Saturday, June 29, 2013

It's hot, hot, hot!

Well, it has been a quite a few days since the last blog post... Yes, I've been pinning to exhaustion on Pinterest. I don't think I even have any interests anymore! The weather has continued HOT & HUMID, high 90's (36C). I am not inspired to sweat in the garden, since I sweat buckets on my non-air-conditioned work shift. Current riveting indoor activities have included knitting a bit on a new cowl, munching on nachos, reading and vacuuming the area rugs of dog hair. I got really wild and did some workout exercises on the yoga mat, all the while dodging doggie kisses, cuz they love it when I get on their level.
Last evening, we got a blast of cool, as the temps dropped to the high seventies, & it feels wonderful! This freaky coolness has continued today with a sun shower included, so the garden got a double watering. I spotted a newcomer to the mailbox garden early this afternoon; a lovely Swallowtail butterfly discovered the Echinacea flowers. Little did I know then, the sun would be a gone for the day an hour later as we have had a sudden thunderstorm with lots of pea sized hail! We are really chillin" now with air temps at 70F (21C).

Echinacea is a wonderful perennial if used sparingly throughout the garden. It got hugely popular a few years ago and was planted in everyone's landscape. I initially fell for the big swath of pink echinacea plantings but then had a problem with a phytoplasm disease, transmitted by the leafhopper insect. This disease essentially causes the echinacea flower to turn a lime green and develop lots of mini green florets all over the bloom (it is actually a fascinating fractal composition to look at).  Unfortunately, the only cure is to remove and destroy infected plants, then spray the unaffected echinacea with insecticidal soap. It has taken a couple years of dividing uninfected survivors and moving them around the yard to limit the spread; I think leafhoppers can only jump so far. Anyway, I have found I like the look of echinacea better in isolated clumps throughout the garden and the butterflies have more of a challenge to find their nectar. Yep, we are building butterfly brain here and encouraging survival of the fittest!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Midwest missed Super Moon but Rain is luscious

I was hoping to see the super moon tonight, but given our run of hot, let's say super hot weather we are currently having a monster thunderstorm. Celestially, all I can say is we are having a super lightening show and the thunder boomers are shaking the house. I am always fascinated with thunderstorms and find myself gravitating to the front porch to watch the rain and the lightening. I love the ozone freshness the air gets as the stormy coolness is added to it. The temperature gradient fluctuates so dramatically here, with air temps going from chill to dripping humidity in twenty minutes. We have been a muggy 96F (36C) for five days now and this welcome thunderstorm has cooled it to a sticky 70F...

No complaints from me though, the veg garden got a free organic watering and I have a full rain barrel. The heirloom zucchini and yellow pattypan squash have popped their first two leaves! I was a bit worried about the germination for the pattypan as those seeds were three years old and looked a bit shriveled going into the ground. The bunny nibbled parsley is coming back inside their plastic milk jug cloches. I had enough on one plant to snip a couple tablespoons for a chilled salad meal, which I will include as a recipe for this post.

Lately, I have been in awe of the lowly seed and it's amazing production of a plant and then either veg, herb or flower here in the garden. It is so easy to forget & overlook the mundane miracles that are happening all around us in the yard. Folks comment on how good a gardener you can be, but really it's all the seeds' and plants' doing. I am only an environmental custodian; adding water or fertilizer when Nature becomes unreliable, tidying up the growing bed and finally harvesting the goodies. All the plant wants to do is survive to set seeds for the next generation of it's kind. To think that for millions of years this process had been carried out mostly without the influence of humans! Double wow!

Cooking in the kitchen has been my least favorite place during this very hot and muggy weather spell. I have been making cool salad meals and avoiding any oven use. Yes, I do have a microwave and that has been busy too, but even the idea of hot food is unappealing at these temperatures. I found this recipe on Pinterest, yes, I am still hooked, and modified it some to suit our family's tastes. Again, I shop at Aldi and use their basic brands. This Chilled Asparagus Salad served over Couscous was a quick twenty minute prep.

1 1/2 C. fresh asparagus steamed & cut into 1" pieces
1-16oz. bag of frozen corn, rinsed under cold water to thaw slightly
1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
2 cloves of garlic, smashed and diced (opt.)
2 TBsp fresh parsley, chopped
Lime juice to taste
Sea salt & ground black pepper to taste
1/2 C. prepared Good Seasons Italian Salad dressing
I did not chill the asparagus after steaming, just threw the cold corn on top of it. Adding the rest of the ingredients on top also. Mix well with a slotted spoon after pouring on the salad dressing. Prepare a 10 oz. box of Reggano Couscous. We each had a generous bowl of couscous topped with asparagus & veg. Yum.
Serves 4

Tomorrow, I am looking forward to seeing all the new plant growth the rain inspired. Weekends surely go by quick around here! Wouldn't I love to have Monday off from work to stay home and play in the garden.  

