Thursday, October 30, 2014

Summer 2014 Surprises

Aubrey stopping to smell the flowers while at the
Pumpkin Patch in Denver
I could start every season of every year with this little ditty:  “This has been an unusual season in the garden.”  It’s called living in the Midwest; every year is unusual to us.  It’s living in an area with four seasons at the mercy of changing weather patterns.

Most of us in the Midwest enjoy the changing seasons and the unpredictability of our weather.  It pits humans against the quirks of Mother Nature, it’s us against them; it’s survival of the fit; it’s intelligence against the unknown and we love the challenge (if not always the damage.)

The good surprises of summer 2014:

I had canna bulbs long buried come up in places I didn’t even remember planting. 

I had gladiola bulbs come up where I had been lazy and not dug up in the fall a couple of years ago.  They had multiplied and were lovely next to my Julia Child rose.  Careful planning could not have made their location more beautiful.

I planted a row of annual seeds willy-nilly in the front of my raised vegetable bed.  My granddaughter, Grace, and I pretty much mixed them and planted at any depth she might wish.  They came up with wild abandon.

Grace inspecting the garden
Last early winter I threw all my sad decomposing pumpkins and gourds into a flowerbed near the house and promptly forgot them.  The entire bed was full of vines this summer producing an abundance of beautiful orbs to supply any and all family this fall.  Bees loved the blossoms and the granddaughters loved painting the pumpkins.  Thank you to Nature’s Creations for all the original beauties who so generously seeded over winter.

Field crops have produced stellar this year in spite of some early hail and wind damage.   Watching pickin’ and combining is one of my favorite scenes of fall.  So glad it’s been good for our farmer neighbors.

Japanese Beetles really did take a big kill because of the cold winter.  I had some but nothing like the horrible swarms of years’ past.

I’ve had a large variety of butterflies this year, including Monarchs.   Included is the down side:  they were few in numbers. 

I had the most quantity and variety of bees I’ve ever seen here.  I feared they would be frozen out but it seems they survived and thrived.

Because daylily plants thought fall had arrived in August, I had several rebloom (something that seldom happens this far north.)

True northern zone hardy perennial bushes and flowers actually thrived from our cold winter last year.

My cherry and apple trees took a lickin’ and kept on tickin’. 

Self-seeders such as aster, cleome, dame’s rocket and phlox all did well

Grace and Kaydence busy helping Grandma.
Some not so good surprises of summer 2014:

 My pepper and cucumber plants pretty much look the same today as they did the day I planted them in May.  Complete failure.

My tomato plants produced but not with the usual early abundance and not enough to preserve quantities to take us through winter.

Local small vegetable farms have suffered along with other gardeners with less than ideal growing conditions. Remember to support our own Sarah and Nathan Hahn’s operation this fall – we want to make sure they can stay in business for many more years.

All the egg sacks of my Praying Mantis were destroyed due to the cold winter.  I didn’t have one Mantis survive.  

I’ve seen fewer wasps this year.  I know some people consider them a pest but they are one of our beneficial pollinators.

My peach trees didn’t produce this year.

Mildew was more prevalent than usual.  My Indiana farmer cousins said it was so bad, they had to spray their fields.

Lazy Crazy Days of Summer
What conditions surprised you this year?  Or, have you stopped being surprised and roll with the Midwest punches?



Friday, October 24, 2014

This and That

Granddaughter, Aubrey

As October stretches into cold, there’s a few “this and that” you may want to accomplish in the garden. 

I seldom do a big fall garden clean up because I’ve found leaves bunched around my perennials is nature’s mulch.  On the flip side (isn’t there always a flip side to nature), I recommend trimming all iris leaves to a couple of inches and burn the debris (do not compost.)  This will help eliminate iris borers that lay eggs on the leaves for over wintering.  Wait until we’ve had a hard freeze so the moths are killed.  Take all debris under and close to the iris.  You can then let tree leaves blow in naturally.

You still have time to plant spring flowering bulbs.  Most important: plant bulbs at the right depth.   Try some old fashioned heirloom spring flowering bulbs such as Alliums, anemones, Glory-of-the-Snow, Dutchman’s Breeches, Trout Lily, Fritillaria, snowdrops, Grape Hyacinth and one of my favorites:  Siberian Squill.  These bulbs can be found at nurseries and sometimes at a big box store.  Take a chance on a bag for a sweet surprise. 

