Just a short 7-mile drive from our home will find us in the state of Massachusetts. One more mile takes us to Cider Hill Farm, a fruit and vegetable farm along with some great eggs from Red Star laying hens. We learned about their method of growing delicious ripened tomatoes before field tomatoes were ripe anywhere nearby. We had to check this out…
The first things we noticed were solar panels in fields and wind turbines high above the buildings. As we drove in, we could see though a colorful border to another solar panel on the hen and goat house where families were visiting and children were feeding the chickens and swinging on tire swings. Renewable energy! So far we were feeling good about this farm operation.
After making our purchases, the gals at the register urged us to follow the path to see more of the farm. It’s blueberries and raspberry picking season but we could see apple orchards and strawberry fields… but we really wanted to check out their method of growing tomatoes in hoop houses.
The blueberries were completely enclosed in a wall and ceiling of nets to keep out the critters. The berries were plentiful and plump! Raspberry fields were occupied by pickers and strawberries in interesting troughs looked healthy.
Ahhh… the hoop tomato houses. Tomato plants begin here in April, heated with sides rolled down like a typical greenhouse. Plants have a good start when the sides are rolled up and exposed to sun and breezes… but not rain. The foliage is kept dry by watering plants at the roots. No diseases! They have 10 greenhouses for tomatoes, planting them every two weeks so they can harvest past frost.
While we were poking around, a team of workers pulling a trailer of vegetables drove by. These weren’t just any workers. Cider Hill Farm provides opportunities for international exchange students in agricultural universities to become interns for one year here. They are housed on the farm. I don’t know where they are from this year but they stopped to chat and were happy and delightful young men.
That night we enjoyed the bounty of Cider Hill Farm and declared it delicious. Tomatoes had the perfect amount of acidity. You would never know they weren’t grown under the summer sun… not like awful hothouse tomatoes we tolerate all winter. The corn was beyond perfection and we’ve returned 3 times for more! How divine!
On hot, dry days at Rolling Green Nursery, overhead sprinklers can buy us a little time in the morning until we can get the hose on plants that flag first in the July heat.
I’ve discovered another insect in New Hampshire that I never met in Virginia. At first I thought it was an unusual Japanese beetle but, no, it’s a relative… same size but different markings. According to UNH Cooperative Extension, this is the invasive Asiatic garden beetle or Oriental beetle (Exomala orientalis) that was first discovered in the US in the early 1920’s. It is found in most of New England although it has moved as far as South Carolina and west to Indiana and probably still spreading. It feeds off the roots of grasses as a grub and the adult can attack garden plants.
Click to enlarge photos.
I think it’s actually kind of a cute looking little beetle… and “about the size and shape of a coffee bean,” says cooperative extension. Cute looking, but does damage as a grub to the lawn, then in June and July, it emerges from the soil to mate and eat. Adults generally eat little but stick around all summer nibbling in the garden.
After mating, the females burrow into the soil to lay eggs that hatch in about 2 weeks. UNH states that rarely are chemical controls needed for these grubs in New Hampshire. Japanese beetle grubs in this state are more destructive than the Asian beetle grubs, however the USGA says it’s the most important white grub species in turfgrass in New Jersey, southeastern New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island and causes major damage in ornamental nursery stock.
I do not see damage on many leaves or blooms in our little gardens. I’ve read that favorite foods are leaves and the petals of daisies, hollyhock, roses, phlox, petunias, sugarcane, and blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, peaches and sweet potatoes. Whew! I don’t have any of those!
Often overlooked in the yard because they are not good flyers like Japanese beetles and are nocturnal, doing all flying and mating at night. An Integrated Pest Management system that traps and disrupts mating with an in-ground pheromone lure for the adult male beetle may be my solution if it gets worse. The lures are good for 6 weeks but must be emptied weekly.
I wonder what new insect I’ll meet next….
In Virginia, the migrating flocks of mixed blackbirds (grackles, red-wing blackbirds, starlings and cowbirds) would descend on our bird feeders during spring and fall migration. One moment we could have finches and cardinals eating at the feeder and the next minute, the yard would be filled with hundreds of blackbirds clamoring for bird seed. Migration lasted for about 2 – 3 weeks and the birds were gone.
