What I Learned From My Garden This Year:

It was a pretty good year in the garden despite the fact that we went on a couple of trips during the growing season. I as usual, learned from my gardening experience and here are some of the things I will do differently next year:

  • Stick to the basics.  This year I planted Japanese Pickling Melons, Okra and Sesame.  I am embarrassed to say that I never even harvested the sesame seeds (who has time to open all those little pods and toast the seeds?)  I let the most of the Okra get too big and tough to eat, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the melon. Next year I will sample unusual items at restaurants or markets and leave garden space to what I know.
  • Grow what we eat.  We love green beans and could almost eat them every day. They freeze well too. We also love peppers and tomatoes.  On the other hand, I am the only one in the house that eats eggplant or squash. Next year I will concentrate on planting green beans, peppers, and tomatoes and treat myself to eggplant, squash and such from the Farmers’ market when the mood strikes.
  • Don’t waste space on cheap stuff. We love cabbage but it takes up lots of space in the garden and the bugs love it too. It is super cheap to buy so why not use the garden space for sweet bell peppers that I can let ripen to red and not have to pay a premium price for them at the store?!
  • More flowers!  I love flowers and would love to be able to snip weekly bouquets for inside. Next year I plan to surround my veggie garden with flowers. They will be inside the bunny proof fence, beautiful to look at and plentiful enough to get lots of bouquets for ourselves, family and friends. The bees will love them too!
  • Grow herbs closer to the house. It just makes sense to not have to go far to snip herbs when cooking. I may grow my herbs in pots on the deck next year.

I spent much of our lovely November doing a bit of yard clean up, bringing in yard art and house plants, and pretty much enjoying the last nice days of fall. Since we were finished harvesting I left the garden gate open so the girls could free range in there. They were pretty happy to get to scratch around and sample yummies in what was previously ‘off limits’ territory.

 
I am throwing kitchen scraps as well as raked leaves directly in the garden to decompose.

 
I decided to use ‘free mulch’ from Mother Nature – aka fallen leaves around trees and shrubs and in the flower beds.  I was hoping for a bit of rain to weigh them down so they wouldn’t blow away and I got it.

 

 Now the work is done and the days are cold and short. I keep warm and happy planning next year’s garden!

What did you do to put your garden to ‘sleep’ and what are you planning for next year?

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What’s Been Going On?

A lot has been going on!  This time of year there is so much to do.  Most gardeners probably feel the same way.  Future projects stretch on into infinity – but that is  GOOD thing.

First bit of news is we are in round 3 of the Bunny Wars.  We are now building a permanent – what I hope is indestructible – bunny proof fence around the veggie garden.  The reason for this is because the bunnies discovered they could chew through the plastic netting we had up.  We patched the ‘chew holes’ almost daily with zip ties but it only takes one bunny one night to decimate a row of just starting snap peas.  Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!  If you calculate the cost of ALL the measures we have taken to get this garden up and running and now bunny proofing, the cost of my home grown produce is astronomical.  (But who’s counting?  Plus it’s so worth it!)

We are going for something similar to this:

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Second bit of news is WE HAVE ASPARAGUS in the ‘New and Improved Asparagus bed’!

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I have counted 5 little sprouts so far which to me is pretty exciting!

The new butterfly garden is fantastic with the iris just about finished blooming, the daisies, wisteria, clematis and peonies about to bloom.

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  I am not sure the yarrow is going to bloom this year after being divided and transplanted. It should have buds by now but doesn’t. The Swamp milkweed survived transplanting and I ordered and planted 2 more varieties.  Yes, I HAVE been busy. I planted morning glories to cover the old coop and sunflowers along the fence.  Our canna bulbs went in this week too.

The doggie poop area I wrote about is going GREAT and we landscaped around it with Ninebark shrubs and roses.

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  It looks great.

We need to fill in landscaped areas with mulch but I want to wait until the messy cottonwood tree behind our property is finished dumping it’s white fluff.  Have you ever dealt with that?  Pretty but YUCK!  Once everything is all cleaned up I will post pics.

In the veggie garden lettuce, peas, onions and radishes are up.  Beans are in the ground and tomaotes have been transplanted but we broke 2 of the plants while traipsing around working on the fence.   😦  I might wait to put in the pepper, cabbage, okra and brussel sprout transplants until we are finished working on the fence to avoid more mishaps.

The chickens are laying like crazy, seem happy with the warm weather and love that I toss them buckets of weeds every day.  I have an idea to use the old bunny fence and secure an area in the wooded/weeded lot behind our yard to let them free range a bit.  No one will know/no one will care and the gals will LOVE it!

((((((( Shhhhhhhhh – don’t tell! ))))))))

I haven’t started on my spring sprucing up of the coop yet but will soon.  Fence building has got me a bit behind schedule.  Look for pics of the spruced up coop and new free range area in a future post.

