The weather is cool again this week, going down into the 40s tonight.  The garden is very green, with the trees leafing out and the grass vibrant green.

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Lilac bushes on a sunny day.  The smaller common lilac in the front grew so quickly that the branches have been bent over after the heavy rains recently, since they have such heavy flower heads.  I need to prune off the flowers in a few weeks.

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Crabapple – malus profusion.  The crabapple was late in blooming, then once the blossoms were open the weather was hot, followed by strong storms, so the blossoms only lasted a few days.  I hope we have a good batch of crabapples for the birds later.

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Blossoms of the Duke blueberry bush.

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The two fothergilla bushes are blooming now with their funky flowers.  The green leaves, which are starting to emerge, are beautiful, too.

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I don’t pay much attention to hostas, but they caught my eye this week with their fresh green leaves.  The slugs usually enjoy nibbling on them, so they don’t stay good looking that long in my garden.  They are good ground covers, though, in the shade.

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Male goldfinch sipping water at the birdbath.  I finally left my camera by the kitchen window to try to capture a goldfinch before it flew away.  These birds are so quick.  The little brown bird is typical in that I can’t really tell all the little brown birds apart.  I assume it is some kind of female sparrow, though it looks different from the female house sparrow in the bird book.  It looks sort of like the female indigo bunting in the bird book, but it could be some kind of baby or immature bird, too.  Can anyone identify this brown bird?

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Male house finch at the birdbath.  These birds love to chew on the sedum seen in the background of this picture.

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This female northern cardinal took a nice bath and then flew up to the oak tree to fluff her feathers.  Then she flew back down to the bath and splashed around again!

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Handsome male northern cardinal hunts in the grass.  There are a lot of birds poking around in the grass these days.  Dan let the grass grow long before mowing it the first time and now it is growing quickly again with all the rain.  Such a pretty bird!


It has been a long winter with snow again this morning.  I wondered how this winter compared to March of the past five winters so I went back in my archives to see what happened.  To see the complete posts you can look back in the archives.



In 2010 we decided to dig up the sod by the patio and threw the sod both in the compost pile and in the easement.  We eventually also added the crabapple tree to this bed.  Since then we have expanded this bed to the right to double it and provide privacy for the patio.  There was no snow on the ground at this time. Though I think a little bit dusted the garden later in the month.  We were probably working in the garden a little too soon, but I must have had an itch to get going.


During that same week I received all but one of these plants for my pre-planned drought garden in the mail in the middle of March!  I potted them up and brought them in and out of the house for a while and then planted them in April, I think.  The lavender and sea holly didn’t survive in my garden, maybe due to the humidity here.


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On March 13, 2011 the crocuses were poking up through the ajuga.


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On March 13, 2012 my mini daffodils were blooming, so that was an early spring.

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Crocuses were coming to the end of their bloom time.


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On March 9, 2013 it looks like a robin is working on crabapples that had fallen into the snow….

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But by March 17, 2013 the crocuses had started to bloom in sunny spots.


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This year has the most snow on the ground of the five years.  There is ice under the snow so it is thawing very slowly, though warmer weather is expected this week.

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I went looking to see if I could see if there were any bulbs poking up, and sure enough these crocuses were popping out of the snow on March 8th, so they should be blooming before too long!

Conclusion?  Even though we are behind when compared with the last years we are not that far behind.  As the snow starts to melt everything is ready, set to grow.

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!

January Snapshots

January 18, 2014

When the weather is below 25 degrees F. it gets harder to exercise outside, so today I joined my husband at the fitness center and rode on the bike there.  It might be a good year to try snowshoes!

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It is starting to snow again today and we expect a few inches.  ‘Morning Light’ miscanthus grass behind the birdhouse.

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Zebra grass and crabapples in the snow.  This morning we saw a squirrel in the crabapple tree trying them out.

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Last Sunday, after the bitterly cold temperature, I took a look inside the hoop.  Only the curly kale was still looking somewhat healthy.  We had had a warm day before I opened the hoop and the turnips and some of the other plants had started to sprout little green shoots even though the other leaves looked dead.

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I harvested some kale and turnips.

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I picked up a large oil panting of some flowers at the second-hand shore for $12.50 and that is cheering up our home.  I have enjoyed looking at garden catalogues this week and thinking about my spring projects.

