Garden chores are done, I’m heading heading south

By the time you read this I hope to either be on the road or already in Florida. My last week in New York had some of the nicest weather imaginable for early November as we experienced a true Indian Summer, which is defined as a warm spell following a hard frost. Short shirt sleeves and no mosquitoes to deal with is fine with me! I cannot say that I did not see any insects at all, because when I was fishing on the Ashokan reservoir, I saw numerous gnat like insects that probably hatched from the water despite the water temperature being only in the mid 50s. They did not look at all like the stoneflies I commonly see in the spring.

I also found a deer tick crawling on my hand, which reminds me to warn you to continue to be on the alert for these disease infested parasites. They may be active at any time of the year, even December and January. Please warn all of your hunting acquaintances to treat their clothing with permethrin before going out for deer or ducks or any other game that is in the woods and fields. I once counted more than 100 deer ticks on the head and neck of a single deer that had been recently shot. Deer ticks get their common name from the fact that they commonly over-winter on living deer. Sitting on a log or in a tree stand almost guarantees close encounters with ticks.

Gardeners performing fall chores are also at high risk since ticks are commonly found in the piles of leaves you may be raking. They are still clinging to tall grass and other vegetation on the edges of lawns as well. Hikers should keep to the center of the paths and avoid tall vegetation on the edges. Do a thorough tick check when you come out of the woods as well.

I managed to finish a few late season chores this past week. I potted up some Rosemary, chives and thyme that was growing in my window box and gave them to a friend, who has a bright, south facing window. She can grow them all winter long as houseplants along with some basil I potted up and brought inside before the frost.

I did till my raised beds in the vegetable garden and put 3 inches of wood shavings on top as a pretty winter blanket. One 5 by 10 foot bed got a full bale of peat moss worked in as well. Each year I try to add a bale of peat moss to at least one bed. Adding organic matter such as this is important to maintain healthy soil.

My 16- to 19-year old raised bed frames, made from one inch by eight inch, untreated, rough cut, hemlock lumber are finally starting to fall apart. I am amazed they have lasted this long! Cooksburg lumber yard, in southern Albany County, sells this type of wood, along with chips and sawdust from their mill. This wood costs less than pressure treated and much less than cedar!

Some forest owners have opted to harvest their hemlock stands in anticipation of the trees being killed by the hemlock wooly adelgid (HWA), but I don’t think I would do that unless there was an active infestation and the trees were already under attack. Besides, dead and dying hemlock trees often produce beautiful Reishi mushrooms, (Ganoderma tsugae) which are highly valued in Traditional Chinese Medicine. I harvest these, dry them, grind them up with Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) and encapsulate them. I don’t know if taking this supplement will add years to my life or not, but if I am still writing this column 20 years from now, that may be true! HWA does not seem to be as serious a threat now, as it did 10 or 15 years ago when it first showed up. Harvesting ash trees is a different story, as the Emerald Ash Borer seems to be spreading more and more. Ash trees, unlike hemlock, are also more valuable for their clear, white wood. I will harvest those on my property for firewood as they die. I hope they have stockpiled enough of this lumber to make baseball bats for the next 20 years at least!

Next week I will be writing this from sunny Florida! Have a good northern winter.

Reach Bob Beyfuss at rlb14@cornell.edu.

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