Springing Into Summer

Saturday, May 16th, 2015

Trillium Blossom

It isn’t so much that we had a long winter—it just arrived late, and stayed that way.  Winter didn’t really have much impact until the end of January, when a sudden drop to zero (Fahrenheit) created the most incredible hoar frost before finally freezing over our creek and pond.  Although we had some shirtsleeve days in March, we still had a frost in late April.

Spring Beauties

Over the last two weeks, a short spring has been pushed out the seasonal door by an impetuous summer, bringing temperatures in the mid-80s.  What was still an almost bare forest 2 weeks ago, with just the hint of arboreal color through flower and bud has now fully leafed out, with only the black locust yet to be heard from.


The first tiger swallowtail appeared on May 1, and suddenly colorful butterflies are everywhere. The family of squirrel pups in the hollow log outside my office has left the nest, and the phoebes are feeding their squalling chicks in the muddy nest on the face of our porch.

Warm Days for Cold Blooded Beasts

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

It seems like every reptile and amphibian in the valley has been out this weekend, and most of them spend their evenings singing at the top of their lungs.

I took my iPad and a microphone out to the edge of the swamp last night and recorded the frogs singing (click to hear it–you wont’ want to miss this).  Peaking at over 85 decibels, it was pretty impressive, with the peepers making most of the noise, and some wood frogs, and maybe leopard frogs mixed in.  I went back to the swamp this afternoon to see if I could get some pictures, but all the action was on the other side of the road, in a flooded cornfield, which was full of American toads (above), singing an entirely different song, with a bit of mating mixed in.

Gartner Snake

Much quieter than the amphibians, the snakes were also out in force this weekend.  Elizabeth and I each saw a couple gartner snakes.  I ran into the little fellow above just below our waterfall, and he didn’t seem to be in a big hurry to get away, so we decided to do a photoshoot.

Starting the Barn

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

When Elizabeth and I arrived at the Hollow this afternoon, our building crew had already installed the barn floor and was well along with the trusses.

The upper floor will have a door on the west end.  Sheldon graded a ramp along the northern face (left above) and bulldozed a flat area on the slope to the west of the barn, so it’ll be possible to drive up to the upper level door.

The barn will have a door on the south side of the lower level, and a pair of garage doors on the east side, facing the driveway.

The north face will have a pair of windows on the ground floor, and a pair of windows in a dormer on the second.  The east face, facing the drive, will also have a pair of windows.

Today was my first chance to inspect all the work that Sheldon did to finish the grading and install the septic system. The driveway looks great, with a big new culvert at the county road, a new culvert at the right angle bend, and most of the bigger holes filled in.  Elizabeth had also asked Diane to bring in a couple loads of gravel 2 weeks ago, and that made a big difference.  Everything was in surprisingly good shape, given the amount of rain that fell here recently.  Route 60 was closed, and we had to take the high water road on the other side of the Killbuck, which is currently 1 foot above flood stage.  We saw lots of flooding in fields and other low lying areas.

The pond was pouring out the overflow, fed by a babbling brook. The newly recaptured spring was gushing into the cress pool.  The springs along the eastern edge of the property were all flowing strongly.  Coshocton County took the lead in the number of deer shot during gun season. I found a lot of fresh prints today, so there should be plenty left for the final 2 days of the season, later this month.

[If you want to see all the entries for the cabin building project, they start here. The next Building the Cabin entry is Power.]

Its Spring Again

Friday, November 11th, 2011

The original Fortune Family cabin was located in the valley at the center of the Hollow, within 75 feet of one of several springs on the property.  Apparently, they had once had a small spring house. When we first bought the property, Dad went at the springwith pick and shovel, in an attempt to ‘capture’ it so that it could used as a source of drinking water (I’m thinking an article in the 1st or 2nd Foxfire book might have provided some inspiration).  My memory is that it took about 2 hours of manual digging to help Dad reach a decision to hire an excavator.

