From the whole flock who must be giving thanks this morning for the abundance of fruit from our crabapple tree!
Do you recognize him? You’ve certainly seen him before. He was a well-known television personality for 15 years, the author of 5 books, a former science editor of Horticulture Magazine, a lecturer, and the author of numerous magazine articles. He earned his graduate degree and PhD. from Harvard in Biology.
If you haven’t guessed by now, it may be because he is out of uniform. You need to see a little red.
You should recognize him without the gray vest. He’s the beloved “man in the red suspenders,” aka Roger Swain, who hosted the popular PBS show, The Victory Garden until 2001. We are fortunate to claim him as a fellow New Hampshire resident and mister gardener and I were lucky to hear him speak at a combined meeting of local garden clubs.
He spoke to the crowd in his usual chatty style, full of enthusiasm, wit and humor while passing on knowledge about what he loves and believes in: vegetable gardening.
“Gardening is the single greatest skill that humans have ever come up with because we harness photosynthesis for human sustenance. Every population on the planet is absolutely dependent on the skills of gardeners.” And he added, “A garden without something to eat in it isn’t really a garden.”
He was the third host of PBS’s Victory Garden. He told us the original war gardens began in WWI with a “Can the Kaiser” campaign to encourage vegetable gardening. The term Victory Garden grew from that. Victory Gardens returned in WWII. “Grow More in 44!” was the phrase on this WWII poster. In 1944, 44% of fresh food was grown by 20 million amateur gardeners. So much was grown that there was a food shortage after the war when gardens were turned back into lawns.
Why does he want us to garden? We need to understand that the vegetables we buy in stores today are commodified or bred for color, longevity, and shipping but not taste. The best tasting vegetables are those picked at peak of ripeness from your own garden. When asked what is the best tomato, he said, “The best tasting tomato is a ripe tomato. The one I like best is the one I just ate that was ripe.” Today, we have other choices. Farmers’ markets are all the rage, especially in New England. There are currently 8,100 farmers markets selling local vegetables in this country. To champion agriculture, his philosophy is to spend $10 every week at his local farmers’ market.
But his message to us was to grow it yourself whether in community gardens or at a neighbor’s or in pots or in your own garden at home. Then be a role model. Pass along the interest and skills to the next generation. A child who learns to love gardening will garden for a lifetime.
I would think it’s a dangerous time of year for wild turkeysto be wandering around in the open. Most of us have plans for their domestic cousins to be the Thanksgiving feast… but there are many who prefer wild turkey on the menu.
We’ve watched our little flock of 30+ turkeys for weeks as the juveniles have fattened up with several families banding together in the protected wooded areas surrounding our neighborhood. They slowly strut in single file down driveways, across lawns, along the edge of roads and back into the cover of the woods. They will saunter to the berm for cars but hardly move for people unless you approach too close. I’ve heard of Toms attacking joggers or mail trucks during the breeding season but our turkeys seem to be very well-behaved…. so far.
This morning they were foraging for acorns on the roadside near us. I walked out but not close enough for a good photo. Only a male raised his head and seemed to pay me any attention. The iridescence of their feathers was beautiful in the sunlight but, when they entered the woods, I was amazed at how quickly they disappeared into the camouflage of leaf litter. Fare well, feathered friends.
A couple of weeks ago on a chilly Virginia morning, my brother prepared to climb a ladder to install a security light near his trash receptacles. He’d been recently spooked by a couple of brazen raccoons on his nightly delivery of refuse and recycling and decided to throw a little light on the area.
The light in one hand, the drill in the other, he made his way to the top of the ladder concentrating on the impending task. Then without warning, a large bird attacked his back, flapping its wings, attempting to hang on, he believed with talons belonging to one of the several hawks that frequent the yard. He dropped the light and drill, fell to the ground and high-tailed it for his garden house….slamming the door. He peeked out of the windows up toward the trees. Nothing. Noticing movement on the driveway, his eyes widened at the sight of a large American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) marching slowly toward the garden house. My brother cracked opened the door to shoo him away. He didn’t budge. When the crow came too close, my bro closed the door. The crow flew up to the Virginia flag by the door and waited. Poor brother was trapped.
