Japanese Beetles

I have been busy with work work and school work, but in the meantime, the garden has been getting busy too. The nasturtiums started blooming this weekend, there is a tiny future tomato on one plant. the daisies and echinacea are blooming and the salvia is nearly bloomed out. I did some deadheading this morning. Calendula is coming up. Oh, and the Asclepias tuberosa grew back from the roots after it got frostbitten last month. Most are blooming now, but mine is a 3″ green little thing, growing. The elderberry is nearly a foot tall now, lovely foliage.

Snow peas are flourishing and scarlet runner vines are vining. The zucchini plants look healthy – I scraped off a couple squash bug eggs but did not see any adults – I will need to be vigilant. the bunnies have been at my chard, but are mostly eating buckwheat. It looks like I may have a decent raspberry crop this year if I can keep them watered. I drained my barrel, we got a fairly heavy rain, drained my barrel again. We are still at about half normal rainfall. We should get some more rain tomorrow.

I have been on the lookout for the dreaded Japanese beetles, and today was the day. I found five of them on my weeping cherry and I dispatched them. I sprayed down the little tree with neem oil, which worked pretty well last year to discourage them. Unfortunately they like a lot of things that flower, and I don’t want to discourage the pollinators, so for the garden it is the jar of soapy water. I am concerned that I do not see many pollinators this year. A bumblebee here and there, the honeybees were at the salvia. Some smaller bees, but really not many of any of them. Cabbage whites, but no red admirals, no monarchs, no swallowtails.

Looks like I have a survivor

That late frost we had did a number on my first tomato start, so I am letting it grow, but bought second. Also, I have planted two new natives in my flower bed: Agastache “blue fortune” a hybrid of rugosa and foeniculum, and Asclepias tuberosa, commonly called butterfly weed, a type of milkweed that will attract pollinators.

Well, the milkweed became a little dry stick. The cold weather was too much for it. I did not despair. I continued to water it and periodically gave the shriveled stem a gentle tug. The roots felt firm yet, and today I see some green shoots coming from the roots!

Yay! This one “Hello Yellow” will have a more yellow flower – some are more orange, but it will be lovely. I want lots of flowers! I am always going outside and staring at my plants, willing them to bloom! The nasturtiums are growing well, but no flowers yet. Still waiting on the daisies and echinacea. The Blue fortune does not have buds yet, but looks healthy. Oh, more flowers!

It looks like I have a volunteer milkweed, probably the standard one we find around here. It looks right and happens to be growing in my flower bed, which is perfect! I will have two types of milkweed, Agastache, Echinacea as far as natives go in the small bed, plus the elderberry over in the mixed hedge. I am interested in whorled milkweed which is not very tall and has greenish white flowers. In any event, I have increased my native plants by 400%, and next year I will have more if the house does not demand expensive repairs so I can expand my garden. I did not get my prairie dropseed yet. They were sold out by the time I was ready.

The little elderberry continues to grow. It looks small and insignificant, but I like the foliage and look forward to seeing how it is this time next year! I also planted some aster seeds, but they are Chinese aster, not native. It was a sample pack from my garden store and I did not pay attention. I won’t cry if they don’t make it – I can get seeds of the native purple asters easily enough.

The heat is on!

I have now planted my asian eggplant starts, some raspberry canes from a friend, and some parsley. I love parsley and both parsley and dill are food for black swallowtail caterpillars. The bumblebees are buzzing, and I saw an adorable little Peck’s Skipper at the salvia today. The salvia is in full bloom. The daisies have buds as does the echinacea. I have some calendula blooming and my volunteer strawberries are putting on fruit. A bunny has been nibbling my chard and lettuce, and even tasted the broccoli. It has been hot and dry – feels like August. Rain barrel emptying fast and had to use some house water to water the baby trees.

Visit to the marsh today

It is a sunny but ridiculously cold day for the end of May. We had frost overnight, and I found a new use for rhubarb leaves – they can be used to cover your lettuce bed and other tender plants when there is frost at the end of May! I think everything survived with no visible damage (yet). It is 35 degrees out and my new friend F and I are going to visit Patrick Marsh, in hopes of seeing some white pelicans. They should be there by now and are very impressive. The Marsh will not have emerged into its summer beauty and I will be curious to see what F thinks of it – she is from Shanghai, and has not likely seen much prairie (the marsh is a restored wetland surrounded by prairie restoration).

