Wednesday Vignette

The small flower on a blade of grass, at Heritage Museums and Gardens, Sandwich MA, today.

“A net of looking
holds the world together,
keeps it from falling.”
— Roberto Juarroz


(Wednesday vignette is brought to us by Flutter & Hum.)

Wednesday Vignette

ragging brush

This is me for the next few months.

On Monday, with the last of the snow having completely melted two days before, I started the tasks of weeding, cutting back, and pruning in the veggie and side gardens — which besides the garlic planted there now — already several inches high — and the annual veggies and herbs arriving as seedlings in five weeks also hosts a honeysuckle, a thriving buddleia, unthriving hollies, dozens of crocosmia bulbs, elderberries, various asclepias (milkweeds; and I spotted a small milkweed bug, Lygaeus kalmii, already!), perovskia (Russian sage), rosemary, bloodroot, weedy anemone, blueberries, pink and blue vervains,  an ever-growing lemon balm, two lilacs, a couple of different kinds of phlox, echinacea, tiny fritillaria (F. meleagris) bulbs, asters, monarda (bee balm), tulips, and a dwarf cherry tree. I usually add some annual ornamentals in these beds, too: cosmos, zinnias, marigolds, calendula, nasturtiums, a butterfly mix.

Yesterday, I spent 4 hours doing the same (weeding, pruning, cutting back) in the corner-side and front gardens, whose inhabitants include a weeping ‘Jade’ crabapple, more crocosmia and little fritillaria bulbs, five kinds of hostas (three each of Patriot, Loyalist, So Sweet, Gold Standard, and Halcyon), mounds of irises, some ‘Olga Mezitt’ rhododendrons (small, though, like azaleas), a few peony bushes in too much shade, a bunch of leucothoe and some Pieris japonica (Andromeda), various species of perennial geraniums, perennial mums, two euphorbia, red lychnis (catch-fly), six amsonias, three large baptisias, more asters, several kinds of sedums, some dianthus, a couple of Red Fox’ veronica, centaurea (perennial bachelor buttons), daisies, caryopteris, a struggling Nishiki willow tree, a campanula, several lupine plants, some blueberries, a spring bush pea (Lathyrus), a few kinds of thyme, a pasqueflower, some echinacea, a daisy or two.

And — the plants I spent two of those four hours cutting back and hopefully rejuvenating, 4 very large (and utterly beautiful when in bloom) Rhododendron catawbiense that came with the house as foundation plantings. My arms are now covered in red scratches and welts from standing inside the shrubs with loppers and pruners, holding back branches with one arm, protecting my eyes from sharp pointy twigs with another, while hunting for the right places to make cuts with my third arm to a.) reduce each shrub’s overall height without staging an ugly massacre and b.) remove at least 8-years’ accumulation of dead branches from within the depths.

I also planted peas.

Today is a day off. I spent the morning talking with permaculture friends about nut trees, veggie and fruit crops, the arrival of spring, compost (can one ever say enough about it?), farmers markets and CSAs, vernal pools, landscape and design, citrus and tropical fruits we can’t grow, and octopuses.


(Wednesday vignette is brought to us by Flutter & Hum.)

Garden Blogger’s Bloomday — April 2017

Still nothing in bloom here but at least the snow is melting. (Though we often get another snowfall later in April.) Right now, it’s melted completely from the fruit guild:

Not so much from the back yard:

This is where crocuses are planted {sad face}:

And we have shoots!




And buds!



Next month should surely bring some actual blooms to this spot. Check back then!


Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted by May Dreams Gardens.

Composts I’ve Known

We got to chatting about composting at our weekly permaculture discussion group meeting this week — you know, what’s the most effective way to compost: 3-bins? chicken wire containers? covered or not? how wet? ratio of green to wet, nitrogen to carbon? where to situate the compost area, how small should kitchen scraps be and can citrus, fruit pits, avocado skins, and bananas be used?, etc. — after reading our latest chapter, on building the soil, in The Vegetable Gardener’s Guide to Permaculture by Christopher Shein, which included bits about composting, worm bins, mulching, cover crops, compost tea, and sheet mulching.

Later, reflecting on this, my thoughts drifted nostalgically to compost piles and containers I have known over the 22ish years I’ve been trying to make my own organic soil from waste materials, a lofty and worthwhile goal I often fall short of. I know I need to keep the compost wetter (like a damp sponge) and I need to implement a multi-bin system if I ever want to use any of the compost as soil and not as unwieldy chunks of recognizable food and garden cuttings (although spreading out unfinished compost on beds is also a way to compost, if you have the space and don’t have too many critters around).

