First signs of winter

Some flurries this morning put a bit os snow on the garden and the first ice is forming on the pond. Tie for some seasonally white photographs.

This snow will be gone shortly, just a foretaste of what lies ahead … at least, it had better be gone soon as we are having a new septic tank installed tomorrow !!

Euonymous berries next to the pond

Euonymous berries next to the pond


Garden bird feeding station - the year-round post on the left and the newly installed winter one on the right. Something for everybody.

Garden bird feeding station – the year-round post on the left and the newly installed winter one on the right. Something for everybody.

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Ice forming around the pond

Ice forming around the pond







White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

Modified Sourdough Bread Recipe

In England last week I happened across a book for sourdough bread bakers (“Do Sourdough – Slow Bread for Busy Lives” by Andrew Whitley who runs, quote, one of Britain’s leading organic bakeries). What’s nice about it is that the methods are born of real life commercial practice with a healthy leavening of serious science and plenty of explanations for why things happen. This is not always as common as one would like in the sourdough world.

I was pleased to find that the method I have evolved by myself – which I know makes terrific bread – is not far from the author’s proven techniques … however, I have been experimenting today with the book to hand to try and improve on what I have been doing for some years now and have come up with the following recipe. It’s a bit different but it does seem to have produced an excellent loaf. If you would like to try it you should note that it creates a high-hydration (ie: wet and sticky) dough that is better suited to making a tin loaf than a free-form cob. I would probably reduce the amount of water a bit if making cobs using a basket in which to prove them.

So … the following really easy method makes a standard 3lb weight loaf. The book, being European, uses weights rather than cups as a measure – somewhat more accurate anyway.

1. Mix together 200g of flour and 120g of water and leave to stand for half an hour.

2.  Add 150g of your sourdough starter, knead thoroughly and leave to work for 4 hours in a warm place

3. Add a further 500g of flour, 300g of water and 6g of salt. Knead very well. Put it into a bread tin of a suitable size – it should about half fill the tin – and leave to prove for some 3-5 hours depending on temperature of the room. As it is November I allowed my bread to rise in a hot box … my hot box being simply a large cooler chest with a jug of hot water alongside the bread tin to warm the air and the rise was completed in 4 hours.

4. Bake for 10 minutes (fan oven – add 25 degF if you have a non-fan oven) at 400degF and then reduce to 350degF for 20-25 minutes until baked.

And that’s all there is to it. Start the process at 8am and you have a loaf for the evening meal.

Keeping warm …

Yesterday was our town’s environment day during which residents could choose a free tree (we are having an Amelanchier arborea – Downy Serviceberry or Chokecherry – see, visit the kiosks set out by a number of environmental organisations and listen to interesting talks. One of those talks was my well honed presentation of wildlife gardening but it was followed by a session given by a colleague on the town environment committee about winter composting.

Our traditional compost bin - works well in summer.

Our traditional compost bin – works well in summer.

The composter

The composter

Kitchen vegetable waste with wood pellets surrounded by thick leafy vegetation

Kitchen vegetable waste with wood pellets surrounded by thick leafy insulation

It was the winter part of that that attracted us, composting itself being something we have done for years. Turns out that given the right method you can have a compost heap working away at 50 degrees while the air temperature is more like -20. This is achieved either via an expensive Swedish device that we will probably get next spring ( or by cunning use of leaves for insulation and tiny wood pellets. The theory of the system is explained in the link above but suffice it to say that my friend J was so enthused we rushed out yesterday to lay in a stock of wood pellets while I spent the morning raking up bags of leaves.

Then it was time to do some housekeeping around the garden which included cleaning leaves from the pond and erecting a critter-proof cage over the sunken pots of lilies that I half buried in the vegetable garden for overwintering. A good weekend all told.

The anti-squirrel et al pot protector

The anti-squirrel et al pot protector

Euonymous, just beside the waterfall

Euonymous, just beside the waterfall

Redbud tree and second dahlia bed ... still some flowers and colour

Redbud tree and second dahlia bed … still some flowers and colour

Clearing leaves from the pond

Clearing leaves from the pond (apologies for artistic focussing)

Morning light

The Katsura was looking especially golden and glowing in this morning’s low light … pity about the roaring of at least three powerful leafblowers in nearby gardens. Kinda breaks the harmony.

