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Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page

Soggy Soil Delays Planting

In Champlain Valley, Daily Munge, Gardens, Lake Champlain, What's Rosslyn?, What's the story?, Where's Rosslyn? on April 29, 2011 at 7:21 pm
Doug Decker tilling the vegetable garden

Doug Decker tilling the vegetable garden

With some Champlain Valley residents being evacuated by boat and the Wesport Marina totally flooded, we’re feeling fortunate that a submerged boathouse and waterfront is the extent of our flooding problems.

Although we have our work cut our for us when Lake Champlain water levels drop, another short-term challenge is the super saturated soil. Tilling the vegetable garden has been out of the question, planting more grape vines, fruit trees and shrubs likewise has been suspended lest we drown the roots. Last year, I planted spinach and radishes in the garden in mid-March, and my bride and I had been gorging on succulent baby spinach for weeks by this point. Not so this year. Some onions and leeks wintered over, but nothing new has been planted in the vegetable garden yet.

The 7.88 inches of rain that fell in April in Burlington is of course a record, and is a full five inches more that what normally falls in the month… The soil is saturated and completely unworkable for farmers, gardeners, vegetable growers and others… To let farmers catch up, we really need at least a couple weeks of warm, dry, sunny weather… (Burlington Free Press)

I received a call from Mr. Murphy, the gentleman who — with his son and sometimes his grandson — has done an unbelievable job of maintaining our lawns for the last two years. He wanted to know when to start mowing lawns for the season. He agreed that the ground was far too saturated and suggested we wait a couple of weeks. I agreed.

Frankly, I’ve agreed with almost every decision Mr. Murphy has made over the last two years. He’s a lawn master. And a weather master. He keeps track of the forecast and works around it, advancing or pushing back our lawn mowing each week per the rain forecast. And so far we’ve never once had an unmowed lawn for the weekend! And he’s nice as can be, always smiling, always ready to let me in on an amusing story or anecdote. He’s famous in these parts for his tomato plants. He raises many hundreds of plants and then sells them to friends and neighbors, donating the profits to the local animal shelter.

In short, I’m a big fan of Mr. Murphy, and when he told me that his greenhouse was flooded, I was sympathetic as only a sunken boathouse owner could be. Water, water everywhere! We’re all ready for a drought…

Blooming hyacinth perfume the air

Hyacinth perfume the air outside our breakfast room

Actually, today I took matters into my own hands. Despite the notion that a couple of dry weeks would be needed to till and plant, I jumped the gun. Rising lake water had gotten its talons into my spirit, so I decided to ignore the flood and enjoy the first balmy spring day in a while gardening, pruning, landscaping. And you know what? It worked! I only wish I’d tried this approach a few days ago. Maybe Lake Champlain wouldn’t have risen so high.

Doug and I spent part of the morning changing over the tractor from snow plow to backhoe, and then proceeded to rip out a lumber retaining wall at the southeast corner of the old clay tennis court. I suspected that the area contained objectionable refuse (a battery and part of a garden hose had floated to the surface) and the wall had been built altogether too close to the carriage barn resulting in sill and framing rot. I’ll tell the story of what we discovered in another post.

Then we tilled the garden under for the second time, adding plenty of sphagnum moss to help lighten the soil. We were premature. The tines clogged repeatedly, but we made it through which will help the soil dry out. Tomorrow I’m hoping to make another pass and possibly — I dare not pronounce my wish lest I tempt the rain fates — just possibly I’ll be able to plant some spinach and kale. I’d hoped to have the vegetable garden so much further along by now because of some ambitious plans. We’re relocating the asparagus patch from south of the carriage barn to back by the vegetable garden. The strawberry beds will also be moved. And the rhubarb. And blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are arriving in a couple of weeks to be planted. None of these beds have been prepared yet.

But today marked the first major step forward in preparing the vegetable and fruit gardens. And tomorrow, weather permitting, I intend to continue full steam ahead! Fingers crossed…

Lake Champlain vs. Rosslyn Boathouse

In Boathouse, Daily Munge, Lake Champlain, What's Rosslyn?, What's the story?, Where's Rosslyn? on April 29, 2011 at 9:10 am
Rosslyn boathouse is flooded

Rosslyn boathouse is flooded (6:00am April, 29, 2011)

We knew it would happen sooner or later. But like so many inevitable but dreaded events, we’d wrapped ourselves in a warm comforter of denial. And four springs slipped quickly past since purchasing Rosslyn without the boathouse getting flooded. Sure, we’ve had plenty of high water, but the water’s never risen above the floorboards. In fact, the highest it had ever gotten was about 9-12″ below the floorboards!