Plant spring flowering bulbs where the leaves can be left to die naturally without mowing or cutting; It’s where they get their nutrients for next year’s flowers. 

Granddaughter, Katherine
I have never NEVER regretting one spring flowering bulb I planted.  Did I mention NEVER?  I always plant them where they are either visible from a window or beside a path where we walk in the spring.  Although tulips do not live forever, most other spring flowering bulbs spread with abandon and will be making your yard beautiful long after you’ve moved away.  A tree is planted for future generations.  Spring flowering bulbs are planted for all generations.

Some things need mulched.  If you want to use beautiful mulch or simply functional mulch – it’s your garden.  Cedar mulch works.  Straw or shredded newspaper works.  Leaves and evergreen trimmings work. Compost works.   If you use your own mixture, don’t use anything that had mildew or other diseases.   Keep the mulch out from bushes and tree stems at least an inch or two.  You’re protecting the roots not the stem.  Rodents living in mulch up against the stem may decide one cold night to use bark as their new best winter treat.   

Remove all leaves that have mildew and burn or destroy – don’t compost.   Mildew was out-of-control this year and you don’t want to overwinter. 

Granddaughters, Kaydence and Grace
At this time, do not cut back spring flowering bushes unless it’s for health and safety purposes.  You will be cutting off the buds needed for the flowers.

Leave seed heads for the birds.  Plus, clumps of dried ornamental grasses, dried leaves on bushes and vines and some unmowed grass are needed during those cold windy days and nights.

Wash out bird feeders with a mild solution of 1 gallon of water/1/4 cup of bleach – then rinse and let dry before filling.  Empty birdhouses of their nests and treat the same way. Most birds won’t seek the nesting houses in the winter.

As we’re enjoying the orange and black scary Halloween decorations, it isn’t too early to get up Christmas lights (you will thank yourself in November when it’s sleeting, the ground is frozen and your holiday spirit is somewhere south of Florida.)

Clean out the gutters when the last leaf has fluttered into a packed soggy mess because it will freeze and cause winter/spring water damage. 

If you take your screens off and wash them with dishwashing soap and water, rinse and store inside, they will last years longer.  This will also remove the allergens.  Hose out the window tracks of insects.  Ladybugs and Asian beetles love to pack into those tracks for the winter and slowly migrate inside on sunny days.

Scrape all mud from garden tools, wash with the above mentioned bleach solution, dry and cover with an oil.   

And about this time of the year, it’s time to put up your feet and realize we had a pretty darn mild summer, many successes and we can mark summer 2014 down as done.  Stay safe farm friends and see you in the spring.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

There's High Lines

Truly a park.
And then there’s high lines.  High lines in the utility industry are the lines carrying electricity across the nation.  It’s the big boys of the system.

The “High Line” in New York is an abandoned elevated freight rail line transformed into a free, public park on Manhattan’s West Side.  What’s the big deal for us in small town Illinois?   It’s an example of turning trash into treasures.  It’s taking a negative cityscape and making it the starting point to reinvigorate the town.

All towns, cities and villages have examples of some former building or development now rundown and a blight on the whole neighborhood.  What was different with this abandoned freight rail line is someone had an idea to take it from blight to brilliant.

A non-profit “Friends of the High Line” was formed and partnered with the NYC Dept. of Parks and Recreation.  Their mission:  “Through excellence in operations, stewardship, innovative programming, and world-class design, we seek to engage the vibrant and diverse community on and around the High Line, and to raise the essential private funding to help complete the High Line’s construction and create an endowment for its future operations.”

The big words:  Seek to engage.  No non-profit can function in and of itself.  It must have others engaged in wanting a project to succeed. 

What it didn’t do is sit around and blame others while doing nothing.  That’s pretty amazing considering social media is all about blaming, complaining and doing nothing.

The high line railroad trestle has elevated gardens, walkways, seating and beautiful views.  They use species of perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees hardy, sustainable, textural and with color variation.  Focus is on native species.   Many of the self-seeded plants on the old deserted tracks have been incorporated. 

Views, walkways, seating and air!
And the deal is not just this amazing reclaimed park, it has changed entire neighborhoods.  Because it’s brought locals out to walk and relax, tourists and professionals to photograph, and families enjoying their city, there’s been a need for business.  Restaurants, stores, apartments, and more followed.  As the movie says:  “If you build it, they will come.”