Fast forward: We had a lovely walk to Patrick Marsh. There were, as always, red winged blackbirds in abundance, and killdeer calling. Swallows flitted about and a song sparrow perched on the railing singing away. No pelicans! I was so disappointed, thought for sure there would be some. We sat on the bench chatting, when suddenly, I saw two soaring above the lake! Then five more joined in an aerial display – so gracefully they soar! I am so happy the F got a chance to see, and also that she could feel the magic there, even though it is still early, so to most, the plant life may not be impressive right now. She appreciated how wild it is and said that when she is in places like this, she feels maybe city life is not all that it should be.

After our walk, we stopped in a the garden store and I bought a new tomato plant, but we may get frost again tonight, so it will not be planted just yet – maybe Monday – fingers crossed that overnight temps will be more conducive to tomatoes by then. We had a cup of tea and some rhubarb crisp that I made this morning. Delicious!

No sign of the scarlet runners and green beans yet, but one of the zucchini has sprouted. my lettuce is lovely.

Look at this cute little guy

I thought it was some kind of bee buzzing around my chives, fuzzy cute thing. But look at those eyes! The hairy legs! The face! He is a fly, but a cute one. I saw some bumble bees also and many little hoverflies.

Things begin to bloom. The echinacea has buds forming, the salvia is blooming – wish the shasta daisies would bloom earlier, I envisioned them blooming at the same time as the salvia. Also, the japanese beetles come out hungry when the coneflowers and daisies bloom and they really do a number on them. I have some nice nasturtium seedlings, and am waiting for my beans to emerge.

The kale is still blooming, and today the NPR host said that she also had an overwintered kale this year and she had not realized that they would bloom. I am definitely saving seed in case it is an unusually hardy specimen, but maybe the winter was not as cold. Hard to say because I was working from home in December and February, so of course the winter didn’t seem bad!

My volunteer strawberries are blooming. I wonder if that means they are a June bearing variety, or if there will be more later… I will have to get a picture. Also, the violets are spreading – I encouraged them and now it is crazy. I need to dig up some of them and put them under the bridal wreath spirea. They seem to keep the weeds down, and the foliage is nice, not to mention the flowers. I noticed some with white flowers, which is cool. Didn’t get a picture of those this year, though.

Memories of Grandma

When my grandmother was 90, I moved St. Paul, MN where my grandmother lived. I had the pleasure of getting to know her better during her final decade. She had been an avid gardener, growing vegetables for the table, and priding herself on her gorgeous backyard flowers. Her garden was pretty neglected by the time I moved to town, as her eyesight was not good and she didn’t get around quite as easily. I did what I could to tame the garden. My husband built a redwood trellis for her clematis, a variety with small white flowers that she called “Little Fairy”. I thinned out some of the garden phlox so the peonies could thrive and you could once again see the orange-red oriental poppies. I dug the forget-me nots out of the lawn and made a small bed of those. I planted a small bed with pansies and made sure that her flower box always had impatiens (must be pink!) and moneywort trailing over the side. Her roses had reverted to the hardy rootstock, and were very thorny, but with lovely single flowers.

For decades, the trash can was just that, a place for trash. Garbage (food waste) was buried in the garden. Her soil was so black and rich! Every fall, I had to dig a 4′ x 4′ hole to bury her leaves, as she couldn’t bear the thought of wasting all that nitrogen. She always said “Those leaves are pure nitrogen!” She was also very opinionated as to what various plants are called. For example, the weed that has scalloped leaves and purple flowers and grows along the ground is “creeping Jenny”, not creeping charlie, which is a houseplant with scalloped leaves and white flowers. Moneywort is definitely not creeping Jenny or Charlie. If I hear anyone call a plant by a name that my grandmother had decreed was not the correct name, I can hear her saying in my ear that

My grandma was partial to white flowers, and disliked zinnias because she felt they were too gaudy. It was difficult to thin her phlox becaus she wanted me to make sure not to pull any of the white ones. I love a riot of color, so I cannot agree with her on the zinnia question, but her garden did not have them. She did not grow vegetables any longer, save her rhubarb, which was probably the same one she had had for 60 years. She would say to me when I would come over “Honey, can you go out there and bring me some rhubarb? I want to make the sauce”. So, I was very excited to have my own rhubarb, when I bought my house in 2017. I chose Canada Red, and I waited that first year, watching it grow and not taking any stalks in order to let the root system get strong. I give it its own bag of manure every spring and it is a monster! I could stitch together two leaves and have a skirt! I use the leaves as a weed suppressant, laying them down on an area where nothing is planted.

This morning, I made the sauce, which is the easiest way to enjoy rhubarb. Cut the rhubarb into 1/2″ pieces, add sugar to taste and cook over medium heat for 10-12 minutes. If the rhubarb is not tender, cook another minute or two. You can add a small amount of orange juice to the pot, or orange zest. Cinnamon is nice, but go easy on it. You can use honey, sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup. This morning, I made mine a little sweeter than usual, because I plan to eat it with a fairly tart plain yogurt. I used 1/4 C white sugar for about a pound of rhubarb. Added another tablespoon. I wanted it a little sweeter still to contrast with the yogurt, so to my dish of sauce, I stirred in a teaspoon of honey before I topped the warm sauce with cold yogurt. Love it! It is good in oatmeal too, and frankly, that oatmeal in my cupboard can be used to make a nice rhubarb crisp! Rhubarb pie is amazing , with or without the strawberries, but my man is a blueberry pie man, and I will not make a pie that only I will eat – I don’t need the calories!

When I eat rhubarb sauce, I always think of my grandmother and my mother. Both loved rhubarb sauce, which I think would lend itself well to a sauce to serve with grilled meat, if you keep it on the more tart side and add some spices. Every summer, I would photograph my grandmother standing in her garden, surrounded by flowers. I enlarged the best one and framed it as a birthday gift. I miss my grandmother. She was born in 1895 and died in 1995. She had so many stories! And her basement was like a time machine, the further you went in, the older things were, until at the very back, you would find her diploma to teach at the county normal school- she lied about her age and wore her hair up for the interview because she thought it made her look older. Of course, as was common in her era, she turned to keeping house and raising children once married.

Rain Barrel Woes

Twice I have missed out on filling my rain barrel, because the tube that connects it to my downspout came loose. Dang it! I thought I had the problem solved by taking up the slack, but no. Today I went and did what I should have done in the first place – bought a hose clamp. I am guessing I will eventually need to replace the tubing, which is a plastic popeet type of affair which allows one to extend if necessary. It worked very well for the last two years, but I guess the plastic is aging. I will try to see my barrel as half full and pray for more rain, which is in the forecast, thankfully.

My elderberry has put on some healthy looking new leaves, which is awesome, top row center below – doesn’t look like much now, but next year it will be lovely. I hope that my poor ascelpias decides to put on some healthy new leaves as well, it looks dead – no pics of that. The Agastache is looking healthy. Snow peas are coming along, lettuce. Broccoli and chard finally putting on their first true leaves. Everything got slowed by the frost. Chives are blooming and the kale, but no bees! No butterflies. I have had both in April, but I am thinking the cold snap has affected them as well. I have seen not more than five bumblebees (and it could have been the same one five times!).

It does not seem like the robins have hatched anything yet, but I will keep my fingers crossed. Actually, I did see some activity, so it could be soon. No evidence of shells below the tree yet…

On the positive side, I planted my zucchini seeds and all three kinds of beans today. Green beans, scarlet runners, and chinese long beans. I am excited to try the long beans – never grown or eaten them before. I hope I don’t have trouble with squash bugs this year – if I do, I will be very aggressive. I love the idea of using packing tape to catch the nymphs…

Finally, Some Rain

My rain barrel is not yet full, but it is getting there. We are nearly 6 inches behind. The birds have taken to drinking from the tiny dish that I fill with water for the insects. I have seen robins, cardinals and sparrows all drinking from the tiny dish. My robins have not hatched their babies yet. I can tell because the dad was scarfing down worms today, not tking them home to the nest. He does get excited if I get too close to the tree, sitting in the nearby mountain ash, scolding me. After I provided all that string, and watered my unplanted dirt so they would have mud to finish building their nest. Some gratitude!

