Crocuses and a New Vegetable Bed

The yard looks pretty brown this time of year, so the specks of color from the crocuses are so much fun.  We might get 1 to 3 inches of snow tonight, which may cover them up…

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Yellow crocuses looking cheerful!

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This purple crocus has such beautiful veins on the flower petals.

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Here are the same crocuses last week.  They come up in a bed of dragon’s blood sedum, which is just turning red again after the winter.  The sedum is an aggressive ground cover which tolerates drought.

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This was actually the first crocus to open in front of the house a week ago.  They are so tiny!

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Last week Stephanie came home for spring break.  On a warm, sunny afternoon we brought out the garden chairs and found a dry spot to sit and soak up the sun.  Soon after, Dan got up and turned the compost pile.  It is really cooking again!  Thanks Dan!

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I had to show Stephanie the rhubarb that is getting ready to emerge from the earth.  Besides eating rhubarb, the huge leaves are fantastic for the compost pile, since we have such a big rhubarb patch.

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Yesterday we took out 9 wheelbarrows full of wood chips from where the silver maple was cut down and we filled the hole with 11 bags of soil.  I have not sown grass seed yet as we try to determine where the new tree and landscaping will go.

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All those wood chips went to making a new garden bed in about an hour with no digging.  We measured out the bed.  Then we placed wet newspapers and wet scrap paper on the lawn.  On top of that we put 5 wheelbarrows of woodchips and soil mixture, straight out of the front yard hole.  We may dig in some kitchen scraps, but we can just let it sit for a while and the grass should die soon.  Then we can just plant into it adding extra soil.  We just needed more space for more vegetables!

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Last week I got the hoops and plastic cover out of the garage and covered the old winter bed.  The kale was pretty dead, as opposed to my comments about it surviving in an earlier blog, so we pulled that out. There are just some onions growing in there now.  The soil warmed up under the plastic, so if I had time I could sow some lettuce…  I need to put the plastic back on before the snow that is expected tonight.  You can see one of the ornamental grasses that needs to be cut down in the back left of the picture.  I cut one down yesterday, but did not get to this one yet.

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I did not get all the ornamental grass cut down because I decided to clean out the three strawberry beds in the yard.  I ended up thinning or replanted some of the strawberry plants and then I took miscanthus straw to put under the strawberry plants to keep them off the ground.  It is not a professional job, but I am looking forward to some yummy strawberries!

Lucas Berg Pit and Swans

Near our home is the Lucas Berg Pit.  I believe it was originally a quarry to excavate gravel and it now a 30 foot deep lake, that is a great natural resource.  It is under the Army Corp of Engineers and is fenced off, but the fence has plenty of holes where locals sometimes slip through to go fishing.  Every spring and fall local volunteers are allowed in to help with trash pick up and are able to freely walk around and explore, and I have participated in that a couple of times.  Last Sunday I walked in through a gap in the fence to have a quick look around and enjoyed seeing the resident swans.

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The swan couple in flight over the Lucas Berg Pit.

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Here is the sign outside the pit.

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Heading down a little path toward the still frozen lake.

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Out in the lake was a little island where I could just make out a white swan.  On the left side of the island were some geese that I think the swans were keeping track of.  All the birds seems to be territorial about nesting sites this time of year.

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I zoomed in for a closer look at the swan.

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Here is what the ice on the shore looked like last week.  It was starting to thin out all over.  I was speaking to a lady at the garden center yesterday and she said only 30% of lake ice is left this year, which is less than usual, and that might signify a dry year.  It already feels a bit dry, but we are expecting 1 – 3 inches of snow tonight.

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Then I thought I heard a red-winged blackbird.  Sure enough.  I zoomed in across the lake to see the first red-winged blackbird I had seen this year.  Yesterday we went out walking and saw a flock of them.

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I believe this is a European starling singing away in a little woods outside the fence.  I have seen them visit our birdbath this week, too.

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Last week for several days in a row there were large flocks of birds making a loud chorus sound flying in the skies overhead.  This was the best picture I got, but I think they might have been sand hill cranes.  I know they come through the Chicago flyway in their migrations.  They were flying in circles with non-goose sounds.

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Back in the yard I have come upon mourning doves pecking around the yard a few times.  I love their peaceful cooing call.  This one was fluffed up in sun on a cold day.  They blend into the brown landscape.

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This is one of a number of  nest holes I noticed, maybe made by woodpeckers, in the nearby woods.  If any reader knows better let me know.  I think when the woodpeckers are done with them other critters move in.

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Page-turner reading this past week was the novel, The Farm.  A good part of the story takes place in rural Sweden.  Since my background is Swedish, but I have never been there, I enjoy visiting through a good story!

Ready For Spring?

We have had solid snow cover for the past 36 days and more snow days before that.  Yesterday it warmed up above freezing and the snow is melting.  I have been noticing small signs that spring is headed our way here in the Midwest.

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Snow crocuses poking through the snow pack.

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After some snow melted the snow crocuses looked like this yesterday.  The purple, yellow and white flowers coming soon are so small, but I will be looking for them.

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Mini daffodils finally showed up when the snow melted yesterday near the south facing fence.

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The sparrows are getting more interested in the birdhouse again, though no nest material is inside yet. All the nest material is still covered with snow.  Unfortunately for the sparrows, this is supposed to be a bluebird house, so any squatters will be evicted.

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I noticed a flock of robins fly in one day.  I counted at least 25 on this picture.

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The northern cardinal is a winter resident.  Here the male is scratching in the leaf litter where the snow has melted.

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The snow melted around the base of the viburnum dentatum first, providing access to the leaf litter where insects and worms might be found.  Yesterday was pruning day for me.  The temperature was above freezing during the day when I pruned, helping any sap to come up to heal the cuts, but then freezing at night.  I pruned a few low branches on the Chinquapin oak, as well as four viburnum bushes, the serviceberry, and the American plum.  I was just trying to thin out some of the more dense or low hanging areas and get rid or broken or crossing branches.

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If you remember we had an early winter storm in November last year, before the leaves had fallen.  This resulted in the leaves persisting almost all winter on the American hornbeam, fothergilla and viburnum bushes, although they have shriveled up a lot.  Most years the branches are more bare…

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The top branches of Top Hat Blueberry stick up above the snow pack on the north side of the house.  The sun is rising higher each day, though, as the days lengthen, and bringing sunshine to more areas.

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I did not put up the winter hoop this year.  Although the kale looks brown there is green near the stems.  I might go out today and stick the hoops in the slots in the ground and put the plastic up.  That will warm the soil so I can start planting cool weather seeds like lettuce.  Then the Kale can hopefully start giving us new baby leaves this spring.  I am pretty sure this winterbor kale made it through two winters now!

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Last Sunday I walked around Lake Katherine, but it was very icy.  Today I imagine it will be very muddy.  Last week I took this picture from a little stand where people sometimes throw bread, although a sign discourages feeding wildlife.  The geese saw me and swam right toward me hoping for bread.  With all the snow cover there has probably been less to eat for them.

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It has been a good winter for reading.  I am working through this fascinating book, which I checked out from the library after hearing an interview with the author on NPR.

Another growing season starts.  I am not sure I have the energy to keep up with my garden, but I will just do what I enjoy, and of course a few tasks that just must be done. I often find that the garden revives me as I poke around and then stop to watch the wildlife that shares this little place on earth.