Sunday, December 8, 2013

Deep and cold: Seventh Day December

 The view out to the vegetable garden. Below: Homemade vegetable soup.

We're enveloped in winter. We have just under 3 feet of snow on the ground thanks to a three-day storm earlier this week. Bitter cold followed almost as soon as the snow stopped.

It's beautiful and brutal. Time to break out the snowshoes and stoke ourselves with hot food, hot tea and our favorite port.

With everything buried, it's even more comforting to have a simple Saturday supper of vegetable soup with carrots, onions, potatoes, green beans and tomatoes from the garden. The harvest lives on.

Make yourself a cup of tea or pour yourself a glass of port and take a look at Seventh Day December.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Bench strength

The garden is maturing so a stone bench with a little history is a perfect addition.

We bought it at a sale on Park Point last summer and Brian set it into place a couple of weeks ago. We were told that the feet were salvaged from the Superior High School and the seat was part of a retaining wall near Miller Dwan, circa 1885-1915.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Color coordinated

Hey, look! -- my socks and shoes match the garden. (A dahlia and snapdragons supply the red.)

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Spectacular September morning

Yesterday's rain has given way to a sunny Sunday at sillydoggarden.

Top to bottom: Front yard with colorful pear. Backyard with pink celosia. An unexpected, natural garden ornament. Back bed with dark burgandy-black ninebark. Steam rising from the deck.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Sun setting on summer: Seventh Day Project does September

What are those brilliant orange flowers in the back garden, you ask. Well, those are Tithonia rotundifolia, also called Mexican sunflower. One of the owners at Garden House in Solon Springs recommended them during a chat last spring about favorite annuals. They don't look like much now, she said, as she placed two plants with plain foliage and no blossoms or even buds in one of our boxes. But just wait -- you'll love them, she promised.

And we do.

See other fun things in the garden in Seventh Day September 2013.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Seventh Day Project: Back at it for July

I love baptisia. This is Baptisia australis.

So. It's been awhile. Here's a peek from earlier this month. 

We had a bear in the herb garden tonight. No photo, you'll just have to take my word on that. First bear we've seen in the yard for a couple of years.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Gaining on spring

Ussurian pear (or is it callery pear?)

Elsewhere, spring is already melting into summer. Here, after a long winter and a cold, wet May, spring is finally getting underway. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Toasting the melting

An evening drink on the deck for the first time since October? September? A warm, sunny Saturday after weeks of snow, cold and clouds. Plenty of snow still out there, but the melt is under way.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Enough with the snow!

Through the front window this morning. Yeah, that's another 15 or more inches out there.

And out a back window.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

April showers ...

The day started with rain, then sleet, then snow and by Saturday evening there was another 8-10 inches of heavy, wet snow on the ground and weighing down the conifers.

The top of the red pine near the driveway was of special concern. We'd lost the top twice already to ice and snow in past years, so Brian pulled out the roof rake to shake some of that snow loose.

The rest of the trees will have to wait for sunshine and warmer temperatures today.

 The front yard at dusk.
The backyard at dusk.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Jamapalooza Five

Our canning circle reached a milestone in March -- we've gathered once a year for five years to make jam and chutneys, to try recipes from the humble to the exotic, and to catch up on each other's lives. We've always gathered in mid to late winter, when we really need a pick-me-up. This year may have been our best year yet. We made bruschetta in a jar, brandied cranberry-orange marmalade, maple-onion conserve, mango chutney, lemon curd and lime curd.

 Ingredients, recipes and an assortment of jars.

 The range gets a workout.

 Bruschetta in a jar gets ladled into jars. Find the recipe from Ball here.

Janna and Holly are the experts in the group.

 Brandied cranberry-orange marmalade is ready for lids and the water bath.

Connie zests limes for the curd. 

 Curd takes a lot of eggs. We used eggs fresh from Janna's Fat Chicken Farm.

Lime zest mixed with sugar. The kitchen was smelling pretty good at this point.

 The lemon curd is delicious. We dipped thin, crispy lemon cookies in it.

Part of the fruits of our labors.

For someone who is not a natural cook, I love these canning sessions. It's so satisfying to combine ingredients in a jar that you can hold in your hand, and know you can enjoy later. And it's great fun to do it with friends. I'm already looking forward to Jamapalooza Six.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Go for launch!

