Tuesday, October 28, 2008

onions & potatoes

onions & potatoes, originally uploaded by Margo and George.

I meant to get a photo of these up sooner, but it took me a while to catch up on my photo-taking. These are some of the onions (red) and potatoes (red, white [russets? idahoes?] and 'peruvian' blue/purple) - all from my garden! Yum! Very exciting to find them after my strange summer.

Plum Island trek

Plum Island, originally uploaded by Margo and George.

So, this is what I got up to on the Saturday this past weekend. I have always meant to head up to Plum Island, which is a national wildlife refuge (largely bird conservation: it's on the migratory path and is a ~6 or 7 mile long island off the coast of northern Massachusetts). Normally, I like to visit the Crane beaches alongside the Crane estate in Ipswich, which is directly across the water, facing Plum Island, on the mainland. Saturday, I got curious and relatively ambitious, and kept driving north. I should have been able to take Route 1A, but as it turned out, last year's spring floodwaters washed out the Parker River bridge. I had to find my way over from the detour point to Route 1, and from there look for signs that might direct me back. Eventually I made it onto the one road that leads onto the island. A helpful billboard on the side of a barn-like building warned me in foot-high letters that there is "NO EVACUATION." I pondered this for only a few moments until I crossed the bridge and saw that in the fairly limited amount of non-U.S. Fish & Wildlife-owned land, there were the inevitable array of summer cottages, deserted because of the season, of course. I also recall that nearby there is a lone nuclear power plant. Yeah. I get it now. So I kept on going, and took the only right turn I think I could have taken, and paid my $5 at the ranger station, and went all the way down. There are about 6 miles of beach you can wander, and it's lovely, pristine, and quiet. Sadly for me, it was a very windy day, the water was very choppy, and rain clouds were approaching. I stayed for a while to watch egrets feed in the salt marsh on the lee side of the island, and saw some tiny little terns (I think) racing around in one egret's company. Eventually I gave it up because of the wind, but I think I'll have to trek up here again. It really is lovely, and I was surprised how many people were on the island doing the same thing I was - enjoying the outdoors one last time before the weather turns on us.

inside the cold frame

inside the cold frame, originally uploaded by Margo and George.

So, it seems that my little transplanted rosemary plant objects strenuously to being moved. It appears to have root shock. I coddled it as best I could with some water and TLC but it looks dicey, even though I moved it "indoors" in order to protect it from the inevitable frost. The geraniums at least are happy, and as I said before, the hornets have made a home in the stone wall over there. They didn't bother with me quite as much this weekend, happily. Also, the worms (big night-crawler variety) seem to be happy in their new home.

"Snow, north."

According to the old farmer's almanac...that's what's predicted for this week. On the other hand, the weather forecast locally keeps indicating that Sunday is my best day for finishing up with the various tucking in and stabilizing of the cold-frame over at the old garden plot. Happily I scored some plexiglass from the junk pile so I can secure some of the drafts.

Still, what with reports from the Vermont and Maine contingents, snow is indeed happening, north. Frost is happening south and west. I guess we're in for it shortly. I could really do with a little more October, though - crispy leaves, bright reds, yellows, oranges, and shades of purple and pink as well in the leaves. It's been a great foliage season for color, if a short season.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Rescuing the Geraniums

Sunday was garden-day, once more. Fortunately we had nice warm-ish weather, and the threatened rain held off; it kept a steady ~58* F most of the day with patchy sun. Not bad to work in at all.

So, I cropped the rest of the tall weeds and uprooted them, leaving a big hay-stack of ex-weeds lying atop one of my beds. I haven't quite finished marking out those plants that I want to protect a little for their winter nap - several members of the herb-garden family, that is.

I moved the rosemary and a surprise tomato plant (still alive? it's a mystery) but nevertheless, I moved it "inside" to the makeshift coldframe.
Very makeshift, as you can see from the photo, but I think I may get away with it, or at least I'm willing to give it a go.

I used a couple spare screen windows that I found in the junk to frame up one wall - filled with all the rocks that my plot seems to propagate so well. I figure, it's thermal mass! I'm also planning on using water-filled jugs as additional solar heat collectors.

So far, however, one of my other rock-walls has harbored a nest of either hornets or ground-wasps - not sure which, and it doesn't matter so much except that of course, they think I'm the enemy. This is problematic, as I have nothing against my striped winged friends, except of course that while they keep my scented geraniums company, they also get upset when I go in the coldframe to tend or add plants. And they sting. We're at an impasse, and I'm hoping that with the onset of colder temperatures, they'll go dormant or something. I have to admit, I've forgotten what they do to overwinter. I don't want to evict them, but I also have no desire to get all kinds of welts from their stingers. Ow. So...one dilemma at a time. Next dilemma is how I should go about filling in the odd-spaces - probably sheet-plastic.

While weeding and moving the rocks around, I also discovered a huge fuzzy black caterpillar, interesting enough to almost make me go find a bug-book to look him (her?) up to see what kind of wings it'll have when it's no longer a caterpillar.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Ruckus in the Bracken

Columbus day weekend we finally got a break in the weather; some warm, sunny weather each day, so I headed up to the beach with a book and my knitting to enjoy the sand and the Atlantic while it wasn't too windy yet. By November it will be rainy and windy and chilly, so this was a real blessing. On Saturday it was so still that there were plenty of birds and it was really quiet. I took a different path down the back side of the hill towards the upriver side of the beach, and enjoyed walking through the saltmarsh. Low tide, I found a spot on a nice sandbar with a little slope, wandered around looking at funny footprints of various critters (not only seagulls, but other birds, as well as lizards, snakes and marks made by the dune grasses as they twirled in the breezes, making faint circles in the sand). Read a Murakami book, "After Dark" - a nice break from the other stuff I've been reading lately. Purely fictional and speculative, thoughtful and slow-paced.

On the walk back up the path, near sunset, I managed to startle a group of deer in the underbrush - I couldn't see them but the sound of their hooves in retreat and all the crashing through the thick bracken was unmistakable.

Returned on Sunday, a little earlier in the day - got a fair amount of knitting done and finished the Murakami, but had to retreat a little further up the beach: there was a wedding going on at the Castle Hill estate, and the party was impressively loud for 1pm - I couldn't believe the sound of their voices alone would carry that far, and they were only a bunch of twenty-somethings playing volleyball on the beach! - still, it was scaring away the usual wildlife. No deer today, clearly. Just to clarify based on earlier discussions...: Deer in the woodlands and the saltmarsh are wildlife; deer in my garden (or yours) are edible pests.

Monday was a little overcast, so I declared it domestic catch-up day. Laundry and gardening, mostly gardening. Lots of weeding to do, as I'd neglected the garden plot once the rains, lightning storms, and various family and personal commitments had conspired to keep me away from the garden...okay I just plain neglected it: what with one thing and another, week by week, I'm realizing it really isn't that easy to get over to the garden plot, as it's > 1mile away from where I live, and if I don't take the longer commute-route home...or if it's dark when I leave the office...I've been learning how many things can be obstacles to getting in decent garden time. Including forgetting to bring jeans & a tee shirt (can't garden in heels and slacks. not so much anyway.) And then past a certain point, there's no point planting hot-weather crops in...early August! Plant biology is flexible, but not that flexible.

Instead, on Monday I opted to weed, put some of the garden to bed, prepping the beds for next spring, and transplanting some of my tender plants to a location where I reconstructed my haphazard little cold frame made of lots of scrap windows. Hurray for junk-day! I have so many stones, that I've started constructing a wall of stones to retain heat and it's leaning against a pair of scrap screen-windows. In theory, this will provide both thermal insulation and a little necessary ventilation. We'll see - it's all an experiment, but hopefully I'll get away with it.

In the process of digging up the various beds, weeding, and general maintenance, I was excited to find not only vigorous earthworms, but a tiny garlic bulb, a cucumber, 7 red onions, and a whole bucketful of various types of potatoes! The Peruvian blues (purple potatoes) and also red potatoes, and some white fingerling looking potatoes, but for all I know they could be russets, but the skins on these look too thin. At any rate I found so many that I was able to bring home a bunch, gift some to mum, and plant a bed for next year as well. Very exciting stuff, for me at least. Plus my herb garden has largely soldiered on bravely through the weed invasion. That bodes well, as next year I plan on planting more herbs and leaf-bearing plants, and fewer veggies, the better to avoid the temptation of the jerks who've broken into our garden plot this year to rifle through the Duchess' tupperware tool bin and steal fertilizer and other easily portable goods, leaving big footprints in her planting beds along the way. Unbelievable, when you think about it, but apparently quite common (!) that people would break in through a fence just to steal vegetables. And mind you, Belmont is not, repeat NOT, a low-rent district, so it's not as though anyone in the neighborhood has any trouble putting food on the table. So, there's my little rant. Apparently though, it's been going on a long time, and happens to community gardeners the world over, according to some of the books I've read.

Still, I'm excited about the potatoes, and finally feeling enthused about gardening again - the rain for some reason had really discouraged me this summer. I like cool weather gardening though, and I enjoy meeting people at the community garden. Monday I met a woman who's focused her garden on medicinal herbs; she teaches about herbalism in Boston and we had a great conversation about uses and misunderstandings of herbal remedies, lichens, plants, mushrooms, bees, western and eastern medicine, and so on. So, I'll be back at the community garden plot in the spring, and maintaining it off & on through the cold season, in spite of my frustrations this summer.