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!


We had our coldest night of the year last night in Chicagoland.  It was predicted to go down to 7 degrees F.  I wondered if my greens would survive under the plastic hoop, but I just went out to pick a little lettuce and do some watering and everything still looks alive though growing very slowly.
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Behind the hoop on the left are my two viburnum dentatum ‘Chicago lustre’ shrubs, which are growing together into one large area frequented by the sparrows.  On the right, behind the palm-like collard plants, is the compost leaf pile.  Dan mowed up the grass and leaves with the mulching mower.  There were a lot of leaves to mulch, but not many more will fall now.

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‘Raspberry tart’ viburnum dentatum.  None of my viburnum were very spectacular this autumn.  A few weeks ago I took this picture of three red leaves on the raspberry tart viburnum bush.  The rest of the leaves were more yellow.  The viburnum seem to be the last shrubs with leaves, except for the common lilac.  Viburnum are great four season shrubs.  I love the dark green, thick foliage in the summer.

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Berries on ‘raspberry tart’ viburnum dentatum.  In order for berries to set you need two different cultivars of viburnum that flower around the same time.  This will be good bird food.

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Yet another picture of my brussel sprouts.  I see them in the super market and I think, “Hey, I am growing those at home.”  This is my first time.  I have been picking a dozen or so at a time and putting them in with a soup or stew I am cooking.  So far they have survived the weather outside the hoop.

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On Saturday we chopped up the brussel sprouts, collard and kale in the picture, along with another big bowl of kale.  Mixed with some beans, onions, corn, and carrots, it made a vegetarian dish that will last a few days.  We bought an extra chef’s knife so that both of us could chop at the same time.

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Here is my last garden tomato of the season.  It was picked green before the frost on 10/14/13.  Does it have any vitamins left?

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While I was in the kitchen looking out of the window I noticed this Cooper’s hawk on the back fence.  Is it sunning or watching for the squirrels that are busy back here?

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I just got one quick shot of the Cooper’s hawk preening its feathers in the sun before it flew away.

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I was taking the hawk pictures from an upstairs window.  Zooming out you can see our little bare back yard.  The picture was take a little before 1 pm and you can see the dense shade of the roof and the silhouette of the silver maple tree’s branches, from the front yard, reaching over the back yard.  We still have a month until the shortest day….


November 10, 2013

One of my favorite shrubs has some pretty fall color this week.

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The fothergilla bush mixes red, orange and yellow colors together in the fall.  This is a four season bush and maybe my favorite.

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I planted another little fothergilla bush in the corner of the yard this spring.  I think this one is called ‘beaver creek.’  It has had a terrible time all year.  I have been nursing it along, but enjoy the promise of bright colors in the future from looking at it today.

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I walked past the miscanthus ‘morning light’ today and notice that it was turning orange/red.

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This weekend was all about building the compost pile.  We mowed and mulched up the leaves.  We will probably have as much again of leaves before we are done.  Meanwhile the pile will heat up and shrink this week.  I added green items to the pile and a bucket of water.

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This red lettuce was looking beautiful today.  Unfortunately it tastes very bitter, but it is great for the compost pile.

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I badly needed to thin out some of the vegetables under the plastic hoop.  This is pak choi that we flash fried at lunch.  I also thinned out some lettuce that we put in a green smoothie this morning.

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Whenever I bring in vegetables I tend to also bring in some creature.  On Monday evening I went in to bring in some lettuce after dark.  I had the yard light on, so I could barely see the lettuce.  Now I see that the slugs are active at night and enjoying the vegetables, too. Here is a little slug that was in the sink.

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Here is a bigger slug I found when I propped up one of the collard plants.  The collards have holes on them, but it is not a big issue.

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The green tomatoes I brought in three weeks ago are gradually turning red.  They are kind of ugly looking tomatoes, but they taste good!

The Frost Cometh

October 27, 2013

Monday, October 21st, the forecast said frost, so it was time to take out the plastic for my low hoop.  This is the first time I am trying this, so I was not sure how it would go.

