Friday, December 31, 2010

Snow melt

It was nice to see the sedum bed again, as the snow melted rapidly on a warm winter day (~50°F) in the mountains.  It was a welcome change to have sun and mild temperatures. 

Mocha behind newly emerged sedum bed
Not having grown up with snow and cold, snow is a treat, but prolonged slippery ice and cold isn't so welcome.  I enjoyed walking this morning without worrying about tripping on an ice patch!

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ordering seeds and seed catalogs

I've been getting e-solicitations from my favorite seed companies, an excellent sign that days are lengthening, and it will be planting time eventually.  I'm looking forward to the seed catalogs that are waiting at home in the Piedmont (hmm, not that I need any more seeds, but you never know).  There's Garden Fest (with vegetable transplants) to plan for, in addition to my raised beds.

The beds here in the mountains have been totally covered with snow (no overwintering cole crops here this winter!)  And I'm afraid my rosemary, sage, and oregano plants have probably succumbed to the continued cold weather. 

But, they're easily replaced and warmer weather is on the way.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Winter in the mountains

A snowy hike on the Blue Ridge Parkway, a slippery walk around the neighborhood, and watching birds yumming up black oil sunflower seeds from the feeder (we're refilling it daily) are primary nature components of winter days in the mountains.   But the sunsets are special, and the clear winter air makes them crystalline.

view from the staircase window
We don't see expansive sunsets at home in the Piedmont, but in the mountains, our windows and the siting of the house give us a backlight forest as well as a direct view of the sunset from the stairs up to the loft.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Snow at sunset

Clearing skies framed sunlight at dusk.
We ended up with over 13 inches of snow from Christmas Day until today.

It was light, fluffy snow, and folks ventured forth a bit on foot yesterday.

The platform feeder was actively visited.
Today, the roads are OK, at least with AWD, and the temperatures will be moderating by mid-week.

This squirrel seemed to be working on her/his nest materials.

The evening winter light was lovely.

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas snow

Even in the mountains, snow on Christmas Day is a treat (at least for Southerners not traveling anywhere). It started after daybreak, falling all day long. We may have over 10-12 inches by tomorrow morning.

Quite beautiful to look at, but nice to be snug and warm.

We haven't had internet access for a couple of days (and won't for another week or two) so have been appreciating the disconnection from the virtual world that travel brings. The silent and snowy streets this morning made it seem like we were somewhere unfamiliar, too, as did Christmas Eve visits to historic downtown churches normally closed to visitors.

It's a tradition for us to remember our various Christmas adventures, and this will be one of those - a white Christmas being home with Mocha in the mountains.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter leeks

My raised beds in the mountains have experienced extreme freezes already this season.

The Swiss chard, parsley and arugula is basically 'toast', but I harvested most of the (young) leeks yesterday, and we enjoyed them as roasted leeks this evening, along with pasta and tomato sauce.

winter baby leeks

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Monday, December 20, 2010

A suet thief

Suet cakes in the winter are always good; woodpeckers like them, chickadees and cardinals appreciate the extra energy (and embedded fruits and nuts), and they add a bit of variety to visitation patterns.

So, given that we had an extra pole available, I hung a suet feeder with a 'woodpecker favorite' block a couple of days ago. In the morning, the feeder was open and there was no sign of suet.  My gardening companion started joking about racoons and opossums.  Hmmm.

Optimistic about such things, I bought two more suet cakes and put the feeder hanging from a much higher point on a young maple tree.  Surely opposums or racoons wouldn't climb up trees to get suet? Hmm.

Sure enough, this morning the suet feeder was on the ground and the suet nowhere to be seen.

But, this evening towards sunset, we caught a glimpse of the culprit.  (My gardening companion points out that my suet eater is back).  Hrmph.

A large, robust, and very healthy-looking opossum was rumbling up the slope, presumably sniffing for the suet that the nice woman up in the house keeps leaving for me.

I only managed a blurry shot through the window, and opening the balcony door, s/he skittered downslope, well-fed from two blocks of suet over the last couple of days!

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

An old stone retaining wall

The old stone wall next door looks like it's been there a long time.  Parking for the apartment is above this wall (the apartment is probably 80-90 years old), so the wall has probably stabilized the slope for awhile.  Tim (my gardening companion) just snipped the ivy stems at the base of the black locust and trimmed out some box elder saplings, too.

old retaining wall
ravine in winter
The odd-looking stem with thorns next to the Eastern hemlock is Aralia spinosa (Devil's Walkingstick), a striking native that we'll probably regret planting!  But its abundant small flowers are insect favorites and the fruits are attractive, too.

