Monday, November 3, 2014

Suet Time ... Already?!

I’m working from home full time now.  I decided to put my desk in the sunroom so I could enjoy both the gardens and the birds while I work.  (I can see several of the feeders and the birdbaths from my “workspace.”)

On a daily basis, I see chickadees and nuthatches, cardinals and finches, blue jays and a few wild turkeys at the feeders!  I had the occasional oriole and hummingbird this summer, too.

Friday afternoon, I saw four (FOUR) woodpeckers on the bee house in the front garden.  So, Saturday morning when I filled the seed feeders, I took the bee house down and put up a suet feeder.  

I typically don’t put out the suet until Thanksgiving, but seeing all the woodpeckers clamoring around, I decided they knew better than I did about the timing.  The squirrels have been crafty in their efforts to “hack” the suet feeders in the past, but I think I have enough security on the feeder to ensure the feeder stays up and that the suet stays inside it!

When I arrived home after meeting a friend for a glass of wine Saturday afternoon, I saw this!  I was able to get within 4 feet of the bird before he sought temporary safety and shelter in a nearby tree.  By the time I walked from the porch to the sunroom, he was back on the feeder!

And, so far, the squirrels have not absconded with the feeder or the suet!  

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Two Goodbyes

Even with the beautiful colors and moderate temperatures (and no mosquitoes), fall has always been difficult for me because of some significant “leavings.”  In 2012, my dad died during the fall.  This year, fall – more particularly September -- was marked by two goodbyes – my Garden Elf and the Riverman. 

Garden Elf got busy with school and his focus shifted from doing yard work to doing school work.  His work was less careful at the end of the summer than it was at the beginning of the summer and I ended up having to weed/re-weed or re-do the work I’d hired him to do.  So, that just wasn’t as helpful as it once had been.  I’m grateful to him for the “good months,” where we built the deck, ripped out the old retaining wall and installed a new one and edged a couple of the boulevard gardens.  I think the gardens are at a place now where I can do what’s left on my own.

The second goodbye was more difficult.  After three years together, the Riverman decided that he needed to be on his own rather than be part of a couple.  He had been on his own most of his life, and I knew when we began that our time together was both precious and limited.  I have happy memories of music, travel, and gardening.  I did need to find a new home for the blueberries, however.  It was too vivid a reminder to keep them.  His niece took a few and a friend took the rest. 

As I was preparing the gardens for winter – and composting the leaves and flower trimmings – I thought the image of composting fit well for these two goodbyes, too.  These two once fruitful relationships are now spent and need to be composted so at some point in the future they can turn into something new and beautiful.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Crop Report – Week Six

I can’t believe it’s been two weeks since I’ve posted!  We’ve been traveling.  I’ve been helping others with their gardens, and I’ve been working on the new patio, which has left me feeling VERY tired at the end of the day. 

My garden helper is still around – he asked if he could weed two boulevard gardens AND the west hill while we were gone – I didn’t say no!  I can't remember a time when all the garden beds have been weed free at the same time!  Neighbors and passers-by have noticed, too! And, he’s been a GREAT help on the patio project.  We took a break yesterday for the July 4th holiday, but I’m sure he will be here shortly – ready to finish off the project.

The crops are doing well.  We pulled an onion last night for our July 4th picnic dinner and it was plump – almost the size of a leek.  We are still harvesting kale on a daily basis and the chard got big enough for smoothies earlier this week.  All of the tomato plants have tomatoes and all of the pepper plants have blossoms!  The vining spinach is coming up now, too, but has not started to vine.
The cukes and squash have begun to “jump the box” and are starting to creep into the front yard, which is fine with me!

I don’t know what’s been going on with the berries, however.  The strawberry crop looked so promising, but we haven’t gotten ONE berry!  Not one!  The creatures must have been very busy.  And, last night when we took our evening walk through the gardens, we noticed that the blueberries looked skimpy and scant.  So, a fence or some cages may be in order.  Luckily, the raspberries are both plentiful and ripening!  We’ve gotten a handful now for the last several days.  Yummy!

It rained almost two inches last weekend while we were gone and then “spritzed” a little bit on Tuesday afternoon.  But, it’s been dry since then.  So, for the first time since the week we planted, we’re going to water.

