Seeing Red

It has been a cold week and today a few snow flakes are falling.  Here are a few red things I saw this week, as well as  a few shots of the swans and water fowl at Lake Katherine.

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This tree caught our attention at Lake Katherine this morning.  It was a bright spot on a cold morning.

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Back in our yard the fothergilla bush still has all its leaves and was very bright this week.

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Male northern cardinal at bird bath.  Quite a few birds have visited the bird bath since it froze.  Sometime they seem a little puzzled and other times they pick at the ice or snow.

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I saw the male red-bellied woodpecker at the bird bath, but it had flown to the mulberry tree before I got my camera.

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Six swans a swimming.  The swan couple with their four cygnets.  The young swans are pretty much grown up now.  I understand that these are mute swans.  Wikipedia says that mute swans are an introduced species and not native to North America.  They are sometime considered an invasive species when they reduce the density of submerged vegetation.

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We were chatting with someone while looking at the swans and he mentioned that you can tell the adults because their beaks are a brighter orange, whereas the cygnets beaks are still a pale orange.  This man said they will fly away and only the couple will return in the spring.  The cygnets will find new homes next spring.

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There were a lot of ducks in the lake and a lot of them were busy feeding, like this.  We did see one mallard couple doing a little head-bobbing dance.  As we watched we realized it was a mating dance and soon the female dove under water and the male was on top of her for a few seconds and then they swam away together.

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When we got to the lake there was a large gathering of geese.  Maybe it was the dog on the left that chased them and they all started dashing to the water.  A lot of dog walking goes on here.

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Canada goose portrait.

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Beaver activity.  We saw quite a few places around the lake where the beavers have been busy chewing on trees.  From our observations it seemed like the staff took the wire mesh off certain trees to let the beavers gnaw at them, while other trees they want to keep are well protected.  We did not see any evidence of a beaver lodge, but maybe we were not looking in the right place.

Build Compost Pile and Spread Horse Manure

It is clean up time in the yard.  We mowed the lawn with a mulching mower that chops and gathers all the leaves along with the grass.  The compost pile was basically flat, so now is the time to build it up before winter.

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It is still sunny and windy enough to put a few clothes on the line, but time to pull in the clothes line soon.  You can see how much the house casts a shadow and we still have 6 weeks to the winter solstice.  In the back you can see the compost pile starting to form, and the dark brown color on the garden from the horse manure.

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I know this is not a beautiful picture, but I am always trying to understand what makes good soil.  I understand that organic matter is a reservoir of nutrients and water in soil.  It aids in reducing compaction, and it increases water infiltration.  Humus is what you get when the compost is completely decomposed so that is not going to decompose much more and has become stable.  That is the black stuff that looks like good dirt that is the end result of the compost pile.  In researching the value of manure I read that it adds nitrogen and helps the soil food web by encouraging microbial activity.  All of this improves soil structure.  I think I will need to study how soil works a lot longer to really understand it.  I went to the local horse stables where they have horse manure and straw in various stages of decomposition.  I shoveled up the most decomposed stuff and stuck it in buckets in the car trunk and brought it home for free.  Maybe I will do it again in the spring.

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The top leaves on the brussel sprout plant.  Really cold weather is projected later this week so I might have to eat or harvest the brussel sprouts more quickly.

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I finally got a shot of a chickadee in the crabapple tree.  I have been hearing the chickadee song all week and seeing them every day in the yard.

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Viburnum dentatum – Chicago Lustre.  The viburnum bushes are just starting to turn color and are currently hosting a flock of sparrows, though other birds fly in and out, too.  We planted two small bushes in the fall of 2009, I think, so it has been 5 years.  They were planted with the centers about 6 feet apart, with the idea that they would grow together to form a large bushy area.  They can grow up to 8 to 10 feet, I understand, which was the goal, but they get kind of leggy, and in the spring I will need to prune them to keep them growing nicely without falling down on the lawn.


I dug back in my old photos and found a picture of the two small viburnum bushes against the back fence in the spring of 2010.   They were a little over 3 feet tall and now are maybe 7 feet tall.  The garden has gotten messy since then, but I have had a lot of fun experimenting!

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Fall color on fothergilla bush.  I don’t know if you can see, but there is a branch in the bottom front with larger leaves.  That branch grew from below the grafting line and is a different cultivar.  The color is redder and the leaves are bigger.  I am not sure whether to cut the branch off and hope that a new branch will fill in from higher up, or just leave it as is.

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Miscanthus ‘ morning light’ seed heads.  I was looking at this grass more closely today and saw that the red seed heads were turning into the fluffy white stuff that the sparrow like so much for their nests.

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Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘little bunny’ fountain grass.  This is the largest the little bunny grass has gotten over quite a few years.

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Here is what little bunny looked like in August with rudbeckia – black-eyed susans.

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Almost all the plants have been cut down in the bed by the patio, except for this huge parsley plant!  Now we will be able to see the yew bushes from the kitchen window throughout the winter.  Under all the leaves is dragon’s blood sedum ground cover.  I need to chop it back some as it starts to cover the patio….

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Hicksii yew bushes.  This is a shot from when they were planted in the yard in September 2011.  You can see how much they have grown since then, in three years.

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I am not that fond of house sparrows, but it is interesting to watch their social behavior.  How many birds can yet get in a bird bath?  I can count at least 6 here.

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Finally, we went for a walk on the newly paved Cal-Sag bike trail this morning and came across this hornet’s nest.  Dan told me a story of when he was a little boy and took a hornet’s nest to school.  Once it got into a warm classroom the hornets started to come out and they had to get it outside quickly!

