leaves until we were safely out of the garden. Our tracks were obvious. It made me think of a Robert Frost poem.

A Leaf-Treader.

I have been treading on leaves all day until I am autumn-
God knows all the color and form of leaves I have trodden
on and mired.
Perhaps I have put forth too much strength and been too
fierce from fear.
I have safely trodden underfoot the leaves of another year.

All summer long they were overhead, more lifted up than I.
To come to their final place on earth they had to pass me by.
All summer long I thought I heard them threatening under
their breath.
And when they came it seemed with a will to carry me with
them to death.

They spoke to the fugitive in my heart as if it were leaf to
They tapped at my eyelids and touched my lips with an
invitation to grief.
But it was no reason I had to go because they had to go.
Now up, my knee, to keep on top of another year of snow.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where Gail just returned from a neighbors. She delivered a carrot cake and two bushels of Norwegian Fir cones for a birthday present. Our neighbor will soon be making Christmas wreaths and the cones are like gold. For Gail, it was just a neighborly way to say Happy Birthday and thanks for being next door.

As for me, I think I am autumn- tired


George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Monday, October 12, 2009

Actaeas Wave Goodbye

Monday, October 12, 2009
Columbus Day

A very dark morning here on the mountain. One lone star shines brightly in the eastern sky but save for a little notice of the tree tops standing out in the dark, fall mornings have become prominent for their darkness. 26 degrees so if there were any annuals left from previous frosts, yesterday was the last day to enjoy them for sure. I was surprised that the cosmos, celosia and ageratum lasted as long as they did despite earlier cold but I guess it only settled in spots and I didn't notice the difference.

This time of year I enjoy a fine perennial that had a reclassification and name change a few years back. Cimicifuga became actaea but it will take a while, maybe forever, for gardeners to make the change. It also goes by some common names such as bugbane, snakeroot, cohosh or black cohosh and has some herbal qualities that put it in demand. The uses are well publicized and if you are interested, searches are easy.

Gail collects unusual plants and she started with this one many years ago. They have architectural significance in the garden because their structure and late summer flowers add useful design elements. If you enjoy butterflies and night flying moths, that's another reason to plant them. We always planted one here, one there, then maybe a line as a garden backdrop. Three years ago, a mass planting at Maine Coastal Botanical Gardens caught my attention and I am convinced this is the way to display this plant now. Here is a picture of three years back. We just saw this same grouping this summer and the plants are massive and the bloom scapes spectacular.

Although some try to sell this plant as a bug repellent to plant near your home, fact is it is often sweet to humans and very sweet to insects. We love to see butterflies of all types spend hours on the bottle brush flowers but Fall brings in all sorts of hornets that enjoy them too so use care when observing them or cutting some for the table.

I like the foliage for arrangements because it can be used without long and drawn out hardening off. Atropurpurea is a bronze green color and a couple of the racemosas are green but some such as Brunette or Pink Spike (below) or Hillside Black Beauty or James Compton that are very dark and very nice. Gail has a few left for sale this year but if you are interested, give her a call as I don't make late season changes to our website.

These plants grow well from seed although it takes a few years for the plants to mature and flower well. Now that the frost has nailed the tons of wild impatiens in the lower garden, I'll be able to see how big some of the self seeded plants grew with this summer's rains. Here's a picture of the green seed pods.

Fall is a season when many gardeners clean up their plants and cut and discard spent foliage. Our exception is the cimificfugas because they look so pretty against the winter snow, stems and paper thin, empty seed pods waving in the breeze. I'll bet you'll agree.

Well the sun is rising and the temperature is down to 25.1. Karl is standing here stretching and that's a signal that he wants a morning walk. I do too.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where two mourning doves sit on the platform feeder outside my office window. Their silence suggests a call for cracked corn. I will agree to the request but will only put enough out to know it will be consumed by sunset. Bears like corn too and they are still active.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Crisp & Juicy Vermont Apples

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Even though everyone is busy tonight, it's still quiet here. That's nice. The sink is full of dishes and there's a good chance it will be full come morning as we've been out straight all day. Outside the temperature is dropping and the wind has grown tired too and has stopped blowing.

Today was the 100 th anniversary of the Marshfield Fire Department. Surrounding towns brought their vehicles and some of the antique trucks and equipment were spiffed up for a parade. Marshfield is home to some of the best bagpipers you'll find and they brought a cadence to the festivities. Many folks have never heard such good bagpipe music as we have here. Gail and Alex had plans to attend but thought they would first visit a new apple orchard on Cabot Plains Road above Cabot village.

