March Garden Maintenance

March Garden Maintenance

Spring Shearing of Miscanthus sinensis
Spring Shearing of Miscanthus sinensis
  1. It is time to cut your ornamental grasses down before they shatter all over the yard. Use either pruning shears, hand pruners, or electric/gas hedge trimmers, start about six inches off the ground and form a mound. I usually go the hand shear route because I like peace and quiet. Take a small section at a time and lay each cut group neatly over to the side. You can bundle it up and use it for mulch in the veggie garden. Grab hunks of loose, dead stalks from the center of the mound. Now is also a good time to divide the clump if it is rotting out in the center or has gotten too big for the space. Use a sharpened pointed shovel or a mattock and cut it into 6-12 inch sections and replant or pot up to share. This needs to be done before the plant greens up.

    Ornamental grass after shearing
    Ornamental grass after shearing
  2. Prune your fruit trees. Use freshly sharpened hand pruners or loppers and cut just above a bud.  If you leave a long stub  it will tend to die off there and allow disease entry. Good apple pruning fact sheets at http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1150.html     and     http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1957/22166/pnw400.pdf
  3. Prune your grapes     http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1429.html
  4. Prune your Blueberries  http://www.growveg.com/growblogpost.aspx?id=227   If your soil is not acidic enough (Ph of 4.5-5.5), which is likely where I live , you will need to add sulphur. Mulch is very important as the roots are quite shallow. I have a soaker hose running through my blueberry bed under the mulch and they are doing well. I only attach it to the hose when it is very dry and when I have a new planting. One source for plants is www.noursefarms.com  where I ordered my 18 new bare root plants from for this year( to arrive mid April) The last ones have done very well even though I made them share a bed with my strawberries. http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/blueberries?page=0,1
  5. Put up new or clean up old birdhouses. I have some bluebirds and Carolina Wrens who seem to be demanding this although I have never supplied them with one before. We have a lot of hollow trees they must be using as there are quite a few pairs here. http://www.wikihow.com/Build-a-Bluebird-House
  6. As Perennial planting beds dry out some, start cleaning up by weeding, pruning out old growth, dividing overgrown plants and laying down fresh mulch. I don’t rush this but wait for the soil to warm some and leave it alone when its wet. April is not too late.
  7. Since I have a bed that sits too low that I have been wanting to
    Bunches of Daffodils ready to divide
    Bunches of Daffodils ready to divide

    add topsoil to, and the daffodils are starting to come up in it, I dug them all out, divided them and replanted them under the big Hickory tree. I limbed it up last year and now it is looking naked under there and  the many, many uncounted daffodils should solve that problem. It is not the ideal timing but I have done it before and they bloomed as usual and looked great the following Spring. I will mulch them today before it snows again tonight.

    Daffodils After Planting, before mulch
    Daffodils After Planting, before mulch
  8. On the lawn (bear in mind, I am not into the perfect lawn) pick up winter debris, reseed and spread limestone if needed ,fall is really better for the lime .
  9. Veggie Garden- Normally I plant my potatoes on or about St Patrick’s Day but I am going to wait a bit as it is supposed to snow again tonight. The ground was actually workable yesterday so I  tilled up the area where I had corn last year (or where the Stinkbugs had corn) and will plant my Yukon Golds maybe next week. The seed potatoes I bought need to form some good eyes anyway before I cut them into pieces to plant.
    Tilled and ready to plant Potatoes and Early veggies
    Tilled and ready to plant Potatoes and Early veggies

    The main point of getting them in early is to avoid insect problems like the Colorado potato beetle .  If you have raised or permanent beds you can usually get in your garden sooner than I can as they drain and warm up a little faster and you do not have to worry about compacting  the soil by walking on it.

Considering my Stinkbug problems last year, with my corn, beans and tomatoes being wiped out, I am not sure what I will do this year. If I can get some corn in early and have it ready by the first week of July, I will plant one planting. After that it is pointless. I suppose I might be able to build a ‘Remay’ tunnel for the beans but I am not sure it is worth it. I am giving over more space to blueberries and strawberries since they are producing well and so far the Stinkbugs have left them alone.