Gene Mullett arrived from Killbuck with a backhoe, a dump truck load of river gravel, a cement box meant to be used as a septic tank, and some 6″ PVC pipe.  He dug a hole for the 3′ square cement box, which would function as a settling tank, he made a 10-15′ long trench behind it, putting in some gravel, and then setting a PVC drainage pipe, with holes drilled in it, into a tee fitting that led into the back of the tank, and then he put a PVC spout on it.  That spring was our sole source of water for a number of years.  After building the pond, and then moving our little trailer up next to it, my folks had a well drilled, and a hand pump installed. That lasted about a week, and we’ve had electricity ever since.   The spring probably lasted 20 years before it escaped.

Along with installing the septic system, back-filling the house and barn, re-contouring the building sites, and upgrading the driveway, Sheldon the Excavator recaptured the spring last week.  For sentimental and aesthetic reasons alone, its nice to have a spring again.  Although its not the least bit convenient to the cabin,  it is a source of drinking water that is not dependent upon electricity or pumps.  Trickle or gusher, it flows year round, with sweet, cool, and clear water.   And there’s always single malt.

[If you want to see all the entries for the cabin building project, they start here. The next Building the Cabin entry is Chimney.]

Global warming in the spring garden

Friday, May 7th, 2010

Spring came early this year, it has been uncharacteristically hot, we are 3 inches below our normal rainfall, and now I’m wishing that I’d taken advantage of global warming a couple weeks earlier than I did.

I did plant some tomatoes a couple of weeks before what is normally considered the last Spring frost date. Most of my tomatoes are open pollinated heritage varieties, started from seed during the first week of March.  I’ve got one hybrid, an Early Girl that Elizabeth bought me in the nursery, which I aggressively planted in early April. Close to 3′ tall, she started setting fruit last week, with the first tomato about 1.5″ in diameter right now.

She’s flanked by the first of 4 of the ones I started from seed.  Under black paper ‘mulch’ and surrounded by 5′ cages, they are thriving in this hot and sunny spring, and Old German should start blooming any day now.

A pair of ground cherries can be seen on the left. I started them at the same time as the tomatoes, and their growth has been painfully slow.  I don’t know how big they will eventually get, but I’m assuming they will not become as big as a tomato, even though they are related.

Two weeks ago, which was two weeks after planting the first group of tomatoes, I decided that all danger of frost was past, and the second group of heritage tomatoes went in.  Also planted under black paper, they are currently only about half the size of the first group.  The plant density is a little bit on the high side, but with a plot of potatoes going in this year, I didn’t want to complicate rotation over the next couple of years by sprinkling nightshades all over the garden.  I also didn’t want to throw anything away, so I planted all of my indoor starts, which was 2 of everything but one of the Mortgage Lifters, which suffered an unfortunate re-potting accident.

This is the first time I’ve tried potatoes, but after what seemed like a very slow start, the 4×4 plot in the back is filling up nicely with 4 different varieties.

The plot I started the first week of March is doing well.  I’ve been snacking on 2 different kinds of radish for a couple of weeks.

The sugar snap peas have been blooming for a couple days, and I snacked on a couple of early pods yesterday.  I decided a couple of days ago to start harvesting lettuce, and now it is looking like it might bolt before I can finish it.

The adjacent plot has some arugula that has been doing great, but that hardy green is flanked by two pathetically feeble attempts to grow lambs lettuce. Rapunzel, let down your roots! Incredibly slow to germinate, neither the Vit nor Green Jade are anything to brag about.  The peas in the back are traditional English garden peas, which look healthy enough, but haven’t started to bloom yet, and I’m concerned about the heat.

My third 4×4 of greens is doing even worse.  It has been 5 weeks since I planted the first 8-10 squares, and so far, my germination rate is awful.  Unlike the early March plot above, I’d very carefully fluffed up and composted this one.  The chicken wire was in place from the beginning, keeping out the birds, and I put a cardboard shield across the top whenever it stormed.  I’ve regularly hand-watered this lovely little plot to keep the seeds moist, and there is precious little to show for all that attention. So much for trying to keep a fresh supply of lettuce throughout the Spring.  I think I’ll need to shade these plants soon.

I started 4 squash plants at the same time as my tomatoes. I know that squash don’t always transplant well, but I wanted to get a jump on the season with some of the yellow squash that Elizabeth and I prefer over green zukes.  I put two plants out at the same time as the first set of  tomatoes, and put Reemay over the top to keep the borers away.  I’m not sure they liked being under spunbonded poly, and the other plant died of stem failure (NOT borer damage).  This plant had some damage to the stem also, but seems to be doing much better, and has visibly grown in the 2 days since I took this picture. Today it has a very distinct female bud and a male bud that might bloom tomorrow.

After a decade, does my garden remember me?

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

The last time I grew any veggies in my garden was 2000, and I didn’t have time to do much. That December, we packed up all our things and moved from Vienna, VA to Vienna, Austria, and for nine seasons, my garden was at the mercy of our tenants.  I’ve missed the feel of dirt in my hands, the thrill of God’s gift of life, and the taste of heritage tomatoes, fresh from the garden.  I knew that some gardening had taken place during the last 9 seasons, but I just didn’t know what I was going to find.

View from my office before cutting trees (looking north)

I didn’t really want to do any gardening this year without dealing with the trees that had always prevented the garden from having full access to the sun. Hundreds of white pines had been planted in our neighborhood in the 1980s, and three of them that were along the south edge of the vegetable garden, and what is left of the orchard, had grown into 50′ monsters. It was time to take them down.

Looking SW across the veggie garden

Looking SW across the veggie garden, 1 more tree to go

The photo above shows the last, and smallest of the trees, just after it was topped. The stump of a larger one can be seen just to the left of the compost bin. Besides the shade, it was making a mess of the garden, sending big roots diagonally underneath at least 6 of my 15 garden squares.  I ended up chopping out 2 big sections of root that are about 3’ long, and 3” in diameter that were distorting a frame and hiding berry roots. I put my new mattock to the test, and it held up better than I did, although a new shovel is not.

Raspberries have been dug out, but it still needed a lot more digging

I’m a follower of Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening method.  Arguably it is not the most productive method, but I sure think it is the easiest, keeping the weeds to a dull roar and minimizing the need for digging, fertilizing, and spraying.  Someone had planted raspberry, which for very good reasons is not normally co-located with lettuce and beans, so this week saw me trying to clean the canes out of the 3 garden squares that were playing host to what was becoming a huge prickly weed that was ready to take over the rest of my garden. The photo above shows the 3 squares that needed to be cleansed of berry cane roots, which required removing the pavers between the squares.

I ended up pulling one of the wooden frames out to dig the root and berries out, I took the opportunity to dig down farther on the uphill side and level it, making it into sort of a mini terrace. I pulled up all the pavers around it, and the ones on the cross path heading to the edge of the garden, and did some grading, hopefully improving the drainage.  The last tenant also had at least one dog, and had nailed wire mesh fence around most of the squares, so I spent a couple hours pulling those off, instead of taking advantage of 78 degree weather to plant.   One of the garden squares had a small bush growing in it, so I ended up disassembling the wooden frame to dig out the bush. Putting in a new frame is a project for later. Maybe I’ll grow potatoes there.  I’ve never done ‘taters before, and I’m going to plant 4 different varieties later this week. 

Raspberries have been dug out, the bush and mesh fencing is next to go

Berries and bushes and other barriers aside, I was pleased with the dirt.  Unlike the red Virginia clay a few inches underground, the plots that I dug up were filled with rich dark soil, with lots of fat earth worms.  I was more than a little worried that after a decade without me, all the organic matter would have leached out, but that seems not to be the case. Although they are well dug at this point, I decided to leave the raspberry squares for later, on the assumption that any roots left behind would sprout and be easier to find later.  I quickly and lightly fluffed up one 4×4 square and planted peas, spinach, lettuce, and radish. I decided to take a chance and went no-till on the 2nd square. I find that lots of plants do just fine without my wasting time doing preparation that they don’t need. Besides, all that digging freaks out the worms.