Monday, February 22, 2010

Centennial Watershed State Forest hike

Today is the last of the 40+ degree days for a while. A series of approaching foul weather systems is headed our way to remind us all that it's still February. It seemed a good time to squeeze in a hike on the Aspetuck Valley Trail.

The trail winds through the Centennial Watershed State Forest. The 15,300-acre forest was established in 2002 as a partnership between the Aquarion Water Company, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and The Nature Conservancy to conserve land for water supply protection and open space preservation.

The black arrows on the map above indicate my route. I estimate I hiked about 4.86 miles, which doesn't sound like an incredible distance, but the snow and ice underfoot, combined with the usual tree roots and rocks, slowed me down enough to extend my time on the trail to about 2 3/4 hours.

This was the only bit of open field on the hike, near the trail head parking lot.

This is more typical of how the trail looked for most of the walk. Mountain laurel was most abundant, and I made a mental note to return in May, when the shrub would be in bloom.

The snow made for slow going. It had been warm enough yesterday to continue the daytime melting process, but dropping overnight temperatures put a halt to the melting and turned the trail into a mix of hard snow, ice and, as the morning wore on, a slushy juice.

Still, the snow cover revealed other hikers and their four-legged companions who had passed here before me, and it was their tracks that made it much easier for me to stay on the trail. Sure, the trail was blazed, but from time to time, there were no blazes to be seen. When you're not sure you're on the trail, you start to look around and all you can see is trees and more trees. It begins to sink in that you could really get lost out here. Luckily, that didn't happen, but I did find it necessary to spend more time scanning bare ground in spots, searching for the more downtrodden leaf litter as a clue to where others had gone.

I love the look of lichen-covered boulders. I wish I could transplant one to my living room.

This rotting tree stump covered in club moss also held interest in an otherwise monotone landscape.

Here's an interesting log cabin on an old country road the trail paralleled for a portion of its length.

Here's a closer look at the cabin's sunny back porch. It's quite charming.

Hope you enjoyed the walk.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Late February Snow - A Photo Essay

An area snowstorm has deposited a new layer of white in my yard, turning it into a study of white on gray.

I planted this Japanese black pine 15 years ago, when it was just a small sapling. I didn't think it was going to make it after deer browsed the lower branches. It has an interesting growth habit that has the vaguely Asian look that I love.

One of my greatest success stories is shown above. It's a large doublefile viburnum that has grown with enthusiasm and vigor since being planted about 10 years ago. I believe it produces black berries, but I see them so rarely as the birds pick them off as soon as they ripen. Here's what the shrub looks like in bloom, below.

This venerable mountain laurel is on the north side of the house. Deer browsing has sculpted all my mountain laurel and rhododendrons, giving them their graceful, bowl-shaped appearance.

These Autumn Joy sedums have donned snowy whitecaps, though I live far from the ocean. Here they are in September, below.

They never fail to deliver spectacular bloom at a time when most other perennials are spent. They're also drought-tolerant and insect- and deer-resistant.

Here's the Stairway to Heaven in summer. Although they lie on the south side of the house, they're heavily shaded by mountain laurel and rhododendrons, making those steps the perfect spot for a pot or two of impatiens.  Here's how they appear in the snow, below.

The back of the house is barely visible from the forest.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Nurture Your Houseplants

The next time you need to water your houseplants, why not practice water conservation, ditch the Miracle Gro and apply your own liquid fertilizer, all at the same time?

Simply save the water you use to cook vegetables to water houseplants, after the water has cooled. (If those vegetables on the stove happened to be ones you grew yourself, organically, so much the better.)

The water in which vegetables have been boiled contains minerals and other nutrients that will help your plants thrive. Cooked vegetables leach some of these nutrients in the water, even when the vegetables are steamed.

Of course, it's not a good idea to water houseplants with salted cooking water. If you're in the habit of doing this, you can still reuse this nutrient brew by freezing it for later use in soups or stews.

Interestingly, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Southerners at one time used water left over from boiling foods poured over bread or biscuits or simply drunk from a shot glass. Such water was known as "pot liquor," or "potlikker."

American slave cooks started the practice of saving the "broth" from cooking greens like collards, turnips and mustards to feed their families.

Potlikker may have been associated with a life of hardship, but many of those who became accustomed to drinking such vegetable water – it was the precursor, after all, of V8 juice - relished the distinct flavors of waters used to cook specific vegetables.

If you're a Northerner, potlikker may be an acquired taste. And while the water used to cook other foods, such as pasta or hard-boiled eggs, may not generate the same praise from Southern foodies, it can still be used to refresh your houseplants.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

February Blahs

View from the front door

My apologies to anyone who's noticed the glaring lack of posts here. I've been feeling particularly  uninspired of late. No doubt, it's a case of the February blahs. I have been spending most of my time huddled indoors and compulsively cooking, then attempting to work it all off at the gym.

I noticed another blogger I read takes a break from writing with her "Wordless Wednesday" posts that feature a photo.  I think I may start up something similar called, "Speechless Sundays."