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.

Leaves of Grass

September 9, 2012

The native and ornamental grasses in my yard are blooming and provide a nice resting place for wildlife.

The Korean Feather Reed Grass has pink seed heads that look nice with the pink flowers around it; the Echinacea and Joe Pye Weed.

This is Joe Pye Weed – Little Joe, with more Korean Feather Reed Grass – Calamagrostis Brachytricia.

One evening, after a sunny day, I saw this little snake resting itself between the blades of grass in the meadow, where we don’t cut the grass.  When I tried to get a little closer I disturbed the grass and it slide away.  I have always been scared of snakes, but also fascinated.  Having them in the garden means I have plenty of biodiversity, letting the snake be part of the food chain.  I think we are mutually scared of each other.

The ornamental grass, Giant Sacaton, where I spotted the snake, was also where I saw this grasshopper.  There are grasshoppers all over the yard and I love to see them.  When I was young I enjoyed catching them.

Also in the same grass was this butterfly, which I think is a skipper.  Usually the skippers are flying wildly around pollinating everything, so I am wondering about this one that sat still while I took a picture.

I may have mentioned before that something has been eating our corn cobs.  I found three laying on the ground, somewhat chewed.  Maybe it is our local squirrels getting a vegetable snack.  I hope they enjoyed it.  They were very small cobs and not very yellow.

We also have chipmunks in the yard now.  I replanted my hens and checks yesterday and this morning I noticed that something had dug a hole right into the bottom of this planter!

First Fruits

July 1, 2012

We have had near drought conditions, but since Thursday we have had three quarters of an inch of rain, which has really helped.  I also watered the vegetable garden with the drip hose twice.  Now I can start to enjoy the produce!

Cucumber blossom.  There are lots of blossoms today, so I had better get ready for the bounty.  So far I have eaten cucumber in my lunch salads this past week and prepared cucumber slices for the family today.  But we will soon have to eat it more quickly or give it away.  I also saw the first zucchini blossom today.

Grown from organic cucumber seed.  “Marketmore Cucumber”

Bean pole teepee.  The agressive vines have reached the top of the poles, and down below they will crawl over everything if I don’t watch out.  In time I will start to see blossoms and then beans. On the left you can see sage, kale and yarrow.  On the right, onions and romaine lettuce that is starting to bolt.

First wax beans.  I grow a Burpee mix of bush beans:  Blue Lake, Royal Burgundy and Super Wax.  These are seeds I bought three years ago and I am still using them up.

Blossom for the royal burgandy bush bean.

Forbidden Fruit:  The neighbor’s raspberries that he never picks.  If I can reach them I eat them….

I am successfully growing eggplant for the first time.  I am growing two types and the Japanese “ichiban” produced fruit first.  After they grew a little bigger than this picture I had them for supper last night, sauteed in olive oil with tomato and garlic.

Seen in the yard this week:  The chipmunk has definitely become more brave.  I wonder if it is living in the hostas.  This is another addition to the wild life in the yard.  I also ran across the snake in the compost pile again last weekend…  Will that keep down the mice population?  Other than that the dry weather has kept the insects down.

It is great to have an extra day to relax!  The temperature is hot.  Added to that I got a bug bite on my ankle again, which swelled up, so I am off my feet for the day.  Good day to seek some shade and chill with a book.

Sometimes the color combinations in the garden are a surprise.  This year I have three shades of purple and lavender blooming at the same time that I can enjoy from the kitchen window.  It is really very hard to capture it in a picture, though. On the right are two shades of purple salvia and behind the oak tree is the light blue catmint.  The yellows are yarrow in the front and lady’s mantel next to the catmint.  The pink is the foxglove and the white in back is goat’s beard.

No flowers here, but I like the foliage contrasts.  In the front is an ornamental grass, I think my favorite, Panicum Rotsrahlbusch, a cultivar of switch grass.  The dark foliaged plant is very agressive, but always pretty in the spring.

I love the first Gaillardia of the season.  The colors are so vibrant!

This pretty plant is Green’s Red Choi and is a vegetable.  I think I should replant it in the garden, but it seemed to need a lot of water so right now I have it in a planter by the faucet.

Romaine lettece.  We have been eating the outer leaves of the romaine and a lot of leaf lettuce.  Recently we have been putting lettuce in the blender in our blueberry drinks and Dan finds it a good way to enjoy lettuce.

We have a sunny yard, so the neighbor gave us his old umbrella he no longer uses.  Dan’s project was to put a pvc pipe in the ground to drop the umbrella into it.

While taking my kitchen scraps out to the compost pile I hit a snake when I prodded in the pile with my hand shovel.  The snake writhed and I was shocked and ran into the house.  Here Dan is putting the scraps in the compost pile.  The snake was long gone. Although the snake was small, it was larger than I would have expected.  We have a lot of toads in the yard and many tasty critters in the compost pile, so I imagine he is well fed.  I usually try to make a lot of noise when I go to the wilder areas of the garden to give the snake a little time to get away….