The slope below our house is pretty much clear of ivy, now, and I'm thinking about additions of woodland wildflowers in the understory.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Leaves and an exposed wall

My gardening companion has been busy. The snow has melted and the temperatures moderated, so he's been busy rooting up English ivy (and removing it from a stone retaining wall on the edge of our landscape in the mountains).  It's not a bad stone wall at all, built with decent looking rocks, with just a bit of rubble and concrete supporting the parking lot for the adjacent apartment building.  I haven't been much help, with a troublesome finger making heavy pulling and clipping not such a great idea.

The bags of leaves, saved this fall, proved useful for additional mulching down the slope. We're both envisioning woodland wildflowers to accompany the trees and shrubs already planted. 

So the transformation from weedy forested ravine to native forested ravine continues...

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A morning sunrise

It's been downright cold and wintry in the mountains, with close to record lows, hardly weather to think about gardening.  My raised beds are covered with snow, and rosemary, leeks, broccoli, and other hardy plants are just peeking through.

It's equally cold back home in the Piedmont, according to the weather reports, and windy, too.

But the clear winter air makes the sunrises beautiful, and we're thankful for our view across the ravine.

We have wonderful views that surround us in our home garden, but not any 'to the horizon' sort of views.  It's a treat and something to be grateful for.

Sunrise across the ravine

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Brrr... more seeds, please

Our bird feeder was hopping today -- Eastern Towhees, Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees, and Tufted Titmice.

It was COLD today, with highs around 18°F, and a wind chill factor making it feel about 2°F.  We ventured forth for a bit of exercise (taking Mocha out and 'working out' at the local Y for awhile), but otherwise, we hung about indoors.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010


In the mountains for winter break, we were surprised with snow this morning. A matter of 2 degrees lower made the difference between the predicted rain and light fluffy snow. We had about 3 inches, lovely to walk through on a Sunday morning.  (Not so nice if we'd needed to get to work, though).

The prediction is for more snow overnight, with temperatures dropping into the teens (F°), so Monday will possibly be icy as well as snowy.

But the snow was fun for us.  It had been a long time since we'd seen this much snow.

On our street
Snow in the mountains

A frosty forest

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Japanese persimmons

It's been a bumper crop of persimmons on the old tree that we transplanted many years ago from our first garden. It must be close to 25 years old now.  I harvested over 30 fruits early on, worrying about the weight of them on the branches.

But the 25-odd fruits left on the tree continued to develop, and after the hard frosts and unusually low temperatures, have ripened nicely ON the tree, so I've just harvested them.

I made some persimmon bars this evening, have eaten quite a few fresh, and will freeze the rest as pulp (for future persimmon bread and bars!)

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Winter spinach and a cold greenhouse

I sowed more seeds today (mache and red mustard) in our unheated teaching greenhouse (at the garden where I work).  It's an experiment in growing winter greens for the first time, following Elliot Coleman's inspiration in the Winter Harvest Handbook and Four-Seasons Harvest.

'bags' of spinach and greens:  note the water barrels providing transferred heat
It's quite remarkable. We've had unseasonably cool weather (it was down to 26°F last night) and the surface of the flats and bags was still slightly frozen at 11 am, but the ambient temperature was already 60°F.

Even though fall heat precluded sowing anything in the greenhouse until early November, lettuce, spinach, and arugula seedlings (sown in November) are thriving, and transplants of kale, mustard, and parsley are doing fine, too.

Of course, if I had sown these greens much earlier, they'd be larger and harvest-size, as they are in our outdoor kitchen gardens.  We've been harvesting mustard greens, cabbage, turnips, and broccoli for over a month now.

I'm wondering how my mountain beds of arugula, chard, and parsley are faring under much more severe conditions!

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Saturday, December 4, 2010

Great blue heron and mosquito fern

There's a shallow pond in the meadow near my office  -- we've called it unofficially the 'leaky' pond, since it's never held water very well, even though we've tried to seal it a couple of times with bentonite treatments.

In spite of the shallow water (and probably because of it), it's been a good pond for frogs, dragonflies, and birds.

heron and azolla in the Meadow pond
Leaving work the other day, I spotted this Great Blue Heron (perhaps a young individual), 'knee deep' in the azolla or mosquito fern (that's colonized the edges of the pond, and is turning red with cold weather).  Presumably, it's Azolla caroliniana, a native mosquito fern, rather than one of the invasive ones.

It's interesting to consider how it's colonized the pond.

I'm thinking that it may have come in with some of the semi-aquatic plants that were transplanted on the edges of the pond at the end of a research project.  But, that's just a guess.

Click on the photo for a closer look.

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