Weekly Homestead Report 11: October 24th, 2016

In the spring, we used huge rhubarb leaves to form two lovely concrete birdbaths. Largely, the birds have ignored them. This week a couple of bluebirds found one of them and put on quite a show bathing.

In fact, all the splashing drew the attention of a yellow-rumped warbler and a junco, which hung around on the deck railing for the whole ordeal, as if waiting for their turns for a bath. When the female bluebird was done, the male jumped in, and eventually the others left.


Ants were on the move! These winged queens from a colony of turfgrass ants (Lasius neoniger) in our yard are about the size of carpenter ants, but if you look closely, there are small winged drones and tiny wingless workers all boiling out of the same hole.

Later, splitting wood toward the bottom of an old wood pile, we found actual carpenter ants, probably Camponotus novaeboracensis. These have a distinct red middle, unlike the common species, Camponotus  pennsylvanicus, which is all black.


Witch hazels are blooming! (This photo is from Northampton, but they’re blooming at our house too).


Our perennial mums (from my mom!) are just starting to bloom. This year I cut them back in early June, because my mom said that would keep them from getting so tall that they fall over, but as a result, they are starting to bloom a few weeks later than last year (I think, but don’t have any record). I hope we get a few weeks of blooms before a hard frost does them in.


Our current project is the development of a hugelkultur bed, after we were inspired by Margaret Roach’s awaytogarden blog and interview on the subject. The basic idea is to pile up woody debris, cover it with about a foot of soil, grass clippings, leaves, and other organic matter, and use it as a raised bed full of slow-release nitrogen. Since we have an abundance of woody debris (our property was logged about 5 years ago–just before we bought it), we thought we’d give it a try.

We’re eating/picking in the garden: raspberries, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, strawberries(!), squash (butternut, spaghetti, pumpkins), peppers, eggplants, and chamomile. Most of the ground cherries and tomatillos were killed in a light frost. The squash vines are also mostly dead. Some of the beans seem to be reinvigorated. Most of the brassicas look terrible–covered with cabbage white caterpillars, cross-striped cabbage worms, and aphids; I’m hoping the predicted hard frost on Wednesday night kills the bugs but leaves the plants unaffected.

In the hoop house, the new seedlings are all getting their first true leaves. Most of the transplants are faring okay, but we have something (a cutworm??) eating big sections of the swiss chard every night. I haven’t caught it in action, but it leaves behind big piles of wet goopy frass.

With the cool weather, we’re feeling a lot more like cutting firewood… I got the chainsaw sharpened up and running, and we’ve been cutting and splitting some of the tip-ups that are close to the yard. We burned fewer than two cords of firewood last year, so we have a good supply left over, but it is nice to be filling the woodshed for next winter.






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