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The Unofficial Winter Forecast

According to the “mets” in the know (and “mets” is a familiar term not for a New York baseball team, but for meteorologists) just about this time, give or take a few days, we are in for a winter weather pattern shift over the northeastern two thirds of the United States.

The North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO for short) is about to go “negative” on us and that can lead to a much colder pattern of air taking hold, particularly in a La Nina year. So hello and welcome Polar Vortex! Brrr!

A few other things are leading the mets to this conclusion that winter weather will be arriving–and possibly a snowy pattern, or at least a stormy patterns–along with it. I will spare you the technical details.

So of course what did I do around the end of November when I started hearing all this talk of negative NAOs?  I consulted my squirrels!

For those of you not familiar with the long accustomed practice of consulting squirrels’ nests as a way of predicting winter weather, it goes like this: the higher up in a tree the squirrel’s nest is, the colder (and presumably snowier, but I am not sure they actually predict precipitation–just cold!) the winter will be.

I usually try to find a squirrel’s nest right on my own property. I knew that I must have one in an oak off the edge of my property because every morning and evening my dog loses her mind  barking when she sees the squirrels running up and down the tree trunk. So I started looking up into the tree.

Oaks are funny because they hold a lot of their leaves, even into the winter, so it’s sometimes tough to see into the canopy.

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Finally I spotted the nest, almost at the top of the tree. (But you can tell just from this photo how difficult that was. It’s about mid-photo, way up high, right where there’s an awkward looking crooked branch. )

So I guess the mets are right. It’s Polar Vortex time. Better break out the woolies. I’m already wearing the long underwear. Not sure how much more I can pile on!

 

 

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Wordless Wednesday–“Candy” for the Birds

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This is what I call “winter interest.” Because these are crab apples, and therefore sour, they remain on the tree until spring, when the birds come to get them after they (they fruit, not the birds) have mellowed a bit and the birds are hungry after migration.

It’s a win-win for everyone!

The Plant that Keeps on Giving

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I bought this plant (the one in the base of the citrus) as a 6″ annual for an outdoor hummingbird container I was planting in 2015. It was called “Jewels of Opar” (don’t you love common names sometime? They’re so romantic!) The botanical name is talinum ‘limon’ presumably for the chartreuse foliage.

As I was scouting around for the botanical on this, lo and behold, I also discovered it was edible! Gracious! This really is the plant that keeps on giving! When I entitled the post that, I merely meant that since 2015, it has self-sowed into various containers of mine and continues to bloom all over the place. You see it here in 3 containers in 3 different stages: blooming, near bloom, and seedling.

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It was blooming outside in my garden beds as well. When I find these flower stalks going to seed, I shake the seeds over my beds and borders and the next season I find plants coming up in the gardens. How delightful. Plants without work. I am all for that!

The article I link to above makes mention of how wonderful these itty bitty tiny flowers are for pollinators. So many of us grow huge hulking flowers to draw in bees and butterflies but we forget about our smaller bees. There are bees that are the size of a grain of white rice and we need to be mindful of those pollinators too!

Of course, if you are going to attempt to eat what you are growing, make sure that you are growing it organically. No pesticides of any kind, especially on the plants but even in your soils. Be mindful of that.

Otherwise, just enjoy these lovely plants and flowers.

 

Leaping, Sneaping Deer

Say what?!

Have you ever seen those signs along the highways with the image–in silhouette–of the leaping deer and then a number underneath like “next two miles.”

There’s a stretch of the New York State Thruway where first you see a sign that says deer next 1 1/5 miles, then almost immediately there’s another that says deer next two miles, then there’s another that says deer next 52 miles. I guess they figured they would run out of signs pretty darn fast at that rate.

After Monday’s post about the deer, mice, habitat and ticks, I thought I would do a post about deer and deer encounters with vehicles. We are right smack in the middle of “deer prime time:”–October, November and December are the 3 months, statistically when you are most likely to encounter a deer (in a negative way, of course) with your vehicle.

Is there science to this? Yes, actually. Believe it or not, this is deer mating season. So bucks will actually chase does straight into oncoming traffic. Ah, love. Or something.

Also, we have just (or most of us have just) changed from daylight savings time to standard time. So we’re all adjusting to driving in the dark again. Ack! This is our problem, not the deer but the reduced visibility makes it difficult to see.

Finally (and this will occasionally happen in the spring as well) deer will gather on the warm pavement on cooler nights at the change of seasons so beware of that.

All of the insurance companies have statistics about how deer/vehicle collisions go up this time of year. Be aware of that and try not to be one of those statistics.

Mast, and What It Means for Gardeners

Have you heard the expression “a heavy mast year?” Or perhaps you might have heard the whole thing as a sentence,  as in “we are having a heavy mast year.”

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This is what a heavy mast year looks like,  the “mast” in this case being the maple seeds from Norway maples. You can barely see the grass in places, they have fallen so heavily.

What is mast? Generally it is defined as seeds or nuts–acorns, pinecones, seeds from various types of trees. It is generally not fruit–in other words, a drupe or a pomegranate, soft bodies which first flower and then produce fruit surrounding areas single or multiple seeds.

Many of what we technically think of as vegetables meet the definition of fruit and only are legally defined as vegetables because the courts and commerce have said so–but that’s a long, complicated topic that takes us away from this one.

When there is a heavy crop of anything–pine cones,  acorns or these nasty maple seeds,  wildlife benefits.  Birds, small mammals, and in the case of acorns,  deer have a much better survival rate as they go into winter torpor (again mammals, for the most part,  go into a dormant state called torpor. They don’t really hibernate.  But that’s a different post too).

White footed mice and voles–2 creatures that are especially problematic for our gardens–have a much better survival and breeding rate in high mast years.

So when you see something like this on the lawn, look out! And expect some damage to the garden next season. (And let’s not even talk about those awful weed seedlings!)

The Mess is in the Eye of the Beholder

My last two posts have talked about sustainable garden clean up.  What does the garden look like if you do this?

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Here’s what you might see under my hydrangeas right now. Why is this good? All sorts of critters are enjoying this–chipmunks, squirrels and blue jays–and no one’s harming the plants.

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Want some more of a mess? This is what’s under our row of white pines. I counted 10 different bird species enjoying this–not counting the chipmunks and squirrels,  of course.

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And for a real mess, here’s one of the gardens that hasn’t been touched in over 2 years (except of course to be accidentally sprayed by herbicide in that poisoning incident.) These gardens are really dry–we haven’t had any rain for almost a month.

But this garden, for the most part, is usually full of lush hydrangeas so what you are seeing is hidden. Not so bad, is it?

Wordless Wednesday–Camouflage

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Rarely do I get to just sit and observe.  And when I do, I find that nature is often wary of being watched.  But these house plants provide great cover!

I hadn’t realized that they make a great screen for bird watching.  Apparently I am much less visible when hiding behind some indoor greenery. You’ll learn what I observed Friday.