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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Gleanings from Old Gardening Books

I explored Google Books this evening, an evening that is rainy, damp and cool and more like the end of September than the eve of September. Brrrrr… I am wearing long sleeves!

A few days ago, Google announced that they have added a download feature for books that are in the public domain. That drew my interest and I started searching through some of the books. I’ve just started looking and here are some of my finds:

Gleanings in Old Garden Literature by William Carew Hazlitt (1892). He writes in the “preliminaries” : “We know how some of the wisest and best of mankind have delighted in gardens.” I do think gardening adds to one’s wisdom and makes you a better person!

“Forget Not Mee & My Garden...": Selected Letters 1725-1768 of Peter Collinson, R.R.S.” He writes in a letter dated March 27, 1732: “We are now in Great Want of Rain for the Gardens & for the Summer Corn.” Sounds like a familiar lament of gardeners today living in areas that aren’t getting much rain. And not to be morbid, but who thinks that "Forget Not Me and My Garden" would be a nice epitaph on a gardener's tombstone?

Then there is “The Garden Month by Month describing the appearance, colors, dates of bloom, and cultivation of all desirable, hardy plants for the formal or wild garden, with additional lists of aquatics, vines, etc.” by Mabel Cabot Sedgwick (1907). She dedicated her book to W.C.C. and E.R.C., perhaps her parents? Here’s a link to the Preface, which is too long for me to transcribe in its entirety, but is quite interesting. (Given the length of her title, does it surprise you that she would have other long sections in her book?) Here’s one sentence: “Yet he who truly loves his garden will not relinquish altogether the happy task of creating it.” How many gardeners would willingly sit by and watch someone else work their garden? Not too many!

And then there is “Cyclopedia of American Horticulture” by L. H. (Liberty Hyde) Bailey, Wilhelm Miller (1902). In the Retrospect, he describes how to undertake a project as large as writing a “cyclopedia”, and the words still ring true today on how to approach any large project. “The most difficult part of the making of a cyclopedia is to project it. Its scope and point of view must be determined before a stroke of actual work is done… One must have a mental picture of the entire field and must calculate the resources.” Project management is still “plan your work then work your plan” even after over a hundred years.

Time to stop. I could lose a lot of time searching old gardening books with Google Books. All online, some searchable, some downloadable. Look for "full view" books. I think I’ll save this activity for long winter nights!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

No Plan Garden

I had no plan for this garden by the side of my house. Some of you will say “and it looks like it”. Right now, it is dominated by Obedience Plant, Physostegia virginiana, which as you can see, I don’t spend a lot of (any) time staking up.

The reason there is no plan for this garden is because most of the plants along this side were given to me by other gardeners when I first moved into this house. I didn’t quite know what my plans were for the entire landscape at that time, so I decided to plant all of these passalong plants along this side of my house to hold them over. And I never got around to moving them.

Along with the Obedience Plant, I also have growing here an ornamental grass (I call it Zebra grass, but it’s not the same as what most people call Zebra grass), cone flowers (Echinacea purpurea), old fashioned tiger lilies (Hemerocallis fulva), some four o’clocks (Mirabilis jalapa), purple columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), giant catnip (Nepeta grandiflora), periwinkle (Vinca minor), and a variegated kerria (Kerria japonica ‘Variegata’).

The kerria is the “daughter” plant of a kerria on the other side of the fence. It sprouted up from the roots of the mother plant, and I left it alone.

Like I said, I had no plan, I just planted.

I certainly think it is better than my neighbor’s side garden shown below, which faces my No Plan garden. It’s a No Plant garden.

(To be fair to my current neighbors, they just moved in earlier in May, and are the fourth owners in 9 years. For whatever reason, no one who gardens has lived there, and so they never seemed to see the need to plant something along this side of their house. I have high hopes for the new neighbors, that they will finally plant something. I’ve seen them out looking at it, so I think they are at least thinking about it.)

I hope this shows gardeners who are waiting for the perfect garden plan that sometimes you just go for it, plant stuff and see what it looks like. Now, before any landscape designers/architects or garden designers freak out reading that little gem of advice, relax, there is also a time and a place for a garden/landscape plan.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Gardening Goes On and On

“I could go on and on. But that is just what gardening is, going on and on. My philistine of a husband often told with amusement how a cousin when asked when he expected to finish his garden replied ‘Never, I hope’. And that, I think, applies to all true gardeners.” – Margery Fish – "We Made A Garden"

Even as I start to see unmistakeable signs that this gardening season is coming to a close, at least in the midwest, I am planning for next year. I know everyone is. I'm figuring out what worked, what failed, what I didn't get done, and what I still want to do yet this fall. I'm figuring out ways to make the gardens and gardening go on and on.

One thing I did like this summer was this little Proven Winner, Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost', pictured above. I spotted it at a local garden center this spring and bought it on impulse. (Isn't that the best way to buy plants - on impulse?) It has performed as advertised, flowering on and on all summer with virtually nothing done to it but water it, so I'll plan to plant it again next spring. (Unfortunately, it is only hardy to zone 1o and I'm in zone 5, so I'm treating it as an annual.)

When I went out to the garden this evening to pick some more cherry tomatoes, *gasp*, there were none to pick. They don't seem to be going on and on like they were a few weeks, even days, ago. The few that were ripe had split open after the recent rain. There are some green ones hanging on, so hopefully, I did not eat the last of these today. I've been eating them for over five weeks, nearly every day, and I'll sure miss them when they are really gone.

Year of the Tomato, Not the Bean?

Did anyone have a good green bean harvest this summer? I read a lot of good posts about tomatoes, but don’t recall anyone really raving about green beans and having a big harvest of them. So, maybe it was a “tomato year”, not a “green bean year”?

My trials and tribulations with growing green beans this year are well documented here, and here, and here and probably a few other places, but that’s enough to get the idea that in spite of planting two varieties of bush beans and a nice, lush “teepee” of pole beans, I came up with:

- one handful of green beans,
- one mess of green beans to cook up,
- this bean pictured here from the pole beans.

The variety of bush beans that did produce the mess of beans was either “Contender” or “Tenderpick”. I know I planted both in the same raised bed, but didn’t keep good enough records to know which row was which. Bad and sloppy! Now I don’t know which one to try again next year and I need to know because one of those varieties produced virtually NO BEANS AT ALL!

Maybe I’ll just roll the dice next year and try a completely different bush bean variety? Anyone have any favorites? My only requirements are “bush beans”, heavy producer, available in the U.S.

And, did anyone have a good green bean year?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Not Quite Finished Planting

I think nearly every year there is one thing I don't quite finish planting. This year, it was this flat of coleus. I sowed the seed in early April and planned to use them in various containers. Then it was May and I didn't get them planted because I planted everything else first and ran out of time. Then came June which flew by into July. Then July was really hot. Now it's nearly the end of August.

I am a bit surprised that they still look pretty good, in spite of being stunted by living in this flat all summer (which by the way, unless it cracked, doesn't have any drainage holes).

I think now I might try to turn these into little topiaries, as shown in this Garden Gate article, and try to overwinter them in my sun room.

Gads, I just hate talking about 'overwintering' already! But, soon it will be time. I figure I've got another month or so and then it will be time to start figuring out what goes into the compost bin and what I'll try to overwinter. Gads.

