Thursday, December 27, 2007

31.1 and snow

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Returned to Marshfield today and as I began to climb the hill out of the village, the sky darkened noticeably. By the time I had reached Hilltop Auto Body where wrecks put on new bodies and drive again, snow was spitting from the sky and it had the appearance of a big storm. Now it's an hour later and the wood supply for the next couple days has been brought in. Karl the wonder dog is barking at a neighbor getting their mail out front and Gail is preparing a pot roast for tonight. The wood stove has been cleaned and fired up and I have to pay good credit to Gail and Alex for today's labors.

I enjoy watching the birds and animals just before a storm as they busy themselves in flighty movements and gorge themselves on seeds of choice. Someplace under the snow there is a red squirrel magnet this year and it is drawing in squirrels from adjacent woodlands. As I sit looking out the window, three reds move like little vacuums across the snowy crust, picking up cracked corn and black oil sunflower to store in temporary storage units beneath the snow. They work relentlessly like blue jays and apparently have a similar appetite.

When snows come like this year's have, there's no worry about wind dessication to plants. Instead the caution comes when the snow begins to leave in late March, for then there's no telling how much damage was created by little critters like voles, hungry for good food throughout the winter. I have yet to determine if there are more plant eaters each year or if it's merely the fact that we seem to increase the size of our gardens and provide a more enticing buffet.

Some folks tire of talk of global warming, Kyoto Protocol, Bali and the suggested books and movies which raise credence or discussion about change. Today it is snowing. Today in 1866 a storm came up the coast and dropped three feet of snow in the Berkshires and left a couple feet in southern Vermont. If we get 4 inches of snow and some rain that constitutes change. If the temperature here in Marshfield changes 2 degrees one way or the other, we will either have a pile of snow or melting snowbanks. That's change.

I for one am not going to dispute temperature change. I see it in the temperature, the type of snow, the amount of precipitation and the creatures new and since passed that result from the change. Every growing season there are too many new insects gnawing away on our plants--insects I have never seen before. I just learned that the hardiness zones have been updated. The Arbor Day Foundation site has some interesting information and the new

hardiness zone map and accompanying information deserve a look. Our half of Vermont is now Zone 4 with the exception of a dot of land from Canaan in the Northeast Kingdom to adjacent Pittsburg, New Hampshire. As you get a chance, take a look and compare what hardiness zone you are in.

Our new land along the Winooski River is Zone 4 but the river rises and falls each day as Green Mountain Power releases water to make electricity. The movement changes air flow and temperature and should allow us to try some zone 5 plants that might be tricky in other places. In contrast the heavy clay soil where our building and shade houses will stand may stay cold later or warm up faster. It all depends on how quickly the snow will melt off that piece. I guess the story then is that temperatures have changed. Gardens will be affected by everything in proximity and a gardener's success or challenge will relate to temperature. As you consider a new garden for next year, view the proposed site all winter. Make note of where the wind blocks, the snow piles up and the water gathers. Those little pieces of information will make for a stronger project next spring.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where two inches of quick falling snow has covered the seed in the platform feeder and closed down the evening meal for our birds.

Snowy garden wishes,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Monday, December 24, 2007

Late Thoughts, Good Ideas

M0nday, December 24, 2007

24 degrees this morning here on the hill. Yesterday's fluffy snow became today's snow crust and walking down the drive, whether with my 2 feet or Karl the wonder dog's four paws is a challenge. The road seems fine as the tons of sand that was already spread now covers at least an inch less packed snow and traction is the best to be found. I'll have to get a load of sand today for the driveways as slip siding at Christmas is not welcome.

I have a number of aches this morning-before-Christmas as I spent yesterday moving snow in anticipation of last night's storm. Perhaps three weeks ago we received heavy sleet and freezing rain and it bonded to the standing seam roof. Last week's 26" just added to the foot that was already welded in place and the constant winds added to the mess by dropping more snow on the house roof. I put on every extension I own to the roof rake and by nightfall I was wasted and there was still some snow holding firm in a couple places. I used the tractor to move everything I could away from the house and waited for the rain. This morning it's obvious the roof is clean and ready for the next part of winter.

I got out early this morning and filled the feeders. The evening grosbeaks sung me an untitled Christmas song while I filled one feeder after another and scattered cracked corn and seed on the snow crust. Before I made it halfway to the back door there was a flutter of wings and the breakfast feasting was under way. The blue jays come and go and as they do they scare the lesser birds away. Woodpeckers work the suet constantly and are fun to watch. Wednesday afternoon the barred owl stopped in an adjacent white birch to wish my grandson from Seattle a chance to see his first owl. Birds are a fun hobby and make winters move along.

