Monday, April 27, 2009

Summer Heat

Eighty-seven degrees yesterday, and windy, and the third day in a row where we topped eighty so the flowering plants are pushing out blooms everywhere. Take "Dad's Redbud" (below) which I planted many years ago to the north of the henhouse. This tree is Dad's favorite and he'd always point them out as we drove. I found a tiny sprig of a sapling to our north, dug it up and planted it here. Now each year we have its pink-violet flowers.

The tree doesn't amount to much yet. It might be 20' tall and skinny as I used to be, but it's literally covered in flowers right now. From the kitchen window, we can see the mass of pink above the henhouse roof.

And lilacs ... is there a better scent anywhere on the planet? Once, as a child I was sick in bed and my Aunt Belle sent me a bouquet of lavender lilacs which were placed on a stand beside my bed. I couldn't help but love them from that day forward. My aunt's lilacs lined her garage and she picked the bouquets for "Decoration Day", making the family graves at Hill-Grove something special to behold.

My lilacs are both white and taken from a friend's plant which was grafted and which bloomed in multi-colors. I suppose the root stalk was white. In any case, both of my plants are pure ivory and I can watch them whipping in the wind in the meadow today. I walked up this morning and cut a bouquet and have the lovely flowers in an antique vase on our brick hearth.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ohio Buckeye Unfolds Now

Now is the time for our state tree - the Ohio Buckeye - to begin unfolding its leaves. And unfold it does: the leaves are compressed within a thick bud and seem to unwind in a sort of explosion. One day they are closed, then there is the beginning of a gap, and a warm day follows and they are now green leaves.

I planted this particular buckeye in the meadow to the north of our house and it is one of several that has had a hard time acclimating. As the tree is native to these parts, I can't quite understand why.
Commonly called an "American Horse-chestnut", even a "Fetid Buckeye" (for the scent of the twigs and leaves when crushed), the tree is not particularly pretty when an adult, but gangly and thin. It looses its leaves early, even late summer. It stands there bare before fall has fairly started.
And yet I love it for the seeds themselves, mahogany-shiny and waxed as though they came from an expert polisher. As a child, I'd find these at the local creeks and I'd stuff my pockets with them. And yet the shine does not last. A collection of them left in a basket were soon dull and lifeless. If the seeds are poisonous, I don't care. I love them for their appearance.
The capsule itself which holds the shiny seeds has the same feel as the inside of an orange peel, thick and whitish and spongy. When ripe it peels apart with a jab of a fingernail in a rib. It is satisfying to peel these, see the seeds packed against one another as a litter of babies in a womb.
Old wives tales say a buckeye carried in a pocket will ward off rheumatism. Tell that to my father, will you?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Grape Hyacinth

Though known to most as hyacinths, these tiny flowers are actually lilies. They bloom in profusion just about now and they last a couple of weeks. Besides our daffodils and true hyacinths, these are the earliest blooming bulbs we have planted here at Pinehaven.

In the front flower bed, we have several clumps of these plants: Muscari armeniacum
They require no care at all. Simply plants the bulbs once and do nothing more than stand back and watch the flowers multiply year to year.
I surmise a spot I watch in Germantown is a blanket of these planted in a lawn. I watch as I drive by and see the greening grass suddenly gone blue and then fade back to green as the season progresses. Some day I'll have to park my car and walk closer and see if these flowers are one and the same.

Inside the kitchen window we've brought a small bouquet of the clusters of purple and we can marvel close-up at their tiny bell shapes, their fringe of white beneath. In my mind, they have something in common with our Lily of the Valley, though the later are more bulbous and, of course, white throughout the flower.
In any case, these tiny flowers that resemble clusters of hanging grapes, are one of the sure signs of spring in our flower beds.

Mushroom Time!

These are the special days we wait for each year when the elusive morel pops its head above ground. I walked to our favorite spot yesterday and saw a few small ones and decided not to pick them but to give them another day in the woods. I also wanted to make sure we'd have a dish to enjoy them in so they didn't go to waste. Tomorrow Mom will fry eggs and we'll dice these morels and fold them into the scrambled mixture. When the morels are small, that's the best choice.

These early morels are what we call 'snake heads'. I believe they're yellow morels (Morchella escultena) and I've never had any trouble eating mushrooms that have this obvious spongy look to them. But mushrooms can be deadly so eat nothing you're not sure about.
While I collected these, I heard what I suspect were a few raindrops scattering among the dry leaves. It was a pleasant time to be in the woods, quiet and dark and cool. Perfect mushroom-growing weather.

As you can see, the stem of this one is a little old, perhaps several days. They get a rusty look to them and they're no longer prime quality when this shade of orange appears. But we're desperate - and we're hungry for them - so we'll eat them just the same.

My grandfather, Elwood Schmidt, was the GREAT mushroom hunter of the Schmidt clan but he'd do the deed near Bear Lake, Michigan and those woods couldn't be beat. Now so many woods are posted and the numbers of people who hunt have depleted the crop. I can remember when he filled bushel baskets with large morels. He and my grandmother would prepare them in the cottage and bring them home cleaned, wrapped and ready to fry.
My own crop is a little more modest - a mere seven this morning - but we'll enjoy them just as much, perhaps more so for their rarity.
For Farmersville, our mushroom season begins as early as April 10 but we find them much more commonly from about April 15 - 20. Normally this would be about the end of the season. I'll check a few more times before the weeds grow too high and the weather grows too hot.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Pretty Plums

I was worried that the very cold night would wipe out much of our flowering trees and bushes. It got down to 26 at my station last night and I was happy that I had covered the rhubarb and even the tub which has seedling lettuce and spinach. But what of the vegetation that's too big to cover?

Take this flowing plum (at least that's what I think it is) over at the Farmersville/Jackson. Twp. Park. The flowers are still beautiful today and show no damage at all. Local magnolias, however, seem to be worse for the wear. I see pink petals littering the ground. I suppose it was a scary time for fruit growers, too. It's bad enough to lose a showy plant, but what if it is also livelihood?

Here's Mom finishing our 0.7 mile walk. You can see her huddled in the shadow, hurrying to the next patch of sunlight. The pond almost looks as though it has not yet melted. But it has! The wind was whipping the surface and fingering beneath our coats as we made our way around. Dad, meanwhile, was waiting in the car for us to return.
We've had very pleasant temperatures so far this month, though only six days have been above normal of the first eleven. The furnace still runs at night and Mom shivers beneath a blanket even in the middle of the afternoon. "I'm not going to complain about the heat this summer," she promises. It was 55 degrees when we completed our walk.
I do not think conditions have been conducive for a morel mushroom crop this year: too cool, too warm, too wet, too dry. What will it be in the weeks ahead? If the crop is on schedule, I should find the first in the next nine days. Morels are foremost in my mind right now.