Eventually he saw the crow fly toward the bamboo. He didn’t waste a minute. He jerked opened the door and sprinted to the back of the house and the protection of his basement. Whew! A bit later, he nervously finished installing the security light while my brave sister-in-law stood watch by the ladder.
That same day, they had a home visit with their insurance representative. They opened the door to welcome her, but she was calling for help as she hurried toward the house with crow on her back, flapping and trying to bite her earrings. My brother grabbed a crab net. Another neighbor who heard the disturbance came to help but the bird was gone again.
Later, he glanced out of the window and saw two ladies hurrying down the street with umbrellas on this sunny day. He opened the door and asked if they’d been attacked by a crow. “Yes!,” they replied with gory details of the assault. He joined them as another neighbor shared that she was a witness. Yet another neighbor said that it had been pecking on her kitchen window. Someone else would not get out of their car because of the bird on the windshield. Two terrified children had locked themselves in the home and sent a message to my brother to please kill it.
At that moment, something clicked with my brother. He had a light bulb moment, a sudden realization of just what may be motivating the crow’s bizarre actions. He asked one of the neighbors for a slice of bread. She hurried it to him. Without further ado, the crow landed on his arm and my brother began to feed him. This was a young hand-raised crow that was released or escaped. Sadly, he was imprinted only to humans and could not forage for food.
He took the crow home until he could decide what to do. Crow roosted in the garden house that first night, then moved to the basement. They fed him well and for a few days, they and the entire neighborhood, including the children, fell in love with him. The neighbors voted to name him Baldwin after their neighborhood. Baldwin was a lucky crow to land in this neighborhood with a brother like mine who probably saved his life.
Personality, brains, playfulness, mischievous, handsome, lovable, and charming were some of the descriptions I heard. He bathed in their creek, he played fetch and tug of war. He had quite a vocabulary and got excited when he heard my brother talking on the phone. He tried to communicate, too, with murmurs, low caws, and clucks.
If they could have kept Baldwin, they would have. But it is illegal to keep a crow as a pet and they worried whenever he flew out of sight. So many dangers. Early last week, they made the long drive to Rockfish Wildlife Rescue in Schuyler VA where they had arranged for Baldwin to be acclimated to the wild. But somehow I think that Baldwin will forever live there as their Good Will Ambassador. Of course, he will have his adventures… flying through the forests and soaring over Walton’s Mountain but I’m pretty sure he will always be home for dinner.
Click on any photo to enlarge and to learn more about crows, watch PBS’s A Murder of Crows online.
Old Man Winter is quietly slipping into New Hampshire. On our morning outings we see more signs that he has a foot in the door.
Vibrant colonies of the holly shrub winterberry (Ilex verticillata) dot the brown landscape in ditches and low lying areas.
What a showstopper! I read in the blog New Hampshire Garden Solutions, that due to low fat content, birds may not have these berries at the top of their menu in the winter. Therefore the berry laden branches are available for folks to cut for Christmas decorations. I like to purchase cultivar branches at nurseries so I can enjoy the native berries in their natural surroundings.
It is also common to see small flocks of Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows foraging beneath our feeders. These birds are likely migrating from Canada to warmer climates for the winter… although some stay here. Both are in the sparrow family, flock together and are known to produce hybrid offspring.
Lastly, with the leaves gone from the mighty oaks and maples, a synchronized scene is taking place in every yard in Exeter. The last of the leaves are being blown, mowed, raked or bagged all over the area. Let’s hope that most end up in a nice compost. How GREEN!
With the season changing and evening temperatures dropping, there have been one or two visitors that have found their way indoors this fall. And we’ve seen a few wandering around on the outside of the house. It’s the Tree Stink Bug, Brochymena spp., sometimes called Bark or Rough Stink Bug. They’re all looking for a warm place to spend the winter months. Most will hibernate in leaf litter or under the bark of a tree but they can feel the warmth of our man-made shelter and are drawn to it.
These true bugs have spent the summer gorging on flora with their piercing mouthpiece and now they are looking for a good hibernation spot. The one pictured above had hibernated in leaf litter and I uncovered it while putting my garden to bed for the winter.
