Pruning is a skill that can be readily learned, and, if you practice it enough, you’ll enter into the art of it. It requires the application of a few basic principals using the right equipment. » Continue Reading.
Even while we remain snowbound, the days are growing longer and the sun is getting higher; robins are singing, and there’s a good chance spring will come sometime in 2014. For those who still believe in spring, late March is the time to start planting vegetable and flower seeds indoors.
Raising your own plants gives you the option to pick unusual varieties not available commercially in the spring, and it’s a lot cheaper than buying transplants. For kids it can be a fun activity, and for the rest of us it’s at least in part about seeds of change; a sign we believe growth and change are possible despite a bleak forecast. » Continue Reading.
It’s economical, sustainable and keeps you in shape, not to mention that nothing feels so good as a seat by the woodstove on a sub-zero night. What’s not to like about heating with wood? Certain things do bug people. The mess, for one. Stacking and splitting can get old. Adjusting the ‘thermostat’ may involve a trip to the woodpile. And occasionally, unexpected guests arrive.
Firewood, I’ve discovered, comes from “trees” which are covered in “bark,” under which insects can hide. As wood brought inside warms up, it feels like winter’s over to these critters, who gleefully sally forth. Inevitably, insects and homeowners are both disappointed. » Continue Reading.
When temperatures dip well below zero Fahrenheit, especially if they fall precipitously, things pop. Wood siding creaks. Frozen lakes and ponds emit ominous groans, snaps, and booms that reverberate through the ice. If soil moisture is high and frost is deep, even the earth can shift in a harmless localized cryoseism, or “frost quake” that produces a nerve-rattling bang.
If you live in a wooded area, you’ve probably heard trees popping and cracking during a deep freeze. It’s an eerie sound on an otherwise still night. Native peoples from northern regions were very familiar with this sound, and some even named one of the winter months in honor of it. The Lakota call February cannapopa wi, ‘moon when trees crack from the cold.’ The Arapaho consider December the tree-cracking time; for the Abenaki, it’s January. » Continue Reading.
Each year the Northern New York region gets a half-dozen or more freezing rain events, and every few years we might see an actual ice storm (technically at least 0.25 inches ice accumulation). But the storm that froze the North Country in up to two inches of glaze between December 21 and 23, 2013, was exceptional.
It didn’t have quite the punch of “The Great Ice Storm of 1998” in which freezing rain tumbled for 80 solid hours, but in some locations damage was extensive.
Ice storms happen when a warm, moisture-laden front slides up and over a cold air mass, and then lets loose the water works. Cumulus clouds billow up (occasionally spawning winter lightning), and when cloud air temperature is between 25 and 30F, the resulting subcooled rain freezes to cold surfaces. Warmer than 30, it rains; colder than 25, it sleets. If the warm front is slow-moving—or worse yet, stalls—the ice really builds up. » Continue Reading.
On a sunny winter day you may notice tiny, dark flecks bouncing on the snow, often concentrated near the bases of trees or collecting in footprints and other indentations. While snow fleas are the size of actual fleas, don’t worry about infestation — they’re not interested in either you or your pets (please don’t take that personally). Try not to step on them, as they’ve given us the means to improve both organ transplantation and ice cream. » Continue Reading.
The terminology varies: wild boar, feral swine, feral pig, Sus scrofa. Appearance can, too: coats can be solid, belted or spotted; brown, black, or white. Adults can weigh from 100 to 400 pounds. A female can bear up to three litters of two to eight young each per year.
Of the feral pigs roaming New York, many are hardy ‘wild strain’ Eurasian stock used for sport hunting which have escaped from shooting preserves. Some are escaped domestic breeds, and others are crosses between these types. » Continue Reading.
As winter edges closer, sweet corn is but a distant memory and field corn is fast disappearing into the insatiable headers of roaring combines. But here and there a few market growers and gardeners are bringing in some less common types of corn. While not very significant to the regional economy, locally raised popcorn and decorative “Indian” corn have emotional and cultural value that goes beyond their monetary worth.
In recent years, US farmers in the Midwest have been producing around 200 million pounds of popcorn annually, which translates to something like $70 million. (It also equals roughly a billion kernels, in case that fact comes in handy for you someday.) » Continue Reading.
The invasive plant sometimes called dog-strangling vine doesn’t harm pets, but it lives up to its name as a strangler, choking out native wildflowers as well as Christmas tree plantations and fields of prime alfalfa. In Northern New York, in Jefferson County, a nearly 1,000-acre tract on an island lies blanketed under this perennial Eurasian vine.
Dog-strangling vine grows in almost any soil type, has a prodigious root system, and is particularly good at making and dispersing seeds. It is so toxic that no North American bird, mammal or insect will eat it, and it bounces back from the most powerful herbicides. No wonder biologists and agronomists have been losing sleep over it. » Continue Reading.
In the Peanuts comic strip, the precocious, blanket-toting Linus waited faithfully for The Great Pumpkin all night on Halloween in spite of being disappointed every year. Perhaps his unwavering belief in the mythical pumpkin was spurred on by the fact that almost every year brings the world a bigger “great pumpkin” of the sort one can measure and—at least potentially—eat.
Of the approximately 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins grown annually in the U.S., only a very few are grown for size. Primarily within the last thirty years, giant pumpkin enthusiasts (that’s regular-size people, giant produce) have developed varieties that attain jaw-dropping proportions. From a nearly 500-lb. world record in 1981 to a half-ton in 1996 and a 2,000-lb. record in 2012, today’s giant pumpkins would be a dream come true for Linus. » Continue Reading.
As a very young lad I was told that the summer sun bleached pigment from clothes hung on the line, and saved up the colors to paint on autumn leaves. It occurs to me that solar dryers (a.k.a. laundry lines) and fall leaf colors are similar in that they operate free of charge, but their performance depends on the weather. The same clear-sky conditions that produce dry, good-smelling (and a teensy bit faded) laundry also make for the best leaf color. While the former process is well-understood, the latter is a story fraught with murder and intrigue, and requires some explanation.
Chlorophyll, the green molecule at the center of the photosynthesis miracle, is what makes the world go ‘round. Some say money is, but without chlorophyll the sole life on Earth would be bacteria, whereas without money we’d only have to barter. (Given that both items are green, it’s easy to understand the mistake.) Green gives way to fall colors, though, when trees start killing their own chlorophyll, revealing yellow xanthophylls and orange carotenenoids that were in the leaves all along.
How could a tree be so heartless as to slay its chlorophyll? » Continue Reading.
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