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Icicles outside our front door after the big snowfall.  This time of year it is always dark when I am home, except for on the weekend.


A sunset picture over cornfields just north of Bourbonnais, IL last weekend.  A good way to start the year!

The weather was bitterly cold this week and now this weekend it looks like we have had about 6 inches of snow.  This is quite a change from last December, when the weather was so mild.  To compare this year with last year look in the archives for last year’s pictures.

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Female northern cardinal that has just eaten a crabapple.  We are so glad to have this tree, malus ‘profusion’ crabapple, right outside our kitchen window.

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Male northern cardinal on a snowy day.  It is always fun to see these red bird flying through on a drab winter day.

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Dan took this picture of some kind of sparrow, I think.  I am not very good at identifying these small birds.

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Many leaves remain on the viburnum bushes.  That gives a hiding place for the small birds.  I have seen them poking out of the bird house at times, too.  The grasses and echinacea of the meadow stand out in the snow.  The tall grass behind the bird house is a giant sacaton, with very tall seed heads, and the miscanthus is bent over with snow.

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German thyme in the snow, not far from the kitchen door, if needed.

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After about 6 inches of snow here is what the low hoop looks like.  Earlier in the week the temperature got down to -3 F.  I wondered what was happening inside.

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Inside the hoop things did not look great.  The healthiest plants are the winterbor kale, though they look a little yellow.  I harvested a bucket of it.  The tatsoi are fine, but I don’t seem to use them much in recipes.  The lettuce was mostly mushy.  I think the onions and turnips are fine and there are a few pak choi that could be harvested.  There is still edible kale outside the hoop, as it is incredibly hardy, but just a few collard leaves are still usable.

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This is a cyclamen plant we got as a house-warming gift eight years ago.  It spends the summers outside, but its bright flowers warm up the house each winter as it sits in our greenhouse kitchen window.

Seasonal adventure:  This morning we went to a Swedish Christmas Breakfast and Lucia Pageant at Hope Covenant Church.  It was great to enjoy traditional Swedish food, reminding us of our heritage.

With the cooler weather the irises and clematis have bloomed later and the columbine have hung around longer.  It is another rainy day, but heat is coming starting tomorrow.

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Blue iris on a rainy day.

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Next to the blue irises are the red irises, which bloom about the same time as the new leaves on the Profusion Crabapple.

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Close-up detail on red iris.

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Jackmanii clematis and common sage.  The clematis are just starting to bloom now and the sage is winding down.

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Clematis jackmanii finally opens up.  Earlier this week I spent a half hour detangling all the vines and getting them to grow up the fence instead of hang down on the garden.

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Common sage.  The bees love it.

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We had a lot of pink columbine this year.  Last year the flowers looked out, but this year they just hung down.  It may have been the weather.

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Last year I pulled up sod and extended the drought garden to the east.  This year many of the plants came back, but especially the bachelor buttons – centaurea.  Earlier this spring I moved one of the three bachelor buttons to the far left middle of this picture and it is doing fine and under control.  However the big bachelor button plant in the middle is taking over the whole garden and blocking light from plants I like in the back.  I might let it bloom a little and then cut is down or replace it.  I like the look of the sedum mix on the left front.  There were originally 6 ground covers that came together, but just four are still alive.  The yellow one is a stonecrop, I think.

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Sedum stonecrop close-up.

Cooking:  I just pulled a bucket of baby kale and young collards from the garden and Dan cooked them down with some onions and garlic and added a can of lentil soup.  Delicious!

Bird sighting:  I think I just saw a hummingbird in the yard…

Many shrubs and perennials that were late in blooming this spring suddenly opened up this week when the weather warmed up.  Now we have a few cooler days, so hopefully the blossoms will stay a few days, unless they fall off with the rain.

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Common lilac – They smell fantastic!

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We added this little common lilac bush last year, so now we have three lilacs.  In the bottom left you can see that the strawberries are blooming.  There are a lot of flowers, so I am hoping they are getting pollinated and that we will have some delicious strawberries before too long.

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Crabapple – Malus Profusion

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Top Hat Blueberry blooms.  A few feet away I have a Duke Blueberry blooming, too, so I can’t wait to get some blueberries!!

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As predicted, last year’s kale is now flowering.  I wondered what color the flowers would be and now I know.  We will have to cut this out soon…

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At dusk a little mosquito-like insect rests on one of the last daffodils.  I have been bitten by some kind of insects recently and found myself scratching before I knew it….

