Rainy Days and Mondays…

Our long winter has delayed spring in New Hampshire. Every gardener I know feels confined and itching to get outdoors to garden. In our yard, we have picked up sticks, raked a bit, pruned dead and damaged branches from the weight of snow, and transplanted a few shade plants, hosta, bleeding hearts, where they were once happy beneath pines, now gone. Folks are flocking to nurseries because they need to see color, to dream, to plan, and to buy pansies, pansies, pansies!

It is the New England Mud Season. And it is cold. And it is rainy. And windy. And we have coastal flooding. The temperature today hovered in the mid to upper 40’s, with 50’s in the forecast for the next 10 days, dropping to the high 30’s at night. But, in spite of the delay, the plants and animals know spring is here. Red maples are bearing their bright red blooms, branches of the willows have turned golden, spring peepers and wood frogs are singing a chorus in every ditch, osprey and great blue heron have returned, and our winter pine siskins and juncos have left us.

drainI donned my raincoat this afternoon, walked through a very soggy yard to take a few photos of my borders…. all new last season with plans to be pretty full before this season’s end.

IMG_4998The liriope muscari above has been trimmed, awaiting new growth, and tulips are making progress.

sedum sedumLast summer’s planters of sedum successfully wintered over in the garage and are happy to finally see the light of day.

azalea rhodyIt will be awhile before they open, but the rhodys and azaleas blooms are swelling and will be bursting into color later in the spring.

crocusCrocus that we found blooming under two feet of snow, now must deal with another weather complication….

parsley chivesOh, how thrilled the kitchen herbs are to be moved from a hot and dry kitchen window to the great outdoors.

And finally… the violas. Along with crocus, the violas are the only plant giving us tiny blooms of color in the garden. They are just waiting for better weather to be joined by more blooming plants and then the mulch.

It may seem that I am grumbling about the rain but I know how fortunate we are to have water. Between the rain and snow melt and lakes, reservoirs, ponds, rivers in New Hampshire, there is no immediate threat of water depletion as in several western states where the epic drought has caused crisis conditions…. a crisis that belongs to all of us in the end.

Spring… sluggish but emerging

Just feet from our front door is a small woods that drops off gently to a marshy area that is still partially blanketed in snow.  Yesterday, I decided to make my way down the incline to the meandering stream in the midst of the woodland to search for the first or one of the first native plants to flower in the spring.

The ground was spongy and muddy where there was no snow cover, and slippery where the snow patches were turning icy before melting altogether. This is just a small spit of woods but once inside, the tree canopy enveloped me. The earthy smells, the birds twittering, the squirrels moving along the tall hemlocks and pines, intensely green moss covering every fallen branch and tree stump, made this tiny wooded area a magical spot away from civilization. I felt I had just entered the magical portal linking me to a miniature Narnia.

Growing out of the snow at the edge of the stream, I spotted what I’d come to find, Symplocarpus foetidus, skunk cabbage. The first part of the plant is the spathe, a purplish mottled pod that is able to generate heat and melt a hole in snow. None I saw had opened yet but when they do, they will expose the spadix, the flower cluster inside that will attract insects. The green bud next to the spathe will become the massive leaves of the plant. When the days become warmer, these leaves will unfurl to a very large size… up to 2-ft. in length and a foot wide.

Not related to a true cabbage, the name of the plant, skunk cabbage, comes from the smell of the plant, a fetid odor that attracts early flies to visit and pollinate the plants. The raw leaves are eaten by insects but are toxic to most animals… including the human animal.

Some may think these plants ordinary or common, but I am fascinated by these natives, a true harbinger of spring, that can actually melt snow. Knowing how to do that this winter would have come in handy in New Hampshire!

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote….

April has arrived! As Chaucer wrote in his Canterbury Tales prologue, with April comes the sweet showers that bathe and strengthen the roots of plants. We’ve had a couple of days of good rains followed by temperatures that seemed warm enough to drag out the lounge chairs and hammocks… but not really. I’ve seen young folks shed layers and prance around in shorts and sleeveless shirts but the old folks like me still wear a layer of two of protection from chill of the “sweete breeth,” or sweet breath of the West Winds. This morning I rolled out of bed with a temperature of 30° and with new frost on the landscape to greet me. I left my greenhouse pansies outside overnight and, thankfully, they seemed unfazed by the icy temperatures. PansyThe snow is retreating and I can finally see most of what survived the record snowfalls and what did not and what was damaged and what can be salvaged. With the ground fairly frozen a few inches beneath the surface, it’s too soon to get down and dirty in the garden but there is a lot I can do now…. like taking care of dead and broken limbs. My tiny plants covered by frost covered glasses seemed to do the trick for tiny late season cuttings and plantings.Summersweet, my clethra, mostly laid on the ground during the winter storms. I will need to wade into this thicket and overhaul it…. a shrub that was definitely planted in the wrong location in a prominent foundation spot because it is so darn late to leaf out. But I could never part with the plant because of its insect loving and sweet smelling blooms. Clethra alnifoliaAll of my summer rootings of Tide Hill boxwood (Buxus microphylla ‘Tide Hill’) survived beneath 8′ of snow… well-insulated against the cold. The three parent plants did well, too, although the leaves were chilled this morning with tiny hoar frost. Tide Hill box hoar frost on Tide Hill boxHappy to see that my fall planted Pieris Japonica is greeting the season with zero damage. Not a native, however I love this plant with its drooping clusters of early spring flowers. This is a good foundation plant. Pieris japonicaSadly, I found damage and loss. The new Dwarf Hinoki Cypress lost its beautiful fern-like top branches to the weight of the snow. But, whew, this Japanese ornamental can be salvaged. Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana’The new 5′ female blue maid holly has some winter burn, but the male blue holly, much smaller, survived intact sheltered beneath the blanket of snow. Ilex x meserveae 'blue maid' Blue Prince hollyAzaleas took a hit. Azalea… along with several yews and arborvitae that either split, fell, leaned or all three. We can’t tell if this one can be saved yet. damaged Buried deep within the iceberg  is a border of viburnum, hydrangea, dwarf deutzia, dwarf clethra, upright holly (Steeds), soft touch holly (Ilex crenata), and more. Tips of our steeds holly are beginning to appear at the base of the iceberg below. I just hope the branches I see are from the bottom of the plant, not the top!

Steeds holly beginning to show

Steeds Holly

Perhaps by next week with more of Chaucer’s sweet April showers and warmer winds with 60° temperatures in the forecast, we can evaluate the damage beneath.

April Fool’s Prank in Exeter

Some covert activity occurred in the wee hours of April 1st. Exeter had been Yarn Bombed! We all awoke to a downtown that had been turned into an outdoor gallery of art…. and all for a good cause, the greater Womenade of the Greater Squamscott, an organization that provides financial assistance when it is not available through other sources. Not only does this artistic graffiti event bring awareness to Womenade, it helps the organization financially.  Last year’s yarn bombing in Exeter brought in more than $4500 through sponsorship, business support, and individual support.

Exeter Yarn BombingI, along with many others, followed the trail of whimsical and colorful trees, railings, fences, and doors that were tagged along both sides of the street. Some of the artistic grafitti I recognized from last year’s event but I saw plenty of fun new creations. Here are a few photos shared in a slideshow:

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After a month, these works of art will be carefully removed and packed away, leaving nary a trace of yarn behind.

Signs of Spring 2015

It’s the first day of spring and… YIPPEE… there are signs that the season of rebirth is here. We still have a foot of snow in the yard but we can see positive signs that spring has arrived.

The “snow squirrels” (red squirrels) don’t live in their vast web of snow tunnels anymore:

"snow" squirrelThe appearance of snowflies (click to see it):

snowflyThe infamous snow truck camouflaged all winter at a shopping center is finally exposed:

snow truckOur bluebirds have arrived:

…and finally, the real estate market that was flat due a severe winter is booming again:

Happy Spring everyone!

Winter Walk-Off 2015

Spring begins on Friday but you’d never know it by the weather in New Hampshire. Today the temperatures were hovering in the upper 20’s with 25 MPH winds and gusting… true winter weather for the Annual Winter Walk-Off 2015.

Fellow blogger, Les, at A Tidewater Gardener, issued the following challenge to be completed by midnight, March 19:  “On your own two feet, leave the house, and share what can be seen within walking (or biking) distance of your home (if you want to drive to your walk destination that’s OK too). Your post does not have to be about gardening or a travelogue (though I do like both), unless you want it to be. Maybe instead you will find some unusual patterns, interesting shadows, signs of spring, a favorite restaurant or shop, questionable landscaping, or local eyesores. Whatever, just keep your eyes and mind open, be creative, and have fun, but don’t show anything from your own garden.”

With the deadline for the event looming, I charged myself today with the task of completing Les’ challenge. There are no gardens visible beneath the snow in New Hampshire but when I thought of the most interesting shapes, angles, patterns, and shadows indoors, I could think of nothing better than the local Phillips Exeter Academy’s library, the largest secondary school library in the world.

The architect was Louis I. Kahn who was commissioned in 1965 to design a library for the academy. With his love of brick, his design fit right in with the brick Georgian buildings on campus. He was oft quoted saying, “I asked the brick, ‘What do you like, brick?’ And brick said, ‘I like an arch.'” And you see his arch again and again in this library. He is known also for his skillful use of natural light in the library. Groundbreaking was in 1969 and it was open for students in 1971. In 1997, the library was awarded the American Institute of Architect’s Twenty-Five Year Award.  Read more about Louis Kahn and the design process HERE.

The building is all about shapes. Walking up to the library, we see a square brick building that looks as if the outside walls are are detached or floating. Bricked pavilions lead visitors to entries.  Click to enlarge photos.

There are officially 4 floors in the library but in actuality, there are 9 levels. I climbed the stairs to all the floors and tried to capture a piece of the architecture: angles, shapes and shadows  and patterns…. arches, squares, diamonds, rectangles, and circles. Staircases provide curves, sharp angles, rectangles, and triangles:

Views from every floor give great form to function with the use of wood and concrete:
Click to enlarge.

There are 210 study carrels for students, all flooded with natural light and views to the campus below. Although the students are on spring break and nowhere to be seen today, I smiled when I saw that some of the carrels must be claimed domains:

Click to enlarge.

On the upper most floors are reading lounges with fireplaces, long tables group work, great views overlooking the campus and the administration building and a closer view of the circular atrium high above that illuminates the first floor:

Far below, a flurry of activity is evident on the ground floor level preparing for something new, The Library Commons, a place for social interaction. Furniture will arrive any day, furniture that will be flexible for individual or group use and can be arranged in a number of ways. Also in the plans for this area is a much anticipated café.

It looks nothing at all like Virginia’s beloved Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, yet I thought of TJ as I walked through the library.  I have a sense that both architects had similar visions for their buildings. They both possessed imagination and boldness of thought, both ahead of their time, both fashioned a building with a sense of serenity and, finally, this architect positioned his library to overlook this campus as Jefferson positioned his home to overlook his cherished University of Virginia.

Tree Hugging in Thought Only

The decision to remove all the white pine trees in this association was a difficult one for me. But, in the end, I went along with the majority vote to take them all. There were benefits to keeping the trees. They provided life and they provided shade and they gave us privacy. They blocked the frigid winter winds, helped to clean the air, and they certainly helped with soil erosion and water drainage as we live on the lower part of an incline…. but I had to concede the fact these tall trees were planted too close to buildings. There was a fear of what might happen if strong storms struck. It has occurred with other white pines in this neighborhood in year’s past.

White PineAnother reason given for the removal was that the species was not considered desirable. I held my ground on that one. Just ask Doug Tallamy, chairman of the department of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware, author of the popular books, Bringing Nature Home and The Living Landscape, who promotes growing natives to help support an area’s ecosystem. Pinus strobus, eastern white pine, is one he recommends for providing food, nuts, insects for a host of wildlife. Besides, I consider it a beautiful soft needled evergreen tree that whispers a song when the breezes come through.

Last week was the icy, snowy, cold week for tree removal. The operation was reminiscent of scenes from the movies Fern Gully or Avatar as heavy machinery, trucks, cranes, cables, and saws advanced around the area. One by one I watched these trees fall. I watched two squirrels jump from the tip top of one tree to the snow covered ground. I watched as birds flew around the tops of trees but not landing.

Click to enlarge:

I will collect some of the cones left behind and toss them into the woods that surround the neighborhood. Let’s hope a few of the offspring take root.

For every negative, I look for the positive. 1. With the tall pines gone, we now have morning sun at the breakfast table, a totally unanticipated perk that puts a smile on our faces. 2. The herbs on the window sill are responding very favorably to sunlight and we have removed the grow light that kept them happy all winter. 3. Facing an easterly direction, we’re finding the passive solar energy is keeping the home warmer. That’s a very good thing for the heating bill.  Sigh…

Survival of the Fittest

Our population of neighborhood turkeys has dwindled. I’m sure some turkeys didn’t make it through the worst of winter weather but, also, about this time of year, late winter or early spring, the flocks divide into smaller groups… one of hens, one of young males, and older males in another group.  It’s been a tough winter for all wildlife and we’ve tried to help out our birding population as much as we can… and that includes our posse of turkeys.

Snow has drifted to just below the window in the kitchen, which has allowed us to be eye to eye with these noble creatures as they feast on seed that we scatter. They are wary of us but hunger trumps caution.

Tom TurkeyThe dominate male gobbler, above, keeps a sharp eye on us at the breakfast table and when he feels he’s had enough, he gives a silent sign and the flock slowly follows him through the shrubbery. We’re not sure how he does that. We think he watches us and the rest watch him.

We’re visited by 8 turkeys now, we think young males, from about 18 turkeys that visited us all fall. We watch this small group appear at dawn each morning, quickly devour the food we scatter the night before. They take the exact path each morning through a neighbor’s yard and across the road, then disappear up another neighbor’s driveway to their backyard.  I’m sure our small posse takes the same route because a generous soul has a laid out another breakfast course for them.

Turkey hunting season approaches in New Hampshire in May. We hope you fare well, young gobblers!

A Warm Day at Last!

Temperatures rose to 45° yesterday… almost a heat wave in New England. Icicles hanging from the roof began to thin and several large ones fell to the snow below. Instead of staying home and watch the icicles melt, mister gardener and I decided to venture out for a walk and lunch.

If we wanted to trudge through ice, deep snow and slush, we would have taken the woodland walk. We decided to journey down town and use the cleared sidewalks. Once there, we found that others had the same great idea and we walked behind, in front of, and passed happy, friendly folks getting a small-ish workout and enjoying the fresh air along the sidewalks of Exeter.

Afterwards, we had worked up a little appetite for a cup of soup at The Green Bean restaurant… and despite the warm temperatures, we decided that eating lunch on the terrace at one of our favorite restaurants in Exeter is still several weeks away. But look how clean the sidewalk is! It’s that way everywhere here and amazing to me just how the city and the businesses accomplish this feat with the endless snow this season.

Following lunch, we drove home the back way to see how a few neighbors’ mailboxes fared after perhaps a record amount of snow accumulation. Snow plows have no choice but to blast snow to the side of the roads and very often the mailboxes are the victims.  This year was no exception.

And finally, we laughed when we saw in astonishment that the mail is still being delivered to all of them.

A warming trend is in the forecast and we will be happy to say goodbye to these mountains of white, however, the next big threat in New England is water from the big melt. Most homes have basements around here… including us.  We’ve been warned that the threat of a flooded basement is a big one.  We are keeping our fingers VERY tightly crossed.

Almost Summer Camp

In the dead of a New England winter, I can only post about what I see… and it’s all snow or ice. So I am taking a trip back and posting about a warmer time, a time 2 summers ago when I spent a week on Star Island with a friend from Virginia. Star Island is a part of the Isles of Shoals, a group of nine small islands located a few miles off the coast of New Hampshire and Maine with names like Appledore, Smuttynose, Duck, and White. Groups arrive and leave all summer attending conferences, yoga camps, retreats, marine classes, photography, watercolor classes, or a family having a relaxing day-trip on these craggy shores. For us, it was the closest thing to summer camp for adults.

The largest building on the right is the old wooden Oceanic Hotel from the late 1800’s, the focal point of Star Island where we checked in and dined morning, noon, and night, where we showered, attended lectures, visited the gift shop, met friends, and enjoyed ice cream at the snack bar. Other buildings were guest rooms, guest cottages, the chapel, and lecture halls/classrooms/activity centers. The islands have been inhabited since the early 17th century (or earlier) by fishermen… some working their way up from Virginia colonies. In fact, Captain John Smith visited in 1614 and named the isles for himself, Smyth Isles. I guess it didn’t stick.

IMG_7951-X2Oceanic dining hallroomsYes, it was a lot like summer camp as we were roughing it on the island. We chose to share a miniature room with a bath (toilet/sink) rather than have a room in a cottage or the hotel with a shared bath, an upgrade we think, but showers were limited to certain days for certain hours in the basement of the Oceanic Hotel. Staff, dozens and dozens of young adults (“Pelicans”) of college age for the most part, showered on opposite days.

Watercolor LectureWe were free to wander the island in between activities and lectures. One day I poked around to see what flowers called the island home. The most abundant bloom I saw was the Rosa rugosa, a salt tolerant scrubby rose. It is prolific non-native that made the island look like a monoculture of rose. I searched for the scarlet pimpernel that grew on the rocks but to no avail. Mostly I saw blooms common to all.

Rosa rugosa

The black-backed seagulls outnumbered people by thousands. The breeding season was over but we were still warned about aggressive seagulls. I found the youngest gulls delightful and sometimes posing for the camera. This one went through his entire yoga routine for me.

young black backed gullOver the island, there were a number of grave sites and I couldn’t help but wonder if they brought soil from the mainland to cover the coffins on this thinly earthed rock. At the bottom of Eliza’s stone, it reads:

Death has cut the brittle thread of life
And laid my body in the grave.
Yet my spirit lives in heaven above
To sing the praises of God’s love.

Eliza

We signed on for an outing to another island, Appledore, the site of a Cornell/UNH marine science lab and the home and cutting gardens of Celia Thaxter (1835-1894), famed poet, writer, the daughter of the lightkeeper on White Isle. He eventually built two grand hotels in the mid-1800’s, one on Appledore and one on Smuttynose (both burned down). Celia became his hostess and her cut flowers adorned the hotels. Guests flocked to the island for relaxation and inspiration, among them famous writers and painters like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, Sarah Orne Jewett, and the artists William Morris Hunt and Childe Hassam.

AppledoreWe followed the rocky path upward and across the island to the stone foundation of Celia’s home. This is a popular tour to visit a replica of her cutting gardens planted according to the plan she outlined in her bestselling book, An Island Garden. Our summer visit found only those late-blooming flowers at peak… but it was exciting to be there and catch a few photographs.

Back on Star, we followed paths, rutted roads, climbed boulders and rocks to explore every inch of the small island. Click to enlarge.

And at night we gathered with our cameras on the decks and on the gazebo called the summer house and watched the sun go down.

"                               " IMG_8079-X2Yes, we went to camp that summer….the discomforts of lights out early, limited cell phone use, no television, no cars, few showers paled in comparison to a week of great experiences with lots of new friends on what the locals call The Rock. Hope to go back!

Sandy and me with new friends on Star Island

ICE!

Today the temperature reached 37° and our icicles took on a life of their own. Drip. Drip. Drip. For the next 10 days or so, the temperatures will fluctuate. We may have negative temperatures at night and daytime will be in the teens, the twenties and a couple of thirty degrees here and there. We will have thawing and freezing of the very heavy snow atop everyone’s roofs…. which causes the dreaded ice dams that become leaks in a home. Ice dams are already creating havoc in many homes in New England and we are crossing our fingers that we won’t have a problem this year.iceRoof raking is a big business around these parts. We’ve had our home cleared of ice and snow twice. And we will have it done one more time this week. That should be it for the winter (knock on wood) for us but many others are waiting to have theirs done for the first time and just hoping for no more snowstorms. The weight of snow and ice has caused several major roof collapses in the area and created structural damage to schools, homes and businesses.

ice on cottage It is not an easy job, nor a safe job to clear roofs of snow and ice. Roofs are generally steep in this part of the world. Workers climb tall ladders and cross roofs in frigid temperatures carrying very long snow rakes. We’ve watched numerous homes being done, including our own. It’s a job I would not want!

Huge icesnowThe removal of ice dams is not for the faint of heart. Swinging a sledge hammer overhead like this, you would think it would go through the roof, but I was amazed at how exact these workers were at hitting only ice. They completed the task without causing structural damage to the home.

bang!Even though the ground is beneath about 4′ of snow, I can feel spring. It’s definitely in the air.  I am dreaming about those warmer days ahead and making lots of plans for our garden. Spring officially begins on March 20…. just weeks away (actually 25 days, 34 minutes, and 30 seconds!). Will the snow have melted by then? I rather doubt it…

Great Backyard Bird Count 2015

Well, it’s that time of year again…. time for me to become a citizen scientist and count birds for a minimum of 15 minutes a day during this 4-day weekend, February 13 – 16. Then report my findings at birdcount.org. It’s easy, it’s free, and it helps avian researchers have a real-time picture of how birds are doing.

There are two days are left in the count… today and tomorrow. Just Do It!

Ice-encrusted mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) in Portsmouth NH

Near the feeder, it’s an easy task but in other locations, it can take a bit of concentration. Can you spot the lone chickadee among American goldfinches and a junco in the crab apple tree? Click to enlarge.

American finches and chickadee

 

Protecting Shrubs in Winter

In the milder zone 7b of my former home in Tidewater Virginia, people often tie up their roadside shrubs with burlap to protect them from road salt. Now we’re in New Hampshire. Here it’s done, not only for that reason, but to protect branches and shrubs from the weight of snow. We often see small shrubs and large ones protected with tents of burlap or tied up tight with roping.

Tide Hill Korean BoxwoodWe learned the hard way last year when three new dwarf boxwood (Buxus microphylla “Tide Hill”) were buried under 6′ of snow. In March, when I finally dug them out, the entire crowns were crushed. Multiple stems were completely snapped off (bonus: I rooted them and now have a dozen baby boxes).

The three boxwood were transplanted to a more protected garden and three dwarf Helleri holly (Ilex Crenata “Helleri”) replaced them. More rugged than box, but they have similar small leaves. We will maintain them as a small hedge.

Even though a mild winter was in the forecast for the 2015 winter months, we weren’t taking any chances. We wanted to protect the small Helleri hollies from the elements. So mister gardener made small sandwich boards that he put over the hollies when the first flakes began to fall.

Dwarf Helleri Holly protectionThe next snowstorm covered the boards.

Helleri HollyNow take a look below at our 7-ft. snowdrift over the hollies today. The final snowstorm this week confirmed our suspicions about the Seacoast of New Hampshire. Listen to no one… not the weatherman, not the clerk in the store, not the Farmer’s Almanac, not the mailman, not friends or neighbors. This we know: snow is a given. Take preventive measures to safeguard the garden, the house, the automobiles, and yourself. We are learning….

7-ft drift

For the birds…

It has been an extreme few weeks in New England that has brought us over 40″ of snow in our area of New Hampshire. Today the snow is coming down steady again… enough that the snowplows have cleared our drive 4 times! We always feed the birds but during severe weather we step up our support as natural food supplies are difficult to find. We have trenches and we shovel out to refill feeders twice a day. The snow is as light as ivory flakes so the shoveling isn’t strenuous. And, amazingly, it’s full of tunnels where the squirrels are searching for wayward birdseed. They pop up here and there like Whac-A-Mole game.

trenchThe familiar backyard avian crew frequents our feeders… just in greater numbers in this weather. The black-capped chickadees, the white-breasted nuthatches, tufted titmice, and tons of American goldfinch, pine siskins, and purple finches dine on the tube feeder and the covered bluebird feeder. The noisy finches that number in the twenties also monopolize the nyjer seed feeder.

finches on nyjer sock

American Goldfinches

Northern cardinals, mourning doves, a handful of blue jays, white-throated sparrows and a few other sparrows, a large number of dark-eyed juncos, a common redpoll or two, American finches and pine siskins hop around atop the snow for the seeds we scatter.

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Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

junco..

Dark-eyed Junco

Red-bellied woodpeckers, Hairy and Downy woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, the chickadees and titmice go through the suet in no time.

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chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

 

Female P. Finch

Female Purple Finches

 

Pine Siskin

 

The avian activity provides a lot of excitement and entertainment at our house. Breakfast, lunch, and dinnertime at our table are hives of activity at the window feeder. We enjoy watching the shy, the gregarious, the bullies, the bold, the eat-and-run birds, the noisy, and the birds that like to watch us watching them.

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At least it’s a leisurely hobby that you can enjoy from the comfort and warmth of your home… unlike some of our neighbors who must wait for the snowplow to clear enough snow so their animal friends can have a little recreation. Brrrr….
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Cindy and pup

Soup does a body GOOD!

After running errands trying to beat one of our recent snowstorms, I was greeted at home by rich aromas wafting from the kitchen. mister gardener, who does practically all the cooking in this household, was making his mother’s chicken noodle soup. That means starting with a nutritious stock from scratch using an organic whole chicken from our farmers’ market and his mother’s homemade egg noodles.

He was removing the chicken bones and vegetables from the stock pot when I poked my head around the corner. It had been simmering for an hour and a half with an assortment of vegetables and herbs and smelled heavenly. The dough had been rolled out and drying on a side table.

As a toddler, he remembers climbing up on the kitchen stool up to watch and ‘help’ his mother roll out the dough and cut the noodles. He uses her recipe and her methods to this day… rolling out the dough, letting it dry, dusting the dough with flour, rolling it, and cutting the noodles.

Sliced carrots, sliced celery are added to the stock and it all simmers away until the vegetables are just tender. The reserved cut-up raw chicken is added and, finally, the delicious noodles are tossed in for the last 5 minutes. A little salt and fresh ground pepper to taste and some chopped fresh parsley just before serving, and dinner’s ready. (I’d like to think the parsley is my small contribution since I am tending it in my lovely winter herb garden!)

Dinner is served….

Chicken Noodle SoupChicken Stock: mister gardener makes his stock mostly with chicken bones. He reserves the raw breast and thigh meat, and partially cooks the bones and a few extra chicken parts, sans skin and fat, in water until the fatty foam forms on the surface. He tosses that water and starts a fresh pot of water with the same bones and simmers the stock for 1/ 1/2 to 2 hours with cut up carrots, onions, celery, garlic head, fresh thyme, and parsley. He strains the stock through a colander and he’s ready to make his soup!

Blizzard 2015 Visits New England

A week ago, I spoke a little too soon about needing some snow in New Hampshire. This week the January 2015 blizzard came to town. The snow started on Tuesday and never stopped. When all was said and done on Wednesday morning, we officially had 25+ inches on the ground in Exeter…. however, high winds whipped snow, swirled snow, and piled snow in every nook and cranny creating mountains you could get lost in. Beautiful to watch from the window with a crackling fire, a fine cup of java, and two good books to take me far away.

To give you an idea of the Great Dig Out, here is my grandson with his dog following along as his parents forged a path to their mailbox in Portsmouth, a city that received a whopping 31 inches of snow, according to local news.

Drew on Path

And this is how they found the mailbox, buried by the snowplows under several feet of snow. More dig out…

Mail Box in PortsmouthIn Exeter, mister gardener dug a series of deep trenches to the bird feeders trying to keep our feathered friends well-fed for the duration of the storm. All birdseed we scattered atop the snow was completely covered within minutes.

birdprintsBefore the storm hit, we built a small snowman with available snow on the deck railing.  The snows of ‘Juno’ began and we were certain it would be the end of Mister Snowman.Our small Snowman But he withstood the whipping winds of the blizzard. We found him standing upright in the morning although he’d lost an arm and had transformed into Mr. Conehead with a cape.snowman2Very slowly over the next three days, our little man began to lean more and more until he finally toppled and expired late today.

The cleanup continues in New Hampshire with two more winter snowstorm warnings on the horizon. We are ready for them, but not for another threat that emerged this morning. Icicles can possibly foreshadow the dreaded…. ICE DAMS …..identical to the one that caused a leak around our skylight last winter! Yikes! Give me a good snowstorm any day!

icicles

Snow’s a’comin…

Our granddaughter, seen here with her pony, has had more snow at her home in the Midwest than we have in New England. We’ve received family photos of snowmen and romps in the yard. How could that be? Shouldn’t we have more snow? We hear all that is going to change very soon as we’ll be getting the BIG SNOW beginning tomorrow morning.

Claire and her pony, Pongo The National Weather Service is cautioning residents that a strong nor’easter will be bringing us to 7 or 8 inches of heavy snow. You might think that with severe weather warnings, moaning and complaining would be heard across the community but all I hear is ‘bring it on!’

These hearty New England residents have missed seeing the white stuff. They don’t clear out grocery stores with stashes of survival foods like folks do in Virginia when threatened with snow. Here, their skis are waxed, boots lined up, sleds by the door, snowmobiles gassed up. They are ready.

Our plans are less exciting than our adventurous friends. We might take a walk in the snow or sit by a roaring fire or watch the birds at the feeders or make some good soup or snap some photos. We have certainly missed the snow, but as southerners, we have not learned to embrace the outdoor adventures like our enthusiastic neighbors. We will likely venture out to keep our walks clear and will wave to all as they set out on their winter activities.

Surfs Up But…

… the mercury was down in the Atlantic Ocean on this January day. The icy 40° water temperature did not seem to deter our brave winter surfers!

The popularity of winter surfing in New England simply amazes me. I’m told that many surfers prefer the winter when the sand isn’t packed with beachgoers and large numbers of surfers aren’t competing for the same perfect wave.

Temperatures seemed mild today for January so we took the short drive to the beach to watch the action. Well… there they were. About a dozen or so surfers were bobbing in the water just waiting to catch a wave.

I’m not exactly sure how warm they were but they appeared comfortable out there. It looked like every inch of their skin, except for the face, was covered in a thick wet suit and I’m sure faces were covered in a substance like petroleum jelly to protect the skin.

I would think the most difficult part of this activity would be getting out of the water, back to their cars, maneuvering out of the skintight wetsuit, drying off and changing into dry clothes… likely done before the cars warm up!  Gives me a chill to think about that.

click to enlarge.

surferscatching a waveJust below me on the rocks were some shore birds huddling on a boulder, resting and trying to stay warm. I am not great on identifying shore birds but I do think the white breasted birds with dark legs may be non-breeding sanderlings. The orange legged and beaks belong to another species of sandpipers…. perhaps the purple sandpiper that winters here. Someone else may have to make positive IDs for me.

Wave runners!

Look who came to breakfast!

Yesterday I attached a small bird feeder to the kitchen window. I used it for a while last year but the messy spillover on the basement bulkhead below resulted in removal of the feeder.

My daughter’s interesting birds at her kitchen window convinced me to turn a blind eye to the oily mess and just enjoy the birds. Immediately the bold little chickadees lifted out most of the nuts. Very early this morning before the sun was fully over the horizon, the American finches found the feeder filled with shelled sunflower seeds for those dainty beaks.

Heck with the mess. C’mon little tweetie birds!

The American Goldfinch is the only finch to molt twice a year. Their dull winter colors are a stark contrast to the bright yellow breeding colors of spring and summer.

In Virginia, I participated as a Cornell Lab of Ornithology citizen scientist in a data collection survey called House Finch Disease Survey for Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis. This terrible condition caused swollen, crusty eyes, and often blindness in a good number of my goldfinches, house finches and Northern cardinals. It was heartbreaking to watch a bird trying but unable to land on a feeder. Some diseased birds recover but many starve or are eaten by predators. Because of the contagious nature of the disease, feeders are the best place for transmission. I regularly removed all feeders, disinfected them, and waited a week or so before hanging clean feeders and clean food. Thankfully, I have not seen this condition in New Hampshire.

The survey has ended, however, one can report a disease sighting through Project Feeder Watch until April 3.

Gardening in January

New Hampshire winters arrive early and by the time January rolls around we are yearning for green. So earlier this month we made an attempt to create a bay window herb garden in the kitchen even though we must deal with the low light winter sun and temperature fluctuations next to the window.

Selecting an attractive planter was my job. No plastic planter on my windowsill! I wanted metal and I found the ideal trough at Terrain, one of my favorite online stores. The dark zinc metal tough is 36″ long, 5″ wide, and 4″ high and fits perfectly in the bay window.

Habit & Form Troughmister gardener was in charge of buying and planting herbs. We now have chives, basil, oregano, and sage growing in the kitchen and being used in cooking. Because they aren’t getting the needed 6 hours of sunlight, we supplement with a grow light.  So far, so good.

We are now satisfying our need to dig and tend a garden and mister gardener is having fun with our herbs elsewhere in the kitchen.

carrot soup

Carrot soup garnished with fresh chives from the new kitchen garden

Quick Carrot Ginger Soup

2 T. butter
7 large carrots
1 large onion
1 t. minced ginger
2 c. vegetable stock
2 c. water
1 t. orange zest
salt and white pepper
chopped chives for garnish

Melt butter in a large pot. Add carrots, onions and salt and stir until softened but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add chicken stock, water, ginger and orange zest. Bring to a simmer, cover until the carrots thoroughly soften, about 20 minutes. Remove the orange zest and discard.  Add the soup to a blender in very small batches holding the lid down and purée until completely smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with chopped chives.

Adapted from Simply Recipes

Angry Birds?

It was frigid yesterday and we always take extra care of the birds in severe weather. Fresh suet, heated bird bath, filled feeders, and sunflower seed scattered to attract the ground feeding birds. Who came to dinner? Our neighborhood rafter of turkeys!

I don’t dare intrude when our 18-20 hungry turkeys arrive. The gobblers can be a trifle aggressive and I sure don’t want to ruffle their feathers so I videoed a few of them from the window. The dominant Toms had slim pickings as they kept watch on the fringes allowing the rest access to the sunflower seeds that I scattered for much smaller birds on this icy morning.

I’m becoming rather attached…