Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Windy Wet Weather

Wow! The weather here this autumn has been wild. In September, we had 5 inches of rain in one fell swoop. That was followed by 28 days of zero rain – not a drop. (I thought I had emptied all the rain barrels in early October, but discovered a full barrel Saturday when I built the compost bins.) It rained pretty steadily on Sunday and broke our dry streak.

Yesterday, we had a weather system move in that brought sustained winds of 30 to 40 MPH with even higher gusts! Apparently, we set a new record yesterday for low barometric pressure in Minnesota – 28.22 inches. Weathercasters and web sites reported pressure that low is equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane!

I’ve never been in a hurricane, so I couldn’t confirm that comparison, but I’ve been through plenty of blizzards, and the way the wind howled last night and rattled the windows I was sure I’d wake up to a foot or more of snow. Thankfully, it was too warm here for snow last night, but there are flurries this morning. The strong wind is supposed to continue through today.

By the weekend, it’s supposed to be “back to normal” autumn weather – 50s and partly sunny – perfect for planting tulips!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Improvised Compost Bins

One of the projects on my list this year was to build a new “two bin” composter. Well. I ran out of time and didn’t get it done. I still wanted to collect and keep my leaves, though, and didn’t want to have to bag them all. So, I improvised and whipped together a couple of wire bins. Okay, “whipped together” isn’t exactly how it happened. The hardware cloth is quite stiff and comes in a roll. By the time I got to the end of the roll, I needed to use some stones to hold it down so I could bend it in the correct places.

I used rebar posts from the home store as my corners and placed them 3 ½ feet apart. Then, I started measuring the hardware cloth and made creases in it every 3 ½ feet so it would stand up better around the posts. I started using zip-ties to hold the hardware cloth to the rebar posts, but found that some coated wire cut into about 3 inch pieces worked much more quickly. If you look closely, you can see that I ran out of hardware cloth on the second bin and used rabbit fencing to finish off the fourth side. Since it’s temporary and holding only leaves, I think it will be okay.

I then got out a tarp, raked the leaves onto it, and dragged the tarp to the bins, which to my surprise, filled VERY quickly! We had some rain yesterday and I noticed that the leaves have already started to compact themselves. In the photos, the leaves reach almost the top of the bins, but even a few days later, there is already about a 12 to 15 inch gap!

I can hardly wait for spring so I can spread the composted leaves through the gardens!

p.s. Oh. Those stones in front of the bins are for ANOTHER project I didn't get to this year -- the stone steps on the West Hill. *sigh* There's always next year!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Visiting the Gaylord Texan

I have just returned from the Gaylord Texan, a HUGE resort/conference center in Dallas, Texas, where I was a guest for the last week or so—bonding and learning with colleagues from work. We had long days (and nights) of meetings and events. But, there were a few opportunities for solo activities, and guess what?! I explored the gardens!

It’s Texas, so they had lots of succulents and cacti. I didn’t take snapshots of those. (I did take snaps when I was at the Botanical Garden in San Antonio last November. Those were some spectacular plants.) There were also lots and lots of bromeliad and other typical hotel plantings.

I bumped into a gardener early one morning, who was removing fallen leaves from one of the beds with a long pincher! He talked with me for a bit and said he was one of eight gardeners who keep the gardens (indoors and out) looking spectacular. I forgot to ask him about the Texas sized grapes in the vineyard, of which I DID take some snapshots because they were so outrageous! (They were also outdoors, which was wonderful after many hours/days inside.)

p.s. Apparently, I have not mastered the “scheduled” feature in blogger, so the posts I thought would get automatically posted while I was gone, did not actually post! *sigh* Sorry for the long absence.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Lazy Sunday on the St. Croix

Okay. So, after several days out of the garden (and away from the computer) due to a multi-day migraine, which finally went away yesterday, I should have spent the day raking and heeling in the truckload of hostas I received from my friend, Marcia, who lost a big tree in her yard that provided shade for her hostas. (Marcia and I installed her garden together about 15 years ago and I was honored she asked if I wanted a few hostas.) I was not expecting to get a whole truckload! It’s a good thing I moved some things around earlier. It left some space, which I can use as a winter home for all the new hostas.