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Gray goes with everything

I mentioned in my previous post, I had an attraction to gray foliage plants for use in the garden. Most tend to be gap fillers as their flowers are minimal, but they have some interesting attributes. I spoke of the monstrous old lavender plant in the back yard last post, it is reverentially referred to as "silver bear." This twelve year old plant has survived many a beagle digging attack, as well as drought and harsh winters. It is not very productive anymore but the foliage is so fragrant I won't pull it out until it dies.

"Silver bear" my ancient lavender
Dusty miller
Some of my very favorite grays are in the Artemisia family. I am fortunate to have real stone planters and walkway at the front of my 50 year old house and I enjoy the silvery repetition between the stone and the plantings. Dusty miller (Artemisia stellarianna) was my first gray to nestle amongst the stones. It has a lovely upright 6"-12" growth and firm yellow button flowers. It's a drought tolerant & almost no care perennial. As an interesting fact, once I watched a bee repeatedly come to the velvety leaves and slowly peel up the fuzz to carry off to it's hive. All the more reason to pop a few more of these plants (they come in six packs at Home Depot) into the garden to support the helpful bee populations. Some of the folklore surrounding the artemisia family. named for the Greek goddess of the moon, Artemis; it was blessed with her magical powers to protect mortals from pestilence and disease. Reputedly sprigs placed between woolens repel moths and bunches in cupboard deter ants. Now, I have no experience with these pest deterrents but I may try hanging a bunch in the closet.

Silver brocade in foreground
Another lovely artemisia is the variety known as "Silver Brocade." This is a low growing creeper is a spreading mat of bright silvery white lobed leaves with insignificant flower spikes. This artemisia is a little more delicate and does not do well over-wintering unless it's in a protected area. I have lost two of my three plants even though it is USDA zoned for range 2-9. Even so, it is a graceful filler plant and looks nice when I set my candle pots into the planter while relaxing on the front porch.

Santolina (Santolina chamaecyparissus) sometimes known as Lavender-cotton is another charming gray plant with globular, lacy foliage and cute button yellow flowers. Brushing your hand over the leaves gives a rich, spicy beach smell. Nostalgically, this plant grew on the East Coast in the Rhode Island sand dune lines and was always a favorite crush & carry scent for my beach bag. It's a bit hard to find in the Midwest but occasionally it's mixed in with the herbs at nurseries. There is no food use for santolina. This little gem likes full sun and makes an excellent clumping border. I will have to move mine soon as it is being overgrown this year.

Hope you enjoy the grays as much as I do. They totally bring out the green in any companion plant. The past few years I have planted tomato red geraniums with the artemisias and it looks stunning.

Les fleurs (the flowers)

The garden is now popping with color. The Butterfly weed, balloon flower and daylillies are stealing the scene from the rampant greenery. The humidity has eased a little but the temperature today is 96F (36C), so all my gardening activities are taking place in the evenings. There are a few more honey bees but I suspect the drought last summer and then the especially long, snowy winter might have killed off some local hives when they ran out of honey. There are only a couple of hummingbirds this year too, so no squeaks or aerial fighting at the two feeders I put out. I wonder if the late cold snap affected their migration? Global climate change doesn't just mean heat, I think it causes extremes in temperatures too.

Balloon Flower just before it pops open
Anyway back to the blooming business... Yesterday I re-fertilized the tomatoes and peppers and there is fruit setting on! I truly enjoy this season when you see your hard work come to fruition. I also have time to sit on the front porch with a wine cooler and the garden journal, making notes and plans for next year's bigger, improved garden. Gardening is a compounding hobby, it always grows!

Here's a Balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) bud just before it pops and opens as a brilliant blue star. I have transplanted these around the garden in late spring, shortly after they first come up. Dig deep to get their long white, tubular roots in total.  If you grow them you know how important it is to also mark their spot with a stick or decorative rock because their late sprouting in the Spring makes it easy to forget where they live in the garden.

