Thursday, December 30, 2004

Mystery ice spear Posted by Hello

Mysterious Happening

We have an old procelain bowl on the deck that is usually naturally filled with rain water. The dog, cats and sometimes birds love to drink from it. And who knows, at night maybe the racoon and possum who frequent the bowl of catfood left for an old warrior of a cat, come and drink too. Better tasting than tap water I guess.

The temperature was in the 50's the night before this picture was taken on Christmas day. It was rainy and the temperature slowly dropped overnight to about 30 F degrees. Where did this spear of ice come from? The nearby railings of the deck were devoid of ice and the bowl had just a skim of ice on the surface. Why is it protruding rather than falling, becoming part of the surface of ice in the bowl? Strange happenings indeed.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Adding to the blogsite

Just added Chatterbox tagboard under the archives. Will slowly do more tweaking to the site as I learn how to do these things. I will install a blogroll next. And start reading more garden blogs if/when I have the time.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The Beast

We are on a constant lookout for rock. We've been known to spot rocks from the road and return on early Sunday morning when traffic is low to pick up an especially fine specimen. Once, we spotted a rounded red rock and did our Sunday routine only to find that it was so big and rounded that there were no good handholds or purchases. I thougth we would have to go back to pick up some lumber to make some kind or ramp so we could roll the rock into the van. Luckily we had a milk carton, the strong commercial oversized kind, managed to roll the rock into it and two of us barely lifted it using the handles, ooooh my aching back. Now we always keep a milk carton in the "Beast" just in case.

The beast is our 1989 Dodge Caravan. We've kept it around to do all the hauling for our gardening/landscaping. But it's starting to fail. No doubt because of the very hard work we've been subjecting it to recently. It barely passed the nox emission test by 1 point out of the 200 some odd (if I remember correctly) points allowed. In the past two years we've made over a hundred 5 mile trips of fully loaded, suspension down to the stops pick ups of free mulch from the municipal composting center.

This past year I read that the township was building a road nearby. Aha! a light went on in my dim brain, rocks! Sure enough after a scouting trip by bicycle to do a slow and thorough reconnoiter, we hit the motherload. Thereafter we did more than 35 trips of down to the suspension loads of rocks. We have piles of rocks stockpiled in several places after those trips, using many to create borders, stepping stones and rimming the pond. We probably provide much amusement (or disdain) to our staid neighbors with their perfect professionally manicured lawns. First we tear up a lot of our lawn, then we build berms with hundreds of bags of topsoil, then we haul tons of compost and finally mountains of rocks. Too much.

I had forgotten about the bags of topsoil. That was probably the start of the very heavy loads that the beast has had to haul in the twilight of it's life. Now it groans, creaks and growls, complaining loudly when we have the temerity to start it. The headlining is pulling away from the ceiling sometimes enough to lightly drape my head if I use the sunshade. The wheel wells have cancerous rust and it has hit a deer but not killed it, leaving a dented hood that was never repaired. Took it into the shop because there was a loud grinding noise when braking. Thought it was worn brake pads but was told that a wheel bearing was "going bad", repairs to the tune of $400+ to do both fronts; no thanks. The trasmission slips going from 1st to 2nd and it probably won't pass the next safety inspection so reluctantly we'll donate it next March to a charity for scrap metal.

Such a sad ending for a valiant beast. We will miss it sorely.

Sunday, December 26, 2004


I have finally figured out how to use the insert link function. A small victory.

Magnolia madness

We went a little overboard buying magnolia trees. The first two were the 'Jane' magnolias, previously mentioned in the scale insect blog. These were quickly followed by a 1/2 priced end of season 'Royal Star'M. stellata. That was followed by a M. sieboldii, a creamy white flower with bright red center.

The stellata looked wonderful in full bloom so after not seeing them for sale for a couple of years, the local nursey had them. We quickly picked up two more. Soon thereafter, Home Depot had them for sale at a ridiculously low price, $14.95 so we bought four. As soon as we got home we turned around and bought them out. Omygosh! we now have 13 stellata's. Interspersed between the all the stellata purchases were a M. grandiflora 'Edith Bogue' and a M. virginiana the native sweet bay magnolia whose leaves apparently can be used in flavoring food like the regular bay leaf which is a laurel.

Later, we also purchased a yellow mag. 'butterflies'. One of the local nurseries had these but the $400 price tag and 10 ft. size was too much for us to handle. So we leafed through the stack of plant and bulb catalogs and found this at Wayside Gardens. We also bought a 'galaxy' and the 'Edith Bogue' from them. I almost gave up on Wayside Gardens because the first two bareroot trees we bought, a golden raintree and stewartia, although they seemed robust, died. They were quickly and cheerfully replaced but it wasn't a good start. We haven't had any problems since so maybe we didn't plant them properly. The last magnolia I bought was a M. x loebneri "Dr.Merrill" It's supposed to be a larger version of the stella.