We think we know where they were all going in the spring… to New Hampshire where we now live. Experts say that as food becomes more plentiful in the warmer months, feeders account for less than 25% of most songbird’s diet. But it must be 90% of the grackles’ diet. We took the seed feeders down early but continue to feed our hummingbirds and the woodpeckers with suet feeders pictured below….that is, until the flocks of grackles found the suet. In numbers, they could tear apart a suet cake in two hours.
My daughter showed us her grackle-proof suet feeder that worked for them so mister gardener got to work to build one for us. He crafted the new feeder to fit the suet cage, which he fixed horizontally beneath the structure, pictured below:
The suet is caged just inside the structure to allow clinging birds to hang on to the bars of the cage. The grackles (and squirrels!) try their hardest but so far have been unsuccessful in hanging upside down. The birds we enjoy have no problem hanging on to the horizontal cage. The noisy chickadee families, the nuthatches, several kinds of woodpeckers and the titmice visit our new feeder and entertain us…. all dining upside down.
Being responsible caretakers of our environment, we removed a 12-ft. tall invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus) from our foundation after buying our home a year ago. It is illegal to sell them in New Hampshire. The seeds are scattered by birds and the plant is out competing native plants in the wild.
The burning bush was replaced with a native arrowwood viburnum, one of which grew in my Virginia gardens. It produces lacy white flowers in the spring and berries for the birds in the fall. I thought I tackled the right questions about this beautiful shrub at the nursery but we already knew a bit about their versatility. The shrub is tolerant of sun or shade, all soil types, wet or dry areas, and is pest resistant. It sounded like a perfect addition to our shrub border…. that is, until this week.
It seems the shrub isn’t so resistant to insects. Japanese beetles love this species of viburnum! Never in Virginia, but here each morning, it’s a mating and dining Japanese beetle playground. And there’s evidence of a more sinister insect at work, the Viburnum Leaf Beetle. This is a beetle that I have not encountered before. Now I’ve spotted a couple of the insects and witnessed their telltale pattern of holes in the leaves.
I’m watching and speculating what our next step should be. Sadly, this beautiful shrub may need to be removed in the fall and replaced with a more insect resistant variety of viburnum. Sigh….
Summer temperatures have been slowing creeping upward and every now and then, it’s been absolutely hot. Yesterday, with 90° and high humidity, our poor spring violas fizzled in the afternoon heat. Those planted in the shade were fine but those leggy plants that melted in the blazing sun needed to be removed from the garden.
Cutting off the roots, I plunged the wilted blooms in a little cool water. Result: Totally revived and days of new life on the breakfast table. How divine!
Earlier this spring, I was working in the perennial gardens at Rolling Green Nursery, greeting customers and tending to the plants when I met the owners of one of the gardens on the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days. I was already holding 2 tickets for the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days tour of private gardens in Cape Neddick, Maine and was looking forward to unforgettable experiences.
This local tour and many others across the country take place on different days to raise awareness of the Garden Conservancy’s work to preserve extraordinary gardens and to educate and inspire the public by opening private gardens on Open Days. Four remarkable private gardens were open this year. Three homes and fabulous gardens offered panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean with mighty waves beating on craggy shorelines. We saw rock gardens, rose gardens, shade gardens, pool gardens, perennial gardens, pond gardens, vegetable gardens, pergolas, container gardens, and even experienced a young eagle swooping low over our heads and landing in a near tree at one home.
Click on all photos to enlarge:
Awestruck is a good word to describe how we felt about these gardens. And I was very excited to visit the fourth garden, the home of Jonathan King and Jim Stott, founders and owners of Stonewall Kitchen, the two shoppers I encountered strolling through the perennials at Rolling Green Nursery.
We stopped for an early lunch at their business, Stonewall Kitchen, a favorite destination of ours for good food and lovely gardens.
Approaching by foot along a graceful curved drive, we could see that the property was a wonderful blending of home and garden. Hornbeam trees and a cedar pergola acted as a screen in front of the house.
Every inch of the entry garden was filled with delight. A mix of cottage-style gardening in one area and clean lines of formal boxwood with connecting pathways added variety and invited visitors to linger here and enjoy the colors, textures, shapes and function of the different garden beds.