Autumn Vegetables and Ornamental Grasses

Last Sunday I pulled up the tomatoes, beans, and zucchini, and after the hard frost last night I pulled up the cherry tomato plant, the eggplants, and the peppers.  Still, there are vegetables to eat until the really cold weather comes.

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I left some stumps when I pulled out my really huge cauliflowers earlier in the year.  The leaves are still edible and this week I noticed all these baby cauliflowers starting to form.  I’m not sure how big they will get before I will need to eat them, but it was fun to see!

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Winterbor kale.  The leaves will die when it gets really, really cold, but so far each spring the stalk has started sprouting again, for a second season of kale.

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We have four lacinato kale plants around the yard and they have kind of a tropical feel to them.

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Here is what the lacinato kale looked like after the frost.  However by late afternoon the kale was looking normal again and is not giving up that quickly.  We cooked a big pot of kale soup yesterday.  Of course it had a lot of other vegetables and beans in the soup.

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I left a half-dead turnip in the ground earlier in the summer and while I was not paying attention it grew big.  The leaves are looking a little tired at mid-day, but this made some nice soup, earlier this week.  You can tell we eat a lot of vegetable bean soup!

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The brussel sprouts also don’t mind a little frost.

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I have been cutting of 6 or 7 sprouts every time I make soup, but there is a lot more to eat all the way up the stalk.

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Frosty turf grass.  We used the mower to mulch up all the leaves on the grass and got the compost pile heaped up again.

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The little bluestem grass, a native grass, turned red/orange recently and has been capturing my attention.

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The ‘morning light’ miscanthus grass must have been about 5 feet tall this year.  The seed heads are red now.  We have two of these large plants in our yard.  They add privacy, beauty, and provide straw for paths and the strawberry bed in the spring.

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The sparrows decided to move back into the bluebird house again.  One of the bedding materials they love are the seed heads of the zebra grass, which are quite soft.  The sparrows perform some interesting acrobatics bending the grass stalk and trying to break off a bit of the fluffy stuff to carry away.  The zebra grass is probably 7 or more feet tall.

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Sparrow gathering zebra grass seed head for nest.  They don’t seem interested in the crabapples.

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The squirrel was interested in crabapples though.

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Sparrows feed on burning bush berries.  One day I was sitting at my office desk and heard a scratching sound.  I was curious enough to pull up the shade and I found a flock of sparrows gobbling up the red berries on the burning bush – Euonymus alatus.  These plants are somewhat invasive locally, so I really want to get rid of them, but have not gotten around to it yet.

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I noticed this black swallowtail caterpillar, that did not look like it made it, on my parsley this week.  However, I was listening to “Nature” this week on TV and heard about caterpillars in the arctic that freeze and thaw for 7 years before they are finally ready to turn into moths, so I wonder about my little guy.  If he is dead I hope a bird had a good meal.

Winter Vegetable Hoop:  I probably won’t be putting the hoop up when the snow flies.  The kale that was under the hoop last winter has grown large and is spreading over the lawn, so I don’t think I can corral is back to the area where I put the holes for the stakes for the hoop.  Still, we will see what happens.  I might just throw the plastic over the kale and hold it down with some rocks to keep the kale edible for as long as possible.

Autumn Transformations

We had a hard frost last night, but the fall colors have been pretty the past few weeks.

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Earlier in the week the orange leaves were slowly falling off the chinquapin oak tree on the left.  You can see the gaillardia flowers still blooming in the front right.  The zinnias stand was still pink in the center back.

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We have two small American Hornbeam trees.  One lost its leaves last week.  This one is always a little later in changing color and gets orange and pink.  Behind it the lilac is still very green and the spice bush is yellow.

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Saturday morning we woke to a little snow on the ground, after a very cold Halloween, with almost no kids coming for “trick or treat.”

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Last night we had a hard frost, but the sun was out this morning and the frost soon burned away.  Still, it finished off the pink zinnias and they turned brown.  In the bottom right is the blue fescue ornamental grass, which has done well this year.

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This is looking back across the yard with a somewhat foggy lens.  On the left the red upright grass is “little bluestem.”  In the spring the grass stands out because it is bluer than the grass around it and in the fall it turns red/orange.

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Before the frost I captured some cheery gaillardia blooms, also called blanket flowers.

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Frost-covered gaillardia.  We are supposed to have warm weather tomorrow, so we may still get more of these flowers.

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Pink geranium.  I forgot to include this in my last post about fall color, as these flowers do well in cooler weather.

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Frosty pink geranium.  My camera could either focus on the ice or on the inside of the flower.  The frost won’t hurt this flower.  I also love the foliage on this plant that gets bright red as the weather gets colder.

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Geranium ‘rozanne’ continues to bloom prolifically and beautifully.

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Despite the frost it is ready to bloom another day.  That helps the late pollinators have something to feed on.

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The bluebird house did not have bluebirds this year.  I kicked out sparrows a number of times and finally some house wrens filled up the house and then moved away.  So it was time to clean up before next spring.  This spider was surprised to have me discover its home.

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Here is a closer look at that spider.

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You can hear the blue jays before you see them.  This blue jay pair stopped in after the snowy morning.

Day Light Savings Is Over:  Now I know, but this morning we forgot and went out for a walk at Lake Katherine at around 7:45 am and did not see a soul until we got back to the parking lot.  Then we realized that everyone slept in that extra hour, and we were really walking at 6:45 am.  Still, it was great to see the swan couple, the little coot, and a lot of ducks and geese busy slurping breakfast in the water.  The warblers were there too, but they move so quickly I couldn’t tell what kind of warblers they were.  In the quiet morning you could just hear the sound of softly falling yellow maple leaves.  The frost loosened them up and the sun this morning set them free.