‘Temperate Climate’ Monday, Dec 23 2013 

Technically, southern New England has a nice, temperate climate.  Zone 5, just about right for growing a very wide range of plants.  However, ‘temperate’ usually suggests a climate of some stability and moderation….

Below is December’s weather history.  Isn’t the temperature entertaining?  December 17th: 3 F…December 22: 63 F.  No there is no snow left.

KCTNEWHA2 Weather Graph

A white Christmas? Thursday, Dec 19 2013 

It would be nice, but I am not counting on it…despite about five inches of packed snow on the ground.  A few nights ago it was crystal clear (with a full moon, absolutely gorgeous down in the woods) and dropping to near zero with daytime highs of about 12.  Tonight, it is above freezing and mild, tomorrow…warmer.  It might rain this weekend.  Such is southern New England.  The perfect climate for cynics and pessimists and those afflicted with the half-empty glass syndrome.


December Ice Monday, Dec 9 2013 

Contrary to the expected, December around here tends more towards ice than snow.  This year, the long spell of close/below freezing has meant that our current winter weather is rather mild: it started as snow and is now sort of drizzle.

Other years, however, it comes as ice.  That ice can be pretty is in no way a redeeming feature.  It tends to prune trees in an unfortunate manner. Most of the native trees can adapt, hemlock and spruce simply droop, white pine unfortunately tends to drop branches, usually snapping off a few feet out from the main trunk.*  This doesn’t bother the tree, but people don’t care for it. Birches bend, until they don’t of course.  Oaks and Maples stand tall, unless they are unbalanced due to a combination of factors (unbalanced rapid growth, saturated ground, wind, etc.); they usually don’t drop branches in ice storms however.**  The truly vulnerable trees are the non-native ornamental ones which often have many narrowly branched limbs, such as Japanese Maples; sadly those tend to tear off at the trunk, making for a difficult pruning job afterwards.

This shows a light ice-load on the trees east of the house, you can see how the Norway Spruces in the background (which normally would be touching) have turned into individual ‘cones’ as the branches are weighed down.  The closest trees are pines, and you can just tell that the main branches do not flex at all, only the smaller branches under a few inches in diameter.  The Maples in the midground have not changed shape at all.


*Mature white pines, that is, the 70 ft plus monsters, such as the ones in the photo.  The limbs simply fracture, if you look at them afterwards there is very little tearing in the way you see on maple or ash.

**Look, All Trees can and do drop things in storms (don’t go dancing around in the woods without paying attention to what is above you!)

Balanced trees are important, some trees are more tolerant than others and can carry an uneven load: as is shown by this River Birch, which is quite one-sided, but it capable of bending in the main trunk:


However, there is always a possibility that they can carry the uneven load until they don’t: this double trunk Red Oak was about sixty years old, perfectly healthy.  It simply grew a bit too much due to the other side of the road being cleared two years previously, giving it much more light.  As you can see, there were no branches on the side facing away from the road.  Ice plus saturated ground plus a year of abundant extra growth and…thud.  (this was several years ago, the trees have since been aggressively pruned by the DOT)*


*Murphy’s Law being what it is, there was a car going past at the time.  The driver was fine, the car not so much.


Winter Fog Thursday, Dec 5 2013 

While we still aren’t getting much in the way of rain, the really dry weather seems to have quit.*  Yesterday morning there was a lovely bit of hoar frost down in the river valley.  Today, is one of those foggy still days, with visibility at about 100 ft.  I can just see the top of the big Norway Spruce so visibility upwards is about 110 feet (a handy measuring stick there!) The meadow, of course, with nothing in it is just a solid grey cloud bank, a wall; the fog in the woods gradually obscures things so there is more apparent depth. I like days like this; somehow they are quieter, calmer.

*the water companies seem to have decided that if the reservoirs are low they might as well do work, took a trip over to Boston yesterday and I think that every single reservoir/water facility had some work being done!



Weather Saturday, Nov 2 2013 

A bit of rain and wind to welcome November.  I like that sort of wind, even if it keeps one awake and knocks the power lines askew.  Some people don’t though; here is Julie’s take on November wind in upstate New York, 1856:

“The Storm wind has been abroad raging and tearing around madly, all the time, spitefully howling down the chimneys, shrieking in at the windows, rattling the panes, and creaking all the doors. Sobbing and soughing in the pine trees and being as generally ill conditioned and disagreeable as it is possible for a winged wind to be.”

I suppose, it is easy to enjoy the wind with the advent of decent storm windows.  Still, I liked it in Edinburgh where I definitely Didn’t have decent windows!

Kaboom! Monday, Sep 30 2013 

I was looking at the hay-field hedgerows the other day, eyeing the work that needs to be done, now that the hay is finished for the year.

