Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Drought, woodpeckers, bats, and rocks

It hasn't been a week for gardening -- we finally got some rain (half an inch last Friday) and almost 7/10 of an inch yesterday. In the drought we're in, counting every drop is important. We're worrying about the long-term forecast; my colleague sent an e-mail about hearing that the National Weather Service has projected drought through next summer. It's cool now, but any soil recharge we get is great. Here in SC, we're (at least as a public garden) thinking about whether we can water next summer -- I'm expecting that we'll have mandatory restrictions like our neighboring states of Georgia and North Carolina.

What's been fun, however, is the parade of birds through our home garden. They're definitely enjoying the water I put in the birdbath and large dishes on the ground.

In recent school programs at the botanical garden where I work, I've enjoyed pointing out woodpeckers, bat boxes (we have bats that roost in the trees, and use the boxes a bit), and all the acorns, hickory nuts, and leaves that are falling now. Today's programs focused on changes in the landscape, erosion, and geology -- my knowledge of geology is not vast (minimal, actually), but fortunately, my descriptions of erosion, soil formation, and stream banks captivate third graders, and my colleagues at the Geology Museum provide the important information about rocks and minerals that 3rd graders are supposed to learn about. I get to be about exploring the geological landscape of the Garden.

These kids, however, seemed to love being in the forested area along the Garden's creek the best. Seeing squirrels is a highlight. One of them asked me (I had told them that one of the best things about what I do was that I get to explore the Garden with kids like them), did I like to go on adventures? Well, of course, there are adventures open to us everyday, and many more to go on. But I do hope that I encourage these kids to further explore the world around them, both in their backyards and farther afield.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

White-crowned sparrows?

Leaving for work this morning, rustling sounds in the frost-bitten swamp sunflowers caught my attention. I'd seen some goldfinches foraging for seeds there last weekend. They're dull in color now, nothing like their spring and summer colors. But these birds were foraging on the ground, poking around in the leaf litter. There were probably 5 or 6 of them in a small area, joined by a Eastern Towhee kicking the leaf litter.

They scuffled around a bit like the towhee, kicking the litter, bringing up seeds to eat. Their distinctive striped heads seemed to fit white-crowned sparrows, but I didn't have my binoculars with me as I left the house!

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Monday, November 19, 2007

A warm fall day

It was absolutely lovely in the garden this morning; the fall color is still bright, as the leaves come down and sprinkle the landscape with color. But it's unusually warm, the kind of "Indian summer" day we used to have in September and October, not in mid-November. On the front steps, there was a sudden emergence of hundreds of winged insects -- they looked like ants and I'll have to figure out what they were. In any case, it's not the time of the year to be hatching!

I did my favorite program this morning for a garden club in a nearby city (this permutation was Gardening for Nature). Actually the location was in a semirural area west of town. In what used to be rolling farm fields, subdivisions and shopping areas have popped up and lakeside houses now dot the nearby shore of Lake Hartwell. They were a great group, amazingly energetic with their outreach and volunteer activities. It was not only gardening and planting activities that they were involved with, but also community action projects. They mentioned a local hospital that's created a garden area that patients receiving chemo could look at through the expansive windows. What a lovely thing -- when my mom was in extensive rehab, the ability to go outdoors, and visit in the courtyard garden at the hospital was so significant to both of us, but probably to me most.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Red-bellied woodpeckers

We have an old Paulownia (Princess tree) in the back that's not in great shape. We haven't bothered much with it, since we figure it's eventually going to die, so not worth it to take out before then. Paulownias are tremendously weedy in many areas, but this one, probably since it's on its own, is not producing viable seeds, at least there's no sign of seedlings.

So when the powerline trimmers came through, I wasn't too concerned about it, as long as it looked halfway decent. I was out planting some last winter color things (Violas and kale) & started hearing a rhythmic call coming from the Paulownia. It turned out to be a male red-bellied woodpecker foraging, punctuating his activity with calls.

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First hard freeze

There was ice on the birdbath this morning, reflecting the first good freeze after several hard frosts. The strong winds yesterday brought down many leaves, but many trees are still lovely. The fothergilla in the back has turned bright orangey-red, quite spectacular.

The ginkgo behind the garden shed lost all of its leaves this morning in one graceful pool - ginkgos make a habit of that.

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Friday, November 9, 2007

Fall color is at its peak

We've had lovely fall color despite the extreme drought-- the yellows and reds have been great; drought stress sometimes stimulates the anthocynanin production that provides the orange, red, and maroon colors. Some of the oaks will probably drop their leaves without much color change. And other species are late to change color; probably the temperatures haven't been cold enough yet.