I ended the day with a ride on my horse and a full moon rising.

Moon Over Blue Ridge
Moon Over Blue Ridge

The Pine Barrens in the 1960″s

The Pine Barrens- in the 60’s

Sailfish on Mimosa
Sailfish on Mimosa

I grew up in the woods of the Pine Barrens in South Jersey, on a tiny little lake that was a cranberry bog in its earlier life. As a kid I spent a lot of time outside and my dad taught us four kids how to shoot rifles, fish, and how to paddle and sail our small boats. We would walk the perimeter of our 180 acres every year to post it against hunters we didn’t know. There were swamps, briar thickets and little hillocks we thought were Indian Mounds. We ate a lot of wild game in the form of venison and pheasant and ducks.

Dad was in charge of maintaining the two lakes known as Mimosa for some years. There were numerous lakes nearby that were all strung together, separated only by swamps or manmade earthen dams with narrow roads over them. Each spring the water in the lakes would be let down starting with the lowest ones in the chain and working upstream in succession. This allowed folks to clean up the edges of their swimming areas, bringing in clean sand and building docks and bulkheads along the shore. There were probably about thirty houses around our two lakes and all the kids would get together to muck walk when the muddy bottoms were exposed. This involved traipsing around the lake bottoms barefoot and in old clothes, sometimes sinking up to mid thigh in thick, smelly muck in search of anything interesting. One year, one of the bigger kids from the upper lake, stepped on a buried snapping turtle and it bit his big almost toe clean off. We had a heck of a time getting him back up to a house without him bleeding to death. After that we wore old sneakers for protection when we went mucking.

We justified this fairly disgusting activity by rescuing various fish and turtles that had gotten stranded in the high spots when the water level dropped. We would take them home and hold them in an assortment of aquariums and buckets until the water was back up again. We found lots of turtles- Snappers, Stinkpots, Kings, and Paints, and also newts. The fish were mostly Sunny’s, Pickerel and little catfish. There was always the possibility we might find something dropped from an overturned canoe to or maybe things people had thrown in for some reason, like bicycles. There were a few places where we could dig out this pure white clay that was good for making pots, and many ashtrays were made for Mother’s Day from it.  Everybody’s parents seemed to smoke back in the sixties.

South Jersey is made almost entirely of sand and it is kind of hard to Pines_Sandgrow much of a lawn without major soil amendments. Dad had the best lawn around because he used child labor to bring lots of rich “Mimosa Muck” up to his lawn by the bucket full before he seeded.  It only smelled bad until the grass greened up. We were supposed to help with the grass and leaf raking and trimming of the pathway too. Our stepping stones were made of recycled broken up concrete from a highway demolition and were at least six inches thick, all different shapes and very heavy. Once they got set in place they did not move. The grass would grow over top of them though and make them look smaller and smaller as the season progressed. I remember almost enjoying crawling around, cutting the grass back from them using the hand shears. Dad was into “building things in” and we irrigated the lawn using lake water that ran through pipes buried in the ground with those “chit, chit, chit, chit, ch-o-o-o-sh” Rainbird sprinkler heads that work around in parts of a circle and then go back and start over. I love that sound still. It was great fun to run through as a kid on a hot day. And a real pain if it caught you by surprise.

