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.


We had three warm days last week before the cold weather came back.  Today it is sunny, which really helps, though this week promises more sub-zero temperatures.  Here are some snapshots from this past week.

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The snow melted off the gnome and he is getting some fresh air again.  This gnome is a toad house, so maybe something is hibernating underneath it.

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The snow has melted off the compost pile, so I was able to chuck my kitchen scraps in again.

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This was how high the snow was on Tuesday morning.

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This is the same shot three days later.  There is quite a bit of ice under the snow so it is taking a while to melt.

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Very near our home is a former mining pit that is now a lake.  It is owned by the army corps or engineers and so is off limits to local traffic.  Still the chain link fence has a big opening used by locals and the deer.  The lake looks pretty frozen.  Every fall and spring, if I have time, I join some volunteers in going in and cleaning up trash from all the illegal visitors, many of whom are fishing here.  It is a good way to explore this off limits area, which provides a natural habitat for a lot of wildlife in the area, including some swans.  The corps wanted to dumps dredged material from the canal in this pit, but it has been disputed for many years, while they try to find an alternate location for the dredgings, which contain pollutants that could harm the ground water in this heavily populated neighborhood.

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Nearby was a huge old oak.

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Winter oak leaves and a blue sky.

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Sea gull in the winter sky.

Well there is nothing green in the garden to take pictures of except for the moss, which seems very green poking out of the melting snow.  But I could be seeing daffodils in a month, if spring is not too late this year.

As I write, Dan is cooking and we are listening to an audio book called “The Dirty Life” by Kristen Kimball.  I saw it recommended on a garden blog and checked it out from the library.  It is a story about a city woman who marries a farmer and their experiences on an organic farm.  It is great fun, since Dan grew up on a farm, and can relate to the stories.  Since I don’t raise food full-time it is fun to hear of others who do this and to follow their adventures.

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This is one of the farm implements at Lake Katherine, where I went for a walk this morning.  This reminds us of a time when farms were small, so they were more manageable for people who wanted to try to make a living this way.

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I have never ordered from this company, but they seemed to have a lot of perennials that I am usually looking for.  I ordered purple monarda and venus heliopsis for my little meadow, to add flowers to the tall grass.  I also bought yellow butterfly weed and a small butterfly bush.  I ordered two kinds of mums to go along the east fence, a hakonechloa grass for a shady spot, and a peppermint ice hellebore for an early winter flower.  My goal is to have flowers from early spring to late fall to keep the bees, butterflies and insects happy.  I also ordered tomato and pepper transplants from Seed Savers Exchange again.

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The snow pack is very deep in the back yard.  It may be a long spring thaw.  The hoop has been covered by snow for many weeks, so I do not know what is going on under the plastic.  It has been too cold to want to investigate.

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I have two buckets of kitchen scraps that need to go in the compost pile, shown in the back of this picture.  This is the first time that it has been such a challenge to get the compost in the pile in winter.

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Squirrel munches on crabapples.  It is a challenging time for wildlife with the deep snow cover.

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Vegetarian kale soup.  I cooked up some soup yesterday and put most of it in the freezer to have when I get home from days at work.  It was really tasty!

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!

Autumn Explorations

November 18, 2012

I have always been curious, whether I’m looking at a plant or bug or exploring a new place.

Taking a walk is a great way to let my thoughts wander around my head.  I think about the past and the future, meditate, and observe anything that catches my attention.

My hour long walk took me down by the I&M canal this afternoon.  Straying off the path I found this riverbed that feeds into the canal.  I saw a very red cardinal that hid behind one of the trees.

We have had a lot of frosty mornings recently.  There is something peaceful about it.  It means the garden work is almost done.

I don’t know much about shallots, but I planted some in the spring and noticed that they were green now.

Here is what it looked like when I pulled one up.  I asked Dan to cook it up in something…  I think if I leave them in the ground they will multiply for next year.

We threw a broccoli stalk in the compost pile and in October I noticed that is was growing leaves, so I put it in the ground and it seems to have started growing a little broccoli head, though maybe it has stopped growing with the frost.

On frosty mornings there is no frost on the compost pile.  If you dig into the pile steam rises and the pile is quite hot.  The hot spot looks like ashes that have burned.

One hot day this summer I was at the arboretum at lunch and saw a man checking on the bird houses there.  I struck up a conversation with him and he told me that the Gilbertson PVC Nesthouses are the best for bluebirds, as they discourage sparrow usage.  I went to the website today, but it looks like the company took a winter break so I will have to order one next spring.

Winter Wonderland

January 22, 2012

Sometimes winter is hard to take.  Like the two hours and forty five minutes it took me to drive home from work on Friday, instead of just forty five minutes.  But then I went for a long walk around Lake Katherine in the snow today and it was so beautiful, quiet and peaceful.  There is almost nothing to be done in the garden now except shovel, put food scraps in the compost pile, and plan for spring.

Here I shot a quick picture of a male and female cardinal checking out the little red crab apples before they flew away.

I bought this teacup and succulent plant at a garage sale I visit each year.

I have been thinking about garden planning and hope to do more once I finish my  taxes and FAFSAS for both kids…