Not this year. Lake Champlain‘s water level has risen quickly in recent weeks due in part to seasonal spring melt after an extremely snowy winter and spring. But spring rains are the real culprit. Lots and lots and lots of rain. We’ve been watching day by day as the water crept up, reassuring ourselves that it must be cresting soon… Only it wasn’t. It’s still rising. About another 5″ inches since yesterday afternoon, bringing it to about one foot in the last 24 hours. That’s fast! But slow enough for us to clear out the items that don’t play well with water. Which put a dent in Doug’s carpentry work upstairs, finishing up the trim and oiling the fir. We also had to shut down all electric. Which makes for a dark and eerie lair in the evening. A bit like a flooded tunnel. Interesting photos though…

Most of the drama surrounds the boathouse, especially since we’ve worked long and hard to restore it to health and happiness. But the waterfront is another big concern. Major erosion already, and that’s with relatively light wind and minimal wave action. Big wind and big waves could be catastrophic! Hoping against hope that the wind will remain calm and the waters will fall. Help me hope if you’ve got psychic horsepower to spare. Although we haven’t finished landscaping the entire waterfront, roughly a third (about 80′) looked great up until a few days ago. We’ve rebuilt the stone walls and planted a lawn on the terrace above the beach. The rear edge of the lawn, following the base of the next stone terrace had grown into a handsome daylily bed that stretched the full eighty feet. Spectacular in summer. Now virtually erased by drift wood grinding and churning in the waves. All hand planted. All pampered through the first season. All healthy and thriving earlier this week. All gone now. Memories. I can only hope that some of the bulbs are intact, floating around Lake Champlain, and that they will wash up on people’s beaches and surprise them this summer with heirloom blooms!

In the time it took me to whip up this post, the USGS has changed the Lake Champlain water level from 102.54″ to 102.61″ which happened over an interval of about three hours. So, still not cresting. And the sky has gone from sunny and clear to dark and cloudy. Storm clouds threatening. Wind rising…

Essex-Charlotte Ferry Flooded Out

In Boathouse, Daily Munge, Lake Champlain, What's Rosslyn?, What's the story?, Where's Rosslyn? on April 28, 2011 at 12:15 pm
Essex-Charlotte Ferry closes due to flooding

Essex-Charlotte Ferry closes due to flooding

At 8:13 AM I received an email and text message from Lake Champlain Transportation notifying me (and all other ferry-watchers) the inevitable.

4/28/11 – Effective IMMEDIATELY – Charlotte, VTEssex, NY ferry crossing closed due to record high water until further notice…

I can’t say that I was surprised. After all, I took the ferry from Essex to Charlotte yesterday morning and returned from Charlotte to Essex about 6 hours later. Although the weather yesterday was spectacular, the water had risen a few inches in the time between my two ferry crossings. I commented to my bride last night that the ferry wouldn’t be running for long.

Lake Champlain Transportation’s Heather Stewarts says the ferry between Essex, New York and Charlotte, Vermont shut down because of high water: “The Essex dock is awash, so water is on top of the dock, so it is unsafe for vehicles to drive on and off the dock.” (VPR News)

Of course, if the ferry dock is under water, then Rosslyn boathouse isn’t far behind! As of mid-morning today, the water had risen about 6″ above the floor boards. I’ll be posting some photographs soon. Of course our fingers are crossed that the flood has crested, but a glimpse at the weather forecast — plus factoring in how high the rivers are running — and the odds are that we’re going to see Lake Champlain’s water level rise further.

Andy Nash of the National Weather Service says the lake has already passed 102 feet above sea level in Burlington. “That is a record for the Burlington Waterfront, and even the measurements up at Rouses Point are up at about 102 feet. The all time record that we have for 1869 is just 102.1 feet up at Rouses Point.” Continued rainfall and snowmelt will push the lake even higher. Nash expects the waters to rise as runoff makes its way to the lake over the next couple of days. “We’re getting into uncharted territory now with the lake being this high, and if we get some strong winds, and we get the wave action on top of that will make things worse, so any property, roads that are close to the lake, they’re at risk.” And it takes a long time for water to move out of Lake Champlain. So Nash expects the lake to will stay above flood stage for several weeks. (VPR News)

The good news? So far the winds have remained low, minimizing boathouse damage from large logs and other flotsam surging against the dock, railings and walls.

Boathouse Needs a Snorkel

In Boathouse, Champlain Valley, Daily Munge, Lake Champlain, What's Rosslyn?, What's the story?, Where's Rosslyn? on April 28, 2011 at 7:23 am
USGS Lake Champlain Water Level, April 28, 2011

USGS Lake Champlain Water Level, April 28, 2011

According to this USGS data for Lake Champlain we’re making history. To be more precise, Lake Champlain’s water levels are making history. That red line at the top of the graph is the historic high water mark set during spring flooding on April 27, 1993. And, as you can see, the blue “actual” recordings have already flickered above the red line a couple of times, though — as I understand it — these figures are not official. Yet. Not sure why. Nor when we’ll know the official water level, but I can assure you that Rosslyn boathouse is now swamped. And the lake is virtually windless and flat… Imagine what this afternoon will look like if/when the wind climbs into the high teens as forecast!

Fortunately there’s less debris floating around the boathouse today. I’m worried that heavy wave action combined with a large floating log or two acting as a battering ram against the boathouse superstructure could be devastating. We’ve witnessed the damage already when the water level was 18″ lower. I’ll head down when the rain abates to take some more images of the drowning boathouse to share with you. Until then, please send dry, windless vibes Essex-way. Thanks!

