Friday, November 27, 2009

Chipmunk Tables

Friday, November 27, 2009

It's the day after Thanksgiving and the house is quiet. Even Karl the Wonder Dog slept in longer. The kitchen counter still has dishes, clean and neatly stacked but not yet shelved. The dishwasher is full and needs to be emptied. The refrigerator is packed tightly as if no one came to dine, and two butter dishes, one more than we need, are shelved in front of the middle shelf, having journeyed from opposite ends of a table of friendships. Three pies sit covered on the sideboard, each missing different numbers of symmetrically cut pieces. The remaining pie pieces represent less of a popularity contest than a "getting full" response to Gail's query of "Who wants apple? Pumpkin? Mince meat? If Eric stops by this morning to visit, I'm sure he'll find one to try with coffee.

With more patience than encouragement, I waited for Karl to rise and stretch and ask me for a walk. I had been ready for some time but the quiet was nice and I savored it. He woke and with a clip of the leash snap, we were out the door and heading through the sugar bush. The leaves were quiet and they smelled like the remaining days of fall without snow.

I glanced down through the maple trees knowing that my neighbor would not be out and about yet. It's still too early and damp I thought but I headed towards the big stone and his bench to check anyway. Karl knew the direction and beelined for it despite my protest to his excessive speed. I wanted to enjoy the morning.

The bench was covered with leaves. My friend was absent. Had he been by recently the seat would have been swept clean of leaves. I know he likes the bench and although it's "his" I sit on it sometimes, sometimes talking, often just sitting and enjoying. Today it was too wet to sit but I stood and looked off to Hooker Mountain and reflected on the things that I am thankful for.

Karl and I retraced our steps and headed for the tall pines on our side of the road and then out back towards the white spring. We stopped along the way for a moment. Chipmunk tables. I make them at times when cutting wood leaves pieces unfit for the fire but good enough for tables in the forest. Birds and beasts as small as insects, mice, chipmunks and squirrels like tables to dine on. Karl and I like to observe who is dining and who is not. Today we watched a red squirrel chatter cautionary remarks while he ate balsam seeds. Avoiding impolite interruption, we turned and left. Karl's tail wagged goodbye and I left a smile behind us. There's lots to be thankful for.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the temperature has dropped to 36 degrees and windless dampness prevails.

Fall garden wishes for final cleanups and good walks to plan for next year's gardens.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Now on Facebook as a page in my name. "Look-see" if you have a minute. Resource connections and new gardening friends and acquaintances grow each day.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Many Hands Make Light Work

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Almost 2 PM here on the mountain. 46 degrees with winds smothering in and out from 1 to 3 miles an hour. Karl the Wonder Dog is snoring on the couch and impatient deer hunters are driving the roads, waiting for another hour before heading for their favorite stand until dark. Gail is outside pruning fir balsam boughs for wreaths and I'm just getting back to the computer after an ongoing saga of medical repairs on my body. Carpal tunnel release, one trigger finger, one hernia repaired, one more trigger finger to go and then more recuperation. My dad always said "Boy, I'll be happy when it stops hurtin'!" and I know just what he meant.

A few weeks back we took a ride to Glover, Vermont. Gail and Alex hadn't been there before and I wanted them to visit Curriers Market. This is a neat old place that's half grocery store, half sporting goods store. The meat is very good and the prices for the various cuts are hand written on paper hanging in front of the counter. As the price moves up or down, the butcher lines out the last price and writes in the new one. The meat is fresh cut for you and there's something special about a butcher/butcheress (?) who knows your name and how you like things done.

What I wanted Gail and Alex to see wasn't the meat though, but the taxidermy on display. The store is a museum of animal mounts, mostly from Vermont and Canada and some from further away. The walls around the beverage coolers are papered with Polaroid pictures of each season's harvest--pictures of deer and bear and turkeys and hunters by the hundreds. It's a place that has a history that should be written but is relived many times each year.

On the outskirts of town there's a pull off that's worth the stop as it forces recall of two hundred years worth of history. The Town of Glover erected this monument to a time in 1810 when 60 men and boys changed history and geography at the same time. As you read the stone and the commemorative plaque that appears on its reverse side, glance back up to the picture up top and visualize if there was 70 feet of water on top of the gravel you would be standing on. Click on the pictures to enlarge the writing so you understand the story of what happened.