Tomato Worth Saving

I decided that I should try to save some seeds from this German Johnson tomato. I've enjoyed this heirloom variety the most this summer, so to be sure I have these again next year, I decided to save some seeds.

I picked up some tips and ideas on seed saving on the Daughter of the Soil blog. She described two ways to save tomato seeds, one that involves mold and stench, and the other that involves spreading them out on "a sheet of kitchen roll" which I've decided is a sheet of paper towel. I picked the later method, seemed like less of a mess.

I ate the above slices as part of my dinner this evening. It might be the last German Johnson of the year, so I enjoyed it!

Wish me good luck on having some seeds to sow next spring.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Genetically Engineered Grass on the Loose

I sent in an idea for a blog topic on genetically engineeered plants to Garden Rant after reading an article in the Sunday paper, and they offered me the opportunity to be a guest blogger!

Check out No-Mow Grass? on their site.

International Kitchen Garden Day

Today is International Kitchen Garden Day. Are you growing some of your food in your own garden? If not and you have space to do so, you should. Nothing tastes better than food you grew yourself. I learned to grow vegetables from my Dad, here is his garden in the mid 1970's:

Here's a sample of my own harvest from a week or so ago. What did you harvest from your vegetable garden? You can't buy food like this in a supermarket:
Here's a picture of my own garden this year:

I've harvested enough tomatoes and peppers for TWO batches of hot salsa, and I've been eating fresh sliced tomatoes and sweet cherry tomatoes every day for a month. I love my garden.

Did you know that some kids don't even know where vegetables really come from! Don't let your kids not know, help them plant and harvest their own vegetables.

Happy International Kitchen Garden Day.

If you have a vegetable garden, go out and treat it nice... weed it, harvest from it, water it, hug it, enjoy it!

(Thanks to those at Garden Rant for bringing this event to our attention!)

On Digging

I need to do some digging!

I ran across some information on the British television program Time Team, about a team of archaeologists and others who do archaeological digs around Great Britain.

I had not heard of this show before, and wonder how long it will take to cross over to the United States. It is not listed as one of the programs shown on the BBC America cable channel, which would have been my best hope to check it out. They also have some DVD’s available, including “Time Team – In Your Garden”, but they are in a format that will not work on most DVD players sold in the United States.

So, I don’t know what the actual shows are like, but it sounds like it might be a fun way to learn some history and find some neat stuff. They are doing a “Big Royal Dig” this weekend, which turns out to be a bank holiday in Great Britain, and our British garden blogging friends will have Monday off! I thought “not fair”, until I realized that we American gardeners will have next Monday off for Labor Day. Maybe I'll use some of that extra day off to do some digging and see what I can find?

Other than a few interesting rocks, one small fossil, and an odd bird-shaped rock or hunk of concrete, I haven’t found too much when digging around my gardens. I found the fossil when I was digging a post hole, which is probably the deepest hole I’ve dug. However since I normally don’t dig that deep in the garden, unless I am planting a tree or setting a post, there might be some good stuff underground just waiting to be discovered. My dad and his brothers used to find Indian artifacts in the fields on their southern Indiana farm, turned up by simply plowing. I wonder if I might find something like that some day?

Before my neighborhood was developed, it was mostly some remnants of farm land and fields. I had them show me where the original house and barn were before I purchased my lot, as I didn’t want to have those sites be any part of my property. Now I think maybe I should have chosen one of those sites to increase my chances of finding interesting artifacts while digging in my garden!

Anyway, the picture above is an area that I need to dig up for a new shrub/flower border. I’ve planned to dig it up for several years, but always one thing or another got in the way. This year I am determined that I will dig this new border or I will pay someone to dig it for me! Fall is not only for planting, it is a great time to dig up new flower beds.

As for the television program, I'll have to wait for someone to discover it and bring it the United States or at least show it on BBC America to see what it is all about. Or will that ever happen? I'll admit when I read about the show, I thought of Geraldo Rivera's live program for the opening of a secret vault that was once owned by gangster Al Capone. The vault turned out to be full of nothing, and well, you know how that went. I assume an archeaological digging show would be taped and edited, so they wouldn't show hours of digging and coming up empty-handed.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Cleome 'Linde Armstrong'

This is Cleome 'Linde Armstrong', one of the Athens Select plants bred to do well in hot weather.

I've been reading some "disparaging remarks" about cleome on several blogs , remarks about it having an unpleasant smell and self-sowing all over the place. My apologies to those who wrote about cleome that I don't have the time or memory to find those blogs and link them here. (If you were one of those bloggers, send me a comment, and I'll update the post with a link.)

I also have some of the "regular" cleome, Cleome hasslerana, growing here and there throughout the garden where it sowed itself. I can take the self sowing of cleome because it's not as out of control as some self-sowers that I have unleashed upon my garden in the past. (Tansy and variegated sweet artemesia to name two, if you must know, but don't tell anyone. It is a bit embarrasing to have done that to my garden).

Smell? I haven't noticed a bad smell coming from the cleome but I haven't stuck my nose right up into the flowers, maybe because I know it might not smell so good?

'Linde Armstrong' has done well growing in a container on my patio with a dark purple sweet potato vine. In fact, the flowers are actually more purple than are shown in this picture, and the foliage has a bronze cast to it. (Hmmm the description on the Athens Select website doesn't mention this characteristic of the foliage, wonder what's going on with mine? Anyway, you should go to their website to read about this variety. They do a great job of describing it in such a way that you, too, will want it for your own!)

The plant has stayed around one foot tall by one foot wide. 'Linde' might also self sow, but that would be alright with me. It's a nice plant!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

August Lilies

Here's a hosta that deserves the name "August Lily". I have several different hostas in my gardens, as much as my pittance of shade and/or part sun allows. I don't think most of the hostas deserve the common name August Lily, since many of them bloom in June and July, especially the newer hybrids.

But this hosta is truly an August Lily. This is an old variety with a great scent and it blooms in... August! I have no idea what variety it is, nor have I tried to figure it out. These are passalong plants.

I got these from my brother and sister-in-law about 15 years ago in exchange for going with my Mom to their house to watch their kids while they went someplace. I didn't really want to go, so they bribed me by offering that I could dig these up and take what I wanted. I had admired them before, and they knew I could be "bought", that I wouldn't say no to getting a new plant. I'd revealed a weakness!

So, I went, since they had offered these to me, and I dug up as many as I could and took them home. I didn't know where they got them or if they were there when they bought the house, I just knew there were going home with me.

When I later moved to where I am now, this was one of the few plants I brought with me. I had to move them to another friend's house to hold them over, then dig them up again and move them to my new gardens. But it was worth it.

The reason I wanted them in the first place? Because they are plants and I will take any plant?

Well, partly that was the reason, but mostly because these remind me of the August Lilies that I think my grandmother grew at her house.

They also have a great scent, and are reliable, easy to grow, and carefree, and a gardener just needs a few of those types of plants to balance out some of the more difficult, attention-seeking, tricky-to-grow plants that we always seem to want.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Summer Harvest with Eggplant

I am eating well from the garden these days. This picture is what I had time to pick on Sunday. Please notice the three eggplants. Eggplant is my favorite vegetable, and once a year I have fried eggplant. Truly food of the gods. I generally don't eat fried foods, but I make an exception to have fried eggplant. I could eat just eggplant for a meal. Or just that and fresh tomatoes. It would also be nice if I had some green beans to go with it, and some sweet corn. Fried eggplant, sliced tomatoes, green beans, and sweet corn. Yes, that truly would be a great supper.