My neighbor has hatched three Monarchs, but I haven’t seen the caterpillars that were in my boulevard gardens for a few weeks.  Two nights ago, I saw a wasp eating a Monarch – possibly newly emerged.  Nature isn’t always beautiful or serene.
The neighbor I “stay-cation” with commented this week on the lack of bumblebees.  She hasn’t seen any in her garden this year.  I’ve seen several, and now that she’s brought it to my attention, I’m keeping an eye out for them.

There’s so much more to write about – a couple of field trips, the patio project, the continued work of the garden helper.  I will do that later – possibly from the new patio!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Crop Report – Week Four

Rain, rain, go away….  It’s been a wet, soggy, sodden, waterlogged week here at Auntie K’s Garden and the Urban Farm.  I know that’s a lot of modifiers, but when you get as much rain as we’ve had this week, I think it’s warranted.  Monday half an inch of precipitation fell.  Tuesday, we got another inch.  Wednesday, we were deluged with 4 inches of rain. 
Thursday, Mother Nature added insult to injury by dumping another half inch.  That’s 6 inches of rain in less than a week. 

The contractor finished the new gutters on the west side of the house before the deluge began, but wasn’t able to finish on the east side.  And, with all that rain, we had water not only outside, but inside, too.  Riverman squeegeed water in the basement for several days.  And, the sump pump has been filling every 15 minutes.  We’re supposed to have warm, sunny weather this weekend, which we and the crops will appreciate after a week of steady and heavy rain.

The Riverman was excited to see blossoms on the Celebrity tomatoes this week – finally!  And, there’s a weensy cherry tomato forming.  We’ve been harvesting the kale on a daily basis for the smoothies, and it just keeps coming!  This really is the way to go rather than purchasing greens during the summer months.  The vining spinach is finally making a go of it – even without a fence.

The cukes and the squash are going crazy!  Last year, the cukes struggled.  This year, they’re thriving.  We can’t believe how HUGE the leaves are! 

The berries are all doing well, too.  Unfortunately, a creature got one of the strawberries that was starting to ripen.  We’re hoping they leave us a few.  (I may need to put a fence around the strawberry box to ensure we do get to enjoy at least a handful of berries.)

My monarch caterpillar buddies have all disappeared.  I hope this means they have found places to make their chrysalises and not that they’ve been snatched up by a predator.

That’s the crop report for this week.  What’s happening in your garden?!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Garden Helper

Earlier this week, one of the neighborhood boys left some flyers and a handwritten note on my door.  This is a boy who asked for a lawnmower for his 8th grade graduation so he could have a proper summer job.  He’s a sophomore in High School now, and school is out for the summer, so he’s looking for some projects to keep him busy.  Since he lives in the neighborhood, he knows I’ve done away with my grass.  But, I do have him help with leaf raking in the fallj, so he dropped off a flyer anyhow. 

His flyer didn’t mention prices or what kinds of projects he wouldn’t be willing to do, so I gave him a call and asked him to meet me after work to talk about a couple of possibilities – one being the dandelion field in the front, and the other being the stepping path on the west side of the house.  I figured these would be good projects for him to do on his own – with just a bit of instruction up front.

We talked about whether the project(s) should be paid for on a per-project basis or whether hourly was more fair.  We negotiated a “per project” fee for the dandelions and agreed to see how that worked out before committing to the stepping path project. 

He came prepared the next morning with his garden gloves – but without a watch (or phone) and without a water jug.  I told him I’d set a timer for him so he could get home in time for lunch and set out a pitcher of water with a glass.  And, then reminded him that it’s hot out so he should bring water and he’s a business man, so he should track his own time.  Today, he showed up with both water and a way to tell the time!  Quick learner!

Here’s the progress so far!  All that’s left is to mulch!  He’ll be back in the morning – unless we’re having another deluge – to finish up!  I won’t post his picture since he’s a kid, but here’s an image of a garden helper with wings, because he’s such a fast worker!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Pappa Cardinal

I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot recently.  He’s been gone for over a year and a half now, so all the “first” anniversaries are behind me.  Maybe some things will always make me thing about him.  I saw Father’s Day cards while running errands a few weeks ago and thought… oh, I should get one so I can pop it in the mail so he gets it on time.  Then, realized, I don’t need to do that.  Power tools and house projects will probably always make me think about him.  (He taught me and my sisters how to use power tools and how to fix and make lots of things.  The Riverman was grateful for these skills last week when we replaced baseboards  at his condo.)  I think tomatoes and chives will always make me think about him.  We had a friendly yet fierce tomato growing competition for decades.  And, we both liked chives in our scrambled eggs – especially eating them outside on a summer morning.  (I texted my step-mom the other morning when I made scrambled eggs with chives from my dad’s garden.) 

