Monday, February 20, 2017

The Owl on Kent Street

Throughout the summer and fall, on quiet nights after everyone else had gone to bed, I would swear that I could sometimes hear the hooting of an owl in the trees on the hill behind our house. I never actually saw an owl in our yard, of course, because they are so stealthy and secretive. I wasn’t even sure if I could trust my ears, but this area is full of interesting wildlife, so I figured anything was possible.

I have been proven right — on the possibility, at least. There’s an owl in Newburyport for sure.

Kirk came home from work at the hospital last week with a tidbit about there being an owl in a tree in the park down Kent Street. (I live in a town where the juicy gossip is about bird sightings, it seems.) 

We figured we’d check it out between snow storms, and here he — or she — is:

Newburyport and Plum Island are major destinations for serious bird watchers, so there was group of people gathered to see this owl. Many came prepared with serious telescopic lenses and binoculars, and nice lady let us borrow hers to get a closer look, which was very cool — so cool that we walked home to get the kids and then walked back with them to have another look.

This is, apparently, an Eastern screech owl, and they love to hang out in trees and sleep all day. This one is reddish, and if the bird paparazzi wasn’t there to tip you off, you’d probably never notice him because he blends in so well. He picked a remarkably picture-effect tree to call home, though:

We were there in the waning light, and Mr. Owl did open his eyes and turn sharply when a big black lab came lumbering by. We wanted to stay until dark to see if he’d start to wake up, but it was getting cold. 

There is, around the right side of the tree trunk, another, smaller hole several feet closer to the ground. In this hole we found an either very brave or very foolish squirrel taking up residence. Other people who had been watching told us that while we were gone getting the kids, the squirrel was gathering twigs for his apartment and had scared himself silly coming up too close to the owl. 

Upon hearing us laugh, the squirrel curled up tight in his hole and we couldn’t see his face anymore.

This owl is nesting here, and I find myself detouring past Cushing Park and Kent Street when I walk home from downtown now to check in on the owl. There’s a chance the owl could mate and raise babies in that tree this spring, so we’ll see how long he sticks around. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

2017 Seed Inventory

Somehow this task escaped us last year, but usually once the garden planning is done, we go through our seed inventory and decide what we need to stock up on. At this time we also choose new varieties to try or seek out more of the same if something did well.

Once the seeds are ordered and arrive in the mail, we sort them by type and store them in a plastic box in the fridge, where they keep very well in the cool, dry conditions.

For reference, here’s what we chose for 2017:

Pole beans: Cherokee Trail of Tears
Pumpkin: Small Sugar Pie
Squash: Butternut JWS 6823 and Spaghetti Squash
Cabbage: Red Express and Hybrid Storage Green
Cucumber: Northern Pickling and Marketmore 76
Peppers: Ace bell pepper, El Jefe jalapeño, Baron poblano
Eggplant: Galine
Cilantro: Cruiser
Head lettuce: Green Forest and Buttercrunch 
Corn: Sugar Buns
Broccoli: Arcadia
Parsnips: Javelin
Cauliflower: Snow Crown

Cherry tomato: Sungold
Zucchini: Dunja or Fordhook
Cantaloupe: Sweet N Early or Earlichamp
Green beans: Blue Lake 274
Peas: Penelope
Vine tomatoes: Rose, Black Krim, Ukrainian Yellow, Moskvich
Kale: Dwarf Blue Curled

Beets: Merlin and Chioggia Guardsmark
Potatoes: Kennebec and Strawberry Paw
Okra: Clemson Spineless
Swiss chard: Bright Lights
Brussels sprouts: 
Fennel: Zefa Fino
Leeks: King Richard
Roma tomatoes: Amish Paste

Garlic: Early Italian, Kettle River Giant, and German Red
Bok choy: Joi Choi
Mesclun: Sweet Salad Mix, Provencal Mix, and Salad Mix
Snap peas: Shiraz
Turnips: Purple Top White Globe
Carrots: Romance and Napoli
Bush tomatoes: Paisano
Sweet potatoes: Beauregard

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

2017 Master Plan: The Patio Quadrant

The final planting quadrant is also the smallest, because it lacks the center C that the others have in favor of a patio area for picnicking. It also has a full bed of strawberries along with existing perennial plantings of roses, rhubarb and lavender, so there aren’t many areas left to fill.

Across the top row is garlic that was planted back in October. When this is harvested in July, it will be replanted with winter green like arugula, bok choy and turnips. The remaining section has Paisano paste tomatoes. 

Along the right side is a short trellis of snap peas, which will shade a patch of mesclun and other spring greens. Right now this is the site of our winter cold frame of mache and spinach, so our plan is simply to interplant the mesclun with these plants in early spring and gradually remove and replace things they bolt throughout the season. There are also both winter and summer carrots close to the house, where they can handle the shade that creeps in during the fall.

There’s also a note about planting sweet potatoes in one of the beds near the berries, where we last year I had bottle gourds. 

And that’s it! We’ve ordered all the seeds (more on that later) and are ready to start more flats just as soon as they arrive. It’s snowing now and will be off and on for the rest of the week, but spring is on its way!