Some Scary News for Halloween

On the one hand, I suppose you could think of this as advance planning.

On the other, it’s just more evidence of the ways in which the world where we all garden is dramatically changing (which I’m sure isn’t news to many people by now!)

The USDA–the folks that I normally associate with milk pasteurization and things like that–have come out with a new web site and a series of “Climate Hubs” to help all those who farm or deal in any way with agriculture cope with the changing effects of the climate.

Remember, depending on where folks live, these effects are dramatically different. For all my whining about drought this summer, I really know very little about drought in the long term sense, at least compared to folks in the southwest, or California. And thankfully I know very little about wildfires, except from places I’ve visited.

Of course, the California folks, most of them, know very little about tornadoes, hurricanes or blizzards. So we all have our weather issues. Hence the climate hubs.

Why am I even telling backyard gardeners about this? Because there are some relevant links, even for “regular” folks that don’t have ranches.

In the Northeast hub, for example, there’s a combined section with the Midwest hub on managing small woods. Lots of folks I know do that. Even we have a small wooded portion of our property, although I’m not sure it qualifies as a small woodlot. Still the information there is interesting.

In the Southwest Hub, which covers California, of course, there is an entire page called “Climate Tools.” This is a page of links to other resources. There are also fabulous shots of crops being grown in Hawaii that just make me so envious!

The Northern Plains hub talks about a Yale study that was recently put out (October 2014) and another study that found that the 1934 drought was the worst of the last thousand years (talk about giving one some perspective!)

In any event, it’s easy to see how these tools will be valuable to the various regions–as well as some very interesting–and sobering–reading.

Wordless Wednesday–Waning Fall Colors

witch hazel

On my 4 state tour last weekend (4 states in 4 hours–not bad travel, thankfully) I was surprised to find that the colors were as muted overall in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania as they were here in Connecticut. I might see a nice group of maples occasionally–because those are the only trees anywhere showing any color in this 4 state region (aside from my little witch hazel, above).

muter maple

I understand that the drought–not so much the heat–but the region’s lack of rainfall–probably had a lot to do with this. Thankfully none of these states relies too heavily on fall tourism.

And now with heavy wind, rain and unseasonable cold moving in for the weekend, what remaining color the maples do have will be lost. They’re even calling for sleet as far south as my region. As long as it doesn’t turn into another “arbor-geddon” I’ll be happy!

It’s Time For The Winter Weather Prediction–Straight From the Squirrels’ Nests

squirrel's nest wpid-wp-1414364581995.jpeg

Those of you that have followed this blog for awhile–or straight from the beginning–know that I’ve made winter weather predictions right around the beginning of November–or whenever the leaves are mostly off the trees and I can see the squirrels’ nests.

For those of you who are new to this ancient tradition, here’s how it goes: the higher up in the tree that a squirrel builds its nest, the worse a winter will be.

When I was remarking on this to my sister last year, and telling her that I knew that last winter was going to be horrible because I had never seen the squirrels’ nests so high, she, with all her Ivy League education and infallible logic, piped up with “What? That makes no sense! Why would they build the nests up high if the winter is going to be bad? You’d think they’d want the nests down low if the winter is going to be bad? Protection from the wind and the cold would be better lower down the tree, wouldn’t it? It just stands to reason….”

Perhaps it stands to reason to us humans, but that’s not what the squirrels do.

Anyway, this year there are dire predictions of another horrible winter, more polar vortex like conditions and above average snowfall–at least for my part of the country.

Thankfully, if that’s what the “experts” are saying, my squirrels, have not gotten the message! In fact, this year, their nests are about the lowest I have seen them since I’ve been posting about this.

Now I’m cold no matter what the temperature–I start pulling on gloves when the temperatures are still in the 50s. But I have faith in my squirrels! So I’m hopeful that they’re right this year. And if so, you heard it here first, folks! No bad winter this year–the squirrels said so!

A New Weapon in the War Against Fungus Gnats

bag of gnat nix

Last Week I received a great new product to test for fungus gnat control. It’s not an insecticide or a pesticide; rather it’s a barrier method for keeping the adult gnats for burrowing down into the soil of the plants and laying eggs.

Those of you that have followed me for awhile will remember that I have a huge problem with fungus gnats. The problem starts every fall–I’m already seeing traces of them but the problem isn’t out of control yet–and if it gets really bad it can persist into March or so.

I’ve posted about the problem last year and I spent most of February 2012 on a rant posting about in and all the different things I was doing to try to combat the problem since I had so very unwisely used some moisture control soil that I had left over from a client. By was that a learning experience! Never again!

This product, as you can see, is called Gnat-nix and it is made from recycled glass (which you wouldn’t really know unless you read the product literature or the bag). You put a 1/2″ to 3/4″ layer of the product on the surface of the affected plants and the pesky gnats aren’t able to burrow their way down into the soil to lay their eggs.

As I have previously explained in various posts (which start about here, by the way,, as annoying as the gnats are, it is the larva that do the damage to the plants. And of course, the larva grow up to be more gnats, causing a vicious cycle of gnats, eggs, larva and more gnats. By mid-winter, the gnats are dive bombing your food and drink. It’s just delightful.

So I have high hopes for this product and getting ahead of the fungus gnat problem this year. I’ll keep you posted!

On Birding and Journaling

On Columbus Day, I glanced out my window and saw a flock of small birds in my shrubbery. This was sort of unusual, so I made myself slow down for a minute and watch what was happening.

To my horror, the birds were juncos! These birds only appear in late fall and winter, and they take off in early spring for the boreal forests of Canada. I didn’t think I could recall them coming back so early.

As for the “proper” name of these birds, ugh! When I was growing up, they were called “slate colored” juncos, a name which describes the cute little grey backed birds perfectly.

Then, as with all good things, ornithologists started messing. These birds now have 5 separate names. In my part of the world, I believe they are called “dark eyed” juncos. Are they kidding? The birds are barely big enough to see, and they are lightning fast. Most times, all you see is a blur of grey, with a white tip near the tail. That’s what gives it away and lets you know it’s a junco and not, say, a titmouse or something else.

In other parts of the country, there are still “slate colored” juncos, apparently two different variations, as well as an “Oregon race” of juncos which appear almost brown and a white winged version. It’s enough to make your head spin. Good thing the birds don’t know about this!

Anyway, so here I am on October 13 having a little melt down because I didn’t think that I’d ever recall the birds returning so early. There was a time when I thought that these birds returning meant that snow would fall within 8 weeks. That’s turned out to be a bit of a myth, even though the birds’ nickname is “snowbirds.”

Anyway, that evening, I go to write in my garden journal. I see that in 2012 the juncos returned on the same date. And just for reference, the winter of 2012-2013 wasn’t awful with the exception of the one major snow in February (and it was a major snow–over 3′ in most places!)

Of course Superstorm Sandy struck just 2 1/2 weeks after the juncos returned last time. Let us presume they know nothing about hurricanes!

Don’t Be Fooled By A Little Rain

Burned rhododendron leaves

Now that we’ve hit the month of October, we’ve actually had a little rain in my part of the country. For those of you that are still in drought, I am sorry.

But by a little rain, I do mean a little–we’re still talking under 2″–and less than we should have had by this point in the month–as of the drafting of this post. Still, I’ll take what I can get.

My shrubs made it through most of the drought with very little supplemental watering–if any–because of my extremely heavy clay soil. But that doesn’t mean they were unscathed as you can see by the burned leaves in the above photo.

Still I am very fortunate. Driving around town, I see whole sections of rhododendrons dead in some places. I’m not sure whether I’m grateful that folks are mindful of drought and are careful with water–or if I think folks are just not paying any attention.

Either way, if these shrubs don’t get a lot more water, there are going to be a lot more dead shrubs at the end of winter.

As a good New England gardener, I have dozens of hydrangeas. Despite my clay soil, they are very thirsty plants. I have had to water these more than anything in the yard including the vegetable garden. And yet, notice the result.

burned hydrangea leaves

These are not even the worst ones–the worst ones have died and fallen off. They are in a sunnier garden nearer the front of the house.

Lessons: keep watering your gardens (to the extent that you can stand to do it) until the ground freezes. It will help your trees and shrubs better survive the winter!