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The leafblower is a useful tool, we even have one ourselves, but you only need it once per year when all the leaves have fallen from the trees and need to be cleared in one big heap from the grass before the snows start. What we are getting at the moment is neat-nick Canadians shifting half a dozen leaves from their lawns just to be tidy – often it’s the grass-cutting contractors so many people use trying to justify their expensive charges for another few weeks. “Harrumph”.



Katsura gold

In the early years of our Canadian gardening adventure we purchased a Katsura tree from the arboretum and planted it next to the pond.

We were advised that this was a small tree, maybe 15ft tall when mature … that was wrong, it is a good bit past that height now and going strong. Should it prove to be Cercidiphyllum japonicum it could reach almost 150 ft high (probably not in our lifetimes), if a Cercidiphyllum magnificum then a more modest 33 ft is predicted. But either way, this Japanese gem is a superb and hardy tree which at this time of the year turns a fantastic rich gold colour. In fact, Katsuras are so superb that we have purchased a second one, one that will turn red, a cultivated variety, for the southern side of the garden … though that has some growing to do before we will see it at its best.

The colour of the golden tree is particularly striking at dusk when it seems to have an inner glow that makes it stand out as if spotlit from its backdrop of pine and cedar trees. Every year I try to photograph this but so far have been unable to really get quite what you could see if you were here – but I will continue the effort. You have to see it to really appreciate it but I have included, further down the page, a couple of the nest pictures in near-disk that I have yet managed to get..

Here are some late afternoon images to give you a flavour of what we enjoy every autumn.

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However – I do have a couple of near-dusk images that, although not truly capturing the beauty of the tree, will  give you some idea of what the tree can achieve

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Meanwhile … yesterday was wet. It rained steadily pretty well all day and a gray squirrel chose to shelter in an old and redundant bird feeder near our dining room window. When we first saw him he was so curled into a ball that it was hard to see where his head was but after a bit he woke up as the rain lessened and decided to have a snack (had he brought it as a packed lunch when he went to shelter? Not sure) before going about his business. Apologies for the quality of the photo – taken at close quarters through a windowpane.

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Way up high

Needed to go up on the roof this afternoon to block up a very, very small gap under the overhang that red squirrels have used to get in the loft and raise their young this summer. ( … and, yes, we made sure they were all outside before anyone asks.) While up there I took the opportunity to get some shots of the back garden from a different perspective … note the rapidly advancing patches of purple ajuga overtaking the lawn – give it another five years and it will have taken over the world.


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Summer flowers

It is now well past mid-summer and into what constitutes “high” summer with a whole different collection of flowers in the garden. Including, sad to say, golden rod, which is always a harbinger of approaching autumn.

Brightest and most reliable of the flowers for this time of year is the black-eyed-Susan which really glows … to the extent that the patch in the photograph below can be seen clearly in the Google-maps satellite view of our garden. The light is also different, warmer and more ‘golden’, than earlier in the summer.

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Unexpected orchid

Round the side of the house is a very dry area under trees that is simply provides a link between front and back gardens and is also useful as the place where pots of lilies are placed to grow to flowering and then to recover afterwards (when in flower they are artistically placed in the main beds for all to enjoy).

This week, shooting up from a very dry and particularly bare patch of soil covered with pine needles and bits of bark from the firewood pile J spotted an unusual plant, but being of a botanical frame of mind, rather than whip it out as a weed she wondered what it was.

It’s an orchid – a wild orchid. Gosh, were we excited! A bit of sleuthing and we found that it is Epipactis helleborine (a.k.a. Broad-leaved Helleborine) … but sadly, we also learned that is an alien species in North America, albeit one of long pedigree having been brought here around 1878-1880 depending on which source you accept. Not only that but it is very adaptable and is found widely dispersed, especially in the north east … almost a weed in fact.

Searching our archives we noted that we had seen it before with one appearing in the front drainage ditch back in 2000. The roots are sporadic flowerers and can lie dormant for several years until conditions are just right.

Either way, nice to be giving a home to a wild orchid of any sort.

Epipactis helleborine

Epipactis helleborine

Epipactis helleborine

Epipactis helleborine