Monday, March 30, 2009
Sunday, March 29, 2009
One of the most fascinating things to watch during a winter storm is the behavior of the birds. Given the number that showed up at my feeders during this storm, there must not be much natural food left around. This mob is a mix of red-winged blackbirds, cardinals, grackles, Harris sparrows, white crowned sparrows, and starlings. Judging from my usual mix, you can probably find a few house sparrows, a few house finch, some goldfinch and pine siskins, and a few juncos in the melee too.
The cardinals come in to feed regularly throughout each day, usually in groups of 5-7. In the evening and during storms, though, I've counted over 20 at a time using the feeders or waiting for their turn. If you look carefully (and probably enlarge the photo a bit), I count 22 (15 males and 7 females) in this shot.
Throughout the yard, there are so many other plants affected that I can't begin to list them all here. This is a photo looking down my courtyard perennial bed: the Dames' rocket clump in the foreground is definitely bedraggled and the leaves on the lilacs and Amur maples look suspiciously fragile. Will we have lilac blossoms and maple seeds? How sparse or "burned back" will their leaves be? Buried under the snow at the foot of the lilacs are grape hyacinths, sprouts from variegated Solomon's seal, Lamium and assorted other perennials beginning to wake up from their winter rest. I'm incurably optimistic about plants' ability to survive, but only time will tell how well.
When we went to bed on Friday night, though, I noticed on my last trip out that it seemed to be raining lightly. That wasn't so good.
I, unfortunately, turned out to be correct both as to the type of precipitation coming down and as to my sense of foreboding. Yesterday morning when we woke up, the house was unnaturally quiet and rather chilly - the electricity had gone out during the night, leaving us without heat and without water. For starters.
The telephone line followed shortly thereafter.
I try hard to be aware and appreciative of the common things in life that we tend to take for granted, but every time the electricity goes off, I am brought up hard against the reality of how much I count on its steady presence in my life.
Anticipating possible interruptions in service, we were fine as to drinking water. Flushing, though, became a luxury. The house maintained its inside temperature reasonably well, considering the winds howling outside. (Thankfully the outside temperatures were in the upper 20's, not in the single digits or below.) After about 9 hours, the house temperature had only gone down 5 degrees.
Life, however, seemed suddenly put on hold. I needed to sort the clothes in my closet...but the thought of changing in and out of a series of outfits to check their fit seemed abhorent in the chilly temperatures. I needed to start my tomatoes, peppers and some herbs...but we had no water to moisten the germinating mix or to fill the reservoirs. I needed (badly) to sort the recycling paper...but it's boring enough while watching a movie; the thought of doing it without any sort of mental distraction seemed unbearable.
The cats and dog were grumpy because we wouldn't play the "Let the cat (dog) in, let the cat (dog) out" game.
And Prairiewolf and I were grumpy because we didn't have our appropriate morning caffeine drinks...having forgotten to buy any Coleman fuel for the camp stove.
So what did I miss the most over the course of the day? A shower - any shower, but preferably hot - and hot coffee. Seemingly minor, everyday things...but yesterday I realized what an unappreciated luxury they each are in my life.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
I put in the rest of the strawberries we had bought 10 days ago, leaving me with enough bed space for 24 more plants. I think I'll try a 3rd variety there - we saw Quinealt (a June-bearing variety) at Johnson's the other day. Or maybe I should put in 24 more Ozark Beauties? That would give me more everbearing plants, as well as hide a few of the everbearers on the backside of the bed, in case the cotton rats come calling from the tall grass.
I'd begun to despair of my "gamble garden", planted back on March 7th, but today I saw the first glimpses of green coming up in the area that I had planted to Drunken Woman lettuce. (I couldn't resist the name when I was ordering from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange!) Hopefully the peas, spinach, and the other lettuce variety I put in won't be too far behind.
Next, I "woke up" the front flower bed. Actually, no, that's taking way too much credit for myself. I should say that I noticed that many of the perennials in it were waking up on their own, so I "turned down their covers" by removing most of last year's growth and many of the leaves that had accumulated around their crowns over the winter. For once I did this early enough that I wasn't dodging all that new growth!
The entire time I worked I was serenaded by a combination of chorus frogs and birds.
Normally, auditory input isn't my strong suit. In fact, if I had had to learn in school through totally auditory means, I'm sure I would have failed miserably. However, I am finding that the natural sounds of a prairie sooth me in a subconscious way that I hadn't known was possible. I find myself relaxing and smiling, stopping every once in a while simply to listen.
How sad that most people don't get to enjoy this natural outside musical accompaniment anymore. Even in my mother's neighborhood, which boasts large yards and big farm ponds billed as lakes, the frogs have been gone for years. (In that case, my bet is that lawn chemicals were the cause of their disappearance, but it's purely a guess.) I know that some folks buy CDs of natural sounds to imitate this phenomenon, but there is no way that those CDs can come close to hearing the actual sounds, with the sun beaming down on you and a breeze playing with your hair.