My troubles with green beans continue. These are my pole beans pictured here. All leaves, no beans. I goofed somewhere, perhaps too much fertilizer?

Will I ever get beans from my garden? I tried bush beans and got one good sized bowl of them earlier in the summer and that was it. I think the rabbits either beat me to the beans, or the plants were so busy trying to recover from the rabbits eating so much of the tops off, that the plants didn't have any energy left to actually flower and produce beans.

My plan with the pole beans was to protect the plants from the rabbits until they had a chance to climb up the poles. Hanging in the air like that, I figured that the beans would be safe. I didn't plan for no flowers or beans.

But just like with corn (hey, I picked two more ears the other day, they are somewhere in that trug pictured above), I will keep trying with the beans, to keep the rabbits away and find a good variety that I can rely on. By the way, I planted two different varieties of bush beans in the same bed, but did not keep track of which row was which variety, so I don't know which beans I actually was able to harvest! Drats! I also tried to get some beans going later on, but guess who ate the plants before they could even flower? If you guessed the rabbits, that would be correct.

However, things could be worse. I asked a colleague at work, who I know has a garden, how her garden was and she said terrible. She said her husband put Preen all around the garden, and she thinks it stunted the vegetables so they've harvested very little. But she laughed and said they also don't have any weeds. Yes, it could be worse than having no beans.

Give me weeds and a good harvest any day. Keep those chemicals out of the garden!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Mower Up

I went to a minor league baseball game this evening. For me, there are just two reasons to go to a baseball game, maybe three. The first is you get to see some of the best lawn in town. They really take grass growing seriously at the ball diamond, using lots of technology and techniques developed at Purdue University.

The second reason to go is because of the skyline view of Indianapolis. It’s pretty good from this location southwest of downtown, and if you can get tickets, it is also a good place to view fireworks from on the 4th of July or on Labor Day Weekend.

And the third reason is because you have no choice but to just sit and relax when you are there because there is nothing else to do. And sometimes you should just sit and relax. It's good for you. Yes there was a baseball game going on which was nice and the home team won. But I’m not a big baseball fan, I go for the grass viewing and because the tickets were free.

Speaking of grass and lawns, I had posted a few days ago that I was very pleased with my lawn this year, given that I’ve not had to water it.

What I am not pleased about is how my next door neighbor is moving his lawn and part of my lawn. He is making the number one mistake people who don’t know better make when mowing their grass. As you can see from the picture, he is mowing the grass way too short. Way, way too short. His lawn is on the right, mine is on the left.

He uses a riding mower, though I don’t think his yard is big enough to justify it. He has the mower blade set too low, and then he zips along at top speed, and as he rounds the corners, I think he must lean over and throw his weight to one side so that the mower dips down, and it cuts the lawn to nearly ground level. Shears it to the ground!

I wouldn’t care about this normally. It’s his yard, he can do what he wants, right? But I do care because one of the corners he goes around is by my yard and he generally overshoots his own yard, and cuts right into mine! At least a foot of that sheared lawn in the picture is mine! Dog gone it, I don’t like that. I want to go out there and dig up this 1 foot that is in my yard, re-seed it, and cover it with straw, basically do the whole lawn repair bit to let him know I noticed he tore into my lawn.

He does manage to zag back over into his own lawn as his mows up the property line, but he still regularly mows 6 inches too far into my yard. I don’t want to be the kind of neighbor who nags over 6 inches, but the difference is so striking between how he mows and how I mow, I just might have to discuss this with him, or his wife. Then she can talk to him.

This coming spring my neighbor is going to wonder what became of his lawn. He is creating the perfect environment for early spring weeds like chickweed and dandelion to take over, along with crabgrass, plaintain, and later knotweed. His lawn is going to be a mess of weeds before he knows it. I think he cares, because I saw him out yesterday digging up some of the late season weedy grasses, but can he really think he is doing the right thing mowing the grass that short? I mean, come on, every single article and book about lawn care says the same thing. Mow high!!

I’m done now. I feel better now. Thanks for reading and letting my vent.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

On English Gardens and Bloggers

Have you noticed that the British garden bloggers seem to speak a different English language than the American garden bloggers?

Many of the gardeners in England (it is okay to say England vs. Great Britain, isn’t it?) garden in allotments, which turn out to be community gardens divided up into individual gardens. And based on what I’ve read, there are waiting lists to get into some of these gardens. I think what would be nice about gardening in a community garden is that the people you run into there would be gardeners, too, and so you could have a nice chat about gardening and plants. When you garden in your own yard, you may or may not have neighbors who also like to garden, so there isn’t always a lot of discussion about gardening over the fence, if you even see your neighbors.

I think the downside of gardening in an allotment garden is that you have to make it a point to go to the garden to do the gardening, which is somewhat like having to go to a gym to work out instead of having some exercise equipment at home. You really have to be motivated and want to do it, to make either work.

Regarding the differences in our common English language, I don’t think they have ‘yards’ in England. They have gardens and lawns. And not too many people really have lawns there. And the vegetable garden? I’ve seen it referred to as a potager, which is a term I think they borrowed from the French.

Daughter of the Soil, one of several British garden blogs I enjoy reading, recently had a post about burying a hedge hog in a tumulus. I’ll admit I had to look up “tumulus” to find out it is a mound of earth.

They also don’t call summer squash, “zucchini”, they call it “courgette” and an ear of corn is a cob. And they don’t have pruners, they have secateurs.

We compliment the English by referring to a whole style of garden as an English Garden, and that’s what many gardeners try to develop in their own yards, regardless of any differences in climate. When someone talks about an English Garden, I immediately think of roses and old hedges and all kinds of perennial flowers. I think of Shakespeare:

“I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine.
There sleeps Titania some time of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight.”

(A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

What does an American garden look like? I guess it depends on if you are gardening in Virginia, Florida, Washington, California, Arizona or Indiana. Even in California, they have about a hundred different climates, or claim to, so you would have a tough time identifying even a California Garden and conjuring up the same image in everyone’s minds.

I do like my American garden and can’t imagine gardening any place else. Or it is more I don’t know if I could learn to garden any place else, having gardened here all of my life?

But I’ll continue to admire the British for their gardens, the language they use when talking about their gardens, and their dedication to gardening. I’ll keep checking their blogs so that one day, should I ever take a “holiday” and go to Great Britain to visit gardens, I’ll not be so lost as to what they are talking about. (Normally I’d say vacation, but they take holidays in England which sounds so much more relaxing, doesn’t it?)

The picture above is the one and only rose in my garden. I haven’t allowed myself to have a lot of roses because I don’t want to deal with all the diseases and pests that readily attack them around here. Plus, I know as hard as I try, as much as I do, or how much I wish for it to happen, my roses would never be quite the same as the roses pictured in English Gardens. This particular rose is a “Flower Carpet” brand shrub rose. Doesn’t look too bad, really, for mid-August, does it?. Those leaves look so shiny and green and disease free. Maybe I should re-think this rose thing and get some more roses? I did get kind of interested in roses after watching the DVD “Secrets of the Rose Gardener”. Maybe if I had the right varieties? Maybe if every summer was like this one? Maybe?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Bagworms & Shrubby St. John's Wort

With an online garden blog, I can easily portray an image of my garden that is like paradise. Pretty flowers, green grass, interesting insects, serene sunsets, soft rains, and more vegetables than can be eaten in a season.

