Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Cement Pour!

You'll never guess what happened outside our front door yesterday.  The first cement was poured for our final landscaping projects, this one a corner of the driveway.  We're not very good at making decisions, would far rather put our time into what we enjoy (like photography and quilting) and have been very slow to finish things around the house since we moved here four years ago.  It's about time to get what was planned done!

There was a big crew working hard, but they knew what they were doing.  It's taken a week to get to this point thanks to the rains last week.  They shovel the concrete separately into the frames for the two steps on the left.

It was delivered by a big boom truck, which helped enormously.  

But the cement poured out relentlessly when it was turned on; they had to be quick to get it all spread evenly.

 The whole process was controlled by the driver, with two small wireless devices to control the cement pour and the big boom.

I was really interested in the steps that followed to make it smooth.  The first step was raking to even it out, though this left a very rough surface. 

Around the edge hand trowelling was used, here on the steps.  I did this once with a group of friends - comparing myself to this crew who knew what they were doing, boy was I naive!

I wouldn't want to be the one cleaning these jeans or boots!

It took quite a while to  get the entire area filled.  The next step was this long-handled roller to roughly smooth it all out.

Then came this even longer handle on a smooth wide plate to really flatten it.  I was amazed at how smooth they got it with these two steps.

Finally came the forty foot broom, giving us the 'broom' finish we wanted for this part of the driveway.  I'll let you know how it all came out once it's dry!  And this is just the beginning; I'm going to have a lot of tidying up to do over the nest few weeks.  Not a lot of time these days for my usual photography.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Morning Dew

The unseasonably cool nights have left us with heavy morning dew sparkling in the sun.  Though I find it's a lot harder to capture photos of the sparkle than it is to see it yourself.  Here are a few of the shots where the morning dew actually showed up.

New growth on a tamarack.

 A spider web in the lawn.

Grass in the meadow.

A White Ash leaf.

Grass 'flowers'.

  A yellow coneflower (this one is raindrops rather than dew).


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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Turkeys and other Critters

Every now and then I spot a variety of wild critters around the valley in mid-summer, or right here in the yard.  There are many more species you don't see often if ever, but you know they're out there.  Here are a few from the past couple of weeks.

We regularly see Wild Turkeys nearby, usually out in the middle of farm fields picking up spilled grain - we'll see lots of them in the next few weeks.  But this group was wandering along the mowed grass in front of a fence when I stopped to photograph them.

One stood pondering the fence ....

... before flapping up and flying noisily on into the bushes.

We often see deer in the fields, usually just like this but further away, standing in the evening sun.

Have you ever  tried to photograph a Cabbage White butterfly?  I don't know any other species that flutters away so fast, and rarely lands!  And when it does, it doesn't perch nicely on top of a flower, it seeks out a sheltered place deep among the grasses or leaves, like this one.

And of course we have our ubiquitous chippies squeaking from the old stone fencerow.  They seem to have accepted the fact that I'm not going to let them into the house - perhaps after realizing that 7 of their relatives have disappeared - trapped and relocated to happier hunting grounds.  They don't realize how lucky they are!

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Changeable Weather

There's a saying around here that if you don't like the weather, just wait five minutes.  Well we've been waiting several days, and not had much sunny warm weather.  It's been down below 10°C. (50°F.) at night for too long now.  Our tomatoes will never get enough heat to ripen.  And it's been raining just when I don't want it!

These were the clouds last night, typical of the gray blowing and on-again off-again rainy weather this week.

The concrete contractors arrived on Monday and dug out the area for our long-delayed patio, and a corner of the driveway.  By late Tuesday it was think clay soup from the rain!

It dried enough that they came back Wednesday and laid out the frames, but then the rain returned.  The clouds tricked me into thinking it was going to be sunny, but no luck.

 But this morning things were looking up, a little warmer, and some blue sky behind the lighter clouds.

And this afternoon the sky was looking downright beautiful, though it was still quite cool.  Perfect weather for pouring concrete I thought, but they were finishing other rain-delayed jobs first, so no concrete til Monday now.  I just want to get this over with!
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Thursday, August 14, 2014

More Crops

There are a few other crops I've noticed driving around the valley recently.  Canola is the brightest, coating the fields in bright yellow, but there's a little bit of oats this year, and I found one group of buckwheat fields.

I only found one field of bright yellow canola in bloom when I went looking, though I've seen a few others further afield this year. Against a blue sky, it really is a beautiful looking crop.

Canola is not a grain, but an oil seed crop, with larger leaves near the bottom, and is related to cabbage and turnips.  It was bred from  rapeseed in Winnipeg, Canada, though there is a lot now grown in the U.S., especially in North Dakota.

This field, taken looking through a fencerow in the evening sun, is oats.  When it's growing, oats has a light bluish-green colour in comparison to other grains, but I haven't seen many fields of it this year.