So, for those of you who can, I urge you to open up your windows and wallow in the richness of the springtime frog chorus. And for those of you who can't hear them singing near your home? I can't think of a better reason to switch to organic yard maintenance and gardening for wildlife. You'll be glad you did.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
I don't like feeding seed on or near the deck because of the undesireables that it draws, but this bird bath seems to be a perfect solution for bringing the birds in close enough to get a reasonable look at them. The starlings have come in onesies and twosies to drink, too, but they evidently want stable ground beneath their water for bathing, as that hasn't been an issue.
Thanks again, Flip and Shelley, for a wonderful addition to our backyard!
We had 85 degrees last Thursday, according to a post I wrote last Friday. Last night it got below 20 degrees. Today it managed to reach, grudgingly, 36. Tonight's supposed to be back down to 20 again. Then tomorrow we're slated for a high in the upper 30's again.
I had decided I was ready for spring, doggoneit!
We were supposed to get rain when all of this rolled through. That would have been a fair exchange, but we stayed bone dry on Saturday while the storms aimed about 15 miles north of us, then we received the huge total of 1/8" when they reappeared on Monday. Hardly enough to be worth the multiple tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings that we had to suffer through. (On the other hand, we didn't get any tornadoes, golf ball sized hail, or 100 mph winds either! I do appreciate the storms' forbearance in that regard.)
Looking on the positive side, little has leafed out or flowered out enough that I think these temperatures will be a major setback. The strawberry plants we bought Saturday are tucked into the garage, since we were in the process of hardening them off when the cold came back. The asparagus crowns I put in on Sunday should be safely below ground where these temperatures won't do much to them. And the "gamble garden" I put in on Saturday (peas, lettuce, spinach) may or may not come up...but it was a gamble garden, after all.
It's supposed to slowly warm up through the weekend, until we settle for a while in the 30's at night and in the 60's during the day. Those temperatures sound pretty spring-like to me. I'm definitely looking forward to their arrival.
Friday, March 06, 2009
Be that as it may, I have to write and celebrate the beginning of spring.
Of course, I'm in Kansas, so the first rule of thumb is that spring in Kansas is capricious, to say the least. A week ago Wednesday it was 76 degrees F.; last Saturday we woke up to 12 degrees F.; yesterday it was 85 degrees F. I am SOOO glad for our heated and air conditioned house. Sometimes I think it's amazing that any plants or animals can survive this land of extremes.
Saturday was especially humorous, since I woke up to the return of deep cold outside, then shortly thereafter found the first tick of the year...unfortunately crawling on my head. Presumably I have one of the cats to thank for that gift.
Truthfully, I've been talking to the weather gods for the last several weeks, asking for colder temperatures for a while still. I really hate early springs, since they are so often accompanied by the heartbreak of a late, killing frost. The weather gods have not been listening to me however...except maybe for that brief sop to their conscience at the end of last week. I gave up begging yesterday. Something in the air got to me...and I've suddenly turned a psychological corner now, where my mind and body are screaming, "It's spring! Get outside and get busy! Grow, plants, grow!"
Of course, also typical of Kansas, after 2 years of major moisture (literally record-setting last year), the skies have turned off and we've had almost no moisture at all for the entire winter. Things aren't critical yet, but I'd sure be happy to see a few days of heavy drizzle. Given the lack of rain, my first tasks this spring have ended up revolving around watering, as deeply as I have the patience for.
That's not all bad, as it gives me a relaxing time to see what's coming up. Crocuses, both established and newly planted last fall, are in full bloom. Tulips and daffodils are in various stages of leaf emergence, while the grape hyacinths are just beginning to peek through. (The latter is surprising me, because I remembered grape hyacinths as being one of the earlier spring bulbs.) Summer phlox, some of the salvias, and the hairy phlox have all developed healthy new sprouts and it's time to cut back whatever remains of last year's foliage.
I'm really curious to see what has made it through the winter. I planted late last year, especially in the back courtyard, so I don't know how well established many of those plants were before winter's cold and dry hit. We've also had an overabundance of hispid cotton rats, thanks both to that record-setting moisture last year and to the fact that I'm leaving the tall grass tall. The cotton rats are not a problem as far as invading the house goes, but they sure do eat a lot of vegetative matter.
The lilac leaves are beginning to open, which seems terribly early to me, and the buds on the Callery pears are swollen, fuzzy and showing promise of white.
The final switch into spring fever came last night, though. We had the sliding door open in the kitchen, enjoying the warm evening air. Sitting at the table I first heard migrating songbirds overhead, then the first of the chorus frogs singing in the draw. Future freezes or not, spring is here for the year.