But real gardeners aren't fooled. So I also include glimpses of the opposite of paradise by sharing information about topics like invasive plants, stinging wasps, corn diseases, and ravenous rabbits. Earlier this summer on my companion picture blog, I posted pictures of some shrubby St. John's Wort in less than perfect condition. Yes, the shrubs weren't perfect, but I thought they still looked all right from the street, and with some serious pruning next spring, I could rejuvenate these nearly 9 year old shrubs so I could enjoy them for a few more years.

Here's that post for those who haven't seen it. (I've copied it here and will delete it from the other blog, as part of my grand plan to combine the two blogs and leave the other blog for just the hoe collection.) Skip to the bottom for the part about bagworms

I like the bright yellow flowers on my shrubby St. John’s Wort, Hypericum frondosum ‘Sunburst’. As the flowers fade, they leave chocolate-ly colored seed pods, and when the leaves drop off in the fall, I can see the peeling bark of the stems, which adds that valuable winter interest we so covet when we live where there is truly “winter”. The foliage is a dusty blue green, and for the most part the shrub is well-shaped without a lot of pruning.

However, there is a dark side to this shrub, that I feel obligated to reveal before anyone rushes out to get one because of the great flowers and peeling bark.

One part of the dark side is that the Japanese beetles love them. I call these my “indicator shrubs” for Japanese beetles, as this is the first plant I’ll find them on in late June. I’ve taken a picture of a few of them munching on one of the flowers a while back. “Fortunately”, I didn't see too many beetles munching on them this year.

These shrubs kept their shape and looked great for 8 years, but then this year, without warning, there was quite a bit of die back in the shrubs. That’s the other picture below. It doesn’t look very nice, does it? I don't know if this is due to age or the winter we had (which wasn't one of the worst of the past 8 years).

My plan is to cut these shrubs back “hard” in early spring and see if they come out of it. The die back may just be an age thing, and the pruning might rejuvenate them. Does anyone have any other suggestions?

Overall, I put this shrub on my list of “recommended shrubs” but with a few cautions because of the beetles and the dieback I’ve experienced with my older shrubs. But I still think this shrub is worth having because of the flowers in mid-summer, the light blue-green foliage, and the interesting bark.

Now, the really bad news. I found bagworms all over these shrubs a few weeks ago. Yes, bagworms attacked these shrubs in their weakened state, and now they look very pathetic and quite defoliated. They look so bad that I refuse to post a picture of them. It would be like taking someone's picture when they were sick in a hospital!

I spent an hour or so one evening hand picking all the bagworms off. That's the best way to control them, just pick them off and put them in the trash. When there are just a few bagworms, I just pick them off, throw them down to the ground and stomp them with me foot. Actually it is more of a stomp and twist, twist, twist with my foot to make sure they are dead, deader, deadest. I don't know what moth these bagworms might have become, I don't really care. I just wanted them gone.

I'll keep an eye on these shrubs, stick with my plan to prune them way back in early spring, and let you know how they turn out.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Green - My Favorite Color

No, I've not run out of pictures of flowers and other more interesting plants in the garden. I just wanted to show everyone how green the grass is in MID AUGUST in the midwest, at least where I live. This is in my backyard yesterday after I finished mowing the lawn. And I have not watered the lawn even once this year.

Trust me, this is not what a lawn usually looks like this time of year around these parts. It is almost surreal how green it is right now.

We have had a great year as far as rain goes. We are getting rain when we need it and I have not had to make the decision of whether to start watering the lawn or let it go dormant mid-summer. By the way, when faced with that decision, to water or not water the lawn, I usually choose to not water, unless the grass is actually dying. I am not afraid to let the lawn go dormant mid-summer. It always comes back in the fall. I like to think it toughens it up and makes it a better lawn for the future, when you don't molly-coddle it with a bunch of watering.

I know it has not been this way everywhere this year, so I do feel quite fortunate to have a seaon like this. I hope this weather pattern continues for us!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Blue Fruit and Blog Stuff

This is some blue fruit (berries) on one of my viburnums, Viburnum dentatum "Chicago Lustre". I don't think people plant enough viburnums and other large shrubs in the landscape. At least I don't see that many large shrubs in my neighborhood. I think that is just wrong.

These large shrubs are providing food for birds and shelter as well. Plus, they flower in the spring and the foliage is very nice. Not to mention, they hide what is behind them, which in my case is a privacy fence in my garden. They are large enough that they provide privacy all on their own, even without a fence behind them.

Are people afraid of a large plant that isn't a tree? What's wrong with people? Get brave, plant large shrubs! Plan for it now. Fall will soon be here, and we know that fall is for planting!

And, now a few words about my blogs...

I noticed that Blogger has a new release of software that I will need to upgrade to at some point. Right now, it is beta software, meaning that it is released for use, but there are known issues that they are still working on. I think I will wait to upgrade my sites because there's no going back after you do the upgrade.

Plus, I tried to get to this garden/landscape blog, because the blog author appears to have upgraded to the new version, and I wanted to check it out, but I get errors when I try to do so. If anyone is using Blogger like me and has upgraded already, and has some lessons learned to pass along, please leave me a comment! I think they've added some nice features, so I actually do look forward to upgrading.

Related to blogs, I have noticed in reading other gardener's blogs that many of them have companion blogs, around other topics which may or may not relate to gardening. I have a couple of other blogs, and just a few weeks ago one of my sisters commented, "I didn't know you had this whole other blog with more gardening posts." I started the other blog, the hoe collection blog, so I would have a place to post my hoe pictures and not have them archive off to oblivion, and then I added some other posts there along the way. At one time, I made some distinction on what I put on this blog vs. the hoe collection blog, but I'm not sure that distinction is meaningful now and I can't even remember my whole thought process behind it. So, little by little, I'll bring some of those posts over to this blog, and leave the other blog for its original purpose, a place to see pictures of hoes. (As if that is is what the world needs!)

I also have a blog not related to gardening. It's where I post entries from my grandmother's diaries, one day at a time, as she wrote them in the 1920's. There are a few family members and some people who just discovered it by chance who seem to read it regularly. I also added a companion blog for these diaries to post old family pictures related to the diary, so they also would not just archive away with the diary. It takes just a few minute a day to post, with a few of my comments, and I think people get hooked wondering what will happen next. Sometimes it goes for days with nothing of great interest and then something will happen. Just like real life. Oh, I forgot, it is a real life!

Now, go plant some large shrubs!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

More to Learn, Corn and Grapes

Every day I learn something new when I garden. Today, I learned more about growing corn, and how I might be more successful with it next year. For those who have kept up, I was quite concerned earlier in the summer that I would get no corn at all out of the two blocks of corn I planted.

Well, this evening, I doubled my corn harvest for the year. That's right, doubled it. I went from two ears to four ears! And, the really good news is that I think there are probably another four ears out there to pick.

So what have I observed and learned from my first serious attempt to grow some corn in a small garden? (Yes, I waited a long time to try to grow corn!)