A lot of people say their loved ones appear to them as birds.  Some are Snowy Owls, some are love birds, some are eagles.  For me, it is the cardinal, and more specifically, the pappa cardinal.

In August of 2012, my dad and I had a few email and text exchanges about cardinals.

Aug 22, To me.  A text:  Cardinals!  After all these years we have a cardinal family in the burning bush by the blue bedroom! we Think its cool.  Sent from my iPhone

Aug 25, 2012, To the family.  An email:  The Miracle of Life:  For years, Mr. and Mrs Cardinal have been flying around our deck. Kathy finally discovered their nest in the burning bush by our guest bedroom! We have witnessed a new generation being born with four hungry beaks fighting for nourishment! Today they were taught to "fly the coop", and alas a new life chapter begins! Better than watching Leno!
love P

Early September, To Pappa.  An email:  Hei, I love that you have cardinals nesting in your yard by the bedroom.  There's a pair here, too.  I love that they perch on the rose bushes and peek in the windows.

Shortly after this email, we had a phone conversation, during which it became clear to me that he knew he didn’t have much longer to live.  I dropped everything, jumped in the car, and made the 7 hour drive to be with him.  The last conversation I had with him was, in part, about cardinals.  He said birds were one of our bonds.  I agreed.  I told him that when I saw cardinals, I’d think about him.

The cardinal pair are still visiting the rose bushes and peeking in the windows.  The snapshots are  from the sunroom window of the pappa cardinal at the feeder.  Happy Father’s Day, Pappa!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Crop Report – Week Three

The crops are really taking off!  The Riverman is disappointed that there are no blossoms on the Celebrity tomatoes, but he’s pleased with how much they’ve grown since last week.  He “ruthlessly” thinned out the carrots last night.  And, we’ve been using the kale in our smoothies all week!  The onions and peppers are all very healthy.

The cukes and the squash haven’t yet set blossoms, but I can see the tiny little cucumbers where the blossoms will form!  They are much more robust than the plants we had last year.

I haven’t yet gotten the fence around the vining spinach, so the creatures are still having a field day chomping off the newly sprouted plants.

All the berries are doing well.  They seem to be in a race to see which one will bear fruit first.  I don’t remember them all starting to show fruit at the same time last year.  Last week I predicted we’d have raspberries by now.  Sadly, that prediction did not come to fruition.  Maybe next week!

Two of the Monarch caterpillars are still around.  I saw four earlier in the week, but when I checked this morning I could find only two.  My neighbor says she’s seen some on the coneflower plants instead of on the milkweed and says I shouldn’t worry too much.

Mother Nature is doing the watering again this week.  We’re expecting 2 – 3 inches over the weekend.  We’re having additional gutters put on the house and the guy finished the east side of the house yesterday.  So, we’ll see if the additional gutters help to keep the water away from the foundation!

That’s the crop report for this week.  What’s happening in your garden?!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Next Step

I have discovered that if I do a few small things in the garden each day, I can feel a sense of accomplishment without feeling completely undone physically.  I’m back to my morning ritual of weeding while I have a cup of coffee.  (It’s not going to clear every weed in every bed, but you’d be surprised at how much weeding you can do in the time it takes to drink just one cup of coffee!)

I figured if it worked for weeding, I could apply it to the patio project, too.  Every day, I’ve gone out and turned over a few more shovelfuls of soil—preparation for getting rid of grass and dandelions.  And, while I was shoveling, I was thinking about where to "start" with the outline of the patio.  (I'm going to use 4x4 cedar as edging and some permeable "decking" I found at IKEA!)  Originally, I thought it made sense to start at the corner by the compost bins, but I ended up thinking it was best to start with the "step" from the driveway to the patio.

So, the other night, I removed part of the old retaining wall between the driveway and the raspberry patch/patio area.  (It really wasn’t much of a retaining wall – two blocks high – one of which was mostly submerged.)  But, I wanted to do something that would tie in with the new patio, and crumbling block didn’t cut it.  I also wanted more of a formal -- and level -- step between the driveway and the patio.  The previous owners used the wall as a step from the lawn to the driveway and over time, it not only heaved, but eroded and crumbled, creating a dangerous transition -- especially in winter.    I thought about replacing the wall with stone or block, but that's both expensive and time consuming.  So, I decided on 6x6 cedar timbers, which I thought would work well with the 4x4 cedar edging for the patio.

