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!

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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.

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.

2010

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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.

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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.

2011

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

2012

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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.

2013

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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.

2014

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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.

The temperature was only in the fifties today and although a lot is blooming I have not seen many bees in this cool weather.  The mosquitoes have been not too bad, which I appreciate.  I have enjoyed watching hummingbirds zooming around the garden and I come across earthworms tunneling through the soil.

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We planted one foxglove plant many years ago, but have always had babies to keep them coming back each year.  Foxgloves are biennials, so they flower on the second year and then die, but leave lots of seeds.

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Cream colored foxgloves in bloom now.  They like partial shade.  Behind them the Joe Pye Weed is starting to stretch out.

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The pinks have been in bloom for a few weeks.

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I pick the strawberries every day to keep ahead of the birds and slugs.

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The blueberries are coming along on the Duke blueberry bush.

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The yarrow is turning yellow now.  From the kitchen I can see the salvia and catmint in three different shades of purple, but I can never capture it in a picture.

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The lady’s mantle is blooming yellow with catmint behind.

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I pulled up the dead caryopteris and planted a baby caryopteris seedling I found in the garden in its place.  I surrounded it with leaf lettuce, since Dan is always asking for more greens!  I also planted swiss chard and more green beans today.  More food! More food!!

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Friday night when Dan and I were walking around the garden we spotted this baby robin camouflaged in the lilac tree.  When I checked on it the next morning it was still on the same branch.  Later in the day it was gone though.

Garden activities:  I put up tomato cages on my tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and cucumbers.  They are still small, but it is hard to get the cages on when they are big.

Springtime Yellow

April 21, 2013

Everything started to green up this week.  I am enjoying yellow in the garden this spring.

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I am not sure what kind of native bee this is, but it was exploring each daffodil trumpet and is carrying off yellow pollen.

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What a week of rain!  I guess the drought is over in our yard for now.  The daffodils have been long lasting with the cool weather, but a little beat down by the storms.

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These narcissus opened before the rain.  They are some of my favorites.

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The spicebush blossoms finally opened this week attracting pollinators and birds.

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Note the difference between the spicebush blossoms and these Cornelian Cherry Dogwood blossoms I saw blooming at Lake Katherine today.

Birds:  When I stand at the kitchen window I can see so many different kinds of birds.  They are all busy now, with spring so late.  Here is a robin enjoying our birdbath a week ago.

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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.

Close Ups

July 4, 2011

We are finally having a hot, dry spell.  That is no problem for the drought garden or most of the plants, but the vegetables like a little more water…  Here are a few close ups of plants, birds and bugs from the garden this week.

Coneflower – This guy acted like a bee, but since it is green maybe it is a fly…

Green dragonfly sunning on lilac bush.

There are a lot of male blossoms, but we have not had enough rain to get fruit from the female blossoms yet.

When the sun shines on the white base of the flower it makes the center of the flower glow like a light bulb and attracts hummingbirds and other pollinators.

Mountain Bluet.  This replaced the sea holly that did not make it in the drought garden last year.

I climbed on a chair to take a picture of the baby robins.  I don’t know how many there were as I can only really see the one on the left.  On Thursday the babies left the nest.  There was a lot of screaming by the parent robin, but I think the baby survived.  Now the bluebird seems to be feeding fledglings, so we will see if they make if out of the bird house.

Irises Bloom

May 30, 2011

Saturday morning I woke up to see that the irises I had gotten from Rick’s yard had bloomed and I got to see the colors for the first time.

I like the way the dark red color matches the crab apple leaves.

Since I did not know the color when I planted them, this side has both the red irises and the blue ones.

It was foggy Sunday morning and rained much of the day.  The temperature may not have reached 70 degrees.   Then today it shot up to over 90. The red irises are already starting to wilt in the heat.

The sage is blooming in the vegetable / herb  garden.

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Today I came across a black swallowtail butterfly under the oak tree.  It may have just come out of a cocoon, as it did not fly away while I took a number of pictures.

The baby robins flew out of their nest next door.  The past few days a robin has been making a nest on the north side of our crab apple tree.  We are often sitting quite close by, on the south side of the tree, and enjoy watching the bird bring bedding for the nest and put it together.

May Flowers

May 8, 2011

I had a three day weekend and managed to get quite a few seedlings and seeds planted.  More pictures of those when they get bigger.  The show stoppers this week were the blooming crab apple and the fothergilla bush.

Crab Apple – Profusion – living up to its name.

How it looks when I am washing dishes every day.

The fothergilla bush is a slow grower.  In front are the coral chrysanthemums that bloomed beautifully last October.  To the right I planted some soon to be large zinnias to fill up the space.

Fothergilla close-up.

Strawberry blossoms from the five year old patch in the vegetable garden.  The strawberry blossoms in the new plants appear to be white.  Which one will have better strawberries?

Laundry on the line.  More about lilacs next week.

Just as a note – I saw a robin in the bird’s next door, so I don’t think it was a phoebe after all.

Today was supposed to be thunderstorms, but they never came, so I got out and cut down all the ornamental grasses from last year and generally cleaned some of the old stalks up so I can watch the new plants emerging.  It reached 70 degrees today and everything was growing.  I saw several different species of birds this evening.

These crocuses have been mostly closed over the past few weeks, but completely opened up with the heat today.

These miniature daffodils open earlier than my other daffodils, which are sticking up around the garden.  I love the cheery color!

One of the first things to come to life after the snow is the rock moss.  I did not plant it here, but it seems to like the environment.

This is the first robin I have seen splashing in the bird bath.  I put the other bird bath out today, too.  On the left you can see the bud ready to burst on the lilac.