Our book chapter reminded us that the ratio of nitrogen (mostly green, wet things, like grass clippings, green leaves, kitchen scraps, cover crops, seaweed) to carbon (mostly brown things, like dead leaves, twigs, newspaper, shredded paper, straw, shavings, dried crop residue) should be 30:1; that’s the ratio recommended for hot compost, which supposedly heats the compost to 140F (60C), enough to kill weed seeds if maintained for a week or so, and which, an article on hot composting says, makes compost you can use in less than a month.

I think I do most of this — I aerate well whenever I add kitchen scraps, which is every 2-3 days, and my pile is mostly green stuff — and yet, chunks remain. Simon Watkins, in this article, recommends covering the pile with a permeable sheet and watering it a lot; he also transferred some fruiting fungi to his pile, which is something I can try.  Thermophilic composting, in A Permaculture Design Course Handbook, goes into considerable depth on the topic, with sections on ingredients, temperature and moisture and monitoring both, the size of the pile, flipping vs. turning, etc.

Anyway, as I said, it all got me remembering the good times ….

The first compost bins I ever had, on a 10-acre property in a rural town in southern Maine, were built from found pallets by my spouse and situated near the vegetable garden but too far from the house. … yet close to shed, underneath which the porcupines lived.


You can see that there were two bins, side by side:


They actually worked well but should probably have been covered. And I knew nothing about ratios and temperature then.

But aren’t porcupines cute?



The next house, in coastal Maine, had a very small and already-built-up and -planted yard when we got there, and I have no memory of a compost bin there (nor do my photos), although I do have a hazy memory of a compost container on the kitchen counter. Hmmm. In any case, I obviously didn’t know enough to keep and shred the fall leaves to spread as organic matter in the yard.



Now, here, in central NH, I’ve got arguably more know-how, but my systems, after almost 8 years, are still lagging. There’s one plastic, covered, round compost container close to the house, and the contents actually and amazingly don’t freeze in our sub-freezing (sometimes below 0F), snowy winters. Because it’s just outside a back door, it’s easy to get to it and clear it off, even after a foot or two of snowfall, so I can keep adding kitchen scraps to it every few days year-round, aerating it each time. During winter, though, I’m really not adding much brown material, except the occasional dead potted plant and its tired, nutrient-deficient dirt; I could add shredded paper, newspaper (which we usually burn in the wood stove), and probably a little sawdust from spouse’s small woodworking projects.


Below, the composter in warmer times; it’s often visited by snakes (they like to slither through the side slits), salamanders (mainly on the outside and underneath, I hope — I would hate to hit one with the aerator), moths, and fungi, and, rarely, by raccoons, who can open the lid. Once we had a bear visitor.

For the past few summers, a large pumpkin has grown outside the composter; I have never planted pumpkin seeds or plants in my yard.

garter snake at base of composter
garter snake half in and half out of composter slit
orange-backed salamander on compost lid
fungi growing all around composter
pumpkin growing just outside composter

Below, the compost bin with sheet mulching ingredients — pruned, cut-back, cleaned out, and raked up stalks, leaves, stems, etc., from perennials and shrubs — next to it … with a bonus view of one rain barrel!:


And here is some green material, Brussels sprouts leaves in this case, getting ready to go to the compost bin:


Besides the round plastic container near the house, there are also two compost bins made of pallets in the “far” backyard, about 20 yards from the back door. I have used those mainly for woody — i.e., brown — garden brush, leaves, and shredded dried grass, plus some green grass clippings. And in winter, sometimes I stand at the back door and throw too-old eggs and spoiled veggies and fruit into (or, um, near) them. And they are located under apple trees, so quite a few dropped apples rot there in the fall.


I’ve used these bins mostly for brown materials because the brown stuff — dried leaves, tangles of crop stalks, branches and twigs, shredded dried grass — often seems too unmanageable to corral into the little round plastic container but is easily dropped by the armful or rakeful into these large, open, mostly unbounded bins. And there it all sits, perhaps turning into soil in a geological timeframe but probably not in my lifetime. The stuff is useful when I need sheet mulching material, so it’s not wasted, but it’s not compost, and I sometimes find myself having topsoil and/or compost brought in from outside because I need more of it. It would be nice to make more of it.