Last week, on an unassuming and snowy afternoon, a small miracle occurred.  The 2013 garden was born.  The annual rite of spring happened as it always does...... quietly.  Every year in early March, the first seeds are sown and the renewal begins.  It starts slowly with only a few varieties being planted at first.  Things like leeks, celeriac, and heliotrope are always the first to start the trip but virtually every week from now until early May something will require sowing.  By the end of it, it will be all-consuming, gobbling up all of my free time and dominating my thoughts.  Slowly, the amount of sowing will give way to transplanting, growing and maintaining the seedlings.

With the amount of plants that we start here (~5000 cells) it is important to stay organized and on schedule.  Good record keeping helps.  If you start your own seeds you know that crop timing is important.  Not all plants grow at the same rate.  You do not want to sow too early so it's important to know your crop and follow the advice given on the seed packet.  Obviously, you want your plants ready to plant when the time is right.  Around here the first or second week of June is the target and most things can be planted out safely then.  That may sound late to some of you but this is gardening in the North and frost in early June is not at all uncommon.  With some crop times stretching to 12 to 13 weeks, starting in early March is just about right. 

Onion 'Jaune Paille Des Vertus'

One thing about gardeners: They're always looking to the future.  It has been said before but it bears repeating here that being a gardener means you are an eternal optimist.  Every year presents new challenges and thankfully, triumphs! It seems that everything we do is an investment in the future with hopes of an eventual payoff that will make it all worth while.  The payoff usually does not disappoint.  The food and a year's worth of therapy is started by the simple act of planting some seeds in a pot and watering them.  It is somewhat magical this personal harbinger of spring.  When the lights go on and the room is filled with the aroma of damp planting medium, it fills my soul with anticipation of what is to come.  My lazy days of winter leisure are numbered, but that's okay.

It's odd to think about vegetable gardening when there are still 18+ inches of snow on the ground with more forecast for later in the week, but it is also exciting.  Sowing seed is the signal that change is coming.  The snow will eventually melt and the sun will warm the soil. The grays and whites of winter will soon become the greens of spring.  The countdown has begun.  It is only a matter of time and when the time is right, we will be ready. 
"Houston to Sillydoggarden:   ......You are go for launch!"

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Much to my surprise

Upon returning home from my "day job" yesterday I was treated to a somewhat rare sight.  A Barred Owl was hanging around the garden hunting for a meal.  Unlike most other owls, Barred Owls often hunt during the daylight hours and this one was doing just that.  The quarry?  Anything small that moves.  There is usually some activity around the compost piles, especially this time of year.  We have plenty of vermin to make meals out of here so I'm surprised that it took until March to observe one here.  It has been well documented in the local print media that Great Gray Owls and Barred Owls have been common sightings this winter.  This happens every few years as the owls move down from Canada when prey gets scarce in their traditional range, mimicking the population fluctuations of these species.  Barred Owls do live here but the Great Gray's are uncommon as they typically live further North. Owls can get pretty concentrated in this area and there sometimes isn't enough prey to go around.  Some don't make it.  Several dead owls have been found this season and that is unfortunate.

I admit, I am a bit of a predator snob.  They certainly are a crucial part of the balance of life, keeping certain pests (at least as far as a gardener is concerned) in check.  I prefer controlling these things in a natural fashion as opposed to traps or other methods of control.  It is really a game of chance, though.  All you can do is make the environment appealing to them but you can't make them come.  The "If you build it, they will come" approach doesn't always work.  All you can do is hope.  We always seem to have some critters living off the fruits of our labor here and we hope that when there gets to be too many of them, some predators will move in.  Sometimes they do.  We've been treated to some real cool sights in the 19+ years we've been gardening here.

The Barred Owl is a medium sized owl, up to 24" in length.  It's distinguishing characteristics include but are not limited to the dark eyes.  The Great Gray Owl is similar in size, (perhaps a bit larger) but it has yellow eyes.  Also, the horizontal "barring" around the neck is unique to this species, hence the name.

Spotting the owl yesterday was the high point of my day.  Things like that are what makes living and gardening here worth the extra time and effort (and frustration) that it requires.  Special treats happen every now and again in the wild and in the garden and one must always appreciate them for what they are when they happen.  I have not noticed it around today but my hope is that it had a good meal last night and solved some of my problems for me.  Perhaps it will return.  I can only hope.  Come to think of it, I haven't seen any rabbit tracks around here in a while.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Snowblind Trees?

The shadows are still relatively long but the days are getting noticeably longer,  .... and warmer. Day by day, as the sun creeps its way higher into the sky, we gardeners, especially those of us that live in the North, start to get a little anxious for the coming growing season. The winter world in the North can get to be a bit long in the tooth come late February. There is a whole new world lying just beneath the snow and we know it. The urges to get that shovel into the ground start to become stronger.  Placing and receiving seed, plant, and supply orders only seem to make the waiting worse.  Patience. ... It won't be long before we start seeds and from then on we won't even have time to breathe. We anticipate the transformation every year at this time.

