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!


Yellow Show

May 7, 2014

It is 80 degrees fahrenheit today!  My tomato and pepper plants arrived in the mail and I put them in the ground.  There seems to be a number of yellow things in the garden that I thought I might group together.

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Mammoth yellow quill chrysanthemum.  I got three of these plants in the mail this spring and they are starting to bloom.  I wonder if they will bloom again in the fall.

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Dandelion.  I hate to admit that it was not hard to find one to photograph!

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There are a lot of strawberry blossoms now.  You can see the green strawberry starting to form in the center of the flower.

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American plum blossom.  This is not really yellow, but I had to point out that there is only one blossom on my two trees.  Last year there were about 10 blossoms.  I wonder why.

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We still have a number of yellow and white daffodils around the yard.  I think this one only gets partial sun, so it opened later.

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I put together a container over the weekend.  The big plant in the middle is a cornflower.  It was taking over the flower bed, so I took it out and stuck it in this planter.  I also put in some marigolds, purple petunias, and a little goldenrod. In the back left the wonderful agastache is starting to come back.

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Goldfinch.  I think this is a male goldfinch.  The picture is not so great, but he was singing his heart out when I zoomed in for this shot.

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Speaking of birds, we have a number of cow birds in the area.  Here is the male.  The female is harder to get a good picture of.  They lay their eggs in songbirds’ nest and the songbird ends up feeding the baby bird for them, often to the harm of her own chicks.

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I noticed the yellow on this bird’s throat, but I don’t know what kind of bird it is.  Can anyone identify this bird? Dan was shooting bird pictures from the kitchen.

I have trouble focusing on just one thing in the garden.  This is an important time to be planting early spring vegetables and thinking about producing food, but I am also keeping my eye on the beauty of the flowers and taking a little time to clean them up and weed around the beds.  I love seeing the trees and shrubs starting to leaf out and bloom.  Even the lawn must be attended to a little.  In all the activity I am always watching birds and even what is crawling in the compost pile.  Like I said, I have trouble focusing and specializing.  I just dabble in whatever interests me at the moment.

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Serviceberry amelanchier laevis.  This native serviceberry is blooming now with a promise of sweet berries in June.  It grew so much this past year that I am guessing it is eight feet tall now and is solidly established after a slow start.

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Another native shrub – spicebush lindera benzoin.  It looks like this shrub could use some pruning, but the tiny yellow flowers are just starting to bloom.  There are no berries here, but it is a host plant for the spicebush swallowtail butterfly.  Actually, I think I might get berries if I had a second spicebush for cross-pollination.  You can see the serviceberry bush in the background.

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I spent quite a while yesterday morning cleaning up four strawberry patches I have around the garden.  First I cleaned out dead leaves and pulled up runners.  I moved some of the smaller plants to new locations.  I put down compost between the plants and watered it in then laid down straw from my ornamental grasses between the plants.  That keeps the strawberries off the ground and there are less problems with pests and diseases.  Can’t wait!

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Time to eat these onions.  This weekend I planted more onion bulbs, red potatoes, and seeds for peas, kale, pak choi, turnips, and lettuce.  I am also trying spinach again, which I have never had much success with.  These plants all do well in cool weather.  There never seems to be enough room for all the vegetables I want to plant, so I mix them in with the flowers or pull up more grass to plant more food.

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A project for the weekend was putting in two poles for laundry.  Previously we only had one laundry line.  Thanks Dan!!  The green side of me likes to limit my use of the gas dryer whenever possible.  In the background you can see the red leaves of the crabapple.  In the foreground the common lilac is getting ready to bloom.  On the left are the strawberries.  The yellow daffodils are still looking good, but starting to wind down in some areas.

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This is one of the later daffodils with white petals and a yellow trumpet.

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Another late daffodil with a peach colored trumpet.  I am glad to see these flowers multiplying each year.

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I started to turn the compost pile yesterday, but realized that the shovel I was using was likely to slice a lot of worms in half and kill other critters in the pile, so I went and got this pitchfork.  It is called a 5-tine manure fork.  Now I really feel like a farmer!  I need to finish turning the pile.  Parts of the pile were steaming but other parts seemed a little slimy, so it needs some oxygen.  We have gotten a lot of leaves blowing in from the neighbor’s yards this year, while I appreciated and added to the pile.

