Natural Phenomenon

Alien crop circle? Or something else?

First, what is this photo trying to show? I took the picture and if I didn’t know, I am not sure that I would know what I was looking at.

Eastern white pine–in fall foliage shedding mode

Is this clearer? It might be–but it still might not look good. And while I can say that pine needles are never fun to try to clean up in the fall, what you are looking at is a perfectly normal and natural phenomenon.

People think that evergreens are exactly that–evergreen. But all evergreens lose some portion of their needles or foliage every year. Usually it is about one third of the old needles for needled evergreens like my pines, here.

In drought years, like this one, evergreens might lose a bit more foliage because they have been stressed by the drought. I expect that’s what’s happening with my pines this year.

For broad-leafed evergreens like azaleas, rhododendron, boxwood and holly, the same rules generally apply, but the timing may be different.

And of course, there are completely deciduous rhododendron–but that’s not what we’re talking about here.

So if you see an evergreen losing its foliage, take a closer look. It may be nothing more than the seasonal shedding of some old needles.

Fabulous Fall

Hardwood stand of oaks, maples and a few other trees

The fall colors really have been nice this year despite everything and the mild weather has enabled them to last a bit longer into the fall.

Leaf piles

But as you can see by the beginning of our wall of leaves here and my neighbor’s budding pile across the street, all that beauty is limited.

Tree canopy

And all of this still has to fall. As I walk out with with the dog, or walk out to the car, I can hear the falling leaves come down. At times, it almost sounds like raindrops.

Yesterday when I was out with the dog, we stopped by another neighbor who was raking. I remarked that all the people who come here to see our beautiful leaves never think about all the work that they are.

She agreed–but then added that it had been a gorgeous year for leaves. So I guess this is definitely a case of having a little bit of bad with a lot of good!

The Sounds of Autumn

It’s beginning to look a lot like fall….

I am not sure why, but this year, in addition to noticing the lovely fall colors, I am hearing the changing of the seasons as well in a way that I have never noticed quite so much before.

I always associate summer with the dog day cicadas and the songs of the katydids. But I have never quite noticed how vocal the crickets become in the fall. In late afternoon and early evening, their song is so vocal that it rivals the early spring peepers. It’s really something!

And there is the change in the birdsong as well. Spring of course brings the cacophony of bird song as every bird tries to outdo all the others for mates and territory.

In fall, it’s a different thing. For one thing, there are fewer birds and different birds. I no longer hear the robins and wrens calling and singing–but the blue jays are outdoing them with their strident calls.

The chickadees–one of the first birds to start singing in the spring–are singing again now, but it’s different now. I can’t tell you how. Perhaps it just sounds different because it’s now blended with the nuthatches and the titmice.

And while the red-bellied woodpecker is still scolding me every time I walk too close with the dog, now I see the downy and hairy woodpeckers back from their summer sojourn up north (or up higher in the leafy canopy out of my eyesight!)

And finally, there’s the sharp “crack” when the acorns clatter off the oak trees hit the hard driveway, roof or something else solid.

There is a beauty to every season–we just need to slow down a bit to appreciate it!

Indoor Food Gardening

Chile pepper growing in hydroponic garden

This is one of my pandemic discoveries. After losing too many vegetables to the roving parade of critters that call my yard home (more about that in a moment), I decided that if I wanted vegetables, I had to grow them indoors.

Mind you, this is entirely my own fault. Since I “married ” this property (along with the Spoiler over 25 years ago, I have done nothing but improve it for wildlife and convert it to organic gardens.

So now we have, as the Spoiler likes to say, every bird in Hartford County, along with those just passing through, as well as all sorts of other wildlife as well. It’s wonderful for the wildlife–just don’t try to harvest a tomato or some lettuce!

So last year I bought my little hydroponic garden and it’s been wonderful. We get all the lettuce we want, we can grow flowers, plants and herbs if we choose to, and I am trying dwarf tomatoes again. Not sure how they will do in my freezing house but I may get some before winter sets in–they’re already flowering.

Chile pepper grown outside

What I wanted to highlight though was the difference between these two chile peppers. Both were started in the hydroponic garden. The one above, in the clay pot, I obviously transplanted and grew outside all summer.

The one at the top of the post about to flower has only been growing since mid-summer. But notice how much larger its leaves are and how much darker its color is. It is much happier.

Similarly, the kale I grew (we just finished our last bit Friday night) was different too. It was more tender because it hadn’t been blown by wind and battered by rain. It was delicious.

You don’t need a fancy hydroponic setup to grow indoors but as winter comes to North America, you will need supplemental lights. There are several good books about indoor growing, and some about indoor food growing as well.

Supposedly my tomatoes will need hand pollination. I will try the “gentle shaking” method that I use for my citrus and we’ll see. I am not much of a bee….

Calatheas Are Temperamental Houseplants

Mixed group of Calatheas

I absolutely adore calatheas. I find them so appealing that I keep them clustered together on trays to help maintain humidity around them.

If that isn’t enough, in the dead of winter in my cold, dark climate, I have been known to take these trays into the bathroom with me when I shower so that the plants can get some extra humidity.

Another of my calathea trays, with a stray alocasia

If I tell you that I am buying a humidifier for the room that they are in, you will know that I have officially gone over the edge.

Calathea Maui Queen

But just because I baby them doesn’t mean they cooperate. You may remember the above calathea, Maui Queen, from last year. Last year this time it was already spider mite infested.

This year, so far, no infestation, but it’s decided that it still isn’t happy. You can see a bit of that here. But it’s more evident in the photo below.

An unhappy calathea

And speaking of unhappy–remember last season’s post where I said that I had some calatheas that lost more leaves than they retained in the winter?

A very unhappy calathea

If this keeps up, there will be no plant left to put back outside next spring. Ugh! Talk about tempermental!

So this is why I brought the plants in early. I can only imagine what it would be like if I were bringing them in now!

Not ‘Gram Worthy

5 year old poinsettia

I was having an email exchange with a friend about my plants and I remarked, about the above plant, that it was getting so large that it was getting in the way of my printer, so clearly I was going to have to move my printer. Moving the plant is out of the question. If a plant is happy, it gets to stay where it is. Something inanimate like a printer can easily be moved somewhere else.

Now, looking at that plant, it’s really nothing special–in fact, a lot of people might say it’s even ugly. It’s certainly nothing I would ever post on Twitter or any of the other social media sites because it’s definitely not “eye candy.” It’s not that kind of plant.

Office redo–to accommodate the plant

But it has a lot of sentimental value. It’s almost 5 years old–in fact, it’s probably older, but I have had it for 5 years, or almost, this Christmas season. Like many of my holdover “Christmas” plants, it now blooms out of season, but that’s okay–that’s part of the charm. So it definitely deserves the extra room that I have now given it. And as a bonus, my printer is actually closer to my desk so I have made my workspace a bit more efficient too.

Close up

I did a close-up of its leaves and stems earlier this summer–they’re quite lovely by themselves.

But sometimes, it’s nice to have plants that aren’t just showy. Sometimes it’s nice to have plants with some longevity too.