Not so fast! We have other issues to worry about right now.
Recently, we have had some very bright and warm days here and for most, it is very welcomed. Not so for trees. This is one of the most stressful times of the year for trees, especially conifers. The combination of strong sunlight compounded by reflection off the snow and warm temps can spell disaster for conifers.

This Limber pine (Pinus flexilis 'Vanderwolf's Pyramid') is beginning to show signs of dessication injury indicated by the browning needles.
The problem is dessication injury. In fact, most winter damage in landscape conifers is exactly that.  The concept is that when it is bright and warm, the tree starts to transpire. This means that the tree is releasing water vapor into the air.  At least it tries to. The problem is that the roots can't supply the demanded moisture because they are embedded in frozen ground  Think of it as trying to sip on a straw that is in a glass of frozen water.  The leaves (needles) simply dry out. This is the damage that you see.  Deciduous trees are not as affected by this because they don't have leaves this time of year.  After all, it is the leaves that conduct the moisture. Mature conifers and those that are well adapted to the area seem to be much less affected. Landscape and marginally hardy conifers are particularly susceptible.
There is some Rx for this. Shading the tree from the bright sunlight is often beneficial. The light is the catalyst for the whole process of dessication. The thinking is that if you can eliminate the sunlight, you can eliminate the demand for moisture, thereby eliminating the injury. It may be a little unsightly but it beats the alternative. It is another one of those spring rituals that we reluctantly go through here at the garden, especially when there is snow cover.

Although snowblindness is a human affliction, the reflective UV rays are pretty hard on trees too. If you have ever experienced snowblindness or gotten a sunburn from the snow, you know how dangerous sunlight off of snow can be. Trees don't have the luxury of coming in out of those conditions. They have no sunscreen nor do they wear sunglasses.

Around here, landscape care is an ongoing and year-round endeavor.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

10 things I love about the garden

Please bear in mind that this is by no means a complete list. But here are 10 things I'm thinking about in anticipation of the growing season. In no particular order of importance:

1. The chance to experiment with lilies like this beauty we bought at a sale at the Chicago Botanic Gardens.

2. Cold drinks in the "cocktail lounge."

3. Bodacious clumps of daffodils behind ferns.

4. Frogs in the pond.

5. Brian cooking Thai green beans with pork in the garden.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Shhh. Be very, very quiet......

Abelia mosanensis

I'm hunting wabbits.  The tweacherous twicksters are at it again.
It seems that there isn't a winter that passes in which we don't have some kind of "animal problem" in the garden.  After all, we do live in their backyard.  We do a fairly good job of protecting plants but the gardens are extensive and protecting everything just isn't possible.  There are always shrubs that are left exposed and vulnerable.  The Abelia is a delightful shrub that has the most intoxicatingly fragrant flowers in late spring, thus it is very valuable.  Surprisingly, it has not been significantly damaged by critters in the past.  It is usually left unprotected.  This year, the rabbits have discovered it.  The recent cold snaps have caused deer and rabbits to be a little more aggressive in their search for food and you can see signs of it all over the garden.  As gardeners, there should always be some level of damage that is "acceptable", but when the survival of a plant is at stake, action must be taken.

Many people complain about deer and the damage they cause but I've found that rabbits are far more destructive.  Deer usually browse around and cause some damage but rabbits can completely devour a small shrub or tree in a couple of nights or less.   Mortality is usually the result.  Some years it's snowshoe hares, but this year it's cottontails.  Rabbit damage is usually indicated but sharp, clean cuts in the stem oftentimes on an angle.  Also, round fecal pellets are almost always present.  When the population is on the high end of the cycle, damage can be extensive.

A trip to the secret stash of fencing out back in the woods is in order.  I always have extra on hand for just such an occasion.  It is the easiest and most fool-proof method of keeping critters off a plant.  It is 100% effective.

There.  That should keep them off of the Abelia for the remainder of the winter but there are many more unprotected plants in the garden and I would just feel better if the threat was eliminated.  By eliminated, I mean trapped and transplanted.  Lead poisoning and snares are only used as an absolute last resort.  So far this season, I've live trapped three cottontails and I'm pretty confident that that is all of them, however, the vacuum could easily be filled by a lone bunny.

A fresh blanket of snow will tell the story.  If there is any sign of additional negative activity, the trap will come back out and the hunt for wabbits will continue, as it always does.