First Robin

March 9, 2013

We spring forward into Day Light Savings Time tonight!  I have noticed how chirpy the birds are in the morning when I leave the house to go to work.  Yesterday I was excited to see my first robin in our yard this spring.  There are robins along the Worth canal walk all winter, but now that it is nesting time they seem to come back to our yard.  Or maybe these are not the same robins…  I am not a bird specialist!

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It is hard to get a good picture with my little camera from inside the house, so there is some glare on the window.  First I saw the robin working on the little crabapples on the tree outside the kitchen.  While I was watching a beautiful cardinal came along for a nibble, but it soon flew away.

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Then the robin was hopping along the snowy ground presumably listening for worm life.

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Two years ago a robin built its nest in this crabapple tree and fledged several baby birds, which was a lot of fun to watch.  The snow is beginning to melt now.  The dark line is the row of lasagne mulch to expand the vegetable garden.  The kale stalks from last fall, in the back of the picture, never got cut down.  I am curious to see if they will sprout any kale leaves this spring before they get thrown in the compost.

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The steady rapid-fire tapping noise is the neighbor’s rain spout, with water spraying out as the snow melts.

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The ground cover by the back door is vigorous and pushes back the snow.

My goal this weekend was to cut back some of my ornamental grasses, but I may end up waiting a bit.  Once I throw the grass seed heads in the yard waste the straw makes good mulch and I love to watch the birds who are building nests swoop in to fly off with a little piece of it.

Autumn in Zone 5

November 11, 2012

We have had several frosts and tomorrow there is a chance of snow, but yesterday and today the temperatures have been in the high 60s with strong winds.  The wind is blowing down a lot of leaves.

We mulched up the leaves when we mowed the grass and threw it all in the compost.  I also put down some organic lawn fertilizer and then we had a nice rain after that.

The wind brings a lot of leaves to our back gate.  These yellow leaves have just fallen today from the neighbor’s tree.  We open the gate and push all the leaves in our yard before they blow away.

Viburnum dentatum – chicago lustre.  There are no berries on the viburnum this year.  I can’t remember if there was a weather issue that caused this or what happened.

There are still a few geranium flowers and the leaves have been pretty this fall.

This was the solution I came up with for the top hat blueberry.  I buried the pot and gave it a good watering.  I hope it makes it through the winter!  I might get another blueberry next summer!

I enjoy seeing the red crab apples from the kitchen window. – ‘Profusion’ crabapple.

Onions and chives do well in cooler weather, but seem to really do well next to the compost pile!

Food adventure:  We cooked a blueberry apple pie this morning that was delicious.  It was vegan and had a crust of almond butter, ground flax seeds and dates.  I am about to go make a creamy butternut squash soup with mushrooms.  Yum!

Sunday Sundry Snapshots

July 22, 2012

I wandered around taking pictures of bugs this morning as well as a few plants that caught my attention.

Ants explore yellow fennel flowers.

With a little research I discovered that this is called a Great Black Wasp.  It sips on nectar but searches out crickets and katydid which it paralyzes with a sting.  It then bring the cricket to its burrow where it lays it eggs on the still living prey.  That provides food for the babies when they are born.  In fact I watched this wasp dragging its prey along this railroad tie.  It was somewhat disturbed to have me near, so this is as close as I got for the picture.  I guess I also captured a box elder bug at the bottom of the picture.

A batch of baby box elder bugs.  Try saying that quickly a few times….  Here seen on butterfly weed seed pods.

This is the new bed I planted this year where I put my lasagne mulch last fall.  The left side is a bit bare, but I have enjoyed the cheery mix of colors.

Found a peanut in its shell in my yard this spring, probably left by a squirrel.  A little later I noticed that it had sprouted, so I gave it a little more water.  Now we have several plants and they are blooming with these little yellow flowers.  Will these turn in to peanuts?  Stay tuned for the results in the fall.

The russian sage is starting to bloom around the garden.  I saw tiny little pollinators flying in and out of these little lavender flowers.

A close look at sweet potato leaves.  They come out purple and turn green as they grow.

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Crabapples – Malus Profusion Crabapple.  Sometimes I see the cardinals come and try these apples out, but I think they are more edible after a frost or two.