The dams on these converted cranberry bogs were simple in design. They consisted of a culvert under the earthen dam with a three sided concrete box at the upper end set down in the lake bottom. The fourth side of the box was made of 2×6 inch boards set into slots and stacked as high as the level of the lake dictated. Each time a board was removed, the water level would drop 6 inches. Of course that meant that the next lake down took on that much extra water so there was a certain amount of planning that had to go into it each year. The lakes were small, the longest, Centennial Lake,  being only one mile, but all strung out together they went on for miles. All the lakes had associations and they would coordinate the spring let downs and fill ups so nobody’s water got too low or too high. One of the benefits to getting the timing right on the let downs was that it would kill off a lot of the lake weed which could get to be a major problem some years. In really wet springs it was hard to get the lakes down and in really dry years it might take awhile to refill them. There were a lot of lawns too close to the waters’ edge and people were not careful enough with fertilizer applications so they tended to feed the weeds as much as the lawns. We later discovered that septic systems might have been feeding the weeds as well. There were no motor boats allowed on any of the lakes unless they were battery operated to prevent oil and gas pollution and excessive noise. Most folks had a canoe or a rowboat and there were quite a few sailboats as well. These Sunfish or Sailfish were only about 10-12 feet long and looked like glorified surfboards with sails stuck on them. We had two Sailfish (made from a kit) and you had to lay down to sail them. My Dachshund, Gretchen, was about the right height and loved to stand in the bow with her ears flapping in the wind. The sailboats were a lot of fun and tipping them was part of it.  We were not allowed to sail alone until we were big enough to tip it over in the wind and then quick jump up on the center board to get it righted before the sail filled with water. We got good at that pretty quick though. I remember we had a Sunfish for a short time though and my older sister tipped it and nearly drowned under the sail trying to get it upright the first time she took it out. My Dad decided to get rid of that one.65_Jackie_Gretchen

We had these great dumps nearby that we could scrounge all kinds of good stuff out of back then. Trash pick up was just starting to be a normal thing and they didn’t take construction debris or old furniture and rugs so everybody dumped it in these sort of OK’d spots. All us kids would dig through the piles of trash and get the makings for great tree forts. One time we found an entire wooden canoe with all the ribs intact but no skin on it and we made a good long project out of repairing it with fiberglass cloth and many coats of bright red resin. It made a great canoe and we got a lot of use out of it over the years. Every year it would get a little heavier though, as we patched the fiberglass with yet another layer. My brother found a wooden Kayak frame in the same dump a few years later and redid it the same way but he was never keen on letting any of us girls use it. We also had a big old waterlogged wooden rowboat which weighed a ton and got only heavier the longer it sat in the water. We were supposed to drag it out each time we used it but it was so heavy that we rarely bothered. I guess we all got pretty good exercise dealing with our boats. We used them to fish from, to visit friends down the lake, or to just get away from home. In the early spring they were good for chasing down the baby ducks and their mothers so we could pen them up and keep them safe until they were big enough to not be eaten by the turtles. We had huge King turtles and Snapping turtles that would lay in wait for the ducklings. You’d be watching the Mama duck paddle by with her line of babies behind her and all of a sudden the one at the end of the line would get pulled under and disappear. The turtle never even showed his head. In the afternoons sometimes six or eight Kings would spread out on a dead snag sticking out in the water to rest and my Dad would get out his gun and blow them away. So we would round up as many ducks as we could every spring and keep them penned up down in the creek behind our house. We built chicken wire pens that each had some dry land and some water and a little shed with a nest box and we fed them a couple times each day. They were mostly wild Mallard ducks but there were some tame white ones in there as well.  In the fall the wild ones would leave and head south for the winter but they always came back and some of them we knew well enough to name them. They would come waddling up the hill in the evenings and eat corn out of our hands. The white ones were always too fat to fly very far and they stayed over the winter, paddling furiously in shifts to keep a hole opened in the ice. That way the dogs and hungry wild critters could not reach them. Once, one of them stood too long on one foot while he was sleeping on the ice and his foot froze off. We ended up eating him. We actually ate a good many ducks each year and some of the neighbors complained about our keeping so many ducks but we didn’t really keep them, they left whenever they wanted to. Sometimes they would travel from lake to lake for awhile and we would not see them for a few days at a time. There were usually about 30 or so together.

My Dad had a favorite Mallard he called Loner who would come when he was called and tended to keep to himself. The other ducks picked on him sometimes. He was late arriving back home one Spring and when he finally did show he came walking up the path with his head all bloodied and in really bad shape. Dad cried as he went to get his gun and put the poor duck out of his misery, it was obvious he would not survive. We buried him. You can’t really eat your friends.