We peeked inside the ‘glass house’ and thought… yes, this would be a lovely addition to our home. Magnificent!
We enjoyed the raised-beds in the vegetable garden supported not with wood, but with granite slabs… then on to the inviting pool area with built-in fire pit, containers overflowing with blooms, and handsome pool house.
But the most fun of all was the poolside Meet & Greet by the owners. Down to earth, personable and friendly, we both enjoyed the hospitality of the hosts… and their sweet pups!
I am always amazed at the generosity of folks who throw open their garden gates for a good cause. We had a fabulous day exploring the wonders of gardening in Maine.
We are a stone’s throw from beautiful coniferous woods with plenty of oak trees. But during the most brutal of snowstorms, ice storms, and frigid temperatures this winter, a small American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) risked life and limb dashing out of the woods, crossing a road, running atop snow several feet deep to eat fallen seed beneath our bird feeder. Looking like a tiny snowball as the snow fell and covered it, we watched month after month as the little fella dined with the hungry birds… until late winter when it stopped appearing. I soon knew why. In early spring, it returned and I could see evidence SHE had become a nursing mother.
It wasn’t too much longer that she introduced her three tiny offspring to sunflower seed. These miniature creatures, unsteady as they navigated trees and limbs, tugged at our heartstrings. The wary Mama and two babies have since moved on. But one brave youngster seems to prefer scraps beneath the feeder more than foraging for coniferous seeds this summer.
This one loves to perch on the stump of an old lilac and eat the seeds one at a time. There are those who say these are the most destructive squirrels but we have not seen evidence of anything like that….yet. He co-exists with birds, respectfully waiting his turn to feed after the birds. Red squirrels are known for their loud bark and foot stomping in the presence of danger or intrusion. He does none of that. I can drag the hose around the yard and water the garden while he feeds quietly just a few feet from me.
We’re not trying to tame him or have him eat from our hands but we are charmed by his antics. Every now and then, he amuses us by diving for seed that has fallen into the stumps of the old lilac. All we see is a wagging tail as he forages.
Red squirrels usually only have one litter a year in this area so we’re pretty sure we won’t be swamped by these natives. Should he decide he’s had enough of us and head back to the woods, our mixed coniferous-deciduous forest should sustain him well.
The summer of 2013 was a very bad year for the monarch butterfly. All summer long, I thought it was odd that I never saw a monarch. Reasons are not 100% clear but impacts include weather factors, loss of habitat in the US and Mexico, increased traffic on roads, and the extensive use of Roundup on genetically engineered crops. Farmers spray Roundup on these crops, killing all the weeds but not the crop. The herbicide destroys milkweed upon which the monarch depends as a host plant.
This summer I am doing my part to go a little more native. In addition to nectar flowers, I’ve planted native milkweed. If the monarch finds my plants, I should have a monarch butterfly nursery. The plants will provide sustenance for the larvae.The blooms will provide nectar along with other nectar plants in the garden.
There are different varieties of milkweed but I planted butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) with its bright orange bloom. It should do well in hot, dry, sunny spot in the border. The hint of first blooms are appearing and I am checking my plants daily for signs of eggs.
What can we all do to help? While we hope for more favorable weather conditions, we can all plant several milkweed plants in our yards along with the nectar plants to sustain both the larvae and the adult monarch.
At Rolling Green Nursery, dogs are a familiar sight. The owners have a beautiful Hungarian vizsla that serves as the official office manager. She comes out for romps and runs, meet and greets, then waits patiently at the door to go back to work.
Not every garden center is this open to visits from dogs but folks seem to know that Rolling Green is like a walk in the park for well-behaved dogs on leashes. I pulled out my smart phone to capture a tiny slice of what I see on a daily basis.
These two labs arrived at the perennial garden area about an hour apart. She was off in the distance when Humphrey, the yellow lab rescue arrived.
Both were friendly and obedient, sitting for portraits. At first Humphrey was all cool when he arrived…. that is, until He spotted Her in the distance. Humphrey was besotted beyond obedience and his people were forced to leave perennial garden and take Humphrey to walk among the annuals. Both owners thought this could be the beginning of a new friendship…. elsewhere…. later.
