Sunday, December 29, 2013

Welcoming in 2014!

We never know what a New Year will bring us - happiness, sadness, sunny days, stormy nights, summer rain showers, or foggy evenings. 

And sometimes even ice storms.

We've all heard the expression just 'roll with the punches' or as in the photo at right- 'bend with the branches'.

Sometimes we have to do that. . . just step back away from the situation and see what happens. Occasionally, out of unfortunate events beyond our control, there is a deep beauty and personal growth that occurs within us and around us. We just have to look beyond the current situation.

Stony Creek, Henderson, NY

Our northern neighbors recently experienced a severe ice storm. Sometimes we're not prepared for something as damaging as this. Some lost power for several days and had to find comfort (heat, lights and food) in local shelters.

And even after the power came back on the ice still hadn't melted. It was too cold up there for the ice to start melting. The ground and trees were covered in thick ice.

We were lucky in that even though we received freezing rain overnight our temperature never dropped low enough to produce these heavily ice-coated landscapes.

Ice accumulates when extremely cold rain freezes on contact with surfaces (like grass, tree branches, vehicles, etc.) that are below the freezing point.

Entire trees or branches may break from the weight of the ice. One-half inch of accumulated ice can add an extra 500 pounds to a power line.

Major damage to trees can cause future problems that can possibly increase susceptibility to insect damage and disease.

Never try to remove branches or trees from utility lines. Let the professionals do that. And also, if any electrical lines or phone lines are down in your area stay away from them. They could possibly be back fed by someone's portable generator. Assume all power, telephone, and cable lines that are down are "hot" and could cause serious injuries or even death. Telephone and cable lines can be energized from coming in contact with power lines. 

If you received ice storm damage first determine if any trees or limbs are a threat to you or your property. And be aware that ice falling off tree limbs, power lines, and buildings can also be hazardous. After the ice is gone do a personal assessment of your property. Some trees that received major damage probably will have to be removed.

Pruning or removing your own trees is serious work and if you are not experienced with tree removal you are exposing yourself to possibly serious injuries from chain saws and falls from ladders.

For trees with broken tops remove the broken limbs down to the next major interior branch. If you can, avoid cutting off the entire top of the tree otherwise known as 'topping' the tree. If you top the tree it can possibly lead to weaker branches that might lead to future damage.

If the tree is only partially damaged pruning those branches can restore the tree. You do not have to treat the trunk or limbs with tree paint. Research shows that paint can trap moisture in the bark that causes rot and decay.

You can see the damaged limbs on this large tree on the right.

Here is an article and some beautiful slides from Canada from the recent ice storm. Scroll down to see the slides:

May the 'frost' be with you   . . .
to be able to withstand any curves that come your way in the upcoming year!

Thanks for visiting and hope you enjoyed your tour of the icy north.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Winter Wonderland

Where we live off the eastern end of Lake Ontario in New York State is in an area referred to as the Snowbelt.

The snowbelt is an area that gets large amounts of lake effect snow which is caused by cold air moving over a large body of warm water that takes up moisture, and then when that moisture-filled air moves over the land and cools it produces large amounts of heavy snows.

Because Lake Ontario is so large and deep it never freezes over so there is always open water. At times there will be ice build up along the shorelines. We have several snow squalls or bands throughout winter and also several cloudy days. Lake effect snow is usually large, fluffy snowflakes and at times in can pile up pretty fast.

The Tug Hill Plateau in New York State, which we are west of, receives the most snow in a non-mountainous area in the continental United States. Our average snowfall is over 200". We don't get all 200" at one time. It's an accumulated total for the season.

In winters where we have had significant snowfall, several people have to not only shovel or plow their driveways and walkways, but they also have to shovel their rooftops on their houses and barns. In the past several years people have had their roofs cave in from the heavy snow. And if we get rain that freezes on top of the snow it makes it a lot heavier.

Here are some links for more information on our documented snow accumulations.
Wikipedia definition and map of Snowbelt:

Wikipedia information on Lake Effect Snow:

This is an article that was in the New York Times February 12, 20078 Days, 10 Feet of Snow

Our Christmas Card to you-

I though I'd share with you some of our recent winter photos. 

Hope you enjoy them!