Ahh, the daylillies... I love them so, they have such deeply colored blooms and their foliage covers a lot of garden space. I tend to opt for the colors that are not just all yellow (like Stella d'Oro), instead favoring the richer pinks, burgundy and bronzes. A local gardener has fields of them which she sells for six dollars a trashbag full. Consequently, I do not know the names of all the varieties in my yard; this may bug folks more botanically garden oriented, but I plant clumps of the  Hemerocallis family for blasts of color only.

 As you can see the background planting of mint with the red/yellow daylilly and the Russian sage with the pinker daylilly are quite robust as well. I regularly divide and transplant my many daylillies, whenever I need a filler or to disguise a problem area in the yard. They are such low maintenance for the impact they impart to the garden.

Butterfly Weed
The Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is the only brilliant orange flowering plant I grow in the garden. My son, started these two from seed and it was a bit difficult. I started 12 more seedlings in peat this Spring with some seeds I purchased from I was in a hurry so I only refrigerated the newly planted seeds in the peat pods (I found while cleaning the basement) in a ziplock bag for three days. I watered them lightly and set them in the sun and I now have 100% germination and am looking forward to spreading these beauties around the garden. The Butterfly Weed is a native prairie plant, related to the Milkweed family and is drought tolerant. I am hoping to see a few Monarch butterflies flocking to it, but so far the yard is lacking these lovely insects. I have planted these near the yellow Yarrow (Achillea grandifolia), which has the lovely feathery gray foliage. I am smitten with gray foliage but will leave (ha ha) that topic for another post. I noticed this year, the wren, who took up residence in one of the birdhouses, stripping leaves off the Yarrow and taking them for her nest. Doing a bit of research on this curious behavior I learned that Yarrow leaves repel mites, smart bird.

The blue spikes of Speedwell (Veronica spicata) are another of the blues I like to spread throughout the garden. This variety does well in full to partial sun. It is planted beneath a red Knockout rose and when both are in bloom it is a stunning combination. I've had variable luck with this perennial. This clump has lasted for years with just occasional watering. Some of my other Speedwell plants only lasted a couple of seasons then disappeared. I have divided some plants, but they don't always thrive. I find it's easier to buy a few plants, and just plant them where you want them, then leave them alone.

Lavender is one of my all time favorites. It has the whole appeal package: gray foliage, scent and purple flowers that the bees love. I am attempting to water root a few spikes of spring growth to propagate a few more. Not that I need more, I have many plants, but I love it so! There are many types of  Lavender (Lavandula), I prefer the English and Hidecote varieties for their vigor, large fragrant foliage and prolific purple flower spikes. The ones in the front yard gardens winter over well with leaf mulch, but I have a woody monstrous sized plant in the backyard that needs no attention at all. It's so old it doesn't flower much anymore but oh the leaves smell divine!

Finally, the lone Cleome (Sparkler variety in hot pink), locally known as "Turkey snout" or spider flower. I only plant a few annuals in the garden (zinnias, marigolds & bachelor buttons mostly) and this is one of them. It spreads and is lovely for it's unusual flowers, it's leaf structure gives me a laugh too if you look closely. So I give a nod to Thomas Jefferson and his magnificent gardens by planting this near the herb bed.

I'll certainly be doing more flower filled posts. The gladiola leaves are three feet tall now and the Butterfly bushes will be blooming soon. There are also a few disappointed plants that didn't make this post but will surely show up later. Of course the raised beds with the vegetables and herbs will need some time in the spotlight too, when they start to put on the harvest.

I truly love the seasonal markers the garden provides. For me there is no more calming a place than amongst the plants in the yard. Sarah Warner Brooks definitely had it right when she titled her 1904 book, A Garden with House Attached. A lovely garden read for the front porch/ wine cooler moment. Reprints are a bit hard to find, but available at my favorite used book site found @ . I hope everyone will get a chance to enjoy some peaceful moments in a garden this summer, if not your own, then one of many public or botanical gardens available in most communities.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Herb drying and whew! it's muggy

This year I will be seriously practicing my herb drying in hopes, that next year I can participate in our local farmers market. I have used the two Shaker peg racks in my kitchen to hang drying herbs over winter but now I have much more Greek oregano than in previous years. I've been snipping sprigs every few days and needed a system for quicker drying.

Drying tray foreground, encyclia orchid at left background
Wood working is not a innate talent of mine but I have completed my first solo project. Again, I am using scrap wood left over from another project, so I only had to work with my cordless drill and a staple gun. This is the first of several nifty drying trays:  for dimensions it's a wood frame measuring 24"x14", to which I attached some 1/4" metal screen, then screwed in four vinyl covered cup hooks at the corners for feet, allowing for good air circulation. Quick & easy and already in use.