This one was leash-less but seemed to know the place. Must be a VIP. I was too busy to investigate.
Maybe the Cute Award should go to this 6-month old Hungarian puli water dog named Buda for the city of Budapest. It’s the breed of dog that will mature with beautiful long dreadlocks. If you look closely you can see one of Buda’s eyes.
It was 39° in the garden this morning and I could see my breath in the air as I walked around the yard. Yet, cold,wet spring or not, we are on the verge of a HOT explosion of color. Rhododendrons are finally ready to burst into spectacular blooms. We are eager for the pizzazz and punch of color that the rhody brings. It will be glorious!
Here is a timeline of the last 10 days of bloom development in our yard.
The United States Department of Agriculture and the governor of New Hampshire, Maggie Hassan, have declared May 18-24 Emerald Ash Borer Awareness Week in New Hampshire. Citizens are encouraged to learn the signs of infected trees, learn more about the insect, and ways to slow the spread of the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis), a destructive insect introduced from Southeast Asia.
One telltale sign on the ash tree is bark ‘blonding’ where woodpeckers remove the top layer of bark exposing a lighter color of the cambium. Now is a good time to spot affected trees before the leaves fully emerge.
Tens of millions of ash trees have already been lost in the midwest, eleven of them at my son’s home in Ohio. He sent the photos below of tunnels left by larvae beneath the bark, tunnels that disrupt the transport of nutrients and water and eventually cause the demise of the tree.
The camping season will be getting underway on Memorial Day weekend. We all need to be aware that the larvae can be spread by transporting infested firewood. Campers can do their part by using firewood that is close to your campsite.
To learn more about the emerald ash borer, click HERE.
Spring is upon us and suddenly the woods are alive with avian romance. White-throated sparrows and dark-eyed juncos that have kept us company throughout the winter have have migrated north and we welcome back songbirds that spend half their lives elsewhere. Seeds and suet, rich in protein, were ready for their arrival to provide the energy they need.
Two mated pairs of rose-breasted grosbeaks recently arrived from their winter in Panama and northern South America and are being well-fed at separate feeders.
Two male ruby-throated hummingbirds arrived a week ago and each claimed a different feeder as his own. They fuss across the branches but no fights yet… and, sigh, no lady loves either. It may take a week or two before the females arrive. Instead of hovering and guarding their food, they spend time staking out the best territory for breeding and sit high in the treetops as if scouting for the arrival of the first female. Then the fights may begin.
One male is very approachable and will hover inches from me each time I drag out the hose to water the baby grass or fill the birdbath. All he wants is a nice mist shower. I follow him to a branch where he flaps his wings and washes every feather for at least 5 minutes.
One of my favorite bird species, the gray catbird, is now frequenting the feeding area, flitting here and there, in a shrub, on a limb, running across the ground, on the suet, and then the feeder. The pair is vocal, mewing and repeating the calls of a number of other birds, as they forage for insects and enjoy sunflower seeds. I added a ground water bath that they especially love.
Whether watching plump mourning doves, two by two, pad quietly beneath the feeders looking for spilled seeds or the sweet affection of a male cardinal feeding his mate, we both agree that birdwatching is an amazing experience in the spring.
I’ve always been a little nuts about insects. The earliest memories of lying across our front walkway under a hot Virginia sun, sharing my lunch with a multitude of ants that lived between the bricks may have launched the budding citizen scientist in me. Observing ants of all colors, shapes, sizes and behaviors intrigued me and led me to a multitude of other insects.
That inquisitive little girl has aged into an inquisitive old girl who is still intrigued by insects. Here’s an early spring insect resting on my dwarf spiraea japonica. I’ve seen them a few times on cold spring days in New England as they are the first of this family to emerge from hibernation, often in freezing temperatures.
If this fella reminds you of a lightning bug (locals say ‘firefly’), you are right. It’s in the same family, yet it doesn’t look exactly like those we see on summer nights dancing and flickering their lights over lawns and the edges of woods. Although the middle sections are outlined with bright orange bands, the difference is in these wings, which are a dull black.
Maple syrup producers are familiar with this gentle pest. It dines on the fluid of maples and what better meal than a bucket of sap on the side of a maple tree…. where they often perish in the liquid.