Instead of working in the garden, I went out to the St. Croix River, which divides Minnesota from Wisconsin, and did a 15 mile canoe paddle. It really was a glorious day – cool in the morning when we started, but almost 80 when we finished in the afternoon.

I had hoped to see the bright fall colors mixing with the evergreens along the river, but because everything is early this year, the sugar maples put on their show last weekend (for the marathon) and this week we had the quaking aspens and the oaks. It produced a really muted effect.

The river was really high after all the rain we had a few weeks ago. Islands that typically appear in the river were under water. And, shorelines were drastically altered. The scenery was still spectacular. We had a botanist on the trip with us, but there wasn’t really a lot to see this time of year except the trees. All in all, it felt like a good way to ease back into the swing of things.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Out of Synch

It’s been a heck of a week. Sunday, I worked in my octogenarian neighbor’s garden—digging out volunteer trees, re-stringing her fence, and cutting down the peonies. Monday, the same day the wascally wabbits mistook my front garden for a salad bar, I came down with a cold and lost my voice. And, then, I got a migraine, from which I’m slowly emerging today. Waking up after a migraine—especially one that lasts more than a day—always makes me feel a little like Rip Van Winkle or Sleeping Beauty, because while I’ve been sleeping like a mushroom in a cool dark room, the world – and the garden – has continued on without me! It’s a little discombobulating to feel so out of synch.

When Monty and I went on our walk earlier today, I noticed how much things have changed just since Monday! Everything looked so dry – even though I had watered everything well on Monday. I also noticed piles of leaves in the street and in some yards. Monday, the leaves were still on the trees. Today, the asters were bursting with color and on Monday, they were still on the verge of opening.

All I had the energy for this afternoon was watering and taking some snapshots of the trees, with and without leaves. I hope to be back in the swing of things tomorrow.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Rats! Wascally Wabbits Strike Again!

Rats! I guess I’m in a cartoon character kind of mood today. It could be the cold that’s clouding my head. Or, it could be that if I didn’t laugh, I’d cry. I walked out the front door this morning and noticed that the wascally wabbits had munched down not only my new shrub clematis, which had a blossom last week and hasn’t even made it out of its pot yet, but also my beloved Graham Thomas rose – just when it was making a comeback after last year’s munch down.

I’m a live and let live kind of gardener. (Okay, I do kill the Japanese Beetles.) I don’t mind if the rabbits munch (occasionally) on a hosta or two, and understand when they chomp the top off the odd tulip in early spring, but when they strip every leave and most stems from Graham Thomas season after season, steam comes out of my ears! “Aaauuuugggghhhh,” I said aloud (a la Charlie Brown) as I looked at the bare twigs that were green and leafy just yesterday, wishing, not so secretly that the hawk would thin the herd a bit.

Are the wascally wabbits in your garden too? If so, what are they getting? If not, what’s your secret? Do you have a wabbit wemedy that you swear by? Post a comment and let me know.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Lumberjack Day

A few times a year, my friend, Betsy provides an opportunity for me to express my inner lumberjack by inviting me to come out to her acreage to split wood. Yesterday was one of those opportunities! I’m always happy to participate because the work is so satisfying. And, for a few hours work, I haul home enough wood to have a winter filled with cozy evening fires.

Speaking of fires, Betsy had a pile of brush that needed burning, so we took care of that, yesterday, too. On some "lumberjack" days, we cut fallen trees into 18 - 24 inch lengths and stack them to be cut into fireplace-sized pieces later. Mark runs the chain saw and we move and stack the logs. Some days, like yesterday, we run the splitter and either haul wood to the barn for storage or load up the trucks with wood for each family. Typically, there are four of us (Betsy’s sister and brother-in-law are the other two regulars) but Mark was traveling, so it was just the three women yesterday. Betsy figures we split and hauled two cords. Hear us roar?! (Mark and Sue had split the logs into manageable pieces earlier in September so we could get them on to the splitter more easily.)

Typically, we work in the morning and end with a hearty “sloppy joe” lunch. Yesterday, we started in the afternoon and ended with pizza and black bean nachos. Yum. Today, I’ll unload the wood—making sure to fill the bin on the porch before stacking the rest in the garage. It may even be cool enough tonight to have the inaugural fire!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Who Knew?!

