Willseyville Diary 2011


Looks like I didn’t make my New Years resolution of writing a bit each day starting 1/1/11. Oh well-let’s back date this entry to 2/1/11 and call it the New Year.

I have a lot of blog concepts-too many, as is my usual paralysis-inducing way. One, and so far the one I’m implementing, was inspired by an article in our local multi-small town paper, the Broader View Weekly http://www.broaderviewweekly.com/. For a while each week they published an excerpt from a rural woman writing in the 50’s. She wrote about her daily life-helping her husband hitch the horses to drag logs, being sick for a day, taking eggs to sell to a neighbor. Really ordinary stuff, to her, but it spoke to me both about a life I am living and a life that is pretty much over around here. It reminded me of my step-grandmother’s dairy, a five year one with a note for every single day. I never read it. When I first got it, it seemed like a list of bridge parties and church suppers-the life of a retired barber and his wife on their Southern Bell pension. But now I wonder….


The past week has been interesting,weather-wise. We’ve had 8″ of snow, bitter cold,40 Picture 033degree days, threat of a dangerous freeze that didn’t come to pass, and rain. The bathroom sink pipes froze earlier in the month, but Mike thawed them once from the basement and once from upstairs-a minor triumph, as “the basement” in this case is really the gap between the original stone walls and the new foundation, accessible from a trapdoor in the mudroom floor. I haven’t been down there since it was put in in 1991-I should check it out, in case of zombie attack.

I should say the sink pipes freeze because  they are against the outside(porch) wall, and were not perhaps insulated correctly during the bathroom rehab of 2008 (note to future inhabitants). We have dealt with the line from the well to the pump freezing by putting a huge pile of gravel on top of blue foam insulation on top of the ground by the basement bulkhead. I topped it with stone and put a table on it, to make it look like part of the plan (additional note to the future). Normally I am against these sort of makeshift fixes, but  the alternative is to dig the damn thing up and rebury it.


Minus 6 night before last-this is just too fun. I put off filling the wood box and now I’m sorry! It’s a bit warmer today, actually, so I’ll also dig out some flats to start seeds (native plants, no veggies) and find a pot for a pot-bound plant. Mike already potted up tree seeds in milk cartons we’ve been collecting. Some had rotted, but the rest are now safely napping in the mushroom fridge down in the basement. We still have frozen apple cider stored down there, but have eaten all the apples and brought up the citrus fruit (what a treat!) we were gifted from relatives in Florida. Instantly consumed were dried fruits from a client (thank you), and now I am inspired to dry fruit this summer. Last summer we froze rather than dried, and find that we rarely use it, as all I can think to do with it is pies and sweets. We still have pounds of frozen blueberries, peaches, apples and even strawberries & rhubarb. Canned fruit also doesn’t get eaten much, unless I set it out as dessert. In fact, around here, unless I prepare it and put it in front of Mike, mostly what gets eaten is what appears on the Snack Shelf-a brilliant item that has a post of it’s own.


In the 50s today, and boy is it melting.


Drove to Canada today to pick up our freshman for spring(?) break. Photo says it all…


Big news-the Christmas cactus is blooming! Actually, since it is a gift, it could be a Thanksgiving cactus. (Follow up:Christmas cactus!) The lovely people who gave it to us were downsizing, and also gave us a batch of other plants that deserve their own post. The cactus, which is an actual cactus, is a Central American epiphyte, and so actually prefers conditions more like an orchid than a desert plant. I make no attempt to force bloom at any particular time of year. My previous cactus bloomed magenta, but this one has more of an orange tinge.

Looks like we got the predicted snow as we  slept. 4 to 6 maybe? I was grateful to find it fluffy when I went out to shovel. We clear the walk, make a path to the bird feeder, clear in front of the wood and tool shed, and the sidewalk to the road. My husband plows the nursery and house driveways with the gator, as well as the neighbors next door. I also shovel off the trampoline, a remnant of childhood I’m not sure what to so with. My daughter so wanted one she made a deal with us to split the cost, and she did. Many happy,bouncy, children in various states of costume and undress, as well as a few camp outs and one broken toe, had their day there.
A few days ago when I shoveled the paths across the yard, I found inches of ice, smooth and slippery. On the sidewalks and driveway-nothing. The ground was too frozen to absorb the melt, while the sloped driveway and walks allowed the water to run off. I thought it best to leave a layer of snow on it for traction.