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I disturbed a nice worm while cleaning up the oregano patch.  The worms improve the structure of the soil and eat organic material like bits of dead leaves, then poop out worm castings, which are great fertilizer.

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Wild violets are blooming in the lawn and here among the ground cover plants.  Such a delicate design!  I am not sure what I will do to improve the front lawn this year.  I would like a nice organic lawn service to make it look good!  The back lawn, which I do not worry much about, is full of creeping charlie, my least favorite plant.

Notice:  At some point this blog will run out of storage space.  At that point I am thinking of starting a new blog that will refer back to this blog.  I guess I will do this when I have to and I am not sure when that will be.  I don’t feel like paying for the additional storage space indefinitely.

October Vegetables

October 8, 2013

The zucchini never really happened and the cucumbers are long gone.  The beans seem to have lost almost all their leaves, or maybe the grasshoppers have been chewing on these plants.  The tomatoes have struggled this year, but are still putting out a few ripe ones.  But some vegetable look great this time of year…

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Territorial Seed Company – TR980 – Tokyo Cross Hybrid Turnip.  This is the first time I have grown turnips and they are really fun to see.  I am not really sure when to eat them.  They are in my winter garden, so no rush to pick them before the frost, since I have a plastic covering to put over this area.

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Territorial Seed Company – Mustard -MU528 Tah Tsai.  Just another picture of my tatsoi in the winter garden.

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I just picked this yellow pepper.  I hope some more peppers ripen soon.

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Winterbor kale – This is a new plant I stared in August.  On the left is seed savers exchange ‘prize choi’ pak choi.  I also have quite a bit of leaf lettuce growing in this area.

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Here is a forest of kale, collards and brussel sprouts that is about four feet tall.  Anyone need any greens?  We have enough to feed a lot of people…  I picked two little brussel sprouts off the plant and threw them in my kale soup and they tasted good, so I will start harvesting more soon.  We also have a few broccoli spears that are ready to be eaten.

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Heirloom cherry tomatoes – ‘Mexican Midget.’  These are so sweet and steady all summer.  I eat a dozen or more every day.

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‘Burpee’s Golden’ beets.  What do you think?  They have been looking pathetic and dried out all summer, but just started to turn a little pink after the rain.

Tonight I pick four large strawberries in the garden, which was a nice treat.  I also have strawberries growing in a container and I wonder if it is too late to put them in the ground somewhere, if I can find space for them….

September Snapshots

September 8, 2013

Things are drying up in the garden, but if you wander around there are some interesting things happening.

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Pink phlox.  These planted themselves in my yard a few years ago.

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The pink turtlehead flowers continue to bloom.  Below, the yellow mums are getting ready to re-bloom and in the back are yellow nasturtium.  Yesterday morning I walked out with my camera and saw a hummingbird working over the turtlehead flowers.  My camera cannot capture the hummingbird, but I spent about 5 minutes watching this cute little green bird flying from plant to plant.  Finally it landed on big kale leaves where is took a bird bath in the dew-laden leaves.   Very cute!

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Yucca plant in the agave family.  After the beautiful white flowers on this plant earlier this summer I just let the stalks go brown.  Finally the seed pods pop open and you can see the seeds inside.  Last year the woodpeckers pecked away at this plant seeking the grubs that sometimes live in this plant.

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Speaking of seeds, I noticed these pumpkin seeds in an area of the vegetable garden.  Was it a squirrel?  Seeds are a good treat for the wildlife this time of year.

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I have been eating a juicy strawberry every day or two.  The best ones are in this container on the patio these days.

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This is the first time I have grown brussel sprouts.  The plant is getting pretty tall.  I hope the brussel sprouts don’t get eaten by the grubs from the cabbage moths.  They look pretty good so far.  We have a ton of collards and kale in the yard now…

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This volunteer wax bean plant has been doing well as I have been watering some new seeds.  The lettuce plants, kale, and turnips are doing well.