What has been going on in your neck of the woods?

New and Improved Asparagus Bed!

After doing more reading I realized the six asparagus crowns I planted would be not much more than an appetizer for our asparagus loving family.  I seriously needed to plant MORE!

But where?

As most good ideas do it came to me in the middle of the night.  (Everyone wakes up at 4 am with gardening on their mind, right?)

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Anyway it came to me.

  THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN! 

Well not IN the butterfly garden.  I could MOVE the butterfly garden.  I could move it to the back of the garden flower bed.  The one I call my ‘formal’ flower bed.

Formal – poo – I want asparagus!

So I went to work moving the plants in my butterfly garden.  Most were big enough to divide so I did that too.  I tried to place them where I thought the color combinations and heights would look best but to tell you the truth in some cases I did not even know what some of them were because some of my garden markers blew over.   (OK, they didn’t so much blow over as got ‘picked’ by a certain little pint sized garden helper).

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It is going to be AWESOME!

 

I am super excited though because the bed is a lot more densely planted which means fewer weeds and it will be a RIOT of flowers




I am also super excited about the NEW AND IMPROVED ASPARAGUS BED.

 We  prepared the trench, added sand for drainage, compost for nutrients, and bone meal for root growth.

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We put in 35 asparagus crowns.  That should keep us in plenty of asparagus for the rest of our lives!  ❤

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If you have an unused part of lawn, like maybe over by your fence, and you buy asparagus to eat each spring, you should probably put in an asparagus bed!

Go on, DO IT!

A few other spring updates:

Peas, lettuce, onions, radishes and carrots are up in the garden.My indoor seedlings of tomatoes, peppers, okra, cabbage and marigolds are getting big.

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I can’t wait to get these outside!

The honeysuckle vine more than doubled in size before I finally got it planted outside and it is doing well.  All fruit trees including the new and old Paw Paws have leaves.

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Leaves on the new PawPaw.

 Best of all – the Wisteria LIVES!

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I ❤ Wisteria!

It’s not gardening but I have to brag – this week my granddaughter Haley qualified for the Olympics in Womens’ Freestyle Wrestling!  She is Rio bound!

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 How are things in your spring garden?

I Am At It Again!

And you should be too.

I’m helping Monarch caterpillars hatch, grow, and become butterflies.

It is a very rewarding project.

Taking the eggs from the Milkweed plants and protecting them until they are butterflies increases the survival of this amazing species.

You may or may not know:

  • Monarch caterpillars ONLY eat milkweed which is less plentiful now due to herbicide use and loss of our prairie land due to construction and expansion.
  • The last generation of Monarchs to hatch each season do not die in a few weeks like previous generations, but live long enough to migrate to their winter homes – mostly in Mexico.
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The trees are covered with the over-wintering Monarchs. I would love to see this someday!

  • Monarch numbers have decreased from a couple billion to only 50-some million!

You can read more about the remarkable Monarch here:

http://www.monarch-butterfly.com/

Simple things you can do to help Monarchs:

  • PLANT MILKWEED!  If you plant it they will come!  There are several varieties of Milkweed that will survive, multiply and beautiful your garden.  Monarchs will come and lay their eggs on your milkweed plants.
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Milkweed blooming in my garden. The flowers smell amazing!

  • BEWARE to not get your milkweed from your local large garden center or home improvement store because they will most likely be treated with insecticides.  The caterpillars that hatch on this mildewed will DIE. Read about one person this happened to here:

http://michiganradio.org/post/how-help-monarch-butterflies-without-poisoning-them#stream/0

  • Plant nectar flowers for the adult Monarchs.  Nectar flowers are the beautiful flowers you love anyway and the nectar provides nourishment for the adults. It is especially important to plant fall blooming nectar flowers such as asters, so the season’s last generation of  Monarchs will have food for their migration.
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A beautiful Monarch nectaring on a zinnia in my garden,

  • Rescue or ‘adopt’ Monarch eggs or caterpillars and raise them in a protected environment and then release the adult butterflies.

It’s easy!

Here is what I did, you can do it too:

I ‘harvested’ Monarch eggs off my Milkweed plants. If you don’t grow Milkweed in your garden you can find it in fields or along the road in rural or even not so rural areas.  Make sure it hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides.

The eggs are small whitish dots on the underside of your Milkweed leaves.

Monarch cat

See the egg – nearly in the center of the photo? A tiny caterpillar is on the edge of the same leaf, below and slightly to the left of the egg.

 I put the eggs, and one teeny tiny caterpillar I found in a opaque Rubbermaid tote.

Some people I know use a clear cup or jar but I wanted mine to have more room.