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This was taken this morning, Sunday, after my vegetables survived for almost a week in the low hoop.

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This first evening I only had three bricks, so I scrounged around in the garage for heavy things, and in the garden for rocks.  The main issue was the next morning when I had to go out and lift the side flaps at 6:45 am while the temperatures were still freezing.  I did not know if my lettuce would survive, but it did, and I ate leaf lettuce from under the hoop in my salad all week.

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Inside the low hoop, which is about 35 inches off the ground.  The reason I lift the sides or take the plastic off during the day is to keep the plants from burning.  I worried during the day at work that the plants would dry out or burn up, and it may have gotten a bit warm in there, but so far so good.  Yesterday evening when we came to close the hoop there was a sparrow inside flapping around trying to find the way out.

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I also used milk cartons with the bottom cut out as cloches to cover my beets.  I am not sure how well they work, but I have been gradually eating my beets and they are still fine.  The idea is to take off the blue cap during the day to let the warm air out and put it back on at night.

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On Monday night I brought in all the green tomatoes and peppers, before the plants froze.  The large tomato in the middle is pretty red today and I am hoping the others will be red before long.

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Items harvested last Sunday.  I threw the turnip in my kale and potato soup.

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Burpee golden beet.  This beet was pretty small, but I threw it in the oven with the brussel sprouts I was roasting.

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These coral mums are on the north side of the house and get no sun, so they really stretch away from the base of the plant.

My reaction to my first week with the low hoop:  It’s like having a pet.  You have to really watch the weather and check on the hoop morning and evening.  It would be much easier if I worked from home or had a shorter work day.  It’s kind of fun and an adventure, too.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

To learn more about winter gardening see my reblog “Season Extensions” on 3/23/13.

Acorns and Asters

September 29, 2013

Not everyone likes acorns.  They can be a hassle on the lawn.  When we picked out our chinquapin oak we heard that the squirrels really liked the acorns and we would not see many on the ground, and this appears to be the case, so far.

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Acorn of chinquapin oak – quercus muehlenbergii.  This is the first year we have acorns.  I would guess that the tree is about six years old.

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You can also see empty acorn shells throughout the tree.  It looks like the squirrel either ate it on the tree or it fell out and left the shell.  In any case there is not much on the ground yet.

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Purple aster and goldenrod.  We have one purple aster hiding behind the viburnum bush.  I like the combination with the goldenrod.  Asters usually do not look good on the bottom half of the plant, so it is a good thing that this plant is hidden, but still provides something for the insects to pollinate now.

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The little yellow cushion mum I bought in the spring survived and is blooming now.

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Chrysanthemum ‘Overture’ after the rain.

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After the rain and with warm weather coming up, I am hoping for more juicy heirloom tomatoes to ripen soon.

I wonder how they ended up being named Joe and Susan.  Since my WordPress name is JoePyeWeed1 I thought I would show some pictures of Joe Pye Weed that is blooming now. I pinched it back a little oddly in the early summer, which affected the height of “Gateway.”
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Joe Pye Weed – “Little Joe.”  In the background is echinacea, purple coneflowers.

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“Gateway” Joe Pye Weed with pollinating bee.  The flower looks messy after the bees have worked over them.  The bees love it!  These days the bees are also visiting russian sage and agastache blue fortune.

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Backing away you can see that “Little Joe” is behind the coneflowers and the “Gateway” is taller in the center.  Liatris spicata on the right. The ornamental grass is calamagrostis brachytricha, which does not have seed heads yet.

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I bought three black-eyed susan plants from Donna about five years ago.  They have distributed themselves around the garden into three groupings.  They are very aggressive plants and I need to pull them out in the spring if I don’t want them to cover over smaller plants.  But they are so cheery this time of year.

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Black-eyed susans with liatris spicata – blazing star.  I enjoyed looking at this color combination this week.  I have always kept yellow and purple in mind as I select plants for my garden and sometimes they actually end up together, though here the black-eyed susans planted themselves with no help from me.