Gail is a dedicated newspaper reader and she is big on the Hardwick Gazette and the Caledonian-Record from St Johnsbury, two close-by papers that can always make you smile no matter what is on page one. Gail's talent is seeing things I might miss and a week ago she mentioned the opening of a new orchard on Cabot Plains Road. It didn't click with me until I noticed a sign they put at the intersection of Routes 2 and 215 in our village. Gail said she and Alex were going so I handed over some green stuff and asked for some Honey Crisp apples if "they" had any. "They" were the Burtt's from Maple Glen Farm in Cabot. Keith and his son Greg were featured in a news article Gail saw that described an orchard of 750 trees the first year that then grew by an additional 1300 trees a year for two more years. That's a lot of trees!

By 1:30 Gail and Alex returned home and they were excited about the parade and their treasures from the apple orchard. They purchased two types of sweet corn, a couple nice winter squash, a bunch of ornamental corn for the door and some Honey Crisp apples for me. There were eight apples.....only eight apples. I promptly ate one and then there were seven in the bottom of a bag. These are not easy to come by so I told Gail I was heading back myself to purchase some more.

Macintosh apples

The Burtt family have done a great job with this orchard, and the quality of their products after so little time is really exceptional. As soon as they acquainted me with the layout, gave me a bag that would hold up to twenty pounds of apples and pointed me in the direction of the Honey Crisp apples, I began an apple picking experience I really enjoyed. The trees are dwarf trees so they stay in the 12 foot range but bear lots of fruit. They are also planted close together so there is an economy to fertilizers and sprays and they probably conserve water better planted this way too. The rows are long but the varieties are clearly marked to remind you what you're looking for.

The vegetable selection was nicely arranged and everything was neat and clean. I took two more winter squash and a gallon of cider pressed in a 130 year old press. Delicious!!

If you visit this part of Vermont in the next week or so, make sure you head up Cabot Plains Road out of Cabot village. If you decide to go later than this weekend, perhaps a call first would be a good idea. 802-917-2614. The Burtt's at Maple Glen Farm make a ride in the country a lasting memory. If you want to see some foliage, travel up the hill past their farm and you'll think you're at the top of the world. On a clear day like today, Camels Hump and a variety of Vermont's mountains are very prominent. You'll probably ask yourself what a covered bridge is doing in the middle of a field but you'll be standing at one of Vermont's most photographed sites as you ask the question. The answer is written on a sign, also in the field, where my aging eyes still cannot make out the answer. Here's what you'll see.

I picked a few Galarina apples too because I never saw or tasted them before. The Burtt's have 35 varieties including Jonamac, Cortland, Empire, Macoun's which I really like too, Galas, Baldwin, Northern Spy, Cox's Orange Pippin, Liberty, Freedom, Pristine and William's Pride to name a few. If you cannot make it up that way this year, put Burtt's Apple Orchard at the top of the list for next September. These are very nice farmers with a great farm and a special orchard!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where I hear a single Barred Owl ---calling but not getting an answer. That happens to me too.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Friday, October 09, 2009

A Different Kind of Gardener

Friday, October 9, 2009

Forty degrees here this morning, still and quiet, The back door just closed as Gail took Karl the Wonder Dog for a morning walk. It's barely light enough to see but Gail has this fearlessness to the unknown that scares me at times but doesn't bother her. She has a way with animals and I guess if you have that talent, fear is erased. The bears that have been about for several weeks are onto a different food source I guess, as it's been bearless here for some time but they will return to surprise me.

All gardeners have different pursuits, some by interest, some without choice. Gail and I have an interest in autism because our son Alex is on the spectrum so we live it every day. Autism research is a moving target and every day new information comes forth. We read all we can and attend as many events as possible to learn what others have to say. Last night was such an evening.

Sterling College, located in Craftsbury Commons, Vermont, is a small college with an enrollment just over 100. But small often means talented and in Vermont it's ever so true that little schools, little organizations, small groups sharing single interests are very organized and very, very talented. Last night the school hosted Dr. Temple Grandin and if you know autism or you are interested in animal behavior or animal management, then you know this very interesting professional. As we ended the lecture, we were grateful to Sterling College for bringing her to speak.

Time is getting short here like the hours of daylight. Much to do before the snow starts to challenge my desire to work in the gardens. There's still work to do but Alex is feeling better and Gail is ready to pitch in. Saturday the sun is supposed to shine in the afternoon so I will have helpers by then. At noon our local volunteer fire department celebrates 100 years with a parade and other events. Locals support local events and we'll be there.