The Tree Stink Bug is very similar in appearance to a more dangerous stink bug, the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, Halyomorpha halys, that has swept into the USA after being accidentally introduced in the late 90′s. Two characteristics that can tell these two stink bugs apart are the toothed or ridged shoulders and the lack of white banding on the antennae on the Tree Stink Bug.
Most folks are aware of the invasion of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug. In some areas of the country, the insects have invaded homes by the hundreds. And they are the cause of great damage to fruits and crops. Pesticides have limited effect on the insect and there is no natural enemy in our country. The insect has been spotted in one neighborhood in Portsmouth. UNH Cooperative Extension Specialist, Alan Eaton, and State Entomologist Piera Siegert ask to be notified if you spot the Brown Marmorated Stinkbug (BMSB) anywhere in New Hampshire. Check out the Wikipedia photo of the BMSB below. There is white banding on the antennae and there are no ridges on the shoulders.
Okay, so last week I ran, not walked to the last outdoor Exeter Farmers’ Market. I knew they would have what I’ve been hankering for the last few weeks. Green tomatoes are plentiful when the weather turns brisk and the tomato growing season comes to an end.
My first solid food as a babe might have been green fried tomatoes. They were a summer treat as soon as the tomatoes were big enough to pick. To me they are so divine tasting, not the most nourishing food, but flashes of ‘down home’ with every bite.
My mother cooked tomatoes in bacon grease. I compromised and used about three tablespoons of bacon grease for flavor (no preservatives), plus oil to make about 1/8″. I dipped slices in an egg wash, then a good coating of seasoned flour with a bit of dry bread crumbs, fried them on each side until tender and golden brown. Drained well on a paper towel, I served them up to mister gardener. He initially turned his nose up when I put a small tomato on his plate. I forced a taste. He loved them and asked for seconds, then thirds. I wasn’t surprised. What’s not to like?
Maybe locals in New England have heard of “Crape Murder” in the south when the tops of beautiful crape myrtles are hacked off to control size. It’s a sad sight done in the name of pruning every spring but it’s a familiar scene in strip malls and neighborhoods in Virginia.
I had a similar thing take place by the arborists who labored in our neighborhood last week. I’m sure they were hired to work fast with the only tool they carried… the chain saw. I stepped outside to the sound of the saw and to my horror, they had sheared the doublefile viburnum into a ball shape. By the time they saw me, there were only two or three stems left to cut. This is a species with a naturally graceful horizontal form. In the spring, lacy white blooms line up side by side along boughs developing into tasty drupes adored by birds in the fall. Shearing all the ends of the branches destroys the viburnum’s natural form. Terminal buds are removed and the lateral buds are stimulated to grow creating a water sprout nightmare at the end of each stem requiring more maintenance than ever. And removing the stems this time of year also sacrifices spring blooms and the subsequent fall fruit that birds adore.
What this shrub needed was thinning or trimming back branches that allows the tree to maintain its natural form. Viburnum authority, Michael Dirr, summed up pruning viburnums, “Pruning viburnums should be an exercise in restraint…again, as with so many things, less is more.”
Judging from the broom-like tips of the branches, this viburnum was probably sheared yearly. Once done, is there any help for the shrub? My guess is not… unless it is taken back almost to the ground and allowed to redevelop naturally. Yes, I think I must do that.
It was an incredible 70° when the arborists came to work in our small neighborhood. I knew they were coming and I looked forward to it, hoping to have an input on certain flora in our small landscape… most of all the common lilacs. Last March when we moved here, the shrubs were without leaves. Odd looking, I thought, that these tall lilacs are growing at such an extreme angle to reach the sun. I cut out just the dead limbs from the lilacs and trimmed some of the pine boughs that gave the most shade and looked forward to spring and glorious lilac blooms.
But the blooms were sparse and the shrubs struggled. I trimmed a few more pine boughs. But after a summer living with these sad lilacs, I knew they would never do well with towering pines as companions. They were too shaded, leggy, covered with powdery mildew, and some were infested with white peach scale. Thankfully, our landscape committee agreed. The arborists arrived armed with power saws and removed every one from under the pines…. a good decision. They also limbed up the pines fairly randomly…. and when they left, I climbed our pines and sawed every dead branch up as far as I dared. (I cannot tolerate dead branches.)
Although I was (mostly) satisfied with the results of the day’s work, I was not prepared for the new association I have with neighbors. Yes, we have a new garden area with exciting opportunities but for a while, smiling neighbors can wave to each other. Before the sun had set on the day, I planted two rhodies that I bought in anticipation of this new hole in the living hedge. In the spring, more developments will materialize. My plan is on paper now!
We are lucky to experience the beauty of a Chinese Scholar tree (Styphnolobium japonicum) growing in the side yard. It puzzled me at first. I thought it was an ash, then a black locust but when it burst into flower this summer… glorious clusters of creamy white flowers that drooped from the ends of all the branches like wisteria, I knew we had something else here.
It also goes by the name Japanese Pagoda Tree, implying the origin is Japan, however it indeed hails from China’s mountain ranges. In Kew gardens, there is an original survivor of the one planted in 1760. The tree was introduced to the United States in the early 1800′s and one of the oldest specimens can be seen at Longwood Gardens.
The leaves have turned pale yellow and have fallen from the tree leaving behind unusual pods where there were once flowers. They have the curious look of bright green beads or a string of pearls…. some small, some several inches long. They also bear a resemblance to peas because the tree is indeed a member of the pea family, Fabaceae. Michael Dirr writes: “A very distinctive and aesthetically handsome tree in flower; should be used more extensively.”
Although the tree has been through several freezing nights and the pods are showing signs of the cold, you can appreciate the unusual beauty of this ornamental tree in the fall. It also is supposed to be a lucky tree, a symbol of good luck and happiness. I know I’m quite happy it’s part of our landscape!
I get a little giddy when Thursdays roll around. The Exeter Farmers’ Market, the second largest on New Hampshire’s seacoast, is just a stone’s throw from us. It is a carnival of sights, sounds, people, and aromas from fruits and vegetables, meats and seafood, cheeses, maple syrup products, soaps, baked goods and lovely decorative arts right along the beautiful Squamscott River. It’s a party and we’ve had a summer of fun but the outdoor market season is coming to a close this week.
We are sad about the outdoor farmers’ market ending, but we were thrilled to recently discover a smaller party to attend. It may be compact but it’s roadside retailing at its best. Close enough for us to arrive on foot is a new farm stand with delectable goodies that mister gardener can not resist. We’ve stocked up on tomatoes. We tried the apple cider. Organic eggs are beautiful. Pies are delicious. Heck, the bread is always sold out before we arrive but we’ll try to get there earlier.
Looks like this will be a regular destination for us…..
Ahhhh, the struggles of adjusting to a neighborhood. A tomcat has been visiting our deck during the night. I’ve seen him at night peeking through the french doors. He’s the same cat that killed our nest of baby robins during the summer. I caught him climbing inside the viburnum going after the babies twice and I literally chased him down the block. But his persistence paid off and he finally did the deed.
He’s still around and he doesn’t like me.The birds alert me of his arrival during the day but at night he is leaving stinky calling cards around our deck that I must hose off each morning. I want to catch him in the act. This darn cat, like Bill Murray’s gopher in Caddy Shack, is always one step ahead of me.
Two days ago I discovered a chunk of the yard looked like this…..
Could a cat do that? I had to find out. That evening, I cracked open one of the french doors to the deck, pulled up a dining room chair and waited, camera in hand, pre-set for night photography. It took a while but finally I saw movement of the feline slinking slowly into the yard in the shadows along the edge of the rhododendrons.
Closer, closer he crept. I leaped into action with my camera. “Ah-ha, I gotcha!” I hopped out, lifted the camera, and saw the ‘cat’ not running away but racing toward me. It wasn’t a cat! My camera went one way and I went the other… back inside and slammed the door.
When I ventured out to retrieve my camera and uploaded the photo, this is what I photographed. I was quite naive to suspect a cat dug all those holes and I was very lucky to be quick on my feet. Our yard is now the official territory of a lovely Pepé Le Pew.