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Here are what the sunflowers look like now.  The goldfinches have pulled off many of the leaves, but new flowers keep emerging.  In front are russian sage and black-eyed susans.

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Scabiosa pincushion blue.  Looking at this flower sideways you can see how it got the pincushion name.

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I picked my first large tomato today.  I have been growing cherry tomatoes for the past four years or so, so this is a fun change.

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The vegetable garden is getting crowded these days, and the zinnias give it color.  The cucumbers and zucchini are not doing so well, but the collards and kale are great.  The pole beans and tomatoes are huge!  The lettuce is pretty much finished, but I put a few lettuce seeds in the ground today, since there is rain in the forecast, though it might be too warm yet.

This is the time of year when I try to keep up with the vegetables.  New vegetables are arriving every day.  I need to harvest at least every other day to keep up with them.

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I came home late Wednesday evening and ran out to harvest before sunset.  Half the leaf lettuce is for the salad that I bring to work each day, and half for Phil, in case he wants to make a smoothie.  I went into the neighbor’s yard, since he did not seem to be around, and picked a bowl of yummy raspberries, before they just fell on the ground.  There were a few peas and beans to pick, too.

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“Green Arrow’ peas.  Just a few peas to pick now and then.  I think they are just about finished now that it is warmer.

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‘Climbing French” pole beans.  These beans are not always easy to spot, but you have to catch them before they get huge and tough, though this variety has been pretty tender this year.  I made a mistake, though, and planted these beans not far from a very aggressive tomato plant.  I think both vines will be fighting it out over the next month!

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“Hungarian Heart’ heirloom tomato.  This is the aggressive tomato plant I ordered from seed savers exchange.  It will take a while for this to ripen….

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Collards.  I bought a nine-pack at Wal-Mart and seven of the plants survived.  Here you can see three big plants.  This is the first time we have grown collard.  You just keep picking outside leaves from the bottom and new ones grow from the top.  You might be able to see a very sick looking, bug-eaten eggplant in the back.  We did get two or three eggplant fruits off it.  Also on the left one of the cucumbers is starting to grow and you can see some curly kale leaves.  I only used small tomato support hoops for the cucumbers this year, so I have trouble coming, as the cucumbers are already beyond the tops of the supports!

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Leaf of Russian kale.  We have three big Russian kale plants.  I don’t like them as much as the curly kale – winterbor, but I am sure they are full of vitamins.

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Yellow bell peppers.  These peppers are still green but would turn yellow if I left them.  I usually pick some of the early ones, when the plant is still small, and leave later peppers to yellow in the fall when the pepper plants are bigger.

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The mulberry tree is still going, and in fact seems to be at its peak now.  The birds love it and we see a variety of birds visiting.  I usually pick some either for my oatmeal in the morning or in the evening to eat with a few raspberries and a little ice cream!

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I took a break from this blog to harvest vegetables for Dan to cook, and came across my first praying mantis, here hiding in an old spinach plant.  He jumped away to try to camouflage himself in the blades of grass in the lawn.  There are a number of interesting bugs doing multiplying activities in the garden now, so its good to have a number of predator bugs and birds around to keep them in check.

Seen in the garden:  the first bunny in a few years.  I only saw one, but our bunny fence has gotten a little sloppy and needs to be tied up.  I also heard a short cat fight in our yard under the heavy shade of the shrubs and grasses.  The cats should keep the bunnies in check even if they decimate our other biodiversity – birds, toads, snakes, mice, etc.

Cooking:  Dan has been cooking a huge batch of vegetables on Sunday for his work lunches.  He mixes the vegetables with rice and beans for a healthy meal.

Mild and Dry

January 19, 2013

It’s definitely winter.  By Monday night the temperature will be down to -4 degrees F.  Nevertheless, right now it is 41 degrees and going up to 45, which is pretty mild for mid-January.  There is no snow on the ground and we have not had measurable snow in Chicago since last March.

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The crocuses have responded to the warm weather all over the yard, except on the north side of the house where there is no sun.  Dragon’s blood sedum in the background.