We've had several days of 90 degree heat and suffocating humidity followed by rain. It's feeling pretty tropical here and we are all dripping with sweat the moment we go outside. Proof we are living under Amazonian conditions, my 22 year old orchid, an Encyclia cochleata is blooming! They normally bloom much later for me & after lots of fertilizing but I guess conditions are perfect on my front porch. I had divided this plant into four separate pots a few years ago. I gifted one, but my remaining three, with one being in a smaller six inch pot & unfortunately gnawed on by a vole, all have flower spikes! Too cool or not depending upon your perspective. Now that the raised bed planting is done, I can sit on the porch to admire the orchid flowers, the hummingbirds at the feeders and the newly arrived goldfinches snacking from the thistle seed sock. My two week vacation from work is over, many projects were accomplished, but rest & relaxation certainly wasn't one of them. I think once back on my work schedule I'll get more rest...

Waiting for germination & build your own salad table

Well, planting season here is done for now. The salad table is sprouting nicely, although the older Ruby red leaf lettuce seed for the center row, had spotty germination. I replanted most of the row today and will hope for a few more seedlings. We built two more raised beds in the front yard this weekend, as well as moving the backyard raised bed frame to the front yard next to the herb garden. The two new boxes were filled with mulch and planted with Swiss chard, carrots, French radishes, and more beans. The moved bed, by the herb garden, was planted with heirloom black zucchini & yellow pattypan squash. I can hardly wait for the harvest.

 I have been harvesting and drying some Greek oregano from the herb garden. The parsley got nibbled by a bunny, so I collared their pitiful remains by cutting one gallon plastic milk jugs and anchoring them to the ground with landscape pins. The parsley seeds did sprout but the bigger plants were for immediate use.

There has been some interest in how we built the salad table. Basically, we used left over 2"x4" boards for the tray and legs. The legs are attached to the inside of the tray frame flush with the top for more stability. Our tray is 36"x22" and the overall height of the table is 32". Once the legs and tray are screwed together, flip it over, legs up and cut two sheets of screening to attach to the outer underside edges of the salad tray. You will need to cut out the corners of the screening rectangle to fit around the tray's legs. The inner screen is just vinyl window screen, the outer support screening is plastic with 1/2" square openings. After stapling the screens to the tray every couple of inches we screwed a center support 2"x4", wide side against the screening. Finally we used two 4"x4" square scrap pieces of  1" thick wood and screwed them into the width-wise ends of the tray to further support the screening. You now have a salad table! **Be aware water does leak through the screening, so place the salad table somewhere you don't mind having splashed water and a bit of mud. Fill it with potting soil and plant. You can now grow slug free/non-bunny ravaged lettuce which is conveniently harvested without bending over. Happy salading!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

I crave the Pinterest!!!

I have a friend whom a while back suggested I take a peek at Pinterest online. She thought I might enjoy some of the websites and the garden photos. So naively I got a log in and took a gander. I set up a few boards and initially spent a little bit of time figuring out the basics of pinning. Now approximately a month later, I am hooked so bad! I have blown significant hours looking at photos from all over the world. Last night was the worst; I logged five hours, up and down periodically to prepare dinner, eat, chat with my household adults, and feed the dogs, but once the evening settled down, my computer, Pinterest and I saw the first glimmers of dawn at 5am.

I have never been so fascinated by anything in the cyber world. I used to get bored and not have anything to do after I read the few blogs I followed, played a game of Tetris or finished my online business. Worse yet, today as I'm doing yard chores, cutting and bundling up tree limbs, I'm thinking how soon am I going to get on Pinterest!

This is serious... I thought I would spend some time considering why I am apparently addicted to this website. Of course my kids, (the fellow resident adults) think it is hysterically cute that I have become so obsessed with Pinterest. They say it's about time I found my own compelling cyber time-waster since I don't Facebook. During my head-down-on-the-desk pondering "why I crave pinning," there do seem to be some obvious benefits: Pinterest is like shopping without spending a cent; the lovely photos tickle my urge to make collections of stuff; many crafty, tasty and creative ideas abound and I can travel without airport lines. Besides what's better than getting positive feedback when your friend, who showed you the Pinterest Master, pinned one of your pins?