Well actually, that's not the last one. I made a late season purchase after trying to identify a mag. tree on the Princeton U. campus. I was looking through an old issue of Horticulture magazine and saw an article about magnolias. There was a picture of M. cylindrica "Pegasus" which looked like the tree at Princeton. Did a web search and found a wonderful mailorder resource for magnolias Gossler Farms Nursey in Oregon and bought a "Pegasus" in late October. Well that's it. I don't think I missed any.

So that makes how many?

A little obsessed??

As I sit here and look out the window with a little snow falling, the 'stellas' look great. The hairy flower and leaf buds looking like big pussywillows, makes it a wonderful winter interest shrub.

Surprisingly, magnolias along with the ginko are ancient trees, one of the first flowering plants on fossil record.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Upcoming topics

Merry Christmas!
This will be a short entry. I'm tired from all the running around for gifts and parties and trying to learn about and starting a blog. This was definitely the wrong time of the year to do this. Instant burnout!

Anyway stay tuned for some upcoming topics:

Earthworm suicide

Mystery of the year

The "Beast"

Rock collecting

Townhouse vs home with 1/3 acre gardening

Rock moving and lifting

Digging a fishpond

Sad vegetable garden

Sulfur spray


More magnolias

And on and on...

Thursday, December 23, 2004

And now for something completely different

Because of the holiday season I thought I'd get away from the usual garden blog and share a favorite Christmas cookie recipe. This is a very easy cookie to make and I'm constantly amazed that many people seem not to have had it before or maybe what they had was made with Crisco or margarine making it a very ordinary cookie. They really rave about this cookie recipe. It's a variation on the Russian tea cookie (tea ball) or also sometimes called Mexican wedding cake. Please use real butter. Do not substitute the butter with shortening or magarine. I've had it both ways and believe me it's a whole "nudder" cookie.

1 cup butter (2 sticks)room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 t. vanilla (please use real vanilla)
pinch of salt
2 1/4 cups all purpose unbleached flour (packed)
1/2 t. baking soda
1 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped
powdered sugar for sprinkling

Beat the butter, powdered sugar, vanilla and salt until well mixed and fluffy. Using a Kitchen Aid mixer saves a lot of time and sore arms because the dough is fairly stiff.

Add flour and baking soda and mix well.

Form into 3/4 inch balls and place on ungreased baking sheet. You can place the cookies fairly closely because they don't flatten and expand very much.

Bake in a 350 degree oven, middle rack for 13-15 minutes. The cooking time is approximate. The cookies should have a light tan color. The color is a better indicator for doness.

Cool completely on racks. This is important. Many recipes tell you to sprinkle with powdered sugar while the cookies are warm. If you do this you'll end up with a mungy mess. When the cookies have cooled completely, place in a large ziploc bag along with a good amount of powdered sugar and shake gently.

You'll be rewarded with a crisp yet melt in your mouth ball of goodness with the taste of butter and vanilla predominating.

I don't know why people eat store bought crappy cookies when these are so good and easy to make.

Bon appetite.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Magnolia scale. The one on the right is alive and was just picked off when the picture was taken. The others are dry husks taken off earlier in Nov. Camera: Olympus C-3000 Posted by Hello

Magnolia scale on "Stella" magnolia. Camera: Olympus C-3000  Posted by Hello

Monster scale insects

Neolecanium cornuparvum
Magnolia Scale.

When planting, moving huge rocks and gardening extensively during the warm weather months only very obviously nasty things about our plants are noticed, like huge aphid infestations, black spot, mildew, premature yellowing of leaves. After all the leaves fell off our small "Jane" magnolia tree this Fall, I noticed red-brown bumps on the branches. At first I thought some kind of wasp had stung the branches and laid her eggs creating the galls like the galls on oak branches and leaves. But upon closer inspection and probing with my fingernail, the galls turned out to be some kind of critter! I peeled one off and a blood like liquid spotted my fingers. This looked like some kind of giant scale. I quickly set to work and took off any that I could find. That evening I did a Google search for scale magnolia. The scale is called Neolecanium cornuparvum and the Ohio State University website has a good description and pictures of the scale.
And also on the site.

The color of the scales that infested our tree looked redder than those on the OSU website and had little dimpled dark spots on the body, like those little indented spots on bloated female ticks. Many of the websites that discuss this scale recommend using oil and insecticide sprays. I am averse to using sprays so picking off about 50 scales from a 5 foot tall tree was not a big deal. I only worry that I've not gotten them all. If it becomes a recurring problem, I guess we'll have to resort to spraying. But hopefully that won't happen.