New Grapes: Neptune and Reliance

In Daily Munge, Gardens, What's Rosslyn?, What's the story? on April 27, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Doube A Vineyards grapes

This spring one of my gardening priorities is developing the long term fruit production. I’ve spent the last couple of years salvaging long abandoned apple trees, and this spring I’m planting additional fruit trees, shrubs and vines. Sounds factory farm-like… Not at all what I’m gong for, so let’s start again!

On March 28 I placed an order with Double A Vineyards for two Neptune grapevines (a seedless white grape variety) and two Reliance grapevines (a seedless red grape variety). Taking advantage of today’s beautiful mid-70’s weather I planted all four grapes along the garden meadow fence, filling in some of the gaps between the grapes I planted last year. The grapes arrived at the end of last week, but I was unable to plant them before heading down to Montclair, New Jersey to celebrate Easter with my in-laws. Fortunately the grape vines were well packaged in damp, shredded newsprint wrapped in plastic. I left the package sealed in the carriage house to avoid drying out the roots, and they were still damp (but not moldy) when I opened them up today.

So, why’d I pick these two grapes? Why not! Actually, all of the grapes I’m growing are primarily table grapes (as opposed to wine grapes) and because it’s a lot more enjoyable to eat seedless grapes, I’m mostly narrowing my variety selection to avoid seeded grapes. Although I may later add in a small wine grape vineyard, my short term priority is food, not wine. We planted a vineyard of wine grapes in Rock Harbor in the mid-1980’s and it’s done surprisingly well over the years. Unfortunately wine productions has been limited by the incredible efficiency of the wild turkey and deer who consistently gobble the crop as each variety ripens. I do have a few bottles of our own foxy Dry Gulch Vineyards wine in the wine cellar, and I’d be remiss not to offer a hat top to my parents who actually made two delicious wines last fall, one a lively red from a wide range of grapes from the vineyard supplemented with plenty of native wild grapes. The second was a popular dry apple wine made from fruit purchased at one of the orchards in Peru, New York.

I’m meandering. Back to Neptune and Reliance. I chose these seedless grape varieties to supplement the existing grapes I planted last spring: Himrod, Catawba, Concord and Mars. According to the good folks at Double A Vineyeards, Neptune/101-14 (Seedless) will afford us a not-too-late crop of super sweet fruit!

A mid-season variety with medium sized berries on a conical shaped cluster. Fruity berries have high sugar solids with good resistance to cracking. (Double A Vineyards)

And Reliance, another mid-season ripener, also offers a sweet alternative to some of the tart fruit I’ve already planted. And melting flesh!

Produces large clusters of round, red, medium-sized berries. The skins are tender and the flesh is melting in texture, with a sweet flavor. Coloring may be poor in some years, but cold hardiness is among the highest of the seedless varieties. University of Arkansas Ontario/Suffolk Red cross. (Double A Vineyards)

Rain is predicted for the next few days. Heck, with the exception of this weekend, the forecast for the next ten days is rain, rain, rain! So while Rosslyn dock house submerges, the grapes will prosper. There’s always a silver lining!

Rosslyn’s Redneck Yacht Club

In Boathouse, Carriage Barn, Daily Munge, House, Ice House, Renovation & Rehabilitation, What's Rosslyn?, What's the story? on April 25, 2011 at 7:28 am

I challenge any red blooded American who’s spent a little time in the country to dislike Redneck Yacht Club from Craig Morgan‘s 2005 album My Kind of Livin.

Can’t do it! Redneck, city slicker, suburbanite, exurbanite, whatever… If you give this energetic summer anthem a second or two you’ll be hooked. Scoff if you need to. Turn up your nose if your tastes are too refined for the Redneck Yacht Club. But I’m gambling that the next time you hear it pumping out the window of a slow-passing pickup truck you’ll smile. And hum the chorus. And admit to yourself that it’s a pretty catchy tune.

Here’s a little taste of the chorus. Try to read it without singing/humming the melody. Just try!

Basstrackers, Bayliners and a party barge,
strung together like a floating trailer park,
anchored out and gettin loud.
All summer long, side by side,
there’s five houseboat, front porches astroturf,
lawn chairs and tiki torches,
regular Joes rocking the boat. That’s us,
the redneck yacht club.
(CowboyLyrics.com)

See what I mean? So, your Chris Craft tastes don’t feel comfy with a song about Bayliners and party barges… So what? Stop judging and start bobbing your head!

I did.

You see, for the first year (or two?) that my bride and I were renovating/rehabilitating Rosslyn, Redneck Yacht Club played on always-on WOKO again and again. I don’t remember for sure, but I may have scoffed outwardly (and hummed inwardly) the first time I heard the song. But not the second. I laughed. I sang along. I went out and bought the album! Several years later, WOKO is no longer the default radio channel at Rosslyn, but I still hear the song from time to time. And when I do, it transports me instantly to the days of demolition, of surprises (mold, rot, bad electric, bad plumbing) and a mushrooming scope of work. It also takes me back to a house full of laughing contractors, rambling stories, off-color jokes and meals shared on sawhorses and upturned compound buckets.

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