The small caterpillars will not leave their food source of Milkweed leaves but when they get larger and ready to form a chrysalis they will become more mobile and you will want to fasten a net or screen over your habitat.

My husband ordered me a super-cool habitat off Amazon.  I can’t wait!

Give your Monarch caterpillar(s) a daily (later even more than daily) supply of Milkweed leaves to munch on.

MAKE SURE ANY MILKWEED LEAVES YOU GIVE THEM ARE NOT TREATED WITH CHEMICALS!

(I can’t say it enough)

Put newspaper or paper towels on the bottom of your habitat bercause the caterpillars poop A LOT and you want to keep them clean and healthy.

Your caterpillar(s) will EAT and EAT and GROW and GROW!

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They remind me of the caterpillar in my grandson Carter’s favorite book.

Finally they will slow their movements and form a ‘J’ shape and then soon after form a beautiful chrysalis.  When the chrysalis becomes clear and you can see Monarch orange and black markings through it the butterfly will soon emerge.  It’s wings will be shriveled at first but they will soon unfurl and grow strong.

Now you can release your adult Monarch into your garden and pat yourself on the back because you just did a wonderful and important thing and helped make the world a better place!

 I will share the progress and photos of my caterpillars in future posts.

I hope I have encouraged you to give it a try.  If you are not up to ‘rescuing’ eggs and caterpillars perhaps you will at least consider planting Milkweed and nectar plants in your garden.

I would love you to share what you are doing to help the Monarchs!

My Butterfly Garden, Supporting the Monarch Butterfly!

When I lived in Illinois two of my granddaughters came for the summer.  We did a lot of fun things but one thing that I really enjoyed was gathering Monarch butterfly eggs and bringing them home to watch them hatch,monarch eggs

grow into big fat and beautiful caterpillars,

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form a chrysalis

monarch-chrysalis

and emerge as the lovely butterfly.

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This pic shows the different stages of chrysalis formation.

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So awesome!

 I read up on  the amazing life cycle and the even more amazing fall migration of the Monarch butterfly.  Nature is so very AWESOME and one place this is very evident is in how the Monarchs migrate to Mexico each winter.

migrate

I URGE you to become familiar with this!

I was saddened to learn that this wonderful species is in danger because the Milkweed plants that they lay their eggs on and on which the caterpillars feed, are being wiped out.

You may notice tall lovely milkweed plants along the roadside.

milkweed

Although once plentiful, these plants are dwindling in numbers  because of urban sprawl and from the use of herbicides.  Monarch numbers are dwindling and it is a shame to think that one day we may never see these lovely creatures.

Because I have such love and admiration for the Monarchs I decided to plant a butterfly garden and hope to one day soon have it certified as a Monarch Way-Station.

I hope that I may convince you to do the same.

Last year I searched until I found a garden store that sold Milkweed plants.  I was lucky and scored plants of 3 different milkweed varieties.milkweed2milkweed

Milkweed6

If you are not able to find plants in your local plant store you can order seeds online.

Milkweed is the host plant which means it is food for the catterpillars.  You will also need nectar plants in a butterfly garden which provide food for the butterflies themselves.  Lucky for me and you – these nectar plants are beautiful and fragrant additions to your garden.

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A few varieties of nectar plants are:  Coneflowers, Asters, Black Eyed Susans, Monarda, Liatris, Joe Pye Weed, and Zinnia.

 Many cities have butterfly houses connected with their botanical centers – Here in Iowa we have a wonderful one in Reiman Gardens at Iowa State University in Ames Iowa.

http://www.reimangardens.com/

If you have a butterfly house near you I urge you to visit it.  Once you visit a butterfly house you will be inspired to attract these wonderful creatures to your garden.

The links below are great sources to learn about the Monarch butterfly, how to attract it to your garden and help it to survive.

http://www.heifer.org/join-the-conversation/blog/2014/June/bringing-butterflies-back-to-the-garden.html

http://www.monarchwatch.org/waystations/

http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_30186.cfm

monarch

This is one of the Monarch butterflies I hatched and released

 

Are you inspired to create a butterfly garden and plant milkweed plants to help the Monarch butterfly?

  I want to become a ‘garden guerrilla’ and plant milkweed EVERYWHERE!

(Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh – don’t tattle on me)

 If you have a butterfly garden I would love to hear about it!

bfly1

 

 

 

 

 

A Fall Update.

The calendar says fall, the air is a bit cooler and the days are noticeably shorter.  But there still is a lot going on in the garden.

A lot is going on in the kitchen as well.  Tomatoes and green beans are prepared for freezing,

002zucchini is turned into delicious spicy bread, and eggs with just harvested potatoes are enjoyed for lunch almost every day!

