sunset Henry Park Vernon Autumn 2015 copyright Pamm Cooper

Sunset at Henry Park

“I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house”   Nathaniel Hawthorne

“Autumn seemed to last forever this year. Colors were especially vibrant on many species because the conditions that are clear, dry and cool but above freezing result in the best fall colors. Coupled with dry conditions this spring, plants produced chemicals that would result in more colorful leaves later in the year. Trees kept their leaves in color longer than usual and warm temperatures were somewhat responsible for this. Many oaks whose leaves are brown to yellowish brown in the fall were brilliant shades of red instead.


Scarlet red oak leaves November 2015

A sudden, severe drop in temperature during an abnormally warm October resulted in sudden leaf drop on some species of trees. In particular, gingkoes and black walnut had most of their leaves drop like stones while they were still green. Others had the leaves turn brown and shrivel up without falling to the ground. Especially hit this way were Japanese maples, locusts, chestnuts and some hickories. This anomaly happened because when the leaves on these species were about to turn color and finish the transition into late autumn dormancy, the leaf abscission process was interrupted or bypassed. Trees and shrubs that turned color before or after the cold snap completed the natural abscission process, while leaves are still clinging to some that could not.

Japanese maple leaves after major cold snap and frost October 2015

Japanese maple leaves shriveled and remaining on tree November 2015

New England experienced mast crops of acorns and hickory nuts this year and apples and crabapples were loaded for bear. Because of the great acorn supply, deer and turkeys are keeping a low profile so far, staying in the woods where the acorns are abundant. Some people that have chronic deer issues on their evergreens rake up acorns and deposit them within a wood line where deer can easily find them and stay off the rest of the property (maybe!).


Fully loaded crabapple tree

Birds that were eating winterberry and crabapples at this time last year- robins and cedar waxwings, among others- have left these fruits untouched. Part of the reason is because cedar berries and many seeds have also been available in large numbers. Worms were still near the surface of the ground recently and robins could snap them up. Moles have been troublesome this fall because of the worms and other insects that have remained high in the soil profile, but the weather has taken a turn as of mid- November, so that will change.

red breasted nuthatch copyright Pamm Cooper

Red-breasted nuthatch- a visitor from the north

Look and listen when outside this fall and winter. Many birds such woodpeckers, chickadees, brown creepers and nuthatches are very vocal in the fall and winter. Pileated woodpeckers have a notable clarion call and can be seen easier while the leaves are off the trees. Red-breasted nuthatches sometimes remain this far north for the winter and may appear at suet feeders. Look for bluebirds where there is plenty of open ground or old orchards. While some migrate, many are still here in the winter. Along the Connecticut shoreline it can make for an interesting day of birding as many coastal birds arrive for the winter. Look for a stray snow goose among flocks of Canada geese.

Female pileated copyright 2015

Female pileated woodpecker

If horseradish, radishes, as kale, Brussels sprouts or other brassica vegetables are still flourishing, be on the lookout for the imported cabbage worm caterpillars. They are still feeding and should be in the final caterpillar instar. Look for chewed leaves with veins remaining. Swiss chard and other leafy vegetables may also be under attack by armyworms and cutworms, which will feed on foliage this time of year before finding overwintering spots.

cabbage worm on horseradish November 14, 2015

Imported cabbage worm on horseradish November 2015

Bagworm alerts are in order. Check out arborvitae, junipers and other ornamental evergreens for the bags fashioned from pieces of the host plant’s foliage. Remove by hand if this is practical as the eggs are laid inside the bags and will hatch out next year and begin a new feeding frenzy of the caterpillars. When they finish eating the foliage of one plant, they will move off that plant and proceed to the next. In this way, they sometimes defoliate an entire hedge or other planting. This is not a surprise attack- a little vigilance will reveal the onset of this pest.

bagworms on ornamental evergreen copyright

Atlas blue cedar with bagworms

Check out the sky at dusk and dawn as spectacular reds, pinks and lavenders rule the northeast during the cold months. Extended dry conditions made leaves that much lighter and easy to rake, but Connecticut is about 5-6 inches below normal rainfall. Maybe winter will provide enough snow to make up the difference, but I opt for autumn rains to accomplish that job.

turkey in the snow


Pamm Cooper                                     All photos © 2015 Pamm Cooper

Rutabaga, larger than white turnip. Photo by Carol Quish

Rutabaga, larger than white turnip.
Photo by Carol Quish


White turnip, Photo by Carol Quish

Historically, my Thanksgiving table always includes lots of yellow vegetables and few white. A new sister-in-law partaking of the holiday dinner for the first time, remembers this was her virgin encounter ever with turnip and rutabaga. She wasn’t fond of either, but learned not to pick one over the other, just quietly pass them both on down the line of family. We serve both as my mom loves the rutabaga and my dad would not consider it a holiday meal with white globe turnip. To the untrained eye, they are one and the same. To my parents, they are as different as night and day, and the subject of an ongoing argument that has persisted during their 56 years of marriage. I am not about to deny them this pleasure.

Botanically, rutabaga and turnip are different species, but in the same genus. Rutabaga is (Brassica napobrassica), also commonly called a Swede turnip, Swede or waxed turnip. It is believed to be developed in Bohemia during in the 17th century from a cross between turnip (Brassica rapa) and  a wild cabbage (Brassica oleracea). They were used as a food source for humans and also fed to livestock as they are dense and provide a high energy source for the animals. Rutabagas were and are also used as a forage and cover crop in the fall. Rutabaga is a cool weather, biennial plant. The first year it will produce leaves and the root, including the swollen storage organ we eat. The second year, if left in the ground, flowers and subsequent seeds will be produced. The flavor of rutabaga is very similar to white turnip, just a bit smoother. They cook up drier than white turnips.

White turnips are botanically (Brassica rapa). It has a bulbous taproot with  are edible top greens. Turnips are faster growing, and will mature in two months. They have a higher water content than rutabagas. Turnips for summer use  should be planted as early in the spring as possible. For fall harvest,  rutabagas should be planted about 100 days before the first frost and plant turnips about 3 to 4 weeks later.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Carol Quish