Birds, Marsh, Thicket

This morning I looked out the kitchen window to see four Robins.  I’m not sure they even left this year, but they were having a grand old time in the ivy and the forsythia thicket.  Then I saw a Flicker, followed shortly by a Nuthatch, a Yellow Bellied Woodpecker and a Snowbird, otherwise known as a Dark-eyed Junco.  It must have been a bird convention of some sort.

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A muddy path through Dyke Marsh

It has been unbelievably temperate.  I am getting all my salad greens from my cold frame, and I went there today and got lettuces from it.  There was also arugula and chard, hardy leaves not under cover.  Next week, I should be able to harvest broccoli raab.  Who would have thought?

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Fishermen in the marsh…

On New Year’s Day, I went for a walk in Dyke Marsh south of Alexandria with a friend.  I had never walked the marsh paths before, choosing instead to kayak through it.  But it was worth the walk.  There were little beaches scoured out on the river bank, and shells and stones to see.

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Cattails and marsh grasses abounded.

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People were out sailing.

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A birder was out watching to see what flew around.

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He told us about a rarely sighted goose, called a Ross’ Goose that was on another path.  We found it, with lots of birders with amazing scopes watching it.  I found them incredibly generous, stepping back and offering views.

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It has black tail feathers and a pleasant, goose-y expression.

The goose seemed quite at home with its Canadian cousins.  Apparently flocks of Ross’ Geese will join up with flocks of Snow Geese, but the Ross’ Goose is rarely seen beyond the Great Plains, though it has shown up around here and in the lower Mississippi Valley according to Audubon.  I thought it was quite charming, and hope it has found its brethren.

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Prairie, Plain and the Holiday

I visited my family over Christmas.  The weather was more like spring than the beginning of winter.  It had been cold and dropped some snow, but there were only traces of it left.

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This is the landscape of my childhood. Sorry for the phone-quality pictures.

The landscape of my childhood is tall grass prairie and upland forest.  Prairie is grassland with flowers and small shrubs in it.  A spring bloom on the prairie rivals the California super bloom we’ve heard about the last couple years–and on the prairie it’s an annual event.  Upland forest occurs on higher ground than the prairie where the drainage is a bit better and the soil is loose enough for tree roots to expand and deepen.  The two exist together, as you can see, but prairie encroaches on forest.  There are only about 2200 acres of original prairie left in Illinois, although there are some extensive prairie restoration projects–one of which includes 19,000 acres.  Most of the original prairie became farmland, which is, of course in most of the pictures.

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Prairie gone to farmland…

Prairie and plain differ in their ecosystems and the type of vegetation growing on them.  The Great Plains, which run from the McKenzie River delta in Canada down into Texas in the U.S., support very few trees.  They have always seemed a bit desolate to me, except during the bloom season (Texas bluebonnets, for example, can be pretty spectacular).  In the U.S., the plains are west of the Mississippi and run to the Rockies in the west.  I’m not sure what their eastern border is in Canada.

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A doe and her near-yearling in a glade.

I probably should have looked up more of this to ensure accuracy, but I’m going on my past education in ecosystems, geography and geology.  If you want to read more about the Illinois prairie, this blog post is informative and shows some pictures of the bloom in spring.

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More of the herd at the edge of the woods.  The deer usually see you first and start watching you.

I did some walking while I was home–near my mother’s house and in Lincoln Memorial Gardens with my friend Evelyn.  It was near Mom’s that I saw all the deer at the edge of the woods one afternoon.  There’s a whole herd in there.  I went with my brother later in the week and we saw them again, although they were keeping closer to the edge of the woods than they had before.  I joked with my brother that they must have known he was a hunter.  They were definitely more skittish.  Or perhaps two people are more threatening than one.

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Lake Springfield from Lincoln Memorial Garden. More birdlife than I’d seen in a while was in the woods behind us.

I was able to do a lot of cooking for other people over the holiday, which I enjoy greatly, and I expect to do more before the new year now that I’m back home.  Happy new year to everyone.  May it hold what you hope for.

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My friend Kandy and I, who have now known each other for 50 years, and her husband Jim met for breakfast the morning they were heading back home after seeing her family for Christmas.

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Once More ‘Round the Garden

This week we had a final garden work day to do a little left-over clean up.  We cleared the large outside AFAC plot that the County is going to take over and maintain.  This involved moving the asparagus I planted going on two springs ago.  The small AFAC plot will now be an asparagus bed.  Elizabeth and Jonathan dug up the plants, Bonnie finished prepping the small bed, I replanted all the crowns, and Betsy came along and covered it all with a nice layer of compost.  Whew!

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Yes, I know this looks pretty much like a small bed of dirt. But it will supply lots of luscious asparagus!