As we sat on the deck on warm evenings in late summer, we were serenaded loudly by a certain insect I could not quite identify. It was not the chirping field crickets so commonly heard in Virginia and it didn’t quite sound like the call of katydids.This buzzing insect song was loud and long. I searched in the direction of the call with a flashlight but it was well-camouflaged in dense foliage. It took me a few weeks to discover one of these well-hidden insects out in the open during the day.
I don’t think I’d ever seen this insect. It’s a tree cricket… the two-spotted tree cricket (Neoxabea bipunctata), one of many varieties of nocturnal tree crickets around the world. The first one I found, a female (below) with two identifying spots on her back, sat on a begonia leaf.
The male, the vocal cricket who serenaded us so sweetly, I only discovered recently. It is interesting how the tiny male can project such a loud song. He chews a hole in the underside of a leaf, raises his wings at a 90 degree angle over the hole, and chirps away. The hole and the wings amplify his song like a megaphone. How cool is that?
Here is a male that must have fallen from above with one of his wings askew. The circular spot between his wings is called the ‘honey spot.’ The female will dine on gland secretions during mating.
I believe these must be fairly common crickets around these parts. I do feel lucky to be a part of their habitat. To read more about these crickets and see how the male sings through a leaf, click HERE.
For the last several days, fall colors at their peak have truly wowed us in Exeter. Whenever we are in the car, I grab my smartphone in an attempt to capture the brilliance of yellows and reds. I should just stop doing that because 90% of my photos are either a blur OR the sad trees have been directionally pruned around power lines by NHDOT.
This weekend, a quick errand to the P.O. gave me a view of the most stunning sugar maple I’ve seen thus far… growing in front of the old Congregational Church. We were creeping along with others pointing and gawking at the tree so I was fortunate not to end up with another iPhone photo smudge.
I was not alone in my drive-by photography. I saw two photographers with big cameras capturing images of the tree from the sidewalks. Maybe I’ll see those images later on a postcard or blog post.
In Virginia’s zone 7b, milder climate allowed us harvest our herbs year round. But that is not the case in New Hampshire. Since we are now living in the land of ice and snow, we must beat old man winter to the punch by freezing our herbs indoors.
It is easy-peasy! After washing and drying, picking out the dead stems, and chopping chives, I like to freeze them flat in quart-size freezer bags, squeeze out all the air, and simply break off the amount I need for garlic bread, soups, casseroles, deviled eggs… you name it.
I do the same thing with my other herbs: parsley, basil, sage, rosemary, thyme, and oregano.
There are other methods of freezing herbs. Check out some neat ways that at A Way to Garden freezes her herbs.
On a recent walk, I stopped to admire the drying blooms of Queen Anne’s Lace. I love the way the blossom heads curl inward into lacy balls. I pulled one closer to take a quick photo when this insect popped from the center of the head. It’s an assassin bug (Pselliopus cinctus), a colorful true bug that dines on other insects.
It looks a bit like he has dressed early for Halloween as I see a mask on its back… the eyes, nose and wide opened mouth. Can you see the face?
It isn’t a fast moving bug but I made sure it didn’t crawl on me. It has a ‘beak,’ a weapon used to paralyze prey with a toxin, then suck the victim dry. That weapon can also pierce the human skin and inject a toxin. I have never been stabbed by an assassin bug but I keep a respectful distance.
It is not a nuisance in the garden and can be handy eliminating some naughty garden insects…. better than insecticides. When I see assassin bug in the garden, I do nothing. We coexist among the blooms.
The face disappears in this view but now you can admire its lovely striped legs and antennae.
Is it getting worse? Or maybe it’s because I’m living in a neighborhood for the first time in many, many years. It’s a small dog-friendly neighborhood with an association and lots of rules to obey, two of which are strict leash regulations and a mandatory “pick-it-up” rule. Hey, it’s a New Hampshire state law, too!
In America, we love our dogs, and, yes, I’m very dog friendly. It’s the dog poo in the yard, sidewalks and road I can’t tolerate. The majority abide by rules but I watch people allowing their animals to poo freely when nature calls, then walk away. Or I see the dogs under cover of darkness doing their dooty. Yoo-hoo, we have street lights and I can see you!
It’s not limited to our neighborhood. Here are some other signs I’ve seen in the area:
My parting words: Be a conscientious dog owner, be a good neighbor and good citizen and PICK UP YOUR DOG POO or maybe I’ll be forced to hire this choir for a couple of weeks. That might do it.