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Another grouping of crocuses.  I might put some leaves around these to protect them from the coming sub-zero weather.

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The rock moss does well in this weather.

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I ordered tomato and pepper transplants from the seed savers exchange.  I have always just bought these seedlings locally, so we will see how this works.  I might have a little more variety, plus they are organic.

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I ordered some seeds from the same catalog.  I might start growing lettuce inside soon in a sunny window.

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Dots of light on a winter morning in the city.  The days are getting longer, though!

I have not written much recently, due to being under the weather with the flu, and there is not that much to write about.  We are drinking lots of warm fluids and soups and dreaming about sunny days.

Food Adventures

June 10, 2012

I enjoy trying new fruits and vegetables in the garden.  I just want to see if they will grow without too much work and if I will enjoy eating the item.

This morning, when making our blueberry, banana, lettuce shake, I went out to the garden to see what I could find to add.  Here are strawberries, juneberries, raspberries and mulberries, fresh picked.  Not so many strawberries left with this dry weather.  The birds are eating the Juneberries (Serviceberry)  so I wanted to get some before they are gone.  The raspberries belong to the neighbor, but they were hanging over into our yard…..

Juneberries on bush.  Amelanchier Laevis – Allegheny Serviceberry.

The kale needs to be eaten before it gets too big.  Maybe I can cook some soup…

I ordered sweet potatoes through the mail.  I have four or five mounds around the yard.  I hope they produce sweet potatoes!

Cucumbers taking off.  Also getting going are tomatoes, beans, peas, beets, sweet corn and potatoes.

Prairie Verbena.  I planted this about a month ago and it seems to be happy and starting to bloom!  In the top left are nasturtiums that I have planted as annuals all over the yard this year.

Watering Week

May 19, 2012

Last weekend I planted a lot of small vegetables and seeds, so I have been watering every day this week to get the seeds to sprout.  Hopefully they will not need much water once they get established.  So far some cucumber and bean seeds have sprouted, but I am still waiting for the nasturtium seeds to sprout.  Today it was 90 degrees, but the weather may cool down some this week.

The irises opened about 10 days ago.  They are so showy to look at from the kitchen window!  I will need to divide them and move some of them or give them away….

I love it when the first foxgloves bloom.  The bees love it, too.  Maybe I can even attract a hummingbird.

In March I moved the big catmint out of this bed to a place where it would have more room to spread out without flopping on the lawn or shading the other plants.  That left a hole and I put a few small plants in, which will take a while to fill in.  I could always throw in a few annuals this year if needed.  Everything is growing well at this point!

A closer look at Blue Hill Salvia and a geranium.  The moonbeam coreoposis on the left looks like it is getting overpowered by the salvia.  The daisies, back right, will be coming soon.

Funky onion showing off!   You can see a few beans that have just sprouted on either side of it.  My neighbor told me he had some left over mulch from last year, and then he gave me five bags, which I put down this morning in the vegetable garden after getting the little weeds up. Behind the fence on the left is a cherry tomoto, cucumbers, kale and my mint patch.  Right behind the onion is a patch of potatoes.  I guess I left some potatoes in the ground last year without knowing it and got a new batch this year. Also on the right is some swiss chard that came back on its own after the winter.  The yellow yarrow is so pretty.  Pictures of that next time.

Looking back at the garden from the other side…  I put up my bean poles for the climbing beans.  They are starting to sprout, too.  On the left are beets, pak choi, more kale and fennel.  Not shown in these pictures is all the leaf lettuce!  I have so much I really have to be diligent to keep eating it every day to keep it coming.  Also, I am starting to eat the first strawberries.  YUM!

A close up of common sage flowers.  I managed to capture the bumble bee on the left.

Dan’s favorite thing in the garden is definitely our Chinquapin oak tree.  He says the branches have grown up and out about a foot this spring.  There is still not a lot of shade, but significantly more each year.

Still waiting for bluebirds this year!  I do have baby sparrows in one of our bird houses.