Sooo-o-o-o, many hands do make light work and in this case 60 sets of hands changed history. Today the same task would have been automated with giant heavy equipment but it wouldn't have been allowed without a truckload of applications, deer yard reviews, bear habitat reviews, site visits, hearings and permits. Today it wouldn't take 60 men to get the job done but factually 60 men could do the job by hand faster than the entire process would take in modern times.

In the same pull off as the marker are some benches made from millstones. Again, the stones represent a time that is long passed but the granite of the stones and the method by which they were manufactured 200 years ago serves as reminder to the amount of physical work people had to do just to exist. When you're shopping next and you reach for a 5 pound sack of flour, remember these millstones and think about where we've gone since then.

This final picture shows a water well configured to match the millstones. The accompanying sign cautions that the water hasn't been tested but there's no doubt that hundreds of critters have stopped for a drink over the past couple hundred years. The picture gives another example to think through 70 feet of water that stood here before the trench was cut.

Gardening can be a tough experience and smart gardeners benefit from the helping hands of friends. I should have learned this lesson before I needed to learn the advantage of prosthetic mesh to patch a tear in an aging mid section. Well, I learned the lesson late but I do have some time to catch up on garden reading.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where good gardeners should care about their health and not try to do too much themselves.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Big Leaves Have Left

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Just 6 AM here on the mountain, windless, quiet, 48 degrees. The Rains of Ida have ceased after dropping I don't know how much water on us last evening and well into the night. I retired the rain gauge three weeks ago because it's a bother when hard freezes threaten, so I have no firm idea on how much fell. In a half hour when the sun begins to rise, I'll check the unofficial rain gauges, the five gallon buckets left in the yard for fall planting, and I'll get an idea what fell.

Karl the Wonder Dog just visited me, gave me a kiss on the hand and returned to bed. He apparently knows it's Sunday and I won't leave to get my paper until my work here is completed. He'll be snoring again in seconds, dreaming about a ride in the truck which he loves so much. Outside deer hunters wearing wet boots from yesterday's almost pointless slogging around will be heading into the woods, hoping for a dry day and at least the vision of some wildlife.

Yesterday afternoon I headed to the garden as a light rain fell, hoping to cover up three trees I planted this spring. A couple are weeping tamaracks that should do fine but one is an Atlas blue weeping cedar which is zone 5 at best. I knew when I bought it that there was some question involved and people of the know reminded me this summer that I was a little nuts to spend time and money on failure. I placed it in a dry part of the new hosta and shade garden where it is out of the wind more than in other places but where the sun shines each day. With changes in climate, it's worth the money and effort to try borderline items and sometimes succeed when others suggest you'll fail.

The tree is about 6 feet tall so I took four 8 foot X half inch reinforcing bars and sunk them in the group 2 feet and then tied them together up top to form a tee pee-like frame. Then I cut the top and bottoms out of several burlap bags and slid them over the top of the frame and filled them with shredded leaves from the ground to the top. This will slow down the winter dessication. I packed the leaves well at the bottom to slow down the freeze-thaw cycles we now see in Vermont. I also circled the burlap with polypropylene string to keep the burlap from shifting and I said a quick "Hope to see you in the spring." and walked away.

For some reason it came to me that I had never transplanted the astilboides tabularis to the perimeter of this new shade garden as I wanted last year. I love big leaved plants and this one is special to me. Come spring they start slowly here and then the unfolding leaves just grow and grow. As they mature, each leaf is about 3 feet in diameter, sometimes a bit wider, and they look so nice to me as they serve as landing pads for floating leaves and tree needles and various insects in need of a rest. I have even seen chickadees and small warblers sitting atop pecking off insect snacks.

Astilboides tabularis have that Jurassic look about them and they do for me what I wish the gunnera manicatas would do. If I lived in Seattle like one of my sons, I could happily grow the gunneras but here in Vermont they are just another plant that needs to be moved to a warmer place for the winter and that's the reason I gave up on glads and dahlias and calla lilies many moons ago. Plant astilboides in a dry setting and keep it watered or in a damp setting with some sun and your landscape architecture will offer a perspective your friends and neighbors will show envy for.

Well, the sun is up enough for a walk. I'll wake my buddy and leash him up, put on my safety vest and head down the road for a morning look-see. Karl's sniffer will be in full operation as the animals have been hold up since yesterday with the hard rains and are no doubt out and about making up for last night's missed meal.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a single loon calls a primitive "Good Morning". Walk with me if you wish.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lilium Concerns

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Evening comes too early for me now. Gail and Karl the Wonder Dog joined me in a quick walk out back after I returned from work today. I had been sitting too long and needed some fresh air and a little of the stuff that makes me love living in Vermont. We returned too quickly but the light was fading and I had a few things to finish up before dinner. The smell of acorn squash baking with maple syrup challenged my need to finish this blog on lilies.

Fall is the time many folks finally decide to plant some spring bulbs for the first time. I encourage such plantings as they make the dreary days of the last snows and snowbanks melt into great colors that beckon warmth and spring. Daffodils have always been high on our list because they are about impervious to animals, big and small. Neither deer nor voles will eat them and even in poor soil they reproduce and present more flowers for each year to come.

Besides daffodils and probably excepting the tiny crocus and muscari that are seen by the hundreds, tulips are probably the most popular spring bulb. They are less likely to succeed over time and are on about every animal menu somewhere near the top. I tell people if you can get three years out of tulips in Vermont, you're lucky. The species tulips do much better but most that we see in the stores are hybrids and susceptible to "munching". Here are some daffs pictured up top and three tulip bulbs just below.

As much as we like tulips, those who like tulips and lilium have to use care. Tulips are notorious for Tulip Breaking Virus and tulips planted in close proximity to lilies are a gardener's guarantee that in a year, two at most, both the tulips and the lilies will be gone. Aphids are usually the vectors in the case and they do their work around May here but I'm sure they keep spreading the virus into the summer according to their life cycles. I have written before about Gail and Alex planting some nice red tulips close to the walkway garden for their enjoyment. The process resulted in me losing some of the original Journey's End oriental lilies that I had cherished for years. Long and short of it is consider where you plant tulips if you like lilies. Gentle, seemingly insignificant winds might well carry virus laden aphids downwind to your lilies and after that there is no cure.

While I am at it, here's one other caution for fall planting. Stores often carry what many gardeners call "tiger lilies". I'm not sure I can think of another common name ascribed by so many gardeners as representative of the wrong plant. In this case the tiger lily people are mentioning is pictured just below. This is Lilium lancifolium, originally Lilium tigrinum, first named in 1810 and used like potatoes as food in Asia. I never got this figured out because tigers have stripes and tiger lilies have spots and sometimes people call daylilies tiger lilies. This is how I get more confused by what customers really want to by.

Tiger lilies often carry viruses but do not display any symptoms. When other lilies are planted in proximity, aphids, wind, roving animals spread the virus and both varieties die off in a year. Since the tiger lilies reproduce by tiny bulbils generated in leaf axils, there is always ample supply to regenerate another colony. These are nice lilies, very common in most every old time New England garden, but just beware of this caution when planting in your garden. That way you'll protect the beauty of other lilies you have already planted.

Here are a few more from our collection that we enjoy. Until late spring of each year, we have no idea what we still have growing.

Lilium regale

Oriental Rosy Dawn


Smokey Mountain Autumn


Lancifolium ??? can't remember

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where tonight's temperature will fall into the teens but rebound to the high forties tomorrow. Still time to plant bulbs!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Lily Prelude

Oriental Lily

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

6:30 AM here on the mountain and grey clouds speed across the horizon. Tiredness apparently prevails here as Karl the Wonder Dog snores loudly from his bed and except for me, there is no activity. Circadian rhythm? Timing is interesting, especially in the fall when darkness will not leave until about now, only to return again by 4:30 PM.

I often have ideas of subjects I want to write about but with too many irons in the fire, I forget more than I should. Top of the list today is writing a letter to IRS to tell then why we are not the business classification their computer thinks we are. There's something about today's world that makes us do a lot of things over. "There's never time to do it right but always time to do it over" was a little saying an employee actually told me one day explaining what I felt was unacceptable performance. I did what I always do and tried to work through the situation but in the end the person's understanding of my work ethic was such that I cut the strings of being nice and hired someone else. Small businesses have little money or time to spare and after satisfactory training, people have to get things right. I do wish more people would get it right the first few times but I guess we have moved into a new age I will always have trouble adjusting to.

On my list of things to share is more comment about lilies. I have written about them in the past and in early summer I warned gardeners about the lily leaf beetle. I want to mention where to plant and not plant lilies and why, but for the time I have this morning, here are just a few pictures of some lilies I have enjoyed in the past. If you visit Vermont Flower Farm I am sorry to say that we no longer grow lilies for sale, only for our enjoyment. The insect world has provided more competition than we can handle. We will not use heavy chemicals for the sake of a few flowers. End of story.

So for this morning, before I head for Newport, Vermont and the Canadian border, here are a few images. Please stand by.


Bellingham Hybrid

Black Beauty


Gold Band

Golden Stargazer

Leslie Woodriff


Mona Lisa

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where two mourning doves compete with seven blue jays for the cracked corn I just dumped on the platform feeder. We have to be careful and only put out what food will be eaten during the day as Mr. Black Bear is here every day, in the adjacent field, eating apples.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Human Assisted Transport

Sunday, November , 2009

A beautiful day here in Marshfield today. Some different than yesterday when the weatherman missed his mark by 15 degrees. The sky was clear at sunrise and the temperature, although frosty to start, rose quickly and exceeded the 50 degrees that was suggested.

When you get a nice fall day, the list of cleanup chores turns out to be longer than you want. Time is short and you really want to go have fun but you know from experience that this time of year in Vermont, "summer" days in fall are infrequent so they should be cherished. My problem is about everything I want to do requires two hands and one of mine is in rehab and I don't want to ruin a good thing.

I took Karl the Wonder Dog for a long walk and he was pleased with the woods activity of the day and the smells from yesterday's rain. The woods road was filled with deer tracks and we jumped some deer by the treeline but only saw flags of white waving goodbye to us--no heads to see bucks. Karl went up on his back legs as if to squeeze out one last attempt at deer identification but if he saw antlers, he didn't tell me. I pulled back on the leash and he came back down and continued on as if nothing was noticed. We put up three partridge which also tested Karl's adrenaline.

Being in the woods reminded me of some photos I took a few weeks back when splitting some wood for next year. The wood was balsam and I cut down a few of these each year and split them up for kindling. They are being attacked by some insidious insect so there's no trouble finding a dead one to cut. I cut them down, block them up and then bring them to the house.

This was the first time I ever found any larvae inside a tree and this instance showed some sort of borer was involved. Understand me on this, I am not an entomologist, I'm a gardener who enjoys the land and cares about what is going on. I began some web searches and the Black Spruce Beetle, Tetropium castaneum may be the culprit. I am hopeful someone out there reading this can tell me if this is true or not. The picture is accurate and the bore hole is obvious.

As the day progressed, Alex and I decided we should try to catch some trout for dinner. There were a few night crawlers left in the fridge and we shared a spontaneous enthusiasm to have some fun. Here are the results.

Hybrid Brook Trout, male, bright fall colors

Rainbow trout at top was +19 inches and just under 3 pounds

2 rainbows, 2 brookies total

Trout fishing takes me away from gardening but it makes Alex happy and gives me a break. Gail cooked the big trout tonight for dinner, rubbed with light garlic and olive oil and baked at 400 degrees for 25 minutes. She served it with baked vegetables of buttercup squash, parsnips and Kennebec potatoes. We'll all get back to gardening tomorrow!

Wait, stop, hold on, The Vermont Gardener forgot the most important part of this post just when he hit "Publish Post". Human Assisted Transport, my title, is a phrase often used by foresters when they get concerned that humans will aid in the transport of seriously invasive and devastating insects such as the Asian Long-horned Beetle. This summer when Worcester, Massachusetts was cutting down trees by the dozens and sending them to chippers and blast furnaces, Vermont foresters including the Dept of Forest and Parks were asking people not to bring firewood with them when they booked into campgrounds for vacations. Serious insects are inside wood during part of their life cycle and lacking Superman eyes we can't tell what bad things we are carrying to the camp site. Some say I am odd but when this piece of wood split open on the wood splitter bed, the first thing that came to my mind was the admonishment about firewood hosting bad critters. I am certain that the public has not received the education on what they might be doing and if you cannot see it, perhaps it doesn't register as important.....but it should!!

And now.....

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where Karl says it's time for a walk.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Thursday, November 05, 2009

American Beech Trouble

Thursday, November 5, 2009

27 degrees here this morning, quiet, motionless, peaceful. The morning light is just breaking through the tops of the tall poplars, tamaracks and fir balsams and in minutes there will be a change from white to pinky-red skies as we are reminded of incoming bad weather. For now it's nice.

Back on Blog Action Day, October 15th, I wrote my own piece on climate change. It didn't receive much comment but I suspect it evoked some silent thought that wasn't shared. I mentioned changes to our forests as they concern me. Changes to the American Beech are always on my mind.