Some brave flowers continue to bloom and will do so ’til frost.   I am forever grateful for them!

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My Milkweed plants were finished blooming so I divided them.  All the rain in our forecast will keep them well watered so hopefully they will ‘take’ and I will have enough of them to become a certified ‘Monarch Way-Station’ next year. (More about that in my next post).

Here is what else is going on:

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I scored some windows off the ‘free’ page on Craigslist. Someone had taken them out of their camper and didn’t have any use for them.

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They fit like a charm and even still had the hinges on! Now my gals have some fancy windows for these colder nights.

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My sedum is starting to bloom. I love this plant.

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A gladiola leans against one of my birdhouses – I mean spider house!

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Did I complain awhile ago that nothing was blooming?

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I love zinnias and so do the butterflies.

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I broke my original gazing ball but got this metal one at the thrift store. Next year I will group even more canas around it and put lilies in the foreground.

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Another find from the Craigslist free page. She was missing the ball she once held so I gave her a teacup.

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I saw this coneflower on sale at Lowes and just fell in love with the color and the fact that it is a shorter, mounding variety.

I must run out and get some tulip and daffodil bulbs to plant.

But first I need to make wine out of the grapes I picked from my friend Robin’s garden.

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Also – Note to self:  Plant Brussels Sprouts and winter squash next spring.  (What was I thinking?)

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Yard ‘art’ of thrift store glass I glued together.

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6 bored girls! “Please Mom, hurry up and finish harvesting so we can get out and free range!”

What is going on in your fall garden and kitchen right now?

I Grow Flowers Too! (Or I Try To)

(But you’d never know it from my pictures)

Yep, It’s not all chickens and vegetables.

I also have some flower beds, There is not much blooming going on this year but I do have flower beds. In fact I have been working on a butterfly garden since we moved in.  One of the first things I planted in my yard was milkweed.  I will tell more about that in a future post.

Our yard was pretty much a ‘blank slate’ when we moved in and as usual I got overambitious and created HUGE flower beds.  I thought curvy edges would be pretty but my husband says they are hard to mow around.

NO PROBLEM because the plan is to eliminate a lot of the grass and make paths out of stepping stones surrounded by mulch and later by ground cover.

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So picture this area with stepping stones surrounded with mulch where the grass is. C’mon – you can use your imagination!

I have a vision!

I got a nice bunch of ‘free’ plants this year – I will write about that in another future post!

I am still waging war with weeds and what I really need is a super-thick layer of mulch to help keep them down until the areas ‘fill in’ with perennials.  This years garden budget is a bit tapped out but that will be my priority for next year along with more stepping stones as I continue to work on the paths.

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By next year the sedum ground cover should fill in all around the stones. Remember – IMAGINATION!

Gardeners are a lot like CUBS fans.  We are always saying “Wait until next year!”

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Meanwhile I just keep pulling the weeds and tossing them to the chooks to eat!

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I am having a bit of a problem with my flowers not blooming well.

  I planted a Gallardia – those suckers bloom like crazy.

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  Only as soon as I pluncked it into the ground it stopped blooming!

I spread a bunch of my compost in the flowerbeds and that helped some.  Things then bloomed a bit more.

Except for that one darn Hydrangea.

That sucker hasn’t bloomed since I got it.  One more strike and it’s O-U-T!

(Not really)

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Sigh…….. I wish mine looked like this.

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….instead of this.

I definitely need to work on amending the soil in my flower beds.  Last winter I put all the coop bedding into the veggie bed and my veggies are doing great!   This winter it will all go into the flower beds.

Here are more pictures of my garden, not because I think it is all that great, in fact it is actually quite ugly,  but it’s a start.  Next year it will be soooooooooooooo much better and it will be fun to put the old and new pics side by side and see how far it has come!

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One of my scraggly planters. My blooms are so bad this year, if it weren’t for coleus I’d have no color at all.

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My one and only Dahlia in my rooster planter. I hope to get more Dahlia’s – they are awesome!

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My Chicago Blackhawks garden gnome peeking out from a bunch of petunias.

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A jumble of zinnias (love ’em), ornamental grass, one of my elephant ears which summer outside, and my ‘yard art’ planter made out of an old floor lamp. It blew over in a strong wind and broke. I reglued it but haven’t yet replanted it.

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Garlic chive blooms and a very young blueberry bush.

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Black Eyed Susan

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Delphinium and more yard art.

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Marigolds in another scraggly planter.

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The butterfly garden, almost all bloomed out now. I want to put stepping stones over the grass here as well. Those are my compost bins in the background.

Gardens are a work in progress but mine is more work than progress!

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I’m sure these pictures make you feel really good about your garden.  It  wouldn’t take much to be a LOT better!

Share your garden pictures and stories with me!

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