The first block of corn was planted on May 21st and there was very poor ear formation, and most of the ears that did form were infected with corn smut. The second block of corn was planted on June 14th and has no signs of corn smut, and has yielded, so far, two good ears of corn, which were a little bigger than the ears from the first block. There is one catch. The two later ears each had a little corn earworm in the tip of the corn.

I did not let those worms stop me from having some corn. I just cut that part off and ate the rest. I did some quick research on corn earworms (thank you, Internet!) and found out that there is usually only one earworm on an ear of corn, so I can rest assured that there weren't more worms that I ate by accident (ewww, gross, right?). The worm is really a caterpillar and it is plenty big enough to see well before you might eat it. I also found out that late corn is more often susceptible to corn earworm.

I also think that spacing the corn out a little more helped increase ear formation in the second block. I was planting such a small block of corn (4' x 8') that I really crammed it into the first bed (3 rows, 6 - 8 inches between stalks) to make sure I got good pollination. When I got concerned about the lack of ear formation, my research indicated that the close spacing might be the problem. But there was very little written about my issue, so I decided to just increase the spacing in the second block of corn to about 12 inches to see if that made a difference and it seems to have. I cut out every other stalk to get to the 12 inch spacing when the corn was about 2 feet high.

However, I really don't know if it was planting later or the spacing that increased the yield, because I didn't follow good scientific technique of changing only one variable at a time. Hey, the summer seems short enough as it is, and I didn't want to wait until next year to try the second variable (spacing)! Sometimes, you just have to prune.

So, next year, I'm planting my corn late, with about 12 inches between stalks, 3 rows in a bed, and taking my chances with the corn earworms. I can eat that corn if I pick it before the corn earworms really get started, but I sure can't eat the corn smut infected corn!

Of couse, I do have to decide if tying up one of the raised beds in the garden is worth getting realistically less than 12 ears of corn. Hmmmm, I think it is, even though fresh sweet corn is about twenty cents an ear right now. There is just something about eating corn that is very freshly picked...

By the way, the sunflower picture doesn't have much to do with the corn, except it is growing near the corn in the garden. I just thought it would make for a prettier picture than a bunch of corn stalks.

Did I mention there is always something to learn about gardening? The next thing I need to learn is what is wrong with the grapes. A week or so I noticed a couple of grape leaves that started to look like this:

I am concerned because this looks like a diseased leaf to me and not what you would expect to see if a leaf was just drying up. Plus not all the leaves are like this, just a few. This is a Concord grape and I thought earlier in the spring that it might not have made it through the winter, as most of it died back, but it came back with a vengeance. However, it didn't produce any grapes, and now these leaves concern me. So, anyone have any ideas on what I might be dealing with here, or if I should be concerned? My Internet research, brief as it was, didn't provide me with answers yet, but I'll keep looking. Yes, there is always something to learn.

Oh, and one other thing... the reason I know the planting dates for the corn is because I keep a record of what I do in the garden, at least the major items, and when things bloom, etc. I don't go to the extent of recording, for example, what the spacing of the corn was, but I try to record enough info so that I can refer back and at least see when things were done. I find myself referring back more than you would think. So, if you don't keep garden records, you ought to start. I use a 10 year journal and I'm in year 6.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Freckled Flowers

I once suggested that a theme for a garden might be "freckled flowers" or "flowers with spots on them". We could include many types of lilies, some foxglove, and this lovely canna blooming in a pot on my patio. Maybe I am partial to freckles since I wear a few of my own, but I like spotted flowers.

I even tell people that the spots are garden fairy foot prints, because that's just a little more fun, right? So the theme of the garden might really be "plants that attract garden fairies".

What else would you include in a garden intended to attract the garden fairies? How about pink fairy lilies? (Zephyranthes) But wait, they don't have freckles on them. I think the fairies pick them and wear them as hats or something like that.

I've not shied away from admitting that there might be garden fairies lurking amongst my flowers. Most people generally think of them as as being in English gardens only, but I hope a few "faeries" came across the Big Pond, perhaps stowed away in Wardian Cases amongst flowers that the British just could not leave behind when they came to the New World.

I've provided some 'evidence' of garden fairies in a previous post about unexplained events in the garden, but I'll admit the evidence is primarily circumstantial and might not hold up under close scrutiny.

But, it's fun to think about having garden fairies none the less, and isn't a garden supposed to be about fun?

Monday, August 14, 2006


"Red sky at morning, sailors take warning,
Red sky at night, sailors delight."

The sky this morning was red, a foreboding of the rain we had later on. We've been fortunate ALL summer to get rain when we needed it.

You can never go wrong with a few containers of coleus, can you?

Hope you enjoyed this look at red in the garden.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

In the Beginning and Now Vegetable Garden Update

I took this picture on May 31st, approximately 10 days after I planted the vegetable garden.

I took this picture on August 6th.

What a difference a few months makes in a vegetable garden.

I had enough tomatoes and plenty of hot peppers to make salsa this weekend, and I still have enough tomatoes left over for slicing and eating. I hope to enjoy tomatoes all the way until frost in early October. Typically, the first frost is around October 10th around here, but let's not talk about the end of the garden just yet.

I never did get a decent amount of green beans, other than one good picking early on. Not even the pole beans are producing pods. I suspect too much fertilizer on my part for the pole beans, but I still blame the rabbits for the bush bean crop failure. I'll rotate my bean crop to a different bed next year and try again. And I'll keep an eye on the pole beans, just in case.

I'm still picking a couple of dozen cherry tomatoes on a nearly daily basis and eating them all day long a few at a time. The cucumbers and zucchini have just about had it for the season and by next weekend, I will likely pull out at least the cucumber vines and toss them into the compost bins.

Next up to harvest... eggplant and corn from the second bed that I planted in early June. I'm hoping for two good ears, just two good ears!

Just Ask!

I have a lament. The covenants of my neighborhood prohibit me from having sheds and other outdoor buildings. Perhaps lament is too strong a word, as this disallowing of sheds was not unexpected. I knew when I bought my little piece of ground that these covenants existed. And knowing I could not have a garden shed, I made sure my garage was big enough to hold my gardening tools and carts and other necessities of gardening.

It just would be a lot of easier if I had a shed in the backyard so that when I am working in the garden back there, I could just throw open the doors to the shed and go merrily back and forth getting whatever hoe or rake or other tool I needed at that moment without losing my momentum or thought of what I am doing.

Now I have to plan what I want to use for whatever I am going to do and then carry it from the garage around to the back. And if I forget something, I have to make another trip around to the front to get it or go on without it. I want a shed!

The shed shown here is at my old neighbor's house next to where I grew up. And the fence around it is from the home he grew up in. There's a bench inside the fence, and it makes for a nice, shaded area to rest and reflect about the garden. I think it looks nice and there is no reason why I shouldn't have something just as nice in my own backyard!

I've tried to think of ways I could sneak a shed into my backyard. One of my ideas was to build a sort of garden "closet", up against my privacy fence in the corner of the vegetable garden, making sure the roof did not extend above the fence. If asked about it, I could just say it was part of the fence, because technically, it would be, right?

Or, I could build a hobbit shed like you would find in Hobbiton. But my yard is rather flat and the sudden appearance of a mound large enough to disguise a shed might attract a bit of attention!

So, I will continue without a shed, at least for a while.

