If you could pick a superpower what would you choose? Extraordinary strength? Extrasensory perception? Exceptional intelligence? How about the ability to predict the future?  Or at least the weather? It would be so much easier to plan and plant a garden each year if we only knew what the growing season had in store. Is it going to be a very long, cold, and wet spring with a frost at the end of May? Then the warm weather crops shouldn’t go into the ground until the start of June when the soil will be warm and dry enough to encourage germination of seeds such as beans which do not like cold, wet feet. Will a lack of precipitation stunt plant growth and require more supplemental watering than usual?

It’s no surprise to anyone at this point that Connecticut is experiencing drought conditions that range from abnormally dry to extreme drought conditions in the western part of the state according to the USDA. The National Weather Service Seasonal Drought Outlook only extends through February 28, 2017 at this point but it predicts that the drought will persist in the Northeast based on “subjectively derived probabilities guided by short- and long-range statistical and dynamic forecasts”. Say that three times fast!

weather-chart

The National Weather Service, which is a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was formed in 1970 under President Richard E. Nixon’s administration. Prior to that date they were known as the Weather Bureau (forms 1870) and before that, the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey (formed 1807). It’s safe to say that NOAA has the most up to date weather technology including geosynchronous satellites, Doppler weather radar, and undersea research centers. But even with that technology most predictions are only up to 90% accurate for 6-10 days out. Past that it becomes probable trends based on current and past information.

And yet, for 225 years, there has been a resource that claims that its weather forecasts are 80-85% accurate. Since 1792 the Old Farmer’s Almanac has been a go-to resource for weather, astronomy, gardening, cooking, and predictions of trends in food, fashion, and technology.

About that weather accuracy claim: the Old Farmer’s Almanac has a closer to 50% predictability rate. But that doesn’t stop thousands of readers, especially in the pre-National Weather Service days, from using it as their planting and growing guide. Its folksy character is a large part of its charm. Not to mention its compact size and unique punched hole in the upper left-hand corner for hanging from a nail or string in the outhouse. I pause for a second to express gratitude for modern indoor plumbing.

And now, spoiler alert, here are the Northeast predictions for 2017 from The Old Farmer’s Almanac: Although there will be lower precipitation than normal in January it will be at or above normal for February through July with temperatures 1-4° below normal for most of that period. Pretty much the opposite of what 2016 brought us. But what stands out the most is the blizzard accompanied by bitter cold that is predicted for February 11-17. Let’s hope that one isn’t correct!

Susan Pelton

Images NOAA, Old Farmer’s Almanac

 

Many countries around the world have colorfully descriptive names for the period of above-normal temperatures that can occur in autumn. In Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and other European countries it is known as ‘Altweibersommer’ or ‘old women’s summer’. Slavic-language countries such as Russia, Serbia, and Croatia refer to it as ‘babye leto’ or ‘grandma’s summer’ while in Bulgaria it is ‘gypsy summer’ or ‘poor man’s summer’. Travel to South America’s southernmost countries of Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay  and you will hear it called ‘Veranico’ which is literally translated to ‘little summer’ and is also ‘Veranico de Maio’ (May’s little summer) as early autumn occurs from late April to mid-May in the southern hemisphere.

A beautiful fall setting in Enfield

       A beautiful fall setting in Enfield

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac warm days must follow a spell of cold weather or a hard frost and must occur between St. Martin’s Day (November 11) and November 20. For over 200 years, the Old Farmer’s Almanac has adhered to the saying, “If All Saints’ (November 1) brings out winter, St. Martin’s brings out Indian summer.” The US National Weather Service defines Indian Summer weather conditions that are sunny and clear with above normal temperatures following a hard frost any time between late September and mid-November.

We had two days, October 18th and 19th, where the nighttime lows were 26 and 21 degrees F. These were followed by daytime highs that saw us in the upper 60s and even the 70s until November 9th. Over that weekend I was doing some general fall cleanup in the yard when I saw quite a lot of insect activity in the flower beds.

Bee on buddleia

                                                              Bee on buddleia

Bee on a pink mum

                                                              Bee on a pink mum

I wasn’t too surprised to see bees visiting the mums and the few buddleia flowers that were still in bloom but the colony of oleander aphid, Aphis nerii, that was all over the stems of the milkweed was a sight to see. Their bright yellow bodies stood out in sharp contrast to their surroundings. Female oleander aphids deposit nymphs rather than eggs and each nymph is a clone of the female that produced it. The population that I saw consisted of apterous (wingless) adults although the alate (or winged) variety may have already flown from the overcrowded conditions to start a new colony elsewhere.

Oleander aphid

                           Oleander aphid

Over in the vegetable garden the remaining kale plants were covered in grey, waxy-coated cabbage aphids, the Brevicoryne brassicae. These cole-crop loving insects can produce many generations over the season and their reproduction favors moderate temperatures and dry weather which is exactly what we have had this fall. For cool season crops such as kale, cabbage, broccoli, and turnip that are planted in the late summer aphids can be a nuisance.

Cabbage aphids on kale

                  Cabbage aphids on kale

These little sap-suckers will feed in large colonies on the underside of new leaves. If only a few aphids are noticed then they can be squished by hand or hosed off of the plant. Lager groups may require treatment with an insecticidal soap or neem oil. They also have natural predators including ladybugs, parasitic wasps, and hoverfly larvae.  I was very happy to see a ladybeetle munching away!

Ladybug eating aphids on kale

           Ladybug eating aphids on kale

Also present on the kale plant was the larvae of the Cabbage White Butterfly known as the Imported Cabbageworm. These can be a pest on late-summer plantings of cole vegetables and can be removed by hand. Row covers can be used to prevent the butterfly from laying eggs on the undersides of the leaves and don’t need to be removed to allow for pollination.

Imported cabbageworm on kale

             Imported cabbageworm on kale

The Imported Cabbageworm will overwinter in the pupal stage on host plants so be sure to include removal of any plant debris as part of your fall cleanup. We have had plenty of warm, sunny days to get the yard and beds in order for winter but did we have ‘Indian Summer ‘ conditions this year? The US National Weather Service criteria for ‘Indian Summer’ was met by this year’s conditions but they fell short of the Old Farmer’s Almanac requirements since our temps for last week and the upcoming week are pretty much in the average range for this time of year. The growing season in Connecticut is coming to an end for 2015. Time to start thinking about next year!

Susan Pelton

All images by Susan Pelton

One of the nicest things about living in Enfield is our proximity to the Scantic River in the Hazardville section of our town. We have spent many enjoyable hours walking or snowshoeing along the banks of the river.

Autumn reflections, SAPelton photo

Autumn reflections, SAPelton photo

The Scantic River runs through an area known as Powder Hollow, so named because Loomis, Denslow and Company produced gunpowder, saltpeter, sulfur and charcoal there. In 1837 Colonel Augustus Hazard bought into the company and was instrumental in building it into a major producer of gunpowder. At its peak there were 125 buildings spread over one and a half miles along the river and among these were twenty-five water-powered wheels, three hydraulic presses and three steam engines. From 1843 to 1876 the Hazard Powder Company provided gunpowder for many endeavors including the war with Mexico in 1846, the 1849 Gold Rush, the 1854 Crimean War (where they supplied both Britain and Russia with gunpowder), and to the Union forces during the American Civil War. After the Civil War the demand for gunpowder declined and the business began to fail. There were many explosions over the years and in 1871 much of the plant was destroyed. There are still several sites along the river where the old stone foundations and blast walls can still be seen. The former horse barn on South Maple Street is still in use today as a venue for special events.

Remaining foundations, SAPelton photo

Remaining foundations, SAPelton photo

Today, The Scantic River State Park runs through Enfield, East Windsor, and Somers with many areas that are suitable for hiking, fishing, canoeing or kayaking. Each season brings new ways to enjoy the outdoors. Every spring the Scantic Spring Splash canoe and kayak race is held. People come from all over the East Coast to participate in this fun event.

Spring conditions on the Scantic River. SAPelton photo.

Spring conditions on the Scantic River. SAPelton photo.

Late March is also a great time to walk along the river as the ice breaks up and the river flows quickly by. There are many places were beaver lodges and dams can be seen as well as trees that have been felled by these natural engineers. New plants are emerging and fern and skunk cabbage abound. I always think that the brownish-purple spathe of the newly emerging skunk cabbage looks as if it was transported from an alien planet.

A skunk cabbage spathe. SAPelton photo

A skunk cabbage spathe. SAPelton photo

Turkey Tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) growing on a stump. SAPelton photo.

Turkey Tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) growing on a stump. SAPelton photo.

An October hike is an adventure for the both the eyes and the ears as all the shades of autumn in New England are overhead and underfoot. The remaining stone foundations of the Hazard Powder Company become prominent as the foliage drops. Our children always loved to climb around the ruins during these walks.

Autumn colors frame the river. SAPelton photo

Autumn colors frame the river. SAPelton photo

In January or February a good snowfall followed by a 40 degree day provides the perfect setting to set out on snowshoes. The sun reflecting off of the ice and snow on the river is a beautiful sight and it is so quiet and peaceful. The Scantic River is a one of those wonderful gifts that nature offers to us and I highly recommend a visit to see it any time of the year.

A stop along the Scantic River. SAPelton Photo

A stop along the Scantic River. SAPelton Photo

The beauty of winter along the Scantic River. SAPelton photo.

The beauty of winter along the Scantic River. SAPelton photo.

Susan Pelton

 

 

I am amazed at just how often I check the sky to see what the weather will be for next while. I know some people check the weather channel or local news channels to see what the weather people are forecasting, but I look to the sky. After so many decades of turning my eyes to the skies to see what is happening overhead, the observations have taught me what ‘reading the sky’ really means.
Blue sky with not a cloud in sight foretells a beautiful day with no rain. Gray sky usually means rain. Hazy sky says hot, humid weather and possibly thunderstorms. Dark sky brings a much higher chances of precipitation. Clouds are condensation which is the process of a gas or vapor changing to a liquid, water in this case. They contain minute water droplets floating in large congregations through the atmosphere. If the temperatures are below freezing higher up, the water freezes to become snow or sleet.
When clouds do appear, they can take different forms. There are four main categories of clouds:
Cumulus, which in Latin means heap. These are the big fluffy, white clouds that usually mean fair weather. These are the lowest clouds floating from the surface of the earth to about 6,500 feet high. If cumulus clouds grow vertically, they can turn into thunderstorm clouds.

Cumulus Cloud, by Pamm Cooper

Cumulus Cloud, by Pamm Cooper

Cirrus, means curl of hair in Latin. These are the high, wispy clouds above 18,000 feet.

Cirrus_clouds2 ed101.bu.edu
Stratus means layer in Latin. Stratus clouds are layer, appearing from the ground up to 20,000 feet. Stratus clouds make the sky look gray causing steady rain or snow fall.

Stratus Cloud, www.msstate.edu

Stratus Cloud, http://www.msstate.edu

Nimbus are rain or snow clouds in Latin.

Nimbus Cloud, ellerbruch.nmu.edu

Nimbus Cloud, ellerbruch.nmu.edu

Fog is a cloud that forms on the ground, reducing visibility and raising humidity levels.

Fog Cloud, msstate.edu

Fog Cloud, msstate.edu

And then there are the fun games you can play just watching clouds, and seeing pictures in the shapes. When is the last time you laid in grass on your back and saw a bunny in the sky?

bunny cloud, pals.iastate.edu

-Carol Quish