Today while I was driving around on campus, I saw a fox hurrying across the street with s meaty mouthfull, on the way to the den. Was it a momma bringing food to the kits, or poppa bringing food to his mate? Who knows, but it was cool to see.

My peas are growing, my chard and broccoli is slow. The lettuce and radishes are coming along nicely. My volunteer strawberries are starting to flower. and my rhubarb is giant. I must harvest some and make a rhubarb crisp. The chives are flowering now, but I see so few bees! It is very strange. I have seen maybe five bumblebees and one honeybee this year. My overwintered kale is in flower and it is not setting seed.

My lilacs are lackluster, but I suppose it is to be expected, since I have been cutting them back so severely. I hope they flower more next year. I have been giving them lilac booster and a little manure in the spring. I have been mulching with wood chips, and getting rid of the really old wood. I suppose that the lilacs have to recover. This year, the flower panicles were tiny. Not worth cutting for my vase. Patience! Enjoy the blooms from last year.

Dandelions and New Friends

I was starting to feel like the bad neighbor on the block, so many dandelions! So many! I hate the idea of spraying, I really do, but I can see why people do. I spent the entire day pulling dandelions, rarely able to get the whole root, and scattering seed as I went. My side yard is still atrocious with dandelions. I was weeding the front,when a woman who was visiting someone at the apartments next door came over to chat. It really helped pass the time and we covered a lot of ground. She went back to what she was doing and J from down the street came by. She told me that my baby trees are too close together, basically, I should lift every other one and replant them. She offered to help and suggested it would be best at this point to do it in the fall, when the weather cools.

J has lived in the area forever and has a wealth of knowledge. She also likes to chat and pull dandelions, so I brought out another bag and another weed digger and she and I got to know each other better and now my entire front yard looks pretty good! She suggested I should mow the lawn, and wait until after the expected rains and give in to the chemical solution to my dandelion problem on the side yard nd mybe spot treat the backyard. I am torn, but I don’t have time to pull every stinking one. Will I ever be able to make peace with the dandelions? And what of the stupid creepng jenny? I kind of like the purple flowers, but they are not ideal for the lawn. We are supposed to get rain this week, which is awesome. I hope it holds off so I can mow the lawn after work tomorrow.

The garden center was super busy, and one guy shared with me that he finds reseeding his lawn every year helps a lot to crowd out the dandelions. That sounds like a good plan. I think that we should plan to aerate the lawn, reseed and maybe even fertilize…we have not fertilized since we moved in in 2017.

So busy in the yard that I forgot about making salata mechouia. The oven worked great. I overcooked the jalapenos, so I lost most of the pepper and did not get the heat I usually get, but I had not tried charring the veggies under the broiler, so next time I will be more careful. If you have never has salata mechouia, it is a tunisian grilled salad (or spread). It typically has tomatoes, peppers (hot and bell) and garlic. Char everything, peel and seed, for the garlic, I cut the top off and squeeze the roasted garlic into the salad. Everything is coarsely chopped, or pureed, then add olive oil, lemon juice, cumin and capers. I have added eggplant, and you can use any comobination of peppers. I favor a nice sweet red bell, some ancho and some jalapeno. Roma tomatoes work well. It is delicious with grilled meat or fish, or with pita bread, or on crisp lettuce. I think you could use it in an omelette or frittata. You could eat it with plain yogurt. It is frequently served with hard boiled eggs and/or olives. A lot of recipes call for caraway seeds. It is often eaten with tuna. The beautiful thing is that you can make it your own. Grilled onion? Sure! More garlic? You bet! More spicy? Yes please! Now that I think about it, I should make somehard boiled eggs to eat eith it for my lunch tomorrow! I can always spice it up with sriracha if need be…