I love this weirdly interesting stuff. Maybe this is not so rare but this was the first time I saw something like this.

I just checked our magnolia "Stella" and found a few of the scales on it too. We'll have to keep on top of this before all of the magnolias are infested. I am including two pictures of the critters above this blog.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Digital cameras

About the cameras I'm using:
The first digital camera I bought was from Ebay, a Fuji DS-7, 640 x 480 resolution camera with 2 mb Smartmedia card! The pictures were not exactly blurry, more unclear than anything else but the colors were fully saturated and gorgeous. I was about to donate it to the Goodwill but I may keep it for it's historical value-one of the first consumer digital cameras. I paid less than a hundred (not worth it) in 1997 but I think the original price was $600 plus!

Then in quick succession came the Olympus C-3000, 3.3 megapixel camera. The Fuji FinePix 1300, 1.3 megapixel snapshot camera since given to some friend's kids to play with. A Nikon Coolpix 3100, 3.1 megapixel to replace the Fuji as a snapshot camera. The Nikon is a very nice compact camera that takes very sharp pictures but uses batteries very quickly. I guess it's because it uses only 2 AA batteries which makes it light and compact so that's the trade off. Next came the Oly C-720 UZ, 10X zoom, 2 megapixel since given to my brother-in-law to get him started in digital photography and my current Oly C-740 UZ, 10X, 3 megapixel bought almost simultaneously with the C-720 on Ebay. I just won the C-720 was tracking the C-740, put in a riduculously low bid and won it! The C-740 is a wonderful camera and the long lens is great for wildlife photos and taking closeups of skittish critters-butterflies, insects, birds etc. A white deer who frequented the overgrown open lot in the back of our house was an incentive to purchase a long lens camera.

I also have a Aiptek 1.3 megapixel Mini PenCam sort of a toy spycam. Very tiny and light. Good for field trips to the nurseries or gardens. But I would like to have something with more resolution and easily pocketable. I think the Samsung Digimax 301 would fit the bill. It's a no frills snapshot camera with 3 megapixels and only $118 at WalMart but I'll have to get if past the gatekeeper.

The photos of the previously posted flowers were taken with the Nikon Coolpix. Picasa reduces the resolution of the photos for posting so you don't see the true quality of the picture.

The best thing about a digital camera is the lcd. I think the frame of the lcd makes it much easier to compose a photo than looking through a viewfinder. You are too much "in the scene" with the viewfinder imho. It was a revelation looking at the waist level focusing screen of an old Rolleiflex and composing the picture. More about this later.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Camellia japonica single blossom Posted by Hello

Camellia japonica "Spring's Promise" plant. Posted by Hello

Freebie anemone Posted by Hello

Winter suprise

Well this is sort of a test to see if I can post pictures using Picasa and Hello bot to my blog. Hope it works.

Our 1/2 price camellia japonica Spring's Promise (common camellia) that was planted last fall produced outstanding blooms starting in mid December. It tried to bloom last year but the frosts burned the two blossoms it managed to force out in a futile effort. The mild fall weather this year made for spectacular show especially when nothing else was blooming and all the leaves had long since turned brown and fallen. The camellia sinensis is a relative, commonly known as tea. Pretty spectacular flower for something we consume. I wonder if camellia japonica is drinkable? We planted three other camellias purchased from Home Depot that was the same price as the half off one but they haven't fared well at all. Two faltered because we planted them in a too exposed spot and one barely survived sheltered partially by the deck and since transplanted next to the blooming one next to the dryer vent. Camellia are hardy to USDA zone 7 so we're pushing it here in central Jersey with a zone 6 rating.

But just after I thought the show was over, one of the freebie anemonies that was given for buying a large order of plants by mail order, bloomed! The corms were dry and shriveled so I expected nothing but planted them anyway and was rewarded by this.

Sunday, December 19, 2004


It's late in the evening and the much forecasted cold front has swept into central Jersey with rain turning to snow followed by a howling wind. An auspicious start?

Welcome to my blog. I'll be rambling mainly about gardening, interesting plants, landscaping with rocks and our struggle with ridding ourselves of the tyranny of the lawn! Photos to be posted later as soon as I get familiar with the "blogger" interface. Some other interests such as digital photography, painting (art) and bicycling may crop up once in a while.

It seems strange to write something and send it into the ether not knowing if anyone will read it. Oh well, here goes. Leaping into the void...
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Location: Zone 6, New Jersey, United States

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