But, there is one thing I do not want to lament. Sometime next summer, our neighbor is going to move. If his sons do not want that fence, well, I do! I'd find a place for it, even without a shed and a good shady spot. I would even be willing to replace the old pickets with some brand new pickets and paint them, so the fence doesn't have to be completely torn down.

I would regret not at least asking, so I will ask about it sometime soon.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Into the Garden I Go

I'm heading into the garden this weekend with many plans.

We had some lovely rain this week so the grass has grown to the point that I'm going to need a bush hog mower to cut it. Well, it's not quite that tall, but I definitely need to mow it. Plus, since I am mowing on Saturday, I'll take the extra time to trim everything up nicely before hand.

One of my sisters was surprised to find out that I do all the trimming before I mow. She thought everyone did it afterwards. The reason I do it first is because then when I mow any trimmings of long grass are chopped up by the mower. I know most of my neighbors trim afterwards. Maybe I am just a renegade, but it always made more sense to me to trim first.

Then after mowing it is on to the vegetable garden to do some weeding, hoeing, and harvesting. I hope to pick a peck of peppers, or at least enough for a rather large batch of salsa. I have nearly two dozen tomatoes on the kitchen table, so I've got to do something with them. Plus, if I am lucky, I might just have some eggplant to harvest. I love eggplant. And wouldn't it be just the best if I found another ear of corn to pick?

I'll make the salsa in the evening, because I don't want to give up the day time hours to make salsa when I can be in the garden. Would you?

After I get the lawn and the vegetable garden all in order, I also hope to finish up the last of some shrub trimming that I put on hold when it got hot outside and then catch up on deadheading some of the perennials.

Doesn't that sound like just the best weekend?
Happy Gardening!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Old Hoes and Hoeing

by John Updike

I sometimes fear the younger generation
will be deprived
of the pleasures of hoeing;
there is no knowing
how many souls have been formed by this
simple exercise.

The dry earth like a great scab breaks,
moist-dark loam --the pea-root's home,
a fertile wound perpetually healing.

How neatly the great weeds go under!
The blade chops the earth new.
Ignorant the wise boy who
has never rendered thus the world

Many thanks to my former next door neighbor (and still neighbor to my mom and sister) for sending me this poem on hoeing. He is the one who planted the trees that I wrote about early in July. His son heard the poem and sent it to him, and he sent it to me.

Many thanks to the colleague at work who helped me acquire these new-to-me old hoes to add to my hoe collection.

Many thanks that I have not been deprived of the pleasures of hoeing!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Moth Orchid

Early in July when the Queen of the Night was drawing full attention in the sunroom, this moth orchid also started to bloom. In fact, if you look at the blog posting of the big night when the Queen of the Night bloomed, you can see in the bottom right corner of the picture of the whole plant, this little moth orchid starting to bloom.

And guess what? The moth orchid is still blooming, long after the memory and scent of the night bloomer have faded. That means it has been blooming for over a month, and still going strong.

I should give this orchid a little more respect!

I purchased this moth orchid, genus Phalaenopsis, several years ago when it was in bloom and have patiently waited at least 3 years for it to re-bloom. I hope now it will bloom annually, and bloom more in the fall or winter, when it won't be competing with all the outside flowers that have my attention now. (Not too much to ask of a plant, is it, to change when it blooms?)

I have about 12 orchid plants in my sun room, but that's my limit because I don't have space for any more. Some bloom with regularity; others were in bloom when I got them but haven't bloomed since. But I know eventually they will bloom, so I keep them, even though when not in bloom, most orchids aren't exactly showy houseplants.

By the way, I don't consider myself an orchid hobbyist by any measure. Orchid people are like a special sub-culture of gardeners, along with gardeners who have a lot of bonsai plants. They would scoff at a mere 12 orchids and call it a good start.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Ritual of the First Tomato

I am finding a common bond among vegetable gardeners around doing something special with their first ripe tomato of the season.

What do I do with my first tomato?

I like to carefully pick the first ripe tomato, wearing special soft, cotton gloves to avoid any bruising of the tomato. Then I place it on a lacy satin pillow and reverently carry it into the house, where it is placed on the counter to be admired and also weighed, measured and photographed.

Then I carefully record in my "Book of First Tomatoes", what type of tomato it was, how big it was, when I picked it, how I felt when I picked it and what the weather was like. Once I've recorded all that information in the book, I use a special silver tomato knife to slice the first tomato open.

Once I've sliced the first tomato with my special silver tomato knife, I carefully transfer the tomato to a china plate, which is only used for eating the first tomato. The plate has little tomatoes painted along the edges, and is just big enough for one tomato. Then, using a once-a-year special occasion silver first tomato fork, I carefully eat the tomato one slice at a time, savoring each delicious bite.

Once I've completed eating the first tomato, I carefully wash the plate, knife and fork, update the book with my reflections on how the tomato tasted, and then put it all away until next year. Sometimes in the winter time when fresh tomatoes are but a memory and the snow covers the garden, I like to get out my Book of First Tomatoes to remind myself how good that first tomato really tastes.

Okay, you've figured out that I am kidding, right? I hope so. I'm not that nuts! Actually, I generally harvest and eat the first tomato all in one motion. Pick, and begin eating, like it was an apple. No salt, no sugar, I do wipe it off first. I don't even leave the garden. It's good that way, nice and juicy and warm.

But, I really have noticed across all the gardening blogs that most vegetable gardeners, including me, do seem to have a special feeling about the first ripe tomato, and most try to do something special with it. At the very least, if eaten with other food, like on a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich, everyone seems to want to use only the freshest ingredients to make it a special meal.
Then, when the tomato harvest starts to look like this, everyone's just trying to figure out what to do with all of these tomatoes!

What do you do with your first tomato?

Monday, August 07, 2006

Abundance in the Garden

'Maters, yep, I'm starting to pick a lot of tomatoes. That's the way it seems to go. Waiting, waiting, waiting for the first tomato to ripen and then overnight it seems they all have figured out how to ripen and each day yields a few more tomatoes, then a few more and then a lot of tomatoes. I swear these tomatoes pictured here were solid green Saturday morning, and then Sunday night, they called out to be picked. And then this evening (Monday) there were six more tomatoes that just showed up red and I picked them, too. Now I have an abundance of tomatoes, enough to eat and then some.

If you are looking at some of those tomatoes and wondering if I picked them too soon, rest assured that I didn't. I find I do better picking tomatoes about a day or so before they are completely ripe and then setting them out on the windowsill to ripen the rest of the way "off vine". I have less fruit that cracks or splits open that way and I don't think it affects the taste.

And, I love those cherry tomatoes. I just wash them and set them in a bowl on the counter and eat a few every time I walk by. Yum! The variety is "Sugary", and I highly recommend them.

If this tomato harvest keeps up, and there is no reason why it wouldn't keep up at this point, I'll have more than enough tomatoes by the weekend to make salsa, with Anaheim and Jalapeno peppers that are just waiting to be picked. I like a salsa that doesn't taste all that hot when you first try it, but then the heat sort of sneaks up on you and before you know it, you have beads of sweat on your forehead and you need a big drink of water. And because your brain is releasing all those endorphins that make you feel so good, you want more. Anyone have a recipe for a salsa like that?

Just down from the tomatoes I have these "Autumn Beauty" sunflowers. I always plant some flowers in the vegetable garden because I think it just makes it all look a little nicer and more inviting. My estimate, without measuring, is that these sunflowers are 8 or 9 feet tall.