Last week I offered some gift suggestions on my other blog, The Vermont Gardener, but I forgot
one mail order source I always try to promote. Gardening and birds go together and birdhouses enhance the garden while drawing in friendly comments and bird neighbors. Alex and I try to make a few birdhouses each year and in fact have a barred owl house in the cellar which really needs to get dragged out back and mounted soon. The birdhouse pictured above is one I made with leftover wood from an old camp on Marshfield Pond. It's been with us for several years and needs a good cleaning and another coat of varnish as it's a popular house for small birds.

My gift suggestion is Brown's Foster Home in Rome, Maine. I'm not recommending you buy a foster home (although they can always use a donation) but I am recommending you consider a gift purchase from Recycled Bird Houses which is a bird house building business they use as an activity for their clients. Their website tells it all and their houses are really great. I met them years ago when they had first started. They were selling at the Laudholm Trust Crafts Festival
in Wells, Maine and have been expanding their business ever since.

In our family we have a deep appreciation for the kids with special needs who will continue to need special attention for their lifetime. Places like Brown's help meet our "people responsibility". It's nice to be able to help them by making a purchase that will make others happy too. Give it a thought this year. It's too late to get a delivery for Christmas Day but I'll bet they will get caught up by New Year's and be able to help.

So as the morning light brightens just a bit, and as the birds breakfast club expands to tufted titmouse, red and also white breasted nuthatches, jays, grosbeaks and chickadees, I really have to get going with some last minute touches for Christmas. Alex and I have a couple more gifts to wrap and I want to make one more batch of olive cheese balls.

Best Christmas wishes from the mountain above Peacham Pond where apple and blueberry pancakes are on this morning's menu and Karl the wonder dog prances back and forth to the back door suggesting the need for his second morning walk.

Have a nice holiday, give great hugs and smiles, remember friends and neighbors, and part freely with contributions to those who have not had the good fortune we have.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Counting Birds, Counting Days

Saturday, December 15, 2007

3.8 degrees below zero here on the mountain. The wind stopped some time after 2 AM, the clouds cleared and the stars came out. It's quiet and motionless out there but we are beginning to shake off sleep and get going here at Vermont Flower Farm. 5:30 in the morning gives gardeners a time to think through the day.

Holiday time is a busy time for everyone and I want to get a list out in the next day or so for last minute shoppers. You can call Gail at 802-426-3505 or email her at and she will help with a gift certificate if you're having trouble with your list. We've never seen a gardener leave here who wasn't happy to have had one for a gift.

What I want to remind folks however, is that today is the Plainfield Christmas Bird Count. You can find out about participating at the North Branch Nature Center site. If you have an interest in birds, spend a little time at this site as there is some interesting information there. I especially like the information about what birds have been spotted at the Center and what birds have been confirmed by Vermont county. We live in Washington County so you can get an idea from that link of what I see around here. North Branch is a great organization that kind of picked up after a previous Vermont Institute of Natural Science satellite site.

Birds and gardeners go together because they spend a lot of time outside together and they have an informal but important link. I have a platform feeder outside my office window so I can enjoy a flowing movie of birds and bird antics on a daily basis. I have to say that this is a challenge as you'll understand when you see the list of birds that live in Washington County. I am not good yet but I'm getting better each year with identification skills.

Downey Woodpeckers have been hammering away at the feeders for days now but the vireos, the warblers and the flycatchers have me baffled most of the time and I need to spend some hours with a skilled birder to figure these out. There are a variety of good books out there but some good binoculars or a spotting scope and a few hours with an experienced person and you can see things you only ever heard.

I have to get going here as a nor'easter is approaching for tomorrow and there is much to do to get ready. Participate in the bird count today if you can or locate a similar event between now and spring. And above else, slow down a little. There's plenty to do at holiday time but safety and consideration for others are good gifts for all.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the town plow just backed up the hill making very strange noises that are loud, unknown and bad sounding. I need to see if I can lend assistance. Everyone doesn't have two good days in a row.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener for gift certificate ideas

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Money Box

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Just 5 PM here on the mountain and the wind continues to blow as the temperature drops still lower. Today's high of 11.9 degrees is now back down to 2.2 degrees and the prediction for tonight is below zero as a major storm front approaches. I put out two large pieces of suet for the birds today and until the sun went out of sight, a variety of birds spent more time with the suet than with the seeds. The only bird that wasn't interested was a single, lonesome looking mourning dove.