Today, at lunch, I ran to the lumber yard and got a length of 6x6 cedar and some sand.  I had hoped they could make the cuts I wanted in the lumber, but they said the saw wouldn’t take 6x6.  So, after work, I cut the cedar the old fashioned way – using the circular saw on all four sides and the hand saw for the leftover bit in the middle.  Then, I dug out some soil to make room for some 16 x 16 pavers.  I put in the sand, tamped it down, and edged it with the cedar.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to tweak this a little bit before I drive the rebar through the cedar to anchor it.  The height is just a bit off, which means I’d need a lot more sand for the patio space than I’d originally planned.  So, I’ll tinker with it and see what evolves.  In the meantime, the step to the driveway is a whole lot better than it used to be.  And, I’m one step closer to getting the patio project finished!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Ode to Joni Mitchell

I’ve mentioned a few times that I don’t use insecticide or herbicides here at Auntie K’s Garden.  I get rid of bad bugs with a bucket of soapy water and my dandelion digger—cuz, I don’t want to grab them with my fingers!  And, I get rid of the weeds by hand – pulling them out by the root.  Like Joni Mitchell said so well, “Hey farmer farmer, put away that DDT now, gimme spots on my apples but leave me the birds and the bees, Please!” 

Sometimes, I get behind with the weeding, and a passerby or a neighbor will comment.  A few weeks ago, a neighbor stopped by to admire the garden.  She turned around and her eyes got HUGE as she said, “My, that’s a fine crop of dandelions you’ve got!”  It’s true.  It has been a bumper crop of dandelions this year.  But, I don’t want to use weed killer… So, I “deadhead” them staving off the seed heads, and dig them out when I have time.  But, I need to come up with a new plan because there are just too many.

One of the local nurseries had a post on FB about using a flame thrower to kill weeds!  I thought about this idea for about 30 seconds before determining that the mulch might catch fire and I’d have a bigger problem than a fine crop of dandelions on my hands.

But, I thought about the “heat” aspect of the flame thrower and thought boiling water might work.  I haven’t had a chance to try this yet, but I will (at some point this summer) and let you know how it goes.  And, if you’ve done it, I’m curious to know how it went.

A fine crop of dandelions  :(
A few years ago, I used heavy brown paper under my mulch.  This method was a TOTAL failure. It looked great for the same season, but the weed seeds had NO trouble popping through the following year.  And this year, I have a "fine crop of dandelions."  So… as much as I don’t like to use it in planting areas, I’m going to use landscaping fabric in the non-planting areas like walkways and patio areas.  Before laying down the fabric, I’ll double dig and get rid of grass clumps and dandelion roots (and any little tree-lets).

Do you have ideas for getting rid of the weeds but leaving the birds and the bees?  If so, post a comment and tell me how you did it!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Breathtaking Blues

I do not discriminate when it comes to color in the garden.  I plant pinks, reds, yellows, blues, purples, oranges, whites, and foliage of every color and texture.  But, nothing seems to take my breath away like the blues.

Snapshot does not do justice to the plants
I’ve got a variety of blues in the garden – creeping phlox, Johnson’s Blue geranium, Baptisia Australis, Cornflower, catmint, salvia, lupines, bearded Iris, and Siberian iris.  Many of them are on the west hill, and when I come down the walk from the garage to the front of the house, the sea of blue gets me every time!  So, I guess even though I plant all colors, I’d have to say that the blues are my favorite.  No other color affects me like the blues.

I like to have bouquets from the garden – for myself and to take with me when I visit people during the growing season.  I keep a variety of inexpensive vases and a collection of ribbon.  Here’s a blue bouquet I made the other night to take to a walleye and wine evening with some friends.

Do you have a favorite color in the garden?  Or, do you plant and appreciate all colors equally?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Smoothie a la Riverman

Coffee – and lots of it – has been part of my morning since my late teen years.  I’ve cut out the sugar, but still use cream.  I can drink it black, but I prefer the cream.  And, while the Riverman enjoys coffee, his day is not complete without at least one smoothie.  So, our morning ritual now includes coffee and a smoothie.