Since last I set the hi-low thermometer it has ranged from 0 to almost 60. Today it is more like 30, but the creek is flowing robustly.


Can’t help but start with the weather-it’s what it’s all about,ultimately. 6 below at night, 40 above today.


Finally got around to making croutons. Okay, it doesn’t seem that urgent, but here’s the story:
If I can collect enough stub ends of bread Mike makes us before they are too hard, I make croutons. They’re great in any soup, if Mike & Nolan don’t eat them as yummy crunchies first. And have no doubt-they are CRUNCHY! Anyway, last week Mike made two loaves that were not up to snuff, and I was not about to toss them. The birds get sunflower seeds, and that’s the best thing for them, so that left croutons. But somehow cutting up all that bread loomed like a large chore, which in fact it turned out to be, since the unsuitability of the loaves were their resemblance to bricks….



Halfway to Kingston

I’m gonna say we got the predicted 6 to 10 inches of snow. I’m gonna say it because I definitely shoveled it! Mike said it was the outer limits of his ability to plow with the gator. Even the mailbox by the road had to be shoveled out
I also had to bang on the ceiling of the wood shed, actually one of those fabric jobs, in order to make the snow slide off it as it was hammocking alarmingly. Not as bad as the gator shed, which Mike had to reinforce with lumber from the locust tree harvest. Of course, we didn’t retighten-here’s my favorite instructions on that:

“It’s necessary to tighten the roof fabric enough to avoid “hammocks” on the roof and also re-tighten once or twice again after a few months of use. This is important when assembly in cold weather (autumn and winter) because the fabric is stiff then and when we got the sun and warm weather afterwards it will make the fabric “slack” again and need to be re-tighten before next winter. It’s the owners responsibility to take of snow immediately if not slide off by itself.”

Which it did not.

As for how the wood is holding out-it’s the end of February and we’ll be burning wood until April, and we are almost half empty.
Most of our deer stay up in the woods, but a family has decided to browse the bird feeder this year. Their tracks cross the road, a bad sign for them. I’m no fan of deer-their overpopulation devastates our forests as well as our cultivated landscapes-but I have to empathize as they high step through the deep snow. I’m always interested in observing the habits of wildlife, and due to the unprecedented proximity, learned that deer squat to poop. How cool is that?

< This little thug found the bird seed dropping from the feeder below the window. Score!





Speaking of tracking through the snow, seems the squirrels (like most of the forest

Squirrel path

denizens) prefer a path, and make their own from tree to tree.



The creek

And it’s the big melt…Only a few inches of snow, but so heavy. Not so heavy that our snowballs broke the windows,though.

There were quite a few orange cones denoting flooding on 96B, but our creek didn’t. Very unusual. Our creek flows to a grate, then under the road and across the street to the wetlands. In any major flood, this grate is liable to plug up and send the creek flowing across a major highway. We’ve never been able to get the highway department to take an interest, so for safety’s sake many spring motorists have seen us and our kids in our waders scooping out the ditch.
This may be wishful thinking, but over the last few years we have put a fair amount of time (ours and a farmers bartered) into slowing the flow of the creek as it comes down the steep slope and old logging roads behind our house. We made water bars to close off a highly eroded shortcut altogther, altered the banking of other roads for better drainage, and, in areas where there is room for it to spread and level out, dammed the creek and let it silt up. We also reintroduced a natural swampy area that existed behind the old quarry when we first brought the property-enthusiastic pre adolescent boys had  terra formed it into something no doubt more entertaining and definitely more erosive.


Hmmm…starting a blog with an upstate NY weather report is a guaranteed way to get hopelessly behind. Since the last “big melt” there’s been about 14 inches of snow and another melt with floods. The latest batch of cold stuff brought with it brake loss on the F150, a deer smacking into the side of the Subaru, and the gator  in the road with a dead battery. Interestingly, a woman in the middle of the road doesn’t do as much to slow down highway traffic as an orange traffic cone. I guess the first is just danger to a person, while the other implies danger to your car!!


The snow melted in town last week and we started getting requests for tulip protection. This happens every year-it’s officially spring,right? And except for the 3-5″ of snow we’re getting today, I’d say yes…
Mike repaired the starter on the gator and “farmboy’d” some plow repairs. This is the last year we’re going to subject the green machine to an arduous job for which it is not suited. Plowing will beat up any vehicle, but our hilly, uneven gravel drives put the cap on it. Our neighbor has a 4WD jeep, so maybe we’ll work out a deal with him and put a plow on it next year. Meantime Mike did it again.


IMG_2966The hoop house is nice and warm so Mike tried to go up the hill in the gator today. It’s spring,right? What’s a little snow? Aprils Fools! It’s not spring in Willseyville. He ended up hauling down in the garden cart some of the logs he inoculated fall 2009 without shocking them in cold water. They will join the ones he inoculated November 2010 and left in the greenhouse over the winter. Stay tuned for the results!



Today is Sharpen the Tools and Get Ready for a Summer’s Work day. As always, I think “Why didn’t I do this in the winter?” I’ve got a great little garden shed, with a work table Mike built me from a piece of oak we picked up somewhere, and I made sure I had a little heater in there for all my good intentions. Oh well-this winter, for the first time in years, I really got some indoor projects done. Mainly, I transferred our VHS tapes to DVDs, and was that a job! Not that we have so many tapes (which we do), but the figuring out the technology part…I’m pretty good with a computer, but I stop there. I only learned how to silence my phone last week, and an iPhone it ain’t.

Canna sprout

I also need to bring up the tubers and corms and what-all I have stored in the basement, and maybe even pot up those cosmos seedlings?  Wow.


We noticed a lot of fallen twig tips around our Norway Spruce, and we saw the same at our client Susan L.’s house. She tells us she hears  the same from others-weather related, we guessed. There are lots of large Norway spruces in the Ithaca area. They were planted by the CCC, and we were told by Pastor Doan, one of the previous owners of our house, that one year hundreds of them were given away. Now they are a sort of weed tree in the woods. We cut them down for Xmas trees when we find them, not that they make very good ones, but we follow the Charlie Brown tradition of tree..

We are also seeing hyacinth being eaten by deer-another “non-preferred” food bites the dust, or rather is bitten…


Spring means garlic mustard, and though we are diligent, it always comes back. You can recognize the seedlings by their narrow cotyledons, and because they are practically the first seedlings sprout to sprout. The second years growth of this biennials is unmistakable.Most people around here recognize this plant, though not everyone is aware of what a nasty critter it is. I understand it is edible-just not edible enough.


“A tornado is the cause of heavy damage in the Tompkins County Town of Danby, the National Weather Service confirms. The storm’s path was 1.73 miles long and had an estimated maximum wind speed of 100 miles per hour.”

The tornado was classified as an EF1.


“April and May were the wettest on record for nine cities in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, reports climatologist Jessica Rennels of Cornell’s Northeast Regional Climate Center.More than a foot of rain fell during the two months in Huntington, W.Va.; Burlington, Vt.; Williamsport, Pa.; Binghamton, N.Y.; Erie, Pa.; Harrisburg, Pa.; Buffalo, N.Y.; and Ithaca, N.Y.The other record-setting city in April and May was Rochester, N.Y., which had just less than 11 inches of rain.”-Cornell Chronicle

In the farmer’s fields, it’s obvious-lots of mud and no plows. What we’ve noticed are an increase in fungal infections, and major branch dieback on lilacs.


 Quote from the Plantations Newsletter:

Holy cow, it’s warm!  As I write this on Tuesday afternoon, the outside temperature is 56°, which is 39° above the average for January 31.  This entire winter has clearly been an aberration, as we are now in a 25” snowfall deficit for the season.    I even have early crocuses blooming outside our kitchen door. It’s easy to attribute an exceptionally mild winter such as this to the effects of global climate change.  But that would be as short sighted as using one extremely cold winter to argue against the reality of climate change.  When we look at a 10 year record, however, we see that winters are, in fact, getting milder and that minimum temperatures are rising overall.  This gradual shift is what prompted the USDA to issue a new U.S. Hardiness Zone Map’ last week.  While the scientists who assembled this new map are quick to point out that many of the zone changes are based on assembling more detailed data over a longer period of time, they also acknowledge that most areas that were altered in their rating were moved into a warmer zone.  Thus, downtown Ithaca has been moved from Zone 5B (min temp. of -15°) to Zone 6A (min temp. of -10°), but here on East Hill we’re still in 5B:


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