Monday, February 16, 2009

Squirrel Tails

I finally figured out why my dogwood trees bloom so sparsely in May.

I have five of them, both white and pink blooming trees. I had chalked it up to their being older trees that were slowly dying, but no, that's not it, I realized yesterday.

Hungry gray squirrels are eating the buds.

One of the dogwoods is just outside my upstairs bathroom window. The tree branches are nearly touching the house. Yesterday I watched as two plump squirrels systematically nipped the buds off the tree, eliminating much of what would have been a pretty spring display.

They raid the sunflower seed bird feeder all the time. What more do they want?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Spring Fever

Today's warm (40s) weather was a welcome respite from this long, cold winter here in the northeast. It was enough to get me outside by late afternoon to wash the salt off the car and start cutting up the dozens of white pine branches that fell during the last ice storm. I should have known better than to start work on it with my bare hands. After an hour, my palms were black with pine sap.

I made more progress than I thought I would with a simple bow saw and a pair of loppers. I would have done more, but many of the branches are still buried in 6 inches of snowpack. I'll probably be at it again tomorrow, when they're predicting even warmer temps.

Sadly, my cat of 14 years is near the end of her days. She has lymphoma, and she recently took a turn for the worse. The vet is coming to the house either Monday or Tuesday. Grief can be exhausting. I won't go into much detail here except to say she's been the best cat I ever had.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Spring Planting Time is Almost Here

This is the time of year when winter's lost whatever luster it had when the fluffy stuff was actually white. The snow's been sticking around here in Connecticut for weeks now, and although we've got under six inches on the ground (and more falling now), the heavy crust on top has turned the snow cover into an impenetrable barrier for some creatures, like deer. Although I rarely see them, their tracks are everywhere, crisscrossing the property.

This is the time of year I daydream of next year's vegetable garden. On the list of must-haves are: pea pods, string beans, zucchini, cucumbers, yellow wax beans, lettuce, green peppers, cherry and beefsteak tomatoes, scallions, potatoes, yellow squash and spaghetti squash. I also plan, with my father's help, to expand the size of the garden by about 40%. Last year it was a modest 8 x 6' and it exceeded my expectations in productivity.

Well, actually, my father will help me fence in the garden plot properly. Last year I used plastic deer fencing and wood stakes, and it proved to be a flimsy affair, partly because I made the mistake of using the fencing itself as support for growing tomato plants that I tied to the fencing. As the plants grew large, their weight pulled the fencing in until the whole thing slowly imploded.
It made it impossible to get in there for weeding, but vegetable plots aren't demanding, and the bounty made it possible for me to enjoy organic tomatoes as a base for sauce, soups and stews all winter long.

I've only grown potatoes once before, but it was a great success, and I can't tell you what fun it was digging in the dirt for those hidden tubers. (You wouldn't want to use a rake or shovel as you risk slicing the potatoes in half.)

One of last summer's woodchucks made himself a burrow beneath the dense stand of forsythia in the backyard; luckily for me, no woodchucks messed with the veggie garden. The vegetable garden is in the front yard, where it enjoys day-long sunshine. Still, next year's fence needs to protect against both woodchucks and deer. That means burying poultry wire 12 inches into the ground as well as above-ground fencing that reaches at least 6 feet.

I'm not at all "handy" when it comes to this stuff, but that's where Dad comes in.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Suburban Peace and Quiet? Hardly.

Ordinarily, my annual sojourn to see the doctor is a non-event. Cholesterol, blood sugar and other health markers check out fine, year after year. This time, though, the nurse mentioned I had a "slight" hearing loss in my left ear. A sign of aging, she said, while still pointing out the damage excessive noise can do to our hearing. Even driving in a car can damage hearing, she said.

I drove home from the physical newly motivated to take better care of my ears. It wouldn't be too hard to guess the cause of hearing loss. In my case, weekly mowings of my 1.5 acre homestead from late April through October no doubt contribute to the din. Although I use a battery-powered mower, which is somewhat quieter than a conventional gas mower, it still wouldn't hurt to actually wear the ear muffs I purchased years ago.

Along with the lawnmower I use are a lawn trimmer (also rechargeable), an electric pruner I use on the forsythia, spirea and azalea and the newest addition to the fleet, an electric snow-blower. So I guess you could say (sadly) that I contribute my fair share of noise to the neighborhood. Still, I draw the line at purchasing an ear-deafening leaf blower; a rake and some good exercise does just fine.

Around the holidays, I purchased a Hoover steam cleaner to clean my area rugs. Incredibly, that steam cleaner is, far and away, much louder than any lawn and garden appliance I own.

Demise of a Cardinal

Owl Hollow suffered another casualty this week when a hawk got a cardinal at the bird feeder. It's happened before. I guess the hawks have to live, too. The ones here look like either "Sharpies" (Sharp-shinned) or Cooper's hawks, and it's impossible for me to tell the difference. It's my guess that their success rate is only 1 out of 4 tries, but this time, I found a telltale collection of scattered cardinal feathers under the hanging sunflower feeder. I'd rather they picked up one of the well-fed squirrels who regularly raid the feeders, but I'm guessing these small hawks might have a beak-full with one of these rodents.

Spring Cleaning

I've got my work cut out for me this spring. The yard is strewn with debris from one particularly bad ice storm that took down white pine branches like they were match sticks.

Add to that my heavy pruning earlier this winter of my enormous burning bush and the overgrown forsythia and I can see myself doing clean-up duty well into summer.