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!


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.

We had our coldest night of the year last night in Chicagoland.  It was predicted to go down to 7 degrees F.  I wondered if my greens would survive under the plastic hoop, but I just went out to pick a little lettuce and do some watering and everything still looks alive though growing very slowly.
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Behind the hoop on the left are my two viburnum dentatum ‘Chicago lustre’ shrubs, which are growing together into one large area frequented by the sparrows.  On the right, behind the palm-like collard plants, is the compost leaf pile.  Dan mowed up the grass and leaves with the mulching mower.  There were a lot of leaves to mulch, but not many more will fall now.

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‘Raspberry tart’ viburnum dentatum.  None of my viburnum were very spectacular this autumn.  A few weeks ago I took this picture of three red leaves on the raspberry tart viburnum bush.  The rest of the leaves were more yellow.  The viburnum seem to be the last shrubs with leaves, except for the common lilac.  Viburnum are great four season shrubs.  I love the dark green, thick foliage in the summer.

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Berries on ‘raspberry tart’ viburnum dentatum.  In order for berries to set you need two different cultivars of viburnum that flower around the same time.  This will be good bird food.

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Yet another picture of my brussel sprouts.  I see them in the super market and I think, “Hey, I am growing those at home.”  This is my first time.  I have been picking a dozen or so at a time and putting them in with a soup or stew I am cooking.  So far they have survived the weather outside the hoop.

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On Saturday we chopped up the brussel sprouts, collard and kale in the picture, along with another big bowl of kale.  Mixed with some beans, onions, corn, and carrots, it made a vegetarian dish that will last a few days.  We bought an extra chef’s knife so that both of us could chop at the same time.

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Here is my last garden tomato of the season.  It was picked green before the frost on 10/14/13.  Does it have any vitamins left?

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While I was in the kitchen looking out of the window I noticed this Cooper’s hawk on the back fence.  Is it sunning or watching for the squirrels that are busy back here?

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I just got one quick shot of the Cooper’s hawk preening its feathers in the sun before it flew away.

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I was taking the hawk pictures from an upstairs window.  Zooming out you can see our little bare back yard.  The picture was take a little before 1 pm and you can see the dense shade of the roof and the silhouette of the silver maple tree’s branches, from the front yard, reaching over the back yard.  We still have a month until the shortest day….


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!

This is the time of year when I try to keep up with the vegetables.  New vegetables are arriving every day.  I need to harvest at least every other day to keep up with them.

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I came home late Wednesday evening and ran out to harvest before sunset.  Half the leaf lettuce is for the salad that I bring to work each day, and half for Phil, in case he wants to make a smoothie.  I went into the neighbor’s yard, since he did not seem to be around, and picked a bowl of yummy raspberries, before they just fell on the ground.  There were a few peas and beans to pick, too.

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“Green Arrow’ peas.  Just a few peas to pick now and then.  I think they are just about finished now that it is warmer.

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‘Climbing French” pole beans.  These beans are not always easy to spot, but you have to catch them before they get huge and tough, though this variety has been pretty tender this year.  I made a mistake, though, and planted these beans not far from a very aggressive tomato plant.  I think both vines will be fighting it out over the next month!

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“Hungarian Heart’ heirloom tomato.  This is the aggressive tomato plant I ordered from seed savers exchange.  It will take a while for this to ripen….

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Collards.  I bought a nine-pack at Wal-Mart and seven of the plants survived.  Here you can see three big plants.  This is the first time we have grown collard.  You just keep picking outside leaves from the bottom and new ones grow from the top.  You might be able to see a very sick looking, bug-eaten eggplant in the back.  We did get two or three eggplant fruits off it.  Also on the left one of the cucumbers is starting to grow and you can see some curly kale leaves.  I only used small tomato support hoops for the cucumbers this year, so I have trouble coming, as the cucumbers are already beyond the tops of the supports!

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Leaf of Russian kale.  We have three big Russian kale plants.  I don’t like them as much as the curly kale – winterbor, but I am sure they are full of vitamins.

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Yellow bell peppers.  These peppers are still green but would turn yellow if I left them.  I usually pick some of the early ones, when the plant is still small, and leave later peppers to yellow in the fall when the pepper plants are bigger.

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The mulberry tree is still going, and in fact seems to be at its peak now.  The birds love it and we see a variety of birds visiting.  I usually pick some either for my oatmeal in the morning or in the evening to eat with a few raspberries and a little ice cream!

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I took a break from this blog to harvest vegetables for Dan to cook, and came across my first praying mantis, here hiding in an old spinach plant.  He jumped away to try to camouflage himself in the blades of grass in the lawn.  There are a number of interesting bugs doing multiplying activities in the garden now, so its good to have a number of predator bugs and birds around to keep them in check.

Seen in the garden:  the first bunny in a few years.  I only saw one, but our bunny fence has gotten a little sloppy and needs to be tied up.  I also heard a short cat fight in our yard under the heavy shade of the shrubs and grasses.  The cats should keep the bunnies in check even if they decimate our other biodiversity – birds, toads, snakes, mice, etc.

Cooking:  Dan has been cooking a huge batch of vegetables on Sunday for his work lunches.  He mixes the vegetables with rice and beans for a healthy meal.

Green Outburst

April 28, 2013

To compare this spring with other years in my garden you can scroll down to the archives and compare these pictures to the ones from my blogs at the end of April in 2010, 2011 and 2012.  The crabapple has finally leafed out with red leaves, but does not have blossoms yet.  This week the American plum, which we planted last year, leafed out and I am looking forward to the blossoms.

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American Plum Trees – still quite small

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Last year I planted the middle regents serviceberry on the west side of the house and since then I have been pondering what else to plant.  I decided to get two more of the same and planted one on either side.  The blossoms are just getting ready to open. This was one of those projects where Dan came out and gave me a hand!

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I must have planted a lot of different kinds of daffodils last fall.  They just keep coming and I have been enjoying how well they go with the vibrant green grass.  This orange middle stands out.

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I could not resist buying this tiny mum this week.  Maybe they were selling them for containers or something, but I am hoping it will settle in and come back next year.

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I bought a nine-pack of collards and planted them in the garden.  I have never planted collards before, but we have been buying them to eat recently.  I also got some tomato and pepper transplants in the mail and had to get them in the ground. You can see one of the tomatoes on the other side of the fence.

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I just dug holes in the lasagna mulch and planted in the peppers with some good soil.  This pepper is called bull nose and is an heirloom.  My catalog says that Thomas Jefferson grew this variety of pepper at Monticello.  It should be a sweet red pepper.

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Here are the beautiful leaves of the potato I am growing in a pot, one week later.  Soon I will start piling up soil so the potatoes will have more room to grow.

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The promise of lilacs coming soon.  Charles Joly Lilac.

Chores:  It is that time of year when some attention must be given to the lawn.  Since we are organic we tend to have dandelions in the lawn.  I don’t worry too much in the back yard, but today Dan dug out the dandelions in the front lawn and we filled the holes with soil and grass seed.  We will see how that works…..