Sunday, February 10, 2019

Don't Forget to Count the Birds

It is nearly time for the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) when birdwatchers worldwide create a real-time snapshot of where birds are. You can take part in this valuable citizen-science project this year by joining 160,000 people counting birds at any time during February 15-18. I've been participating in this simple activity for several years now and find it very satisfying. It's easy to do: just tally the number and kinds of birds you see for 15 minutes or more on all or any of the days. Enter your results on the GBBC website. Click here for more information on how to get started. After the count you may explore the data collected. I watch the birds through the French doors in the garden room. A birdfeeder and heated water dish lure them into my view. We bought a new feeder this year, shaped like a rooster, with compartments for both a suet block and seeds.  The heated water dish is vital during our below-freezing winter temperatures.The pictures in this posting are of a few of the birds I've seen in the last few weeks. The first one at the top of the page is the tufted titmouse, a big favorite of mine. Some other favorites follow:

Red-bellied Woodpecker

American Goldfinch
Carolina Wren
Female Downy Woodpecker

Male Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Cardinal

The bird I like least is the European starling. I admire its glossy black feathers that have white spots in the winter and later take on a metalic sheen. I don't like its cruel looking yellow beak and it's bullying nature. The female starling may try to lay an egg in another bird's nest. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, all the starlings in North America descend from 100 set loose in New York's Central Park in the early 1890's.

European Starling

Your help is needed to make the GBBC successful. I hope you participate.

Pamela x

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Thursday, January 31, 2019

This Month in the Garden: January 2019

This month came in like a lamb and went out like a lion. No, it is not March yet, but the saying is relevant. January began cold but calm and with (almost) a promise of spring. It ended with a snow storm and the arrival of a Polar vortex, plunging temperatures to -4°F (-20°C) in my garden last night. The first week of the year I found daffodil shoots and other signs that the winter wouldn't last forever. Now it is a different story as you can see from this month in pictures:

Clear, cold days at the beginning of January were perfect for taking a walk around our farm fields.
 Froggy Pond froze over but there was color in my gardens from evergreen trees and shrubs.

Buds on rhododendron. Leaf rosettes on sedum growing in the crevice of a rock.

The tree stump --remaining from the silver maple tree that was felled a couple of years ago-- had an interesting fungus growing out of it.

Gnomes play on the tree stump where an interesting fungus grows

There was a dusting of snow earlier in the month.

Daffodil shoots made an appearance in early January -- photograph January 9.

I haven't peeked inside the cold frame since the Polar vortex arrived because now the kitchen garden is covered with ice. It is too treacherous for walking. When I last checked, about a week ago, the cabbages and Brussel sprouts where looking great.

In the middle of the month brassicas were surviving in the cold frame even with the intense cold.
Japanese andromeda Pieris japonica 'Mountain Fire' in the Woodland Walk

January 20 saw a dramatic ice storm. The garden was magical.

An ice storm brought a different beauty to the garden.
Ice glittered on every plant and shrub

Ice storms are beautiful but as you know they can be deadly in the garden. Two years ago we lost our last remaining white birch tree when the weight of the ice snapped its trunk. This time several shrubs were damaged including three biotas that were dashed to the ground. I think they will recover.

A slight warm-up enabled the biotas (Thuja orientalis) to begin making a recovery but they have a lot of brown leaves.

Then the snow storm arrived:

It was a steady snow for most of the day resulting in a total of four or five inches.
The Serenity Garden took on a new beauty.
Doodles, the Nigerian dwarf goat, ventures outside before and after the snowfall. Billy Goat will not
leave the barn when there is snow on the ground. He doesn't have a thick coat like Doodles.

As I said, the snowstorm was followed by a severe drop in temperature. Parts of the country, however, are experiencing much colder weather than here, so I'm trying not to complain too much. Hopefully, February should be a little warmer. The weather man says it will be all the way up to 20°F (-6°C) in my corner of the Poconos tomorrow.

This is the first of a series that I plan to publish at the end of each month to document my garden throughout the year.  Looking back at my photographs I find that some months I take more pictures than others. I take lots during the gardening season unless it becomes too hot and humid. I sometimes go weeks before getting out the camera. I love photography and shouldn't let the weather deter me. Knowing that I am planning this series should motive me to take more pictures. At the end of the year, I will have a more comprehensive record of the changes and challenges at Astolat. Maybe some of you would like to join me. Link to me and I would be glad to provide links to your postings of This Month in the Garden. The next one is due February 28.

(I now realize that Lee at A Guide To Northeastern Gardening has a monthly posting of the same name. Lee's is quite different, however, as she highlights a specific topic each month. I'll try to think of a different name for mine. Check Lee's December posting HERE.)

Stay safe in whatever weather conditions you are experiencing, dear gardening friends.

Pamela x

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Sunday, January 20, 2019

A Little Vegetative Propagation

Who doesn't love free plants? I know I do. I was excited, therefore, when I noticed my snake plant (Sansevierias) had two babies at its base. I purchased the plant at the end of last summer from one of the big-box stores. Like many of my plant acquisitions, it was an impulse buy. It reminded me of my mother's collection when I was a child. She called hers mother-in-law's tongue. I remember she would have me wipe each stiff leaf with a damp cloth to remove dust and make it shine.

Sansevierias in the middle of the back row

Clump forming plants such as snake plant, hens and chics, and bromeliads develop plantlets or, to use the correct term, offsets. It is very easy to propagate these plants by division. Propagating means to create new plants.

Offset on the right at the base of the plant

When you are considering propagation by division, make sure your plant is free of disease, insects, and stress. As you can see, my snake plant seems to be quite happy. I began by assembling the materials I would be using. It was too cold to work in my potting shed, so I spread newspaper on the kitchen island and used a special tray to contain the mess; it's the tray I use when starting seeds. I gathered together the plant, some empty plant pots with drainage holes, a sharp knife (not shown), trowel, and gloves. For Sansevierias I prefer an organic cactus potting mix.

I began by collecting the materials I needed for propagating my plant

I gently pulled, cuting apart the offsets from the parent plant. It is important that the plantlets have roots.

Two offsets with roots.

I soon realized that one of the pots I had chosen was not big enough. Fortunately, I had a bigger one.

Realizing one of the pots wasn't big enough, I picked another

I covered the drainage hole of each plant pot with a small rock then added the potting mix. I quickly replanted each new plant. I watered without saturating them. Sansevierias needs indirect light and a temperature between 75° - 80°F. I placed them in the garden room, near a window.

New snake plants (Sansevierias) with silver lace fern (Pteris ensiformis)

The new Sansevierias plants should have some humidity so I put them next to my silver lace fern that is sitting on a dish of small rocks covered with water. I do mist the fern from time to time, but the pebble-and-water method is more consistent. Actually, I am quite pleased with my humidity tray: I bought a footed-dish made of recycled glass from Home Goods, filled it with small rocks from the Dollar Store, and added water. It looks more attractive than the plastic humidity trays that you can buy.

Plant sitting on a dish of small rocks with water added

With the fast-approaching snow and ice storm, it was so much fun to have an indoor gardening activity. I love my new little babies.

Happy Gardening (even if, like me, you are experiencing winter where you live.)

Pamela x

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