Friday, June 25, 2010

Everyday miracles

Bearded iris 'Dusky Challenger' (Yet another day of rain this week.)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What's harder on hostas -- slugs or squirrels?

Caught red-handed at the scene of the crime.
You think slugs are hard on hostas -- just look at what the squirrels are doing to this group of 'Yellow Splash Rim'. They rummage around the plants looking for the sunflower seeds the birds spill from the tube feeder on the deck, shredding the leaves and generally making a mess.

Is it time to get the squirrels a feeder of their own?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pretty flavorful

 The creamy flowers of rhubarb pair nicely with pale yellow bearded iris about two weeks ago.
Rhubarb may be one of the original multi-tasking plants. It's pretty and it makes a great pie. Or cake. Or sauce.

It also may be one of the toughest plants around. Some of my rhubarb survived at least two years in a heap of roots and soil in a cardboard box. Maybe that ability to withstand harsh treatment is why its ornamental value too often is overlooked. But really, why wouldn't you plant it as an ornamental even if you don't like eating it. Rhubarb has fabulously huge leaves and towering flower stalks. A little tidying up now and then and you're good to go.

But in a gardening world gone edible, it is the culinary qualities that keep rhubarb on the must-have list. I found this recipe for Rhubarb Crunch in a cookbook published by AAL. Simple to make and yummy for dessert. Or for breakfast. Yes, breakfast.

Rhubarb Crunch
4 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 cups sugar, divided
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, beaten 

Sift 1 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons flour together; mix with rhubarb. Pour into an 8- or 9-inch baking pan and dot with butter. Sift together the remaining sugar and flour with salt and baking powder; stir in beaten egg. The mixture will be crumbly.

Sprinkle it over the rhubarb and shake the pan a little so the crumbs will settle down in the rhubarb. Bake for about 40 minutes at 350 degrees or until the crust is a delicate brown. Serve warm or cold, plain or with milk or ice cream.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The joy of June

A bearded iris called 'Samurai Warrior' blooms at the head of the front walkway. The pops of orange behind it are self-sown columbine.

What a difference a month makes! On May 7 we had snow; on June 7 we're awash in iris, the first roses, fresh hostas, vegetable starts and sunshine. The Seventh Day Project: June offers a peek into what's happening around the homestead these days. Check it out in the sidebar at top right.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Mystery diner identified

Franklin stuffs yet another campanula leaf into his mouth.

He's been showing up regularly for weeks. Quick and nimble, he teases the silly dog by hiding in drainpipes. He appears to live and work alone, scooting out of the pipes and through the flowerbeds. Thinking he might be a gopher, we tried to catch him using the live trap, but he would have none of it. He's shown a remarkable preference for chewing on Campanula punctata 'Pantaloons.' Just the 'Pantaloons'. Another Campanula punctata, 'Cherry Bells', grows a few yards away but he has no interest in it. What's up with that?

For the record, he's not a gopher. Outdoors writer Sam Cook helped us determine that he is a Franklin's ground squirrel. The Minnesota DNR is tracking ground squirrel sightings this year as part of its MN County Biological Survey.

Unlike the resident red squirrels, which chatter and scold loudly throughout the day, this guy has been mostly silent. I could, however, hear him chewing while I photographed him eating the campanula. Those jaws move rapidly! 

Our Franklin (I've taken to calling him by name) is a pioneer of sorts. Franklin's ground squirrels are more common in southern Minnesota, but, as Sam reports, they are moving north. More information about the Franklin's can be found here.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Stretching the potting soil

 Plant your petunias in a pot partially packed with plastic packing peanuts. (Yeah, I like alliteration!)

Container plantings are a big part of summer around here. And those big pots can consume a lot of soilless mix. Here's a tip for reducing the amount of potting soil you use that I originally posted in comments at awaytogarden. It bears repeating now that I'm actually putting my containers together.

Take some plastic mesh vegetable bags and fill 'em with packing peanuts. Stuff the bag in the bottom of the pot so that it's about one-third to maybe one-half filled. Fill the rest of the container with soilless mix and plant as usual. Because the peanuts are in a bag, it's easy to separate peanuts from potting soil when emptying containers in the fall. The bags of peanuts go back into the shed to be used again the next year.

I do this with the big clay pots in which I'm planting annuals that will get tossed at the end of the season. The pots don't weigh nearly as much so they're easier to move around, the plants do just fine with ordinary watering and fertilizing and I save on potting soil. However, I don't recommend this for anything that stays in the pot long-term, such as the brugmansia that is overwintered indoors or the mother plants for my scented geraniums. I also don't cheat with packing peanuts in pots that need bottom weight to balance a potentially top-heavy load such as a trellis covered with sweet peas or other vines.

No packing peanuts? I've been known to use damaged plastic six-packs or small pots to help fill out the bottom of big pots. That works just fine, too.