I experimented with recipes last year – some are better for arthritis than others – but we’ve settled in on a berry and greens mixture.  It seems to work out well for both of us.  I’m great about getting enough fruits on a daily basis and the Riverman is better about getting enough veggies.  Adding the greens to the smoothie ensures I get more veggies and the berries gives the Riveman an extra serving of fruit! 

Part of the reason we planted kale, spinach, and chard this year was to have fresh greens for our smoothies.  We typically buy the “power greens” at the co-op, but it doesn’t make sense during the growing season, when we can grow our own.  Same thing applies for the berries.

The Riverman uses water and I use kefir for liquid.  We both add a little almond milk.  The rest of the ingredients are almonds (or walnuts), chia seeds, oat bran, bananas, and flax seeds.  The frozen berries make for an almost “shake-like” consistency.  Mmmmm.  Smoothalicious!  What’s your favorite smoothie recipe?

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Crop Report – Two Weeks from Planting

It’s been two weeks since we got the veggies planted.  And, so far so good!  Well, mostly.  The creatures seem to have gotten into the vining spinach.  I see new sprouts in the morning and then later in the day, they’re gone.  I might have to put a little fence around this one until the plants have a chance to vine up.

The kale is doing great, and so are the onions.  We actually harvested kale yesterday and this morning for our smoothies!  We’re starting to see carrots (and a rogue sunflower, courtesy of the squirrels or chipmunks). 

The tomatoes are flowering and the cukes and squash are just getting ready to send out vines.  I used the cilantro Friday night in a batch of guacamole.  Was it my imagination, or did the guac really taste better for having some home grown ingredients?

Flowers on the fruit plants have faded and the fruit is forming!  Could there be raspberries by next weekend?!  I hope so!  The strawberries seem to be out-pacing the raspberries this year.  It’s been an odd year for bloom times.  Everything seems to be late this year – except for the strawberries. 

We won’t have to water for a few days thanks to Mother Nature doing that for us.  She provided just over an inch on Friday night into Saturday.  Today promises some sun, a great follow up to the perfect amount of moisture.

Oh!  I almost forgot! The Monarch eggs have hatched!  It’s cool to go out in the morning and see the holes in the milkweed leaves getting bigger.  I’m also seeing some new eggs on different plants. I hope some of these guys survive to adulthood. 

That’s the crop report for this week.  What’s happening in your garden?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Bloom where you are ….

Laden down with plants!
Last fall, I dug up and hauled home a TON of plants from the gardens of the Shady Sisters.  The property is being sold and all the gardens will be bulldozed, so the Sisters wanted their beloved plants to live on in other gardens.  I got a few things planted last fall, but then the weather and travel got in the way, and some things didn’t have a home. 

Some plants were in pots and I knew they wouldn’t stand a chance over the winter. So, I found them spots in the veggie beds.  Some plants, however, were bare root, and I had just set them in various places around the garden.  I knew some of them would make it.  I just didn’t know how many.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I saw that ALL of the plants came back!  There’s a clump of yellow iris and some miniature ornamental allium by the tomato bed. 

Out by the raspberries, there are hostas, hostas, and more hostas!  Along with a few more ornamental allium and some creeping blue ice sedum.

When I saw these plants – flourishing where they had been set but not planted – I thought about the saying you frequently hear… “Bloom where you are planted.”  and wondered whether the last word is needed.  I sort of like “Bloom where you are.”  What do you think?

Friday, June 6, 2014

Killdeer at the Garden Center

Right before the Memorial Day weekend, I went to the garden center to get the veggies for the garden.  And for me, like for many gardeners, going to the Garden Center is never an “in and out” trip.  I always end up wandering around – looking at the perennials and herbs.  Scanning the annuals (I’m terrible at using annuals for “fill in color” but hope I’ll do that someday.)  And then, I head out to the rose, shrub, and tree area.

On this particular visit, I picked up a blueberry for the Riverman’s niece, who had two already had two plants of the same variety but needed a plant of a different variety to ensure she’ll get fruit next year.  See "Plants do it."