-Wendy lee Maddox

Edgewisewoods.com

 

Winter of 76

Winter of 76

 

The floors don’t quite meet up with the wall at the kitchen end of our one room house. In the winter it tends to get pretty drafty, especially down near your feet. There is a good six inch gap since we didn’t know much about building and it was just temporary anyway. That end wall is the only wooden one and it has the biggest window. It’s also on the coldest, windiest side. Plus it faces the only neighbors who live close by and who we have nothing to do with. When we first moved in there wasn’t any wall there, just a pile of hay. It was supposed to be a cow barn. The other three walls are made of cement block. Dull, blah grey on the inside, because why bother painting them when ‘it’s just temporary’? On the outside though, we painted them barn red to waterproof them I guess. There are three little windows up near the top of the walls that we stuck these used window sashes in, and they got painted school bus yellow. Don’t ask me why. There is no insulation anywhere.

We have free gas from the well up the hill and one of those gas space heaters with the four clay towers standing upright that glow red when they are hot. It puts off a fair amount of heat. There is also the gas cook stove and the gas refrigerator, which fumes something terrible and needs to move outside. All the oil and gas wells on the creek get pumped on Saturdays, all at the same time. They are one cylinder natural gas engines that run on the gas they pull out of the ground. Kind of like a perpetual motion machine. When they are running it sounds like dance music, loud, off beat, boom, sinca, boom, sinca, boom, boom, sinca, sinca, boom, boom, boom. It is kind of fun to pull weeds or hoe in the garden to it. Every now and then I get up and dance to stretch my muscles.

The garden did good this year. I got a lot put up. Our share of the potatoes we planted with our neighbor down the road was 20 bushels. We’ll be trading some of them for other things. We don’t have a root cellar so we buried them in piles of hay mounded up with dirt on top. It looks like a bunch of giant termite mounds all over. In the house, I can keep some stuff under the spot in the floor where I’ve got a loose board, until it gets too cold. I canned all the garden veggies and the goats and chickens are doing OK.

We don’t have a telephone or electric or the bills that go with them. We use kerosene for lights, sometimes coleman lanterns because they are brighter. A friend left a battery powered fluorescent lantern and it was nice while it lasted. It is hard to stay up reading very late with kerosene. We go to bed pretty early in the winter time.

We had a baby this summer, which should have been a good thing but kind of slowed progress on our house building. Not that I was doing much of it anyway. A friend of ours came to stay with us and help build. He actually is a carpenter so this is a good thing. All three of us get along good even in our little one room house. He is probably the only reason anything got done on the house because some of us are lacking in the get up and go department.  Our carpenter friend stayed until the baby was born and then moved on. Some of us still showed no initiative but finally decided when it started to get cold that he would take off and go back to driving a truck for a few months for some cash. I did not hear from him for three months.

Meanwhile, it started to get cold in the house and I was worried about keeping warm. I had an insulation party. Some friends of mine came over and we made short work of insulating the house. It didn’t cost that much and made a big difference in comfort. I forced those walls to meet the floor. It actually upset SOU (some of us) that I did this without him. After he finally got back from the real world it got so cold that the gas froze in the pipes coming down from the well and we had no heat at all. It was 25 degrees below zero and we were in bed with the baby between us, and every blanket we owned on top, shivering all night. At first light we packed up and headed to a neighbors house to get warm. The baby screamed for two hours thawing out, she was so cold. The neighbors down the road kept her at their house to stay warm while we went out and bought a woodstove and pipe and hooked it up and chopped wood and got the house warm again. A bunch of our stuff froze. All my house plants were dead. Some of my canning jars burst. I loved the intense heat that woodstove put out and I will never be without one again. As a matter of fact, we added another one too. I cleaned out a friend’s root cellar in exchange for a hospital green colored Kalamazoo (“Direct to You”) wood cook stove. Now all I had to do was make sure I had wood split up and ready. Considering all the logging everywhere and the snag tops free for the taking this was no problem. Plus we could get slab wood at the saw mill cheap. No more cold for me.