They didn’t wait for businesses to come in first; they created a destination and need brought businesses. They have garden talks and walks, yoga, Tai Chi, nature walks, fairs, concerts, walking tours, neighborhood narratives, stargazing, lunch series, kids specials and dance parties. 

This beautiful garden is the beginning of community revitalization.  It can be an inspiration for big and small revitalizations in your community.  Before destroying that unsightly old structure, could it become a blessing?  Destroy and remove hit a huge wave of popularity in towns and as a result we see many a town with little of its history and beauty left; all the while complaining no new business comes calling. 

School children classes
Sometimes a city and its residents must take a leap of faith and enhance its current spots around town such as Galva’s revitalization of Veterans’ Park a few years ago.  Also, allowing the Country Road festival this summer in our Park District was a leap of faith by the Park Board and that leap was especially smart.  This could not have happened had the Park District not kept that park so beautiful and updated.

Not all old buildings or lots can be used or preserved.  I urge you to not give up on these historic structures or lots without exhausting outside-the-box possibilities first.  One thing for certain, nothing like the High Lines project would be possible without a dedicated group of caring individuals. 

This town and your town have a wonderful history and vibrant futures if it’s citizens care to see what might be.  Stop thinking about what had died as if that’s the future. Don’t just complain about that building that’s an eye sore and can’t be fixed.  Make an effort to not let another building fall so far into disrepair it is a lost project.

As for gardens, Galva is an exceptional example of enhancing our public spaces.  All our parks:  33 cares at the Park District, Washington Park, Wiley Park and Veterans Park.  Included is the small garden venue’s around signposts and various small plots.  The street department waters these plots and volunteers plant and weed. 

Before renovation.
As your town experiences empty buildings, do we complain because no one is knocking at the door to utilize them?  OR do we make the town so attractive eventuality population will demand more businesses to serve their needs. 

And one final suggestion:  Utilize the businesses you have if you want them to continue.  Don’t expect someone else to support them and then complain because one Sunday you couldn’t drive five minutes to get a washer for your project, a banana for your desert, or a gallon of gas for your trip.  We each must carry this responsibility. 

All photos and Mission Statement are from "Friends of the High Lines" web page.  


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Cherry Chocolate Cake

In full bloom
Our little "Monmoreney Stardard Tart" cherry tree produced abundantly this year for the first time.  It's a self pollinating twenty foot tree.  They're known for being the best cherry for pie because they have medium large sour bright red fruit with firm yellow flesh and clear juice.  It's the perfect tree for this area (good to -40.)

Tonight I was hungry for cherry something and didn't want to make a pie - because I would eat it all.  I know. . .

Here's the recipe I came up with and it turned out perfect (if I do say so myself.)  Grandma Disney used to say about her food:  "I can say it's good because it's good - now eat it."  Amen Grandma D.

Cherry Chocolate Cake

Grease bottom only of a 9 x 13 cake pan.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1 box - Betty Crocker Super Moist Yellow Cake Mix
8 oz. - Cream cheese - softened
3 - Large eggs
3/4 C - Cherry juice (drained from cherries*)
2 C - Pitted sour cherries
1 C - Dark chocolate chips

Drain cherries for about half an hour - reserve juice.  Whip cream cheese until fluffy.  Scrape sides of bowl after each addition to make sure all ingredients are blended.  Add eggs and mix well.  Add juice and mix well.  Add cake mix and beat 30 seconds on low.  Beat 2 minutes on medium.  Fold in the cherries and chips.  Pour into pan.  Bake 30 minutes.

*  I put 1/4 C. of sugar on the cherries and let them stand in the refrigerator for several hours to make the juice.  Stir occasionally to make sure the sugar dissolves.  Add water if it doesn't make enough juice.  Fresh cherries should make enough juice - if you're using canned or frozen commercial cherries, they might not be a juicy.  Don't use canned cherry pie mix.


1 C - Confectioners sugar
1/4 C - Milk
1 tsp. - Vanilla  (You may want to use almond flavoring but I seriously don't like the taste.)

Mix to make sure there are no lumps.  Add more milk if it doesn't pour.  Drizzle over the top of the warm cake.  Use the back of a spoon to cover all the top.

Great served warm with ice cream.  Or as breakfast.  Or standing at the sink and eating it out of your hand.  Since the cherries are more perishable than plain cake, either keep in the frig. or eat it within a couple of days.  Once no longer warm, cover.

Yes, there's a piece missing - thank you very much.
And that's it for tonight.  My little cherry tree has done us good.