Trying to figure out the maple species whose image I took along the square in historic Pendleton, SC was interesting; one tidbit I learned was that our maples, especially red maple, are planted widely in Great Britain for their fall color. Acer rubrum (red maple), Acer leucoderme (chalk maple), Acer barbatum (Southern sugar maple) and Acer saccharum (Sugar maple) all have nice fall color here, ranging from yellows, to orange, red, and scarlet.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Let's get planting...

Anything we plant - anything green - helps take up CO2 -- plants convert CO2 to sugars and produce oxygen -- that conversion is why there's life on Earth. Perhaps our local planting efforts are minor, but all of us that garden DO collectively have a positive effect. Green spaces instead of asphalt, adding trees, shrubs, and perennials -- this adds up as an antidote to urban/suburban heat islands.

But it seems like it's time to actively promote greening our communities, new residential areas, commercial developments, etc. Certainly this has been important for awhile, but why not step up our efforts?

The largest city near us -- Greenville, SC -- is having a difficult time passing a tree ordinance. Our traditional 'don't tell us what to do with our property' stance in SC has emerged. But, really, trees vs. asphalt? Which is better for us?

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

First freeze of the season

We're expecting temperatures to dip below freezing tonight here. We've already had a few light frosts, primarily evident in low-lying or exposed areas. A lovely white-flowered Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost' that I'd planted in one of my containers was already showing the effects of cooler weather; coming from warmer regions of the world, it went into decline when night temperatures went below 40°F. An exposed Portulaca was similar, looking quite stressed after one of the frosts.

I harvested all of the last peppers this afternoon -- the poblanos and thick-walled 'pizza' peppers, along with a few last pimento peppers. I'd already picked the final few tomatoes, and will need to figure out what to do with the green tomatoes. Relish? Chutney? Some sort of green salsa?

I can roast and freeze all the peppers, but maybe I should also try to roast the green tomatoes, and freeze them, too. After my enthusiasm for making jams & jellies when I was younger, I'm not so interested in spending time canning and sterilizing jars. I actually 'recycled' in the brush pile about 12 pints of 15+ yr old Concord Grape jam recently. Obviously we didn't manage to consume the jam in a timely fashion.

Actually making green tomato relish sounds quite nice; an old post on an interesting blog http://www.foodiefarmgirl.blogspot.com/ had a lovely recipe -- perhaps I'll try that!

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

Laying a flagstone path (2)

I needed a third pallet of flagstone to finish the front path, and it was delivered late Saturday morning. In the meantime, my gardening companion dug up the rest of the base, taking a break from his regular mulch moving so I was ready (notice the HUGE piles dropped off 'free' by the powerline tree trimming contractors).

There were a number of roots to work around and the path goes downhill slightly towards the drive, so it was a bit more challenging to do the final segment.

But, I finished laying all the stone this afternoon, and cleaned up the area, although I still need to put in the rest of the granite paver base around the stone and make sure each stone is firmly set.

It looks good, and Mocha was enjoying the view late this afternoon. It took roughly 2 1/2 pallets of flagstone and a couple of 'scoops' of paver base to do the pathway. My labor was about 2 days, spread out over 3 weekends. I worked in 2-3 hours stints, at most half a day, with plenty of 'lighter' activities in between.

For the first part of the story, see Putting in a flagstone path (1).

The complete photo sequence of creating this path is posted in a Picasa Web gallery. Just click through whatever ads pop up to get to the gallery!

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Friday, November 2, 2007

Bumblebee sleeping

Late this afternoon I noticed a bumblebee settling down for the night on a rosemary flower. Not a very sheltered place, but perhaps the cooling temperature caught her (or him) there.

There aren't many large flowers around now to provide a better place.

Only the queen bumblebees will overwinter, in underground nests, so these worker bumblebees are just hanging out until frost.

Honeybees, however, will come out and forage on warm days especially in late winter, when the early ornamentals (winter honeysuckle, Japanese apricots, etc.) provide nectar and pollen, since they're on a different schedule than our natives.

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Thursday, November 1, 2007

Robin flocks are enjoying the dogwood berries

Leaving the house this morning, the dogwoods were rustling with robins loudly eating the ripe berries, calling melodiously in the process. What caught my attention is the large group of robins, startled by the door opening, that flew up to the big oak from the bird bath, and then joined their fellows in actively foraging in the dogwoods.

We have three old trees that we thought were 'goners' when we moved into the house almost 14 years ago, but years of leaf mulch have revived them considerably. An additional two younger dogwoods are showing lovely fall color right now, but aren't so loaded with berries as the older trees.

Dogwood berries have lots of lipids in them, so they're high-energy fruits (highly desirable for migrating birds).

The robin flock probably is a northerly group coming south for the winter, although we also have resident robins throughout the year. Robins are an adaptable species, so have flourished in our backyard gardens, lawns, and parks.

This range map shows how widespread American Robins are in their distribution.

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