As I got to the bottom hedgerow I noticed something a bit odd…large amounts of skinned wood and bark scattered here and there, with splinters hung up in the trees and scattered out in the field.  Look a bit harder.  Sure enough, the tallest ash (about 16 inches in diameter and fifty plus feet in height) in the hedgerow was most assuredly damaged.  A direct lightning strike had blown off the entire quarter-side of it, for all the world like someone had split a single long rail starting about forty feet up and running to the ground.  The largest ‘splinters’ were about 12 feet long and up to seventy feet away.  One that stabbed itself into the field* actually bent from the impact, no easy thing to do to a chunk of ash several inches thick.  They are also bone dry.  I can see where inspiration for a split rail came from!  For that matter where the myths of Paul Bunyan came from.


*a late season hay-field around here has a little more given than concrete, but not much.

The Problem of Trees Sunday, Jun 30 2013 

I keep anticipating the sound of chainsaws over at our neighbours. They, like us, have large lawns and large old trees. Unlike us, they have not been at all lucky. We lost a few trees up by the house during the hurricane last year, but all but one were minor points in the landscape. Now down in the woods, near that old willow in the last post, it looks like a giant’s game of pick-up sticks: a set of black locusts going every which way (and all are hung). But those locusts were all exhbiting serious structural issues already. However, we haven’t* lost any of the trees on the lawn.
Our neighbours, however, have lost four sugar maples and big copper beech. None were outwardly problematic in their structure, but they were all about as big as they ought to get. I have some theories, unproven of course.
First: spacing, trees are evolved to work together. Their roots are intertwined, and if their canopies touch it would stand to reason that the wind loads are, if not less, at least distributed. Extremely wide spacing forces them to stand and fall alone. The trees on our lawn are much more closely spaced, creating a high closed canopy.
Secondly: competitive growth. One of the more interesting points a state forester mentioned to me once was the Sugar Maples are designed to grow in a dense forest situation. Put them in a full sun situation and they can grow too big, too full, and too fast overtaxing the strength of their wood and their roots. It stands to reason that certain other tree species might be better adapted to standing alone; anything requiring full sun to get started, or evolved to handle fire, or perhaps flooding?
Lastly: over-fertilization. Our neighbours fertilize their lawn, heavily, the previous owners never did. This also helps create lush growth in the trees. But, it would seem to me, if the tree is already as big as it ought to get, mechanically, than a sudden spurt of heavy new growth, which catches the wind and the water, might just be too much.
Theories anyway. Probably half-baked.

*I know, I know I just jinxed us, we’ll get a storm tonight and down they’ll come.

Waterproof Flowers Saturday, May 25 2013 

I am not going to object to the several days of cold rain, though 50, raining, and constant wind, is bracing. The rain now means daffodils next year, among other things (you know, minor things: like enough groundwater!). And it has refreshed the water in the ponds, reducing the duckweed/algae thing. I am glad the tomatoes aren’t out yet, however.
It does give one a good chance to look at what flowers can or cannot stand up to such large amounts of water and wind. Lilacs melt, as only lilacs can, into rather unappealing mush. If the flowers panicles are young and unbruised by the wind, they stand up well. But if they are at all passed their peak…brown mush.
The early clematis ‘Mayleen’ seems to think it is just fine, despite an exposed location where the flowers can get beaten against the trellis in the wind, they are apparently undamaged. None of the others have opened yet.
The evergreen azaleas…mush, pretty mush, but still. They were past their peak anyway, but usually they last a little longer. The exception is one red azalea, its smaller flowers seem to be able to handle the rain.*
The deciduous azaleas are a surprise, despite the huge flowers of the Exbury types, the rain has not damaged them. The native swamp azaleas are quite happy.
The viburnums are variable, snowball types tend to catch the water…mush. The mariesi snowflake types don’t mind.

Columbines love it, although I think it may shorten the individual flower’s life. Tulips disintegrate, but they were essentially done. Camassia can get flattened if it lacks support. Sweet woodruff, tiarella, forget-me-nots, rocket, trillium: all very happy.
The real surprise performers are the iris. They are just starting to open, and as long as they are staked or have short stalks, the rain doesn’t seem to bother them at all, nor does the wind.

*This is an azalea of uncertain parentage, tiny evergreen leaves and equally tiny scarlet red flowers. Think cardinal flower red. It is in a terrible location which has gotten much too shady, but the idea of moving a thirty year old azalea scares me.

After the Storm Wednesday, May 22 2013 

We have jumped from cold New England spring to hot, muggy New England summer essentially overnight. Naturally, the storms have come along; this one hammered the towns to the west and south with hail and numerous ground strikes, we (thankfully) simply got a lot of much needed rain.






Late night snow Thursday, Jan 17 2013 

Yesterday’s little snowstorm was very elegant.  It was nasty wet weather, so its beauty is really only appreciable from the standpoint of being able to retreat to ‘warm and dry’.  But, about four inches of wet snow, sticking to all the trees makes for a lovely picture, especially this morning with the sun peeking out.  The ice on top ensured that it really Stuck.

It was also lovely driving home last night, the hemlocks and pines were great white curtains, arching over the road.  The crescent moon, low in the sky, had broken out of the clouds.  And while the landscape was a pale, white-blue; it was a sharp, shining gold arc in an ink black sky.

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