Now I think I could try harder, from April through November, to use these pallet bins as companion composters (giving me three in all), adding more green garden material to them and bringing some kitchen scraps out to them, and at the same time I could add more of the cumbersome brown stuff to the bin near the house, so that my mix of green to brown (nitrogen to carbon, roughly) is closer to the ideal of 30:1. I could even use the pitchfork that’s usually sitting out there to turn them regularly.

There is one more compost container, a square plastic one near the shed, which I haven’t used since we’ve lived here (did it come with the yard? I think so). The quite large dark fishing spider — which has been through the wars, judging by its legs — likes it and I’ve decided that’s fine. A three-bin system is enough for me.



“If a healthy soil is full of death, it is also full of life:  worms, fungi, microorganisms of all kinds …  Given only the health of the soil, nothing that dies is dead for very long.” ~ Wendell Berry,  The Unsettling of America, 1977

Spring Nearby

It’s not quite spring here in central NH but it was in Boston on Tuesday.

Actually, it was temporarily summer, with a surprise high temperature of 87F. I was in the city with my spouse to visit the New England Aquarium, along with a million schoolchildren (I guess it must be school vacation week in Massachusetts!), hoping to see the giant Pacific octopuses (after reading Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of An Octopus), which unfortunately were not on display while they re-do their exhibit. We saw small red octopuses squeezed into glass containers, and lots of these octopus balloons for sale outside:

After a couple of hours underwater, as it were, we ate lunch outside in Quincy Market, where we consumed 3 liters of water to counteract the combined effects of the scorching heat, sun, and our still-winter clothes; I had on a lightweight long-sleeved shirt, sleeves rolled up, and light nylon pants, but poor spouse started the day — when it was 36F at home — in a coat, sweater vest, and heavy shirt, plus jeans; by lunch, his sleeves were rolled up, and the sweater vest was in my pack, the coat tied around his waist. We saw women in strappy sundresses, flip-flops and sandals, and men in shorts sporting pale thin legs.



Before and after the aquarium visit, we walked the Rose Kennedy Greenway from and to South Station (and a little beyond, to Chinatown), and along it we were dazzled by flowering bulbs, flowering trees, woodland plants, and bees! Since most of our yard that morning was still covered with frozen white stuff, it was truly a sight for snow-blind sore eyes.

If it’s not quite spring where you are, or if it’s fall (in the southern hemisphere), enjoy these reminders of the fresh beauty of life’s renewal.


I think the white one is Crocus cartwrightianus ‘Albus’:

The yellow may be Crocus chrysanthus ‘Gipsy Girl’:

Bees in purple crocuses:

See the pollen-loaded bee hovering here?

Chionodoxa!, also called Glory of the Snow, though not by me:


And one with a bee!

Narcissus/daffodil (no idea which variety):

Fritillaria — I think it’s F. raddeana based on the colour, location on the greenway, and the Greenway’s plant list:

Dog tooth violet! I think it’s European Dog Tooth Violet (Erythronium denscanis)


Yoshino cherry tree (Prunus x yedoensis, in the Chinatown section):

Cornelian cherry tree (Cornus mas):

And a few bonus photos, from the aquarium. It’s a very colourful place!

cuttlefish (another cephalopod, like the octopus)
not sure who, but quite beautiful
crystal jellyfish
double-lined fusilier and anemone
fish in a pacific reef display
scuba diver feeding puffers


See you later!

Ashuelot Rail Trail: Keene, NH

“When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.” ― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast


Though I’ve lived in northern New England for 23 years, and in New Hampshire for 8, I’d never been to the city of Keene, the eighth largest city in NH (at 23,400 people as of 2010 — 1/4 of whom are Keene State College students). It’s only about 40 miles south of me, but the difference in phenological phenonmena — i.e., what’s happening seasonally now — was noticeable. In contrast to where I live, and to Franklin, NH, where I had walked a rail trail the day before, Keene has almost no snow or ice left; the leaves of some shrubs are noticeably budding out; we saw reptiles, amphibians, plants, and birds that we haven’t seen yet in our neck of the woods, and a couple of butterflies flitted past. It was the first really warm day of the season, 68F in Keene, and people were outside drinking coffee, eating at cafe tables, walking dogs, and, in one case, singing songs from the ’60s in the cute little downtown center.

The rail trail was easy to find, thanks to research on the internet (here, and see comment). It’s right at the corner of Ralston and Emerald streets, with lots of parking in the almost-defunct marketplace parking lot across the road.


We walked the trail toward Swanzey for 3 miles, and then back. The only glitch was that, less than a mile from the trail’s start, the bridge spanning busy, 4-lane, Route 101/12 was closed and we had to make a mad dash across the road each time.

We noticed that the Asheulot river — whether through spring melt or a dam somewhere — was overflowing in many directions, covering the trunks of trees by several feet.



We crossed a couple of bridges during our walk, though none of the covered bridges the trail is famed for. The first was a metal-wood bridge, with some colourful rust:


The second was all wooden — and they’re all built for snowmobiles, since this is a snowmobile trail:



The trail was mostly straight, the hard-packed dirt surface easy to walk, and it was pleasant to see the river as we strolled along.


For a while, I thought the landscape, along with the welcome warmth and freedom from icy walking surfaces, would be the highlight of the trip. I was looking specifically for coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), a very early spring plant; I told my spouse, who isn’t familiar with the plant, to look for dandelions on asparagus stalks, but we didn’t see any of the yellow-flowered, leafless (at this stage), plants along our way.

We did end up seeing lots of other fascinating spring signs, though.

We heard this phoebe and finally spotted it about midway up some trees in the swampy area opposite the river. Later, we saw another one in someone’s yard (abutting the trail).


I was so excited to see this skunk cabbage growing in a wet area below the trail that I skidded down off the trail into a small nest of baby garter snakes; I saw three individuals and the motion, peripherally, of others as I made my way to the skunk cabbage and back to the trail. I hope I didn’t step on anyone.

Symplocarpus foetidus – skunk cabbage



I’m always surprised how much they vary in colour and shade, but then, I was thinking as we walked along, so does hair on children born from the same parents, often.

Soon after the snakes, my spouse stopped and said, “Listen.” For the first time this year, we heard frogs, lots of them, singing in the water, a sort of protected (and warmer) small arm of the overflowing Ashuelot River.

It was hard to see the frogs but we managed with patience to obtain some photographic evidence:



Though we didn’t find coltsfoot, we did see, besides the skunk cabbage, some other interesting flora:

leaf bud! I don’t know which shrub
stand of equisetum (horsetail)
cap of equisetum (horsetail) stalk
Mitchella repens (partridge berry)

After recently reading Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees (2015), in which he makes quite a point of trees’ ability to feel pain, I could almost hear this tree (and others in a similar situation around it) yelling “Ouch” as barbed wire sliced deep into its bark:


I’m not sure what this fungus (slime mold? lichen?) is but it was the only one of its kind, sitting atop leaf litter on the ground. Spouse asked, “Is that natural?”


I’m used to walking on the northern rail trail (Boscawen to Lebanon NH), where there is lots of evidence of it having been a railroad track — brakesman’s warnings, metal bits all about, track switchers, cisterns and other plumbing, even crumbling train platforms, and lots of railroad ties. Along this part of the Ashuelot rail trail, there were only a few reminders, mainly a couple of piles of ties, now moss-covered.


It was fun to explore another rail trail. I’m looking forward to traveling southwest again and picking up where we left off.

On the way home, we got to see these beautiful wind turbines in Lempster, NH. There are 12 of them, built in 2008 by a Spanish company, Iberdrola.



There are some optimists who search eagerly for the skunk cabbage which in February sometimes pushes itself up through the ice, and who call it a sign of spring. I wish that I could feel that way about it, but I do not. The truth of the matter, to me, is simply that skunk cabbage blooms in the winter time.” — Joseph Wood Krutch, The Twelve Seasons, 1949

Wednesday Vignette

fox in snow 24 March 2017

The red fox (not looking very red in the camera light) is a frequent visitor to our small-town suburban property beside a marsh. Even though he or she visits almost every night — and sometimes twice — through most of the year, I always get a thrill when I see one on the motion camera photos, especially when s/he’s looking back at the camera.

This shot was taken on 24 March; today, on 5 April, we have even more snow than we did then! But with temps predicted to be 75 at least one day next week, we might have enough snow melt and soil unfreezing so that we can plant peas on the traditional pea-planting day for northern New England, Patriot’s Day, which is 17 April.


(Wednesday vignette is brought to us by Flutter & Hum.)
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