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.



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.

More Snow…

March 2, 2014

We had two or more inches of snow last night.  The next time the weather will be above freezing will be Friday, March 7th.  Then it will stay around freezing for a few days.

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The snow pack is lower now, but still substantial.  Even though everyone has lost patience with the weather I heard birds chirping as we shoveled.

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The hicksii yew shrubs have gotten some brown needles from wind burn, or whatever.  I wonder how much damage there will be from the cold weather.  Hopefully the snow cover will have protected the plants through the winter.

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The Christmas poinsettia is still cheery in the house.

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My house plants are generally pathetic this time of year, but this one put out some fresh green leaves.

Slow entertainment:  I am enjoying keeping my eye on the live stream of this bald eagle and the egg it laid.

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.

Looking back on my blogs it looks like there has been snow on the ground for the past two months.  We have heard that the high will be around 40 degrees a few days this week.  In the fall when the weather goes down to 40 degrees it seems so cold, but in the spring 40 degrees seems wonderful.

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I walked around Lake Katherine for about 45 minutes this morning and did not meet a soul.  The sky caught my attention, with the sun trying to peek through the clouds.

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I took a walk through the back woods to see if I could see any fresh animal tracks in the snow.  I was not the first one back there and did not see anything.  Also, after watching PBS shows about coyotes in the Chicago area I did not want to walk too far here by myself.  I have seen coyotes in these woods and I don’t think one would bother me, but I did not want to find out.

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I only came across rabbit tracks.

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Walking along the canal I saw this single swan swimming.  Eventually the swam came to ice blocking the way and could go no further, so it swam in circles for a while.

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Here is the sun and shade a little after mid-day in the back yard.  I am hoping that by Friday the snow will be mostly melted.  Then I will have to take a look inside the hoop and see what happened to the vegetables.  Maybe the mud that is coming will be worse than this pretty snow.

Winter Moon

February 9, 2014

It seems like I have taken a lot of snow pictures this year.  So I turned my camera up to the sky this week.

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The sky was so blue and then I saw the moon. The day was so cold and crisp, without a cloud in the sky.

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Back on the ground, in the front yard, it is becoming hard to find places to put the snow.

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These thorny American plum bushes grew so quickly last year that we had to stake up the branches, which were hanging down and breaking.  There were no plums, but I am guessing that it may take a few years for these bushes to get established before fruit is produced.

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This kale that is outside in the garden finally looks really dead, but is it….?  Last year it came back with green shoots off the stalk.

I heard some birds singing today, despite the cold snowy weather. More cold weather is coming this week.

Snow Quiets the World

February 2, 2014

We had another snow storm yesterday.  As everyone stays in for the super bowl it is quiet outside.  Of course, there were the snow blower noises and the sound of shovels.  January was the third snowiest month on record in the Chicago area, with 33.7 inches.  Then the first day of February we got another 6 – 8 inches.  Those in low-lying areas should prepare for flooding when this thaws, but since we live on high ground drought is usually more of an issue, so I am thankful for the snow to build up the ground water.

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The little river at Lake Katherine was beautiful this morning.  The small waterfall at the top of the stream was full of icicles.

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Facing the other way, the little stream flows into Lake Katherine and, along with a bubbling fountain, keeps some water open for the geese and ducks.

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Ducks hang around at Lake Katherine, in the water and on the ice.

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Neighborhood trees on a snowy day.  Our neighborhood used to be an oak forest.  Many large oak trees still stand tall in the area.

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The oak tree across the street at sunrise today.

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The evergreens down the street near the railroad at sunrise.  These trees that look somewhat shabby in the summer really look gorgeous covered with snow.

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!

Snow Angel

January 26, 2014

I know we have had some really challenging weather, but today I got up and bundled up in my warm jacket, long underwear, and boots, and took a wonderful walk around Lake Katherine.  It was a very peaceful walk, pretty much by myself the whole way.  There is something very thoughtful about the quietness and beauty of a snowy walk.  Then I wanted to make a snowman to put in the front yard, but the snow is too fluffy for that, so I settled for a snow angel!

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I can’t remember making a snow angel before, though I must have….

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I lay there for a while in my ski pants and super warm jacket and watched the clouds floating along.

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Thumbs up for a fun time!  My husband is my snow angel who took the pictures and who does a lot of wonderful shoveling for me.

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Another view of the birdbath.  This was before I made the snow angel next to it.  To the right you can see the sedum and hydrangea.  They have been snow-covered most of the winter, so that has made them more pleasant than when there is no snow and they look not so interesting.

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Snow on sedum and hydrangea.  I like the light and shadows in the snow this time of year.

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Here I was playing with my shadow.  The giant sacaton is the grass right behind the birdhouse.  It is kind of wispy and hard to see, but is at least 4 feet tall.

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Light through the fence on a winter morning.

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Red branches and buds of a duke blueberry bush.  The snow is so high that half of the bush is under the snow.  I think that is a good thing.

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Still our minds wander to warmer climates.  I got some books from the library and we wonder if we have enough free miles to fly south for a quick trip…

Happy New Year!

The title above is from the Christmas carol “In the Bleak Midwinter.”  This is the coldest, snowiest winter we have had for a while.  There seems to be nothing new to take pictures of and few birds and squirrels have been active in the weather, which has been snowing through the night and day, and will be below zero F tonight and through the next few days.  Still, here are a few pictures of how things look here.

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The bird bath is a focal point and provides structure in the winter garden.  I am not sure how many inches of snow we have had by now.  It must be at least 6 – 8 inches and maybe more.

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It is easier to take pictures from inside, though I did venture out this morning to try to get some shots.  We also had a quiet family walk around the block last night, with the streets empty and the snow peacefully falling.

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Fothergilla bush in snow, showing the details of the delicate branches.  The snow highlights the architecture of woody plants and perennials of every kind.

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Black-eyed susans in snow.

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Snow art on gate.  I put in a picture of this last year, but it caught my attention again.

Activities:  Today’s activities will include shoveling.  Luckily we have two college kids home to help with this!

This past week I got out my vegetable garden plans for the past 6 years and laid out my plan for the 2014 vegetable garden on graph paper.  The main thing is to rotate the tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, zucchini, lettuce and kale to keep the soil healthy.  The rest of the vegetables I just throw in where there is room.  Do I need to expand the vegetable garden to fit in everything I want to grow?  I should probably do a soil test, since I have not done one in six years.  Over the next weeks I will consider what other changes I need to make to the garden in general and do some online ordering, as needed.

I also made a few changes to this blog to increase the size of the photos and list my recent posts at the bottom.  I reached 10,000 visits to this site around New Year’s Day, and about 75% of the visits were in 2013, so thanks to everyone who visited and commented!