Mexico, NY

Sandy Creek, NY

Pulaski, NY

Pulaski, NY

Pulaski, NY

Salmon River, Pulaski, NY

Our yard

Mexico High School, Mexico, NY

The Mexico High School's Dollars for Scholars Program sponsors a fund raising activity that consists of community members sponsoring Memory Lights that are displayed in the high school windows during the month of December. The donations raised goes towards scholarships for graduating seniors. Memory Lights can be dedicated to honor family members, students, teachers of the Mexico School District, or in honor of lives lost.

The Holly. . .

And The Ivy

St. James Episcopal Church, Pulaski, NY

I created this little video/slideshow (below) in 2009 and thought you might enjoy it. It's a compilation of several winter pictures over a period of a few years and all taken in New York State. Hope you enjoy your visit to our "Winter Wonderland" in this video titled "A New York White Winter".

Mirror Lake- Lake Placid, NY

Peace On Earth  - 
And Heaven and Nature Sing

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

This One Is For The Birds. . .

Blue Jays

While many people think the blue jays are rather aggressive and loud around bird feeders they are actually helpful by attracting other birds to your feeders. Other birds might be flying over your house and if they see or hear bird activity they might stop by to check out if there is food in the area.

The blue jays do like to scatter the seed around in their search for the "good stuff" which to them are sunflower seeds and nuts. You can see that the sunflower seeds in the feeder have been picked out by the blue jays and there doesn't seem do be any left in there. The blue jay is native to North America and you will most likely find them in the eastern United States and southern Canada. It breeds near forests and can be found in local neighborhoods. Because their size and plumage is almost identical between the sexes it's hard to tell the  male from the female blue jay. They have large, strong beaks to crack open nuts and acorns.

They also help other birds by making loud cries in which they can warn smaller birds of danger. In addition to that they will also chase hawks and owls away. Sometimes when my husband and I are outside we will hear a bird and think it is a hawk in the area. I recently read online that blue jays will make a squawk that sounds like a red-tailed hawk to possibly scare other little birds away from feeders. I found that very interesting.

Pileated Woodpeckers

The picture below (while not the best shot) is that of a Pileated Woodpecker that was in our front yard last week. It's one of the largest forest birds on the continent and the largest woodpecker in the United States. They are about the size of a crow. Their main food is carpenter ants. We have some dead trees on our property and the bird was making it's rounds checking out the trees. I wonder if they are sometimes searching the trees for seeds hidden by other birds and squirrels. Occasionally they will visit backyard feeders for seeds and suet. We are fortunate in that we sometimes see these huge woodpeckers around our house.

These birds are fairly common and numerous. They like woods that have dead trees so that they can forage for ants in them by creating rectangle shaped holes with their beaks. They also use the dead trees for nesting in. While people tend to remove dead trees from their property the dead trees actually help other birds and animals by providing food and cavities for their habitat.

The cartoon character "Woody Woodpecker" evolved from this species of woodpecker.

Here is a link to wonderful YouTube video on Pileated Woodpeckers. I think you will enjoy it.

Dark-eyed (or Slate-Colored) Juncos

The junco is a bird that spends its winter in the northern United States and southern Canada. This bird's summer residence is in the Arctic or western United States. It usually arrives here around November when a lot of our birds are flying south for the winter. Different birds prefer different areas for foraging for their food. Some birds will eat off bird feeders, some scratch on the ground, and some will eat off of a feeder that is like a shelf about 1' off the ground. The juncos mostly are ground feeders, but they will visit a feeder if there is a lot of snow on the ground and the seeds are buried under it. You will usually find them in small flocks. They breed in coniferous (cone-bearing trees) or mixed-coniferous forests. In the winter they will be found in open woodlands, parks, and back yards.

Left: Red-breasted Nuthatch
Right: Dark Eyed Junco
The species of juncos that is most prevalent in our area is the dark-eyed junco. There is great variation in their plumage. The males have very dark feathers on their backs. This is a fairly small bird about 5"-6" long.

The red feeder (pictured above) is a new feeder. We recently put it out filled with seed. It took the birds several weeks before they started using it. I don't know if they didn't like the color because it was so bright and might attract predators. But now it's used freely by several birds.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

The nuthatches are very active and small birds. We have two varieties that visit our yard and feeders. The red-breasted and the white-breasted nuthatch. These birds are easily confused with the chickadees because they are all about the same size and very active flitting from branch-to-branch and feeder-to-feeder. 
Red-breasted nuthatch on suet feeder

They will eat seeds and suet. They will search for food under the bark on trees like the woodpeckers. 