A few weeks back I stopped at a store on the way home and couldn't help but notice that the owner had invested in a very nice Dell business computer with the built in cash drawer. These are more and more prevalent in the business world now because you have many more options than with a traditional cash register.

It wasn't really the computer that caught my attention but the young clerk who was banging a roll of quarters on the side of the monitor as he tried to break open the wrapper. Someplace in his vocational history he had obviously learned to bang the coin wrappers on the cash drawer but since the monitor was handier, he was giving it a try. I was cringing at the sight and knew the owner would have gone nuts if he saw a very nice flat screen heading south.

These are really good computers if you treat them right. As you process sales transactions you have instant inventory control to make ordering replacement stock that much easier. You can manipulate your sales data hundreds of ways to determine who buys what on what day, time of day and in conjunction with what other products. This is all valuable information as long as you as business manager take an interest in learning the programming features and take action on what you learn.

Here at Vermont Flower Farm we're a bit primitive. We use a metal cash box with a plastic money drawer that wears out about the second week you own it so the drawer always slides into the bottom of the box and money spills everywhere when you try to pull it out. Just the same, this has worked for us for years.

A couple days after seeing the clerk banging on the new Dell, I asked myself where our money box ended up at the close of the season. From Labor Day on until we call it quits, the box resides on the shelf above the washing machine by the back door. We carry it outside when customers arrive and then return it to the shelf the rest of the time. It finally makes its way to the cellar and usually resides with the gardening stuff on a stack of metal shelves.

Half way down the cellar stairs I spotted the money box. I picked it up and took it to my work bench. It felt heavy but I almost expected that as Gail uses it as a repository for all kinds of things. This time was just a little different. There was quite a collection of business cards, mostly from landscapers and nursery salesmen but one from a web designer, one from a furniture maker and one from a massage place over in Topsham. Last I knew Topsham didn't even have 900 people in town but I guess skilled back rubs for gardeners is popular. There were others but I just gathered them all up and put a rubber band around them. February reading I thought. I always place things like that in order with those with websites on the top of the pile.

The change tray was a disaster with the wrong change in the wrong pocket. I resorted everything and in the process found a dollar coin mixed in with the quarters and a very well worn dime from 1942. There were bits and pieces of broken dog treats mixed in and quite a collection of broken plant labels. I pulled out as much junk and discarded it and prepared for the real surprise by removing the tray.

On the top of the pile was a form from Lifeline Medical Alert with the name of a woman I didn't remember. Gail apparently volunteered to be on someones Lifeline call list. Lifeline is that deal where you wear a little call button on a necklace and if you need help you push the button and a message goes to a call center. The call center then works through the list of relatives and friends to get someone to go check out the problem. From my experience most old folks forget they even have the thing around their neck or are afraid to push the button. They do make relatives feel a bunch better when people ask "Hey, she does have Lifeline right?" Kind of like something you're supposed to do even if it doesn't get used.

I thought a little more and it finally occurred to me who it was I was supposed to be helping in time of emergency. Gail must have been quite busy not to tell me about something like this. I read the form over a couple times, being thankful that Gail hadn't accepted one of those "Do Not Resuscitate" forms or any "Living Wills" or organ donor statements. I am a proponent for all these things and factually we have a collection from family members; nonetheless I really like to know who I am responsible for. This was clearly a conversation to have with Gail when I was fully awake.

As I dug through more folded papers I came upon a check for $101.95 with a note attached. "Hold until September 29th. He gets paid that Friday." I guess "he" was the guy with the stack full of checks with the first name Melanie on them and as I looked at the check and Gail's note I figured that by now the guy got paid a few more times and still didn't have the money to cover the check since this was November and a couple months had almost passed. I stuck the check in my pocket and vowed to attempt cashing it. Never once have we not been able to collect on a check and I'm optimistic about this one too.

Finally there was a note Gail had scribbled on a page from a receipt book. "$15 donation to Spanish Club to go to Portugal." This one got to me but I assumed that Gail was helping some local school kid. I was thinking that a little geography was in order for all concerned.

Our money box was a treasure of interesting items. It's not a Dell computer although it would be nice to have one next year as we start our business at a new location. If we had a new Dell, I probably couldn't have enjoyed so many different things which made their way to our money box during the summer. Sometimes old and simple is better than new.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the coldness continues and the wind has quieted noticeably.

With kind gardening thoughts,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener