There is a lot going on in the garden now, but I thought I would take a little time to mention something that I find important.  Soil is not just dirt.  It is full of life and all the creatures in the soil make up the soil food web.  It is pretty common to rototill the garden to make the soil nice and fluffy to plant in.  However, that tiller is killing a lot of the life that lives in the soil, like worms, slugs, earwigs, centipedes, pill bugs, and even smaller critters.  Since these creatures eat other life forms and are food for other creatures the web of life is disrupted, and if this is done continually then the soil gradually dies.  Then you just need a lot of synthetic fertilizer to get your plants to grow.

I know there are different opinions on this, and a lot of great gardeners till their gardens each year.  I just think there is a healthier way that seems to work, though I admit I still have a lot to learn about soil.

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Collards planted a few weeks ago are growing strong.  I just dig a hole and amend the soil a little in the hole.  The soil is dark and has plenty of worms.

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I put up a lot of big tomato cages for my two little tomato plants.  Once some of these plants start growing they can get aggressive and will take as much room as you give them.  I should be able to eat from these red and green romaine lettuce plants in a few days.  Plants that will be in this area and a little beyond the picture are tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes, cucumbers, turnips, eggplant, brussel sprouts, mint, and green beans.  A bunch of other vegetables are in other areas…  Once the seeds sprout and everything is growing I will put down some more mulch.

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This book, I checked out from the library, explains no-till gardening among other good garden practices.

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Pak choy flowers and a pollinator.

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I noticed the rhubarb was flowering again this week.  I cut back all the flower stalks.  The article I was reading said that if you keep cutting them back the plant will eventually go back to focusing on growing leaves instead of flowers.  I am hoping that is also true for my vegetables that made it through the winter but are flowering now.  Last summer the kale flowered all summer, but it also grew a lot of leaves that we ate until December.

I made my first batch of rhubarb sauce yesterday!

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I just finished listening to this audiobook, A County Year.  I did not want it to end.  It describes a bee keeper who lives in the Ozarks and what happens to her over the course of a year.

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We have a guard robin, instead of a guard dog!  Lots of bugs these days for this bird!

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One morning I threw part of a bucket of water on my strawberries and I saw the snake scurry off.  I don’t think snakes like strawberries, but they may keep my patch more free of pests like slugs.

It is almost berry time!


I have trouble focusing on just one thing in the garden.  This is an important time to be planting early spring vegetables and thinking about producing food, but I am also keeping my eye on the beauty of the flowers and taking a little time to clean them up and weed around the beds.  I love seeing the trees and shrubs starting to leaf out and bloom.  Even the lawn must be attended to a little.  In all the activity I am always watching birds and even what is crawling in the compost pile.  Like I said, I have trouble focusing and specializing.  I just dabble in whatever interests me at the moment.

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Serviceberry amelanchier laevis.  This native serviceberry is blooming now with a promise of sweet berries in June.  It grew so much this past year that I am guessing it is eight feet tall now and is solidly established after a slow start.

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Another native shrub – spicebush lindera benzoin.  It looks like this shrub could use some pruning, but the tiny yellow flowers are just starting to bloom.  There are no berries here, but it is a host plant for the spicebush swallowtail butterfly.  Actually, I think I might get berries if I had a second spicebush for cross-pollination.  You can see the serviceberry bush in the background.

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I spent quite a while yesterday morning cleaning up four strawberry patches I have around the garden.  First I cleaned out dead leaves and pulled up runners.  I moved some of the smaller plants to new locations.  I put down compost between the plants and watered it in then laid down straw from my ornamental grasses between the plants.  That keeps the strawberries off the ground and there are less problems with pests and diseases.  Can’t wait!

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Time to eat these onions.  This weekend I planted more onion bulbs, red potatoes, and seeds for peas, kale, pak choi, turnips, and lettuce.  I am also trying spinach again, which I have never had much success with.  These plants all do well in cool weather.  There never seems to be enough room for all the vegetables I want to plant, so I mix them in with the flowers or pull up more grass to plant more food.

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A project for the weekend was putting in two poles for laundry.  Previously we only had one laundry line.  Thanks Dan!!  The green side of me likes to limit my use of the gas dryer whenever possible.  In the background you can see the red leaves of the crabapple.  In the foreground the common lilac is getting ready to bloom.  On the left are the strawberries.  The yellow daffodils are still looking good, but starting to wind down in some areas.

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This is one of the later daffodils with white petals and a yellow trumpet.

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Another late daffodil with a peach colored trumpet.  I am glad to see these flowers multiplying each year.

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I started to turn the compost pile yesterday, but realized that the shovel I was using was likely to slice a lot of worms in half and kill other critters in the pile, so I went and got this pitchfork.  It is called a 5-tine manure fork.  Now I really feel like a farmer!  I need to finish turning the pile.  Parts of the pile were steaming but other parts seemed a little slimy, so it needs some oxygen.  We have gotten a lot of leaves blowing in from the neighbor’s yards this year, while I appreciated and added to the pile.

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I disturbed a nice worm while cleaning up the oregano patch.  The worms improve the structure of the soil and eat organic material like bits of dead leaves, then poop out worm castings, which are great fertilizer.

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Wild violets are blooming in the lawn and here among the ground cover plants.  Such a delicate design!  I am not sure what I will do to improve the front lawn this year.  I would like a nice organic lawn service to make it look good!  The back lawn, which I do not worry much about, is full of creeping charlie, my least favorite plant.

Notice:  At some point this blog will run out of storage space.  At that point I am thinking of starting a new blog that will refer back to this blog.  I guess I will do this when I have to and I am not sure when that will be.  I don’t feel like paying for the additional storage space indefinitely.

From Snow To A Snake

April 20, 2014

Happy Easter everyone!  It is a beautiful day here in Northern Illinois!  A great day to kick back, get out the lawn chair and take a nap in the sun…

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The garden this time of year is bright yellow with daffodils and everything is starting to green up.  The dragon’s blood sedum is red this time of year and the red leaves of the ‘profusion’ crab apple are opening up.  The bumble bees and butterflies are visiting.

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But when we woke up last Tuesday morning, April 15th, this is what it looked like.  The snow did not last long though, and soon we were back to the green color.  I think I have put the plastic hoop away for good now…

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Yesterday was a beautiful day and I planted some collards, along with some other plants.  This robin kept track of me and followed me around looking in holes I dug.  It may be a little early to plant, but collards are pretty hardy and they were very cheap, so why not! The green onions are ready to eat.

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I divided my chives and put half under my American plum trees, which are just starting to leaf out.   I also planted a hellebore under these little trees.  Here is my theory.  Last year the plums were attacked by a lot of little bugs.  If I put some smelly plants and more variety below these shrubs and leave the lawn a little high while the trees are blossoming then the bugs will get more confused or have more places to explore.  The predators will also have more places to hide out.  Basically, biodiversity to solve the gardens problems.

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I got my daughter outside to enjoy the day and she snapped a picture of me planting some mums.  It was a hot day, but I was covered up, afraid of sunburn, since I was out many hours.  You can see that the hicksii yew shrubs got a little burnt over the winter.  Luckily it was not too bad.

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After trimming some old overgrown thyme I noticed a snake moving and went to get my camera.

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Here is a close up of the head.  My daughter and I guessed it was between 12 and 15 inches long.

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Here you can see the skin pattern a little.  Looking on Google I am guessing that this is a DeKay’s brown snake.  Any snake experts want to tell me if I am on track or not?  They apparently spend a lot of time underground and eat earthworms and slugs.  We have plenty of both of those.  I enjoyed seeing this little guy and glad he has a home in my yard.

Previous postings:  I noticed that when people first visit my blog they often open the link for “Purchase Pre-Planned Garden,” which I posted many years ago.  I wanted to say that only about half of the plants I ordered in that package garden lasted past the first year.  The lavender, sea holly, and the yellow butterfly weed did not survive.  I substituted with other plants.

Food – We are eating several cups of baby kale and greens every day from the plants that made it through the winter.

Spring Bulbs

April 13, 2014

The crocuses were blooming a week ago and I am finally getting pictures posted to have a record of how late they were this year.  Spring is definitely here, though freezing weather and possibly some stray snow has been forecast for tomorrow, so it is a little early for planting.  The birds are building nests and things are greening up.

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One of my favorite flowers in the garden is this white daffodil, which opened yesterday.  It is ready for the first bees.  Yesterday I was cutting back ornamental grasses and a big bee surprised me by flying out of the center of the grass stalks.  Did I wake it up…?

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Another white flower is this white crocus.  This is one of the earlier snow crocuses, I think.

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By the time I wandered back into the garden this spring these tiny snow crocuses were pretty much finished blooming.

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This later purple crocus seems more substantial.  I love the design on the petals.

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Yellow crocuses come up through dragon’s blood sedum.

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From the kitchen I can see the mini daffodils that have opened this week, cheering up a drab landscape.  Soon the viburnum bushes will make that area very shady, but this time of year it gets full sun.

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Here is a close up of these cute little daffodils.

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The standard daffodils are opening up around the yard, too.

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Anemone.  Yesterday as I was cleaning up I noticed some leaves that I did not recognize.  Later I saw this cute flower above some of the same leaves and remembered that I planted some mixed color anemones last fall.  So far only the blue ones have bloomed. They are very tiny but a welcome addition to the garden.

Winter Wildlife

December 29, 2013

Days are short.  It is nice to stay indoors, with occasional walks in the snow.  After Christmas we drove to Minnesota for a few days to visit relatives…

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The squirrel near my in-laws’ bird feeders stayed still sensing my presence.

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Then s/he decided to go for it and dug through the snow for bird seed.

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On the other side of the house the nuthatch was busy at the bird feeder.

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Another shot of the nuthatch going head first down the tree.

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We took a walk through the woods there and saw all the dried flower/weed heads.  We don’t have any bird feeders in our yard so we try to leave a variety of seed heads, berries, etc. for the birds.

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Back at home, I did not get up quite early enough to get a sunrise shot, but I enjoy the bare branches against the sky.  Maybe tomorrow I will catch that sunrise!

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Indoor wildlife experiences this week included Stephanie and I practicing our photography skills on this box elder bug.  Eventually the bug escaped under the lamp until another day….  I got the idea to use box elder bugs for photography practice from another blog.

Cooking:  Cauliflower and chick pea soup today!

Low Hoop:  While we were gone the temperature apparently got up to 49 degrees.  The kale under the hoop is more yellow than green.  That is the hardest part of this experiment; being around to open the hoop when it gets too hot under the plastic.

Garden Planning time:  I am hoping to do some garden planning for next year this week when I have a few days off….

Quick Trip to Florida

November 17, 2013

Dan had some free plane miles and hotel stays, so we decided to take a long weekend in Florida.  The weather turned out to be mostly cloudy and cool, but we had a great time.

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This was the idea we had when we headed to Florida.  At Fort De Soto we found the dunes recently planted with native vegetation, and this dune wind break kept us warm when the temperatures were hovering around 70 and there was a little breeze.  When it started to sprinkle we had a nice walk on the nature trail.  There was very little rain all weekend, though the forecast predicted it, so it was great for hiking.

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On a visit to Honeymoon Island State Park to view the sunset, Dan got unexpectedly wet while trying to set up a beach shot, so he was hopping around when I took this picture of him and the beginning of the sunset, which was not too spectacular.

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On Saturday, with rain predicted, we took our chances and headed back to Honeymoon Island State Park.  We noticed all the hikers were picking up shells and we got into it ourselves.

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Then we started to notice all the interesting shore birds.  Later we tried to identify them.  I think this is an American oystercatcher.

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The pelicans and other diving birds put on a great show for us all afternoon.  I recently watched a show about birds on PBS, so that gave me a little context for what the Pelicans were doing.

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This snowy egret was swerving around unsteadily, as it went  through the waves just ahead of us.

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All the different sandpiper-like birds were fun to watch.  I am not sure if this is a sanderling or a little stint or something else.  We saw so many other birds like osprey, turkey vultures, cormorants, hawks, and of course many kinds of gulls.

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There were also many of these crabs that ran into their holes in the sand.  This one stood very still for a while, hoping we would not notice it.

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This is a native sponge, right?  There was cool stuff everywhere.  We read a lot about rattlesnakes on the signs, but did not see any.  Which was fine with me.

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Sunday promised to be a beautiful day, but it was time to leave.  We ate breakfast outside and it was so peaceful.  It was about 73 degrees when we got to the Tampa airport around 8 am.  When we arrived in Chicago it was 68 degrees.  After a bumpy landing the rain started to pour on the taxi ride home, and the temperatures began to drop.  It will be down to 38 degrees tonight.

I was worried about the plants under the plastic hoop, as it blew off in freezing temperature the night before we traveled.  Everything was doing fine today and I just cooked up some of the turnips, beets, and brussel sprouts.


November 10, 2013

One of my favorite shrubs has some pretty fall color this week.

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The fothergilla bush mixes red, orange and yellow colors together in the fall.  This is a four season bush and maybe my favorite.

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I planted another little fothergilla bush in the corner of the yard this spring.  I think this one is called ‘beaver creek.’  It has had a terrible time all year.  I have been nursing it along, but enjoy the promise of bright colors in the future from looking at it today.

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I walked past the miscanthus ‘morning light’ today and notice that it was turning orange/red.

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This weekend was all about building the compost pile.  We mowed and mulched up the leaves.  We will probably have as much again of leaves before we are done.  Meanwhile the pile will heat up and shrink this week.  I added green items to the pile and a bucket of water.

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This red lettuce was looking beautiful today.  Unfortunately it tastes very bitter, but it is great for the compost pile.

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I badly needed to thin out some of the vegetables under the plastic hoop.  This is pak choi that we flash fried at lunch.  I also thinned out some lettuce that we put in a green smoothie this morning.

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Whenever I bring in vegetables I tend to also bring in some creature.  On Monday evening I went in to bring in some lettuce after dark.  I had the yard light on, so I could barely see the lettuce.  Now I see that the slugs are active at night and enjoying the vegetables, too. Here is a little slug that was in the sink.

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Here is a bigger slug I found when I propped up one of the collard plants.  The collards have holes on them, but it is not a big issue.

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The green tomatoes I brought in three weeks ago are gradually turning red.  They are kind of ugly looking tomatoes, but they taste good!

The end of summer can bring sadness, but there is something about a gorgeous fall day that reignites joy and contentment.  Here is what is happening on our street and in many other neighborhoods.

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This is the maple tree next door.  I think it is autumn flame.

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Coming on to our street are a few beautiful yellow/gold maples with a tall orange oak tree in the back.

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Here is a close up of that same orange oak tree.  Our neighborhood used to be an Oak woods, but not many people plant oaks these days.

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In our front yard we have a very old silver maple.  The color is never very exciting.  We recently had an arborist clean it up, but still there is the danger of a branch falling on our house or the neighbor’s.  A few years ago that happened in our backyard and we cut that silver maple down.  We have been thinking about what kind of tree we could put in to replace it.  We need to keep it out of the wires, but we would like a shade tree.  Our soil is clay and you can see that there is a little slope, so it tends to be well-drained or dry and full sun.  I would put another chinquapin oak there, but we are looking for some diversity.

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Zooming in we have two burning bushes and three small serviceberries.  The burning bushes are invasive in Illinois so if we replace our shade tree we could get rid of these shrubs at that time.  Meanwhile we enjoy the colors.

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In the backyard the chinquapin oak is brown on the top leaves, golden in the middle, and still has green leaves on the lower branches.  Time to pull down the laundry line.  The crabapple has lost most of its leaves, but is full of little apples.

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Some of the crabapples look hard, but others seem to be shriveled up and might be tastier for the birds.  The birds seem to be going for the viburnum berries and the yew berries these days.

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Duke blueberry bush.  The two blueberry bushes I have are so red, but they are hard to capture well in a picture.  I guess I need some more photography skills for that.  They always catch my attention when I walk by them.

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When I was trying to take some pictures from inside I ended up getting a picture of this spider instead.

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Collards.  The Arab lady, who I shared some of my collards with this summer, came back a number of times and we have become friends.  After she came back from a month-long trip to Jordan, she came to see how the collards were doing.  I told her she should work on eating the collard and we will try to eat the kale and we will see what gets eaten before the snow falls.

Winter gardening:  This past week the plastic has been off the hoop most days and we should have a few more mild days now.  That reminds me I need to go pick some lettuce for my salad tomorrow!

The freezing weather is coming this week, but there is still a lot of life in the backyard.

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Kale flowers and cabbage white butterfly.  I always called this a cabbage moth until I looked it up now online and see that it is really a butterfly.  The caterpillars like cabbage, so it makes sense, since I have so many brassica plants in the garden.

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Virginia ctenucha moth on spice bush.  This is a day-flying moth and the caterpillars eat grass.  That makes sense since I have several clumps of switch grass nearby.  You cannot see the body of the moth, but it is dark blue.

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Woolly bear caterpillar.  I understand that these caterpillars actually freeze during the winter.  Eventually it will become an Isabella tiger moth.

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Painted lady butterfly on yellow zinnia.  I have fewer zinnias and mums in the yard this year, which may be why I have fewer butterflies.

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Some of the fennel flowers have turned to seed now.  I ate a few of them yesterday and the licorice flavor is strong.  I ended up spitting them out.  Maybe I will just try one seed at a time next time.  No wonder I have so many volunteer fennel plants in the yard.

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Rozanne geranium after the rain.

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There are still plenty of flowers on the Russian sage.  I saw the bees buzzing around this plant this morning.

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Dusty miller is an annual that I planted last year and it survived through the mild winter.  It is looking pretty healthy, but I wonder if it will survive another winter.

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Leaves of viburnum dentatum – ‘blue muffin.’

Cooking adventure:  My friend teased me about making kale cake, but seriously we have a lot of kale that we need to be creative with.  So yesterday we blanched a batch of kale and froze it in two freezer bags.  Hopefully having it picked, washed, and cut up will make it easy to add to whatever we are cooking this winter.

Fall Rainbow Colors

October 16, 2013

I just wanted to share some of the colors that are still blooming in the garden these days.

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Pink chrysanthemums.  These flowers get no sun this time of year as they are on the north side of the house.  They are just starting to open up and should be in full bloom in a week or so.

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Pineapple sage – a popular plant for hummingbirds.

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Intricate nasturtium blossom.  The yellow and orange nasturtiums are multiplying with the recent rains.

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Scabiosa – blue pincushion flower – and swiss chard.

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The ‘hens and chicks’ outside the front door seems to be very healthy these days.  I have brought this indoors several winters.

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Fall colors on lindera benzoin – spicebush.

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The colors are more subtle in the shrubs and grasses.  Vernal witch hazel shrub and miscanthus ‘morning light’ grass.

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Bumblebee rests on gaillardia ‘blanket flower’ in the evening.  The bees are still looking for nectar this time of year, but slow down in the cool mornings and evenings.

Bugs:  I have disturbed a few praying mantises, who are moving more slowly this time of year.  I have not seen my usual grasshoppers in the garden, but maybe they are just hiding well.  I saw a few beautiful earth worms when I was pulling up the alyssum plants…