Years ago when I was a new transplant living in Woodstock with parents trying to make a go of life in Vermont, I was introduced to the beauty of the beech tree. Down in back of the chicken coops was a mature stand of tall, clean beeches. These were giant trees and I loved it every fall when the nuts dropped to the forest floor and I'd sit there in the sun, back against a tree, shelling little triangular shaped nuts and popping them in my mouth. I always remember one day when I rose a hand to my mouth only to be startled by a big buck deer who had wandered in close to me, unannounced and oblivious to anything but a nice meal. Those were difficult times for our family but there was something still pristine about the bark of the beeches then and the quantity and quality of their annual seed crop.

Today things are different. Changes have led to warmer winters, and the beech bark disease, around since the 1800's, has taken over yet another beautiful tree. If you're not familiar with the tree or the history, here is a summary.

First the beech scale attacks the tree and then fungi begin their work. The trees will actually live quite a while as the destructive process overtakes the tree. You'll notice sections of a tree reaching skyward, devoid of leaves or simply sporting totally dead branches while other parts live on.

Beech is a beautiful lumber and it's durability and whiteness has long been used for cabinetry and furniture. It has especially been coveted in Europe where furniture color and design often set an example for the rest of the world. The wood is very dense and it is a valuable firewood high in BTUs and clean burning compared to softer woods.

Beech bark disease gets to the heart of the tree and renders it almost valueless, often before the harm becomes noticeable. This means that the tree become useless even as firewood because the heartwood is rotted and wet. The limb wood still has value but few homeowners and fewer loggers want to deal with a more labor intensive job just for the sake for some firewood. The interior rot also presents an unknown safety hazard for the person with the chain saw as it's impossible to be certain if the tree will twist and turn while being cut. Here on the mountain we
try to use everything we can and if it cannot be firewood it can be saved for the chipper.

As standing trees die off, their internal fortitude makes them stand tall for a long time. As they rot, limbs fall from above but the main trunks last a long time. This makes them a woodpecker paradise and pileated woodpeckers, North America's largest living woodpecker, love to carve away in search of insects.

If you have American Beeches on your property or in your forests, or even any of the newer beech hybrid ornamentals, please pay attention to their health. Sadly there is little we can do about the scale in entire forests but there are some opportunities for limited homeowner control.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a road report just came in of icy conditions in central Vermont. Here it has just started spitting snow and Karl the Wonder Dog is barking at 4 turkeys that have decided to breakfast at the platform feeder. We're heading out to discourteously withdraw their self invitation.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Yellows of Fall

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A chilly day here on the mountain. The temperature is now 33 degrees but the 3 mph wind keeps putting up gusts that ride the thermometer up and down. Karl the Wonder Dog begged for another walk outside but after walking through the fields, I headed for the pines to get both of us out of the wind.

As we exited the fields I noticed the yellow of some wild rugosa roses. I'm not a rose growing person but I do enjoy them and the yellow was bright enough to catch my attention. When Karl and I got back to the house I looked at some that Gail has been growing for perhaps ten years and the bright fall leaf colors were interesting. I decided to mentally rewind the summer for a minute and catch a glimpse of the roses when they were in bloom along the split rail fence.

Rugosas are thorny friends and there comes a time when they need pruning. I never favored this chore and perhaps that's the reason I never got excited about them. The other weak point is that they are quick to put out runners and finding a new rose in the middle of a walking path never pleased me either. That habit always makes for easy give-away plants to friends and neighbors but I have more to do in a summer than fill in holes. Gail says friendships and donations should not come with negative comments about back filling holes. She always makes sense.

The color selections are limited to whites, yellows and lavenders but the fragrance and the beauty of a mature bush of rugosas can't be beat. Around here you seldom see a collection of mature bushes but our trips to the Maine coast remind us how plentiful these are in many places in the world.

This image with the shadow was me standing around waiting for a honey bee to return. Not too many honey bees left in the world so I knew it might take a while. First came a bumble bee and then the hornet below. I gave up and took pictures as I could. The fragrance is alluring and night moths are amazing beginning about 9 PM on summer nights when they arrive by the hundreds to work these flowers.

Finally, here is an image of a double. The beauty and fragrance of this simple rose flower makes me begin to forget the thorns. Sometimes it takes me a while to see the beauty in things. I doubt I am alone.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where it only took me all day to finish my thoughts on the yellows of fall.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener