Monthly Archives: February 2009

Painting a tree

I noticed the other day that our Bradford pear was starting to break dormancy. It was high time to get our big fruit trees pruned. The peach tree has been suffering from peach scab, a fungal disease. The organic treatment is lime sulfur which can only be applied in cool weather, preferably while the tree is still dormant.

I set about drastically pruning the tree, cutting off as much of the diseased wood as possible while still leaving a crown. There were a lot of dead twigs, as a result of the fungal infection, that had to be removed as well. No point in spraying dead wood. It took all morning to prune the tree and clear the litter.

After lunch I mixed up the lime sulfur solution in my sprayer, and started spraying. Not five minutes into the job, the spray hose clogged and the liquid is flowing up out of the pressurizing pump. Drat! Well, there was nothing to do but to dump the liquid into a bucket and start painting. It took about 5 hours over two days to paint every last twig. I sure hope it does some good. I’ll get my sprayer fixed, or get a new one, before I have to tackle THAT job again (in three weeks). Now I need to find some good compost to gently feed the peach tree. Hopefully, it will recover and start producing some edible peaches.

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First Signs of Spring


Last night the first tornadic storms of the year ripped across the State, causing damage 50 miles North and 8 deaths about 75 miles South. We only received 0.72 inches rain and a bit of hail, no bigger than small marbles. Tornadic storms aren’t common in February, but we could feel their potential in the oppressively humid air yesterday noon.

Other signs of Spring are making themselves known. Spring Beauties, the very first wildflower of the year, have burst forth from their tiny bulbs and started blooming. I admit their leaves have been out for a while, thin green lances amid the dry grass, but the flowers are the real show stopper. Soon, they’ll be dotting the morning lawn.

Daffodils are starting to push up out of the ground. Birds, silent during the darker months, are testing out their songs.

I get impatient at this time of year. I don’t want to sit through another cold spell. I want Spring to happen NOW! But, I console myself with seed catalogs and garden plans. It’s not like I can’t do any gardening. I have beds to build, garden soil to amend, potting soil to mix up, seeds to start. Lots of interesting, time consuming tasks, while I wait for the final frost date. In the meantime, I’m still harvesting scallions and lettuce that have overwintered beautifully. The lettuce planted last fall, is now at the cut-and-come-again stage, where I can harvest what I need, when I need it, and let it grow back for another harvest. Truly the best way to grow lettuce. Within a few weeks, I’ll see what survived in the front garden, but so far it looks like both the lettuce and spinach, and maybe the Napa cabbage did well, and they’ll have a jump on the growing season. If I can keep the deer out, I should have several heads of Romaine lettuce in a couple of months. Oh, it’s wonderful to be in the South, now that Spring is almost here.

Stemming the Alien Tide


[I will preface this story by pointing out that don’t own any powered brush clearing equipment.]

When we moved in, I had very little idea of what kind of ornamental shrubs had been planted in the vicinity of the house. The rose and hydrangia were easy enough, but I still don’t know what the evergreen shrub by our bedroom window is that the deer love to eat. In the backyard, a little up the hill beyond the two, as yet unidentified, fruit trees, there is a tangled mess. A visit to a friends house helped me identify this mass of tangled branches as a wisteria. I know what image pops in to your mind when you hear the word wisteria. It comes into mine too: graceful Southern Plantation front porches draped with incredibly scented huge purple flowered vines. Well the plant in the picture is a wisteria. Unfortunately, it looks more like an alien creature trying to take over the planet. That description is actually not far from the truth.

The plant sends out thick vines, both over and under the ground, twisting upon itself and anything it encounters.

The heaviest infestation of vines was in these two trees, but I located at least 5 mature trees that had one or more vines growing up into them.

Given time, as these vines thickened, they would have strangled the trees.

My only option to stem the tide, was to cut the wisteria back. Rather severely! It will probably resprout, and I know I didn’t get all the runners. For the safety of my native trees, this plant has to go, so I will continue to cut back any new growth until the root system runs out of energy. In the state it was in, it would never have blossomed, although maybe it will this year after the abuse it just received. For some reason, wisterias only bloom when abused and mine was much too happy to put energy into flowers. If it does flower, maybe I’ll move a portion of it to a better location, where I can manage it’s growth.

The wistera wasn’t my only adventure in brush clearing, although every problem seemed to involve a vine. Some time last year, this dead tree, which was covered with grape vines, finally fell down, completely blocking the main path through our woodland. I decided to tackle that job today.

If you have any frustrations to get rid of, brush clearing by hand is the way to do it. The wood was dead so it broke down into small pieces fairly easily, but this is Blackjack Oak, notorious for it’s twisted branches that snap in often unpredictable ways. An hour and a half, a few bruises, scrapes and face lashings, later, the pile was significantly reduced, awaiting a saw to cut it into firewood, and the path was clear. My luck with gas powered chain saws, hasn’t been good. The logs are pretty light despite their size. I may just carry them to within a hundred feet of the house and rent an electric chainsaw.

A month has gone by already?

My how time seems to fly [away]. Before Solstice, I managed to finish smoothing all the walls in the hallway and livingroom (right), except one. The finished product makes for a much brighter room during the day, and requires fewer lights at night. Shortly after the New Year, I got to work on the last wall and had it finished within a week (photo below).

Now I can officially say that there are no more cammo colors in all the public areas of the house. Instead, I chose a palette of fall grass colors, that I think are beautiful, bright and warm.

After I finished the renovations, I headed to Texas for six days, on shorter notice than Peter would have liked, to chase some rare birds in the Rio Grande Valley.

The bird search was very successful. I found all the but two of the reported rare birds, adding 5 to my life list of birds and 15 to my North American list. I had a fantastic day in Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, where I found a Groove-billed Ani, and a lot of incredible butterflies, including this Mexican Bluewing.

After my trip to Texas, I continued the Bermuda grass battle, weeding the rhubarb bed and digging a trench around my gardens to install the weed barrier.

In my spare time I finished this quilt top. I’m having some friends over this week to help me baste it. It’s amazing what you can do with an hour here and an hour there. I’ve been wanting to make a new quilt for our bed for years now. The last one is almost 20 years old.

For my Birthday, we went to Albuquerque NM, the best place in North America to find all three Rosy-finch species. The exact location is the Sandia Crest House at 10700 feet atop the Sandia Crest. We got there between 8:30 and 9 AM to find the top in snowy clouds. You could barely see the lower feeder, but I got my first Black Rosy-finch there. I didn’t think I would see much more, as the parking lot was crowded with people getting ready for a snowshoe race.

So we moved to the upper parking lot and waited for the coffee shop to open at 9:30 AM. The sign was absolutely correct. We couldn’t set our car alarm.

When the coffee shop opened, we settled down at the table closest to the feeder with a cup of cocoa and waited. My patience paid off in spades when a flock of about 100 birds alighted on the porch to feed. All three species can be seen in this photo (if you know what to look for). I was elated and Peter decided that kind of birding was his cup of tea (or cocoa in this case).

The next morning I set out with my friend Rob to find another long sought bird, the Sage Sparrow. Luck was still with me. We located three of them and got wonderful views. When we returned to Rob’s house, where Peter had been enjoying some online time, I found out there was an ice storm headed South and was going to blanket almost the entire route we would drive the next day (Monday). We decided for caution’s sake, to leave New Mexico that afternoon, and drive straight home. We got in at 1:30AM on Monday.

When we awoke the next morning the ice was already starting to fall, earlier than expected. So we quickly suited up, and headed out to get the dogs from their various keepers. We were home by 11 AM, with ice still accumulating. During the night and all the next day, the precipitation turned to sleet. We ended up with a quarter inch of ice and an inch of sleet on the ground.

Temperatures quickly rebounded, but I’m still waiting for the last of the sleet to melt before I start planting my peas. Yes, I said planting peas in February. Believe it or not, Feb 1st is the earliest planting date for peas. My overwintering scallions and lettuce are doing well, too. It’s very different gardening in the South, compared to what I remember in Montreal growing up, or Illinois. Spring planting season is starting. It’s time to order seeds!