They are abundant in the woods of the northern US and in the western mountains.

The difference between the red-breasted and white-breasted nuthatches (other than the color of their breast) is that the red-breasted nuthatch has a black eye stripe and the white-breasted nuthatch lacks the stripe.

The nuthatches can creep up, down and sideways around a tree trunk. And they can feed upside down (as pictured above).

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch (lacks the eye stripe of the red-breasted nuthatch)
The white-breasted nuthatch is the largest nuthatch, but it is still a very small bird. You can attract them to your feeders by putting out suet, nuts and sunflower seeds.

They will often appear in a flock with some chickadees and so you will have to look closely to identify them.

White-breasted Nuthatch

Black-capped Chickadees

This is a very popular bird at bird feeders. It's personality is similar to that of the nuthatches in that they are a very active and busy bird. They are also very curious and even curious of humans. We have been able to feed them out of our hands. Of course I'm not as successful at that because I usually get too cold waiting for them to come and land on my hand. My husband has been more successful at feeding them out of his hands.  

Black-capped Chickadees

If you compare the photos of the white-breasted nuthatch and the red-breasted nuthatch you can see the similarities to the chickadees.

They are very quick as well. They usually don't stay at a bird feeder but will take the seeds from it and fly away and crack it open on a tree.

This chickadee got its name from one of the calls it makes: chickadee-dee-dee. Here is a link to the chickadees songs and calls. Scroll down in the link and click on the "Calls" in the article: Chickadee sounds

I will provide more information on some of our other bird visitors in a future issue of my blog.

Like I said- the chickadees are a very busy bird

If you want to see these birds in action- Here is a wonderful LIVE link to the Cornell Lab Bird Cam: Cornell Lab FeederWatch Cam
You can see woodpeckers, chickadees, goldfinches, ducks, and several other birds on here!
Note: Because this is a LIVE Bird Cam there is not much activity after dark. This Cam is on Eastern Standard Time.

Hope you enjoyed your visit!
Maybe you can attract some of these
 birds to your yard and feeders.
Feel free to leave a comment.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How to Care for Your Holiday Plants: Christmas Cactus, Amaryllis, & Poinsettia

The Christmas Cactus

The Christmas cactus is a very easy plant to take care of and its cuttings are usually always successful. I've had mine for several years now which was a cutting from a friend of mine that had hers for several years.

Light Requirements: This cactus likes bright light, but not direct sunlight. If it's in too bright an area the sun can burn the leaves. It doesn't like drafts, heat vents or other sources of hot air blowing on it. In the summer you can move it outside to a shady location. It will take some sun, but introduce it gradually to the sun because the leaves can actually get sunburned. It likes average house temperatures of 65+ degrees.

Watering: The Christmas Cactus is a tropical cactus not a desert cactus, and because of this it has more watering requirements then that of the desert cactus. I water mine when I water my regular houseplants when they are usually dry to the touch which in most cases is about once a week. If your house is dry in the fall/winter you can water it more often. When the plant has buds on it, if it gets too dry, the buds will drop and the leaves will start to shrivel up. Your container pot should have drainage holes in it as well.

Fertilizing: I use about 10 drops of a houseplant-type fertilizer (liquid Miracle-Gro 8-7-6) in a quart of water every time I water my houseplants in the spring, summer and early fall. After that I don't water them as often and usually let them rest.

Setting Buds and Flowering: A lot of articles on getting your Christmas cactus to bloom tells you to move this plant to a dark room in the evening to help it set its buds. This plant requires about 12 hours each night of darkness and cooler temperatures for setting the buds. If you have a cool room you may want to move it to that room. I have mine on a back, west-facing porch (that is slightly heated) and that works great. We do not use that room in the evening and I usually do not have any lights on out there. No need to move this plant in and out of a dark room each night as some articles instruct you to do. When setting buds it can tolerate the temperature as low as 50 degrees. This plant usually does better in the northern climates because it prefers the cooler temperatures.

Several years ago I read an article that really helped me with the care of this cactus in its blooming requirements. The article stated that to get your plant to bloom around the Christmas period STOP watering your plant in September. NO WATER AT ALL for the entire month of September. The plant will wither slightly. Then after that start watering it gradually. You don't want to soak it or over water it. Usually after six weeks it will start forming buds. Another important item in this article was DO NOT MOVE YOUR PLANT ONCE IT HAS BUDS ON IT. The buds are very fragile and will drop with any kind of move no matter how careful you are. I found this to be one of the major reasons for bud drop on these plants. Usually around Christmas when my plant was starting to flower I would want to bring this into another room to enjoy the buds and flowers. Big mistake! Leave it where it is and every one of all the buds will flower.

In early spring you can prune the branches back a few sections and this will help in branching out. You can start new plants with those cuttings or share with friends.


Amaryllis blooming the end of June
I received my amaryllis a few years ago from a friend of mine that I met in Florida (thank you Judy Lembree). It came from one of her plants and she planted it as a small bulb. It took about 3 years before it started flowering for me, but it was well worth the wait. I have since started new bulbs from it as well. These bulbs come in several different colors. If you have one that you recently started, once it sends up a stalk rotate the plant every few days so your stalk grows upright. As you can see from the picture that these flowers are very large and top heavy as well so you might have to stake the plant to keep it from toppling over. If you get one of these for the Christmas season and it blooms for you, here are some instructions on how to care for it when it finishes blooming.

When the plant finishes flowering you can start fertilizing it. I use the same liquid houseplant fertilizer (Miracle-Gro) on this plant as well. The plant likes bright light and moist soil. Remove the flower stalks when the flowers fade, but DO NOT CUT OFF THE LEAVES. The leaves will continue to nourish your plant for the next flowering season. When it warms up in the spring (after danger of frost has past) you can move your plant outdoors to a sunny or partially sunny area. You do not have to re-pot the bulb. These plants prefer to be pot-bound. If you want you can plant them directly in the ground (but if you live in the north you will have to dig them up in the fall) or you can plant the pot and all directly in the ground. I leave mine in the pot year round and then just bring them in in the fall. The important thing to note about this bulb is that when you plant it, you can leave the top half of the bulb above the soil level. They do not have to be completely buried in the soil.

In September when the leaves start turning yellow stop feeding and watering. This is usually when I bring mine inside. Sometimes we can get lots of rain in the fall or even an early frost. You can cut the leaves off at this time as well but ONLY IF THEY HAVE DIED BACK.  Allow the bulb to rest in its pot in a cool dark place. I usually put mine in the basement in the fall and bring them out in the spring to start growing again. That's why in the photo (above) of my amaryllis you will see mine blooming in June. I will bring them up from the basement and start watering them around the end of April or May, and then they will send up their stalks. If they send up leaves first they will not bloom, but they are still growing from the young bulb and producing energy for the plant to produce a larger bulb where it will flower when it is mature.


If you are purchasing a poinsettia and you live in the north be sure it is wrapped when you leave the store to protect it from cold temperatures. Even cold temperatures for a short time can damage the leaves and flower bracts. And be sure to unwrap it as soon as you get home as well. The flowers are not the red leaves you see, but are the little yellow flowers in the center of the plant. Place your plant in a sunny window or a bright lit room. Do not let any of the leaves of the plant touch a cold window. The poinsettia is a tropical plant and grows best in temperatures between 60-70. It prefers the cooler temperatures at night to extend the blooming time, and does not like either hot or cold drafts from fans, vents, or open windows or doors. Water only when the plant is dry to the touch. Water enough to soak the plant and discard any water that drains out of the bottom of the plant. Another mistake that people make when they purchase these plants is to leave them in the original exterior wrappings from the store or greenhouse. This is all right to leave on as long as the water from the plant doesn't collect in the bottom of the wrapper. Some of the store wrappers have plastic lining and does not allow your water to drain off the plant. Poinsettias sitting in water is very damaging to the roots.

I have tried to save these from year-to-year, but because they are so fussy I don't recommend it. You can most likely do it, but you might not be happy with the results. I tried it again this past year and my poinsettia survived, but the leaves were a lot smaller. Probably because I failed to fertilize it on a regular basis (or maybe because I failed to fertilize it at all).

Hope you enjoy your Holiday Plants!

Thanks for visiting!

Feel free to leave a comment . . .