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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Plain Old Leaves

May 26, 2013

Flowers get most of the attention, but leaves can be pretty interesting too.  In the spring many of the leaves start out reddish or a very vibrant green.

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There are lots of names for this little tree.  Carpinus caroliniana, American hornbeam, blue-beech.  I love the details on the leaves.

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Catkins on our chinquapin oak.  I took this picture a few weeks ago.  You can see all the little pollen-bearing catkins hanging down from the upper branches.  I wonder when we will start having acorns.  This is the fourth year the tree is in our yard, so it is probably five or six years old.

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Fresh green leaves of Chinquapin oak.  I think the leaves get darker as the summer goes on.

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New spring growth on Hicksii yew shrubs.

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Ants and flies on American plum tree.  There must be something very tasty about these fast growing plum trees.  The sparrows were in the trees today eating something, too.  We have two trees next to each other.  One is growing so quickly that the branches are breaking from rain and wind.  They seem to be attracting wild life, though, so that is fun.

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Lady’s mantle snowflake leaf!  It looks like some insect took a bite of this leaf before it opened, making something like the paper snowflakes we make at Christmas.

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The slugs are out in the garden again.  So far it has not been too bad, but it looks like something was enjoying this broccoli plant.

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Romaine lettuce.  Just like the bugs we like to eat tender leaves.  This week we have been eating romaine and leaf lettuce, baby kale, spinach and tatsoi.

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Yellow crookneck squash.  On Mother’s Day there was a frost which affected my tomatoes, peppers, basil and this squash plant.  With good water and warm weather they all revived, except for two of the peppers, which I replaced.

What’s been happening?  I finished mulching my garden and tying up/staking tall plants.  I’m excited about my first sunflowers that have now sprouted!

This week I have been busy planting seed for beans, cucumbers and zucchini.  I also bought small vegetable plants at the nursery and got them in the ground.  I bought eggplant, mustard greens, brussel sprouts,  kale, yellow crookneck squash, basil, thyme, and maybe something else.  I like to try a lot of different things and see what grows well.  While I worked I was enjoying the blossoming trees.

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American Plum Tree Blossoms.  There were just a few blossoms on the trees, but they have beautiful intricate detail.

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Amelanchier Laevis – Allegheny Serviceberry Blossoms.  This serviceberry has been in the yard for four years and is a native shrub I bought at Possibility Place.  The small berries in June are very tasty if I get them before the birds.

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Pollinator on Serviceberry blossoms.  With bees having such a hard time due to pesticides and mono-cultures without flowers, such as lawns or a corn field, it is important for them to have flowers all season, from early spring to late fall for them to gather nectar from.

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My lawn has a lot of violets, which I do not mind at all, and I am sure they keep some pollinators happy.

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I have put daffodils in almost every blog post this spring.  Different colors just keep opening up!  A bee would be attracted to check out the trumpet of this coral colored flower.

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In order to fit in all the vegetables I want this year I have been planting them in between flowers and in every spot I can find.  I bought four eggplants this year.  This one is a Japanese variety called “Ichiban.”  It’s a very tasty variety and will hopefully withstand the advance of the daylilies  that will surround it.

Green smoothies:  Buying organic greens can get expensive.  Now we are starting to have more greens to put in from the garden.  We have kale, from last year’s stalks, although they are trying to flower now.  We are starting to eat romaine and we threw in some dandelion greens today, which are certainly easy to come by!  Of course when you mix in blueberries, bananas, dates, and cocoa powder, any greens taste pretty good.

This morning I looked at the weather forecast and told myself to be patient.  The ground was still wet after 5 – 6 inches of rain earlier this week and the high temperature today was just forecast at 55.  I wanted to just enjoy the day and be thankful that we had not suffered from flooding.

However with the sun shining all day the ground started to dry out.  I went to our village’s first ever farmer’s market and bought a pack of 25 strawberry plants and 2 broccoli plants.  I realized it was finally time to get moving! The ground was too wet to plant a Fothergilla bush I bought earlier in the week, but it was definitely ready for cool weather seeds and seedlings.

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I had to cover the romaine lettuce plants three times in the past weeks, but they all survived the frosts and are looking great.  I also have a few leaf lettuce seeds that have sprouted and I planted a few more lettuce seeds today.

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I looked all over the garden for places for these strawberry plants.  I put fifteen in the ground and five in a planter and threw away a few weak plants.  Strawberries are pretty aggressive so I am looking forward to these plants thriving this year.

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I grew broccoli once before, but not so successfully, so I am up for another try.  I also wanted to support the farmer’s market and buy some plants from them.

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A few weeks ago I put some seed potatoes in a pot.  It was cold so I left the pot in the laundry room, which is cool and dark.  When I finally put the pot outside yesterday several of the potatoes had sent up shoots.  As they leaf out I will keep adding soil to the top of the pot.  The potatoes will then grow under the soil  Since they don’t grow that well in clay I am trying this pot method.

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I couldn’t resist buying these beets at the farmer’s market.  I steamed them and then can eat them throughout the week.  I also planted beet seeds today, along with peas and prize choy.

Our goal is more food production this year.  We will see how it goes!

Plant Resurrections

April 7, 2013

Following last week’s Easter theme, it is fun to see green mounds and shoots pressing up out of the cold ground.  I have been planting more bulbs each year so that my garden is starting to look cheerier in the spring as I wait for the garden to green up.  If there is something blooming then I am not as impatient for the coming of the lush green of spring.

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I love these dwarf daffodils!  Other daffodils are coming up and will be blooming soon, but these early ones are the most welcome.

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I have two patches of these dwarf daffodils naturalizing by the back fence.  Later the goldenrod and viburnum will hide them as their leaves fade.

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All the way across the yard I see the bright yellow daffodil blooms from the kitchen window.  I put water in the bird bath and took this picture this morning as a cardinal came for a drink.  The robins and sparrows actually line up on the railroad tie and in the oak tree for their turn in the bath.

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With such a long winter the crocuses have been lasting a lot longer.  I love the detailed design in this purple crocus.

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Another group of cheery crocuses dressed in their choir robes and singing joyfully!

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Rhubarb shoots.  A very small start, but soon to come are the giant leaves and then maybe some strawberry rhubarb treats.

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While in Wal-Mart I noticed a nine-pack of romaine plants.  I know it is early, but I put three in a container that I can bring inside if it freezes and put six in the ground.  I can always cover them on cold nights.  I am planning to grow a lot more lettuce this year, so I need to get started!

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Back inside I grow a few house plants.  I almost killed this one, but then I must have done something right as it seems very happy now.  I love all the hair on the leaves and the pink stems and undersides of the leaves.

Cooking news:  Dan is back to cooking a lot of greens.  Some of the most nutrient dense greens are kale, collard greens, mustard greens, swiss chard, bok choy and watercress.  We bought a bunch of organic greens this week and Dan keeps trying new recipes to find out how to cook all of these in tasty ways.