Doesn’t it bring good luck to take a handful of milkweed seeds and toss them high on autumn breezes? At least that’s what I believed growing up. Make a wish and scatter the fluff to the wind.
The common milkweed seeds (Asclepius syriaca) are bursting forth on the walks we take. And judging from clumps of seeds and spiny pods on the trail, children are still practicing this custom of scattering seeds the best they can.
One of the biggest winners in the scattering of these seeds is the monarch butterfly who depends on the plant to complete its life cycle. It’s a prolific native that is too robust for the flower garden but useful when grown in the right spot. The plant is plentiful as we walk along our regular sunny pathway but I always take a handful of seeds and make some wishes further along on the trail.
Mister gardener really wanted to tour Strawbery Banke, see the buildings, learn the history, and enjoy the gardens since he’d missed out on my earlier visits with house guests. We arrived just before opening time to find traffic guides and congested traffic, we thought due to an annual bike tour along the coast. Nothing seemed amiss at Strawbery Banke once we parked, watched the introductory video, got our map and headed for the first buildings.
“Ummm, did you know today was our annual Fairy House Tour?,” the building’s guide asked.
“Noooo,” we answered. “What is happening?”
And we did.
As we walked back onto the street, a flood of fairies, parents, grandparents, strollers, and wagons were heading toward us. We were soon engulfed by a sea of little people in glittering pink and purple tutus and wings, many wearing sparkling crowns and holding wands. Bubbles rained down on crowds around every corner from attic windows. Children were caught up in the spell in this fairy land…. and soon, so were we!
We decided to join the fairy tour rather than see all the buildings on this beautiful day. Adorable, adorable children were so thrilled to discover the tiny fairy houses… some simple abodes and some quite elaborate. They sat on the ground and studied every fairy detail.
We could have visited two other Portsmouth locations to see more fairy houses or perhaps build one of our own but our adventure at Strawbery Banke this day filled our magic fairy cups to the brim. Next year we’ll bring grandchildren!
It was a wet summer in New Hampshire. We’ve had torrential downpours, flooding, high humidity, and a good stretch of sweltering 90°+ weather. For a while there in July, life was made miserable by weather conditions.
I can’t help but think the summer weather conditions took a toll on flora, too. Several plants around this yard are showing signs of fungus and predation from pests. Most are easy to identify but I was stumped by two conditions. From an online search I identified the first pest, the Pine Bark Adelgid (Pineus strobi), that prefers to feed on the bark of white pines (Pinus strobus). Two mature white pines in the yard look whitewashed, the white protection created by females to protect eggs. Chemical measures to protect the health of a mature tree is seldom required but the insect can be combated with dormant oil sprays, insecticidal soaps as well as insecticides. Since I rarely use insecticides to prevent harm to beneficial insects, I may treat with dormant oils or insecticidal soaps in early spring…. or I’ll just ignore it.
The second mystery pest required contacting Eric Day, an entomologist with Virginia Tech who taught my Virginia master gardener classes. I knew it was a scale of some sort on the lilac which one? Eric narrowed it down. He ID-ed it as White Peach Scale (Pseudaulacaspis pentagona), a more serious infestation as it removes the sap from the host plant. Eric suggested I contact local extension experts to see how to handle this pest in New Hampshire. Treatment may be different in the south.
After zooming in on a photo of these tiny grains of white, there in the midst of the pests is another pest. A small purple scale eater, too tiny to be noticed with the naked eye, was moving about dining on scale creatures. It was obviously the larva stage of another insect.
Today, under cloudless blue skies, temperatures in the mid-70′s, we mingled with the crowds at our Exeter’s Farmers’ Market. All mister gardener needed were cucumbers for tonight’s Greek Salad and I was in the market for eggplant after seeing Diary of a Tomato’s Roasted Ratatouille, but it didn’t end there. Late season fruits and vegetables in a rainbow of colors were plentiful and tempting. We tried to meander and simply ‘oooo and ahhhh’ but it was the samples that won us over. After tasting a tidbit here and there, the temptation was too much. We came home with three bags full.