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I finally saw my first black swallowtail caterpillar, only because this parsley plant is dying and there is no food for it.  I moved the caterpillar over to my other parsley plant, the host food for these caterpillars.

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I came back ten minutes later and could not find the caterpillar.  It is good at disguising itself!

Cooking discovery:  I have never really eaten pesto.  However, I am trying to find ways to use up some of my kale, and found this easy kale pesto recipe.

After I started making it in the blender I realized it should have been in a food processor.  I eventually got a chunky blend.  Yesterday I mixed some of it with macaroni noodles.  Today I spread it on Wasa bread and then on toasted tortillas.  I love the lemony flavor!

Berry Extravaganza

June 23, 2013

When we moved into this house some years ago the only berries we had were the mulberries on the tree in the easement.  Since then we have been working to increase the berries in our yard.  Berries are a great high vitamin food and so delicious when super fresh and organic, too.  The strawberries have slowed down a little, but we still are getting a some every day.
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These are the berries I picked Wednesday afternoon.  Mulberries, serviceberries, and strawberries.  I had some rhubarb sauce that I heated up, added some berries and a little Mackinac Island Fudge ice cream.  Wow!  It was fantastic!

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Regent Saskatoon Serviceberries on shrub.  The berries on the Allegheny Serviceberry were all dried up this year for some reason, though they were good last year, but we have had a lot of berries on the Regent Saskatoon this year.   I only pick them when they get to the purple stage.  I have three of these bushes now, so a good crop.

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The mulberries are a huge mess, so we have to be careful not to track them into the house.  However if you want a lot of berries, there are tons on this tree and the birds love them.  They are also adding nutrients to our compost pile on the left.  I like to mix them in with other berries and only pick them when they are black and ready to drop from the branches.  People in the neighborhood do some foraging on this tree, too.

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Look at these beautiful berries on the Duke blueberry bush!  These we eat sparingly, but each one is a burst of flavor.  They go from green to pink to blue as they grow in size and ripen.

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Forbidden fruit – my neighbor’s raspberries that are not yet ripe.  My neighbor told me to help myself and does not seem interested in them, so I am excited as these are so luscious when very ripe.

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Strawberry flower.  This is on an older strawberry plant I have that is not very productive, but the pink flowers are so delicate.

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Hydrangea Incrediball – Hydrangea Arborescens.  Getting away from berries, I moved this hydrangea out of solid shade into partial shade.  The flowers get huge so I anticipate them flopping over soon.  It seems happy now.  Catmint and lady’s mantle on the right.  The tree is a chinquapin oak – quercus muehlenbergii.

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Bee in catmint.  Catmint walker’s low (nepeta) and lady’s mantle (alchemilla mollis.)

Ground Covers

June 16, 2013

With the rain and mild weather everything is looking very green.  As the heat increases the tomatoes and other vegetables are taking off!  This time of year quite a few of the ground covers are blooming, so I thought I would throw them together in a post.
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This sedum stonecrop with yellow blooms is a mounding type.  It keeps growing and covers the area.  In the early spring I cut it way back into three circles and let is grow again.  The green mound in the back that is not flowering is marjoram.  The green mound in the front left is taller sedum that I pinched way back a few weeks ago to keep it manageable.  It will bloom pink around the end of August.  Way in the back you can see the first coreopsis early sunrise flower blooming and in the front is yellow yarrow.

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I am not sure if this ground cover is sedum, but it is a creeping type that spreads under the spicebush and viburnum.  It just stops where I put down the straw from last year’s ornamental grasses.  It is starting to bloom yellow where it gets more sun. I call it my fairy meadow.  In front is crookneck yellow squash, which is blossoming.  Also in the middle of the ground cover is the caryopteris I planted from a volunteer seedling.  There are some potato plants back in there, too.

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Here is what the ground covers by my patio looked like on May 19th.  These are three that I bought together as part of sedum carpet, that had 6 different ground covers.

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Here is what those same ground covers look like now, a month later.  The one that was blooming yellow has turned a bronze color, and one more ground cover, dragon’s blood, is on the right.  Also, I pulled out two big cornflower plants on the right and put in a green and purple coleus, an eggplant and a scabiosa blue butterfly, among other plants.