I also wanted to check out the roses to see if I could find a replacement for Crown Princess Margrethe and a companion for my Albert Holden lilac.  While I was face planting in the lilacs, I heard chirping, which became more urgent as I moved down the row of lilacs.  I spotted the source of the chirping near a flowering plum.  The nurseryman told me it was a Killdeer.  Another bird arrived, also chirping urgently.  I figured I was close to their nest, but couldn’t see one in any of the shrubs.  The man at the garden center gave me a quick lesson.  He said they nest on the ground and have picked the same spot for five years!  I did spot the nest – with 4 stone colored eggs -- in the base of the flowering plum sign. Apparently, the Killdeer pretend to have a broken wing to lure their predators (me, in this case) away from the nest.  I witnessed this behavior in both of the birds, but didn’t get a snapshot, because they were already distraught and I wanted to move away and give them peace.

If I had just gotten the veggies and not wandered to the shrub area, I would have missed getting to see and learn about this interesting bird!  

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Procrastination Pays Off!

I’ve been planning to build a two (or three) bin composter for going on three years now.  (Ok, it’ll be 4 years in October.)  I keep dreaming up the “perfect” bin design and the perfect placement.  These things take time!  Meanwhile, the “temporary bins” are looking more and more unsightly.  My neighbors are both patient and understanding.  My former tenant was neither and complained regularly about how unsightly the bins were.

So, this year, I bought the materials and started building.  I got the back wall of a lovely two-bin system finished and saw a post on FB about cedar and wire compost bins available from the county for $45 each!  I had spent significantly more than that on the materials for my bins.  I returned the materials, went up to the county, and bought three (not two) bins for less money than I’d spent on my “perfect” two bin design.

The instructions said it would take approximately 30 minutes to assemble each bin.  I had them all done in about 45 minutes.  I then cleared the spot I wanted them and set them in place.  It took a little bit of work to get them all leveled, but I finally managed to get it right.

Now all I had to do was move the compost from the temporary bins into the permanent bins!  As I started moving the piles, I was glad to have three bins.  I used one bin for stuff that needed a lot of time, one bin for stuff that was “mostly” ready but needed a little more time, and one bin for stuff that was ready to use!  (With the old bins, I couldn’t get in there to fork around and see whether anything was ready to use.  The new bins have doors!) 

The space where the “temporary” bins were is now ready for the new patio area, which I’m hoping to have completed by the July 4th holiday.  I know what you’re thinking… I’ll procrastinate about the patio, too.  

Could be… But, I’m highly motivated to finish it, since it will be a lovely spot to have coffee in the morning and a cocktail in the evening after a long day in the garden!  

Stay tuned…

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

More about the Berries

I’ve had raspberries in Auntie K’s Garden since I bought the house.  The first year, I got a handful of berries.  The second year, maybe two handfuls.  Now, they’re taking over the universe – or at least the back yard!  They’re still running rogue into the hosta hill, but I have a friend who is willing to find a home for those.  I was able to freeze berries last year, which we used for smoothies. This year, I’m hoping for enough berries to make jam!

When the Riverman started the veggie garden and the Urban Farm in 2012, we added strawberries and blueberries.  It was tough going at first, but now all the berries seem to be doing well.  Maybe the “sleep, creep, leap” motto really is true.

We have the strawberries in a box.  (My uncle in Norway has his in a raised bed and they did phenomenally well there, so I copied his approach.)  Early on, we had some winter kill – I think because the berries were close to the edge and I didn’t have straw bales around the bed in the winter.  This year, every plant came back.  A few berries jumped the box, so they’re running wild in the yard!  I’m okay with that!  Last year, the birds (or maybe a squirrel) got the ONE berry that appeared.  This year, we’re already seeing lots of flowers, so we’re hoping to share the harvest this year with our feathered and furry friends.

The blueberries also suffered the first year.  One of the original 5 plants died.  One was eaten almost to the ground by rabbits.  So, we didn’t get many berries.  Last year, I bought a few more plants and stuck them in the south facing hill where the lavender used to be.  I mulched the heck out of them last fall and put cages around them to *try* to protect them from the bunnies.  Every plant survived!  Two showed evidence of bunny munching, but even those are flowering now! 

With 9 plants, we should get enough for a blueberry pancake breakfast, or maybe some blueberry muffins.

I love currants, but don't know a thing about growing them.  Has anyone else tried currants?  If so, what has your experience been?  Should I try those next?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Field Trip – A South Minneapolis Garden

I like visiting gardens – both public and private.  I like to see what plants people use and what “objects” they use, if any.  I like seeing the colors and textures and variety.  I notice whether there’s symmetry or asymmetry in the garden and whether that “feels” right or not.

Sunday, I visited the garden of a friend who lives in South Minneapolis.  She’s a long-time gardener, too.  Her plant love is lilies – more specifically, Asiatic and Oriental lilies (not your regular day lily).  I have a few Asiatic lilies and one Martagon lily but am allergic to the Oriental lilies, so I avoid those in my own garden.  And,even though her garden contains a lot of them, it's such an inviting space, I always want to stay and enjoy it!

As all gardeners do, we’ve shared plants over the years.  I gave her a Martagon lily some years back, and Sunday, I put my name on a spiderwort in her garden! (I couldn’t take it with me because there’s just too much else going on here to get it planted in a reasonable amount of time.)  Lucky for me, my friend is patient!

Her garden has undergone some significant changes in the last year or so.  She’s ripped out an old and overpowering grape vine and installed a nice (care free) trellis.  She’s installed a new covering for her deck (which faces west and gets a TON of afternoon sun).  She had a new shed put in and decided the view from the deck was entirely “too white.” So, she added these gorgeous branches, which came down from her tree.  I LOVE this idea and would like to do something similar in my own garden for the new sitting area.

Have you been inspired by visiting a fellow gardener’s garden?  What idea(s) have you borrowed?

Monday, June 2, 2014

Pollinator Party

We’ve been hearing a lot in the last few years about the decline/demise of the pollinators.  Colony Collapse Disorder has been getting the most attention, but when the Riverman and I recently watched the documentary “More Than Honey,” we learned about “foulbrood,” and a mite that injects a virus into honeybees, deforming their wings and causing paralysis.

I’ve been committed to organic gardening here at Auntie K’s Garden from the start.  I don’t use pesticides or herbicides, because like the song says, “the ankle bone’s connected to the knee bone.”  This kind of gardening has its challenges, but I’d rather have a few weeds than fewer pollinators.

Thankfully, many of my neighbors are like-minded.  And, Saturday, one neighbor had a “Pollinator Open House”.  She did some research on plants that attract pollinators, went to a local nursery that specializes in plants native to our region to purchase the plants and invited her gardening pals over to share her passion for saving the bees by sharing the plants! 

We were getting the plants ready, and she told me that the woman at the garden center told her that “Liatris is like ice cream for bees.”  (So glad I’ve got those in my garden!)  

I missed the actual event because I spent too much time working on the new compost bins before the rain started, but another neighbor went.  Here’s her box of plants, which includes Liatris, Prairie Phlox, Wild Bergamot, Milkweed, Goldenrod, Anise Hyssop, and Asters.

Change happens one person at a time.  Maybe pesticide/herbicide free gardening isn’t your thing.  But, I bet you could incorporate one or more of these plants into your garden to save the bees.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Urban Farm – Year Three!

The Riverman and I planted our veggie garden over the Memorial Day weekend – one short week ago!  Having learned from previous years, we’ve altered both the list of veggies and the locations for some things.  We’re doing fewer tomatoes this year, because I’ve learned that nightshades adversely affect my arthritis.  We couldn’t eliminate them entirely because the Riverman loves tomatoes and it just seems wrong to have a garden without a tomato.

We’ve eliminated the Brussels Sprouts (we may try them again because we both like them) but we wanted to try some other things this year.  No peas or beans; radishes or beets.  We’re doing peppers (to go with the tomatoes), cucumbers and squash, onions and carrots (we’ve had REALLY good luck with these in the last two years), and lots of greens for our smoothies and salads. 

I’m also trying a sweet potato since I’m using it as a substitute for the regular potato.  I’ve heard it’s difficult to grow them in our climate, but I’ve also had friends tell me that when they’ve added sweet potato vine to their annual pots, they’ve gotten potatoes by fall!  I’m hoping this turns out like the cilantro experiment!

I’ll post the Crop Report on Saturdays through the growing season -- even though the Riverman thinks more frequent updates are in order.

Do you plant the same crops year after year?  Or, do you mix it up?  Is it easier to go to the Farmers Market for some things than to grow your own?  Post a comment and let me know.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Roses and Raspberries

Trimming the roses and the raspberries is one of my favorite jobs of the year. I don’t know why. It certainly isn't that I have to wear long pants and long sleeves and leather gloves to avoid looking like I had been in a cat fight! There’s something satisfying about pruning out the deadwood and seeing the tiny buds promising wonderful flowers and fruit.

Bedraggled Lipton
This year, however, it was a painful job – and not just because of the thorns! I mentioned that I lost Crown Princess Margrethe to the Polar Vortex. I lost my Magnifica as well. And, I thought I'd lost Julia Child, but I saw today that there are leaves coming. Whew! A bright spot! The Lipton roses – typically very hardy – all took a beating. Last year they were so lush. This year, they’re looking decidedly wounded and bedraggled. I'm hoping they’ll recover, too. (I mentioned that I had 22 bags of leaves this spring. When I was done pruning, I had 7 bags of prickly canes.)

I’m hoping that the Japanese Beetles will have been adversely affected by the Polar Vortex. But, I'm told that since the larvae are in the ground rather than in trees like the Emerald Ash Borer, and since they thrive on moisture, of which we've had no shortage so far this spring, it's likely that they'll return in July to munch on – and breed on – the roses and the raspberries. A girl can dream, though, can't she?!

Friday, May 30, 2014


I’ve never been a fan of rhubarb, but when my dad was dividing his several years back, I couldn’t say no.  My favorite rhubarb memory isn’t even about eating rhubarb, it’s about wearing it!  The summer I was 10, I was in Norway at my grandmother’s and made a skirt from rhubarb leaves!  I found a length of yarn and carefully strung together enough giant leaves to make a very fashionable mid-calf garment.  (Much more modest than the garb of the Jolly Green Giant.)  It kept me occupied for a good long time while the adults were busy . . .  eating rhubarb (and drinking coffee).

I do have a few memories of eating rhubarb.  I remember eating rhubarb soup as a kid in Norway.  I remember sprinkling sugar on rhubarb stalks as a youth in Minnesota.  And, I had a delicious “rhubarb slushie” with the neighbors one summer night a few years ago.  But, I don’t really like it!  I never think… “hmmm.. I have a craving for some delicious rhubarb,” which I do with many other fruits.

And yet… I still have it in the garden!  I can’t part with it.  How irrational is that?!  I even dug it up recently from its spot by the compost and moved it in with the raspberries to make room for the two-bin composter instead of tossing it into the compost!  I gave the stalks from the smaller plant to a neighbor and did toss the giant leaves from the larger of the two plants into the compost – only after contemplating and then rejecting the idea of making another rhubarb leaf skirt.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

First Monarch

A few days ago on Facebook, the Minnesota Nongame Wildlife Program posted that they had seen their first Monarch butterfly in Southeastern MN.  They asked if anyone had seen Monarchs in their area.  Monday afternoon, I saw one!  I ran inside to get the camera and got a few snapshots.  Here’s the only clear shot of the bunch.

A neighbor saw me with my camera and asked what I was up to, so I told her about the FB post.  Her sweetie ran inside and got their camera.  We stood in the street for a bit watching the Monarch flit about, landing from time to time on a plant in my Native boulevard garden.

Tonight, my neighbor and I were out weeding and she noticed several milkweed plants in my boulevard garden—none of which I planted!  We checked the milkweed for eggs and discovered that the boulevard is a veritable Monarch nursery!  I don’t remember a thing from fourth grade when we watched Monarchs in the classroom, so I had to go to Wikipedia, which said the eggs should hatch in about 4 days!  The caterpillar will last about two weeks.  And then two more weeks in the chrysalis.  So, in a little over a month, if everything goes well, I should see Monarchs galore!  

I’ll have to do a periodic check on the plants to see if any/all the eggs become caterpillars and whether the caterpillars survive the predators.

What an exciting accidental adventure!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Lupines at Last!

I don’t even want to think about how many times I’ve tried growing lupines over the years.  I didn’t have any success at the St Paul House and I haven’t had any luck so far at Auntie K’s Garden.  (I posted back in 2010 about my abysmal luck with lupines!)  

I’ve tried plants from nurseries.  I’ve tried plants from friends. I’ve tried seeds.  Nothing has worked—until now!  So, I was thrilled when I saw that the lupine from my friend Gail had taken.  I marked it last fall expecting a bare spot this spring.  Imagine my delight when I found not a bare spot, but an actual lupine!  

And, two days later when I was weed whacking, I noticed a second lupine tucked in with the catmint!

If all goes well, and these two lupines bloom, I’ll drop the seeds I have on the hill when their seed pods form and start to shake loose.  I’m crossing my fingers!

What’s the flower/plant you’ve been unlucky with?  Have you eventually found success? Or did you give up after a while?  

Post a comment and let me know.
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