Click HERE to visit a virtual habitat to learn about three groups of flashing lightning bugs in New England.
It’s been a long time coming but the vernal season is finally upon us. Leaves are unfurling, catkins are hanging, birds have returned, pink crab apple buds, closed tight, are ready to take center stage along the side of the house.
We’ve had a handful of temperatures close to 80° but also our fair share of rain, cool days and brisk nights. Daytime temperatures in the 50°s seems the norm. What do we have in the garden that loves this weather? Violas, a gift from a new friend in my garden club gives us our only bloom in the front gardens today.
The rest of the yard is showing clear signs of new life. Blooms are lined up like soldiers in two rows along the branches of our doublefile viburnum. When this shrub fills out with showy lacy white blooms and large leaves, it will probably be the site of a robin’s nest.
Candles on our white pines have a long way to go before they begin to spew pollen and cover the deck and furniture yellow. I wonder if the pine pollen is blowing around my Tidewater Virginia hometown yet.
The first blooms of bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) hang like jewels on a necklace. Not sure that I wanted this plant, I removed it from the border and covered it haphazardly with pine needles last fall. It survived and I’m glad. It’s lovely beneath the white pines.
… and it seems they are happening all at once around here.
First, say hello to the newest member of our New Hampshire family clan. While our brand new granddaughter and her parents adjust, I have been spending more time with her big brother who is 19-months old and doesn’t quite understand how this tiny new sister can rock his world so.
Slowly, daily routines at their household are falling into place. Big bro now gives sis sweet kisses and he volunteers to assist at her bath time. Life is good.
And since my help is not as critically needed as it was 2 weeks ago, I am back to the world of babysitter-on-call, back to a little blogging and back to the world of gardening… which leads me to my next happening.
My world of gardening has stepped up a notch from almost nonexistent in a condo to grab a shovel, rake, clippers and get-to-work-all-day. I have returned to part-time work at a garden center close by, Rolling Green Nursery, a gardening business with an earth friendly philosophy.
New Hampshire can still be very cold one day and warm the next and wet the next. The garden center is slowly coming out of the deep freeze. Days at Rolling Green are spent cleaning and preparing beds and transferring tender plants from the greenhouses throughout the grounds. Life is good.
As long as we kept a fresh supply of sunflower and thistle seeds, we saw one or two brave olive-colored American goldfinches visiting the feeder over the winter. Our winter finches have recently been joined by a larger number of goldfinches just returning to the area and, wow, they are a breath of sunshine in their fresh new yellow feathers, a sure sign of spring.
The males undergo a complete molt of body feathers in the spring, transforming from drab olive green to bright yellow, their breeding plumage. Our friend below still has patches of drab feathers in spots but by May, he should be fully transformed into a striking bright yellow bird. Breeding begins in June when thistle begins to mature in the fields.
Welcome back, good-looking!
“Abundant sunshine” is the Yahoo Weather forecast for today. It is 39° this morning but temperatures will rise to an enjoyable 51° by noon before dropping back to 30° tonight. Forecast calls a welcome warming trend with temperatures pushing into the high 60s on one day early next week. There should not be a flake of snow left on the ground then.
Although we see wonderful signs of spring around the neighborhood like my friend’s crocus below, our home lingers in the shade of tall pines.
Where there is deep shade, there is snow. Yesterday I took matters into my own hands and helped some of my newly planted treasures see daylight for the first time in many months. I had no idea what I’d find under the crush of snow and ice but I knew there had to be damage. Plants will live but, darn that snow!
This southern gardener is learning about New England winters. Next fall, the holly below will be tied or wrapped in burlap to protect the shape of the upright growth.
Beneath the snowbank (below), I was most worried about three tiny boxwood I found nearby at Rolling Green Nursery. I fell hard for these dwarf Korean boxwood (Buxus sinica var. insularis ‘Tide Hill’) that were described as ‘rugged.’ The weight of snow from the roof and from driveway and sidewalk clearing was severe in this border. I tried shoveling it off early in the season, but eventually I had to give up trying to minimize or prevent damage to stems. The snow came too fast and too often.