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A close up of the ground cover on the left above.  The foliage is a bit like an evergreen, but the flower is like sedum.

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This time of year this sedum dragon’s blood is sending up flowers.  When the weather is cold the foliage turns dark red.  The gaillardia are coming up in the sedum and will grow up and shade much of it.  The taller plants are butterfly weed (asclepias) of various types.

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Hostas are a good ground cover for a shady area.  I moved the goat’s beard into the hosta area north of the house and so far it seems to be holding its own.

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Strawberries are a useful ground cover.  In the fall they get fall colors and a little messy, but this spring I cut the runners off each plant and have had great fruit production.  I put straw from the dried ornamental grasses under the fruit to keep the strawberries away from the dirt and bugs.

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Another useful ground cover is greek oregano.  This plant is very aggressive and is fighting with the strawberries nearby for space.  It will soon send up flowers, which I usually cut back, but the bees love the flowers.  It is great to put oregano, parsley, and thyme in our homemade spaghetti sauce.

Fun activity:  I visited the farmer’s market this morning.  I bought two turnips, a bunch of onions,  and two kohlrabi.  I tried the kohlrabi raw with a little salt and it tasted like something from my past that I had eaten without knowing what I was eating.

The garden is getting more colorful.  There are the pinks of the foxglove and geranium and the purples and blues of the salvia and catmint.  There are the huge irises, right by the patio, but today what stands out is the yarrow.  It is almost fluorescent.

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Achillea – Yarrow.  Here is another attempt to show the yarrow with the three patches of blue from the salvia and catmint.  If you zoom in to the salvia way in the back of the picture just to the right of the tree this is what you will see.

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Blue hill salvia.  Salvia has a very strong odor I dislike, but the bees love it and frequent it all summer.  I love these huge bumble bees that zone in on these spiky flowers.  When the salvia stops looking good it can be cut back so that it blooms again later in the summer.

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Another patch of yarrow is in the vegetable garden.  I tied it up earlier, which is fortunate since this plant can smother other plants.  Here I have put up some cages to prepare for cucumbers and tomatoes which are starting to grow taller.  It could get to be a tangled mess!  Also in this picture are yellow kale flowers, sage flowers and purple clematis.

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Close up of yarrow with tiny red spider.

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Veronica – spike speedwell – royal candles.  The spike speedwell are turning a brighter purple.  In the background is black-eyed susan foliage, miscanthus – morning light, red-hot poker foliage, and between the spike speedwell clumps is pennisetum little bunny ornamental grass.

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Freshly picked strawberry.  Organic strawberries are $5 a pound at Whole Foods.  I have been picking between a pound and half a pound of strawberries every day for the past few days.  Every once in a while I get a really funny looking strawberry like this one.  I love eating them right out of the garden and thinking about all those vitamins I am getting from eating them fresh!  I have made rhubarb-strawberry sauce a few times, too, which is great over a little ice cream!

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Solidago fireworks goldenrod tied up to keep it tidy.  I pinch off the taller plants to keep them from flopping over and to get them to bloom a little later.  I finally finished pinching off the goldenrod, phlox, and sedum.  I also pruned the dry flowers off the lilacs.  My back is a little tired, but that is done for this year!

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Getting ready for an extended winter harvest!  We pulled up some more sod, put down sand, compost, manure and good soil and mixed it up.  Now we will let it sit for a month to settle and get the biological life boosted up before we either plant vegetable seeds or transplant in plants that we will harvest under a low plastic hoop in the fall and winter.  We thought we would start small and see how this works.

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Centaurea – cornflower.  I called this bachelor’s button last week, which it may be, but I purchased it as cornflower.

Seen in the garden this week:  A black swallowtail butterfly of some kind.  I could not tell if it was a spicebush swallowtail or not, as it was flying around wildly.  Also, we have had many visits from the hummingbird, who seems to especially enjoy the pineapple sage and the catmint.

Garden eats: We have a lot of leaf lettuce, a good portion of which is arugula, which has quite a strong flavor.  Dan has been putting it in his smoothie, but Phil and I think the strong flavor is not muted by all the berries and fruit, so we seek out the less bitter lettuce leaves to gobble up.

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.

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….