And finally, here's a picture of the garden last night as the sun set, following a good soaking with the sprinkler.

There is certainly abundance in the garden now, at least with tomatoes and peppers and even a few zucchini's. No comment on the beans and corn. Okay, one comment on the corn... I did harvest another ear this evening and gave it to someone else to try. They reported it was "succulently delicious". I sure wish I had more corn. But soon I should have eggplant to harvest, which may make up for not having much corn. Okay, who am I kidding, I want more of that corn!

(Did you notice this blog post is insect free today for a nice change?)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Violence in the Garden

I was out in the yard today with a friend when we heard a loud noise coming from a nearby tree, followed by a lot of rustling of the leaves. We ran toward the area where the sound came from to see what it was. Okay, we didn't actually run, more like we walked carefully toward where the sound came from to see what was going on.

And there in a red maple tree, we saw a Cicada Killer attacking a dog day cicada. Live, up close, right there it was. I ran for my camera and of course took a picture or two. I had to get pretty close to it to get good pictures. Aren't I brave? See what I will do for a good picture in the garden these high summer blogging days!

I did some looking up in my new book on insects by Tom Turpin, and he tells the whole gruesome story of just what happens when a cicada killer attacks a dog day cicada. It goes somewhat like this...

First, the cicada killer doesn't initially kill the cicada. It paralyzes it, but right before it paralyzes it, the cicada kind of screams or squeals or whatever, and that was probably the noise we heard.

The cicada killer, which is a very large wasp, digs a hole in the ground, six inches deep or so, and puts the paralyzed cicada at the bottom of the hole. She then lays an egg on top of each cicada and when the egg hatches in a few days, the larvae feed on the paralyzed cicada. That's right, the cicada is still alive, but paralyzed down in that hole! And the larvae apparently know how to eat the cicada's non-essential parts first to keep it alive as long as possible, so the meat is fresh. Told you it was gruesome. Then in the fall, the cicada killer larvae pupates, overwinters, and then emerges as an adult wasp the next summer, ready to kill a new generation of cicadas.

All of this violence is apparently going on in my back yard, where I am trying to establish a serene and restful garden to relax in and enjoy. Well, apparently it won't be so relaxing for the dog day cicada. I'll be okay, as long as I remember that these GIANT WASPS are not likely to attack me, unless I get too close to one of those nests, which by the way, the male wasps are guarding while the larvae are down there feasting on LIVE (did I mention live?) cicadas. I don't think male wasps can sting you, so maybe I'll be okay after all, even if I get too close to a nest.

If you want more info on cicada killers, try this link. If you want to know more about cicadas, here's a link.

Oh, and while I was reading about the cicada killers, I realized that what stung me a few weeks ago was not yellow jackets, but probably paper wasps. I've updated that posting to reflect that and here's a link with more info on the paper wasps.

I guess if I had my way, I'd prefer cicada killers in my yard instead of paper wasps, because the cicada killers aren't likely to sting me. They might startle me, but I can live with that. And besides, dog day cicadas can cause damage to trees, when they make slits in the branches to lay their eggs. So, the cicada killers are actually "good insects", in that regard, clearing my yard of a tree pest. But wait, I actually like the sound the cicada makes. I like to lay in the hammock of an evening and listen to them "singing" in the trees.

Okay, given those three insects, paper wasps, cicada killers and dog day cicadas, if I can only get rid of one, it would be the paper wasps. Definitely. Maybe.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Good Insects, Good Corn, Bad Smut

This morning I headed out to do some light deadheading and harvest more vegetables. The first thing I encountered was a very nice brown praying mantis. Good insect! Isn't he cute in that picture? The praying mantises are good insects, because they eat other insects that aren't so good for the plants, like those plant sap sucking aphids! Never kill a praying mantis, just leave it alone or if you must, coax it to move away from where you are.

I think all gardeners eventually learn not to squeal and run away when they see an insect. We have to, or gardening wouldn't be much fun. Can you imagine, as often as you see an insect outside, screaming and running away each time? You wouldn't get much done in the garden. Right now, I am refreshing my knowledge of insects by reading "Flies In The Face Of Fashion, Mites Make Rights, And Other Bugdacious Tales" by Tom Turpin. It's a somewhat light hearted look at insects, with some fun stories and odd facts. Professor Turpin notes in his book that for every 1 pound of human beings on the planet, experts estimate there are 70 pounds of insects. We are clearly out numbered. Let's learn to get along, if we can.

Anyway, back to today in the garden. After I did a little clean up out front, I headed out to my vegetable garden with my trusty trug. Here's the run down of the harvest:

Tomatoes. I got a few more of those, plus a couple of dozen cherry tomatoes.
Peppers. Yep, can pretty much harvest some peppers every day if I want to now.
Cucumbers. Vines are looking a bit tattered, but I'm still getting a few cukes.
Eggplant. Still too small but at least they are forming, finally.

Corn. Then, I went over to the corn patch. As I had previously reported in this garden blog, I did not have good ear formation at the time that the corn was tasseling, so I was generally concerned that I would not get a good harvest. I also noted that based on when I planted the corn, I should harvest the first ears today, August 5th. Guess what I found today? Yes, one ear that looked ready to harvest. But before I saw that ear, I saw another problem. Corn smut!

Corn smut is a fungal disease that causes the corn kernels to turn grayish blue and grow about 10 times their normal size. It is disgusting looking, as you can see here. In some cultures, corn smut is considered a food delicacy. But not in my food culture. I just can't imagine eating it. I pulled off about six infected ears, wrapped them up in a plastic grocery bag and threw the bag in the trash. I didn't want to throw them in the compost bins, because the fungal spores would overwinter, and I would have the same problem next year if I use that compost in any of my raised beds. Regardless, I'll probably end up with corn smut again, as there is pretty much nothing one can do to prevent it if the conditions are right for it to grow. I will definitely not plant corn in these same raised beds next summer, if I grow corn at all. (I always try to rotate crops each year, anyway.)

However, the reason the title of this post includes "good corn" is because I went ahead and harvested that one ear of corn. It wasn't the best looking ear of corn I'd ever seen or the largest. But I ate it. I boiled it in water for two minutes, because my aunt said that's all the longer she and my grandmother cooked corn on the cob, so I figured that I should do the same. It was good and very sweet. I would guess that it took less then fifteen minutes for me to harvest, cook, and eat that ear of corn.

Now some people might read this and wonder why I didn't offer to share my corn. There wasn't enough to share! I invoked the vegetable gardening rule which says if there is only enough harvest for one person to eat, the GARDENER who did all the work gets first dibs. Others may question why I tried to grow corn in the first place. If you've every tasted really good fresh sweet corn, you wouldn't question why it is important to at least try to grown your own corn. That's another gardening rule... always try!

Hopefully, I may still get an ear or two out of this block of corn in the next week or so. I also have a second block of corn which is now tasseling. I've refrained from looking too closely at it to predict the harvest, as I did with the first block of corn, so I don't really know what I'll get. Hopefully, not more corn smut!

In the meantime, if I am to eat more corn from this planting, I may need a recipe for corn smut!

(Picture of my entire sweet corn harvest so far. Variety is Mirai)

Friday, August 04, 2006


I've finally updated my sidebar to provide a place to link to other gardening related blogs. If you would like me to provide a link to your blog, drop me a comment with the url.

I always appreciate and am pleased when someone adds a link to my blog from theirs, so I decided it was high time I reciprocated.

FYI, this is a close up of Sedum 'Autumn Joy' starting to bloom, which signals to me that we are entering late summer. How can that be? I'm just starting to get tomatoes and am still waiting for my first ear of corn!

Happy Gardening (and Blogging).

Gardening Tool Week: Lugging and Trugging

Once you get into gardening, you find there is suddenly a lot to lug around the garden, or haul home from the garden center/nursery/mulch store. And for whatever load you have to carry, there is, of course, the right “tool” to make it easier. Here are some of my hauling tools.

This is a common ordinary bushel basket. This goes along with me while I’m weeding. It’s just the right size so that even full, it’s not too heavy to carry back to the compost bin. Don’t tell my sister, but I got this at HER garage sale. She had $1 on it, and I didn’t even haggle over the price. I just bought it and I use it all the time! I hope she doesn't see this and want it back. Oh, and while you are keeping secrets, don’t tell the neighbors about the compost bins.

This is another basket called a gardening trug. Most trugs are made out of wood slats (and I’ve got one of those, too, sitting by the door to the garage where it collects all kinds of things that don’t quite make it out of the house or into the house) but this one is plastic. I use it to bring in vegetables from the garden and because it is made of plastic, it is easy to wash out. And because it is so shallow, you don’t end up with a big pile of vegetables all crushing each other. (That's yesterday's harvest after a storm came through.)

Let's move on to carts because not everything in the garden can just be carried around in a basket. First, on the right is my traditional wheel barrow. This is the only one I’ve ever had. I got it in 1987, so it is almost 20 years old! Can you believe it? I can’t! You all know how useful it is to have a wheelbarrow to move sod, soil, mulch, and more, so I won’t go into all of that. Second, in the middle, is my flat cart. This is a good cart when you need to move something that doesn’t quite fit in the wheelbarrow. My only regret is that I bought this when they first hit the stores, before they sold them with the optional sides. I think it would be just a tiny bit more useful if it had sides you could add to it on occasion. Finally, on the left is my LUV cart. LUV stands for Lawn Utility Vehicle, and guess what? It’s motorized. It is self-propelled like a lawn mower, and that makes it easier to move mulch and other big stuff around the yard. It moves a bit slowly (it’s battery-powered) but does the job, and forces you to slow down a bit, take it easy, and let the cart do the work!

Finally, the ultimate gardening hauling tool, the one that makes many things possible… a truck. I love my truck and the gardening freedom it gives. I can get a yard of mulch on a whim at the mulch store which is 12 minutes from my house. Or I can get half a cubic yard of top soil. Or a bunch of shrubs, or all kinds of annuals and perennials. You get the idea. I can get some real trouble, I mean some real gardening supplies, with this truck. Every trip out in the truck is a new adventure.

And that concludes Gardening Tool Week, I hope you enjoyed it. The weather is all better now (okay some better now), so I’m heading back to the garden, to see if I can put these tools to good use.

I do have one note to add for all the new gardeners. I’ve been gardening for quite some time, so I’ve accumulated these tools over many years. I would guess I started to buy my own tools in the early 80's which is two decades ago, plus. I didn’t start out with all of these tools, and you won’t either. So don’t be discouraged or think you can’t garden without a lot of tools. You can! A trowel and some pruners is a good start, and some days it’s all that you need plus maybe a shovel, hoe and rake. And over time you will start to get more tools and better tools and specialized tools. You wait and see!

Oh, and I almost forgot… I didn’t show you my hoe collection. In case you just happened to have missed it, check it out at this link!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Gardening Tool Week: Sharp Tools

Things are improving around here at May Dreams Gardens. The heat has moved out and we had some rain this afternoon and earlier this evening. So far, one quarter of an inch of rain here, which I'll take, and as an added bonus, there is a japanese beetle trapped in the rain gauge. That's one less beetle eating on my flowers! If the weather clears up enough, and it probably will, I may be able to go out and do some light deadheading before dark. And what will I use? Something sharp, no doubt.

So, today, I present some tools that are sharp as Gardening Tool Week continues!

This first sharp tool is a set of garden shears made by Burgon & Ball, a rather well known English company that makes all kinds of garden and sheep shears. The reason I got these is because at one time White Flower Farm decided to publish a magazine called "The Gardener", and if you subscribed for a year for about $25, they would give you a $100 gift certificate for anything in their catalogs. I mulled this over because I thought there was a catch, then went for it. Sure enough, I got the gift certificate and 10 issues of the magazine before they stopped publishing it.

By the way, I just thumbed through one of the issues of the magazine, and they listed a website, which when I tried it, I ended up on a gambling site. Do you know what happened? It sounds like WFF abandoned the domain name for the magazine, and then this unsavory company bought it to use to divert traffic to their website. Happens all the time. You key in the old website name and faster than you can say no, you are on a website that is "not good". You should protect your website names -forever- or risk the same happening to you! That's how these companies get people to visit websites that they otherwise would never even think about going to. Ah, the dark side of the Internet...

But I digress. Anyway, I pondered for a long time how to use my $100 gift certificate, and finally decided one of the items I would get was these garden shears. They came in a very nice box, and were held together with that little metal sleeve that's still on them. I carefully removed that sleeve and was impressed how sharp the blades were. I also realized right away that these shears were too big for my hands, and thus awkward for me to use. So, I carefully closed them up, put the little metal sleeve back on to keep them closed, and hung them way up high where I would not be tempted to get them down and try them out. I'm guessing I've saved myself from some awful injury!

This is a grafting knife. It's used to make a nice, straight, quick cut on the end of a scion, which is the branch that will be grafted onto the root stock. I got my first grafting knife when I was at Purdue and took a class in plant propagation, where we learned how to cut the scion at just the right angle. That first knife then became the knife I carried around to cut open bags of mulch and top soil but it was inadvertently left outside and got a little rusty. I found a replacement in a seed catalog. I'm not in the habit of going around grafting plants, but it does make for a dandy knife to use for other things around the garden (like cutting open bags).

And here is another tool from Lee Valley. This is a Japanese digging knife. It's great for digging out things that otherwise just don't want to come out of the ground. Tough weeds? Easily dug out with this sharp knife! Good sized rocks? I don't think you can break this blade!

Please don't tell my mom I have all these sharp tools. I promise I am careful with them. This little gem of a knife is a perennial knife also from Lee Valley. The curved blade and serrated edge make it perfect for dividing up all kinds of perennials. This is a keeper and a tool that makes what can sometimes be a daunting task, dividing up a plant, much easier. I divide plants with great confidence armed with this knife.

And the sharpest sharp tool in the garden shed... my Felco pruners. Their website proudly proclaims "Felco pruners will change your life" and I think it's true. You will never miss a cut with a good pair of Felco's. Mine are model no. 8. I also bought the holster to clip on to my pants. I never step out into the garden without my Felco pruners at my side. Anyone who has Felco pruners will agree with me and the website. These pruners will change your life. If you can only save up for one good tool, save up for Felco's! Enough said.

So, I'm off to the garden to see what I can prune with my Felco's. Tomorrow, we'll wrap up gardening tool week. After all, the weather is improving, so the plants are ready to return as the real stars of the garden.