As I get the motor running here this morning, I want to suggest that if you do not have anemones in your garden, give them some fine consideration. They are a great fall perennial and when they get established you'll enjoy large masses of a very nice flower. They make a great cut for fall arrangements and keep the butterflies in the garden until hard frosts and seriously cold weather stops all flight. They are difficult for us to sell because people don't seem to know about them yet and since they don't bloom until after we close for the season, it's only by Internet sales that they move along. We love them!!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where more and more maples are naked but still surrounded by colorful ground floor blankets of reds, yellows, oranges, greens and browns.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm: One of Vermont's nicest little nurseries

That's another shot of Osmore Pond up top.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Heavy Rain, Beautiful Foliage Continues

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

47 degrees here on the mountain at almost 8 PM. My new toy, an inexpensive anemometer, is spinning at 3 mph with gusts to 5 mph as the front moves in. The rain continues on and off and the "on" part this afternoon disrupted my wood splitting. I coaxed Gail to ride with me for a few minutes while I took some quick pictures, knowing that more rain and wind would influence what is by far the best foliage color in recent years. My ulterior motive was I wanted help picking out some more flat and colorful leaves to add to a collection and a book going to my grandsons out Seattle way. Gail agreed with getting out but had a brief self-debate about taking Karl the Wonder Dog along..... until I let out an impatient "Let's go!" Karl stayed home to snooze on.

During the past few weeks I have probably told a hundred people about the back road to Osmore Pond in the Groton State Forest. The road is almost two miles from our house and the state park people always open it up the day after Labor Day. Since 1989 I have been telling people this as it means not having to pay to get in to see and paddle on a nice little pond. There's also some unusual feeling about a secretive entrance to something so beautiful as Osmore Pond....kind of like an explorer finding something new and exciting.

Gail and I arrived at the road and the gate was locked tight. I muttered some anti budget cut comments and we turned around and headed to New Discovery, the main entrance to Osmore. Karen, one of the rangers, was in the contact station and she explained that they closed the road due to the bad behavior of a few. Just the same the pond was accessible and entrance was free but access is through this entrance. Down the road through a nice maple forest we went.

Osmore Pond has a history I will study some day but I know there was a time when logging around it was an important thing. Several people have told me about two different sawmills on the pond but I have never received good accounts of where the milled lumber went from there.

Osmore has three primitive lean-tos for rent and one newer one on the side close to the parking lot. "Primitive" means you walk in or paddle across the pond. No shower and you share the outhouse with the porcupines. This pond always has had loons but today they were either underwater and out of sight or just not there. The pond is beautiful this time of year so I took a couple shots. Click to enlarge.

We turned around and headed for Owls Head. This is a great granite dome and on a clear day you can see for a hundred miles each way. In late August you might witness raptors moving along as you sit up top eating wild blueberries. In contrast, in late May around Memorial Day you will certainly find other raptors gliding around feeding in the company of slow flying-coasting turkey vultures.

Today the rain was coming down stronger as we made it to the Owls Head parking area. We walked over to the picnic area and I took pictures of Kettle Pond down below. I wish they'd get the work crew to clean out the brush so the view for aging picture takers like me was easier. Typically Camel's Hump is easy to see but from this grown over vantage point, it was missing today.
During the Civilian Conservation Corp days the workers build a set of steps to the top of the mountain. If you have visited here before you know that they are high steps but just the same a fifteen minute walk to the top is nothing in trade for such a beautiful panorama. We want to get back there this weekend as the park staff close Owls Head right after Columbus Day.

Kettle Pond (last 3 shots) is down Route 232 a little further than the Owls Head turn and it's en route to Route 302 that heads to Groton or Orange. There's a prominent parking lot and a portage that's longer than I like if you want to paddle. There is a private youth group area of multiple lean-tos for rent by families, groups like scouts, even an organization of knitters makes a go of it--all who can enjoy a beautiful pond and a rural setting for a few bucks.

We've come to learn this area as it's really part of the big backyard we share. My favorite time is around Memorial Day when wildflowers abound. Trillium and orchids are favorites for me but there are dozens of flowers and shrubs to enjoy. Any time I walk here, I recall ever flower I have found, every place I have taken pictures. Gardeners should think broadly about their gardens and their state as they visit natural areas preserved for our use. Before we decided to move our nursery, I was just starting to lay out some woodland gardens intended to link nature, cultivated wildflowers and domestic hybrids. Maybe sometime I'll get back to that project. For now I can look back at these pictures and be thankful it was such a colorful day. Come visit soon if you can!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the wind speed is up to a constant 7 mph and I can hear the trees rustling from my office.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Fall Colors Make Us Happy!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Just finishing up with the evening news. Gail is in from a walk in the dark with Karl the Wonder Dog and Alex has come out of hibernation for the first time since last Thursday. He has had a terrible virus and is just starting to move. The regional news mentioned 175 potential cases of flu at Dartmouth College, 60 miles from here. People at work are coming up missing, either sick themselves or staying home to take care of family. Hope all gardeners are keeping up with all the recommendations and staying as healthy as possible. "hands-off-the-face!" is one of the difficult suggestions for this gardener as I swat flies and wipe off errant pieces of dirt or jewel weed seeds that have catapulted into the air at the brush of a body.