Golly, in three paragraphs I've said Pinterest seven times! Maybe I'll get bored soon? Otherwise, I think I will need to invest in some vascular support knee socks, so my feet won't swell while I sit on my butt for hours and ogle all the pretty pictures. Hmm... maybe I could take my laptop to bed?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Privacy vs Freedom

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Our founding fathers were quite aware of the trials and costs of tyranny. In writing the Constitution of the United States of America the preamble reads:  "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Each and every one of us are included in "we the people." Our government including officials both elected and appointed are our representatives; enacting laws and doing work in our best interest. The Constitution frames the basis of our government by checks and balances. Perhaps we should carefully note what work is being done. The formerly secret information Mr. Snowden has exposed allows us the opportunity to evaluate the particulars surrounding these issues of privacy, justice & defense and voice our opinions concerning the effects on our general welfare. America where is our voice?


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Catching Up

The Missouri River has receded to its high normal banks; fortunately we had only had a few sprinkles of rain since June 4th, the larger thunderstorms passing us by. Weather this next week might drop some measurable rain but for now there is some wiggle room to avert serious flooding.

My brother visited for a few days and true to his handyman nature he started a "sealing my basement floor project," quite a massive undertaking but well worth the effort. I speak of minimizing possessions yet I did not realize how much random stuff migrated downstairs to hide among the cobwebs... Empty cardboard boxes alone were a significant component, you know, too good to toss, I'll use them for something kind, but in reality they sit there, year after year, accumulating. Little did I know that when I made my kids clean their rooms years ago, they just boxed their stuff and took it to the basement rather than toss it; sneaky buggers! Happily, five years later, the kids' "hidden downstairs stuff" barely rated a glance before it was bagged for the trash. Finally, the actual floor painting took place over three separate days, because the oil base sealer was so strong smelling we had to take house-airing breaks, but as of Saturday afternoon it is completely finished. My bro left for home midway into the project, so I was definitely motivated "git ur done" to get back outside into the garden.

Yesterday, I got the salad table planted with  Bloomsdale spinach, Ruby red leaf, Buttercrunch, Simpson elite and Rossa di Trento lettuces. The exotic sounding Rossa lettuce was complimentary with my Seed Savers Exchange order. Please note their website here and do order some heirloom seeds for your garden.

The Goldenglow rose got a pruning and another spray with Neem oil as there is a bit of blackspot starting. Some overdue weeding is done and the back lawn is again mowed. Since the backyard turned into a pond with all the late May rain, I am nixing raised beds for that area. Instead I'm considering using the fenced garden area as a blackberry patch. I'll need to do some research before I purchase any plants since I'll  need some "no care, doesn't mind the wet," plant for that piece of yard. The garden frame we made will go by the garage driveway for planting with zucchini and carrot seeds.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Local flooding of the Missouri River

Weather and it's effects seem to be a constant feature in this blog; Mother Nature is significant element of daily life here in Missouri. Last Friday, a tornado blew through, causing no damage to my bit of property but damaging trees and the Holiday Inn near the highway. Fortunately, most local residents have basements and use them when the sirens & weather alerts go off, so injuries were minimal. I didn't have to go into work because power was out at UPS... So my two weeks of vacation started a day early.

KATY trail near fence at Frontier Park
Torrential rains had preceded the tornado, and the Missouri river here in town is quite high and rising. The high winds associated with the tornado event broke a crane barge free from it's mooring at the Blanchette Bridge and swept it upriver to abut against the railroad bridge that runs parallel to the Discovery Bridge. For the last five days massive tugboats have attempted to free the crane which has become pinned against the train bridge with tons of logs and debris, causing a "beaver dam effect." It is amazing there are so many floating logs in the river, where could they all come from? Anyway, Frontier Park has currently (no pun intended) become one with the river. The park benches look tiny out in the water.
Saturday June 1st
 The Lewis & Clark Boathouse still had a parking lot on Saturday, but by Tuesday afternoon it was under a foot or two of water. A few folks took their canoe and kayak out for a paddle. There are also some brave souls taking the opportunity to fish from the KATY trail alongside the park.

Tuesday June 4th
Floods are a relentlessly steady creep of water. We've had a bit of rain and more is forecast for the next few days. Fortunately, I live about a mile and a half uphill from the river, so aside from the fascination of seeing the river way over it's banks, my garden is not imminently threatened. So far no homes are threatened here in St. Charles city, unfortunately, the county and unincorporated areas are having to evacuate. Hopefully, we will get lucky and the water will recede quickly.