Mike took some of the rabbit barriers out of the larger AFAC garden so it would look neat, and I weeded in there a bit.  It still has turnips, broccoli and cauliflower to be harvested for the Plot Against Hunger.  I’m not sure about the kale.

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Cauliflower and kale in the background, turnips foreground. All the carrots are gone!

All the help made it possible for me to get to my own garden and finish putting it to bed.

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I’ve covered the arugula hoping it can last a while…

Last week I mentioned that I had put the cold frame in the garden.  Doesn’t it look like it leads a life of its own?

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It’s snugging in between the peas and the radishes…

The lettuce is thriving in there.

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I still have peas, radishes, cauliflower, broccoli, broccoli raab, parsley, arugula, and of course lettuces as well as herbs.

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My broccoli isn’t as far along as that in the AFAC garden, but it’s coming…

We’ll see how it goes as the weather changes.

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Hoses ready to be put away for winter.

I hope you have a lovely week!

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Playing Catch-Up

I can’t believe I last wrote back in September.  Well, now it’s deep fall, not just that official, astronomical fall.  My garden is nearly cleaned up, the cold frame has returned and is housing some lovely lettuces, and all but the crops that don’t mind cold are gone.  I still need to amend the soil, but the garden is very nearly put to bed!

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Yields began to go crazy–finishing up on a good note. I’ll be missing the flowers!

I used to garden much of the year, but climate change has made that less predictable.  Our largely mid-forties winters with a cold snap in January or February have become a roller coaster of snow storms, ice, the Polar Vortex, and extended cold springs.  I still haven’t got the hang of exactly what to plant, but on the other hand, I have begun to enjoy the December through February break.

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A couple other gardeners mentioned they got more yield from their eggplants in October than in the summer.

We had a hard freeze Friday night and predictions for temperatures continuing to drop into the upper twenties (F).  Friday I took off work a little early and harvested carrots, kale, and turnips from the Plot Against Hunger garden.  The turnip greens were amazing and they went with 3 pounds of turnips.  I also got nearly 8 pounds of carrots.  I divided them into 5 12 oz packages.

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Carrots! Yum! These are Scarlet Nantes, which grow well in heavy soil.

There were some courageous cucumber seeds in the new Plot garden.  They came up in late September and yielded a number of cucumbers before succumbing to frost.  I added four cucumbers to the Plot haul.  All told, I took 14 pounds of produce in!  It was a lot of stuff and I imagine could supplement quite a few families’ groceries.  There are still broccoli and cauliflower plants in the Plot, and more turnips, so we have a few more deliveries before we run out for the winter.

My own garden had a sort of renaissance of yields after we had a couple good rains.  More okra, thriving arugula, eggplants galore, peppers, chard, and some fall planted radishes.  It’s been amazing.  I still have broccoli and cauliflower as well as rapini and parsley wintering.  I may get some heads from the broccoli and cauliflower over the winter.  We’ll see.

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The peppers did well, especially after the rain…

Without so much work needing to be done, I’ll be taking more hikes, doing more crafts, and … very likely baking a lot.  I do like to snug in on dark evenings, so I’ll probably consume more scotch and maybe I’ll have more time to write and be a more frequent visitor to your blogs as well.

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I’m so glad the arugula is hardy. I’ll be pairing it with some beets soon.

Happy fall and have a good week.  (And for those of you Down Under, I hope your spring brings rains instead of drought and you love all the extra light.)

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Bittersweet vine. If it’s the horrible invasive Asian stuff and not the thing from my childhood, please don’t tell me…

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Fall, Yup, Fall

Well.  It’s fall.  And we are having a long dry spell, which means that my seeds and seedlings need a great deal of attention.  It’s not light late any more, so I can’t really get to the garden on weekdays, unless I go before dinner, which I did tonight.  That could be a strategy.

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Newly fenced Tuscan Kale in the new AFAC garden; cauliflower and broccoli behind.

Luckily, my gardening neighbor, Mike, has offered to keep things watered.  I did some work a couple weeks ago to fence the things I had under cover.  They had grown up through the openings in the chicken wire and the rabbits were eating the parts that stuck out.  Evil lagomorphs.

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This Tuscan kale appears to have a lower habit, but likely will need new fencing like its cauliflower and broccoli relations in my garden…

I have lots of arugula, which the rabbits don’t care for (heh, heh).

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And I am finally getting some eggplants!!!!  I have plans for them, the eggplants.  Plans that include tomatoes, couscous and chickpeas…

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Writing this, I realized that there were two okra pods either lurking in or being abused by my purse.  Just grabbed them out and rinsed them.  The okra is being brave and persistent, but I can tell it’s tired.  I’m saving pods as I get them at the moment.