Fall foliage takes center stage right now and it won't disappoint so far this year. I had to work in Burlington and Shelburne today and the foliage views from Interstate 89 from Bolton through Richmond are the best I have seen and I have driven that road since 1980. I was cameraless again today so the pictures I am sharing are more from around here taken Sunday. My son Adam in Seattle loves foliage time so I'll keep these going for a few more days.

Gail tells me that she got another daylily order emailed in today and she has the final one ready for tomorrow. Hostas and specialty plants have already been ordered so things are shaping up for next spring. We still have well over a hundred giant clumps to get moved next spring and included are the Olallie daylilies from several years ago. Gail and I checked them out tonight and some are still blooming, many with lots of buds left. Their colors are not as brilliant as many daylilies but the fact that they are blooming here on October 6th and after several killing frosts is worthy of note.

We're hoping for a half pleasant weekend as we have a few more daylilies to dig and divide and about 20 more hostas to get planted. Then I will start vacuuming the leaves with the shredder and getting them down to the nursery to stockpile for next spring. I recommend a shredder vac but personally cannot recommend the Sears model that I purchased several years back. It does an incredible job and has a powerful motor but it is so quick that on a typical fall day the bag is full after you push your way through a twenty foot strip of driveway or lawn. That means stopping the motor, taking off the bag, lifting it to wherever you want to dump it (in the back of the truck for me), reinstalling and restarting the project again. The engine always starts well but this is a laborious set of repetitive actions to get the leaves cleaned up. The next one I buy will consider this one's shortcomings and also be self propelled. I keep thinking of that $1200 expenditure for the big one you pull behind your tractor????? Better not tell Gail.

Lots of folks ask me about the leaf mulch during the spring and summer when they see me planting. My formula is always the same. If the leaves are wet from recent rains I don't worry but if they are dry, then I get out the hose and really water them down. I sprinkle on about 20 pounds of 5-10-5 or similar fertilizer per truckload of leaves. Then I water heavily and just wait for spring. Although the top of the pile will not degrade in one winter, the fertilizer and the water create a good environment to get the chopped up leaves working and the resulting mulch is black and crumbly. A better shredder than the Sears brand would make me happy but there is a certain joy in having nice piles of leaves to jump start new transplants. A self propelled model would be super!

Now for the pictures. The one up top is looking west from the top of the daylily beds near the hosta shade house. If you click and enlarge the photo you'll notice the various different trees. I'm going to use this picture sometime soon to write a piece about "What Makes A Forest?"

I photograph Marshfield Pond annually several times because I love the place so much. The cliffs in the background were the site of our state's peregrine falcon restocking program back in the late seventies. I have finally found the trail to get to the top and I want to climb it in the next couple weeks. I was recently informed that this pond is only 12 feet deep at the deepest place although it seems to me I have lost nice fish and line caught on the bottom suggesting more depth than that. The water is so black that there's no way of seeing the depth.

This next picture is a grouping of rock-cap ferns or Polypodium vulgare. A bazillion years back Gail's father probably stacked the smaller rocks on this large boulder as he cleared the pasture. The polypodium spores landed here and the rest is a nice picture. There's a nice sugar maple to the right edge of the boulder. It still has a limb dangling out of it from when a bear climbed it in haste years back. It almost matches a broken tree limb from a nearby yellow transparent apple--similarly approached by a black bear for a fall meal.

The Montpelier to Wells River Railroad used to pass here until being thrown up in the early 1950s. Readers might remember a picture of a moose I took at the end of this picture last fall. The fish and game guys have finally trapped out the beavers who were regularly damming the culvert on the right side of the road. Some of the road edges make for careful travel as the erosion from the beavers was not a positive engineering feat. To the left of the road from this perspective is Bailey Pond.
Many daylilies left to be cut down, some to be split, all must be done in the next eight days.

Bailey Pond is the first of three kettle ponds carved out by the glaciers years ago. Glacial erratics, the name for large boulders left erratically here and there, line the road and give kids climbing challenges while their parents get weak stomachs.

Yes, fall foliage season in Vermont is a time of bright color, apple cider, craft fairs, the last of the farmers markets, harvest dinners and a time to think more seriously about putting your gardens to bed. Still think I better get with it and dig, dry and store the potatoes.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where it's 46 degree out as we await yet another rain storm.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm: a website from which someone ordered three Brunnera'Mr. Morse' plants yesterday. They filled the gallon pots before Gail got them ready to be shipped.