Thankfully, when handed lemons, my philosophy is to make the sweetest lemonade on the block. Box can be propagated! I carefully removed the stems that were broken, removed the bottom leaves, dipped the stems in a hormone solution, and I’m growing them in a potting mix. Instead of three dwarf boxwood, I should end up with 8 or 9 babies in about 8 weeks. Who knows? My new landscape plan is to have a full border of these most attractive dwarf boxwood.
From our second floor bedroom at 6 a.m. each morning, we carefully pull back the drapes to witness a crowd hanging out beneath our window. A flock of about 15 eastern wild turkeys (Meleagris gallapavo sylvestris) appear at dawn from the nearby woods and gather beneath crab apple and oak trees where retreating snow has uncovered fruit and nuts. The hens get right down to breakfast but the males aren’t at all interested in food. They’re trying to look their best to make themselves more attractive to the females. Yes, we’re right in the middle of mating season.
From late March through April, the mating season for turkeys takes place. Tail feathers fanned, iridescent feathers puffed out around the body, head flushed with color, the toms slowly strut in a courtship display dragging their wing tips along the ground around the seemingly disinterested, hungry females.
So far these wild male turkeys seem to tolerate one another very well but aggression could mount between the toms in competition for hens. The males have spurs, bony spikes up to 2″ in length, that they use for defense and to establish dominance. We’ve seen none of that so far.
The tail feathers of an adult male turkey are all the same length. The two juvenile ‘jakes’ below display a fan with longer feathers in the center. Both practiced their struts and puffing but probably won’t attract a mate this season.
We all know the turkey population has rebounded from near extinction from over hunting and loss of habitat. In the mid-1800’s, New Hampshire had no turkeys at all. A small number was reintroduced to the state in 1975 and the birds have thrived. Current numbers of wild turkeys in New Hampshire are estimated at 40,000 and total estimate puts the turkey at 7 million birds nationwide. We’re just happy to have our little flock that we’ve watched mature from last summer return regularly to entertain us at our house.
I don’t usually keep plants inside in winter. It’s too hot and dry indoors and I end up watching plants wither and drop leaves all winter. Plants are so much healthier and happier with outdoor sunshine and fresh air and moisture.
That said, I did venture outside late last fall to rescue one tender succulent from winter’s icy grip. All winter, I’ve moved it from sunny window to sunny window. In a few weeks, it will be returned to the outdoors to be better cared for by Mother Nature. The succulent was a low maintenance venture for me.
Alas, three weeks ago, a high maintenance and potentially huge indoor plant took control of me. The need to touch soil or plant a seed overcame logic because, by this time in Virginia my outdoor gardening has already begun…here, we can barely see the ground for snow. I now I have a new plant that may not make it to the great outdoors. Odds are against it.
After finishing off a cantaloupe one cold morning, I found one lone seed that escaped cleanup. Without much thought, I picked it up and pressed it into the soil next to the healthy succulent and thought no more about it… until three days later when I noticed a tiny green tip of a sprout on the surface of the soil. I watched for the next few days as the embryonic leaf, the cotyledon, emerged from the soil and opened as the first photosynthesis for the plant.
One by one, the vine began to send out hairy shoots and tiny buds. I was totally mesmerized by the miniature plant. We’ve grown melons in the garden before but this time it seems more like a scientific lab experiment on the windowsill. I have a magnifying glass and I am noticing details I’ve never noticed before.
Those who grow cantaloupe know the leaves are fuzzy but I never noticed just how hairy the entire plant is. If by some miracle I keep the plant alive until the end of May after the last danger of frost, I hope to take my cantaloupe outdoors, replant it using a trellis with support for the trailing vines as it matures. We saw how the University of New Hampshire vertically grows sprawling melons several feet high on trellises in their greenhouses. The fruit is supported in small hammocks. Can I do that? My instincts tell me it’s too early to start indoor seedling in New Hampshire but I can hope.
At junctures, small leaves and vines are unfurling in a fuzzy mass. Click on photos to see more details.
As the leaves on my tiny plant mature, they are becoming more oval or heart shaped with edges that are wavy or uneven. They are very tender and fragile so I’m trying to be careful when I turn the plant in the sun.
I have no idea of the variety of my little plant. I am hoping I’m lucky enough to have a quick growing, early maturing variety for our short New England summers. If it lives for the next several weeks, I’ll post on the progress.