In appearance, oats is quite different than barley or wheat, even though it is also a member of the grass family.  The individual grains are easily visible, held seperately at the top of the stalk, not clustered together as in wheat or barley.

This surprisingly white field is buckwheat, not a wheat at all, but is related to rhubarb.  But it is used like wheat; the seeds are harvested like grain and it is most commonly consumed as flour.  Production has gone down in recent decades simply because wheat and corn respond so much better to fertilizer.

This shows the flowers and leaves of buckwheat.

And I shouldn't forget the one beautiful field of flax I saw about 3 weekd ago.  That covers the crops that I've seen around the valley this summer.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Summer Crops

By mid-summer, crops are maturing and dominating much of the landscape around the valley, except for all the woodlots and slopes too steep for farming.  Corn, wheat, soybeans and barley are our main crops here by acreage, along with hay, and all of them are looking good this year.  A huge part of what you see in mid-summer is fields of these crops.

This is the wheat field I posted a picture of yesterday; it's now been harvested, and the bales of straw left ready for gathering while the grain has probably been shipped off to a feed mill for export.

Barley is very similar to wheat; both are grasses which get combined, providing grain and straw.  What I like about barley is the 'feathery' look of the fields, especially when there's a breeze and the crop is waving in the wind.

Another field of barley, still somewhat green, but mostly turning golden yellow.

A friend asked me what was the difference between wheat and barley the other day as we drove home from canoeing, and I was reminded that some people may not know.  So this is a close look at wheat; you can see the individual grains, and the short spikes or 'awns' which are typical of all grasses.

On the other hand, this is barley, not quite so golden brown, and with awns or spikes that are much longer.  These are what give a field of barley its wavy appearance.  Barley is a northern crop, and Canada is the world's 2nd largest producer.

And here come the soybeans, growing well and looking a rich green at this stage.

Soybeans are not a grain, but are related to mustard, brussels sprouts and other plants.  They look very much like the beans in your garden at first glance.  Later in the fall they'll turn yellow, and then the oil seeds get harvested - like tiny beans.

More and more acres have been planted to corn around here the past 2-3 years, as the price has risen, so we see lots of fields like this.

And as the corn, another grain like wheat and barley (but a much bigger plant) matures, it tassles, those brownish spikes at the top that are the 'flowers' of the corn, turning the surface of the corn fields brown.

Someone also asked me recently what is the difference between hay and straw.  Hay is usually a mixture of grasses (and sometimes plants like clover or alfalfa), that is harvested whole, by being baled - usually into large round bales here.  It's used for animal feed, and still contains all the seeds of the plants, which are actually what provides the protein for the animals that eat it.

Straw is the leftover stalks of the wheat and barley plants when the grain has been removed by the combine, so it's baled (often in large rectangular bales, but in large round bales in the first picture above) separately, and has no seeds in it.  It's usually used for bedding for livestock, and only as a last resort for feed, if not being just left on the field.  A lot is shipped to horse farms which usually don't grow crops like wheat, but do need the straw for bedding.

And if you're buying some for mulch, you definitely want straw, not hay! 

A 'combine' by the way, in a large bit of farm machinery that 'combines' the operation of cutting these crops and separating the grain from the leftover straw.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Seasons Roll On

The change of seasons in mid-summer is a subtle one, much more subtle than the rapid spring melt in April, or the first snow in late fall.  But change it does, and as this blog claims to document the seasons, I try to notice when patterns of change come together.  Over the past two weeks several changes have occurred that force me to admit that late summer has arrived.

One of the first signs summer is passing the mid-point is the hay harvest, mostly for feeding beef cattle; dairy farms cut their hay nearly two months ago, and are now into a second cut.

And here at home our own harvest occurs in early August, the garlic.  The Head Gardener grows something like 22 varieties of excellent garlic, and for two weeks both the garage and shed are filled with garlic laid out to dry.

Elsewhere in the garden, there is still lots of colour, but the Brown-Eyed Susans always seem to mark the beginning of late summer to me.  All the other bright flowers have been in bloom, now the daylilies are winding down, but the bright Brown-Eyed Susans will now last for weeks.

Away from the garden it's the goldenrod that starts turning the meadow yellow.  We have a lot of it out back.

On farms around the valley, the wheat is ready for harvest.  As you drive around, the golden fields of wheat are perhaps the most obvious sign of mid-summer in the landscape.  Haying is pretty well finished, while corn and soybeans are still green, but wheat is ready for the combine - today this field has already been harvested.

We also have a lot of cooler nights and mornings, often with heavy dew.  These tamarack needles were showing off the dew in the morning sun just a few days ago.

And of course, though I hate to mention it, the early leaves start turning.  This is Virginia Creeper, most of which will end up bright red.  It's only a few shrubs turning colour yet, but it's a taste of things to come.

So 'summer' is over, and 'late summer' has arrived in my mind.  Tomorrow I'll share some info about all the crops you see driving around the valley.

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