I started Auntie K’s Garden earlier this year after almost a year of pondering. I talked with bloggers whose blogs I read (and liked) and made notes about what I liked (and hated) about other blogs I read. I read list after list about what makes a good blog. And, I began to brainstorm topics – both broad categories and specific garden related events/issues/passions. My goal was to write between 200 and 300 words about something garden related every day for the entire growing season. By the time the first plant sale of the year arrived, I was ready. Or so I thought.

It turns out the one thing I hadn’t considered was how my life would change as a result of being a blogger. Because I saw my blog mostly as an exercise in discipline and writing, I told very few people – fearing I’d run out of ideas after I covered my brainstorming list and die from embarrassment. So, I wasn’t really expecting people would read it!

I found Blotanical – an online community of garden blogs and bloggers – almost a year ago when I was reading My Northern Garden – the blog by the editor of Northern Gardener magazine I’ve been reading regularly for a couple of years. I joined Blotanical only after I had a few months of posts under my belt. (No sense inviting people to read 5 posts, I thought.) And, then a crazy thing happened. People from all over the world were finding and reading my blog. I’ll never forget the first day someone from Malaysia commented on a post. I almost fell off my chair!

Then, friends I hadn’t told about my blog started mentioning it. Twice, recently, I started to tell friends about progress in the gardens. They said, “I know all that already, I read your blog.” “You DO?” came my astonished reply. “Yeah,” they said, “I’ve been reading it for a while now.” “Who knew,?!” I thought.

I like that people have found my blog (and seem to like it). But, cooler, for me, is “meeting” other garden bloggers. I found some really lovely and interesting blogs and bloggers through Blotanical. I look forward to reading their posts and sharing comments and experiences. I love seeing gardens in other parts of the world and reading stories from other home gardeners like myself. It’s amazing some days how many of us are on the same wavelength. And, the photographs are extraordinary! My goodness! I’m trying to include photos in my posts now, but I think it’s a skill that will develop slowly.

I think maybe the best way to sum it up is to say that 1) because I saw Auntie K’s Garden as a writing practice, and 2) I told very few people about the blog that I wasn’t prepared for the wonderful interaction I’ve experienced. And, it just seemed like the right time to say it out loud. I hope I continue to have experiences that make me say, “who knew?!”

Friday, October 1, 2010

Celebrating Minnesota Harvests

Minnesota’s most well-known food product is probably wild rice. I have to confess that it took me a while to get used to the dark, crunchy fare, but now eat it on a regular basis. One of my favorite ways to have Wild Rice is in creamy soup with chicken. Mmmmmm. Last night, however, I was at an event that celebrated other Minnesota grown goodies and raised money for a great cause!

The Minnesota Horticultural Society hosted a wine, cheese, and apple tasting at one of the local garden centers. Over 100 of us attended! The proceeds support the Hort Society’s “Garden in a Box” program, which helps low income families grow their own produce at home. Considering there is a waiting list for the boxes, I’m thrilled with the turnout!

The wines were from St. Croix Vineyard in Stillwater, MN. (I had sampled some of these wines at “the Fair” this year and was glad to have the chance to sample a few others.) It’s still amazing to me that we can grow wine grapes in our climate!

The apples were from Pine Tree Apple Orchard in White Bear Lake (a suburb of St. Paul). I’m a really fussy apple person -- kind of a “find one you like and stick with it gal” but I tried every apple they brought with them and liked every one! Not one mushy mealy flat bite in the bunch! We got to try HoneyCrisp, Honey Gold, Cortland (my fave of the evening), SweeTango, and Keepsake, which was described as the kind of apple you could break a tooth on! It was, indeed, a hard, crisp apple.

And, the cheese was from Shepherd’s Way Farm in Northfield. The couple who owns/runs the farm has sheep and all the cheese is made from sheep’s milk. I didn’t try the “Big Woods Blue” because it’s my single most reliable migraine trigger, but I did try the Friesago, which seemed a lot like a cheddar to me, and the Hidden Falls, a brie-like delicacy made from both sheep and cow milk.

I thought this was a creative way to showcase some Minnesota Grown produce and to raise money for a great cause. I’m glad I had the chance to participate!

Oh, and, I found out that my favorite apple, the Regent, will be at the stands on Saturday! Woo Hoo! I see a trip to the orchard in my future!
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