 

-Wendy Maddox

Edgewisewoods.com

The Blue Heron

The Heron

On my way out to the barn to do chores the other night I caught sight of something strange out the corner of my eye. It was about dark:thirty, that time of evening when I have the most trouble seeing and I had to squint to make it out. A darker shape under the evergreen tree at the end of the water garden that seemed out of place. As I keened my eyes it moved ever so slightly so I crept up silently to see what it was. At first I thought it was one of the chickens trying to roost out in the wild rather than in with the rest in the barn, but it was too tall and lean for a chicken. The head turned in profile and I saw it had a very long slender beak and seemed more graceful than any chicken. Deep humming sounds and ruffling feathers piqued meant it was some kind of bird. I slowly reached my hands towards it but it did not flee which was odd. I realized it must be injured so I started talking low and quiet to sooth its fears. Getting my arms around its body and holding its wings tight, I finally realized it was a Great Blue Heron that was obviously in distress. These birds are known to keep a safe distance from humans and this one would have if it could. Being careful of its 8 inch long beak which could easily poke me in the eye, I picked it up while crooning low chicken sounds, which is the only bird talk I ever practice much. The poor thing weighed almost nothing, way less than any of my laying hens, even though they usually look so imposing when you see them along the river banks. I stood up and carried him to the barn where I keep a wire pen for raising bitties each year. He did not fight me at all, only laid his head against me and relaxed. After gently placing the obviously exhausted bird in the coop and getting some scratch grain and water for him, which he did not seem interested in, I started investigating what the problem might be. I felt all down his body and his legs without finding any tender spots or obvious injuries and then started to unfold one of his wings. This greatly agitated him and he scrambled to get away. After calming him down again, by stroking his neck and talking to him in chicken, I felt the elbow joint midway down his left wing and found the problem. It was all torn up and bleeding and not moving properly. I figured it was broken, a major calamity for a flying bird, and almost impossible to splint. I left him alone in the box where he was safe from predators and he would have the horses and chickens to keep him company and went to Google “caring for an injured heron”. On Google I was, of course, able to find all kinds of information relating to our heron and his problem. Fortunately, there was a Vet experienced with wild birds in Frederick, about 35 miles away and right down the road from where I work. This being a Sunday night I had low expectations of actually getting them on the phone but they answered on the 3rd ring. I set up an appointment to bring him in first thing in the morning on my way to work.

When I got to the Vet’s office at 7 am they took him and said they would take z-rays to ascertain the extent of his injuries and let me know the outcome by phone later that morning. I gave them a one hundred dollar donation to help cover the costs, as they did wild animals pro bono. When they finally called around 10 o’clock they told me they had put him down! I was really upset at this and asked why they had not consulted with me first and they told me that “there is a MD state law that will not let them prolong the life of a wild bird if it will never be able to fly again” and that I would not have been allowed to keep it anyway. Apparently, someone had shot the heron while it was flying and totally shattered the bones in his wing and there was no possibility it would ever heal well enough to allow him to fly. I was devastated. He came to me for help and all I did was get him killed. He could have lived at my place. I would have protected him and he could have stayed at the water garden and fished. I could have built a protective fence around the pond to keep out the raccoons and foxes that might come after him. I felt so bad for letting him down. It is not legal for just anyone to keep a  wild animal, and I sort of get that, since you would probably have people penning up animals that would be way better off on their own. What I don’t get is not allowing a rescue place the opportunity to keep him? Next time I find an injured wild animal that I think I could help I will deal with it myself, at least they will have a chance. Now every time I walk by the pond I think of him and how I let him down.

Check out this site for Bird Rescues and such:

http://juliezickefoose.blogspot.com/2011/09/helping-great-blue-heron.html

-Wendy Maddox

edgewisewoods.com

Getting a word in edgewise through storytelling and pictures