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Sorry for the blurry picture. I know I have lots of pictures of okra, but apparently not this year…

We had a garden work day last weekend, and Betsy, whose plot was run over by the bus last month, had help rebuilding her beds.  I hope you have a great week and weekend!

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Clearing and Planting for Fall

What a weekend!  I did a flying trip to Fredericksburg to see my cousin and her husband.  They are in the midst of  illness and crisis and putting one foot in front of another.  I was able to visit and cook a couple meals for them and their son, daughter-in-law, grandson, and a friend who were there Saturday when I was. I stayed over and came home Sunday.

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Last week’s garden–I ripped out the basil and a bunch of the zinnias as they were not fit for bouquets–seedy and spotted.

Labor Day was a garden day for me.  There was weeding in the new AFAC plot.  The covers over the broccoli, cauliflower and kale needed weeding inside, so I did that. I fixed the borders for the small AFAC plot that had been taken out by the bus accident, and asked my gardening neighbor, Mike, whether he would hoe up the small garden and add compost.  He said yes!  It’s so good to have help.

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Last weekend, I built an unstable wall between the mulch pile and the new AFAC garden.

I worked in my own garden, where I had some carrots, a zucchini and an okra pod as well as some flowers.

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And some red peppers along with the zucchini and okra and carrots. Also, likely the last good bouquet of the summer!

I ripped out most of the zinnias.  It was sad, but I was merciless.  I have them for bouquets for the house and to feed the pollinators.  I felt a bit guilty pulling some out, but there are still a lot of other flowers in the garden, so I didn’t feel too bad about the bees and butterflies.

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This is the garden now, with the zinnias gone, except for the ones I trimmed, and the fall plantings under rabbit proof covers.

I planted a few things–more arugula, some rapini, some lettuces.  I hope to keep the garden going into fall.  The rabbits (one of which I chased today) are just awful, so I have created rabbit proof shelters for  much of what I planted.  I know they don’t bother the arugula; the rapini sprouts, which are not under cover, may be subject to their depredations.  We’ll see.

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Once the okra gets good sized, the rabbits don’t bother it. Looks like I’ll have more pods this week!

I’m looking forward to peas this fall.  They are planted in what I normally call the bean enclosure–safe from rabbits and voles. We’ll see how they do.  So far, so good.

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Yay for the peas! And some resurgent mint at the edges. Actually have a pasta recipe that calls for both.

The okra is happy again, with a bit of water.  I only have two pods so far this week, but it looks as though there will be more, and I’ll just add them to a zucchini saute.

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These are my kale, cauliflower, and broccoli plants, under protective custody…

If you pray, meditate, send good thoughts out to the universe–please add my cousin Allison and her husband, Bob.  She’s in a fight for her life after treatment for a brain tumor and he’s doing all he can to help day to day and advocate for her with medical personnel.  The treatments knocked out her blood system and red blood cell production.  We’re hoping for recovery from the treatment and some good time for her.

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This is the new AFAC plot, with the small plot in the background. I fixed the small plot’s border today.

I hope you have a good week!

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Excitement Nobody Needs

On Friday afternoon, I got an email from a colleague who knew where my garden was.  She gave me a link to a local news organization that showed a picture of a bus that had ploughed through our fence and into the garden. I scanned the article quickly to make sure nobody was hurt.  Whew. Last time this happened with an SUV and it sideswiped a gardener who never recovered.

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The bus had to be towed out.

Apparently, someone ran a red light and the bus driver, rather than t-bone the guy and kill him, took evasive action into our garden!  It saved lives and injuries, but left us with a wrecked fence and a few wrecked gardens.  The red light runner was ticketed and his insurance will be getting a few bills from us.

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The small Plot Against Hunger got quite a working over.

My garden was untouched, but the small AFAC plot was pretty hard hit.  We were getting ready to plant for fall there, but hadn’t considered replacing the fence too!

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Tonight I salvaged what hardware cloth I could and tossed the bent up steaks.

There has been more vandalism in the outside garden (the blackberry bush was cut down) and we have decided to move the larger AFAC garden inside to a plot adjacent to the small one.  So I cleaned that out a bit tonight.  It had been abandoned and gotten weedy, but was mostly cleared during a garden work day. I will put some broccoli and cauliflower seedlings in there once I prepare rabbit protection for them.

I also gave the county a call and asked for a traffic analysis at that light.  I think it needs left turn lights.  We’ll see what happens.  For now we’re expecting the fence to be fixed next week and to do some of our repairs. soon.  In the meantime, enjoy this video one of the neighbors of the garden took, complete with rainbow.

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